Currently reading: Matt Prior: 'tis the season to be grateful
In his Christmas column, Matt Prior explores his fascination with the RNLI's Shannon-class lifeboat, and the rationale behind the comparatively un-fascinating Skoda Scala

The Christmas road test is always one of my favourite gigs of the year, but even among these special festive features, the Shannon-class lifeboat stands out. 

I’m not sure that’s solely because it’s a particularly worthy and noble machine, either, even though it is perhaps the worthiest of them all. There are organisations and charities that convert vehicles into rescue tenders: trucks, vans, helicopters, boats and more. But does any other charity in the world design and build its own lifesaving vehicle entirely from scratch? 

During my research for it, I watched a couple of old documentaries. In one, a lifeboat station chief was talking about what motivates the RNLI’s volunteer crews. Sometimes, he said, people would volunteer simply through a feeling of compassion, but they didn’t tend to stick around that long. Those who joined and served for many years were crew members who just loved working on the boat as part of a tightly wound team, because those things – the camaraderie, and the knowledge they were doing something incredibly cool – were just as important to them as the fact that they’d save lives at the end of it. They had to have an affinity with their crew mates, and also the boat they’d go to sea in. 

Christmas road test 2018: RNLI Shannon Lifeboat review

I’m not one to suggest objects have personalities or characters beyond those people attribute to them, but I do know we like to give them. I guess families naming their cars or mariners referring to ships as ‘she’ are among the embodiments of that. 

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And it’s that fascination with the machine that makes the Shannon lifeboat such a thrill to experience and write about. So we’re tremendously grateful to the RNLI, which would like to fund a new Shannon this Christmas. If you visit, there are ways to help pay for a machine that, as much as any can, has a soul and a tremendous ability to surprise. 

No surprises with the Skoda Scala

Compare and contrast, then, with the new Skoda Scala, a by-numbers production created with the imagination of a Hollywood action film. It runs to the right length and gets everything in the right place so that people know precisely what to expect when they walk through the showroom door. It’ll go precisely head to head with the things it’s meant to go head to head with. 

Samey? Perhaps, but it’s no surprise that, while the car industry is one that sometimes takes great risks, at other times it just plays it by the book. Take the BMW 5 Series GT of 2009, which was not a particularly outlandish car, but dealers reported back that they weren’t really sure what to do with it, how to flog it, because buyers didn’t really understand what it was for, either. It’s no surprise, then, that sometimes there are no surprises. 

On a personal note...

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And finally, thank you for supporting us this year. We love being able to bring you great stories and I can only hope you enjoy reading or watching them. 

I think we’ve got a couple of exclusive subscriber events in the pipeline for 2019, too, so hopefully I’ll see you at one of ’em. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Read more

Christmas road test: RNLI Shannon Lifeboat review

2019 Skoda Scala: all-new family hatchback revealed​

Matt Prior: do groundbreaking cars still need to look amazing?​

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jason_recliner 25 December 2018

The pics of that boat look TERRIFYING!

Merry Christmas Matt.  Loved your work this year.

SamVimes1972 25 December 2018

The 5 series GT didn't fail

The 5 series GT didn't fail because it was different, it failed because it was awful to look at and the high driving position meant the buyer demographic was a bit Telegraph reader.


Full respect to RNLI. Working with people who sail I've heard a few stories where the people who they rescued were more of a danger than the elements. Hope never to need them butnits good to know they are there.