Fairly recently, my car became a man; by which I mean it reached the ripe old age of 13.
In Judaism, of course, that is a number of great significance. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the barmitzvah ceremony is when the father announces from the bimah, “Baruch Sheptarani Mei’onsho Shel Zeh”—“Blessed is the One who has exempted me from this child’s punishment.” The idea is that now this 13-year old is a man, he is responsible for his own actions and his father can no longer be held accountable for his sins.
Alas, this concept does not extend to cars; last month I had to renew my insurance and there was not even a hint of a suggestion that I would not be held responsible for my car’s future mistakes.
It was interesting that this should happen now, because it seemed that no sooner did my car reach its teenage years than it began to exhibit the kind of awkward behaviour so typical of humans of the same age. It started acting up. It needed some encouragement to wake up in the morning. It would baulk at tasks it had previously performed with ease.
Despite it being an automatic, I started needing to drive it as if it was a manual, feet positioned on both brake and accelerator in order to make sure the car had enough power (it would stall otherwise) but able to bring it to a rapid stop. Every journey was an adventure. And Tolkein, Martin and Rowling might not tell you this, but adventures can become boring and irritating extremely quickly.
To my shame, in typical Jewish Prince manner, I haven’t had a look under the bonnet of my car since my driving test, when you had to learn where everything was in order to gesture vaguely if the examiner asked you to pop the hood and identify the screen wash or brake fluid. But in this case, unless I was a certified mechanic, it wouldn’t have done me much good, as I found out when I took my car to the garage.
“They don’t make them like that anymore,” the mechanic said appreciatively.
In fact, he wasn’t talking about the superior quality of my set of wheels but rather about the fact that the car company which made it went belly up (or should that be undercarriage up?) a few years ago. It turned out that part of the engine — let us call it the “thingy” — was indeed malfunctioning. A replacement “thingy” would have to be ordered, all the more rare because the part, like the car, was no longer made. I weighed up the different costs and decided that it still made sense— just —to fix the car rather than trying to sell it for parts. It is now running well again, raising my spirits but lowering my bank balance.
But while I was waiting to hear my car’s long-term prognosis, I was considering the possibility of having to purchase an alternative. One option I was considering was an electric car (it’s hard not to think that in future the Mayor of London will institute a blanket charge on all petrol cars, building on the new ULEZ charge for older vehicles which has just been introduced.)
This got me thinking about how our community really doesn’t do electric cars. I’m not saying you won’t see the rare Prius, but for the most part, we’re still happily holding on to our gas-guzzlers.
Sure, there are some reasons for that. By far the most popular car in the North West London Jewish community is the Toyota Previa, presumably both for its size and cost. Before the new-model Previa there was the old Previa, the Honda Shuttle (nicknamed the Honda Sheitel by some locals) and the Chrysler Voyager. Further back still, there was the Volvo 240, a seven-seater tank-like station wagon once a common sight on the double-parked roads of North West London, now gone the way of the dodo. The one thing all these cars had in common was their size and space. And it appears that electric cars of this type are not really being offered yet.
But who knows? Tastes can change, and vehicle types which were once non-existent can rapidly become ubiquitous. Take German cars; even a couple of decades ago, owning a Mercedes, BMW or Audi was a genuine taboo among swathes of the community. The wealthy drove Jaguars or Lexuses (Lexi?) But quicker than you can say “Vorsprung durch Technik” this appears to have changed —it’s pretty common to see examples of all three brands being driven by Jews in NW11 and NW4 these days.
So for all I know, five years from now our community could be putting the “green” into Golders Green. And possibly I’ll be leading the way; after all, my car may have reached its barmitzvah, but I wouldn’t bet on it reaching its Sweet Sixteen.