Friday 26 March 2010

Road hogs

In the Nota Bene family, we have a good record of passing our driving tests - all of us have managed it first time having spent relatively small amounts of money on lessons. With Grandmother In Cyprus learning to drive was a necessity...and I'm not sure she has ever really enjoyed it, but needs must...especially now that she lives in a country where a car is the only realistic way of getting to a shop. And when I sit in the passenger seat I feel I am in safe hands.

My brother was car-crazy from a very young age, and I suspect he could drive before he could walk. He could certainly drive before he took his 11-plus. I wouldn't like to hazard a guess as to whether he took advantage of this skill at such a young age - I do remember him sitting on our father's lap when he was small enough that his legs couldn't reach the pedals. But he could steer and change gear. Naturally as a very practical lad, he could also fix engines with ease. A very helpful skill. Since then he has raced all sorts of cars.

I was altogether different.

Taking an academic approach, I was a car enthusiast and could tell you every model in every range from every manufacturer any where in the world. I could also tell you which were the good cars and which were rubbish - I knew because I'd read all the test drives and their word was gospel. I didn't understand it when my cousin claimed that you can't really know what a good car is until you've put your foot on the accelerator pedal. Pah! I passed my driving test whilst at University...I learnt in a Mini (as did everyone in those days, before they got posh) and I liked it as the front of the car went up when the clutch reached its biting point. My test was fine even though I did manage to get in a queue for a car park in the middle of it. I also managed to pass my motorcycle test first time some seven or eight years ago.

In the not too distant future it will be the boy's turn to learn. He has a too much of an interest in motorcycles...but I've sternly told him he's not allowed one until he's 35. And at that age he still will not be too big to put over my knee if he defies me. He is now to be found every morning sitting in the driving seat of the car, waiting to leave. He turns on the engine 'to warm it up' he says. Reluctantly, he climbs in the back seat when it is time to go. This morning though, the wait was a little too long, and that left him fiddling. With the gear stick. Just as I was walking in front of it. I jumped a mile. He looked sheepish...but with a big grin on his face. He won't be doing that again. Mind you, as it's a Toyota, I feel a call to the media followed by a call to my lawyers will elicit vast compensation...I'm sure it must have been the accelerator that stuck.

Wednesday 24 March 2010


Yesterday I was riding the MLC* and followed a car with a flat rear tyre. When we pulled up at traffic lights - just 100 yards from a garage - I tapped on his window. A slightly terrified man wound the window down and listened to what I said. As the lights turned green, he shot off onto a dual carriageway, tyre still flat. I stopped for petrol, and then took a different turning. I assume that somewhere on the dual carriageway this man was stopped with his tyre ripped to shreds. Hopefully he didn't cause an accident. I do understand that a gnarly biker tapping on your window may come as a little bit of a shock, but sometimes it seems it doesn't matter how much you want to help someone, they just don't listen.

At the office we have a selection of radio stations we listen to...Q Radio and XFM vie for favourite station....but sometimes if I have a heavy head Smooth does the trick...

The biggest problem with XFM is the advertising...I'm not adverse to the odd ad or two...indeed if I'm heading to the cinema, I need to get their early enough to see the ads as I just love them. No, the problem with the ads on XFM are that they are all government ones. And that makes my blood boil. Whilst most commercial businesses are moving away from broadcast advertising because (as I believe Henry Ford once said, "Half my advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half), the government are now the UK's biggest advertising spenders. That's your money, my money and our children's future tax bill.

It wouldn't be so bad, but many of these are simply ridiculous things to be advertising. Most annoying was the ad I heard whilst travelling in the West country for an NHS hospital - it's key selling point was that it had he lowest infection doubt that's very nice, but when I have an accident, I just want the nearest hospital to fix me up. And fix me up good. Ads I've heard this week include reminding parents to sort out the MMR jab, putting up a stair gate to stop their child tumbling down, putting a battery in your smoke alarm, for the Blood Bank, car tax, getting back to work, apprenticeships, health and safety executive, transferring your vehicle registration when you sell the vehicle, children's accidents in the home, know your consumer rights, level crossing and paying your VAT on line.

Some of these things are just plain common sense and people should be given credit for working it out themselves, some are things that can be better targeted (paying your VAT online - HMRC know who has to do this - businesses are all registered with them, and could communicate directly when sending out the form) and for the rest...well really it's just a complete and utter waste of money.

I'm told by someone who knows that the glut of advertising is because Government departments need to use up their budgets before the end of their budget year, rather than because of any compelling need for these communications. It would be nice if we could all run our finances like that. So perhaps, if like me you have an overdraft and the bank chases you, you can merely explain that you are using up the remainder of your annual budget.....

* that's a KTM SuperDuke motorbike, but Auntie Gwen calls it my Mid-Life-Crisis

Monday 22 March 2010

Russian invasion

There are some countries that you just shouldn't invade. Afghanistan is one. I learnt that at 'O' level (when we did proper exams). It doesn't matter what you do, it cannot be conquered. So why our dearly beloved politicians think we can now, I just don't know. I'll also mention that in some places western-style democracy doesn't suit either. So why we think that like 19th Century Christian missionaries we can spread the word in places that have no history of democratic process I equally don't know.

Another country that is best avoided when conjuring up plans of world domination by invading their land is Russia. Napoleon found that out, as indeed did the Nazis. And now it is my turn. Not that I was planning to do it with the massed ranks of the local regiment. There's just 14 of us. And to date we have failed in our mission.. So far 4 trips have been undertaken to obtain visas. Amongst our many failures have been to leave blank sections of the application that are optional - when the girl behind the counter was asked why they were being rejected for lack of optional information she declared in heavy Russian accent, "You must fill it in". "Shouldn't it it be marked as compulsory?" "Yes. There is a mistake". " Shouldn't you change the form to show it is compulsory?" Response - a simple shrug of the shoulders. You have to list all the countries you have visited in the last ten years and the years. For one of our party that took her application onto three pages. "You cannot have three pages. It is only two." "But you told us to list everything". A shrug of the shoulders. And on and on and on. So we now have to apply on an urgent track - that's £150 Each. Thank you very much...I could have got a holiday in Greece for that. Including breakfast.

Anyway, we're nearly there. The women behind the desk are everything you would expect. Quite pretty, but as stern as stern can be. Completely humorless. And clearly decades of bureaucratic process are part of their DNA. I'm not sure that Russia will ever develop a tourist industry like Marbella.

The boy and I will in any case be beating an early retreat, having messed up with previous arrangements for him to go on adventurous training. At the moment he is odds on for travelling by train to Windermere, assuming that we can get him from a British Airways plane that lands at 5.30 to Euston by 7.30.