Valencia

With my title challenge hanging by a thread after yet another engine failure at the last round, I needed a good race here. The main aim was to minimise the damage – Valencia has not been an especially happy hunting ground – and I was not confident of victory.

Practice and qualifying took place over a combination of wet and dry conditions, with my performances in the dry being far better than in the wet – indeed, Q3 crucially took place in the dry, and as a result, I was able to snatch pole position – vitally important on a tight street circuit.

I kept my fingers crossed for a dry race too – and luckily, it was indeed it proved to be so! I also managed to get the sort of start to a race that I usually don’t enjoy – I was leading into the first corner, and set about pulling away from the rest of the pack.

It was, in many respects, a boring race – I left the lead a couple of times at pit stops, but this was hardly a problem, as I regained it when the pack pitted, and would see out an uneventful race to win – closing the gap on Button to ten points – still a tad further away than I’d have liked, but it was certainly better than losing ground! My first win at Valencia was a good one, a controlled one, a pretty dominant one. More of the same would be nice!

So, a few days on from F1’s return to Mexico, it’s time to ask whether it was a triumphant return!

The answer is an emphatic yes. Whilst the race was not an absolute classic, I can honestly say it was entertaining. The fast circuit played into the hands of the Mercedes powered teams, with a hardly-surprising Mercedes one-two, only for a change, it was Nico Rosberg winning, and doing so quite comfortably from Hamilton (I haven’t often written those words!).

Rosberg had qualified on pole, albeit just barely from Hamilton, but at the start he got away well and for once, was not bullied into the first corner. Whilst Hamilton would keep close to Rosberg in the first stint, he could not quite get into DRS range, and Rosberg was looking composed.

The same could definitely not be said of Sebastian Vettel. At the first corner he abruptly closed the door on Daniel Ricciardo, clipping the Red Bull’s front wing and sustaining a rear-right puncture in the process. He would fight his way back up the field (sliding off inexplicably at one stage but getting away with it), but he would trigger a safety car when he slid off for good, his Ferrari impacting the barriers. He admitted that he’d had a bad day, clearly unhappy with his performance.

It was a bad day for Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen too. In a reversal of his incident in Russia with Bottas, he was bumped off the track by the Williams driver when he slammed the door on his fellow Finn, and came off far worse, his race ended.

With Mercedes in complete control of the race, the team made the decision to pit both their drivers for a second time, prior to the safety car, for safety reasons (in theory, the medium compound tyres would last till race end, but as a precaution, Mercedes made the call).

Hamilton initially refused, questioning the call. He felt the tyres were good to the end and wanted the opportunity to do exact that. He was some 18 seconds clear of Rosberg with 24 laps to go, but Rosberg, on fresh tyres, was closing in at around a second a lap. The team pressed more forcefully for Hamilton to pit, which he did, a lap later than planned, and then the safety car brought the field back anyway.

It is my humble opinion that Hamilton would have lost the race anyway, with Rosberg catching him so quickly on fresh tyres, and with Rosberg having been quicker anyway. His desire to push, to fight for the win on his terms, is part of what makes Hamilton the champion that he is, but sometimes the team knows best!

So all in all, a good race, with some exciting moments, even if the end was somewhat processional, and a strong return for Mexico!

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The fourth film of Daniel Craig’s interpretation of James Bond (and possibly his last, if the rumour mill is to be believed) is, in this meerkat’s humble opinion, his best outing yet.

Having settled in to see the film this morning with my wife, I was quickly drawn into an impressive mix of high octane action, an intriguing story that delves into the history of Craig’s Bond (and touches upon previous films), and a more relaxed Bond.

Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall were all, in my view, good Bond films, but Craig’s Bond was quite abrupt, cold and humourless throughout them all. In Spectre, Bond is a little more at ease in his own skin, and whilst that gruff exterior is still much evident, he is not afraid to crack a few jokes or make light of the situations he finds himself in.

This is a well-paced film, involving a villainous global organisation committed to worldwide mayhem, and they are suitably evil, setting up a variety of terrible events in order to further their agenda. There are nods to Jaws with one of the henchmen (a particularly strong bad guy played by David Bautista with quiet menace), and Q injects several moments of subtle humour (well played by Ben Whishaw). Léa Seydoux plays Bond’s principal love interest in this film, but her character is far more than another Bond girl, instead showing resilience under pressure (and in fact saves Bond’s life at one point).

We get an exhilarating fight in a helicopter to open the film, and we have an understated but entertaining car chase, and of course, we get a villain (played by Christoph Waltz) who tries to rankle Bond at every opportunity, giving us classic Bond villain tropes (such as having Bond completely at his mercy but preferring to devise an elaborate death, rather than doing the smart thing, and rather nasty forms of torture).

There’s also a turn in this film for Andrew Scott, formerly of Sherlock fame, as a side-villain, though to be honest, he doesn’t get a great deal of screen time, and his character isn’t particularly memorable. Ralph Fiennes reprises his role as M, but again, doesn’t get a huge amount to do, though he does get to take part in a couple of action scenes toward the end.

Speaking of action, the set pieces here are well-staged and don’t go over the top, with a particularly entertaining fight on a train, and Bond using a plane as a makeshift car. This is definitely a film worth revisiting.

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It’s like a switch is thrown in the brains of every managing director, CEO, shop owner and store manager. November 1st is go time for Christmas!

Cue festive streamers, signs, lights and even music. The most wonderful time of the year is now the most wonderful two months of the year (and now Christmas is bleeding into October too, with supermarkets and shops getting their promotions and deals on the shelves, complete with wrapped presents and pretty, gold red and green tinsel). When did this happen???

It’s been the case for years of course. We’ve become obsessed with the bargains and sales that drive the build up to the big day, unable to resist the assault on our senses. Here in the UK, the phenomenon that is Black Friday is starting to take hold more and more, and in the USA, it is a full-fledged day of absolute pandemonium (ironically taking place the day after Thanksgiving).

To me, Christmas should be a family affair. My fondest Christmas memories are of the gathering of my family clan, introducing my wife to the idea of going to a pub on Christmas Day, and of course, the look of absolute wonder and joy on my daughter’s face when she spots the presents under the tree. Whether or religious or not, Christmas should always be about spending time in the company of people you love, and about making your loved ones smile.

Now, I am hardly adverse to buying presents and like anyone, I enjoy receiving gifts. What I resent is the steady transformation of Christmas from a special, magical family occasion, into a corporate money-making exercise, with our eyes and ears bombarded (earlier and earlier every year) with festive songs in shops, adverts on TV, and leaflets through the post. Kids in particular will look at all the toys and gadgets being advertised and will work themselves into a frenzy, bubbling over with excitement for two months, placing merciless pressure on parents to treat them. The parents also have to deal with hyperactive kids more or less bouncing off the walls in anticipation of the 25th December.

It isn’t fair on the kids, or the parents.

There’s also intense pressure on the employees of retailers. Having worked in retail, I have often had to work both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, not usually getting home till quite late on Christmas Eve, as I’ve been rushing around trying to get the store ready for the Boxing Day offers (and naturally, there is a lot of work to do). The people at the top seem to think the people at the bottom have nothing to do at Christmas, other than work to the bone at their behest.

Mind you, a lot of retailers (my former employers in particular) regard their staff as little more than faceless numbers anyway, doing little to encourage loyalty and showing very little either. It hardly surprises me that they see employees as a means to an end, and they probably resent letting them take Christmas Day off!

So to recap. Christmas starts too early. It’s placing enormous pressure on parents and kids alike. It burdens employees of big retailers with the expectation that work comes before family, even at Christmas. What should be a wonderful time for families to gather has become a huge marketing machine. I say Christmas needs to be reclaimed! Make it a family occasion once again. No Christmas decorations (and especially no music!) until 1st December! If a store absolutely must be open on Christmas Eve, it should close at 4, no later. Who is with me???