Big trouble in auto adland

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
Somewhere in my mind is the fractured memory of a quotation. I'm sure it was by Clive James and I'm fairly confident he was talking about Jane Fonda. He claimed that if he ever found himself sharing the same opinion as she did, he automatically examined his belief to see what was wrong with it. Right, file that thought away. You'll need it later.

I want to talk about automatic transmission systems in a moment, but first I would like to thank a reader and fellow TES Scotland chappie who sent me the following extract from a novel entitled Big Trouble, by Dave Barry:

"Driving home, Eliot pondered his situation: he was a failure as a husband and as a parent; his business was a joke; he had no prospects; he was driving a Kia."

The news that I had traded in my Skoda for a Kia provoked the second greatest response via my inbox to any article I have written (yes, I got one e-mail, not quite matching my high of two). The vehicle move was prompted by the necessity of having a clutchless gear change if Mrs Steele was to make use of the family car.

I had no other reason for wanting an automatic. There's something about them that I'm not quite happy with. It isn't the poor fuel economy or the fact that even the Koreans can't make a gearshift that is as intelligent as I am when I am driving well, though they have managed with ease to construct one that is never as stupid as I am when I am driv-ing badly.

No, it's the feeling that my driving experience has been dumbed down. It worries me that I feel like this. Next thing you know, I'll be joining the old gits who think that kids shouldn't be allowed to use a calculator in a physics exam.

Having fewer controls to play with has allowed me fractionally more time to read billboards. "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" ask certain party political hoardings. These posters are Jane Fondas to my Clive James.

I would love to sneak out at night and replace them with ones truer to the spirit in which they are erected. "Is it wrong to shoot burglars in the back?" "It's not racist to base an entire immigration policy on a knee-jerk reaction to the demonisation of an uncharacteristically rabid cleric with 19th-century prosthetic hands."

"What's wrong with a bit of discipline in schools?" screams a genuine advertisement. "Who says there isn't any?" I reply, easing back on the accelerator to encourage the shift into second. "And if what you mean is 'What's wrong with more discipline in schools?', what kind of discipline would you like to see more of?"

Then I tune out. Automatically.

Gregor Steele forgot to mention that his Kia has a half-leather interior.

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