If man’s natural best friend is his dog, then his material best friend must be his car. I have long considered this a given. Men, in particular, obsess about this mechanical marvel. What else can explain the phenomenal worldwide success of the BBC’s Top Gear? Every Sunday these myriads of aficionados can be seen lovingly caressing cars’ lines with their polishing cloths, devoting a level of tender loving care which often puts that devoted to their children to shame. I actually believe there are men out there who, given the choice between their wife and their car, would chose the latter. Mind you, I think the same could be said about not a few of the wives!
I once knew a woman for whom the family car was all that seemed to matter. When, for instance, she split with her husband the only item she chose to keep was the brand new car which her husband had recently paid cash for. Anxious for an amicable separation, she didn’t ask for half the house or its contents, nor for half of her husband’s valuable share portfolio; only the car.
What can explain the otherwise inexplicable? I think I know the answer. Our species was originally a wanderer, a hunter-gatherer. When it gave up following the game and settled instead for a stationary, farming existence it didn’t lose its love of the outdoors nor of travelling. Going back further in time the same could be said of his continuing, ape-like love of climbing trees. We all, as kids, couldn’t resist a good climbable tree any more than we could resist walking along the top of a wall as though it were the bough of a tree. That too, it seems to me, is an echo from our ape like past.
For millennia most of us lived and died in an area no more than eight miles from where we were born. But then came the train, glory be! And then the car, halleluiah! The free spirit in us was liberated in a way not known even to our distant ancestors; it was as though we had sprouted wings. We were able to get places even faster than a bird! But unlike them we didn’t even have to work hard to do it. We could accomplish it effortlessly, in warmth and perfect comfort, surrounded by an amazing range of gizmos to amuse us, all the while listening to our favourite melodies. Here, surely, is the extraordinary appeal of the car. We have even made it beautiful to look at.
But who has come along seeking to spoil all our fun? Yes, you’ve got it: big brother. Despite providing jobs for millions, the state almost sees drivers as public enemy no.1. It tells us the car is a killer and a polluter, and it’s selfish to journey to work in a car made for five with only one in it. And as for getting places faster than a bird? “Well, we’ll soon sort that!” it thinks.
Up go the speed cameras and, when the public learn how to deal with them, up go the average speed cameras. The name of the game, you see, is to knock his speed back to such an extent that he’ll eventually opt for a bike. Meantime, let’s give him a taste of what stage coach travel was like with potted roads to contend with! In go millions of speed bumps along with chicanes to make him swerve violently.
Loving it, our transport masters sit in their swanky offices dreaming up what new road schemes they can inflict on us and what roads they can stop us using by making one way. But the bit they love the most is the way they are empowered to pick our pockets shamelessly with their fines and almost the most expensive fuel in all Europe.
All of which brings me to my final point. Didn’t a certain government, when it came to power recently, promise us that ‘the war on motorists is over’? Well, eighteen months on, I’m still waiting.