Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

August 2009

TravelSaturday, August 22nd, 2009, (6:00 am)

With a car that cost less than £100, and a roadtrip of more than a 1000 miles ahead of us, myself and 3 friends Gav, Fozzy and Jon, were all fired up and raring to hit the road to the farthest reaches of Scotland and back. We dubbed the trip ‘4 Lads 1 Crap Car.’

Filled with the excitement and energy only the first day of a vacation can bring, we loaded our luggage into the back of our ‘crap car,’ a Rover 420 D. The dented and scratched stone grey car with its electric windows and electric sunroof seemed almost too luxurious to be called a ‘crap car.’ We all agreed that we could have done a lot worse with our £100 budget. Indeed, after the seller gave us £5 for diesel and finding £1.25 in change in various places throughout the vehicle, the car effectively cost just £93.75.

Like all old cars it wasn’t without its quirks. A long brake and soft throttle peddle were par for the course, but a problem with the wiring meant that the car had to be push started or hot-wired into life.

On the morning of our departure Gav’s neighbors looked on and laughed as we made several runs up and down the road pushing the car, noisily willing it to start, but try as we may the Rover steadfastly refused to wake from slumber.

In the end, after a visit from the RAC and replacing the starter motor, Jon realised that the car had a factory fitted immobolizer. With a simple press of the button on the key fob we were in business, albeit a little later than planned and somewhat embarrassed at our less than impressive problem solving skills. Lesson one = Always read the manual!

Initially we had planned to avoid all motorways, electing instead to use the smaller more interesting roads. However, given our later than expected departure we decided to take to the M6 to make up time with the hope of reaching Edinburgh by evening as planned.

At 7:30pm we crossed the border from England to Scotland, stopping to take a picture by the large ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign. Not long after that we found a camp site, set up our tent, then headed into Edinburgh for dinner and beer.


Following an unexpectedly cold night in the tent we were up bright and early. After a hearty breakfast of what Jon dubbed “an entire farmyard” we were back on the road heading north through Edinburgh where I snapped the worst ever picture of a Scotsman playing bagpipes!

Having not touched a drop of alcohol, despite the fact that we stopped at a local distillery for a dram or two of Whisky, Jon authoritatively informed us that Loch Ness ran the entire length of Scotland. But what he lacked in geographic knowledge he certainly made up for in speed. We quickly nicknamed our speedy friend ‘Motorway Jon’ on account of the fact he seemed to be driving as if he believed they might move John O’Groats before we got there.

Occasionally stopping to snap pictures and (allegedly) enhance roadside speed cameras, we continued north, consuming miles like a fat kid chomping through a bag full of McNastiness.

Visiting various distilleries along the way Gav, Foz, and I did our best to fake intellectual interest in the free Scotch on what could only be described as some kind of low budget ‘Down it and Dash Whisky tour.’

One distillery reluctantly let us in for a tasting with just five minutes before they closed. We chugged the delicately crafted and carefully aged Whisky like it was cheap Tequila served in a Mexican whore house.

The sturdy Scottish lady serving us then rudely told us to leave by simply saying “Go now” and showing us the door. Apparently our accelerated enjoyment methods are not widely adopted by Single Malt drinking Whisky connoisseurs.

Finding a camp site for the second night proved difficult as site owners told us they only took families and couples and not groups. With this in mind I called another site and when told they only took families and couples I told them we were two gay couples.

I was initially met with silence before the man on the phone asked me if we were married. This threw me somewhat, so I claimed that one of us was a married gay couple and the other were fairly serious about their gay love.

Again there was a brief pause as the person on the phone relayed this information to someone else in the background (possibly his wife).
“You’re married?” He asked again in his hard Scottish accent.
“Yes.” I answered.
“And you’re gay!?” He exclaimed in a tone filled with shock and disbelief. Presumably he wasn’t interested in the answer because with that he said something else that I couldn’t quite understand, then hung up on me.

Eventually we found a site that was prepared to take a group and after a ‘Jon Style’ barbecue, a few beers, and a game of pool in a local pub, we settled in for the night in our tent.

Our sleep, if you can call it that, was punctuated by heavy trucks passing just inches from us on one side with freight trains making the ground shake as they passed only a few feet away on the other side. Then at some ungodly hour Foz left the tent to find relief in the bushes, shattering the brief moment of silence in which sleep may have dwelled.


The next day I took the wheel and livened things up by doing a handbrake turn in the grounds of some grandiose historic castle. A little later I took a wrong turn and drove the wrong way down a one way street. As disgusted locals glared at us I lent out of the window saying “Sorry, don’t be angry, we’re French.”

Pretty soon we were pulling into John O’Groats, the most popular northerly settlement of mainland Great Britain. Spirits were high as we saw the coastline where the Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea, and as we climbed out of our crap car at the top of our island we all felt a sense of achievement. Our £93.75 car and us had made it to John O’Groats!

With a bottle of cheap champagne each we made our way down to the beach and sprayed their contents into the air like winning race car drivers. For me, this was a highlight. Sure, we hadn’t scaled Mount Everest or navigated our way to the North Pole, but we had made it to John O’Groats and as minor as that might be, it was a goal achieved, and a moment in friendship I doubt any of us will soon forget.

John O’Groats itself is an uninspiring charmless place, more attractive in the imagination than the fact. The average length of a visit here is reportedly just ten minutes and it’s not hard to see why. There is a disused and crumbling old hotel, an overpriced coffee shop, some temporary buildings, and a signpost manned by an odd little man in a century box who will take your picture for a fee.

Of course, we had to have our picture taken by the sign with the car we had now named ‘Defiance.’ The odd little man muttered incoherently as we posed by our crap car on what would surely be it’s final adventure. A little while later, after another hotwired start, we were back on the road, this time heading south… Heading for home.


From the top of Scotland we set a course for home through the rugged and rolling highlands of the breathtakingly spectacular west coast. By now the brakes on the car were seriously soft as the brake pads were pretty much completely worn down. Gav raised some concern about the cars deteriorating ability to come to a timely stop, but this far from home our options were limited. We had little choice but to continue and try to use the brakes sparingly.

The scenery in this part of the world is simply awesome, enough even to bring ‘Motorway Jon’ to a halt from time to time. We would stop beside the road, get out of the car and just stand in awe at the scenes before us.

The rapidly changing weather only added drama to vistas that made me wish I were a painter. Cotton wool clouds clung to mountain tops while sun beams pierced through gaps in dark blanket clouds resting over lush green valleys. For a while our car, usually alive with banter, was brought to silence.

With the evening drawing in we found a camp site to pitch our tent and settled in for the night. Another barbecue dinner was washed down with beer as darkness descended upon us bringing our third day on the road to a close.


Having slept in every single item of clothing I had brought with me, I awoke early, revived and full of life. The others were still asleep so I went for a walk to watch the dawn, but it was cold and I got bored so I headed back to the tent to wake the lads up. Oddly enough they didn’t seem appreciate my hearty rendition of ‘Morning Has Broken’ or any of the other songs I sang until they got up.

As we dismantled the tent we were swarmed by the most ferocious miniature mosquitoes. Such was the scale of their attack that we simply threw everything into the car and made off like bank robbers. As we sped away we hung our heads out of the window to blow the mosquitoes off our faces. Somehow I managed to escape relatively unscathed but the lads were so badly bitten that they looked like they had some kind of contagious disease!

From breakfast in Ullapool we sped south stopping frequently for photographs that would surely do the subject matter little justice. With our ever fading brakes now making excruciatingly painful noises we scraped our way down to Loch Ness (that runs the entire length of Scotland don’t you know!), through the valleys of Ben Nevis and Glencoe, and on to Loch Lomond and Glasgow. By the evening we had once again crossed the border into England, finding a campsite in north Cumbria for our last night on the road.


As we drove the last few miles toward home I thought about how I would remember this road trip, how I would read the twitter posts we had made through the week, and how I would write about this on my blog. I wondered about the moments and phrases that will be recalled in the future, the memories that will stay with each of us, frozen in time like flickering traces of crystal locked forever in stone.

Maybe I’m just the sentimental type, but as we began seeing signs for familiar places I thought about how this road trip, how 4 Lads 1 Crap Car, will stand in our history like a pin in a map.

It’s times like these that make all the rainy days and pointless meetings at work worthwhile. Memories like these that add flavor to who we are as we soak up the richness and color of these stories over the years.

Despite the fact that all of us could easily have afforded to make the roadtrip in a far better vehicle, or travel to a more expensive getaway location, here we were laughing and having a blast in a car that cost just £93.75 and that got us all the way to the top of our island and back again.

So as we neared the end of our 1000 mile road trip I was happy to once again learn that of all the things we ascribe value to in the world, the most valuable of things in life rarely has a price tag to match.

Gav, Jon, Fozzy… Thanks guys, I had a blast!

FOOTNOTE: The lads and I decided that we would donate any money we made from scrapping the car to a local childrens hospice and a charity that helps Britain”s wounded soldiers. Amazingly we sold the car for £120 to a scrap metal dealer, so we will be donating £100 to Claire House and £20 to Help for Heroes.

4 Lads 1 Crap Car Twitter posts
4 Lads 1 Crap Car video in HQ
4 Lads 1 Crap Car (Pre-journey post)
As summer fades (Part 2)
What a start

General and TravelMonday, August 10th, 2009, (5:35 am)

A few months back some friends and I were throwing around the idea of going away with one another for a week in the summer. However, despite the appeal of a sun soaked week in some place where the locals talk funny, we decided to embark on a holiday with a difference which begins in just a few hours. We’re calling our adventure, ‘4 lads, one crap car!’

When we first discussed the idea of spending a week with one another in the summer we quickly decided upon a road trip. Being the stuff of many a good tale we agreed that a road trip would be far more amusing than some alcohol-fueled binge drinkathon in the company of lobster skinned Brits hell bent of soaking up every last sunbeam their wages bought them.

Somewhere along the way it was decided that while we could embark on a roadtrip in any of our own vehicles, or even something like a rented RV, it would be far more entertaining and challenging to find an old banger. Inspired perhaps by tales of similar adventures I’ve embarked on in haggard old bangers, we pretty soon decided that the budget for our vehicle was to be no more than £100 – on the road, and completely legal. This alone would present us with a formidable task.

The four of us are myself, Jon Price, Gavin Cree, and Fozwaldo the Great (aka Gareth Griffiths) then decided to drive north into Scotland and as far north as our wheels would take us. To make life that bit more interesting we also decided not to allow ourselves the relative ease and luxury of using motorways as we head northward.

Our mission is to get to the most Northerly points of John O’Groats and Dunnet Head in Scotland, whereupon the four of us will crack open bottles of cheap champagne and spray them like winning race drivers in what will almost certainly be a bracingly harsh and bone chilling Scottish cross wind.

Along the way we plan to stop and see at least a few of the sights, and hopefully a whisky distillery or two. Aside these most lax of plans that are little more than mere ideas we have prepared no plans or provisions, no overnight accommodation, and only the guidance of a crap map to take us North.

Our crap car

Less then a week away from the beginning of our adventure we still had no wheels. Our budget of £100 was looking like it might have to be significantly revised. The government’s ‘cash for clunkers’ scheme (whereby old cars are worth £2000 traded in against a new car) was making finding impossibly cheap road-legal cars extremely difficult to acquire. However, at the last minute I was able to find the perfect chariot for our cross-border crunchy credit cruise.

A British-built Rover 420 2.0 litre diesel with a disfunctional starter motor. The car trader described the vehicle as “very tatty” and “needing a push start to go anywhere.” It’s taxed until the end of the month and has an M.O.T safety certificate good for another 4 months. For just £100 it was perfect!

In actual fact, when Gav and I went to collect the car we found that it was far more comfortable than either of us had imagined. With electric windows, a sunroof, and even a stereo (disfunctional), this car was positively feature rich.

The discovery of organic matter growing on one of the front wheel arches, and a worrying fluid leak coming from somewhere around the engine, lead us to believe that the car won’t be entirely without its quirks. However, I’ve driven far worse (such as the Datsun I that could only turn right which I had to drive across London, or the Ford Escort that would only start when struck with a milk bottle), so I am confident that we will be able to make adjustments to suit out ‘new’ car’s needs.

Unlike a similar adventure I embarked on some nineteen years ago in an old Lada Riva with my friend, Mark Dawe, this roadtrip will be digitally documented such is the modern age we live in. You will be able to follow us on Twitter as we negotiate the wilds of Scotland and the joys of a week in the British summer. Point your browser to to keep up with us and our adventures and possible misadventures throughout this week.

I’ll make a follow up post upon my return. But for now, wish us luck!

Follow us this week on Twitter

Environment and GeneralThursday, August 6th, 2009, (12:31 am)

Ok, I have a question. How do you hang your bathroom tissue? Are you an over person, an under person, or someone who couldn’t give a crap… so to speak.

Loo roll. (Shhh... American don't like using the word 'toilet.')

It’s a silly question I know, but I ask this because the other day someone insisted that the toilet roll in my bathroom was hung incorrectly. I’m not sure that I’ve ever given the subject of how to hang bathroom tissue much thought, but I tend to always place the ‘loo roll’ so it hangs over rather than under, which I was told was the more eco friendly way of hanging bathroom tissue.

“Wait a second,” I thought to myself, “There’s an eco friendly way of hanging toilet roll?” Well apparently so. According to my recent house guest scientists have researched the subject of bathroom tissue usage and concluded that that people use more tissue when its hung over the roll as opposed to under it.

Being a somewhat eco-minded chap I searched the web looking for the facts and figures relating to loo roll positioning. I found various sites including one about a bizarre toilet roll conspiracy theory. Eventually though, I found a website that I felt sure would have details of the scientific study into the environmental impacts of tissue positioning, but unfortunately the toilet paper encyclopedia (I kid you not!) didn’t mention any such research. It did however state that 68% of people hang toilet paper with the first sheet going over the roll, while 25% hang the first sheet under the roll.

The site might not be as reliable as the title suggests though. A breakdown of what people use toilet paper for would seem to omit one very obvious toilet tissue usage which rather brings into to question any of the sites quoted facts and figures. It claims that nose care accounts for largest share of toilet tissue usage at 61%, with 17% for wiping small spills, 8% for removing makeup, 7% for cleaning mirrors, and 3% for cleaning a child’s hands/face, covering the toilet seat, and cleaning glasses.

While I remain unconvinced that there is an eco-friendly way to hang your bathroom tissue I did learn that the use of extra-soft, quilted and multi-ply tissue is causing serious environmental damage.

Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defence Council, said “Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution.” According to Hershkowitz, the process of making toilet tissue has significant environmental impacts in terms of deforestation and the chemicals used in pulp manufacture. More than 98% of the toilet rolls sold in America come from virgin wood, whereas in Europe and Latin America, up to 40% of toilet paper comes from recycled products.

His position on this is echoed by Greenpeace USA who are running a campaign to raise consciousness among Americans about the environmental costs of their toilet habits. That campaign is surely among the environmental groups more optimistic efforts. After all, getting Americans to think about how they should clean up their shit is hard enough without actually getting them to think about how to clean up their… well, you know…

So, environmental questions and moral issues aside, I’m left wondering if there is a right way and a wrong way to hang ones loo roll? Does my hang methodology say something about me, more even than the fact that I’ve already devoted more time to this than I should have done? In the end I suspect it simply doesn’t matter, but I’m curious, what kind of person are you, an over, an under, or someone who couldn’t give a crap?

Greenpeace tissue guide (Also available as an iPhone app!)
Wipe responsibly
American taste for soft toilet roll ‘worse than driving Hummers’
Toilet Roll Conspiracy Theory
Public rest
Now that’s just silly
The truth about recycling
Add your picture to your comments
Get my blog by Email