PHIL WHITE THE NUMBERS GAME
Afew days ago I took my latest vehicle for its maiden voyage. In a 90-minute trip I did a couple of miles, taking a route that, viewed later on a GPS device, would look rather like a figure- of- eight drawn like by palsied spider on crack. By the end of this journey, I felt utterly at peace, relaxed and just, well, happy.
All I had done was paddle gently around some of Portland harbour in Dorset, on a kayak. Mine is a decent vessel, if a tad patinated, which I recently purchased secondhand for the sum of £150. It is an extremely simple machine, and it brings me extremely simple pleasures. Personally, I spend much of my leisure time outdoors. I walk, run, climb, ride bicycles, swim and now kayak. Occasionally if I get things a bit wrong, I inadvertently combine the latter two activities. All of these fall into the category of uncomplicated and affordable pastimes, although the amount of cash that can be sunk into bicycles if you let it is admittedly rather eye watering.
I also love cars, and taking out the kayak gave me fun the same way one of my regular motoring experiences does. I frequently take the tiller of a beautiful 1960 Morris Minor convertible, on jaunts (which mostly seem to involve a stop at a picturesque pub) around the stunning landscape that living in Dorset gives one access to. The Minor is the very definition of stripped- down motoring. It has literally nothing that it doesn't need. There are no driver aids, and the entertainment system is the unique sound of an A-series engine and an antique transmission doing their stuff. It offers a wonderful driving experience, and every expedition is an adventure from which I return refreshed and smiling.
In pursuit of my manifold leisure activities I travel a great deal. During the last six weeks I have taken weekend runs to the Lake District, the Derbyshire Dales, the Peak District and most recently
Bedfordshire, where there is some surprisingly stunning off-road cycling to be had. Naturally, I don't do this in a Morris Minor. Imagine the horror of a Friday evening journey from Dorset to Sheffield without access to a proper heater and a stereo. Frankly, I also like rain-sensing wipers, heated seats and cruise control on long runs these days.
A few weeks ago I left Coniston in Cumbria, heading home. It had rained remorselessly all weekend and the valley was filling up. There were large floods on the road, and more water was literally pouring onto it over walls and verges.
I got the distinct impression that in a very short time getting to Ambleside would have been an impossibility. I once spent a joyous week ambling around the highlands of Scotland in a friend's Series 3 lightweight Land Rover, and couldn't help thinking that this would have been the perfect conveyance through a Lakeland half-submerged under floodwater.
But after Ambleside things wouldn't have been so much fun. On main roads and the M6, a rag-top Landy with its leaky roof, barely-functioning windscreen wipers, primitive demister and top speed of 50-something mph would wipe any smile off my face pretty sharpish. Most of these voyages are made in my main daily transport, which for the last couple of years has been an extremely tidy W203 Mercedes C- Class. It is large, comfortable, good-looking and well- equipped. It handles well, is reasonably thrifty with fuel, and boasts all the luxuries mentioned above bar rain-sensing wipers. It's a lovely car, and I finish any journey perfectly ready for a sustained bout of outdoor activity.
At 16 years old, the Mercedes is getting on, although it wears its years very well. It's not quite the ship of the desert that a classic W123 Merc is – literally, as you'll know if you've ever taken a taxi in Morocco – but this is a well- constructed car. I write the monthly feature Emerging
Classics elsewhere in this fine magazine, and in my opinion the 2000-2006 C- Class is a worthy contender for this status. Nearclassics such as this have never made a stronger case for themselves. We live in a world very conscious of carbon footprint, and increasingly gripped by the spiralling cost of living. The market tells all, and used car values have been rising for a while now. My old Mercedes is currently worth considerably more than I paid for it.
You and I, with our penchant for the older automobile, have been telling people for years that while our ancient conveyances might emit more pollutants than a new vehicle, a large proportion of its energy consumption was committed years ago, at the point of manufacture. Now we are being wracked by the whirlwind of financial crisis, habitual renters of cars are joining us by not renewing their leases and buying a secondhand ride instead. To further compound the woes of carmakers, problems with the supply of essential materials mean that it's quite hard to get a new car anyway. So you and I are being proved to have been right all along.
There is a saying in two of the worlds I inhabit – cycling and music – that the right number of bikes/ instruments to have is one more than you already possess. Car collectors would surely agree. How else did John Haynes end up with a museum rammed with them? But cars are large things. You can get a lot of cycles and guitars in the area occupied by a single automobile, so for most of us a fantasy garage will have to suffice, alongside a smaller selection of actual cars. In my case, I'd have a Minor for open-top fun on sunny days, maybe that Land Rover in case of flood, and an almost- classic Mercedes to cover any other eventualities. As pioneering hip-hop positivist band De La Soul laid out for us back in 1989, three is the magic number.
On main roads and the M6, a rag-top Landy with its leaky roof, barely-functioning windscreen wipers, primitive demister and top speed of 50-something mph would wipe any smile off my face pretty sharpish