The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Lada Owner’s Club

For those who don’t know, a Lada is a car made in the old Soviet Block and for a while was relatively popular in the UK because it was so cheap. Based on old Fiat designs, even brand new it was half the price of any other car of its size on the road. Built like a Russian tank, you needed arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger to be able to steer the thing, and there weren’t many mod cons like ABS, power steering, or even a radio. They weren’t the most reliable of cars and back in the 80s and 90s were the butt end of many jokes:

Q: What do you call a Lada with a sunroof and twin exhausts?
A: A wheelbarrow!

Q: Why does a Lada have a heated rear screen?
A: To warm your hands while you're pushing it!

I’m sure you’re beginning to get the idea.

Towards the end of the millennium the European Union tightened their laws on exhaust emissions from cars and so they ceased being imported. Before long Ladas had all but disappeared from the UK.

In the mid 90s, the Lada Riva 1300 Estate that we drove had been taken off my brother’s hands. It was due for an MOT and he couldn’t afford it. We didn’t have the funds for a 2nd hand car, but could just about raise the money to cover the MOT, so it was duly handed over to us.

It really wasn’t much of a car. It had a great big dent running down the left side where my brother had once wrapped a fence around it after leaving the road, when his cat had escaped its box and dug its claws into his leg; I was constantly having to apply rust remover to various parts of the bodywork; and if it hadn’t been for my friend Euan, who knew a bit about engines, then we would never have been able to drive it for the three years we did. I’m not going to get all misty eyed and say we loved the car, but it did do the job and I’m thankful we had it.

During this period of time, Rogan was just a baby and so didn’t have much of an opinion about the car. In fact, he was usually asleep within 2 minutes of me starting the engine. However, the stepchildren did have strong opinions about it, and would duck down whenever we drove past anyone they knew in case they were recognised.

One day, as I returned to the car from the supermarket, I saw a guy moving away from it, having just placed a flyer under the windscreen wiper. As he saw me reading about “The Lada Owner’s Club”, he came back over to try and encourage me to come along to a gathering they were having the following weekend (a fun day out for the whole family – oh yes, the stepchildren would love that). I smiled awkwardly, brushed him off as politely as possible and sped away. Well, I say sped away… (0 to 60 in about 18 seconds, if I didn’t have any extra weight in the car, like a tin of beans for example).

A Lada Owner’s Club! The very idea sent a shudder down my spine. For a long time afterwards I feared I was just being a snob, but after Meg was born I realised where my discomfort lay - I may have driven a Lada, I may have felt the occasional bit of fondness for the car, but I didn’t want to be defined by the damned thing.

Why after Meg was born? Well it’s here that perhaps I get a little bit controversial.

Meg is my beautiful, wonderful daughter and I am full of fatherly and parental pride, and she happens to have Down’s Syndrome. But take a look at any blog or speak to any parent of a child who has DS, and what you very quickly realise is that the DS is just one aspect of their child, not the defining aspect. Indeed, start referring to their son or daughter as a “Down’s Child” and you are very likely to have an extremely annoyed parent to deal with.

When Meg was born it sometimes felt as though we had joined a Down’s Club and we were expected to go out and join Down’s groups. We found this idea more than a little uncomfortable.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not having a go at support networks and organisations. Having somewhere you can turn to for advice in times of doubt and need is fantastic. Having organisations that are helping to raise issues and concerns to a wider audience is a wonderful thing. But just because my child has DS, doesn’t mean I am automatically going to get on with every other parent of a child with DS. It’s like belonging to a group because you have blonde hair or green eyes, or are good at solving IQ puzzles (sorry – a quick swipe at Mensa there because I feel exactly the same way about them). Having a beard might be one of the characteristics that people can recognise me by, but that doesn’t mean that I necessarily have anything in common with David Blunkett or Grizzly Adams.

The same attitude makes me curl my lip at overt nationalism too, not to mention walking the streets with a football shirt on. I guess I am not tribal by nature. First and foremost we are individuals, and when someone thinks they can know who we are by the car we drive, or our genetic traits, it is so superficial it makes me want to weep for them.

To quote Patrick McGoohan,

I am not a number. I am a free man.”

P.S. – An afterthought:
Here is a quote about Ladas on the homepage of the Owner’s Club website

For the DIY motorist, they are a pure pleasure”.

I kid you not – visit if you don’t believe me.


BStrong said...

I agree with you as far as all the DS organizations and support groups go. It can be overwhelming at times.

The Lada sounds like the old Yugo except that the Yugo wasn't built like a tank. The jokes were the same though. Embarrass the stepchildren, that’s why I had kids. Their going to be rolling their eyes and ducking away from me in public for many years.

As far as your post on my blog, yeah, my wife didn't say that I couldn't post a picture of myself.

Sorry, not everyone in the states has blonde hair and rides a board. I did surf a couple of times if that's what you want to call it. I replaced my blonde hair with spots of gray.

Chris Black said...

In a previous job I was a ships agent for a lot of Soviet vessels. Once Perestroika had started , the crews would try to buy up any old Ladas to take back home. I think the record number was 16 Ladas loaded on deck. Great cars though for the Russian winter and the Russian home repairman.

Having a Russian wife ( not mail order, thank you) I think understand your feeling about groups. We don't automatically want to be good friends with every Russian we meet in Essex just beacuse they are, well, Russian.

Amanda said...

Great post...I agree that having a child with Down's Syndrome does not mean you have anything else in common with those in a "support group", and you would be fast friend under any other circumstances. One of the reasons I feel that "support groups" and such are not for me, also. Everyone is an individual, and lumping them together because of some arbitrary characteristic seems a bit silly. I support those get help that way, but that is my uncomfortableness as well. ;)

Kim Ayres said...

bstrong - I think the Yugo was basically the same kind of thing, although it did seem very resiliant to bumps and knocks. Some teenagers in a car banged into the back of me once and sped off- I only had a quick chance to see their crumpled front wing and smashed headlight. However, the back of the Lada barely had a scratch.

Chris - I remember hearing about Ladas being bought up and shipped back to Russia, but by that time mine was already at the scrapyard.

Amanda - absolutely - there's all the difference in the world between supporting something and being defined by it

Naomi said...

The Lada stuff made me laugh. My dad drove several Lada's in the late 80's early 90's. My sister was completley mortified about being seen in the car and would duck down below the windows whenever she thought she spotted someone from school.

... jacek ... said...

Hahaha... brillinat! And I thought it was only the ex commie blockers who made fun of those tin contraptions. For those not in the knowhow about ladas, I provide you with a link.

Quite the beutiful automobile if I say so myslef (sarcasm). And definately giveing the Trabant a run for Eastern Block ingenuity. Though I never knew the Russians sold them in the UK.

Anywhosher, I agree with you entirely about not being defined by something. As an immigrant of 18+ years in the states from Poland, everytime someone asks me where I'm from (not becasue of an accent mind you, but becasue of my name), I go through the usual rhetoric of telling them I'm from Hartsdale (a small NY suburb), then I say I'm from NY, and finally if they persisit (which they tend to do) I tell them I'm from Poland. I don't play this game because I'm ashamed or embarrased of being Polish, quite the contrary, I find generalizations and labels absurd. However, when it comes out that I am Polish, the inquisitor usually remarks with an "Oh I know this Polish guy" (as if the entire 40Million of us are best fucking freinds) or "My Grand-(something) was Polish". People can be so trite sometimes.

Anyways man, I like your blog, and I don't know if you get theis at all but in your profile pic you resemble David Brent from the Office, whether intentional or not, it rocks.

Cheers dude,

- el Jacek - life for the casually insane.

... jacek ... said...

oh and ps. thank you for hating mensa, and all the bufoons who believe that they are truly the intelectual eite. I can;t stand those people, who for for the most part are the proverbial "lets sign a petition to get Star trek: Another Bad Show back on TV". Morons :)

Lada110 said...

I have blog about my car (Lada).
But it's only in finnish language.

Kim Ayres said...

I hope you're enjoying some success with it.

jotcr2 said...

When Sheena was born, a friend tried to help, by offering to put me in touch with a friend of hers that had a child with DS. The friend was in America. I didn't pursue that one.

Kim Ayres said...

Jo - are you based in the UK then?

Carole said...

Very interesting thoughts. I really appreciate them. I will take your advice on the dolls. I will also give you the website in case you want to take a peek at them.
It is good to have support I believe and I have much to learn. So though I don't want to be in a Down's club so to speak, I enjoy reading blogs (I have seen on your site) from DS parents. I want to learn what I can because I want the best for the Little Miss. I do want people to see Nebraska as a person first but I don't have much faith in it. Why? Because in the past I think I always saw Down's first. I am ashamed of that.

Kim Ayres said...

We're all guilty of it Carole. We are primed to notice difference; unfortunately we live in a culture that doesn't respect difference very much.

It's a learning process. The more Nebraska grows and develops her own personality, the less you notice the DS. I

It's like the first time you meet someone with an exaggerated facial feature - squint eyes, large nose etc - it grabs your attention. It's an identifying feature. But the more you get to know the person, the less you notice the physical feature, until there comes a point where it ceases to be relevant when you think of them.

And thanks for the link to the Downi Dolls. It's certainly given me food for thought, but I think if anything I feel more uncomfortable than I did before. Which is good.

Carole said...

I always look forward to your responses. Thanks. Nebraska had a bit of set back as they tried to extubate her today. She had a bit of heart arythmia and temp so will try again tomorrow. My daughter-in-law assures me this is normal. But they had to sedate her.

Kim Ayres said...

I hope everything goes well for her.

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