Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 14 July 2012

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I’m at home watching the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ ‘Man on Fire’ video on the laptop. Talk about uplifting. I’m watching with my earbuds in, and loving America, when the phone rings twice and stops. 

This means my boy hasn’t credit on his phone and wants me to ring him back. I stop the video and call him. He’s bidding on a car on eBay, he says. Would I have a look at the description and tell him what I think? There’s a minute to go, he says. So I go to the auction site and look at the listing and immediately my inspired mood evaporates.

My boy and I have bought plenty of cheap cars on eBay over the years. Some turned out to be good ones; with others we were completely done over. We’re experienced. His last car, a Toyota Previa, bought for £600, lasted for nearly three years before the head gasket went. We were pleased. So now he’s hoping for a similar coup, with financial assistance from his old dad to the tune of £600. So what does my boy do? He bids for the automotive equivalent of what Kelvin MacKenzie threatened to tip over Prime Minister John Major. A single glance at the listing tells me that. I’m incandescent. 

Take the description of the car, for example. There ain’t one. All it says is: 

Here listed is a 1999 Vauxhall Sintra 2.2 Deisal, 7 seats, 120,000 miles. Very good condition. Car is relyabel and safe. 

No information about the car’s history, recent work done, tyre-tread depths, reason for selling. The photograph shows a car parked on a street in a dire housing estate. As I look at this, the clock runs down to zero and my boy has ‘won’ it. 

I call him back and tell him what I think. The listing is an object lesson on what car not to buy on eBay, I say. He ought to get a job as a lecturer on internet crime, I tell him, and use the listing to give a Power Point presentation on the subject. I want nothing to do with it. He is on his own. 

My boy asks me for a lift to where the car is. I angrily refuse. Until now me and my boy have never had a cross word. Already this heap of garbage is costing us dearly. 

An email arrives from the seller, name of Justin. Could my boy pick up the car before Monday because he is going away. That old chestnut. In other words, it’s no use coming back the next day when the car has blown up and trying to get our money back. He also gives a mobile number. My boy calls the number to ask him for a postcode, but Justin says he can’t remember it. 

The next day I relent and drive my boy over to where the car is. I stick to my guns, though, about not getting involved. I sit in the car reading the paper while he inspects the car, with Justin looking on, though in theory his winning bid has committed him to buy. There is no evidence whatsoever that Justin actually lives at the house number he’s given us. 

Finally, curiosity gets the better of me and I get out and cross the road and have a look at the car and at Justin. My boy, I see, has already handed over his cash. Justin’s grubby shirt has a long tear and you can see his big hairy white belly underneath. He looks both pleased and ill at ease. ‘Where are you going on holiday then, Justin?’ I say. 

In the space of about two seconds the fat, greedy, unshaved face registers surprise, mystification, enlightenment, confusion and finally hostility. ‘Cornwall,’ he says. ‘Whereabouts?’ I say, brightly, happy for him. ‘Er...er...I don’t know stuff like that,’ he says, adding confidentially, from one male chauvinist to another, ‘I leave all that to the missis to sort out.’ 

I do a circuit of the car. The tyres are not quite illegal. ‘So what’s wrong with it, Justin?’ I say. ‘Go on — save us all a lot of trouble.’  Justin indignantly goes into the spiel that my boy and I have heard so many times. The car has never missed a beat...goes like a rocket...is worth a grand of anybody’s money...he’s sorry to see it go. When he’s finished I shake my head at him, in sorrow, mostly, at the way the poor prey always on the poor. 

Then I get back in my car and start the engine. My boy gets in his new acquisition and fires it up. I follow him home. After about ten miles, on a steep hill, the car suddenly and dangerously loses all power and he pulls the car over to the side. 

I drive on.