Coincidence is a funny thing.
A few weeks ago, I went to visit my friend Eileen, with whom I used to lodge when I lived in London. When I was there, I had to say a fond farewell to the car she'd owned for the entire time we've known each other, and given that I accidentally moved into her spare room ten years ago, that's a lot of years to own the same beaten up old diesel estate car. It was a car I'd moved house in (twice), made a ridiculous comedy sketch with, and the car that I really learned to drive in. And now, thanks to the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), it was has been sent to pasture, far from the Big Smoke.
And just as The Grand Tour was trailing the final episode of Season 3, with its theme of mourning the passing of the Mondeo, my friend asked me to come up with a few words about her car for a project she's working on. It's remarkable how The Grand Tour utterly nailed the way a car can become a member of the family, and take up a parking space in your heart as well as on the drive way, and we seem to have come to a very similar conclusion.
This is what I wrote:
It was a long journey by public transport that brought me to my first encounter with Eileen’s Mondeo, back, I think, in 2008. I’d spent half the day on the Megabus from Plymouth, and then caught the Underground to Leytonstone, and Eileen arrived in the Mondeo to pick me up. The two things I remember most clearly from that day are the monument to London transport in the station car park, and a little plush Agumon (a character from Digimon that it transpired had been given away with a McDonald’s Happy Meal) tucked into a cubby in front of me. On another occasion, public transport meant that I arrived in London so late, I ended up stranded at Mile End station at stupid o’clock in the morning, just me and the blokes in the orange hi-vis pyjamas doing the overnight engineering works, but Eileen came to the rescue in the faithful Ford with a smile and a Thermos mug of tea and all was well. But perhaps the most significant rescue was when I packed most of my life in an enormous suitcase and left Plymouth for what turned out to be good. Eileen and the Mondeo were waiting for me at Paddington, and the plan was that I would be staying for just the few weeks of the university summer holiday.
I ended up staying for four years, but that’s another story.
Once I’d settled in, I decided that I’d give this driving malarkey another try, having not been much good at it as a teenager. The big difference was that this time there was someone on hand to let me practice between lessons, and perhaps even more crucially, there was a car on the drive that I liked. And to say that Eileen encouraged me to drive it would be an understatement. As soon as I started my lessons, I was pottering around in the Mondeo, and there’s nothing to focus the mind quite like learning to parallel park in an estate car in your pyjamas in the dark.
Eventually I was entrusted with driving us to actual places, rather than driving around Debden after work. I drove us to Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in Chingford, where I executed my first ever reverse park (my driving instructor hadn’t got around to that yet). I drove us through the centre of London on a Saturday evening to get to a Praying Mantis gig in Kingston where we initially went to the wrong bar and almost ended up watching some strippers instead,and to another gig in St Albans (I think that one was Stairway to Zeppelin) with a knackered clutch foot. And one September Sunday, I took a coach to Poole to meet Eileen and Pete, at which point I drove us home again.
Ah, happy days. We came back via Danebury Hill Fort, which meant driving quite quickly along the bumpiest road in the world. The main lesson I learned from this was that I am not a Jari-Matti Latvala, and catching air in a Mondeo estate is not a good idea. I did let Eileen take over so we could get on the motorway and avoid having to drive through Staines, which is entirely made of roundabouts, and picked up the journey again on the outskirts of London.
I knew we'd reached London, because we immediately got stuck in traffic. Eventually I realised that the problem was caused by a broken down fairground lorry, and that the only way I was going to get back into the flow of traffic was to put on my brave trousers and nudge a quite large car into a quite small gap in traffic, and hope that no one saw the L-plates and decided to be horrid. To my surprise (and Eileen’s, because she’d half expected to swap seats and get us out of the jam), it worked. It’s amazing what you can do when you’re knackered and you want a cup of tea, but there can’t be that many learners who get ready for their test by doing 120 miles in a day.
Once I’d passed my test, more epic journeys beckoned. I discovered that the M25 was surprisingly quiet at 6.30am on a Good Friday when I drove back to Plymouth to pick up the last of my belongings, where I laughed at a jack-knifed caravan passing Stonehenge on the way down, and got stuck behind a Bond Bug in Epping Forest on the way back, so I guess that’s karma. On another occasion, the Mondeo was the venue for my first experience of driving with a completely full car, when I drove a group of us to the Midlands, where I discovered that the traffic calming measures in Wolverhampton are horrible and double speed bumps are the work of the devil, but Sweet’s Bilston Blitz was worth the effort. We came back with fewer people, but a very large teddy bear strapped into the back seat.
Over the years I’ve been on an awful lot of adventures with the Mondeo, both as a driver and as a passenger. I can picture the patch of blistered lacquer on the bonnet and the scrape down the side where it had a disagreement with a fence post more clearly than I can picture some of my relatives. It was there for me time after time when I needed it, and I was there to see it off when Agumon finally left his cubby and the Mondeo went to its new home . It’s been a teacher and a workhorse, a film star and a saviour. And more than that, it’s been a friend. I’m going to miss it.