Eddie Mair goes on a journey of discovery at a car rental firm

"I haven't felt so stupid since saying to Caroline Thomson: 'Don't worry, love, you're a shoo-in for DG'"


For once, this column will contain a piece of genuinely useful advice. I honestly expect to get letters in future from people saying, “Thanks, Eddie – that really helped.” So stay tuned, as we say on the radio.


My story begins, as all good stories do, at the car-rental desk of an airport somewhere in the sunny Med. In my experience, car-rental staff seem sad all the time. Not just a bit down; I mean country-song sad. They’ve shuffled in to work despite their partner running off with their best friend, their dog dying and their TV being locked onto endless repeats of Piers Morgan Tonight. There’s a deadness behind their eyes that puts me in mind of… well, Piers Morgan.

So imagine my delight when my rental-car person deadpanned that I’d been given an upgrade. I never rent anything grander than a class-B car, because I believe all the government advice about it inevitably leading to reliance on class-A cars. On the plus side, I benefit from spending almost nothing on a week’s rental. The downside is, the vehicle is the size of a melon and has a sewing machine for an engine.

“An upgrade? Me?” I trilled, as the rental-car person wept uncontrollably into my paperwork. He scribbled the number of my parking bay on the damp document and handed me the keys bearing the logo of the manufacturer: BMW.

The underground parking garage was gloomier than Jack Dee reading the July weather forecast. It was dark and stiflingly hot, but I found my Beemer, got in the wrong side, then got in the right side and prepared to turn on the air-con and drive off.

BMW drivers reading this will know what’s coming. I couldn’t start the car. The key-type item in my hand had no key on it, and my preliminary fumbling round the steering column betrayed no slot in which to shove it. There was a start button, but pressing that only put the lights on. Where was the slot for the dongly thing?

Minutes went by. My hands felt frantically around the driver’s side for anything that might work. The heat and the lack of air-con, combined with a rising sense of panic, brought me out in a sweat. And I felt daft for not being able to perform a simple task. I haven’t felt so stupid since saying to Caroline Thomson: “Don’t worry, love, you’re a shoo-in for DG.” I sat there repeating this pointless searching over and over.

Presently, a woman in the people carrier next door tapped on the window. “Are you having trouble?” I explained my predicament and together we fumbled round the infrastructure in search of the necessary slot, but to no avail. Her husband suggested pressing the brake at the same time as the start button, but no. The instruction manual was in Spanish.

Eventually, a car-rental employee walked past. I waved frantically. She looked at me as if I was a red, sweat-soaked buffoon. “You don’t insert key. Just press clutch and start at same time.” Yes, BMW invented a car with a key you never need to insert, though I knew where I wanted to insert it.


I hope this helps you.