Miles Kington: Musings from the keyboard of a driven man

At altitude the lower air pressure means that a tin of Coke is liable to misbehave itself over your trousers
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The Independent Online

Today I bring you an extract from a brand new novel, ranging over several continents, with a vast cast of characters and a fully researched technological background. Ready? Here we go, then with the opening of "Taken For A Spin"!

* Sophie cursed as she left the house, stumbled into the yard and almost fell headlong on the slippery surface. As if it wasn't bad enough WITH these December mornings being almost pitch black, she was now facing black ice as well. Why, she groaned, did black ice have to be black? Why couldn't it be pink or yellow, or some colour which was easily spotted in the dark? Nature could be so unfair.

Her mood was not improved when she found that the back window of the car was encrusted with ice. She went to look for the ice-scraper. It had been moved. Amid more groans, she got out her handbag, chose her least used credit card (a loyalty card from a store which she had never been to since getting the card) and started slowly and ineffectively scratching at the thick, crunchy ice.

"There must be parts of the world where the word ice-scraper is unknown," she thought morosely. "On the Equator, for instance. If you lived on the Equator, you'd never have to scrape ice in your life. What bliss to be a car-owner on the Equator...!"

* The equator runs through Ecuador in South America, and one of the main towns there is Quito, which is 3,000 metres up in the mountains. This, you will not be surprised to hear, is high enough for there to be frost in winter.

Luis Garcia Montanero sighed briefly as he came out into the street and saw the ice on the windscreen of his car. "Madre de Dios," he grumbled to himself, and of course to the Virgin Mary as well. "Every day the same."

But there was worse. As soon as he glanced down at the front tyre, his groans redoubled. Unless he was much mistaken, it was flat. This, of course, was only to be expected. At altitude the air wasn't just colder - it was thinner, and the air pressure was much lower. That meant that anything which had been filled with air at sea level, such as a tin of Coke, was liable to misbehave, as you will know if you have ever opened one at altitude and seen it explode over your trousers.

What this also meant was that tyres had to be much stronger to withstand internal pressure, and you got tyre trouble much more often, especially with the kind of cheap tyres Luis Garcia had to buy. "If only I lived at sea level, in somewhere like Lima," he thought. "No ice. Proper pressure. All my troubles would be over."

* Senora Monica de Guzman lived in Miraflores, the posh suburb of Lima. It never freezes in Lima. Nor, in fact, does it ever rain properly. The most you get is an offshore mist which drifts over the city some days and leaves, at most, a smear on the car windscreen. Windscreen wipers were an optional extra in Lima, as you never needed to wipe the windscreen. "So why", pondered Senora de Guzman, as she came out of the house and beheld the wiper-free windscreen on her Nissan, "do so many windscreen wipers get stolen in Lima?"

And not just wipers. Anything removable. Wing mirrors. Aerials. Roof racks.

"Why can't I live somewhere with no crime?" she thought. "Why can't I live in somewhere law-abiding like, oh, I don't know, Germany?"

* Herr Rolf Lederer came out of his house in suburban Frankfurt just in time to see the thief driving his car away...

A reader writes: What on earth is all this about, Mr Kington?

Miles Kington writes: Perhaps I should have explained. Jeremy Clarkson, the well-known car expert, has been signed up to write an international motor-based novel and I have been signed up to ghost-write it. This is the opening.

A reader writes: And do these characters ever meet up?

Miles Kington writes: Oh, God, yes! In the most dramatic fashion possible!

A reader writes: Goody. Let us have some more, then.

Miles Kington writes: Some other time, perhaps