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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Latest from Old Fartdom

Having done 34,000 miles the car was due a "big" service; also an MOT (roadworthiness certificate) renewal, being over three years old. This risked my medical appointment in Monmouth in the early afternoon. There was talk of a courtesy car, probably manual stick-shift.

For six years I have changed gear in micro-seconds via a special autobox (six speeds, twin-clutch) offering the option to switch to clutchless manual whenever I choose. By now bare stick-shift evokes an era when a car was less a conveyance and more a hobby with time devoted to topping up batteries, changing oil, boasting about overcoming technical shortcomings, and making do with poor consumption. Me? I just want a car to go, quickly, efficiently, capaciously and economically; I don't want a conversational gambit or a mechanical conundrum. Might I still be able to do stick-shift? Call me an old fart.

Another priority was passing time fruitfully. The dealer is in charmingly named Cinderford, surrounded by the hobgoblin-ridden Forest Of Dean, no diversions within walking distance. I packed sandwiches and my mini-laptop loaded with the last chapter of my current novel, Second Hand.

Now here's an irony. Recently, at home under tranquil conditions, I've struggled with Second Hand. Here, in the dealer’s waiting annexe close to reception, phone ringing, customers Welshly describing their car's symptoms, men in ties rushing in and out, I was fruitful. Rewrote five-hundred words, and tacked on a thousand new words, flirting dangerously with unforeseen fantasy. Perhaps it was the hobgoblins.

All servicing done without risking Monmouth or testing my stick-shift skills. Paid a monster bill - did so gladly since servicing is at 20,000-mile intervals - and drove away my old fart's car which felt deliciously taut. Did you know: most Ferraris are now sold with auto.


  1. As you know I have the same make of car. I seem to remember influencing you regarding automatic based on the experience of my last but one model. My current model which, for parsimonious reasons I bought with manual, is a fine car which i continually enjoy, but i regret every day not having sprung the extra for the automatic.

    My friend has a BMW X3 which now features an EIGHT speed automatic, drool, drool.

    I also sit and wait at my dealer's service reception and try to read, but daytime television blares, which inhibits concentration; however they do have free good quality coffee.

  2. Why are most cars still manual then? I suppose it's cost. I would rather fear getting used to an automatic then being forced to go back to an manual and not being able to competently.

    Sometimes snatched and constrained moments can be quite productive like that, focusing the mind when having abundant time, space and quiet can lead to frittering.

  3. Sir Hugh: I was very impressed by your auto Skoda Octavia; as you know I am now on my second. My first reaction to an auto Yeti was that this was surely a no-no; autos aren't much cop off-road. However I was forgetting the switch to manual which actually makes it superior to a stick-shift.

    Is the X3 a diesel? If it is this is surely gilding the lily. The power band of a diesel is less than 4000 rpm and six speeds is quite sufficient.

    TV at the dealer is a real bummer, I must admit, although rotating one's chair through 180 deg helps a lot.

    Lucy: Until comparatively recently autoboxes had a bad reputation in the UK and, no doubt, in France. The reasons were technical and economic.

    Early autoboxes consisted of a cheaply made pump sort of thing that absorbed much of the engine's power and caused higher consumption. They were popular in the US because cars were over-powered and fuel was cheap. They were not suitable for small cars because they seriously interfered with performance. Most autoboxes were only three-speed which again doesn't matter if the engine delivers more power than is necessary; this is not usually the case with small cars.

    DSG (direct-shift) gearboxes like mine resemble a conventional (stick shift) six-speed box but are operated electronically. The control system selects the gear most appropriate to the way the car is travelling (uphill, downhill, in traffic, over rough surfaces) unlike the "slush pumps" which responded only to engine speed. DSGs have two clutches; this enables the next gear-change to be automatically pre-selected beforehand, thus ensuring very quick gear-changes. Applying the brake causes the gearbox to change down.

    Knowing your ambivalent attitude towards to driving it is clear you were born to use a DSG box.

    Such boxes are expensive. Without DSG my car would have been £2500 cheaper. However there are two advantages: DSG can be fitted to smaller cars and it gives spectacular mpg figures. My 2-litre diesel car can cruise all day at 90 mph on French autoroutes and yet, since purchase, has returned 51 mpg. It is also turbo-charged and when necessary can accelerate like a sports car.

    Sorry about all that.

    "Frittering". Le mot juste.