by Paul Sweeney
With the Astra gone, I needed new transport - cue my next used car search! So what would it be? Something simple, cheap to run and suitable for carrying a young family. That felt suspiciously like my old selection criteria of, "dull, British and thoroughly normal" to me, which was a tad depressing.
Would it be another Cortina? No - that was just too tiresome to contemplate. It would have to be something else - but what? I decided - as time was not on my side - to be open-minded. Options were anything family car-sized from Ford, Vauxhall or BL - any of those would be considered. I still felt nervous about foreign cars after my Renault experience, so didn't consider them when poring over the classified ads (we are now 1986, so still very much pre-internet).
To maximise my chances, I decided to look at private sellers as well as dealers. The first car I went to view was a gold 4-door Ford Escort 1.3L - a private sale. Surprisingly given my previous experiences, the owner was completely normal and so was the car. In fact, it was absolutely ... errmm .. OK... and the price was reasonable, so I bought it without any hint of hilarity or strange behaviour. (Bet that surprised you!)
Driving the Escort was unremarkable but acceptable. I don't remember much about it really, except that it was competent - a good, sensible solution at the time. Did I like it or enjoy driving it? The truth is, I didn't care about it enough to even consider that - it was no more than a means of getting from A to B, and the best I could afford at the time. Other priorities took charge at this time of my life.
The only trip in the Escort that stands out in my memory (for reasons you will come to appreciate) was a day trip we took as a family sometime after our relocation back to Bristol.
My daughters were growing and like all small humans they loved animals, so we settled on a day trip to Longleat Safari Park, which was around 45 mins drive from home on the outskirts of Bristol.
We arrived safely and as you may know, the system at Longleat is that you drive around the animal enclosures in your own car. We did so and the small humans made all the right noises as we saw each type of animal - until we stopped in the monkey enclosure.
I must have been distracted, else I would have skipped the monkeys - but I didn't. The moment the car stopped, monkeys appeared from out of nowhere and leaped onto the Escort, clearly well aware that vinyl roofs were merely glued on and intent on ripping it off.
The children were by this time screaming in terror as the monkeys bounced around on the car, pulling on the vinyl roof, windscreen wipers, door mirrors and anything else they thought they could detach. It was like a madhouse inside the car - kids screaming and crying, wifey yelling at me over the noise to do something quickly - so I did.
I decided in a sudden indignant rage that those monkeys were NOT going to damage my car. What I did was to select 1st gear, rev the engine hard and execute a series of perfect learner driver-style kangaroo hops interspersed with 'ohmygodweareallgoingtodie' - force braking of steadily increasing violence until I had finally dislodged all the monkeys.
The moment we were clear of them, I raced toward the enclosure exit gates some 100 yards away which were already opening. Presumably the park rangers had been watching and were trying to help - and probably laughing themselves silly at our antics.
Seconds later we were out of there, and gradually wife and kids began to calm down. She didn't even criticise, which was something of a surprise. Thank God we didn't have a Reggie Perrin moment - if you remember that episode, his grandchild did, "Ploopy-plops" whilst navigating Longleat Safari Park.
The remainder of the visit was uneventful although I think we were all slightly shaken by the monkey experience and no longer in the mood to make the most of the trip. Little did we know, the worst was still to come.
After a time and an ice-cream or two, wifey and I agreed to make our way home and left the park to head home along the pleasant winding country roads of Wiltshire.
Unfortunately, no more than 5 miles from Longleat, we were hit head-on by another car whilst stationary. I had pulled over and stopped because I saw the other car approaching at high speed on my side of the road quite some time before it collided with the Escort. It was one of those moments when time seems to go into slow-motion - I watched almost impassively as the car approached, impact inevitable.
The small humans were asleep in their child seats in the back and were woken by the violent impact, but unharmed. Wifey and I were both able to get out of the car - also unharmed.
The Escort however had taken a very severe impact to the offside front. It definitely wasn't drivable and was almost certainly destined for the crusher - it was declared a total loss by my insurance company a few days later.
I suppose on reflection that is the closest I have come thus far to dying at the wheel. As it turned out, all it really meant was that yet again I now needed to source another used car.
But what would it be this time? You will have to wait for the next episode to find out!
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