James May

James on: his Panda

James on: his Panda

I've owned my two-bedroom flat in west London for almost exactly 10 years, from October 1991 to September 2001.

What larks we had together! Some of the more extreme noises may still resonate faintly in the dust of the brickwork, and I bet there's a trace of soot from the famous blazing bacon incident still to be found somewhere. An unremarkable flat, but the stage for some farcical formative experiences for which I'm grateful.

When it was time to leave, I packed everything that defined me into the usual boxes and plastic crates. Then a Scottish caber-tossing team posing as a removals company came and smashed it all to pieces while supposedly loading it into a van. Soon, everything was gone, and my home was left naked and grieving.

But it was still mine. There, more crisply revealed by the absence of the things normally around them, were the kitchen I'd painstakingly built myself and my funky fireplace tiling; the small holes in the wall clustering around the pristine circle that denoted where the dartboard had been, and the damage to the skirting board from the ill-advised indoor rifle-range project.

It was a sad moment. I closed the door for the last time. But it was a second-floor flat, and by the time I'd reached the bottom of the stairs, I'd forgotten all about it.

These days, Woman and I have a whole house to ourselves, with flowers growing in pots, an offensively red front door and a step where we can sit and eat an illicit bag of chips on the sort of musk-laden evening that Tennyson wrote about.

This is definitely ours, too. Within days of arriving, a lot of knotted pine had gone onto a bonfire, and acres of artisan tiling had gone into a neighbour's skip (during the dead of night), hopefully en route to becoming part of something more aesthetically acceptable. The hardcore for a new motorway, perhaps.

A lot more has changed. Different bathrooms, modified walls and doorways, a new window, that ridiculous light fitting, the usual stuff. If we emptied this, it would still stand as an archeological record of the time when we started living together. There's a lot more cupboard in this place, obviously.

But we've been thinking about moving, or knocking this house down and building a better one. If we do any of those things, the memory of this one will recede like a straw hat plucked from the window of a speeding train.

Who gives a toss? Home - the building, anyway - has always seemed a bit temporary to me, and our washing machine still manoeuvres itself out of its alcove when it's on the spin cycle. The place is just a wayside halt, not a terminus.

Next month, however, the Fiat Panda is going, and that's a real wrench. Her outdoors is heartbroken. It's as if I've said I'm having the cat put down.

I'm trading it in for an electric BMW i3, so expect some pontification about being a part of the experiment blah blah blah. That's in a few weeks' time, so now I feel I should pay my respects to the Panda, properly. It's not as if I've done this before.

Never has a humble car served its owners so dutifully. If cars know stuff, the Panda must know I have a pampered Italian supercar in the garage for special days. I also still have that old Roller for collecting people from the airport. The Panda just sits there witlessly, outside in all weathers like a Derbyshire sheep, waiting to be abused.

It's almost eight years old, and doesn't smell as good as it did. I have a memory of someone like Richard Hammond being sick in it. Or maybe he guffed; can't remember. Anyway, it's pretty horrible.

But it's never gone wrong. Never. It's had a set of tyres and a new exhaust section, and the throttle linkage went a bit sticky. But I cured this myself, and as you'd expect, I did it properly and in accordance with proper engineering practices, by firing WD40 at it. Gaffer tape wasn't going to work.

For those who complain we never test proper cars for normal people, here are the real figures. Seventy-one per cent depreciation over seven and a half years, or under 10 per cent a year on average. That's an overall capital cost of £55 a month, and I've never been able to thrash it to below 40mpg. Beat that.

The Panda will now disappear into the vortex of used-car trading. If you need a cheap, small, used car and you come across LN56 YRR, buy it. You won't be disappointed, unless you're a perfumier.

Please look after this bear.

James May, Column, Fiat Panda

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