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Posts Tagged ‘accidents’

mazzy interior

The weather turned cool and showery by week’s end, making for a wet and windy drive up Wharfedale. Mazzy did not enjoy it as much as her first trip here, back in July. That day the sun shone and the air shimmered with a high-summery heat, and the moors had about them a sluggish, humid quiet. With the top down one could smell the hedgerows and meet the gaze of passers by – share greetings with them as we motored leisurely on. Now though, great curtains of rain pressed in on either side of the valley, spilling over the fells. It had me fumbling for the wipers I’ve not used all year, and of course the top was up, so the world passed remote to all but my visual senses.

We were delayed near Kilnsey by a collision between a camper van and a road sweeper. The camper was a terrible mess, its side torn open and the remains of some poor souls’ holiday spilled all over the road. The queue inched by as best it could while policemen jabbed fingers in ad hoc traffic control. They must have to deal with many such incidents on this stretch, and I don’t envy them the task. The road along the valley of the Wharfe is as narrow and twisty as it’s always been, but the vehicles we’re driving are getting noticeably bigger. Mazzy’s a low slung, narrow slip of a thing, perfect for threading her way up and down country like this, but she and I are moving against the tide which insists what country like this needs is a pumped up four-by-four with the assertive beam of snowplough.

I stopped off for a brew at Buckden, then made pilgrimage to Hubberholme – pronounced “Ubberam”. Hubberholm is a tiny hamlet in upper Wharfedale, beloved of generations of walkers, also home to St Michaels and All Angels, one of the loveliest of our Norman churches. Though the increasing secularisation of society has led to the diminution of moderate religious congregations everywhere, England’s churches retain their potential as foci for binding communities, and in a more prosaic way provide a statutory and timeless continuity with their records of births, marriages and deaths. The church at Hubberhome dates to the 12th century, and has the look of a place that was not actually built at all but rather that it grew organically from the soft earth, here on the banks of the Wharfe. Its pews bear the distinctive adze marks and the unique rodent-motif of the celebrated Mouseman. It has about it the scent of old churches everywhere, and rests in the profound silence that pervades these remote valleys, a silence reinforced for me that morning, stepping out of an old roadster after seventy miles in the pouring rain.

hubberholme church

Saint Michaels and All Angels – Hubberholme

St Michaels and All Angels is the resting place of J.B.Priestly, native of Bradford, novelist and playwright, known to me through his work on the relationship of man with time. I think a lot about the nature of time, and more recently have tied myself in knots with it almost to the point of despair in wrestling with my current work in progress – a work that takes only halting steps forwards these days. For my trip I had packed my toothbrush, but left my laptop behind, thinking to let the story rest for a bit. In making pilgrimage to Hubberholme and JBP, I wasn’t expecting a synchronistic finger pointing to the way out of my literary cul-de-sac; it was more a case of stoking the boiler of imagination, and hoping something would emerge in the fullness of “time”. All the same, my pilgrimage bore fruit, I think, or at least I came away feeling more philosophical about the dilemma. I self-publish to a small audience, for nothing; I write novels like I used to do Origami, for the personal satisfaction of completing a puzzle, rather than labouring for coin. In my current game, as with Origami, there are no deadlines – only pleasure in the folding and unfolding of lines, hopefully winding up with something self-standing at the end of it, and all from a blank sheet of paper. I sometimes forget this, but the timeless peace at Hubberholme, proved a timely reminder that time has no existence other than in its relation to man, and that all deadlines are ultimately defeating of the self.

aysgarth upper falls

Aysgarth upper falls

I stayed the night in Wensleydale, in the pretty little market town of Leyburn, passed a pleasant evening in the Golden Lion and woke on Saturday to a brighter morning. Then I drove to Aysgarth, to the falls. At Aysgarth, the River Ure is rent by a series of dramatic steps over which the waters thunder, all peaty brown, like stewed tea. There is an upper, a middle and a lower falls, spread over a kilometre length of the river, and all accessible by well maintained walkways and viewing points. The National Trust have set up camp here, providing decent car-parking and a visitor centre. It costs £2.50 for a couple of hours, which I didn’t think was too bad, and the falls of course are worth it. Then it was on to Hawes, and from there the long, bleakly spectacular run of the B6255, to Ribblehead. We managed this bit of the run with the top down, Mazzy’s humour lifting enormously, making her roar with the pleasure of it, and lending to the sun-splashed, blue-skied scene, at last, a moving connection that brought a lump to my throat.

It was a weekend of thoughts then, about the nature of time, about writing, and even of Origami. It was also a weekend of waterfalls and old churches. And it was a weekend of roads, the best in England, roads that make driving still a pleasure, a pleasure I had largely forgotten on account of long decades spent behind the wheel of a car merely commuting. But as that accident near Kilnsey reminds us, these roads can also exact a terrible price for a moment’s distraction. They are beloved of many, but struggling now to accommodate the sheer variety of transport they nowadays carry. Along the way I encountered vast lumbering peletons of MAMILS; I came upon huge farm vehicles hauling skyscrapers of hay; then there were the wide-beamed Chelsea tractors, the caravans, the motorhomes; and there were entire squadrons of ton-up motorcycles, a half glimpsed minuscule dot in one’s rear view mirror, then roaring past your ear like a jet fighter barely a second later,…

Even in remoteness these roads can at times feel terribly crowded. Now and then though the way simply opens, and it’s just you, and the freedom of the Dales.

That’s the magic of it.

Footage: Mazzy’s  dashcam. (Mr Happy was along for the ride)

Drive carefully.

Graeme out.

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racy lady 2

Mazda MX5 Mk2 – 02 Plate

It’s now a week since I picked up the Mazda. The day before I was worried I’d made a terrible mistake, buying such an old car after no more than a quick look round and a ten minute test drive. What if I’d missed something? Rotten door bottoms, bubbling wings, blue smoke, badly fitting rag-top, leaking oil, duff tyres. The list of things that can go wrong with an older car is long indeed, especially if it’s not been pre-loved, and the dealer turns out to be a rogue.

The car was waiting when I rolled up. The top was down and the guy had washed it off for me. To my immense relief it looked even better than I remembered. A quick card transaction, a handing over of documents, and I was on my way. In real terms it’s probably the cheapest car I’ve ever bought, but easily the one that has impressed me the most.

The drive home was a real pleasure; a hot, sunny afternoon, and the way taking me along the winding country lanes of the West Lancashire coast. The car warmed quickly and ran sweetly.

It has been loved, I think, and the wad of service reports reassures me it’s also been well maintained. I did no more than forty, but it felt like I was flying. I made a quick stop for petrol and the lad in the shop complimented me on the car. It’s a conversation starter, something that’s not happened in 35 years, not since the days of my ancient Mk1 Cortina Super. The Cortina was rotten underneath, but managed good show up top and conversations were frequent when I was out on my travels. Sure, it’s a long time since heads were turned by anything I’ve driven. The Cortina eventually collapsed, literally, its McPherson struts held in place by nothing more than spiders webs.

A long time ago. God bless it!

But now I’m cruising through West Lancs with the top down and girls are looking. Yes, girls! I assured number one son, who accompanied me, they were looking at him, not me. He assured me they were looking at the car, and not at either of us. We are both blessed, it seems with the same lack of self confidence.

I bought polish and spent the evening buffing her up to a deep blue lustre.

Oh, she’s lovely. Very lovely indeed!

I must have done a hundred miles since then, just driving around on short hops, getting a feel for her, identifying any problems areas. She’s not perfect. All but one of the tyres was duff, so I had to get a fresh set right away, and the brake pads will be next. The driver’s side hood clamp doesn’t latch – a common problem on MX 5’s – but hardly a reason for gnashing one’s teeth, and is easily fixed. There’s also a tendency to bounce when taking up drive in first and reverse gears when she’s cold – another common idiosyncrasy of certain Mk 2.5’s, I’m told, but this one’s more a question of how you handle her than spending a fortune on unnecessary  repair. I’m sure there’ll be other things that surface as our acquaintanceship deepens, but my main worry, the bodywork, is fine. This is a 12 year old car, but it’s in better shape than my 7 year old Astra whose door bottoms, to my dismay, are already starting to bubble through.

The attention the car drew on that journey home has continued. A small two seater sport’s car cruises by and people look at it. I do  it all the time, thinking: isn’t that lovely? And I must get one of those before I’m too old to enjoy it! So I don’t mind that others do it to me, but there’s another kind of attention that’s been much less welcome. It’s a kind of maleness I’m uncomfortable with, and it smells of over-ripe testosterone.

My longtime companion, that grey old Astra with his rotten door bottoms, does not inflame egos. We’ve done Seventy thousand miles together over the years, without so much as a second glance and that’s the way we like it. I’m not a sporty driver. I don’t take corners on two wheels. I like the feel of speed on the straight, but I don’t push my luck. But with the Mazda I’ve had cars overtaking me for the fun of it, running dangerously and blind on the wrong side of the road into bends. I’ve had other soft-top saloons suddenly come alive and pull wheel screeching burnouts in a village where the speed limit is a very sedate 20 MPH.

Oh, how I like the feel of this car! I like the sound of it, and I can’t stop driving it, but after a week, I’m growing tired of looking in the rear view mirror to see a fluorescent Ford Focus with go faster stripes and an adolescent-brained driver behind the wheel, sitting on my bumper, weaving about aggressively.

There have been three recent road deaths in my locale, all caused by stupidity and carelessness involving cars – the victims were all pedestrians or cyclists. Makeshift memorials pepper the black-spots, reminders as stern as the GATSO cams, that motoring without due care and attention is dangerous – says me with three points and an SP30 on his license.

I don’t know what kind of life my Mazda has known in the past, but it looks like she’ll be getting a lot of sand kicked in her face with me behind the wheel. If you’re out and about and you should cruise up behind a little blue Mazda with a silver haired driver behind the wheel, tootling along at forty, and you fancy a bit of sport, don’t bother, because he’s not up for it. Back off or pass me safely because the closer you get, the slower I’ll go. Let me enjoy my old Mazda in ways that does not involve you, or endanger other users of the road.

She and I are strictly Zen these days.

She?

Actually, I’m puzzled by that gender thing. The Astra is male, a safe, steady commute-mobile, slab sided and grey – old Grumpy. But the Mazda’s curves definitely suggest something female. A name hasn’t struck me, but I’m sure it will in time. The good lady Graeme fingers the frayed creases of the ragtop and suggests “Leaky”, but we’ve not been out in the rain yet, so we don’t know about that one for sure.

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