Save £100 on premium car tyres

OK – so the headline is a little dramatic, but that’s exactly what I did.

My lovely Audi A5 had a service (and there’s nothing I like more than parting with £400 for that) and when they checked the car they found the tyres were worn low – nothing too remarkable in that, except I had already spotted it and resolved to fix them anyway. After I dropped the car off, I spoke to my colleague Matthew who pointed out that tyres from main dealers were over priced. I know that, you know that… we all know that, but what are the alternatives?

Sitting in the waiting area for any of the main car fitters is at best a roundly depressing experience. It takes forever, there are many cars to deal with and yours is never front of the queue. Even if you book a time slot. It takes two hours minimum, and often quite a lot more. Plus the waiting areas themselves – so depressing, filled with car magazines and tool adverts, with a broken TV and occasionally a spluttering coffee machine. Hardly a dynamic place to while away a few hours! Not even some decent wifi to get online with… you get the idea.

Matt then said – “tyres on your drive”

Not too sure if that was a cryptic message, referring to my car as ‘my drive’… he then said “google it”. Ever talkative, is Matt!

Aha – so that’s what he meant!

Finding the right tyre size was easy, and the price to fit them was a steep (that’s what you get when you drive premium cars and stuff) £149 each. I needed two. Sigh.

Around an hour later, the garage phoned and said the car was ready, and that it needed two new tyres (no surprise there). I asked how much it would cost them to fit them, to which I was told “we can do it all in for 199 per wheel”.

I went to pick up the car – all spick and span, freshly serviced and valeted, and they tried again:

Him: “Y’know – we can do those tyres for you right now”
Me: “no, it’s OK – I know they are low – I’ll get them done myself… much as I enjoy giving you guys my money, your price is too high”
Him: “We do price match y’know..”
Me, after getting the website on my phone, and getting the tyre deal in plain view: “Can you match this?”
Him, looking very concerned: “Err… no, we… er… can’t match that. I thought you meant like one of the high street fitters…”
Me: “no, I meant these guys, a hundred pounds cheaper than you!”
Him: silemce…

So a quick call to the firm and a booking later, and before you know it Daniel was ringing me saying he was in the car park at my office, ready to start fitting tyres. What a decent young man he was too – great to talk with about what needed doing, no mystery, jargon or techie babble… and he said he’d call me when it was done.

30 minutes later – I kid you not, I had not had enough time to go in to the office, make a coffee and finish it before he was back on the phone – 30 minutes later it was done.

The price? £100 saving on premium car tyres, compared to Audi. All done at work, no fuss, no drama, no waiting around. Would I use them again? You bet!

Windscreen replacement Audi A5 Cabriolet

I had the misfortune of getting a crack on my car wind screen and have been attempting to get it repaired. Now, the job is never straight forward, I know, but to date I have been let down three times by the same company.

I am covered by my insurers – a trading company of Hastings insurance called Insure, and whilst there is an excess, the rest is at least covered. However, they deal with Nationwide Crash Repairs in Leicester, who I have had the dubious pleasure of dealing with. Now – I am not saying anything about the quality of thier service, which, to be fair, is actually pretty good in the way they deal with you. There is at least clear communication… it’s just that they cannot seem to get the repair completed.

The first booking was over two weeks ago, and I was told the repair could take place at work. The time and date organised, I waited for my car to get its new glass. However, I didn’t get an engineer, I got a call *on the day* to tell me the glass they sourced had a fault. So we rearrange…

The second attempt was also cancelled *on the day* because the engineer’s van had a problem and he couldn’t get to me. He could get to other clients but I was way too far down the list to be able to say it was possible. That alone as curious.

Today I get the third call *on the day* to tell me the repair required special ‘clips’. These were not with the engineer and so we would have to delay again. This is getting beyond a joke – we’ve rearranged for next Tuesday now.

So tell me – if the first glass was damaged, the clips would have been in, right…? And if the second attempt was down to a vehicle issue, the clips would have still been in… right? So why now are there no clips? Do all Audi A5’s get broken screens around the same time and the clips get used up?

It just doesn’t make sense.

So let’s see what happens on Tuesday – I’ll post pictures and let you know if it actually all goes ahead! Until then, I am saying I am less than impressed with being let down three times and on what many would consider to be spurious reasons… Good luck if you are dealing with the same issues from the same company – I’d love to know how you got on, and whether my experience is simply a fluke.

Who Moved Stonehenge?

Stonehenge Visitor Centre
What was wrong with the old center?


For years and years, I’ve been a loyal visitor to Stonehenge. The ancient monument sits proudly alongside the A303 and every time I go past it I want to go and visit it. I first went there as a child, aged about 4 or 5 probably. I remember at the time being allowed to walk amongst the stones and actually climbing and sitting on them whilst the guide droned on about where we were. I must have had some kind of moment there back in 1970, as I have always loved going to see the site.

Until today, that is.

Today, I drove along the A303 and sat in traffic jam after jam. I’d had enough, so took a familiar detour to go along the ‘other’ road (B3083 to Shrewton, and then turn right along the A360) that meets up at the same roundabout, but passes the Stonehenge visitor centre. Imagine my surprise when I found the road ahead closed, and a strange new building on the landscape, approximately two miles from the monument itself. Instead of the familiar and always friendly visitor experience, I was greeted by a very modern and slightly disturbing piece of architecture, and no sign of a tunnel under the road to scamper along in eager anticipation. Oh no, those days are now a relic, just like the monument.

On arriving, and after paying a fiver to park (you do get it refunded), you go to a large and fairly open covered space. To your right are a very dominating set of three toilets. To your left, a cafe. Behind the toilets is an exhibition, and behind the cafe is a souvenir shop. Between the two is a set of kiosks to buy your tickets. I already hated it.

Regardless, the ticket buying is slick, the exhibition very techy… but I am sad to say not a patch on the underground time tunnel of before. It doesn’t come close to raising the excitement of it’s older version, and everything is on display in museum type cases. Modern, brightly lit, and not at all what it was – that’s great, some might say – that’s progress!

Out of the exhibition you can see a mock neolithic village, complete with fibre glass sarson stone on a wooden frame. it looked fake, it is fake and it doesn’t help. Up until then I am going with the new feel, but then the very worst thing happens. You get on a bus to go and visit the stones.

The new visitor centre is about 2 miles from the stones. You can walk it, if you’re energetic enough, and can go past barrows and other antiquities. Lovely. But a bus is a must for anyone who is older, infirm, too young, lazy, wants a bit of help… in fact, nearly everyone. And sitting on a  bus for two miles to get to the monument is nowhere as exciting as a time tunnel and rushing through it to get to the stones!

This is not the way to build up anticipation and excite the youngsters – or indeed the old ‘uns! It is a sure fire way to build an anti-climax. This, English heritage have done in spades. So much of an anti-climax that I couldn’t wait to leave. So I go on the bus to trek the two miles back and was ushered, I kid you not, into the shop. Filled with the usual ‘henge based goods, it did nothing for me. I went for a bite to eat instead.

Pork Pie Salad
Pork Pie Salad - but it is revolting

The cafe feels new, clean, modern – excellent, I thought. I found a pork pie and salad box for £4.75 – a bit high, but it looked tasty. At the till I learned that despite the ‘offer to buy’ on the shelf, the price to pay was a hefty £6.75 instead. I protested, but to no avail. I decided to pay up, and eat. And when I did I just about gave up – the food is a disgrace. The pie was filled with a tasteless mush not at all resembling pork chunks – more like mechanically recovered meat from the inside of a sausage.. revolting texture, and all encased in the most abysmal and salty pastry I’ve ever had the misfortune to taste. Two salad potatoes, two slices of cucumber, a cherry tomato, some ‘slaw and about a tonne of lettuce – mostly iceberg, nothing close to tasty.

Tasteless, badly priced and served with no more than a wooden fork that would be at home at a seaside chip shop.

It cost me a fiver to park, £17.50 to get in and (with a drink) £9 to eat – except I didn’t – I left it.

I toyed with the idea of joining English Heritage today. And then decided not to. This is NOT the experience I want each time I go to Stonehenge – a conveyor belt of tourists, not one ounce of excitement and everything geared towards getting people in and out fast. A two mile bus ride… it’s a nonsense. A pastiche of what was there, and as far as I can see, there’s no reason why the centre could not have been a *lot* closer to the monument.

Now, if English Heritage also run their other 400 sites throughout the country in the same way I want no part of it at all. I’ll not join an organisation so clearly disjointed from the user experience and so appallingly and obviously driven to a quick buck. This is NOT what English Heritage used to be about, and not what I want it to be now. So I’ll keep my cash and buy membership to the National Trust instead.

And what is even more sad, I’ll never visit Stonehenge like that again. I’d implore you all to protest if, like me, you have gone to it since the 70s or before, and now found your visit there to be something very removed from what it was. OK – so the stones are in the same geographic location, but everything that was special about them has been moved. Or ‘re-moved’… you decide.

Rolling Stage Hire, stage on a truck

As the year moves on I am getting more and more excited about the prospect of getting the Rolling Stage Hire vehicle up and running! The stage is attached to an Iveco 17t two axel rigid truck, and folds down on the passenger side. Behind it is the actial side of the rigid box, but that has a set of double patio doors in it. The inside of the box has a fully fitted studio space, and can act as a broadcast studio or as a main office for an event. There is another room, set up as a ‘green room’ too.

The vehicle comes equipped with a 2Kw PA system, best for playing music or talking to members of the public. It *can* be provided with a full live PA for a band, but at the moment that isn’t the main purpose for the truck. There is a lighting rig to finish it off, mounted on a ‘Duratruss’ system.

You can see more about it at

Edirol UA-101, external USB soundcard, Garageband

Have you ever wanted to split the output from your garageband tracks into different channels? It turns out that whilst you can bring multiple inputs into garageband and record each to a separate track as you are composing, so you can output these tracks when you play back.

The secret lies in using a decent external sound card and plug it in to your USB port. As an example, I recently bought an Edirol UA-101 device off eBay (they are a bit like hen’s teeth though) and wanted to use it on the community radio station as part of an outside broadcast solution. These wonderful little boxes allow you to set your mac playback through to USB and then collect it and split to different channels. The UA-101 has ten such (or five stereo) which is more than enough for what I needed.

Just connecting it to the mac and it is identified as a valid sound device – go into your Settings/Audio and set it to be the playback device. In Garageband preferences, make sure that it is being used there too, and you can then allocate a channel per track so that on playback you can send each track out. From the UA-101 you then connect the output to a mixer and you can then manually fade in each track from Garageband exactly as you want it. This avoids having to adjust the audio levels in garageband all the time (something I find great fun, but a little clunky), and you can then send your mixer output off to be recorded at the levels you create with the mixer. Genius!

Obviously, there are later models than the UA-101 that you can use – Saffire, Roland Octa to name a few. These are more and more frequently using Firewire over USB, and that’s not a bad thing in general – but I kind of like the way the USB interface works. Oh, the Octa is around £450 new, but the UA-101, if you can find one second hand, will be about half of that or less…