A couple of years ago, John and I went train spotting. Well actually, it was more a case of our father went train spotting and we happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Though to be absolutely honest with you, it’s not all bad. The actual train part can even border on interesting occasionally.
The trouble is surviving long enough to get to the train part. Or even living long enough to get to the train part. I won’t go into it all now – it’s simply too traumatic – but this particular time, it was even worse.
It seems that a fellow train spotter (called Barry, because all train spotters are) had paused from fingering his beard and pulling his trousers up to just above his armpits long enough to notice that none of us were wearing the obligatory high-visibility safety vests. He then felt it was his duty to inform us of this, in no uncertain terms.
Fortunately, we managed to wriggle out of it by smiling politely and commenting on the “wonderful weather” and getting him distracted with the wheel configuration of the AD60 Beyer Garratt. But I remember thinking how pointless a high-visibility vest would be. I don’t know very much about trains, but I do know they are extremely big and heavy and take a very long time to stop. All a high-visibility vest would do is show the driver what he was about to run over.
Obviously, this is not really surprising. Health and Safety people rarely ever consider the point of what they’re demanding. Or any point of anything actually. They are why we end up with child-safety locks that only a child can manage to unlock, and 40 km/h speed limits to protect road workers who are at home watching the races, and safety pins on fire extinguishers which mean that by the time you can actually use the fire extinguisher, the stovetop, the kitchen, you, the house, it, and the safety pin are all a pile of smouldering cinders.
Basically, the take-home message is that if anything has the word "safe" in it, it isn't.
Now, I promise there’ll be something about cars soon, but before we get there, I must first talk about Freddo Frog chocolate bars. They have to be at least half the size they were when I was younger.
To the cars now, and specifically, the new, limited-edition Mini 1499 GT. It is, says Mini, a “future classic” and a “celebration of the original sporty Mini 1275 GT… with the same daring spirit”. This means it comes with gold stripes down both sides, extra John Cooper Works styling packages, and a whole host of added fancy bits inside.
But what it apparently does not mean is that it’s actually Mini. In fact, there’s really only one word for it: Fat. The original, sporty, daring-spirited 1970’s Mini 1275 GT was a tick over three metres long; this one is a whole metre more than that. To put that in human terms, that’s like me turning into Clive Palmer, in four years.
And this is before we get to the other Minis. The Countryman, for example. They must have seen that everyone was buying these big and bulky Sports Utility Vehicle things, and thought, “Yes, that sounds like us”. Then there’s the Clubman, which is so enormous, they’ve been able to put French-style fridge doors on the back. Mini has lost the plot.
To be fair though, they’re not alone. It’s happening everywhere. Earlier this year, Volkswagen showed us the Up! GTI Concept, which I was quite interested in; well alright, extremely excited by. Anyway, almost immediately, all the car magazine headlines were screaming: “The Golf GTI is back”. It turns out the tiny little Up! is closer in size to the original 1970’s Golf than the modern 2017 Golf. I imagine that in a few years, VW will also make an old people’s mobility scooter to the media cry of “The Up! is back”.
It’s obvious – we have a real obesity problem on our hands. And do you know what’s causing it? Health and Safety.
These one-eyed pessimists are out there hyping everyone up into a panic-stricken frenzy so that they no longer want a car that handles well or is stylish or fast – in other words – all the things that matter. All they want is to be able to hit a brick wall with it at 60 km/h and walk away unscathed. And how the car makers ensure this is to put as much metal between the brick wall and you as they possibly can.
I have a hunch it would actually be nicer to simply be there one minute and gone the next, rather than slowly dying in agony wishing for an old Lada because you happened to hit the wall at 61. I can’t be absolutely sure of that though, so we’ll say this safety rage is mostly good.
But here’s the catch. The roads which the bigger cars are driving on aren’t becoming bigger. No, everywhere it’s the same story – make them more and more narrow. So the cars have just become like those inflatable balloons that doctors force through a fat man’s arteries, and that’s not very safe.
This brings me back to Freddo Frogs. I’m sure that Cadbury, the manufacturer, will say they are ‘being treat-wise and preventing obesity in children’ by shrinking them. Just leaving to the side for one moment what a load of twaddle that would be from a manufacturer of chocolate, what I think they’ll actually find is that children are now buying three Freddo Frogs instead of one. Which isn’t treat-wise.
So, what am I suggesting from all this? Simple: wear a hard hat and high-visibility vest while driving.
PHOTO CREDITS: twitter.com; evo.co.uk; snpsecurity.com.au