Despite the Land Rover badge, which should have conferred supreme off-road ability, the first Freelander compact soft-roader was not blessed with greatness. It was plagued by mechanical dramas, including a V6 petrol engine with an appetite for head gaskets.
When the time came in 2004 to give the vehicle a makeover, Land Rover had the opportunity to exorcise a few demons but it didn’t work out that way.
Rather than address reliability issues, Land Rover gave the car a mostly cosmetic styling makeover.
Mechanically, Freelander buyers received fewer, not more, choices, as the troublesome petrol V6 was dumped. That meant the only engine became the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel. The base-model S had the option of a manual gearbox but the SE and HSE models were automatic only. The auto suited the vehicle better anyway and fuel economy was pretty good.
With just 82kW of power and about 1700 kilograms to haul around, it was anything but overpowered. Handling was disappointing, too, with limited grip on the bitumen.
For all the hoopla about it being a new model, the Freelander’s reliability was not the great leap forward it should have been.
“Stop it” I say, my voice sharper than maybe I intended, but it’s just annoying and he knows it and still bloody does it.
I turn round to glare at him, I’ve got plenty of time, the bypass is completely gridlocked, no chance of the car moving, no chance of me getting him there on time now.
He stops, for a moment anyway, although I know from bitter experience,that this is only a respite.The moment he thinks my attention is diverted, he will start again and then I will shout and the morning commute will end in tears,again.
I stare at the unmoving traffic, we are going to be late, seriously late, I will be judged and found wanting, again.
I’m so wound up that I find my teeth biting down on a nail and only just manage to stop myself in time, the last thing I need is ragged, chewed finger nails.
I think longinly about the packet of Marlboro Lights hiden in the depths of the glove compartment. The moment I drop him off and have driven safely out of sight, I will light one.It is probabaly the highpoint of my day.
“Dog” says Ben, ” Big Dog, mummy, look” and he’s right, in the tiny car next to us are three of the biggest dogs I have ever seen, the car is 90% dog, windows steamed up with doggy breath, paw prints everywhere, god, it must stink in there, but the woman,the driver looks madly happy, she’s singing along to the radio, absently patting the biggest dog, the one in the front seat, actually the one filling most of the front of the car.
It’s one of the good things about the 4×4, you can really look down on people, have a good nose in their cars, their lives.
Simon said that it was the perfect car for me, but then Simon said a lot.
“Brum, brum, car goes into the garage,brum brum”,he’s started doing it again, running his toy car up and down the back of my seat. It’s one of those sensations that starts off as nothing, but the longer it continues, the more annoying it gets until finally you just want to scream
“Stop it”, so I do and then of course there’s tears and then, then he pulls the flanker
“I want my daddy………………I want my daddy”
So then, I’ve got instant guilt, guilt AND lateness, great, so I start rummaging in the glove compartment, hoping the ciggies don’t fall out, and bingo, sugar free chewing gum. Ben is placated with the lure of grown up sweeties and the tears dry up
“Look ,look at the doggies,lets wave to them”
Simon said we should get a dog, said every family should have a dog, said it would be good for Ben, good for us, we could go for lovely long walks in the country when he was home and when he was away, well, the dog would bark, keep us safe, make me feel more secure.
I looked around the house, imported stone floors, cream sofas, nothing out of place and I shuddered, the idea of paw prints,hair, slobber made me feel actually sick and I managed to head that idea off at the pass.
And besides, there was no dog on earth that could keep me feeling secure in those 6 month,9 month stretches.
But these dogs, the giant dogs in the clown car are doing the trick, Ben is smiling, showing them his red sports car and the woman, the woman feels our gazes, looks up and smiles a smile of complete joy and then she picks up the paw of the dog next to her and moves the paw so the he is waving back. Ben is delighted, laughs out loud and I can’t help myself, I laugh out loud too and for a moment,there is complete happiness, a tiny dialogue betweeen the woman with the pets and the fleecey top and us.
But, we’re still going to be late, appallingly, toe curlingly late, again.
Simon said that I had no time management skills, no discipline. When he came home,he would look at the bad habits, the sloppiness that Ben & I had fallen into. Tea on trays in front of the TV, Sunday mornings in bed, Ben watching cartoons while I dozed, dishwasher left half filled for days, hoover standing sentry in the hallway,not back in its proper place in the cupboard under the stairs.
His lips would tighten ,just a little, and I would up my game and Simon would take over the ironing because he said he was better at it than me.
Bugger,bugger , bugger. I turn round to talk to Ben and he’s fallen asleep, this is a disaster, this means that I’ll have to wake him when we get there and then he’ll cry and they will look at me in that way they’ve been looking at me for months and even my cigarette,my favourite smoke of the day won’t take that taste out of my mouth, the taste of failture, again.
I know I should wake him now,prod him ,but I can’t bear to.
Simon said I was too soft on him, let hin get away with too much, had started talking about prep school, common entrance, boarding school, mapping out a future with a terrible militairy precision.
His son following in his footsteps.
And the traffic is still not moving, we’ve advanced maybe 200 yards in 20 minutes, Ben has curled up in his car seat, face pressed against the fabric, but still clutching the little red car in his fist. I’m wondering about a sneaky cigarette,open the window wide, breathe the smoke out. I know it’s bad, but, but, butt, I smile at my own terrible pun.
Simon said that smoking was disgusting, cheap, bad for him, bad for his son and although it felt like a bit of an afterthought, bad for me too.
I smoked when we met and then it was ok,part of who I was,it didn’t seem to be an issue, it changed when we got married.
That’s when I became a secret smoker, inventing journeys so that I could top up my nicotine levels.I didn’t want to give up, it was my final link to my old life, my dirty, urban life and besides, i didn’t want to put on weight.
Simon said that being fat was a sign of laziness, the symptom of disorder,of someone who isn’t trying anymore.
I sigh, check the babba is soundly asleep and then and I sneak, actually sneak in my own car, get the packet and light a cigarette ,it’s not as good as the usual morning one, but it’s OK and then guilt kicks in and I have to throw it out of the window,hoping no-one will notice, judge the bad mother subjecting her tiny child to the dangers of passive smoking.
The car ahead starts moving,the jolt wakes Ben, too abrupt, he is startled,starts to cry and I look around madly for something to distract him, the lighter is probably not great, nor the scrunched up silver paper from the fag packet.
Simon said I was too casual, not careful enough, not a good enough mother, not fit to care for his son.
Finally, the traffic is moving, I can see our exit ahead and breathe a sigh of relief, we will only be averagely late.
I signal, Ben is happier
“Bye bye doggie” he shouts, waving happily as the joyous woman and her huge pets continue up the by-pass.
We are nearly at the nursery, I look in the mirror, arrange my face in an appropriate expression and pull into the car park.
The young women are gentle with me and Ben, careful around us, considerate, quiet. No-one mentions how late we are.
i start the drive home, savoring the pleasure of the proper cigarette and defiantly keep the window closed.
Simon said that this would be the last tour, that everything would be OK, that nothing bad would happen and then Simon said
“we need to talk Fleur, we really need to talk when i get back”.
I think about the house, unwashed breakfast dishes in the sink, an ashtray on the kitchen table, a basket of over due ironing in the utility room, a muddle of my nightie, Ben’s superhero pyjamas in the double bed.
I look at my face in the mirror and I laugh and I laugh and I laugh.