Tuesday 20 May 2008

Driving, and why it sucks.

Well now, this is a problem: the kids have been good this week, and Nini and I have not really had any amusing exchanges or discussions worth reporting. In fact, the week has been perfectly pleasant, which leaves me with a dilemma: what the hell do I write about? Perhaps I can take this opportunity to vent a little spleen...

My car has now clocked up 146,336 miles. This may not seem it, but it is a significant number: I first got the car secondhand when it was 'nearly new', but at 46,336 miles I drove over a raised lump in the road at speed (while trying to get to the airport on time) and knocked the sump clean off, which seized the engine - which meant I needed an entirely new engine block. And so this week, at 146,336 miles, the car (in its current form) and I have driven 100,000 miles together. In car years, that's like making it to your golden wedding anniversary, though I will own up and say we have not been entirely faithful to each other in that time: I confess that I driven other cars while we've been together, and I know that 'Mrs. Focus' has had other drivers inside her (so to speak).
We marked the occasion in appropriate style: we were sitting in a traffic jam averaging 2 miles an hour as we hit the big 'one-four-six -double-three-six' and as a special anniversary gift, the valve on the rear nearside tyre failed and let almost all of the air out, making the car dangerously unstable at anything over 20 mph and necessitating an emergency trip to the garage. Sigh.
By God, but I am slowly coming around to hating driving. Let me tell you why:

It's dangerous: Let's not even speak about the number of wrecked cars I've seen at the side of the road: they are depressingly numerous and if a week goes by without me having to drive past a nasty looking pile-up on the hard shoulder it will be a minor record. In my time driving I have not only been in 3 accidents as a passenger, but have seen a car hurtle side on into a van full force, a caravan break free of its tow bar and go ploughing off into the verge, and worst of all a canoe fall out of its trailer and hurtle directly toward my car, only to bounce just before it hit me and fly overhead (that last one was so close, and so terrifying, that I had to pull over and sit parked up for 20 minute before I stopped shaking. What a horrifically tragicomic way to die. It doesn't matter what you did in your life, the most memorable thing about you would have been that you died from a faceful of high velocity boating equipment. I suspect you would be remembered, but only as a Trivial Pursuit question...).
But leaving aside the whole everyday danger of the driving process itself (i.e very heavy chunks of metal, each full of highly flammable liquid and moving at tremendous speed in close proximity to each other) you also have the added complication that there are a huge number of drivers out there who are borderline halfwits (and psychotic to boot). Last week I was stuck in a slow moving queue of traffic when, a few cars ahead of me, a 4x4 pulled out sharply in front of another 4x4. Now, in truth, I think it was a case of 'six of one and half-a-dozen of the other' as to whose fault it was - the first driver was stupid to pull out, but the second one deliberately sped up when he saw what was happening - but of course, neither of them saw it that way. So what happened was the second driver aggressively pushed his way into the next lane and pulled alongside the first car, then promptly wound down his window and started throwing handfuls of loose change at him. While still in motion. On the motorway. In the fast lane.
So the first driver wound down his window, and started returning fire, and the two of them carried on like this for a good mile, hurling coins and abuse at each other at about 25 mph, completely oblivious to everyone else. What a pair complete arsewits: on this evidence you wouldn't think they had the brains to successfully deploy a sheet of toilet paper without supervision, but somehow each has earned a license that let them pilot a two-tonne vehicle on the public road. And that, in a nutshell, is the most terrifying thing of all: you can drive as safely and carefully as you possibly can, but you can't legislate for idiots with a big heavy car, a tiny little brain and a woefully short fuse.

It's dull. This is the secret that nobody likes to admit: driving is generally dull. Not all the time, of course; there are the occasional Out Run moments when you have a clear road and the wind rushing past and the sky on the horizon looks like an oil painting - but for every minute like that there are at least 3 hours of driving at 42mph on a grey ring road, watching nothing more exciting than the misaligned windscreen washers on the VW Passat in front gently spray the roof of the vehicle with screenwash.
All of which means that people tune out. I can get out of the car at the end of a journey and my brain will have been switched off for the the whole trip: I couldn't tell you single thing about what had happened other than perhaps what had been on the radio. That's unnerving, surely? That something so dangerous and potentially life threatening is also boring? What a lethal combination....

It's expensive: Unleaded petrol in the UK current costs about £1.15 a litre. To our friends in the US, I think that works out at about $9.90 a gallon.
That is not just expensive, it's... (wait for this, it's comedy gold)... highway robbery.
(Ha, Ba-ZING! Feel free to use that one yourselves - my gift to you...)

It's time consuming: My car has done 146,336 miles, at an average speed of 34 miles an hour. That works out to be very close to 180 days in the car. Half a year, just sat in the car! And that calculation is based on full 24 hour days: if you take the average working day to be 8 hours, it means that I have spent a year and half of my life sitting inside a sodding Ford Focus, including the weekends. It pains me to think of the amazing, exciting things I could have done in that time; like writing a novel, or watching TV, or sleeping, or playing racing games on the Nintendo. The car is actually moulded to my body now: the leather around the gear stick is worn away at the back where my wedding ring had rubbed a hole in it while I change gear, and there is a shiny patch on the door sill where I tend to rest my elbow. The car has worn in around me like a pair of jeans, a process which I find strangely revolting: it kind of 'fits' me now, like a shell fits round a tortoise. Ugh.

It's unnecessary: For at vast chunk of my working life, I reckon I could have done at least 75% of my job working from home using a mobile phone and decent Internet connection. Not only that, but in doing so, I would have saved time and money, gotten to see more of my family, and improve my quality of life - all of which would have made me very grateful and hence dedicated to the employer who had the wisdom to allow me to do it. I appreciate it can't work that way all of the time, and not everybody could do it, but on some level it's got to be the future...

It's wrecking the environment. I am an inherently selfish man, with a hitherto surprisingly high tolerance for pictures of destroyed rainforests and sad looking polar bears with nothing to stand on - the ice might be melting, but my heart rarely did - which makes me quite possibly the very worst person to speak up for the environment.
But by now even I know that driving = carbon dioxide = bad. And now that I have two daughters, I'd very much prefer it if they could avoid growing up in a world where the last remaining humans navigated the flooded wastelands of Britain looking for high rise buildings they could paddle up to and start looting....

So there we have it. Homeworking for all whenever possible, that's what I say. "Four wheels bad, ADSL2+ good", to paraphrase George Orwell. The revolution may not be televised, but I'm hoping instead it comes via webcam while desktop sharing the latest Sales figures....


Max Halliwell said...

I'll keep this post serious, straight and boring as my last one was removed! But this is a subject that i can devote some time to venting my spleen.

I'm lucky enough to have my car fully expensed by my company. Otherwise I'd be looking at another mortgage each month to run both cars. Unlike many compnay car drivers the tax i pay compared to the costs I'd encure personally I happily pay. this week for example 4 new tyes £600 and a full service £750!

PDC I am much more of a 'petrol head' than you ever have been, but over the last couple of years I have gradually got less and less enjoyment from driving and now get no enjoyment at all from driving in this country. I'll try and keep it brief:

1. Ridiculous fuel charges: Having just filled up Mrs H's car which has the same size engine as yours, a modest 2.0, I received £4change from £70, what the f*** is going on!!
2. Over congested roads, my 22 mile drive takes me 45 mins on a good run. 1.25 hours on a bad run.

3. Its pointless having a fast car anymore due to the fear of getting a ban with a speed camera on every last bit of decent road(on the very rare occasion that the roads are clear enough to drift over the limit)
4. the 4 x 4 drivers that you mention in your blogg are the SCUM of th earth and unfortuntely typify the sort of person that drives these ridiculous gas guzzling vehicles. They think they own the roads and generally have no regard for other road users.

Unfortunately driving is now just another chore in life. I to often wonder why I am made to pollute the roads on a daily basis when I can just as well do my job from my ADSL line?

Our future generations will no doubt look back at our wasteful practices and will no doubt ask a simple question:

What the **** were they doing?

Rant Over


Anonymous said...

Hmmm... let me paraphrase... ;-)

You drive a boring car, in a boring way, and now you're a bit bored with it? Yes, that could happen.

Instead, you could buy a motorbike and have a VERY INTERESTING if short life (excluding the years in a coma and the electric wheelchair).

You could get a more interesting car and drive in a more interesting way which also has an interesting side effect: journeys seem to take less time. Not because of speed, but because one is busy: "Don't mistake activity for achievement", they say, but intense activity can be mistaken for a time machine.

Or maybe that's just me.

The planet is a problem though, especially as you won't be buying the girls a car when they come of age - you'll be buying them a litre of diesel and getting the car for free.

Anonymous said...

And all of this from Paul "terrifying behind the wheel of a car at speeds above 25mph" Collins



aiddy said...

Ouch, I'm paying 50p a litre.

I suggest a bike, mine's running quiet well on a hearty breakfast and a litre of wa-der when I get into the office.

I also find watching movies on a 32" flat screen can help minimise the boredom on longer journies, although it does make the bike a tad unstable at speed.

Working from home will never work, but a sleeping bag in the office can help cut down those miles -- you can tele-conference with the girls :-)