Et in perpetuum, ave et vale…*

(*Trans: ‘Perhaps, if we are very lucky, we might actually make it to Rome by the end of Book Three…’)

Miriam, as all the world knows, has seen me safe from two insane floods (the first of which descended the first day I ever drove her, and created a definite bonding moment when I forded my way through Stafford attempting to balance enough exhaust gas to keep the pipe from submerging against the fact that too many revs made her aquaplane alarmingly, and why they don’t put that on the Theory Test I have no damn idea). Even more memorably, she got me out of the way good and sharpish when we encountered the headlamps of an oncoming train thundering towards us at a broken level crossing (it’s damn sensible to build ’em to fail dangerous, I suppose, but it’s unnerving as sin to actually see a Heart of Wales express hammering into Marshbrook with the barriers still full up).

To date, she’s also cost me a couple of thousand pounds in running repairs, which has been a bit of a sod – to her credit, mind, she’s never had the same thing go wrong after it’s been fixed: I exclude the repeatedly-coking sparkplugs because the root cause of that was broken piston rings and after she’d finally been given new ones, she’s been fine (and is drinking far less oil, which is excellent).

Reluctantly, however, I have to admit that she’s getting older: she was first registered in 1999, and although she’s mechanically sound and will hammer down a motorway with the best of them, and whilst I find the idea that just because a car doesn’t have a plate from the last decade it must be knackered physically painful (because, Hell, as long as the bloody thing goes who cares how old it is?) she’s starting to show it, as minor components give the occasional lurch.

Miriam in orbit around Earth (click for big to see my awesome NERV parking permit)

Miriam in orbit around Earth (click for big to see my awesome NERV parking permit)

So Miriam works well, although like any mechanical beast she works better when she’s suitably maintained. And there’s the problem, because she is getting older, and after eleven years – of which the last two have been by far the hardest on her – lately she’s started to warn of things that might go wrong in the next upkeep phase. The odd gear change has been a bit clunkily (and even though I say so myself I’ve got to the point where I can change gears in Miriam with barely a dropped rev) and given the patchiness of her service history before I got hold of her I worry that she’s going to require yet more expense to get her through another winter.

…It’s not going to require any expense on my part, however. We’ve got rid of her. Technically, we’ve part exchanged her and Sam from Jewsons is going to pilot her into the, wait, what? Sorry, Sam at Jewsons is going to sell her onto someone else (presumably after their mechanics have done her up a bit and set a reserve price at triple what they gave us for her, but at least she’ll be another bloody good first car for someone else).

The part ex, at least, means Miriam managed to contribute towards our new car, a Fabia Greenline, which eats (very little) diesel rather than petrol, and has fancy new attributes like electric front windows, a 3.5mm aux port, and air conditioning. (The air con is a blessing, and the aux port a necessity since there’s a CD player instead of a tape deck)

The Fabia line are the more modernised cousins of Felicias like Miriam. It made sense therefore to find a name for the Greenline by tracing sideways through Miriam’s descendants (which is a damn sight easier than tracing down, in fact, since the Old Testament is shockingly bad at providing genealogies for women you might want to name a car after). Happily, Miriam’s brother was Moses and Moses was an absolute stickler for getting things in writing, even to the point of ensuring he was fished from the river by the kind of people who get written about. By adoption, therefore, Miriam can be tied to Ramesses, and we can contrive to name the Greenline after one of his daughters: Isis.

Isis. (This is as big as the picture gets)

Isis. (This is as big as the picture gets)

Isis is also, helpfully, an extraneous name for the River Thames, which seems to exist only in Oxford (I assume the locals named it before bothering to check if it was the same river as the one they have in London), and Earth is helpfully in Oxford, so it works out rather neatly.

The solid naming aside, it’s hard for me to like the thing: it’s never saved me from being run into by a train, or stopped me from spending an afternoon on an island in Newtown, or got me safely home over the iciest road the Godforsaken fens could dig out. I don’t understand it’s quirks, and it sulks like buggery if you try and pull away in second gear when doing less than seven miles an hour, which just strikes me as poor engineering. I’ve not passed the time sitting in it, or lovingly caulked it up with bathroom sealant to make sure she keeps dry in the rain, and she’s never had the chance to prove her worth by getting me from Queen’s Road to Hugh Owen in less than three minutes flat so I can open the damn doors for students who’ve just decided that maybe now their finals are here they should try and work out where the library is.

It’ll be a matter of time, I suspect: I’m not sure I’d even want a baptism of water the way there was with Miriam, but without that visceral lurch of having to place total reliance on the damn thing all I can see right now are the things that are wrong with it: it corners wrong, it accelerates wrong, the gearstick is about three inches down and to the back of where anyone who wasn’t a complete moron would put it, the dashboard isn’t grey enough, the windscreen feels smaller, and it’s completely the wrong shade of blue. The gear ratio is a strange (that’s not just me, by the way, all the reviews say that). It’s got a shorter bonnet which means it doesn’t look like it can go as fast as Miriam, in the same way that a bumblebee looks slower than a hornet. And it doesn’t have a leaking sunroof which makes it a damn sight harder to get a feel for the character of the beast.

Give me time, and I’ll get to like it, I think. But just at the minute I stuggle to look at it with anything but guilt for selling Miriam, and that’s fuel for little but nitpicking and a poor relationship. ‘s probably a severely clumsy metaphor in there somewhere, but I honestly can’t be bothered to look for it, because the whole thing is just too damn depressing.

And yet… I now also own a new Olfa Touchknife to go with my new car key – the old one I commandeered when I got Miriam broke the day after we moved into Earth, the plastic finally giving out after twenty odd years. I patched it up with Superglue, but I know it’ll only fall apart again and if I’m unlucky, the plastic will get lost and I won’t be able to save it, and all I’ll remember of it is the time it broke and bounced into a storm drain…

Top: Touchknife Mk. I; Below Touchknife Mk. II

Top: Touchknife Mk. I; Below Touchknife Mk. II

You can see in that photo they’ve changed the entire thing since they made my old one: the new touchknife has a much shorter blade, and the yellow isn’t the right yellow, and it curves too much. The name is on the front in fat silver letters and not in thin ones on the back. But the old knife wasn’t so sharp as it could be, and whilst it could cut things the blade was pitted and chipped from years of jumping around in someone’s pocket (the focus on that photo isn’t great, but on the bigger version you can clearly see how the point has snapped off).

And the thing is, I’ve never seen Miriam and Isis in the same place, so all I see in Isis are the things that are different about her, and if I’d never seen both knives together the new one would be all wrong. But seen together you can spot the similarities more clearly: the new one is recognisably an update of the original design. The shape is all curvy, but that makes it more ergonomic to hold. The blade doesn’t lock into position, but the old lock was never reliable and now the push grip is deeper, and less resistant to slippage.The things that are wrong are only wrong because they’re different, and they’re only different because they’re improvements on the original design. And knowing that makes it quite a lot easier. I’m still going to miss Miriam, because driving her was such an organic process, and Isis leaves you just a little more distant from the business under the bonnet, but I’ll get used to it.

(And perhaps, if I have very good luck, I may in time meet with another flood in Newtown…)

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  1. On August 06, 2010 Scatman Dan says:

    Awesome post. Although seriously: “The dashboard isn’t grey enough”?

    By now, Miriam’s probably living on a farm, playing with the other old skodas, going for a drive whenever she wants: it must be wonderful for her.