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Saturday July 22 2006

Blissfully a lot less busy with the recording project this week,

I am left more free to be annoyed by the sweltering heat. I'm fonder of sweltering heat than the average, but there is sweltering and sweltering. The Tour de France has become much more interesting in its final stages, although I still don't especially empathise with any of the leaders and therefore am watching it half at normal speed and half at double. This is, I suppose, an improvement over the triple-speed gallop through which was the norm when I last posted here.

I continue to resist the lure of infinite listening obligations via podcast, being rather more selective than has been the case. And I am firmly of the opinion that a change of scenery is going to have to come in September, which at the moment seems to be the first chance I'll have of some extended free time without obligations. Until then it's just a matter of holding the fort, I suppose, and wearing the shorts...

Posted at 12:43 pm by Jim Woods

Monday July 17 2006

My aim to have a simpler life

is aided currently by the lacklustre state of the Tour de France. Now I love the Tour. Usually, at least for the last six or seven years, I've watched whatever coverage I could get. This has generally meant that I've watched the excellent VTV hour-long summaries every night. Sometimes I've even watched real-time coverage, but this has been less good. VTV has now changed it's name or something, but it's still Gary Imlach and Phil Liggett holding the fort with the commentaries, although it seems they no longer control the cameras. This year the Tour is boring me rigid though, and that pains me. Perhaps it's because Lance Armstrong is not in it. All the time I've been a keen observer it has been a question of whether Armstrong would win, or whether Ullrich would again pull one out of the hat - as he did once before Lance came along and pissed on his fireworks. Two weeks into this Tour, and the only real excitement has been the crashes. I don't like to be someone who watches for the crashes. I don't like to be someone who watches the summary at triple speed on the TiVo and only slows it up when something appears to be afoot. But that's what I now am. A skip-viewer. Ullrich, of course, is not even racing this year - collateral, I hope, damage due to an epic doping scandal.

Why can't they just let them all take what they want and then see who wins? It would be a lot simpler.

Losing a highlight of the year is always sad, and I will keep an eye on things unless it all gets a bit more interesting. But I have loads to do, a pile of music that needs listening to, a load of DVDs to watch and a stack of books to read. Nice to have problems like that, it's true, but all I really want is a change of scene and someone to share that change of scene with. I can't get away until September, and frankly I'm counting the days.

The not-listening-to-loads-of-podcasts is going pretty well, actually, so that's good news. Cancelling my Sky sub on the basis that it'll save me £21 per month has still not happened, but now that I see that FilmFour is going to be free there is an added incentive!

The new RAV4 is proving a mixed blessing. Since I am devoting myself to any musical project that will have me, in a fit of guilt at my slothfulness in my chosen area of travail, I am currently stuffed for time to get away in it. And that's the reason I bought it, after all. Additionally, and rather more worryingly, the f*cker Gordon Brown's latest budget knocked another nail into the coffin of my long-term financial planning. I am, needless to say, in the position of being very badly provided for in the future while appearing prosperous in the present. And it's this that has caused the trouble. Well, that and marrying rather injudiciously and getting stuffed on the divorce settlement. The long and short of it is that I only have the RAV4 now because I won't lose much more than I already have by selling it back to Toyota if I get a few more months and miles on it. I'll need to go back to owning cheap and cheerful transport soon, if only to free up the loot to go anywhere in it. And let's face it, I need to earn more money. One can only sustain an annual budget deficit of six or seven grand for so long without completing losing the metaphorical farm. I think my current altruistic recording project, which is well worth it and fits very well with my views on supporting worthy artistic endeavours as much as I can, will have to be the last freebie for the year. I need the money :(

Just in case anyone else is thinking of buying a Toyota RAV4, basic but well equipped XT3 turbo-diesel model, and I have faith that Google will bring a few such punters to my site here, here's a list of my likes and dislikes after a couple of thousand miles of mixed use of it.

On the plus side, it pulls like a train and is very relaxed to drive while getting a good 42 to the gallon in usage which has tended towards the short, thrashy and air-conditioned. Whether or not one would ever get the 50 or so claimed on a long run I don't know, but I'd be confident of 45 or so at least. I really like the trip computer which tells you stuff like this and plenty more besides. I really dislike that operating the trip computer is done by a couple of buttons sited behind the wheel in the instrument binnacle. Crap design. Do you really want to have to stop to safely change from MPG display to range, for example. Bad design. Other bad design points are that the tailgate opens sideways rather than upwards, so loading is a pig if someone is parked close behind. This is compounded by the tailgate opening only to about fifty degrees. Also crap. What is the point in having all that space if you can't get to it??? I have resorted to loading bulky stuff through the rear doors as a result, not because it is easy but because it was the only way. A huge black mark. To be fair, however, the interior is very spacious and comfortable, and levelling the rear seats is a doddle. So if the warranty were not an issue I'd remove the retaining strap that limits rear door travel and rig the trip computer mode switches to a couple of switches somewhere on the centre console. But the warranty and resale value are an issue, so I'm stuck with these irritants.

Two other big annoyances. Firstly, although I know that there is a 12 gallon tank I can only get 8 in it after the point where dire imprecations start flashing at me and I am psychologically at least getting that low fuel feeling. That the computer is hooked to the fuel gauge, and that the gauge is so dramatically pessimistic, is unforgivable. What's the point of all that information if it can't be relied upon? And when I first got the thing in March I had it tell me that there was a risk of ice on the computer display a few times. Fine, but clearing that warning - which obscured everything else on the display, could - you've guessed it - only be effected by stopping and reaching around the wheel to the aforementioned inaccessible buttons. The whole bloody computer thing is very poorly thought out. Final annoyance is that the traction control brings in the rear wheel drive when the front, the driven end in normal use, begins to slide. This results in a rapid change from mild and predictable understeer to an uncomfortable consciousness of the high centre of gravity. Great if you're a dick, less useful if you can actually drive. I was aiming off for the understeer, thank you, Toyota. At least it would be nice to turn this off, but one cannot. I imagine the more advanced idiot-proofing on models up the range is even more intrusive and unsettling. Manufacturers need to learn that a slight loss of traction does not always mean a berk has taken the helm. But I suppose that's what you get for buying a school-run 4x4...

I'd rather have had a little less economy and permanent 4wd.

Oh, and while I'm talking about actually driving the RAV, the brakes are very powerful and idiot-proof (ABS and EBD should you care) but lacking any real feel. Given that in years of owning cars with such electronic braking aids (which I do think are a great safety boon by the way) I have never had them cut in in anger I would have liked a lot more feel. I think, frankly, that it's the feel in the brakes of previous Toyotas that has kept me from locking them up. This one gives me the idea that it might be easier to just jump on the anchors with both feet in an emergency and let the various computers (God willing they work properly) sort it all out. None of this stuff is a substitute for proper driving skills and attention, and modern cars seem to undermine that by giving what could in some cases be a false sense of security. With decent feedback from the controls, it all gets a lot safer and more enjoyable.

It's a pity no-one makes a big load-carrier with good economy that I could afford and which also drives well. Well, not new anyway, and I wanted the warranty and peace of mind. I think I should have bought an old Ford Focus estate, frankly, or even the new Mini I nearly went for but would have had to throw away the back seats from in order to get anything in it. We live and learn, albeit live fast and learn slowly :(

If you can live with these faults, however, and I imagine that with the exception of the silly tailgate most owners will cheerfully do so, it's a great vehicle. A hell of an engine, and a stylish and comfortable ride with a great factory stereo. They'll probably sort out the things I don't like in a year or two, gallingly. But when I bought it I was in a bit of a rush because I was off for months and could find nothing else as suitable for a long trip - the good economy, sleep-able interior and so on. Thanks very much G Brown, you fat wanker. No more voting for your miserable shower of pretend-lefties. I'd rather vote for the SWP and know where I stand. Or even vote in my own interests for the first time in my life, perish the thought.

Ah, it's along time since I had a bit of a rant here. Feels good. Almost compensates for the sleeplessness and the sweaty day ahead in town screaming at Currys for selling me dysfunctional rubbish and Vodafone for stitching me up over some "free insurance" I never wanted and cancelled a.s.a.p. and have now been billed for. Ain't nothing like it used to be. A moratorium on purchases other than clothes and books! A move away from music technology! Back to bongos and sandwiches. Keep on the grass. Dust off the fishing vest and don the shades. Arguing time is hear again...

Posted at 6:49 am by Jim Woods

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