Wednesday, 25 July 2018

The merc has been ..

.. part of our lives for over twenty years.  Not a "he" nor a "she".  No cute name. Our functional brute of a vehicle is always just "the merc".

Built on a Friday, or in some doubtful foreign country when Mercedes was trying to save money, or left out in a field in the rain, or too much salt on the roads over winter - the myths grew up as to why the bodywork of the merc so quickly began to deteriorate. Rusty bubbles appeared. The paint on sills began to split and crack.  The merc was never a beauty.  Or maybe only briefly, in the early days before coming into our lives.

So it became the workhorse and a Tardis.  It is the car that is used to carry newly bought plants from the nursery (a sprinkling of compost and wood chips left in the well). It is the car that has carried tatty writing desks and small occasional tables to be "shabby-chiced", sets of rush-seated wooden dining seats for the terrace and two armchairs (a mistake later transported to Emmaus), more than one second-hand carpet and a mound of furniture from Ikea that by rights should not have fitted in the back.

It is the car that is used to take rubbish to the tip - garden bags stuffed with plastic plant trays and pots too small to re-use, old faded, grubby sun umbrellas, wooden poles broken under the weight of their covers - caught and carried across the garden in a sudden summer storm, great cardboard cartons, flattened as requested, the wrapping from the latest Amazon delivery or the outer protection of dog biscuits from Zooplus (Bertie and Vita in the van helping to track down the package), builders rubble that leaves the upholstery dusty and gritty, odd bits of metal and plastic pipe carefully separated each to go to a different skip.  The tip attendant peers in through the window of the packed merc, checking that we are not carrying any noxious substance.

Eleven years ago a border official too peered into the back window of the merc; duvets, pillows, kettle, plates and mugs, wedged in and pressed against the glass obscured his view.  Somewhere from the depths came a muffled bark and he handed back our pet passports with a smile and waved us through.  On the Eurotunnel crossing we opened the tailgate and our two elderly Airedales (Clara and Smudge) eased out of their cage to sit with us on the floor of the carriage.

Over the years the dog cage has been in and out of the back.  Seats removed so that it would fit - Airedale sized dogs need a large cage if they are to turn round - the merc carried them to the vets, to the canal for walks, to a play date with a nearby cousin found via an Airedale owners forum.  The evening Vita was poisoned there was no time to find the cage.  We hurtled into town to the vet, breaking every speed limit, Tod holding her on the back seat as she thrashed and foamed and he begged her not to die.

On short trips - up to the bottle bank in the village, down to the stream to start the morning walk on days when the fields are too muddy to cross - Bertie and Vita just jump in the back and jockey for where they always finally sit.  Vita on the front passenger seat, Bertie in the back, in the middle, looking over our shoulders through the windscreen.  Sometimes a large Airedale paw gently pulls at the driver's arm, asking to have her "tummy tickled".  The passenger window is smeary with Airedale snot as she snorts at the glass, wanting more of a gap so she can stick her head out.

In earlier days the merc was an ambulance for Tod. This was yet another time we removed the seats and he lay, in agony with a bad back, the length of its cavernous space as I gingerly drove home, silently cursing every bump and pothole in the road.

It was the place where we said goodbye to Smudge. Too weak to be driven anywhere he lay in the back until our vet came to him and we let him go with love.

To begin with I was nervous of this great tank of a vehicle and it was very much "Tod's car" but then he bought the Batmobile - with its open roof ideal for warmer climes - and the tank became mine.  It turns on a sixpence and squeezes into parking spaces that other drivers have rejected.  It is scruffy.  Pebbles from the soles of my wellington boots collect behind the pedals. Loose seat covers and extra carpets have briefly smartened the interior and then, looking sad, have been discarded.

Monday, taking a visitor back to the airport, the merc broke down on the motorway. Towed to a distant garage, it now sits forlornly on a forecourt looking all of its many years, waiting for an estimate for repairs.  We already know it will not pass the French MOT next year.  Friday we collect a second-hand Skoda from Tarbes.

It's possible (probable?) that the merc has taken its last journey with us.  I doubt somehow that the Skoda will be with us for the next twenty plus years.  I will miss the old brute.