although my daily occupations are centred on the redeployment of materials, planting of trees and generally fairly laudable behaviour in terms of responsibilities to the planet, I must confess to having what some might call a dark side. this may shock. I actually enjoy driving. and given I live in rural bliss, getting anywhere at all other than the nearest village (achievable on a velocipede or Shanks' pony) does require motorized transport if it is to be accomplished in reasonable time i.e. without a camel train and camping gear.
even worse, my chariot of choice is a Mazda MX-6. tiny smart cars are fine for metropolitan areas but put them up against country traffic, a blur of trucks, multistorey tourist buses and wandering stock and they offer about as much protection as one of those red netting bags that Spanish onions are packed in. scary stuff.
one of the particular pleasures when returning home from parts foreign is peeling off The Beastie's jarmies (aka cover), popping the hood and inspecting the offering on the dipstick...then a quick pre-flight visual inspection (nothing so rough as kicking the tyres) before sinking happily into the driver's seat. despite the age of the car (vintage 1996) it feels fantastic. the instrumentation is nicely positioned and favours the driver. the leather seats hold one snugly, the gearstick feels good to hand if not quite so short and snippy as that of it's little brother, the MX-5. I heave a sigh of contentment, it's 'clear props' and the V6 purrs into life emitting a tigerish rumble not unlike that of a Porsche 911 (sadly beyond my budget). chortling 'chocks away' we're off. the mile or so of dirt track to the bitumen is a faithfully constructed model of the floor of the Grand Canyon and so has to be negotiated slowly and carefully. once we're on the black stuff though, it's pure driving heaven. it would have been a bonus had the designer chosen to inlcude an oil pressure gauge along with the other instrumentation...but hey, you can't have everything.
I'm surprised Mazda stopped making them after only a few years - predict it will become a classic one day, it's such a lovely sleek shape.
the only drawback I can think of on the MX-6 is the front wheel drive, but it compensates for it's inability to do donuts (not something a respectable mother of three, keen on preserving the life of her tyres, should be doing anyways) with four wheel steering.
this nifty notion makes for perfect steering (neither over- nor understeer) and The Beastie sits down like a duck on corners. bring on the winding roads. then when one finds a nice straight bit (and there are a few around here) one can just open the taps, feeling the G forces push one back into the seat as the scenery begins to blur. this responsiveness is something I miss when forced into hire cars...
when all's said and done, The Beastie only slurps 9 litres per 100km, and certainly has cleaner emissions by far than the many ancient poorly maintained vehicles one sees clogging up the roads. oddly enough the fuel consumption is equivalent to that of the unspeakably ghastly automatic Nissan Pulsar which awaited me at Greymouth rail station last year, despite a firm request for a manual. I'd been looking forward to tackling the winding West Coast roads with something vaguely responsive, sadly it was not to be.
steering the Nissan was like trying to drive a barge through a canal full of toxic sludge. the seats appeared to have been whittled from hebel blocks and then covered in fluff. it made strange beeping noises when stationary. the brakes seemed to be operated by an on-off switch and not a lot happened when one put one's right foot in the general direction one might expect to find an accelerator. it wheezed a bit, causing me to suspect there might have been a nest full of asthmatic termites under the bonnet. there certainly wasn't anything terribly exciting. not at all like the little Alfa 33 I once hired (1986) for a trip to Melbourne. I fondly remember it having done the 450 miles in 6 hours on one tank of petrol (eat your heart out, Jeremy Clarkson)
we made slow if not exactly stately progress South, taking in various glaciers and staying for one blissful night at the Franz Josef Glacier retreat (three cheers for wotif!!) later playing pool at the wonderfully hospitable Working Men's Club in Greymouth.
that trip taught me two things. one I'll keep to myself for the time being, the other is never to drive a Nissan again. I'll walk, thanks.