The year I turned seventeen the only thing occupying my mind was being able to drive. Living 2 miles out of a small town in an even smaller village threw up a lot of frustrating barriers to navigating teenage life. I yearned for a car for a sense of independence: freedom from begrudging parent lifts and the opportunity to rule my own schedule by going anywhere, anytime that suited me.
Owning a car (regardless of it being an absolute banger) became a status symbol within the common room: the lucky driver was subject to lunchtime McDonalds trips and the passengers would triumphantly return to smugly sip strawberry milkshakes in view of all those that still had to catch the bus.
In the hierarchy of wheels I was at the bottom of the pile being among the youngest in my year group, and I watched torturously as one by one my peers passed their tests and started offering everyone lifts for the sake of it.
By the time I finally earned my license the novelty had worn off for most of my friends (and the co2 emissions emitted by sixth form students had risen dramatically), but to me the excitement was incomparable. Whilst having lessons I inherited our old, navy family Ford Fiesta, and so impatient was I to spend time in the car I began doing all I could to prepare.
I stocked up on second hand CDs and stuffed as many as I could in the side pocket of the passenger seat – the very first one being Is This It by the Strokes, which became a coming-of-age soundtrack to my roadtrips. I bought a much anticipated Yankee Candle air freshener after spending longer than reasonable pondering each scent. I neatly arranged everything, including my aux cable, and begged my dad to help me with driving practice every evening (to which he dutifully obliged).
I christened her Arabella, (this was well into my Arctic Monkeys obsession) Bella for short, and loved her unconditionally despite having no working cigarette lighter to charge my phone, no money to buy fuel and no hubcaps (allegedly my dad had forgotten to cable tie them on and they flew off on the motorway years ago). The air con had run out long before she was mine so summers were unbearably hot, and in winter it took the entire length of a journey to heat up.
Bella became the centre of my universe, which sounds pretty dramatic but with no train stations within a practical radius and a lack of entertainment in Brecon to fulfil the bored demeanour of adolescence, having the means to travel to see friends and explore new territory without relying on others was so liberating.
I shunned the school bus (although the first time I drove to school I stalled at the bus stop in front of 20 amused schoolkids, including my little brother) and made the standard pilgrimage to McDonalds (FYI the nearest one was half an hour away) and even ventured to Hereford with some nervous passengers to lose my Wagamamas virginity.
Bella would go on to experience a hell of a lot more adventures, both big and small yet all poignant memories that I treasure with a sentimental fondness. She watched me blossom from a moody teenager into a wild student and more recently a persistent woman trying to dodge the obstacles along the road to adulthood.
The grey interior bared witness to love, friendship, heart-to-hearts, heartbreak and some truly terrible singing. On those seats there was laughter and tears and kissing and life lived at its very rawest: phone calls through the knackered old Bluetooth; overnight bags piled in the boot; favourite songs blasted at full volume.
I vividly remember panicking after sparking up a cigarette in the car and realising how badly the fumes clogged it up, driving straight to Morrison’s and trying to Febreeze it away to no avail. That set the tone for stressed chain-smoking on long voyages (sorry Mum).
For four years, Bella was the vessel that transported me to whatever destination awaited. I braved the motorway a fortnight after passing my test and drove three hours to my nan’s in Watford (where I now live) because I was so restless.
My friends and I crammed giant rucksacks, booze, food and ourselves into any available space for journeys to festivals. On the last night of Greenman 2015 Bella got stuck in the thick mud as we tried to leave, a result of the torrential Welsh rain, and Beth and Abi were wellie-deep in it trying to push us free while I cautiously steered.
The day I moved into halls of residence in Nottingham Bella was full to the brim with my belongings (never one to underpack my parents followed in their car with the rest), including an array of houseplants (many of which did not survive the extreme heat of my box room), every item of clothing I owned and an abundance of cheap IKEA decorations.
The car proved faithful throughout university years; she became a much-loved taxi for friends, a supermarket saviour, and guided us in search of many a late-night Maccies (long before Uber Eats was around).
My roadtrip buddy helped me fall in love with new cities like Manchester and Newcastle, and played a part in getting me to discover locations abroad while she waited loyally at the airport. There’s nothing like finding your car upon returning weary and well-travelled and instantly indulging in that sense of comforting homeliness.
Over the years Bella also suffered a great number of bumps and scrapes at the hands of her clumsy owner, including the time I misjudged the distance of a wall in a city centre car park and wedged her up against it with some force.
Fretting, I phoned my mum who informed me there wasn’t much she could do all the way from Wales and advised me to ask someone for help. I took this to mean: flag down the nearest driver and beg them to reverse my car out for me. A lovely stranger was happy to help in this regard after parking his car, although imagine how awful I felt about my trivial issue when he returned to get his baby out of the back.
Other incidents involved reversing into a bollard, another car knocking the wingmirror off, and more recently hitting a chunk of bricks off a neighbours wall. It’s safe to say I was not surprised at the car dealers reaction when evaluating the state of my poor Ford Fiesta (he laughed a lot).
Before I owned the car, my dad used it to commute once a week between our house in Wales and the job he still worked at in Farnborough. He’d stay at my nan’s, so it’s pretty much the same route I take now to return to Brecon. It’s funny how life comes full circle; trusty old Bella must have known the M4 like the back of her hand, although all those miles inevitably added up.
On the way to help my brother move into his university halls in September, Bella decided enough was enough and broke down on a dual carriageway outside of Winchester (thanks, Bella). Being as tight as I am of course I had opted for the cheapest breakdown cover possible, consequently waiting a lonely 3 hours for a technician from a local garage to appear only to be told there wasn’t much he could do as there were no fault lights on display. The best advice he could give was to carry on to Bournemouth and hope for the best.
My parents warned me to head back to my nan’s, but being stubborn I obviously ignored this and ploughed on down the A3. When it was evident she was on her last legs (wheels?) I decided it would be more cost effective to trade her in, although I wasn’t quite prepared to let her go.
Being in a long distance relationship pushes me to depend on my car more than I’d like to, so unfortunately I needed a quick fix to get me back up and running. Cars don’t last forever, but for a sentimental person like me the passing of your first one is an emotional experience – especially when you’re not expecting it and don’t have time to savour those last journeys.
It truly felt like the end of an era and it has taken some time to ditch my resentment for Rio my replacement Ford Fiesta, and embrace her (although she is a rather snazzy upgrade – and slightly better for the environment with a Petrol engine). I’m not used to the swanky new settings and the night I got her ended up stranded in Co-op car park because I couldn’t figure out how to reverse.
As naming cars after Arctic Monkeys songs is now tradition I had to think outside the box with Rio, but if you’re a fan I have no doubt you’ll figure it out.
At least I was well dressed for my breakdown, though! God bless Boden and its comfy clothing that’s ideal for every situation – even those you really don’t want to find yourself in! Standing on the side of the road felt like an edgy fashion show in these incredible tweed trousers.
Evidently from these seaside shots I did make it to Bournemouth in one piece after all, letting my hair down after the Fiesta fiasco with a good few calming beers.
I am growing quite the collection of checked bottoms; they’re a wonderful alternative to plainer styles and have become somewhat of a staple for autumnal wardrobes. These are different though: the trailing lengths create a unique, sophisticated silhouette and when paired with a t-shirt offer a casual take on the trend. They’re formal enough for the office too, though, and despite what you may think the material isn’t itchy.
The bumbag is also Boden, and I can’t thank them enough for transforming a functional yet often unflattering piece into a sartorial gem that can be weaved into everyday outfits! Finally, the bumbag that can be worn on a night out without risking looking like a dodgy dealer! The innovative item can be transitioned into a shoulder bag too with a nifty swap of the handle!
I have to point out that the retro tee is freshers fair merch from potentially my favourite ever nightclub, Nottingham’s Rock City, whose student nights I often frequented. I watched some incredible gigs on the grungy dancefloor and partied in sparkly ensembles to DJs at the glittering Cirque de Soul. It felt only right to pay homage to the venue as I settled Josh in for his university experience.
So here’s to welcoming the next chapter with open arms – and a car that has alloys!