Debate has run out of juice

19th March 2010 at 00:00

A Highland physicist, who helps keep me right by occasionally firing good-natured insults my way, told me he reckoned he knew how I wrote my columns. Apparently, I take bits of card with random words printed on them, shuffle them about and see what comes out.

I believe David Bowie took a similar approach to lyric writing. We can be heroes, Nick, just for one day.

One technique I used to use was to try to offset an unexpected bill by writing about the mishap that caused it, then try to relate it to teaching. Hence, the early columns are littered with exploding car engines, disasters with plasterers and so forth. They are all logged in a series of photo albums, affectionately (I hope it's affectionately) known by my family as Big Heid Books.

And so to my Nissan people carrier which, one day last month, appeared to develop an unhealthy appetite for fuel. I knew this instantly, because I have an unhealthy obsession with its fuel economy meter. The fall in mpg was followed by an engine warning light illuminating, and a message appearing on the information screen telling me that a fault had occurred: I probably wouldn't break down, but should go to a Nissan garage pronto to get the metaphorical tea-leaves read.

Instead, I went to my local independent garage where the owner helps keep me right by occasionally firing good-natured insults my way. He also never does anything to my car that doesn't need to be done. I told him I thought my lambda sensor had gone. He good-naturedly insulted me and agreed that this was, among dozens of other things, a possibility. It turned out I was correct. The slightly expensive part was fitted, and my vehicle behaved itself once more.

The lambda sensor sits in the exhaust, sniffing out unburnt fuel then relaying its findings to the engine management unit, which then tells the fuel injectors to go a bit easier on the juice. When it doesn't work, fuel consumption gets worse by about 40 per cent.

Interestingly, it needs to be hot to function properly, which is why short journeys when the engine never properly warms up are disproportionately bad for the environment.

Essentially, it forms part of a monitoring and feedback system, without which you would have a genuine 1970s fuel consumption experience - not a good thing.

According to my Big Heid Books, this is the point where I should bring in the link with education and talk about how, without proper monitoring and feedback, children could end up having a 1970s education experience. However, my columns were longer then, and I don't have the space to debate whether or not this is a good thing.

Gregor Steele may have to write a column themed on a faulty garage door.

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