Friday, 27 November 2015

Motoring mingers

The other day I passed the local Bentley dealer and was staggered at the sight that met my eyes.
With my salary and aversion to outward displays of financial excess, Bentleys aren't something that are generally on my radar, but what I was seeing was so disturbing it inspired me to do a post about ugly cars.

Now I realise that the old maxim 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' is just as relevent with cars as it is when related to women (lots of guys think Jennifer Lawrence is hot stuff, but I don't see it) and my opinions shared here may not be shared by the reader, but here's my countdown of what I consider to be the ugliest cars ever to disgrace the roads.


10. Citroen C4 Cactus:
Citroen have on many occasions proved themselves to be such an innovative manufacturer and it's hard to understand how the company that gave us the original DS could think it might be a good idea to glue an inflatable mattress to the side of a car.


9. Chrysler PT Cruiser:
It never works when a company tries to make something with a vintage style while having to comply with modern regulations, and the PT Loser is a case in point. In black it looks like a shortened hearse.


8. Hyundai ATOZ:
Oh please... a bug-eyed lunch box supported by four biscuits. No. Just no.


7. Dodge Ram:
I'm sorry, but even the presence of a big fuck-off V10 engine doesn't detract from the fact that the only people who would drive this road-going leviathan are blokes with a major inferiority complex and a very small penis.


6. Reliant Robin:
With all the stability of a teenager after eight pints of cider, the plastic pig has a small but dedicated bunch of enthusiasts who presumably run the owner's club from the safety of their padded cells.


5. Morgan Aero Eight:
When the classic Morgan style went head-to-head with a wind tunnel they came up with a cross-eyed frog that has been punched in the nose.


4. Bentley Mulsanne:

It comes to something when even Bentley can fuck up this bad. This looks like one of those cases where the Chinese have made yet another misguided attempt to replicate a proper prestige European car.


3. Fiat Multipla:
In Fiat's desperation to fit three people abreast in the front seat they successfully created a mobile greenhouse that is difficult to park due to its width and looks like it should be an insurance write-off due to having had a piano land on the bonnet.


2. Perodua Kenari:
There really is no excuse for making a car look as shit as this. Driven exclusively by octogenerians who have already lost most of their eyesight along with their sense of style and their self-respect.


1. Lamborghini Egoista:
Considering Italy's reputation for style, it's hard to comprehend how Lamborghini who have brought us such delights as the Miura, the Murcielago, and the Huracan, could have come up with this dogs dinner. It's as if they sent the usual design team on holiday and drafted in a bunch of five year-olds with a fetish for HotWheels products. Having spent three minutes with a pack of felt-tip pens and a ruler, they produced something that even Batman himself would be embarassed to be seen in.


So there we have it. There were a few that were just edged out ot the top ten, like the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante which appears to have been designed by several different people who never actually met, and the Ford Scorpio which for good reason appears on lots of ugly cars lists. Then there was the Skoda Roomster which had the front half designed independent of the back half and then the two bits were crudely welded together.
Since car design was taken away from artists and put in the hands of computers and wind tunnels, one car looks pretty much like the next, but clearly that doesn't mean that we've stopped being subjected to the occasional Friday afternoon job.

The internet has won - so long High Street

It should have been a simple task.
All we needed was a toilet seat, a new roller blind for the kitchen, and a couple of LED light bulbs.
Simple items, right? That's what we thought when we jumped into the car and set off for Homebase in Newmarket, but as it turned out we were obviously expecting a bit too much.
Having settled on exactly which bog seat we wanted (white, soft-close, non-rusting hinges), we found there were none left on the shelf. Bugger.
How about the blind? Well, unless you were prepared to pay fifty quid for some Laura Ashley thing (I wasn't), your choice was limited to a handful of items with a ridiculous pattern in a colour scheme that wouldn't go with itself, let alone anything else. So no joy there either.
So what about the bulbs? The shelves were loaded with a massive range of light bulbs. What I wanted was a couple of 75W equivalent bayonet cap LED lamps, and that's exactly where there was a big empty space on the shelf.
Three simple items, one enormous DIY store, zero success.
We returned home empty-handed, pissed off at having wasted time and petrol, and vowing never to set foot in Homebase again.

It's not the first time this situation has occurred, and it seems to be getting more common to go out to get something only to find nobody has it on the shelf.
I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to buy something only to be told there's none in stock.
"We can get one in for you tomorrow" they say. Yes, but I'm here now.
Or they say "You could order one from our website". Are you trying to do yourself out of a job?

It's true though. It has become so easy to get what you need via the web.
Take Amazon for example. Regardless of how the staff are treated and their allegedly questionable attitude to tax, it has become such a massively successful business because it's a one-stop shop for almost anything you might need.
I'm fed up with wandering around shops becoming increasingly frustrated because HMV is the only music shop around and they don't stock anything by Ashbury Heights or Blutengel because they're not mainstream bands. This raises another question - where have all the record shops gone?
When I tried to get a new stereo for the car I made the mistake of wandering into Halfords because it's the standard Aladdin's cave for Barry Boys who want to weigh down their under-powered  Vauxhall Corsas with 100kg of 'Hotwheels' style body kit and a subwoofer that makes the wipers dance on the windscreen. Predictably everything in there was festooned with distracting blue LEDs so bright it would make night driving a genuine hazard, and the demo unit had been turned up to eleven by the spotty youths who work in there so I was unable to even think straight.
I walked out, went home and ordered a nice Alpine head unit from Car Audio Direct instead, which arrived at the door two days later with no fuss or drama, and it doesn't burn your retinas when you turn it on.
The internet is now the default destination for almost all purchases because you can actually get what you want delivered to your door, and all it takes is a few clicks. This way shopping is less tiring than walking to the fridge to get a beer. No wonder we're becoming a nation of lard-arses.
The High Street stores bleat about how they can't compete with the internet and that's why so many small businesses are failing. This is true, but in a way these shops are their own worst enemy. If they don't sell what people want to buy and they don't have stock on the shelf, they won't make sales.

The average city centre is now a wasteland of coffee houses, charity shops, and mobile phone retailers. Big companies have moved to out-of-town retail parks because people won't visit unless they can park their car, and city councils have made it impossible or financially prohibitive to park in town centres, leaving you at risk of incurring the wrath of the local parking Nazis.
As a result we see more and more shops in previously vibrant towns with windows boarded up or painted over, with faded signs above as a memorial to yet another failed business.


Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Sound of Music - please make it stop

Am I the only one who finds the modern trend of permanently having music playing wherever you go to be incredibly irritating?
My son is 17 and seems to be incapable of functioning without some form of music blaring out.
From the time he wakes up in the morning and immediately logs into Spotify to the evening sitting in his room with something or other shaking the bedroom door because he insists on cranking up the bass control up to maximum, there's no period of waking time where he allows himself to exist in silence. Thanks to a bluetooth speaker, he even carries his music between rooms rather than pause it, whether it's getting a shower or raiding the fridge for a snack.
Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that so much modern music sounds like it's being sung by an Autotuned nobody on speed to a backing track supplied by a faulty PacMan arcade game.

It's not just in the home that you notice this shift in listening habits.
Take a walk into town and note how many people have earphones in, blotting out the world around them - even when cycling, which is a recipe for disaster on our overcrowded roads.
Walk into a shop - especially a clothes shop - and you're likely to be greeted by some sort of music that makes it hard to concentrate.
A couple of months ago I ventured into JD Sports in Cambridge, and was practically assaulted by some awful racket from a vast array of speakers. I was asked by a staff member what I was looking for and I genuinely could not remember why I was there and was suddenly unable to even speak coherently - my brain simply couldn't process the necessary information because of the noise.
A few staff members looked at me curiously - I noticed they all looked to be about fifteen years old and apparently immune to the deafening roar surrounding them - at which point I figured that this wasn't a place I wanted to be, and I quickly departed.

It feels like no matter where you go, someone feels the need to surround themselves with music.
It's as if everyone is terrified at the possibility of spending any time at all in their own head, where they might actually realise there's nothing of any appreciable substance in there.
Music, which not that long ago was something to be enjoyed as a specific activity, has become nothing more than aural wallpaper; a device to provide a barrier or shock-absorber between the individual and the world around them.
It's much the same with mobile phones. Now I'm not going to go on a big downer about mobiles, but it's a similar issue to the music thing, where people wander along the street completely unaware of what's going on around them because they're staring at a touchscreen six inches from their face.
They walk into other people, step out into the road without looking, and are generally disconnected from the world.
The other morning I was walking to work and a guy was doing what I call the 'ostrich walk' with his head buried in his phone. He pressed the button at a pedestrian crossing, the lights changed, the cars stopped, and he just stood there staring at his phone. I couldn't help myself and shouted at him, at which point, shocked, he gathered what was left of his wits and skittered across the road as the lights were changing back.

I find myself increasingly frustrated at so many people's lack of involvement in their surroundings.
They do whatever they can to separate themselves from reality, losing themselves in stupid and pointless Facebook posts, text messages and Tweets, while ensuring that the sounds of people, traffic, birds singing and the wind rustling the leaves on the trees stand absolutely no chance of filtering through into their consciousness.
Has the world become so bad that it needs to be blotted out?
I must seem so weird because I listen to music when I want to sit down and listen to it and otherwise enjoy a nice bit of peace and quiet, allowing my thoughts to drift in and out of my mind, problem solving, observing my surroundings, evaluating experiences, and generally being content in my own head.

Yet another High Street zombie performing the Ostrich Walk

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Shopper's paradise

Let me make one thing clear from the start. I really don't like shopping.
Going shopping is like visiting the dentist, paying taxes, or having a crap - unpleasant yet unavoidable.
When the unthinkable happens and shops do need to be visited, the only way I can dilute the experience is by buying a new CD - just that little something that reminds you amidst all the crowds, greed and adrenaline, there's the prospect of getting back to a calm home and sitting with a nice mug of tea listening to the latest offering from Coldplay.

I feel very lucky that the wife's idea of a satisfying shopping trip consists of a visit to the local garden centre where she'll spend a tenner on some potting compost and a small cactus.
Many men are in the unfortunate position of having partners who love nothing more than being let loose with a credit card at Lakeside shopping centre, and I really do pity these poor chaps. There really is nothing more soul-destroying than hanging around while someone tries on an endless parade of clothing articles. There's only so long you can carry on pretending to be interested before you take on that glazed and resigned look worn by ninety percent of men you see in the city centre on a Saturday. The other ten percent have just managed to grab a few minutes in HMV to relieve the monotony.
I suspect this is why we've seen such a proliferation of coffee shops that all manage to do enough trade to survive despite the obvious level of competition - the blokes are all desperate to use any means necessary to avoid an argument due to falling asleep during yet another extended bout of shoe testing, and if that means overdosing on caffeine with a large Americano at Costa then so be it.

On the occasions that I do have to go shopping I generally have two distinct modes.
The rarest form involves a significant outlay on something that has either an engine or a plug, and will often be accompanied by a bottle of single malt scotch to numb the intense feeling of guilt.
The commonest method will see me entering a shop to buy the thing I was after, looking at the price tag, and walking out again having suddenly come up with several reasons why I don't really need it anyway. Sometimes I have to be coerced by the wife to go back in and get it, and stop being so stupid.
This happened the other day when I was trying to find a new winter coat to replace the crappy looking thing I bought on sale two years ago from Mountain Warehouse, which I'm told made me look weird. Having looked around various places like Next and Zara, I found the ideal thing in M&S but balked at the price. By this time the wife had reached tipping point and told me to wait outside while she bought the damn thing.
To be honest I'm glad she did - it's a vast improvement and actually makes me look decent. I know that if she hadn't then I'd still be wandering around wearing something that makes me look like a subject of 'care in the community'.

I don't usually buy clothes unless the old ones are falling apart, too tight, or so faded from repeated washing that you can no longer tell what colour they were to begin with and have reverted to that well-known shade called 'Not even good enough for a jumble sale'.
Clearly however, there exists a breed of person whose attitude to clothing is the complete opposite to mine. Such creatures were paraded on TV last night during Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's program 'Hugh's War on Waste'. One was a young woman who would go out every week clothes shopping and sometimes wouldn't even wear her purchases. To me this qualifies as a serious mental condition.
Not only was she absorbed by her own addiction, but she was also a serious fan of numerous vloggers who devote their YouTube channels to enthusing over their latest acquisitions.
How bizarre it seems, not only that someone feels the need to go clothes shopping and then film themselves showing off what they've bought, but that anyone would want to spend time watching the videos.
Oh well, they say there's nowt as queer as folk.....