ON THE ROAD
NOTHING screams mid-life crisis quite as shrilly as a 40-something driving a Subaru Impreza branded with that “If in doubt, flat out!” sticker. Well, okay, this is trumped by anyone aged over 40 who buys a motorcycle with aspirations of looking like Steve McQueen . . . only to be spotted shortly afterwards in a lay-by, pale, panting for breath and phoning a friend to please come pick them up.
While the sticker may be a respectful nod to the late Colin McRae, one of the world’s greatest ever rally drivers, slapping his mantra underneath a rear spoiler stolen from a biplane on a car used only for the school run just looks silly.
Have these people never wondered why their better half is always scrouched down in mortification in the passenger seat?
Like it or loathe it, we live in a culture that constantly judges us by our choice of car – and it’s difficult not to find our full metal jacket rightly or wrongly defining who we are, what we do and even how successful we pretend to be at it.
And so our popular misconceptions dictate that Land Rovers should only be driven by farmers and must be booed on the high street, Mondeos are the second home of travelling salespeople and all BMWs . . . well their owners often find their handiwork mimicked in the most descriptive and cruel fashion.
Of course, our choice of vehicle should not always be something to be ashamed of.
Regular readers will know my first car was an MG Midget whose bodywork was so frail it constantly threatened to disassemble itself into a clattering puff of snot-green metal shards and blue smoke.
Whether the sight of my clown car suggested a congenital love of the MG marque or a Freudian reflection of my personal self-esteem, I cannot say.
But what is certain is that in those days I regularly enjoyed the daily reaffirmed sense of camaraderie instilled by meeting other MG owners.
Spying an octagonal badge while rolling along on life’s highway would always result in an involuntary burst of headlight flashing and a knowing nod of the head. It even got to the point of accessorising. My style didn’t quite match the likes of the clobber from our friends at Hackett ( see right) – in fairness, my motoring budget has never quite made it to an Aston Martin either. No, my sartorial zenith was climbing from the cockpit in the boho chic of corduroy MG driving jacket topped off with a cap given to my dad by Jackie Stewart – worn proudly by yours truly until lost to the charms of a flame-haired Galway girl in a Glasgow bar!
From such days of automobile elegance, sadly, it seems we no longer take much pride at all in our appearance behind the wheel. In fact, the findings of a poll released this week by the UK’s biggest road safety charity, IAM RoadSmart, reveal a rather startling disregard for how other motorists see us.
Beyond the bad habits of smoking, eating and drinking at the helm, the survey of more than 2300 drivers suggests the driving seat is often used as an extension of the bathroom.
Yes, incredibly, a wide range of personal grooming activities are taking place, mostly on the morning commute.
Barnet styling was witnessed by 55% of respondents and shaving by 24% – we assume these were blokes using electric shavers, rather than a hair-raising display of ladies’ legs. Not surprisingly, more than half (57%) said their driving had been adversely affected by such distractions.
Suddenly, I don’t feel so guilty about being seen at the wheel playing Spot The Sheep with my Collie dog Star.