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

- George Washington

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Parish Notice

The IT guys at work have been busy. For some reason, my work PC (which I share with several other people when I am not on rota) is not allowing certain activities. I can surf the web normally (although some sites are blocked, such as Youtube and some - but not all - images), I can read my own blog, and I can even comment there if I do so as an anonymous visitor. But I am unable to log in, except to write a new post. If I try anything else, such as reply to comments or modify the blog format, all I get is the main page with 'Sign In' at the top. I am also unable to use copy/paste in the composition page, although I can if I switch to Edit Html mode (Blogger users will know what I mean). And when I am in Edit Html mode, the formatting goes haywire, with unwanted line spaces appearing everywhere and almost impossible to get rid of. What all this means is that blogging while I am at work - those night shifts are long, and an ideal time to get jiggy with the keyboard - is a royal pain in the arse and almost impossible to do properly.

I'm pretty sure it is something to do with the PC's (or the network's) privacy settings, but I am reluctant to make any changes, as it is a shared PC. So if things go eerily quiet for a period of four days, this is why. I can get to my emails no problem, so if there is anything important, this is the way to go.

Meanwhile, here's something to make you smile:

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The highs and lows of country living

Within 30 minutes of each other this morning:

The low: investigating a strange smell in the utility room, and lifting the cat's drinking bowl to find, underneath, the rotting corpse of a mouse, crawling with maggots. Disposed of before Anna could see, with some kitchen roll, a plastic bag and a spray of Flash. Yeurgh.

The high: pottering about outside in the sunshine, hearing the "whee-eur" of a buzzard, looking up, and seeing two buzzards chasing off another bird. As the bird turned in the sky and the sun lit up its underside, I saw it was a Red Kite. It decided against a fight, and hitched a thermal up to the next level of sky, eventually vanishing over the trees to the South. I watched it for around five minutes.

That's the first time I have ever seen a Red Kite in this area. Not so long ago, they were 'endangered', and I can remember visiting Gigrin Farm near Rhayader about ten years ago to watch them feeding these 'amazingly rare' birds. At that time, you could also see the birds in the wild at Bwlch Nant Yr Arian, on the A44 Aberystwyth to Llangurig road, if you were patient and lucky. Now, they are almost common in mid-Wales, although I believe they are still rare elsewhere in the UK.

I know it was a Red Kite because when we were up in mid-Wales on Sunday we stopped for a break at the reservoir of Llyn Brianne. D2 spotted a bird wheeling over the water and asked what it was. The general consensus was that it was a Red Kite, and we spent several minutes watching it circling. From my memories of Gigrin, I was sure it wasn't a Red Kite, so I made a careful mental note of the markings and when I got home I checked it in my birdwatching book. Sure enough, it was a Red Kite. So when I saw the bird this morning, there was no mistake. The orange underparts, the white wing-patches and the shape of the tail were all quite distinctive.

We have several breeding pairs of Common Buzzards in the woods round here, and it is wonderful to watch them on a warm summer's day, wheeling round in the sky and uttering that strange whistling screech. I like them, even though they are a bit thuggish. They are also clever: their natural food is small mammals, caught from the open fields, but one has taken to sitting on a telegraph pole on the other side of the valley, watching for roadkill. I pass it most mornings. Why make the effort to chase it, if it will eventually be given to you on a plate?

But Red Kites in the area ... now that's something.

Not my photos, by the way. Thank you birdwatchireland.ie (Buzzard) and northernkites.org.uk (Red Kite).

Quote of the Biennium

To celebrate two years in the blogging saddle, and because I am in That Kinda Mood after a superb weekend, I am posting my favourite ever motorcycling quotation, which sums up the whole thing for me. From Robert M Pirsig's seminal Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it, you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer, and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on. It's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.
Riding down the A487 on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the sparkling china blue of the Irish Sea to my right, the green rolling hills of Ceredigion to my left, and my little girl pretty in pink on the pillion, is the closest a flawed and compromised old misfit like me will ever get to Heaven.

Happy Birthday

Two years ago today, I sat down and wrote these words:
Having just gone through Blogger's Krypton-Factor style set-up process (Think of a name! Think of a title!) I now have a blog. I will no doubt regret the hasty decisions I made on the way in (if I can remember them at all - what was my name again?) but the die is now cast. If you read this, and I doubt very much that you will, welcome and thank you for stopping by. It's been a pleasure.
Recently, the blog has had around 180 hits per day, or well over 5000 a month. While, in comparison with most blogs, that is a dazzlingly modest figure, it amazes me that anyone reads it at all, let alone comes back for a second or third dose.

Thank you all for reading this nonsense, and for your interesting, entertaining and valuable comments. I appreciate every single one.

Big hugs.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Perfect weekend

I posted on Thursday about my plans for the weekend, and it all turned out even better than expected. I'm a happy man.

D2 arrived on Saturday and we spent the evening having a good old catch-up. We tried out Anna's riding gear and (heavens be praised) it all fitted perfectly, so Plan B to rush into town and purchase a suitable helmet was not necessary. The only non-bikey things she had to wear were a pair of hiking boots instead of proper motorcycle boots, and I was happy that they were strong enough and covered the right bits.

Sunday morning was cool and cloudy, so we kitted up with jumpers and thermal thingies, and set off to meet the other riders at a Little Chef about 25 miles away. D2 was less nervous than I was, and she proved a perfect passenger. Being 8-stone-something helps. We had the pre-flight briefing the night before ("sit like a sack of spuds; lean with me; don't put your feet down if we stop; those bits get hot; those bits will chop your toes off if you put your foot in there; a tap on your knee means hold tight; two taps on my shoulder means slow down") and she seemed to grasp the essentials very well.

Did I mention that I spent a full two hours the day before checking the tightness of every single nut and bolt on the bike? Tyres to the maximum permitted pressure, rear shocks up two clicks, oil level topped up to the upper mark on the sight glass, headlight and tail-light cleaned - and, yes, all the paintwork polished and the shiny bits gleaming. Can't leave anything to chance ...

The first couple of miles were taken at a very steady pace. The roads round here are narrow and twisty, and even a modest speed is often too fast, so I kept it all very sedate. We got onto the main road and I turned my head to ask her how she was feeling. "Fine, absolutely fine!" I took that as confirmation that she wasn't terrified and got a bit more speed on. We cruised along at between 50 and 60 mph, which is a very comfortable speed for the bike, and I even managed a couple of low-drama overtakes - duly warned of by the knee-tap technique. No problems.

We met up with about ten other riders at the Little Chef and set off for the West End Cafe in Llandovery, about another 35 miles away. This time I felt a little more confident and we upped the speed a bit, although we stayed legal. We weren't riding in a group, as we knew where we were meeting up, and so there was no pressure to keep up with anyone else. Nevertheless, we got to Llandovery in good time and had a coffee while the rest of the group arrived. The breeze was shot, the fat was chewed, and eventually we set off for lunch at a pub a few miles away up the valley - the Royal Oak in Rhandirmwyn, recommended. So, a nice gentle introduction to two-wheeled travel, some pleasant company, and a good bit of pub grub in a beer garden with the most amazing mountain views. D2 was having a good time.

By the time we left there, the temperature had soared and we stripped off everything but the basics and stuffed our jumpers and thermals in the panniers. The group now split into two: some were going straight to Tregaron, where there was a vintage bike rally taking place and another pub just waiting for our custom, while the rest were planning to take a ride over the mountains and ride the infamous 'Devil's Staircase'. This is a stretch of road high up in the remoter parts of the county which descends at 1 in 4 down into a valley, with a couple of massively-tight, gravel-strewn hairpin bends to entertain the adventurous and trip up the unwary. D2 had got talking to an older member of the club, who shook his head and said he was not doing that, no way Jose, last time he went down there he was knocked off his bike by a car and didn't get moving again for three hours. Thanks, mate. I explained the choice to D2 and left the decision of which way to go to her.

Devil's Staircase it was, then. I think the name swung it. Kids.

The ride over the mountains was lovely as always, and several times I could hear a discreet 'wow' from behind me. When we got to the steep part, I tapped her on the knee, she tightened her grip, and down we went. No drama. When we got to the bottom, there was a lay-by next to a stream, and we pulled over there for a rest.

We got chatting to an old couple with a fabulously-restored 1953 Rolls-Royce. The wealth and social class were poles apart (one member of the group commented afterwards "I think we have just been talking to Old Money") but a love of good engineering broke all the barriers and we chatted like old friends for twenty minutes. The guy was fascinated to learn that Triumph motorcycles were still being made. They were heading up the hill after they had left us, and we were a little concerned that they would make it. (They did.)

1953 - a fine vintage year. Lots of good things were produced in 1953.

After a while, we turned round, did the Staircase in the opposite direction, and motored over to Tregaron. By this time it was so hot that we sat inside for our drinks, in a lovely dark snug. After that, everyone took a different way home. D2 and I headed, alone this time, for the coast and had a very pleasant run down from Aberaeron to Cardigan and then back home over the Preseli Hills. By this time I was completely happy with her on the back (I think she had been happy for much longer than that) and the ride was at a normal pace, although without heavy acceleration or braking for comfort's sake. Her only complaint was of a numb butt - the famously plank-like Bonneville seat had made its mark.

Not only was it a great ride (weather, location, company, food and drink) but the fact I did it with D2 made the day perfect - in fact, I was humming Lou Reed most of the way in my helmet. Today, we had a walk together on the beach in the morning, and this afternoon she suggested that we went somewhere ... on the bike? So we did. St Davids for an ice-cream and a walk round the Cathedral. Perfect.

I think we have a convert.


And after:

I can see where this is heading.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Daily Mash or Daily Mail?

Women who sit for more than six hours daily are around 40 per cent more likely to die than those sitting for less than three hours a day, a study said.

Extended periods of sitting down increases risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and obesity, the study said.

People who have a desk-bound job have almost twice the risk of developing a type of colon cancer, reported CNN.

Some workplaces are trying to combat the health problems of sitting down by installing low-speed treadmill desks, reported CNN.

Diabetes experts point out that sitting is not bad for us in moderation but can be addictive and harmful in the long-run.

OK, the lack of references to Helen Archer, Wayne Hayes and the Institute of Studies give it away. It's the Daily Mail.

But you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a spoof. Especially that last line.

H/t to Leg-Iron.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

A pillion in a million

Posed by models. Honest.

Earlier in the year, I had mentioned to my younger daughter (D2) that I was hoping to get over to Europe for a bit of riding in the summer. The conversation went something like:

- That sounds really fantastic, Dad!

- Well, you're always welcome to come along, har har.

- Seriously?

- You interested?

- You bet!

- You're on!

I was a bit stunned, frankly, because she had never expressed any interest before. (I ought to explain that her Mum and I split up when she was quite young, and we have missed a lot of that daily-routine stuff, so the topic had never really come up.) We did a bit of blue-sky planning and some rough estimates of time and cost, but didn't get any further. Then she learned that her studies meant she would be working on her dissertation through the summer months and the idea was quietly dropped.

Last weekend, I went up to see her for the day, to find her feeling very low. She has spent the year living alone in a big city, and I think the experience has got her down a bit. So I suggested that she come down to see me next weekend to have a bit of rural R&R and a couple of days' pampering. She jumped at the offer. I then suggested that, weather permitting, we could have a few hours out on the bike to make up for the missed Euro trip. That went down well, too.

Well, it turns out that the forecast is good, and the Triumph Club are having a rideout on the Sunday, complete with lots of coffee/ice-cream stops and a pub lunch in a real-ale pub, so that sealed the deal. D2 has suddenly lost 15 years and it's Christmas again.

She will be able to wear some of Anna's riding kit (with Anna's permission, although asking was a tough one). I am going to try out Anna's helmet on her as soon as she arrives, so that if it isn't a good fit I have time to get her a new one. Helmet fit is absolutely crucial, and that's an area I won't take risks with. As Woody Allen said, "The brain? That's my second-favourite organ!" And I will need to take it steady for the first few miles, as a) she hasn't ever ridden on the back of a bike, apart from little spins up and down the drive when she was much younger, and b) I haven't taken anyone on the back of the Bonnie yet, so the handling of the bike will be an unknown quantity. I'll increase the rear spring preload a bit and take it from there. But she will be an ideal pillion if she learns to sit still: she's petite and blonde, and I doubt if she will upset the bike at all.

She has been very open about how excited she is. I have hidden my excitement well.

I think.

Another damn IAM Poll ...

This time on your Local Authority, and how it spends its your money on the road infrastructure. Not the most romantic of topics, but a worthwhile one. Perhaps.

Poll here.

You do not have to be a member, etc etc.

Go nuts!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Ride To Work Day

Well, I did. Did you?

It was a lovely morning, if a little cold. But there was a downpour this afternoon which had only eased a little by the time it came to go home. So the Bonnie is now a very soggy little bike, and my textile suit is waterlogged. But today, as every day, was a ride-to-work day.

I managed to spend some time talking to a colleague whose partner is a biker and who is also a rider. She's thinking of getting another bike for herself, and I spoke some encouraging words. She wants a Yamaha XV535, which would not be ideal for days like today, but we have to start somewhere.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Daily Mash again

Just posting a link and saying 'ha ha' seems to be a very lazy way of blogging, and I try to avoid it. But this piece from the Daily Mash was just so neat and topical I couldn't resist.

Council offices to grind to whatever is slower than a halt
STRIKE action by council workers could lead to a redefinition of the concept of movement, it emerged last night.

Unison members will be balloted over whether they should be allowed to avoid the same shit as the country's other 28 million workers and will down whatever their equivalent of tools are if they are not told they are really, really brilliant.

Ninety-two grand a year general Secretary Dave Prentis said: "If our demands are not met, bins will continue to just sit there forever and ever while council offices will grind to whatever is slower than remaining completely and utterly motionless.

Apologies for lack of posting for the last few days. Work has been very busy and I am too knackered to even fire up the lapdog at the end of the shift. I have a few days off from tomorrow. Will post some more then.

Saturday, 11 June 2011


Apologies for the lack of posting over the last few days. There have been many outrageous things in the news, and I have ridden the bikes quite a bit, but somehow nothing has fired me up to make me want to post anything. Meh. I've been reading a lot (both proper books and stuff on the webs) and perhaps I have just been a while in reception rather than production mode.

However, I know some readers of this blog are into ingenious technological solutions, and I just had to post this one.

Problem: a lot of bikes today are made without centre stands, so it is impossible to get the back wheel off the ground to do essential stuff like chain lubrication or tyre changing without spending lots of extra dosh on the appropriate kit. There is a simple solution, involving devices to raise the frame on the opposite side to the side stand, but these can be quite expensive. Then I saw this video, made by a member (greyplague) of the Triumph Rat forum that I belong to. It cost him next to nothing, apart from about an hour of his time and a bit of ingenuity.

I like this, and I am going to make one - when the bits come along on the flotsam-stream of life.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Chain Reaction

I mentioned that the MoT tester had advisoried me that the drive chain was well buggered on the XT. He was not wrong. Here is one end of the old chain next to the new:

It's a full inch shorter, which translates to about 1.5% of the total length. The manual says the chain is dead when it becomes longer then the original by ... 1.5%. It is sloppy and full of tight spots, so it definitely needed doing.

The gearbox sprocket was badly worn too:

New one on the left, old one on the right. The teeth were getting badly hooked. I'm glad he told me about it when he did, as I don't think I would have given it a proper inspection for a while. After all, it's only 4500 miles since the old one was new.

I have been wondering why the set has only lasted as long as this. Many people get 20-30,000 miles out of a chain, and even with a big thudding single I don't see why it shouldn't have lasted for 15,000 or so. It was lubed every week until I fitted the Scottoiler, although I admit that otherwise it was neglected. As the sprocket is as badly worn as the chain, I don't think I can blame a poor quality chain. (The rear sprocket showed no signs of wear, but then it has three times the number of teeth as the front, so it lives an easier life.)

There's a new set on there now. Let's hope this one lasts a bit better. Some family turned up just as I was finishing off, so I didn't get the chance to give it a test ride. I am looking forward to that, though. The last time I replaced the chain, it was like having a new bike.

They Think Of Everything

Seen in the kitchenware department of a local shop:

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Brilliant, again

Last February, I posted a safety video from Sussex Safer Roads Partnership. The message was just the usual 'wear your selt-belt', but the concept was highly creative and its execution was excellent, and the ad won many awards. Briefly, a man sits in a chair in his living room, pretending to drive a car. He sees an (imaginary) accident developing, and his wife and daughter rush to clasp him into his chair just before the impact. If you haven't seen it before, go and do so now. It's stunning, and I can't watch it even now without getting something in my eye.

The Partnership have now come up with one for bikers, called 'Stay A Hero'. It was made by the same company, Alexander Commercials, and has a similar creative slant. I can see this winning awards too.

These two have a much greater impact on me than almost any other safety 'commercial' I have seen. I think it's because they don't set out to frighten, or threaten, or induce guilt. They work on love rather then fear, on positive emotions rather than negative, and they work superbly.

Happy Birthday Miss Titanic

The last picture ever taken of the Titanic

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Titanic. The ship has become a symbol of man's vanity and the folly of thinking that technology can vanquish nature. Miss Titanic, you are the Industrial Revolution. It was the subject of a poem by Thomas Hardy, which I referred to a year ago when I recombined the two blogs - the title was the only connection, but it seemed apt. I didn't print the text of the poem then, so I will remedy that now. Last May, I wrote
I think I first read the poem at about the age of 13, and it was the first poem that I 'got', and that I felt was worth the effort of understanding
In fact, I now think it was earlier, about age 11 and the start of secondary school. I liked the creepiness of the underwater world, and in fact the thought of diving a wreck gives me a chill even now. The teacher took the time to explain the various images, and the multiple meanings in the last line, and I think that was the first time I really understood that the 'poetry' I had been forced to endure at primary school (mainly butterflies, rainbows and little lambkins) was nothing like the real thing. Hardy is a bit stuffy and intellectually 'thin' for today's readers, but to a keen 11-year-old reading this was like a first hit of crack cocaine.

The Convergence Of The Twain
In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.


Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.


Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls--grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.


Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.


Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?". . .


Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything


Prepared a sinister mate
For her--so gaily great--
A Shape of Ice, for the time fat and dissociate.


And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.


Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history.


Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one August event,


Till the Spinner of the Years
Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

Thomas Hardy, 1915

Separated at Birth 2

Daily Mash Win

Once again, the Daily Mash nails it:
Made-up medicine works on made-up illnesses

ACUPUNCTURE has been shown to be extremely effective amongst people who have nothing wrong with them.

An academic study has shown that the majority of patients reporting mystery symptoms stopped pretending they had them when someone poked at them with a cocktail stick.


Professor Henry Brubaker, of the Institute for Studies, said: "To truly assess the efficacy of acupuncture a widespread double-blind test needs to be conducted over a series of years but to be honest it's the equivalent of mapping the DNA of pixies or conducting a geological study of Narnia."
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