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Posts Tagged ‘driving’

The little blue car at home

The little blue car has been feeling poorly for a few weeks now. She developed a strange sound, like running on a flat tyre, but only when she’d warmed up. I noticed it first returning home after a longish drive. Once upon a time I would have had the wheel off, checked the brake pads for wear and so on. But I’m out of the habit of actually tinkering with cars. Instead, I did the lazy thing and booked it into the local workshop. But they didn’t warm it up enough because they were too busy to mess about, and as a consequence they couldn’t repeat the noise, let alone diagnose it. They had it briefly on the ramps, checked underneath, and spun the wheels.

“Brakes are fine,” they said. “Bearings are fine. Nothing loose. Bring it back when it’s doing it all the time.”

I drove away feeling like a bit of a clueless, fussy Freddy. But I grew up around cars, mainly old, rusty cars, spent whole weekends of my teens getting oily in my uncle’s backstreet garage, and I knew something was definitely off. I was also losing it, losing confidence, and not just in the car, but in my ability to just do stuff. This is a feeling that comes and goes.

Anyway, I was thinking that’s it. The car’s getting on a bit now, it’s always been a reliable little thing, but I couldn’t really trust it now to get me any distance, when I didn’t know what this noise was. What else could it be? Gearbox? Drive-shaft? Differential? Any one of those, and the car’s a scrapper, given it’s worth next to nothing, now. Plus, I mean, come on. Maybe I shouldn’t be expecting to get about much in a car that’s nearly 20 years old. I’m emotionally attached to it, and that’s never a good thing, but even with 95K on the clock, it’s still the best car I’ve ever driven, old or new.

All good things come to an end, though,…

The little blue car, Slaidburn, November 2014

Anyway, I was giving my garage a clean out, and came across a shiny new spider wrench – one of those cross shaped things with a different sized wheel-nut socket at each corner. That’s odd, I thought. I don’t remember owning one as posh as that. It must belong to one of my sons who’d dumped there, rather than having it rattling about in his car. Either that,… or the wheel-nut fairy left it for me as a hint to buck my ideas up.

I wondered if it would fit the wheel-nuts of the little blue car, so I give it a try, and it did. In the process of trying it out, I also discovered the wheel nuts were loose, and I mean all four nuts on all four wheels. Well, they weren’t loose exactly, just barely nipped up. So I tightened them properly, and gave the car a spin, got her good and warm. Problem solved. No more strange sounds. The little blue car is back!

But now I have another problem. Well, it’s more of a mystery, really. I’ve never heard of wheel nuts coming loose on their own. I calculate the last time the wheels were off the car would have been nearly a year ago, during a service, when the workshop cleaned and checked the brakes, and I find it hard to imagine I’ve driven around in it since then, the mechanic perhaps having forgotten to torque them up properly. I’m not about to accuse them of it anyway.

My wheels aren’t fancy – just factory fitted aluminium ones, so I find it hard to imagine someone tried to pinch them, then got bored, having partly undone all the nuts. And then even less likely, I hope, that it’s a thing now, strange people going around with a set of spider wrenches, loosening peoples’ wheel-nuts as a sinister prank.

I’ll most likely never know.

I’ve been thinking back to all the runs I’ve made in the car this year, many of them at high speed up and down the M6 and the A59, and the possibility I did it all with slack wheel-nuts. I’ll be having sleepless nights for a while on account of that one. But we’re on the road again, and all thanks to the wheel-nut fairy, for that gift of a shiny new spider wrench, and the hint to get my mojo together, and my hands dirty now and then, instead of running to a mechanic at every squeak and rattle. I’ll be checking the wheel-nuts with it regularly, from now on.

Just out of curiosity, has anyone else had their wheel (hub) nuts come loose on their own?

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It’s two years since I was in the Lakes. Today doesn’t count, because I’m not walking; I’m delivering family to their hotel, so it’s more a kind of taxi service. Timings require a drop-off at 2:00 PM, which is late in the day to be arriving for anything recreational, so I have left the walking gear at home to make way for luggage. It’s a wet day, anyway, so no regrets. I’ll just turn around and come straight back.

Traffic is heavy on the M6 in the usual places: the crazy merge with the M61, the pull up the hill before the Tickled Trout, and then the mad lane-switching frenzy of the junction with the M55. Beyond that it’s just rain and spray, and the usual last-minute Larrys playing Russian roulette, crossing all the lanes, at speed, for the off-slips.

I know my driving has slowed, as my reactions have dimmed with age. 55-60 MPH in the slow lane is fine by me, but especially in these conditions. Others are less cautious, having learned their driving at the school of floor-it and pray. I can only hope their eyesight is good. Observation, however, supports the theory the worst offenders are merely coked to the gunwales.

We pick up the Lake District tourist-grind on the downhill into Windermere town – the A591 – this being the main route for all central destinations, and generally busy, but especially so today, it being a Saturday and holiday change-over day. From here, it’s stop-start to Ambleside, and it rains like it can only rain in the Lakes. Everything is glistening with a dark sheen of wet, under heavy skies, and the mist is down on the Lake, ghost boats emerging from the shifting grey. And yes, it’s beautiful. All right, it’s a little dispiriting if you’re beginning a holiday, but the forecast for the coming week isn’t too bad. Mixed. That’s the Lakes at its dramatic best. That’s the stuff that inspires poetry.

I make the drop-off in Grasmere in good time. In spite of the torrential wet, visitors are still falling from the pavements here, their flimsy waterproofs saturated. There is no point trying to find a parking slot for coffee. Next to Bowness, this is the busiest place in the Lakes, apart from Ambleside, and Keswick. For the introvert, Hell is always going to be other people, so I point the car for home, and head back along the A591, making just the one brief call at the garden centre in Ambleside to answer an urgent call of nature.

It seems we are now split evenly between the masked, and the unmasked. The emporia are also split evenly between those who say it’s up to you, and those who ask you to continue wearing one out of common sense, politeness and respect for others. I still wear one, but without the legality of compulsion, and the mixed messaging, it’ll peter out. You’ll set out for the shops one day and find you’ve left your mask at home, and you’ll think: oh well, it doesn’t matter, does it?

I’m hoping they do not disappear altogether, though. As a fashion accessory for the ladies, I find them attractive now, drawing attention – as they do – to the eyes. Or is that just a personal peccadillo, not shared by many, and better I kept quiet about? I find I am still covid-twitchy, so avoid the temptation of the indoor café, though the scent of coffee is impossibly alluring. Instead, I purchase marmalade and mint-cake, this being out of guilt for the free parking and a quick pee.

I note in passing the garden centre is also selling tweed jackets for £250 – reduced. I do like a Harris Tweed, but not at that price. Mine cost me a fiver from the charity shop and, Harris Tweed being what it is, and in spite of indeterminate age, it’s not in bad nick. I fancy a tweed waistcoat to go with it – you know, that old writerly vibe – but they were £150 – reduced. If these are garden centre prices, I shudder to think what they’re charging on Saville Row these days. I know it’s the Lakes, which is renowned for joke pricing, but we must be seriously down on foreign visitors this year – these being the only ones with that kind of money. Except, of course, the seriously monied Brits are slumming it at home this year as well, so maybe those fine tweeds won’t be gathering dust for as long as I’m thinking. Go on, you fools, cheap at twice the price. You know it makes sense!

From here it’s an hour back to the M6, then home. Five hours in the car all told. It’s a long time since I did that. The little black car did well, this being a 2012 plate 1.4 litre Corsa with just over 40K on the clock, borrowed from my good lady. And, like my good lady, it’s looked after me very well – the Corsa for the last eighteen months, my good lady for the last thirty-two years, God bless her, and long, I pray, may both persevere with my eccentricities.

The touristy bits of the Lakes looked a little shot at, and terribly busy, of course. Home territory it might be, and forever well-loved in its intimacy, but Switzerland it ain’t. If I come back this year, it won’t be until the autumn, and then to somewhere well away from the main drag, somewhere you can park the car for free, if you’re bright and early, and you can get on the hill without having to queue.

I’ve not done a video for a while, but I gave it a shot from the dashcam – not a brilliant device on the little black car, but serviceable enough for emergencies. Things have moved on a pace since I last had a crack at movie-making. Windows movie-maker has bitten the dust, so I used a free app called Video Pad. Then I found YouTube wouldn’t let me get at my account, where I host my dashcam edits, unless I divulged my mobile number first. So, I thought, yea, right. I’ve moved to Vimeo, now, which seems to render videos in much greater detail anyway. They let you upload around 500Mb per week, so short vids only, which is fine. The backing music is either a catchy or an annoying little number, depending on your taste. I got it from Bensound; it’s called “beyond the line” – and all due courtesies and acknowledgements etc. to them for that.

Bye for now, and,…

Thanks for listening.

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mazda at glasson

The mass-produced motor-car ushered in a revolution from the late fifties to the present day, essentially and literally mobilising the working class. It got people out of their towns at the weekend and it got them to work. As the bus and rail services were wound back in response, it seemed the future of transport was private rather than collective. But then we did it to death and made so many of the damned things they’re now killing us. But things are changing, motor-cars on the brink of becoming elitist again.

I’ve noticed in the last decade a decline in youngsters learning to drive, mainly due to the cost of insurance for first timers. You can still easily pick up a sturdy used vehicle for less than a grand, but it will cost a kid twice that to insure it, and there aren’t the jobs around for your average youngster paying that kind of money. When my own kids were learning I subbed them their first premiums but not all parents are in a position to do that.

So, it may be in the future we’re looking at collective solutions again, more busses, more trains. As for the pollution problem we’re hoping to address that with the increasing use of electrical vehicles (EVs) – at least for those who can afford them – though the futurologist in me says EVs will stall in the UK because we’ve barely the generating capacity to keep the lights on without everyone rolling home at tea time and plugging their cars in as well.

Cars have always meant a lot to me. They’ve got me to college, to work, taken me all over the UK for pleasure. The car I’m driving at the moment has given me the most pleasure of all, rather an old Mazda MX5, but still quite lovely to look at, and even with ninety five thousand on the clock still drives like new. For a one point six litre engine the road tax is pretty steep, and long ago outpaced my old-timer insurance premium, but then I’ve only to think of cruising the Dales with the top town in summer, and I pay up happily. Yes, she’s a bit of a polluter, but at the moment I have no other choice. It’s not her age, indeed newer petrol cars are worse, generating more CO2 than cars did a decade ago, mainly because demand for smaller cars is being overtaken by demand for gas-guzzling monsters.

I’ve always driven older cars. It’s the cheapest way to get around, and if you look after them they’ll go for ever. Yes, things go wrong with them more often than with new cars, but if you can’t fix them yourself, you take them to your local independent mechanic and he sorts them out for you. But newer vehicles are no guarantee of reliability. I’ve had a newer car but it came with a design fault in the transmission that was essentially unfixable. In my experience, new cars and dealerships are to be avoided if you’re of a frugal mindset, and finance for a car, indeed for anything, is enslavement.

I paid £2500 cash for the Mazda, six years ago and I’ve spent another thousand on her since in bits and bobs of repair. Like most cars she’ll do a round trip of a few hundred miles on half a tank of petrol and there are three filling stations within a couple of miles of home all competing for pennies on the price. However, I understand the push to rid the roads of the internal combustion engine, and furthermore I understand that push will come primarily from year on year hikes in vehicle excise duty, that eventually my beauty will have to be scrapped or sold to some rich petrol-head with more money than sense, and a penchant for the endearing qualities of older MX5’s.

So then I look at what’s coming and find electric vehicles still just don’t have the range. They’ll get you to the shops and back, but that’s about it. And the prices, of course, are eye-watering – twenty or even thirty thousand being considered pedestrian in the EV stakes. Nor does the second hand market offer much scope as yet, with the costs of replacing dud batteries easily outstripping the value of the vehicle. With some vehicles you can lease batteries, but that’s a form of finance that’s never ending. Things may change in time of course but we’ve still a long way to go.

Of course sworn urbanites don’t see the need for private transportation at all, and fair enough, because the cities are generally well served by bus and rail. But in the rest of the country there’s no alternative. My nearest town for food and other essentials is a twenty minute drive, or an hour by bus that runs once every ninety minutes. I could go to another town by train that runs once every hour and a quarter, but those services are more often cancelled, requiring rescue by taxi. I could forgo the trip (indeed I often do these days) and order everything online, but that’s only passing the pollution miles on to the van man who delivers your stuff.

There are interesting times ahead, but thus far horses and carts still seem to me a more viable alternative to internal combustion than anything else I’ve seen, so I’m hoping there’s enough petrol left to see me and my old Mazda comfortably out. There are a couple of nags that graze the field at the back of my house, and I recall I did once learn to ride. The only downside I recall is they’ve no brakes and, at times, a weird sense of humour.

Still, I wonder.

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black and white lights sun ray of sunshine

Photo by Little Visuals on Pexels.com

For the last couple of years on the road, I’ve dreaded the dark commutes of late November through to late January. It used to be that the biggest danger facing a motorist over winter was the weather, but now it’s other people. My journey involves several stretches of unlit, country road, but these are becoming no-go zones, and I’d rather take a long detour than risk them.

At night, regardless of what the limit actually is on a stretch of road, you adjust your speed so you can pull up within the cast of your dipped beams if you need to – that’s the theory at least. But now it’s impossible to see the road at all when there are cars coming the other way, coming at you with very bright headlights – so bright your vision whites out. And if there’s a long line of these vehicles, it makes seeing your way a real struggle, to say nothing of dangerous and stressful. Add some heavy rain into the mix which exacerbates the glare, and these roads are barely passable at all now. I’ve been arriving at work this week still in the pre-dawn with my eyes burning, and have concluded that were it not for that commute I’d be giving up night-driving altogether.

I wondered if it was me, if my eyesight was shot, but the optician says not, well not yet anyway. In fact super-bright headlights are now a major problem, one that’s largely unreported, but it takes only a little research to learn just how dangerous they are, that they’re being cited more and more as a cause of road traffic accidents, including fatalities.

Indeed, the RAC reports that 70% of drivers are struggling with night driving now, purely on account of dazzle from headlights, that the problem has arisen in the last few years with the rise of LED and Xenon beams, and has reached a stage where many of us are unable to tell if an oncoming vehicle’s lights are dipped or on full beam, because they’re so powerful. Cars aren’t the only problem. I was forced to pull over suddenly one night when a peleton came at me down a dark lane, all with super-bright bike-lights seemingly targeted directly at my eyes.

Surprisingly, regulation is rather dated – like from the 1960’s – and somewhat lax, being more concerned with beam alignment than actual power. Luxury vehicles are a particular problem, tending to have the most powerful lights, also SUVs and vans where the headlights are set much higher than a saloon car – combine that with a powerful beam and you have a real problem.

Other than tightening the regulations, there seems to be no solution, and I doubt anyway if all those luxury car owners are going to have their headlights retrofitted with dull old halogen, like the rest of us. You can go the other way of course, upgrade your mediocre beams to something more killer-bright,  but that’s only adding to the problem.

I used to enjoy night driving as a kid – there was something relaxing about it. But there was half the traffic back then, and no one was trying to blind you in the name of their own personal visibility. I suppose its just one more thing we have to accept as inevitable, that the future isn’t what it used to be. As for me, I’ll be retiring from the commute at the end of this year, and not before time because by then the headlights will be so bright they’ll be burning the paint off each others cars.

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mazzy at glasson 2019

Small blue car, Glasson Basin

It was unseasonably warm, this, the last Friday of February, temperatures nudging seventeen degrees and a spring tide almost cutting off the village of Glasson. The little blue car and I are here again for our annual groundhog day. I first came in 2014, but that morning was a cold day, a winter’s day, and there was ice on the car park. Today was summery, balmy and weird. There have been years when I didn’t get the top down until April. That’s natural, today wasn’t.

I’m dressed for winter, five sensible layers and a hat. I have binoculars, camera and a Lion Bar. The plan is the same as always: walk south across boggy meadows to Cockerham Marsh, then pick up the Lancashire coastal way which leads us back to Glasson, then a brew before we paste it back home.

I’m not feeling too good, a bit of a cold breaking, so my head is woolly and there’s a fatigue hanging over me, but I’ll manage. Yes, the weather is weird, and I’m tying my coat around my waist before we’ve gone a mile, but the warmth in it is undeniably cheering. A few weeks ago we had snow.

marsh end farm

Bank End, Cockerham

Cockerham Marsh never fails to impress, one of Lancashire’s jewels – the glittering expanse of it, the greenness and the dendritic channels all patiently fished and swooped over by oystercatcher and curlew. There were murmurations of dunlin and starling too, animating a sky lit generously by a low winter sun, and with all the warmth of spring in it. I’m thrilled by the rapture of birds here as they wade and gambol out of reach of man. As I watch I find myself wondering if, when we’ve poisoned ourselves from the last corners of the planet, the birds will find a way to survive and preserve in themselves what is truly beautiful about the world.

And then it’s the coastal path and the green sward by the old abbey where the land stops and tumbles sedately into the sea, then the call of lambs in sheep-thick meadows, and the final push up a summer-sleepy Marsh Lane to Glasson. All of this in February.

lancashire coastal way

The Lancashire Coastal way, Cockerham

I get a brew at the Lock Keeper’s Rest, by Glasson Basin, settle on a bench in the sun, among the born-again bikers. I’m joined by an old dude who tells me it’s a shame they closed the pub. He speaks with the direct intimacy of an old friend. He’s just lonely for a chat, I suppose. He goes on to complain about the salt water he’s had to drive through on the way into Glasson, as if it’s someone’s fault, and how it’s no good for a car. Then it’s the price of a pint and a football ticket, his opinion amply expressed by a weary shake of the head. I ask him how long since they closed the pub, not that I’m interested, but it looks like he’s settling in and thus far it’s been a bit one-way. He seems not to understand the question, bites his lip and looks at me askance, as if I’ve offended him and he bumbles off to sit alone.

On the drive home there’s a near accident on the humped bridge over the canal at Garstang, a learner driver is approaching it cautiously, but then caught unawares by an insane hardcore wagon which appears suddenly, rising like Poseidon from the deep and steaming over the bridge at full tilt. The wagon screeches to a halt, inches from disaster, sends up a cloud of dust and is unable to move unless the learner reverses, but the learner is frozen with shock, as am I.

The hardcore driver is not a patient sort and is effing and blinding at once. The passenger gets out, the learner hastily slides over. The hardcore man continues to sully the air with foul and insulting language: You can’t drive, you’re an idiot, you shouldn’t be on the road – that sort of thing.

“Learning, mate,” says the passenger, hands wide, in a placatory tone, then points out the L plates. You know? Cut us some slack. Be patient.

But the hardcore man takes this as a challenge to his superiority. The cab door is flung open, and a tense standoff ensues. The queue for the bridge is dozens of vehicles deep in both directions by now, but we must all await the pleasure of the hardcore troll, captive audience to his vile strutting. Does he commit assault on an innocent man? mangle his car for good measure and expect us all to applaud him? The learner car backs up as quickly as possible in order to avoid fisticuffs. The hardcore man, still puffed up hurls parting curses, then thunders away to wreak havoc elsewhere.

I follow the L plate into Garstang, thinking to myself the learner will probably never want to get behind the wheel of a car again, scarred for life by an ill timed encounter with the troll. A troubling day of sorts then, mostly beautiful, but in a weird sort of way, overlaid by something surreal, courtesy of my being under the weather, and there’s an aftertaste of threat that’s been hard to shake – the un-seasonal weather suggestive of climate catastrophe, and the latter incident indicative of an increasing and vociferous intolerance among our people.

The principal threat to the natural world of course has always been the human being which seems incapable of acting in harmony with it, while the biggest existential threat to the human being, apart from an asteroid impact, has always been human beings themselves, and their propensity to act first in preservation of their own misguided sense of superiority, to the detriment of more altruistic virtues.

Anyway, mind how you go and beware of those thundering hardcore wagons.

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in martindale

 “Mazzy”, the small blue car in Martindale, Westmoreland

I wave to fellow Mazda MX5 drivers. They don’t always wave back but it cheers me up when they do. It’s mostly the guys who’ll reciprocate. Girls will only rarely acknowledge you. Mk 4’s are the worst for not responding, unless driven by an older, old-school silver fox, and then you’ll always get a wave.

It’s just part of the scene, and a pleasant one. I think old Landies and Bugs have a similar thing going on. It proves we’re still human, that we’re enthusiastic about irrational things, that we’re quirky. It tells me there’s still hope.

But I thought the Mazda was into her last year this year. Her back wings and sills were rusting out, and I’d had a quote for repair beyond what she was realistically worth. Then I shopped around a bit and got a price for the sills that would at least get her through the MOT. The guy made a pretty good job of it too – matched the paint and everything. He was pleased I was pleased. And I was pleased that he was pleased that I was pleased. As for the wings, they’re okay from a distance, and I can make a go of patching them myself once the bubbles break, slow the process down with Waxoyl, get them professionally done at some point later on. I’ve also had a dodgy ABS sensor, so all told it’s been an expensive year this year but we’re set up now for a little longer, and as winter comes on, I’m already looking forward to the spring when we can get the top down again and go explore some more narrow roads in the Dales.

At sixteen years old, I’ve got to expect something pretty much all the time now. Speaking of which there’s an occasional howl coming from the front passenger side wheel at low speed on full lock, and I don’t know what that’s about – the cheap option is a sticking brake cylinder, the expensive one is a wheel bearing. I’ll mention that at the service come December’s end, but ’till then we’ll see how it goes. Engine and transmission are still like new (touch wood). I’ve had the car five years now and she’s such a pleasure to own, I want to keep her going for ever. She’s done coming up on ninety thousand now so she’s good for a while yet. A colleague has the same marque, but his had done a quarter of a million and had just started smoking. It was worth about a hundred as scrap and he still didn’t want to let her go.

My other car, what had been my main driver, a four year old Ford Focus went in the autumn, and good riddance. The Powershift started playing silly buggers, and not for the first time, so I sold it back into the trade for a massive loss, but that was better than it bankrupting, or killing me. It’s such a pleasure to be without it I’m still basking in the afterglow one less seriously squeaky hinge, and for sure I’ll not be driving a Ford, or an automatic, again for a long time. A rusty, creaky old MX5 is my only battle-bus now, and people wave at me when I drive by.

No one ever waved at me in my Focus.

The finest run we had this year was the little Malham to Arncliffe road, with a return to Stainforth via Littondale. That was a hot day. I’d spent it walking around Malham, but the drive was as much of a pleasure, and you can’t say that about many cars. I had the top down and you could feel the air and smell the meadows as we passed. You can thread her up and down most any road with confidence, even with a wide beamed eejit coming at you the other way, and she’s a bottomless pit of torque for the hills. Sometimes I forget I’m pushing sixty, the fun I’ve had with that car. Or is it more a gesture of defiance, that you’re just a hair’s breadth from being twenty five again and it’s all a question of spirit? That’s it, I think. She revives my spirit.

The grey slab commuter mule was the thing imposed on me by forces beyond my control, and not much I could do about it and come out the other end feeling at all like a responsible adult. But come weekend, I’d toss the walking boots in the Mazda and we’d take off somewhere beautiful, just the two of us. Like a love affair.

The finest drive we’ve had to date, I think, was round Ullswater to Pooley, then Howtown and up the zig zags into Martindale, a stormy looking day but we managed the top down until our return to Glenridding when it caught us up and we had to batten the hatches down. I took coffee at the Hotel there and I remember coming out and seeing her beaded with rain and looking like a dream. We’d still a hundred miles to go but I’d no worries she wasn’t up for it. That Focus, I’d’ve been waiting for it shivering through the changes at every junction, and wondering if it was going to drop out of drive, or even take it up at all. Thanks for all your help with that one Mr Ford – I’m still waiting for your call by the way.

Japan looks like a beautiful country – don’t suppose I’ll ever go, and it seems odd to be driving a car that was put together there and got itself shipped half way round the world to end its days with me, skipping around the Lakes and Dales. I wonder if she’s ever homesick, if she’s just putting a brave face on things, or if she’s really happy?

It was a short run today, out for breakfast at a local cafe, then off to the shop for supplies. She’s resting in the garage now chatting to the mice. I passed two Mk 1’s and a Mk 2.5. All waved.

None of us were drowning.

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corsaFebrile: of or relating to fever, indicative of a malaise. Maybe that’s why the Jaguar pulled out of the side road in front of me this morning?

I’m not driving my own car at the moment – sold mine, but that’s another story. My current ride, a six year old Corsa has a leisurely way of doing most things, including an emergency stop. In fact it didn’t really stop. It just slowed sufficiently to allow the Jag get away with it. Pip my horn? Didn’t have time to think about it really.

But then it was the ubiquitous white van-man, weaving about at great speed on the motorway, undertaking, overtaking, ducking and diving across all three lanes, narrowly avoiding clipping my nearside front as he made a last second lurch for the off-slip – I think they call this manoeuvre ‘cutting up’. It caused another alarmed stamp on the brakes and a rise in heart-rate and blood pressure. But pip my horn? Didn’t really have time to think about it.

Then there was the BMW that pulled into my path as I was leaving the motorway, and with a Juggernaut full square in the view mirror, barely inches behind. I only half tested the brakes this time, sufficient to allow the BMW to get away in a cloud of tyre-smoke and stupidity, but not quite enough to have the Juggernaut ram me – just back off in a startled squeal of brakes and an alarming little wobble. He was as surprised as I was (a) at the sudden out of the blue manoeuvre of the BMW, and (b) that he’d managed not to ram me.

Pip my horn? Well, you know,…

And then, finally, there was the industrial estate, a sensible twenty mile an hour limit, and not difficult to manage, but a frequently vexing experience with aggressive vehicles glued to my bumper wanting to go much faster. This morning it was a brightly illuminated “Boss Class” Audi. As I slowed and filtered right to make my final turn of the morning, he vanished with an angry growl, a blared horn and a jabbed finger. “You slow coached, goody two shoes, penis,” he was saying, “take that: PAAARP!”.

It took a cup of tea and a good ten minutes to get my arms back in my sleeves after all of that, I’ll tell you. My commute is definitely getting harder.

There are a number of factors at play here. For one it’s the steady, year on year increase in the volume of traffic, which in turn increases the percentage of aggressive, or simply reckless personalities on the roads. Then there’s my age – one cannot react as quickly to a sudden stimulus at 57 as one did at 17, and too much erratic stimuli can leave one reeling when, at 17, it would be dealt with and dismissed merely as superfluous noise.

But there’s also something in the air, something fragile in the Zeitgeist and I feel endangered by it, glad to arrive safely in the mornings, now, and get home at night without mishap. And if it’s true we create our own reality, the universe is providing the white vans and the Jags and the BMW’s and the Audis to confirm my own sense of the febrile nature of things.

I therefore need to take steps,…

I’m not without my own faults of course. Slow, yes. A little overcautious,… and prone to the occasional muddle, at times> Yes, yes, all true, but also I’m prone to a certain cold eyed vindictiveness. Oh yes, really!

Since much of my commute is spent virtually motionless, sitting in heavy traffic, I have often had the opportunity to observe evidence persuasive of the maxim that money makes you mean. With the traffic control systems so regularly overloaded and spilling into commuter chaos, it falls to individuals to organise themselves and cooperate in allowing other drivers to filter in ahead of them, or no one would get anywhere. And I’ve noticed it’s older, cheaper cars, that are most likely to allow another to go ahead of them – the more expensive the car, the less likely. No, seriously! You can test this phenomenon for yourself the next time you’re creeping nose to tail with traffic filtering into the stream, from where it would otherwise not have right of way.

But I’m as guilty as anyone else here – at least in a topsey-turvey sense. If it’s an expensive car stuck for someone to let them in, I’ve noticed I’m less inclined to be courteous. I make an assumption regarding the kind of person driving that kind of vehicle. I assume they’re arrogant, over-brimming with a sense of their own entitlement, and in the main I feel justified in nurturing such prejudice on the basis such vehicles are also more likely to be reckless and aggressive when driving against me at speed.

So I suppose my personal challenge, and a possible way to defuse the Zeitgeist’s current febrile malaise, is, the next time I’m locked in traffic, to smile, wave, and allow that pumped up gas guzzling monster of a vehicle to filter in ahead of me. Indeed, let us all drive with greater courtesy to our fellow motorists, regardless of the car they drive. Let us defy the Zeitgeist, and be kinder to one another, generally. And even if you’re cut up, provided you survive to tell the tale, resist the urge to pip your horn in retaliation. After all if you’ve time to gather your senses and pip your horn, it wasn’t really that close anyway. Was it?

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jackdaw

As the summer heat and the grass-fires fade into the fast scattering smoke of imperfect memory, I feel the usual September blues coming on. They are born of too long spent in the academic grind as a young man. Twenty five when I finished, and still, in my late middle age, am unable to shake off the jitters in anticipation of the fresh term ahead. And even though I’ve not set foot in a place of learning since, all it takes is that first deepening of the light and a return of dew upon the grass to set my nerves on edge. But added to that this year I sense a smouldering anger, an irritation rising from the collective unconsciousness, and it feeds an anxiety in me that is resistant to the various meditations I practise. And of course, what I feel, internally, the world provides confirmation of in the realm of daily experience.

There was a kid driving a car this morning, coming at me on the wrong side of the road, fast, around a bend, the small vehicle wobbling at the very limits of its stability. Fast, fast,… live it on the edge, for tomorrow we may all be dead! I don’t know how he missed me.

Later, on the motorway, an entire string of vehicles were cutting in, one after the other as I approached the exit slip. My assailants were reckless, hurried, impatient to get on and seemingly oblivious to my presence as I tried to moderate my speed, and judge my gap within the usual perhaps over-cautious parameters. But to hell with caution, no time for that now, to hell with everything! Zip, zip, zip,.. squeeze it in, ramp it up. Another moment may already be too late!

And money,… money is in your face everywhere on the roads. Have you noticed? And it’s greedy, bullying, intimidating. I had £50K’s worth of Porsche SUV, tailing aggressively close for long miles down a twisty road. The limit was forty – there have been sacrifices enough to the God of recklessness here – faded flowers by the roadside to mark the fallen – but the Porsche wanted more, wanted me out of the way, slow, lumbering old fart that I am.

Push, push, push,… faster, faster, faster.

And then there was the little boy this afternoon, dashing out between parked cars, right into my path, his mother screaming, both of us thinking it was too late. I stopped dead, stood the car on its nose. He was fine. I wasn’t. He got off with a scolding and wept, as I nearly wept. I pulled over a little further on and waited for the blood to stop roaring in my ears. The car is on the drive tonight and won’t be moving all weekend. There’s something in the air just now and I don’t like it.

News headlines assail me every day. I would ignore them but I’m fixed in their glare like a rabbit, unable to look away. Yet there is so much noise in them now, and so slickly delivered, the delivery of news has become news itself, feeding back on itself until the last thing we hear is this almighty squeal before the very tissue of our skins rupture, and then we no longer see, or hear, or feel, or trust in anything any more. Vulnerable. Invisible, my presence, thinning like moorland smoke. Dissipating into nothingness.

How about a bit of gallows humour: To save money, the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off! It’s an old saying. I remember it from the downsizing, de-industrialising nineties. But there is no tunnel and there never was a light at the end of it, just darkness of varying shades, a blank wall upon which to project our various and individual fantasies of what we believe our lives to be. And none of it was or is or ever will be true.

A little Zen wisdom for you. It pops up unexpectedly in my Instagram feed, the universe perhaps delivering the teaching I most need right now: You must meditate for at least ten minutes every day, unless you feel you’re too busy, in which case you must meditate for an hour.

Nice one. Don’t you just love Zen?

I understand. Break the cycle, don’t read the news. Its infernally discordant noise will shatter the crystal vision of your soul. And we must mind our souls above all else, examine more closely the present moment and find ways of sinking ourselves into it. It doesn’t mean the world will go away, but we will find ourselves more firmly anchored in it, so its storms can be weathered with greater magnanimity.

And then the world will no longer seem quite so dangerous a place to be.

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I had a near miss, this morning. I was coming up to a mini-roundabout, another vehicle approaching from the opposite direction, a big car, ostentatious, with its ultra-bright HID “F*$k You” headlights on, even though it was broad daylight. I thought he was going straight ahead, because I didn’t see the blinking amber of his indicator light. So it was a surprise when he cut across my bows, so to speak, and cut across them really fast. I was lucky, had time to react, stood the car on its nose. He had time to react as well, with an offensive finger.

It’s possible he indicated. I don’t know. I’m finding with these really bright headlights, they fuzz out my vision and I can’t see anything else, especially not a relatively puny blinking indicator lamp tucked in close to the epicentre of that laser like HID blast. And that’s in daylight. Meet one of these monsters at night on an unlit twisty road and you’re heading for the ditch. Or maybe I’m just getting too old to be on the road, too long staring at computer screens, eyesight too wasted now to discern the important details any more.

Nah, the optician says I’m fine.

Anyway, those long promised robot cars are coming, and they’ll avoid awkward situations like that. The well heeled finger jabber with the HID headlamps and I will be sitting back, flicking on our phones, while the cars are doing all the driving and the talking to one another. Each will know what other is doing, adjust speed so they manoeuvre smoothly around one another without so much as a dab on the brakes. Maybe those big cars for rich folks will even have superior algorithms capable of gaming the traffic flow to their advantage. I mean, otherwise what’s the point of paying a lot of money for a car if it isn’t going to steal a march on those less well off?

This morning was just a commute in my old Ford Focus, an A to B, and fair enough, they can be a bit of a drag. A robot car would save me time, allowing me to eat my porridge while the computer did the driving, and presumably took all the insults on my behalf. But is that really what we want?

This evening was different, I managed to avoid near misses – true the roads were quieter when I backed the Mazda, my other car, out of the garage. The Mazda is not a commuter mule – I keep her strictly for fun. It was about half an hour before sunset and the temperature had dropped to nine degrees. The vinyl top was too cold to risk folding back, so I made do with the other pleasures afforded by this little car, and I just went for a drive, windows down, feeling the air, tasting it, smelling it.

She’s laid up most of the working week especially over winter, so I like to get her out and give her some exercise of an evening whenever I can. Already I’m anthropomorphising. Cars don’t need exercise like humans do, but it’s as well to keep the battery topped up and the oil lining the cylinder walls, and the belts all moving. Still, I like to think of it as exercise, and she seems to enjoy it that way too.

I have this scenic little circuit that I do. It was a beautiful evening, clear sky, deep blue above, fading to azure at the horizon. And it’s a wide horizon out here in the West of Lancashire, but you’ll miss it if all you’re doing is flicking on your phone, and that would be a shame.

In this car you don’t need to be going fast to feel the thrill of movement – yes, movement! You can take the corners without any degree of body roll, thread your way through a series of left and right-handers, flicking up and down the box as the note of the engine tells you. And at some point, she’ll get into her stride, and you in hers, and you’ll press the gas and she’ll respond with a rush. This is no longer driving. This is dancing on air. No A to B, more a silver fox in an old MX5, dancing in the last light of an early Spring evening.

It won’t be the same with a robot. They’ll never be able to dance for a start. They’re dead things. Nothing human about them at all. Nothing human either in just wanting to get from A to B, yet that’s mostly what we do these days. And when the whole world is robotised and we’re all lobotomised, glued to our phones, flicking mindlessly at all that rubbish, and those times we drove simply for the pleasure of it are but a dim and distant memory,…

What then?

in martindale

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mazda night journey HDR

It doesn’t feel like I’ve had the little blue car for long, but it’s getting on for four years now. It’s hard to describe how much pleasure I’ve had from driving it. I’ve discovered the roads have a sway to them not felt since my motorcycle days, the sunshine is brighter and, top down, the air is a dream of freshness, and all this is to say nothing of the places I’ve discovered with it – especially in the Yorkshire Dales, just a short hop from home, and a place for which the car seems to have been especially built.

For years now the remoter dales have echoed to the burble of its exhaust note, as the little blue car wandered with a tenacious grip and a surprising vigour, given its fifteen years. I’d thought it would last for ever. But then I noticed it was suffering from tin-worm in the back wings, and sills. A previous owner had already patched it, and quite neatly, but the sills are bubbling through again, and I’ve had an advisory on the MOT.

The cost for a decent repair is far in excess of what the car is worth. So at the moment it’s tucked up, looking forward to just one last summer on the road before the breaker’s yard. I couldn’t sell it on without pointing out the work that’s needed, which will surely put any casual buyers off. An enthusiast with a knowledge of welding and body repair might take it on, but at most five hundred quid is what I could, in all fairness, get for it.

Sadly this is the way most old MX5’s go. They are like butterflies, built for warmer, drier climes, not the persistently wet brutality of roads in Northern Europe, nor especially its salt caked winters. Rationally, it makes no sense to invest any more in it. I mean, goodness knows where else the rust might be lurking – the body shop talked of common issues with the forward suspension, further advisories on the MOT and costs in excess of five hundred at some point in the future.

It’s a thing to ponder over winter, and quite sad. She runs well, has only 86,000 on the clock, and might in all other respects have another ten years of pleasure ahead of her, but there we are. All good things must come to an end.

“I’d bite the bullet and get it done, mate,” said the guy in the body shop. “These cars are becoming classics. It’ll be worth it in the long run.”

Nice guy, and an infectious enthusiasm, but he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Oh, I know he’s right, but classic cars are holes in the road you pour your money into. They take all your love and patience, and repay it with an ever more temperamental drift into old age and irritability. But for a short while at least, heaven for me has been a little blue car with a roof you can fold down, and a twist of dales country road warming to dust, under a hot summer sun.

 

 

 

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