I’m adopting a sombre tone for this edition of the pouch, as I remember Barry, my dear friend for many years, who left us this month.
I first met Barry in 1999, in Bishops Stortford. My father arranged it all, as was often the way in those days. Barry and I were complete strangers of course, but Dad assured me that we would come to come to like and understand each other as time passed, as sure enough we did.
Of course I was nervous at first: Barry was younger and far larger than my ex, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle him, especially when he really got going. But my fears were groundless as it turned out – the two of us were soon getting on like a house on fire, and before you could say contrived-car-as-boyfriend-metaphor, we were planning our first holiday together.
That trip nearly finished our relationship off in its first month, and left Barry a physical wreck, for in my eagerness to get going on our long journey, I had foolishly neglected to replace his oil cap after a routine inspection. I think we were somewhere on the M6 when I first noticed the strange, bitter smell Barry was giving off, but I just put it down to something funny in his heater. I didn’t put two and two together until we’d reached Portmeirion, some five hours into the journey: hot engine oil had by now sprayed all over Barry’s innards and was dripping off every piston, pipe and plug.
Worse than that, Barry had started making a bit of a funny noise, on account of his engine now being the only part of him not covered in oil. It was a miracle he was still moving at all. Amazingly though, the oil cap had managed to stay balanced on top of the engine for the entire length of the journey, so even though I had to replace Barry’s engine a mere month into our partnership, at least I was spared the additional expense of a new oil cap.
And so it went on. Barry, I think, forgave me for that initial fumble on my part and we went from strength to strength. Oh, the places we went, things we saw. Admittedly most of the places we went were the M1, the M6, the M11 and the good old M25, and the things we saw were predominantly traffic jams, the back ends of other cars and the mocking flash of a speed camera, but there were a few gems in there too: a French campsite during a solar eclipse, the lamb-strewn coastal paths of Islay, the precipitously narrow approach to Roslyn castle. Yes, our time together was rich and full. And oh, the miles. So many, many miles. I swear Barry could have driven the well-sworn route to Croydon and back on his own, and probably did on more than one late night. Ahem.
But the years pass so much more quickly for Barry and his kind than they do for us, and the miles hang heavily on the chassis. I tried to ignore the signs at first: the nicks and scratches, the increasingly faded bonnet, the steadily rising cost of the yearly service. Barry and I were happy together and that’s all that mattered. So his exhaust was corroded, his rocker cover leaking and his bush adrift on the wishbone - so what? They could all be fixed or replaced. He had years left on him. Didn’t he?
It wasn’t one single thing that decided it in the end, though. It was all of them. The bills, oh how they started to mount up. Never too much in a single go, but taken all together, Barry’s repairs were starting to cost me, and deep inside I began to resent the expense.
Treacherously I started looking at other, younger cars. Shiny ones with unmarked paintwork and pristine body parts. Cars that wouldn’t fail their MOT or embarrass me with their rusty patches for all to see. I tried telling myself it was just a flirtation, a flight of fancy. There was no harm in looking – it wasn’t like I was going to do anything about. It was still just me and Barry all the way. Then I noticed a knocking noise when he went over 50 mph, and we both knew the end was near.
I- I don’t think he realised where we were going that last day, three weeks ago. He may have been suspicious when I cleared out the old flapjacks and CDs from his cubby hole, the You And Your Car maintenance manual (‘Introduction by James Hunt’) from his seat pouch, the picture of Flat Eric blu-tacced to the dashboard, but I tried to distract him with one final, lovely wash ‘n’ wax at the local garage, before setting off for the part-exchange dealership. I’m not even sure he knew what was going on when I parked him on the street in front of all those new cars that bright, sunny June day in Basildon and walked over to the office to exchange papers and keys. He just sat there patiently waiting for me to finish whatever I was up to, good as gold like ever.
By the time I’d climbed in to my new car and pulled out of the dealer’s forecourt, I’d lost sight of Barry. Somebody must have already driven him round the back, out of sight. I’d forgotten to give him a final pat, and now it was too late. I hoped he’d be going to a good owner, maybe a kid who could only afford a faded old red Mondeo with a funny yellow bobble thing on his aerial and back seats you could sleep on when you couldn’t find a bed for the night. Hopefully.
1998 - 2010
This is what I’m like with a bloody car. Don’t ever ask me about taking the dog to the vets that time.