Chariot and heroes

So it’s probably time I gave you all an update on my fallen friend.

Those reading my blog recently will have no doubt read (with growing horror I’m sure) about my elderly Passat’s near death experience when it died on me 120 miles away from home in Weston Super-mare at the weekend.

After a tense drive home with several misfires I was convinced that the RAC’s suggestion that this was caused by a faulty crank sensor rather than something more serious was off the mark.

Surely it couldn’t be that simple?

It never is.

This was a delicate time for my ageing chariot too – and although it’s never polite to discuss a lady’s age I feel in this case it’s appropriate.

Ms Passat was born in 2003.

I purchased her after she’d travelled 14,000 miles.

I didn’t particularly WANT a VW if I’m honest – because it was more expensive than the Mondeo at the time – which was getting really good reviews.

I’d visited the Ford garage and climbed into a really nice ‘Titanium’ variant of the line and was marvelling at how nice it was inside.

It was just what I wanted.

Until I tried to put the seatbelt on and it wouldn’t stretch around my waist to the clip.

The salesman at the time seemed to think this was completely irrelevant – or thought I was joking – and wanted to go in for the hard sell.

After giving up trying to make him understand how pointless it was buying a car in which I couldn’t drive legally I left the dealership feeling quite forlorn.

Half a mile down the road however was a VW garage selling a Passat that was only a few months old.

I knew nothing about the car or the brand, but when the seatbelt easily clicked into place I was practically ready to hand over my wallet there and then.

When the salesman reached over me and turned on the blue dashboard lights I couldn’t sign quick enough.

I bought it immediately based solely on my ability to do up the seatbelt and the blue lights on the dash.

It’s no joke.

That’s as in depth as I got.

To me buying a car had become like buying trousers, because it didn’t matter how much they cost or what they looked like as long as they fitted and I didn’t feel a complete fool.

Back in 2003 when my car rolled off the production line I’m sure she had little understanding of the burden she’d have to bear as her life wore on – but stoically carry it she did.

All 34.5 stone of it – and it wasn’t easy for her.

The first signs of unusual wear and tear came when I wore out the upholstery on the driver’s seat from the constant pressurised movement of me trying to drag myself in and out of the car.

Initially this was replaced under warranty – but then it returned outside of warranty and became a ‘feature’.

It’s still there now.

Then I broke the mounting underneath the driver’s seat, which scarily and unceremoniously snapped whilst I was on the M40.

It had to be tig welded by a friendly mechanic who strengthened it for me – and assured me that a baby elephant couldn’t break it – even if it did manage to pass its test and steal my automobile.

Then some years later I snapped my steering wheel in half – which I can only guess was slowly breaking in two as I steadied my bulk on it over and over again as I tried to fit into the driver’s seat and get comfortable.

I barely had 1cm of metal holding it together when the incredulous mechanic showed me how bad it was.

I drove from Warwick to Redditch to go to work with it like that – too embarrassed to call in with the truth that I’d snapped my steering wheel and that I could fit the whole of my hand into the steering column.

So – I have some rather emotional attachments to my car.

It helped me when I needed it most – but honestly also it became something of an enabler.

With a car I didn’t have to walk and my lack of exercise compounded my problems.

Now however the opposite is true because if I can keep her alive she enables me to go further afield than I otherwise would and prompts exploration rather than isolation.

When I delivered my car to the mechanic’s tender mercies yesterday I’d not had anything done to it for almost exactly a year, and it was also due an MOT and a service – as well as the crank sensor replacement.

The sensor alone (with fitting) was £144.

Would it be worth it?

They wouldn’t know until they’d replaced it whether another engine code would come back and there would still be another issue to fix – but then there was also the added cost of the MOT and the unknown cause of the misfiring during Saturday’s journey home that was yet to be diagnosed.

Would it pass? if not what would it fail on if not and how much would that cost?

How much was too much?

Well it seems that the cost (for the moment) was £653 – which (whilst it may sound a lot) I consider very reasonable.

The MOT required (ironically) the crank sensor, two new front discs, a brake calliper and a pad – whilst the service was basically oil and spark plugs.

The stuttering appeared to be a cracked breather hose in the engine – which is now temporarily taped to see if it cures the stutter.

If it does then that’s a mere £46 to replace!

In essence a year’s motoring has cost me £700 in mechanic’s fees, £200 in car insurance, £240 car tax £30 RAC membership – and between £30-£40 per month (let’s say £480 per year per in a rough worst case scenario) in petrol.

My MOT pass certificate (yes it DID PASS!!!) shows my cumulative mileage.

In just under a year my car has driven 3,032 miles.

That’s much less than the 10-12,000 it used to do.

I work that out to be about 55p a mile – which oddly (from memory) is the exact amount my old employer used to give as a mileage allowance before I was made redundant.

If I got rid of my car and took an Uber in order to get my shopping back from Aldi (a four mile round trip to get my weekly shop – for which I always use my car because of the frozen food I buy) it would cost me between £5-7.

The last time I took a return bus to Leamington from my house (also a four mile round trip) I believe it was around the £3.50 mark.

In contrast (I checked today) in the exact same period I walked 3,605 miles.

That didn’t cost me a penny.

Wow.

How life has changed! The balance is finally right.

So – my car – once a victim of my worst excesses now lives a life of privilege and relaxation.

This elder stateswoman of the highways rests in the sunshine most of the time whilst I wear out my shoe leather instead.

It deserves to be pampered – and whilst I love it – I no longer need it to live.

All I need is a walk around the park with friends and a beautiful sunset.

That’s enough internet.

Davey

P.S.

The day wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t also mention that I’ve still felt down this week.

Honestly I’ve been struggling.

Quite a bit if I’m honest.

However I have good friends.

REALLY good ones.

Today I came home and inside my door was a little parcel, wrapped in paper with pictures of puppies on it.

Taped to the back of it were these words.

Wondering what it was and who had sent it I opened it up.

Inside there was something that instantly made me smile, because it’s the little things that mean everything.

I don’t want a lot from life.

I try not to waste money and get pleasure from the world around me – not from expensive possessions.

So my friend had bought me a colourful and thoughtfully themed present that I could use and re-use again and again – and every time I do I’ll be thinking about her kindness, thoughtfulness and the fact that she went out of her way to buy something little that she know I’d love to make me smile again.

Sometimes all a boy needs to feel special is a super hero carrier bag.

X

Unexpected generosity 

My chariot awaits outside. 

Not in a ‘Cinders – you’re going to the ball!’ kind of way but instead in a ‘I’m really old car and you need to take me for an MOT‘ sense. 

At this time of year ownership of an elderly vehicle (she just turned 170,000) is less than worry free, and I’m hoping that there’s not much wrong – but at the same time simultaneously bracing myself for a financial kicking. 

However on the plus side it’s Saturday morning and I haven’t lost any sleep over whether I’ve dropped in weight or not. 

That would be silly. 

Instead I lost sleep thinking about all the things I need to remember for my new job and going over the training I’ve had so far in my head. 

Grrr

I think Friday nights and sleep just aren’t meant to go together for me. I’ve slipped into a routine over the last 16 months of being a crippled insomniac once every seven days and I really wish it would stop. 

Last night when I went to bed I was really tired too. I’d realised at the absolute last minute that it was a food tasting day in group and that I had no food in the house to make anything and no time to plan. 

If you’ve not been reading my blog since the beginning you’ll know I like these events and usually try to prepare something new (you can find recipies I’ve tried and previous events like this here) in the process probably putting more pressure on myself than there really needs to be. 

This resulted in me rushing around the supermarket late yesterday evening, agonising over what to cook that would fit in with my MOT at 9am (I have to walk two miles back after dropping the car off meaning less time to prepare) and finally ‘giving in’ a little and deciding on a simpler choice. 

Mini crustless quiches. 

I had finally prepared a batch by 11.30pm and went to bed, leaving them to cool overnight. These thankfully taste really nice chilled, are totally free on Slimming World and can be easily transported in Tupperware. 

When I cook these my fillings tend vary but this time they contained onion, spring onion, courgette, broccoli and chopped bacon medallions. These are all fried together on a low heat in spray oil for 10-15 minutes until soft but not quite brown. 

The ‘crusts’ of the quiches are two wafer thin slices of sandwich ham pushed into each muffin hole of the tray, whilst the filling is 6 eggs beaten together with half a tub of Aldi Quark. 

Pour the whisked mix into the ‘cups’ of ham in the tray (about 2/3rds depth) and then add a heaped dessert spoonful of the bacon and veg from your frying pan. 

Put the lot in the oven for 20 mins on a medium heat and then let them stand. Allowing the teeny quicheettes to cool overnight will result in a tray like this…

(Vegans please avert your eyes)


If readers haven’t tried these before then I heartily reccomend them. They keep for days in the fridge and they’re great for packed lunches or salads.

(Author pauses to agonise about the potential for progress on the scales)

So – how do I think I’ve done this week?

Well the answer as always is ‘I haven’t a clue’. 

I’ve not had any ‘bad’ days, stayed within my ‘syns’ (apart from being a little over on Saturday thanks to some hi-fi bars) or not had any at all on some days. I’ve also stuck to my usual daily 1700 – 2000 kcals. 

From an exercise perspective over the last 7 days I walked a total of 77 miles and 157,000 steps back and forth to work or around parks and fields. 

If anything my (smart and brand new) 42 inch work trousers already feel a bit looser around the waistband – so I think I’m still trimming up. 

But results on the scales? 

Hmmm I don’t know…

Anyway – it’s time for a shower and an MOT (for the car. I’m not having an MOT in the shower. That would be silly…)

(Drops car off and finds a short cut on the brisk walk home to save half a mile!)

Unexpectedly I’ve arrived back with time to make some potato wedges, so at least it looks like I’ve made an effort!


I like to season these with smokey paprika, roughly chopped garlic, and dust with salt and cracked black pepper. Then I liberally coat them with spray oil all over and bung them in the oven spread out on a tray as flat as possible. 

For the sake of cooking time these are actually closer to chips than wedges but they tasted niiiiiice!

(My chippy wedges took about 35-40 mins on high in my (gas) oven if you’re wondering… I used to par-boil them but I don’t do this any more.)

Well – group went well – and there were some lovely foods brought in by other people to much on!

Thankfully I could do so without guilt today because I managed to drop another 2.5lbs and also got slimmer of the week! 

Yay!


While we munched each other’s snacks we all voted for the woman of the year for our group – and I think it’s fair to say that although sadly only one could win they were ALL worthy recipients of praise for persistence and effort – and their stories about their weight loss efforts were both touching and heartfelt. 


One of them also wore some strikingly alluring footwear – which (despite her often saying otherwise) just reminded me how much her confidence and happy inner self have come to the surface since I first met her. She always makes me want to keep going and keep trying – and regardless of how she occasionally feels she should remember that inspiration is a two way street

My group is full of such nice people! They all get together every week and share the good and the bad without any judgement whatsoever and I love going there.

It really sets me up for the week ahead!

It seems that this week stories weren’t the only thing being shared however – and at the end of the group Angie gave me a carrier bag with a virtually brand new fleece in it from a really really generous guy in the 8.30 group that takes place before mine. 

He’s a regular reader of the blog on my Facebook page and always supportive with his comments, so I’d like to publicly thank him for his kindness.

It fits perfectly and came at just the right time!


He didn’t know this when he gave it to me but 5 minutes before my group started I’d been called by my garage and informed about my MOT failure. 

It wasn’t the apocalypse – but this is all relative. When you have no spare money and a while until your first pay cheque every penny counts. 


Bye bye £360 and hello new brake callipers and pads. Still – easy come easy go, and this is infinitely preferable to my brakes failing

Whilst I don’t have a paycheck NOW I will have one soon. 

Besides (although we all need it) over the last 18 months I’ve been reminded time and time again that money is irrelevant when you are surrounded by good people and you’re focused on putting good vibrations out into the world for everyone else. 

Of course, the best vibrations come from being caffeinated and at the moment internet I have waaaay too much blood in my coffee stream

While I attend to this emergency (with a four mile round trip into town to remedy the imbalance) I hope that you too are suffering an embarrassment of interpersonal riches in life – and that for every time you trip there’s a hand there to help you up and set you back on your way. 

Davey

Das Auto?

It’s unsettling when something you rely on becomes unreliable.

I have an intermittent fault with my car – an elderly but much loved 2003 VW Passat. There’s an odd juddering coming from the engine. It doesn’t happen all the time – just after a period of driving (usually on the motorway at speed) which is very disconcerting.

It’s making me worry about how much time the old girl has left.

Part of the problem is I’m not a bloke. At least not in the stereotypical sense.

  • I have no idea about the workings of an internal combustion engine, or indeed what to do if a car goes wrong (aside from exhibiting mild panic).
  • I have never called the RAC to change a tyre – but only because friends have taken pity upon seeing my helpless and sad face when I have a flat and swapped it for me.
  • I own a powerful hammer action cordless drill but until now have been too scared to drill my own walls with it. When I needed to put up curtains a few years ago my friend helpfully drilled the holes for me.
  • I have a rough idea how to knock nails into things but typically they end up very bent. My pictures rest on the floor instead of hanging on the walls for this and the previous reason.
  • My petrol lawn mower recently would not start. I looked at the mystifying ‘user serviceable’ innards for a whole two minutes before going out and buying an electric one. I have four lawnmowers and three strimmers in my shed, all in varying states of disrepair.

I could go on.

Cars contain magical pixies and run on fairy juice for all I know or care, so when things go wrong I’m already on the back foot.

I therefore feel a bit vulnerable when I go to a mechanic – although in that respect I’m sure I’m not on my own.

Since my usual tame grease monkeys have changed ownership recently and keep forgetting to return my calls I decided that I would take this issue to a main dealership. In the past I’ve had excellent experiences with VW and despite my pending joblessness I want a good inspection and a proper fix. I need to keep my current car on the road rather than buy a new one.

My old mechanic used to investigate problems for free, is close by, and reachable on the bus.

The VW dealership wanted £60 just to have a look under the bonnet and getting there and back requires two taxis.

However my old mechanic has failed diagnose or to fix this recurring issue twice in the past, seems currently disinterested in my business, and I’m forced to conclude that sometimes in life you tend to get what you pay for.

Over the last couple of months (on the RAC’s advice rather than theirs) I have replaced at the ‘cheap’ garage all of my coil packs, spark plugs and the compressor in my aircon, which finally (at least temporarily) saw the problem disappear.

So this morning I arrived at the main dealership expecting the best service possible. It was all shiny and white and made of glass and had a new car smell when I opened the door.

IMG_6006

The enthusiastic greeter (they have a greeter!) met me, already knew my name, shook my hand, welcomed me to their establishment and showed me to some comfy chairs.

‘Would you like a coffee?’ He said politely.

I indicated that I would. Soon enough my wish was granted and the free coffee fairy arrived.

IMG_6007.jpg

‘Someone from servicing will be with you in a minute’ he said and went back to his desk.

Happily I set about blowing my hot free beverage and browsing the web on my phone. There was an excellent 3G signal here too. Five bars! I might consider moving in.

However, soon I began to notice that people were coming in and talking to attendants, handing over keys, leaving and being replaced by other people, also handing over more keys after chats.

Maybe their queries were different departments?

I looked at my watch… I needed to get home and log on for work. My coffee cup was now empty.

Thirty mins had now passed.

I caught the greeter’s eye as he passed to voice my discontent and ask when I would be seen.

With what appeared to be genuine horror the greeter realised I had not been processed at all and immediately set about the task of finding someone to see me. If nothing else I was impressed by his concern. Within a moment I was seated with him and a representative from servicing to discuss the issue.

‘Mr DWK’ he said ‘ I am so sorry we have kept you waiting. Your inspection will be free of charge.’

I was a bit stunned. Wow. I couldn’t argue with free! That made my hourly rate approximately £120.

‘Thanks.’ I said ‘I appreciate that!’

He introduced me to and eventually left me with left the servicing representative, a well organised lady, who continued to take some extremely detailed notes about the nature of the issue. These were on top of the details I had already given them over the phone.

As she read them back I noted that these were extremely accurate, and listed almost exactly what I had said a few days previously. I was impressed. I hate poor note taking.

Once this was done I told the nice lady that I would need her to give me a couple of hours warning about when to pick the car up as I would be relying on taxis.

‘Would you like me to get one of the team to drive you home Mr DWK?’ she said.

Blinking a little I replied ‘Yes – erm… That would be very helpful thanks!’

So approximately 10 minutes later and roughly £67 better off than I had expected to be by that time of the morning I arrived home in a pleasantly scented chauffeur driven 2016 Silver Golf Estate and logged on to start work with a cup of coffee.

Moments later my mobile rang. The number calling was the car dealership.

What could have gone wrong? Did I leave something in the car?

‘Hello Mr DWK its xxxxx from xxxxxx Volkswagen’

‘Hello’ I replied.

‘It’s just a courtesy call Mr DWK. I’m from the sales department.’

‘OK…’ I replied, my jaw tightening a little.

‘I see that today you’ve brought in your VW Beetle for servicing and I notice that it’s 13 years old. I was wondering whether I could interest you in any of the deals we have on our new range of Beetles?’

‘It’s a Passat.’ I said flatly.

‘It says on my documentation its a Beetle Mr DWK.’ He replied.

‘Well nevertheless it was a Passat when I dropped it off – so I hope you haven’t made too many other modifications…’ I said.

I waited. There was a tiny pause while he regrouped. His funny bone appeared to be firmly set in place and had not been triggered.

‘Would you like to see any of the great deals on our Passat range?’ He said with the same identical tone of voice.

‘Well I’d love to…’ I replied ‘but sadly I am facing redundancy and will be unemployed in less than a month. I don’t think its a good time to be entering into large finance agreements.’

‘No… OK…’ He said, typing in the background.

‘I’ll give you a call in 3-4 months.’ He said. ‘Have a good day Mr DWK.’

I put the phone down with a sigh.

Not. Good.

Several hours later in the afternoon the call finally came to explain what had been done. The problem could not be found. Irritatingly the issue had refused to manifest itself on a test drive. However – they noted that there had been a factory recall on my coil packs and they had replaced them all free of charge.

When I picked the car up it was indeed running just fine.

I’m not entirely sure what to think now. I’m theoretically paying more for improved service, but have received better and worse service simultaneously (and a potential fix) – but for free.

They have shown excellent record keeping and awful information handling all in one neatly wrapped up bundle. I mentioned why I needed to keep my old car running to the servicing department in the morning, and despite their knowledge of my pending employment hurdle they still referred me to the sales department.

My coil packs had been potentially failing due to a manufacturing fault – however I had never received a recall notice, and had already replaced them out of my own pocket six months or so ago.

I’m completely bemused. It’s rare I see such excellent service rolled up in a bundle with such average (and with regard to the recall potentially unsafe) service.

Do I go there again?

Internet – I have no idea… I’m bemused.

Davey