Actually, I had two big days out last week. In addition to delivering a Mercedes to Edinburgh (work), I took myself off to the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, in the outer reaches of north London. What a brilliant place and …. it’s all free! Well, apart from a modest car parking charge and fees for some “optional” features such a flight simulator and the chance to sit in the cockpit of a Spitfire. From the earliest planes which look like they were built by budding Blue Peter presenters out of string, cocktail sticks, brown paper and a pair of Val’s bloomers to sophisticated fast jets made from very strong stuff, there are loads of interesting aircraft on view and all brilliantly preserved. The place is huge!

There are some whopping bombers such as (if this means anything to you) a WWII Lancaster, Flying Fortress, Liberator and a Halifax that was dragged up from the depths of a lake plus a monstrous Cold War Avro Vulcan. Lots of fantastic fighters – several Spitfires, Hurricane, Messerschmitt 109, P-40 Kittyhawk (I put one of those in a sandwich once), Meteor, Lightning …… and many more. There is a  WWII RAF Coastal Command section (including a Bristol Beaufort and Beaufighter), a helicopter bit and a brilliant World War I exhibition. Phew! Biggles would have loved it. A particular point of interest for me was the Hawker Hunter fighter, the very one flown by a good friend of my father’s (it even sports his name below the cockpit). My father’s friend is the last surviving pilot who flew in the flypast for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.

Hungry looking Curtss Kittyhawk with supersonic English Electric Lightning in the background – proper heavy metal.
A gaggle of Battle of Britain fighters including a biplane – a Fiat CR42 Falco. Wonder if those Fiats suffered from rust? And you can just see the mighty Lancaster bomber off to the right.

So a great, cheap day out and one kids will probably enjoy too (there were some school groups there when I visited and they all seemed genuinely interested). BUT (there is a “but”) … now may not be the best time to visit, especially if you are travelling from a distance. Next year, 2018, sees the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Royal Air Force which became an independent service during the last year of the First World War. Prior to that, those magnificent (and very brave) fighting men in their flying machines were a part of the British Army – the Royal Flying Corps. To celebrate the centenary of the world’s first independent air force, the museum is having a bit of a revamp. One of the big halls (the former Battle of Britain museum) and a small part of another hall are therefore closed. However (on the up side, there is a “however” to soften the “but”) there is still a huge amount of interesting stuff to see. So, if you can’t resist a peek now, go! It’s free! You can always pop back again next year when the revamp is complete. I knew all this before I went but was itching to pay a return visit. I have made several visits over the years, the first as a kid shortly after the museum opened in 1972. And I fully intend to go back next year as well! If all this tickles your flying fancy but north London is a bit far for you, there is another (and also very substantial) branch of the Royal Air Force Museum in Cosford in Shropshire to the north west of Birmingham. Again, admission is free. Cosford majors more on the Cold War era (but not exclusively) whereas Hendon has a large number of World War II aircraft.

Apologies for the quality of the photos (mine are not great at the best of times) but the lighting in the museum was quite low. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Sticks and string. Part of the First World War collection. Typical max speed of these things was 100-120 mph (160-190kph). Most modern cars are probably faster.
The Bristol Beaufighter in the RAF Coastal command section.
The big B-24 Liberator. Next to a sign saying the area beyond is closed for the “RAF Centenary 2018 Transformation Programme”. 




Three long days working this week and a chance to get re-acquainted with Transit vans (its been a while since I drove the larger ones):-
Monday: Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI (125hp) DSG (auto), Kettering, Northants to Dereham, Norfolk
Wednesday: Ford Transit 350 (the big one!), Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire to Woodford Green, Essex
Friday: Ford Transit Custom (the “traditional” size Transit), Rotherham, South Yorkshire to Southampton
There was a comment in response to last week’s diary asking if I was going to review the BMW X5 40e plug-in hybrid (two of which I drove that week). It is, after all, an interesting car so here goes ….. well, from what I could tell, it was very nice! It pulled away satisfyingly on electric power only and stayed on electric until I had to accelerate up to 65/70mph on the motorway or dual carriageway (on each leg of my round trip that was only a few hundred yards from my starting point!). Everything I said about driving the Mercedes C-class plug-in hybrid on electric power applies here – eerie, silent, satisfying and, for me, still a fascinating novelty. When accelerating up to motorway speed, the two litre, turbocharged four cylinder petrol engine cut in without any fuss, the car felt quick (I have included some anorak data at the bottom of this post) and the eight speed automatic box was as smooth as frog’s fur. When cruising at motorway speed, the petrol engine was virtually silent, possibly because it was only ticking over at about 1500 to 1700 rpm so I assume the electric motor was helping. You do notice road noise but may be because the power unit is so quiet! Negotiating curves (a total of two roundabouts), the X5 felt as if it was quite nimble, certainly far more so than the lumbering Range Rover that I drove the following day. Inside, there was an upmarket and quality interior that you would expect from a £60k BMW and you would not be disappointed in terms of comfort. And that’s about it! Other than to say that the gentleman to whom I delivered the X5 loan car (I took his week-old X5 hybrid back to Leicester to have a small paint chip sorted) confirmed what I said about upmarket hybrids and tax in my Mercedes C-class post. His new hybrid X5 uses more fuel than his old diesel X5 – so it won’t save the planet – but it will save him over £400 per month in tax!
Sorry I can’t say much more about the X5 but I only drove each example about 35 short miles between Leicester to Kettering, almost entirely on motorway and dual carriageway. The only time I turned the steering wheel was when negotiating those two roundabouts (OK, I had to park them as well). Had the journey been any shorter I could probably have left the cars plugged in! Now my childish imagination starts to run riot. Suppose the X5 had one of those self-retracting cables like an old vacuum cleaner (and could reach from BMW Leicester to Kettering)! When I got to Kettering I could have rung up the BMW dealer, asked them to unplug the cable and give it a little tug (reminding them to let go sharpish). The plug and cable would then have raced off down the street like a demented snake (hopefully without BMW salesperson in tow) snapping at the heels of startled pedestrians who would leap out of the way with a shriek. Cars would have screeched to a halt at green lights as the snake hurtled through on red. Then it would have flown down the M1 and A14 passing all the other traffic and just a few seconds later it would have raced towards the X5 and disappeared into a recess in the bodywork. Before disappearing, the last couple of feet of cable would have flicked furiously up and down like the tongue of the aforementioned demented snake, just as if the car were vigorously sucking in the tail end of a strand of spaghetti. While standing nonchalantly checking the latest cricket scores on my phone, I would have casually closed a flap over the recess, wiped off any excess bolognese sauce and carried on with whatever. This is, of course, all fantasy but there are electric vehicles on our roads that do have cables long enough for their entire journey – they are called trams. Shame we abandoned them in the UK for decades before re-discovering the benefits. The new tram system in Nottingham, for example, is rather good. If you ever go to Nottingham, give them a try. You may have the privilege of travelling on the likes of Robin Hood, Torvill and Dean or England cricketer, Stuart Broad. (Sorry – I know I have some readers in Australia so mentioning Stuart Broad may be insensitive after what he did in the fourth test of the last Ashes series.)
Once upon a time, Leicester had trams.
If you are not convinced about trams, you need to visit the National Tramway Museum (https://www.tramway.co.uk/) in Crich, Derbyshire – it’s brilliant. If you are visiting Matlock or the south eastern side of the Peak District National park, you will not be far away. Please be assured I am not a tram spotter nor tram aficionado but my family and I have visited this place two or three times over the years and really enjoyed it. The museum is set in a period village where original buildings have been transported and re-built brick by brick, including an old pub. You can ride trams up and down a length of track (all day if you want – there’s no extra cost), peruse the splendid indoor exhibits, lose the kids in the outdoor or indoor play areas, try to lose them again in the woodland walk and sculpture trail and then eat and drink yourself silly. Here you are spoilt for choice – the period tea rooms, the pub, ice cream parlour or traditional sweet shop (or all of them if your diet is starting the next day). Or, you can take your own pork pie or corned beef sandwiches and enjoy the picnic area with views over the Amber Valley at the far end of the tram line.
A Leeds tram (left), I believe and a seaside special – an old Blackpool tram
Indoors where exhibits are arranged chronologically from the earliest horse-drawn trams onwards
We first went to the museum many years ago when our kids were very little. It was near Christmas and we had a hearty roast turkey lunch served in giant Yorkshire puddings. Then we met Santa riding on the tram but I must have been naughty because I don’t remember getting a present (the kids did though). The last time we went was four years ago and it was a 1940’s theme day. What a great atmosphere! Loads of people dressed up in period civvies or military uniforms. And you have to admit, the trams themselves – many of them brightly coloured and/or with acres of highly polished wood – do look rather magnificent.
1940’s theme day at the museum. You can’t keep soldiers away from a pub!
All change! It costs one old penny to ride the trams. But don’t worry they give you that when you arrive.
I’ll have a quarter of, erm, those … no, those … no, wait…. Like a kid in a sweet shop.
ANORAK’S CORNER: BMW X5 xDrive40e M Sport – 0-60mph, 6.8 seconds; top speed, 130mph (limited to 75mph on electric only); total power (combined petrol engine & electric motor), 313hp; combined MPG, 83.1 (ha ha); range on electric-only, 19 miles.


A couple of weeks ago I took a Nissan Juke down to Bognor Regis on the South coast. This long trip confirmed my thoughts about the Juke, having delivered one on another longish haul to Hull last summer.

That was my second trip to Hull in 2016 because in February last year, my wife, daughter and I had opted to go there for a day out. Situated at the junction of the tiny River Hull and the mighty Humber estuary in the north-east of England, the mention of Hull (or to give the city its proper name, Kingston-upon-Hull) would not set many people’s pulse racing. After all, it rhymes with “dull”. But yes, we actually chose to go to Hull. Of our own volition and without bribes or coercion. When I mentioned this to friends, it was met with incredulity as they looked at me nervously and started to edge away slowly.

But let me tell you now it was a worthwhile and interesting day out, the highlight of which was a visit to The Deep aquarium. That got me to thinking: for the purposes of this post, wouldn’t it be interesting to compare The Deep and the Nissan Juke. So, have I finally and irretrievably flipped this time? Some unkind (and ignorant) folk may say I flipped a long time ago when I chose to go to Hull for the day. But no, I haven’t flipped … bear with and read on.

The Deep and the Juke do have something in common. They both have modern, wacky and adventurous exteriors. Pushing the boundaries of architecture and automotive design respectively they both promise excitement. The Deep’s unusual design gives a clue as to what you may expect on the inside. Viewed from the outside, the whole building is like the snout of a giant great white shark bursting up through the quayside. The purpose of the Juke’s exterior design is to make you feel different and to shout to others that you are a little bit out there and an individual.

The DeepNissan Juke

As you enter The Deep the real excitement begins. You climb to the top of the building then start your descent into the depths. Down a blue carpeted slope in the gloom, look over the railing if you dare – down several giddy storeys to the bottom. There are sciency and natural history displays and lots of facts to absorb  before you reach the live exhibits. Fish from cold oceans, rivers and flooded Amazon forests are all on offer plus an icy penguin exhibit. The crowning glory  is a huge 2.5 million litre tank filled with sawfish, sharks, turtles, rays and a host of other swimmy things. This enormous tank can be viewed from many angles and vantage points – including a glass tunnel – as you carry on your journey through the aquarium. Then comes the grand finale – a glass lift that takes you up through the centre of this main tank so that you really feel as if you are amongst the sharks and fish. Then you are at the exit and it’s out into the shop in order to add to your fridge magnet collection.

It is difficult to do The Deep justice here but it is a truly top class attraction. Possibly the best aquarium in the UK (and I’ve been to a few in my time). This alone is worth a trip to Hull.

So onto the Nissan Juke. From the outside, this car promises excitement in the same way as The Deep does but instead of clean straight lines, glass and concrete, there are curves and wacky light clusters aplenty to seduce you. Then in you climb and …. well, the excitement and the comparison with The Deep stops there I’m afraid. It is a little sombre inside and so-so to drive but the worst feature is the ride. I guess it may have been more appropriate to compare the Juke to some sort of ride at a theme park, the type of ride that bumps, jiggles and generally shakes you up a bit. I delivered a demonstrator to a lady last week whose current car is a Juke; she commented that the funky little Nissan was uncomfortable.

This does go to show how important looks and image are for car buyers because the Juke does seem to be a very popular car on UK roads. The other plus point for some people may be the high up feeling afforded by the tall SUV-style body. I bet most Juke owners will claim to like their chosen wheels and maybe those looks (which are a matter of personal taste) more than make up for the bumpy ride and slightly cramped interior.

For the record, the Jukes I drove were both bottom of the range Juke Visias. The Juke of Hull had a 1.5 litre 110hp diesel engine which punted it along perfectly well. The Juke of Bognor had the bottom of the range 1.6 litre 94hp petrol engine. That was definitely second best by a long way. Much more powerful 1.6 turbo petrol engines are available and probably offer more excitement in a straight line but could not match a conventional hatchback for going round corners.

So in this unusual head-to-head, The Deep win hands down. But Hull has more to offer than just The Deep. Among other things, there is a museum quarter and old town, an old quay/dock area with cobbled streets and, of course, Hull is a European City of Culture for 2017. In the museum quarter we visited the Streetlife Museum of Transport which was great and it was free – which always helps!