Sunday, 25 November 2012

Motorcycling - the cardigan years beckon

I've been riding motorcycles since I was eighteen and I see bikes as a part of who I am. They're the one part of my single life that has remained consistent through everything else that has happened, Yet my motorcycling life seems to have acquired a middle age of its own.
From the early days of riding everything as hard and fast as possible with little sense of my own mortality, through serious machinery that demanded serious respect if you wanted to be alive at the end of the ride, to now when I'm about to start sliding down the other side of the power curve towards the inevitability of a 250 or 125, It's proving to be a bit of a rollercoaster ride.
The single lad's era was a blur of mental two-stroke hooligan tools that were ridden not as transport but as an excuse to push the limits of physics, and to chase the next adrenaline fix.
With experience and time came the chance to graduate to big superbikes - horizon-seeking missiles that because of the accessibility of their outrageous performance tempt you into ridiculous situations. The ability to out accelerate any car on the road, powersliding out of corners, and all sorts of bad behaviour became the norm. I hit 170mph on the A11 between Newmarket and Barton Mills before chickening out despite the bike still pulling like a train, I was going everywhere between 100 and 140mph, even lane-splitting at 120mph. These things became so frequent that eventually I'd arrive at my destination thinking "How the hell am I still alive? That was crazy!"
So the superbike era had to end before I did.
A brief period of downsizing was followed by a three year break with no bike before the bug struck again. You can't help it, it becomes hard-wired into your DNA.
An unfaired 1200cc muscle bike was chosen with the theory being that top speed would be limited by comfort, which ended up being sort of true, but has also resulted in surprisingly strong neck and shoulder muscles.
Now comes the hard part. The body is writing letters of complaint to the brain telling it to stop being such a damn fool. Things along the lines of "you can't expect this little-bloke body to deal with the physical stress of riding something like this several times a week, get a grip!".
The brain listens to these comments and before I know what's going on the bike manufacturers websites are being scoured for bikes that weigh half as much and don't have the power to rip ones arms from ones torso.
There may be something to this. After all, who genuinely needs a tyre-shredding powerhouse when it only goes between home and work? There's certainly an appeal to the idea of something that weighs about the same as a tin of beans, does 100 miles per gallon and only needs new tyres when they're got hard and perished.
So there we have it. Current thinking says a brand new little bike in the spring is the sensible option. Perhaps then I'll be able to exercise the same restraint and sensible driving mode that I apply to driving the car, because when the performance potential isn't there it's far easier to relax and go with the flow.

Apologies for the lack of  funny bits this week, but I'm running short of inspiration at the moment. I ought to to make notes during the week when ideas occur to me and then I might have enough material without resorting to inane blathering.........

Monday, 19 November 2012

Happy music - absent presumed missing

Altered Images said "I could be happy", and it did seem that they were. Captain Sensible provided us with 'happy talk' whether we liked it or not, and wherever you looked in the popular music scene at that time you were never very far from something happy and uplifting.
Once pop music put away its cardigan and slippers with the advent of rock & roll, we began a journey of wildly varying trends. Some stayed put, some came and went in a flash, but good humoured entertainment was always a common factor. Music-wise the 60's must have been a terrific era to be around in. It's hard to imagine any of today's pop still being listened to in over 50 years time.
The 70's gave us disco and glam rock which were about having a good time.
The 80's brought with it some of my favourite music, which is probably because that's what I was listening to in my teenage years. From the insanity of Madness, the uproar caused by 'Relax', and the 'is it a man or a woman?' questions surrounding Culture Club, to the frenzy of The Beastie Boys and the inane bounciness of countless artists from the Stock Aitken & Waterman stable. Whenever you turned the radio on in the 80's there was something that made the world seem a better place to be.
At the start of the 90's we were caught in a flood of euro-style techno and dance tunes that got lodged in your brain for better or worse. And of course there was the rave scene with its bizarre noises that you had to be tripping to understand, but people on E generally just want to be your friend, which is just another example of music bringing people together.
So at what point did it all go wrong?
There's debate over whether the charts are relevant any more, and if what I'm hearing these days on the radio is any indication of current tastes and trends then I really hope not.
It seems that to feature on a 'Now that's what I call music' album now, the first consideration needs to be "Has anyone over 18 actually heard of the artist?" If the answer is "no" then it can go on the album.
The second qualification is that the band's name should not conform to any known language. Just empty a bag of Scrabble letters on the floor and use what comes out while making sure that a random pattern of upper and lower case characters is observed.
I therefore predict that the first track on the next 'Now' album will be something like 'Meth Fuelled Gangbang' by 'G6rw7qa9 (ft. Smallnob)'.
Which brings us to the content of current pop music. If it's not about shagging, it's some angry ho-pimpin' gangsta trying to fit more expletives within his allotted 3 and a half minutes than in an entire Quentin Tarantino movie.
Where's the fun? Where has happy gone?
I know I'm not alone in feeling this way, and I also know that it's why I so rarely find anything new worth listening to.
It's why all my favourite music can usually be found in the special offer bins in the record shops.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Filling the void

I've reached that point in my life when I need a hobby. There - I've admitted it.
I've gone through life so far with a number of things that I've spent vast amounts of time on including video games, reading, motorcycles, photography, drinking beer, and fantasies of long-haired brunettes with big brown eyes and an insatiable sexual appetite. Not all of these could really be called a hobby, just things I can do for a while before moving on to something else, then coming back a few weeks later to do a bit more. I have this idea that a true hobby is something that becomes all-consuming. Something that dominates your entire life - or at least the bits not spent sleeping or being abusive to telesales people.
A dedicated hobbyist is often incredibly obsessive and it appears to be more noticeable with certain hobbies.
Take fishing for example. Guys who are prepared to sit for hours on end staring at a day-glo fishing float in the hope that they catch the legendary carp that everyone in the club insists exists in the lake.
Not for me. If I were to catch a decent size fish I'd cook it and eat it, which seems to be an unpopular approach to the average fishist who'd rather keep catching fish and throwing them back until the poor buggers are swimming around with a mouth like a well-used teabag.
The obvious hobby for blokes would appear to be football, which when combined with large quantities of lager gives loud overweight f***wits the legendary talent to do a better job than the superfit overpaid hair product adverts slugging it out in the cup final. Well I'm sorry, but I've seen what football does to blokes as a hobby and it always involves pissing your wages up the wall in the pub every night, driving a Seat Ibiza with your team's name plastered on the back window, and being unable to hold a conversation without the words "that ref is a wanker" making an entrance. Besides, the idea of watching 22 men kicking a bag of air around for 90 minutes while two teams of professional hecklers shout at each other doesn't do a thing for me.
So what about golf then? Winston Churchill famously said that golf was the best way to spoil a good walk. Personally, I love a good walk and I don't like it spoiled by dog logs, let alone anything that involves wearing Rupert Bear trousers and chunky knitwear.
I've thought about building a model railway like I had when I was a kid, only far more detailed like the ones you can see at exhibitions. The trouble is, I can't shake the feeling that I would end up being that bloke who sidles up to you at the bar looking like Wallace out of 'Wallace & Gromit' and tries to start a conversation with the dreaded "Did you know....". Whilst middle age is upon me and I've ordered my pipe and slippers off Amazon, I'm still not sure if I'm quite ready to be that man.
I love photography and chasing after that perfect shot is a never-ending quest. But joining a club would be a bad move for me, because since the 'digital revolution' they're filled with people who don't think it counts as photography unless you've spent a fortnight Photoshopping your image so that it looks nothing like the thing you took the picture of in the first place.
Beer making is a traditional bloke hobby and I'm sure I'd enjoy it. Unfortunately if there's alcohol in the house I feel obliged to drink it, and if it was available on demand in barrel-sized quantities it wouldn't be long before terminal liver failure set in.
No. As someone who's been taking things apart and putting them back together again (in working order) since I was old enough to know one end of a screwdriver from the other it has to be a hobby involving playing with mechanical stuff.
I recently bought a new shed, which is an essential item for any bloke. It was rather expensive and large enough for me to get a motorcycle in and have plenty of room to work around it plus space for a workbench and all my tools. Electrics all hooked up, lighting and radio installed, but six months down the line no project bike has appeared yet. Ideally I want to get hold of a 50cc bike to do up for my son who'll be 16 in less than eighteen months and is desperate for a motorbike. This would be a terrific hobby for me, and when it's finished I could do up a 125cc bike for him for when he turns 17. By the time I've done that I can move on to a classic british bike and finally I will actually be Mr Did-you-know, complete with a model railway hobby, twigs in my beard, and everyone avoiding me at the bar.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The agony of choice

It's probably fair to say that we have more choice today than ever before. We can choose what school to send our kids to, and we can choose to send them there on the bus or drive them there in a vehicle that we chose from a huge array of possibilities.
Go into any supermarket and it's questionable whether choice is your friend or your enemy. If you want to buy a tin of beans - not something you'd expect to break into a sweat over - you're faced with a dazzling collage of potential purchases. Since when did the humble baked bean require this level of consideration? Do you buy one of the premium brands, the store's own brand, the cheap ones, the ones in the tin with the coolest design on, the ones on special offer, or the ones that you had last time and they were fine so why not get them again? Decision made on the beans, but there's still sausages on the list which brings us yet another dilemma. By the time you're halfway round the shop you're exhausted, but there's still laundry detergent to get. As you turn into the laundry aisle you suddenly lose the will to live. Confronted with an unending wall of powders, liquids and tablets, all in packaging that promises to revolutionize your life at a temperature that's so eco-friendly you'll be farting butterflies after washing your pants, you finally abandon your overflowing trolley and run screaming for the exit.
Actually it's not like that for me. Most of the time the shopping magically appears in the fridge and cupboards. The grocery fairies are very efficient here.
On the rare occasions I do have to do the grocery shopping myself, it's a military operation. Speed and precision is where it's at. Armed with a comprehensive list of every item needed and a detailed mental map of the store layout I can get everything required in record time and out of satans playground before being sucked into the pit of despair and 3 for 2 offers.
Obviously your gameplan has to be a little flexible. You may have to employ special tactics to avoid the low-rent track-suited mother with the screaming kid, and the bunch of old duffers who're holding the colostomy enthusiast's AGM in the bread aisle, but unless there's a buy-one-get-one-free on 'Old Speckled Hen' I'm 100 percent focused.
When it comes to choice turning from benefit to total mindf*** though, nobody can beat Currys. If you go there to buy a new TV you may have already decided that you want (for sake of argument) a 42 inch full-HD LED set with a glossy screen and a Sony badge on the front, but as soon as you walk into the store all your firm ideas disappear as your eyes glaze over and you start drooling on your shoes. This technological Aladdins Cave will extract your common sense, your sanity and your wallet quicker than anything else unless you're phenomenally strong-willed.
Or it would if you could get assistance. All the sharply pressed assistants with shiny name badges appear from nowhere like the shopkeeper in 'Mr Benn', with their standard "Can I help you sir?".
Naturally your first reply is "No - now f*** off and stop hassling me before I rip off your head and p*** down you neck" which gets somehow watered down (probably by some sort of committee) as it travels from your brain to your mouth where it comes out as "I'm fine for now, thanks".
Three hours later when you've narrowed your choice down to just a couple of likely candidates, you decide you could do with some help. But Mr. Shinybadge and all his friends have completely vanished for an extended tea break so you give up, defeated, and go home empty handed.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

BS free TV

It's now been about six months since we cancelled our TV license. We notified TVL that we no longer required a license, removed the aerials and detuned the TV sets. The only things I thought I might miss were Top Gear and MotoGP, but Top Gear has so lost the plot over the last few years that it hasn't been a loss at all, and the MotoGP is better on iPlayer anyway because you can skip straight to the start of the race and you can also watch the 125 race which is often more exciting.

Now in case anyone reading this thinks I'm doing something illegal, I should point out that in the UK the law requires you to purchase a TV license to watch television programmes as they're broadcast. You do NOT need a TV license if you use your TV to watch DVDs or play video games. You also do not need one to watch streamed online content provided it is not being broadcast on TV at the same time, so services like BBC iPlayer, 4OD, Lovefilm etc do not need a license.

And why should I want one anyway? TV is bollocks. Plain and simple. I don't want a world of shouting manic depressive Londoners, Big Brother series 342, Help I used to be a celebrity give me a job, and 1001 shows about doing up houses, shoved down my throat 24/7. And don't even get me started on all the adverts. The BBC shows ads too, but they just advertise themselves. At great length.
Another thing that gets to me is all the padding. Many shows (Fifth Gear is a prime example) spend so much time telling you what's going to happen later and what they showed before the break that you just stop caring and turn it off. If they left out the ads and the padding, the one hour programme would be condensed to about 15-20 minutes.And I'm told that the ratio of content to commercials is far worse in the US. Poor buggers.

The crazy thing is, that thanks to a subscription to Lovefilm, I now watch more TV shows than ever before. And the beauty is that we can watch what we want when we want and there's no adverts.
So along with DVDs and Blurays, we can sit back in the evening with Grey's Anatomy, Lost, Only Fools & Horses, and a seemingly endless supply of other shows and films.
So why not take control of your viewing? Cut out the bullshit and stop being held to ransom by TVL for a service charge that belongs in the history books. Yes, Lovefilm has a monthly cost but at least it doesn't go towards the sickening salaries paid to people like Jonathan Ross.

Chair testing experience

Next week I have to attend a meeting to discuss the future of work experience placements in our workplace. I hope there's plenty of fresh coffee and plate of custard creams to keep me awake.
It needs sorting out though, because the overall standard of kids we get for work experience is enough to make a grown man weep. If these kids are the future of our country then we're f***ed.

This year we had three. The first was totally misplaced - no practical capability whatsoever and clearly didn't really want to be there. He lasted about three days before being shoved out the door.
The second was a complete moron who thought he knew it all but repeatedly made it obvious he knew nothing - but only when  he could be bothered to turn up at all. He also had an extreme case of 'It's not my fault' syndrome. Naturally he didn't see out the week.
The third didn't turn up at all, and I then had an email half way through the week saying he'd written down the date wrong and could he please come in another week? Tough shit matey. Try Burger King instead.

It must be said though, that we've had the odd one who's been like a diamond in a pile of broken glass. Last year we actually had two of them who were fantastic. They were polite, interested, enthusiastic, and they learned quickly. And a few years ago there was the granddaughter of one of our academics who upon realising her capabilities working with her hands, completely changed her ideas about what she wanted to do with her life.

Unfortunately the only career most of them seem to have in mind for the future is chair testing. I firmly believe that most teens have a chair-seeking radar built into their arses. When a work experience kid walks in the door on their first day and plonks himself on the nearest chair we know we've got our work cut out. It means a week of attitude adjustment, communication therapy, and surgical iPod removal. But we're engineers, not their parents, social workers, or psychiatrists, so why the hell do we bother?
The meeting is likely to conclude that all applicants for work experience will have to be interviewed in advance to see if they are the right material, because letters of application are full of lies. This starts to sound like a lot of aggro, and given that some of the schools appear to be phasing out work experience altogether some may say just call it quits and stop taking them altogether.
The point is that although we go through so much crap with the majority, the occasional one that does well restores a little faith. Faith that perhaps we're not doomed after all. Faith that somewhere out there is the next generation of people who can actually DO something.