Friday, 27 December 2013

It's Christmastime...

It’s simultaneously both depressing and a testament to the songwriters art that for a long time now, I have been unable to hear the words ‘It’s Christmastime’, without mentally adding ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ to it.  I mean, if you’re going to have a Christmas song stuck in your head, at least make it a good one.  Or indeed, the greatest Christmas song ever! (1)

But while I’ve had Christmas songs on in the background since the first of December (2), the other thing I’ve been doing since the the first of the month is opening the doors on my Lego Star Wars Advent Calender.

As mentioned elsewhere, I missed out on this last year, so ended up with a City one, which was ok, but I didn’t really get excited about it.

But this year though, thanks to some forward planning, it was going to be 24 days of Star Wars.  X-Wings!  Tie Fighters! Luke! Leia! Maybe a Millenium Falcon if we’re lucky!

Were we lucky?

No.  

Having now opened all 24 windows, I would suggest we were not.

It would appear that  all I want for Christmas, despite Mariah Carey’s protestations to the contrary, is a time machine so I can go back and get a 2011 Lego Star Wars Advent Calender.  Because that was the one that had all the good stuff!  The X-Wing!  Chewbacca!  A Falcon, a Tie Fighter!  Yoda as Santa Claus!

2012 seemed to be a bit of a mixed bag, although most people seemed to appreciate the ‘Darth Maul as Santa’ minifig.

But this year?  I haven’t checked thoroughly yet, but at a guess I’d say that at least 20 of the 24 models are from the prequel trilogy.  I mean come on, guys!  At least make it a 50/50 split between the three rubbish ones and the Holy Trinity!



The 2013 Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar - not as great as it might have been

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)



Maybe it’s just because I’m old.  Maybe it’s because I grew up with the originals, which were simple tales of goodies vs baddies, plus some cool spaceships.  Maybe it’s because I can’t help looking upon the prequels as overly flashy, overly complicated vehicles to sell toys, but this was a disappointment.

Chances are there are plenty of youngsters out there for whom Episodes I, II and III are what Star Wars is all about, and who think that the original trilogy are just some boring films that their Dad makes them watch periodically.  Maybe they look upon a young Boba Fett minifig as an exciting addition to their collection, or immediately recognised the Acclamator Class Republic Assault Ship which appeared briefly at the end of Episode II : Attack of the Clones.

Frankly I was grateful to CapnRex101, over at Brickset.com, who did a daily mini-review of each model.  If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have a clue what half the things were supposed to be!

Still.  It’s been fun having a little mini model to build every day, and if nothing else, I’ve got a few handfuls of spares to go in the parts box.

Maybe next year will be better…

On a jollier note, as it’s now December the 27th, I know what loot (3) I got for Christmas, and I was fortunate that some of it was Lego-related!

Thanks to my Sister and her husband, I got the book ‘Lego Space’ by Peter Reid and Tim Goddard.  It’s an unusual mix of a story, illustrated by Lego models and punctuated by building intructions for some of the more interesting creations.  Ok, Dostoevsky it ain’t, but a bit of relaxing over Christmas and getting some inspiration for building is just what I wanted.



Lego Space - Building the Future.  Out of Lego.

(Image courtesy of Amazon.co.uk

Courtesy of our good friends Tracey & Terry (not forgetting Daisy, Lily and Bertie, their trio of Westies), I got another book, ‘Beautiful Lego’ by Mike Doyle.  No instructions this time, just a photographic compilation of some of the most incredible creations by some of the most talented Lego builders out there.



Beautiful Lego, by Mike Doyle

(Image courtesy of Amazon.co.uk)


And did I get any actual Lego?  Yes.  Yes I did!

A big high-five, a jaffa cake and much thanks to my Eurogamer.net Secret Santa for my parcel of goodies, which included the Lego Architecture set, Seattle Space Needle.  I’ve recently got into the Architecture range, and I am really looking forward to building that.


Lego Architecture 21003 - Seattle Space Needle

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)

And finally, big hugs to Mrs Boo, who bought me the Mindstorms EV3 set that I’ve been drooling over since before it was actually released.  I’ve treated myself to a copy of Daniele Benedettelli’s ‘The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Laboratory’, which the reviews suggest is a good reference book for those starting out and wishing to dig into the nitty gritty of the set.
Thanks to a certain on-line retailer, I ordered it Christmas evening, and the delivery chap has just dropped it off.



Mindstorms EV3 - Robot-tastic!

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)





And some help on understanding it!

(Image courtesy of Amazon.co.uk)





Good thing I’ve got next week off work...




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(1)  At mention of ‘the greatest Christmas song’, many of you will be (incorrectly) thinking of ‘White Christmas’.  Some of the more savvy amongst you will be thinking ‘Of course it’s not White Christmas!  It’s ‘A Fairytale Of New York’ by The Pogues and the late, lovely and lamented Kirsty MacColl.’  This, of course, would also be incorrect.

The greatest Christmas song ever is ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by The Waitresses.

Great story, awesome ‘ching, chinga ching’ guitar riff, brass stabs, Tracy Wormworth’s fantastic bassline and the whole thing dripping in 80’s cheese.

It’s the best Christmas song of all time!

FACT!

(2) More like the second week of October!  I love Christmas!


(3) I’m a huge Calvin & Hobbes fan.  For me, Christmas presents will always be ‘loot’!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

I bought a Ferrari the other day...

Like many men of un certain ├óge, I have a passing interest in fast cars (1), and so read one or two car magazines now and again.  Something that I find strange, and indeed mildly amusing (as it’s never likely to affect me directly), is that when you start talking about real exotica - the limited edition stuff, ‘Only 249 to be built.’ etc, they’re quite difficult to get hold of.  And this is not wholly down to the astronomical price tags that these cars can command (the Bugatti Veyron was one of the first to break the £1m barrier if memory serves correctly, but since then, there have been several in that £1m+ bracket).  

It’s the fact that in many cases, you have to be invited to buy the car.  Just having the money isn’t enough.  You have to qualify!

With some of the rarer Ferrari’s, like the FXX, they were only offered to people who already had a Ferrari-buying history.  And not just ‘a rusty old 308 GTB like Magnum used to drive’. (2) You had to have bought the good stuff.  And plenty of it.

So I was amused when Shell (3) announced that they were going to be running a promotion in association with Ferrari and Lego.  They would have a set of polybags comprising of five cars, a truck and a set of minifigs available.  

But they weren’t giving them away, oh no.  You had to buy them.

But in order to be allowed to buy them, you had to purchase £30 of their fuel.  And not the ordinary fuel.  The good stuff.  The premium stuff.

The expensive stuff.

And then, when you’d bought the petrol, could you buy the polys?

No.

Poly.  Singular.  At £1.49 each.

So in order to collect the set of vehicles, assuming your petrol pump skills were good enough to stop the counter on £30.00 exactly, you would have to spend £188.94.

And what of the minifigs?

Yes, they were another £1.49.  But to get them, you had to buy a carton of oil, the cheapest of which appears to be abour £11.00.

So all in, a shade over £200 to complete the set.

Ouch!

Ok, to be fair, for that money you are getting £180 worth of fuel, which you’re almost certainly going to use (4), and some oil which you may also use.

It so happens that I’d already tried the premium Shell petrol (5) and now use it as a matter of course (6), so when the promo was announced, I thought I’d pick up some models.

It was discussed at length on the forum over at Brickset, and once the campaign kicked off, it became immediately apparent that the communication coming out from Shell headquarters to their filling stations was wildly inconsistent.  People were reporting that some filling stations knew nothing about it, others were sticking rigidly to the ‘one bag per £30 fill up’, while a few were happily selling you whatever you wanted to buy. 

I have a Shell garage around the corner from me, so early one Sunday morning, went in, bought my £30 of petrol (rather than filling the car up as I’d normally do), and went in to pay.  

The lady behind the counter was baffled when I started talking about Lego, but when I pointed to a) the leaflet on the counter, and b) the box of polys on the wall behind her, she seemed to get it.  Then instead of asking which set I wanted, she reached back, grabbed a minifig set, scanned it and handed it over.

I should really have told her that I was only allowed to have this set if I’d bought some oil that I didn’t need, but shamefully, I kept my mouth shut and waltzed out with my minifig set.

That evening, I went back to put another £30 in.  This time, the guy behind the counter  did ask me which one I wanted.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained…

“Well actually I’m after the complete set.  Don’t suppose I’m allowed to buy them all, am I?” I said, feigning ignorance.

“Don’t see why not.” said the nice man, and proceeded to scan all six vehicles through the till.
What a nice man.  What a nice garage!

Since then, some clarification has clearly been sent out, and now they only let me have one at a time, although they recognise me now, and have got to the point where they know which ones I still need.  They’re also good enough to go rummaging through the stock room for me if the model I need isn’t in the box.

Due to various long distance trips to visit family and friends in the run up to Christmas, we’re going through petrol a bit quicker than we normally would, which means that thus far I’ve managed to pick up two complete sets, and I’m two cars into my third set.

The first set I’m going to squirrel away unopened.  The second set is going to be a prize in SirKevBags annual Brickset charity raffle, while the current set I’m actually going to build.

So are they any good?

Well I’m not sure, not having opened any of the bags yet!  I’m going to wait until I’ve got the (third) set, and then build them all at once.

We do have some pictures though…


Ferrari 150 Italia



Scuderia Ferrari Truck



Ferrari F40



Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta



Ferrari 458 Italia



Ferrari FXX



Ferrari Pit Crew

(All images courtesy of Brickset.com)


I shall report back after another tankful!




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(1) However, after a visit to a software conference held at Mercedes Benz World at Brooklands a couple of years ago, where I ‘won’ a ride in a 6.3 litre AMG estate, going round the handling track for 6 laps, I have rather less inclination to actually buy a fast car.

I have never felt so ill in all my life.

(2) I’m not saying that Magnum drove a rusty 308 - he didn’t.  As far as I know, it was a very nice car.  I’m just saying that these days, 308’s tend to be in less than stellar condition unless you can find a beautifully cared for example.

(3) Other petrol retailers are available.

(4) If you’re spending £180 on petrol or diesel and you don’t drive, then you’re probably taking this hobby a little too seriously.

(5) It’s called V-Power, which sounds like it’ll make your car go at 200mph even with the engine switched off.


(6) I am in no way affiliated with Shell.  I’ve used the stuff and I think it does a good job.  It keeps the engine slightly cleaner, and because of the extra oomph it gives you, you don’t have to accelerate so hard.  The upshot is, it’s a few pounds extra to fill the car up, but I usually get enough ‘extra’ miles out of a tank to more than offset the cost.  I can’t guarantee it’ll make any difference to you, but it works for me.