I SPENT most of yesterday morning cleaning out the car. I don't want to give the impression that I'm some soulless, middle-class drone who assigns himself one morning a week to go down and clean out the car. As a matter of fact, I have never cleaned out the car. The only reason I did so yesterday is that we were getting a new car. So five years' worth of broken cassette tapes, map scraps and old apple cores have to be removed from the old two-door Rover and bagged up, ready to be dumped in the door wells of our new estate.

With our third child pending, it seems that we have finally become estate-car people. We're still not quite people-mover people, for which I think you also need a dog, two mountain bikes, a chest freezer and an extension ladder. The four-year- old wanted a people-mover, which he calls a "higher car" because we'd rented one before, but he wouldn't be the one trying to park it. We need a higher car all right, but not that much bloody higher.

I don't really think the car you drive says a lot about who you are, unless, of course, you drive one those cars which says "I'm a twat". Even so, it's difficult to avoid the notion that getting one's first estate car is something of a transition. Like your first conversation with a pension adviser, it's one of those little episodes that gives growing up its terrible weight. As I clean out the old car, I think of the hulking gun-metal tank my mother ferried us around Connecticut in, with its squeaking fan belt and powerful rotting smell, remembering the price my parents paid for practicality.

In the Rover's recesses, among the flattened raisins and dust-covered dummies, I find evidence of long-forgotten youth, including a distressed Proclaimers tape which must have worked its way under the passenger seat some time before my eldest son was born. I also find 11 coats, a very overdue video, the remote for a television we no longer own and a full can of Coca-Cola.

The new estate arrived later in the afternoon, shiny and silver, looking as though its one careful owner had never dared to drive it. It has airbags, ABS brakes and plenty of room in the back. It has a sound system far superior to the Rover's, although it's not hard to improve on a broken radio. It's also quite fast. As I took it out on an inaugural trip to the supermarket, I felt rather carefree, fiddling with the windows and accidentally turning on the windscreen- wipers at every turning. In the end the new car hasn't made me old and responsible at all, which may have something to do with the fact that my father-in-law paid for it. Come to think of it, he bought the Rover as well, and he was the one who insisted I see that pension adviser.

Over the years he has continually and discreetly made up the shortfall between the husband his daughter deserves and the one she got. I have a lot to thank him for, including my extended lease on callow youth.

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