My first car was a white mk1 Clio with heavy steering and a surprisingly perky engine. It took me between Hyde and Old Trafford to work; it often took me over the Woodhead Pass for no reason other than to get me out of the house; and in summer 2007 it just about got me down to London.
One Friday evening after work I discovered it’d been stolen from an Old Trafford back street. This crap picture, taken on my old Nokia, is the empty space.
After the free-falling disbelief – Hang on, did I actually drive to work today? Did I park it somewhere else? Farther up? – I started some panicked amateur detective work. There was a CCTV camera just above the carless gap, for starters, and a small security kiosk in the yard beyond the fence.
I went through and found a sullen security guard there; asked if he’d spotted anything. He seemed vacant about the whole thing, but agreed to review the camera footage. He rewound the tape until the Clio popped into shot, then went forward until it disappeared again. Somewhere between these two states was the answer. And then we found it. A three-minute window in which my car was loaded on to an unmarked recovery truck by two men in hi-vis jackets.
Even at the time I had a sense of this being funny. From any angle, it’s an inspired way to steal a car. And while I’ve long since reframed the memory as a kind of fiction – a decent pub-story – I still can’t quite believe it happened.
I do remember calling my stepfather, an ex-scrapyard owner, who said the car would already be cubed – sold for an easy hundred quid with no questions asked. And I remember telling the police about the footage I’d seen, because it seemed to irritate them. I guess I hoped we’d read about the collapse of a Manchester-wide car-thieving gang soon.
We didn’t, though. In fact we never heard a thing. But every time I walked to work afterwards, I’d pass an independent Renault specialist and wonder if that’s where it ended up.
‘It’s all material,’ someone reminded me at the time. And they weren’t wrong. Seven years on, I’m sitting on a novel that reimagines the men who robbed it. More about all that soon!