A Question of Confidence.


My Dear Beloved Reader,

The other day, well actually it was June 4, I found myself hurtling around “The Bowl” at Millbrook Proving Ground in a brand new Aston Martin Vanquish at speeds of just under 100mph with my arms folded while driving and I was quietly confident! Not a bead of perspiration was dripping from my brow and I will tell you why. First, however, a few words about what I was doing and why.

When Ben Lowden of my favourite motoring web site, http://www.pistonheads.com suggested that I might like a day out driving an AM Vanquish with a few other “enthusiastic drivers” I had to give myself a really good pinch. To make it really interesting the event was going to be at The Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire. Getting into this high security facility, unless you have the right introduction, is absolutely impossible. This proving ground is used by the industry and the M.O.D. to try out and test their vehicles. You see all sorts of interesting and interestingly weird vehicles either trundling or zooming around one of the five tracks on this seven hundred and sixty acre site. Photography of any description is absolutely forbidden and it was made abundantly clear that any breach of this rule and I would be summarrily dispatched. So, it was with a great deal of reluctance I had to leave my photo and video gear in the Aston Martin Clubhouse which is in the only clubhouse actually on the site!

Milbrook

I was treated to a number of drives around three of the tracks. My first drive was around The Alpine Track. This twisty, hairy, glorious track is famous for the “Ski Jump” where it’s really easy to take off but it’s a completely blind crest and if you do become airborne you better have the take off just right! Further down from the “Ski Jump” is the famous stretch that was used in the famous car chase in Casino Royal. This stunt holds the record for the most complete  barrell rolls of a car. Seven in all and was achieved by setting off a nitrogen charge under one of the rear wheels as the car in real life would not have tipped at all! The stunt was completed by a driver in a modified car, complete with roll cage and no CGI effects were used.

You can watch this fantastic stunt by clicking this link: www.https://youtu.be/YTYwDTRv0XI

Although the Alpine Track was challenging after the third lap it became hugely enjoyable and the bellowing sound of the V12 six litre engine working its way through the fantastic eight speed gearbox was simply awesome, especially as this session was in the Volante and as it was a beautiful day we had the roof down!

516490_vanquish_2015

I have to thank my co driver/instructor Alan White a.k.a. Dr. Evil for his guidance throughout the day. You might wonder why Alan is known as Dr. Evil? He’s the examiner for all the drivers on the Aston Martin racing team so I was doubly lucky to have him guiding me round all the tracks that day.

After a short coffee break in the club house we strapped ourselves into the coupe and at this point Dr. Evil was driving and he informed me we were going to “Do The Bowl”.

We meandered from the clubhouse passing a convoy of Mercedes white vans that were being tested and obviously well trained, driving very close together and not bothering to signal when turning right or left and then we entered a slip road and joined the traffic in The Bowl. The Bowl is like a giant porcelaine tea cup and from memory it’s three kilometres in circumference and marked with 5 traffic lanes. Dr. Evil quickly moved through the traffic to the top lane at the rim of this giant tea cup and having reached his cruising speed Dr. Evil removed his hands from the steering wheel, folded his arms and proceeded to converse on the subject of driving with a balanced throttle. To say my chin hit the floor would be most appropriate. I must have looked like a goldfish midway through pronouncing the name “Bob”. Then we left The Bowl and it was my turn!

I was in the driving seat and Dr. Evil and been on his walkie talkie to notify the other vehicles being tested that I was about to enter the bowl and I proceeded along the slip road just like joining a motorway except I knew that I had to avoid a pair of camouflaged Lotus cars, a Rolls Royce covered in a Zebra wallpaper (which looked rather foolish) and a Maclaren F1 that was being tested enthusiastically to the point of mechanical failure. I smoothly took my position up on the rim of the bowl and was instructed to maintain a speed between 93mph and 98mph. Having quickly attained the required speed Dr. Evil asked me to remove my hands from the steering wheel and fold my arms and then I had to drive with a balanced throttle. Too much power and I crept towards the rim and too little I would begin the decent into the lane of the insane Maclaren! Knowing these facts concentrates the mind and I was soon getting the hang of driving with a balanced throttle which if you’re ever with me in my Aston Martin DB9, I will be happy to demonstrate balance throttle control to you while negotiating a roundabout. Then it was time for lunch.

Lunch was a hurried affair not because the food was poor indeed it was very good, nor was the conversation dull, in fact it was fascinating. It was just that I was eager to get back on the track! My final track of the day was to drive this beautiful Aston Martin Vanquish Coupe down a mile long straight as fast as I could.

Well that sounds easy but at the end of the mile long straight is a right hand banked curve and you need to enter the bend at the right point and at the right speed. Of course I was confident because Dr. Evil would tell me when to start progressive braking prior to the bend. I had a number of runs down this straight and upon each one I was getting progressively faster and then it was time for my final run having already clocked speeds above 150mph.

The final run was to be done with the gearbox in automatic mode rather than manual, with the sport setiings switched to race mode and the suspension settings set for the track. The clock counted down and we were off. The engine howling like a deep throated banshee as we raced through the gears. Faster and faster so the landscape in my peripheral vision was becoming a blur and racing towards that right hand banked curve. Surely, Dr. Evil should have told me by now to start the progressive braking process, he must do it now, I mean it really has to be now but my foot has the pedal pressed to the metal and I begin to feel like Luke Skywalker on his final run to drop the photon torpedoes to destroy the Death Star. Brake, brake, brake utters Dr. Evil and I enter the right hand banked curve using a balanced throttle, out of the bend to a progressive stop. I’d hit 168mph and it was a blast!

Sitting in the car parked in the lay bye watching some weird electric motor bikes that looked like old fashioned ice cream salesman with Darth Vader helmets on hurtling past at high speed the notorious Dr. Evil told me that I was a pretty cool, confident, customer. Apparently, most drivers on the course didn’t manage the number of runs that I had taken nor had they hit such a high speed and often they were returned to the clubhouse in a pool of sweat in need of a cup of tea. It was at this point I had to tell Alan a.k.a. Dr. Evil the truth. You see dear reader, I had worked out that no one was going to let me total a new Vanquish and I had learnt early on that Alan was married with children and it was unlikely that he had a death wish. So, all I had to do was to follow his instructions and borrow his confidence in the car and his knowledge of the tracks that we had driven on that glorious day.

So, dear reader, the next time you feel a little low in confidence find someone that has gone down the path, listen to their wisdom and borrow their confidence!

Until my next post……..Toodleoo!

Cadillac Ranch, The Other Memphis & A Tornado Shelter!


Today has been one of my best drives of this road trip so far! Probably because very little of it was on the Interstate network and I saw some interesting stuff and met some fascinating people.

My day started late as I had a bit of a lazy lie in bed and did not leave the hotel until 09:50. My first stop was just four miles away at The Cadillac Ranch in Potter County, Texas. This is a public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, Texas, U.S. It was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm, and it consists of what were (when originally installed during 1974) either older running used or junk Cadillac automobiles, representing a number of evolutions of the car line (most notably the birth and death of the defining feature of mid twentieth century Cadillacs; the tail fin) from 1949 to 1963, half-buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. I lifted this information from the font of all knowledge “Wikipedia” and I have my doubts as to the accuracy of the angle that these cars have been buried. However, I took several photographs of this installation and you can see some of them below and others on my Flickr photo stream. Just click on the “More Photos” link in the Flickr panel on the right hand side of this blog. You would really help me dear reader if you would leave your comment on the Flickr site as to which of these Cadillac photos you like as I’m having a tough time picking just one!

Forty minutes later and I’m now on route for Dallas having thoroughly enjoyed walking around the graffiteed Cadillacs and on the slip road at 10:45 I saw a puppy dog standing over a lawn sprinkler cooling off and then nonchalantly walking off with a good shake. Thirty miles later and I have left the I-40 east and joined the US 287 South in the direction of Fort Worth. On either side of this dual split highway lies rolling green pastureland as far as the eye can see with an occasional small herd of cattle doing what comes naturally. Later the pasturelands change to newly planted very well irrigated wheat fields.

I decided to have a walk around a very small town named Claude and spotted a beautiful library building almost opposite which could only be described as a somewhat decrepit city hall. I noticed that discreetly tucked in the corner of the library was a portable barbecue, see if you can spot in the photograph and it made me wonder what the librarian was having for lunch! Leaving Claude the scenery changed as the landscape to my north became dotted with giant rolls of hay and to my south ploughed land planted and irrigated by those long metal structures that remind me of a wing from an ancient biplane.

Ninety miles into my journey I stopped at the Donley County Safety Rest Area to answer the call of nature and afterwards I walked around the information centre which was very well laid out and presented. You can see a couple of pictures of the interior of this information centre on my Flickr photostream.

My next port of call was just down the road at Memphis, Texas not too be confused with the one in Tennessee! I was walking around the red pavered road taking some pictures of this small pretty town and I noticed a bumper sticker “I STOP FOR QUAIL”. Now that’s not the sort of thing you see in England every day and I stopped to photograph it. Just at that moment the lady owner of the vehicle popped out of a shop and spoke with me. This charming lady of indeterminate years invited me in to see her art collection that was being hung in preparation for a sale at the weekend. While viewing this most attractive collection of western paintings (some were better than others) another lady entered the emporium and was introduced to me. This lady became very excited upon meeting me and it’s fair to say that it’s not that often I have that affect upon members of the opposite sex! However, when this lady invited me to come with her next door to sign her visitors book I understood that it was in her capacity as the office manager of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce. We had a pleasant conversation while I duly signed her book and Susan McQueen, for that is her name, told me that she would relay our meeting to the members of the chamber at the next meeting. I don’t think an awful lot goes on in this pretty little town but in listening to Susan’s enthusiasm I’m sure things will change. As an example there is a very pretty historical hotel which is currently being refurbished so perhaps that town in Tennessee may have to rely a little more than just Elvis to remain the one that everybody remembers!

Leaving Memphis I noticed that it was 102F (38.89C) and was soon on my journey with fields of ploughed red earth either side of the highway which soon gives way to fields of golden wheat which is very picturesque. I stopped for lunch at The Dairy Queen in Childress (population 6,109) and suffered a near edible grilled sandwich of the famous rubber chicken variety.

After 166 miles on I stopped at Hardman County Safety Rest Area for a quick break and was comforted to note that this particular rest area boasted a tornado shelter which was about the size of a large utility room in a modern home. I suppose that if one of those frightening phenomena are bearing down upon you it doesn’t matter how cosy it would get in the shelter! Thirty miles later and I drive through a small town called Vernon. This must have been a massive seed producing area as within the town there is a huge factory reminiscent of a Lancashire cotton mill that was called the Crown Seed Company. Massive towers, broken windows, rusting machinery and a general air of dilapidation.

After 238 miles I’m now approaching Wichita Falls and I have joined the I-44 west and the skyline of this sizable town is ahead of me. The Interstate system took me over and through Wichita Falls and I am now traveling along US 82 East. Just over 330 miles into my drive and I have joined TX114 which will take me into Dallas which is about 40 miles away. This last piece of my journey is conducted in rush hour traffic and I’m pleased when I arrive at my hotel and I promise myself a soak in the bath!

For the techies among you the mileage covered today was 371.2 at an average speed of 59.4 mph and achieved 23.9 mpg.

 

Until my next post, Toodleoo!

Thrills, Spills, Snow And A Show.


Sunday 29 May

Having gently awoken She Who Must Be Obeyed from her sonorous slumber and having enjoyed a healthy breakfast (orange juice, muesli, coffee and a huge croissant laden with butter and preserve) we put best foot forward and in no time we had collected my Corvette from the valet. A gentle drive down Las Vegas Boulevard on a Sunday morning brought us to our destination, The Stratosphere! We took the lift (elevator for my American readers) which speedily rose the 1,149 feet to the observation deck where we enjoyed the views over Las Vegas. Not only did we gaze in wonder at the wondrous panorama but at the congenital idiots that paid good money to be sent spinning out into the atmosphere on reputedly the highest roller coaster in the world. We were also amazed at the foolhardy that had forked out $149.00 to be attached to wire and then flung off the top of the building hurtling down to the ground 1,149 feet below. If you look closely at one of the photographs below you will see a person in a blue overall plummeting towards the earth’s surface allegedly seeking entertainment. To see a larger image just click on the photo or click on the Flickr links on the right hand side of this blog to see images of the day and navigate to Day 12.

By now the temperature in Las Vegas had risen to 87F (30.5C for my British readers) and we decided to drive out to Mt. Charleston about 40 miles away. We were soon climbing steadily enjoying the scenery and breathing in the pine laden scent which was superior to the artificial aroma emitted by some popular lavatory cleaning agents. We stopped for lunch at a ski lodge opposite Mt. Charleston Baptist Church (have you noticed that where there is a church there’s always a hostelry of some description?) at an elevation of 6000 feet and the temperature was a pleasant 65F (18.33C) although She Who Must Be Obeyed was making noises about getting her fur lined cape out of the boot (trunk) of the car! Fortunately, for all concerned, on this beautiful sunny day there was a blazing log fire inside the lodge! Continuing our healthy eating regime we lunched upon a chicken salad wrap accompanied with deep goose fat fried potatoes and to stay healthy we had unsweetened iced tea to which She Who Must Be Obeyed added a small quantity of aspartame.

After enjoying the vista from the terrace and being duly fortified we continued the assault on Mt. Charleston summit and we reached as far as we could go at an elevation of 8000 feet at the foot of the aptly named Cathedral Rock. By now the temperature was a refreshing 57F (13.89C) and She Who Must Be Obeyed retired to the heated seats of our chariot. It was amazing that within such a short distance one could leave the frenetic activity and desert temperatures of Las Vegas and enjoy such tranquil scenery and naturally pine scented fresh air! Please feel free to view todays photographs by clicking on “More Photos” in the Flickr panel on the right hand side of this blog.

We returned to our sumptuous room at the Bellagio in good time to change for our group dinner which was at the Milos restaurant at the Cosmopolitan. Then we were treated to the spectacular Cirque Du Soleil show in the “O” theatre at the Bellagio. I cannot find an adjective to describe this wonderful, ephemeral event (OK just two then) and I had to keep reminding myself that this 1800 seater theatre with its swimming pool set in the stage, that holds over a half million gallons of water is inside a hotel! This show was breathtaking and from now on I will look upon synchronised  swimming in a different light. If you ever get the chance to see this spectacle then go and enjoy!

Until my next post, Toodleloo!

Viva Las Vegas!


I was up early this morning and out running just after 6 am and did my 3.2 miles. While I was out pounding the pavement I observed a youth of school age meandering along and when he reached the stop light he pushed the button in order to change the lights so that he could cross the road. However, on this long straight road there was no traffic in sight and the youth waited patiently for the light to change. Obviously, this young man has been so well trained that his decision powers will not stand in him good stead in later life!

By 8.45 am I was on the road having had an enjoyable evening at The Papago Inn, Scottsdale, AZ. It’s already 74F and overcast. My journey took me on US93 through Joshua Tree Parkway. A very enjoyable twisty, mountainous road with very unusual boulder formations and after 185 miles I joined  the I 40. At 276 miles I had crossed the border from Arizona into Nevada. This whole stretch of the I 40 in both states was besieged with radar speed traps awaiting the unsuspecting motorist.

I arrived at The Bellagio Hotel in Las vegas and was duly greeted by my good lady wife, Diana, a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed and my car was emptied of luggage and duly whisked away before I could note today’s running statistics.

Having unpacked my bags in our very nice room Diana and I had a leisurely stroll and did a little light shopping! Light, in so far as the purchases did not weigh very much but quite heavy in other respects but when She Who Must Be Obeyed decides upon an article then my wallet seems to lose all sense of reason!

Tomorrow we have plans to visit somewhere famous but very unique!

Until my next post, Toodloo!

Road Trip Day Two.


Day 2 of the road trip starts having stayed in North Tallahassee, Florida last night at La Quinta In  which was clean and comfortable but does need refurbishing but it was as cheap as chips! Got going at 07.20 this morning in an overcast , drizzly morning. Thirty three minutes later I had a unique experience. I crossed from one time zone to another by car, so now I was traveling at about 40 minutes earlier than when I left! Very weird!

By now I was hungry and having gone past several breakfast places, thinking I’ll just go one more and then of course nothing for miles. So, I was grateful to get a large coffee and a sausage and egg McMuffin for the princely sum of $4.61 at the golden arches on the Marianna ramp on the I 10.

The landscape at this point became much more agricultural with undulating fields of haystacks with occasional herds of beef cattle. A little later on my attention was drawn to what appeared to be a fighter jet stuck onto a very large drain pipe. I pulled into the rest area at Santa Rosa County on mile marker 30 on the I 10 to investigate. Have a look at the picture below and on my Flickr photo stream (just hit the link in the right hand panel). Turned out to be a McDonnel Douglas A4 Skyhawk fighter jet that used to be in service in the seventies and used by The Blue Angel acrobatic team. Those that flew the aircraft referred to it as “Henemans Hot Rod” or “The Scooter” I thought it was a pretty impressive piece of sculpture to put in a car park miles from anywhere!

Two hundred miles later on the weather had dramatically improved for the better. Blue skies with white fleecy clouds. Gorgeous! Three miles on and I crossed the state line into Alabama (see photo below). There is an interesting stone laid beneath the flagstaff on the state line which is inscribed with “Alabama We Dare Defend Our Rights”.

Four miles later and I’m on the approach to Mobile, Alabama and crossing over a large expanse of water I get the first glimpse of the city’s skyline. I found Mobile to be a very interesting city with a delightful mix of modern architecture and a very pretty historic quarter which is composed of antebellum fine houses. You can see more pictures of this on my Flickr pages just click on the link at the right.

Having checked in at the Battleship Inn (excellent and good value) it was time to view the battleship USS Alabama which was absolutely fantastic. This ship is huge. Under battle conditions she weighed in at an impressive 45,000 tons, carried 2,500 men and had a maximum speed of 28 knots which is a little over 32 miles per hour. I have taken quite a lot of pictures of the interior and exterior of the ship and some other exhibits and you will find them on my Flickr photo stream (click the link in the right hand panel) and I have titled most of them so you will know what you’re looking at. Honestly, it is worth you taking five minutes to have a look at the sheer size and complexity of such a vast war machine.

Tonight having had Oysters Rockefeller (one of my favourites) followed by grilled flounder stuffed with shrimps and crab meat at The Captains Table (next door to my hotel) I took my trusty tripod and camera for one last picture of this illustrious retired battleship. Next time I do this I will wear trousers and socks. Those damned mosquitos got me!

Don’t forget to look at my photographs and feel free to comment on this blog or on the photographs on Flickr (by now you should know where the link is).

For the technically minded the mileage covered today was 253.6 at an average speed of 62.7 mph and achieved 20.4 mpg.

Until my next post, Toodleloo!

Day One!


Today started off with a big surprise. As I opened the garage door I was met with a resounding cheer from the Hyacinth Place Send Off Committee. With grateful thanks to Anna who’s idea this was and for making the food and to Sara for providing the mega balloons and to Diana (a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed) for opening the champagne! It’s amazing what that lot will do for a glass of champagne at 8.30 in the morning! Cy Bricker put his arm around me and said “I love you man and you’ve got your shirt on inside out!” Well I was up early! It was all a bit of a rush and I hardly had anytime to say a proper goodbye to “She Who Must Be Obeyed”. Finally I was on my way.

I had a very pleasant drive north on the I 75 with not too much traffic which became even easier when I started to go west on the I 10. The weather was perfect and I was enjoying the change of scenery as it became greener and undulating with a mixture of well forested areas and beef cattle fields. However, it was not to last as, the skies changed and I ran into very heavy rain. The Corvette took all this in its stride and the car felt planted and stable even going through quite deep surface water.

I had decided to spend the afternoon visiting the Tallahassee Natural Science Museum which is an open site of about 50 acres but unfortunately the rain had settled in for the afternoon. So, I took the opportunity of spending a happy couple of hours at The Tallahassee Automobile Museum which was well presented and has some fantastic vehicles including two ex movie Batmobiles!

Later on the weather had cleared and I had a drive around the city of Tallahassee which is the state capital of Florida. This is an eclectic mix of fine buildings and others!

This evening I dined upon Seafood Gumbo followed by Steak and Shrimp Sizzler with Louisiana sauce at Barnacle Bill’s. It was very good indeed but I’m glad that I treated the sauce with respect as it had a mighty “kick” to it! The only way I can liken the main course would be to a Spanish mixed paella with a kick!

For the technically minded of you out there, I have covered 369.3 miles at an average speed of 54.8 mph and achieved 20.7mpg.

I have posted a few photographs below but you can see all the photographs taken today by clicking on the “My Photo Stream” link in the right hand side panel of this blog.

Tomorrow the weather forecast promises to be good so I should have an excellent drive to my next destination where I will be visiting something quite unique!

Until my next post, toodle loo!