Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Strange behaviour

When I had my Honda Preludes I used to drive with the fastest flowing part of motorway traffic. I was careful, observant and only occasionally the fastest driver of any group (much better to let someone else attract the attention of the Police). Long journeys always felt shorter and more pleasant when I was making progress. From time to time I was irritated by those who would not do as I (try to) do and keep left when not overtaking but everyone suffers because of them. Times and circumstances changed and the Prelude was replaced by my first Citroen BX, the 1.9 litre automatic. It was a long-legged car, typically French in that it gathered speed slowly but felt as though it could sustain high speeds all day. Respect for the car's great age and the lower level of performance available caused me to drive more slowly in the Citroen than I did in the Honda. Journeys took a bit longer but it was something I (grudgingly) accepted. Now I have a 1400cc Citroen BX which is slower than the old BX. As a result my cruising speed on the motorway has dropped considerably. In the old BX I'd keep the speedometer between 70 and 80mph, in the new car it is more likely to be 60-70. Not only does this have an impact on the time it takes to make a long journey but I have noticed something new about the so-called Middle Lane Owners Club. While I am passing a convoy of slower I will try and do it as quickly as possible but there are drivers who will sit right on my tail, clearly wanting to go more quickly, even when there is a clear overtaking lane to the right. Only once I pull over to the left do they drive past but they don't pull over into the clear left-hand lane.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Know your car better: drive something different

Variety, so it is said, is the spice of life. I certainly find that true with cars. This week I had a chance to drive something different and the most interesting part of the experience was the new perspective it gave me of my own car. The first thing was an insight into the driving position of my Citroën. I find it comfortable but it is a little like the classical Italian driving position with the steering wheel a bit further away than normal. Strangely, it is only when I drive something else that I realise this because I wonder why every other car puts the steering wheel uncomfortably close to my chest.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the BX seems quite spacious. Old cars, like mine, generally have modest dashboards and slim door trims. New cars seem to be bulked out with oversized door trims, massive dashboards, consoles and thick window pillars. But the one thing that always astonishes me, very few cars can match an ageing and scruffy Citroën for ride comfort.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

One day you’re riding high…

… the next you’re sat by the side of the road with a growing puddle of green fluid under the car. So much for all those kind words I lavished on it. Ah the joys of a Citroën and their weird, hydraulic ways.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Simple Pleasures

I had to collect a parcel from the main Post Office this morning. I wanted to beat the rush of Saturday morning shoppers so I was out of the house before 8:30; normal for Monday to Friday but unheard of at the weekend. What a difference it makes, the roads were almost deserted and I felt wonderfully free.

Whether or not it was the clear roads or some other reason I even took more pleasure than normal in the feel, action and response of the controls. It did make me yearn, at least a little, for something either more responsive or, conversely, something more basic and even more demanding of skill and, therefore, more rewarding to drive well.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Smart looking mid-sized Vauxhall

Somehow I feel the arrival of Vauxhall’s new model, the Insignia, has taken me by surprise. This is despite Vauxhall “leaking” spy shots of the disguised car and explaining some of the methods used to fool those who would photograph as yet un-launched cars. I simply didn’t expect to look at the pictures and think, “That’s handsome,” which was my initial reaction to the Insignia.


My two reservations are that it might not drive as well as it looks and that the name reminds me of a brand of men’s toiletries from the 1980s.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

(un)Taxing Experience

Although it has been feasible for a few years I had never tried to buy my Vehicle Excise Duty (aka the tax disk, Car Tax, Road Tax, etc) over the internet. Why? I preferred the certainty of going in with my documents and the cash and walking out with the correct tax disk. No fear of things getting lost in the post and I always either lived or worked within easy access of a Post Office that could issue tax disks and always had a lunch break long enough to accommodate even the worst Post Office queues. Now I live in a village and I don't know if the local Post Office does Tax Disks and, in any case, the customer service is somewhat variable and the queues depressing and I avoid it wherever possible. As a result I decided to give the online process a try. I checked my bank account to make sure I could afford a year's tax and then I logged on to the DVLA's site. I was impressed with the clarity and simplicity of the process, I think I would have preferred slightly fewer pages to click through but it only took 10-15 minutes to complete. All I need now is for the new tax disk to arrive by post in the next few days and I'll conclude that this was one of the government's more successful IT projects.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Eco towns bad? Eco homes better

I’m quite interested in the government’s proposal to build ten new "Eco towns" by the year 2020. You won't hear me saying this often about anything the government does but I think, in principle, it is a great idea. It seems sensible to regulate the building industry to mandate that new homes use less gas, mains electricity and piped water than conventional houses. The proviso is that you don’t have to spend so much (in terms of energy, materials or money) on solar panels, geothermal heating, wind turbines or water recycling that the savings never pay back the initial investment. All new houses should be made that way, not just ones in eco towns.

It will be interesting to see how the towns are laid out and what provisions are made for people to get around. It is all very well talking about car free town centres, 15mph speed limits and park-and-ride bus routes but surely town planners can do better than that. Maybe there is a way that shops and businesses can be distributed within the new towns to reduce the need for transport, whether private or public. Where it is necessary to travel, the links should allow fast, easy access to the rest of the transport network.

One of the proposed sites, Middle Quinton, is not too far from my home. It is an unusual site for a new town as it is in the middle of nowhere. The nearest "big" town, Stratford-upon-Avon isn't that big and there aren't any large employers nearby. To get to the nearest motorway (M40) you need to go through Stratford (not much fun at peak times). At least the site is connected to the rail network but the line would need serious investment to make it worthwhile for passenger traffic. With the necessary investment in infrastructure the new towns will be a success; without it they will be an expensive series of follies.