Thursday, 17 August 2017

Motoring: The Mazda MX-5 RF in Cumbria

I haven't driven a two-seater sportscar for any extended period since my twenties, so I leapt at the chance to try the new Mazda MX-5 RF for a few days while on holiday in The Lake District. Would the Mazda revive memories of blasting around country lanes in the seventies and eighties in an MG Midget and a Mk1 Austin Healey Sprite?

The MX-5 RF features a retractable hard-top giving you the best of hard and soft-top motoring. I tried the RF with a 2.0 litre petrol engine and manual six speed gearbox. With 160ps power on hand this is no blistering supercar, but to expect that would be to miss the point. The RF offers simple fun, responsive handling and more than adequate acceleration in a reasonably priced package. 

I drove it on the challenging roads of Cumbria; steep climbs, loose and potholed surfaces and winding roads between vision-restricting stone walls. Despite the conditions the ride is excellent and I enjoyed the way the car responded as it tackled the rolling roads with great agility. The Mazda philosophy is of "Jinba Ittai"; car and driver in harmony like a horse and rider, and this approach shows in the way it drives.

I've been driving an automatic car for a year and I thought I'd find the transition to manual a problem. I needn't have worried, the MX-5 RF is so easy to drive and the gear changes so natural and switch-like that I had no difficulty.

Inside the car was comfortable and, in the model I drove, leather heated seats, satnav, parking sensors and the usual modern driving aids, were a far cry from the basic sportscar motoring of my youth. 

Priced at around £24,000 the MX-5 RF offers value and fun. Mrs Grey Fox wanted to keep the car, as did I, but sadly it wouldn't fit Harry our labrador retriever. I relived the joys of open-top two-seater motoring; this is an MG Midget for the twenty-first century. The Mazda is a car to consider when you no longer need the SUV to carry family, luggage and shopping and you want to rediscover the real and simple pleasures of motoring. See Mazda UK.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Laurence Fellows, Illustrator: Inspiring a Return to Sophistication and Style

In these days when few older men appear in menswear advertising it's refreshing to look back at the illustrations of Laurence Fellows (1885-1964). His evocative and stylish drawings of men's styles from the thirties and forties show mature and sophisticated men, rather than the youthful models of modern catwalks and advertising. 

It's no accident that as menswear advertising became youth-focused over the last forty or fifty years so looking dapper and well-dressed became secondary to following fashion. For young men, their clothes show that they're different from the previous generation; for older men, clothes are (or should be) the vehicle by which they express their self-confidence and personality. In very general terms, the young man follows fashion, the older finds style. In Fellows's time fashion existed of course, but style remained the ultimate aim.

I find Fellows's illustrations rich in inspiration, especially now that vintage styles are beginning to influence menswear. The last few years have seen a revival in interest in suits, hats, brogues, tweed, looser fitting trousers. Details like shawl collars, floppy tweed caps, waistcoats, pin collar shirts, braces and double breasted coats have been inspired by the likes of Suits, Mad MenPeaky Blinders and even Downton Abbey. These have encouraged men and women to return to a more sophisticated, sartorial age where style was more important than fashion.

As older men, we should applaud the return of vintage-inspired styles. Suddenly we are once again in the position of being able to show the younger man how to dress properly, just as our grandfathers often helped our fathers. Young men are increasingly to be seen in tweeds and brogue, albeit with a contemporary twist. If there weren't this return to heritage, we older men would no doubt still be having to put up with the fading trends of skinny fits and truncated jackets.

I should acknowledge the inspiration of my fellow blogger, Mark Hollingsworth, whose piece entitled How to recreate classic summer trousers inspired this feature.

Friday, 11 August 2017

H. N. White Ties: Handmade From Vintage Huddersfield Fabrics

I've shown H. N. White's ties here and on Instagram before, but when my eye was caught by his current collection made from vintage Huddersfield wool cloths I had to mention him again.

H N White ties made from vintage fabrics

I asked Harry White to tell me about his tie-making business (link at end of this feature) and the vintage cloths that had caught my eye:
"I started my tie company around 18 months ago. I wanted to create fully handmade English ties using interesting and unique British fabrics. This is primarily what we sell: some fabric, such as grenadine comes from Italy and our knit ties come from Germany (as there only a couple of places in the world that make knit ties, Britain is not one of them). In the past we've made ties from Irish linen, Fox Bros flannel from Somerset, woven silks from Sussex and the mainstay of our collection which is printed silk from Macclesfield including Adamley.

This particular crop of Huddersfield wool I was lucky enough to chance upon through a contact who had a stockpile of some rather old English woollen fabrics. So they are actually vintage, rather than chosen from current bunches. Most were woven in single width which is around 70cm width which gives a clue to its age. Most modern woollens are woven at 1.4m wide now. I picked what I thought would translate well into a tie - Prince of Wales and gun club [checks] are particularly popular - and of course the weight must be not too heavy so that is also a factor when choosing fabric".
To see more of Harry White's ties click here for his website. 

This post is unsponsored and all views are mine alone.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Glasses Style from Specsavers

I've been working with Specsavers to explore their range of glasses and see how they can be worn and styled. There can be few followers of this blog who don't need glasses; it's one of the inevitable consequences of age. I've worn them since my early twenties and, having tried many opticians over the years, know what to look for. My main requirement is a good choice of frames. Selecting something stylish can be hard and the wider the choice the better. Obviously friendly staff and expert optometrists are essential too, but I also need sound advice on frames selection: what fits your face shape and colouring?

Boss Orange 0251 from Specsavers

I selected a few frames from Specsavers and, to experience the service fully, went through an eye test and fitting - all the glasses I wear here have prescription lenses fitted. I'd chosen the frames from their very comprehensive website which, using your webcam, allows you to virtually try on the frames you like. This is useful, not as good as trying them on in the store, but it realistically allows you to see what shapes and colours will suit you.  

Key West Sun from Specsavers

The choice is huge, although I would have liked to see more clear/transparent acrylic and plastic frames as these suit those with greying hair, giving a very contemporary and stylish look, a comment I've fed back to Specsavers. Throughout the staff were both knowledgeable and helpful and I'd certainly use them again, particularly as many of the frames, particularly their own ranges, are competitively priced.

Buying glasses is as effective as buying stylish clothes in changing how you look and how the world sees you. Different styles can make you look serious, businesslike, artistic, bohemian, studious; whatever you want. The LoveGlasses hub provides a wide range of trends, ideas and inspiration enabling you to select the style of glasses that suits your taste.

Pierre Cardin 02 from Specsavers

Here you'll see how I styled the frames (links to each model are underneath the images). I tend to see metal and dark-coloured frames as more business-like than tortoiseshell-style frames as they give a slightly more formal look to the wearer. This varies so much with the colouring and face shape of the wearer that it's hard to be too prescriptive, but take advice from the staff and see what looks right on you - the more you try the better. Be adventurous and try something different, as I did when I switched from a tortoiseshell to transparent acrylic frames. Don't forget a pair of sunglasses, where looking cool is essential. Go for a classic shape and avoid anything too colourful, unless you want to make a statement!

This was a collaboration with Specsavers. The views expressed are mine alone.

Photography George Gierhart.

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Range Rover Velar in Norway

I'm just back from Norway where I was a guest of Jaguar Land Rover to drive the new Range Rover Velar. We had a wonderful time driving not only the Velar but the Jaguar F-Type and also experiencing some of the best of Norway's scenery, food and hospitality.

Range Rover Velar in Norway


This was a timely trip for me as I've been considering possible replacements for the 4WD SUV I use regularly on the challenging mountain roads of Cumbria. Cars of this type offer high driving position (to see over stone walls and ahead on narrow lanes), robustness (on poor roads), off-road ability (finding spots for parking for mountain walks and farm tracks) and grip (4WD has helped me on wintery Cumbrian roads on more than one occasion). But it's no shame if your car never leaves town; the best 4WD SUVs are roomy, comfortable and safe whether you're on Regent Street or grinding (as I often do) up the Hardknott Pass in Cumbria.

With the Range Rover Velar at the beautiful Storfjord Hotel

The Velar

How does the Velar fit into the Range Rover lineup? A casual observer may have seen increasingly similar looking cars coming out of the Solihull factory over the last few years. The obvious styling differences of the Defender, Freelander, Discovery and Range Rover of a few years ago are now gone and a more generic look now unites the range, possibly causing confusion to those not following developments closely.

The Velar comes between the Evoque and the Range Rover Sport in terms of size and function, placing it on the larger end of the mid-size SUV market: and this is the luxury end of that market. The Velar starts at £45,000 and you will need to budget for at least £10,000 more to access the more desirable features and looks of a true luxury performance SUV. Having seen and driven the car I've no doubt that this beautiful and capable car will be a huge success for Jaguar Land Rover. Why do I think that?

Lunch stop

Offroad at The Storfjord Hotel

Firstly, the Velar looks very handsome. We all prefer our cars to look good and the Velar has had much thought given to exterior and interior design. The philosophy has been one of what Land Rover calls 'reductionism' or "taking away the visual noise" as the design team explained it to us on our trip. And this approach to design has worked. There are a few cars that, for me, stand out as design milestones. These include the Audi TT, the Land Rover Series 2, Ferrari Dino. The Velar is a car to add to that list. Its clean lines build on the Range Rover DNA but take it to another level. I have slight reservations about shape of the rear end, but in some ways (as with a beautiful woman) the very slight disproportion adds to the attraction.

The Velar in Norway

The Interior

The interior continues the reductionist theme. With the aid of modern technology there are few buttons or switches and I love the clean and simple look this gives as you climb into the car. In practical terms I wonder if it can be better to have a switch to hand rather than having to scroll through the options on a screen to find how to switch something on (or off); but then I'm a bit old school and a few hours play would no doubt get me used to the functions.

Modern materials (including a high tech and sustainable alternative to leather), very comfortable seats, pin sharp screens for nav, in-car entertainment and other off and on-road controls make this a great toy for the driver who admires excellent design, technology and the concept of the perfect do-almost-anything car. Space, as you'd expect, is generous for passengers and luggage.

Driving the Velar

On road it's quiet, comfortable and our V6 petrol gave a sporty growl when required with excellent acceleration and massive torque. Off-road the various traction and off-road technologies allow the car to be driven up and down steep and loose slopes and sideways (as I discovered, heart in mouth) along steep contours safely and skilfully. Long gone are the low and high range levers and diff locks of early all-terrain Land Rovers; these features are now safely controlled by computer accessible through the digital instruments on screen.

Driving across the slope - one of our experiences at Salmon Wharf

Buying the Velar

The Velar would be ideal for my type of driving; long five to six hour motorway journeys to Cumbria which end with challenging driving on steep, poor roads surrounded by high banks and stone walls, occasionally with snow and ice to contend with in winter. I own a VW Tiguan and I find its robustness, high driving position, off-road ability and grip invaluable. To access these properties in the higher-end luxury package available in the Range Rover Velar would be perfection. 

However, when I come to choose, the Velar will have to compete with beauties like the Porsche Macan and Audi Q5 which can be available for less. I'd prefer to buy a British product as Jaguar Land Rover employs thousands directly and pays indirectly for thousands more employed by its suppliers in the UK. In reality budget might make the decision for me in relation to the Velar, but there's always its more affordable stablemates, the Jaguar F-Pace or the Discovery which also offer much of what I need in a car. 

For much more information on the beautiful and capable Range Rover Velar, see Jaguar Land Rover.

Afterword - The Land Rover heritage

I love the Land Rover heritage. I've owned a Freelander in the past and am the proud owner of a fifty year old Land Rover Series 2a Station Wagon. That car (which is being restored; another story for the future) is a direct linear ancestor of the Velar as the Station Wagon was designed to carry passengers and not just bales of hay or sheep or sacks of animal feed. Another link is that the original Land Rover used an aluminium body, as does the Velar. From the early Station Wagons sprang the first Range Rover (called in code the 'Velar', Latin for 'hidden', as it was being developed. 


I was a guest of Jaguar Land Rover on a two day trip to Norway where we drove the Velar and had a taste of the Jaguar F-Type, about which I will tell you more later. We stayed at the Storfjord Hotel, whose large rooms are made of traditional pine logs with grass roofs overlooking the mountains and fjord. This feature is not sponsored and all views are mine alone.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Fears Launches Pebble Grey Redcliff Watch

Nicholas Bowman-Scargill of Fears Watches has launched a new colour dial. The 'pebble' grey dialled Redcliff brings further understated elegance to the range. A further dial colour will be introduced later in the year as the range is enlarged. See Fears Watches for more information.

See more on the background to this revived family watch brand here on the blog.

This post is unsponsored.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Travelling Light for the Summer Holidays

Do you travel on holiday laden down with clothes for all occasions, accessories, toiletries and electronic gear, or are you a pared down traveller who packs everything in a cabin bag, even for that week away? I thought I'd put together a minimalist, lightweight outfit for up to a week or so away in a warm destination.

Here's what I think are the essentials for a few days away: lightweight blazer, cotton or cashmere jumper, cotton or linen long and short sleeve shirts, t-shirts (plain grey, pale blue or white), linen or cotton trousers, deck shoes, espadrilles or loafers (can you get away with one pair of shoes for lightness?), swim shorts, hat (linen cap or rollable panama), shorts, sunglasses, a robust and water resistant watch, wash bag and contents, tech case for phone etc. If you're expecting rain, I'd include a light coat or a brolly.

From top left clockwise: Uniqlo, New & Lingwood, Johnstons of Elgin, Henri Lloyd, Realm & Empire, Dundas London

From top left clockwise: Marks & Spencer, The Rake Online, The Rake Online, Brunello Cucinelli, Drake's, Spoke London

From top left clockwise: Billingham Bags, Tudor, tech case Stow London, Tuscan wash bag Thomas Clipper, Oliver Peoples

And some additional items in case for rain, sun and beach or pool life:

From top left clockwise: light waterproof Gloverall, Orlebar Brown, London Undercover, Christy's Hats, Kempadoo Millar, Hemingsworth

(Note: The colours are for illustration only; I'm not really suggesting you wear a pink shirt with mustard shorts, but by all means try it if you wish, it may look better than it sounds. I have put links to the suppliers rather than the products under each image.)

This post is unsponsored - the choices of products are mine alone.

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