Put your hand up when I mention your favourite car. DB9? M5? SLK? R8? 911? Murcielago? Prius?
No, it’s not a Prius, because you don’t use a manufactured first name, live in California and have a dozen other cars that are rather less image-friendly. There have been many cars through history with phallic names, the Ford Probe being probably the most smirk-worthy, but Toyota’s world-famous Priapus, sorry, I mean Prius, has to be up there. As it were. Anyway, this is surely no indication of the sort of person who drives one. None at all. Really.
No, it is probably one of the others, all of which have a very obvious common thread: by heck, they’re quick. The DB9 is quick and suave, the M5 is quick and efficient, the 911 is quick and ageless, the Murcielago is quick and sounds like a fighter jet taking off. How quick they are is almost irrelevant, as the only stat that really matters is 0-70; at least, legally. Yes, you could take your quick and expensive showpiece round a race track, but the reality is you will mostly just drive it past less fortunate people so they can admire it, as you don’t quite trust your own driving enough to send it round the Nürburgring with some 200 other vehicles without the safety net of insurance. The best you will probably do is take advantage of the legendary Autobahns on the way there, and even then you will not fully test the abilities of your carefully crafted, expensive, underused car.
No, most supercars, and even the next two or three layers down from that deified status, are accessories, jewellery, status symbols, trinkets. Owning one must be very frustrating; knowing that you have all that power available, and utterly unable to harness it. A few years ago I drove a DB9 round a race track for 10 minutes or so; my overriding feeling, sat in my A3 later that day on the way home, was that my own car was far better value. No way was the DB9 worth five, six, seven times as much as mine, thrilling a drive as it was.
And of course now, it’s becoming increasingly prohibitive to feed such a beast. Those with the sort of money to afford a car worth the same as a flat doubtless think rarely about the cost of running it, but with the price of petrol having doubled in ten years (I distinctly remember seeing fuel at below 70p per litre in 2001) it is something that even the well-off can no longer ignore. The cost of running a car is not far behind the traditional British topic of the rubbish weather as the most common subject of idle conversation now, and it is noticeable that recent car adverts are featuring the average consumption rather more prominently than the acceleration and top speed.
I actually believe that the government could, if it so chose, do a lot more to help the motorist, but they choose not to, in a foresightful way most would not credit them with. What better way to encourage the development of more efficient vehicles and cleaner fuel sources than to allow petrol and diesel to escalate in cost, driving the customer to seek respite from the continual incline, causing the market behaviour to tend towards economy over performance? Thus green electricity for example is becoming more and more competitive, in part because of improvements in green technologies, but mostly because the cost of the alternative has risen to match.
So with this in mind, it came as something of a surprise last week when I heard the government floating the idea of a 10mph increase on the motorway limit. It has been mooted a few times in recent years, but could not now be said to be timely. Ministers suggested that more casualties were to be expected, although recognising that most accidents happen in urban areas rather than on motorways; this is not going to register with most regular drivers, because of the simple fact that most people think they’re good drivers, although few actually are. In fact, such a proposal is unlikely to lead to a significant increase in average motorway speed at all, as a sizeable percentage of motorway drivers already cruise at up to 80mph, figuring that even traffic cops are unlikely to bother with them at that speed. But despite this, I am surprised that more has not been made of the green impact: higher speeds mean quicker consumption of the one thing most of us could now do to be eking out.
Because I have children and a recently qualified teacher as a wife, and therefore little free money for pretty much anything beyond the necessities at the moment, and most certainly luxuries such as holidays in sunny climes, I am very conscious of money most of the time. I have long been a bit of a boy racer in my A3, and fatherhood didn’t change that as much as one might expect, but in recent months have come to be looking more at the MPG than the MPH. This has even caused me to consider buying a BMW as my next car, as it does seem that far more has been overtly done at that company with respect to fuel efficiency than any other manufacturer in a similar class. To underline the importance of this point, I have repeatedly stated in the past that I would never do such a thing as I prefer people to get to know me before deciding I am a (insert colourful expletive to taste). But they are clearly doing something right that their rivals have yet to cotton on to, and the gap while their competitors catch up may fall right into BMW’s hands.
I initially broadly supported the mooted proposal a few years ago for a higher speed limit, mostly on the selfish grounds that I was very busy and needed to get around quicker. But on reflection, and given the increasing difficulty in supplying energy for the nearly 7 billion people this planet now has to cater for, I think the better part of valour is to pull back, ease the foot off the accelerator, leave a little earlier for work, and save both a bit of money on fuel and a bit of the planet at the same time. So I would argue against the increasing motorway speed limit, despite my instinctive acceptance of the idea, on the grounds that it’s the wrong message at the wrong time.
Speed is however of the essence sometimes when preparing food, and the below is an extremely quick to prepare easy pasta dish that we are relying on heavily at the moment.
Tomato and pepper pasta
Chop three peppers of differing colour, a red chilli and some chopped garlic. Place in a roasting tin, season and pop into an oven preheated to 200C for 25 minutes. After 10 minutes add a packet of cherry tomatoes and put a pan of pasta on to boil. Put the veggies into a jug and pulse briefly with a hand blender, looking for a coarse sauce. Stir into the drained pasta and serve.