Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship – Hethel (Round 3)

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I spent the entire weekend pretending to be a racing driver and it was absolutely awesome!

On Saturday Adam and I both took part in a track day organised by Lotus on Track Racing Drivers Club. It was at the Hethel Test Track in Norfolk, the home of Lotus Cars, and the ‘birthplace’ of our car, Steve.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the site, photographs weren’t allowed (possibly because they are busy developing too much awesomeness there!) I did manage to get this photo of the lovely chairs in the drivers lounge though, I sat on a yellow one and had a cheese and onion sandwich.

In other amazing news, I had a driving lesson from ex F1 driver Martin Donnelly! How cool is that? I’m not sure Martin thought it was cool, as pretty much ever time he got hold of the wheel I let off the throttle! “Why are you taking your foot off the gas, Karen?” in his fabulous Northern Irish voice. “Because I’m finding it a bit hard to accelerate when I’m not in control of the wheel, Martin!” in my confused wimp voice!

On our way home I started reminiscing about the lovely Mallard we’d seen walking across the track whilst I was driving round, the lovely Mallard that I’d got excited about and exclaimed “Look at the beautiful Mallard!” Adam didn’t see a Mallard, he wasn’t there when the Mallard was there. Which can only mean one thing… poor Martin! I’m not used to having ex F1 drivers as passengers.

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Sunday was Round 3 of the Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship, at Hethel. I thought that doing the track day on Saturday would give me an advantage, but they changed the layout and everything felt different.

I struggled to get the line right on the first part of the track. I did a pretty slow first run, knocked a few seconds off my second run, and then on my third and final run I got that first part right and I was going really well. I felt pleased, this was good, hooray for Karen, and then, the red flag came out. Someone had gone off into the gravel and they had to clear the track.

I did get a re-run, but by now I was all flustered, I had to rejoin the queue, my head was really hot too! I tried to get it right, but it just wasn’t good enough, and then I braked too late for a chicane and punted the cones. I carried on, but that lap was disqualified because by hitting the cones I’d technically had an off. Disappointed – again!

I was stuck with my second run time of 169.55, which was an okay time in comparison to other people’s second runs, but over 5 seconds slower that the next person on the best timed runs.

And, to top it all, look what I did to my poor little car! Two nasty breaks in the front of it. I’m so sorry Steve!

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I’d best go and find the gaffer tape.

A Night at Willington Hall Hotel, Cheshire

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Set in very pretty grounds, with the most gloriously scented Rhododendrons, Willington Hall dates back to 1829. The country house has seen many changes and became a family run hotel in 1999.

Upon our arrival we were shown to our room. The front of house staff were charming and their attentiveness made it feel more like staying in a country house, rather than just a hotel.

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Our room was bright and glorious with two huge windows overlooking the grounds. On one side the walled garden contained a small pond and fountain, and on the other side the terraced gardens led down to the helipad and then allowed a stunning vista of the local countryside, cattle and all!

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There was even a huge window in the bathroom, beautifully draped with curtains. (I like curtains in bathrooms where thereÂ’s plenty of room). The bath was rather big with an amazing view from it. You could see for miles from the loo, too!

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The furnishings were attractive and the room felt spacious but not empty. Certainly not empty with three chairs, a sofa, coffee table, side table, triple wardrobe, small chest of drawers, ginormous chest of drawers, two bedside cabinets, an ottoman, four lamps, a pretty chandelier and a very large four poster bed which was marvellously soft and snuggly. Everything was very clean and well presented. The windows were a little worn in places, but thatÂ’s to be expected in a beautiful old listed house. If you donÂ’t like character then this certainly isnÂ’t the hotel for you. IÂ’d go back here in a flash though!

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We had a drink in the Study Bar and a walk around the grounds before having dinner in the hotelÂ’s Gainsborough Restaurant. (Named after the Gainsborough painting of James Tomkinson which hangs on its wall). IÂ’ve written about this here.

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The Hall was full of lovely furnishings that IÂ’d have liked to take home, including a lovely tapestry style sofa and some nice dark carved items. IÂ’d of had the collection of Champagne buckets too!

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The horse painting in the Study Bar, for some reason, reminded me of our chicken, Cheryl!

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IÂ’m rubbish at eating breakfast, especially cooked, savoury breakfasts. I had my first ever English breakfast last June at Sandie and JamesÂ’ wedding, and immediately had to eat a chunk of sticky sweet Baclava to balance things out! At Willington Hall I developed a tactical approach – I ate a bowl of Coco Pops, and then, with my sweet breakfast out of the way I was able to order Eggs Benedict. It was a huge portion which I couldnÂ’t eat all of, but what I did eat was delicious. AdamÂ’s Haddock and Poached Eggs was a much more manageable size, and tasty too.

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We had a lovely stay, a good nights sleep, good food and very friendly service – in a very beautiful and relaxed setting. IÂ’d definitely stay at the Willington Hall Hotel again, I hope I get the chance to… maybe I could move in?

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The room rate at Willington Hall Hotel is £175 for the Four Poster Room, including breakfast for two. It’s worth phoning the hotel directly, rather than booking through an agent, as they may have an offer on at the time.

Helmet Shopping at Demon Tweeks

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Did we really drive 180 miles to buy a helmet? Yes. Was it worth it? Most definitely! My head is important to me and I need it (I use it everyday!) It makes sense to put a little bit of effort in to make sure I look after my massive head and get a helmet that fits properly.

Demon Tweeks superstore in Wrexham is amazing… soooo much stuff! I donÂ’t think there is anywhere else in the UK that stocks such a wide range of helmets, race wear and hard parts. In the helmet department theyÂ’ve got everything from Arai, Bell and OMP to Sparco, Simpson and Stilo. And, prices to suit everyone too. Hooray!

I had a few criteria I needed to meet: the helmet had to be Snell 2010, it had to be full face, and it needed to fit comfortably. The good thing about Demon Tweeks is pretty much everyone there takes part in, or has a strong interest in, Motorsports. I was lucky to get fitting advice from Gareth Evans, heÂ’s the Sales Manager there, but also a karting expert, having run his own team and now working in places like Dubai with other teams.

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The first helmet I tried on was the Race Safety Pro (£179 ex / £214.80 inc VAT). I found it very similar to the Hedtec that I’d tried before, it just didn’t fit right. The Race Safety Pro had a nicer pad on the top of the head, but I found the back of the helmet too shallow, and even when it was done-up I could shift it up and down far too much. If you’ve got a short head (is that possible?) then you might find the Hedtec fits, it was certainly cheap at around £150 all in, but I am learning that price isn’t everything!

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Since I was about 10 years old IÂ’ve felt the ultimate helmet was the Simpson Bandit. A cross between something from Mad Max and The Predator, I couldnÂ’t wait to get my hands on one.

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What an incredible bit of terrifying design! I was convinced that this is what I needed, until I got it on and thought about how much I could see. After my wonky bog eyes affected my clay shooting ability (marvellous excuse!) I realised that I didn’t need anything else to stop me from focusing. Im easily distracted. Can you imagine the shame of crashing your car because you accidentally started looking at your helmet? Well, that’s something that isn’t going to happen to me! The Simpson Bandit (£403.08 ex / £483.70) is beautiful. Awesomeness, but, not for me.

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Gareth was a great help, he had a huge amount of knowledge and he really guided me well. He asked me questions which encouraged me to think sensibly and make the best decision to suit me. He didnÂ’t try to up-sell or get me to buy something that I didnÂ’t need, he was just really helpful, interested and informative. Top bloke!

The Bell KF3 Sport SV (£362.50 ex / £435) looked pretty cool in matt black. The little ‘duck bill’ lip around the bottom added to the styling, but more importantly adds a practical aspect for drivers of open top cars where the aerodynamics of the helmet help keep it held down (and on the head!)

Although I tried the largest size on for my big head, it just didnÂ’t fit right. I found it very tight on my face and after saying this out loud I found that I couldnÂ’t actually close my mouth – it was being squeezed from the sides and was stuck open! (I felt a bit like Barbara in Beetle Juice!)

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The Bell Sport 5 (£299 ex / £358.80) is a good entry level helmet. Well made and well padded inside. It fitted smoothly and comfortably. I had really good visibility and it didn’t feel awkward. This was the one for me!

Gareth suggested I add a balaclava, and although I was reluctant to put it on, it actually made helmet wearing far more comfortable. Even if I looked like a egg whilst wearing it… I totally did!

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I’m really pleased with my new helmet! I was so convinced that I would die of joy when I saw the Simpson, and I did behave like a bizarre child when I put it on, saying, “Look! I can see it on my face!” But after the initial excitement I realised that visibility is actually more important than looking menacing!

I canÂ’t stress enough how important it is to get a helmet that fits you, and if you are not sure then get help with fitting. If your helmet is at all loose, just imagine where it could go in an accident. If youÂ’re getting bashed about then really itÂ’d be better if your helmet stays on your head, rather than whizzing off!

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If youÂ’re looking for racewear (or possibly the best rain coat in existence!) and need advice itÂ’s well worth giving the team a call and having a chat. They can get stuff out to you for the next day if you need it. IÂ’d recommend a visit to the showroom in Wrexham though if you are after a few things or just want to get up close to lots of great kit.

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Thank you to Gareth, Dee and Matt from Demon Tweeks for all your help and niceness. (I took some Dee some eggs from Sandra and Cheryl – is that weird? I hope not!)

Find Demon Tweeks online here, or visit the super duper superstore at 75 Ash Rd South, Wrexham, North Wales.

Czecheap Challenge – The VW Polo of Your Dreams

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… or nightmares. Depending on how positive/negative youÂ’re feeling. When my friend Liz said she was selling her (t)rusty old car because she needed the money to have a donkey gelded (boy bits removed), it seemed totally appropriate to buy it. She thinks its going on a magical journey, and she’s right!

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Although it was winter and we didnÂ’t need out Czecheap Chariot until May, I thought IÂ’d just knock about in it while the roads were icy and I needed to lug random junk from place to place.

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ItÂ’s been great, apart from the knocking, the mis-firing, the engine bay being pretty much varnished with Damp Start, the broken HT leads, the mis-matched spark plugs, the broken central locking, the non-functioning handbrake, the wheels being totally out of balance and the steering wheel being on sideways, the broken gear knob, the bald tyres, the bent wheels, and the seats, the uncomfortable seats. It actually needs adult sized seats I think! They seem really short, like people in the mid-nineties were really short! Adam says its an old ladies car and they are smaller.

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Adam took the car to the £10 carwash (and vacuum). The first thing the chap there said was, “Where did you find this car?!” followed by, “Have you been keeping chickens in there?” and then, “I’m going to have to charge you £15!”

They did an excellent job of removing the grit and gravel, moss, mould and hair.

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The best thing about the Polo is that you can park it anywhere. You know those tiny spaces at the end of the car park, next to the big lumpy wall, that nobody ever parks in? Yeah! I can park in them.

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The worst thing though, is that although I can lock the doors from the drivers side by pushing the button down, I canÂ’t open it from that side. ItÂ’s not really a problem, until you park in one of those spaces at the end of the car park, next to the big lumpy wall, that nobody ever parks in. Then you find you canÂ’t even walk along the passenger side of your car, so you have to launch yourself in the right direction, key in hand and arm outstretched, and then just kind of lie there, sideways, halfway up the car, wedged between it and a lumpy wall, trying to work out how you are going to get back on your feet.

ItÂ’s okay. I donÂ’t think anyone saw me.

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Last year I got too attached to Lisa the Tigra (it was so comfy, like being on a bed!) so this year I need to hate the car! ItÂ’s happening., although for the first week we had it I felt a lot of glee whilst driving it!

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WeÂ’re doing the Czecheap Challenge to raise money for the Stroke Association, IÂ’ve written more about it here, and if you are feeling kind/generous/sympathetic then weÂ’d be really grateful if youÂ’d pop over here and sponsor us, thank you!

Shooting Clay at EJ Churchill Shooting Ground

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It was Easter Saturday, the sun was shining and we had car snacks, so we headed off to the award winning EJ Churchill Shooting Ground on the West Wycombe Estate in Buckinghamshire.

Upon arrival we were impressed by the automated grass cutter that was on display outside… then we saw the gun room! The EJ Churchill Gunmakers have been synonymous with fine hand made English shotguns for over 120 years, remaining the largest gunmaker in British hands and renowned as one of the world’s finest.

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Our instructor, Adam Davies, sized us up for guns, kitted us out with safety gear and showed us how to position ourselves, before taking us out into the grounds.

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At the first layout the clay came across from right to left and we learnt to follow it, whilst maintaining our stance and keeping control of the gun. After a few shots everyone seemed to get the hang of it, apart from me. We thought Neil was a proper pigeon hustler when he hit the first two clays, but after that we managed to jinx him for a while. I managed to hit one clay, everyone was cheering me and I had to ask, ‘Did I hit it?’ because I had my eyes closed at the time!

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Isi, who turned out to be the shooting star of the day, (a bit concerning for a vegetarian!) pointed out a Red Kite, I’ve never seen one before, it was amazing and really ginger. It’s okay, she didn’t shoot it.

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On the second layout the clays were fired up and over our heads. Everyone did a lot better on this round, and I even managed to hit a couple here.

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At the third layout the clays were launched up into the air towards us, and then they dropped down in front of us. I told Adam, our instructor, that I was having a bit of trouble following them, and blamed my wonky bog eyes. He got me to close my left eye, and… Kabam! That made everything so much easier. I hit a few, I was overjoyed. I’m not saying I’m an expert, but my ability level went up a few notches when I became a cyclops!

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Basically, Adam told me, my right eye is my dominant eye, but when things get to a certain closer distance it swaps to my left eye. Which explains why I was struggling and getting confused (a partial explanation anyway!)

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I honestly didn’t think I would hit anything, I’ve never been much cop as this kind of thing and I struggle to catch a ball (I now understand why!) I went along for the fun of the day, knowing this, so imagine how surprised and delighted I was to hit a couple of clays in concession! Hats off to an awesome instructor.

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I can’t wait to have another go now. I just need to get an eye patch. In fact, there are many sports I would like to partake in now… whilst wearing an eye patch!

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The team at EJ Churchill were really helpful and lovely, so lovely that they even made us cups of tea when we got there. They suggested always phoning ahead if interested in making a booking so that they can help you get the best and most suitable outcome.

Two hours instruction at EJ ChurchillÂ’s is £198, plus £20 per hour per extra person and we paid £77 for clays and cartridges (this would be dependent on how many you use – they are both 28p each). There were four people in our party and the overall price would have been £397.00

Welcome to the World of Karen Harvey: photographer, writer, creative consultant… self proclaimed cat whisperer, chicken wrangler and chief cake taster!