March 16, 2012

Occasional Bankstone News motoring columnist Marty Butch travels south to Bristol to put a Jaguar through its paces.

I’m out of my comfort zone this week. About 200 miles out of it, to be precise. Queer sort of place is Bristol – bit like a scruffier southern Harrogate. We’re somewhere down the bottom end of something called Whiteladies Road, a long wide street running up to Blackboy Hill. You don’t have to spend too long on the internet to know what happens when those two get together!

I’m happily contemplating the resulting mental picture (more like a video loop, really), when Tysoe rudely interrupts – telling me I’m to wait by a large painted gorilla outside the offices of something called ARAG, which I think stands for the Avon Reptile and Amphibian Group, while he pops in to pick up the keys for this week’s test drive.

It’s a bit of a step up from the Fiat I got saddled with last time out, I reflect, taking long deep drags on a Benson. Just a shame about the colour. ARAG’s David Haynes – for it is his – drives a luridly purple coupéesque Jaguar XF saloon with a light grey leather interior for contrast. In my book, that’s asking for trouble.

Tysoe’s back out in a trice. He tosses me the keys and starts in on all the usual guff about looking after other people’s property. “Take it as read, mate”, I assure him, stopping him in full flow. He blinks at me nervously for a second or two, as if he’s about to say something else, then shrugs and heads back inside for a meeting.

Walking over to the Jag, I realise where I’ve seen that exact shade before: it’s the hazelnut caramel Quality Street. Made for sharing, I chuckle, climbing in. This pale upholstery’s not exactly practical. Big mark on it already where I’ve stubbed my fag out. I’m a big fan of the leather, though, specially after last week’s bowel spillage scare.

Glancing over at the passenger-side footwell I spot a pair of children’s football boots, a crumpled red and white scarf and a couple of empty wine bottles. There’s a Bristol City sticker on the windscreen with the sponsor’s logo scratched out. Mysterious… still I’m not paid to sit around thinking about stuff like that!

First up, let’s crank up the audio! This week’s drive time selection: bit of a classic from back in the day: Prodigy’s Fat of the Land. I press eject and get a nasty shock when out pops roly-poly songbird Adele. I’ll be doing the bloke a favour when I frisbee that one later. “Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up,” I sing along, pummelling the leather-clad steering wheel rythmically.

Easing out onto Whiteladies Road, I’m in trouble straight away. Some idiot’s left an effing great tree right in the middle of the pavement in front of the gates. Bit of dent in the fireguard grille upfront, and a bit of a scrape at the back from reversing back into the stone gatepost, but so far still in pretty good shape, I’d say.

Pausing only to give the bird to various pedestrians watching my attempts to get round the tree, I speed off up Whiteladies towards Blackboy Hill and The Downs beyond. There’s a fair amount of poke packed up between the taut haunches of this sleek-curved slant-eyed predator, but I’ve precious little chance of opening her up with all this traffic about. Best get her out of town and properly see what she’s got about her.

“Come – play – my – game,” I yell merrily, windows down, heater on full blast. “Psycho – somatic – addict – insane!” Lighting up another fag, I suddenly realise I’m desperate for a piss. I’ll just nip down one of these side streets, I decide. Veering off to the left, I pull up abruptly on a tree-lined residential road. Killing the power and the Prodge along with it, I quickly become aware of a horrible high-piched mewling sound. B*llocks, looks like I didn’t entirely miss that tabby on the way in.

The bloody animal’s yowling away like anything and looking straight at me with a mixture of entreaty and accusation. Only one thing for it, I decide. Firing her up again, I lower the driver side window, lean out and slowly reverse, aiming for the head – partly to put it out of its misery quickly, partly to stop it looking at me like that.

Just as the back wheel makes contact, some frenzied harridan in a brightly coloured cardigan bursts out of the house right next to me, bounds down a short flight of steps and starts shrieking and lashing out at me through the open window with her scrawny fists. I panic, slip the jag out of reverse, and tear off up the road. I’ve barely gone 20 yards though when something distracts me – could have been the still-burning fag on the seat between my legs – and, before I know it, I’ve run smack into a signpost on the opposite side of the road.

Cardigan woman sees me crash, stops stooping over the mangled remains of poor puss, and chases after me again, grey dreads flapping behind, as fast as her earth shoes will carry her. There’s nothing for it. I abandon the jag, door hanging open, and sprint off up the road.

Redial gets me through to Tysoe. Breathlessness stops me forming words. “Are you alright, Marty?” he asks with apparently genuine concern. “No, I’m bloody not,” I pant. “Some mad woman’s trying to kill me!”


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