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A PHYSICIST WRITES . . .
Every once in a while, I look back and realize that I’ve learnt a few things recently that might usefully be passed on. Let’s start with ferrying your car across the Irish Sea, to what is surely one of the most attractive countries within easy reach (and not just because they speak English and drive on the left!). I first reported on this journey in October 2003 after we had travelled overnight each way, fairly comfortably, on the Swansea–Cork ferry. Unfortunately this route hasn’t been operating in 2007. According to their website, “We were unable to obtain a suitable vessel.” No mention of what happened to the one we sailed on...
[From 2010 the route was operating again, on a different vessel, but then in 2012 was permanently closed.]
So in July, heading once more for the glorious west coast of Ireland, we took the Fishguard-to-Rosslare Stena ferry (my back ached a bit after the extra road-miles on the other side — but Irish country routes could hardly be more pleasant to travel). Luckily the seas were again calm. I did hear it said that in rough weather the faster of the two ferry types isn’t recommended. It tries to surf the waves, I guess.
Here’s my own advice: pay the extra for the ‘Stena Plus’ upgrade (you get priority boarding and better facilities). If you’re booking accommodation in advance and they offer the ferry in the package, this might save you a tidy sum. Notice that AA Breakdown doesn’t include Eire in its Comprehensive cover, whereas Brittania does (and your car insurance probably does too, but do check).
When you lock your car on the parking deck, remember not to set the alarm, certainly if it’s as sensitive to vibration as mine turned out to be, to the annoyance of the crew. And don’t make the mistake that I did of exporting a full tank in the wrong direction: petrol is (or was) about 10% cheaper in Eire than in Wales!
The striking change there since our last visit was all the new km/h signs. On the motorways around Dublin the limit is 120 km/h, but the ones we met with were 100, 80, 60, 50 and 30, each with repeaters sensibly spread out and no nonsense about their job being done by street-lamps. Nor is there a vague national limit like we have. I would say that about the same proportion of drivers exceed the speed limit as do here. But why, in such a leisurely country? Maybe it’s the lack of cameras encourages them (though I hear there could be 600 across Eire soon).
Some years ago I mentioned the wisdom of glancing at your wheels before each journey — and my own difficulty in remembering to do it. Fortunately, one day in Ireland I did remember, and noticed I had a flat rear tyre. So I make no apology for repeating this advice to get into the habit of checking. The last thing you want is to be out on the highway, before you realize you have a tyre that’s not only down, but now damaged because you’ve driven on it.
Then do you carry a footpump or an electric one, or do you ensure somehow that your spare tyre is always fully up to pressure? I still go for the footpump option, so my spare did need some pumping up. At least this time I remembered the trick that I often forget: use the whole stroke of the pump, from top to bottom. The point is, it’s only the last fraction of the compression that actually puts more air into the tyre. And even when you’re achieving this the job can take twice as long, believe me, if you don’t let the pedal right up between strokes. But that makes it harder to keep the pump steady on the ground, I can hear someone complain. Answer: hold the base of the pump down with your other foot. Or upgrade to electric.
My flat tyre seemed unrepairable, having a nail in the tread on the edge (and I don’t like the idea of driving on a mended tyre anyway). Also, both rear tyres were half-worn. So when I located a supplier I asked for a new pair to go at the back. I was offered a wide range, but not having brought my list of ‘best buys’ from home, I chose a less expensive brand. My instinct said to me: the more you spend, the more you will have wasted next time you get a puncture!
Later, after we arrived back home, I happened to glance at the tyre marking: 175/65/R14/82T. The size figures were correct, as of course I expected (though how absurd it is that the 175 measures millimetres and the 14 inches). But the speed rating ‘T’ was lower than the ‘H’ it should have been: 118 mph instead of 130. Asking around, I’ve been told that this isn’t a serious problem (eg, an MOT issue), just a matter of the tyres not quite matching the spec of the car. But the next time you change your tyres, I do suggest you check the small print on the new ones.
There’s an old Irish blessing which begins: “May the road rise to meet you.” Any connection (I wondered while on them) with the undulations in some of those roads? And were they perhaps adding to my back-ache? Here’s my final advice: if like me you find a lumbar pad alleviates this discomfort, for extra benefit try pushing your back into the pad really firmly when you sit in the seat. If the seat-base is adjustable, tilt it fully forward. Above all, make sure it stays there! Because when we reached home I noticed my seat-tilt had slipped right back — which was the main reason for my aches on those Irish country routes...
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