The Arcadian Kicks return to Isle of Wight Festival

One of my favourite bands from the 2008 Isle of Wight festival returns for 2009: The Arcadian Kicks perform in the Big Top on Saturday 13 June.

Check them out at New track Fear of Falling was added at the end of January.

Mocks, idiots and beer

P. put me through my first mock test today, gaily saying that he’d never passed anyone on their first full mock. Fortunately I’d just had one lesson’s worth of knocking the rust off, built up over the past week thanks to a lack of driving. It takes me time to get back into the routine of checking all the mirrors before signalling or moving off, simply because it’s not something as yet that I do every day.

I felt I’d cocked it up good and proper, and at the end my mouth could have been used as blotting paper it was so dry. And I fully expected not to pass, after stalling spectacularly at a roundabout because I left signalling to late on the approach, so my hand was nowhere near the gears when it most needed to be.

But P. said it was a borderline pass: nine minor faults, all connected with operating what is still an unfamiliar piece of machinery, and none in the general areas of road sense. He said the stall was the borderline element, on usage of gears, but as I’d then gone round the dual roundabout combination of B&Q and St Mary’s smoothly and confidently, he was inclined to come down on the side of a pass.

Part of it was me just thinking about junctions more: with previous criticism about undue hesitation (I’d actually spent most of the week thinking about how to improve my approach to junctions), I was more inclined to go for it at give way signs and the approaches to roundabouts. And just before I stalled I was hoping to carry on, rather than having to stop.

So I have to improve on using the car. And I have four weeks in which to do so. P. told me to go ahead and book my test for late March, which seems so short a time after our first lesson in late November – potentially just four months between me first getting into a car as a driver and being able to fail my practical test for the first time…

With nerves a very real possibility, I fully intend to find some more willing victims to ride shotgun as I build up driving experience in that time: I need to be able to cope with the nerves of having someone I don’t know as well sitting in a car while I try something that is only gradually becoming second nature.

Taking me from 28 lessons to 27 lessons to go, C. cycled over in the late afternoon so I could drive over to Ryde and pick up Jimjams from the rink. I don’t know what it was about the evening, but the journey from Newport to Ryde was a matter of avoiding loads of cyclists riding with no lights. Idiots every one. Even as a kid I’ve never ridden a bike without lights in the dark because you simply can’t be seen, and of course since I’ve started driving I now believe in a high-visibility jacket too because I’m more aware of a car driver’s restricted view (not that it makes much difference to the elderly drivers, who still can’t see the glowing ball of fluorescent yellow).

It was worse on the return journey with two cyclists on BMX bikes riding two abreast, only one with lights, and the one without lights alternating between pavement and road, including an amazing decision to shoot straight across the front of the car from the pavement just before a set of lights. With a constant stream of cars coming the over way it was impossible to pass them, if only because their direction was unpredictable.

With about three hours’ driving behind me for the day, I was quite tense, and once back at C.’s we walked to The Cedars in Wootton for a pint of Gales HSB, still one of the finest pints in the UK despite a change of ownership to brewing giant Fullers. It’s worth hunting down, but finding a pub that keeps it in good condition all of the time is still a challenge.

Last hurdle

J. is back in hospital for her fourth and final course of chemotherapy, the last remaining hurdle prior to the sprint for the finishing line. Emotionally, sending her back was even harder, as I realize how much better the world ticks over when she’s at home. It’s not so much what she does – though the ironing does help – but the fact that she’s there so we can support each other.

A week on from her return, and I am decidedly brittle. It’s been very hard juggling everything I have to do in the time available, and the result has been some 18-hour days. I recognise all the early signs of nervous exhaustion that twice before have forced a week or so’s break from working life, but this time round I don’t feel I have the luxury of taking time off.

So instead I’ve torched a few events that simply create stress, and for which I am currently ill equipped to handle: it means no attendance at wargames show Cavalier in just a week’s time, as the next working week consists of three days, which is barely enough time in which to deal with incoming orders, let alone pack and replenish show crates. And it means I’ve taken the decision not to go to the industry’s biggest event of the year, Salute, in March, because with J. due out of hospital shortly beforehand, I cannot now conceive of leaving her alone for the three days that show will take out of the week.

Blowing a show that provides half a month’s income in cash in a day is not a decision anyone takes lightly, but the truth is that advance orders account for 70 per cent of income, and the remaining 30 per cent involves a lot of hard work. I should be on track again here by the time the autumn schedule of shows rolls around.

So I find myself back on the journey to Southampton General Hospital. The ferries are on WightLink’s appalling depths of winter timetable, which so far has meant a 45-minute wait in Yarmouth after being deposited there by the bus, and a half-hour wait at Lymington Pier for a train up to Brockenhurst. At least it’s a cool but pleasantly sunny day, so hanging around isn’t so bad.

There have been ups. With a long wait in prospect at Yarmouth, I had an early lunch at Gossips Cafe, at the root of Yarmouth Pier. I’ve had the first coffee ever in an Island café that I can truly say that I’ve enjoyed, because Gossips has a proper Italian espresso machine (it also has a ubiquitous filter coffee machine that turns out brown stewed liquid that is to be avoided). I had an Americano, nicely made with an impressive orange crema, and not too diluted, with a delightful roasted flavour. It captured the elusive flavour of the coffees I have on skiing holidays, and which until now I have been unable to replicate back in the UK.

31, 30, 29…

Driving recently has been lots of tiring junction work. Both C. and P. have focused on improving my approach to junctions and making my approach to give way signs more positive. P. said about the only thing he’d fail me on would be undue hesitation.

P. also took me to the test centre in Newport to practise reverse parking into the bays the examiners will use. Although he has taught me which mark to use ofr this manoeuvre, I also thought I could use the mark for reversing round a sharp corner, and so it proved. It means I should be able to get this manoeuvre right in future in the Honda “tractor”. The bays at the test centre are bigger than standard and P.’s Clio has acres of space around it.

The only hazard was the arrival of a motorcyclist, who zipped round the corner of the test centre as I was reversing, and then parked in one of the bays. The rider then just walked off without looking where he was going, and P. and I surmised he would probably fail his test.

Oddly, the highlight of recent driving has been taking J. to St Mary’s in Newport to get her dressing changed. It’s a simple journey with two hazards: the right turn out of our drive, and St Mary’s roundabout at the head of the dual carriageway. It was just a pleasant drive in the sunshine, and J. commented how much more confident I appeared compared with the last time we’d made the journey.

Unusually, for the first time in my life I have begun to get excited about cars. P.’s talk of more mocks and an actual test date has got me thinking about what to drive. The Honda tractor (a diesel Civic) J. usually drives is great for the distances and speeds involved in getting Jimjams to Ryde ice rink, achieving about 55 to 57 m.p.g. But it’s comparatively old in terms of diesel and car technology, and alternatives beckon.

The hard choice is deciding between a van or a car. A van would be useful for the business and has the attraction of being fully claimable for VAT. But you can’t book a van online with ferry company Wightlink and have to pay commercial rates (the option to use Red Funnel in East Cowes is a no-brainer on cost and booking convenience, but it is the longest of all the car ferry journeys). But the Honda can largely carry all I need for a show, at least as far as getting stock to Mike’s in Woking is concerned, and diesels are beginning to look unattractive on fuel consumption and running costs compared with a small city petrol car. I may make the decision that Mike has already done: run an Aygo (or its other incarnations, the 107 or C1) as a second car, because its frugality on petrol makes it cheaper by far per mile on running costs. It’s still early days, after all I haven’t even passed my test yet.