If 40 was the question, climbing a mountain was not the answer. I don’t know why people go looking for themselves when they approach middle age and I always swore I wouldn’t do it. But then I found myself a few months off the dreaded landmark birthday and off I went up Kilimanjaro. All I can say is I had a good look for myself over a distance of 80 miles, half of them uphill, and I couldn’t find anything. Apart from an irrepressible ability to moan and a total lack of intrepidness. If anything, I discovered that my capacity for pessimism and can’t-do spirit was far more robust than I had realised.
At the point when I was supposed to stare up at the snow-capped summit and envisage the triumph of my standing on the top, I stared up at the summit and thought, ‘Why would anyone want to go up there?’
I wasn’t the only one who had this reaction. I met a young couple at Harumbo base on the way down who said the whole experience had been so utterly shocking that they had decided to get married and have kids.
They had had a total epiphany. Unfortunately for me, I was only up the mountain in the first place because I had messed up the whole getting married and having kids thing, so I was really screwed. As they sat on the steps of their hut cuddling each other and looking forward to their cosy new life together, I could have burst into tears.
I had to upgrade to first class on the flight from Nairobi to stop myself having a total breakdown. It took two bed seats to myself, three blankets, four warm croissants, a good rifle through a nice freebie toiletry bag and two inflight movies before I started to feel that life wasn’t totally hopeless.
The flight attendant had a terrible time, running backwards and forwards as I bleated my pathetic needs at him. At one point I wept tears of bitter dejection because he went past me with the coffee pot.
Clearly, it was back to square one. So when I got back to Balham, I sat down at the kitchen table and started Googling Volvos. The explanation for this behaviour I found on the Top Gear website. Apparently, it is a completely natural part of ageing to decide that one needs a V70 T5 estate.
Usually, this primeval urge comes over one at the age of 45 but I have always been precocious. I am getting my Volvo V70 urge early. It feels like I imagine the menopause must feel, quite sweaty and panicky.
I ended up in a showroom in Croydon, where the dealer made a huge palaver of punching a million figures into a calculator.
‘Please,’ I wanted to say, ‘just sell me the car, I’m in a cold sweat, I need to get inside and breathe in the calming smell of beige leather.’
‘So, with three year’s warranty and the tow bar…’ The sweat was now pouring off me. I went outside and called my friend Lief. ‘Oh, my god, you’re back!’ she exclaimed. ‘How was Kili?’ ‘Awful. Your Volvo, is it reliable? Because I think I’m about to buy one.’
‘It’s brilliant. Totally reliable. Indestructible. People who can’t drive and are all over the place should always get Volvos.’
I wasn’t sure what point she was trying to make but I knew I wanted this car.
I went back inside the showroom. The dealer looked up from his scribbling. ‘Good news,’ he said, handing me a fresh sheet full of calculations. While I had been outside, the Volvo had magically shed a thousand pounds. ‘It’s been reduced,’ he explained. ‘What, in the last three minutes?’ I said. ‘Blimey. If I go outside again might it get a thousand pounds cheaper still?’
He got his calculator back out. ‘So, that plus £250 for the tow bar plus £350 plus £350 for the extra two years’ guarantee plus the year’s road tax...makes...’
And, hey presto, we were back up to the figure we had started with. Then I remembered the little blue Peugeot convertible. Proudly, I invited him to take a look with a view to part-exchange. He disappeared to examine it for all of 30 seconds.
When he came back in he looked at me sternly. ‘Miss Kite, that car has got half the countryside inside it.’
‘It just needs a good clean,’ I protested, as I looked at it through the window. One of the wing mirrors was hanging off and held half in place with brown masking tape. The sun visors hung down broken, the bodywork was wavy with bumps from collisions.
Lief’s right. I am all over the place. Still, it doesn’t matter now I’ve got a Volvo.