At the End of the Day

mesmile Driving through south west France after a visit to Spain’s northern coast three days ago, I watched transfixed as sunset took place in the same moment as moonrise. The dying rays of Earth’s nearest star decorated our only natural satellite in colours of matt pink and milk chocolate. As this moon was a harvest job of breathtaking size, the phenomenon of interaction forced me to stop the car and look on in wonder.

And if you think that’s a candidate for Private Eye’s Pseuds’ Corner, hold hard for there is more to come. Giacometti – when asked why, as a sculptor, he painted largely in shades of brown and copper – replied, “The other colours are added by my imagination”. In Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, there is a movie watching Giacometti’s hand first of all sketch the frame for a human head, and then fill it in exactly those colours. It’s an experience not to be missed.

This is more than can be said for the Guggenheim’s exhibits as a whole, which might best be described as thinner than the most anorexic figure Giacometti ever fashioned. But on the other hand, I was there mainly because I wanted to see the building itself. It did not disappoint: even if you have to retreat half a mile to get a decent shot of it, the structure is truly remarkable. Without question, it put Bilbao firmly on the map. Whether Bilbao deserves to be on the map is another question entirely.

In a more general sense, I was also curious about the coastline as a whole. For those in Madrid dying from midsummer continental heat, it is a chic place to have an apartment, enjoy the cooling sea breezes and Pyrenean clouds, and perhaps indulge in surfing the ample waves of its various resorts.

On the map where Bilbao is now firmly placed, it looks like an easy journey well serviced with autostradas. Sadly, the experience is complicated by EU egomania, and eccentric Spanish road signage. What starts out as the A63 from Gascony soon multiplies and reappears as the A8 in Spain, which is also the E70 in the heads of the Brussels imperialists. Adding to the general confusion is the Iberian habit of trying to cram full details of every road number all the way down to Cadiz. All I really wanted to do was get past San Sebastian, and then stop for the night at what looked and sounded like a small coastal town called Zarautz.

In fact, Zarautz turned out to be Galicia’s answer to Blackpool, but after a long drive it offered some seafood and a bed. I accepted both greedily.

These days, I’m not big on long car journeys. The strangest things go through a human head when driving long distances, and my head is stranger than most. But I have one recurring thought each time I travel on the autoroutes of Europe: that 4×4 Kensington tractors and/or Mercedes, BMWs, Range Rovers or Porsches in silver grey, white or black absolutely mark the drivers out as gold-plated, government-tested tossers.

Dismiss this as ‘sample of 1’ if you like, but I’m a researcher by trade – and we’re talking about a massive sample quantified beyond belief over the last six years. I’m not the sample here: I’m the statistician.

It works like this. I go to EU figures about car ownership by marque, and then make an allowance for the fact that people owning big fat motors are likely to use autoroutes more than poor folks with tiny cars, on account of being able to afford the horrendous tolls. This allows me to arrive at a figure of around 11% for cars as described in the last para but one. Remember, all drivers who chose other colours are ignored….which is generous of me really, because some of them display at least some of the congenital idiocy involved.

On an average stretch of 130 kph autoroute over time, probably around one in seven vehicles exceed the speed limits – about 14%. Among that number, around 70-80% match the criteria I set out at the start, and all of them do the following:
* Exceed the speed limit by roughly 15%
* Stay in the outside lane over 90% of the time
* Ignore road works signs and associated speed limits
* Ignore signs about fog, ice, snow or plagues of giant locusts
* Flash anyone or anything in their way.

In order to confirm this qualitatively, ask yourself a simple question: how many agreeable people do you know driving those kind of cars?

There you are, you see. Now think of Conservative politicians you really can’t stand….and I don’t mean just because they’re Tow-reez. I mean David Cameron, Rajid Savid, Philip Hammond, Boris Johnson and partners….that sort of Tory. Is it easy to imagine them driving like that?

Step lightly across the Commons corridor, and think Blair, Campbell, (Hilary) Benn, Mandelson, Vaz….Slimeball Labour. Well, quite.

I was to meet a friend off the plane at Bilbao Airport. There isn’t a lot to do in Bilbao Airport once you’ve rejected the old-looking tortilla option, and read the warnings on the Orangina bottle. An onanist architect created totally empty catacombs beneath the Terminal, inconveniently to one side of the car parks. Apart from acting as a puzzling echo-chamber as one deplanes, they serve no purpose at all.

More or less the same thing could be said for Bilbao itself. If you dig seedy, there is a delightfully seedy old town. If you like post-modern tapas, there are a couple of piazzas serving it up by the ton. For myself, the high point of the trip was sitting enjoying a classic Mahou beer in a bar playing late 1950s jazz that included Chet Baker, Lee Morgan and Lena Horne.

But those experiences were petunias in an onion patch. If you can see Naples and die, then probably the best way to see Bilbao is when you’re dead.

The Twattering Classes at Work