Disaster! Wednesday’s driving job was cancelled late Tuesday afternoon which meant I had to spend TWO days decorating (I had already reserved Thursday as a day to reluctantly face up to my adult, home-owning responsibilities). We’re only re-decorating the hall which is the size of a matchbox so the good news is that it will only take us about three weeks (we are not the world’s quickest). For some reason, we thought it would be a good idea to put coving up. How hard could it be to cove the inside of a matchbox? With all the predictability of an episode of Doc Martin, of course it turned out to be a lot harder than we imagined. Our house was built before right angles had been invented – intrepid inventors, Aubrey and Wilma Right only adding a ninetieth degree to a protractor for the first time in 1927, thus giving humankind the Right Angle a year after our house was constructed. And, after offering up the coving to the walls, it seems straight lines were pretty rare in those days too. So strips of elegant coving were tacked to the walls with more pins than you would find in a tailor’s dummy, since glue alone would not allow the coving to make contact with the wall at more than two points. In the corners, each strip of coving waved to its distance neighbour, as if across the Bering Strait until finally united by that interior pack ice, Polyfilla. A tip for inexperienced coving putter uppers: after you have finished re-decorating, buy a luridly coloured carpet or rug for your newly smart and tasteful room thus drawing people’s eyes downwards rather than up. What a palaver decorating is. Believe me, having to get up at 5.30am for a 6 o’clock pick-up on Friday, getting taken in the dark to a desolate airfield in Warwickshire to then drive a van to Nottingham was sheer bliss (truly, I genuinely enjoyed it). And what about Tuesday, that was a bumper day:-
Monday: Audi A1 Sport 1.4TFSI (125hp), Syston, Leicestershire to Stourbridge, Worcestershire. Bentley Mulsanne Speed (2015), Stourbridge to Syston. Peugeot 2008 Active 1.2T Puretech (82hp), Syston to Derby and back
Tuesday: Peugeot 2008 Active 1.2T Puretech (82hp), Syston to Northampton. Bentley Bentayga W12, Northampton to Syston. Bentley Continental GT Speed W12 (2009), 40 mile test run & Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 (2014), 50 mile test run to there and back. Bentley Continental GT V8S (2016), Syston to Newark. Audi A1 Sport 1.4TFSI (125hp), Newark to Syston.
Friday: Ford Transit Connect, Stratford-Upon-Avon to Nottingham.
So, Tuesday. I was working for the service department at the Leicester Bentley/ Lamborghini dealer. While grabbing a quick sandwich and cup of tea wondering what was up next, a set of keys was dangled in front of me. “Can you take this Aventador up to Gunthorpe and back.” Why? Who cared! Mine not to reason why, mine but to do and drive.
Outside I went, where the outrageous piece of automotive excess sat brooding. Another 700hp starship, this time with a 6.5 litre V12. In almost matt black, there was more than a touch of the Batmobile about it. Open the scissor door and clamber in. Glance round the cockpit to locate all the important bits and assess the potential for coving (fortunately, none). Inside, there was a distinct similarity to the Aventador’s little brother, the Huracan which I had driven before. However, the Aventador did have conventional stalks for the indicators and wipers instead of the Huracan’s sliding switches on the steering wheel. Also, the Aventador’s seat was a little less snug in the lateral department for my
lithe, athletic rake-like form but this is a car for proper grown-ups. Sliding a steak and kidney pie down one side and a doughnut down the other would have sorted things but may have been a little bit Lionel*. Like the Huracan, there was no gear selector with the usual choice of P-R-N-D, instead just two buttons “R” and “M” and an electronic parking brake. There was also the same style of nuclear button hidden under a red safety cover.
Almost ready then – just adjust the mirrors and write my will. Adjusting the mirrors was of dubious value because the wing mirrors couldn’t see much past the Batmobile’s high and wide hips (all muscle – no doughnuts or pies) and the rear view mirror peered through a very shallow rear window at a large wing. Now, flip red safety cover up, HIT THE NUCLEAR BUTTON AND ….. nothing. Another difference between the Aventador and Huracan is the position of the pedals. The Aventador’s are so far over to the left that driving pleasures could be shared your passenger. How jolly considerate of the Lamborghini designers. Anyway, making a mental note to keep my right foot well over to the left when braking to prevent embarrassment (and early reading of the will), I tried again – this time with foot on brake. All hell broke loose. I’d swear that the engine, situated immediately behind my ears, actually gave its ear-splitting bark not once but twice.
So, flip the right flappy paddle into first, gently squeeze the loud pedal and off I bumbled out of the dealership. With the all-black interior and slitty windows, I felt I was driving the world’s fastest (and lowest) letterbox. And feeling every single bump and pimple on the road’s surface (and some that probably weren’t there at all), it was apparently a letterbox with octagonal wheels and powered by screaming harpies. I chugged a few hundred yards round the corner to the local petrol station letting the gearbox do its own thing while I got used to the car. Then I had to climb out at the pumps trying to look as casual as possible but feeling very self-conscious. Why was everyone staring? Check flies and carry on. Anyway, I splashed in twenty quids worth of unleaded as instructed and went to collect my Nectar points. Yes, I was getting paid for driving a Lamborghini Aventador and I got Nectar points. Does life get any better?
Now, the real business began. After starting the engine (foot on correct pedal), I hit the “M” (manual) button and played tunes on the flappy paddles all by myself. My route for the fifty mile run wasn’t very inspiring – negotiate about three roundabouts, then straight up the A46 dual carriageway into Nottinghamshire …. and back again. So, in the established Cars with a Side of Couscous tradition, I can tell you what it is like to drive in straight lines (and only at roughly legal speeds). But I’m not complaining! Accelerating away from a set of traffic lights, seventy was reached in what seemed like the blink of an eye and other cars were left far behind (at least I think they were, but the rearward view was limited). By magic, those octagonal wheels became more or less round although the suspension still provided less give than Scrooge. And the road noise was colossal, particularly on a long stretch of concreted A46 when I thought Brian Blessed must be sitting next to me – yodelling (actor and force of nature Brian Blessed is the loudest thing on the planet; he once demolished a disused cooling tower with a single guffaw). When Mr Blessed stopped yodelling, I was able to hear the engine again, continuing its metallic scream – much higher-pitched than the deep-throated Bentley Supersports. To be honest, I didn’t find the engine’s song as characterful as the Supersports or an Aston Martin V12. The exception was on the overrun; lifting off the throttle gave rise to a distinctive, sinister rattle issued by the 12 headed snake from Hades behind my head.
Then, amazingly, I realised I could make out something in the rear view mirror. A small van that I had passed way back, had suddenly appeared – glued to my tail. I was doing a generous 70mph (but no more than 75mph, officer) so I moved over to let the van past. It duly dawdled past me, promptly pulled in a little way ahead and gradually slowed down. Grateful for an excuse to enjoy the Aventador’s ferocious acceleration, I pulled out and overtook the van and carried on my way. Guess wot? Yes, the same thing happened again … and again. The third time I passed the van, the driver’s window came down and a hand appeared holding a camera pointing in my direction. A paparazzo! No doubt he mistook me for Batman actor, Ben Affleck. There is a similarity – Ben and I have the same number of heads, for a start. And, we weren’t that far from Gotham (the Nottinghamshire version) or even Wollaton Hall which doubles as Wayne Manor in the Batman movies. Or maybe, he was taking a photo of the car?
Finally, the van turned off and I carried on my way up the A46, the more slow moving vehicles pulling out ahead of me the better because I then had an excuse to drop a couple of gears and restore cruising speed as quickly as possible once they moved out of the way. Then, after about 25 miles, I turned around and did much the same thing all the way back to the Batcave. Work beats putting up coving any day.
Another interesting and varied working week. I don’t know how I cope:-
Monday: Ford Transit Connect, Doncaster to Crewe; Bentley Continental GT Supersports, Syston, Leicestershire to Leicester
Tuesday: Bentley Continental GT Supersports, Leicester to Crewe, Cheshire and back
Wednesday: Volkswagen Tiguan SE Nav 2.0TDI (150hp), Nottingham to Mansfield, Nottinghamshire
Friday: Mercedes GLS 350d 4Matic AMG Line, Stafford to Hertford
So, I got to drive the same 700hp Supersports as a few weeks ago and for a good long run to Crewe and back. Talk about taking coals to Newcastle – two of us took a couple of Bentleys to the Bentley factory for some sort of customer driving event despite the fact there are hundreds of the things swilling around up there.
Between dropping the Bentleys off and picking them up again, we had seven hours to kill. What do you do in Crewe for seven hours?? From
a quick peep in-depth research on the interweb, the answer is you don’t. There appeared to be nothing of interest whatsoever. When the local shopping centre, a kiddies play centre and Crewe Alexandra football stadium appear in the top ten things to do, you know it wouldn’t make for an interesting day out. Crewe is famous as a railway town and there is a heritage railway museum …. but it closed a couple of days previously for the winter. Also, by coincidence, a group of us delivered some vans to Crewe the day before; from a drive through the town, it didn’t look inspiring. My extensive research suggested that the old market town of Nantwich would be a better bet, just a fifteen minute bus ride from the Bentley factory.
So, off we boldly went to seek out new sights and tea rooms in this old Cheshire town which dates back to Roman times, when local Roman garrisons used salt from Nantwich to sprinkle on their fish and chips (I’m guessing here but what else would they have used salt for??). And we weren’t disappointed. No Sistine Chapel, Taj Mahal or Hanging Gardens but a pleasant place to while away a few hours. In fact, it was a bit like Hereford which featured in my last post but on a smaller scale and without a famous drawing of the world. Like Hereford, the town is situated on a river (the Weaver) and it comprises mostly old, attractive buildings. The large church (which could have been a cathedral had it drunk a tad more milk when it was growing up) is also built in a pinkish stone just like Hereford Cathedral. A particular feature of Nantwich is the number of Elizabethan black and white, half-timbered buildings dotted around the town. There is also a very charming, mostly residential street called Welsh Row – the comparison with Hereford continues as Nantwich is not a million miles from the Welsh border. After a decent riverside walk, a turn around the town, church, small covered market, lunch and a visit to the small town museum (ho hum, it was free so might as well….), we jumped on the omnibus back to Crewe.
On the way back to Leicester in the Supersports, I was really adventurous and put it in “Sport”. I don’t know what came over me, must have been the Tabasco sauce in my porridge. Actually, I didn’t think that it would make that much difference but oh boy, was I wrong. The engine note changed immediately – louder and deeper, it held on to each gear for longer (and didn’t seem to want to bother with gears 7 and 8 even when settling at 70mph) and acceleration went from furious back shoving to vicious head snapping. The best bit was lifting off the throttle which prompted someone to play kettle drums very rapidly through some sort of fluttery filter, even when slowing down from the most modest of speeds. Tee hee.
So, on to Friday when I moved into a small black bungalow for the 130 mile trip from Stafford to Hertford. It was my first Mercedes GLS, a huge seven seat SUV. Bigger than a Range Rover but not as refined or as quick and it’s thirstier compared to the similarly-engined three litre diesel Range Rover. Like the Rangie, it is soft riding and pitches and wallows along undulating country roads, possibly more so than its British competitor, but all is calm on the motorway. So, why would you buy a GLS? Well, it has more space including a reasonable amount of legroom in Row Z (you could even fit real people back there) and the amply equipped AMG Line three litre diesel costs about £5000 less than the cheapest Range Rover. If you are fortunate to have enough of the stuff, you pays your money and takes your choice (which may be an Audi Q7 if cost, space and refinement are priorities but that’s based on what I have read, not personal experience).
By the way, if you read my Hereford post right to the end, The Pretenders were absolutely brilliant when we saw them on Wednesday night!
After a long, interesting chat with the guide about the map and a brief peruse of the 1217 Magna Carta, it was into the Chained Library, so called because there are still dusty skeletons chained to the walls as a stark warning to users of the library. The penalty for overdue books and for not shushing when shushed at by the librarian was harsh in those days. No, hang on, that was just a nightmare I once had when I forgot to take a copy of The Railway Children back to our local library on time. In reality, the Chained Library contains rows of books chained to their early 17th century bookcases, clearly for security reasons (the need arising after Rufus Gable, a shady roofing contractor, stole several editions of What Tiler from the library in 1601). There are many ancient manuscripts and crusty old printed works, some dating back to the earliest days of printing – 1473 is the oldest printed book. Each weighty tome is tethered to a metal bar on the bookcase by a chain attached to the leading edge of its front cover.
The cathedral itself is not in the major league in terms of size but it is still impressive. Last year, a new stained glass window and memorial to the UK’s most famous (but still secretive) elite military unit – the Special Air Service – was unveiled. The SAS is based in Herefordshire and there is an SAS cemetery in another of Hereford’s churches.
After that dose of history and culture, we did something very unusual for us – we went on a guided tour of the city for more of the same. We normally like to explore places on our own but it was worthwhile tagging along with a guide. Hereford has loads of old buildings, churches and history and our guide had plenty of anecdotes to bring it all to life. I asked him where the statue of Ronnie Radford was and was a bit shocked to learn there isn’t one. Later in the afternoon, I was tempted by Hereford’s Cider Museum but we were quite exhausted by that time so gave it a miss. To make up for it, I had a bottle of Herefordshire cider when we got home (by coincidence, we happened to have a bottle of Henney’s Exhibition Cider ready and waiting in the fridge – excellent buy, £1.29 at Aldi!). Another coincidence we discovered over the weekend – with the exception of Chrissie Hynde, all of the original members of The Pretenders came from Hereford. We are going to see The Pretenders in Nottingham tonight. The Chained Library was the inspiration for their hit, Back on the Chain Gang. No it wasn’t.
Dashing this quick post off on my phone at Sheffield train station ‘cos we are going away for a long weekend. Obviously all of the best drivers must have been unavailable this week (I know one of them had to take his guide dog to the vets), so happily I was landed with this lot:
Monday: Aston Martin V8 Vantage S automatic, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire to Nottingham
Tuesday: Mercedes S500e plug-in petrol-electric hybrid, Leicester to Hinckley, Leicestershire
Wednesday: Aston Martin Vanquish S Volante, Gaydon, Warwickshire to Williams F1, Grove, Oxfordshire
Thursday: Range Rover Vogue SE TDV6, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire to Sheffield
My working week in numbers: 4 cars, a total of 1,725 horses, 2,370 Nm of torque and list price of about £490,000 (no doubt some of the cars had extras on top of that so quite probably over the half a million mark).
My working week in words:
Aston Martin V8 Vantage S. It’s not all glamour – pouring with rain, rush hour, short trip (15 miles), about half of it in slow traffic. Still an occasion though. In fact, just starting an Aston Martin is something to be relished – see my post about my day working at the Aston Martin dealer in Derby (which has now closed down – hopefully nothing to do with me). Sluggish gear change in either auto or manual mode just like the V12 Vantage auto (again see earlier post – I politely described it as “slightly hesitant”) but learnt it is much better driving in manual mode and lifting off the throttle with each change up, just as if driving a proper manual with a clutchy pedal thing. As hard and bumpy as the V12 version. Probably no surprise but who cares – sounds as wonderful as the V12 and this one had brilliant interior. Ultra smart, tasteful black leather dash, bit of blue stitching for that sporty touch. Something to admire sitting in a traffic jam.
By the way, I never did marry Philomena Wingnut after my day in Derby. We agreed that her giving me a scandalous number of loyalty points wasn’t actually much of a scandal – plus my wife wouldn’t let me.
Vanquish S Volante. Compared to the Vantage, a positively sumptuous ride (everything’s relative!!). Glorious V12 – goes without saying but I just did. Felt very grippy, nice weighty steering. Engine hushes up when cruising but significant road noise and bit of flutter from the soft top. Much better automatic gearbox – quick changes with the flappy paddles when in manual mode. Dash layout and controls virtually same as all current and recent Astons (DB11 excepted, I think but still to find out!) so no familiarisation needed. This one had all cream interior. I like cream leather seats in a car, not so keen on the whole dashboard. Not complaining though!
Disappointingly little to see at the Williams F1 headquarters where three of us delivered the Vanquish and two DB11s. I went into reception, mainly to use the facilities but also in the hope that there would be a few exhibits – like a couple of old F1 cars or Alan Jones’s lucky underpants (Australian Jones won the 1980 F1 championship in a Williams and his lucky red underwear). Instead, there was a Brompton folding bike and a futuristic, plastic electric vehicle. Might have been the reception for the on-site conference centre rather than the actual team.
Vantage versus Vanquish? If I could choose, I would love to have a longer run in the seven speed (proper) manual V12 Vantage that I drove back in May.
Mercedes S500e. Have read a few times that the S-Class is the best car in the world (may have been Mercedes saying that though). Is it? Can’t tell you because a) I haven’t driven every other car in the world and b) more specifically, I haven’t driven the new Ford Fiesta (and no, that wasn’t an attempt at humour or sarcasm). However – shock, horror – I was disappointed with the S-Class. Maybe I had read too much about it beforehand. It didn’t have a 100% silky magic carpet ride (little bit jittery in the M69) nor was I able to listen to the clock in monastic silence. Obviously, it was still very quiet and comfortable but I was expecting something supernatural. Also, it was a little bit jerky driving through town, partly the petrol engine kicking in to help the electric motor and partly the gear change. Apart from that, quality was impeccable and rear passengers would love the reclining seats and oodles of legroom in this long wheel base leviathan. It did feel a bit Percy though. Soulless (hope you read my last, very silly post).
Range Rover. A more cosseting ride in my view than the S-Class although the Range Rover does wobble and wallow a bit when going over crests and bumps. But so, so smooth going up through the gears I didn’t notice it. Also, despite being a diesel, it was commendably quiet. The S-Class was probably quieter but the Range Rover was more than quiet enough. The Range Rover does have a bit of character about it plus you and your passengers have that commanding view but things will be a little cramped for your rear guests compared to the Mercedes.
Mercedes S500e versus Range Rover Vogue SE TDV6? If I was forced to have one of these luxury barges, then I would have to choose the Range Rover, especially for munching motorway miles. Would have to put up with some wobblyness if driving down country roads – I’m sure the S-Class would make a better job of that.
Footnote: I have delivered four of the smaller Range Rover Velars (all two litre diesels) in recent weeks, all a similar distance on motorway standard roads, including one from Peterborough to Sheffield. They managed 34-36 miles per gallon which I thought was a bit poor. Driving from Peterborough to Sheffield again, cruising at the same 70mph, the three litre big daddy Range Rover did 37mpg. Interesting … or maybe not. Sorry. Anoraky.
Not quite a quick post, was it? That’s a lot of typing on a little phone. But I did finish it before the train got back to Leicester.
After I had delivered the Audi A4 Avant to Oakham last week, I had a very pleasant, sunny stroll through this tranquil town situated in the county of Rutland. As I made my way to the train station I noticed that Oakham has sufficient quaint bits to make it interesting, including a castle with England’s most complete Norman great hall (yes, I looked that up afterwards). However, the walk did not take long because most things in Rutland, the UK’s smallest historic county, are, well … small. Including Oakham. Multum in parvo is Rutland’s motto. A lot in a little.
However, it was not all tranquility in Oakham’s recent and bloody past. Rutland is a historic county but that long history was interrupted when it lost its county status in 1974 and was absorbed into neighbouring Leicestershire. The population of Rutland then had to kowtow to the tyrannical Leicestershire County Council (LCC). But the feisty Rutlanders were not going to take this lightly. The Rutland Independence Party (RIP for short) led by Nicholas Barage organised resistance while Rutland Weekend Television (anyone remember RWT??) broadcast subversive propaganda in an attempt to undermine the authority of the LCC’s despotic leader, Percy Soulless. The LCC instigated a clamp down. Thanks to the LCC’s notorious secret police, several Rutland freedom fighters disappeared in the dead of night. They were sent to a concentration camp known as Skegness (known by some as Leicester-by-the-Sea) and forced to read the Leicester Mercury (readily available in Skeggy) in an attempt to brainwash them. Their families were notified of their incarceration by means of saucy postcard. The suppression continued. Leicestershire, famous for Melton Mowbray pork pies, Stilton and Red Leicester cheeses, banned exports of these dietary staples to Rutland. In retaliation, the RIP threatened to cut-off water supplies from Rutland Water, England’s largest reservoir by surface area (like Nicholas Barage’s ego, not everything in Rutland is small. By the way, Rutland Water is a good place to hire bikes and cycle round). However, that plan backfired when someone pointed out that Rutland Water did not actually supply Leicestershire with its water.
Nevertheless, the hardy Rutlanders, surviving on black market Lincolnshire sausages and Cheddar cheese, would not give up. The RIP laid low but not idle in the rural idyll that is Rutland and would be forever Rutland, the beauty of its little villages and countryside comparable to those of the Cotswolds but without the hordes of tourists. The RIP planned and executed forays into Leicestershire causing chaos and confusion. Cling film was surreptitiously put over all the toilets in the LCC offices; all the potato peelers were stolen from the Walkers crisp factory and Percy Soulless’s wheelie bin was stolen not once but three times. Things came to a head when the LCC tracked down Nicholas Barage to Oakham Castle and laid siege. The siege lasted until tea time when Barage said he needed to go home to feed his cat and watch Coronation Street. Finally, common sense seemed to prevail when a meeting was held between the leaders of the RIP and LCC in Oakham’s bijou and very ancient Lord Nelson pub which dates back to the 1500s.
However, the meeting started badly and went downhill from there. Things got heated, people’s parentage was brought into question and other insults were thrown. And, when everyone “stepped outside”, handbags and punches followed the insults. It was the bloodiest battle Oakham had ever seen – Barage suffered a cut lip and then threw a Bloody Mary over Percy Soulless’s Armani suit. That was the final straw. Soulless could stand no more and promised independence for Rutland on condition that Barage let go of his hair, paid the cleaning bill for his suit and returned his wheelie bin. Thus on 1st April 1997, Rutland became an independent county again. Peace reigned and Rutland celebrated. The “disappeared” were returned from Skegness by donkey, bearing sticks of rock, knotted hankies on their heads and burning copies of the Leicester Mercury. The Rutles sang songs in the streets (now do you remember Rutland Weekend Television?? Eric Idle? Neil Innes?). The Rutland Navy was disbanded and its battlecruiser, the Rutland Belle, was converted back to its original pleasure cruiser rôle by removal of its armament (3 x .22 air rifles). The Rutland Belle still plies its trade on Rutland Water today, so after your cycle ride, watersports or wildlife watching, you can enjoy a relaxing cruise on the reservoir then go and explore the delights of this charming little county in the East Midlands.
P.S. I do apologise for the appalling drivel in the above post but it was enormous fun writing it. Hopefully, you can separate fact from fiction. If you can’t, please let me know which planet you live on and how I can get there; it is probably a fun place to be. In case there is any doubt, Rutland did cease to be a county in 1974. The story of how it really re-gained county status in 1997 is probably very boring.
P.P.S. Rutland Weekend Television was a TV sketch show with two series broadcast in 1975 and 1976. It was ex-Python Eric Idle’s first television project in the post-Monty Python era with music written by Neil Innes (ex-Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band). The show spawned the Rutles, originally a fictional then actual rock band parodying the Beatles.