If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 31 May 2010

Sign of the times

Today is another splendid day, with sunshine (albeit a little cloudy), warmth and dry roads. So I took the excuse to nip out for a paper and took the long way home. On the way, I saw this, which amused me:

Triumph report

I have now covered just over 1000 miles on the Bonneville, and thought it might be a good time to make some observations.

I like it. I like it very much. In comparison with the bike it replaced, the Honda Pan European, it is light, easily handled, and although slower and much less powerful, it is a lot more fun to ride. It's in much better condition - two years younger and with a third of the mileage, it should be - with everything working and very little sign of hard use. There is a slight scuff on the tank and the exhaust nuts are rusty, but apart from that it's just normal wear and tear. It lacks things like the trip computer, heated grips, adjusters, modifiers, settings, calculations, knobs, nozzles and sheer bloody complexity of the Honda, but that, in my eyes, is a Good Thing. Working on it is a breeze, with no bodywork plastics to worry about - everything is in plain view, and all the mechanical stuff I have done with it so far (not a lot, I admit) has been completely straightforward.

It's the comparison with the XT which is troubling me. I have fitted a pair of no-name cheapo fabric panniers (bought on a whim from a colleague several years ago and never used) to use while I am waiting for the proper cases to come up on eBay, and now it seems that there is nothing the XT can do that the Triumph can't do better. I love the XT for it's go-anywhere, do-anything versatility, for its punchy motor, which makes traffic and minor roads easy, and for it's general scruffiness, which means that if I scratch or drop it, I won't lose any sleep. But the XT has had some hard use, and while of itself it is fun to ride, in comparison with the Triumph it is rough, sloppy and harsh. Where I always took the XT in preference to the Honda (unless the Honda's strengths of speed, long legs and comfort were required), now I am taking the Triumph in preference to the XT.

All of which makes me ask the question - what is the XT for? I honestly don't know. I think I will deal with these thoughts in a separate post.

I have found a few limitations with the Triumph already. The seat is too low, it cramps my knees a bit, and is hard and unforgiving after a hundred miles or so. The riding position is upright and excellent for general riding about, but motorways are hard work. The idiot lights are dim to the point of invisibility, which means finding neutral in sunlight is awkward and I am constantly leaving the indicators on. The bolts holding the seat on are allen bolts hidden away under the rear of the seat and are a real nuisance to deal with - a compete design fail. The suspension is firm and a little twitchy, but manages to be too soft at the same time. It transmits every imperfection in the road, but the front dives alarmingly under heavy braking and the rear end can wallow a bit on long corners.

Other than that, it's all good. Build quality seems excellent, with lots of nice quality touches and a general feel of robustness and good design. With the (strictly illegal) Triumph Off-Road silencers it sounds marvellous, a proper Brit bike burble and growl, and yet the noise doesn't offend. Power is a modest 60 bhp or so, but delivered in a lively and useable way. I have had to decline some overtaking opportunities that would have been a real banzai rush on the Honda, but other than that it's enough for me. Things like the suspension, seat and idiot lights are all fixable when the money is right.

Conclusion, then. Will it fulfil the reason for its purchase - to take me on tours, here and abroad, at relaxed and reasonable speeds, with all my kit? Yes, it will. Does it make as much sense riding at 30 mph on a pretty back road as it does at 70 on a main road? Yes, it does. Does it make me feel as if I should always be going faster in order not to waste its capabilities? No, it does not.

Am I happy with it? Yup.

Bloody holidaymakers!

So I get up late and sit down with my breakfast to catch up on the world and its doings, and what do I find? The internet is running slower than cold treacle uphill. Pages are timing out and even small audio files aren't playing, never mind images or video.

We live approximately 7km from our BT exchange, at the supposed limit of broadband capability. It's a slow connection compared to some, but it does me OK. But the limited bandwidth is shared with quite a few other households upstream of us - we are the end of the line, the ne plus ultra of connectivity. And it's Bank Holiday Sodding Monday, which means everyone is sitting at their computers when they should be doing something useful [1], and clogging up my internet access.

Bastards. At least it isn't raining.

[1] Yes, irony.

Friday, 28 May 2010

SHARP website

A while ago, I was invited by SHARP to an open day at their helmet-testing facility in Salford. They had contacted a number of motorcycle bloggers and hoped to get some feedback and opinions and - I assume - some publicity broadcast through the blogosphere. I wasn't able to make the open day because of lecturing commitments, but Highwaylass was, and wrote about it here.

Yesterday, they contacted me again and asked for opinions on the new website. I visited and gave them some feedback. In my opinion, it's a pretty good site, with a lot of information and tools for comparison between lids and so on. Although SHARP has been controversial (Arai, who some regard as making the best helmets in the world, have criticised the testing methods), it remains a worthwhile attempt to encourage helmet makers to compete on safety as well as graphics, styling and which racer they manage to sponsor this year. The EuroNCAP programme has been successful in doing this for the car industry, so maybe SHARP will have similar results for crash helmets.

So go and have a look at the site and see what you think. SHARP have put the media side of the operation in the hands of a company called Brando Social, and the lady who contacted me, Sarah Austin, says she would be interested in any feedback from blog readers. You can contact her at sarah.austin@brandosocial.com.

For what it's worth, my 'main' helmet (a Shoei XR1000) rates only three stars out of five. It's well-made, comfortable and doesn't mist up. My 'reserve' helmet (a Caberg V2R costing a third as much as the Shoei) rates five stars, but the plastic creaks and the visor mists up in an infuriating way. I take the Shoei by choice, every time, three stars or no. The key thing is to wear a helmet. After that, I reckon it's degrees of perfection they are talking about. Anything with the appropriate certification will protect you.

The helmet I am wearing for local rides in all this nice weather is an open-face made by Can, cost me under £30, and doesn't even get a mention by SHARP. Heh.

Cats, eh?

I have always been a dog person, and never got on well with cats. Too self-contained, can't train them to do anything, selfish, vicious, waste of space. My feelings were summarised by the old saying: "Dogs have owners; cats have staff".

Until I met Smokey. Smokey was a stray who 'adopted' a colleague of mine and moved into her flat. Sadly the colleague couldn't keep her and offered her to me. She knew that both our cats (inherited with Anna and a Springer Spaniel as part of a buy-one-get-three-free deal) had died last year, and she thought I would appreciate the offer. I was dubious - not all that keen on cats, but we do need something to keep the mouse population under control - but as soon as Anna saw a photo we were commited. She moved in with us last year.

She was about 6 months old when we got her, thin and frightened. She liked to go into hiding, and the bed was the favourite place:

She was also pregnant with six kittens, as we found when we took her to the vets for all the usual cat stuff. We had her spayed, and that was the end of that. She took a while to settle in, but soon she was stretching out in front of the stove with the dog and bringing several mice a day for our inspection - usually dead ones, but not always.

She's turning out to be a bit of a hooligan. There are several cats in the area (a big ginger tom, and a fat white monstrosity that would not be out of place on Blofeld's lap, eating goldfish), and they have a reputation for beating up any cat that strays onto their patch. We didn't let Smokey out of the house for ages, for fear that she would be ripped apart by the gang. It's a nice, quiet area for humans, but in the cat world it's the equivalent of a sink estate. We needn't have worried - she can take care of herself very well. There's the sound of a cat-fight outside, with screams like someone is being murdered, and then Smokey slips in through the window, hackles up but otherwise unconcerned, shrugs her shoulders, flicks her hair back, and grabs a snack before tormenting the dog. She's a character, and I have fallen for her totally.

All of which was brought to mind by this article, seen at Wrinkled Weasel's place.

Kitten survives washing machine cycle

A Persian kitten gave her owners the shock of their lives when she emerged from the washing machine, dizzy and bedraggled after surviving a full cycle.

Brendon Rogers, from Manly Vale, Sydney, said four-month-old Kimba, a white, fluffy kitten, must have climbed into the front-loader machine when the door was open and curled up on the dirty clothes - unbeknownst to his father Lyndsay who turned the machine on for a cold wash.

They were both amazed when the cycle - including a high level spin - finished and they opened the door to pull out the clothes to find Kimba in the machine.

The cat was not well, understandably, but survived.

Smokey would have punched a hole in the washing machine door, climbed out, and gone looking for whichever damnfool human had pushed the button without checking with her first.

Well pleased

I've never been much of an entrepreneur, or an arbitrageur, or whatever they call people who make money out of nothing. I'm too simple and straightforward, really (I won't say I'm too honest, as that sounds a bit self-aggrandising, and you know as soon as you hear it that the opposite is true. Honest people never advertise the fact - they just are.) I'm a useless salesman, as I seem to try to get the best deal for the other guy, even at my own expense, and I am a very bad liar. So how come I now have a set of very tasty Hepco and Becker pannier frames on the Bonnie - for nothing? Here they are:

OK, they are second-hand and a bit scruffy (the previous owner did a 20,000 mile tour of the States with them on), but new these would cost £225, and they are mine for the princely sum of nada, zero, nothing, zilch.

Readers may remember I have been muttering about luggage for the bike for a while now. It seemed as though soft paniers were the way to go - cheap and cheerful, and easily taken off when you don't need them. But then I saw a similar bike to mine at a meet, with some hard side-cases, and they looked just right. Change of plan ...

I had bought some Triumph-branded fabric panniers, complete with metal frame rails to keep them out of the back wheel. These proved to be too small and flimsy for my needs, so I put the bags on eBay and kept the rails on the bike, thinking they would be fine with some Frank Thomas soft bags. The bags alone sold for £20 more than I had paid for the bags and rails together, so I was up £20 and had the rails for free. Then came the change of heart, and I started searching eBay for hard cases and frames.

A pair of Hepco and Becker Junior panniers (the same as I had seen at the meet) came up, and with matching frames from the same seller. He had them mounted to a bike like mine and had toured the States with them. He then sold the bike and was selling the kit separately. I won the frames for £50, and just missed out on the cases. While I was waiting for the frames to arrive, I put the Triumph rails on eBay, and they sold within a couple of hours - for £50. Bingo!

So I now have the frames for nothing, and £20 towards a set of cases. I'm watching eBay like a hawk.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Convergence of the Twain *

OK, OK, I've been listening. Thanks to everyone for your comments, either on the blog or privately. Two points of view have been prominent:
  • I like the mixture of all the stuff in one blog and preferred it before you split it in two
  • I skip the stuff I'm not interested in, and so I'm not really bothered either way.
No-one preferred the idea of two separate blogs. I am quite pleased by this: firstly because it appeals to my love of serendipity - people actually like what Louis McNeice called "the drunkenness of things being various", and so do I - and secondly because keeping two blogs going and switching between them was getting tedious.

So I have now merged the two blogs back into one. All content will be here, under Going Fast, Getting Nowhere, and apart from a signpost in Soul Mover I won't be posting there any more.

Thank you for your kind comments and patience.

* A poem by Thomas Hardy, in case you missed the reference, about the sinking of the Titanic. I think I first read the poem at about the age of 13, and it was the first poem that I 'got', and that I felt was worth the effort of understanding.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Best day for years

Yesterday and today have been utterly fabulous - bright sunshine, cloudless skies, temperatures in the high twenties, light breezes. Perfect weather. In fact, weather like we haven't seen for years. For each of the last three or four years, there have been a few warm and even pleasant days early in the Summer, and then it has descended into grey, overcast and damp conditions for the months of July and August. 2008 was the wettest Summer on record for Wales, and 2009 wasn't far behind. As someone who loves sun and warmth (and dry roads, heh), the last few years have been rather depressing.

Yesterday was a belter, and we spent most of the day getting a barbecue ready - Anna inside on the salads and me outside resurrecting an oil-drum barbie that hadn't been used for several years. We had a few people round last night, and had a barbecue on the lawn and didn't feel the need to go inside or wrap up bare skin until ten pm or so.

Today, we had breakfast in the garden, and then later moseyed off for a pub lunch, a treat from our visiting friends. We ended up in Little Haven, a small village on the coast:

and had lunch in the Swan Inn:

The sun was bright, the sky was deep blue and cloudless, and the sea was a wonderful deep blue-green. The slight breeze made some white horses, and the sun glittered on the wave-tops:

These photos don't do any kind of justice to the reality. The colours of both sky and sea were stunning.

On days like these, there is nowhere I would rather be. Pembrokeshire is a beautiful county, and the scenery is the equal of anywhere. The usual comparison is with Cornwall, but today we had a choice of tables in the pub, attentive service from an unstressed waitress, and no crowds to battle with when we emerged into the daylight for a lengthy doze in the sun. Cornwall without the masses.

Together with the company of some old and very close friends, today was a little piece of heaven.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Gentlemen, you have my utter contempt

Labour leadership candidates Eds Miliband and Balls have decided to criticise the Iraq war.

Here's Ed:

Ed Balls, the former children's secretary, said the war was a "mistake" and was "wrong".

And here's Ed:

And former energy secretary Ed Miliband said the way the decision to go to war was taken had caused "a big loss of trust" for the Labour party.

Don't you like the man's sense of priorities? Never mind the 100,000+ dead and maimed, never mind the orphaned and displaced, never mind the billions it cost - the main reason for 'regret' over the war is that it made people distrust Labour.

Well, whoopy-do.

I'll tell you why people distrust Labour. You lied to us, to get our support for an unnecessary and illegal war, which has caused untold destruction and has trailed the reputation of our country (of which, at one time, we were proud) through the mud of barbaric brutality, and made our country a far more dangerous place to live. You lied over the reasons for war, you lied about the 45-minute claim, you lied about how you were waiting for the weapons inspectors to report when you had committed Britain to join Bush's war months or even years beforehand.

Gents, you have had your say. Here's mine:

You have been bloody quiet about this for the last seven years. Whoever knew you were secretly anti-war, when for the whole time you were very vocally supporting the last shambolic Government? And what an unfortunate coincidence that this vital information has only come to light when you are seeking votes for the leadership of your discredited party.

I understand that neither of you were MPs at the time and didn't have a vote, but by your silence you have acquiesced in the biggest British foreign policy disaster since Suez, and the most heinous manipulation of the British people's trust since God knows when. I truly believed that you both supported the war - when did you ever hint that you did not? But now you need the votes of MPs who are suddenly finding their consciences again, you decided that it is wise to distance yourself from all that and come over all statesmanlike and peacenik on us.

Well, fuck you.

Iraq was a "mistake", was it? It played badly on the doorsteps, did it? Sorry now, are we? Tell it to these children:

Or this man:

Or this soldier:

It's not a fucking game, you know. Those were real people.

Speaking as a one-time Labour supporter, and one who voted for Blair in 1997, Iraq is the reason I will never, ever, vote for Labour again.

And you, gentlemen, are the reason I despise everything that Labour stands for: hypocritical, cynical self-interest, manipulation and blatant falsehood.

You had better be glad neither of you are in a locked room with me today.

Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son Gordon, was killed in 2004 while serving in Iraq, said she could not understand the timing of their statements. She said: "It's an insult to the families just now."

Labour. Insulting the good people: it's what we do.


Later today, I am expecting a visit from two very dear friends (my 'oldest friend in the world' and his wife) who will be staying for the weekend and into next week. He and I go back to the first few days of Uni back in 1972, so we have been buddies for - ooh - nearly 38 years. He also shares my taste for decent whisky.

Blogging will therefore be light to non-existent.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Feedback, please

(Cross-posted to Soul Mover.)

A couple of weeks ago, I split my blog into two, for reasons which I explained here. I have had a bit of feedback that this maybe wasn't the best idea, so I am asking anyone who reads this just to give me some feedback - good or bad.

To elaborate on my reasoning a little: the blog had a number of elements (humour, music, literature etc.) that were fairly middle-of-the-road. You like it or you don't, you take it or leave it. But there were two major subjects - motorcycling and politics - which were slightly more 'specialised'. I wanted to write in some depth on both, but felt inhibited in doing so, because:
  • if I write about biking issues in the kind of depth I wanted to, and the kind of depth my biking readers would appreciate, I might be boring the pants off my general readers who, if I am honest, form the bulk of my visitor numbers;
  • if I write about political or current issues, I am usually right-of-centre, anti-statist and pro-freedom, and I might be alienating many of my biker readers who, for all I know, could be card-carrying Marxists.
I may be being a little over-sensitive here, but I am still fairly new to this blogging lark. Ideally, of course, my Marxist biker readers would tolerate my right-of-centre views because my stuff on bikes was unmissable, and my general readers would come for the politics and find themselves strangely drawn to the two-wheeled culture in the biking posts. But I'm not that good, and I know it.

So, do I keep two blogs going, or go back to just the one? One is certainly much easier, and has the benefit of being a bit eclectic and random in its range of topics. If you're a regular reader, or just an occasional visitor, please leave a comment with your opinion. I'd really appreciate it.

Homeopathic Porn

Thanks to B3ta's Quote of the Week, there's this gem from 'joe is troubled':

Save embarrassment with homeopathic porn: Simply cut and paste one pixel from your favourite naughty lady picture into a blank frame. Hit your screen with a copy of the bible, then take one pixel from the resulting picture and place it into another blank frame.

Do this a couple of hundred times and by the time you have finished you will, due to the memory of pixels, be faced with an image so stupendously horn inducing you'll be ...

I'll leave the rest to your imagination or internet clicking skills.

It's as good an explanation as you will find anywhere as to why homoeopathy is total bunkum. As demonstrated here.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

First Time Ever ...

... I got lucky on eBay. I posted a while ago that I had bought some pannier bags and rails on eBay, just to get the rails, which retail at unobtanium prices from Triumph. I put the bags back on eBay shortly afterwards, hoping to get some of my money back. They eventually sold for £20 more that I paid for them.

So now I have a free set of frame rails and £20 towards some bigger soft luggage. Result.

One problem: this week, at the Triumph Owners' Club meeting, I saw a bike with a set of Hepco and Becker hard luggage. It looked to be just what I need: not too big, tough, waterproof, brilliant build quality, and looked superb on the bike it was fitted to. And there is a set of H&B frames on eBay right now. With a rear rack attached. Custom-fitted for a Bonneville. And, as a separate item from the same seller, two matching 40-litre hard cases - exactly the right combination. If I had just won the lottery, that's exactly the set-up I would be flashing the plastic for. It is almost as if ... no, I don't believe in fate. The whole rig new would cost around the £600 mark, and they are currently under £30 for the lot with two days to go.

Can I resist?

And what will Anna say if I can't?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


There's a very sad post over at The Last Of The Few here. The writer's friend has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and his post tries to come to terms with the guilt he feels about introducing the guy to biking in the first place. He doesn't succeed.

I really feel for the guy. There are things in my life that I carry a weight of guilt over, things that I cannot change and which I regret. Logically, I can tell myself I am not to blame (and all my friends will tell me the same), but that doesn't cut any ice. When you feel guilt, it won't go away. However many people tell you something isn't your fault, you nod and agree, but inside you tell yourself that it's all very well for them, but inside you know you are guilty.

But how responsible are we for the things that other people do? The writer of TLOTF feels that, as he introduced his friend to biking, trained him, and went out for Sunday rides with him, that he is in some way responsible for the friend's death. I can understand how he feels that, but he is wrong. On a bike, almost every decision you make could be a life-or-death decision. Do I overtake now, or wait? Do I slow down for this side-road, or is that over-cautious? What's the best speed for this stretch of road, given that it is raining and there's mud on the tarmac? No-one is whispering the right answer in your ear. You have to decide, and you had better get it right. That's one of the marvellous things about riding - for once in our over-managed, risk-averse, cossetted and insulated existences, we get to make decisions that matter. It's very life-affirming.

If I took you on your first skiing trip and ten years later you were killed in an avalanche, would that make me guilty for your death? Of course not. And if I introduce you to motorcycling, help you through your first wobbly rides and be a companion to you on some great days out, does that make me responsible when some tractor driver pulls out of a field in front of you? Sorry, mate, but I wasn't there, and you made your own decisions that day. The law will take its course, and I will have to live with the thought that - perhaps - if I had acted differently ... But you only have to flip the question over to see that it is ridiculous. If we never told our friends about things in case they may later be hurt doing those things, where would it end? Social life would become impossible. I can't go for a drink with you in case I inadvertently encourage you to drink more and you may later succumb to cirrhosis of the liver. I won't accompany you on a fell-walking trip in case you slip and break a leg, or fall over a cliff and die.

No, that won't do. We must allow each other to run our own lives. We have a responsibility not to put each other into danger, but that is a long way from sharing something that moves you with a friend, something which has a potentially dangerous downside.

I wish TLOTF well, and I hope that these feelings of guilt eventually subside.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Pics from XT Meet

Here are some pics from the weekend. Click for bigger. Sorry for the quality; the iPhone doesn't take very good photographs, but it's better than lugging a DSLR round everywhere on the off-chance.

Baskerville Hall Hotel
Arthur Conan Doyle used to visit Baskerville Hall a lot, and it was there that he heard the local legend of a ghostly hound. When he told the owners he was thinking of working it up into a story, they pleaded with him not to reveal the location of the Hall, as they feared an influx of undesirable visitors. In deference to his hosts, he agreed to set the story in Devon. They still got their undesirable visitors, though.

Gathering of the Clans
Showing that Germans appreciate decent 4x4s as well. This guy had built a superb expedition 110 and had toured Morocco in it. Powys shouldn't have been too much of a problem. He was the kind soul who lent me a blanket for the second night. Germans, I love 'em.

Crude attempt at bringing fire to the people
Public-spirited work in clearing surrounding woodland of dead material and disposing of it in an environmentally-friendly way. The chap in the foreground is an Irishman who was returning to Ireland with a van full of old Honda C90s. I didn't find out why. He lives within a stone's throw of the Magners brewery and showed a touching dedication to their products.

Home from home
My little corner of a cold and damp paradise. For a biker's tent, it is palatial and took way too long to put up and strike. A waste of drinking time, basically.

Ready for the off
XTs and assorted hangers-on get ready for the ride-out.

Oldest bike of the weekend
One of the 'Thumpers' was a 1950 Norton 16H, a 500cc side-valve single. It was, to be charitable, in 'oily-rag' rather than concourse condition. There was a bit of concern over how it would keep up on the ride-out. No problem, of course. I followed him for several miles, and the lovely chuff-chuff of a Brit single was an aural pleasure. I rather fancied getting one, but then I heard that these are fetching over 3 grand even in this condition, so I changed my mind. It was good to see a bike that was even older then me and still in good working order, though.

My little hero
Was there too.

Abergavenny Bus Station
And a crowd of bikes - mainly plastic pocket-rockets, but a few proper bikes in there.

Llanthony Priory
Beautiful, quiet corner, and a real sun-spot - it reminded me a lot of Strata Florida, which has the same rather spooky quietness. Decent ice-creams.

Surprise view
Somewhere on the mountain road between Abergavenny and Hay-on-Wye - we just came round a corner on a twisty single-track, and - wow - there was this. It seemed as if the whole world was laid out at your feet. 25 bikes all had the same idea, and stopped for a gasp and a photo. The cage drivers were not too pleased. Sod 'em.

Ready for home
Note the scientific way the luggage is loaded with no regard for the principles of weight distribution, or common sense. It worked fine, though.

Dire Warning
This is a monument (the "Mail Coach Pillar") by the side of the road between Brecon and Llandovery. One one side is a cliff face, and the other is a plunge of - well, a long way - down a steep slope to the river. The monument was erected as a warning to mail coach drivers to forswear the evil drink after a mail coach with a drunken coachman had a tragic accident here in 1835. The coachman, Edward Jenkins, was driving the mail coach from Gloucester to Carmarthen. Under the influence of strong drink, he was driving on the wrong side of the road at a full gallop when he met a cart coming the other way. He pulled the horses the wrong way, the coach plunged 121 feet to the river and broke apart after hitting an ash tree (great detail, huh? It even names the passengers, both 'inside' and 'outside' the coach) with a heavy loss of life. The monument was erected as an early form of drink-driving campaign.

XT Meet

Apologies - it was a joint meet between the XT500 UK mob and the Thumper Club of Great Britain (devoted to all single-cylinder bikes, not just XTs).

I loaded up and set off on Friday afternoon. I haven't got any panniers for the XT, so it all had to go high - sleeping bag, tent, odds and ends in the top box and personal stuff in a tank bag. To start with, it handled like a pig on stilts, but I soon got used to it being a bit top-heavy and it didn't give me any problems.

The journey up, to Baskerville Hall Hotel near Hay-on-Wye (where Conan Doyle wrote that book), was wet and cold, but I was grinning all the way. There's just something about setting off on a trip, however modest, that excites something deep down. I'd opted for an open-face helmet and goggle-style sunglasses for this one, as I knew there wouldn't be any high speeds, so all the passing motorists could see me smile too.

The weekend was in a field next to the hotel - pretty rough and damp, but we got a fire going and things warmed up. There were a few from the UK, but many from Belgium and Germany. I had brought a few cans of beer with me and these ran out disappointingly quickly. But then one of the Belgian guys came to the rescue with a bottle of Duvet, or Duvall, or something - by that time, I wasn't interested in spelling stuff. All I knew was it was 8.5% and went down very well. Later, we repaired to the bar for food and more beer. By 11 pm I had had enough, in both senses, and went back to my tent.

The night was very cold (frost on the grass in the morning), and I didn't sleep much. I can say with a degree of authority that the dawn chorus in Clyro starts at 3.30 am and is very loud. I dozed a bit and at about 8 am decided I ought to show my face. Unfortunately, as I moved my leg to get out of the sleeping bag, I got a sudden bout of cramp. I straightened my leg violently to relieve it, and ripped the zip right out of my sleeping bag.

The entry fee of £15 included breakfast, lunch and a barbecue on the Saturday, which seemed to be stonking value. We had a ride-out which went by Abergavenny bus station (millions of bikes) and then to the Skirrid Inn, where we had lunch. In the afternoon, we came back to Hay over the mountains, stopping for an ice-cream at Llanthony Priory. We had an excellent barbecue, helped by the fact that the organisers had catered for about twice the number that actually turned up. The cold and draughty night that I had anticipated following my fight with the sleeping bag was much improved by the loan of a blanket from Tom, one of the German contingent.

This morning, I struck camp and made my farewells before the hard work of moving all the wooden furniture back the hotel started, and I had a very wet but pleasant ride home.

Lessons learned:
  1. Camping is a young man's game, and does not suit bad backs or cramp-prone legs
  2. Yamaha XTs are great for short journeys but cane your arse after 50 miles
  3. Don't take cookset and fuel to a meeting where you know there will be food and drink
  4. Yamaha XTs are very happy at 50 mph, and feel as if they will carry on for a week
  5. When kept to said modest speeds, they will return between 60 and 67 mpg (compare with my usual 52 for haring around locally)
  6. And the well-worn but still relevant: lay out everything you think you will need and leave half of it behind.
I know this, intellectually, but I never manage to follow it. I always bring back heavy and bulky stuff that I never even took out of the case.

Thoroughly cold, uncomfortable and enjoyable weekend, all in all. The next one is In Belgium in September. Hmmm.

I might. The XT didn't let me down this time, after all.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Defence Review to start immediately

The Good Doctor is wasting no time in getting a review of defence, and a rethink of the previous government's shameful attitude to the armed forces, on the table.

ID cards, databases, and now defence.

I'm liking this bunch more and more. Let's hope they keep up the momentum.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Caught out in a cliché

Oops. When I made a remark in a recent post about Gordon Brown's farewell speech, which reminded me of the death of the Thane of Cawdor in Macbeth, I didn't realise that half the bloody Labour Party had got there first. Ross has the details:

What the pundits say about Brown's exit:

Kevin Maguire-"Nothing became him as the manner of his leaving"

Donald Macintyre- "Appropriately perhaps it's a line from the Scottish play that may act as his epitaph – political rather than actual, of course – that "nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it". "

Daniel Hannan- "For once, the word “tragedy” is exactly apposite. I have laboured the Brown/Macbeth parallel so often as to try the patience of every reader of this blog, but it is appropriate to close by quoting that play one more time: “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it”. "

Jackie Ashley- "Nothing became him so much as the manner of his going."

It might be worth getting the lines right, for a start:

Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it;

Macintyre and Hannan: 8/10 (where did the 'of' come from?)

Maguire and Ashley: 4/10 (OK in an exam, from memory, but poor otherwise).

What do they do for O-level these days? Critical analysis of The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Notions of Kingship in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas?

The similarities between Gordon Brown and Macbeth are superficially attractive - powerful but doomed leader faces destruction through superior force - but ultimately don't work. Macbeth achieved his position through an act of brutal murder at the behest of his ambitious wife. I can't really see Sarah goading him into getting rid of Tuscan Tony through appeals to his manliness, can you?

When you durst do it, then you were a man
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man ...

Act I Scene 7 is dripping with sex: Lady Macbeth's goading and taunting of Macbeth is all based on his insecure masculinity and her obvious sexual power over him. All she has to do is suggest he is a wimp, and he will do anything to prove her wrong - including murdering his own King, who has treated him like a son. I've often thought that he would have been much better off to have flung her back over the bed, ripped off her kirtle and given her a large one, just to make his point. It would have been much less trouble, in the long run. But Twittering Sarah and Gloomy Gordon? No, I don't think so.

The comparison also falls down at the end of the play. Macbeth has brutalised his way to ultimate power (yes), all his yes-men have deserted him (Comical Ali and Ed Bollocks were still there when I last looked) and he is facing certain defeat by a superior English force advancing under the cover of stolen foliage (well, possibly). And yet, in that famous scene where he fights with his nemesis, Macduff, he achieves a kind of glory.

They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly,
But bear-like I must fight the course ...

Lay on, Macduff,
And damn'd be him that first cries "Hold, enough!".

I know he is a rotter and we are not supposed to like him, but I always feel a certain admiration for Macbeth at this moment. He's trapped in his castle, and all his people have deserted him. The English forces surround him. Having just found out that his supposed invincibility was only a trick played upon him by the Witches, and facing certain defeat at the hands of a more powerful adversary, he doesn't cave in or whimper for mercy, but grows in stature and fights purely for his own honour, for himself, rather than power or position or wealth or to prove how big his willy is. For all his murderous sins, he dies a heroic death. Parallels with Gordon Brown? Some, but I'm not convinced.

I would see Brown as Coriolanus. Brilliant general, but fundamentally flawed; too proud to listen; and killed in the end by those he trusted for his betrayal of their plans.

Co-starring Peter Mandelson as Tullus Aufidius.

2nd International XT Meet

I didn't manage to get the first one last year (Anna's health not being too good at the time), but I am going to the second one this weekend. It's an international meeting/rally for owners of the Yamaha XT. Most will be the original (and best?) XT500s,

but they are being kind and allowing newer models like my XT600E along to make up numbers.

There will be some hardcore treffers from Germany and Belgium, along with a lot of Brit owners. Camping for the weekend, lots of pop and crisps and party games, and a mass ride-out on Saturday. The organiser is a friend of mine called Alun, and if it's a good as last year's it should be an excellent weekend.

It's at Baskerville Hall, near Hay-on-Wye, which is a fantastic location. I have already done a dummy-run on loading up the XT with all my gear, and it seemed to cope. I am really looking forward to it. The run up to Hay is only 100 miles or so, but it will be a chance to get away with the XT in the same way as I did with the Pan last year. I was on the point of going off on the XT last Autumn, but decided on the Pan - wisely, as the XT had a few reliability issues that I only discovered later. I have done a lot of work on it since then, and (touch wood) I don't think it will let me down.

Should be fun. If I can update the blog from there (i.e. if the hotel has wi-fi), I will.

No mandate in Scotland?

I've seen a lot of Scottish persons on the televisual apparatus in the last 24 hours complaining that the Government have no mandate to rule Scotland. It seems that, as Scotland voted overwhelmingly for Labour, and that there is only one Tory MP in Scotland, the present arrangement has no validity North of the border. (Oh, and not to forget that the people who voted Lib Dem never meant for the Lib Dems to climb into bed with the Tories - that wasn't in the script.)

I would like to remind them of one thing. For the last 13 years (and for a long time before that), England has voted overwhelmingly for the Conservatives, and we have been ruled by Labour only because of their Scottish and Welsh MPs. I can't recall anyone saying that Labour had no mandate to rule England then.

I suspect that may change.


There's a lot going on, dissecting the latest moves and rumours, so I will leave that to others. All I can say here is that I feel a sense of optimism. Cameron seems to have got the important stuff agreed with Clegg, and the good stuff from the Lib Dem manifesto has made it onto the table too. The best of both worlds, in a way.

I'm going to put my natural cynicism on hold for a while, and see how things turn out. Watching the two of them giving their news conference today, I saw two guys who genuinely seemed to get on together. Perhaps they're just good actors, but I sensed that their co-operation was genuine and the talk of a new kind of politics may not be just a lot of wishy-washy nonsense.

If Cameron and Clegg between them can get the deficit under control, make some sensible decisions on tax, and make a start on repealing some of the avalanche of repressive legislation from the last 13 years of statist control-freakery, then I can see the coalition being a great success. ID cards stopped on their first day in power - a good sign.

They have both played a blinder. Clegg has got some significant pledges on the table, himself as Deputy PM, four colleagues in the Cabinet, and 20-odd (or should that be 20 odd?) MPs in the Government - not bad for someone who had a minority party in the last parliament and actually lost seats at the election. And Cameron has locked the Lib Dems into a long-term arrangement, secured his power for five years and kept the most important Tory manifesto commitments. And when the cuts start to bite, as they surely will, and the losers start to squeal, as they surely will, it won't be those eeeeeevil Tories eating working-class babies. He will be able to point to all those Lib Dems in significant positions of power and say it was them too.

This could potentially put Labour out of power for a very long time.

Or it could all last a fortnight.

We shall see. But, for the first time in a long time, I feel that I have a Government that is on my side and will take decisions in my interest. It's very unusual to feel that - and rather pleasant.

I wish them good luck. They will need it.

Parting of the Ways

Decision time.

I have been aware for a while that the two main subjects of this blog - motorcycles and current affairs - don't sit too well together. When I started writing the blog last year, I thought that I would just write about stuff that interested me, and if it interested anyone else, so much the better. However, I have been looking back at several months' worth of posts and it seems to me that the blog has become a bit schizophrenic. In short, the people who read it for the bike stuff probably don't care a toss about the politics (or maybe are put off by it) and the people who read it for the politics couldn't give a stuff about biking.

And people do read this blog, much to my terrified amazement.

So I have decided to split this blog in two. The politics stuff will remain here (Going Fast, Getting Nowhere) and the bike stuff will be hosted in a new blog called Soul Mover (http://42soulmover.blogspot.com). The name for the new blog comes from my favourite biking quote:

Four wheels move the body; two wheels move the soul.

The phrase "soul mover" also reminds me of the typical lyrics of one of my favourite bands, Yes - although I don't think it appeared in any of their songs.

So, if you come here for the bike nonsense, please visit Soul Mover and bookmark it. If you are a politics junkie, then please stick around and be assured that my rantings will no longer be interrupted by a review of soft luggage or a diatribe on speed cameras.


Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Thane of Cawdor

... Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it; he died
As one that had been studied in his death
To throw away the dearest thing he owed,
As 'twere a careless trifle.

Brown didn't quite express his "deep repentance" or "frankly confess his treasons" as the Thane of Cawdor did, but he made a decent job of the farewell speech. Probably the most honest, most straightforward and least manipulative speech he has ever made. Well done.

And now, with the kind permission of Obsidian, I will go and make another dent in that bottle of Balvenie Signature. Yes, there is some left; and no, there won't be any for anyone else.

Happy days.

John Reid spells it out

I've always had a sneaking regard for John Reid. I didn't agree with him on everything, far from it, but I always felt he acted with a sense of decency and honour. This is him talking about the possibility of a Lib-Lab coalition, and I can't disagree with a word of it. (See my previous post on the 'progressive consensus'.)

Interesting how David Steel (for whom I have always had regard) tried to argue that, because more voters voted for Labour and Liberals combined, this somehow represents a demand for proportional representation without further discussion. I can't see how that works, frankly.

Having listened to Reid, I'm beginning to think that a Lib-Lab coalition would be a good thing for the country, long-term. Both parties would be destroyed.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Words I Hate 2

Well, phrases then. I wrote about my hate of the misuse of the word 'appropriate' a while ago. Now there's a new one, and one I am sure we are going to hear a lot about in the near future (and possibly for a long time after that): progressive consensus.

It's being used as an excuse for the two loser parties to get together and form a government in the face of clear rejection of them both by the electorate. Because Labour and the Liberal Democrats between them got 315 seats, and the Conservatives only got 306, they are claiming that this shows that the British electorate are in favour of the 'progressive' policies represented by the two left of centre parties.

Leaving aside for one moment the misuse of the word 'progressive' (what's progressive about raping civil liberties, taking money for peerages, increasing unemployment, and all the rest?), this is complete, utter, unadulterated, weapons-grade, gold-plated bollocks.

Look, you self-deluding morons:

Labour lost 91 seats, compared to 2005.

The Lib Dems lost 5 seats, compared to 2005, despite the unprecedented advantage of the leadership debates and a wave of Cleggmania.

The Conservatives gained 97 seats, a bigger gain than any since 1931 and on a swing that was bigger than the one that swept Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979. This is despite the fact that it takes more voters to elect a Conservative MP than it does a Labour MP (due to Conservative constituencies being larger), a fact that the Lib Dems were not shy of pointing out in the run-up to the election.

How anyone can argue that this points to an affirmation by the voters of their belief in centre-left politics is beyond comprehension. And if you say it's the fault of the archaic FPTP system and get all proportional on my ass, then look at it in terms of vote share, something which the Lib Dems and the newly-converted Labour Party ought to regard as difinitive:

Labour down 6.2%
Liberal Democrat up 1%
Conservative up 3.8%.

If that shows anything, it shows that the electorate rejected Labour in large numbers, thought the Lib Dems were a little more desirable, but that the Tories were more so.

Progressive consensus? I don't think so.

The only good thing about this is that they believe it to be true - and it isn't. And so any move towards a new government which relies on this non-existent consensus will fall flat on its arse.

I suppose that's 'appropriate'.

Not Dead Yet

A lot of blogs seem to be crowing that "Gordon Brown has resigned". One even popped a virtual champagne cork.

No he hasn't. I listened to the speech live, and this is what he said:

If it becomes clear that the national interest, which is stable and principled government, can be best served by forming a coalition between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, then I believe I should discharge that duty to form that government ...

But I have no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed to ensure the path to economic growth is assured and the process of political reform we have agreed moves forward quickly.

In other words, I will resign when

a) a stable government between Labour and Liberal Democrats has been formed (how long before we can be sure it is 'stable'?)

b) the path to economic growth is assured (how will this be measured?)

c) the process of political reform is moving forward quickly (agreement on PR? referendum fixed for PR? referendum won on PR? PR established as new voting system and fully bedded in?)

Achieving all of those could take months, or even years, depending on how you define your terms. And Gordon is very good on hidden meanings that suggest one thing but mean something entirely different. Read any Budget speech for examples.

He's not gone yet, not by a long way. As with the Vampire, celebrations should only start when the stake is firmly in the chest and the body no longer moves. Anything else is foolish and premature.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Cardiff Motorcycle Show

I went up to Cardiff for this event today, with four other Triumph Owners' Club members. It was the first event of its kind, and was a great success - about 250 bikes on show, lots of trade stands, and a general feel-good atmosphere. The dry weather helped, although the morning was pretty chilly. I wrapped up in many layers this morning (and was glad I did) but by afternoon I was getting well overheated in my jeans, t-shirt and fleece, within a thermally-lined textile suit. The 'new' panniers came into their own as I was able to stuff them full of the extra layers and have the rest of the day as a normally-dressed human.

The highlight of the show for me was the hall containing a huge variety of vintage and classic bikes. I'm not a classic bike nut (I can't tell you the flange diameter of the nurdling rod on a Henderson Albatross), but I do like the look and general vibe of the old stuff. That's probably what attracted me to the Triumph, I suppose. There were some really venerable British bikes (two Brough Superiors and a Vincent), but the majority were seventies' Jap classics - not surprising, as the event was organised by the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club. There were far too many to list, but amongst the best for me were a Suzuki GT250A just like I used to have:

and a really pretty Honda CB400 Four just like I wanted to have.

Wallace and Gromit made an appearance on a BSA outfit:

There were two interpretations of the Triton theme:

Question for nerds: one of these is more Triumph plus Norton, and one is more Norton plus Triumph. Can you see why?

The one with the handbeaten alloy tank had to be the sexiest item in the show for me:

Please excuse the thumb.

For a first attempt at a show in Cardiff, it was a great success, with a healthy turnout and a good atmosphere. My only criticism was the lack of catering, which was restricted to a tea/coffee bar and a few slices of pizza at lunchtime. A burger bar on site would have cleaned up. But I will definitely come to the next one.

To make the day perfect, I also won a competition. There was a KTM Adventurer parked up, and an invitation to 'guess the mileage'. I was a bit canny here. The bike had new tyres and had been cleaned to within an inch of its life - I wouldn't be surprised if an autoclave hadn't been involved at some point. Even the bits that are normally neglected in a good clean (like the area round the swingarm bushes and the underneath of the engine) were pristine. So lots of people guessed the mileage as very low: to be fair, it looked almost brand new. But there was one giveaway: round the ignition key were a number of scratches and some polishing of the matt alloy. This happens when the key fob jangles about in the wind, and is virtually impossible to either prevent or to clean away. I guessed the mileage at 13,900 (the Triumph passed this recently, and it just seemed right) and I was within 60 miles of the true mileage, much closer than anyone else. So now I have a £40 voucher to spend at a bike shop somewhere outside Cardiff (I can't remember the name, sorry chaps).

So, all in all a good day. The Triumph averaged 50 mpg, being kept around 80 most of the way. There was quite a stiff Easterly wind, which on a naked bike was very noticeable. In fact, it made a difference to the bike, too - 48 mpg going up and 52 mpg coming home, at identical speeds. My body knows it has been through 200 miles of solid air, too. Things ache that shouldn't ache.

The panniers proved very useful to have, but are too small for anything other than odds and ends, and the wind folded the covering flaps back on themselves, despite several attempts to put them right. I think they will have to go, and something larger and more robust put in their place.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Well Done That Man

I got a reminder in the post yesterday to tax the XT, which runs out at the end of the month. I tried to get the new tax disc online. If you have never used this system, give it a try. All you do is enter the reference number off the reminder letter, and the system checks if the bike is insured and MoT'd, and then you can pay by card. The disc arrives a few days later in the post, job done. The whole thing takes about five minutes and is brilliantly efficient. It's one of the few government webthings that actually works and is better than what it replaces (in my case, a 6-mile round trip plus half an hour waiting in the queue in the Post Office, plus another half an hour to dig out the required documents beforehand).

Unfortunately, yesterday it told me that the bike did not have a current MoT Certificate, and was unable to complete my request. I had the certificate in front of me, and it expires on 15 May (over a week away), so that was gold-plated bollocks for a start. Anyway, I needed to get the new MoT done before I could tax the bike. Lamo's Motorcycles were able to fit me in this morning.

Lo and behold, it passed. Yea, and thanks be unto Him who makes old trailbikes to pass the rigorous exigencies of the MoT test, even unto the fourth generation. I wasn't surprised, as everything has worked on the bike for quite a while now. I am getting used to it being a reliable form of transport, rather than a work-in-progress. I put new tyres on it last summer, and new brake pads, and an exhaust without holes in - I would have been astounded if it had failed.

But I did get one 'advisory' - the guy noticed that the rear brake piston was sticking out a bit further than he was used to, and suggested that my rear brake pads could be getting to the end of their life. (The pads themselves are not visible without dismantling the brake.)

Ha ha, I laughed. I put those pads in only 2000 miles ago. You must be mistaken.

But when I got home I checked. The pads were almost down to the metal. Oops. Well spotted, that MoT inspector.

I posted earlier this year (here and here) about the new Goldfren HH pads I had fitted (cheap ones, off eBay, never again). I replaced the front ones almost immediately with EBC pads, as I was very unhappy with their performance, but I left the rear pads on, as the rear brake gets only light use and I figured they would last until I replaced the fronts again. And then, after a measly 2000 miles, they were worn out. 2000 miles, on the rear end of a light and fairly slow trailbike, is appalling. I would have been disappointed with four times that mileage.

I'll be up in the big city tomorrow, so I will try to find some proper ones. EBC ones.

Bags and Baggage

I posted a few days ago about my search for a luggage 'solution'. Well, I think I got a bit lucky.

The guy in California who was offering me a brand-new-in-box pair of MC Resources racks came up with a price that was a bit high for me: after factoring in the shipping cost, I could almost have bought some new ones from the States. So I politely declined.

Then a pair of branded Triumph panniers and frame rails came up on eBay. I put in a bid, and was quite surprised to get them for just over £70. The frame rails are as new, and the bags are a little grubby, but perfectly serviceable, and will probably come up well with a bit of soapy water and a nail brush. Bear in mind that the frame rails are about £110 the pair, and the bags new from a Triumph outlet are priced at £166.99, and you will see why I am quite pleased with the result. I've saved about £200 over the retail price of new kit.

Note we work on the three-bin system here: normal waste, recyclables, and The Week After Christmas.

The bags look better than I thought they would, although they are quite small; more for looking stylish on the occasional day out, rather than serious touring bags, but I'm wondering whether or not to keep them. Whatever, I am keeping the rails and have put the bags back onto eBay, on a 7-day auction. I hope to make most of my money back on them, and then look around for some bigger bags later on. I am keeping them on the bike for the time being, and who knows - I may keep them after all. I have a week to decide.

I'm going up to Cardiff with the local Triumph Owners' Club tomorrow, for the Cardiff Motorcycle Show, so I will use them to carry my sandwiches and a flask of tea, and see how they go.

Classic and vintage bikes from Britain, Europe and Japan, trade stalls, autojumble, club stands - should be a great day.

Brown - just not getting it AGAIN

So your party has just emerged from an election, at which you have lost a large number of seats and share of the vote, and another party leader is talking to you with a view to an alliance that will keep you in power.

Are you nice to them? Treat them with respect? Take their approach seriously?

Not if you are Gordon Brown.

According to Jon Sopel, quoting a "very senior Liberal Democrat source" who is "close to the negotiations", Clegg phoned up Brown for a discussion, and Brown was rude to him. Some choice quotes:

Apparently, Nick Clegg is reported to have told Gordon Brown to resign, and that is where the conversation started going badly downhill, apparently.

The "senior Liberal Democrat source" said that it was a diatribe, it was a rant, and that Gordon Brown was threatening in his approach to Nick Clegg, and that Nick Clegg came off the phone at the end of it, feeling ... that the person in the shape of Gordon Brown would be someone it would be impossible to enter into a partnership with because of his general attitude to working with other people.

This has been "strenuously denied" by Downing Street, from "sources very close to the Prime Minister".

You pays your money and you takes your choice, but the source I spoke to ... I would say was reliable.

Just like with the original bullying allegations, this story has been denied by Downing Street, but to an average observer, it just fits with what we know.

There is plenty of evidence around now that says that Gordon Brown is an aggressive and controlling bully who does not tolerate dissent. If Clegg comes to any agreement with Labour that does not involve Gordon Brown stepping down, then he is toast - both electorally and personally. Brown would eat him for breakfast, daily. With Marmite on, and a cup of tea.

Further confirmation that the man is totally unsuited to his high office. How the hell is he still there?


Friday, 7 May 2010

Thursday, 6 May 2010

In Memoriam P.E.B.

Tonight, when I sit up until the small hours watching the results come in, there will be someone with me. I won't be able to see him, but he will be the reason I am not tucked up in bed dreaming of a lottery win.

Dad came from a family of Labour and Co-operative party activists. His mother was one of the founders of the Co-operative movement in Skipton, and the whole family was unswervingly, tribally, Labour to the core. This was what I grew up with. Labour are the only party that cares about people. Conservatives are all selfish. Businesses always exploit their innocent, loyal workers. Trades Unions (note the 's' - never Trade Unions) are a vital part of a fair society, and without them working people would be downtrodden. The Labour Party are the political arm of the Union movement, and it is right that Union subs go to support the only chance the workers have of decent representation in Parliament. Even if Labour are wrong, they are wrong for the right reasons. You can always trust a Labour man to have the good of the working class, and therefore the country, at heart. Politicians are noble, selfless and hardworking, except of course for the Tories and Liberals, who are in it for what they can get. The closed shop is a necessary evil, as without it workers' rights would be trampled on.

When you have this drilled into you throughout your childhood, it can be hard to escape and think for yourself. I was too young to vote in 1970, but I voted Labour in both the 1974 elections, and in all the local elections I voted for the candidate best placed to beat the Conservative (I moved around a lot, but often found myself living in safe Tory seats). It was easy to do: being a student in the early 70s meant that voting Labour was the obvious thing to do, even if Labour weren't anything like radical enough for most of us. But by the time of the 1979 election, I was 25 and starting to think for myself. The dismal record of strikes and incompetence from Callaghan's government in the late 70s made me question a lot of my beliefs and in 1979 I voted Conservative for the first time. I was conscious that this was an act of rebellion, and I told no-one. I became a bit of a floating voter after that (although constantly mindful of the views of my Dad, that floating voters were just people with no morals or principles and, worst of all, potential Tories). I did feel strongly about the sleaze issue in 1997 (hah!) and voted for Tony Blair. The promises of a new kind of clean, transparent and honest politics won me over. The lies and manipulations over Iraq made me realise how wrong I had been, and it's been downhill ever since - no need to list all the things that have gone wrong since then - to the point where I despise Labour and view them with hatred and contempt.

I'm making my Dad sound like some rabid Trot, and of course he wasn't. He had a very different life from mine. Born in 1913, he lived through some hard times, including the Depression. He was 23 when the Jarrow March took place, and it passed within a few miles of where he lived. It made a big impression. He fought in the Second War, in the Royal Tank Regiment in the desert. I think he fought at El Alamein, but he was too modest to talk about it. He was fundamentally a good man, with very high moral principles, and I am glad that a lot of those principles have rubbed off on me, even if they sometimes make life a bit difficult. He believed, above all, in fairness. It is wrong to lie to people, to exploit people, to seek personal gain over the good of society. You do your best, you pay into the kitty willingly, and you know that people less fortunate than yourself are being looked after. It wasn't self-interest, either: he had a good job and was well-paid, and he never begrudged paying his rightful share. In other words, he stood by his principles, even when they cost him. He regarded it as shameful that people could be starving while their countrymen lived a life of plenty, and I can't say I disagree.

Of course, today is a different world. I'm not sure he would be too keen on people living their lives on benefits with no intention to work. To him, the Welfare State was a safety net, not a hammock. He abhorred drugs, drunkenness and gambling, so Labour's 24-hour licensing and their relaxation of the casino rules would have mystified him. I imagine the expenses scandal would have rocked him back on his feet - not the Tory excesses, he'd expect that, but Labour people flipping homes and getting the working classes to pay for non-existent mortgages? In his world, that would have been unthinkable.

He died in 1988, just at the end of the Thatcher period. God only knows what he would make of Labour today. He would regard the bullying of McBride and Balls as utterly unacceptable, Peter Mandelson would have irritated him intensely, and he would have been deeply unhappy about going to war on a lie. And yet, I'm pretty sure his tribal loyalty to Labour would have pulled him through. He would have said "yes, these are bad things, but the people who did them are good people underneath, and that counts for a lot."

I can see him now, on Election Night, with his favourite chair pulled up in front of the TV, waiting for Mum and me to go to bed. He would have the Manchester Guardian pulled apart on the floor in front of him, and sheets of paper with lines and charts and coloured pencils ready to record the results as they came in. (This was before the days of coloured graphs in the papers and swingometers on the TV - you had to make your own entertainment in those days.) He would stay up all night, and then grab some breakfast and go off to work. To him, politics mattered, and he had no patience at all with people who couldn't be bothered to vote.

He'll be here with me tonight. He'll have to make do with The Times, I'm afraid ("bloody Tory paper"), and there won't be any slide rules or lists of numbers on a scratch-pad. But I will have a number of channels to watch, all the calculator things on the web and, if I get bored, any number of blogs to read and respond to on my laptop. He would have loved that.

I shall miss him tonight.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Election Fever

This election has been bad for me. As a self-confessed current affairs junkie, I have been spending far too much time watching TV and reading online commentary over the last few weeks. It is as though the impending election has developed from a mild itch into raging urticaria that I have to scratch constantly. If I'm not watching the news on TV, I am reading all my subscribed blogs, and then if I run out of things to read there, I am scanning the websites of the newspapers. And, as JuliaM correctly observes, there is for more information, variety and informed comment in the blogosphere than in all the dead-tree media combined.

The election has also been bad for this blog. I have a lot of things I would like to say, but they have already been said better (and first) by those with far more knowledge and experience of these things than I have, so my blogging of the election has ended up being a bit of soul-searching and a lot of "hey, look at this" while linking to better things. Bike stuff has certainly taken a back seat, which is not how I planned it.

Soon, the fever of the election will be over, and the hard work of getting this country back on its feet will begin. (You will note that I assume a Tory victory here: the alternative is too awful to contemplate.) And I will be back to blogging about the garden, and a joke I heard, and a bit of music that inspired me, and bike trips and the usual nonsense that seems to emerge when I put fingertips to keyboard. In a way, I am looking forward to that.

How will I be spending tomorrow? I will be voting, of course, probably earlier rather than later, and then I will be intermittently watching the news for any developments. If the last few days are anything to go by, Gordon Brown will probably slip on a dog turd, fall and break his hip, Cameron will roll his sleeves up again, and Clegg will mention 'the two old Parties', conveniently forgetting that the Liberal Party is one of the country's oldest.

I might try to have a nap in the afternoon, as I want to watch as much of the hot party-on-party action in the small hours as I can. At about 9 pm, I will line up the beers and the bottle of Balvenie Signature that I have been keeping for this very occasion. I bought this back in October last year, and I said then that I would be keeping it until election night. It's funny to think that, when I wrote that, I assumed that the Conservatives would be romping home with a safe majority, and the whisky was in anticipation of a celebration. That was how it looked at the time. Tomorrow, it could be drowning my sorrows. How things change.

I will provision my area with a few crisps and nuts (beer and whisky on their own can require nibbles, I find) and then settle down to watch the events unfold. Once (probably one of the 1974 elections - I was younger then) I watched it right through to about 6 am, but usually I stay with it until about two or three o'clock. I'm hoping to do better this time, but I get tired more easily now, so I'll go when I am either tired, bored or demoralised.

A final prayer: whatever the overall result, please, Lord, please - make Ed Balls lose.

And, whoever you vote for tomorrow, vote.

It Ends Here

At least, we can only hope that it does. Here's The Last Ditch, eloquent as ever:

For every promise broken, for every lie told, for every soldier sent to war ill-equipped, for every child's future blighted by Marxist educational dogma, for every pound seized and squandered and - most of all - for every freedom lost, Labour must pay tomorrow with its political life.

If we have self-respect as a nation, we must not dodge this choice. Voting for someone who will decide for us later whether David Cameron or Gordon Brown should be Head of Government is cowardice.

If you have a Libertarian candidate to vote for, go ahead with pride. Start us on the long path to a real change that can restore the nation. For the rest of you alas only the Conservatives - flawed as they are - can end this.

And here is Cameron's latest attack video. I can only wonder why this wasn't being broadcast from the rooftops six months ago.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Brown on trial

If only.

Him and that smarmy millionaire exile warmonger Blair. If only.

This fiction will have to do.

H/t The Last Ditch

Monday, 3 May 2010

Our Labour Candidate

I've been a bit hesitant about posting this, for reasons which will become clear, but I am mightily intrigued by the Labout leaflet that dropped through my door a few days ago.

First point, I suppose, is that the leaflet says practically nothing - vague promises about the future being safe under Labour, putting local people first, making work pay, and so on. It's only a 4-side A5 sheet, so there's not a lot of room to start with, and of course everything has to be in both Welsh and English, so that halves the space available for text anyway.

Second is the colour they have chosen for the banners and sidebars. It's red, of course, but they seem to have picked a particularly bilious shade of deep blood-orange as the main colour, and then overlaid it with a very slightly lighter orange to create a background design, behind the text. Perhaps it's the Labour rose, who knows, but the two shades of orange are close enough to make it look like a poor-quality print.

But it's the candidate who is the most intriguing. She's called Mari Rees (good Welsh name, and proper Welsh spelling), and she lives in Milford Haven. The leaflet claims that her family have lived in the area for "hundreds of years". This is very important in Pembrokeshire, which has a powerful sense of identity: very Welsh where it counts, but also slightly separate and distinct from Wales itself, as the county - or at least the populous Southern half - has been mainly English-speaking since the Middle Ages, and many local people take pride in the fact that they are not the same as the Welsh 'up the line'. The Tory incumbent, Stephen Crabb, is a local boy (although Scottish by birth, he lived in a council house here when he was a child and went to the local comprehensive).

So far, so good. But I can't help thinking that most people will read the candidate background, and then scratch their heads when they see her picture. For, not to put too fine a point on it, Mari Rees is black.

Before anyone jumps down my throat for pointing this out, I would say that this isn't a problem for me, and I doubt if it would be a problem for most people in Pembrokeshire. There isn't a lot of racial diversity here (read: not many black faces) but that doesn't mean that the people are intolerant. In fact, I once taught IT to an unemployed black guy from Bradford when I was working for a training company, and he said that he loved living in Pembrokeshire because it was the only place in the UK he had lived in where he encountered no racial prejudice at all. If Pembrokeshire takes leave of its collective senses and votes Labour on Thursday, Mari Rees's colour will not make one iota of difference. Equally, if they return Stephen Crabb, it won't be because of some innate racism in the Pembrokeshire psyche. It will be because Labour have forfeited the respect and support of the population.

In fact, I think Labour are to be applauded for her selection. Preseli Pembrokeshire is (I think) 14th of Labour's target seats (Tory majority just over 600), so it's not as if they are putting up a black candidate in an overwhelmingly white but unwinnable seat to score diversity points.

But there are two things that puzzle me. One is the phrasing of "the Reeses have lived in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire for hundreds of years". That's a pretty remarkable claim when you think about it. It would make her more 'local' than most of the people who live here. I doubt if more than a handful could claim Pembrokeshire ancestry for that length of time. Anna's family are regarded as 'Pembrokeshire born and bred', and they moved to the area from the Valleys in the middle of last century.

Is it perhaps possible that Labour are just a little too keen to prove her local credentials? Is there a sub-text that says "look, we know she's black, but she is as local as you are"?

The other puzzle may be just a trick of the printing process, but of the six photographs of Ms Rees in the leaflet, the two main ones show her as being much paler in complexion than the others. A search of Google images shows a lady who is quite dark-skinned, and yet the main photos are of a person with a pale coffee complexion.

I may be making something of nothing here, but is this deliberate? Taken with the 'hundreds of years' thing, does this suggest a failure of nerve on the part of Labour? Do they think that Preseli Pembrokeshire will not vote for a black person unless she is somehow made less black?

I don't know. I'm a little uncomfortable posting this, as I know that some people will see it (as they see every reference to race or nationality, however innocent) as racist. I will state clearly that I will not be voting for Ms Rees, but it is because of her party's record in government, not because of the colour of her skin.

I do wonder if there is some slightly racist thinking behind the leaflet, though. "Let's challenge a white male Tory with a black woman, but she musn't be too black or too exotic. Just lighten up the main pictures and stress the local connections, will you?"

If so, I think her backers have done Ms Rees a great disservice.


Today, I spent the morning and early afternoon shopping and doing gardening-type worthy things. By about 3.30, the sun was still shining, so I took myself off for a short ride. I went to Llys-y-frân reservoir. As reservoirs go, this is a fairly small one, but it's an attractive location and only about a 20-mile round trip.

The flow of water over the 100-foot dam comes down the concrete surface like a lace curtain:

And here's a view of the lake from the viewing point on the other side.

The road goes down a steep hill, past the base of the dam, and then climbs with a couple of tight hairpins to a car park. It's a brief, but enjoyable, ride, and it certainly blew away the cobwebs. Although it isn't what you would call 'warm' yet, the roads are dry and there is some fun to be had.

Now, back to serious stuff ...
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