Friday, December 18, 2009

Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra - Revisited

Slightly over a year has passed since my previous article on this topic, so time for an update. (see HERE - and now HERE too)

Just to set the scene, I'm comparing a 5 year old Astra with a similar spec 1 year old Focus. However, I've driven both from new, so I think my thoughts are pretty relevant in a head to head contest as I'm sure the Astra hasn't changed much in the intervening period.

The Astra has now reached 92,000 miles, and the Focus is catching up, currently at 23,000 miles. In the last year neither has broken down, both have maintained their fuel consumption figures remarkably consistently, at about 53 mpg. In fact neither car has suffered any form of mechanical or electrical malfunction recently, a testament to how well they build these things these days.

I've just re-read my previous article, and to be honest, not much to say here in fact. Initial impressions turned out to be about right for the Focus. A year on, and many miles under its belt, it remains the same. The comparative lack of 'go' has not gone away as the engine loosened up, and frequently I get caught out trying to accelerate from low revs, as would be easy in the Astra, and the Focus just bogs down. However, on the other side of the coin, the engine is a lot quieter than the Astra, which seems to be getting noisier by the day, now very 'clacky'. Which is normal, says my local Vauxhall dealer. Hmmm.

Despite the sporty feel of the Focus, the ride remains harsh and noisy. It is more fun to drive on a blast down windy roads, it is not so much fun on a dull motorway slog, the quiet engine is fine, but the tyre roar is worse by far.

The Focus continues to niggle me with small things. For example, the Astra's electric windows still work for a minute or so after you've switched it off. So, if you forget to raise one of the windows, you still can. The Focus, no, you'll have to rummage for your keys and switch it back on. The Focus Radio/CD player does not pick up the time from the radio, and the clock runs slow. Every time you set the time right, the date goes wrong. It drives you nuts. The Astra does it for you. Small things I know...

So, not really a lot to choose, but on the whole we now regret choosing the Focus as a replacement for the Astra last year. We did it (well, okay, I did it... I'll take the blame) just to avoid being boring. But in fact a replacement Astra would have been better, we feel. Not that the Focus is bad, but it's disappointingly not as good as other road tests seem to imply.

The next version of the Astra is due out soon I think, and to me looks really nice. If my lucky old partner gets a chance to choose her next company car in three years time, I can quite imagine a new Astra will be returning to our driveway. Question is, in three years time, would I relinquish my Astra and buy the (by then) old Focus? I'm guessing not.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

William Shatner - Up Till Now

This was an impulse purchase, based on a brief but funny interview given by William Shatner to Jonathan Ross a few months back. I had not really been aware of what Shatner was like as a real bloke... just as a starship captain. And the answer was... very funny!
The book is chronologically organised, but it also jumps around quite a lot. I guess, as we know how his story turns out, there was little point keeping up a tension on the will-he won't-he make-it-big? part of his early acting career.

It seems to be just a splurge of his thoughts and memories, and he frequently gets side-tracked. This works well, as he usually comes up with a funny anecdote on each diversion. And his anecdotes are pretty unusual... he's certainly had an exciting time over the years.
But the most surprising thing about his story is just how little a part Star Trek took. In effect he did all that Captain Kirk stuff, Star Trek turned out to be only mildly successful and he moved on to other projects.

It was only later that the Trek phenomenon really kicked in. The list of other acting roles he's done goes on and on. Basically, he seems rarely to have said "No" to any offer. And only recently has his contribution to the acting world been recognised.

I found myself laughing out loud at many of his tales, I just hope they really did happen! If they are, it's a miracle he's still alive.

Recommended, 8/10, you could buy the paperback version here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Police Car Chases

News today of yet another fatal crash involving a police chase. Can I put it to you that the police should NOT be allowed to chase vehicles on our roads, no matter where or why?
In life today, it seems to me, there are many, many rules and regulations that attempt to avoid death and injury, and some of these rules are quite obscure and 'only' save a few lives here and there. If it's your life of course, then they are very good rules indeed.

Allowing police officers to chase car thieves and the like, however, does seem an outstandingly obvious area which should be tightened up. I don't care how many cars get stolen, it's still not worth a life (or lives) to catch the thief.
And I don't care how stringently the police say their drivers are trained, because the moment they set off in pursuit of an excitable teenager in a stolen BMW, everyone for miles around is in grave danger. Let them get away, catch them later using forensics or something, but DON'T chase them. Surely?

It's one of my pet topics, so I'll raise it again, but wouldn't it be interesting to see some really clear statistics on car chases. How many car chases per year involving the police are there? How many result in catching the thief? How many result in death and injury?

If the answer to that last question is more than one, then I suggest we make them stop doing it.

You're 14. You've fallen in with some bad mates. They have a few bottles of cider one night and decide to pinch a car. You end up in the back seat, lurching around, having a laugh. Suddenly there are blue flashing lights behind you. Your 'mate' driving the car panics and puts his foot down. Suddenly he's lost control and the car bounces off a kerb, and the last thing you see is the lamppost that's going to cause your death.

Or. You're out walking the dog. It's a pleasant evening, you cross the road to chat to a neighbour. There's squeal of tyres behind you and you turn to see a terrified teenager at the wheel of speeding car heading straight for you, closely pursued by the old bill. Your life is extinguished because the police were attempting to prevent the theft of an ageing banger.

So... maybe the cops should be issued with bubble cars, as above?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

MPs' Expenses

Today I heard two interviews on the topic of the MP's Expenditure furore. One was from an MP, who sat there meekly admitting that he was going to have to return 40 thousand pounds to set the record straight. He ("and my wife") were going to have a jolly good old think about where to get this 40k from. He looked sad and pathetic and you could almost have felt sorry for him had it not been YOU and ME he stole this extraordinary amount of cash from. The twat.
And the other interview was with Stephen Fry, for whom I have a lot of time, but with who, on this occasion, I disagree. He said that the whole expenses debacle was unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and a diversion from the real issues, such as impending financial meltdown, pandemics, war, etc etc.

And that everyone (look to camera) has fiddled their expenses. Everyone.

Well... actually, I haven't. And, being self employed, it would be rather silly of me to do so. The boss would definitely spot it.
And when people do fiddle their expenses, I would argue, firstly it would not be for such huge amounts of money as these MPs have managed, and secondly, it matters greatly because it's MY BLOODY MONEY. (And yours).

Just what do these people think they're up to? Where do they think the money is coming from, for them to have their garden gnomes polished or whatever? They must know it's tax payers money. So... they're just ordering another jacuzzi and sticking it on the ex's - do they think, some poor little sod in a factory has worked his gonads off to contribute tax to the country, and I'm going to blow it on this thing and I'm really going to enjoy the bubbles, ha ha!?

They are, as Terry Thomas would have said, "An absolute shower".

Tell you what I want, MPs. I want the money back. Yes I know they're giving it back, but I myself, ME, I want something back. I don't want you tossing a wodge into the collective pot only to find some new way to get it out again. I want... ohhh... a Mars bar. Yes. I want a Mars bar. A Mars bar for everyone. That should do it. Oh, and I want it hand delivered, by an MP, and I want hime to be sincerley contrite when he delivers it. Oh and I want to kick his arse as he (or she) walks away.

Not too much to ask... is it?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

John Peel - the olivetti chronicles

There is a famous black and white photo of the original Radio One DJs, taken when the station was just about to open. There are some familiar faces, and some strangers. There's a young Terry Wogan, Tony Blackburn, and Kenny Everett. And down at the front, looking a little uncomfortable, is a young John Peel
Now, I cannot claim that I actually ever listened to his shows that much. When he played music that I (subsequently) liked, I was too young to stop up that late. And by the time I could stay up, he was often playing utter rubbish (in my humble opinion).

However, it doesn't really matter that I didn't go along with much of the music he played, it was that he really believed in it himself. I cannot imagine he ever said he liked, or disliked, a record for any other reason than that he really did.

He had what so very few celebrities have, utter credibility. In spades.
The BBC coverage of Glastonbury will never have the gravitas that he gave it. His radio show was just an institution, and is sorely missed. This book has two shots of him on the cover. The rear shows him as a young man, the front as an old chap. Worryingly, both pictures look scarily like me, at a similar age. Separated at birth?

So, the book. It's a really good read. It gives an insight into his life. It is only peripherally about music. It often made me laugh out loud. It also highlights something I didn't know just by listening to him speak... he could really write too.

The book is arranged curiously, but interestingly. The articles, none more than a page or two long, are ordered by alphabetical order of title, not chronologically. So one minute you can be back in the seventies, and then flung forward into the recent past, and then back again in a few pages. Surprisingly, this works. It's an interesting exercise to read the pieces and ignore the date, and at the end try and work out when it was written.

Okay, he clearly becomes increasingly curmudgeonly as time goes by, but the wit always remained. And it is so nice to hear him criticising the rubbish we've had foisted on us over the years, but with no real malice, and equally his generous praise for people who, frankly, don't deserve it - but if that's how he felt, fair enough, eh?

Recommended, 9/10, you could buy the hardback version here.