02 February 2016

Farewell Old Friend

It seems to be the season for goodbyes, and after nearly eight years my Freelander has left for a new home. As an introduction to Land Rovers, and off road driving in general, I have a lot of fond memories. I've taken it to places I was told I'd never get to, and learned a lot about driving technique. It's also the vehicle I took my advanced (on road) driving tests in.

The Freelander has often had bad press about its poor reliability, but the only major problems I've had with my Td4 have been entirely self-inflicted, or fair wear-and tear over 102k miles.

I hope its new owner has many happy miles in it.

The Last of the Defenders

My Defender on Race for Life duties

On 29 January 2016 the last Defender rolled off the Solihull production line in much the same way as the first of its Series forebears did in 1948 - indeed there are components in the last vehicles that were also in the earliest.

For 68 years it's been as much a part of British life as afternoon tea, Changing the Guard or Last Night of the Proms. It's served explorers, the armed forces, emergency services and farmers loyally in the toughest conditions and saved many a life, bringing comfort and reassurance to people in their darkest hours.

The appearance of the Series and Defender vehicles evolved slowly over the years, and since the Defender was introduced in 1983 (although it wasn't called that at the time) changes have been modest with just a few engine and interior changes along the way. That it has stayed in production this long when its competitors have evolved and modernised is quite remarkable, although it has always had its reputation as being formidably capable off road to carry it along.

But was it the off road ability that kept it going, or the sentimental affection reserved for selected inanimate objects like Concorde, VW Beetles and (original) Minis? Certainly other Land Rover products are just as capable, with a standard Freelander 2 being able to get everywhere a standard Defender 90 could, but in greater comfort and better fuel economy. Admitedly, a few dents in a Defender are considered added character, whereas a few dents in a Discovery 4 just ruins its value.

Reproduction S1 on the Defender Celebration Tour

For the enthusiasts, and I class myself amongst them, the Defender's appeal was that its abilities were relatively easy to improve, with modified wheels, suspension, raised air-intakes and the like allowing them to get far further than those fresh from the factory. Their mechanical simplicity making them easy to repair when they (inevitably) break; the Defender is based on the original Range Rover which first took to the road in the 1970s.

But even enthusiasts have to admit that they're heavy, slow, not particularly comfortable, thirsty for fuel, and the fit and finish is best described as agricultural. I drove a brand new one a few years ago and could see daylight around the (closed) driver's door. The bodywork comes ready-rippled, and whilst the live axles are robust for off road use, they don't do much for the on-road handling and ride. Compared to the current crop of four-wheel drive pickups from the likes of Mitsubishi, Volkswagen or Toyota, which are economical, comfortable and have a greater carrying capacity, the Defender was completely outclassed - except for its all-round coil-spring suspension: most other pickups still use leaf springs at the back.

Despite their shortcomings they still sold, and in good numbers; too many for them all to have been bought by sentimental enthusiasts. Indeed more Defenders were built and sold every year than Jaguar XJs, a car with a reputation for comfort and class.

A Defender 147 at the Solihull factory

With three lengths, 90, 110 and 130 inch wheelbases, and with more varieties than Heinz there was almost certainly a Defender to suit the task in hand - never mind there being a 'app' for that, there was probably a Defender for it. Even performance tuning houses got in on the act with high-power, 'hot' Defenders becoming more common than you might expect.

You need a cherry-picker to cross muddy fields? Defender. You need a road-rail maintenance vehicle? Defender. You need a 12-seat minibus to get a crew to the middle of nowhere? Defender. You need to get bales of hay and border collie up a Welsh mountainside? Defender. It really was the Swiss Army knife of vehicles with even Her Majesty the Queen driving one.

But what next? Land Rover have said that there will be a new Defender, albiet it's a few years off (why? They've had plenty of time to plan a replacement!), but will it be as versatile as the original? Will it come in multiple lengths and configurations? Will you be able to climb in soaking wet, covered in mud and not feel guilty? Time will tell.

The original Defender is going to be a hard act to follow, and there are some sections of the Land Rover community that just won't accept anything but the original as being a 'proper' Defender. But the reality is that road safety standards have moved on, and without a crumple-zone, airbags, side-impact protection and pedestrian-friendly bumpers the Defender just couldn't continue. The Defender dinosaur didn't evolve and has become extinct.

Watching the final example roll off the production line brought a tear to the eye: farewell Defender - for all your faults you will be greatly missed as a true British icon.

 

25 January 2016

Test Drive: Land Rover Discovery Sport


For the last twenty years or so, Land Rover’s smallest vehicle has been the much maligned Freelander. For 2015 Land Rover reorganised their product range and placed the third generation Freelander in its ‘Discovery’ family, giving it the name Discovery Sport (DS).

It’s a decision that has caused some confusion, especially as the Discovery 4 is getting on a bit and due for replacement, and some thought that the much smaller DS was the new Discovery. For those of us who are long-standing Freelander owners, it’s sad to see the name consigned to history; a victim of its undeserved reputation for unreliability. Indeed I have it on good authority that the Freelander 2 is probably the most reliable Land Rover ever built, and a standard Freelander 2 will go everywhere a standard Defender 90 will – but with better fuel economy and more comfort.

The DS is based on the same platform as the Freelander 2 and its sibling, Range Rover Evoque, but is slightly longer and slightly lower than the Freelander 2. Initially the DS also came with the Freelander 2’s 2.2 litre diesel engine, sourced from Ford & Peugeot, which was also fitted in later Defenders. Some consider it a bit coarse, and there is a little bit of roughness when cold, but it’s certainly not intrusive, and will happily cruise at motorway speeds without impressing itself upon you.

For 2016 Land Rover have installed their all-new, own-engineered 2.0 litre ‘Ingenium’ engine, which can also be found in Jaguar’s XE and is also now appearing in Range Rover Evoque. It comes in two power versions, 150 or 180, and can be attached to either a six-speed manual gearbox (also from Freelander 2) or a nine-speed automatic gearbox from German manufacturer ZF. In practice the automatic ‘box makes use of the top eight cogs, leaving the extra low first gear for off road use.

As with most Land Rovers, DS has permanent four-wheel drive with an electronic locking centre differential, traction control and Land Rover’s superb Terrain Response system to coordinate everything and keep you moving. A two-wheel drive version will be available in the future.

The UK only gets the diesel engine, but petrol versions of the Ingenium engine are available in overseas markets.

The DS has been designed by Gerry McGovern, who also designed the original Freelander, and it bears a strong resemblance to other recent Land Rovers, including the current Range Rover range. It carries its size well, and it doesn’t look unwieldy or top-heavy, and not as boxy as Freelander 2.


There are four models in the range: SE, SE Tech, HSE and HSE Luxury, and all can be further embellished from an extensive options list. The car I drove was an automatic HSE Black; the ‘black pack’ being glossy black wheels, badging, roof, grille and other details, plus privacy glass.

Inside you can see the evolution from Freelander 2 and the influence from Range Rover Evoque with clear dials, an information screen between them that keeps you informed of what’s going on, lots of buttons to control the essentials, including the Terrain Response system, and a centrally mounted screen that’s used for the sat. nav., DAB & FM radio, climate control, heated windscreen and other features. As an option you can upgrade the centre screen to dual-view with a Meridian sound system, which allows your passenger to watch TV while you simultaneously see the sat. nav. on the same screen at the same time. Pure witchcraft!



Safety systems are the order of the day and the DS is equipped with autonomous emergency braking to prevent in-town shunts, and the optional road sign recognition system can show the current speed limit or selected other restrictions on the information screen. There are also automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, and a lane monitoring system that will vibrate the steering wheel should you wander across the white lines without using your indicators (and sometimes even if you do). There’s also a full complement of airbags for the occupants, and if you should hit a pedestrian an airbag on the bonnet to help cushion the impact. As with other Land Rovers there is an emergency stop feature built in to the electric handbrake that will bring the car to a rapid, controlled halt using the ABS should it be applied whilst the vehicle is in motion – the idea being the passenger can intervene should the driver be incapacitated.


In the centre console there are a couple of cup holders under a glossy black roller shutter, and one of them lifts out to reveal a deeper cubby hole which looks big enough to accommodate sunglasses, wallet, first-aid and some of the other bits and pieces that tend to accumulate in cars. There’s more space inside the armrest too, including power sockets and a data connection for your phone or iPod, which can be controlled via the touch screen in the centre console (I understand support for Apple’s CarPlay system is coming soon). Another power socket is provided on the back of the cubby box for those in the back seats. Or, more properly, the second-row seats.




Depending on the variant, the seats are either part leather, manually adjusted, or full leather and electrically adjusted. The electrically adjustable seats include lumbar support, and are very comfortable. It feels as though you sit slightly lower in the DS than in Freelander 2, and it feels very car-like, but you still get a good view through big windows and a tall windscreen. The steering wheel manually adjusts for both reach and rake, and the electric seats adjust for height at both the front and back of the cushion to provide extra support for the back of your legs if that’s your preference. The backrest is nicely shaped to support you through the corners, and I could happily spend a few hours in the saddle – as indeed I did on the test drive.

With keyless ignition, you just press a button to start things off and as the engine starts the automatic selector knob rises out of the centre console – a trick first seen on Jaguar’s XF and since repeated on automatics throughout the Jaguar Land Rover range. Fortunately that is where the theatrics end, and you don’t have electrically opening air vents or other unnecessary fripperies; the cabin definitely errs on the side of practicality and is all the better for it.


The quality of the interior is very good, and it certainly feels like the upmarket vehicle it purports to be; although Range Rover Evoque is slightly better finished, as you’d expect for a premium vehicle. The DS’s cabin is a very nice place to be, although it does feel a little more cramped than in Freelander 2 owing to the wider centre console and the shape of the dashboard, but during my drive nothing got in the way, and I didn’t bang my elbows or knees on anything.

On HSE models a full-length panoramic glass roof is standard, which presents a challenge for those needing to fit radio antennae or warning beacons, but it does give the cabin a very airy feel. The headlining is white as standard, although a dark one is available as an option, and a matching full-length electric blind can be deployed across the glass roof to keep the sun out. SE models have a conventional metal roof with the glass being an option.

In the second row of seats there’s as much leg room as in the DS’s larger brethren, and the seats can be slid forwards for more boot space, and even reclined. An armrest with cup holders and a small cubby box is also provided, as are the obligatory ISOFIX connections for child seats. Optional rear seat heating is available, plus additional USB charging sockets and video screens in the front seat head restraints. The seats fold almost flat, and lock in place with a typical 60/40 split. A nice touch is that the backs can be released via buttons in the boot, although they still need a firm hand to click them down in to place.


The second-row seats also tilt and slide to give access (of sorts) to the third row of seats, which fold flat in to the boot floor when not in use, and take just a few seconds to swing up and lock in to place, complete with head restraints. They will accommodate an adult, but are really +2 seats best suited to younger members of the family. Optional air vents and USB sockets are available for third row passengers.


The roller-cover unclips and lifts out

Without the third-row seats deployed, the DS’s boot is a good size and should comfortably swallow a family’s luggage, shopping or whatever other paraphernalia you need to cart around, but with the third-row seats in place you’ll struggle to carry much more than a furled umbrella. You don’t get the third row of seats with the 150 engine, but they’re standard with the 180.


Tyre repair kit in the boot floor

With the engine running, the cabin is still a very peaceful place. An electronic handbrake means that you just need to turn the selector knob to ‘Drive’ and press the accelerator for you to be on your way. The 180 engine in my car was very willing, and keeping the speed down was something that took a good deal of concentration as you don’t get any particular sense of speed, wind or road noise.

A gentle foot on the accelerator is required otherwise the automatic gearbox gets very excited and seems to have trouble making decisions as to which gear it wants to be in.

Out on the Motorway the car settles in to ninth gear and, whilst I’m sure it’s environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient, the engine sounds a bit blunt and dull instead of sparkling and willing. Going anywhere near the accelerator means a change of gear. There are gear change paddles on the steering wheel, and using either of them switches to ‘Command Shift’ mode, AKA manual. A long pull of the up paddle will return you to full automatic mode.

I will freely admit that I am not a fan of automatic gearboxes as they typically have an unerring ability to never be in quite the right gear for a given situation. If by some quirk they are in the right gear, they’ll soon shift to one too high or too low. That said, I’m clearly in the minority because manual cars, particularly at the higher end of the market, are few and far between and even cars supposedly aimed at driving enthusiasts are eschewing conventional gearboxes.

The automatic Freelander 2 I drove a few years ago was very poor, and around town at 30mph the gearbox chose too high a gear resulting in a resonating vibration through the cabin. The solution, I was told, was to switch to manual mode – but if that’s the solution, why not just buy the (cheaper, less complex and more economical) manual version in the first place?


My DS was fitted with the nine-speed ‘box and with all that choice you might expect there to be a lot of cog-shuffling going on, and there is. However, unless you try to hustle it, changes are generally smooth and go mostly unnoticed. But if you give the accelerator a prod hoping to use torque to propel you forwards, or decide to have a play on a tight, windy road, the gearbox becomes somewhat intrusive and uncooperative, hopping from gear-to-gear in an apparent lather of indecision. In these cases, switching to ‘Command Shift’ mode is essential to maintain some sort of order as the car surges, pauses and lurches, generally giving the impression it has no idea what it’s doing. You can almost hear Corporal Jones telling everyone not to panic.

That said, if you’re considering using the vehicle off road then the automatic gearbox will be ideal owing to that extra low first gear and no loss of traction when changing gear. I’ve yet to see many videos of the DS off road, but it’s likely to be at least as capable as its forerunners.

Off the motorways and on more general A-roads the car was just as comfortable, and cruised along without fuss. The suspension seems well tuned, allowing it to soak up bumps and imperfections without jarring the occupants, whilst being taut enough not to roll or wallow too much. On a typically demanding fenland road everything remained composed despite the exceedingly uneven surface with lots of sharp dips, ridges and hollows. But at the end of the day it is moderately tall and heavy so don’t expect it to handle like a performance saloon car. As with most new vehicles there are various electronic stability aids to keep you where you want to be, but just remember they can’t re-write the rules of physics.

Manoeuvring it around car parks is easy enough thanks to reasonable mirrors. The tapered shape isn’t as helpful as the large, square almost van-like items on Freelander 2 and Discovery 4, but they’re perfectly adequate. HSE examples also have a reversing camera which overlays various lines on the centre display to help you line yourself up – although somehow I never managed to park at anything other than a slightly jaunty angle. I’m sure part of the overlay is to help you stop so you have enough room to open the (powered) tailgate, but I didn’t manage to master that either. Front and rear parking sensors complete the picture, so if you bump in to something in the car park it won’t be through any fault of the vehicle.


For a vehicle that’s marketed as being for people who love the great outdoors some strange decisions seem to have been made during the design process. Thanks to the third-row seats, there isn’t room for a full-sized spare wheel but you can have a space-saver wheel installed, slung underneath the back of the car. But if you do that, you can’t have a tow bar. I can’t be the only person who needs to tow and wants the confidence of having a spare wheel in case a tyre or wheel gets damaged off road. You get a tyre repair kit and compressor, but they are seldom all that successful – especially if you’ve torn the sidewall of the tyre on a rock.

I asked someone from JLR’s marketing team just after the DS launch about the spare wheel issue and was told that they don’t include spare wheels as standard as they are heavy and reduce fuel economy meaning the car might end up in a higher road tax category. When I asked about removing the third-row seats, which must be reasonably heavy, on the same basis, I was told it wasn’t possible. I dare say it would be possible to remove the folding seats from the back of the car and buy the fittings to accommodate a spare wheel from the 150 engine model instead, but no doubt without the approval of Land Rover.

Would I buy one? An unequivocal ‘yes’. I’m told there’s a three month waiting list at the moment, and I’ve a Freelander 2 to sell first, but this is a superb vehicle that will certainly do everything I need it to do, and do it well.


10 December 2015

The Key to Inconvenience - Revisited

After a month of using GTR’s ‘The Key’ I thought I would update on my experience of using it:

  • The problem with the ticket gates and the direction they are set (and the need to touch-in and out) did not change.
  • Even when the ticket was approaching expiry there is no warning message on the ticket gate display as there is with TfL’s Oyster card. However, touching the card on one of the elusive dual-purpose validators does show the expiry date.
  • Almost unbelievably, the ticket office at St Neots station does not have any way of reading the cards so cannot advise on a ticket’s expiry date. Presumably this means cards and card-based tickets cannot be issued there either, and as a ticket office is the obvious place to buy a ticket I cannot begin to imagine the rationale for not providing ticket offices with the necessary equipment.
  • Not all of GTR’s revenue protection staff have readers for the cards: on two occasions the ticket inspector has looked at the card, shrugged and said he did not have a card reader with him.
  • There is a link in the ‘My Account’ section of the GTR web site for you to view your journey history, but on checking it now my ticket has expired no information is visible.
  • The Key does not work the ticket gates when travelling between KGX and Moorgate via London Underground: paper tickets do, and it is a valid route.
  • GTR's web site appears to have corrupted some of the data in 'My Account', but there's no edit function for me to correct it.

How could the system be improved?

The most obvious improvement would be to remove the obligation to touch-in and out and bring the smart card in line with the paper tickets, or install touch-in and out validators in more convenient locations on the natural route a passenger takes through the station e.g. at the end of the platforms at KGX or the top the stairs at St Neots so passengers don’t need to make detours to find a suitably arranged gate.

Also, as the expiry date is not printed on the card, having a warning displayed on the ticket gate when the ticket is nearing expiry would be useful and prevent the awkwardness of trying to get through the gate with an expired ticket – something the ticket gate does display, but by then it is a bit late.

The impression I get is that the system has been brought in without being properly thought through. It seems that corners have been cut, and what could be a great system for customers is a messy compromise that expects customers to change their habits for the convenience of the company, whilst claiming it is the other way around.

For now I am going to stick with ye olde paper tickets. Sorry.

19 November 2015

Kings Cross Station: Making Commuters Very Cross

Kings Cross station in London is one of the rail network’s main termini and home to services between the English and Scottish capitals via the East Coast Main Line. In the early seventies a temporary building was erected in front of the original 1852 Grade-I listed train sheds, and around forty years later they were not really fit for purpose any more so it was announced that the station was to be redeveloped.

I am normally a bit sceptical of surveys, and the one carried out before the renovation showed an overwhelming majority of commuters didn’t want the station to be rebuilt – but I assumed what they were really saying is that they didn’t want the years of inevitable disruption. I was wrong.

One of the key parts of the redevelopment was to expose the original train sheds and open up the area in front of the station. This has been a success, but it has meant that the station concourse has been moved from the front to the side of the station, and this has had an unfortunate effect of making the station particularly awkward to use when catching a train.

If you are arriving at Kings Cross (KGX) by bus, taxi or via the Underground, in most cases you will find yourself in Kings Cross Square, in front of the imposing train sheds, close to the main platforms. Friendly signs say “No Entry”, because it’s exit-only.

Welcome to Kings Cross, but don't come in

Following the arrows around the back of the entrance to Kings Cross St Pancras (KXSP) Underground station brings you in to a new, modern and impressive-looking concourse. But perhaps the most striking feature, other that the roof which really is impressive, is the lack of visible departure boards or clocks. The access to the platforms is immediately on your right, but to view the boards, which are above your head and pointing away from you, you need to venture further in to the station, only to then retrace your steps to the platforms, which obviously means a lot of congestion.

Impressive roof, not so impressive passenger information

There are only a small number of gates from the concourse to the platforms as the side-on layout of the station means that you need to cross (figuratively, not literally) a number of tracks to reach your train. Passing through the barriers, the platform indicators, which confirm the destination and calling points, are arranged at right-angles so they are not visible. In fact they face the exit barriers, so people leaving the station can easily see, with a backward glance, where their train is off to next.

Side view of a platform indicator from the gate line

Regular travellers who know that their train will be going from platforms 0-8 tend to pass through the barriers and wait on what’s left of the old concourse, which is closer to the trains and avoids the crush of hundreds of people trying to get through the handful of entry gates when their train is called.

KXSP Underground station was redeveloped at the same time as KGX, but it seems that the respective architects were not on speaking terms as the entrances of each respective station do not line-up. As I said before, you walk out of the Underground to be confronted with the exit of KGX: No Entry!

There are two escalator links between the two stations: one is hidden behind the retail units in KGX and the other is a single escalator outside the Little Waitrose on the main concourse that is sometimes set to up, sometimes down, and sometimes just closed altogether – but unless you’re arriving in to the suburban platforms 9-11 you are not inside the station anyway, so need to use the stairs on Kings Cross Square instead. If you’re arriving, unless you happen to emerge from the Tube via the western ticket hall, the escalators are some distance away from the Tube’s other gate lines, and you’ll have walked the full-length of the station to get to them only to be carried back to more or less where you came from but ten foot higher, so most people use the stairs in Kings Cross Square and arrive at those welcoming “No Entry” signs. Incidentally, there is a summary departure board at the bottom of the KXSP stairs, but it isn't always in use.

The only departure board having a rest

I should add that there is a bridge across the main platforms which is accessible from a mezzanine level within in the main station concourse, but that’s where the main caf├ęs are so it gets very congested and there isn’t much room up there to wait – although you do get a good view of the departure boards. And, of course, the escalators to get there are hidden amongst the stationery, chocolate and clothes shops, and don’t line-up with any of the entrances to the station.

Shortly before the new station opened a map was circulated by the then incumbent inter-city train operator National Express. It described passengers “strolling to their train” across the bridge which sounded serious alarm bells: commuters don’t stroll anywhere – they just want to get to their train, get on it and go home.

I think it’s safe to say that whoever designed the station doesn’t commute by train and, whilst the new concourse does look good, the new station has been built in the wrong place. They did get some things right in the seventies after all.

18 November 2015

The Key to Inconvenience

Many of you will be familiar with London's Oyster contactless ticketing system that lets you 'pay-as-you-go', or use a season ticket on the capital's transport network, with little effort on the part of the user - just wave the card over the reader at the ticket gate, or on the bus, and off you go.

In an attempt to follow this convenience, Govia, the operator of Great Northern, Thameslink, Southern and Gatwick Express services (GTR), has introduced its own version for use on its services: The Key. It's advertised as a more convenient way of travelling, although having used the system for a few weeks the convenience seems to be more for the operator than for the passenger.

It's currently only available for point-to-point season tickets, yet you are still required to touch-in and out at each end of your journey. This is fine in concept, but there are some difficulties in doing this when the gate-line barriers are not in use.
With a paper ticket, if the gates are pinned open it doesn't matter if they are set for entry or exit as you can just walk through: no action is required. With The Key, you still need to touch in or out even if the gates are pinned open, but if there's a red 'X' showing on the gate it’s set for the opposite direction and you cannot use it.

At some stations, such as my local station in St Neots, the ticket gates are not used all that often and are mostly left open. If they are all set in the same direction then you can't record your journey's start or finish. And although you have a valid point-to-point ticket the terms and conditions threaten a penalty fare for not touching in or out.

Even when there is a correctly set gate available, if you are arriving on a busy train and amidst a throng of people, you often need to fight your way across the flow of people at the gate-line to use it.

It was pointed out to me by a member of station staff that there is a separate reader at St Neots that will allow you to either touch-in or out, but it isn't in an obvious place and isn't signed. The reader is only visible if arriving on platforms three or four from Huntingdon; it isn't visible if you're arriving on platforms one or two (trains from London), or if you're walking to any of the platforms from the booking hall.

Gates at St Neots all set to exit only

At Kings Cross, a station that is very poorly laid out for passengers intending to catch a train, most of the ticket barriers are permanently set to exit only, and as they are located where people arrive by bus, Tube or taxi you cannot walk straight to your train through the open barriers but must search for an entry gate in order to avoid the threatened penalty fare and benefit from the 'convenience' of your contactless ticket.

Fair enough, the smartcard won't wear out in the same way as a paper ticket, and if you happen to lose it the company will cancel it and issue you a new one (subject to paying a fee), but as for most people neither of these events are regular occurrences the benefits of the new system are somewhat difficult to fathom. It is also harder to know when your ticket will expire as the date doesn't appear on the ticket gate displays, so you either need to remember it or log-in to the GTR web site to check to avoid being inadvertently stranded at the ticket gate.

It's also worth noting that if you also use an Oyster card you cannot keep the two cards in the same wallet as presenting both to the reader at the barrier may result in the wrong one for your journey being read.

So whilst the concept of having your season ticket on a smartcard is great, the execution of it by Govia is poor. When the ticket gates are not in use care needs to be taken to locate a suitable point to either touch-in or out, which may not be on the route to the platforms, or if the gates are all set the same way, might not be possible at all. And if you make a mistake, the company can charge you a penalty despite having a valid (and expensive) ticket for your journey. Sounds like they've found the key to inconvenience.

I will be reverting to a traditional paper ticket at the next opportunity as it’s a lot more convenient.

10 November 2015

Lost in Tesco: 1 Carrot

So now we have the shopping tax, where if you want to carry your purchases home, no matter how expensive or fragile they are, you are obliged to give the retailer an extra five pence per bag.

I understand the rationale behind it: some people are extraordinarily profligate with their use of bags, and wastefulness is not something that should be encouraged.

However, whilst the concept works in places like supermarkets where most people arrive by car, buy multiple items that require bags but can easily bring multiple empty bags with them, it doesn't work so well elsewhere.

Where do you carry an empty bag? In your pocket? With your phone, wallet and house keys? Well yes, if there's room (is that an environmentally-friendly reusable bag in your pocket or shall we do a very old joke?), but personally I don't have room in my pockets for multiple bags on the off chance that I might decide to buy something - and certainly not thick plastic or fabric reusable ones.

For people bemoaning the death of the high street, introducing an extra charge is not going to encourage people to make impulse purchases. On several occasions after Marks & Spencer started charging for carrier bags I almost shopped there a few times, even getting to the till, before remembering that I'd have to pay extra if I wanted to take my shopping home (much like Ryanair's extra charges if you want to actually travel on one of its planes despite holding a ticket) so left without buying anything. I stopped shopping there and either went elsewhere, or waited until I was going somewhere in the car and could use my reusable bags.

Online shopping is going to benefit hugely from this as packaging for delivery by post is exempt, although it's worth noting that the supermarkets are cashing in on the extra charge by insisting on using (and charging for) bags for your online home-delivery shopping. I guess the attraction of being able to charge an extra five pence per bag is too much for them to resist, and they'll go down the one-item-per-bag route to maximise their income from it as you have no control over how many bags they charge you for.

And yes, I know the proceeds of the shopping tax are supposed to go to good causes, whatever they might be, but retailers are allowed to deduct reasonable expenses from the income received.

The other absurdity is when purchasing high-value items. Remember it's not just your weekly grocery shop that's affected. Your new £620 mobile phone is now £620.05. Yes, it's a mere drop in the ocean in terms of the overall price, but it seems unbelievably churlish to add that five pence.

Or clothes shopping: that expensive new suit or dress, jeans, T-shirts or items of 'intimate apparel' as our US friends coyly refer to them as, will all cost an extra five pence if you want a bag to carry them home in. Online shopping (with a mandatory 14-day returns period and often free delivery) is your friend as wrappings for postage are exempt from the charge.

Now don't get me wrong: I abhor wastefulness and, whilst I don't consider myself to be particularly 'green', think that reducing,  reusing and recycling where possible is eminently sensible. My recycling bin is usually full each fortnight whereas my non-recycling bin must feel somewhat deprived. My lights are mostly LED, and get turned off when I'm not in the room, and for local journeys I tend to walk instead of using the car.

Something which has gone mostly unreported is that where retailers used to offer a carrot to encourage you to bring your own bag, for example Tesco offered 'green' Clubcard points, these have been withdrawn and now we are being 'encouraged' with a stick. The beatings will continue until morale improves.

The question is, will a 5p per bag charge stop the thoughtless from fly tipping rubbish in the countryside? Probably not. Will 5p per bag change the world? Certainly not. Does the 5p per bag make it look like the government is 'doing something' about something? Unfortunately, yes.