For my 30th birthday, I went on a rallying course. I got to drive a range of cars, including a Ford Sierra Cosworth with a racing gearbox. For my 40th birthday, I got to drive an Aston Martin DBS with a manual gearbox, and a Ferrari F430 with a flappy-paddle gearbox. Both around the Silverstone race track.
Let's scroll forward to the present time; I'm almost 48. A few weeks ago, I got to drive a Mercedes-AMG GT3. The other week, I got to drive a Ferrari 488 GT3.
As I recall, the handling of the Sierra was predictable and nice and easy. It was the racing gearbox that was harsh. I can remember changing down from 3rd to 2nd, being a little too harsh with the clutch, and was rewarded with a rear wheel lockup. Swiftly followed by some expletives from the instructor next to me.
I have clearer memories of my time at Silverstone. The Ferrari was a breeze to drive. Although fast, the flappy-paddle (steering wheel mounted) gearbox was a delight. No need of a clutch, just flick the right paddle to go up a gear, and the left one to go down a gear. The simplicity of that allowed much more concentration of the craft of not-crashing it.
The Aston Martin was a different story. By the time I got to drive it, the track was a little wet. That, coupled with the manual gearbox, made it an extra challenge. The connection with the road was fantastic, but changing gear whilst sliding around a corner that you had approached a little too fast was interesting, to say the least. I can say that at points I was borderline scared of crashing this expensive piece of kit. It was, though, the most rewarding to drive.
Now, I'm sure you didn't sign up for a motoring narrative, but there is an actual point to all this; isn't there always?
In recent times, driving the AMG and the Ferrari, the jump into GT3 cars is big. They are raw and somewhat unforgiving. The AMG with its large 6.3L V12 engine, is rammed full of low-down torque, and has a quiet confidence to it, as well as a great soundtrack! On the other hand, the Ferrari, with its turbo enhanced V8, is more of a handful. I drive it with an aggressive setup, which makes for fast lap times, but it can be a little twitchy in the corners.
In the time between racing the AMG and the Ferrari, I also designed a Tokyo inspired 4 floor house. It has cute little small rooms, stacked in an offset pattern. The exterior is clad with turquoise tiles, and the top floor, housing the master bedroom, has a glass roof to allow you to enjoy the stars.
Perhaps I've given the game away there... Some clarity is perhaps long overdue.
The rallying and Silverstone took place in real life. The rest didn't.
The GT3 cars and driving are part of an incredibly realistic racing simulation. With laser-scanned tracks and detailed car and tyre physics, it is pretty close to the real thing; it's an eSport. With live coverage of races, and real-life racing drivers competing, it really is something.
The building design work was in The Sims 4. My effort received positive reviews, and has been downloaded several times.
OK, so what am I getting at here? I'm glad you asked.
The eSports sim-racing is super stressful. There is nothing quite like racing around Monza at 180mph, against 20 other people in real time, trying to concentrate on not missing your braking point at that 1st gear corner, whist not slamming into the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo beside you who is trying a doomed-to-failure overtaking manoeuvre!
The Sim 4 house build, is super calming. With the light music, spending ages pondering whether a light oak floor would better match the wallpaper than a white-washed birch floor. (I chose the birch).
During these times of isolation, some tell us not to get stressed about it all. To take up learning a new language, or to think about trying out yoga. There is an undercurrent of not-to-panic advice. Not panicking is fantastic advice.
As a person who is Bipolar, I am acutely aware of my current (changing) mental health; I obviously monitor it closely. Coupled with my medication, I have tried all sorts of approaches to remove stress from my life. In essence, I have been forced to take a stress-free view of life.
I have, though, discovered a curious thing. I have found that it is not about removing stress. It is about controlling it, or the lack of having control of it.
Esports racing is super-stressful. Designing Sims 4 builds isn't at all stressful. I have found that I feel a little more balanced partaking in both sides of the stress-coin. Just forcing one or the other feels... well, it feels forced. It feels a little artificial.
It is not about stress vs calm; it is about the choice of stress or calm. If I feel like racing, then I will. If I feel like building, then I will. If I don't feel like either, then that's fine too.
We don't all have control of our circumstances or the amount and kind of stress in our lives. The current isolation will have no doubt intensified those views, and perhaps created new stress-challenges.
The key message of not panicking, of being more considerate of others, of damn well staying at home when instructed to do so. It is all really about taking control of yourself. It isn't about removing stress at all, no matter what celebrities tell us.
You see, the stress that is bad is the stress that we have no control over. It is not about not doing stress; it is about being in control of it.
I'm a carbon-unit who writes; a Carbon Writer. Life & culture are my default topics, mixed with a little English wit & sarcasm. Full of mostly true stories, I occasionally remember to write them down. Found in a crowd, or contemplating in a corner. Habit of talking to anyone. Author.
- Nigel Derbyshire