This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Willy’s MB – popularly known as the Jeep. The first four wheel drive vehicle that many people came into contact with through service in the forces in the Second World War, it provided the springboard for the whole 4×4 industry – particularly once the Land Rover came along in 1948. There are an awful lot of Land Rovers – nearly five million in their various flavours.

One of them is sitting on our front drive – a 2003 Freelander. Want to buy it? It seems the market for older second-hand 4x4s has died. Our car has a book price of £3200, but the best trade-in we’ve been offered is £1400 because “nobody wants ’em”. With most 4×4 manufacturers now offering much more economical models (the latest Freelander diesel has similar mpg figures to a Ford Focus, compared with our model’s 29mpg on a good day, downhill with a following wind) and petrol at £1.35 or more per litre, people are shunning older models in favour of cheaper options.

As always, those who can not afford a new car are left to run more expensive models. Using the tax system to penalise drivers of gas-guzzling cars may seem well-and-good and is well intentioned, but it tends to penalise the poor twice over – first on the extra cost of running the car (be it an aging 4×4 or an aging saloon) and on the higher tax disc costs. In rural areas, a 4×4 is a pragmatic choice – when roads around here were effectively closed to non 4x4s by snow for more than a week earlier this year, if you wanted to get to work, school, the shops or – in our case – infirm parents who might need help at a moment’s notice, an older gas-guzzling 4×4 is vital. Our road is full of them (at least eight in a road of just 31 households).

So, what do you do? Wait for the new car fairy to wave a magic, fuel-efficient wand?

Post title inspired by this.

Double Dutch

Tom: I was thinking about Domburg.

Me: Yes? What were you thinking about?

Tom: I was thinking about when we saw Kraak en Smaak.

Me: Well, we actually saw them in Middelburg, in the Abdijplein. But it isn’t far from Domburg.

Tom: Yes, that’s right. [pause] Abdijplein is a funny word. It’s double Dutch! Abdijplein! Heeheehee! (pronounced perfectly: ab-dye-pline)


I’ve just experienced this first hand. Contrary to the reports, some areas, particularly Folkestone, have received more than 15cm of snow. I stood in it and it was nearer 20cm and drifting.

I was supposed to have gone to Dover today and on to the Netherlands for work. Normally it takes me about 1 hour 40 minutes to get to Dover. After an hour stuck on the M20 going nowhere at the Channel Tunnel exit, I managed to get off the motorway and turned back. My round trip took me six and a quarter hours.

I can also recommend avoiding the B2063 Hospital Hill in Folkestone when it is like this. It is, um, interesting to descend when covered in thick snow and ice. The row of damaged and dented cars abandoned on the side of the road does not give confidence.


Stamford, Lincolnshire. Historic market town. Beautiful stone architecture. Lots of old buildings. Peaceful atmosphere (but then it is Monday night). So why then can’t I find a half decent looking pub that might serve a decent pie and a pint after a hard day’s work? And what idiot converted that church into a Boots and Vision Express?

Breaking a duck, err bone, duck… bone.

We have just taken the opportunity to have a little holiday. Well, that was the plan. I had to go to Angers for an exhibition and took H and T along with me, something we have done for four out of the last five years.

After staying in Angers for a couple of nights and a (very successful) day at the exhibition, we took the car to Saint Malo, via Rennes and Dinan. We got to our hotel and wandered into the Intra Muros, had a nice meal and then, to entertain Tom, clambered up onto the city wall to head back towards the hotel. So far, so good. But it was mightily dark and I decided to carry Tom as we descended the stone steps. Hels stumbled on the last step as we went down. And then I fell down on the same step, heavily. I managed to hold on to Tom and lower him gently to the step. But I had a fair idea that I’d really hurt myself. I could tell this by the tears in my eyes and nausea, not to mention the pain.

We hobbled back to the hotel and went to bed. But, in the morning, it became quite evident that I was in agony. The evidence consisted of me yelping with pain whenever I stood up, and yelping twice as much if I put any weight on my left foot.

With guidance from the hotel receptionist, Hels took me over to the hospital. After a short wait, an x-ray revealed the tiniest chip off a bone. My reward – a French plaster cast with matching crutches and painkillers. My first damaged bone. Bugger.

We changed our homeward travel arrangements and got ourselves on the next ferry from Saint Malo to Portsmouth (we originally planned to travel to Dieppe and then back to Newhaven – but if ever you take that boat, pack a lunch as the food is utter crap). I’m hoping that my insurers will pay for the change of ferry plans and the lost night of accommodation (about four hundred quid in total).

Since then, I’ve seen umpteen medical people and been the centre of much attention. I’ve got to wear the cast for at least ten days before it is swapped for a removable boot. Which means I can’t drive, can’t put weight on it and can’t walk more than a few paces. Which will make life a little difficult, to say the least.

And, to top it all, Tom has chickenpox. Spots. Lots of them. And itchy.

Hels has got her work cut out. She’s pretty amazing.

Time flying

It only took until around 7.15pm today, 2nd January, for me to say to Hels: "bloody hell, the year is flying past already!"

2009 is certainly going to be interesting, potentially dramatic and quite possibly bloody terrifying. As Gordon put it, we will all get there by the end of 2009, but it might be useful to know where "there" is.

Meanwhile, we have "reduced lighting" in our conservatory as the electricians have been (i.e. my father and brother) in preparation for the replacement of our conservatory this week. You’d think that replacing a conservatory would not be something to tackle in times of financial uncertainty, but this qualifies as a distress purchase due to the fact that water has been pouring in and it is about to collapse. It’s only costing us <cough> thousand pounds, but it does mean that we are the conservatory company’s new best friends. It will, at least, let in more light and reduce drafts – so we should be more energy efficient, at least by a small bit.


Other thrift measures in place include:

  • taking a permit to saw down trees in a well-known National Forest and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in order to get cheap fuel for our home (and to wind up passing dog-walkers/conservationists);
  • thinking about laying more insulation in the loft;
  • starting work on the allotment – potatoes are currently chitting on my office floor and a big box of seeds lies ready. But we need to do more digging yet and also source some poo;
  • encouraging Tom to use the loo instead of nappies – he is late at making this transition, but shows no enthusiasm for it;
  • installing a new, energy-efficient washing machine (another distress purchase – water flooded across the floor and the engineer scratched his chin and sucked on his teeth, just as the warranty had expired);
  • enjoying days out that consist of walking with occasional added pint/coffee, or heavy use of the National Trust card;
  • DartTag – £1 instead of £1.50. It’s the way ahead, and it makes a groovy BEEEEEP noise and makes the barrier go up all by itself.

Are you saving cash?

Flight of fancy?

Sitting on board the Maersk Delft, waiting to depart Dover docks, passengers stare as the huge MSC Armonia glides into dock, flash bulbs glinting as passengers get the obligatory shot of the not-so-white Cliffs of Dover. As the ferry finally moves off from the quay, only a few minutes late, some wag plays Ride of the Valkyries on the entertainment system. Hmm, slightly fanciful thinking, I feel.

On being a terrible parent

We’ve just got back from a few days on the Isle of Wight, of which more later.

After one particularly windy day of exploring and wandering, we arrived back at our lodging and noticed that Pedro was missing. Pedro is/was Tom’s toy donkey and was a gift from a friend. We thought hard about where we had last seen Pedro and decided that it must have been at a National Trust garden that we visited. It being the early evening, we decided it was too late to call, so I called first thing the next day (Friday). Unfortunately the garden is closed on Fridays and Saturdays (hello? why??), but I’ve been promised that someone will get back to me tomorrow.

Tom hadn’t noticed the absence of Pedro, but last night the penny finally dropped. We had tears and wailing and “where’s Pedroooooooo???”. I felt utterly awful – I do my best to keep track of Tom’s belongings, but clearly this got missed. We appeased Tom with a story that Pedro had gone to visit his donkey friends, although he saw through that and Hels explained that we’d lost him and were doing the best we could to track him down.

Today we bought a new donkey. £2.99 in Morrisons. He’s not the same, but Tom seems happy. For now.

Thank goodness it wasn’t Miffy. Now that would have been a real disaster and simply doesn’t bear thinking about.

UPDATE: I had to call the National Trust in the end. No sign of Pedro I, but it seems that Tom is already very attached to Pedro II.

Time to catch up

A few things that I haven’t had/made time to remark upon here in the last week or so:

  • my gorgeous wife had a birthday. The three of us went to London for the day and ambled around Covent Garden, Regent Street, Tate Britain and the South Bank. Tom was particularly impressed with the sculpture at the Tate, remarking that The Three Graces have bottoms “just like Mummy’s”, which is possibly the best compliment a girl could wish for.
  • subsequently, my gorgeous wife went on holiday with her mum to Morocco, leaving son and husband to fend for themselves. Thanks to sitting in train stations with poorly-inked cardboard signs, we survived this ordeal and only went to the pub once.
  • Hels and I completed the 20km JustWalk on Saturday in blistering (literally) heat. We were accompanied by our brother-in-law Kevin all the way round the circuit and were able to enjoy some lovely views and some splendid wild flowers. But it was bloomin’ hot and we had to work hard to keep hydrated and to avoid heat stroke. The sections of the walk in the open were particularly hard, especially the mile or so down the south-facing slope into Charlton which was on a chalk and flint track in a bit of a dip – no breeze, bright intense sun, no shade and lots of reflected light and heat from the surface. Thanks to some remarkably generous people, we have now passed our original sponsorship target of £500, for the Parkinson’s Disease Society but we still want to raise more money. What do you mean, you haven’t sponsored us yet? Go here and give now, please and thank you.
  • Oh, and it’s my birthday today. I’m already enjoying my first present.

How being a parent changes you (number 3348 in a series)

On arriving in a hotel near Geneva, one opens one’s washbag to discover that the bottle of conditioner has partly leaked. This has happened in the past when travelling and then it was a disaster of hair-pulling proportions.

However, having spent two years dealing with Tom’s “poonami” nappies, I now merely shrug and rinse it out over the bathroom sink. At least this smells quite nice.