Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

The A272 is a relic of the golden age of motoring

It epitomises everything I love about the England that once was

Oh the joy of the open road – and, having lived my car-owning life one technological stage up from the starting handle, it was a thrill to have temporary ownership of a newish motor. Credit: georgeclerk/iStock

In France I own a dented old Mercedes and in England a dented old Mitsubishi Carina. The Mercedes is parked in a cave and covered in sand dust and curling police notices in French; the Mitsubishi rots away in a lay-by in a country lane under a layer of wet leaves, mud and thatching straw. Owing to lockdown and poverty neither is fully functional nor has been started for months. Very occasionally I worry about them or experience a stab of shame at my pedestrianism. Last week I hired a budget car from the brand-new car-hire centre at Bristol airport, the first time I’ve rented a car in 20 years.

The man behind the car-hire counter peered diplomatically at my torn and possibly historic paper driving licence and the column of dense teleprinter type detailing my motoring convictions (two for drunk driving) and the driving bans (one for three years). Fortunately he grasped that all of these were issued when I was young and mental and that the man standing before his counter was now old and boring. Even though he hailed originally from one of the Baltic states, he could tell that straightaway — just by looking at me.

My offer of incontrovertible proof that at present I lived quietly in France, in the form of a letter addressed to me from a private clinic in Hyères, saying that I owed money, he waved politely aside as adding nothing of value to his first impression of all passion spent. He handed me the key to a Renault Captur without a qualm.

I say key, but it was an oblong of grey plastic which fitted into a slot. To start the engine you simultaneously depressed the clutch and pressed a nursery-sized button on the dashboard.

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