There is a new car parked by our house. It’s the first car I’ve bought in over ten years, having enjoyed a succession of company cars – five – in that time. For completeness, it’s my eighth car all in. It’s not a new new car, in fact it’s the oldest car I’ve ever owned. Old, with very low mileage – and it has been adored.
The woman I bought it from referred to it throughout our efficient and un-protracted dealings, without a trace of self-consciousness or irony, as ‘she’. She (the ex-owner) used ‘she’ and ‘her’ no matter the type or tone of conversation about the vehicle, and she did so from the off: were it technical, financial, anecdotal or ancestral, she hugged that road expertly – to the point where my not going with the protocol became a distraction with the potential for expense. Caveat emptor, she’s creeping me out. It’s hard to waggle an exhaust with absolute conviction when you’ve half a mind on the vendor’s sensibilities – wondering whether to give the pronoun a stab when you’re back on your feet, without going all high-pitched and cracked in the moment… precisely the concerns I should be applying to the exhaust.
Naturally, the car had been given a name. Disappointingly, it was a name derived entirely from the (standard issue) registration plate; not one that came with a story – no delightful source, the mouths of babes; no gradual uncovering of the name only the cat itself knew. Kismet, however, and kudos – I could see how the plate-gotten moniker worked in this case; there was no squinting to be done, no ‘well, the 6 is kind of a G’. Bravo.
But it’s not for everyone – by this convention my sister would be climbing every morning into Cum.
Will I keep the name as the keeper of the car? The question answers I’m bothered – which I am – as respectful of the ritual as I’m soppy-soft, equal measure – or at least respectful and soppy even in giving car-naming a thought; aware I’ve bought a legacy (it’s not a Subaru Legacy) within a legacy – and material, I know, is this car’s being the sort, the core of a category, for which naming is commonplace, fitting, and even expected; it’s just that type: the very model.
And that name? It’s okay, but it’s not right.
What I find myself snagging on is that lazily come-by aspect; that a computer in Swansea serendipitously spewed a sequence that boredly got put on a form in Derby. That the outcome is mellifluous is super, but it’s still a convenient short-handle, a gift of the gob; as unloved-ly useful to car park security – ‘A4 ending Pel’; ‘3 Series Bej’ – as it’s a precious personality to a diary-keeping ‘mum’. It’s a white dog with a patch around one eye. A captain with a hook. A fluke of a name for anyone to use. Public property, front and back; white and yellow, sure as eggs – so good they named it twice.
Hanna-Barbera’s Hong Kong Phooey placed a boldy striped cat atop a filing cabinet and called him Spot; for a mouth-breathing child in the seventies this was exquisite and nose-bleed inducing – that our planet could so rotate. I choose to submit it as evidence of another way.
Spot however I might, that the name has been served on a plate, I’ve no at-hand alternative of Yogic spooning, magicking spiritual tags from a trance – well, not for cars at least. I came close with a Golf six years ago, but reversed it, unsaid, with Candyman fears and we split in 2010, relieved only to have never got on. As a parting fart it got bumped by a neighbour, costing me a claim which all this week prospective insurers with twitching nose hairs have been determined to ignite.
Dogs out walking, neighbourhood cats, birds at the fat-balls and troupes of unreal monkeys; babies before the admin, even: for these names fall like sun-filled lemons and land with glad thuds in our (B.’s and mine) hands.
Occasionally – and shared here with all the whistling, eye-avoiding understanding that everybody does this – a new pragmatic purchase for our home will easily assume the reincarnatitive title of a passed celebrity, so that daily we greet Keith Floyd… Patrick Swayze. What’s quietly thrilling to us, and peculiarly sensitive with it, about the rule of the famous dead is its democratic process that elevates mere chance – and, of course, grave fate – and the arbitrary conjoining of life with inanimacy precisely into something not arbitrary, because one of the vectors – the recognition of the deceased – is a personal, individual and meaningful one – is dedicated, honouring and… nice. That it’s a bathroom fixture that answers (it doesn’t) to ‘Keith Floyd’ is not disrespectful, sniggering or silly, it’s a frank and felt record of a day with a care for the life of an interesting man.
Worth saying here that the ‘haunting’ aspect surrounding the Golf’s unspoken name is wholly unrelated to this point; a separate dynamic; and whilst no Christine, more beyond our ken than beyond the grave.
Would the dead famous model work for my new car; personalities passing from spotlight to headlight? – remembering that this is a naming challenge (words which rise like bubbles of gas in a jerk of old-job reflux,) not a 1.6 litre séance with dashboard turned Ouija board. The quest is for a process, a logic flow, by which to find a name with reason – to better the unconnected, smug incumbent with something (of someone who was somewhere) – somehow true and lived. With this approach, one can only wait, watch the news, and not hope.
Meanwhile the car sits mutely for me, perpendicular to the house so those name badges are unseen, no retinal imprinting through the door’s dimpled glass, no elbowing familiarity. Neighbours are angled otherwise, caught in the beam, the chirpy wink, the fluttered lashes, and will, to varying degrees of need or gossip, go with its friendly flow. I will commit to my crusade of re-christening – of one so heavily (as in assuredly) sexed, and with its – her – name spelled out in letters (and one, let’s be honest, number); restlessly, relentlessly, silently, and scared.
Closed book review of named cars in popular culture:
‘Herbie’ – presumably a drug reference
‘Chitty Bang-Bang’ – onomatopoeic
The Ant Hill Mob’s ‘Chuggaboom’ – ditto
‘Tootles the Taxi’ – alliterative, onomatopoeic, instructional for post-war middle class children
Dukes of Hazard’s ‘General Lee’ – contextualising
‘Greased Lightnin’’ – pussy wagon