Operation Bottom Shelf

My long-time subscription to F1 Racing magazine recently came to an end, and following this I realised that it would be pointless to renew it before my move to Winchester. I will therefore acquire them individually in the meantime, but even this has so far proved to be easier said than done. In my formative years, and prior to my subscription, I would enthusiastically visit newsagents in various places to pick up my copy, knowing that Dad would be there to hand it to me from the shelf. Now I am older, I am going to such places on my own, and I generally do so eager not to draw too much attention to myself. All I want to do is glide in as quietly as possible, find the magazine, pay for it and glide out again. I want to do this without appearing to struggle, and to be almost completely unnoticed even in my conspicuous and cumbersome chair. As you might expect, however, the layout of many shops means that this is not possible. Lots of interesting magazines, including F1 Racing, tend to be positioned only within reach of those who are much higher up than me, so no amount of groaning or straining from my chair will bring what I am looking for.

I could just ask for help, of course, but it always seems so silly to interrupt someone’s work or browsing just so they can remove something from a shelf for me (it was different with Dad – he was there primarily for that reason). In addition, I would feel like I was admitting defeat too easily – and it’s a magazine, for heaven’s sake! Why shouldn’t I be able to buy one in the same way as everyone else? To answer this question, I have to search far and wide, going from shop to shop on my own personal mission. As I do this, I have to make sure I don’t look too strange as I circle it carefully before exiting without buying anything. I slowly weave my way around to where the magazines are located, trying not to obstruct any other customers, and I stop next to the shelves so that I can scan them as closely as possible. The motorsport magazines are generally grouped into the same category as the regular motoring ones, so I know the titles to look out for – F1 Racing, for instance, can usually be found near Autosport or Motor Sport. 

If it is on the third shelf up or higher, any efforts I make will be in vain. Whilst I understand that not every magazine can be placed on a low shelf, my constant inability to independently collect what I want without any fuss does start to grate after a while. I can generally rely on one shop in my local area to always place F1 Racing on its lowest shelf, although there are admittedly a few I haven’t yet looked in. Said shop is occasionally without its copy, so maybe my next trip out for one should feature another mission to these uncharted territories?



Trouble In The Airwaves

For the first time ever, at the beginning of this Formula One season, I found myself feeling something other than delight. Yes, there is still half a season standing between me and it, but it is there nevertheless, staring me in the face undeniably. I refer to the imminent loss of free-to-air TV coverage in the UK, which threatens to leave me without regular access from 2019. Just like running water, it has always been something I have taken for granted during every race weekend. I could find solace in knowing that I would have a constant, eight-month stream of race action to make everything better in my life. It would be uninterrupted (apart from the ad breaks on ITV and Channel 4), and as far as I was concerned then, things were going to stay that way. Unfortunately, however, this is no longer the case – one of Bernie Ecclestone’s last acts as F1’s leading man before being removed by Liberty Media was to close an exclusive deal with Sky, allowing them to continue showing every lap live from next year onwards.

That makes 2018 the last season for Channel 4’s coverage. As I write, no replacement channel has been announced, and this prolonged silence is making the prospect of not seeing next year’s races even worse. At university I may end up with a TV licence, but I won’t be able to afford a costly Sky Sports package. This causes me to be infuriated even more by the deal, since I have put at least 15 years of time and enthusiasm into the sport. I have never willingly missed a race in that time. I have invested in race tickets, video games and merchandise, and this is how I am repaid – by being deprived of my main link to F1. Yes, there is excellent radio coverage provided by the BBC, but F1 is a visual sport – and listening to the lights go out on the grid, or a collision between two title protagonists, doesn’t have quite the same impact as it would on screen.

Since taking the helm in early 2017, Liberty Media have impressed many by keeping the humble fan at the centre of attention. After their early efforts, they are yet to truly put a foot wrong, but their work is far from over. They are compensating for the changes in TV coverage with the launch of a new online streaming service, but the live racing action it provides is not yet available in the UK. We now live in a world where it would be foolish to ignore the internet and social media in promoting F1, but I feel Liberty urgently needs to address the TV situation in order to make a long-term impact. Is it really worth focusing on an online presence if it will completely exclude those fans who cannot join it?


Aussie Sunday

Today marked possibly the one day every year when a 5am wake-up call from my alarm does not bother me in the slightest. What it marks is the start of the frantic, unrelenting eight-month world tour that is the Formula One season, and within minutes I was out of bed and downstairs waiting for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix to begin. Since the end of the previous season in November, there had been plenty of speculation – as there often is – regarding how 2018 would unfold for all of the teams, but as the field lined up on the Melbourne grid the time for talk was over. Honda and the Halo would be forgotten for at least the next two hours, as only the race remained.

I can now safely say that it did not disappoint. Of course, you can never be entirely sure of what will happen during a season-opener, but as someone expecting another demonstration of Mercedes dominance from Lewis Hamilton I was pleasantly surprised to see Ferrari end the day with the upper hand, thanks to a win from Sebastian Vettel. Some may see his triumph as lucky or even controversial, since he plucked the lead from Hamilton in the pit exit during a Virtual Safety Car period triggered by maladies for effective Ferrari B-team Haas. It is not an outcome to be sniffed at, however, for if it is representative of what we can expect from the next 20 races this year, then I am very excited by the prospect of another close title battle between Ferrari and Mercedes. What’s more, it would be foolish for anyone to discount Red Bull, even if they didn’t show quite what they are capable of in Australia. Max Verstappen started the day stuck behind a fast-starting Kevin Magnussen, and ended it trying and failing to claim fifth from Fernando Alonso’s Renault-powered McLaren – his lack of pace can most likely be explained by damage his car picked up during an off-road excursion in the early laps. His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo started from eighth on the grid following a three-place penalty, but spurred on by his home crowd, the man from Perth charged to within spitting distance of the podium, coming home fourth after an unsuccessful assault on Kimi Raikkonen’s scarlet machine. His more encouraging performance must surely indicate that Red Bull can once again challenge their biggest rivals in 2018, although whether they can usurp Mercedes from their throne remains to be seen.

Further back, there were a number of other noteworthy performances in a very tight midfield. The most commendable of these came from the Haas duo of Magnussen and Romain Grosjean. After Ricciardo’s penalty had been applied on Saturday, they found themselves locking out the third row of the grid and took full advantage of this as the lights went out, keeping themselves solidly in the top six. From the outset, it looked as though the American team were virtually assured of a valuable haul of points for both men, but their dream start would turn to a nightmare on lap 23 when Magnussen ground to a halt after his pit stop with a loose wheel nut. In the garage, the mechanics and engineers were visibly frustrated, but total devastation would follow just two laps later when Grosjean also retired at Turn 2 with exactly the same issue. Every team member who appeared on camera thereafter seemed genuinely inconsolable, and I struggled to think of another time when a team had been so upset following a crushing defeat such as this. It was impossible not to feel sorry for Haas, but the new VF-18 possesses a great deal of pace and they will have another opportunity to shine again next time out in Bahrain – after they’ve ensured that their pit stops run more smoothly. McLaren enter 2018 with a new papaya orange colour scheme and, as aforementioned, a new engine partner in Renault. During the Australian Grand Prix the Woking team’s new alliance paid dividends, as it easily achieved a double points finish. Alonso’s fifth place equalled – in just one race – the best result he was able to notch up in three seasons with Honda engines. It was incredibly uplifting to see such a great champion almost rejuvenated on track, knowing he can now be confident in McLaren’s ability to be consistent scorers and fighters once again. Indeed, he made the somewhat bold post-race claim that the team could now forget about lingering in the midfield and focus their sights on Red Bull instead. Perhaps nobody will really know whether McLaren can catch the Austrian giants until after a few races have passed, but surely no fan can honestly say they wouldn’t be overjoyed to see this happen after all the misery the squad have experienced in recent years. Finally, I feel as though I must give a special mention to Carlos Sainz, who finished tenth whilst battling a spraying water bottle and resulting sickness for Renault, and to veteran Swiss minnows Sauber. Marcus Ericsson was an unfortunate early retirement thanks to a loss of power steering, but his rookie partner Charles Leclerc completed his debut race in a respectable thirteenth, ahead of Lance Stroll’s Williams and Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso. In doing so – on the lead lap, too – he kept up well with the rest of the field, giving me hope that yet another team can move up from the back of the grid and into the mix against their rivals.

Those who must have wished for much better things from their afternoons include the aforementioned Williams and Toro Rosso teams. In the case of the former, it was an uneventful and disappointing drive to fourteenth for Stroll, whilst the second debutant on the 2018 grid, Russia’s Sergey Sirotkin, pulled off after only three laps with a brake failure. Toro Rosso were hampered by a blown Honda engine for Pierre Gasly – after the Japanese powerplants had performed faultlessly in pre-season testing – and a last-place finish for Hartley, who was left a lap down after an early pit stop and unable to regain lost ground. It was also a surprisingly unremarkable race for Force India; deserted by their usual pace, they left Australia without a single point for the first time since 2009.

Thankfully, we are only one event into a long season, and those affected by the misfortune that is typical of motor racing have many more chances to strike back. As I have already suggested, there are plenty of unknowns and questions to be answered as this year’s Formula One narrative takes shape, and whatever they may bring, I can’t wait to be on hand to witness the twists, turns and everything in between. Let’s go racing!



The Top Twenty Records Of All Time, Part 2

A little while ago, I gave you the first four of eight songs I’d take away with me to a hypothetical desert island, as all guests do on Desert Island Discs. I promised that the rest would follow in a second post – since it was such a difficult list to devise – along with my chosen book and luxury. There’s no time like the present, so without further ado, I give you all my remaining choices. Songs first!

Just bear in mind that these will be listed from 1 to 4 again, as WordPress doesn’t seem to allow me to enter 5 to 8. I wouldn’t want to confuse you, would I?

  1. “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” by The Smiths. Like Muse, I knew that The Smiths would be assured of a place here as soon as I started thinking about the lucky eight songs. There are many legendary musical names, such as Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards, that are often grouped together in iconic pairings, but – somewhat bafflingly, in my opinion – singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr are rarely put up there with them. I view them as the greatest duo in history. The impact they had upon their band was such that when Marr left in 1987, they had no choice but to disband. This is because neither man was expendable, and no incarnation of The Smiths could have survived without either of them. They complimented each other perfectly, despite their differing styles – Morrissey’s melancholic lyrics and delivery shouldn’t match Johnny Marr’s upbeat and chiming riffs on paper, but in reality they were a force to be reckoned with and remain so to this day. Their talents have made Morrissey a legendary lyricist and vocalist – whatever you think of him as a person – and Marr the most distinctive and talented man ever to play guitar. Furthermore, their partnership was an incredibly fruitful one, in spite of the fact that it lasted just five years, from 1982 to 1987. During that period, the band produced four studio albums in quick succession, along with a whole host of compilation records – Hatful of Hollow stands out among these in my eyes – singles and other non-album tracks. You might expect that this level of productivity means there are many gems to choose from in The Smiths’ catalogue, and you’d be right. It was “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” that eventually won the toss after much deliberation. It’s one of the songs I often find myself retreating to when I’m in a reflective mood, perhaps as a result of sadness or regret. Like many of the group’s tunes, it resonates with me primarily because of its lyrics. They tell a story of misunderstood love, something to which many of us can surely relate (“how can they see the love in our eyes, and say they don’t believe us?”) For reasons I’m not willing to elaborate on, it resonates very clearly with me (not because of “hatred” or “murderous desire”), and every time I hear the song I am transported immediately back to a difficult time. The song is a thing of such beauty, however, that I often overlook the darkness, feeling only the admiration stirred up by such a great piece of art.
  2. “Lift Me Up” by Moby. I have loved dance music for as long as I can remember, and for me Moby is akin to royalty within the genre. His album Play is my second-favourite of all time – when it comes to the albums I consider to be the very best, I always find that they offer something very different to anything else, and that’s usually something I can’t quite put my finger on. I found Play a relaxing and somewhat dreamlike record when I listened to it for the first time – tracks like “Inside” and its biggest hit single “Porcelain” are the best examples of this – but Moby’s interest in other musical styles, such as gospel, also caught my attention. “Lift Me Up”, however, does not actually feature on this album. It would not surface for another six years, until the release of Hotel in 2005, when Moby ventured into the field of alternative rock. My track of choice would be issued as its lead single, becoming a Top 40 hit in the UK. What seals its inclusion on this list, however, is the role it was given a year later as the theme music for ITV’s Formula One coverage. From 2006 to 2008 it formed part of a very prominent soundtrack to my weekends between March and November, so ignoring one of my biggest passions when choosing the music for this selection was simply never going to be an option. This is the first F1 theme tune that I can properly remember hearing from my formative years, and with the exception of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, it may well be a contender for the very best of all. Hearing it now takes me right back to watching some great seasons unfold – even though ITV would always insist on showing continuous adverts during the race…
  3. Murray Gold’s 2010 arrangement of the Doctor Who theme tune. Continuing on the TV train of thought for a moment, I give you one of the many awesome variations of this iconic show’s signature tune, composed by Gold for the fifth revived series – the first to feature Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. I have chosen this version of the piece mainly because of my fondness for said series and the memories it evokes – described here – but it also stands out because of how it fuses a traditional orchestral arrangement with modern synthesised elements. This combination is, in my eyes, very effective. Although it arguably lacked the grandiosity and clout of the previous exclusively orchestral post-2005 themes, it did convey the start of something new and exciting while also retaining the sense of spooky alien mystery that makes Doctor Who great. A match made in heaven!
  4. “D’You Know What I Mean?” by Oasis. We have now made it to the eighth song on my list, and I have decided to save a slice of rock and roll until last in the form of one of the many barnstormers from Oasis’ Be Here Now album. My mind was made up because of my admiration for this record – the black sheep of the band’s catalogue, slated by fans, critics and Noel Gallagher himself – because it showcases rock star extravagance like no other disc I can think of. Those who enjoy it do so because of the very things that alienated its audience (albeit not before it sold eight million copies) – very long, very loud and excessively over-produced songs. “D’You Know What I Mean?” is the first of these, a bombastic, seven-minute number one hit often cited as one of the album’s saving graces. The moment walls of roaring sonic volume fill my headphones, I feel a sense of euphoria of the kind created by all great anthems. I also see the band as they were at that time, enjoying the peak of their fame and all it had to offer. The critics have said that this was to the detriment of Be Here Now, since it has been described as “over-indulgent and bloated”, but I don’t mind that at all. On every listen I revel in being transported back 21 years to an era where proper rockers like the Gallaghers still roamed free. Sadly, it seems that we can only dream of such people in 2018. On the whole, there seem to be very few true characters entering the music scene, and this makes me even more grateful for albums like Be Here Now and songs like the aforementioned. It’s a great shame they aren’t more widely appreciated, but I hope I can rectify that to some extent by listing one of them here.

Now that all of my songs have been selected, I must choose a book to go with them. I do consider myself highly literate and a keen reader, but although I have read quite a few books in my time, none have really made an impact big enough for them to be included here. The Writer’s Tale by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook is the only published one that really comes close, since it provides such a great insight into the production of modern TV and the lives of those who write it, but the one that has been most useful to me is one that is yet to be filled. My definitive choice is my own red Moleskine notebook, bought in Waterstone’s during a lunch break last year, in which I now record the majority of ideas that appear on this blog and in other musings. It goes wherever I go, resting snugly in my wheelchair’s sidebag with a pen accompanying it, and a few weeks ago it served as the receptacle for Christopher’s story during my taster session in Winchester. I can’t wait for it to be with me for many more when the course begins. If it’s going to go with me to a hypothetical island, however, it needs to be much longer – so I’ll take it exactly as it is, with all the notes I’ve already made, but with the minor addition of infinite pages so that it lasts forever. I’m going to be there a long time, after all. That’s doable, right?

Finally, we come onto my luxury, and something I was never in any doubt about. Quite simply, I want a TV – although how you’d connect it on a desert island remains to be seen – capable of showing full live and uninterrupted coverage of every Formula One Grand Prix. The future of Formula One on free-to-air TV is a very prominent issue among fans at the moment, and in the UK, Channel 4 is entering the last year of its three-year deal to broadcast the sport. It would nice to have no worries about losing it from weekend afternoons, and alone on a desert island I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone interrupting the start either!





The Pull, Part 5

Ever since it was decided that I would be going to university in Winchester, I have tried to increase the amount of time I spend writing, so that I can be as experienced as possible in my chosen field before I start. The first three months of 2017 saw just eight posts published on Third Time Enabled, but so inspired am I twelve months on – in no small part thanks to the adventure I will embark on in September – that double that is here for you to read so far in 2018. You can at least be assured that these “The Pull” posts will continue until my arrival in Winchester, and I’m sure that as always, there will be much more to come besides.

I’m not just talking about this blog. Since Christmas I have also been working on a script for a short film, of which I almost have a complete first draft. In addition, I have missed writing about Formula One since my abrupt departure from F1Today back in August, and ahead of the new season getting underway next weekend I am considering getting back into the game. I spent part of this afternoon browsing the Internet for F1 websites looking for knowledgeable volunteers, and I quickly found one that I believe could be an open door for me. In fact, you join me as I am peering at a contact form for it, in front of the Punta del Este ePrix on TV. An email demonstrating my enthusiasm for my craft and the sport, and my previous experience, could pay dividends. I’ll never know if I don’t try, I suppose.

Whatever endeavours I attempt will be united by their contributions to my ultimate goal of versatility as a writer. Regardless of whether the task at hand is a poem, an epic 300-page novel or anything else, I need to be able to work comfortably and confidently. Anything I try on the way to my target will be enjoyable, such is my drive to excel in what I do, but to combine one passion with another once again – in the form of F1, the fastest and most dramatic narrative on the planet – would be even more of a pleasure. Let’s see what this email brings, shall we?