My next-door neighbour smiles bemusedly at me as I pretend to be searching for something on the pavement in front of her house. ‘Thought I’d dropped some money’, I mutter in explanation, as I retreat back up the road and get into my Nissan Micra. The truth is much more worrying. I have once again narrowly missed being caught trying to break into her Citroen! This is no indication of criminal tendencies, I hasten to add, but rather a severe case of ‘car blindness’. I have no notion of the different makes of car. In my eyes, a Mini and a Maserati merge in their ‘maroonness’, a Lada and a Lotus are lookalikes in lemon, and a Beetle and a Bentley blend together in blue. My brain registers the colour – red, the size – small, and the position – on the street outside my house, and concludes that the car must, therefore, belong to me.
My lack of automobile awareness is incomprehensible to the Nearly Beloved. When he asks me where my friend bought their new Qashqai, it takes a while to register he means a car rather than a cardigan. And then I can only recall that the colour, which was previously white, is now black.
It’s not that I’m disinterested in cars, it’s just that to me, their prime function is to get from A to B without breaking down. This lesson was taught me by my very first purchase (metallic, small, terrified of hills), with its dodgy handbrake. It had multiple health problems and often needed emergency care. If only I had concentrated on prevention, rather than cure! Looking after the lights, testing the tyres and organising the oil all seemed too strict a regime to follow until one day little ‘Goldie’ went into cardiac arrest on the motorway, with steam billowing from her bonnet. The AA paramedics arrived, gave her a Castrol transfusion, and then towed her away, warning me I would need to drastically improve my nursing skills. But instead, I outsourced Engine NHS to my more mechanically minded other-half.
Delightful Daughter despairs of me, complaining, ‘You’re hardly an advert for Girl Power, are you mum?’ She, in contrast, is a competent modern woman, known for jump-starting batteries, replacing windscreen wipers and keeping an eye on her treads. She’s a serial motoring monogamist, treating her rides with respect so they stick with her for the long haul.
I, however, am always parting company with my fickle means of transport. With Goldie in the morgue, I headed to the Motor Maternity Unit and returned with ‘Girl Racer’ (sporty, go-faster stripes, always up for a burn out). She was a party animal but fell in with a bad crowd. Late one night she ran off with a gang of joy-riders and was found head-first in a wall.
‘Hand-me-down’, my father’s old car (blue, solid, good in tight spots) replaced her. But whilst dependable, he couldn’t cope with the demands of a growing family and was forced out by ‘Family Beast’ (black, 7-seater ‘don’t mess with me’ giant). I have to admit, I shed a tear when he was lost at sea in a freak flash flood.
The compensation received stretched only as far as ‘Mr Make-do’ (dull, grey, uninspiring). There was no love lost between us. He never forgave me for allowing the children to treat him as a waste paper bin, reversing him into a skip, or scraping his sides in the multi-storey car park. In revenge, his electrics blew up and I spent a chilly winter with my windows never fully closing, before I finally traded him in for ‘Mum’s Taxi’ (red, reliable, easier to spot). She’s served me well through three adolescences as a moving, metal confessional where secrets inadvertently get spilled.
So far Grunting Teen has kept his lips tightly sealed. He doesn’t give much away on our car journeys, just gripping the door handle and occasionally slamming his right foot down in the door well. But he appreciates the lifts so refuses to join his father in laughing at me when I swear ‘car blindness’ is a ‘disability’ not something I have made up.
In the end, I resort to taking photos of where I last parked so I can distinguish ‘Mum’s Taxi’ from all the Doppelgangers on the street. It’s only when the next-door neighbour knocks into me that I realise I’m not the only one suffering from this problem. ‘Can I just get past you to my car?’ I ask.
‘Yes, of course,’ she replies standing up red-faced. ‘Thought I’d dropped some money, that’s all.’