James Delingpole

How I learned to embrace my inner toff

1 December 2016

3:00 PM

1 December 2016

3:00 PM

I do hope it’s a terrible winter this year: a total bastard where everyone’s snowed into their drives and those few who do manage to escape end up being slewed across the road or filmed in tragic tailbacks by drones for BBC news bulletins or stuck in ditches and having to tramp miles across icy fields trying to find a friendly farmer to pull them out.

Nothing personal. It’s just that I’ve finally got hold of the car I always wanted — a Land Rover — and I’d hate people to think I only bought it for class-identity or small-penis or show-off reasons. I want to feel vindicated as a practical, responsible, sensible family man. I want the four-wheel drive to do its proper thing, rather than just be an expensive, fuel-consumption-boosting waste of space.

Our previous car was a Skoda Yeti. People speak very highly of this model — so highly that I kept having drivers of other cars sidle up to me at service stations and asking, almost conspiratorially: ‘So. How’s your Yeti?’ My reply to this would be something like: ‘OK. Really OK. About as good as OK could possibly get.’ It trundles along at a perfectly acceptable lick; it doesn’t break down; it has decent enough boot space (with dinky little hooks on which to hang your shopping bags so they don’t fly everywhere and spill your groceries: nice touch, that). But it looks like the sort of car Postman Pat might drive when he’s not using his van. The kids — Girl especially, who’s going through that phase where she wishes Dad ran a hedge fund, like all the other parents — used to loathe being collected from school in it.

Still, I’d be driving it today if it weren’t for one disastrous mistake: I got it on a three-year lease. Some pillock advised me that this would be good idea — that everyone does lease hire now, which is why the cars parked in people’s drives these days often seem to look so much newer and posher than their houses would lead you to expect.

Well, what I’d say about lease hire is: don’t. Really, just don’t. Yes I realise the monthly payments look superficially reasonable. But at the end of those two or three years, what you end up with is zilch. No, worse than zilch actually, as I discovered to my horror a few days after the Yeti had been reclaimed.

A man came round to the house with a camera and an electronic device and spent about an hour microscopically examining the car. Then he showed me the map he’d made in which virtually every inch of bodywork had a circle he’d drawn indicating some tiny scuff or scratch. ‘No don’t worry; it’s just a formality. I have to log everything. But none of these are big enough to be charge-able — it’s just routine wear and tear,’ he reassured me before I signed.

Unfortunately, the lease hire company, ALD Automotive, didn’t agree. It sent me a bill for £795 (All off side scratched: £492; Nsr door paint damage — £164; Front bumper scuffed — £139…). I suspect some kind of racket here: you’re being charged, top whack, allegedly to restore a three-year-old car with 50,000 miles on the clock to showroom perfection. Problem is, they’re entirely within their rights to do so: it’s in the small print. That’s why again, I say, do not waste your money on lease hire — heads you lose, tails they win. (To be fair, though, they did reduce it after I complained.)

My Landy, I’ve worked out, represents a much better deal. I got it from a second-hand car dealer, in the old-fashioned way, and obviously it’s not new and obviously the initial outlay is much greater. But at the end of three years I’ll still have lots of value to trade in for a newer model; and for a smaller average monthly outlay than the Skoda cost me, I’ll be able to go to stuff like the Grafton’s Boxing Day meet or Boy’s last Fourth of June without getting stuck in the mud or looking like the tragic poor relation.

So, yes, I guess I did get it for snob reasons too. It’s all just a front though: my Potemkin Motor, if you will, designed to throw people off the scent like the carefully constructed persona of some dodgy character in a mid-period John le Carré novel. Quite often now I’m amused to see myself described — usually by pillocks on Twitter — as ‘an upper-class twit’. I want to reply: ‘Really. You have no bloody idea. I’m the son of a Midlands businessman and at the village school I spoke with a Brummie accent.’ But I don’t, because I find being thought an effete toff more useful for the purposes of annoying people.

The Fawn finds this infuriating. When, the other day I was invited on to The Moral Maze — quite clearly because they wanted to set me up as an undeserving and despicable member of the entitled classes — she said: ‘Why don’t you tell them? Why don’t you admit that you’re not posh and we’re totally skint?’

Why don’t I? Well initially — as recounted in my cult classic Thinly Disguised Autobiography — I think it may have stemmed from my Charles Ryder-ish yearnings at university. But I think I’m pretty much over all that, now that I’ve since been so epically disappointed by so many of the smarter friends I once aspired to emulate.

Now I think I pretend to be a country squire for the same reasons I suspect Evelyn Waugh did. Because it’s the perfect way of retreating from civilisation, becoming as feral and eccentric and anti-social as you like, seeing only the people you want to see and letting the rest of the world go hang.

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