Architecture for Beginners
CARS FOR STARS...
Architect Alex Broughton has become reacquainted with erstwhile schoolmate Reggie Cullen, an ex-footballer struggling to come to terms with changing career prospects and the recent suicide of his wife. Invited to Reggie's country pile for a celeb-studded New Year bash, Alex has been witness to the spectacle of the host breaking down and storming out of his own party; the following morning, with Reggie still apparently in hiding from the world, Alex takes himself on a tour of the estate.
And so to the big metal shed. Full, no doubt, of hay bales and tools and – who knows? – maybe one of those industrial-sized lawnmowers, with a tractor to drag it along.
That, as it transpired – that: the big, draggy lawnmower – was well nigh the only kind of vehicle not to be found in that shed: thanks to the dappling of rust-hole rays from the corrugated walls, I was able to count at least a dozen assorted motor contraptions.
“Of course,” I muttered, in envious contempt, “a playboy football legend; why wouldn’t he have a motor museum?”
Not that they were all museum pieces – Reggie’s Porsche was there, for instance, parked near the door beside a white Range Rover; nevertheless, the contemporary items were far outnumbered by the vintage exhibits, which included a De Lorean, a sand-yellow BMW motorbike and sidecar, something ancient that looked like a Model T... and... and... and I wonder, am I souping this up in my delirium? No – no, I’m not: it was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Surely not the real thing, though? I don’t mean the real real thing – I didn’t expect it to fly or anything, but, maybe... No, surely it must be a replica? Not actually the one from the film? He’d have it in the house, for sure, if it was for real? He’d park it in the hall – he’d make it the focus of any and every photoshoot or interview he granted? It couldn’t be the real thing – he’d not just shove it up the end of the shed, leave it there neglected?
I picked my way through the other exhibits and stood – just stood there, all a-stare. I stared and I stared – and then, only after having glanced around to make sure I was alone, I climbed into the driver’s seat.
What could I say? I wanted something to say. Something American. Something said by Dick Van Dyke in the film.
Nothing. Nothing was coming to mind – I could only think of the Childcatcher. “Chil-dren! Come and get your cus-tard!” No, not custard; what was it he said?
“They made six of ’em, y’know.”
I nearly shat my pants.
“For the film, I mean. Not all of them worked, of course.”
Where was he? I couldn’t see a thing. I could hardly hear, either; he was talking so gently.
“Yeah, there was one fully driveable – one they could take on the road, y’know; there was another smaller one; there was one on that blow-up raft – that was just a shell... I don’t remember about the rest. That’s a replica, of course.”
“Of course,” I said, only now starting to make out the silhouette of a head and an arm lolling out the driver window of the Range Rover.
“Sorry...” I said, suddenly remembering myself. I clambered up to climb out of the car.
“No, no, stay where you are.”
I sat down again, though now I felt a bit stupid and not at all like being Dick Van Dyke, let alone Robert Helpmann.
“Scrubbed up well, this old girl.” He patted the windowsill of the Range Rover. “I mean, considering it’s been under the sea – bit like Chitty – or, no, more like that Lotus in The Spy Who Loved Me.”
“Both Ian Fleming,” I observed.
“Ian Fleming books. Both of them; both based on— y’know, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Spy... The Spy Who... Sorry, are you...?”
I’d just now registered the significance of Reggie’s foregoing comments. “You’re saying that Range Rover...?”
“Oh, yeah, she done it in this. Drove it into the sea. Course, it wasn’t under for long – couple of hours, if that – but it took a lot of flushing. Weeks, it took ’em, though of course they told me they’d have it done real quick. It’s important, I said, I need it back in a week – after all the doings, I mean, after the coppers’ve had it, make sure there was no foul play or anything.”
He paused. I wondered whether he was crying or just taking a breath.
“So they says, ‘A week? No problem.’ Fucking grease-monkeys. Six weeks later, they turn up with her, pleased as Punch, look what a great job we done; I think, alright, I’ll let it go, no harm done – then they bill me for twice what they originally said. I said to them, you can whistle for it.” He sighed. “Another lawsuit.”