Sunday Column: Peter Griffiths – Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain

It hasn’t rained properly around here for a long time. It is probably about a month since it last deigned to significantly precipitate upon us and I for one am starting to miss it. A lot of people moan and whine about the weather which baffles me completely because, unless you are prepared to ship out to another country, which isn’t so hard these days, and you can live like a king or queen in Australia, there is no such thing as bad weather – only the wrong attitude.

I love the bad conditions this country presents throughout the year and would probably get bored with little to no variation that other countries experience. In fact, that might be my problem at the moment, there has not been enough variation in the weather to keep me interested over the last couple of months. One cold morning got me all excited, popped the all-mountain coat on, nipped down to the train, and was down to a t-shirt by the time the thing arrived at the station! Disappointed is a word.

Those two very cold starts in late October were actually the trigger for the deciduous inhabitants of our land to shed their unwanted toxins through their leaves and think twice about drawing water from the ground for the next few months. It served a purpose but didn’t continue or satisfy my love of variation and change in our island weather systems and it seems now to be wearing thin again. Mild and dry, mild and dry, mild and dry. Bah.

Everyone loves driving in mild and dry conditions because of the levels of grip afforded, the light is usually perfect, if a little limited at this time of year, and one can push a decent car around with little fear. Anything other than those conditions make you think twice about certain decisions on the roads and this puts you off doing what you would normally do if it were mild and dry. Should it though? Should it hold you back?

When you wake up in the morning and see rain you think of sensible waterproof footwear, a coat, maybe a brolly or even just staying indoors away from the people who don’t take those conditions seriously enough. If you’re getting into a car you think twice about those decisions as usual. Fair enough. Oversteer is undesirable, understeer is embarrassing, and crashing is both of those things. You won’t find anyone advocating driving stupidly in bad conditions here, only advocating enjoying them in a different way.

What I suggest here is that you take pleasure from adapting to the conditions while remaining smooth and fast within the limits of your car and the road. Getting the balance right in the rain approaching a roundabout and delicately adjusting throttle, steering input, considering using the brakes, and looking for slippery patches to avoid can be a great thrill. Watching someone burning their tyres to bits on ice or snow is hilarious but disturbing in a kind of ‘stay away from me and my family’ kind of way because the definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes while expecting different results.

The challenge of driving on compacted snow is huge and should also be fun for medical reasons, in the interests of safety, and ones own finances. When the mind is having fun and enjoying itself than the body is in turn relaxed and, this is proven to be true, a relaxed body is more responsive to stimuli. Every racing driver in the world will tell you to stay relaxed and, at least, hold the wheel gently for just this reason. True, you need to be focused, but so many people mistakenly combine focus and concentration with being tense and even angry (thinking of footballers here).

Driving on snow happens in slow motion, and your body should move in exactly the same way, slowly and sensitively, with inputs being carefully applied while your mind is the complete opposite – a blur of thought, instinct, anticipation and reaction. My favourite gear is the highest available, and the most useless pedal is the brake.

There once was a snow and lightning storm on the coast of Yorkshire around Bridlington at about 4pm in early March of 2006 where I was researching the effects of long-shore drift for university. The Carina du jour dealt the snow a cocked snoop, showed the road a clean pair of heels, and passed a poorly driven Discovery in a ditch (‘Sorry! Can’t stop! That’s the point!’), got me to a chippy for some salt and vinegar and then delivered me to the lighthouse where the storm whipped up a beautiful mess!

My favourite moment was when a local ranger’s 4×4 came around and looked in on me and my fresh tracks saw my fish supper, my cheery thumbs-up and presumably went off to sort that poor Disco out. Now, if I can do this, then anyone can because if I was any good at driving or anything special then I‘d be in a race team by now. All people need to know are the basics of driving on snow and rain and the country will not grind to a halt three or four times a year.

The basics of tacking snow and ice matter

There are many other people who also know the correct techniques, I’ve exchanged respectful acknowledging nods with such folk on the roads, and there are surely many more amongst the car-community on Twitter. It would be nice to think that others feel the same way as I do, and that the nation could be delivered some plaintive, honest, modern, funny and respectful education on how to drive in such conditions. There are courses and such, fine, but they are expensive and limited to specific locations.

Can Twitter deliver a product? Is anyone able to produce a video that would be received well by the general public and appeal to their sense of reason in terms of how to change their driving for the safer, cheaper, and better? I want to do it, at least so I don’t feel so bloody scared on the roads each winter, but I cannot do it alone.

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2 responses to “Sunday Column: Peter Griffiths – Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain

  1. In the absence of said Wintery conditions I lack a major component of an instructional video about driving on snow, but it’s certainly a very good idea. More easy to tackle would be an instructional video on maintaining your car through Winter to at least give drivers a good basis from which to start – i.e. a car with enough tread on the tyres, even if they aren’t winter ones; head- and tail-lights that actually work, and all fluids correctly filled and checked. Very simple, very quick checks that should be done once a week that’d make everyone’s Winter safer. It’s a subject I’m hoping to cover myself shortly.

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