Cars and A Not So Worldwide Web

I’m probably pushed to tell you the registration number of my current car but the registration of my very first car is still firmly anchored in my old memory bank.  It was PDB 71M, A Bond Bug, and for those of you who don’t know, a Bond Bug was a sporty little Reliant three wheeler car and I bought one because I failed my driving test twice and I could drive the Bug on my motorbike licence.

It was actually a pretty eye catching car for a three wheeler. No doors but the roof lifted up to gain access and the side windows were plastic held on by Velcro. I always remember bringing it home and showing it off to my family with a certain amount of pride and my Dad looking at it and saying “How are we all going to get into that?” Perhaps he thought I was going to take us all away for a holiday!

Still, we had some nice times, me and the Bond Bug but then one cold and snowy Christmas I decided to chance going out to a Christmas party in the car even though it was losing coolant. I topped it up with water and went off for a night of Christmas cheer. I walked home sensibly I might add, but when I returned the next day I found that the car had frozen overnight and it ended up having to have an engine rebuild. That was a pretty expensive night out! When I eventually  passed my driving test I got myself a proper car.

The other day I was tapping away on my laptop with the TV on in the background and I heard someone during a TV interview say that he wanted cars, personal cars as we know them, to be phased out in the next 10 years! Whoa! What was that? I grabbed the TV remote to rewind but accidentally switched off the TV and when I powered it up again the TV channel and the interviewee had disapeared. I don’t  know who that guy was but he was on cloud cuckoo land if he really thought it was feasible to take away motor cars from the general public.

The motor car is probably one of the great status symbols of our time and also one of those things that give us unprecedented freedom, certainly compared to our ancestors. Turn the clock back to the 1950s: If people wanted to get out and about and enjoy the great outdoors on a bank holiday the only way to travel was by bus or train. Yes, public transport was crammed with people in those days, all on their way to enjoy the great British seaside destinations.

Today, we are free of all those past restrictions, no waiting for trains or buses. It’s just a simple matter to pop outside, start up the motor and you’re off. The only restriction is probably traffic congestion. How many of us spend our bank holidays stuck in some traffic jam that clogs up the roads to the holiday hotspots? Either way, if that unknown politician really thinks the private motor car can be pushed aside he is in for a rude awakening.

I changed my car this week. I was sad to see my old car go because, well I’ve always liked it. It’s a very comfortable car, the reclining seat suited me very well and I had wanted a convertible car for a long time. It was so lovely in the summer to sit back, press a button and see the roof fold back into the boot. Air conditioning? Who needs it when your roof comes off!

Bye old car!

What is really annoying is that my 2006 car, for which I paid something in the region of £6000 some years back, 2011 I think, is now, according to webuyanycar.com, worth the paltry sum of £260!

To be fair, it does have a lot of mileage under the bonnet, 140,000 miles to be exact.

I did wonder about changing the car, then I thought why bother, why not wait until it finally dies the death. True, the ride had become a little rougher than usual but after a flat caused me to sort out a new tyre, the ride became smooth once again. I wavered then, should I change cars?

Then the passenger window jammed and not long after the boot jammed. I couldn’t free the window but found that the boot could be opened with the key, a physical key contained within the car’s key card. Opening the boot in this way was a real pain in the neck as the keyhole was located under the boot and sometimes, especially in the dark, it was hard to get the key in the slot. On one occasion I opened up the key card and out popped the battery so I had to rummage about under the car in the dark to find it.

Anyway, another car caught my fancy being sold by a friend at a very reasonable price. Normally I tend to stick with vehicles from a dealer because as I know very little about cars and anything mechanical, I like to buy something with a warranty and someone who will take away my old vehicle.

This new purchase meant I had to sell my trusty old motor myself so this being 2019 I nipped outside, took a few pictures on my mobile phone and put a short advert on Facebook. I sold the car the same day, not for a great price but much more than webuyanycar were offering!

All I had to do then was clear out my stack of personal stuff from the car, endless boxes of CDs, waterproof jackets, wellies and all sorts of other stuff I didn’t even know I was carrying.

There was one thing I left behind. Secreted somewhere in the car I was sure was a member of the spider family. He was a pretty active fellow, spending a lot of his spare time spinning a web across my driver’s mirror. I was sure he would continue to do a sterling job in that respect for the new owner.

Presently, that same day, the new owner arrived. She was actually a foreign lady although she arrived with an entourage of friends who, it seemed to me, were the real owners. They took a quick glance at the car and seemed happy. They were a little surprised to find the boot required a key but I did mention that in the advert. They were also concerned about the mileage and the seized window but again, I had mentioned that in the ad.

The cash was handed over and off my little car went. Hope they take care of it.

The owner of my new car was away for the weekend but she had left the keys and log book for me.

This being 2019 I was able to tax and insure my car online although I wasn’t too happy about the insurance. I can’t ever remember an insurer charging me to change my insurance to a new car. There has always been something to pay of course as usually I’ve moved up to a better, newer and more expensive car but a transfer fee? Well, I’m afraid I may be changing insurers when that policy comes up for renewal.

The next day I picked up my new car and settled into it. The boxes of CDs were transferred over, as well as the wellies and waterproofs and so on.

The great thing about my new car is that it can handle 5 CDs at once and when you are in CD mode the next CD plays as the last one finishes.

Ages ago I compiled my top 100 all-time favourite tracks so I wonder now if I could get all 100 on 5 CDs and play them back to back? 20 tracks on each CD, is that feasible? Oh well, time to get the laptop out and give it a try.

Once I had got my CDs set up I settled back and sorted out my seat and made myself familiar with all the controls. The cigarette lighter/charger was hard to find but a glance through the instruction book and there it was.

A few days later I was ready to take my new motor on its first trip to work. The CDs were all ready, I had fuelled up the previous day. I started the engine, slipped the lever into first gear and checked the mirror. What was this? On my wing mirror was a large and intricate spider’s web!

Our local spider was clearly reluctant to leave sunny St Annes!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

10 Famous and Not So famous Cars!

The Batmobile.

No, I’m not thinking of the one that locks up in a sort of caterpillar way, although I’d love to have a car that does that. Nor am I thinking of the one that resembles a tank. Just in case I’ve lost you here I’m talking about the comic strip hero Batman and his motor car, the Batmobile. Batman has progressed from comic strip to TV to the big screen but my favourite Batmobile is the one from the 1960’s TV series starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as Robin, the Boy Wonder. The dynamic duo regularly leapt over the doors into the car ready for a quick getaway in their pursuit of the dastardly villains of the 1960’s such as the Penguin, the Joker and so on. I used to have a Corgi model version if I remember correctly.

John Steed’s car

Patrick MacNee played the debonair John Steed in TV’s the Avengers and his car throughout much of the series life was a vintage Bentley. Steed, just like the dynamic duo, had a habit of leaping over his car doors. Must have scuffed those leather seats with his shoes though, I wouldn’t be happy about that. If you have ever read the original James Bond novels, you’ll know that Bond’s personal car was a Bentley, although it can’t have looked too good after Hugo Drax forced him to crash in Ian Fleming’s novel Moonraker. If you are thinking well, I saw the film and I don’t remember that bit, I think it’s fair to say that the books are usually pretty different to the films!

The Saint’s Volvo.

Simon Templar alias the Saint, played by Roger Moore, drove a white Volvo P1800 with the registration plate, ST1, which by my reckoning, if that was a real plate, would be worth quite a few bob today. In fact, if I had that few bob I might be tempted to buy it for myself. ST1, yes, that’d look pretty good on my old Renault Megane!

James Bond’s Aston Martin.

One of the memes I use frequently on Twitter is one of Sean Connery, exclaiming ‘ejector seat? You’re joking!’ to his technical colleague Q in the James Bond film Goldfinger. Bond’s Aston Martin DB11 had a variety of gadgets ranging from the aforementioned ejector seat to rotating number plates, forward facing machine guns (just the job to deal with road rage issues) and oil and smokescreen ejectors to fend off any following bad guys. In a later Bond film, Die Another Day, Bond, this time played by Pierce Brosnan, had an invisible car. Pity Brosnan didn’t reprise the ‘you’re joking’ line in that film which was Brosnan’s last outing as 007.

Steve McQueen’s Car.

The movie Bullitt was a classic cop film. OK, the plot was a little complicated but the car chase was the classic movie car chase of all time. McQueen drove a Ford Mustang 390 GT. Its 6.4 litre engine making a throaty roar as McQueen gunned his car in pursuit of the bad guys. I used to think his car was a Ford Cougar which is why I got all excited when I once used a hire car and was told over the phone it was a Ford Cougar. It turned out to be a different car altogether, a Ford Kuga!

‘Back to the Future’ 1981 DeLorean DMC-12

In the Back to the Future time travel trilogy, Marty McFly ends up back in the 1950’s courtesy of the time machine installed in the car by wacky inventor Dr Emmett Brown. The car warps into the past, or future, whenever the car’s time circuits are activated and the car hit 88mph. That of course happens to Marty McFly early on in the movie and he ends up back in 1955. There he meets a younger version of Doc Brown and he agrees to help Marty return Back to the Future. A great film and a pretty nice looking motor for the mid 1980’s. I particularly liked the gull wing doors.

‘Smokey and the Bandit’ 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

Still on the subject of films, ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ was the second highest grossing movie of 1977, second only to Star Wars. It’s about a trucker known as ‘the Bandit’ who is paid a large amount of dollars to get 400 cases of Coors beer across the state boundary from Texas into Georgia. I don’t exactly know much about US State boundaries or whether it was illegal or not but anyway, Burt Reynolds plays the ‘Bandit’, who recruits fellow trucker ‘the Snowman’, to drive the beer truck while the Bandit himself drives a Pontiac Trans-Am to lure any ‘smokies’ or police, away from the beer laden truck. Along the way the Bandit picks up the lovely Sally Field and finds himself being pursued by Texas Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? A Guy, a fast car, a lovely girl and a whole load of fun filled action packed car chases. It’s a great film and that Pontiac is a great looking motor car.

Number Six’s Lotus 7.

Remember The Prisoner from the late 60’s? Well if you don’t, it was a sci-fi fantasy-espionage TV show starring Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan stars as ‘Number 6’, a British agent who resigns and is kidnapped from his home, waking up in in the mysterious ‘village’ where the man in charge, Number 2, wants information. The opening sequence shows McGoohan driving around London in the rather lovely Lotus 7 and then back to his London flat where his mysterious abductors pounce. I’ve always rather fancied a Lotus 7, although I do like my creature comforts such as my CD player and my air con. Doesn’t look like there is much room in the Lotus for all my CD’s either!

Starsky and Hutch  Ford Gran Torino

Cast your mind back to the year 1975. Remember the TV cop show Starsky and Hutch? Well if you don’t then maybe you caught the movie version released in 2004. I say movie ‘version’ because the film is a sort of tongue in cheek comedy version of the TV show. Actually, neither the film nor the TV show were that great in my opinion but I did like their car which was a Ford Gran Torino in a rather lovely shade of red with white flashes down the side. Not sure if the car was much use during covert shadowing operations but hey, it looked fantastic!

My Car

If you are a big fan of film noir, you’ll have probably noticed that a lot of Los Angeles based detectives and their New York counterparts too, have a habit of parking up and leaving their cars with windows open and without any attempt at putting the roof down or locking up. If I left my car like that when I visit the council estate where I used to live I’d be lucky if my car was still there when I returned. Or if it was still there, then I’d be lucky to see the wheels still attached. TV detectives like Simon Templar for instance, also rarely lock their cars or even carry any keys for that matter. Anyway, as I’ve mentioned my car I might as well tell you more. My car is a Renault Megane convertible. I’ve always wanted a convertible and so in a way, this car is a lifelong dream. I probably would have preferred a Porsche or a Chevrolet but what the heck, I love my Renault. It’s nice to drive, supremely comfortable, well, for me anyway. Liz hates it as because of her back problems she needs a more sit up straight seat; for me, the slightly reclining position is perfect. One negative comment about the Megane: I always feel slightly embarrassed when a bulb blows because I have to take it to the garage to have another fitted. Why is fitting a light bulb so difficult in cars these days?

Just recently the weather in late April in the UK has warmed up and the other day it was time to take a drive with the ‘hood down’ as they say in American films. I do love the process of dropping the roof, hearing the smooth whine of the electric motor as the windows drop and the roof folds away into the boot. Whenever I do that I always hear the theme tune to Thunderbirds in my head and feel just a little like Scott Tracy as he slides his way from the lounge on Tracy Island over to Thunderbird 1. One interesting observation came to me today on the way to work. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and I motored along serenely with my hair ruffling ever so slightly in the breeze, the sun was warm on my head and shadows flickered lightly across my tinted lenses. I noticed a number of convertibles out on the road, some slightly more glamorous vehicles than mine, others not quite up to scratch. One thing they all seemed to have in common was that in all cases the driver was a middle aged follically challenged man wearing tinted lenses or sunglasses. Some would say that is a description that rather resembles me; surely not! Then again, perhaps certain people of a certain age and certain disposition lean towards a certain motorcar of the more open to the elements type. Oh well. . .

Now, I’m a little stuck for a video here but I did find this one, a sort of test video with my then new camera!


 Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. To find out more click the links at the top of the page or click here to go straight to Amazon.

 

 

Weekend of a Champion

As this weekend is the start of the Formula One season, I thought I’d have a look through my motor sporting DVDs and recordings to get myself in the mood for a new season of the sport.

The official season reviews are rather expensive although I do have a few that I’ve picked up in stores like HMV when they are in the sales. I scanned through the season review for 2007 and fascinating stuff it was.

Kimi Raikkonen won the championship by 1 point after the final race of the season and McLaren were excluded from the results and fined an incredible $100 million because of the great McLaren/Ferrari espionage scandal! An employee of Ferrari was accused of passing confidential technical info to a colleague at McLaren. Further problems arose between Hamilton and Alonso at McLaren when Alonso blocked Hamilton in the pit lane. Yes, it was all exciting stuff.

Another F1 DVD I have is the Senna movie made in 2010. It’s a documentary film made for the big screen and consists of archive TV footage transferred to film. There is no commentary as such and the film focusses on Senna’s rivalry with Alain Prost although it is clearly slanted in Senna’s favour. It’s quite a fascinating film to watch and it was great to relive the epic battles of the 80’s with stars like Mansell, Prost and Senna.

Senna was killed in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. Senna’s Williams hit the concrete barrier at the Tamburello corner, the scene of numerous accidents in the past. I remember watching the crash, convinced Senna would be all right, after all, Piquet had crashed there years earlier and Gerhard Berger had also had a terrible crash in the same spot, his Ferrari bursting into flames. Both Piquet and Berger survived. For Senna though time had run out. His front wheel and suspension assembly had hit his head and fatally pierced his helmet. Senna was airlifted to hospital where he later died.

After I’d finished my F1 TV marathon I started searching about in my VHS video box and unearthed a forgotten gem: Weekend of a Champion, a documentary film by Roman Polanski about Jackie Stewart and the Monaco Grand Prix. I was surprised to find that the video was sharp and clear and I settled down to watch the events of the 1971 Monte Carlo event. It was so good to be taken back to my youth and see Jackie Stewart, my all time favourite driver as he once was, not an elder statesman of the sport as he is today but as a great Formula One star, cheered and hailed by the crowds at the trackside as he made his way down from his hotel to the pit lane. It was raining that weekend at Monte Carlo, much to the dismay of Stewart but the grandstands of the principality were packed with fans.

Jackie Stewart

My autographed picture of Jackie Stewart

Jackie pointed out to Polanski the relative skills of the Formula 3 drivers as they sped past, Stewart explaining ‘he had the wrong line’ or ‘he was in the wrong gear’ and so on. Later, Stewart explained his gear choices to new team-mate Francois Cevert. Cevert was eager to learn from the number 1 race driver of the day. He looked vital and fresh in the film. Sadly, Cevert was later killed in 1973, just as he was about to become the team’s number one driver as Stewart retired.

One particular scene stood out for me. Shot in Jackie’s hotel room, he is on the balcony talking to his wife Helen and director Polanksi. As they chat the camera comes back into the room and reveals Nina Rindt, the widow of the 1970 world champion Jochen Rindt, killed at Monza in practice for the Italian Grand Prix. She looks sad and ill at ease and later Helen explains that in the past she and Nina, Jackie and Jochen spent time together travelling the world as they competed in motor races. She had come to Monaco at Helen’s invitation, to spend time together and perhaps remember the happy times of the past. The Formula One of the 1970’s was no less glamorous than that of today, although perhaps tinged with a sadness for the many who lost their lives back then.

After a little bit of research I see that Roman Polanski restored the film some years ago and added a twenty minute interview with himself and Jackie Stewart. I must look out for that on DVD.

Today Sir Jackie Stewart is one of the elder statesmen of F1 racing. He speaks his mind as he always has done but I do get the feeling he is not universally popular with the fans of today. Quite a few times I have defended him in internet forums only to get into one of those annoying on-line arguments. Jackie pulls no punches and in the Senna video I mentioned earlier, Jackie took Ayrton to task for his on track actions although many of his meatier comments were not to be found on that video. I hope I will get a glance of Sir Jackie at the Australian Grand Prix this weekend although Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and co will take centre stage, and rightly so.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

F1: Looking back to 2017 and forward to 2018

F1 testing has been in the news lately and as usual that got me thinking about the new season. Firstly, I have to start by saying that I was under the impression, apparently erroneously, that Formula One racing was to be the exclusive property of Sky TV in 2018. Apparently the exclusive Sky deal begins in 2019 so terrestrial TV viewers like me still have another year in which to watch Formula One without paying for a Sky TV package. Formula One is not what it was, well, not for me certainly but it is still Formula One, the highest level of the sport and it is difficult to give up the habit of a lifetime and stop following the F1 teams and their worldwide races.

Let me start this post by looking quickly back at the 2017 season. Lewis Hamilton won the 2017 world championship taking his tally of championships up to four, joining Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel, two other four-time champions. Lewis may be a great F1 champion but his efforts in the field of social media have not been so successful. He released a video berating his nephew for dressing up as a princess and as a result released a storm of social media controversy. I’m not sure why because it was a completely innocent fun family video but one quite funny response was a Tweet showing a picture of Lewis in a tartan jacket twinned with a picture of Princess Diana in a similar jacket. All good fun you might have thought but it apparently led to Lewis deleting many of his social media accounts. Oh well, stick to the motor racing Lewis.

Lewis’ new teammate for 2017 was Valtery Bottas who had a reasonable season, scoring his maiden F1 win and first pole position but the main challenge to Lewis came from Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari who quickly won the opening round in Australia. Later, his campaign for the championship self destructed after not only car reliability issues but a major disaster when Vettel and team-mate Raikkonen collided with Verstappen’s Red Bull in Singapore. Vettel self destructed in more ways than one because in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, cars were running behind the safety car and Vettel bumped into the back of Hamilton’s Mercedes. Thinking Lewis had given him a brake test he decided to drive alongside and bump wheels with the British driver in a decidedly unsporting gesture. As it happened, despite heavy criticism, he managed to escape a race ban.

The only other winners in 2017 were the Red Bull duo who scored a win in Azerbaijan for Daniel Ricciardo and wins in Malaysia and Mexico for boy wonder Verstappen.

2017 was the year in which McLaren lost patience with Honda and decided to end their fruitless partnership. In 2018 McLaren will be using the Renault engine and Honda will be working with the Torro Rosso team. Looking back at the success Honda and McLaren have had in the past, it’s hard to understand how this new partnership has failed but then again, I read an interesting article in the racing press last year about technology ‘cross fertilization’!

Let me explain. You’ve heard of Silicon Valley no doubt; it’s a place in the USA where computer and technology companies congregate. Companies working in a similar business and congregating in the same location is not a new idea. For instance, in the early 20th century movie makers set up shop in Hollywood, California, making it the centre of the movie making world. In the Formula One world a large majority of the current Formula One teams are located within 80 minutes drive of Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire and the area has been nicknamed ‘Motorsport Valley’. The result of this closeness means that the staff of these teams live nearby and when they seek pastures new, just like their F1 driving counterparts, they move to another nearby racing team. This results in a broadening of the general F1 knowledge base as ideas move from team to team with each exchange of staff. In an article on the BBC website, I read that now almost 3,500 companies associated with motorsport are based in Motorsport Valley, employing around 40,000 people. That represents around 80% of the world’s high-performance engineers.

Paddy Lowe left Mercedes for Williams last year and no doubt the technical knowledge he brought with him will mean a step forward for Williams with their new 2018 car. Anyway, here’s my point: the exception to this rule of course is Honda, who reside on the other side of the world in Japan. No ‘cross fertilisation’ there! Perhaps that fact has played a part in their lack of success.

Fernando Alonso was relegated to the sidelines in 2017 but he has broadened his wings by competing in the Indianapolis 500 and has made plans to race in the Daytona 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours this year. He has made it known he wants to emulate the feat of Graham Hill; the only man to win the so-called triple crown of motorsport: the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 hour race. Of course, once he starts to be competitive in F1 again, perhaps those plans may go on the back burner. Still, part of his thinking must be to leave his mark on the motor sporting record books. If he cannot do this in F1 then of course he has to set his sights in another direction.

Talking of motor sporting record books, Lewis Hamilton, the current World Champion, has made major inroads on those records recently. In 2017 he became the man with the most pole positions, 72 at the time of writing, beating Michael Schumacher on 68 and Ayrton Senna with 65. Only two men have won more world championships; Fangio who won 5 and Schumacher who won 7. Schumacher also holds the record for the most F1 race wins with 91 victories and Lewis is now in second place with 62. Alonso has only 32 wins; still a great tally but he has a long way to go to get close to Lewis Hamilton. No wonder the triple crown looks so sweet.

So what does 2018 hold for racing fans?

F1 cars will look pretty different this year with all cars required to use the halo device, a sort of extension of the roll bar that extends all around the cockpit. Some drivers like it, some don’t but if it saves lives everyone should be giving it the thumbs up. Here’s what it looks like from a driver’s perspective:

Robert Kubica is a name you might remember from a few years back. Robert was an F1 driver, tipped as a future world champion, who was badly injured in a rallying accident in 2011 in which his arm was partially severed. Happily, the arm was sewed back on but with reduced mobility. Since then, Kubica has inched his way back to fitness and has completed numerous tests in an F1 car and has been in the running for a place in the Williams F1 team. Williams have run their quest for their 2018 drivers something like a TV talent show and their deliberations have been constantly in the racing media. Who is in the running? Who will get the drive? Well, it turns out it isn’t Robert Kubica but perhaps if something goes wrong for the main drivers, he might get a chance to fill in because he has been announced as Williams 2018 reserve driver. Not quite sure if I understand that decision because Robert Kubica as well as his undeniable talent, brings a lot of press attention to any team he is in, which is just what the team sponsors need. Can he cope with a modern F1 car? Hopefully, yes. The other two drivers, Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin bring new talent and a great deal of financial backing to the team. Wonder what the main factor was in employing those two?

As I said earlier, 2018 will see a Renault engine in the back of a McLaren so hopefully Fernando Alonso will be up at the front of the grid again. If he isn’t, this season will be a disaster of epic proportions for McLaren who of course have dumped Honda because their engine wasn’t powerful enough. Toro Rosso will have the Honda strapped to the back of their cars so it will be interesting to see just how well they do in 2018.

One thing missing from the F1 grid this year will be grid girls. You know, the female promotional models who have been present on F1’s starting grids since -well, since forever really. New F1 owners Liberty Media say grid girls ‘do not resonate with our brand values’ so don’t expect to see pretty girls on the grid this year.

Will the racing be better or closer? The answer is anyone’s guess but Liberty Media also announced a revamp of its TV production this year. Apparently lower camera angles, improved on board footage and slightly later start times will improve the TV broadcasts. Liberty also have a much better appreciation of social media than predecessor Bernie Ecclestone which is why F1 video clips are much more prevalent on the internet today and why I can even link a few of them on this post.

So, F1 is improving the TV coverage and reaching out to internet users. Will the drivers and cars provide the excitement and competition we want? Well, to find out, make sure you tune in on the 25th March for the Australian Grand Prix season opener.


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. You can find the book at amazon by clicking here.

Cars, Codes and Coming Home

The end of a holiday is always a sad time, even more so when you’ve been away for a whole month. Our flight to Lanzarote was pleasant and comfortable but the return journey was on a different sort of aeroplane, one in which far too many seats were crammed in together and the flight was very, very uncomfortable. They just don’t make planes suitable for big people like me.

Anyway, our flight arrived in Manchester 20 minutes early and just as we passed through passport control we picked up a call from our lift; he had arrived and was in position at the drop off point just outside the Jet2 building. Happy days! A quick visit to the toilets and we made our way over but guess what? Our driver was nowhere to be seen.

We waited and waited and eventually gave him a call. The police, who are very sensitive regarding parked cars around the airport these days, had moved him on and he was about to turn round and come back. The big problem was that just up the road, a host of roadworks were in place denying traffic access to the roundabout. The only alternative was to carry on ahead on the M56 motorway so Jay, our driver was forced to carry on to the next exit and then turn back, a diversion that took him about 20 minutes to negotiate! When he finally arrived back we were cold and shivering, unused to the current February UK weather.

My lovely old motor, my Renault Megane convertible had been parked up for a whole month and I did notice, last I time I drove the car, that it wasn’t starting quite as promptly as it usually does. When I returned home my faithful motor was there just as I had left it, ready, or so I thought, to go. I sat down, felt the comfy leather seats, slipped in the key and everything lit up just as it should do. The only thing was that when I pressed the starter a groaning noise issued forth from under the bonnet and after a brief turn of the motor a red battery light began to flash on the dashboard.

There was nothing for it but to put in a call to the RAC. It was, they told me, a day of exceptional demands on their staff so my recovery agent would be on scene with me in anything up to 4 hours! Luckily, I had parked on a neighbour’s drive a few doors down the road so I went home to await the call from the RAC man who promised to call me when he was a few minutes away.

Almost three hours later, it was dark and cold and the RAC man arrived, promptly diagnosed a dead battery and offered me a deal on a new one with a five-year guarantee. I coughed up my credit card and not long afterwards I was back on the road. Later that evening I decided to take a run down to Manchester and spend some time with my elderly mother. Now one of the things I love about my car is the perfect opportunity it offers to listen to music. In fact, I think that listening to music in the car is really the only way to listen to music; clear and uninterrupted and driving seems to somehow put one in the perfect frame of mind to listen and enjoy music.

Driving to Manchester is a good 90 minute drive, mostly on the motorway and like any long journey I popped in a CD, slipped into first gear and settled down ready to chill with some of my favourite music, in this case a compilation I made myself from the Kate Bush double album Aerial.

Nothing appeared to be happening and I glanced over at my radio screen only to see not ‘CD loading’ as I expected but a flashing message saying ‘input code’! Yes, as the battery had been disconnected the radio had reverted to that regrettable situation, one I had not experienced for many moons, of requiring a security code to be input. By this time I was just joining the motorway and could only emit a silent scream of agony, compelled to continue my journey in silence instead of the musical interlude I was so looking forward to!

A few days later, back in St Annes I scoured through my collected motoring invoices and came across my original purchase note for my car. Was there a car radio code? No! A search on the internet provided various hits for people who would find my code for a price, the cheapest was in the £30 region. I did come across a forum where someone said Renault main dealers were happy to supply radio codes but the next comment was ‘no they won’t’

Anyway, undaunted I called the Renault dealer where I had bought my car some ten years ago. The lady who took my call transferred me to another lady and lo and behold, within moments I had the radio code! So, thanks to Blackpool Renault dealer Arnold Clark and that very nice lady, I was able to take my next journey with the chilled out sounds of Kate Bush playing on my in-car stereo. Pity I was on my way back to work!


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The British Grand Prix

This is the premier weekend of British motorsport, yes, the British Grand Prix. Time once again for Hamilton and Rosberg to do battle, along with the Ferraris of Vettel and Raikkanon and the Williams cars of Bottas and Massa, and all the lesser teams who gather at Silverstone to fight it out on the tarmac for the spoils of victory.

Years ago, when I was a schoolboy and followed Formula One with a religious fervour, the British Grand Prix alternated between Silverstone, the flat former airfield circuit in Northamptonshire and Brands Hatch, the picturesque track in Kent full of twists, turns and dips.

Today, it seems to me as though Silverstone is trying to turn itself into Brands Hatch because in the past decade they have added various twisty sections and an entire new pit and garage complex. Many other traditions have vanished too in F1 such as the annual post British Grand Prix cricket match; not possible today unfortunately as the latest drivers are prone to dash off home at the end of the race at the earliest possible opportunity. Even a DNF (did not finish) is not all bad if it fits in with an earlier flight.

Now that the F1 teams are flying off to ever more distant lands for their racing; places like Singapore, Soshi in Russia and Bahrain to name but three, it’s good to see the drivers return to a track where the greats of the past also raced. Fangio and Moss competed at Silverstone, as did Stewart and Clark, and Prost and Senna. What they think of the current Silverstone is anybody’s guess but perhaps I’m being mean, looking back when I should be looking forward. Silverstone today is the UK’s premier track and to a great extent, the UK is the centre of the Formula One world. Most of the current F1 teams are based within a stone’s throw of Silverstone and even Mercedes, the current number one team are based in the UK despite their German background. Within 80 minutes of Silverstone is an area nicknamed motorsports alley and the teams that are based here include Mercedes, McLaren, Lotus, Red Bull, Force India, Williams, and F1 minnows Manor Marussia. In many ways, the British Grand Prix is the home race, even for the Mercedes!

I’ve not visited Silverstone since 1992 when it was £60 just to walk in through the gates. What it costs nowadays to gain entrance I shudder to think. Even so, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg should hopefully deliver a performance that will make the entrance fee well worth paying.

My favourite Grand Prix was the 1987 event. I visited Silverstone that year to watch the qualifying and then returned home to watch the race on Sunday on television. Nigel Mansell won a terrific race after changing tyres and then chasing and finally overhauling team mate and race leader Nelson Piquet for a memorable victory.

Nigel Mansell German GP 1988 photo by author

Nigel Mansell German GP 1988 photo by author

Formula One team bosses are currently in something of a panic. Investors have poured millions of pounds into F1, not because they like the sport but because they find their investment can pay off big style in these days of multi million pound global TV and advertising deals. Reports of failing interest in the sport however has rung alarm bells and throughout the motorsporting media there have been calls to make F1 more interesting. Why are the cars not louder? Why are Mercedes winning all the time? Should we bring back refuelling? Is the high tech aspect ruining the driver input? There are even calls for Bernie Ecclestone, the aging F1 emperor to hand over to someone else. Only time will tell what will happen. It sometimes makes me smile when I compare Formula 1 to other sports like cricket. Can you if imagine if Ecclestone and his investors had a stake in cricket and the TV viewing figures were down? What would happen then? Increase the number of overs? Maybe have an extra ball in each over,  seven instead of six?  Change the wooden ball to a rubber one? Add an extra stump? Or even helmet cams on the batsman! Now there’s an idea!

Enjoy the British Grand Prix on Sunday and if you liked this blog, why not buy my book? Click the icon below!

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How Cars Have Changed Life as we know it!

quotescover-JPG-14It always used to be that the top prize on a TV gameshow, especially in the heyday of the game show in the 80s, was a car: A brand new top of the range family car. The motor car is probably one of the great status symbols of our time and also one of those things that give us unprecedented freedom, certainly compared to our ancestors. Turn the clock back to the 1950s: If people wanted to get out and about and enjoy the great outdoors on a bank holiday the only way to travel was by bus or train. Yes, public transport was crammed with people in those days, all on their way to enjoy the great British seaside destinations.

Today, we are free of all those past restrictions, no waiting for trains or buses. It’s just a simple matter to pop outside, start up the motor and you’re off. The only restriction is probably traffic congestion. How many of us spend our bank holidays stuck in some traffic jam that clogs up the roads to the holiday hotspots?

Traffic is just a nightmare in the UK but then when you consider the densely populated nature of the UK it’s hardly surprising. That’s why I just love driving on the roads of France. OK, Paris may be just like driving in the UK, if not worse but out in the country in departments like the Loire, Brittany and Burgundy the auto route and the A roads are just a joy to drive on. Forget also the drab overpriced service areas in the UK. In France it’s so nice to drive into an ‘aire’ as they call them, a lovely picnic area with toilets and picnic tables. How often have Liz and I stopped at one of these delightful places and opened our sandwiches and bottles of water to find a French couple stop at the next table and open a hamper the size of a house complete with wine, salad, cold meats and God only knows what else.

It’s relatively easy in the UK to drive over to France on the ‘shuttle’. A quick trip to Folkestone, drive onto the train, handbrake on and off we chug down and under the channel.  Thirty minutes later and we are driving off in Calais. Sometimes I think about my very first car and wonder if I could have made that journey in that car. Possibly not as my very first car was a Bond Bug. A what?  Do I hear you might ask?

9o698i3bgeI’m probably pushed to tell you the registration number of my current car but the registration of my Bond Bug, PDB 71M, is still firmly anchored in my old memory bank.  A Bond Bug, for those of you who don’t know was a sporty little three wheeler car and I bought one because I failed my driving test twice and I could drive the Bug on my motorbike licence.

It was actually a pretty eye catching car for a three wheeler. No doors but the roof lifted up to gain access and the side windows were plastic held on by Velcro. I always remember bringing it home and showing it off to my family with a certain amount of pride and my Dad looking at it and saying “How are we all going to get into that?” Perhaps he thought I was going to take us all away for a holiday! It certainly wasn’t a car for travelling over to France in!

Still, we had some nice times, me and the Bond Bug but then one cold and snowy Christmas I decided to chance going out to a Christmas party in the car even though it was losing coolant. I topped it up with water and went off for a night of Christmas cheer. I walked home sensibly, I might add, but when I returned the next day I found that the car had frozen overnight and it ended up having to have an engine rebuild. That was a pretty expensive night out! Later when I passed my driving test I got myself a proper car.

The author and his, well ok not his actually, just some random Ferrari!

The author and his, well ok not his actually, just some random Ferrari!

I’m pretty happy with my current car generally, it’s a Renault Megane convertible and I kind of like being just a bit of a poser, driving round when it’s sunny with the roof down and looking generally pretty cool what with my leather seats and my shades but you do get those days when things go wrong.

I spent a lot of time the other day burning a few new cds to play in my car and just as I joined the motorway on the way to work I pressed the eject button on my CD player but the old cd wouldn’t eject. I could hardly pull over on the motorway so already my journey had not started well.

The other thing is that one of my electric windows, the rear off side one to be exact, has jammed. OK, at least it jammed in the up position but the car automatically drops the windows when raising or lowering the roof, so that means I can’t open my roof.  Add to that the prospect of spring and hopefully some lovely weather – perfect for open top driving – and as you can imagine, I’m not happy!

Anyway, I have to look on the bright side. When I pulled up at work and switched off the radio, my CD ejected! At least I was OK for music on the return journey and now I’ve had the window fixed expect to see me cruising around Lytham with my roof down, posing!

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Growing up with the Motor Car

Ever look back at those old cars you used to own? I sometimes do and looking back, cars are pretty synonymous with growing up, certainly from a male point of view anyway.

9o698i3bgeI’m probably pushed to tell you the registration number of my current car but PDB 71M, the VRM (Vehicle Registration Mark) of my very first car is still firmly anchored in my old memory bank. My first car was a Bond Bug. You may not remember the name but they were sporty little three wheeler cars and I bought one because I failed my driving test twice and I could drive the Bug on my motorbike licence.

It was actually a pretty eye catching car for a three wheeler. No doors but the roof lifted up to gain access and the side windows were plastic held on by Velcro. I always remember bringing it home and showing it off to my family with a certain amount of pride and my Dad looking at it and saying “How are we all going to get into that?” Perhaps he thought I was going to take us all away for a holiday!

Still, we had some nice times, me and the Bond Bug but then one cold and snowy Christmas I decided to chance going out to a Christmas party in the car even though it was losing coolant. I topped it up with water and went off for a night of Christmas cheer. I walked home sensibly, I might add, but when I returned the next day I found that the car had frozen overnight and it ended up having to have an engine rebuild. That was a pretty expensive night out! Later when I passed my driving test I got myself a proper car.

I’m pretty happy with my current car generally, it’s a Renault Megane convertible and I kind of like being just a bit of a poser, driving round when its sunny with the roof down and looking generally pretty cool what with my leather seats and my shades but you do get those days when things go wrong.

I spent a lot of time the other day burning a few new cds to play in my car and just as I joined the motorway on the way to work I pressed the eject button on my CD player but the old cd wouldn’t eject. I could hardly pull over on the motorway so already my journey had not started well.

The other thing is that one of my electric windows, the rear off side one to be exact, has jammed. OK, at least it jammed in the up position but the car automatically drops the windows when raising or lowering the roof, so that means I can’t open my roof.  Add to that the recent lovely weather – perfect for open top driving – and as you can imagine, I’m not happy!

Anyway, I have to look on the bright side. When I pulled up at work and switched off the radio, my CD ejected! At least I was OK for music on the return journey!

Here’s my car when it was new . .

 

 

Touching The Glass

The 2014 formula one season is well under way and like me, many people must speculate about those who race these incredible machines at such high speeds. Measuring high speed lap times against car control and the desire to go ever faster is the juggling act performed by the Grand Prix drivers every time they step into their high-tech carbon fibre cockpits. The consequences of a mistake can range from an embarrassing spin in the gravel trap to a cruel death.

sennab copyeditbbThis year, 2014, marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of Ayrton Senna, one of the greatest racing drivers of all time. Aryton was killed on the 1st of May 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola in Italy. Anyone who knows anything about motor sport can tell you that. The date lingers in the back of the collective mind of all racing fans, along with other tragedies of the sport, like the deaths of Gilles Villeneuve and Jim Clark to name but two. Clark’s death is unexplained to this day. His formula two Lotus left the track at an easy, straight section of road. The facts of Villeneuve’s accident are well known -he crashed into a slow moving car- but his death is perhaps only really explained under close analysis. Villeneuve was on a slowing down lap, on his way back to the pits after a handful of fast qualifying laps but still, he kept the hammer down, his right foot pressed down to the floor when there was no real need for absolute speed. So why? Why was he going so fast?

One answer is simply that was the way he drove; fast. Foot down to the floor. Full stop. Another was that he was still estranged from team mate Didier Pironi, who he thought had unfairly beaten him in the previous Grand Prix at San Marino in Italy. The two had diced together for the length of the race, team leader Villeneuve thought they were putting on a show, Pironi thought they were racing. When Pironi took the chequered flag it was an act of betrayal, or so Villeneuve thought and when they arrived at Zolder for what would be Villeneuve’s last Grand Prix, Villeneuve was still seething. And so perhaps that state of passion was a factor on his last lap.

For Ayrton Senna in 1994 that intense rivalry with a fellow driver seemed to be a thing of the past. Together, Senna, Alain Prost, and Nigel Mansell dominated most of the eighties and early nineties in formula one racing. Mansell had left the stage for Indycar racing in the United States and Prost had retired leaving Senna to take his vacant seat at Williams, or perhaps he retired because Senna had been offered a seat at Williams –it depends on which story you believe. Certainly after the intense animosity that developed between the two at McLaren you can hardly blame Prost for not wanting to work in that same situation again.

So now, the Young Pretender had become the Elder Statesman of Grand Prix motor racing and his two closest competitors had gone. Perhaps he even hoped that he could relax, let up the pace a little bit, just as Prost had thought in 1988 before Senna began to push him harder. But a new phase had begun for Aryton Senna, a new Young Pretender had appeared to challenge him in the shape of Michael Schumacher. Schumacher had won the first two Grands Prix of the year and Senna came to Imola without a single point. “For us the championship starts here” he told the TV cameras, “fourteen races instead of sixteen.” Further pressure mounted on Senna when fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello was injured in a crash and then Roland Ratzenberger was killed, the first fatality at a Grand Prix meeting since that of Riccardo Paletti 12 years before.

Many sources have said that after these twin disasters Ayrton did not want to race in the Grand Prix. It is hard to believe, Senna -not wanting to race? The man for whom racing was everything? Could it be that he was finally becoming more like his once deadly rival Alain Prost? Prost had always put his own life before winning motor races and as a consequence had driven a dismal race at the rain soaked 1988 British Grand Prix and completed only a token lap at the similarly affected 1990 Australian Grand Prix. Events may have pushed Ayrton’s thinking from the neutrality and detachment of the past towards a greater concern, a concern beyond the continual winning of races.
Whatever his inner feelings he started the San Marino Grand Prix in his usual fashion, leading into the first corner from pole position. Behind him though, JJ Lehto stalled his Benneton and was hit from behind by Pedro Lamy. Lesser events had stopped races in the past but on this occasion the organisers sent out the new safety car and the grid cruised round after it in formation for five laps while the crash debris was removed.

At the end of the fifth cruising lap the safety car pulled off, the lights turned to green and Senna, Schumacher and the rest floored their throttles. The Williams was not handling well and it felt nervous through Tamburello, that evocatively named but most dangerous of corners. Still, Senna kept ahead of Schumacher, he kept the hammer down. On lap six the Williams entered deep into Tamburello and Schumacher saw the spray of sparks as the car bottomed out and side stepped slightly. Senna caught and corrected the Williams and throttled onwards for the charge down to Tosa, the next bend. Both Senna and team mate Damon Hill knew their cars were nervous and to a certain extent unsuited to the bumpy surface at Imola. Someone like Alain Prost might have eased off slightly, settled for second or third, collected some points, and used the rest of the San Marino Grand Prix as part of a learning curve, collecting mental and electronic data to develop the car into another Williams race winner. For Ayrton Senna, a third defeat by Michael Schumacher was not acceptable. Putting points on the scoreboard held no interest for him either, except for the ten points that came for a win.

The next time round Ayrton entered Tamburello at 192 mph. We know his exact speed from his car’s electronic management system, which records such data. Tremors went through the car as it bottomed out again on the undulating track surface. This time Senna couldn’t catch the Williams, or perhaps something failed on the car. Later on the steering column was found to be fractured. Did it fail before the crash or was it damaged in the impact?. Some have speculated that his tyres were not up to pressure after many laps circling the track at low speed. We will never know. Whatever happened, the car went straight on towards the tyre barrier masking the concrete wall that lay behind. Senna’s last act was to slow the car down to 131 mph, but it was not enough.

I have never met Ayrton Senna. The last time I had seen him, in person, was at the Silverstone tyre tests of 1991 and even then he was a blur of yellow in the red and white of his McLaren. To understand someone we have never known is not an easy task. Sometimes we can only do so by looking into ourselves and searching for similar experiences. A long time ago, I must have been eight or nine, my Mother took me to visit my Grandmother. Sitting alone in the lounge while the two women gossiped in the kitchen, I became fascinated by my Grandmother’s new fireplace. It was a coal fire and the fire glowed dormantly behind a glass door. A real fire was not new to me, indeed we had one at home but the glass door seemed to attract me, so much so that I reached forward and held my hand a fraction of an inch from the glass. On an impulse I reached out further and put my hand on the glass. As you can imagine, I recoiled in agony having burnt my hand.

That moment, in 1994, as I watched my television images in disbelief, I came to think of that small boy, reaching out towards the glass door that enclosed a coal fire almost as one with Ayrton Senna, reaching towards the barriers of absolute speed, touching the zenith of his car control and going ever so slightly over his limits. He had done it before and had come back from the brink. Indeed it may have even been vital to him to occasionally push and go over his limits just to fix in his own mind where those limits lay. Ayrton was a man who could learn from his mistakes and could go on to better and faster things, but on that tragic day fate stepped in and stopped the process. A suspension arm crushed in the impact sprang back and hit Ayrton, piercing his most vulnerable point, the visor of his helmet.

sennab copy

Senna at the German GP 1988. Photo by the author.

Prost and Stewart, two of the all time greats of motor sport were men who came closer than anyone to touching the glass -without ever being burned. Perhaps that was their secret. Stewart was a man in absolute control of his skills as a racing driver, both on and off the track. After three world championships and twenty-seven grand prix wins Stewart was able to say goodbye to it all without ever looking back. What other driver can boast of doing that? Schumacher retired again after a disappointing comeback only for tragedy to strike while skiing. The careers of both Nelson Piquet and Gerhard Berger fizzled out inconsistently at Benneton. Mansell called it a day after joining McLaren and then realising that their epic run of success had run out of steam. Alain Prost retired after cantering to his fourth championship. It was clear that in Prost’s final year he was no longer willing to push hard. The motivation of his youth had evaporated with the grand prix seasons and with the relentless high-speed sprints of formula one. The day had arrived, as it will no doubt one day arrive for Hamilton, Alonso, and Vettel, when he was no longer trying to touch the glass.


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