Thursday, 8 July 2010

Fun with your top off

A couple of years ago I bought a secondhand and not particularly new convertible BMW. My younger work colleagues gleefully viewed this as irrefutable proof of an impending mid-life crisis, and elsewhere accusations of owning a ‘vehicle more suited to the hairdressing profession’ were rife. Nonetheless, I regard this car with disproportionately high affection and go to great lengths to protect it from scuffs, dents and general wear and tear. Visits to the supermarket take twice as long due to my endless circuiting of the car park and trying to find the perfect parking spot (preferably one where at least one side of the car wont have to have another car parked next to it), and my poor girlfriend’s attempts to drive the thing are constantly undermined by the white-knuckled and panicky owner sat beside her. I am informed by other similar car owners and their long-suffering partners that this behaviour is not uncommon, but it is decidedly exasperating for all concerned. A Porsche owning friend even confided a sense of relief when he finally sold his pride and joy, and was able to sail (?) into town with gay abandon in a Y-reg Astra without giving a flying fig for what happened to it in his absence.

Anyway, as life rolls on, a two seat sports car becomes seemingly harder to justify. My other half, bless her, is very supportive of keeping the beamer, but really we both know the awful truth. We need a new car. And by new, I mean different, not additional. The summer is traditionally the best time of year for selling a soft-top, so I am fast running out of time on this one.

With this in mind, it seemed obvious to make one of the List of Forty Things a trip in the car as a kind of last hurrah. Plans were quickly made, and France was selected as the destination du choice. Preparation was paramount and I eagerly strode into Halfords with my list of accessories required for the trip. Turns out though that blowing your hard-earned on warning triangles, high viz jackets, and headlamp converters is not in the least bit rewarding. Headlamp converters… Do they actually make much difference? The manufacturers instructions to apply them with the lights actually on ‘whilst looking into the beam’ (I paraphrase) is surely a mean joke aimed at overly enthusiastic motorists who give their wives and children far less attention than they deserve. Fifteen seconds of this was enough to have me twisting my fists into my eye sockets, willing the painfully vivid blotches of turquoise and purple to disappear ASAP. The final insult came with the application of the dreaded magnetic GB sticker applied to the rear. I doubt whether the chief designer at BMW had a gaudy black and white oval in mind when he lovingly created the rear of my motor.

Still, it was with great excitement and anticipation that I nursed the car onto a Norfolk Line ferry bound for Dunkirk. Not quite the British Expeditionary Force, but we still had enough gear in the boot to supply a small army. Pleas from the other half to bring back a bottle or two of the good stuff were silenced somewhat as every nook and cranny was taken up with tents, stoves, and rucksacks. Every available space seemed to have something wedged in it. As we ventured off the boat and onto French soil, cars seemed to be falling by the wayside in not inconsiderable numbers. I can only imagine the heated debates going on between stressed drivers and passengers about needing the loo already and what do you mean you thought I had the directions??

The sat nav (has there ever been a more useful piece of technology? I mean – it actually works) was clear on what lay before us, so off we set. The weather was glorious, so the top came down and remained down for the rest of the 1600 miles we drove. French roads are a dream to drive on – empty and unbelievably smooth. Their British counterparts induce much wincing as yet another pothole threatens to rip the wheels from the chassis. Another benefit of driving in France is that you can break the journey up with some worthwhile stuff. By the time we had reached our chateau that night, we had visited much of the Somme battlefields and various memorials and cemeteries (worthy of separate post, incidentally), and similarly returning via the Normandy beaches and Bayeux tapestry. The rest of the week was spent cruising around various French hamlets and beaches, again with the hood down, and every inch loving the convertible life!

We returned bronzed and relaxed, and would very much recommend a sortie onto the continent to anyone on two or more wheels. Driving is a piece of cake – far easier than trying to put a brand new tent up after guzzling too much French beer whilst watching Germany demolish England, anyway – and the change of pace welcome. Sat nav just takes away any direction-related aggro, and you can just point the car and go. Or in my girlfriend’s case, fall asleep.

The whole trip has of course backfired spectacularly. One of the Forty Things is now done. But sell the car? Are you mad?

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Forty Love.

Writing a blog poses a number of challenges. What should it be called? What should it be about? What would make it interesting? Getting these right should, in principle at least, go a long way to getting people to actually read the thing. Sounds easy when you break it down like that, but it strikes me that it’s anything but. Some of the most successful ones seem to be rather banal, and on paper barely related to any topic worthy of a few moments of our web-browsing lives each day. Others are of quite a different subject matter entirely, and worthy of an international bestseller and Billy Piper on your telly in her underwear. It would be really cool if I could write something like that but it turns out you need to be a scientist to come up with such an idea. Maybe though there is actually no discernible trick to master here. Perhaps it’s best just to get on with it, ink a few lines and see what happens. Chuck my literary line in the water and see what takes a bite, so to speak.

As I sit here on the train, fingers poised above the keyboard, I am aware of another challenge. This is my first post. My blogospherical cherry so to speak. I can’t give it away lightly and to the first flimsy whiff of a story. The chap sat diagonally opposite me on the train helpfully holds up his Daily Telegraph and I read '40,000 deaths a year from junk food'. Wow. There it is. Divine intervention in the form of a broadsheet. Who couldn't get their teeth into that and spin their own web of perspective to share with an eager audience? Well, it turns out I couldn't. Didn't even try, in fact. It's not that I'm not interested but the thing I have discovered about this writing malarkey is that it finds you out. Start writing about something that you only have a passing interest in and a dead end looms quickly. When I wrote the 'About this blog' page (the very first words I put down), I soon found myself wandering off-piste into some literary quagmire that took quite some digging out. I found myself thinking 'why did I write that, I don’t think that...'

This blog is not supposed to be about current affairs, sport or celebrity lifestyles. I enjoy reading about all of those, but I can’t write about them on an ongoing basis. There are many other blogs out there that do that already, and far better than I ever could (that's not to say that these pages wont venture into those realms from time to time). This blog is supposed to be about being forty: the things I am trying to do to make this a memorable time of my life, and general musings (we bloggers love that word) from a forty first year. ‘Yes, yes, yes’, I hear you mutter. ‘But how are you getting on with these forty things then? You’ve banged on about them enough’. In a word: terribly. I launched into this with a gusto back in December with the impending big day looming in January. Lists were created and action plans drawn up. Except they were more like action plans to create action plans, and still await er… actioning. All of a sudden I am nearly halfway through the year, and have barely got any of the stuff done that I had intended.

It occurs to me that this is somewhat reflective of life. When seemingly endless years lay before you and there’s still time to travel, become a rockstar and marry a supermodel, everything can still be done tomorrow. Realisation dawns around age thirty that most of those ships sailed a while ago leaving a somewhat harsh reality in their wake that you could have done more than you did. Cue frantic planning and embracing of life in general, and realisation that youth IS wasted on the young, dammit.

So… I find myself nearly six months in with barely anything ticked off the list. I actually started to create a web site, but that dried up when I got bored of the iWeb application on my new Mac, and the flight in the Tiger Moth which was booked for May was cancelled due to an overly windy day in Cambridgeshire. I did actually manage to join the online gaming community (and that is worthy of a separate post in itself) but I really sucked at it. I mean really sucked. So it currently only feels like half a tick. Kind of like starting the London marathon but dropping out at mile 13. I also threw myself into getting the golf handicap so promptly organised a few games with the lads and booked some lessons. The pro was fantastic and I was coming on in leaps and bounds, or so it felt. Then bam! One night, I sprained my wrist. How? Have a guess. Having a freakin golf lesson! Would you Adam and Eve it?? I’m normally relatively stoical about things but this annoys me intensely. A sprained wrist is irritating enough, but to do it having a golf lesson?? In the context of the Forty at Forty I feel a bit short-changed as it really was the only area where I’d put in the necessary leg work. One abortive attempt at a return has failed and I fear that Sunday sojourns to the local course will be on ice until at least August. Much like my wrist.

Amid all the general inactivity and distinct lack of progress with the Forty, this blog therefore serves as an effort to reinvigorate the campaign. I’ll give it a good go and see if I can get you bloggers out there to follow my progress for a bit and we’ll see if we can agree a point when I can genuinely claim to be a proper blogger (views on definitions and timescales welcome) and put a bona fide tick against the List.

So there we are. First post written. All that remains is for me to press publish. Oh, and for you to read it, of course. And if you could find the time to pen an interesting reply too then we'd really be in business.