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Automobile Adoration

EVERY Sunday morning, as the faithful go to their churches, they pass other faithful worshiping their idols in the streets. With sponges, leathers, and waxes spread around them like oblations, these disciples of the cult of the combustion engine kneel adoringly in front of their cars and do them homage. Although it is true that if half the time spent washing cars was spent in spiritual contemplation the world would be a better place, we must remember that love is never wasted; and on Sunday mornings it certainly flows, along with the water from a million hose pipes cascading over radiators and bumpers.

This love may be profane, and to the unmechanically minded, misplaced; yet people who love cars know they are not simply bits of steel welded together. They have characters. If they are allowed to grow old, they develop idiosyncrasies up with which their owners have to put (as Sir Winston Churchill would have said), such as not being able to get the doors to shut when parked on a slope.

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It is perhaps solely a British, or anyway a European, tradition to allow cars to become exceedingly old. It seems we like to go on believing they are as imperishable as they used to be when the seats were made of leather and the fascia boards of walnut, though evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. So we keep them for ages and they develop personalities and become part of the family, like our dogs.

When they have to be sold for a song or sent to the knacker's yard, so to speak, we feel both guilty and upset. Sometimes so steeped in memories are these machines, we cannot bear to look when they are being driven away. I know, for I have recently disposed of my Mini, a vehicle once described by my husband as an ``animated hip-bath.'' It was 13 years old and full of interesting little quirks and whims which I pandered to as would any loving friend.

Though still perky engine-wise, its chassis slowly disintegrated, looking as though particularly voracious rats had been at it; and even, it seemed, a terrorist, as there suddenly appeared what looked like a bullethole in the near-side door. Rust was rampant, and I was told I might fall through the floor onto the road at any minute.

So my Mini has gone and I feel bereaved. The day after tomorrow it will be Sunday again and the idolaters will be out in their myriads, worshiping their gods. Or so say the hardhearted. Others, less adamant, may say they are merely giving a bath and breakfast to a good, faithful friend of the family.

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