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

- George Washington

Wednesday 30 June 2010

Diet Weirdness

How's this for weird?

I go to France for a fortnight. I eat what I like, when I like. I eat bread (lots of it), cheese (lots of it), and barbecues. I drink wine (less this time than usual, but you get the picture) and beer (lots of it).

You could say that my diet while abroad is completely unregulated. It's just what I feel like eating or drinking at the time, with no regard for calories, five-a-day, balance or 'sensible limits'.

So how come I came home half a stone lighter than when I left?

And how come this happens every time I go abroad?

Answers on a postcard, please.


I've seen something similar before, but courtesy of Dick Puddlecote, quoting Mark Wallace of the TPA in a speech to the IEA:

Pythagoras’ Theory – 24 words
Lords’ Prayer – 66 words
Archimedes Principle – 67 words
Ten Commandments - 179 words
Gettysburg Address – 267 words
US Declaration of Independence – 1,321 words
Magna Carta (including signatures) – 3,856 words
EU regulations on sale and trade of cabbages – 26,253 words

There's a word for it: logorrhea.

Tuesday 29 June 2010

David Cameron made my holiday

I've just realised something.

The last couple of days of a holiday are always a bit depressing for me: back to the daily grind, away from the warm sun and casual days, all that. If Labour had won the election, I would have been terminally depressed. I'd be sitting here writing endless bitter posts about the shit-hole that is the UK, and how I would do anything to live somewhere else. And I would have meant it.

But with the Cameroon and the Cleggoid in charge, I am more than willing to give them a go. I am prepared to be disappointed, of course, but I am more optimistic than pessimistic. Britian can climb back to be the country I remember. It doesn't have to be like this.

The last two days of my holiday were sad, sure, but not suicidal. I didn't mind coming back.

Thanks, Dave.

Back, I think

Sunday and Monday were a bit of a blur of French roads, car-ferries and the Southampton rush-hour. We were home by early afternoon and got quite a long way with the dreaded unpacking before we crashed out for a doze. Dog and cat were collected, too. Highlight of the return journey, apart from there not being a dock strike at Ouistreham, was a visit to an old friend of Anna's who lives just outside Caen. They made us a superb meal, vairrh French, and we had a good old chat. I like meeting them, as the husband was a senior oncologist before he retired, and has a huge number of interests but only modest English, so it is the chance for me to really get the skoolboy French out, dust it off, and give it an outing. The less I think about what I am saying, the better I get.

1200 miles and four tanks of diesel. The car behaved itself on the way home, so I tip my hat to Mustière Vannes for identifying and fixing the problem. I tip nothing at all to Ford, who seem to think that over three hundred fucking quid for a brake caliper and another ton for a pair of brake pads is somehow acceptable. Over six hundred notes gone - that's my little bike trip later this year up the spout, I think.

I woke this morning and did a bit more unloading, sorted out the bins and so on, and then started to feel a bit odd. I skipped lunch and went to bed about 2 pm, where I slept until 4 pm. Aches everywhere, freezing cold despite the room being 23°, lousy gut - you don't wanna know. I slept again from 6.30 to 8.30 and I am now starting to feel human again. I don't know what has passed through me, but it wasn't nice. It's a bit of a mystery, as Anna and I have eaten an identical diet since we left the campsite.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of kit out on the drive waiting for me to put it away. I hope it doesn't rain tonight, but there's no way I am going out there now.

Thursday 24 June 2010

Gloria Sty*

*From Let Stalk Strine, a guide to Australian English, meaning roughly "I say, what lovely weather we are having today!"

Fabulous weather, hot but not too hot, bright sunshine and a light breeze. Strolling round the quayside shops in Port du Crouesty, getting presents for the grandchildren. Then to a restaurant for Moules Frites and a glass of Leffe Blonde. Then to St Gildas de Rhuys, a walk on the cliff path, and this:

and then this:

I love this place.

Pot Markers, Le Tour Du Parc

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Vannes Views 3

Motorcycle training, French style:

This looks very like the setup for the new UK bike test, with slalom cones and an alley for the swerve test. One car, labelled 'Moto-Ecole', three instructors and three instructees. And some bikes (one was a Versys, not sure about the others) with massive protective cages over handlebars and rear indicators. Pretty much crash-proof. The lesson was well under way when I passed, and I stopped to watch for a while. The girl learner was a little hesitant but gaining in confidence; there was a guy about my age who seemed more at ease, and a guy who may not have been a learner at all, who whooped through the slalom almost decking the pegs and clearly enjoying himself.

The key is the location: in a small side-road off a large car-park. This was no official, certified and inspected council-approved site, just somewhere the instructors thought could be adapted to the purpose. In the UK, riding schools are closing down because of the lack of 'appropriate' training areas which are 'approved' by some distant bureaucrat. In France, they are getting on with it, using any suitable bit of tarmac to get the job done. Another example of the UK taking an EU Directive and gold-plating it, where the 'original' Europeans take short cuts and don't bat an eyelid.

And the instruction seemed to be good, with plenty of individual attention and patience. When I left, they were donning the hi-viz vests and radio kits and going off on the road, into the city traffic. I reckoned they would all be fine.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Vannes Views 2

Health and Safety, French Style:

To put this in context, this is a pontoon for leisure boats about 500m from the city centre. The nearest passenger walkways are some distance away. This makes the metal boom a very desirable way for the legitimate and not-so-legitimate to access the pontoon.

Just imagine the barbed wire, land mines and warning signs if this were in the UK.

One of the great things about being in France is the noticeable absence of 'thou shalt not' signs.

"Thou mayest do as thou pleasest, but if thou comes a cropper, thou hast only thyself to blame."

Vannes Views 1

Well-preserved CB250 ratter with perhaps the ultimate in cargo solutions - one bag, one baguette!

Sorted, I think

I took the car back in today at the agreed time, the parts were on the premises, and they had the car in the workshop before I had sat down. They were finished in half an hour less than book time, and the bill was correspondingly about €25 lower. No more nasty noises on the way back to the campsite, despite some heroic attempts to get the whole weight of the car onto the right-hand rear wheel, so I think they have done the job. I will only know for sure when I get the caravan hooked up and a few miles under the wheels, but I am hopeful.

Customer Service went up a few notches, too. The service manager came and shook my hand, and so did the deputy manager, and even the guy who did the repair. All smiles and good vibes - even the chic and stunning Aurélie on the Reception desk gave me a half-smile when I said goodbye, and she had been practicing for the Miss Ice-Cold and Miserable All-Comers Lemon-Sucking World Record previously.

On a more interesting note, the campsite owner has succumbed to pressure from his guests and has reset his wi-fi router. About 50% of the people here were having connection problems. As a consequence, I can now connect on site with my laptop and not have to rely on the iPhone (plus I can follow a couple of eBay items a bit more easily).

And we have breached another milestone: Anna got on her bike and we have cycled into Sarzeau, done some shopping and got a little cash. It's funny, but we have been here before several times, and somehow getting to the Crédit Agricole for the hole-in-the-wall cash machine was a target for her. We stood on the pavement and she was close to tears - it seemed to bring back the long journey since we were last here doing something innocent like wondering if the bank account would stand another hundred Euros, and what we would do if it wouldn't. But we have successfuly biked for about four miles, and that is something that frankly I didn't think we would manage again.

On the way back to the site is a narrow dark tunnel under the main road, and we met some Dutch cyclists going the other way. The Dutch don't slow down for anyone, and Anna wobbled out of their way and hit the tunnel wall. Only a graze and a lump, but also a reminder that we need to be very careful. If she had come off the bike, the consequences would be quite serious. A lot of beer in the cooler would go to waste, for example, if I had to abandon ship and take her to hospital.

Monday 21 June 2010


Got the car to the Ford dealer as agreed. Offered my mobile number in case of problems - "non, m'sieur, these phones cannot make international calls.". Got a taxi. Spent day trudging round Vannes, see previous post. Got taxi back to dealer. Curiously, car in same place I left it. Turns out parts had not arrived - "une problème de livraison, M'sieur. You must come back tomorrow.". No apology or regret for my wasted day. Customer service by British Gas c. 1978.

I lack the facility with idiomatic and abusive French to go batshit mental at them in a meaningful way so I slap my forehead at them and walk out. Any other approach would have left me looking a plonker, to be honest.

I am, as you might expect, a little miffed. I did get some good photos in Vannes, however, which I will post later.

Via mobile.

Ho hum

Here I am in Vannes, courtesy of a manic taxi-ride at a cost of €10.30 for a five-minute scramble through the traffic. I have just discovered a Tourist Office with a cyber-cafe, so I thought I would log in for a few moments. It's a Mac (I think) and the keyboard appears to have been scrambled. All the common letters are in unexpected places, and hence my spelling is all to cock. No mqtter - qll pqrt of the rich tqpestry of life, qs they sqy.

First impressions of Vannes - beautiful old town, with a fantastic port, some utterly beautiful women, and several places already spotted for a spot of 'lurnch'. I shall enjoy the next few hours wandering aimlessly. The ciel is bleu, le soleil brille, hullo clouds hullo sky, and Anna has been handcuffed to the caravan with strict instructions not to move until I return.

Should be a nice day - as it sodding well ought to be for six hundred and something bloody Euros.

Bitter? Nah.

Saturday 19 June 2010

The Evidence ...

Here's the lady, features anonymised at her request.

And here she is again, in Marylin Monroe mode, eating moules mariniere at the Port:


Thursday 17 June 2010

How much? Jeez ...

A couple of bits of news, both bad.

I took the car to the nearest Ford dealer for an examination and diagnosis. I got the chef d'atelier rather than the grease monkey, and he decided it was a sticky rear caliper. Up on the lift, the wheel would hardly turn until he gave it a good kick, and froze again when he applied and released the brake. Easy job, huh? Pistons half out, squirt of brake cleaner, rub with a toothbrush, job done.


Main dealer - won't do quick clean-ups. New pistons needed - but the pistons are not available as a separate assembly, so I have to fork out for a whole new caliper. A whole new sodding caliper, at a total cost, fitted, with all taxes paid, of €642. That's over six hundred bloody quid. I took the step of phoning the Ford dealer near home and talking to a friendly mechanic there, and the problem is common (apparently) and the price, while much more than they would charge, is about right for France. Yes, French prices are waaaaaaaaay more than British, to an extent that amazes even British Ford people. And the mechanic advised (as I would have advised someone else in the circs) that, as the fault was brake-related and therefore safety-critical, that I should have it done and swallow the pill. I was tempted to risk it and fix it myself at home, but caution prevailed and I am booked in for Monday. That's the moules marinière budget out of the window, then,

And the second little ray of sunshine was Anna walking alone through the Reception of the campsite and tripping on a very small step, falling, and smacking her face on a concrete wall. She now looks as if she has gone 12 rounds with Tyson - I have seriously never seen a more spectacular black eye. All in all, it could have been far worse, as her back was completely unaffected, so we are laughing about it now. (The real worry is any damage to the spine could mean nerve damage and the rest of her life in a wheelchair, so I think we got off lightly here.) But everyone we meet, I have to explain and try not to look guilty. And I am not letting her out alone again - it's worse than living with a toddler.

I have a photo on my phone, which I will post in due course if she misbehaves again. It's a threat.

Thanks for all the comments, folks. Much appreciated.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Appointment with Destiny

Or a French mechanic, which amounts to the same thing. The campsite owner has made me an appointment with a garage tomorrow at 3 pm for an 'investigation'.

I have been studying my Hachette and I think I know all the relevant words (the "palier" is "bruyant" on the "roue arrière à droite", or something along those lines). I'm just hoping it's not too expensive ...

Well, here we are ...

... on a campsite in Morbihan, near to the Southern Brittany coast. So
far, brilliant sunshine interspersed with sharp showers and the odd
clap of thunder. Last time we were here in 2007 we had gales and heavy
rain for two solid weeks, so already it's an improvement on that.

The journey down was 'interesting'. Within 20 miles of leaving home,
one of the rear wheel bearings on the car had started to howl. I
babied it along and we got here without incident but I think I will be
visiting a garage for repairs before we head back. It only does it
with the caravan attached, but I don't want to risk a catastrophe on
some foreign motorway, thanks. Looks like I will be negotiating with
a French mechanic before too long. That should be fun.

We crossed the Channel overnight and were up by 5.30 am ready to
disembark when a loudspeaker announcement said that as a result of a
strike of the dock workers we would not be disembarking at all. We all
sat down to wait, and were horrified to find that we were stuck in a
room with about 50 American schoolkids. Contrary to my prejudice, they
were as nice as pie, and we all had a good laugh as one of their
supervisors tried to teach the crowd some basic French. He was
Australian and made no effort even to try the correct pronunciation.
The result was side-splitting. The 'French' was so bad I couldn't work
out what it was meant to be, even with a translation. 'Ill essed noof
hoors' meant time for breakfast and 'oofs' were part of an omelette,
that's all I know.

Today's great news is that Anna has ridden her bike. Only for a couple
of hundred yards, but ridden it nonetheless. She loves riding her
bike, especially on holiday, and it grieved her that she was forbidden
to do so by her surgeon. Her bike has been waiting in the greenhouse
for a year now for her to be fit enough. It seemed like a symbol of
her condition, standing mutely in view of the front door, leaning over
more and rusting more every week that went by. The medics still
forbid it, but she has decided to ignore them. Just riding 100 yards
made her so happy. Perhaps this is the start of a return to some kind
of normality.

One glitch is that my laptop won't work here. It finds the wi-fi
network but can't connect. Same problem as at home when Anna upgraded
the router. I am old technology these days. Any posting will therefore
be by iPhone. Any complaints of errors or poor posting quality should
be directed at Steve Jobs.

Update: now Tuesday. Weather settling down as expected. Rain
yesterday, windy and cold today. Thanks to all commenters for the good
wishes. I am touched :)

Till the next one.

Via mobile.

Friday 11 June 2010


Tomorrow, Anna and I are sloping off for a break sur le continong. Two weeks of Froggery, consisting of:
  • Red wine, bread, cheese, barbecues and salads
  • Going to bed early and getting up late
  • Reading all the stuff I didn't get time to read for the previous 11 months
  • Bike rides (pedal) if it's sunny; drinking beer if it isn't.
Strange things, holidays. I drink as much as I please and eat as much as I want, and yet I always lose weight. I sleep at least 10 hours a night, when 6-7 is my usual average at home. and it always takes me three days to wind down enough to start enjoying myself.

Last year was a bit of a no-hoper for a number of reasons, so we are hoping for a decent break this time. I will be taking the lapdog and I am hoping the place we are going to has wi-fi, so blogging may not be absent, but will almost certainly be incoherent and irrelevant. What's new, eh?

Thursday 10 June 2010

Free Hugs

This made me smile.

It also made me sad, because it made me smile. And that meant it was unexpected and a little unusual. And I wish it wasn't.

H/t Iain Dale.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Avast Ye!

Edited to remove superfluous and tedious detail.

I think I have been hijacked. My computer has been behaving strangely recently. Firefox, normally a superb bit of kit, has become unstable and crashes randomly. Today, I realised I had a full browser hijack on my plate. Google wouldn't let me search, as it detected my computer was sending automated messages, and every attempt to go to an anti-virus site resulted in a visit to a gambling den or travel agent.

I have wasted the entire day downloading various bits of software, sometimes using Anna's computer and a memory stick to get round the redirects, and then scouring the hard drive with electronic Brillo to get rid of the unpleasant stains. I think I have succeeded: Internet Explorer hasn't flashed up a window unbidden for hours now, and Google is Googling merrily away.

I'm still not sure what happened, but it looks as though downloading and running an anti-virus program called Avast has done the trick. AdAware, Spybot S&D, ZoneAlarm and CWShredder didn't find anything, but as soon as I ran a full scan with Avast (and it removed three files only) the abnormal behaviour stopped. And (touch wood) it has not restarted.

Update: I wrote the above and then went to eat my dinner, as we Northerners put it. I come back to the lapdog, and Google won't let me search any more, and my queries are being redirected to strange places. I wanted to print off my car insurance certificate and clicked on the Swiftcover link in Google (this was before it threw me out) and I ended up at somewhere called 'Getaquote.com'. Typing in the URL directly did the trick, so it seems only to affect Google clickthroughs.

Back to Avast for another thorough Brillo-pad-and-Domestos session, I think. See you later.

(Coda: Strange. I'm not a prude, but I am quite relaxed about all this as the sites I was being led to were all games, gambling, travel or other bland advertising. If they had been porn pages, I would have felt very differently, I think.)

Tuesday 8 June 2010


Thanks to Subrosa.


Recently, I came across a marvellous blog (is it a blog? Sort of) called Futility Closet, subtitled 'An idler's miscellany of compendious amusements'.

It's a bizarre rag-bag of curiosities, ranging from chess problems to mathematics, philosophy, puzzles and many print oddities from the Victorian era. Impossible to describe, but easy to lose yourself in. I've added it to my RSS reader. Well worth a dip into.

My favourite so far is this little gem from The Dickensian of September 1906:

Charles Dickens, during one of his visits to Paris, had his watch stolen from him at the theatre. This watch had been given to him by the Queen, and was, therefore, very much prized by him. On returning to his hotel, Dickens found a small parcel waiting him, to which was pinned the following note:–

Sir,–I hope you will excuse me, but I assure you I thought I was dealing with a Frenchman and not a countryman. Finding out my mistake, I hasten to repair it as much as lies in my power, by returning you herewith the watch I stole from you. I beg you to accept the homage of my respect, and to believe me, my dear countryman, your humble and obedient servant,


I find this fascinating on so many levels. The eloquence of the thief, for one - do we educate thieves to this standard today? And the implicit idea that it is quite all right to rob a Frenchman, but not an English gentleman. And the assumption that Dickens would understand. Most of all, the notion that a thief, having got away with a very valuable item, should be so overcome with guilt as to return the item with a formal apology.

Yes, times were very different.

Monday 7 June 2010

Rossi - end of an era?

Friends know that I am not a big fan of sport of any kind. I avoid football wherever possible (and that's getting harder these days - even Kellogg's Cornflakes now scream "Feast of Football" on their packets) and generally find team games dull and pointless. If I'm going to watch a ball game, it will probably be Rugby, which has the virtue of being mostly free of prima donnas and theatrical types who can't kick a ball without kissing someone. But, for the most part, if sport comes on the television, I'll be moving to another room.

As a biker, you might expect me to follow motorcycle racing. Most bikers do, to some extent. I would say that I am far more interested in motorcycle racing than in any other sport (with the possible exception of ladies' gymnastics, hur hur), but that isn't saying a great deal. However, there is one rider who is always worth watching (even Anna watches him) and that is Valentino Rossi.

Rossi is the greatest bike racer of our time. In the 500cc Grand Prix (later MotoGP), he has the greatest number of wins (78), the greatest number of podium finishes (129) and the most points ever in one season (373). He is second only to the legendary Giacomo Agostini in the number of world championship wins, and he's only one behind (7 chasing 8). Beyond the boring stats, he is great to watch. He is both aggressive and precise, courageous and clinical. He will display the greatest persistence in carving through the field of riders, and then unleash an audacious overtake (probably up the inside, on the toughest corner of the circuit, on the painted kerbing) to pull ahead on the last lap and scream on to victory. He's a force of nature.

In addition to all that, and something that matters to me, he seems a genuinely nice guy. After the races, he has barely got his helmet off before he is laughing and joking with the pit crew, signing autographs and chatting unselfconsciously to the cameras. Even at 31, he has a boyish grin and the kind of indestructible confident charm that Italian males seem to be issued with at birth. One of the great things about watching MotoGP is the way that, while the riders may have been fiercely competitive on the track, banging panels all the way round, when the race is over they will catch each other up and shake hands or pat each other on the shoulder while riding the cool-down lap. It's great to see, and in stark contrast to the sullen bad temper so often seen in other 'professional' sports.

Adding to the charm and mystery is Rossi's famous superstition. Amongst many other arcane rituals before a race, he will approach his bike from the right side, kneel down and put a hand on the footpeg with his head bowed. It's almost as if he is praying to the god of bike racers, but he says he only does it to focus and 'talk to' the bike. Whatever, it seems to work.

And now he is out of things for a while. In practice for the Mugello GP on Saturday, he came off and badly broke his right leg. It looks like a tyre problem - on only the second lap of practice, his tyres were cold and he low-sided [1] going into a chicane. The bike flipped him off and he landed directly on his right foot, creating an exposed fracture of the tibia. An accident like that is rare for Rossi. He has been taken to hospital, and the leg pinned and screwed together, and then he will have it all stitched. His surgeon says he will be six weeks on crutches.

There is a lot of speculation that, as 31, this may be the last straw for one of the older riders on the circuit. He's a multi-millionaire and doesn't need the money. My guess is that he will be back, and soon. He does it for the sheer love of racing, and I can't see an injury stopping him until he recognises that he is no longer competitive.

There's a video clip of the accident here.

Good luck and best wishes, Vale, old chap. The sport is duller without you in it.

[1] EDIT: the accident that threw Rossi off was, or course, a high-side, not a low-side. Thanks to Nikos for being "morbidly pedantic". You see, I was vair vair drunk at the time ...


From today's Daily Telegraph, this:

Civil servants feared inquiry into 7/7 bombings would focus negatively on Muslims

Senior civil servants warned ministers that if they ordered a public inquiry into the July 7 suicide bombings it could "focus negatively" on Britain's Muslim community, it can be revealed.

It seems that the 'narrow' approach of simply creating a 'narrative' of the attacks, rather than a full enquiry into the events, was recommended by senior civil servants who wanted to avoid negative publicity for the Muslim community.

The warning was delivered in a briefing paper to Charles Clarke, the then-home secretary, as he considered whether or not to launch an inquiry into the 2005 bombings, in which 52 innocent people were killed.

In the paper, Sir John Gieve, the Home Office permanent secretary, said that upsetting Muslims would be a "potential cost" of ministers agreeing to demands for a full inquiry.

Let's get this straight. Muslims carried out the 7/7 attacks. The attacks were carried out in the name of Islam. But we won't enquire into that in case people get the idea that Islam and terrorist attacks are connected in some way, and this causes people to think negatively about the Muslim commnity.

Let's see. If the attacks had been carried out by Christian fundamentalists against the 'secular West', or by Zionist fanatics against the 'anti-semitic British', or by any other group who considered they had a big enough grudge against our society to justify killing 52 innocent people, do you think there would have been a full enquiry? Of course there would. But when it's the Muslims, we pussy-foot around for fear of offending anyone.

Get this. The events of 7/7 were murder - mass murder. If you plan and execute an operation that kills 52 people who are merely going about their daily business, you should expect full and rigorous investigation, criminal sanctions and severe and lengthy punishment. I don't care who you are or what particular god you acted in the name of. And if you are a 'mainstream' member of the same faith in whose name these atrocities were carried out, and who rejects the actions of the tiny few who did them, then let's hear your condemnation loud and clear, and let's see you co-operate fully with the law in rooting out this violent minority from within your community and preventing anything like this happening again. Otherwise, the rest of us might just feel, in a small and private corner of our minds, that you don't disapprove all that much.

I'm not anti-Muslim. Far from it. I respect the right of anyone to believe what they choose, as long as that belief does not involve violence against non-believers. I want to see a society where we can all live side-by-side in peace and harmony, fully respecting each others' differences while rejoicing in our own identities. But actions like these by civil servants make it look as if we are treating Muslims as a hornets' nest that must not be disturbed or provoked, as if Muslims are in some way so special that they are above the laws that the rest of us have to obey. And, in the long run, that will do more harm to relations between Muslims and the rest of us than a rigorous and fair enquiry ever could. This kind of decision is the best recruiting sergeant the BNP could wish for.

As JuliaM puts it: "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall."

Jacqui Putnam, a survivor of the Edgware Road Tube bombing, said: "This is outrageous. It is such patronising twaddle. If anyone else in the Muslim community, or anywhere else, were to commit a murder would the Home Office say this is a reason not to investigate?"

Sunday 6 June 2010

The Elan Valley Run

Today was not the hot, sunny memory-of-childhood-summers we have been experiencing lately, but it was a good day for a run nevertheless. The forecast was for showers, but in the event there was no rain - until I started putting the bike away afterwards - and the skies were overcast but with occasional bursts of warm sunshine. Roads were dry all the way.

I met my friends from the local TOMCC in Carmarthen and we rode together to Llandovery, where we had a cup of tea in the West End Café. We were six - Simon with friend Annie on his Sprint 1050, Joe on a Bonneville SE, Jo on her Thruxton and husband Martin on his Honda VFR. And me.

Then we set off on the run proper, up to Llyn Brianne and then over the mountain tops to Beulah and down into Newbridge-on-Wye. This road is a spectacular piece of single-track-with-passing-places, and includes the infamous Devil's Staircase, a 1-in-4 descent round some awesome hairpins.

We stopped to refresh the bikes' tanks in Doldowlod, and then had lunch in the Lamb and Flag in Rhayader. We left Rhayader and rode up the Elan Valley past all the reservoirs and onto the top of the mountains. The roads round there are stunning. I was here a few years ago with Anna, when we spent a long weekend at a campsite nearby and toured the valley and the lakes in the car. I remember at the time thinking what a fantastic area it was for biking, and wishing I wasn't car-bound. Well, today I was on two wheels, and the air was fresh and the bends were great.

We took the mountain road towards Aberystwyth and stopped for tea and buns at the Hafod Hotel in Devil's Bridge.

Bikes outside the Hafod Hotel, Devil's Bridge.

At this point we decided to split up - some wanted to go back to Carmarthen via Llandovery, while Simon fancied a run down the coast road. As I live furthest West of any of the group, it made sense for me to join Simon and Annie, so we said our goodbyes to the others and rode into Aberystwyth and then turned South to run down the coast. It's a road I know well, and even though I was on a bike with half the power of the Sprint (62 bhp to his 123) I managed to keep up through some aggressive overtaking strategies. I would have been even quicker in my full-face helmet (seriously), but the open-face was starting to lift off my head at any speed over 70 and my eyes were watering from the turbulence, so I had to restrict the fast stuff to very short bursts.

We parted at Cardigan with a wave, and I motored back to Haverfordwest along the coast to Fishguard and then down the A40. By now, it was getting cold, so I kept the speeds down and arrived home about 6 pm. I filled up near home, and the bike was returning a remarkable 58 mpg.

I had read about an iPhone app developed by Motor Cycle News called 'Ride Logger' in Oscar India's excellent blog, and yesterday I downloaded it to my phone. Today was the first chance to have a play with it, and it really is good. It uses the GPS function in the phone to log your ride, together with clock times, and calculates acceleration and deceleration data, as well as top speeds, averages and journey times. It has just occurred to me that there is now sufficient evidence in my phone for a successful prosecution - the maximum speed achieved is logged, together with the time and place it was recorded. I think that is all the courts would require. If any policemen or women are reading this, I'VE DELETED IT, OK?

Two downsides to the app that I have found so far: one is that it eats your phone battery. I started today with a fresh charge, and the phone lasted about 6 hours before it was warning me of a low battery. I plugged the phone into the socket I was running the satnav from, but I still had a low charge when I got home, so perhaps it wasn't charging properly. The second is perhaps the fault of the phone: when I was trying to have a look at the ride data, the app kept freezing up and would only work if it was shut down and relaunched. I'll work on this one.

Here's the group I was with:

Annie, Simon, Jo, Joe and Martin.

And here's one with your humble author, just for the sake of completeness.

Richard's anti-hi-viz strategy.

Saturday 5 June 2010

If you didn't believe ...

... that Labour politicians are in it for whatever they can get, then have a read of this:

Tony Blair has become an adviser to Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator's son has sensationally claimed. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said the former prime minister has secured a consultancy role with a state fund that manages the country's £65billion of oil wealth.

In an exclusive interview, Saif described Mr Blair as a 'personal family friend' of the Libyan leader and said he had visited the country 'many, many times' since leaving Downing Street three years ago.

So he oversees an economic policy that has run poor old Britain into the ground, started an illegal and unjustifiable war, and knowingly left us in the hands of the worst Prime Minister we have ever had. He has a well-paid job as official envoy to the Middle East, which I am sure involves a lot of trips to nice sunny countries to top up his tan, although recent events suggest he hasn't been all that successful. He spends a lot of time on the dinner circuit in America (where they seem to appreciate him) and receives fees beyond the dreams of avarice.

And now he is taking the Gaddaffi shilling. Is there anything this man won't do for money?

I thought I couldn't despise and loathe a politician more than Blair, until Gordon Brown came along. But after three years of Brown, I was beginning to think that perhaps that Blair bloke wasn't as bad as I thought. It takes a report like this to remind me.

H/t to Subrosa.

The Elimination of Poverty

I have always had a lot of time for Frank Field. Ever since he was appointed by Tony Blair as the minister for 'thinking the unthinkable' and was then roundly ignored and sidelined, I have felt that he was one of the very few people in Labour's ranks who understood how society really worked, and was prepared to say unfashionable things to make his case. He's the very opposite of a woolly liberal - tough-minded and clear-thinking, even if he is on the Left.

Yesterday, David Cameron announced the setting up of an Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances and, to his credit, asked a Labour MP - Frank Field - to lead it. I think Frank will be an ideal leader of a review which needs to get down to basics and unpick the current disastrous situation, where Labour poured money into alleviating (the target was 'ending') poverty, but we ended up with a society where the divide between the poor and the rich was wider in 2010 than it was in 1997. He has written an article in today's Telegraph where he sets out some thoughts.

His first point, and one which has been made here and in many other places, is that if you measure poverty in the way that Labour does, where an income below 60% of the national average marks you as 'poor', then the elimination of poverty is a mathematical impossibility. As you lift people's incomes, so the national average goes up, and you are back where you started. As Field says:

Any candidate sitting GCSE maths should be able to explain that raising everybody above a set percentage of median income is rather like asking a cat to catch its own tail. As families are raised above the target level of income, the median point itself rises. Not surprisingly, therefore, no country in the free world has managed to achieve this objective, not even in those Scandinavian countries whose social models many of us admire.

He recommends a focus on, not the simple and rather clumsy measure of raw income, but on the non-monetary factors such as how easy it is for a poor person to "climb the ladder towards prosperity". He concludes:

If the review is successful, the debate over poverty will give way to a dynamic approach that looks at how we ensure that each individual is able to achieve their best self. And taxpayers will be in a position to judge whether government expenditure – at whatever level – is geared to this outcome.

Smart move by iDave. A Tory - or even a tainted LibDem - couldn't get away with mentioning taxpayer value, for example, without calling down the screaming hordes of lefties in the media and the BBC. I will watch this one with interest.

I'm a Squid

Today was beautifully warm, and I had been working outside in the sun for a few hours this morning, so I was hot. And I needed to fill the bike up for a run-out tomorrow. So I went to the petrol station and - get this - I wore jeans and a t-shirt. No gloves, no leather jacket. No Kevlar. Just an open-face helmet and sunglasses.

Let me tell you, it felt great.

And I got a right old rocket from Anna when I got back.

Drink-driving - again

I see that there are more calls for the reduction of the blood-alcohol limit for driving. Story here.

Ho hum. It won't work, it's pointless, and it will penalise the very people who do abide by the current laws, while failing to do anything about those who ignore them. It will not affect the accident statistics one iota, which will only lead to calls for the limit to be even tighter, of course. I posted my views here a while ago, and they haven't changed since then.

Al Jahom has a good look at the stats here. Drink-drive accidents are marginal compared to those caused by poor driving and inattention. And, of course, the number of people killed or seriously injured in accidents continues to fall, as it has for many years. So there's not even an 'incident' or a 'trend' that suggests that something must be done.

If anyone can demonstrate that the majority of drink-driving accidents are caused by drivers in the 50-80 mg sector, I would support this proposal. But certainly anecdotal evidence suggests that the majority are caused by people who or two or three times over the present limit. If there is evidence to support this reduction, I would love to see it. But I doubt it exists.

Good Service

I like to report good service when I get it - people are quick enough to blame someone when things aren't perfect, so I like to redress the balance a bit when I can.

The Bonneville has one striking design fault - the bolts used to fasten the seat. Getting the seat off is a fairly frequent task - you need to do this to have access to the battery, for one thing, and it needs to come off if you want to remove the petrol tank. The seat fastens in the usual way, with a tongue that slides under the end of the tank and two catches that locate on the frame. It is all held in place by two bolts that fasten the rear of the seat to the frame. Triumph have designed it so that these bolts are hidden away under the back of the seat, about 3 inches from daylight. It's not hard work to get an allen key in there and twiddle them off, but it's a fiddly job and far harder than it needs to be.

So I have made up some better ones. Instead of dome-headed allen bolts which fit flush to the frame, I have made up some extended ones: two socket-headed screws with nuts Loctited at the shaft end of the thread. The bolts now show slightly just behind the seat and can be got at without bending down and squinting in the dark. And after loosening them a quarter turn with an allen key, they can be unscrewed by hand. With the original ones, they had to be unscrewed with the allen key all the way out, which risked scratching the paint on the mudguard and was an irritating fiddle. Here are the old and new bolts:

and here are the new ones in place. Neat, huh?

It's not a big deal in the scheme of things, but it makes life a little easier.

I was given the tip on a Triumph forum that I read, and did a bit of research online, as there is nowhere near here that stocks stainless fasteners in the kind of quantity that you need to be able to find a couple of 80mm M6 bolts with socket heads and matching flange nuts. Halfords, Homebase and Wickes are within striking distance, but only do packs of 6 or 10, and in all the common sizes that are the ones you don't need. And getting anything in stainless (which is all I would consider for the bike, unless in an emergency) is next to impossible.

So a big thanks to Stagonset, who will sell you any quantity you like (even very small orders like this) at very reasonable prices. The whole lot cost me £4.08, delivered to my door in a small (and re-usable!) jiffy bag. Ordered online late Thursday night, delivered Saturday morning. And they even emailed me to say they were on their way.

I'll be using them again, I'm sure.

Friday 4 June 2010

Tyred and emotional

I use Google Maps a lot for route-planning and just general curiosity-driven idle browsing. I also have a TomTom satnav (a car model, but usable on the bike at a pinch), which I use for - well, navigation, I suppose. It always struck me as very stupid that the two won't talk to each other. How good to be able to plan a route in Google Maps and then download it to your satnav and ride it. But I could never find a way to do this (there are ways, but you need to be pretty hot on the backroom tech to get anywhere - well beyond my limited abilities). Planning a route within the TomTom is possible, but so user-unfriendly that I would rather stick pins under my fingernails.

And then I found Tyre. Trace Your Route Everywhere. It's a small program written by a Dutch guy, Jan Boersma, and it allows you to do just that. It's available as a free download from here (donations welcome, of course). Open the program and you get a small home window. Click a button and it opens Google Maps. Click the map to create waypoints (all completely editable) and calculate a route. Then save the route and plug in your TomTom. Switch the satnav on, click on 'copy to TomTom' and you have the route in your list of itineraries on the satnav.

I went on a superb run round the mid-Wales reservoirs a few weekends ago, led by a guy called Bill. I mentioned this at my local TOMCC meeting last week, and this Sunday I find I am leading my own group round the same route. Me and my big mouth. One problem - I have only ridden the route once, and I never pay enough attention when someone else is doing the navigation. I was not 100% sure that I could remember it. I contacted Bill and he kindly emailed me his satnav route instructions, and from this I was able to work out the exact route.

Tyre is written by a biker and enthusiast rather than a Microsoft-certified programmer, so some of the ways of doing things are a little counter-intuitive, and the help files aren't really very helpful. You really have to just open the program and play with it. It took me three attempts at clicking and labelling all the waypoints and calculating a route, only for the program to close when I clicked 'OK'. The fourth time I managed it successfully. On this last attempt, I would say from starting to enter the waypoints to having it copied to my TomTom was about five minutes. It really is that quick.

The problem is that the program opens with a small dashboard-type window. When you open Google Maps this window disappears, but it is here that you have the facility to save routes and copy to the TomTom. When you have finished creating the route, you need to click 'Cancel' (huh?) and this will return you to the original window where you can complete the task - save and copy. If you finish the route and click 'OK', it spends a long time thinking, and then closes. If you reopen it, there is no record of your route anywhere. This is very frustrating, but forgiveable as Tyre is a) very useful, b) written by someone who does it for love not money, and c) totally free.

I have the route in the TomTom now, and I will take it with me on Sunday. (Having entered the route into Tyre four times, I think I have memorised it now, but I will take the satnav anyway.) I haven't fitted a charging point to the Triumph yet, so I will have to rely on the TomTom's battery, which is not massive, but I think I will get away with using it only for the bits I am unsure of. Which may well turn out to be none, who knows? I will post again when I am back and let you know how it works out.

And big thanks to Jan Boersma for working it all out and then making it freely available to everyone, for no other reason than he is an enthusiast. Good man.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Good Grief!

Courtesy of Al Jahom, an article by Simon Jenkins (Not every adult is a paedophile, a terrorist or a mass murderer) in The Guardian that I agree with, every word. That has to be a first.

There is now a widespread belief that the bonds of private responsibility that should tie together neighbourhoods and nations alike have eroded. This is put down to everything from the nanny state to benefit dependency, risk aversion, disrespectful youth, too much money and obsessive security. When the bossy Labour minister Ed Balls banned pictures of children in schools and vetted parents for sex crimes, the bounds of public sanity were strained. Yet no one stopped him. People muttered, "Well, you can't be too safe."


The public should be invited to reject the politics of fear, that sees life as a perpetual terror of what might happen and a perpetual investigation of what has. It should not be asked to regard every child as a victim and every adult a paedophile, a terrorist or a mass murderer. The government should stop spending stupid amounts of money on a security lobby now running amok through the public sector.

There is no such thing as safe. There is only safer, and safer can require the greater watchfulness that comes with taking risks, witness new theories of road safety. Removing risk lowers the protective instinct of individuals and communities, and paradoxically leaves them in greater danger. But there is no government agency charged with averting that danger. There is no money in it.

Go and read it. It should be required reading for our new coalition government, too. Light is dawning in all sorts of unexpected places. Perhaps it's the good weather.

Blathering punditry

The Independent, desperate to find something to say on the Cumbria shootings, hires Keith Ashcroft, an "investigative psychologist" from Manchester, to fill a column by making remarks about someone who he has never met, and an incident that he did not witness. It is, therefore, a singularly unenlightening read.

Most of it is boilerplate psychology 101, about low self-esteem and lacking control over one's own life (although how he knew that this applied to the gunman isn't clear - a remote-control psychic interview chaired by St Peter?), and there is little to disagree with as what he writes is banal and obvious. But there are a couple of bits towards the end - clearly, he was getting into his stride, and delighted to have been commissioned by a National Newspaper - which deserve some comment.

Many people have feelings of low self-esteem and may mistrust those around them or even suffer paranoia. But they don't go on a killing spree. What makes the few that do, flip? Access to firearms is one factor. Guns are, fortunately, not easy to get, but if people have lethal means of causing violence close at hand there will be more violence. How many people would be killed if every household had a gun? That, thank goodness, is not the case in this country.

A complete non-sequitur. 'If people have guns, there will be more violence.' Perhaps, but not necessarily. What about the counter-argument that if the people walking the streets of Whitehaven had all been armed, the incident might have ended after the first shot? Imagine opening up your rifle in a crowded street, only to find everyone turning towards you with pistols drawn. What about the inhibiting effect of knowing that some people might be armed, even if no weapons are visible? As they say, 'An armed society is a polite society'.

This argument that the availability of guns causes violence is hogwash. The Swiss are allowed to keep weapons, and you would struggle to find a more peaceful place to live.

An incident like this should make us question our values. We need to think about our exposure to videos and violence – does it make us immune to the effects? We see images of violence every day, and through repetition they lose their power to shock.

Again, this presupposes something which is far from obvious. Ashcroft assumes that our natural state is peaceful and violence-free, and that images of violence degrade our natural abhorrence of it to a point where we become immune. I would argue that the opposite is the case. We live in a lucky part of the world, and at a charmed period of history, where most people, for most of the time, do not encounter violence at all. Go back a hundred years, or go to any number of less fortunate nations today, and you see that violence is and was an all-too common part of everyday life. You could argue that we have become infantilised, where to most of us the intrusion of violence into our lives is a rarity, and something that we demand that Nurse remove as soon as possible. You could argue that images of violence are the only thing stopping us returning to the womb, sucking our thumbs and demanding some of that nice sweet milk and a comfort blanket to shield us from the world. I'm not saying this is necessarily so, just that to assume that the natural order of things is peaceful, and that violence is an unnatural intrusion, is a pretty naïve way of looking at the world.

It raises wider issues too. We define ourselves through jobs, power and money. People are so driven they have no other sense of who they are. They can't go to the doctor or the priest, so they take a gun and kill people. It really is shocking.

For the first three of these sentences, I would agree. We live in a world where the trivial assumes huge importance for most people, and things that really matter are sidelined. And the doctor and the priest no longer have the authority and ability to absolve that they once did. Why this should lead people to kill other people is a mystery. I'm left wondering if a couple of crucial sentences haven't been edited out of this passage. It makes no sense.

The most rational comment I have read on this issue is by Charlotte Gore. Knee-jerk reactions not required. 'Something Must Be Done' not required. These things are very rare and often cannot be explained, but they happen, and we should learn to live with it.Link

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Google Maps - it had to happen

From the storytellers at The Sun:

A WOMAN is suing Google after claiming its maps application gave her directions to a motorway where she was run over.

Lauren Rosenberg is seeking more than £70,000 in damages from the internet search engine claiming they were directly at fault for the accident.

Mrs Rosenberg used Google maps in January last year to get directions by foot to a pal's house.

The application told her to walk for half a mile along "Deer Valley Drive" — which turned out to be a section of the Utah State Route 224 — a motorway with no pavements.

So the route took her to a road that was clearly not a pedestrian route - and she walked along it, because Google told her to?

The case claims that Mrs Rosenberg wasn't warned about this by Google — making them responsible.

Ah, the old excuse. I have no responsibility for anything I do, so if someone doesn't warn me specifically not to do something and I get hurt, it's their fault. It's the logic of the spoilt and not very intelligent child.

Google say the directions came with a warning for pedestrians — but Mrs Rosenberg claimed her Blackberry screen was too small to display the caution.

Ah, I see. It's BlackBerry's fault for having a small screen, so that Mrs Rosenberg didn't see the warning NOT TO WALK ON FUCKING MOTORWAYS. I hope she sues them too. For a million dollars. No, make that ten million. Corporate America must learn that they can't just play with people's lives like this.

Actually, I hope the driver of the car that hit her counter-sues for reckless endangerment, or whatever they call it over there.

One of them will win, surely. My money, sadly, is on Mrs Rosenberg.

Pets 2

All done. The cat went semi-willingly into her transporter box and was easily dealt with by the experienced vet. Funny, she usually won't let us near her (she's a rescue cat and we think she must have had some bad experiences). The dog was relatively well-behaved and has a new best friend - the vet had a stash of biscuits for post-jab restorative purposes, and a biscuit is enough to earn undying devotion.

Prospective burglars, please note.

Sadly, I left the health records for both animals at home, so I will now have to return to the vet's with them to get them stamped up to date. And it's sunny and the roads are dry.

I have just had an idea.


Oh dear. In a few minutes I have to take both dog and cat to the vets for their annual injections. The kennels where we are taking them for their 'holidays' insist on up-to-date certificates, and rightly so.

The dog will be his usual over-enthusiastic self. The cat - well who knows?

First I have to catch her.
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