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

- George Washington

Thursday 29 April 2010

Final Leaders' Debate

Best of the lot.

Cameron: sincere, well-prepared and starting to make a fight of it. At last, talking about 13 years of failure, and picked Brown up on the 'taking 6m out of the economy' error. When he goes on the attack and takes that concerned frown off his face, he's good. 8/10

Clegg: newness starting to wear off. All the stuff about the 'two old parties' is sounding repetitive. Not a lot new to say, and looking far less assured than in No. 1. And he said his party would not have an amnesty for illegal immigrants. In the first debate, that's exactly what he did say. 6/10

Brown: unrelentingly negative about the other two. Listing Labour 'achievements' like a Gatling gun, in between slagging off everyone else. More about instilling fear of change than pride in his own record. And the shameful bastard repeated the cancer lie from the earlier party broadcast. 2/10

Clear victory for Cameron, and Brown went (if that were possible) even further down in my estimation. What a nasty mendacious bully the man is.

(And who allowed that make-up? Grey face and orange ears - I watched in fascinated horror. The other two looked normal, so it wasn't the lighting. And that smile at the end - "like the silver plate on a coffin".)

Feeling Sorry For Brown

I was itching to post something yesterday, after the 'bigot' gaffe, but everyone else in Blogland seemed to have said everything necessary. So here are my thoughts after a short reflection.

On one level I feel sorry for Gordon Brown. As Nick Clegg said, "If we all had recordings of what we mutter under our breath we'd all be crimson with embarrassment." I have come away from meetings or social occasions and said things to my companion in private that were highly uncomplimentary in all sorts of ways. If I had to answer for some of the things I have said in those circumstances, I doubt if I would be invited anywhere much these days. But we keep our innermost thoughts to ourselves and those we trust, and our social and professional lives can carry on under the convenient pretence that we all like each other, hold much the same views, and admire each others' taste in curtains.

So when poor old GB was heard saying what he did in the car following the encounter with Mrs Duffy, it was a 'there but for the grace of God' moment.

But of course all that sympathy is totally outweighed by the sheer awfulness of what the comments revealed. And let's put to bed the idea that (as claimed by a lot of Labour-supporting commenters on CiF, and even John Prescott) this was somehow an underhand sting by the evil Murdoch-owned Sky to trap an innocent man. The microphone was, as I understand it, supplied by Channel 4, and was a 'pool' mike, with the output available to all news organisations. Brown knew it was there, and it was only carelessness that let him forget it was still live. I don't see much of a right-wing plot there.

Should anyone have reported what they heard, when Brown clearly thought he was in private? If the remark had been a personal one ("Can we find a bog sometime soon? I am desperate," or "I must get to the doctor to ask about this discharge"), then of course it should have been kept private. But the remarks he made were directly relevant to the issues he had just been discussing with a voter, and revealed a disrepancy in attitude that is surely of great interest to the nation who are shortly to be asked to vote in a general election. So, in my view, publishing his remarks was completely justified.

A couple of observations about the actual incident:
  • It wasn't a difficult encounter, as some have claimed. Mrs Duffy put some questions to him, and he gave the standard answers. He was friendly to her, and she seemed happy with the meeting afterwards. If it had ended there, Brown would have emerged with some credit for meeting a 'real' voter for once and coming across as more-or-less human. There was no reason that I could see for his weary frustration at how it turned out, still less the blaming of an aide for the 'ridiculous' choice of interlocutor.
  • The fact that he could characterise someone who raised the immigration issue (politely and without any derogatory language) as a 'bigot' tells us volumes about the way that the left regard the way 'ordinary people' think. If Mrs Duffy had gone on about "all these 'ere Pakis coming over and taking our jobs", I would have called her a bigot myself - but her question was anything but bigoted.
  • The killer aspect for me was the way that Brown sought immediately to blame someone else - anyone - for the encounter. "You should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that?" Of course, this now looks all of a piece with other things Brown has said - the economic crisis that 'started in America', the shortage of equipment in Iraq that was the fault of the generals, and so on. There's definitely a psychological flaw here: an inability to take repsonsibility for things, a desire to blame others for anything that goes wrong.
  • The grovelling apologies (six at the last count, according to commentators) only added to the negativity. He claims he 'misunderstood' what she had said, and wanted to correct it. Or, from another angle (choose from the pick'n'mix excuses), that he hadn't had time to explain himself to her because of all the press, and wanted to tell her personally. I would have had more respect for him if he had said that he regretted the use of the word 'bigot', but that her attitude seemed to him to be prejudiced, and he was merely letting off steam in private. Not ideal, but no real harm done, and no attention from the world's press for the best part of 24 hours.
  • The incident serves to confirm those reports of Brown's bad temper and willingness to lash out when things get difficult, so roundly denied by his cheerleaders.
  • It shows Brown as utterly two-faced. His cheerful bonhomie to Mrs Duffy at the end of the meeting ("Good to meet you! Good family!") changes to sotto voce cursing the minute the car door shuts. We are entitled to ask ourselves if much of what we see of Brown in public is similarly artificed.
There were any number of ways to play this one, all of which would have left Brown looking a little disdainful, but undamaged. As it was, he managed to snatch a wholly negative outcome from a minor incident that any other politician would have turned, if not to their advantage, to a neutral and forgettable occasion.

Is this a game-changer for the last week of the election campaign? Too early to say, but Brown's performance tonight in the last of the debates is now more crucial than ever.


Can I be the first to say that I am getting heartily sick of people complaining about the over-use of the 'gate' suffix?

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Blog Rating

You can now get your blog rated for its suitability for different audiences, like a film. I have just checked, and this blog is G for General Audiences (all ages admitted).

I'm not trying hard enough. Delicate readers please look away now.

Fuck bollocks death terrorism arseholes nasty drunk gay drugs danger gangs tattoos murder twin towers twat nipples gimp mask torture smelly farts fuck fuck fuck fuck drop your panties sir william i cannot wait until lunchtime pee po belly bum drawers anal tribadism fuck fuck fuck fuck al qaeda snot gobbler 2 girls 1 cup lemon party tubgirl spanner trial masturbation clitoridectomy fuck.

Success. I now have a proper blog. Make sure you bring your Mum next time you visit. Dig her up if you have to.

Check yours here.

Before it's compulsory.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Paxo Stuffing

I like Jeremy Paxman. He's a good, tough and intelligent interviewer, and his book on The English was excellent. He is normally brilliantly well-prepared and thinks on his feet, and I have never seen him bested in any interview he has conducted. Even Michael Howard crumbled in the end.

Until tonight.

Step forward Dr Eurfyl ap Gwilym, Senior Economic Adviser to Plaid Cymru. Dr ap Gwilym has done his homework, is on top of his brief, and is not scared of anyone.

Take it away ...

Labour Reach Rock Bottom

I'm a cynical old bugger, but this one actually shocked me. It is the latest Party Election Broadcast by the People's Party:

The message is: "Vote Labour or you will die of cancer."

It is an unspeakably vile effort. I didn't realise that the party of my parents and grandparents could stoop so low.

They deserve complete annihilation on May 6.

Sunday 25 April 2010


After yesterday's Labour stunt with the Elvis impersonator, Charlotte Gore has the comment to cap them all:

Labour, it seems, is going to die sat on a toilet with its pants round its ankles, blowing a blood vessel trying to poo out a stubborn, rock like turd that’s been lodged up their colon for the last few years: Gordon Brown.


It would seem that the Foreign Office and the Catholic Church itself have both suffered a massive sense-of-humour failure.

The Government has apologised to the Pope over official documents that mocked his forthcoming visit to Britain by suggesting he should bless a gay marriage and even launch Papal-branded condoms.

There have been embarrassed retractions from Ministers, and a very serious denunciation of it by some bishop or other on the TV. David Miliband is said to be "appalled" and a spokesman calls the document "clearly foolish". They all seem to have no idea what has been going on. Look, people, the ideas were generated by a brainstorm [1] session, when a group of officials were tasked with thinking up some good ideas for a Papal visit. This is what happens in brainstorms. You state at the outset that no ideas are 'wrong', that nothing will be ridiculed, and the more outrageous the better. With a good group, you can generate some fantastic ideas. Most will be rubbish, but some will be excellent. And most of all, some of the most fantastical, which seem at first sight to be utterly irrelevant, can lead you to look at things in a new light and the synergy lets you come up with ideas which are fresh and creative. Businesses use them all the time, and they work.

The usual method would be to write them all up on a flipchart, have a good laugh at the most ridiculous, and then let the collective mind wander until some genuine gems come about. The group leader then ought to write up the results and chuck the flipcharts in the bin. The mistake the unnamed FO official made was to circulate the unedited version. Oops!

But really, is it all that serious? Some of them seem to be really good ideas. 'Benedict-brand' condoms could cause a revolution in the sexual health and birth rate of some of the developing nations. Spending the night in a council flat in Bradford would do more for the church's credibility as a champion of the poor and oppressed than any number of silk robes or expensive palaces. And setting up a helpline for abused children might seem to some people to be quite an appropriate response to some of the ghastly things we have been hearing about lately.

If the Church had taken this one on the chin, with a bit of humour ("We note the suggestions made by the Foreign Office, and His Holiness promises to consider them in due course"), it would have done more for their public perception than this:

The Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham, was astonished and angered by the proposals. He said: “This is appalling. You don’t invite someone to your country and then disrespect them in this way. It’s outlandish and outrageous to assume that any of the ideas are in any way suitable for the Pope.”

I have no objection to the Church being so pompous about itself, but there's no rule that says the rest of us have to. Lighten up, fellas - these are only ideas we are talking about. Nothing to be afraid of. And I would have thought, to be frank, that the Church had far more to worry about these days than a couple of humorous proposals which didn't include the rape, molestation or beating of innocent children, for example.

[1] This is apparently now an unacceptable phrase, as it denigrates people with epilepsy. The recommended phrase is "thought shower". How feeble can you get?


Harriet Harman is a po-faced, humourless and arrogant. She wants us all to behave in ways she approves of, by force if necessary, and she doesn't think the country's laws apply to her. So it is very pleasant to hear an interview where she is utterly skewered on Labour's record over the last 13 years.

Stephen Nolan is the man who asks the questions (and keeps asking them) that we'd all like to hear the answers to. What I'd like to know is - why isn't this guy on mainstream TV? Why isn't the 'opposition' asking questions like this?

Listen here; the fun bit starts about 1hr 45 mins, interview is 30 mins long. Worth listening to the whole thing.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Night out

We are going out tonight - yay! Some friends of ours who run a local restaurant are doing some 'themed' nights, which are proving successful. Tonight's is a 60s night and, knowing that we are old gits who were around at that time (even if we don't remember it too well), they sent us a personal invite. Well, how could we refuse?

60s dress is 'optional' but effectively compulsory. I used to have a fine set of resources for any fancy dress occasion. I had a fine old battered leather jacket with a silver eagle painted on the back (bought for a fiver in a drunken haze at Uni), and I would add drainpipe jeans, pointy boots and do my hair in a huge and greasy quiff. There I was - the 60s Rocker that I always aspired to at the time. Think Billy Fury:

Alas, there isn't enough hair up top to carry this off any more. Never mind - leathers, jeans, black shirt, white tie, biker boots and a snarl and I should be fine.

Anna is going as a hippy. I predict a riot.

UPDATE: everyone else went as a hippy, including two convincing John Lennons from his Bed-In period and a middle-aged chap dressed entirely - from head to foot - in tie-dye. I stuck out like a sore thumb, probably looking like one of the Great Train Robbers. On the plus side, the food was good and I got a cuddle from a fruity lady dressed straight out of Carnaby Street. Not all bad, then.

They don't get it

Do they? Today, David Miliband is quoted as saying to voters: "Look, you've punished us enough about Iraq."

Have they been punished at all? I don't think so. They seem to have got away with the biggest British foreign policy disaster for 50 years scot-free, as far as I can see. Suez ruined Anthony Eden, but Blair seems to have escaped with nothing more than a fortune, a career in public speaking and an orange sun-tan. When Miliband says "You've punished us enough about Iraq", what he means is "You have criticised us over Iraq for a long time, and now we're bored with you." I'm sure they would love to 'draw a line under' Iraq and 'move on' (with 'lessons learned', naturally), but I doubt if a significant proportion of the British people will let them.

Strike that. There will be a change of government, and the Iraq débacle will slip from the public memory. All will be forgotten. I just think that the poor sods who suffered under years of oppression under Saddam deserved better, that's all.

Bristol Dave says it all far more strongly, and with a photograph that illustrates why he feels as he does. I can't look.

Edit: I've rewritten this post, as I wasn't happy with how it turned out first time. OK?

Friday 23 April 2010

Back to the 60s

I came across this Public Information Film on a forum. If you remember the 1960s, you'll love it. Plenty of nice vehicles from the period, and some excellent vintage riding gear. It is interesting to note how quiet the roads were in those days - and also reflect how impossible it would be today to reach 'the kids' with that announcer's cut-glass RP accent. Today, it would have to be a trendy Mockney or an Andy Kershaw-style Northern burr to have any credibility. It's a pity that Matchless didn't continue with the development of the 'mind control' throttle, however. A bike that can accelerate without the use of the rider's right hand would revolutionise modern racing.

So ... are you 'Tom', or 'Tom's Friend'? Me, I'm a bit of both. I am glad to say that rider training has come on a bit in the last 50 years, though.

Note: Tom's friend's bike is from 1963; Tom's is slightly older. Both are London registrations. I think that Tom's is a Matchless G2 and his friend's is a Triumph Tiger Cub, but I stand to be corrected on that.

St George's Day

The Welsh make a huge fuss about St David's Day (and rightly so), so why does it seem almost an act of rebellion to celebrate St George's Day? I suppose it's because someone, somewhere, is going to be offended by it. Well, good. If the simple act of displaying a flag offends you, then you deserve to be offended.

Here is my country's flag. It's not racist; it is not intended to oppress or humiliate; it is not arrogant or violent. It is the flag of my country.

To all my English readers, Happy St George's Day.

And I happen to know that today is the birthday of someone who reads this blog from time to time. If he reads this, Happy Birthday, you rancid old git.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Watch out - bike scam

Sad to see that a forum I was once involved with has been the 'victim' of a lot of scams involving the sale of motorcycles. The forum was part of the UKBike website, which was owned by a company I used to work for. In fact, it was how I was tempted back into biking after a few years' layoff. The guy who had been contracted to run the newly-acquired website asked all staff to write something for the web content, and I duly obliged with a few stories and reviews. This got me thinking, then I 'happened' to call by my local dealership one day, and within a week or two I was back on two wheels. For a while, the forum was lively, but the parent company neglected it and, as is the way with these things, the forum died the death.

I logged in there a few moments ago, just out of curiosity, and there have been a few posts there since I left, most of which concern a scam that seems to be gaining momentum, especially through low-cost advertisers like Friday-Ad, where the level of supervision of the advertisers is necessarily minimal. It's a classic scam which no-one with any common sense would be taken in by, but it seems to be working with some:
  • Advert appears in a small-ads paper (or its associated website) for a desirable bike at a suspiciously low price
  • Caller responds and is given details and an email contact
  • Bike is held at a 'shipping agent' and money must be sent to the agent by Moneygram or Western Union and held there
  • When money is received, bike will be delivered to buyer
  • When buyer is happy with the purchase, agent will send money to seller.
Of course, the bike doesn't exist (or it does, but is advertised over and over again), and the latter two stages of the process never happen. Once the money is sent, nothing more is heard. One chap has posted his unfortunate experiences on the forum, and another has done his research at Companies House and has listed all the dodgy directorships of the person involved, who claims to sell bikes this way because he is a welder on a North Sea oil rig and is selling the bike to raise money while he is away.

It's amazing that, in this day and age, people are still being taken in by scams like this. But some people seem to be trusting souls - perhaps bikers more than others, as we tend to band together and trust each other in a way that doesn't happen elsewhere. A lot of the anger is being directed at the website and publication, for hosting the adverts in the first place.

In the old, old words, which cannot be repeated often enough: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Get out and vote, at least

I have voted in every General Election since I was 18, and I'm going to vote in this one. The situation would have to be a lot worse before I considered abstaining. If ever I find myself with a voting slip where none of the candidates are worthy of my cross, I will spoil my ballot paper and register my apathy that way. Simply not voting is just lazy.

I am therefore glad to link to this video, which is pleasantly catchy, and manages to make both Alistair Campbell and Peter Tatchell look human.

Sunday 18 April 2010

First Spring Ride

Arranged via the wondrous interweb, I met some fellow Triumph owners today for a rideout around mid-Wales. And what a great day it was.

We met at the West End cafe in Llandovery, and rode up past Llyn Brianne reservoir, across the tops and down the Devil's Staircase to Newbridge-on-Wye, then a stop for lunch at The Halt in Doldowlod. After lunch, we went to Rhayader, then up around the Elan Valley reservoirs and across to Devil's Bridge. We headed back towards Llandovery, and I left the party at Lampeter to make my own way home through Newcastle Emlyn and Cardigan. The weather was kind all day, with sunshine and dry roads. It was still a bit too cool for leathers, however, and by the end of the day I was wishing I had worn my textile suit with a jumper underneath and some thicker gloves. But the reservoirs were spectacularly beautiful in the sunshine.

Llyn Brianne - sunshine, no wind, smooth as glass

I did a total of 210 miles, which has doubled my mileage on the Bonneville. I really started to enjoy the bike on the way home, when my growing familiarity allowed me to ride it a bit more - er - purposefully. The bike didn't miss a beat and was certainly quick enough for the roads we were on today. It's beautifully composed in corners and gave me a lot of confidence. And it sounds wonderful, without (I hope) offending anyone. One thing that wasn't good was the footrest arrangement. It has been fitted with aftermarket footrests which are further back and higher than standard, and they cramped my knees all day. I'm going to ask the dealer to return it to standard next week, something he has already agreed to do free of charge if I felt it necessary.

I've ridden new roads that needed a lot of concentration all day, and I have made four new friends. And now, not surprisingly, I am very tired.

Triumphus Bonnevillaurus, enjoying a well-earned break looking at something pretty.

Out in force

I've just seen the most amazing thing on the BBC News channel: five (count 'em) government ministers standing outside No. 10, telling us what is being done to resolve the air travel crisis.

Five ministers. That's Milords Mandelson, Adonis and West, and the humbler David Miliband and Tessa Jowell. Why five? Well, there are obviously so many aspects to this crisis that we needed to see personal responses from each minister concerned. And they took plenty of opportunity to tell us how vastly experienced they all were in their respective areas, too, and how seriously they took the threat to the wellbeing of ordinary people. And how they were working constantly in the interests of the travelling public. I suppose they felt that, with the election called and government effectively suspended for the duration, we hadn't seen enough of them recently and needed reassurance. Nothing to do with bolstering their credentials with an election coming up, of course. Nothing to do with a bit of crisis publicity that the opposition can't possibly use.

But why five ministers? Surely, all it needed was one senior politician to make a comprehensive statement to the press, covering all of the relevant aspects of the problem. Someone with an overview - Gordon Brown, perhaps?

Yeah, maybe not.

Shame Jowell didn't get to speak, but then she is only a gurl, after all.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Pint of Old Pee, please

A little while ago, I saw a display of Theakston's Old Peculier in my local supermarket, so of course a bottle fell into my trolley. I brought it home, put it in the 'cellar' (a convenient space under the cupboard in the hallway) and forgot about it. Today, I have been mowing lawns and assisting Anna with plant-potting, and by the time I had finished all that I was ready for a drink. And the bottle of OP caught my eye. And now I am drinking it.

When I was a teenager in Leeds, we used to drink a lot in the local pubs (Deer Park, Oakwood, Chained Bull for posh, White House for very posh), and on a weekend, if one of us could blag a parental vehicle, we would head out into the countryside North of Leeds, where the pubs were nicer, the atmosphere less urban, and the beer more varied. One favourite was the Scotts Arms in Sicklinghall. It now seems to be a trendy gastropub, but back in the day it was just a jolly nice village tavern, with a log fire and occasionally some attractive local totty. It was here that I first encountered Theakston's products, and in particular Old Peculier.

Theakston's Brewery has a long history, and the firm have been brewing in the Yorskshire village of Masham (that's massam, not mash'em, for those what don't know) since 1827. The business was bought out by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries in 1984, but returned to family ownership in 2004 and continues to make a variety of beers in the Masham site. OP is their most famous product. The spelling Peculier is correct, by the way. A 'Peculier' is an area with a place of worship which is not part of an official diocese, and the beer is named after the Peculier of Masham. It's a lovely drink - full and smooth, with a pleasant nutty flavour. It's also 5.6% ABV, which means it packs a bit of a punch as well.

One of the greatest pleasures of my youth was going to the Scotts Arms, approaching a young and comely bar wench, and asking for "A pint of old pee, please, love." It was an old joke even then, but each generation has to discover these things anew, I find.

I'll be on the bike all day tomorrow, meeting some people from a forum I read for a rideout around the mid-Wales valleys, so I will leave it at just the one bottle. I don't do hangovers any more.

Culpability Brown ...

... the most punchable face in Britain?

Friday 16 April 2010

Getting Stuck

I posted recently about the incident in Manchester Hole which led to the loss of a young boy's life. It made me think about the only time I have been in a similar situation. There's no particular point to this post: it's just a reminiscence.

We decided one weekend to do a slightly more demanding trip than the usual ones. There were a hard core of about six pupils that came every time, and one or two more who came along to see what it was all about. For this reason, we normally kept to caves that were Grade III or less. (Grade III is 'difficult', in the spectrum of easy - moderate - difficult - very difficult - severe.) That meant there was plenty of sport, but no outrageous hazards or obstacles that would cause the inexperienced undue problems. Bear in mind that we usually had three staff and perhaps eight pupils between 15 and 18, so the supervsion ratio was very good. For this trip, we took only the most experienced of the pupils - I think four of them, and three staff.

We chose Swinsto Hole in the Kingsdale system. The cave is entered through a shakehole high up in the valley side,

which drops through a series of pitches into the Kingsdale Master Cave. This is a huge cavern underneath the valley of Kingsdale, into which many of the local potholes descend. I've no idea how many St Paul's Cathedrals you could fit inside it, but it is spectacularly massive. Swinsto drops into the master cave, so most people view it as a one-way trip - enter through Swinsto, drop to the master cave, and exit at valley floor level, where the car is only a few hundred metres away. This means that the pot cannot be laddered (unless you have no objection to leaving behind hundreds of pounds' worth of aluminium) and needs to tackled with single ropes. Each pitch is belayed with a nylon sling (which is left behind) and descended on a single rope, doubled, so that the rope can be pulled through and recovered in order to do the next pitch. Minimum equipment is about seven slings and about 30m of rope, but sensible people take a bit more than this just in case.

The key to a successful trip through Swinsto is to remember that climbing out of the master cave to the exit at Valley Entrance is very difficult, so it is necessary to enter Valley Entrance

and traverse the stooping Roof Tunnel, to rig a ladder down to the floor of the Master Cave. Then you can climb the fellside to the Swinsto shakehole, safe in the knowledge that your exit is secure.

On the day we did the trip, the weather was dull and wet, with the prospect of light rain later. Swinsto is not a pot that gets dangerous in wet weather - it just becomes what cavers call more 'sporting'.

The exit route, however, through the Roof Tunnel passes through waist-deep pools, one of which is known to 'sump' (flood to the roof, necessitating moving under water for a short distance) after heavy rain.

The trip through Swinsto was challenging and exhilarating, and we all got very wet indeed. Having done a lot of caving with ladders, which are a pain to lug around, descending the pot with a single rope felt very liberated. We finally reached the master cave and stopped for a Mars Bar. The ladder we had rigged was still there (cavers are pretty trustworthy people) and we climbed it to reach the Roof Tunnel. However, while we were underground, it had been raining hard. When we got to the pools, the final one had filled almost to the roof, and the only way out was to crawl and semi-swim through it. It's not a great distance - perhaps 10-20 feet - but it's a bit of a challenge if you weren't prepared for it. We talked about it and decided that we were confident we would all make it through, so the trip leader went through first, followed by the pupils in order of competence (least first) and I waited behind to make sure all the kids got through, and then I would follow. And all the time the water was getting deeper.

By the time we had all the pupils on the far side and only I was left, the water had reached the roof, and there was nothing for it but to dive the sump. I managed it by lying on my back to make the most of the small airspace, and swimming the submerged section with a rather inelegant backstroke.

This is the Roof Tunnel; on that day, this section was completely submerged.

Then were back in daylight, trotting to the minibus through the rain, changing into dry clothes (girls one side of the bus, boys the other) and sharing flasks of coffee and soup.

Was that dangerous? It was certainly quite a thrill, knowing that we had encountered a difficult situation and come out the other side (literally), but I am sure that at no time were we, or the pupils, in any serious danger. For one thing, if the passage had been totally blocked, we would have retreated to the master cave, where there was plenty of room to sit up high and wait for the water to go down. We would have conserved our lights by only using one at a time, and passed around the ammo boxes we carried, which were full of high-energy food like Kendal Mint Cake and Garibaldi biscuits. As we had notified the police before we set off, it would only have been a matter of time before Cave Rescue would have been alerted after our non-appearance, and help would have been at hand. Or, more simply, we would have waited for the water to subside, and then walked out all by ourselves. As it was, we emerged without incident, and it went down as one of the best trips we had ever done.

That was at a time when teachers did things like that because they were worth doing. We didn't fill in any forms, or do formal risk assessments. Pride in what we were doing meant that we were ultra-careful with the children in our care, and I'm sure that any of us would have sacrificed ourselves if it meant saving the life of one of the children. That was how it worked.

NB1 - these are not my photos - I never took a camera into a cave, more's the pity.

NB2 - these are my own recollections, and should not be relied upon as definitive guidance to an exploration of the West Kingsdale system. Get a proper book.

Ball Room for Mandelson

The BBC have a great clip of the Head of Slitherin dancing with some grannies at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool. Catch the 'Ooooh!' at about 0.05 sec in.

And I did like the comment:

Ms Mackenzie told reporters that Lord Mandelson was very light on his feet.

Is he good with colours as well?

Thursday 15 April 2010

Iceland's Revenge

You didn't think they would take it lying down, did you? Those plucky Icelanders, heroes of a thousand violent sagas, warriors who would cut down an enemy with a broadsword, then hack open his chest and pull out the lungs to feed the ravens?

When Gordon Brown blamed them for the financial crisis, and then went on to sequester their assets using legislation designed to foil terrorists, he didn't seriously think they would take it lying down?

Well, today little old Iceland grounded the entire UK aircraft fleet and brought chaos to the airways of Europe - something Al Qaeda have so far signally failed to do. And the Met Office said there would be dust in the sky, and dust in the sky means spectacular sunsets, so off we went with our cameras. The sunset tonight wasn't as fabulous as I had hoped, but it was certainly something out of the ordinary.

Here's the view from Newgale Hill, with Dinas Fach, Pen Dinas and Green Scar at about 8.15 tonight (click for bigger):

Leaders' Debate

I'm not mentioning anything to do with policy here, as the manifestos should be giving all of that, and in a more easily-digested form. This debate was all about presentation. For once, we got to see the three 'potential' Prime Ministers on a single platform, working within a specific set of rules, and we got the chance to judge them as people - the same way you judge a bloke in the pub: do they come across as human, decent, friendly people? In a sense, that is the most important question, as their policies are so close as to be almost indistinguishable. We are going to vote for the person we trust the most to get us out of the incredible mess we are in - and seeing the three side-by-side is probably as good a way as any to do it.

I think Alistair Stewart showed more nerves than any of them. I lost count of the number of times he cut someone off mid-sentence, when for once they weren't waffling but were actually making a point I wanted to hear. The 'Moderator' can afford to be a little bit more relaxed next time, I think.

So, how did they do?

I'd give Clegg the win. He came across as sincere, fresh and friendly. I'd happily go for a pint with the guy, as be reasonably certain that the evening would be entertaining, and I wouldn't be pinned by the ears against the wall while he shouted policy alternatives into my ear.

Cameron was close behind. He looked more authoritative and mature than Clegg, and spoke well about things that were close to his heart. I did wish that he had laid into Brown with a bit more gusto, though. Brown gave him some open goals and he didn't grab the opportunity. Maybe in the next two debates, when he has got the confidence to understand that upsetting the apple-cart is what he is there for, he will catch fire and really show what he can do.

Brown was, to be fair, much better than I had thought he would be. He kept his temper, and spoke almost like a normal human being. There was still a lot of the tractor statistics about his delivery, but it was far less pronounced than at PMQs. He did himself no favours, however, by talking over Cameron and smirking to himself when the other two were talking. He looked arrogant and self-satisfied. As the incumbent, with 13 years of government to defend, he could have been more dignified. The reference to Lord Ashcroft and the pre-packaged soundbites sounded forced.

Clegg 8/10
Cameron 7/10
Brown 5/10

Bike magazine, back in the late 60s, invented the format of the Giant Test, where several similar and competing bikes would be obtained, and ridden side-by-side to make direct and often revealing comparisons. This debate was something like that, and had a similar value. I wasn't bored, and I will be watching the next two.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Manchester Hole

Boy left to die alone in flooded cave as pupils swam to safety.

Oh dear. 14-year-old Joe Lister drowned after the cave he was exploring became flooded and the rest of the party left without him. I can't begin to say how angry I feel about this story.

I feel strongly about this because I used to take groups of schoolchildren potholing myself. This was back in the late 1970s and early 80s, before the H&S bandwagon became a juggernaut, and we relied on common sense, and a couple of really experienced cavers who led the expeditions.

Manchester Hole, although a Grade 1 cave (easy, no pitches or difficulties), is known for its susceptibility to flooding. I have in front of my my ancient copy of Northern Caves Vol 1, which contains a description of Manchester Hole.

MANCHESTER HOLE, SE100764, Grade 1
Length 503m, Depth 17m
Warning: Fills to roof in severe floods, when river flows into entrance

Like this:

It's an easy first cave - no ladders, no tight squeezes. Some mud, some hands-and-knees crawling, and some spectacular stalactites to make the journey worthwhile. I have never visited this cave, but I have been into plenty like it, and it is a great adventure for anyone who is active, reasonably agile, and interested in seeing geology at first hand. Once you are far enough away from the daylight and the mud, caves can be spectacularly beautiful.

But it floods. Any research - any research at all - will tell you that it floods. Contrary to what most people think, caves are not dangerous places. You'll be wet and uncomfortable, but the likelihood of dying in one is tiny. It is always said that the most dangerous part of any caving trip is the drive to the cave. And yet water, combined with narrow, confined spaces, can be deadly. All experienced cavers know this. The first job to be done when planning a trip is to check the weather forecast, and to amend plans accordingly if there is the possibility of rain - some caves are totally dry, and can make an excellent alternative if the cave you want to visit is looking like it's going to be moist. The second job is to tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to be out. This means that if you do not check in at the appointed time, someone is aware of your absence and after an hour or two Cave Rescue will be alerted and someone will come and find you. The police have always been excellent for this. In Horton-in-Ribblesdale, where I did most of my caving, the police station posts an up-to-date weather forecast outside, and are more than willing to take your names and destinations, and then to do the necessary if you don't show.

What all this means is that, if the worst comes to the worst (and unexpected showers and flash floods do happen), all you have to do is retreat to a high point, well above the water, and wait for rescue. You might be cold and wet and hungry; you may be there for many hours; but you won't die. (A cave where there is no safe haven from any flooding would be marked as dangerous and 'experts-only'.)

So what did this party do? Well, it was led by a local authority outdoor education instructor and a trainee. Their risk assessment for the trip did not foresee the possibility of flooding and did not have a contingency plan for if things went wrong. The wet crawl that they had made on the way in became submerged - an underwater tunnel - on the way out, and to make an exit they needed to dive the sump. I've done short sump dives, and if you know where you are going they are quite safe, but to attempt to dive a sump in an emergency with inexperienced youngsters is an incredibly foolish thing to do. Most of the youngsters got out, and Joe tried, but came back, frightened. For some reason, then, the last teacher made his own way out without realising that Joe was still in there. It seems that he tried to dive the sump himself afterwards, because the Cave Rescue people found him drowned.

So, feeble risk assessment, bad planning, incorrect response to a change in circumstances, and finally someone - a Maths teacher - who can't do an adequate head-count. Any of the kids I used to take caving in 1980 could have done better.

Funny, isn't it? When caving trips were led by enthusiastic amateurs, there were few problems and, certainly in my experience, no youngsters were killed or even injured (although one lad did lose a pair of expensive glasses in Alum Pot). But now we have Outdoor Education, run by a Local Authority, with trained and qualified instructors, and this kind of shit gets to happen. What's the betting that his actual caving experience was almost nil, but he had been on a course where he got 'qualified' in six different outdoor disciplines in an afternoon? He was trained and qualified. The magic words that we rely on these days.

We never wrote risk assessments for our trips; we just relied on common sense and experience. Bewerley Park had carried out a risk assessment (that's another box ticked), but it was totally inadequate.

And a boy died.

UPDATE 24.10.2010

This post has received a lot of hits recently. While I am delighted that people think my ramblings are worth reading, please don't take any of what you read here as gospel. It is over 20 years since I went underground to a non-commercial cave. Acquire and study a proper, recent guidebook (I think the Dalesman Northern Caves series is a long time out of print) and make sure you know what you are tackling before you set off. Thanks.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Three of a Kind

Couldn't resist this one - I think it's the only time I have had three bikes on the premises at the same time.

I think they look rather fine. Like having a good workshop: a tool for every occasion.

Pan No Nore

Finally, the Pan has been collected by a courier service and has gone back North to Porridgeland, where it started its earthly career in the keeping of Strathclyde's finest.

I felt sorry for the buyer. He clearly wanted the bike as soon as possible, and paid me straight away by Paypal the night the auction ended, but it has taken his chosen courier company until now to collect it. That's almost a fortnight. Admittedly the Bank Holiday weekend came in between, but they seem to have strung him along with feeble excuses and broken promises and he has been most apologetic to me. I told him that it would be fair to give me at least a day's notice of when they were arriving, so that I could arrange to be home. In the end, they told him it would be today, so I stayed in all day in anticipation. Eventually, I got a call at 3 pm, telling me that the driver was only two miles away but couldn't find me. Well, that would be why we told you to phone first, wouldn't it? You see, we live here and we know that your satnav will take you to the wrong junction, and that you will end up asking your way in the pub. It's happened to every courier for the last 20 years, so we tried to make things easier for you. But you know best.

The van driver didn't seem to know much about bikes (he even wanted me to ride the bike up the ramp into the van, which I politely declined on insurance grounds), but he strapped it down and went on his way. He had another two to collect before returning North, and I'm pretty sure they weren't going to fit in the space he had left. I hope my buyer gets his bike undamaged.

Normally at this point there would be a small amount of moisture in the corner of one eye. Not with this bike. I have said this before, but although it was immensely capable and magnificently comfortable and speedy, I never actually loved it. I am far more upset by what the sale represents (the final abandonment of our plans to go round Europe together, following Anna's illness) than the loss of the bike. Anna was sorrier to see it go than I was, and for this reason.

But some chap in the Edinburgh region is getting a heck of a bargain, and a fantastic bike to tour on. I wish him well.

Saturday 10 April 2010

Proper poorly

I posted about taking a test-ride on the Bonneville SE in the pouring rain, and how it had (possibly) given me a chill. I certainly developed a cold thing a few days later. That seemed to get better, but in the last two or three days it has come back with a vengeance. I am coughing like an old man's bus shelter and keep going back to bed for an hour or two during the day, when I sleep fitfully. I find all of this a bit strange, as since I stopped smoking in February 2007, I haven't had a cold, or the flu, or even a bad cough. In fact, over the last three years, my chest is better than it has ever been. Now I have one of those coughs that wakes you up in the morning, coughing so rapidly and forcefully that you think you will never breathe again, and that your time on earth is coming to an end.

Hence lightness of blogging.

Back soon.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Beautiful day

Today has been sunny and clear all day - a real spirit-lifter after the rains and general misery of the last few weeks. After I had done the requisite chores, I decided to spend half the afternoon getting to know the Bonnie a bit better.

I took a different route this time: basically a circuit of the Preseli Hills, anticlockwise. South side of the hills and up to Crymych, and then back along the North side and home over the tops. I couldn't resist a shot of Llawhaden Church, almost visible through the overgrowth by the river

and then a couple more shots at the top of the pass that crosses the Preselis at Bwlch-y-Groes. That's a favourite spot, as there is a car park with access for walkers going to either Foel Cwmcerwen (Preseli Top) or Foel Eryr - a spectacular lookout with views to Ireland in one direction and Worms Head - 70 miles distant - in the other.

Foel Eryr in late afternoon sun

And, of course, the customary bike shot:

The bike went well and was the ideal tool for a journey like this one, with plenty of interesting roads ranging from fast A-roads to tiny shit-strewn back lanes. I adjusted the foot controls yesterday, and they are nearly right. They just need another small tweak.

I've been experimenting with an open-face helmet recently. It's partly for novelty, partly because the weather permits it, but also there is a sneaky image thing going on. I combined my open-face CAN helmet with Halcyon goggles rakishly stored above the forehead, and eye protection was taken care of by a cheap pair of sunnies. This limited top speed to no more than 70 (and that not for long), and I got home with eyes streaming.

An open-face helmet is nice. You definitely get the fresh air and smells better than in a full-face, and there is a certain feeling of 'being there'. I am reminded of a Robert M Pirsig quotation which I used here many moons ago and is worth repeating, if only because the blog traffic was next to zero at the time, so no-one will be saying 'duh, not again'.

You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

To some extent (and perhaps a very small one), the chinbar and visor of a full-face replicate the windows of a car, and the feeling of immediacy is slightly lost. I suppose the ultimate is to wear no helmet at all. But the helmet is the last line of defence, and not to be given up. One day, if it all goes wrong, I hope that the helmet I am wearing on that day will at least save me from a life eating through a straw. But in the right weather, an open-face is a very pleasant bit of kit.

I got home thoroughly frozen, as the heat had gone from the sun by 5 pm and the air got very chilly. A great ride-out, and a bit more bonding done. I'm getting to like that Triumph.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

It's the Bradford Way

Get completely steamed before you take your pupil out for a motorcycling lesson.

A motorcycle instructor who was so drunk that she repeatedly fell off her bike during a lesson has been banned from driving for three years. Sandra Kenyon, 46, fell from her bike three times as a pupil from the Ridesafe Motorcycle School attempted to follow her through central Bradford.

Seriously, the poor woman must have had some significant problems:

When police officers arrived, they opened her motorcycle jacket and discovered two French brandy bottles. One was empty and the other was three-quarters full. Magistrates in Bingley were told that Kenyon had 131 microgrammes (mcg) of alcohol in 100ml of breath — almost four times the legal limit of 35mcg.

I'm surprised she could even climb on. I'm not a fanatical anti-drink-driver, but I do stick to the limits when I'm driving a car. One pint, or a glass and a half of wine, that's my lot. On the bike, the limit is zero. I won't even ride if I am feeling fuzzy from the night before. There is just too much to think about. Any reduction in the capacity to process information and act on it could be fatal, or at least highly inconvenient.

Four times the limit, on a bike? I can't even imagine how she did it. In a car, that's the one where you get into the back seat by mistake, or can't get the key in the ignition, isn't it?

In a letter to the court, Kenyon said: “I can only apologise to the people I have hurt and embarrassed. I’m truly ashamed for what I have done. Any counselling you impose will be a blessing.”

Thing is, I feel sorry for this woman, as I can only guess how out-of-control her life must be to even attempt to ride while as drunk as that. And now she has (deservedly, I might add) lost her livelihood. Good luck with the counselling, Sandra.

Phut ...

... goes Mr Brown's starting pistol, and the General Election campaign 2010 gets under way.

As a current affairs junkie, I will be in my element for the next few weeks. The TV and the radio and the internet will dissect every statement, analyse every insult and sneer, pick over every casual off-the-record remark, and I will be loving it.

Well, for the first few days, anyway.

Bring it on!

(I am still faintly surprised that GB has actually declared that there will be an election. I was seriously expecting something along the lines of a Civil Contingencies Act stunt, where the economic recovery was too precious to be derailed by the untried, untested posh boys opposite, and GB was going to declare himself PM for another five years in the national interest. If that had happened, I would have been profoundly depressed - not because Brown was a loser who couldn't take a fight, but because the general public wouldn't have minded. Riots would have been conspicuous by their absence. "Take to the streets? No thanks, there's Celebrity Come Dancing On Ice Get Me Out Of Here Factor on later.")

Rickshaws - latest safety threat

The pedal-powered rickshaw (or pedicab as we must learn to call it) seems like a really good idea for city travel. The benefits include being pollution-free, quiet, cheap to buy and run (at least compared to a motor vehicle), and of course the operator gets to be incredibly fit. Plus it's a bit of a novelty: part of the gaiety of life, without which our years on this planet would be much less amusing.

Of course, sometimes accidents happen. In Edinburgh last weekend, an off-duty soldier fell from one, hit his head on the pavement, and sadly died. Now, it was the weekend, at 2.20 am, and the man was celebrating his birthday. I think it is safe to conclude that he would have been in a cheerful frame of mind. It would appear that he lost his footing when jumping off the pedicab to speak to a group of girls. One of those things, eh? No.


There are, apparently 'fresh safety fears' after the incident. Council leaders have 'pledged' to examine the regulations, and Councillor Colin Keir said the rules surrounding rickshaws needed to be made more robust.

“I would not want to comment on this particular incident. However, it is my intention to bring forward a review of how these things are licensed. I’m going to get officers to look at the legislation and how we can make it more robust. Hopefully it’s something we can tighten up."

You can almost hear him salivating at the prospect. That's the Labour viewpoint. The Tories are a bit more laid-back about it, surely?

Councillor Mark McInnes, the Tories’ transport spokesman, said it was time to tighten up the health and safety laws surrounding the trade. He said: “The council needs to be proactive like it would be with any other form of transport as we’ve now seen, very sadly, how accidents can happen.”

The problem is, of course, that the cabs are not motorised, and therefore do not need to be licensed in the way that taxicabs are. So there you have the perfect representation of modern Britain: if anything goes wrong, it's never the fault of the person involved; it's never just one of those things; it's never part of the risk we take when we choose mobility and involvement and fun over sitting at home with our Playstations. It's because THERE AREN'T ENOUGH LAWS. THERE ISN'T ENOUGH REGULATION.

I have to be fair to the council. There was another serious accident involving a pedicab back in 2001. There's a trend. Something must be done. Will no-one think of the children?

That's two in nine years. I wonder how many people were killed in cars (or, to be fair, on motorbikes) over the same period? Prepare to see this innocent, attractive and environmentally-friendly transport solution legislated out of existence within a few months.

What a shame that will be.

View from the Bunker

Iain Martin from the WSJ blog has a brilliant take on the likely events inside No. 10 this morning. Here's the flavour, but the whole thing is worth a read.

Sarah Brown (brightly): “Are you ready to go to the Palace to see the Queen, Gordon? Did you put on my favourite mauve tie of yours? You did. Let me look at you… you look sooooo smart. I am so proud of you Gordon.”

GB (beaming): “Thank you. Come and join us, Sarah. We were just talking about the election and I was saying that if I just had a few more days I could really, really get the Tories and that man Cameron, and then we’d be ahead in the polls and then we could continue the work of change and… and… get on with delivering a fairer future… for… for… Britain?”

Sarah: “Well that’s very interesting Gordon, dear. But I think Ed is right. Gordon, it is time.”

GB (nervously): “You don’t think if we just waited for a few more minutes?”

Sarah (quietly): “No. No more delays. (Quickly brightening again). But what did we discuss last night? What did I tell you Gordon?”

GB (looking pleased as punch): “That I’m going to win the election.”

Sarah (nodding patiently, taking his hand and leading him out of the room and down the corridor toward the front door of Number 10): “Of course you are. And why are you going to win Gordon?”

GB: “Because I saved the banks and then I saved the economy. I’m a serious man for serious times, not like him (glowering now)… that Lord… Lord… Lord Snooty Cameron and his pal Osborne… "

Marvellous. And, of course, psychologically true, even if literally not.

Monday 5 April 2010

Remember when ...

... you were either a Mod or a Rocker? Wearing a helmet was voluntary?

Feast your eyes on this:

Sunday 4 April 2010

A Question of Balance

Senior journalists at the BBC are 'spitting feathers' today, after being told that they must interview and give airtime to various leaders of minority parties after the debates with the leaders of the three main parties have taken place.

A new directive issued by corporation executives forces the editors of flagship news programmes to give airtime to minority parties, including the BNP, immediately after the live debate between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

It's not just the BNP, although that is the headline-grabber. It also includes UKIP, the Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

One source said: "We're all spitting feathers here. This is further proof that the BBC's obsession with 'compliance' is destroying its news coverage and journalism.

Or perhaps Mark Rylance is coming rather belatedly to the idea of balance and fairness?

One comment deserves to rank up there alongside the champagne bottles in BBC corridors on 2 May 1997:

One source said ... "The idea of having to interview the Ukip leader Nigel Farage – let alone Nick Griffin – is turning people's stomachs."

They just don't get it, do they? They are a nationally-funded news organisation, paid for by you and me on pain of criminal charges, and yet they think they have the right to pick and choose which viewpoints (all held by legal political parties) they are prepared to allow to be heard.

If you need evidence that the BBC is out of control, this is it. We already hear more from their 'correspondents' about what politicians said (and 'meant') than we hear from the politicians themselves. Now they want to decide what viewpoints we are to be permitted to hear.

Sorting out the BBC - and radically - must be Cameron's first priority.

The rights of B&B owners

So the Observer have a secret recording of Chris Grayling saying that B&B owners should be allowed to bar gay people from their establishments if they so choose, and the BBC are predictably wetting their knickers over it. So far, so much phoney war.

Let me state at the outset that i) We used to run a small B&B here is rural West Wales, and ii) I have no problem with gays whatsoever. If we had had a gay couple (of either sex) turn up at the door when we were running the B&B, I would not have had the slightest problem with welcoming them in. I have gay friends and even a gay ex-partner (no prizes for guessing why that one didn't work out), and I am on good terms with them all.

But the law is utterly hypocritical. Compare these two hotels:


Stagz Hotel has been run as a straight hotel for the past 24 years, and is one of the most popular and longest established straight hotels in Blackpool, catering for straight couples, singles and groups who want a straight environment with quality accommodation.

Previously voted 3rd best straight hotel in UK!!

Stagz is a GENUINE Straight Hotel. That means it is a hotel owned and run BY straight people FOR straight people, but beware there are some gay owned ‘Stag Pound’ friendly Hotels locally that display the Playboy Bunny sign trying to cash in on straight money, and it isn’t until you check in that you discover they may be gay, or even have homosexual parties staying.!!!

If you are specifically looking for a Straight Hotel be sure to ask if it is exclusively straight when booking to avoid possible disappointment.


Guyz Hotel has been run as a gay hotel for the past 24 years, and is one of the most popular and longest established gay hotels in Blackpool, catering for gay couples, singles and groups who want a gay environment with quality accommodation.

Previously voted 3rd best gay hotel in UK!!

Guyz is a GENUINE Gay Hotel. That means it is a hotel owned and run BY gay people FOR gay people, but beware there are some straight owned ‘Pink Pound’ friendly Hotels locally that display the pride flag trying to cash in on gay money, and it isn’t until you check in that you discover they may be mixed, or even have STAG & HEN parties staying.!!!

If you are specifically looking for a Gay Hotel be sure to ask if it is exclusively gay when booking to avoid possible disappointment.


One of these websites is likely to be discriminatory and highly illegal. The other is apparently quite OK. I'll leave you to guess which one. If anyone can explain this anomaly, and specifically why both the underlined sentences are not equally illegal, I would be very grateful.

Saturday 3 April 2010

First ride

I think taking that test ride a few nights ago in the pouring rain (and leather jacket and jeans) has given me what my mother used to call a 'proper chill'. I am running like a tap and full of aches and pains. I was minded to go back to bed today, but then the sun came out and I thought a run on the Bonnie would be a better option. By the time I was ready to go it was pouring with rain again, but what are waterproofs for, eh?

I filled it up with petrol and then did my customary circuit. It's the one I always use for a quick blast - Haverfordwest, Fishguard and St David's in a triangle, 46 miles and nicely under an hour. Today I did it anti-clockwise for a change.

First impressions - all good. It has enough power, although only about half that of the Pan (but there again, it's only just over half the weight), but delivers it in a useable way. Bimble along and smell the flowers? That will be fine by me, Sir. Rag it and take a line of cars in one go? I'm sure that can be arranged, Sir. I used to have a bike (a Yamaha RD350 YPVS) which wasn't like this. It begged to be thrashed. There's something psychosexual about this, I am sure, but there is something very appealing about a machine that says, in so many words, "take me, cane me, I love it, thrash me to within an inch of my life, the faster the better, and I promise not to tell." I sold the bike after I found myself ragging round the lanes of Lincolnshire waaaaaay too fast, because the bike didn't know how to go slowly. The Pan was a bit guilty of this, in that it was so capable that it was almost rude not to use the power it had. The Triumph is altogether more biddable. Slow, fast, up to you. In its seating position and its road manners it reminds me most strongly of my all-time most-loved bike, a small-block Guzzi of the late 70s, which was friendly but nimble, and utterly well-mannered.

Ths suspension is firm, not to say a bit stiff, but there's nothing wrong with that. I did hit a couple of potholes with a crash that the Pan would have glided over, but firmness in suspension is no bad thing. At least you know what the wheels are doing. It has a proper fuel tap with a reserve, not an unreliable fuel light that comes on at 80 miles from full and keep you guessing for the next 60 (I hated that on the Ducati), and a proper choke button, because it has carbs and not fuel injection. Comfort was reasonable. I was ready to get off and have a walk about after an hour but, again, that is no bad thing. Frequent breaks are the key to keeping fatigue at bay.

Two things I am less than pleased about. One is that the headlight is permanently on, and the only choice is main beam or dip. Nearly all new bikes are like this now (I think it's an EU commandment) and I don't like it. I'll use the headlight in poor visibility or rain, but I prefer to be able to ride without it. But that choice has been taken away, unless I can study the wiring diagram and find a way to include an on/off switch. The other is that it lacks a 'pass' button. This is the one that fits neatly under the left index finger and flashes the headlight - very useful when saying hello to passing bikers, or when overtaking dozy Sunday drivers. For no good reason, the racer-styled model, the Thruxton, gets one of these, but the plain Bonnie doesn't. I think that's cheap of Triumph.

Other than this, all is good.

I wore my proper bike boots, and the gear change was still not right, so after the ride I spent an hour adjusting all the controls to suit me. I've got other plans too. The previous owner had fitted an automatic chain-oiler, but has butchered the wiring loom to do so. Inside the side covers, there are wires and insulating tape everywhere. That is coming out. I like chain-oilers, and have fitted them to the Bandit and the Ducati, but the Scottoiler is the only one I have dealt with so far. It doesn't use any wiring, just a small tube tapped into the inlet manifold so that engine vacuum lets the oiler do its thing. Looking at the chain after the ride, I don't think this one is working in any case. Plus it's strapped to the outside of a frame tube and looks ugly. (Update: I've done a bit of internetting, and it's a PD Oiler. Lots of people seem to rate them better than the Scottoiler, so I may try to get this one working properly instead of binning it.)

And the bike needs a wash. After 50 miles in the rain and the Pembrokeshire roads, it's looking very manky indeed.

Classic Geldof

Saint Bob has been tearing into the BBC for a documetary it plans to show next week, which casts doubt on the effectiveness of Saint Bob and Saint Bono's efforts in abolishing world poverty. Naturally, he is furious, as this criticism pulls away the rug from under someone who had a couple of chart hits in the 70s and has traded on a reputation for 'caring' and 'not putting up with your establishment bullshit' ever since. If the Live Aid campaigns were shown to have made things worse rather than better, to have caused people to be killed rather than saved, then what was the point?

His Bobness has an annoying habit of larding his observations with recondite and abstruse vocabulary, in order to show he is not a scruffy, unwashed pop has-been, but is in fact an educated and literate individual. I know exactly what he is doing: I used to do exactly the same when I was 18 and learned about words like 'abstruse' and 'recondite'. By 21, I had learned to stop being such an arse and just to be myself. Bob hasn't got this far yet. The same is true of his habit of swearing in virtually every speech he makes - he thinks it makes him seem more anti-establishment and 'down with the kids', but in fact he just comes across as foul-mouthed and immature.

I really loved this comment:

The decision to try to mobilise world opinion through concerts was justified, he said, because "the lingua franca of the planet is not English – it's pop music".


Bob made this statement in -

a. English

b. Na-na-na, doo-wop, baby baby, tssss tssss tssss bumpa bumpa bumpa takakaka, yeah yeah, imagine no possessions, except my millionaire mansion of course, moon/june/spoon, love/dove/above, be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby and I don't mean maybe, not in the slightest, na-na-na baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaby.

Starsuckers, More4, Tuesday 6 April, 10pm.

Friday 2 April 2010

A Warm Welcome To ...

... the first British bike I have ever owned.

I picked up the new bike from the dealer's today, in between the showers. It's a 2005 Triumph Bonneville in a rather fetching silver colour. Thank you for bearing with me as I have tussled and twisted over the choice of the replacement for the Pan, but I think I have made the right choice.

Here's the new baby:

Tomorrow is forecast wet, with showers and longer periods of rain, so I will probably finish off some assignment marking for the Uni. Sunday should be dry, so that will be a chance to take myself off for a ride and a bit of fun. I'll report back afterwards.

Tomfoolery update

It seems that someone had the same idea, only did it properly.

Well, at least mine was ten years ago.

Thursday 1 April 2010

Lead Learner?

Via a letter in today's Times, I am still choking with disbelief that a school in London has abandoned the title of Head Teacher, and replaced it with Lead Learner. This is an extract from the website of the school:

Meet the Lead Learner

My name is Matt Chappel. I am called the Lead Learner instead of Head teacher because we want to show how important and exciting learning is for everyone at Thornhill, not just the children.

Very democratic, chummy and right-on, I'm sure. And he won't be so traditionalist as to have a profile photo - no, our Matt's Lead Learner page has the exciting news:

(Drawing of lead learner coming soon!)

I know that

"This site was planned, designed and constructed by pupils at Thornhill Primary School"

but why a drawing? What's wrong with a photograph? I hear that children are allowed to operate cameras these days.

I'm sure that Mr Chappel is a nice chap and doing a great job at Thornhill, but this kind of thing just depresses me. I did teacher training a long time back, and the buzz word then was 'facilitator'. You couldn't teach, as that would imply that you were somehow better or more knowledgeable than the 'kids'. You had to be someone who merely stood by and 'facilitated' their learning, as if the only thing stopping them cracking quantum theory was the lack of a suitable learning space and a qualified adult to make sure that the conversation went the right way.

Listen: teachers know more - a lot more - than their pupils [1]. That's why they are standing at the front, and not at the back of the class rolling a spliff, or whatever kids do these days. The head of all the teachers is the Head Teacher, and this person has, or should have, authority. Authority to keep the teachers working on the right lines, and authority to make the children behave well enough, and for long enough, to learn something while they are there.

A Lead Learner is just another cosy adult, who makes you feel inadequate because he is better than you at Learning.

I am so glad I got out of education when it was still relatively sane.

[1] Pupils, not 'students'. Pupils are in compulsory education; students are voluntary. Why are we so keen to suck up to children's ideas of self-importance? Trainee barristers don't mind being called 'pupils'.

Gordon Brown's Legacy

Froma commenter called Mazza1230 on the Grauniad's politics blog, a rather nice take on the magnificent legacy that Comrade Brown will leave us.

At last Gordon Brown decided to throw the towel in and resign. His cabinet colleagues decided it would be a worthy gesture to name a railway locomotive after him. So a senior 'Sir Humphrey' went from Whitehall to the National Railway Museum at York, to investigate the possibilities.

"They have a number of locomotives at the NRM without names," a specially-sought consultant told the top civil servant. "Mostly freight locomotives though."

"Oh dear, that?s not very fitting for a prime minister," said Sir Humphrey. "How about that big green one, over there?" he said, pointing to 4472 Flying Scotsman.

"That's already got a name" said the consultant. "It's called 'Flying Scotsman'."

"Oh. Couldn?t it be renamed?" asked Sir Humphrey. "This is a national museum after all, funded by the taxpayer."

"I suppose it might be considered," said the consultant. "After all the LNER renamed a number of their locomotives after directors of the company, and even renamed one of them Dwight D Eisenhower."

"That?s excellent," said Sir Humphrey, "So that's settled then? Let's look at renaming 4472. But how much will it cost ? We can?t spend too much, given the expenses scandal !"

"Well", said the consultant, "Why don't we just paint out the 'F'?"

Couldn't resist this

I don't know if they are BA staff, or just pretending (and I don't really care), but these two are a pleasure to watch. Oh, and to listen to, forgot that bit. They can see to my in-flight needs any time.

Update: What is it about women who can sing? I mean really sing?
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