Alexei Sayle: The Communist Motoring Manifesto

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Indy Lifestyle Online

I WAS doing a television interview recently and during the course of it I was asked where my fascination with cars and driving came from.

It's a long time since I reflected on this but the car part is easy. When I was a small child, as far as I can recall, apart from the odd van, there were no cars parked on our street. To me, cars were rare, exotic things, more often than not containing policemen, that would occasionally drive past our house.

The idea of my one day owning one seemed to be as rare as the idea of my owning an elephant (by the way, to those of you who e-mailed, thank you very much for your inquiries and, yes, Jumbo's trunk infection is now getting much better).

A little later, during the economic boom of the Sixties when automobiles moved from being rare, luxury items to just another consumer durable, because my parents and a lot of their friends were members of the British Communist Party, they felt that, now they had enough money to buy a family vehicle, that they should support the Soviet Union and its allies in the Warsaw Pact by purchasing products from the East.

When a party branch meeting was held round at our house you would see the street outside suddenly filled with parked communist-bloc automobiles. Zils, Moskvitches, Trabants, T-34 tanks, Skodas, Tatras, Wartburgs (only a communist country could name a car after a skin growth).

On meeting days our part of Liverpool looked like a neighbourhood in 1950s Budapest, though who brought the Gypsy violinists along every week I still couldn't say.

From the vehicles my parent's comrades owned, I got the impression that a car was a very strange-looking thing that often came with two little chromed flagpoles on the front wings.

Yet even then, because my dad worked on the railways and we got free rail travel, our family still didn't buy a car. So I was 30 before I passed my driving test and was able to discover for myself the joys of the open road.

Since I came to driving so late, I think I have never lost that sense of wonder at how magical driving can be. That you can get into this thing parked outside your house and a few hours later you're in Scotland (or still outside your house because your car's been clamped because you've forgotten to renew your residents' parking permit) still gives me the most amazing sense of freedom. It's not unknown for me to get into a car and drive to Paris or Rome just for the hell of it.

I know that when driving abroad a lot of people are still intimidated by the fact that in Europe you drive on the right (except in certain anarchist-dominated regions of Spain where you drive in the middle) but I have a failsafe way to remind yourself which side of the road to drive on.

I have simply adapted the mnemonic that reminds you of the correct way to tighten screws. So, on the Continent I would say to myself each morning before setting off in the car: "Righty tighty, lefty crashy." It seemed to work.

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