Who wants a red sports car now?
Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Exeter, Philip Hensher was among Granta 20 Best of Young British Novelists in 2003. The author of six novels, a collection of short stories and an opera libretto, he has won numerous prizes including the Somerset Maugham Award and the Stonewall Journalist of the Year. His 2008 novel, 'The Northern Clemency', was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Commonwealth Prize. A regular presence in the British media, alongside his Wednesday column for The Independent, he writes for The Spectator and Mail on Sunday.
Friday 07 May 1999
"You know what I would really love?" my old friend asks. "It's a nice old MG. Vroom, vroom. A convertible with two seats, so you never had to give anyone a lift."
"They're always breaking down."
"No they're not. My dad had one for years and never had a day's problem with it until his back gave way and he couldn't lower himself into it any more. He sold it to the vet. It's probably still going strong. Bucket seat. The phrase `bucket seat' is coming into my mind. But it's still going strong, my dad's MG."
"Unlike your dad."
"My dad is fine, thank you for asking. A nice old MG, though. To drive right down to the Midi in. Imagine. A nice little black MG."
"No, a red one. Or old-fashioned racing green. Or..."
"Have you noticed," he asks, "that sports cars - I mean, all sports cars - are silver nowadays?"
We fall silent for a moment, and watch the traffic idling past. It's getting unreasonably hot. In a moment, proving his point, a new convertible BMW two-seater purrs past, and, in the opposite direction, a Japanese number, also silver, and glittering, as if with money.
"They always used to be red," I say. "Wasn't that the thing? A bright red Porsche? When did all that stop?"
"Probably in the Eighties. They look odd, now, don't they, bright red cars?"
"A bit. What's all this silver sports car stuff about, then?"
"Well, what was the red sports car stuff about?"
"Wasn't it supposed to be an erect penis, or something?"
"The sports car. I mean, it's penis shaped, and if you want a sports car, basically you want a great extension to your penis. Isn't that the theory? So you drive down Lavender Hill making a noise with your engine, and you imagine that everyone is looking, and going, `My God, look at that man driving the huge penis down the road; he must be such a man.' But in fact what everyone is doing is looking at your car and saying, `Well, a man who drives a car like that must be deeply dissatisfied with the size of his penis.' Freud, where are you when we need you?"
"Dead, in fact, in 1939. Cancer of the mouth. Terrible halitosis towards the end, apparently. I don't understand why it's got to be red, though."
"Because a penis is red when it's erect. Or not red, but redder."
"There goes another one."
"Another silver sports car. Everyone's driving one. Explain the silver thing."
"Mmm. I thought we were all going to be caring and sharing in the Nineties and wearing white linen sarongs. I don't know, actually. A great, big, metal penis going down the road. A great, big, shiny silver penis. Let me think about this."
"Did you ever see that film with Julie Christie where she gets raped by a computer? No? Old, old film. There's this sort of evil computer and it traps her in some way that I can't remember. And then it has sex with her because it wants to procreate. I mean it wants her to bear its infant, like a darling little laptop or something. But anyway, there's this point in the film where she's running round and screaming and there's this huge computer and suddenly a drawer slides open and there's exactly that - a big metal willy for her. A great, big silver willy, just like that - look - that silver BMW over there."
"Why doesn't she just get up and go into the kitchen? Or switch it off?"
"I think you miss my point."
"The silver sports car. Maybe it's savage and brutal. Or maybe it's caring and sharing. Or maybe that's the only colour you can get a sports car in now. Wasn't there some incredibly successful advert with Steve McQueen and a silver sports car?"
"I don't really know."
It's a nice afternoon. He has nothing to do. I have nothing to do.
"You know," he says, after a time. "Maybe silver doesn't mean anything much after all. There doesn't have be a meaning in everything which proves that men are crap or the Government is mounting a massive conspiracy against SMERSH or something. Maybe it's just fashion."
"Would you like a silver sports car without a roof, then?"
"Mmm. Yes. I think I would. You?"
I pause. I look. I would, actually. Then I remember. "You know," I say. "I don't know how to drive."
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