I spent a good deal of the weekend sitting in a car. My long-suffering girlfriend, my brother and I did what turned out pretty much to be a flying visit to Scotland. My father lives about 270 miles north of me, so we drove up on Friday night to there. And then, dropping my brother off, we continued up to my girlfriend’s friend’s house (who had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl) a further 170 miles north. Later in the afternoon we went back down to meet my brother and father to go out for a meal in St. Andrews (“The Vine Leaf Restaurant”, 131 South Street – I’d highly recommend it).
So by the end of Saturday night we’d driven about 450 miles. A great deal of that on twisty roads in atrocious weather. So Sunday was a day of well deserved rest. But all too quickly we were back in the car again and driving back down to Yorkshire at break-neck speeds (anybody who says women drivers are slow should go for a spin with my girlfriend – she’ll scare the hell out of you).
My girlfriend and I are well used to driving for hours on motorways but my brother is not. He got bored pretty quickly (my attempt to sing loudly drove him to distraction). But it set me thinking about how I manage to stay alert when driving long distances. So here are a few of my techniques:
1. Way point counting. When I do a long journey multiple times I start to make a mental note of evenly spaced checkpoints (say every 30 minutes) so that I can count how many checkpoints I still have to go before I get home.
2. Mile countdown. I zero my car’s trip counter when I leave and knowing the total journey distance I can work out, at my current cruising speed, how long it will take to get there. I slightly vary my speed now and then to alter my ETA so that I can work out when I’ll arrive.
3. Gran Turismo mode. When I’m tired I start to view driving along a motorway like playing a driving game on a games console. Especially if it’s dark. I start to look at other cars and trucks as competitors and try to take the racing line along the road (so frequently changing lanes). This doesn’t usually last long as I have to remind myself to not die in a car crash at 120mph.
4. Learning a new album. I put a new CD into the car that I don’t know the words to. My mission for the drive becomes to be able to sing that whole album from start to finish. So I play it over and over, singing along, until I can accomplish this goal.
5. The cats-eye-aversion game. The little reflective strips that separate the lanes (between the painted lines on a road) are slightly raised to you feel a bump when you drive over them. This game involves aligning the car each time you change lane so that none of your wheels drive over them (i.e. you concentrate on driving over the painted lines instead), and counting how many miles you can “stay clean”. This can keep you amused for hours, unless you slip up and catch a back wheel on one and have to start over.
6. The one-two. This involved overtaking a car. Then you slow down to let him overtake you. Then you speed up and overtake him again. And you continue this until you spot a faster car to do the same to. Then the game begins again. This can be fun as people sometimes take a while to realise what you’re doing and then they sometimes join in on the fun and speed up too while you slow down and vice-versa (thereby making the gap larger).
7. The comedy name game. This requires a passenger. Every time a car passes, you have to think of a sentence to say that involves the car make or model, such as “you really need to get your life into Focus” when a Ford Focus goes past. The trick is to not let the passenger realise what you’re doing and you need to be pretty imaginative to succeed for long.
There are plenty more bizarre games that I play when I’m bored in a car, but they tend to be even more surreal (such as the “Most off-key singing game”) that you will benefit from not knowing. How do you stop yourself from falling asleep at the wheel? Do you get your passenger to read out article from John’s Adventures? I do hope not.