Motorways, Motorcycles, Motor cars and Me

It's been a while, quite a while in fact. A long while since I got back from Tibet. A long while without planning a new adventure. And, owing to an unusually long winter in Wales, It's been a long while since I last rode my bike. It's also been a long while without writing a blog. Time to amend matters.

Time to get the motorcycling season underway, the weather has relented a bit; temperature almost reaching double figures, the rain's not scheduled to start before seven o'clock tonight and the Bristol Classic Car Show is taking place in Shepton Mallet, a mere 55 miles away – so no more excuses.

What is it about motorways that makes them so loathsome? It not really practical to get from south Wales to Shepton Mallet without using at least one of them as the River Severn has to be crossed. Although I'm hugely impressed with the engineering masterpiece of the bridge, and who wouldnt be, I'm sorry to report that that's about it, I really don't like motorways. I have, at best, a feeling of pragmatic acceptance and in exceptional cases of engineering masterpieces such as the Severn bridge, of gratitude.

There's just no avoiding it, motorways are boring. Their sole purpose of moving traffic from A to B swiftly and efficiently comes at a heavy price: boredom. If it was just boredom then I would more readily accept motorway travel, however, it's not. With the boredom comes a deep feeling of dissatisfaction. The rhythm of the ride doesn't arrive, the scenary changes slowly or not at all. Your brain dwells on the cold – motorways are always colder. The wind noise is more intrusive – motorways are always noiser. So much so, that the only thing to look forward to is arriving. The destination is not only more important than the journey, it's the only thing which has any importance. The journey has been relegated to a process, something that has to endured to achieve a goal.

The car show was excellent in the way that these things are; wonderfully snippets of overheard conversations, “……the Mk III was such a disappointment after the promise of the Mk II's adoption of helically cut primary transmission gears” or “……her bottom end was largely intact so I just had her head skimmed.”

There were also some wonderful examples of motor cars, going right back to the thirties and even earlier, right back to the dawn of motoring and the modern internal combustion age. There were also plenty of beautifully restored cars from the sixties, in fact most of the cars on show were from this age. lovingly restored, pampered, polished and preened, they were proudly displayed for all the world to see, overlooked by their devoted and adoring owners. A few of the cars, a very few it has to be said, were that rarest of the Classic Car sub-species, the intact original. The car that has been kept in working condition, often by just one family, for over fifty years. Never having gone through the cycle of disuse, abondonment, deterioration and rebuild, they lack the, slightly false, to my eyes at least, 'showroom fresh' look of the rebuilds. But they have a patina, a careworn look to them, a look that at once conveys all the love that the owner has lavished on them over the years in keeping, what is quite frankly, an outdated and impractical vehicle on the roads for so long.

This period, the nineteen sixties, really was the dawn of the motoring age, at least it was the dawn of motoring for the masses. It was the period when the modern motorway network was being built in earnest. It was the period when the, now familiar, British road sign was designed. It really was the dawn of the new Elizabethans – of the new Motorists' age. The cars from this period, were mostly beautiful and varied, to a degree that has now largly disappeared. The cars were shaped to the designers whims, engines were installed either in the front or the rear according to individual manufacturers' preference; after all, at this time nobody really knew which would prove to be the best, thus inspiring sharply polarised adherents to both schools of thought. Whether the front wheels should be driven or the rear, was again a matter of fiercely divided opinions and passionate loyalties.

As the modern motor car configuration had yet to be finalised It was the journey to this that mattered. It was the journey that inspired such passion. Whether it was the journey in terms of the physical configuration of the car or the real journey that one undertook upon the road, it didn't matter. Without the reliability of the modern motor car, the journey was under taken in a spirit of adventure. It was undertaken because it mattered. It was important and a spirit of adventure and enthusiasm was needed to see it through.

Now I have no wish to decry the modern motor car it has a level of comfort, performance, reliability, safety and fuel efficiency that were only dreamed of in the sixties. However it has achieved this through a bland uniformity – we now know what works. The modern motor car has been reduced to just an other consumer durable, inspiring as much passion as the purchase of a refrigerator. Likewise the modern transport network, has, like the modern car, made the destination the sole focus of travel. Travel now exists only in the form of reaching a destination by the most efficient manner possible. Anything else is an anathema.

The return journey through the minor roads of Somerset sparkled. Despite the glowering, threatening sky and increasing wind strength the journey delighted, as I wound through villages and small towns that I'd not visited for a while. By the time Bristol arrived the sky was noticeable darker, it was much windier and there was a distinct threat of rain, heavy rain, in the air. By the time the Severn bridge came into view it had already started to rain. “It's just a short ride from here”.' I allowed myself this comforting thought as I rode over the bridge. 'In the nineteen sixties, before the bridge was built', I reflected, 'this would has involved a seventy mile detour through Gloucester or a choppy crossing in an open car ferry across the river'.

You might not have to enjoy, but you do have to marvel and be grateful.

 

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