Is it just me or do you also find that hardly a day goes by without someone sounding off about the Environment, Climate Change and Recycling. Television, Radio and the newspapers are all full of it. New companies spring up daily promising to supply “green” energy using all types of weird and wonderful renewable sources from wind power and sunlight to cow manure and biomass.
A few years back our local council embraced recycling in a big way. First they issued every household with a brand new wheelie bin. All rubbish would only be collected if it was stashed in these bins. Next, they cancelled the weekly collection. Rubbish is now collected twice a month. Further, householders are required to separate out the stuff that can be recycled from the general rubbish that eventually goes into landfill sites. There are three different bins at the front of most houses each for different items of household waste. The system suffered teething problems at the start but it seems to have taken off now and the city fathers claim that the city was coming close to hitting the recycling targets set by the EU. Councillors like to remind us that for programmes like these to work we need to inculcate a sense of civic pride and people must accept their own responsibility for the environment and global climate change. This would include reforming the throw away culture. We needed to look carefully at the Japanese idea of Mottainai, popularised by Kenyan Nobel laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai.
Imagine then, my good friend John’s surprise when he took Malaika to see her doctor recently. I know the good lady well and whilst she is no spring chicken she looks really good for her age. She has been with John’s family for just over 12 years.
The family acquired Malaika, a white, 1980s VW beetle from a German couple who had toured the country by road, spent all their cash and decided to sell their car for food, board and bus fare for the journey home. Malaika may have been of advancing years but she had never once let them down. She had remained a loyal friend getting them from A to B and back again, come rain or sunshine. The lower parts of her body were beginning to show her age but John did not expect the rude reaction that he got at the garage when he took her in for an MOT test. The older mechanic laughed out aloud at all the rust showing on Malaika’s lower body. He asked why John didn’t just scrap her and save himself the hustle.
The younger mechanic respectfully explained to John that this model was obsolete and it would get more and more difficult to obtain parts. Further, the rust problem was getting worse and he’d noticed that Malaika had had several previous welding scars. There was more welded material than original bodywork on Malaika’s backside and for that she would fail her MOT test. Another man who seemed to be just standing around asked John to sell it to him for what sounded like an obscenely tiny amount. John asked the man why he’d want to buy the car and the man’s answer left him speechless. This man’s son was a drag race maniac. Together, they bought old cars changed the wheels, souped up the engines and then went off to race them in the mud. John could not imagine dear Malaika coming to such an undignified end and so he told the man what he could do with his twenty-quid.
As they drove out of the garage, Malaika noticed that the driver’s mood had changed. Johnno, as she called him was like an open book. And for that she loved him dearly. She could read his emotions by the way he handled her. When angry he always pushed the accelerator pedal right down to the floor. It made her scream and hurt her throat. When Johnno was happy he whistled and tapped on the steering wheel, tickling her. When he was in a good mood he drove slowly as if wanting the moment that he was inside her to last forever. He liked to sing out aloud when he was alone in the car and this always made her heart melt. She loved his deep crisp voice which made good harmony with her own high engine sounds.
Malaika had never seen this side of John. He was not just angry, this was something different. An emotion she found difficult to place. Was it guilt? shame? She concentrated hard trying to read the vibes in the air. She tried to remember what those dirty mechanics had said to him. The rude men used words like trade-in, newer model, scrap yard. What did it all mean? They were now driving along the winding road that went up ‘Dead man’s Hill’ near the rock and sand quarries. Johnno did not play a tune on the wheel. He held the wheel firmly, staring at the road straight ahead.They were just getting to the top of the hill. The road here followed a winding path to the bottom and extra care was required when driving along this part.
Now Malaika’s mind went back to a warm Sunday in July, many years ago. She was hot and dusty. Johnno had come out with a bucket of cool soapy water. He wore one of those nice string vests. He used a soft sponge to scrub her white body slowly, making sure that he covered her entirely in that sweet smelling foam. He was happy. A neighbour came over and said that if John continued to wash the car like that, rain would fall. John told him that this was the love of his life. He liked to take care of her, give her a good wash and shine. He would never trade her in for a newer model!
Now she understood. She too was angry. She pulled the accelerator pedal down, herself, right to the floor and locked it there.
As Malaika suddenly gathered speed, Johnno lurched backwards into his seat losing his grip on the steering wheel and all control of the speeding car. Moments later they flew off the edge of the cliff, hurtling down towards the rock quarries several hundred feet below……….