London: Quartet, 1987.
Then they heard the sound of a two-tone horn. Whether it was police, fire or ambulance they didn’t know, but it was time to be going. Fat Les took the remaining bottles out of the car, dropped them in the middle of the road to form a zebra crossing of petrol and broken glass. He threw a piece of burning rag at the petrol. A sheet of flame danced satisfyingly from the tarmac. They returned to the Beetle, drove round the wreck of the Range Rover and set off again into some unimaginable future of love, revenge, class warfare and oral sex (108).
Geoff Nicholson’s short novel Street Sleeper is about the Volkswagen Beetle, and historical anecdotes about its design and marketing form a significant part of the narrative. Street Sleeper‘s also about former librarian Barry Osgathorpe, who buys an ugly VW Bug he calls Enlightenment, changes his name to Ishmael (as in,’Call me…‘) and sets out in search of spirituality and the perfect blow-job. Along the way, he picks up a disciple, Davey, and a girl, Marilyn. They get tangled up with Fat Les, champion of the underdog and refurbisher of Beetles, as well as a conservative MP and his shotgun-toting cronies the ‘Crockenfield Blazers’. To describe any more of the plot would lessen one’s enjoyment of this agreeable fluff (from which one could doubtless draw important observations about breakdowns in English society in the 1980s). My favorite bit, though, is a description of the ad-man Bill Bernbach:
An English graduate from New York University, he is at heart a copywriter, but a copywriter with an unfailing instinct for integrating words and pictures.
He gets to work at nine, goes home at five. He is a brilliant maverick who loves his family.
He carries with him a card that he looks at from time to time, especially when facing some client with whom he particularly disagrees.
The card reads, ‘Maybe he’s right.’ (110f.)