Wonderful Part 2

DaddyWhilst driving on a very ordinary piece of road this afternoon, with me in the front and my children in the back, my 4 year old daughter came out with this:

Daughter: “Oh it’s wonderful!”
Me: “What is?”
Daughter: “The whole world Daddy…”

And as I looked again at scenery I had hitherto just seen I had to agree with her. In every vista there’s something worth seeing. Something that’s wonderful.

Thank you my beautiful girl.

 

My Cars: Vauxhall Nova 1.2L (1991-1994)

nova

Vauxhall Nova 1.2 L 3dr Hatchback in Carnelian Red

My first car was a present from my Mum & Dad. It arrived a month before my 17th birthday and I spent that month applying Cambridge United stickers and painting the Vauxhall badges & trim lines yellow. Polished on a pretty much weekly basis I always referred to it as ‘My Little Baby’. It served me well during the latter part of 6th form, my year out and my first year of university. It was also, of course, the car I passed my driving test in.

The Nova belonged to the days when small cars felt small and tinny, and its hideously offset steering wheel constantly rubbed against my leg, but I loved it and on the rare occasions I see one on the roads today (almost always later models with the separate grille & bumper) I can’t help but smile. I know it will have been scrapped years ago, but of all the cars I’ve owned this is the one that I most wish I could drive again.

Next Week: Vauxhall Astra 1.3 Merit Estate in White

(This post, and the weekly follow-ups, are due to a bout of end-of-year reminiscing with one eye on #15 in 2014. Few of the posts will serve any purpose for anyone other than me, so I apologise in advance if you find them dull!)

A Review Of ASDA European Breakdown Cover

Exciting stuff eh?!

We’ve been with ASDA European Breakdown for two years now.

On Saturday, driving home from Northern Germany and heading for the overnight ferry from Hook of Holland, the alternator went on our T4 just before the Dutch border & just after all the garages had shut up for the weekend. With two children under 4 in the party I called ASDA Breakdown and they provided the following service:

  • Asda-logoTowed us to a local ADAC garage.
  • Repair at the ADAC garage.
  • Taxi to a very nice hotel with family room.
  • Taxi to the airport.
  • BA flight to the UK.
  • Hire car from airport to home.
  • Regular updates via phone & text.
  • Regular calls to check that taxis/hire cars/flights were as planned and that we were OK.

Of course, the van was still in Germany when we got home. In a convenient twist of fate we know someone who works at a car import/export company which had a truck on its way to Hook of Holland and has offered to ship the van back to the UK for us. This does make life much easier but if we hadn’t have had that option ASDA would have:

  • Flown me back over to Germany.
  • Taxi to the garage.
  • And then I’d have driven the van home.

(And should our shipping option not work out the offer for this is till there.)

I really can’t speak highly enough of them. There was a slight moment of anxiety over the flight on Sunday evening (I hadn’t mentioned the car seats & bag for the hold so the original Ryanair flight fell through quite late on) and I did spend a lot of time on my mobile getting/checking info. but I always felt like we were being looked after and…well worried about really. The people I dealt with on the phone seemed to care that we were OK and that everything was being sorted. I know it’s just their job but when you’re stuck in Germany with no way to get home that perception is a nice one to have.

What could have been a nightmare end to a great holiday actually turned into something approaching an exciting adventure, and although we’ve got bags of clothes in the back on the car we can’t get to yet (plus the pressies for people!) we were, in the end, only a few hours later getting home than we would have been had we got the ferry as originally planned. And the hotel was nicer that the ferry! It was stressful at times, but my stress was due to us having broken down in the first place, not the support we subsequently received.

So there we are. I’m sure some people will have had less positive experiences but that’s modern life I guess. We however are very happy customers and I wanted to share this with you.

Lost In Germany

Premiership Predictor 2013-2014

Las VegasAfter a two (three?) year absence I shall be running the Premiership Predictor again. With all the management changes it’s just too open not to. The last winner was Colin, who can be seen (right) wearing his prize whilst on holiday in Las Vegas!

All you have to do is predict the positions the 20 Premiership teams will finish in on the last day of the season in May 2014. The person closest will win some Cambridge United merchandising up to the value of £20, which you don’t have to have if you don’t want. I will understand… It goes without saying that this competition is free!

I have, again, hauled out the Spearman Rank Correlation spreadsheet which compares your prediction with the actual positions and, with a bit of jiggery-pokery, gives you a score out of 1000. If you’re exactly right your score will be 1000 – if you’re completely wrong your score will be -1000. It’s a geographer thing, but it works…you can see the blank sheet, ready for your predictions, below.

Scores will be updated on the first of each month and posted on this website under the Premiership Predictor tag by the end of the third day of each month.

To enter, simply place the 20 Premiership teams below in the order you think they’ll finish next May and post them as a comment below. And that’s it for the season…almost* – easier than Fantasy Football eh?

*There will again be the opportunity to “swap” two teams during the January transfer window should you have got one or more teams (Newcastle, Everton, Stoke etc.) badly wrong.

Closing date is midnight on Saturday 31st August 2013, which allows you to see each team play a bit, should you wish to, before entering.

I’ll put my prediction in before that date to get the ball rolling – please don’t leave me playing with myself…

Peugeot 208

Ford Orion

Shortly after Ford released the second (and last version) of the Ford Orion I found myself sat in front of one perusing its design. Never before had I found it so easy to rip a design apart. There were just so many bits that didn’t sit right in my eyes and looking back at one now (see left) they all come flooding back: The cavernous, ill-defined wheel arches; The way the front & rear quarter light plastics don’t fit the window spaces properly; The inexplicably unrelated crease aft of the rear doors that was presumably supposed to make the extended boot look integrated; The ill-thought out area beneath the door mirror where it’s all kinks and lines to try and make it work. You can’t see it properly in the photo here fortunately, but it’s a feature of the Peugeot 208 too so it doesn’t matter too much here.

Whilst on break duty a couple of weeks ago I found myself stood in front of a new Peugeot 208. And so I perused, and found a spiritual successor to the Mk. 2 Ford Orion. First off I must say that I quite like the back end, but unfortunately that made the front/side seem even worse. There are just so many bits to dislike I’ve had to label a photo. Like so:

peugeot208_1 And here’s why I think it’s awful, even by Peugeot standards:

A – The side crease at the bottom of the doors isn’t in itself a problem. I love flame surfacing as a rule, but just as the attractive rear reflects badly on the front, so this crisp line looks out of place on an otherwise bulbous design. Where does it go to at the front? Where does it take the eye? Nowhere. It’s just a tight anomaly in rounded-land.

B – The whole scuttle area is a mess. I presume that the wing bulge which goes from the back edge of the headlight to the door mirror is supposed to hark back to the 206, but it looked awful on that car too. Again it doesn’t seem to go anywhere – it’s just there like a growth – and although it is mirrored to some extent by the bulge through the rear door handles it’s not as well defined and comes and goes with the light. It’s almost as if they couldn’t quite work out what to do there with the surface so they threw the heritage card at it.

C- I don’t have a problem with non-aligned shut & styling lines. I like the back end of the original Ford Focus. But here the kink of the door, parallel shutline/quarterlight lines and totally unrelated A-pillar shutline all placed on top of that wing bulge looks a mess.

D – Where’s that bonnet line going? At a totally different angle to everything else that’s where. I did think that maybe it was put there to create a dog-leg with the shutline labelled F but the headlamp shape scuppers that. Why not bring it along the lines of the car and then up the A-pillar?

E – The headlamp shape. Front corner meets grille, seemingly for the first time and not even as passing acquaintances. Top edge pops up to allow for the DRLs just enough to be noticeable, but not enough to look like they meant it. Back edge is wide enough to have (another) unrelated angle on it. Bottom edge at the shutline is better but, again, obvious enough to show without being a strong feature. I’m not averse to the odd-shaped headlight, but it seem here that Peugeot were looking for ways to avoid the 207-look just for the sake of it.

F – Another odd angle! The headlight kink comes straight down but the shutline goes to the wheel arch at another angle entirely. One or the other surely?

G – That ‘mouth’. They’ve somehow managed to make it look sunken and prominent at the same time, like some bottom-feeding fish. The grille seems to bear little relation, in 3D, to the shape of the hole and even straight-on it looks not quite right – the first time I saw one coming towards me I honestly thought it had been in an accident. And Peugeot…why the badge and the name? The latter just looks superfluous and necessitates a wider gap under the bonnet.

A worthy successor to the Ford Orion then, although I believe the 208 is a better drive. After the lovely Pininfarina-styled 205, 306 & 405 Peugeot went increasingly bulbous with a wide-mouth-frog look dominating. They took that as far as they could and a change of direction is fine, but the 208 above, the drooping and disjointed tail of the 508 saloon and the dreadful detailing at the rear of the 5008 are examples of a look created by a mishmash of the previous organic look and a desire to be more Germanic. Next up it’s the new 308, and whilst it’s not awful like the 208 it is somewhat bland – it could be anything. Peugeot design isn’t anywhere at the moment, and it used to be distinct and attractive.

On Britishness

On being faced with the question: Could these British values of tolerance be the thing that costs us our Britishness?

Britishness? Britishness? It’s just a political construct! A name! The people of these islands have changed, and will change, day-after-day until the end of time. I was born and bred in this country but I’m a quarter-Latvian which means I’m not pure-bred British and so ought I to lop off an arm & ship it back to the Baltic? I’m probably more anti-Britain than most of the Muslims who get abused on a daily basis in this bloody wonderful country but because I’m white nothing will ever be said to me.

What is it to be “British”? Reading the endless drivel about the Woolwich attack made me think just that. Calling paid killers heroes? Knifing someone who looks like a Muslim? Attacking a mosque? Too extreme? Maybe just venting your spleen about ‘them’ on social networking sites like being ‘British’ makes you automatically morally superior to every people in the world by default.

Being ‘British’ means nothing. I’m not British, I’m not European, I’m just a person. An accident of fate means that I was born in Britain, and I’ll concede I was lucky enough that that’s the case. But I’m not lucky to be ‘British’ because Britain is somehow better than other countries, or that ‘Britishness’ is superior to any other -ness, but because 500 years ago the people of these isles decided to act despicably towards the rest of the world before the rest of the world had a chance to fight back. That meant I had food, water, an education, clothing & a roof over my head – all paid for by centuries of plundering the world. I’d rather have it than not, but Britain (and therefore me as one of its subjects) is in no position to take any kind of moral high ground, and if being ‘British’ means I have to look down on the rest of the world and pretend I’m someone special because I’ve got a light-coloured face and was brought up with a cross being rammed down my throat rather than a crescent I’ll pass thank you.

‘Britishness’ is about as concrete a notion as the sea. It’s been changing for thousands of years and it’ll keep changing forever, although it’s only been ‘Britishness’ since 1707 because that’s how long Great Britain has existed. Before that it was ‘Englishness’, and before that ‘Anglo-Saxoness’ and before that… We can’t lose something that isn’t fixed, but we can keep hold of the fact that we’re all humans and that most of us basically want the same things in life.

I don’t know why I’m writing this, I’ve been sucked into the ‘debate’ when I promised myself I wouldn’t. All I really think, because I’m a yoghurt-weaving woolly-minded hippy is that the labels of ‘British’, ‘Christian’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Nigerian’, Conservative’, ‘Cambridge United Supporter’ are just labels we give ourselves because we want to belong, but in the end we’re all simultaneously individuals and one part of the human collective. Maybe if we all started treating the Woolwich killers as two people who did a terrible thing rather than ‘Muslims’ and the victim as a man who was walking home rather than a ‘British soldier/hero’ we might not give other people reason to do this kind of thing again, because you can’t have reprisals against everyone? Give people a label though and you make them a target. Maybe if we were all just a bit nicer to people regardless of where they were born or live, or the colour of their skin, or the version of god they worship there might be less of this kind of thing in the world? Maybe if we stopped judging people from a position of self-imposed superiority? Maybe if we were all just a bit kinder to one another?

If we really were a tolerant nation these terrible things wouldn’t happen. I think they do because we’re only really tolerant when it suits us.

That’s me done, I shall leave with this wonderful cartoon and go back to avoiding the news and trying to be nice to people as much as possible.

britishness

Wonderful

daddysquareGenerally, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always answered “Coping…” when asked how I am. I say it sometimes at home, I say it always at work, and it’s usually accompanied by one of the sighs for which I’m renowned. Recently I read a tweet which suggested we ought to reply to that oft-asked question with “Challenged” and I confess I saw merit in doing so. I understood where the tweeter was coming from even though I’ve been berating myself for years for not fully counting my blessings.

This morning, on walking back from buying some milk at our local shop, I witnessed the following conversation between a woman I was walking behind and a man coming the other way:

Woman: How are you dear?

Man: (triumphantly) Wonderful thank you! (laughs, genuinely)

Woman: Excellent! (smiling)

And it made me smile too, and it cheered my heart, and as I walked the 90-odd seconds back to the house I looked down across our town and I breathed in the air and thought “Yes! I’m wonderful too!” because I am, and the day was, and on the whole my life is.

What difference would it make to me day-to-day if I answered the question “How are you?” with a triumphant “Wonderful!”? I don’t know, but I’m going to try and find out because it can’t be worse than my usual sighed reply. I’m incredibly lucky, my life is wonderful, I ought to try and acknowledge that and feel that as often as I can. Starting now.

B&M Bargains & Growing Up

b&mI went in a B&M Bargains store today! When I last shopped at B&M Bargains they were a relatively small chain of shops found only in and around Blackpool. 15 years on and they’ve been developed into a national chain and as I bought cheap mealworms for the chickens and a novelty sock hanger for the washing line I was thrown back to my days on the Fylde Coast. I quite enjoyed being back in a B&M Bargains Store, if only because I like the feeling that I was in on this one from early on – like having seen a stadium-band in a small pub before they made it. If only I’d tested the Hello Kitty toothbrush light before leaving the shop…

Today’s the day Thatcher died. I grew up in a Conservative household in a constituency so Blue they put an Iraqi-born candidate forward at the last election and still won. I went to a grammar school that may as well have been a recruiting office for the Conservative Party. From the age of 8 when I started to be vaguely aware of politics to the time I was in the sixth form I only knew one Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister and I was in her thrall. I was so right-wing & anti-European I’d be a member of UKIP now, and I wrote her a letter telling her so. I didn’t know any better, how could I growing up where, and how, I did? If I moved further and further right from 8 to 18, from 18 to 38 I’ve shifted completely the other way. I’ve seen some of the world since then. Enough to find myself becoming more left-wing as each year passes and finding myself despising the things I now realise Thatcher stood for.

Kinnock & Foot

My teenage infatuation with Thatcher’s politics isn’t something I’ve ever tried to hide – there were mitigating circumstances I was powerless to control – but I do feel like a man who long ago realised his first love wasn’t actually worthy of his attention and now feels a little bit silly. From me, no tributes (is there a politician I respect enough?), no celebrating (it’s not Blair after all), just remembering what I used to believe in and being thankful that I’ve grown up.