Saturday 4 July 2009

Recession, what recession?

14st 10lb, 2.2 units. Mrs H has been trapped in the house and its immediate environs since the birth of our son, because apparently you can’t get either a buggy or a baby car seat into a Mini Cooper convertible. True, at least this allows me to keep track of her without going to the expense of buying one of those electronic tags awarded to lucky ASBO winners, but even I could see that it was making her life unnecessarily constrained. More to the point, it meant that only I could get out to do the shopping. Clearly action was required, so this morning we set off for a couple of car dealerships to try to acquire something more suitable.

I have never felt the urge to own a German car, perhaps because of the way they treated my father during the war (viz shooting at him, admittedly not terribly accurately, as my birth in 1954 attests). But then absolutely every Jewish friend of mine drives a Mercedes, apart from the one who races around in a Porsche, so who am I to be bearing a grudge? Mrs H quite fancied an Audi A3, because she had owned one before the Mini and liked it, while What Car told me that I should be fancying a Golf or a BMW 3-series, though Mrs H ruled the last option out on the simple grounds that “all BMW drivers are twats”.

So we went to the VW showroom first, on the scientific grounds that it was nearer, and quickly established that there was no way we could ever fit a buggy into the tiny boot of the Eos convertible, which I rather fancied. We then looked Golfs, which I fancied as little as I had done when people started telling me that they were the car I must have back in the 1980s. Despite the alleged recession, the place was heaving with customers and a woman asked if we would like to be added to the “waiting list” to see a sales person. We agreed, intending to while away the time reading some glossy brochures, then discovered that these had all been removed from display, presumably because of local scratters stealing them for kindling. That left us with nothing to do apart from talk to each other and the baby, so we sneaked off and drove to the local Audi dealership, where at least a young man in snakeskin shoes was prepared to talk to us. With his help, we quickly established that the A3 cabriolet was pretty impracticable, albeit less so than the Eos, and that what we needed was a four-door hatchback.

I made the mistake of nipping to the gents for a couple of minutes and when I came back Mrs H was sitting at a computer with the salesman, drawing up the detailed specification of all the extras she would like on her brand new car. Luckily we were saved when the young man asked us when we needed the vehicle and we said “now”, since it turns out that the order book for A3s is full until October.

For the second time this morning, I found myself wondering whatever happened to that terrible recession I keep reading about.

We then started looking at second hand models on the internet, but the only one that ticked most of our boxes proved to have been sold about an hour ago, by a dealer who noted ruefully that it had been on the system for 65 days before that, without attracting any interest at all. Eventually our thoughts turned to a rather grubby example that had been brought in to the dealership as a trade-in earlier that day. It was only a year old, yet with nearly 19,000 miles on the clock. So probably not owned by an elderly retired spinster schoolteacher, then, as we would have preferred. Mrs H also did not fancy it because it was a 2.0 litre turbo and “I have never driven a car with an engine that big.” The salesman and I exchanged “Will you tell her or shall I?” looks, after which I pointed out that my car outside, which she drives happily enough, has a 3.5 litre engine. So once the dealer had made an acceptable trade-in offer for the Mini, I shook hands and agreed to buy the thing.

The only snag was that I am so used to owning cars and just about everything else outright that I had completely forgotten that Mrs H’s Mini is subject to a leasing agreement and comes with “negative equity”. So when I cheerily signed up to pay a sum I could just about afford, at an extreme stretch, I was completely overlooking the further £13,000-odd I will need to repay on her original car. This, when it finally dawned upon me, was rather crushingly depressing. I wondered how I had come to marry an accountant who failed to point this sort of thing out to her financially illiterate husband, then remembered that there was a newish car in it for her, which explained a lot.

Still, Mrs H decided that we needed to celebrate and took me out for a late lunch, hanging all expense and directing us to a nearby Burger King. I was served by spotty, 16-year-old product of the splendid State school system, who managed to address me as “mate” at least four times in the course of our routine transaction. Normally this would evoke a robust response, in which I would explain that I was neither his friend nor his sexual partner, with a few additional thoughts on the respect due to customers and my reasons for taking my business elsewhere. But on this occasion we were both starving, and I decided to let it go. Always a mistake, I feel, with the benefit of hindsight. Like agreeing to buy a car you can’t afford simply because you are bored and hungry.

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