COLUMN below on my car troubles. Am driving back from Spain (taking a different route through France on the way up again, then a ferry) later this week. I’m supposed to be bringing litres and litres of olive oil with me, plus Spanish wine, some homemade apricot jam, a bronze penguin (don’t ask), a couple of cushions and a lamp shade, so here’s hoping I don’t break down on the French motorway and have to explain my unusual cargo to a suspicious gendarme. Also, I’ve got to sell my car when I get back to London because of the
boring new ULEZ zone very sensible new rules to slow global warming, so if anyone wants an old BMW 1 series in a pretty dodgy condition then let me know.
Oh also sorry quick couple of things. I spent last night screaming with laughter at THIS tweet. Watch to the end. It is my absolute favourite new film and I don’t think I’ll ever find another one I like more. And last week was v exciting because I found out that The Plus One had gone up seven places in the Bookseller’s Heatseeker’s chart alongside properly excellent company. Thank you to everyone who’s bought it. I love you all (if you liked my book, could I interest you in my car?)
I was due a car problem. I could sense it. I’d spent two days driving from London to Spain without a hitch, good little motor, but it didn’t surprise me when I next turned it on to hear what I believe they call in the business ‘a funny noise’.
So, I did what any millennial would do in the circumstances and asked my dad to have a listen. He tinkered under the bonnet before declaring it was the drive shaft bearing. The whatty? He could have told me it was the magical hopping lightsabre for all I know about engines.
‘And your oil’s as black as Hades,’ Dad added, frowning at a very thin stick that looked like a fencing sword in his hand. ‘When did you last change it?’
Admittedly, I used to write Tatler’s car column, Toff Gear. But I was only employed in this position to take expensive cars – McLarens, Maseratis, Jaguars – on unsuitable expeditions such as dog walks and, once, through the monkey enclosure at Longleat. I didn’t need to know much about cylinders or torque.
I don’t think I do now, either. After the drive shaft bearing revelation, there followed a family debate about who could change a tyre (certainly not) and who knew how to change their engine oil (no again). Those of us under 35 admitted we knew very little but why did that matter? Should we have a problem, we’d be able to find someone much more qualified to fix it. It’s called the division of labour and jolly efficient it is too. Plus, I don’t believe I’m so stupid that I wouldn’t be able to work out how to change a tyre if it absolutely came to it.
I had a similar argument not long ago with a sixty-something about British motorways. My generation were doomed to die by the side of the road, Michael thundered, because we don’t read maps and don’t know where the M3 is; we simply tap directions into a phone and follow them wherever they take us. I scoffed and told him the nifty navigation app Waze had never failed me and anyway the M3 is the one that runs from Birmingham to Exeter. Michael went quite puce at this but perhaps he’d forgotten to take his heart pills that morning.
It’s true, though. Waze gets me everywhere and uses its GPS system to avoid traffic jams, too. Why is this such a disaster? If my phone exploded, I’m clearly no Ranulph Fiennes but I’m sure I’d eventually be able to work out where I was headed without it. And as it’s here, why not deploy the app to avoid sitting on the M25 until you die of old age?
There’s a knee-jerk, bulgy-eyed, fusty-smelling fury that often greets such views. Irresponsible! Arrogant! Idle! If there was a war tomorrow you’d all cop it, these whiskery sorts argue, railing against those of us from a certain generation as the end of days. But this is too narrow-minded. Relax, not all technology is evil and the sky won’t fall in if we’re not quite sure which is the spanner and which the screwdriver. Remember the first time you held a smartphone? Exactly, all fingers and thumbs and you had to get one of us to download ‘The’ Facebook for you. And listen, if you need one of us to come round and change the clock in your car because you still haven’t worked out how to get it on to summer time, then shout. We’d be delighted. See? We can all learn from one another.
Also, I crawled my car to the Spanish garage and it turns out it’s a broken water pump, not the drive shaft bearing. So who’s the expert now, eh?
They’ve had a lot going on what with moving house and having a baby, but I’m not convinced by the wedding present Harry and Meghan have given to Idris Elba and his new wife, Sabrina. It’s a £7,000 print by a contemporary duo called the Connor Brothers (although they’re not related), and it features a woman cowering in fear, like Fay Wray in the 1933 version of King Kong, above the words ‘Why fit in when you were born to stand out?’ Does anyone really want a terrified blonde on their sitting room wall? Poor Idris will now be obliged to put the print up somewhere Harry and Meghan will see it whenever they come over for supper. It’s another reason one should stick to the wedding list – those tea towels and Waterford glasses are on there for a reason.
I’m bad at saying no. Plenty of us are. We crawl through life saying yes to everything – yes to having lunch with those friends even though you hate them, yes to giving work experience to the daughter of that exhausting person you met once at a drinks party and yes to yet another runner who’s just emailed you with their Just Giving list. I reflected this week that perhaps the only good thing one could say about Jeremy Corbyn is that he’s able to say no, having turned down an invitation to a state dinner at Buckingham Palace in June when Trump’s over. I admire his chutzpah, if nothing else, and intend to start trying it myself. Alternatively, if there’s a date in the diary you want to wriggle out of but struggle with the word ‘no’ yourself, just tell them you have nits. It’s an excuse a 30-something friend uses from time to time and she says it works a charm.