Is it just me that stuff like this happens to?...
As I mentioned before, we arrived at Heathrow on Thursday evening and stayed in a nearby hotel. Next morning I take a taxi (not counted as one of the five cars) to the Hertz depot to pick up my rental car. This journey -- while enjoyed in the luxurious sumptuousness of a Mercedes limo -- was only about two miles, and set me back £15. I could've rented a car and driver for a whole day for that in Riyadh.
Sorry, I digress:
Picked up a nice new Ford Mondeo at Hertz and drove it back to the hotel to pick up Karen and the luggage: four very large, very heavy suitcases and three smaller bags. I got out and pressed the Lock button on the key... nothing. Tried again... still nothing. In a bit of a hurry (and cold, and it was drizzling), I did the only other thing I could and locked the car the old fashioned way by putting the key in the door lock and turning it. Came out with Karen and a porter wheeling the luggage, and tried the key's Unlock button... nothing. So I opened the door with the key. The alarm went off. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! and so on. Of course pressing the buttons on the key had no effect, so all we could do was get in, start the engine, and wait for the alarm's preset timeout to elapse. This was probably set at thirty seconds but it felt like an hour.
Got back to Hertz and it was too difficult for them to change the battery in the key, so instead they gave me a different new Ford Mondeo. Which would have been fine, except now I had to unload all the bags, put the rear seats back up and attach the parcel shelf in the old car, remove the parcel shelf in the new car and put the rear seats down, then load all the suitcases in to Car #2.
Car #2 was quite good in that it lasted us two whole days, and more importantly got us to the school to pick up the children, and got them back to school again without incident. However, Hertz rental is not all that cheap. We were intending to rent a car for about a week until we find one we want to buy, so after a couple of days in this second Hertz car I wanted to find a better deal. We're staying in Windsor, and a friend at the Embassy before we left told us about Baldocks of Windsor, who do cheap car rental. The reason it's less expensive is that the cars they use are a little older; in fact she told me they were "four or five years old" usually. So yesterday we went to Baldocks and exchanged our brand new Ford Mondeo for another Ford Mondeo that turned out to be older than Abigail. True, it had leather seats. True, It ran very well for a car of that age, but still -- £25 per day for a twelve-year-old car?? By this time I'd committed so I tried to make the best of it. Baldocks is a dingy old garage built under the railway arches on Alma Rd., and I met the Father of this Father/Son family business: a weather-worn man in his sixties wearing a cloth cap, blue overalls, and oil on his hands. I explained that I just wanted it for a couple of days because we're going car shopping.
He said, "Wot car you after then?"
"Oh, something small and nippy (and cheap to run). Renault Clio, that sort of thing."
"Not good cars, them. Problems."
"Oh? I've read some good reports."
"Well I don't know the new ones do I?"
This conversation was taking place as we sat on oily chairs by an oily desk, filling in grimy forms in a dark and dank brick railway arch, lit only by a couple of fluorescent tubes on each wall and filled with broken automobile carcasses. Karen was waiting in the warmth and comparative safety of the Hertz Mondeo we were about to return.
The deal finally done, we set off in convoy in Cars #2 and #3 back to Hertz. Once there we handed it back and Karen (who had of course been driving the newer car) jumped in to the passenger seat of our old banger and made a face. I had just started moving off when I saw the Hertz woman gesticulating wildly in my wing mirror. We had forgotten to remove the apartment keys from the keyring.
Now in Car #3 we set off in search of a new car to call our own. First stop, the Renault dealership in Slough. We walked up and down the forecourt for about ten minutes...
"This one looks quite nice"
"How about this one? It's got a CD player?"
"Three door or five?"
"I can't tell you how cold and hungry I am."
(I'll let you work out who is saying what).
...before finally giving up waiting for some help and going into the showroom. Well, I went into the showroom. Karen went to the Marks and Spencers next door to get something to eat. The "salesman" -- and I use the term loosely -- took us for a spin in a five-door Clio, but I found the 1.2 litre engine underpowered: one of those cars where you put your foot to the floor and still rock yourself forward and back in the seat to try and push it along. He couldn't find us anything better so we made our excuses and left. Karen put the key in the driver's door of the old Mondeo (this one was so old it didn't even have Lock and Unlock buttons on the key), and there was a funny noise, and the driver's door of the old Mondeo never opened again. We could lock and unlock the car from the passenger side but the driver's door had clearly decided to take early retirement. So, in I get on the passenger side and climb over to the driver's seat.
Our next stop is at Trade Sales, just down the road. We pull up in the customer car park and I am spotted climbing over and getting out of the car the same side as Karen by two of their salespeople.
"Doesn't it work?"
"Yes of course it works. I'm just choosing to get out the other side because I'm an idiot."
(That's what I wanted to say. In reality I just said, "No" with a sheepish, embarrassed smile.)
At this point the salesman could see he was onto a sure thing and latched onto us like a limpet. We wandered around their two forecourts (one either side of a main road. No wonder they wear those bright yellow coats, crossing traffic a hundred times a day) looking for Clios and anything else similar that might catch our eye. Karen continued moaning about the cold. I offered her my scarf but she said she wanted her pashmina. Where's the logic in that? True, a pashmina might look more stylish than a man's scarf purchased from Debenhams in Riyadh, but it's cold now, and the pashmina's at home. I put my scarf around her neck and tightened it, gently.
Karen's outlook on the whole car buying process was in direct proportion to how cold and/or hungry she was. Before at the Renault garage she said she was worried we were being railroaded into buying the underpowered Clio we had just test driven, and that we shouldn't rush into anything. Here, a half hour of being cold later, she spotted a black VW Polo, got in, and when I got in next to her, said, "Let's get this one." I asked for a test drive. They don't do test drives at Trade Sales. I asked for a discount. They don't do discount. I said we'd take it.
While we were in the office doing the paperwork I was on the phone to Baldocks to complain about the jammed driver's door in Car #3. They offered me a replacement. We left a deposit on Car #5 and set off back to Baldocks to swap Car #3 for Car #4: a seven-year-old Fiat Punto which makes a kind of Wonka's Chocolate factory "gloop gloop" noise when running, that makes me think it runs on bubbles instead of petrol.
Wish us luck. I just hope Car #4 gets us around town and back to pick up Car #5 before it runs out of bubbles.