Now, I can drive perfectly well. I've had a valid driving license for 13 years, with a near perfect record (1 speeding ticket, which was so long ago it's now off my record).
The trouble is that I've only ever driven an automatic transmission. Well, that's not completely true. I drove a manual (an old Chevy S-10 pickmeup truck) for one month my senior year of high school. I hated that truck and begged my parents to sell it, which they finally did to shut me up. (The replacement was a gas-guzzling 1987 Buick LeSabre which promptly received the nickname "Manatee Mobile" for it's flat grey color and gentle, lumbering, boat-like ride.)
But now that I'm in England I have to learn to drive a manual properly, for the simple reason that Pirate's car is a manual and he, quite understandably, does not want me to be dependent on him for lifts. Nor do I wish to be dependent. I can cope quite nicely with a bicycle, thank you.
But there will be times when I will simply need to be able to drive his car, and to do that I need to be able to drive a manual well and safely.
The problem is that I fundamentally resent the need to learn. As far as I can tell there is no need whatsoever for manuals transmissions to exist anywhere outside of professional racing vehicles. I grant you it's probably very helpful for Louis Hamilton. I'm sure he's better at shifting than any automatic, and in his profession fractions of a second matter.
But for the average idiot going to work and the shops there is no need for it whatsoever. It is a dangerous, archaic technology that could and should be completely replaced by newer advances. There are a myriad of alternatives, every single one of which is preferable to a standard stick shift, but which are perplexingly slow to catch on. They are:
- (the obvious) automatic transmission (A surprising number of people don't know that every car with an automatic can be put manually into a low gear for when you need it, such as descending steep inclines or getting out of snow banks. You've got more control than you think.)
- clutchless manual (This is an option on both the Smart Car and the Toyota Yaris. You still change gear when you want to, but there is no clutch to operate. The car does the clutching for you. Much easier to drive, and still affords all the control of a stick. WHY OH WHY HASN"T THIS CAUGHT ON YET???)
- spiral transmission, such as are found on the Toyota Prius and several Lexus models. This is not an automatic transmission because there are no gears to transmit. Instead of gears of different sizes, the transmission is one, great, conical gear with a spiral arrangement of teeth. When you accelerate from a stop it is completely smooth. This freaked the hell out of the Pirate when he rode in my parents' Prius 2 years ago at christmas. I think ultimately this will be the winner in the transmission war (that I'm attempting to start).
But instead of any of these sensible alternatives, I am forced by the nature of circumstances to exert time, money, and mental energy (none of which I have in excess) to learn to use a dangerous and outmoted technology.
I repeat: Stay off the roads (of Bristol this Saturday from noon to 2).