Just so you know for future reference, I am a man who lives on the edge. Of Leicester. Potato-based snack capital of the UK and the birthplace of extreme ironing (yes, really – look it up). If Leicester is more well known for other things then you probably know about those already. One of my first driving jobs entailed getting the train from Leicester to Bradford to collect a Range Rover Evoque from the local Land Rover dealer. I then had to return home in the Evoque and deliver it to a small village just north of Newark in Nottinghamshire.
This would be uncharted territory for me. Apart from driving through the outskirts en route to elsewhere, I had never set foot in Bradford in my life. So what did I know about Bradford? Well, it’s in the county of West Yorkshire in the North of England and, bizarrely, I happened to recall that it once formed one corner of the Rhubarb Triangle. This area, bounded by Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, once produced 90% of the world’s winter forced rhubarb. Nowadays, the Rhubarb Triangle is less than a third of the size and no longer encompasses Bradford. So why the dramatic down-sizing? Is it due to our modern, moral way of thinking that cannot countenance submitting a defenceless vegetable (apparently a native of Siberia and yes, a vegetable) to large-scale forced labour in the gulags of West Yorkshire? Or perhaps it happened when the cricketing careers of Geoffrey Boycott and his mother came to an end such that rhubarb was no longer needed for sporting purposes? Addicts of BBC Radio’s cricket coverage (like me) will be familiar with Geoffrey’s way of describing poor bowling: “I [or “My old mum”] could have hit that ball with a stick of rhubarb!”. No doubt Geoffrey was so proficient with rhubarb in his playing days that he used to make his opponents crumble……
Moving swiftly on, my one and a half mile walk from Bradford station to the Land Rover dealer took me past some rather impressive grand old buildings in the city centre which looked like they had had a good scrub behind the ears only recently. The second half of my walk took me down some rather dingy side streets but most towns and cities have their fair share of those.
At the dealer’s, I collected the gleaming white baby Range Rover – an Evoque 2.0 TD4 (Diesel) HSE Dynamic 5 door automatic for those of you who need to know that sort of thing (I’ll take my anorak off now). I sat in it and admired the lovely cream leather seats. The dashboard was also a cut above but perhaps not quite as smart and glitzy as its Mercedes equivalent, the GLC. What the Evoque did have that the Mercedes Greater London Council does not (sorry but to people of my age raised in the south-east of England, “GLC” only means one thing) is a sense of adventure. They are both 4x4s but the Evoque is part of the Land Rover family which has an unrivalled heritage of off-road capability and exploration. Then there is the Evoque’s terrain response system. A display on the centre console between the seats allows you to select different modes for driving on different surfaces. In addition to standard mode, the symbols on the display suggest there is a mode for driving on snow and ice, one for driving past a tree and lastly, one for driving past a cactus. Fantastic. There is also a hill descent button. Hit that and the Evoque will trundle down a steep incline in a controlled manner without you having to touch the brake pedal. The drama is complete when, upon starting the engine, the rotary gear selector rises up in the centre console. So, as I set off, I felt equipped to tackle anything – even the M1 motorway back to the East Midlands.
Only, I almost didn’t set off. My first difficulty was finding my way out of the dealer’s premises. It was huge. Just a sea of cars (and obviously, being a Land Rover dealer, most of them were large ones). After at least a couple of U-turns, I found the exit but all this time I was concerned about a second problem. The fuel gauge was registering empty and the engine was definitely stuttering. I swear it was actually running on fumes and I was genuinely concerned I would not make it to the nearest petrol station – even though it was literally next door to the dealer’s.
However, I made it and once full of diesel, the Evoque performed beautifully. Quiet and comfortable with the automatic gearbox doing its stuff smoothly and without fuss. Concerned that I might disappear without trace in the Rhubarb Triangle, I made my uneventful escape back to Leicester – a distance of about 100 miles. Once home, my wife gave the white Evoque a quick inspection and pronounced: “It looks like a [Star Wars] Stormtrooper!”. This was true, I realised. The pristine white bodywork set off by black trim was definitely reminiscent of the body armour worn by the evil Empire’s foot soldiers. For a Star Wars fan, this just added to the sense of adventure.
Next morning, I headed up north again to deliver the Evoque to its lucky new owner who lived about 50 miles away. The weather was a bit gloomy and damp so the Evoque’s body armour picked up a bit of dirt. The car needed a wash before delivery and, having done a bit of internet research the night before, I knew there was a hand car wash on an industrial estate in the outskirts of Newark. The car wash was on a patch of scrubby, gravelly ground so what an opportunity! I could test the Evoque’s off-road credentials! I can report that it pulled on to the gravel and off again with aplomb. I even left the terrain response system in standard mode but since there was no ice, tree or cactus in sight this was probably the default choice.
I finally reached my destination and handed over the car to the customer, a pleasant lady with a young family and two dogs. I showed her where the important bits were on the car and how the main controls worked and a few bits of paper were signed. She did say that her young son was disappointed because they had not specified the TV screen option on account of it costing about £2000. I asked if she and her family were Star Wars fans and it turned out they were. “Well,” I said, “don’t you think there is a touch of the Star Wars Stormtrooper about this car? Why don’t you point that out to your son?”. “Oh yes,” she agreed, “he’ll love that!”.
After that she kindly gave me a lift to the nearest train station – a simple halt in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long for a train and then it was home for a cup of tea.
There, my first real post. Hope it wasn’t too long for you!