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Dow Chemicals almost kicked out of London 2012 Olympics. More pain to come.

17 Apr

Dow Chemicals, that lovable corporate giant who didn’t  bring you the 1984 Bhopal Disaster and who aren’t responsible in any way for injuring up to half a million Indian citizens in one of the worst industrial catastrophes in world history, are not happy bunnies.

Just sixteen weeks before the 2012 Olympic Games begin to deliver them “marketing gold”, they are being asked to get out of town. Just when the winning line for their social media campaign is in sight, they run across a problem. Nobody likes them.

Last week, the prestigious London Assembly decided by only one solitary vote not to kick Dow out of the 2012 Olympic games and cancel them as a sponsor. As close shaves go, that was very close.

Dow are not the kind of giant international corporation who take kindly to criticism. Dow takes the view that people who say that they are a classic example of a “corporation gone bad” are misinformed.

So that nobody is misinformed ever again, Dow have made the real truth abundantly clear on their website:

“Dow’s policy is to be lawful, highly principled and socially responsible in all of its business practices.”

“At Dow, diversity and inclusion are inherent in our work environment”.

“In 2011, Dow had annual sales of $60 Billion and employed 52,000 people worldwide”

“For over two decades we have embraced and advocated Responsible Care – a voluntary industry-wide commitment to safely handle our chemicals from inception in the laboratory to ultimate disposal”.

Well, so that nobody is misinformed ever again, here is some more real truth:

After persistently ignoring warnings from both American experts and local officials, a badly maintained Union Carbide plant, operating with knowing disregard to safety procedures, leaked toxic gas across a vast area of housing during the night.

Within days, all the local trees lost all their leaves.  Two thousand dead farm animals were discovered and disposed of. 170,000 injured people were received by medical staff. They were all suffering from the same effects you would get if you inhaled cyanide. Thousands died and more than a million people were physically damaged, it is now widely believed.

Union Carbide offered $350 million -only the sum they were insured for – as compensation. The Indian Government estimated compensation to be one thousand times higher than that figure. The discredited and financially ruined Union Carbide Corporation sold its Bhopal plant for peanuts in 1994 and in 2001 both Union Carbide and that plant were bought up by Dow Chemicals…purely for reasons of profit.

To this day, hundreds of thousands of injured victims have been denied either proper justice or reasonable compensation. Dow has said “No” and Dow means “No”.

The massive organisational project that is the 2012 London Olympics has always had an ‘unreal’ air about it. Whereas few would wish to knock the hard work of those athletes who pursue world excellence, many people have always maintained that not only are the Games themselves already seriously tainted by allegations of corruption but that London simply isn’t the right venue for them.

The list of key sponsors looks increasingly like a roll-call of corporate and athletic pariahs. Neither Coca-Cola nor McDonalds can make any claim to having raised the health standards of anyone in the world. But…Dow Chemicals…?

How on earth Lord Sebastian Coe and his Organising Committee were stupid enough to allow Dow to become a major sponsor of their event is to remain a mystery for now. Perhaps it was the large wad of money.

There is a huge elephant in the corner of the living room again. Lord Coe and his very important friends cannot see it.

Everybody else can.

Dow Chemicals have a slogan for their range of paints:

“A Smarter Way To Hide”.

Dow Chemicals also have a Corporate slogan:

“We believe that taking the extra step to be socially responsible does not hold us back – it sets us apart”.

Absolutely, Dow.

Absolutely…

Facebook: The wheels start falling off and the screaming begins…

10 Apr

My name is...

When Phillip Markoff, the ‘Craigslist Killer’ committed suicide while awaiting trial for murder, he unwittingly set in motion a chain of events that has blown the lid off Facebook’s Privacy Policy.

Facebook has always gone to great lengths to encourage users to upload as much personal data as possible. However, when the Boston Police Department issued a subpoena, demanding access to Markoff’s Facebook account, two things happened:

1) Facebook handed over the full, unredacted account history, including the account details of all Markoff’s friends and their ID information and their interaction.

2) The Boston Police Department then released this document into the public domain, without redacting the names and account details of his friends.

If Facebook users ever worried what information Facebook might pass on to the police and other government agencies about them, they need  fret no more. Facebook hands over the whole lot. You can read the excellent Boston Phoenix article here, including a copy of the document that Facebook handed over to the BPD.

The British government is currently seeking to pass a law allowing it to ‘monitor’ all UK citizens’ website conversations in “real time” – as they actually happen, without any limitation, nor requesting permission from a judge to prove any need or justification. You can read a simple BBC synopsis of this law here.

Now, add the following facts to your understanding of the above story:

Tens of millions of UK citizens’ private records held by Government Agencies have been lost or released. (1)

One in three British men has a criminal record by the time that they are 30. (Home Office Statistic, JRF)

Thousands of losses of our personal data occur at Local Council level through hacking and weak security. (2)

It is estimated that 27% of friend requests on Facebook are fake – around two in every ten. (3)

Let us take all these facts and try to create a ‘conservative’ mathematical algorithm:

For each hundred ‘friends’ you have on Facebook, ten are actually fake.

For each further hundred ‘friends’ you add, twelve are fake. The risk figure rises exponentially as you add more ‘friends’ whose real identity you do not know – for example, they are someone you met in a club, bar or online.

If you have 300 ‘friends’ on Facebook, in excess of 30 are ‘fake’-  the person is not who they say they are.

If 33% of UK males under thirty have a criminal record, and 50% of convicted criminals re-offend, (4) then any Facebook profile containing 300 ‘friends’ includes profiles of least 10 convicted criminals, hiding under fake IDs.

If 100 of your Facebook ‘friends’ also have 300 ‘friends’ themselves, you are connected by an evidence trail to 300 convicted criminals. Let’s be even more conservative still. Let’s say 200.

Ask yourself:

“If Facebook provide the authorities with full details of all ‘friend’ data and links that an active criminal has, and government agencies are allowed to monitor my Facebook page in “real time”…how long will it take before my identity will become PERMANENTLY and wrongly associated with a criminal whom I do not know and have never met?”

And if you know of a single instance of somebody who has successfully removed themselves from an Interpol database of criminals (onto which their name was wrongfully and unreasonably added) will you please provide me with the link?

Car Auctions: Meeting that certain “someone”.

9 Apr

“Are you loaned some, tonight?” – Elvis Presley.  “What the world needs now is love, sweet love” – Tupak Shakur.  “Chillin’ by the fire while we are eating fondue” – Justin Bieber.

Which of these lyrics were actually sung by the artist? If you are over 25, you will instinctively know the dreadful truth.

Justin Bieber is lacking the knowledge that fondue sets come with built-in heaters. Fondue is molten cheese, ferrchrissakes. He will need to find a woman who is madder than a box of frogs to join him in eating that stuff in front of a fire. As a good way to ‘chill’, it compares only to ordering delivery of  a Vindaloo curry while you sit in a broken down truck in the Syrian desert, wearing a Shetland wool pullover.  Special knowledge is valuable.

Okay, tonight is the night I conclude this mini-series examining whether car auctions are the “Night Clubs for the over-25s” .

“Hang on…” I hear you say, “So far, this series of posts has been just a pile of disjointed rhetoric, short on worthwhile facts and reeking of bitterness.”

This is why I love you so much. You are smart, intelligent, good-looking and yet you still  hang around here. Trust me – I shall tie all the threads together and you shall be witness to some genuinely valuable truths. I shall repay your trust. I’ll even include pictures of a cat, some slurp-inducing food I cooked and also, a Surrey Policeman caught in the act of not being “institutionally racist”. (actually, that one might be difficult to get hold of)

Just imagine for a moment that you are a Party-Planner to the celebrity ‘A’ – list top names. Your reputation is so high that even Madonna says “please” in a begging whine when she phones you and wants to book you. You are the Goddess or God of Uber-cool. You cannot even remember the last time that a car door wasn’t opened ahead of you before you had to reach for the door handle yourself.

Airlines always find a ‘special channel’ that you can walk through at Customs and Immigration so that you never have to put your shoes in a plastic tray while total strangers scan your heels for the tell-tale signs of dry skin.The in-flight hospitality caters for your preference for a stone-crushed basil dressing on your hand-knitted fresh egg pasta, brought directly to you this morning from North Dakota via Jet Blue in chilled stainless steel panniers.

Okay. Now consider that you actually need to work damn hard to pay your bills. You hate to waste your money. You seek the best value from it. Life is uncertain. You need the best advice. Information is only valuable if it is not common knowledge. Just like that top Party Planner uses their contacts and special knowledge to help other people spend their  money on a good party, you have to do the same to save your money on a good car.

Below are some facts and figures that may be interesting to you.  Over the previous posts, I have been trying to get you to feel comfortable about buying a car at an auction. Car auctions are coming of age.  Like Google and YouTube before them, they are moving in from the sidelines of our lives and walking into the centre of the playing field. They are not just taking over the industry, they are about to engulf it and forever re-shape it. Look at the comparisons below for a ‘time-line comparison:

February 2004 Facebook was launched.

January 2009 Facebook was ranked as having the most users of any social networking site in the world.

January 2012 Facebook peaked in market value as the world’s most-used social website, less than 8 years after its inception.

In other words, within short 8 years, a brand new means of mass communication previously unknown to the world had risen to become a household name and a ‘normal’ means of communication.

Well, in the next five years, car auctions may well become the way that we all buy our cars. Dealers will simply handle servicing and delivery and sales of new cars. Auctions have been lurking in the background for decades. Serving the motor trade forecourts, they have quietly shifted cars back and forth, providing the dealers with the cars that they will sell on to you. Now, they’re removing the pretense. They are selling any car to anyone who turns up on the day. You do not have to be a dealer.

Now, data systems, particularly internet-based, have allowed the big car auction houses to monitor the service history and ownership and insurance details of cars that are leased or have hire-purchase or loans attached to them. That is a whole lot of cars. In the end, there is a high chance that these cars will turn up to the auction house. Some turn up several times throughout their life, as they pass from dealer to customer to dealer again.

America’s Mannheim Auctions are offering over 130,000 cars for sale across U.S. sites this week alone. They handled an average of one million vehicles each month throughout 2010 across all their world sites. Around six million cars are sold each year through them in the  U.S. and despite their ‘traders only’ image, they are actually quite willing to serve private buyers. They just don’t shout about it.

BCA, Europe’s largest “re-marketing” and auction company is offering over 12,000 cars this week. Proportionately smaller but fast growing outlets across the whole of Continental Europe, BCA make no secret of their willingness to serve anyone who has a credit or debit card. You are most welcome.

Now, look at this link to the Wall Street Journal. The latest figures for new car sales in America. To save your head spinning with all the detailed figures, I will provide you with a simple synopsis:

Large American-made luxury cars are dead in the water, with luxury SUV’s following them into the surf, along with imported Japanese light trucks. Small and medium sized cars are keeping strong sales but mid-range imported cars are wobbling as America’s home-grown manufacturers slash prices and offer tasty incentives. Manufacturing output is largely stable, even though fuel prices are going up through the ceiling again.

The picture is broadly repeated for Western Europe. New car output total volume is still robust and sales incentives are keen but deceptive – dealers are wherever possible adding extras instead of cutting prices. So, despite the fact that we ordinary people  have less money to spend, manufacturers are pumping out new cars. This is leading to over-supply.

And quietly, in the background, Mannheim and BCA are selling off all those manufacturer’s two, three and four year old cars at whatever they can get. The auction houses do not care what the actual price is – they earn their money by simply selling and getting the commission. The actual selling price is less of an issue to them. They don’t have many skilled staff, they don’t run production lines, don’t have factories or dealerships and they hardly spend at all on advertising. They simply find buyers for second-hand cars. They have acres and acres of those second-hand cars parked up, with more arriving by the hour. They cannot move for second-hand cars. Do I make myself clear? There is a strong case to argue that new car prices are being unrealistically propped up and that new cars are over-priced.

Auction houses particularly welcome private buyers because they make extra money from them. A private buyer will normally buy at a slightly higher price than a dealer and doesn’t qualify for the dealer’s discount for buying multiple vehicles.

So, with your new found confidence in strolling in to auction houses, it shouldn’t be too hard. You have learned how to ‘squint’ at paintwork, how to steal all the tips off dealers by watching them check over a car for you. You have learned that all the action at an auction really takes place out in the yard, where you can check over ‘your’ car to your heart’s content just so long as you have a keen eye.

You have learned to check your prices and exact specification in the press and online in advance and then compare that to the written description posted on the car’s windscreen. You have learned that you must be there when the car is started up to check for smoke and to pop your head under the bonnet.

What are you looking for? You are looking for the tell-tale signs of things having been disturbed: if someone has just put a new exhaust manifold on because the cylinder head has been removed or replaced, then their spanners will have left shiny marks on the bolts and nuts that secure everything in place. These are very hard to hide. Cross-head screws will glint silver in their centers, where the screw-driver chewed them. If the car has just had a new radiator, the radiator will look new but also the spanner marks will show on the bolts that hold it to the car. If everything is covered in dust, leaks will show up more easily through staining and soaked in wetness. If everything is squeaky clean, those nuts, bolts and screws will still reveal marks on them from sockets and spanners if they have been touched at all recently.

95% of cars at a big auction are of the same standard as any other second-hand car. The money you save in comparison to buying the car at a dealer can be used to solve problems you may encounter, like a poor battery, new brake pads. All things that a dealer won’t fix for free anyway.

Ah, I hear you say that it is risky buying from an auction and you don’t get a warranty. Really? Have you read the small print? Have you compared a dealer’s warranty on a second-hand car to the latest auction warranty and sales conditions? Most so-called ‘mechanical warranties’ available are almost worthless, excluding those items that are most likely to fail or else including them…except if their failure could be caused by a connected but uninsured item.

So, your hugely expensive ECU is included…except it isn’t actually, because it was connected to the battery when it failed and the battery is not included. At an auction, cars are either sold with a specific warranty or else without but you may be surprised: many auctions flat refuse to warrant cars over five years or under a certain price so you can pick up a perfectly good car for peanuts simply because a lack of warranty deterred others from taking a risk on bidding.

Ah, I hear you say that you cannot test drive a car at an auction. Well, in many cases you can and in general, it makes little difference whether you are watching the car being driven in front of you to the podium or driving it yourself. Cars suffer more from electrical problems than mechanical ones these days and 99% of those can be checked before you bid on them. Service history documents are often available to peruse at the counter on auction day and time exists to press buttons and check that warning lights go out or come on as they should.

Ah, I hear you say that the cars on a dealer’s forecourt are of a better quality. Are they? One or two might be, but the cars at an auction that are coming directly from a leasing company are mainly coming directly off the road. Nobody has the time or inclination to mess with their mileages or fake their service history. Many dealers do habitually mess with mileages and absolutely lie through their teeth about servicing histories. They simply put a sticker on the dashboard saying “mileage not warranted” and then dishonestly explain to you that “the law makes them do that to protect themselves”. It doesn’t. They are lying. At auction, cars have warranted mileage. Some don’t and they are specifically stated as such. Take your pick. Both ways, you pay less money and don’t have to suffer all the outrageous bull…

Ah, but some cars could be stolen or rebuilt after a crash. Nope. Established auction houses refuse “Stolen/Recovered” cars or those rebuilt after a serious insurance claim outright. They simply don’t want the ensuing problems and hassle. Occasionally one will come through but the auctioneer will make it absolutely clear that this is the case.  Dealers put some of their forecourt cars in to the auctions because they cannot sell them and they buy others to replace them. It is called ‘rotating stock’. But even then, both that dealer and the auction are legally responsible for any dishonesty and neither want to run that risk. It simply isn’t worth it when you have thousands of cars to sell. Occasionally, we all get caught out and buy a ‘turkey’ from a private seller, a dealer or an auction. There is always that risk.

Ah, but my local dealer only sells selected, low-mileage, top quality second-hand cars. Right. Where does he get them all from? An endless queue of retired and suddenly disabled headmistresses and nurses, all of whom coincidentally decide to ring him and ask him if he’ll buy their car because he’s so damned honest?

Ah…

Car auctions really are the new Night Clubs. The environment is exciting and noisy. The atmosphere is charged but far more pleasant. There are quiet areas and noisy areas. Nobody ever gets off with a club DJ but the DJ can make their night. It is the same with auctioneers. Both car auctions and clubs are only ever fun for the first two hours. But a night club takes your money and gives you only memories, if that. An auction can give you a massive discount on a totally fine set of wheels.

Those twenty-odd seconds where you actually get to bid are always an amazing adrenaline rush. When the auctioneer cracks his hammer down as he nods his head to you, all that homework you did will have paid off and you will have saved yourself enough for quite a few vodkas or tequilas…or even a damn fine vacation.

my beloved cat, Biggs, checking out her world...

meatballs in an olive, anchovy and tomato sauce with parmesan. Drool...

Car Auctions: “She’s got the Mercedes-Benz. Uhhh…”

30 Mar

Yes, I know that in The Eagles song ‘Hotel California’ , the line is written “…She’s got the Mercedes Bends…” and that Don Henley had to explain to eagle-eyed fans (see what I did there?)  that this was not a spelling mistake and was in fact a play on words.

So, I am now taking Don’s lyrics and I am making a play on his words. In years to come, I will be asked tirelessly about the exact meaning of the title and whether I was making a dry social comment about the collapse of western civilization, using the metaphor of car auctions as a symbol of the capitalist system devouring itself by over-producing cars which in turn leads to the collapse of their value and subsequent discounting to below the gross cost of their manufacture.

I shall smile back through unfocused eyes as my bodyguard refreshes my single malt and, with the slightest tilt of my head, I shall indicate that I wish for the interview to be terminated and for the pink doves to be released over the city.

My nucleus of faithful blog subscribers – those who followed me prior to February 9th 2013 and who remained loyal despite experiencing great emotional and intellectual suffering – will be carried ahead of me on gilded chairs while school children dressed in the flags of the world’s nations perform “Next” by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band using only mime and natural yogurt.

I cannot stand Mercedes Benz products.

They make my flesh crawl. They symbolize a value system that I am deeply uncomfortable with. The signals they send out are not the ones that I want to transmit. Every Mercedes that I have ever driven has been well-built and outstandingly reliable. But I sometimes couldn’t wait to get out of them and simply drive something else – anything else – as if to confirm who I really was.

Mercedes Benz have built up a formidable brand value over the years. However, they are trading on their glorious past far too much. It simply is no longer true to say that a Mercedes never rusts and it will last forever; they rust pretty badly since Mercedes changed their steel supplier in the mid-nineties and their long-term reliability is wobbly, to say the least. Sure, their trucks and vans are still good but when did you last follow a Mercedes Sprinter van which had both tail lights working, eh…?

Then, there was the infamous A-Series “Moose-test” fiasco where Mercedes made two outrageous errors of technical judgement.

1) They released the original A-Series cars knowing full well that they could tip over if thrown sharply from left to right and back, as if avoiding a moose at speed.

2) Mercedes solved this technical problem in a shoddy way by reducing the ability of the car to steer quite so sharply in the first place, by increasing the ‘toe-out’ of the front wheels.

For many motoring enthusiasts, that disgracefully lazy ‘remedy’ marked the end of ‘old’ Mercedes (top-notch engineering) and the beginning of ‘new’ Mercedes (top-notch marketing).

They now offer so many car models  that there is at least one Mercedes for each of us on this planet to take a personal dislike to. Tell me that your pulse doesn’t quicken  to at least one of the following:

1) You are driving alone through an unfamiliar county on the back-roads at dusk after visiting an old friend. A soft rain begins to fall and you switch your windscreen wipers on and change from marker lights to dipped headlights. As you do so, you become aware that a silver 2006 Mercedes S500 with tinted glass is following you, always keeping just far enough back so that you cannot read it’s license plate.

2) Wanting to show your devotion and deep love for your partner after having both been through a hellish month, you drive out to a small but expensive restaurant that you both always promised you’d visit when you had the money, which you still don’t. As you turn in to the street which is a clearway and does not permit parking, the restaurant has a black 2012 Mercedes E Class Executive SE  stopped outside. The suited driver is standing by the rear passenger door and he is looking directly towards you as you drive by.

3) Having driven a company Mercedes C-Class for three years, it is now at the end of its lease and due for renewal. For a change of scenery, you select a cash-equivalent Audi from the list you are given to choose from. For the next month, all your acquaintances greet you with: “Hi…! Hey…what happened to the Mercedes?”

Am I getting anywhere here? Is it just me? Is there something specifically ‘Mercedes’ about those situations that simply wouldn’t happen if one swapped out all those cars in the stories for Lincolns or BMWs or a Lexus?

I mean, try reading through those stories again and instead of the Mercedes, insert  “1959 red and cream Chevrolet Corvette” and see how you feel now.

A Mercedes makes a statement far beyond its shape and composition. It announces one’s political and social outlook like no other cars does. It doesn’t wait for you to speak, it speaks for you without your permission and over the top of your own voice. It is as if Mercedes is becoming the victim of its own advertising campaigns. By offering humorless elitism and superiority (“Unlike Any Other.” “The Future of The Automobile.”) they attract many humorless people who wish to purchase admiration.

If you are unlucky enough to be living in one of the world’s many refugee camps right now, you gain respect from most people but you neither seek nor receive admiration. What matters most to you is this: If your food is delivered off the back of a 2010 Chevrolet or a Toyota, then you and your children are probably going to survive. If your food is delivered off the back of a 2010 Rolls Royce then almost anything could happen in the next 24 hours so you keep awake. But if your food is delivered off the back of a 2010 Mercedes Benz, you and your children have probably already been acquired by a warlord so you practise real quick how to smile and mix concrete at the same time.

Photograph at top of page, taken three days ago. Mercedes Benz E200 Avantgarde CGI Blue efficiency, Tip Auto, 1.8, petrol, Calcite White. Full black cow (sorry – full leather interior) and parking sensors. 14,500 warranted miles. First registered May 2010. One owner. Guaranteed as having no major mechanical faults by the auction house and vendor. Sold this Monday for £29, 100 ($46,269) at auction.

If you want one right now with U.K. specification, Mercedes Benz do have just one, a 2011 model for sale up in Scotland, yours for £34,999 ($55,648). The only other white one available is this one pictured above. White ones are scarce. Black or silver ones are everywhere you look, being the weapon of choice of the airport transfer brigade. You don’t want to spend all that money and be mistaken for a chauffeur, do you? Of course not.

The dealer who bought this Merc was possibly tracking it for the last few weeks as it neared the end of its lease.  He probably had it advertised as  “for sale – awaiting picture” for the last month  so that he could line up a buyer for the car in advance.

The leasing company who still owned it and the car’s actual keeper and driver would have been blissfully unaware of his audacity. Then, the dealer followed it down to the auction house on Monday and made £5,000 ($7,950) profit for a day’s work. It is not an easy way to make a living but two cars a month like that and you are earning $190,000 a year.

As you walk around a car auction, you may be surprised at just how many people are continually jabbering on their phones as they walk the lines of cars. Now you know why. All you need is a credit card and the telephone number of somebody who wants a white Mercedes because they hate getting mistaken for a chauffeur all the time.

After all, one doesn’t have to like a product personally in order to sell it. More on crystal-meth dealers in a future Roadwax post…

Car Auctions: How to be cool on the dance floor…

28 Mar

If you can answer “YES” to any of the following questions, then for goodness sake don’t read the rest of this post.

1) You drive a BMW Mini and thought it would be funny if you attached fake ‘eyelashes’ to the headlights.

2) You recently purchased a new Saab for a great price by using your truly awesome bargaining techniques.

3) Your boyfriend drapes his arm around your seat top when you are driving and glares at passing motorists.

Okay. I think we shook them off.

Oh – hang on!  There’s a couple of stragglers who are still here out of curiosity, not sure if I’m joking or not…

4) You often order fresh pizza to be delivered to your home because it is cheaper than cooking stuff yourself.

Got ’em.

That’s the last ones. They just clicked the ‘back’  button and typed “Pizza” into Google. We can talk freely, now.

Right. Buying at a car auction is very easy but you have to take a few simple precautions. There are so many excellent vehicles passing through right now that you may lose your self-control and make a serious mistake.

Resist temptation. Consider my analogy of the night-club. Car auctions are so similar to night-clubs that it is untrue. If you understand how a night-club really works, you will have no trouble at a car auction.

Do your homework.

Check the terms and conditions of the auction house. Visit the place and make sure that you are aware of  your duties as a buyer. Stand to the side and watch people who are bidding. Watch how the auctioneer manages the bidding and notice how little time each car actually spends in front of the podium. Notice that there are areas in the room where the speaker system that relays the auctioneer’s voice sounds crystal clear…and also areas where it is impossible to hear what is being said.

Smarten up your act.

Research the exact car you want to own by using the internet and asking around. Look at similar examples on a local dealer’s forecourt. Visit the auction and watch as identical cars to the one you want go under the hammer. Make a few notes on the vehicles concerned: the last six digits of the chassis number or the registration plate, specification, mileage and service history. Do not even think of buying, just watch. If those cars go under the hammer for 25% – 30% less than the price you would expect, then you may be at the right auction. Go to the very next auction at that site. Did those exact same vehicles go through again? Why?

Don’t pretend to be somebody you aren’t.

Nobody cares who you really are at an auction. Keep it that way.  The serious buyers are so discreet and polished that it may take you many hours or even days before you notice them. They are not your competition. They will always pull out before you do. When the day finally arrives where you go in for the kill and buy, your competition is most likely to be an idiot private buyer who obsessively bids against you, stupidly jacking the car’s price up beyond its real worth.

Practise a few clever moves.

On your first visits to the auction, find an example of the car you want to buy and stick with it as if it were your own. Watch as dealers come up and survey it. Watch what they see, watch what they do. Learn to move your head as they do, so that reflections on the car’s paintwork  (the hall lighting, the car next to it) ‘slide’ over and across the bodywork. By following the reflections, you will more easily spot dents and paint differences. Notice how some dealers run their index finger along a clean car as they pass along it. Do the same. Resprayed panels often ‘feel’ different.

When the car is started up, ready to enter the auction line, watch what the dealers do, where they look, what they check. If the dealer reaches in and turns the steering wheel sharply, you can bet that it is because power steering racks are expensive to replace on that model. If the dealer tries all the electric windows, perhaps they are prone to fail? Watch what is checked under the bonnet. Follow the car into the hall and watch if those dealers bid on that car.

Beauty had better not be just skin-deep.

That 2008 Audi A5 Quattro Sport in the picture above, with 75,000 miles on the clock, sold for £14,200 ($22,580) last week. Now, that actually is the same price that you could buy that car at a dealership here in Britain. So, did somebody get carried away and forget to stop bidding? Perhaps. But then again, in Germany, $22,580 would only buy you that model if it had been hit hard in a collision. You’d need to find at least an extra $8-10,000 to buy an A5 like the one in the photo.

So, a one-way ferry ticket and two days driving will possibly see that car sitting with a delighted new owner in Eastern Europe who has got a bargain.  Alternatively, that A5 may first of all spend a week in a back-street garage, somewhere in Europe. The dashboard and chassis numbers from a crashed left-hand-drive A5 Quattro will be fitted and it will ‘become’ the crashed car…but apparently now no longer crashed. However, that will be somebody else’s problem; the car shown in the picture is the real deal.

Buying a second-hand car always carries risks, whether you buy privately, from a dealer or from an auction. Strangely, perhaps counter-intuitively, the largest auction houses provide a greater level of protection than you might at first think.

More explanations, buying advice, plus extra-clever tips and safety hints to come!


Car Auctions: How to win on the dance floor in 2012

19 Mar

Firstly, I must apologise for the long delay in posting this guide. After I uploaded the introduction on March 6th, I was attacked by two masked people while I was relaxing at the dentists. Although I put up the best fight I could, they stole one of my teeth.

The main attacker was a Caucasian male who drove an Aston Martin DB 9. He had bought it at an auction. How could I tell? Because it still had the little white label with the bar-code on, stuck to the bottom right of the windscreen. You can see one of these stickers if you click  on the car in the picture above.

Microsoft Paint is one helluva handy little program for airbrushing out details in photographs. But if you take a 500mg Amoxicillin, 1000mg Co-Dydramol and then pop 50mg of Tramadol, you will get the kind of sloppy results you can see in my picture. Assuming, that is, you can actually remember which room you put the damned lap-top in and can still work door handles.

I took this photograph at an auction in the UK last week. This 2003 Ford Focus 1.6LX Automatic Estate had just “had the auctioneer’s hammer drop on it” – a casual term to describe that binding and contractual sale made between the Auction House and it’s new owner who offered the highest bid. That owner was rushing off to get hold of the car’s documents while I went out and snapped this pic of their new possession.

The car shown has air conditioning, alloy wheels, parking sensors, leather interior and holds a current mechanical safety certificate (MoT). It has six Dealer stamps in its Service Book, confirming that it has been driven only 35, 000 miles from new and was regularly serviced by its previous owner.

It was sold for a “hammer price” of £250 ($396). You would be hard – pushed to buy a leather sofa for the same price as this entire car.

The “hammer price” of £250 reminds us that the buyer will have to also pay a further ‘Buyer’s Premium’ to the Auction House – a commission that is charged on all sales. That will be another £200 ($317) making a total of £450 ($714) for the joy of driving that Focus away.

Somebody just bought themselves a great little car for everyday use!

If you enlarge the picture, you will see some clues as to why it went so cheaply. The trade dealers didn’t want it on their forecourt because this car has got a little ‘ding’ or scrape on some of the panels. Car dealers rarely get approached by a customer who says:

“Hi, I’d like to buy a good used car for everyday driving but it must have a couple of little dents and scratches.”

The system just doesn’t work like that. So, the dealers held back and didn’t bid. The bidding “stalled”. Only the ‘private’ bidders (ordinary people like you and I) remained interested and only two people out of about two hundred were concentrating for that moment – about forty seconds – when this car was driven up to the stand.

The auctioneer did what he could to raise interest but he can see a queue of eighty more cars waiting their turn and time is money. Lunch break beckoned. The car was sold.

So, Rule Number One of buying at a car auction is that you have to actually be there with your credit card and your eyes and ears on alert. You can alternatively bid online but I would not personally recommend that. You can tell so much by simply ‘looking’ at a car up close and watching as it is started and driven into the queue for the podium. More on all those techniques in future posts.

This year is proving to be a good year for auction bargains. Over-supply of new cars is resulting in huge discounting of cars that are three years or more in age. However, the increasing cost of insuring certain models is also skewing the market values of some cars.

If you are walking down the street and you see a car that is similar to one which you would like to own, write down its registration plate details and then feed them in to an insurance comparison website ‘search’ page.  That way, you’ll get its exact make and model details up on the screen. Speed-Dating.

Car Auctions: Nightclubs for the over 25s…?

6 Mar

Right. Let’s get down to business.

The first time you had sex with someone who wasn’t actually you, three things happened:

1) You couldn’t compare the sensation to anything else that you had previously experienced.

2) You got a strange look from the person you were doing it with, somewhere towards the end.

3) You suddenly realised why some people did it for a living.

Okay, Now you are a little older, you should try buying at a car auction. Its pretty much the same deal.

Regardless of gender, when you are feeling too old to be going to a nightclub, you are just becoming old enough to enter the world of car auctions. Just like some weird deleted scene from Benjamin Button, as you become too old to spill a Smirnoff Ice while drooling at someone on the dance floor, you come of age to enter a far more exciting world of sober intrigue and expensive nods.

Car auctions are not for everyone. They can be like getting off with a complete stranger and then waking up the next morning to find you have no credit card. Or, they can make you happy for the rest of your life. You can save $5,000 easily at a car auction while having fun at the same time. You can’t do that at a nightclub.

Thousands of one, two and three year old cars are sold each day by Auction Houses. Just one auction I visit regularly can crank the ‘hammer’ speed up to one car sold every fifteen seconds. Most of the second hand cars that you see on a dealer forecourt have been through these auctions. The dealer adds about 30% to the price and sticks them out front, sometimes without even needing to polish the door handles.

The truly massive over-production of new cars in the West is threatening near-catastrophic melt-down of our economies. This is no over-exaggeration. Western Europe relies heavily on new car manufacture to employ it’s workers. As an extreme example, Spain’s demand for new cars has dropped by an estimated 55% since 2007. European manufacturers are over-producing new cars by a rate of 20% per year. Jobs are going to be lost. Presidents and Prime Ministers are looking pasty and grey. Insomnia is the new ‘black’. As new car prices drop, nearly-new car prices drop more. Especially at auctions.

The latest Roadwax “Western Leader Poll” results are in. All western leaders were asked the same three questions by Roadwax, their premier trusted source of internet motoring groove.

Q 1) “As a Western Leader, did you get out of bed at 3.20am last Wednesday and see if there was anything in the fridge worth finishing off?”

Q 2) “Did you eventually decide instead to neck all the whiskey from the cupboard and cancel your first meeting?”

Q 3) “Even though all of you are millionaires, do you ever fancy sneaking off and going down the car auction?”

All Western Leaders have now returned their answers to me. Putin replied twice, but he doesn’t actually count on this one. Sorry, Vlad. Yes, I know you hate being called Vlad.

Just like Roadwax showed you in four easy parts how to find a good car to have a crash in, Roadwax is now going to show you how to understand car auctions and save between £500 and £50,000 from your hard earned cash.

“Toyota accused of deceiving customers” – Sunday Times, 6th February, 2012

11 Feb

The Sunday Times believes it has discovered evidence that Toyota were telling their dealer network not to fix problems in customer’s new cars if the customer hadn’t spotted the problem or the problem itself did not pose a threat to safety.

The Sunday Times has also discovered evidence that the Pope is a Catholic and also that there is a drastic shortage of modern rest-room facilities for bears who live in woodland areas.

The Sunday Times article made me feel a sense of despair inside. Was this “investigative journalism” at its best? No. Were Toyota being singled out for doing only what every other mass production car manufacturer does? Yes. Was this news? Hardly. Is there a three ton elephant standing in the corner of the living room that The Sunday Times cannot see? Maybe.

I would like you all all to meet Kaylee. Kaylee is an intelligent and sweet eight year old girl. She is normal and healthy and today I am taking her to a Dealer Franchise.

Kaylee:  Is this where cars are made?

Me:  No, Kaylee. This is where cars are sold to people and where cars are fixed if they go wrong.

Kaylee: So, the car maker owns this big building and employs all the people?

Me: No, the car maker would rather nail himself to the mast of a sinking ship than do that. He just has his name over the door, like McDogburgers or Putrid Pizza.

Kaylee: So, this is a franchise operation, an administrative and business ‘firewall’ between the manufacturer and the end-customer, acting as a quasi-independent provider of car financing loans, spare parts, service facilities and a drop-in centre for owners with warranty issues?

Me: Yes. Now, get me a coffee from that machine next to the lady with the white blouse.

Kaylee: I got you a FairTrade double latte with extra sugar but you need to put your own vodka into it.

Me: Thank you.

Kaylee: So, the people here make their money buy selling spare parts to the people who bring their cars in for service and also charging them for the time spent to fit the parts, sundry items used in that process and selling them service packages?

Me; Yes. Kaylee, this is tomato soup.

Kaylee. Deal with it. So, surely the franchise dealer is motivated to increase profit by maximising the amount of work that can be carried out on each car that comes in?

Me: Yes.

Kaylee: Ideally, that would necessitate separating the honest mechanic from the ‘front-of-house’ sales team, who are then heavily incentivised to use their highly developed interpersonal skills to maximise the commitment of the car owner, encouraging them to pay for necessary and/or advisable and/or arbitrary work. For this system to be perfected, surely the franchise should nominate a Service Manager and that individual will then instruct the mechanic on what work needs to be carried out on behalf of the customer?

Me: Yes. Kaylee, did you put sugar in this tomato soup?

Kaylee. Sweetener. You need to lose weight. So, if I was the owner of a dealer franchise and I wanted to make extra bucks, I would get the most persuasive, devious and manipulative person I knew and make them my Service Manager. I’d cut a secret cash incentive scheme with them, based on the increased net sales of services added to existing customer’s data. I’d tell the mechanics to carry out work without questioning the Service Manager’s authority and I’d make sure that the customer never gets to talk to anyone but me or the Service Manager.

Me: I bet you would.

Kaylee: However, At the same time, I can ingratiate myself towards the customer I am currently milking to death by suggesting that we invoice the manufacturer for any defects that  might reasonably be covered by the terms of the warranty? Either way, as a franchise, we get payed by one party or the other, don’t we?

Me: That’s right Kaylee. That is why manufacturers fight hard to control warranty claims made by customers who find faults in their cars. The manufacturer is always paranoid that the Service manager is playing both ends for his own benefit.

Kaylee: But surely, there is always evidence of a clear failure or defect in a part and that would have to be presented either to the manufacturer or the customer as evidence of work needing to be done? I mean, people aren’t stupid and there are such things as laws to protect against blatant fraud?

Me: The manufacturer always asks to see the part and can usually tell if it is a legitimate claim. But 99.9% of the time, you can hold up any broken part, one you’ve taken from another car, and the customer will assume that you are not lying. The deception is almost impossible to prove and the customer rarely if ever, disputes the integrity of the Service Manager.

Kaylee: But surely, the scam must go belly-up every now and then? I mean, one day, the Service Manager goes too far with the wrong person?

Me: Yes, but then he has covered all his bases. He has dismantled the customer’s car, has the parts stacked neatly all over the workshop, he holds his ground and he knows that the customer desperately needs his car back. If the customer accuses him of lying, he folds his arms and drags the franchise owner back from the golf course. The customer soon gets the message. Beyond ‘rigging’ a car with hidden cameras, many scams are impossible to prove.

Kaylee: But surely, if the Service Manager is pulling outrageous scams, the service data returning to the manufacturer will show disproportionate levels of component failure on cars serviced at that franchise?

Me: Yes, if the Service Manager is stupid but normally they are clever. They ‘cluster’ faults, attributing them to certain customers or cars where either the customer is an ass or the car is actually a ‘turkey’ which the manufacturer already knows about. That way, it makes it  almost impossible for the manufacturer to prove anything either, regardless of their suspicions. If the manufacturer loves the sales figures for the franchise overall, the manufacturer would be shooting himself in the foot by getting involved.

Kaylee: So, every time we put our car in to be serviced, we stand to get ripped off?

Me: Not every time, not every dealer. Focus on how the scam works and you will see that it pays to pick and choose your dealer and not come across like an ass with plenty of money and no knowledge of modern cars.

Kaylee: But hundreds of thousands of customers must be being ripped off for millions each year by unscrupulous Service Managers and dealerships. Why don’t big investigative newsgroups ever cover this outrageous scam?

Me: Good question.

Kaylee: How old do I have to be before I can buy myself a dealer franchise and learn to play golf?

 

 

© 2012 Loop Withers Roadwax.com

A good car to have a crash in…? Part 1

9 Feb

Fancy a good car crash? Oh, come on, don’t be a chicken. Let’s do it. Its fun…!

About twenty years ago the German Police were  mystified by a sudden spate of random accidents involving stolen cars. Something was not quite right. Something did not make sense. At the crash scene, the lack of tyre marks that would indicate that the driver was braking, the direct angle of impact, small details like these were not as they expected.

It is beyond the comprehension of most of us to intentionally crash the car we are driving into a stationary object. Yes, a few crooks do intentionally crash cars to claim thousands of pounds in insured injury pay-outs, but they are the exception; they are doing it for business reasons.

What the German Police discovered was that a handful of streetwise teenagers were crashing cars for fun. The incredible adrenaline buzz of doing it, the excitement of the unknown…the whiff of gunpowder as the airbags go off and the near –  certainty of running away, high on life, to laugh about it with their mates.

One of the great things about youth is that it draws together the established world it sees and makes of it a new world. These kids had seen the promotional videos for Volvos, Audis and Mercedes. How the calm voice of the manufacturers explained in patient words that these “airbags” would deploy and save the occupants from serious injury in the event of a crash at even 50 kilometers per hour.

Game on…!  One can picture the face of  the staid and methodical German Police detective at the moment where he finally thought the previously unthinkable, imagined the hitherto unimaginable. He was first on the scene at a completely new category of crime: “crashing cars intentionally for the joy of cheating death and serious injury”.

Years later, when the idea had become boring and uncool, even Jeremy Clarkson did it on Top Gear.

In Europe and America, car manufacturers now use the idea of passenger safety as a sales tool, a means of selling their cars to us. It was not always so.

When Ralph Nader, an American pioneer of consumer rights, published a book in 1965 criticising American car manufacturers for designing cars that killed their occupants because they were poorly  designed, he singled out the General Motors Chevrolet Corvair. General Motors responded by singling out Ralph Nader as an untrustworthy commie beatnik with a dangerously un-American agenda.

Nader was right. This new concept of ‘passenger safety’ became forever more  of great importance to western car-buyers.  Nader and his cause flourished while General Motors were shamed into a mumbling apology and ‘getting with the program’. Swedish manufacturer Volvo invented  the three-way diagonal seat belt and, in an act of high-principled generosity, offered it patent-free to all the world’s motor manufacturers, their competition. It immediately became the now-familiar seat belt that we all still wear, albeit in improved form.

Today, when we westerners buy a car, we ask ourselves: “How safe is it?”  This is an interesting point because forty years ago in 1970, we still asked “How sexy will I look and how fast does it go?”  The manufacturers were happy to answer. They were still working hard on developing safety equipment. It was a long, uphill research programme so, in the mean time, hey – look…! Sports Wheels…! Extra Stripes…! Metallic Paint…! Cheap, shiny things. Go on, have a couple of front fog lights, as well. They are totally useless in fog but your neighbour will be jealous and that is what counts, isn’t it?

Even though we knew that safety was important in 1970, we still wanted our cars to be symbols of sexual prowess and have a little of the ‘weapon’ about them. Yes, women too – it was not exclusively men who lusted after power and sex-appeal back then and don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise…

But by 1990, twenty years ago, passenger safety had become the most-used sales tool for western manufacturers and the most talked-over issue when choosing a new car. Safe sex. We westerners still wanted to look like gods in chariots of steel on the outside but please, can we have lots of soft,  curvy plastic bits on the inside instead of all those pointy steel knobs and handles?

Western manufacturers saw their golden opportunity. They stopped talking about how fast their cars went. They talked instead about how safe, economical and trustworthy they were. Cars stopped being sold to us as powerful rocket ships and  began being sold to us as powerful accountants, trustworthy and silent bodyguards, loyal friends.

Now, in 2012, those German teenagers have settled down, had kids and they probably have an Audi A3 parked outside.  Airbag safety and passenger-cell technology is far more advanced. Every day on western roads, men and women walk away from crashes that would have killed them without doubt in 1972, just one generation earlier.

Now, take a look at India in 2012. The Indian economy is racing forward, a well-heeled consumer class is emerging and is hungry for new products. Once again, the car is being pushed like a drug as the ‘must have’ consumer item for the modern Indian family. Just as we westerners were encouraged to take to the roads, spend our money on fuel, tax, insurance, servicing, repairs, depreciation and, oh yes, a shiny new car, so the easterners are being willingly courted by the huge car manufacturers. Now, it is their turn to be dazzled by choice.

But something is not right.

While the wealthy elite of India are rushing to buy luxury cars so fast that America’s top imported brands are increasing sales at an astonishing 40% per year, the average aspirational Indian is being sold something quite different: hastily re-skinned versions of old car designs that will mostly not even pass current European and US safety tests. At best, they will scrape through with disgracefully low scores. Knee joints, rib cages, upper jaws will be broken far more frequently.

Maruti Suzuki manufactures India’s best-selling range of vehicles. Out of their 13 most popular family cars, the company’s own publicity doesn’t even mention the word “safety” on ten of them. It does, however, mention “…bold, sporty styling…”  “…the new force of excitement…” “…thrilling drive…” “…you will smile when you press the accelerator to pass another vehicle…”  All very similar terms to those used by western manufacturers like Ford or GM back in 1970.

So, let’s just pause for a moment and get this straight:

India in 2012 is going to greet the truly massive expansion of private car ownership by building cars that will not protect their occupants any better than westerner’s cars did in 1970?

Which lessons didn’t get learned?

Where is India’s “Ralph Nader”?

© 2012 Loop Withers Roadwax.com

The importance of serving toast correctly

7 Feb

156toastprius

It is 06.47 on a Tuesday morning in Autumn. The timing is important to me. It means that I have two minutes to pull my car over to the side of the long driveway that leads to the hotel. Then, out of public view, I can make sure that the side doors where the passengers will get in are still clean.

The rest of the car can wait. This Toyota Prius was hand washed only fifty miles ago but it already has a fine mist of damp cow dung and clay stuck to it from the last three miles of country road. Sometimes, this damned Prius gets washed twice a day. This is England. England is green and pleasant because it rains a lot.

There  is a finger mark on the back door handle so I polish it away with a tissue, get back in and select ‘Drive’. Six minutes to seven. I have been on the hotel’s CCTV since I turned in from the main road so now the receptionist will be telling the doorman that I am approaching. She likes the chauffeurs who pull over and check their car before advancing into her domain.

As I glide out from beneath the blue misty gloom of the trees that line the drive, the great house appears, lit silver and brass by the dawn sun. Its solid  lines dominate the cow draped pastures before it and one knows without doubt that this is how it was intended to be first seen by its visitors. The finest stone and brick faces outwards, protecting the whitest bedsheets and towels from those who have no business within.

The digital clock on my dash changes to 06.55 as I coast the last fifty metres on electric power towards the giant front door where a valet stands, staring intently towards me. On the raked circle of gravel ahead of me, a silver Mercedes S-Class is loading. Its passengers wait while the driver rushes to open the rear doors and let them inside. I brake to a halt early and flash my dipped headlights at the doorman. He raises one finger in acknowledgement from his white gloved hand to bid me to stop and wait. He brushes his electric blue waistcoat and turns to look to the valet who stands at the top of the great stone steps at the front of the house.

I recognise the driver of the Mercedes. His name is Eric. Eric used to be in business with my boss. Now, he is not. I can guess why. Eric is snatching the cases from the pea-shingle drive and stacking them in the back. He shuts the tailgate and strides round to get in behind the wheel. I can see his passengers settling in the back seat and then Eric is rolling, hard right lock, his headlights reflecting off the low stone wall that make his turn so tight.

The gardener stands with his rake and watches in case Eric’s turn requires the grains of pea shingle to be restored. I take my foot off the brake and roll forward to the Portland stone doorway. The doorman now looks to me, pointing downwards with his finger to exactly where he wishes me to position myself  beside his perfect shoes. I catch a glimpse of Eric’s intense and reddened face as he drives by. He glares ahead to the darkness of the beckoning trees.

I push the button and my window glass drops with a whir and the cold air creeps in. The doorman bows towards me and stares into my eyes. I set the parking brake with my foot.

“Having fun…?” I make a cheesy grin up towards him. His mouth is already forming his first words to me but he stops and straightens, looking back to the house. I can hear the valet’s voice. The doorman nods and then bows to me again. He speaks.

“No, I am not. Go round again. We are all out of sequence now…” The frustration in his voice makes me click the handbrake off without delay but his gloved hands still hold on to my door so I keep my foot on the brake.

“Give way to the black BMW that is just arriving, come in back here as soon as he goes, yes…?”

“Yes.” I make to move away but he still keeps his hands on my door. I look back at him. He is staring after Eric’s Merc. He speaks softly.

“That couple…” He struggles for words. “…they got drunk last night and then cancelled Eric’s car. Then, this morning they start screaming at us, asking where he is. They couldn’t remember a thing. Eric only just raced back from Heathrow now. They only had to wait half an hour but…my god…they made sure that everybody knew!”  He stares at me.

“Now…” he continues,  “…I have a gentleman who ordered that BMW for seven fifteen and then changed it to seven…then I do you…”

“What about my seven o’clock…?” I ask.

“She’s just enjoying her toast.” He makes a cheesy grin back to me and he winks. He drops his gloved hands from my door and gives me a dry smile. “Go, go, go…”

A black BMW 740 is approaching fast in my mirror and I glide out of  its path, swinging right lock as it stops on the gravel where I waited a second before. The doorman bows forward to the driver and speaks with him. I drive off and turn again in the staff car park. I wonder how long it takes to eat toast and if I can get a little more door cleaning fitted in.

A warning light in my head tells me not to stop and I swing back into the arrival point for the second time. It is just as well that I do because the black BMW 740 is just pulling away with the  gentleman  inside. The doorman stands, pointing to the ground by his feet, giving me a stiff nod. I coast up and stop a second time.

“Here she comes. One suitcase. Get the door for her and I’ll load you.”

I leap out as he strides to the tailgate. The great hotel facade reflects in the gloss black paintwork of my car. There is a patch of manure and straw stuck on the freshly waxed rear tyre. I scoot around the car and I pull my new passenger’s door open and she gets in without breaking her step or acknowledging me.

The doorman helps the valet who is struggling to fit her huge suitcase in over the lip of the tailgate. I close her door and I pull the boot lid down. A white Range Rover appears behind us and stops short, waiting for me to leave. Two slim businessmen are now standing in the hotel doorway, flanked by the valet and the doorman. They are holding identical carbon fiber briefcases and both wear a small enamel lapel badge, probably identifying their employer or the private society to whom they belong. They are glaring with disapproval towards me. I am in their way.

I pull full right lock and I am facing back to the long avenue of trees that line the drive. The Range Rover pulls up in my vacated space and the parking valet leaps out, holding the door for the two men who get in the front and slip sunglasses on in unison.

I greet my passenger.

“Good morning…!” I try to sound as welcoming as possible. ” Heathrow, terminal five..?”

I haven’t noticed that she has already got her earpieces in and is making calls on her Blackberry. She cradles it in her lap. Her crisp voice cuts across my last words.

“David, its me. Do Vogue America have our proposal on their desk…? Good…I’m in the car going to Heathrow now, so they only have forty minutes to speak to me…”

I curse myself in silence for my failure to spot the white wires that snake up the side of her neck into her blond hair. I push the car hard down the narrow drive. This will make it float better over the bumps and it will also show her that I am not wasting my time. The fallen leaves swirl behind us, sucked up by the car and left to tumble in wait for the Range Rover. I don’t want the two spooks in the Range Rover crowding my rear end at the junction.

Far ahead, a black Chrysler pulls over into the passing bay, flashing me to let me know that I have priority.

“Well…that is their problem, David. Make them sweat and I’ll call you when I am in the air…lousy…book me in somewhere else  next time David…dreadful….the toast was cold again…yes…I had to send it back twice, would you believe…?…I don’t care, David, anywhere that understands how to serve toast…”

I flash my headlights to the Chrysler as I pass him and I begin to brake for the cattle grid at the gate house.

She settles back in her seat and looks out of her window.

© 2012 and 2014 Loop Withers   Roadwax.com

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