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

- George Washington

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas all

To all my loyal readers, if I have any left after such a period of inactivity, I wish a very happy Christmas. May you get everything you want or, failing that, everything you deserve.

More apologies for the lack of posting recently. Things have been busy. There have been bike-related shenanigans, some car issues to sort out (including a mysterious tale of a brake caliper and a wheel bearing) and there may be a new job on the horizon for the new year. Also, I have had a big birthday (ending in a zero) which took a bit of coming to terms with.

I won't be posting over the next few days, but as soon as the Christmas nonsense is out of the way I will be back.

Take care and have fun.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Aye, Laddie!

I can't remember ever learning to read.  It was just one of those things that came to you, like walking or eating.  I think I was fairly surreptitious about it too, as I surprised my mother with my facility for textual decoding (can you tell I used to be a teacher?) one day when I was about three years old.

We were out for a walk somewhere (at a guess, Stanhope Park, in Darlington) and I needed a wee.  I told Mum and she said I'd have to wait.  But no, I said, there is a toilet here.  No, that's not for you, she said. You can't go in there.   But, but, I said, I can.  Look, the sign says "Laddies"!

OK, not perfect decoding of the double-consonant rule, but nearly there.  I made her laugh, and she got her revenge by telling friends of the story when I was in my mid-twenties.  And thirties.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I was browsing Facebook recently, and came across this advert in the sidebar.

Do they think I was born yesterday?  Those are gurls.  I know.  I'm nearly four.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Comment policy

Regular readers, both of you, may remember that a while ago I turned on word verification for comments to this blog.  I was getting so much spam it was 'doin my ed in like', and turning WV on stopped it instantly.  However, I know from my own experience that the Blogger WV thing is very irritating and clumsy.  More than once I have written a fairly thoughtful and considered response on another blog, only to give up after six attempts to decipher some random squiggles in a box.  My time has been wasted, the world will miss that particular pearl of wisdom, and the whole thing is unsatisfactory.  I was very reluctant to turn on WV for my own blog, as I know how big a pain it is, and I have had some feedback from readers that it was putting them off commenting.

But when you are writing and managing a blog in your spare time, spam is a real hassle and takes a lot of your attention away from where it should be, so I don't apologise for turning on WV until the tsunami of rubbish abated.  I'm a bit of an innocent when it comes to these things, but the spam was increasing over time, and my guess was that the blog was getting on more and more spam lists as the spam comments were visible for a while until I got round to deleting them, and therefore appeared in some Greatest Hits in a database somewhere.  My hope is that, now the blog has been silent for a few months, whoever does these things will have assumed the blog is no more and will have moved onto more fertile soil.

So, WV is OFF for the time being.  Comment all you like, magnifying glasses not necessary.  If the spam returns, I will have another think.  It has been suggested that I allow comments from registered users only, which would solve the problem, but might bring others in its wake.  We shall see.

If anyone has any bright ideas, let me know - in the comments :)

Here's a poster to make you laugh.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Fleet update

For those who are interested ...

I had to move everything about yesterday to clear leaves and stuff from my usual storage locations, and I ended up with all three bikes on the driveway, and I thought it would be an ideal photo opportunity.  There's one new addition to the fleet since the last bike-related post here.

Here's the chorus line:

From left to right:

Yamaha XT660R, 2006, fully functional, road legal, the commuter and everyday reliable workhorse.  Previous owner rode it to Romania and back (from his name on the V5, I think he was visiting relatives) and I intend to give it a similar workout before too long.  Not to Romania, but further than the Severn Bridge, for sure.

Triumph Trident 750, 1994 (but an early VIN, probably made in 1992), one of the early Hinckley revival Triumphs.  Bought because I could no longer credibly be the Chairman of my branch of the Owners' Club without owning a Triumph, and this was a very cheap eBay purchase in May.  Bought (more or less) to say I had one in the shed, and perhaps to keep with a view to long-term restoration.  In fact, it is a superb bit of kit, and I am hooked.  It had 52k on the clock when I got it (53k now) and it is not without its faults, but it is rideable and goes pretty well for an old girl.  I'm now focusing on a gradual improvement schedule.  The immediate stuff has all been done, and I am now onto the refinements (hollow laugh).

Yamaha XT600E, 1995 (but made in 1994), SORNed, no tax, no insurance, no battery as of yesterday. A triumph (heh) of mid-90s tasteless colour vandalism - pale green, lilac and white. The puppy I cannot abandon.  Long-term, it's going to get money spent on it and made fantastic, but short-term it's under a cover behind the shed.  I found an interesting nest of spiders in the air intake yesterday.  Not at the top of my priority list, but when time and funds allow, it's getting the treatment.  I have a lot of lurve for this bike.

Ah, choices.

Night visitors

A little while ago, I gave in to a long-held wish and bought myself a trail camera.  If you haven't seen one of these, it's a camera which straps to a tree or mounts on a post, and works off a PIR sensor, with IR illumination so it can take shots in the dark.  It can take either stills or video, or a combination of the two, and is fully weatherproof.  It's made in woodland camouflage colours and runs off AA batteries.  With an extra battery pack, it can be left for up to six months and will capture any object that is warmer than the background.  This is the one I got - an American LTL Acorn Scouting Camera Ltl-5210A:

Padlock? It would prevent theft of the SD card, but not the camera, which is held by a nylon strap

So far, I have had some mildly interesting results, although I have to say that the camera's performance is slightly disappointing.  Picture quality is modest (about as good as a cheap smartphone) and the range at night is only about 5m - that is, an object needs to be within 5m to trigger the camera, although it will capture an image up to about 15m, with the outer limits quite faint.

I have set it up at various places round the garden over several nights, and results have been getting better, so I imagine that with practice I can get some interesting images.  So far, I have discovered that Rescue Cat is an early bird as well as a midnight rambler:

Monarch of all she surveys
and that the cat that the people in the cottage next door swear they know nothing about is a regular visitor:

We call him 'Pink Cat' and he really is pink, well, pinky-beige. Not in this photo, though
But the best of all is an answer to the question: Who has been leaving the small black turds in the middle of the lawn?  When Bonkers Dog was alive, he would regularly come home with lovely doggy aftershave in the form of stinking black streaks on his neck.  Now we know why:

Don't mind me, I'm just off for a quick dump

Need to find the exact spot for maximum impact

Got it.  Exactly on a line between kitchen door and compost bin, hur hur
I know of several places where badgers run, and the next step (after satisfying the fox curiosity) will be to put the camera deep in the woods for a few nights and see what transpires.

The 'Storm' that wasn't

Here's a thought.

There were dire predictions over the past few days of a Great Storm coming to the South of the UK, a great storm to rival the humdinger we had in 1987.  Ground already soaked, trees still almost in full leaf, therefore massive flooding and trees torn up and flung about like matchsticks.  Or something.  Over the days, the predictions of the route the low would take started with Pembrokeshire and Cornwall taking the brunt of the storm when it made landfall, but the predicted route was later thought to be a little further South. Nevertheless, winds of 95 mph were predicted, damage to trees and property, flooding and mayhem.

I'm not one to over-react to scare stories, having over my life found most of them to be unfounded.  But yesterday I got the bikes under cover, the garden furniture in the shed, the bins indoors and everything moveable lashed down.  The forecasts were serious enough to overcome my basic laziness and Pollyanna optimism.

There was some rain in the night, and it was a bit windy.  I haven't read around the news sites yet, and I imagine some places had it much worse, but for Pembrokeshire it was all a bit of a let-down.

This isn't a Daily Mail-type "why can't these fools get it right?" rant.  I accept that most people act in good faith and sometimes people get it wrong.  I don't blame Michael Fish for the hurricane, and I don't blame the surgeon who missed seeing my Father's cancer at a stage where it might have been treatable.  I don't blame the forecasters who predicted murder and mayhem for my neck of the woods last night, either.  They simply got it wrong.  I kept an eye on things with the BBC weather service, the Met Office and a couple of weather apps on the phone, plus a Facebook feed from someone called Winter Weather 2013-14, and they all told the same story.  As the people concerned are experienced meteorologists, and the computers are presumable the best you can buy, this leads me to believe that the models are faulty - or at least much less accurate than the meteorologists think they are.

And that's the point.  I'm told on Sunday afternoon that it's Armageddon by Sunday night, and it isn't.  How can I believe that these same people and models can predict what the weather is going to be like in 2050?

(And yes, I am not an infant and I know that weather is not the same as climate.  But weather is how climate manifests itself in the same way that woodland manifests itself in individual trees.  If you are predicting climate, you are also predicting the specific weather conditions associated with that climate.)

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Beast That Will Not Die

I'm sitting here, chuckling in disbelief.

I was working last night (remember, when most people got an extra hour in bed, night workers got an extra hour on their shift, chiz) and got a few hours' sleep this morning.  This afternoon, I had promised Anna that I would get everything outside the house tidied away in preparation for the coming storm.  I got the wooden garden furniture in the shed, lashed down various bins, tables and barbecues, and performed the 3D jigsaw of getting both 'proper' bikes into the garage.  It was a very tight fit, and I had to tunnel out, but they are in there.

Which left the old XT.  To remind anyone who is remotely interested, I got a newer version in January and took the XT off the road with the vague intention of restoring it, or perhaps rebuilding it as a 'special' after a thorough overhaul.  January was the last time it went on the road.  It was wrapped in a waterproof cover and left.  Around April time, I took the covers off to check it was OK and tried to fire it up.  It started first time.  Back went the covers, after I had patted it and made soothing noises.  Anna is a bit pertickuler about important lifestyle artefacts (she refers to them as 'junk'), so the XT went under a waterproof cover and was hidden behind the shed.  Before I did this, I drained out as much fuel as I could and then ran the engine until it died.  The idea is to leave the carbs empty of fuel so that it doesn't evaporate and clog everything up with varnish.

As the bike is parked under some trees, I went to move it to a safer place for tonight. The waterproof cover had ripped to shreds, although the bike underneath looked fine.  Just for a laugh, I thought I would try to start it.  I knew there was no fuel in there, and I was pretty certain that after six months of inactivity (and almost a year without any significant charging) the battery would be dead as a dead thing.  It was new when I bought the bike in 2008,and 3-5 years is considered to be a reasonable life expectancy.  With regular use.

Ignition on, fuel on, try to start it.  The starter churned away but nothing happened.  Then I remembered I had drained the fuel, so I switched it to reserve in the hope that a few drops might have been retained in the bottom of the tank.

Rur-rur-rur ... doff doff doff doff ...

I laughed out loud.  I rode it round the garden and twice round the house.  Everything worked perfectly.

I have put it somewhere safe, away from falling branches.  It's no longer insured, and any serious damage would realistically make it not worth repairing.  It has convinced me (I was wavering, I admit) that it deserves some lurve, when I get the time and funds.

It reminds me of that marvellous Top Gear stunt with the Toyota Hilux.  The bike seems to be indestructable.

Happy days.

Good luck if you are in the path of this nasty weather.  My advice: go to bed with a pint of Scotch and pull the covers over your head.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Here we are again, happy as can be ...

I haven't posted anything here since May, almost exactly five months ago.  As with all relationships, the longer you leave it, the harder it is to get in touch again, and I was on the verge of writing a single, elegaic post and closing for good.  I can see three reasons for my lack of output, one technical, one organisational, and one psychological.

Firstly, I bought myself an iPad.  Anna and I had been talking on and off about getting one for a while, and one day we just slapped ourselves in the face, stopped pretending we were rational adults with a active sense of deferred gratification, and went to Curry's, where two iPad 3 devices were duly purchased.  Now I am far from being an Apple fanboi, but for a limited set of functions, the iPad is a brilliant bit of kit.  Youtube, reading mail and forums, playing simple games, basic websurfing - all very quick and convenient.  Stuff that needs a proper keyboard, image handling, cut and paste, maybe not so good.  Blogging really needs the functionality of a 'proper' computer, but when the proper computer is in another draughty room, away from the hearth and the kitchen, it's easy to stick with the simple stuff.

Secondly, I used to get a lot of blogging done during the quiet periods during my night shifts.  Earlier this year we underwent a massive organisational change, mainly the removal of an entire layer of the department, and I found myself no longer managing a team from the warmth of the office (and enough quiet time to get quite a lot done, as it were) but out on patrol or doing security-type things.  I have no problem with this, as I rather enjoy the work and being outdoors, but it does mean that computer time in an office without someone looking over my shoulder all the time is virtually nil.

Psychologically, I think that blogger's ennui has caught up with me too.  While Labour were in power, every read of the daily papers supplied enough rage material for a couple of good posts.  In common with most people I speak to, or read on the web, I have been massively disappointed in Cameron and his chums.  But the old anger isn't there; it's been replaced by a shrug and a massive yawn.

So things tailed off a bit.  But the other day I got a shock.  My reading list hasn't changed much, and I still check in daily with my favourites.  And there I was reading Julia's offering one day last week and what should I see but a link to mine. I haven't checked my blog stats for a while, and I had rather assumed that interest would have withered somewhat, so I was surprised and gratified that someone had actually remembered this small and inconsequential blog.  I think that was the kick I needed.  Thank you, Julia.

All's well here, in fact remarkably so.  Anna's health is still poor, but seems to be improving slowly.  Rescue Cat continues to be both needy and passive-aggressive at the same time.  There have been some big changes in the bike fleet, some news on tyre choices for the Mundaneo (winter tyres are the way to go, apparently), and there's still plenty to get enraged about.  And I have purchased a trail camera - of which more later.  Thanks to everyone who wrote to ask if I were still alive, and offer condolences, whisky or links to amusing websites.  I am flattered that anyone remembered, and I can assure you that I am in reasonable health and still gainfully employed.

Posting will resume forthwith.

Meanwhile, here's a Nice picture to keep you going.  Snarf.

Saturday, 25 May 2013


An off-duty soldier is hacked to death in a London street.  In a sign of the urgency of the police response, the forces of law and order have been quick to spring into action:
A number of people have been charged after allegedly offensive comments were made on social media websites.
Now, I have been following the reactions on Facebook, and some of them have not made pleasant reading.  In fact some of them have made me despair of the low standard of logic and reason of my fellow countrymen.  Some have been spiteful, nasty, ignorant, violent and - of course - utterly counterproductive.

But it will not have escaped anybody's attention that in the aftermath of what must be one of the most horrific murders any of us have heard of, it is the people making the 'incorrect' response who are the first to be punished.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Thundersprint 2013

I spent the weekend at the Thundersprint bike festival, and I am still here to tell the tale.  Just.  No accidents, just close to hypothermia by the time I got home.

The ride up to Anglesey along the We(s)t coast and through Snowdonia was brilliant.  Bright sunshine, dry roads and, if not actually warm, then not bone-chillingly cold.  I checked out the location of the Travelodge I was staying in, and then did a slow ride through Bangor (checking out scenes from my University days, and shocked to see the Students' Union building had been demolished) and across the Menai Bridge* onto Anglesey.  I took the coastal route and got to the racetrack at 2 pm, the scheduled time for meeting Nikos.  This fine gentleman has been to many of the previous Thundersprints when they were held in Northwich, and in fact it was he who suggested that I might find it interesting.

All this man's fault

I had no idea where to go, and ended up in the camping area next to a burger van, as you do.  I kicked my heels for half an hour (and had a burger, obviously) and then sent him a text message.  Of course, he had arrived at the ordained time and gone straight into the business of scrutineering and form-filling.  After a brief and ill-tempered mix-up at the gate to the paddock (apparently I had not received the required pass in the mail, and could not proceed without it, but I couldn't get to Race Control to get one as I didn't have a pass to get in) I negotiated the admin on foot and brought the bike in to be scrutineered.  It passed, and I got a sticker which will remain on the little fly-screen for a long time, I imagine.

Race plate overkill - most had an A4 sheet in a polypocket, I had an aluminium confection made out of part of an old Land Rover side-panel

The event had been running from the Friday afternoon, and there were hundreds of caravans, campervans and tents, but the paddock area was creepily quiet.  Traders were doing very slow business, and it was a bit like a ghost town.  We mooched around for a  bit, had a coffee, checked the weather forecast for Sunday (not good), had another coffee, and then went back to the mainland for a meal.

Sunday dawned fair but the sky threatened rain.  We packed up and made it to the circuit by 8.00 am, and things seemed a little more lively.  We parked the bikes up and attended the riders' briefing, and then watched the practice sessions.  And it started to rain.  And rain.  Bloody hell, it rained.  I was wearing full waterproofs, and ended up walking round with my helmet on to keep my head dry, envying (for the first time ever) the guys in one-piece PVC suits - nul points for style, but a gold medal for comfort.  By 11.00 am, my suit was soaked through, and my feet were standing in pools of water.  Yes, that is a 'waterproof' suit and 'waterproof' boots, which work well in everyday use, but seemed not to cope with an Anglesey downpour.

Lining up for practice, umbrellas optional

Watching the practice sessions was fun, although no-one was pushing very hard in the conditions.  Bikes ranged from early Nortons and Velocettes to 60s Tritons, 80s slab-side GSXRs and modern kit like Hayabusas and Speed Triples.  One guy was doing very well on a Harley Sportster, which sounded awesome.  The rain kept speeds modest, but the soundtrack was seductive.

For the Cavalcade (which Nick and I were riding in), we were promised a gentle ride round three laps of the 'International GP' circuit, i.e. all of it, following a pace car and limited to 30-40 mph.  Given the sodden track, I was more than happy with that.  We set out following several cars - an orange Lamborghini, a Lotus Esprit, and ... a Bond.

We have been expecting you, Mr Bond ...
We had spotted this vehicle in the paddock, a Bond Minicar of 1964 vintage (boasting a 250 cc engine! and four seats!! and 55 mph!!!) and had a gentle nostalgic chuckle, not realising that this was part of the let's-not-have-anyone-killing-themselves strategy.  The cunning trick was that nothing could overtake the pace cars, and the Bond was putting out so much blue smoke that no-one could see to overtake anyway.  I think the biggest number I saw on the speedo was 38.  I'm pretty sure we only got two laps, but it was good fun anyway - my first taste of riding on a proper track, and something to tick off the lifetime list.  I could be persuaded to do this again.

We spent a bit of time afterwards looking round the trade and club displays in the paddock.  I snapped a lot of interesting bikes (well, interesting to me, anyway), but I thought I would share just two:  a BSA B31 from the 1940s, a 350 cc rigid-framed classic I yearn to own, with no idea why -

and a remarkable Honda VFR750 converted to diesel power (why would anyone do that, except for the George Mallory reason?) -

Note the elegant frame fabrication

Note rain blurring the lens - it really was throwing it down by this time.

We pushed out bikes out of the paddock and returned to the Little Chef on the A55 for a regroup, hot drink and a farewell.  I managed to get my visor dry (rain on the inside isn't wipeable) but a quick recce in the Gents revealed that I was wet down to my underpants and socks, which didn't bode well for a 170-mile ride home.  But the scenery made it worth it.

Eastern end of Llanberis Pass - road tracks up the hillside and vanishes

Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel, planning and training base for the 1953 Everest expedition **

Random goat crossed the road in front of me.  Big lad, he was

Llyn Gwynant looking moody

Eventually, the rain eased and bike and rider were happy.

XTR in its natural habitat - B road and great scenery

I love this place

By the time I got home, the wind had dried my outer layer off, but my inner layers were still wretchedly wet and I was cold to the bone.  I was in bed by 10.

In  all, a very enjoyable weekend, with good company and some great miles travelled.  The XTR wasn't problem-free, with a slight issue with stalling in traffic.  I think I may have caused this by some ill-considered adjustments a few days ago, but I reversed them before I set off home and had no problems thereafter.  On the journey up to Anglesey, the bike managed 74 mpg, which pleased my inner Scrooge.  First long trip, all good.

Finally, a slow-synchro shot of the XTR in the Travelodge car park - mainly because I just discovered this setting on the camera and was having a play.  I like it.

* Factoid: One of my very few claims to fame is that I once exceeded the speed limit on a UK road by a factor of five.  The Menai Bridge used to have a speed limit of 15 mph, because of its narrow lanes and stone pillars.  One day I got a good run-up off the mainland-side roundabout and gunned the old Jawa for all kit was worth across the bridge, and then piled the brakes on hard for the roundabout at the other end.  I briefly saw 75 mph on the clock.  The limit is now 30, which halves my achievement and makes it even harder to convince random strangers that I am totally bad-ass.  Thanks, Gwynedd County Council.

** The mountain where George Mallory perished in 1924, long before anyone thought of putting a diesel in  a VFR750.  Only connect.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Pam Ayres needn't worry

Courtesy of Boston Police Department:

The hunt is over
The search is done
The terror is over
And justice has won.  
Suspect in custody. 

Good to see that even Boston's finest have poetry in their souls.


In about an hour I am setting off to go to the Thundersprint, described by the Telegraph as "Brilliant bike gathering and sprint meeting" and by the organisers as "Europe's biggest and best motorcycling festival". It's held this year at the Anglesey Race Circuit, and entry includes three laps of the course. It's strictly non-competitive, of course, but I do get a race number and as I have never ridden on a race track before it should be quite a laugh. Hard to think of a less appropriate bike for a race meeting than the XTR (perhaps a full-dress GoldWing) but we'll give it a go.

It's looking like a good day for a ride, with a clear sky and light winds. Tomorrow for the return leg is promised to be wet and cold, so I will be dressing for the worst, not the best. I'm looking forward to meeting Nikos and perhaps some other like-minded folk up there, and pics and a report will surely follow in due course.

Now, where's that First Aid kit ...

Friday, 19 April 2013


Imagine, if you will, an animal like a polar bear.  Now reduce it to a height of three or four feet, and colour its pelt a dirty shade of pinky-beige.  And let it move silently about the landscape at dusk or after dark, sometimes upright and sometimes on all fours, visible from a great distance in the monochrome moonlight of the infrared, pale against the pale fields, dark against the woods.

They tend to move slowly and travel alone, occupying the spaces outside our fences and settlements, and if you go abroad at night, one may creep up on you from behind.  They are not necessarily harmful, but they certainly make you feel nervous, and stories have been told ...  Present or not (and they may be, or may not; you won't know until it is too late), they make you look over your shoulder constantly, and quicken your pace until you find safe haven behind a wooden door or within a sturdy garden gate.

These creatures have populated my dreams tonight.  It's not the first time, although it might of course be part of the dream - that I have had the dream before.  Who knows?

Monday, 11 March 2013

Every man has his Pryce

So Huhne and Pryce are both going to prison.  I'm pleased.

For the avoidance of any doubt, this is not because he liked to drive fast.  In the grand scheme of things, speeding is not such a big deal for me.  I've done it, you've done it, and unless we have been very unlucky no-one has been harmed as a result.  But perverting the course of justice is a very big deal.  It strikes at the very heart of a democracy, and it deserves exemplary punishment.  If Huhne had taken his fine and points, he would have lost his licence, which would have been inconvenient.  I doubt if anyone would have decided not to vote for him as a consequence, which it would seem was his big fear.  If anything, we might have felt more kindly-disposed towards him.  One of us, and all that.

But he couldn't take the idea that he might be punished like the rest of us.  He reckoned he was too important than that.  And now he is going to prison.  Good.  As Richard Nixon could have told him, it is never the original offence that does for you; it is always the cover-up.

Learn the lesson, politicians and celebrities: take your medicine and move on.  The rest of us don't really care, unless you suddenly start to behave like the rules don't apply to you.  Then we think you're a prick, and will rub our hands with glee as we watch you slide.

So Huhne is a politician and a liar - but I repeat myself.  Nothing new there.  It's Pryce who has come out of this the worst.  Perfectly happy to go along with the scheme (marital coercion, my arse) until he leaves her and she wants revenge.  The contents of the revealed emails couldn't be clearer.  And I reckon that Isabel Oakshott has a few questions to answer, too.  She virtually talked Pryce into it, almost an agent provocateur.  Another lesson for the pols and celebs - never trust a journalist.  It's the story they want, not justice.  (I enjoy reading Fleet Street Fox, who makes a good case for her profession, but reality tells me that she is in a minority.)

A plague on the lot of them.

Free Gift for Smokers

Library picture, obviously

Ha, that got your attention!

I was clearing out a cupboard last week, and I came across a relic of my pipe-smoking days.  It's a reasonable quantity of tobacco - Gold Block, The Aristocrat Of Pipe Tobaccos - five 50g pouches, total 250g, never opened, still in a sealed box.  I must have bought it on the ferry one year and put it away for later, only for 'later' never to arrive.

I was going to chuck it in the bin, but I hate throwing anything away that could be useful to someone, and then I thought of you guys.

I have no idea how old it is (it is six years since I touched any kind of tobacco), but the box has never been opened, so the baccy is still sealed in its pristine little hermetic pouches.  There isn't a 'best-by' date on it (was there ever such a thing?), but I don't recall tobacco going off in storage very much, not when it has no exposure to the atmosphere or daylight.  But I don't know.  Your risk.  Leg-Iron could probably advise; he seems to be the go-to man on tobacciculture.

Worth about £50 at current prices.  And it may not even have the health warnings on it (the box doesn't), so it is officially harmless.

Anyway, it's free to the first person to claim it - I will tell you how much the postage cost, and you can make an equivalent donation to the charity Help For Heroes or the RNLI.  Fair?

A week, and then it's in the bin.

U+03C9: Greek Small Letter Omega


OK, I give up on this one.  Following recent heartache about a deluge of smelly spam to this blog, I recall that I have noticed one feature of a couple of the early spam posts: somewhere in the post, there would be a Greek omega character (ω) in place of a 'w' in one or more of the words.  Once I had noticed it, I started to look for it, and pretty much every one had an omega somewhere in it.

Now, I don't have enough brains to be able to rack them properly, but I did get out the magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers and fiddle with them a bit.  And I can't for the life of me work out why this should be.  Is it an attempt to create words that will be readable but unrecognised by spam filters?  Or are all the spammers, English-illiterate though some of them are, all closet Greek scholars, channelling Thucidides?


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Eggs, Bacon, Sausage, Beans ...

(Obligatory Monty Python reference.)

The enabling of the Captcha word verification thing seems to have been 100% effective.  In the last 48 hours I haven't had a single spam comment.  On recent experience, I would have expected between 50 and 100 spam parcels to arrive in my inbox in that time, all to be read (quickly, but carefully, just in case there is a diamond among the turds) and deleted.  It's not that the process took very long to accomplish, it's that I had to do it at all.  And there was the additional disappointment of seeing eight new items in my email, looking forward to reading either an interesting comment or a kind email from a 'regular', and seeing a whole column of 'anonymous'.  Perhaps it's a little vain or selfish, but I value comments and emails relating to the blog, and even after nearly three years blogging I still get a slight rush when someone bothers to put finger to keyboard in relation to something I have said.

I'm going to give it a week or two and then disable the WV thing.  I'm hoping that I will have fallen off someone's list of 'easy' blogs and perhaps some kind of normality will return.  I'm just hoping the spammers don't read this paragraph.

Regarding Captcha itself: yes, it is an abomination, but it works.  The WV system needs to be difficult enough to delay and deter commercial commenters, whose whole effort must hinge upon banging off comments across the blogosphere by the thousand, and yet not be so irritating and/or impossible to deter someone writing a genuine comment.  So far, I think Captcha have the balance wrong.  If I have written a comment on someone's blog, I don't mind going through a mild set of hoops to 'prove I am human', but Captcha can be so impenetrable that it needs several attempts to get it right - and after this, sometimes the text of the comment has disappeared*.  When this has happened, I have rarely got the energy to start all over again.  I give up and have a cup of tea instead.  I don't blame anyone who feels the same way.  But I can't deny that it has put an effective barrier up against non-genuine commenters, and for that I am grateful.

Please keep the comments coming, though.  If the thought of going through Captcha appals you, pop your comment in an email (under Contact, top right) and I will publish it for you.  That's far less work for me than ploughing through hundreds of turds each week.  I appreciate each and every (genuine) comment.

* see comments to the previous post for a suggestion from Microdave on how to beat this if you are a FireFox user.

Mothers' Day

If you have got a Mum, give her a hug and say thanks.

One day, you'll wish you could and won't be able to.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

As a Shakespeare fan, I can't help myself ...

... whenever this programme comes on BBC Wales:

All I can see is "Scrum The Fifth".

Friday, 8 March 2013

Sorry about this, but ...

... for a limited period, I am going to require verification for all comments.  Yes, that means the dreaded Captcha.

I have had a growing spam problem over the last few months.  Some posts seem to have been attracting the spammers like flies to a corpse.  I have had the Blogger dashboard set to pre-moderate posts older than 14 days, and most of spam comments have been on older posts, so I get notification of the comment and can delete it rather then publish.  Kind of, I get to read all the crap so you don't have to.  However, recently some sub-14-day posts have been attacked by the semi-literate moronati, and the comments have all made it to the front page.  I've had to spend a bit of time tidying things up.

This is not acceptable to me.  I run this blog for my own pleasure, and I hope my readers get some kind of twisted amusement out of it too.  I do not run it so that unknown wankers can use it to advertise payday loans, online casinos and diet pills.  I have turned on comment moderation, but while this means that spam posts can be caught before they get published, I still get notification of them.  Currently, I am reading and deleting probably 50 a day.  I have to read each one, as I have a couple of valued commenters who only ever post as 'anonymous' for reasons best known to themselves, and I would hate to delete a valid and wanted response because I was too lazy to go through them individually.

The only solution is to re-activate the horrible Captcha filter.  It is an abomination, it's true, and I know that it will put people off commenting.  It puts me off, so I can't assume my readers will feel any differently.  But if I have Captcha in place for a week or two, perhaps the spammers will decide that I'm not worth bothering with.  I didn't have a problem a few months ago, and perhaps the situation will revert to the status quo ante.

Some of the blogs I read have a system where the first comment only is moderated, and after that you can comment all you like.  I'm not sure if this is a WordPress feature or some other platform, but it seems like a good idea.  I know that Blogger doesn't offer this, so if I can't resolve the situation otherwise I will have to consider moving the blog to another platform.  This would be an enormous pain in the generative parts, but at the moment I am totally fed up with the spam situation, and I need to sort it out one way or the other.

So, if you do decide to leave a comment, I'm afraid that you will have to get the magnifying glass out and complete the Captcha algorithm before you can do so.  I am going to revert to moderating only older posts, so if you can stand to go through the Captcha hoops, your comment will appear immediately.  And if your comment does reach the blog page, you will get double points for persistence, and my undying gratitude and respect.

One tip: if you have written a longish comment, before you hit the button do a Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C to copy the comment to your clipboard.  It has been known for comments to disappear after 2-3 attempts at Captcha, and it's possibly the most annoying thing that can happen to a thoughtful individual.  It has happened to me many times, and most of the time I don't bother re-writing the comment.  I just move on.  That's not what I want for you guys. 

I'd be very happy to have your feedback on this, by the way.  Email me at the usual address.

Thank you for your patience.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

A little game for you

Following on from the last post about food and its sources, I will let you into a little game I play when I am in the supermarket.

There are three things which are routinely added to the food you eat, and which ought to be avoided where possible.  These are artificial flavourings, artificial colourings, and preservatives.  If a product is advertised as free from any of these, you can bet your life that what is not being said is the real story.  You can translate the advertising or packaging as follows:

Full of artificial colourings and stuffed with preservatives.

Flavours from a chemistry lab, and it won't rot in a million years.

But the colourings and flavour all begin with the letter E.

I say this on the basis that the manufacturers know that artificial additives are unpopular, and therefore if they were able to claim (honestly) that the product was made without a certain type of additive, they would do so, and in capital letters and a snazzy font.

Check the ingredients list on the side of the packet for the additives not mentioned in the headline.  You will see I am right.

OK, confession: white (undyed) smoked haddock doesn't taste the same.  Guilty on this one.

Horse Sense

There are a few things I would never countenance eating, which in other parts of the world are considered delicacies - dog, brains, eyeballs and blowfish come to mind - but horsemeat isn't one of them.  I may well have eaten it (consciously, that is) when in France, although I can't remember doing so.  But I have no moral or gustatory objection to it.  Dobbin is a vegetarian, after all, and there can be no logical objection to turning him into a nutritious snack after his days are done, as long as you are happy to eat his sister the cow, and his rather dim cousin the sheep.

That is not my problem with the 'horsemeat scandal', as the BBC keeps calling it.  My problem is this:

If you are selling something as beef, and you don't even know that it really is beef, what the hell else don't you know?  Organic?  No preservatives?  Free-range?  British made?  All these things are taken on trust by the consumer, and if the food industry can get it so grossly wrong over the actual type of meat in a product, we can surely have no confidence in any of the other claims made about it.

Anna and I made the decision many years ago to eat less, but to eat better quality.  We don't always stick to it, but usually if we have meat it is from the local butcher.  If you buy beef there, he can name the farm it came from, and it will be within a mile or two of home.  There is a good feeling to this; not only are you supporting a decent local business and local farmers, but the quality of the meat is beyond reproach.  And because of the personal contact with the butcher, the trust thing is still there.  If he said the steak I bought was from the field to the left of the A40, third one along, and the cow was called Primrose, I would believe him.

As a nation, we have got into the habit of shovelling anything into our mouths as long as it is cheap, and it's got to stop.  Good food is never cheap, but it is always worth the price.

Another day, another IAM poll ...

This time it's on toll roads.

Go on, tell 'em what you think.  You don't have to be a member, etc. etc.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

LED there be Light

One of the additions I was going to make to the little GS was a pair of auxiliary riding lights.  I'd seen a lot of the big Beemers with the Touratech aux lighting, and they certainly look the business.  But then I clocked the price of them, and thought that a luxury weekend for two in a health spa would be cheaper.  But then a quick trawl round eBay (on a quiet night shift) brought up a cheap alternative.  Three Cree LEDs in each, low current draw of 15W, waterproof and, if not Touratech cool, at least not horrendously ugly.  Thirty-three of your British pounds brought them to my door, I put them in the garage, and that was that.

The fact I didn't fit them on the first available day tells you something.  I was already doubting whether I would keep the GS, and it seemed a waste of time and money to spend half a day putting them on there only to take them off again.  Happy to buy them, unwilling to fit them, work that one out.  So on a shelf they stayed.

Today was the first dry, sunny day for weeks, so I put some warm clothes on and spent the afternoon fitting them to the XTR.  I needed to take the tank shrouds and tank off to do the wiring, and what a pleasure it is to have a bike where this is a two-minute task rather than a lengthy chore.  On the XTR, the sidelights and indicators share a separate fused circuit, so I tapped into this for the power source.  The lights between them should only draw 2.5A, and the XTR's generator puts out a maximum of 20A, so there shouldn't be a problem with having them on full-time.

Not matt-black and adventure-touring cool, but not two hundred quid either.

When I got them wired up and going, I was surprised how bright they were.  From the front of the bike, they are brighter than the dipped beam.

The pattern is a focused spot beam rather then a foglight-style flood, so they won't make much of a difference to the light from the rider's point of view.  The Yamaha's headlight is pretty good anyway.  But they do make a very distinctive triangle of lights, which should aid my conspicuity.  I'm not a big fan of hi-viz, always-on lights or the crazier gadgets like headlight modulators, but if others see me and identify me as a bike rather than an odd point of light somewhere in their field of vision I will be happy.  At this time of year, my evening and morning commutes are in darkness, and the majority of my journey is on fast and unlit roads.  If people see an unusual triangle of lights approaching them, assume it is an alien craft full of little green men come to kidnap them, and don't pull out in front of me because of it, that is a win as far as I am concerned.

It's dark now, and I have had a bit of a play trying to get them angled so that they are visible to the front without dazzling oncoming traffic.  Already I can feel that the right-hand one is starting to get loose on its bracket, so tomorrow I may need to take them off again and do some beefing-up of the fittings.  Thirty quid only gets you so much.

More on this at the weekend, when I have had a chance to use them in anger, as it were.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Dashcam Cometh

Ordered on Friday, arrived today (Tuesday).  That's pretty good, considering it was the weekend.  As I said before, there are many of these cameras on eBay, most being sold from Hong Kong or China, but I chose to buy from a seller near Cardiff.  It's still a Chinese product (I am sure of this from the garbled instruction 'manual'), but at least it got here quickly and it's giving someone relatively local a bit of business.  The seller was South_Park_Shop_2013, and I have no complaints about the transaction.

First impression, it works (phew).  Second impression is that it's a damn sight better quality than it has any right to be, considering the price (£22.95 with free P&P).  The slip of paper that contains the instructions needs a bit of interpretation, but it was enough to guide me through the setup and basic operation.  First job was to mount it on the screen, and I've got it to sit just below the rear view mirror so that it doesn't get in the way too much.

It comes with a car charger, and the lead is both heavy-duty and about a mile long, and visually that is the only negative: there's a lot of it dangling about and it seems to coil round the gear lever like a drunken snake. However, that is something that can be addressed in due course.  The view from the driver's seat is not too badly obtruded:

The little 2.5" screen is very useful for getting the aim right, and it will fold away if I feel I no longer need it.  It's taken me a while to get a really firm mounting from all the swivels and joints, and I probably don't need the screen any more, but it's still a novelty, so it's staying for now. The image is small but clear:

Some initial observations about it in  use:
  • It's of fairly flimsy construction (obviously) and there's a persistent rattle from the audio playback which sounds like a dog chewing lego.  There's nothing in the car to make that rattle, so it must come from the casing itself.  Not a big deal, considering the price.
  • Colour rendition is fair only.  There's little saturation and everything looks greyish, and also bright light sources burn it out easily: green traffic lights look like oncoming headlights.  But it's certainly good enough for the purpose, which is to provide a record of what goes on around the Nowheremobile.
  • The wide angle of the lens (120 deg) captures a lot of action, but it has the side-effect of making the drive seem faster than it really is.  In the sample below, parts of it look like a stage of the World Rally Championships, but in reality it was a very calm and legal drive.
  • You can choose how big the recording segments are - 2, 5 or 15 minutes.  I have selected 5 to start with and this seems to work OK.  When the card is full (it takes a standard SD card, with a maximum of 32GB), it starts to overwrite the oldest file.  For the purpose, this seems a very practical arrangement.  In the case of an accident, you would only be interested in the final 30 seconds or so of the most recent segment.  However, there is a delay of about 3 seconds between the recording of the segments, during which nothing is recorded, so it makes sense to keep the segments as long as practical.
I am using a 1GB card at the moment, and this is probably plenty.  Using the VGA setting (lowest quality), a 15-minute drive used half the card's capacity, suggesting a ratio of 30 minutes per GB.  For the purpose of recording a scenic journey, it would make sense to have a much larger card and record in 15-minute chunks, but for simple traffic monitoring the 1GB card will do.  (However, I notice that Currys are doing a two-pack of Sandisk 16GB cards for twenty quid at the moment, so I am going to get one of those for the dashcam and use the other for my still camera.)

Here's a sample, recorded today in the pouring rain while coming back from getting some bits and bobs in Halfords.  It's not intended to be interesting or sexy, so don't get the beers in and make a night of it, but it shows a fair example of what it will do.  (There's a nice watersplash at 4.00.)  I recorded this on the WXGA setting (1280 X 960) but the actual output isn't significantly better than the VGA (640 x 480) I tried at first, and the higher pixel count seems to make the motion a bit jerky, so I think I will revert to VGA for the time being.

There seems no reason why I can't mount it on the bike, although I think it will take a bit of ingenuity.  But there's no way it will be weather-proof, and taking it out today would have drowned it.  But come the summer ... It could be a cheap way of getting some on-bike footage, as a way of deciding whether it is worthwhile splashing the cash for a GoPro or something equally decent.

And another thing: it has IR illumination for night-time and a motion detection setting.  I've been thinking about getting a wildlife camera to put in the garden at night, so tonight I think I am going to point it gardenwards with the IR on and see who visits.

Good so far.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Testimony of the Tree

Not many people know this, but several years ago I trained as a cabinetmaker.  I went self-employed as a furniture maker and restorer for a year or two, but there was no money in it, and I returned to gainful employment elsewhere.  Anyway, I was giving a colleague some advice on a DIY solution for cleaning old furniture (the exact composition of which escapes me for the time being - a lot of use I was there) and I was reminded of a quotation that my tutor printed out and displayed in the workshop.  He reckoned it was essential reading for anyone involved in working with wood.  Sure enough, Google came to the rescue and I found the full version.  I could only remember the last two lines.

Anyway, I thought it was worth sharing.
The Testimony of the Tree

For a hundred years I breathe and live, the flower of beauty and the bread of kindness.

I am your friendly shade in the noonday heat of summer, and I stand pencilled against the winter twilight, a silhouette for dreams. At dawning in the spring I am filled with song, the host to a thousand birds, and I decorate the autumn with pageantry and colour.

Then comes the woodsman with his axe.

And still I serve.

I am the timber that builds your boat; the rafters of your cathedrals; the choirstalls of your church enriched by the magic of the carver's fingers. I am the beam that holds your house; the door of your homestead, and the lintel too. I am the handle of your hoe; the wood of your cradle; the bed on which you lie; the board of your table and the board for your bread.

When I am living, harm me not.

When I am dead, respect me and use me kindly.


Friday, 25 January 2013

Dashcams Pt 2

OK, it's a slow night at work and I have been on eBay.  I've had a good think about this camera business (see previous post), and I have decided that expecting something to live in the car and be available for day-to-day recording, and at the same time be a good video camera for bike rides is unreasonable.  So I have decided to buy the cheapest thing I can find which fits the minimum requirements, and save the bike cam purchase for another day.

I am getting one of these:

which comes from eBay and costs the princely sum of £22.95 with free postage. It's got some good features, too:
  • runs off a battery and a 12v charger
  • records in chunks, choice of 2, 5 or 15 minutes
  • automatically over-writes the oldest file when the SC card is full
  • powers on with the car ignition
  • IR illumination for night recording
  • time and date stamp on recordings
  • motion detection, which might be interesting filming the wildlife that visits the garden overnight
  • will support an SD card up to 32GB.
The only downside I can see is that it's got a wide angle lens but the image may not fit a computer screen very well.  The videograbs I have seen have a weird compressed perspective, although this may be a function of the small, square screen and a wide-angle image.  We shall see.  For under 25 beer tokens, if it works as described for a year I shall be happy.

And it is shipped from Pontypridd by a UK seller, not shipped from a warehouse in an industrial estate off the M25 by a seller in China.  Pontypridd is almost local.

It should arrive in a few days.  I will let you know how I get on.

Thursday, 24 January 2013


Yesterday, I was on a short errand (in the car, as I had a load to carry) and had to pass the local college.  There is a roundabout with traffic lights to control entry, and pedestrian crossings by the lights.  As I approached the lights at green, I saw a young lad of about 16 waiting to cross the road.  I wasn't going to stop for him, as the traffic lights were green, which meant that his pedestrian light was red, and I was in a queue of traffic.  He looked me right in the eye as I approached.  There was no way he hadn't seen me.  And then, when I was about 10 metres away from him, he stepped out into the road in front of me.  I had already covered the brake in anticipation, so my emergency stop was a good one, ABS and all, being on a damp and greasy road surface.  He walked casually across in front of me and pulled a face at me.  I'm sorry to say I reacted by giving him a good old V-sign, and drove off.

It occurred to me later that, had I hit him and caused him injury (which was entirely possible in the circumstances, as I only pulled up about 2-3 metres away from him), I would have had a hell of a job convincing people (the police and the courts, mainly) that I was not driving carelessly or improperly.  Could I prove I was well within the speed limit and driving at a speed appropriate to the conditions?  Could I prove the lights were in my favour and that his weren't?  Sadly, my assumption is that I would be automatically held to blame as the motorist in the absence of evidence otherwise, and it would be up to me to prove my innocence rather then the other way round.  An experience of the courts a few years ago with a speeding case has left me with no faith whatsoever in the reasonableness or impartiality of the justice system.

So I am thinking about getting a dash cam.  One of those devices that fasten to the inside of the windscreen and record basically what the driver sees.  I understand that some of them have a 'looping' feature, where the cam records for 10-20 minutes or so and then starts recording over the stored footage.  That would be ideal for this situation, as it is usually only the last 30 seconds or so that would be relevant in the case of an accident.  Of course, a facility for continuous recording would be good too, of reasonable quality for putting on the Web.  And if it could be waterproof and motorcycle-mountable, well ...

But I get ahead of myself.  I have checked out what's available online, and it seems you could spend anything from about £40 to over £200 on one of these devices, and the cheap ones seem to have a lot of the required features.  I know some of you will have one of these, or something similar and relevant.  Any advice for someone who wants good functionality without spending a fortune?  Requirements would be:

  • Reasonable colour image quality and frame rate
  • SD card or similar storage for easy transfer to PC
  • Format compatible with other devices, i.e. mpeg, mov, avi etc.
  • Looping facility
Nice to have:
  • Still or time-lapse facility
  • Inbuilt screen to frame the correct view when setting up
  • Weather resistance
  • Compatible with large storage cards for extended use
  • 12v and battery operation
  • Flexibility in mounting (i.e. helmet or motorcycle).

As an aside, if you haven't already done so, go to YouTube and search for 'Russian dashcams' if you want a real fright.  Apparently so many Russian drivers are uninsured that a lot of people (especially commercial drivers like truckers) have a dashcam running routinely to provide evidence for when the inevitable happens. Some of the footage is merely funny, but some will scare the pants off you.  I'm convinced many Russian drivers either have a death wish, or are blind drunk, or both.

Anyway, over to you ...

Father and Son

Or should that be mother and daughter?  Or big sis and little sis?  Old dog and puppy?  I don't know - I don't do anthropomorphism very well (neither bike has a name, and probably never will).  But they are related, that's for sure.  DNA, and all that.

Anyways, the old XT (green one) has not moved from under its tarpaulin for about three months.  The BMW was perfectly OK for day-to-day use and didn't let me down (I kept the XT in a state of permanent readiness, just in case) and now the XTR has become the gentleman's conveyance du choix and an inspection of its general condition leads me to think that it is pretty much unmolested, and therefore likely to be dependable.  So I took the tax disc off the XT in order to send it off for a refund, and while it was standing there uncovered, I thought I might start it up, just to see ...

Fuel on, choke on, press of the button, and then blap blap blap and it settled to a steady idle.  That's after three months without being touched, with a five-year-old battery.  The benefits of not having things like alarms and immobilisers.  (It also shows that the compression, ignition and carbs are in sound order, which means any refurbishment of the bike will most likely not include an engine rebuild.

Anyhow, she is now SORN, untaxed and uninsured, so next step is to conduct a full assessment of condition, followed by dismantling and dry storage.  If I can find anywhere to put it.

Anna will have some ideas about that, not all of them helpful.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Kevin Ash

It is with great sadness that I read that Kevin Ash, motorcycling journalist and bike correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, has been killed.  The Telegraph has some brief details here.

It seems Kevin was part of the UK press contingent at the launch of a new BMW bike in South Africa.  The accident happened around 250 km East of Cape Town.  Details of the incident are being withheld for the time being out of respect for his family.

I have had Kevin's website Ash On Bikes bookmarked for a long time now.  He was one of the few bike journalists that was free of any macho posturing or wannabe racer pretensions.  He wrote well, and he wrote for people like me, who love motorcycles without necessarily needing the latest fashion in exhausts or the highest top speed or the fastest lap time.  He tested everything from scooters to superbikes, and wrote honestly and engagingly about them all.

He leaves a wife and three daughters.

He will be greatly missed.

H/t to Highwaylass.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

50-odd (or 'fifty odd') things to do before you die

I see this one has been doing the rounds, so I thought I would have a go and let you all know my innermost ambitions and life goals.  The Daily Mail has an article listing the 50 things that 'people'want to do before they die.  The list is crap, frankly.  There are some duplicated items, some of the things cannot physically be done, and some are so banal as to be hardly worth mentioning.  But here's the list, and here are my reactions:

1. Become a millionaire
Would definitely like to do this, although a million isn't what it used to be these days, really, is it?

2. Travel the world
Definitely.  And no prizes for guessing how I would travel.

3. See the Northern Lights
Another definite yes.  Which would mean travelling as far North as possible.  Which means ... another bike trip.

4. Trek the Great Wall of China
See it, yes.  Take photos, yes.  Trek all five-and-a-bit thousand miles of it?  No thanks.

5. Be mortgage free
I'm very lucky to be able to say I have done this one.

6. Go to the Inca Trail
More attractive than the China thing, but reaction similar.

7. See all seven wonders of the world
Can't be done.  According to Wikipedia, only one (The Great Pyramid) still exists.  The rest have been destroyed by earthquakes and fire.  But I'd like to see the Pyramids.

8. Visit the Egyptian Pyramids
See above.

9. Invent something that changes lives
Er, no.  Unless it was a magic bubble that protected normal people from state interference, theft and bullying.  I would be proud to invent that.

10. Visit Antarctica
Er, no.  Well, possibly.  But not if it was cold or dangerous.

11. Go on the Orient Express
Might be nice, but not a priority.

12. Go on an African Safari
Go to Africa, travel in the bush, see wildlife, yes.  Join a 'safari' with a bunch of accountants and dentists from Pinner, no thanks.

13. See the Taj Mahal
If I were passing, I would stop and look.  Not otherwise.

14. Learn to play the piano / guitar / drums
Can already do the first two, and can pass for semi-competent at the third.  But very rusty at all of them.  Taking up the guitar again is a serious ambition, the subject of New Year Resolutions for at least a decade.

15. Stay a night at the world’s best hotel
I'd rather camp.  Oh, all right then, just once for a laugh.

16. Build your own house
Design it, yes; build it, no.  God gave us brickies for a reason, you know.

17. Drive Route 66 in the US
I would definitely do this.  I might even be tempted onto a Harley for the duration.

18. Go to Lapland
Another definite yes.  I'm told my family came to England from somewhere in Scandinavia in the C18, and I do feel a draw towards the Frozen North.  Plus they drink a lot.

19. Swim with dolphins / sharks
a) Meh, and b) why?

20. Emigrate
Have seriously considered this, and would, under the right circumstances.

21. Learn to speak another language
OK with French, a little Italian and German (enough that I won't starve, freeze or die of dehydration), so I think I can tick this one.

22. Own an island
Never in  a million years.  Headaches would exceed pleasures by a factor of 10.  Also, see reply to 41.

23. Dine at a Michelin star restaurant
Maybe, just for the 'dining experience'.  But I would probably stop for chips on the way home.

24. Write a novel
I'd love to do this.  The only things holding me back are a lack of any ideas for a plot or characters.  Apart from that, I am good to go.

25. See Gorillas in the wild
No.  I avoid them when I visit a zoo.  They remind me of the bits of Leeds I used to avoid when I was younger.

26. Live and work abroad
See 20.  Another duplicate.

27. Hot air balloon ride
Might be nice.  Not a burning ambition.  But I feel more positive to this than I do to skydiving or bungee-jumping, which I would not do for No. 1 above.

28. Fly a plane
Bad with heights.  Scared of flying to the point of loss of bowel control and screaming dementia.  That's a no.

29. Travel New Zealand in a Winnebago
Winnebagos are for people in polyester leisure suits.  But the concept is a good one.  I really fancy visiting NZ one day, and this sounds as good a way as any.

30. Start and run your dream business
Work.  Stress.  No.

31. Ride a Segway
Ever since I saw an entire busload of Japanese tourists scooting round the Piazza del Campo in Siena on these I have been fascinated by them.  It was a silent and very bizarre experience.  Yes, I must do this one day.

32. Go to Disneyworld
I would rather stick rusty needles in my eyeballs, while bouncing up and down naked on a buttplug covered in Domestos.

33. Gamble in Las Vegas
I refer my honourable friend to the answer I gave to number 32 on this list.

34. Act as an extra in a Hollywood film
Why would anyone want to do that?

35. Dedicate time to volunteering
Already done that.

36. Try out an F1 car
No interest in F1 as such, but as a person who digs machinery of all sorts, especially stuff that gets you somewhere you aren't, it would be great fun.

37. Learn to fly a plane or helicopter
This is the same as 28, isn't it?  And the same answer.

38. Have a family
Two wives (an ex, and the lady who I refer to as 'the current Mrs Nowhere' if I want to wind her up), and two lovely, talented daughters who make me prouder than I have any right to be, so I will call this one achieved.

39. Be an extra in a movie
Why the fuckety-fuck would anyone want to do that?

40. Climb a mountain like Everest
Could see me doing something like that on a bike trip.  But on foot - phew, no thanks.  It's steep, you know.

41. Buy a yacht
I've had several boats (all small ones) and they add up to heartbreak, even the nice ones.  I wouldn't have a yacht as a gift, unless I was permitted to sell it on immediately and pocket the cash.  A guy I used to know in my boating days (a genuine millionaire, and a sound and decent man) gave me the wisest advice: "If it floats, flies or fucks, you're better off renting".

42. Meet your idol / favourite celebrity
I don't have idols (well, not since I was about 12), and I despise the cult of celebrity, so you would find me running as fast as I could in the opposite direction.

43. Run a marathon
You are joking, right?

44. Watch a World Cup final
You are joking, right?

45. Meet the Queen
*Thinks long and hard.*  Nope.

46. Learn to surf
Might be nice.  Not going to quit my job and emigrate over it.

47. Go to Harry Potter World in Florida
I refer my honourable friend to the answer I gave to number 32 on this list.

48. Abseil down a mountain
I've roped up and down a mountain, and I have abseiled in many caves, so I claim an indirect hit on this one. Despite my lack of head for heights, I would do this without question.

49. Do an army assault course
Don't be silly.

50. Deep sea dive
Does snorkelling count?  The serious type, with the proper kit and the training?  If so, I'm claiming this one.  And one day I will tell you about the time I met an octopus ...

The Mail reckons that the average person only gets to achieve five of these ambitions.  I make my own count 8/50, and 8/~22 if you discount the ones I don't want to do anyway.  There's plenty of time for the rest.

If I hurry.

Your thoughts?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Dreaming of Jupiter

The bike is a BMW, black and orange* in appearance almost exactly like the little GS I have just sold, but looking down I see it is an airhead twin. Anna is on the back, we have a mass of luggage, and we are touring somewhere quite exotic - somewhere in Eastern Europe, perhaps. The landscapes and townscapes are bare and empty, and the shadows are deep and the lines sharp, like a de Chirico painting.

I need to get to the British Embassy to sort a problem out. They invite me to ride up the steps into the building for security, and I park the bike on a vast marble floor.  We wait in a huge room full of strangers. Anna is talking to someone and I see my sister-in-law across the room. She asks me what we are doing here, and I jokingly shout that Anna has been arrested. Anna storms off in a huff, and thereby misses the cup of hot cocoa (served in a pot with a sealed lid, like Petits Filous). After the issue has been sorted, I am shown out of another exit. We're on the first floor and there is a massive drop in front of me, but to the left I see I can ride along the top of a wall to get back round to the front of the building. I'm no good with heights, but I manage it OK until I get to a right-angled turn, which I know the bike cannot negotiate. I lean it against a nearby railing and climb to the end of the wall and start looking for assistance, maybe a man with a winch or block and tackle.

Meanwhile, we continue the journey with Anna driving. I hear the different exhaust note and see that we are on an old Triumph twin, painted in that mid-green colour that was so popular in the 60s. She rides well and corners hard, and I begin to enjoy the journey.  We end up at the house of the friends we had planned to meet, but find they now live in a commune and have become very hippified. I am told the bike has been recovered, and I go to see it. It is parked at ground level, thank heavens, but it has fallen on its side. However, there is no damage and I ride it back to the commune.


I finished work yesterday morning at 7 am and had about three hours' sleep and then got up. By 10 pm last night I was extremely tired and went to bed. I read a few pages of Ted Simon's Dreaming of Jupiter before I went to sleep. The chapter involved endless meetings in the Sudanese embassy in Egypt while trying to get a visa to enter Sudan. The night before, he had been invited to ride his bike up the hotel steps for security reasons. I just find it highly comical that my dream could be such a literal mashup of what I had been reading and some recent bike-related events in my life. (I even had a minor walking-speed tipover on the new XTR as I was riding in through the front gate while bringing it home. No damage.)

Dreaming of Jupiter, literally.

* I seem to remember reading that there is some debate over whether we dream in colour.  This one was definitely in colour, and nice bright colours too.

Note:  Ted Simon's original work Jupiter's Travels is a brilliant and ground-breaking book, and is probably ultimately responsible for the current fashion for adventure touring and round-the-world (RTW) trips.  It is a great read, and if you haven't read it yet, you should.  Yes, even you non-motorcycling readers.  It's intelligent, interesting and profound, and it isn't even much about bikes.  In fact, Simon couldn't even ride when he decided to set off, and is quite explicit in his view that it was the bike that facilitated the journey, rather than the journey bthat justified the ride.  However, fascinating though it is, it is rather melancholy and troubling in parts,and it's certainly not a feel-good tale.  Dreaming of Jupiter, which was very kindly bought for me as a Christmas present, was written when he decided, at the age of 70 or so, to travel the route again and see what had changed.  I'm not even quarter of the way through, and I am hooked.  Both books highly recommended.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Continuous Insurance Enforcement

This is a plea for information or advice, or probably confirmation.

I sold the GS last week and picked up the XTR on Saturday.  This was quite good timing, as the previous insurance policy ran out on the Sunday.  I did a bit of research, found the cheapest quote (Devitt, as it happens) and insured the XTR from Saturday on a new policy.  I have been planning to take the XT off the road and give it some serious attention for quite a while now, and this seemed a good time to do so.  Therefore, the new policy is for the XTR only, and the policy that covered the XT has now lapsed.

I won't be riding the XT on the road until I get it restored, and when the tax runs out I had planned to SORN it, as I have no intention of running foul of the rules.  However, it is now uninsured.  I seem to recall reading recently about proposals to oblige owners to maintain a vehicle's insurance even if it is off the road, in the same way that you must now SORN a vehicle if it is not taxed.

There's nothing on the main Gov.uk site in either the vehicle tax or insurance sections, just:
You have to have motor insurance before you can drive on public roads.
But visiting the Motor Insurers' Bureau website I find this:
As part of Continuous Insurance Enforcement (CIE), it is now a legal requirement for registered vehicle keepers to insure their vehicle(s) at all times
It continues:
You don’t have to be driving to be caught. It is an offence to keep a vehicle without insurance unless you have notified DVLA that your vehicle is being kept off the road by means of a Statutory off Road Notice (SORN).
I guess I had better SORN the poor old XT without delay.  Unless anyone knows differently?

Update: found it.
The rules for insuring vehicles are called ‘continuous insurance enforcement’. They mean that if you’re the registered keeper of a vehicle it must be insured or declared as off the road (SORN).
They are keeping this quiet, aren't they?  Or have I just not been paying attention?)
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