Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The gender of cars

Ships are always referred to as 'she', probably because they carry people in them, like a mother carrying her children. If that is the reason for that particular gender assignment, then are planes female, too? I must remember to ask the next pilot I come across. I think of farm and building machines like tractors and cranes as definitely male, if they have a sex at all.

But how do you think of your car?

I am a lifelong non-driver, but my dad always gave his cars female names. He finally passed his test at the age of 51 on his 13th go (this was 1956), and promptly bought Chloe, a shiny black 1949 Ford Prefect with a small back window. That car always seemed a bit claustrophobic and coffin-like to me. The numberplate was ACM 909, and Dad insisted the letters stood for Ain't Chloe Marvellous. To us, she was. She was cleaned and polished every weekend - those were the days when people who were lucky enough to afford cars stood them out in the drive and polished them proudly where all the neighbours could see their visual sign of prosperity. Others, such as fridge, washing-machine, TV, were shown off discreetly to friends and relations in private. It's strange to think that what we now deem necessities of life were once luxury items. My mother managed all her life with an old gas boiler which had a handle to 'agitate' the clothes with. The next stage was using the mangle to extract the water, then taking them out to hang on the line, or drip on our heads from the rack and pulley attached to the kitchen ceiling. No wonder our mothers had no bingo wings!

But back to the car...

Nowadays, people use their cars for every journey but back then, in the post-war years when petrol was expensive in comparison to wages, they were used on special occasions. To be offered a run out in the car was a real thrill. We would drive to Chester Zoo or Delemere Forest and have a proper day out, but the shopping was still done by foot and bus. As Chloe couldn't go very fast, and couldn't go up steep hills at all, getting to Wales or the Lake District for a holiday in a rented cottage still took all day from our house in Liverpool. Scotland meant an overnight stay, usually at a B&B near Stirling, where supper was trout caught fresh from the loch. Inevitably, seeing that we always holidayed in mountainous regions, the shout would always come to get out and walk while Chloe, with Dad geeing her up, lumbered upwards with our luggage while we plodded behind in the rain. And yes, rain it always did, the worst time being a week in a caravan in Pitlochry with rain drumming like shrapnel on the roof, and the loo being across a muddy field.

When our auntie decided to sell her white Ford Consul, we sold Chloe and acquired Fifi (her registration letters being FHF). Fifi was much better at hills, but didn't have nearly so much personality. Dad's final car before being forced to give up driving at the age of 84 as his eyesight had got so bad, was a handsome maroon Wolsely saloon. I don't think it had a name and to me, it was definitely a male.

Bicycles... I suppose their gender depends on whether they have a crossbar or not. Motobikes? Male, they've got to be. I've always called my vacuum cleaners 'he' when I've needed a little talk with them - normally a stern one when they have refused to go round a corner or pick up some cotton from the carpet.

But cars... maybe it depends on the type. Is a Ferrari a smooth, purring female panther or a roaring male lion? As for Smart Cars - well, with their nippiness, their perkiness, their fashionable colours and exhibitionist 'look at me' personalities, I think they're all gay!

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