It's Friday and Anton and I are heading to Hertfordshire on a mission. To buy a new car for Anton. I am going along in my role as friend and, because I have owned two Jags, as 'expert advisor'. Because Anton is not just going to buy a car. He is planning to buy a Jaguar XK coupe. The classic grand tourer. And although second-hand, this is still a financially ball-busting purchase and needs to be handled properly.
In any case the fact that this trip is taking place at all is partly due to me. I have felt for some time that Anton needed a Jag and have told them so. It has to be said that what I consider gentle persuasion, pointing out the many interesting features of the modern Jaguar, Freia perceives as a sustained and subliminal war of attrition. An attempt to turn her husband to the dark side of motoring. Personally, and considering that Anton once bought a Fiat Multipla, I see this more in terms of motoring salvation.
"But I liked the Multipla" protests Anton "people used to wave at me".
"Yes" I say "there are reasons for that".
I should say immediately that Anton and I have very different approaches to car buying. Take the occasion when I bought my present car. Jag 1 was crashed at 8:30 AM, written off by the insurance at midday. Jag 2 was test driven at 5 PM and bought at 5.30 PM. Let's just say I don't like to let the grass grow under my feet.
Anton on the other hand (and this may have something to do with why he is wealthy and I'm penniless) is Dossier Man. He is the same with jobs, holidays etc. He believes in doing his homework and making sure that nothing is left to chance. In fact the complete opposite to me, Impulse Man. Strangely, we get on brilliantly and have done for years. But that's friendship for you -- no rhyme or reason!
I phone Freia on Thursday evening to check that Anton is still up for this trip. He is, and according to Freia, has produced the kind of dossier that would shame a government quango. What feels like every Jaguar XK in the south-east of Britain has been subjected to Anton's eagle eye. No detail is too trivial to be entered in the database. And as if printing a rainforest of literature is not enough, there is also an Excel spreadsheet of a size associated with Third World debt relief. Anton has excelled himself. For what seems like every Jag in the Southeast, Anton has information. He knows how many miles it has done, how many owners it has had and which extras the car has. We're talking numbers of cupholders here. Everything is logged.
I turn up at their house, as agreed, at 10 AM. Freia opens the door with the world-weary look of a woman who just wants this to be over. "Please don't let him return without a car" says Freia, now reconciled to the inevitable and, in any case, increasingly worried about the ongoing deforestation in their household.
"No problem" I say "we're 80 miles from the showroom, we have a full tank of petrol and we're wearing sunglasses". Freia gives me one of her "whatever" looks, clearly missing my Blues Brothers reference. Anton makes two espressos and we sit down over the dossier and spreadsheet. He is keen to compare his short list (of about 20 cars) with mine (about two cars). I take the view that this is rather like Blind Date and that we should go and see the cars for real. Hear them roar, see them glint in the sunshine, smell the leather.
Eventually we have married up shortlists, and are on the road. At a snail's pace. This is the worst I have seen the M25 in years and by the time we arrive at the garage, we're much later than we had expected. But the garage itself is Jag heaven -- an independent retailer specialising in high performance Jaguars. If we can't find a car here, there is no hope.
Anton's eyes dart hither and thither. "Just stick to your guns" I say "remember what we came for". The salesman largely lets us be. No high-pressure sales here -- he knows these cars sell themselves. He starts up a few cars and boy do they sound good. We wander round the forecourt, sit in several, rev up a few and finally pick the one we wish to take out on the road. It is a brute of a car -- metallic charcoal grey, with shark gills on the side, brushed aluminium interior and just enough space in the boot to fit two cricket bags.
Getting the car out onto the road proves quite a challenge. Rather like one of those puzzles where you can only move one square at a time, the salesman shuffles XKs and XJs until he has finally liberated The Shark.
"You know something Jon "says Anton as we sit ready to testdrive the car "I've never driven an automatic before".
I quickly run over the salient points and Anton is good to go. Fifteen minutes later and his mind is made up. Actually, if the smile is anything to go by, his mind is made up the moment he presses the start button. Half an hour and a bit of forthright financial negotiation later, Anton signs on the dotted line. The car is his.
The M25 is even worse on the way home. We eventually return to base around seven. Anton is babbling. He is one happy bunny. While Anton jabbers on about the car, Freia opens a bottle of wine and puts a portion of soufflé in front of me.
"Thank you" she says.