Heroes and Villains January 23, 2012Posted by markswill in Cars and Bikes, Politics, Schmolitics.
Back in August last year, in my feckless petrol-headed way I celebrated the acquisition of a hugely complicated, willfully eccentric yet utterly gorgeous Citroën XM as my, ahem, daily driver. Until a couple of weeks ago the car had proved to be the unique and delightful, if ruinously thirsty driving experience that I’d anticipated and returning to Leominster railway station where it’d sat during my seasonal hiatus points east I looked forward to it raising my spirits along with its clever hydropneumatic suspension at the turn of a key. Instead what I found was that some malevolent wretches had broken a window and in trying to drive it away, completely wrecked the ignition barrel, wiring and part of the dashboard. They’d also etched a particularly unpleasant term for part of the female anatomy into the rear window, presumably because as its owner, I had the temerity to immobilise the car when I’d parked it.
Why they – and having been caught on CCTV later that evening wrecking then stealing another car I now know that there were three of them – would choose such a rare vehicle that would’ve been impossible to sell without raising suspicion, I neither know nor care, but the consequences have been considerable and in some respects, illuminating.
Needless to say although ‘only’ 14 years-old, the XM was never a big seller for Citroën largely due to a reputation quickly tarnished by the unreliability of its complex electrics and hydraulics which, typical of its makers, had not been fully trouble-shot before its launch. Parts are therefore hard to source, very expensive and for that reason my insurance company initially threatened to write it off obliging me ultimately to withdraw my claim. But then via something called the Club-XM online forum I came across a retired engineer who has been collecting and breaking these cars with the noble intention of “keeping them going” until he himself no longer is. Not only did this prince amongst men offer to supply me with all the bits I needed, refused to take any payment for them, and delivered them to me on Waterloo Station where I spent a very agreeable hour being advised how they should be correctly fitted and certain infamous problems with these cars, remedied.
Recounting this to a friend, he correctly pointed out that this wonderful gentleman was of a dying breed and as with the grandly named Lancia Gamma Consortium, a rather more formal conflagration of chaps (and indeed, chapesses) of which I am a paid-up member, long may he and they continue their selfless efforts to ensure that these automotive eccentricities avoid extinction. One could argue that regardless of legal obligations, major manufacturers should actually want to see their cars running around decades after they’ve stopped building them, but that would be commercially naïve – although it hasn’t harmed Porsche and Mercedes-Benz that you can still get most parts for cars they made 40, even 50 years ago.
The Gamma being laid-up, un-taxed for the winter (one sniff of a salted road and it’d dissolve into a pile of rust), I have unwillingly discovered the realities of rural public transport. So journeys that took me 30 or 40 minutes at the wheel have tripled or quadrupled in duration, often hanging around for hours in freezing termini to change buses, journeys tailored to timetables that seemed exultant in their lack of integration twixt buses, operating companies and railways or, indeed, my sleeping and eating habits. Perhaps no wonder then that despite being subsidised by public taxes, ticket prices were generally higher than comparative private transport costs, and most buses traveled virtually empty. So should anyone excoriate me for justifying my need for a car here in the sticks, even one that I actually enjoy driving, then they can expect the shortest of shrifts.
And whilst I’m harrumphing, the nice lady cop who dealt with my case admitted that there’s no point claiming compensation from the culprits involved because they’re unemployed teenagers from what she coyly, if accurately described as “disadvantaged backgrounds”, who’ll probably just be fined… before going off and doing some more crimes, possibly some more of the archly acronymed TWOCs (Taking Without Owners Consent). Although I may be straying into Daily Mail territory here, I’d much prefer divine retribution: having something they loved and or needed rubbished, but that would probably involve slashing a pair of trainers or kicking an X-Box to bits which I doubt a judge would sanction. Nevertheless I intend to go to court and see what happens to them, if only to have my cynical prejudices confirmed. In the meantime I’m still without a working car, hugely out of pocket and pretty bloody angry.
But onto happier matters. Recent blogs bemoaning the grim fate of civilisation as we, or at least I know it prompted the same friend behind the ‘dying breed’ comment, to generously furnish me with a copy of The Rational Optimist by that well-known controversialist, Matt Ridley. Despite the occasional impression of reveling his own smartness, Ridley torpedoes many assumptions about what ails society and economic conventions and replaces them with some unassailable facts and well argued, if not always personally observed empiricisms. I must salute his thought-provoking alternatives to my own gloomy views of the future, although despite the munificence of my heroic engineer friend, I’m not entirely convinced of the innate goodness of mankind which underpins Ridley’s contention that optimism will triumph over pessimism.
Nevertheless I’ll try and give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the verdict handed out by the magistrates presiding over the case of my buggered-up car… if there’s a bus that’ll get me to the court on time.
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