Since this blog is a sort of depository of my first-hand accounts of significant moments (and of course thoughts) in my life, and since finally getting a car last Christmas was probably one of those, I thought I might at last put down in writing the sequence of events which led to it.
Not having a car
It all starts with me not having a car. And more particularly, having missionary parents living at their mission HQ in Singapore, where they used the base car, which was only insured for over-25 year-olds. And when I came to university in England, I came to Cambridge University, which has draconian rules banning the possession of cars.
In Britain you are allowed to get a provisional driver’s licence at age seventeen, and it is something of a traditional birthday present for seventeen-year-old’s to be given a course of driving lessons, often insured on their parents’ car, so that before too long they can be drivers in their own right.
But in the situation I found myself, it was clear that there was no car on which I could straightforwardly and affordably begin learning to drive.
So I accepted and resigned myself to this situation. But around the same time something else happened. I came across a book called 50 Facts That Should Change The World. Among these facts, I read that cars kill more people in the world each year than guns. Which is horrific. And thus was added to my disappointed carlessness a smug self-righteousness at my non-driving freedom from guilt by association with car-drivers.
I actually contemplated writing up a ‘why I don’t drive’ manifesto (though I never quite got round to it). For once you go down the root of questioning the necessity of the automobile, there’s actually quite an arsenal of arguments that you can amass against cars: environmental (they pollute), social (they isolate the individual from the travelling public), financial (they are expensive), political (urban environments designed for cars are inhuman and unwalkable).
Having a baby and changing my mind
But the reality of today’s world is that the car has conquered, and systems and structures are set up expecting the vast majority of–well, if not people, then certainly families, to have their own cars.
And having a baby was the litmus test that showed that my theoretical assent to the moral superiority of a carless lifestyle was not prepared to bite the bullet and count the cost when things got tough.
The debacle of driving tests
My plan was to do an intensive driving course and go from complete novice to having successfully passed my test in the nine weeks between the DTS leaving for Kenya on outreach and our son Isaac being born. But what I hadn’t reckoned on was the unavoidable long weeks it takes between booking a test and actually taking it: about four for the Theory Test, and another eight for the Practical. And of course you can only book the Practical once you have passed the Theory.
Anyway, I booked my Theory Test, I practised multiple choice practice tests and hazard perception demonstrations — and I passed. So I booked a Practical, and booked in some extra lessons to make sure that I would be up to scratch in time. The day came, I drove to the Test Centre — and lo and behold, I was told that my examiner had gone on strike, and so (even though there were other examiners doing tests for other people) I would have to go home and wait for an email to tell me when another test could be arranged.
The test was rearranged for a few weeks later, and again I booked in a few extra lessons to make sure nothing would go wrong. And on the afternoon before the Test, I had my final preparatory lesson, and I took my provisonal driving licence and accompanying paper counterpart so the instructor could make sure all was in order — which of course it was. Until, that is, I forgot to take the paper counterpart of the licence out of my trouser pocket before putting my trousers in the wash. So I discovered about an hour before the Test that the required paper counterpart was in tatters. In vain hope I tried to gently piece it back into something resembling what it once had been. The official invigilator at the Centre — a former police officer — was not convinced. I was sent home with a sound rebuke that these shreds of green mush did not ‘constitute a legal document’.
So again I had not been able to take my test. This time it had been my fault, so now I had to pay again and book another test. Having no real choice, I did so. And then, not more than a week before the date was due, I received an email telling me that my Test had been postponed until the 11th November at (wait for it!) 11:11am. Bizarre. This test I finally was able to take, and I passed with just three minor errors.
The gift of a Vauxhall Corsa
Meanwhile, we had been given a ’97 Vauxhall Corsa just a few days after my first test was meant to have taken place. It was from the mother of a friend of my parents, who was leaving Britain to return to the United States. It was quite old, but we were delighted to be gifted any sort of car really. It had a valid MOT, it was taxed for several more months, it would do us at least to start with.
Except that the kerfuffle over actually taking a driving test meant that by the time I’d got my licence, the Corsa’s MOT had expired, plus I had had to cancel its road-tax and file a ‘SORN‘. Once I had been granted my licence I was therefore still left facing something of a Catch 22: I couldn’t drive the car unless I was insured; I couldn’t be insured unless the car was taxed; the car couldn’t be taxed without a valid MOT; I couldn’t drive the car to get an MOT unless I was insured. Oh, and the battery had also died.
When I eventually called in Hamish to help me out of this predicament by helping me get a new battery and then driving it to a garage to have the MOT, I was told that the car had failed its MOT on eighteen counts and would cost far more to repair than it was worth. And what’s more, the garage that had done the MOT wasn’t even able to do the necessary repairs even if I had wanted them done.
So that was the end of the Vauxhall Corsa.
A Renault Clio Estate Sport Tourer
By this time I was ready to actually be driving a car. What I had hoped would take nine weeks had taken nine months.
So we prayed — initially hoping for God to give us something outright. I also started looking on AutoTrader, trying to get a sense of what the possibilities were. A few days passed and no-one had gifted us a fully functional Mercedes (or anything else, for that matter!) I felt like we should just go ahead and get something. Prayed again, asking God for guidance. What came to mind was the thought of a ‘Renault Clio’ from ‘a dealer on Milton Road’. I didn’t really know what a Renault Clio was, and I wasn’t entirely sure there would be any dealers on Milton Road. But investigation revealed that were three — and one of those dealers was selling a Renault Clio that looked like it would work well!
Except when I popped in to have a test-drive it materialized that it was the dealer’s branch in Bury St. Edmunds that had the suitable Clio. ‘No matter’, they told me, ‘we can have it driven to Cambridge for you to test-drive on Monday’.
So that’s what happened. It turned out to be a Renault Clio Sport Tourer. I drove it, I liked it, I bought it.
Va va voom!
(And I’ll leave you with this wonderful collection of Renault adverts.)