The Subaru and I have been on several long trips together without arguing and I'm beginning to think that this may be more than a fling. It could be the start of a long-term relationship. I'm cautious still of course, as one always is in these situations.
And this new affair did not start for the best of reasons. I'd had a big falling out with the Citroën, which brought to an end an amicable liaison which had lasted almost 30 years. With the Citroën Xantias I'd owned, amicability blossomed into full-blown love. But the Xantia disappeared from view and the C5 (which replaced it) and I never hit it off. After a while, the car became rather petulant and, on the loneliest stretches of the M6 motorway, started throwing strange warnings at me. Usually at night.
Once, all Citroëns had the capacity to rise up on their haunches, in a most useful way. You just pulled a lever next to the handbrake and up went the car. Deep floods in the lanes are a fact of life where we live and a vehicle that could paddle through them without water getting to bits that matter was a critical part of the Citroëns' appeal. But when, at 180,000 miles, the last Xantia quietly melted away (I was only two miles from home which was very thoughtful of it), I had to take on the C5 because it was, by this stage, the only Citroën that still had that wonderful trick of pulling itself up on its suspension.
The Citroëns were beautifully designed; the C5 was undoubtedly the sleekest car I've ever owned. But, as I said, it got above itself. Its attention-seeking behaviour got altogether too much, so in a fit of irritation, I drove up to Blandford and traded it in for a Subaru. The fact that I headed straight for this particular dealership in the north of the county indicates that some part of my mind had already decided that if the decades of Citroën-driving did come to an end, Subaru would be the fallback position.
But the car has become much more than a fallback. I feel looked after by the Subaru, which is a new sensation for me. And it puts me back to where I came from – among the farmers. I'd already noticed how popular the Subaru was round here among farmers and shooters and other countrymen. You can chuck it through a gateway into a field and it scarcely seems to notice the difference.
I've never driven saloons – always five-door cars with backs that open up wide enough for pushchairs and bicycles and double basses and dogs and children. And plants. On the last trip to Scotland the Subaru and I carried 27 rather large shrubs and trees from a Gloucestershire nursery up to a friend in Perthshire. Carrying capacity will always be a critical factor of any car I drive. Because I always seem to be carrying stuff: 100-litre bales of compost, vast dumper bags of mushroom compost, sacks of kindling, bales of pig wire to keep the cattle out of Foxpatch, bamboo canes 10ft long, plant supports, trays of plants for a Lifeboat fund-raiser, huge heads of crambe and teasel for when everyone gets together to decorate the church.
So I walk round this secondhand Subaru Legacy with 12,000 miles on the clock and while the salesman is telling me about its revolutionary Boxer diesel engine and its six-speed gear box, I'm noticing the way the rear seats collapse to the horizontal with a single pull of a lever. You could do that with one hand while the other arm was fully occupied with a squirming two-year old. I'm noticing the rubber mat that sits on top of the space in the back. The edges of it curve up all the way round like a flan dish, so that if water slops out of those buckets, it'll stay within the confines of the mat, not seep everywhere else.
For a gardener, the Subaru is on the right wavelength. The C5 was a bit snotty in that respect. You felt it didn't want to get dirt under its fingernails. The Subaru is in its element, nosing along rutted tracks to look at a cider orchard, accepting back-breaking cargoes of paving stones without complaint, taking mudslides, ice-slides, waterslides all in its stride when I'm on a mission to visit a plant nursery at an unseasonable time of the year. It's quiet, staggeringly quiet, which for me is one of its best qualities. I wasn't expecting that, in a marque that's generally described as "rugged". It's not unreasonably demanding in terms of food and drink. And it's never occurred to me that it won't start when I sink into the driving seat.
As a character, I'd say it was masculine rather than feminine. Which is not to say I want to be a man. I can't think of anything worse. But I'm wondering whether the fact that I'm driving a Subaru will enable me to emulate the tractor driver's salute without feeling a lemon.
The lanes here are very narrow – ours is just 8ft wide – and we do a lot of backing. These manoeuvres are rarely unacknowledged: a thank-you beep on the horn, a friendly wave out of the window. But the salute I like best comes from the farmers, dragging vast loads of straw and bales of sileage on trailers behind them. As they pass by, just a hay wisp away from your folded-in wing mirror, their acknowledgment is a forefinger raised infinitesimally from the steering wheel, agreeable, sociable, not flash.
You don't get much flash round here, which is perhaps why a blacked-out 4x4 is a rare sight. So when one of these monsters, black as well as blacked-out turned into the yard, I thought it was unlikely to be a local. The driver wound down his window, angry at the narrowness of the lanes which was making his sensors bleep, and asked for directions. His satnav had told him he had arrived and he patently hadn't. As I told him where he needed to go, the woman sitting in the front wound down her window and chucked the wrapper of her sandwich into the yard. Before I could run round and give it back to her, the 4x4 had reversed and was speeding down the lane. My last view was of it disappearing round the corner, as a Coca-Cola can sailed out of the rear window to be caught by a honeysuckle in the hedge.Reuse content