Monday, 2 February 2009

Doing it sideways

It was never like this when we were kids. I shall brook no argument in this matter.

For starters, snow was a regular occurrence. I am sure of this. Every year, without fail, there would be a covering. It would be deep, crisp and, indeed, even. It would lay round about, as it should. You could be guaranteed a good few inches overnight.


We've had a bit of a drought, snow-wise, for the past few years. You'd get an odd smattering every now and then, but really there was nothing to write home about. Which has made today's snow a little bit of a shock to many people. Despite it being the sort of snowfall that would cause snorts of derision amongst Scandinavians, Canadians and those from the northern US states, the papers have managed to portray today as something akin to the country grinding to a halt.

The snow was light this morning when I departed for work, but fell steadily throughout the day. A sympathetic boss let me leave early, and I started the 25-mile trudge back home. It was as I sat in a line of stationery traffic that I noticed something.

My car appears to have several settings to allow driving in extreme conditions. The normal mode is in use most of the time, as Tesco's carpark doesn't tend to provide too much of a dynamic challenge. There is an enhanced traction control setting, for getting by when things get a little slippy underwheel. And there's a third level, which switches all the driver aids off. You need to be wearing your brave pants for that one. Or at least, a white racing suit and matching helmet.

All of this trickery is managed by a single button on the dashboard. Unpressed, and we're in normal mode. If I need a little help, a single press gets the electronic traction angels sitting on my worried shoulder. But here's the thing. To switch everything off, moving swiftly into mad-bugger-trackday-banzai-mode, you press the self-same button for half-a-second longer.

You can see where this might lead, can't you?

Of course, my car's manufacturer has thought of this, and so puts little indicator lights on the dashboard to tell you what mode you're in. Unfortunately, the lights for mommy-I'm-scared and hairychested-bejesus are pretty much identical. So you have to rely on other visual cues. In my case, the gaunt black-clad figure sharpening ancient farmyard equipment whilst sat in the passenger seat would be a bit of a hint. Or the fact that a casual glance out of the window showed me heading sideways toward a crash barrier, 400-year-old yew tree, cliff-edge or suddenly interested bus queue.

Clearly, there are some buttons best left unpressed.

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