During her 1995 interview with Martin Bashir, Princess Diana described her marriage as “a bit crowded” owing to the fact that Camilla had been lurking in the background, omnipresent, from the get-go. I experienced a similar problem at the start of my budding romance with my future husband and my rival’s name was Nina.
Nina was an open secret among our circle, although many couldn’t understand my suitor’s attachment to her. At the time, it was clear that her heyday was consigned to memory; her appearance was somewhat disheveled, her faded beauty only hinted at former glory and her back-end was quite evidently in decline. Nina the 1982 Mark 1 VW Golf was past it and there was no denying it. However, it’s said that love is blind and I knew that trying to separate my new love from his true love would be impossible, so given the circumstances, I just went with it.
Nina was present at our first date and most subsequent assignations thereafter. Wherever we went, she caused quite a stir for a variety of reasons. In a country where the car is king, she stood out like a sore thumb. Amidst the modern, sombre-coloured Mercedes (“Muh-sedzh”) and Beemers, her vibrant red-orange hue, if nothing else, drew attention.
At the time, perhaps because she was having a hard time accepting the ageing process, she also exhibited a few idiosyncratic behaviours. For reasons that I never fully understood, her horn would beep every time we took a left turn. Conversely, at the crucial moment when a blast of the horn was most definitely required, she would remain stubbornly silent. To this day, a hammer is tucked under her bonnet to encourage her into life on days when a loose connection has rendered her incapable of action. I often feel similarly first thing in the morning, but unlike Nina, rely on a short, sharp coffee shot to jump-start me on days when frankly I can’t be bothered.
In an early experiment in bio-diesel in the mid-noughties, my future-husband would procure used cooking oil from the café down the road from the school we both taught at. Having painstakingly filtered it, he was able to run Nina on a tank filled with half diesel, half cooking fat, the only downside being that we left the unmistakable aroma of freshly fried “pasteis de bacalhau” (traditional Portuguese savoury snack, salt-cod fish cakes) trailing behind us wherever we drove.
As time wore on, Nina and I learned to co-exist more than happily. She took us on a pre-children three-week European road-trip without a word of complaint; we made it to Sardinia and back without breaking down, much to my, and everyone else’s amazement. Nina ensured that our precious first-born made it home safely from the hospital. She continues to play a fundamental role in our family life.
Before our children’s arrival, Nina was treated to a mechanical overhaul and given a long-overdue facelift. These days, she’s sometimes found flirting with a younger model that also lives on our street, confident and secure in her maturity. In her renaissance, she attracts even more admirers than ever and is even considered to be a classic by some, as opposed to the clapped-out old banger she once was. She’s an example to us all: of enduring reliability and reward for fidelity – and proof that, like a good wine, some things only improve with age.