Engaging reverse

14 May, 2012 (13:45) | All articles | By: Stuart Fraser

I used to drive cars for a living at one time, as a motoring journalist, and I have to admit I enjoyed it. A new car every week, free travel all over the world, planned routes in some of the globe’s most interesting and beautiful places, a licence to put pedal to metal and masses of free food and drink. What was not to like?

OK, sometimes you had to talk about the design benefits of Nissotahall’s latest scrunge futtock or the gearing ratios of the nadger sprocket on the Fordaultroen Vicious Carnivore, but I just nodded and smiled.

Of course I got uneasy about all the things Jeremy Clarkson dismisses; these days I would get uneasy about all the things Jeremy Clarkson dismisses purely on the basis that he dismisses them, but back then he didn’t have the worldwide platform he enjoys now for embracing his inner Blimp, so I had to make up my own mind.

I still firmly believe that the motoring industry is not wholly a force for bad: it employs too many people to be that.

And I still firmly believe that the motoring industry has created great art. Once, I went to an exhibition of classic Ferraris in the Boboli Gardens in Florence. The cars were encased in pristine Perspex cubes, on a hilltop, with renaissance Florence and the great Duomo of the cathedral as a backdrop – a brilliant juxtaposition, in which the cars looked achingly beautiful.

But I did get uneasy that not enough was being done to gear the industry for the future, and even though there have been brilliant technological advances since, the Clarksonicity of the world of cars is still too prevalent for my taste – you know, the dumb insistence on speed and power with design that exhibits all the good taste of a Premiership football player.

But most of all, and one of the things that finished me with writing about cars, there’s this: is it possible to enjoy driving any more?

The question arose not when stepping out round hairpins in super-fast BMW M5s up and down Alpine passes, nor when barrelling through the northern Highlands to our castle home for the night in a snarling Alfa Romeo, nor when pointing a 10-litre Chrysler Viper at Thruxton race track in the rain. (Actually, the last occasion also posed the question: how long before I’m going to need new underpants?).

No, the question arose when waiting for flights in crowded airports or queuing on the M25 and it just got worse. I vividly remember sitting in a Renault on the approaches to Schiphol Airport and looking around me at all the ugliness, all the unhappy people, and thinking “I’m not enjoying this”.

These days there seems no pleasure in driving at all.

Of course, we’re blessed here in Cornwall. The other evening, driving through the lanes with the window down, I breathed the scent of the hedgerow bluebells and rejoiced in the beauty of the fresh-greened trees. But more than enjoying the drive, I thought: “I must go for a walk when I get home.”

The roads are now so incredibly overcrowded, the surrounds so homogenous, the cars so ubiquitous. It seems crazy to praise a car’s speed and handling when the most one can hope for these days is 25mph behind some git in a motor caravan containing more gadgets than my house (with apologies to some of our good Brothers and Sisters).

(When I was young and driving clapped-out bangers at prodigious speed I used to get furious when stuck behind a pensioner in a big fast new sports car. I used to want to drag them out of the driver’s seat, point them at my wreck and say ‘Look, if you’re going to drive that slowly you may as well have my car. Give me your car. At least I’ll use it….’)

Today, it seems daft to spend more resources and money producing cars when nobody can use them. I suppose big expensive models have to remain in order for senior business people to drive pointless company luxury vehicles and flaunt the size of their executive package, as it were: what would men like this do about their laughably small genitalia without such vehicles?

But surely in the year 2012 there must be alternative ways, less intrusive ways, of comforting middle-aged men about their pitiful, shrivelled equipment?

Yes, I think maybe it’s time for a return to the Mini, the Moggie Thou, the Beetle, the Deux Chevaux: we can only go at 25 so why not save the world and produce cars that can only go at 25?

And with the return of cars like that, think of all the car mechanics’ jobs you’d be creating.

VAT’s all folks

Nice to hear, indirectly (thank you Brother Fiddle), from a Sister in the US on the subject of VAT as discussed last week.

She tells us: “Although it is correct that there is no VAT in the US, there is sales tax (a rose by any other name) charged according to how much each state feels they can squeeze from the public.  In Florida it is 8%, some other states 20% – just depends.  The only good thing about sales tax is that it can be switched on and off, moved up and down, locally, and easily. For example sometimes New York suspends sales tax just to get people buying more.”

Interesting that there’s flexibility – unlike our clod-hopping monolithic VAT.

Brushed off

Management returned from the DIY store at the weekend clutching a tin of exterior masonry paint rejoicing in the colour of ‘Cornish cream’.

Sighing, son number one and I applied it to the concrete frame around the new door recently erected by the Brother Who Must Not Be Named (the door, not the frame).

It rapidly became clear that this was not ‘Cornish cream’. It was the sort of shade that may be left in a virgin snowdrift by an elderly syphilitic semi-continent Lithuanian downhill ski-ier caught short. It was vividly, undeniably, unpleasantly yellow. Furthermore, it was a yellow that bore no resemblance to the ‘Cornish cream’ on the tin or in the colour chart.

Well, son number one and I slapped it on anyway. One trip to a DIY store a month is enough for our family. Yellow we shall have to be until we can save up for a tin of something simply white.


Stressed out

Sir Michael Wilshaw is the head of Ofsted, a useless Government invention that has added absolutely nothing whatsoever to the sum of human happiness, that creates nothing, makes nothing, makes nobody smile yet costs prodigious amounts of money. Appropriately, it has a long record of wastes of space at its head.

But Sir Michael has already managed to distinguish himself, even in that exalted company, with the usual shuffling goalposts and idiocies like suggested inspections with no prior notice to schools. Now the National Union of Teachers, at long last, is coming to its senses and threatening to boycott Ofsted inspections; the Association of Teachers and Lecturers clearly states “Ofsted is part of the problem”; headteachers’ leaders have called the organisation “bullying”; and even the ludicrous Michael Gove has been forced into a U-turn on policy (over snap inspections).

You wouldn’t think it possible for such a man to make himself look even more of a fool, or do even more damage, would you?

But no. Perfectly in tune with the omnishambolic leaders of Cameron’s Britain, he told us on Friday that teachers didn’t know the meaning of the word stress.

Making Norman ‘on yer bike’ Tebbit sound like a towering intellectual, he said: “Stress is what my father felt, who struggled to find a job in the 50s and 60s and who often had to work long hours in three different jobs and at weekends to support a growing family.”

Imagine. How can any of us in austerity Britain have any idea of what such difficulty must be like, ‘Sir’ Michael?

Well. Look. I know an excrescence like Sir Michael Wilshaw is a bit of an open goal and it’s rather like kicking a boisterous but very stupid and irritating puppy that’s just weed on the carpet again, and it is indeed wicked to mock the afflicted, but…

As the partner of a teacher who works seven days a week, 50 weeks of the year, from 7.30 until midnight on many days, all the time, not ‘often’, to support a growing family, who has at various times in her career, and often when the subject of a career-threatening inspection by Ofsted’s ivory-towered mandarins, been reduced to tears of worry, who in term-time is a virtual stranger to her growing family, who cares very passionately about every breath she takes when teaching her children, I would welcome the chance to discuss stress with Sir Michael.

As a father who finds managing two lively boys very stressful – and I’m sure other parents reading this will know something of the stress children can create – and who therefore admires teachers who can manage dozens of the little so-and-sos day after day while delivering carefully researched presentations to highly critical audiences, I would welcome the chance to discuss stress with Sir Michael.

As a citizen who finds form-filling very stressful – and I’m sure others of you know the feeling – so admires teachers who seem to have to fill in forms every hour of the day, I would welcome the chance to discuss stress with Sir Michael.

As a school governor struggling to make sense of Ofsted’s and other departments’ constantly moving targets while doing my tiny bit to ensure children actually enjoy their childhoods, I would welcome the chance to discuss stress with Sir Michael.

As a school governor and as a parent and as a taxpayer and as, I hope, a decent human being struggling to work out how Ofsted inspectors can charge a minimum of  £582 a day – let me repeat that, a minimum of £582 a day – when Michael Gove’s government is presiding over a reduction in the availability of free school meals to the most vulnerable children, I would welcome the chance to discuss stress with Sir Michael.

As a member of the public who had to make a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act to find out the above figure – wonder why they were reluctant to tell me? – I would welcome the chance to discuss stress with Sir Michael.

As somebody who has seen three good people known to me have their careers, their mental health and their retirement ruined by Ofsted, I would welcome the chance to discuss stress with Sir Michael.

As a father who believes childhood is not just about preparing future employees for the workplace and the inland revenue, I would welcome the chance to discuss stress with Sir Michael.

But most of all, and I do apologise because this isn’t very clever or intelligent but I can’t help it, most of all, as the would-be owner of a baseball bat with nails in it and as somebody who gets very angry indeed about bullies, about thick, destructive, pointless, attention-seeking bullies, I would welcome the chance to discuss stress with Sir Michael. Right now. In the car park.

Because sometimes, just sometimes, all the intellect and reason and decency in the world are just no substitute, no substitute at all, for a baseball bat with nails in it.


Comment from One Old Fiddle
Time May 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Well, if “Sir”Michael ever sees that, he’ll need a very, very large car to make up for the shrivelling of his genitals, and to stave off the blows of not just Brother Fraser, but the UK’s entire teaching staff and their relatives and friends, and me.

Comment from StentsRus
Time May 14, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Fraser…your store of useful information never ceases to amaze…all the years I’ve known you, you never mentioned that you had conducted an extensive survey into the shades of urine produced by the aged, diseased, dribbling sportsmen of the world…seriously impressed.

Comment from Stuart
Time May 14, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Brother Stents! Welcome home! I should have realised you’d have something to say about urine produced by aged dribbling sportsmen….

Comment from StentsRus
Time May 15, 2012 at 8:00 am

Nice of you to mention my legendry professional football career…can’t stop…just had tel. call from somebody called Sralic?…needs my expert help with something called “wootball”?…must dash

Comment from Hamster
Time May 16, 2012 at 1:26 pm

This weeks Hamster Top Tip – buy Hamster a beer, it’s my birthday 🙂

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