On the road, off the rails

Driving offers the seductive illusion of a freedom we do not truly possess

In these days of near-continuous diagnosis, one hears the term "autophile" bandied about a fair bit. The OED, thankfully, has neglected to admit the word to its swelling ranks, but there was – and perhaps still is – an "autophile" column in the Argus of Brighton, and the Bluetones' third album was called "Autophile" after the opening track. The lyrics ("I love your slinky spoilers / They really speak to me") inhabit a realm in which subtlety seldom trespasses.

As a natural pedant, I am disposed to despair at such profound etymological abuse. But in the case of autophilia, which in theory at least refers to a passion directed not at the motor car but at oneself (sexualised narcissism, in short), things are different. For the car has parked itself so firmly in the multi-storey parking lot that is our sense of identity, that the conditions of loving oneself, and loving one's wheels, amount pretty much to the same thing. Cars, it seems, 'r' us....

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