And what would you like, Sir?
Well, I would like to road test shiny new cars and then loosely cobble some words together in exchange for some sort of monetary consideration. But alas, I do not have a suitable podium from which to crow about the cavernous luggage area of a Skoda Superb Combi or the immense disappointment that encompassed me on my first drive in the Renault Twingo. I suspect that to acquire such a podium, I will need high readership figures. And seeing as one of the more popular Motorbanter pieces was Convenience Food – this instalment of Motorbanter is in fact, a restaurant review.
In my defence, if you think about that memorable spin when you and one or two others jumped in the car and headed for Roundstone, Enniscrone, Dingle, or where ever your happy place is, that drive is likely to have involved a visit to some restaurant or another. It might have been fish and chips. It might have been three courses. Either way, the best road trips have a nice meal to accompany the scenery and tarmac.
Thursday after Christmas. Galway City. Wandering around turning gift vouchers into clothes. Decided we would get a bite to eat while we are in the city. Tried Caprice. It was busy but after a few minutes we were guided to a table for two. The table was a nice bit of furniture but to win my custom I will also require acknowledgment, a menu, some glimmer of hope that the wheels have been set in motion so as to produce a meal to place on this beautiful table. We gave it ten minutes and left.
There are a few things that I simply despise; public transport, drivers who are looking at their phone instead of the traffic light when it goes green, crocs, and queuing to name a handful. Tried the Cellar. It tends to be reliably good. It was either a queue or we just happened to enter before they started the music for the conga line. Either way, I was getting hangry so it wasn’t for me.
Access to Papa Rich Street Food Kitchen is via a narrow stairway. You emerge into a square room, service counter along one wall, the rest of the walls decorated with bright murals. It was busy but they had a table for us, where we were issued with menus, iced water and informed that they would require the table back for five o’ clock and that it was now 3.40pm. Polite, professional, precise.
According the blurb on their Facebook page: “Papa Rich uses only the freshest ingredients to create Asian street food inspired dishes from ancient family recipes at affordable prices”.
Indeed, they do.
And what would you like, Sir? Spring rolls were crispy and nicely complemented by the homemade chilli sauce. Cantonese style duck with a side of hoi sin sauce and chunky real chips. My main course was Thit Ga Chien Tôm. This was lightly battered chicken, veg, cherry tomatoes and pineapple. The sauce tasted like satay sauce’s more authentic, spicy, peanutty cousin. It was a good combination of flavours.
The menu has plenty on it. There were some tempting soups listed that I would go back again to investigate. Starters are €5. Mains are €10. It is a nice place to sit. They have wine. Service was very good. They do takeaway orders but unlike so many others it is a restaurant first and foremost.
Worth integrating into your next Sunday drive.
Did you know, you can now buy a Ford Focus with a tiny little 1.0 litre engine? Ford have developed an engine that is small, efficient and kind to the environment, and yet it produces enough power to propel a good sized family hatchback around, without feeling unduly burdened. Other manufacturers are performing similar tricks. With the use of turbos and witchcraft, they are churning out wonderfully efficient power plants. Big, fuel guzzling motors are becoming a thing of the past. This is a good thing. It is understandable and logical. People want a nice car that doesn’t cost the world to run. In every sense of the word.
When I saw this big green tank of a Mercedes S Class pop up on Donedeal.ie, I recognised it as the car I drove past in Galway most days, and had often admired. Obviously I wouldn’t buy it, but it was worth a phone call. Talking to the owner, I said I’d be interested in viewing it. Just for shits and giggles. Not actually going to buy it. I mean, where would I put it? I haven’t space for 18 feet of luxobarge around the house. So I took it for a very short test drive and had a walk around to examine the paint and various imperfections. Definitely not the car for me. I told the seller I’d have a think about it, you know, to let him down gently.
Four hours later, I’m calling him, and I can hear myself say ‘Yep, that’s perfect, I’ll take it.’
WT actual F?
It was a daft thing to do but the 1992 Mercedes Benz 300se is sitting outside now, and I have no regrets. It’s no show car. It’s more ‘show & tell’. It is nearly 25 years old and I’m the sixth owner. It could do with a few bulbs, an indicator lens, possibly a wiper motor, new wing mirror glass, and a damn good clean. But, to drive, it is pure old school luxury. This was the car that Mercedes threw $1 billion at in the development stage in order to produce something special. Something that they could sell to new markets. This was the car that Mercedes used to break into America and Japan. It was sold with various engines, ranging from 2.8 litres to a whopping 6.0 V12. It was ministerial transport. Presidential transport. Very popular with world leaders and dictators, Vladimir Putin and Muammar Gaddafi were fans. Also, Joe Dolan had the coupe version.
Economical, it is not. The power delivery is smooth and insistent. You don’t get shoved back into the driver’s seat with much enthusiasm but it does pull and pull until you run out of road. I have no idea where the top speed is. It feels like it might not have a top speed. It may just carry on accelerating. The brakes are good – for 25 year old brakes. The car weighs around two tonnes and that weight is something you’re always aware of. The ride is composed. Outside noise is muted with the thick carpet, and double glazed windows. There is a sense of occasion when you sit in the oversized seat and point the imposing grille at the road.
A new Ford Focus is a much better car in nearly every measurable way. Indeed, most new cars are better that my S Class. But not many can match it for that sense of occasion.
I spent all of last week using a Nokia 130. It is a basic old school mobile phone. Talk, text, torch. My normal smartphone, the HTC One M8S,suffered a workplace accident and was out of action while the nice people at Fun Max, Galway Shopping Centre, sourced a new screen. The Nokia was a shock to the system. It seems I have become damn near dependent on my touchscreen, technology packed, always online, HTC.
I missed Facebook and Donedeal and WhatsApp and the ability to save a message as a task so I would remember to reply. My apologies to the people who I neglected last week. Several times, I was disheartened to realise I had no camera handy. I didn’t miss the short battery life, but I suppose that is the price you pay for all the good stuff. Well, that and about €400. The Nokia 130, by comparison, is available for just €29.99. A mere 7.5% of the cost of my HTC. That very small outlay gets you a device with many days of battery life, a reliable means of verbal and electronic communication, a calendar, and an embarrassing ringtone.
Which brings us to the Fiat Panda. For just 7.5% of the cost of a new Ford Mondeo 1.5TDCI (€27,750) you can have a 2006ish Fiat Panda 1.2. About two grand will get you a good example of the Panda. The new Mondeo is all the car the average person needs. It has some seats, a big boot, it is efficient, it will propel you from 0-100kph in 11.7 seconds, and it’s a good looking machine. So what would you miss if you were to use a ten year old Fiat Panda? On paper, the Panda holds its own. Despite having only half the power of the Mondeo, it is only a little slower to 100kph. It still seats five. The load space is obviously smaller than that of the Mondeo, but the Panda is quite tall so it’s still useful.
The driving experience in the Fiat is typical of a small Italian hatchback – rewarding if you are willing to drive without any mechanical sympathy whatsoever. Redline it in every gear and enjoy the busy, revvy soundtrack, as the engine tries to escape its mountings, blasting along at what feels like the raggedy edge. With its skinny wheels, tall leaning body and characterful engine 80kph feels like plenty. The controls fall easily to hand, particularly the gear stick, which protrudes from the dash. It is easy to park. The wing mirrors are a bit small but there is plenty of glass so the blind spots are easily accounted for and the cabin feels light and airy.
So why doesn’t Mondeo man just save twenty five thousand euros and drive a used Fiat Panda? The same reasons I threw the Nokia into the glovebox without a second thought when my HTC was repaired – my smartphone does the same job as the basic Nokia but it does the job so much better. Sure, the Panda will get you to your destination, but in a new Ford Mondeo you will get there better. On a dark wet October evening, you are going to be more comfortable in the Ford. The lights are going to cut through the weather better. The speakers are going to sound better. The ride is going to be more refined. Overtaking will be a viable option rather than an outlandish notion.
Do you know what happens when you are in a professional setting and your Nokia 130 makes it’s woeful electronic beep meep message alert tone? People actually look at you and recalibrate their opinion of you. He has a very old phone. He is not at the races. I wonder if he is simple.
I’m not sure what people think of you if you drive a Fiat Panda. Not much probably.
Why? Just why do people look at all the used cars they can purchase for €1,200 and then decide on a Peugeot 206? You could have a decent Opel Corsa, VW Polo, Toyota Yaris or even a Nissan Micra – if you’re into that sort of thing.
Sure, the styling is pretty, with its nice lines and bonnet louvres. And they tend to be well equipped. And the ride is good.
- The pedals are tiny, and positioned off to the left. It is entirely possible to hit two of them together if your foot is any bigger than that of a toddler.
- Sloppy gear change.
- The fabric upholstery on the glovebox. Who decided that was a good idea? It is vile.
- The rear axle is prone to problems from water ingress.
- Useless little wing mirrors. You could hide a train in the blindspot.
- Electrical gremlins. Like most French cars of a certain age they do tend to have random electrical faults. Heater stuck on oven hot, speedometer not telling you anything about how fast you are going, indicators giving a little flash of full beam, to alert other road users to the fact that you have bought a terrible little car.
So please, if you are browsing the classifieds and you find yourself drawn to the Peugeot 206, just say no.
This is the writer’s personal opinion based on personal experience.
The last time I was at The National Ploughing Championships was 2006. It was held in Carlow that year. The only recollection I have from that visit is a young lad in wellingtons selling fireworks, and the Opel stand featuring a yellow Opel Speedster. It is possibly the only Opel Speedster I’ve ever seen in the metal. It was a little sports car similar to the Lotus Elise. Launched in 2000, and quietly dropped five years later, when it became apparent that nobody wanted to buy it.
Anyway, ten years had passed, and there seemed to be a bit of a buzz around The Ploughing 2016 so I decided to make the trip to Tullamore, and see what it was all about. Now, I don’t know if it was because it was so packed with people, or because I went on the last day of the event, or because I’m just not the right audience, but it was awful.
I was hoping to wander the stalls and do some impulse shopping. You know what I mean, maybe a big yellow torch that would shame a lighthouse and then fail to recharge ever again. Or a jacket covered in Volvo logos. Or a trolley jack. Sadly, that didn’t work out. I came away with the impression that farmers must adore paperwork – most of the stands were for insurance, banks, political parties, the RSA and various other boring, grown-up things. They were manned by fellas with shirts, ties and teeth. Not a flat cap or a firecracker within sight.
I’ve spoken to a few more qualified attendees since the trip, and they explained that I did it all wrong. Seemingly, the best way to experience The Ploughing Championships, is to hit the road before 6AM on the opening day, and explore the whole site before it gets busy and mucky from foot traffic. I’ll know for next time.
I hate leaving these things empty handed, but all I had coming home was mud stains up above my knees, heartburn from the €30 worth of hotdogs we ate, and a hankering for a 4×4 in my life.
Do you know what I love most about driving? What makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside while I’m driving? It’s the fact I’m not on the bus. I cannot recall a single happy memory involving a bus journey. I can remember filling the centre aisle with pink ice cream puke, when I was about 8. I can remember the bus ride, from swimming lessons, reeking of chlorine and diesel fumes, in primary school. I can remember a school tour to the Giant’s Causeway, which involved many hours, on a variety of buses. Whose bright idea was that? Lets get a bus from Galway to Antrim, and then get on a different bus, so a man with a microphone can tell us about our surroundings. One of our buses even had a police escort for reasons that were never made clear. I can remember how betrayed I felt when my lady persuaded me that the bus to Dublin Airport was a good idea. The buses are all brand new and have Wi-Fi and everything, and it will only cost twenty Euros. Sure, you would spend at least twice that on petrol and parking.
Well it was still awful. Sitting for the guts of three hours, in a seat exactly positioned to put pressure on your neck if you relaxed at all, or slouched to facilitate a nap. Every surface covered in a dizzying pattern of swirling browns and oranges. We would have been better off hitching a lift from one of those men who have sweets in their van.
After that, I put my foot down. From that day forth I vowed never to bus again. I’ll pay the parking, I’ll rent a car, I’ll get a taxi, it will be grand.
Flash forward to August 2016, Edinburgh. I’m standing at a bus stop on Niddrie Mains Road, staring at the digital sign, which predicts I shall be another seven minutes listening to Dangerous Dan tell me his stories. He is small, wiry, and a bit intense – “…happiest day of my life I got divorced. I was in jail at the time it came through. I knew she was a bad ‘un but… She worked in the garage there. I went down, and I said will ye marry me, and she said Aye. I was focked then.”
He is starting to get riled up about a football match, deftly rolling a cigarette, standing too close. What team d’ya follow yourself, lad? I’m beginning to think I might be focked, when the number 30 pulls up. I board, drop some Sterling in the coin box, and find a seat.
Petrol and parking are worth every penny. When travelling by car there is no compromise, no fixed departure time, no seats designed by a sadist, no sickening cheese and onion scented weirdo with his headphones turned up to eleven. An early morning drive to the airport can be enjoyable. Coffee in hand, holiday playlist on the radio, bags in the boot. I’m sticking to my guns this time. No more buses.