‘Never mind the programme, have you seen the mag?’
“Lots of power,” screams Tiff as he executes a wheelie on a deserted airfield. The rear of the eighty-thousand pound motor car hurtles in a wide circle and the tyres protest at their torture with an ear-splitting howl and a vast cloud of rubber smoke. Tiff has to shout because of the noise and he is searching for another mangled metaphor or strained simile to demonstrate his cleverdick mastery of journalism. He gives up, and instead shouts “This is fun!” , checking the tailspin with an easy skill that has crashed many cars over the years. The car screams off down the runway and hurtles into a wide bend, Tiff see-saws the steering wheel as the expensive tyres scrabble for grip, clinging to the tarmac with desperation as if aware that, with this maniac behind the wheel, if they give up their grip it’s the scrap heap for all of them.
Back at the production team there is a collective wince as Tiff loses it for a third time, spinning into the grass beside the roadway in a huge cloud of gravel and torn grass. Even from this distance they can hear Tiff whooping with glee. The test car rejoins the track for yet another superfluous example of atrocious driving, the engine howling like a banshee and the tyres screaming for grip, leaving black sticky marks on the concrete to mark their passing.
Another man joins them and they look at him warily, for he is the new Comptroller. They grunt a greeting and the Comptroller is about to reply when Tiff screams past them, engine howling and supercharger whistling. Then they relax: Tiff is on the straight and even he can’t crash in a straight line. The trail car with the camera crew roars past, vainly trying to keep up.
“Dear me,” The Comptroller says mildly, peering after the vanishing Tiff. “Does he always do that?”
“Yep,” says the soundman loyally. “He’s testing the parameters of the new car.”
The Comptroller nods, already bored: he’s heard it all before. His eyes wander in a broad circle over the acres of deserted tarmac and grass. High above them, a skylark is bravely singing, trying to establish his territory over an invading Tiff. “Don’t they land ‘planes on these places any more?” The Comptroller asks.
“Not when we’re filming. We’ve hired the place for the day.” The gaffer tells him.
Tiff has spotted the Comptroller and roars in to join them. He removes another years worth of rubber off the tyres as he slides crabwise to a halt and switches off the engine. It appears to the Comptroller that the car seems to sigh with relief when Tiff jumps out, but it is probably his imagination.
“Hi boss.” Tiff shouts cheerily: years of valve bounce and tyre scream have made him deaf as a post.
“Hello.” The Comptroller answers weakly, wrinkling his nose as the tyre smoke wafts past them. “I popped in to have a chat.”
“Oh good.” Tiff roars, looking for a maxpac coffee.
“Yes. The programmes you do. Caught one the other day, and I was a bit – surprised.”
Tiff winks at him cheerily. “That’s the way,” he bellows. “Got ‘em, you see?”
The Comptroller stared at him; Tiff had lost him already. “The thing is, what about the cars?”
Tiff gives that wry grin and cocks his head the way he does with people who don’t talk his language. “Oh, we blast ’em and slide ‘em and spin ‘em, but we don’t pay for ‘em,” he roars. “No cost implications at all.”
“No, I know that,” the Comptroller explains patiently. “I know you do all this,” he waves his hands round the airfield. “But what are the cars like to drive on the road?”
Tiff stares at him.
“In traffic.” The Comptroller adds.
Tiff’s mouth flops for a moment, but no sound emerges.
“How well does a car overtake a lorry on a hill in pouring rain, in the dark?” the Comptroller goes on. “With luggage, a fractious wife and two carsick kids on the back seat?”
Tiff’s mouth falls open as his eyes search the Comptroller’s face for a trace of the joke. When he fails to find it, one corner of his mouth tugs downwards petulantly. “But …“ he shouts.
The Comptroller persists. “How do the seats feel after five hours driving from Ipswich to Penzance? How good is the ventilation on a blazing hot afternoon trapped in traffic at Camberwell Green? Does the aircon work when the engine is at tick over, like you are most of the time trying to get to Heathrow on the M4?”
“But ... but …” Tiff struggles for an answer. Finally he gets it out. “We drive them on the road ... “
“Yes, on deserted country roads, and even then you drive too fast, and I wonder how you never managed to meet a tractor on one of those bends. But I’m talking about real motoring. You know the thing; where you pay for your own petrol, and insurance and -“ he looks down at the still smoking rubber on the test car, “ - Tyres. “
The Comptroller is warming up, now. “… Where deprecation comes out of your wallet. And you’ve actually paid for the car and now you have to drive it for at least two years, maybe more. And then you find that it can’t overtake a milk float because the engine isn’t torquey enough and the gear ratios are chosen only for economy, the car seat puts your back out after two hours, it costs a fortune to service and the headlights are crap, and the first time you’re stuck in traffic you find out the aircon compressor switches off when the car is on tick over.” He smiles at Tiff, whose face, is even blanker than usual, and shrugs. “That sort of thing.”
Tiff stares for a moment. His ears were still ringing, but he has caught most of what was said. “But …But … “ he stares around at the rest of the crew for inspiration. “But that would mean … “
“Working for a living? Yes. See to it, would you?” The Comptroller nods to the rest of the team and climbs back into his Daimler.
Tiff stares after him as the Daimler purrs away for the main gate. “Bugger!” He turns back to the production crew. “Well, I’ve got bad ears!” he bellows, and waves at the test car. “So who’s going to drive this up to Glasgow and back?”
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