• KS

They call me the Baby Driver

Last week I ventured as far as Bristol. I wanted to buy a car (partly I think from a need to do something – anything - of significance) and my preferences in some aspects were quite specific. I was interested in a white Saab twin-turbo saloon with cream leather upholstery – a bit more snazzy than my Astra, with longer legs, and oddly enough much cheaper to run. The trade-up was also an important part of laying the groundwork for the Big Getaway, should the moment ever seem right.

Getting to Bristol required an exciting (remember the times we are living in) and borderline unethical (was it strictly necessary?) four-hour train journey. It would constitute what an old naval friend used to refer to as a “Rupert Bear Adventure”. It involved an early start, and given that there would be no food available until I got to Bristol, this in turn required an appropriately sustaining breakfast.

I am a slightly weedy species of environmentally motivated semi-vegan, and as a general rule, I don’t have animal produce in the house. (OK, there are exceptions, Parmesan being one of them.) On my trip to Scotland, just before lockdown, I had hit on a great wheeze, which was to buy an uncooked bacon and egg ciabatta from Costa, and heat it in the oven while I was showering on the morning of departure. This had worked a treat, and I knew it would sustain me, along with a piece of flapjack mid-morning, until I reached civilization.

As it turned out, Costa were doing a lockdown-limited menu, and could supply only a bacon roll. A bacon roll on its own doesn't quite do the trick, so I had to buy half a dozen eggs, having checked first that I could pass the rest of them on to a nearby family member. I’ve gone off the idea of eggs in a big way, since I started watching vegan propaganda films, but somehow they really work for a travelling breakfast.

There were other necessary preparations – a mask, obviously, but also I required a defence against the accusation that I was breaking lockdown guidelines by travelling during the rush hour. In fact I was fairly sure the train would be quiet – it was too early for the city workers, and beyond Truro relatively few people commute in an eastward direction. But just in case, I dressed as if for work – a jacket and tie (a tie!) and my bits and pieces in a briefcase rather than a rucsac. I figured if I looked like I bank clerk, nobody would bother me.

It worked a treat. The train was as quiet as I had expected, and I wasn't even asked for my ticket. I had planned a coffee when we changed at Exeter, but nothing was open, all the station staff masked, and a strange lack of bustle. The same was the case at Bristol Temple Meads, which was vast and empty, and when I wandered around the station vaguely looking for somewhere to have lunch I was politely encouraged to leave the premises.

It was a half hour walk through post-industrial riverside Bristol to get to the car showroom. On the way I found a neat little cappuccino bar that was open, so that solved the coffee problem, and improved morale. The dealer was called Bristol Luxury Autos, which had conjured up in my mind something rather glamorous - there had been a lot of talk on the phone about masks and gloves and disinfecting, and I had visions of a carpeted showroom with spotlights and water coolers.

In the event it was a fenced-in lot with an office one step up from a portacabin, and high-mileage BMWs and Mercs jammed bumper to bumper in the open air. The guys seemed decent and friendly, but in the excitement of me test driving a fancy car I'm not sure how much actual disinfecting went on. I forgot all the things I had meant to check, and set off into the lunchtime traffic, realising too late that they hadn’t given me trade plates. Maybe you don’t need them these days. I stalled on the first roundabout and got lost for a bit out by the motorway but the Saab seemed sound enough. It wasn’t quite the shade of white that I had imagined but there were a couple of nifty Scandinavian quirks like the ignition being in the central console, and a rather James Bond pop-out cup holder. And there were three windscreen cleaning jets rather than the normal two, which, when I eventually found my way back to the showroom, might just have been the thing that swung the deal. There had never really been a Plan B.

I drove it home from Bristol, topping up with diesel at both ends, and was pleased to find that it was indisputably frugal. It was comfortable to drive, too. It feels a bit agricultural on short runs, but I live within walking distance of quite a lot of stuff, including the railway station, and part of the environmental game-

plan is to minimise my local driving, but have something economical and comfortable for Grand Touring.

Of which, hopefully, more later.

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