I want to play golf. Not because I want to hit tiny dimpled balls around the countryside or that I fancy an all-argyle get-up. I don’t need to do important business deals and it’s not because I want to live the flash golf lifestyle either.
I don’t want to show off down at the country club with an expensive car and some professional-grade equipment, the sort I can’t utilise fully because I don’t have sufficient talent. Well, I do want the car and all the gear because, well, cars are great and fancy well-made gadgets, no matter what their use, are always a joy.
No, I want to play golf because I want to buzz around a course in a golf buggy. How much fun do they look? I want to scoot around the gravel paths and yump over the rolling green hills, all while my caddy clings onto the back shifting their weight around like the passenger on a racing sidecar.
The reason I want to play golf is the same reason I want to be a gamekeeper, an airport baggage handler, a shepherd, a UPS delivery driver, a beach lifeguard or a fireman. Not because I want to do those specific jobs, and absolutely nobody wants to see me if they’re floundering in the sea or stuck in a burning building, but because they all involve cool-looking machines. There’s quads, buggies, shunters, pickups, vans, trucks and, of course, fire engines. Who doesn’t want to have a go in any one of those?
I’ve been living out a similar fantasy recently and pootling around on an old dumper. It has no right to be very amusing to pilot. It has a single-cylinder diesel engine that revs at, what I think is, 4rpm. There’s no tacho, obviously, you can just count each time it fires. There’s also no self-centring on the rear-wheel steering, and no obvious way of telling which way the steering wheel should be pointing, so you often find yourself veering towards the nearest obstacle. But still, getting it aiming in the right direction, desperately trying to perform a smooth gear change and bobbing along on its sprung seat, is all deeply, hilariously enjoyable.
Novelty plays a huge part in the dumper’s charms, as it would for the golf cart, quad-bike and airport vehicle too, I’m sure. But driving joys can be found in any car. And I really mean any car. Even that dreadful hire car you get lumbered with. Not the small, beat-up Fiat that the hire company loans out as a last resort, because no one’s disputing how much of a blast that would be. No, I’m talking about the one they give you when you get the dreaded ‘free upgrade’.
Never has the word ‘upgrade’ been so ferociously misused. Few other things conjure up the same feeling of dread as the moment the clerk hands you the keys, not to a tiny, basic hatchback, but to a fat lump of MPV/people-carrier/minivan horror. A vehicle that you have to drive throughout what is meant to be your holiday. A vacation that, from that moment on, feels like it’s going to be a chore.
It’s never as bad as you initially think, though. Because even in such an ungainly hideous carbuncle of a motor vehicle, can you have fun. I am sure of it; I know it’s possible. One year I was ‘treated’ to one of those ‘upgrades’ and I was ‘gifted’ the use of a Fiat 500L. I believe the L stands for large, which was fitting as it was certainly bigger than an ordinary 500. But even more appropriate would be the words lacklustre, lardy, lifeless, lame, lethargic and just about any other derogatory L-word you can think of.
But still, loathe as I am to admit it, there were thoroughly enjoyable moments while I was squeezing that lumbering (add that to the list) mass down tiny mountain passes. There were little pangs of joy every time I heard its budget tyres squeal in submission around the merest hint of a corner, every time I was incredibly neat and precise to maintain as much momentum as possible while going uphill. And I was particularly proud when I mastered a heel-and-toe down change in it. It was a real challenge; the pedal spacing and the engine’s flywheel effect made it very tricky, and I probably only achieved one respectable rev match all week.
And that dumpy MPV was practically the least promising car imaginable. If you enjoy driving, you can find glimmers of satisfaction in just about anything. Some are easy to appreciate and serve up grins on an easily digestible platter. Some may just have a novelty factor. While others take some effort. My god do they take some effort, but there’s pleasure in there somewhere.
Photography by The Speedhunters