AutoMemory #7: Ford Sierra C634TFP

AFTER the disappointment of the Nissan Cherry Europe, our next car was a rather more conventional choice. The Sierra 1.8L in glorious Rosso Red was acquired in May 1989. More space, five doors, power steering – and we even got £1,000 in part exchange for the wretched Nissan.

sierraUnfortunately this photo doesn’t show a glorious Rosso Red specimen owing to my failure to find the picture I wanted in our pre-digital collection. (There is one, somewhere, showing C634TFP on a caravan site in Newquay, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.)

Dubbed “the flying jelly mould” by some (whether affectionately or disparagingly I’m not sure), the Sierra was Ford’s bold replacement for the near-legendary Cortina, and would itself be replaced by the Mondeo. It was a great family car for us, although I craved a sunroof (there also not being any air conditioning).

Being somewhat larger than the Nissan, it was a tight squeeze in our garage. So much so that we took to parking as close as possible to the right-hand wall, squeezing across the central console and getting out the passenger door.


The Jelly Mould carried first one newborn baby and then a second (both ours, I should add), taking us on family trips and the daily commute for about seven years. It was pranged twice, most memorably as we left Gordano Services on the M5 in 1996. We were on our way to Cornwall and were waiting at the exit roundabout from the services car park. A coach behind us, also waiting, obviously decided that we were about to move off (probably watching the traffic on the roundabout rather than watching us), and promptly ran into the back of us.

I was shocked.

I’d never been rear-ended before, either when moving or, as in this case, at a standstill. It was clearly the coach driver’s fault so we did the usual swapping of details and then tried to figure out what to do. There was a nice crease in the middle of the back end and the boot wouldn’t shut properly. We managed to get the boot tied down and decided to continue to our destination, St Ives Holiday Village.

After unloading the car we backed it up against a hedge as it seemed to be the only way to stop someone opening the boot! The next day we found a garage in Hayle who were able to do a “good enough” repair on the boot lock and the bodywork. Until recently I had a photo of the damaged boot but have again lost or culled it.

After the holiday the insurance company sent an assessor and decided the car was a write-off, simply because the repairs would cost more than the resale value. They sent us a cheque for £900 but also said we could keep the car, which was perfectly driveable. This slightly odd written-off-but-not-scrapped state of affairs went on for another few months before we decided to retire the 12-year-old Sierra before it got too troublesome.

Do you have any Sierra memories? Clearly Peter Kay did, in this 2009 clip


My Worst Photos #2: Naples, Italy 2004

MY second “gorgeous” photo, like my first one, was taken on a trip with my wife. In 2004, in honour of our 20th wedding anniversary, we entered the exciting world of cruise holidays and sailed round the Med from Barcelona. We weren’t sure we’d enjoy cruising; after all, you’re just stuck on a boring boat and everyone’s really old, right? Well, no, as it turns out. At least, we didn’t find it boring, and, yes, there are some old folks but so what? Suffice to say we were hooked and have since repeated the exercise, sometimes at prices no higher than staying in a decent hotel.

But enough of the marketing. Bring on the photo!

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Once again I think you’ll agree this is top-class photography. The colour, contrast and composition are simply compelling. I’m particularly proud of how the eye is drawn to the floodlight at top right. OK, maybe not. But it does prove we were on a ship, in a port.

The port in question is Naples, Italy. The large, old building at centre left is called Castel Nuovo, a.k.a. The New Castle (not to be confused with Newcastle, which, delightful though I’m sure it is, isn’t renowned as a cruise destination as far as I know). We actually didn’t see much of the town, having chosen an excursion to see the ruins of Pompeii. The ruins were fascinating – and hot. Very hot. Not because nearby Mt Vesuvius was erupting (which would have been extremely inconvenient and possibly made us late getting back to the ship) but simply ‘cos this was August in Italy. Those baking hot Mediterranean excursions always made us glad to get back to an air-conditioned ship.

Naples was the final port of call on the 7-day holiday. Earlier we’d had stops in Marseille and Villefranche (Nice) in France, as well as Pisa and Rome in Italy. These are places we’d never have ventured to otherwise, and we were blown away by the whole experience. Drifting gently out of port as the waiter brought us dinner was magical.

While we were busy being amazed by our floating hotel, we were surprised to discover that more seasoned cruisers were easily displeased. As we ate lunch just outside Rome, we overheard other passengers berating various aspects of the holiday that would just never have occurred to us. We concluded that experiencing luxury can lead to taking things for granted and make you intolerant of imperfection. On returning home, we decided we’d have to go on further cruises to see if we too would succumb to this cynicism.

I’m pleased to report that so far we’ve largely resisted, although things can go wrong and wind you up a bit. Becoming ill on your holiday, for example, kinda spoils things, and ships can be a nightmare for spreading bugs. Then again, I once got sick in a hotel which was distinctly land-locked and never moved once. And as my wife has been frustrated to discover more than once, ships are prone to closing the swimming pool for no obvious reason. I know; it’s intolerable.

Back in 2004, while we baked in the Med, our kids attended a youth church conference. It was a camping event, always a risky proposition in the UK even in high summer. That particular year the heavens opened both spiritually and meteorologically, the campsite being seriously flooded. It was all a bit traumatic, but it was their trauma – without those pesky parents – and they didn’t seem too phased by it all. There were tales of heroic tent rescues, puddles deeper than your wellies and angels being seen in the trees. All in all, much as I love to hear of God at work, I was glad to have had our week rather than theirs. They did, however, demand that we take them on a cruise. After saving up for a few years we did just that – and they, too, were hooked.

So that first sea adventure has a lot to answer for in our family. I did take some decent pictures but this one of a ship’s floodlight with a bit of Naples in the background serves just as well to bring it all back.


My Worst Photos #1: Whitby 1984

A word of explanation…

BACK WHEN all photos were printed, I had a 4-tier system that determined each print’s fate:

  • The best shots went in a “display-type” album – the sort designed to showcase one or two pics per page.
  • The “OK but not brilliant” shots went in a “flip-type” album – the sort designed to store as many pics as possible.
  • The “worth keeping just in case” or “spare copies” went into “The Photo Box” (in reality a box that originally had computer speakers in). The box was then shoved back in a cupboard.
  • The failures went in the bin.

Nowadays it’s all digital and only the best make it into an album. Occasionally I’ll be given a print that still finds its way to The Photo Box (let’s call it TPB for short), but largely it covers the period from the 1970’s to the 1990’s.

Recently I up-ended TPB and browsed through the whole lot, reminiscing, occasionally smiling – but mostly remembering why those photos were relegated to TPB in the first place. I quite like sharing some of my photos online, but they’re usually pretty good (IMHO) to warrant that. Nevertheless, I realised, even these dodgy efforts had a story behind them. Hence today’s post, with a few more to follow.

And so it begins…

…with this beauty from 1984:

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Isn’t it great?!

It was taken in August 1984 in Whitby, North Yorkshire, probably on a Kodak Instamatic 33 or similar. To be fair to the Instamatic, I’m pretty sure the colours were originally better and have faded, even in the confines of TPB, over the subsequent 33 years. Colours apart, however, I’ll admit the composition is less than pleasing.

You can tell it’s the sea, and you can just about tell there’s a person in there (that would be my new wife, since this was our honeymoon). I think there are a couple of boats too. Pleasing to the eye it is not.

So what’s the story then?

Having got married in Cleethorpes we honeymooned in Robin Hood’s Bay, spending a week in a cottage attached to a farmhouse for the princely sum of £60. The cottage had a sink and loo but no bath or shower, so we had to go to the farmhouse for that. The first time my bride used the bath she left her wedding ring behind and the farmer’s wife brought it back for us. (A year or two later, my wife lost that ring, we knew not where, so we replaced it – only for the original to turn up when we defrosted the freezer…)

Our wedding reception hadn’t finished until gone 6 p.m. and we didn’t arrive at Robin Hood’s Bay until about 11 p.m. The cottage was up a farm track so there was my new wife in her going-away outfit, opening a gate on a muddy track by the light of the headlamps. Oops. The farmer’s wife came out to meet us, saying she was beginning to think we weren’t coming. We’d got lost in Hull (in those pre-satnav days), and we began to think we’d not be coming either.

We had a good week, taking a trip on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and, obviously, visiting Whitby – where my wife indulged her love of swimming, or more specifically, swimming in the sea. 33-and-a-bit years later, she still loves sea swimming, most recently in Looe in Cornwall. She would love me to join her but it’s a rare day indeed that sees me in the briny.

We’ve never returned to Robin Hood’s Bay or Whitby but this faded, badly-composed shot will always remind me of where our life together began and make me grateful for having a fully-equipped bathroom.

Update, 3 April 2018: A friend of mine showed me that by digitally colour-correcting the scan of the original print, I could again see some of its former glory:

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Thanks, Jerry 🙂

Two-Factor Authentication: SMS or an authenticator app?

indecisiveI admit it: I’m dithering.

After agreeing that passwords are no longer enough, I continued my mission to explore strange new cyber security worlds and to boldly go where…oops, sorry. Anyway, I carried on looking into 2FA. The default, simplest and most easily understood (at least by me, and, I suspect, by many others) method of applying a second factor is to use SMS, a.k.a. text messages. I’ve experienced this, and it works. Trouble is, it’s far from foolproof: messages can be intercepted, my phone can be stolen and used to read them, or there’s a fiendish fraud trick called SIM swapping that can give the cyber-thief the information they need.

To overcome all these weaknesses, there’s an alternative called Time-Based One-Time Password (a.k.a. TOTP, which in my day always stood for Top of the Pops, but there you go). This method requires an app such as Google Authenticator or Authy, which is generally reckoned to be superior. In addition to overcoming the issues with SMS, Authy has other advantages.

So, having decided to try out the “Authy” 2FA app, I duly installed it on both my Android phone and my iPad. Here’s how the journey proceeded:

On opening Authy on my phone I was asked to enter my “cellphone” number (that’s mobile number to we Brits), consisting of the international code (i.e. 44 for the UK) and then the normal mobile number, which doesn’t need the leading zero and which Authy displays in typical American format. So if my number is 07123 123456, Authy shows it as 44 712-312-3456; slightly confusing but not a big deal.

I then entered an email address (although not sure what that’s used for yet…) and then had to choose between a voice call and SMS for initial verification of the mobile number. (Yes, it slightly goes against the grain to use an SMS verification code in this context – where the point of the app is not to use SMS for two-factor authentication – but as they point out I haven’t yet entered any confidential info in the app so the security risk is extremely low.) After receiving the verification code, Authy was ready to add 2FA accounts.

But first I wanted to install it in other places, because one of the advantages of Authy over, say, Google Authenticator, is supposed to be that it’s much less troublesome if my phone is lost or stolen, or if I port my number to a new phone. I read this Authy page and got slightly perturbed at a potential delay of several days. Nevertheless I decided to press on, so I installed it on the iPad, entered my mobile number and, as before, entered the verification code that was sent to my mobile (by SMS).

Finally, I installed it on a Win 10 desktop PC. This too required an authentication process.

Being the cautious type, before actually setting up any 2FA I wanted to clarify various Authy options, PINs, protection passwords and the like. But although I set out to read the Help info on those topics, I ended up reading an FAQ about the “phone change process“.

And I was alarmed.

It was all starting to sound rather involved and potentially complicated. Now I’m torn; I know that SMS-only 2FA is insecure, insofar as it can be bypassed by various nefarious means, but do I really want to go this more complex route??

I’m going to do some more reading before taking the plunge. I understand all the arguments for not using SMS, but my brain just hasn’t yet got to grips with all the scenarios. It whispers to me: “What’s the point of increasing the security of your online accounts if you can end up being locked out of them for days – or even permanently?”

Have you used an authenticator app? What do you think about my hesitation? Shall I just quit dithering and dive in?