How to buy a car with the help of pea soup

It was time, our mechanic said, to think about buying a new car, new at least to us. We hate choices and have put it off for three months, but then I was browsing Gumtree and came across a nice Honda for sale in our very own village. Well, how convenient is that? We went to see it and liked it well enough, although grey is not my colour of choice. We exchanged details and parted for Christmas, saying we’d be in touch after New Year. And on that very day, when Mr Smith couldn’t get through to the seller (because she’d lost her mobile phone), he thought it would be a good idea to have pea soup for lunch. He’d soaked some marrowfat peas over night and boiled them for an hour. At one o’clock he called upstairs to ask if I wouldn’t mind waiting another half hour?

What to do with half an hour? I know, let’s just check Autotrader, that there isn’t anything else in the vicinity. To be honest, I was getting cold feet about the grey Honda. It seemed to lack, well, personality. On the Autotrader site, as you fill in all the details of what you’re looking for, the choices narrow, and there’s nothing quite like choosing automatic over transmission for knocking most of the choices out. I was down to three in a radius of 25 miles, and the top one was a very handsome Volvo called Leo.

The car dealer, to judge by his website, was some distant member of the Trotter family who we should be very wary of, and we did a lot of checking online but found nothing untoward. The forecast for the day was ‘dry, sunny, best of the weekend’ so we supposed that the thick fog was local. Was it heck. It blanketed Oxfordshire and was even thicker in the Vale of Aylesbury. The trees were limed with ice. In a bleak midwinter… I kept telling myself how beautiful it was, and it was, but not quite the right day to test drive a car, perhaps. But we went on and found ourselves not in Del Boy’s cousin’s junk yard, but in an equestrian centre where a very nice man has a line in second-hand cars to keep his wife in her dressage habit.

Before half an hour had passed, minds were made up and Leo was ours although, given that we only discovered him because of pea soup, and had driven through a pea-souper to find her, we may well end up calling her Mush (pronounced northern-style, as Moosh). So goodbye Smudger. You’ve been a darling for 14 years, although we won’t miss the door that swings shut on your legs, or the broken back shelf, or the radio that doesn’t work, or the fixed wing-mirrors that are just come-ons to the bin lorries on Fridays. But we’ll miss you, you old dear. You saw us married, took us on our honeymoon and have gone exploring very many Iron Age hill forts without ever grumbling.

For the state she was in, we got a good price (not many cars can boast a moss garden around the hatchback trim and a resident snail), mainly because the dealer knows of a family without much money in urgent need of a car. ‘People with horses,’ he said, knowing this would meet our approval. So that’s OK, and Smudger lives on to serve another family, a bit like Black Beauty, only she’s white. And not beautiful.

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