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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Modern Motor Car

My friend, Richard, was impressed with his new car. ‘It’s got loads of electronic features,’ he enthused as he pressed the key fob. He prodded the button again and then for a third time.

‘Is there a problem?’ I enquired.

‘Sometimes it doesn’t unlock,’ Richard explained. ‘Would you mind hitting the door as I turn the key?’

This technique proved successful, and we were soon driving away.

I inspected the digital dashboard display. It reported the time to be midnight and the outside temperature as forty degrees centigrade. I mentioned this to Richard, noting that it was actually 4.30 pm on a particularly cold winter afternoon.

‘They’re automatic,’ he responded. ‘They need to be adjusted by the dealer.’

We continued to accelerate. I became increasingly alarmed as the speedometer approached sixty. ‘This is a thirty limit, Richard,’ I anxiously reminded him.

‘Sorry,’ he replied. ‘The speed limiter’s playing-up again. It’s supposed to prevent the car going faster than the speed limit.’ He swerved to avoid pedestrians on a zebra crossing. ‘Sometimes it jams and stops the car travelling slower than the limit.’

I looked up, gasped and shut my eyes. At this speed we could not negotiate the roundabout, ahead. We mounted the island, skidded through flowers and shrubs and splintered to matchwood a sign proclaiming this road feature to be winner of the ‘roundabouts in bloom’ competition. The car then took to the air and landed with a bone-jarring crunch on the road beyond. Richard continued to wrestle with the controls as I glanced back to witness the collision of three cars that had swerved to avoid us.

With relief I sensed the vehicle slowing. ‘Has the jolting turned off the speed limiter?’ I asked.

‘‘Fraid not,’ he replied. ‘It’s caused the automatic handbrake to engage. At least that’s slowing us down, though.’

Now Richard had mentioned it, I could detect the unmistakeable smell of overheated brake pads. I also noticed the sweltering heat. ‘Why’s it so hot?’ I queried.

‘That’s the automatic environment control,’ Richard explained. ‘It should maintain a constant twenty-one degrees, but it seems to oscillate from forty degrees to near freezing.’

This was confirmed by a refreshing blast of icy air from the dashboard vent.

‘My house is there on the left,’ I reminded Richard.

He turned off the engine and coasted to a halt at my gate.

As if to offer reassurance, the airbags deployed. ‘Bugger,’ said Richard, deflating his bag with a penknife so as to restore his view. ‘I won’t stop,’ he continued. ‘I must get home before nightfall. There’s something wrong with the solar panels that recharge the battery. They cause the car electrics to shut down after dark.’

‘Thanks for the lift,’ I said, unsuccessfully attempting to open the door.

‘Oops,’ said Richard. ‘The car’s locked itself. You can’t unlock the passenger doors from inside, and the windows won’t work, so you’ll need to climb out through the tailgate.’

I alighted via his suggested route and waved farewell as Richard restarted the engine. Hazard and fog lights flashed in unison with the horn as the drive wheels spun and burned rubber.

I was left standing in a cloud of smoke and dust, reflecting on the computerised technological marvel that is the modern motor car.