Clarkson on: in-car entertainment
This article was first published in July 2007.
As we all know, the Citroen Picasso is bought by the sort of driver who likes to press his trousers and press wild flowers. But press on? No.
So when such a car wheezed out of a side turning in front of me yesterday, I was a bit disappointed. This was my first outing in the new Gallardo for a month, and now I was going to spend it stuck behind someone with no sense of style, no sense of joie de vivre. Someone who was going to trundle along at 40.
I should have been so lucky. In fact, the car settled to a diesely 30 until it came to a corner, when it was braked, often quite hard, to a speed most Victorian bargees would describe as “quite stately”.
I was, I admit, becoming quite irritated by this so when it happened for the 14th time, I dropped a couple of cogs, ignited the injectors, and went for it... only to find a small hatchback coming the other way.
It was close; shut your eyes, and wait-for-the-impact close. And had we crashed, it would have been entirely my fault; the result of a moment’s impatience, of a need to be somewhere else, of a desire for the journey to be over as quickly as possible. And therein lies, I think, the root cause of most accidents: boredom.
We’re told by the enlightened that speed is not the major cause of accidents; it’s inattentiveness. One minute you’re cruising along with the gearbox in top and your mind in neutral. And the next, you’re sailing through the Pearly Gates with bits of windscreen stuck in your face, wondering what on earth went wrong.
What we therefore need is some kind of entertainment while we drive, and that’s why I’m so furiously opposed to the ban on using mobile phones when behind the wheel. We’re told that it’s impossible to concentrate when talking to someone else but that, of course, is nonsense.
You talk to your passengers. You berate your kids. You shout at other road users – and none of this is a particular cause of crashing.
My wife can cook supper, pacify a baby and make complicated tennis arrangements with friends on the phone all at the same time. And not once has she ever put the receiver down to find she’s inadvertently cooked the baby and rocked the sausages to sleep.
The fact is that if I’m on the phone while behind the wheel, I’m conversing, I’m getting on with my life and as a result, I’m in less of a hurry to get to where I’m going. Talking to friends makes me a safer driver. I can only assume the people who drew up this law have no friends, and no urgent business to attend to. I can also assume that they all drive Citroen Picassos. The car of choice for the post-Rover generation.
And now, they’re talking about making it illegal to smoke while driving. Not just in a company car, which will be banned under the draconian smoking laws which come into force on July 1st, but in any car. No, really. The Local Authority Road Safety Officers’ Association says on today’s roads, it’s important people concentrate only on driving. Not on anything else.
Oh dear, they really haven’t thought this through. A smoker who’s denied the opportunity to light up is likely to become aggressive and impatient, a dangerous combination when you’re on the A44 at 10am and you’ve a meeting in London at 11, and a bloody Picasso has just lumbered out of a side turning. Smoking calms a man down. It gives him something to do. Not smoking causes accidents.
In fact, if I were running the show, I would make it illegal to drive a car while not doing something else. Eating a cheese sandwich, chatting on the phone, masturbating. Anything which turns what could be a boring and repetitive chore into a fairly pleasant experience that you don’t necessarily want to end.
"One minute you’re cruising with the gearbox in top and your mind in neutral. The next, you’re sailing through the Pearly Gates"
This, inevitably, brings me on to the car’s primary source of entertainment: the radio. And specifically, what happens to it as the big hand reaches 12 and the little one gets to seven.
Radio 2, my preferred listening pleasure when in the car, stops playing music I – or any one outside Somerset – likes, and bombards the air waves with the sounds of cider being poured into a banjo. It’s called folk, and not having ginger pubes full of twigs, I immediately switch over to Radio 4, which, at 7pm, plays The Archers.
The Archers is the most annoying entertainment ever conceived by man. It attempts, I know, to address issues of the day that face the countryside. But since nothing interesting ever affects the countryside, The Archers is woefully short of raw material.
I seem to recall that once they attempted some sort of lesbian relationship – but even this missed the mark, since lesbionics only really works as a visual treat. Two middle-aged women standing in a Birmingham studio kissing their own wrists to simulate stimulation is even more hopeless than the alternative: someone’s lost stamp collection or whether bicycles should be allowed on the bridleway. It’s The Vicar of Dibley, without the jokes.
So, you switch to Radio 3 which is in the middle of a particularly difficult Russian symphony and eventually, you wind up on commercial radio which, knowing the whole world has just tuned in, is busy playing adverts for shops you’ll never visit.
You’ll note I’ve left Radio 1 out of the list here, and with good reason: there is no good music on Radio 1. Ever.
As a result of all this, I find myself driving like a maniac as seven o’clock looms ever nearer. It is imperative I get home before Chris Evans signs off. And this makes me a dangerous driver. I overtake when there’s a 30 per cent chance of making it. And I hit 120 on roads where 40 would be deemed excessive. One of these days, I shall be killed and it will all be Bob Harris’ fault.
Radio controllers must address this. If they were to get Johnnie Walker to interview some ageing rock impresario, or ask Kiera Knightley to express her sexual fantasies, I’d slow down so I could hear the ending.
The point I’m trying to make here is that driving, in itself, is boring and being told to concentrate on it, and nothing else, is like being told to concentrate on breathing, and nothing else.
Speed works. If I’m driving fast to get home before Bob Harris brings along his Sounds of the West Country, I couldn’t possibly nod off or lose concentration. Sleep is absolutely impossible when you’re power sliding a Lamborghini.
Soon, the country will have a new prime minister. And he will have many problems to address. The war in Iraq. Rising interest rates. Out-of-control spending in the NHS. And how to round up half-a-million illegal immigrants. But nevertheless he should make it his first priority to ensure that drivers caught in control of a vehicle while under the influence of nothing in particular should face the full force of the law.
People with Citroen Picassos, meanwhile, should be taken out and shot.