BMW, you are forgiven

Something has changed within me.  Something small that is also big.  Something largely irrelevant yet hugely significant.  Apparently I like the BMW Mini.

Those of you who know me will appreciate that this is a big deal.  I have been an avid enthusiast of the classic Mini since I was a nipper, and for several years owned a lovely example of a 1.3i Mini Sidewalk called Neddy.  I loved Minis for their adaptability, their ease of customisation, their simplicity, their charm, their inherently superb handling characteristics, their personality and sense of fun.  When BMW bought the Rover brand and halted production of the Mini, I hated them for it.

Now, I’m not one to be easily opinionated, and I must point out that I at least tried to start off on an even keel.  I watched with interest as various concepts for the new Mini were batted around the web like ping pong balls.  When BMW finally launched the new Mini, I was fairly impressed – they had packed a lot of technology into the car in an effort to make it compare favourably with the classic Mini’s handling and performance.  But it was big, no matter how you compared it.  Taller, longer, fatter.

So I took one for a test drive.  I was surprised they didn’t ask me any questions beforehand really, as I had no intention of buying it at all, I just fancied a drive.  I didn’t like it.  It felt big, compared to the classic Mini.  The 1.6 litre engine in the Cooper model I drove didn’t feel anywhere near supersonic, the retro styling looked forced, and the bucket seat meant that I knocked my elbow on it every time I changed gear.

And so it was that I decided the BMW Mini was not a good car.  This was reinforced by my friends at Colchester Mini Club and various online forums, where people even more enthusiastic than me for the old classic harboured deep-seated grudges and employed all sorts of derogatory terms for the new kid in the car park.  The convertible model, especially in yellow, was always referred to as a “skip”.  Put simply, it just wasn’t a Mini, and therefore wasn’t as good.

Since then, several years have gone by, I have sold my Mini and owned several other cars since, and the BMW Mini is now in it’s third revision.  Such is its popularity that it continues to sell in droves across the world, and BMW have released a plethora of variants: there’s the Clubman for small families; the Coupe for those without friends or family to transport; the Roadster for those who like to pretend it’s hot; the Countryman for those who drive in fields; the Paceman for those who like headroom.  A Mini for everyone, they’ll have you believe.  In doing so, BMW have actually done something I never expected – they’ve made the Mini accessible to everyone.  That’s something the original Mini was famous for.  It’s taken me quite by surprise.

So here I am, wondering whether my years-long protestation against the BMW Mini was unfounded, or at the very least excessive.  To help me clarify things in my own mind, I started thinking about what I might choose if I were looking for a fun hatchback as a second car, and what the competition might be.  A Fiesta is solid, reliable, and reasonably practical.  But it’s nowhere near as stylish as a Mini, and not as much fun to drive.  A Clio is a good cheap budget car, but it does look and feel cheap next to a Mini.  A Civic has an amazing engine, and especially in the Type-R variant is superb to drive, and is much more practical than a Mini.  But it has less soul.  After all that comparison, I would have to conclude that if I were in that situation I would actually buy a BMW Mini after all.

There is something deep going on here.  Something unexpected and life-changing.  And I think it’s called forgiveness.

One of the tasks in the Exploring Christianity course I’m doing was to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer for today’s listeners.  So I wrote something for classic Mini enthusiasts, exploring the ways in which the meaning behind the Lord’s Prayer was echoed in the culture and thinking of such people.  It’s worth a read.  One section, interpreting the phrase “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”, commented simply, “Forgive BMW?  Never!”  Like a mirror held up to my own face, I realised that I had held a grudge against BMW for ruining the Mini, and now I wonder whether I was too harsh.  BMW have taken the Mini brand to places it would never have gone if they’d kept producing the original 1959 design.  It’s full of technology, it’s fun to drive, it’s incredibly stylish, and stands apart from other cars on the road.  I still prefer the ‘original’ BMW to the later models though, they’ve got a bit fat in their old age.  But still, it’s a momentous revelation – I like the BMW Mini.

And so, BMW, I forgive you.  I also hope you’ll forgive me, because it seems there’s very little you needed to be forgiven for in the first place.

There.  That feels much better.

Last night at the Mini club

B is for B-roads and Bye Byes

(Sorry this post is a little belated, I’ve had a lot on and haven’t got round to writing this up).

Ahead of our cross-country migration at the end of this month, I’ve been having to schedule in some goodbyes.  Significant amongst my friendship groups is the Colchester Mini Club, both the cars and their drivers.  I’ve been a member of the club for as long as I’ve owned a Mini, which is several years, and last Wednesday was my last opportunity to go to a club meeting.  It was a night of fun and excitement, even if it was tinged with sadness.

Something else that made that night a little more difficult was that my Mini was going to be there.  I’ve been going to the meetings each month in the Escort for a while now, while Neddy was off the road for the winter, but there was a very different feel on Wednesday evening driving there knowing that I was no longer a Mini owner, especially given that the car was going to be there anyway, belonging to someone else.  Selling a Mini really is like selling a close friend, and there’s a lot of emotion surrounding it.

He lives!!

Neddy

I know it’s Easter Sunday, and I really am excited and thrilled to know that Jesus rose from the dead, but there’s more – Neddy lives too!  It’s clearly the day for resurrections.  After several months of being garaged, my lovely Mini is now back on the road, healthy and alive and really loving it!

I was actually hoping to sell Neddy way back in November, when we bought our Ford Escort Ghia X, which was intended to replace our little Mini.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find a buyer at the time, what with the credit crunch driving car prices down, so Neddy sat almost completely forgotten in the garage, not seeing the light of day or feeling the tarmac under his tyres.  I did make sure the car was MOTed before Christmas, but due to lack of buyers I opted to SORN the car rather than renewing the tax disc, with the intention of getting the ball rolling again in the spring, by which time hopefully the car market would have improved.

The garage is a dangerous place for a car

As many of you will know, I am trying to sell my beloved Mini.  Some may say that this is the wrong time to be selling a classic car, what with the economic state of the country – the credit crunch means people don’t have much spare money, and petrol prices are so high that an additional car probably won’t be high on people’s agendas.  Still, I can’t really justify (or afford) to have two cars, especially if one of them is just sitting not doing anything.  So it’s for sale.

Unfortunately, having a Ford Escort as well now as my daily runner, the Mini has been left neglected in the garage.  Now, normally this would be a good thing; the garage is dry and safe, so in that sense it’s the best place for it.  What I forgot to do was disconnect the battery.  As a result, the month and a half it’s been sat stationary has drained the battery almost to its limits, the consequence being that the car won’t start.  Ordinarily, not the end of the world.  But it was supposed to be going in for its MOT today, so that’s had to be postponed until I can get the car running again.

A spot of refinement

Today marked a significant transition into the real world for me.  Today I bought a new car.  Not brand new, but it is a reasonably modern, normal car, unlike my beloved Mini with whom I have enjoyed many happy hours.  It’s been on the cards for some time now, for various reasons, and today finally saw that goal achieved.

The car in question is a Ford Escort.  In fact, more than that, it’s a Ford Escort Ghia X, which is pretty much as posh as Escorts ever came.  It’s got such refinements as central locking, air conditioning, electric windows, heated windscreen, 6-CD multichanger, sunroof, power steering, airbags, and even a light in the boot.  A far cry from the more simple design of the Mini.  And a lot cheaper, too.

Planning for the future

NeddyIt seems only yesterday I bought Neddy, my lovely little Mini Sidewalk, unadulterated and raring to get into the Mini scene.  I’ve since added my own refinements, like 5-spoke alloy wheels and a carbon-fibre dashboard and suchlike, but it’s remained essentially the same car.  Cute, friendly, stubborn at times, but a great friend.

Odd, then, that I should be even considering letting that car go.

Unfortunately, that’s the way life is at the moment.  Minis are great fun, and I can’t think of a car better suited to me, but in all honesty they’re not the most practical of vehicles.  For just me, it’s fine, but my wife wants to learn to drive, we want to have kids, and there just isn’t enough room in a Mini for all that.  I wouldn’t want Ellie learning to drive in a Mini, not because I’m afraid of her breaking anything, but more because I’m afraid of it breaking her – Minis don’t have crumple zones.  The inevitable upshot of that looming eventuality is that Neddy will need to go.

Manningtree Vehicle Show

CMC club standSunday it was supposed to rain.  At least, that’s what the weather report said on Thursday.  By the time it got to Sunday morning the MET office had revised its decision and said that it wasn’t going to rain.  But it was going to be grey and misty and cloudy and miserable.  And it was.  In the morning.  By the afternoon we were enjoying glorious sunshine.

And it was on this day that I went with Colchester Mini Club to the Manningtree High School Classic Vehicle Show.  Not restricted to just Minis, there were cars of all sorts in attendance, all (or at least most) shined up and tidied to be on show.  Photos of the event are in my new Picasa album.

Making time for… everything

Work has generally been quite busy recently.  Which is a good thing.  More work means more money.  However, there is more to life than work, and there are a whole load more things I need to squeeze into my week than just work.  I’d like to share just a few of this week’s additional bits and bobs with you.  It gives me something to do after all.

This afternoon I took the opportunity to put work on hold briefly while I went outside and mowed the lawn.  It has needed doing for a while now, and I’ve been putting it off, but today I figured I ought to take advantage of the sunshine and get out there while I can.  Looking at the forecast, the weekend isn’t going to be too promising.  The lawn actually needs treating at some point, as one half of it looks to be more moss than grass.  We’ve got some moss-killer, it’s just a case of spraying it on and letting it do its job.  I didn’t get round to that today, but I did cut the grass and do the edges, so the garden is looking nice now.  I also noticed that the peas in our vegetable patch are beginning to grow too!  We’ve got carrots and parsnips in there too, but I only planted them last week so it’s no surprise they’re not topside yet.

What’s up, doc?

They say time flies when you’re having fun.  My recent absence from this blog is testament to the additional truth that actually time flies regardless.  True, I have had a lot of fun recently, but it has been mixed with periods of busyness too, the combination of which has meant that finding time to sit down and rant about it here has been quite difficult.  Nevertheless, the time has now been found, and here I sit to write a conspicuously verbose update.  In case such lengthiness should put you off, I’m dividing this blog into subheadings, to make the sheer quantity of text a little more bite-sized and easier to digest.  If you haven’t the time to read it all, I completely understand.  Just bear in mind that I went to the effort of writing it.  So there.

So, first of all, a general introduction.  Many things have happened since my last blog post, including (but not exclusively): two trips to theatres, some significant developments on the business front, a somewhat extended birthday, Neddy going to the garage a couple of times, a couple of additions to the Dawkins household, an above-average number of requests to lead worship, and a general realisation that Ellie and I are taking over our church.  That’s quite a lot to write about.  I’ll try to keep some of it brief.  Just to demonstrate that, you’ll notice the lack of information in the spaces between words.  Every little helps.

New Year resolutions for Neddy

This past week has brought some worry and some excitement, mostly in the monetary department.  Running my own business means taking responsibility for dealing with the numbers, and satisfying Mr Tax Man that I’m a good little boy.  It came as something of a surprise, then, when I checked the HMRC web site on Boxing Day to discover that in fact my Self Assessment Tax Return had to be done and dusted by the end of this month.  Clearly I had got confused, since I thought that was due later on, but never mind.  I therefore set about downloading a year’s worth of bank statements, categorising all my incomings and outgoings and tallying that against my business records, before finally being able to plug the right figures into the online system to tell me how much tax the government was going to demand of me.

As it happens, the whole process was far less complicated and stressful than I thought it was going to be.  The online Self Assessment system is easy to use and doesn’t use too much jargon, which is good for people like me who have trouble adding two numbers together, let alone knowing the difference between net and gross.  I always thought a net was something for catching fish.  Anyway, in the end I managed to give it all the information it wanted, and told me that I had paid about £1100 more tax than I should have done in 2006-07.  Thanks.