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A PHYSICIST WRITES . . .
I had no space last month to mention (or maybe remind you of) a couple of Jeremy Clarkson’s comments on electric cars in the Top Gear programme I was talking about. He said: “These cars are not the future, but they do bring us to where the future lies.” I’m not sure if this is profound, or a platitude.
And then he produced the idea – his or someone else’s – of supplying electric vehicles (when in transit) the same way dodgems and continental trains are powered: from a suitable current-supplying conductor suspended above the carriageway. Fantastical? Of course: for one thing, the road surface would have to be made conducting also. But at least there would be no need for the vehicles to carry a large, heavy and range-limiting battery (just a small one to get you into your driveway). Though as JC pointed out, it would also give the authorities almost complete control over the movement of traffic!
Like everyone, surely, I dislike having to search out and then pay for insurance. You try to live (and drive) carefully and ‘optimistically’, and yet you are obliged to pay out large sums every year to protect yourself against the risk that your optimism is not fulfilled. Worse, rumour has it that many companies offering car and house cover do so at reduced rates initially and then raise them once you are on board.
So I was pleased when (on good recommendation) I switched to the agents IAM Surety first for car and then for house insurance, and found that the initial premiums they obtained seemed competitive and the renewal figures not much higher. At last: a broker that consistently found you the ‘best rate’.
And then this summer, just before I was due to renew the house cover, a insurer new to me supplied a quote which (after adjustment to match the cover more closely) came in at half the IAM Surety renewal premium. When I explained my dilemma to them, they rapidly recalculated (or the insurance company did) and offered me renewal at 30% below their previous figure, as well as increasing the contents cover at my request. Very nice of them, and I accepted.
But my eyes are now slightly wider open. OK, house insurance is more complex than motor insurance, certainly for us and no doubt for the insurer too. But I am having to think exactly what to do about renewing my car insurance later this month...
It’s curious, though perhaps not surprising, how horizons draw in simultaneously as a person reaches a certain age. Until my mother was nearly 100, she was quite used to our driving her 60 miles from her nursing home in Littlehampton to stay with us in Reading. Even at 101, after overnight visits had become impossible, she came up with the idea of visiting us just for the day to inspect our new kitchen – and did so. But over the last two years, not only have her capabilities become limited (more or less to whist-playing, tambourine-performing and simple crossword-solving only), but also her sense of distance has altered.
When visiting, we still take her out to lunch but usually travel a mile or less, to local places she likes. After a recent occasion when we drove her about 12 miles to a special meal, she told someone what a “long, long drive” it had been. Perhaps, though, this change in distance perception is our fault for not taking her out further more often. Or maybe she was exhibiting a capability that I didn’t mention above: the embellishing of her stories, either consciously or unconsciously. My sister and I sometimes tell her about our respective activities and then hear about them again via the other, with fascinating decoration having been added in the retelling!
But as for perception of distance, probably everyone’s sense of the length of a journey is subjective, depending on how well you know the route and very likely on what average speed you can maintain along it – though I can’t quite decide how these factors affect my own judgement of distance. What I do know is that for journeys ranging from 60 miles (as above) to in excess of 200, it’s generally not until the last quarter of the way, let’s say, that I start feeling weary (I don’t mean sleepy: if yawning starts, I immediately stop for a restorative nap). In other words, paradoxically, knowing that there’s a good way still to go seems to stave off some of the effects, at least, of a long drive.
Lastly, going back to my mother, let me tell you how the Traffic Systems Team Manager at Surrey County Council came to send good wishes to her (via me) a couple of months ago. After returning from visiting her I used the council website, as I often do, to report a couple of traffic-light problems I had noticed en route: a total failure at a pelican crossing near Milford, and a dead lamp in Bisley 15 miles further north. As well as the usual automatic email replies, I received an update on the first item from the aforesaid TSTM: there was a major problem with its power unit, and “A replacement is being shipped from Sheffield overnight, to be fitted ASAP.”
I thought this concern for my or (more likely) local pedestrians’ safety called for a thank you, and so I replied, mentioning that I would soon be driving through again from Reading – but when my mother eventually pegged out they wouldn’t be hearing from me nearly so often. In response the TSTM said that he had been trying to work out my route! Also, age 103 was very impressive and would I please pass on their best wishes.
I might add that when I did so, my mother seemed even more interested than he may have expected: I fancy she thought that here was another story for retelling, perhaps with embellishment...
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