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Archive for the category “Travel”

Another Culture Weekend

The weekend just gone turned out to be another of my more “Culture”-based ones, and was thoroughly enjoyable.

Saturday involved a drive down to Bray in Berkshire, for a meal at the Waterside Inn. Having been quite disappointed earlier in the year by the three-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse restaurant at the Dorchester in London, I’d decided I should try another one for comparison purposes, and opted for the Waterside, as it’s had those three stars for thirty years now.

Safe to say, I’m very glad I did – I had a fab time (including getting to meet and have a quick chat with Michel Roux) and really enjoyed the entire meal. Sadly – although understandably – they don’t allow phones/cameras or photos in the dining room, so I couldn’t do my usual of taking a pic of each course, so you’ve been spared that ordeal, but it was definitely still brilliant.

Then on Sunday I went down to London, and saw Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe – and thoroughly enjoyed that, too. I’m still very much a newcomer to Shakespeare in general, so can’t comment on how it’s been done this time in comparison to other staging etc., all I can do is say that I found it great, and a brilliant production. The weather wasn’t the best, so I was glad to be in the galleries rather than the standing area – although the seats were still bloody uncomfortable due to other people spreading themselves wide, and I ended up standing instead for the second half.

I’d done some other food/burger-based bits either side of the main play, so ended up walking about 17km during the day, but that’s just me and my own idiocies and preferences.

All told though, a decent weekend – and quite quiet/easy by my standards, with less driving and so on. An all-round win, in my opinion. 🙂

Slack Data

In the car I hired last weekend, it had a load of built-in tech – Ford’s Sync system – that was quite interesting, not least for the fact that it worked really nicely and easily. Connecting my phone to the car was a doddle, the satnav worked well (and better than my usual stand-alone device in several ways) and it all just seemed pretty easy.

However. It’s obvious that it was designed for a standard “family car” scenario, rather than a vehicle that would be hired to many different users. Which makes sense, but leads to an interesting longer-term problem…

Basically, people are lazy – and don’t think about their data. So the convenience of connecting one’s phone to the car system for hands-free calls etc is great, as is the simple download of the phone’s address book to the system. But if you then don’t delete it when you take the car back to the hire place, it’s all available to the next user. The same applies to the satnav system – ‘recent destinations’ is a goldmine of activity, right down to house number and location. (And I suspect, with a bit of work, one could connect the destination to a phone number in that downloaded phonebook)

It just interests me, how little people care (or understand) about their information. I cleared down the whole car system before I returned it, which took less than five minutes all told. So it’s not much work, but it’s still work, which most people don’t seem willing to undertake.

I’ve suggested to the hire company that it should perhaps be part of the car sanitising process when it’s returned (or before it’s hired back out, whichever) although I realise that makes it more hassle for them, and there’s a lot of different setups in the various cars.

Of course, it’d be better if people cleaned up after themselves – or the car tech had a “forget everything” button/process (although that would still be too much effort for most people) that did the job. But that won’t happen until people realise how important this shit can be, and sadly that tends to only happen by negative paths/occurrences/events, and will always be learned too late.

Automagic – Thoughts

Over the weekend, I hired a car – I was doing a drive to Middlesbrough, Newcastle, and back – and chose to have an automatic (as written about here) The main reason was just to see how I got on with it, as autos aren’t something I usually drive.

It was actually pretty interesting. Enterprise gave me a Ford C-Max, which is a proper boat of a thing – but all went really well. It drives a whole lot better than it looks, and it’s the most spookily quiet thing I’ve driven. There’s dark magic at work, when you’re travelling at *cough* 75 in a diesel-engined car, and can’t hear a jot of engine noise. Well, it’s either that or I’m going completely deaf. (Hint : It’s not the latter)  Interestingly, that makes it quite hard (for me) to hold to a speed – it turns out that I drive far more by the noise of the engine than looking at the speedo/revs (which also explains why I speed up when I turn the radio volume up)  Thankfully, it also comes with cruise control, and a speed limiter.

The journey up was pretty easy – and very lazy, with not having to change gear at all – but didn’t give me a great ability to test my preferences between auto and manual.

However, the journey back really showed the benefits. There’d been an accident on the M1 up in Leicestershire (nothing major, a two-vehicle thing that spread across the two outside lanes) and the queues were insane – mainly because there were so many fuckknuckle cunts who belt along, ignoring the ‘lanes closed’ signs, and wait ’til the last possible minute before pulling in to the only open lane, thus jamming things up for everyone else.

As an aside, I strongly believe that the speed cameras should be activated on every gantry where the “lane closed” signs are operative, and should catch every single driver who ignores the warnings and stays in those lanes. Simple driving without due care and attention, £60 fine in the post. Not (necessarily) even points on the licence – the cunts would soon learn when it started being expensive.

Anyway, those tailbacks were, if not a joy, at least a lot easier. No need for endless gearchanges, clutch etc., just plod and stop, plod and stop. I’m still not a fan of the auto-stop/start technology on modern cars, but even that worked fine all the way through, so I confess that I’m less unconvinced than I was. (And yes, I know, double negative etc. etc.)

Once past that, it was an easy ride again. I was impressed by the satnav in the car, picking up a further closure on the M1 and automatically rerouting. I know it’s pretty standard (or should be) but it hasn’t happened in any of the other hire cars I’ve played in this year, so it was a nice touch.

I think if I were to end up doing a lot of city/motorway driving again for commuting etc., I’d seriously consider getting a car with an automatic gearbox now. It doesn’t completely match my driving style at present – I still had a couple of moments of acceleration (particularly when pulling away from a junction, and when coming out into traffic) where I wasn’t happy with how the auto ‘box handled things, as it either over-revved and/or bogged down, until I let up the accelerator and re-pressed it. But I acknowledge that’s my driving style, rather than the ‘box itself.  I’m pretty sure that I’d quickly change my style to be a more gradual acceleration if I were to have an auto vehicle as my everyday drive.

Will I consider hiring an auto again when the travel dictates it? Yes.

So all told, pretty successful all round.

Wipers

As regular readers know, I have a few guidelines when it comes to spotting drivers who are likely to be idiots – I know it’s a lot of horrible generalising and stereotyping, but at the same time, stereotypes exist for a reason.

The current list is

  • BMW drivers
  • Citroen Picasso drivers (I’m sure that if BMW made a people-carrier, Xsara/Picasso sales would drop to zero immediately)
  • Drivers wearing hats in the car
  • Cars with a Christian Fish emblem/badge/sticker

With the rotten weather of the last couple of months, I’ve added a new one

  • Drivers who, at the first sign of rain, whack their windscreen wipers straight to double-speed

I don’t know what goes through people’s minds in these situations – surely when it’s just spray/drizzle and they’re at double speed, the whining/scraping noise must drive them crackers.

Still, none of it is my problem – as long as I notice these things, and pay more attention to these people on the roads, then it’s OK and handled.

Automagic

I’ve got another weekend of driving ahead of me, and because I’m still not 100% confident in the Saab, I’ve rented one again for the weekend.

This time, for variety’s sake, I went for an automatic – no idea what type yet, but automatic.

I haven’t driven autos that much – I rented one back when I was in Norfolk, which I wasn’t massively impressed with – so figure I might as well get some more experience with them, and see how it goes on a weekend that involves a fair number of motorway miles.

Part of my thinking is that (assuming I don’t mind it) it’s something that I may consider in the next car, because I seem to drive primarily on motorways, and in traffic jams- occasionally at the same time.  I’ve noticed that, when I’ve had a really bad day of slow-moving traffic or city stuff, it can make my legs hurt, purely from just using the clutch all the time, so it’s something to consider, at least.

I’ll write more next week, once I’ve done a bundle of driving in it. One things for sure though – it’s going to be interesting.

Long Week

So far, it’s felt like a very long – and really quite unproductive – week in many ways.

I was away over the weekend, and while driving back on Sunday, the car died on me near Leeds. No power-steering, idiot-lights galore – and all while travelling at 80-ish in the outside lane of the M1. That definitely focusses the mind somewhat.

I got over to the hard shoulder immediately, and stopped. Called my insurance company – who also do the recovery part – and got it organised. I knew it was 99.9% likely to need recovery, so they sorted it out and that all went really smoothly. They’d predicted up to 90 minutes before the recovery got there, and they turned up within half an hour.

Apparently, I got lucky – my recovery part includes “Get me home”, rather than the more standard “nearest garage, and then pay through the nose for anything else” policy. So I got one truck that took me back to Milton Keynes in one go (no Relay crap either, thankfully) and dropped the car off at the Saab garage locally, and then I got a cab home. Not cheap, but could’ve been so much worse.  According to the recovery driver, if it’d been the normal policy, it would’ve cost me around £500 to get the car home…  I broke down at 1.30, and was back in Milton Keynes at 6.00, and home by 7.00.  Not at all bad, all things considered.

While I was waiting to be picked up, I’d also organised a replacement hire car – which also reminds me yet again how great smartphones and apps can be, sat by the side of a motorway booking a hire car – that I collected on Monday before heading off to Chesham to be on-site again.  All fine. Hassle-filled, but fine.

After doing a bundle of driving and so on, I got home about 9pm, and parked up.

And on the Tuesday, by 7am the battery was completely flat and the hire car wouldn’t start at all. Cue a three-hour farce with the AA not sending anyone when they said they would, and making an utter bollock of the entire process. Not helped by using the hire-firm as an intermediary (although they handled it fine, it was just the AA being useless) but still. I finally got sorted at mid-day.

So yes, it took the AA three hours to find a known address and fix the problem (Epically flat battery, although we don’t yet know why – apparently Fiat couldn’t find any issues with it) where it only took four-and-a-half for another company to find me on a motorway, and drive 180-ish miles. Safe to say, I won’t be putting any money in the AA’s direction any time soon.

Along the way, the Saab was fixed on the Monday – the power-steering belt, which also powers a number of other bits, had snapped, and it was just that part which required replacement. So, a bill of £85 all-in, including VAT, labour and parts. Could’ve been *so* much worse…

The rest of the week has just been busy and ridiculous, and doesn’t really feel like it’s stopped at all. With luck it’ll ease up now for the weekend – but then, this is me, so what’re the chances?  Low-to-sod-all , I’d say…

Weekend Travel – Sunday

Having done Manchester on Saturday, I then went down to London on Sunday – I’d made plans and reservations for the early evening, but went down early because, frankly, I’m a bad, bad man.

The main objective was the next Michelin-starred place on my list-of-sorts, the two-starred Hélène Darroze at the Connaught Hotel. That had been booked for a while, and I’ve been looking forward to it for ages.

But then another of my favourite places, Blues Kitchen, announced their latest burger special, the Piskey Whickle, which was introduced on Sunday.

2016-05-01 14.27.21So that just had to be done…

It ended up that I went in earlier than expected, then walked to Blues Kitchen (3 miles, from Euston) for the special, and then across London (another 4 miles) to vegetate around Berkeley Square for a while until it was time for the evening meal.  Frankly, it was the only way I could justify doing both on the same day, but as I had the time and the inclination, why not?

The meal at Darroze was spectacular – I would say it’s now the best place I’ve been to on this project, and I massively enjoyed the entire experience. The only exception was my first instance of being a messy sod in a Michelin-starred place – a piece of food fell off my fork, straight into a sauce that can only be described as “hyper-green” – splat. Jackson Pollock all over the pristine white tablecloth. ‘If you’re going to do it, do it with style‘, that’s my motto.

Because of the time, I wussed out of walking back to Euston, so got the tube from Green Park back to Euston, and then a train home – again, all remarkably smooth, and a contented end to a fantastic weekend…

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