July 19, 2018

Niiiiiiauowwwwwww!

Niiiiiiauowwwwwww!

Niiiiiiauowwwwwww!

I’m standing behind a safety barrier, puffing on a fag, alongside a bendy stretch of sun-baked tyre-fringed tarmac.

There’s a well-fed bloke in overalls bobbing up and down beside me, yelling over the din of a couple of dozen speeding go-karts, as we used to call them back in the day.

“What?!!” I yell back.

He’s off again with his jabbering. I still can’t make much sense of it, but he appears to be talking about something he’s eaten.

I blow smoke, curl my lip, and raise my palms, denoting helpless incomprehension.

He tries yet again, spittle-spattering me as he does so.

This is going to sound odd, but I think he’s claiming to have eaten a BMW.

I know for a fact this bloke has an appetite. But eating a car? I can’t see that, in fairness.

He tugs at my elbow, indicating we should give the kart race some space and find somewhere quieter to talk. With a sinking heart I nod assent and follow him off towards the catering facilities. It always seems to end up there with him.

Who exactly is this bloke, you’re probably wondering by now. And who perchance might I be, for that matter.

The bobbing yelling bloke is Dickon Tysoe, who, when not racing karts, works for leading professional outsourced claims handling outfit Bankstone. The ruggedly saturnine individual shambling reluctantly in his wake, Lidl carrier bag in hand, towards the butty buffet (i.e. me) is none other than Bankstone News’ erstwhile motoring correspondent, Marty Butch.

Yes, that’s right, the very same Marty Butch once supposed incinerated in a failed attempt to build the battery-powered OAP-transport-solution of the future.

Long story short: reports of my demise were just a tad exaggerated. Which happened to suit my purposes at the time – for personal reasons into which we need not delve. Let’s just say, I’ve been away.

We’re far enough from the screaming karts now that I can hear what Tysoe’s gibbering on about. Or at least I can in between him taking giant slathering bites out of his bacon butty and hurriedly catching his breath now and then.

It turns out he hasn’t eaten a BMW. He’s got hold of the key to a BMW i8 that belongs to some associate of his from Bath. The car’s parked ‘just over there’ next to Tysoe’s own trusty lime green Bongo Friendy. And here’s the key!

The thing which he claims is a key looks more like some kind of old-skool Star Trek personal communicator or phaser or whatever. But, sure enough, Tysoe leads me out back to the car park, wiping excess ketchup on his overalls as he goes, re-directs my attention from some bird in clingy lycra to the sleek and gleaming i8, presses a button on the Star Trek thing and gull-wing doors swing up.

Inviting me to clamber in behind the wheel. Tysoe gets down on his ketchupy knees beside me, tucked in under the gull wings (or butterfly wings, as he insists they should be called) and starts briefing me on this, my latest and most challenging ever assignment as Bankstone News’ motoring correspondent.

Apparently, this thing’s worth somewhere north of £100k, so it’s really important I take care of it for once – especially as Tysoe hasn’t exactly levelled with its owner about the fact we’re borrowing it for a test drive.

It certainly looks the part. From a distance the i8 looks every inch the supercar – aside from some rather modest tyre widths and some less-than-classic blue detailing. But when we fire the engine up, it makes less of a feral growl, more of a Twingo-cum-milk-floaty type effect.

There’s an electric motor up front, Tysoe explains, and a proper (if rather tiny) engine somewhere ‘amidships’. But I don’t need to worry about any of this, he tells me firmly. It’s got an automatic gearbox, and all I need to do is accelerate (gently), brake (gently) and steer (carefully).

“Can it go with the doors up?” I wonder aloud, dabbing gently at the accelerator just to see. The i8 lurches forward a foot or two, sending Tysoe sprawling over on his side.

“Stop fussing around!” he admonishes, righting himself. OK, maybe he didn’t actually say fussing, but you get the gist, and this is, after all, a family news eZine.

“It doesn’t sound much like a supercar,” I observe, dourly.

“You wait, he chuckles. “It does from the inside, once you get going.”

I’ve no idea what he’s talking about, but I’ve had enough of hanging around. So I take my foot off the brake pedal, reapply it to the gas, and trundle briskly off towards the exit. Tysoe’s jogging along beside me, just succeeding in wrestling down the driver’s-side door before toppling over as I pick up speed.

I’ve no idea where I’m going, but, seeing as I picked up a couple of minor knocks off parked cars on my way, out I reckon the local Halfords for some spray paint might be my best bet. Don’t want to be going back with i8 looking too ‘run in’.

I reach over to the passenger seat to fish another John Smith’s out of my bag, flick up the tab with the grubby nail of my left middle finger, and take a good long swig. Only problem: the cupholder’s too small to hold the can. Bl**dy ridiculous! Do Germans only drink 18.7cl bottles of Liebfraumilch or something? I neck it and chuck the can down in the footwell.

It’s a long straight road out of the kart place, with hedges, trees and fields to either side. Which should have made it easy keeping the thing on the road if I hadn’t been a tad distracted by lighting a fag whilst thumb-typing Halfogdss into Vicinity on my phone. Before I know it, I’m across a grass verge and half way into some kind of ditch-hedge combo.

With a bit of wheel-spinning, engine racing, belly-scraping, back-and-forthing, I manage to reverse her back onto the road – but I don’t entirely like the sounds I’m hearing from the engine (half retching and sputtering, half buzzing and whirring), so I pull her back on to the grass verge and nip round the back to have a look.

When I finally get the boot lid up (no amount of tugging and thumping and levering would budge it – turns out you need the key thingy) there’s no sign of the promised engine, just a funny little carpeted cubby hole that’s stuffed full – for some reason – of ‘residents parking only’ signs. I can see now why the owner’s keeping his crutches and his squash gear on the dwarf-size back seats (though how you play squash on crutches, I’m damned if I know).

Behind the cubby hole there’s a boxed-in bit where I’m guessing the engine must be. A faint burning-oil smell seems to confirm my suspicion. By the time I’ve lifted one panel off and removed half the screws securing another behind I’m thoroughly bored. So I stub my fag out on the carpetty-stuff and head back up front to slide in behind the wheel.

Having lit up another fag, adjusted the spelling of my Vicinity search, and got some directions for Halfords, I can now give steering my full attention. I burn off smartly on up Snagglethorpe Lane, testing the brakes a couple of times as I go, and laying down some tasty smears of rubber in the process.

I reach a crossroads, point her left, as instructed, and nip out just in front of some terrified looking old biddy puttering along in a Micra. Tysoe’s right about the engine sounding better from the inside, especially when you give it some welly. But I can’t see why you’d want a motor that sounds good on the inside. Surely it’s passers-by (especially lady passers-by) you want to impress with the roar of your motor? Even from the inside, the effect is somewhat offset by a residual milk-float vibe. That’s and the sound of all those screws rolling around in the back and the sloshing dregs of my John Smith’s rolling round in the footwell.

I light up another fag and decide to put some tunes on the radio. I nearly leave the road again trying to work out what all these buttons with unhelpful names like MEDIA, MENU and NAV mean. After a bit, I abandon arsing about with knobs and buttons and settle for a spot of Spandau on what I think the jingle’s telling me is The Alan Bottom Show on Gravelly FM.

I light up another fag. It’s getting a bit foggy in here now, so I jab at some more buttons and finally get the front windows down. Up to a point… They seem to have got stuck 4/5ths of the way.

I bash at the annoyingly protruding glass with my elbow a couple of times whilst repeatedly pressing the down button as hard as I can. Nothing. Casting about for something heavy with which to give the recalcitrant glass some further encouragement, I locate a leather ring-binder thing with a lot of guff about BMW i8s in it. I’ve barely begun whacking away with this, when the bindings snap open and several hundred newly loose-leaf pages of Bavarian-English incomprehensibility flutter off crazily across the Lincolnshire landscape.

Irritably, I toss the binder after them. No gangster leaning for me today.

I light up another fag and decide to have a proper go at putting this so-called hybrid supercar through its paces. I jab at a few buttons on the dash, more or less at random.

SYNC? No idea. Let’s have a bit of that though. I’m all about the syncing, me. I try a button marked eDRIVE, wondering warily whether this might have the same electrifying effect as the one I rigged up for Tysoe’s VW Up all those years ago. Thankfully not, it just produces a vague sinking feeling. So I jab if off again.

I adjust a rocker between COMFORT and ECO PRO all the way over to COMFORT. I can’t abide anything with eco in it. There’s a button with a camera icon on it – which I won’t be going anywhere near. I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to doing stuff on camera. There’s another one depicting a giant letter P blowing wind into the sails of a small yacht. I press it, just to see, but nothing appears to change. I shrug and light another fag.

What about this gearstick thingy. I give it a tentative wiggle and all I get is jerkiness, resistance and some grating sounds. Side to side wiggling seems equally pointless. Although.. wait, what the hell’s going on?! The dashboard display has suddenly turned red! This is clearly not a good sign. And the engine’s doing something very odd.

Frantically, I press the COMFORT option multiple times. The dials are still bright red. The car seems to be picking up speed entirely of its own volition. I try START/STOP, but that seems to be disabled. Genuinely panicking now, I’m thumping away at any button I can find. Suddenly the doors swing up and hot bucolic summer air buffets me from both sides, tearing the fag clean out of my slack-jawed mouth.

There’s straw or dried grass or something blowing in too now, and – with barely a second to spare – I look up to see that there’s a slow-moving farm vehicle and trailer ahead of me (the source, clearly of the aforementioned of dried-grassy stuff).

I whip the wheel over to the right to get past this sluggardly chaff-mobile.

Then — horror — I clock that there’s a tractor oncoming in the lane I’m mostly in now. There’s nothing else for it – I slam down the accelerator and go for the gap.

Both agri-vehicles veer verge-ward. I breath in, and just about make it through. Laughing manically, I tear on up the road, every sense abuzz with adrenaline in overdrive and the sobbing relief that always comes with cheating my latest brush with grisly and untimely death.

The loss of the doors (gull-wing, butterfly-wing, buffalo-wing… whatever they were) barely seems to matter. I’m alive, goddammit. I’m alive!

I very nearly forfeit that distinction a few yards further up the road though, when I misjudge my speed going into a sharp corner and end up ploughing through a five-bar gate, bouncing and sliding across twenty yards of pasture land – and very nearly into a crowd of prancing bullocks (prancing, you understand, in alarm at the suddenness and unconventionality of my arrival).

I consider trying to get what’s left of the i8 back on the road, but one of the rear wheels is bent right underneath the badly dented chassis and there’s smoke coming out of the buckled rear end in significant quantities now.

Lighting up another fag and cracking open another John Smith’s, I plonk myself down on one of the less mashed up bits of the bonnet and start dialling Tysoe’s number to give him the good news of my miraculous survival.

One or two of the (now regrouped) bullocks are giving me a distinctly funny look. One’s even pawing the ground with his hoof.

“Hello?” comes Tysoe’s voice (karts buzzing in the background still).

“WTF do you want?” I demand aggressively.

“You called me,” says Tysoe sounding a little hurt and confused.

“No, not you,” I tell him. “I was talking to a bullock”.

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