Posts Tagged ‘driving’

on cars

Listening to colleagues, younger people, but aren’t they all these days, talking about their ideal car, should they have the cash, reminded me of one of the ways that I used to try to get myself off to sleep: I’ve won the lottery, so what cars will I buy.

I use the past tense because I don’t do it anymore. As much as I still love cars, there is not a new one on the market that I would really want to own. As a child I could tell the difference between any of the badge engineered offerings from Rootes or BMC, a Consul from a Zephyr or a Zodiac and all at a hundred yards or more. I truly lusted after cars and that passion stayed with me for a long time. Until fairly recently really, but now I survey the offerings around any car park and there is nothing that fires my juices.

Part of the problem is that there is so little difference between marques: The days when each make had its own house style are largely over. Aerodynamics or NCAP see to be blamed more that anything else, but I can rarely pick one make from another at just a glance, and there is just nothing there to excite me.

The other problem is in all all the electronic aids that come with a car now, and that have, for me and many others of my generation, taken the pleasure from driving. I do. to enjoy having a vehicle that wants to out think me.

There was a time when my Walter Mitty moment of unlimited funds would start with the purchase of an Aston Martin DB6. I thought those better looking that the DB5, and so that would always be top of my list. Than perhaps a Bentley. I preferred those to a Royce, a coupe rather than a saloon, but with a bit more luggage space for continental touring (the Berkshire Belle does not travel light). Then there would need to be something practical, especially for the Winter, so an all wheel drive of some sort, but not a Range Rover for pretty much the same reasons as avoiding a Royce. Finally an everyday car, and most nights, if I had not gone to sleep by this point, I would settle on a repmobile, with all available extras of course.

My prejudice is showing a little here, and I freely admit to some inverted snobbery. Whilst I don’t, generally, care what others think of me the are some cars that I know full well will pigeon hole you in most folk’s minds and therefore influence how they treat you on the road. My default driving philosophy is that every other driver is trying to kill me, so there is no need to further invite trouble.

And that brings another factor into choice of car: Modern driving is rarely a pleasure. Too many vehicles for too little tarmac, and most cars operated by people who are not real drivers. Just as there are many people who can get a tune out of a musical instrument, but far fewer genuine musicians, there are lots of people who can operate the controls of a car, but very few who can actually drive the thing. Modern driving aids don’t help as I mentioned above, but there are things about modern cars that I would not want to give up on.

The cars of my youth were often draughty and heating systems were hit and miss. Car radios were also very basic and overall reliability was an issue. Assuming I had unlimited funds, perhaps my ideal would be to take a modern car platform and clothe it in an approximation of a modern body. To some degree one of the favourite cars that I have owned in the last twenty years was just that. My S type Jaguar was a contempory American Lincoln chassis with a body that owed a lot to the MkII Jaguars of the 1950s/1960s.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, and maybe I need to accept that my glory days of driving are over. At least I got to drive some good stuff of less crowded roads with rare speed checks. I’ve driven over 1,000,000 miles over two continents and nine countries in a variety of cars, vans and trucks. I’ve had my fun, so I’ll settle for riding around in our Japanese mid-sized SUV. If I want a bit of fun then I’ll do another track day like the one I did a couple of years ago when I took out three of my teenage dream cars on a closed circuit.


on stupidity

OK, I am old, and it is a fact of life that times change. Old gets like me are out of touch and all that, long live the generation gap (or gaps, in my case). I get all that stuff because, if you think about it, I was young once too. I’ve done it all in my time.

The thing is though, and I know it’s our fault because we bred you lot, and your parents. We voted, or didn’t, and have, along the way, allowed a lot of crap to infect society, or which the worst factor is that we have created a world full of idiots.

When I was young we were competitive. We wanted to be better that our parents. We wanted to be better than each other. Being a gormless idiot was not on our radar, and nor was just being one of the mediocrity. We understood winning and losing and, whilst we wanted to be winners, we were prepared to risk losing to get there.

Knowledge and understanding were vital and we sought knowledge. Looking stupid was an anathema, so it bemuses me when I see examples of stupidity almost being celebrated these days. How did we let it happen? The silent majority have a lot to answer for.

What sent me off on this musing was media coverage of motorists who had been caught out over the holiday period when their electric cars needed charging as they headed around visiting friends and relatives. Some of the quotes were priceless and, whilst I have some sympathy with folks who have been stuck at motorway services for hours, they brought it upon themselves.

I’ve driven for years, and one of the basics of self-preservation is that, before setting off, you check to make sure that you have enough fuel for your journey. On the times when even a full tank would not be enough I would have a plan about when and where to refuel so that I could get back. Electric cars don’t have enough range for many of the journeys that were being undertaken, yet people set off anyway, assuming that they could get to a charging point when they needed one, despite it being blindingly obvious that they would have a problem.

Then you got the seemingly considerable number for whom it came as a surprise that using car heat would reduce their range. Hello, where do you think the power for the heat comes from? You’ll have the same problem with the air-con in the Summer. OK, some scared do have the capability to generate power on the move for powering auxiliaries, but it would seem that I lot of people set off with no real plan for their journey and I’ll bet that most of them did not have a Winter survival kit one board either in case they did get stranded.

The number of people who claimed that this was their first major journey in their electric car just made things worse. Ignorance is no excuse, and if we are in a position where the planet has limited resources, then why are we allowing these idiots to waste them? I can’t normally be bothered to get angry, but this gets me close.

This is just one example, but the problem of “nobody warned us” is everywhere now. Take responsibility. Learn, do your research, take pride in knowing, but don’t be certain (that’s another story). Just be sure that you have worked it out and own your decision.

The accusation from the young that we fucked up the planet is partially true; we bred our accusers and allowed them to grow up as snowflakes with a level of ignorance that would have been wholly unacceptable in our day. For that m’led, I plead guilty.

on talent, or the lack thereof

As I trawl around cyberspace I am often offered the chance to buy a t-shirt with the legend “I play guitar because I like it, not because I am good at it”. I also get the ukulele equivalent. I am tempted, but I doubt that I would wear one too often and they probably are not worth the money anyway, regardless of how true the sentiment is.

So far in my life I have not yet mastered playing a musical instrument. I had some piano lessons as a teenager, but no-one seemed to want to teach me how to play like Jerry Lee Lewis. A move of house saw the piano sold and I next found myself playing drums, not because I could, but because I had the van to transport the drums and one night when the drummer failed to appear I took over. My career as a stickman didn’t last too long anyway: Glaring furiously at the bass player when you reverse the beat coming off a fill doesn’t make you right.

Then my little sister and her fiancé bought me a Spanish guitar for my 21st birthday. I tried to teach myself and then turned to friends, but it doesn’t help when they take the thing off you and rip off something immediately recognisable with no apparent effort. Now I have four guitars and four ukuleles on which I make noises, some of which I can recognise, and, one one occasion, so did a fellow shopper in a Florida guitar shop when he joined in with me. It is the only time, so far, that I have played guitar in a duo.

There was a time in my driving career when I made the observation that there are a lot of people who can get a tune out of a musical instrument, but comparatively few have the genuine talent to really play one. I was making the comparison with driving, in that loads of people can operate the controls of a car adequately enough to get from A to B, but very few of them can really drive. I could, and have been a very adequate wheelman in my time in a wide variety of vehicles, but playing an instrument? No. I just do not have the feel, let alone the talent.

I play my various instruments because I love them all. I enjoy the look, smell and feel and the effort of trying to make recognisable noises helps to keep my grey matter active. Yes there is an element of “all the gear and no idea”, but I can live with that. It is probably getting a bit too late for me to get to the point of being able to play with others. Covid arrived on the day that I got a telephone number for a local ukulele group and so I did not make the call. Maybe at some point I will.

Maybe at some point I will also make that breakthrough and become sort of competent, maybe not. One thing is sure: I will not be buying one of those t-shirts.

If you are interested, my musical alter ego blog can be found here.

on driving

Driving was my dream from about age 4. Neither of my parents drove and so any vehicular journeys tended to be by ‘bus. Standing beside the road waiting for said transport I revelled in the sight of everything that drove by. At that age I had my first ambition for adult life; to be a coach driver. It seemed such a great job to take people off on adventures that gave them pleasure.

It would be another nine years before I got behind the wheel and actually drove something, and I did start at the top. My first time in control of a motor vehicle was in a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud series 2, reversing it out of the garage under the supervision of the chauffeur to wash it. From that I moved through the estate’s other cars; a Vauxhall Viscount, Triumph 2000, Alvis and on to the Land Rover. From there it was a short step to Massey Ferguson 135 and Fordson Major tractors. Aged 13 I could not physically do what a farmhand could do, but I could drive the tractors well enough to free up an able bodied adult. Sixpence an hour was my pay in school holidays for such endeavours and thus was my first foray into professional driving.

We had a motor club at school, run out of hours. During the Winter we would rebuild our Austin Sevens from the 1930s and then drive them during the better weather. We learned clutch control above all else and hill starts were never a problem for me after that. With all of that experience I should have passed my driving test first time, but I didn’t. Having failed I left it about 18 months before taking it again and this time passed. It embarrassed me at the time, but I’ve got over it.

I drove for a living many times over the next five years and then again a few times through the eighties and early nineties before becoming something of a full time road warrior between 1996 and 2008. I have driven in seven European countries (besides the UK) and in several parts of the USA. I even passed my driving test in Florida just for the hell of it. Going through some of my old records I have driven more than a million miles on the road since I started with vehicles from a 50cc moped to a 7.5 ton truck.

For most of my life to date I loved to get behind the wheel. There were odd days when the prospects of, say, Swindon to Newcastle and back on a Winter day appealed less than usual, especially if I knew that a shit meeting awaited me up North, but I usually had a decent car and was always prepared with a survival kit on board.

Over the last twenty years the road network has improved a lot, but roads have become more crowded and the standard of driving has declined at an appalling rate. As cars have become safer people take more risks perhaps, but I have no desire to get caught up in their accidents, especially if I have the Wokingham Wonder with me.

Not that I haven’t had my own accidents; I have, and I’ve been stopped for speeding a few times (including three in the USA). Following one of my accidents I opted for a driver improvement course in lieu of points on my licence (the cost of the course was higher than any fine I might have faced. It was over two days and I was paired up with a lad who had spun his Sierra into a fence. He, like me, was over 6 foot tall and, with our examiner, we crammed ourselves into a Ford Fiesta for our road work. The objective was to show a marked improvement on day two over day one or the original penalty might be applied. At the end of the course the examiner told me that I had been driving better on the first morning than anyone that he had seen on the course had managed by the end of day two.

These days I am no longer a road warrior, I drive less than 8000 miles a year now and, like any skill, if you don’t keep it up you risk losing it. My biggest problem is keeping up the concentration levels. I have always driven with the view that every other bastard out there is trying to kill me (and a couple have got close). Lockdown has curtailed our outings over the last couple of years and the days of banging in a 300 mile round trip on a Saturday to take the Berkshire Belle shopping in some metropolis or other are gone.

Modern cars are very comfortable, but are much less fun than the cars of my youth. Better tyre and suspension plus traction aids take away the pleasure of driving and negate the skills learned in car control. But I’ll trade that on today’s crowded roads for the comfort of a modern car.

My driving days will be over relatively soon, so is there anything else that I would like to have a go at before I stop? I have driven a single deck modern ‘bus in the depot doing the basics that candidates for a job go through before being allowed out on the road, but do quite fancy a go at a classic London bus, an RT or RM say. A modern artic might be fun too, assuming that I don’t get a nosebleed climbing up into the cab. My only attempt at reversing one, about 50 years ago, was not a great success, so another go might be worth trying. I have had a driving experience day with three 1960s classic cars; E Type, DB5 and Lotus-Cortina, but modern supercars have no appeal to me. I did get to sit in a 1967 Ferrari 375GTB once, but was not allowed to drive it. I suppose to drive a Ferrari would be an experience that I would enjoy, especially on a track where we could stretch its legs, but it would need to be from around that era.

For now I shall have to be content with my role as chauffeur to the Wokingham Wonder and transport her around in our Japanese mid-sized SUV.

Is the purpose of your visit business or pleasure?

September 20, 2010 3 comments

In a few days time I will walk down another jetway, shuffle along the queue to face an immigration official and face that perennial question; “Is the purpose of your visit business or pleasure?” Now I learned years ago that you don’t get smart with immigration, but the answer for me is almost always “Both”.

I’ve been very lucky over the years in that my various jobs have taken me all over the UK, to nine other European countries and to the USA. I’ve met so many people and seen so many sights that it truly has been a privilege.

I don’t enjoy the travelling as much as I used to. Driving has lost much of its lustre with Labour’s hatred of the motorist showing through in so many ways over their umpteen years in power together with the complete lack of any driving standards. Osama bin Liner and his crew screwed up flying and airports and as for the trains; the method of privatisation ruined them. If I have a choice I’ll drive because at least I can chose my own route, but my next big trip has to be by air because of the distances involved, not to mention the impracticality of crossing the Atlantic in a car.

This time I am fortunate enough to be flying business across the pond and first on the internal flights so I will, at least, be somewhat pampered en route, but it is the destinations rather than the journey that interest me.

I like places, but it is always the people that make the places more often than not. Yes, architecture and scenery have their own power and I am comfortable enough with my own company and a view on occasions, but it is the people who inhabit the buildings and spaces that generally provide interest. How many conversations have I had with strangers over the last forty years or so? I have no idea, but, whether they were the business contacts I had travelled to meet or just someone I ran into, I’ve never ceased to be fascinated by them, their lives and the conversations we have shared.

There is so much pleasure to be had from finding out about people and the way that they live. I may not always agree with their views on life, business, politics or whatever, but so what? I’ve always been in the school of tolerance of other people’s right to express themselves (which is why I stand firm against political correctness). In any case, how can you ever hope to understand if you don’t expose yourself to alternative points of view? Of course I have had my fair share of bores and bigots, but you learn to deal with them. The joy is in sharing and coming away from each encounter richer in your knowledge of the way life is lived in those parts.

So who will I meet on this trip? I’m going to run into someone in the departure lounge, be sat next to someone on the ‘plane and then there are the various airports and hotels on the trip. American hospitality is second to none and I reckon I’ll have talked to at least 300 people that I’ve never met before by the time I get home.

Those that travel on business often complain that it isn’t the jolly that those who don’t travel on business view it as. I would argue that it is what you make it. Yes it can be a chore if you let it be, but you don’t have to. Business or pleasure? Always both.

[tweetmeme source=”bowenjohnj”]

let the train take the strain, or is the car better by far?

Recently I had a meeting near London Bridge, but which way to travel? I go up to town about 15 times a year on average these days, and I’ve had bad luck with trains to and from Swindon one way and another in recent years.

An additional issue is that the cost is very high if I can’t book well in advance, and I try to keep costs down regardless of whether it is I or my client who is paying. A spontaneous run up to The Smoke from Swindon will cost about £120 including the car park for example. Another problem is the latter; car parking is a bit hit and miss if I’m not there reasonably early and, if I get there and can’t park, I’ve driven 15 minutes in the wrong direction and have therefore wasted about half an hour by the time I get to the M4 heading East to try an alternative.

Over time I’ve developed options for driving part way, usually to Reading where there is covered parking next to the station, a connecting walkway to the platforms plus extra train options from other routes that converge there. Nett journey time from my house to Paddington is about the same as going from Swindon, but the rail and car park charge is so much less that, even allowing for a mileage charge at HMRC rates, I can still do the run for about £35 less that by rail from  Swindon.

Another option is to drive to Basingstoke. The extra mileage cancels out the slightly cheaper rail fare making it on a par with the run to Reading, but the traffic is easier and the cross country drive via my home town of Newbury is pleasant. The trains take me into Waterloo, so it is an easy walk from there to London Bridge, or across the river into central London if I’m going to, say, the IoD or Whitehall.

So I favour this hybrid journey of road and rail combined. Certainly it is less effective in terms of my green leanings, but it provides me with a cheaper and less stressful journey and, for the part I do in the car, is far more comfortable. Trains these days I find appallingly uncomfortable, and yes, I do understand that my size has something to do with that, but, whilst I accept responsibility for my girth, I can’t do a lot about my skeletal height and width. Train seating these days is clearly designed for dwarves and midgets and the lack of anywhere decent to park my carcass takes a lot of the pleasure away from what used to be a treat.

I loved taking the train, especially in the 80’s when I travelled around a lot of the UK by British Rail. And also trains in Denmark, Germany, France and the USA.

Even in my various spells of commuting into the City during the 60s into the 80s there was a bit more space and the seats were tall enough for me to have somewhere to rest my head, but then some idiot design team came in and refurbished all the carriages with small seats, plastic and strip lighting and the world of rail travel went on a downward spiral for me.

Now we have these ultra modern trains with their garish and lurid colour schemes that offer a period of torture rather than the pleasures of old. Yes, they are usually clean and reliable, but are they what we need to attract people onto public transport, especially given the, often extortionate, cost?

Such is progress.

[tweetmeme source=”bowenjohnj”]