REGULAR readers of this column may have noticed that I have made no mention in recent months of Max, the inscrutable Japanese jalopy which did noble service over the winter in carrying me over the wild expanses of Hareshaw Common.

He didn’t much care for the snow last March, and sulked outside Hextol Towers for a few days, but he always started first time – except when I left his lights on and flattened his battery – and enlivened many a journey by spontaneously jumping out of gear at 60mph, or playfully refusing to engage reverse.

He always had an eccentric rear windscreen wiper, which on occasion swished all over the boot rather than on the glass, but the problem was solved one day when it fell off altogether.

I never locked Max, for I reasoned no one would steal a car that stank like a recently-opened tomb, with mould spores billowing from the seats and mushrooms and toadstools growing in the debris in the rear footwell.

He came with a long MOT, but in the summer, that document expired, and mechanic son was adamant that Max’s chances of getting another ticket without vast outlay were rather less than nil.

He said: “Technically, there is nothing in the rules which says a car has to have a reverse gear to pass its MOT, but you might have difficulty backing it out of the garage.

“Similarly, having mould cultures sprouting all over the seats is not against the pass criteria, but I don’t know of any mechanic who would dare to sit amongst the green stuff.”

So when the MOT expired, Max was declared SORN, drooping dejectedly in front of the garage. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d have to go, but Mrs Hextol is made of sterner stuff, and one day announced: “There’s a scrap man coming all the way from Consett tomorrow to take Max away.”

“Consett?” I spluttered, “How much is that going to cost me?”

“It won’t cost you anything – in fact, he’s going to give us £80 for him,” she said smugly.

Silently registering that you had become us, I noted that £80 was a fair old slice of what I had paid for Max many months before.

The scrap man was a genial fellow, and I pointed out that there were still a few working parts on Max that could be recycled, including tyres, battery, radio and other morsels possibly of use to owners of ancient vehicles from the Land of the Rising Sun.

In addition, there was a reasonable quantity of petrol swishing around in his tank.

“Not worth the hassle of siphoning the juice, taking off the parts, storing them and advertising them for sale, mate,” he responded. “The whole thing will be in the crusher by this time tomorrow!”

And with that, he handed me four crisp £20 notes, lashed Max to the back of his car and headed off to County Durham, apparently happy with the deal.

We therefore spent the summer as a one car family again, but with horsey demands picking up as autumn advances, the family hatchback has once again been ruled unsuitable for continued use as a repository for malodorous wellies, rancid waterproofs and enough straw to stuff Worzel Gummidge.

“You’ll have to get another old banger for doing the horses,” ruled Mrs Hextol, with hanky pressed to nose, and I had to agree.

We scoured online selling sites for likely candidates, but all we could find in my price bracket were those needing attention, those with no MOT and those in a worse condition than Max.

Then number one son came to the rescue with a Renault Clio he had been doing up which had just gone through an MOT, was only £30 a year to tax, and was admirably cheap.

So a deal was done, and my French fancy Cleo is so far doing a good job, adding a certain je ne sais quoi to my frosty, pre-dawn frolics.

Getting used to the controls of any new car takes a while, but trying to find the heater controls in total darkness one icy morning, when the thermometer read -5C , was quite an experience.

Double speed wipers and a mercifully brief burst of Radio One had little impact on my hoar-encrusted windscreen.