The joys of being selfish
As I have done every March for the past 30 years, this week I travelled to Geneva and back for the only motor show outside West Sussex that can still be described as unmissable, at least for people who earn their living by writing about cars. But I’m not going to talk about the show here – goodness knows there’s enough about it out there already. I’m going to talk instead about how I got there, and back. Because this year it was rather different.
At this point in the column I have suddenly become aware of the danger of sounding insufferably smug, because it was my very lucky lot indeed to drive there and back in a McLaren 720S. But really it was merely the enabler here, the catalyst for the story, not the story itself.
For what I really want to talk about is being selfish. When it comes to cars, it’s brilliant. So let’s look at that journey in two ways, first imagining I was driving to Switzerland for the same reason most head out there at this time of year: a family skiing holiday.
Well that’s the McLaren out of the window for a start. It actually has quite a spacious interior and a bigger boot than you’d expect, but it has precisely 50 per cent of the seats required to accommodate me and my family. We’d probably take the Golf that we actually own, which is a fine and blameless car. But a McLaren it ain’t.
Because they’re a reasonably accommodating lot, they’d have agreed to do it in a day, but we’d probably not leave home before 6.00am, meaning we’d get to the M25 just in time for the rush hour, which would not be a good start to the holiday.
We’d then get the Channel Tunnel where someone would want to ‘pop in’ to the main terminal to buy something they’d forgotten to pack while steam comes out of my ears because I know if they do that, we’ll miss the train. ‘But there’s another in half an hour and we’re on holiday. What does it matter?’ And the most annoying thing of all is they’re completely right. It doesn’t matter at all, except to me.
And so the main bulk of the journey begins and we’d probably not listen to much because it’s hard when you have four people with four disparate musical tastes. Each fuel stop would take just a little longer than I’d like and we’d take the motorway all the way which adds the thick end of an hour to the journey, because at least one of our number feels ill when I try to go around corners.
But we’d probably still arrive in good time for dinner, we’d all still be on speaking terms and, on reflection, consider it had been a pretty good journey.
Now let me tell you what actually happened. I woke up at 3.00am because, pathetically, I’m still not very good at sleeping the night before a long drive in a great car. Because I’d already packed my bag and pre-loaded my toothbrush, the McLaren’s wheels were rolling by 3.15am. The 720S and I arrived at the tunnel before most people were out of bed and threw ourselves onto the back of a train. Motorway to motorway took barely more than an hour. The moment I was out the other side I dived into that service station, bought breakfast, lunch and fuel and got going.
We cruised at the highest speed I knew would attract zero attention from the local constabularies, while I snorted and giggled my way through endless episodes of Yes, Minister. Occasionally when I felt the first signs of tiredness, a quick blast of what is known in this house as Dad Rock was all that was required to return me happily to the Department for Administrative Affairs.
Then, at Dijon, we left the main drag south and speared south east towards Dole. From there it was into sport mode for both the powertrain and chassis ready for a blast across the mountains that I’ll never forget. I reached Geneva just after lunch.
It was a magical drive and the return even better: another unfeasibly early start, over the mountains again this time in the dark, and a detour for a quick lap of Reims on the way back because, well, there was no-one to tell me I couldn’t.
As for the McLaren, it was mesmeric. For a journey like that requiring a car to be functional, comfortable and quiet for one section, then savagely fast and utterly rewarding for the next, there is nothing I’ve driven that could beat it. It was, and I use the word advisedly, astonishing.
But that’s not really the point I’m trying to make. This is: I love my family. There’s literally nothing I enjoy more than going on holiday with them. But if I had to go with them to Geneva or, indeed anywhere else a decent drive away, I’d get on EasyJet. Because the truth is, and selfish though this makes me, if there’s a decent drive to be done – especially if it’s in a decent car – I’d just rather be on my own. Sorry.
Words by Andrew Frankel.