Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Driving CAN be fun!

Fresh from my bollocking for using the DVLA logo, here's another of my sporadic posts, only this time, it's not through laziness or having nothing remotely decent to write about.

In fact, I haven't been able to get rid of this massive grin on my face for more than a week now.

You see, driving is not fun any more. Rather than the freedom of the open road and spectacular scenery, driving in the UK is, quite plainly, crap.

Congestion, speed cameras, sleeping policemen, bleeping arcade machines at motorway services, road works, traffic wardens, environmentalists, BMW 3-series drivers, traffic lights, highways officers, pointless lane closures, stupid one-way systems, toll roads, government "think-tanks" and a plethora of quangos all conspire to make travelling from A-B as difficult and as hellish as possible.

But there are a few places where you can actually enjoy driving in the UK, and I happened to find one such place last week.

As a belated birthday present, I took to the track at Silverstone for one of those "driving experiences" that you often see advertised in the Boots Christmas catalogue, only they're usually at some decommissioned airfield, not the home of the British Grand Prix.

I quite fancied taking my own motor around there but unfortunately, my insurance company wouldn't let me unless I gave them a big bag of money, so I had to make do with what those chaps at Silverstone offered me:

That happens to be a Lotus Exige S - the S stands for supercharged which evidently turns a very fast car into a very, very fast car.

Still after I'd done with that, they decided to let me lose in one of these:

That is a Ferrari 360 Modena and is, quite simply, outstanding. If you're the sort of bloke that watches Top Gear, you might think that much of the speed is exaggerated by the cameras / editors but it certainly doesn't feel like it when you're behind the wheel of one of these 'supercars'.

Surprisingly, they were both very easy to drive. The difficulty comes in driving them quickly, which seems a silly thing to say but bear with me.

For most of us, the only time we've sat behind the wheel of a car is on a public road. Your head tells you that if you don't slow down for the upcoming corner then you'll end up in the ditch opposite or that if you vear to the opposite side of the road, you'll be taken out by a articulated truck heading in the opposite direction.

It's that mindset and the theory of racing lines anddriving quickly that's the difficult part and there's a hell of a lot more to it than what your Max Power Saxo-driving boy racers certainly think. It was easy reaching 132mph on the Hangar Straight, it wasn't so easy going around the tight right-hand corner at the end of it at 50mph+.

I must give massive credit to the guys at Silverstone who were fantastic and for anyone even considering something like this, then I would fully recommend it. I'm seriously looking at my next free weekend to sign onto the rally driving course and even that may not be my last one!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dealing with Idiots

Bloomin' heck! It's been a while hasn't it? I'm obviously getting lazy at this blogging lark.

Well actually, that's not quite true. I've been too busy dealing with complete muppets, most of whom tend to be working in some sort of "public service" capacity.

The most recent of which are the DVLA.

Given that I haven't been on here for a while, I best explain that my dealings with the DVLA are bourne from the purchase of a new vehicle. Despite the doom and gloom predictions of the "credit crunch", I was still easily able to find a well-known bank stupid enough to lend me a big bag of money in order to purchase said "wheels", a 1.6t Astra Sport Hatch SRI - and very nice it is too:

Now as anyone familiar with the car buying process will be aware, the dealers are more than happy for you to drive around whilst the DVLA, the body responsible for registering ever car and driver in the UK, are completely oblivious to the fact. Instead, they eventually get round to posting the logbook to some industrial park in Swansea where it spends the next three months in somebody's "pending" tray.

Apparently, some disgruntled motorist tried sending a letter bomb to the DVLA although quite how they found out I've no idea. By the time any envelope managed to work its way through their "high speed processing system", any traces of dynamite, TNT or anthrax would have long-since died off. They probably even set the same envelope back to the bomber, given that he probably used the wrong colour pen or something.

Eventually, you get a copy of the logbook, indicating that the DVLA recognise you as the new owner and that any speeding / parking tickets will have your name on them, even, as in my case, your name is misspelled.

OK, so the misspelling may have been the dealers fault and to be quite honest, they are currently on my feckwit list given that they lost the spare key, but that's not the point.

Having sent the logbook back to be corrected, it arrived this morning - again misspelled - with the same misspelling.

Quite why the processing minion at the DVLA thought that sent the document back in the first place I've no idea, they didn't explain but that's probably because they are completely useless.

I thought I escaped all of this shit when I packed in customer service.....

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I'm already bored of 2008

We're now just 17 days into 2008 and I'm already bored of the following phrases:

  • Carbon footprint
  • CO2 emissions
  • Flood warning
  • Energy prices
  • Facebook
  • Data Protection
  • Credit crunch
I'm sure I'll think of more later.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

No so bright now eh?

The smoking ban has been in for a while now and what a fantastic piece of legislation it has proved to be.

Pubs are smoke free, the air is healthier, my clothes don't stink and drinking establishments are, generally, much more pleasant places to spend time. It also seems that, contrary to what the pro-smoking alliance kept telling us, the pub industry isn't dying - apart from those that were probably on the Grim Reaper's list long before July 1st 2007.

But the smokers still aren't happy. After all, why shouldn't they be allowed to expel hazardous fumes upon people who would rather not breathe them in? Why should they have to go outside in the open air in order to take their pathetic dose of precious, precious nicotine?

Well one Yorkshire publican seemed to disagree with the latest legislation, openly allowing his clientèle to smoke within the four walls of his premises, a fact he admitted live on the BBC Yorkshire regional news.

His argument is that people have a human right to smoke inside a public house.

If said landlord genuinely believes that the "right" to smoke is included in human rights legislation, perhaps he should consider actually reading up on the contents of the European Constitution on Human Rights. Whilst he's at it, he can download a map to the nearest Magistrates.

Friday, January 04, 2008

On Strike

Today I became yet another victim of French engineering and the tendency for all things from the across the channel, be they internal combustion engines or air traffic controllers, to go on strike without warning.

The gearbox on my faithful Citroen Saxo seems to feel under-valued and unloved and is refusing to work until I throw a considerable amount of money at it and even then, it may not return to action.

Which is bad news on several counts.

It means that my "new car fund" won't be seeing any growth this month and it means that my already-poorly Mastercard isn't going to get much rest either.

But it gets worse than that. It also means (and I can barely bring myself to contemplate it), I'll be having to use public transport for a few days at least!

I know these problems can happen with any vehicle, but I'm annoyed and nobody is going to stop me angrily waving my fist in the direction of the English channel.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Right on Time

There was something of an inevitability about it, but in true railway fashion, the timing of extended rail disruption to the West Coast mainline could not have been worse.

Essential maintenance to a footbridge which crosses the primary line connecting London with Birmingham and Manchester over-ran, meaning that rail passengers were met with chaotic scenes at stations across the London and the South East with cancelled services and lengthy delays - and the same is on the menu for tomorrow.

And the news couldn't have come at a worse time for our alleged "eco-conscious" leaders, as rail operators announced fare rises of up to 11% on certain routes on the day that Britain 'went back to work' after the festive holidays.

The rises, which will understandably grate with commuters, environmentalists and anyone looking to jump on the Labour-bashing bandwagon - one that is already as overcrowded as a Northern Rail commuter train.

However the Rail operators, who experienced a 15% increase on complaints this year according to one passenger watchdog, claim that the rises are "essential" as they are needed for "essential" investment that will provide "essential" service improvements on "essential" services. If you learn anything as a rail operators spokesperson, it's that using the word "essential" enough times will make your price rises seem OK. What you also learn is that it is perfectly fine to re-issue the same press release that you released 12 months ago.

One of the biggest culprits happens to be First Great Western, despite having the dubious honour of being the worst train operator in the UK according to official statistics. With an appalling record for customer service, including threatening to sue a passenger watchdog for complaints made about it's services and being subject to a 'fare strike' by passengers (with another one threatened), their bosses tried to justify their average 6.1% rise on unregulated fares.

First Transpennine Express, who run the main route between Leeds and Manchester, is even worse with a 6.4% hike and the main operator in and out of Leeds, Northern, has upped their fares by an average 5.7%. Despite this "essential" rise to facilitate "essential" service and capacity improvements, the capacity on the Manchester-Bradford-Leeds route was halved again this morning and afternoon.

The rises don't exactly 'fit' with the government's constant insistence that we need to start leaving our cars at home, start using the railways and save the environment because in truth, the environment is just an easy excuse to mask additional forms of taxation.

Today we have a government that is happy for rail operators to increase fares and is preparing to bulldoze an entire village to facilitate an expansion of Heathrow yet come budget day, Alistair Darling will stand at the podium and attempt justify a further rise in fuel duty by trotting out tired lines about "CO2 targets" and "environmental concerns" amongst the other garbage that spews from his mouth.

Happy New Year everybody!

Monday, December 24, 2007

T'was the night before Christmas...

... and there was feck all on the telly.

Christmas TV always manages to scrape the barrel of the television archives and this year is no exception.

Aside from some big-name film that can now be found in the £3.99 bin at Blockbuster, Christmas TV, especially Christmas Eve television, tends to involve repeat after repeat after repeat of Blackadder, however many versions of A Christmas Carol that currently exist and The Santa Clause.

This year, a thumb through the TV guide reveals nothing, absolutely nothing worth watching.

Aside from the 'Christmas Eve specials' of various soaps designed at the 'OK Magazine' reading share of the audience, the film offering consists of either 'Pirates of the Caribbean; Curse of the Black Pearl' on BBC One or back-to-back showings of the chav favourite 'The Fast and the Furious' and '2 Fast 2 Furious' on ITV2. I've no idea what ITV1 are showing as they try to expand their audience of complete morons.

BBC Three has 'Football Gaffes Galore' - probably the same DVD that you'll be getting for Christmas tomorrow followed by wall-to-wall Little Britain.

The only saving grace is a 'Father Ted' marathon on More4.

So Christmas Day.... what have we got? Shrek 2 and Finding Nemo? That might work. ITV1 are showing some crap from X Factor and I've not idea what the other channels are showing.

Oh, and there's the Christmas speech - whoop-de-fecking-doo.

Is it any wonder why we're so good at binge drinking? Drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol is far more preferable to a night in front of the box.

That depends who you are asking

It's that time of year once again. Time for the car insurance renewal.

Unfortunately, as a sub-23-year old single male, I'm public enemy number one in the eyes of the motor insurance industry as so finding an insurer that will actually honour their advertising claims of "cheap" car insurance is a nigh-on futile task, even with four years without claiming.

But nevertheless, the law requires me to pay for a piece of paper which only has any value in a moment of crass stupidity on my part.

As you can imagine, I'm subject to all the "young driver excesses" that any insurance company feels free to make up on the spot which makes claiming anything a completely pointless exercise. If I do claim, I have to pay the bulk of the costs out of my own pocket anyway and I'll be forced to pay for the rest next year by way of an increased premium. It's a sort of legalised blackmail that works very well in the insurance industry.

But anyway, the renewal note came through with a revised premium of around £381, which wasn't all that bad and around £80 less than last year.

Now in the past as this point, you would go to your local broker and accept any randomly generated number as "his best possible price that he could do if you bought today" or spend a whole afternoon phoning every listing in the Yellow Pages for numbers even more random that you'd be better off asking your newsagent for a 'Luck Dip'.

But the Internet is now here and thanks to other random number generators like Confused and Money Supermarket, I can do it all in one go and, if I'm lucky, pay a hidden middle-man affiliate fee that nobody cares to mention.

A search on both sides revealed a "best price" that was about the same as the renewal but did miss off a few insurers who don't want to be associated with these comparison sites, so I tried those.

One site offered me a "special online price with 10% online discount" of £568, so they were quickly discarded. Another site, who promised to "beat your renewal quote if you have 4 years NCB, even if you aren't very posh" didn't beat my renewal quote. Instead, the tried to triple it.

Resigned to defeat, I tried an online quote with my current insurer and sure enough, I was quoted the "brand new customers only" price of £331. Knowing that I'd have to change the occupation listed on my current documents anyway, I phoned said insurer.

Now I would think that changing my occupation from "care-free, careless student" to "upstanding professional" would have seen a welcome drop, not a £16 increase and so before I knew it, I was passed onto the "Internet quote team" to get the "brand new customers only, but also existing customers if you ask nicely" price.

The annoying thing though, is that for all these various names in the motor insurance industry, they are, on the whole, the same company. Three insurers I obtained quotes from (including the one I went with), were all the same insurer once you get past the marketing yet offered three prices ranging from £331 to nigh-on £1000. For others, the difference was even greater and those that claim to "specialise in younger drivers" were amongst the worst of the bunch.

Never mind eh, there's always next year.