The petrol station attendant said, “You from the country?”
I followed his eyes from the mud-encrusted tyres, up the dusty sides to the number eight wire which does duty as a radio aerial and grinned weakly. I’d meant to wash the car before I left home just as I always mean to give it the regular valet service it undoubtedly deserves. But regular seldom translates into frequent and who would notice if it did when I live on an unsealed road?
When it’s dry the cleanest car will be dusty again by the time it’s driven the first 100 metres from our cattle stop. And if it’s wet the sides will be splashed with mud before I’ve even made it to the gate.
This explanation for exterior mess does not however, excuse the interior muddle caused by the debris which gathers inside the vehicle. I could justify the sunglasses, AA book, maps, first aid kit, box of tissues, duster, CDs, sunscreen, umbrella, child’s emergency bag, pens and small change. Even the old sack in the boot might be excused as being prepared for an as yet unencountered emergency.
But I have no excuse for the shopping lists, hair bands, logbook last used in February 1988, long-lost toys and the other yet to be discarded detritus of family life.
It’s just as well the car is generally regarded as on-road transportation because if keeping it respectable is difficult trying to keep farm vehicles clean and tidy is bordering on the impossible.
The raddle, stock books, tools, rope, dog chains and other less easily identifiable necessities of farm life to be found in the cab accumulate so fast they might well be regarded as fittings. Then there’s the dust and mud and worse which collect inside and out which are an inescapable by-product of working outside in all weathers.
None of this matters when the vehicle is used solely for farm work and the driver is dressed appropriately. But it can leave those using it for other duties in better clothes decidedly the worse for the encounter as I discovered when I took the truck to town and arrived with a broad and dirty stripe where my once white blouse had met the seat belt.
But my worst trip in the truck was one with a toddler at my side and our second child only a few week’s from birth. All went well until I tried to get out. After a brief and fruitless struggle with the door I remembered my farmer had mentioned it sometimes stuck.
His advice in that case was to unwind the window and open the door from the outside. That was all very well for those with the required length of arm and upper body strength but I lacked both.
The only alternative was to get out the passenger door which was easier said than done. Trying to squeeze a pregnant belly past the steering wheel and toddler’s car seat to the other side was quite an act.
The fragile grasp I had on my sense of humour wasn’t helped when having done it, I met the eyes of an onlooker who was coping with an advanced case of hilarity caused by my antics.
I remembered this when my farmer needed the car and offered me the truck in its place a couple of weeks later and decided to stay at home.