Driving a mature car is the coolest thing ever. Well, since sliced bread. My November is 23 years old and she still runs alllllllllllllllllmost as good as when she first rolled off the Gothenburg assembly line on Thursday September 13, 1990
Her name is November, Helga November. Helga in homage to her Scandinavian origins and November for the month she joined our family. November is … a true character … like that cantankerous Uncle who thinks nothing of introducing you to whiskey when you turn 10, or gifting you the same piece of farmland in Mukono on your wedding day that he’s been giving all of your cousins on their wedding day; when one of them is foolhardy enough to show up at his house to claim the title, he sets the dogs set upon him for his trouble.
If you have one of those relatives, that’s what November is like. For the most part, she’s quiet, growling and snarling like only she can, transporting you, your family and the kitchen sink (in that enormous boot) from home, to market, to Rotary, to wherever you want to go. Plus, it’s pretty awesome that there aren’t many of her particular model around so when you drove down Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road and a suit type going the opposite direction flashed his lights at you, you instinctively knew it was your induction into a very small, very private club. Since then, you have realised how few of them there are. In Jinja for instance there’s only three others that you know: Mzee’s retired one, one belonging to a retired Doctor three roads up from your home and one other that belongs to a lawyer who once sued your father-in-law and appeared in Kayunga court for the first hearing of the case in front of your magistrate sister-in-law. Yeah, I know, it is a small world!
The court case was all sorted out in the end and Counsel was suitably cool enough about it to let you have his car for your wedding day. What he didn’t know – couldn’t possibly have known – is that the very first one that you ever saw in your life, circa 1993, setting off a lifelong love affair with the marque, was parked on Iganga Road outside the clinic of the Doctor who much later in life became your father-in-law. Of course you only made the connection after you and Madam were well and truly engaged. True written-in-the-stars love; it exists, people.
So your November, she has a habit, every once in a while, of shutting down and acting dead, just when you Do. Not. Need. the aggravation. But somehow, after a few hours/days, a very good reason (miraculously) emerges for the breakdown. Like the time when you had a settlement meeting in Kampala with a well known tycoon who was buying land in Luzira, and unknown to you, was setting you up for a huge loss of credibility and finances. The car drank a full tank of gas and then, on the morning of the fateful meeting, she started, rolled out of the garage, and promptly shut down. Mechanics were called, apologies were rung in to Kampala, car innards were taken apart and put together but November refused to leave the compound. Eventually, by the time your wife suggested that maybe you were not supposed to attend the meeting, you were too annoyed and pigheaded to listen to reason and it was too late to catch a taxi anyway so you swore colourfully (under your breath of course) and stomped into your room.
Later that evening, there was a storm coming, so figuring you had nothing to lose, you got in the car, cranked the ignition and would you believe it, the bloody car started instantly and drove back into the garage. And took you to church the next morning and to work on Monday … and then you got the email from your client asking what happened to the money they gave you to deal with a certain problem. Money a certain tycoon was claiming he had also spent (during the meeting you missed) and was claiming a refund for. To make a long story short, had you been at said meeting with the tycoon, you would have been implicated in fraud to the tune of tens of millions. (As a side tip people, if you ever have to account for money you’ve paid on someone else’s behalf to a Ugandan, do what I do. Take a photo of the recipient holding up that day’s newspaper with the headline clearly visible. And get their signature.)
I was cleared of any wrongdoing in the tycoon refund saga, and for her role in that, November got a full tank of V-Power as ‘kasiimo’.
However, when you get up on Sunday to invite yourself to lunch at the parents’ and November won’t start for a coupla minutes – two weeks after you put in a new fuel pump and floater – and you get a sinking feeling in your gut, you just know its going to be one of those days. You let her idle for a little while, you even caress her spark plugs (she likes that), you speak a little German to her (it’s the closest to Swedish that you can get) you even remind her that her new shocks and air-con unit will arrive from Nairobi next week.
Then she allows, you back out of the driveway and as you slowly drive down the side-road to the main road, some idiot in a mini Pajero shows up in your rear view mirror and November starts spluttering. You do the decent thing, turn on your hazard lights, pull over to the side of the rather narrow road, shift into neutral and start revving the engine. Universal signs for ‘I’m in distress here, why don’t you just edge past and be on your way?’ But no, this ka Pajero driver must stop right on your bumper and start hooting at you. After taking a quick look out your window to make sure that the ka Pajero can make it past you, and confirming that it can, the driver hoots that one time too many, you open your ki heavy door, lean out and assure them loud enough to wake the neighbours who are still sleeping. “’Oi, if I’ve got my hazard lights on and I’m not moving and I’m revving my engine and I’m not parked in front of someone’s gate obviously something is wrong! Go past me or turn around and bugger off but DO NOT HOOT AT ME!”
They get the message; they hoot just one more, rather pitifully, and then back away. Funny enough, after they have started to turn halfway round, November settles down. She gets you to the main road, and just to be sure you take her to your mechanic’s workshop. This entire time she’s purring like a baby, making you look like an idiot, ‘cause sure enough your mechanic sends you on your way with a wry look on his face.
Then there’s a long queue of trailers and taxis because in their wisdom the fellows fixing the bridge over Owen Falls Dam have chosen Sunday morning to work. Why they don’t do this stuff at night, using the bridge’s overhead lights and when trailers are forbidden to travel I have no idea. Anyway you join the queue, roll onto the bridge, and quarter way across it she goes silent. Hazard lights on, wave following taxi on, shift into neutral and crank the ignition. Luckily, the traffic is slowing to a halt, just as she fires up again. You keep your hazards on and the driver from the taxi that’s just pulled in front of you walks up to you and asks if you need help. You tell him you’ll just have to wait and see if she acts up. Three quarters of the way across, she acts up again. The cars in front of you pull away and suddenly you’re that guy … holding up the traffic on the bridge with your stalled car as if you don’t know where the fuel station is … you panic-call the mechanic, asking, nay, ordering him to show up and sort this out.
Luckily, no one is hooting and the guys going slowly past in the opposite direction are offering advice as you crank the starter, “give it some gas”, “let it warm up a bit”, “don’t crank it so hard”, “why don’t you get the traffic policemen and soldiers at the end of the bridge to come push it”, “don’t worry, it will start” … You wonder, if it was a kikumi, would they have been this empathetic? Then, without warning, the engine’s back on and we’re pulling away with a great big howl. The chaps repairing the speed hump at the Jinja end of the bridge must have seen all of this because they stopped the car right in front of you but waved you on past him! Bless y’all! You were just so relieved, and let’s be honest, quite embarrassed, so you didn’t bother slowing for the … oh Lord … a new set of humps … whose colossally stupid idea was that?!
Well, you got to the parents all right. The mechanic has been rung and given directions to the house. November is sitting there looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her grille. Little does she know, the words were on the tip of your tongue to tell Madam that you’re trading in November for an electronic, curvy V70 … until she smiled her smile and said, “Thank you for getting us home”.
Well then. Another few months with November won’t hurt.