The Myth of the Open Road

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, there are more vehicles than ever on the road.

This means that the chances of a vehicle coming in the opposite direction are pretty high, even on a country road.

So tell me, why do a lot of people drive as if they are the only people on the road? And why do they constantly drive in the middle of the road rather than keeping to their right here in Switzerland (or left in the UK)?

Is it because they are fiddling with their mobile phone, looking at a GPS screen, changing the radio station, smoking, eating a sandwich, or just because the only person who exists is ME?

I learnt to drive in the UK at the end of the 1970s when there were many fewer vehicles than now. But when I look back, I have no memory of people driving in the middle of the road. Strange, huh?

Here’s another situation.

You’re driving happily along a road at your own speed and suddenly you see a vehicle a few hundred yards ahead of you.

Do you

a) continue driving along happily at your own speed or

b) accelerate, come right up behind the other vehicle and sit on its bumper, impatient for the earliest opportunity to overtake?

If you can honestly say that you do a), then you have my congratulations.

Because the vast majority of people do b).

It’s what I call the Greyhound Syndrome, a phenomenon that I noted as early as the tender age of 16.

So why do people react like this?

We’ve already established that there is a lot of traffic on the roads, so it’s not surprising that you find vehicles on the road ahead of you.

I think it must be a throwback to our days as hunters, a sort of knee-jerk reaction, rather like the reaction of greyhounds to an electric hare ahead of them in a racing stadium.

But we’re not dogs or sheep, are we?

So the next time this situation occurs and you start to accelerate, try to catch yourself and ask why you’re doing this.

Are you really in so much of a hurry?

What happens if you let the electric hare vehicle run in front of you and continue to drive at the same speed as before.

For one thing you don’t get stressed up.

You don’t stress up the driver in front of you by sitting on his bumper which is JUST PLAIN BAD MANNERS.

You’d forgotten that, huh?

Yep, not according the respect of a certain distance between you and the next car is not only dangerous, it’s, I repeat, BAD MANNERS.

And you can continue to enjoy your driving rather than getting het up about the fact that someone is in front of you.

Of course, if your personal speed is faster than the car in front of you, you’re going to catch up eventually and overtake. Just make sure that it is your natural speed and not a reaction to the other car. And don’t sit on the guy’s bumper because, yep, you got it, it’s BAD MANNERS.

I am fortunate enough to do a lot of driving on country roads where you can still drive freely and there is space still. So these days, if someone comes charging up behind me, trying to stress me up and sitting on my bumper, I just look for a safe place, indicate and pull over or slow down to let the vehicle pass.

And then I continue on my way and laugh at the bizarre reaction of the driver who doesn’t really understand what has happened and is usually, suddenly and for no explicable reason, no longer in such a hurry any more.

Perhaps his ego is miffed because he didn’t get to overtake me ‘properly.’

If you can do this safely, then I suggest you try it out. It’s a simple but effective exercise in letting go, rather than allowing the impatient driver behind you to stress you up and influence what speed you drive at, whether it be accelerating or slowing down.

It’s not because other people on the road have the mentality of a child of three that you have to behave in the same way.

It’s your life. Drive it at your own speed!

Have a great week.




Selfie Sticks

The selfie stick is arguably the object most representative of this decade: a camera/phone extension to enable us to take better pictures of ourselves against various backdrops.

I saw this article on the BBC News app and it made me smile:

The science behind why we take selfies

I have a much simpler explanation.

We are just obsessed with ourselves to the exclusion of everything and everybody else.

In my humble opinion, it’s not a good place to be.

On a recent trip to Paris to promote my new album MY TITANIC on a radio show, I played tourist and went on one of those open-top bus sightseeing tours of the city with my wife, Brigitte. Wonderful spring weather, very agreeable. But what struck me as we went round the city was that people were consistently only taking pictures of themselves. Me in front of the Eiffel Tower. Me with the Champs-Elysées in the background. Me and Notre-Dame. Me.

I imagined these people sharing these pictures with their friends and the stultifying boredom of being subjected to 150 pictures of ME. Where people in the past would have been fascinated by the sights and taken pictures of the city to show their friends, Paris has now become simply a backdrop, a prop in the studio of me.

How did we get so obsessed with ourselves? When exactly did the outside world start to exist only in order for us to better show ourselves off? Will taking endless pictures of ourselves make us happy?

My advice.

Take one or two pictures of yourself on your smartphone with your selfie stick and then put it away and start really looking at the world around you. If inspired, take pictures of what you see. Much more interesting for you. Much more interesting for the people who will have to look at your photos later.

As Henry James once put it, “Losing yourself is the next best thing to dying.”

Have a great weekend.




Diving In An Airplane

I’ve flown on many planes to various destinations and I’ve heard the same dubiously useful information given out by the cabin crew over and over again. Much of it is just reassuring bla meant to comfort our psyches and some of it is downright impossible to apply. For example, passengers are squeezed so tightly into ever smaller seats that the likelihood of them being able to bend over to assume the ‘crash position’ recedes with each passing year.

And how often do people survive a crash anyway?

Yes, I’ve heard many useless pieces of information over the years, but not once have I ever heard any crew member give an announcement about how to equalize the pressure in your ears.

You know – for that moment in the flight when the plane is descending in altitude in order to prepare for landing and every baby and child aboard starts to scream.

They are screaming because the pressure on the outside of the tympani (ear drums) in their ears is greater than the pressure inside. And it hurts. A lot.

Any diver knows about the importance of ‘equalizing’ when you descend into the sea. Every ten metres, the pressure doubles. Even if you dive to the bottom of a swimming pool, you will feel discomfort or even pain in your ears if you don’t equalize them.

The remedy is simple:

You pinch your nose with your fingers so that air can no longer escape and blow slowly into your nose as you would with a handkerchief. You keep up the air pressure until you hear a slight popping in each ear.

And hey presto, no more discomfort or pain.

On a plane, your hearing will suddenly become much clearer, as if all sound was previously muffled.

Equalizing is usually only necessary when the external pressure of water (or air in our plane situation) increases, not when it decreases.

A diver on the way back up to the surface does not usually have to equalize any more than a passenger in a plane taking off and climbing to its cruising altitude. When the pressure inside the ears is greater than that outside, the body normally releases the internal pressure naturally on its own.

So it’s only when the aircraft descends and the air pressure in the cabin increases that there’s a problem.

Some people are aware of this and chew gum which can help to equalize the pressure. However, I suspect that a great number of people who have never been diving do not know why their ears are hurting nor how simple it is to rectify.

Imagine how much pain and suffering could be avoided with a simple cabin announcement. Add to that the discomfort to other passengers of loud wailing in the cabin. Of course, babies and very small children may not be able to perform this simple manoeuvre, but it would still help a lot of children and adults.

So why does no airline company do it?

Beats me!

Have a great week!




P.S. In my humble opinion, the designers who construct planes so that toxic fumes from the engines are funnelled into the passenger cabin when the plane reverses out from its parking bay (yes, that disgusting oily burnt smell – you know exactly what I mean!) should have the same mixture funnelled into their homes on a daily basis until they come up with a responsible and healthy solution.