Saturday, 12 September 2015

A car-phobic’s review of the new Ford C-Max

Crashing the new Ford C-Max
As a person who views a car as a necessary evil - tons of flying metal that people are lucky to get out of alive - I was puzzled about my invitation to test-drive Ford’s new family car, the C-Max. But I was prepared to give it a try, since I had never been to Belgium before. 

The journey from Brussels station to the hotel was spent in the company of some total petrolheads who were as confused as I was by my presence on the trip. They were discussing things like retuned dampers and new shock absorber valve designs. I was thinking about the hotel pool and whether Belgian gin & tonic was any good. It gave me plenty of time to reflect seriously on what I had let myself in for. 

When we arrived at the hotel a friendly Ford executive greeted me at the hotel with an extended hand; I extended a fist (which he politely shook) so that he wouldn’t know about my sweaty palms. Another manager came up to me and I accidentally shook his hand twice, and it was only when I went in for a third hand-shake that he politely told me to stop shaking his hand.   

Having finished with the handshakes, it was time for dinner. Buoyed by two gin and tonics, I decided to share my thoughts. I asked if Ford still had an unexciting reputation; announced that Fords were for the older, less cool driver; and said that the one great car they have produced is the Ford Corvette. (Someone pointed out that Ford didn’t make the Corvette). Next I got quite shirty about the fact that the Capri had been discontinued and asked what they planned to do about it. Then I decided to take photos of my dinner and put them on Facebook. 

Journalist doing a RoboCop impression
When morning arrived I spent some time trying to work out if I could slip back to the Eurostar without anyone noticing. Unfortunately I had no idea whereabouts in Belgium we were, so I had no choice but to go to the test track and hope I wouldn’t make too much of an idiot of myself. 

At the test track's safety zone, I got to wear a pregnancy suit, which I put on back to front. Then the safety man told me lots of important things about child safety in cars which I found highly reassuring. 

It was time to do the actual test-drive, and it turned out that things have come on quite a long way since the Capri. I got behind the wheel, pressed a button on the dashboard, and not only did the car find a suitable parking spot, it also parked the car! All I had to do was use the foot pedals, while the steering wheel took on a mind of its own.  I felt like I was in Knightrider or something.  

Unlike my current people carrier, which turns into a giant ice skate if there are more than about five rain drops on the road, the C-Max can be safely rally-driven to within an inch of its life. And the back seats have this crazy water-repellent covering which liquids sort of float above, like something out of a sci-fi film. My only concern with that feature was that my kids would start deliberately pouring juice all over the back seat, just to watch these futuristic globules appear on the surface.  

Futuristic globules
I also learnt that Ford isn’t an aged company producing boring cars, quite the opposite.  The Ford employees are young, and good-looking, and cool, the environment is buzzing and exciting. And the managers also don’t seem to mind too much if you accidentally test-drive one of their cars into the back of another car when testing the automatic braking system. 

I still don’t really like cars, but fair play to them, Ford are producing some pretty impressive cars.


Sunday, 23 August 2015

My sat nav is a bastard

Our road trip through France:

After the sat nav playing some sort of sick joke (having already been on the road for seven hours) then for the final leg of the journey taking us for 50km through single track, crumbling, hairpin mountain roads that were seven miles high (according to my eight year old) and not a barrier in sight, and then after two hours of actual tears and near-vomiting, it proudly announcing that we had arrived at our destination - when in actual fact we were at the top of an extremely high, and remote mountain with no sign of life whatsoever and now in the pitch black - we have decided never ever to trust the effing sat nav EVER AGAIN.  The bastard.

And to add insult to injury, we later discovered that there is a perfectly brilliant main road, at ground level that would have taken us to the correct destination in about 10 minutes.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Our day at Conkers (photos)

We have just had a great day at Conkers, which is situated in the National Forest in Derbyshire (they are planning to plant 30 million trees...). We had a bushcraft session which involved making shelters, building fires, and toasting marshmallows.  

We then went on to obstacle courses, walked barefoot through mud and freezing cold water, and then balanced on ropes way up high (well, the kids did).  There is so much to do at this attraction which covers 120 acres of maturing woodlands, lakes, ponds and play areas - an excellent day out!






Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Hopeless with hamsters

When I was young I had a weird hamster obsession.  I kept buying them with any spare pocket money I had, knowing full well that I really didn't like them.

They kept dying or escaping, or being rescued by friends, but each time I would come back from town on a Saturday afternoon, proudly wielding my latest rodent replacement, much to my mum's exasperation.

A few weeks ago, desperate to quieten my children about me being 'the worst mum in the whole world' I had a lightbulb moment, and decided we needed a hamster.

So without telling anyone, I went into town on a mission to buy one.  I didn't want my children with me as I wanted the thrill of choosing it myself.  But they didn't have any hamsters for sale in Hereford that day, so I ended up driving to the next town to track one down.

After a nerve-wracking 60 mile round trip, where I was convinced the hamster had broken free from its box and was going to jump on my head and make me crash the car, I arrived home with the newest member of our family. I had such grand plans for our new pet and I was going to try to love it with all my heart.

The children were thrilled on seeing the hamster, and for a while I became the best mum in the world. But then Betty, my eight-year-old, likened it to a mouse, and the first friend who saw it thought it was a rat.  Being a rat/mouse phobic person, my enthusiasm quickly diminished.

Poor old Hetty the hamster has been in residence for six weeks now, and despite some very tense taming sessions in the first few days, which involved heavy duty gardening gloves, Hetty temporarily getting lost under the sofa, and us Buttons all yelling at each other, with half of us ending up in tears, none of us have even attempted to get her out of the cage (apart from when I have to clean the cage, and then she gets poured into a bucket for the duration).

Dolly, my five-year-old, is now completely uninterested in her, and Betty talks to her, and feeds her Shreddies through the bars of the cage when she thinks she's looking a bit sad or upset.  But when an introduction between Pecky (her chicken) and Hetty didn't go well, her interest waned too.

So we now have a Hetty that produces a large amount of poo, and noisily tries to make a bid for freedom every night between 10pm and 2am.  I am sure that one day she will succeed.  And then I'll probably replace her with another one...

Friday, 13 February 2015

You don't have to be mad to work here

I recently had an interview with one of the world's biggest employers.  It was my first ever interview experience (excluding the BBC) with the public sector.

Before I entered the reception area of the offices situated on the outskirts of town, I was optimistic, even excited, about the possibilities that working for this giant might bring. 

The reception desk was unmanned, and a scrap of paper stuck wonkily to the wall read: 'Our receptionist was recently made redundant, please use the phone on the desk to call the extension number you require and announce your arrival.'

And so in front of an audience of four immaculate but glum-looking ladies all sitting there in their black suits and manicured nails, I dialled through to the department who were interviewing me and told them that I had arrived.  I was informed that they were running very late and to take a seat.  I turned to look at the four expressionless ladies and the penny dropped - they were all waiting for the same interview.  I wondered whether it was appropriate to talk to the enemies, but in the end we all sat in silence, listening to the ticking of the clock from 1987 that hung from a nail nearby.

Having spent the last eight years bringing up my children and working as a freelance writer, this was my first formal interview for a very long time.  So it was a massive deal for me to be here, I was very nervous, and I prayed that the interviewers would be nice personable people.  I envisaged chatting merrily about what I had been doing in the last eight years, and about my varied work before having children, and sharing my enthusiasm and excitement about the prospect of working in an office again.

After an hour of sitting in the dreary unheated reception area, watching more and more ladies arrive for the same interview, my enthusiasm began to wane. After an hour and forty-five minutes, which is when my name was finally called, it was all I could do not to run screaming from the building.

Things only went downhill from there. I was ushered into a windowless box room where the manager, Glenda, and the lady currently doing the job that had been advertised, Susan, sat with their orange clipboards.

Without so much as a hello, Glenda said:  'I will ask you a list of questions, while Susan writes down the answers, and then we're going to swap roles, and Susan will ask the questions and I will write down your answers,' Glenda continued. 'It's all very informal.'

I began to tell them that this was my first interview in ten years and that I was quite nervous, but was quickly cut short with:  'Let us begin.  What are your strengths and weaknesses?' asked by Glenda in a robotic and unnerving manner.  Completely floored by her coldness and the inane-ness of her question, I couldn't think of anything to say other than: 'I love working.' 

After several more questions, like: 'What is the importance of accurate data entry?' and 'How would you prioritise the filing?' I was once again internally reaching for the gin. (Incidentally, I told them I would prioritise the filing by doing the most important bits first.)

Pretty soon, I couldn't summon up enough mental energy to respond with more than a 'yes' or 'no' answer. Unbelievably, there was a wilted pot plant on the desk between us, a clumsy metaphor for the situation, which I really wanted to point out to them.

'Why do you want to work for this organisation'? asked Susan.  I told them how wonderful I thought this institution was and how it offers a fantastic public service, and how great it would be to be part of such an important service.  To which Susan replied (in a very similar robotic nasally voice to Glenda) 'Yes well you wouldn't think that after working here for thirty years like we have.'  This was the first time either of them had actually said anything in response to any of my answers.

At one point I tried to engage them in an actual conversation about my work at the BBC, and LearnDirect, and my writing, and my award-winning blog, but evidently they didn't want a conversation, or to find out anything about me, or to employ anyone with a heartbeat, so I dragged my attention back to the questions on their clipboards.

'Imagine you had this job and a parent at your child's school approached you in the playground and asked you for confidential information about another child. How would you respond?'  I could tell that Susan was really proud of herself for coming up with this question.  'I would tell the parent that if they slipped me a tenner I would tell them whatever they wanted to know,' I replied.  Even this didn't induce any kind of response, apart from a robotically raised eyebrow or two.

We reached the last question, which Glenda dramatically informed me was a question from the organisation itself.  Drum roll.  Finally something interesting I thought.  'Do you have anything to declare?  Any conflicts of interest, such as convictions or bankruptcy'? 

I laughed out loud, and told them that I thought it was going to be something a bit more exciting, perhaps about privatisation of the organisation, or my views of its constant presence in the news, and the political war surrounding it. 

Glenda and Susan just stared at me and waited for my answer.  What remained of my will to live stirred up inside me once more, and I considered telling them that I was actually on the run from the cops, having just robbed a bank, and could they keep it schtum, but instead I just shook my head with a sigh.

'Any questions'?  Glenda said.  I turned to Susan and asked what a typical day in this role might be.  Glenda butted in faux-chirpily with: 'No day is ever the same in this office, it's complete madness!'  There was a pause. I looked at Susan and waited for her answer.  'I open the post,' long pause.  'I enter some data.'  She then thought for what seemed like an eternity.  'And I do lots and lots of filing.'

After the interview finished I went to Tesco and then sat in the car park and ate a cheese sandwich.