by Zoë Sharp
New Year turned into something of a mini adventure for us, as I mentioned in my blog over on my own website last week. And Rob’s almost Zen-like post of yesterday made me realise there was something about the whole experience of being out on the roads in bad conditions that struck me as really, really annoying.
Most people should not drive.
Most people, if truth be known, do not drive because it brings them any kind of enjoyment or satisfaction. They simply need to get from A to B, and the car has become the easiest way to do this. Particularly if you live in a rural or semi-rural area in the UK, when the buses run if they feel like it and regular local trains are something your granny talked about in the days before the Beeching Axe, while modern out-of-town shopping centres have killed the diversity of the high street.
If you want anything, you’ve got to get in your car and drive to get it.
And nobody will admit to being a bad driver. They might say they play a little golf, but aren’t very good at it, but they will not say, “I drive a little – of course, I’m crap, but I drive a little.” And it’s worse over here where automatic cars are not the norm, so for some people clutches are a service item.
The other problem is the car has changed beyond all recognition in recent times. Years ago, when I was heavily involved in the classic scene, I used to drive all kinds of vehicles, including on one occasion a 1920s Bentley. Driving an open sports car from that era was a full-engagement exercise, with no power assistance of any kind on the steering or cable-operated brakes, plus it had a right-hand crash gearbox and reverse pedal layout. The skinny cross-ply tyres gripped every other Thursday, and the suspension was best described as agricultural.
But you had to concentrate on what you were doing, all the time.
Now, however, we sit in our squashy climate-controlled, heated-seat little boxes, listening to high-quality stereos, with our back-seat passengers watching DVDs, waiting for instructions from the sat-nav on what to do next. There’s no manual choke to keep an eye on until the engine warms through, while other niceties of car control are taken care of by cruise control, anti-lock brakes, four-wheel drive, auto-tiptronic gearboxes, and traction control. Much of the time, you don’t even have to remember to turn on your headlights or windscreen wipers, because the car will do it for you, and it will squeak at you if you forget to turn them off.
And, if the worst should happen, we’re held in place by our auto-tensioning seatbelts while a dozen airbags explode in our faces to cushion the impact. And once the dust has settled we whip out our mobile phones to call breakdown recovery. In fact, all aspects of the motor car have grown more sophisticated.
Drivers, if anything, have grown a whole lot less sophisticated, because now they expect to put less into the experience and still walk away. They’re distracted by their mobile phones (yes, Rob) and their texts, and their email, or surfing the web on their iPhone, or their drive-thru coffee, or burger, or fishing in the passenger footwell for their cigarettes (as the driver admitted to doing when he knocked two friends of mine through a dry stone wall) or even trying to stop their dogs getting to the meat in the cooler on the rear seat (as the guy who knocked down Stephen King admitted to doing).
We recently saw a typical White Van Man on the motorway not only yacking on his phone, but taking an order on a clipboard resting on the steering wheel while working out a quote on a calculator at the same time. Gawd alone knows what he was using to steer … (And WVM, by the way, is not a racist statement. There are just a lot of guys who drive round in white vans – usually Mercedes Sprinters – doing 100+mph in the outside lane of the motorway. It’s a recognised phenomenon.)
But I digress slightly.
One thing that New Year showed us was the people in the UK cannot drive in snow. The first thing they do is turn on their fog lights. Why? WHY? In the hundreds of thousands of miles we’ve driven over the last twenty-plus years, we’ve encountered severe conditions where rear fog lights were actually necessary, maybe half a dozen times. If you can see my headlights behind you, you can turn off the fog lights because I can sure as hell see you, and having that damn bright light shining in my eyes is not only asking for road rage, it also distracts me from seeing your brake lights come on.
So stop it. Stop it now. Do not make me open a can of whup-ass on you.
So, there we were last weekend, sliding around in the increasing levels of snow on one of the highest roads in Britain, watching people slithering off the tarmac and wheelspinning, and I wondered how many times bad driving has featured as a plot device in a crime novel. Or a character’s been rammed at an intersection just when they’ve had an epiphany about the case, which prevents them from telling anyone or catching the bad guy.
Any examples spring to mind?
And what about you, ‘Rati – any driving woes you want to share?
I hope you like the pix I found for this blog, by the way, and I make no comments WHATSOEVER about male versus female drivers. Uh-uh.
This week’s Word of the Week is catastrophe, which not only has the usual accepted meaning of a sudden disaster or misfortune, or a sudden violent upheaval in some part of the earth’s surface (geol) but also a final event or the climax of action of the plot in a play or novel.