Car Culture: Pandemic Imponderables

Your weekly look at what sucks in our car culture, plus some good things


What has been happening in our world of automobiles since the pandemic lock-down?

For one thing there are far fewer of them on the road, which makes life very pleasant if you live over a busy street or near a motorway. This has caused pedestrians to encounter near-death incidents when they cross streets assuming them free of cars, and car drivers to speed up in restricted areas on the same assumption and shoot out of side streets without stopping. On motorways the motorbike with the noisiest exhaust rasp gets the nuts ragged off the engine pushed to jet-aircraft decibels.

Another downside is fewer people using public transport, bus services cut as a result, their revenue zapped as a consequence. After months of governments and councils exhorting us to ditch our cars and take to the bus, they might have to rethink that  paradise when we resume some sort of normality.

Bicycle sales have  gone through the roof, fine for a sunny summer’s day. Try cycling up the Mound in Edinburgh – one of the capital’s many steep roads – in a rainstorm and cold wind. Notice how cyclists disappear from the city centre on bad weather days? How do their owners get to work? Walk? Cycling comes too late for my beaten up body. Quite frankly, my lardy arse in Lycra no longer causes women to inhale their breath through their teeth and smack their lips. They tend to exhale or take a coughing fit. Sales of cars are back to 1946 levels. Cyclists 1, Drivers 0.

I cannot see how one creates physical distancing on a subway train at peak travel times? Film of masses of folk getting in and out of carriages on the London Underground are evidence of the problem. A face covering and no body contact is about as much as you can do. Those carrying backpacks, swinging them left and right, are a menace.

Car free streets is the perfect time for councils to fix the millions of potholes and cracks that knock hell out of our hard earned private transportation. Councils don’t have the funds and road crews are restricted to emergency work only. But at least the pot holes are not multiplying, unlike deaths from corona virus.

One good consequence of the fall in car use is lower air pollution. The air is cleaner. We can’t yet take a deep breath in case we swallow a capsule of corona. Aircraft trails that widen and block sunlight are missing from our skies. The quietness has birds sing louder than ever.

There has been incidents of domestic livestock and wild animals strolling around town and city centres. Sheep have moved into gardens to chew tulip heads, and deer are munching grass in play parks. A kangaroo was filmed hopping madly down an empty street in Sydney, probably in search of a Nike store to beat up for using kangaroo skin to make trainers. I’ve not yet seen birds congregating on the hat and shoulders of traffic wardens, the warden ecstatic, motionless, wearing a beatific smile, but it could happen.

Elon Musk, the super-charged genius behind the move to electric driven vehicles, and CEO of Tesla, has reopened his Californian factory in defiance to the state’s instruction. He feels he has a plan for safe distancing. His critics and manic opponents overlook the lowered restrictions is adjoining Californian counties, and car factories reopened in the UK, and American owned car makers too in such places as South Korea, now producing cars again to keep US investors happy. However, what makes Musk the successful entrepreneur that he is, is the gene that pushes him to go further than anybody else, the same that has racing drivers become world champions, or  turns otherwise good folk into alcoholics. Shame he has indulged in posting misleading information on how the coronavirus functions, a low trick to justify his action. Another individual the press can label as a ‘Marmite’ man.

Car events everywhere are at a standstill and that presupposes car boot sales too. Small traders must be on their uppers, the ones who deal in long out-of-production car parts.

Automobile magazines are lost without a queue of new cars to test and promote. Staff road maps they lay over car bonnets for that photo cliché lie limp and unused on their office bookshelves. Auto hacks are reduced to articles on ‘My first car’, or ‘Great Cars of the Eighties’, or ‘What I did on my holidays’. They could spend their extra time better discussing ways to bring more women into the auto business, in design, engineering, and testing. Dump the misogyny. Let women talk about cars, what they like and dislike about them. I remember one spectacular concept sports car designed by women. It got a lot of press interest for its novelty value but Ford never made it. The concept was sold a few years ago in an auction; that’s how much female pioneering means in the car business.

Lock-down locking his brain matter, one prominent magazine editor chose to warn we should buy new cars now, before “prices go up” before the pandemic eases, his reasoning being the slump in cars sales is so bad, no dealer will offer a discount. Oh, really? I suggest buyers stand their ground, money in hand. Sure enough news reaches my busy in-tray that manufacturers will discount certain cars of the hybrid variety, stockpiles so high, capital investment rusting in factory car parks and competition so intense, they want rid of them fast. Dealers are discussing ways of opening on June 1st.

Aston Martin says it has taken a £100 million hit in income since the lock-down. Wonder how cheap I can get a stockpiled Aston Martin? Here’s an odd thing, you can get applause and admiration for driving around in a half-million pound veteran car, such as a blower Bentley. Park and get out of a half-million Aston Martin and someone will call you a “wanker!” One day the Aston will be a veteran car. Just saying.


Border blues

I read Police Scotland is stopping cars driving over the Scottish border. One family was on a 500 mile trip from London to Motherwell, stopped by Cumbrian police. You read correctly. They were on their way to a weekend in Motherwell. To see relatives? Anyhow, that’s the outcome of England doing its own thing, making laws and imposing them on all the nations, and Scotland deciding we should do a different thing, not violently so, just a wee bit different. I’ve no objection. I just wish we had the sovereign right to close down our border in times of emergency.

Car doors

How nice not to be awakened by neighbours slamming car doors early in the morning as the prepare to go to their place of work. Hearing a door slam cut through relative silence is an unusual thing in lock-down. On this occasion it was a rear door four times. We use the handle to open a car door, or button, but we slam them shut to close them. Auto engineers got wise to this and stuck all sorts of rubber stoppers around the door frame to dampen the sound. Cheap cars have tinny doors. I watched Rolls-Royce owner open his door by the handle and shut it by the handle. I concluded it was the quality of the sound that motivated use. So I took off my cabin door cards and installed sound proofing on the bare metal of each door, a sticky roll you can buy from Amazon and cut to shape for doors, wheels arches and floors. Result – the door has a quality sound when banged shut.

Petrol costs

Some superstores are advertising petrol at 99p a litre. If only we could drive places to take advantage of the slump in price. Early in the Eighties, when I was working in Los Angeles, I filled the tank with gas less than a dollar a gallon. No wonder they were holding onto their gas guzzlers and 10 mpg pick-up trucks. American were blase about gas mileage. It was President Obama who told car makers of cars and light trucks they must average 31.4 mpg and 250 grams per mile, and he legislated for it. The writing was on the wall. Here is Jockland, Unionists are back to jeering us. “Ha, ha! So much for your oil fund!” Well, we don’t actually own the oil at the moment, chaps. The UK Treasury takes all the profits having corralled North Sea oil. And didn’t you tell us oil is a toxic product best left in the ground? Make up your minds. Oh, one more thing, goods and haulage should get cheaper, aye, even for car-owning manic British nationalists.

Happy motoring! – to the local shop and back home.


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5 Responses to Car Culture: Pandemic Imponderables

  1. raymelvillegmxcom says:

    The Londoners who were stopped by police were still in England. It was Cumbria Police, at junction 42, Carlisle. Police Scotland said they had no plans to turn non essential visitors around.

  2. paul botler says:

    I’m not on twitter, but I will take this opportunity to thank you and barrheadboy for sharing your discussion on his podcast.

    Your invisible bookcase lacked a little balzac, philip k dick and celine, but noo ne of us is perfect.

  3. Grouse Beater says:

    Ha, ha! You spotted the philistine in me, Paul.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    Yes, that is true, but the Motherwell angle is amusing. Police Scotland has begun stopping folk, especially those with furniture strapped to the car roof, and a 10 member family crammed inside.

  5. paul botler says:

    You spotted the philistine in me

    That was not the intention and I hope not the outcome.

    Things are grim, but we have to keep smiling.

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