Spa days are supposed to be relaxing

My run of unreliability is becoming a running joke.

There are only four cars left in the fleet, and collectively they do seem to be encouraging me to do more walking.  Whilst sending me bankrupt, of course.

Firstly, there’s the Lotus.  It and I have been a long way – it’s now old enough to get its own driving licence, leave the nest and vote for Boris, if it sees fit.  Last year the head gasket went, which frankly nobody could believe.  Not because it went – that’s a given with a K-Series engine – but because it hadn’t gone before.  That car lives a *hard* life.  It’s done 85,000 miles, and at *least* 10% of those have been round a track being driven my yours truly, Jimbo Chimpington-Hamfist.  It’s a resounding testament to Max and Tim at Lakeside Engineering that it still runs, and runs well.  Do you remember that Top Gear episode in Argentina?  It was the dodgy “Falklands” number plate that stole all the headlines, but do you remember the Esprit that just wouldn’t break down?  That’s because Max was out there with it, looking after it.  What Max doesn’t know about Lotuses can be written on a pygmy ant’s scrotum, in block capitals and double-underlined.  So actually, car number 1 is exonerated on the reliability front.  Despite the leaky boot…

Lotus Elise at Croft

Wonderful photo by Matt Sayle at BookaTrack's Croft May 2015 double-header. Thanks Matt!

 

Where shall we go next?  The NSX?  Well, all was going well with that.  Maz and Russ from Hond-R have transformed the car into what it should’ve been all along.  It’s not finished … they haven’t done the setup for me yet, and until they do, the wet weather handling is … erm … a weeny bit homicidal …

… but it’s getting there.  At least it was, until I had a massive brain fart and managed to run over a kerb and smash up the front end.

NSX smashed spoiler

NSX spoilers are cheap and plentiful, right?

So that’s off the road until Maz can find me a new one.

And, speaking of Hondas, there’s the Integra.  Now, that car is a *weapon*.  Maz and Russ look after that one too, and what Maz doesn’t know about Type Rs can be written on the appendix of Mini-Me’s action figure.  Whenever I take that car out on track and give it a good spanking, I can’t help but laugh.  It’s *comically* good.

Oh, and that one broke down too.

Here it is being so good that I’m laughing inside my helmet at how easy it is to dispatch the Atom through the twisties.  And then breaking down.

 

But despite the unreliability, I’m not ready to trade any of them.  The Lotus is completely brilliant, the Integra is completely brilliant, and the NSX is just so damn cool, and has the *potential* to be completely brilliant.

But the real stand-out … the car that just keeps on going and going and going and going despite whatever I throw at it … is the scabby old MX5.  That thing is like Keith Richards.  I abuse the hell out of it, all the time, and it just keeps coming back for more.  And it’s worth less than a grand.  And the tyres cost £25 each, if you buy the ditchfinders that I do, so that the low grip matches the low power of the engine.  When the cambelt snapped, I just got a new cambelt fitted and carried on as if nothing had happened.  It’s the perfect car!

Can you guess who looks after it for me?  Take a bow, Max and Tim at Lakeside Engineering again.  Can you see a pattern forming here?

 

So there you have it.  Screw your Porsches.  Stick with the slow, fun stuff and have yourself a ball for a tenth of the price.  I knew it four years ago … why didn’t I take my own advice?  Cos I’m stoopid, that’s why.  That’s a mid-life crisis for you.  That’s kind of the whole point of a mid-life crisis.  They make you do dim things like buying Porsches you can’t afford to run, and forgetting what the hell you were writing about and ending with a completely different point to the one you were intending to make.  Still.  That’s over now.  The Porsche’s gone and the fun cars are still here putting a smile on my post-crisis face.

Although … I have to say … the crisis might not *quite* be over yet.  I can’t help thinking there’s a Caterham-shaped hole in my life … 8O

Somebody talk me out of it …

Culling the fleet

Not all that long ago I had eight cars.  Eight!  The decadence.  Whenever anybody asked me why, I never really understood the question.  They’re cars.  Why wouldn’t I have as many as I can handle?

Well, those days are gone.  Now I’m down to a measly four.  First of all the Peugeot 306 GTi-6 lost its reliable custodian Lars, and with the best will in the world I am not cut out to deal with 1990s French electrics.  When the headlights started flashing like indicators whenever I locked the car, I decided it was time to give it away.  It was a great car, when it worked.  But it had to go before I drove it off a cliff in frustration.  Well, *pushed* it off a cliff.  Wouldn’t like to rely on it starting.

Pug with Team Moo-Moo's fleet at The Ring

The feisty little pug with Team Moo-Moo at The Ring in 2008

Then the Evo.  We’ve talked about that car on here already, and three engine blow-ups is enough for anybody.  That was an *awesome* car.  You could drive like an utter tit in that car and still not die.  Which is more than can be said for the car.  So that one had to go too.  When I sold the remains I crunched the numbers and found that while I’d had it (2001 to 2013) it had cost me a net £77,778.82.  Holy fucking shitballs.  I’d be minted if I wasn’t into cars  :cry:

Next to go was the Capri.  Ah, the Capri.  I did so enjoy toodling around in that, enjoying the fart of the V6 and the universal friendliness it engendered.  But clearly not as much as I thought, because I was only doing a couple of hundred miles a year in it according to the MOT certificates, and that’s just not good enough.  So I decided to let somebody else enjoy it before it rotted away.  Pleasingly it’s worth three times more now than when I bought it, so this became the first car ever that I’ve sold for “a profit”.  Well, not really, because of all the running costs, but after doing the sums and carrying all the necessary digits it appears it cost me about a grand all told, over 14 years of ownership.  Remarkable really.

Capri 2.8i

Capri 2.8i

And then we come to the Porsche 996 Turbo.  Ah, the Porsche.  I was so rosy-eyed when I bought it, thinking it would be an appreciating asset that I could use for everything – shopping, social events, track days – and would keep until it was worth enough that I could retire on its value.

Ha!  How naive I was.  The reality was very different.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the first few months of tickling around in the car, breaking it in on my 40th birthday track day and gradually exploring what the car could do, wrinkles started to show.  Firstly I was stunned by the frankly simian design of the bonnet release, that needed power in order to access a flat battery (!!!!), then I took it to the Ring whereupon it expired.  To cut a long story short, Porsche Koblenz lied about doing a compression test that they hadn’t done and tried to extort more than €30,000 from me as a result.  When I took it to my UK guys (Lakeside Engineering – great guys), they took the engine apart on the basis of the compression test and found that it was just a spark plug that had failed.  So, still intending to keep the car for a few years at that point, I had all the things done that you do when the engine’s on the workbench, so I ended up paying £17,000.  Ouch.

So, you can imagine I was not best enamoured with the teutonic titface at that point, having borrowed money to buy it and then much, much more to fix it.  I started using it properly on track days, determined to learn how to drive the thing and stop it feeling like a jet-powered dustcart.  I didn’t enjoy Silverstone, during which I described it as a “sack of crap” due to its point-and-squirt handling characteristics.  It’s *fast* … very fast … it just felt like a Cobra through the corners off the gas and an Audi RS4 on the gas.  By which I mean no fun at all.  And the fucking brakes were overheating after two pissing laps and it was underboosting.  This is a Porsche, for fuck’s sake!  It’s *supposed* to be used on a track!

I did take it to a couple of other track days … I hated it at Spa and was relieved when the brake warning light came on so I could send it home with Mike and use the Teg for the rest of the track time.  Then came Donington, where *finally* I started to gel with it – getting the hang of using the weight to get the car turned in, which in turn lets you get on the power before the apex … it was all starting to come together…

… and then the front brake pad sheared when I hit the pedal at 130mph and the pedal went to the floor.

I shit you not, I had genuinely picked the spot on the wall that I thought I was going to crash into.

Fortunately it was only the right-hand pad that had sheared, and I wasn’t braking particularly late, so it was undramatic in the end and I still made the chicane … though any swell of fondness I’d built up for the car that day had ploughed straight on head-first into the barrier, never to be seen again.

Porsche brake pads sheared at Donington

Porsche brake pad sheared at Donington

From that moment it was just a formality, I knew the car had to go.  It’s quite simply not fit for purpose.  It’s a road car, it’s hopeless round a track and it costs far more to run than any road car ever should. My Porsche fling is over.

When the nice man Ashley Nickells from Millennium Heroes dropped me off at the station and drove away in the car for the last time, I did as anybody would and stole a final glance at the car as it growled away.

Did I feel a pang of sadness as it parped out of the station?  Did I feel the urge to run after it and say, “Stop!  I’ve changed my mind!”…?

No.  What I thought was, “Bugger.  I left the GB sticker on the back.”

Says it all really.

How to fix Facebook

I really like Facebook.  I like the fact that I can still feel connected with people I like, even when I’m far away from them and don’t see them for ages.  That’s what it’s for, and That Is Good.

Only now … now things seem to have changed.  We’ve all got a bit more confident about writing publicly because we’re bleating to a friendly audience.  I can write the most inane sheeply drivel and nobody will tell me I’m talking ball-juice, because they’re all my friends.  I come away feeling like Hemingway.

I assume Hemingway was good.  People seem to speak highly of him.  My literary qualifications are largely imagined.  But they still count on Facebook.  We all feel like little Hemingways on Facebook.

And that’s the problem.  We’re all content creators now and, I’m sorry to break it to you, we’re all SHIT at it.

On the whole, that doesn’t matter.  I’m on Facebook to connect with people I like.  If I want engaging content, I’ll surf … erm … hang on … give me a minute …

Wait, is there *any* engaging content on the internet?  Hmm … that might be an insight into my surfing history that I didn’t intend to share… forget I said that … 8O

Aaaaanyway … Facebook posts don’t need to conform to any standards, protocols or even guidelines, and that’s the whole point of social media.  Everybody *should* be able to post whatever the hell they like.  And I want to be able to *see* whatever the hell I like.

If you’re anything like me, your Facebook experience centres around the Page Down key, skipping acres of content that means something to somebody else, but not you.  Facebook is broken.

That. Is. Bad.  For everybody.  For the poster.  For the reader.  For Facebook.  For the advertisers that pay Facebook for their ad that zips past without you registering anything but the word “Sponsored” that made you skip it in the first place.

Here’s how to fix it.

We need to be able to filter what we see.  There’s too much noise.  There’s only so many times you can swipe the page up twenty times in succession without seeing anything of interest before you’ll throw the little bingly thing down in frustration and go for a walk instead.  Perish the thought!  This is how to make Facebook better.

We need TAGS.  We need CONTENT TAGS.  If something’s about cooking, it needs a Cooking tag.  If something’s about the EU referendum, it needs a Politics tag.  If something’s about Piers Morgan, it needs a tag on its toe having been dragged from the depths beneath Tower Bridge and be identifiable only from dental records.

But I digress.

I will say again that everybody should be able to post whatever the hell they like.  That’s what this malarkey is all about.  I don’t want to change what people post.  I just want to control which bits *I* see.

To take one personal example, I really couldn’t give a flying fuck about football.  Whether that means soccer to you, or American football, or punting your pug over your neighbour’s fence, I honestly can’t think of anything that matters to me less than that.  So when I see a post saying, “Holy crap!  I can’t believe Ranieri didn’t get arrested for that!” and I Google it and find out Ranieri is a FUCKING FOOTBALLER and I’ve just wasted thirty seconds of my life that I could have spent perving over a Caterham 620S, it makes me want to unfriend you.  But I don’t *want* to unfriend you, because you *are* my friend, and if you post about your new fluffy-wuffy widdle cat then I do want to see that.  No, really!  I’m not being sarcastic, I really *do* want to see that!  I want to see the nice stuff!  I want to share your fluffy moments!

You see?  Some of you are reading that and thinking, “FUCK OFF!  If I see another pissing cat photo I’m going to barf so hard I’ll implode!”

You see?  *That’s* why we need tags!  MY Facebook is not the same as YOUR Facebook.  But right now, today, it *is*!  We’re all exposed to the same stuff, and we have to scroll through the stuff we’re not interested in.  Tags will fix that.

So here’s how it will work.  Tags will absolutely fail if it relies on the *poster* to do the tagging.  Posting needs to be quick, and if we have to tag stuff, we just won’t do it.  Plus we’ll lie about our posts.  We’re shit like that.  That’s a non-starter.

This is the key: It’s OTHER PEOPLE who tag your posts.  But the crucial part is that NOBODY KNOWS who’s tagged what, and nobody can find out.

When my good mate Charlie posts about Fernando Ronaldo’s rumoured move to Spuntak Moscow, and I swear at him for wasting my valuable wanking time, in my disgust I tag the post as “football” so that none of my other sexually repressed football-hating friends will have the same experience.  Nobody knows that’s happened – it just doesn’t show up in their feed, because they’ve specified “No football” in their timeline preferences.  If they view Charlie’s page, they’ll still see it, but otherwise they’ll be blissfully unaware.  The Facebook community has become a tiny bit better.

When I post bollocks like I’m writing right now, my Facebook friends can tag it with Politics, or Commentary, or Preachy Fucker, or whatever tags Facebook deems fit to define.  They do need to be pre-defined, because we need to be able to tell Facebook which ones to leave out of our timeline, but we will be able to request new tags, and every month Facebook will give us the highest voted new tag to use thenceforth.  So after month 1, none of us need to hear about those fucking Kardashians EVER AGAIN!  How great is that?!

When I tailor my timeline, I can specify tags as:

  • Never show me this
  • Not interested
  • Interested
  • Always show me this

and that will determine the precedence of the post.  The precedence is altered by the order of the rules, so for example if I’ve defined my number 1 rule as “never show me football” but my number 2 rule is “always show me twats getting their comeuppance” … I might miss out on quite a lot … but that’s MY CHOICE!  The moment I swap the rules around, my timeline changes instantly.  We know this ability already exists in Facebook, because if I add a friend, his or her past posts immediately appear on my timeline as if we were friends all along.  The timeline is a dynamic window.  This will work.

So, just to get the juices flowing, here are a few examples of tags that we might find useful.  Some of them you will want to see more of, some you will want to see less of.  Nobody will have the same set, but that’s the whole point.  You set your own preferences.

Some tags to start with

  • Football
  • Cars
  • Children
  • Politics
  • Sport
  • Exercise
  • Drinking
  • Cooking
  • Charity
  • UK
  • USA
  • Europe
  • Music
  • Kardashians
  • Reality TV
  • Pets
  • Death
  • Cute
  • Violence
  • Daily Mail
  • Religion
  • Request to share
  • Hoax
  • Feelgood
  • Animal cruelty
  • Donald Fucking Trump

That’s just a few off the top of my head.  JUST IMAGINE if you could tailor your Facebook feed with just those few tags, so that you saw more of the content you WANTED to see and less of the content that makes you feel like shit?

Wouldn’t Facebook be SO MUCH BETTER?

I think it would.

 

Stuck in a lift – update

Some time ago you may have read my little tale of being stuck in a lift, at the end of which I said I was going to treat it as a mini-crusade to get the emergency lift button working properly.

Well, much as in the story itself, the epilogue is something of an anti-climax.  The lift company Kone were all over it until they realised it wasn’t them that was supplying the phone support, at which point they instantly stopped giving the faintest shit.  That was the last I or anybody else heard from them.

However, the chap I contacted at Plymouth Council was the epitome of public service.  He immediately met with the bozos responsible:

Thank you for your email.

I have today visited the service provider and forwarded details of your experience, as you can imagine they were very surprised and disappointed by your observations. I have made them aware of my expectations and will be designing a new set of service standards to ensure that we do not get a repeat of your unfortunate incident.

I will be monitoring this performance over the next 3 months and will be undertaking regular checks (by pushing the bell myself) to assess the service standards. Should this highlight any deficiencies I will certainly look to change service providers.

I would again like to thank you for your support in bringing this to my attention, I will certainly keep you up to date with my findings

Regards

Darren

Darren Stoneman
Senior Community Protection Officer
Street Services
Plymouth City Council

 

… and then when I followed up a few months later:

 

Hi James

Yes, I can confirm that the out of hours company that responded so badly to your call have been notified as per their contract that we will be ceasing using their services (6 months notice), the service will be bought in-house into our new 24 hour CCTV service and dealt with in accordance with Plymouth City Council Standards. This should all come together in early 2016. By bringing the service in-house it will allow me to monitor performance and improve response times and standards, and also have additional benefits in such that the call handlers will have access to the city’s CCTV system which will increase the service standards and allow additional reassurance to people who need our help.

I am sorry again for your experience, however it has opened the eyes of the Authority to the poor service standards delivered by our Agent and provided us with the opportunity to improve.

Thank you for your time, support and interest in helping me move this forward

Kind Regards

Darren

Darren Stoneman
Senior Community Protection Officer
Street Services
Plymouth City Council

 

So that’s it.  Fixed.  I didn’t need to take a dump in the Kone offices after all.  I’m almost disappointed :D

So a big thank you to Darren Stoneman, who has done a wonderful job, and a big nyar nyar to the useless service provider who has lost the contract because of our incident.  I actually feel like I’ve achieved something!  Even though I didn’t do any of it.  Hey, this must be what it feels like to be a manager!