What phone do you drive?

My wife asked me a question last night- for a change it wasn’t “Have you locked the front door?” but she was puzzling why anyone would buy an iPhone. Functionally you can get a phone that does almost everything that an iPhone does, but for considerably less.

I was stumped until I posed her a question: “Why would anyone buy a Mercedes?”. And so I sat back rather pleased with myself at coming up with a simple to understand analogy to the iPhone question. I thought about this a little more and realised that I had actually hit upon something- an iPhone really is quite like a Mercedes- it does exactly the same job as a Ford or a Toyota, but it just does it with a little more style, a little more comfort and just the merest hint of a statement.

Which then got me to thinking, if an iPhone is a Mercedes what about the other major players in the phone market? Let’s stick to the ecosystems for now, which limits us to Blackberry, Windows Phone, Android and Apple’s iOS. So if an iPhone is a Mercedes, what does that make an Android phone? I think it’s a GM because the underlying brand is diluted by all the different flavours of the phone makers; just as an Opel is subtly different from a Vauxhall which is different again from a Chevrolet and so on, so is Android just a little bit different if you buy a Samsung, an HTC or whatever else.

So how about Blackberry? All about the business, driven slightly differently? It’s got to be BMW. Business focus? Check. Driven differently (rear wheel drive as opposed to physical keyboard)? Check. We are making progress.

Which brings me to my current phone OS of choice; Windows Phone. What car maker is a Windows Phone? I think it’s probably an Alfa Romeo. No, stick with me on this, think about it: An Alfa looks gorgeous, so does Windows Phone. There aren’t as many dealers and spares are a bit harder to come by, which is pretty much what it’s like getting apps for a Windows Phone. It’s also a bit quirky and you stand out from the crowd (whether you want to or not). Which is just the way with a Windows Phone.

So there it is, a short, sweet analysis of what phone you drive. Here’s to the ones who think differently. And here’s to those of us who have a Windows Phone and BMW 3 series- just how confused are we!

When did walking become a Driving Offence?

As part of moving house I had to update the address on my driving licence. And the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency kindly sent me a new licence and some information about my licence including a section describing the penalty point codes that I will accrue if I commit an offence. Most of these point codes are exactly what you expect, apart from this one

Code Accident Offence Penalty Points
DR60 Failure to provide a specimen for analysis in circumstances other than driving or attempting to drive 10 points

If I read this correctly then I am extremely worried. Imagine the following scenario: I decide, as an adult that I wish to go out and drink a vast quantity of alcohol. I am a sensible (?) and law abiding citizen so I decide not to take my car with me and so after consuming said vast quantity of alcohol I am staggering home. At which point a policeman stops me and wishes to breathalyze me. As I have done nothing illegal I refuse to provide the sample.

According to the information above I will now accrue 10 points on my driving licence as I “failed to provide a specimen”.  I was nowhere near my car so I am clearly “in circumstances other than driving or attempting to drive”. In fact I had conciously decided to not drive my car and yet I am still have the potential to be penalised.

Surely I have got this wrong?

The Difference is Day and Night

The nature of modern living means that we are frequently forced to do the same task over and over  again. One of the great things about the world is the way things subtlety and imperceptibly change but ultimately thoses changes are quite significant. So although we are doing the same thing as we did yesterday the experience is wholly different.

I recently had to drive from the UK to the Netherlands. I had made the same journey about a year ago when I moved into my apartment there, and now it was time to move out. Of course, there is often more excitement about moving into somewhere new than moving out of it; and in my case this was more so given that the apartment I lived in for a year was in the heart of old town Delft, overlooking a canal and quite simply stunning. I had decided that I wanted to live there, not because it made any financial sense, but because I needed to feel as though I had a ‘home’ whilst I was away at work. In this respect it ultimately performed magnificently, although there was a period when I was sleeping on the floor and had nowhere to sit down that I doubted the sanity of the decision.

And so, unlike a year ago when the world seemed full of promise and the excitement of living in a a fantastic apartment, it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I drove across southern England, northern France and Belgium. I had the added disadvantage of the fact that last year I made the journey is a really rather spangly car, whilst this year the journey was in that ultimate ‘white van man’ vehicle; a Ford Transit. But with all of these differences what really hit me about the two journeys, and how one was so much more pleasant than the other was the time of day I drove.

Last year I left my house early in the morning, drove off into the rising sunlight and cruised through France and Belgium around lunch time. It was glorious- my car seemed to hug the road and although I got lost around Antwerp (thank heavens for Sat Nav this year) and got stuck in traffic jams on the way back, the whole trip  (there and back again) was a fantastic journey. Although I wouldn’t want to do it every week I was quite happy to do it again.

This year I left my house in drizzling rain as dusk fell: The rest of the journey was to be in the dark. Due to my usual combination of appalling planning and preparation I was forced to eat at a typically grim motorway service station before, just like last year, tunnelling under the English Channel and emerging into France. And as I emerged the fog came down. I had never used a sat nav in 3D mode to guide me along a road and tell me when to turn, but I did that night; I spent as much time looking at the road layout on the screen as I did looking out the window. Obviously from the fact that I am writing this I didn’t crash and die, but I would not recommend it as a sensible way to drive. Somewhat effective in fog, but not sensible.

Later the fog lifted and the sat nav managed to take me the right way around Antwerp. As it was now well after midnight the roads were clear and the driving was easy, but it just wasn’t pleasant. It was functional, it was necessary but it was not enjoyable.

And it was only slightly different on the way back; I managed to leave earlier in the day so I was able to drive in that beautiful half light that occurs as the sun slowly sets out of a clear sky. I have heard that film directors call that time of day the ‘magical time’ because people have been working all day and are a little prone to mistakes- it makes for wonderful film-making and I think it is probably my favourite time of the day. It was certainly more pleasant than the five hour drive that I still had to do after darkness had fallen.

And it was at this moment that I realised that it wasn’t the car/ van difference that was critical to the experience, nor was it moving in or out of the apartment: The difference in the experience was almost entirely due to the fact that one journey was in daylight and the other in darkness.

I have had this experience once before: I was working on a seismic crew in southern England and we worked from 7am to 5pm, 7 days a week all winter. This meant that, wherever we were staying, we would leave it before the sun came up and come home after the sun had set. Apparently we were living in holiday homes that people would pay good money to come and stay in, but to me the houses were cold, unpleasant and nothing that I would want to visit ever again. Until one day I had to go back to the house where we were staying at lunch time. Instead of the usual dark, gloomy driveway suddenly I saw a beautiful garden, with an orchard behind it and in the distance a view across the rolling southern hills that was quite stunning. Had I never gone back to that house in the daylight, it would have remained a grim, foreboding place. Instead, although much of my time there was indeed grim I was able to see it in a far happier light.

And so it was with the drive to and from the Netherlands; had I only made that journey in the dark I would have resented the time it took, despised the inefficiencies of the route and disliked the whole experience. Because I had done it in daylight I can recognise the pleasure that driving across a continent can bring, the feeling of elation as a car powers along a road and the ultimate joy of seeing the world around us.

Reasons to own a Maserati

First let me make it clear, there are no logical, sensible or truly rational reasons for owning a Maserati. They are fantastically impractical, ridiculously overpowered, drink fuel as though there is no such thing as global warming and don’t even get the highest reviews when compared to similar cars. So, accepting that this is entirely a case of self
justification, I present my reasons for owning a Maserati

  1. There is something fun about going fast. I know it is childish and my kids are probably more fans of speed than I am, but damn it, it just gets the juices running. More than that, there is something about purring along at 3,000 rpm at 90 mph (145km/h): The car is not even trying and yet you are already eating up the miles. Of course, I only recommend going this fast in Germany or Montana where there are no speed limits. Elsewhere all owners of fast cars obey the speed limits all the time. Yeah right, like you are going to stick to 70mph all the time in England.
  2. You are buying somewhat of a luxury car and this is reflected in the quality of little things like the support of the seats (and even the leather used in the seats): It is just that little bit better than a “regular” car. True it is not in the out and out luxury category (but it is pretty damned close) but as an example of the added comfort, I just spent 9 straight hours driving across Europe with only the briefest of stops to refuel the car and me; I finished the drive comfortable, relaxed and ready to do it again. But I guess that is what the definition of what a GT car should do, and my model is a 3200GT. Still, it is nice to know that it does exactly what it says on the tin.
  3. If you buy an older model the depreciation is not that bad: I expect to lose ~£1500 in depreciation in a year; that is less than you would lose if you bought a 2 year old Ford Mondeo and sold it a year later (in fact it is almost half what you would lose if you bought a 2 year old Ford Mondeo and sold it a year later). OK, the servicing costs of Italian engineering may well be more than the difference, but then again it may not. And in the meantime, you are driving a Maser, whilst the matey over the road is driving a Mondeo. Durr! Oh yeah, and another financial justification: You can buy a 6 year old 3200GT for the same price as a 1 year old Ford Mondeo.
  4. You are buying a legendary car marque. And people will stop you in car parks, driving down the street and at traffic lights and ask: “Is that really a Maserati?” And you can rev the engine, hear the Ferrari designed V8 roar, smile and say “Yup. Not bad, is it”
  5. The coupe versions (3200 and 4200) are actually slightly more practical than equivalent cars, in terms of rear seat leg room that is. I can fit 2 kids in the back seat in their car seats. I couldn’t do that in a 911, Jag XK or Audi. So, in some bizarre skewed view of the world, a Maserati is a sensible family car. It just depends on your definition of sensible and family.
  6. In order to buy a house in England you pretty much need at least £40,000 as a deposit. On the way to saving up for the deposit, you will find yourself with £15,000 in the bank and several years before you save the rest of what you need for the deposit. At this point you can leave the money in the bank and slowly earn 4% interest a year or you can put it into something truly outrageous that is not going to cost much more than a sensible car. Guess which option I chose.

So, the choice is obvious no? Well, in the fairness of things, I also present the collected works of graffiti that have been scrawled over my car:

  1. Posh git
  2. I have a small cock
  3. And 2 eggings (not really graffiti as such, but in the same vein)

I’d like to point out that 1) I don’t think I am- in fact my ex-wife will probably testify to the fact that I am far from posh 2) Maybe, but how do you know? And more to the point, were you talking about me who owns the car, the car itself (I don’t think any cars actually have cocks- insert Porsche or police car joke here) or you writing the graffiti? We have all sorts of sentence construction issues going on here. 3) Who carries eggs around with them when they are staggering home from the pub?

So, on the balance of things? I say go for it. What else could I say?

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The price of owning a Maserati (and the pleasure it brings)

According to Top Gear a car owner can only really be called a Petrolhead if they have owned an Alfa Romeo. Well I have never owned an Alfa, but I do have a Maserati and Maserati is (after their Ferrari ownership years) once again owned by FIAT. And Alfa is part of FIAT so surely, owning a Maserati is like owning an Alfa, only more so. So I figure that owning a Maserati should qualify me as a Petrolhead.

Which is kind of ironic because I have never been a speed demon and never really interested in cars: A car needs to get me from A to B. Anything more is a bonus. Of course, with a Maserati the bonus is getting from A to B really fast. The downside to owning a Maserati is that the reputation of italian engineering appears to be well founded; in the last 6 weeks my car has spent 5 weeks in various mechanical departments, electrical workshops and on the back of trucks from recovery services.

Needless to say I was not overly happy with owning a Maserati and was tending towards just selling the car, cutting my losses and running from a bad deal…. And then my car was delivered back to me today. And I took it for a test drive.

After about 5 minutes I started to realise that there is something special about driving a high performance car. After another 5 minutes I was actually smiling as I turned it into sweeping corners. And 10 minutes after that I had completely forgotten just how much I had spent getting it fixed.

I have never owned a car that makes you smile when you drive it (mind you I have never owned a car that prompts people to stop me in car parks and ask “Is that really a Maserati?”). I like my car: Yes it is ridiculously over powered, yes it drinks fuel like there is no tomorrow (filling it up cost me £89 today and it will take me ~350 miles) and yes it will probably break down again soon. But until it does… I am going to enjoy driving my car. And my kids are going to enjoy it too.

And I don’t know how to put a price on bringing pleasure to your children.

I really shouldn’t say this

But I think I have worked out when the turbo charger kicks in when I am in top gear.

I was coming back from the airport and in a bit of a hurry to get home and so just ‘pepped it up a little’. Only to find that as fast as I was going there was a little Peugeot going even faster, so I pushed a little more and at something like 115 the turbo charger kicked in, the torque went up and the car started to accelerate. A lot.

Maserati 3200 GT

Which wouldn’t have been so bad if I was still in the Netherlands and the units of measure where km/h. Unfortunately, I was in the UK and really began to wonder just how fast I really want to go in my car. Which now probably deserves a picture