Shall we start 2016 with a heated debate amongst shed-dwelling blokes, who enjoy browsing Machine Mart catalogues in their spare time? Hell yes! So here are my top ten best value classic cars – not the greatest designs, or the fastest, just vehicles you can own without robbing the bank, enjoy.

audi tt classic


10. Audi TT

Let’s be honest, a good one isn’t super cheap to buy or especially cheap to run, but it is a great looking car from the late 90s, which has aged well. Early ones are all manual gearboxes, and the 1.8 is the economy option. Having some shared VW group parts also helps keep the maintenance costs reasonable too. In the end, you have to say that for 3K you will struggle to get a 2-seater 150bhp coupe that’s as much fun, or looks so handsome.

9. Mazda MX5

`That’s a girl’s car mate.’ Well, up to a point yes, but if you drive an MX5, you’ll like it. Punch, gutsy acceleration, sweet handling too. It’s been said many times before but the Mazda 5 is a Lotus that’s more reliable and apart from some MX5 models suffering corrosion at the back end, there’s little to watch out for. In a word fun, all for about 4K – steer clear of the early models and get a 2 litre `06 plate onwards, or the 1.8 if you need to save £500 on the asking price.

8. Mercedes SLK

Can you believe that you can buy an SLK for under 1800 quid nowadays? Admittedly, the cheap SLKs tend to have faults and high miles, but it’s a sporty little German car for the same price as a beaten up 1.6 Mk III Ford Capri. Hang onto an original 1990s SLK because it is bound to be a classic one day and worth SL280 money in a decade’s time.

7. Austin/Morris Mini

A vast network of spares suppliers, accessory retailers, clubs and dedicated websites all help make Mini ownership an easier proposition than say owning a Humber Snipe. It’s also more fun to drive a 1.0/1100 Mini than many 1970s classic cars, as the go-kart handling and low driving position make it seem quicker than it really is.

Yes, they rot from the inside out, and yes, the small radiator blows its top if you get stuck in traffic on hot days, but the Mini has toy-like charm, everyone loves it and you’ll have a queue of buyers ready when you decide you’re had enough of being deafened by the road noise at 60mph. Ace value, runners start from about £1000, but spend £3000 to get something that’s been restored recently.

6. Toyota MR2

Early models from the 80s are getting hard to find now, so prices have shot up, but the Mk 2 and Mk 3 models are still reasonably cheap and offer brilliant fun, top-down motoring, with cheap insurance and everyday servicing/spares costs thrown in. Reliable, needs the oil level watching closely and the headlights can do that misting up thing quite easily.

mr2 1 no plate

5. VW Golf VR6 mid-90s

If you can bear the high insurance and fuel consumption costs, the VW Golf V6 is a fantastic car for under four grand. Try to avoid examples where men in baseball caps with strange tattoos have decided to fit smoky glass, purple spoilers and disco lighting, and you’ll love this grunty, rapid and practical classic.

There are still plenty of examples about and if buy sensibly and use the car at weekends, you’ve got a great value, kick-ass hot hatch that will last for years.

4. Saab 900

Ground-breaking car in its time and arguably saved the company from an early demise back in the 1980s, well OK…it staved off the end while GM owned the Swedish brand and wondered what to do with it.

The 900 isn’t very good looking but it’s built well and a practical thing to drive regularly too, which many late 70s cars aren’t, like say Rover SD1s, big 6 litre Jags or Alfas from way back when.

Try to buy a late ’80s Saab 900 saloon model though, as these will become true classics, whereas the GM owned 1994s-2000s 900s will fade into obscurity. Spend around 6K to get something really looked after, worth it in the long run.

3. Ford Cortina Mk III

The classic `Coke bottle’ looks of the Mk 3 Cortina define the 70s, as much as Corona fizzy pop, Spangles or TV sitcoms like `It Ain’t Half Racist Mum.’

A 1.6 or 2 litre Cortina XL is a decent car to drive occasionally and spares aren’t too expensive or difficult to find. The big problem is rust on something this old and a fully restored Cortina will set you back about 8000 quid, but it’s worth it if you want a minter.

You can get something running OK and slightly foxed at the edges for half that money. The Cortina is sure to rise in value however, especially the 2000 GXL/GT models.

cortina 1


2. MGB Roadster

Loads to choose from, a massive spares industry keeping them going, plus a wealth of knowledge from owners clubs. You cannot go wrong owning an MGB convertible, unless you lose your mind and decide to drive it in everyday traffic. Then it will simply break down, just like it did when new… and you’ll hate it.

Save your MGB for sunny Sundays, and keep tinkering away at it because it will always be worth ready cash if kept in nice nick. A good one costs at least 8K, but it’s amazingly cheap to insure and run as a classic – and you won’t lose money on it unless you neglect it badly.

  1. Austin Allegro. ( Only joking, it’s a vile contraption that should have been burnt at the stake back in the 70s.)

No the real winner in terms of overall value for your cash is the Alfa Romeo Spider from the early 1990s. True, a good Mk 4 example costs over 10K and even a slightly dodgy one is probably going to be 7K, but look at it. It’s utterly beautiful and has the lush, Dolca Vita lines that you expect when someone says the words `Italian sports car.’

Save this car for the days when your soul needs some TLC and choose a road where the usual bell-ends have all taken off for the coast. Get the top down, the music turned up loud and you’ll feel damn lucky to be alive, and driving a piece of motoring magic.

Noise, handling, beauty – that’s what classic cars should be all about and the Alfa has it in spades. It will also rocket in value as the modern GM-platform engineered Spider simply doesn’t have the uniqueness of an older model.

sale-spider 90s red





Floods: A Tale of Two Britains

Posted: December 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

The recent flooding affecting parts of the UK, such as Cumbria, Lancashire, Yorkshire and North Wales shows how divided we are – there are truly two nations, a widening gap between a wealthy elite and the rest of us, that Charles Dickens would recognise.

london vs rest infrastructure graphic

In this land of Haves vs Have-Nots, Londonistas vs Provincial Yokels. London is a completely separate economy. It has an infrastructure spend per-capita that is ten times more than many UK regions, and five times its nearest rival, the North-West.

Take any economic indicator you choose; property values, average wages, rents, the price of a meal in a restaurant, and you see the difference. Despite devolution, the Capital still has all the real political power and the net result is a creation of a underfunded hinterland, where road bridges fracture, pot-holes pitch cyclists over their handlebars and flood defences are overwhelemed by heavy rainfall. It rains the UK, especially in the North, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. But there is a cadre of wealthy politicians in London, in all parties, who simply ignore this fact of nature.

Worse still, there is little practical help, despite words of sympathy from wellie-wearing politicians in suits, enjoying a cheap day out in other people’s misery.

People’s homes and businesses are ruined as insurers squabble over receipts from DFS, Currys or Amazon, to try and disprove the notional replacement value of your sodden goods.

There is a government backed insurance scheme, paid for by a levy on house insurance policies. Do you know how much help you get when flooded out of your house? £500. Yep, 500 quid, which won’t even pay one month’s rent on temporary accommodation, never mind the deposit and letting vulture, sorry letting agent’s fees. Any other money from the fund is a loan, or a grant, which means 47 pages of form-filling and a ten month wait to get a pay-out. Pathetic.



The Lakes. Lots of water there. Rains a bit too.

If you look at Cumbria – a county which includes the Lake District and several major rivers prone to flooding, you see a flood defence budget of around £45million since 2005. The budget for the Thames Estuary flood defence scheme is £485m. The Thames Barrier cost £1.6billion (adjusted for inflation) and a further £6m per year to maintain. The budget for the London `super-sewer’ is estimated at £4.2billion. Shall I keep going, or can we accept that London is a priority when it comes to flood risk management, to the near-exclusion of others in the UK?

cumbria flood budget

No matter what the causes of climate change are, the fact is that water will go where the hell it likes. That’s nature. So if we have areas within the UK like Cumbria, which feature higher rainfall on average, compared to London, then surely the spend per head of the population should be at least the same as in London?

Let’s stop bribing overseas regimes with bogus `aid’ packages and start spending on bridges, drains, spillways and dredging. All of which will alleviate the worst of the flooding. Isn’t it time to admit we are no longer a global superpower and scale down our ridiculous defence budget? We have no empire and no business in trying to pretend we can conduct some type of economic colonialism either. Those days are gone. Spend the savings on building infrastructure; roads, cycleways, power stations, superfast broadband…you know, stuff we actually need.

If Britain is to remain one nation, not a rag-bag of regions surrounding London and endlessly holding the begging bowl like Oliver Twist, then we need real regional power. Local taxation, local spending plans, local economies. Devolution that actually shifts power away from the Capital.

One day London will be thirsty for the plentiful water that falls on the Pennines, the Lakeland Fells, Snowdonia or the Galloway Hills. Then, the regions of the UK that have been left to slowly rot, and cope as best they can with repeated floods, should exact a high price.


kindle books on culture, politics, opinion, ISIS, caliphate, middle east, terrorism,

Essays on London & more

Read more about London vs The Rest of the UK in Notes From The Margins on Kindle.

al book 003

About a month ago I published my book of Paris-Dakar Rally memories, Circles In The Sand, using the Amazon Createspace template. Print-on-demand lets you get around the tedious business of arse-kissing literary agents called Tamsin or Toby, or waiting 18 months to get royalties from a small publishing house.

Self publishing is often mocked, rightfully so when people who simply cannot string two sentences together use it to release their dreary misery memoir, sci-fi novel or brief history of adult colouring books tome. But it does allow you to put your own truth onto the page, tell a story with panache, style and entertain the reader. As Tony Montana noted back in the 80s, `The World Is Yours.’

John Deacon Paris Dakar bike racer, enduro rider

John Deacon – Dakar racer, back in the day.

On the off chance you like extreme motorsports, annoying Parisians, dangerous `plane landings in the Sahara, or iron-butt racers tackling the greatest challenge in motorcycle enduro racing, here’s an extract.

” They forced me to sit upfront in the `copter’s boiling hot plastic bubble, alongside the pilot. But I was lucky, because my video camcorder got some decent footage of Schlesser almost hitting camels as he bounced and slewed along the tracks.

At one point, Schlesser realised he was lost, stopped the car completely, and then forked off at a sixty degree angle, almost wiping out a steady, almost touring motorcycle rider, as he charged back up the field. You might not have liked the guy, but there was no denying his will to win. He was on the edge of a big fight all the time, mainly with himself.

We stopped once more, to drop off the most arrogant of the two French photographers on board, who decided he would hitch a lift with a support vehicle for the last 50 kilometres or so. Good riddance to deeply annoying rubbish, plus there was more room inside the tiny helicopter.

As we buzzed some 300 feet above the competitors, then encountered actual Tarmac roads as we neared Nouakchott, I reflected on what I’d seen out in the `true’ desert today.

dakar planes parked

The Dakar offered plane-spotters plenty of action

The bleakness, the lack of any waypoints like mountains, trees or buildings was unnerving. It was an enormous cradle of heat and dust; the ashes of dead empires, lost slave caravans, and defeated armies lay around you. Silent, buried deep and watching, unblinking as time. This desert was patiently, relentlessly expanding, drawing nearer to Nouakchott, dune by marching dune. Raw, uncompromising nature will take us all, one day.

It was the closest that I came to seeing the race through the competitors eyes, as the Sahara unfurled its grit and rippling dunes before us, seemingly endless, in every direction. I understood now why so many Spanish speaking racers and drivers entered this event; it was pure Cervantes, completely Quixotic. A pointless, high speed tilt at danger, yet life-enhancing for all that; a beautiful challenge against your own mortality.

The bikes wriggled and squirmed as the riders bounced across rocks, or gunned their machines through soft `washes’ of fine white sand. From 60 feet above, it was like watching a pack of 100mph surfers. They were as graceful as cats sometimes and then awkward, ungainly, as they suddenly scrabbled for grip, desperately trying to recover from a near accident. I just couldn’t believe that they rode so damn fast, all the time, on the edge of their ability.

Don’t ever underestimate what it takes just to finish a race like the Dakar. This event will find you out, punish you, mock your moments of mental weakness and poor planning. The desert will expose your glass jaw and lamp you one.”


The KTM single is the ship of the desert

There’s more here;


Here’s an extract from an essay I penned back in Spring 2015, published on Kindle. You can find the full Caliphate essay and words on Go-pro bike vigilantes, Simon Cowell’s circus of fear, London vs The Rest of the UK economy, Putin the Red Monarch and more, all in Notes From Margins.

kindle books on culture, politics, opinion, ISIS, caliphate, middle east, terrorism,

Collected essays, published 2015.

But these great `isms’ of preceding centuries, (communism, imperialism and fascism) which caused so much conflict and conveniently fuelled the great technological leaps that global capitalist empires needed to prosper, and expand, have run out of steam.
Although it seems obvious to anyone with half a functioning brain that constant economic growth, increasing consumerism and ever fatter people, gorging on convenience foods, is unsustainable, it remains the central plank of the free market capitalism that empowers modern democracies. In short, without ever cooler looking cars, bigger KFC buckets, more sugary snacks and fancier iPhones the general population doesn’t see any great benefit in modern democracy as a concept. The whole point of living in a `free’ democracy is that you get to own things (on credit) and your wages are high enough to buy leisure time, which is something that about half the world’s population simply do not have. The world’s poor work brutally long hours, struggle to find food and shelter and then they become horribly ill and die, much like our ancestors in Europe did before the late 19th century. This is how life was for many people in Libya, Tunisia, Iraq, Egypt and Syria under the regimes of powerful dictators for much of the last 30-40 years.
Dictators like Mubarak of Eygpt, Gadaffi in Libya, Hussein in Iraq, kept order with brutal efficiency. Political opposition was crushed without mercy, political opposition ringleaders were often tortured and their families executed. These great dictators also stirred up an abiding hatred of the West, to distract attention from their own greed and corruption, as they asset-stripped their own country’s wealth and hid it in Switzerland. All the strong men of the Middle East tolerated Islam, but rarely encouraged it, preferring to publicise themselves as a kind of Soviet personality cult instead.
Everything was sweet until Saddam Hussein went berserk and decided to annexe Kuwait, in a very similar way to say Britain grabbing the Falkland Islands in the 19th century, Hitler anschlussed Austria, or Putin’s Russia absorbed Crimea. Alarmed, the Saudi monarchy lifted the Batphone and called in the Marines, in case their oil wells were next on Saddam’s wish list. Suddenly, Western democracies were engaged in two major military operations, which eventually required the full-scale invasion of a heavily populated country, in order to nail one annoying, moustache-dyeing man.
The second Gulf War featured laser guided, video air strikes, special forces acting undercover, and a motley coalition of regular soldiers battling their way into towns and villages, shooting civilians almost at random. Gulf War 2, which might well be termed `The Hunt For Saddam’ in Hollywood parlance, was a watershed moment in geo-politics. For the very first time, people in the Middle East could see, in all its naked shame, the endgame of modern western democracies; regime change to suit the global oil and consumer industries.
Did a LARGE SCALE coalition force invade Congo, Zimbabwe, Uganda or Somalia to stop civil war, ethnic genocide or other horrors? No, of course not. Did the USA and its allies go in hard against China to give Tibet its longed-for independence, or clean up the drug baron economy of Colombia once and for all? Nope. No cheaper gas prices to be had there.
When Saddam Hussein was conveniently found alive, and then tried and hanged by his own Iraqi judges, the West was satisfied. Mission accomplished. But the world was already changing as a new generation of Middle Eastern muslims utterly rejected the core ideas of western democracies; consumerism, equality of men and women, technological progress for its own sake and the toleration of other religions. At exactly the same point in history as the old `strong men’ of the Middle East were being swept away, a new generation of radicalised young muslim men began to flex their muscles and rally round the black flag of ISIS. The idea of nationhood was being replaced by the concept of a global caliphate – a true global nation, a family of Islam.

caliphate, ancient, idea, islam, politics, rise, ISIL, state,

The caliphate successfully filled the vacuum left by the Romans. It is doing the same again in modern times.

It’s easy to think that these demagogues of jihad, Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law were automatically against the dictators of the past like Ben Ali in Tunisia, Assad in Syria, or higher profile ones such as Gaddaffi and Hussein. But the idea of an Islamic State – ISIL, or IS if you like – is of course nothing new. It is essentially a rebranding of the idea of an Islamic Caliphate, which once stretched from Afghanistan to Southern Spain. This idea never went away; it remained underground, discussed in mosques where the secret agents employed by dictators feared to tread too heavily. For organised religion brings great comfort to those who have very little in terms of material possessions, and so it was – and is – tolerated by Middle Eastern dictatorships today. Indeed you could argue it is a necessary prop for many regimes, because without faith, order via Imans, and strict rules such as no drinking, gambling or fornicating with loose men or women, such states would be more difficult to control.
So the explanation of why the time for a new Caliphate is right, is complicated by the lip service that western politicians pay to democracy itself. In supporting the idea of `freedom’ and tacitly supporting those activist groups willing to take on dictators like Gadaffi, Assad, Mubarak et al, the West undermined their own empires by encouraging a blossoming of almost medieval hatred. Many who opposed the great dictators found it briefly expedient to promote, or support the idea of an `Arab Spring,’ to chime the bell of freedom in Washington, London and Brussels, as armed gangs stormed into palaces, and exacted bloody revenge on local Police, military officials and associated regime hangers-on. For a brief moment it was all heady talk of democracy, women in Egypt having careers and babies and new political parties being formed, even `parliaments.’ But those who led the actual armed gangs doing the dirty work, the fighting in the streets and souks, weren’t interested in cosy EU style committee discussions on fishing quotas, or British parliamentary debates, conducted by overweight buffoons in badly fitting Marks and Spencer suits. Instead, these men wanted the wrath of God to empower them, for the very first time, to chase away every white face from their countries. To take back what was stolen from them centuries before, by the Christian proselytising soldiers of Imperialism. And who can blame them?

Read more here;

real versus fake 9ct gold

Ring on the left is fake, real gold on the right.

I used to be a journalist, now I run a jewellers shop and one thing we do is buy in scrap or unwanted gold.

It’s fraught with difficulty because the price of gold bullion fluctuates and you often find gold plated, rolled gold or gold on silver items being offered. Sometimes there’s downright fakery involved and a brass-copper alloy ring is stamped 18K, when in fact it isn’t worth 18p.

So here are five good ways to spot fake gold, just in case someone tells you that they have run out of fuel and are willing to sell their wedding ring to you for £30 at the local BP petrol station.

  1. Is it magnetic? Real gold, or silver, isn’t the slightest bit magnetic. So if it clings to a magnet, then it ain’t gold, end of story.
  2. Are there UK hallmarks clearly stamped on the ring? A full set of marks usually includes a makers mark, a 375/585/750 number, plus an Assay office mark; rose for Sheffield, anchor for Birmingham, that type of thing. Pre=1973 gold does not have to have a hallmark on it, but most rings do have an assay office marking, date letter and makers mark.

    checking hallmarks on gold jewellery

    Check the hallmarks carefully, as a wonky `18K’ stamp is not a correct UK hallmark.

  3. If the ring feels really, really heavy then it probably has lead inside it a copper-nickel alloy. W ehave even seen glass inside an outer covering of gold.
  4. Is it too yellow? Be careful here, as chinese or indian gold is very yellow in its finish – it’s just the style that is popular in the Far East, but if it is Far East gold, then it may not be hallmarked. UK gold tends to be either a rose colour (9 carat mixed with copper to give a rosy glow) or a very rich, almost tawny coloured yellow. If it looks like yellow dog sick, then it probably isn’t gold.

    fake gold bangles, filled jewellery

    Far Eastern jewellery, like heavy bangles, can be filled with glass, a kind of cement, or silver, to give them serious weight. Beneath an outer layer of 18-22K gold, they’re faking it…

  5. If the ring has cubic zirconia stones set on it then it might not be gold – generally, cheaper CZ stones are set on silver. It is commion practice for many TV and internet retailers to sell `gold on silver’ rings with thin shanks and massive, blingy looking gemstones atop of them. If you use a magnifying glass and see `RG’ stamped inside the ring or `GP’ it means gold plated.

Hope that helped and if you want to know more about gold, then check out our pages at

Long ago, newspapers covered the news. But the internet has debased the whole idea of news gathering, to the point where there are hardly any real documentaries on TV, politics is a pitiful slanging match between party drones, and national newspapers pepper their web pages with pathetic clickbait headlines like the one below.

seo, clickbait, examples, marketing, socailmedia, content, marketing

Newspapers cannot survive long term on clickbait drivel like this.

Why would anyone with a brain ask `what time is Strictly on?’

There’s this thing called iPlayer, so you can’t really miss it. If you’re a Strictly fan, then you would know when it was on.

By the way, the headline should read `who leaves?’ not `leave.’ Basic subbing error there, which spellchecker doesn’t pick up – betrays how many posh kids work on papers now, untrained, with worthless degrees and careers founded on chumocracy, not merit.

Clickbait Will Kill Newspapers

Replacing real sub-editing with crap headlines generated by Google queries turns online papers into a kind of Wikipedia-lite. Yes, it ticks an SEO box and may well drag a few hundred fools into the Telegraph site, all of whom want one single question answering. But will they stay and read the paper? Of course not, they’ll scarper soon as possible, and once your advertisers discover how fickle these surfing buffoons truly are, they will start looking for other ways to reach an audience too.

Clickbait SEO is like colouring books for adults. Pathetic, sad, cheap, repetitive and ultimately degrading. People deserve better and everyone involved in this grubby shambles should man up, (or woman-up) and start writing witty, incisive headlines and well researched news stories that give the reader a solid set of reasons for coming back one day, or even paying to consume online news content.

Because in the end, that is the only way that editors and writers will get paid a living wage.

This is an extract from an essay collection, just published on the Kindle, called `Notes From the Margins.

In this one, I look at how social media was hijacked by trolls, both professional and amateur and an ever growing band of Twitter and Facebook Police squads now trawl social media, looking for easy peasy convictions. The net result is that anyone with something to lose in life; career, mortgage, relationship, reputation etc. simply doesn’t dare express any type of opinion on controversial subjects. Freedom of expression is being surrendered voluntarily, because we live in fear of a careless tweet costing us everything we have worked for.

Here’s a brief extract;

But the saddest truth of all is that social media networks once empowered those without a voice to speak openly, not especially in Europe and the USA, but in countries where dictatorships held sway, and that brief flame of free thought, and speech, has been all but extinguished.
Look at the Orange revolution in Ukraine, the fall of the Mubaruk dynasty in Eygpt, or way opposition to regimes in Libya, Tunisia, Russia or China has used social media. Ideas were debated, demonstrations planned on FB, Twitter or other networks. News travelled faster than conventional TV and radio news organisations could disseminate it. Think about that tipping point when Sky News, the BBC and other networks began using hashtags in bulletins and trained their old fashioned reporters how to use Twitter, Blackberry Messenger and other tools to gather news faster than before. In that moment, social media changed the world because it empowered the voiceless. People became their own editors, en masse, arguably for the first time in history.

kindle books on culture, politics, opinion

Just a collection of opinions.

Yet that wonderful blossoming of free speech has been eradicated by government censorship, as the rise of IS has prompted all kinds of government agency spying. There is also a sinister acceptance that social media is intrinsically `bad’ amongst the general population. It is being painted as a hiding place for troublemakers, terrorists, stalkers, trolls, would-be lone bombers etc.
We now have a new willingness to denounce others. Recent UK government orders to public sector workers that they should `blow the whistle’ on colleagues is just the start of it. Soon, within a decade or so, Orwell’s vision of people spying on their work colleagues, neighbours and friends, and then accusing them anonymously, will become reality. Those who see `abuse’ on social media and refuse to alert the authorities by ticking a box, will find themselves accepting a Police caution, which means they will fail a CRB check for the rest of their working lives. In the last three years (2011-14) some 300 people in Wales alone have had legal action taken against them by the Police for comments on social media.
That is the second reason why free speech is being abolished; your career is at risk because of ONE ill-thought remark, or a click of a `Like’ button after one too many beers. This is a censorship by implied threat on behalf of the state – tweet at your peril, you may lose your job, pension and the roof over your head. So shut up. Nobody, except the very rich and powerful, will dare to speak out on social media in ten years or so. The danger of financial ruin, perhaps even jail, will be too great.
You are free to post endless `Je Suis Charlie’ photos online, but should you dare to express a strong view on Islamic extremism, obese children eating too many Frosties, gay visitors at boarding houses and so on, you may be arrested by the social media Police. In the end, we will only be free to speak about trivia; celebs, sport, fashion, soaps – the dull, palliative opiates of our culture.

You can buy the full collection of waffling essays, covering topics like the inexorable rise of an Islamic Caliphate, the strange crucifixion of Jeremy Clarkson, or how angry white guys with Go-Pros spoiled cycling for everyone, here;*Version*=1&*entries*=0