Chapter 3 – Renault Clio Sports

What a great little car. Not a contender in our mind-blowing performance car shoot-out this month (TG 195), admittedly, but no less brilliant for it, this facelifted Clio remains at the top of its class. And after driving it for a couple of days, I was as impressed with it as with any of the mega-cars you’ll find in later pages. Building a small car this good is no easy task.

The car tested is a Sport Tourer, in Dynamique trim, with the 1.5 dCi diesel engine. If you need an efficient, clean, small runabout, this is it. At £14,770 (£13,220 for the Expression base model) it’s not particularly cheap, but a determination to avoid the bargain basement Koreans is probably wise in this category.

The Clio drives exceptionally well, with light, direct steering, a sporty short-throw gearshift and a supple ride. And the way it keeps its little diesel hushed and remote from the cabin is nothing short of astounding – there are BMWs and Benzes at three times the price that don’t do it so well.

Glowing review so far? It can’t fail to be. The little diesel engine will never make this car fast, but in its own way it’s the equal of the new engine in the E250 CDI and Alpina D3 in combining smooth, lag-free torque low in the rev range with a free-revving nature. Like those two units, this is one of the very best four-cylinder diesels anywhere.

Take or leave the estate body shape. It’s got 439 litres seats up compared with 288 for the standard hatch if you need the space. But both are utterly great

She saw him, of course she saw him, it wasnt difficult, the bloody vans’ got his name all over it and she had a split second to make a decision and actually it would have been so easy to stop the car, let him gather her up in an akward bear hug, make everything all right, absolve him from all blame and pretend, yet again, that everythings ok.
But she didnt, she drove straight past him and as she looked in the mirror, she saw the van, parked, engine running and she felt a terrible, terrible sense of relief.

She should be driving to work now, up to the crossroads, sharp right, left at the trafffic lights, up to the dual carriageway and into town and the estate agents where they havnt sold a house for 3 months, but her sat nav does that congestion warning thing and actually she can see for herself that the road is gridlocked and for the second time in less than ten minutes she makes another snap decision and when she gets to the traffic lights she turns right, away from the suburban sprawl, towards real countryside.

She tries to pretend that all of this is random, that she has no destination in mind, but she knows its not true, she’s been all too aware of the little bundle of keys at the botton of her handbag. the ones she didnt return to the office after the last farsical viewing.

The very thought of the office makes her shudder, its begining to resemble a counselling centre. The desperate, drawn faces of the vendors, desperate to sell, even more desperate to tell their stories. The man, widowed, overwhelmed by the sheer weight of domesticity, 3 viewings in 6 months and each time she accompanies a perspective buyer, he has retreated a little further, taking up less and less room in the house. On the last viewing she suspected that he had completely abandoned the upstairs, had made a base camp in the kitchen and there was possibly, she didn’t look to carefully, a sleeping bag shoved behind the unlit Aga.
The young couple, impossibly over stretched, both have confided to her, separately, that they have acquired a secret credit card to try and make their mortgage payments for just a little longer, hoping against hope that a buyer will be found

The stories drag her down, make her dread the chirpy ping of the shop door bell, it is never a buyer, always a vendor and she has taken to simply walking out of the office, clutching a bunch of keys and mumbling something about a viewing.
Nothing ever sells, so Mike and Lisa, the only other remaining staff, both ground down by months of basic salary, never even bother to ask how any viewing goes.

She had started just driving around with no destination in mind or at least that was true until last month, when she actually did have a viewing and at a house that maybe, just maybe could sell.

It’s not their usual sort of property at all, Roz isn’t even sure why they’re handling it, to be honest, it’s a bit out of their league, all modern design, glass walls, funny shaped rooms.

It reminds her of that TV programme, the one where people say that they’re poor but can still pay for an architect to design some sleek cube in the middle of nowhere.

Beautiful crafting, innovative design and highly personal touches are what makes a home improvement work, not piles of money, says McCloud. He points to Monty Ravenscroft’s home built on a sliver of land in Peckham on a small budget as one of the enduring stars of Grand Designs.

<Forget what all the other property programmes tell you about improving your property to maximise its sale value. Do it for yourself, not for the market. "Ask yourself how long you are going to live there. My father died at the age of 73. Hell, that doesn't give me an awful lot longer [he's 52]. How am I going to spend the next two decades? How am I going to be happy?

“Your home should be about enriching the daily experience. I don’t want to be too philosophical, but next week you might be under a bus. Figure out what you have, do you like it, do you really want it? Don’t try building a fantasy of how you should be.”

Kevin loves that programme, watches it all the time, gets all excited about some weird banisters or a glass wall. Roz knows that’s what he really wants to do, not the shoddy refurbs and penny pinching extensions he labours over and there’s been few enough even of those recently. He thinks she doesn’t notice, doesn’t register the worry in his face when he struggles over the books, but she does, of course.

In fact, that’s when the aimless driving started, when she began to think that she might have to give up the little almost sports car and get something cheaper, more sensible, less fun.

Of course, the viewing didn’t lead to a sale, they hated it, were in and out in less than 15 minutes, but for some reason, Roz kept the keys and has gone back twice, no three times.
The house is dressed to sell and Roz finds herself drifting from room to room, touching fabrics, testing beds. Last time she took her lunch and sat on the metal balcony, staring out at the fields.
It was strangely comforting.

Roz knows that things are falling apart, she cannot believe that she will have a job for very much longer, she knows that she should be anxious,but actually the idea that soon she will be able to leave an office where the phone never rings and where white faced vendors choose her as the receptacle of their fears and broken dreams is so appealing that she understands that she will put up no fight when the day finally comes.

She knows too that Kevs little building company is busy going down the toilet and she is unsure where this double whammy of disaster will leave them.

But, today, Valentines Day, she is driving to the White House, she has a package of the best champagne truffles she could buy and plans to eat them, alone, sitting on the strangely comfortable brushed steel chair placed precisely in the middle of a room that has no discernible function except to allow the sitter to stare out of the glass wall into the empty field that surround the house.

Although cards, flowers and chocolates make an indispensable part of V-day celebrations, the British like to celebrate this day in their own unique way. It’s a V-day tradition in Britain to pen quixotic verses, lyrics and sonnets as a tribute to the icon of love, Saint Valentine. On this day, all the wild-eyed lovers come together and scribble poetic lines to commemorate the occasion.
Songs are the fun part of all celebrations and a day as special as Valentine’s Day is no different. On this day, the English people, especially the kids dole out their favorite romantic tracks or love ballads and are generously rewarded with candies, toys and truffles, in return.
On V-day, the young girls wake up early in the morning, stand near the window, and keep an eye on the people passing by. There is a long-existing belief in Britain that the first man a girl sees on the morning of Valentine’s Day is the man meant for her.
There is this legendary belief among the people of U.K. that on 14th of February, i.e. on Valentine’s Day, birds come together to find their mates. Thanks to Geoffrey Chaucer, this belief has come to be an indispensable part of Valentine’s Day legend today. In certain parts of U.K., Valentine’s Day is commemorated as ‘Birds Wedding Day’. It is a custom to eat baked buns topped with caraway seeds, plums and raisins on this day.
In U.K., Valentine’s Day marks the end of winter and commencement of spring. Hence, this day is rejoiced with great jubilation. Apart from the customary tradition of penning verses, people exchange cozy moments, cute gifts and cards to bring in the day.

She drives quickly, her thoughts already focused on her Valentines’ treat and discovers that she is looking forward to it, in fact, she is so deep in thought that she fails to even register the blue Ford Mondeo on the main road. She takes the right turn quickly, heats the Mondeo slam on its brakes and hears the horn blast at her in anger, but she is already gone, engine revving up the hill, the Ford vanishing in her mirror.

She turns into the driveway, looks up at the White House and smiles for the first time that day.

She knows that the truffles will be delicious.

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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