In February I wrote a post entitled ‘A Sad Loss’, which described the memories wrapped up in my old leather folder which held my reading scripts. The folder had been stored in a damp shed and a mould had formed meaning there was no alternative but to throw it away. I felt a pang of sadness as it went for it had accompanied me during much of my professional career.
This week I felt the same pang, yet stronger, as Liz and I bade farewell to our Mocha Renault Grand Scenic, NV10 USJ. Whilst the folder was part of my job NV10 has been part of our life together and has shared so many adventures: it was much more than just a means of transport.
We bought the Renault eight years ago using money inherited from my mother, and the purchase marked a major watershed in my life. Up until that time I had been working at two careers – my acting and teaching people to drive; as far as the latter was concerned I worked for a national driving school on a franchise basis and in exchange for a large weekly sum of money I was provided with pupils and a car, which I was also allowed to use in my spare time. The upshot of this arrangement was that I would turn up at theatres and venues in a fully branded AA Driving School car, which didn’t give a terribly professional impression, the nadir coming when we arrived at Althorp House, the home of the Spencer family, in the car and Lord Spencer and his butler rather sneered at the sight!
Unfortunately my Franchise payment to the AA was extremely high and I had to work from morning till night all week just to cover my costs and was left with nothing at the end of it, which made life for Liz and me extremely difficult.
The financial phoenix that rose from the sadness of my mother’s death gave me the chance to begin a new chapter in my life. Liz suggested that I leave the driving instruction behind me (it was almost killing me for nothing but a garish yellow car), and concentrate completely on my acting. This would mean the loss of my ‘free’ (ha!) vehicle, but I now had the money to buy a new one and so, one day, we were introduced to NV10 on the forecourt of the local Renault dealership.
The Renault Grand Scenic is a long multi-purpose vehicle with a huge boot space and when the rear seats are folded up so the cargo bay becomes enormous. The car had another trick up its sleeve though, for you could actually take the seats out completely meaning that the enormous space became gargantuan. All very useful for storing a replica of Charles Dickens’s reading desk, a chair, a table, a hat stand, a clerk’s desk, suit carriers, prop boxes, wooden steps, screens and all the other paraphernalia that go to make up my productions.
For years I have loaded up the car in Oxfordshire and set off for some far-flung theatre. I have driven to venues in the far north, south, east and west of England. I have performed in Scotland, Wales and Ireland and each time NV10 has been a steadfast, reliable and cavernous companion for me. It has always performed steadily and safely.
But don’t believe for a minute that the Renault was merely a tool of my trade, it was truly a fully fledged member of our family. It has taken us on holidays and on trips to family and friends.
Together Liz, I and NV10 have driven the 1000 mile round trip to our favourite spot in the Highlands of Scotland on countless occasions. Each journey was a special one, for it is a special place, but two stand out particularly:
2013 marked my 50th birthday and I decided to celebrate it in Scotland where the happiest memories of my childhood originated. We drove from Oxford, my brother Ian and his wife Anne drove up from their home in Bedfordshire and my sister Nicky came from Ireland, and there we gathered to party, reminisce and celebrate.
Just two years later we were there for another great celebration as Liz and I decided that there was no better place to get married than in our dear village of Cromarty. On that occasion we had so much to take with us that the giant boot space wasn’t enough and we had to rent a roof box as well, but NV10 was more than up to the task and transported our special day from Oxfordshire to Scotland without a hiccough.
On that occasion I scraped the front bumper trying to squeeze the car through the narrow lane where ‘our’ cottage is situated and I have never repaired the scrape for it is a reminder of an amazing time.
Last year NV10 started to sicken, and the electronics systems deep within started to do strange things to the car’s performance. The ‘brain’ understood that there were terminal issues with the engine and so to save the oily mechanical bits it shut down and only allowed the engine to idle along in ‘get home’ mode, which wasn’t at all convenient! We took the car to a dealership who plugged a laptop in and happily announced that it was a failure of ‘…such and such sensor’, which was replaced at great expense. I drove the car away only for it to lapse into get home mode once again. Back to the garage, more tests another discovery, more expense, same result. It was as if the Renault was teasing us.
After three such attempts at rectifying the problem we regretfully decided that next time it failed we would have to say good bye to the car, and I almost re enacted the famous scene from Fawlty Towers when Basil Fawlty beats his car with a tree branch screaming ‘that’s it! I’m going to give you a damn good thrashing!’ NV10 obviously has an appreciation for classic British comedy for the next sensor that was changed did the job and we were back to normal for another year.
But last week the end finally came. NV10 went for an annual service but before they started to work the garage phoned me just to tell me what needed doing: radiator leak needed repairing, air conditioner condenser had rotted and was about to fall off, the rear brake discs and pads needed replacing, track rod ends were worn and just to top it off the mechanic announced cheerfully that the windscreen wipers were ‘a bit noisy’. The cost of all these repairs would be almost £2,000, much more than the car was worth and we took the sad decision that at last enough was enough.
The beginning of last week was spent seeking a replacement, but there was to be one last hurrah for NV10 USJ, for I had to visit a venue where I will be performing in December, and it was with great pride that we drove up the long lane until we saw the view of the majestic Highclere Castle (otherwise known as Downtown Abbey) before us.
It seemed fitting that the Renault’s last official role was in such a grand setting and that both Liz and I were there together.
The next day we finally found a new model: younger, curvier and blonder and signed the papers, and I am sure that it will be a fine motor car: but it will never fully replace NV10 USJ.