Sunday, 5 December 2010

This week I have been mostly....

... falling over on my arse like a complete and utter loon. This episode provides a totally uninteresting insight into "A week in the life of Paul Renowden". I reserve the right to make you fall asleep at any point within this zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.................

The week just passed was supposed to be my last week at work before starting a week off for annual leave. 'Twas supposed to be a nice, slow-down week (like there's anything fast paced in my job) with a week of looking forward to seeing Volbeat in concert with a mate, my wife seeing a show with her mate and decorating. Nothing out of the ordinary.

So, naturally things went smoothly then? Hahahahahaha, I think not. Sunday, get out to the Fiat only to find it won't turn over and find that the battery is flatter than a witch's tit. So, out with the jump pack, jump start the car and off we go. Of course, no where is open to buy a battery, except for Halfrauds. By and large I do not particularly like Halfords, but I must admit having a trade discount card for there is bloody useful and ensured a whopping discount.

Later on that evening I receive an e-mail from the Thelka at Bristol (the venue for Volbeat) only to be told that the gig had been cancelled due to Volbeat front man Michael Poulson falling ill and having to stay under supervision of his doctors. Bummer, although, however, his health is paramount and I wish him a speedy recovery.

Then on Monday the snow, ice and other various weather ailments hit Cornwall, to which the local radio stations started panicking the locals with the news of "arctic conditions". It pretty much brought Cornwall to a standstill but also brought out every wanker on the road who cannot drive. This makes work absolutely dead as most of the work booked in were cancelled due to the aforementioned "arctic conditions". Wednesday, whilst putting the rubbish out I provided some light entertainment and amusement for the neighbours and nearby wildlife by going skyward and landing back down to terrafirma on my coccyx. Typically, due to the weather conditions the refuse collectors failed to pick up the rubbish for a further two days, which really fucked me off.

Wednesday, as well, also saw my boss sign off someone else's holiday for the following Wednesday, knowing full well there would be no staff to cover him and that my cover for the week had to go to a funeral on this particular day. The funeral can't be helped and my condolences are with the guy, and really the other chap who has been signed off has to take his missus to hospital. But the lack of any kind of management there has failed to arrange any kind of cover which means I now have to go in on my day off. Argh! Oh well...

There was a blip on Thursday - nothing went wrong. Reasonable day at work, and the usual visitation to our friends that evening for food, general laughs, puns and reminiscing old vintage cartoon themes was a resounding success as it normally is. 

Friday, had to take the Vauxhall to work to get that MOT'd because we both realised the MOT ran out two days earlier. It passed the MOT with flying colours, but really it should have done anyway as it's just had a new driveshaft joint, driveshaft boot, new tyres all round, service and front brake pads. However, on Saturday proceeded to throw its toys out of the pram by snapping its handbrake cable. Or doing something to its handbrake anyway.

Saturday also saw me creating the death warrant for my local postman, who is an utter anus biscuit. Previously he has delivered mail and left it hanging out the wrong side of the letterbox. He has "delivered" parcels. When I say deliver the parcels, I obviously mean leaves the parcels at the sorting office and just pop the infamous red slip through the door. I've actually witnessed what he does, he just posts the slip through the door without bothering to knock and walks off. I've seen his delivery bag from my living room window (which is situated above the front door so I can see EVERYTHING!) minus the parcels! However, this weekend he delivered the parcels! But not in the usual fashion which would be knocking at the door and waiting for me to answer. No, instead he saw fit to let himself in, THEN knock and drop the parcels down to the floor! The poor woman at our local sorting office had probably lost the will to live after I finished on the phone, but a formal complaint was in order.

Now as I'm sure you're aware, my eye sight is close to useless. I'm short sighted and have astigmatism in my left eye, so I have to wear glasses pretty much all the time. But as everything seemed to happen on Saturday, that was the day my glasses decided to make a spectacle of themselves and fall to pieces. True, it wasn't their fault, they were framed. But the whole scenario was a bit transparent and clear to see.

Did anything else happen on Saturday? Oh yes, the TV cabinet we both like and wanted won't be in stock. Indefinitely. And because we were waiting for parcels to be delivered (or rather thrown) and were due to be going out later that day (and we were feeling lazy) we ordered our weekly grocery shopping online the night before. And it turned up late. By 45 minutes.

So, in all, a brilliant round-up to start me holiday. So what will I be doing on my first day of leave? Taking the wife's car to WORK to be bloody fixed. Again. The third day of my holiday will involve me going to WORK to actually work. Yay! Still, as a Supporting Adult (the far superior and far less hypocritical version of a Godparent) I get to babysit my non-God-quite-possibly-atheist-son for a couple of hours on Wednesday and hopefully listen to lots of Volbeat whilst putting the world to rights whilst 'Er Indoors and her friend go to a show. And I am looking forward to decorating!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Ice Ice, Baby

First and fivemost, I'm sorry about the title but I'm too lazy on this particular post to bother with a decent title, and given this opening sentence has taken more effort to type than actually thinking about a decent title renders me a complete and utter cretin. Secondly, I would also like to apologise for my Facebook status recycling. Hey ho.

However, I would like to appeal against my cretin status as it would seem that I am less of a cretin than the cretins that I encountered on the road today. And henceforth I shall refrain from using the moniker of cretin and go for something less, well, cretinous.

Just what is it about this bloody country that makes people shake, cower, panic and just generally lose all trace of common sense as soon as the weather turns bad? Especially when you mention snow or ice or hail or sleet. Look - there's an avalanche! Oh, no, wait, no panic averted - it's a snowball! Now today I needed to do something trivial, which if you must know was drive to the shops. Today, however, it snowed and sleeted. To a Cornishman in November this is relatively unheard of. Any Russian person would laugh their socks, thermal underwear, coats and hats of at our nation panicking at what only can be described as a very minute amount of snow compared with their winters.

Not only do the Brits panic at the first sight of that white stuff, they lose all capacity for logical thought and suddenly forget how to drive. Now common sense would dictate that you shouldn't rev your car hard in the snow or ice as it just puts too much power to the driven wheels causing them to spin and lose traction. Many road users cannot see this fact thus making the road conditions worse for the next wanker that comes along to spin the wheels, lose traction thus making the road conditions worse for the next wanker that comes along ad infinitum.You should never slam your brakes on either as that will make you skid, lose traction, run over a spaniel, ruin Nigel and Priscilla's freshly treated fence, hit their house and die.

Anyway, back to the task in hand, which was a journey to the shops. Generally a stress-free journey of less than 2 miles from door to supermarket car park on any ordinary day. But as you've already figured out (one would hope) that today there was some white stuff on the ground. Now I won't say I'm the best driver in the world as I'm no where near good enough. I do, however, have bouts of common sense when needed. Today for example, starting off in second gear down my road I wondered how many arseholes I would encounter not expecting it to be half as many.

Near Miss number one - George and Mildred of indeterminate age and origin in their hearing-aid Beige Rover from 1990. Now normally George and Mildred do not drive over 5mph when the weather is fine, and today it was taken to extremes when they were travelling at the same figure as the outside temperature. Added to the fact that every snow drop that fell they decided to brake for, and not gentle braking either. Hard braking and you could see the car slither like a slithery thing. So I decided to pull over to give them a head start because I would have ended up either crashing or losing the will to live. Or both. So this gave me time to eat a three course meal, compose and record a classical symphony start to finish and to complete my qualifications for quantum physics.

Second Near miss - Kev always buys a horrid little car called a Citroen Paxo, and always has to spend the net income of a small country modifying it to make it uglier, heavier, slower and noisier. A set of phat (sic) wheels ensures that it handles like a terrier with no legs. However, Kev seems to think that you can drive it at 67mph on all roads in all conditions. As well he did today, hurtling around a corner at a speed he wouldn't be able to handle in fair conditions, obviously turning the wheel and going straight on then overcooking it on opposite lock and nearly careering into a bush. And not the kind of bush he really wanted to be in either.

Then just after this, encountering people who cannot do anything other than try to pull away in snow in first gear, engines revving to the maximum and wheel spinning all over the place not getting anywhere. What is wrong with you fucking retards????? Crisis averted and I finally managed to get to the shops and do what I needed to do, which surprisingly was shopping. Came back, car loaded and to travel the 2 miles back home.

There is a narrow, steep hill which I travel every day with no problems. However it is not a main road and never gets gritted. Earlier this year in the snow, my poxy little 1.4 Fiat Stilo managed to get all the way to the top overtaking a useless driver in a Land Rover Freelander and an equally useless driver in a Renault Megane. Today I did the same again, and the car again was a Land Rover Freelander. Bearing in mind the Land Rover is a purpose-built four wheel drive, and my car is a two wheel drive hatchback. The difference one of the drivers could read the conditions and drive appropriately.

So, what's the general message from this pile of inane drivel? Learn to fucking drive Britain! Or at least, use your common sense and drive as the conditions dictate. Stop trying to drive flat out and making the road more polished and as shiny as Kojak's head. The end.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Heard the one about the Skoda?

Yes, I have thank you. Far from being the joke that they once were when building things like the Estelle, whose chief rival was a Tesco trolley, they are a manufacturer of what is now perceived as Volkswagens for mean people. Which I have a bit of a problem with to be honest. Volkswagen is German for "People's Car", which techincally should mean they are cars for mean people. However, somewhere along the way VW have got it into their heads that they should charge an absolute premium for a brand that is supposedly for Ze People, and as a result the image is now that mean people now buy Skodas.

To my mind, however, it is people with their sensible heads on that purchase Skodas rather than Volkswagens, as although Skodas are built on Volkswagen platforms, they are built in far more advanced factories and are far superior products. If you are actually dull enough to bother to take any notice of reliability surveys you'll always find Skoda near the top and currently VW and Audi products are sometimes lingering around the middle and often near the bottom. Clearly, I am dull as I've taken some notice, but that's another story.

I'm also dull enough to bother writing a review on the ten year old X-plate Skoda Fabia 1.4 8v I've been driving this evening. I have a bit of history with this particular car as it once belonged to a good friend of mine and we've done a pretty lengthy road trip in it as well as other little journeys here and there. It's a fantastic little car for what it does. If you need a cheap car that does exactly what it says on the tin and isn't going to suffer from its time of the month or surrender every other morning, there isn't much out there to beat it really. Sure, it's not going to win any style awards or any kind of credibility award but to think that of a Fabia is missing the point by a whole yard.

It's a vastly superior car to the Polo on which it is based. I can tell you that after driving many Polos of the same age. This model is equipped with the old pre-VW Skoda pushrod engine which pumps out a massive 67bhp, which is about the same as an alarm clock. As such it has as much performance as a slug in a head wind, but getting it to speed is quite enjoyable. The gearchange is positive, the brakes are sure footed and for once in a car fitted with electric power steering, there is enough feel and communication to gauge what the front wheels are doing. For such a small car, the ride is superb. It knocks spots off my wife's Vauxhall Corsa which rides with all the subtlety of a hobnail boot to the face. It's that harsh that you need to collect your spine in kit form by the end of the journey. The Fabia rides over surfaces like a big old Citroen in comparison. If I have one small gripe about the way it drives, it's the clutch pedal.

The equipment levels, however are at best thrifty. A basic Fiat Punto of the same era would come equipped with electric windows, central locking and a CD player. In the Fabia you have manual door locking, strange windey things on the doors that raise and lower the window, a cassette player and some seats. However on an older car these are less things to go wrong. This virtue of being ultra basic kind of adds to the cars charm of being a no-nonsense, unpretentious, honest work horse of a car.

Plus points: Space, driving experience, build quality, ride, refinement, steering feel
Minus points: Engine can be left wanting - could do with more power, stingy equipment levels.

To sum it up? You want a proper Peoples Car? Then the Skoda Fabia is the car for you. It's a no-nonsense car that does everything a Volkswagen does only better and at a fraction of the cost. What's not to like?

New Order - True Faith

The next installment comes from one of my other favourite bands, New Order. New Order were formed from the ashes of Joy Division. After the suicide of Ian Curtis, the surviving members of Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris decided they would carry on. Without a front man they took it in turns to see who could sing. As it turns out none of them could, but Bernard drew the short straw.

My choice this week is my all-time favourite single - True Faith. This song saw them work with OMD and Pet Shop Boys producer Stephen Hague for the first time and was recorded in a ten day session along with equally good b-side "1963". Upon its release it was available as two separate 12" singles, a 7" single and CD single and contained a plethora of remixes. Some good, some bad but none really improved on the original version of the song. Typical of New Order releases, the band name, song title and picture of the band were absent from the artwork. The title of the song, like many other New Order releases, was absent from the lyrics.

The song is pretty straightforward, with a great drum rhythm courtesy of Stephen Morris experimenting with machines and live drums together, a synthesized bass line and, thanks to Hooky playing the bass as if it were a lead guitar, some fantastic live bass runs.

Which version is best? There's only one to go for - the original six minute version is by far the best version. It was remixed in 1994 for the best of compilation entitled "? - The Best of New Order", but looses some of the sound of the original version. The radio edit versions aren't worth bothering with and to be honest nor are the remixes. Until 1998, the live rendition of the song would be pretty faithful to the original. However, post 1998 an arrangement based on a remix was used as the template for the live performance to varying degrees of success. New Order were patchy live band, some nights would be bloody awful and some they were on fire. One thing you could be sure of though, Hooky would always put on a good show with the bass.

To promote the release of the single, a surreal video was produced. Starting off with strangely dressed dancers slapping each other on the face to the rhythm of the song, the dancing gets more and more weird. Add in a woman swaying in an upside down boxer's bag whilst signing the lyrics to the song. Click here to watch the video.

Why do I like it so much? I can't really put a finger on it, it's just one of those songs that sounds good every time you play it, no matter what you play it on. It's great to play along to on the bass guitar. I love the video, it's just brilliant. It also reminds me of past good times with mates.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

£26,000 for a Toyota Prius?

Upon reading a notable motoring publication, it has been brought to my attention that the Toyota Bono has been with us for ten guilt-ridden years. There is a new Prius 10th Anniversary editon to "celebrate" the fact. Joy of joys it is based on the top of the range T-Spirit model. The special edition of this hybrid that is noted for its efficiency is equipped with body kit front and rear, sports wheels, side skirts and spoilers galore. Which means adding weight. Which means decreased efficiency. What price to pay for all this? £26,150! Yes, that's twenty six grand for a blasted Prius!!! Get the fuck out of here, as Axl Foley would say.

The new Toyota Prius 10th Anniversary Guilt Edition
Apparently, the impressive claimed 70mpg remains the same and the equally impressive 92g/km emissions remain the same. However, the claimed MPG is very rarely obtained as pointed out in another acclaimed motoring publication. A roadtest between some standard economy cars (Fiat Panda, Citroen C1 and the Mini Diesel) and the Prius drew some very notable conclusions. Well, in the overall verdict the Prius finished fifth. Out of sixth. And the economy? The Panda, C1 and the Mini whipped the Prius' arse good and proper. So, twenty six grand for a car that is the supposed epitome of economy and efficiency beaten by three cars, the cheapest of which costs a full £20,000 less than the Prius. If you want to do your bit for the environment, there are better ways out there. Buy one of the economy cars.

If you want something bigger, for five grand less you can have an Alfa Romeo Giulietta 2.0 JTD. It produces 170bhp, drives fantastically, looks great and more importantly it can nearly match the Prius for emissions and fuel economy. Its emissions are that low, you don't pay road tax and it only looses out on about 4mpg compared with the Prius. Also people won't think you're a preachy, hypocritical, guilt-ridden wanker for driving one. They may, however, think you're good friends with the AA. Having said that, Toyota have recalled a further million vehicles in their luxury Lexus range of cars (which also include bloody hybrids) for more problems with the brakes. Toyota wants to ensure that fluid does not leak from the brake master cylinder, causing the warning light to turn on. The fault could cause the brake pedal to feel spongy, and braking performance to "gradually decline". In other words, when you've crashed into the car in front.

Giulietta... Or Prius... Giulietta or Prius... It's a tough one. Alfa methinks.

As I've said before in a previous blog issue, hybrids are nonsense. They are not a long term fix, and how can it be more ecologically friendly if all the initial manufacturing is done on both sides of the world for one car and transported by machines that use fossil fuels.

As well as the aforementioned Panda, C1, Mini and Alfa Giulietta, here are some more Prius alternatives that won't make you into a Bono or Chris Martin if you own one.

Volvo C30 1.6 Drive S - Will beat the Prius' economy with a claimed 75mpg and impressive 99g/km and nil road tax. Quite a funky looking motor too.
Ford Fiesta 1.6 TDCi DPF ECOnetic - 99g/km and 76.3mpg. Looks great and drives well too. No road tax
Fiat Bravo 1.6 Multijet Dyanmic Eco - Looks fantastic, drives well, a little bit higher at 119g/km and means £30 a year road tax but it's the same size as a Prius and HALF the price!!
Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion - Again, 99g/km and economy that makes a tight Cornishman generous.

Please Toyota, stop it now so I don't have to waste everyones time by writing another rant.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Lightning Seeds - Change

Right, for the second installment of Song of the Week. This week is the first of many Lightning Seeds songs that are likely to feature.

The Lightning Seeds started out in the late 1980s as a side project for Ian Broudie - a respected record producer and ex-band member for legendary Liverpool punk band Big In Japan, a band more famed not for being successful but for spawning band members that would later have a successful career (Holly Johnson, Bill Drummond et al). Initially a low-key affair it allowed Broudie to make some of his own music and continue to help and produce other acts.

The debut single was Pure, a gem of a song that went to number 16 in the charts. Two albums - Cloudcuckooland and Sense - and a trio of top 50 hits - The Life of Riley, Sense and Lucky You all preceded the fabulous hit single Change.

Change was released in January 1995 and was the second single released from Jollification. The album and this single would prove to be the turning point for the band. Firstly it would provide their biggest chart hit to date reaching number 13, but also it could no longer be classed as a one-man's-side project. Signed to a new label which took the band seriously, they were now a serious proposition and with a touring line-up put together, Ian Broudie would now focus full time on the Lightning Seeds. Touring the US and a new outlook to making videos resulted in the glossy and well produced promotional video for Change. The packaging also signified better promotion and marketing. It was released in four formats - 7" vinyl, cassette and two CD singles - with unique artwork. Now all the artwork surrounding Jollification-era singles had strawberries of some kind, and this was probably the best example complete with Groucho Marx disguises. The digi-pak had a pull-out section where you could "Change" (geddit???) the strawberry into a disguised one. This is rocket science stuff, this you know!

This was the song that got me into the band in the first place. I'd seen the video on things like the Chart Show and also had a Top Gear compilation where this little gem was hidden in amongst some ace rock songs. This is the song I remember playing the most and wanted to know more about the band that did it. Turns out they made songs I already knew - The Life of Riley and Sense. I found a copy of Jollification in my local independent record shop, which is alas, no more. I've never really looked back, as Jollification to date remains my firm favourite album of all time. If you don't own it, why not? You really, really should.

There are a couple of versions of the song, the album version and the single edit. Don't bother with the single version as it cuts out a portion of the guitar break and a verse. What remains on both versions is the driving guitar through the song with a distinctive lead guitar sound. A light, bouncy bass line added to quite effective synthesized drums, this makes up a fantastic pop song. Naturally, though, the best version of the song is when played live. After finally seeing them live after a fifteen year wait, I got to see them in April of this year, and the live performance puts a whole new energy into the song.

Click here to watch the promo video for Change

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Some say he's a money grabbing, greedy, disloyal, sawn-off twat.... all we know is....

I've thought long and hard as to my feelings on Ben Collins and what Daily Mail readers will no doubt refer to as "Stig-gate". I've stopped myself for some time actually writing a blog about it because I've done that much verbal ranting about it, normally with Alec, that it didn't warrant any musings on the interweb.

However, I have just finished watching two episodes of Fifth Gear from the new series and that has changed my mind and I feel the need to vent somewhat. Vicki Butler-Henderson is as lovely as ever, although she's spending less on-air time on it now owing to the fact that she's pregnant. I like Tiff Needell as well, but I just cannot really watch a full episode of 5th Gear as Jason Plato annoys me and the other presents are that memorable that I can't actually remember who they are. Now, however, they have added Ben Collins to the team over at Channel Five. Or just "Five" as it's now known. Or the channel that shows only three programmes I actually watch.

He introduces himself as the man that has spent too long inside a stormtroopers outfit for his liking. Bearing in mind, the man had a contract with the BBC to not reveal his identity. He breached that contract for revealing himself in the autobiography he was writing at the time. Granted most people could have made an educated guess as to who the Stig was, but the whole point of the Stig is that no one really knew except for the people who worked with Top Gear and those within the industry. The whole point of The Stig is (or was, depending on whether Top Gear bring the Stig back) the mystery surrounding it. Children love the Stig. People who don't even like cars watch Top Gear (yes I mean you Jayne and Katherine) because it's entertainment rather than an out-and-out car programme and the Stig is/was the driving force behind it. However, since Ben Collins has become greedy it's all become a bit of a biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you kind of scenario.  All in the name of making a fast buck, he's written an autobiography for which he hopes to sell a few books at Christmas. Which got him the sack. I for one will never buy the book. I'm not interested in who the Stig is portrayed by. I'm interested in the Stig itself.

Jeremy Clarkson once noted that the reason the identity of the Stig was never revealed or why he never spoke was that motorsport drivists are not interesting in any way, shape or form and that their opinions are not worth anything. Judging by what I've seen him do on 5th Gear, this is totally correct. Like I mentioned before, he introduced himself as being locked in a stormtroopers outfit too long for his liking. Isn't it any bloody wonder? His presenting skills are non existent. I've seen paint brushes with more personality than him, and his delivery and general attitude is as wooden as a mahogany dining table. A supreme driver he may be. Another Clarkson, May, Hammond, Butler-Henderson or Needell he certainly is not. In fact he's not even another Jason Plato which is shocking.

If you are going to buy someone an autobiography for Christmas this year, do me a favour. Don't buy his. I was heartened to see it half price already in my local branch of Tesco.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Song of the Week - Crowded House - Fall At Your Feet

I've decided to create a separate blog to deal with my musical musings, such as a thing I want to do which, as the title states, I want to write about a song each week and why I like it or why it's important to me.

To start it off, I'll begin with Fall At Your Feet by Crowded House.

Neil Finn is perhaps one of the most underrated and overlooked song writers. After being hired by older brother Tim to fill in a vacancy in Tim's band Split Enz, Neil ended up penning their biggest hits (I Got You to name one). Much to the annoyance of Tim. In 1984, Tim left Split Enz for Neil to carry on but by the end of the year, the group has disbanded. Neil took Paul Hester who was the final drummer for Split Enz, added Nick Seymour on bass, Craig Hooper on guitar and formed a group called The Mullanes, after Neil's middle name. They relocated to Los Angeles, minus Craig Hooper and changed their name to something that summed up their living conditions - Crowded House. Their first album from 1986 spawned the hits Don't Dream It's Over, Mean To Me and World Where You Live. In between was their second album Temple of Low Men, which Neil wanted to call "Mediocre follow-up Second Album".

Fall At Your Feet came from their most successful album Woodface. The beginnings of Woodface saw the near split of the band and most of the material for the album rejected by the record company. Neil had patched things up with brother Tim and co-wrote some songs and Tim briefly joined the band. However, Fall At Your Feet is purely a Neil Finn composition. Anyway, enough waffle on the history of the band. If you want that, head over to Wikipedia.

To me, this song always stuck out from Woodface and pretty much anything else Neil has written. Essentially an acoustic strum-along love song, with a simple bass line, small amounts of electric guitar and as usual, rock steady drumming from the late, great Paul Hester. Tim's backing vocals throughout the song compliment Neil's perfectly. As you'd expect, being brothers they harmonise well. But the vocal interaction between the two during the bridge is fantastic. Neil's knack of a good melody shines though, which is most noticeable in the chorus - one Paul McCartney would probably have wished he'd written.

It's perhaps the only song on Woodface where the production doesn't sound flat. However, the song comes alive when performed live, which can be said for 90% of Crowded House material. If you've never seen the band live, I urge you too, they are that good. I had the good fortune of seeing Neil perform with Tim as the Finn Brothers back in 2004 and saw a reformed Crowded House with new drummer Matt Sherrod in 2007. If you cannot get to see them live, pick up a copy of Farewell To The World.

Witnessing my favourite Crowded House song being played live in two different venues is a fantastic experience. The Finn Brothers rendition was excellent, but the Crowded House was simply brilliant. They made an arena concert seem like they were playing to just you. But when the audience (including myself) are singing along with the whole song in tune (alas not me), I got quite emotional.

What, though, is the main reason I dig this song so? Yes, I'm a big Crowded House fan, but it's become a hugely personal song and means so much to me. It's also my wife Jayne's favourite song. We used it for our first dance at our wedding reception. I need say no more...

Promo video for Fall At Your Feet

Click here for Fall At Your Feet from the Farewell concert 1996

One final note. It's just such a shame James Blunt got hold of it....

So, what's to be expected next? Well, there's tunes by Lightning Seeds (predictably), Iron Maiden, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, Paul McCartney, Volbeat, New Order, Joy Division and many many more. If you're interested, please continue to read. If not, it really would be a waste of your time and it would be a shame!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Fantasy Garage Part Thirty Three and a Third

Right, this is the final installment of my moment of self indulgence. This fantasy garage features cars that are well out of my reach. Hey ho.

Corvette Stingray
All the cornering ability of a drunken Londoner, but just look at it. This one is here on looks alone.

Ford Mustang
I want the car photographed here. Americans a lot of the time make a lot of stuff look vulgar. This has all the right curves in the right places.

So fantastic it deserves two photos. Stunning, isn't it?

Citroen DS
Just because it was one of the most advanced cars of the time. Launched in 1955 it had a semi automatic gearbox, power steering, hyrdopneumatic suspension. The face lift in 1966 (pictured here) brought swivelling headlights when you turned the steering wheel. It was so advanced it made every other car look like a horse and cart. It's like the Jetsons and Thunderbird 2 combined. 

Predictably, the rest is Italian. So, here we have the rest 

Fiat X1/9
Another car ahead of its time. A budget, mid-engined, rear wheel drive 2 seater sports car. Came out in 1973 when the Brits were still making MG Midgets. Originally with 1300 engines, later 1500. Handling was top notch.

Lancia Beta Montecarlo
So-called to celebrate Lancia's win of the Montecarlo Rally. Really like a mini-Ferrari, fitted with the celebrated Lampredi 2.0 twin-cam engine. Mid-engine, rear wheel drive layout again. I was offered the chance to buy one and I declined. I have been kicking myself ever since. Especially since I bought a Fiat Punto instead. What an ass.

Again, so good it's having two photos.

Lancia Stratos
Mid-engined rally car, essentially, fitted with the engine from the Ferrari Dino. Just look at it though. Perfection.

A new, up-to-date version has been given the green light. At the moment it's a one off, based on the Ferrari F430 Scuderia. 
New and old Stratos together.

Lancia Delta Integrale
Perhaps not the prettiest car ever, but still one of my favourites. One of the most successful rally cars of all time. Without the Delta, the Mitsubishi Evo or the Scooby Impreza wouldn't exist. This is The Daddy. 

Alfa Romeo 105 GTA
Another successful racing car from Alfa Romeo, based on the same chassis as the 105 Giulia saloons. Pretty little car.

Ferrari F40
This needs no write up. Just look at it.

Ferrari Dino 246 GT
My favourite car of all time. Never officially badged as a Ferrari, it was Enzo's tribute to his son Alfredino who had died. Small, mid-mounted 2.4 litre V6. Enzo's finest hour. 

The End.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Part 2 of my fantasy garage of cars that no one likes

Fiat Coupe 2.0 20v Turbo.

Launched in 1993, initially with Lancia Intergrale engines, later updated to sweet five cylinder 2.0 engines. 220bhp through the front wheels meant lots of torque steer, but when the turbo kicked in it would go all the way to 158mph. Why do I want one? It's the fastest I've ever driven a car, 150mph on a private road of course, and I love the styling - by Chris Bangle before he went all twattish at BMW. It was a hoot to drive too.

 Fiat-Abarth Strada 130TC

Everyone else in the 80's made their hot hatches with fuel injection. Not Fiat - two big burbling carbs and it was so focused on being a drivers car that you couldn't tilt the front seats forward to get passengers in the back. And it fell apart quickly and would never start. Perfect.

Fiat 131 Mirafiori Abarth

In fact, I'd even settle for one of the normal 131 Mirafioris, but the Abarth as pictured here went on to be a particularly successful rally car. It took the baton from the Lancia Stratos as the Fiat Group's secret weapon in rallying. I had a Matchbox toy in the Alitalia colour scheme (google it) and wanted a real one ever since. Sad but true.

Alfa Romeo GTV
I could wax lyrical about these. In fact I'm going to. I mean, just look at it. It's a delight. I'd have one purely for the way it looks. It drives wonderfully, it handles well, and either engine is a peach. When they're working. The V6 is pretty strong if maintained and is the best sounding V6 in the business. The Twin Spark is a gem of an engine but neglect it and it will self destruct very, very quickly. That's if the electrics have allowed it to get going in the first place. Ultimately owning a GTV is like being with the most beautiful woman in the world and finding she's brilliant at everything - cooking, washing, sex, the whole nine yards, but then finding she had a nasty habit of stabbing you in the head every night. But you still would...

Rover SD1

A badly-built British car with a front end ripped off the Ferrari Daytona? Yes please. Especially with the fantastic 3.5 litre V8 lump under the bonnet. Never actually driven or been in one, I've just always wanted an SD1 3500.

Ford Capri 280 Brooklands

Again, featured in The Professionals and driven by Bodie (played by Lewis Collins). Well, to be pedantic, the 3.0 V6 was featured in The Professionals. I would really like one of the last of the line 280 Brooklands - has the best engine, and looks absolutely brilliant.

Mini Clubman

No, not the monstrosity just launched by BMW, but the original Clubman. The supposed ugly Mini and unfairly called Mini Clubfoot. But I actually like these. I'm not bothered by all these Mini Cooper derivatives, just give me a basic Mini with a basic engine and it'll still be fun to drive.

Land Rover Series 3

Well, any beaten up Land Rover really. For pure simplicity really. An old tatty one will do quite nicely, so I can do what it's intended for, just like in the picture. For that purpose alone there's no point at all getting a decent one.

That's it for part two. These first two parts feature cars really that are not out of the reach most people. In fact most of them can be had for as little as few hundred quid. There will be a third and final volume of this to bore you to tears. This will feature my top 10 favourite motors from any age and any price bracket which need a place in this fantasy garage thing.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Part One of my Fantasy Garage of cars no one likes

Every man that likes cars has a fantasy garage, or at least makes a list of what they would like to own should the opportunity (and money) present itself. True to form, I created a Facebook photo album depicting what I would like to have in my fantasy garage and predictably most of them are Italian. It's crammed full of Ferraris such as the 365 GTB/4, commonly known as the Daytona, the Dino 246 GT, the 599 GTO, F40 and a brace of Alfa Romeos, Lancias and a couple of Fiats and Abarths.

I've made it no secret that I like cars no one else likes. Or what other people would class as crap cars. So, this is part 1 of my guilty pleasure fantasy garage. No specific reasons as to why they are in here except that I like them.

So what car are we going to have lining up first?

The humble Fiat Panda 4x4. Why?

It was cheap, and certainly felt cheap, but was an endearing little car. A capable off-roader, this mountain goat of a car got where most couldn't.

The Citroen Visa.

Not a brilliant all round car in the same way that say, a Peugeot 205 was. But I liked these because they were quirky, fun to drive and in the pre-1984 models the interiors were typically bonkers Citroen before they went all serious and boring.

Citroen GS / GSA

What we have here is a proper Citroen. Hydropnematic suspension and flawed in its extreme. Underpowered, slow, bonkers inside and nothing is where it's supposed to be. Satellite units to operate most important controls. Operate the horn and the heater came on, the indicators were operated by a switch under the seat somewhere and the wipers were operated by mind control. But the car came out in 1972 and looked like nothing else. I'd have one of these because I love the styling so much. And the suspension. And the mental interior.

Citroen AX GT

I've owned two basic 1.0 AXs and can tell you the pluses and minuses for owning them. The minuses far outweigh the pluses. For instance, it seems to be made out of recylced Milk Tray boxes, and if you crashed into a leaf it would write the damn thing off. But because they were so light and so chuckable, that made it excellent fun to drive. Even the 1.0 engines punched far above their weight, but the little 1360 GT was a true pocket rocket. Later AX's were boring, my choice is the Mk 1, with a few bonkers Citroen things like single spoke steering wheel and a dashboard made from tracing paper.

Peugeot 104

Or to be exact the 104 Z, which was a three door, short wheel based version. Provided basis for Talbot Samba and Citroen LNA (predecessor to the AX). Basically, another overlooked small French car that was a bit of a laugh. Not the prettiest car in the world but I like them all the same. Hang on, I'm noticing a pattern here. Small French cars seem to be recurring....

Renault 11

And another French car. Bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing this. My mates parents had one many moons ago, a 1700 GTX and I swear that car was the fastest thing on four wheels. I doubt a Veyron could have caught it. It also looked a whole lot better than the car on which it was based - the Renault 9. A car so boring you lost the will to live before you got to the back. But with quad headlights and a glass wraparound tailgate, quite a stylish car for the early 80s.
Fiat Uno

Ah, something Italian, back to normality then. My first car was a Fiat Uno and my dad had one when I was a kid. Launched in 1983, it still remains in production in India and Brazil. It was a cracking, if somewhat fragile, little motor. Lively performance, brilliant interior space and best in Mark 1 form where it had a Citroenesque interior with satellite pods for lights and wiper controls. It was also a bit Citroenesque when it was wet as a push start was sometimes required.

Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint

I'd love an ordinary cooking 'Sud, but there's something about the shape of the Sprint coupe version. Neat, uncluttered shape by Giugaro, neat handling and a sweet, free-revving flat four engine.

But the main reason I want one? My first ever toy car was a Alfasud Sprint. And now I want a real one.

Lancia Beta HPE

Only the Italians would attempt to make an estate car (HPE means High Performance Estate) where you can't fit much in it. Still, it looked more like a coupe. Of course, being Italian and from the 70's it earned a reputation for being rusty, and the Beta saloon was the car that pretty much killed Lancia in the UK

Talbot Sunbeam Lotus

Take a Hillman Avenger, wrap the oily bits in a neat hatchback body. Bring to the boil with some with the Lotus tuned handling and simmer with the Lotus 2.1 slant four 16 valve engine. Garnished with rear wheel drive and you have a capable rally car and a brute of a road car.

Ford Escort RS2000

The Professionals is one of my favourite TV shows and the character Ray Doyle (played by Martin Shaw) drove a white RS2000, drifting and handbrake turning it everywhere. I wanted one because of that. Then I saw some of these taking part in motor sport events and wanted one even more. Looks ace with the so-called droopsnout front.

Ford Fiesta Mark 1 XR2

Has to be the Mark 1. It wasn't very fast and wasn't as good as the Mark 2, but this one looked the business with the circular headlights, the spotlights and the pepperpot alloys. The Mark 2 just looked shite.

Stay tuned for part two if you are nerdy enough like me. Though if you got this far you must be.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


It doesn't help sometimes that my wife keeps telling me I'm ancient before my time. True, I am what can only be classed as a grumpy old man. But at 28 I'm really starting to believe her. Mainly because I really do not know how to use my portable telecommunication relaying device (that's a mobile phone to the youth of today) properly. That, and I've started saying certain phrases that members of my staff have said that I've subsequently used to impersonate and mock them. The favourite is "Back in the day". But worryingly I have actually started saying it seriously which makes me sound about 60. But then Jayne would argue the fact that my hair is rapidly going grey that I look it too.

Anyway, back in the d... oh shit, there we go already. But back in the day I thought myself as quite learned toward technological things and was considered by many to be a geek. I could build a computer, wire up a HiFi system quite nicely and program a VCR (how old does that sound?) to do everything include blow up the Pentagon. I even did bits and pieces of web design and computer programming. Hell, I even use to create multi-track recorded songs on the computer using loops, keyboards and this that and the other.

But give me my current portable telecommunications relaying device and I'm stuck. Only a 6 year old could program the events timer on my DVD recorder. And these days I'm lucky if I can just turn on a computer to do such trivial items as check Facebook and write this silly little blog thing. At work there are many programs I have to use, which I have been using in one form or another for getting on close to ten years. It still doesn't mean I'm any good at using them. Only today, my wife and our friend were engrossed in an amusing conversation over the differences of many different varieties of Microsoft Office programs and how they've changed over the years. Seriously, my tiny little brain is retarded enough without having to cope with that. I mean, I've not progressed past Office 1997. The one I used whilst still at school. Sorry, for the young and uneducated, that is skool.

However I've now joined Twitter, which I admit I'm fairly late in getting into. But when I get into something I get into it in a big way so I'll no doubt be tweeting whenever I can. This does mean I'm buggered as being a male I'm unable to multitask. I will now have to juggle Facebook, blog, Twitter and Media Player at once. Well Media Player if I'm not listening to vinyl or CD or other such mediums that young people would refer to as "old skool". Although that particular way of spelling it winds me up. People who spell it like that seriously need to go back to school to realise the correct spelling of the word.

Which neatly brings me onto my equal love-hate relationship with MP3s. I like them for convenience and laziness as it means I can have whatever song that's in my vast collection at the touch of a button whilst typing this inane drivel. It also makes it easier to have more music because with the vast amount of CDs, tapes, records et al that I own, I've run out of room to store them. But the minus side to me is I like to see the artwork of an album and what went into the making of it. It just seems a shame now that an artist can pour heart and soul into a piece of work, go through the motions of having the artwork designed, booklets etc, only for it to become a file on a computer that's pretty meaningless. It just seems a bit cold. I also dislike MP3s for their inferior sound quality as my computer's sound card outputty type thing is connected to my slightly vintage stereo separates system, which new would have been the cost of 10 iPods. It shows up all the flaws.

But back to phones. It goes to show as a friend phoned me (on the aforementioned device) to ask for advice on which new mobile was best on the market. I think it was something like an eye phone, a Black berry (which I assumed was actually some fruit) and something that was made up of initials, something like HTSCSFGHJVFHGFFG. Or it could have been PIACTWIR (which stands for Paul Is A Complete Tool Who Is Rubbish). Because I was a geek in a previous life, my advice was called upon. However the best answer I could give her was "Er..... what are you talking about?" to which her reply was priceless - "You're rubbish".

So, mobile phones are not my forte, and I prefer to play vinyl rather than MP3. I prefer to play the bass guitar than my XBox 360 and they are located inches apart. In a lot of cases I'd rather read than watch television. Don't get me wrong, I do genuinely love technology and I love what it can do and I'm not totally allergic to it. Anything to make my life easier is fine by me as I'm a lazy sod at times. But my main pet peeve is when technology doesn't change something for the better and/or over complicates things. It's a total disaster zone as far as I'm concerned.

A microwave oven for instance is a good example. There are some posh microwave ovens, which technically is a contradiction in terms. All those different settings for essentially doing one thing: heating stuff. All I want to do is set the temperature, the time and switch it on. Nothing more, that is all it needs to do in life. Essentially that is all I want my mobile phone to do. Not heat food, obviously, because that would be stupid. Then again, there probably is a setting for it to do so somewhere that I've not found yet. No, I want to be able to use it as a phone and to send text messages primarily. The other add on bits are nice, but not at the cost of being able to make phone calls and send text messages (mk phn cls n snd txt msgs to you young people reading). Or maybe I should get a simpler phone and look much less of a retard than I already appear.

I used to keep up with technology back in the d... Oh bollocks, I've done it again. But it's moving so fast I've been left so far in the shade I can feel the beginnings of hypothermia.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Wake me up before he off roads

Poor old George Michael, poor little soul, has had a hard time of late. Not only being arrested for some lewd acts and cruising and what not, but now he has finally been arrested and will be sent to jail. 

Not that it's taken long, he's been had three times now for driving whilst under the influence of drug use. Stoned to you or me. That's three times more than you or I would ever get away with and that's what pisses me off. If we did it, we'd be put behind bars and banned from driving for 602 years. That is because we're not famous. Unlike Georgie Boy who is famous for, other than his music, many dealings with the law. And he has the uncanny knack of getting away with it every time. Well, until now that is.

He's going to jail. But don't get too excited, he's going to jail for eight weeks. Only eight weeks, for his third offence, third lot of recklessness and danger to other people, not to mention the writing off two perfectly good cars.  He was also ordered to pay a £1250 fine, £100 costs and a £15 victim surcharge. Now if you are not familiar with a victim surcharge, it's basically a £15 levy added to any court costs and goes to the victim. So, the corner shop that George Michael drove into has been destroyed, but be rest assured the owner will receive the princely sum of £15. Yay, let's all get stoned to celebrate. And drive into someone Else's shop so they can get £15 to help their flourishing business.

According to the highly polished, accurate and informative news service (sorry, that should say the greatest work of fiction since Shakespeare) Gorge Michael has been banned from driving for five years, but that will no doubt be reduced to three minutes. He was also "in tears after being sentenced" and was also reported as stating "I can't believe this has happened to me!". Oh really, so you expect to drive whilst stoned and destroy someone's shop and livelihood, and not expect anything to happen about it? You're a bigger arse than I first thought.

You're getting off (didn't he do that before?) lightly dear boy, with your fortune you can afford those expenses and to pay £15 to Apu and his Kwik-E-Mart with consumate ease. Just think, the eight weeks will be over before you know it. It could be a lot worse. Now stop whining, crying and throwing a tantrum just because you've done something wrong and have to face the consequences. Get your giant egotistical head out of your arse and get on with it. 

I'll end this with a picture from one of my favourite websites Sniff Petrol. I need not say anymore. Except, sorry Sniffpetrol for plagiarising your caption for my title. Well, I'm not sorry, but I kind of needed to sound sincere. Worked, as you can see.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Driving a Vertically Challenged car

Well, I can't refer to it as anything else. It would be politically incorrect of me to refer to it as an MG Midget, despite that's what it is.

This is going to be a short blog entry for once. I've discovered I need an old car in my life, but what's on the horizon, this isn't going to be practical at all. After spending a small amount of time in an MG Midget, photographed here, I've decided I want one.

Why was I in an MG Midget? To drive it to the Cornish Festival of Speed, held at Tregrehan House in St Austell, which was a fantastic day out and well worth any person's money to be honest. Lots of fantastic cars on display, of which this little MG was one of the exhibits, and lots of entertainment watching different types of cars compete for the fastest time on the sprint hill climb. Cars from Minis and Escorts through to single seat racers and purpose-built rally and racing machinery could be found competing.

So, why do I want an old car I can't even hear you ask. It's just back to basics pure driving, there's nothing between you, the car and the road. No electronic driving aids. No computermabobs to break. And on a day like it was, with the roof down, blue skies, sun shining and the shades on, it was fantastic. Put it this way, I was glad I ended up driving the Midget rather than the Alfa Mito or Giulietta the other guys took. What's happening? I'm hankering after an MG sports car and I don't even own a flat cap, or even have a beard or drink beer with bits of twig in it. I still want one. Despite the fact that something broke on the journey back. The bearings in the dynamo packed up. This is a British sports car after all, and something falling off or breaking on every journey really is normal.

And yes, I have realised this is yet another rant-free blog entry. I've just had nothing worth ranting about as late. I promise normal service shall resume shortly.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Long Term Test - Fiat Stilo 1.4 Active

Most car magazines tend to do long term tests on selected cars to show how reliable (or unreliable) they may be. But in these tests, cars tend to be kept for 6-12 months and then that's it. So I've decided that the Stilo qualifies for one of these long term test jobbies seems I've owned it for just over five years and 50,000 miles.  If you're a normal person, stop reading now. No, seriously. However, if you are a complete nerd like me, pray continue.

First, an introduction to the Stilo. A car launched to replace the old Brava and Bravo (and ironically replaced by the Bravo) in 3 and 5 door form. Whereas the 5 door version is as appealing as sawing your arm off, the 3 door is a fantastic looking car and that would be my car in the picture. A little time later, the versatile and smart Multiwagon estate version was launched.

So, just over five years ago I decided to purchase a 3 door 1.4 Active. An ex-demonstrator that had covered 180 miles over 12 months. A saving of £4,500 on list price was certainly order of the day. It did raise a few eyebrows, as the Stilo had a horrendous reliability record when first launched. It really did seem like as good an idea as Ben Collins wanting to reveal himself as the Stig, the big, greedy unknown arse bucket. However, my car is a Phase 2 Stilo which means it had a whole host of improvements to make it "better".

So, first of all, how does it drive? It's average, to be honest. The electronic steering has as much life as a corpse and as much communication as a monk who has taken a vow of silence. The handling is a bit Golf-like. However on the plus side, the ride is outstanding and the interior comfort is as good if not better than anything in its class. The engine, if underpowered in a car this size at just under 100bhp, is a gem and wants to be revved and is coupled to a six speed manual gearbox which is positive and slick in action. Which is just as well as it does need to be used a fair amount. Interior space is good, with ample room for five Mafia types and enough storage spaces and cubby holes that would shame Ikea.

As it's poverty spec Active it is bottom of the range so it comes with some seats and an engine. It does have a few extra bits though such as alloy wheels, remote locking, electric windows, electric heated mirrors, trip computer, decent sound system with MP3, six airbags. Did I mention seats? And an engine?

So, we've established it's a fairly run of the mill drive, but an excellent looker and it has some seats, but what has it been like for reliability? To be fair, pretty bloody good after 50,000 miles. As far as spending money on it goes, I've had it MOT'd (it's been through three and passed every one, and I didn't even have to bribe or sack the tester!), serviced it, replaced wear and tear items such as cam belt, brake pads and the exhaust, as well as tyres, petrol and insurance. It's never broken down, never left me stranded, never failed to start. I can't exactly mock the legendary Italian build quality either as nothing has ever fallen off and it's pretty rattle free also.

In the six years, the blips which can be put down to the car include:
- One or two spurious warning lights coming on early on in its life. But it is a Stilo.
- Replacement wiper linkage at 2 years old due to noise (replaced under warranty)
- Speedo stopped working
- 1 of 4 coil packs failed after 5 years and 46,000 miles. The other three are originals. If you drove a petrol engined Renault, you'd be replacing these coil packs every 6-12 months.

However, it has had more replaced than it need to due to an accident in which Her Indoors hit a patch of diesel and span it 360 in the middle of the road, smashing into curbs before eventually mounting a boulder (oooh errr). Three damaged alloy wheels (two of which snapped clean) meant it had to have a new set of wheels and tyres, bent rear axle, stub axles, front wishbones, wheel bearings all round and a general sprucing up of the bodywork. All of which meant the insurance company had a bill just short of £3,000. That's hardly the fault of the car, though.

The Stilo does have an iffy image problem, due to Fiat wanting to make a Golf clone, the early reliability issues, the styling of the five door model and the slightly average dynamics. But is the image it has deserved? Judging by our experiences with the Stilo, not a bit of it. Yes, the dynamics could be sharpened up a bit, but it's still better to drive than the equivalent Golf, Renault or Vauxhall for example. It's also proved to be a generally fault-free car, and considering the treatment the car has had from myself and She Who Must Be Obeyed, I personally think it's stood up and made a case for itself pretty well.

See, if you bought one now, even an early one, most if not all of the bugs would have been ironed out, and because of the image these cars had, the depreciation was that steep that you can pick one up for less than a grand. Would I have another one? Yes, but as they make the Bravo now (which shares the Stilo's underpinnings) I'll have one of those. Would I recommend one? A resounding yes. It's a used car bargain.