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He isn't the Stig but he could be Captain Black from Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons

Bulletin boards, forums and websites in general often have an area for those things that do not belong anywhere else or are 'off topic'. People, I find, edge around me, treading carefully in an effort to elicit my opinion on matters as diverse as current affairs to the best sherry to buy for Christmas. The soapbox page will probably appear to be the product of a deranged imagination because it needs to be 'ad hoc' and forthright, without (hopefully) upsetting too many readers! The Soapbox is a sounding board for my opinions - just don't take them too seriously.  

February 1st 2012
So far, this year hasn't got off to a promising start and the defining event of January will surely be the tragedy of the cruise liner Costa Concordia off the Tuscan island of Giglio. At least 17 lives have been lost but more people yet are unaccounted for while the ship itself slides ever deeper under the waves. That the disaster should have happened at all is incredible but given that we are approaching the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic the whole incident is deeply depressing because a century later this drama was played out not in an era before GPS in the middle of the Atlantic but within sight of the shore.

Over the Christmas and new year holiday, I gave my cookery books a real workout. Having progressed through Delia's How to Cook series plus the individual books on Chicken, Fish, Pork and Italian, I decided that the moment to dive into the Christmas book had arrived. The Cranberry & orange sauce, 18th century chestnut stuffing, stollen, bread sauce and turkey stock gravy were all made and each was a success. I froze down the leftovers but although Christmas is long gone, I had the book out again - this time to cook English Colonial turkey curry. Predictably, it was superb.

With Christmas gone and Easter looming, we can be confident that whatever the season, there is one thing that can be relied upon - advertisements for discounted settees! There is always a Christmas Sale, Boxing Day Sale and if you miss that, there's always the New Year Sale, the Winter Sale, the half term sale, the Spring Sale, the Easter Sale or the May day madness sale ... which begs the question: does anyone ever get to pay the full price?

The gospel according to SeriousSAAB
Running a website extolling the virtues of SAAB cars and hopefully, helping people by sharing knowledge can be quite rewarding and it is always good to hear from readers -some of whom may not have wielded a spanner for some time- who have been inspired to have a go at jobs like dropping the sump and cleaning the pick up strainer. There is a responsibility not to mislead readers by saying that such and such a task is easy and procedures need checking to ensure that some vital step has not been missed out, so it comes as light relief when e-mail arrive asking -in effect- whether there is a SeriousSAAB lifestyle or asking what war films are the best or what music is playing in the workshop when engines are being stripped.

At the risk of disillusioning readers, there is no specific SeriousSAAB lifestyle (and we don't have a single item of IKEA furniture!) although the author does have strong views when it comes to clothes. Out there somewhere, is a website that proclaims that there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothes.

Bad weather is part of life in the UK and this is part of the reason why the English are so obsessed with the weather. Despite the hysteria over global warming, the English summer most remembered for being seriously hot was... way back in 1976 (not 2006). One of the best pieces of kit I've discovered is the Drizabone oilskin coat, which just shrugs off rain and can be had with a liner that appears to be made from half a Merino sheep. The flipside is that one looks like Wyatt Earpp when wearing it but why be different when you can be outrageous? Akubra is said to be Australian for hat and a wide brimmed Boss (with or without shark's teeth) keeps the sun (and rain) at bay. Blundstone boots are good to go with the rig - I have failed to wear out a pair despite daily use for 7 years (or put another way, I was a Blundstone fan long before 'I'm a Celebrity, get me out of here').

Some very good gear to handle the British climate

Some good kit comes from Australia - R.M. Williams isn't too well known in the UK - hardly surprising, as there are just two official outlets and a couple of other stockists here but Down Under RMW kit is respected everywhere. There is a vast range of Moleskin jeans, trousers, boots, shoes, belts, oil skins and shirts (the Brigalow is superb). I am also very fond of shirts and thornproof kit made by Thomas Cook Boot and Clothing (an old Australian firm that reaches back to the days of the Cobb & Co. stage coach era!) but these products need buying online or when you are actually in Australia. After 7 years of summer use my thorn proof TC Go Jacket (part of the Adventure ware range) still looks as good as the day I bought it. The same goes for my TC moleskin trousers, shirt and TC belt buckle.

Ray Mears is fond of Swanndri Ranger shirts and I have to agree they are great but something of an acquired taste. Since the value of £ sterling has declined in recent years, all these wonderful things from Down Under & NZ will be more costly to replace (I acquired most of mine when the rate was 2.7 AU$ = £1.

Carhartt shirts, however, come from the States and are good for working outdoors when the temperature drops. There appear to be two ranges: one for Europe and one for the US. The no nonsense rugged construction appeals - these are good shirts to keep you warm.

War films, Westerns and comedy
Among the hundreds of mails asking for everything from the correct type of spark plug for a CS Carlsson to how to set about changing a clutch and dual mass flywheel in a 9-3 TiD sports saloon, readers do ask other things that are completely unrelated to motoring. At first , e-mails asking which war films, comedy series or music was preferred seemed irrational... until I checked out TV listings to learn that previously, some station had run a series 100 best war films etc.

War films? The Battle of Britain (1969) comes high on the list of best war films - the scene where the pilot bails out and comes to rest having parachuted into a greenhouse, only to be met by a young lad who runs into the house to offer the pilot a cigar and is greeted with the line "Thanks awfully, old chap" endears it no end but the aerial sequences and Ron Goodwin's rousing score clinch the deal. A belting score goes a long way when it comes to Westerns too: Sergio Leone's 'Once Upon a Time in the West' does it for me as much for the stirring Ennio Morricone theme as the brilliant casting of Harmonica (Charles Bronson), Frank (Henry Fonda) and Cheyenne (Jason Robards). Of course, judgements are subjective and when selecting works, at what point do you eliminate films made as series or adapted into series/mini-series formats? Titles in this tricky category might include Lonesome Dove or Band of Brothers.

Comedy is something else. Vicar of Dibley, Fawlty Towers or Dad's Army (Don't tell him Pike!) are all favourites. Curiously, nobody asked for favourite horror films but according to the author, the greatest story not written by one S.King, esq. would be entitled "Sludge!"


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