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

- George Washington

Saturday 30 April 2011

That Wedding Again

I got home from the night shift Friday morning and went to bed, so I missed the Wedding. I had got totally fed up with the wall-to-wall sycophancy that the BBC were dishing up over the previous fortnight, so I was happy to sleep through it. I got up about 1 pm, and as the telly was on (Anna is a pretty avid Royalist), I started watching.

And I got involved. Yes, I really sucked it all up. What did it for me? Well, in retrospect, it was the way that the whole event stuck two fingers up to the modern hegemony of Leftism. From the choice of service, to the guest list, and to the magnificent coup-de-théâtre of the 'going away car' (more of which later), it was obvious that the event had not been paternalistically organised by Ken Livingstone, Harriet Harman and Greenpeace, but by the people involved, which must mean the couple themselves. And they did a fine job of stamping their authority on proceedings. Here's a couple of the things I noticed which impressed me and made me a minor monarchist for the day:
  • The use of the 'old' words for parts of the wedding ceremony. I noticed "Our Father which art in Heaven", "in Earth as it is in Heaven", and "trespasses", instead of 'who' and 'on' and "sins", which are from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and not the later modernised and 'relevant' translations. Good for them, and I bet they had a fight with the Archbeard over that one. As an agnostic, I don't really believe in all that stuff but I am very particular about what I don't believe in, if that makes any sense.
  • They looked genuinely happy and in love. I am not such an old cynic that I can't look at that and feel glad that they seem to have found the right person for each other. He seems a genuinely decent bloke (see previous post) and she looks like a feisty and capable woman (and a stunning looker as well), and I am sincerely happy for them. I was thinking of the stilted and downright awkward atmosphere of the last Royal Wedding, and how that turned very sour indeed, and I am optimistic for William and Kate. I doubt if she would put up with any tomfoolery for a minute, though - "Off with his Nuts!"
  • The guest list. Oh yes, please, the guest list. Dave and Sam Cam were there, but as he is the serving Prime Minister that would seem to be merely protocol. Nick Clegg too. And - oh, joy, be still my beating heart - no sign of Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. No doubt the Palace would argue that protocol did not require past Prime Ministers to be present, but if that's the case then what was decent old John Major doing there? That absolutely has to be a deliberate choice, and perhaps even a deliberate snub. Brown, in his Calvinist way, will shrug it off as mere hedonistic frippery and be glad he didn't have to wear a suit and pretend to be civil for a day. But for Blair, the vainglorious Blair, that will hurt. Really hurt. I am so glad. Can you imagine the conversation? "Sir, I do feel it would be good form to invite all living Prime Ministers to the ceremony at least." "Brown and Blair? You are fucking joking, pal. No way are those Commie shysters coming to my wedding. If they are invited, the wedding's off. Capeesh?" I'm not sure which of the couple I would attribute those words to; either is believeable.
  • The movement of the crowds after The Mall was opened. There were close on a million people there, all wanting to get to the front of the Palace to watch the couple's appearance. They were held back by a single line of policemen in normal uniform, no riot gear to be seen. The crowd moved forward briskly but under perfect control, and there was no running, pushing or shouting: a very 'British' scene. The contrast with the last time we all watched the Met dealing with large crowds - who were throwing fire extinguishers off buildings and smashing shop windows - was very pointed. What we have come to expect as normal crowd behaviour (aggression, violence, hatred, noise, destruction) is perhaps the aberration and this was the normal stuff. We can only hope. A remarkable day.
  • That car. Yes, that car. What a masterstroke that was! Forget the nineteen-oh-something state landau and the tiptoeing horses. The couple emerge in a proper car. A British car, a sports car, a planet-destroyer, an Aston Martin DB6, in midnight blue. Prepped by brother Harry, with an 'L' plate on the front and a jokey number plate (JU5T WED for those that missed it) on the back. And of course the car belonged to Dad - which reminds us of all the normal people who have to borrow Dad's car for the honeymoon, and reflects well on Charles in a quiet sort of way. Who'd have thought the old plant-conversing Greenie kept a 1970 open-top Aston for fun and games? The only thing missing was a couple of noisy doughnuts in Horseguards Parade, just for the hell of it. A classic, vintage, British gentleman's sports car - genius, and pure class. I laughed out loud and punched the air when I saw it.

I think the overall tone was right. With all the Queen's resources at hand, it could have been anything they wanted it to be. Anything too elaborate would have been badly received and just plain wrong in a country enduring a recession, but anything too low-key and utilitarian would have been a massive disappointment to a massive number of people. It was pretty much on the button. The simple and elegant dress, compared to the Ice Cream Pavlova that Diana had to wear, was a good choice too. I thought she looked great.

You can't argue for a hereditary monarchy with a straight face, and I have always been a sort of pragmatic republican: a constitutional monarchy seems to work as well as any other system, and better than most, so let's not worry about something that isn't a problem. But the more I see of how we don't really have a democracy in Britain any more - how our laws are made in Europe by unelected bureaucrats, and our elected politicians are both powerless and useless, how they lie to get elected and once elected they lie and lie again, and how little real opportunity we have to say how we want things done - I'm beginning to wonder if a monarchy is really any worse than the alternative. When the Queen is no more, and if Charles decides to pass the Crown on to his son so he can spend more time with his plants, then I reckon the monarchy is in for a revival.

Imagine: a royal couple with traditionalist views and massive popular support, who are not afraid to withhold the Royal Assent to bills which give away our sovreignty, who will champion the causes that matter to the British people (rather than what the Westminster bubble thinks are important) - all bets are off.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I am not the only one. Perhaps this is the way we get our country back. Stranger things have happened.

One final thought and then I'll shut up. How remarkable were the crowds. Tom Paine and Anna Raccoon have both written excellent posts which talk about this, so rather than add to it I will just quote a little from them. Tom:
Watching the Royal Wedding, I could not help but wonder who all those people in streets of London were. Experiencing England, as I have, mainly through its media for the last twenty years, they seemed unfamiliar. They were clearly untroubled by envy, for example. They cheered the succession of impressive British motor cars (as well as the dowdy VW minibuses). Where were the Prius-driving prigs? Where were the equality fanatics? Where were the alienated youths, the anti-Christians and - for that matter - the aggrieved immigrants decrying the home culture (or lack of it)? Who were the polite people processing sedately behind a one-officer-deep police line to get a view of "the balcony scene?"
And Anna:
Where were the angry scowling faces that fill our TV screens? The snarling youths throwing bricks through windows? The sneering commentators? The trade union funded bussed ranks of the public sector howling with rage at the notion that they might live within the country’s financial limits? Where were the black shrouded letter-boxes demanding their rights, lauding the ability of foreign brethren to part heads from shoulders? Crept back to their bolt holes for the day, utterly outclassed as middle England found its voice and came out to play on a summer’s day.
We are the people of England, and we have not spoken yet.

OK, gush over. Normal cynicism will return shortly, once I have got all this face-paint off.

Breaking Wind

For the last few evenings, the BBC weather reports have had a curious feature. Every time the presenter mentions 'windy' or 'breezy' conditions, the background image switches to a landscape of wind turbines, all spinning merrily.

Watch it (if you can stand it, and I will forgive you if you can't) and tell me I'm making it up.

The BBC: naked propaganda for the Greenies - it's what we do.

Sweet William

I'm going to confess a secret liking for young Prince William. The lad seems OK.

I'm not a fan of the monarchy, I have to admit. Never mind all that anti-democracy crap - their greatest crime is that they are boring. If you look at the monarchs of the past, they were either wicked, mad, or the commissioners of great art, supporters of ballet, or great choral music (or even, if the rumour about Henry VIII is true, writers of a pretty tune themselves). This best this lot seem to manage is horse-racing and Elton John. I suppose I have been mildly republican, with the rider that a constitutional monarchy seems to work in practice, so I have never objected too much to the modest cost of having a Queen and a largely superfluous Royal Family.

And, of course, there are several phrases which pop into the mind which remove at an instant any thought of making Britain a proper Republic:

President Blair.
President Brown.
President Cameron.

And, worst of all:

First Lady Cherie.

No, no, please. Take it away. Make it stop. Give me back my rather dull Queen and her modestly-entertaining husband.

Prince William, on the other hand, seems made of better stuff. For one thing, he seems to have a proper job flying helicopters, and his comrades speak well of him with a genuineness that seems unforced. He and his brother seem to have a proper sense of humour, and aren't too bothered by the PC brigade. And, best of all, he has frightened the crap out of the Establishment by riding motorbikes.

Apparently, he started riding round the royal estates on a small Yamaha trailbike, and passed his test, and then moved up to a Yamaha XT600. This alone makes me warm to him, as regular readers will know that I also have one of these and love it to bits, although I doubt if his was held together with gaffer tape and chewing gum. The boy clearly has excellent taste. For his 21st birthday he bought himself a Triumph Daytona, and then progressed through a Honda Blackbird and a Yamaha R1 to his current ride, a Ducati 1198S. None of these are bikes you would buy if you were merely concerned with projecting an image of modernity and 'dahn wiv da kids': they are all rider's bikes, and a pretty decent selection too. And then, of course, he and Harry did their 1,000-mile off-road charity ride with Enduro Africa in 2008.

And his attitude is a bit of all right, too. Apparently, when he got the Blackbird (the fastest bike on the planet at the time) the Royal Family were 'concerned', and insisted that he had a 'suitably-trained' close protection officer tailing him at all times to make sure he behaved. That was surely the job of the century for some lucky bastard. William's repsonse to the hoo-ha?
"Riding a motorbike can be dangerous, but so can lots of things really," he said. "It is a risk, but as long as you've had sufficient and thorough training, you should be okay.

"My father is concerned that I'm into motorbikes, but he doesn't want to keep me all wrapped up in cotton wool. It's something I'm passionate about."
Amen to that.

A summary of William's bikes here.

Morning visitors

Some thoughts on the Royle Weeding later, but this morning as I was having breakfast by the window, I saw a family of Goldcrest having theirs on the lawn. We get a lot of starlings and jackdaws here, and the standard-issue thrushes and blackbirds, but these little critters were remarkable for their tininess and the remarkably bold colouring of the head stripes. There were five in all, spread out among the dandelions and daisies. I got some binoculars to make a firm identification, but by the time I had dug the big camera out from the pile of rubbish on the spare bed, they had cleared the lawn of spiders, wiped their beaks and had gone. So you will have to make the best of a library picture.

And I'm going to mow the lawn to leave a clear view and park the Nikon (with 210mm long lens) on standby for tomorrow.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Boot Hill

The deed is done. I woke up early today after the night shift and had a couple of hours before I needed to set off back to work, so I visited my local dealer to see if he had anything suitable for my feet. I knew he had a pair of TCX Infinity boots in (voted Best Buy in RiDE magazine's Rider Power survey) and finally I had an excuse to try them on.

They looked great, both in appearance and quality (a touch of the motocross boot about them, but understated), but they were well over £200. I was therefore delighted when they simply didn't fit. The heel seemed slightly offset, making my foot twist as I walked, and the foot part was not the same shape as my foot. So I was not unhappy to put them back on the shelf.

The rest were either race boots (all garish colours and spacetrooper plastic) or the kind of things smelters wear to work. And then I spotted an unassuming pair which reminded me a little of the moribund Sidis.

They are Frank Thomas Aqua Rides, and on offer for a penny under ninety quid. I know a lot of bikers are a bit sniffy about Frank Thomas gear, but I have had quite a bit of stuff of theirs over the years, and it has always been good (well-made and durable) if a little unglamorous. My current commuting gloves, used right through winter, are a 10-year-old pair of FT Aqua gloves which are no longer waterproof, but are warm and fit me like - er - you know what I mean. In a world of use-once-and-throw-away, they have lasted exceptionally well and still feel as if they would protect my pinkies in a tumble.

So I bought the boots, after negotiating the lovely saleslady down to eighty of your British pounds. They are proper leather (not Lorica like the Sidis) and advertised as waterproof. We shall see about that, but I am hopeful. They are very comfy indeed, and already way better for walking around in than the old ones. The soles are thicker, which means that I will have to get used to the slightly different gearchange action, but the comfort outweighs that. And very warm - I hope not too warm, considering we are approaching summer.

I'll do a full kit report when I have had them a month or two, but first impressions are good.

And the best thing about them: no zips.


Footnote (fnarr):

In the comments to the previous post, Brian suggested getting a professional repair for the zip of the old boots. As you can see from the next pic, the Sidis haven't got much life left in them, but if I can get a new zip put in for a reasonable cost, I will do that and keep them as reserve footwear. Old friends shouldn't be just cast aside.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Death of a Boot

Oh dear. Oh dearie dear.

As I was putting on my boots to go home from work yesterday morning, the zip broke completely. As in, a yawning gap where the teeth should be, even when it was done up.

My nice, reliable Sidi Black Rain Evo boots started to give trouble back in January. I soldiered on with them, even treating them to some biocidal disinfectant treatment when they got too wet inside on the Ride of Respect. I suppose four-and-a-bit years of daily commuting and general hooning around have taken their toll and the boots don't owe me anything.

They are just wearable, if I don't mind the right one being held in place with just a bit of velcro. It will do for the next few days when I am at work and not able to get near a bike shop, but on my next free day I need to spend some money, I think.


Monday 25 April 2011

New Kid On The Block

Today sees the launch of a new collaborative Libertarian blog - Orphans of Liberty.

It's a team effort, with the main drive coming from Longrider (a long-time denizen of my daily reader list) and James Higham (of Nourishing Obscurity) and others. Both are high-quality blogs with a unique take on the world. They have assembled a team of Libertarian bloggers to contribute (one being me old mate Captain Ranty and another the ever-reliable JuliaM) and it looks like their output could be prodigious.

The new blog is on my reader and will be going into the blogroll before too long. I will be watching it with interest, and I wish them all well in their new venture. It's hard for individualists to pull together - and these are a bunch of individualists - but if they can bring it off it could become a very important voice for supporters of individual freedom.

Good luck, guys.

Saturday 23 April 2011

From 1973 to 1709

I mentioned a while ago about how I find the internet similar to a disctionary or encyclopaedia: you go there to look for something, and you emerge ten years later after a journey through a million loosely-related subjects, all of which seemed fascinating at the time. And so it was today.

I've got Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy on the car CD at the moment, and I was intrigued by some lyrics from 'The Ocean':
Got a date, I can't be late
For the high hopes hailla ball
That's what the sleeve says, but it isn't what it counds like (which is more or less an incoherent treble gurgle from a Robert Plant on top form). The lyrics make no sense at all, and I would guess that they were transcribed by the record company from the recording by an office junior rather then copied from Zep's original sheet music. I consulted the interwebs to see if anyone had found what was actually sung, and what it meant, and I was directed to a site called What Planet Is This? ("Periodical essays on linguistics, history, and much more, from Shakespeare to post Romano-​British findings. Like Notes and Queries sans the queries and solely antiquarian disposition.") There was no definitive answer there, but some reasonable speculation. The site appears to have been defunct since 2005, which is a shame, as it was an intelligent mix of history, archaeology and philology - three topics that are a constant interest of mine.

A browse through the front page of the site led me to an essay on umbrellas, and thence to a magazine called the Female Tatler, published between 1709 and 1710. And here there was a reference to a personal advertisement from the magazine which made me laugh out loud.
Lost in last July, behind the late Sir George Whitmore's, a maidenhead, the owner never having missed it till the person who since married her expected to have had it as part of her dowry. If the pastry cook in Fleet Street, who is supposed to have brought it away out of a frolic, will restore it again to Mrs. Sarah Stroakings, at the Cow-House at Islington, he shall be treated with a syllabub.
I wonder if Mrs Stroakings ever retrieved her lost innocence?

St George's Day

Wishing you all the very best for England's national day.

Oh, and Happy Birthday to the rancid old git, too.

Friday 22 April 2011

Blogroll Addition

Via the comment's on Brian's blog, I came across a blog I hadn't heard of before: A National Conversation For England.

Recent posts are all on the AV/FPTP argument, and on the case for a referendum on membership of the EU: all good constitutional stuff. David's posts tend to be long and detailed, and are (as far as I can see) well-argued and grounded in common sense. I'm popping over there later on for a longer browse.

He's on the blogroll, and I will be following what he has to say over the AV referendum with interest.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Motorway Speed Limits

Another day, another poll from the IAM. This time it's on whether to increase the speed limits on motorways. No need to be a member; they are interested in as many opinions as possible.

The 70 limit was introduced in 1965, in response to a spate of serious accidents on the motorway network. The accidents that triggered the move were in foggy conditions, and it is hard to imagine how a theoretical speed limit would stop people who were happy to drive at that sort of speed in thick fog, but then logic has never been the strong suit of those in charge of the transport network. Of course, the limit had to be introduced for all roads, otherwise you would have the ridiculous situation of the motorways having a lower limit than a country lane. It's amazing to think it now, but before 1965 you could drive at any speed you wanted as long as you were out of a built-up area. This situation still obtains in the Isle of Man, of course. The killjoys haven't got round to that yet.

Another reason for the introduction of the limit was that AC Cars were caught testing the prototype for the Cobra at 196 mph on the M1. This was obviously not acceptable to Transport Minister Barbara Castle (a non-driver), an early example of that curious state of mind amongst our elders and betters that if it is fun, it must be stopped. Can you imagine the Italian police round Maranello stopping all the Ferrari test drivers and asking them to be a bit more careful? Round there, the locals come out and line the streets and would be disappointed if the drivers didn't put on a bit of a show. The thought of hamstringing an iconic Italian manufacturer by petty 'safety' regulation wouldn't enter their heads.

The 70 limit was introduced with very little debate. As most family cars could barely exceed that speed in 1965, I suppose it seemed a reasonable measure. Is it still reasonable? The engines, brakes, handling and passive safety of even the most humble hatchback far exceed the technology available 45 years ago. There aren't many cars that can't cruise comfortably at 90 mph, and in fact from the motorway driving that I do it seems that the default speed for most people is around 80 in clear conditions. I think there is a good case for increasing the limit to 80 or even 90 mph. In fact, there is a good case for removing the limit altogether, and applying limits according to need - see my post on speed limits in Germany. I wrote:

I have a theory. In Germany, on much of the autobahn network, there are no speed limits. People are trusted to make their own decisions about how fast they go. When there is a reason to do so, speed limits are imposed, in a sensible way, and removed as soon as they are not needed. Because of this, German drivers seem far more prepared to observe speed limits than British drivers are. They recognise that they are there for everyone's benefit, and used in specific circumstances, rather than as a blanket control measure designed to take the fun out of motoring and raise some cash from the motorist at the same time. I didn't see a single speed camera or traffic patrol car in Germany, and yet the compliance with speed limits was far higher than in our camera-infested country.
But of course that will never happen - at least, not under any current version of Labour (red, blue or yellow) that has the chance of being in government in the foreseeable future.

Would increasing or even removing the current limit increase pollution through the slightly higher fuel consumption of vehicles travelling 10 mph faster? Probably not: the improvement in traffic flow would probably cancel that out. Would it increase the number or severity of accidents? I doubt it. Motorway accidents happen generally because of poor driving habits in general and poor lane discipline in particular, and seem to me to bear little relation to speed.

Go and tell the IAM what you think, or leave a comment here. Or both, of course.

UPDATE: as before, the IAM site isn't letting me access the poll page. Keep trying.

Monday 18 April 2011

Motrax is no more ...

Two winters ago, I invested (in the Gordon Brown sense of 'spent some money') in a pair of Motrax heated handlebar grips. I fitted them to the XT at the beginning of what turned out to be a very cold winter, and they were a boon and a blessing. With the tasteful lilac handguards keeping the worst of the wind off, and the heated grips providing a modicum of warmth to the palms of the hands, it made riding in ~zero temperatures quite bearable. I'd recommend heated grips of some kind to any rider that rides through the year.

The Motrax grips were easy to fit and not too cumbersome. They increase the diameter of the bars by a little, but it's barely noticeable:

The grips come with a controller which allows two heat settings. One press of the button gives full heat (the red LED on the right) and another press gives half heat (the green LED on the left). Pressing a third time turns them off. Full heat was warm, no more than that, and I never used half heat, but it made a big difference to general comfort and control. (By contrast, the heated grips on the Honda had four settings, and anything above two was like gripping a Fukushima fuel rod.) In all, feeble but better then nothing. Mounting the controller on the Renthal bars was a challenge, because the brace got in the way, but I managed something that worked:

The Yamahaha's electrics aren't the strongest at the best of times, and I was concerned that using the grips (and in winter the lights would be on too) would test the charging system to the limit, but in fact they only draw a couple of amps and there was never a problem. A couple of weeks ago, they stopped working. A little investigation revealed that the controller was at fault: with the ignition on (they are wired to a switched live on the igniter box) the red LED was flickering and the box was buzzing like there was a wasp in there. I took it off and dismantled it, but there was nothing in there but a circuit board and two miniature square boxes that might have been relays. 'No User-Serviceable Parts Inside'. I put it all back, to find that it was working fine.

This often happens.

I emailed Motrax in case they were able to supply a new controller, and got this reply:
Dear Sir,

Thank you for your email.

We are affraid that MOTRAX no longer exsists as a brand. Oxford bought the name, however it will not be distributed. This means that there is no longer a warranty on the MOTRAX products.

As a gesture of good will, if you would like to return the hotgrips to us, we would offer you some Oxford Hotgrips at 50% of the RRP.

We are sorry for any inconvinience caused by this.

Thank you,

Helen Gessey
Customer Services
DD: 01993 862 335
Oh dear. Motrax is no more. Purveyors of miniature indicators and aftermarket tat to the discerning sportsbike owner, their catalogue provided many hours of harmless fun while attending to other matters in the smallest room.

It's a shame, but not a disaster. I won't be taking them up on the offer of a pair of Hotgrips, as the present ones are pretty much Araldited to the bars, and I only wanted a new switch, so removing and replacing them would be a little 'inconvinient', and returning them impossible. But since they have worked faultlessly for the last week, I think I will just leave them as they are. Sumer is icumen in, lhude sing the race cans, and I won't be needing them for a few months. If and when I ever get round to renovating and refurbishing the XT, new bars in a slightly less garish shade are a top priority, so I think I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

AV - my thoughts exactly

I haven't posted about the AV issue, because I am genuinely in two minds about it, and my thoughts have yet to settle to any kind of opinion one way or the other. And there here comes a videoclip (nod of the Shoei to Captain Ranty) which says it all.

Go on ...

Sunday 17 April 2011

Mod or Rocker?

I came out as a superannuated rocker in a post last year, so no surprises for guessing my answer to that one. But perhaps you are unsure of your own allegiances? If so, take this quiz.

It's a gem from Motor Cycle News, December 1963. Click for bigger.

I got 20.

(Incidentally, anyone fancy having a go at deconstructing that jacket? The cartoon characters just look bizarre. The 'young girl wanted' was an innocent enough ambition at the time, but seems faintly pervy now. The message that 'the overtaker gets(?) the undertaker' shows either a catastrophic lack of self-awareness or an ironic acceptance of fate (after all, what rocker would say that he didn't overtake because he was afraid?). And of course, his advertised vehicle is a '650 Bonneville 120', naturally. The iconic rocker's transport. Life was so much simpler in 1963.)

Saturday 16 April 2011

On the house

Furor Teutonicus says there isn't enough beer, so ...

Fill your boots, and I'll phone a taxi if you need one.

50 not out

Yesterday, I noticed that the number of followers of this blog reached the half-century. So, hello and welcome to D Ford, a fellow biker from Arizona.

I'm not sure how reliable a measure of support and interest this is. I do 'follow' a number of blogs, but I find the most convenient way of keeping abreast of posting in the blogs I want to read is through Google Reader. That comes all neatly in bite-sized chunks to my Google homepage every day, and I generally only visit a blog's page if I want to leave a comment or view an image or video which Google Reader can't handle. I only see the blogs I 'follow' on the dashboard when I log in, and I spend almost no time there. Perhaps others do it differently.

But anyway, as a very rough measure, it seems that this blog is steadily growing in readership. There are currently an average of 227 hits a day. This time last year, it was 22. When I split the blog into bike stuff (the Soul Mover blog) and current affairs/other (this one) back in May 2010, I had four followers. Today I have 50.

(For those who weren't around at the time, I grew uncomfortable with writing a blog which was expressing despair at the Labour government in one post and talking about piston rings in the next. I imagined each 'half' of the content was putting off the other 'half' of the readership, and losing me readers as a result. I spilt the blog into two as an experiment, but feedback suggested that people preferred it the way it was, so I left Soul Mover as a single holding post and moved everything back here. I may use Soul Mover again one day, so I am keeping it live.)

From the moment I first put finger to keyboard in an 'anything for a laugh' moment back in June 2009 and said
Having just gone through Blogger's Krypton-Factor style set-up process (Think of a name! Think of a title!) I now have a blog. I will no doubt regret the hasty decisions I made on the way in (if I can remember them at all - what was my name again?) but the die is now cast. If you read this, and I doubt very much that you will, welcome and thank you for stopping by. It's been a pleasure
I have been amazed that anyone would a) visit at all, b) find anything of interest and c) make the effort to write a comment or reaction. I'm still amazed.

Anyway, introspection over. Thank you to everyone, old and new, for reading this tripe and posting comments. Without comments, it would be like shouting in an empty house.

Friday 15 April 2011

Tintern Abbey

I've just come back from a fantastic day.

Daughter No. 1 is on a camping holiday in the Forest of Dean and we thought it would be great to meet up for the day. My days off work and her holiday plans coincided with an agreement to meet today at Tintern Abbey, a huge Cistercian ruin in the Wye Valley close to Chepstow. A decent weather forecast meant that it was also a great excuse to give the Triumph a leg-stretch.

Tintern Abbey is in a beautiful sheltered setting. The valley is wide there, with steep wooded sides, and on a Spring day like today looked magical.

We met in the car park of the Abbey at lunchtime. No. 1 and her partner were hungry (nothing changes) and so was I after 130 miles of spirited riding through some fabulous countryside, so we went immediately to the pub next to the Abbey, the Anchor.

It was the perfect day for a sit-down in the beer garden, so I ordered a pint of bitter and some fish and chips, and we whiled away the first part of the afternoon catching up and enjoying a drink and some decent pub food. The sun was warm and the sheltered position made it quite hot.

We then did the expected tour round the ruins. Ruins is ruins, but it must be said that these ruins were not expensive ruins - £3.80 per adult seemed very reasonable compared, according to Dn1, with anything up to four times that in some parts of England. The site is massive and the ground plan very complex. Add to that the fact that some parts are merely foundations, while others are still the full height as when they were built in the C13, and the rest are of varying heights in between, and you get a very complicated 3D artefact. My eye was caught by the graphic nature of the interaction of the walls against the wooded hills in the background.

Later in the day, we visited some old iron mine workings near to Clearwell. As an ex-potholer, I found the workings fascinating, and when I get a bigger flash for the camera I will return and post some images here; but for the little second-hand digital job that I was using today the darkness was too much and none of the images was useable.

A goodbye in the car park and a surprisingly cold blast home, but a great day - not just seeing my precious offspring (sadly, daughter no. 2 has a dissertation to write and couldn't make it), but giving the bike a good workout on some excellent riding roads.

The riding season is back. Praise be.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Elliott Morley - Poll Closed

Thanks to everyone who voted in the Elliott Morley poll, as mentioned in this post.

The question was:
How long will Elliott Morley go down for?
The majority of you thought he would get two years. One optimist thought four years or more (as if), and two cynics thought he would get off on a technicality.

The only person who would put his or her name to a definite guess was Brian (18 months), so he wins the prize by default. If he would care to get in touch and let me know his favoured text colour, then I will award his prize in due course.

Anna Raccoon

I have never been much of a joiner - clubs, societies, political parties; I might support what they do, or have an interest in what they promote, but in the end I can't stand the shenanigans that seem inevitable whenever two or three are gathered together to organise something. I joined the Triumph Owners' Club last year, and it has been a lot of fun, but even in this low-key organisation there are huffs and spats and hurt feelings and flouncing off in a temper. Luckily, this is all at national level and nothing to do with the guys and gals I go riding with, but it's a pain even reading about it in the club magazine.

I have never joined a political party and probably never will. Partly this is because there has never been a party whose aims I have wholeheartedly agreed, and whose programme I could support without caveat or reservation, and partly it's because I have an aversion to people telling me how and what I should be thinking and saying. I don't see myself as right- or left-wing, more as a believer in freedom and leaving people alone to live their lives as they think best. So I did, briefly, consider joining the Libertarian Party a while ago. Certainly their core beliefs accord quite well with mine, and I would probably have fitted in quite well.

But something stopped me. I read a lot of the stuff on the website and it somehow seemed wrong. Too many spelling and grammatical mistakes (not important in themselves, but an indicator) and too much of the tin-hat conspiracy theorist stuff for me to put my name to. So, after considering it briefly, I stayed away.

I'm glad I did. There is now a storm brewing. One of my favourite bloggers, Anna Raccoon, has a post today that tells of her experiences with the LPUK leader, Andrew P Withers, and a couple of other high-profile faces from the Libertarian blogosphere. It makes shocking reading. It's a long post, but worth reading to the end. Mr Withers has now stood down as LPUK Party Leader amid calls for a thorough investigation, and I am sure the matter won't end there.

I make no judgement as to the rights and wrongs of the story, nor for its accuracy, as I have no experience of the events beyond reading about them in my daily scan of the blogs. Anyone can be who they want to be on the internet, and it would be foolish to make judgements on the basis of a blogpost or an online persona. All I will say is that I have had intermittent contact with Anna over a couple of issues to do with the technical side of blogging, and she has always been unfailingly kind and supportive - on one occasion writing several screens' worth of technical advice when many would have said 'work it out'. She is one of the big names in the blog world and I am tiny in comparison, and I appreciate her assistance all the more for that.

By their works shall ye know them, and unless and until I see compelling evidence to the contrary I am inclined to trust what Anna has said and believe her account.

All very sad.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

ABCD - will you take part?

From Sonja's blog:

"Gary came up with a great idea, and I hope that lots of moto-bloggers will have the opportunity to take part in the the first WWW centerline challenge on the 1st of May.

Maybe you would like to join in with this.....

A Bloggers Centerline Day, or ABCD, will take place on Sunday 1st May 2011.

The plan is to inspire as many bloggers as possible to go outside and take a photograph of themselves on this day, wherever they are in the world. The photo can be creative, arty, contain more than one person, be in any type of location and can contain anything else you like. It must however contain the centerline of a road and at least part of you, the blogger.

There are 5 rules....

Rule 1 - the picture must be taken on 1st May 2011.

Rule 2 - the picture must be of yourself, and you must be a person that publishes a blog. You can include whatever else you like in the picture, including other people if you wish.

Rule 3 - the picture must include the centerline of a road.

Rule 4 – you should publish the picture on your blog on 1st May 2011, along with a few words about the picture and why you chose that location or pose.

Rule 5 - when you have posted the picture on your own blog, put a comment on http://garysusatour.blogspot.com/2011/04/abcd-will-you-take-part.html and include in that comment the address of your own blog post containing your own picture.

Gary France will then pick his favourite photos and publish these as being the winners. There will be a prize of $100 awarded to the overall single winner, as chosen by Gary.

In order to get this event known as widely as possible, please copy and paste this posting onto your own blog, including the title. Please do that today!

As a reminder to yourself to take the photo and post it, put an entry into your diary for 1st May 2011.

Let’s see if we can get as any people to join in as possible. "

Think I'll be having a go. Any reader with his/her own blog care to join in?

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Helmets and liberty

I posted a little while ago about cycle helmets, and the compulsion debate.

I like cycling, and I view it as an extension of walking. The idea of compulsory safety kit, or cycle registration, or mandatory licensing and testing fills me with horror. You can just buy a bike, get on it, and go: and that's how it should be. I can accept that systems of vehicle licensing and driver registration are necessary where cars and motorcycles are concerned. The principle difference is that in a car or on a motorbike, you can cause significant harm to other people, and that needs to be controlled in some way. A bicycle is essentially harmless, and it should remain free from state interference.

And then poor old Norman Baker goes and gets himself into all sorts of trouble:

Norman Baker, the minister responsible for cycling, walking and local transport – and lifelong bike enthusiast – has reignited a debate that divides bike lovers. The Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes has declared it his "libertarian right" to put himself at risk on roads by not wearing a helmet, prompting claims from road safety groups that he is unfit for the job.
Is it the law that one must wear a cycle helmet? No, it is not. Is Baker therefore free to choose whether he wears a helmet or not? Yes, he is. But that's not enough for the chiding, nagging governesses of the 'charity' Brake:
"Ministers should practise what they preach and when a minister directly responsible for cycling safety refuses to wear a cycle helmet, we then have to look at their suitability for the role."
Nice little scold, that one, as well as the classic illiteracy of 'their'. But Baker has it absolutely 100% right when he says this, and in the process proves himself to be a true Liberal (from the days when Liberal meant believing in freedom):
"It is a libertarian argument. The responsibility is only towards myself. It's not like drinking and driving where you can damage other people. You do no harm. I'm not encouraging people not to do this, I'm just saying I make a decision not to."
That's the key, and it is a truly Libertarian concept. If you do no harm to others, then you should be free to do as you please with your own life. It is no-one's business but your own. Thank God that someone in government feels this way and can articulate it. Brake obviously feels that the general public aren't intelligent or subtle enough to understand that someone may recommend one course of action while pursuing another. Note: recommend. If he were legislating for the rest of us to wear helmets by compulsion while not wearing one himself, that would be different. That would be like banning smoking from all enclosed public spaces while making the Palace of Westminster exempt, ha ha. But all he is saying is that wearing a helmet is a good idea, although he prefers not to. That's not too hard to understand, is it?

On a bicycle, I don't wear a helmet, and if it were made a legal requirement I would still not wear a helmet. On a motorcycle, I always wear a helmet, and would do so even if the compulsion to do so were removed. Partly, that's from comfort - the world is a different place at 70 mph compared to 15 mph, and I am rarely cycling for 200 miles at a stretch - but it's also from a concern for self-preservation. A fall on the head from a bicycle saddle is unlikely to cause serious head injuries (although it may), whereas a fall from a motorbike at speed would almost certainly be catastrophic. It's the old risk management thing: one is a small and acceptable risk; one is a large and unacceptable one.

I'm with Norman here. On a bicycle, I like the feeling of the wind in what remains of my hair, and the pleasure is enough to make the small risk a worthwhile one. On the other hand, if wearing a motorcycle helmet is a choice I make, then do I believe it should be compulsory for everyone? No, I don't. There is a massively-strong case for wearing one, but even that does not justify taking away people's freedom to live their own lives and make their own choices. The time for protesting against the helmet laws is long gone, and it's not a freedom I would go to the barricades over, but the principle is clear. If we're not free to go to Hell in our own way, then we're not free. There's a surprisingly robust defence of Baker in a comment piece in the Grauniad here, and the comments are surprisingly supportive of Baker (I suspect it is because they associate pro-helmet with anti-bike, and therefore Daily Mail-style wrongness). Support also here and here, where Brake's claim (on which the whole of their argument rests) that most cycling fatalities are caused by head injuries is blown apart.

Monday 11 April 2011

Boots update

I posted here about a bacteriological issue with my main (OK, only) pair of motorcycle boots, and an attempted solution involving Domestos and a lot of water. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a result.

The boots are now dry and back in service. And even sticking one's nose right inside only gets one the faintest odour of municipal chlorine. As someone whose highlight of the week at primary school was the visit to the 'swimming baths' as we used to call them, this is quite acceptable and even vaguely pleasant.

No ill effects on the boots, and they are now good for another season.

Cheap, effective, recommended.

All a matter of size

It is often said that American riders like their big, heavy Harleys because of all the straight roads in the States, whereas we like our sportsbikes because we have all the curves. But it's a matter of distance, too. On our crowded little island, we have no idea of how immense the USA really is.

Browsing the Triumph Rat forum, I came across this website: a map of the UK overlaid on a map of the USA. You can click and drag the UK map around, just for fun. I found it interesting and enlightening, and maybe you will too.

I live in the bottom left-hand corner of Wales (that's the bit sticking out to the left of the mainland, to those unfamiliar with British geography), and a good day's ride for me would be to cover perhaps half of that promontory. That would be perhaps the corner of just one state in the US. Riding 'coast to coast' takes on a whole new meaning. I did about 350 miles on the Bonneville last weekend, and it was about enough. It's not a bike built for big distances (the bike is capable of it, but the rider isn't so sure). Looking at the map overlay, you can see why a big heavy cruiser, with long wheelbase and laid-back, feet-forward armchair comfort, is the popular choice for American riders.

The place is huge. I need to go there, hire a Harley, and ride.

Sunday 10 April 2011


From Wikipedia:
A clerihew is a whimsical, four-line biographical poem invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley.

A clerihew has the following properties:

  • It is biographical and usually whimsical, showing the subject from an unusual point of view; it pokes fun at mostly famous people

  • It has four lines of irregular length and metre (for comic effect)

  • The rhyme structure is AABB; the subject matter and wording are often humorously contrived in order to achieve a rhyme

  • The first line contains, and may consist solely of, the subject's name.
  • Greg Ross at Futility Closet has some good examples. He doesn't permit comments overe there, so I will post my own favourite here:

    Cecil B. De Mille
    Much against his will
    Was persuaded to keep Moses
    Out of the Wars of the Roses.

      Saturday 9 April 2011

      Awesome cycling

      Human-powered (or perhaps gravity-powered) two-wheelers this time, shamelessly nicked from Counting Cats In Zanzibar. This guy has a pair of solid brass ones, that's for sure.

      Pop a Stugeron, sit down, belt up, and enjoy.

      For the interested, the VCA race run takes place in Valparaiso, Chile. And this guy wasn't even the winner. Perhaps the dog cost him a vital second.

      Friday 8 April 2011

      Interesting Registration Number

      I've been meaning to post this for a while, but never saw the vehicle when I had a camera on me. Today I did ...

      Indian Satnav

      Thursday 7 April 2011

      Elliot Morley, The Man Who Put The ...

      ... an old Scunthorpe joke, along the lines of Typhoo putting the 'T' in Britain. Work it out.

      Yes, Elliot Morley has pleaded guilty to dishonestly claiming more than £30,000 in expenses to which he was not entitled. Most of this related to a mortgage that had already been paid off - but which Morley claimed he had forgotten about. If there has been a more preposterous claim in the whole sorry affair of MPs' expenses, I have yet to hear it. To most people, paying off the mortgage is a significant event. You count down the months beforehand, imagining what you are going to be able to do with the hefty wodge that you have been paying to the building society every month for the past 20 or 25 years. But that's when it's your own money, of course. When it's someone else's, what's the fuss? Easy come, easy go.

      To Morley's credit, he has realised (or his brief has made him realise) that claiming it was a genuine oversight just wasn't going to wash in front of a jury of normal people, and he has turned in a plea of guilty.

      Let's see if we can work out how long this paragon of rectitude is going down for. Devine got 16 months (out in eight, and his brief said he hoped he would be out in four, but let's leave that for the time being). Morley's cheating was around four times the amount that Devine got, and it wasn't even semi-justifiable (Devine was merely claiming under the wrong heading to spend the money on his office; Morley was going for cash in the bank), so let's guess at 16 x 5, or 80 months. Knock off a third for the guilty plea, say 54 months - or four-and-a-half years. That's my calculation. I will be disappointed if it's much less, but I fear it will be. I'll be putting a poll at the top of the blog. Feel free to make a guess. (No prizes, but an honorable mention and your name in 16-point Times Roman in a colour of your choice for whoever gets closest.) Poll runs for a week, and he is due to be sentenced after 12 May.

      Incidentally, does anyone else think he looks a bit like Chris Farlowe?

      Baby, baby, you're out of time ...

      Oldie but goldie

      Suggested by a post over at Julia's place:

      A man hears a noise outside his house in the middle of the night. when he looks out of the window, he sees three youths trying to break into his shed. He calls the police and tells them what is happening.

      "Sorry, Sir, we have no-one available to respond at the moment. I suggest you stay inside, lock the doors and call us again in the morning."

      He goes outside, grapples with the youths, subdues them and brings them into the house, where he ties their hands and sits them on the floor. Then he phones the police again.

      "It's OK, I've shot them."

      Within five minutes, there are three police cars, an armed response unit, twenty officers, and four detectives on his property, with a helicopter with a Night Sun hovering in the sky above, bathing the area in bright light. The senior officer knocks on the door. The man invites him in and shows him the youths, sitting unharmed in the hallway.

      "I thought you said you had shot them."

      "I thought you said you had no-one available."

      What to do with smelly boots

      I posted here and here about my bike boots, a pair of Sidi Black Rain Evo. Overall, I am very impressed with them, with slight reservations about the ventilation and the quality of the zips. (Spraying the zips with silicon spray from Halfords has helped a lot.) But after four years they were starting to get unhygienic. As I posted here, I got them good and wet inside last weekend at the beginning of a 12-hour day on the bike. A day of dampness has turned the slight whiff (it's not cheesy feet, it's a nasty chemical smell) into a full-blown Satan's Halitosis experience.

      Yesterday I cleaned them inside with hot water and baby shampoo, and then made up a mix of sterilising fluid (the kind you use for baby feeding bottles, keeping the baby theme going). I poured this into the boots up to about ankle level and left it there for half an hour. To the boots' credit, not a drop escaped. I then rinsed them and left them to drain outside. It was a warm day and by evening they were more or less dry. The smell had reduced but not gone, so today I repeated the procedure, but with dilute Domestos.

      It might seem a brutal way to treat your kit, but it seems to have worked. Although they are not yet fully dry, all that sticking your nose in and inhaling deeply gets you is a faint odour of swimming pool. They haven't lost their shape or suffered any apparent harm.

      It's a last resort solution. If this doesn't work, then I will have to start looking for some new ones. With four years' daily use, and with the toes almost worn through (do I drag them in the corners that much?) I don't think they owe me anything now.

      Wednesday 6 April 2011

      Quote of the Decade, too ...

      ... from the previous post:
      The Government doesn't tell the people what to think and say. The people tell the Government what to think and say.
      Amen to that. If only.

      Rant of the Decade

      From Gates of Vienna, this most excellent rant in support of free speech.

      The lady is Ann Barnhardt, and the video is in response to a remark by Senator Lindsey Graham. Sen. Graham said, in response to a question about the Koran-burning of Pastor Terry Jones:
      Yeah, I wish there was some way we could hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we're in a war. During World War II you had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy. Any time we can push back here in America against actions like this that put our troops at risk, we ought to do it.
      Barnhardt takes this apart, sentence by sentence, and tears him a new one in the process. It's as fine a defence of free speech as I have heard, and an excellent example of sustained polemic. I doubt if Sen. Graham wants to hear the word 'jackass' ever again.

      (There is a Part 2, in which she reads out quotations from the Koran, then rips the pages out and burns them, and I am less comfortable with this. You can find the link for yourself if you want to see it. I believe she has the right to do this if she wishes, and I wouldn't hold her responsible if someone somewhere else in the world was murdered as a result of her video, but I feel it is a rather unnecessary provocation and to some extent devalues the excellent case she makes in the first part. It's a bit yah-boo for my tastes, and doesn't advance free speech or the case against violent Islam one iota. The choice of bacon for the bookmarks was inspired, however.)

      I won't make any comment on the video, as she says it all far better than I ever could. Balls of steel, if she had any, and we need more people like her in the West (and fewer like Cameron, busy apologising to Pakistan for Britain's sins while giving them £600m of our money that we really can't afford to give away).

      Sunday 3 April 2011

      Ride of Respect 2011 - the day itself

      I've just got back from an awesome day at the Ride of Respect 2011 at Royal Wootton Bassett. (I posted about it here and here for the background.)

      I missed my early alarm and ended up leaving the house at about 5.15 am, half an hour later than I had planned. I had been outside in my dressing gown to check the weather, which was mild and dry, so I opted for leathers rather than textile waterproofs. Of course, within two miles it was drizzling and then raining, and my boots filled with water. Once it's in, it's in (as it were), so there was little point in stopping to put waterproof overtrousers on at that stage. I met up with two friends from the TOMCC in Carmarthen, and we rode up together.

      We stopped at Leigh Delamere services on the M4 to grab another coffee and a chance to drain the previous one, and I took the opportunity to fix the flags on the bike ready for the ride. A large Welsh flag for Anna, and a small Union Flag for me (you don't carry an English flag in Wales if you know what's good for you). Already there were hundreds of bikes there.

      I was booked in to arrive between 8.00 and 9.00 am at Hullavington Airfield, and it was towards the end of that interval that we actually arrived. We were marshalled into rows on the main runway and told we had about an hour before we set off. In the end, this was nearer to two hours, but the purchase of a bacon roll and a coffee made this quite a pleasant wait. As usual at motorcycle events, everyone there was a friend you just hadn't met yet. It was amazing to see so many bikes in one place.

      There was this little scallywag there:

      and some who could barely keep their eyes open:

      All kinds of bikes were there - many sportsbikes, but just as many Harleys and cruisers, lots of GoldWings, hundreds of trikes, and a smattering of learner bikes, trailies and even a couple of proper Mod-style Lambrettas, complete with RAF roundels and zillions of mirrors. Many had national flags of various kinds, and many had special Ride of Respect 'Thank You' flags. There were lots of military bikers and their families, too. All two-wheeled life was there.

      I have no pictures from the ride through Royal Wootton Bassett itself and the surrounding villages, as I was fully occupied in keeping the bike upright, but the experience was amazing. The avowed purpose of the ride was to say 'thank you' to the people of RWB for their dignity and compassion in watching so many of our brave troops make their last journey home through RAF Lyneham, but many of the people seemed to want to say 'thank you' to the bikers who came from all corners of the UK to see them. I found this quite hard to handle, and could merely say "no, thank you" in response. It was a happy, friendly and emotional experience, which must have gone some way to counterpoint the many sombre occasions that RWB has seen. All along the route, people had decorated their houses and gardens with Union Flags and bunting, and many had brought furniture out and were treating the day as a spectacle, with sandwiches and a Thermos flask. They waved, we waved; they shouted, we tooted our horns; they pointed at us, we revved the nuts off our bikes in reply; they reached out their hands and we high-fived them as we passed. Many children were along the route, waving and smiling, and I think everyone present was grinning from start to finish. It was joyous.

      (Incidentally, the high-fiving of stationary pedestrians was quite a feat even at 5 mph, especially if they were young and low to the ground. One biker had stopped towards the end to take photographs and held his hand out to me as I was passing at about 30 mph. Afterwards, I had my hand clamped under my other armpit in pain, and when I checked in my mirror he was still spinning like an ice skater as I left the village.)

      Two moments stand out for me. One was an elderly gentleman standing in his small garden holding a little brown dog in his arms, holding the dog's paw and making it wave to all the passing bikes. He got a special wave and a loud toot from me. The other was the people in the house in (I think) Malmesbury with a Welsh flag on display, who saw my red dragon and went wild. I almost fell off with waving and grinning at them. It was a good job I couldn't stop and explain that I wasn't really very Welsh, and that the flag was really for someone else.

      Once through RWB, it was all over and we were decanted back onto the M4 and headed for Wales again. We took the journey home a little more easily than we did the frantic journey up, and I was home by about 5 pm. I emptied the water out of my boots (they are truly waterproof, and didn't let a drop out) and surveyed the purple dye that had leached out of my leather trousers and onto my legs, making me look as if I were in the advanced stages of some gross vascular disease.

      The Bonnie didn't miss a beat all day, although it went through three tankfuls of best unleaded. I did try to use the free satnav on the iPhone for the last stages of the journey, but it was a little unsatisfactory. I put the phone in the clear panel on top of the tank bag, but with the movement of the bike it slid around a little and often decided that it was upside down and displayed the info screen the wrong way up. With a proper mount, upright and more visible to the rider, it would have been better, so a report on this will have to wait for another day. Two things I have noticed, however, are that using the GPS chipset gets the phone very hot, and also that with the GPS in use it eats the battery in no time at all. A permanent power supply is essential.

      I am now cold, stiff and ready for bed, so that's where I am going. It was a great day and well worth doing. RAF Lyneham will soon be closing, so there will no longer be a role for RWB, but I am hoping that next year on Mother's Day there will be something else of this nature planned. A long ride, lots of friendly people, and a bacon roll - what more would anyone want?

      Apart from raising an estimated £130,000 for Afghan Heroes, of course.

      BBC report here.

      Saturday 2 April 2011

      Madness. I mean - huh?

      Seen over at Captain Ranty's a few days ago, and I can't get the images out of my head. This is so utterly bizarre that it defies categorisation. Watch and be baffled.

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