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Posts Tagged ‘parbold’

Mazda3One of my worst nightmares as a motorist is  killing someone, not just through my own carelessness but also the result of their own. Either way it would change my life for the worse, probably ruin it. It hasn’t happened yet, touch wood, and if I thought about it too much I’d never get behind the wheel of a car, but we must remain mindful of the possibility and always drive carefully so we maximise our chances of averting tragedy should the unexpected arise.

There are little roadside shrines all over the place now – touching displays of flowers, teddy bears and favourite football strips, each telling the story of a very personal tragedy. We drive by, perhaps momentarily reflective, wondering idly what happened and who it was that died. It happens a lot. Surgeons in A and E departments are hardened to it, that innocent people are killed randomly and pointlessly all the time in stupid road accidents. If we would like to preserve the fantasy that they do not, we need to take care, and think. And we need to slow down.

I have three points on my license, courtesy of a policeman’s radar gun and a momentary lapse of concentration – proof, if needed, that I’m as careless as anyone else. To an idiot driver three points aren’t going make any difference, but to one who liked to think he was a safe pair of hands, they’ve been a cautionary note. I think I am more careful now than I was before.

If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll know I’ve been spending time on the back lanes of West Lancashire, tootling about between the villages, enjoying the air with the rag-top down, in my menopause-mobile. A small sports car is not the best of vehicles for being safe in. I’ve noted other drivers expect certain things from it, and are puzzled when it doesn’t conform to type – to the extent that I’m considering fitting a defensive dashcam. But it’s been an education, my number one observation being that, sadly, people no longer drive for pleasure, no longer seem to enjoy just motoring. The price of fuel and the sheer volume of traffic on the roads has killed that golden age when we used to take pleasure in just getting there. If we’re not merely commuting, we drive to show off now, or to get from A to B as quickly as possible.

What’s struck me as well is the greater number of cyclists about on the roads nowadays. The Wiggins factor has spawned a new generation of pedallers, to say nothing of a consumer boom in very expensive bicycles. Of course, cyclists require careful handling, not just because they’re vulnerable, but because they can also be rude and aggressive, and no one wants an ugly exchange spoiling an otherwise pleasant day out.

Filtering at junctions is a major source of conflagration, cyclists weaving their way to the front of a long, multi-laned queue and assuming drivers can see them coming up from behind. I have been called an effing willywhatsit by a cyclist for lacking eyes in the back of my head while he lurked in my blindspot. Perhaps he didn’t realise I had my sunroof open and could hear him.

On the backlanes the cyclist presents an awkward obstruction, since there’s a fundamental mismatch between the speed of a bicycle and a car. The Wiggins factor is thus responsible for the fact that more of my time is now spent crawling at ten miles an hour behind a pair of male (usually) Lycra clad buttocks. I don’t complain of the female variety, but of course the additional danger in that situation is one of distraction.

Speaking as a man I find there’s something half way between ridiculous and repulsive about the male buttock – especially when it’s in your face, so to speak.The temptation is to overtake when it might not be safe to do so, but a decent long straight, with no hidden corners doesn’t always come to hand when you most need it. What you need instead is patience. Several cyclists dotted along a stretch of bendy, twisty road, travelling in both directions, or a whole pack of them, demands a high degree of judgement and balance between brake and accelerator. Inexperienced, unskilled and impatient motorists dread encountering cyclists, even hate them, but it is always the motorist who bears the greater responsibility for safety here, since he is capable of doing the most damage.

I was stuck behind a pair of unsightly buttocks for a number of twisty miles last night. The guy was going at it hell for leather, managing an impressive twenty miles an hour, even up a slight incline. There was nowhere to pass safely, so I hung well back, much to the chagrin of the brightly lit BMW, riding intimidatingly close to my rear bumper.

When a clear straight came up, I was able to ease by safely and the cyclist graced me with a cheery thankyou. I think the fact we were both in the open air, and audible to one another helped engender civility. The enclosed environment of a saloon-car by contrast seems only to encourage petulance.

The road had a forty limit and I accelerated to just under it. Forty felt safe, given the forward visibility and distance between the bends. The Beamer passed me seconds later like I was standing still. I didn’t see him giving me the finger, but I felt it as I ate his dust. He must have hit sixty before I lost sight of him. I trust he managed not to hit anything else.

That network of little lanes makes for a lovely run out of an evening, but one must be careful, and not just of bicycles; this is a big horsey area too – lots of farms and stables dotted about, and horses sauntering along the pretty country lanes. A horse and rider presents an even bigger challenge to the motorist than a bicycle – they require more space to get around, and they move very slowly indeed. I’m always afraid of spooking them and springing a rider into the road. I have ridden horses, all be it appallingly, and I know it takes some guts to mix them with traffic. How the brightly lit Beamers manage them I’ve no idea. It’s a wonder they don’t explode with self-important rage.

Most of the villages hereabouts have strict twenty mile an hour speed limits now. Part of my route last night brought me through Croston. It’s a tight passage through this lovely little village, lots of parked cars and people enjoying a sunny evening outside the pubs and restaurants. It’s not easy to drive at twenty and I’ve noticed few bother, as if it were only an advisory limit, that thirty or even forty is still okay. But it’s not. In an automatic you need to drop the drive down a notch to manage it properly. (That slot with the number 3 next to it will do). In a manual it seems to sit awkwardly somewhere between third and fourth. There’s a reason fothat speed limit; hit someone at twenty and you’re unlikely to kill them.

It was in Croston I picked up a couple of youths in their fluorescent Ford Condom. They glued themselves to my bumper and didn’t take kindly to my half mile of doggedly obeying that twenty limit. Indeed they gave me a good blast on the horn to draw attention to their displeasure – to say nothing of their ignorance and stupidity. Then they raced past, subjecting me to my second shower of dust and stones that evening. I’d like to remonstrate with them here for needlessly frightening the life out of the good lady Graeme. I’d also like to remind them that inappropriate use of the horn is against the law. It’s also likely to cause offence, and is the number one catalyst of road rage incidents.

They’re probably good lads really, but people change on the roads. I don’t know if we become more our true selves,… or less.

Drive safely.

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mazda2I’m still in the process of relearning how to drive. Twenty years of cruising about in automatics has left me unable to judge the best gear to be in when entering bends and also what a car feels like, literally through the seat of my pants. I’m enjoying the ride though and my teacher, this old but rather lovely MX5 is very patient with me, treating me to a rediscovery of the thrill of movement while forgiving me as I fluff and bluff my way up and down the gear box. I’m told her patience will be more sorely tested in the wet, so I’m avoiding that for now.

This evening I’m touring the lanes between Rufford, Parbold and Wrightington, an area threaded through with a network of little byways that have been the backdrop to various love affairs over the years, both real and imaginary. The weather is fine, clear blue skies deepening to tobacco at the western horizon, an horizon that comes right down to the plane and is interrupted only by low hedgerows. This is a big sky kind of place. The car is proving to be something of a time machine tonight because suddenly I’m nineteen again and I’m listening to Rumours on the player, and one song in particular is proving especially emotive:

Listen to the wind blow
Watch the sun rise,…

rufford old hall

Rufford Old Hall

We’re just coming up to Rufford Old Hall on the A59 – home to the Heskeths for 500 years. They say Shakespeare debuted here in the days before patronage caught up with him. They still do his plays in the open air, on summer evenings – Midsummer Night’s Dream at Midsummer is quite special. The hall is a good day out on Sundays, somewhere to take one’s new love. You’re paying National Trust prices of course, but if there’s just the two of you it’s not so bad. In the later years it’ll be family tickets and sharp intakes of breath. But watch your speed here Michael, this is a thirty zone, remember? Down to fourth, revs settle around 2K, slight grumble from an engine that’s not quite warm yet but yearning for more throttle – mega-jolt from a pothole that rattles down the chassis.

Run in the shadows,…

Since the BBC took the bass “outro” of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and flogged it to death as the “intro” to their Formula One racing coverage, I’ve tended to skip this song out of sheer weariness, so the rest of the piece, and the lyrics in particular have atrophied to zilch. But listening to them this evening they’re winkling out startling memories as the sun sinks to ochre over the plane, and this little car shows me how to feel the road once more through both feet. In a sense it’s putting me back in touch with reality, and the song is reminding me how I once used to feel. Quick snatch down to third now, and a sharp left onto the B5246, dropping in a little corkscrew motion like we’re on smooth rails.

Damn your love,
Damn your lies,…

The song was written in 1976 at a time when the band was undergoing various upsets, marriage breakdowns and relationship break-ups. I caught up with them in 1979, around the time of the “Tusk” album, a period of romantic ups and downs for me too. The song reminds me that, in some respects, I have always been a teenager, feeling too deep, reaching too far and expecting too much, from women in particular. No disrespect girls, but it took me while to work out you were just human beings and not actually goddesses – well, except for Stevie Nicks of course who was and still is pure goddess.

And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain,…

At nineteen I was a third year engineering apprentice, studying for an HND at Wigan Technical college. In those days the day-job was just starting up, while inbetween my commutes, like most kids I was having my fingers burned and my heart fried in the furnace of fledgeling love. By contrast this evening I’m eyeing the endgame so far as the day-job is concerned, and having been happily married now for 25 years, it’s also a long time since I got my heart fried. Sometimes I forget this, but tonight it becomes a shade more real.

I can feel it.

And it’s interesting.

Listen to the wind blow,
Down comes the night,
Run in the shadows,…

Stevie Nicks 1977

Stevie Nicks in 1977 – Photo Wikipedia

This is not to say I don’t sometimes miss the intensity of feeling that first love brings, but it also leaves you a little numb, so you hold yourself in reserve as you age, shutting down those parts of yourself that are prone to most hurt. This is the trick of the adult – that emotional intensity would probably be too much for me now. But those early searing shocks are a natural proving ground, standing you in good stead later on, rendering you all the more able to cope with different kinds of loss – the death of friends and loved ones – and the sheer crazy mess of life.

I’d ride out this way with girls in the long ago, just for a drive and a talk and a place to be alone. I remember the scent of one girl very well and, before I became almost totally anosmic in later years, that same scent, like these lyrics, could release a long chain of memory. She’ll be fifty three now, but I’ve not seen her since ’79, so she’ll always be nineteen to me. There’s a tree, down a narrow lane off the 5246. We’d park under it and embrace while the sun set fire over the cornfields. Few travel that road, and even now you can usually guarantee the sense of being the last people in the world, at least for fifteen minutes or so. This was hardly dogging, those stolen moments. They were innocent times, times when it was sufficient for a man to thrill to the texture of a girl’s hair against his face, and the feel of her breath in his ear. Now anything goes, and nothing is too much or too depraved, or too precious to besmirch with haste.

In all my girls in those days I think I was searching for the muse I projected onto Stevie Nicks – me and a million other guys of course. Nothing worked out as planned. It was a tough learning process.

Damn your love
Damn your lies,…

The 5246, known also intermittently as Meadow Lane and Rufford Road is a lovely long run, twisty turney, lots of downshifts and then fast out of the bends, a lovely snarl from the engine out of second gear and a punchy acceleration that lights me up. It runs for a couple of miles, then brings you out onto the A5209 at Parbold. I spent the first five years of my married life here, up to ’93. Lovely village, Parbold, but stank to high heaven back then, courtesy of the Hoscar Sewerage works. I can’t smell it tonight, but that’s not saying anything.

windmill pub

The Windmill pub, Parbold

Long pull from here, up Parbold Hill, a brute of an incline, especially on a cold morning with a cold car that could barely manage 60 brake horse, but the Mazda’s nicely warmed now and even with her nose pointing at the sky the slightest nudge on the throttle yields a thrilling eagerness that’s thwarted only by the strategically placed GATSO cam.

Break the silence,
Damn the dark,
Damn the light,…

The pub at the top of Parbold Hill used to be called the Wiggin Tree, a popular watering hole, and a frequent haunt when courting. During our Parbold years, my wife and I would alternate between it and the Windmill on Friday nights. I blagged it for a scene or two in the Road from Langholm Avenue. It’s a Miller and Carter steakhouse now, a national franchise. Times have changed. Drinkers in pubs are simply in the way. The money is in food. I’ve not been in since it changed hands.

That reference to Langholm Avenue has me thinking of unrequited loves now. We’ve all had our share of those, but it’s a curse bourne in greater part by the reticent.

And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain,…

parbold hall

Parbold Hall

Which brings us nicely down to the ominously named Dangerous Corner at Wrightington, noting as we pass that Parbold Hall gardens are open, and I’m thinking I must make the effort one day, as those gardens are well spoken of. The house, originally dating to the 13th century but extensively remodelled in the last four hundred years, recently changed hands for 9.5 million. Nice twist here as we take the corner, very tactile steering, feeling every stone as we pick up Robin Hood Lane, then sharp left and out across High Moor, into the setting sun. There’s a faint clipping from the nearside rear disk, but it’s drowned out by an exuberant snarl as we punch along the straight.

Chain, keep us together
Running in the shadows,…

Sharp  right, past the Rigbye Arms, my current watering hole of choice, then a few nice twists and turns before the road falls away on Bannister Lane, the plane opening suddenly again and giving a brief impression of flight. I’m  keeping the speed to forty here, though the temptation is to floor it. I’m half conscious the pads are wearing thin and need a change, but I’m also wanting to resist the intimidation of this huge BMW I picked up at the Highmoor restaurant. He’s weaving about, sitting on my bumper, eager to prove his willy is bigger than mine – proof enough, if proof were needed, that we are descended from primates. There’s nowhere really for him to pass safely here but,… oh, there he goes – shower of chippings and a faint grey haze. Fast, ambitious, and obscenely monied. That car was easily worth fifty grand – more than I paid for that house in Parbold twenty five years ago, and which I’ve only just finished paying off. My car’s worth a mere two and a half thousand, but a whole lot more fun. He’s careless too as it doesn’t look like he’s bothering with the thirty zone at the bottom of the hill where you run into Bispham, just flashing through, and flashing on in his flashy self important way.

rigbye arms

The Rigbye Arms, High Moor

Down to third now and a sudden sweet reverberation from the exhaust, then slow past the Farmer’s Arms – easy to miss the right turn here onto Maltkin Lane and the final leg of tonight’s run. Here it is. Stay in third or drop to second? Hmm, too late – fluffed that one Michael. Never mind. That tug as we make the turn more than makes up for it. This is motoring in all its glory.

This is not nostalgia, this drive down the memory back-lanes of West Lancashire, in search of Stevie Nicks. This is more a searching of the past for pieces of soul we might have left stranded there. It’s good to gather them up now and then and feel oneself becoming whole again. You know it’s working when you feel yourself suddenly  energised by a thing you’ve all but forgotten. The trick is to bore deep down and be patient until you feel the energy of reconnection coursing through your veins. What does that feel like? Well, it feels something like this:

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