Alexei Sayle: Classic constraints

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Indy Lifestyle Online

When being interviewed one of the questions I am sometimes asked is what my hobbies are, and I have to say I'm generally hard pushed to come up with a reply. But after some consideration I did manage to reveal one the other day. "Self indulgent melancholy," I said. "Specifically, wallowing in regrets."

My favourite regret of all time is when Jennifer Beals - star of Flashdance, the improbable movie in which she played a beautiful welder who desperately wanted to get into ballet school - invited me to the fanciest restaurant in the south of France and I said: "No thanks, I'm going to drive my stupid car back to England."

See, in the late 1980s I hada classic car: a 1970 Rover 3.5 litre coupe. It was a beautiful thing, especially after I had it sprayed black to match the motor driven by James Fox and his gang in the film Performance. I had this fixed idea that I was the kind of buzzy, unconventional, hipster dude who didn't want to drive with the pack. Unfortunately I was completely wrong. What I really wanted was a conventional modern car. I tried to force myself to think that owning this characterful old car was giving me pleasure, while in reality every day I drove it made me miserable. Now I think that this irreconcilable mental conflict sent me slightly mad. The Rover was demanding to own, especially in black, as it needed to be absolutely clean to look good. So I seemed to have to have it fully valeted once a fortnight. It also developed complications and faults utterly unknown to modern cars, so I was always having to take it back to the specialist place in Ely where it was serviced to have its lamp riggers rejackled or its snipcocks hummed and hahed.

A special humiliation was that because the firm didn't deal in modern vehicles, if your Rover needed a replocking of its minking pin then the loan car they gave you was a dark red Austin Maxi. I remember turning up to the first week of filming on my TV series in this car, and never really regaining the authority I lost on that day.

Anyway, I was working on this film in the south of France called The Bride, starring Jennifer and Sting. It was a feminist retelling of The Bride of Frankenstein, featuring Sting as the Baron, Jennifer as the Bride, Clancy Brown as the monster and myself as a slimy Hungarian circus owner. In the blistering heat there were problems with Clancy's make-up, and filming was suspended for two weeks. Given this unexpected holiday I went home, got the Rover and returned to Carcassonne, where the unit was based. My wife and I drove all over the south and into Spain.

The shoot restarted and on my last day Jennifer said to us (it was my wife she liked, not me) "Hey you guys, I'd like to take you to Paul Bocuse's restaurant for dinner tomorrow night. It's usually booked nine months in advance but I managed to get us a table." And I said: "No thanks, I'm going to drive my stupid car back to England."

Now why would I go and say something like that? To turn down one of the most beautiful and intelligent actresses of her generation to try and drive back to England in one day, rattling along the autoroute at an ill-advised 120kph, hanging on to the thin-rimmed, bakelite steering wheel as the vague suspension wandered me all over the road and the car filled with wasps because we had to keep all the windows open to try to cool down the stifling leather and wood-lined interior. To my mind it can only be that I had been sent extra silly by spending so much time with the contradictory emotions induced in me by my Rover.

Next time: how a toaster made me show my bum to Princess Anne.

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