A mysterious club

May 18, 2012

It seems incredible, but there really was a brief period in my life when I didn’t know what a flat white was. For two giddy months, I would make vague expressions of interest when cyclepeople of my acquaintance expressed their delight at this caffeine-based innovation, until one day my chum Phipsy mistook my proud boast of ignorance as a plea for help and tweeted a succinct description of how a flat white is constructed. So that was the end of that.

More recently, I stubbornly resisted learning the definition of the jazzy new word “soundslide”, but in that instance curiosity got the better of me after just a couple of weeks, because the soundslide in question featured none other than former Dynamo clubmate and all-round nice person Sam Humpheson of Look Mum No Hands! fame. When he was building my Merlin some years ago, Sam overruled a misguided decision I had made and, quite rightly, wrapped my handlebars in white bar tape. Not black, as I had foolishly requested, but white, the hue of speed and elegance. So when wise Sam speaks, I must listen – even if he happens to be speaking via the medium of (and I do so dislike the word) a soundslide. Ugh.

In principle, though, I stand by both of my short-lived campaigns of willful ignorance. New words should be an aid to your self-expression or help you engage more fully with the world; if they do neither, they’re simply clutter. And now, trying its best to clutter up my consciousness, comes another curious phrase: the “Car Club”.

I think this mysterious club must be the council’s doing, as its sole manifestation has appeared on an area of tarmac opposite the entrance to our building. So far, it has been quite easy to avoid discovering anything about the Secret Order Of The West London Car Club because no one has bothered to offer an explanation. I would like to think it involves men in thick, ornate moustaches and goggles sharing their love of vehicles that require a hand-crank to start them up, but at the moment there’s just a metal pole with a notice and the warning “CAR CLUB ONLY” painted imposingly in front of two parking spaces.

Very strange, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The specially designated car club area looked like this two days ago:

This is what it looked like yesterday:

And that, basically, is what it has looked like since it appeared.

I realise, of course, that any sort of club has to create an air of exclusivity to stand a chance of becoming a success. But the mysterious Car Club, judging by its perpetually empty area, doesn’t seem to have any members at all. And it has nabbed two of the best spots on a road that rarely has any free parking spaces. The ruddy cheek!

In other transport-related news, the management company that runs our flats has overturned a preservation order so they can hack down a tree that is impinging on a garage which a few residents are lucky enough to use. Well, I say they’re lucky, but I’ve never really envied them: the garage is only accessible from two adjacent roads and there are always parking spaces outside the main entrance anyway (see below) – which, to me, rather seems to defeat the point of the whole deal.

The garage only has a limited number of spaces for bicycles, so the management company installed bike parking stands along the pavement a few years ago to cope with the increase in cycle usage.

Sadly, a lot of the bikes are regularly vandalised or stolen – although the local ruffians seem to have overlooked one bike which is sporting an exclusive Harrods saddle cover, fashioned from the finest type of plastic bag the Knightsbridge emporium has to offer.

A classy piece of kit – but I digress. I was, you may remember, pondering the nature of the car club, and while I have no intention of uncovering its purpose, I strongly suspect it is some sort of vehicle-sharing scheme. It’s probably a well-meaning initiative, but like a flat white (translation: yet another combination of milk and bean juice) or a soundslide (an audio recording with photo slideshow), it’s just a phrase for a concept that has more or less existed in another form: everyone, after all, will either give someone a lift in their car or briefly lend it out at some point in their lives. New phrases and words emerge because we have a basic human desire for change; effecting actual change is much harder.
And what’s really needed in this case is some co-ordination between the council and the estate management company so that everyone benefits: turn the residents’ garage into a cycle park, thereby saving a tree, let motorists take up the spare parking capacity on the road and get rid of the unused Car Club. Oh, if only outcomes were as easy to create as phrases and slogans…

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