Alexei Sayle: Why I shouted at innocent people from my 4x4

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Indy Lifestyle Online

I love cycle racing, specifically I love the Tour de France. I even like it that all the teams are named after commercial products rather than cities or countries, as in football or athletics. To me this is the way things will be in the future when we all live in places called Milton Tescos or the Isle of Morrisons, so my feeling is we might as well get on with it.

Indeed, so committed am I to the Tour de France that I will only use products that are produced by the sponsors of teams in that race. Obviously it's easy enough to get my mobile phone from T Mobile and with only a little bit of trouble I've managed to locate a branch of the Crédit Agricole in the City of London where they have agreed to hold my account, however I still don't know what a Euskaltel Euskadi is.

I can tell by the words that it is something to do with the Basque country and that is why on Saturday I am taking the new Kia Magentis to Portsmouth, where I will board the ferry to the Basque port of Bilbao. I hope Euskaltel Euskadi isn't some sort of fish-based hand lotion or a ground-to-air missile system.

It will be interesting for me to see how things have changed in the Basque country. The last time I did any driving around this part of Spain was in 1988 at the wheel of a V8 Land-Rover Defender 90. I had just finished appearing in my one and only play, The Tempest, at the Old Vic, directed by Johnathan Miller. The 90 was the first brand-new vehicle I'd bought after being a classic car owner and, as a vehicle designed for military use and rough terrain, the Defender wouldn't start when it rained, the straps holding up the rear seats frayed, all the rivets around the windscreen corroded, the rear door stay broke and after a few months of ownership it stripped a cylinder and the entire engine had to be replaced under warranty.

Nevertheless when the time came to sell the SWB Land Rover it was the only car that I got a decent price for, in fact losing only a few hundred pounds after a couple of years of use. It just goes to show that image means more than true dependability.

Yet once or twice, despite its unreliability, the Land Rover's go-anywhere properties did come in useful. You might think that an actor, like almost everyone else who drives one, would have no use for a 4x4, but coming back from shooting a training film in Hertfordshire one evening I found that all the roads and bridges of central London were blocked by traffic and people swarming in the streets. There had been some kind of student demonstration which had tied everything up, yet I needed to be at the theatre within half an hour for the play to start.

So engaging low-ratio second gear I bounced across the pavements scattering pedestrians, crashed over traffic islands and drove over several small walls all the while yelling out of the window, "Let me through, I'm an actor!" - just making the start of the show with minutes to spare. So there you are, everyone has a use for four-wheel drive once in their life.

motoring@independent.co.uk

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