DIFFERENT people, different hobbies.
I enjoy a football match, or an hour or two in an art gallery, but, when it comes down to it, I’m never happier than when I’m wandering around a car showroom.
An odd way to pass the time, I know. When I told an acquaintance about it, he said he knew a place that would suit me right down to the ground. A place where there were hundreds of models, all shapes and sizes. Best of all, it was open all day and the show changed every hour.
Where was this vision of heaven, I asked.
Tesco’s car park he told me.
Perhaps I should have seen it coming.
I once joked to our first director of mima, Godfrey Worsdale that I wouldn’t be happy until we had cars on display there. He must have thought that hosting Top Gear in the gallery was stage one of the master plan.
It’s a harmless enough hobby, I hope you’ll agree.
But it has caused damage to my wallet over the years, because I can’t confine myself to window shopping.
I have lost count of the cars I’ve bought over the years, but there’s been a common factor in all the transactions. I’ve lost money on every one.
I have never had the courage to tot up exactly how much – the state of the economy gives me enough cause for depression without piling on the misery.
But reflecting on some of the purchases – they seemed good ideas at the time – is a useful reality check.
As useful in fact as flicking through a book on the world’s worst cars someone bought me the other day and realising that at one time or another I had owned just about all of them.
Ever the connoisseur.
Watching cars leads to watching people and another trend has struck me. It’s as constant and inexorable as the money-losing one. Cars are getting bigger, but they carry fewer people.
Spend a couple of minutes watching the traffic flow and you’ll see what I mean.
While the recession and rising fuel costs have prompted a modest increase in car sharing, single occupancy is still the norm. In fact, something like 90 per cent of commuter journeys are solo trips. Just you, the radio and the pollution.
There are 33 million vehicles on Britain’s roads and 27 million of them are private cars.
Forty per cent of your carbon footprint comes from car journeys. It’s estimated that if we switched from car to bus or train for just one in 20 journeys, the amount of pollution in the UK atmosphere would be reduced by a quarter of a million tonnes a year.
Yet, with rail fares set to rise by up to 25 per cent, and the kind of cuts in bus services reported by this newspaper in the last couple of days, the incentives to switch are being swept away.
There are still huge areas where you can’t do without the car, even for a day.
Maybe I’m not ready to swap the showroom for the bus station, just yet, but consumers and manufacturers have to accept the need for change.
Linking road tax to engine size and mandatory emission standards are a start but, when it comes to changing attitudes and giving people real incentives to leave the car in the garage, we’re still in the slow lane.
In the era of austerity, cars seem to be the one luxury we can’t bring ourselves to do without. We need to realise that in this case what’s bad for our pockets is bad for the planet too.