Monday 27 December 2021

Christmas Road Test

From the archive - the Year 2007 ...


Exactly 14 years ago this month the Christmas Road Test in the country's leading LCV magazine featured something really rather different. As Editor of the mag I looked for something unusual or different each year, but it was a technical article on the term 'horsepower' that triggered the 2007 Christmas Road Test.


In  motor sport we blithely talk about 'horsepower' but ask anyone what exactly it is and how it is measured and it will result in dumbfounded quizzical looks and much scratching of the napper. Anyway, for the purpose of the Road Test I went in search of an original 'one horsepower' vehicle.


That resulted in a visit to the Cumbrian Heavy Horse Riding Centre at Chappels Farm in the south west corner of the Lake District.  The Centre offers a range of unique horse riding and driving experiences. And this was where I was introduced to Max the Clydesdale. Almost one tonne of muscle, sinew and hair, and yet as docile as a lamb.


First of all, there is a major problem with a horse, there is no Handbook in the glovebox. So you have to learn the Horseway Code before you can start.  Fortunately, it’s pretty simple. The words “OK, walk on” is all that’s required to start it and “Whoa” has the same effect as putting a foot on the brake pedal. The harder you shout “W-h-o-a” while drawing out the vowels is similar in effect to stamping harder! As for the emergency stop, the recommended method is to shout “WHOA” a lot louder while pulling hard on the reins.


Braking distances are remarkably impressive given the power output and torque generated by a huge animal like Max, but an emergency stop on cobbles can produce sparks. For sure, brakes are needed. At full tilt, a Clydesdale horse (minus cart) can top 30 mph.


There is no power steering, but it’s not really needed, a gentle pull either to the right or left turns the horse. The harder the pull, the tighter the turn. It’s all about touch and feel – just like a racing car!


Selecting reverse gear is slightly more difficult. Pulling on the reins while calling “Back” works, but getting off the cart and walking to the horse’s head and guiding him back is a better option. As for Parking Brake, the word “Stay” usually does the trick.


There are no trafficators either, so when making turns on the road, the driver has to use hand signals. Neither are there any brake lights!


There is one serious drawback. There is no key-less entry or inbuilt security system. And despite your best intentions when parking outside the local shop, any smooth talking passer-by with a sticky bun or a carrot could tempt the horse to walk off. Fortunately, Max is not that stupid. And when he realises the stranger has no more carrots, he will stop and wait for a familiar voice. And there’s no way on this earth that any mere human could persuade Max to go where he doesn’t want to go.


Yes, there’s a lot more to it, but driving a horse and cart is remarkably easy. There are two working speeds ‘walk’ and ‘trot’ although depending on the rig, some horses can work up to a ‘canter’, but it’s not about speed, it’s about power.


But there’s one thing a horse can do that a light commercial vehicle can’t. It will come when you whistle.


Visiting the Centre and mixing with the horses proved to be very moving. It was also stimulating and yet relaxing, and provided a most enjoyable ‘break’ from the pressures of work. Indeed, for those suffering from stress or gridlock, booking a session here will do the world of good!





            No passer-by is ever a stranger when driving a horse.

            You can talk to a horse – and it will acknowledge you.


            There is nowhere to plug in the SatNav.

            The driver sits downwind of a huge animal that eats a lot of roughage!


Sunday 26 December 2021

More misadventures!

'Ello .. ello .. ello ... wot's going on 'ere? Having been banned from Santa's Grotto (see previous tale), it wasn't long before that irascible pair were in trouble again. Dreading going home to tell Lady Bunnet what had happened, my big pal Jaggy sought solace in the Wayside Inn at Braidwood. Too much solace.

It wasn't really his fault though, as the locals were celebrating a most unusual and distinctly rare occurrence. A lady had been overcome by the heat, the noise and the alcoholic fumes inside the hostelry, so an ambulance had been called. Due to Covid, the ambulance staff were overwhelmed and couldn't promise a quick response, so the lady took herself off to an outbuilding for a bit of peace and quiet.

There under the open rafters and watched over by three sheep and a collie dug, a shrill cry from inside a beer crate rent the still night air. All at once the pub fell quiet as the revellers trooped outside to see what was going on.

"It's wan o' thae holy tricks," cried one.

"What d'ya mean?" shouted another.

"It's ca'd a miracle, ya mug ye," explained the innkeeper.

And they did all cast their eyes upon this most wondrous of sights. New life in strange surroundings. Outside a luminescent glow lit up the night. It came from a bright light high in the heavens, or it may have been the solitary street lamp that the Braidwood bairns hadn't yet broken, but it acted as a welcoming beacon to wandering souls.

A draught of cold winter air blew in as three lost travellers opened the door and stumbled inside. They had been making their way up the hill from the monastery in Lanark and they did bring presents with them - a cairry-oot, a lump of coal and some black bun.

During the commotion, Jaggy managed to get himself outside and slumped into the back of the van whereupon Grandbaby Bunnet hoiked himself up on to the driver's seat, selected first gear and sped off homewards. Only to be stopped by the BDP (big durty polis)  who had seen the van passing with no-one at the wheel!

The wee chap was up for it though. He gurgled appealingly as the big polis' heart melted, then nicked his car keys, hit the gas and was off into the night like a cork out of a well shoogled Irn Bru bottle.

Some time later, the big chap came to in the back of the van, with a head like a big end rattling off the sump pan and a mouth like a footwell carpet. He looked around the unfamiliar surroundings, realised where he was and wondered - was it all a dream?

It must have been. Three wise men? From Lanark? Nae chance. It must have been a dream.

NOTE: That's the end of the seasonal silliness and new year nonsense - normal service will be resumed shortly!!

So please stay safe, the world is a dangerous place. As the New Year approaches take care of you and yours from me and mine. Here's to a hopeful, happy and rally guid New Year.



Friday 24 December 2021

World rallying Scoop

A leading motor car manufacturer is planning a return to the World Rally Championship next year and it's title contender has been glimpsed undergoing testing in the sun swept remote highlands of Scotland.

Electrically powered, the new car has been stripped back to absolute basic essentials to keep the weight low. However, there will be no need for ballast due to the weight of the batteries, having taken inspiration from the layout of the lead acid battery powered 1950s Co-op milk delivery floats.

The cutaway doors are  an absolute rallying first in the modern era allowing the co-driver to simultaneously open both pages of an A4 Route Book and fully open out an Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 scale map. Another ingenious feature is the coffee cup holder which has the double function of holding the top edge of the OS map when fully folded out and the co-driver's arms are at full stretch. And it doesn't stop there. This through-flow ventilation system reduces the build up of stoor when traversing stages similar to those which are a feature of Scottish rallies in the Summer months.

The seats have not been spared the reduced weight approach too with trim kept to a minimum and bolted securely to the hidden internal folding roll-cage structure. This folding structure is another unique feature of the car allowing it to be folded up baby buggy style and wheeled on to aircraft as carry-on luggage to cut down on transportation costs to the various World Championship rounds. It's also worth noting that the seats have been numbered so that the driver and co-driver won't be confused when boarding the machine.

The ultra strong deformable composite plastic bodywork will be protected at the front by a  specially developed 'roo-bar' to help part the huge crowds who get too close to the routes of Mediterranean events.

Unlike other rally cars with highly developed aero-packages, this new machine has taken a different approach. In the event of an 'off' there will be no reduction of speed as the purposefully designed round shape will roll along the road or bounce off the armco and trees while maintaining forward momentum. This curved shape has one other  huge advantage, the curve has been specifically designed to deflect bugs and flies from striking and sticking to the bodywork thereby sparing the lives of millions of such endangered species as the Scottish midge and those ever endearing clegs.

The test car was also spotted with headlamp guards to protect the HiD lamps from suicidal pheasants while the roof mounted Lazerlamp bar is so powerful it can see into the future!

Special wheels and tyres have been developed to help the car find grip in all kinds of terrain from snow to sand, from tarmac to grush.

Little is known as yet about the speed and power of the new machine although sneaky observers at the test have commented: "It wis faster than a red squirrel with it's nuts on fire." Rumours of a sub 5 minute time over Mishnish Lochs could not be confirmed.

We await further developments with interest - or not!


Tuesday 21 December 2021

A 'Grand' day out

Jaggy & Rudolph
Trouble in the Grotto ... Apparently my auld pal Jaggy was chucked out of Santa's Grotto the other day. He had been invited to take Grandbaby Bunnet for his first ever visit to see Santa at the local garden centre.

On arrival, the chief Elf bouncer stopped the big lad from getting in as the foul reek from his pipe was wilting the greenery, so the toddler had to go in on his own while the auld git made friends with Rudolph outside. Bad move.

With no restraining influence the youngster pulled off Santa's beard and poked him in the eye with a chocolate finger. Mayhem descended.

Unfortunately Jaggy couldn't run to Santa's aid as he suffers from a long term affliction. The Grotto was a wooden three cornered shed decorated with moss, pine branches and tinsel but it had a very dark interior and this is what thwarted Jaggy's life saving intentions. He himself had suffered a scary encounter with another Santa in another Grotto a long, long time ago and ever since then has had to endure a fear of dark enclosed spaces and bright red suited elderly gents - it's called Santa Claustrophobia.

By this time, the sacks were emptied, the presents scattered and Santa was cowped on his *rs* with the wean running riot and the Elf was trying to shoo Bunnet junior out of the Grotto.

With the Elf's attention diverted, Jaggy himself meanwhile was feeding Rudolph with carrots dipped in curry sauce. Another bad move. Ten minutes later the garden centre looked like a slurry spreader had passed through - and that wasn't ice that was dripping from the rafters.

Junior wasn't finished either. He had enough of the Elf pulling and pushing and 'accidentally' tripped him up just as they were passing the christmas tree packing funnel. The Elf fell in, slid through and ended up gift wrapped in white netting with a red bow.

Jaggy was now free to catch the wee rascal, but since the wee chap recently found his feet, he has developed a fair turn of speed. By the time Jaggy got across to the exit, there were only two heel marks on the concrete and a puff of smoke where the wee chap's launch control had kicked in.

Jaggy just managed to get through the doors before the emergency alarms went off and the staff went into Lockdown mode. Thinking prudence was the better part of gallantry, he grabbed Junior, ran to the car and they made their getaway.

So if you come across an angry looking Santa with a black eye and a green Elf with red welts, best keep out of their way. They're not so full of the Christmas spirit any more!

So on behalf of Jaggy, Grandbaby Bunnet and myself - and Rudolph - may I wish you all a safe, healthy and very merry Christmas.