Sunday, 28 April 2013

First test ride

Gave Donkey its first little test ride today. A little bit of a fuelling issue to remedy, but all seems pretty good so far :-)
The excessive smoke (even for a 2-stroke) is because I put premix in the fuel tank to eliminate the risk of seizure in case the oil pump wasn't working properly...

Signs of ageing #27 - hair migration

I'm really getting tired of this - I'm finding more and more white hairs where they've no right to be.
Now I'm not one for vanity, but even I have to draw the line when a rogue white hair infiltrates the eyebrow ranks. It's not as if they're discreet, trying to subtly blend in with the rest; they're always twice as long and twice as thick as the surrounding hairs. It's like Basil Fawlty trying to hide in a room full of Manuels.
So it's yet another session in front of the mirror with a pair of tweezers before I start running the risk of developing eyebrows like my dads, and that is simply not allowed to happen.
But the eyebrow situation is just one of the symptoms of getting older that seem to be attacking me with mounting enthusiasm.
I've always been a bit scornful of men who try to disguise their receding hairlines, and to be honest I have to say that baldness is not something that would distress me at all - after all I'm almost there voluntarily anyway. Head hair is a nuisance for me. I used to have it, and even employed the services of 'products' like hair gel. The reality of getting up in the morning with bed hair got too much to cope with though, so off it all came. Now a hair wash takes less than a minute rather than spending half an hour trying to get the shampoo out. Drying it is just a quick rub with a towel, and waking up looking like an unfortunate accident at the poodle parlour is a thing of the past. The hairline keeps receding and the hole at the back is getting bigger but as it's all so short it doesn't really show. When it gets to about a quarter of an inch long and helmet hair becomes visible then it's out with the clippers to shave it all off again. Minimum maintenance.
The trouble is that all the hairs that have abandoned my scalp haven't simply disappeared. Oh no. In the same way that old people retire and move to the seaside to cause havoc with their mobility scooters, loitering in gangs in the town centre like the youths with their mopeds - the hairs have simply gone on a voyage of adventure. I'm not sure how they travel, although I suspect they go directly through the brain because that would explain the increasing amounts of forgetfulness I'm experiencing that make me have to write things down on bits of paper which don't help because I forget where I put them.
Having destroyed numerous brain cells on their travels, the adventurous hairs finally make it to one of two popular destinations - my ears or my nose, depending on what colour they've dyed themselves en-route. The thick white ones head for the ears. It was a shorter journey so they're obviously the lazier ones who couldn't be bothered to dye themselves. The more determined ones dye themselves black and go all the way to the nose where they hide out in the nasal cavity undergoing specialist training to become the most dreaded of foes, the black ninja nose hair.
These are evil bastards. They creep up on you unseen, waiting patiently until you least suspect their attack. You know you checked for unruly follicular activity before you left the house, but later on you catch sight of yourself when washing your hands and suddenly the black ninja nose hair leaps out of its hiding place, standing proudly in full view of the general public and waving a little flag proclaiming "Look at me, here I am!" and you have no idea how long it has been there or how many people have spotted it. And to make things worse you don't carry tweezers because a man just doesn't do that sort of thing, and trying to yank it out with your fingertips has no effect apart from making your eyes water. So all you can do is to try and stuff it back up the nostril in the hope it won't poke out again before you get home.
When you're young you stare in wonder at old men who have masses of hair sprouting from all sorts of weird locations - especially the ears which have inexplicably grown in size to accommodate all the new residents. Now I look at them and I'm determined not to give up the fight against these migrating hairs. The bathroom cabinet is like a weapons cache against such things and as much as I'll be happy when all the hair has gone from the top of my head and no longer needs cutting, I'll be damned if I'm going to end up with eyebrows like Dennis Healy.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The throttle only twists so far, mate...

On the face of it, it seems that project Donkey is nearing completion. There's still a list of jobs to do, but mostly it's trivial stuff like putting the fairings on, making and applying decals, and making the starter motor a bit more reliable than it currently is. I've designed, manufactured and fitted new footpegs because they're silly money to buy and I've already spent over a hundred quid on new brake parts and fork seals. This was supposed to be a cheap project, and I'm determined to keep the cost below five hundred. Might have to bust that budget slightly by fitting new tyres but they can wait until after the MOT as they're still legal - just a bit old so the rubber's going a bit hard.
All this leaves me with one burning question - do I give it to the boy when he turns sixteen next February?
It's a tricky one because I know he can't wait to ride it, and it'll be way cooler for a sixteen year old lad than your average Chinese scooter (not to mention somewhat faster).
And therein lies the problem. Youthful exuberance coupled with all the mechanical sympathy of a retarded chimpanzee and an understanding of the concept of gearing on a level displayed by the average foetus doesn't sound like a combination well suited to a fragile machine like this. Let's face it, the chances of him making it through the first month without blowing it up or throwing it down the road are slimmer than a shrink-wrapped supermodel. Even if he managed to avoid doing that, he'd probably get tugged by the old Bill for riding a bike he's not strictly speaking licensed for because it's not restricted to 30mph and although anyone sensible would make sure they didn't exceed that speed if there was a copper about, there's little chance of any youth considering such things when the thrill of being faster than your mates is always going to be the most important factor.
The other day he came home from school and decided he wanted to fire the old girl up (as you'd probably expect) and made a complete hash of it. Seeming to think that it was necessary to wrench the throttle back and forth whilst cranking the engine, he proceeded to make himself look very silly while completely failing to start the bike and just flattening the battery. This was the point at which my doubts really kicked in. Here's a boy who has never managed to get to grips with gears on a bicycle and has a habit of thinking he's going to be the world's greatest at everything until he actually tries it and ends up getting hurt.
And he's not alone. The average sixteen year old thinks they're immortal, and giving one a motorbike is like putting your child in the bath and giving them an electric toaster to play with, and yet there are so many of them out there dicing with death on our overcrowded roads with absolutely no fear (or sense) you'd think the mortality rate would be significant, but thankfully most seem to manage to stay alive somehow. The majority abandon their moped as soon as they can drive a car, but a few continue along the motorcycle route. For some a moped is just a means of transport, and for others it's the start of a lifelong obsession.
The year spent on a 50cc moped is one that can be used as a mild form of entertainment to those who might be watching. The sight of an adolescent hooligan on a scooter can make you cast your eyes heavenward in despair, especially when they're hunched down behind the headlight with their feet stretched out behind and doing their best to rip the throttle round another quarter turn past the end stop in a vain attempt to gain an additional 0.2mph. Bless 'em.
The lack of fear exhibited by these delinquent Rossi wannabe's can be an impressive sight though when they're ripping their way through traffic in the city. Nobody with an ounce of self-preservation would try and do the things they do, and yet they get away with it and live to see another day. Mostly, anyway.
I knew two lads at school who didn't make it past sixteen due to motorbike crashes, and a guy in my apprenticeship year (still sixteen) had a car pull out on him at a roundabout causing him to shatter both legs as he went over the bars on impact.
These things do happen and that's why I suspect my boy will end up on the same kind of cheap Chinese scooter that his mates will probably have. Something that won't exceed 30mph and doesn't have manual gears to confuse him. I know many would say not to let him have one at all, but the independence of your own transport is a valuable step in life and as a motorcyclist I understand the lure of the whole bike thing.
My mum wouldn't let me have a moped, and I already had my car license before getting into bikes.
She still worried about me when I went out on my bike, and looking back she had every reason to.
I'll just have to do my best to teach the boy the right way to do things so that he stays alive, and keep my fingers crossed that he actually listens and makes it home at the end of each day.
As for Donkey, I guess I'll just have to have a little play with it myself from time to time to remind me what it's like to be a young idiot.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The tracks of our lives

How many times have you heard a song and it remind you of where you were or what you were doing when you first heard it, or of a particular event or person?
Ultravox's 'Dancing with tears in my eyes' reminds me of leafing through my sister's record collection, where I found many things that I still listen to to this day like Toyah and Hazel O'Connor.
Whenever I hear 'Atomic' by Blondie I see the club scene in Trainspotting in my mind's eye even though I loved the song long before that film came out.
At the beginning of the nineties I spent a great deal of time in my mate's barn tinkering with motorbikes. He had a music system hooked up out there, and whenever I listen to albums like Shamen's 'Boss Drum', or Depeche Mode's 'Songs of Faith and Devotion', I'm reminded of those fun days when all I had to worry about was if it was worth putting 98 octane petrol in my TZR250 or not (it was) and whether I would ever actually get laid.
Eventually that problem was resolved and Enigma's 'MCMXC - AD' saw many hours in the CD player.....
At school I knew a guy who played the drums (extremely well, I might add) and when I hear the last two tracks on Genesis's 'Duke' album I'm transported back to the time he played along with them. With his hifi cranked way up, he was even louder and while I watched his alarm clock dancing its way off the shelf, I was amazed at just how perfectly he kept up with Phil Collins. If you're familiar with 'Duke's Travels' and 'Duke's End ' you'll know how complex the drumming can get.
The first time I heard 'Sad Old Red' by Simply Red was on an amazing hifi system costing about fifty grand in Steve Boxshall Audio in Cambridge. For anyone that knows or cares, there was a Cambridge Audio CD1 (which at that time was the best CD player in the world), Krell preamp and twin monobloc power amps, and a pair of Magneplanar MG3 speakers. It simply blew me away, and it wasn't the only time that happened in that place. I'd go in there often and blag a listen to whatever gear they had hooked up at the time, and even though the only thing I ever bought from there was a pair of Tannoy Eclipse speakers, the guys were always welcoming and up for a chat and to demonstrate gear. Looking back I suppose they were enthusiasts who enjoyed their job and if there weren't paying customers around then perhaps I relieved the boredom a little. Who knows. Shame that shop isn't there any more.
The interesting point here is that all these associations are happy ones, and sitting here now I'm struggling to think of a single song that reminds me of something bad.
Maybe what this says is that although we find it easier to moan about the negative things in life than give thanks for all the positive things, it's the good stuff that remains in our thoughts most prominently.
It also suggests that music is perhaps one of the most positive forces in our daily lives and should be enjoyed to its full, whatever your tastes may be.

The end of the world as we know it?

With the recent escalation in sabre-rattling going on on the other side of the world, thoughts briefly turned to what would happen if it all kicked off big style. What if NK did decide to do more than just shout a lot and actually started throwing nukes? Despite the distance, it would screw up the world for everyone else, and my thoughts have always been that if a nuke was coming I'd sit in the middle of a field with a bottle of scotch and wait to be vaporized because there would be nothing left worth living for.
However, a comment was made by someone I know that living in a post apocalyptic world would be a challenge he'd like to take on, and it's an interesting point of view.
If you've managed to survive the blast and the heat, the biggest threat is radioactive contamination. I've looked up about death by radiation and it's probably one of the most unpleasant ways to go, so at the very least you want some sort of fallout protection like a gas mask and some heavy impermeable protective clothing. And don't forget that uncontaminated food and water will be in very short supply - if you can find any at all.
On the up side though, it could be a time to wipe the slate clean of all the world's bullshit. A pressing of a giant reset button on life as we know it, and that's where the challenge comes in. How many people in western society now could survive without their centrally heated houses, electricity, oil, and trashy celebrity tabloid magazines? How many would die of starvation rather than kill and eat a rabbit or a muntjac deer? The whole scenario would be very primitive with the constant threat of violence from the inevitable savage gangs, but on the other hand it's unlikely that there would be any form of government or law enforcement trying to stop you living your life the way you want to with their petty rules and regulations. An opportunity for mankind to learn from its mistakes and regain a grip on the things that are really important in life. Family, friends, shelter, food and drink. That's what's important, and all the other crap that we've loaded our lives down with is all completely useless if the world goes tits-up.
If things in Asia escalate to the point of nuclear strikes it will be a horrifically devastating event that surely only the most insane individuals on the planet would fail to back down from, but if the unthinkable did happen and we were caught in the crossfire I may rethink my idea of welcoming oblivion with open arms.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Fast & Pointless

Watching the recent remake of Total Recall last night confirmed my belief that the quality of movies peaked some years ago and now seems to be in terminal freefall.
The key issue appears to be the reliance on computer generated effects to wow the audience, and although they have their place they shouldn't be used to shore up the foundations of what is basically a crap film.
So here goes with yet another diatribe on why things were better in the good old days - in this case a time when a movie needed to rely on acting and a good story.
Now I'm not saying that all movies since 1980 are awful or anything silly like that, and I'm aware that there are films still being made that do not fall into the category I'm whinging about. 'The Perks Of Being A Wallflower', for example, was very good indeed, even though I admit I'd sit through a Labour party political broadcast if it featured lingering shots of Emma Watson. And the 1992 version of 'Of Mice And Men' with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise was absolutely superb.
Even the high levels of CG effects in films like Avatar are justifiable because otherwise all the characters would have looked like Andy Pipkin in his smurf outfit in Little Britain, running around in Thetford forest battling errant badgers, and somehow I don't think that would have been quite the same.
The old horror movies featured early attempts at special effects that make us fall off our chair with laughter these days but we forget how quickly things move on. Go back and watch the first Terminator film again and check out the final fight scene when Arnie has lost his skin, and you'll see just how dodgy the animation was, even though at the time it seemed amazing. Now it looks almost as bad as the fighting skeletons in the original 'Jason And The Argonauts'.
There's no doubt that without computer graphics, films like 'Harry Potter', 'Lord Of The Rings', or 'District 9' couldn't really have been made, and Shrek just wouldn't have been the same in cell animation.
The problem comes though when things are taken so far beyond belief that the whole thing just becomes silly and annoying. 'Total Recall' and 'Expendables 2' are just a couple of examples, and the other day I saw the trailer for 'Fast and Furious 6'. I've enjoyed these movies so far (apart from the rather lame fourth installment), but it's now become so ridiculous and over-the-top that it's impossible to suspend disbelief. I'm aware that the fifth one contained many silly bits but as entertaining nonsense it managed to avoid crossing the line too far. The new one appears to be nothing short of an attempt to see what is the most stupidly unbelievable thing that can be created on screen while still getting the movie-going public to part with substantial amounts of their hard-earned cash.
By contrast, the 1972 film 'Sleuth' starring Michael Caine and Lawrence Olivier contained no special effects whatsoever, and comprised of nothing more than two men talking in a house, but it had me glued to my seat for two and a quarter hours. That was achieved purely by quality acting and a good script.
I'm now at the point where I'd rather watch older films like 'White Heat' or 'Ice Cold In Alex' because they come from a time when a movie was made primarily with a passion for the art rather than for the box office profits.

Sleuth, The 51st State, Ice Cold In Alex, Amelie, White Heat.
Great films, no CG.