Driven to distraction


NO ONE likes a backseat driver, that malevolent presence criticising every manoeuvre you make. Unfortunately I’m landed with a permanent one – the car itself.

Our last Skoda Octavia estate, dating from 2008, was a simple soul, content merely to tell me what speed I was doing and how much fuel was left in the tank. Sadly, it started showing its age and we replaced it with a much later model.

Cripes! Just getting behind the wheel left me bewildered. Where do you insert the key? (You don’t, you just keep it in your pocket). Where is the handbrake? (There isn’t one). What do all these dials and levers do? (Search me). I expected a dashboard, I got a Nasa Mission Control video game.

Let me take you on a typical journey – three miles up to the summit of Waddington Fell. The key in my pocket unlocks all the doors automatically. I press the starter button and the fun begins. A message appears on the screen saying: ‘Data transfer is set to share my position’ and advising me to check the control panel to find out what this entails. I have never done this.

Next up comes a diagram of the car making a turn, plus advice to check if it is safe to set off. Duh! Never thought of that.

There are bells and whistles which will never be used, including a voice recognition system named Laura, who offers to follow my every command. It’s tempting to ask for an exotic massage, but humour is not Laura’s strong point. I switch her off, along with the satnav and Bluetooth-linked music player.

On the road a helpful message in red, featuring huge exclamation marks, comes up if the car thinks you might be about to hit a lorry, cyclist or barn door. ‘Eco tips’ flash every few seconds with invaluable advice such as ‘it is inadvisable to leave the engine running when stationary’. An amber warning light tells me ‘a loss of pressure has been detected. Please check all tyres’. I do, and they are fine. After half a century of motoring I think I know when to change gear, but it tells me anyway. A frequent warning is: ‘Front assist unavailable’. No, me neither.

Best of all is a sudden bong, followed by the instruction: ‘Please drive in the centre of the lane.’ This always happens in the same place and means the computer has a wrong idea about where the road really goes. Often you feel the car trying to steer itself. When parking, frantic beeping ensues even though the nearest object is yards away. I am sure this is all aimed towards the self-driving vehicle. Incidentally the bloke over the road has a Tesla which he claims took him to Manchester on the motorway while he was reading a newspaper and doing the crossword. When he asked it for the answer to 13 down, however, it was unable to oblige.

On a long journey in my car it is nag, nag, nag, like a mother-in-law in a Les Dawson joke. I would willingly forgo all of this technological twaddle, which must have added thousands to the cost of the motor. Another choice feature is a projector in the front doors which when they are opened shines the word Skoda on to the ground. And there was I thinking it was a Bentley!

I know this must sound pathetic to today’s tech-savvy youngsters but I almost yearn for my first car, a decrepit 1956 Ford Anglia with an aversion to starting on cold mornings, whose wings had to be stuffed with bin bags to stop the rain drenching my feet. At least it didn’t make me feel inferior.

An eight-goal thriller

AS a young reporter based in my newspaper’s Rawtenstall office in the mid-1970s, I had to cover football matches involving Rossendale United, as I mentioned here, and also Bacup Borough.

When Bacup hosted high-flying Kirkby Town in the Lancashire Combination, I found myself with orders to supply copy to the Liverpool Echo and the Lancashire Evening Post as well as my own publication. In those days you had to phone over reports in chunks, to give the inkies time to set them in type. So as well as the 50 words of intro for my employers, followed by two lots of 100 words at regular intervals, I was asked for a 25-word intro for the Echo plus two additions of 50 words, while the Post wanted three lots of 100. Realising that I would be spending much of the match in a nearby call box – the rickety press area at Bacup’s ground West View was not equipped with such luxuries as telephones – I took along my friend Rosie to take notes in case I missed anything. It proved a wise decision.

Having sent the intros and found my seat ten minutes into the game I discovered that the visitors were already three up. Thankfully Rosie had noted the scorers and that one of the goals was a header, another a right-footed scorcher and the third a penalty following a handball. The score was still the same when the time came to send more copy. I returned to find it was now 5-0 to Kirkby. Again, Rosie provided the details. And so it went on.

By the time of the final whistle, the score was 8-0 and I hadn’t seen a single goal. However my clients professed themselves pleased with the reports and were quick to pay by cheque, which was handy because I owed that girl a drink or eight.

A PS from PG

As Shakespeare says, if you’re going to do a thing you might as well pop right at it and get it over.

PG Wodehouse: Very Good, Jeeves!

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