Beyond the Northern Wastes

July 7th, 2016

In the over 20 years I’ve lived in Walsall Wood, near to the 39x (previously)/10/10A (now) bus route, I’ve probably only caught the bus northwards towards Brownhills a handful of times, heading instead towards the bright lights of Walsall, and even on those occaisions, I’ve never strayed north of the A5, because “here there be dragons”, obviously.

It was about time for a change. The happy realisation that the evening service is every 30 minutes or so for its full length from Walsall, through Walsall Wood and Brownhills, into Chasetown and Burntwood, and back, means that a whole raft of new pubs are within reach, so off we went. It’s been a while since we had a bus-based pub crawl.

A short trip to the Swan Island saw us outside The White Swan, which was closed, so we continued to The Nags Head, pausing there for a drink en route to The Drill Inn for food. After a walk back, The White Swan was open, so a swift one in there, and as the bus passes right by and stops very near, one at The Junction, before returning safely back south of the border.

Three Wheels On My Wagen

June 23rd, 2016


Since we’re talking wheels…

The wandering bolt

The wandering bolt

The picture above is of a VW locking wheel bolt, on my desk at work. You’ll notice it has a decorative black plastic cap, and that my desk is not its natural habitat- that being assisting in retaining a wheel on to a car.

A short while ago, on my first journey to work in the new car, I’d though I’d noticed a slight vibration, but dismissed it as the normal paranoia I go through with a new car- finding things I imagine will go wrong. Upon leaving that afternoon, I noticed one of those caps looked a bit loose, and went to push it on, at which point the bolt came out in my hands. This wasn’t the bolt pictured above- that was already missing, presumed to be at the side of the M5- and investigation found the centre cap to be missing, and the three remaining bolts a turn of so loose. A call to voice my displeasure to the franchised dealer (who I won’t name, but are in a potteries city) elicited differing responses from differnt people, ranging from an apology and a promise to order the missing centre cap and a new set of lock bolts, to “that’s impossible- someone must have tampered with it, trying to steal wheels, everything is checked twice in the workshop”.

I’d like to explore that claim.

First of all, the wheels were swapped on the car. The originals had been refurbed, but apparently weren’t up to scratch, so got swapped while I completed the paperwork.

Secondly, all the bolts- the three loose ones, the one that fell out, and the lock bolt pictured (which was handed to me by a colleague a week later, having been found on the car park) still had their caps.

So, presumably what happened was that someone, without my knowledge, opened my locked car, took the wheel key from inside, took off all five caps, loosened five bolts, put the caps back on, and returned the key.

Or, could it just have been they were in a rush as I was waiting for the car, and just fucking forgot to torque up the bolts?

A Personal Win

June 22nd, 2016

I’m writing this on the eve of the EU referendum. I’m steering well, well away from the politics here, because, frankly, politics, with its byzantine obfuscation leaves me cold. My own views on the topic, and my political leanings, are no secret, but that’s not why I’m here, and I’d like to point out now that any comments attempting to argue the politics or economics, or indeed gloat on the outcome of tomorrow’s vote will be deleted.

Even if I agree with them.

I’d just like to share one small personal bit of gain; a small detail that made life easier for me. The new car means new winter tyres (and yes, I’m aware it is summer- prices will seriously climb from September), and indeed, new wheels, to avoid the problems of using non-approved wheels.

Germany, as I’ve remarked, has strict winter tyre laws, so in Germany it is commonplace to have a winter set of wheels. I’ve ended up with a used, but practically immaculate set of the official VW winter wheels, with a set of quality, little used (Pirelli SottoZero) winter tyres at well below half the price of new ones. From Germany. Direct, with no import duty, no mucking about at customs, and besides having to use Google translate, no more hassle than buying in the UK- the wheels arrived today, just in time :-), by courier, well packed, and exactly as described, within a few days. The alternatives were steel wheels, or secondhand wheels in the UK with tyres I didn’t want, and in need of a refurb.

I feel duty-bound to mention at this point the warnings from the AA and tyre sellers about part-worn tyres, and then point out that I’ve just bought one set- attached to the car, as does anyone buying a secondhand car- and that these are both little-used (with 6mm of tread), and free from any of the scars you get from a careless driver- no scuffs, cuts or other damage, and on wheels that are similarly undamaged. I’d also comment that for those of you on a very tight budget, the cheapest new tyres can be ditchfinders.

Leon Gone

June 17th, 2016

After almost 8 years and around 104,000 miles, the Leon is gone, replaced by a “Golf in a pretty dress“. In that time, beside the consumables like tyres, brake friction bits, it’s had a few parts: the heater fan being surprisingly pricey, as was the DSG selector lever (a gear lever with a software version, FFS), and the ABS module something that shouldn’t have failed. Any other bits and pieces seem fair enough for the mileage- the odd bush or suspension link (thanks, Walsall’s roads), and the ABS sensor that posed a conundrum. Overall I can’t complain- the car literally never let me down, and took us from the south coast to the Scottish highlands and both the east and west coasts in comfort. One sobering statistic is 104,000 miles at around 44 mpg means around 10,370 litres of fuel- around £11,600 at todays prices- though only around 11p per mile in fuel costs.

The new car is rather nice, and it’s interesting that the underlying PQ35 platform is identical, but there’s been much tweaking, and even more electronics added (something I’m not fazed by, particularly) ,and upgrades of the stuff that was there: the engine is no longer a rattly PD, but common rail unit, smoother, quieter, and revvier. The DSG gearbox is smoother too, and the suspension is electronically controlled. Overall, it’s lower, flasher, smoother, slightly more economical, and a little faster. A little less practical, but I don’t have the need for five doors any more, and provided you can get in to it, the back seat is comfortable for two people, unlike the last Scirocco I had, or the two I had in an abortive attempt at a project car.

A Tale of Two Crap Towns

June 12th, 2016

We’ve been away, and as I still didn’t fancy the long drive required for Scotland that we often take at this time of year, we went a bit closer- Morecambe. Morecambe has something in common with Walsall: Public ridicule by up-themselves arseholes.

Morecambe faomusly gained 3rd place in the original Crap Towns book in 2003, but by 2013’s “crap Towns 3” it has gained “not so crap” status. Walsall, was once famously described by Theodore Dalrymple as “Ceaucescu’s Romania with fast food outlets”, which brought forth one of the few times I found myself agreeing with Mike Bird, and is rumoured to have appeared in one of the books, but I couldn’t find it.
Read the rest of this entry »

Industrial Alcohol

May 7th, 2016

I was, unusually, at a bit of a loose end this afternoon, with my other half out, and no urgent tasks to fulfill, so, having already been up to purchase bottled beer, I popped up (by bus) to the ever-lovely Backyard Brewhouse to see their bar in action.

This doesn’t count as a taphouse tour visit, as I went alone- the rules demanding 3 participants- and anyway, arguably, we’ve done Backyard’s taphouse, though that will probably be a point for debate.

Lets get this straight: it’s an industrial unit, on an industrial estate, but with predictably brilliant beer, and a relaxed atmosphere in the sunshine, and a welcome from those nice people that run it, I can think of many worse ways to spend a few hours, and it’s a great idea. Set up a bar, get a few reclaimed-from-a pub tables and chairs, and serve great beer.

Taphouse 4: The Gunmaker’s Arms

April 23rd, 2016

PubBlog Link
Whatpub Link
Pub Website

Taphouse 4, this time it’s Two Towers‘ taphouse.

The Gunmaker's Arms

The Gunmaker’s Arms

More details in the PubBlog post.

Ambience 7.5
Beer choice/quality 6.3
Architecture 6.83
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 6.58
Toilets 5.5

Which means an overall score of 6.542

Police State?

April 19th, 2016

I was both intrigued, pleased, and disturbed in equal measure by this post from the blog of West Midlands Police Traffic. I have to say, there’s a lot to agree with: the car “cruising” culture has been a local problem, and there’s a lot of illegal activity going on related to it: illegal, unroadworthy mods, poor driving, racing, insurance offences. Rich pickings for traffic police, and rightly so.

The bit that disturbs me is this:

Not all attend to race, some attend just to watch, but both are just as guilty, after all those who do race just crave attention, no audience would mean no racing and no anti-social behaviour, you get the idea. If you turn up to watch you are part of the problem, expect to be treated as such.

Which, while I take the point about antisocial behaviour, seems a tiny bit thin end of the wedge to me. as

Although the tag “boy racer” is a favoured term of the majority for the offenders who attend, many are older, many are female, some with families, good jobs, responsibilities and normal lifestyles away from this offending, that they portray as a hobby or interest. The trouble is when they attend they quickly forget their responsibility to the wider community, a selfish desire to get cheap adrenaline fuelled kicks takes priority over everyone else’s safety and wellbeing, and as such the response to a problem we have to put an end to is harsh, as you will see.

suggests one could be targeted simply for having a modified (or maybe even just slightly flash) car in the wrong place at the wrong time, which feels a bit wrong to me. If you’re not breaking the law, obviously, you should be safe:

And for those who have declared everything and are fully legal insurance wise, and are not racing trialling or being anti-social but have just turned up to “make up the numbers” we will always fall back to our “bread and butter” traffic skills, an altered exhaust or silencer will cost you £100 fine, number plate offences the same, lighting faults £50 an offence, the list is endless, be part of the problem and expect to be treated in a zero tolerance fashion. And if you read the details of the injunctions being granted to prevent cruising, your behaviour can cause a breach of the injunction far more easily than the manner of your driving.

Though I’d suggest an altered exhaust won’t attract a fine if it meets all relevant regulations (for noise, and no cat removal if the cat is a legal requirement) and is declared to your insurers.

On the other hand, I agree completely that if people want to gather in large numbers and race, and show off modified cars, then there’s places to do that where you’ll be with other enthusiasts, and not annoy or endanger the general public, I’m just a little uncomfortable with someone being placed on:

Operation Hercules ANPR hotlist

potentially without breaking the law. What if you happen to be driving past in (say) a modified Golf R32, following the rules of the road, and get ANPRd onto that list by someone who thinks you’re part of the crowd? Will you ever get off it, or will you be pulled over every 10 miles for the rest of your life?

A long, slow death…

April 15th, 2016

..and a very welcome one.

The Telegraph is reporting that Phorm, everyone’s favourite privacy-invading, ad-serving shitfest has finally died. If you don’t remember it, there’s some old posts here:

Phorm Dumped

Moron Phorm

A Phorm of Intrusion

Sadly, some of the links don’t work anymore, as it seems even if I now post infrequently, I am at least here for the log run, unlike some other blogs…

Hell, their comms team seemed nice, back in 2008. Now where did I put the words tiniest violin?

Self Serving

March 23rd, 2016

Is it a necessity that if you design a self-service till for a shop, that you must fuck up the UI so badly that it’s totally unusable?

I’m a techy. I love shopping online, I hate supermarket queues, and I’m not yet old enough to look forward to a chat with the cashier, so you’d think I’d love them.

I probably would, were they not so shit.

First, they’re all touch-screen. Industrial touch screens are shit. Laggy, no haptic feedback, imprecise- so unlike the touch-screen on your phone or tablet. Add to this that they’re usually a lousy bit of software- slow and laggy- and then a bit of ambiguous wording, and the fact that you want the till to verify all the items (and the correct items) are being scanned and bagged, and you have a big, big, fail.

I’ve used 2 recently. 1 in a WH Smith at the QE hospital, and one in a convenience (oh the irony) store in Birmingham’s New St. The WH Smith one, to be fair, asks sensible questions (did you use a bag (or not need to), did you take one of our bags), but it’s still laggy, but by the second time you use it you learn the shitness of the UI and compensate.

The one on New St today was awful, however: the touchscreen worse than normal, it was slow, and it starts with the question “Own Bag?”. This is ambiguous. What it wants you to do here is say yes if you have a bag you want to put on the scale it uses to sense what is being scanned, and no if you don’t, and that scale is directly behind the handy-looking platform you assume is to put a bag on.

Having crossed that bridge with the help of the bloke that could have just taken the 70p for the bottled water I bought, I then encountered the coin mechanism; a mini conveyor belt that takes several seconds to swallow a pound coin (and yes, the WH Smith one does this better, but not well), and longer again to deliver my change. A bloke at a till would do it in a quarter of the time.

Am I alone in this? I happily use pay-at-pump fuel pumps, ticket machines in car parks or rail stations, and vending machines. There’s just something awful about supermarket self-service tills that makes me want to avoid them.

Someone must have costed this out, and decided that the combination of having a member of staff to help people work the tills, and the losses from intentional or deliberate mis-scans is cheaper than staffing tills, presumably, but at least could they be made to work?

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