My First Musings Of 2022

I’m musing on the wrong day here, but at this time of year I have to look at my calendar to know what day it is. Apparently, it is Saturday. As it is a ‘sort-of’ public holiday here, and most people will not be out and about or back at work until the 4th, it feels like yet another Sunday.
(The 3rd is the official public holiday, because today fell on a weekend.)
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I managed to stay up and awake to see 2022 arrive. In fact I didn’t go to bed until 2am. My perkiness was assisted by only having one glass of wine with my dinner. The Tapas-style buffet we chose to prepare was delicious, and eaten over a decent amount of time as we sat around watching the poor choice of seasonal TV provided.
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I am going to try to be a little more positive about things this year. Here is one example.
It rains too much in Beetley, and that gets on my nerves. So here is a positive slant on that for New Year’s Day.
Too much rain = never having a water shortage.
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My driving licence expires in March. That is because I will be 70 years old. In Britain, that means I have to make a ‘Medical Declaration’ that I am fit to drive, and also supply proof of my identity all over again. It is such a faff to do this. They recommend you do it online, but I have no scanner to scan documents. The paper form requires that I send original documents as proof that I am who I say I am, and it comes with a warning that there is a very long backlog of applications already. I was hoping to win the lottery so that I could just abandon driving and employ a full-time chauffeur.
Sadly, that did not happen.
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Ollie is going to be 10 in February. For his breed, that is a considerable age, close to 80 in human years. His fur is still patchy, and refusing to grow back. Some other dog-walkers seem to be avoiding me recently, as they are convinced his skin condition must be contagious. Covid-19 has made people fear anything unusual.
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I intend to cook a Chinese meal tonight. Duck in hoisin sauce, stir-fried with suitable vegetables and noodles. After days of making do with leftovers or eating huge traditional roast dinners and High Tea, I am yearning for something Asian and spicy.
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The brakes on my car are making a nasty ‘squeaking noise’. When life gets back to normal on the 4th, I fear I am going to have to take it in for examination and repair. No doubt this will be my first financial downturn of 2022, as I can already hear the mechanic’s cash register ringing up a huge bill.
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On the plus side, I am looking forward to reading all your posts in the coming year, and I might even be having my usual moans about bloggers who follow with no link to their site, or others who think that a one-word comment like ‘Nice’ is acceptable. (It isn’t, and you get spammed for it by me)
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The sun is shining brightly. That’s two days in a row. I am taking that as a sign!

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In Praise Of Honest Mechanics, And The NHS

Ten days ago, I wrote about my car failing the MOT test, and needing two new tyres.

Always Something

I didn’t use it after driving it home, and then three days later, Julie used it to take her daughter and grandchildren out for the day. They did a fair few miles, and had an enjoyable day. However, when she returnd home that evening, she said she could hear a ‘rubbing noise’ when turning right. I drove into town and back, and couldn’t hear it.

Last Friday, she cut her hand at work. It was in an awkward place on the edge of her right hand, and bleeding badly. So I drove to collect her, leaving her car in the car park. We had two options then. Either drive the shorter distance to the main Norwich Hospital, and possibly wait for many hours to be seen, or drive up to Cromer on the north coast, where there is a minor injuries unit open from 08:00 until 20:00. That seemed the better option, and off we went.

Arriving close to 7:30pm, we wondered if we were going to be too late. But no. An efficient receptionist booked her in, then asked me to wait in the car park due to Covid-19 restrictions. Less than ten minutes after I got back to the car, Julie appeared, her wound closed with steri-strips, and a dressing covering the injury. When you hear so many complaints about our health service, I think it is only right to balance that with praise for the marvellous service we received last Friday.

Well done the NHS.

On the way home, we used the main relief road to avoid Norwich, and it has many roundabouts. Once negotiating those, I could hear the ‘rubbing noise’ that Julie had spoken about previously.

On Sunday morning, I returned to the car repair dealership I had used for the MOT, service, and tyres, and asked them to investigate the noise. The manager drove the car around the forecourt, and agreed he could hear the noise. However, after some examination of the wheels and steering, he was unable to speculate on what might be causing it. He suggested I leave it there overnight, and he would get a more experienced colleague to examine the car today. (Monday) I agreed, and Julie collected me and took me home. Although this Monday is a public holiday in England, they were open from 10:00 until 16:00.

Me being me, I feared the worst. Major repairs just before our holiday, and yet more eye-watering expense. While I was out walking Ollie, Julie rang them just before 1pm, and they said the car was ready. They had found a loose back plate on a front brake disc, and that was moving enough to cause the rubbing sound on full right lock. As they had worked on the car recently, they said they would not be charging me anything at all, because of the possibility that they may have caused the temporary fault.

When I collected the car, they gave me a Diagnostic Wheel Alignment report, telling me they had additionally checked the alignment to put my mind at rest. This alone usually costs £59, but there was no charge. I think good service like this should also be praised, especially for a large chain of car repairers that doesn’t always have the best reputation here.

So, well done to Dereham branch of Kwik Fit too.

Always Something

In the UK, once your car is three years old, it legally requires a certificate of roadworthiness, and has to be tested annually. This is known here as the MOT test. (Ministry Of Transport Test)

My car was already five years old when I bought it in 2012. On the first of June 2021, it celebrated (quietly, with no fuss) its fourteenth birthday.

(Not my actual car, but the same year, model, and colour.)

Despite being old by car standards, the mileage of 76,000 is relatively low. Many cars of that age have done twice as many miles, if not more. This is helped by the fact that I rarely drive any great distance. My trips to town or to the supermarket only total an 8-mile return, Ollie’s vet is 12 miles each way, and short trips to take Ollie somewhere different to walk rarely exceed 10 miles. The nearest beach is only 18 miles away, and if I go into Norwich, I usually take the bus.

Other than a long haul to the Lake District, two trips to London, and two holidays in Lincolnshire, my car has an easy life.

But they always found some reason to fail that annual MOT test. Usually things that are hard to argue with. Brake pad wear, exhaust emissions failure, or headlights being unaligned. Most of the time, that doesn’t add a huge amount to the bill. Except for a few years ago when one dealership failed the car on parts in the catalctic converter, and the bill came to £200 more than the car was worth, as well as being off the road for months waiting for the part.

In 2019, I changed testing companies, and it passed first time! I was so relieved, I used that company again in 2020, and to my delight, it passed again. Keen to make it three times lucky, I booked them for this year’s test, and took the car in on Wednesday morning.

It had been in there just over two hours, when I received the ‘dreaded’ phone call. They had failed the car on one tyre. It had a ‘gouge’ out of the rubber, probably caused by a pothole in the rarely-maintained country roads around here. There was also a warning that another tyre had low tread. Not enough to fail it, but a replacement was ‘recommended’. I bit the bullet and authorised two new Yokohama low-profile tyres, at a cost of £130 each.

The bitter pill to swallow was that the tyre with the ‘gouge’ had only been fitted recently, following a puncture on my driveway.

I heard myself saying it again. “Always something”.

What I Don’t Miss About The 1970s

I was 18 years old in 1970, and 25 when I got married in 1977.
By the end of that decade, I was already an EMT in London.
It is easy to look back with fondness at some things from that era.
But I am also reminded of what was not so good in Britain at the time..

The awful sliced white bread.

The Christmas Gifts.

State of the Art portable televisions.

What was on those televisions for most of the day, and after midnight.

Some of the sweets.
(Mostly good)

(Mostly not so good)

The ‘long-bonnet’ British Leyland Mini.

Police Officers getting off the beat, and into silly-looking patrol cars.

Limited options for ‘eating out’.

Fashionable clothing for men.

The 1960s were pretty cool, as well as ‘Swinging’ of course.
But something went badly wrong on the 1st of January, 1970.

Cars: My Life On The Road

Strictly speaking, this is a ‘Thinking Aloud On a Sunday’ post, as I woke up imagining (or dreaming) that I was driving the first car I ever owned.
That prompted a search of my memory for the cars that have marked the stages of my life, and also made me realise I have very few (almost no) photos of me with them.

These photos are not of my own vehicles, and have been sourced online.
But I had the same models.

Six months before I was old enough to drive, my Dad came home with a car he had bought for me. He got a deal on it, and didn’t want to chance leaving it until I got my licence.
It was a 1963 Vauxhall Viva HA, and he bought it in 1968.
I thought it was the best thing ever, and on the day I passed my test, I drove it around Central London all afternoon.

(My one was light green)

Two years later, in 1971, I was working as a salesman for a record company. They replaced the vans we had been using with cars, hoping to improve their image.
I got a new Vauxhall Viva HB free of charge, as a company car. Of course, I didn’t own it, and had to give it back when I left.
But it always felt like ‘my car’.

I changed jobs, and was given another company car. This was what we call an ‘Estate Car’ here, known as a Station Wagon in America.
It was a Ford Cortina 1.6, and was really roomy.

(My one was a burgundy colour)

In December of 1973, I decided to add to my income by working part-time as a taxi driver. I couldn’t use the company car of course, so I bought a brand new car to use at weekends as a taxi. It was a Hillman Hunter 1725, and it took me over three years to pay it off. I enjoyed being a taxi driver, so I resigned from my job and did it full-time.

(Mine was dark green)

In 1976, I moved with my Mum to South-West London, where we bought a shop.
Although I didn’t make much money as a shopkeeper, I discovered that we could run a car through the business.
So in 1977, I traded in my old taxi for a 1974 Volvo.
It was a top-of the range model, the 164 TE, with a three-litre engine, an automatic gearbox, and a luxurious leather interior.
I loved that big white car.

As the Volvo got older, it started to cost a small fortune to run.
I had already joined the Ambulance Service by then, and didn’t have much disposable income.
I was using a motorcycle to commute to work, so in 1982, we bought one car to share between us.
It was a six-month old VW Golf. It was white, and dressed up to look like the GTi model in this photo.
Except our one was a cheaper ‘special edition’ that only had the 1300 cc engine.
In the autumn of 1984, the car was destroyed in a motorway accident that almost killed my first wife, and left me with broken fingers.
(She was driving at the time)

With the insurance money from the accident, I let my wife choose the replacement car, and I bought a better motorcycle.
She chose a two-tone Ford Capri 1.6, known as a ‘Cabaret Edition’. It was a pre-registered car that had never been owned, and we got a good deal as it was already one year old.
This was the exact colour of the one we had.

After a hard winter that year, I had decided that I had enough of motorcycles.
So I sold the one I had, and went out to buy a cheap used car for cash.
I came home with a Citroen GS Estate, in the same blue as this photo.
It was the most comfortable car I have ever owned.

When we split up in 1985, my wife kept the Ford. I was having numerous electrical problems with the Citroen by then and decided to change it.
I bought a recent Austin Metro, a very basic car that was cheap to run, with a small 1.0 litre engine. It was red, like the one in the photo.
But I hated that car with a vengeance. It had little power for motorway driving, and was very noisy too.

I still yearned for the ease of an automatic transmission, and a return to a quiet, comfortable car.
Then I found a good deal on a Fiat Regata 1.6 saloon. It was the top model, with an expensive radio/cassette player, a three-speed auto gearbox, and tinted windows.
I loved it.
But then I discovered why it was a good deal. It gave me nothing but trouble.
Electrical issues, bulbs blowing, and then a disastrous water leak. It had to go.

I swallowed my pride, and traded the Fiat in for another Citroen. The new Visa model. Low mileage, in red like the photo, and only the small 1,000cc engine.
But that turned out to be a good decision, as it was a great car.
I drove it across Belgium and France, and used it every day for work too.
I loved it, and it never once let me down.

But London traffic was driving me insane with so many gear changes, and I still hankered after an automatic.
I found a Ford Fiesta 1300 in black, with an early version of their CVT ‘Easydrive’ auto gearbox.
I had a lump in my throat as I waved goodbye to the Citroen.
I should have kept it.
The Fiesta gearbox was indeed smooth, and made life a lot easier for me.
Trouble was, the car still used the unreliable carburetor from the old model, and it constantly broke down.
I found myself taking the thing apart at the roadside on a rainy night in North London, and made the decision to get shot of it.

That went in part-exchange for a brand new Fiat Punto. That had a 1.4 engine, a 5-speed manual shift, and was very light and nippy in traffic.
Despite the issues with the earlier Fiat, this one proved to be really reliable, and I kept it for some time.

(Mine was green)

Then I moved away to the edge of North London, and had to start driving a longer distance into work.
I wanted a more powerful car, and one with an automatic gearbox too.
I discovered an American car that was being imported into the UK, the Chrysler Neon.
This had a powerful two-litre engine, a smooth auto gearbox, and very light power steering.
I found a dark green one for sale in a London dealership. It was out of my price range though.
So I arranged a deal where the Fiat went as the deposit, and I made low payments for 36 months.
At the end of the payment period, I had to pay a lump sum to own the car.
It was a very nice car indeed, though it used a frightening amount of petrol, with around 20 mpg at best.
I still had it when I moved back to Camden, and kept it until Julie moved in. With no need for two cars, and plans to move to Norfolk, it was sold to a friend for cash.

For three years, I used public transport to get to work, or walked. We had Julie’s car if we had to go further afield.
In March 2012, I moved up here, and we got Ollie. I wanted a car with plenty of room for the dog, and was determined to get one with an automatic gearbox too.
So I bought a low-mileage Vauxhall Zafira 1.9 turbo-diesel in silver, with a six-speed auto box. It was already five years old though.
It was the SRi Sport model, well-equipped, and with a huge area at the back for Ollie. It also had an option to use as a 7-seater.

I still have that car. It is now 12 years old, and starting to cost serious money to keep running.
But I do love it still, and have no plans to change it.

Let me know about some of your car memories, in the comments.

50 Years Behind The Wheel

It just occurred to me that I have been driving for fifty years this year. I passed my driving test at the second attempt, in March 1969. At the time, I had a 1963 car, bought for me by my Dad, and I was insured on his policy. I stayed on at school just long enough to drive into the car park a few times, after a fifteen-mile commute in heavy traffic. I could buy three gallons of petrol for less than ten shillings, (50p) and finally take my girlfriend out in a car, after two years on buses and trains.

The car represented freedom to me, and I would drive anywhere, anytime, just to experience the thrill of not being dependent on timetables and bus arrivals.

Over the following decades, I drove just about anything that went on a road. Heavy trucks, vans of all types and sizes, motorcycles, mopeds, and small scooters. I owned all sorts of cars too, everything from unreliable rat-traps, to brand new luxury saloons. I towed trailers, used 4-wheel drive vehicles off road, and managed to drive a few amazing sports cars too. I was a driver, in every sense, oblivious to traffic, with an inbuilt sense of direction, and no fear of any road conditions. I drove in France, Belgium, and Greece, using hired left-hand drive vehicles, or my own right hand drive car, carried across The Channel on a car ferry. I could drive from breakfast to darkness, and think nothing of it.

I was used to ancient cars with non-syncromesh gearboxes, right up to the latest smooth-as-silk automatic transmissions. I had cars without heaters, and cars with air-conditioning. Some with sunroofs, and others with steering as heavy as a cart. I didn’t care, as long as I had access to something to drive, whether on four wheels or two. In some jobs, I was lucky to be given company cars. The latest models, changed every two years, all costs met by the company providing it for me. Going back to paying my own car bills in 1979 came as something of a shock after that.

Then I joined the Ambulance Service in London, as an EMT. I got specialist training, which I enjoyed, and very soon was out on the streets of the capital, rushing around at comparatively high speeds, with blue lights flashing, and sirens blaring. Most of the time, this was achieved on the wrong side of the road, to avoid the usually static traffic jams all over that city. I used elderly ambulances that still had electronic bells on the front, then progressed to the V8-powered vehicles that were introduced before I left, in 2001. Every other day, for almost twenty-two years, I pushed that ambulance around central London, oblivious to any personal danger, and driving as if it was second nature to me.

But driving in London can never really be described as a ‘pleasure’. As anyone who lives there can tell you, you have to learn a special way of driving there. The first thing is to become very skilled at parking. You usually have no more space than the actual size of your car to get into. And you have to be quick too, or lose the spot to someone behind. Once on the move, you must learn to be ruthless. Never hesitate at roundabouts or road junctions, or you will still be waiting to pull out at bedtime. Let anyone out, and they will be followed by a tidal flow of vehicles that leave you almost back where you started. Selfish driving is the only thing that works, in that vast city.

Fast forward to 2012, and I move to Norfolk. No traffic jams, polite drivers, (in the main) and roads that are often empty, away from the tourist season. I had to learn to drive all over again, at the age of 60. I don’t have to worry about parking anymore, as our driveway has enough room for three cars. I had to learn to be patient behind slow-moving farm machinery, and to be careful on the many small roads where the speed limit is far in excess of anything you can do in London. And I no longer enjoy driving, especially at night, when the oncoming car lights leave you dazzled, on the unlit country roads.

So after those fifty years, what are my conclusions?

Get a car with an automatic gearbox. Changing gear is tiring, and boring too.
Pay into a breakdown service. It is essential, with the electronic systems in modern cars.
Never forget to have enough fuel, especially if you live over five miles from the nearest petrol station.
Unless you live in a field, 4-wheel drive is unnecessary.
If you can afford it, sell the car, and get taxis.
Even better, if you are wealthy, employ a driver to drive your own car.

I have now got to the age where I actually look forward to the day when I won’t be driving at all.

But I have never forgotten the excitement of that first car, aged just 17.

Ollie gets his car back.

In May, my eleven year-old car was due to have the annual government inspection, and a full service. Despite its age, it was running well, and has only done 66,000 miles from new. I don’t use it that much, but living in Beetley with one car is not really an option, as long as Julie is still working. I transferred the money into my current account to pay for the work, and dropped off the car at the dealership as arranged that morning. It was a nice day, so I walked the almost four miles back to the house.

Whenever I go further afield with Ollie, he loves to get in the car. It is a spacious 7-seat MPV, (I think you call them mini-vans in America) and he has his own bed in a large area at the back. I only have to say the word ‘car’, and he runs to wait expectantly for the tailgate to be raised, before jumping in. There is no doubting that he thinks it is his car, reserved for those special trips to dog-walking pastures new.

Late that afternoon, the service manager called me. His funereal tone didn’t bode well, and the news he imparted confirmed my worst fears. It seemed that my (perfectly running) car had fallen foul of the new stricter emission laws introduced just three weeks earlier. It had not only failed the inspection, but would need a great many new parts if it was to ever pass. On top of that, those new laws forbade me driving the car away, to seek other estimates, or even to dispose of it by driving it off a cliff. No inspection certificate meant the insurance was not valid, so it was either agree to the work, or employ a recovery company to trailer my car somewhere else.

The cost of the parts and work required exceeded the resale value of the car by over £100. But the alternative was to arrange for someone to scrap the vehicle, and the costs of getting it trailered to the scrap yard would wipe out anything I would be due in return. Besides, it would leave me with no car, and just enough funds to only be able to replace it with something almost as old, and decidedly inferior. I bit the bullet, and agreed to the huge price.

Thus began the saga that will henceforth be known as ‘The Summer Of The Car’. One week later, I was contacted to be informed that they were unable to get a crucial part. This was called a DPF, something I had never heard of, and that alone cost £900. I did some research, and discovered this was a Diesel Particulate Filter, an integral and important part of the catalytic converter and exhaust system. In one afternoon with Google, I increased my knowledge about car engines by 100%. I found a suitable part on Ebay, from a supplier with good feedback. It was much cheaper too, less than £600. That cheered me up, and I resolved to contact the service manager the next day, with the good news.

That phone call was met with yet more gloomy tones. They could not guarantee the work, if they used a part supplied by anyone other than their own company. In fact, they would not even consider putting it into my car, even if I bought it, and walked to the workshops with the small parcel. It was their way, or the highway, and of course, I could always pay someone to trailer it somewhere else, if that was my choice. I reluctantly agreed to let them carry on, as I didn’t want to spend so much money, without a 12-month guarantee on the work.

Twenty-one days later, and they still couldn’t get the part. They cited problems with the supplier, and a national shortage of the elusive DPF, due to the very changes in the law that had caused my car to fail in the first place. I looked up the issue on online forums, and discovered they were right. Many owners all over the UK were in exactly the same boat. The day after, they rang to inform me that they had ‘no onward delivery date’ for the part, and that my car could potentially be in their car park for the foreseeable future. I suggested that they might as well fit some wings to it while they had it, as flying cars would be the thing, by the time it was repaired. They offered to lend me a car in the meantime, as a ‘gesture of goodwill’, because I was a valued customer of long-standing.

Julie dropped me off the next day, to collect my ‘loan car’. It was one of their new range of tiny hatchbacks, with an engine similar to that found in a food-mixer. The manual gear-shift was a shock, after six years using an automatic, and the driving position so low, I felt as if I was sitting on the floor. Once I got going, the sensation was something akin to being on a large roller skate, that just happened to have windows. And of course, once they had given me what passed as replacement transport, I dropped off their ‘waiting customer’ radar.

Using the car, I soon found it to be the vehicular equivalent of a chocolate teapot. The boot could take three carrier bags at a pinch, and certainly not a good-sized Shar-Pei dog. Performance was acceptable, when compared to a hairdryer, but the finish and quality of this Indian-built impostor left much to be desired. So it sat on the driveway, unable to be used for anything dog-related. My weekly supermarket trip necessitated using all the seats to store the shopping bags, and the one comfort I could glean from having it, was that the air-conditioning worked well, during that very hot summer.

Fast-forward, to cut a very long story short. Almost four months pass, and I have come close to forgetting I ever owned a car. Numerous phone calls, some acrimonious and heated to say the least, and eventual threats on my part. The job was finally done, and I drove their excuse for a car back, and handed it over with pleasure. I paid a bill in excess of what most people earn in a good month, and was handed the keys to my car, which sat washed (by them) and shiny in their car park.

Ollie is very glad to have his car back.

Mud, and car problems

After some films and music posts as a diversion, I’m afraid it is back to woeful tales about the weather, and problems with technology. In other words, situation normal, in the world of beetleypete.

I am struggling to remember a (recent) year when the Winter dragged on for so long. OK, 1963 was a nightmare, but I was only 11 years old then. Since I last wore my shorts in October, it has been month after month of cold, rain, and even heavy snow for a time.More than six months of what feels like an endless Winter, confirmed by heavy rain all last night, and a foggy cold morning to wake up to today.

Walking Ollie in thick mud has been the subject of quite a few posts recently, and today was no exception. It is actually hard to keep upright once again, as I slip and slide trying to keep up with my dog. This wasn’t helped today, when he spotted a small Muntjac deer over on Hoe Rough, and took off after it excitedly. I had no chance of keeping Ollie in sight, let alone managing to follow him closely enough to make sure he was safe. Those small deer are not much bigger than him, but they are tough, and have tusks and antlers too. If Ollie managed to corner the frightened animal, he could have been injured.

But I could make little progress in the heavy mud he was skipping over, and it took me almost fifteen minutes to find him. He was hot and panting, but had obviously not managed to come into contact with the deer. So instead, he jumped into the muddy river to cool down, plunging into deep water up to his chin. Once he emerged, I had more than had enough, and began the slow stomp home, in mud-covered boots.

Yesterday, I had planned to go on my usual trip to the supermarket. But after starting my car, I was unable to get the gear selector out of Park. (It’s an automatic gearbox) No amount of fiddling around would seem to shift it, so I had to take Julie’s smaller car instead. On the way, I popped into the local car dealership where my car is maintained, and explained the problem. They don’t send people out, they told me. Nor do they arrange to collect cars on a trailer, to bring them in for repair. If I could get it into them, they could put it on their diagnostic scanner, and try to find the problem. I told them that if I could have got it there, then it would have been outside for them to examine, but they didn’t get the irony.

Last night, we contacted a friend of a friend who is a mechanic. He sent some advice by text. We also looked online, to discover many other owners with a similar issue, as well as some videos showing how it might be fixed. Many of these cars have a small opening into which you insert a screwdriver, to ‘reset’ the micro-switch that tells the gear selector to come out of Park. Mine being a so-called ‘Sport’ model, it doesn’t have that of course. More research revealed the electrical intricacies of a system that relies on lots of information to tell the six-speed gearbox when to change. This ranges from a connection to the rear brake lights to tell the car it is slowing down, to something on the rev counter that informs the gearbox to change up. I was past the limit of my car DIY skills, that was for sure.

I resorted to ‘fiddling about’ this afternoon. Turning switches on and off, and applying and reapplying the brakes. Still no joy. Then I remembered the ‘Sport Mode’ switch on the console. This changes the gearbox ratios, to give a sportier feel when driving, including stiffening the suspension. I never bother with this function usually, but tried switching it on and off anyway. Eureka! The gear selector freed out of park, and I was able to move it normally. Of course, I have no idea if this will provide a permanent fix, or if it will just stick in Park again tomorrow. So, it is booked in for that diagnostic scan next week, the earliest they could do it.

What happened to hitting things with a hammer?

Slow Puncture

Last week, I left a friend’s house to discover that I had a flat tyre on my car. This is one of those 7-seat people carrier vehicles that does not come equipped with a spare. Instead, they supply a tube of goo that is supposed to seal it, and a mini-compressor designed to inflate it enough to get you home. They may not have considered being in the pitch dark on a country lane in Norfolk, when they came up with that idea, I’m guessing. Nothing for it, but to call the car recovery club, and have the car, and us, taken home on the back of their truck.

The next day, I called a well-known national tyre company, and arranged for them to come out on Monday, and replace the flat tyre at home. I wasn’t about to consider filling it full of black goo, and attempting to drive down a fast main road into town, I assure you. They arrived as arranged, and the efficient mechanic soon told me that there was nothing wrong with the tyre at all. He had noticed a crack in the alloy wheel, that was letting out the air. He replaced the tyre, pumped it up enough to get me to the local dealership to buy a new wheel, and refunded all costs, save the small home attendance fee. It was excellent service, and I have since given that company a five-star review.

As he left, he also told me that it was not especially urgent to get the wheel replaced, as long as I was prepared to keep adding air to the tyre. “Think of it as a slow puncture”, he said.

But I did get the wheel replaced the next day. I didn’t want to chance it. Driving home, I thought about what he said, and it made me smile, as I considered I had something in common with my car. A flat tyre in a country lane had delivered a life lesson, and made everything crystal clear.

My life has been something of a slow puncture. The vitality slowly seeping out over the years, suddenly realising the need to pump myself up, after discovering just how flat I had become. Re-inflated, things go well for a while, and I don’t notice that small amount of air escaping from the unseen crack in my well-being. I often left it too late, and allowed things to become fully deflated, flat and immovable.

Other times, I just added a temporary repair; a patch, a plug. Knowing it couldn’t possibly last, but still unaware of that insidious crack, leaking away out of sight and out of mind. On occasion, I replaced the metaphorical tyre, convinced that something new would make all the difference. But of course it didn’t, and the slow puncture continued to leak the air out of me.
From that ‘cracked wheel’, that I was unaware of.

It took me most of my life, far too much of my life, to finally realise that it wasn’t the tyre, but the wheel itself.

Car repairs, and some photos


The Dereham Town sign, spanning the narrow High Street. It features the hunting of deer, once popular here, and shows the date when the town was founded, 654 A.D.

All photos can be enlarged for detail.

I had to take my car in today. It was to have its annual compulsory inspection, as well as a full service. Add the need for a new water pump and cam-belt, and I was facing a hefty bill. I got more bad news. The back axle needed attention in order to pass the inspection. The estimate was beginning to come close to the resale value of the car, which is now ten years old. As a new replacement would cost in the region of £26,000, I told them to go ahead with the work, at close to £900.

After that shock, I decided to do something more cheerful, and took a few photos in the oldest part of the town of Dereham, before clearing my head with a walk home of almost four miles.
Staying positive, in 2017. Just about…

The oldest church in town, St Nicholas. This church was founded in 654, and has remained unaltered since the 16th century. It is distinctive in having a separate bell-tower.

The bell tower, or ‘Campanile’

Next to the church is Dereham’s oldest remaining house. Built in 1502, (Roman numerals on the outside show the date) Bishop Bonner’s Cottage was named after that man, and is now used as the small town museum. It was once three separate cottages.

A brief look at the more interesting parts of our local market town.