Saturday, 23 March 2013

Car knows best

l really like my 10 year old Golf. Over the years we've shared many pleasant experiences and I just get the feeling that many of my idiosyncrasies are now well understood.

The key to this is sheer mechanical intuition. When I'm trying to reverse into a barrier I am alerted by a loud bleep reminding me that reverse gear has been selected and that I had better wake up because " we don't want a repeat performance or reversing into a post do we?". So as I get nearer and nearer to the wall, bank or another vehicle (especially in the supermarket car park) the bleeping intensifies, building up to an exasperated continuous blast that would awaken the dead. Often I then find myself losing confidence and selecting a forward gear, even with a foot or so to spare.

The same happens if I try to walk away from the parked car having left sidelights on or an indicator on the "on" position. I get reminded with a sudden alarmist burst of bleeping. The dashboard itself is in cahoots with the noise brigade. "Engine workshop" screams a message when I occasionally stall the engine. "Service Due" crops up as a message some 2000 miles before the actual event needs to take place. 2000 miles for me is about 3 months driving so I'm a bit disappointed by the assumption it will take me 3 months to phone my mechanic and arrange a date.

Over the last 6 months the noise and message department has added a lethal weapon in the form of a "Tom-Tom" device. So now I am also bleeped (in a different musical key) whenever a speed camera is around. I am told, more often than I like, in a calm, clear voice to "turn around when possible" to get back onto the right track at the roundabout. I've become programmed into counting exits at roundabouts instead of using my eyes to read signs, and my memory to remember where I am going. Just occasionally I am left to my own devices - at crossroads for example when there is often a pregnant pause whilst I venture across, waiting for the demoralising "turn around" order.

However, I have to say that 2 days ago, in snowy conditions, the Golf really surpassed itself. Having spent the night in the Pennines town of Buxton I had to decide on a passable route to Holmes Chapel where our second night's hotel stay had been pre-booked and  pre-paid with no chance of a re-fund. Also a warm swimming pool; sauna; jacuzzi and steam bath , comfortable bed and quality 3 course meal awaited - all in all major incentives to arrive.

I made a choice - within 5 miles a sign warning of road closure blocked the way. I retraced the steps and tried a second route. On the long slow climb up the snowy road I repeatedly got a new sign flashing on the dashboard - basically a triangle warning me (as if I hadn't noticed) that we were skidding on the loose snow. I thought I needed to assert myself so I pressed the accelerator to gain power to climb the hill. Somehow - the engine just didn't respond. Slower and slower - ending in a final tired skid across the road into a well placed lay by. "I think the car wants to stay on the lower ground" declared my perceptive wife. So we turned around, headed back to the main trunk road and travelled without another incident a 30 mile detour along A roads and Motorways to arrive only an hour later than planned.

Until now I'd never thought of my car as a "he" or a "she" ....
.......................or even graced her with a name.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Just one handshake away

Yesterday was spent singing; being shown how to sing; listening to conductors talking about singing and talking to other singers. A choral-fest which lasted about 6 hours left me with about 3 thoughts that will stay with me for many years. It will probably come as a disappointment to the organisers of the ABCD day if they ever happen to read what the three thoughts are.

First memory - to get a proper note that does not get distorted by mouth shape, I have to open my mouth like a muppet (i.e.up and down not from side to side). Secondly, as a tenor, I was thanked just for turning up. Thirdly,the memory  that I shook hands with a man who was only 4 handshakes away from Beethoven and only 1 handshake away from Bill Clinton. (The historic link with Beethoven did include a bit of speculation on John Rutter's part, but the Clinton link seemed very plausible).
Anyway, it was worth shaking hands with the writer of a new piece for the last Royal Wedding Wedding and hearing about the background to his work. In answer to the traditional question, "Which comes first - the words or the tune?" apparently the real answer is "Actually it's a phone call". Therein lies the motivation to respond to a specific request for a specific occasion.

Earlier in the week I had spent a rather shorter period of time on a "Driver rehabilitation course". This was another rather intense course to which I had been invited as a result of an error in judgement on my part involving my car's speed and the local speed restrictions. Three thoughts stayed with me from that course as well. It may be that my mental facilities are in decline given that after a week I can only really remember 3 thoughts.
By coincidence I was thanked for taking part in the speed awareness course, which came as a pleasant surprise, having gone with the expectation of being chided about my driving errors. A little rhyme "Only a fool breaks the 2 second rule' ( a reference to distance between cars and stopping quickly)) has stuck, muppet like in my subconscious. And, I now have a better appreciation of repeater signs and how to recognise a speed limit in an area devoid of signs.

I suppose, if pushed I could remember a bit more from each course given enough incentive or perhaps being in a relevant situation. Next time I shake hands with someone new I can imagine my mind starting to speculate.." wonder if this person is in any way linked to the designer of speed cameras?"