Sunday Column: Peter Griffiths – Only I guide my Inner Self

What kind of relationship do you have with the phenomenon known as ‘instinct’? Of course everyone has a different idea of what instinct is and how it might affect them. On one hand it can be a tool with which to avoid accidents on the road, on another it could be employed to place bets on some poor quadruped, or it could be the feeling you get when you know it’s time to start making it plain how you feel about that one person who’s taken your eye.

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, most commonly in the three scenarios outlined previously, and each mistake is different. If you keep repeating the same mistake then you’ve got to have a word with yourself. Apart from repetition which should be rare, does everyone take a moment to think about what went wrong, why, and what could have been done differently next time? I do, and I know that sometimes it comes down to missing an opportunity to utilise the instinct which is usually borne of hindsight which, as we all know, is 20-20. In my own experience there is usually a one or two second period of time in which to act on the instinctive thought or pulse or whatever it is, and the results speak for themselves.

We share this with the animal kingdom too but we use words and example to educate our children in how to clean themselves and interact with others. Thing is that our rabbits never saw their mum and yet they know how to clean themselves and chew cable as if they were roots – despite never having been underground. Science will explain this, of course, but there are elements of this in us stupid humans too.

The crucial difference is that we think. Or at least we think that we think. What do you think? This may be the difference between us and the animals in that breathing is a reflex action for us just the same as it is for rabbits but we have to learn to clean ourselves – feeling the need to clean is just the instinct.

We also appreciate music but while it is claimed that plants love Bach or that snakes will rise to the tune of a pipe and that whales talking to each other is a ‘song’ the fact is that they don’t, won’t and it isn’t. Music is another great passion of mine but unfortunately I have no discernible talent in that area after much effort. So I am left with listening to it and – there’s no other way of saying it – I am mostly a rocker. Pretty much any electric instruments which are played with soul, passion, ability, variety and just plain loud!

When I was getting into heavy metal in the late 90’s it was great fun and a good catharsis for the pains of youth but it was also an exercise in history. New bands were cropping up all the time with nu-metal rearing its head and the magazine interviews were full of references to their influences which turned my thoughts to the origins of the influences. When you get to the roots of it you’ll find the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson selling his soul at the crossroad after having surviving being poisoned. This man and his music have directly influenced every major band you can think of from Eric Clapton through the Rolling Stones, Led Zep, Sabbath, and Hugh Laurie.

Yesterday, while tooling up the M5 at the legal limit (seriously, that’s what I do and I love it – you might hear about why one day but I shouldn’t have had to learn that way), Sepultura’s ‘Amen/Inner Self’ live at Minneapolis in 1994 came on the stereo. Ordinarily this would have been cranked so that Worcester itself could have joined in but the wife was dozing in the tan cloth comfort passenger seat of the E30. Yes, you can doze in an E30 at motorway speeds because they’re amazing. So the volume remained fairly low for the entire eight minutes and forty-two seconds.

This didn’t stop my head from banging, finger pointing, or the air drums and guitars from coming out for the duration of the tune as though I was there myself seventeen years ago. This happens every time that tune is played, that tune and so many others, but for the life of me I can’t explain why! This column so far has been dedicated to old cars and rest assured all this has been relevant so far because of this column’s previous attempts to explore why I prefer older cars to the newer ones. A question which fascinates me because of how it links us to human history.

The same happened with my love of cars. My first great love was the TVR Cerbera 4.5 Red Rose edition ever since a certain curly-haired, long-legged, chain-smoking and controversial auto-journalist featured one destroying the established supercar legends on an airfield. It wasn’t even the 4.5 and it blew the competition away by miles, it looked fantastically retro but modern with crouching purpose, round lights, and great wheels. Underneath it was hand-built craft and unrefined brute force. This woke me up a little and the history of this car was investigated.

The path led back to TVR starting as a kit manufacturer using American engines before Al Melling got his chance to shine. The path led back to black and white photographs of old cars and men in overalls standing next to their pride and joy. Obviously genesis is the Benz Patent Motorwagen but it’s not the apple of our eyes is it? From the base of the black and white photographs of these post-war heroes just fabricating cars that looked great and drove raw you can discover a modern genesis. Just as bands like The Beatles, Wishbone Ash, Led Zep and Eric Clapton’s projects discovered new sounds and made music people had never heard before these overalled men were, albeit working for companies huge and small, were making cars and speeds we’d never seen before.

My musical taste has been mocked and admired for spanning literally every genre you can imagine and it is the same with cars. There’s no way I will limit myself to one preference or the other and there’s no way I will accept that there is any fence to sit on between any camps of opinion because it is silly to restrict yourself in such a way – it only serves to divide.

Today we have electronics ruling the show in both cars and music more than ever but again there are still people who can bring new drives and sounds despite the mass of history and the worry that there’s nothing new under the sun. A foray into musical and automotive history, let alone the rest of human history, definitively proves that this worry of nothing new is unfounded, unimaginative, and an insult to yourself.

That episode of Top Gear in which they compared the 306 and the Austin-Healy Sprite played on this divide between people who focus very much on one rather than the other but it was obvious that the two parties were genuinely interested in each car and were itching to get in and ask questions. It would have been great to see them chatting and sharing enthusiasm with each other but it was never going to happen because neither party were that open – a shame. The old and well-sorted classic won out but it was close and I must say the owner of the 306 has my admiration for his dedication, investment, and imagination in the same way as the bearded tweedies who ran the Sprite do.

It is this variety in life and love that brings the innovation and progression of technology. The modern marvels owe so much to their predecessors which is why I continue to listen to old rockers and new bleeps and boops, beats and wails and lust after V10 M5’s sitting alongside an AC Aceca.

Everyone will admit that humans are inconsistent and irrational which leads to the eventual collapse of all the social structures and empires which we seek to build. For myself I go through phases in life in terms of what particular genre of music I want to listen to depending on what mood is prevalent. On a larger scale my interest in cars also waxes and wanes. There was a time when every single word of the monthly car mags would be adsorbed by my young brain, broken by a time when tyres were replaced by polyurethane on a skateboard, which spilled into buying a weekly car mag every day through university. This mad expenditure has been reduced to the occasional niche marque magazine for practical reasons because the internets are all we should need now.

However, I think my passion for four sprung wheels is here to stay and sits alongside my many other passions in perfect harmony. The car will take me and my skateboard to spots and people, it will play my music loud and clear on the commute, it is actually a car which has been excellent in every situation required of it so far. The guy with the pimped-out 306 is one step ahead though in that he has a mobile games console and screen – and I do love to shoot electronic pixels in the face.

Today with the dizzying multitude of cars being sold it is purely the honesty, hard work, and passion (is that an illegal buzzword?) which shines through and produces the gems which will form the history of the future, which young people will look back through to find their own heroes to admire and draw their own references from. This is what life is about and my instinct is that we could all be a little bit more open to change in ourselves, our opinions, desires and friends.

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