Things in general

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TO our vast astonishment, we have now heard that State encouragement of the motoring complex during peace results in quite a substantial advantage to a nation during war. I wonder whether the lesson will be remembered after our present trials and troubles are happily over! Or shall we sink back with a sigh of relief into the bosom of a dear old England in which racing upon anything but four legs is simply not done, in which motorists are only tolerated because heavy taxation and heavy fines are paid by them submissively, and in which any speed exceeding an amble is libelled as an eighth Deadly Sin? Will the Pedestrians’ Association resume its queer occult influence over governments who invest it with the importance once arrogated to themselves by the Ten Tailors of Tooley Street, and will countless police in expensive saloon cars still be so busy trying to turn a blind eye to trivial offences on the roads that they have no time to see that the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King is not broken in other ways? Will the roads again be blocked by crawling processions of big-bodied, small-engined cars? Will Brooklands still be a haven of peace shared with one or two other enthusiasts who get there as unobtrusively as possible, and will trials still start from some inconspicuous and out-of-the-way point kept as secret as possible to avoid offence to “the public”?

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Or will a post-war Government dare to be a Daniel, using a Bill in default of a sling to kill the Giant Prejudice who has made life so hard for us motoring people for so long? Parliament might make a simple start by altering the basis of our road laws to fit new conditions, and explain to us all that, if we walk into the road, we shall be charged with attempted suicide if we escape with our lives. You think this is a madly revolutionary idea, but it is only the idea upon which French law has been based as long as I can remember: the road is for the vehicle; if you get run over, you have to explain what you are doing to be where you were when the sad occurrence took place. In the new England which I hope is not only a dream, there would be a peerage, not for successful manufacturers, hut for Mr. Humphrey Cook, who would get financial support as well in his endeavour to produce a British racing car; Brooklands, Donington, Prescott and Shelsley might look confidently for State help if they needed it; trials would be started in a blaze of noonday publicity by notable statesmen, and any speed under, say, 40 m.p.h. would cause us to be ticked off by whatever mobile policemen survive from the past age.

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It might even be possible that you could keep as many cars as you could afford without paying any tax upon them, and that petrol, like water, would be held to be one of the necessities of life which simply must be as cheap as possible. I don’t think our present enemies encouraged motoring quite to this extent, but they did encourage it, and they did mop up all the racing prizes all over Europe; they fostered trials which, so I have heard, made our own attempts at the game look like a Sunday promenade of Mr. J. Citizen in his overcrowded Family Eight (with shoehorn in the toolkit), and they did build roads on which you could only go at a minimum speed. Alas, this kind of thinking is, I’m afraid, Utopian. I remember far too many wars in my time, and after each one of them we have done just as we do when Bill the Burglar pays us a visit: we turn over and go to sleep again with the comforting thought that it won’t happen again for quite a time.

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In these days, when the open road is closed to most of us (and even if it weren’t, what would be the joy in it when so many good fellows are perforce engaged elsewhere), I find a little distraction in observing things. One thing I notice is the number of fellows who, having had to lay up such things as Bugattis, have bought themselves bicycles of the real old racing breed. One of these told me the other day that, although his mileage is absurd by Bugatti standards, he gets a lot of fun out of the game, for in his rather restricted rides, he sees things that he never saw before, because now he doesn’t go too fast to notice them. This attitude of mind may be philosophical, but perhaps it really amounts to making the best of a bad job. I wonder whether, later on, those who have taken to cycling will have so far recovered the open air complex that the genuine open car will again come into its own? A Bugatti man, of course, won’t stand for a lid over him, even if furnished with that pathetic sham, a sliding roof, but what about the hothouse plants? Will they demand open cars, and failing them, make an onslaught with hacksaws upon the superfluous part of their pre-war vehicles? Most of them have taken me aside to tell me that while they, individually, hate what the Editor of this journal describes so well as a “fug-box,” they have been forced into it by the wife or the best girl (or both) who simply must have protection from the fresh air for those artificial complexions which, I am told, are now all the go.

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Nobody seems to have had time to tell me why there should apparently be no possible substitute for petrol, nor why alcohol, which was used with some success before the war, has been washed out as a combustible, as the French call it. Only to-day I heard that a car has been adapted to run upon a production called Calor Gas, which I believe to be a kind of compressed gas supplied to country people in containers of moderate size, and used for lighting and cooking. I didn’t have a chance to see the car in question, but heard that the owner had adapted it at a small cost to carry five containers stowed beneath the seats, and that he got a 200-mile range on one five-container fill. [Calor Gas no longer available. —Ed.] — J.D.A.

 

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