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Richard Hammond on: buying habits
I’ve no doubt you’ll have read of m’colleagues’ dread of buying trousers. They’ve both rattled on about it before, and you may have agreed with them that it is indeed an appalling prospect: the taking off, trying on, taking off and putting back on of trousers in a cupboard behind a curtain is an activity eclipsed in its degrading misery and awfulness only by torture or contacting your mobile telephone network. I would like, in my jollier, Brummier way, to consider another, altogether different aspect of the consumer experience; namely, those things you buy and enjoy so much you’d like to buy them again, only you’ve still got the first one you bought. Of course, it might be only me who suffers with this syndrome, but I’m pretty sure it’ll turn out to be more widely spread than some might expect.
Of all the stuff cluttering up my home, garage, shed, car and pockets, I have two absolute favourite things. They are a motorcycle and a pair of headphones. The motorcycle is a BMW R1200RT, and the headphones are Sennheiser MM 450, Bluetooth noise-cancelling jobs. My only problem with them is that they’re so good, I want to buy them again, but I can’t cos I’ve already got them.
The rapid expansion of internet shopping will be slowing whatever rate of spread my newly identified consumer syndrome has achieved, if only because more and more of us find ourselves in possession of things we don’t really like and wouldn’t have bought if we’d looked at them in a shop, handled them and switched them on or sniffed them or tried them on.
Last Christmas in the Hammond household was, on the pressie front anyway, a bit of a washout. My wife had spent weeks flying over the choppy seas of the internet, swooping down like a seagull behind a trawler on anything she thought might appeal to our daughters. The problem turned out to be that most of what she bought was, indeed, the kind of thing they liked, but not the exact thing. My BMW and my headphones, by contrast, are perfect. I chose them for real, in a shop. I tried them on, turned them on and rode them or listened to each respectively before settling on what was, for me, the perfect thing.
The bike is my most faithful machine; we have travelled thousands of miles together, and I consider it a friend. The stereo, the satnav, cruise control, incredible luggage capacity and heated seat entertain and coddle me on every trip, and the indecently good handling still surprises the leather-swathed rider of many a litre sportsbike as I sail past listening to Chris Evans on the way to work. The headphones are equally suited to purpose: compact and light, they fold away into a small bag, they cancel out unwanted noise - not all of it, sadly, as I can still hear Jeremy and James moaning about trousers - they work with Bluetooth so I don’t need a wire flapping about over my shoulder when I wear them while running, I can answer the phone through them, change track on my iPod with a button on the side of them, the battery lasts for weeks and while not advertised as waterproof, the hundreds of miles I have run through lashing rain while wearing them leads me to believe they may be so.
I cannot recommend either of them highly enough, and that’s the problem. I envy anyone looking for headphones or a motorcycle, because they are able to go out and buy their own examples of these things and revel in their choice. I want to do the same. I want to buy them again. But I’ve already got them, and one of the finest qualities of each would be their apparently limitless ruggedness and longevity.
Before every run, I pull the headphones from their bag, secretly hoping that they’ve finally (and deservedly, given the abuse they have endured) packed up, gifting me an excuse to go and buy them all over again. But they won’t die. The plastic around the earpieces is shredding a bit and looks worn, but that just enhances their appearance to me and cements their status as long-term friends. The buggers are going to see me out.
Likewise the bike: it’s tougher than the ship it came over from Germany on. It’s now been superseded by a new model. I went and rode one at my local dealer and, with a heavy heart, confessed that I preferred my older model - a feeling further strengthened with the announcement by BMW of a recall of the new one due to a problem with the rear suspension. No such issues with mine: it refuses to give up.
I have, however, found a sort of solution, with the bike at least. This week, I crashed it. To be accurate and fair, I was crashed into. A driver executing a hasty U-turn on a major London road failed to check their mirror and spot the huge motorcycle filling their rear window and towering above their hatchback like an oil tanker sneaking up on a punt, and they reversed into me and my bike, knocking us over and making a bit of a scene all round.
The thing is, galling though it might be to struggle out from under a couple of tonnes of capsized BMW and look down at your valued friend and realise it is in need of urgent medical care, it has given me the opportunity at least to repair, if not replace, the old thing and re-engage with it financially, showing my appreciation for what a tremendous machine it is. And if that isn’t looking on the bright side of something, I’d like you to show me what is.