Fishing Lines: Smelly epitaph of lovable beast

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The Independent Online
She took us here, she took us there

Her sturdy heart without a care

Bearing our loads with dignity as well

The trouble was, she didn't half smell

Sadly missed

'Volvo 245DL Estate, 1976-1994'

Not dead, just sleeping

WHO AM I trying to kid? Gone, forever. Bob, the mechanic, gave me the bad news this week. With a new engine and new gearbox the only cure for her terminal illness, the time has come to send the old girl to that great body shop in the sky. No more will she wake the neighbours at dawn. No more will she bear eager youngsters to fishing waters all over the country. And no more will she leave us cursing on a Sunday night, 100 miles from home, as she steadfastly refuses to start.

It's not easy, writing the obituary of a loved one. For all her quirks, noises and smells, I shall miss The Beast. My wife, less romantic about such matters, is quietly delighted and so, I suspect, are the neighbours. While they all applaud the principle of teaching local kids to fish properly, they are less enthusiastic about the sobriety of our transportation.

Funny, that. I always felt the light blue paint, enhanced by patches of red oxide fighting a losing battle against rustworm, rather set the tone for our trips. And the youngsters loved it. Though many have been coming on the excursions so long that they now have their own cars, they still preferred the camaraderie of the Volvo to their own nippy XR3s.

There have been times, I must confess, when we cursed The Beast. Most notable was the trip when we took seven hours to dig ourselves out of a boggy field. Torrential rain all day had turned the field to mush. When I loaded up and tried to drive off, The Beast dug her heels in, up to the axles. A passing motorist in his smart white four-wheel drive tried to help, and got stuck. I called out a breakdown truck - but that too lodged in the mud. The local farmer brought along his tractor, and that joined us in the field as well.

It was like a children's nursery rhyme. Eventually, with the help of two Land Rovers and frenzied pushing by a dozen people, we extracted the Volvo and all the other vehicles, except the tractor, which may still be in the field, for all I know. We got home at 2am, to the relief of frantic parents, who were puzzled as to how their little dears ended up looking as if they had been mud-wrestling.

But I suppose The Beast had a good innings. When she finally expired (not helped by an au pair, who couldn't find the oil filler cap, so instead poured 20/50 into the radiator and the brake fluid compartment), the mileage was 174,695. A fair bit of that came from our trips abroad. Loaded to the gills, The Beast trundled to Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and twice to Holland. On the second Dutch trip, it acquired an aroma it was never to lose.

We had spent the week catching bream, a large, slimy bronze fish that deposits large gobs of its protective slime everywhere. Our nets looked as if a giant runny nose had been using them as a handkerchief. The smell, heightened by extremely hot weather, became worse and worse as the week wore on. Even with all the windows open, we had to keep stopping to gasp fresh air. When we got back to Dover, we were stopped in the green channel. A full-scale search looked on the cards - until we opened the back. The customs officer staggered back, changed colour and hurriedly waved us on.

A week later, I was to discover an additional hazard. One of the youngsters had spilt a big tub of maggots, and decided to keep quiet rather than risk my wrath. They seemed to hatch throughout that summer. Whenever I used the car, I took the precaution of opening the door and standing back for a few minutes as swarms of huge, dopy bluebottles wafted out.

Since that day, Bob has charged for a can of fresh air spray and another of fly spray every time he serviced the car. After a while, it never worried me, but regulars on our monthly trips ate mints by the score and kept the windows open, even in winter. So maybe the most fitting epitaph should be: 'The Beast. Not dead - though she always smelt like it.'