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February 2005 - Down at the Car Wash

Back in my days as a smoker, the joke always used to be that once the ashtrays were full in the old one, you had to go out and buy a new car.

Although that idea might have kept a broad smile on the face of Mr Ford, I rapidly came to the conclusion that, if I was to be able to afford the cigarettes, a better solution was to work out how to extract the ashtray from its stupid slider assembly and actually go to the trouble of emptying it occasionally.

Once you've done the dirty deed and tipped the thing out all over somebody else's car park for the first time, the problem seems to go away, as, even when empty, that ashtray never seems pristine again.

I mention all this, purely as an initial digression, brought to mind the other afternoon during my imprisonment.

Yes, I was imprisoned.  Not by the authorities, I should hastily add.  No, it was false imprisonment by the agents and employees of a certain petrol company which shall remain totally nameless.

Now then, rather than all this inane rambling, perhaps it might just be a damn fine idea if I started at the beginning?

Yes, madam, I know it seems a pity to break with the habit of a lifetime, but having watched all these television documentaries recently about the anniversary of the filming of The Sound of Music, the beginning just seems like a very good place to start.

By the autumn of last year the old one was completely worn out, you see, so it was decided that a replacement should be purchased.  Motor car, that is.

After a few moments of thought, a replacement red racer from that nice Mr Ford was decided upon, even though red wasn't available without waiting months for some paint mixing operative, in a country recently transferred from the communist block to the common market, to extract his digit.

You'd think that an ex-communist could manage red fairly quickly, wouldn't you?

So the red racer had to become the silver racer if we were to take delivery in a timescale any shorter than the waiting list for a Trabant in Moscow in Mr Kruschov's days.

Small point here, Mr Ford, by the way.   The replacement racer, referred to as silver on its registration document, actually looks more of a beigey-gold colour than silver when exposed to daylight; but, as it'll never, ever, be red, we'll pass over that problem on this occasion.

By now you'll probably have realised that the point of the preamble to this month's exciting edition is to update you, dear readers, with the fact that Nick Harvey's now racing around in a nice new car.

That fact is very important, you see, as it is the direct cause of my false imprisonment by those persons from the petrol company which I'm totally certain I'm not going to name.

Having got that slightly digressionary preamble out of the way, perhaps I ought now to appraise you all of the subject for in-depth analysis in this month's edition.

There is a formula, I'm told, that the frequency of washing of a motor car is inversely proportional to its age; and it is this formula which is to be thrust under Nick Harvey's Acme microscope this month.

That will come in a moment or two, however, as, on detailed inspection of the preceding paragraphs, I note that I've, thus far, failed in my duty to formally bid you welcome to this month's extraordinary extravaganza.

So, in order to rapidly correct my serious omission, THIS is the extravaganza and you're welcome to it!

Isn't it funny how you can be hammering away the tips of your beautifully manicured fingernails on the jolly old keyboard, quite oblivious to the fact that your nearly half way through, but still haven't started properly?

And that, from the fellow who decided to start at the beginning this month.

Now, where was I?  With so many false starts and wanderings off the point during digressions, I'm none too sure I can remember what I was on about in the first place.

Oh yes, the formula for washing motor cars while they're inverted, wasn't it?

Now, the OLD red racer used to regularly carry my good self, 'er indoors and the brown chap, leg at each corner, tail at the back, to the depths of all sorts of filthy, disgusting and muddy places, usually in order to give aforementioned brown chap his daily exercise.

Driving into all these odd locations quite naturally meant that the red racer spent most of its time actually being the brown, muddy racer instead.

Indeed, as a further aside, it must be admitted that that fact was quite high on my mental agenda when the replacement was only offered in silver; brown and muddy tending to look the same colour, regardless of what paint option is beneath.

So, you will gather by now that, in line with the formula, the old racer was washed on a regular basis by the rain through which it was being driven, but by no other method whatsoever.

As far as I'm personally concerned, the same would be the case with the replacement racer, but no, definitely not; this is where the females of the species come into play to confuse the male equilibrium again!

Picture if you will, the scene.   Words start to emanate from the occupier of the front passenger seat.  The words are all about our impending visit to 'er mother's and how the new car ought to be spotlessly clean for her detailed inspection of it.

We've had the thing for best part of two months by now, so any arguments about whether it's silver or beige are long gone.   Brown hound has been regularly exercised and the car matches him perfectly, following numerous visits to the top of the local hills.

Regular devotees will be well aware of my incredible interest in cleaning things, be it dusting the mantelpiece, vacuuming the lounge carpet or, indeed, washing the car.

Okay, I might wipe the windscreen over on the odd occasion, just so I can see out, but why bother with anything more stressful than that?  After all, the bloomin' thing isn't going to go any faster just because it's clean, is it?

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I finally saw the need, not for a clean car, but to seriously reduce the volume of the nagging coming from my left as I proceeded along the Queen's highways.

I gave in, I extracted a fairly old, but nicely crumpled five pound note from my wallet, found the moths a new nesting place and, on our way back from the hills one afternoon, invested the money in a number.

This fact in itself proved to me how long it must be since my previous use of a car wash, as I'm certain, the last time I encountered one of these machines, you just poked the two shilling piece in a slot as you entered and the thing simply started up and got on with it.

Nothing so simple any more!

No, first you have to go into the shop so they can tempt you with some impulse buy sweeties while you wait for the silly cow in front of you to explain that she's only got a ten pound note to her name, even though she's just managed to put ten pounds and two pence worth of petrol in her tank.

When it's finally your turn to engage the person, I use that term loosely, behind the counter, in conversation, you suddenly realise that you now have to make numerous, complicated choices like whether to be buffed up and whether to have a good waxing.

In something of an edited repeat of the conversation I'd just witnessed between the person and the cow, I settled on the best I could have for the five pound note in my sticky, little hand.   This, apparently, involved lots of hot, soapy water, having my wheels violently brushed and my underside squirted, but no buffing or waxing.

I was, at this point, handed a small piece of paper with the number on it.

I must have looked rather puzzled, as the person now, helpfully, indicated that I should go and join the queue, which, incidentally, stretched right across the forecourt and out onto the main road; and when I finally reached the machine, I should key this number into the little red box at the entrance.

Hum amongst yourselves for a while now, folks, and pretend that a little over an hour has passed and I'm, at last, next in the queue to be processed by the machine.

At least, after all this waiting and watching, I'm ready to bash in my number in a totally professional manner and line up the replacement racer in the machine as if I'm one of those commercial travellers who use these things every day.

The silly cow in the Metro Tahiti in front of me, probably the sister of the silly cow with the ten pound note, has now decided, however, to mess, for want of a more descriptive word, up the system.

Even thick, old me has realised by this stage that when you drive into the thing, you have to run your front wheels up to the bar on the ground in order to make the thing start up.

Whether she thinks her tiny little car doesn't need to go so far in, or what, I know not; but we now engage in about ten minutes of her going backwards and forwards, but never far enough forwards for the damn thing to start up.

Eventually, the person appears out of the shop, taps on the cow's driver's window, which is then lowered some inches, seems to give the cow a bit of friendly advice through said window and things finally start up.   I'm not certain whether she really wanted her hair washed as well, but suffice it to say that the last I saw of her was a frantic attempt to close the window as water was sprayed at very high pressure through the aperture.

I'd taken heart from the eventual arrival of the person, as it gave me confidence that, should I also have any trouble, help would be at hand.

My confidence was to prove optimistic!

At long last, our turn arrived.   Having watched all those who preceded us, I'd already unscrewed and removed the wireless aerial.  I pull up at the little red box and bash in my magic number.   I straighten up the racer and gently run forwards to the bar.  Engine off, handbrake on and we all sit there.

As I've actually gone forward properly, the thing instantly swings into action.  'Er indoors and I are fascinated, brown chap in the back is a little confused by the squirting and whirring, but takes it in his stride, as all good labradors do.

Back and forth the machine goes, spraying water and soapsuds, then back and forth it goes, its brushes whizzing round at amazing speed.

Well, to be precise, all the way back it goes, then it starts the return journey to the front.  Just as the whizzing brushes are level with the front doors, it stops, or, more correctly, sort-of, fades away to total inactivity.

We sit there for a while, slightly confused.  Is it supposed to do this?  We haven't noticed this happen to anyone else.  Never mind, we're still confident that if it's gone wrong, the person will turn up in a minute.

What do we do?  We daren't drive anywhere as it sounded as if the brushes were tangled up with the wheels when it stopped.  When it squirts the underside, do nozzles come up from below which will rip off the exhaust if we move?

The great big, no longer whizzing, brushes are firmly jamming both the front doors.  The only one who could possibly get out is brown chap, leg at each corner, tail at the back, but how long will it take to train him to run round to the shop and bark "Help"?

To finally return to the subject, as mentioned right up there at the top, we're imprisoned.  Imprisoned by the equipment and operatives of this petrol company, which shall continue to be totally nameless.

I finally decide to hoot the horn.   I hoot the horn a lot.  I hoot the horn a very great deal.  Does the person arrive?  No!

Eventually a tannoy speaker starts up and seems to be shouting at me.  "Yang yang, ting pong, chow chow yah, echo echo" it says.  I hoot back, as I can't understand a word of it.   "Yang yang, ting pong, chow chow yah, echo echo" it says again.  Ah, at least we appear to be communicating!  I hoot back again.

Suffice it to say that after a number of these useless exchanges, the person does finally appear, in person.

It wants me to drive out, go to the shop and get either a refund or a free number with their compliments and then rejoin the end of the queue to have another wash.

No way!  All I want is a clean car for detailed inspection a few days later, so all I want is for my existing wash to be completed.  I have the upper hand here, as nobody else is using this car wash if I don't drive out.

At least they've reset the machine now and it's returned to it's state of rest away from my doors.  The person has now replaced the brush at the driver's door and is shouting commands through my firmly closed window.  It takes an absolute age to get the fact that all I want is the rest of my wash through the thick skull of the person, but I eventually succeed.

An altercation now seems to be occurring between the person and the driver of the car behind me, but, in the end, person keys something into the red box and the machine starts up again.

This time we seem to get the full treatment, we're sprayed, soaped, squirted, brushed, buffed, waxed and blow dried and it seems to take absolutely ages; but, at least it doesn't stop mid-flow this time.

After we've finally driven out, the reason for the altercation becomes clear.  Person has used the car behind's magic number in order to get us re-washed, waxed and buffed, but given the car behind the replacement number that they were trying to give to me, which is only for my cheap fiver's worth.

Whilst I'm returning the aerial to the roof, 'er indoors strolls back for a chat with the driver behind, finds out what the altercation had been all about and, in the end, pays her the difference, simply for the entertainment value.

A few days later, we passed our inspection by 'er-in-law, but I somehow doubt if we'll ever bother to repeat the washing exercise with the replacement racer.  The formula's correct, you see; old red racer, zero washes, new replacement racer, one wash.

Well, after a couple of shorter editions since my return, this month's appears to have gone on for ages and ages.  A bit like the car wash queue to be precise.  The next one, however long it turns out to be, will be on St David's Day, March 1st, so make sure you come back for that.  For now, though, it's time to go.  Right, I'm off, where's me bucket and sponge?

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