Clutch Failure Redecorating Bedroom Boot Sales Audi R8 & Lamborghini Gallardo Thrill
Blackpool Tae Kwon-Do Demonstrations Michael Jackson's Death Summer Holidays
Roller Disco Party The BHP Performance Show - Jap Edition MPH - The Prestige & Performance Car Show, featuring Top Gear Live Two Funerals In One Week

I suppose 2009 will be remembered for the short breaks taken within England, instead of holidaying abroad. Also, having to use the bus service to and from work for most of the first two months will also stick in my mind for a long time.

As my weight loss seemed to have reached a plateau, I substituted my soup diet, which I instigated at the beginning of 2005, with Slim Fast milkshakes. Now, I would have breakfast cereals as normal in the morning, a cereal bar at 10:30, lunch at lunch time (usually sandwiches or a savoury pasta lunch from a supermarket) and a Slim Fast milkshake for dinner. This did have a positive effect. Later in the year, I cut down from the recommended two scoops of milkshake powder to one scoop. As before, this was done during weekdays only as I would eat normal food at weekends.

This year I made a profit of £567.40 through eBay, £250.97 of that was from selling 32 model cars which I had collected over the years. Instead of collecting 20 pence coins this year, I chose to collect £2 coins instead by reason that I would have more money saved up at the end of the year and still not all vending machines accept £2 coins making them a hindrance. The year's collection of £2 coins totalled £164.00. During previous years while collecting 20 pence coins, the highest amount saved totalled £147.20 in 2005.

Clutch Failure (3rd January - 25th February):

My 2009 didn't start off too well. I had to use public transport for most of the first two months due to mechanical failure of my car. Having to use the bus every day is a little painful.

During the afternoon of Saturday 03/01/2009, my car started experiencing problems changing gear. On a couple of occasions, the gears grinded a little when changing up, and I assumed (hoped) that I had not pushed down the clutch pedal far enough. Later on, it refused to go into gear for a few seconds. This got me a little worried. I realised something wasn't right and became quite worried while coasting along for about 10 seconds in neutral trying to get it into gear. The gear stick would move left and right as normal, but would point blank refuse to move forward or backwards to engage a gear. The fault was intermittent, when it was refusing to engage gears, there were no nasty noises or other symptoms, and then all of a sudden it would work correctly. However, the first subsequent gear change was quite stiff and a bit crunchy, and then it would be fine, as if nothing was wrong. Diagnostic points I picked up on were:

The car was still driveable, but it wasn't really safe to do so, especially as there was a chance that it might stop working altogether, leaving me stranded, possibly in a precarious position on the road. Because of this, I was forced to use public transport to and from work. This meant getting up earlier in the mornings, my Dad would drop me off at a bus stop near his place of work and I would get the bus from there. This would allow me to get one bus to work instead of two. At work, I would have working lunches so I could leave a little earlier to enable me to catch the return bus which would allow me to get a lift home from my Dad's place of work.

I was wondering (and hoping) if the fault was with the clutch master cylinder. I booked my car in for repair at my usual garage (Frank G Wickenden in Hove) who had ordered in a replacement clutch master cylinder as we both believed this was the most likely culprit. I dropped off my car on the evening of Tuesday 06/01/2009 and picked it up the following evening. After spending £155.25 on the part, £43.13 on labour & £4.03 on clutch fluid (£202.41 total), while driving home, I was quite disappointed to learn that the intermittent fault was still present. When I parked up at home, I noticed a slight rattle / rustle noise which was audible at idle, it seemed to be coming from the gearbox side of the engine which would cease when pushing down the clutch pedal.

I felt quite ill with dread thinking about how much this was going to cost to put right and started making enquires on Prelude and Accord Type-R internet forums over the viability of fitting the U2Q7 gearbox from an Accord Type-R. This would be both a repair and upgrade as my car would benefit from the acclaimed gearbox mounted LSD which adorns the Accord Type-R and would have exactly the same gear ratios as my Prelude's M2P4 gearbox. After learning that the U2Q7 gearbox was compatible with any H22 series engine and it was a straight forward swap, I made some telephone enquires about getting one. Before the fault with my car occurred, I had been considering the U2Q7 gearbox as an upgrade after reading positive stories over how it benefits the Accord Type-Rs handling. Now I had the perfect excuse to go ahead with the upgrade.

In the meantime, I was given some instructions by a fellow Lude Behaviour member who explained the process of diagnosing whether the fault was clutch or gearbox related by changing gear without using the clutch. I went through this procedure during the morning of Saturday 10/01/2009. This involved starting the engine while in first gear! Obviously, it did bunny hop a little but it got going, helped by being parked on a decline. I then drove to a local quiet dual carriageway and then I had to change up gears at 5000 RPM, without using the clutch pedal. This felt quite unnatural and took a while to get used to. Even though the fault was intermittent, the gear changes seemed fine when running this test, but it was a little reluctant to change up into 5th gear - maybe the revs weren't quite right or maybe that was the sign of dodgy 5th gear synchro. During the test, I noticed that the motion / feel of the clutch pedal felt inconsistent on a few occasions, which lead me to start wondering if the fault was clutch related rather than gearbox.

At this stage, it was still uncertain as to where exactly the fault was - either gearbox or clutch. If the gearbox was to be replaced, it would be stupid not to have the clutch replaced at the same time. I wanted a clutch which would require no more effort to use than my standard Honda clutch, so I wasn't looking for a proper hardcore racing clutch. After a lot of researching clutches on the internet, I settled on an Exedy standard clutch kit. I paid £140 (including P&P) for the clutch kit from Tegiwa Imports on Wednesday 14/01/2009 and booked my car in for Saturday 17/01/2009 for it to be fitted along with a reconditioned U2Q7 gearbox at Geartech Engineering in Thornton Heath for £425+VAT (supplied & fitted). They said they had the gearbox available in stock. Choosing Geartech Engineering turned out to be a big mistake. For further details of my bad experience with them, click here.

After collecting my car a week later from Geartech Engineering on Friday 23/01/2009, without the work being carried out, the fault seemed to be getting worse. It started to become more apparent that the fault was very likely to be clutch related, rather than gearbox, so I decided to save some money and gamble on getting just the clutch replaced only. I say gamble as the diagnosis still was not 100%, so I was taking quite a risk in this decision. I did have reservations over this as I was quite looking forward to the upgrade. I suppose the main reason I was a little reluctant was that I knew (or hoped) my current gearbox was fine and didn't want to risk getting a reconditioned second hand gearbox which might have had years of abuse or could have suffered from the well known 5th gear synchro issue. I decided to play it safe and stick with what I knew was working.

On Friday 23/01/2009 I gave in to temptation and chose to treat my car to a lightweight Fidanza aluminium flywheel to be fitted when the repair would eventually be carried out. The flywheel was purchased from Speed Solution International trading through eBay as Gripforce-Clutches. This cost me £97.49 for the part, £59.23 P&P from the USA and £16.46 for duties and government surcharge (total of £173.19). As with Geartech Engineering, I regretted using Speed Solution International / Gripforce-Clutches, although to no direct fault of theirs as such. The problem was with their chosen international courier UPS, who were delaying delivery, originally scheduled to be delivered on Thursday 29/01/2009.

After having to make lots and lots of telephone calls to UPS, East Midlands Airport and UK Customs, it was eventually delivered on Thursday 05/02/2009, 1 week late. UPS were blaming UK Customs for the delay and UK Customs were denying liability. To add insult to injury, I had to pay £16.46 for duties and government surcharge which I had not expected. I have made a mental note that if I buy anything over the internet again and it is due to be delivered by UPS, I won't do it!

While waiting for the flywheel to be delivered, I discovered a problem. The part numbers of the Exedy standard clutch kit I had purchased from Tegiwa Imports corresponded with those of a 4th generation Honda Prelude. I soon found out that the clutches were interchangeable between the generations of Honda Preludes, however a part of me was still a little worried. Subsequently, I chose to buy the correct Exedy standard clutch kit for my 5th generation Honda Prelude and did so from Techniclutch for £195.00 on Thursday 29/01/2009. Once again, this was a big mistake and very nearly ended up in court action!

I specifically requested an Exedy standard Clutch kit for my 5th generation 2000 Honda Prelude 2.2VTi and even gave Techniclutch the specific part number - HCK2034. When the clutch kit arrived on Friday 06/02/2009, a day later than promised (I had to phone them to chase and got no apology), I was disappointed to discover they had sent me a clutch kit branded as Aisin, which was not was I explicitly requested. I telephoned Techniclutch and explained that I had not been sent what I ordered and I was told by a rather disinterested sounding employee that the clutch I had been sent was compatible and I should check with Exedy themselves. I emailed Aisin to query their clutch and received no response. On Monday 09/02/2009, I telephoned Exedy and queried it with them. The Sales representative informed me that if I ordered an Exedy standard clutch kit, I should have received an Exedy standard clutch kit and it would have been branded as such, not one branded by Aisin.

Out of curiosity, I physically compared the clutches of the 4th generation Prelude (Exedy clutch purchased from Tegiwa Imports) and 5th generation Prelude (Aisin clutch purchased from Techniclutch) and came to the conclusion that the clutch for the 4th generation Prelude is actually better than that for the 5th generation Prelude, due it its larger surface area and lighter weight. Coupled with the lightweight Fidanza aluminium flywheel, the lighter clutch (5.7 kg vs 6.2 kg) further reduces mass from the transmission which improves performance - the lighter 4th generation clutch perfectly complements the lightweight Fidanza aluminium flywheel. To read a more in depth comparison of the clutches click here.

In with the package was evidence that the Aisin clutch set sent to me was sourced from / Upon checking out their web site, I saw they were selling this clutch for £178.50 including P&P (or £16.50 cheaper than Techniclutch). With the help of Google I also discovered that Techniclutch have a diabolical reputation on the internet, I came across many stories of people complaining about their negative experiences.

After discussing this case with Consumer Direct I decided to exercise my rights under both the Sales of Goods Act 1979 and The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 to cancel my order and request a full refund. Please click here to read the letter & email I sent them. I had to send it to 5 separate locations as Techniclutch are a little coy in sharing their exact address.

I now had in my possession the Exedy clutch kit received on Thursday 15/01/2009 and the Fidanza aluminium flywheel received on Thursday 05/02/2009. For good measure I had also purchased a new set of 6 clutch bolts & 8 flywheel bolts, which cost £21.90 & £26.04 respectively from my local Honda dealer on Wednesday 28/01/2009. I dropped off my poorly car at Frank G Wickenden in Hove on Monday 23/02/2009 for the work to commence the following day. The labour charge was £373.75 and I was also charged £19.55 for manual transmission fluid. Inlcuding parts, but excluding the Aisin clutch, this whole saga cost me £754.43. After collecting my car on Wednesday 25/02/2009, after 7.5 weeks of using public transport, my car was finally sorted and I was very happy with the car once more. The first thing I noticed was that the clutch pedal was lighter than it was before. I could also notice the difference the lightweight Fidanza aluminium flywheel made. The clutch definitely had more bite and it took me a while to get used to it. The day after collecting my car, I pulled out of a busy junction at what would have been a moderate pace before the clutch replacement. Now I was surprised at how violently the car moved off with the new clutch. Over the following 750 miles, I had to resist the urge to VTEC as the new parts had to be run in gently to ensure longevity.

There are many myths of the internet regarding lightweight flywheels. My experience has shown that there have been absolutely no disadvantages whatsoever in having a lightweight aluminium flywheel fitted. Performance has increased throughout the rev range (including more low down torque) and the engine is more responsive too. Also it has had an added benefit of decreasing my car's fuel consumption too. Driving has not become more laborious with the increased sensitivity of the throttle so I have no regrets at all following the upgrade. The Fidanza aluminium flywheel is described as an 8 lb flywheel, when it is actually 8.4 lb (3.8 kg) to be more exact. This weighs less than half than that of the standard Honda flywheel which weighs a relatively hefty 18.3 lb (8.3 kg).

I asked the garage to keep hold of my old clutch & flywheel. Upon inspection of the original clutch, I could see that the clutch was quite buggered. The clutch had done 79,445 miles, which is about average for a high performance car. Replacing a clutch at about 80,000 miles on a Honda Prelude isn't out of the ordinary, especially considering my clutch took some abuse at Santa Pod Raceway a few months beforehand, which was probably a contributory factor. Two of the lips which hold the springs were damaged, so the springs were loose. One was so badly bent, the spring could actually come out when held upside down. I reckon it was the loose springs which were making the rattle / rustle noise I could hear at idle which I mentioned earlier. Here are some photos of the original faulty clutch. Surprisingly, the friction surface of the clutch disc wasn't too badly worn. Additionally, the clutch release bearing also had a slight rattle.

As the original clutch master cylinder was proven to be OK, I sold it on eBay for £5.50 + £1.90 P&P during April and the original flywheel was sold for £0.99 + £12.75 P&P during October.

After numerous email correspondences back and forth between Techniclutch & myself, the clutch was returned to Techniclutch on Thursday 05/03/2009 and I eventually received the refund on Wednesday 11/03/2009.

A thank you must go to my girlfriend Marie who had to do more than her fair share of driving while my car was out of action for seven weeks.

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Redecorating Bedroom (26th April):

My bedroom was in need of redecoration seeing as it hadn't been done for about 11 years or so. I quite liked my existing colour scheme consisting of a dark red carpet and blue painted walls. Marie & my Dad finally persuaded me to redecorate my bedroom so I decided to make use of some beige carpet and terracotta paint which was left over from the previous redecorating carried out upstairs. It's not particularly my style, but I was happy for my room to be freshened up, even if the new scheme was a little boring.

The first job was to empty the room and put all my stuff either in the spare bedroom, parent's bedroom or on the landing. After pulling up the old carpet, we gave the walls a couple of coats of terracotta paint. The ceiling, door frame, wooden skirting boards and radiator were all given a fresh coat of white paint. The new carpet then went down, followed by the reinstallation of all my furniture and other stuff.

My Dad & I started work at about 09:15 and it took us almost all day. With a 20 minutes lunch break and a 45 minutes dinner break, we finished it at 22:30.

There were still little bits and pieces of non urgent faffing to complete afterwards, like fitting new plug sockets, tidying up cabling and installation of my shelves, but on a different wall.

I made the decision to reduce my space consuming and dust collecting 1:18 scale model car collection which I had been building up over many years. I chose to sell 39 out of the 60 on eBay, choosing to keep the more modern cars rather than the older cars which I am not particularly interested in. At the end of the year, I sold 32 out of the 39 which I was selling and made a profit of £250.97 (average of £7.84 each) which I am very happy with.

It was shocking to see how discoloured the walls and ceiling had become over time and how worn the old carpet had became in contrast to areas which were covered by furniture. Equally as shocking was the amount of crap / fluff / dust hidden behind the wardrobe and along the pipes behind the bed. It certainly took a while to get used to the change when waking up in the mornings, the room is a lot brighter and the layout has been improved too.

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Boot Sales (10th May, 21st June & 26th July):

Marie & I had a load of stuff which we wanted to get rid of, so decided to get rid of the stuff through boot sales. I didn't have as much to sell as Marie as most of my stuff that I want to get rid of ends up on eBay.

On the 10th May, we shared our first boot sale with her Sister Jenna, and her fiancé Gavin. Marie's Seat Leon was very full as was Jenna and Gavin's Renault Clio. It was an early start for us and we arrived at about 06:45. As soon as we arrived and before we had even unpacked our stuff, irritatingly there were dealers asking us if we had any jewellery to sell. We decided to call it a day in the early afternoon and left at about 12:45. After deducting our entry fee, I managed to make £37.30 and Marie made near enough exactly £80.00. I didn't expect to make much as I didn't have much to sell.

The next boot sale was shared with my parents at Sayers Common on Father's Day. My Dad borrowed a large silver Renault van from work which was pretty much full so I didn't have to transport much stuff in the back of my car which I parked in the buyer's car park. As most of the stuff we were selling was with my parents in the van and they had to queue for entry, Marie & I didn't have to leave home too early. When we arrived at 09:15, my parents were still queuing so we had a quick walk around the small amount of sellers which were in the process of setting up. The main item I was happy to get rid of was a large comfy arm chair which was taking up space in my bedroom, which was given to me years ago. I wasn't bothered about how much I would get for it, if any, as me, Marie and my parents just wanted rid of it so a director's type fold-away chair could go in its place and consume less space. I put a sign on it asking for offers and was happy when I was given £2.50 and was relieved when we were able to squeeze it into the back of the buyer's Volvo 850 estate. After deducting the money I had spent on food (two cheeseburgers & chips for £7.60), I made only £11.40. Marie made £42.70 and my parents made £95. I didn't expect to make much money as I didn't have much to sell, I was just happy to finally get rid of the arm chair and the other rubbish I converted into cash.

On 26th July, we had our final boot sale of the year, this time shared with Marie's Uncle Wayne & his partner Miles. This one was a very large boot sale just off the A3, north of Guildford. It was another early start of 06:20 and we left after 13:00. Obviously this time I had even less stuff to sell and subsequently only made £5, which didn't surprise me as the main reason I went was to help out. However, I managed to spend that £5 while there and contributed £2.50 towards our entry fee so I actually lost out financially. Oh well. In contrast, Marie made £38.20 and Wayne & Miles made over £47 between them.

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Audi R8 & Lamborghini Gallardo Thrill (23rd May):

This was the event of the year I had been eagerly waiting for. It was my 30th birthday present last year from Marie & family and I was to drive 3 laps each in an Audi R8 & Lamborghini Gallardo. My friend Simon had already been to the same location and driven a Ferrari 575 / 550 and I had watched the video on his computer. This day would also mark the first time my parents would meet Marie's parents and we planned to go out for a meal after the event.

Me, Marie and my parents left Crawley at about 08:00 in my Dad's Volvo C70 and the journey of about 160 miles took about 3 hours, with a toilet stop en route. When we arrived at Prestwold Hall Driving Centre near Loughborough in Leicestershire, Marie's parents with Jenna & Gavin were waiting. As an early surprise birthday present for Gavin, Marie & I paid for him to drive a car and we asked him what he would like to drive, to which he responded "surprise me". We chose the Ferrari F430 and paid the £65 for 3 laps plus another £20 for some sort of damage waiver / insurance. In addition to this, I surprised my Dad by paying for him to drive a car too as it was his birthday 2 days beforehand. He went for the Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 which cost the same as Gavin's Ferrari F430 drive. My drives were purchased through Buyagift Ltd and we discovered that the drives could have been paid for at the track for a hell of a lot less money. The middle man, Buyagift Ltd have high profit margins so aren't recommended!

After this faffing, we joined approximately 20 others in the briefing room to watch a short film introducing us to the circuit then we went outside to be given passenger laps in a demo car. According to the literature received from Buyagift, it should have been in a BMW Alpina D3 but there were none there which I could see. Instead it would either be a Subaru Imprezza or Ford Focus ST. I was hoping for the Subaru Imprezza but disappointingly I got lumbered with the orange Ford. When on the move, it was alright with quite an uncharacteristic growl from its engine when under full throttle, but it's still a boring family car for bland people who have been assimilated.

When back at the pits we marvelled at the cars that were going around the circuit. The cars included a Lamborghini Murciélago LP640, Ford Focus RS, Lotus 2-Eleven, Lotus Exige, Ferrari F430, Lamborghini Gallardo, Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4, Audi R8, Porsche 911 GT3 (I think), Subaru Imprezza, Aston Martin DB9 and Nissan GT-R. We watched in awe as a Lotus 2-Eleven pulled away from a standstill and rocketed down the straight. From a spectator point of view, the acceleration from that little car was mind blowing and I'm sure it would have been even more if sitting in the car. Next I had to choose which car I would want to go in first - the Audi or the Lamborghini. I chose the Audi first as I was more looking forward to the Lamborghini over the Audi, so decided to leave the best till last.

With crash helmet on, I sank into the very comfortable sumptuous leather seats of the Audi R8. After adjusting my electrically adjustable seat, I handed over the supplied USB memory stick to the instructor in the passenger seat which the video of my driving would be recorded onto with the use of internal and external viewing cameras. Even though the Audi has a reputation for being quite a tame mannered car, I was quite scared and worried about stalling it. I could feel my right (throttle pedal) foot trembling, it was literally shaking!

I then cautiously set off and discovered that it felt quite easy to drive. When out on the straight, I floored it and experienced its immense acceleration. I felt a whoosh at around 3000 RPM when its 414 BHP 4.2 litre V8 engine got into its stride. I thought that the slight pause before the action started was akin to VTEC in my own car, but with less of a pause and with more go! Thankfully the car had a proper manual gearbox with open style gate, like a traditional Ferrari. Throughout most of the time on track, only 4th and 5th gears were required. The instructor let me have an extra lap as I was held up by a slowish moving Aston Martin on track. On my final lap, I entered a corner too quick and under the subsequent moderate to heavy braking, the car felt a bit twitchy, which was an exciting moment. The fastest speed I reached out on the short race track was 101 MPH on two occasions, which is nothing worth writing home about. I'm sure I could have gone quicker with a few more laps experience and without the overly mothering instructor beside me.

Next was the Lamborghini Gallardo which was the standard original model not a LP 560-4 which was also available for those who had paid for it. I quickly headed straight for the yellow car, avoiding the mundane black car and had a walk around the car admiring its details before the instructor came over. I absolutely love Lamborghini Gallardo's and have done for a while. I think they look fantastic and perfectly proportioned, probably one of the best looking cars ever. As before, I had to adjust the seat so my short legs could reach the pedals. This car had the flappy paddle operated semi-automatic transmission which Lamborghini calls E-gear. It felt a little unusual to drive without having to move a gearstick around and operate a clutch pedal, this was the first time I had properly driven a car with an (semi-)automatic transmission. Years ago, I had a quick go in a 2.0 litre Vauxhall Calibra and quickly gave up as I just couldn't get the hang of it! When I say quickly gave up, I mean I gave up in about a minute or two without leaving the car park it was in. In the Lamborghini, the wide brake pedal seemed too close to the foot rest on the left, which wasn't helped by my wide DC Shoes trainers I was wearing that day.

After setting off, I felt more relaxed than I was in the Audi, probably because this was my second drive of the day, but I also did feel more at home in the Lamborghini, it felt more natural. Sure, the seats were a bit more comfortable in the Audi, but to me it felt more normal to be driving the Lamborghini. I know it sounds a bit silly but it felt like it was made for me, maybe apart from the E-gear transmission, even though the shifts were very quick with minimal pause. Under full throttle, the 5 litre V10 engine makes its presence known more than the 4.2 litre V8 engine in the Audi. I don't know the year of the car I was in so I don't know if it had 490 BHP or 510 BHP, but that didn't matter. The feel of the car, including speed, noise, handling and looks gave the impression that it was more racy or focused than the Audi. The car is certainly more extrovert in looks and noise. Although it sounded a lot faster than the Audi and felt faster too, I managed to better my top speed in the Audi by only 6 MPH at 107 MPH. There were no inadvertent exciting moments in this car even though on one occasion I did accidently trigger the windscreen wipers when changing up a gear.

Which car did I prefer? Which one would I want to own? Definitely, the Lamborghini Gallardo. I felt more at home in the car and it provides more of a sense of occasion, it feels more special. Not that there is much wrong with the Audi, it's a fantastic car, and I would love one, but I personally prefer the Lamborghini. However, I wouldn't feel particularly comfortable parking the extravagant Lamborghini on the side of a road, or pretty much anywhere, because I would forever be worrying about its wellbeing. This wouldn't be so bad with the Audi, but the nagging worry would still be there, so they would both be paranoia inducing objects of desire.

While I'd been having my fun out on track, Gavin had his Ferrari F430 drive and my Dad had his Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 drive too. After our drives, I collected the CD which had the professional photos of me driving the cars and Marie help me choose which photo I wanted printed and inserted in a frame, which is now in my office at work. The two videos of in car and forward facing footage were supplied on a 2GB Lexar USB memory stick. Engine and road speed are superimposed onto the video like a dashboard at the bottom so the viewer knows what the car is doing. Here are some photos of us taken on the day.

Sad that it was all over, we headed to a local Toby Carvery. In advance, I had planned to pay for everyone's meal as a thank you. We all had a selection from the carvery and a desert each and I was surprised that the total cost was less than half of what I had budgeted for.

I suppose the only downside of the event is the overly mothering instructors at Everyman Racing which I found a little frustrating. I'm sure the cars I drove were capable of a lot more, but I didn't get to experience their full potential. For example, I was being asked to change up a gear 1000 - 2000 RPM before the red line, which I was not happy with. A lot of money had been spent on this and I wanted to experience as much of the car's performance as possible, but they don't allow it. Also, I'm certain that my own car could have gone around the corners of that race track a lot faster than I was permitted to in their cars. If my humble Honda Prelude is capable, I'm sure these cars are capable of a hell of a lot more. So, if I wanted to do another similar experience in the future, I will certainly choose an alternative company.

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Blackpool (25th May - 27th May):

By choosing to drive us to Blackpool, this was my treat to Marie to thank her for all the extra driving she did for me while my poor Honda Prelude was parked up suffering from clutch failure for the best part of two months at the beginning of the year. We were to spend a few days in Blackpool and we invited Jenna & Gavin along too.

We left after 08:00 and I soon discovered that the rear of my car didn't like having two passengers on the back seat and the boot full to the brim with our luggage. I later discovered that the disconcerting noises were coming from the leading edge of the rear bumper in the rear wheel arches which was rubbing on the tyre side walls. Luckily, this only happened when steering using near full lock, such as when parking, so didn't cause any problems on the long motorway journey. The issue is probably caused by my wider than standard tyres (225/45/17 rather than 215/45/17). I eventually got around to fixing this during December by trimming the unnecessary protrusion using a Draper rotary multi-tool (like a Dremel type of tool).

The journey took about 5 hours, including a diversion off the M40 due to motorway closure and stopping for a snack at a service station somewhere along the M6. I'm sure the motorway closure was fully justified by something like a crisp packet drifting onto the road causing a major hazard. By driving mainly at 70 MPH (with two or three VTECs en route), the 261 miles journey cost me £39 in petrol and worked out at 30.0 MPG which is a respectable figure considering the heavy load in the car.

Our holiday residence was the pre-booked Travelodge Blackpool South Shore Hotel which cost Marie & I about £103 for a room for the two of us for two nights, including cancellation insurance, plus £5 per day for parking. As we couldn't sign in until after 15:00, we left our stuff in the car and headed towards the town.

We purchased a discounted set of tickets from what I assume was a Tourist Information Ticket Office. This included tickets for Blackpool Tower and other local attractions which we had in mind. The first attraction we planned to visit was Blackpool Tower in which we stopped off at various attractions inside. The first was the Aquarium / Sealife Centre where I was fascinated by the Seahorses. Next was the Jurassic Walk 3D Cinema followed by the main attraction (for me), the top of the Blackpool Tower. A section of the floor was glass giving people a view down the tower from the top. Certainly not for people with vertigo. This was similar to the glass floor of the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth that Marie & I visited during 2007. The final attraction we visited in Blackpool Tower was the Circus featuring Mooky the Clown.

Afterwards we visited Central Pier then got some fish & chips from a shop on the sea front. We weren't impressed with the food and Marie threw hers away and bought some more fish & chips from another shop. The curry sauce on my chips made them only just edible. After our cheap evening meal, we headed back to the hotel. The rooms were OK and conveniently, mine and Marie's room was directly opposite Jenna and Gavin's room. At about 23:30 we were disturbed by the noise of an altercation outside. A couple were having an apparent tiff in the hotel car park, which resulted in them walking off leaving their 2 kids in prams alone in the car park which the hotel staff ended up rescuing. For some odd reason, 2 police vans later turned up, which was a bit OTT.

The Tuesday marked Gavin's 21st birthday and we all walked along the extremely windy seafront to Blackpool Pleasure Beach which is an amusement park like Thorpe Park & Chessington World of Adventures. Gavin & I paid for the wristbands which allowed us on most rides, but some were exempt including the go karts. Marie & Jenna didn't fancy joining us on the rides (women) so chose the cheaper entry only option instead. As we were there early, the queues were short, but as the day went on, they predictably got longer. We went on quite a lot of rides together and the first ride we went on was called Ice Blast which was like the Detonator at Thorpe Park. When sat on the ride before it started, I felt quite nervous and was tempted to get off. But once it got started, it was over in seconds. I quite liked the Infusion ride, although it was a bit like torture. We all had to pay to go on the go karts and I quite enjoyed lapping everyone. While queuing for the Pepsi Max Big One, it suffered a mechanical breakdown, which resulted in a queue waiting time for about 2 hours, which wasn't fun. Apparently, it is the tallest rollercoaster in Europe. It starts off with a long slow steady climb followed by a sharp drop, which I didn't particularly enjoy. Finally we visited Ripley's Believe It or Not which was an intriguing collection of weird facts.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped off at an Aldi supermarket for some cheap alcohol in preparation for the celebrations that night. We bought a bottle of cider, a bottle of a Baileys type of drink and a few bottles of a blue coloured alcopop. In the evening, we ate in a nearby Frankie & Benny's restaurant. We discovered that it was the birthdays of two other people who were already in the restaurant when they were greeted with a surprise cake / dessert by the staff, along with synchronous celebratory birthday music. As it was Gavin's 21st birthday, we were to be the third group requesting this surprise. It was a little embarrassing as I was worried they might have thought that we were jumping on the bandwagon and just trying it on. The food was nice and the restaurant quickly rectified their earlier mistake by replacing Marie's incorrect Calzone folded pizza with the correct one.

When walking to the town centre afterwards, we got a little damp due to the drizzle in the air, but we were glad that it wasn't properly raining on us. We had in mind a specific night club we wanted to go to but found out that it was aimed at the more younger generation on that night, so would have been full of kids. Subsequently, we got a taxi to Flares which is a 70's themed bar / disco. Unfortunately, apart from the staff, we were the only people there, probably partly due to it being a Tuesday night. After a cocktail and a cocktail pitcher jar, I bought a round of 3 Goldschläger shots. I didn't buy one for myself as they are evil, they should have a public health warning on and they bring back too many nasty memories. Jenna wisely chose to forgo hers so Gavin drank hers instead. As we didn't recognise hardly any of the music in there and the atmosphere in there was pretty much dead, we got bored and decided to move on. We ended up in a night club / bar called Walkabout. I didn't really like it in there, however a fight which broke out outside the premises provided some mild entertainment. With a surrounding crowed, a shirt got torn and someone was kicked around on the floor before an ambulance arrived to scrape up the remains. Coupled with last night's altercation outside the hotel, I was getting a colourful impression of Blackpool. It was like being back at home in Crawley. I wasn't really feeling in the mood for getting drunk plus the fact that I was due to be driving us all home the following day, I didn't have much of a choice.

On our final day there, we vacated our rooms at about 11:30, loaded up the car then walked back towards the town centre for the last time to visit a few more attractions. First was Crazy Golf, which surprisingly, I won, but only by 2 points though (apparently by default). Throughout our game, we were conscious of holding up the group behind us, which was off-putting, so we set ourselves each a limit of 10 attempts at each hole before moving on to the next person. From here, we moved on to the Sea Life Centre. To me, the highlights were the Rays and Sharks. Watching the large sharks dart around during their feeding time was a remarkable sight. Our next stop was at Louis Tussauds Waxworks which is similar to the more famous Madame Tussauds in London. Unfortunately, we all felt that the likeliness of the wax models to the celebrities upon which they are based, wasn't very good at all. However, there were quite a few models on show. I enjoyed giving Lewis Hamilton the finger. Our final visit was back at Central Pier to buy some fudge which we had saw on sale on the Monday, but to our disappointment, the shop was closed, so we bought rock instead from another shop.

With our Blackpool visit over, we headed back to the car and left at about 18:00. After topping up my car's petrol tank, as there was no particular rush to get home, I decided to do the return journey at 60 MPH instead of 70 MPH which would also improve fuel economy too. As we were hungry, we stopped off for our evening meal at a Harvester located in Coleshill near Birmingham and the bill came to around £50 for the four of us. We finally arrived home at 01:10 which wasn't helped by having to use the A3 because the M3 had been closed for whatever reason.

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Tae Kwon-Do Demonstrations (20th June & 15th August):

Crawley Borough Council had invited our Tae Kwon-Do class, via our Instructor, to perform demonstrations as a part of some sort of festivals which were being held in Crawley. I was able to attend two out of the three, unfortunately I wasn't in Crawley on the day of the demonstration being held in Crawley Town Centre's Queen Square.

The first demonstration I attended was on 20th June being held at Milton Mount School in Pound Hill. After having difficulty finding the school, I arrived about 20 minutes late, however, this wasn't a problem as there was plenty of time before we were due to start. I had to pay a 30p admission fee each for Marie & I, which pissed me off slightly as I volunteered to contribute to the festival in my own time without being paid, so the last thing I expected was having to pay to get in! I just hope it went to some sort of good cause. I got changed into my Tae Kwon-Do dobuk (suit) in a toilet cubicle before warming up for the event. There were young children on show singing and dancing, which I'm sorry to say, were terrible. Their rendition of Michael Jackson's Thriller was bad (no pun intended) but slightly entertaining. The poor performances were exacerbated by technical issues with the sound equipment. The sound from the speakers was distorted and the microphone kept cutting out.

With threatening looking clouds above us, we started our demonstration shortly after 14:45. I was quite nervous to start with and was wishing it rained so we would have to cancel. Fortunately, it all went OK with no mishaps. It only lasted about 15 minutes and by the end, I was quite enjoying it and wanted more. Excluding our two Instructors, there were only 10 of us taking part. We did line work, the black belts did some complicated combination kicks and I enjoyed the one-for-one sparring the most. One-for-one sparring is pretty much just a way of showing off techniques whereby two students take turns to do techniques towards each other and isn't a contact type of sparring. It starts off with one technique, taking turns, followed by two then three techniques in a row. Ruth, one of our Instructors did a pattern followed by one of our younger students. Later on, there was wood board breaking and one of us achieved this by doing a flying kick over 4 students who were kneeling down on the grass, which was quite a feat. I was last in the line of the 4 students and thankfully his flying kick succeeded so I didn't get a squashed head.

While walking back to the toilets to get changed afterwards, a young kid ran up to me and said "You were good, you were good" in an excited way. This made me feel good inside and made me feel like I successfully did a good job.

The next demonstration was at Maidenbower Pavillion on 15th August where some sort of carnival was being held. Incidentally, the carnival was a bit crap. This time there were 3 Tae Kwon-Do demonstrations of about 15 minutes each, scheduled to start at 12:30, 13:30 and 14:30. As I didn't intend to take part in the first session, I arrived with Marie and my parents at about 13:00. After getting changed and warming up, I realised that I just didn't feel right. I felt like I didn't have enough energy and my techniques didn't seem to flow properly. My limbs felt lifeless. It's difficult to describe what was wrong, but I just felt like I couldn't perform as well as I usually could. Also, I probably didn't warm up enough as I felt a twinge in my lower back probably brought on by rising kicks during my warm up process. I was a bit worried that my previous lower back problems I've had in the past were trying to rear its ugly head again.

Both sessions went OK, but I didn't feel comfortable in myself. I lacked energy and felt heavy. However, I made no blatant mistakes.

Shortly before the 14:30 session, the students were invited to dance with a fit belly dancer. The students stood in line with the belly dancer in front of them showing them what to do. I decided to sit this one out and Karl, our Instructor, looked a little uncomfortable. However, he showed her what he was capable of by getting her to copy his Tae Kwon-Do moves, which she failed to replicate. Here are some photos taken at the demonstration.

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Michael Jackson's Death (25th June - 26th June):

Ever since 1987 / 1988, when I was a young school boy, I had been an avid fan of Michael Jackson. The song that bought my attention to him was "The Way You Make Me Feel" from his Bad album. Back then, my bedroom walls were covered in posters mainly of Michael Jackson and Garfield. Now, I no longer have Michael Jackson posters, or Garfield posters, but I do have all his albums and DVDs. I've kept hold of my old audio cassette tape of the Bad album, as it has sentimental value to me. I must have played it hundreds of times back in the days before CDs took over. Its plastic case holds a memory too as it has a crack in it from a fatal car crash I was in during 1991. Naturally, I was quite upset to find out about his death.

On the night of June 25th, I was woken by a text message at 23:01 sent by my friend Qasim stating "Michael Jackson has died :( very sad news I've always been a fan and I know u were a fan 2". I immediately turned the TV on to find out more information. At that moment in time, the news reports were unsure over the facts and his death had not yet been officially declared, but it didn't look good. There was speculation over whether he was dead or not or in a coma. Michael's friend Uri Geller was giving interviews on BBC News 24 and Sky News. Both channels asked him when he was last in contact with Michael and on both occasions he avoided answering by saying that he could not comment. How odd. As Uri Geller said - it feels surreal. And it did. When I awoke the following morning, his death had been confirmed. It certainly took a while to sink in and still doesn't feel right.

The day after his death, Radio Mercury played loads of Michael Jackson songs while I was at work and during the following days, there were many tribute programs on both TV and radio. Many people were proudly playing his music loud in their cars. On the Sunday, Michael's songs topped Apple's iTunes download charts in every country expect Japan. In the UK, he scored a posthumous number one album with the greatest hits compilation Number Ones and another four of his albums reappeared in the top 20. In the singles chart, 43 out of 200 singles were Michael Jackson's with his hits accounting for all but one of the new entries in the top 40. As expected, the newspapers were rife with rumours as they had been throughout his life.

On the day of his funeral on 07/07/2009, over a week after his death, the radio stations were still full of Michael Jackson songs. My family watched the live memorial program on BBC2 from 18:00 until about 20:40, overrunning by over an hour. Mariah Carey didn't do anything for me, nor did that young kid from Britain's Got Talent, whose name sounds like Jalfrezi. Stevie Wonder was quite emotional and Brook Shields was struggling to hold back the tears. Jermaine Jackson sung Smile, which was a Michael Jackson song originally used by Charlie Chaplin in 1936. His rendition was quite touching. Some sort of US politician / congresswomen bored me. One part which stuck in my mind was Al Sharpton telling Michael Jackson's children that their Dad was not strange. This received a standing ovation from the audience. It was quite sad at the end when Michael's Daughter Paris was crying on microphone with the Jackson family behind her on stage.

Months before his death when the This Is It series of concerts were announced, I decided I really wanted to attend a concert seeing as I have been a fan for most of my life. On the day that the tickets went on sale to the public, I got home after work during the early afternoon and even then it was too late as all the tickets had sold out! I was quite gutted and didn't fancy paying a ticket tout an inflated price for a ticket, so I missed out. Now I am slightly relieved that I didn't choose to pay a 3rd party for a ticket as I may not have got my money back following the cancellation. I feel sorry for those who were unfortunate enough to lose out on quite a lot of money in some instances.

Coincidently, before his death, I had been admiring a neon green T-shirt on eBay with the Bad logo on and after his death I decided I should treat myself to it. I saw that other more popular Michael Jackson T-shirts were selling on eBay for a hell of a lot of money.

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Summer Holidays (18th August - 20th August, 23rd August & 25th August - 26th August):

Unfortunately, Marie & I weren't able to go abroard on holiday this year due to Marie's passport expiring and her not noticing it in time for our booked two weeks annual leave in August (just say “women” and roll your eyes upwards). Instead, we chose to go on staggered holiday within England which had the added benefit of saving some money.

On the morning of Tuesday 18th August, after filling up Marie's Seat Leon's diesel fuel tank, we set off on our journey. Our first stop off en route was at Stonehenge, where we originally intended to visit during November 2007 on our way back from Plymouth, but it was too dark at the time due to the time of day when we drove past. We arrived there at about 10:15 and it was quite surreal seeing the prehistoric monument for real as I had seen it many times before either on TV or printed on paper. Visitors are no longer allowed right up to the stones, instead there is a barrier surrounding them, but the distance isn't too far so didn't really spoil it for us. While walking around the site, we noticed the other visitors were gormlessly standing around listening to some sort of radios, presumably relaying information about the site and its history. We must have missed the pickup point for them after paying for our entry, but we weren't particularly fussed about them anyway and probably wouldn't have bothered if we did see them. We only stayed there for about 45 minutes because as we expected, there is not a lot to do there, but it was still very worthwhile and it was en route to our other destinations so wasn't a major detour for us.

From there we went to Cheddar Caves & Gorge in Somerset, where we arrived shortly after midday. The narrow twisty roads leading to the attraction were quite picturesque as were the cliffs of Cheddar Gorge. I had been here many years ago when I was a kid during the second half of the 1980s with my parents, but my memories of the place were a little hazy. When we arrived, the numerous small car parks were quite full but we did manage to find an empty parking bay eventually. We had a baguette each for lunch and paid our entry fees so we could amble inside the caves. The temperature inside reminded me of the Zeus Cave / Dictaean Cave in Crete insofar as they were quite chilly inside. Obviously outside wasn't as hot as Crete so the temperature contrast wasn't as stark. We each collected an audioguide from the entrance to the Gough's Cave which I presume did the same job as those we saw implemented at Stonehenge seemingly used by zombies. I listened to a few sections then got bored of it as history and stuff like that doesn't interest me. As parts of the caves are dimly lit, taking photographs was challenging (as managerial & political types would say). We both bought souvenirs for friends & family from one of the numerous souvenir shops scattered around. I even bought my first Christmas present for my Mum, being over 4 months early!

After about 3 hours, we left and headed to Weston-super-mare and arrived late in the afternoon. Again, I had been here years ago with my parents, during 1993 when I was a young teenager. After parking on an on-beach parking area, we laid down a picnic blanket to relax on the beach for a while. Unfortunately for us, the sun didn't stay out so we didn't stay on the beach for long. After a slow walk along the seafront, we ate dinner in a sort of up market primarily fish & chips restaurant. That night, we stayed in a pre-booked Travelodge located at Bridgwater. The quality of our room with en-suite bathroom wasn't to our liking, but it wasn't too bad.

The next day we drove through the scenic Exmoor National Park to get to Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park. This was similar to Paignton Zoo which we visited during November 2007, but with seemingly longer distances between the animal enclosures. There was a documentary on Channel Five called The Wolfman. I've seen a bit of one of the programs once and found him quite disturbing! Apparently, he works at this wildlife park and this is where the TV series was filmed. Unfortunately, he wasn't on site today as he was filming in London. It was quite busy in the wildlife park with a little too many screaming kids and parents pushing around overly wide obstructive pushchairs. We arrived late at the spectator's area for the performing sea lions and the place was jam packed full of people. Seeing as viewing was difficult, we didn't stay there too long before moving on. We arrived at the wolves enclosure in plenty of time before the scheduled talk so we could get a proper seat in the seating area. Only some of the wolves were visible, others were either hiding or at the back away from the public. After looking at some racoons we went to see the three lions which, to me, was the highlight. In a way, they remind us of my Dad's cat Toby. Later on, I watched the meerkats, I've had a soft spot for meerkats for a long time. Near by the meerkats area was a room with glass tanks containing insects and lizards and behind that was another room containing butterflies. They were in a sort of greenhouse type of room which was quite hot & humid and the butterflies were flying around the people inside. I got some great close up photos and was able to stroke the wing of one of them which was sitting on a plant. Before leaving, we went to the birds of prey talk where the bird keeper bought out various birds of prey. One of them was in an anti-sociable mood and flew off into the distance and didn't come back. It is the bird keeper's job to get them back into their enclosures every night and he said that it can sometimes take many hours of waiting. At one point, while a bird was perched on a tree, the bird keeper stood behind where Marie & I were sitting on the grass and he summoned the bird which came swooping down to him. It literally flew right over our heads and was less than a meter away, we could feel the breeze and see right into its eyes as it swooped over, which was unforgettable!

After Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park, we drove the short distance to Combe Martin Bay. We decided to visit this place based on the photos that Marie's parents had taken when they had previously visited. The view from Combe Martin Bay is marvellous. There's not an awful lot to do here, there's the usual souvenir shops scattered around and a few restaurants / café's to dine in. On one side of the bay, above the cliff edge is a steep hill which I challenged myself to climb. I started off jogging up the hill, but soon gave up and decided walking would be easier as it was very steep. I was hoping to relax on the beach with Marie and watch the sunset over the sea, but unfortunately the clouds were out in force masking the sun and I was feeling a little chilly so decided to give that a miss. After having dinner in a pub by the beach we went to a Travelodge located at Sampford Peverell, near Tiverton. The quality of this room was on par with the previous night's room.

On our final day of our West Country visit, we went to Monkey World in Dorset. This zoo type of place was full of different breeds of monkeys, large and small. Marie's favourites were orangutans which were fascinating to watch. We were present during the scheduled talk and we were told about some of the antics they get up to, sometimes in a bid for freedom. I quite liked the ring tailed lemurs and marmosets. We weren't as lucky with the weather on this day as it did rain, but luckily it was just a brief light shower early in the day.

After Monkey World, we planned on stopping off at Beaulieu National Motor Museum on our way home, but as it was getting late, we had to give it a miss and chose to visit nearby Poole instead. After getting a little lost trying to find somewhere to park near the harbour, we stayed there only for a couple of hours, half of which was in a restaurant where we ate curry for dinner.

Poole concluded the West Country leg of our holidays. The following day, Marie filled up her car's diesel tank and we calculated the car's average fuel consumption over the last 3 days was impressive 47-48 MPG, a lot more than what we would have achieved in my Honda Prelude.

A few days later, on the Sunday 23rd August, we were asked by Marie's Sister Jenna and her fiancé Gavin if we would like to join them on a trip to Swanage, which we accepted. As I didn't have any suitable clothing at Marie's house for going in the sea, while buying our lunch at Tescos, I bought some cheap shorts and a T-shirt to go with them which Marie took a liking too. Before this, Jenna & Gavin bought me a cheap pair of trainers from Asda for which I paid them back. Yes, I'm ashamed, I've got a pair of trainers purchased from Asda! However, in my defence, I would like to say that they were bought only as an emergency as I didn't want to get my white DC Shoes trainers dirty on the beach which Marie had bought for me at Christmas. So let's hear nothing of it!

We ate our lunches while sitting in the car queuing for the chain ferry at Bournemouth to take us across the water to Swanage. After parking, we walked to the beach where Marie and Jenna relaxed on a picnic towel while Gavin & I ventured into the sea. When the water level was up to about half way up my thighs, while I wasn't looking, Gavin cheekily pushed me over so I was fully submerged. He then left the water as quickly as possible, fearing for his health after I regained my footing. Marie captured the whole incident on video using my digital camera and they all said it was going on You've Been Framed! Gavin & I later rented a pedal boat for half an hour which was a little uncomfortable due to the distance between the hard seat and the pedals, forcing both Gavin & I to slump in our seats so we could reach the pedals. I've never been a tall person, but Gavin can't be described as vertically challenged, so it was just poor design. Later on, Jenna went into the sea with Gavin and was seemingly bitten or stung by something, although she didn't realise it at the time. Her leg was swollen and she was later sick in the nearby toilets. After changing back into dry clothes, we chilled out for a little while longer before heading back to the car.

After returning via the chain ferry, we went to Bournemouth for a couple of hours in the evening. It was still light when we arrived at around 20:00, but soon got dark. We had dinner on the sea front, I had KFC and everyone else had food from Harry Ramsden's which is a sort of posh fish & chips restaurant. After our dinner we strolled along the pier before returning to the car for the journey home.

On Tuesday 25th August, we went on the first of two days trips using my car instead of Marie's car. The first day trip was to Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Kent where we arrived at about 11:00. This was similar to Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park insofar as it was a large spaced out wildlife park, but this was much larger with scenic views of miles around when at the top of the park. There was a wide range on animals there to look at, including wolves, lions, tigers, monkeys, rhinos, meerkats (which I loved watching) and many more. There was also some sort of gardens there, which didn't appeal to us so we didn't bother investigating.

On the following day, we went to Beaulieu National Motor Museum in Hampshire, where we intended to go during the previous week, after Monkey World. The last time I had visited Beaulieu National Motor Museum was with my parents during August 2003. The drive took about 2 hours and I quite enjoyed the long drive cross country along roads I wasn't familiar with. However, when nearing Beaulieu, my sat nav did have a blonde moment at one point as it tried to navigate me down a narrow off road dirt track not suitable for vehicles! The weather wasn't too good when we arrived, however it was only drizzle, so not too bad and seeing as most of the attractions are based indoors, it wouldn't adversely effect us anyway. The World of Top Gear exhibition was currently running which was OK, but nothing majorly exciting. A part of it included a specially recorded video introduction from the presenters of Top Gear then a montage of video clips of the show. There were also cars on show that had been modified / built by the presenters during their Top Gear challenges. I had my photo taken standing next to the car which was the original Suzuki Liyana used for Star In A Reasonably Priced Car. In the main area, the first car that caught my eye was the silver Jaguar XJ220, which looked fantastic. I bored Marie with some facts, figures and history of the car which I already knew. It looked fantastic, but not as fantastic as the red Ferrari F40 I later saw. I absolutely love the Ferrari F40, to me it is the epitome of Ferrari. The F40 on show was the exact car owned by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd and was the car pictured on a poster in my bedroom (registration F40 NPG)! Other notable cars include a DeLorean DMC-12 (with Flux Capacitor), James Bond's Lotus Esprit (amongst other James Bond vehicles), Ford GT40 and a Ferrari Dino. There were many other cars there, but mainly very old cars which don't interest me. On the way back, we stopped off at the Ferrari & Maserati garage in Lyndhurst so I could ogle the cars on sale. I was bewildered by the cars inside which I could see through the window, including an Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione and Ferrari F512M. Parked outside, I photographed a Ferrari California, which was the first time I had seen one for real.

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Roller Disco Party (29th August):

This day been arranged by Marie months in advance, to celebrate her 30th birthday on 28/08/2009. Coincidently, we share the same birthday, but I am one year older. There were about 25 of us going in total and she had booked two minibuses to transport us to Vauxhall in London where the roller disco was booked. The fancy dress theme for the night was 80's, so neon clothing was quite popular amongst the party goers. I wore a pair of royal blue jeans with a neon green T-shirt with the Michael Jackson "Bad" spray painted logo on it which I had bought through eBay during June. I also wore a neon yellow arm net rolled up to look like an arm band which was a last minute purchase shortly before we left. The staff of Claire's Accessories I bought it from were very happy to serve me as before I bought it, they were £1 under their sales target for that Saturday and were just about to close shop! I also wore a cheap pair of black silly cheesegrator sunglasses purchased from Brighton during the previous week. I had coloured hair spray in my hair, giving me stripes of pink & blue going from back to front. Gavin went one step further and had just about all of his hair sprayed a combination of pink & blue, instead of just stripes.

Before leaving, we all gathered in a pub for a few drinks and snacks. By the time we arrived at the Renaissance Rooms in Vauxhall, just about all of us needed the toilet, so we all headed straight to the Sainsburys supermarket across the road to the roller disco. We even managed to create a queue for the men's toilets, which is a rarity! Including me, there were only 4 men in our group. After our en-mass bladder evacuation session had finished, it was opening time at the roller disco and as we were there early, the queue was minimal.

When inside, we all handed over our individual footwears in return for a pair of black roller boots each (Bauers style) and also some sort of wrist / hand protectors. There were 2 dance floors, if you can call them that. The main one was a little too small so I found myself skating round pretty much in a circle, with very little straights down the sides. As the night progressed, it was also quite crowded. The DJ on the main dance floor mainly played 80's music, which I was pleased with due to being an 80's music fan. The other dance floor was up some steps and the dance floor was much larger and less busy too. However, the music was like garage or rave type music and wasn't to my taste so I didn't stay up there long. Outside the perimeter of the main dance floor, were many sofas and chairs for chilling out on and a couple of very expensive bars. The price of drinks was extortionate.

After putting on my roller boots, I was a little wobbly at first. I don't think I had used roller boots since about 1996 so after 13 years, I was entitled to initially be a little unstable. Fortunately, I did pick it up again and was soon whizzing around and really enjoying myself, even after realising that one of my roller boots was missing its front stopper. I don't think I have had so much fun for a very long time, I loved it. Later on in the evening, I executed my first and only fall, and it was quite an epic one too, I'm proud to add. I think I was probably going a little too fast and the speed differential between myself and a couple of people in front, was too great. I couldn't slow down in time before colliding with Alan, one of the 4 men in our group. I subsequently went flying but suffered no major injuries, just bruising under one of my knees (or S80.1 & W02.2 as I would call it in the trade). Some of us weren't so lucky with their falls. Gavin injured his hand and Jenna injured her shoulder due to someone crashing into her. I heard that one of Marie's friends hurt her back and had to leave early.

During the night, there were quite a few Michael Jackson songs being played, probably because it would have been his 51st birthday that day. When Bad was played and the lyrics "Who's Bad?" were sung, people around the dance floor pointed straight at me, probably because of my neon green Michael Jackson "Bad" logo T-shirt!

As the night progressed, I did get a little bit bored of skating round and round in a circle over and over again, and the novelty had worn a little thin by the time the mini busses collected us at 01:00. When we arrived back home, Gavin took Jenna straight to hospital regarding her shoulder injury. The next day we were told that it was clinically suspected to be a fractured clavicle (or S42.0 & W51.2 as I would call it in the trade).

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The BHP Performance Show - Jap Edition (19th September):

Unfortunately for me, but not for Marie, this was the only Japanese car show that I managed to attend during 2009, whereas I usually try to go to at least two or three each year. I planned to go to Japfest 2009 during May but the threatened bad weather dictated otherwise. I took the Thursday & Friday off work prior to Japfest 2009 to prepare my car, but I chose not to go due to the weather forecast threatening rain and it was raining during the night before. However, I later found out that the weather at Japfest 2009 wasn't bad so I should have went. This pissed me off. I intended to go to Japanese Performance Sunday also during May. I left home at 09:00 and it started raining. About an hour later, while on the M3 motorway, the rain was near enough torrential. As the fields at Wellington Country Park would have been swamp like, I decided I was wasting my time and turned off at the next junction and returned home, and wasted about 90-95 miles of petrol in the process. Again, this pissed me off. I didn't go to Japanese Auto Extravaganza 2009 in September as two online Honda Prelude clubs which I am a member of (Prelude UK & Lude Behaviour) didn't have a plot booked at the show. Once again, I was pissed off, even more so this time as this one the one I always look forward to the most. I could have joined another online car club and parked on their plot, but I couldn't be bothered to do that just for the sole reason of attending JAE 2009.

I nearly didn't go to The BHP Performance Show because a few days beforehand, I noticed on their web site that I should have sent off my application form with cheque and the deadline date had passed. I emailed the organisers asking if I could still attend and I was relieved when I was told that I could.

I had never been to this event before which was being held at Lydden Hill Race Circuit in Kent. I arrived at about 09:30 and was directed to the "last minute show area", and was asked to park next to some sort of pickup vehicle, which didn't impress me. When I saw another 5th generation Honda Prelude arrive, I chose to park my car next to his instead. The owner of the blue Honda Prelude 2.2VTi I parked next to was a member of Lude Behaviour and I had met him previously at JAE last year.

In terms of numbers of cars, this was a much smaller event than most previous Japanese car shows I have attended. However, the racing circuit provided entertainment throughout the day, including both racing and drifting, which Marie took a liking too. The circuit itself is quite small, I think it was only a mile long, and all of the circuit can be seen from the spectator's area. For some odd reason, there were some non Japanese cars out on the race track, including a couple of Ford Focus STs, a stripped out BMW 3 Series and a Porsche 911.

Later on, another blue 5th generation Honda Prelude 2.2VTi turned up at the show and the owner decided to take his car out on track and he done quite well. It was entertaining watching him tussle with the stripped out BMW 3 Series and the Prelude driver eventually made it past the German saloon. However, his mini victory wasn't long lived because the BMW driver sneakily got back in front while the Prelude driver was letting a faster car go past. After the race, I spoke to the Prelude driver and found out that he was a member of Lude Behaviour too. The heat coming off his car's front brakes was like an oven. He reckoned that his brakes would probably need replacing as they were starting to deteriorate towards the end of the 15 minute session. I checked out the state of his tyres and surprisingly they weren't bad, only a little scruffy, but didn't seem majorly worn. The main reasons I chose not to take my car out on track was because I didn't want to trash my newish tyres and cause any harm to my newish clutch either. But watching him go round did tempt me.

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MPH - The Prestige & Performance Car Show, featuring Top Gear Live (15th November):

I bought the two tickets for my Dad & I to go and see MPH featuring Top Gear Live, 1 month beforehand utilising a small discount courtesy of Shell. In the free magazine V-Zine sent out to Shell V-Power Club members, Shell tried to make out that they were doing us all a favour and rewarding our loyalty by giving us £5 off each Silver ticket for the event. However, they failed to mention that this same discount was available to all and anyone who picked up a free leaflet from a Shell fuel station! I chose to attend the event being held at the NEC in Birmingham over the Earls Court in London. Even though it was over an extra 100 miles away from my home compared to Earls Court, I would prefer to spend the travel time cruising along a motorway rather than crawling through the congested roads of our capital city. Also, the NEC has a larger capacity than Earls Court so there would potentially be more on show.

After topping up tyre pressures on The Lude we left Crawley at about 10:30. The undemanding journey of nearly 150 miles to the NEC took nearly 2.5 hours which incorporated a slight detour due to work being carried out on traffic lights at junction 6 of the M42, so I left the motorway at junction 5 instead. I was pre-warned about the potential delay via a thoughtful email from the event organisers a few weeks beforehand. During the journey, the motorway overhead matrix signs restricted a few sections to 50 MPH. As always, the reason for this seemingly needless restriction will only be known by the clueless Muppets at the Highways Agency sitting in their cosy offices drinking coffee with their high vis jackets on. On second thoughts, that comment is probably unfair towards Jim Henson's furry characters.

After parking, we got on a free bus service which operates on site to ferry customers around the very large site. Hmmm, myself, my Dad and many other MPH visitors were having to use public transport to attend a show all about fast expensive cars.

Parked outside the main entrance, was a black Nissan GT-R and a couple of Nissan 370Zs. I had a quick sit inside the Nissan GT-R which I've had a lot of respect for and I wasn't too impressed. Although the seats and steering wheel were nice, the rest of the interior seemed a bit bland and plasticy, which I found surprisingly disappointing. Although, I'm sure its driving experience more than makes up for those shortcomings.

As our Top Gear Live viewing was booked for the 14:00 slot, we went straight to the Theatre area, trying not to get distracted by the flashy cars on show in the hall area. The seats and view were adequate, which was a relief casting my mind back to the crap time I had while supposed to be watching Oliver at Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London during the Summer. The seating position there was so crap, I could see hardly any of the stage, so spent most of the time fiddling with my mobile phone!

After being seated about 20-30 minutes early, I soon grew bored and a little frustrated over the small number of adverts being repeated on the large screens in front of us. I'm sure there are many other companies, not just car manufacturers, who would have been willing to share their adverts with the audience. It was announced that the show was delayed by about 10-15 minutes due to a crash on the M42 which held up some of the Top Gear Live audience who were on their way. This slightly pissed me off, as Spock once said "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few".

The show kicked off with the three Top Gear Presenters driving on to the stage in their own cars. Jeremy Clarkson was in his big black Mercedes-Benz, Richard Hammond in his grey Porsche 911 and comically James May in his black Fiat Panda.

During the show which lasted for about an hour and a half, there were stunt drivers in various cars, including a quartet of Ford Focus RSs which had the ability to change colour from black to white in a seemingly heated chamber with see-through walls. Actualally, it might have been from white to black, I can't remember the order. There was also a third generation Mazda RX-7 and a mark 4 Toyota Supra which were eventually chased by a Dodge Viper with police car livery. On one part of the show, a collection of very desirable cars were brought on, including an Aston Martin DBS V12, Audi R8, Bugatti Veyron, Caparo T1, Ferrari Enzo, Ferrari F40, Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 Valentino Balboni and Pagani Zonda. I think Jeremy said he would choose the Aston Martin DBS V12. Personally, I worship the legendary Ferrari F40, but I'm not sure I would want to drive one every day, it's not that type of car. I would probably choose either the Lamborghini Gallardo (although I would prefer the LP 560-4 variant) or the Audi R8. Alternatively, if it was being given to me, I would choose the Bugatti Veyron, sell it, then buy one of my preferred two (or both) and keep the change.

Other features of the show included the opportunity for the audience to vote on the position of cars on the Cool Wall by holding up an A4 card which was red on one side and green on the other. Cameras pointing at the audience were calibrated to measure the show of colour and position the individual cars according to votes. However, Jeremy was able to override the votes if he disagreed with the audience. Using the same voting system, the two halves of the audience were pitted against each other in a racing computer game where the card colours operated the steering and the louder the noise the audience made, the faster the car onscreen would go.

Towards the end show, The Stig made an appearance in a mock futuristic game show hosted onscreen by Jimmy Carr (no relation to me that I know of). He was driving a buggy type of vehicle and finished off with a loop the loop.

After the show, we had a walk around the hall where there were many fantastic cars to drool over. To me, the highlights were a Ferrari F40 (with horrible detracting supposedly carbon fibre spoilers / splitters on the front & rear), Ferrari Enzo (owned by Jay Kay of Jamiroquai), Lamborghini Murciélago, Koenigsegg CCX, Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, Noble M12, Ford RS200 and 1990s Aston Martin V8 Vantage (not the current model which I am not a fan of).

From there, we went to the adjacent Classic Car Show which was not an available feature if we had gone to Earls Court. Even though it was called a "Classic Car Show" there were many modern cars, which pleased me. To me, the highlights were a Bugatti Veyron, Bugatti EB110SS, various Lotus Esprits and a few DeLorean DMC-12s. As the stated closing time was 19:30 I thought we would have plenty of time, until I found out that the Classic Car Show was closing earlier than the rest of MPH, so we found ourselves having to rush around the stands while they were packing up. The only advantage of this is that most of the visitors had left the hall, which made taking photos easier. The crowd around the Bugattis had also thinned giving us a better view. When no one was looking, I decided to physically touch the Bugatti Veyron! After looking up the car on Wikipedia I learnt that the car on show was probably one of five special versions called Pur Sang. This differentiates itself from other Veyrons by most of its body work being unpainted, revealing the Veyron's pure aluminum-carbon fiber body, with just a clear coat protection. Its shiny silver bodywork looked stunning, but the finish of the even shinier Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren in the MPH hall looked more impressive. I wish car manufacturers would offer this unpainted finish on more conventional production cars. DeLorean supplied their DMC-12 with unpainted stainless-steel body panels during production in the early 1980s so what's stopping car manufacturers doing it now? It would certainly remove the hassle of paint scratches / chips.

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Two Funerals In One Week (14th December & 18th December):

It was quite a sombre close to my year with attending two funerals, both coinciding within my booked week long annual leave in December, originally reserved for Christmas shopping and a bit of faffing. Malvern Curtis the Father of Sam, one of Marie's friends, sadly died suddenly in December and Marie & myself were invited to the funeral being held at Aldershot Crematorium on the Monday. I would imagine his sudden death came as a double blow to the family seeing as one of the family's dogs had tragically been killed not so long ago. Following the service, friends & family congregated at a wine bar located near the family run computer shop in North Camp.

During the previous day, Marie's Granddad, Norman Yerrell, sadly passed away at home. Unlike Malvern's death which was sudden and unexpected, Norman had been unwell for a few weeks and had been diagnosed with cancer less than a month ago. Nevertheless, the family were devastated with his demise. I too was upset as I knew him and found him to be a very kind, cheerful person in the short amount of time that I had known him. The funeral service was held at Aldershot Crematorium on the Friday. It was a very cold morning following a snow fall the previous night which resulted in an inch or so of snow settling on my car over night. The roads were icy too as I discovered while braking at a junction and my car refused to stop, luckily no cars were coming. I suppose up until the moment his coffin was lifted from the hearse, I had been my usual relatively emotionless self. But when I was stood with the family members watching his coffin being carried, I did let some emotion slip out while remembering him. Following the service, friends & family congregated at the Lakeside International Hotel in Frimley Green.

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