Weighty Issues

There’s an election on, in case you hadn’t noticed. Politicians are fighting for their seats like 5-year-olds in a game of musical chairs. Except you believe the children, and they’re less boring to watch.

The real weighty issue, however, is not which way the vote will go in May, but more the heart-warming case of “Jane” who has rediscovered life now she’s a bit thinner thanks to Slimming World.

We got a flyer through our door yesterday with her wonderful story, advertising the fact that you too can lose some weight if you join this club. What first drew me in was the headline on the front of the leaflet:

because of Slimming World, life’s never been so good!

This is above a picture of a happy mother throwing her toddler in the air. Really? Wedding day? Birth of first child? Neither of these rank above losing a bit weight? Anyway, inside, the marketing continues with a small caption above her picture:

Jane Milner, 34, from Halifax, lost 2st 9lbs with Slimming World after the birth of baby Caitlin.

Now there’s two things wrong with that snippet. Firstly, why are they always from bloody Halifax? Every competition winner or true-life story that gets bandied about always contains somebody hailing from Halifax. What is it about that town? Looking at this woman I find it hard to picture her pottering around a village in West Yorkshire and calling everyone “duck”. Are you really from there or is that a fib because it sounds more appealing to the fat commoners than your real home in Henley-on-Thames?

Secondly, judging by the baby in the photo, I think she lost 37lbs because she gave birth to baby Caitlin, not after. The poor thing has obviously inherited the chunky gene from her mother. I’m saying Caitlin is a “her” though, only because I thought that was a girl’s name. The picture, however, shows a very boyish little thing with pudding-basin haircut and all dressed in blue, so I’m not sure.

As you’d expect, they’ve also got the obligatory “before” and “after” photos of this slim-line woman. Being honest, I prefer her before the weight loss. She wasn’t one of these 30st bag of spuds with a waist measured in yards – actually quite pretty and not exactly looking like she needed to lose weight in the first place. The “after” picture is obviously well done on a professional photo-shoot, where everything is arranged to be just perfect. Working upwards, the shoes have high heels and are covered completely by the mega-long boot-cut jeans to accentuate the legs. She’s turned towards the camera at enough of an angle to show she’s still got a bum, but now it’s nice and trim (I should really point out that even my arse looks trim from the front). She’s got her back arched to continue the eye-line and is holding the child across her front to cover any residual tummy that even a liquid-only diet can’t shift.

Not bad so far, but then things go really wrong. I don’t know whether it’s make-up or what, but it looks like she’s had a face-lift that would make even Anne Robinson think “ooh – that’s a bit much”. Plus, because of the contorted angle, it looks like she’s got some wrinkles round her neck that makes me think that “aged 34” is a reversal of the digits.

As with all of these things, if you’re paying £14.95 a week (according to the small print on the back) you want advice that’s more than simply “more exercise, fewer Mars Bars”. Helpfully, they’re on-hand with the pseudo-science as demonstrated in the bigger quote from happy Jane:

“I love Food Optimising, because I can eat …”

Food Optimising? Note the preservation of the Capital Letters to show how Important and Clever this science is. There’s a quick list of her favourite daily menu, just to show the world she isn’t rationed to one rabbit-leaf per meal. I find breakfast particularly hard to swallow, both physically and metaphorically:

Breakfast is a bacon and egg sandwich and a big bowl of fruit salad. Now look – our views on what is classed as a bacon and egg sandwich are obviously polar opposites. The picture I’ve got in my head is by no means anywhere near close to staying underneath the guideline amounts of fat intake. For the week.

All this thinking about food has made me hungry. Now where’s that gateaux?

Courtesy Cars

I love my car. It’s now official.

In the space of a couple of months I’ve had two courtesy cars and was impressed with neither. Stepping back into my Accord this afternoon was just heaven.

It all started back in March when I needed a replacement clutch, but it couldn’t be completed within the day. I therefore ended up with a courtesy car of a Honda Civc saloon. Now I’d already driven the new, angular Civic hatch and was less than impressed. Rear visibilty was poor, the diesel engine felt leaden, and the dash was starting to date horribly already. The engine was a real sore point, given that the same unit shoves my Accord along very happily, despite weighing about quarter of a ton more.

So I got this Honda Civic, but it was the saloon Hybrid drive system. This means an automatic gearbox (actually CVT) coupled with an electric motor and a little petrol engine. Normal gentle town driving uses the electric motor, heavier stuff brings the fossil fuels online.

Driving it was just weird. The first oddity was the fact that the engine switches off if you’re sitting at a junction with your foot on the brake (no clutch remember). That’s odd if you’re not used to it. Especially as there’s a definite jolt runs through the transmission when the engine does fire back up.

The main beef was the CVT gearbox, whose only purpose appeared to be to disconnect the engine completely from the wheels. Plant your foot at 60 and the engine just whined loudly with no extra progress being made. Nudge it along gently in traffic and the addition of the electric motor made it feel like it was permanently stalling. There was a rev counter, but I’ve no idea what that was supposed to be there for.

The Honda Civic was at least well-made, though. My next foray into guest vehicles was the devastatingly cheap Chevrolet Matiz (originally the Daewoo).

This is engineering on a severe budget. The model I received was the “deluxe” 1.0 SE version. This produces 64 bhp and 67 lb ft of torque. Put it another way: that’s around half the power and a quarter of the torque of my normal motor. Inside there are little in the way of creature comforts. Air con, electric front windows, and electric passenger mirror are about the limit of things. You can’t adjust the steering wheel in any direction. The driver’s side wing mirror is adjusted with a wiggly stick thing. Seats are a fully-manual affair.

But I really do get that. It’s all down to money and weight. I paid a reasonable sum of money for my car and got some nice options. I wasn’t disappointed, however, to find that my Accord didn’t have the gadget-list of a £100k Mercedes S-Class. In the same vein, I shouldn’t be disappointed with the Matiz when I’m missing a couple of motors for the chronically lazy.

Same with weight. Lighter means easier to move with a smaller engine. Smaller engine means cheaper and more fuel efficient. But that’s not my problem with the car. It’s aimed at being cheap, basic transport. No-one who buys this car will be under any impression that it is anything else. For cheap transport you expect thin, low quality plastics and very few trimmings.

My main problem is that nothing inside makes sense positioning-wise. For example, I’m just over 6ft. and obviously the seat needed to be right the way back. To operate the handbrake, I needed to move my arm so far back that my elbow poked past the seat backs. Now if you’re a 5ft 4in granny who drives with her nose on the windscreen, then I have absolutely no idea how she is to reach back that far.

To make things easier to transition between left- and right-hand drive versions, the speedo, rev counter, and fuel guage are all in the centre console at the top of the dash. Fair enough. But how much more money would it have been to make two versions of the mounting plastic – one which points it to a LH drive and one which points to a RH drive? As a result, the Transit which is currently up your arse on the M3 can read your speed more clearly than the driver.

The heater and vent controls are again, very basic. But why put them effectively on the floor, when there’s plenty space higher up the dash? I was reaching downwards to turn the heater down. And you can’t see the air-con button either because of your knee.

Just above the pedals is a small shelf designed to store something. No idea what, because it’s too small to be practical and secondly you’re going to die anyway. To drive this thing, you need to hook your feet underneath this shelf to get to the pedals. Thankfully I didn’t need to stop quickly, because I might not have got my feet out of the way fast enough.

And why could they not have got a clutch which was adjusted correctly? Only the top 3/4” of pedal travel provided the bite – after that the clutch was simply “off”.


It’s Slippery Out There You Know

Switching on the TV today to check footy scores meant I landed on the “World Figure-Skating Championships”, broadcast by the BBC and a rapidly-ageing Sue Barker.

While I was still looking in a stunned fashion at Teletext announcing the Sunderland 3 Spurs 1 result, our friend Sue introduced some dancing by a pair whose names I can’t remember, pronounce, or spell. The commentary over the brief highlights of synchronised slippage went something like this:

And next we had blah blah and blah blah of Russia who last year blah, blah, blah, blah in all competitions. This time they failed to manage the chuck* again and that slip cost them points.

* Note “the chuck” probably isn’t the technical term, but it’s the bit where the bloke throws the woman in the air and she lands gracefully. This time, the woman didn’t exactly land gracefully. She fell on her arse and slithered across the ice, before jumping up because it was too cold through her sparkly lycra. The commentary continued:

As a result, they ended up with the bronze medal.

Regardless of the proper name, how can you fall over and yet still come third? Or put it another way: 22 other couples were placed below them in the final ranking – how bad must they have been?

One of the other strange things which I noticed was that when the woman fell over, the crowd still gave a round of applause. Maybe another sign of the dross which had proceeded it.

Not for me.