A Leap with a Leaf

On the whole, vehicles are one of my non-interests, along with football and cricket, talent shows, fast food, misery memoirs and a few other tedious topics.

In a discussion on cars I’m interested in reliability first, followed by comfort and economy in equal measure. In a blatant betrayal of gender stereotyping I have opinions on colour, preferring black over any other but accepting of anything except pink, orange, red or lurid.

My first car, like many first cars, was a humble, ancient, faded turquoise Austin A40 with steering wheel so huge that steering around a corner was akin to half an hour’s workout on a rowing machine. Subsequent vehicles became newer, though never new. My least old car was also the worst, an indigo VW Polo that exhibited some kind of electrical fault and let me down with irritating frequency-most famously by giving up at traffic lights at a busy roundabout whilst I was wearing nothing but a bikini and flimsy sarong. Let this be a lesson, readers. This was also before the days of mobile phones.

Now, however it is time for my trusty, comfortable, economical, black Peugeot to find a new owner. It is also time for Husband and me to put our money where our mouths have been for so long and leap into the unknown with an eco-friendly, electric vehicle. They are cheap to run, cost nothing to tax and, most crucially do not belch noxious fumes into the environment. What can go wrong? We’ve adhered to our rule regarding no new cars and have purchased a two year old Nissan Leaf, an alien road ghost with a mysterious array of buttons and beeps.

We’ve begun to learn the ways of this enigmatic machine. We’ve learned that it drives as an automatic, that your left foot must never stray unbidden on to the ‘hand-brake’, which nestles on the floor under your left foot in a sly, provocative challenge as the result is a screeching kind of emergency stop. We know that it will refuse point-blank to cooperate unless your right foot is on the foot-brake [a more benevolent pedal].

We’ve begun to unravel the secrets of the ‘rapid’ charger at motorway services, having spent a frustrating half an hour unravelling the cryptic instructions for insertion, another half an hour in the dispiriting cafeteria [where you are at the mercy of the provision and the prices] and a further half an hour of mild panic discovering how to remove the charging nozzle.

We now know that the extravagant claims of 100 miles per charge are somewhat exaggerated, that a degree of planning must go into any journey of length and that the prices at motorway cafés render the price of the ‘rapid’ charge a little less economical.

We don’t expect to use the car for long journeys and we no longer have regular commutes to make us dependent. The change is a leap of faith in a time when leaps of faith may seem foolish or imprudent. It isn’t possible to make radical changes in the volatile climate of this unstable world but perhaps taking a deep breath and helping to clean some air is a miniscule step towards improving our immediate environment. Who knows?

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Mars-Travelling Hopefully-Never to Arrive

If the writers in my writing group, The Spokes had begun writing whilst young I’ve no doubt that any one, or all of them would, by now have become best-selling authors. As it is we have left starting on the writing journey much, much too late. This is not a catastrophe-as we none of us are dependent on writing for an income [just as well] and all most of us want at this stage is some recognition.
This week there were a variety of readings as usual; one extremely hilarious on the subject of political correctness gone mad, another a whimsical tale of neighbourly domestics, one a police drama, one an extract from a [very promising] mystery novel and one a science fiction short on the subject of a manned mission to Mars. The Mars story got me thinking. An expedition to establish a human colony on Mars is no longer the stuff of sci-fi drama and written fiction. It is most definitely on the cards and is, as I write, being planned.
I understand that humans are programmed to want to know about everything within their world and beyond it. I understand that exploration and science are vital for any improvements in any area in the future. But I do think it dispiriting that having made an unholy mess of one planet, man is now set on going off to another one and messing that one up, too. It is not difficult to imagine how Mars will be in the future-over-populated, polluted and beset by tribal, religious and power wars. It all has a depressing predictability. Humankind as a species is programmed to cock up…isn’t it?
There is a wonderful children’s book called ‘Dinosaurs and all that Rubbish’, about a wealthy industrialist who, having destroyed his own environment sees a beautiful star and wants to travel there. In his absence Earth is restored by the forces of nature, becoming beautiful again and unrecognisable to him. Thinking it is another beautiful ‘star’ he returns and is taught his lesson. Simplistic, yes-pertinent, also yes.
In 2013, more than 200,000 people applied to become part of the Mars mission.          Although there is no upper age limit [applicants must be over 18], a cursory glance at the application criteria is enough to demonstrate that an attempt from the likes of me would be futile since I am defective in most areas. Besides being dependent on medication I am also prone to aches and pains, as well as inclined to believe the apocalypse has come when there is a power cut.
But surely we should be putting our own house in order before going off and getting another one?
Once you have reached that age where there is more of life behind you than in front, do plans such as these seem to ease the pressure of life ending? Or are you excited enough in your dotage to want to know the outcome of such exploits? Myself I feel we are most fortunate not to have the choice.

Scotland is another Country

My early holidays as a young child were camping trips taken with my parents and my two brothers to locations around the British Isles, staying at farms-there was no such facility as a camp site-and pitching tents in a corner of a field.

We travelled, all five squeezed into one of the various small vehicles my father procured-starting with a little, old black Ford. Packing was an art form in which only my father amongst us was skilled [apparently]. The tents [ex-army acquisitions] went on to a roof rack together with our ex-army kapok sleeping bags [camouflage design] which had been cut down to child size by my mother on her treadle sewing machine. Then there was a ‘Bluet’ cooking stove in a tin box plus all our enamel plates, cups and dishes. Any leftover space housed our clothing-shorts and T shirts plus one jumper-oh and pyjamas of course.

We would have to get up in the dark, small hours to undertake the journey, since motorways had not been conceived and stop in lay-bys where my father would get out and set up the Bluet to make tea. My mother struggled with the stove, pumping to get the spirit fuel going and famously throwing it over a fence when the flame shot forth terrifyingly. Much later, having reached the destination he had selected [Wales, Devon, The Peak District, The Lake District] we would stop at a likely farm and request a space for our very basic tents-an arctic ‘bell’ tent and a home-made construction from poles and sackcloth he’d cobbled together to be our ‘toilet’ tent. He would dig a neat, square hole and erect a seat made from 4 struts and a timber frame-to sit on and carefully backfill and replace the turf after use.

Once we travelled to Scotland, an intrepid adventure for the time. My memories are dominated by the mist and drizzle that masked every view, the night we slept in a milking parlour due to the inclement weather [I could feel the drainage channels through the thick kapok of my sleeping bag] and the eyrie, plaintive bagpipe melody drifting through the fog over Culloden Field, where a brutal and bloody battle was fought.

We camped in the Highlands with a view of Ben Nevis. My father fulfilled his burning desire to bathe in a mountain stream by moonlight, an event which, for some inexplicable reason we were all taken along to witness but had no appetite to share; the Scottish weather not lending itself to this kind of romance.

We know the outcome of Scotland’s attempt to sever the umbilical. Scotland seemed foreign enough to me then, without the need for independence and still does, in the same way that the USA feels foreign. There is more to unfamiliarity, to foreigness, than a different language.

Not Just a Machine, Monsieur Corbusier!

                After a tortured, traffic ridden crawl of ten hours from bonny Scotland, where we’d disembarked from the Larne-Stranraer ferry, we arrived back at home-that is to say-the place where we live when we don’t live in our miniature, wheeled home.

                I’d be lying if I said homecomings are no different from the time when I was a proper working person. I no longer get that plummeting sensation as the first working Monday looms; that attempt to cling to every last moment; those delaying tactics at bed time. The return journey from any trip these days provides me with an opportunity to speculate on what may have happened in my absence and what may need to be done in order to mitigate these happenings, and also to appreciate the comforts and conveniences that a house offers.

                We near our street. I experience a frisson of surprise like the Narnia children’s experience of coming back through the wardrobe when I see that nothing has changed. Opening the front door and stepping into the hall feels new. There is a pile of [mostly junk] mail teetering on the hall chair, clamouring for the recycling bin. Of the mail that remains, one is a reminder to renew my car tax, one is a bank statement, one is yet another publishing agent’s rejection of my novel. Lovely.

                Even if it is dark I am always compelled to go first to the garden, where there tends to be good news- and bad. A lot of things have survived or even thrived in my absence [=good]. A lot of things that have thrived are weeds [=bad] and snails [=bad]. The lawn is not waist high [=good]. The lawn consists of weeds, moss, brown patches and ants’ nests [=bad].

                During the three weeks we’ve not been here the doorbell has made use of the time to take one of its intermittent sabbaticals, the carpets have acquired a layer of particles, the windows have taken on a smoked glass look, the fridge is empty of all but a tube of tomato puree, a few wrinkly cloves of garlic and half a jar of marmalade. Next day, after a stuffy and restless night in the luxury [post camper] that is bed, as I launch into laundering the sixteen tons of dirty washing we’ve created, the garden washing line decides, during the pegging of the last load, to make a statement by collapsing.

                But it’s not all bad. The sun is out. I spend my first sockless day for three weeks-[and not just because there are no clean socks in the drawer]. A passable duo at the local pub makes a refreshing, timely change from Irish folk ditties. And there is something to watch on the box…Glastonbury!

                So, as in the immortal lines of Frank Sinatra’s ‘It’s Nice to go Traveling’-it is quite nice to be home. Now, where shall we go next?