'My Land Rover is old fashioned, out of step, and very far from the best way to get around'
Richard Porter contemplates whether his beloved Land Rover Defender makes any sense in the modern age
A few weeks ago I moved house. They say it’s one of the most stressful things you can do, after redundancy, bereavement and trying to get through to a Scottish Power call centre, but this move was pretty plain sailing, save the existential funk of realising a lifetime of possessions is crammed into a single lorry. On the one hand there’s the worry that the whole thing will topple over and burst into flames on the M4 and, oh God, oh God, where will the children sleep tonight? On the other, I found myself in a Zen moment thinking what a mega Marie Kondo move that would be, and maybe I should give the removal people the burning furniture equivalent of a do not resuscitate notice.
No need, as it turned out. The lorry didn’t turn into a fireball near Reading Services and now we’re in that mostly-unpacked phase of discovering that all of our stuff is the wrong size, shape and/or colour for our new house. Alongside that, we have the slow unearthing of the previous owners’ attempts at DIY. You know the sort of thing; it doesn’t show up on a survey, it was invisible on the two occasions you looked round the place, and then suddenly your wife’s voice is floating from another room saying, “Oh no, all this has collapsed”. Otherwise, I’m very happy with the place. There’s just one problem. Among the many bold decisions made by the former occupants of a generally lovely home, perhaps the most conspicuous and expensive took place in the kitchen; they decided to install an Aga.
You might know about the Aga. It was invented in the 1920s by a Swedish physicist on the principle that a hefty cast iron body would effectively contain and distribute the heat of a single burner, and was adopted with such gusto by Britons in the ‘30s and ‘40s that from the late ‘50s it was made exclusively in the UK. I don’t know much about the Aga at all. That bit of history you just read, I had to look it up. I’ve never previously owned or used one though I think, maybe once, I sidled up to one in a friend’s place and basked in its constant heat soak but only because the rest of their ridiculously archaic cottage was cold enough to sustain penguins.
I know some people aspire to Agas and many who have one view it as a way of life, but I am not those people. To me, the Aga seems stupid. First of all, it’s always on, and where’s the sense in that? You wouldn’t buy a car if the sales person casually mentioned that you have to leave the engine running 24 hours a day. Though from what I hear about these daft ‘F1-inspired’ road cars, it wouldn’t surprise me if this turns out to be a characteristic of the AMG One. For a cooker it sounds moronically wasteful. Then there’s the apparent lack of control inherent in the Aga operating system. You don’t change the temperature of the oven; you choose the compartment that is vaguely right for the task in hand, put your food in there and hope for the best. Ah yes, say devoted Aga-nauts, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy! Yeah, and you know what else is easy? Setting the temperature you need, when you need it, and then turning it off when you’re done. This, I think, is what bugs me about the Aga. It’s an archaic arrangement which has long been bettered by newer technology and which now exists only to excite people for whom it’s a rustic fantasy lifestyle statement, rather than the best tool for the job. There’s a reason the British have uniquely embraced this Swedish invention and it’s because nobody in the world seems as foolishly wedded as us to a mythical version of the past.
Unfortunately, this view makes me a massive hypocrite. Because every criticism, conceptual and actual, you could level at the Aga would also stick to a car I own and adore; my old shape Land Rover Defender. Apart from the bit about not turning it off. You can turn off my Defender (pending the eventual failure of the ignition barrel). My Land Rover is old fashioned, out of step, and very far from the best way to get around, on- or off-road. Mine’s even painted a twee sort of Aga green. So I’m not going to keep ragging on the stupid 1940s cooker while I insist on driving a stupid 1940s car but I am going to enjoy another element they share thanks to our nation’s steadfast affection for the past; a surprisingly solid resale value. The Defender isn’t going anywhere but as soon as I can work out how to get it out of the house and find someone who’ll give me cash money for it, that bastard Aga is gone. Hypocritical though it is, I can tolerate plenty of quirk and character and impractical out-of-date silliness on the road but I have to draw the line in the kitchen.
This story was first featured in evo issue 300.