Things that I think and do
Because I am but a lowly and poor student, I can’t really afford to drive a car all year round. There is one at home that I can use, but when you add up insurance, petrol, parking money and the compulsory packets of Jelly Babies driving becomes quite expensive.
One of the reasons I’ve looked forward to starting work at summer school for the past two years is that I get to drive the hire car – and don’t have to pay for insurance or petrol. Although I do have to fork out my own money for sweets.
I don’t get to drive it regularly, but I’ll do the occasional shopping trip and one or two journeys to the airport to drop off students. Just the fact that I get to drive after a year or so means I get inordinately excited by the hire car – right up until I get in it and move off.
Then I remember just how boring driving usually is.
One of the reasons was probably the car itself. The constant illumination of the check engine light for five weeks and the regular arm-wrestles to get into second gear added a bit of excitement, but the fact remained that it was a people carrier at the cheaper end of the pricing list. Thusly it didn’t have much in the way of acceleration, which made pulling out at junctions traumatic.
It’s a sad truth that we rarely get to drive on anything more exciting than the odd country lane. Unless you’re a rally driver, driving is useful rather than fun – the national road network reflects that. I defy anyone who has driven on the M20 between junctions 8 and 10 to tell me that it isn’t the most boring stretch of road imaginable. Likewise with the entirety of the M1. My route to the airport involved the A24 and the M25, both of which are also contenders for the award of “Road Most Likely to Induce Stupors”.
Driving can be fun if a) there are lots of swooping corners and b) if you go significantly faster than other cars. Sadly neither the A24 nor the M25 has many corners, swooping or otherwise, and while it might be fun to overtake other cars with the foot to the floor it’s somewhat illegal and really quite dangerous. Even if I could do handbrake turns there isn’t much call for them on the M23 to Gatwick.
The radio setup didn’t boost the appeal of taking the car out. For some bizarre reason the only stations available were BBC Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4. Obviously, we can straightaway discount two of these. Radio 2 is for Old People and Radio 4 is for Old People Who Don’t Like Music And Who Instead Prefer Hours of Spoken Boredom. I happen to like classical music so Radio 3 is acceptable, but it mostly fills the schedules with wishy-washy drivel and only plays anything I want to listen to once every seven hours for about three minutes.
This leaves Radio 1, which is only good if you like hearing presenters with various regional accents yelling about how “insane” various festivals were and playing the same five or six songs on repeat throughout the day. I went on one 40-minute round trip shopping and I heard one song three times.
Worst of all, I couldn’t get Long Wave or even Medium Wave radio, so I couldn’t listen to the cricket while on the interminable runs to Heathrow. As we all know, ‘learning never stops’, so it would have been an invaluable lesson in English culture for the two French kids I was driving to hear the inimitable commentary from Test Match Special. As it was, I missed an entire afternoon of England batting and had to listen to a chap from Burnley yelling into the microphone about a remix of something or other for four hours.
Top Gear would have us believe that it’s vital to know the top speed of pretty much anything with more than one wheel, and Jeremy Clarkson is convinced that any car that has less than two million horsepowers isn’t worth getting into.
Although I do find the show entertaining, apart from Clarkson’s insistence that every car he drives is the best IN THE WORLD, it doesn’t deal with the real-life issues of driving a school hire car to Heathrow of a weekend.
Unfortunately whatever Top Gear tells us, and no matter how fast your car can go or how many horsepowers it has, a Saturday afternoon on the M25 will immediately put an end to any fun you thought you were having.