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This is an update on my earlier review. I have just given my Saab 9-5 a proper test run: 3200 miles over 3-weeks from Belfast to the South of France via Wales & England. The car was fully laden, with every available space taken for a camping holiday for four. Driving conditions for the outward 1200 mile journey were awful, with heavy traffic, rain and lots of spray. The return trip conditions were warm and dry. Overall, the car performed superbly. The Saab's forte is as a cruiser and it didn't disappoint. The 2.3 light pressure turbo automatic produced plenty of power for safe, rapid motorway driving. The Saab is not the sharpest handling car, but this is the only time (in 6 similar trips) that I have not noticed a deterioration in handling due to the extra weight in the boot. Fuel consumption was surprisingly good also. The outward trip returned a credible 38.7 mpg and I managed 41 mpg on the return section from Folkestone to Oxford - that was via the M25!! On the downside, I really missed the flexibility of a hatchback. The Saab has a large boot, but the restricted opening and height proved to be a handicap for this type of trip. I also discovered that the Sports mode setting really doesn't make much of a difference at motorway speeds. It is, however, useful for A - road overtaking and for those occasions where a little extra oomph makes a difference, such as joining traffic from a slip-road or inner-city acceleration. This trip was my first opportunity to use cruise control and I'm far from convinced about its usefulness. The roads were just too busy for it. My conclusion so far? I stepped out of this car after 1200 miles driving over 2 days feeling as if I had been for a 10 minute jaunt to the local supermarket. It was incredibly comfortable and added significantly to the enjoyment of the holiday. The Saab will not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is a magnificent long distance machine and I cant find anything serious to complain about so far. More updates will follow.
I had a rotten day at work today, so I’ve decided to make everyone else miserable by announcing the results of tomorrow night’s Pop Idol final. In case you have missed it, this is a show in the same vein as Popstars (guilty of producing Hear’say) where thousands of hopeful young singers expose their varying abilities to the nation in the hope of instant success. Having whittled the numbers down over the past months, ITV have captivated the nation as the final 10 have been knocked out one at a time until we are left with just two, Gareth and Will. Each week, the performers have displayed their wares in front of a live, sympathetic audience of mainly family and friends; been subjected to sometimes brutal, sometimes stupid comments from the ‘expert’ judges; and been voted in or out by the public. The aim of the show is to find the singer with the ‘X’ factor, talent and that special quality that will make millions for a record company. So who has won Pop Idol? It’s never as simple as it seems, because there are a few winners. First, there is the show itself. This is a crass, voyeuristic programme that defies all human reason to produce absolutely riveting TV. I wanted to hate it … but I haven’t missed a week and have found myself planning my Saturday nights around the performances and the announcement of the results. When I heard how they intended to drag out the finals, I thought it could never work. But this is clever television that sucks you into believing that you are really getting to know the young performers as they grow in front of your eyes. It’s weekly offerings are short enough to avoid boring you and entertaining enough to stop you changing channels. Second winners are the presenters Ant and Dec. I know, I can’t believe I’m saying this either. The image etched in my mind of these permanent pubescents is when they sang Let's Get Ready to Rumble as PJ and Duncan - never has there been a more inappropriate title for a song by a couple of the least hard-looking wimps you are ever likely to see. (Although New Kids on the Block’s ‘Hang Tough’ came close). I developed a sneaking respect for Ant and Dec when I saw their behind-the-scenes documentary of the making of the live Saturday morning kids show, SMTV - and they’ve grown on me ever since. On Pop Idol they have been silly without being irritating, and at times genuinely funny. They’ve got a bright future ahead of them. Third winners are the expert judges … at least some of them. There are four in all and I’ll announce the winners in reverse order. Dr. Fox is a DJ, well known to viewers of the Pepsi Chart show. He knows as much about musical talent as the average DJ, which is considerably less than the average TV viewer. He is the lightweight of the judges, with a flair for remarks that state the obvious and add nothing. Nicki Chapman is sharp music industry lady. She played a blinder in the Popstars series, but has been too measured and bland in her remarks in Pop Idol and has failed to shine. Pete Waterman is a legend in his own lifetime and knows his stuff. Sadly, he talks shite most of the time and is wildly inconsistent in his judgements. But he is entertaining. Simon Cowell is the Mr Nasty of the judges. In other words, he knows crap when he sees it and is the only one you would buy a second-hand artist from. He has lost his edge over the last few weeks, but still stands head and shoulders above the rest. A worthy winner. And the performers? Sorry Pop Idol, but I don’t think any of the 10 finalists was close to having the ‘X’ factor. The only singer worth listening to was Hayley and she was given the boot a few weeks ago. Of the two remaining singers, Gareth will win tomorrow night. He’s not a great singer, bu t my 15 year old daughter says he is very cute. That leaves him with considerably more chance than Ronan Keating of making the big time. As for Will, my 11 year old says it all: “Granny would vote for him”. She will, as will millions of other post-menopausal viewers, but he’s no Pop Idol. But there is hope out there. A few weeks ago, the Irish version of Popstars ended with the selection of a group of six young singers. One of them lied about her age and had to go - she was only 16 instead of the required 18. I saw her sing live on TV and she has a stunning voice that puts all of our would-be Pop Idols to shame. In 5 years time, we will have forgotten the names of all the Pop Idol finalists. By then, a young woman called Nadine Coyle will be an international star. Remember, you heard it first on Dooyoo!
This opinion is my life story told through the cars that have influenced it most. 10: The Morris 8. This was our family’s first ever car, bought from my auntie for £5.00. It came complete with a starting handle for emergencies, a windscreen that you could wind open in hot weather and indicators that shot out of the side like waving hands. But the highlight for me and my brothers was to bounce up and down on the back seat to help the car to get up hills. I’ve never felt so much at one with a machine since. 9: Hillman Minx. What a change from the Morris. It had a bench seat at the front and you could fit 4 people on it with a squeeze. Of course, this was when we thought that cars made you invincible. It also did about 10 miles to the gallon and, sadly, had to go. 8: Hillman Imp. It was a pale blue, rear-engined, rally-proven heap of crap. It broke down every week and sprung oil leaks from places where there shouldn’t have been oil. But I learned to drive in this car - several years before I was legally entitled to - and it earns a special place in my top 10 for that alone. 7: Austin A40. I had a naughty friend who used to bring home an awful lot of different cars and let us under-aged kids drive them up and down the street. I think there’s a name for this today … but enough of that. My first drive in a white A40 resulted in me missing a brand new Escort by about an inch and driving along the footpath for about 50 yards before finding out how to stop the car. It scared me shitless and taught me to respect cars more and to wait until I got a licence before driving. Incidentally, the A40 is an excellent car for driving along footpaths. 6: Morris Minor. Ah, the Morris Minor! Those slippery leather seats. Now, how can I put this? I had one of those coming of age experiences in the back seat of the Morris … while my girlfriend’s brother was driving. I remember so well the thrust of the acceleration, gliding effortlessly over the bumps. The car was good too. 5. VW Beetle. What a car. German engineering, rear, air-cooled engine, 1100cc of pure mechanical genius … and a 6 volt battery that meant you couldn’t see more that 6 feet in front of you in the dark. This was the car I did my test in and I loved nearly everything about it, from the sliding tail to the need to hang out the window to see where you were reversing to. 4. Fiat 127. I was Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction. It happened when I borrowed my parent’s 127 to see some friends. They had been drinking and wanted to go to another bar, so I packed three into the back seat. In the middle was a girl I did not know well. A minute into the journey and I heard the words “I’m going to be sick”, followed by the unmistakable splash of pints of vomit all over the back of the car. My friend gave me the key to her flat, directed me to where I could find a cheap bottle of perfume and I began the most efficient valet you could imagine. It worked. For years my parents complained about the smell of rotten milk in the car (they didn’t drink). Sadly, my friend never spoke to me again. You see, I was not familiar with the world of perfume in those days and failed to identify the difference between a £2.00 bottle and a £50.00 bottle (1977 prices). By the way, vomit and very expensive perfume smells just like rotten milk. The car was fun to drive, but rubbish. It needed a new engine within 18 months. 3. Renault 12. This was a one-night stand. One of my friend’s dad owned the Renault. He was a teacher and never, ever drove above 30 miles and hour, even on the motorway! He had passed his cautious ways to his son. One night I was on driving duty and took the keys to bring 4 friends safely home. When I put the keys in the ignition, the pristine Renault gently whispered to me to please fre e her from the captivity imposed by my friend and his cruel dad. I couldn’t refuse the heart-breaking pleas of this beautiful damsel in distress. The Renault 12 does 96 mph with five on board. 2. Ford Fiesta. The very first car that I bought for myself. This two-door, beige beauty taught me everything I needed to know about cars. Like how to fill holes in the bodywork; how to re-spray; to change and adjust points in 5 seconds flat; to repair hoses; to change ignition leads, fan-belts, starter motors etc. etc. I never learned how to prevent the boot filling with water, but became an expert in draining it. But love is blind and my first real car will always hold a place in my heart. 1. Saab 9000S. This really is my top car. It broke my heart and the bank, but I loved the way it made me feel like I ruled the road. Other cars are afraid of Saabs because they are really de-commissioned tanks. Even boy racers keep out of your way and no other driver ever gives you the one- or two-fingers. The seats are made by elves who understand the dangers of back-pain, and despite the massive weight, even the non-turbo engine gave good performance and reasonable economy. But this guardian angel of the roads also had a devilish sense of humour. I’ll never forget the moment the clutch-gear went, thrusting the car forward at full-pace uncontrollably. Or the cost of replacing the clutch assembly which was marginally cheaper than buying a house. I drive a modern, clinical Mazda now that has none of the Saab’s vices, but it doesn’t have its charm either. So that's my list and my life.
My story is a bit out of date as the events took place over a year ago when the Techno chain was still in existence, but as a newcomer to Dooyoo, I hope that sharing it now may be of at least some benefit to fellow members or visitors. The subject of the opinion is Dixons, but bear with me until I explain the context. It began when I started looking for a new VCR. Having read various reviews, I settled for the Panasonic HD-630, at the time a widely available and popular model. Prices were beginning to fall and Techno were advertising the exact machine at about £30 cheaper than most of the other retailers. I went to the smallish Dixons at my local shopping centre where the model was on display and asked the young salesman about the VCR. I was told that it was one of their most popular models, that it was a high quality, reliable machine and that it was in stock. I mentioned about the price difference and that I presumed they would reduce their price in keeping with their advertised price promise and was assured that this was the case. On following the salesman to the computer terminal, I was disappointed when he told me that the computer indicated that the Panasonic was not in stock after all. I left the shop without thinking much about this. But the following day, by chance, I was passing a larger store in a neighbouring city and decided to try there. This time I asked for a stock check first and was told that the model was available. When I mentioned about the price difference with Techno, the salesman said that he would meet the company’s price obligation provided the machine was in stock and available for sale in Techno. He made a short phone call and came back to me apologetically saying that he had contacted Techno and they were out of stock, so he could not reduce his price. By this time, I was beginning to smell a rat and decided to have a third attempt at our large city-centre Dixons. However, I first went to the nearby Techno to check the precise model was in stock. The manager assured me that it was and even opened the storeroom to show me a pile of 13 Panasonics ready for purchase. I went round to Dixons, asked for a stock check and was told that there were 5 machines in the store. I mentioned the Techno price and stood beside this (yet another) young salesman as he lifted the phone to make sure that Techno had the Panasonic at the price I quoted. With regret, he told me that Techno were out of stock! I asked if he was sure that he was through to the local Techno store and he assured me that he was. His face drained when I said that I had just returned from Techno and had actually seen the VCR boxes, and he clumsily stammered over his words of apology as I told him what I thought of his company. He offered to speak to the Manager to reduce the price. I walked out of the packed store, saying I was on my way to speak to BBC’s Watchdog with the salesman frantically asking that I stay to “come to an understanding”. Despite the satisfaction of such a theatrical exit, this incident has left a sustained and bitter taste in my mouth. I do not know if I was the victim of deliberate company policy to cheat the customer, but with a similar story from 3 related stores within the space of a week, I can’t help thinking that there is at least a case to answered. I suppose the moral of the story is not to assume automatically that you'll get an honest deal from these stores. Do your homework yourself before you purchase and don't rely on the information you will be provided by their poorly-trained sales staff. If you don't trust them, then walk, there's lots of competition out there and as price comparisons on the net will show, Dixons or their associates seldom come out as offering the best value. While I am on the subject, in general I like visiting the big Dixons/Currys stores to browse around. Th ere is a great selection of products on display and I find their regular publications useful. However, it is rare for their staff to have more than a minimal understanding about the products they sell and I don’t like the way they rip-off customers under the guise of “payment protection”. Incidentally, I bought the Panasonic HD 630 at Laser who, without hesitation, beat the Techno price. It has lived up to its reputation and I have been delighted with the machine.
I had the good fortune to attend the premiere of this movie as part of the totally awesome Cinemagic international film festival for young people which is held annually in Belfast. I was really looking forward to the experience, not just because of the occasion, but also because I like the story and, most important of all, I was accompanied by my 10-year-old daughter. The involvement of highly respected actors, including Nicolas Cage, Kate Winslett and Simon Callow, added to expectation that we were in for a real treat. As there were no reviews available, I did not know what to expect but, having seen a number of versions of the story, including the rather enjoyable Muppets one, I did not anticipate any real surprises. The opening sequences, with real people, centred around Dickens telling his story to an audience and were fine, although I thought the use of mice to link into the main body of the animated film was a bit naff. The storyline kept broadly faithful to the original, which was a relief as the tagging on of “The Movie” to the film title had me worried that it would be irreparably messed about with. By the end of this film, as the credits rolled up to the surprisingly pleasant voice of Kate Winslett, my overall impression was one of disappointment. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly, I found it difficult to hold my attention to the film. At parts, it seemed to drag out a little too much and I thought that it struggled to engage its audience. But the main source of my disappointment was the quality of the animation. Animated films have been enjoying a bit of a resurgence in recent years through Toy Story, Antz and the magnificent Shrek as well as offerings from the Disney camp among others. As an art form, it has evolved significantly and we now have a variety of approaches being used, from traditional two-dimensional to state-of-the-art computer generated 3-D images. Such variety is no bad thing. Christmas Carol was in the traditional mode but I have to admit, the animation left me cold. I thought the colours were flat, as were the characters, and I had reservations about the consistency and overall quality of animation in the film. I had set out really wanting to enjoy this film, but in the end I found it very disappointing and could not recommend it. But I will end with a word of caution about my opinion. My daughter thought it was a great film, bought the Kate Winslett song and wanted to go again when the film went on general release. It just goes to show that grown-ups may not always be the best judges.
Our Daewoo Matiz is 2 years old today. The car is used mainly by my wife for school runs with our two children and travel within the city, with the occasional longer trip and sits in the driveway alongside our family Mazda 626. We didn’t set out to become a Daewoo-owning family, but when our 12 year old Toyota ground to a halt, we began scurrying around the local dealers for a replacement. Our criteria were straightforward: small city car; cheap to buy and run; comfortable enough; central locking and power steering. We tried models from VW, Seat, Citroen, Nissan, Mazda and Toyota. Of these, the Toyota Yaris stood out in a class of its own and we were put off buying only by the fact that all the financial deals available seemed to reward the dealer unduly. We tried the Daewoo dealer last, our curiosity spurred mainly by positive reports on the Matiz in the auto-press. (That was before I found Dooyoo of course!). We had a short test drive and were impressed, but opted to take a demonstrator home over the week-end for a proper assessment. I had never done this before, but now I would not even think about buying on the basis of a couple of miles around the block accompanied by a hyperactive salesperson. The consensus was that the Matiz was not as good an all-round proposition as the Yaris, but we scored it well ahead of the rest of the pack. The discussion with the courteous and informative Daewoo salesperson sealed the decision. The now legendary Daewoo package which included 3 years servicing was exactly what we needed and we ordered our silver Matiz SE plus. So what’s the verdict after 2 years and 14,000 miles? Against expectations, I just love this car, a view shared by my wife and both children. Even I struggle to make sense of this. On paper, the Matiz looks as if it would be a motorists nightmare. Just 800cc with 50bhp of buzzy power struggling to propel the car to 60 mph in over 17 seconds is not exactly a recipe for adventure. But it feels good behind the wheel of this motor. The interior is roomy for a car of its dimensions - I still can’t quite work out how the designers have managed this - and the seats are supportive and comfortable. The driving position feels higher than the laws of physics suggest it should, with the large raked windscreen giving you a sense of really being in command. I’ve found the height of the seat to be a bonus as I’m carrying and old motor-bike injury and find it awkward enough getting in and out of cars, but the Daewoo makes this easy. Visibility all-round is excellent and this, combined with the diminutive dimensions makes parking and reversing simple. Fittings and switch-gear look and feel a bit flimsy, although we haven’t had any problems, and the boot is tiny, compensated to some extent by split/fold rear seats. The SE plus version is fairly well-equipped with central-locking, power-steering and driver/passenger airbags as standard and air-con as a reasonably-priced option. The RDS stereo is not the best available, but far from the worst. On the road, the Matiz does not feel sluggish. I have had no problem keeping up with traffic both in town and on longer trips, including motorways, although safe overtaking needs very careful planning. The suspension is a little bit on the bouncy side, although this seems to help the tiny tyres to soak up rough surfaces. Anything beyond a small bump on the road though and you feel it with a vengeance. The major irritation is the gear-change. It’s fine going up through the 5-speed gate, but trying to get into second gear on the way down requires a brutal shove if you’re moving faster than 5mph. This has not worsened over the two years, but nor has it showed any signs of loosening up with age. Fuel consumption is good - we are getting 40-45 mpg regularly and group 2 insurance will not break the bank. So far, the only real faul t we have experienced was a temporary failure on the central locking which appears to have rectified itself. This is potentially dangerous if you have young children as it would not allow one of the doors to open from the inside, but the dealer has ordered a new system for us. I would definitely recommend this car. It’s fun to drive, cheap to run and has bucket loads of charm. But I would advise you to try-before-you-buy and make sure you fully appreciate the car’s limitations. As for image? My older daughter is 15 now and has asked that we keep the Matiz long enough for her to learn to drive in it. If you knew how ultra-cool my daughter is, then this is probably the highest recommendation Daewoo could ever receive!
Don't read this opinion if Lord of the Rings is the best film you've ever seen! This is not a bad movie ... but it isn't a great one. When I give an honest opinion about the first episode in this blockbuster series I am told that I haven't appreciated the subtle storyline; that I don't understand the historical context; and, especially, that I couldn't possibly expect to enjoy the film because I haven't read the book. Time for a reality check Tolkein fans, so here it is in descending order. The special effects are brilliant. The sound and overall cinema experience is good - nearly 3 hours was not an unpleasant experience. The story is not really that great. The characters are not engaging or particularly likeable. Parts of the film are frightening - even for children over the recommended 8 years. The film was over-hyped. And,bottom of the heap, the film doesn't have an ending ... at all. Just as our hero gets to the interesting part, the credits roll up! OK, so tell me I'm ignorant. It is a trilogy after all. If I'd read the books ...etc etc. Utter tripe! The Godfather is a cinematic trilogy - a continuing story that nevertheless has logical breaks. The Harry Potter books, and subsequent films will work too on this basis. Lord of the Rings was more akin to a soap or made-for-TV series: "...to be continued". Just think of some parallels from your favourite films. Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now travels up the river, reaches his target and up go the credits before he sets foot on land? I hadn't read the books before this film, and I felt that I'd been conned. And I suspect that, deep down, those who sing the praises of this film on the basis of the books, the history or other things that weren't up on the screen, really feel the same.
After 3 years and 41,000 miles, I'm thinking of trading in my Mazda 626 for a new model. But what should I buy - stick with the same marque or opt for something a little different? To help me make up my mind I've been reflecting on my experience with this car: the good, the bad and the indifferent. With two teenage children, a liking for camping holidays in France and a daily 10 mile commute to work through the city, I've subjected my car to a variety of tests. So what's been good? Quite a lot actually. For a start, the Mazda is roomy, with good space inside and a well-proportioned boot. It's not a luxury car by any means, but is comfortable enough for both driver and passengers to survive our annual 1000 mile trip over 2 days, fully laden. It is also well-equipped, including the standard air-conditioning, probably the best invention since the wheel if you have to share your car with other humans, and a half-decent stereo. The basic safety features are provided, although I would have been happier with twin, rather than single airbags, and ABS which were not provided as standard in my car. Performance too is more than adequate, reaching 0-60 in about 10 seconds if pushed, and with smooth, responsive acceleration feels safe when overtaking. I'm no expert, but the quality of build seems excellent and even at this stage there are no signs of irritating rattles or loose switch-gear. Gear changing is effortless with a fairly short clutch travel and a snappy, positive gear shift. The Mazda won't win awards for interior design, but it is far from an unpleasant place to sit for an hour or two each day. Running costs are reasonable, with group 10 insurance and I'm turning in about 34 mpg with mixed, but mainly town driving. Service costs haven't been cheap, but the fixed pricing of our local dealer have meant that there have been no unpleasant surprises. I'm saving the best for last. The reliabilit y of this car is simply amazing. As a previous owner of Ford, VW and Saab, I believe that if car-owners bought with their brains, there would be a lot of frightened so-called prestige dealers around. Nothing goes wrong with this car. So far, so good. But what about the downside? Well, it isn't the quietest of cars inside. It's not exactly noisy, but road noise is noticeable on anything but perfect surfaces. The ride isn't the best over even slightly rough surfaces and the suspension fails to soak up the tiniest of bumps. Rear visibility is fairly poor also. Most concerning for me has been a tendency to slide under cornering in wet weather. It is too easy to spin the wheels, and I'm past the stage where this is remotely exciting. I'm not into looks or image in a big way, but Id have to say that the Mazda is anonymous. Side on it looks like about 150 other cars on the market and no-one says "wow" when I tell them what I drive. If someone told me that I had to get another 626, I wouldn't be unduly disappointed. But nor would I be particularly excited. Maybe it's an age thing, but I've reached the stage where I need a little more from a car than getting from A to B. And, good car that it is, the Mazda 626 just doesn't deliver a sense of excitement. If common-sense is your game and reliability is your priority, go buy this car. I'm starting to dream of something just a little bit different.
As a satisfied video user, I was convicned taht no DVD player would sit under my TV until the price of recordable DVD fell to within my meagre grasp. But the temptation of a multi-region player with 5.1 channel output and all the usual DVD bells and whistles for under £100 plus £10 postage poved too great and I ordered my CyberHome 528. The first thing that strikes you when you open the box is that this is not the prettiest or the most compact machine on the market. Indeed, it struggled to fit in by TV cabinet, eventually taking a back-panel-bending shove before the glass door would clear the bulging DVD tray. Set-up, using SCART to SCART connection, was a doddle - which was just as well as the box was missing the manual (I got one a week later). Power-up and the TV automatically picks up an uninspirign grey screen. But insert a DVD and the CyberHome just bursts into life with bright, pin-sharp images. The picture quality is fantastic and is matched with good sound, even using only 2-channels through my Sony TV speakers. There's also a good array of the special functions that are more or less standard on DVD players. Some, such as bookmark are useful, although I remain to be convinced that the zoom function is anything more than a gimmick. The CyberHome plays just about any format of disk. I've used DVD, CD and CD-R a lot without a hitch. I haven't tried multiregion DVDs yet, although simple instructions are provided to enable switching of regions. Two headphone sockets with separate volume controls are provided - great if you want to listen with a friend or are just anti-social. They work well, although there is a noticeable hum that disappears when the volume control is turned beyond the minimum. A full-function remote is provided. At first it seems a bit cluttered, but I found it easy to use once I got used to it. A drawback is that the keys have a spongy feel and sometimes need a couple of presses to e ngage. It's not a major fault, but can be irritating. All in all, it is hard to fault this machine at the price. It does everything it should at the price, is versatile and easy to use. Although falling prices are bringing the competition closer, it still represents fantastic value for money. If you are interested in looking at DVDs rather than the machines that play them, you'll not go wrong with this machine.