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

- George Washington

Thursday 28 June 2012

Dogs, balls and water

I was sent these images by a work colleague and thought they were worth sharing.  According to the introductory text, they were taken by a 'famous photographer' in California, with a 'high resolution' underwater camera.  Hmm, typical interweb attribution, but I think the images speak for themselves. What intrigues me is the way that so many of the dogs look like those weird deep-sea fish that were the stuff of childhood nightmares when I first saw them in a copy of National Geographic at the age of about six.

Here you go, click to enlarge.  Bonkers Dog would have loved this.

Things you always suspected about Tony Blair No. 1

The Daily Mail seems to have an insight which it manages to share with us in the most subtle way.

Here's the headline:
I would like another crack at being PM says Tony Blair

Here's the address of the linked page:

So now you know.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Parish Notice

I'm afraid I am back to work tonight.  The night shift isn't what it used to be.  In the old days, before the 'restructuring', I was managing a team and could usually find a bit of time during the night hours to catch up on webular activities on the office puter.  These days, I am out in the dark and doing what I used to manage other people doing.  It's not bad work by a long way, but it does mean that access to the interwebs is severely limited.  And during the day, I will be asleep.

Probably no posts for a couple of days, is what this means.  I haven't forgotten you.

Who said bikes don't have personalities?

Anyone who has read this blog for a while (both of you) will know that I am very fond indeed of my scabby old Yamaha XT.  Bought as a disposable drudge bike to save a pristine Ducati from a muddy commute, it has become my keeper and vehicle of choice if the distance is under 50 miles and the expected speeds modest.  I've serviced and repaired it, and made it convenient and reliable.  There's a lot of me in this bike, and it has outlasted four much better and more expensive bikes that turned out to be just passing through.

It photographs better than it looks

Obviously, it didn't catch the selector's eye when it came to the Big Europe Trip with D2.  Not fast enough, not comfy enough, not stable enough.  200 miles on the autobahn would have left us crippled.  D2 and I were sitting on the floor on the Eurotunnel train to Calais (as you have to), watching the Sprint rock gently to and fro, and I was musing about leaving the XT behind.  I explained how I had put it in the garage out of the rain, and would give it a special treat (new oil, perhaps) and a pat on the tank when I got home.  She understood, mainly because she is as soft in the head as me.

Today, I washed the flies of 1800 miles of highway off the Sprint, took off all the temporary mods I had made for the tour, and put it away.  I rolled the XT out ready for the work run tonight, and decided to give the valve clearances a check.  I've noticed the beginning of a rattle, and I wanted to use the clever little gizmo I got off eBay that makes turning the tappet adjusters easier.  I applied my 17mm spanner to the left-hand exhaust valve cover, and ...


The cover fell away, leaving the threaded part of itself in the engine.  I really didn't use much force; it must have just decided to take that moment to fail.  Here's the outside bit:

and here's the hole it left.

Of course, any attempt to start the engine will result in a massive gush of oil all over the front wheel, so the bike is temporarily bedridden.  Fortunately, the threaded piece left inside came out with fingers only.  Even more fortunately, there was a guy selling two of them, today, right now, new old stock, on eBay for under nine quid the pair, including postage.  I BINned and paid in a flash.  It'll be back on the road in a few days.

So the Sprint had to come back out of the garage and will be doing daily duties until I can fix the Yam.  This has caused further issues (a dash to Halford's to get some more oil, owing to the Sprint's vast appetite for the stuff and a dry dipstick on return to British soil), but that will be for another post.

Then I realised: the XT is sulking.  I took it to town yesterday to get a few things, and it felt distinctly out of sorts.  I checked the tyre pressures when I got back, and I had 18 psi in the front and 17 in the back, compared to Yamaha's recommendation of 22/33.  I fixed that one, but obviously that small bit of attention wasn't enough.  It wants the whole nine yards - tools out, cup of tea, oily rags, time, care, and money spending.

Drama queen.

Love it.

BBC standards again

I don't think the BBC bothers with proof-readers any more.  When the nation's broadcaster (and self-appointed arbiter of fairness and impartiality) lets something like this through on its website, old gits like me who were educated in the 60s will notice:
He said this month was set to become one of the wettest June's on record.
Look, Mr BBC man, that's a possessive apostrophe.  The June's what?  Its days, its nights, its weather?


If you can reverse the word order and use the word 'of', you need an apostrophe, immediately after the word in question.

The book of the boy = the boy's book.
The curls of the girls = the girls' curls.
The (what?) of the June = what passes for literacy at the BBC.

I learned this in, I think, Junior 2 at the age of about 8.  Point is, so did the other 29 in the class I was in.  And many of them were not Mastermind contenders by any means.  The teacher taught it, we practised it, we got it right.  And I still know it half a century later.  It ain't hard, folks.

I think what has happened here is that the writer has written 'Junes' (quite correctly) and then thought that it looked odd, and added an apostrophe because, well, because.  Words that end in vowels sometimes do this to people, although it's usually things like 'radio's' as a plural of 'radio', which look a little odd on their own.  I think it comes from a fear of getting it wrong, which is OK for a ten-year-old, but laughable in a professional employee in the media.  The correct form, 'radios' looks a bit like it ought to be pronounced 'rad-ee-oss', and I can sort-of forgive this one.  Similarly with decades, where a lot of people write 1960's.  Not necessary, but understandable.  But 'June's'?  Pfft.


A straightforward plural does not need an apostrophe.  More than one boy, 'boys'.  More than one scenario, 'scenarios'.  More than one June, 'Junes'.


Really sorry about the flooding, folks.  Bucko has some 'live' photos that bring the message home.

Friday 22 June 2012

BEF12 Day Two

I am a cheapskate.  This landed me with an interesting conundrum at the start of the trip.  For one, as I was taking a satnav I didn't think I needed detailed maps.  I had a 'planner' map of Europe, which covers Donegal to Sankt Petersburg and Nordkapp to Sardinia on one sheet, and I invested less than a fiver in an A5 spiral bound road atlas for keeping in the map pocket of the tankbag.  First mistake.  Secondly, I don't like paying road tolls, especially at the start of a holiday when you don't know how your Euros are going to last.

When we left the charming and characterful F1 Hotel in Coquelles, I asked Jane (as I call the TomTom, from the rather strict and posh Head Girl voice that is my favourite, mmmm) to take us to Nancy.  The plan was to get some serious road miles done on the first day, and then amble back though Germany and Belgium at a more leisurely pace.  Jane asked me if I was happy to pay a toll to take her 'fastest' route.  I told her not to be so silly.  After all, the French autoroutes are all built next to the N roads that they replace, non?  Many times I have bowled along an almost deserted route nationale for nothing, while the frantic autoroute traffic screamed by a kilometre to one side.  OK, she said, I will take you there.  Follow Lille.

So I did.  We must have been going a couple of hours when I realised that the cars all had Belgian plates, and all the place names were strangely ... Belgian.  I stopped and checked the route, only to find that the 'fastest' route to Nancy avoiding the péage took us to Namur in Belgium, then down through Luxembourg and back into France close to Strasbourg.  As we were almost in Namur by this point, we pressed on and had lunch there, in order to reconsider.

And I had a dago.  Yes indeed.  We ended up at a sandwich-bar kind of place, where all that was on offer were dagos.  I asked what they were (in French - luckily this wasn't a part of Belgium where this is a criminal offence) and discovered that a dago is an 18" baguette with a ham (or similar) filling. Un jambon, then.  We had one of these each with a drink, and decided that as we were getting pretty close to Aachen - a potential end-point of the trip - we would simply reverse the direction, go clockwise, and head for Aachen that night.

Aachen is lovely.  We found a cheapish hotel opposite the station (thank you, Rough Guide) and made enquiries.  The owner was charming and helpful, and suggested - without my asking - that I should park the bike on the pavement outside Reception, where it would be in view all night.  That sold it to me.  The rooms were a bit more expensive than we had hoped for, so we opted to share a twin room.  I had anticipated this as being a potential problem.  She is my little girl and we are family, so of course we can share a room.  But she is also 24 and has a life of her own, and I wanted to respect her privacy.  But finances demanded that we shared that night, and it didn't cause any problems.

Bahnhof Hotel, Aachen (cheap rooms round the corner)
We spent a very pleasant evening in Aachen itself, wandering round the sights and stopping at a pavement restaurant for some beers and a pizza the size of a dustbin lid.  

Massive, just massive.  And tasty.

This is just a cake shop.  A proper cake shop.

D2 snaps the Rathaus
Afterwards, we wandered around some more and ended up - funny, that - at a place that appeared to sell ice-cream 24/7.  I'm not a great fan of ice-cream (unless at the beach on a hot day), but D2 persuaded me that it would be a fitting end to a fabulous evening, so we indulged.  I can now inform my readers that my favourite food in the world is Bitterschokoladen Eis - ice-cream flavoured with dark, bitter chocolate which does a dance on your tongue and then caresses your taste buds to a petit mort of exquisite delicacy.  Forget your Rum 'n' Raisin, your Pistachio, your MintChocChip.  This stuff was unlike any ice-cream I have ever tasted.

We went to bed early, ready for a early start, for tomorrow was scheduled for the Rhine Gorge, which promised to be a spectacular run.

Apparently, there was some kind of football match on

BEF12* Day One

*British Expeditionary Force 2012, France and Germany division.  D2 is doing a Facebook album of her photos and was going to call it "England 1 Germany 0" but decided that would be too controversial.

I had spent my days off in the previous two weeks making various bikely preparations.  It's had a full service done bit-by-bit over the last three months, with the exception of two time-consuming items: checking the valve clearances and re-lubing the rear hub.  Wise advice from them what know suggests that both these items can be safely left until a higher mileage, and in the absence of any indication of malfunction that's what I did.  I fitted new steering head bearings to make it steer properly, and put fresh oil in the forks.  Together with a new pair of Michelin Pilot Road 2 radials, this has transformed the handling.

Other modifications included making a bracket to move the indicators up and back so they wouldn't interfere with the panniers, and a small alloy plate below the number plate for a GB sticker.  The Sprint's rear bodywork is so curvaceous that there was literally no flat surface for the sticker to be visible.

The Sprint has a built-in Powerlet socket beneath the rider's left knee (I'm guessing the most convenient position for heated clothing) so I installed another one on the left of the dash panel for the satnav.  I also made up a long cable so that I could have a cigarette-lighter socket inside the tank bag, connected to the original socket, to recharge the phone on the move.  Both worked fine and were very useful.

I left home at silly o'clock.  A brief stop at Cardiff West services for an archive shot ...

... and then on to Oxford.  D2 shares a house there with D1 and her partner, so it was pleasant to have lunch together.  Then we mounted the topbox (which had suddenly been filled with gold bullion, apparently) and were ready to go.  Last photo-opportunity:

and we were on our way.

OK, confession time.  I am not used to having a pillion passenger on board.  The last time I rode two-up was last year on the Bonnie, when D2 visited for the weekend.  Anna and I did quite a few days out on the Pan, and before that (long, long before that) I did a tour of Ireland with D2's Mum on my old Jawa.  But apart from giving random strangers a lift to a petrol station on the odd occasion, that's about it.  And, of course, D2's experience of riding shotgun was minimal, and zero on a fast bike like the Sprint.  Heavy luggage is different - it's low down and it doesn't move about - but even a light passenger like D2 makes a big difference to the dynamics.  So I started off ultra-cautious and kept it to around 60 mph as we got onto the M40 towards London.  The Sprint was bored and drumming its fingers on the desk, and I was feeling like the whole journey would take forever, so when we stopped for fuel at Beaconsfield I asked D2 how she was finding it.  She was absolutely OK, so after that I upped the speed to reasonable levels (i.e. not enough to draw unwelcome attention) and we started making a bit more progress.

Traffic was modest, even on the M25, and we got to the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone in good time.  I am in awe of the efficiency of the tunnel's operation and systems.  D2 set us an immediate challenge by being over-eager and pressing the 'French' button on the card reader, so our Francophone part of the trip started early.  In goes the card (the one you used to pay online), and up comes a message, calling you by name (reassuring) and listing the available crossings, including the earliest available and the one you actually booked.  We pressed the button for the next crossing (the one before our booked crossing) and then rode onto the train.  I imagine it is easy for them to do this for a bike, as we take up very little room on the train, but it is massively convenient.  Every time I have used Eurotunnel I have arrived early, and got onto an earlier crossing than scheduled.  It takes a lot of the drama out of journey planning - when travelling by ferry I always get there far too early, as missing the crossing there would involve a long wait for the next one, so the Tunnel is very time-efficient for motorcyclists.  Rock up, ride on, off you go.  Space age stuff.

I knew I had a full day's ride from home on the first day, so I planned an early evening crossing and booked into a hotel in Coquelles (a suburb of Calais, where the Tunnel terminates) for that night.  With the loss of one hour from moving to French time, we got there about 7 pm.  Thanks to a recommendation from Endemoniada_88, I chose the Formule 1 hotel and booked online for the first and last nights.  It was a good move. (Thanks, mate.)

A word about the Formule 1 (usually abbreviated to HotelF1 in the guidebooks).  They are cheap (€35 per night for a double + single bunk room, and breakfast is under €4) and they are cheerful, but the Ritz they are not.  You get a basic room which (on my limited experience) is clean and comfy. If you arrive when Reception is open, you get a 6-digit code which gets you into the parking area, the hotel building, and your room.  If you arrive in the middle of the night, you can check in through a machine on the wall and get the same.  I don't need luxury (although clean is good), so for me this is fine.  There are two drawbacks: one is that the showers and toilets are communal, so sometimes things aren't quite as you would have them at home. I can put up with this, but D2 was less easily convinced.  The other is a function of being at the very lowest price point - you are sharing accommodation with contractors working away from home, truckers, reps on business trips, and parties of schoolchildren.  This means that noise levels late at night can be high.  Again, this didn't worry me, but D2 didn't get much sleep.  However, the modest cost meant that we could have a room each, which gave us a bit of breathing space.  On the positive side, there is secure parking, and breakfast is an all-you-can-eat buffet: unlimited coffee (vital), baguettes and croissants, but also Brit-friendly cereals and milk, and you can fill up enough to make an apple and a bottle of water do for lunch.

On the whole, if I were travelling alone, I would use these every time.  With D2 along, they slide down the scale to a kind of backstop position when all else fails.  But still it's good to know they are there.

On the recommendation of a party of Lancashire bikers, we took a 10-minute walk to the nearest eaterie, a bizarre place called the Buffalo Grill.  It's a chain restaurant (curiously, we found another one near the other F1 we stopped at in Verdun, which is probably not a coincidence) and with a Wild West theme.  I feared a McDonalds level of nutrition, but being in France (and packed with local people - good sign) the food was excellent.

And so to bed, with a re-pack of the panniers and much use of the free wi-fi (pronounce it 'wiffy' if you have to ask) to burn the last of the phone's battery before a good night's sleep.  For me, at least.

Thursday 21 June 2012


Every time I go away on the bike, I take too much.  Always have, probably always will.  But this time (see previous two posts), I told myself I would only take what was necessary.  And I did.  The only problem is that when you have a fertile imagination, the word 'necessary' grows to encompass all kinds of trivia.  The problem was compounded by travelling with someone who was a) my offspring, and therefore I was technically responsible for her welfare, even if she is 24, and b) inexperienced at bike touring, and therefore unlikely to pack all the stuff she doesn't know she needs until she needs it.  This is how I ended up with three packets of baby wipes, two opened and almost empty and one massive brick of a thing that would have given a day nursery of toddlers clean botties for a week.

This is how the logic goes.  Babywipes are a vital accessory to any bike trip.  They are easy and neat to store, and have a multiplicity of uses, from cleaning hands after a mucky operation on a dirty bike, to getting bugs off a visor when there is no water handy, to more ... er ... personal applications involving urgent needs and quiet corners of fields.  Babywipes are only useful if they are moist, and they dry out quickly once opened.  I have one small packet, 2-3 left, almost dry, shame to leave them when I can use them first and throw the packet away.  Another small packet, half-full, if I left them at home they would dry out, chuck them in the tank bag, you never know.  And then parent panic - she's a girl, they're fussy, will she bring her own?  Better get a new packet, hello Tescos, hey, that's a big packet, won't run out of those, ha ha, put them in the basket, chuck them in the tankbag.  So there's a space the size of a housebrick in the tankbag taken up by moist wiperettes.  In these quantities, they are heavy, too.  She did bring her own (I guess that makes four on board, really), packet 1 was dry and got binned, we didn't finish packet 2, and I gave her the big packet, unopened, when we got home.  Pfft.

It's the umbrella problem.  Take it with you, you'll have sunshine all day.  Leave it at home and you are guaranteed a monsoon.  At least, that's the way my mind works.

I searched the net for 'motorcycle touring checklists' and found lots of good advice.  Some stuff I had already packed, and some stuff I hadn't though of.  Made a list. Divided it into Pannier 1, Pannier 2 and Tankbag.  Trial packed it all.  It all fitted, once I had returned three t-shirts and a jumper to the bedroom cupboard.  On the bike, it all mounted OK and I was good to go.

I had been a bit clever, and had taken the big topcase with me when I went to Oxford a few weeks before to get D2 the helmet and boots, and in it I put Anna's bike gear.  I left it up there, so D2 knew to the cm3 how much room she had, and I had only my own stuff to worry about.

I'm looking at the list I made, and some of it was vital, some was necessary, some was useful, and some was just ballast.  Here are some observations.  I'm basing this on a week's trip involving foreign roads - obviously the list can be trimmed if travelling closer to home or for a shorter period.  Camping would add a whole extra category of stuff.

Essential: stuff you can't really get away without carrying -
  • Bike documents - V5, insurance certificate, MoT certificate, driving licence.  You probably won't need them, but if you do you will really need them, and they take up very little room.
  • Travel documents - confirmation emails, insurance certificates etc, with all the vital numbers and names
  • Passport and E111 card - obviously.
  • Spare bulbs for all lights on the bike - a legal requirement in France, and a good idea to have anyway.  Mine fit in a jiffy bag in the tailpiece and will stay there from now on.  No reason not to leave them there.
  • Spare fuses - tiny, light, and could save you a long walk.  Stored with above.
  • Basic tools - I carried a small screwdriver set with allen bits and matching small sockets, plus a few odds and ends.  Not used, but I would feel naked without them.
  • Leatherman multi-tool - adds pliers, knife blades, files etc to the above, plus it's in a really battered old leather case and looks cool.
  • Small pack of babywipes (OK, OK).
  • Wallet/s with Sterling and Euros, bank cards etc, plus loose cash for tolls.
  • Maps.  Large enough scale to be useful.  Anything around 1:4,000,000 is useless for anything but the most general armchair planning before you leave.  Something around 1:500,000 is what you need for actual navigation.  Larger scales than that are great, but you end up with a lot of paper.
  • First Aid kit - wouldn't travel without one, even if it's to help out someone else.  Lives under the seat.
  • Handful of big cable ties - small ones pointless for emergency use, can always clip large ones to size.
  • Roll of gaffer tape - endless uses, from mending ripped riding gear to fixing things up after a tumble.  Or for putting on the bike's bodywork after the panniers have started to scratch it.  Don't ask.
  • For longer trips: chain lube (if the bike has one), engine oil (if the bike has an appetite for it).
  • Phone (and means of charging same).
  • Tyre repair kit.
  • Small LED torch.
Important: stuff that could make all the difference between a happy trip and a miserable one -
  • Waterproofs as necessary (I had a waterproof jacket so I only needed overtrousers, which pack small.  As it happens, I didn't need them, but I'd still pack them anyway.)
  • Spare riding gloves.  I brought a warm pair and a thin pair, both waterproof.  I wore the warm pair in the UK, but switched to the thin pair when across the Channel.  The other pair would have been miserably hot, even in the rain.  And it's always nice to have a dry pair if one gets soaked.
  • Paper and pen.  I took an A5 spiral bound notebook, a normal pen and a thick marker pen.  The paper/pen combo is useful for fuel/mileage records (if you do that kind of thing), noting addresses and phone numbers, all sorts.  The marker pen was hugely useful when the satnav went on strike and I had to write myself route instructions for the map pocket of the tankbag.
  • Reading glasses, if you need them.  Reading details on maps, if nothing else.
  • Sidestand puck - because you never know where you might have to prop the bike up.  Mine has a 1m nylon line attached, so I can place it on the ground without getting off the bike, and recover it likewise.  
  • Spare visor.  If your visor is damaged beyond repair and you are 500 miles from home, you have a very slow and uncomfortable journey ahead of you.  My normal summer visor is tinted (although not quite black) and I carry a clear spare, which I can change to for night riding if necessary.  I'm fanatical about being able to see where I am going.
  • Tyre pressure gauge.  Better than guesswork, especially when heavily-loaded and where high speeds are planned.
  • Security device.  If you don't know where you will be parking the bike at night, you will want some form of security.  My big lock and chain were just too heavy and bulky, but I carried a disc lock and a fluoro yellow tell-tale cord which attaches to the lock and the brake lever - it draws attention to the lock, and makes it harder to ride off with the lock attached.  The one time I didn't use the tell-tale, I smashed the Bonnie's speedo drive.  Bad, but could have been worse.
  • Bungees, straps, cargo net, as necessary.
  • Towards the lower end of 'necessary', but I also packed two high-viz tabards.  I usually keep these in the car, as they are a legal requirement in France.  I couldn't find out for sure whether they were required for bikes, but it seemed sensible to pack them anyway, in case of a breakdown on a busy road.  Probably one of those things that I wouldn't bother with for myself, but which, when responsible for a passenger, start to look more like a good idea.  They pack small.  Didn't need them.
Nice-to-have: but by no means vital -
  • GPS
  • Camera
  • Sunglasses
  • Inner gloves (if weather unpredictable - cold hands on a bike are dangerous)
  • Bike handbook (for tyre pressures, oil spec, etc., and because I can never remember how many clicks to alter the suspension)
  • Microfibre cloth - cleans anything, especially visors, doubles as a field dressing, face flannel or even towel, and dries in an instant.
  • Dictionaries/phrase books/travel guides for countries you are visiting
  • Cheap cable lock/s, as sold in bicycle shops or even (as was one of mine) given away as a cover gift with a bike magazine.  Leave locked to a solid part of the rear carrier and lock helmets to bike when you go for a walk.  One less thing to carry.  (Some people have a longer one and lock their jacket to the bike by passing the cable up the sleeve.  I've never had a jacket that was worth this treatment, but it makes sense.)
  • Can of WD-40.  Cures anything.  Can be used as aftershave at a pinch.  You'll only attract a certain kind of lady, but that could be an interesting experience.
Ballast: stuff I though would be useful, but wasn't -
  • Headtorch - great if you are camping (we weren't) or need to do some repairs after dark (we didn't, and a small torch can be held in the teeth).
  • Various small carabiners that I was sure would be useful for ... something.
  • Keyring with an LED torch attachment, although I had both keyrings and torches already accounted for
  • Laser pointer thing I got off eBay - because I thought it would be fun.  Once it reached the bottom of the tankbag, I never saw it again.
  • Bicycle pump - the CO2 cartridges in the tyre kit would have given me enough pressure to make it to a garage with an airline, but I thought the pump might be an extra weapon.  I didn't need it.  First night nerves, I guess.
  • Black bin liners.  From long experience of camping, where they are highly useful, but where we went there was always a rubbish bin within throwing distance.
  • Anything more than 1 (one) small pack of babywipes.

Rule 1 - if you aren't sure if you will need it, you won't.  Get rid of it.
Unless you are going right off the beaten track, there will always be a shop where you can buy something you need.  Also, if you have even a basic facility in the language of where you are going, solving problems like this can be fun.  Over-preparing also reduces the possibility of random encounters that can be the most memorable part of the trip.

Rule 2 - leave some space.
It was cool and wet when I set off, but by the time I picked up D2 I was roasting, so my fleece jumper and jacket liner came off.  I managed to find room for the thermal liner in one of the panniers, but the jumper stayed on the pillion seat as a comfort feature for D2 for the entire trip.  Thinking ahead and leaving some room for discarded layers would have been intelligent.  No, don't say it.

Rule 3 - don't put anything in 'just in case'.
Your imagination can find a million ways in which this plastic widget could be useful, but real life isn't like that, and you will empty it out of your bags at the end of the trip and ask "who the hell packed this crap?"

We've all got our own ideas on these things, and if you have a different take on what I have outlined above, please feel free to comment.  More to follow.


I got back home around 7 pm last night after a blast round the nearer parts of Europe with Daughter No. 2.  We were away for a week and covered just short of 1800 miles.  We had a great time, saw a lot of things, ate and drank some good stuff, and got aches and pains in places we didn't know we had.  I'm going to make some more detailed posts over the next few days about various aspects of the trip (some technical, some general) and post some photos and experiences, but here's the rough outline:

The original plan was to take the Eurotunnel to Calais, then to get as far South as possible (around Nancy or Strasbourg) before crossing into Germany and travelling up through the Black Forest and Rhine Gorge before returning to Calais through Belgium or the Netherlands.  However, a satnav-related cockup (embarrassing details later) meant that we decided to reverse the route, and we spent the first night in Aachen.  The next day we took in most of the Eifel National Park, after we were sent off our route by some roadworks, and the Rhine Gorge, including a visit to the top of the Loreley and a bikers' caff called Benno's - thank you Nikos.  We spent the night in the grottiest part of Wiesbaden - the low point of the trip.

The next day was an autobahn morning followed by a splendid afternoon and evening in Baden Baden (so good they named it twice, har har).  The next day we motored through the North end of the Black Forest in some of the heaviest rain I have ever ridden in, and had lunch in Strasbourg.  We then hit the autoroute and landed up in Verdun.  This was not planned at all (the plan was only 'get as far up the A4 as possible') but in fact it turned out to be one of the highlights.  The photo above was taken in the nearby 'village détruit' of Bezonvaux, shelled into oblivion in 1916 and left to return to nature - an awesome (in the truest sense) and humbling experience.

On the final day we thrashed the Sprint's little red buttocks and took the péage all the way to Calais.  We took an early Eurotunnel crossing in the morning, I dropped D2 in Oxford at lunchtime, and took the 'old' A40 all the way back home.

We didn't hit anything or fall off.  Apart from D2 getting sore eyes from the pollen, we weren't ill, and we had a bed to sleep in each night.  The bike ran faultlessly: the tyre I was worried about didn't lose a significant amount of pressure, and apart from using a fair amount of oil through the sustained high speeds of the autobahn bits, caused no concerns at all.  I'm not altogether convinced that it was the ideal bike for the trip, though, and next year I would not be at all surprised if I were doing in on a different machine.  More on that in another post.

D2 and I had a great time, though.  Complaining about anything else is missing the point.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

France? Germany? Who cares?

Tomorrow I am going off on the bike for a week somewhere in Europe.  Best of all, I am taking Daughter No. 2 with me.

D2 and the Bonnie
Long story short, (longer story here and here) D2 came down to stay for the weekend last year and accompanied me on a day out with the Triumph Owners' Club.  Although she had absolutely zero bike experience, she loved it and we agreed that we would make a longer trip this year.  After a lot of juggling dates, it all came together and tomorrow we journey to the Channel Tunnel and points beyond.

I am excited because I am getting to spend a week on the bike, put in some quality miles, and visit some interesting places, but the best thing is that I am doing it with D2.  Her Mum and I split when she was only 3 (Mum got sole custody), so although we have never lost contact and have seen a lot of each other over the last 21 years, we still have a lot of catching-up to do.  A week in her company will do me a power of good, and I hope the whole thing will bring us closer.

I leave home at silly o'clock to get to her house in central England by lunchtime, and then we are due on Eurotunnel in the early evening.  I have a hotel booked in Calais for the night, as the hour difference means we will arrive mid-evening French time and there will just be time for a meal and a wee drinkie before bedtime.

The plan after that is vague, other then to say that we are due back in Calais for a hotel and an early tunnel crossing a week later.  I like France, but would like to visit Germany.  She isn't all that keen on France but wants to visit Germany very much.  The compromise is going to be a mad dash through France as far as the Vosges and perhaps Switzerland, and then a more leisurely return through the Black Forest and the Rhine Gorge.  New territory for me.

The bike is ready, the Euros are in the travel wallet, and I am ready to roll.  I have a small concern about the rear tyre.  I checked the pressure yesterday and pumped it up to the recommended 42 psi.  I checked it again today, and it was down to 29 psi.  I'm hoping it was just a glitch - I used a new digital gauge I got cheap from Tesco and it seems a bit flaky (and measures in psi, bar, kg/cm2 and Kpa, so perhaps I used the wrong scale).  This afternoon I put a new valve core in and pumped it up to just over 42 psi.  I'll check it again in the morning and keep my fingers crossed.  It's a brand-new tyre, so if it isn't a leaky valve core I am stumped for any reason why it should deflate.  Something to keep an eye on, along with the famous Triumph Triple appetite for oil.

This blog will now close due to staff holidays, and I'll be back in a week or so.  If you want something to read, those blogs on the right of the screen are all worth a few minutes of your time.

Play nicely.

Monday 11 June 2012


My wife asked me to go to the shops.

"Get us a bottle of milk.  Oh, and if they have any eggs, get half a dozen."

I came home with six bottles of milk.

"Why the heck did you get six bottles of milk?" she asked.

"Because they had eggs."

Sunday 10 June 2012

One for you animal lovers

Poems about animals are usually cheesy.  Poems about the death of animals are usually a mature Stilton in a cheese sauce, topped with grated Parmesan and with a side-order of extra cheese.  Served in a tea-room in Wensleydale.  This one is different.  It speaks to a different part of the brain than the mushy, sentimental bit, and is actually rather good.

I posted about the death of Bonkers Dog on a bike forum I visit, and I had some very sympathetic and compassionate responses.  Anyone who thinks bikers are a bunch of beer-swilling hard-cases should read the thread - it's just a massive, international, cross-gender group hug.  I was very touched by the reaction of many people I have never met.  A lovely lady who posts as Sparky675 posted this poem.  Thank you, Sparky.

If you have ever lost an animal companion, prepare to have your tears jerked.

A Dog's Will

When humans die, they make a will
To leave their homes and all they have to those they love.
I, too, would make a will if I could write.

To some poor wistful, lonely stray
I leave my happy home,
My dish, my cozy bed, my cushioned chair, my toy.

To a scared shelter dog, I leave my family,
The well loved lap, the gentle stroking hand,
The loving voice who spoke my name.

And the place I made in someone’s heart,
The love that at the last could help me to
A peaceful painless end
Held in loving arms.

When I die, oh do not say,
“No more a pet I’ll have, to grieve me by its loss”
Seek out some lonely, unloved dog
And give my place to him.

This is the legacy I leave behind -
’tis all I have to give.

Author Unknown

OK, call me a sentimental old git, but it has made me think very hard about making the next Bonkers Dog a rescue dog.  Plenty of room in Nowhere Towers for the rejected and unloved nutcases of the animal world.

What's one more, after all?

Thursday 7 June 2012

Another day, another IAM poll ...

This one is on driving abroad - good timing, since I am off to France and Germany next week taking Daughter No. 2 on her first forrin bike trip.

As always, non-members are welcome.

Poll can be found here.  The main focus is on the new laws in France concerning the requirement to carry an approved breathalyser at all times when driving or riding.  The regs come into force on 1 July, so no worries for me this year.  Do you know the blood-alcohol limits in the UK and France, and have you an opinion on how far they contribute to road safety?  Tell 'em what you think!

Ray Bradbury

I've never been a big fan of science fiction, or SF (don't ever call it sci-fi or the aficionados will have your testicles off with a plasma cannon in the square root of -1 nanoseconds).  Some good stuff, of course (Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land would be a classic in any genre), but there's a lot of Beasts From The Planet Tharg to wade through first.  A lot of Ray Bradbury's work could be called 'speculative fiction' (in the manner of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World) rather than true SF, and it was reading this that made me admire his intellect and creativity.

I never read Fahrenheit 451 or The Martian Chronicles so I am in no way an expert on his writing, but one (very) short story he wrote has stayed with me since I first read it, probably 35-40 years ago.

In 'The Pedestrian' (1951), Leonard Mead likes to go for walks at night.  In 2053, this is unorthodox enough to bring you to the notice of the authorities.  One winter's night, he goes for a walk, is arrested, and taken away.  That's it - I said it was a very short story.  It's the details that make it thought-provoking.  The uneven pavements with grass growing between the slabs, the complete silence of the city when everyone is at home watching TV, the revelation that the police car which has been interrogating him has no occupants.  The police force has been reduced to one car, as there is no crime any more: everyone stays indoors, watching television.  The fact that Mead likes to walk at night, feeling the cold and enjoying the solitude, is enough to mark him out as a dangerous subversive in need of re-education.  I mean, how could you not watch television?

I don't watch much TV, and wouldn't replace it if it were stolen.  But at work I am reminded of how much television is interwoven into common culture.  If you haven't seen a particular advert, or don't have an opinion on a dilemma in a particular soap opera, or don't have a favourite contestant in 'Britain's Got Talent' or 'The Apprentice', you soon find out how much of popular culture is simply passing you by.  In a lot of casual conversations, you might as well be from Ougadougou and speak Swahili.  I don't see that as a great loss, but it does mean that there are large areas where I am cut off from social relations with my fellow man.

I wonder how much of my desire to avoid consciously some of the more inane manifestations of kultcha are due to an early reading of 'The Pedestrian', a recognition that this was the way society was heading, and a vow to myself never to be swallowed up in it.  Quite a lot, I would think.

You can read it here. It will only take you a few minutes as it is just short of two pages long.  RIP Ray, and I thought 'The Illustrated Man' was brilliant.  One day I will read what people are telling me was the really good stuff.  I'll look forward to that.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Man's Best Friend

One day in 1998, we acquired a black Labrador who proved to be almost as crackers as his owners.  I have referred to him on this blog as Bonkers Dog, and for good reason. Six months ago, he started slowing down, and started to get pains in his joints.  He became less mobile, and for the last couple of weeks I have had to physically assist him in getting up if he has been lying down.  He's needed constant attention (willingly given) but started showing signs of acute anxiety if we left the room.  A week ago, his appetite went and suddenly he started looking haggard and gaunt.  This morning, the biscuits I had left in his bed last night were still there.  If you know Labs, you'll know that is a bad sign.  We took him to the vets this afternoon, ostensibly for an objective assessment, but we really knew what the outcome would be.  The vet was kindness itself, both to the dog and to us, and Bonkers Dog passed peacefully out of this world in the early afternoon.

He had been my constant companion for 14 years, and I am utterly bereft.  The house is too quiet, and Rescue Cat is wandering from room to room, looking for something that is no longer there.

There's a lot more I want to say, but right now I haven't the words.

Sunday 3 June 2012

It's always the little things

I can sit through situations of high emotion and not bat an eyelid.  And yet one tiny detail can set me off on a downward slide of gulping, sniffling, and fighting back the tears until eventually I give in and pretend I still suffer from hay fever.  At a funeral, all the 'in the midst of life we are in death' stuff and the tearful oration can leave me cold, and then a single minor detail can floor me.  I was at a funeral of one of Anna's relatives a few weeks ago.  I didn't much get on with the guy, who had dropped stone dead while cleaning his gun after a shooting trip.  I found him harsh and a bit arrogant, and tended to avoid him wherever possible.  Going to his send-off was a duty, no more: but then we were played out of the church with a song I was told was his favourite.  When the first notes of Louis Armstrong singing 'What A Wonderful World' started, that was me finished.

With the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 I stayed dry-eyed and cynical throughout.  (Anna is a big Royalist, and it was on the TV all day, so I couldn't really avoid it.)  But there was a moment when the service was over and the Welsh Guards carrying the coffin began to move out of the Abbey.  There was complete silence as the choir began singing John Taverner's Song For Athene (an utterly beautiful piece in any case, but now inevitably associated with Diana) and the pallbearers turned and moved off.  And then the tiny detail - the soft but insistent shuffling of their boots on the tiled floor of the Abbey.  It was regular, but not in time with the music, and the dislocation between the two rhythms captured my attention. After that, I could hear nothing else, the lump came to the throat, and ... well, let's just say I wasn't much of a republican that day.  You can hear something of the effect from around 2:30 in this clip, although it was better 'live', as it were.

Today it was the poor bloody singers on that barge.  I had watched the river procession with keen interest, as I love boats of all kinds, and I was full of admiration for dear old Brenda, who was still standing and waving when I would long have opted for that rather comfy-looking red chair she had.  It was all a solidly-managed pageant of the kind we tend to do rather well, but that was all.  And then the rain came down, and the barge carrying the London Philharmonic and the RCM Chamber Choir approached the Royal wave platform.  The singers were on the roof of the barge and looked like drowned rats.  If they'd been for a swim fully-clothed they couldn't have been wetter.  Evening dresses plastered to their bodies and hair stuck to their faces like seaweed, but each had a massive smile.  And then the band struck up with the Pomp And Circumstance march, and the choir took a big breath and launched full-on into 'Land Of Hope And Glory'.

That was me done.  I must have got through half a roll of kitchen towels.

I'm not a monarchist (although looking around the world's governments I struggle to see a better system in practice), but today I am rather glad I am British.

Tonight I went to the garage and found the Union flag that I strap to the bike for the Ride of Respect.  I put it in a narrow vase and it was on the table while we ate our tea.  It seemed appropriate.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Chuckles from the Night Shift

Passed to me by email at work, and made me laugh a lot.  I thought I might share ...

Why We Like The British

True Reports from British life in British Newspapers

Commenting on a complaint from a Mr. Arthur Purdey about a large gas bill, a spokesman for North West Gas said, 'We agree it was rather high for the time of year. It's possible Mr. Purdey has been charged for the gas used up during the explosion that destroyed his house.'
(The Daily Telegraph)

Police reveal that a woman arrested for shoplifting had a whole salami in her underwear. When asked why, she said it was because she was missing her Italian boyfriend.
(The Manchester Evening News)

Irish police are being handicapped in a search for a stolen van, because they cannot issue a description. It's a Special Branch vehicle and they don't want the public to know what it looks like.
(The Guardian)

A young girl who was blown out to sea on a set of inflatable teeth was rescued by a man on an inflatable lobster. A coast guard spokesman commented, 'This sort of thing is all too common'.
(The Times)

At the height of the gale, the harbourmaster radioed a coast guard and asked him to estimate the wind speed. He replied he was sorry, but he didn't have a gauge. However, if it was any help, the wind had just blown his Land Rover off the cliff.
( Aberdeen Evening Express)

Mrs. Irene Graham of Thorpe Avenue , Boscombe, delighted the audience with her reminiscence of the German prisoner of war who was sent each week to do her garden. He was repatriated at the end of 1945, she recalled - 'He'd always seemed a nice friendly chap, but when the crocuses came up in the middle of our lawn in February 1946, they spelt out 'Heil Hitler.''
( Bournemouth Evening Echo)
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