I was chatting to a friend who had settled here from South Africa a few years back. He told me that one of the things that struck him most about living in Essex was how obsessed people are with the cars they drive. It had never crossed my mind, but I then realised I was probably as guilty as anyone of this. Cars really are a big deal here. Maybe it’s because Ford are a major employer right across the county that gleaming examples of Dagenham’s finest are seen occupying so many of our roads. They give employers generous new car discounts and also run a company car scheme. Others like to make it known that they do NOT work for Ford and thus drive BMWs and Mercedes. And others favour Range Rovers and Discoverys as a sign of affluence that maybe they have extensive land on their property and possibly a stable of horses too. Then there is the occasional exhaust growl of a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, an Aston or a Porsche, driven by someone wearing expensive sunglasses pretending to be swooping down the Route Napoléon into the Cote d’Azur. But of course, they aren’t.
Exotic sports cars are driven by old men trying to look younger, or young men trying to look older,…unless the car is a convertible, in which case it will be driven by a middle-aged permatan woman who owns her own salon. 4x4s are driven by mums of young families running kids to school or football club on a Saturday. Pick up trucks are driven by men who wear Timberland boots, cargo shorts and a baseball cap. No one drives a Prius.
The trouble is that all these people lead similar lives, we all do the same things. Everyone all nips out to buy “bits” from the High Street, they all go to Waitrose, B&Q, the gym and they all go to the same bars restaurants on the weekend. You can’t park your Mondeo because the Land Rovers are all bigger than the spaces in the car park. You don’t want to park your Ferrari Testosterone on the High Street because you are scared it will get scratched by someone in a pick up trying to bump park. And when you pull up outside the trendy wine bar in your shiny, big, black Merc and saunter up to the door, the illusion is ruined when some smartarse asks if your guv’nor has given you the night off and where’s your chauffeur’s hat?