Hey ho for the open road

Br J Cardiol 2009;16:278-9 Leave a comment
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We continue our series in which Consultant Interventionist Dr Michael Norell takes a sideways look at life in the cath lab…and beyond. In this column, he considers the joys of open-topped motoring.

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That hot weekend in July that passed for our summer may now be a distant memory. However, it nevertheless prompted me to pen some useful notes on a subject that the lay person might recognise as a traditional characteristic of the jobbing cardiologist. Ask Joe Public how he perceives his heart specialist and the answer, while conjuring up the image of champagne being sipped aboard a yacht on the Solent, or vin chaud similarly in a chalet in Verbier, will also include screeching to a halt outside the outpatient department in … a convertible.

No apologies

I make no apology for being a lover of open-topped motoring (or, come to think of it, of occasionally aspiring to the other two caricatures). Having whizzed around in a pimento red Triumph Spitfire as a medical senior house officer in the early eighties, I have returned to the joys of driving alfresco for the last seven years or so. I trust that there may be similarly afflicted readers out there, so I thought I might provide a little guidance from personal experience in the form of ‘Ten top tips for soft top travel’. (This might at least score points for alliteration to compensate for what it lacks in originality or content.)

1. An electronically controlled, ‘power hood’ is essential. Nothing will put you off having the roof down more than needing to pull over, get out and struggle with straps, poppers and canvas. The modern versions allow you to achieve your aim at the touch of a button – and you don’t even have to be stationary; as long as you are doing no more than a crawl, it works. The ideal moment is at traffic lights, but you have to time it right. Get it wrong and you either hack off the queue behind you in a major – and possibly violent – way, or otherwise are obliged to reluctantly speed off prematurely with a small black spinnaker billowing above you.

2. Occasionally your forward vision will become impaired as a result of mud, grime and unfortunate flying insects that have fatally decelerated on contact with your front windscreen. You will then need a squirt from the screen washers. Now, here’s the key: if your speed is not sufficient to force that stream of fluid onto the glass, most of it will be deposited on you, together with your front-seat passenger (if you still have one following the fiasco at the traffic lights).

On that note, I am certain that the car ahead of me, noting that I am driving exposed as it were, will deliberately slow down and let fly with their washers when they know I am in range. This often explains why open-topped motorists think it is raining when it isn’t.

3. Hence, beware getting too close to the car ahead, as, once correct targeting has been established (as above), coffee cups, apple cores and even lit cigarette butts, may follow.

Noise pollution

4. Road noise is a problem and so motorway driving, if indeed twenty-first century traffic flow actually allows you to get out of third gear, does not lend itself to the fresh-air enthusiast. Having all the windows up reduces this a bit, but the radio/CD player still has to be at maximum volume to be heard above the Beaufort wind scale equivalent of a tropical storm. For the same reason conversation is difficult, but I wouldn’t worry about that; by now it is highly unlikely that you will have anyone to talk to.

5. As for environmental control, it is often assumed that a baking hot day is the ideal time to press the ‘roof-down’ button. Not so. What you need on a scorching afternoon is air conditioning, which is clearly pointless, if not impossible, when the vehicle’s cabin is wide open to the elements. Sitting in traffic with the midday sun roasting your nut is far from pleasant. It can be avoided by waiting in the shade of an overlying bridge for as long as those behind you will tolerate (refer to item 1.), before dashing through the heat to the cooling shelter under the next intersection, when the traffic ahead of you moves forward sufficiently. A hat, suitably secured to something fixed – in addition to your head – is an obvious answer, but one thing you are not permitted to do is to put the roof back up; this will confuse the motoring public.

6. Conversely, keeping warm on a cold day is far easier. The hot air belted out by modern cars is not only more than sufficient in terms of temperature and power, but can also be specifically directed towards any anatomical area prone to cooling. Cruising along topless on a crisp – but bright – day is, therefore, easily achievable, although wearing something more than a polo shirt when it is ‘four below’ is probably sensible.

And of course there is the additional comfort of electrically heated seats, but a word of caution is required here. I seem to recall that at school we were constantly warned not to sit on radiators. The oft quoted medical consequences were not then fully appreciated by Norell minor; they are now.

Communing with nature

7. Journeying closer to nature allows you to better appreciate the sounds and smells of the countryside. The dawn clinking of milk bottles, the twittering of birds and the barking of dogs mingle with the over-revving of diesel engines, the screech of tyres and the occasional ‘toot’ of a horn. The scent of a freshly mown lawn, chimney smoke from a cottage’s hearth or that from a bonfire of autumn leaves, are all unmistakable – as is the stink of slurry being spread over an adjacent field.

8. Keeping your hair under control? Not a problem (for me, anyway).

9. Jumping in or out of the car via any aperture other than the driver’s door? Don’t even try it.

10. Finally, how does one manage mobile phone communication in top-down mode? Well, hands-free technology means that you have to crane forwards as you drive and yell at the top of your voice into the microphone, which is usually positioned on the rear view mirror or sun visor. This can make you appear a bit of a loony to passers by, but here’s a better tip. Don’t; it’s illegal.