Alexei Sayle: Small is beautiful - especially if it's a hire car

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Indy Lifestyle Online

It is truly amazing how the advent of cheap short-haul fights on easyJet, Ryanair, Monarch and the rest has affected our lives. Obviously, in the long term getting all that jet exhaust right up near the ozone layer is going to lead to us all living in a post ecological disaster-style dystopia, as predicted in Kevin Costner's Waterworld - a film that also went a fair way to evoking how tedious and painful such a dystopia would be. In the short term though it has led to me changing my car- hire habits.

When we first started visiting Spain in the late Nineties, I was used to working regularly in the movies and touring large stand-up venues: trips where somebody else was paying. I now realise that being treated like a star for 20 years gave me an inflated sense of myself, so I always insisted on flying at least in club class. "People can't see Alexei Sayle hanging around in the ordinary departure lounge," I'd say, or, "Alexei Sayle can't sit in economy, it'd dilute his magic."

When it came to paying for himself, though, Alexei Sayle was unwilling to fork over the full going rate to sit at the front of the plane, but luckily his wife was good at finding a deal. In the early days we'd fly down to Madrid, because you could get reasonable offers on business class, and from there we'd have to drive for five and a half hours to get to Andalucia. Because of the long drive and because I had the club-class mindset, I also felt I needed to rent a decent car - a Focus at least, hopefully with an upgrade to a Vectra or similar.

Eventually, however, I was forced to accept that it was ridiculous to keep going to Madrid and then driving for half a day when budget airlines were flying into the southern airports of Malaga or Granada, and at a fifth of the cost. After that epiphany it soon became clear that when the flight had cost so little, it was ridiculous to pay more than the minimum for a hire car. So I began renting the tiniest hatchbacks available, without air-conditioning, and not from any firm that had an office in the airport either, but from those companies found on the internet that meet you in a plain van and drive you across ploughed fields with a load of other confused tourists to a Portakabin with a load of Kias lined up outside it. A couple of times, indeed, I've clambered into the wrong plain van and spent the first couple of days of my holiday picking mixed salad leaves in the poison-laden atmosphere of a polytunnel above Almeria, alongside a load of Ecuadoreans. (Still, the fifty euros I earned more or less paid for the hire of the Kia Picanto after I managed to escape, so that's a bonus.)

The result of all this frugality is that I feel liberated. Apart from anything else, the lanes are so narrow around my house that it is much easier to navigate when driving a small car. Also, on the return trip I take great pleasure in making cheese and tomato sandwiches for the flight and filling up a mineral water bottle from the tap. I imagine even Bill Gates would baulk at paying the price they charge you for food on budget airlines, and you certainly wouldn't buy your sandwiches at the airport - there's only one place in Spain that I've ever found where you can buy an awful overpriced cup of weak coffee and a really bad sandwich, and that place is Malaga airport. The reason for this is that the caterers there are a branch of a British enterprise and, of course, most of the customers are British, so they placidly put up with the muck they are served. But more than that, I feel that I have been able to let go of all pretence: in the past I was concerned with the image I presented to the world, whereas now thanks to budget airlines I don't care what anybody thinks of me, which - given the effect a couple of weeks squashed in a tiny car without air-conditioning has on my wardrobe - is just as well, really.

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