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Subvert Break: The Slow Death of the Car

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My name is Fabian, and I'm a financial soothsayer. At least that's what I've told these three men here with me. They're staring at me expectantly, but it takes me a while to pull them into focus. Are they colleagues? Old enemies from a dark past I'd forgotten I'd had? Impatient staff in a café, haranguing me into ordering an extravagant variant of what I thought I wanted? The sniggering behind their hands is in full flow as my eyes dart around in poorly-concealed confusion. I assure them my powers will kick in soon.

They begin to take shape. A disgruntled clerk, every day resisting the urge to cook the books, not for his own profit but just to bring the bastards down. A property developer, a time-warp yuppie in a coke-head suit, gesticulating at the wonders of his latest scheme, elaborating the risks of his investment, dramatizing his chances of failure. A downtrodden English Literature professor, basking in the catastrophe of Brexit and the adoration of a Vietnamese PhD student half his age.

We're witnessing the slow death of the car

They gather before me as if for a theatrical showdown, knowing someone is guilty but unsure if it's them. I'm ready now, I have my story. The lights go up and the show begins.

"You are united by crippling debt," I tell them. "You all bought big cars on credit, and you're here to share the sorrows of your impending bankruptcy." They acquiesce, and our conversation opens wide.

We're witnessing the slow death of the car. Not just any old car, but the glamourous car that inhabits the fantasies of weak men. The Sunbeam Alpine in Get Carter, hurtling round an empty multi-storey car park, upstaging its beautiful leading lady driver. The Aston Martin in Johnny English Strikes Again, humiliated by a little electric BMW and its beautiful leading lady driver. The Ford Thunderbird in Thelma and Louise, kicking up dust as it roars and wallows two beautiful leading ladies into a nihilistic triumph. The nouveau-riche Range Rover, a blacked-out parody of the Laird's all-terrain limousine that once conveyed the poised lady of the manor in the front and a couple of goats in the back.

They're all out to impress women, but the wheels have fallen off their time-honoured strategies. As the car loses its romance, so it loses its way. A car advert no longer sells the car, it sells the finance package. The debt is the product. "Only £400 per month to enable your over-extended lifestyle." No self-respecting human under twenty-five would take this prospect seriously. Give it twenty years, and the car-owning era will be a fading memory.

When the glamour dries up, the lifeblood clots and turns to dust. Technology must excite to survive

Cars are no longer sexy. We may see a brief fascination with the ones that drive themselves, but a car chase will be dull as hell without the wheel-wrangling clichés and stunts. When the glamour dries up, the lifeblood clots and turns to dust. Technology must excite to survive.

Health has become fashionable, and cars are so damned unhealthy. My three stooges move on from their financial woes to their Fitbits and their daily step counts. The property man brags about the ultra-marathon he's training for, though the others are plainly dubious that he'll do it. The academic wants to jump ship to Vietnam with his new love, and live out his adventures in the mountains, if only he can shake off his debts. The clerk has taken up kickboxing, and is fantasising about pummelling his boss to pieces.

"Paying down your debts is one thing," I preach with my best, knowing smile, "but really you must invest in the brave new world. Forget these old technologies, propped up by failing governments. Cut your losses. Fund my Kickstarter campaign, purchase my app, and I will show you a future without these cumbersome machines." I hold my breath, and proffer my debit card scanner.

Andrew Wood

Next article in issue 130

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