Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond

Hammond on: second-hand cars

Every time a news story calls for comment from someone with an equestrian leaning, we are treated to the drawling hee-haws of some tweed-draped chinless toff with more breeding than sense. My wife is very much of an equestrian bent; for her, every day starts in a flurry of mud, drizzle and manure as she scrapes her beloved nags' soiled mattresses clean and turns them out for yet another day of standing around in their own salad and damaging my chequebook.

But Mindy is definitely not in the category of equestrian fanatic with which the nation's news outlets seem preoccupied. She possesses some tweed clothing, yes, but it's so caked in the mulchy outpourings of her four-legged charges' hyper-productive arses as to be unrecognisable as such.

She doesn't have a Home Counties accent; neither can she make chutney, use a horsewhip with any sort of conviction or warble in church with the power and vibrato of a road drill. She does, however, posses a chin. All of which shortcomings and qualities should leave her standing out among the horsey folk like a clown at a funeral.

But the reality is far from it. She blends seamlessly; these horsey types are, by and large, as ordinary as the rest of us. And as for the impeccable standards that their imagined nobility and upper-class sensitivities might be expected to bring... well, not to put too fine a point on it, that's horsecrap. Far be it for me to decry an entire slice of society, bound together by a shared enthusiasm, but many of those with whom my wife and I have had dealings over the years - whenever it's come time to replace a child's undersized pony or overly dead one - have gone about their business with the ruthlessness of a gangster-movie diamond fence.

Mindy and I enjoy reading the ads in the back of her horsey magazines and imagining what the truth might be behind each gaily-scribbled description. A pony sold as perfect for a child turns out to be a cross between a sabre-toothed tiger and Hitler. "Hacks out alone and in company" can be taken to mean "psychopathic, unreliable, unfriendly and best served in a burger bun." "Good to shoe, box and clip" is a favourite from the horsey ads. Roughly translated, it might mean "an evil, foul tempered creature who will, if you try to load him into a lorry, kill you and, if possible, your children." Past experiences of standing in a field and watching as our recently acquired ‘saint' transforms miraculously into a frothing lunatic bent on murder makes the horse market a scary place to wander through. All facts that I have bandied about readily when in the throes of our occasional marital clashes over the merits of wheels versus quadrupeds.

I have, albeit inadvertently, joined the ranks of the lowest and meanest of dodgy dealers

By comparison, I have argued, the car and bike world is populated by decent, upstanding folk of impeccable standards who want only to allow one another to share in the pleasure of owning whatever wondrous old vehicle they are selling. So vigorously have I defended the car enthusiasts of this world as icons of fair dealing and honesty that it was rather awkward this month to discover that I have, albeit inadvertently, joined the ranks of the lowest and meanest of dodgy dealers, be it of horses, cars or weapons of mass destruction. Mortified does not cover it.

Finding that a particular vehicle was no longer getting the regular use and attention it required to remain fit and, to use a horsey phrase, ‘up-together' I decided to move it on, and replace it with something I might use more often. As I was due to be away working for a while, I placed the matter in the hands of a friend who would, he assured me, sell it and, better still, put the resulting influx of wedge to good use in a couple of other motoring projects. Brilliant. Vehicle duly handed over. Matter forgotten. Until a letter arrived - quite an angry letter.

It seems that my mate had, unbeknownst to me, gone off and got a bit dizzy with the description in the advert. The buyer was less than chuffed to discover the thing hadn't actually been the subject of the forensic rebuild they had taken my mate's advert to suggest, and so had taken to a keyboard to vent what turned out to be a considerable geyser of fury at the previous owner of the car - me.

Fair dos, I had sold it, albeit indirectly, and it fell to me to fix it. A refund was rejected, and so there seemed little alternative left open to me other than to stump up the readies to have the thing put more or less into the state the eager new buyer had anticipated finding it in when it was bought. This would simply be a useful little life lesson were it not for the fact that I'm now in the market for another old car and am completely paralysed with fear and paranoia. I've always floated into dealerships and private sales as gullible and innocently happy as a newborn koala. Now, though, I'm skulking about in a grey cloud of suspicion and mistrust. It's rather spoiling the experience. I might as well buy a bloody horse.

Richard Hammond, Column

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