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Reasons to be cheerful

I’m no sharpshooter but molehills aren’t mountains, and at 100 yards over open sights, when you’re standing unsupported, a slither of white plastic stuck into one looks vanishingly small along the barrel of a Winchester 30-30.

29 April 2009

12:00 AM

29 April 2009

12:00 AM

I’m no sharpshooter but molehills aren’t mountains, and at 100 yards over open sights, when you’re standing unsupported, a slither of white plastic stuck into one looks vanishingly small along the barrel of a Winchester 30-30.

I’m no sharpshooter but molehills aren’t mountains, and at 100 yards over open sights, when you’re standing unsupported, a slither of white plastic stuck into one looks vanishingly small along the barrel of a Winchester 30-30. That’s the sort of rifle — almost a carbine — you might have seen John Wayne twiddling around his finger in ancient westerns, though I wouldn’t fancy firing with one hand. The advantage of molehills is that the spurt of earth shows where your shots go, and the advantage of the Winchester (still made, 150 years on) is that it feels part of you: balanced, compact, handy, with a kick and bang that mean business.


That was the third time in a week I’d felt the not-quite mystical unity of man and machine that poets don’t write about (though Ted Hughes came close with a poem about a tractor). The second was a quietly ecstatic ride in the rain around the sodden grounds of Babington House in Somerset on a Skeppshult bicycle. Upright, comfortable, graceful, uncluttered by gears, it’s something made for you rather than something around which you have to fit. And it was infinitely easier to operate than the gadgetry in our designer bedroom suites, which had at least one of our party going to the loo, washing, brushing teeth and fumbling into bed in the dark while electrically operated curtains and blinds thrashed about, the television refused to be silenced, the radio refused to speak and the fashionable tin bath was placed in the middle of the floor just where you fall over it.

The occasion of this hilarity, as it became by breakfast, was the first example of man’s union with the machine. This one didn’t have a muzzle velocity of nearly 3,000 feet per second but it weighed approaching 3 tonnes and shifted itself at over 200mph. I didn’t quite manage that on the quiet roads of Somerset — anyway, it does only 195mph with the hood down — but there were bends, corners and swiftly swallowed straights that induced the gratifying illusion of at-one-ness. The car becomes an extension of you, going just where you want when you want, making you feel as precise and predictable as any of its myriad components.

This was no politically correct electric wannabe, of course. Its 600bhp, 553lb/ft engine is the most compact V12 in production, a nightmare to work on but, if you’re paying £153,400 for a set of 20” wheels, you don’t worry about that. Although the entire production range is soon to move over to biofuels, it still scores an almost respectable 17mpg on the combined fuel cycle. At a steady 70mph at 2,000rpm the trip computer read between 17.6mpg and 18.5. There’s talk of a forthcoming diesel, unprecedented for the company and possibly off-putting to some traditional customers, but not many and not seriously. If you can win Le Mans with diesels and still keep them quiet, you can make a GT or a new big saloon that goes like a — well, like a Le Mans car fitted out as your best drawing room.

I’m talking about Bentley, of course — the new GTC Speed convertible, the fastest ragtop in the world. No one else makes cars like this and it’s better looking than its coupé sibling. Brazilian designer Raul Pires’s cleverness with horizontal lines and the discreet spoiler on the trailing edge gives it what the coupé lacks, a truly desirable posterior. And, recession notwithstanding, the orders are coming in for when Crewe resumes full production. Come on, the bluebells are out and most things may never happen, as another poet, Larkin, observed. Cheer yourself up.


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