Max’s Monthly Column: Bus passes, the flappy-paddle gearbox, and prepping for winter

Oct 16, 2019

Max Berry

This is Max’s Monthly Column, penned for the first time ever from Bristol, in England. I live here now (well ‘study’, although there hasn’t been a huge amount of that just yet). And it really is Bristol – right in the centre with all the Banksy works, supposedly indie pubs and vomit on pavements. I’m being harsh. I’m at the University of the West of England, which is everything I hoped it would be.

There is one aspect of my previous Devon life which I greatly miss however. You see I purchased an item here in Bristol the other day which I had hoped would never cross my path… a bus pass. This is a product which no person in history has ever got excited about purchasing, in fact I’d put it right down there with boiler replacements and new oven gloves – they’re necessities, not lovely luxuries. We buy them simply because we need them in our lives, and not because we like them. 

I do miss my car. I miss the ability to take various pieces of clothing or footwear in the boot and thus being ready for whatever weather may come my way. I miss walking out of my residence and departing at whatever time might take my fancy. I miss the cleanliness of the perfectly breathable oxygen within my car, as opposed to the excrement-infused air within the bus.

But as far as I’m concerned, the absolute main upside of your own car, is the knowledge that you’ve got a seat booked. On several occasions on the high street of Bristol, at 8.30am, I’ve found myself abandoned by an otherwise perfectly capable looking, if slightly full bus. Even by my own standards, this is a crushing metaphorical blow as the door of the bus snaps shut and the depressing throb of the Diesel engine hauls the fully loaded vehicle away. With my Jägermeister notebook in one hand and my apparently unusable bus pass in the other, it became obvious to me how much I miss my car. Cars are brilliant, aren’t they?


I was wondering the other week about controls. I mean proper controls – switches, dials, thrusters and paddles. The likes of using a telephone, whereby you’d rotate the dial control to contact the desired phone number. That is already a physical human action which fails to exist in modern culture today; we simply turn on a touchscreen and people half-way around the world are a few taps away. Some people have even left behind the ancient art of flicking a light switch, thanks to the existence of Alexa and Siri, and other friendly AI spies who live within our homes. Even our car boot lids can be controlled with a mere sweep of the foot nowadays – designed for when carrying heavy bags of shopping.

One control design which I can’t see outliving the existence of internal combustion engine, is the flappy-paddle, from a flappy-paddle gearbox. In case you don’t know, the paddles can be found behind the steering wheel of a car – one on each side – offering you the next gear down on your left, and the next one up on your right. In days gone by, flappy-paddle gearboxes could be lousy, and irritating. But with the rise of mechanicalised software, they can now offer a gear change so furious it could tear a hole in time. They are jolly good fun, even in a Golf R.

Upon downshifting, the clutch connects the furiously spinning drivetrain with the smaller gear in no time. It’s a lovely experience – a celebration of fine-tolerance engineering and design!


– Max Berry

And I’m happy to report the new V8 Vantage from Aston Martin is no exception. It’s a sexy little car with a very tasteful rear end. The headlights are a bit diddy, but not enough to call the front end anything negative. I was taken for a spin in one a few weeks ago, and although it’s Aston’s littlest car, it’s fast enough to keep you thankful for the seatbelt.

It’s a chunky little V8 that sits front mid-engined, allowing the driver to wave goodbye to the traction control, and hello to the sick bucket. Its weight distribution and clever diff really allow for some sideways fun. During my time in the Vantage it was satisfying to refresh my memory of a flappy-paddle gearbox, and click the downshifting left paddle from my passenger seat across the cabin, before hearing the audible result of such activity from behind us. 

The engine may be from from AMG, but the eight meaty cylinders cough and splutter through Aston Martin’s own gnarly exhaust system. Upon downshifting, the clutch connects the furiously spinning drivetrain with the smaller gear in no time. It’s a lovely experience – a celebration of fine-tolerance engineering and design!


Enough silliness in Aston Martins for now though – let’s get back to the big issues. As I touched on in my previous column, somehow Christmas is coming. I mean technically Christmas is always coming, but it really is now. Every single year, we’re all reminded by segments in TV news shows of what preparation should be carried out on our cars ahead of the cooler weather. The list of changes always seems a bit extensive, so I am now going to do my best to make sense of it.

Winter tyres. What a typical suggestion. In countries like Austria and Sweden, winter tyres are compulsory in the winter months and with good reason; it gets cold there – properly cold. Not the rare -8 we might get here in the UK with a foot or two of snow.

Winter tyres are ultimately to aid braking distances in cold weather, but an alternative method is to drive a bit slower. My position on this one is simple – if it does happen to become very snowy, the addition of winter tyres to your Renault Clio isn’t going to make a huge amount of difference either way. Your stopping distance might reduce, but then getting going again might be a struggle. Chains are certainly worth a shot, but an extra couple of millimetres of tread depth? I’m not sold.

Carrying a blanket and an extra coat or two isn’t a bad idea, although I’m almost certain there is no person in the country who adds these items to their car when it gets cold. In the case of people like my mother, they keep a coat and (picnic) blanket in the car at all times, all year round. Even in the summer months those bad boys are sat in the boot, patiently waiting for disaster to strike. That’s one type of person. The others, as far as I can see, just take a coat with them when they go anywhere. The risk of becoming stuck is not great enough in their mind to justify carrying extra cotton, or whatever they make blankets out of.

One thing I know is worth doing with your car in the winter months, is checking your engine coolant ratio. This is the ratio of water to anti-freeze in an engine’s coolant tank, which rather obviously can lead to ‘ice-related troubles’ if not balanced correctly. Imagine the pain of that as you run out to your car late, on a cold January morning. Some people bang on about changing your engine oil when winter comes, but having read a hugely uninteresting report on why, I haven’t got a good reason to suggest it myself.

Ultimately, driving in the cold and the snow comes down to mature decision making and carefulness. Is the journey worth it? Is the weather just too bad? Do we really need to go and visit this relative? Etcetera.

And in contrary to that last sentence, a year or two ago I made a video out in my car, when it snowed. This video, which you can watch here, is evidence that if you’re careful, driving in the snow can not only be safe… but fun. 

Make sure you take a look at Max Berry Productions’ YouTube Channel by clicking here.