Posts Tagged ‘road tax’

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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It’s a year now since I bought the Mazda – a hot Saturday, the last weekend of May. It was a clear day, sunny-bright, confetti of pink and white cherry blossom floating in a breathless air. I’d been feeling something of an old excitement all the previous week, I mean at the thought of picking her up, like a kid warming to Christmas. It was unfamiliar, this feeling, sign of a misspent middle-age perhaps? sign of that peculiar kind of maturity, one in which we had learned to reign our selves in so hard against the risk of disappointment we ‘d forgotten what there was left in life to be enjoyed. Too much of the nine to five, and not enough of one’s self, Michael.

But anyway, there I was, driving her home with the top down and feeling like a million dollars, feeling like a free man and that in some mysterious way, long coming, I had at last reconnected with a much younger and more openly enthusiastic part of my self. I was eighteen when this dream first took shape, fifty three before I drove it away. It was just an old car, 12 winters gone and needing a bit of work – a very small dream, you might say, but sometimes they are the best; richer in meaning and more yielding to interpretation.

The summer was a good one – warm, and the rains held miraculously in check, as if by charms, as soon as I peeled open the top. I explored the Dales mainly, and mainly topless, a middling stone’s throw from home, a place whose open moor-top roads I cannot now drive any other way and see them the same as I saw them last summer – see them, feel them, taste them. I remember in particular the drive from Aysgarth, towards Hawes, a morning in which Wensleydale glowed golden under a warm Godlike blessing of late morning sunlight. There came a moment in which the car no longer purred and rattled along contentedly, but became a luxurious carpet on which we glided, cushion soft, cruising mid air, and the scene became a broad skied gasp of delight.

Such was the summer, a time of warm memories, followed too soon by a winter of anticipation in which the old car lay under a dust sheet more days than not, dreaming of the summer to come. So when the road-tax man came calling for his £265 of wet blanket, I paid up, armoured against the usual frown. Ditto, the shyster insurance man who tried to sting me for £475, but dropped it to £300 when I asked if there’d been a mistake. I smiled as I asked, because I know this game, know there is no sense or reason to the oftentimes bizarre and rotten monied foundations of the world we are still far too enamoured of. And the Mazda would never be a frowny face. My Mazda MX5 is always a smile.

But now, with my legal presence on the roads negotiated for another year, I find the season much colder. It is rainy, squally, temperatures still scraping freezing on the fell-tops. And I’m reminded that the reason we revere memories of a good British Summer, is that they are so rare. A maritime climate lends a randomness to the mix, our summers being more a shake of the dice than a predictable turning up of the wick. We have to take what comes and with a smile, so we wear our summer shorts and hats, even though we shiver in the grey of a cold front, and the gale snatches our hats away.

I drove out to the coast last night, a gorgeous evening, high in blue skied contrast, but as yet still low in temperature, a stiff breeze dropping it to 6 degrees and the cherry blossom already blown away by a greedy air. The vinyl of the top felt stiff and frigid with cold as I folded it, and I wondered if I should leave it up, but that would be to waste the sun and the wide skies peeling back just then to shades of vanilla and tobacco. So, I was triple layered, warm hatted and gloved up as we rode towards the setting sun. I was perhaps considered mad by the usual parasitic coterie of rear view hogging Audis and BMW’s, ever pushing for a squeeze past.

Southport’s Marine Drive is something of a roller coaster, sinking slowly into the Ribble’s estuarine mud, becoming over time a long and curiously rippling ribbon of a road, the highs of it scored by the sparking strike of exhaust pipes, and sumps and sills. At fifty the big fat four by fours are gaily bouncing, their springs topping out, struggling to remain grounded, body-shells lolling like unballasted ships tossed in a swell. Hard sprung, the Mazda remains more firmly rooted, and we managed to lose the bully boys, at least until the bit where the limit drops to thirty. Here they had me cold and tore past in a series of multi-litred, self important flashes, doing sixty.

On the long strip of the promenade car park, people were lingering in the warm interiors of their cars, interiors lit with amber now as a post nine p.m. sun sank to within a finger’s width of the horizon. Pulling up among them I was immediately cold. A topless roadster’s warm enough when you’re motoring and the heater’s roaring louder than the engine, but stop a while and the cold will find your legs, and the tips of your ears, refuse to let you settle in. But that’s part of the fun – the drive I mean. Old cars like this are all about the drive for me, not so much the destination any more.

This can be a season of anxieties, cresting the month of mid-summer, a season of waiting for the whistle that will say the time we have been waiting for is upon us, that we might cast our top coats and stride out at ease and with the sun smiling down upon us. Yet we are stricken, downcast by the feeling that by the time we have begun, the time remaining will be already too short, the summer run, the season turning, while all we can do is wait for the chance to get out and do something.

But this year I am already doing it.

In the once upon a time I would not have driven out to watch the sun set. I would have thought about the cost of petrol, sat at home while shadows lengthened, and checked my blog stats. The Mazda is no longer a stranger to me, but I still see the road differently when I drive it. I hope in other ways too, I have learned to enjoy the world more as it is, feel more my presence in it as a thing to be enjoyed, than one to be resisted. Life is the journey, not the destination. It is not the rising nor the setting sun but every moment inbetween.

Sure, the sunset from Southport’s Marine Drive is always worth a trip, but I didn’t wait for it, and why? Well, that rippling ribbon of road is even more fun in the opposite direction!

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Where? To Kettlewell. You know Kettlewell? You take the M6 to the Tickled Trout, you turn right on the A59, drive as far as Skipton, then turn left up Warfedale, and count the villages off one by one. When there are only three left before you reach the head of Warfedale, and everything’s become green and lovely, and the road disconcertingly narrow, you know you’re in Kettlewell.

Kettlewell, Starbotton and Buckden, three waypoints on the Dales Way, three of the most beautiful, unspoiled villages in England (except for all the other villages in Warfedale of course – including Burnsall and Bolton Abbey). Anyway, three of the most beautiful settings, in the upper valley of the Warfe! I’ve been coming here for years, but recently it struck me it had only ever been in the winter months, when the hills around were bleak, hard with frost and white with snow, when I took to the high trails with my walking companions to do stuff that grown men should have known better than to do, risking frostbite and broken legs. It was time instead, I thought, to bring the family – numbers one and two sons, and the good lady* Graeme, and to simply kick back and enjoy the scenery for a change.

Kettlewell is an impressive stone bridge over the River Warfe. It is a delightfully traditional garage, it is a pub, it is a tea shop, and a bus-stop. It is an unspoiled gem. Grasmere was like this once, maybe a hundred years ago. Now Grasmere’s touristy and trinket shops and hotels at two hundred quid a night. Not Kettlewell. With Kettlewell, what you get is a pretty little Dales village, a place where people live, where people farm. All right, there are holiday homes popping up here – and I wouldn’t mind staying in one or two, but the place retains a genuine edge that the more well known towns and villages of the neighbouring Lake District have now completely lost.


I’ve been guilty of mistreating old Grumpy recently. For the past three years I’ve been driving it like a girl (sorry girls, but you know what I mean), fearful of burning too much precious petrol, or hammering it so hard I’ll blow a fragile gasket, because you’ve only to look at the damned thing and you’ve broken something! I’ve also been prowling car-parks, scrutinising the tax discs of other cars to find one that’s paying more than me, and sad to day, I’ve yet to find one. Even a lip-smackingly sexy Jaguar I parked next to recently was paying less road tax, which makes me wonder if old Grumpy is actually a super hot-rod in disguise, that only the government knows about its deadly secret powers, and I’d be better  appreciating it more, instead of merely shaking my head in dismay and claiming plaintively that there’s been a mistake – that it’s only a 1.8 litre Vauxhall Astra, and not a Mercedes, like the one I parked next to on the car park at Kettlewell, and that was paying the same road tax as me.

Does anyone pay more than £245 a year? Please, dear readers, confess it, and put me out of my misery!!!

So,.. I finally decided to get my money’s worth, and I’ve been flooring it a bit more, zipping merrily along, and not caring if I broke it, not caring if my average MPG dropped nearer to 30 than 40. We picked a hot day for the trip, 25 degrees by noon, and I cast caution to the winds, cranking the aircon up, ignoring its pathetic squeals for mercy,… and that was how we arrived at Kettlewell, in a cloud of dust, after pasting it for an hour and a half from my humble abode in the west of Lancashire. Cost of parking was £4.00 for the day – not cheap, but neither was it in the same league as the Broadgate Meadow carpark AT GRASMERE, which charged me £6.50 a year ago! (did I mention that?)

Our visit to Kettlewell began with lunch, at the Cottage Tea Rooms, and the finest steak barm I think I’ve ever tasted – thank you Jayni. Then followed what I assured the good Lady Graeme would be a short stroll up the valley of the Warfe to Starbotton. (about 2 miles) There are two ways you can tackle this. If you’re feeling energetic, you cross to the western side of the valley and follow the paths up to Moor End farm, then down to the wooden bridge at Starbotton, and back along  the Warfe – a pleasant 1/2 day’s circuit. If you’re less of a fell-athlete, and prefer a flatter walk, like the good Lady Graeme, then you take the eastern side of the dale and follow an easy path that meanders through meadows and across one quaintly gated stile after another, until again you reach Starbotton.

Starbotton is a gem, but be warned apart from some beautiful abodes, there’s not much here – no tea room, no ice-cream parlour – only the Fox and hounds Pub, which is great if you’re a drinking man, but otherwise not much use of course.

The return route was via the Dales Way, which keeps pretty much to the River, and then a celebratory ice cream, back at the Cottage Tea Rooms in Kettlewell. (thank-you Michael).

It had been a long week, a hard week, the dayjob sticking in my craw more than usual – to the extent that I deliberately cut it short and took the Friday off in order to escape to the Dales. So, you get in the car and you drive fifty miles with your nearest and dearest to a countryside haunt. You have lunch, and you take a walk, and the pressure and the stress melt away, as if by magic. But you have to ignore the price of fuel – it doesn’t matter that the round trip cost me £20.00 (damn, I wasn’t going to work it out). On the upside, it would have cost more than that at the cinema for just a couple of hours’ entertainment, including adverts. What I mean is, don’t neglect the power of the countryside to refresh you. If money’s tight, if money’s disappearing down the drain on your gas and electrickery bills, and your council tax, which is it to be? A bit more retail therapy? Line the pockets of those cigar smoking fat-cats? Or will it be a trip to the Yorkshire Dales? I know which one will cost you less, and do you more good. Retail thereapy is a con – don’t fall for it. Get some fresh air instead. Don’t be a consumer. Be a human being. Visit Kettlewell.

Graeme out.

* “Lady”: WordPress proofreader tells me this is bias language.  I beg to differ. Or am I hopelessly out of touch?

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