In Australia, we only ever owned second-hand cars.
In 1989, I had a 1971 model. Love Chunks had a 1976 model in 1985 until we sold it for a mere $50 in 1994.
We bypassed the 1980s models entirely and in 1999 bought a still sweet-smelling ex-government station wagon from 1996, loving it and driving it until handing it over to Sean for a mere six hundred bucks in May last year.
It was Switzerland that finally saw us in a new car in 2011. Power windows, blue tooth whatcha-ma-callit sockets and an electric sun roof. Two sets of tyres that require changing around for summer and winter and a free windscreen ice-scraper given to us by the bank who loaned us half the money.
Partnering this swanky purchase was a much cheaper one, but one that has proved its value a hundred-fold. Ken, our GPS.
He's called 'Ken' because the Australian male voice file available for free download was called Ken and this personification of the little black rectangle that fits snugly into my handbag has remained. "Where's Ken?" we'll all ask, before leaving the apartment. "Is Ken powered up?"
On the road, he takes a few minutes to clear his head as being turned on in an underground car park is akin to screaming in space. Nobody can see, hear or find him. Back on ground level and in the natural light, he regains his footing. Sometimes he scares me when he first starts talking and I fumble for the volume button. Maybe Ken Mark II could clear his throat or crack his knuckles before commencing?
"Bear right," he says calmly, giving me plenty of notice to:
a) look into the rear vision mirror;
b) remember to check my left hand side and not my right before changing lanes; and
c) not to panic about being unable to read the teeny weeny street signs that are never large or on poles but stuck, oh-so-discreetly, onto the corners of buildings themselves.
"In two hundred metres, take the third right at the roundabout," he advises, allowing me to take note of my pleasant surroundings - oh look, the cows are still wearing their bells and are munching away on wild flowers right next to the international airport runway - and grope around for the sun roof switch.
Love Chunks has long suffered from my lack of direction, inability to read maps and predictable failure to identify turn-offs in time. Despite these (very valid) concerns, he also worries that Ken now makes my life too easy; that I'll never learn how to read a map without turning it in the direction we're travelling or guesstimate my way home by looking at the Alps, the slope of the streets towards the water or where the sun sets.
He's correct, of course, but I've driven further and more frequently because of Ken's patient assistance. He speaks English and avoids Sapphire's ridicule by not ever bothering to pronounce the French names of towns, streets or suburbs. Why should he when a "You have reached your destination" does the job?
Ken doesn't sigh, panic or get angry if we're hooning down the motorway in the wrong lane and missed the lakeside exit. Instead he pauses for a moment to gather his thoughts (and new satellite bearings) before either suggesting that I "turn around where possible" or he thoughtfully creates another route entirely.
"Shoosh," I'll say over the conversation in the car. "Ken just gave a direction and I couldn't hear it." He takes precedence over everything else occurring inside the vehicle including fart jokes and gossip.
On longer journeys, if there are no roundabouts, corners or turns, he stays silent. This is when it can get unsettling. I'm hoping that Ken Mark II or III is also programmed to add some words of encouragement such as, "You're doing well, keep it up," or "This is the right way, don't fret, pet," which would go a long way to making the journey a pleasanter one.
Even a few "I like what you've done to your hair today," or "Have you lost weight?" type of endearments wouldn't go astray but for now, Ken dearest, I truly love your work.