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

- George Washington

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Neanderthal Man

I am fascinated by archaeology. In fact, if I could have my time over again, I would try a little bit harder at the science thing at school and do a degree in it, and then get a career going all over the place digging stuff up. I could do all the reading and lit-crit stuff in my spare time, like most normal people.

So I was interested to read about recent discoveries at the site of La Cotte de St Brelade on Jersey, which was inhabited by Neanderthals for around 250,000 years, off and on. They were expert tool-makers and only abandoned the site during the coldest periods of the Ice Ages (I'm guessing they retreated across the land bridge to France for a bit of warm weather and decent cheese). And when the ice retreated, did they thank global warming for the chance to get back to La Cotte de St Brelade and carry on knapping them flints? They certainly didn't say "it's the end of the world" and give up. (And when they got there, after several generations in another country, did they find the flints their ancestors had left and think "yeah, we did that" and carry on? Or did they think there were giants about and crap themselves?)

The excavation will be featured in a BBC2 series in September called Digging For Britain, and I will be watching, especially as it also features the extremely cute Dr Alice Roberts.

But this post was mainly an excuse for a rather poor joke:

"I'm a Neanderthal Man", ba-doom

Labour peer Dr Robert Winston, recently

Yeah, I know. Cheap shot.

Just a little 'What If?'

Following from the previous post, just a thought.

Imagine an new event in the capital city, organised by the white working class to celebrate their distinctive culture. (Do you imagine it would even be allowed?) It involves road closures and massive disruption, and a lot of loud music. Afterwards, 245 people have been arrested for a variety of offences, there are 27 people in hospital, one person has been stabbed and is in a serious condition, and there are numerous acts of criminal damage, theft, robbery and assault. Drug use has been blatant and widespread.

Three questions:

1. Would the Police turn up in shirtsleeves and a smile, or stab vests and riot gear?

2. Would the Police 'hail' it as 'peaceful'?

3. Would the BBC celebrate it as a success?

I'm sure we all know the answers to those. I firmly believe that all people should be treated equally, whatever their skin colour or ethnicity. But that has to cut both ways.

I can't believe that an event attended by even 1000 white people - never mind the 1,000,000 estimated for the Notting Hill event - specifically to celebrate their culture would not be treated with contempt by the media and hostility by the Police. Perhaps I am wrong.

Recent events in London

Let's see ...

Officers are investigating the stabbing of a man in his 20s ... on Monday. He is said to be in a serious condition in hospital. Four men - three aged 20 and one aged 21 - have been arrested in connection with the incident ...

London Ambulance Service said 241 people were treated at the event, with 27 taken to hospital. The arrests were for a variety of offences including drugs possession, public order, theft, criminal damage, robbery and assault, the Metropolitan Police said ...

Officers said the man was found with possible stab wounds to the abdomen and hand ...

At 19:30 BST an area outside a three-storey block of flats on Ladbroke Grove, close to the junction with Kensal Road, was cordoned off after a person suffered serious injuries. A Met police officer said it was believed an object was thrown from a flat window and hit the person on the pavement below.

245 arrests, 27 hospitalised, a stabbing and an act of criminal vandalism, drugs, theft, criminal damage - and all at one event? The police are condemning it, of course, in the strongest terms. Oh, hang on ...
The Notting Hill Carnival has been peaceful, police say.
In fact the Beeb goes further:
Notting Hill Carnival: Police hail 'peaceful' event.
Love that word 'hail'. When did we start paying the Police to 'hail' anything? And that's a new definition of 'peaceful' of which I was not previously aware.

Nothing to do with the event's vibrancy, is it?

It's a funny old world when the Police 'hail' something because the associated crime and disorder was no worse than last time.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Awesome. No, really ...

As any fule kno, the Royal Enfield motorcycle factory in Redditch closed many years ago, but the bikes are still built in India. The bike is identical to the 1952 English model, with the exception of a few upgrades to bring it into line with modern noise and emissions legislation. It looks the same, it sounds the same, it goes the same, and it is made in the same way that we used to make things fifty years ago. Which means there is still some craftsmanship involved.

If you have ever tried to paint anything on a bike or car by hand, watch this and weep.

The painter's modesty about his achievement is almost the best bit of the film.

H/t to Joe Public for the link.


Old Mate and Good Lady have now returned to the wilds of riot-torn rural England, and I have a few things to catch up on, like shaving the grass and washing things that need washing. So here's a small piece of playground humour to keep you going.


There are times when kids draw something and you just have to say.... 'Wow, tell me about your picture,' because you have no clue what it is...This one you know right away...Enjoy!





Saturday, 27 August 2011

Short Break

I am playing host this weekend to a very old and dear friend* and his good lady. The corner where I keep my laptop and do my internetting has now been cleared and given over to expanded dining facilities. Blogging will therefore be light-to-nonexistent for a day or two.

Play nicely.

* We met almost exactly 39 years ago in Fresher's Week at the Uni we both went to. We shared a house for a while and, despite two marriages each and periods of a year or two when we never even spoke (laziness rather than hostility, I should add), we have remained buddies. I don't make friends easily, but he's one of the very few. I can't imagine a world where there isn't someone who can ring me up, put on an 'official' voice and say "Mr Nowhere? This is Pembrokeshire Sewage Department, and I'm calling to say that we have had just about enough shit out of you for one year." (And who wouldn't be offended by the reply "Fuck off, you tosser.")

Friday, 26 August 2011

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Top Ten Jokes from the Fringe

From the good old Beeb again, the top ten one-liners from the Edinburgh Fringe, according to the TV channel Dave:

1) Nick Helm: "I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."

2) Tim Vine: "Crime in multi-storey car parks. That is wrong on so many different levels."

3) Hannibal Buress: "People say 'I'm taking it one day at a time'. You know what? So is everybody. That's how time works."

4) Tim Key: "Drive-Thru McDonalds was more expensive than I thought... once you've hired the car..."

5) Matt Kirshen: "I was playing chess with my friend and he said, 'Let's make this interesting'. So we stopped playing chess."

6) Sarah Millican: "My mother told me, you don't have to put anything in your mouth you don't want to. Then she made me eat broccoli, which felt like double standards."

7) Alan Sharp: "I was in a band which we called The Prevention, because we hoped people would say we were better than The Cure."

8) Mark Watson: "Someone asked me recently - what would I rather give up, food or sex. Neither! I'm not falling for that one again, wife."

9) Andrew Lawrence: "I admire these phone hackers. I think they have a lot of patience. I can't even be bothered to check my OWN voicemails."

10) DeAnne Smith: "My friend died doing what he loved ... Heroin."

Richard laughed at 2, 3, 5 and 6.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Broken Window Theory

According to the Beeb:
Scientists and researchers have also been analysing riot footage in the city [Birmingham], hoping to learn more about the way crowds behave so preventative measures can be adopted.
This sounds like pretty much the only sensible response I have read about so far.

Dr Patrick Tissington, associate dean of business partnerships at Aston University, viewed footage of an attack on a sweet shop in Birmingham.

It was targeted during the first wave of disorder on 8 August, in the city centre.

The footage shows one or two young men trying to smash the shop's window before others join as a crowd watches.

And you learned that ...

Dr Tissington said: "When one person goes at it, several others join in because it's now been established it's OK to do that because someone is doing that and no one is stepping in to stop them."

A message for the Police: get in there, as hard as necessary, when the first one starts and nip it in the bud. If you stand back and watch it all happen (and still no-one has explained why you did), then the disorder will increase exponentially, until it is out of control.

It's not rocket surgery.

Animal Cruelty

Following on from the previous post, a question occurred to me.

You depart this life, and come back as a bird. You have two choices:

1. You are born in a safe pen in a quiet area of woodland, in a nest with your mother and siblings, and protected from predators. When you are older, you are released to live in the woods. You can perch in trees and forage on the ground, exactly as your instincts tell you. You live a normal life: you eat natural food, you interact with your siblings, you mate, you grow into an adult bird. You are able to behave as you wish, in a way that is natural for you. Inasmuch as a bird can know it, you are happy. One crisp autumn morning, you hear noises in the woods. You panic and fly to the edge of the treeline. You launch yourself into the air and aim for the next patch of tree cover. As you do so, you hear a bang below you and you know no more. What remains of you is taken home by someone - usually the originator of the bang - and you are plucked and cooked to feed a family.

2. You are born in a shed under the full glare of artificial light. You are crowded into a space with thousands of others. As soon as you are partly grown, you are put in a cage with two other birds. Your beak and claws have been clipped off to prevent you from harming the other two. You cannot flap your wings, as there is no room. You cannot perch, as there is nothing to perch on. Your feet are sore and damaged from standing on wire mesh. You crane your neck out through a gap in the cage and peck from a line of artificial pellets that go by you on a conveyor. At the other end, your shit falls through the mesh of the cage to be collected. The stink is appalling. There is bright light on 24 hours to make sure that you lay an egg every day, even when your system needs to rest. Inasmuch as a bird can know it, you are in abject misery for the whole of your life. When you are old and useless, you are taken from your cage and turned upside down by a man who has no concern for your welfare, and your sore feet are clipped into metal hooks. You are taken in a long line, upside-down with your comrades, and a rotating blade slices through your neck. You bleed to death. Later, your flesh is wrapped in plastic, with all signs that you were once a living, breathing being removed. Your corpse is chilled and you are delivered to a supermarket.

Which is it going to be?

According to our elders and betters, one of these is an account of horrendous cruelty to a sentient creature and an example of man's ability to treat the natural world with selfish disdain. The other is acceptable, as long as we don't think about it too much.

I abhor animal cruelty, but I dislike rank hypocrisy even more.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Rook Salad

What the fucking fuck is going on here?
An Isle of Wight pub has stopped selling rook salad on police advice.
The Taverners gastropub, in Godshill, had sold the dish before the man who supplied the bird meat was arrested.

Hampshire police confirmed a 45-year-old from Ryde was formally cautioned for contravening the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Natural England said: "We would not want to encourage their [rooks'] killing, purely to supply a demand for human consumption and trade."
Well, where to start?

Rooks are not an endagered species. Far from it; anywhere where there is a bit of woodland they are aerial vermin. There's millions of the black raggedy bastards, and they make a noise that competes in volume and duration with any noisy exhaust or nearby airport. People go roost shooting, where you basically wait until they are coming home for a bit of kip, living as they do in multiple-occupancy tower blocks, stand under the trees and let rip with the old Eley No. 7 as they arrive home, arguing intently about the price of insects. They die in coppicefuls, but the numbers never seem to decline. They are an incredibly successful and resilient bird.

Personally, I don't wish them any harm (unlike magpies) and I rather like their cheeky demeanour.

So why the problem with killing a couple and selling them to a pub to make pseudo-traditional Englisshe Saladde Fayre? (Did they ever eat rook salad in the Olden Days? I doubt it. Nor snail porridge.) Well, apparently it is OK to shoot them, but to sell them for the purposes of their consumption by others is beyond the pale. People have been eating rooks for centuries (remember 'four-and-twenty black birds baked in a pie'? That was rook pie, that was, nothing to do with blackbirds) and people have been killing them for centuries. But for the participant in Activity 2 to give the proceeds to someone for the purpose of Activity 1 in exchange for some coin of the realm is apparently illegal.
Paul Cantwell, Natural England's species enforcement officer, said: "Under the provisions of a general licence issued by Natural England, it is legal to undertake control of rooks for certain purposes.

"It is also technically legal for people to eat the birds they kill under the licence, but it has never been legal to sell wild birds killed for human consumption, with the exception of the wood pigeon."
Don't you love that 'technically legal'? Translation: you can do this, and this annoys us because we think you shouldn't. Part of me wants to ask what the poor bloody pigeon has done to deserve this status, but the key is in that phrase
Under the provisions of a general licence issued by Natural England
There you have it. Natural food, grown and caught locally, sold locally, and eaten to satisfy Man's most basic instinct. And it needs a fucking licence. from Natural Fucking England, whoever they are.

What is not expressly permitted is forbidden.
Natural England said: "We would not want to encourage their [rooks'] killing, purely to supply a demand for human consumption and trade."
Why not? Who is asking the same question on behalf of the poor bloody battery chicken?

It's the Walt Disney generation again. Shooting an animal in the wild and selling it to a local pub is morally repugnant. Making an animal live its life without air, free movement or natural food, killing it, wrapping it in plastic and putting it on a supermarket shelf is OK.
"From our part, they were bought in good faith. Obviously we won't be selling it again," he (pub manager Roger Serjant) said.
Of course not. Step into line now. Good boy.

True story: A local pub-cum-eatery with a great reputation was raided a few years ago by the Police, along with Local Authority Environmental Health Inspectors. A diner in the pub had reported that the pub was serving heron on the menu. It's a protected species! The planet-raping bastards! The pub's entire stock was inspected, the freezers were impounded pending forensic analysis, and the proprietors' business severely interrupted. Goodness knows how many thousands of ratepayers' pounds were spent before someone thought to ask to see the actual menu. Sadly, the complainant must have been either dyslexic or pissed. It was herring.

An Old Favourite Given a New Currency

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818

The central theme of "Ozymandias" is the inevitable complete decline of all leaders, and of the empires they build, however mighty in their own time.

Monday, 22 August 2011

One for all you cat owners out there ...

How to Give a Cat a Pill

1. Pick up cat and cradle it in the crook of your left arm as if holding a baby. Position right forefinger and thumb on either side of cat’s mouth and gently apply pressure to cheeks while holding pill in right hand. As cat opens mouth, pop pill into mouth. Allow cat to close mouth and swallow.

2. Retrieve pill from floor and cat from behind sofa. Cradle cat in left arm and repeat process.

3. Retrieve cat from bedroom, and throw soggy pill away.

4. Take new pill from foil wrap, cradle cat in left arm, holding rear paws tightly with left hand. Force jaws open and push pill to back of mouth with right forefinger. Hold mouth shut for a count of ten.

5. Retrieve pill from goldfish bowl and cat from top of wardrobe. Call spouse in from the garden.

6. Kneel on floor with cat wedged firmly between knees, hold front and rear paws. Ignore low growls emitted by cat. Get spouse to hold head firmly with one hand while forcing wooden ruler into mouth. Drop pill down ruler and rub cat's throat vigorously.

7. Retrieve cat from curtain rail. Get another pill from foil wrap. Make note to buy new ruler and repair curtains. Carefully sweep shattered figurines and vases from hearth and set to one side for gluing later.

8. Wrap cat in large towel and get spouse to lie on cat with head just visible from below armpit. Put pill in end of drinking straw, force mouth open with pencil and blow down drinking straw

9. Check label to make sure pill not harmful to humans and drink one beer to take taste away. Apply band-aid to spouse's forearm and remove blood from carpet with cold water and soap.

10. Retrieve cat from neighbour's shed. Get another pill. Open another beer. Place cat in cupboard, and close door onto neck, to leave head showing. Force mouth open with dessert spoon. Flick pill down throat with elastic band.

11. Fetch screwdriver from garage and put cupboard door back on hinges. Drink beer. Fetch bottle of scotch. Pour shot, drink. Apply cold compress to cheek and check records for date of last tetanus shot. Apply whisky compress to cheek to disinfect. Toss back another shot. Throw tee-shirt away and fetch new one from bedroom.

12. Call fire brigade to retrieve the damn cat from the top of the tree across the road. Apologize to neighbour who crashed into fence while swerving to avoid cat. Take last pill from foil wrap.

13. Using heavy-duty pruning gloves from shed, tie the little bastard's front paws to rear paws with garden twine and bind tightly to leg of dining table. Push pill into mouth followed by large piece of fillet steak. Be rough about it. Hold head vertically and pour two pints of water down throat to wash pill down.

14. Consume remainder of scotch. Get spouse to drive you to A&E. Sit quietly while doctor stitches fingers and forearm and removes pill remnants from right eye. Call furniture shop on way home to order new table.

15. Arrange for RSPCA to collect mutant cat from hell and call local pet shop to see if they have any hamsters.

How To Give A Dog A Pill

1. Wrap it in bacon.

2. Toss it in the air.

Birmingham Mastercard

Well, it was only a matter of time. Click for bigger.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

West Wales Motorcycle Show

Well, it's that time of year again. West Wales Motorcycle Show, organised by the Carmarthen and District Motorcycle Club, was on over this weekend. I managed to get there yesterday to help man the TOMCC stand, as I was working today. Plenty of club stands and plenty of traders, plus an auction of motoring items including a few vintage bikes and cars. Better weather (despite a shower on my way there) meant there were more people than last year and the atmosphere was good.

Hightlights for me were a pair of stunt riders and a trials exhibition. I had never seen proper stunt riding up close and it was amazing. The trials riding of Steve Colley was a long way from the muddy or rocky ascents and flat caps of the trials I used to watch. He was an proper athlete with bike skills I found almost hard to believe. Yeah, bunny hopping over a series of boxes ...

But then riding up the vertical side of his trailer and landing on top? Neat trick!

(Sorry about the picture - iPhones lack zoom, amongst other things, but if you look carefully ...)

As for the rest of the show, well ... see last year's posts. We had fun, lots of tea and biscuits and maybe found a few new members. I'll leave you with some bike porn, or at least some objects of interest:

The Sue Randall Memorial Bike, a Suzuki 250-based bobber built by the father of a girl who died before it could be completed, to her design. I like bobbers, and this was a beautifully neat construction. The back story was tragic, especially to one who has seen his own daughters grow up to womanhood.

A few Triumphs ...

And a few more (spot mine?) ...

A trike Full of Bull ...

With Beer Barrels for Bollocks ...

A brace of Kawasaki triples: a learner-legal (cough) 250 and a batshit mental 500 ...

A grand Z1A from 1974, although I'm not sure about the mustard and chocolate paint scheme ...

And proof that the Freemasons have a finger in every pie. I did have a chat with him, and I won't be joining.

And finally, the One I Would Take Home If I Could:

Inspired by Steve Colley's performance, I liked this TY175. Light, simple, utterly effective, and I have wanted one since I don't know when. Sadly, I doubt if I would be capable of much more than falling off it these days.

Another day, another IAM poll ...

This time, it's all about Deaths and Injuries on British Roads. Basically, you are being asked to give your opinion on why deaths and injuries have fallen in recent years, and whether they will fall or rise during the next few. You either know or you don't, and your opinion doesn't really make a scrap of difference. How being able to say "British motorists think that ..." will be a useful tool in influencing Government policy is a mystery. Still, if you want to have a go, fill your boots. You don't have to be a member, etc.

For the first time, I have been able to see a column of comments after the poll has been completed. I'm afraid it just what you might expect from the "Oim a considerably better droiver than yow" membership. My heart sank when I read James's comment:
Reduce the speed limit to 55mph.
Two weary responses from me:

1. If people are ignoring a 60 mph limit, what on earth possesses you to think they will suddenly obey a 55 mph one?

2. Today, 55. Tomorrow, 50. And then 45, 40 ... see where it's heading?

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Quiz Question

I know that this blog has readers of great wisdom and wordly experience, and I am hoping that someone can come up with an answer to something that has been puzzling me since I came back from France.

In the traditional kitchen of the house were were 'sitting' was what I would call an egg-timer. In fact, it would be more accurate to call it a sand-glass, as eggs are clearly not what it was built to time. Unless your eggs were dinosaur eggs, that is. I didn't get a picture, but this one is identical:

It was a beautiful object and we couldn't resist turning it over and over as we sat in the kitchen. At some point, one of the kids asked "what is it for?" and we said "it's an egg-timer, you idiot". Then we started wondering what sort of eggs.

We timed it several times, and the time it took for all the sand to fall through was 14 minutes and 20 seconds, plus or minus 10 seconds on repeated tests. No egg that I am aware of takes that long to cook, unless you like your eggs boiled to the consistency of pebbles. Duck eggs? Peacock eggs? Penguin eggs? Not a clue.

It may not be eggs at all, of course. There are a lot of vegetables that would be cooked al dente in that sort of time. But as for specifics, none of us had the faintest idea.

Anyone? Bear in mind it was in France (Normandy, to be precise), in the kitchen of a woman who was a keen and accomplished cuisinière, and it was quite old - at least 20-30 years and possibly much older. It was made of turned wood, as in the image, and the finish (if it ever had one) was gone, leaving a faded bare wooden surface. The glass was of poor quality, with a slight yellow tinge, and the whole item was clearly a utilitarian device rather than an objet d'art.

Over to you.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Misano Trip - appendix

Following on from the trip to the races at Misano and an epic road trip back to Blighty, Endemoniada_88 had a few observations about various matters connected to the trip, and to touring in general, which didn't fit well with the diary format of the report, so he has collected them here.

Appendix: Everyday Occurrences

In no particular order – some things simply go on all the time, not really noteworthy enough to warrant an anecdote of their own, but nevertheless part of the ambience of touring. These are some of the most constant.

Riding Etiquette
It's all different on the continent, not least in occupying the wrong side of the road. It's a lot easier to adapt to that on a bike, I find – it has the twin advantages of central positioning and less spatial confinement than any other vehicle. Being on the right actually makes more sense, too: I prefer it, on balance, with the exception of roundabouts, which are always cambered the wrong way. The traditional acknowledgements for others are easier, too: for vehicles behind, it's a lift of the right leg, for those ahead, a wave with the left hand. That doesn't work in the UK: reversing the wave means letting go of the throttle. There's plenty of opportunity for such greetings too: even the Harley and BMW pilots seem keen to acknowledge fellow riders. Other vehicles don't hold bikes in the same contempt, either: many will happily drive almost into the gutter to make space for a motorcycle to pass. We do our best to thank them all for their courtesy.

Group Discipline
We agree up front what the riding order will be, with the understanding that can be broken on fun roads as long as everyone waits up at the next turning off. It's simple but effective. In town, we close up to prevent anyone getting between us, on the open road, we watch out for the next person in front and behind. If separated, we've got a satnav at front and back of the line. It suits me being at the back: I tend to mess around a bit with things like the onboard video, with food and drink on the move and – as the only smoker – with cigarettes on the go. All of that means I don't usually hold constant speed on the open road, preferring to drop back and make up at my own pace: something that would be rather disruptive in the middle of the pack.

Personal Comfort
I take my cues from the pro cyclists, who are perfectly capable of doing everything they need to while still in motion. I draw the line at taking breaks of nature while riding, however, but given a decent flip-front helmet and some physical coordination, it's quite possible to keep provisioned in flight. Smoking's quite possible up to about 80mph, given pre-rolled cigarettes stowed in a tank bag pocket. I haven't yet found a lighter that works while moving, so it's a case of taking opportunities when they arise - traffic lights, for example, are great for sparking up. It's better than interrupting everyone's day each time I feel the need for a smoke, anyway. Music is the other thing I like: I have an external neoprene sleeve to hold my MP3 player, connected to helmet speakers and all easily accessible to pause or switch off if I need to hear the outside world. It's on random shuffle and it's a source of great pleasure how often that seems to produce a really appropriate soundtrack for the circumstances.

Off The Beaten Track
We like the riding as much as, if not more than, the arriving. Given the choice, we'll almost always be picking the narrowest lines on the map. It almost always leads to an overambitious itinerary and a longer than intended day – all we really try to do is manage that inevitable slippage and, if necessary, find a big road when it starts to get dark. Up until then, it's far more enjoyable to pull up at a local cafe or bar in a tiny village than it is to visit a motorway service station. Not to mention cheaper. Just keep an eye on the fuel situation.

Meeting Locals
Our experience is that, however rubbish one may be with languages, it's worth making the effort to learn a few relevant words. Especially when out in the sticks, being able to string together a half-comprehensible sentence earns you good points for politeness and respect. It never hurts to try and learn a bit more from the locals as you go, either. Try and remember which language you're supposed to be mangling at any given time, though, particularly when crossing a lot of borders.

General Riding
Although most of the trip highlights involve pouring on the coals somewhat, a lot of the time that isn't the case. We pick a speed that isn't out of place with the other traffic – up to about a ton on the big A and N roads – for most riding and observe the posted limits in urban areas, just as we would in the UK. There aren't many speed cameras, at least in the places where we've been, but they are in unexpected places and harder to spot. The trip wasn't entirely flash-free for some: it remains to be seen whether that will yield any consequences! Other than that, we simply bear in mind that we're guests in someone else's country and try to cause as little disruption as possible.

Tried And Tested
Most useful and recommended kit, apart from the bike and hard luggage, of course. (See photos - click for bigger.)

Riot sentences "too severe"

According to 'MPs and justice campaigners', some of the sentences handed down in the last few days to people convicted of offences during the recent riots are too severe.

On Tuesday two men were jailed for four years for using Facebook to incite riots and another was given 18 months for having a stolen TV in his car.
Just think: if we were in the habit of giving sentences like as a routine, would the rioters perhaps have thought twice about burning and stealing other people's property in the first place?

Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake said sentences "should be about restorative justice" not retribution.

Then Tom Brake is a muppet. Retribution has always been a legitimate purpose of sentencing. It expresses society's rejection of the behaviour and lets the rest of us feel that the problem has been dealt with - that awful pop-psych thing of 'closure'.

Mr Brake told the BBC's Newsnight that some of those convicted had received sentences which would have been different if they had committed the same crime the day before the riots.

Told you he's a muppet. Of course they were different. If I light a cigarette in my garden, that is a very different thing from society's point of view than* if I light it in my local petrol station on delivery day.

"This should be about restorative justice - in other words making people acknowledge the offences they have committed - and preferably, if the victims want it, [to] actually sit down face to face with the victims so that they can hear from the victims the impact they have had. But it should not be about retribution," he said.

Personally, if I have just had my business burned to the ground or my home and its contents destroyed, the last thing I would want is to sit down with the perpetrators and discuss it - unless it was in a closed room, no cameras, and I had an AK47 to help me out.

Leading criminal barrister John Cooper QC said he believed the sentences were "over the top" and were likely to be overturned by the Court of Appeal.

I'm sure if he has anything to do with it, they will.

"What we need to remember here is that there's a protocol for sentencing, and there are rules and procedures in sentencing which make them effective and make them fair. What we can't do, in my view, in situations like this, is suddenly throw the rule book away simply because there's a groundswell of opinion."

Well for one thing, John Cooper QC is a barrister, which means he is employed by the rest of us, not the other way round. And yes, you can throw away the rule-book because of a groundswell of opinion. The rule-book is only the groudswell of popular opinion taken over a longer period of time, after all. Bring on elected Police chiefs!

Sitting at Manchester Crown Court, sentencing Judge Andrew Gilbart QC said: "I have no doubt at all that the principal purpose is that the courts should show that outbursts of criminal behaviour like this will be and must be met with sentences longer than they would be if the offences had been committed in isolation.

"For those reasons I consider that the sentencing guidelines for specific offences are of much less weight in the context of the current case, and can properly be departed from."


In the comments, from John O'Hagan:

Since this country is good at out sourcing services to Mumbai and other places, what say we out source our Prisons to Mumbai where real prisons exist, would probably only cost the tax payer around £2 per day you would'nt get much rioting after that i can tell you


* Yes, I know we say 'different from' and the Americans say 'different than', but the first sounded wrong and the second sounded right, OK?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Mid-Range Touring, Part 6 - end of the journey

We come to the last part of Endemoniada_88's Europe trip. Please see previous posts for parts One, Two, Three, Four and Five posted previously. Go back and look if you haven't already.

12. Day 10, Pau to Bilbao

This is our last real day, with a 22-hour ferry trip scheduled to start at 8pm. We debate the wisdom of celebrating with a decent-length ride, but decide – given that there are only two sailings a week – it would be best not to risk missing the boat. We aim to get into Spain quickly, get on to the coast road to Bilbao and arrive at the port by late afternoon.

The sky is looking a little ominous as we get on the A64, and chooses to unload just as we're filling up with petrol. It's hard rain that shows no sign of stopping, at least until I've struggled into my waterproof suit, whereupon it immediately eases. I keep the one-piece on for the moment, though, given the amount of standing water about. Things quite quickly improve, though, and it's back to plain leathers within the hour.

We sail through the péage marking the Spanish border at about 12.30. There are no guards or officials to be seen, but the other side of the motorway is a vast traffic jam as the French are stopping absolutely everyone heading out of Spain.

It's been nearly ten years since I've driven this way, and last time around I wasn't at all impressed with northern Spain. It gets quite pleasant further south, from about Zaragoza onwards, but this Atlantic seaboard seemed to be nothing but a half-finished building site filled with convoys of lorries. This time...well, it seems exactly the same. I didn't warm to it then, and I don't now: the overly noisy, chaotic bustle when we stop in Zarautz for a break simply doesn't appeal. It reminds me too much of the impersonal aggressiveness of central London, without the small bonus of at least understanding the language.

It doesn't get much better when we get down on the coast. It's a beautiful and quite wild view, with a meandering road that should be fun to ride but is actually the complete opposite. Every bend has a speed limit sign, there's a town about every ten feet and every driver we come across is moving at a painful crawl. Again, just as I remember it: not so much of a problem in a 60mph maximum camper van but horrible on a sportsbike under an ever-hotter sun. Knowing it'll be like this all the way to Bilbao, I suggest we get off the coast and go in search of a half-decent route.

We do and, happily, find one in the shape of the BI-635. That strikes out southwards, into hills and forests: a properly tight, twisty jaunt to the A-8. Mike B is back on form and comfortable pressing on, although we're none of us really pushing too hard. We all feel we've had the highlights of the trip already, and this is just a winding down period. One more coffee break, then the road deposits us on to motorway and we're suddenly in the noisy madness of the Bilbao interchanges.

The ferry port is beyond all that, easy enough to find and we're there at just after five. "There" being a vast expanse of tarmac, mostly filled with trucks. There's a single building - fully equipped with a single, not very comprehensive vending machine and a few seats – and very little else. We wait, not awfully patiently, look at the other bikes making the crossing – mostly BMWs, it seems – and chat to a Scottish couple on a Hayabusa.

The ferry arrives late and seems to have a lot of difficult organising the offloading: it's getting on for 10pm before we roll down the astonishingly grip-free ramps into the bowels of number 2 deck. Some people lash their own bikes down: we leave ours to the ferry crew. If mine's going to spend the next day or so sliding about inflicting damage on fifty-odd other bikes, I really want it to be somebody else's fault.

We explore the ferry while waiting for our cabins to be available. It's not terribly interesting: a duty-free, some small restaurants and a selection of quite nasty onboard entertainment. We're just not karaoke people, it seems. Eventually, the ship starts moving and we celebrate by eating in the cheapest of the food halls, which is actually a pretty decent meal.

Getting to sleep afterwards is a bit odd, adjusting to the motion of the boat and the constant hum of the engines. Luckily, I've never suffered from seasickness and it doesn't take too long to get used to the fairly mild sway and roll.

13. Day 11, Bilbao to Home

We had been considering Portugal, and the Portimao race, as a possibility for a future trip. Today largely scuppers that thought. It's calm and not unpleasant, even crossing the notorious Bay of Biscay. It's also dull beyond words to not be getting up and going anywhere under our own steam. The sudden, enforced lack of activity wouldn't be so bad if we were at home: here, there simply isn't enough to do. Steve, Mike D and myself have it fairly easy with a mere 40-mile haul to get home: Paul's looking at about 150 and Mike B has nearer 250. We'd all like to get on with it, but the estimated arrival time has already slipped to 10pm UK time. The thought of making a similar crossing in both directions, or of the monotony of riding down the entire west coast of France and back makes Portugal a very much less appealing prospect. Northern Europe very rapidly takes over as the favoured option.

We eat, drink, do some shopping – at least I get to stock up on very cheap tobacco – and have a chuckle at Brittany Ferries' tour packages. They offer some motorcycle package deals, one of which is a 7-night guided trip around Bilbao. Total riding distance is listed 122 miles (!), and to our amusement it's almost exactly the same route we covered yesterday afternoon. We're a little bemused as to how that could be spun out to a whole day, never mind a week. All of which uses up half the morning...

What seems like a very long time later, largely because it is, the English coastline finally becomes visible as a black line against the setting sun. It's probably the most exciting thing that's happened all day, although we have met some interesting people while waiting. The last leg seems to take forever, but finally we're ordered back to our vehicles. It's a pleasant surprise to discover they're all still upright: I hadn't been altogether convinced that a single ratchet strap over the saddle would be sturdy enough. It's not a roll-on/roll-off, so the hold is a chaotic melee of heavily-laden bikes turning around on a less than ideal surface. Everyone gets off safely, though, and heads for the customs point.

Almost inevitably, the young chap in the passport booth decides I look suspicious and sends me off for further inspection. Ironically, for once I wasn't actively being surly with authority – I just couldn't hear what he was asking. Fortunately, it's quieter where I pull up to talk to the next official. I admit (absolutely honestly) to my three for-personal- use-only half-kilo boxes of tobacco and he sends me on my way without making me unpack my panniers.

From there, it's easy. Paul and Mike B wave farewell and split off to the A3/M3; we get on the A27 eastbound for the last dash to Worthing. It seems a little unnatural to be back on the left and going the wrong way around roundabouts, but we manage. English bends are a little peculiar too. They seem to be far less predictable or regular than those we've been used to on the continent – in getting used to them again, we're probably riding more slowly and cautiously than any point in the rest of the trip. "More slowly" doesn't necessarily mean "slow", of course, and it isn't long before the signs for Worthing are showing single digits of miles.

We stop briefly to say our goodbyes on the outskirts, then part company. A few minutes later and the VFR's safely tucked away in the garage, leaving me with a small pile of luggage to carry up to the house where – I hope – one wife and four cats will be hugely pleased to see me back. I take a deep, satisfied breath, looking up at the stars. Everything's cool. It's the journey which matters.

I've enjoyed reading Endo's trip report, and I hope readers have too. It has certainly tickled my touring glands and given me itchy wheels, if that's not a metaphor too far. He has included some general observations on riding etiquette and kit, and I will leave these for another, final, post. My thanks to Endo for taking the trouble to put his experiences into words, and it has been a pleasure to play host.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Mid-Range Touring, Part 5

Endemoniada_88's adventures in Europe continue as they guys leave France and head into the Pyrenees. Parts One, Two, Three and Four posted previously. Go back and look if you haven't already.

10. Day 8, Montpellier to Andorra

We start by checking one or two running repairs from yesterday. The Guzzi had needed oil (...of course, it's an Italian bike!), but the forecourt top-up we did has cured that. The Triumph vibrated loose one of the pannier mounting brackets (...of course, it's a British bike!) [Oi! - Ed], but that's stayed tight. My hugger, sadly, is resolutely staying knackered – a combination of luggage weight, bumpy roads and presumably excess heat has seen the front of it come into contact with the rear downpipes and melt, while the edge of the tyre has actually worn a separate hole in it. Neither caused any riding issues and this early in the morning, with everything cool and static, there's the clear gaps between hugger, tyre and exhaust that you would expect. I decide to leave it alone and see what happens.

We're dropping down into Spain today, then back up into the Pyrenees to Andorra, which is a tiny and peculiar twin principality – the current president of France serves as one of the reigning monarchs, the other being the bishop of Catalunya. First, though, our tourist stop of the day is Carcassonne, to view the famous citadel. A border fort for centuries, it has been owned by pretty much everyone from Visigoths onwards, finally becoming fully French and some way from the border after the Spanish ceded the region in the Middle Ages. It's an 80 mile detour to get there - along the A61 from Narbonne and back the same way – and, actually, it's a bit of a struggle as there are some fierce crosswinds and an almost constant headwind gusting over the exposed péage.

We arrive at the town, and ride through steeply-sloped streets that are an odd sandwich of slabs, cobbles and stone central drainage gullies to a hilltop square. I'm certain that the citadel is behind us, having glimpsed it through the trees on the way in. A passer-by confirms that and we set off back in that direction until we can pull up in a car park with a decent view of it. At this distance, it's a very picturesque fairytale vista, but still some way off and time is getting on. We consult Mike B's travel guide, decide we don't really need to walk around inside it, take some photos and head back to the A61.

It's easier on the way back with the wind behind us and we make good speed to where the A9 kisses the coastline at Perpignan, then turn towards the Pyrenees and Catalunya. After yesterday's banzai dash through the river valleys, we've agreed to take it easier today, but the road quickly makes liars of us. The D115 (and, across the Spanish border, the C-38 it becomes) is every bit as compelling, winding ever up into the foothills and lower mountains, sometimes turning back completely on itself. We get sucked into it, despite the sometimes uncertain footing of recent resurfacing.

It's a more open and flowing trail than the Tarn valley was, albeit just as narrow and precipitous. With more time to spare between the really tight bends, I take the opportunity to observe Steve and Mike B's riding more closely. They're both carrying a lot of speed into the corners, in a classical upright stance that uses very little, if any, bodyweight shift. Steve steadies his entry speed with brake and/or engine, depending, then pulls the bike through the apex and out on the power. The BMW deals with it well: although the various linkages of the Paralever/Telelever suspension are working quite frantically, they seem to be passing a lot less movement through to the rider than my conventional monoshock and teles set-up – he looks almost serenely unmoved by the choppy road surface. Mike B, by contrast, rides the bend on a largely neutral or closing throttle, keeping the arc of the corner for much longer before putting the gas on. His Bandit seems to float smoothly over the chosen line, trading off the additional control of having the power on for less loading on the suspension. I move about a lot more than either of them, setting up for the corner with a firm pull on the front brake or a blip of the throttle, then staying on the gas. The Honda, with a much sportier riding position than either of their bikes, encourages that sort of behaviour. It may be a bumpier ride, but it never feels out of control: just determined to pass all the feedback from the road through to me with very little adulteration in the name of comfort. Besides, I'm used to it - the vast majority of bikes I've owned have been sportsbikes, softly sprung and remote feel baffles me far more than direct input.

Behind us, the cumulative effects of two thousand miles practically living in the saddle are really coming to fruition for Paul and Mike D. They're staying visibly closer and keeping a much more consistent pace than was the case a week ago. We only have to slow down a little for them to catch up, rather than needing to pull over and wait.

At length, the winding road deposits us in the town of Ripoll, bedecked with Catalunyan flags that match the yellow-and-red oil flags shown at races. We pull up on a wide pavement between a group of Ducatis and some open-air cafe seating. It's beside some sort of church (a famous Benedictine monastery, in fact, as it turns out) where a single mournful bell is tolling at intervals. We take a seat and study the Ducati riders. They're French, with specially-printed "Desmo 2011" tour T-shirts that have their names on the back and everything. Shiny new bikes and racing one-piece suits, no luggage.

We're interrupted at that point by the arrival of a lot of locals, mostly clad in black, and a silver Land Rover 4x4 with a coffin in the back. That explains the doom-laden bell. Our bikes being parked right across where it needs to cross the pavement to get access to the monastery probably explains the nasty looks we're getting. Some embarrassed and hasty moving of vehicles ensues: the Guzzi's chunky exhaust note doing little to appease any of the cortege. Fortunately, given that my VFR's a lot louder, it's the only one that isn't in the way so I leave it well alone.

The Ducatisti wave to us, mount up and leave once the funeral's all sorted out. We linger for a bit, then head out north on the N-152. It's another steep, narrow climb into the mountains. Not too twisty at first, but turning into a manic, spiky ECG trace of a route further on. It gets a little chilly and a light drizzle starts to fall. Nothing serious, more of a mental rain than an actual grip hazard. We slow down anyway, which makes it quite ironic that Mike B chooses this point to crash. He's obviously got someone watching over him, though: as the front tucks under completely on a hairpin and he faces the prospect of a downhill slide to Armco and a vertiginous drop, somehow his foot gets dragged back under the exhaust and the bike bounces back upright off his boot. One of those things you simply couldn't do again if you tried.

Understandably shaken by the experience, he pulls over, parks the bike and gets off. His guardian angel obviously does too, because the rest of us can only watch as the bike, still pointing downhill, rolls gently off the sidestand and drops on its side. It takes three of us to pick it up again, as it's against the slope and the wheels are completely clear of the ground. Luckily, the damage is slight: left-hand indicator, end of the clutch lever and a scratched pannier. Annoying, but a whole lot better than the falling off a mountain he's just avoided. While we're gaffa-taping the indicator back together, the Ducati crew from Ripoll go past. We hadn't actually seen them on the road, so they must have taken a slightly different route somewhere, but we are amused by just how slow they are – it's stopped even pretending to rain, but they're going at about half of our wet pace. On the other hand, they're not the ones fixing a bent bike, so perhaps they have a point - even if they do maybe need to consider renaming it a Desmo 2011/12 tour at that speed.

We drop our own pace a little to give Mike a chance to evaluate any less obvious damage to bike or engine, but it all seems fine. He doesn't really want to push it, though, so we stay quite sedate for the leg down to Puigcerda, then up towards Andorra. The road winds along a valley bed, towards some serious mountains. Low cloud is boiling over the lower peaks and dropping towards us, visibly expanding by the minute. The road goes into a long tunnel, easily a couple of miles end to end and when we emerge it isn't into daylight. It's into a cloud that's at least as dense as the worst fog I've ever ridden in. My satnav is painting a disturbing picture of zig-zags and hairpins up ahead, but all I can see is the next ten feet of tarmac.

It doesn't get any better on the ascent: the road is as sharply twisty as any we've yet seen, and riding it blind is a stressful experience. I almost immediately acquire a pushy local driver behind me: I take one look at the mostly grey-primered hot hatch hanging a few feet off my rear tyre and pull right across to let him through. Ahead of me, Mike D doesn't give him the same space, or the driver misses any opportunity he is given, so Mike gets to make the tricky uphill run with the added pressure of a rev-hungry loon in tow.

At the top, we branch right into another tunnel, this one angled down into Encamp. The other end of it is clear of fog, which we get little chance to appreciate because, almost immediately, we're there. A petrol station and two hotels amidst some outstandingly beautiful and steep slopes populated by herds of cattle. The only sound after we park up is that of cowbells.

Our hotel is lovely, with secure underground parking and room windows that open out on to a hillside so steep it occupies the entire view. Our hostess is a genial middle-aged lady: after a particularly good steak dinner, we sit in the bar and she brings out local brandies for us to try. Her idea of a measure is a half full brandy glass – we have a couple of those apiece and retire, slightly the worse for wear, to our rooms. Steve and I are pleased to discover the TV includes Eurosport, and put the cycling Tour of Switzerland on. Mike D is not quite so pleased, but seems to have little difficulty in falling asleep despite the noise. Anyway, the cowbells are louder than the television...

11. Day 9, Andorra to Pau

Properly in the Pyrenees now, we originally pencilled in a route for several mountaintop crossings. Experience tells us this isn't going to be viable unless we still want to be out there in the middle of the night, so we revise it down to bypass a couple of the Cols. It's still a 230 mile day and we're none of us completely eager to get going after the previous night's brandy extravaganza. A big breakfast and some bracing mountain air soon sorts that out, though. Outside, the clouds are still lifting, revealing that we're not far below the height of currently redundant ski-lifts waiting for new snowfall.

We head north out of Encamp, back to last night's invisible ascent. From up here, it doesn't look too bad: a thin, twisting ribbon of grey laid carelessly on a pine-sprinkled carpet of green. We pause to let a herd of horses be driven across, presumably to pasture, then begin the descent. Mike B is still taking it very easy, not quite sure how far he should place his trust in front-end grip. It feels odd going past him: the back end of the Suzuki has pretty much become an integral part of the view ahead, more noticeable when it isn't there than when it is.

The French border crossing, even out here in the sticks, is manned by several armed and stern-looking douanes. They eye us up suspiciously, and one of them puts his hand up for me, now at the back again, to stop. Perhaps it's because I'm smoking while we're moving slowly, or perhaps he just doesn't like my body language. I flip my sun visor up and stare impassively back at him. Not precisely a challenge, but I've had enough experience of the douanes to know I really don't like them. After a long pause, he waves me through dismissively, which suits me just fine.

Our first destination is the Col de Port, a medium-height pass in the lower Pyrenees (1250 meters, second category climb, for those who follow cycling. I probably should point out, in the interests of honesty, that I'm far too lazy and unfit to actually cycle anywhere myself these days, but I do enjoy watching the sport...). It's a hellishly tight and narrow ascent heavily punctuated with random repairs that consist almost entirely of loose gravel poured into potholes of various sizes and depths. We're going faster than the local club cyclists, who are out in force, but I suspect a serious pro-tour specialist would be giving us a run for our money. There's a cafe at the top, where we take a break and admire the still largely green vista.

The descent is just as challenging, before we take to flatter roads and take a more direct route towards Pau, running parallel to the péage but on rather more attractive D roads. Here in the valley, it's blazing hot and airless, so we break early for lunch. That brings us an enormous baguette stuffed with every conceivable form of cold meat and salad apiece, followed by a suitably enormous bill. A bit of miscommunication leaves me in the cafe car park, taking the lining out of my jacket, while everyone else roars off. It's a fair while before I can catch up with their head start, by which time we're heading towards a loop south which will lead us to the Col du Tourmalet.

The Tourmalet is one of the really big cycling challenges, as famous as the Alpe d'Huez or Mont Ventoux for deciding victors in the Tour de France, and features in the Vuelta a Espana too. It's the highest climb in the Pyrenees, at 2115 meters – earning it an undisputed out of category classification. It amuses us that the approach from the east starts some miles back by dropping hugely and continuously on a beautiful and winding woodland road. We take that at a sprightly pace, then start on the gentle rise up the other side. It's quite a distance from the first signs to the Col to the base of it, first sighted properly after rounding a much lesser cliff.

It's a bleak place, the scuffed and slogan-daubed tarmac running through water-dripping colonnaded tunnels to the grimy ski-station village of La Mongie, then kicking up again into a sharper section running up to grey cloud-shrouded peaks. I've only ever seen it on television, lined with crowds that conceal the crumbling, precipitous edges: riding the turns myself is a surreal experience, each one comes up as though the road simply leads off the edge of the world. There are clouds below us now, and we pass just under a ski-lift to where the pass flattens out at the highest point.

There's a car park here, so visitors can stop and savour the view, visit the shop and admire the giant statue of 1910 Tour victor Octave Lapize. The view alone is, quite simply, worth the journey: earth merging dramatically into sky as the mountains march towards distant, veiled horizons. A few exhausted cyclists struggle up from where we will be descending, to the applause and encouragement of everyone present. Steve, no mean cyclist himself, debates buying a Col shirt but decides it would be cheating. He settles for a photo beside the statue instead.

The plunge down is a more brutal road than our ascent was, sharp, off-camber turns compounded by the additional front loading of a descent. Steve and I chase down it, rapidly distancing the others, possibly driven by a greater sense of history of the place. Or a greater recklessness. Even so, it's only at a pace that a decent Tour rider could manage: any faster would be inviting disaster. We have to wait for quite some time before the rest catch us up, then pick up the pace for a long, twisting sweep through scenic low valleys to Lourdes.

The weather breaks on us just past Lourdes, and rain lashes from a suddenly-dark sky. We don't stop, as the road is leading straight towards a brighter horizon. As swiftly as it came, the downpour stops and sunlight dries us out in short order. Only Pau left to negotiate - and that turns out to be unexpectedly difficult. There are roadworks and one-way systems everywhere, the hotel isn't where Steve's satnav thinks it is and when I take over the lead, we manage to lose the other two Mikes when they turn in for petrol and we miss the signal. Still, they don't blame us all that much and my satnav gets us to our destination without too much more drama.

Not for the first time, we end the day with a significant portion of steak.

Next time: Bilbao, Brittany Ferries and British Customs.

Save of the Month

Found on the Triumph Rats forum. Running wide on a corner and into oncoming traffic is usually the quickest way to finish your riding career, and possibly your life. This guy had all the luck. It wasn't skill - skill would have got him round the corner in the first place.

Bet he needs some new leathers, though. The ones he was wearing must be full by now.

Found here. Learn Russian first.

(Sorry about the rubbish formatting. I don't know enough Russian to get the embed code or modify it - getting it here at all was a lucky guess.)

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Mid-Range Touring, Part 4

From regular commenter Endemoniada_88. Parts One, Two and Three posted previously. If this is new to you, work back; it's a good read.

8: Day 6, Genova to Frejus

It doesn't start brilliantly: as a handy travel tip, always avoid places beginning with "Gen". As in Geneva, Genova is a massive gridlock: this time with the added hazard of kamikaze scooterists all over the place. We fight through it in 30+ degree temperatures, then gratefully pull over at Arenzano to sit on the beach for a while. Paul partially baptises himself in the Ligurian Sea while the rest of us stay in the shade and buy cold drinks.

The Italian Riviera is undeniably beautiful, but it is slow going. There are more towns and speed limits than I remember – there again, last time I went through it was one February, years back, in a camper van. We're unlucky enough to pick up a cop car, too and, like police everywhere they're up for playing the game. Bang on the speed limit and sticking to the centre line for mile after mile, just waiting for someone to try an overtake. He looks set to go all the way to France, but we manage to get past him in a queue of stationary traffic in one of the towns and pull away sharpish as soon as his view of us is obscured.

Today's main tourist destination is Monaco, where Mike B wants to ride around the F1 track hairpin. To make some time up, we get off the coast road and on to the A8 péage around Imperia, then drop into the principality. It doesn't look all that wealthy on the outskirts, and the road in has some fearsomely tight downhill turns that eventually drop us into a traffic jam composed almost entirely of really expensive cars. We immediately get lost and separated, Steve and Paul ending up at one side of the harbour and the rest of us at the other, separated by the famous Tunnel.

It takes a while to regroup and get back to the top, by which time the air temperature is steady at an oppressive 37C. We ride as much of the track as we can, from the hairpin to the harbour, before pulling up to get a drink and admire the boats. At 6 euros per orange juice, though, we don't stay all that long.

Getting out of Monaco is easier than getting in: there's some sort of underground one-way interchange thing that leads directly to the main roads. Steve follows the green sign, as per the Italian autostradas we've been using: it then takes us a while to correct that and pick up the blue-posted French péage. It's an easy run, though and that stretch of the A8 down to Frejus is a beautiful piece of road, all wide, sweeping and superfast curves. If only all motorways were built the same.

It's a fair hike to find some food that evening, walking somewhat nervously alongside the A8 towards an industrial centre. There's a picture-perfect sunset to enjoy, however and – for the petrolheads – Frejus seems to be lined with every car dealership imaginable. The walk back, after a fairly average steak at a Buffalo franchise, is punctuated by our disbelief at the local scooter riders who seem to think lights should be optional on a motorway at night. It's almost too hot to sleep when we get back, but we manage.

9: Day 7, Frejus to Montpellier

It might be a spoiler, but this, without doubt, is the best biking day I have ever enjoyed ... amongst a pretty wide spread of possible candidates. The straight road is a diminutive 160-mile autoroute, but we put in a loop around to visit the Millau Viaduc via some cross-country twisties.

The first section, as far as Nimes, is péage all the way. Pretty, fast, but nothing to really write home about. We turn north-west towards Alès and just beyond there find a roadside place to stop for lunch. The barman shrugs in very Gallic fashion over food, hands us some baguettes, ham and cheese and leaves us to make our own sandwiches. Steve and Mike B do a sterling job with the raw materials but inexplicably balk at any idea they should take up catering for the rest of us full-time.

Heading on into the Cevennes National Parc, there's a long, swooping climb through some smooth and fast roads that we make the most of, before we find ourselves in the area of the Gorges du Tarn and some of the most truly sublime roads ever built. It's a sequence of river valleys, bounded by rock walls, with the road looping and twisting along the course, occasionally passing through small tunnels bored into the larger outcrops. The view is incredible, the traffic scarce and the villages widely scattered.

Early on, a local making implausibly-fast progress in a Transit pulling a large trailer pulls over to let us past and we seize the opportunity with gusto. The next 30 miles or so are a blur of astonishingly rideable switchbacks and open hairpins where even the bumps and grassy, gravelled edges of the road seem to give grip and drive. It's just one long adrenaline rush. One brief pause for a small town. Then the same again for another 20 miles or so. The VFR stayed in second and third almost the entire way, V-TEC open and howling with me clambering about on it like someone who has forgotten they're in full touring kit with hard luggage onboard (... largely because I had forgotten ... !). When we finally stop and take stock, we're all grinning like pumpkins and wanting another go. Awesome beyond words, the Route de Florac and Route de Gorges du Tarn.

From there, it's a fairly short, steep drop into the town of Millau. It's not as dominated by the Viaduc as one might expect – that's further up the Tarn valley – nor a particularly obvious tourist trap. We stop for drinks and to unwind after the recent fast miles before going in search of photo opportunities. There's a spot at the far end of town where you can look up at the Viaduc, so we go there first and get some pictures. Then, following the directions given us in the Visitor Information Centre, we head for Montpellier. That quickly turns out to be the wrong way: to go across the Viaduc itself, we need to head back towards Clermont-Ferrand and drop south on to the A75. In doing so, we get our first real idea of the true scale of it - it doesn't look that massive from below, but overlooking it from the top of the hills, it is absolutely enormous. And beautiful with it, both as an exercise in engineering and in design.

I ride over slowly, marvelling at the sheer size of the cables and pillars rising above the roadway. Paul hammers across so he can legitimately claim to have crossed it at over a ton. It's that kind of a place: it simply demands some kind of a response out of the ordinary.

To finish the day off in style, the A75 turns out to be a proper road. It plunges dramatically down the mountains, through a fast, fast tunnel and into a sweeping set of downhill hairpins that wouldn't look out of place back in the river valleys. It is a two-lane motorway, though, so they can be taken at easily twice that pace. It's a breathless, exciting run that ends when we sweep on the A750 and some semblance of sedateness takes over for the last gentle push into Montpellier.

Now, that was a day.

Next: getting in the way of a funeral, a small but harmless crash, and a crossing of the infamous Col du Tourmalet.

The Wasps of Pendine

Today I went to Pendine Sands to watch the attempt on the UK Electric Land Speed Record (details here).

It's not been a great day, despite the weather improving from a drizzly start to a glorious finish. I got there shortly after 1 pm, to hear that the record attempt had been postponed after the Bluebird had hit some soft sand and sustained some damage. The attempt would be delayed by an hour or so, and so I found my mates from the Triumph Club and we sat in the sunshine with a beer and some fish and chips. Perfect seaside fare, except that we were plagued by wasps. For the first time in my life I was served fish and chips in a box.

Nowhere in the world does fish and chips like Yorkshire does, and this was disappointing fare. I'm one of the old school who thinks that the newsprint added flavour, and that the modern fashion for clean white paper (or, whisper it, a polystyrene clamshell and a fork) is just a poofy fad which will never catch on. So having them in a cardboard box like a, well, like a pizza actually, was definitely an offence against culinary tradition.

I then strolled onto the sands to watch the entertainment and had an ice-cream. (Awful.) I met a couple of the other guys and we chatted for a while. We then heard over the tannoy that the Bluebird would be making its way back to the start line (where we were standing) to re-charge and make another attempt. Re-charging takes about half an hour, and is accomplished by a huge portable generator pulled behind a truck. You can see it in the middle of the picture.

Perhaps this is the solution for the 'range anxiety' said to be the main reason why motorists are not clamouring for electric vehicles at the moment. Each electric car to tow its own generator, fuelled by - well, petrol, naturally. It's all brilliantly thought out. The emissions don't count if they come from somewhere else, like - er - a power station.

The man on the tannoy then said that while driving back to the start, the Bluebird had hit another patch of soft sand and had broken its nose-cone and shaken the driver up a bit. Both were OK, but the record attempt would now be delayed until 5.30 pm. I expected to be home by then (the grass is like a forest after the France trip, and this has been the first dry day), so I decided to leave. First, I called in at the Museum of Speed to catch a look at the famous Babs, the car which killed J. G. Parry-Thomas in 1927 during an attempt to win back the land speed record from Malcolm Campbell, and which was buried under the dunes of Pendine until it was excavated and restored in the 1960s and 70s by Owen Wyn Owen. It is now in running order and is quite a sight.

It's much, much bigger than it looks here.

I started the bike and set off down the main road in Pendine. I was travelling at only 10-15 mph and had not yet put my visor down, and a Pendine Wasp flew into my face and wedged itself between my cheek and the side of the helmet. It stung me and then, in revenge at my poking it out with a gloved finger, stung me again. I pulled over, ripped off the helmet and inspected the damage. Of course I couldn't see it, as it was on my cheek a little below my eye, so I asked a passing Young Mum if she would have a look at it. Luckily, she turned out to be a nurse, so I was quickly examined and pronounced alive and in no immediate danger. However, it hurt like hell and was making my eye water, so I abandoned plans to meet up with the guys for a cup of tea later and made it straight for home.


S'pose I'd better cut the grass ...
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