I’m preparing to drive the length of England in nine days’ time – starting at Stranraer and going all the way down to Cambridge. According to Mapquest, the journey is around 350 miles and it’ll take just under six hours. I wonder if anyone has told them I’ll be driving a Toyota Yaris? It’s not the biggest car in the world and while it’s got a near-1400 cc diesel engine and is Tardis-like in being bigger inside than it looks outside, it still doesn’t compare with the bigger cars and truly big trucks that dominate the motorways of England. Already I’m making comparisons in my head with a similar journey we took in the 1970s, when we drove from Newcastle-upon-Tyne down to London in a second-hand Renault 4. There’s the same sense of second-handness, of limited space and of vulnerability, even if both cars allow you to sit up high and look down on the world, which is a pleasant change after my low-slung and allegedly sporty Audi. In fact, since I started driving this Toyota Yaris, I’ve given serious thought to getting rid of my absurdly big and pretty thirsty Audi and getting something near to this one. A LOT less expensive to buy, only £35 for a year’s tax, more comfortable, less damaging to the ozone – what’s not to like, except you feel your car should reflect your thrusting manhood.
We’re bringing the car down to my daughter in Cambridge. I bought if for her, taxed it, insured it – did the lot. Which is – another parallel – almost exactly what my father did for me when I was about twenty-three. Except he bought me a Hillman Eight which had a steering wheel that Charlie Atlas would have had a job turning and it cost all of…£100. These days I’d hardly get away from filling my Audi with much less than that. I remember how excited my father seemed, handing it over to me – it seemed a little odd. But now I’m feeling the same surge of excitement and pride, that I’ve been so astute as to locate such an excellent machine at such a reasonable price. Except, of course, that it might just fall apart on her which she would find highly inconvenient and I would find highly expensive.