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.