I have been driving my Mini for about 18 months now and I have come to a few conclusions. The first is that BMW make a very good car and the second is that I don’t want a new one. A bit of a contradiction? Maybe, but my reasons are firmly fixed in my personality, let me explain a bit further. Continue reading
Tag Archives: fear
I’m very rarely surprised these days, I seem to have contracted a state of mind that has grown over my psyche, encompassing it in a hard shell of cynicism and grudging acceptance. Sex, violence and swearing on TV hardly raise an eyebrow, but I remember back in the 1980’s when Channel 4 tried to advise the viewer that their late night movie might contain a flash of breast or the odd profanity, by putting a little red triangle in the upper corner of the screen. You can imagine how the ratings soared when that little symbol flashed up. Continue reading
How many times have you driven along and thought to yourself ‘I don’t remember getting here!’ because you were miles away, thinking of something else?
Distractions while driving are so common its laughable, you may even be reading this on a mobile phone right now waiting in a traffic jam, maybe I’ll hang on and write some boring stuff so you give up and concentrate on the road. If you get caught drink driving, driving under the influence of drugs or using a mobile then you are in serious risk of not only killing yourself, your passengers and anyone you hit, but more importantly you could damage your car and loose your license! But there are so many more distractions that are not directly punishable, but are equally as dangerous if not more.
Sausage rolls, Cornish Pasties, Cheese and Ham Slices, all have been designed with the motorist in mind. All conceal a delicious filling in a crumbly pastry that no matter what you do, bits will fall down the crack between the seat and center console, and you will look and tut, taking your eye off the road for a second. That’s even if you have it out of the packet, because if not, and you are already driving away from the garage, probably steering with your knees and the car is in first gear doing 10,000rpm while you attempt to open it. How about fast food? Who hasn’t eaten a tasty box of Mc Donalds finest fries, the cheery red box wedged between your legs, your wedding vegetables protected only by a thin bit of printed card from the potato sticks at 500 degrees?
We have all seen a few lady drivers (and a few men!) using the mirror to check the makeup or hair, none of us are innocent, I bet there has been a time where you have driven with a headache, busting for a pee, in an argument with the passenger/wife, looked at a pretty girl, tried to tune the radio at 40mph, had the glowy bit of the cigarette fall off into your lap which results in some frantic flapping as your genitals catch fire and not noticed the red traffic/brake light/old lady until you are 4 inches from it, slammed on the brakes and by some miracle missed hitting the car/person/wall.
But the worse, the very very worse has to be children in the car. Little junior is trying to bite the head off his little sisters dolly and little sister is screaming at the top of her sweet little lungs, soccer mum turns around to yell back and dish out a good old fasioned box to the ears and bang! her Range Rover has just squashed another victim.
We can’t stop people having children (secretly I wish some people were not permitted to breed, but that also falls under my ‘When I become King’ rules) So I put the blame for this firmly at the feet of Volvo and Mercedes.
Safety in cars is a bad thing. If you have a monumental crash in a car made back in the days when football players were all called ‘Nobby’ and everything cost tuppence ha’penny, you died. Painfully. Pointy bits of car would stick in you, hard bits would squash you, and hot bits would burn you. If you were lucky you ended up playing a harp, if unlucky you would leak a bit first, so you tended to pay a lot of attention to what you were doing. In these days of side impact bars, three point seat belts, anti-lock, carbon brakes, crumple zones and the like, its made us complacent. The Mercedes E class has a bonnet with shock absorbers, that make it pop up if the car thinks its about to run some one over, its a bit like driving around with a trampoline strapped to the front of the car. All very clever stuff, but the bloke behind the wheel now believes that he can snow plough his way through bus queues awarding points to the old ladies that perform triple somersaults with a tuck as they boing off his pedestrian safety device.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not for one second saying safety in cars is a bad thing, but its the false sense of security it gives you,as you drive your Volvo that has so many airbags, that in an impact the kids can be amused using it as a bouncy castle while waiting for the tow truck to arrive. These devices are very clever, there are cars that can detect if you wander over the white line, a sure sign that you are getting drowsy, there is even a car that can sense that its just about to have a crash and applies its brakes. All this stuff is brilliant and forward thinking, but the weak link as always is the driver. If we could instill a tiny bit of fear, say a mild electric shock rather than the gentle vibration his seat gives him when he wanders over the line, or maybe a spike, about chest height reminding him to stop relying on the fact that he will walk away after doing something stupid, because he is in the Volvo and the other poor sod isn’t.
I have been an avid gamer for more years than I can remember and at time of writing I cannot see me stopping. I know this is a car column but I think driving games of today are of use to us when we drive for real.
This really is a golden age for games, the consoles that we have available to us cost absolutely nothing in comparison to what we had at the start of the home videogame era. 1080p HD graphics, 5.1 Dolby stereo, superfast processors bring to us a realm of virtual reality that can make us jump out of our skin when playing Silent Hill or wince in pain as we take a bullet in Call of Duty 4. We didn’t experience that sort of thing back on the ol’ Atari 2600 where, to quote Grand Theft Auto Vice City, ‘The red square chases the green square, or for variety, the green square chases the red. That is NOT to say these early consoles were rubbish, they were far from it. I cannot tell you how many hours I lost playing Crystal Castles or Yars Revenge, but by comparison the only way we could get anywhere near realism would be to visit an Arcade.
Oh how I mourn the loss of the Videogame Arcade! For any of you that were born after about 1975 and have not experienced the smoky, dark cavern that thumped to the sounds of Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet in the very early ’80s have missed out on somthing special. How cool was it to climb into the cabinet of the Star Wars machine, slip in 10p and hear ‘Red Five Standing By’ in your ears as you gripped the controls that had been lifted straight from an X-Wing? Or wandered down row upon row of Jamma cabinets (Game geeks will know what this is, so dont worry) All running different games, all glowing with amazing cabinet art just to get you to put in your 10p. So many firsts in the 80’s, Gauntlet gave us 4 player simultaneous gaming, if the Elf shot the food, the player got a dead arm from the Warrior.
The cabinets that got my attention were released in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Things were still woefully un realistic back home, my Sinclair Spectrum (48k, rubber keys and I still have it!) was good, and to be fair all I ever played on it was ‘Elite’ (remember ‘LensLok’?)But it was a long long way from actually ‘being there’ but luckily something happened to me in 1986 that changed all that, I discovered ‘OutRun‘. Now here was a game that had it all, amazing colour graphics, a killer sound track that you could choose by tuning the radio (HOW cool was that??) but by far the best bit was the fact that the whole cabinet, that was shaped like a car, moved. It was SO awesome that you could almost smell the sea and feel the warmth from the sun and you sped along increasingly difficult tracks, tracks that YOU chose depending on the route you took in your bright red Testerossa, oops sorry I mean Red Sports Car (Sega sort of forgot to ask Ferrari if they could use the car in the game, Ferrari went nuts until it saw how popular the game was and how well it showed the car off, don’t forget this was also the decade for ‘Miami Vice‘ so we all walked around with our suit jacket sleeves rolled up, wore deck shoes with no socks (dear lord I did too…) and LUSTED after a white Ferrari Testarossa with only one wing mirror (don’t believe me about the mirror? look it up! its true) Ferrari forgot to be cross and jumped on the bandwagon, check out the line up in the latest Outrun on Xbox 360 and PS3. These new cabinets were amazing. They moved they were bigger so you sat and became part of the game, rather than standing and just playing. Some, like G-loc in the R360 cabinet, a flying/shooting game, strapped you in so you could do a full 360 loop!
By this time though the new gen home consoles were really getting going, I don’t want to bore you with the history of videogames (I could write a darn book on it, yes, I’m THAT geeky) but we are at a point now where realism, proper physics and ‘feel’ are almost achievable at home.
Gran Turismo was released in 1997 for the PS1 and it caused a sensation. 10 million copies were sold and we couldn’t get enough. I bet none of you out there in Blogland knew what an R32 Skyline was until you played this game and built the 1000hp monster (in green livery) The Skyline is one of the most desirable cars on the planet to the ‘Playstation Generation’ which I am proud to be part of. Not only did it introduce such interesting cars like the Chaser, Soarer, Cyborg etc it also introduced the concept of tuning. Not the usual ‘bung a Webber on it and add a sunstrip’ that used to adorn most Escorts, but real tuning from exotic sounding companies, Mugen, Nismo, Ralliart and so on. Physics were not bad either for the time, and the replays, wow!
We are now at a point where using force feedback controllers and steering wheels we can adjust the tiniest thing on our virtual car. Thanks to software like ‘Forza 2‘ we can tweak the anti-roll bars so it will corner flatter,
soften the suspension or adjust the boost so we can get round Nurburgring in under 7 minutes, its got to such a stage that there are virtual tuners out there that will tune your car, tweak and fiddle until its perfect, for a price of course. So how does this relate to driving a real car? I am convinced theory can be learned from games like this, how to place yourself on the approach to a corner, how power affects handling etc.
But the main difference is, that if you screw it up on the Nurburgring while playing Forza, you can just hit reset.
All of us are great drivers. We must be, because we all believe we are better than the next bloke.
Then why is it that there are so many bad drivers on our roads today? You will not believe the buffoonery I have to witness on a daily basis, whether I am driving to the shops or just out looking for a nice road, there will be some idiot doing something daft. I’m sure you have seen it too, and grabbed the moral high ground with a resounding toot on the horn, a yell out of the window or even a dramatic (but intended, for more visual impact) swerve or screech of brakes.
But I wonder what separates driving skill? I am not immune from yelling and screaming when behind the wheel, I have been known to let an almost dangerous situation develop, just because I am in the right and the other bloke was being an idiot. I have realised the error of my ways, don’t worry there is no preaching in this column, just observations, but I think I am a ‘better’ driver than I was because now I see these things and try and avoid them and get the car out of harms way. I say better, but better than what? I think better than I was, not better than anyone else. This, and the trip to the track last week has got me thinking.
As you all know, I have a very good friend, who expertly drives various cars very quickly. In getting a car round a track, or indeed round a twisty bit of road he stands head and shoulders above me in ability. To my knowledge he has had no training in driving fast, he hasn’t been driving that long but can handle a car with such mastery it makes me feel like a total novice. Is it innate ability? Is he naturally talented? I don’t think that’s possible as there is no way he can have a natural talent for driving, killing a mammoth or making fire is instinctive, 100mph exiting Eau Rouge is skilful or just plain brave.
I think bravery and faith play a big part in it, the car is technically capable of cornering, braking and holding together at such speed but will only actually go around corners as fast as the driver feels comfortable. I thought it could be that this friend of mine has only been brought up on a diet of newish, well maintained sporty cars, mostly ones with Gti or ‘R’ as initials after the badge, but handing my old everyday hatchback with its weak engine and knackered suspension, he was still able to corner at speeds that made me feint, then turn to me and grin “The double wishbone suspension on this car is awesome, look how the car turns in to the corner…” Same car, same engine same road but it just wont do it for me.
But there is hope. At the track another friend, with a very fast car that has has an absolute fortune spent upgrading it to a serous contender, offered some advice to this bloke and pointed out some errors and correct lines to take. I found he was then able to take corners faster, not kill the brakes and put in better lap times. All of this advice was based on technique, applied correctly, made for a quicker and safer drive (the brakes worked!) To us less brave souls that have a dollop of life preserving fear in our make up this is all very good news, because driving well can be taught. I am not referring to the bloke in a Micra with a plastic ‘L’ on the roof that enabled you to prove to another bloke in a polyester suit you could parallel park without killing someone, I’m talking about driving a car safely and quickly, whether on track or on the road. Knowing the limits and recognizing the hazards.
Like minded people can help so can well organized track days where there is expert advice on hand, but beware of the know it all loud mouth that can out do just about everyone and shows no consideration as he sticks his poor car into another bend and just about makes it out alive… This time.
Drive fast, drive safe, drive well.