I put some diesel in the Range Rover this morning. I had no choice – orange lights were flashing and the needle was as low as I had ever seen it. So I managed to find £22 in and around the children’s piggy banks and Hazel’s secret egg-money store, and set off to the pumps.
Three questions struck me on the way back. First: Why has the needle hardly moved? Second, who is to blame for the ridiculous price of fuel? And third, what can I do about it?
It’s easy to blame Gordon Brown and his Chancellor for the first two, but they are simply doing what any politician has to do nowadays: Raise taxes to pay for the huge army of public sector workers that stalks the land hindering the rest of us (although wish they would admit it, instead of bleating on about hiking fuel costs for “environmental” reasons.)
We farmers are easy victims. The countryside has been a prime target for New Labour’s Politics of Spite. We drive 4x4s, not by choice, but by necessity. It may come as a surprise to our politicians living in the cushy Westminster bubble, but we have things like fields and mud, tracks and bogs. Much as we’d love to have the latest blingtastic off-roader for posing yo-hot-diggedy with our hoodies, it would actually be for getting from muddy A to squelchy B. And it’ll probably come as a shock to those living within the M25 that public transport is next-to non-existent out here.
So we’re stuck with driving, and we’re stuck with rocketing fuel prices. What can be done? The first option is to invest in a more fuel-efficient vehicle. If you want to take the moral high ground, get a hybrid vehicle – but don’t look too closely at the energy equations involved in building and disposing of the batteries, otherwise you green sheen will wear a bit thin. And there’s no such thing as “investing” when it comes to new vehicles. At the very first turn of the key, you’ve lost a packet in depreciation.
Which brings me neatly onto the second option: Cultivate your local White Settler. We have plenty of these in Hampshire, but there’s one I’ve got my eye on. Not only is he great company (being something big’n’inexplicable in the City, he’s always very generous with the rounds in the Jolly Flowerpots), but he has a Toyota Land Cruiser which is just coming to the end of its life as a company car: 80k on the clock, 53reg, eight seats, wind and skin (that’s air conditioning and leather), bidet (that’s rear wash/wipe) – nicely run-in and set up for a new life as a farm vehicle. Informal negotiations have started on the price. It may not save me much fuel, but it’ll be great value overall.
I could save fuel by switching to a smaller vehicle. I spotted a Panda Mk 1 4×4 in the paper the other day. Fantastic off-roader, cheap to run – if a little unreliable – and it was the Sisley special edition, for only £400. I was the twelfth person to ring him. Several had offered him four figures to get it back.
Further up the size scale are the Mitsubishi Shogun Pinins and Suzuki Vitaras, available in tax-efficient commercial form, as well as second-hand on the import route from Japan – if you don’t mind an over indulgence of chrome and the occasional servicing and parts problem. But these machines won’t take five guns and their dogs, or the whole family off to a point-to-point.
Perhaps my present system is the best one. In the yard is a ’96 Range Rover in dark green, 106,000 miles, which I’ve had for five years. It has been a nightmare for reliability: I’ve replaced the air suspension with coils, I have a continuing problem with diesel leak back, but it has at last stopped flashing the headlight whenever I sit on the driver’s seat. It does about 19mpg and the BMW straight-6 diesel gives it the performance of an arthritic slug. But I only do about 3000 miles a year and the depreciation has levelled off.
The secret to this low mileage is parked the other side of the yard: A violent yellow VW Lupo, which belongs to Granny Flindt. But she’s given up driving now, and I haven’t returned it after the last time I borrowed it. That was, ahem, three years ago. But it goes like the proverbial manure, and gives 48mpg while it does.
I think I’ll sit tight for a couple of years, by which time farming’s fortunes will justify two fingers to Mr Brown and a brand new £60,000 Range Rover. Fifteen mpg and £20k depreciation in the first year will mean nothing to us barley barons, and when it breaks down (which it will – often) I’ll get another one. Or get the old Lupo out.