Two weeks ago, I was driving back from East Anglia in my dull, but dependable, Citroën Xsara Picasso, marvelling at the fact that it had never let me down in 81,000 miles. Like some arranged marriages, I initially had a strong feeling of revulsion when I bought it. It wasn't just the painfully slow acceleration, but also the strong smell of dog, which permeated every item of clothing I wore, however brief the journey.
But gradually the canine odours faded and I grew used to the car's stolid, philosophical nature. For this stage of my life - a father of two with an elderly mother - it ticked all of the boxes. The boot space was ample enough to smuggle a whole family through customs, whilst the seating was comfortable and spacious. I congratulated myself on my choice.
Almost as if in response to these fatuous thoughts, a warning light flashed on the dashboard and the car started to loose its power. Fortunately, the hills of Lewes loomed in the distance and I was able to freewheel downhill to a local garage, where I assumed that the car would be fixed and I'd be back on the road within 24 hours.
That was two weeks ago. During this time, the fault in my car has acquired the same mythical status as the Higgs Boson particle and I have begun to wonder if I will ever drive again.
In the meantime, I have been commuting to work by train. As the crow flies, it isn't a long journey, but the costs are double and it usually takes at least twice as long. How can we hope to lure people away from using cars under these conditions?
On a good day, my commute has been taking one hour and 40 minutes: one mile to Lewes station, a train journey involving a couple of changes, followed by another mile on foot. It would be tolerable if the line passed through spectacular scenery, but for most of the journey all I can see is badly-designed 20th century housing.
Even "funky", "happening" Brighton doesn't look that great at 6:55am:
The one positive is that I'm able to read, provided that nobody is disturbing me. Unfortnately I have a very poor attention span and will easily be distracted by mobile phones, attractive women, the number of abandoned footballs on the railway track, MP3 players and the headlines on someone else's newspaper. It takes me a long time to read a book.
To my great surprise, I haven't seen any Kindles yet. Perhaps my local railway line just isn't zeitgeisty enough, but after all the hype from Amazon I was expecting to come across at least one Kindle reader.
From a voyeuristic point of view, I love seeing what people are reading and don't look forward to the anonymity of the Kindle. You can tell a lot about someone by the way they dress, but it's their reading material that is most illuminating. When the soberly-dressed man sitting opposite me got out a Stephen Donaldson book, last week, I had a much clearer sense of who he was.
Sometimes people's reading choices are refreshingly unpredictble. I'll never forget the Mr T lookalike at Clapham Junction who was clutching a well-thumbed Catherine Cookson novel, or the "chavvy" girl with Elizabeth Duke jewelery and a Primark hoodie who was engrossed in W. G. Sebald's 'Rings of Saturn'.
Books instantly change my perception of people. The rather gorgeous woman sitting opposite suddenly loses her allure when she produces a copy of a misery memoir, whilst the shallow-looking city worker instantly goes up in my estimation with his copy of Maupassant's 'Bel Ami'. In a world full of e-books, I'd be limited to judging people on appearances only (I know that there's another option - don't be so judgemental - but that would take all the fun out of travelling) .
However, it would be a relief to be able to read a trashy thriller without anyone knowing. I love the anonymity provided by MP3 players (if I appear to be close to tears when listening to a piece of music, you'll never know that I'm actually listening to 'Two Little Boys') and would be tempted to buy a Kindle for this reason alone.
In the meantime, if you're on a train from Brighton and see a man pretending to read a very erudite book about Islam or existentialism, but who is clearly more interested in the seagull standing on a nearby chimney pot, that'll be me.