I was sitting in the passenger's seat one night looking through half closed eyes at the
twisting snake of red lights that stretched out in front of me. Then I noticed the bright silver
snake which danced in unison with it and the ethereal orange snake dancing above them.
I wondered - how many light bulbs must there be in the world? Every car seemed to be
showing more lights than is necessary. How many lights do we need for night time driving
anyway? Lights are there for a purpose, to see where we're going and to show others we're
there. One on each corner ought to do it. Say something once, why say it again?
That was before overstatement became the norm. Brake lights were a good idea, such
a good idea that we now need an extra set of them in the back window to tell people that
we're not just slowing down, we're really really really slowing down. Two would get the
message across, but that doesn't somehow convey how important or vulnerable that person
in front thinks they are. There was a truck up ahead showing so many lights it looked like
a fairground ride as it slowed down and changed lanes. For who's benefit? Needs seem to
be a country mile away from wants.
I used to drive a delightful old banger that didn't have the kind of on board computer
a sixties NASA engineer would have given his eye teeth for. To make it run smoothly and
efficiently required some co-operation and understanding from the driver. The body looked
like it was made out of brown lace but what the hell, it never let me down or failed to start.
When the engine was cold I pulled the choke out, when it warmed up I pushed it back in.
It wasn't rocket science. I developed a feel for how the car was running. It was a relationship.
I also became aware of the way the engine tick-over slowed down when I turned the
headlights on. It did this because any electrical device draws current from the alternator
which then puts load on the engine. I was aware of all this because the only brain in the
car was behind the steering wheel, not under the bonnet.
I drive a newer car now and I'm oblivious to all these processes. I'm not a driver any more,
I'm not even a passenger, I'm a member of the audience. I'm there to be entertained.
I'm not supposed to know about what goes on backstage. So, as the pilot of this spaceship
I sit comfortably cocooned, surrounded by an array of lights keeping me amused and giving
me the opportunity to fine tune my environment should my driving experience become in any
way disagreeable. As comfortable in my climate controlled pram as every other pampered
child. Oblivious to the small amounts of energy that my air conditioning, heating fan, heated
rear window, power steering and countless other gadgets are drawing from my engine, and
therefore my fuel tank, as I obediently keep the revs in the green zone. We create the
problem as we go along therefore, though we may be loath to admit it, we are the problem.
Our fascination with novelty and a desire for constant improvement has become the
snake eating its own tail.