Alexei Sayle: Car clubs are a good idea, except for the cars

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Last time I wrote about how I was now without a car of my own after Citroë* had taken back the long-term C6 and how, rather than buy something else, I had joined a car club. For those of you who don't know, these park cars at selected spots around the city and you book them on the internet for a set number of hours. For a price of around 4.95 an hour (which includes fuel, congestion charge, insurance and so on) I get the use of a Citroë* C3, on an '05 plate, which lives in the next street to me.

First of all, like when joining a lot of clubs you have to go through an embarrassing ritual to become a member. In my case this was where I had to allow the car-club man who signs you up to talk about me to a guy at the DVLA in a three-way telephone conversation.

"Does he have any points on his licence?" the car-club man asked. "Yes," said the bloke in Swansea, "he's got three points on his licence for speeding, from the Merseyside Police."

This exchange reminded me of squirm-making childhood scenes when your mum talks in front of you to your auntie: "Oh, do you know, it was the funniest thing, we came home from the pub early last Friday and found our Alexei dancing round the living room wearing his sister's school uniform..."

My experience of renting cars is limited to picking up sparklingly new hatchbacks from Malaga or Granada airports, often with only a few hundred kilometres on the clock. Using the car-club C3 is not like that: this is a car that is nearly three years old and has had a hard life. There are small dings all over the body and bumpers, it rattles a bit, and though it is clean enough, it is not like the ones you get straight out of the carwash from Hertz or Atesa. In fact it's more like borrowing a car from a mate who's a bit careless, rather than renting in the conventional sense.

Once inside, there's a computer in the centre of the dash where, if you press a button you can talk to a young man at the car club. I rang with an enquiry and my wife in the passenger seat suddenly showed herself up as a bit of a nark by shouting that the previous occupant had left some rubbish in the car and had parked it facing the wrong way on a busy road.

The man said he'd make a note of these transgressions, though you could tell from the contempt in his voice he didn't think much of tell-tales. It felt a bit like I was in a psychological experiment where if you put a faceless computer in a car people will tell it secret things.

Now, in many ways car clubs are a brilliant idea: they're really economical and your mind is freed from all the worries you usually have when you own a car maintenance and security and the bureaucratic tangle of parking permits and MOTs plus it's really easy to book, the matter of a minute's work on the computer. On getting in the little hatchback I thought, "Yes, this is me now, an eco-aware man with no car."

Unfortunately, I hadn't realised how much my fragile sense of self was tied up with driving a big, expensive motor. We went for a drive in the C3 to my favourite place on Earth the food court of the Oriental Shopping Mall in Colindale, North London and on the way back coming down the Finchley Road we were passed by a brand new black Range Rover and I found myself shouting at the passenger, who I thought was looking down at me in a sneering manner: "Don't laugh at me I was once like you!"

So I've rung up Citroë* to ask if I can buy the C6 back off them.

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