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130 Miles with no clutch.   
04:41pm 21/06/2012
  Firstly for those who don't know, how to drive a car with no clutch. You've got no clutch control, all that stuff your instructor told you about balancing the biting point goes out of the window, hill start or not you start the engine in first gear with the brakes off. Try never to have to hill start. To change gear you have to perfectly match the engine power and speed to the vehicle speed, there must be no torque through the gearbox, you can then slip it out of gear. To get into the next gear you have to match the engine speed to the car speed for the gear you want to be in. At most speeds when you'll change gear that's about 1000rpm difference, up or down. 1st gear is really hard to get in or out of it's too high torque and very sensitive, 2nd is easier, 5th easiest. 4th should have been easier than it was so I mostly skipped it.

Little things seemed to be going against me as I booked the trip to France. Like the fact I discovered my passport actually expired 3 days ago when I thought it was next month. Luckily the French never actually check your passport if you wave an English one at them, on the other hand, if they had I probably wouldn't have been in downtown Calais when the clutch stopped working.

The whole thing was based around a need to go to the bank, I was planning to go to the correct branch in Paris but decided to stop in Calais to see if I could find a branch there. I could but would you believe they wouldn't let me cash a check? He said, "Not this day, tomorrow." Bloody useless French banks. In my frustration I still don't even know how much money is in there, they haven't sent me a statement in over a year. This was after I'd abandoned the car, luckily legally "parked", on the wrong side of town.

I eventually found a French mechanic who spoke some English, he was quite good. Considering it's a really obscure car by French standards, he spotted the extra master cylinder the clutch has on this model where everyone else said it shared a reservoir with the brakes. If that had been true I possibly wouldn't be back home at this point. Though once he discovered that it was leaking quite fast somewhere he made that expensive time consuming noise and spoke to his manager who also made an expensive time consuming noise. They then offered to tow me onto the ferry for another €60 after charging me €140 for failing to fix it in the first place. After that there was some arguing. The boss was not pleased that I was going to drive away with no clutch, no he was not pleased at all. The mechanic was amused and possibly expected to hear from me again quite soon.

I made it to the ferry port, after pissing off some French drivers by being really slow and stalling repeatedly at every traffic light, then obviously trying to start the car already in gear, nearly driving on the wrong side of the road, turning right from the left lane, etc. The things the English do in France obviously. The UK border point was sarcastic about my out of date passport, but the P&O people were the stars of the show. Having watched me push the car from the border point to check in, the chap charged me a minimal rebooking fee for changing my departure time and let me on my way. Then, once I was up the ramp the guys on the boat helped me push the car into a convenient space on the freight deck where I could get out quickly.

Once I'd arrived back in Dover, they let the two ahead of me off first, one HGV, one 4x4 with a big trailer, then held up everyone else while I got off. After two false starts I got lucky. Being about the first off there were no dithering idiots and I had a clear, if slow, run out of the port. It turns out that there's a weird little back route out of the port, there's a traffic light on the main exit but if you spot the back way it bypasses the main junction and takes you onto the A20 via a slip road. Stopping is bad with no clutch, anything else is merely difficult, but stopping is really bad.

Then comes the boring bit, A20, M20, the long way round the M25 (it's clearer with variable speed limits), M1. I had a couple of dodgy gear changes on the M25 and was nearly too slow coming onto the M1 and just made it into second on idle. While that was far from the shortest route home, it was the route with the fewest traffic lights. Just one set after leaving Dover.
08:22pm 05/09/2010
  The following advisory for American travellers heading for France
was compiled from information provided by the US State Department, the
Central Intelligence Agency, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Food and
Drug Administration, the Centres for Disease Control, and some very
expensive spy satellites that the French don't know about. It is
intended as a guide for American travellers only.

General overview: France is a medium-sized foreign country situated in
the continent of Europe. It is an important member of the world
community, though not nearly as important as it thinks. It is bounded
by Germany, Spain, Switzerland and some smaller nations of no
particular consequence and with not very good shopping.

France is a very old country with many treasures, such as the Louvre
and EuroDisney. Among its contributions to western civilisation are
champagne, Camembert cheese and the guillotine.

Although France likes to think of itself as a modern nation, air
conditioning is little used and it is next to impossible to get decent
Mexican food. One continuing exasperation for American visitors is
that the people wilfully persist in speaking French, though many will
speak English if shouted at. As in any foreign country, watch your
change at all times.

The People: France has a population of 54 million people, most of whom
drink and smoke a great deal, drive like lunatics, are dangerously
oversexed, and have no concept of standing patiently in line. The
French people are in general gloomy, temperamental, proud, arrogant,
aloof, and undisciplined; and those are their good points.

Most French citizens are Roman Catholic, though you would hardly guess
it from their behaviour. Many people are communists, and topless
sunbathing is common. Men sometimes have girls' names like Marie, and
they kiss each other when they hand out medals.

American travellers are advised to travel in groups and to wear
baseball caps and colourful trousers for easier mutual recognition.

Safety: In general, France is a safe destination, though travellers
are advised that, from time to time, it is invaded by Germany. By
tradition, the French surrender more or less at once and, apart from a
temporary shortage of Scotch whisky and increased difficulty in
getting baseball scores and stock market prices, life for the visitor
generally goes on much as before.

A tunnel connecting France to Britain beneath the English Channel
has been opened in recent years to make it easier for the Government
to flee to London.

History: France was discovered by Charlemagne in the Dark Ages. Other
important historical figures are Louis XIV, the Huguenots, Joan of
Arc, Jacques Cousteau and Charles de Gaulle, who was President for
many years and is now an airport.

Government: The French form of government is democratic but noisy.
Elections are held more or less continuously, and always result in a
run-off. For administrative purposes, the country is divided into
regions, departments, districts' municipalities, cantons, communes,
villages, cafes, booths and floor tiles.

Parliament consists of two chambers, the Upper and Lower (though,
confusingly, they are both on the ground floor), whose members are
either Gaullists or communists, neither of whom is to be trusted,
frankly. Parliament's principal preoccupations are setting off atomic
bombs in the South Pacific, and acting indignant when anyone

According to the most current State Department intelligence, the
President now is someone named Jacques. Further information is not
available at this time.

Culture: The French pride themselves on their culture, though it is
not easy to see why. All their songs sound the same, and they have
hardly ever made a movie that you would want to watch for anything but
the nude scenes. And nothing, of course, is more boring than a French

Cuisine: Let's face it, no matter how much garlic you put on it, a
snail is just a slug with a shell on its back. Croissants, on the
other hand, are excellent, though it is impossible for most Americans
to pronounce this word. In general, travellers are advised to stick to
cheeseburgers at leading hotels such as Sheraton and Holiday Inn.

Economy: France has a large and diversified economy, second only to
Germany's in Europe, which is surprising because people hardly work at
all. If they are not spending four hours dawdling over lunch, they are
on strike and blocking the roads with their lorries and tractors.
France's principal exports, in order of importance to the economy, are
wine, nuclear weapons, perfume, guided missiles, champagne,
high-calibre weaponry, grenade launchers, landmines, tanks, attack
aircraft,miscellaneous armaments and cheese.

Public holidays: France has more holidays than any other nation in the
world. Among its 361 national holidays are 197 saints' days, 37
National Liberation Days, 16 Declaration of Republic Days, 54 Return
of Charles de Gaulle in Triumph as if he Won the War Single-Handed
Days, 18 Napoleon Sent into Exile Days, 17 Napoleon Called Back from
Exile Days, and 112 France is Great and the Rest of the World is
Rubbish Days. Other important holidays are National Nuclear Bomb Day
January 12), the Feast of St Brigitte Bardot Day (March 1), and
National Guillotine Day (November 12).

Conclusion: France enjoys a rich history, a picturesque and
varied landscape, and a temperate climate. In short, it would be a
very nice country if it weren't inhabited by French people.

The best thing that can be said for it is that it is not Germany.

A word of warning: The consular services of the United States
government are intended solely for the promotion of the interests of
American businesses such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut and the Coca-Cola
Corporation. In the event that you are the victim of a crime or
serious injury involving at least the loss of a limb, report to the
American Embassy between the hours of 5.l5 am and 5.20 am on a Tuesday
or Wednesday, and a consular official who is supremely indifferent to
your plight will give you a list of qualified dentists or something
similarly useless.

Remember, no one ordered you to go abroad. Personally, we always take
our holidays at Miami Beach, and you are advised to as well.

Thank you and good luck.
To Germany and back with no motorways   
07:55pm 28/07/2010
  Back in france and having done my one day working week I though it was about time I said something here.

I give in, I'm a convert. I'm going to buy myself a satnav. We borrowed one for the drive to Germany. Put in my address, put in Bjorn's address and said we leave now. 500km with no fuss, no wondering which town to follow signs to next and probably a better route than I'd have worked out myself. I need to get me one of those. Yes you heard that right, it's possible to travel long international distances without setting wheel to motorway. I do it whenever I drive in France, the motorways are mostly toll roads and driving through all the little villages along with hauling round fast country lanes is what makes driving fun for me. The only problem was its tendency to squeek whenever I broke a speed limit, but never when I needed to know what the speed limit was because the car behind was full of gendarmes.

There's another thing from this weekend that might rock a few people's boats. We know Germany has good roads and France has bad ones. Belgium's roads are far far worse than anything the French have so far devised. Some countries spend their money maintaining roads, Belgium spends it putting up signs telling you how bad the road is and which direction of traffic has priority over the shattered remenants of the tarmac. Those were just the country lanes, the dual carriageways left me blessing my choice of soft seats and big car suspension. It felt like someone had carefully laid down a load of concrete then used corrugated iron wrapped round the roadroller to smooth it.

The festival was good too, but I always tend to write about the journeys too and from rather than the event itself.
The last thing that goes through its mind   
09:01pm 28/04/2010
  300 miles across two countries on a warm spring day avoiding motorways wherever possible, it makes for a lot of flies to scrape off the windscreen.

I've bought a car to replace the Alfa, it handles better, has a bigger engine, better brakes and more power. This all adds up to it being somewhat slower due to it weighing the best part of two tons. It's not the car I wanted to get this time round, on the other hand it is the car I wanted to get last time round, a Volvo 850 2.5 GLT estate. Big enough to sleep in the back of (as already tested this past weekend), comfortable enough to drive hundreds of miles without a stop. Completely unsuitable in many ways for Paris though, it's fully capable of parking across three spaces of the size they mark them locally. On the other hand it's perfectly suited to that grand tour I've been planning since university, so come the new holiday year and then on into the autumn we'll be good to go.
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Driving in Paris   
10:03pm 25/07/2009
  I have now, for the first time since I came here, taken my car inside the Périphérique. It was entertaining to say the least, speed limits remain optional, an ability to close manoeuvre at speed is essential.

Then I hit the Arc de Triomphe. Well not hit as such but it was certainly an encounter to remember. I've never before been on a roundabout on which it was possible for someone to end up at 90 degrees to the flow of traffic and for nobody to even take any notice. There are no lanes, the idea is apparently to take the most direct route possible to the exit you wish to use. Nobody gives way unless they feel they don't have a choice, everyone is interested solely in their own forward progress. This was made all the more entertaining by the police having closed off one of the larger exits.

Once I eventually got off the roundabout I found it had been so much fun I turned round and had another go. Also I'd come off the wrong way.

Basically stick to the major boulevards, don't try to take shortcuts the one way system is Escherian. Also, don't own a large saloon car in a city that runs on tiny hatchbacks, the roads are too narrow and the corners too tight.
What's the last thing that goes through a fly's mind as it hits your windscreen?   
01:22pm 05/07/2009
  We went to the beach yesterday, because it's there, because I have a car, because I can.
Almost certainly not the closest but it was a case of drive West until something comes into striking range and definately worth a visit. Entirely contained within the historic town wall and apart from the causeway completely isolated at high tide, at low tide it sits in an enourmous expanse of sand baked almost to the consistency of concrete.

The town sits with the abbey on top in the middle, the roads around spiral upwards and interlock at the front in the classic fantasy style that you never actually see. Living on evening shift time, by the time we'd stopped playing in the sea the town was closed apart from some restaurants and tourist trap gift shops, but it mostly revolves around the abbey sitting at the top and variegated museums.

Getting there was a case of getting onto the N12 and following it until the coast became apparent then heading straight for it, about 250miles in all. Getting back was about 200miles, but still town hopping cross country the way I like to here.

On the open road, for all our abuse, the average Frech driver is better than the average English driver. They pull out to over take, they don't do 90 in the middle lane in a 110, they indicate to manoeuvre but mostly they think that the inside lane is for driving in and the others are for overtaking.

I've just had the car serviced and put new brake pads and discs in. I know I said I wouldn't do this but the rules changed in the UK and it became cheaper to repair than to replace. Though at some point that means a new exhaust and a new clutch which might still manage to be prohibitive. The car tanked through the 450miles quite happily which looks good for doing longer journeys later in the year, though it does mean I now need to clean a layer of flies off all the leading edges.

Because I can.
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More wheels   
11:44pm 28/04/2009
  My backside is now intricately familiar with every bump in the road from Hendon to St Pancras and from Gare du Nord to Champ du Mars. I guess padded shorts are in order until I'm hardcore again.

My bike is now parked in the kitchen, at some point I need to do a test run to see if I need to change to offroad tires for the commute. The 110psi 1.25" slick road tires I've got aren't really designed for offroad use.
Driving in Foreign   
03:44pm 03/01/2009
  Getting across France on the A roads is as easy as getting across England on Motorways. As long as you don't misremember your chosen route and take a 50k detour. The entire country seems to smell of fermenting cow, but the roads are wide straight and somewhat over the speed limit.

Pedestrian crossings aren't designed for pedestrians to cross roads safely, they're designed to act as a pedestrian focus to allow drivers to hit more at once.
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Somewhere to live among other things.   
06:46pm 23/12/2008
  I have a flat. It's just round the corner from a certain well known palace in Versailles. 78000.

Pedestrian crossings in this country aren't for pedestrians to cross the road, they're designed to distract and focus the pedestrians into a smaller area so lazy drivers can hit more of them with less effort.

Shift work isn't too bad, I'll just have to get used to it. Night shift seems to rarely have more than 5 people on so nobody has to do it more than once a year. Evening is the default shift things rotate around for obvious reasons.

The local banking system is fairly primitive, yet to reach the electronic age.
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News and other things   
09:31am 18/12/2008
  If "BBC World News" is a valid example of what the bbc would be like if it were to go commercial it would be better to wind the whole thing up and sell it for scrap.

I've found a place to live in Versailles, details to follow.

I'm sure Paris is lovely in the winter but I've barely left the industrial estate since I got here. things are generally slowly coming together.
Adventures on the London Commute   
09:11pm 24/11/2008
  Most people would reccomend not commuting by car in London. they're right of course.

Here's a quick selection of some of the people who've hooted or sworn at me over the past few weeks.

Pushy man in small car: Two lanes of traffic merging neatly, except him, he had to go first. That was before he discovered that his lane was merging into mine not the other way round and nearly ate a bollard.

Pushy man in big car: In this case a Jaguar, pulled up my inside at the lights obviously pushing for a race. Not particularly wanting to race I let him get ahead, but not far enough ahead that he could pull in in front of me before getting stuck in the bus lane.

Random woman: No idea what her problem was but it was aimed at me.

Nutter: Two lanes merging and determined to get ahead, ended up getting beaten by a bollard, then he tried again nearly hitting oncoming traffic.

Not watching: Him in lane 2, me in lane 4, both of us wanting to be in lane 3. He tried and failed to push me out then swung round behind to try again from lane 4.

I'm told all west is better than east but all bets are off once you're south of the river.
Car Troubles   
03:05pm 14/11/2008
  I've had a word with the local garage about my clutch and they've said "what it really comes down to is we don't want to do it". It could be done, it would cost about 3 times what I paid for the car which would then occupy half their space for a week. Time to get rid of it and maybe find something in left hand drive. :(  
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Got job!   
08:39pm 13/11/2008
  I've been offered a job in Paris. A hint of relocation required but they'll put me up in a hotel for a month while that's sorted. Start date of 8th december.

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I have a new watch   
03:18pm 26/09/2008
  It's the new version of the watch that Casio sent back because they no longer stock the parts to replace the battery. I'd had it for 12 years at the time.

I've just spent the last hour with the manual to set: Time, Date, Timezone, Longitude and Hemisphere.
The watch now tells me: Time, Date, Phase of the moon (last quarter waning), Tide level (low) and Bearing to the Sun (216deg).

The last one only had some flashy countdown timers for race starts.
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Derriere Velocite   
11:49am 25/09/2008
  I had actually been preparing for such an eventuality but it's still a little irritating. Apparently with the new restructure going on in the city someone in HR had the bright idea of getting rid of any temps coming up to the end of their year, thereby rapidly solving the problem of what to do with them if they perchanced to gain some employment rights. My year would have been up on Tuesday 30th, apparently the message only went out to the managers last night just as I was leaving.  
08:34pm 13/07/2008
  Today I was once again amazed by the amount of car I got for my £250. I love country lanes.  
How to   
08:36pm 01/06/2008
  In today's how to we will discover how to get filthy looks from the police.

First turn your music up too loud
Second accelerate rapidly to the speed limit in first gear.
This will result in filthy looks from any nearby patrolling fuzz and cause any nearby patrol cars to pull alongside or behind to test your speed. The latter is best done near speed cameras as you may be able to get them caught.
I've got an interview   
05:59pm 22/05/2008
  I wouldn't normally mention such things but this one is special, it's my first interview from a direct application rather than one through an agency.  
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Disembowel Meself Honourably Dibhala   
09:10pm 27/04/2008
  I woke up on Saturday with a bit of a tummy ache. For "bit" read it felt like someone had tied various critical bit of my insides in knots. At lunchtime I gave in and called NHS direct who asked their usual questions and eventually asked me to go to the new Whittington surgery. This led to a chat with a receptionist over whether children should be deliberately exposed to "childhood" illnesses to ensure they get them over with early. It also led to a chat with a young doctor who sent me over to A&E.

Time from being entering the Whittington to getting a sharp tap on the back of the head and going off to emergency surgery 5 hours.

There weren't any pretty nurses so I discharged myself fairly promptly today after clearing it with the doctor.

I'm now short my appendix which I wasn't really using anyway, and thanks to a tube down my throat while unconscious, my gag reflex.
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The Late Arthur C Clark   
11:15pm 18/03/2008