Driving took a backseat this week, at least in my mind (my arms aren’t that long). Winter is coming. And this year that means one thing: the Ashes series Down Under. For the uninitiated, this is cricket. Australia versus England in the most historic and bitterly fought contest in sport. Why “the Ashes”? Because in 1882, those upstart colonials came to England and dared to beat the complacent imperial masters for the first time ever. This shocking turn of events prompted an English newspaper to publish a satirical obituary stating that English cricket had died and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.
The Ashes is a tempestuous rivalry to match Game of Thrones, with the likes of the cool Dawid Malannister facing the fiery Mitchell of House Starc. Ice and fire. This is a war fought with willow clubs rather steel swords, where leather-bound, rock-like projectiles are hurled at the enemy’s head at 90 miles per hour. To the victor goes the Terracotta Urn rather than the Iron Throne but they are both uncomfortable to sit on. Before play started in Brisbane, Australia (frustratingly at midnight on Wednesday UK time), I was in a state of nervous tension. Should I join the ranks of the Night’s Watch and forego sleep? No, I need my beauty sleep too much (although it doesn’t work). So, I wake up each morning actually dreading looking at the score. Hopefully, England will get away with an honourable, narrow defeat over the five test match series (each match lasting five days) rather than complete humiliation. But sometimes, in the odd foolhardy moment, I dare to dream of a well earned series draw or, heaven forbid, a win. Dream on. Anyway, despite the sporting distraction, I did drive some cars this week:-
Monday: Volkswagen Up! Move Up! (60hp), Northampton to Spalding, Lincolnshire
Tuesday: BMW X4 Xdrive3.0d M Sport auto, Leicester to Coventry
Wednesday: Jaguar XF R Sport 2.0d auto (180hp), Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire to Manchester; Range Rover Evoque SE Tech TD4 auto (180hp), Manchester to Melton Mowbray.
Friday: Nissan Juke Envy 1.2 DIG-T, Leicester to Uxbridge, Middlesex; Nissan X-Trail (hire car), Uxbridge to Leicester.
At last! I got to drive a current model Jaguar XF and it was as good as I had hoped it would be. Just like a larger version of the nimble XE but more space, more refinement and more comfort. To drive, it didn’t feel like a big car and seemed just as twinkled-toed as the XE. The 180hp diesel engine is fairly low down in XF pecking order but I wouldn’t argue if someone were to give me one of these! Not least because I got 60 miles to the gallon out of it over the 120 miles between Melton Mowbray and Manchester. Plus I’m sure most people would find it perfectly quick enough and, under acceleration, I actually think it sounds pretty good for a diesel. Almost sporty. I have thought the same when driving XEs with the same motor but not the various Land Rover products that also use the same powerplant (like the Evoque I drove back to Melton Mowbray after delivering the Jag). So Jaguar must sprinkle sporty dust on the engines they use, or something like that.
However, there were a couple of niggles. Firstly, on occasions there was a lot of wind noise from the driver’s door mirror. It was an extremely windy day though, so I would like to drive other examples to see if this was a one off (the XF I drove wasn’t brand new, it was a few months old). Also, I drove the R Sport version or, if you like, the boy racer version with red leather inserts on the seats and doors. Hmm. A question of taste. Very few modern Jaguars have the full wood and leather treatment to make them feel truly special, as they did in days of yore. And yet, although smart, the interiors do look a touch dated. Still, I would happily have an XF if the bank balance permitted. For the time being I will have to make do with the Jaguar tea bags we have in the kitchen cupboard. Actually, they are Tetley (and its redbush/rooibos not tea) but Jaguar Land Rover and Tetley are all part of the same group, being owned Tata of India. So, I have racy rooibos bags.
A few firsts for me this week including the mighty Renault Kangoo which has a lot in common with the Fiat Doblo – a van with a silly name but a surprisingly comfortable and relaxed long distance companion. By the way, in case you are wondering about the photos, you are right – they have nothing to do with the contents of this post. Fine cars as they are, do you really need to see pictures of modern day Kangoos, Sciroccos, Polos or Golfs (even a Golf R)? No. Better to look at the two beauties my son and I spotted at another classic car gathering at the Great Central Railway a couple of weeks ago. So, back to this past week:-
Monday: Renault Kangoo Maxi 1.5TD (110hp) van, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire to Clevedon, Avon
Wednesday: Volkswagen Scirocco R-Line 2.0TDI (184hp) DSG, VW Scirocco R-Line 2.0TDI (150hp) DSG (2015), VW Golf GTD (2015), VW Scirocco 2.0TDI (140hp) (2011), all in and around Leicester; VW Golf R (2015), Leicester to Wymondham, Leicestershire
Thursday: Volkswagen Scirocco R-Line 2.0TDI (184hp) DSG, VW Golf S 1.2TSI (85hp) (2015), VW Golf 1.6TDI, VW Polo 1.2TSI DSG (90hp) all in and around Leicester.
Volkswagen Sciroccos are like buses. No, that’s not an derogatory comment on the way they drive, but I had never driven a Scirocco before and then three came along at once on Wednesday! I spent two days this week working for the local Volkswagen dealer, collecting and delivering cars for the Service Department. It was pure coincidence that everything I drove on Wednesday happened to be a VW with sporting pretensions.
I wasn’t 100% sure about the looks of the current Scirocco when it was first launched (which seems a very long time ago). However, it has grown on me and now I think it’s a good looking car although a little oddly proportioned from some angles. From the brief time I spent in each, it was difficult to get a full impression of what they are like to drive but they seemed grippy with accurate steering and firm ride. I liked the interior which was typical Volkswagen (i.e. smart and an above average feel in the quality stakes) plus a few sporty accoutrements. These included three extra instruments on top of the dashboard – oil pressure, turbo boost and a stopwatch. The latter would be very useful if you want to boil an egg on the go. I believe this is a throwback to the original Mk 1 Scirocco but I wonder how many Scirocco owners have ever used it. All three Sciroccos were diesels and I am sure the 184hp version goes very quickly when you want it to. Very much like a Golf GTD which I also drove on Wednesday and have also commented on in a previous post. However, these Scirocco diesels did seem a little bit old school in terms of noise. I’m sure the same engines are a bit quieter in other VW applications.
The pick of all these sporty VWs (and the only petrol powered one) was of course the Golf R. Wow! A searingly hot hatch: two litre turbo power, 296hp, four wheel drive and 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds – this DSG (automatic) version being a fraction of a blink of an eye quicker than the manual. A facelifted Mk 7 Golf (a sort of Mk 7.5) was introduced earlier this year and the R is now more powerful (306hp) and quicker still. VW didn’t really need to bother because the 2015 Mk7 I drove was brilliant. Unlike the Sciroccos and Golf GTD, I tragically had to drive the R for about 25 miles out into the Leicestershire countryside. It was fun. Naturally, it felt very quick and, with loads of grip, it was flat and unfussed going through the bends. Could be addictive. In this day and age of seven, eight and even nine speed automatic boxes, the Mk 7 Golf R “only” has six. This was a good thing in my view because driving it manually via the steering wheel mounted flappy paddles (which is far more interesting than letting the car do its own thing) was much more manageable and instinctive if you are used to driving five or six speed manuals. Inside, the Golf R has to make do without the Scirocco’s three extra sporting dials but surprisingly that does not hinder progress. It does however have racy luminous blue needles for the two main dials found in most cars, so that’s obviously the real secret to the R’s extra pace. The seats were great too.
Finally, an honourable mention in despatches for the 1.2TSI (turbo) Polo, again another DSG (automatic) and another first for me. What a great way to get around the city – like a little go kart. Smooth, refined and it felt really quite punchy (0-60mph in 10.8 isn’t bad for a humble supermini). Would liked to have tried this Polo out on the open road. This “old” 1.2 petrol engine is now sold alongside a new 1.0 turbo in the Polo, which is more powerful, quicker and more economical than the 1.2. What modern day wonders these tiny one litre engines with spinny things are.
My wife and I spent this morning watching our son represent Boots in the Corporate Games at six-a-side football (he has a one year work placement at Boots head office as part of his university course). The Corporate Games is a large, multi-sport event and Nottingham is the host city this year. It was the clash of the titans as Boots faced two teams from Asda and one from accountancy firm, Smith Cooper. There should have been a fourth team from Nottinghamshire Police Force but I think someone put in a bogus 999 call so that they didn’t turn up and Boots were awarded a win by default.
Anyway, I spent most of this week worrying that passers-by may think I was an over-paid Premier League footballer (actually, I probably could have been a Premier League footballer but I peaked way too early – for regular readers of this blog, it was during that match for the Cubs against the Brownies when Jimmy Spannerfoot disgraced himself):-
Monday: Bentley Bentayga Diesel, Leicester to Ascot; Bentley Continental GTC W12 (2013), Ascot to Leicester
Tuesday: Bentley Bentayga W12, Leicester to Basildon, Essex; Bentley Continental GTC V8 (2013), Basildon to Leicester
Wednesday: Bentley Continental GTC V8 (2012) to Wolverhampton; Bentley Flying Spur W12 (2014), Wolverhampton to Leicester
Thursday: Bentley Continental GTC W12 (2013), Leicester to Ascot; Bentley Bentayga Diesel, Ascot to Leicester
Friday: Vauxhall Movano van, Cannock, Staffordshire to Nottingham
In truth, it was very pleasant driving these swift and comfortable cars up and down the country but the journeys themselves were rather uninteresting – basically all motorway and quite a bit of congestion. Some relief from trial by motorway came on the second trip to Ascot, when I went via a different route. From Maidenhead to Ascot was a green and pleasant trip through classic Home Counties scenery, including a beautiful little place called Holyport Village. Basically it’s a very large green with the quaintest of pubs and some old houses overlooking it. Apparently, Stirling Moss used to live in Holyport (pronounced Hollyport) and was in the Bray and Holyport Scout Group. I wonder if they ever beat the Bray and Holyport Brownies at football?
Here are a few thoughts on each type of Bentley based on these rather one dimensional journeys (although in the case of the Continentals, I did drive two last week on more varied roads):-
Continental GT and GTC: Despite the Premier League footballer image, these cars have grown on me! I absolutely love the sound of the smaller V8 – even steady, progressive acceleration is rewarded by a deep, loud and lazy fluttering beat like a very laid-back pneumatic drill – or maybe some sort of pod racer from Star Wars Episode 1. My descriptive powers may not do it justice but it is fabulous. By contrast, the faster but more expensive W12 sort of whirrs in a muted way although if you really mashed your right foot into the Wilton, I’m sure it would be more vocal. When cruising, the Continental is appropriately quiet whichever engine is under the long bonnet although you do notice more noise from your surroundings when passing other vehicles in the convertible (no big deal though). The Continental is a true Grand Tourer which is another way of saying that it does not go round corners with much aplomb but would be good at crossing continents quickly and comfortably. In fact it could probably cross a whole continent more quickly than it took me to get to Wolverhampton but that wasn’t the Continental’s fault. So, unlike the Mitsubishi Carisma, the Continental GT has a totally appropriate name. In terms of ride and handling, the V8s and the older W12s I drove felt very similar but last week’s new-ish W12 Speed was noticeably different with heavier steering (despite being in full comfort mode) and being more prone to tramlining. The Continental GT has been around since 2003 and inside it does feel a bit dated. However, the interior is less blingy than the Mulsanne and Bentayga which (from my point of view) is a good thing. There is a new Continental due out soon with underpinnings developed jointly with Porsche and apparently it should be better at twisty bits.
Flying Spur: A sort of stretched, four door Continental GT but a bit softer. The W12 engine was even more muted than in the Continental GT and extremely quiet when cruising. To emphasis this more restrained approach (compared to its GT sibling), there were no flappy paddles to play with but, no surprise, a very quick car. The dashboard is taken from the Continental GT but the materials in the Flying Spur that I drove were more understated. A very quick way for four adults to cross continents.
Bentayga: Won’t say anything about the looks. I suppose Bentley had to jump on the SUV band wagon. More wood and bling than in the Continental GT and Flying Spur but of course comfortable, quiet and fast in a straight line – like a Flying Spur on stilts. The diesel Bentayga is the quietest diesel (almost silent!) I have ever driven but then again it is the most expensive diesel I have ever driven. In addition, it lays claim to being the fastest diesel SUV in the world. It can also manage 35 – 39mpg in the real world. Not bad for such a big and quick lump. By comparison, the W12 Bentleys managed mid to high 20s and I did 33mpg in the Continental GT V8 on the 130 mile journey from Basildon to Leicester.
Incidentally, I drove these Bentleys while working for the Bentley dealer in Leicester – collecting customers’ cars for service and returning them. Two of these customers lived 120-130 miles away but have their Bentleys collected and taken to Leicester for their oil change. And these two customers had loan cars while their Bentleys were in the workshop. Not your run-of-the-mill courtesy car like a Ford Fiesta or clapped out Renault Clio with “Bert’s Autos” written on the side but new Bentley Bentaygas. Different world. So, I was on my best behaviour, tugging my forelock and only speaking when I was spoken to.
Another vindaloo week. The main event was a golf day held by Bentley Leicester at Woodhall Spa Golf Club in Lincolnshire to which four of us took three Bentleys and a Lamborghini, having collected them the evening before:-
Monday: Audi A6 S-Line Quattro 2.0TDi Ultra, Leicester to Cirencester, Gloucestershire; Bentley Continental GTC (convertible) V8S & Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4 LDF, Syston, Leicestershire to Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
Wednesday: Bentley Continental GT Speed W12 (633hp), Melton Mowbray to Syston; X-wing fighter, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire to Leicester.
Thursday: X-wing fighter, Leicester to Taunton, Somerset; Volkswagen Transporter (2012), Taunton to Exeter
Friday: Ford Transit Custom, Ashby-de-la-Zouch to Stockton-on-Tees.
So, let’s talk a bit more about the worthy Ford Transit Connect/X-wing fighter. Let’s cut to the chase – what was the Lamborghini Huracan like to drive? Well, before you can drive it, you have to work out where a few things are and how they work. I jump into a lot of cars for the first time and, apart from the occasional quirk, most things are where you expect them to be. Even in something exotic like a Bentley, the essential controls are fairly conventional once you have looked past all the wood and shiny stuff. Not so, with the Lamborghini (into which you have to lower yourself rather than jump). There are, for example, no indicator or windscreen wiper stalks. Instead, there are little switches on the steering wheel – like the indicators on a motorbike. Then there is the centre console where you would normally expect a gear selector and the letters P – R – N – D to be. Again, not so with the Huracan. There’s no selector at all, just two buttons “P” and “M” and a funny little bridge affair over these buttons marked “R”. Incidentally, this centre console is made out of left over bits from a F-117 stealth fighter, all matt black geometric shapes at obtuse angles to each other (I assume the whole car is invisible to radar but the glaringly bright metallic yellow paint on this Huracan wouldn’t escape the Mk 1 eyeball too readily). Then there’s what is obviously a nuclear button because it is covered by a bright red, flip up guard. This guard prevents you from accidentally nuking North Korea before Donald Trump gives the nod. Actually, its the engine start button – Lamborghini owners must be prone to absent-mindedly starting their car’s engine so the Lambo engineers have thoughtfully put the guard there. Of course, this is all part of the drama and making you feel as if you are in some futuristic piece of military hardware or space craft.
Once you are settled in to the snug racing seat and had a nose around the cockpit, you can adjust things to your liking. First the wing mirrors which sit atop long stalks so you can see past the car’s wide haunches but these haunches still feature prominently in the rearward view. Then the central rear view mirror which peers through a very small slit of a rear windscreen. Now you are ready to go.
Foot on brake pedal, flip up the red guard on the nuclear button and fire. BOOM! Lots of noise from the mid-mounted engine to ensure that everyone within a two mile radius knows that North Korea is about to become toast. Once the engine has settled down to a loud and impatient-sounding idle, you simply pull the right hand flappy paddle behind the steering wheel and a large “1” and an “A” appear on the digital instrument panel in front of you. You’re in first gear and automatic mode so flip off the electronic parking brake, squeeze the loud pedal and you’re off….. Except, there may be another hurdle to overcome. Speed bumps. With its low slung shape and even lower front spoiler, the Huracan would be as useless as a Dalek at conquering sleeping policemen (let alone the universe) but the Huracan has an ace up its sleeve. Press and hold a button on the dashboard and the front end raises slowly like an old-fashioned Citroen. Ease gently over the bump, press and hold the button to reverse the process and you are away while the Dalek is left behind the speed bump waiving its little balloon whisk arm and sink plunger in frustration (you often see Daleks in Woodhall Spa as they go there for a bit of pampering – “ex – fo – li – ate, ex – fo – li – ate!”). You can’t even hear the Dalek’s manic, metallic, machine-like protestations because the Huracan’s V10, 5.2 litre 610hp engine is wailing gloriously behind your head as you accelerate in the blink of an eye up to the legal limit (0 – 60mph in 3.2 seconds if you were to give it the full beans).
I drove the Huracan a couple of times, the main journey being the 55 miles (on a good mix of roads) from Woodhall Spa to a village near Melton Mowbray where the four cars where going to spend the night before being returned to Bentley Leicester the next morning. The roads coming out of Woodhall Spa were not really the Huracan’s natural environment. On these narrow and bumpy roads, the car’s wide tyres would follow the lumpy contours so you had to focus on keeping it on line. And with suspension made from only the best granite and with ultra-low profile tyres, you felt all of those lumps and bumps. However, this was more than bearable and the body hugging seat was extremely comfortable. Immediately noticeable at the first corner was the very quick steering – not much rotation required on the tiller to get the Huracan round a bend.
The Huracan soon came into its own on smoother roads. For most of the journey I left it in automatic but I did override this when I felt like it, simply by flipping either of the flappy paddles – right for up, left to downshift. Approaching corners, I would change down manually with each quick downshift accompanied by a short rise in engine note as if the throttle had been blipped. Each downshift also brought a little forward shove in the back before the engine helped slow the car down. You could then flow into the corner, enjoying that quick steering and sharp turn-in as the Huracan changed direction as if on rails (with that granite suspension, “body roll” is not in the Huracan’s vocabulary). Four wheel drive and fat tyres would no doubt give a massive amount of grip – way more than I needed since my job was the get the Huracan from A to B in one piece. The knowledge that that grip was there if needed was reassuring since it did rain for the middle part of the trip.
After enjoying the single carriageway roads, I eventually got onto the A46 dual carriageway. With such a low seating position and a rush of road noise, the impression of speed was much greater than in a “normal” car at 70 (and a bit….) mph and like the rest of the journey it felt much more of an event. Finally, there were a few more miles of twisty, country lanes (on full manual after pressing the “M” button on the centre console) before pulling back that curious little bridge thing marked “R” to reverse the flying banana into store for the night.
I have driven a few upmarket cars recently but it’s good to get your feet back on the ground and drive something that most of us could actually afford. Amidst the doe-eyed automotive temptresses, sporty stallions and plush 4x4s, I had the pleasure of driving a Nissan Note for the first time – a little ray of cheap and cheerfulness on what started as a rainy day and then got better. (By the way, when I say “cheap”, I don’t mean “cheap and nasty”). Regardless of size, price and speed, I always look forward to driving a model of car for the first time. In addition, simple comfort, practicality and value for money impress me as much as anything else.
Put it this way – the world needs unsung heroes to keep it ticking along, like the postman, milkman, the kids’ sports coach, teachers and nurses all getting on with their jobs quietly and reliably and making life far better and easier for you and me. The car world is full of such unassuming characters, slaving away and serving their masters reliably and without complaining. OK, they may not be glamorous or do the job with much pizzazz but then pizzazz wasn’t on the spec when you bought the car soyou knew not to expect any. And, if it had been, you would have paid a lot more for it.
The Nissan Note falls into this unsung category. It is a car that wears sensible knickers, has never been on a Club 18-30 holiday nor even tasted an alcopop. And yes, before you all think I am in La-La Land, I do know that it is being discontinued! But please bear with. If you are on a tight budget and drawing up a short list of potential small car (or even family car) purchases, the Note may have slipped through the net. Buying a discontinued car might not be everyone’s cup of tea, so why should you consider it? Probably, because you can get quite a lot for your hard-earned dough. Fancy a brand-new, British-built small family car loaded with satnav, climate and cruise control, Bluetooth, rain sensing wipers, alloy wheels and that all-important DAB radio (for listening to the cricket) all for around £10 or £11k (more about the price later)? In addition, despite being discontinued, the Note still looks fresh and modern. And you get all this from a mainstream manufacturer with a reputation for reliability. OK, “small family car” may be a bit of a stretch (unless you have a small family) but interior space is one of the Note’s aces; it’s like a mini-MPV complete with a higher than average seating position and good visibility. Although it is only slightly bigger than Polo- and Fiesta- sized superminis, it has oodles of rear legroom and a boot which is bigger than a Ford Focus’s. Plus, the rear seat slides forward to create even more space for all the family’s paraphernalia – provided the kids have short legs.
So what’s it like to drive? Well, let’s not get carried away here, this is a good car not a great car. About three weeks ago, I delivered a newly-registered Note from West London to Swindon, a distance of about 80 miles. This was a higher spec Note Acenta Premium with all the aforementioned toys but with the budget engine option – a 1.2 litre petrol motor (80hp) with no turbo- or supercharger magic. In addition to the spacious interior, two positive things struck me about the Note. Firstly, the base cushion of the driver’s seat was particularly comfortable because it felt slightly softer than the norm. Is it me or are most car seats a little on the firm side? Maybe I should exercise less and gain a bit of padding. Secondly, it had smart and beautifully big, clear and crisply lit instruments – way better than a lot of much more expensive cars. The instrument cluster also looked bang up to date thanks to a swanky line of soft blue mood lighting following the contours along the top of the dials (this does dim when you put the lights on which is a good thing). So maybe there is a bit of pizzazz after all, although the rest of the interior interior is more functional (that’s a euphemism for a bit ordinary but inoffensive although the heating controls laid out in a circular arrangement are a bit naff).
Now to the not so good points (I won’t call them bad points). The Note is a bit soft and wobbly around the bends, so the Note would not strike a chord with keen drivers because it could not be pushed through corners with much verve (or even pizzazz). Not quite man and Note in perfect harmony. On the flip side, the ride is reasonable – better than the larger and bumpier Nissan Juke. The 1.2 engine is probably the weakest point. On the motorway, it cruises along happily and quietly once you have reached 70mph although road noise is a bit intrusive. However, reaching that cruising speed will take a while and motorway inclines may require you to drop a cog (a five speed manual box, by the way). On A roads, the Note bowls along nicely at 50 or 60mph but overtaking is probably out of the question unless you’re behind a tractor, milk float, James May or a pedestrian.
But fear not – if you otherwise like the sound of the Note, other engines are available. I would have been interested to try the 1.2 supercharged petrol engine (98hp). Intriguing. Also on offer is the ubiquitous Renault 1.5 turbo diesel engine in 90hp form. This latter power plant provides sterling service in the likes of the Renault Captur so would be a safe and frugal bet in the Note. However, if all you want is no-nonsense, reasonably comfortable transport to get you from A to B before the end of next week, then the normal 1.2 petrol engine may be good enough for you. Incidentally, it did just over 50 mpg on my 80 mile trip from London to Swindon.
Now back to the price. If you look on the used car (“Cared4”!?) section of the Nissan UK website, you will find plenty of the following all with delivery miles only:-
1.2 (80hp) petrol Acenta Premium for between £9495 and £10495;
1.5 diesel Acenta Premium for between £9995 and £11495;
1.2 supercharged (98hp) petrol Acenta Premium for between £10,995 and £12995 (most of these are automatics).
Quite busy this week so I earned a few pennies. You couldn’t earn a living doing this driving work because it is very poorly paid. I think of it as a pleasant pastime with the bonus of a bit of pin money. Enough for the weekly gruel ration and to fund my wife’s turmeric habit. This golden spice is the latest superfood discovery in our household. Half a teaspoonful in porridge (I haven’t plucked up enough courage to try it myself yet) apparently ensures eternal life and cures every form of illness known to humankind, except jaundice. Well, it may cure jaundice but since turmeric turns you yellow, it is difficult to tell. Anyway, here’s what I drove this week:-
Monday: Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 R-Sport manual and Land Rover Discovery Sport TD4 180 HSE auto, Rockingham, Northamptonshire to Leicester
Tuesday: Vauxhall Vivaro van, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire to Aldershot, Surrey; Peugeot Expert van (2012), Aldershot to Blackbushe Airport, Surrey
Thursday: Bentley Mulsanne Speed (2015), Leicester to Southend-on-Sea, Essex
Friday: Mercedes E220d AMG Line auto, Nottingham to Leicester
So, mostly quite posh fare this week apart from the two vans on Tuesday, although the Vivaro (a Renault Trafic with a Vauxhall badge) is a lovely van to drive.
You may have noticed I delivered cars to Rockingham twice last week and collected a couple from there on Monday. That’s because horse trials were held on Rockingham Castle estate last weekend (scene of one of my best driving days out!). Apparently, the atmosphere at the trials was tense as five horses were found guilty and two were acquitted. One horse was sentenced to life imprisonment. That’s a lot of porridge and, if he adds turmeric, a very long time. Daylight Robbery is still protesting his innocence but with a name like that, I think he’s flogging a dead …. Sorry, think I better stop there.
Driving the Jaguar XE back from Rockingham confirmed a niggle about this car that I had when I drove another manual example last year – the whole experience of changing gear leaves a little to be desired. The gear change itself is not the slickest, I don’t find the flat-topped, brushed aluminium gear knob very tactile (maybe that’s just me) and the slightly high, fixed centre armrest under your elbow doesn’t leave your arm in a totally natural position for changing gear manually. Maybe they forgot about the manual version when designing the armrest because it would not be an issue in an automatic (by all accounts, the eight speed automatic available in the XE is very good). Apart from that niggle, the XE is great. You really feel a part of the car, the steering is sharp and precise, it rides well and there is plenty of punch from the 180hp diesel engine.
Taking a Bentley on a trip to the seaside on one of the hottest day of the year sounded nice and indeed, until I got to within six miles of my destination, it was. However, my plans to have a quick peek at the sea en route to the train station after delivering the car were scuppered by a serious incident on the main route into Southend-on-Sea. I sat stationary on the A127 dual carriageway for quite a while as emergency vehicles picked their way between the two lanes of traffic. Eventually, a policeman wandered along (on foot) and started getting the cars and vans just behind me to turn around and drive the wrong way down an entry slip road. Then it was my turn. So, there I was coaxing the 5.6 metre, 2.7 ton, £200k+ leviathan round 180 degrees across two narrowish lanes of the A127 under the watchful eye of the policeman and several of my fellow motorists sitting in Golfs, Clios and Transit vans. Half of them were probably thinking “Damn fine motor car. Best of British”. The other half: “Filthy rich b*****d” or worse. I wanted to wind down the window and assure everyone that the car wasn’t mine. However, that may not have been a terribly good idea in front of a policeman. Could have led to an awkward situation (although I don’t think I look like a car thief but then again, I am a bit biased).
It took me well over an hour to do the last six miles and I had a train to catch, so no glimpse of the sea. The Mulsanne Speed I drove last year had an all-black interior. Thursday’s car had lots of off-white leather to lighten the mood and, in my view, looked much better for it. In fact, the almost white leather together with all the very shiny chrome embellishments gave the interior a nautical feel, like the interior of a super yacht. The fact that the Mulsanne is the size of a pocket battleship and its long bonnet noses majestically ahead of you like the bows of said battleship (complete with winged Bentley figurehead) furthers the nautical impression, so at least I had some sort of maritime experience. If you want to read more about the Mulsanne Speed (and a visit to Middle Earth) check out my epic two-part post here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).
We have just discovered chilli pesto – entirely by accident. Thought we had picked up a jar of the usual red pesto but it turned out to be the chilli variety and it’s rather nice (we got Aldi”s version). I have combined new potatoes and spinach before but thought I would try adding the pesto as well. Give it a whirl and try serving with grilled fish or meat. It’s quick, dead easy and there’s no need for a complicated sauce because the pesto and spinach potatoes do the job for you.
Here’s what you do. I have given a guide to quantities but you decide depending on how many mouths you are feeding:-
New potatoes – enough for all those mouths. They can be kept whole if small enough or cut to uniformly sized chunks
Baby spinach, washed. A handful for each person (wash your hands first please). It may look a lot but it does reduce down
Chilli pesto – a good heaped teaspoonful per person
Butter – as much or as little as you like (but please have some)
Boil the new potatoes until tender and while that is going on, chop the spinach. When cooked, drain the potatoes (keep them in the pan, don’t drain using a colander). Don’t worry about draining every last drop of water. Quickly throw in the spinach and butter, put the lid on and leave to steam for a minute or so (that’s why it is not critical to drain every last drop of water). Add the pesto and mix the whole lot so the potatoes are coated. You can do this over a very low light but not for long. Add black pepper if you wish and serve.
OTHER STUFF TO DO WITH SPINACH
A bag of washed baby spinach is a handy thing to have around. We usually have one on the go in the fridge because it’s so versatile. I am however thinking of suing the makers of Popeye because I have eaten quite a bit of the stuff but, as I think I mentioned in a previous post, my arms are still like Olive Oyl’s. Spinach is rich in iron so if you start eating it regularly you can give up the Mackesons stout. Did you know, up until the 1980’s, pregnant and new mothers in the UK were advised to drink stout to boost their iron levels? I remember my mum drinking it after my baby brother was born. That may have been because of the shock though.
Anyway, here are a few things you can do with spinach (baby spinach is best):-
As a vegetable in its own right. Frankly, not my favourite way of consuming spinach but can be livened up with butter, lemon juice and/or garlic or cream and nutmeg.
Chop and add it to casseroles (or even gravy!). Can’t really taste it so it’s a good way of getting fresh vegetables into reluctant children or carnivores.
Finely chop it and add to a cheese sauce to make posh looking pasta dishes
Add to homemade tomato sauce and make more pasta dishes
Use as a salad leaf
Put in your sandwiches, e.g tuna mayonnaise, coronation chicken (not Marmite or jam, that would be weird)