When Brian Mullender regained consciousness from a coma induced to aid his initial recovery from the emergency surgery he had undertaken at the hospital, he took most of the bad news delivered by his best friend Toby Marshall with a calm dignity.

Apparently, his loving wife Marianne waited only long enough for the compensation for his injuries to be settled immediately out of court and paid, before she flew the coop with her foreign waiter boyfriend. He was quite sanguine when he was told that the house he inherited from his mother had been sold to a social housing corporation.

Toby assumed that Marianne would have also run off with all his savings and whatever was in their current accounts; he had reported this assumption to the police and in due course they would gain access to the accounts and quantify the damage before assembling the evidence to prosecute Marianne, who was presumed to have left the country to lord knows where.

But what Brian found hardest to accept, although the damage to his own body from the head-on collision with a car transporter, was ample evidence enough, was that his old car and the precious Satellite Navigation unit within, had been collected by the insurance company in exchange for a full payout, sold for scrap and crushed.

It was the thought that his sat-nav was no more that finally brought tears to Brian's eyes.


How did we ever get by without Satellite Navigation computers in our motorcars?

Brian Mullender hadn't really thought about it before, if he was honest, but the subject came up in a lively conversation at his place of work. One of the snooty sales managers had taken delivery of an expensive and rather flash new car the day before and was going on and on about how wonderful it was, particularly with regard to the state-of-the-art onboard computer system.

It was quite an amusing exchange, Brian thought, held between the four employees sitting in the works canteen enjoying a cooked mid-morning breakfast. It was the boss's rare, in fact virtually unique, treat because between them they had managed to produce and despatch an urgent order of plastic widgets in double-quick time. It was for the sales manager's, and therefore the company's, biggest and best account. So, he was able to sweet-talk the boss into rewarding the main contributors to the successful salvage operation. Naturally, the sales manager managed to wangle himself in on the free meal too.

Brian was just a cog in the wheel of the large plastics manufactory, though he was important in this particular instance. Brian wasn't bright or clever, but he was an accomplished machinist. He operated a machine that moulded and punched out the particular plastic containers that the customer just had to have consigned and delivered that day. The company stores normally carried enough quantity in stock to more than cover this client's usual weekly order, but they needed twice as many as normal and apparently hadn't inform the supplier until just the afternoon before they were required.

If the truth ever came out, the order had been placed at least a month earlier by the client, during a rather boozy lunch, paid for by the supplier. However, the sales manager who hosted the lunch, had forgotten to follow the verbal order through correctly by putting the appropriate paperwork in hand.

Brian just had time to set up the moulding tool so that it was all ready to go late into the night before. The machine was therefore ready to go when he clocked into work, along with a colleague to assist, a couple of hours early that morning in order to knock them out in timely fashion. A truck was standing by to take the consignment direct to the client's door and thereby save the day. Brian had been doing the same job for nigh on twenty years, so it wasn't difficult but he did have to put himself out at very short notice on the company's behalf. Even so, it was unusual for the company to bother to thank their staff.

His best friend Toby Marshall assisted, of course, and they couldn't have achieved the result without his help. He feed in the raw materials at one end, then trimming off the tines and stacking the product onto Europallets at the delivery end. Brian was left free to concentrate on the delicate balance of keeping up the quality and maintaining the high speed of production.

They made a good team, Toby and Brian. They went to school together and always remained firm friends throughout their adult life, even though they now lived forty miles apart.

They were each other's best man when they married, Toby to Sally Moran 17 years ago, and Brian to Marianne Edgar five years ago. Brian was godson to Harry, who was Toby and Sally's teenager, along with Toby's younger sister Alison. Toby had another child, daughter Amy, who was ten going on 18, but she had a different set of godparents.

Brian and Marianne hadn't started their own family yet. At 29, Marianne didn't feel ready to tie herself down to motherhood, while at 37 Brian didn't want to wait too much longer. Nor did he want to rock the boat of his marriage by pressing the matter.

Alec, the production foreman, who had assigned his best two men to the urgent job, was also invited to the late breakfast in the otherwise deserted restaurant. Rupert Goring, the sales manager, hosted the party. They enjoyed their bacon and fried eggs, sausage and fried tomato with a round of toast, choice of white or brown, on the side. With a maximum of seven items to choose from at the staff canteen, Rupert opted for the fried bread and the black pudding, while leaving off the tomato and toast. Toby was the only one to add a tasty roundel of bubble and squeak to his plate, reluctantly foregoing the sausage option. Alec and Brian were satisfied with the standard fare.

Rupert regaled them throughout their repast with all the minute details about his fantastic new company car, a miracle of imported German engineering.

"Took delivery yesterday, a reward for the level of orders I've been bringing in. What this car can't do, ain't even been thought of!" According to the Motorists' Bible, it had leather this and titanium that and polycarbonate something else. This wasn't just the luxury executive car of the year, according to Rupert, it was the creme de la creme of the millennia.

His audience of three looked at one another, when they thought he wasn't looking, which was not a difficult task as he rarely expressed interest in the feelings of others all the while he was the centre of attention; their signals effortlessly conveying the universal message of "What a plonker!"

"As far the onboard computer is concerned," Rupert enthused between mouthfuls. "it exceeds all my expectations, and'ud clearly amaze you guys. This computer's got more RAM than Wales, it's nippier than Usane Bolt with the trots and more powerful than Trump and Putin combined. It even manages the engine performance, keeps a check on exhaust emissions, the oil pressure and even lubrication quality. It checks the water coolant level, brake condition, reports back on road surface temperature, even the tyre pressures. It can start the engine automatically, timed to simultaneously warm it up to optimum operating temperature, defrost the car and acclimatise the interior to match the temperature of my house first thing in the morning, before I have even finished my early morning cuppa.

"As for the sat-nav," he continued without interjection, "It's so 'super-nav', it should have secret identities and caped-costume change when I switch it on."

Rupert went on and on ad nauseum. To cap it all, this superlative performance was controlled by the driver's voice commands, he hardly needed to press more than the odd button now and then to enter passwords and destination postcodes, he said.

The computer even sent data back to the main dealer, so they knew exactly when the vehicle needed attention and the garage would consequently phone the driver to book the car in at a convenient time and date for the service.

Rupert insisted on taking his dining companions out for a spin immediately after their breakfast.

It did look a nice car, Brian had to concede that point, when they reached the car park. It was sleek and aerodynamic, its paintwork shone like a mirror in the sunlight. A quality-built car of European manufacture, inside it was smothered in soft leather and polished burr walnut. It smelt so new it assaulted Brian's senses.

Brian immediately knew that his demanding wife Marianne would love this car. She always complained that ANJie smelled a little musty, although Brian thought ANJie was fine, she certainly should be as Brian kept her clean to the level of obsession.

Yes, Brian personalised all his cars, it was just something he always did. He never regarded any of the three cars he had owned since he first started driving as "it", and they were naturally, as far as he was concerned, female. But his current car ANJie was eight years old and, even though Brian kept the car in immaculate condition and carefully maintained her mechanically, while protecting her overnight in a warm garage, she was starting to look her age and she had only been a bog-standard entry-level car bought on a tight budget at the outset. In fact he had originally sought to buy a secondhand car but he got such a good deal on ANJie. She was the last of the old model the dealers had, so they included the sat-nav, alloy wheels and rubber car mats to sweeten the deal.

Brian had always looked after his cars, treating them like members of the family. He had kept his previous two cars garaged. Prior to that he had shared his home with his parents, when the garage was full of their junk that they hadn't the heart to part with.

He washed his car with shampoo every Sunday, rinsing the suds off carefully, noting every small paint defect. He would clean all the windows and mirrors and vacuum-clean the interior, wiping down all the surfaces. Every month he would apply three layers of wax polish after washing, having touched up any chips in the paintwork the weekend before. He regularly checked and topped up as necessary all the liquids, coolants, lubricants, and checking air pressures, and tyre treads for wear. A couple of times a year he would clean the upholstery, even going as far as lightly oiling the upholstery springs.

Brian's wife Marianne's little car, a two-seat sporty convertible, was totally impractical as a family car. Marianne only used it to get to work or for one of her regular nights out with her girlfriends. For the weekly shop Brian was required drove Marianne to the supermarket to collect the groceries using the capacious and ever-reliable ANJie.

The couple had argued at length when they first got hitched, about who would get to garage their car in the single space available. This was after Brian's Dad passed on and his Mum was placed for her own comfort into an elderly care home.

Marianne had all the advantages in the argument, she thought. She worked in a local office, while Brian faced at least an hour's drive both ways and set out for work much earlier; so he always left first and mostly returned home last. Besides, Brian natural inclination was to avoid arguments, preferring a quiet life to one of conflict. So it looked on paper like Marianne would easily win the day over possession of the garage hands down. She certainly thought so as she had initiated the discussion of the subject herself just weeks before their impending nuptials. Although she had moved herself, and her substantial wardrobe, into Brian's little house some months before, she realised that he had regarded his ugly old-fashioned automobile with unnatural regard, so she hadn't felt quite sure of her ground before this time.

"But Brian, sweetheart, leaving my car outside means it gets so cold that it barely warms up by the time I get to work, while you have a long run around the ring road and you don't feel the cold like I do.

And you leave earlier that I do in the morning and get home after me."

When he didn't respond with his usual capitulation, Marianne tried to up the ante, but despite argument, cajoling and threatening dire consequences as much as she dare, she had finally to concede. Brian was adamant.

"Your car has never been garaged, either round your Mum's or at our house, while ANJie has always been garaged from the day she was brand new, which was why she still looks, to my eyes at least, in showroom condition."

What Brian did concede in order to keep the peace with his wife, was that he would carry her spare car key on his car keychain and move Marianne's cabriolet each time he needed to and undertook to scrape the ice and snow off for her as winter conditions dictated, before leaving for work.

He also undertook to wash and polish her car just as thoroughly and regularly every Sunday as his own, including checking essentials like tyres, oil and water, but he was not prepared to clean out and vacuum the interior. He did check the fuel and filled it up every three or four weeks, her annual mileage being merely a fraction of his. Sensing that his wife would ridicule him needing to give verbal instructions o his sat-nav for the short shopping journeys around their home town, he noted with pleasure that ANJie respected his disquiet by communicating the best routes by visual means only.

Brian loved his car and thought his sat-nav was near perfect. He had only two minor reservations about the device, both of them being roads that ANJie had clearly been pre-programmed to avoid. One of them was a feeder road which went by a scrap metal yard in the middle of a series of tight S-bends, just off the ring road which by-passed Brian's home town. Brian had to admit that the route was hazardous, particularly first thing on Mondays when there was often a queue of heavily-laden recycling trucks alongside the road with car transporters loaded with old wrecks for crushing. Sometimes bits of debris would fall off these trucks, some as large as car panels, old exhausts or as small and destructive as nuts and bolts which could damage tyres, windscreens and chip paintwork. However, Brian always drove carefully with his full attention on the road and he decided the risk was acceptable. The other area the sat-nav programmers apparently conspired to force him to avoid was the south-west quarter of the ring road on the clockwise direction. That was the last phase of the ring road that was completed about ten years earlier. Brian assumed that the version of the road network loaded into his sat-nav was quite an old one. He had never felt the need to buy an update in the eight years he had driven ANJie.

Alec naturally sat in front with Rupert, being management, for their test drive in Rupert's car. Brian and Toby piled into the back. Rupert started the engine and was prompted by a disembodied voice to tap his password into the computer which took a moment or two thereafter to load up and get ready to receive input. Rupert tapped in a post code destination, which was the petrol station on the other side of the ring road, apparently. The computer whirred, a box with a slider on it appeared on the screen indicating the progress of calculating the route, then it declared with a beep that it was finished, thereafter commenced instructing the driver verbally, and by arrows on the map, to turn left.

In the earlier animated discussion held in the canteen, Rupert had said the voice on the sat-nav sounded sexy, very much like the actress Joanna Lumley. Brian smiled to himself without commenting, it sounded to his ears like it could only be Joanna Lumley if she was playing the role of a Dalek. It was nothing at all like the smooth much sexier dulcet tones of his own sat-nav, which sounded much more feminine and expressive, definitely non-metallic. Admittedly, both voices seemed to have trouble with numbers, making them sound oddly sing-song-like, as if each individual number had been recorded in a wildly different combination.

Also, ANJie had more than a hint of an oriental accent to her English, which Brian had always found somewhat endearing, attractive, oddly ... sexually stimulating even. Yes, ANJie had a very pleasant voice that he could listen to all day, every day. He looked forward to any opportunity to insert and twist his ignition key again and again. Rupert's car's computer voice, Brian was certain, would grate on him in a very short time indeed.

Rupert's computer certainly didn't have a voice that Brian could tell his troubles to. His journey to work each day was generally 55 minutes to an hour on the outward leg and up to 70 minutes in the evening, and even longer on Fridays.

His journey hadn't always been a daily round trip of such magnitude. Brian and Toby joined the company straight from school, when the plastics plant was housed in an industrial estate on the edge of their home town. That was before the ring road about their home town was even completed. However, the local plant was closed down about eight years ago and all the staff had the offer to take the redundancy payments to which they were entitled or move to the other plant, forty miles away. The offer came with some assistance with relocation costs, or contribution to commuting expenses for a reasonable, though limited period.

Toby immediately upped sticks and moved house lock, stock and barrel with his family, Brian was unable to do so. He was still living with his widowed and mentally-disabled mother at the time. Although his Mum was now cared for in a local care home and he was relieved of the daily efforts he had been used to putting in all his adult life, he wanted to remain living in his old family home and be able to see his Mum regularly and be situated close by for any emergencies that might arise. His wife Marianne moved in with him about six years ago and she had her work, family and friends locally and decided she didn't want to relocate either, even after his mother eventually passed on.

So he spent long hours driving in his car, singing along to the radio or a Blues CD and telling all his troubles to ANJie, who was the ideal listener. As he sat in the back of Rupert's car, cruising around the ring road of this distant town, Brian smiled at the recollection of ANJie and lost himself for a few moments in pleasant reminiscence.

He had originally personalised his first car, an ancient vehicle, already 15 years young by the time he had acquired it. The previous owner had put a knob on the steering wheel so he could steer it with one hand as he apparently had limited movement in his other arm due to a stroke. The one previous owner from new covered very little mileage and so the car was in good condition despite its long life. Brian instantly thought his first car had a personality of her own so he christened her "Betsy", silly even he thought at the time, but he did it anyway. And she seemed to fit her name, somehow, being mature, unexciting and eminently reliable for her age.

Brian may not have been particularly bright or well-educated, but he was never stupid. He sensed he would be ridiculed by anyone else, so he only ever told Toby and his Mum that he called his cars by personalised names. They held Brian in such affection, that they understood his action without question or ridicule. They simply smiled, that was just so typical of Brian. He was crazy, sure, Toby thought, but he was also nice and a genuine friend, at the very least he was harmless, anyway.

That very first Betsy only lasted two years. Although the paintwork was immaculate, the underlying rust had already eaten into the steel chassis and when the full implications of the underlying decay came to light at her final inspection, she had to be compulsorily retired.

Brian then purchased a multiple-owned vehicle that was already six years old when it came into his possession. It brought with it a high mileage but Brian nursed that machine, which he christened "Betsy 2", for a further eight years, giving him almost trouble-free motoring for the period.

Report Story

bySpencerfiction© 5 comments/ 6348 views/ 8 favorites

Share the love

Report a Bug

4 Pages:123

Forgot your password?

Please wait

Change picture

Your current user avatar, all sizes:

Default size User Picture  Medium size User Picture  Small size User Picture  Tiny size User Picture

You have a new user avatar waiting for moderation.

Select new user avatar: