Sunday, March 05, 2006

Please steal my car

I hate my car. But shhh… it’s a secret. Both my wife and my daughter have been complaining about it since… well, since I bought it about six years ago, and I have been defending its existence. Six years ago, when we arrived in Gran Canaria (our first Canarian island), the plan was different. We were lifestyle refugees from the City of London. We’d precociously lived the life of big jobs, big houses and big cars. It hadn’t made us happy. So when I bought this car, we were rebelling against the land of walnut dashboards and heated calf hide seats. My ambition was to run a book shop with a hammock in the back. So after a few months of holidaying, we decided that we were going to live in Fuerteventura. And I needed the right car for the environment.

At that time, Fuerteventura was an island where goats outnumbered Majoreros (the local inhabitants). We were aiming to live in a sleepy town surrounded by glorious beaches. The town had very little to offer beyond the surrounding natural beauty. A few shops, a few bars and a few hotels on whose guests the local economy was based. The citizens were an eclectic bunch. There were the surfer dudes with their bleached blonde hair who wandered about the town barefoot with their boards under their arms. There were the local tradesmen: Indians sold electronics, Majoreros had supermarkets and Europeans had clothes shops. And there were the tourists. I think there was one mechanic. And this is what defined my choice of car.

In choosing the car, I remembered a story from my childhood, about the president of Bangladesh. Back in the 1970’s, shortly after gaining independence from Pakistan, the new president decided to buy himself a fleet of white Mercedes. He even built a lovely new dual carriageway to drive them on. My father worked in Bangladesh at the time, and I remember us bumping along on the normal, potholed roads until suddenly we reached this smooth piece of tarmac, so different from everything else in the country. For years I thought it was called a ‘Jewel Carriageway’, and imagined it had been built to bear carriages laden with diamonds and gold. Obviously driving up and down this road proved limiting for the president and eventually he was forced to drive his cars on the rest of the ‘road’ system. One by one, each car in his shiny fleet broke down. A process of cannibalisation for parts kept others on the road for a while, but not long. Within just 12 months he was in a Toyota, like the rest of us, because that was the only type of spare part you could buy.

So I looked about the Fuerteventuran streets and the most common type of vehicle was a hybrid Renault van. Of course it is very different if you go there now. Both cars and population have changed dramatically. The goats and Majoreros now find themselves outnumbered by two newer groups. There are the sub-Saharan Africans. Desperate for a new life, they have risked all and crossed the seas in rickety boats, called pateras, to reach this remotest outpost of the European milk and honey Union. The other group is made up of comparatively affluent Northerners, who have crossed the seas in rickety charter aircraft for their short spell under the equatorial sun. Their risk only comes from the avaricious estate agents who are hastily carving up the island, mandated by corrupt mayors, eager to flog off their legacy. So now the locals have each traded in the land their families owned, for brand new Mercedes, and they will cruise the streets swankily until their money runs out. Then we can expect a local glut of second hand luxury cars.

But two islands later I still have my Renault jalopy. Having bored of the shop / hammock scenario, we have come to Tenerife, the most commercial of the islands to dip a cautious toe back into the real world. It’s not going to be the fully fledged high pressure, high stakes City of London life that we rejected. Nor is it to be the flaky, flip flop wearing Fuerteventuran opt out. Something in between. Some moderation. And my daughter and my wife have raised the volume and frequency of their complaints. Loathe to shell out for a new vehicle when I spend a maximum of forty minutes a day behind the wheel, I have been defending my car on the grounds of economy. It’s cheap to run. It never goes wrong. Well, it never went wrong.

Then last month I had to replace the gearbox. And the clutch. And last week it was wheel bearings. And two days ago the starter motor went, so I have to park on top of hills and roll down to start it again, until the mechanic has time to mend it. And with all that I have spent in the last month, I could have bought another car. I may have to admit that the car should go. But the more they complain, the more stubborn I get. However I am now at a point where my contempt for the car exceeds my stubbornness. I have taken to leaving the doors unlocked and the windows open when I park it. If someone would kindly steal it, then my problems would be solved. But even the thieves here have more taste. So now it’s time to eat some humble pie, suck up my pride and look for another ride.


Anonymous caroline said...

Good post! I went to Fuerteventura about 20 years ago. They were still building it..

3:27 am  
Blogger Tenerife Scribbler said...

I suspect that they will still be building in another 20 years... there's lots of land still to sell and lots of palms eager to be greased.

9:24 am  

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