Generally Speaking

Mending things

I just mended my grand-daughter’s clarinet.

One of the notes wasn’t sounding and we played around until we’d tracked it down to one of the bottom key covers not closing snugly onto its sound-hole. (Apologies if this isn’t the correct nomenclature, I’m an amateur) When you looked closely you could see a fatal gap remaining under the pad when you pressed its key higher up the instrument. If you held the cover down directly with your finger (we discovered) the note came out perfectly. Lift it off again and it stopped. You could play a little trill like that. And we did.

The diagnosis was clear – the ‘close that cover’ message wasn’t making it through the intricate arrangement of shiny levers.

Part of the ‘complicated system of levers’

There was a concert imminent and phone calls were being made to try to find a spare clarinet. People were unhappy.


Now I have something of a reputation for this sort of thing which I cherish. Ever since, many years ago, when I did some trivial mending job – putting a wheel back on a toy car or something – and its little owner went toddling around the house holding it up to people and explaining ‘Gran’pa fix it‘.

Life doesn’t get much sweeter than that.


But now that treasured reputation was on the line – musical instruments being on a different level of delicacy and complexity from model cars. The best I could come up with was to suggest weakly that the pad might be dry (did that happen with clarinets?) perhaps we could make it plumper by moistening it with something? The young owner mentioned the special grease she used for the cork-lined joints of the instrument, and that sounded the sort of thing. I duly smeared some of that about with a wooden toothpick.

Absolutely useless.

So I put the instrument down while we attended to other things. Until stubborn curiosity drew me back for another look. And this time, as I pressed the keys idly up and down, I saw something new – one of the pivots seemed to be slightly sloppy. It looked, it seemed to me, like wear in that joint. Did that happen with clarinets? Were they supposed to be oiled?

Not sure, but it never had been.

Perhaps that was it?

One way or another, it was looking like a professional job.

But again I couldn’t resist one more look, and suddenly the penny dropped – that glorious eureka! moment: A little silver rod projecting from the mechanism, which I had noticed earlier and assumed was meant to be like that, was in fact the axle of the faulty key which had become detached from its socket. So the whole bearing wobbled slightly when you worked the key. I pressed on the end of the little rod with my finger and sure enough it started to move. Not the whole way in, but that was OK because I could now see a tiny screw slot across its end. All I needed, I announced to the company, was a suitable screwdriver to finish the job.

While my wife was searching in her handbag for the little glasses-repair kit she always carries (!) our young musician remembered that her equipment did indeed include a tiny screwdriver, for which she had never found a use. Exactly what I needed, this enabled me to screw the little axle securely home, completely abolishing the fatal floppiness.

And lo, the clarinet was sounded, and a torrent of melodious arpeggios poured into the grateful air.


Emboldened by a similar success with a drain plug in our bathroom sink (not to mention the hall clock triumph which I described in an earlier post) I recently volunteered my lack of expertise for the new Repair Café at our Community Centre.

Arriving with a few tools on the inaugural morning I was so conscious of the presumptuousness of what I was doing that I very nearly turned away and went back home.

But I did go in, and the first person in the queue happened to be a former patient of mine who greeted me like a old friend. And before I had time to demur, he and his broken item – his Father’s old mantelpiece clock – had been allotted to me.

The clock had three problems – it hadn’t run for 25 years, two pieces of wooden molding had become unglued from its case, and it needed a thorough clean.

Just the case left to mend.

I told him I had absolutely no expertise with clocks and he urged me to go ahead anyway – it was broken and there was nothing to lose. So I freed up the nuts that held the movement in place and eased it out.

Far from my comfort zone

It appeared to be fully wound, and as I gently prodded the balance wheel it oscillated a few times before slowing and stopping. It seemed to me that somewhere the mechanism was sticking. So I told him I did have a cheap and cheerful fix which had worked with a clock at home, and again he told me to go ahead.

So I gave it one judicious blast of WD40.

And that was that. It worked. I prodded the balance wheel again (this, I suspect, is again not a technical term) and this time it didn’t stop. I set the hands and it was still showing the right time when he left.

Dismantling the face, cleaning it, and replacing the fiddly-little screws that held it in place was the second and by far the longest job. And then it came to mending the wooden case.

It was obviously a simple gluing job, but I didn’t want to send him home with everything swathed in tape while it set. So I used a tip I once found on the web: we didn’t seem to have any PVA glue, so I mixed up some Araldite (epoxy resin) which we did have, and put a good blob of that in the middle of each piece of loose moulding. Then, and this is the clever bit, I put superglue in several different places on the same joints, and then pressed the pieces together until the superglue held. Handled gently, this would give time for the epoxy resin to develop its tremendous strength. Bingo!

Well. To say he was delighted is putting it very mildly. He wrote the most fulsome and heartwarming letter of appreciation anyone received that day.

Satisfied customer

Our Member of Parliament turned up at the next Repair Café the following month. Recognising me as a retired doctor and a persistent correspondent about issues very far removed from the mending of clocks he expressed surprise to see me there as one of the repairers.

But I pointed out that I had been a GP – a generalist – and that the mending of people in general practice had meant that doing things for the first time, using that amazing thing, educated common sense, had been the daily currency of that job. Or words to that effect. And that was why I had loved it so much.

I opened my book The Paradox of Progress with an anecdote about mending a dislocated kneecap (for the first and only time in my career) on a house call in the middle of one night, to make a similar point. It is here for anyone who is interested.

A tribute to Robert M. Pirsig

Photo by Ian Glendinning at Chester, England on 7th July 2005

Talking in some depth about things that seem important – by J A R Willis


This article appeared in the December 2000 issue of Medical Humanities in the series Medicine through the Novel.  It is repeated here as a tribute to one of my greatest inspirations – Robert M. Pirsig – who died two days ago (24 April 2017)


‘Unless you are fond of hollering you don’t make great conversations on a running cycle. Instead you spend your time being aware of things and meditating on them. On sights and sounds, on the mood of the weather and things remembered, on the machine and the countryside you’re in, thinking about things at great leisure and length without being hurried and without feeling that you are losing time.’ (p 17 of 416)

The gentle voice is incredibly familiar, heard now for the third time, a voice that seems to have got itself into my deepest being. Read more…

Grandmother’s clock

grandmas-clock-caseThe old hall clock struck four at twenty minutes to six this morning. And then five at six. It’s almost like a code – but, as my wife points out, without that element of consistency which codes require to make them really useful.
I mention this because, endearingly, the old thing behaved itself perfectly all through this Christmas. I had finally given up on it a couple of years ago (when it struck something like twenty five at something like seventeen minutes past three) and since then it had stood, a beloved but silent sentinel, in the hall of our home. But this year, when I was putting the seasonal holly and tinsel in its hair, I suddenly had a whim to give it another try.
I hauled the weight up on its chain and circled the ancient hands to set the time, and as I did so I noticed with surprise that the correct number rang out as they passed each hour. So I gave the pendulum its little push and tiptoed away, pleased that I had restored, if only for a short time, the house’s ticking heart. But, as I’ve just said, it then surprised us by keeping time and striking the hours correctly right through the new year, asking only to be wound each night on my way upstairs to bed.
The way this happened was really quite weird, because now the festive season is over and we have hit 2017, it immediately reverted to being just as erratic as ever.

Read more…

How many books would fit into a modern solid state drive?

Book and SSD
That’s the new drive in its packaging down on the right

James Joyces’ Ulysses (a famously long book) contains 265,000 words
Formatted as a simple Word document without images it occupies 1.66 MB on my hard drive.
So, dividing 250 Gigabytes by 1.6 Megabytes: 250,000,000,000 ÷ 1,660,000
gives the answer:  = 150,600 copies of Ulysses would fit onto the 250GB SSD

Let’s try to picture that:
Weight
One copy of this nice Folio edition weighs 3.5 kg
Therefore that makes a total of 527,108 kg = 518 UK tons  (about 100 elephants) fitting in the SSD

Shelf Space
One copy is 5 cm thick
That makes a total of 753,000 cm = 7.53 km of shelf space

Area of Paper
This Folio edition of Ulysses has 735 pages, each measuring 18 × 23.3 cm, that is 419.4 cm² (0.4194 m²)
0.4194 m² × 734 pages makes a total of 308 m² of typescript per copy (halved if you use Roughly a 4.8km square on Londonboth sides)
Therefore – Total area of paper required for the number of copies which would fit into the little SSD drive = 46,423,805 m²

There are one million square metres in one square kilometre, therefore it would require 46.4 km² of paper to store that amount of text.
That is a square 6.8 km on each side.

Here is a square of that size over central London (the fine grid lines on OS maps – just visible here – are 1km apart)

Wow! Or as the grandchildren would say, ‘awesome’.

Practical experience of the new EHDC EV charge point at Petersfield

In further pursuit of my exploration of the practicalities of electric motoring I drove the 14 miles to Petersfield yesterday to try out the chargepoint which has been installed there by the local authority.This is the first of a number to be rolled out under the Hampshire County Council energy policy.
This picture shows me soon after arrival, connected up in one of the two bays in the car park in front of the Festival Hall, Heath Street, GU31 4EA
Petersfield chargepoint
The first thing to understand is that this is a commercial enterprise. The chargepoint is installed and run by the energy

Petersfield Chargepoint unit
Neat, but only slow charge

company SSE and you can’t use it at all unless you have their particular kind of smart card with you. I had prepared myself by obtaining this online from http://www.chargepointgenie.com for the payment of £20. (Oddly enough, their emailed confirmation stated $20 – i.e. twenty dollars – but my credit card statement confirmed it was, indeed, 20 pounds sterling.) This standing charge has to be paid each year.

But that is not all – before you can use the card you have to pre-load it with credits, with a minimum payment of £10, enough to pay for two and a half visits to one of their charging stations. Each time you have a charge £4 is debited from your card , whether you are connected for one minute or for the maximum of four hours, and whether or not a rapid charger is available, which it wasn’t in Petersfield.
Anyway, in the selfless pursuit of my researches I had topped up my card before leaving home (total outlay now £30). As the SSE account includes my credit card details I imagine I could have done this at the site by smartphone
Another point to bear in mind is that the SSE network is only one of several, each of which requires its own card. None of them accept payment by credit card like a petrol station. The Ecotricity card is the other network I have subscribed to, but they provide their card free and charging at their stations, which are mainly on major routes and include rapid chargers, is also free.
So, this SSE chargepoint at Petersfield had only one kind of connector – the universal Type 2 connector (illustrated), Type 2 connectorone for each of the two bays. And you need to bring your own connecting cable.
Instructions on the little screen tell you to wave your card near it and wait while it checks your credentials. After about a minute is says you are OK and tells you to connect the cable. After that the charging starts automatically. All this works well and I was pleased to find that I could unlock the car (interrupting the charging) in order to get things I had forgotten and the process resumed without problem when I locked up again. I tested this thoroughly by coming back several times before walking into town for lunch and a bit of shopping.
The standard Hampshire County Council notice (see illustration) Petersfield chargepoint noticeover the chargepoint told me that I might not have to buy a normal parking ticket but as the lady on reception in the Festival Hall didn’t know the answer I bought one anyway to be on the safe side, bringing my total expenditure up to £34.60. The town centre was an easy walk away and by the time I returned to the car 52 minutes had elapsed. The instructions told me to wave the card again to cancel the charging and when I had done that the charging cable released and I was able to disconnect it. When I unlocked the car that end was released in the usual way and I stowed the cable away in the boot.
Back inside the car I was a little surprised to find the car not yet fully charged and that my £4 and 52 minutes had increased the indicated range of the car by only eight miles (65 miles from the 57 when I left it).  I know from experience that that means about seven miles on the road and that so works out at 57p for each mile. Then you have to add the standing charges…
In comparison, our diesel Skoda does more than 400 miles on a £70 fill-up – which equates to 17p per mile. And when I charge the electric car at home it gains eight miles range per hour and provided our solar panels are producing more than the 2kW it draws, which they easily do for more than half the year, it costs me (and the planet) nothing at all.
Another comparison is with the SSE chargepoint at the Rapids Leisure Centre in Romsey, also provided under the Hampshire County Council Scheme.

SSE ChargePoint
SSE chargepoint  at Romsey Rapids Leisure Centre

This point does have a full range of connectors, including both kinds of rapid charger, which should charge the battery up to 80% in 15 to 20 minutes, using the same SSE card and the same £4 fee. That might occasionally be convenient but it would still be ludicrously expensive.

Romsey Rapids connectors
CCS Rapid, Type 2 Rapid (Mennekes) , CHAdeMO Rapid [Connectors at the Romsey chargepoint] Apologies for previous incorrect labelling
When I first plugged in to the Petersfield charge point a couple of passers-by told me they lived next door and that I was the first person to use it. They were friendly, interested and positive, and full of the advantages of electric cars and how they were the future. But I am not surprised that I was the first to use it.
We changed from SSE for our domestic electricity and gas a year ago because of the extreme reluctance with which they administered the feed-in tariff for our PV roof array. In contrast Ecotricity, to whom we changed,seems wholeheartedly committed to making the system work.  I came away from the new Petersfield charge point feeling I had been duped. I would almost go as far as to say that I think Hampshire County Council and East Hants District Council have been duped as well. I passionately believe in electric cars, but I hope the responsible officers will get the message that this is most certainly not the right way to arrange for charging them and that they will not make the same mistakes at other sites. For, reluctant as I am to say it my bottom line is this: even if you didn’t have to pay £30 in advance to use it at all, I honestly can’t think of any circumstances in which this chargepoint would be useful to anybody.

the biggest science scandal ever

The journalist Christopher Booker has a way of trumpeting his discovery of what turn out to be non-existent science scandals.  Here he is on February 7 this year:

one

Two

This article, headed “The fiddling with temperature data is the biggest science scandal ever”, turned out to be a misleading account of perfectly proper adjustments to readings from outdated measuring equipment which Mr Booker mistakenly thought showed that scientists were tampering with the historical record and trying to deceive the world about the need for action over climate change. [Full explanation of his errors here].

Mr Booker is rather given to this kind of language. Six years ago he ran an article in the Sunday Telegraph with the eerily similar heading “This is the worst scientific scandal of our generation“. The full text of this article, dated 29 Nov 2009,  is still on the ST website  [here if you want it]

Christopher Booker in the Sunday TelegraphThat ‘worst scientific scandal of our generation‘ wasn’t a scandal either, although Booker wasn’t alone in trumpeting it and calling it by the ridiculous misnomer, Climategate. And in a curious coincidence of hyperbole (unless they were hand-in-glove) another journalist, James Delingpole, wrote an article in The Spectator the following week [here if you want it] referring to the same events as  ‘the greatest scientific scandal in the history of the world‘. Gosh!

Another curious coincidence was the timing: these journalists, and a few others, broke the news of this 2009 ‘scandal’ – based as it was on a perverse interpretation of a ten-year-old stolen email, selected from thousands and quoted out of context – just three weeks before the Copenhagen Climate Summit of that year. It was therefore perfectly timed to undermine the political will so essential to making that crucial conference a success. What is certain is that Climategate – later described by Professor Sir Paul Nurse (see below) as ‘the scandal that never was’, did indeed play a part in securing the limp outcome which was so bitterly disappointing to all but climate change deniers.

At least four independent enquiries subsequently exonerated Dr Phil Jones and the Climatology Department of the University of East Anglia of all the charges of dishonesty which had been levelled so viciously against them. But the clearest description I have found of what actually happened was contained in a BBC Horizon programme by Professor Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and Nobel laureate. This programme is no longer available online but I prepared a transcript of some crucial sections at the time and posted them [here]. This extraordinary account makes it clear that Dr Phil Jones’ Department was the object of a coordinated campaign to undermine its authority as a world-leading centre for climatological research, and to undermine the credibility of the warnings it, and by implication climate science in general, was giving.

That 2009 campaign by Mr Booker and others of his persuasion was all too successful. The worry is now that they have their (short) sights on undermining the climate talks which are scheduled for this year. They must not be allowed to succeed this time – the world cannot afford another Copenhagen. You might even say that the concerted effort in which they have played a not-insignificant part – either as collaborators or, hopefully, as dupes – to deceive the world over the most serious existential threat mankind has ever faced, really is ‘the biggest science scandal ever’.

Further experience of our electric Car

Our VW e-up! after 7 months/3,200 miles
Our e-car

Gorgeous to drive

It is simply gorgeous to drive. We absolutely love it.

Elastic. Like the wind. Sweeping up hills. Effortless. Gliding. Peaceful and docile in city jams. Like a little rocket when you put your foot down. Wonderful feeling of peace after a journey

And none of that old nonsense of ‘starting the engine’. Whatever the weather, you just touch your foot on the brake, turn the key, drive away. When you stop, the engine stops. No gears (this is the thing that seems to surprise everybody) and of course no clutch. Electric motors have their maximum power at rest, completely unlike ordinary engines which have to be ‘started’ (with an electric motor!) and then have to rev up until they have enough power to get you moving.  So the e-up! zooms straight off with a complete absence of fuss. Smooth from the first instant. No ‘warming up’ and none of the lumpy performance of many internal combustion engines when they are ‘cold’.

Under way the response is beautifully sensitive, especially while manoeuvring gently. There is an excellent hill-hold function which means you don’t need the handbrake to start on a gradient, either forwards or reverse. And the clever ‘recuperative braking’ function – which turns the engine into a dynamo as you lift pressure off the accelerator, reclaiming energy and feeding it back into the battery – means that most of the time you don’t need to move your foot onto the brake pedal at all to slow down. This has become so automatic and so convenient that it is the thing I find myself missing most while driving the diesel car.

On the road the e-up! has a solid, quality feel. It’s a bit bouncy on rough roads, especially in the back, but on reasonable surfaces it is smooth and refined and feels like a much larger car than it is .

Another thing people ask is whether the lack of engine noise is a problem – should there be some sort of warning sound instead? On the contrary, the quiet is nothing but a bonus. Many modern cars, especially hybrids, are virtually silent at low speeds and all drivers have to be careful near pedestrians and cyclists. At higher speeds road noise from the electric car builds up and the bright LED running lights wrapped round the ends of the front bumper are extremely effective in making the car conspicuous, even out of the corner of the eye. These lights, the easiest way or distinguishing the e-up! from the petrol up!, are a safety feature we appreciate very much, especially on country roads.  Much more relevant to the comfort of pedestrians, surely, is the wonderful absence of noise and fumes. This is something that is is likely to be appreciated more and more as people become used to it and increasingly expect it. (As a matter of fact the only time a pedestrian has stepped out in front of us during the eight months we have had the e-up! was when I was driving the other (diesel) car and the pedestrian was wearing headphones.)

There are a few irritating economies which hang over from the inexpensive petrol up! but are out of place in a premium vehicle. The electric version is highly specified with, for example, an integrated ‘info-tainment’ console, with sat-nav, radio, bluetooth phone link, aids to economical driving and charting of battery range and accessible charging stations. Yet it comes with only one smart key. We found that getting a second would cost us the best part of £200 and require a complex verification procedure requiring ID. Again, for a four door car it seems mean not to have an interior light for the rear seats or one in the luggage compartment/boot.

One small point is that the plastic flap that covers the charge point sticks out and can be broken off if you walk carelessly by it the wrong way.

Overstated range

The most serious criticism we have is that the range is consistently overstated by the instrumentation. When you have got used to this you make allowances but this is very much the wrong way round! If, instead, you always got a longer range than indicated it would do wonders to combat ‘range anxiety’ and make a huge difference to how positive people felt about the whole experience. It seems an elementary mistake for VW to have made, possibly reflecting their own wishful thinking about their exciting new baby.

So, with the battery fully charged we get an indicated range of between 70 and 80 miles, which seems to be calculated from our driving style  over the last few journeys. This indicated range jumps to about 90 miles when we switch to eco+ mode (which turns off the climate control and restricts the performance a bit). But on the road, using a combination of driving modes (the touch of a button toggles through normal, eco, and eco+ modes) we can only rely on a range of 70 miles in the summer and 60 miles in winter (when the battery is less efficient and you need more heating and lights).  And another problem is that there is no way of finding out how much leeway you’ve got before you would actually run flat. Short, that is, of having a friend with a low-loader follow you until you roll to a stop. We suspect the car would actually go further than it says, but have no way of being sure. And you do need to be sure.

Which is why the e-up! is not, in our opinion, a practical only car. It is an absolutely fabulous second car, but you need something else for the longer journeys. Which brings me to the issue of charging the battery.

The nuts and bolts of the electricity bit
Charging at home from an ordinary 13 amp square-pin plug in the garage is practical, convenient and cheap. This is a huge advantage of the VW models – you simply don’t need a special charging point, whether subsidised or not. When the technician came to install ours we talked it through with him and decided not to go ahead.

Charging
Charging from a 13 amp plug in the garage. You can just see the green lights of the charging unit on the far wall beyond the wing mirror.

Our e-up! adds about 8 miles range for every hour of charging at home. During this time it draws about 2 kilowatts, less than an electric kettle and well within the output of our solar panels during more than half the year. To the extent that we charge like this our motoring is entirely cost-free and carbon-free. For people who worry about this sort of thing this benefit is very significant indeed.

Screenshot_2015-03-23-15-28-49
The display on the e-manager app

Anyway, for these reasons we try to charge during the day.The VW Car-net app (another premium feature) allows us to monitor the state of charge remotely and switch the process on and off at will. Connection can be lost at times but usually it works brilliantly.

Staying with friends we can plug into their household supply just as easily as into our own – another big advantage of the VW way of doing things. Sometimes they have solar panels as well.

In the eight months we have had the electric car we have spent £481 on petrol for the Skoda diesel compared with £889 for exactly the same period last year when we had the same Skoda and a petrol Ford Ka. Which extrapolates to a saving of almost £700 in a full year, less 14p per kWh for any charging which isn’t covered by the solar panels. So, with the free road tax,  free car parking permit in the town and freedom from congestion charges if we went to London, we are already eating quite substantially into the premium price for this gloriously premium vehicle.

Using public charging points is another thing entirely. In fact it is a jungle. Fortunately, having the diesel Skoda to use for longer journeys we have hardly had to use public chargers at all. But we are beginning to get our heads around the options available and gain a little confidence.

Networks

To start with you can’t just go to a charging point, plug in and make any payment necessary with a credit card. Oh no. That would be far too sensible. The charging points are all run by networks for which you need different access cards, sometimes purchasing payment credits in advance. The exception is EcoTricity – you do need to apply for their card but it is free and charging is all free as well. The excellent SpeakEV electric car forum http://goo.gl/0XqqfD lists seven different networks at the present time. All their comments speak of the lunacy of this way of doing things. But you just have to decide which networks you need depending on where you live and where you want to travel.

Connectors

And the next problem is that there are at least four types of connector and two categories of charging speeds. Low speed AC (Alternating Current) charging is relatively easy, it uses the Type 2 connector which seems to be pretty ubiquitous. But when we tried it at a garden centre 14 miles away and measured the charging rate it only charged at the rate we get at home – about 8 miles added each hour. So if we had arrived there with a nearly flat battery (which of course we didn’t) it would have taken two hours to add what we needed to get us home.

When you get to Rapid DC (Direct Current) charging the fun really begins because there are three incompatible systems.

SSE ChargePoint
SSE ChargePoint at The Rapids, Romsey

CCS - AC - CHAdeMO
CCS – AC – CHAdeMO connectors

CCS connector
CCS business-end

As a Volkswagen our e-up! uses what is intended to be the new standard – CCS

Using this it should draw 30 kW and charge to 80% in 15-20 minutes.  More of these points are coming online and we now have a good range at about the right distance from home – Andover, Romsey, Farnborough, Fareham. Ringwood, Beaconsfield, Crawley, the M4/A34 junction and Reading.  So far we have not had a chance to try one, but it is looking good. Another advantage of rapid charge points is that they are unlikely to be occupied for as long as AC points.

As I understand it, Renault’s and Nissans use the CHAdeMO connector and the up-market American Teslar range use a third, completely different kind of its own, sited in places like hotel car parks. These last charge at an almost incredible 120 kW and give the cars a range of  200 miles.

Our first impressions of owning an electric car

Our e-car
Our e-car. Note the distinctive running lights

Buying an electric car was something of an act of faith for us. There is still very little experience of them and even the dealer said it was only the second they had sold. A friend had shown us a Renault Zoe and his enthusiasm was infectious and persuasive, but we liked the fact that the new VW models have an option to charge from an ordinary 13 amp household plug.

But we didn’t, for example, know how well the electric VW would cope with hills. We were quite prepared for it to struggle a bit going up the steep incline from our garage to the road, and similarly on the steep zig-zag up the hill to where we live.

That just shows how little we had gleaned from our short test drive – we couldn’t have been more wrong. The way it gently, silently slips out of the garage and up onto the roadway, and the way it sweeps effortlessly up hills, absolutely ‘like the wind’, is a complete revelation and an intoxicating joy. We can’t resist going out at the slightest excuse to do it again. And we do that knowing that it isn’t costing anything at all: It doesn’t cause any noise; it doesn’t make any pollution. That’s because, charging on a reasonably sunny day, it draws less power than our solar panels are generating. So it  literally runs on the sunshine which would otherwise have heated up our roof tiles.  And – almost too obviously to point out – it doesn’t have an exhaust pipe, so it couldn’t emit exhaust gases if it tried.

With no gears the engine picks up strongly from rest and carries on pulling smoothly right through any amount of acceleration. This feels incomparably superior to the smoothest and most sophisticated of automatic gears. Apart from Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive you can select one further mode, B, by pressing momentarily on against a spring. This engages the recuperation system which, provided the battery isn’t absolutely fully charged (when there is presumably nowhere for the electricity to go), the motor operates in reverse when you lift off the accelerator, gently but increasingly-firmly retarding the car as it puts energy back into the battery. This means that 1) you rarely have to move your foot onto the brake pedal and 2) at the end of a long descent you find you have several miles more range than you had at the beginning.

It all takes a bit of getting your head round, something so new. The motoring journalists in the reviews I’ve seen missed it completely. The one in the Telegraph, although he said he liked the e-up!, seemed to think the only reason anyone would actually buy one would be to save money, and he declared the issue settled when he found that most people wouldn’t. No economic case at all: QED. It is hard to imagine him applying the same criterion to a Porsche – ten times as expensive and in my opinion ten times less fun. Not to mention immeasurably less sustainable. But then that would only count in the equation if he worried about sustainability, which as a rule motoring journalists tend not to.

So the general impression is that it is an incredibly refined vehicle, uncannily quiet and unfussy, and a complete joy to travel in. It is hard to pin down what is quite so special about it, but it reminds me of a trip I once had in a glider, or of that wonderful sense of peace you get in a sailing boat when you get out of the harbour and kill the engine. As you slow down and stop, the engine stops. Silent, still, cool. Cars whose engines keep running until you turn them off begin to look a bit ridiculous. It could be quite soon that people come to see the internal combustion engine as crude and unsophisticated, and those exhaust pipes – no less than four huge ones on a Lamborghini I saw in a service station the other day – as frankly disgusting.

Everybody asks about the range. Well, a full charge takes it just over 80 miles. Another ten or so if you change to Eco+, which turns off the air conditioning and restricts the speed until you do a deliberate kick-down with the accelerator. Eco mode is somewhere in between. In Normal mode the e-up! zooms along the motorway and keeps up with and overtakes almost anything if you want it to. The instrumentation tells you exactly how much power you are using and the range remaining all the time.

So, we already do return trips to towns 35 miles away in complete confidence. [ADDENDUM – this should really say ‘in summer, using Eco+ mode’ –  see note added at the bottom*]  We have yet to try, or need, a rapid-charging station on a longer journey, but the thoroughly-integrated Garmin ‘Info-tainment’ centre tells us where they are when we do. We are registered with Ecotricity  and we have our swipe card, and charging will be free and take up to twenty minutes. The VW models use the new CCS connector which is currently being installed in charging centres. As far as we can tell we can also use the more common Type 2 connector as well. But I will edit this post to give clearer details of the practicalities of using these stations as we find them out. This is where the lack of people experienced in using the technology is so apparent. There is certainly a pioneering element which is probably part of the fun.

For the time being I would have two major reservations – I do not think we have reached the point where electric cars are practical as an only car for people who need to make long journeys. The extra range of the VW e-Golf might make the necessary difference but I think that remains to be seen.  And secondly, you really do need a garage where you can keep and charge it. I see no solution at the moment for the many people who have to keep their car in the street, and not even in a fixed position outside their house.

Otherwise, I’ve seen the future, and it works…

* Further note on Range 24 August:
Yesterday evening we took four adults on a 63 mile round-trip to the theatre.

Starting  with a full charge and on Eco+ mode the indicated range was 98 miles. As we started home it was 48 miles – battery charge dial showing between half and three quarters full. About ten miles from home we changed to normal mode, turned on the heating and stormed up a couple of hills to show off the car. Arriving home there were 8 miles remaining range indicated.

Full statistics of the journeys, from the VW Car-net e-remote smartphone app:

Out (Daylight, late afternoon)
31 miles in 53 minutes av 35 mph
Av. e-motor consumption 4.1 mpkWh (miles per kilowatt hour)
Av. recuperation 19.5 mpkWh
Av. secondary consumption (heating/lights, etc) 155.4 mpwWh

Return (Dark, temperature  <10°C)
32 miles in 57 minutes, av 33 mph.
Av. e-motor consumption  4.0 mpkWh
Av. recuperation 18.3 mpkWh
Av. Secondary consumption 28.3 mpkWh

 

Inca stonework visited

Ever since I first heard about the Incas at high school in the States I have wanted to see the famous mortar-less stonework in Peru and find out how it was done.  One of our guides in Peru last month told me the answer. Big smile, palms up and wide apart, he revealed it to me at last – “It’s a mystery“.

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The corridor leading to the temple of the Sun at the top of the citadel at Olantaytambo

Some mystery. No metals harder than copper (or at least bronze); no wheel; no arch; no writing; no horses, no cattle – just camelids. Primitive ceramics, primitive art. Yet here is masonry without any explanation that I find remotely plausible. Huge stones fitted together. Perfectly, not just at the surface, but in three dimensions. Some of a  softish stone, but also some of granite. People kept muttering about “trial and error” but they can’t ever have tried leveling the legs of a chair that way.

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Inca masonry in a street in Cusco

Of course we saw the big, famous places, and as it happens all of my photos of those, apart from the ones I took on my phone, are lost on a faulty memory card. But luckily I filled the doomed card and switched to the one from my wife’s camera for the last few days. And I want to share some pictures taken after that, while we were still in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. I think they illustrate something about this new world masonry which is radically different from the classical architecture with which we are familiar. I mean the way the South American stonework ‘grows’, almost organically, out of the natural bedrock.

I hope this little gallery of pictures will illustrate what I mean:

Quite apart from the beauty of the wonderfully interlocking stonework, evolved to withstand earthquakes, the intimate way it is fitted to the underlying rock seems as different as it could possibly be from the formally planned foundations of, say, a Greek temple.

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