Style | Swellboy

Swellboy on… luxury motoring

The ever-present temptation of flash-car addiction

Swellboy on… luxury motoring

Image: Brijesh Patel

February 19 2012
Nick Foulkes

I find that age affects me in unexpected ways. The other day I joked with my agent that when he started representing me I drove a Bentley and now I ride a bicycle – moreover a bicycle that, in the words of my How To Spend It colleague Simon de Burton, looks as though it has done a few miles. My younger self could not possibly have imagined that I would have relinquished a flash car and traded two tons of gleaming Crewe steel, walnut and leather for a black Pashley with a Brooks saddle. And even less could my thirtysomething self have imagined that I would have been happy about it.

Looking back, I marvel at my youthful folly and absurdity. The monthly payments I could just about scrape together, and I would have a party to celebrate any sort of garage visit that came with a three-figure price tag – but whenever I hit anything with it, the results (I have shared in these virtual pages) were like a series of hammer blows to my financial solar plexus.

Life, as I have learned, is composed of compromises, and to rail against them is about as much use as King Lear complaining about the cataracts and hurricanoes that finally teach him we are all pretty much as helpless as flies are to the wanton boys. If only the father of Goneril and Regan had listened to David and Bacharach’s Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, with the line “I’m never gonna stop the rain by complainin’”. Which brings me neatly back to bicycles, as this song accompanies the bicycling scene with Paul Newman and Katharine Ross in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the film for which the song was written. I know it smacks of ex post facto rationalisation, but I would find it hard to give up my bicycle and have become addicted to the feeling of wellbeing and the ease of parking that comes with it.

That said, if you scratch the surface of this London cyclist you will find a luxury-car addict, and it does not help that Nicholas Mee has opened a vintage Aston Martin gallery (the term “car showroom” is too pusillanimous) in my area. Shepherd’s Bush has changed a bit since I moved in, and the fact that I can say I popped into my local Aston Martin dealer on the way to my neighbourhood branch of Louis Vuitton (in Westfield London) is another of the curveballs or googlies that life can throw at one. And to think it was once the locus classicus of Steptoe & Son.

Anyway, I popped along to the opening cocktails to show my support for a local business, and knew I should not have gone. Not because it wasn’t a charming evening during which I bumped into my old friend Jeremy Hackett; it is just that I felt I wanted another expensive car. It did not help that I came across another friend I had not seen since my Bentley days, Janette Green, who used to be at Bentley before joining the board of Aston Martin. She said that she could quite see me at the wheel of a Rapide and, while I had no trouble envisaging this scenario, I feel that my wife, my accountant and my bank manager might have more difficulty conjuring up the image, let alone permitting the funds to make the transition from the mind’s eye to the main road.

Of course, the expense of a flash car is not just restricted to the buying, insuring, fuelling, servicing, repair and parking of said vehicle. I was constantly buying my Bentley little presents: a set of Bentley-branded valve caps for the tyres, a fancy lid for the fuel tank, a shearling rug for the boot and a pair of footrests for the passengers in the back (no matter that the children were so small at the time that their feet did not reach the floor).

In the cold light of a grey winter day, when I am out of sight of the gleaming bodywork, the craving subsides. Besides, it is not all bad – there is a pair of leather grips that I have yet to fit to the Pashley’s handlebars and Bill Amberg tells me he is working on a set of panniers, so all I need to do is find a small enough shearling rug for the parcel rack over the rear wheel.