Matt Prior: why we can’t have nice things

Fiat 500

It’s not mandatory to do the North Coast 500 in a 500

This week, Matt Prior discusses Orangina and an unfortunate situation on the North Coast 500

In today’s ‘this is why we can’t have nice things’ news: Orangina. 

You know Orangina. You’ll have seen bottles of it, chilled and gently glistening temptingly in a shop, where you might have thought how nice it would be to shake the bottle, wake the drink. Last week, I thought the same, but I was wrong, because it has sweeteners in it, and they make me pull a strange face. I’m aware this isn’t new news.

The recipe was changed last year to include sweeteners, in a move to circumnavigate a tax on very sugary food and drinks. I just hadn’t noticed until now. I don’t want to unfairly single out the orangey popster: Orangina isn’t alone, as fizzy pop fans will know. Laws being made, as they are, to protect the lowest common denominator, the sugar tax was introduced because too many people were consuming too much of the stuff, which gave drinks makers the choice of raising prices or reducing sugar levels. Many took the latter.

Which brings me to the North Coast 500, the 500-mile tourist loop taking in some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. Intended by those who conceived it to be Britain’s answer to America’s Route 66 – to pull tourists and their money into one of the loveliest, quietest and least populated parts of this island – it’s a route that only uses roads that were there already. But as a marketing activity, it has worked superbly. It’s thought 30,000 people have driven, biked or cycled the route since it was conceived in 2015.

It hasn’t taken long, though, for this great idea, neatly executed, to have become a victim of its success. Part of the problem is that people are hopeless drivers, with some so slow they’re holding up locals, while others are attempting to set some kind of lap record: “It’s not the Indy 500, it is not the Le Mans 24 Hours…” the North Coast 500 is compelled to stress on the road safety section of its website. There is also litter, insufficient parking, and at peak times accommodation so busy that people are wild camping, with the grizzly implications this has on ‘sanitation’. A University of Stirling report found that 15% to 20% of locals have ‘withdrawn’ in some way from their enjoyment of the area.

This month, police have reported that somebody is routinely spreading roofing nails on part of the route, with at least four recorded incidents in the past eight months, which, if you ride a motorbike, is a pretty chilling proposition, even if you never ride very fast. At least when other people drink too much sugar, we just get a weird aftertaste. Here, somebody has decided that other people’s enjoyment of the area is spoiling their own so much that they are literally prepared to kill over it.

I don’t think any of this was the idea. It was just a nice thing, wasn’t it? Enjoy the drive, see the sights, stay in a decent hotel, visit interesting places. And, for the most part, that’s exactly how it is. But, as ever, there’s discontent bubbling underneath, because you know how it is with nice things.

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Source: Autocar Online

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