Year Endings December 30, 2009Posted by markswill in Cars and Bikes, Media, Navel Gazing.
It’s that time of year when lazy columnists look back on the past twelve months and try and reach some kind of conclusion about what it all added up to. Resisting the “hill of beans” summation, I’m not even going to get into moisty-eyed backward glances or, more likely, shrill rants about everything that’s ailed mankind and more selfishly, yrs. trly. this past year, I’ll instead stick to more recent stuff.
Actually the end of the year can be, and in my case was one of the best bits of it. Ten days hiatus from the business of, well, business allowed time to catch up on socialising – much of it happily accidental – a whole slew of films downloaded onto my increasingly indispensable Freeview box and of course, reading. Downing far too much food’n’drink smug in the knowledge that the gym doesn’t open again ‘til next week only adds to the delightfulness of the dying days of 2009 and it looks like being snowed in will further excuse this sloth.
But the subject of reading does prompt a bit of a grumble, and on two counts. Lunching with a friend in Hereford the Saturday before the red mist of Christmas finally descended elicited the recommendation that before I made my intended tramp round Waterstone’s for the usual 3-for-2 fest I should visit the city’s Oxfam bookshop. And this I duly did, finding two tomes I’d missed first time around and for les than a fiver the pair. Hurrah, then.
Two days later over tea and buns with Ian Marchant, Presteigne’s premier novelist, raconteur and the thinking man’s George Formby, (www.ianmarchant.com) I found myself berated for stealing the bread from his table by patronising the Oxfam outlet which of course doesn’t pay the business rates or staff wages that Waterstone’s and other proper bookshops do. The point being that Oxfam can afford to entice bookworms to buy secondhand and remaindered volumes at prices and in quantities that deny him and other struggling authors their just rewards. And my only defence was that I bought the bloody buns.
But this brings me once again to bookshops and their imminent extinction, a reprise prompted by last night’s Front Row on Radio 4 which spent its entire half hour debating the virtues or otherwise of e-books. With mounting fury I only just resisted hurling my Horlicks at the radio as Mark ‘I’m-so-damn-clever’ Lawson ignored the impact that Kindle, e-Reader and the rest would likely have on retailers. Happy enough to indulge the man from Sony who predicted that e-books might replace 60% of ink’n’paper books sales within five years (well he would say that, wouldn’t he?), and a woman from Pan-Macmillan who blithely dismissed the prospect of vast layoffs in the printing industry (“They’ll have to adapt”. Yes they will: to unemployment), Lawson never mentioned randomly dipping between the covers, scanning dust jackets, discovering new authors or lesser known works by familiar ones and all the other pleasures of bookshop browsing. In London a fortnight ago I witnessed the ugly consequences of bookshop closures, albeit as a result of bad management rather than electronic storage devices, as I passed two boarded-up branches of Borders flyposted and forlorn then spent a feverish twenty minutes rummaging round their one remaining West End store which was having its closing down sale. (Needless to say I found nothing amongst the Archers, Cartlands and third rate sleb memoirs that took my fancy). Okay, it’s only an unreconstituted luddite that ignores the march of technological progress and I am, after all, writing and publishing this on my Apple laptop, but no-one seems concerned about the cultural and social consequences of more unemployment, deserted high streets and the isolation that yet another digital convenience fosters.
Letting The Buyer Do The R & D
This all reads suspiciously if not pathetically like another grumpy old man bemoaning the winds of change, which of course it is. And it also explains, if further explanation were required, my affectation with classic cars and the excuse I need to update my Lancia Gamma woes. (Actually this is in response to at least three, count ‘em, three, queries as to its health). As I write Mr Barratt and his boys are enjoying the festive break before returning, suitably rejuvenated I hope, to the piles of rusting, seized and bent bits that sit disconsolately on pallets in his workshop. But turning two buggered engines – one apparently rescued from a ditch, the other driven perhaps a tad too enthusiastically by yrs. trly. – into one robust runner is a task riven with pitfalls. For example, the full compliment of gaskets and seals it took several weeks and many phone calls and e-mails to assemble may or may not be all present and correct and with this particular engine there is a serious risk that the cylinder liners can ‘drop’ if the paper-thin gaskets twixt block and barrels are damaged. In which case starting all over again (with virtually unobtainable gaskets) is mandatory.
It begs the questions why don’t you forgot all this nonsense and get yourself a nice Mazda MX-5 or, more importantly, what were Lancia’s engineers thinking when they designed and didn’t properly develop this big boxer engine? Brilliant though the basic design was and remains, i.e. smooth, relatively compact and immensely torquey, did they really think it was acceptable to let the first few thousand owners discover its weaknesses? Lancia actually has quite a record in this department, most notably in the use of substandard steel for their early ‘70s Beta saloons which were often rusty before they left the showrooms and the suicide brakes on their otherwise divine Montecarlo coupe, which they pulled from production for two years whilst they (crudely) sorted the problem.
Like the race to compel us all to adopt the e-book, they didn’t consider the price that might be paid which in their case was the relegation of a once proud and innovative marque to nothing more than a badge-engineered Fiat. And yet, and yet I shall stick with my sexy old girl and my heaving shelves of dusty dead trees.
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