Class conscious

Environmental activists in Hamsptead have been plastering stickers - apparently very difficult to remove - reading "Help Stop These Global Warming Outsize Vehicles" on four-wheel drives. It is a very class-conscious campaign, manifesting both straightforward snobbery (a spokesman for the activists says, rather prissily: "These cars damage the unique, liberal, sensitive, intelligent feel of Hampstead") and snobbery of the inverted kind, because four-wheel drives are symbols of modern financial success. In fact, the AA has threatened to spoil all the fun by pointing out that "a small old car that has not been serviced for a year is probably doing more environmental damage than a new Land Rover Discovery or Suzuki Vitara".

The activists have not yet arrived here in Highgate, where four-wheel drives are equally popular. I think that my smart neighbours like them a) because other smart people like them, and b) because the very high seats enable you to look down on your fellow road-users. I loathe them. With their pompous ruggedness and irrelevant boasts of off-road capability, they remind me of Chopper bikes, which the dimmer sort of kid always wanted for Christmas in the mid-1970s.

We, meanwhile, have bought a car that's unlikely ever to be stickered by resentful greens: a Skoda. But no smirking, please, because our particular Skoda, the Fabia 1.4, was voted Car of the Year 2000 in What Car? magazine, as an advertisement on the back window points out.

But this endorsement by What Car? seems to cut little ice with the drivers of large Mercs, etc, who overtake us at every opportunity, with - I note from my rear-view mirror - laughter dancing in their eyes. I am not sure, either, that the dealer who sold us our Skoda was quite convinced that the brand has shaken off its old image, because he offered us - with the air of a man in a dirty bookshop proffering a brown paper bag - the chance to have our car rebadged as a Volkswagen, which would be within the rules, apparently, given the VW takeover. Quite bravely, I think, considering the auto-competitiveness of this part of north London, we declined his generous offer.

This article first appeared in the 04 September 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Cheated of their vodka and cake