Morgan a feeling…

This post began as something to write about during a blogging workshop which was held at Coventry University a week or so ago under the auspices of the Guild of Motoring Writers (GoMW) and co-hosted by Automotive Journalism lecturer Andrew Noakes and GoMW Breakthrough Blogger of the Year Keith Jones. However, as it was about a rather special automotive  experience, I thought I’d better give it a polish and post it.  

Just under eighteen months ago, I was afforded the opportunity to do something that anyone with a fluid ounce (or is that millilitres these days?) of petrol in their veins should do: along with a cohort of automotive design and journalism students from Coventry University, I popped down to Great Malvern in Worcestershire and visited the Morgan car factory.

Actually, you don’t need intravenous petroleum to appreciate Morgan – you can visit out of a sense of history, or of culture, or an appreciation for craftsmanship and style. Indeed, as you pass the factory on Pickersleigh Avenue, you somehow sense that Morgan isn’t a typical 21st century car maker, and the tour doesn’t disappoint as you are taken into a world of craft automotive manufacture, with a little high-technology thrown in.

Office furniture (Picture source: authors photograph).

Office furniture (Picture source: authors photograph).

Split into two groups from the outset, my particular group did the tour backwards – sort of – beginning in the despatch shop where customers’ cars are lined up for delivery, before going to see where the bodywork is fitted and engines are installed. Our next port of call was the body frame workshop, which is a particular delight as your senses are first assailed by the smell of wood and sawdust. And then you see – some sat upon trestles, some resting on the floor – the legendary ash frames, the architecture that will become a 4/4, a Plus-4 or a Roadster, and you begin to ‘feel’ the essence of Morgan (incidentally, contrary to popular belief, it is the body frame – and not the chassis – of a Morgan that is made of wood). It was in this workshop that we were all given wood, in the shape of an offcut with which we were presented as a souvenir by our guide. Anywhere else, and such an offcut would just be an odd-shaped bit of wood; but this is Great Malvern and so it was much, much more than a piece of misshaped arboreal detritus. I still have it.

In the frame (Picture source: authors photograph).

In the frame (Picture source: authors photograph).

Then it was over to the trimming shop where seats are fitted and dashboards installed, before proceeding to the facility where final checks are made – we didn’t get to see the paint shop – and then heading to another building where the neo-iconic 3-Wheelers are made. We only saw the final stage of this, but it was enough for a few pictures and a ponder over my next lottery win. I’ll probably need more than a tenner though.

Three wheels good... (Picture source: authors photograph).

Three wheels good… (Picture source: authors photograph).

Cars are more than just machines, and Morgans are more than just cars. They are innately anthropocentric. Whether it is the bespoke customer specifications or even just their hand-made nature, there is so much in the cars that is, for want of a better word, ‘people’ – a personality, perhaps. From a geographical and sociological point of view, there is an essence, a nature, an ‘affect’ to Morgan – both car and company – that is unique. It produces, and is, a feeling that is almost tangible.

One aspect of my PhD is concerned with the notion of the ‘affect’ of the motor car – an automotive affectus, if you will – and considers how the way that we ‘consume’ the car may impact upon the uptake of low carbon vehicles. Although a visit to the Morgan factory may provide a heightened sense of this, I believe that we all somehow ‘feel’ the car in a way that is manifest in the car we drive, even if we don’t realise it, and that the ‘consumption’ that in/evokes these feelings is a key yet overlooked aspect of the environmental impact of the car. Can we make the leap to a low carbon automobility? Do we even want to?

Before my factory visit, I’d always thought Morgans were okay – old-fashioned, six-year waiting list and all that – but I came away from Great Malvern wanting a Morgan – any Morgan – so much it hurt. Traditional style, modern technology and just so much essence imbued into the cars; what’s not to like? There’s even an electric one – christened the ‘Plus-E’ – knocking around somewhere; I wonder what that’s like to drive?

The factory visit is thoroughly recommended – check out the details on the Morgan website. You know you want to.

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A conference pair

I’m not sure if academia has a conference season as such but I’ve had the pleasure of attending and presenting at not one, but two postgraduate events over the Easter period.

The first of these events was the Royal Geographical Society Postgraduate Forum (RGS-PGF) Mid-term Conference, which was held at the University of Birmingham from the 25th-27th of March. An early highlight was being greeted with “You’re the car guy!” at registration – I must have made some kind of impression at last year’s RGS-PGF. Post-registration, the first evening of the conference consisted of a wine reception, plenary welcome speeches and an impromptu curry somewhere in Selly Oak, which went some way to setting conversations and affiliations for the next couple of days.

On the day of the conference itself, a quintet of Coventrians represented both the Department of Geography, Environment and Disaster Management and the Applied Research Centre for Sustainable Regeneration (or SURGE). My presentation about the background and some early findings of my research was one of five in the Transport, Mobilities and Movements session and, thankfully, was seemingly quite well received, prompting a couple of questions and the odd chuckle too. It’s the way I tell ’em, apparently.

The conference must have taken some planning, with 81 presentations over 19 sessions on the day itself, plus a session with 15 poster presentations. With so many presentations and posters, there was something for everyone, which is as it should be – after all, geography is everything and everything is geography. With up to five sessions within each of four ‘blocks’ throughout the day, some clashing was inevitable, though there were plenty of interesting presentations to be had over the day, ranging from Confucian environmental philosophies to the human, material and natural geographies in Svalbard.

Huge thanks and congratulations must go to Megan Ronayne, Colin Lorne and their team – it was a frankly corking postgrad conference, and it was great to catch up with folk from last year’s RGS-PGF again, and to meet new people too. Next year’s hosts have got a very hard act to follow.

The second event in this conference mini-season was the Tyndall Centre ‘Climate Transitions’ PhD Conference, held at Cardiff University on 3rd-5th of April, and was a very cosmopolitan affair with students from universities all over Europe in attendance. Proceedings were opened with a brilliant lecture by Professor James Scourse of Bangor University on observations and evidence of climate change, which was followed by a session of 26 poster presentations. With 11 paper and 15 speed presentations taking place over just 4 sessions – Land & Water, Energy & Emissions, Coasts & Cities and Governance & Behaviour – it was possible to attend every session, three of which were held on the second day, along with a talk about science communication (particularly blogging) given by Dr Warren Pearce of the University of Nottingham. The second day culminated in a dinner debate about fracking, with speakers from Friends of the Earth Cymru, the Tyndall Centre and a pro-fracking body called No Hot Air, which was … interesting, shall we say. In the end, hands raised in favour of, or unsure about, fracking were rather in the minority.

A souvenir of my adventures (Picture source: authors photograph)

A souvenir of my adventures (Picture source: authors photograph)

My turn to present opened the final day of the conference in the Governance & Behaviour session, where I gave an ever-so-slightly amended version of presentation I’d given at RGS-PGF the previous week. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of questions asked and comments received afterwards, and really quite chuffed at my presentation being one of four ‘best in session’ winners at the conference prize-giving afterwards, netting me a £25 Amazon voucher. The ‘best in conference’ prize deservedly went to Alexandra Gormally from Lancaster University for her presentation about community-owned renewable energy generation in Cumbria.

It was great to meet lots of new people at Climate Transitions and, again, thanks and congratulations must go to the organising committee at Cardiff University – Catherine Cherry, Erin Roberts and Sam Hubble – who, under the auspices of the Tyndall Centre, organised a brilliant and wide-ranging event. An imaginative aspect of the conference was the provision of dedicated mugs to be used during breaks between sessions, and which we were told we could take home afterwards – a brilliant idea!

PhD research can be a solitary experience (especially if one lives 120 miles away from uni…), and I find that the great thing about conferences like RGS-PGF and Climate Transitions is meeting so many other students to learn about each other’s research, share experiences and chew the academic fat, even if I do feel a bit thick sometimes. As postgrads, we’re perhaps all kindred spirits, with the same problems and same joys inherent within PhD research, and coming together at conferences like RGS-PGF and Climate Transitions is palpably uplifting – indeed, the ‘fizz’ of ideas and potential around Birmingham and Cardiff was almost tangible. It was all very inspiring, reassuring and (re)affirming; re-energising, even.

And so, suitably re-energised and with morale duly boosted after two conferences in a fortnight, I feel like I’m more than ready to get back to work – well, maybe just after this next brew in my new mug…