Tag Archives: driving


I don’t know if its just me, or every red-blooded man, but on the morning commute, driving to the station… if I have an inkling that one of my neighbours is driving the same route, I like to win.  Or at least, not to lose track of them on the drive in – whilst staying within the speed limits, obv.

I’m not a massively competitive person in general; it comes from a lifetime of not winning that many things (except with Amanda and Emily of course, best wins ever), but there’s something about that early morning drive that just makes me want to punch it on. There’s also the challenge of breaking the seven minute commute time – it used to be six, but then I changed car-parks. This somehow felt more significant when it was a cycle time, in my days of cycling into work when I lived in London.

Of course, the sensible thing would be to try to negotiate some kind of car-pool, but the practicalities of that (particularly the return trip) escape me. And of course, against one neighbour’s 350z I struggle to keep up…

Perhaps when the weather warms I’ll think about cycling in, like BIL… Much healthier competition.

Rally experience

Ford FiestaLast year some friends clubbed together and bought me a rally experience for my birthday.

As my birthday comes around again this year, it occurred to me that I’d failed to book it in, an error I’ve since remedied. I’ve never done one of these things before so am looking forward to the trip to Silverstone in a  couple of months time to power a Ford Fiesta through some dirt and mud. I imagine, however, that I’ll be moderately terrible at it – my friends have always commented that my go-karting skills resembled someone driving a Mercedes-Benz whilst not in anything approximating a hurry.

But hey, maybe that’ll look good on a rally track….? Or not…. Anything I should particularly aim to do, petrol head friends, please tell me.

Driving an automatic

vwautoThe new car is very nice indeed. Full of lovely tech, smooth, fast (amazingly so for a 1.6) and comfortable. It has been dubbed ‘Polo’ by my lovely wife – somewhat confusing given that it is a Golf – but somehow it fits.

It is strange to be driving an automatic. My foot keeps reaching for the clutch, especially when I’m braking to a stop. It’s like a phantom limb, making its ghostly presence felt, only to turn intangible when I reach for it.

Practicality means, however, that I’m driving the other car at the moment. Those of you that know what that is know that I am absolutely not complaining…

Talking to traffic

TrafficI’m not mad. I just find it better to vent my frustration at inconsiderate driving by talking at it – well, grumbling at it – rather than letting it work me into a frenzy of internalized stress. It is – very possibly – a trait I’ve picked up from my aunts, who pretty much all do it.

When some people hear me talking to traffic, it raises concerns about my stress levels… but I find it quietly cathartic.

Do you talk to traffic? /I’m not mad.

Looking at low emissions cars

Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion

Hybrids have a bad rep. They’re inexplicably shaped like dinosaur eggs – closer to a Jetsons view of what a modern car should look like than any actual designers, one would assume – famed for sluggish performance, plagued by technology issues and challenged on their supply chain eco-credentials – after all, if the components have travelled the world seven times over to allow the car to be assembled in the first place, then how much difference to the environment does the ‘hybrid’ make?

This review sums it up:

Eco-friendly cars are often grim, hair-shirted things that you suffer as penance for your emissions, even though they pump out less CO2 than their standard brethren.

Which is why I think its fantastic – although depressingly late to market – that there’s a new wave of environmentally friendly cars rolling off production lines around the world – whether its ‘Greenline’ (Skoda), ‘Bluemotion’ (VW) or ‘EfficientDynamics’ (BMW), the (German, anyway) manufacturers have cottoned onto this eco-friendly thing and are rapidly revising their product line. Since 2007 or so these cars have been entering the market and whilst – in the used car market at least – they still command a premium over their standard rivals, they do provide a number of key benefits thanks to a number of cool bits of technology.

The benefits:

  1. Ludicrous mileage – over 80 MPG in some cases, which will top out older hybrids
  2. Tax-free, mostly, thanks to low emissions
  3. Some of the cars have even lower emissions than many hybrids
  4. (Relatively) normal handling – the car’s body mass index hasn’t been skewed by a heavy battery pack

The tech that gives it this awesome mileage:

  1. Stop/start tech. The engine switches off when the car rolls to a halt (say at a traffic light). For urban driving, this makes a big difference.
  2. Regenerative braking. The kinetic energy lost when the car brakes is captured, generally in the car battery, for later use.
  3. Sill extensions & other aerodynamic tweaks – help seal the car and reduce drag
  4. Engine refinements – high torque diesel, usually
  5. Gear shift indicators – to help you drive more ecofficiently

I’m looking for a possible replacement for Horse (our ageing 68 BHP Skoda Fabia) and am very tempted by one of these cars – specifically the Golf in the above review – but they cost much money. Anyone have any advice?

Satnav is wonderful

The TomTom One XL warped us through Bristol, Bath and Basing countryside, helping us when it was dark, raining, trafficky and generally too much hassle for maps. We didn’t encounter any significant issues despite using it for journeys large and small, intricate and simple. It is definitely weaker when you have to encounter private roads (e.g. going to shopping centres etc), but you should definitely be doing some thinking yourself when you’re driving, so perhaps that’s for the best.

The comedy voices (Jean-Luc, Yoda etc) were, as previously blogged, invariably dropped in favour of someone more normal. I’d always want to switch back to Jean Luc for the end of the journey, though, as being told to ‘engage docking procedures’ always made me smile.

BUT: I still haven’t convinced Amanda. I think she gets satisfaction from the process and mental discipline required to plot out and follow a route in the old school way. So it may be a while before we source a SatNav device for use in this household, but again that all depends on how well the driving instruction goes…

…which is OK. But I need to practice my maneuvers. Part of me feels I need to book a test so I have a deadline to work towards; most of me feels like I really don’t have enough time to get ‘good’ enough to persuade the DVLA to give me a license. [sigh]. More work needed.

Kitted up for vacation

We’re off for a week, driving around the West Country. Thanks to a friend who shall remain nameless, I am equipped with a TomTom One XL with the voice of Patrick Stewart telling me to ‘engage docking procedures’ when I arrive at my destination, or telling me I’m “lost in the beta quadrant” when I make a wrong turn. It should get old, but I think I’m going to be giggling a lot. I’ve also managed to borrow Arvind’s Griffin iPod transmitter and have bought an adaptor for the cigarette lighter so we have double power.

Of course, most of the holiday will be low tech – hills, country, friends, and beer. Can’t wait.

Learning to fly drive

I know how to drive, and have held a Malaysian license since 2002. Which means, of course, I’ve forgotten most of the things I need to do to pass a British driving test, and the learning process has begun again – unfortunately, despite being a member of the Commonwealth, someone from the DSA has probably met some Malaysian drivers in the past and so judged that the licenses are not interchangeable with British ones.

It’s been a slightly tedious experience, getting into the habit of doing things that instructors/examiners look for but no sensible driver does (tilt your neck so its obvious you’re checking all the mirrors, for example), but hopefully make me a better driver… if to the benefit of extortionately expensive driving schools. Thanks in no small part to Amanda’s patience, I’m improving quite quickly…

Of course, all this driving has me hankering for a new gadget. When we embark on our tour of the West Country in a few weeks time, I’d really like to have a SatNav product in the car so that Amanda can focus on telling me what I’m doing wrong with my driving, rather than where I’m going… I don’t suppose any of the great SatNav companies fancy loaning a product to a lonely blogger in exchange for a write up of the experience on the 618th most popular technology blog on the Interweb? If I like it, I’ll probably buy it, especially if it persuades Amanda, hater of GPS and lover of maps, that having a satellite navigation system doesn’t take the fun out of driving… There’s a challenge for you.

Ping me in the comments, or at armand [at] division6.co.uk.