Austerity really is ruining my breakfast..!


I like to see where I can make savings. Small ones mainly but importantly ones where I feel we are not losing out. Take for example fuel. Instead of driving like a man possessed, foot flat to the floor one minute then stamping on the brakes the next. I have modified the way I drive, I cruise more, let the car slow down more and use my brakes less and gently. This simple change has seen my fuel bill go down quite considerably. The household heating also came under scrutiny. Now we do not heat the garage and in areas of the house where we seldom spend any time, we have turned the heating down a couple of notches. It’s taught us to be a bit more considerate, taught the children to turn off the lights and close the bloody door. Overall, it’s been no real hardship and no real effort has been required.

This is nothing new, my parents taught us the value of saving, of not being wasteful. They had come through tougher times, times when it wasn’t the planet or the economy that made them frugal, no it was just being about not wanting to waste things. Food was always eaten, a clean plate was the only way off the table and back to the telly, a brick in the toilet cistern was a simple way to reduce wasting water and as for being driven to school. Forget it. The bike they bought me for Christmas wasn’t supposed to be a toy, it was a mode of transport. Things like this rubbed off and I continue to this day to generally take care with my resources.

But my frugality often tends to backfire on me. Someone somewhere takes pleasure in seeing me spend time and effort in my personal austerity drive, then mucks things up. A brick in our toilet cistern gets discovered by the children and, for whatever strange reasoning they have, they decide to pull it out for a closer look, it slips from their grasp, cracks the cistern and leaves me with the cost of a new loo. My 30 or so litres of water saved over the months amounted to 5 euros, the cost of a new crapper, not including fitting, 350 euros.

I drive to the petrol station, I drive like my Grandma. My economy gauge in the green all the way. Excellent. Well it would have been had I not forgotten my wallet. Now I have to drive all the way back home and do the whole thing over again. The drive home and back the second time is now less considerate as grumpy me is now in a rush so again, any saving has been cancelled out.

I even have one of those ‘a bag for life’ bags they sell at the bigger stores. Now that they charge you for plastic bags, this is handy to have and I for one don’t want a mountain of plastic forever clogging our planet. Mostly though I forget to take it with me when I do the shopping so end up buying their plastic bags anyway, and the last time i did remember it, the handle broke. At the time of writing, I am currently on my 6th bag for life. Quite what they mean by ‘for life’ then is beyond me. Thank you Mr. Marketing man at the supermarket chain for selling me a bag for life that will only last a few weeks and thanks again for realising this problem and solving it by then selling me the plastic bags I will need as a consequence.

Now, one of my less clever plans has been causing some grief in the household recently. I say household but by that I mean only me. Mr. Marketing man at the local supermarket has started offering milk at the ridiculous price of just 56 cents. In the past I have sampled cheap milk and in the past I have ended up throwing the stuff away, nevertheless I am a sucker for a bargain and remembering my past mistakes, I buy just the one carton. If it is awful, I’m hardly out-of-pocket. If it tastes good, I’ll be back later to buy a lorry load. Expecting it to be coloured water, I was surprised that it was actually rather good. Not up there in the taste department with the Cravendale’s of this world but certainly on a par with our current choice and half the price!!!! Sold. I came back that afternoon with enough milk to feed a village. A large village at that.

So far all is well. I’m feeling good and no complaints from the family. But no. That someone up there somewhere just had to throw the boot in. Didn’t let it happen on the trial run did they… No. They waited until I’d made the mother of all milk purchases. What’s the problem..? I will tell you. My son likes apple juice, he would probably bathe in the stuff given half a chance. So he always has a couple of cartons of apple juice in the fridge. And it just so happens that the packaging of my cheap milk is green and white, which is the same colour they have used for his apple juice. Each morning, half asleep me, in desperate need of a cup of coffee before I can even begin to think, talk or do anything, wanders zombie like to the coffee pot, fills it then makes for the fridge, mistakes the apple juice for the milk and only realises the error after I have already stared pouring.

If breakfast cereal comes before coffee, the same thing happens only this time my Cornflakes are now contaminated with juice. My frugal side originally tried disguising the taste of the apple juice by adding more milk than one would normally use. But the juice is the bully in the flavour stakes here and fights it way onto my taste buds. I now just throw away my breakfast or coffee and start again. If I have just used up the last of my Cornflakes, it’s even worse, I am left with no option but to eat the children’s choice of cereal, some awful chocolate rubbish that is purchased for the simple reason that inside is some useless plastic toy they so desperately want.

So thank you again Mr. Marketing man at the supermarket chain. Thank you for the clever idea of producing exceptionally low-priced milk and thank you for approving a packaging design so close to that of your apple juice that I mistake it daily for the milk. Instead of saving my hard-earned cash I am now having to buy twice as much cereal and twice as much apple juice to compensate for the wastage you have caused me. I am also being grumpier in the mornings than usual which in turn is making me irritable during the school run which reverts my driving style back to the man possessed I mentioned earlier which is therefore costing me more in fuel.

Resist the urge, even if it is just an itch that needs scratching…


You know how it is that sometimes you have to do something, you have an urge. Those times when you have a need to eat a kebab or the craving for a particular snack is just impossible to resist no matter how absurd it may appear? I admit to having them rather too often and, like an itch, they have to be dealt with. On the whole I’d say these urges are, more often than not, very satisfying. Well one evening, I got an urge, an urge that had to be followed up. Overall it was a stupid one, made even more stupid thanks to the help and encouragement of some equally stupid friends.

That evening we had been out at a countryside pub. The one tucked away down some tight country lanes, lanes lined with bushes and gated entrances to farmers fields, lanes where houses are rare and when found, are usually old, beautiful and expensive. We were driving back into town and having fun driving recklessly with youthful abandon. We took a corner a little too fast and didn’t slow down quick enough for the hump back bridge that followed the corner. I say we were driving fast, but remember, on a single lane winding road, 40mph is too fast, so we weren’t exactly belting it along. Nevertheless, even allowing for sudden braking, we hit the hump-back bridge at maybe 25mph. It was enough to make all of us leave our seats and bash our heads on the roof! The car hit the ground with a jolt and a sound that told us all something had fallen off. We fell about laughing… It was like a fairground ride, only free. We wanted to do it again, but faster this time. Our designated driver was in no mood to repeat things, it being his father’s car and his father would not be happy that his car now had a buckled front bumper and was missing a front indicator. So home we all went. But that evening had left an itch that needed to be scratched.

Over the coming weeks myself and my fellow passengers agreed we needed to return to the hump-back bridge and see how fast we could take it and how far the car would jump. With military precision we began working out the details, each of us taking a role in the operation. One of us was a regularly competitor in banger racing and could source us a car that would not cause any family upset if we broke a few bits, another could then prepare the car so that it would survive what we were sure would be a pretty awesome jump and me, being as mechanical as a bowl of fruit offered to paint the car so it looked good. A week later we have the car, a white, 20 year old Ford something or other, picked up from the local scrap yard for £35. Quite un-roadworthy if you were to look at it with a legal eye, but the engine was good enough, the clutch only slipped between 3rd and 4th gear and the bodywork, rusty in places, would do. Mate number 2 took out the windows, removed the petrol tank and rear seats. A smaller, plastic petrol tank was fixed into the boot, metal bars were welded to give some strength and protection, and finally the seat belts were replaced for cheap second-hand race-harnesses. Then came my turn to add the artistic touch. Although it is fair to say I did paint it, it’s fairer to actually say I just painted the words ‘Super Dave Stunt Team’ down both sides in thick black emulsion paint. That said, after those 5 minutes spent decorating the thing, it looked pretty good. It  was all ready to go, we were all ready to go, it was time to deal with that urge…

The location of the bridge as I mentioned earlier is on a thin country lane. From the opposite direction there is a long downhill run up to it, a length we guessed would allow the car enough room to achieve maybe 50 or 60mph, a speed we were confident would give us good height and laughter filled flight time. We also took into account that the damage suffered to the original car when we first took the bridge would be multiplied at a higher speed. Therefore one of us would have to borrow their parents car and follow us as if the damage was enough to make the ‘jump car’ un-driveable, we’d need an alternative mode of transport to get us to the pub so our night out could go ahead as planned and later we could then tow the ‘jump car’ back on our way home. See, we really had taken our time and knew that preparation is indeed the key to everything.

The weekend came and that evening we got ourselves ready. No special clothing, it was, after all, still just a lads night out, so fireproof race suits were dismissed in favor of figure hugging trousers, funky patterned shirts, some fake tan, a few squirts of cheap smelly stuff and a condom in the wallet just in case. Can’t be disappointing the ladies now can we. The one concession we did make was to use crash helmets, as we knew from experience that hitting the roof without one would hurt. Suitably attired we fired up the old bucket and off we went. Aware of the car being now completely illegal, un-registered, un-taxed and uninsured, we took the route we figured would be the most discreet.

I thought I knew my friends. I had grown up with them, been through years of school with them, showered with them and spent countless hours in their company. They had my trust. I would have been a more cautious driver that night, I would have taken the hill down to the bridge at the speed we had agreed upon, braked a little maybe, shown some caution and a degree of consideration to my passenger. But I wasn’t the driver that night, I was the passenger and my trust was in the hands of the driver. Those years of thinking I knew him were proven wrong. We took the corner before the hill at close to 60mph, by the time we were upon the bridge we were doing 95. We hit the bridge and just took off. The car must have been launched easily 40 foot into the air and our flight distance must have exceeded 100ft, the glide path changed from being us looking up to the stars to us looking down onto the road as the weight of the engine in the front and the laws of gravity pulled the nose down. The whine of the screaming engine was replaced by the crunch and crash of metal hitting tarmac. Bits of car fell around us, the bonnet flew off, the rear door popped open, the bumper shattered and the steering wheel came away from its mounting. The back of the car touched down a few moments later and we began to bounce uncontrollably. Earlier I mentioned how we originally discovered the unique qualities of the bridge, how from the other direction we had taken the corner too fast at 40mph, remember that bit. Well now we were aiming for that said corner at something like 80mph plus, bouncing around like a kangaroo and as we now had no steering wheel, we were both just passengers in the sequence of events that followed.

It became clear we were not going to make the corner and I braced for impact as the bushes lining the corner grew closer. We ploughed though the bushes, which it turned out were for a rather well concealed house, a rather elegant one as well. The owners had obviously spent time and money on their garden, the lawn was flat and perfectly stripped by a recent trim, pretty flowers lined the edges and the centre-piece was an ornate little pond with a fountain in the middle, a fountain shaped like a flower with some Greek styled statue of a woman holding an urn from which water was cascading. The pond I imagine would have been a perfect habitat for newts and frogs, possibly hiding some fish as well, who knows, its surface was dotted with large Lilly pads and it was dark. I did know that it was overdue a bit of dredging as, climbing out of the car, my feet sunk into a deep muddy bottom. Completely ruined my shoes it did and the algae stains on my jeans would prove a nightmare to get rid of. In fact, months later, the vigilant would still be able to pick out the slight change of colour where the stains once were.

Behind us, our pathway had been exceptionally well described. The entry into the garden was marked by a car width gap in the bushes, all the plants on the route were flattened and the lawn was churned up where the tyres had twisted and turned their way to the pond where we had finally come to a halt. The statue was in a number of pieces, one piece now being in our car, another embedded into the lawn and one somewhat larger piece, having been brutally flung through one of the greenhouse windows, was now nestled in what looked like some well cared for tomato plants, country show winning specimens they seemed to be, big juicy red things they were, certainly nothing like we’d be able to buy at the local supermarket. How the other half live…The fountain, having its pipe work liberated, was spurting high, raining cold water down upon us and, judging by the security lights that were now lighting up the whole garden and the sound of barking, the owners of the house were aware of their evening being somewhat disturbed. We did what any sensible person would do in a situation like this. We leapt out of the pond and ran.

The back up car, no longer being a rescue vehicle, was now our getaway vehicle and we leapt into it, soaking wet, muddy footed, screaming like the old F1 commentator Murray Walker, “go, go go”. We gave the pub a miss.

The parents of our getaway driver grounded him for a week for bringing the car back so filthy inside. The owners of the house we crashed into managed to get the insurance company to sort them out, how do I know that..? Well for our efforts, we made it into the local newspaper! Front page the following week is a photo of our car. Smashed up, nose stuck in the pond with carnage behind and around it. Clearly shown is my artistic contribution and the headline read… “Just who is Super Dave?”

The urge to see what would happen if we took the bridge a bit faster had been dealt with, it hadn’t gone exactly to plan and we did feel bad about the bushes, plants, lawn, fountain, anything in the pond that didn’t make it and of course those rather superb tomato plants. What it didn’t do was prevent a new urge from forming, a new itch that needed scratching. Thanks to the newspaper headline, we thought it would be fun to get another car, give it the same ‘Super Dave Stunt Team’ livery and see if we couldn’t get ourselves onto the front page just one more time. And funnily enough, we all began wondering if it would be at all possible to jump the local canal that ran through the town centre…

Start a fight with a fighter jet and you will lose…


“Keep to the left” they kept saying, “make sure you stay out of the heat blast and maybe you should consider wearing some ear plugs.” Thanks for the advice but I left my ear plugs at home and with a bloody great fighter jet shaking the ground next to me the last thing I am planning to do is swerve into its path. I’m thankful for my fireproof suit, just in case, grateful the car is not a cabriolet and beginning to wonder just why I agreed to do this. 

Having driven onto the runway, we were in position and waiting for the challenger. Over the radio, the tower gave the all clear and from behind this giant, awesome F18 fighter jet rumbled slowly onto the runway and shadowed me as it took position to my right, it’s engine whine reverberated through my body. I’d expected the noise to be more, was worried about my lack of earplugs, but it wasn’t so bad. Then he hit his throttle and fully powered up his engines. God help me, David had just met Goliath.

The noise was incredible. Gorgeous, intoxicating but so, so loud. I think the fillings in my teeth need looking at again. I look up and over at Captain Javier Ramos, the pilot, he gives the thumbs up, no, I think he’s giving me the finger! I press the throttle down, tease him a bit. I need to show him that 37,000lbs of thrust isn’t worrying me. He’s confident he’ll thrash me and judging by the technical data I’ve read on the F18, he may be right. But, can he do a handbrake turn… No. Can he park outside the pub on a Saturday evening… I don’t think so. Has he got a seven speaker sound system with CD interchanger… Of course not. Does he have room for the children’s school run, their sports kit, satchels and the finger painting they did of daddy using cotton wool for his beard even though he hasn’t got a beard..? Nope. He hasn’t even got proper windscreen wipers fitted, just some basic hot air blowing system.

It had taken two months of planning, we needed permission from the very top for a stunt like this and whilst we had a bag full of cash for bribery and photos of various key people in compromising situations with ladies of ill repute it proved unnecessary as everyone was happy to accept our challenge. We also needed a car. Luckily a luxury car dealer helped us out and just happened to have a few Ferrari’s kicking about that we could use. “Pick whatever one you like” he said, waving his hand over a selection of some beautiful works or mechanical art. I didn’t pick the fastest, I picked what I thought the best, the car I would most like to own, the Modena 360 F1 a stunning car, easy to drive, quick, responsive, a bargain at somewhere around 180,000 euros and of course, red! We had tried to get a celebrity to drive the car but celebrities don’t like taking risks or at least their management don’t. The top Real Madrid players may well get photographed getting out of their pricey toys, but when it comes to really driving them hard, they shy away. so it was down to me, it was my silly idea, so with no one of any fame to speak of coming forward, I stood on the crease. Having driven and owned a number of high performance cars, spent my childhood racing anything with an engine and being the one with the most health insurance, a straight line drive should be a piece of cake…

The briefing was conducted with military precision, satellite imagery on a large screen in the cinema style briefing room indicated all activity planned for the event and clear instructions were given as to who was to be where and when they were to be there. The fire crew and ambulance staff were to be on the taxi-way at the finish line, the bus with our timing, radar and camera crew aboard would drop people off at three marked points along the 1.2 kilometre part of the runway designated for the race, giving us the best opportunity for photographs and data recording. Radio frequencies were issued and communication with the control tower was established. Our schedules had been confirmed and everything was now ready. Time for a strong coffee and the nearest bathroom.

Back in the car, the radio crackled into life and one by one the all clear is given by each of the groups and emergency teams standing by. The pilot gets himself the call sign ‘Poker 1’, I wanted a cool one as well, like ‘Ice Man’ or ‘Devil in Red’ but everyone just told me to ‘shut up and drive’ so I ended up with the unimaginative call sign ‘Ferrari’.

Ahead the runway just vanished into heat haze. I gripped the steering wheel and kept telling myself, “floor the throttle and change gear just before the needle hits the 8,500 red line, easy. No need for anything else. Concentrate on nothing but the view ahead.” “Group 1… ready. Group 2… ready. Group 3…ready. Firefighters, ambulance… ready. Ferrari…ready. Poker 1…ready.” My eyes closed, I breathed, (I think I farted as well, I was nervous for sure, but my this had nothing to do with nerves, probably the Indian food and beer the night before) I was at one with the car, I was ready.

The flag went down, my foot followed a fraction after and we were off! The engine tone of the Ferrari was lost to the sheer noise of the F18. Climbing to an unbelievable, ear-splitting crescendo as he came level with me, I glanced at my speed, 97, seconds later he nosed in front, the roar seemingly louder and louder as he got further and further ahead, the flames from his twin turbo-thrust jet engines and the heat haze behind was an absolutely incredible sight, the ground shook, the car shook, my whole body shook. He just kept on going and going at an increasingly alarming speed. I was lost, my foot firmly on the floor the car was at its limit, there was nothing more I could do. I swear he gave me the finger again and I can imagine his smile matched that of all the military personnel watching. By 600 metres Poker 1 was airborne and later crossed the line at a staggering 960kmph to my 293. 1,200 metres in just over 16 seconds! I eased off, the car had performed superbly it was no longer necessary to let it suffer further. Dejected by failure, elated by the event, I stopped. I had lost the race but I had achieved something very special and very personal. But Poker 1 was not finished with me just yet. He arced gracefully round and took a low fly past overhead. A supersonic fly past, some 10 metres above me that furiously rocked the car and left the loudest bloody sound blast I have ever heard ringing in my ears. It was one of those moments you rarely witness but never forget, like a comet or an eclipse. Stunning! In the blurred haze left by his afterburners he banked away and was once again out of sight.

The next day we were big news. We even made it into the nationals in Spain and England and went worldwide on the internet. Overnight Javier had become a hero and I had become Spain’s biggest loser! In the spirit of the competition we opened two bottles of champagne, one expensive, quality stuff, the other cheap, bitter and nasty. Guess which one I got to drink…

I know that this type of race is not so new, in 1931, Italian motor racing legend Tazio Nuvolari, at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo 2300, was beaten by a biplane at Rome’s airport and in 1981 Canada’s Gilles Villeneuve and his Ferrari 126 CK turbo raced a F-104 jet fighter in northern Italy. Schumacher did it in his F1 car and Ducati ran their GP bike against the Eurofighter. And they all lost. Well I did it too, un-famous, unimportant little me lost as well. But I did it in a car you or I could buy, maybe not me now I think about it, but a real, normal road going car nevertheless.

Losing this fight was fantastic and it was a fight I’d happily lose again.