First it was the school disco, then the regular boyfriend. But now the absolute worst has happened. Big Mike’s favourite female has passed her driving test, yet it only seems like a year or so since I stopped changing her nappies (something my first wife, conveniently, never seemed to notice were full…).
As a parent, nothing quite prepares you for when your offspring takes to the road. I remember being absolutely paranoid when Chardonnay first got on a pushbike and that was bad enough, so to think of her at the helm of something doing 60mph, or maybe more, leaves a sickness in the bottom of my stomach that I fear will always be there. When she told me she wanted a Caterham for her 18th, I positively soiled myself, until I realised she was joking.
It also got me thinking about the driving test itself. This has recently been revised. It now includes a bit where drivers can go off and drive themselves rather than follow a prescribed route.
I think they call it ‘free driving’, which is something we’ll never get from the current government ! Yet despite all these assurances, the driving test is just that – a test – and like all new drivers, Chardonnay has passed it without venturing onto a motorway. And I’m fairly sure that when all her Facebook mates (or at least the handful of clever ones) bugger off to universities and colleges all over the country, she’s going to find herself on them quite a bit.
If French, German and Italian learner drivers aren’t even allowed a licence until they can prove they can drive on a motorway, how on earth can our own novices be banned from using them until they’re allowed to venture onto them untrained and unaccompanied? Madness.
Our Chaz will be up and down the motorway network like a tart’s knickers just as soon as she has wheels, for when I tried to get her insured on my cherished 3.0-litre Nissan QX daily smoker, I could hear the call centre bod’s coffee coming out of his nose in astonishment that I’d even asked.
So, like all good parents who are twisted around their offspring’s little fingers, I decided to make it my task to find her a set of wheels. For most parents, that’s a challenge enough. It has to be affordable. It also has to be modern and safe, which often makes it unaffordable.
And in my view, it’s a funny set-up where insurers give affordable (as in, not really affordable but at least not mortgageable) quotes on small, buzzy tin boxes that you wouldn’t want to crash. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who’d rather his daughter spent a grand on a V6-engined Nissan QX than a rusty Ford Ka.
For me, there was an extra conundrum. Being in the trade, I don’t actively buy cars. I just turn them round in cycles, so whatever she would get as her first car had to come to me either through the trade or part-ex.
I crunched some numbers to see what I could come up with. A 0.9-litre Fiat Seicento potentially fitted the bill as it was in insurance group one, despite the fact it has about the same crash protection as driving down the road on a motorised chair.
Vauxhall Corsas are dearer to insure than you’d think for youngsters – and that’s because statistically they’re involved in more accidents than equivalent superminis. The price of cool, surely, rather than anything dangerous about them, but show some stats to an insurance actuary and they’ll make life tough for you.
The answer fell into my hands…
The only other thing vaguely insurable on my lot was a Morris Minor Traveller and I didn’t want to let her loose in one of those on the grounds that a) the brakes are crap, b) it’s half made out of wood and c) they’re usually driven by odd folk in NHS specs and Parkas (much like the creature who traded it in, having finally succumbed to the otherworldly comforts of a Mitsubishi Colt).
As ever, the answer fell into my hands after a chance conversation with my tree surgeon. With his first sprog on the way, he was in the market for a family-friendly 4×4, and I just so happened to have a Toyota Land Cruiser diesel on the forecourt.
His trade-in? A 20-year-old Land Rover 90 Defender pick-up, dented to glory and with a starship mileage, as slow as Britain’s defecit reduction plan, and as a sturdy as the Houses of Parliament. Yet somehow extremely cool as well. Chardonnay loves it.
God knows what she’ll do with the winch.