Bad times need big ideas

Imagine this 1894 Benz Velo, but give the driver a bigger moustacheI often wonder what it must have been like to have been one of the pioneers of motoring in the late 1800s and early 1900s; those well-to-do gentlemen with their pipes, moustaches and a lot of resources to spare to indulge in this new hobby called driving.

These men used to chug noisily up and down the lanes on and near their sprawling estates (in between breakdowns) as the only people who could afford personal transport at the time. The cars were unreliable, slow and expensive, and it wasn’t as though Shell had decided to put a filling station on every corner just yet.

In short, there were a lot of limitations to the usability of these cars. The technology was in its infancy, and yet these were the baby steps that began the revolution in mobility for the mass market.

Of course, it wasn’t until the late 1950s when cars started to become accessible for everyone, simply because few ordinary people could afford them before then. The idea of personal mobility exploded, and soon enough the world was shrinking and distances became less and less of an obstacle.

Nowadays people are feeling their mobility being restricted all the time, and that they should either make fewer trips or even not drive at all.

The data showing massive falls in fuel volume sales over the last year proves it, along with numerous surveys on the topic. People are staying at home more, and the world is becoming, for some people, a bigger place again after having shrunk consistently for 40 years. People, children in particular, are seeing fewer and fewer sights outside of their regular daily lives.

‘Can we drive to the seaside?’ a child might ask hopefully of his parents. ‘Sorry son,’ the understanding father says, ‘the petrol costs too much money’. I’d put a pound on this sort of thing happening all the time these days, and everything those men from a century ago did with their unreliable cars built by companies that don’t exist any more is being forgotten.

What a romantic thing it is to put yourself in their shoes. Think about it: slowly making your way past fields and farms, stunned farmers and children shouting with excitement as you head towards somewhere you’ve never been. That’s without proper roads and without the AA behind you if things go wrong. It was a big idea, and big ideas fire people’s imaginations – and drive innovations.

It was this spirit of adventure; this noble pursuit of broader horizons that helped make Britishness what it is. Or ‘was’, maybe, because nobody seems to want to explore any more. With unleaded at over £1.30 a litre it’s not hard to see why.

These days an impulsive drive to the seaside or the Lake District could end up costing a small fortune before you even consider hotels, food or spending money. With disposable incomes being squeezed ever more tightly, it’s just not viable any more for people to wake up and think: ‘I’m going to drive to Cornwall today; I’ve never been there before.’

That’s a tragedy, not only for our economy but for that spirit of adventure. We want our kids to have active imaginations and as much knowledge of the real world as possible to help them grow up and be successful.

By opening their eyes to as many sights, sounds and experiences as possible we can help them do that. Long car journeys to far-flung and wildly different parts of our island are essential, because if our kids don’t have big ideas and broader horizons, what hope is there for any of us?

Matt Kimberley

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