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Pimp My Ride -To the Garden Centre and Back!

Pimp My Ride -To the Garden Centre and Back!

We’ve all done it – popped along to the local garden centre for a packet of sunflower seeds and come out with enough new plants to re-stock a small country estate. It is also virtually impossible to leave without a trailer full of compost, a nice new shiny stainless steel thingamibob for weeding the borders or maybe a Lady Spade! Which is all very well until you get to the family Mondeo and wonder how you are going to fit it all in.

The bottom line is that most cars and I include Chelsea Tractors and pick ups in this sweeping statement, were not designed for the garden centre run. The loading procedure for your average shopping trip inevitably takes the form of a scene from ‘It’s a Knockout’ with Stuart Hall providing a hilarious commentary as the boot, back seat, foot wells and glove box are engulfed in horticultural stuff.

Yes, of course you can cheat and take advantage of the free home delivery, but not everyone can wait to get their new plants and ‘sundries’ home; besides, what if you live outside the delivery area? A few years ago I remember travelling throughBirminghamin my gleaming company car when I spotted a garden centre with a sign proclaiming ‘SALE– EVERYTHING HALF PRICE!’ This always has that red rag/ bull effect on yours truly so business meetings were cancelled as I went hunting for a bargain. Unfortunately, my bargain(s) turned out to be a pair of spiral topiary specimen trees which were approximately 6 feet tall and planted in substantial pots of very heavy compost. Stuart Hall would have had a field day; my suit, the previously immaculate car and my self-esteem were in tatters as I managed to cajole these monsters through the boot, across the back seat and onto the dashboard. Thankfully the trees survived unscathed and are still resplendent in the front garden of my old house – however, every time I pass by I get flashbacks of the journey from hell and the hefty cleaning bill!

Luckily I have never been one of those people who feel a need to drive around in a spotless car and, having now acquired 3 children and assorted dogs, that isn’t an option anyway. Yes I’ve done the flash motor bit but my latest jalopy, an old Volvo estate, is proving to be as close to perfection as I can get for garden centre forays. Firstly, it has got a massive boot with a low sill; with the back seats down you could even get a garden bench in there! Secondly it already has a background aroma of ‘Eau de Wild Bunch’ so a stray bit of manure won’t make any difference. Most importantly, I have a good feel for exactly how much I can load in before either the suspension gives up the ghost or the boys in blue read me my rights. If I had one complaint it would be the lack of headroom for tall plants (sod the passengers!) but perhaps I could get someone to fit one of those concertina roofs like you see on Camper Vans.

The big problem with garden centre purchases is the ‘randomness’ of it all. Normally your groceries will fit neatly into plastic bags. Not so your garden supplies where you have to try and keep your plants from toppling over and prevent muddy water from dripping on your velour upholstery. I would love to see the Top Gear team have a go at ‘pimping’ your average car into the ideal wheels for garden centre devotees – Jeremy Clarkson take note!

Maybe ‘garden centre user friendliness’ would not be top of your average road tester’s priorities when putting the latest Porsche through it’s paces – but I would be willing to bet that at some stage in its life it’s going to have some inappropriate plant life on the passenger seat following a trip to the garden centre!

 Garden article provided by Recommended, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.

Road test Volvo S60 D5

Volvo S60 D5

Volvo has long been viewed as sitting in the second tier of prestige car manufacturers, a club that includes Saab and Alfa Romeo. The reasons for this are simple, dynamically and stylistically any recent model Volvo has produced has

not been the match of its rivals from Audi, Mercedes and BMW. With the new S60, Volvo has set out to remedy this, or at least that’s what the launch advertising campaign would have us believe.

The S60 is aimed squarely at the “compact, prestige, sporting saloon” segment of the market, in other words it is up against the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. What is it doing differently that will enable Volvo to take the fight to these titans of the prestige car industry? Well, if we start with the styling I have to say it looks the part. From the side profile it has the curves that, these days, are associated with a four door coupé and from the rear everything is taut and tidy. Unfortunately, until Volvo decides to completely abandon its boxy heritage, the front end is always going to be a problem. Even with the trendy LED running lights, the headlights are bulbous and awkward looking. To my eye the car looks slightly too high sided and stubby as well.

Climb inside and everything is as it should be in an executive saloon. The fit and finish, quality of plastics and all-round ergonomics are nearly up there with the Audi and ahead of anything BMW or Mercedes have to offer. I’m not wild about the slab-like centre console but it is a Volvo after all. The front seats are supremely comfortable but if you get in the back you will find that the price of those coupé-like looks is limited leg room, a centre seat that is strictly for kids and a slightly claustrophobic feel. There are also some funky things on the options list, how about a collision avoidance system that detects pedestrians walking out in front of you and applies the brakes before you run them over?   

Volvo’s tried and tested 2.4 litre 5 cylinder diesel produces 204bhp in this guise, enough for a 7.4 second 0-62 time and a top end of 146mph. I like the hefty shove in the back it gives when it hits the power band and that distinctive 5 cylinder warble makes it one of the few diesels that I actually enjoy the sound of. The economy figures don’t quite keep up with the likes of BMW, expect around 50mpg in mixed motoring, but are perfectly respectable. I drove the six speed manual which is fine, but I hear that the automatic is to be avoided.

What about the handling though? After all, Volvo has made a huge song and dance about what a sporty drive this car is. I can report that this is without doubt the best handling Volvo I have ever driven and I would go further, it is considerably better than the class leading Ford Mondeo whose platform it shares. Even so, it doesn’t exactly make your heart sing and urge you to push it into every corner as hard as you can. The steering is decidedly lifeless too. By way of contrast the ride is excellent, soaking up the bumps like a bigger car but without any wallowing or excessive roll. The way I see it is that it will be a rare occasion indeed when you explore the limits of the handling envelope of your sporty saloon, but a supple ride is something you will appreciate every time you drive it.

The S60 is a solid all rounder and represents good value for money. Somehow though, I don’t think that it will have the German aristocracy quaking in their boots. Even so, if you are bored with your A4 or 3 Series, it is worthy of serious consideration. And if you are quite happy to drive a second tier, prestige sporty saloon, this is definitely the one to go for.

Kit Johnson

Car tested Volvo S60 D5               £26,745 RRP   

Car review provided by Recommended, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public

Lions and Rhinos and Chimps, oh my!


Lions and Rhinos and Chimps, oh my!

Arriving in Kenya, I passed a shop called “Guns and Cameras- for all your shooting needs” and thought about how tourism inAfrica has changed. The game I’m used to is more pheasant than big five, so I was eager to see some seriously exotic specimens. I prefer to be an individual traveller and would hate to have every second of my adventure planned out for me. However,Kenya is vast and with so much to see I decided that a tour operator was definitely the way to maximise my chances of success on my hunt for big game; albeit shooting with an SLR rather than an elephant gun!

The journey to Masai Mara, in westernKenya, is certainly more pothole than road; you can opt for a hot air balloon tour of the national park but I definitely wanted the real experience. It wasn’t the migration season so there would be no thunderous herds of buffalo, the original fast food. It was actually just before the rains started, so water was short and the animals would hopefully be localised around permanent watering holes and rivers.

Our lion sighting could have been better, just a lazy old boy sunbathing on a rock; not the stealthy lioness I was hoping for! We were told elephants were nearby because of the trampled grass but I was more concerned about the rhinos; apparently they can run at 35mph and, because of their poor eyesight, they sometimes charge for no reason! Luckily, our rhino seemed quite content eating and posing while we snapped away.

Meeting the local Masai people is an incredible experience. You are welcomed with a performance of traditional dance, giraffes mingled in the background, and each member of the small community comes over to say hello.  I must admit I was quite embarrassed by the whole affair; American tourists ‘ohmygaad’ at every Kenyan they meet and you also get the distinct impression that, however enthusiastic and talented, the villagers are very good at the whole ‘we’ve never seen a white man before’ routine. In fact, they put us to shame somewhat; not only do they speak an enchanting African language called Maa, they are also pretty good at Swahili and English too. I just hope they get paid well for humouring us all.

Your trip will usually be split across the parks in order to maximise chances of seeing everything on offer. We had a specific afternoon dedicated to watering holes where we saw a herd of zebra drinking in the late afternoon and just caught a distant glimpse of buffalo. Our guide pointed out a leopard in a tree to the other side of our jeep, apparently not hungry enough to hunt the stripy sitting ducks. At Lake Nakuru we exchanged our four wheels for a boat and for the next hour all I saw were pink flamingos sleeping all along the banks. Our boat put-putted along between enormous hippos that groaned at us for disturbing their rest.

My last stop was the Mombassa Jungle where I hoped to meet a real life King Kong! On the way there we had to make an unexpected stop to check on another jeep that had driven off the ‘road’ quite a way; they had pulled in to look at a whole family of elephants! Unfortunately, we didn’t see any gorillas; apparently they are very shy indeed. We did meet lots of orphaned chimpanzees, being looked after by older members of the group.

Kenyaoverwhelmed me with its hospitality and beautiful wildlife. I leave it with a full memory card. Hopefully this will not be the last time I watch the African sun go down.

Carrie Cartwright-Owen


Travel article was provided by Recommended, Sutton Coldfield commnity magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.