The Grand Tour – Season 1 

Given that all the episodes of Amazon’s new motoring show have now been released, I figured now would be a good time to utilise the home of my thoughts and opinions to voice my thoughts and opinions. As nobody has bought this up down the pub, or as modern interactions go, on whatsapp, I’m going to write about it here, unchallenged and in long form.
Featuring the former Top Gear trio, the Grand Tours appeal is still in the casts ability to be, or appearing to be completely at peace with themselves. James May is perfectly happy being reffered to as Captain Slow, Hammond as a hyperactive child and Clarkson the controversial traditionalist. There is no doubt that the production team have aimed to reinforce the stereotypes surrounding the hosts and the majority of the episodes bring laughs from the groups unshakeable appetite for banter. The show benefits from a new distribution channel with reduced regulation leading to a show that feels noticeably less “BBC”, giving the impression the trio may have been sensored more than anticipated in the past iteration. This has lead to the slightly contradictory feel throughout the show where some spects feel completely natural and others utterly forced. 

Conversation streets sting is awkward. Celebrity brain crash did not appeal to me in any way and the repetitive nature of “then he turned up” in many of the features became frustrating. Then there is the American. This chap was obviously cast in order to appeal to the residents of Amazon’s head office location. America. In British English he can only and must only be described as an insufferable twat. The intellectual property the BBC own is clearly restricting the show in some parts requiring some creative thinking for linking content between films. These appear to have been slightly misguided.

The production quality is still outstanding. The cinematography (if that’s what you call it for TV shows) is still beautiful and you get incredible shots of all the wonderful vehicles you’d expect from Top Gear. I mean the Grand Tour. The concept of touring the world is welcome and the bigger budget is more apparent here than anywhere else. It appears as if the majority of aerial footage is still shot with a helicopter rather than drone and the tent is noticeably better looking than the studio of old. It’s also nice to see some modernised leader boards and animations throughout. 

The elements of the Grand Tour that are great are as great as the very best bits of Top Gear. There are still laugh out loud moments and elements that invoke fury. It’s still motoring journalism with a hint of debauchery and a dash of controversy. The only downsides are the annoying parts such as Celebrity Brain Crash and the American. These are so infuriating they put a dampener on the whole viewing experience. If you can focus purely on the features about cars and not the linking aspects in the tent it makes for a good time. Remove them and it’s more a documentary film than a show. Hopefully in season 2 they play with the format a bit. We shall see. 

Tales from The M4 commute

Having left my office in the gloom of Bristol Harbourside at some point last year I began commuting in the other direction. I now head deeper into Wales, through the infamous Brynglas Tunnels, along the stop-start A48(M), down the rancid and litter smothered  Rover Way and onto a Multi-Storey in Cardiff Bay. To some this may sound like hell, but I still prefer the sanctuary of my red Seat Ibiza ecomotive (with awful wheels) to waiting around at Severn Tunnel Junction and paying into Great Western Rails coffers. 

Below are some of my observations since turning the other way at the Coldra.

  • Nobody is paying attention – if anyone is looking for a reason to sell self driving cars and ban humans from operating high speed automobiles, they need only to visit the M4 at rush hour. I witness on a daily basis a huge number of people texting and using the phone without hands free. I witness people applying makeup using the rear view mirror before slamming on the brakes (more on that later). I have genuinely seen a lady writing a greetings card on her steering wheel whilst holding the envelope in her mouth. It’s frankly astonishing any of us make it in to work each day.
  • Radio is great – I have missed out on radio for most of my life. I’ve never really understood it as a medium of entertainment, probably due to my Dad always tuning into horrific AM frequencies to listen to football matches. Now of course I spend my time equally split between Radio 4 and Spotify with the odd bit of Queen’s Greatest Hits. Radio 4 is fantastic. Radio 1 is good in small doses. As for the rest, meh. I anticipate if I ever buy another car, it shall have DAB.
  • BMW drivers – I have had the wonderful privilege of driving a BMW Z3 for the past year. Whilst I was hassled and badgered for driving what is considered a “hairdressers” car by many. Usually the type of hideous macho man crippled with self doubt and loathing. Most likely well into either an unhappy marriage or divorce. Now that’s over with let me sympathise with BMW drivers. They are 99% awful. Sometimes you are on the motorway and they are not ramming you up the rear, flashing their lights and generally coming across like they have some sort of tarmac privilege. It is in fact down to the car. When driving a BMW for whatever reason the pedals, the steering wheel, the gear stick; they encourage you to be a total utter scoundrel. It’s the cars fault. It doesn’t help that most BMW drivers manifest in the form of balding, angry middle managers but it’s not their fault. They have so little identity in day to day life that a 5-Series and a dual carriage way is where they display their power. Or lack of. Much like in work I imagine . 
  • Smart motorways – These are not smart. They  are a death trap. When a train is  delayed. A calm woman on a tannoy will tell you with no compassion that somebody three stops away called it a day. On a smart motorway you get a 40mph speed limit, a red x and have to rely on BBC Radio Wales to tell you what’s occurring, supposing you are sat there long enough to hear the travel news. The same information signs that tell you not to drink and drive (they should say this before entering the motorway) should inform you how long this will add to your journey. Just because keeping people in the loop helps calm the nerves. As for the speed limits, sometimes it just drops to 40 and people slam the breaks in order to not pay money. Who can blame them but putting the speed limit suddenly down on a road where nobody pays attention is both reckless and annoying. The acceleration snake agrees.

I don’t hate this commute at all. All in all its more hygienic than the tube commute I was doing 3 years ago. Shorter and cheaper than my Bristol commute and has more of a purpose than my university commute. Hopefully in the next few months my next commute will surface in the form of a two wheeled experience lasting around 10 minutes. Perhaps leading to a blog post called Tales From Nigel Barrage.