Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Road To Hell

"Here in my car I feel safest of all. I can lock all my doors. It's the only way to live. In cars."   

Gary Numan was onto something back in 1979. 32 years later and not a lot has changed. We love our cars and in places like the Highlands the mantra is that they’re a necessity not a luxury.

But are they really?

Danny “Cuckoo In The Nest” Alexander is back-pedalling (rather telling that the best metaphor for a dodgy car scheme is a bicycle reference) a bit after earlier gung ho announcements on trying to lower the cost of fuel for rural motorists. There are hoops to jump through in Europe says the former Britain in Europe champion.

Meanwhile Brian Wilson (not that one - the other one) has been having a dig at the idea. Begging the question, if it’s so important why the heck didn’t Labour do anything about it the thirteen years they were in power? If only they had a minister with an interest in energy from the West Highlands. Oh, hang on.


But even if drivers in Stornoway, Kirkwall and Lerwick eventually enjoy filling up for a few quid less does it solve the problem? What problem? The elephant in the room (rather telling the best metaphor for an environmental threat is an endangered animal) is of course climate change. If we keep on living ‘the only way to live’ as Gary Numan put it then we keep on contributing to rising carbon emissions and the damage that does to our global environment.

And of course there’s the small matter of the stuff running out or only available from unstable sources who would have you over a barrel when it came to price. (Yes, I know, enough metaphors already.)

As Green Dad I face a real dilemma. Trying to hold a normal life together with a tiny tot at the heart of it is almost impossible without a car. There’s so much to-ing and fro-ing. It also doesn’t help that I’m a sucker for ideas such as this, a vintage car touring holiday of the Highlands. I love reading old gazetteers and Edwin Muir’s Scottish Journey is an all time favourite book. I wish we could relive the days of phutting along single carriageway A roads, pulling in every now and then for a wee half of ale and a cheese sandwich at some old drovers’ inn.

There is undoubtedly joy in a nice drive but this is where I differ from most motorists. To me, going for a drive is a luxury and I’m well aware of the environmental implications. If it’s a functional A to B via C and D trip then I usually try to figure out how it could be achieved without turning the key in the ignition. Which makes me wonder if the effort being put into reducing the price of unleaded in Uig (the cost will continue to rise anyway given dwindling supplies) would be better focussed on improving public transport so when crunch time really does arrive for future generations the transition is easy.

Luckily, living in the Brighton of the North we can jump on a train or a bus but there’s only so long a 22 month old will sit still on public transport. I guess if we took a long train journey we’d pack a pile of activities and make the most of it, to the almost certain disgruntlement of fellow passengers. And then there’s the issue of screeching hen parties and Special Brew swilling offshore dudes who would quickly turn Chuff Chuff Happy Trip To See Auntie Gina into Two Hour Family Hostage Hell.

If we’re serious about weaning ourselves out of our cars and onto public transport we need to make it a more attractive option. It doesn’t help when lobbyists and the media enforce the idea of drivers having ‘rights’ somehow distinct from other human beings while politicians unable to bend to tie their own shoelaces announce the end of ‘the war’ on motorists. War? What war?

Motoring rent-a-quote Neil Grieg commented on a recent incident of black ice in the Central Belt thus: "Drivers going on to the M8 at rush hour have a right to expect it to be in good condition. To see the motorway network closed like this is perplexing, to say the least. We live in Scotland and we know that black ice happens.” 

That’s right, Neil. Black ice happens. So if, say, we’ve had record low temperatures and heavy snowfall for weeks the idea of black ice occurring shouldn’t be perplexing in the slightest and the numpty car dwelling trolls you speak for should remember they live in the real world, check the forecasts, be prepared and adjust their fuming accordingly.

The Meehan Streak cartoon I’ve posted sums up my feelings on this perfectly.The attitude of many drivers genuinely astonishes me. The other day we pootled from The Sunniest Town In Scotland a few miles along the A96 to a kipper and cream scone emporium to sate Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed’s appetite. We ended up phoning the police after a young lady overtook us in snow, on a bend, on a hill, while she was on her mobile having spent several minutes sitting just feet from our back bumper. In the end she turned off the road before we did, suggesting she was close to her destination. Even if she had some dire emergency to attend to I can’t think why any of her behaviours could be excused.

Our attitude to motoring extends to the courts. Apparently you can drive dangerously as long as you’re loaded and threaten to sack people.

Back briefly to Neil Greig’s black ice hell and I see the government has been trialling new kinds of de-icer. One is called Eco-Thaw but I’ve yet to discover what’s in it.

Maybe if it’s ‘eco’ it’s simply alcohol and washing up liquid? That’s the easy non-chemical way to clear your windscreen apparently. Which reminds me - if the bobbies ever pull me over and notice the bottle of Smirnoff rolling around in the passenger footwell I wonder if they’d buy my story about ‘just being prepared for a sudden frost’? I have rights you know!

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