A day of travel Pt2

Buoyed by the rampant success of my first post, which an entire 32 people have read, I shall continue my travelogue.

My good friend helpfully guided me to the right platform at Acocks Green train station, and the next stage of my journey began.

The seats were green and the propulsion was via diesel engine and ZF automatic transmission. Yes, further travel by torque converter.

Only for two stops though. I was deposited at Solihull. I like Solihull, but this was my first visit to the train station. It’s from. So grim that while I attempted to consume a Ginsters sausage roll, a lady who worked there struck up a conversation with a passenger about how much the toilets stank. I was forced to halt my sausage roll consumption. I no longer felt hungry.

Salvation rolled into view.

This wasn’t quite as luxurious as I’d hoped, but was comfortable enough. The seats also didn’t hurt my eyes. The gentle thrum of diesel engine was very relaxing, in a way the dreadful noise machines of Arriva Trains Wales just are not. Most passengers fell asleep, including one who was reading a musical score.

We arrived in London, where fear was impossible to find.

There you are. London, yesterday. As we rattled along the underground, I marvelled at how those Arriva Trains Wales noise machines actually seem quite refined compared to this. I’m not sure the London Underground is actually legal under the Geneva Convention.

At Elephant and Castle, only one lift was working, so I gamely tackled the 111 steps to the surface. I was out of breath by the top, where I discovered that Thameslink trains were in chaos due to signalling faults. I was told to jump on the train arriving at platform four, only to then be told that it was actually arriving at platform two.

I wasn’t actually sure where this train was going, so consulted the Cityplanner app on my phone. From that I was able to deduce that the train was heading to Sutton. I stayed on it, as instructed, and ended up at South Merton as I’d hoped. Not before seeking assurances from another passenger, who I thought was a guard. Oops. I broke the rules of London. He chose another carriage.

From the station, it was a short walk to my Airbnb. Very pleasant it is too, situated on this beautifully quiet road.

That’s not the actual house, but this Golf lover isn’t far away. I detected a whiff of conservative about the house owner, confirmed by a Tory sticker on the fridge. I thought it best to say I was sightseeing at the weekend rather than taking part in a march against leaving the EU. I’m not sure why, but I often find myself reluctant to discuss my day job. Scared of sounding like the car bore I so clearly am?

Anyway, the bed is comfy and the decor marvellously dated. The tea is Earl Grey though, which isn’t really tea at all.

Still, it is cheap, with excellent transport links. I now need to seek breakfast and think about work. Which mostly involves being a car bore. Lovely.

A day of travel

I’m not sure I’ve got what it takes to be a great travel writer, in fact I’m pretty sure I don’t. Here’s an attempt anyway.

I left Wales in my Vauxhall Omega, a little saddened by the fact that the offside heated door mirror was not clearing very sufficiently. The roads curved in their usual, appealing manner and traffic levels were mercifully light.

Eventually, I arrived in Newtown. Alas, passing through this town, which doesn’t seem that new at all, is still very necessary. Oh for the completion of the bypass! I will rejoice. It’s not that Newtown is particularly horrible, just that getting through the place is about as enjoyable as getting through the crowd at a Sex Pistols gig. It’s possible, but smooth progress is unlikely. And you might get a bottle of something unpleasant thrown at you.

To prove my worth as a travel writer, I took an actual photo.

I took this to enable me to work out the economy. It came out at 32mpg. I wish I hadn’t bothered working it out.

I pushed on, with Ken Bruce doing his best to raise my spirits. He did this admirably, with a surprisingly passionate rant about the loss of cricket to pay-only TV during the start of popmaster. I agreed wholeheartedly. Swallowing Sky’s filthy cash has taken cricket away from younger generations.

I digress, as did Ken. Motorway was eventually reached, and my average speed rose. It was so sunny that I actually had the sunroof back, until the noise got too much. The Omega is a peaceful car at a cruise. Wind noise is entirely wrong.

The M6 was in a good mood, and spat me out onto the A38m with no hold ups at all. As I descended into the multi-lane madness of the Aston Expressway, I was reminded of commutes to work gone by. The skyline of Birmingham is interesting, but the inner city limits do not match the flashy grandeur of the centre proper. Brum has got a bit flashy in its old age, but the transformation is the mere magic of a make up artist. Brum is still quite grotty. The underpasses only highlight this. I used to find them exciting as a child. Not anymore. It’s almost as if the city designers thought it better to hide a view of the city from motorists, least they never come back.

Now I had the challenge of remembering how to get to my friend’s house. This meant passing through some of the vibrant, multicultural parts of the city. Second nature to me when I was resident here, but dazzling and different to one who now lives in the Welsh countryside.

I passed through Tyseley, home of much railway excitement and a house my friends used to live in many moons ago.

My reverie was soon cut short though. Unfamiliar with the roads, I found myself in the wrong lane. I put on my left signal and appealed to the motorists of Brum to help me. Mistake. One miserable old codger in a bronze Honda Jazz just pointed at the sign that now told me I was in the wrong lane. In hindsight, mock-applauding him was a mistake. He barged past. So did the 4×4 pick up behind him, also pointing at the sign. Well duh! Of course I’ve seen the sign! It’s how I knew I was in the wrong lane. Oh, for info, this sign is helpfully just after a set of traffic lights, not before. I hadn’t gone blasting past the cars in question either. We were in the same queue at the lights. The road markings are quite invisible when there are cars stopped at the lights, which hardly helped.

I pushed on to Acocks Green, and the surprisingly calm oasis that is my friend’s garden. I have fond memories of many visits here over the past 18 years or so. We had time for a very quick drink, so we headed to a Wetherspoons that we often used to frequent. It was busy, full of those for who have found the reality of life a little short of glamour. Also, it’s good value. We had two teas, and we could squeeze our own bags. I have no complaints at all.

Well, maybe one. I did laugh to see it necessary to have a slippy floor sign mounted beneath the hand dryer in the gents. Naturally, it’s one of those high-power jobs that gives grounds to sue for damage to hearing. It blasts water from your hands, all over the floor. So a sign is necessary. Modern progress eh?

I decided not to take photos of it. Time here was short, and I had a train to catch. To be continued. Possibly. I have more photos. Promise!

Project OMG: Cosmetics and rot control

It’s a Saturday, and it’s not actually raining, so I finally had a chance to do some rust-proofing and cosmetic improvements on the Omega. First job was to reverse it up my ramps and get underneath with a wire brush and some rust converter. Vactan is my converter of choice. It’s bloomin’ good stuff, and dries to a nice, black finish that can be overpainted or waxed. There was a soft spot midway along the offside sill, which thankfully was still solid. I rubbed it back and dabbed on the Vactan. I also rubbed at surface rust in various locations around the rear axle. Reassuringly solid back here. With that done, I could apply wax – Bilt Hamber’s Dynax UB (Under Body) in this case. It’s very easy to apply, coming nicely out of the can even on a cool day.

Bilt Hamber’s excellent underbody wax.

The rear brake pipes and tow bar were also treated to a dose as surface rust was present on both. I think I may have found where the diesel smell is coming from too – there’s a small pipe that I suspect is the return, though it could be the main feed pipe for all I know. It’s just slightly damp. I will investigate that one further.

With waxing done, I set about applying Autoglym’s Bumper and Trim gel to the rear bumper. It had faded pretty badly, as you can see in this shot.

Yup, you can spot the difference.

I’ll admit that I’m lazy. I could have revived the plastics with boiled linseed oil (I don’t have any) or an airgun (don’t have one), but this stuff works well. These potions never seem to last that long, but the Autoglym stuff seems better than some Meguiar’s stuff I have, which fades again within a couple of weeks. The Autoglym stuff is also much easier to spell. I also applied it to the rear lights, though I haven’t yet done the trims on the tailgate itself. They don’t seem to have faded much at all, perhaps because they’re vertical rather than horizontal?

Looking good!

The end result is a car which certainly looks better, and which hopefully won’t rot away too readily. I’m now seeking some rear seals for the diff, to cure a minor leak (£21 each from Vauxhall, eep!), and I really need to get my hands on new brake discs and pads and probably flush the brake lines. It really doesn’t stop as well as it should. It does stop, and is MOT legal, but it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, especially given how little engine braking you get (ie none, because the gearbox has a built-in freewheel function).

It’s coming along though. The main issue is that other cars on the fleet also need some TLC.

Phone test: Oppo F1S

Now my long-termer Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is being retired, I thought I should do a quick review of its replacement – the Oppo F1S.

The F1S is what’s known as a budget phone, though it still costs £250 or more. It has a screen which is actually larger than my old S4 Mini, which has positive and negative points. One the one hand, it’s a great screen that is far better for watching videos and the like. On the downside, it’s a pretty big phone. It never feels entirely comfortable in the hand. It is actually slightly slimmer than the Samsung. I’m not sure this actually helps.

My new phone. Photo taken with the old phone.

The phone runs Color OS 3.0, which is Android in a different skin in short. To someone used to an android phone, it’s all very similar. The keyboard isn’t that good though, but someone recommended installing the Google keyboard. I’m glad I did. Much better, which much a much more robust Autocorrect.

Battery life seems good. Even with hammer, it’ll easily last two days, if not two. Usually, the Galaxy was struggling by early evening, and a single train journey could drain the battery rather badly. Of course, the Oppo has a much larger battery, as it’s a much larger phone. Still, it’s impressive. The downtime is increased charge time – it does take well over an hour to fill from near-empty.

But, there’s only one reason that I bought this camera. That reason is stated boldly on the box. Yes, this phone is described as a Selfie Expert! I know that’s an increasingly common point of ridicule for many, but given I shoot vidoes on my phone, it’s very handy. The selfie camera is a massive 16MP.

I’ve been pleased with the improvement in quality over the Samsung, though the in-car sound isn’t quite as good I don’t think. So far, I’ve been shooting in 720p, purely because my laptop seriously struggles when editing 1080p. I think that might be the next thing in need of an upgrade! The phone runs very quickly though, so I can get a video started pretty briskly. It perhaps isn’t quite as convenient as the Galaxy which, while laggy, at least had a video or photo option as soon as you entered camera mode. On the Oppo, you need to switch it to video mode before you can start shooting.

It has a nice, wide angle though, which means videos show a bit more of the car interior, and rather less of just my face. I think this must be considered an improvement. On the downside, the rear camera also has a very wide angle, and this distorts images readily – like this one of the Nippa.

Wide angle distortion on the Oppo F1S rear camera.

Another downside was the plastic screen protector that comes with the phone. It scratched really very badly in no time at all, and quickly got to the stage that it was too scratched to see through. I’ve removed it, though I have ordered a tempered glass protector. A wise move, as there is already a small scratch on the screen. It may be Gorilla Glass 4, but it’s still not completely damage-proof.

Overall though, I’m very happy with it. It’s the first phone I’ve actually bought – I’ve gone SIM-only – but it does exactly what I wanted.

Nippa: 3rd MOT

It isn’t very often that I own a car long enough for it to have three MOT tests, but the Perodua Nippa is one such vehicle! I bought it with short test almost exactly two years ago. It passed needing only a steering rack gaiter, though I did replace the tyres too, as a couple were low on tread (Nankang winter tyres. Very good).

The second year, it needed only wiper blades, though it did struggle a bit with emissions. That was because the temperature sender on the engine was duff. Replacing that sorted it out and made the temperature gauge read accurately for the first time.

Still, I approach each MOT with some trepidation. Especially as I knew the exhaust is far from brilliant. I’d already had one hole welded up in previous years (ahead of the test, that’s planning), but I’ve had to get busy with the aluminium tape again since. Remarkably, despite being applied a few weeks ago, the tape held sufficiently for another pass!

MOT pass! On a lovely day.

The news wasn’t all good, though. When I called to ask for a progress report, the garage ominously said “we’ll talk to you when you come down.” So, we jumped in the 2CV (roof back, naturally) and headed down to collect the Nippa.

We needn’t have worried too much. The exhaust barely scraped through, which we expected. Rather annoyingly, though, there was a nail in the sidewall of one of the tyres. BOTHER! Those lovely Nankangs have done fewer than 8000 miles. The rears have barely any wear on them. We were kindly given an advisory for that, but the lads made it clear we had to make that a priority to sort out. So, I’ve dug the original, 17-year old spare out of the boot and pulled off the damaged tyre. Here it is.

DOH! Nail has ruined this tyre.

Very frustrating. That one has been relegated to the spare. Remarkably, it is still holding air! Of course, we now have a car with three winter tyres and one summer tyre, but that’ll have to do for now. Ideally, I need to track down another Nankang winter tyre, but it doesn’t really seem the time of year to be doing that.

Oh, and the lads were pretty clear that a new exhaust is needed. Worryingly, the diagrams for the ones on Ebay don’t seem to match what’s on the car…

Still, this remains a very cheap car to buy (£300) and run (55mpg, barely anything needed other than basic servicing). Just a shame that rot is starting to nibble at all of the edges…

The problem with car programmes

For some time, car programmes have been leaving me a bit cold. Car SOS I quite like, as it usually has a good level of detail, but it’s still a bit ‘soft’ overall. That’s because to make a telly programme, you need a decent audience. You need people other than car people to watch it or advertisers get a bit miffed. Or TV bosses. Maybe both.

Audiences can be hard to please.

Audiences can be hard to please.

Which is where the internet comes in. There, you can find videos that are utter geek fests. These are videos made 100% for car fans. There is no need to tailor the content to please non-car people. They can afford to specialise. Indeed, their very appeal comes from that unashamed, super-detailed look at what they’re doing. Often, these ‘programmes’ seem to be put together with the most mild of planning too. What you see is pretty much what happened. The more I see scripted stuff like Top Gear adventures, the more bored I become.

Of course, there’s a reason for the scripting. If you don’t schedule in some failures or adventures, then there’s a danger you might end up with a very boring show. That happens to things like Roadkill, where some episodes feel rather short of content. I don’t mind that. It makes it feel genuine. After all, I’ve tried shooting videos of trips away, and then binned the results, because nothing interesting happened! Funnily enough, if you jump in a car and drive it somewhere, the chances are that everything will be fine. This doesn’t make good telly. So, ‘hilarious’ antics must be planned and created, with camera angles carefully calculated to capture the ‘problems’ that occur. I find this all very tedious.

What I’m getting around to is that I didn’t like new, new, new Top Gear very much. It wasn’t painful, or unpleasant, but nor did it really grab my attention. What I didn’t like about it was pretty much what I’ve disliked about Top Gear for many, many years. I don’t like scripted antics. It was way back in 2010 when Top Gear had a camping challenge. A CX got destroyed in it, but that wasn’t my main complaint. No, it was that every ‘disaster’ was signalled almost with a ‘Disaster Coming’ caption every time. I just didn’t find it funny. It’s where I really began to realise just how little reality was involved in the programme.

To be fair, it’s not like I’m an expert, so I’m not really sure what the point of yet another discussion about Top Gear is. So, I’m going to end there and go to bed, because I don’t have advertisers to keep happy, and I’m tired. There isn’t always a happy ending. Or even a planned one.

HubNut TV: 400,000 views!

I’ve been very pleased to hit 400,000 channel views on YouTube. That’s still pathetically small fry compared to a lot of channels, but for a little hobby, it’s quite pleasing.

It was 3.5 years ago when it all began, when I decided I really wanted to capture my thoughts on driving my first electric car – the Nissan LEAF. It’s a bit cringey to look back, but here it is.

Only 535 views for that one, I’m not sure why it’s so low. Possibly because my audience was pretty small back then, and there are now a zillion LEAF videos on-line. But it wasn’t actually the first video I shot. A fair chunk of time earlier, I actually recorded a video on another Nissan – my Bluebird T12. Buoyed with the pleasing comments on my first video, I then published that one. It has now had over 12,000 views!

That gave me the confidence to really turn things up a notch, so I put a fair bit of effort into my next video, recording the delightful details of my Daihatsu Sirion. It remains one of my favourite cars – it’s just a shame they rot so horrendously.

I’ll stop there though. Continue through my videos and you’ll find vehicles as disparate as the Tesla Model S, Peugeot J7 van and Mitsubishi Pajero Junior. That’s because I adore variety, whether it’s something that was not regarded fondly when new, or an electric super saloon.

So, to mark 400,000 views, I thought a shabby LDV Pilot would be ideal. Thank you for your support. Who knows where this channel will go next?



This is only here to make the social media work. Thanks!

[This is only here to make the social media work. Thanks!]