Monday, 9 November 2009

Classic Car Mart

It’s a magazine and I like magazines. They are ideal for when you want more articles than you get in the newspapers, but you haven’t got time for a book. When I was working in Orkney the newspapers were delivered by plane and then boat. Not surprisingly they often didn’t arrive at all and so I would usually fill the gap by selecting a magazine from the limited selection available. It wasn’t so bad at the start of a month; I could generally pick a music or a sports magazine. If the weather had been poor for a while though I would often, in the search for something I hadn’t already read, find myself buying stuff like Exchange and Mart or Practical Fish Keeping. Once or twice I even bought a woodworking periodical and, if I learnt little else over the seven years I was there, now have a basic knowledge of turning out spindles to show for my time spent in Scotland.

These days I tend to limit myself to a couple of music magazines, although I did buy FHM recently, purely, or not so purely actually, to have a look at the blonde girl from Gavin and Stacey in her smalls. Actually, I wasn’t quite brave enough to buy it by itself. I’m of the age now where I reckon that buying a ‘lads mag’ is as inappropriate as buying Fiesta or Escort. For younger readers, they aren’t motoring magazines. That’s assuming that they still exist in the age of the internet. Anyway, I bought FHM in a twin pack with Q magazine, which seems much more suitable for a man of my age. At the checkout, the woman picked the twin-pack up, looked at the cover, looked at me and looked back at the cover. I was just about to point out that I was a contractor working away from home and if I wanted to while away my evenings looking at scantily clad young ladies, well, that was my prerogative. But no, she was looking at Q rather than FHM.

“Oooh”, she said, “He looks just like you.”

I hadn’t paid much attention to the music magazine, but on current form assumed that this months cover star must have been some octogenarian singer making a comeback or more likely the autopsy photos of Glen Millers recently discovered corpse, which, I suppose, serves me right for paying too little attention to my grooming routines and for buying diet-porn at my age. I was wrong though, it was that bloke out of Arctic Monkey’s who coincidentally also appeared to be in need of a trim.

I raised my eyebrows and modestly responded to the woman who was obviously only working on the checkout because her eyesight was too poor for her to be entrusted with restacking the shelves with “Maybe his Grandad” to which her shrugged reply of ‘Yes, I suppose” wasn’t really what I was hoping for. Every Little Helps, my arse. Still, it could have been worse; she could have said that it was his spots rather than his hair that prompted her comment.

Anyway, all this is leading up to my most recent magazine purchase, Classic Car Mart. Part supermarket checkout impulse buy and part grand plan to replace the junk in my garage with yet another comfort blanket of something from my youth. I’ve been fancying getting an old MG, ideally similar to the one that I had twenty odd years ago before children made a company car with four seats and a roof seem a more sensible option. Did I ever tell you about when my MG’s windscreen shattered? Of course I did. But now I’m going to tell you again.

It will have been about 1987 and I was driving up the M1, coming home from London. The weather was poor, it was a grey winter day, with a wet road and a steady drizzle. A little too wet to be described as inclement but not quite pissing it down. I was taking it easy at about 70mph in the middle lane, when the lorry in front of me flicked a stone up which hit my windscreen. I actually saw the stone coming towards me and flinched by way of reflex like you do when a bird gets close, or even an empty crisp packet. By bird, I meant the feathered kind, but I suppose it works for the other kind too, which would explain why a man of my age is still gawping at pictures of scantily clad actresses in magazines rather than spending his time at home pretending to listen to a wife’s complaints whilst quietly fantasising about divorce. Or murder.

Windscreens weren’t as good in those days as they are now and it shattered, but stayed intact. Good in one way, but absolutely useless for seeing out of, a quality I’ve always prized in a windscreen. I managed to slow down and carefully drift across to the hard shoulder. I got out, intending to walk to the emergency telephone, but the rain had got a bit heavier so I got back in again and drove there instead, with my head stuck out of the side window like Casey Jones on the Cannonball Express. I resisted the urge to sing the theme tune.

The good news was that in a rare moment of sensibleness I had joined the RAC two days earlier during my journey South. The bad news came when they informed me that I was covered for just about everything but windscreens. Wonderful. They would, however, put me in touch with a local garage. The garage was great, they were more than happy to fix my thirteen year old car, but would have to order the windscreen in and it might take a few days. A few days? I had stuff to do. I couldn’t sit around somewhere near Nottingham whilst they kicked my tyres. So what to do? Simple, just knock the windscreen out and drive home like one of those stock car blokes. Shouldn’t be too difficult.

I know this sounds like a bad situation, but it did have its good points. Knocking all of the shattered glass out of the windscreen with a jack handle was particularly satisfying. I enjoyed it that much that it took enormous self control to resist carrying on and smashing the side windows and the lights too. Passing motorists must have thought that it was Basil Fawlty on the hard shoulder. I got most of the shattered windscreen out, but unfortunately the sloping angle meant that almost all of the broken glass fell into the car. It did add that element of danger to any romantic liaisons in the car over the next few months though. There’s nothing like the threat of having your bare arse jabbed with a razor sharp sliver of windscreen to cool your passion. Or to spice it up I suppose, depending on your preferences.

Anyway, windscreen gone, I set off. It was easy enough, at least it was until I reached about fifteen miles an hour, at which point the soft top roof of the MG bulged outwards and threatened to either rip off or to lift the car off the ground. I had to stop and put the roof down. This seemed to solve the problem and I was able to drive off again, feeling slightly ridiculous at the idea of driving with the top down in the rain.

Once I got beyond 30mph it was hard to see with the wind in my face, so I put on a pair of sunglasses that a girlfriend had left in the car. Just as well really, as once I got beyond about 40mph, the remaining bits of glass that were attached to the frame of the windscreen began to work loose and hit me in my face. I didn’t get much beyond 40mph, which provided great fun for passing motorists, quite a lot of whom made a point of gesturing, Gareth Hunt coffee ad style, at the poser in the sports car who had the top down in the rain and drove in the slow lane wearing women’s sunglasses. I don’t suppose they noticed that the windscreen wasn’t where it should have been, but was mainly embedded in my forehead. I got home a few hours later and on removing the sunglasses looked like a negative of a panda, albeit one who used a cheese grater for exfoliating.

And so that’s what I want to do again, drive a fun car, not lacerate my face and Classic Car Mart is going to help me. It has some great stuff in there, plenty of MG’s, some Beetles, which would allow me to bore the arse off you a bit more with the tale of when my wheel fell off and a whole scrap yard full of Rolls Royces and Bentleys which should be highly beneficial next time I want to visit the supermarket and pass myself off as an ageing pop star.


  1. Excellent post. Pathos, drama, sex, nostalgia, insane checkout girl. And no pictures of turds. I salute you.