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

- George Washington

Thursday 31 December 2009

Oh, and ...

Just one last positive thought for 2009.

A few days ago, I renewed the bike insurance, and got a cracking deal from eBike (both bikes, fully comp, £175). They wanted details of previous convictions, and when I finally dug out my licence and checked on the Directgov website, I realised that I now have a clean licence. My 'offence' was in 2005, and the points stay on your licence for four years, so I am now officially rehabilitated and inoffensive.

There is something deep inside me that likes this, and I am very keen to preserve my newly-pristine status. Not by conforming mindlessly to the unintelligent blunt instrument that is our speeding legislation, but by not getting caught again. There are ways ...

Happy New Year

I am working tonight, so this will probably be my last post for 2009. My employer thinks fireworks at midnight for our customers is a good idea, and someone needs to be there to make it all go off without a hitch. That'll be me, then.

To be honest, it's been a lousy year. Anna has borne the brunt of the nasty things that have intruded on our lives, but it has been hard to stand by and watch it happen. The reduction in working hours in June has caused a lot of money problems, which I am only now coming to grips with. The house continues to fall down around our ears, and can only be put right by the expenditure of large amounts of money that we don't have. However, I have been sustained by many things: two daughters who, even if we don't speak as often as we should, always make my life seem less pointless than it otherwise might; by some friends who, through various internetular connections, have stimulated my 'brain' and made me laugh in equal measure; and - unsurprisingly - by the two bikes that are sitting on the drive at this moment. If I didn't have that little bit of 'bike time' every day, I think I would have died of cabin fever. Keeping the XT going has been a bit of a challenge, but worth the headaches, and the trip to Denmark on the Honda was a thoroughly life-enhancing experience.

Above all, the trials of the past 11 months have brought Anna and me closer than ever before, and for that I am very thankful. When you reach moments where there is a serious prospect of losing someone for ever, the time together becomes more precious. She's a tough old trout, and I'm very lucky to have her. It's a shame that I won't be at home tonight to see in the New Year, as I wanted very much to be with Anna to say 'up yours' to 2009, and to raise a glass together to a better 2010. There may be more work in the pipeline, and Anna seems to be making slow but steady progress in her health, so maybe a bit of optimism is not misplaced.

A Happy New Year to all of you, and may 2010 bring you everything you wish for.

How did I miss this?

This has been on Youtube since January 2008, and yet I seem to have missed it. A view, in cartoons, of the last decade, which I found rather moving. It hits a mood which resonates very strongly with me.

I don't know who/what/where Monkey Dust is/are, but I think I need to find out more.

Sunday 27 December 2009

A bit of common sense

I wrote recently about a priest who had been telling his flock that "My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift." I was pretty surprised at that - I think appalled was the word I used. After all, if a priest can't tell right from wrong, what hope is there for the rest of us sinners?

It seems that Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, agrees:

Lord Carey said: "His concern for the least well-off is admirable, but his remedy is both misguided and foolish." He added: "We aren't in a Dickensian era when people were driven to picking a pocket or two in order to survive. There is now a safety net provided by the state with many charities offering advice, food and shelter. Nobody is dying of hunger even though the inequalities of our society are still greater than they should be."

Which is pretty much what I said at the time.

Try to keep up, Lord Carey.

Friday 25 December 2009

Just to show ...

... what a sad old bugger I am, logging in on Christmas Day ..

Merry Christmas!

Thursday 24 December 2009

Yet more ammunition for the Daily Mail

I was appalled to read this today:

An asylum seeker who fatally struck a girl with his car then fled the scene has won the right to stay in the UK. Aso Mohammed Ibrahim, 31, of Blackburn, hit Amy Houston, 12, in 2003. He was later jailed for four months. He faced deportation but successfully invoked human rights legislation granting him the right to a "family life" in the UK.

I don't want this to turn into a rant about asylum seekers, but this story does no good whatsoever for those who wish Britain to be kind and helpful to those fleeing tyranny elsewhere in the world. Let's look at the facts.

Ibrahim had either never held a driving licence, or had been disqualified from driving, depending on which story you read. He hit a young girl while driving illegally, and ran her over, leaving her underneath the car. He then ran away from the scene, and the girl died later in hospital. He was caught and convicted of both offences - driving without a licence, and leaving the scene of an accident.

I'll gloss over the 'driving without a licence' part, as that seems to quite OK these days, earning the offender little more than a slap on the wrist. But to leave a girl under the wheels of your car, and run away from the scene? That is less 'leaving the scene of an accident' and more like manslaughter to me. If he had been a little more courageous, or honest, and called for an ambulance instead of legging it, the girl may have survived, so her death is at least partly his fault (as opposed to her injuries, which were entirely his fault). And what did he get for this act of callousness? Four months in prison. Four lousy months in prison. And that, as we all know, means two months, less time spent on remand. I'd be surprised if he even needed to take his toothbrush in with him.

Now, if I were Mr Ibrahim, and I had caused the death of a young person in a country where I had fled for safe haven, I think I would serve my sentence and then quietly go somewhere else. I would feel guilty and embarrassed, knowing that I had done such a terrible thing in a country which had taken me in, and fed and housed me. The law (or at least part of it) takes the same view, and orders that people who commit serious crimes should be deported after serving their sentence. But there's another part of the law that says that can't happen:

He faced deportation but successfully invoked human rights legislation granting him the right to a "family life" in the UK. The father-of-two was due to be deported after he was taken into the custody of the UK Border Agency. But the Iraqi Kurd claimed it was too dangerous to return to his homeland and won the right to stay in Britain after a lengthy series of appeals at the Manchester Asylum and Immigration Tribunal.

Bear in mind that the accident happened, and the child died, in 2003. So this appeal process has been going on for six years. Mr Ibrahim is from Kurdistan. The Border Agency clearly believes that it is safe for him to return there. But Mr Ibrahim claims that under Human Rights legislation he has a "right to a family life" and should be allowed to stay. The court agreed with him. You have to wonder under what legislation the family of the dead girl can claim a right to a family life.

The Border Agency are considering an appeal, and Jack Straw says he is going to contact the Home Secretary to see if there is any way to overturn the decision. This is pointless. The Human Rights Act, which appears to grant rights to some people and not to others, is European law, and it over-rides UK law in every respect. Mr Ibrahim, and any like him, can stay as long as they wish, whatever crimes they commit, because they know they have the law on their side. Or, rather, their lawyers do. And who paid for six years of legal counsel for Mr Ibrahim? Oh yes, we did.

(As an additional point, I wonder what sentence I would have got if I, as a UK citizen with a blameless past and a clean licence, had been disqualified from driving, then decided to drive anyway, killed someone, and ran away? I suspect it would run to several years, and rightly so, although a life sentence would seem to me to be more appropriate. You know, 'life' as in 'until you die'.)

Just for the record:

Mr Ibrahim is now 37. Amy Houston would have been 18.

UPDATE: The Border Agency appealed, and lost. Ibrahim can stay, because he met and impregnated an English woman (twice) and now has a family in the UK. Shame about the family he tore apart. More info here.

3 Birds, 1 Mountain

One of my younger relatives is doing an amazing thing for charity. She and two friends (the 3 birds) are planning to climb Mont Blanc next August in aid of three charities:

Breast Cancer Campaign (does what is says on the label)
The White Ribbon Alliance (safe pregnancy and childbirth in developing and developed countries)
Action For Children (formerly the National Children's Home, helping vulnerable young people in the UK)

Three very worthy causes, and three amazing young people trying to do their bit. None of them have previous mountaineering experience (but they are going with a good guide, so I hear), so they will be undergoing a huge amount of physical and mountain training in time for next year. Having done a very modest amount of winter climbing myself, I know that they will be facing a hell of a challenge, and I take my hat off to them. Should any readers wish to make a donation and help them reach their target of £15,000, you can do so on their website:


(Katie is the one I know.)

I wish them success.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Turbulent Priest

And continuing with our seasonal religious theme ...

I was completely astonished by this story from the BBC.

A priest who advised needy people to shoplift in certain circumstances has been criticised by a retailers' group. Father Tim Jones, parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda in York, said stealing was a "better moral thing to do" than robbery or prostitution.

Well, as far as I am concerned, stealing is robbery, so I don't quite follow that. And I think he will find that there is something in his job specification about that - the briefing document from Head Office, paragraph 8.

What I think he is saying is that there are degrees of wrong, and that stealing is not necessarily the worst wrong of the many wrongs on offer. I might go along with that. It's a long time since we hanged men for stealing a loaf of bread, and a good thing too. But when he starts to justify his advice, I start to disagree.

The priest's comments were made in a sermon to his congregation on Sunday where he said stealing from large national chains was sometimes the best option for many vulnerable people.

Best option? Best option?? This isn't a bloody game show, you know.

"I would ask that they do not steal from small, family businesses, but from national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices."

So stealing from a neighbour or from a small family business is wrong, but when you steal from a larger company is OK, because the cost of the theft is passed on to everyone through higher prices. In other words, when the effect of the theft is felt by one person, it is a bad thing, but when it is felt by everyone, that's somehow OK. I would ask the priest to explain exactly how that fits in with his moral code. Presumably by inserting a clause that says "stealing from individuals is wrong, but society as a whole should expect to support the cost of the dishonesty of a few." And what about the higher prices? Will they not mean that some other 'vulnerable people' further down the line, who have chosen not to steal, will be unable to pay for the things they need? As always, those who play the game by the rules end up supporting those who will not.

It's the same argument used by people who cheat on their insurance claims: "It's only the company wot pays, and they can afford it, can't they?"

Speaking on BBC Breakfast earlier, Father Jones said: "When we, as a society, let our most vulnerable people down so terribly badly, I would rather that people take an 80p can of ravioli rather than turn to some of the most appalling things. "That's not to say that shoplifting is good. Shoplifting is a dreadful thing but sometimes that's all we leave people with."

Well, of course I would rather that a vulnerable young woman stole a tin of ravioli than turn to prostitution - that's so obvious as to go without saying. But it's the last sentence that I find offensive.

Shoplifting is a dreadful thing but sometimes that's all we leave people with.

Well, with respect, no. We have an extensive benefits system that ensures that all people in genuine need have enough to live on. This is already paid for through general taxation - precisely the burden on the majority that the priest thinks is such a good idea. If someone is so poor that they are 'forced' into shoplifting, surely the compassionate thing is to direct them to the benefits to which they are entitled - and there are many - rather than excuse criminality.

But no. This confused cleric is of the mindset that all the poor are downtrodden victims, and turning a blind eye to crime when it is perpetrated by victims (as long as it is the right sort of crime) is a kind and compassionate thing to do. It's not. It tells the vulnerable that crime is OK if you have an excuse, and once you have broached that particular taboo, who knows what comes next?

"I took the drugs because I was depressed and rejected by society" - then

"I stole to buy the drugs because I needed them" - then

"I'm not a thief, I'm a victim, and I need a Government scheme, not prison."

Ultimately, Father Tim Jones believes that society should pick up all the costs of people's fecklessness, while still maintaining that stealing is wrong. Despite their protestations that they are apolitical, the Church remains a cheerleader for socialism.

If I remember Matthew correctly, when confronted with the paralysed man, Jesus said "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk." He did not say "Oh dear, you are paralysed. Get your mates to nick some stuff. Just make sure it's a big shop."

Monday 21 December 2009

Sunday 20 December 2009

The "Climategate" Affair

Since the news broke about the release into the wild of hundreds of emails and a ton of data from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at UEA, I haven't said much about it all. Firstly, this was simple self-preservation, as with a rapidly-developing story there is the risk of being behind the curve and merely stating what is already common knowledge. And secondly, the story was already being covered excellently by many other bloggers, and anything I could add would be superfluous. So I have waited until the dust has settled a bit, and Copenhagen is over, and the process of incorporating the new information into the public consciousness has started. At this point, I may be able to add something of value, even if it only a personal perspective.

I would first wish to state that I am not a climatologist, nor even a scientist, and I am not in any way qualified to judge the issue from a technical viewpoint. But I was lucky enough to be educated in the 1960s and early 1970s, when even Arts students like me had to do three science subjects to O-level, and when an understanding of scientific principles, even at a basic level, was considered to be an essential part of Secondary education. And one of the concepts that most pleased me, because of its logicality and essential reasonableness, was the scientific method. My understanding, and I am sure that it is correct, having spoken to many scientists in the intervening 40 years, is that the scientific method is something which scientists hold almost sacred. They approach their work with humility and openness, because it is the science which is important, not the individual scientists. And it is this humility that enables us to trust what scientists do, because we have this belief that they are conscientious seekers after truth, not grubby seekers after profit or fame.

Whether the emails and data were 'hacked' (and this is now apparently the fault of the Russians, which muddies the waters further) or were released by a UEA employee (which seems to me the more likely), is completely irrelevant. When the dust has settled, there will be plenty of time to investigate how the information was obtained, and if necessary to punish those guilty of any offence. But the implications of the information are so huge that following this aspect of the affair right now is a complete red herring.

I have read the emails, and I have followed the Harry_Read_Me text file until I started to lose the will to live, and some things appear to me to be catastrophically bad. I will publish a list of sources at the end of this, and anyone interested can follow this as far as they wish - where they will find the information dissected and discussed far better than I can. But there are several things that really trouble me:
  • There appears to be a mindset of 'us and them', at times almost hostile, which is surely inimical to any serious and fair-minded scientific enquiry;
  • There is clear evidence of an intention to destroy data that has been the subject of an FoI request, and of requesting others to do the same - as far as I am aware, this is actually a crime in UK law;
  • There is evidence that periodicals were 'leaned on' to dismiss papers from scientists who were not in the magic circle, and even to sack people who were not part of the 'tribe';
  • The Harry_Read_Me file is enormously troubling, as it suggests that scientists were trying to reconstruct missing data - important data that the whole AGW theory rests on - and failing, because of sloppy work, with casual manipulation of the data, lack of version control, and poor record-keeping.
So, from the CRU data I am able to see a lot of evidence that the science was not being pursued as it should have been, and the possibility that these people were effectively working backwards - find the conclusion, and then manipulate the data to give the evidence. If that is the case, then the whole thing is a scandal, and people deserve to be in prison. And of course there is the missing data. The data showing climate change was based on proxy data (such as tree rings) for the thousands of years when we didn't have satellites and reliable thermometers. I can understand that. The proxy data had to be adjusted so that it fitted in with the known records and made sense as a data series. I can understand that too. But then the original data was erased, deliberately - apparently because they didn't have enough storage. Whaaaat? To expect people not to be suspicious when you say, in effect, 'we had the data, we manipulated it, and then we lost the originals, and you'll have to trust that we manipulated it honestly, even though we can't even reproduce the algorithms we used because they weren't properly documented', well, pull the other one. It's got bells on. No scientist should expect that to be taken seriously.

Lke many people of my age, I was made aware of the 'Environmental' movement back in the early 70s, and I like to think that I have maintained that mindset in the years since. I am not in the pay of Big Oil, I don't like pollution, I try to waste as little as possible and recycle when I can. I believe that we should make as little impact on the planet as possible, not for religious reasons, but because the Earth got along quite well before we arrived, and interfering as little as possible means fewer chances to mess things up. All in all, I would say that I was at least light green.

But because I don't swallow the whole AGW concept, suddenly I am a 'climate-denier'. I object most strongly to this term, echoing as it does Holocaust denial. Every talking head from the IPCC to Gordon Brown is now on record as saying that people who don't accept the full AGW argument are flat-earthers, silly, uninformed, wilfully ignorant. Well, sorry, guys, but I am none of those things. But I have long suspected, and now have reason to do so, that the AGW thing is a scare story, and driven far more by political ideas than by cold, hard, unequivocal science.

One thing that made me dubious a long time ago was hearing an interviewee on Radio 4 say that "the science is settled". No it isn't, I screamed at my radio. Science is never settled. That's the whole point with science. You find a theory that seems to fit the facts, and survives the test of your experiments, and you accept that as the best theory going, until you are proved wrong and have to go back to the drawing board. That's how it works. The people who told Columbus that his voyages were dangerous because he might find the edge of the world and fall off - they thought the science was settled too. The scientists at the end of the 19C who believed that Newton had explained it all, and that there was little else for science to do, thought that too - until Einstein upset it all with his weird theories. If anyone tells you that 'the science is settled' or that 'there is no debate about this', then they are lying, and demonstrating that they know nothing about how science works. (Incidentally, there was another scientist on the programme, whose name escapes me, and he was arguing that man-made climate change was a myth - the first time I had ever heard anyone in the mainstream media putting forward that viewpoint. The presenter treated him and his views with open derision, and it was that programme that made me think that perhaps there was more to climate change than just the temperatures.)

And then, of course, there is the infamous 'hockey-stick' graph. Two things about this: one is that, so I understand, the algorithm is such that any data - literally any data - fed into it will produce a hockey-stick shape. And the other is that it is so impressive because of the careful exclusion of certain time-periods. Set against the last 100 or so years, it certainly shows that the Earth is heating up, and quickly. But then include the temperature data going back a thousand years and you see the there was the Mediaeval Warm Period (no nasty 4x4s then), where temperatures were warmer than today, and in between the 'Mini Ice Age' of the 16-17C, when fairs were held on the frozen River Thames. And before that, the warmth of the Roman period, when vines were grown in Northern England. As always with statistics, it is possible to prove anything if you are allowed to set your own parameters.

The temperature sensing sites appear to have been manipulated too. Far too many of them were originally sited in rural areas, and as populations have grown are now close to urban heat sources: of course they show that temperatures are rising. Some of the tree-ring proxy data seems to have been cherry-picked too. In all, it doesn't pass the nose test.

For what it's worth, my view is that the Earth's climate has always changed. Currently, the Earth is warming up. As we are still technically at the end of the Quaternary Ice Age, this is not a surprise. Man may be having an effect on the speed of the change, but I believe that any effect is trivial. When volcanoes supply over 90% of the atmospheric CO2, an increase of a couple of percent in the rest is hardly significant.

Then, of course, there is the old legal question of cui bono? Who benefits?

We have a situation where politicians seem to believe in AGW, and therefore will give grants to scientists to study that. But, as far as I am aware, there is no record of a scientist getting a grant by saying "hey, I need a couple of million to further my research which shows that AGW is a hoax". All the research money has gone to the pro-AGW researchers. And of course, with all that grant money and respectable careers riding on the AGW bandwagon, they are hardly likely to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, are they?

And then there are the financial interests of those involved with AGW at a higher level - the Al Gores and the Dr Pachauris. The complex web of involvement between the leaders of the AGW movement and the companies making billions out of cap and trade policies is something that beggars belief. In any other area of life, to have people arguing for policies, when they personally benefit financially from the outcomes of those policies, would lead to charges of corruption. But apparently, these people are beyond all that - their motives are pure, and therefore any money they make out of it is their just reward for being Good. I haven't had time to go into this in any detail, but what I have seen is very disturbing.

In summary, here are a few observations from a non-scientist who walks around with his eyes open:
  • Climate change is happening. It always has. It is an entirely natural process.
  • If man has any effect on climate change at all, it is tiny, and the economic catastrophe that will follow from major changes to try to alter that is wholly disproportionate.
  • The AGW argument is seriously flawed, and the balance of the evidence is so far that the data has been manipulated to give a political answer, not a scientific one.
  • Unless and until I see clear evidence (where the 'corrections' to proxy data are publicly available and the data management is open), I reserve the right to believe that we are being scammed by possibly the biggest and nastiest hoax ever to be perpetrated on the human race.
I attach a list of sources and references below. I am sorry if they are a bit general. I have been following this for several weeks now, and didn't think to keep records of what I saw and where I saw it (but then, I am not a government-funded scientist, so I can admit that). You may have to dig a bit within the sources to find the AGW stuff, but it is there. Later, I will do a bit of a trawl and post the links in better and more helpful detail.


That'll start you off. More later, but I have work tomorrow and need my rest.

Keep On Truckin', Or Else

Hehe. I have just received a Christmas card from a very good friend, which said, inter alia, "keep up with the blogging, it's great!" Well, thangyow, thangyow veramuch. I will endeavour to do so. I haven't written much recently, mainly due to work pressure, but now I have a few days off and I will apply myself to the keyboard once again.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all who read this.

Oh, and Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda a chi, as they say in the Classics.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Headlights (update)

Having observed over several days, and determined that the problem of missing or maladjusted headlights is not a figment of my imagination (the percentages I noted in a previous post seem to be broadly accurate), I think I have found a possible reason for the problem.

It lies in the essential reliability of modern cars.

I first learned about mechanical things (an interest that has lasted through my life) from my Dad when I was quite young - probably about 6 or 7, in the last 1950s. I used to go outside with him at the weekends and we would 'do' the car. In those days, cars didn't just run themselves - they needed constant care and attention, and that mysterious thing called 'mechanical sympathy'. Engines needed regular decarbonising, clutches lasted two or three years, tyres only 12 months, and carrying spare bulbs, a fan belt, fuel, some oil and water, a jack, a starting handle or jump leads, a couple of pieces of old sacking (in the winter - we had snow then) and a few tools was considered a common sense precaution rather than the sign of an anal-obsessive that it is today. Dad had to know all this. His job took him round the Yorshire Dales at all times of day and night, winter and summer, and if he didn't know how to fix a simple problem, he could have been sleeping in the car for the night.

Cars were not expected to be perfect. They broke down, and you coped with it. You learned how to deal with the obvious stuff, and you joined the RAC or AA for the rest. Being a 'motorist' was regarded as a kind of skill, and people would do strange things like weekly checks for oil level, tyre pressures and so on. People knew how to do it, or there were Car Maintenance classes as the local Evening Institute if you didn't. If a bulb blew, someone would tell you, or you would find out for yourself very soon, and you could fix it. And you would fix it, because you felt it was your duty to everyone else on the road to be safe and with everything in good condition.

Nowadays, a car is a machine, like a television or a fridge. You buy it, it works, that's all. Quality and engineering have progressed beyond measure since the days I was talking about, and a good thing too. Cars are now very reliable, hardly ever go wrong, and the need for any mechanical knowledge is almost nil. Service intervals have been extended to 12,000 miles in many cases, which for many people represents a year's driving. So you buy the car, fill it with fuel as necessary, and once a year go back to the dealer for a service. That's it.

(Changing a headlight bulb on my Ford, by the way, is far from simple. You must take off a lot of the front trim and then remove the entire headlight unit before you can get access to the bulb. No wonder people don't do it. In the old days, it could usually be done from inside the engine compartment in twenty seconds with no tools. So it's not all the driver's fault.)

That's great. It means that you can spend more time doing the things you want, and it means that more people are able to own a car and use it than could before - the non-mechanical (trying not to be sexist here) have just as much access to the utility and freedom of a car as the guy with the dirty fingernails and the torque wrench in his hand. But it does have a downside. If something does go wrong (and bulbs still blow, no matter how good they are), then the owner:

a) may not realise, as the need for regular checks of the vehicle's health are no longer necessary, and

b) may not care, as long as the car still goes forward in the usual manner - after all, repairs are the garage's responsibility, aren't they? It will have to wait until the next service in a few months.

I can understand this. I own a car, but it doesn't really interest me. It goes, it's reasonably efficient, it carries the shopping and it tows the caravan. It does everything I ask it to, and in return I show no interest at all in its welfare. It's serviced and it's inspected, but it's not cherished or cossetted. It's a car - you don't take your fridge apart every week to do maintenance checks, do you?

Bikies are going the same way, but they are - crucially - lagging behind in many significant ways. Most bikes now have electronic ignition, so the days of adjusting points are long gone. Fuel injection is now also commonplace, so there is no need to clean the carbs or set the idle speed. But they do need servicing, and many owners love to do it for themselves. There isn't the 'sealed unit - no user maintenance' attitude that cars now have. Most motorcyclists love to be able to fiddle with something, even if it's only checking the oil. It's part of the involvement of ownership that makes bikes far more rewarding than cars.

(Aside: bikes are now remarkably reliable in the same way that cars are - they rarely go wrong, and when they do it is usually the result of neglect or faulty maintenance rather than poor design or materials. This is all the more amazing when you consider that the specific power output of many bikes is double that of most cars. It is not uncommon for bike engines to develop 150bhp/litre, whereas the average family car struggles to make 80bhp/litre, and even the latest hot-hatchery from Ford, the Focus RS, can only manage 120bhp/litre. But I digress.)

Ultimately, we will have cars that are sealed at the factory and do not require - and will not permit - any servicing or maintenance for 200,000 miles. This will be great from a utility point of view, but it will mean that yet more idiots are barreling along the A40 with only half the lights they should have, and wondering what is wrong.

Three Amigos Toy Run

For the first time, I participated in this run yesterday. It was started about ten years ago by three bikers, and was a charity run in aid of the local Children's Unit at Withybush General Hospital in Pembrokeshire. The three have increased to many, but the run still takes place every December.

It started from a large car park in Pembroke, just beneath the magnificent castle. I overheard an organiser telling the police that he had counted 450 bikes, so there were plenty of people there. By 1 pm, rumour had gone round that things were kicking off, and people started lining up for the car park exit. The roar was incredible - two-strokes, fours, twins, singles, trikes, all revving up like mad and waiting for the path to clear so that they could get moving. As we pulled away, a trike ran over my foot. Thanks, mate.

We went once round the Pembroke one-way system, and then set off into the Pembrokeshire countryside. We crossed the Cleddau Bridge (free! normally 35p for bikes) and then did circuits of Neyland and Milford Haven before arriving in Haverfordwest and parking up in the Bro Cerwyn car park. A large hall was ours for the day, and tea/coffee and mince pies were available. I stayed a while and chatted to a few people, and then made my way home.

It was a brilliant day out. Although speeds were low (very low, my clutch hand was aching when I got home, from the sheer volume of traffic), everyone had a great time. It was quite pleasant to ride through towns and villages and have people come out to wave at you - not because of your dress, or speed, or fruity exhaust, but because they wanted to wave. There was a general good feeling about the whole thing, and the patch clubs kept a low profile (in fact, a lot of them were wearing Santa suits) so there was no hassle at all.

Lots of people brought toys for the Children's Unit, and those who didn't (like me; I don't have a spare teddy bear) could make a cash donation. I don't know how much was raised, but that's almost beside the point. Toys were brought, and funds were raised, and a lot of people (probably about 600) had a great time.

Two complaints from me, both related to other bikers.

One was a Harley that I was forced to ride alongside for several miles. He was on virtually open pipes, and the noise was excruciating. The blam-blam when he opened it up was fine, if a little repetitive, but the clattering when he shut off made it sound like a washing machine full of sockets. Truly awful - and I speak as one who quite likes a good noisy pipe.

The other was a full-dress GoldWing, one of the 1500 ones, i.e. quite old. He had a stereo on full blast, with some ghastly ballad music going. Every time he pulled alongside, I was treated to some distorted balladeer crooning away like it was Christmas. Truly awful again. Mate, if I wanted to listen to the radio, I could have stayed at home. Whatever makes you think I want to listen to your choice of music? What was worse was that he had a child on the pillion - a girl of about 8 years old. She was wearing, get this, an anorak, jeans, pink flowery wellies, a Bieffe motocross lid, and no gloves. Who in his right mind would take a small child on a motorcycle in December and not give her some gloves? I noticed that his outfit probably cost him a grand at least. But to insist that his daughter wore gloves was just too much bother, apparently.

There were a large number of sportsbikes, as you would expect, and a surprising number of trikes, some in better shape than others. There was a Morgan-style three-wheeler powered by a Moto Guzzi V-twin that didn't complete the first circuit of Pembroke, a lot of learnerbikes, a few classics, and even a contingent of kids on twist'n'go scoots. All (biking) human life was there.

Well worth going, and this is now going to be a firm fixture for me from now on.

The XT behaved itself, needless to say.


There has been a distinct dearth of posting hereabouts lately, for which I apologise. Things have been busy, and demands have been great, but the main reason is that I just haven't felt like writing anything. The main topic in the news (well, my news at any rate) has been the developments in the climate change debate. I intend to write something on this some time soon, but for now so many other people have dealt with it so well, that any comment from me would have seemed superfluous.

And the bike has been behaving itself too, so no news on that score.

More soon.

Friday 4 December 2009

New Bike Forum

Please accept my apologies for the blatant self-promotion.

I have started a new bike forum called Wheels Within Wheels here.

There is a story behind it, which you can read on the forum, but it is briefly this:

I joined a forum on a website called UKBike.com a few years ago. The company I worked for had bought the site from what sounded like a back-bedroom operation, and wanted to develop it. They had retained a guy who had worked a long time in the business and was a biker to the tips of his toes. He asked other employees for contributions - bike reviews, stories, opinion pieces and so on - and being a helpful sort of chap I wrote a few bits for the site.

(Interlude: at this time I hadn't ridden a bike for about ten years, after a period of illness that shot my sense of balance to blazes and forced me to sell my bike and retire from the game. Writing these pieces for the website rekindled my interest and soon I was casually going past the local dealership, whistling and trying not to seem as if I was looking. My balance had improved considerably over the years, and as they say, once a biker, always a biker. I ended up with a delightful Yamaha XT660R and the rest doesn't need telling.

But I digress.)

I joined the website discusion forum and made some great acquaintances there. However, over time the company showed a complete lack of interest in the bike side of things, only interested in the bottom line, and the guy who was looking after it was moved on. A succession of bright young things, keen and curious, followed him, but none were bikers and their interest soon waned. The forum was neglected by the owners, and started to dwindle. Few new members were attracted, and the old ones gradually fell away until there a hard core of about five. Posting to the forum became a bit like shouting in an empty house. All you could hear was your own echo.

The hard core were a good bunch, and I felt that with a better forum (less glitchy software and more management interest) we could keep going. So I baled out of the forum there - I had baled out of the company two years previously - and set up one of my own. I invited the existing posters to come and have a look, and a few did and stayed.

The forum is still in its formative stages, and has yet to reach the kind of critical mass that will allow it an independent existence. I need posters, contributions, and a lot of traffic to make it worthwhile. If anyone reading this fancies a look, please feel free to visit. There isn't much to read there yet, but if everyone who visits posts a few words, it will be worth coming back to and even bookmarking. It's not specific to any make or style of bike; just a few committed lunatics who like to meet and chat about bikes and the world in general.

Pop along if you have a minute and say Hi.


Is it me, or are car drivers less concerned than they used to be about having two working headlights? On my evening commutes recently, I seem to have noticed more than the usual number of cars with missing headlights, so a couple of nights ago I decided to do a completely unscientific survey.

I counted 100 cars travelling in the opposite direction, in a space of about 2 miles. Of these:

4 had one headlight not working
1 had no headlights working (he was driving in the dark, and heavy rain, on sidelights, and I assume that was not from choice; in a long line of vehicles, you can probably get away with it, although heaven help him if he had to finish his journey up a country lane).

So that is 5 in 100, or 1 in 20, whose cars would instantly fail an MoT test as unroadworthy.

You can add to that 2 out of the 100 who had those 'fog' lights mounted below the bumper which point up and therefore dazzle everyone, and 6 where the lights were adjusted to be pointing straight ahead and into everyone's eyes. That makes a total of 13 in 100, or almost 1 in 7, whose lights were causing discomfort or danger to everyone else.

I wonder if some people just let their cars deteriorate over the year, and then take them for the MoT and say "if it's wrong, fix it". Once a year.

I can't remember seeing as many as this before. Is it the recession?

Or just typical car driver stupidity?
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