Friday, March 27, 2009

I think we all knew where this was going

I think I've teased you enough over the course of this last week, so I shan't beat around the bush anymo- Oh, this is amazing! I totally just fixed my doorbell! It stopped working the other day and I just fixed it! I don't actually know what I did - I just changed the batteries over and prodded it a bit, and now it's working - huzzah!

What? Stop procrastinating, you say? Moi? Rude.

OK, here we go: I bought a new car today!

And like most things in my life, there's a bit of a story to go with it…

Remember back at the beginning of March I wrote about how I'd found an awesome looking Mini Clubman on the Mini Cherished website, and how my local dealer's attempts to get hold of it for me only ended in disappointment when they told her it had been sold? Well someone was telling porky-pies: it was very much still for sale. And how did I find this out? Continued perving on the Mini Cherished website, that's how. Seriously, I'm not kidding. In the days after what came to be known as Disappointment Monday, I continued to scour the Cherished website looking for an alternative, but equally awesome Clubman, and I noticed that the one I liked was still listed. At the end of that week I thought 'bugger it' and decided to fire off an email enquiry. The following Monday I got a call from the dealer, and my first question to him was "is it still for sale?" He said "yes" and we set the gears in motion for me to go up and test drive it.

Hence my day trip to faraway Cheshire a couple of weeks back. Do you see how all the plot points are drawing together here? It's like Lost, only a little bit less convoluted and with a sexier protagonist.

Anyway, the bit that was left out of the day trip to Cheshire post was that I got there, stretched my legs, bought a bottle of water in Tesco, test drove the dreamy Clubman, loved it, put a deposit down, and hey presto - a little under two weeks later - it's mine!

Ladies and germs, may I introduce you to my Mini Cooper Clubman.

It's mine - ALL MINE! Muwahahahahahaha!!

I took today off work to wait for it to be delivered and as luck would have it I was peering out my bedroom window as it came down the road. It's totally not like I'd been sitting there waiting for half an hour at all. I was all manner of excited as it turned the corner into my road for the first time, and ran outside to greet the driver like a giddy schoolgirl. Less than half an hour later we'd exchanged various bits of paper on which I'd signed my life away numerous times, and the Mini chap was off in my beloved Mini Cooper S. I'm not afraid to say that as I was clearing all my bits out of my Cooper S last night I got a wee bit emotional, and watching someone else drive it away for the last time was weird. But then I turned to the lovely new Mini in front of me. My lovely new Mini.

After staring at it for what felt like ages and showing it off to the lovely old couple across the road, I jumped in my Clubman and drove it over to show Sparky Ma and Pa and Sparky Nan (they all loved it, and Sparky Ma was the first to dive in and check out the benefits of the clubdoor). Next up, I headed over to my regular Mini dealer where I registered it for all the servicing and warranty stuff (as much as I liked the Cheshire dealer, I don't particularly want to have to go there every time I need an oil change), and ordered some rubber floor mats because the ones I had in my Cooper S don't fit in the new shape Minis.


An aside:

The carpet story: When I bought my first Mini back in 2001 I quickly decided that I wanted some practical rubber mats instead of the deep, almost shag-pile carpet in the front footwells, a side-effect, I believe, of Sparky Pa constantly telling me not to traipse mud through his cars when I was a kid. The official Mini floor mats were an absolute bargain and looked awesome too. When I got my Cooper S the first thing I did upon getting it home was to swap out the carpet mats and replace them with the rubber ones. The carpet ones were subsequently stashed in my very tiny bedroom at Sparky Ma and Pa's.

Now, I was convinced that when I moved out I'd taken the two carpet mats with me, but evidently not, as my panicked phone call to Sparky Pa last night revealed. Fortunately Sparky Pa, who is a great hoarder of his own things but very quick to ask if he can chuck your stuff away, had stashed them away in his shed, although I say fortunately in the loosest possible sense of the word because between telling me he still had them and the time of writing he's reminded me at every opportunity that he had come very close to junking them.

Anyway, the happy resolution to the carpet story is that Big Bro and Sparky Pa made a mercy dash over to Sparky Towers last night in Big Bro's flash new car (which Sparky Ma has dubbed 'The Beast') to deliver the infamous carpet mats to me, and they were safely installed in my Cooper S before my Clubman was delivered. Good times.


So that's about it: I've done about 50 miles in my Clubman today, and am slowly beginning to get my head around the complexities of the iPhone interface (for someone that jumped on the Apple bandwagon a good 10 years ago, I'm the last in the family to get an iPod connection in my car - no more six CD-changer for me I'll have you know!). Things I love so far? Well, just about everything. It feels so special … I don't know whether that's because of the unusual door arrangement or because unlike my first two Minis, which were essentially the same model, this one is completely different. What I do know is that I proper heart the efficient dynamics Minimalism technology that cuts the engine out when you're sitting in traffic; this is the most environmentally friendly car I've ever owned. Good times for me, the planet, and all the hippies out there.

I've cherished the five-and-a-bit years I've shared with my Cooper S, but I'm definitely looking forward to all sorts of new Mini adventures with my Clubman. And that includes getting more than 32 miles to the gallon.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Car the third: the fast and the furious

I distinctly remember the moment I decided I'd buy a Mini Cooper S. It wasn't that moment I'd gone and sat in the one at the dealer, nor was it the moment that Sparky Ma encouraged me to "treat myself" like she does when I'm thinking about buying a book or a CD. It also wasn't the moment on the 2003 Richmond-Windsor bike ride when a red and white Cooper S, exactly how I'd eventually have mine, shot past us and I turned to Mr. Chunt and said "that's what mine will look like." It was the day after that.

I'd taken the day off work to recover from the bike ride, and had headed down to Staines to grab a coffee and a copy of the latest issue of Q magazine because it had an interview with David Bowie in it. I remember finishing the interview, knocking back the last of the coffee, and thinking 'bugger it - let's do this.' I drove from Staines straight over to the dealership, negotiated a pretty darn good part-exchange on my Cooper, and put a deposit down.

Two months later, just four days after my birthday, it was mine. The dealer had tried to convince me to choose a different colour combination than red and white - the same colours I'd had on my previous Mini - but even he, looking at it under the bright blue sky of a sunny winter's day, had to admit that it looked great, particularly with the white stripes adorning the bonnet.

I took this picture just moments after I arrived home from the dealership after picking up my Mini Cooper S.

Climbing behind the wheel for the first time didn't feel too different from my Cooper; the dashboard was exactly the same layout, obviously, although the colour was a bit different to indicate that is was the more expensive model, and there were a few more toys and flashing lights. But when I started it up and heard the roar of the supercharged engine for the first time, when I got it onto a long stretch of dual carriageway and pushed down on the accelerator … well, then I could tell the difference.

The phrase "punch it, Chewie" springs to mind.

That first evening I took it out on a long drive that looped around what you could probably call my part of the world. It was the perfect introduction to owning a Mini Cooper S. No, it's never gotten the same sort of attention as my first Mini - they'd become a common sight by the point in time I bought it, and even more so now - but you still catch some people stealing a glimpse at it every now and then, particularly when it's been washed and looks all clean and sparkly.

As much as I love 'em, those white wheels are pain to keep clean - but it's completely worth it when I do take the time to scrub the dirt off them because they make the car look nigh on perfect.

I've owned it far longer than I've owned either of my other cars, and it's been the perfect companion for well over five years now. Both the Minis I've owned have been wonderful cars (I tend to look back through rose-tinted spectacles and blissfully ignore the rattles and squeaks that affected my first one), but the Cooper S is the pick of the bunch. It's fun to drive, characterful (I've never tired of the whine of the supercharger as the car picks up speed), and reliable. On the downside, it drinks fuel like there's no tomorrow in urban driving (it was actually pretty good when I drove to Cheshire the other week though!), and thanks to the government's obsession with C02 ratings it costs a small fortune to tax each year (and it's going to get even more expensive in the next couple of years). Seriously, while I understand the need to curb C02 emissions, it's outrageous that the government backdated their tax plans to include all new cars produced since 2001. It'd be cheaper for me to tax a stonking great V8 from the mid-90s than my comparatively cleaner Mini; in all honesty, if I'd known they were going to do that when I bought the car I probably wouldn't have bought an S. Wait - does that mean I regret buying it? Never - I'm just ranting against governmental policy!

*gets off soapbox*

There's something inherently special about Minis. I know some people don't like them because they think they're just a car of the moment that all the fashionistas want to be seen in, or because of those estate agents that drive them around London like maniacs, but there genuinely are people like me who love Minis for their character (faults and all!), the way they drive, and the way they look. Who cares if you can get more stuff in the glovebox than you can in the boot? Not me! Who cares that you can't get anyone in the back seats? Not me - get less friends, I say! In a world of admittedly well-engineered, reliable to a fault motor cars, Minis are one of the few mass-produced vehicles that have genuine charm. So kudos to everyone who helped bring the new Mini to fruition - from its designers to the people at the factory in Oxford who make it. My motoring life has certainly been all the more exciting for their hard work and dedication.

But as they say, all good things must come to an end - and who knows what tomorrow may bring…?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The great coffee caper

Let's take a brief respite from this week's car-based nostalgia for a moment while I regale you with a short tale of today's lunchtime shenanigans.

Now, I think it's pretty much common knowledge that I do like a good cup of coffee, and I do like Starbucks. So you'd think I'd be pretty much up to speed on any new developments in the Starbucks coffee world. Apparently not, however. On Monday, y'see, I was sitting outside Secret Starbucks watching the world go by when I noticed an advert at the bus stop across the road for something called Starbucks Via. How very interesting, I thought, and resolved to head back to the office to Google it.

As it turns out Starbucks Via is Starbucks' new instant coffee range, and it's being launched exclusively today in the UK in a handful of West London stores. Armed with that knowledge, I strolled into Secret Starbucks today and was immediately confronted by all manner of Via imagery; I kid you not, they're not launching this thing by halves. The baristas were all wearing promotional t-shirts and there were boxes and posters *everywhere* - in fact, the posters were a bit like an iPod advert with silhouetted figures holding Via sachets. I half expected one to have some headphones plugged into his sachet and be in the process of throwing some shapes nightclub-stylee.

Anyway, one of the lovely baristas in Secret Starbucks gave both me and Yazzle Dazzle a sample sachet as we ordered our drinks, which we gratefully accepted and stuck in our pockets. As we headed outside to grab a table though, I noticed that someone had left a sachet behind - so I pocketed that one too. While drinking our coffees one of the other baristas we know popped out to say "hi," and told us that one of the other Starbucks stores in Hammersmith were doing a big giveaway on the high street. That being the case we resolved to pass by that way as we headed back to our respective offices. That made three.

Hammersmith actually has four Starbucks, though, and I figured that it would be rude to neglect the others on such an important day. About midway down the high street we came across a chap on a Starbucks bike-thingy (they've twitpic'd him HERE) who also had some freebies. To be honest I thought I might fail here, because I went up to the dude and held my hand out all expectantly like I was Oliver or something, and he looked at me like I was a bit speshul. Ultimately realising that he was being employed to dole out freebies to all and sundry rather than just the people he wanted to, however, he reluctantly gave me a sachet - which was lucky because I was just about to say "I want one - gimme."

Further down the high street, by which point Yazzle Dazzle and I were on the verge of hysterical laughter at our (I think the word is) chutzpah, we came across the fourth and final Starbucks. And here we faced our greatest challenge - and what could be our greatest victory. Outside this store there was a barista holding a tray of sample Via drinks as well as the free sachets. Dare we try our luck?

Of course we did.

We wandered up to the dear lady with expressions of complete innocence, and gamely plucked a sample beverage off her tray while she launched into her pre-programmed spiel about how the coffee was developed and why it is the best instant coffee on the market. I was trying to listen, but I was also trying to a) drink the sample, and b) not laugh because by this time I actually didn't care whether the coffee was any good, I just wanted to blag as many freebies as I could.

And we were doing so well until the barista handed us our fifth free sachet and then whispered conspiratorially: "Y'know, there are several other Starbucks in Hammersmith - you could just put a dumb look on your face and wander up and down getting as many samples as you can. I mean, you could be doing that now for all I know."

Yazzle Dazzle and I guiltily looked each other in the eye, turned back to the barista, said "noooooo - we'd never do that!" in unison, then scurried off as quickly as we could, pockets bulging with free coffee, no doubt leaving the poor woman to wonder what the hell had just happened.

We totally played the game today rudegirls *snaps*.

Wednesday's haul of free coffee - good times!

So, what are my thoughts on the fruits of my lunchtime labours? Well, I've just knocked back my first full cup of Starbucks Via, and I've got to say I'm pretty darn impressed. OK, it's not quite the coffee you get in-store, but it's waaaaaay better than almost all other instant coffees I've tried, and I'd probably go as far to say that it's the next best thing to popping into Starbucks. It certainly saves the time and effort that goes into brewing some fresh coffee in a cafetiere. I think I'll definitely pick some up (and by that I actually mean 'buy some') to stash in my office drawer ready to help fend off those post-lunch, mid-afternoon slumps…

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Car the second: my very own Mini adventure

I distinctly remember the first time I saw a new Mini in the flesh metal. It was the launch day, and as I swung my little ol' Fiesta into the forecourt of my local BMW dealer there it was - all silver and black and awesome. I almost crashed while ogling it. Somehow I eventually managed to park-up, then wobbled into the showroom.

I was stunned. I'd seen pictures - lots of pictures - of the new Mini, but it was so much better when it was right in front of me. There was a red and white one in the showroom, and I spent a couple of minutes checking it out - sitting in it, poking it (not like that), and generally imagining myself owning one, all the time half expecting a message to come over a loudspeaker saying something to the effect of "would the owner of the aging Ford Fiesta please remove it from our reputable forecourt - and you, little boy, get out of the shiny Mini."

Eventually I managed to book myself in for a test drive, but because it was proving so popular I had something like a two hour wait. That being the case I jumped back in my Fiesta and headed home where I vibrated with excitement.

Now, I really don't like taking cars out for test drives because I always feel like the salesman who sits in with you is going to think I'm a bad driver, or criticise the way I drive in some menial way, or, heaven forbid, tut under his breath. I'm also conscious of the fact that I might stall it and look ridiculous. It's all the old driving test phobias coming back to haunt me. Fortunately the test drive went very well, and as expected I fell even more in love with the Mini than I thought I would. I'd not intended on putting my name down for one that day, but that's exactly what I did; I was the salesman's first buyer, and against my initial plan to get a British Racing Green one, I ended up ordering a red and white Cooper based purely on the fact that the one in the showroom looked so damn awesome.

There was a two month wait between ordering the car and it arriving, and it was the longest two months of my life, but on September 18th 2001 I became one of the first 1000 people in the country to own a new Mini.

My first Mini parked up on the streets of Richmond.

It's funny looking back on that time now - and even funnier trying to describe the sort of effect the new Mini had on people. The original Mini was - and still is - a quintessentially British icon; they're not mere cars, not just a tool to get you from A to B, they're members of the family - they're something you form an emotional attachment too. It had been said that the original Mini was irreplaceable, but, as I was to discover, the British public took the new version to heart just as much as they did the original (at least they did until a certain estate agents started using them as company cars for absolute knobbers who can't drive).

Nice arse (I do apologise, how very crude of me … but true nonetheless)

Don't believe me? Well how about the hordes of smiling pedestrians that would stop and point as I drove by? The bunch of school kids that stopped on the pavement and applauded me as I drove down Richmond High Street? The old man who told his wife to wait while he came over to "talk to this young man about his nice car," and then spent five minutes eagerly listening while I told him all about it and let him take a seat behind the wheel. Oh, and let's not forget the Ferrari driver who was clearly rather peeved that his 150k supercar wasn't getting as much attention as a 13k hatchback. We Mini drivers would wave to each other; there was even a chap in an original Mini who would give me a thumbs up every morning as I drove to work through Brentford. Driving a new Mini in those first few months was unlike anything I'd ever done before. And I'm not ashamed to say that I missed the attention as they became a more familiar sight and people stopped staring; I know exactly how D-list celebs feel as they try to hang on to the last vestiges of their fame.

My favourite picture of my first Mini, and quite possibly the artiest photo I've ever taken…

The thing about my first Mini though, was that being one of the first 1000 it had a few … let's call them quirks. Don't get me wrong, I loved it to bits, but every couple of months there'd be a reason to head back to the dealers. Nothing major, really, just a little squeak here, or an annoying rattle there. And it was when I was sitting in the dealers for exactly such a reason back in September 2003 that I made the fateful decision to go sit in a Cooper S that was on display. Y'know, just to be nosy.

It's not like I was actually going to buy one, was it?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Car the first: the little white dream machine

My first car was a white G-reg Ford Fiesta Popular. I found it in an advert in Auto Trader, and one Saturday afternoon Sparky Pa and I headed over to take a look at it. The guy selling it said it was a great little runner, and the only reason he was getting rid of it was because his wife needed a bigger car to drive their kid, and all the accessories that come with a newborn kid, around in; Sparky Pa was nevertheless convinced that he was a dealer.

Either way, we took it out for a test drive, the seller sitting in the passenger seat while Sparky Pa drove and I sat in the back thinking good thoughts. Half an hour later as we headed home, Sparky Pa told me he thought it was an "OK little car," which in his book equates to cartwheels, fanfares, and a marching band. I decided to buy it.

The day I collected it is etched in my mind rather vividly. I took the day off work, and at about 10 o'clock in the morning Sparky Ma and Pa accompanied me to the bank where I drew out about 1900 quid in cash; I was vibrating with trepidation/excitement as we walked out of the bank and back to Sparky Pa's car, not only because of the realisation of how much money I was about to spend, but also because I was certain someone was somehow going to be able to sense how much money I had on me and try to mug me. Fortunately, we made it back to the car safely.

Because I'd not had much any driving experience since passing my test a few years earlier, we'd decided that Sparky Ma was going to drive my new car home. I was a little bit peeved at this, but knew that it made sense. Anyway, after arriving at the seller's house I dropped the cash-bomb, and the car was mine.

Things didn't exactly go according to plan after that, however. After getting comfortable and starting the car up, Sparky Ma noticed that it had virtually no petrol in it, so we decided to head home via the closest petrol station. Unfortunately, en route the car kept stalling, and I started getting the sneaking suspicion that I'd bought a dog. We eventually filled up, and Sparky Ma subsequently managed to drive my car home with the minimal amount of bunny-hopping.

It was only when we arrived home that we realised the Fiesta's gears were much closer than those of the gearbox in Sparky Ma's Nissan Micra, and she'd actually been pulling away in third gear, rather than first, the entire journey. Her momentary embarrassment was swiftly swept aside by the realisation that she'd actually displayed phenomenal clutch control.

Anyway, after about half an hour of just staring out the living room window at my new car parked outside, I decided that I actually should try driving the thing, so I hesitantly picked up the keys, got in, and headed off on a few laps of the surrounding roads. Despite the two year gap between passing my test and actually buying a car I soon found - much to my relief - that driving a car is a bit like riding a bike and it soon comes back to you. Good times ahoy.

I could not have asked for a better first car. The Fiesta had a wheezy one litre engine and a four-speed gearbox that was agricultural enough that you could actually pull away in any gear and it wouldn't grumble too much. It didn't have a parcel shelf when I bought it, meaning that anyone could peer in the back window and see what you had in the boot; I rectified that by ordering one from a Ford garage and installing it myself (ably assisted by Sparky Pa, who no doubt thought that one afternoon spent installing a parcel shelf was infinitely preferable to a lifetime spent repairing that decrepit Mini I'd previously looked at). The last three letters of the number plate were 'VTW' which, with no hint of irony, I decided meant 'Very Tasty Wheels.'

The Fiesta generally behaved itself; OK, the radio did chew up Big Bro's Nirvana Unplugged cassette, but he had just bought a CD version so wasn't too worried. There was also a hole by the aerial, and I quickly discovered that when it rained water would leak in and dribble down the rearview mirror. I sorted that by bunging it up with some blu-tac which damn near fossilised over time. Part of the driver's side window winder handle snapped off too, but I fixed that with sellotape and super glue.

In fact the only time the Fiesta did let me down was when a coolant cable wore out and emptied antifreeze all over the front garden. Completely unaware, I still drove it to work without any problem, and it was only a phone call from Sparky Ma that alerted me to the problem. I headed out of the office to investigate, and as it was dark by this time Grum offered to position his motorbike so that the headlight shone on my car. We tried pouring some water into the engine, and the fact that it poured straight out the other side onto the ground alerted us to the fact that something was ever so slightly amiss. I eventually got the train home that day, and took my car into a local garage the next day where it was fixed in a couple of hours. I'm still pretty certain I could've driven it home without any problem, though.

Around 1999, I found out that BMW were going to be bringing out a new Mini in 2001, and however much I loved my Fiesta, I really, *really* wanted a Mini. I began saving in earnest, knowing that I was going to buy one as soon as they hit the market. I was sad to see the Fiesta go because it had been such a perfect first car - but I was more excited at the prospect of beginning my Mini adventure.

Friday, March 20, 2009


All boys love cars: FACT. I think if you don't you get sent to a training camp where Jackie Stewart is the drill instructor and he makes you take engines apart until your knuckles are bleeding and you've got Castrol GTX all over your face.

All boys love cars.

When I was a kid I was just like every other little boy in the fact that my favourite car was a Ferrari. I didn't particularly care which one, it just had to be a Ferrari. Preferably in red, but I wasn't fussy. Actually that's a lie; yes, it had to be in red. And it had to be an F40. A red F40 - perfect. In hindsight, though, I think I liked Ferraris because back in the 80s they were easy to draw; there were no swooshing curves, just long straight lines. You only needed a pencil and a ruler and you were half way there.

As time went by, though, I started to pay more attention to other cars within the automotive world. I started to think that Porsches were cooler than Ferraris. They were swooshier, and I thought the round headlights made them look more characterful. OK, young me would probably have said "like a cartoon character" rather than "characterful," but you get the gist.

By the end of the 80s, however, I'd started to think about what I'd like for my first car; I was, after all, only about seven years away from being able to get my license. I was realistic enough not to think I'd be driving a Porsche 911 off the forecourt the day after passing my test, though, and so I set my sights a little lower down the automotive ladder and settled on a Ford Fiesta.

Yes you read that correctly: I wanted a Ford Fiesta.

Now, having read that you might think that rather than setting my sights a little lower down the automotive ladder I actually missed the bottom rung altogether and face-planted on the pavement, but in reality I think I hit the nail right on the head. Fiestas were *everywhere,* spare parts were cheap, and they were reliable; by all accounts they would be the only thing besides cockroaches to survive thermonuclear armageddon.

And besides, there was a historical precedent.

This is the younger and considerably chunkier me checking out a Fiesta at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1989 (or thereabouts).

So in - I think - 1998, after saving long and hard, I began the search for my first car.

In addition to the, some would say, unnatural lust for all things Fiesta, I was already at this time showing something of an obsession with Minis (the original ones, I hasten to add; this is a little before the new one's time). That being the case, my car shopping list was split between Fiestas and Minis. Both had plus and minus points, with the Mini's plus points being that it was, well, a Mini, and the minus points being that they appeared to hold their value a little too well, meaning that all the decent ones were a little out of my price range. I shall gloss over the fact that they were also generally made of string and glue and if I'd gotten into an accident in one chances are I wouldn't be writing this now, and would instead be burning in the fiery depths of hell reclined on a cloud while gently strumming a harp.

Any-hoo, after several weekends spent scouring used car lots and Auto Trader, I ended up seeing just two cars. The first one I found was in a small advert in the back of a local newspaper. It was for a Mini Sky, which was a "good runner," needed "no work," and best of all was only "950 quid." I'm pretty sure it was a Mini Sky; it certainly wasn't a Mini Rose, which was identical to the Sky apart from the fact that it had a pink roof rather than a blue one. I'm pretty certain I would've balked at the notion of driving a car with a pink roof and flowery decals on the side.

Here you can see the Mini Sky on the left (blue roof), and the Mini Rose to the right of the red one.

So, one warm summer evening Sparky Pa and I jumped in his car and headed off to take a look at this Mini. Warning bells rang immediately when we arrived at the address it was being sold from.

It was a farm.

Despite this we decided that we'd come this far and we might as well take a look. Our initial attempt at getting out of Sparky Pa's car was thwarted, however, by a very loud and excitable farmyard dog, and so we resorted to alerting the farmer to our presence by beeping the horn until he came out of his house. After he secured his mentalist dog behind a gate we got out and went over to check out the Mini. On first glance it looked to be OK; admittedly there was a bit of rust here and there, but I figured pretty much any car I bought was going to have some rust somewhere.

I forced Sparky Pa We decided to take it out for a test drive.

Because I hadn't driven since passing my test, and because he knew what to look for in a first car, Sparky Pa drove. I will never forget the sight of him hunched over the steering wheel of this tiny tiny car as we buzzed down a dual carriageway at what felt like warp speed but what was, in reality, something closer to 27 miles per hour; his foot was flat on the accelerator and still we weren't picking up speed. We drove for about 10 minutes, an unending stream of muttered grumblings coming from the driver's seat about what a hideous little car it was, before pulling over so that Sparky Pa could peer under the bonnet and assess the mechanical situation.

To be honest, I don't think anything could annihilate the A-Series engines that powered original Minis, so in that sense it was pretty reasonable, but it swiftly became evident that all was not well with, well, pretty much every other part of the car; when Sparky Pa closed the bonnet you could hear bits of filler falling off before seeing it bounce off the tyres and on to the road.

"It's you money," said Sparky Pa, probably thinking of all the lost weekends he'd undoubtedly have to spend stretched out beneath the Mini fixing things. "But I REALLY wouldn't buy this car."

Sadly, I was forced to agree with him. We took the Mini back to the farm, where the farmer made a last ditch effort to get me to buy it by offering to knock 100 quid off the price. His case wasn't helped by his admission that the car needed "a little work," which completely contradicted what the advert had said. I sometimes wonder what happened to that little car. I suspect he turned it into a novelty chicken coup or something.

Disheartened, I began my search for the perfect first car once again. And that's when I hit gold … well, not literally gold – y'know what I mean.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Heading north

As you might've guessed from the previous post, I broke free of my normal routine this weekend and did something that actually took me away from the cosseting bosom of my lovely sofa (I really don't tell my sofa that I love it as much as I should: sofa? I love you. Possibly a bit too much sometimes).

So what did I do? I went to Cheshire of course! Which for those of you who aren't terribly gifted at geography is a bit like this.

And then I did this.

And that's what we call a 370-ish mile round journey in the space of about eight hours, with an hour and half-ish stop-off in Cheshire somewhere in the middle.

Now, I'm actually not too bad with directions when push comes to shove. Actually, let me rephrase that: I'm actually not too bad with directions within the M25 (note to any Johnny Foreigners who don't know what the M25 is: it's a big round horrific motorway that surrounds London, either keeping everyone else out, or all of us in, depending on who you ask). You see, I've lived near Heathrow Airport all my life, so if ever I've gotten a bit lost trying to get home I've just looked to the sky and followed the planes in. Sparky Pa used to say that if he dropped me in a field somewhere I'd find eventually find my way home, and unfortunately for him he was right. Outside of the M25, though, things are a bit different. There's planes going in all sorts of odd directions and that just confuses me.

So, anyway, here I was with a desire to go to Cheshire, and not the foggiest idea how to get there; the last time I headed north was - what? - at least 10 years ago? Probably more. Salvation was at hand in the form of Sparky Pa, however. Sparky Pa used to drive the length and breadth of the country for work, and knows it insanely well. Bizarrely, though, as his job used to entail stuff that you'd find on the forecourts of petrol stations, his driving instructions are often based on the location of various Esso, Texaco, and BP sites; more than once I've been told to "turn left at the Texaco station."

This time around though, he gave me proper written instructions using road names, which made me a little more confident about my ability to navigate at least reasonably close to where I wanted to go. What made me even more confident, however, was Big Bro's beautifully renamed Tim Tim Go satellite navigation thingy.

When Big Bro asked for a satellite navigation thingy for his birthday last year I scoffed and told him he was a clueless buffoon who couldn't navigate his way out of bed, but I shall say it here: oh my, what a wonderous device!

Seriously, it got me there, and it got me back bang on the estimated time it displayed when I set off. I did not take one wrong turn - although that said, when I tested it on the drive home from Sparky Ma and Pa's on Saturday after picking it up it did try to take me a really weird long way home; I defied it to a) show it who was boss, and b) get home quicker. At every key point it told me where to turn and what lane I should be in using a reasonably polite, slightly asexual lady-robot voice. I was overawed by its power, and initially a little scared; Big Bro referred to it as Skynet at one point, and I told him that if it started to turn into Shirley Manson Terminator I was going to ditch it at the side of the road. Fortunately he agreed that was a reasonable course of action should it, in fact, turn out to be the lead singer of Garbage in a liquid metal form.

Possibly my only complaint is that the suction cup that you use to stick it to the windscreen wasn't suctiony enough and it fell off once on the way there and once on the way back. Fortunately it just dropped onto the top of my dashboard, rather than down into the footwell; if it had dropped down there I would've possibly a) cried, and b) crashed while trying to retrieve it. All while Shirley Manson was telling me to stay in the right-hand lane.

Any-hoo, I haven't done a long journey in years, and certainly not a long journey followed by a brief stop-off, followed by another long journey home, so I was a little apprehensive about how I'd cope. I envisaged myself stopping off loads and sitting in drab motorway services drinking awful coffee, then needing desperately to wee on the M6 with nowhere to stop, but actually it all went swimmingly. It was a gorgeous day, and I set off at 08:29, arriving at my destination at 11:48; coming home was equally speedy, if a little bit cloudier. I listened to Michael Jackson's HIStory album there and back (mainly the greatest hits disc), and am not afraid to admit that on the way home I clicked the cruise control on, took my feet off the pedals, and howled along to Earth Song in a terrifyingly realistic manner (it's a crime I couldn't get Jackson tickets, a crime I tells ya). And Cheshire is rather lovely part of the country. I really wish I'd stopped off and taken a few pictures - especially of the awesome viaduct and the freakin' huge Jodrell Bank radio telescope.

All-in-all, then, a day well spent.

Oh, what do you mean 'why did I go there?' Hmmm… well that's a tale for another time…

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Vital equipment

When venturing to unfamiliar territory, Sparky Malarkey would like to recommend the latest advances in satellite navigation equipment: the Tim Tim Go.

Don't leave home without it!

(Thanks to Big Bro for an inspired piece of lunacy)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Choose your own adventure: third bloggy birthday edition

Yes, you read that right: today marks the third birthday of Sparky Malarkey! Doesn't time fly when you have nothing better to do you're having fun? And what better way to mark this historic occasion than to haul one of my semi-regular features out of retirement? Yes, it's time for choose your own adventure!

A few new luvverly people have started lurking around the comments since the last time we played, so before everything kicks off, here's the rules: I'll write a relatively mundane blog post, but cut out certain words, replacing them with a number (usually 10, but in celebration of my third bloggy birthday I've doubled it to an epic 20!). Your job is to fill in the missing words and paste your completed version into the comments section. Anything goes, and I particularly like it when you're dirty.

Ready? Here we go!


I woke up at the crack of [1] ready to jump on [2] in the hope that I might be able to get some [3]. Sadly, despite trying both at home and at work, I failed epically. As you might imagine, this left me feeling a little bit [4]. Things didn't improve as the morning wore on, because I seemed to be having a number of issues with my [5].

At lunchtime I met [6] for [7]. Unfortunately, the people who have been handing out [8] all week weren't around so we didn't get to play [9] as we have for the last couple of days. A good time was had nevertheless, as we both complained about our lack of success in getting [10]. Before we knew it, lunchtime was over and we both had to head back to work.

The afternoon went by relatively quickly, and I left bang on time, stopping only briefly when I got back to my car to pay for my [11] (I've been a bit naughty and haven't done it for a couple of weeks!). I was home at just gone 17:30, where I quickly changed into my [12] and headed outside with a bucket and sponge to wash my [13] while it was still light. When that was done I had a [14] for [15], which was awesome, and a little later on I had a quick [16]. I've just watched [17], and have been chilling out listening to [18] for a while, although I think I might head off to [19] now. I don't want to tease you by mentioning this, but I've got a rather interesting [20] ahead…

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Beards, Jacko and general lunacy

As regular readers will know, I'm nothing if not suave and sophisticated. You at the back - stop sniggering. Any-hoo, over the last few years (and if you've been reading this for that long, God help you) I've experimented with growing a sophisticated beard to match my debonair appearance; on one occasion Sparky Nan said it made me look a bit like Clark Gable (not that Clark Gable would accessorise his neatly-trimmed beard with a hoodie and skate trainers, I imagine). The thing with beards, though, is that they can literally turn from 'sophisticated' to 'hobo-esque' in an instant. And no one likes a hobo. Unless it's of the littlest variety or you've got a particularly nasty fetish. Pervert.

The only course of action then is to shave it off, and I'm not keen on the completely shaved look because it makes me look like Linus from Peanuts.

That being the case, last week I bought myself what the packaging promised was a 'professional beard trimmer,' and I would like to state now that my purchase was in no way influenced by the fact that it looked like a phaser from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Anyway, I actually didn't use it for about four days after buying it, mainly because the instructions said it needed a long initial charge, but also because I needed to get over my paranoid fear that a gentle beard trim would inevitably end up with me sporting a one-inch wide shaven patch from my forehead back to my crown. Oh, and there was also the fact that I'd shaved the day before so I actually had nothing to trim unless I wanted to carve my name in my chest or accentuate my nipples.

Come the weekend, though, and I decided to give it a whirl. Now, if you've seen me in the stunning flesh you'll know that I like my sidies. not massive Elvis-style sidies, but reasonably trim ones that reach down to the bottom of my ears. Over time, though, they can get a little unruly, and keeping them in order with a normal razor is nigh on impossible; they inevitably end up looking like they've contracted a minor case of alopecia. Enter the professional beard trimmer/phaser.

So, Sunday evening there I am poised in front of the bathroom mirror, delicately edging the beard trimmer towards my prized right-hand sideburn. A few seconds later and I was beaming with pride: it was perfectly trimmed and looking awesome. Time for the left-hand one now!

And that's when I got cocky and took a chunk out of it. Oops.

So, the gist of it is, that, while the beard trimmer is awesome and I now know what to do with it, I'm currently sporting significantly shorter - albeit perfectly trim - sideburns. At least I'll know what to do, or rather 'not' what to do, next time…


You may have heard that Michael Jackson is playing a residency at the O2 in London this summer. Well, back in the day I was a bit of a Jacko fan, and despite all the stories and gossip about him over the last few years, and the fact that his last album was mostly shite, I've always thought that he's one of those artists that you should see if you get the opportunity. I mean, you think about it, the guy has got an astounding back catalogue of material from the Jackson Five right up to the handful of songs off his last album that weren't shite; all the talk of surgery, baby dangling and general weirdness seems to have overtaken that fact at some point, and it's a shame that there's probably an entire generation that genuinely don't think of him as one of the most influential recording artists of all time and only regard him as nothing more than a freaky byline in a cheap gossip magazine.

I think I digressed there but I'm not too sure. Anyway, yes, O2. London. Residency. Must go. I talked Yazzle Dazzle into accompanying me, countering her argument that she saw him the best part of 20 years ago by saying that's all well and good, but that was 20 years ago and now he looks like a totally different person. She soon caved under the weight of my logic, and I was up at the crack of dawn this morning to use my status as an O2 mobile customer to buy tickets in the O2 Michael Jackson ticket presale! Good times.

Sadly not.

The whole thing was a massive exercise in how to make something you knew was going to be wildly popular go amazingly tits-up. I was online at 7am this morning at which point O2's servers crashed under the sheer weight of traffic. After half an hour I finally got onto their website and into a queue. I queued *forever* before getting fed up and deciding I'd go to work and try again there. I got to work, tried again, and queued online for another 15 minutes only to be told that the presale for the date I'd requested had sold out. So I had to go back, chose another date, and queue again only to be told the same thing. I went back, chose anot- oh you get the idea; chuck in some totally unnecessary password validation errors, copious amounts of swearing, and then a message saying 'SORRY! ALL TICKETS TO THE O2 MICHAEL JACKSON PRESALE HAVE SOLD OUT!' and you get little glimpse of how things went.

That being the case, I now have to try for tickets on Friday when they open them up to general sale for all the civilians. Bah! On the plus side, Jacko's now doing 24 dates rather than 10. Poor bugger's going to be exhausted after that…


Yazzle Dazzle and I have decided we need to start recording our lunchtime coffee-fueled conversations and turn them into a podcast or something, because we've been on fire the last few days. In the space of half an hour today we played leaflet roulette (in which you have to guess which members of the public a woman handing out leaflets for a gym would actually hand leaflets to – she tended to ignore old people and, rather bizarrely, fat people), assigned celebrity names to various passersby who looked like famous people (we have a Michel from Gilmore Girls, a William Shatner, a Michael J. Fox, and a, um, notorious serial killer) and discussed whether you could knock a car over by throwing an Argos catalogue at it (our answer? Possibly, depending on the angle of the throw, strength of the throw, and height of the car). We've also been discussing the creation of our own dictionary; at the moment we only have a handful of words, but we're working on more:

Amrazing - The defination of something that is amazing, but graded in comparison to singer-songwriter Jason Mraz.

e.g: I'd give the Watchmen movie four out of five Mrazs; it was amrazing!

Huzzah! - Like 'hurrah' but with more pizzazz and often accompanied by magician-like 'ta-da!' hand movements.

e.g: I found a tenner - huzzah!

Gilwhoring - To show ones appreciation of, and addiction to, the television series Gilmore Girls.

e.g: I can't stop watching Gilmore Girls - I've cracked open the season two boxset and will be Gilwhoring it up after dinner!

Additions to the dictionary will be gratefully received. No doubt the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary are quaking in their boots.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Stuff and nonsense

There's a few little bits and bobs that I've been meaning to post recently but which haven't made it on here yet for a variety of reasons (the main one being that I keep forgetting about them), so I thought bugger it I'll shove 'em all up in one go. That being the case, don't expect any coherency to this post whatsoever. Some might say "no change there then…"


Best thing EVAH. Someone's editing Star Trek: The Next Generation clips into hilarious mini-episodes. I was watching this in my lunchbreak the other day and almost peed on my chair.

These are my favourites.

And there's more HERE (including some Back to the Future ones)



I went for a run the other night and noticed about seven herons milling about together in a park - which is unusual because they're rather territorial birds. Then I looked up to see one flying rather low over the top of me. It was an awesome sight - a bit like seeing a real, live pterodactyl. And it was at that point that I realised, being 40 minutes into my run, I was breathing through my mouth and if the heron had been so inclined it could've poo'd right in it.

Must concentrate on breathing through my nose more.


Have you seen it, have you seen it?! Seen what, you ask? The new Star Trek trailer of course!

I kid you not, but May 8th cannot come soon enough. I am *SO* looking forward to this film.

(And in a related matter, may I recommend the comic book prequel, Star Trek: Countdown? I've just read the second issue and it is AWESOME. The collected edition is out in April, conveniently just a matter of days before the movie is released)


Talking of films, I saw Watchmen. It was very good, although kinda spoilt by the fact that an article on Aintitcool made mention of the fact that the production had "someone specifically working on the jiggle physics of his [Dr. Manhatten's] wang." Having read that means that your eyes are inevitably, and rather horrifically, drawn to it to see if they did indeed make it look realistic. I'm no expert on the gentle swaying of a 50 metre-tall blue man's penis as he walks around in the Arctic, but short of painting my own a similar shade and strutting around like I'm on a catwalk, I'm going to say that yes, they probably got it about right.


Are you on Facebook? Yes? Well, may I invite you to join my newly-formed group? I've started a petition to have William Shatner record a cover version of the classic Soundgarden track Black Hole Sun.

Imagine this:

Done like this:

You know it makes sense. Join us HERE. I'm after suggestions for B-sides too.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Damn and blast!

Let's get the good stuff out of the way first, eh? Fish and Chips flavoured crisps? Not so bad as it turns out. And by that I mean I'd actually have another packet, because they basically just tasted like some ready salted and salt and vinegar crisps got mixed up on the production line and shoved in the same bag - thank god, because I hate fish.

Two not-so-fishy thumbs up for these!

Now for the not so good stuff: I almost bought a new car yesterday.

I hope you're all gasping with excitement at that.

So, what happened? Well as you may or may not know I've been gagging at the prospect of getting my grubby little mits on a Mini Clubman quietly considering purchasing a Mini Clubman. In the last few months I've looked at a black and silver diesel one, and stormed out of a dealership that was selling a red and black one that I really wanted after getting into a bit of a barney with the manager (who was RUDE). Unfortunately I've not been having much luck; despite trying to get my lovely regular dealer (that's Mini, not drugs, I hasten to add) to covertly buy the red and black one for me, the rude bastards at the other dealer sold it to someone else, while the black and silver one sold quite recently just as I was thinking I might go rub myself all over it check it out again, or at the very least make encouraging-sounding noises about it.

This week, however, another Mini Clubman caught my eye.

How d'ya like them apples? Very much, as it turns out.

Now, initially I was all, like, ugh, white; my first car was white, y'see, and it was a bit of bitch to keep clean so I vowed never to have another white car again. But after looking at these pictures for several hours and drooling I came to the conclusion that this Clubman looked pretty darn awesome. Part of this, I think, is down to the fact that it has some awesome black wheels (one of the reasons that I lusted so badly after the aforementioned red and black one), which is a bit odd because the wheels on my current Mini are currently so dirty that they're virtually black and all I do is whinge about it.

Anyway, after procrastinating for a while I dropped my lovely regular Mini dealer an email and asked if they could put the feelers out; this Clubman was located about 150 miles away, y'see, and I really couldn't be arsed to do a day-trip to go check it out. Lovely Dealer Lady emailed me straight back to let me know that she'd put a call in and was waiting for a response, and then congratulated me on finding "a nice looking car!"

I got that excited butterfly feeling in my stomach! Not that I'd committed to buying it, of course; I was just, y'know, weighing up my options…

Anyway, throughout the day LDL (that's Lovely Dealer Lady to you) emails me a couple more times to say she's still waiting on a call-back, and I spend the intervening hours daydreaming about my new car - especially the twin panoramic sunroofs, which I figure will give me another angle to look out at when I'm stuck in traffic. I also decide that I'm going to pimp it out a bit by replacing the chrome grille with the all-black aero grille to make it look even more wickedy-wickedy-whack. Not that I was committing to buying it or anything.

Then, just before I'm about to leave work for the day I get another email from LDL. After three calls from her and one from her manager, the other dealership finally got back to them and said … the car was sold several days ago; they just hadn't gotten around to taking it off the website.

I almost blew my friggin' top. I'd been lusting after a car that had sold before I'd even expressed an interest in it! It's like one of those women that playfully teases you all evening, leading you into thinking you've got a chance before she flashes her wedding ring and says "oops, did I not mention I'm married?"

No you didn't, bitch.

ARRRRRRGH!! Just from the gamut of emotions I felt upon learning that I couldn't have this car, I now know that I totally would've bought it if it was offered to me. Several people have since patted me on the shoulder nicely and said that maybe the sale will fall through and it could yet be mine - but I say: stop patronising me, you bastards!


(OK, reading back over those last few paragraphs I appear to have gone through several stages of the grieving process in mere seconds)

And so, dear reader, the search goes on…