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

- George Washington

Friday, 30 July 2010

MAG Bike Show

Tomorrow, MAG (Motorcycle Action Group) have a bike show in Aberystwyth. I will be there helping to man the Triumph Owners Motorcycle Club stand. We're meeting in Aber at 8 am, so that will be an early start for me.

It will be held at Aberystwyth Rugby Club over Saturday and Sunday. I'll be on the TOMCC stand for most of the time, trying to drum up some new members, but I hope to get a bit of time to look round the show. If I see anything interesting, I'll take a photo and post it here.

If you're in the area, drop in and say Hi.


I was directed to this page by someone today. I think I may have found an explanation for the behaviour of my laptop which prompted the purchase of this little netbook.

I recall that the problem started when I allowed FireFox to do an automatic update. The update included an new version of FlashGot (which I never use, but hey) and a prompt to download the latest Adobe Reader, which I did. Firstly, FireFox started behaving strangely, freezing or closing at random, forgetting passwords and so on. I even deleted the program and installed a fresh download, but with no success. A week or two later, it started really buggering me about. Google searches were redirected to sites I didn't want, and after closing the Google page (the only way out of the problem) and retrying the search, I got a blank screen with the message from Google that my machine was sending out automated requests and that no further searches were possible. A full restart was the only way round it - until the next time.

I identified this as a browser hijack, although I wasn't able to find the name of the virus. It must have been one doozy of a program, as it was impervious to all attempts to remove it. I spent a day doing this sequence:
  1. Update all AV and similar programs with latest definitions
  2. Disconnect network cable
  3. Run Avast and AVG anti-virus programs
  4. Run Adaware and Spybot S&D anti-malware programs
  5. Run Avast boot scan from cold start.
I found and eliminated quite a few nasty-sounding bugs. Then I did 2 to 5 again. More bugs. Then 2 to 5 once more, and everything came up clean. I reconnected to the internet and all was well for about 24 hours. Then it all started again. So I did the whole routine again. Same result. Bear in mind that through all of this, I had Windows Firewall and Zone Alarm firewall enabled, and I had either or both of the AV programs running at all times.

When I read the advice linked above, it all made sense. In my case, it was Adobe Reader rather than Flash that was the bait, but everything else fits. It seems as though I was fooled into downloading and running a virus, when I thought I was updating programs I trusted. I feel pretty foolish, as although I am by no means an expert in these things I am usually quite smart about checking things, not opening unrecognised programs and so on, and my PCs have been free of any serious virus attacks for several years.

So, if you run FireFox and it prompts you to upgrade anything after it has finished updating, pause and follow the advice in the link. It may save you a lot of hassle.

A Week With The Vikings

Crikey, how does a week go by so fast?

The Vikings arrived shortly after my last post. There was a rumble of engines, the dog went crazy, and there they were. Poul and Alice arrived on (or is it in?) the BMW sidecar outfit that I had a short ride on last year. Their friends Peer and Ruth came in an outfit consisting of a Honda Pan European 1100 and a racey, spacey chair which looked like something that had fallen off a funky, gloss-black space shuttle. They are big on equality. Both ladies have their own bikes: the BMW in fact belongs to Alice, and Ruth has a Fazer. However, neither felt up to the task of driving on the left (the 'right' side, as it were) and left that to the gents.

They put up their tents on the lawn and we settled into an afternoon's drinking - a pattern which was to be repeated for the rest of the week. They are great people, and we had a fabulous time with them. Their English ranged from adequate to excellent, so there were no communication problems, and it would seem that the Danes laugh at the same things we do, so there was a lot of common ground.

We did a couple of day rides round Pembrokeshire, and I think I managed to show them the best bits and the good roads. We also did a couple of trips out in the car(s), which meant that Anna could participate too. On a couple of evenings, they did the shopping and cooking, and I was reminded how much I like Danish food. I suspect that my cholesterol has gone off the scale, however. We got through prodigious amounts of beer (and, in the later evenings, some stronger stuff too) and coffee. For the last year or two, I have been drinking a lot of tea, with only one or two cups of coffee a day. With the Vikings, it's coffee when they wake up, and then at regular intervals until bedtime. My eyeballs are still twirling in their sockets.

They left on Wednesday, to go to Yorkshire for a few days before returning on the ferry. As a person of Yorkshirely extraction, I can only think that this was a very good idea, but the reason for their visit wasn't the glories of the Dales or the fascinating industrial history of Bradford. No; it turns out that one of the most popular programmes on Danish television is Heartbeat, followed closely by classics such as All Creatures Great And Small and Emmerdale. They were on a pilgrimage. I did try to point them to the excellent Jorvik Museum in York, where they could have met some of their ancestors face-to-face, but I think they were more interested in seeing if they could spot Bill Maynard.

And now all that is left is a couple of pale patches on the lawn. Next time it will be either a return visit to the land of the peat bogs by myself (and Anna, if they will deign to accept a mere car on their site), or an invasion of the Land of Snog ™ by the four travellers and as many hooligan members of their club in Denmark as they can manage.

Should be a hoot. Can't wait.

Wales, Denmark and Yorkshire (a white rose on a blue background).

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


I had a great few days. Both daughters doing well and happy, ex-wife and new partner welcoming and civilised, and brilliant weather (it rained non-stop in Wales, ho ho). I managed to get a new and bigger sleeping mat at a camping exhibition in Lincoln, and spent an afternoon at the Imperial War Museum air display at Duxford, just outside Cambridge, which was awesome.

Highlight of the trip (apart from seeing the girls, obviously) was an unofficial guided tour round the new exhibition at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, courtesy of a friend who works there. There were numerous items from the Scott expedition to the South Pole of 1912, including Oates's sleeping bag, slit down the side to allow his frostbitten leg to poke out, and also a collection of brilliant Inuit artworks, which were spookily beautiful.

I'm just sitting here and waiting for our Danish friends to arrive. They called from the Severn Bridge a couple of hours ago, so they can't be far away. There's a Danish flag down on the main road to tell them they are in the right place, and Welsh and Yorkshire flags at the gate to make a welcome from the two host 'nations'. We're fully armed with barbecue materials, and the beer is in the cooler.

Game on.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Family Matters

I will be travelling to the frozen wastes of Lincolnshire tomorrow to see daughter No. 2, and from there to the wilds of East Angular to see daughter No, 1, before returning to Nowhere Towers on Tuesday. Total round trip about 800 miles. Blogging will therefore be intermittent, or even non-existent, for a few days.

As I have stuff to carry, and may be required to perform unspecified transportation duties while I am away, I will be going in the car. With regret.

The biker friends I visited in Denmark last year are coming over to stay for a while next week. We have an area of paddock for them to camp on, and I'm hoping the weather will be good. It's blowing a hooley at the moment, and raining cats and dogs, so it needs to improve significantly.

Evidence-based Royalty

From The Guardian:

Prince Charles attacks climate change sceptics

The Prince of Wales last night launched an attack on climate sceptics, deriding them for peddling "pseudo science".

Charles, speaking yesterday at the event staged by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership at St James's palace, did not mention any sceptics by name but said: "People have heard the climate sceptics and attempted to listen to the kind of pseudo science they are peddling"

Well, knock me down with a genetically-modified feather. The man who talks to his plants; the man who has campaigned to have homeopathy on the NHS. The man who, in short, is as far from being a scientist as I am from being a Premiership footballer.

At least he recognises the problem some people will have with his pronouncements.

"I have endlessly been accused of peddling pseudo science, in one way or another, for most of my life - just think about the strange irony."

Well, I'm thinking about it, and all I can come up with is "you talk bollocks on everything else, so I will allow that you are at least consistent".

The comments are worth a read: roughly split between "I despise Prince Charles and everything he stands for, but on this occasion the Future King and Gracious Heir to the Throne is absolutely correct", and "Oh God, this is the last thing the Climate Change movement needed".


(BTW, I covered homeopathy here, earlier this year. Worth a look if you didn't see it first time around.)

Stig O'Tracy

There has been a rather bizarre response to the death of Raoul Moat, with people in the news comments and even on Facebook praising him as a hero. Not an anti-hero, but a hero: misunderstood, sweet, wouldn't harm a fly unless provoked, of course. A real man. Huh.

I won't rip into this particularly stupid and Neanderthal* mindset. Al-Jahom has done it capably here and here. The quality of discourse in the Facebook comments is amazing, from a purely linguistic point of view. A small but representative sample:


(This by someone called "Bella". Nice girl.)

Words fail me. Plenty of others have commented, so I won't say any more. These posts say everything I would have wished to.

Except that I am reminded of Dinsdale Pirhana. In the words of the classic Monty Python sketch from 1970,

Stig O'Tracy: (In answer to the remark: "I've been told Dinsdale Piranha nailed your head to the floor.") No. Never. He was a smashing bloke. He used to buy his mother flowers and that. He was like a brother to me. ... He was a hard man. Vicious but fair."

Vicious but fair. And Moat was an innocent angel who only served time for beating up his own child because he was a "top bloke who was pushed into it by a woman".

Yeah, yeah. The Pythons had it right first time.

* This is rather unfair, as by all accounts the Neanderthals were civilised folk who cared for their sick and buried their dead with ceremony and respect.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Charity Appeal

Although I sold the Honda a while ago now, I have stayed in touch with the Pan European forum on Bikers' Oracle (link on right of page) as the forum is full of good guys and there are plenty of laughs. One of them, a chap called Russ, and his friend Chris have recently been affected by members of their familes contracting cancer and two relatives have died. The two have decided to raise some money for Cancer Research UK by riding round the UK on their Hondas. Another two, Mike and Joe, are doing the same round Ireland at the same time. They are calling the trip The Long Way Home.

They are setting off on 7th August and will be passing through Wales on the 12th and 13th. I will be joining them for part of the ride, from near Aberystwyth across the Brecon Beacons to Abergavenny. That will be about 80 miles of riding, and a round trip for me of about 240 miles, which should make a very pleasant day out. There are some stunning roads in the Beacons, and I'm hoping that our Round-Britain-Whizzers will take away some good memories of the place.

You can follow their progress here.

If you know anyone affected by this horrible disease, or wish to contribute to the fund-raising, they have a JustGiving page here. They are good guys and deserve support. So far, they have raised nearly £1500.

Good luck to them all.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Group riding

Yesterday's outing has made me think a bit about riding in a group, and the procedures thereof. It's not as simple as it first appears.

For most of my biking life, I have ridden alone. No particular reason; just that I've never had many friends with bikes, so the usual mass rideout on a Sunday has generally passed me by. Joining the Triumph Owners' MCC has given me the chance to do a few rideouts in company, and it takes a bit of getting used to.

Some clubs have very strict rules about group riding. I am told that the Honda GoldWing people are almost military about it, with strict no-overtaking rules and draconian penalties for disobedience. You may have seen them, usually on the Continent, with twenty or so Wings with colour-matched trailers, and grey-bearded riders with his'n'hers matching outfits, all riding in a straight line on an autoroute somewhere. Not my kind of riding at all. Even the Harley guys have 'Road Captains' and give them training to supervise and lead a large group of riders.

To some extent, this is necessary. If you are going to ride as a group, then you need to be aware that there are dangers in this which are not immediately apparent. One thing is the direction-finding thing. If someone is leading and there is a specific destination then, unless that destination is made known to everyone and each rider has a map in case of getting lost, the group needs to stay together. On quiet roads, that isn't a problem, and the leader can set the pace according to the experience and mood of the riders in the group and everyone is happy. But if there is traffic, then the leader has a choice - overtake when possible and hope the rest will catch up, or stay behind a queue of traffic to keep everyone together? Most will try to overtake where there is plenty of room, but there is still the danger of following riders playing follow-my-leader and overtaking where there is oncoming traffic or trying to get into gaps that aren't safe. This brings in the second danger, that of the 'catch-up' panic. If the riders ahead of you overtake some slow-moving vehicles and disappear into the distance, then unless you know the destination and are mature enough to sit back and wait, you will want to get ahead by any means possible, which may include risky overtaking, lane-splitting, overtaking on blind bends, and so on. I'm sure most people will have experienced, when in a car, a group of riders screaming past, one after the other, barging their way in between cars and generally behaving like arses. These may just be very skilled riders, but I suspect that many of them are riding with a fast group and don't want to be left behind.

There are a number of ways of dealing with this.

The best for a large group is the 'drop-off' system, where the group ride independently (together if traffic allows, separately if not). when the route takes a significant turn, the leader makes the turn and then waits in view of the junction. When the second rider arrives, he takes the leader's place and directs the rest of the group on the right road. When the last rider passes, he or she gives a signal to the waiting rider and then he or she follows on, now becoming the 'last man'. It works well, but requires a bit of organisation (such as a pre-ride briefing) which some riders find incompatible with the freedom of riding a bike.

For a smaller group, this degree of organisation may be unnecessary. Just riding so that everyone keeps in sight of each other may be enough, although this does restrict the ability of riders to 'go their own way'. It is frustrating, for example, to overtake a slow vehicle and then have to cruise gently a few hundred yards in front of it until you can see that the following rider has made the pass.

No organisation at all is probably the most dangerous. A lead rider with something to prove, or a following rider lacking the experience and judgement to hold back and wait, can be a recipe for disaster. There is an old biker saying, "ride your own ride" (which is applicable to life as wel as criket as any fule kno), but it's sometimes hard to stick to, when the excitement of a good day's ride is around you, the testosterone is flowing and there's a point to be made.

Then group ride yesterday was pretty sedate, overall. In fact, I would have to say that at times it was boring. When you are following a camper van along a main road at 35 mph, and you know that on your own you could have overtaken that, and the twenty cars strung out behind it, about half an hour ago, it can get a little frustrating. But the lead rider was aware of a couple of inexperienced pillions behind him and I guess that holding back was probably the right thing to do.

We talked about this over lunch, and agreed that we were a pretty relaxed bunch and that rigid rules were for other folks. I tend to agree, but sometimes I think that , especially with mature and sensible riders, the simple matter of starting a rideout with a mention of the destination and "see you there" might make matters a little easier for everyone. The quicker people can get there as fast as they like and have an extra cup of coffee, and the steady-eddies can take their time and ride within their own comfort zones. The option of riding together is still there, of course, but no-one feels bound by it.

Rideouts are great for the companionship and in getting you to go places you might not think of on your own. I think I still prefer riding alone, though, on balance.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Sunday Spin

Triumph Owners' Club, West Wales branch, rideout today.

We met at the Hafod Hotel in Devil's Bridge, where the rest of the gang had been staying overnight after another rideout yesterday. With family staying, I didn't feel able to justify doing both days, so I made an early start this morning and was in Devil's Bridge by 10 am. The weather was glorious in the morning, although it got cloudy and rather sticky by the end of the day. This was the view over Aberystwyth from the A4120 between Aber and DB:

and this was the view over the mid-Wales mountains from the same spot:

Hard to see in this picture (thanks to the crappy camera that comes with the iPhone), but several of these hills are crowned, if that is the right word, with a forest of wind turbines. This view is one of my favourite views in the world, and the desecration of it with these ugly and pointless gestures to right-on environmentalism grieves me every time I see it. Fortunately, I had other things to do so I moved on quickly.

The rideout was supposed to encompass three mountain passes, but circumstances meant that only one was achieved. We had a coffee in a pleasant outdoor café in DB and fuelled up, and then set off over the tops to Nant-y-Moch reservoir:

and then over the mountains to Tal-y-Bont, where we stopped for a break in the excellent White Lion. (Incidentally, is Tal-y-Bont the only place in the UK with colour-contrasting pubs? We were in the Llew Gwyn and next door was the Llew Du, or Black Lion. If there's someone you don't really want to meet, you could say "Meet you in the Lion" and stand a 50% chance of avoiding them. Just a thought.)

The guy leading the trip had intended to take us over a couple of passes in the mountains near Bala which, from experience, I know to be spectacular. In fact, one of them, in a car, can be bloody frightening, as the road is narrow and very steep, and the drop-off to the side is immediate, unprotected and a bloody long way down. I was looking forward to tacking it on the bike which, being narrow, affords plenty of opportunities to avoid the precipitous bits. However, two new members came along, bringing inexperienced pillion passengers, and after a route-finding error cost us a bit of time (and learning that one of the pillions was neither happy nor comfortable), it was agreed to curtail the day by returning to Aber for a cup of tea and a bun on the sea front, followed by a blast back down the coast road. We did cover some of my favourite roads, however, going up to Machynlleth and then up the pass by Cadair Idris and then on to Corris and Dinas Mawddwy.

The ride up to DB was, shall we say, brisk, and the group ride part was sedate. The last 50 miles, after I had separated from the others, was 'progressive', which is another way of saying that I spanked the Bonnie's pretty little metal arse unmercifully. I was therefore quite surprised to find that my fuel consumption for the day was 60 mpg. The Hepco and Beckers stayed in place, and carried everything I needed without drama.

224 miles, 16.9 litres, just over £20 in fuel (petrol in them thar mountains is expensive). Add in a few cups of tea and a bacon baguette in Aber, and the whole day cost well under £30.


Right Result

I think the Dutch are some of the nicest people I have met, and I was supporting (in the rather notional way that football non-fans 'support' anything) the Netherlands tonight. But if they had won it would have been a hollow victory. I don't mind physical play - I watch Rugby, after all - but football is supposed to be about skill, not chopping people's feet off. The right team won.

I read a suggestion, I think in The Times letters page a few years ago, that bears repeating. If a game goes to extra time, any player having a yellow card in normal time would be taken off the field and extra time played only with players who had not received a card. That would go for any substitutions of yellow-carded players as well, obviously. By my guess (remember I am not an expert and was drinking throughout the game) that would have meant 30 minutes of extra time with teams of 6 men for the Netherlands and 8 for Spain. That would have been interesting.

Right, that's all I have got to say about football.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Blame Game

It didn't take long. No sooner has Moat topped himself and the Police refer themselves to the IPCC* and start the inevitable soul-searching investigation, than the criticisms start.

Chris Brown's family (the boyfriend of Sam Stobbart) have led the charge. Staff at Durham prison told Northumbria Police that Moat's ex-girlfriend was at risk, but it seems that no action was taken. Not surprisingly, Brown's family are upset:

Beckie Njie, aged 33 years, who lives with their mother, Sally, in Montem Lane, Slough, Berkshire, said: "We've got a lot of unanswered questions. We are really angry and we want answers.

"Something went wrong and it has cost Chris his life. They should have warned them. How did they allow that to happen when they knew he (Moat) was a danger? That's what I want to know.

"It makes me really angry, they knew about Moat and they should have done something."

Perhaps they should. No doubt, in retrospect, there are a lot of things the Police might wish to have done differently. There would appear to be a lack of professionalism in their failure to take action on a specific threat against a member of the public. My gut feeling, however, is that if they 'took action' on every case of a minor hard man saying he was going to 'get' someone after he got out, they wouldn't be doing much else. Perhaps they had heard it all before. That doesn't excuse their inaction in this case, but it might explain it.

But let's be perfectly clear about who is to blame here. It was Moat (allegedly) who killed Chris Brown, not the Police. He had a shotgun and he chose to pull the trigger, and he ended a man's life. His decision. Whatever the Police did, or did not do, it was he who decided to inflict a mortal injury.

It's the same with social workers. Baby Peter was killed by his mother, her boyfriend and the lodger. No-one else. Social workers did not kill him. Nursing staff did not kill him. The doctors who examined him did not kill him. He was killed by the people closest to him, and no-one else.

People who have jobs which revolve around protecting other people, or helping them, or healing them, have an awesome responsibility. Sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they get it wrong. There can be clinical misjudgements, there can be operational mistakes, there can be dereliction of duty. All of these things need to be addressed, and appropriate sanctions taken.

But sometimes, reading the tabloid press (and television reporting is going the same way), you would think that the doctors in the Baby P case strangled him with their bare hands. Or that the Police in Northumbria carelessly arranged the death of an innocent man by allowing a deranged killer to go on the rampage.

Let the blame for any violent death rest with the person who caused it. We can all choose how we behave. If we choose to kill another human being, we should not expect to be partly exonerated by being allowed to blame 'the professionals' or 'the system'.

Moat (allegedly) was a killer. The Police were, at the worst, incompetent. There is a difference.

*No, not the Climate Change fraudsters, the police watchdog. Funny how they share an acronym. I seem to remember the World Wildlife Fund and the World Wrestling Federation went to court over the same issue.

Hard Cases ...

... make bad law, but they also make the Triumph much more versatile.

I wrote here, here and here about wanting some hard luggage for the Bonnie. I got the pannier frames effectively for nothing, and I was looking on eBay for some hard cases to go with them. Unfortunately, after missing three sets in a couple of weeks, none came up for auction for two months afterwards and I got fed up waiting. On Thursday I ordered a set from Motorbikes and Parts, and they arrived this morning by courier before the first post. If you count in the fact that my order was placed late on Thursday evening, that's effectively 24-hour service, which is as good as it gets. So I'll recommend them as a supplier, based on this purchase.

For the record, the cases are Hepco and Becker Junior, and the 40 litre variety. Of course, they mounted directly to the H&B frames in a couple of seconds and the mounting is as solid as a rock. I debated for ages about whether to go for the 30-litre or 40-litre model. The Bonnie is a fairly small bike and the 30-litre would have looked a little better, I think - from the rear, the cases dominate the bike in a way that they shouldn't. However, before I mounted them I hefted them around a bit and I don't think I'd want them any smaller. My Shoei XR1000 full-face helmet just fits into one with a bit of squeezing and, since the whole point of hard cases is to be able to leave your stuff with the bike when you are away, I would have been disappointed if it hadn't. I have a large head circumference (them branes gotta go somewhere) and take a size XL (62cm), so most people would find a full-face fitted easily. The 30-litre cases are a full 7cm narrower, however, and I doubt very much if you would get any sort of lid in one of those. So I have made a slight sacrifice in looks for a huge gain in practicality.

See what I mean? Mind you, they only appear this wide from the rear. Any other view and they look fine:

First impressions are extremely good. The fit to the frames is exact and in fact they need slight forcing towards the bike before the catches will engage, so the whole thing is in slight tension at all times, which should ensure that the latches stay latched. The cases are made of heavy plastic and have a textured finish which should shrug off a lot of wear and tear. I have clouted them with my boot already while getting aboard and haven't made a mark. In contrast, the Honda cases were painted with soft white paint and showed every scuff and scratch. I even misjudged the width when parking it for the first time and clouted the right case into the corner of the Land Rover. It would have gouged a huge slice out of the Honda's cases, but there wasn't a mark. (I did something similar with the Honda too, so it seems each set of cases needs christening in some way before the brain learns about the extra width to the backside.)

They seem very well-made. The interior is smooth plastic and should clean very easily, and there are straps with snap connectors to stop the load from falling out when you open the lid. The pleasing thing is that they are quite heavy, so they should be durable. There's nothing worse than practical kit like this that feels flimsy. In contrast to my remarks on caravans a few days ago, I feel you could easily get very drunk inside one of these, if you were small enough. There is a note in each reminding the owner that the weight limit for each case is 10Kg, and that the bike must not be ridden at more than 130 Km/h with the cases fitted. Of course, these limits are purely for product liability purposes - an arse-covering exercise - and I am sure they could be exceeded by a great deal in practice. Just as an experiment, I have gone to 130 Km/h and a little beyond, and the bike was stable and handled normally. The 10Kg weight limit sounds low until you realise that is is equivalent to over two gallons of water. I think a few clothes and a bit of camping kit won't worry it too much.

I've said before that I rate Givi luggage highly for fit and quality (if not for style) and this H&B kit is easily as good. It is plain-looking, but that suits me fine. Something that looked like a pod missing from the Space Shuttle wouldn't suit the Bonnie at all. It's supposed to be waterproof, and I will be leaving it on the bike for the time being so we will soon see if that is true.

I'll write a more detailed report when I have put a few miles on the cases.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Filling in the Moat

I'm a news junkie, self-confessed, and I've been keeping an eye on the developing 'manhunt' in Northumberland over the last few days. I haven't mentioned it here, because there was nothing to say.

A headline on the BBC News site caught my eye a while ago, suggesting that Raoul Moat had been cornered and the net was closing in (how many more cliches can I get in here?), so I switched on the BBC News channel.

The spectacle was very unedifying. Jon Sopel was practically wetting himself with excitement that the action was taking place only a few hundred yards from where he was actually standing, in front of long-lens shots of a street with some police cars and some crime-scene tape. The cameras were trying to get a view of the actual scene, and showed, mainly, unsteady shots of foliage. It was like being drunk in an arboretum. At one point, Sopel had spoken to three shaken residents and two other BBC correspondents, and was reduced to interviewing his own cameraman, who may have seen something interesting but wasn't sure.

The police weren't giving a running commentary to the media, which Sopel seemed to think was a dereliction of their duty. Meanwhile, we had shots from the BBC helicopter of the Police helicopter, and then the heat-seeking plane, and then back to the Police helicopter again. It was getting rather incestuous.

He kept returning to a near-hysterical woman whose mother had been told to remain indoors by an armed officer and who was in there alone, and who was only contactable by phone, for yet another "so how do you feel now" piece. It was utterly pathetic.

Our national broadcaster, dumbed down to the level of The News Of The World. It was embarrassing.

The Time Bandits

I have a house full of visitors this week, and quality time with the interwebs is limited. Posting has been, and will be, limited for a few days.

I have, however, sneaked enough time to go online and order a set of Hepco and Becker panniers for the Trumpet. I got tired for waiting for a set to come up on eBay, and although they are eye-wateringly expensive, I'm confident that they will transform the bike from nice to indispensible.

A report will be posted in due course. Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Gay Times

I posted last July about the difficulties that the American Family Association were having with the name of the sprinter Tyson Gay. It seems his troubles aren't over yet:


Via Anna Raccoon, this gem from Jon Slattery's blog:

Drop-cap abuse: sub-editors getting their own back.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

New friend

I mentioned that I was getting a netbook for mobile blogging (and because, to be honest, I just fancied one). It arrived today. I ordered it at the end of last week but, because of a mistake with my payment card, I didn't actually pay for it until Saturday night. So that's effectively next-working-day delivery, which is pleasant. Ordered through Amazon, and delivered from Expansys UK, problem-free.

First impressions are that it is a delight. It's tiny, a bit like My First Computer from The Early Learning Centre, but neat and jewel-like and not in the least bit tacky. It's a very attractive dark blue colour, which the photo doesn't pick up at all (thank you, Apple Corp). The beer can is there for size comparison only, but I'll have to drink it now. The sacrifices I make for my readers, eh? I'm having difficulty working the touchpad (but then I always do) and the keyboard is a bit - er - compact for my workman's fingers, but otherwise it seems pretty good. A damn sight easier to write with than the iPhone, that's for sure. Or a French keyboard, come to that.

It comes with Windows XP, which is an OS I am happy with (the alternative was Windows 7, and I wasn't prepared to risk having that after succumbing to Vista) and will dual-boot to something called Android. I have had a play with this, but I'm not impressed. It is supposedly a fast-loading OS made by Google for surfing and webmail, but I can't even get it to recognise the wi-fi connection, so my experience so far hasn't been positive. It seems very clunky.

I now have a truly portable computer. The laptop won't recognise the new router we installed last year and I have been tied by a cable to one room ever since, so it will be nice to surf the web on the bog, in the bath, or while watching Britain's Got Talent. I've been playing with it on and off all day, and I'm getting used to it.

This post is being written on the new device. But this tiny keyboard - sheesh! I've had to use the backspace key more in the last half hour than in the previous week.

For the technically-interested, it's an Acer Aspire One, with an Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. It has a webcam, 3 USB slots and a multi-card reader built in. It should suit my limited needs.

Normal service ...

... will be resumed, possibly. It seems as though Blogger's comments system is on the blink. I've replied to comments made overnight and seen my replies on the main blog page, and then some of them have subsequently disappeared, along with some of the original comments. I know they are there, because Blogger sent me copies to my email.

Easiest just to wait for it to settle down, I guess.


UPDATE: it seems that the problem is widespread: see here.

If there is no reolution within 24 hours, I will post the comments myself* - I have them all in email.

*If I can, obviously. It's affecting my own comments as well as others'.

UPDATE 2: Looks as if it has been sorted now. I've heard of the same thing happening on many different blogs today, so we aren't being discriminated against! Thanks for your patience.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Well put, Sir

From the comments to a post on Anna Raccoon, which discusses the interference of the state in people's sexuality, a couple of paragraphs that say everything necessary about the way government now sees itself as master rather then servant of the people:

"The Harrier Harpersons of this world are not for equality. They may use that word and others like ‘discrimination’ but they are not for equality. They are for deciding a model for life and saying ‘Anyone who deviates from that is bad’.

For them it is not about leaving people alone to live their lives but about trying to shape people into their idea of model citizens. You must celebrate homosexuality, you must celebrate diversity, you must tolerate intolerance from minorities. They are just cretins with only one principle – they want authority over someone. They will leave alone the people who conform. They will hound and denigrate those who do not. They seem to think ‘What good is authority if you do not exercise it?’"

Will the new lot be any different? I hope so. Thirteen years of "do as you are told" was enough, thanks.

Sign of the Times

This sign has been up in our local shopping area for a while now, but it was only when I saw it today that I really questioned what it was all about.

The area is pedestrianised, and has a row of shops on one side and the river on the other. It's a natural place for people to congregate, and a lot of young people do just that. So what do we do? We stop them doing three things that they would like to do. In the past, I have seen notices like this and my thoughts have been along the lines of: it's a shared space; activities which spoil the space for the majority of people shouldn't be allowed. Now I am thinking otherwise: we stop banning things that might cause a problem, and deal with them if they become a problem.

Let them use skateboards around the shops. If they upset people, deal with that at the time. Let them play ball games. Let them cycle. If it becomes a problem, think again.

Banning these activities before a problem even arises sends out a clear message to the young - we don't really like you and we don't trust you to behave. Is there any wonder they respond by misbehaving? If young people from all walks of life share a single characteristic, it is that they all have a sense of justice and injustice, from the "it's not fair" of the toddler right up to the "I know my rights" of the gobby teenager. It's a good thing, in the sense that if people had no sense of justice and injustice the world would be a savage and uncontrollable place. We are born with this sense, but society often beats it out of people. If all you ever see are signs that people don't like you, why not live up to their expectations?

You won't see many signs like this one in any town or city in Europe. People cycle where they please, kick a ball around if they wish, and skateboard wherever the surface is suitable. Everyone seems to get along just fine.

But then the continentals seem to like and value their children, eat and drink with them, and include them in everything they do. We, it seems, can't wait to be shut of them.

Those signs just depress me.

Sunday, 4 July 2010


After the previous post, it seems that Stevie Smith was wrong - somebody waving isn't drowning, they are just distressed. But it's still one of my favourite poems.

Not Waving But Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Stevie Smith


Now that Summer is upon us, and a lot of us are likely to be close to water, I'd like to pass this around:

Drowning doesn't look like drowning

Briefly, when someone is drowning, they don't follow the movie and TV approach of yelling and screaming and waving their arms in the air. They are silent, and it takes someone who is alert and has knowledge of the drowning response to spot it. Half of the children who drown every year do so within 25 yards of a parent. In ten per cent of cases, the adults nearby actually watch them drown, unaware of what is happening.

"And parents: children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why."

Read the article, and you may be able to help someone this summer who is in danger of losing their life. I have been a swimmer all my life, and I never knew this.

And pass it on.

(Thanks to Subrosa, once again.)

Iraq - it's coming closer

I know I keep banging on about the Iraq war when everyone is saying it's over, and time to 'move on'. But there are so many unresolved issues in my mind about those dreadful years that I can't. Now that we have a new government and our former rulers haven't got quite the leverage they used to have over inquiries and investigations, it's starting to change, and I am starting to take the view that some day the truth will, in fact, be told.

There is an excellent article by Ian Bell of the Scottish Herald which summarises the situation now that Blair's placemen are no longer in power. It's well worth a read, if only because he manages to articulate the anxieties and unanswered questions that I, and I am sure many others, have. A few quotes for the flavour of the thing: apologies for length, but it's worth reading the whole thing. Emphasis is mine.

Good news: Tony Blair is to receive a medal, £100,000 and the thanks of a grateful nation.

Not, sad to relate, this nation, for reasons that no doubt continue to baffle our former prime minister, but you can’t have everything. Just the £20 million accrued since ­exchanging public service for self-service.

The Liberty Medal is being bestowed by the Americans, who like our Tony. They have admired him ever since discovering that he can tell lies in perfect sentences. Blair, for his part, has always seemed happier on the far side of the Atlantic, where they better understand that a man has to do what a man’s gotta do. Especially when he claims to be doing something else entirely.


Each of the men bidding to become Labour’s next leader has discovered – just in time – that the Iraq war was a bit of a mistake and yet, somehow, nothing to do with them. David Miliband, for one, has urged that we all “move on”.

This is the same Miliband who, as Foreign Secretary, rose in the Commons to state categorically (and indignantly) that MI5 had not, and would never, involve itself in the torture of prisoners. He had better hope that the forthcoming Government inquiry into the issue is also happy to “move on”.


Remember how we were all dismissed as mad conspiracy nuts for ever believing that an august personage such as England’s Attorney-General could debase his high office by twisting every principle of international law just to suit Blair’s purpose? That was true.

Remember, also, how we used to be accused of puerile anti-Americanism for believing that Blair had set aside any duty to his country just for the chance to say, “Yes, George, right away, George”? It was all true. Seedy, sad, near inexplicable, but true.

As it transpires, the then Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, told the then Prime Minister the same thing over and over. The advice scarcely justified a fancy salary, given that it was founded on the basic principles of international law, but Goldsmith attempted, for a while, to do his bit.

To wit: you can start a legal war for one of three reasons. Either you are under attack, an attack is clearly imminent, or the UN has authorised your actions for the common good. Goldsmith even went to the bother of pointing out that Saddam’s alleged interest in weapons of mass destruction was not, of itself, good enough evidence of “imminence”. He also said, repeatedly, that UN resolution 1441 had failed to give explicit authorisation for bombing the entrails out of Iraq.

But there was a problem. As though in a deleted scene from a Godfather movie, Blair had already given his fealty to Bush. Parliament didn’t matter, then or afterwards. The British public – yes, all that marching was hard on the feet – certainly did not matter. And the advice of the law officer charged under our sketchy constitution to keep government in the vicinity of the straight and narrow was the least, say the declassified documents, of Blair’s worries.

Goldsmith changed his mind. It amounts to an actually fabulous episode in the annals of governmental gall. Subjected to no pressure whatsoever – for that would be horribly illegal – the Attorney-General realised that Blair had been right all along. Bombing Iraq, as Bush had planned since his first weeks in office – the journalist Bob Woodward’s account has yet to be refuted – was perfectly fine. Such was m’learned Goldsmith’s advice.


So do you remember how we were mocked for calling Blair a war criminal? Such an absurd notion. But the Goldsmith papers, as we must now call them, are beyond ­rebuttal. The Government’s lead lawyer, backed by a host of Whitehall types, stated the fact: a war would be illegal. Ergo, those who waged that war would be engaged in a criminal act. Blair simply thought: better find me another opinion, then.


Last week there surfaced another claim concerning Dr David Kelly, the man who knew all about Iraq and WMD. That individual ended his life, they said, because foolishly he encouraged a BBC journalist to question Downing Street’s claims. Now it is argued seriously that Kelly was physically incapable of cutting his own wrists.

More conspiracy nonsense? Considering what we know now about Blair’s war, I offer one piece of advice: don’t seek an opinion from Lord Goldsmith.

Thanks to Subrosa for the link.

Saturday, 3 July 2010


I am now in a quandary.

My XT trailbike, which was my bike of choice over its stablemates (a Ducati GT1000 and a Honda Pan European) for two years, is now sulking. Regular readers (hi, both of you) will remember that I got the Triumph to replace the Honda as a touring bike, and I fully intended to keep the Yam as my daily driver. When I got the Triumph I expected to use it a lot for the first few weeks until the novelty wore off, and then I assumed I would put it in the garage and keep it for the next big trip.

Of course, it hasn't happened like that. I rode the Triumph a lot, and then I kept riding it a lot, because it's a nice bike. I took the Yam out every week or so, just to keep it turning over, but when it came to a choice, it was the Bonnie every time. It's got to the point where the Triumph feels natural to ride, and the Yam feels awkward - the clutch lever is just slightly loose, and the brakes aren't quite as good, and I miss the way the Triumph picks up its skirts and razzes off down the road to a booming soundtrack. And, of course, it's shabby. That was the point of it - a bike I could ride in any conditions, that didn't need polishing or preening, that would always just be there to be used. But now the torn seat cover and the rusty rims are starting to look ugly rather than scampishly charming.

I had a shopping mission to accomplish today, on Anna's instructions. When the list grew to beyond rucksack size, I realised that I would need to take the Yam as it has a top-case. Of course, it handled the task without any drama, but when I was riding home I was struck by a thought: if the Triumph had a reasonable luggage capacity, I wouldn't use the Yam at all.

I'm scanning eBay for a set of Hepco and Becker panniers to go with the rack I fitted a while ago, but nothing has been on the site for many weeks now. The plan was to get them when a pair became available, in time for the next longish trip. But I am now wondering whether to bring that forward by buying the panniers new, and then retiring the Yam.

I couldn't sell it: there's too much of me in there, and it would be like taking your old teddy-bear to the tip. And I doubt if I would get more than a few hundred for it anyway in its present state ('100% maintained, reliable but shabby' doesn't sell as well as 'uncertain but shiny'). So what to do? I have had a long-term plan for a while to take it off the road at a suitable moment and give it a full or partial restoration. Perhaps that moment has come.

Camping Taxonomy

Jim's comments on the last post got me thinking. As I have said before, people who go camping, whether in caravans, motorhomes or tents, are generally nice people. A busy campsite in summer is a friendlier place than any hotel or guesthouse that I have ever seen. People are willing to chat with perfect strangers, will help each other out, and generally tolerate each other in a way that seems to have vanished from urban life. As far as I am concerned, camping (however you do it) is a Good Thing.

I have camped (in the tent sense) all my life, and succumbed to the luxuries - remember all things are relative - of a caravan only in the last ten years. Over that time, I have noticed a few correlations between the type of person you meet and the mode of camping they choose. Here are a few observers' notes for your perusal:

1. Small Tent

This is usually the accommodation of choice of the student, backpacker or bike camper. To be honest, you can't get anything much bigger than this on a bike unless you go down the GoldWing and trailer route, and we don't want to go there, children, do we? People whose priorities are being there as cheaply as possible rather than showing how wealthy they are, and therefore usually good company. This is the roof over my head when I am away on the bike. GFGN sociability score: 8.

2. Large Tent

Families with kids, or older couple who like the tent thing but appreciate the space. Almost always good to know, as they rarely have pretensions or a competitive streak. Some of the nicest people I have met camping have had something like this. On the site in Brittany there was something like this, occupied by a young Belgian couple with two children under 3. The amazing thing was that they had arrived in a sidecar outfit, pulled by a fully-customised Yamaha FJR1300 with Earles forks and tyres that would not have looked out of place on a Lotus Elise. Here's a photo of them leaving the site, just for the record - amazing bit of kit:

GFGN sociability score: 9

3. Small Caravan

There's a paradox here. Logically, in the light of the general correlation between caravan size and dickheadedness, these owners should be among the angels. But, as I said in the previous post, these things aren't linear and in fact I have never met someone with a really tiny caravan who wasn't a bit weird. I think it's the conscious anti-consumerist attitude (we have a caravan, but it isn't a caravan, you know) that marks them out. We have one staying in a field near us at the moment. It's so tiny they must take it in turns to breathe. You don't get into it, you put it on. I had a quick look while I was cutting the grass there the other day and their car was absent, and not only did they have the fish-symbol and huge stickers with scary quotations from the Bible on the back (and the only book in evidence on a quick glance through the windows was a huge leather-bound, gilt-edged volume with lots of place-markers between the pages, presumably left from morning prayers), but in the back of that caravan was a cage and a parrot. I moved away, fully expecting the parrot to see me and start squawking "Lest Ye Repent ..." Those owners of these bijou residences that I have met have usually been rather arrogantly dismissive of the plebs around them - "Don and I don't really see the need for electricity, do we Don?" - so I try to avoid them at all costs. GFGN sociability score: 2-6, depending on level of weirdness.

4. Large Caravan

I think Jim says all that needs to be said here in his comments to the previous post. Twin-axle, size of a double-decker bus, automatic this and hydraulic that, satellite dishes, barbecues the size of a commercial kitchen range, illuminated cocktail cabinets, all there for one of two purposes: to say "I have more money than you", or "I like camping but I want the experience to be as close to living at home as possible". Now the first we can dismiss as plain dickwittery, but the second needs some unpacking. Seeking comfort and convenience is natural; it's what got us out of the trees and onto inventing stuff like the steam engine and the pop-up toaster. But there comes a point, in my view, where the search for ultimate comfort starts to negate the whole experience. If you can rock up at a campsite, plug into mains electricity and mains water, and have all the conveniences of home, exactly what are you achieving, apart from a different view from your living-room window? (And who goes on holiday to watch telly anyway?) I suppose we all slice this one a different way, but for me there has to be some inconvenience, some reminder that you are not living in 39, Acacia Avenue, or the experience has gone. Take water, for example. The latest "Super Pitches" have a constant mains water supply, and the latest caravans have an inlet so that, once you are plugged in, you have the same access to water as you do from the tap at home. Where's the fun in that, unless you are so elderly and infirm that you can't carry a bucket of water? Water that you have walked to a standpipe for, and carried back (even if it in one of those roll-along things to save your crumbling spine) is water that you appreciate. When you have carried it, you conserve it. It may only be a reversed millimetre down the thousand-mile road Back To Nature, but it's something. It seems to me that some of these huge caravans reach the point where you are not camping at all (but I guess the tent campers say that about any caravan - I know I did - so each to his own). In terms of personality, I have found a simple formula: the bigger the caravan, the bigger the twat who owns it. Owners often like to engage you in deep discussion about the merits of their satellite-finding laser-driven remote-control gadgetry, and frequently with the purpose of pointing out the inadequacies of your own arrangements. GFGN sociability score: 3.

5. Small Motorhome

Chinky, dinky and massively claustrophobic, these are almost always owned by retired couples who use them to avoid taking the grandchildren away. GFGN sociability score: 2.

6. Medium Motorhome

If I had a motorhome (or campervan, or camper, or RV, or whatever you like to call it), I think this would be the one. Large enough to live in, but small enough not to dominate the landscape for several hectares, and generally owned by people who are just - well - going on holiday. There's no statement here, no one-upmanship, no my-paella-pan-cum-griddle-cum-barbecue is bigger than yours. They go fairly well on the roads, so rarely hold people up, but they are big enough for a couple to live in for a week without going mad with cabin fever. Most owners I have met have been pretty nice people, neither censoriously low-footprint nor arrogantly materialistic. Often seen with bicycles on the back, which is generally a good sign. GFGN sociability score: 8.

7. Large Motorhome

We're getting back into the Large Caravan area here, with the additional factor of boasting about torque, turbo-lag and the benefits of automatic transmission and cruise control on the really long journeys, dear. These almost never have bikes attached - there will be a huge rack at the rear which makes the Forth Bridge look flimsy and insubstantial, and it will carry a matching pair of his'n'hers scooters. After all, what's the point of getting away from it all if you then have to pedal up hills? I long to see one with a pair of really funky lightweight trailbikes, like the Yamaha Serow, or something a bit radical like a Velosolex, but no: it's always those little 50cc scooters with matching helmets. GFGN sociability score: 2.

8. Very Large Motorhome

No, really, they exist. You never see these on European campsites, as they simply wouldn't fit down the roads to get there. God knows how you justify taking one of these on the road, unless you have twenty children and they all need access to the built-in football pitch for mid-season training. I have seen some that come close, however (I was pitched next to one for a few days in France) and I can say with all sincerity that the owners were unpleasant, acquisitive morons with no sense of self-awareness or irony, who believed that the rest of the world exists just to get out of their way. These are the ones that often tow cars behind them - usually a Smart Car or a micro-mini, but I have seen Mondeo-sized cars being pulled along, and this year a Mazda MX5. I sometimes wonder why they don't get their house put on a huge flat-bed and tow that too. They wouldn't miss anything then. GFGN sociability score: 0 to get-me-out-of-here.

One final point: all of the above applies only to Brits. Forrin people, and specifically the French, Belgians, Dutch and Germans, seem to be able to go camping in a sensible and calm way, without feeling that they need to demonstrate all sorts of irrelevant aspects of their lives and insecurities. If you get to a multinational campsite and have the choice, avoid the places where the Brits congregate (you will be able to tell this by the 20m-high masts carrying the Cross of St George and the drunken noises after 11 pm), and none of the above will matter. Head for the Dutch enclave if you can - always nice people and generally great company.

I have just seen this, and it might be the way to go ...

Friday, 2 July 2010

Caravans - warning, contains strong language

Don't get me started ...

I've often thought about doing a blogpost on caravans, but then I reckoned that no-one would want to read five pages of foul language followed by a single shot and silence.

So here's just an observation.

I had to do a couple of repairs on the van before we give it a clean and put it to bed until the next time. Both things were the result of such shitty build quality that I am barely able to contain my contempt for whichever 'engineer' thought they would be a good idea in the real world.

The first was the so-called wardrobe rail. This is a metal rail about 18" long inside a tall cupboard, on which it is supposed that you hang your clothes. When we got home, and bearing in mind a couple of rough roads between S Brittany and home, all the clothes were in a heap on the floor. The rail had fallen off. People with carpentry experience look away now, but let me tell you how this rail was attached to the caravan. Each end was in a plastic socket, which was screwed to a batten of MDF, which was in turn glued (a stripe of glue about 2mm wide) to the interior walls of the cupboard - which were composed of 2mm ply. The glue was reinforced with four pins which were thinner than a human hair. I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did. It is now attached with a full-width application of all-purpose adhesive, backed up with four steel bolts with penny washers to spread the load on the ply. And I did the same for the other end, which hasn't failed - yet. You could hang a grand piano off it. Cost - under two quid. Time - about 30 minutes. Aggravation because Swift couldn't be arsed to do a proper job when they built it - massive.

The second was even worse. There is a bracket which carries the outlets to the sink and shower water drains on the side of the caravan. The little plastic covers that blank off the outlets fell off within a year of new, but it seemed OK without them. In France, I plugged in a waste pipe to the outlet and the whole thing came off in my hand. It dangled for the rest of the holiday and all the way home. This bracket was attached to the underneath of the caravan at the side - the equivalent position on a car would be under the sill, immediately behind the front wheel. A position which takes quite a lot of water if you travel in the rain. How were the brackets attached to the caravan body? They were screwed into a piece of softwood, which was then glued to the flimsy side-skirt of the caravan. The wood had simply rotted and left the pipes and outlets to blow around in the breeze. How anyone with experience could imagine that such an arrangement could last more than a few months in British weather is beyond me. I replaced the rotten softwood with treated timber that won't rot for 25 years, and attached it to the caravan body with bolts that won't give way in the wash of the first artic to pass on the opposite carriageway.

I haven't mentioned the towel rail that fell off because someone hung a towel from it, or the fridge door that broke off in someone's hand, or the catches that simply break in normal use, or the retractable blinds that don't retract, and when they are 'professionally' repaired last for half a day before failing again. Or the bed support that broke on the first day of a holiday when someone put their weight on it (that's what beds are for, right?) and was repaired with a proper piece of wood and has lasted seven years without a problem since. Or the weather seals on the lockers that come adrift and cost pounds to replace - and then last six months before coming loose again ("it's a common problem, Sir, there's nothing we can do but replace them and hope for the best"). Or the sealing strips round the windows that apparently don't like sunlight and pull away from the frame and need replacing at God-knows-what a metre plus labour. Or the locker lights that have never worked, but it doesn't matter because from the way they are sited thay don't light the locker anyway. Or the gas heater that failed and needed expensive refurbishment despite never being used. Or the pan drawer in the cooker that always opens while on the move and distributes pans around the floor of the caravan because it's only held shut by a cheap fucking magnet.

I could go on, and I probably will, but not here.

All in all, the caravan reminds me of a line in a James Bond novel (sorry, no idea which one; my internal Bond concordance has failed me), where he describes a motel room as "not a place to get seriously drunk in". The caravan is like that: very nice and tasteful, but if you got drunk in there you would end up sitting in a pile of matchwood with your accommodation open to the skies. I know caravans need to be light, but must the construction be so crappy? The internal joinery of ours makes MFI look like Sheraton. All veneer and surface and 'customer appeal', but lacking the qualities I need to see, like robustness, durability and hose-down ease of maintenance.

I'll fess up here: I like our caravan. It's our home when we are away, it's very modest compared to most, and the bed is large and superbly comfortable. I love camping, and with a caravan you get most of the benefits of 'proper' camping (the fresh air, the ability to do as you please*, and the fact that people who camp are generally nice, friendly and relaxed) with none of the drawbacks or limitations (the bad back from constantly bending and sleeping on a lump, the burnt food from primitive cooking arrangements, the nightmare of putting away a large wet tent on your last morning). I like our caravan; I don't like caravans - the way they clog up the roads, the way people seem to want to turn them into replicas of home with table lamps and potted plants and doilies on the table and satellite dishes and the sheer naffness of some of the names, like 'Senator' and 'Monarch' and 'Aventura' and 'Elite' and 'Connoisseur' and 'Navigator' and - Oh God - 'Rallye' and 'Impression'. Do these people have no sense of irony? "Hey, I might be a balding retired accountant with piles and no sense of humour, but you can tell I am really a hardened world adventurer like Ewan and Charlie because my caravan is called a 'Trekker'.

But our caravan is medium-small, a little battered now, and modest, and I like it that way. In fact, the more knocks it gets, the more I like it. I'll even forgive it the utterly shite joinery, at a pinch. Anna absolutely loves it (I think it's that nest-building thing that women have) and, although I doubt if I would buy another when this one dies of old age, I'm happy with it.

I still feel like a chump when I am towing it, mind you. That's why I have a huge "Think Bike: Think Biker" sticker on the back.

* Many's the time I have sat outside the caravan with a beer and watched the sun go down, and thought "if I was staying in a hotel, I would be in a bar and paying bar prices for all of this". And you try popping out of your room into a corridor for midnight pee in a hotel - they don't like it.

Rude Mechanicals

I haven't had a good fiddle and got my hands mucky for ages - but that's enough about my romantic involvements.

I was out on the Triumph today (I needed an excuse for something, as today has been the first dry day since we got back from France, and I needed just a few bolts and stuff for some minor repairs to the caravan, so taking the bike was a no-brainer) and I heard a rather familiar groaning noise from the rear of the bike. I popped it up on the lift when I got home and sure enough the rear brake was a bit sticky.

Just now, I finished a beer, walked outside, removed the rear brake caliper and pads, cleaned the pistons and the retaining pins back to bright metal, made sure the pistons retracted correctly, replaced it all with nice smears of clean grease, and did a quick test. Sorted.

If I have used a pound's worth of materials (brake cleaner, grease, Loctite) I would be surprised, and the whole thing took me under an hour, including cleaning up.

On the car, in a forrin country, the same thing has just cost me six hundred sodding, twatting, bollocking quid.

Life, eh?

On the plus side, I have just had a text from my eldest, asking if I would be up for a couple of nights camping with her and boyfriend somewhere half-way between us, with camp-fire and a box of wine and some tortillas. Apparently I am now some kind of camping guru since I discussed tents and stuff on the phone with her a few nights ago.

I think I could manage that.


I haven't owned a desktop computer for about five years. I used to have one (in fact, several), and then I bought a laptop on the basis that it might be nice to work/play/waste time in different rooms or even outdoors. Once I had the laptop, I hardly touched the big old thing in the study, and that soon went to join its forebears in the garage, waiting for the right moment to torch the hard drives and take the rest to the tip.

I took the laptop on holiday with me this year, for the first time, as the availability of wi-fi meant that I could keep in touch better, and perhaps update the blog. (I've tried doing this with the iPhone, but it's a bit like trying to cook a five-course meal on a camp-stove - possible, but needing more determination, co-ordination and focus that I can be arsed to give it.) It was semi-successful, but carrying your laptop under your arm on a campsite felt a bit too much like going to work. A lot of people I saw were using these tiny little netbooks, and I felt a teeny bit envious. So I did a bit of hunting around when I got home. And lo and behold, entering my life sometime in the next few days will be an Acer Aspire One in blue, like this:

It's about half the size of the laptop, and I think it looks great. I took a quick mental audit of the stuff I used the computer for (email, web browsing, blogging, home stuff) and it looks as though the Acer will do all of that. If I can get along with the small keyboard and screen sizes, it should be fine. I'll still have the laptop for longer word-processing tasks, spreadsheets, burning CDs and the like, and my monster external drive will hold all the stuff I don't need with me all the time.

I quite like the idea of downsizing in any case - as the old car and bike tuners used to say, "simplify and add lightness". I'm wondering if my Nikon D100 is perhaps too much camera for me now. I have the DSLR body and a range of good lenses, but I only make use of the full capability once in a blue moon; perhaps selling the Nikon and getting a smaller point-and-shoot would be better. There are whole areas of my life that could do with a good, clear-eyed review, and some simpifying decisions made.

I am not selling the Triumph and XT and replacing them with a scooter, though.

There are limits.

Anyone but Murray

Andy Murray is on record as saying that, as a Scot, he supports 'anyone playing against England'.

As an Englishman, I would like to return the sentiment.

Great game, Rafa.

Police state?

I'm a bit behind the curve on this, as everyone seems to have done it to death, but I was watching this video clip again today and thought I would mention it here.

It's a young lad, 16 I think, who was trying to take some photos of an army cadet parade when the police tried to stop him. He started recording the incident and has now published it on YouTube. Have a watch of this, and see it through to the end.

Impressions: first up, I feel admiration for the lad in standing up to what can only be described as bullying behaviour by a man in police uniform. He's only 16 - his voice hasn't broken yet, for God's sake - and yet he refuses to be intimidated and sticks to his guns. Second, I am appalled by the attitude of the police here. They are completely in the wrong (it is not illegal to take photographs of police officers or the armed forces, you do not need permission to photograph anyone in a public place even if they are under 18, and he cannot be detained by a police officer unless he is told what law he is alleged to have broken, which the officer repeatedly fails to do). The Met's own publicly-available policy on this is quite clear:

Guidance around the issue has been made clear to officers and PCSOs through briefings and internal communications. The following advice is available to all officers and provides a summary of the Metropolitan Police Service’s guidance around photography in public places.

Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel.

The Terrorism Act 2000 does not prohibit people from taking photographs or digital images in an area where an authority under section 44 is in place.

There is nothing preventing officers asking questions of an individual who appears to be taking photographs of someone who is or has been a member of Her Majesty’s Forces (HMF), Intelligence Services or a constable so long as this is being done for a lawful purpose and is not being done in a way that prevents, dissuades or inhibits the individual from doing something which is not unlawful.

It looks as thought the guys in Romford missed this particular briefing. If you listen to the police officer's words, he changes tack several times about the reason for preventing the lad taking photographs, and seems to be making the law up as he goes along. The lad is accused, inter alia, of being 'silly', a terrorist, and agitator and a potential paedophile.

And, of course, this isn't an isolated incident. It's happening all the time: Google it. It's as if the Prevention of Terrorism Act has given the police free rein to do as they please - after all, if you object you are a supporter of terrorism, right?

I have always been a firm supporter of the police. They have a difficult and very necessary job to do, and seem to get it right most of the time in tough circumstances. But this kind of thing (and the other bugbear of mine, the relentless pursuit of easy collars while turning a blind eye to the hard stuff) makes me wonder if they are not now beyond democratic control.

I am appalled and very disturbed by what I see here. I will be following Jules Mattsson's case closely. I assume he will be taking this one further. I hope he does.
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