Every time we travel to the UK (mainly to talk about the cricket these days) I get to book a hire car. Wallington sorts everything else but I’m the driver so I get to hire the car.
Last time we travelled we only went for a few weeks. A niece’s wedding. Brilliant! If we’re there for a short time why not make it a fun time? I like the old Honda I drive but maybe I’ll hire a top line Audi or BMW over there. Maybe I’ll buy a pair of designer jeans for $350 and wear them low on my hips. And a brown belt for $170. And have my balls waxed, or removed, for whatever that costs. I’ve always thought I’d make a good wanker, and it’s one of the few things Wallington agrees on.
There was a red Ferrari online for $23,000 a week. Tempting. Surely for that price I’m allowed to run over a homeless guy, rob a bank, kill a hooker, crash into the railing, and walk away from the wreck to the music of sirens like in Grand Theft Auto?
But what if they then trace my hire through Visa? I don’t want to be in prison with waxed balls.
The top line Audi’s and BMWs were less out of reach but still ludicrous. If I hired one we’d have to sleep in it as well. My giddy dreams dashed I opted for a Vauxhall Astra ‘or similar’. Economy class. Think of the money we’ll save on diesel! Don’t think about the low jeans and leather seats.
We arrived at Heathrow twenty-three hours later at 6am like we always do, dog-tired, Australian, mini-bussed to the car hire shed on the outer perimeter of that weird time warp of an airport. Wallington sat on green plastic seats surrounded by luggage, possibly asleep already (her eyes were closed) while I fronted up to the counter. I handed over my A4 printout of the hire arrangements.
The woman behind the counter was eastern European, pretty, polite, awake. She clattered her keyboard and asked for my driver’s licence. She stood up and walked to an enormous drawer and selected a set of keys.
‘OK. We have for you a BMW series 5 with GPS in the dashboard and no kilometres and this is just fifty-five pounds per day.’
We had no GPS and were relying on memory to get out of London. I was tired and almost started crying with joy. She was an angel. She had really nice hair too.
‘That’s great!’ I said.
‘Is that the car I hired?’
‘Nno. But just fifty-five pounds per day. OK.’
‘Hang on. Is it possible to have that car for the same price as the car that I hired?’
‘Nno.’ The way she lingered on the ‘n’ made it sound like she was agreeing. To all sorts of things. Then I woke up.
‘Thanks for the offer but I think I’ll just go for the car I’ve booked.’
‘You don’t want?’
‘I want but I can’t afford.’ It.
‘OK,’ she said and headed back to the big drawer. She returned and clattered her keyboard.
‘OK. We have for you a Mercedes A-class, no GPS but this is only forty pounds per day.’
‘Is that the car I hired?’
‘Can I have that car for the same price as the car I’ve actually payed for already?’
‘Nnnno.’ She was teasing me now. Her ‘n’ was like a soft whip. It felt good even though she was saying nnnno and it was 6am.
‘Is the car I hired available?’
‘Yes. This will be a Skoda.’
‘I’d like to have the Skoda, thank you.’ It was humiliating. Thank god I hadn’t bought those jeans and that belt. Etc.
‘OK,’ and more keyboard clatter. ‘Yyes, because you are good customer I can give you Mercedes for just thirty-five pounds per day. No GPS, but Mercedes.’
I am a good customer. I’d hired through them twice before in the UK.
‘How much per day is the Skoda I’ve hired,’ I asked. I could hear Wallington snoring on her seat behind me. I’d know that lovely soft snore anywhere. In bed. In Heathrow.
‘This is twenty-two pounds.’
‘Can I please have that car.’
‘Of course.’ Clatter. ‘OK. You are very good customer. I can give Mercedes because is long hire for just twenty-five pounds per day. Is Mercedes.’
I smiled. It wasn’t the Ferrari I’d fancied but is Mercedes for only a few pounds more than is Skoda. ‘Agreed. Let’s do that. Thank you,’ I said. The world is neon fun. Sign here.
Someone at my niece’s wedding later told me that an A-class Mercedes is the shit class – ‘boxy’ – and I should have hired an E-class. Everything I knew about the alphabet told me this couldn’t possibly be true.
I blinked, and turned the conversation to cricket.
Is Mercedes. Is shit-class, apparently. We liked it.