CARS AND CHARACTERS
I grew up in a variety of typical housing estates before moving to a rural area in my fifties. When I was a kid living then in a council estate cars were a rarity, king of the hill in my street was one bloke with a motorcycle and sidecar plus a guy with a bubble car.
Most of the kids thought the guy who owned the bubble car was a bit strange, think he was likely an early hippy, deeply odd in mid-sixties Northumberland council estates.
However we loved watching the chap who owned the motorcycle and sidecar set off on a trip. Usually it started with him and his wife heading towards the combo that was always parked on the road.
Once she was safe in the sidecar, handbag perched on her knees and hair full of curlers ready for the bingo in the evening, secured by a tightly drawn scarf her husband could begin the starting ritual. He was always clad in an oilskin coat that almost reached the ground; he wasn’t the tallest of men, hands encased in gauntlets with a pair of huge googles clamped over his eyes. No helmet as this was pre helmets law but his hair was always perfectly slicked back with brilliantine.
He then went through the starting ritual, fuel on, ignition on, tickle the carburetor and choke set just so then the big moment. Drawing himself to his full height, just over five and a half foot at a guess then he would launch himself onto the kick start. Nine times out of ten the engine rumbled into life, if it didn’t he appeared to take that as a personal affront and he would again go through the starting ritual.
We never saw him fail twice.
But of course gradually as I grew older cars became more and more common till I bought my first one just after I got married, a Hillman Imp. Before that I went everywhere in all weathers on my motorcycle. Including ferrying my then eight months pregnant wife to hospital after she was bitten by a dog, if I recall her bum was almost on the rear carrier.
Through the years there was always a bewildering variety of cars around the towns I lived near to however one of the first things I noticed after moving to a very rural area is unlike the town in the country you tend to see cars matched to types of people, at least is my current theory.
Of course in a small village or town within the countryside, or on the outskirts, you will still see a large variety of car makes and models but I have found once you push deeper into the countryside a slight pattern emerges.
Here are some of the examples I have seen, all described with tongue firmly embedded in my cheek as usual.
Retired Bank Manager
Now he may not have been a bank manager, likely he retired from any mid-level management job but usually he will be driving a mid-level Mercedes. A retirement present to himself and a upgrade from his previous car which was a few years old Volvo, but this is going to be his last car and thus must last a lifetime. Always driven very carefully and always a few miles under the speed limit, always pristine inside and out with an Institute of Advanced Motorists badge on the grill, he is as proud of that as he is of the Mercedes hood badge.
There is always a Panama hat and a box of tissues on the rear parcel shelf, has anyone ever had a need for an emergency box of tissues and if you had why put them so far out of reach to be useless?
Feel a sneeze coming then let’s stop the car, fling off the seatbelt, and dive out of front door, wrench open the rear door to finally relieve the agony of a tickle.
The driver will be a man over sixty, sporting one of those small moustaches that were never fashionable; always looks uncomfortable when he wears a shirt with an open neck. Now he is retired he flings himself into local parish politics and committee work convinced he is going to shake things up. Efficiency and time management is the key he knows and he is just the man to sort things out. Thus his face will gradually grow redder and veins start to throb in his temple, when old Joe who has been part of the committee since god was a lad sets off on one of his long rambling speeches while sat at the committee table Eventually he finds the resistance to his plans are to much and he resigns from all his committee work to devote himself to his garden and polishing his beloved Mercedes.
Last seen wandering around his lawn with lily white legs poking out of immaculately ironed cargo shorts with a trowel in one hand and a pail of compost in the other continuing his quest to kill every weed and have the perfect lawn.
Mrs Bouquet (Bucket.)
Not the sort of lady who would be married to or the widow of the previous bank manager type. More likely her partner was in a low level management position that she never felt befitted her status.
Now retired to the country she squeezes herself into a mid-level sports car that’s a few years old, often a soft top that’s never lowered; do to so risks ruffling her carefully coiffured hair despite it being held in place with enough products that ensure even a hurricane would not bother it.
Make up is applied so thickly that it would challenge the most experienced plasterer but always seems to verge on the clown end of subtlety. She drives the car at speed and usually with disregard to any other roads users, save for those that she would love to become friendly with, those she believes to be the next step up in class.
She parks with abandon daring anyone to complain as she haughtily but without elegance climbs out the car. She has a look of permanently waiting to be affronted by something, if she isn’t she can usually find something that deserves her rancour.
Usually to be found glaring suspiciously at an example of whatever the latest “in” fruit or vegetable on display at the local artisan market.
This chap is likely to be the grandson of the next character you will hear of in this column; two generations away when farming was firmly ruled by the horse.
Now he hurtles around the lanes in a modern pick up with a four door cab and they always seem to have names such as Warrior or Avenger.
Almost always dressed in jeans, open necked Tattersall shirt with sleeves rolled up. His feet shod in Hunter Field Balmoral wellingtons, voted number one welly in a recent Telegraph survey. Check, that’s true.
That is except when he has to attend something mildly important, visits to the bank manager for example then its moleskin trousers, brown brogues the sleeves get rolled down and an ancient woollen tie is dug out and badly tied around his neck.
Always in a hurry and often seen hopping out of his pickup, usually with a dog at his heel then charging across fields trailing one of his managers who is struggling to keep up .
Usually loudly talking talking about yields and looking at the sky trying to predict the weather. In reality he has three weather Apps on his phone that are more accurate.
A big fan of spread sheets and drone surveys, often chatting to friends of a similar ilk in local pubs where a newcomer such as me will hear words such as John Deere and Massey Ferguson liberally sprinkled in conversations.
However it seems of late the main topic is Brexit EU rules on tractor engine filtration and particle emission rules.
From my eavesdropping it appears it’s going to mean more money but nothing better under the bonnet.
The last example of country cars and the one you MUST learn about.
Easily identified by the battered old Landover, call it that and you are instantly known to be a townie, to the locals it’s a Landie. In fact you can usually spot this coming if you look to the sky and see the faint trail of blue smoke trailing in the air behind the car that emanates from the exhaust, usually there MOT exempt so emission tests are not a consideration.
If you see one heading towards you will spot the driver peeking over the dash. A smallish but weathered man, flat cap moulded to his head that holds it shape thanks to decades of grease, sheep lick, oil and “manure”. There exists an urban legend you may hear in local pubs that the driver was once seen in the 1970s without the cap, treat that as something locals say to tease tourists .
The driver was born and raised within 10 miles of where you will encounter him, his mother had the philosophy that she was “tupped” in the farmhouse and that’s were she will give birth and he has seen no reason to venture far away either. Seen it all , done it all and at one time there would be a Woodbine cigarette attached to the lower lip seemingly defying gravity but his wife persuaded him to quit years ago.
If you haven’t like him been born and bred locally you will always be an outsider and since his car is held together by bailing twine and no panel is without a scratch or dent he cares little for these newcomers in their posh cars.
So if you see him heading towards you pull over and park, alternatively you can keep driving and steer into the nearest ditch because that’s were you will end up.
Do not play chicken with this bloke.
If you don’t encounter him on the road he will be at the local animal market, even though he is retired he likes to keep an eye on prices. Normally seen leaning on a thumb stick watching everything around him, not saying much but missing nothing.
Whatever the topic of conversation, most of which you won’t as a newcomer understand but almost anything you will learn can be answered with.
“Aye, reckon so.”