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Man, I felt like a Numan

The cover of Gary Numan’s 1979 single Cars

It is odd how two events from seemingly opposite ends of the arc of life can become connected after a vast amount of time has passed.

In the late 1970s and early 80s as one year segued into the next, my parents would take my brother, two sisters and I to the East Neuk of Fife to stay with our Auntie Jean, my mum’s best friend, and her three children, who were all around the same age as we were. (Whether it was in the mustard tank known as a Volvo 240, a thin-as-tin Renault 4 or a rented Ford Escort when the tank gave up the ghost, driving from Largs to Fife felt like a marathon to us. Lord knows what it felt like to our folks, having to put up with four bickering smart alecs under the age of 15.)

At our destination, a fisherman’s cottage in Cellardyke, just beyond Anstruther, the adults would gather in the living room and knock back after-dinner tipples while the seven of us were busy being whippersnappers elsewhere in the house (the attic was my hangout of choice).

Perhaps in an effort to cultivate any latent impresario tendencies in us children, at least once we were tasked with putting on a gang show-type event for the adults, who could number five or six depending on who’d dropped by for a blether and a heat from the fire. Red-faced on bonhomie and bevvy, they weren’t the hardest audience we’d ever faced, to be honest.

Being the youngest, my turn inevitably, and in retrospect quite rightly, drew a greater degree of attention than the contributions of my fellow performers. Most memorable of all was the end of 1979 and start of 1980, when, obsessed with scowling sub-Bowie electronic pop star Gary Numan, I doused my face and hair in Brut talcum powder (in homage to the look the unsmiling synth-rocker adopted on the cover of the album Replicas), used the handle of a hairbrush as a mic and delivered a near-flawless impression of the Tory pseudo-android performing his No1 hit Cars.

I was eight years old and smitten by anything that involved four wheels. The combustion engine was a given in all cases, the smell of petrol then, as now, intoxicating to me. Such base feelings would be beneath my ice-cool hero, however. He, I was certain, had in mind a car from the future, a machine that was sleek and clean and silent and fast.

Well, I drove that car last week. It isn’t sleek but it is very clean (zero emissions), pretty much silent and dizzyingly fast from point to point. It’s a BMW i3 and if it weren’t so damn ugly (and I had a spare 30 grand) I’d buy one.

BMW’s i3 electric vehicle. Not pretty, is it?

The principal issue facing our Gary at the wheel of an i3, I reckon, would be keeping a straight face as he tickled the accelerator and felt the torque whoosh through his cerebral cortex. You don’t see many surly cyborgs grinning from ear to ear, do you?

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.