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

- George Washington

Saturday 31 December 2011

Sink One For Me

I have just got in from work and eaten. Shortly I will be going to bed ready for a 4.30 am start tomorrow. I have debated staying up and seeing in the New Year, or even just setting an alarm for 11.55 and doing ten minutes, but at my age lack of sleep is paid for dearly the next day, so I will sleep through the whole thing and miss the drunks and the breathalysers and the forced jollity and the morose staring-at-the-wall self-examination jags. It feels a bit wrong, though. I was brought up in the North of England, and up there we take the New Year seriously, with first-footing, lumps of coal and the whole thing. But I have never been all that committed to the idea of celebrating the clicking over of another mile on nature's odometer. Once it stopped being an excuse to snog all those girls who wouldn't speak to you for the other 364, it kind of lost its shine.

So, before I go to bed, allow me to wish you, and all of those you care for, a very Happy New Year, and all good fortune and good health for 2012.

And to all motorcyclists, may I wish a safe, prosecution-free and utterly bend-swinging 12 months. Especially those who are still riding in December.

You know who you are.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Need my head sorting out

Yep, it's confirmed. A few days standing out in the rain in November have wrecked my head.

I'd better clarify. While I was under orders to keep the garage clear so that the kitchen fitters would have somewhere to leave the flat-packs (after first getting it clear, in comparison to which the Augean Stables were a bit of light dusting) the poor old Sprint had to sit outside in the wind and rain. When the flat-packs were unflatpacked and installed, the garage became a kind of dumping-ground for bags of grout, fractions of floor-tile and odd bits of plastic whose purpose was never quite clear. This situation lasted for about six weeks in all, during which the weather was proper Welsh wet. The XT suffers this treatment all the time, of course, but seems to be able to shrug it off. This is one of the great advantages of using a trail bike as a drudge - they are built to get wet and mucky, and to fall over a lot, so a bit of rain and rough treatment is hardly going to upset them. Bearings are sealed, O-rings are everywhere, cables have little rubber boots on to keep the water out, and everything is designed to be as weatherproof and durable as posible. A two-wheeled Land Rover, if you like. It isn't that the Sprint is delicate (people I talk to in the forums run them year-round and to astronomical mileages) but it doesn't shrug things off like the XT does. It needs looking after.

And after six weeks of not being looked after, the steering had virtually seized. Moving the bars from side to side was like stirring a bucket full of stones. A bit of gentle toing-and-froing got it to move a bit easier, but it was clearly in need of attention. Rumour has it that the steering head bearings are not over-lavishly lubricated from the factory, so it's a failure that is waiting to happen. The schedule says to dismantle, clean, lubricate and adjust the head bearings every two years. The bike is 9 years old and there's no evidence it has ever been done, so it's not a surprise that things have gone wrong.

It was a dry afternoon here today, so I took it out for a gentle ride. Well, it started gently, anyway. It wasn't as bad as I had feared. The bike was quite rideable, but every corner was threepenny-bitted (should that be fifty-penced these days?) and cornering at speed felt none too secure. Even straight line riding was a bit weavy, but not bad enough to prevent some checking of the power curve. All in order there. So there's no putting it off or hoping it will get better on its own - something must be done. It's bang-on due for its 12,000 mile service now, and dealing with the steering head is part of the schedule, so it is now in the garage again and when I get a bit of time I will make a start. 12k is the big one, and there is lots to do. Luckily the XT is romping round like a teenager at the moment, so it's no hardship - and in fact a considerable luxury - to take the Sprint off the road and give it some proper attention while the XT continues its winter duties.

I suspect that cleaning and lubing the bearings won't be enough. They feel too far gone, so I will be ordering up a new set shortly.

Monday 26 December 2011

What Santa Brought

Well, blow me down, I'm the owner of a Kindle. Like this:

Despite misgivings since I first heard of them (I'm a lover of books - just look at my spare room - and that's the books themselves as well as the contents of the books), I'm getting on pretty well with it so far. The Kindle came with a voucher for my first purchase, so I treated myself to a book that has been on my wishlist but overlooked by my family and friends for ages now: These Are The Days That Must Happen To You by Dan Walsh. Endemoniada_88 will know it; in fact, I think he recommended it to me.

I'm already half-way through it, and the 'reading experience' is a little unusual but perfectly acceptable. I'll post a bit more when I have had the thing a bit longer, but first impressions are very good.

Oh, and the book is a cracker.

Sunday 25 December 2011

Pope berates Christmas 'glitter'

According to the BBC.

Says the most glittery man on television.

'Glittery'. Hmmm. No comment.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Grease and Seatings

I'd normally be asleep now ready for tonight's night shift, but something woke me at 11 am and I can't get back off. Presents to wrap, things to do and a 'see you soon' post to write for the blog. Back to work tonight at six, home tomorrow by about nine, and then I am off for three days. That's good.

I doubt if I will get near a keyboard until the festeringitivities are over, so here's this blog's Official Christmas Message:

To everyone who has read this blog, and especially those who have taken the time and trouble to comment and contribute to some lively, humorous and (occasionally) intelligent debate, and even more especially to those bloggers who are kind enough to include me in their blogrolls and bring me much-needed visitor numbers, I would say Thank You. And for the next few days, I hope you all say No to the world and its demands, and spend a bit of time doing things that matter to you with people who matter to you. If that means a big traditional family Christmas, or getting pissed and having athletic and risky sex with your next-door neighbour, or going off for a ride into the hills by yourself, or just reading a book, then I wish you well in the doing of it. And I'll see you back here when it's all blown over.

Someone at work gave me a black-and-white Santa hat with 'Bah Humbug' embroidered on the rim. I will be wearing that constantly until told to take it off. And, since I can't find a worse image for my Christmas Post, here he is again:

Happy Christmas!

Monday 19 December 2011


Leg-Iron owes me a new keyboard.
These days, clearing up after motorway crashes is a breeze. The police close their eyes and count to ten and when they open them, a Romanian gang has nicked all the wreckage.

I thought he already was ...

... dead, that is.

A triumph of the enbalmer's art. But they can never get the hands right.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Footwear for Christmas Shopping

What Not To Wear:

Grandma wearing Crocs with socks, grand-daughter wearing Tesco Value Ugg Boots.

Crocs are a horrendous crime against taste in any event. They look like those ghastly jelly sandals you had for the beach when you were a kid, but without the carefree style, panache and pretty colours. Not only do they look awful, but they make you think of sweaty, scaly feet and horn-like yellow toenails. Yuk. But to wear them with socks? Dear oh dear.

Ugg boots are an uggly shape and make the wearer look flat-footed, like a cartoon drawn by someone who has difficulty with the human form. But at least the real ones look well-made and like they might last more than ten minutes. These were from a pound shop, I think, and looked profoundly uncomfortable.

(Before you think I am making fun of people who are too poor to afford proper clothes, I should say that this was in a queue for the most expensive knicky-knacky shop in the area and they arrived in a newish 4x4. I was there merely because I knew what I had to get for my Secret Santee at work, and there was only one place to get it. Honest.)

How to do it better?

This wasn't a bad effort:


... for lack of posting this last week. I have been working 12-hour shifts and trying to fit in extra days to make up my quota for the year, and there hasn't been time to do more than read the blogs and think 'wish I had said that'.

Today, tomorrow and Tuesday off, then it's back on nights. All my Christmas shopping to do in between. I am working Christmas Eve and will finish on Christmas Day at 8.00 am. I'm even working a couple of extra hours so that a colleague who has young kids can spend a bit of time with them on Christmas morning. I'm soft like that.

Meanwhile, radios at work have all been tuned to something called 'Smooth Radio'. I'm suspicious of any music described as 'smooth', because that usually means easy listening - something I do not find easy. They seem to be playing the same 10 or so songs (you all know which ones I mean, Bing Crosby to The Pogues via Slade and Wizzard) over and over again. It is driving me absolutely fucking mental.

I don't find Christmas very easy to deal with at the best of times, and I'd prefer to ignore it if at all possible. So the next time I hear "Feed The Waa-aaarld" will be imagining feeding Geldof his own eyeballs in vinegar.
So this is Christmas. And what have you done?
Buried an axe in your forehead, you hypocritical old wife-beater.

I will be issuing an Official Christmas Message just as soon as I find an image pornographic or scurrilous enough to make it worth while. In the mean time ...

I know it's adolescent, but ...

I did have a chuckle at this:
He was comforted in his final moments by his wife Dagmara and several nuns, his secretary was quoted as saying.
Great man, poor choice of words.

Saturday 10 December 2011

Spelling *does* matter

The BBC are usually fairly rigorous in at least one thing - they get the spelling and grammar of their output right most of the time. Pity they aren't as rigorous over their duty to be impartial and unbiased, but never mind.

But then I spotted this howler in an article on the follow-up to the 'cheating examiners' scandal:
Ofqual is to look at the issue - and that of companies linked with exam boards selling text books and study aides.
This is illegal. Selling people was made unlawful with the end of the slave trade. Although if the aide concerned was cute, I might overlook it.

From Merriam Webster:
AIDE, noun : a person who acts as an assistant
AID, noun : tangible means of assistance
I think study guides come under the second definition.

The sad thing, or course, is not that nobody pays much attention to this any more, but they don't see that it matters at all.


Extra bad-taste humour insert: apocryphal graffito in Boots The Chemist -
Don't they have enough to put up with?

Thursday 8 December 2011

Exam Cheats

I have been scandalised by the revelations from today's Telegraph that the exam boards are actively colluding with teachers to help children pass their exams. Scandalised, but not surprised. This is only the final stage of a process that has been going on for 25 years.

Declaration of interest: from 1977 to 1995 I was a teacher of English in several state schools, the last 5 years as Head of Department and Head of Faculty, where I had a lot to do with exams and exam boards. In mid-career, I was also an Assistant Examiner for one of the big Northern exam boards. I sat all their exams as a student in the 60s, and they were then known as the Joint Matriculation Board or JMB. With the introduction of GCSE in 1986 they merged with the regional CSE boards to become the Northern Examining Association or NEA and later, in a set of moves that would grace a City boardroom, merged with other boards to become their current incarnation, the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance or AQA (pronounced 'aqua' to those in the know, apparently). My involvement was for four years over the introduction of the GCSE in the late 80s, where I examined about 1000 scripts a year in English Language and Literature.

When I was a wee nipper in the 60s, the exam board/school/pupil relationship was simple. You wanted to pass; your teachers wanted you to pass but were terrified of the exam board; and the exam board apparently hated everyone and wanted all but the brightest to fail. They ruled. Well, that's what we thought, and it kept everyone on their toes, and the schools were kept honest. These days, the kids still want to pass, and so do the schools, but the difference is that the exam boards are now leaning over backwards to get their pass rates as high as possible too. I can see three reasons for this:
  • One, the exam boards are stuffed from the top down with left-leaning right-on types, who are desperate to make sure that 'the kids' are encouraged to be successful, and never (or hardly ever) fail at anything. There is a distrust of the old 'standards' and a view that strictness is 'inappropriate' and 'elitist'.
  • Two, there has been a move from norm-referencing (where a certain percentage of the cohort get an A grade, the tranche below get a B, and so on) to criterion-referencing, where a candidate gains marks by demonstrating certain knowledge or skills, and if they demonstrate the qualities of an A grade, then an A grade they get, no matter how many others in the year do the same. Hence the difficulties the top universities have in discriminating between the merely good candidates and the excellent (see the Laura Spence débacle), and the necessity of the introduction of the A* grade.
  • Three, the exam boards have moved from being the dominant partner to being the customer of the schools. Unless they keep the schools signing up year after year, then they go out of business - and the easiest way to do that is ... well, it's not to be the strictest kid on the block, that's for sure. The move towards boards who were known to be 'easier' was well under way between 1985 and 1990, so it's nothing new.
And we all know where these things lead, don't we? Every year, results are better, standards have been 'proven' to have risen (after all, exam results don't lie, do they?) and everyone feels happy. The students for getting the grades they want, the teachers for having more proof of a good job done, and the government for presiding over a system that produces ever-rising standards.

Except it doesn't. No-one who has looked at an O-level paper from the 1960s and compared it with an equivalent GCSE paper from the last ten years can be in any doubt - in those days, exams were far, far harder, and asked much more from the candidates. I will give you just one example from my own experience, although there are thousands. (Incidentally, teachers will tell you that the exams today aren't easier, they just test different things. Well, yes they do, and that's the whole point.)

When I was an Assistant Examiner for NEA, I had to attend an examiner's meeting in the weeks prior to the exam date. We looked over the paper and, with the help of the Chief Examiner, decided on a mark scheme. It was at one of these meetings that I realised the way things were going. I can't remember the exact work in question, nor the exact questions asked, so you will have to rely on my memory to give the flavour of the paper. It was the Practical Criticism section from the Literature paper. In this, the student is presented with a poem or passage they have (in theory) never seen before, or at least have not prepared in advance. The poem or passage is therefore kept highly secret until the day of the exam. The candidates are asked to write a response to the work, to demonstrate the critical skills they have acquired over the course. For me, it is an excellent test of the candidate's ability. It's a bit like spending a year learning how to repair cars, and then being given a non-starter and told "fix that!" You're on your own, sink or swim.

I'll take as the poem one that I posted a while ago (The Convergence of the Twain by Thomas Hardy) so you can play the game along with the children. Go and read it, I'll go to the loo, back in five, OK?


You're back in the room.

OK, here's my imperfect recollection of the type of question that was asked:
Read the following poem by Thomas Hardy, a Victorian writer who (blah, blah etc, bit of background). It is about the sinking of the ship Titanic, which was (blah, blah, bit of history). You are advised to read it at least twice, and concentrate on working out the bits you find harder to understand. Then write a criticism (an essay in which you analyse the poem carefully from your own viewpoint), bearing in mind the following points:
  • The poet's use of rhyme in the poem, and its structure
  • The length of the lines, and the pattern they make
  • Why do you think Hardy chose to write in short stanzas (verses or sections)?
  • His use of words like "grotesque", "dim" and "slimed" - what is he trying to convey?
  • The contrast between the seabed landscape and the interior of the ship - what is Hardy trying to say here?
  • Why do you think Hardy uses capital letters for Immanent Will and Spinner of the Years?
  • Explore the different meanings of 'hemispheres' in stanza XI
  • What comment do you think Hardy is trying to make on the way people think of themselves and how important they are?
* Pyre - funeral fire
* Salamandrine - relating to a mythical lizard that was able to live in fire
* Opulent - rich
* Immanent - existing within something, inherent
* Consummation - a fulfilment or finalisation

This question is worth 20 marks, and you should spend approximately 45 minutes on it.
And, for comparison, the type of question set on the same poem in 1964:
Write a criticism of this poem. (20)
OK, I was exaggerating the first one, but not by much. The examiners were so keen to give every child the chance of saying something about the poem, that they virtually wrote the answer for them. It became a tick-the-box exercise. Rhyme, check. Rhythm, check. Imagery, check. Difficult word, look at the glossary. No need for the higher critical skills of close reading, wide vocabulary, mature understanding, comparison with other work after wide reading, or marshalling the thoughts into a cogent and structured response, or saying something fucking original in response to a great writer. Of course, some candidates impress you, even after this amount of spoon-feeding. The problem was that the dullard who merely followed instructions and remembered a few basics was getting 17 marks through sheer persistence. You could reward the outstanding candidate with 19 or even 20, but the difference between the average and the excellent could only ever be a couple of marks.

I questioned this at the examiners' meeting, to be told that all children needed to be given the chance to succeed, and that I was being elitist and unenlightened to complain. Some of them come from homes without books, you know, and we have to give them a fair chance. (Yes, we do, absolutely we do, but the way to do that is to teach them properly in the first place, not make the exam easier.) It was made clear that one did not question the wisdom of the Board, so I got on with it and did the best I could. An extra £500 a year when you have two small children to support is not to be sneezed at.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why standards are 'rising' year on year. We are testing different things, to be sure. We are now testing the ability to remember something when prompted. We used to test the ability to think critically. There's a big difference.

And that is why I am not surprised to hear that it has gone one stage further, and that examiners telling teachers "We're cheating. Probably the regulator will tell us off" and you should choose us because "you don't have to teach a lot".

And, of course, what happens at GCSE level trickles down to the infants eventually. The whole system has become corrupted. It needs root-and-branch reform.

The rot started under the Tories, of course - Mark Carlisle, Keith Joseph and Kenneth Baker. If another Tory, Michael Gove, can sort it out, he will be a hero to the likes of me. People who believe in education.

Bravo Telegraph for blowing it apart.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Rescue Cat has found the warmest place in the house.

"Grotesque double standards"

One. A gang of Muslim girls kick a white girl, who is lying on the ground, repeatedly in the head and pull her hair out, leaving a bald patch, while shouting "kill the white slag" and "white bitch". As the court deems the attacks out of character because the girls were "not used to drinking", they are given suspended sentences. The attack, which was caught on CCTV, was not held to be racially-aggravated. The victim has since had to give up her job due to panic attacks and flashbacks.

Two. A white woman on a tram delivers a foul-mouthed and ignorant tirade against "blacks" and "Polish", which is captured on video by another passenger and out on YouTube. Although her remarks were hostile and unpleasant, no-one was physically harmed during her outburst. She is currently being held on remand until 3 January - effectively already serving a sentence of over a month's imprisonment- and has had her child taken away from her. She is being held in a prison with the highest security rating, along with the most serious female criminals.

I'm trying to make sense of this. It would seem, in the words of Dr Sean Gabb in an excellent summary of the situation here, to be an example of "grotesque double standards". The perpetrators in both cases were young and female, so there are no 'gender issues' to take into account. Both cases involved racist attitudes, expressed openly - one as the justification for the attack and one as the basis of a verbal tirade.

There are only two differences between the cases to justify such disparate treatment, as far as can see. One is that the first case involved physical violence, whereas the second was merely a verbal rant. In any sane society, the violence would be punished far more severely than the verbal attack, but this appears to be reversed in these cases. The second is that one set of perpetrators were Somali Muslims and the other was a white working-class woman. Apparently, your racial origin is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Which is racist, but never mind that.

We're in a looking-glass world, folks.

Is iGoogle borked?

I have iGoogle as my homepage. I rely on it for news headlines, Google Reader, bookmarks, mail headers and a whole lot more. In modern terms, it's an important part of my 'online browsing experience'. Today, I get the page top (themed currently to a Gibson SG Special as played by Slowhand, nice) and the bottom bits with half a dozen contacts, and that's it. No middle, no gadgets, no nuffin. If I reload the page, the gadgets appear briefly and then disappear again.

Is it just me, or is Google temporarily borked?

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Another thought-experiment

Here's a truly shocking story from the Mail:
A gang of Christian women who attacked a passer-by in a city centre walked free from court after a judge heard they were ‘not used to being drunk’ because of their religion.

The group – three sisters and a cousin – allegedly screamed ‘kill the black slag’ as they set upon Ambaro Maxamed as she waited for a taxi with her boyfriend.

Miss Maxamed, 22, was left with a bald patch where her hair was pulled out in the attack and was left ‘black and blue’ after suffering a flurry of kicks to the head, back, arms and legs while motionless on the pavement.

Rhea Page, 24, students Tracy Page, 28, and Chelsea Page, 24, and their 28-year-old cousin Shaznay Smith each admitted actual bodily harm, which carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment.

But Judge Robert Brown gave them suspended jail terms after hearing mitigation that as Christians, the women were not used to being drunk. The Bible prohibits Christians from consuming alcohol, although Christian teachings permit its use for medicinal purposes.

After the sentencing, Rhea Page wrote on her Twitter account: ‘Happy happy happy!’, ‘I’m so going out’, and ‘Today has been such a great day’.

Yesterday Miss Maxamed, a care worker, called the sentence ‘disgusting’ and said the gang deserved ‘immediate custody’.

‘It’s no punishment at all,’ she said. ‘And for them to say they did it because they were not used to alcohol is no excuse. If they were not supposed to be drinking then they shouldn’t have been out in bars at that time of night.

‘Even after the police came and they all ran away, one of them came running back to kick me in the head one last time.

‘I honestly think they attacked me just because I am black. I can’t think of any other reason.’

None of the defendants was charged with racial aggravation.

Speaking at her home, Tracy Page said: ‘I’m not proud of it, it’s not something I want to talk about. I just want to get on with my life.’

When asked if she wanted to apologise, she replied: ‘What, to the public? I really don’t care.'
Yes, I've played around with the detail, like I did here, but the story is the same. The words quoted above make it clear to any fair-minded person that this was a racially-motivated attack. It does not help the cause of racial harmony (something I am very much in favour of, lest anyone wishes to call this post racist) when the law only sees racism coming from one side. People get the message - the charge of 'racism' is a tool to punish whites and no-one else - and they draw their own conclusions. Those conclusions lead to the rise of organisations like the BNP.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Ahead of the Bookies

I am possibly the only person in the UK who has gambled and has made money on it, to the extent that I am ahead of the bookmakers, and always will be. Here's how I did it:

I was about 13 years old, and hanging about at a friend's house one afternoon, doing nothing in particular. Probably smoking (his parents didn't mind) and eating those chocolate eclair things you got from the sweetshop. Another friend called round, accompanied by his 18-year-old brother. They said they were - gasp - going to the bookies and did we want to put a bet on?. This was such a wonderfully grown-up thing to be doing (it went along with other adult skills like going to the pub or carrying a cigarette in the corner of your mouth while doing something else) that we jumped at the chance, while appearing completely nonchalant.

"Yeah, might do."

Friend's friend's brother got out the newspaper and showed us the list of runners. Towards the bottom was a horse (at least I assume it was a horse, not being very au fait with the details) called Midnight Marauder. The name had a certain ring to it, and I gave him a shilling to put on the beast on my behalf. Odds were 14 to 1, not that I understood what that meant.

The best thing for me would have been for it to have come last, but it didn't. It romped home ahead of the field, and the 'big boy' gave me fourteen shillings and - to my astonishment - my original stake back. It felt like a million dollars.

I went home and told my Dad. This was a mistake, as I should have remembered that he was from the clean-living, temperance end of working-class culture and despised gambling in all its forms. But he didn't tell me off. In what was a remarkably far-sighted response, he merely said "well, that means if you never gamble again, you will always be ahead of the bookies, and there's not many in England can say that".

I didn't, and I am, and I can.

I don't have the moral objection to it that he did, although I haven't seen families ruined and put out on the street as a result of it as he had done, and maybe I would feel differently if I had. No, my objection is purely practical - gambling is pointless, because you will always lose in the long run.

The secret is not doing it in the long run.

(There's a huge fuss going on at the moment about teaching children about gambling. If that teaching involves explaining how it all works, and that it is a zero-sum game, with the money flowing from the punter to those who own the game (bookies or, come to that, city traders) and never the other way round, then I am all for it.)

Monday 5 December 2011

Sweet! (or should that be 'suite'?)

I wrote recently about getting a new larger Givi topbox to match the small one that came with the Sprint. I now have two bikes with identical mounting plates, and two differently-sized* boxes. This is majorly convenient and adaptable: short trips and commutes on either bike, and longer trips or shopping expeditions on either bike. It's working well.

One thing remained: the keys. I usually attach the topbox keys to the ignition keys, as I would always be forgetting them otherwise. Swapping boxes over would therefore mean a lot of struggling and broken nails with swapping the keys to the other ignition set, and that just looks like a hassle too far for a system that was meant to be easy and convenient. Having the box keys on separate rings with a carabiner clip would be easier, but would mean labelling it all, and a lot of metalwork clanking about while the bike was in motion. No, that won't do either.

The other issue was the lack of a spare key for the small box. The Sprint came with one set of keys and a promise that the spare set were with the previous owner and would be found as soon as possible. I get a bit nervous if I don't have a spare set somewhere, so I pressed the dealer to get them from the previous owner (I was assured they were there and 'just forgotten'). However, after a lot of nagging and a series of variably-plausible excuses, I have come to realise that the spare set are not recoverable. A spare Triumph ignition key is on order and should be easily sorted, but a spare Givi key is not so easy. After a fair bit of research, it seems that Givi no longer sell individual keys. You have to buy a new lock.

You know that cheesy inspirational thing about when life gives you lemons, make lemonade? Well, I think I have just produced a pint ot two. For fourteen of your Earth pounds (£17 including postage), you can get a two-lock set: two barrels, two lock housings, two circlips and four keys. I ordered some from Motorcycle Planet after checking the part number of the set I needed with Givi - part number Z227, if anyone's interested - and a few days later they arrived. I was a bit nervous about fitting them. After all, it's locks, and that means deliberately difficult with some designed-in gotchas, doesn't it? But in the end it was simple, and I changed the locks in both boxes in about half an hour. The first one took 25 minutes, the second five, so that shows how easy it was after you have worked out what to do. And that included cleaning out road muck from the attachment mechanisms as well, and a quick lube of the relevant bits.

I'm not going to detail the procedure here, for obvious reasons. Suffice it to say that once you have the box off the bike and open, it's completely logical. I needed a cross-point screwdriver, a small electrical screwdriver (for the E-clip holding the thing together) and a pair of needle-nose pliers to snap it all back. You will need strong hands, too. Both for re-assembling the lock and for re-attaching it to the box, you need to hold things together against spring pressure, and on each lock I had to re-attach the lock to the box twice (lining it up better the second time) to get it to work.

Two words of warning:
  1. Before you take the E-clip off to release the lock mechanism, memorise how the thing looks, or even better take a photo. It can go back in at least 8 different orientations, and only one of those will work.
  2. Check the mechanism clamping the lid down, and the operation of the lock and attachment release before closing the box to check your work. If it closes and you have got it wrong, it's likely you will need to drill the lock out to open it again.
So now I have a set of keys for each bike, each with a Givi key that will open either box. Oh, and two spares. I believe that the modern term for this is 'suiting' the locks, but I just think it's sweet.

*See how I avoided giving offence there?

Thursday 1 December 2011

You've been Clarksonned!

I choked on my polenta when I was listening to BBC News over supper and heard some grim harridan talking about the offence she had taken (on behalf of her members, as I think she was something to do with a union) at Saint Jeremy's comments on The One Show.

I was going to write a foaming and angry post about how some people just need to get a life and see a jokey remark as just that, but then I saw this post by The Heresiarch and decided not to bother. He says it all far better than I could, and fillets UNISON's press release mercilessly.

I didn't think anything could make me think worse of trades union leaders than I already did, but their response has proved me wrong.


A bit like those the left makes about dancing on Thatcher's grave, or blowing up schoolchildren in the cause of climate change. Those were humorous, weren't they?

Weren't they?

How I got into all this

Via Sonja, I learn that Gary France has a post up describing how he got into motorcycling, and throws out the challenge for other people to do the same. So here's my tuppence-worth.

I think I've always treasured mobility. I had a tricycle very young, and then got onto two wheels as soon as I was able. I can still remember the moment I took to my wings on a bicycle. My Dad had his hand under the saddle as we wobbled along the road, then the coins in his pocket started jungling as he ran faster, and then the noise stopped. He had stopped running and I was still going - therefore, I was riding under my own steam. The feeling of euphoria and sheer bloody joy when I realised I could do it by myself was overwhelming, and I have never looked back. I cycled everywhere as a child (even running away from home on it once, and getting down the A1 and into the next county before I realised that I was hungry - I think I was 9) and getting a powered two-wheeler was an ambition from the age of about 12.

Parents forbade it, of course (and, looking back, rightly so), but I had plenty of friends with scooters and Cubs and C15s and Honda CB72s, so I got plenty of 'goes'. It was only a matter of time, and money, before I had my own.

The first bike was a Honda C70 in banana yellow, bought new from Watson Cairns in Leeds with a loan from my Dad. I was at University at the time, and the excuse was that it would save him all those tedious car journeys to take me there and back, but really it was just a chance to fulfil an ambition. I loved that bike, and it took me all over the place, but I hankered after something bigger. I passed my test on the C70 and soon afterwards traded it in for the only 'big' bike that I could afford, a Jawa 350 two-stroke twin. That bike deserves a whole post to itself, but suffice it to say that it got me a lot of places for three years and broke my spirit with its unreliability and general shittiness. One good thing was that it left me with a complete lack of fear about taking things apart to mend them, and the ability to strip a two-stroke and fit new crank seals, pistons and rings in a dark room with my eyes shut.

I haven't always had a bike since then. Like many others, marriage meant a proper car and I did without a bike for a year or two. And a period of serious illness later on meant that making monthly repayments on a bike I was not using was unsustainable, and at that point I truly believed my biking days were over. My balance had gone, and I didn't know if it would ever come back.

But I did get better, slowly, and soon I was back at work, this time in a training role for an advertising paper. The company acquired a biking website and installed a die-hard rider as its head honcho. Via company email, he asked for anyone with the vaguest interest to post bike reviews on the website, just to generate some much-needed content. I posted one, then two, then many more, and as I did so, I realised that I was missing motorcycling more than I could have imagined. A vague, hands-in-pockets, whistling-at-the-sky visit to my local dealership ensued, and a week after that a 3-year-old Yamaha XT660 was on my driveway. It had been ten years since I had last ridden, and that first ride was a strange affair. After ten years in a car I felt very vulnerable and small, but I soon got over that and was riding every day. Even so, I reckon it took me about a year to get my 'bike head' back on.

So here I am today, with an old scrapper of a trailbike for the commuting duties and a nice shiny sports-tourer for the faster days and longer rides. And I won't be giving it up again so easily.

Cold, dead hands, and all that.
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