Mk2 Escort taught Beth much - but mostly how useful the humble hammer can be in car maintenance
1991, the year of the first Gulf War, the collapse of Yugoslavia and Bohemian Rhapsody getting to number one in the hit parade for the second time. It was also the year I bought my first car, a green Mk2 Ford Escort 1.3.
Even then I had developed an irrational and wholly incomprehensible dislike of small cars, so I turned my nose up at anything that would have been remotely sensible for a first-time car owner to buy and, for some random reason that I can't even remember, set my cap at the Ford Escort, beloved of teenage car park cruisers across the country. The green one at £495 looked like a bargain.
So on a cold, dark night, I went to a small village near Oxford, all bright-eyed with anticipation and clutching my 500 notes, accompanied by my boyfriend and a friend of his who claimed to know a lot about cars. It was only later when I confronted him over this claim that I discovered he was actually an army mechanic, but had only ever worked on tanks.
Mobility and independence turned out to be mutually incompatible with ownership of the Escort. The night after I bought it, it mysteriously refused to start, so I called the seller and demanded to know what was wrong with it. Of course, he took the only reasonable course of action for a dodgy second hand car seller and pretended the signal was breaking up before hanging up on me.
The next few months were a crash course (in all senses, as I was a terrible driver) in car ownership. The car became the bane of my life, but I was determined not to let it beat me. When it wouldn't start (which was often), I learned how to hit the failing starter motor with a hammer to get it going. I also hit the inside of the door with the hammer in a temper when that didn't work. When I somehow shoved it into first gear instead of third at about 50mph and the engine screamed in protest at this ill-treatment before going pop, I nursed it to my local pub and left it in their car park overnight.
What else did this car do for me? It got me to illegal raves, which were all the rage in 1991; it provided an endless source of amusement for the local constabulary, my family and my colleagues; it taught me how to mend rust holes in rear pillars with newspaper and filler, then sand and paint them so they looked okay; it taught me that when you break down at a busy roundabout when only you and your non-driving sister are in the car and you try to push it, only 2 out of 10 people will stop to help; it taught me that there should be more than two bolts holding a fuel tank on and that you shouldn't rely on a rusty jacking point.
But all good - albeit unreliable - things come to an end and after a year of owning the Escort, it was due for an MOT. A friend was an apprentice mechanic at a garage close to where I worked and I gingerly asked him to have a look and let me know how much he thought it would cost me to get it through an MOT. He laughed. Not in an unkind way because he was my friend and that would just be nasty, but in a knowing, professional way.
The last time I saw my first car, it was in the forecourt of the local scrap merchants, where I'd spent whole minutes of my life over the past year climbing precarious towers of cars to unbolt a solenoid or door skin. They asked me if I'd driven or been towed in and in a moment of inspired opportunism, I said I'd driven in. They gave me £25 as opposed to the £15 I'd have got if I'd been towed. I left quickly. I spent the money on a pair of shoes.
Then I bought a Vauxhall Cavalier.