How Cars Have Changed Life as we know it!

quotescover-JPG-14It always used to be that the top prize on a TV gameshow, especially in the heyday of the game show in the 80s, was a car: A brand new top of the range family car. The motor car is probably one of the great status symbols of our time and also one of those things that give us unprecedented freedom, certainly compared to our ancestors. Turn the clock back to the 1950s: If people wanted to get out and about and enjoy the great outdoors on a bank holiday the only way to travel was by bus or train. Yes, public transport was crammed with people in those days, all on their way to enjoy the great British seaside destinations.

Today, we are free of all those past restrictions, no waiting for trains or buses. It’s just a simple matter to pop outside, start up the motor and you’re off. The only restriction is probably traffic congestion. How many of us spend our bank holidays stuck in some traffic jam that clogs up the roads to the holiday hotspots?

Traffic is just a nightmare in the UK but then when you consider the densely populated nature of the UK it’s hardly surprising. That’s why I just love driving on the roads of France. OK, Paris may be just like driving in the UK, if not worse but out in the country in departments like the Loire, Brittany and Burgundy the auto route and the A roads are just a joy to drive on. Forget also the drab overpriced service areas in the UK. In France it’s so nice to drive into an ‘aire’ as they call them, a lovely picnic area with toilets and picnic tables. How often have Liz and I stopped at one of these delightful places and opened our sandwiches and bottles of water to find a French couple stop at the next table and open a hamper the size of a house complete with wine, salad, cold meats and God only knows what else.

It’s relatively easy in the UK to drive over to France on the ‘shuttle’. A quick trip to Folkestone, drive onto the train, handbrake on and off we chug down and under the channel.  Thirty minutes later and we are driving off in Calais. Sometimes I think about my very first car and wonder if I could have made that journey in that car. Possibly not as my very first car was a Bond Bug. A what?  Do I hear you might ask?

9o698i3bgeI’m probably pushed to tell you the registration number of my current car but the registration of my Bond Bug, PDB 71M, is still firmly anchored in my old memory bank.  A Bond Bug, for those of you who don’t know was a sporty little three wheeler car and I bought one because I failed my driving test twice and I could drive the Bug on my motorbike licence.

It was actually a pretty eye catching car for a three wheeler. No doors but the roof lifted up to gain access and the side windows were plastic held on by Velcro. I always remember bringing it home and showing it off to my family with a certain amount of pride and my Dad looking at it and saying “How are we all going to get into that?” Perhaps he thought I was going to take us all away for a holiday! It certainly wasn’t a car for travelling over to France in!

Still, we had some nice times, me and the Bond Bug but then one cold and snowy Christmas I decided to chance going out to a Christmas party in the car even though it was losing coolant. I topped it up with water and went off for a night of Christmas cheer. I walked home sensibly, I might add, but when I returned the next day I found that the car had frozen overnight and it ended up having to have an engine rebuild. That was a pretty expensive night out! Later when I passed my driving test I got myself a proper car.

The author and his, well ok not his actually, just some random Ferrari!

The author and his, well ok not his actually, just some random Ferrari!

I’m pretty happy with my current car generally, it’s a Renault Megane convertible and I kind of like being just a bit of a poser, driving round when it’s sunny with the roof down and looking generally pretty cool what with my leather seats and my shades but you do get those days when things go wrong.

I spent a lot of time the other day burning a few new cds to play in my car and just as I joined the motorway on the way to work I pressed the eject button on my CD player but the old cd wouldn’t eject. I could hardly pull over on the motorway so already my journey had not started well.

The other thing is that one of my electric windows, the rear off side one to be exact, has jammed. OK, at least it jammed in the up position but the car automatically drops the windows when raising or lowering the roof, so that means I can’t open my roof.  Add to that the prospect of spring and hopefully some lovely weather – perfect for open top driving – and as you can imagine, I’m not happy!

Anyway, I have to look on the bright side. When I pulled up at work and switched off the radio, my CD ejected! At least I was OK for music on the return journey and now I’ve had the window fixed expect to see me cruising around Lytham with my roof down, posing!

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Life In The Fast Lane!

I’ve written plenty about my previous life in its various incarnations, bus driver, cigarette man and so on. I currently work in the Highways Agency North West Regional Control Centre and if you want to know what I do there’s a TV documentary programme that’s currently airing on BBC2 called Life in the Fast Lane. Alas, you won’t be hearing my dulcet tones as I broadcast to our traffic officers, as they filmed it down Birmingham way and the North West was sadly not featured.

When incidents happen on the motorway we have a log on which we record all kinds of data about the incident and we add updates as the job progresses. ‘Vehicle recovery has arrived.’ ‘Speed restrictions cleared,’ and stuff like that. There’s a lot of mundane stuff we add too and it involves a lot of typing. One colleague suggested the other day that a thought transference/ ESP link would be quite handy and save on the fingers as they continually thrash the keyboard. The problem there though is that certain unwanted things might appear on the log, especially if the incident is on CCTV and we are watching.

“Watch what you are doing you pillock!”

“Look at that idiot in the Fiesta!”

Or, to the man who wanted to get something from his car, despite the fact that it was on fire and had turned into a minor inferno: “Don’t go back into that car!” He did and was lucky not to be burned to death.

In our control room we answer the ERTs, emergency roadside telephones used by motorists who have broken down at the roadside and sometimes we hear things like this:

“I’ve broken down and can’t remember who my breakdown recovery is with.” Ok, so what do you expect me to do about it? Guess which recovery organisation you have joined? Call a number of recovery agencies randomly and hope one of them knows you? No, what I can do is have you vehicle towed off the motorway and charge you £200. £200! Yes, it is an expensive business breaking down on the motorway. Here’s another one:

“I’ve run out of petrol. Can one of your patrols bring me some fuel?”

No, but we can tow your car away and charge you £200! That response, as you can imagine does not always go down well but as I have said, breaking down on the motorway is a serious and expensive thing. Do not go on the motorway without checking you have enough fuel as it’s not only expensive but dangerous.

Running the motorway is a serious business and there aren’t many comic moments that I can tell you about but here’s one that comes to mind.

Some years ago we had a new recruit that I’ll call Eric, (once again, the names have been changed to protect the innocent!) Eric sadly was not doing too well in his training and it was later found that he was dyslexic so sadly he was unable to continue his career with us. Anyway, on one of his last days one of our managers decided to give him a go as the radio dispatcher, passing out incidents to our patrols over the airwaves. Well Eric did OK until a patrol came across a pedestrian. We reported this to the police and they asked for the person’s name and date of birth. Well, the pedestrian had one of those cross gender names, something like ‘Lesley Smith,’ that could be either male or female. The police asked us for the sex of the person, were they male or female? So Eric asked this question over the air, the patrol however were in one of those radio blackspots were there is poor reception and couldn’t seem to understand.

“Please repeat your last message,” they kept asking.

Eric was getting a little flustered by now and repeated, “Is the person male or female?”

“Please repeat,” asked the patrol.”What details do you need?”

“I want the sex. I need the sex!” called Eric.

I haven’t laughed as much since . .

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