The sometime builder boyfriend spotted the Volvo on his way to a roofing job in Dorking. He rang me greatly excited. It had a few bumps and scratches but the pertinent facts were these: one owner. Never towed. A bike rack on the back. Haribo wrappers all over the seats. Oh, and the mark from an auction sticker still visible in the windscreen.
‘So it’s a mess,’ I said.
‘No,’ said the builder, who used to be a car dealer. ‘It’s a genuine family car that you can probably get cheap because it’s a bit dinged up. Trust me.’
The thing is, despite everything, all our stops and starts and offs and ons, I do trust him. But when I turned up to see the car, he wasn’t there so I sat in the car park waiting. The only space was at the car wash where some Eastern Europeans allowed me to put my little Fiat beneath a jet-washing machine.
‘You sure you don’t want wash?’ said one of them, a lean, muscly chap with his overalls pulled down to reveal his tanned, bare chest. Cydney the spaniel sat on the front seat panting at him.
‘No, it’s fine, thank you.’
‘We wash good.’
‘Yes, I’m sure.’
I was starting to feel this was a bad idea. Here I was, a single woman, about to test-drive a four-by-four. I was going to be taken for a ride, in many more ways than one.
After 20 minutes, and no sign of the builder, I went to find a salesman. The XC90 in question turned out to be the gun-metal grey one standing at the jet wash, which the Eastern Europeans had just finished buffing. It was a lot nicer than I had imagined.
The salesman showed me inside. I pressed something on the dash and a CD of James and the Giant Peach popped out. I opened the arm rest and a Haribo wrapper fluttered into the air. I felt a pang. What would I put in the seven seats? Once Cydney was installed in the boot, it would be so empty back there where the kids had once clambered about, giggling at the start of a trip, as dad checked the diesel level and mum put on everyone’s favourite Roald Dahl CD and…
‘You gonna start it?’ said the salesman.
I tried to make the car move but an alarm went off.
‘Handbrake,’he said, looking the other way out of the passenger window.
‘Ah ha ha,’ I said, trying to keep up the pretence a bit longer. Then I had to give in.
‘Actually, I don’t know how to drive an automatic. The last time I drove one I crashed it in St Tropez harbour.’
‘Just forget your left foot,’ he said, still staring out the window.
I lurched dangerously around the block like a learner driver and when we got back he said: ‘You wan’ it?’
Oh god. Oh god.
And then, the builder boyfriend’s blue van appeared and everything went into slow motion. Let me paint the picture. The builder is a handsome, blond, rugged sort of chap. He didn’t so much park his van as hurl it through the entrance and screech to a halt in the most outrageous way in the middle of the forecourt. He leapt out, leaving the van door flung open, and ran towards me like Mr Darcy getting off a horse.
‘You can’t park there!’ yelled one of the jet-washers.
But the builder started to speak a special language called ‘tradesman’. All I heard was ‘Five minutes mate …sort you out mate …down the road on a job mate …yeah, that’s right, Fat Dave! Yeah, he is! Ha ha! Yeah go on then, two sugars…’
Inside the showroom it was much the same. ‘Ha ha! Yeah, survived her driving, did you? Ha ha! Oh you know Fat Dave? Yeah, he is! Where you from? Sri Lanka? Vanakkam!’ I left him to it in the end.
I went and sat in the Fiat with the spaniel and watched as the builder lifted the bonnet and started pulling the engine to pieces as it ran. Smoke everywhere, he was shouting to the Tamils about when the cam belts had been done and whether they knew Spikey from West London Automatics.
After about 20 minutes, he got into the Fiat, sighed, and announced that a car I had expected to pay £8–9,000 for was £6,700, taxed.
‘It’s a different world, isn’t it, where you live?’
‘Tight bastards,’ he said, staring down at the sales invoice and shaking his head at the bottom line. ‘I reckon I can get him down a bit more if I go back in there and tell him Spikey will…’
‘Please,’ I said, taking my wallet out, ‘I’m happy. Just let me pay for the car.’
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