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

- George Washington

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Monday, 30 August 2010

What do you read, my Lord?

Words, words, words.

All my life, I have loved words. I studied their history and derivations, and I taught 18 years' worth of young people how to use them correctly - and I hope usefully too. I loved Viz's letter calling for the banning of Alphabetti Spaghetti on the grounds that the foodstuff could be used to spell rude words. I thought that was parody, but yesterday, in a fabulous example of life imitating art, the News Of The World got in on the act too.

THE News of the World is spelling trouble for Scrabble bosses - after we found the game allows players to use vile racist insults.

We discovered several highly offensive terms - including the N word - in the Collins Scrabble Dictionary and on the iPhone and Facebook versions of the game that can be used by any age group.

Apart from "n****r" and other abusive words for ethnic groups, crude swear words like "f***", "c***" and "w***" are also allowed to be used in the popular board game.

Don't you love the careful, fastidious and family friendly way that the newspaper avoids using any 'rude' terms - this, from the paper that is so well-known for its fascination with extra-marital sex that it is widely known as the 'News of the Screws'?

It's not quite the Alphabetti Spaghetti thing, as the paper isn't claiming that Scrabble should be banned because people could use the tiles to make naughty or offensive words. It's worried that a dictionary and two other applications regard the words it lines up as offensive as being proper English words suitable for an English word game. Let's work this through, using perhaps the least controversial of the words it politely asterisks out: wank.

Is wank a word in the English language? Clearly it is. Do people say wank quite frequently? In my experience, yes. Should people be allowed to use wank as a word when they play Scrabble? The NoTW isn't too clear on this, so let's assume they don't want to interfere in people's private word-games ("Nanny State Gorn Mad") and say: yes, they should be allowed. So what's the problem?

Well, Collins for one is saying that these words are OK! And iPhone! And Facebook! These corrupters of young minds and stirrers of racial hatred say that words like wank are part of the English language! How very dare they?

But they are. As are a whole host of other words that the NoTW might like to see banned for decency's sake. I have a very clear memory of being in the Upper Sixth at school (yes, really), and spending a private study session with a mate looking up naughty words in the OED. The school had the full 13-volume version of the Dictionary, published in 1933. This, in accordance with the mores of the time, did not contain swear words. I loved having the time to look into it, as one word led to another and half an hour could pass before I realised where I was - but when we looked up 'fuck' or anything like that, we were disappointed. The logic behind excluding such words was, of course, ridiculous. But in 1972, the OED brought out the first Supplement of new words that had entered the language since 1933. And this one was compiled under the dangerously modish rule that, if English people used it, it was an English word. I think the first Supplement was A-N, which the astute reader will realise contained 99% of all known swearies. (We were destined to wait until 1976 for 'twat' and 'pillock', but by then I was long gone.) There were six of us huddled over the new arrival, giggling at seeing 'fuck' in print for the first time - and the definition, whew! - when our English teacher walked by. He explained that all these words were just part of our magnificent language, and that our interest in seeing them written down (and our unseemly giggling) marked us out as immature idiots who clearly hadn't ever done the thing we were giggling over. I think the word 'crass' was involved. Point taken, Mr Burke.

So, what would the NoTW have us do? Play Scrabble, but with nice words. And works of reference aimed at assisting players should frown, and say that although 'wank' is an English word, at a pinch, you shouldn't be using it in a nice parlour game, and if you won using a word like that on a Triple Word Score it would be a bit like cheating.

Sorry, chaps. One of the major changes in 20C linguistics was to make it clear that a language belongs to whoever uses it, and all attempts to regulate or control it are doomed to failure. Descriptive, not prescriptive. Look how successful the Académie Française has been in keeping foreign terms out of French. As I was saying to my mate, while eating un bifteck last weekend, while wearing les jeans and un pull.

I Love Europe

I love Europe. I love the people, I love the countries, I love the landscapes, I love the roads, I love the food and drink. In all measurable ways, I am a Europhile. But I'm not all that keen on the EU.

I'm not a little-Englander, harking back to the 'good old days' of the Brishempah. I'm not a racist, believing that all them pesky forriners have come to steal our jobs. But I am a democrat - I believe in the right of people to govern themselves. You know, the kind of thing we fight wars for in other parts of the world. And 27 unelected people governing 500 million doesn't sound like anything close to a democracy to me. Especially when it's so corrupt that the accounts haven't been signed off for, what is it, eleven years now? Twelve?

I believe that Gordon Brown broke his word when he signed the Lisbon Treaty behind everyone's backs, despite having promised a referendum on the Constitution (and when even someone like Valery Giscard d'Estaing admits that they are one and the same, I believe him). I believe that David Cameron broke his word disgracefully when his 'cast-iron pledge' to hold a referendum on the Treaty wasn't followed through. I believe that we have been lied to and manipulated by the European Union and their obedient followers in Westminster.

I voted in the referendum in 1975. I voted in favour of staying in, mostly because of Edward Heath's statement that voting 'yes' would entail no loss of sovereignty for the UK. He lied, of course, and he admitted that he lied. I voted for what was then called the 'Common Market', and that's what it was - a trading agreement between a group of nations. Then it became the European Economic Community. 'Community' implies more than just trading, but we let them have it. Then the European Community (see how the 'economic' got quietly sidelined?). Then the European Union. I would never have voted for what we have today, and yet at no point in that process of mission creep and name-changing were the British people ever asked what they thought. That's not democracy in my book.

I think we should have a referendum on our continued membership, and I think we should have it now. Recent figures suggest that even in the most Europhile countries, support for the EU has reached a 9-year low:

The European Commission says fewer than half of voters across Europe are in favour of the union.

The “Eurobarometer” survey – conducted in May – found only 49 per cent of voters backed the EU, four per cent fewer than last year.

The UK figure is 20%, which should tell you something.

Via Dick Puddlecote, I hear of a new push to get a referendum on the matter. The Coalition has promised that any measure getting more than 100,000 signatures will get a hearing in the House of Commons. They are hoping for 10,000 from an online petition. You can sign up here.

I have. The result of any referendum will be a foregone conclusion, I would have thought, which is why it either won't be allowed to happen, or will be non-binding. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. (And by the way, I have yet to hear of any argument against a referendum which isn't some re-hash of the 'our masters know better then us' theme. If you know of one, please feel free to rehearse it in the comments. Note: not an argument against leaving the EU, on which there are many serious points to be made for and against, but an argument against asking the British people for their opinion.)

Daniel Hannan has some interesting figures here. Two million pounds an hour.

Crop Markings

This exceptionally warm and dry (for recent UK values of warm and dry, of course) has been a boon to another group, apart from bikers: archaeologists. While we are out burning up the miles, carving out the bends and generally enjoying the fun to be had without worrying about waterproofs or wet grip, the archaeologists were up in the sky, photographing crops.

When something, be it a Roman fort or a Bronze Age hut circle, is buried there is usually nothing at all to see. But when the weather gets dry for a long period, the plants above it respond very visibly to the amount of water available to their roots. And where the soil is thinnest (for example over an ancient wall), the plants struggle and look parched. Conversely, where there is more moisture, perhaps in the vicinity of an ancient rubbish tip or post-hole, the plants are greener. And so dry weather makes the presence of historic features underneath the surface landscape much more visible. You don't have to rely on bumps and ditches any more; even land that has been ploughed will betray evidence of building or habitation as long as the ploughing hasn't been too deep.

The Telegraph reports that this has been a bumper summer for archaeology. A new Roman camp has been found in Dorset, and 60 sites were found in one area of East Yorkshire in just one day. I have to say I am really excited about this. I got interested in the Anglo-Saxon and mediaeval periods during my studies, and then was lucky enough to live in East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, where the evidence of our forebears is all around you if you know where (and, crucially, how) to look.

I can remember being ridiculously excited one day while I was cycling home from work one autumn. (Cycling is great for seeing stuff that you miss on faster modes of transport.) I saw something in a field out of the corner of my eye and stopped. The field to the left of the road was brown earth, and had just been ploughed. Across the field, in a dead straight line, was a line of a whiter colour then the rest of the soil, perhaps 3 or 4 metres wide. The Romans had a big presence in the area, and I wondered if it was the remains of a Roman road, and bits of the road base had been brought up to the surface by the recent ploughing of the field. Two days later, it had vanished again as the soil was weathered by the wind and rain. I checked on a map, and sure enough the line of the 'road' headed directly towards York. We didn't have the Internet then, of course, or I would have chased it up further, but a steady job and a young family meant that other commitments intervened and I never researched it.

If I could go back to 18 and choose again, I would choose archaeology.

The key text for me (recommended by a friend when I was an adult) is The Making Of The English Landscape by W G Hoskins (1955, but still in print). Celtic field-systems, lost villages, ruined churches and ancient drainage systems: it will either bore you to tears or switch something on in your head that you won't be able to turn off.

It's archaeo-porn.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

My New Hero

... is a chap called Martin Budden. Allow me to explain.

Today, the TOMCC branch had a rideout organised, to go to the motorcycle races at Tonfanau, near Tywyn in mid-Wales. I was quite keen to go, but the others backed out for one reason or another and I went alone.

Summer's almost gone, folks, as the ride up there was cool and blustery. I wore my new Triumph jacket (had to, really) and kevlar jeans, but for the morning chill I covered these up with waterproof over-trousers and an ex-police hi-viz jacket. That made it almost warm. It was a fantastic ride to Machynlleth and then over the mountains and down the valley past Tal-y-Llyn lake towards the sea. The wind howled up the valley and made progress difficult, even downhill. The racetrack was well-signposted, and I got there just as the third race was coming to an end.

The foutrh race was for classic bikes, from 250 to 500 cc. The bikes were a mix of Honda fours, Suzuki twins, and classic old Brit singles like BSAs and Seeley's version of the Matchless G50 single. And there was an odd man out. For one thing, it had no fairing. For another, it had high and wide trailbike-style handlebars. And it looked an awful lot like a Yamaha SR500 - a single-cylinder road bike with no racing pretentions whatever. It was listed in the programme as 'Yamaha XTT 498cc'. And its rider was performing audacious braking manoeuvres at every corner, and gaining a couple of places each time. I didn't see who won, but later I walked through the paddock and spotted the bike and rider: Martin Budden.

For one thing, Martin is 70 years old. For another, the bike is tatty, brush-painted, and bears the marks of several decades of modifications and experimentations. And for a third, it is taxed. which means it has an MoT certificate. Which means he uses it on the road.

Good man!

He explained that he had had the bike (a standard XT trail bike) for most of its life, and had steadily developed it into a flat-track style racer. He had reprofiled the cam himself (he is a retired toolmaker, which I always think is a bit of an unfair advantage) and uses a 400 main jet in the carb - and I thought a 140 was big for the Bonnie. He has modified the frame with a steeper steering head angle to quicken the steering. Other than that, it's an XT 500 with short forks. Road tyres (he uses TT100s to keep it 'classic') and high, wide bars ("my arthritis won't let me bend forward like I used to"), a tax disc and a daylight-only MoT. In fact, he said, he had just ridden it back from Scotland for today's races. To remind you, he is 70, and in that race he came third. The average speed of the winner of that race was over 80 mph. Average speed.

I told him that he had made my day, and he looked pleased.

I watched out for him in a later race, and I saw the secret of his success. The bike wasn't any faster than the others - in fact, it could only just keep up on the straights. But on every corner he just left his braking hours later than anyone else. I was standing by the hairpin by this time, and for the whole ten laps it was the same: brake later than anyone, cut up the inside, passing 3 or 4 riders, then screw the front of the bike down, wrench those wide bars round, wrestle it through the turn, and bugger off before anyone else noticed. One lap, he was 8th. Next lap, he was 4th. It was an awesome display.

Martin, if you ever read this, you are a hero. And if I am as big an idiot at 70 as you are, I'll be well pleased with myself.

A cold but pleasant ride home, and no photos of the day - iPhone still out of service, and I thought taking a DSLR along would have been a little OTT. I wish I had made the effort.

Triumph Jacket

Yesterday was the usual end-of-season sale at my local bike shop. One of the Triumph RAT forum guys that I had done a ride with contacted me and asked me if I was going. I hadn't planned to, as I'm pretty skint at the moment and, as Oscar said, "I can resist anything except temptation". But we agreed to meet there for a coffee, and so it was.

In the sale, there was a lof of stuff seriously marked down, including some Triumph-branded jackets. I'm always a bit suspicious about bike-branded gear. I mean, look at all the H-D tat that you see on all those bad-ass accountants. The Triumph stuff has always looked fairly stylish to me, but way over-priced. So here were some rather nice Balfour jackets, all sizes available, at £50 a pop, or about £100 off the usual retail price. I tried one on (stupid skoolboy error, that) and it looked good. That is to say, when I saw it on me in the mirror, I wasn't too repulsed. I think the vertical theme helps to, er, refine the figure somewhat.



Now I've got it home, I'm delighted with it. It's a summer jacket, which means it's water-resistant rather than waterproof, and it's light and quite thin. But it fills a gap in my biking wardrobe. Previously, it was either the full winter-weight textile jacket (which is brilliant, but weighs a ton and is stifling on hot days) or my ancient leather jacket, which is too hot on a hot day and too cold on a cold one, and has no armour, but is as comfy as an old armchair. I probably won't get much use out of the new one this season, but I'm glad I've got it. It oozes quality: it's made of Cordura nylon, but the sleeve-ends and Triumph lettering on the back are in a lovely soft black leather, the zips are all heavy-duty and it comes with a zip-out thermal waistcoat which is rather thin, but should make it less of a one-trick pony. And it's got armour at the shoulders and elbows, which the leather jacket doesn't have. It feels comfortable and protective.

I wore it out for the first time today (see next post) and it was very comfy, although on a cool and windy day it certainly wasn't stiflingly hot to wear. A waterproof jacket over the top made it bearable for the morning chill, though.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Literary Analysis

Via Longrider, I came across this site: I Write Like.

You paste a slab of your text in the box, and it performs an instant stylistic analysis and tells you 'who you write like'. (I think that should be 'whom', but this is the Internet, after all.)

So I pasted the last post I made (Ouch!) and got this:


I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


Er, OK.

So I tried with the previous one (iPhone Bodge - update), and got this:


I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


Riiiiight.

Try the one before that (A Bridge Too Far?) - and I got this:


I write like
Douglas Adams

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


Well, I have heard of him, anyway. Pay and Dismay:


I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


So I tried again - same post:


I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


And once more (same post):


I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


I like this!

It all seems a bit random, to be honest.

To find the real answer, I just put the whole blog archive (excluding comments) into Notepad, and then copied it into the box. At last!


I write like
A Complete Dipstick

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


Got it.

(By the way, who is Cory Doctorow?)

Ouch!

There was a link to this video on the Honda Pan European forum that I still visit. A 'friend of a friend' of one of the guys there posted it. He is riding a Royal Enfield in Kashmir and wearing a helmet cam. This is what happens:



The guy survived it with a broken leg and lots of cuts and bruises. I'd say he was pretty lucky to survive it at all.

It's also an interesting discussion point. From what I can see of the situation, there was nothing the rider could have done to avoid the impact once it had started to happen. It was just one of those nightmarish occurrences where it all goes wrong and you are in the lap of the Gods. The camera doesn't show much of the approaching traffic off to the right (which perhaps indicates the rider's head wasn't pointed that way either, which might be significant). I wonder if the speed and direction of the 4x4 for the five seconds before the crash would have given an observant rider a clue about what was likely to happen? We couldn't see that, but I suspect that the 4x4 was going noticeably too fast for the corner and surface. Perhaps a more observant rider might have seen that and taken avoiding action early.

I wasn't there and I can't judge. But if anything similar ever happens to me, I hope that the Fates are smiling on me that day, as they were on Ozzyandbikes.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

iPhone Bodge - update

Disaster!

My sellotape bodge worked for a couple of days, but yesterday I got the 'no SIM installed' message, and I think it's here to stay. I tried doubling the thickness of sellotape, but that didn't work. Taking the SIM card out and replacing it occasionally worked for about 10 seconds, but then the message reappeared.

Cartoon Whorehouse suggested that I did an update to the latest software version. This produced an 'Error (37)' and the instruction that the phone would need to be 'restored'. Clicking the appropriate button put me in a loop with the same messages coming up over and over again. Finally, the phone went dead and wouldn't turn on at all. Just a blank, black screen.

So I phone Orange, using Anna's phone. The signal strength of an iPhone in this house is very poor, and noticeably worse than with other phones, and of course the call dropped off after 20 minutes in a queue and a lengthy explanation to the agent at the other end. I called back, and the next agent took my landline number and called me on that so we could have an uninterrupted call. (And when I got my SIM in another phone later, the first agent had tried to call me back, so full marks to Orange for making the effort.) He went through a lot of diagnostics and then gave up and transferred me to an Apple helpline.

I spoke to a delightful lady called Maria in Portugal, who got me to create a new user account on my PC and use that to restore the phone. This took a long time (it's a slow laptop) and then the phone began to update. The progress bar warned me that this would take about 40 minutes. We chatted aimlessly for a while, but the silences were getting longer, and it was at this point I made my BIG mistake. I asked her if it would be more convenient for her to take my landline number and call me back in half an hour or so. I have worked in a call centre and I know how this waiting was a waste of her and my time, and a bit awkward for both of us, but I SHOULDN'T HAVE LET HER GO. I waited for the half hour to be up, and then another hour, and then I went to bed. She still hasn't called. If she's on lates, then she'll be in work this evening, so I will give her 24 hours before calling them again.

No rush. The SIM card is now in my old Nokia 6310i and working fine. I get a strong signal anywhere in the house and I can go two weeks without a recharge. I kinda like it.

And I'm kinda going off the iPhone.

A Bridge Too Far?

As part of a road construction project near Pontypridd, the contractors have built a series of bridges across the new by-pass to allow dormice to cross the road in safety. These bridges have cost £190,000. I am not kidding.



Now, I am all in favour of helping our fellow creatures live happy and fulfilled lives, but this seems utterly disproportionate. According to the BBC report, the bridges are not needed for the survival of the mice, which live in two colonies on opposite sides of the new road. It's so that the mice can interbreed between colonies and thus maintain a health gene-pool.

According to the BBC:

When completed, the tubes will be solid mesh to stop the dormice falling out. As dormice live in trees as opposed to on the ground, their routes have to stretch between trees instead of along underpasses used by, for example, hedgehogs and badgers.

Well, that's all very nice. I'm just wondering how many nurses we could employ with the thick end of a quarter of a million pounds. Or clinics built. Or schools repaired. Or people's rates reduced. It seems crazy to the point of madness that we should spend this kind of money during a recession on dormice, which are not even an endangered species. Oh, wait ...

The CCW said the threatened dormice had the highest level of protection afforded to them via the EU Habitats Directive.

"To not provide adequate mitigation for dormice would have risked possible infraction proceedings and fines from the European Union."

So there we have it. Because some eco-loons in Brussles think that dormice are great, the poor bloody taxpayers of Wales have to fund a wire bridge so that these little critters can get their tiny legs over. And as we know the Great British Approach to all EU regulations is to gold-plate them and then send the bill to someone else, while shrugging the shoulders and saying "we had no choice, EU regs, you know how it is".

Does anyone seriously imagine this happening in the countries most central to the European ideal, like France and Germany? Of course not: they would be quietly ignored.

Wait, though: there's no need to worry:

The Welsh Assembly Government has funded the bypass, including the dormice bridges.

That's OK then. Someone else is paying. I mean, the money that the Welsh Assembly has is nothing to do with us, is it? It's like a gift. Good old Welsh Assembly. Thanks, boys.

I thought for one minute that we would be paying.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Go Vikings!

I mentioned a week or so ago that the Danes are a bunch of nutcases. Further proof, if that were necessary, comes from yesterday's Wired:

A team of Danish volunteers has built a rocket capable of carrying a human into space, and will be launching it in a week's time.

The rocket has been built with money from sponsors and private subscription. It is scheduled to launch on 31 August.

The rocket is named HEAT1X-TYCHO BRAHE, and its first test flight will carry a crash test dummy, rather than a human, so that the safety aspects of the design can be analysed.

Like the name, and the concern for safety issues.

It'll launch from a floating platform that the team has also built, which will be towed into the middle of the Baltic sea by a submarine called Nautilus that the pair built as their last project.

Stunning. Building your own submarine as a launch vehicle.

In response to one question asking what the chances of the person inside dying are, they replied: "Unlike Columbia we're not moving at orbital speeds so 'dying a gruesome death burning up on re-entry' with our kit has a very low outcome probability."

Well, they've got all the jargon sorted.

Despite that, the rocket will still break the sound barrier, and subject the pilot (who is forced to stand inside the capsule) to considerable g-forces.

I hope they give him one of those leather straps like they have on the Tube.

If successful, Denmark will be the fourth country to put one of its citizens into space, following the USA, Soviet Union and China, and the first in the world to do it without government funding.

Great idea, but 145 days too late, I think.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Pay and Dismay

I see from the Telegraph that local councils are considering introducing workplace parking levies of around £250 for people who park their cars at work. It looks as though it will be a charge on the employer, who may or may not pass that charge on to the employee.

The power to introduce these levies was given to councils by Labour ten years ago, but none have considered using it so far. Now the squeeze is on, councils are starting to regard these levies as a legitimate revenue stream. The original purpose of the powers was to combat congestion, but hey, we're in tough times, you know?

They might have the power, but what in hell's name makes them think that this is just or fair? If a company owns land and allows its employees to park there, it is no business of anyone else that they should do so. Levying a sum like £250 per employee will be a significant drain on a business's finances, just as we are in the middle of the worst recession for 50 years. If the company chooses to pass this cost onto employees (and I am sure that in the current climate they will), then that is equally unjust. If I take a job with a certain employer on the basis that I will be allowed to park my car free at my place of work, then that is the basis of my contract. How any council can think that it has the right to decide to intervene in a private arrangement between worker and employee is beyond me.

It's one thing in a city with good public transport, but here in Pembrokeshire there is often no alternative to the private car for most people. In a previous job, one of my responsibilities was transport planning, and I worked with a consortium of local authorities and transport companies to try to reduce congestion in the area and tackle vehicle emissions. It was very notable that the local authority people were most interested in 'forcing' (their term) people out of their cars, an approach that I resisted strongly. There was one lady (sandals, humourless, you get the picture) who was extremely anti-motorist, and I challenged her to use all her resources, including some very clever software, to design me a route to work, five days a week, using public transport. I gave her a week, but she had to admit it wasn't possible. (And she wasn't keen when I asked her what her view was on the council's recent purchase of some prime town centre land to provide a free car park for council workers, either).

In a rural county like this one, a parking levy will be another tax, nothing more. No-one will be able to choose not to pay it.

If bike parking is exempt, and this measure encourages some people to use two wheels rather than four, then it may do some good, but I doubt if that is the intention. Not if it's a 'revenue stream'.

Councils - if money is tight, try cutting a few diversity co-ordinators and play strategy outreach workers before you land the poor bloody workers with yet another reason to hate you.

Buses run on fresh air and sunshine

Seen at the climate change protest in Edinburgh:



I'm appalled at the level of scientific ignorance that this poster betrays, but I'm not surprised. They don't seem to teach proper science in schools any more - it's all propaganda rather than hard knowledge and rigorous theory. This is the result.

In fact, this is so horrendously, wilfully ignorant that I wonder if it's a spoof.

iPhone Bodge



I had had the iPhone a couple of months when we went to France. While we were over there, I started getting the message "SIM card not installed". I didn't pay a lot of attention, as a restart always cured it, and assumed it was something to do with connecting to the Orange FR network (thinking about it, of course that doesn't make sense). I went back to Carphone Warehouse with the problem and they assured me that now I was back in the UK it wouldn't happen again.

Well, it did, a few times. Today, it happened again and this time nothing I could do would cure it. I Googled the issue and came up with a solution that has worked for me, so far anyway.

The SIM card fits into the top of the phone in a little tray. You can pop the tray out by pushing a paperclip down the tiny hole on the top. Clean the SIM contacts as a first step. My SIM card was filthy and the tray was covered in dust, presumably because unlike in other phones, the card lives quite near the outside world, rather than under the battery or somewhere safe, and all the crap from your pocket ends up in there. I gave the contacts a wipe with a cloth, dusted everything off, and put it back. Nothing. Even resetting the phone wouldn't bring the SIM back.

Then I did the next thing that I found in Google: put a small piece of sellotape on the back of the SIM card. This worked straight away, and the phone has been fine ever since.

My guess (and I am no expert in these horrible devices) is that there is nothing in the structure of the phone that provides positive pressure on the card, and so the contacts are not firmly pushed against the terminals in the phone. In most other phones I have been inside (and that isn't many), the SIM card has been clipped in place with something to push it securely into contact with the phone terminals. I can't see how the little slide-out tray in the iPhone can do this. The sellotape just gives the card a bit more thickness, and whatever is holding the card to the contacts is doing it a bit more firmly.

The iPhone is a very clever bit of technology, but in some ways it's just crap. It's very poor at getting a signal, and I've lost count of the number of calls I have missed because of the feeble ringtone. Today's total waste of time suggests that it's not very well-designed in terms of mechanical integrity, either. Sometimes I seriously think of resurrecting my faithful Nokia 6310i, which is currently in the car glovebox as an 'emergency' phone. Built like a brick, and with no funky features, but a loud ring, easy texting, crystal-clear sound and an ability to find a signal where no other phone can. Drop it, sit on it, throw it at the dog, and it just keeps working. Why Nokia stopped making them I will never know.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

West Wales Motorcycle Show, Day 2

As predicted, the weather today was much better - great, in fact - and the numbers attending the show were much improved. In fact, most of the day was very busy, and there were a lot more vintage bikes there, too. Half of the hall was old bikes, and the other half was old cars. There was a lot to see, and the stream of visitors past our stand was constant.

We got a lot of interest in the Triumph Owners' Club, and have probably signed up several new members. We had a policy of asking anyone who paused momentarily in front of the stand "do you have a Triumph?" An astonishing number said 'yes'. Of course, then the game was to sign them up. Of those who answered 'no', quite a considerable proportion said they used to have one, and stayed for a chat about the olden days.

News item: 86% of the population of Carmarthenshire used to own a Triumph T140R (six of which were the first one off the production line) which they sold for a song and which they bitterly regret getting rid of, as the bike would be worth millions today, seen 'em on eBay, they knew how to make bikes in them days, no mistake, aye, yes.

For someone who likes both motorbikes and chatting to strangers, this was a very pleasant way to spend a day.

I have to admit that a lot of the interest in the club stand may have been generated by the appearance of our Club Secretary in leather hot-pants and fetish footwear. Apologies for the poor photograph: there were better views, but snapping them could have got me a very sharp toe in the sensitive bits.




I had a long chat to the owner of an unrestored but roadworthy Standard 8 saloon car. This was the first car I properly remember from childhood, and looking in at the back seat brought back memories of long journeys (before they invented motorways) to various holiday destinations. No seat belts - just a blanket to cushion a youngster from the crashing of the crude suspension. And one detail I had forgotten: no boot. There was a luggage space in the back, but you had to reach over the back seat to get to it. This one was black, whereas Dad's was light blue. 603 EHN, where are you now? No longer known to the DVLA, that's where, which suggests scrappage. This makes me sad.

I didn't get out and about as much today, as the stand was busier, but I did get to see the Wall Of Death. I hadn't seen anything like this for many years, so it was worth a punt of £3 (and a bit more change when they pleaded for help with their 'accident fund' as "no insurer in the world will take on the risk of the incredibly fast and dangerous work we do"). Yeah, right, but I threw a few bob down anyway.

The bikes were small Honda trailies, which were capable but dull, but the star of the show was a 1923 Indian Scout, which was used for the main part of the display. Low, light and incredibly loud, with worn leather saddle and padding, it was a genuine working antique. The rider mashed the throttle to create plenty of backfires that made the kids scream, and the show was exciting and, predictably, very short. What made it a bit surreal was the riders' dress. No circus outfits here: they were all young men in their early-to-mid twenties, wearing normal white shirts, blue slacks and knee-length horse-riding boots. They looked like Man At C&A on a stag weekend.

The Scout is at the top of the picture.



Life has its ups and downs. Despite it being almost impossible to find a job at the moment, I have been chosen ('elected' would be incorrect) as Chairman of the club, effective immediately. I think the role is largely ceremonial, but it does mean that I will have to organise things when the Sec and her husband go to Australia for six weeks later in the year. And I will be hosting a quiz night in January at the first club meet of the New Year. I shall look forward to that; I have done a few of these before, and I can be wicked.

Next weekend, a few of us are journeying Northwards to take in a race meet at Tonfanau, near Towyn in mid-Wales. Provided the weather stays good, that should be a decent day out. More on that later.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

West Wales Motorcycle Show, Day 1

Held today and tomorrow on the Showground at Carmarthen in West Wales. Here's a few thoughts about Day 1.

Rain overnight, kind-of-dry at 8 am. So I set off with waterproofs in the panniers, but otherwise dressed for a dry ride. Correct decision - the rain didn't start until 9 am, when I was safely tucked in the exhibition hall with a cup of coffee from someone's flask. But then it bucketed down. The attendance early in the day was poor, both bikes for the show and day visitors. The hall I was in was half empty of bikes. The low day visitor numbers are understandable - anyone looking out of the window at 9 am would have reconsidered any plans to spend the day walking round a large field watching people get soaked. The absence of bikes, too - if you have spent the last three years painstakingly restoring a 1934 Blenkinsop Bastard 350cc side-valve to better than original condition, you aren't likely to want to ride it through a rainstorm just so some other people can stand around criticising the quality of the work ("no, the original black was much blacker than that") and then have to spend a full week cleaning it afterwards.

However, there were some completely superb bikes there. Half-way through the afternoon, I got a mate and took him to the centre of the hall. "OK," I said, "if you could have any of the bikes in this room, which would it be?" He named his three choices, and his order of preference, and curiously they were exactly the same as mine. We both loved a very tidy Yamaha RD400, which would remind us why two-strokes are such stonking fun:



Second place went to an immaculate Triumph T110 Trophy, with a fabulous, if optimistic, registration number:



And for us, the Best In Show was an 850 Norton Commando from 1977:



This bike was described as unrestored - in other words, the immaculate condition of the entire bike was due to years (33 of them) of careful ownership and obsessive cleaning and maintenance. It even had the original paintwork. If that is all true, then the bike is an astonishing example of how well a bike can last if looked after. I have seen six-month-old modern bikes looking in worse order. We agreed that it was a true icon of motorcyling history - a proper man's motorbike. Even so, the relatively puny 65 claimed bhp and the skinny rear tyre would put it in the also-rans today. I can remember when these bikes were first introduced, and we all stood back in awe of their sheer size and potency. Today, it doesn't look particularly big (it's about the same size as the Bonnie) and the power output is modest. Just for comparison, a modern equivalent might be the new BMW S1000, which has a massive 193 bhp and weighs just 404 lb compared to the Norton's 440 lb. That's over three times the power-to-weight ratio.

Gulp.

The Triumph Owners' Club stand attracted a fair bit of interest. We all had our bikes on display (which was great as it meant they were near at hand and in the dry for the whole day) and plenty of people stopped by for a chat. We gave out application forms and think we may have a couple of new members as a result.



Here's some of the crew:



Other features of the show were an excellent display by the Royal Artillery Motorcycle Display Team, which was both spectacular and amusing, a falconry display (these are getting to be a bit of a cliché now), and a Wall Of Death which curiously I never heard and therefore missed seeing. Maybe tomorrow.

Rain late in the afternoon meant full wets for the journey home. The weather forecast for tomorrow is good, so I am hoping that attendance will be better.

Oh, and I can't leave this without mentioning a gorgeous little Triumph Tiger Cub, which was guarded by a Cub-sized Cerberus:



Awwww - for the dog and the bike.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Men and tents

Not 'men', as in blokes, but 'men' as in sleeping spaces - 2-man tents, 4-man tents and so on.

Following from my last post -

The Backpacker tent I used for Denmark and Aberystwyth is designated as '2-man'. I know it's a commonplace to say that you should always deduct one from the description to get the real number a tent will hold, but this is ridiculous. If I roll out my sleeping mat and throw in my sleeping bag, you can't see the tent floor. I can end up touching both side walls during the night as I move about, and my feet are pretty much confined to one place by the slope of the sides and end. It's a 2-man tent if, and only if:
  1. You are both midgets, or
  2. You are half-way up K2 in a snowstorm, and getting close, really close, did-you-have-to-have-so-much-garlic close to your companion is the alternative to dying of exposure, or
  3. You are filming Brokeback Mountain, or
  4. You are a 'couple', and sleeping wrapped together like spaghetti is your usual modus dormendi.
And if (4) applies, don't think of any al fresco hanky-panky. There ain't room for any waggling body parts or bedroom athletics. Insinuate yourselves in there feet-first, sleep if you can, and draw lots for who does the toothpaste trick first in the morning. And hope neither of you needs to pee in the middle of the night.

On the other hand, if you are both under 5' 6" and seven stone, give it a go. Be my guest.

But for normal purposes, like going camping with a mate and sharing the weight of a tent between you, a '2-man' it is most certainly not.

Likewise the supposedly '3-man' Vango. It's taller than the Condom, which makes things easier for moving about, and it floor area is much bigger. Note the dimensions:



In theory, that's 210cm lengthways for lying down, and the location of the internal pockets just inside the doorway suggests that this is the way you are intended to align yourself. So how come I, at a magnificent 182cm in my socks, can't actually fit in that way? If I lie that way, my feet are brushing against the tent inner at one end and my head is touching the door panel at the other. Where did that 28cm go? Well, partly it's the way tents are made. The inner cell walls sag a bit (they are suspended on elastic and are not tight) and the groundsheet curves up a bit, and between them they take some of the length away. And partly it's the old fear of allowing anything to touch the tent fabric from the inside - too many nights under proper canvas, where an incautious finger on the tent inner would lead to a steady trickle of rainwater down the inside and eventually into your sleeping bag. It's irrelevant to a modern tent with a waterproof fly and a suspended liner, but old habits die hard. I've taken a tape measure to it, and strictly there is 210cm of floor there if you flatten everything out. But I can't sleep that way. Strangely, the 200cm widthways is spot-on.

So I will be sleeping sideways, if you see what I mean. I've lounged around in there, and there is certainly space for one other person. Maybe not my riding buddy here:



... or my internet friend, known as f/23/SoCal, not sure why ...



... but certainly for anyone I am likely to want to share a tent with. Two people, with sleeping bags, mats, personal effects and a normal-range BMI, yes. Three people - no*.

I wonder if these tents advertised as '8-man' really only hold seven? I need to find out.

I don't know why tent manufacturers play this game. Perhaps it's the same as the way car and bike makers always headline the top speed. It's what the thing will do, at the extremes of its design parameters. Hardly anyone ever gets there, but it's nice to know you could. The same with tents: this is the number of people it is physically possible to cram in. Sane users will make do with less. It's not a problem, as everyone knows the trick and no-one is fooled into thinking that two people really could spend six weeks camping together in a Eurohike Backpacker and not want to kill each other after three days.

It's irrelevant to me anyhow, as it looks like I will be camping alone for the foreseeable future (although Anna did look in and made positive noises - who knows?). But for one large-ish guy, a three-man tent seems to be on the spacious side of the minimum, but not so big as to be embarrassing. I think I could have some very comfy nights in there.

* unless the other two were pocket-sized double-jointed blonde twins with a thing for older guys, then I might reconsider.

New Tent




Vango Beta 350.

I was camping in my Eurohike Backpacker (called my 'sleeping condom' by my Danish friends) at the Aberystwyth show. I have made a few adjustments to my kit and methods, mainly a better sleeping mat and bag, and I had a pretty comfy night there. However, I was berthed next to a couple who had a tent I really liked - the Vango Beta 350. Not only did it have bags of room in the sleeping area, which I like, but the porch was huge. They managed to get all their bike gear in there (my panniers had to stay outside overnight), but there was also room for a couple of camping chairs and the nice lady who agreed to give me 'the tour' demonstrated that there was easily enough room for an adult to sit upright in the chairs and have some headroom.

This is something I have been looking for in a tent since last year. I love being out in the open, I loove the cameraderie of camping, but even when my bones were younger I didn't like the constant kneeling and hunching that a traditional tent makes you do. Being able to sit in a proper chair to relax with a beer would make the world of difference. The Beta seemed to be a good compromise between that level of comfort and a reasonable size for putting on the back of a motorbike. So I started looking. The RRP is £95, but I didn't want to pay that. There were eBay sellers offering them new for less, but research into their feedback didn't inspire confidence. Eventually I found one from a private seller, which was little used, in perfect condition and open to offers. I made one very silly offer, which he rightly declined, but my next offer of £38 was accepted. The tent arrived last week.

I've got it up on the lawn right now. I put it up when it was dry, just as a trial run, and it went up easily. It's the cheap end of the Vango range, but it's a Vango nonetheless, and the quality is good. Everything is well-though-out, well-made and as it should be. Then we had a couple of days of heavy rain. Excellent!

(Digression: I have a funny thing about rain. I love being under a shelter when it is pouring down outside. Not indoors, but in some kind of shelter where I can see and hear the rain and feel the cool air, but not get drenched. Tents fulfil this set-up admirably. Or sitting by an open window in a thunderstorm. Or hunkered down in the back of an estate car with the hatch open, checking in people on a rally I organised. Or under the verandah outside our local supermarket while the rain hammers down on the car park. Even a humble umbrella scratches the itch to some extent. I can trace this feeling back very precisely, to being very small, and taken in a pram by my mother on a shopping trip. The hood was up, and a blue cover was over the pram itself, with a small lip at the head end to keep water away from the pram's valuable contents. It was raining hard. Meanwhile, I was in there, wrapped in blankets and totally dry, watching everyone scurrying through the wet streets. It was the apotheosis of 'cosy'. We moved from that area before I was a year old, so that my first real memory. And at 56, it still gives me a kick. Funny, huh?)

So when the rain came, I scurried out and sat in the tent. I told Anna I was checking that it didn't leak, but we know better, don't we, children? Of course, it was 100% waterproof.

Last night we had some strong winds. Wooden garden furniture was blown over, and all the bin lids were scattered at random round the garden. In the middle of the night I remembered that when I put up the tent it was only a temporary trial thing, and I had only pushed the pegs lightly into the ground. Amazingly, it was still there this morning, but as I was having breakfast a huge gust came along, ripped the pegs out at one end, and the tunnel structure gracefully collapsed. It was easy to re-erect, and the pegs are now in at full depth. The dog loves the porch - I can't go in it without an escort these days.

In short, very pleased with the tent and looking forward to going away somewhere and using it properly. I don't know when the next opportunity will arise, but when it does I will post a performance report.

Technojewellery

I've just had a short wait in the local Out-Patients waiting room. Opposite me was a man of about 60, unshaven, dressed in tracksuit and anorak, with sandals on.

And a Bluetooth earpiece in his ear.



Why is a certain type of man so attracted to this kind of gadgetry? It's as if they are saying "I have so many friends/clients/MI5 contacts who need to get to me urgently, so I need to be permanently contactable, even when I am busy and using both hands. Now, please let me through." All they do is make you look like a taxi driver. Or a refugee from Star Trek.

And they remind me of something. What was it ... Ah yes, now I remember:

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Welsh Spelling

Living in the English-speaking part of Pembrokeshire (often called 'Little England Beyond Wales') doesn't mean that we don't get the full translation of everything into Welsh, even when it's totally unnecessary. I don't have a problem with that, even though this part of Wales hasn't been Welsh-speaking since the 11th Century.

But occasionally, the insistence that absolutely everything has to be bilingual leads to some amusing moments. The illuminated signs on the tops of some taxis, for example, which have the legend TACSI. Historically, the Welsh language doesn't have a letter 'X', so TACSI it has to be.

And like all ancient languages, Welsh has not been shy about nicking lexical items wholesale where necessary. There's a garage in mid-Wales that I used to pass often, with a truck parked outside, whose sides and tailboard advertised TEIARS, SIOCS, BRECS, EGSOSTS. The area it was in is totally Welsh-speaking, so there is a kind of justification for that. Incidentally, for those unfamiliar with Welsh orthography, those spellings indicate a pronunciation exactly as you would expect from their English equivalents.

Then there was this peach from our local Tesco:



I wonder if the Welsh Tories have told Eric?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

New tyre

I have just replaced the rear tyre of the Bonnie. The last run around South Wales killed off the old one - tread in the centre was non-existent.

I ordered a new one from Pneus-Online, a firm I haven't used before. The tyre arrived yesterday and it went on today, no problems. Most web suppliers were asking £100 to £120 for a Metzeler Lasertec 130/80/17, but these people were doing it for £72 with free delivery. At that price, it would be rude not to.

I took the opportunity to do a bit of housekeeping at the same time. I took the rear shocks off the bike, to allow the swingarm to drop fully and make it easier to get the wheel out. While it was out, I did a surgical clean of the swingarm area, which is usually hard to get to, and gets caked up with black chain grease and general road crud. Once it was clean, I brushed on some Waxoyl to the bits I know I can never get to during an ordinary cleaning session. The swingarm is only painted, and it's in the way of a lot of spray and grit from the rear wheel, so a bit of heavy-duty protection isn't a bad idea. The Waxoyl is matt-black anyway, so it doesn't look out of place.

I also cleaned up the wheel while the tyre was off. The Bonnie wheels are really nice, with chrome rims, stainless spokes and very shapely cast hubs. A bit of time with Gunk and a paintbrush, then a hosedown, made the wheel look great. In fact, Anna had a look out of the window and asked if I had been buying new wheels. It all went together again with a dab of grease here and there, Loctite on all the essential bolts, and a tour with the torque wrench to finish off. It looks fabulous.



I had a bit of a challenge with balancing the wheel. I had bought a pack of wheel weights and used the jig that I had made when I rebuilt the XT rear wheel last year. The weights came in 5g and 10g varieties, but I found that the 10g were too wide to fit on the flat area of the rims. I ended up using all the 5g weights, and even had to stick a couple of 10g ones on the flat between the spokes to get the balance perfect. When I get some double-sided tape I will rescue the old 5g weights and stick them on in the correct place, and take off the 10g ones, as they look distinctly odd. The theory is that you mount the tyre with the red spot adjacent to the valve, where a slightly lighter part of the tyre will counter the extra weight of the valve. Then weights will need to be added either next to the valve or directly opposite. In my case, the weights had to go at 3 o'clock to the valve position, which is a bit strange. No worries - the wheel now has perfect static balance.



I went out for a few miles to start scrubbing in the tyre and the bike felt much better. The handling had started to get a bit wayward as the rear tyre flattened off, but it is back to the usual precision now. And the gearchange is much better now that I have adjusted the chain properly - it was getting a bit slack, but I didn't bother doing anything about it as I knew it was all coming apart soon anyway.

It is recommended that new tyres are scrubbed in by taking things gently for about 100 miles, and gradually increasing the lean angle until the whole tyre surface has been roughened up by the road and all the release compounds scrubbed away. I think I got about half-way to this in 15 miles. I now have inch-wide chicken strips, which are due to be slimmed down over the next few days. Should be fun.

The rear tyre went from 3.5mm tread in the centre to zero in 2000 miles. The tread on the new one is 7mm, which implies a tyre life of 4000 miles. But I have always found that tyres wear far more quickly towards the end of their life, so I hope it will be a bit more than that. The front has gone from 3mm to 2mm in the same period, so it won't be long before that will need changing too. The tread looks very clear and defined, but when you get close there isn't too much on there. That will definitely be replaced before winter.

White Liberals and Kafkatrapping

Those of you not interested in politics and philosophy, look away now.

I came across two things recently that impressed me greatly. The first is a blogpost (well, more like an essay) by Edmund Standing, on the topic of 'white liberals'. It's as good an assessment of the Guradian-reading, bien-pensant mindset as I have seen, and I recommend it to you. It's long, but here's a flavour of it:

The white liberal is an unhealthy type of creature that you will undoubtedly have encountered, if not in real life, certainly via the media. By ‘liberal’, I do not mean simply someone who has a generally liberal outlook, in the sense of a ‘live and let live’ philosophy, nor do I mean liberals in the sense of the classical liberals of the conservative tradition. By ‘white liberal’, I mean a white Western individual who is likely to come from a middle class background and have a university education, considers him or herself to be both ‘left-wing’ and socially ‘liberal’, and almost certainly reads The Guardian or The Independent. White liberals espouse an artificial and pretentious form of ‘egalitarianism’, a patronising and hypocritical approach to ethnic minorities and non-Western cultures, and – in a re-hash of the notion of the ‘white man’s burden’ – devote themselves to a delusional Messianism in which they seek to ‘save the world’ through protesting against war (in real terms, protesting against non-white people having a chance at freedom and democracy), Israel (the one truly liberal society in the Middle East), globalisation (thereby opposing the one great vehicle by which poorer nations can develop), and so on, while making themselves feel and look ‘good’ by flaunting their pious support for campaigns to end poverty in the Third World (which will do no such thing, as Dambisa Moyo, Stephen Pollard, Marian L. Tupy, and others rightly point out ), and boasting about how ‘progressive’ they are by showing ‘solidarity’ with genocidal Islamists in Gaza.

White liberals, despite viewing themselves as intelligent and open-minded, are actually some of the most illiberal and narrow-minded people in society today. Their reactions to the idea that anyone might think differently to them range from gut-wrenching despair to pure hatred of the kind seen in the most fanatical of ‘true believers’. White liberals are, by and large, incapable of serious adult debate (preferring innuendo and accusations of bigotry), or of dealing with the fact that not everyone will agree with them (despite their supposed love of pluralism and a multiplicity of different ‘voices’), and tend to see any view which deviates from their cultic leftist script as a form of irredeemable moral evil.

The comments are worth a read, too.

The second is another essay/blogpost (shorter than the first one) which introduces a new term - 'Kafkatrapping'. This is a form of argument often used by the Left, in which by refusing to acknowledge your (for example) racism, you are proving that you are a racist. It makes any argument unwinnable for the non-Left person, provided that he/she doesn't see what is being done and acquiesces in the fallacy.

Good causes sometimes have bad consequences. Blacks, women, and other historical out-groups were right to demand equality before the law and the full respect and liberties due to any member of our civilization; but the tactics they used to “raise consciousness” have sometimes veered into the creepy and pathological, borrowing the least sane features of religious evangelism.

One very notable pathology is a form of argument that, reduced to essence, runs like this: “Your refusal to acknowledge that you are guilty of {sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…} confirms that you are guilty of {sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…}.” I’ve been presented with enough instances of this recently that I’ve decided that it needs a name. I call this general style of argument “kafkatrapping”, and the above the Model A kafkatrap. In this essay, I will show that the kafkatrap is a form of argument that is so fallacious and manipulative that those subjected to it are entitled to reject it based entirely on the form of the argument, without reference to whatever particular sin or thoughtcrime is being alleged. I will also attempt to show that kafkatrapping is so self-destructive to the causes that employ it that change activists should root it out of their own speech and thoughts.

Interesting idea, and again the comments are worth a look.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Good Riddance

I see from the BBC today that the Government is to outlaw wheel-clamping on private land. I heartily approve. I have every sympathy with a landowner who finds that strangers are parking on his or her land and depriving them of access to their own property, or taking spaces that were meant for the person's customers, or whatever. But the way in which it is done, and the grossly disproportionate 'fees' that have been, quite legally, charged by the clampers, have made a mockery of any justness of the activity. 'Release fees' of hundreds of pounds, towing away within hours of the offence, criminally-high charges for 'storage', and always the thought that your precious car is in the hands of people who don't care a toss about it, have made clampers into a kind of urban ogre.

The people who are wheeled out to represent the 'industry' are always well-dressed, clean, polite and reasonable. But those of us who have met the operators know that they are the other side of the coin - bullies who rely on most people's fear of confrontation and dislike of 'trouble' to ensure that they can grab the cash with ease.

Anna once parked behind a shop in our local town, in a place where she has parked many times before without incident. She knew the lady who owned the shop, and assumed that parking there for a few minutes was OK. Unfortunately, a lot of other people thought the same thing, and the shop's owner had put up a small 'No Parking' sign, and engaged a firm of clampers to enforce it. When Anna came back to the car, it was clamped. She went into the shop, but the owner said, effectively, that once the car had been clamped it was out of her hands and that Anna had to pay. She phoned the number on the ticket and after about half an hour a man appeared. She felt immediately intimidated (and that doesn't happen often). He was about 6'2", fat and dirty, and his manner was abusive and threatening. The charge was £100. Anna was willing to pay, as she realised that she had been caught out, and offered to write him a cheque. Nope, it had to be cash. In the end, she walked almost a mile to the nearest cashpoint, withdrew the money, and returned to the car. I ought to point out that Anna is registered disabled, and walking that sort of distance is something that leaves her in a lot of pain. She made that known to the man at the time, but no response.

She phoned me and I turned up a few minutes later. I had a stand-up row with the man, but he wasn't shifting. His answer to everything was that he had the keys to the clamp, and if we didn't pay up he would go back to Swansea (60 miles away) and we could call him tomorrow. I phoned the Police, who told me what was happening was completely legal, and even called a passing Traffic Warden, who confirmed it. So we paid up.

I felt a complete loathing for the man - his bullying of a lone female, his sweat, his arrogance, his filthy hygiene, even his ill-fitting and grubby clothes. This was despite my understanding that Anna had parked where she shouldn't, and that the man was 'only doing his job'. There was some kind of atavistic hatred there - defending your loved ones, defending the tribe from the 'other', and a feeling of injustice that a slug like that could effectively stop a disabled person from using their only vehicle until they had coughed up cash that they couldn't afford. I had real feelings of violence towards him, which is very rare for me.

If all clamping operators are thrown out of work by this measure, I will be delighted. If they all have to put their yellow triangles on eBay to try to recoup their investment, I will celebrate. No fate is too grotesque, humiliating or painful for these low-life reptiles.

We'll still need to find a way to stop people parking where they shouldn't, but I hope it will be one where ordinary people don't feel they need to have a wash afterwards.

Speeding Poll



The IAM are conducting a poll on speeding. They want as many people as possible (members and non-members) to take part as they are seeking a "wide range of views".

The poll is on this page; head down to 'Speeding Poll'. Sorry I can't link directly, but it looks as if there is something in place to prevent the 'vote early and vote often' brigade, and I couldn't return to the page.

And be honest ...

You have until 19 September.

Pick of Viz

spoilsports bra n. An item of intimate apparel used by women who unaccountably wish to suppress the natural movement of their bangers.

Overheard in Tesco

Hard-faced mother of 10-year-old boy, spoken loud enough so that the whole store couldn't fail to hear, in front of a display of Hartley's Jelly Pots:

"Nah, have a blackurrant one or a razbry one yer don't want an orange one what's wrong with a blackurrant one or a lemonanlime one or a strawbry one don't 'ave an orange one they go right throoooough yer."

Mmmm. Just after my lunch, too.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Useful information

I spotted this in a supermarket car park today - a Ford Ka Convertible, with a useful dealer-fitted accessory: a small indicator below the 'Ford' logo that lights up when the driver is irritable and unable to concentrate, and thus poses an additional danger to other road users. In serious cases (i.e. when the driver is actively contemplating murder), it lights up red.



Purchased from Pembroke Motor Services, who think of everything.

Blair's latest wheeze

From the BBC:

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair is to donate the profits from his memoirs to a sports centre for injured soldiers.

A spokesman said Mr Blair would hand over the reported £4m advance payment plus all royalties to honour "their courage and sacrifice".

I can't respond to this; I'm too weary of the whole thing. Mummylonglegs has no such problem, although if you don't like sweary things you should read it with your eyes shut. One apposite sentence:

There is a reason why a decorated soldier would not shake your hand, Blair, and that is because not matter how many time you wash them, and no matter how many millions of pounds pass through them they are still covered in blood.

Got it in one.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

If you're going to get caught, do it properly



A Swedish man took his six-litre Mercedes SLS to Switzerland and was caught on the A12 motorway (speed limit 120 kph) doing almost 300 kph. That's 180 mph in real money. He had passed many speed cameras, but had not been snapped because he was going too fast - most of the cameras can only read up to 200 kph. Only when he passed a new-generation camera that could react to his speed was he zapped.

The Swiss system of fines is based on the offender's income as well as the severity of the offence, and this guy appears to have drawn himself a poor hand. With a car costing £140,000, and caught at a speed described as the fastest anyone has ever been caught travelling in Switzerland, he was going to have his trousers taken down, that's for sure.

£650,000. A fine of over half-a-million pounds.

Now, the guy is probably a complete dick, and I have no time for those who use their money and clout to flout the law that other, lesser, people have to obey. But isn't that just a tiny bit draconian? That's an average UK worker's gross salary for about 30 years.

More to the point, how many people in Europe have been killed by drivers doing 180 mph on an autoroute, compared with the number killed by drink-drivers? I suspect the answers are zero, and lots.

(Source.)

Privacy

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files;
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself ...

Wendy Holden in the Telegraph writes about trying to buy some wine in a Majestic Wine Warehouse*, and being asked to supply her address, phone number, email and so on. Then she tries to get her hair cut, and faces the same interrogation. I have found the same when trying to buy a few batteries in my local branch of Curry's. Even if you want to buy something and pay cash (an increasingly rare thing these days), you are asked for personal details 'for the computer' that you would hesitate to give to a total stranger, but are expected to supply without complaint to a commercial organisation. You can refuse - and I always do - but then you are treated as some kind of weirdo.

So why do they want it? I can see the provision of some personal information being necessary when applying for a bank loan, or opening an account with a provider of services such as electricity or a mobile phone, where there is an element of trust in the arrangement (we agree to provide the service, and you agree to pay us when we ask you to). But for a haircut? Or a handful of AA batteries for the torch? For cash? Come on ...

Of course, it's all the customer relationship thing. They get your address, phone (home and work, or 'daytime' as they cunningly put it, and mobile) and email, and then they have several means to bombard you with 'special offers' and other matey, beneficial stuff that you would be mad not to want. Beneficial to them, that is. That's if they are above board. If they are a bit less scrupulous, then your details will be sold on to a third party for profit, and then your troubles really begin.

That's not the problem, though. You can always say no, and there's no law that says you have to provide anything to them at all other than legal tender for the transaction. What is bothering me is that it is becoming increasingly common, and that people are complying wkithout asking what the information is used for. The people who refuse are now the unusual ones, and I can see the day when people who like to keep their personal details to themselves will be seen as suspicious. And maybe even terrorists. Or criminals. Or paedophiles.

After all, if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear.

I've been tempted for a while to try going off-grid, or at least as far off-grid as is possible while retaining a normal social and work life. I'm part of the way there - I don't have any loyalty or store cards, and I pay cash wherever possible, or failing that I pay by card from my one bank account. I always tick the box when it says 'we would like to share your information with selected and trusted partners, tick the box if you are such a sad and graceless individual that you don't wish us to help you in this way'. I have my phone number registered with the Telephone OPreference Service, and my address with the Mailing Preference Service (and these do work, by the way). I asked the Post Office not to deliver any junk mail, and they reluctantly agreed, after warning me that the world might end if I did so.

And if someone stops me on the street and asks me for my personal details, I tell them to stick their head up a dead bear's bum. I suggest you do likewise. Privacy is valuable, and wanting to keep it is not necessarily the sign of a warped mind. It's the only thing we've got left.

*A new meaning to 'majestic' that I was unaware of.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Cancer Research UK Charity Ride

I mentioned this in a previous post, but today was the day I accompanied Russ for the Wales leg of his round-Britian charity ride.

There was a slight misunderstanding over meeting times, but eventually I tracked Russ down in a petrol station in Llanrhystud, on the coast road South of Aberystwyth at about 9:30 am. The day was cool, with a bit of rain in the air, so my choice of leather jacket and jeans wasn't too bright. We set off onto the B4337 and passed through Lampeter before stopping for a coffee and a bacon baguette (mmm) at the famous West End Café in Llandovery. We then carried on down the A40 to Brecon and Abergavenny, where we had another coffee at the Bus Station, another favourite bikers' hang-out. In the car parking area of the Bus Station, we saw this weird device:



I understand it is a BMW, although whether produced by the motorcycle or car division I am not sure. It looks wildly top-heavy, and on its tiny scooter wheels I can't imagine it is very stable. But the dapper and bearded gentleman who climbed off it (or should that be out of it?) seemed unconcerned with such matters.

I planned to ride with Russ as far as the A449 at Raglan. However, I had already run onto reserve and when I realised that I would have to join the A449 and ride it for some miles before I could turn back (and I know for a fact there are no petrol stations on that stretch), I bailed out into Raglan town to look for fuel. Russ carried on towards his goal of a campsite at Weston-Super-Mare.

Russ turned out to be a thoroughly nice guy, and his passion for the cause of cancer research was clear. He's already a long way to achieving his fund-raising goal, and I wish him well with it. I hope the bacon baguette was a suitable contribution to his well-being for the day.

I decided to make a meal of the journey home, so I hunted around the road map until I saw something suitable. By going back along the A465 Heads of the Valleys road as far as Merthyr Tydfil, I was able to pick up a tiny unclassified road that led me to the start of the Brecon Beacons Mountain Railway. I almost took a turning that would have led me to the infamous Gurnos Estate, and if I had I probably wouldn't be writing this now. The road picked its way alongside the Pontsticill Reservoir and across the top of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Strangely, I passed within a few yards of the Taff Trail, the scene of the killing of the biker with a metal bar across the trail (posted here). That wasn't deliberate, I assure you. The land there shows the evidence of years of coal mining, with strange lumps in the ground which have now grassed over and look almost natural:



The reservoir, on the other side of the road, was deserted and eerily peaceful.



Once out of the valley and on the tops, the views were stunning:



I have never been on this road before, but I know I will have to do it again sometime. The road finally descends past Tal-y-Bont Reservoir into the village of Talybont-on-Usk, where I surprised to see a swing bridge in my way, and even more surprised to find that it crossed a canal, complete with narrowboats, that was a good five metres higher than the road I was riding on:



And so back to Brecon, the A40 (and a roadside burger) and home.

I was a little anxious about the bike. I always am until any work I have done has proved itself in action. I needn't have worried. The bike went like a dream all day, coping with traffic, A-road blasts and dual-carriageway high-speed cruising as well as I could have wished. Its good manners in slow traffic haven't been compromised, but the hefty belt of mid-range that the airbox and carb mods have delieved is astonishing. Overtaking was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair*, and the bike seems happy to cruise a full 10 mph faster than before. Great for performance, not so great for my neck muscles. The most amazing and gratifying thing was the numbers when I finally filled the tank before returning home - a very reasonable 55 mpg average, which is almost identical to previous long runs before the mods. I did a couple of plug readings on the way home, and they were normal. I think we'll call the work complete for now.

Oh, and the 285 miles I did today has also finally killed off the rear tyre. It is now officially bald. New one should arrive in the next few days. And waiting at home for me was my latest eBay purchase, a Vango 3-man tent, bike-camping for the use of. I'll post about that shortly.

*OK, that's an exaggeration. But it was a damn sight easier and quicker, that's for sure.
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