I mean, I’m sorry. I do try, I really do. My dad races 1960s sportscars. I feel a certain obligation to try to see the beauty in the combustion engine.
But I just hate the bloody things. I hate how noisy they are, how smelly they are, how ugly they are – I sometimes think I’ve gone through my entire life to date missing some essential eyesight component, because the cultural belief that cars can be attractive is so universal and unspoken and to me it just seems totally weird. I mean, it’s a tonne of metal and plexiglass held together with a bunch of rivets and welding in an unearthly shape of the sort that lurks in the nightmares of small children running a high fever. Exactly which classical muse are people invoking when they slap down their welding mask and set the nozzle on to Maximum Liquid Magna Core? Even the Greeks with their tremendous powers of imagination and penchant for fear-and-wonder spectacle never dreamed up anything as terrifying as the car.
But most of all I hate the way they bestride our cultural normative settings like a monstrous, greedy robot that demands one set of behaviour from everybody in the name of “convenience”. They demand that we pave over our gardens and flatten entire fifths of our city centres to create giant nightmarish concrete playgrounds for them, they sneeringly prevent our enjoying an innocent walk along beautiful wide Georgian boulevards without copping a lungful of exhaust fumes and an eye full of grit, they seal us off, physically and emotionally, from the world we’re moving through and ferry us as painlessly and thoughtlessly as a matter transporter from one dull duty to the next.
The irony is they’re actually bloody inconvenient half the time. No-one, once they can drive, ever seems capable of the slightest cost-benefit analysis to see whether their car is bringing them net gain or just misery. People go through ridiculous twisted hoops of logic and effort to have them, use them and keep them – “I’ll park mine in the road with a permit until you take yours out, then put mine in the drive, except I’ll have to take mine out again before you get back because you’re doing the school run early tomorrow, but that means I have to come back from the pub which is five miles away to do it, and I won’t have the car, so I’ll get someone else who also lives five miles away from the pub to give me a lift back so I can move my car, although all that does mean that we’ll have used up our last permit so you’ll have to stop off on the way back from the school run at the post office, and that’ll mean parking somewhere so you’ll need some cash. There’s only a tenner in the pot – I’ll just pop out in the car and change it.” I mean, do you people ever listen to yourselves when you’re having this sort of conversation? Cars are part of the con, one of the great techno-egalitarian strides forward that was supposed to make our lives easier but actually ended up making it more complicated.
And these things fucking kill people, for god’s sake. As a pedestrian you live with the constant background terror that the next cretin tearing up molecules within a few feet of your precious human tissues will be the spontaneous heart attack victim or manic texter who will mount the pavement behind you and splatter your innards across their windscreen. You can tell no-one really cares about anyone else on the road because if they did, four-by-four drivers wouldn’t be such universal and unmitigated bastards – it’s because they know they’re safe unless they actually go and cut up a mechanised assault vehicle.
It’s not just pedestrians either – or at least it shouldn’t be. Motorways are places of such towering madness that it’s just as well all the people on them never actually stop to think about what they’re doing, because if they did they’d start screaming, “Oh fuck! I’m in a biscuit tin in a slightly odd sitting position being hurled along a stretch of asphalt at sixty miles an hour about seven feet in any given direction from a bunch of other hurtling people-tins who may or may not be on the verge of a heart attack/texting their boyfriend/have two brain cells to rub together AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”
And yet, in the face of all this, it is the universal assumption that most people have a car! That most people choose to put themselves through this constant, multi-faceted hell of physical danger, logistical tedium and an administrative workload commensurate with fielding a small flotilla of submarines. And that they pay a fortune every month for the privilege! I’ve been flat-hunting recently, and the agent showing me a flat with a beautiful leafy garden seriously thought that one of its chief recommendations was the fact that it backed onto a service lane, so I could tear up the wisteria, concrete over the greenwood and park a car on it. I spoke to another agent only today to fix up an appointment.
Agent: “Fantastic, so we’ll see you outside the property at 3.”
Me: “Ok, great, what’s the address?”
Agent: “I’ll just get you the postcode… you’ve got satnav?”
Me: “No, sorry, we’re not yet in the cyberpunk future and I have not had satnav capabilities implanted into my temporal lobes, you petrol-headed pillock.”
It’s the same when they try to give you directions. “Go through the traffic lights, then take the third exit on the Western Way roundabout and you’ll see a hump-backed bridge sign…” That’s NO GOOD to me! I mean, whatever happened to the traditional method of giving someone the bloody address? Just, you know, the street name and the number of the house, so that I can look it up on what we call a map. Works great! Has worked really well for several hundred years!
You can possibly tell where this spiral of viciously disappointed rage is going. I’ve just worked out from obsessive examination of the particulars that the flat I have fixed to view with above-mentioned agent has, where nature and Victorian town planners intended a garden to be, a shared parking space with the flat above and not, as I thought, a parking space of its own which I could promptly reclaim for humanity with gravel, earth and tomato plants. Piss, tits, bollocks and arse.
I don’t want a parking space! I want a bloody garden! You MANIACS! What have you done! The machines are already here and they’re already in control – no-one ever said the bastards had to be conscious.