Lunch is sacrosanct, so even though nobody’s around I leave the building and stroll through the industrial estate to the nearby café. I don’t have an umbrella and almost right away my suit is dark-spotted with drizzle, but there’s music in my headphones and I want to spend an hour somewhere else, a place where the chatter won’t be about my work, where I won’t recognise any faces.
I approach the t-junction. The turning right, the road less travelled, heads past anonymous office buildings full of people doing who knows what, past the giant DIY superstore and the garden centre, all the way to the roundabout, the dank concrete subways and the grim carvery nobody ever visits. I think about what a strange place this is, that it only really exists from nine to five, and then I see the Jaguar.
It’s a red E-type – not just any red but a perfect pillar-box red, a colour so vibrant that everything else is smudged into a dreary monochrome. It saunters, it slinks up to the turning. I can’t drive, but I know a head-turning car when I see one: this is it, all curves, low to the ground, the antithesis of every crash-tested blocky box on wheels scuttling along the main road, refusing to let it out. I can’t drive, but I know that the uglier a car, the less classy the driver’s manners are.
It shouldn’t be here. I think that as I walk alongside it, craning my neck. It should be on the Cote d’Azur, in the Cotswolds or Tuscany. It should be on a sweeping road where it properly belongs, not waiting at the end of the lane that leads to the tip, across from the snack van selling burgers to the anglers sitting fruitlessly by the manky lake.
I make sure, as I slow down to get a good look, that I don’t look through the window to see the person in the driver’s seat. Beautiful cars are like beautiful houses or beautiful watches, they often belong to the undeserving. I know this won’t be driven by Cary Grant or Grace Kelly, I understand that it would kill the mystique if I saw the man (because, sadly, it will be a man) whose hands rest on the steering wheel.
The Jaguar is in no hurry. It’s built to zip along roads, but as a spectator it could never go slowly enough for me. I watch with sadness as it pulls away, recedes towards the horizon. I’m struck by the fact that, like all gorgeous things, it doesn’t have a bad side; there’s no way you could photograph that car without capturing how stunning it is.
The rest of the walk is uneventful. The rain eases off. I reach the café, sit by the window, eat an awful salad, check my phone. I don’t entirely feel like I belong, as usual. But then I remember that flash of red, and I know that there’s no shame in that.