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Posts Tagged ‘mx5’

Hot metal

In Martindale

Scene: An Engineering Industry Training Board Approved Training School, Bolton, some time in the late 1970’s. Scent of cutting oils, and hot metal. Syncopated, rhythmic sound of rotating machinery.

Characters: an occasionally fiery fitting instructor, smelling of pipe tobacco and Johnsons Baby powder, and a reticent seventeen-year-old me.

Action: Mr Mooney is attempting to weld two pieces of steel. I am passing and notice something.

Me, urgently: “Em, Mr Mooney?”

Mr Mooney, dismissive: “Not now, lad, I’m busy.”

Me, more urgently: “But,… Mr Mooney,… Mr Mooney,…”

Mr Mooney, exasperated: “F#ck’s sake, lad, what is it?”

“Your overall’s on fire.”

“What? Oh,…”

Mr Mooney dances, and flaps his arms.

God bless him, Mr Mooney. Skilled as he was in that old-school kind of way, he was never to be trusted around an oxy-acetylene torch. But other than charred overalls, no harm was done, and – albeit indirectly – he taught me much, though not always about Engineering. The Engineering Industry Training Board was a national body that oversaw a year of basic workshop practice for school-leavers – all budding engineers and craftsmen. It’s gone now, and I’ve no idea how the youngsters pick these skills up, though the latter years of my career suggested they were no longer de rigueur for the self-respecting professional who was more likely to be seen plugged into a laptop, attending a virtual meeting, while on the way to another meeting. But if you’ve off-shored your manufacturing, then fair enough, you don’t need what are euphemistically called “vocational skills” any more. Or do you? Well, trying to get my car welded up recently reminds me such skills are indeed still needed, and growing scarce on account of there being no more Mr Mooneys. Of course Mr Mooney would not have been my first choice of welder, for my car, but you know what I mean.

I’ve not spoken about the little blue car for a while. I sense few people are interested in cars, and driving these days. But it’s also partly guilt, I suppose. Cars aren’t a good look when we’re on the cusp of a climate catastrophe, though I would argue my ambitions to keep the old girl going are a valuable offset of the carbon that went in to her manufacture. Also, she takes up a fraction of the room, and the fuel, of an SUV.

Covid has shaken up the makers of microprocessors, which has disrupted deliveries of new cars, which, in tandem with current pressing levels of inflation, has lifted the prices of used cars to improbable levels. So it makes sense to hang on to what you’ve got, and get it fixed when it’s ailing, rather than trading when you get bored with it, unless what you’ve got is a lemon, and we’ve all had one of those. And that’s not an easy call to make.

My little blue car, a 20 year old Mazda MX5, bought second, has turned out to be the cheapest, yet also the best car I’ve ever owned. It’s certainly been no lemon, but they’re prone to rust, especially around the rear sills, and the back wings, and mine’s been needing tidying for a while. A local mechanic was able to make a functional repair of the sills, for MOT purposes, but he admitted anything of a more aesthetic and restorative nature to the bodywork was not really his forte. Unfortunately, he couldn’t name anyone else with the skills who could help. They’ve all gone from round here, he said.

I found an accident repair shop some distance away, and they sounded keen, but then not so keen when they realised welding was what I wanted. Welding like that, they said – meaning fabrication welding – was rare. Most guys doing it had either retired, or gone home, post Brexit.

Go see “So and So”, they suggested. So off I went, even further away, but when I got there the unit he operated from was closed for demolition. So I found another guy, further out, one who restores, among other things, vintage cars, and he said he’d have a go, and lucky I’d called in when I did because he was moving out to somewhere else, even further away.

I’m a little old to be pootling round in an open-top roadster, but there’s much more to the MX5 than meets the eye. If you’re not a motorist, and if you didn’t grow up with cars, you perhaps won’t know what I mean. But cars have a feel to them. They either fit us, or we make do, and mostly we make do because it’s rare to find a car that’s had the time spent on its design, so it’s made to fit how a car’s supposed to fit, and feel when it’s on the road.

I’ve had the little blue car eight years now, longer than I’ve kept any car. I like to walk, but unless I’ve driven out to the start of the walk in the Mazda, the day is not the same. That’s hard to explain, and probably absurd, but it extends the day. You get the walk, but you also get the drive in to a beautiful area, and to top the day off you get the drive back out again. With the top down, you feel the world around you. You smell the air, you hear the birds, and the wind in the trees. There’s talk of this marque becoming a classic, but then they say that about all the old cars. Bottom line, she’s not worth much, but in these strange times, worth keeping going all the same.

So the guy had a good look around her, pronounced her not as bad as I’d feared, explained the repair, the cuts, the welds, the fabrications he’d have to make, the way he’d have to fill certain areas with weld, dress it all back, re-spray, blend,… make it like new. Time he said. It was mostly time and attention to detail. It would cost an arm and a leg, but I was ready for that, and the guy had no scorch marks on his overalls, which further suggested he knew one end of a welding torch from the other. We shook on the deal, which felt odd – the first hand I’ve shaken since the pandemic began. He had gloves on, so I was no risk to him, and I didn’t mind a bit of workshop dirt on my palm. It put me in mind of former times, of Mr Mooney, and the scent of hot metal,…

Thanks for listening.

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Solomon’s Temple, Withnell Moor

You catch up with us today at Solomon’s Temple, on Withnell Moor, and it’s lunchtime. First, though, we unlace our boots and let our feet relax. We’ve only walked a couple of miles from Brinscall, but things aren’t looking promising. Suddenly, all this talk of the strangeness of dreams is of little interest when we’re on the moor, and our boots hurt.

The boots are newish, a bit old-school in their construction. I’d thought to get up on the moors with them, see if we could break them in a bit, but they’re proving to be stubborn. They’re British army surplus, made by Iturri. You can get them for a song off Ebay, like new. They’re a solid boot, but they bite.

It’s one of those “follow our nose” sorts of days. There’s no plan, just out enjoying the moor. But since we find ourselves at Solomon’s, it looks like the subconscious has Great Hill in mind. The boots are man enough for that, man enough for a lot of things, I guess. But I’m not sure my feet are up to much more today, at least not in these boots.

Mushroom soup for lunch. For company, we have the larks, a curlew, and fieldfares. There are no people. I left them all thrashing about in Brinscall woods, looking for the Hatch Brook Falls. The falls are not easy to get to, but the guy who asked me for directions tells me it even has its own Tripadvisor rating, now. That worries me. I directed him as best I could, but he’d come a long way, and wasn’t familiar with the names of places. I advised him to be careful. He nodded with enthusiasm, then set off in the opposite direction to what I’d said.

Hatch Brook Falls, Brinscall

The little blue car’s down on Brinscall’s Lodge Bank Terrace. The sills I’d had welded some years ago are coming through again, and I have to make a decision. Expensive one this. MX5s, like mine, can go for five or six thousand, at a dealership, spruced up, so it may be worth the investment. Or they might fetch as little as fifteen hundred, private and spotty, in which case it isn’t. Mine’s probably somewhere in the middle. She has a full service history, and she’s coddled, but the repair is on the edge of sensible for a twenty-year-old car. It depends on how much the car means, I suppose. I find it means a lot. But that’s not rational, and I’m usually rational when it comes to cars.

Ratten Clough, Brinscall

So anyway, we’ve walked up through the woods, location for the creepy bits of that Netflix thing “Stay Close”. Then it was onto the moor via the ruins of Ratten Clough, and we followed our nose to Solomon’s Temple. New Temple is next, then Old Man’s Hill, and a little trodden way that approaches Great Hill, from the north. It’s a warm day, a jostling of jolly cumulus, and some stratospheric streaks toning down the blue. The ground is mostly firm. Yesterday’s full moon seems to have ushered in a change to fair, after a very cold Easter weekend.

The light is dynamic, and full of interest. I complained in an earlier blog, all we’re doing with photography is trying to freeze the moment. But that’s not right. We’re bearing witness to a moment in time, as well as trying to capture an essence of the beauty of the world. It’s like we capture glow-worms in a jar, then hold them up in wonder and say: look at that!

But in the middle of the day, like this, a photograph never comes out as you see it. Even with a decent camera, the scene is flat, the contrasts, the colours lacking vibrancy. Or maybe it’s just my eyes, and I like to see the world through Van Gough’s spectacles. So I spend a while with software filters, teasing out the world the way I see it. My kids say whatever pills I’m taking, they want some.

Okay, lunch done, boots fiddled with, fastened, unfastened, adjusted, refastened, and on we go. Note to self: Hotspots around the ankles and under the right heel. Early signs of blistering to the backs of both left and right heels. I wouldn’t like to be a soldier tabbing far in these. No wonder they were surpluse to requirements. We clip the western approach to the hill, then turn-tail for Drinkwaters, and White Coppice. We’re three miles out now, and it’s far enough. It’s a pity to miss the top, but I reckon our feet only have a couple of miles left, and three to go.

Drinkwaters, Anglezarke

Of course, it’s a risk, fixing up the bodywork of the little blue car, at such great expense – maybe half as much as the car’s worth. It’s asking for a serious mechanical fault to develop soon after. That’s the way with old cars. But you can get a lot of repairs for the price of a fresh car, if keeping the old one going is what you want.

Some schools are still off for Easter this week, so White Coppice looks busy as we descend the moor. We avoid the noise by staying high and turning north along the edge of the Brinscall fault. Pace is slow, both feet on fire.

There’s a roe deer down in the valley, a mature female – not exactly rare now, but still a joy to come across in the wild. It sees me before I see it, and it bolts high, climbs to the moor’s edge and watches from the safety of altitude. We eye each other, I chance a shot on full zoom. It knows the line of my route, even knows, perhaps, my boots are hurting, so then it bounds along the ridge, and crosses back down the path behind me. “I’ll get no trouble from him,” it’s thinking. “Poor guy can barely walk.”

Roe Deer, Goit Valley, Anglezarke

We sit a while beneath the ash at the ruins of Goose Green farm, let the feet relax again. It was also known as the Green Goose, in the days when farms were also permitted to sell ale. I wouldn’t mind a pint of something cold and murky, actually. I’d fill these boots with it and cool my feet down.

It’s easy going now, a decent, level path, along the Goit, all the way back to Mill Bank Terrace. The little blue car is a welcome sight. And it’s heaven to get the trainers on. A run out’s not the same without the little blue car. She’s not perfect, and rather Spartan by today’s touch-screen standards. But I enjoy her imperfections, and her simplicity. And driving her still makes me smile. Okay, we’ll call at the body shop this week and see what the man thinks. When I croak, it would be nice to think of her being discovered in my garage, a mint condition MX5, covered in the dust of memory, and a quarter of a million miles on the clock. Then some boy racer goes and wrecks her in five minutes.

Those boot though? Well, after today, I think we’re done. I’d never trust them to get me down from a big hill. I’m hoping they’re just a pair of duds, because I’d hate to think of the entire British Army marching in boots like those, poor souls. I don’t know, though; it would be a pity. Maybe a bit more breaking in will do the trick. Lunch at Solomon’s’ was good though. We’ll have to do that again sometime.

Thanks for listening.

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Someone else’s MGB, Glasson Marina, February 2014

The last Friday of February, this year, was also a full moon, thus seeming especially auspicious. Previous years would have had me and the small blue car at Glasson Marina, enjoying the year’s first hints of spring. From Glasson, I like to walk the quiet lanes to Cockerham, then back up the Lancashire coastal way, over the green sward, by the remains of the abbey, and the Plover Scar light. I’d have lunch at Lantern O’er Lune, then return home via the garden centre at Barton, for coffee and cake. A grand day out, as they say.


I first did that trip in 2014 in an old grey commuter mule called Grumpy. I’ve done it every year since, except last, and this. On that first trip there was a guy at the marina in a gorgeous red MGB. He looked to be in his seventies, living the dream, with his Irvine flying jacket. At £850 a go, that jacket was as much of a statement as the car. Cynics might have said he was menopausal. But in your seventies? Not likely. Okay, he looked a bit eccentric, but the guy had spirit, and he inspired me. The next year I was in the small blue car, an old but reasonably well-kept Mazda roadster. All right, she’s no MG but, forgive me, I never held the same faith in British motor cars as others. I’d thought to keep the car a year or so, get her out of my system, and sell her on, but we’re still together. I drew the line at an Irvin jacket.

My MX5, Glasson Marina, 2015

This pandemic year however, the car is under covers, and I keep my steps local. On Friday, I walked a pleasant circuit from my doorstep, instead, just clipping the next village. I was hoping to see a particular buzzard, thus scotching rumours the bird had been shot. I didn’t see it. As I walked I was thinking of Glasson. I was picturing the crocuses in the churchyard, and along the canal bank. I was also thinking about writing, and the answer to a question I’d posed: Why have I not decided upon so much as an opening sentence of new fiction yet, months after putting up my last novel? I have never been without a work of fiction for company. But time is ticking.


Things are pretty well upended, was the answer to my question. You’ve had a big change of circumstance, what with early retirement and everything, so let it ride, don’t rush it. And fair enough, I’m not. I’ve bought a 3D printer to tinker with, and I’m designing and building bits and bobs for myself. I’ve made a clock case, a watch case, and some quick-release clips for stashing Alpine poles to my rucksack. Ironic, I thought. For most of my life I have been writing as a distraction from the trials of engineering. Then I retire, and I take on personal engineering projects as a distraction from writing. I am, if nothing else, perverse. But the answer goes further, deeper. It takes in the ruins of the world, and how best to move on from them.


I understand that in one sense I’m in a good place. A final salary pension helps enormously, but most of all I’m lacking anger. However, I’m also lacking passion, which is possibly less good. I look upon the corruption of political high office, and I don’t care any more. I read how the cost of BREXIT is now roughly the same as our contributions to the EC since 1972, and I don’t care. The Labour Party is veering once more to the right, purging itself of even moderate old lefties like me, and I don’t care. I’m fine, I want everyone else to be fine too, but I’m waking up to the nature of the world as being one of ineradicable inequality, indifference and self-entitlement. Money makes you mean, and since money buys power, you can plot your course from there to the most logical outcome – which is pretty much the ruins of where we are.


The Taoist texts talk of clarity. They use the image of a lake. If we are emotionally aroused, they say, it’s like the perturbation of the surface, and the stirring of sediment. Then we cannot see through to the bottom of things. Only through calmness, through stillness, does the sediment settle out and clarity is restored. But while in stillness, there might indeed be a kind of clarity, I find there’s not the energy to power a hundred thousand words of fiction. It strikes me therefore, I might have already written my final novel. On the one hand I’m surprised by that, since I’d always imagined my retirement as a time I could spend writing to my heart’s content. On the other hand, again, I don’t care. The muse has been slipping me the occasional idea, but I can tell she’s not serious. She has not once lit the blue touch-paper. All of which perhaps goes to show the Universe is not without a wry sense of humour.


Then, as I write, my son brings news of a pair of buzzards circling my garden. He’s rummaging in some excitement for the binoculars. It’s an unusual sight, a pair of them like that, and a bit of a shock, actually. I break off for a photograph, snap-on the long lens. I’ve been stalking buzzards in my locale for a while now, trying to get a nice sharp image of one, while lamenting their vulnerability, and suddenly there are two over my house, as if they had come to look at me and pose. It’s surely an omen. Of what, who can say? Light or dark, we take our choice. Myself, I’m optimistic. It seems you don’t always need to venture far in seeking what you want, also that we needn’t go chasing every shadow. Indeed, perhaps what we seek is actually seeking us, and all we have to do is find sufficient stillness of mind to let it in.

Glasson, on the last Friday of February 2022? The small blue car will be twenty years old.

It’s a date.

One of a pair of buzzards, circling over my house

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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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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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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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MX5 HortonIt’s my third summer now with the MX5, and with all due respect to those pop psychologists, I didn’t buy it because I was menopausal, even though I’m probably of an age that’s ripe for it. I bought it because I wanted one when I was seventeen and couldn’t afford the insurance. By the time I could afford it, I was married with kids, so a two seater sports car was impractical and I ran around for a quarter century in a family hatchback instead. Then the kids reached a stage when they wouldn’t be seen dead going out with me any more and suddenly that open topped sports car was on the cards again, and if you go for an old second hand one, neither are they particularly expensive.

But there’s nothing the media likes more than to gather a few pop psychologists and poke fun at all us silver foxes pretending to be teenagers. I mean, can’t we see how ridiculous we look? I suspect such articles are written by people in their twenties, who have no idea what it actually feels like to be a man in their fifties. Well, you know what? Being a man in your fifties feels just like being a man in your twenties, except in one or two significant respects which makes being in your fifties infinitely better.

Horton Church and PenyghentI took the MX5 to the Yorkshire Dales today, a round trip of about a hundred miles, drove it with the top down all the way, not in order to attract the admiring glances of women, but because there’s a greater sense of presence when you drive this way. The air feels good once you get off the highways and you appreciate the scenery more.

I took the car to the Dales because I wanted to climb Penyghent. It’s something I’ve been doing since I was in my twenties. I’d puff and wheeze my way up it back then, and I still puff and wheeze my way up it now. I’m not worried about advancing age, I’m not trying to prove anything, this is nothing about bucket-lists or raging at the setting of the sun. I took the car to the Dales, I did the hill, and I called for coffee on the way back. It was a great day out and I didn’t once feel self conscious or stupid.

The Mazda’s in the garage now cosseted under its dust sheet, and I’m in the summer house with a glass of wine and the laptop, thinking back over the day. There were plenty on the hill who were a good deal older than me, and they’re an inspiration in the sense that no one is too old for anything. Granted, I wouldn’t recommend climbing Penyghent in your eighties if you’ve never done a day’s walking before, but if you’ve been doing it all your life nothing’s going to stop you, is it?

I’m not saying the male menopause doesn’t exist, because it does, and a man must deal with it as best he can. But what the writers of pop articles about the male menopause overlook is that it’s no fun being young either. Being young has its own problems. True, you’ve more chance of attracting beautiful women and making love to them when you’re younger, but I seem to recall there was a downside to all of that as well, and one I definitely don’t miss.

penyghentOn my way up to the Dales, I stopped at some lights and a brand new Maserati pulled up beside me. It was growling like a tiger with bad guts. The driver wasn’t a silver fox, just a rich bastard with more money and ego than he knew what to do with. I could tell what was coming. When the lights changed that Maserati set off like a bat out of hell, the driver’s point being that his willy was bigger than mine. By the time I’d even snicked her into second, he was just a dot in the distance. His car was worth about £60K, mine about £900, not much of a contest, yet he still felt the need to establish his simian “superiority”.

It doesn’t take much of a psychologist to work out he’s got a considerable menopause waiting for him.

My MX5 is fourteen years old now, done 80K, still drives like new. The 1.6 litre engine isn’t particularly quick, but she’s gutsy on the hills. We attract a lot of bumper stick on BMWs and Mercs and Audis because they’re more powerful and go faster, and their drivers are rude and impatient and not a bit dim. She’s generally in good nick. Her back wings have had some work in the past, but they’re starting to bubble though again and she’ll need a bit of tidying up soon. Returning to her this afternoon after a couple of hours on the fells, I was glad to see her, glad to pull off my boots and settle into her, and I was looking forward to dropping the top and enjoying the sunshine on the drive home. In short she adds something to the day that those old family hatchbacks did not. It’s significant, I think, that I remember none of them with affection.

The menopause in males isn’t about hormonal changes, it’s about the dying of the light, the fear of death and the realisation of its proximity at time when we feel we’ve not yet begun to live, when we haven’t yet made a difference in the world. The ego cannot accept its impending annihilation and seeks as a last gasp some way of making its mark even if that risks killing us or making us look stupid. And the bigger the ego, the bigger the problem. There’s nothing surprising about this, no complex psychology, no thesis to be written. The risk is we’ll rage against it, or we’ll pretend we’re still in our twenties, that even as our hair greys, the sun will never set. Neither attitude is helpful, and neither are smart-arse psycho pop articles that miss the point entirely.

So if you’re a silver fox like me who missed out on that old MG when you were younger, don’t let societal jokes or pop psychologists get under your skin. Sure, you’re not in your twenties any more, but neither are you dead. If your kids have flown the nest and you can persuade the wife she’ll enjoy it, then go for it my friend. Stop thinking about how others see you; don’t live your life through their eyes. You are the eyes of the world as you see it, and it’s your purpose in life to go out and enjoy life as best you can, and if that means being a silver fox in an old MX5, then so be it.

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BullOkay, so it sounds like a potentially dull subject for non petrol heads, but I assure you what follows is only peripherally concerned with car batteries. Here goes,…

I find public opinion is only of use when taken as an average. If one man is asked to tell the weight of a bull, he will likely be wrong by a wide margin, but if you take ten thousand men and ask each what they think, then add up their thoughts and divide by the number of men, you’ll get an answer that comes very close to the true weight of the bull. It’s called the wisdom of crowds. There’s nothing spooky in this. It’s a question of probability.

But the wisdom of crowds is harder to detect in the online forums which these days form a global network of talking shops that mull over the multifarious issues that vex mankind. If you have a problem and you search online, I guarantee someone else not only has that exact same problem, they have already asked the question of an online forum, and thereby unleashed a tsunami of uniformed opinion in response.

It’s rather like asking a question in a large public house when everyone is volubly chatty from a few pints, and bursting with the urge to press their wisdom on anyone who will listen. The opinions fly, the volume is raised as the evening progresses. Then certain comments are misinterpreted by the more prickly pundits as insults to their intelligence and they fire back with less veiled insults, and much pettiness. Indeed, to read them it seems the wisdom of online forums, as opposed to crowds, approximates not to the truth of any matter at all, but to zero.

Speaking of one such vexatious issue, and returning now briefly to the titular matter, I noticed my car battery was rather an ill fitting one, suggesting it was not the original, but a later replacement, and not a very expensive one either – just your regular sealed lead acid job. Further, there were some pipes dangling in the vicinity which appeared related to the function of the battery, while not being actually connected to it if you know what I mean.

mazda slaidburn 2014

The battery of a Mk 2.5 MX5, like the one I drive and love, sits in the boot (trunk), tucked away in its own little well, hidden under the carpet. The problem with this is that when charging, batteries release oxygen and hydrogen gases, and these can accumulate in the boot (trunk), or worse, leak through into the cabin as you go along.

Hydrogen is not poisonous, but it is impressively explosive especially when mixed with just the right amount of oxygen. Normally, with a battery mounted up front under the bonnet (hood) of a car, these gases vent harmlessly away to the atmosphere. Mounted in the boot (trunk) however, this is not so, as boots (trunks) tend to be sealed tight to keep the weather out and your stuff dry. I presumed those little pipes of mine were supposed to be connected to the battery to allow these gases to vent outside of the bodywork. That they weren’t was an oversight, or just sloppy maintenance, and was soon remedied by the procurement of some small, plastic elbow joints from my local aquatic centre. These fit snugly in the little vent holes which most batteries have, and allowed the vent pipes to be neatly coupled up again. Whatever the risk from outgassing was, it was now taken care of.

For so simple a matter, the subject of the MX5 battery is one on which whole volumes have been written, on the various online forums, and scary reading they make too. This is all the more puzzling since the world as far as I know is not assailed by exploding MX5’s. Still, it makes one pause before accepting a ride, let alone owning one since, thanks to the incompetence and penny pinching of your average owner, according to said forums, one is likely to blow the back end off by merely starting her up. Nor would one ever store anything precious in the boot (trunk) as it would likely be dissolved by the “corrosive gases” emitted by that most fiendish of all gremlins, the incorrect, and worse, “cheap” battery, again according to the opinions expressed on said forums.

And opinions vary wildly, fingers jabbing in all directions, certain pundits opting only for ultra expensive space age batteries, as nothing else will do for their treasured vehicle. Other pundits are more reassuring, telling tales of running with a regular, inexpensive battery for decades, and no problems. One can almost hear the sucking of teeth, see the raising of eyes at the foolishness of others, the tutting, the shaking of sage heads,… in short the forums were no help whatsoever.

mazda engine

Instead, I talked to my friendly local (independent) mechanic.

Of course batteries do not emit corrosive vapours. Tales of MX5 boots (trunks) partially dissolved by the “incorrect” battery suggest to me more a problem with a battery actually leaking electrolyte (acid) because it’s been damaged. This is a risk with all lead acid batteries – even the supposedly sealed ones, since a crack is a crack and yes, even dilute sulphuric acid (nasty, nasty, stuff) will make light work of anything in its path, be it human, animal, mineral or vegetable. So, if you want to eliminate all possibility of such a disaster you should by all means plump for the more expensive batteries which use an electrolyte in gel form to stop the acid from dribbling all over the place in the event of an accident or a spillage. But a properly fitting, and securely clamped battery should not crack, so, if the budget will not allow a high falutin’ space age technology battery, don’t worry about it. Sure, your regular, inexpensive battery may be dead in a couple of years, but it won’t cause your car to burst into flames, so long as it is properly vented, and it won’t melt the floor of your boot (trunk) either, so long as it’s properly fastened down.

So, yes, it’s sensible to connect those vent pipes up to get rid of any hydrogen gasses accumulating in the boot(trunk) and leaking through into the cab, but again the risk involved in this is unknown, and you’ll find nothing to quantify it on the forums – only a lot of diametrically opposed opinion from the lackadaisical to the apocalyptic. I ran mine for about a year before picking up on it, and came to no harm. And in the end we have only our own experience to go on.

All told then, we should enjoy our MX5s, and avoid at all costs the risk of becoming self diagnosing hypochondriacs with the online forums as our only reference. When seriously in doubt go talk to your friendly local (independent) mechanic. He’s been to college to learn about these things in those long gone days when colleges still taught useful vocational stuff, and he’s seen a lot more cars than you ever will.

Of course if you have any opinions on the correct battery to use in a Mk2.5 Mazda MX 5, feel free to share them. I’m full of opinions myself of course, but I’d never vent them on a discussion forum.

I keep a blog for that.

That way I always get the last word.

So, mine came with an AC Delco from goodness knows where. It fitted the original battery tray perfectly but sat too high, so I couldn’t get the boot (trunk) carpet down properly. The battery clamp also sat too high, and it was taking up valuable luggage room.

I replaced it with a Yuasa HSB063 from Halfords. This sat low enough to get the carpet back down properly but wouldn’t fit the battery tray so I made a new tray from impermeable packing foam, I also had to modify the clamp a bit. With some tweaking in the vice and few odds and ends from the garage, the clamp worked perfectly. Connected up the vent pipes, and the job’s a good ‘un.

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My Mazda MX5 – and other vehicles!

mazzy interiorMotor vehicles get a bad press these days. They burn petrol which, as every eco-warrior knows is the Devil’s sperm, spawning a carbon catastrophe that’ll melt the ice-caps and flood half the world. But they can also be great fun.

When I was seventeen I rode a motorcycle to work. It was a question of necessity. I had no car and the cost of public transport exceeded my earnings at the time. It wasn’t a big bike, just a 150cc MZ from the old GDR, and it trailed a permanent burned haze of two stoke oil. When I wasn’t commuting on it, I’d take it out on the country roads and thrill to the feel of it as we canted through the bends. If you don’t understand the allure of bikes, it’s because you’ve never ridden one.

Of course bikes are dangerous, and if you ride one, you will come off it. I did, twice, and on neither of those occasions was the situation avoidable. And the bigger the bike, the greater the risk of killing yourself. They’re also unpleasant to ride in winter. In 1978 my commute was 10 miles and ’78 was a bad winter. I’d manage 5 miles before I had to pull over and warm my hands on the exhaust pipe. I’d arrive at work for 8:00, and it would be mid-morning before my legs stopped shaking. That winter also taught me that bikes are not great on snow and ice. Selling the bike and buying a car before the next winter came was a question of survival.

mazda slaidburn 2014But most cars are dull. I say most, not all. I had some fun with an MG Midget. This was 1980 or so. The car was 12 years old, and showing its age with some serious mechanical faults and rampant tin-worm. It felt good from behind the wheel, but really it was in its death throes – nearly killed me too. When I revved it hard, the throttle linkage would jam on the balance pipe between the carburettors. The first time this happened was at a junction with a busy road and the car nearly rammed me into a passing wagon.

I was just a kid, earning very little. The car was a lemon, and I couldn’t really afford to repair it properly – and that car needed a lot of work, plus it had tried to kill me, which for all its sprightly fun, rather set me a’gin it. It amazes me when I see Midgets of that same age now, nearly forty years later, and I boggle at the amount of effort it must have taken to keep them on the road all this time. But they are something. Alas for me, the Midget was the last of the fun cars and there followed thirty five years of dull commuter mules.

mazzy at rivingtonWhen I see them now, and their bigger siblings, the MGB’s, I cannot suppress a smile. A guy roared past me recently in one, top down, mid winter, flying jacket and a huge grin on his face. He was feeing the road, feeling the air, feeling the twist of the bends and the rattle of his suspension. But those MG’s are getting on a bit now – I mean the real ones. They’re not the sort of cars you can have a casual relationship with any more. They weren’t exactly supercars. They weren’t exactly reliable either, but they weren’t just about getting from A to B. They were about the journey. They were about the feel of the road. They were: Roadsters.

Why all this talk of MG’s in a piece about the Mazda MX5, a vehicle of distinctly oriental vintage? Well, I’m coming to that, and my argument runs that when the British open top roadster died in 1980, the market was left wide open, and what filled it was the MX5, or the Miata, as it’s known in the USA. Also the Z3 from BMW. The MG badge is still around of course, it adorned the late revival MGF from ’95 to 2011, but that car, though well loved suffered also from the same manufacturing and design faults as its forebears. How to bend the head on an MGF? Just start her up. Enthusiasts will argue endlessly over which is the better car, but what no one can dispute is that the MX5, from the Mk 1 in 1989 to the more recent Mk 4, has fulfilled the need for a small sporty roadster very well.

Mazda3Mine’s a Mk 2.5, built in 2002. This car is Japanese to its core – no UK offset manufacturing here, it’s pure import. I bought it a year ago to run as a second car because I was feeling dead from the neck down and needed cheering up. It’s my menopause mobile, but I prefer to call her Mazzy. Half Mazda, half Mazzy Star. What does the Mazda MX 5 feel like? It feels like a smile.

At 12 years old it’s as old as that Midget was, similar miles too, about 75K, but unlike the Midget, there’s no serious tin-worm, no oil or coolant leaks, and all the mechanics still feel like new. Also, unlike that old Midget I trust her to get me further than the next town.

But what is it? Is it a sport’s car? Well, if you drive the strictly unmodified stock version like I do, with a 1.6L engine, no, it’s not really a sport’s car. It feels about as powerful as my 1.8 litre  Vauxhall Astra, which is an admirably smooth commuter mule. But does my Astra make me smile as much as my MX5? Em no. Tune the MX 5 up with lots of sporty bits and pieces, and yes, you’ll get yourself a sport’s car. But in standard form, what you’ve got is a roadster.

So what is a roadster? Well, imagine last weekend – late winter, the temperature nudges up above 12 degrees C, and you get a rare day of sun from dawn ’till dusk. So you pull on a heavy jacket, turn up your collar, drop the top and you drive,… and you feel? Well, you feel good. A roadster is simply a car with no roof and two seats, and it’s about more than getting from A to B. With a roadster, the journey itself is the thing.

The car is light for its size, and with a rear wheel drive it’ll dance nicely on ice or in the wet if you push it. In the dry, it’s well behaved. Being a two seater, the driving position is set a little further back than on your standard car, and it’s also lower, the suspension stiffer, which means when you’re doing 30, it feels like 50, and it has a different feel through the bends because you’re sitting with the car’s weight balanced equally in front and behind you. It’s a punchy little car that you can drive without the top on. It’s like my motorbike. Like I said earlier, if you don’t ride bikes, you won’t understand the allure, and if you’ve never ridden in a roadster with top down, you won’t get the allure of that either. And no it isn’t draughty unless you drop all the glass as well – save that treat for a really hot day.

Mazzy at BuckdenWhen I bought Mazzy, the guy said I could probably run her for a couple of years, get her out of my system, and I’d still have a car worth a couple of grand. But I’m entering my second year now, and I know we’re a long way from purging my system of whatever it is this car makes me feel. Ahead of me, this summer, is a travel-lite tour of the Yorkshire dales, and another of the English Lakes. Would any of that mean the same in a dull, grey commuter mule. Em no.

Can the Mazda MX5 do the Nurbergring faster than a Porsche 911? With expert tuning, lots of add-on bits and an experienced driver at the wheel, it’s worth a shot – otherwise I wouldn’t count on it. But for your average guy, aching for a bit of fun and a car that makes you smile just thinking about it? Well,… let’s just say I’m very fond of the Mazda MX 5.

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