So the Leeds rear-ending (which incidentally demonstrated the resilience of the Nissan Primera, as not even the trifle wedged at the back of the boot suffered any injury, unlike the front of the Rover which had largely disappeared) left us with one car, the aging Jeep Cherokee. As it was making more and more geriatric noises, we traded it in for a Nissan Serena people carrier. According to the motoring press of the time, this was so abominable a vehicle as to scarcely deserve the title of a car at all, but it performed sterling work over the next few years, not least by taking us and assorted possessions to Italy where we lived from 2002 to 2004. We started promptly upon the business of formally importing the car, but so interminable is the grinding of Italian bureaucracy that two years later, when we left, it still had UK number plates and an open file in a grey cabinet somewhere. Our next peregrination was to County Clare, in the Republic of Ireland where the importation procedure, though quicker and less opaque, was still going to be a hassle and, moreover, to cost a largish chunk of the car’s remaining value. Having spent a winter living on the edge of a mountain range in what was optimistically called a ‘farmhouse’ (in the sense that cowsheds, barns and donkey sanctuaries could be described as houses by their more anthropomorphic occupants) the joys of remote country life were beginning to pall and it occurred to us that if we rented a house within walking distance of Ennis town centre, we could dispense with owning a car altogether. It was worth a try, anyway; we could always buy another later if it didn’t work out.
For a few years when we lived in and around Yorkshire we had two cars. It began more or less by accident, with an inherited Montego, and ended entirely so, with a shunt in the middle of Leeds from a young man in a hurry and his girlfriend’s father’s uninsured Rover. While our car was being repaired we realised that we could manage without it, asked the garage to sell it, and used part of the proceeds to buy a trio of Trek hybrid bikes for us and our eldest son and a Burleigh trailer for the little ones. M would cycle the twenty miles to York station to catch his train to work and I would occasionally, in exceptionally fine weather, take the boys to nursery in their trailer, by an idyllic path that skirted fields and went through the middle of a almost certainly enchanted wood.
I haven’t always been without a car, wouldn’t want to create any meretricious greener than thou illusions… While never exactly a petrolhead, I’ve been as susceptible as anyone to the girlier attractions of the internal combustion engine and its various exoskeletons. I had four or five cars of my ‘own’, all of them red, including a BMW 3-series and an old-style Jeep Cherokee which I cherished for the same reasons as all small and nervous women cling to 4x4s, that it sat me high enough to give the illusion that I could see what I was doing, and made the drive up the icy hill to G’s school marginally less scary. The facts that it was corresponding more likely to roll over and to kill anything its impressive radiator grill came in contact with didn’t register with me any more than it does with my neighbours who still drive similar, albeit far more expensive, monsters now.