Friday, 30 May 2008

On the road again

Some of you are pretty familiar with the big, black, Monaro money pit that has provided so much filler material for our Christmas letters. I have achieved another milestone with her and I thought you’d all love to get an update. At the moment I almost think it’s all been worth it again, even though the entire experience has played merry hell with my state of mind.

A lot of time has passed since the beginning of the Monaro restoration project. 6 years 7 months and 20 days worth to be precise. When I look back through the receipts and remember the rip offs, the failed parts, the injuries and pain I wonder, what the hell was I thinking?

Being told ‘it can’t be done’ has been a major incentive to continue dragging this old bitch back into life. Some said she’d have been better off left quietly rusting away in the field she was found in. Many repairers tried to warn me off her charms but, young and confident, I wouldn’t be told.

The first hurdle was NSW’s Roads and Traffic Authority. They weren’t too keen on giving me rego plates. The car had no compliance plates, no record of previous registration, and major modifications. In the end, I not only managed to get NSW plates on her, but she was motivated by 500+ horsepower as well. (That was the engine I blew up on our way from Orange to Sarina).

Then I had to deal with Qld laws and requirements. (They are completely different of course.) They shook their heads and said it can’t be done here too. For three and a half years I did my research and bought the parts to make it compliant and fitted a detuned version of the first motor. I’m here to tell you that a 400 rear wheel horsepower Monaro is sitting in the carport with Qld plates on it. Can’t wait to fill it with fuel for the first time at $1.80 a litre.

This massive effort has drained any urge for future restorations. The wife must be breathing a sigh of relief. It has, however, taught me many things that maybe could have stayed undiscovered. I know exactly how angry I can get without screaming (and beyond). I know one in ten bolts will strip. I know the one that strips will be in the most awkward position and will always be a special bolt not available anymore.

I wanted to finish what I started though, and the lack of knowledge, tools, and workshop space only made me more determined not to fail. Failing would give all those I-told-you-so insufferable pricks the ammunition they’d need to remind me forever after that they were right. I couldn’t allow that.

It’s hard to justify the highs with the lows though. The highs were great. There’s the two rego achievements motioned above where I got to drive around giving my detractors the finger. The first drive and burnout with a 500 HP motor. The first drive and burnout with a 400 HP motor. The Monaro’s at Bathurst weekend with 400 Monaro’s from around Australia. The first 100 metre long burnout with sun hardened tyres on the way to get new ones fitted. You get the picture.

The Monaro now waits patiently to be taken out on the odd occasion and treated in a manner befitting her general attitude. It’s a nasty attitude; she likes to hurt me. She’s spent long enough languishing in the carport, providing a home to spiders and ants and depressing me every time I looked at it. For now she’s finished with being shipped off to various repairers, gutted and molested, and fitted with Ford parts (diff).

That is until I build up the courage to get her painted. Then it all starts again.

I must take this opportunity to defend myself against something I heard a lot of during the build. To the arrogant ‘if only he’d put his talent/money/time to some other use’ people.

Like what?

Talent? I’ve learned plenty of useful skills and techniques while working on that heap of crap.

Money? I wouldn’t have that money anyway. I only worked two jobs a day and did 31 hours straight every weekend for 6 months to pay for the first motor. (I have an aversion to loaning money from banks.) I stayed with companies far too long and took far more shit from bosses and co-workers than I would have normally because I wanted to finish the second motor. That money was earned for a purpose and its purpose has been achieved. There will be no ‘if only’ breast beating from me.

Time? Well, I could have gotten pretty good at my Playstation games if I hadn’t been lying under the car on freezing concrete, ramming my head into sharp protrusions and smashing my knuckles while rounding off bolts. Fair call on that one.

I might as well remind the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s while I’m feeling so high and mighty. Your arguments don't wash around here, there’s no excuse other than laziness not to achieve at least one of your goals. It might not be much compensation for what you have gone through, but you get to stick it up everyone else who can’t be bothered.

Regardless of past dramas, I’m going to feel good about myself, even if it’s for the briefest time. I persevered and I won.

(Like it? See - Flying)

The cult of Amway

(Skip to - The toilet switch)

We’ve all heard of Amway and the cult following it appears to enjoy. They have a very, very effective marketing strategy that has influenced a fair percentage of the western world’s population to join and ensnare their friends and family.

Twenty years ago I briefly fell into Amway’s tricky clutches. A friend I hadn’t seen since leaving school the year before suddenly appeared out of the blue and convinced me he was about to become a millionaire.

I liked the guy and I listened to him describe a way to make shit-loads of money without doing a lot for it. I’m all for easy money. There was no mention of Amway. He called it ‘Network Marketing’ and explained its methodology well enough for me to believe we could both be millionaires.

He offered to take me to see ‘the plan’ at a big meeting. I later found out this practice is recommended to ensure new recruits got to the meeting and that they had to stay until the end. The ‘up-line’ leaders were on hand the give the hard sell at that time.

We got to the meeting and I’m impressed by all the people in suits and ties and evening dresses. I felt a bit under-dressed in shorts, shirt and sneakers. A large screen fronts about a hundred and fifty chairs, most of them filling up fast. I had no idea what this is all about. We took a seat and the doors closed. The projector started up. Huge pictures of cars, boats and holiday destinations flashed across the screen. People around me jump out of their chairs and cheer. I didn’t get it. Was this some sort of religious ceremony? Had they won something? Should I jump up and yell too?

I actually felt slightly afraid. Being a virgin and locked in an enclosed space with some mighty strange people who might just participate in human sacrifice will do that. (I’m told I have an over-active imagination.) Carefully I check out a path to the exit, a bunch of suits standing around the doors blocked them. They were jumping up and down and cheering too. I was trapped.

The fear was real but the utter strangeness of the whole experience was exhilarating. At first I didn’t get it, but after some research I realised the effectiveness of deliberately provoking people to behave like this. It's a controlling method used to make individuals feel that they belong to a group.

Being surrounded by unnaturally happy zealots, worshipping everyday objects, had a negative effect on me. I’d read about this sort of thing and could distance myself enough that the psychology they use didn't work as well as it might. I'm not saying I had a higher intelligence, it's just that they approached me the wrong way.

I need pampering and a slow, steady build up from someone to properly take advantage of me.

They were a bit heavy handed from the start. They fed off each other’s outlandish behaviour until they’d whipped up a common state of euphoria. I’d heard of brainwashing, group hypnosis, mental manipulation, disassociation and affiliation and now I was seeing and hearing it for real. This stuff was gold to my writers mind.

So they wouldn’t pick me out as a non-believer I offered up a few ‘Hoorays’ hoping that would be the extent of their expectations. If they’d shown pictures of V8 Torana’s I’d be able to express myself more convincingly.

The funniest thing happened at the overbearing meet and greet afterward. My good friend diverted me from a sprint to the door, so I had to meet his ‘up-line’ mentor. Supposedly I’d be his underling when I signed up. He was friendly and attentive to everything I said. Like any good used-car salesman, he knew how to listen. An important skill for manipulating people.

I saw some Amway pamphlets lying around and said “Oh, you’re selling Amway?” The Triple-Plated Platinum leader, or whatever title he’d been awarded with, was shocked. “No, absolutely not. Amway is just a vehicle, what we’re doing is Network Marketing, nothing to do with Amway. When you get your friends to come to the next meeting don't mention Amway. It’s Network Marketing” (Read, Pyramid Selling).

I thought long and hard about the highly optimistic projections of what I’d be earning. I asked him, “If I have to convince 10 people to be under me and they convince 10 people and so on you’re going to run out of people pretty quick, aren’t you?” Even a 17 year old can see market saturation comes about fairly quickly at this rate. He didn’t like my questions and fobbed me off.

I accepted what they were saying so I could go home with my free literature and starter pack. (That ‘free’ pack would be recovered from your earnings without your knowledge later.)

Dubious, if somewhat intrigued, I went to several more less formal meetings. I wanted to ensure my cynicism wasn't screwing up a sure-fire way to make money. They must have gotten to me a little bit.

Unfortunately for my up-line, each meeting convinced me less and less that the concept could work. A large percentage of the town's population had already been approached and either wanted nothing to do with it or had joined and dropped out when they’d failed to make any money. It became obvious the people at the bottom of the pyramid turned over at a massive rate to keep the people at the top fed. Achieving enough points to make even a minimum wage was restricted to those already high up the pyramid.

After several more meetings I’d had enough. High pressure sales and brainwashing meetings couldn't compete with a youthful desire to go out and drink piss with my mates.

I told my up-line I wanted to quit. That’s when they really started on me. For several hours they forced motivational tapes on me. I said I couldn't afford it so they drew up a budget for me. They concluded I was bankrupt and only by listening to their tapes and attending meeting could I dig myself out of debt. (I spent what I earned, so what? Their answer to my bankruptcy made no sense either. How can I afford to buy their tapes if I have no money?) One bloke even told me he'd ring me up in the near future when he was rich to tell me how much of a loser I was for dropping out. Why? If you’re rich, surely you’d have better things to do than ringing people who failed to make it.

That ‘intervention’ was the last straw. I broke free of these scam artists and made it my calling for a while to badmouth Amway. I'd explain exactly how the scheme works and warn people off.

I’m glad dropped out. I was pressured to shun my friends and family and to only concentrate on showing ‘the plan’, watching other people showing ‘the plan’ and buying motivational tapes.

As good as Amway products are, their marketing is immoral. I'd never buy that brand on that principle.

(Like it? See - Employing children in the wrong industries)

Chilli and curry - the same thing?

Did you know pre-packaged curry powder is just chilli with a bunch of herbs and spices chucked in? All I can think of is the hours of wasted time I’ve spent looking into the pantry pondering the important choice of, ‘should I have a chilli or a curry tonight’. Now I have to decide what Marsala, (a blend of spices), would suit the dish I’m cooking. Much harder.

This factory produced crap is making us lazy. We’re robbing ourselves of true taste experiences. A curry dish should be distinctly different from a chilli dish. If we Westerners weren’t so determined to bastardise every foreign cuisines we come across with generic concoctions, we’d appreciate the differences between the two a lot more. Chilli mixed with spices and herbs? Call it curry for the masses not ‘the authentic flavour of India’.

Try reading the labels on these pre-packaged sauces and powdered mixes sometime. You’d be better off buying the ingredients, fresh if available, and blending them to suit your own tastes. At the very least you wouldn’t be consuming all those anti-caking agents, colours and preservatives, and you just might enjoy food on a whole new level. Nobody will bother. The convenience of the pre-made usually wins.

It’s harder to accept the poor substitute after you’ve had the pleasure of eating real Indian curries made by real Indian people. (I’m not sure about those fake Indian people.) I now rate good old Keens Curry Powder and Clive of India very low by comparison. Learning how to cook with Indian spices properly takes a bit of extra time but, if decent curries are your thing, it’ll warrant tracking down the ingredients.

Despite my love of the taste of chilli I don't understand the need to overdo the heat. I like a medium bite to permeate what I’m eating. Convincing people to modulate the spices they use when they cook for me can be difficult. They must think eating chilli is supposed to feel like you’ve drunk a litre of acid. This would have to be the main reason so many people won’t touch it. They’ve had one bite of something made stupidly hot several years ago and won’t touch it again. Properly prepared chilli should add taste to the meal and should not result in a blistering ring of fire the next day either.

Putting aside the manly feats of consuming the hottest, the biggest, the most disgusting, I don't particularly like having my mouth scalded by molten fire. Neither does my wife. On a chilli scale with 10 being ‘kill me now’ and 1 being plain rice, my wife likes a 2 and I like a 5. This can cause a few arguments when the spoon goes into the jar of chilli. I’ve learned how much she will tolerate. If I’m too heavy handed I’ll be eating chilli leftovers for the next few days.

On a personal note, don't cut up Habanero chillies and then go to the toilet. I was scrubbing parts of me that only like gentle treatment. And by the way, it’s only funny if it happens to someone else, not me.

(Like it? See - Nanowrimo).

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Recliner lounges

The wife and I bought a set of leather recliner lounges not too long ago. You really know you’ve made it when you have a recliner. You can sit back, yank out that footrest and relaaaax. There’s something really special about the way they fold back with little effort on your part and cradle a work sore body. Fantastic.

We got the huge, heavy bastards set up in front of the TV. One of us had already decided which person would sit where and, for better or worse, that recliner became ‘theirs’. (This is the same person who has to sleep on a certain side of the bed no matter where we go too.)

We get comfy and are admiring the way they feel when I accidentally scratched the arm of the wife’s chair with my fingernail. She’s so annoyed by this I have to file that action in my brain under ‘things to annoy the wife with’. As I’m laughing and twisting around to prevent being slapped a ‘sproing’ sound comes from ‘mine’.

I stopped laughing.

Surely I couldn’t have broken it that fast. I’m no lightweight but I don't need to visit Abdul the Tentmaker to get my clothes made yet. I tried to find this irritating fault but the difficulty of replicating sitting on it while checking out the underside at the same time defeated me. The wife laughed cruelly at my misfortune.

I was disappointed. It wasn't fair. Once again karma unfairly targets me with bad luck even though I’d done nothing wrong. I craftily thought about swapping my chair with hers. I would have too but she said, “Don't try swapping chairs,” which kind of buggered that idea. I think I’ll just stick something lumpy into her lumbar support cushion.

(Like it? See - Changing Internet providers)

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Flying

I don't like flying. I’ve never added the total time I’ve spent in the air but it must number in many hundreds of hours. Possibly I have more air miles than some junior pilots. Most of my travelling occurred in the 1990’s to a remote mine site in the Tanami Desert. The mining company maintained a minimal presence after closing the mine and I was one of about 10 men who worked out there on a six week on two week off roster. We flew out in five-seater Cessna’s and other tiny single engine aircraft.

One of these tacked together shit-heaps took about 4 hours to get there and we had to fly low so we wouldn’t suffocate. If it happened to be the wet season build-up we were sure to suffer the bumpiest scariest trip known to man. Flying towards looming black thunderheads with headwinds that slowed us to a standstill then seeing lightning shrieking past the window close enough to touch were common experiences.

Our pilots were kids. The small fly-by-night (hahahaha) airlines our mining company used snapped up all the inexperienced pilots while they were trying to get their air hours up to fly for the big airlines. We got different pilots regularly as they were sacked or promoted.

We got lost a lot. One of my workmates would never sleep on the plane. Not that sleeping was an easy pastime on the bucking bronco ride. He’d watch the ground for tell-tale roads and communities then let the pilot know how far off course he was. We watched the pilot a lot too as they turned their maps around and around trying to make sense of where they were in the featureless desert. They’d tap their gauges like I used to in my Torana. If I ran out of fuel in my Torana I coasted to a stop. I wasn’t as confident we could do that from several thousand feet up. And run out of fuel they did.

I do remember one time a pilot forgot to change tanks over and next thing we know the engine’s coughing and his panic-stricken hands are everywhere. We got going again and, when politely asked, the red-faced pilot mumbled something about not opening a valve.

One flight almost ended in disaster when the pilot landed on the old airstrip at the mine. Trouble was, months before it had been ripped from end to end with a bulldozer for revegetation. Imagine a ploughed field. He actually landed the plane on it. I think he should have had his wings taken off him for the screw up then given back again for pulling it off without killing everyone. I wasn’t on that flight, maybe that’s why I can afford to be magnanimous.

So there are several good reasons why I shouldn’t enjoy flying right there. These days all my flights are on commercial airlines and I still hate every part of it. The not-knowing if your ticket is valid until you get there, the overblown security that forces people to strip every tiny metal particle from their bodies or suffer humiliating searches, the waiting, the crushing in of as many people into the tiniest space possible, the lost baggage and screwed up connections. It all stresses me out. I keep it inside of course. Wouldn’t like to make an embarrassing scene now, would I?

I’m usually tightly wound by the time we land. The wrong person bumping into me or coughing in my face better watch out for the windmill fists of death. Then I usually have to face a nice long drive through heavy rush hour traffic in strange cities. It’s merely another of life’s tortures. There’s little wonder I am known to lose my cool at times. Unlike the plane, at least I am in control of the vehicle which helps a bit. That’s a matter of opinion, isn’t it Mum?

Apologies to the wife for shouting but, READ THE MAP, DAMMIT, and don't add ‘maybe’ every time you give me directions. And don't tell me ‘that’s it!’ as the only exit for the next twenty kays tears past on the opposite side of a four lane highway. I’ve gotta have reaction times like Garth Tander while driving a poxy four cylinder hire car with less engine capacity than a carton of milk.

Robin and I have similar opinions about flying. Our solution, which we worked out on the Vanuatu trip, would be to knock us the hell out as we enter the airport and reawaken us at the other end. Damn straight. (Note: We prefer pharmaceuticals but if required we will accept a punch in the head.)

(Like it? See - Toyota Prius)

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Insurance quote

I rang our insurance company to get a quote on insuring the Monaro. Got that done and they offered to give me a quote for our house contents insurance as well.

It went like this:

Insurance company: “We can insure your contents for $426.32 ($200 excess with $10,000 FREE enthusiast cover).”

Me: “No thanks, we’re paying $315.00 with $100.00 excess. Your FREE cover costs too much.”

Insurance company: “I’m sorry sir, I don't think you understood. There is no charge for the enthusiast cover. It’s FREE.”

Me: “No, it isn’t. You’re charging an extra $100 dollars for it.”

Silence.

Me: “You know what I’m saying; you’re just not allowed to agree with me.”

Insurance company: “So, you’ll just be insuring the Monaro then?”

Me: “Yes thanks."

(Like it? See - Buying a new car)

Friday, 16 May 2008

Telemarkets

Since I started working from home I’ve noticed how annoyingly often the phone rings. Normally I’d never answer it, that’s what the wife and the answering machine are for. If you’re programmed into our phone as friends or family, and haven’t disguised your caller ID, I might pick up, but it depends on what I’m doing. Please don't feel snubbed by this. I’m not the sort of person who jumps out of the shower or cuts off a crap to sprint for the nearest extension. Really, it’s no better than me busting into your house when you’re having sex and sitting on the end of the bed for a chat. “No, no, you two go on with what you’re doing, there’s just something I have to tell you.” That's how it feels to be forced to answer the phone. In my mind anyway.

Waiting on call-backs from various people has required me to pick up a lot more ‘private number’ calls lately. Thusly I have been fully exposed to the dreaded telemarketer’s cold calling system.

For crying out loud these people are a special breed. What incredibly successful brainwashing have they undergone? They launch into their spiel and talk straight over the top of your polite disinterest. (Fear of repeated 3 AM call-backs prevents me from telling them to fuck off). How efficiently they ignore everything you say that isn’t a positive response to what they are selling. Mostly whatever they are selling wouldn’t be desirable even with 100 dollar bills stuck all over it.

Previously, when I viewed the phone as a convenience for me to use and not the dog whistle its insistent tone has become, I would enjoy listening to all the hang-ups of thwarted automatic dialling machines. Then I discovered the telemarketer’s auto-dialler is programmed to keep trying at different times of the day until they finally get you. So by ignoring one call you might have subjected yourself to another five. Now I must be even cleverer. Sometimes you get a 2 second window after you pick up and can hear background noise at the call centre before an operator can connect to your line. Hang up quick, the auto-dialler marks your number as having responded and won’t call again. (For a couple of days.)

Many times I’ve fallen into the trap of letting them get started. It’s that critical period where I try to work out if it’s a publisher calling about one of my submissions or if the Indian telephone exchange has accidently re-routed a call through to Australia. What’s with all the Indian people wanting to sell Aussies stuff anyway? When you’ve got a thick accent and can only poorly emulate the countries language, why would you even attempt to sell the natives something? Especially when they are trying to convince you to buy something you don't want or need. Who encourages this? Is it a joke? I’ve just had to listen to one totally incoherent Indian gentleman spluttering and stumbling over himself for about thirty excruciating seconds on a spiel he hasn’t bothered to memorise. I only listened that long to see if he could finish. Then I think I said, ‘Ah, yeah, what? No don't repeat it! I don't think I need any’, and hung up. We were both relieved to finish that call I think.

An interesting fact is that we bring these people on ourselves. Someone is buying the shit they sell. It would only take a week of every person called saying no and these businesses would disappear overnight. I would love to know who supports telemarketers. I have a baseball bat ready for when I find out. If the product is cheap is it any good, have they told you the freight charge, can you get it locally? A cheap holiday in Rio is going to be in the monsoon season. Can’t find a financial investor you trust through word of mouth from friends and family; why don't you give your money to a cold-calling complete stranger? That’s intelligent. Do any of us need more useless and irritating interruptions to our lives? Getting a silent number doesn’t help. Putting yourself on the ‘Do not call list’ doesn’t help. There’s an opening here for someone to invent a phone that screen these calls for you, like spam software does with emails. I’ll be first in line to buy one.

(Like it? See - The Revheads inner gardener)

Monday, 12 May 2008

Coffee

For over twenty years I’ve been happily drinking instant coffee and liking it. The smell of that wondrous ‘fresh’ coffee bursting out of the can or jar from the day you opened it was most satisfying. Most of us don’t notice the way it gets staler by the day. It’s coffee, that’s the way it tastes and that’s the way it is.

If you’ve ever had a cappuccino down the shops and seen the massive, expensive machine seemingly necessary to make a fantastic coffee, you resigned yourself to never being able to do that at home. Let’s face it, nobody wants to screw around ordering special beans, grinding them properly, working out how to get the crema to come out right, and then make the milk micro-froth.

My wife did. Or more to the point she wanted me to know how to. I blame her brother Mark for this. He put us onto ‘good’ coffee. Admittedly the difference is startlingly superior even to a mug slurper like me. At first we tried the stove-top pot that involved getting very hands-on with your coffee. I don't like to fiddle fart around in the morning when merely boiling the kettle is a trial so the wife had to do this. Next we tried percolated and then steeped coffee. There’s good and bad points to these methods.

When I realised the other half had set her mind to ONLY drinking exceptional coffee, and would no longer drink our perfectly mediocre range of instant, I started looking for a machine that would do all the hard work and spit out a cuppa on demand.

We found one on eBay that does almost everything automatically. From the noises it makes everything is happening under maximum duress. It grinds the beans, (1 thousand decibels), packs the coffee, (ram, smash, clunk), slams 5 million PSI of steam through the grounds and then fills your cup if you remembered to put it under the spout. We got one with a separate wand to do the milk manually. I don't remember agreeing to that. Why would I want to do my milk manually? Isn’t there a machine that will do it for me as well?

The machine that would do this was more expensive than ours. We’d already paid several thousand dollars for the technology to get us most of the way there so I had to shut up and froth the milk.

When handing over this sort of money you’d want to feel confident your machine couldn’t possibly fail, right? Wrong. And the bit that stuffed up was the MANUAL milk frother. Coffee without micro-frothed milk is totally unacceptable to half of our household. The manufacturer screwed up though, the machines self destruct device went off too early. It was still two weeks inside the warranty period. That's so rare it’s worth a mention.

I packed the bloody thing up and took it to a repairer. They’d just landed the contract and not long after wished they hadn’t.

I picked it up again 6 MONTHS LATER.

I got the heavy bastard home and made an experimental cuppa. The milk STILL wouldn’t froth. It was EXACTLY THE SAME as when we left it there half a freaking year ago.

Straight back to the shop. What’s the bloody go? To be fair he had a look straight away. The steams blasting out and he’s looking at me as though I’m a retard. It took some time to convince him that the steam pressure might LOOK fine but it wasn’t frothing the fucking milk. They didn’t even have any milk to try it with and no benchmarks to test what pressure was supposed to come out. THEN he tries to tell me that I’m frothing it wrong. Now although I didn’t really want the machine in the first place, I made sure I worked out how to use it properly. I probably sounded like a coffee snob, and I felt like one as I explained the difference between big billowing bubbles made by jerking the wand in and out of the milk and lovely creamy micro-bubbles that is an essential requirement to properly frothed milk. If our positions were reversed and someone said that to me, I would call them a wanker. In the end I wore him down and he rang the manufacturer. They said I was right. In your face pal. Confused at being wrong my repairer did a bit of record checking and realised he’d forgotten to de-scale that side of the machine. There are two circuits with two thermo blocks and he’d only done one. At least he was honest about that. Wanker.

(Like it? See – The oldest can of peas and carrots in the world)

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Toyota Prius

On a recent holiday to Melbourne we hired a car to run around in. When my brother-in-law went to pick it up they couldn’t find the car we’d reserved. After they’d fucked him around for an hour he was rewarded with an upgrade. The fact that Avis had given our pre-booked and pre-paid-for car to someone else will come back to bite them a bit later.

We ended up with a black Toyota Prius, an electric/petrol hybrid. None of us had ever experienced one of these before so the novelty value soothed our irritation a little. Some of us were less soothed than others. You just have to let it go or you’ll get an ulcer.

As first impressions go, from the outside the Prius appears to be a small car. Inside is roomy and comfortable, accommodating three adults and their luggage without complaint. The dash is quite plain with a LCD screen dominating the centre. It is a touch screen with fairly intuitive controls that run most of the cars functions like the radio, a/c, trip distance/economy and a few other dinky functions. The warp speed button was broken.

The stubby little gear shift is a bit close to the steering wheel for my tastes but its drive-by-wire operation ensures you can’t slam it into reverse while cruising at 100kph. Starting the car for the first time using its push button ignition was moderately frustrating. Couldn’t get the bastard to go. We tracked the problem to the plastic lump, (that’s the key?), being in upside down! This is a fairly bad design flaw as the car still wakes up and displays that it’s ready to go but won’t select a gear. Quite frustrating really. Wouldn’t it have been fairly simple to make the key either double sided or only fit in the socket one way, huh Toyota? I have since found out the key doesn’t even need to be fitted into the dash; the car will recognise its presence even if you leave it in your pocket.

There are no gears, (look it up if you want to know how the hell that works), so acceleration is unmarked by any hesitations. It pulls quite strongly and keeps up with traffic even if it revs its ring out under very heavy acceleration. Overtaking required the throttle to hit the floor at times. I disliked having nothing in reserve and found myself desiring a little more in the go department. I did manage to briefly achieve 160 kph while overtaking freeway clogging morons. (Excessive speeds were for comparative reasons only.) I could feel a certain amount of feedback/resistance when cruising gently as the battery and petrol engine cut in and out. You have to extend your feelers to be aware of the transition.

Over a several hundred kilometres we averaged about 5litres/ 100 kilometres. It is advertised as getting 4.4litres/ 100 kilometres. I think that would be achievable once you got used to driving like a granny. The mileage came down when I stopped thrashing it and began operating more efficiently. The battery-only function was a short lived experiment. There are so many interlocks that automatically switch it back to normal hybrid operation it became a pain to keep resetting it. I think the computer would prefer the driver didn’t keep on pressing all the buttons leaving it the hell alone to do its job. Using battery-only very quickly drains the charge too. It can actually make the economy worse as the engine has to pull double duty to recharge and propel the car at the same time. It would be a handy device to have if you needed to sneak away from your girlfriend’s home at 3am when her husband/boyfriend/father got home unexpectedly. A cantankerous V8 is notorious for stalling at times like these.

When we gave the Prius back at the airport Avis got all confused. It seems we weren’t supposed to have it. We already knew that you bloody weirdos. They’d really stuffed up their records and had upset numerous other people by giving that car to us. The knock on effect had played havoc with their computers and other customers down the line. Least it wasn’t us getting upset for once, although we did have to stand there while they sorted it. With any luck we might get out of paying the toll road fees

(Like it? See - The boss' perception)