Category Archives: Driving



British American TobaccoImage via Wikipedia

DROPPED the car off for its first ever service this morning and was walking back to the train station when I caught the aroma of cheap cigarettes. Not burning fags, no, but the slightly sickly smell you get when a fresh pack is opened – that unpleasant prelude to the always nice niff of a just lit one, which only last for a few seconds before it starts to cause gagging.

It was then I saw I was right next to the Danish HQ of British American Tobacco, and I thought, Christ, what must it be like working in there? (I might have once found out, sort of, when I applied to their London office years ago for a web editor job before coming to Denmark, but that’s not even another story so I’ll stop this digression forthwith.)

I carried on my way to the station when the following, mildy arresting image caught my eye. ‘Bilvask’ is the Danish for ‘carwash’:

Quite why, then, the chappie was scrubbing away baffled me. Of course, I twigged it in a second. Kindly Danish petrol station owners give you a bucket and brush to get in to the tight spots on the wheels.

I myself have used a bilvask on two occasions. The first time, I noticed the previous user standing outside. I bought my ticket (impossibly digitised, the way techno-obsessed Denmark is – if they could find some way of frying an egg over a LAN network, they would) and asked if I stayed in the car or got out while it was being washed. The attendant shrugged and said either was ok. I drove my car in, shut the door and went to the control console where I had to scan this and pin-code that to start the wash. An Australian cyclyed by and explained he’d heard my conversation with the attendant and advised me to stay out of the car. “It’s starts up real quick, mate” he didn’t say (well, did, just not with the sterotypical embellishments). Sure enough, the water started spraying and a metal shutter door rolled down, sealing me off.

As a kid, I remember sitting in the car wash and loving it. So when I went the other week, I bought the boy with me, started the machine, ducked under the rolling shutter and slammed the door just as first suds hit the windscreen. We had a great time. I am 39 and he’s 3. A great father-son experience.

Beats crouching outside the bilvask with a brush.

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>Another hair-raising drive to work

>The Wages of FearImage via Wikipedia TORRENTIAL RAIN this morning made my zip up the E55 like something out of Wages of Fear.

The road out of the city transforms from urban street to motorway pretty quick, and in heavy traffic you often find yourself forced to take one lane instead of another.

This happened this morning, and as we drifted into motorway, I was stuck in the fast lane in a downpour that had the wipers working overtime. Behind me, a goon in a BMW was practically kissing my exhaust pipe, while to my right, a tattooed thug (sorry tattooed friends) was bunching me in.

Matey behind wanted me out of the way, while blokey to the right wouldn’t budge. And the wipers couldn’t keep up.

So you are left with little choice but to speed ahead and get clear of the box. My car has a gizmo in it that will record my speed in the event of a crash. For every kilometre over the limit, I pay a certain amount towards repairs. The pay-off for this is cheap insurance, and I’m no speed freak so the deal is sweet for me.

But by now I was pushing 120km in a 90km zone, in rain you couldn’t see beyond, ploughing through near flooded roads, just to get clear of these maniacs all around me.

It was a bit of a nuisance, I can tell you.

Eventually, the chap on the right who’d kept pace with my accelerations, hemming me in, floored it a bit more and sprayed his way past me, giving me room to move over for the impatient Beamer behind.

It was my birthday not long ago. Am I really such an old man already that I tsk-tsk and disapprove of these crazy drivers?

Danes take a theory and practical driving test. They even have to take a first-aid course so they know what to do in the event of a road accident.

Good job too.

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>Google car spotted in Denmark?

>Tabliczka E55.Image via WikipediaTHE MILD hysteria about Google photographing places at street level to enhance their mapping service might have spread to Denmark.

Well, it will if I have anything to do with it.

I was bumbling down the E55 towards Copenhagen yesterday afternoon when I spied a suspicious looking vehicle going far too slow. After spitting forth bile at the driver’s poor ability, I noted a strange looking device atop the car.

Could it be?

I resolved to find out. I flicked an indicator drifted into the outside line and whizzed past the snail of a car, getting a good look at the strange, rotating and yes, camera-like device on its roof. I then returned to the inside lane and waited for the roving camera car to catch up. My speed dropped, 110km, 90km, finally 60km – a dangerous speed to cruise at on any motorway, and let me tell you, my pulse was racing, sweat silvering on my forehead as I diced with death and investigated The Man, watching as he came ever closer behind me.

Eventually, Google car couldn’t stand my slow driving any longer and overtook.

Checkmate. My phone ready, as he passed and dropped in front of me, I started snapping. Difficult with a mobile phone and one eye on the road.

But here’s where it gets weird, and all a bit Three Days of the Condor, Men In Black, or The Parallax View, depending on your view on conspiracies. See, as soon as I’d grabbed a few photos, the Google car (if indeed it was that) took off. And I mean really took off. The guy floored it and shot ahead so quickly, I lost him in the traffic that thickens as you approach the Copenhagen outskirts.

Had he seen me taking pictures? And did he see my licence plate? And who are the big goons standing in my office right now erasing my Nokia’s contents?

Or maybe the car was nothing to do with Google, and it was doing
something entirely innocent. Here are the pictures. I’ll let you decide. Me? I’m reaching for my tin foil hat.

>Dane-gerous Driving

>The Great Belt Fixed Link, seen from the Zealand side.Image via WikipediaUNDERTAKING seems to be a commonplace occurrence on the motorways of Denmark. I notice it daily – mad souls veering from lane to lane because they absolutely, positively have to be there on time. Or not.

I just think they are shit drivers.

But wait! I have evidence. Well, a theory.

Ok, just a thought (and those are rare these days).

Thing is, the Danes have only recently come into money. The past ten or twelve years saw them realise the value of the enormous apartments and houses they have lived in for decades. (Apparently, profits from the sale of properties used to be taxed heavily, discouraging people to sell to earn a few bob.) So after they sold and made a packet over night, they all fancied themselves as well to do and went and bought motors.

Until then, they’d always cycled. What happened? Of course, they immediately started driving the same way they cycle – on a whim, haphazardly, capriciously. It’s because their road heritage is on two wheels and self-propelled, whereas I come from a place and time (Croydon, the 1980s), where all any 17-year-old kid wanted to do was get a car.

Upshot? I’m a better driver.

So there.

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>Iron Man – he’s a small, family hatchback

>AS I was driving into work the other morning, hurtling behind me on the E55 towards Helsingør, I saw what I first thought to be Iron Man. Closer inspection of my rear view mirror revealed the pursuing object not to be Tony Stark tooled up, but in fact a Toyota Yaris.

Ok, so it’s early Iron Man but I am sure you can see the similarities: the Toyota logo and the uni-beam projector in the middle of both “machines”, those shiny shoulder pads of Marvel’s hero reminded me of the front wings on the Yaris, then add the fact that both are made of, er, metal (I think), and you have something. Or not.

It got me thinking about how so many other cars actually resemble fantasy figures. Just go and look and you’ll see what I mean.

Take my own car, a Colt. It is a dead ringer for feathered do-gooder Hawk from Buck Rogers.

Now I have started thinking of car names that don’t exist, but should. May I present the Toyota Magentis, Volkswagen Jebbe (pronounced Yebber, and I know it’s a bit like the Jetta but I like mine more), Mitsubishi Sline, Hyundai Ritz, BMW Egg series.

That’s enough now.

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>Buying a car in Denmark – the truth

A combination of new job and, er, suppressed wanting, found me in a car showroom last Sunday. Your Danish car dealership, being in a country where Saturday still counts for something (not my choice, but there you go), is open Mon-Fri plus Sunday. These hardworking salesmen need time off too.

I’d arranged to test drive a Mitsubishi Colt, one of the more affordable cars one can pick from in this land of high tax. I’d called in advance to book the test but was told it wasn’t necessary. Just bring your driving licence. So I showed up, mooched around the Colts, sat inside one and inhaled new car, then went and asked for a test drive. They photocopied my licence then handed me a set of keys. “Take the one outside,” said Leif, the grey, middle-aged seller. I walked outside, saw the car, and got in. So he wasn’t coming with me? I’d be left to my own devices? And what about guarantees, waivers, and other documentation I’d signed in England when I’d last test driven a car? Naw. No problem. Maybe I am out of touch, probably am, but this seemed a splendid idea to me. Alone, I could thrash the beast to within an inch of its life – so I did.

It responded wonderfully, throaty roar in first, sashaying through corners, almost as fast in reverse as forward. Half an hour later, I cornered back into the dealership and told Leif, “I’ll buy it.” He seemed perturbed at my decision (he didn’t know I’d done hours of research online), but then shrugged like a Finn and walked past the hospitality table (open bottles of wine for potential punters to guzzle!) and we sat at a desk. Ten minutes later, it was done. I’d bought a brand new, black Colt 1.1 Insport with three years fully comp insurance, three years pan-European breakdown cover, air conditioning as an extra, and the equivalent of £300 delivery charge for the sum of £16,000. Leif never tried to sell me credit, spoilers, fancy wheels or any other garbage.

“It’s a Mitsubishi,” was about all he said, a little glumly. “It’s a good car.” I could tell it pained him to shake on the deal.

Knock off a grand for the equivalent UK fully comp insurance for three years and it works out at about £7000 more than the UK Colt. Mine has more stuff on it (I get an MP3 player and eight million speakers, air con, and refrigerated glove box – whoopee) but yes, I know, not seven grand’s worth of more stuff. They say new car tax in Denmark is 180%. Maybe it is, I can’t be arsed to calculate back to see. Point is, you won’t get around it so if you want a new motor, you pay it. You have to stop comparing.

Where am I going? A few weeks back, I asked my Danish colleagues about car taxes before I purchased. In true Danish tradition (ie, always answer with the negatives), they all launched into uninformed terror tales of the costs, the extortion, how you will never be able to afford it, and waxing lyrical about their hatred for all those low-lifes who buy cars with yellow number plates (signifying no more than two people are allowed in the car at any one time, thus qualifying for a substantial tax break). One said to me, “Put aside DKK4000 (£400) a month for a car!” Another claimed, “The weight of the car. You have to pay tax on that!” One more hollered, “The green tax! That has to be paid.” “The car bill is one we pay and don’t look at,” said the same numpty who claimed it would cost me 400 knicker a month to keep a set of wheels on the road.

I asked about road tax. “I don’t know,” they said. One didn’t even know what car she drove!

So, here for the record, is the deal with Danish new car tax as March 2008: you pay a tax on the car that’s in the quoted price of the car, that’s why they are expensive. You cannot escape it (unless you want yellow plates). Accept it. Consider it part of the purchase price. After that, you pay one tax and one tax alone and that is based on emissions. The lower the emissions, the lower the tax. (A 1.1 Colt sets you back £150 a year.) There’s no road tax like in the UK. There’s no weight tax (phased out a decade ago and replaced with emissions or green tax). There’s no 180% tax on top of the quoted price of the car. It is actually remarkable simple. Expensive, but simple.

Fuel is currently cheaper than the UK, so yah-boo-sucks to you. Think about that when you’re spending the seven grand I had to give to the Danish government. Eh? Oh.

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