Saturday, 27 July 2013

Burning rubber and finding liberation

It's funny how life has it's ups and downs. My fortnight off work decided to make a grand entrance and show me who's boss by simultaneously kicking me in the 'nads and the wallet. On Monday I was just getting the 1200 Bandit out for a ride, when I spotted an enormous cut across the back tyre. Obviously it had encountered something sharp on the road last time I rode it, leaving me with a tyre that was dangerously defective despite only having been on for a couple of months and barely worn.
With the credit card 105 pounds heavier the problem was resolved, but it wasn't exactly the best way to start things off, although with the Bandit temporarily unserviceable I did have the opportunity to see if the YBR125 could cope with carrying a pillion. It rose to the challenge surprisingly well, managing to struggle up to 50mph even though the poor little bugger was loaded up with a total of 24 stone. It must have looked hilarious.

The rest of the week became an easily forgettable blur of boredom and tedium that even made the obligatory visit to Tesco to do the shopping seem entertaining. When all else fails there's always the tried and tested game of 'spot the misnomer' that you can play whilst browsing the supermarket shelves. It's very simple - just find things written on packaging that you know with absolute certainty to be untrue, such as 'easy open' on a packet of bacon. You know this is a downright lie because if you try and open the pack as instructed you end up spending five minutes trying to lift the tab in the corner with your fingernail and just when you've finally got hold of it and think you've got it beat, the bloody thing breaks off in you fingers leaving you swearing and reaching for the knife that you would have used in the first place if you hadn't been conned by the label into thinking it unnecessary.
My other favourite is 'soft scoop' on a tub of ice cream. I have never found an ice cream that lives up to this description. I do however possess an interesting assortment of bent spoons......

Things improved greatly today though. Determined not to let my time off work fly by without achieving anything worthwhile, we decided it was time for a grand day out to blow away both the cobwebs and the increasing sense of doom descending upon us.
So today we ventured forth to Santa Pod raceway to watch the drag racing, even though the weather forecast was for rain. This weekend is the Euro Mopar Nationals and we spent the day being treated to all manner of seriously quick machinery hurtling down the quarter mile in a wave of sonic ecstasy that can only be accomplished with a highly tuned V8 with open exhaust pipes.
And as the day turned out to be blazing sunshine, forcing the application of copius amounts of sun cream and hats, everything turned out well. We returned home with our ears ringing with the after effects of a symphony of gasoline, American muscle, and an extremely loud jet car. Oh, and a satisfied smile brought on by the three of us actually having spent a nice day together with no squabbling.

Admittedly, the heat had taken it's toll and when the rain finally did begin to fall this evening it was so very welcome. So welcome in fact that I ended up rolling around naked on the wet grass in the rain, soaking up the delicious coolness with a feeling of total liberation that only activities such as this can bring. Once again, life's simple pleasures win through. No matter how down you may feel, there's usually a way to lift yourself back up again, and it's all the more satisfying when it doesn't cost a penny.

The jet car 'Fire Force 3' doing a 6 second 1/4 mile, terminating at 265mph.
Completely ecologically unsound........... but who the hell cares!?!

Fire Force 3 at Santa Pod - 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Reasons to be cheerful

I thought I'd have trouble coming up with any kind of blog post that wasn't a rant or grumble about something, and despite mulling the matter over many times during the past week I've had a complete lack of inspiration.
The only thing I might be able to put a positive spin on and maybe get some mileage out of today is the fact that I have the next two weeks off work.
As this coincides with the start of the school holidays there's little need to be getting up so early, but I'm sure I will anyway. When you're so used to being up at quarter past six every day it's hard to make your body adjust to a different schedule. Even when it's getting to the end of my time off work, my brain will still automatically switch to 'ON' mode at 6:15am and start strutting around my skull barking orders to my body, like "Come on get up, you know there's things to do and I'm not going to let you relax until every job is completed, and even then I'll come up with something for you to fret over until bedtime!".
This must be what defines a 'morning person' - someone with a brain that mentally throws a bucket of cold water in your face at some ungodly hour of the morning and demands attention.
The boy on the other hand is definitely a night-owl who needs a pack of wild horses to drag him out of bed in the morning and only seems to come to life right at the end of the day when really he should be going to bed.
 In fact, I've just come up with a motorcycle analogy for this which (if you'll indulge me) sums up the situation. I'm like a big single-cylinder trailie - lots of torque at the start of the rev range to pull away strongly, but as time passes and the revs rise it just runs out of puff. Whereas the boy is more like a highly strung sportsbike - sod all at the bottom end of the rev range where it's hard to get moving, a gradual increase in momentum as the midrange is passed through, and just as you think (with a little disappointment) that's all there is, the powerband comes crashing in with an accompanying relentless surge towards the horizon.
When he gets a bit older he'll be out clubbing at the weekends, getting rat-arsed, and stumbling out of a taxi at 3am with some random tart in tow. In the meantime, I'm tucked up with a last cup of tea and a good book by half past ten at night.
However, with two weeks ahead of me with nothing but a few DIY jobs around the house to keep me busy, I'm actually feeling pretty good. Two weeks not having to cope with the daily commute, deal with demanding researchers, or drive that bloody supersonic wind tunnel. It also means not having to go to Cambridge which is currently under it's annual deluge of tourists - especially the enormous crowds of arrogant bastard Spanish students who clutter the pavements and shops with no regard for anyone but themselves. Fortunately they all carry those brightly coloured language school rucksacks so you can spot them at a reasonable distance, enabling you to either take evasive action or aim for the middle of the pack with the full shoulder-charge, which is really satisfying.
Unfortunately I may have strayed into rant territory there, but the route to positive thinking is a bumpy ill-maintained road with countless potholes to hit along the way. Funnily enough, that sounds like most of the roads in Cambridgeshire......
I may try something different to use my rather excessive quantities of spare time. I've been contemplating having a go at something artistic, which is tough for someone who has shown no artistic talent whatsoever all their life, but given the sort of things that seem to pass for art these days maybe it won't be all that difficult.
I'm tempted by metal sculpture of some description as it involves materials and processes that I'm familiar with already. Unfortunately, my first attempt resulted in slicing my thumb open on a piece of freshly guillotined sheet steel (my own stupid fault - should know to wear gloves after all these years), so I thought I'd have a go at drawing instead while I tried to regain my enthusiasm.
So I bought a drawing pad, a couple of soft graphite pencils and a charcoal pencil, and plonked myself in the garden yesterday to see what would happen. The result was predictably a complete mess, but at least it was a mess that kept me calm and occupied for a good couple of hours with the only interruption being a big fat wood pigeon that needed to be shot for this morning's breakfast, fried in a pan with onion, garlic, herbs and potato, and accompanied by a large mug of Assam tea.
I'll keep trying with the drawing thing, going out for a walk a few places to find something more interesting to put on paper, but if yesterday's attempt is anything to go by I think I'll be fighting a losing battle.
However it goes, I'm not giving up. I haven't played on the Xbox for a long time now and I can't imagine how bored I'd need to be before I'd resort to dragging it out of the cupboard now. And as I no longer need to spend time researching and fretting over my transport situation, even the internet holds little for me apart from acting as the world's greatest time-sink. I'm desperately trying to reverse the trend that has taken hold over the years of spending increasing amounts of time staring at a screen for one reason or another, and the more activities I find that don't involve a screen the more contented and happier I become. It's possible that de-screening my life could be the answer to many of my angry and depressive tendencies, and if I uncover more evidence of this then perhaps I might find that the unkempt road to positive thinking has a freshly laid motorway running parallel to it.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Wanted: Positive mental attitude

Looking back over the past posts on this blog I can see what a negative view I have of the world. Not that I needed the blog to tell me that, but it does show how all-consuming negative thoughts can be. It's almost as if I find it easier to be down on life and only focus on the crappy aspects, rather than embracing all the good stuff and letting the crap wash over me.
The wife and I have been discussing this problem, because we both have a similar outlook which doesn't help matters. This means the boy has grown up with negative parents and is consequently already a fully-fledged Victor Meldrew at only fifteen.
This has to stop. We've made an agreement to make a monumental effort to stop being miserable grumbly world-weary old buggers, and to try and develop a positive mental attitude. And boy have we got our work cut out.
After all, how can you undo years of programming that has taught you that the world's a shitty place with no justice, where nothing works as it should and every other person is out to shaft you in some way? A world of stupidity, violence, arrogance, celebrity worship and narcissism.
I honestly don't know, but I owe it to myself and those around me to try my hardest to break this thought process down and rebuild it in a positive manner which could enable me to bring life's good stuff to the foreground, sweeping the rubbish into the shadows.

So perhaps the first stage of this process can be a change in format of this blog. To ensure that I write something positive and (god forbid) uplifting, it will be necessary to spend time contemplating life in a rather different manner; sifting through memories of the week's drudgery to separate the wheat from the chaff, picking out the good things and chucking the rest into the mental incinerator so it can't be dwelt upon at a later date to drag me down again.
Obviously this will take time, but henceforth I'm determined to only write happy stuff.
I want to have a positive mental attitude, a smile instead of a frown, spend more time being creative, and occasionally buy different biscuits from custard creams.
I want to find my happy place, and you're more than welcome to accompany me on the journey.
Who knows, it might be fun...

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Summer has arrived - now please make it stop.

The weather forecast for today says it's going to be 28 degrees celsius, so it's a foregone conclusion that tomorrow's headline on at least one of the low-rent newspapers will be "Phew, what a scorcher!".
This country is nothing if not predictable. Most of us will have been grumbling about how crappy this year's weather has been so far, wondering if we're ever actually going to get a proper summer. Now it appears to has arrived, and I don't think I'm the only one that kinda wishes it would back off a bit.
For me it ideally needs to be about 20 degrees. By the time it reaches 25 I'm fading fast and looking for some shady corner to hide in and the nearer it gets to 30, the nearer I get to sitting in the fridge to avoid melting completely.
Being England we don't have a climate, we have weather. Weather that is unpredictable (despite what the meteorologists would have us believe) and never makes everyone happy at the same time. That's why we're renowned for using the weather as a conversation topic; it gives us something to grumble about and after all, grumbling is our national sport and therefore pretty much the one thing left that we're actually good at.

I'm simply not good at hot weather and I certainly don't have a wardrobe that lends itself to coping with it. There's a couple of pairs of shorts, and t-shirts are a year-round item, but that's it. Even my man-sandals have gone to landfill since they lost an argument with the pressure washer, and I'm not convinced about replacing them as they only ever saw the light of day for about one week of the year anyway.
Some people are clearly into all this heat and sun though, and they're out there in their trendy summer clothes, being happy and turning an attractive shade of brown.
If I spend too much time out in the sun I turn red, and spend the next fortnight being sore, itchy, and finally flaky; harbouring a renewed conviction to keep my pale skin covered up as much as possible.
Arabs seem to have the right idea, wearing those big white robes and headgear that must be amazingly effective at preventing sunburn and reflecting the worst of the sun's heat. Unfortunately, if I was to go to out like that I'd stand out like a sore thumb and if there's one thing I really don't like it's standing out. Blend in - that's the way. It stops you being noticed....

So although the summer has finally decided to grace us with it's presence I'm already looking forward to autumn with it's cooler days and the declining sun filtering through bands of trees slowly shedding their leaves of beautiful red and golden shades. I'm looking forward to harvesting a big pile of elderberries to make wine to keep me warm and horizontal during the winter of the following year.
For me autumn and spring are the most enjoyable seasons - they're seasons of change. Autumn sees nature getting itself ready for bed; ready for the long cold slumber of winter. Spring is nature's awakening; the emergence of the snowdrops heralding the start of another year as the deciduous trees slowly regain their foliage and wildlife can finally find sufficient food after the winter's hardship.
So for the time being I'll stay in the shade, clutching an ice-cold drink and enjoying looking out at the world in it's colourful summer splendour, and making the most of there not being much need to wear waterproofs when riding the bike.
While not without its drawbacks (like sunburn and bugs), summer does at least allow me to commute in daylight and not have my fingertips frozen to the point of physical pain. But if winter didn't do that to me I wouldn't have anything left to grumble about.
Oh, who am I trying to kid? Of course I would.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Revelations part 2

I've had a revelation, and it's come in the unlikely form of a Yamaha YBR125. I bought it as a cheap-as-chips mode of transport for commuting, and already it has surpassed expectations.
Having just completed my first week commuting on this little bundle of joy I can proudly announce that it has returned 121mpg, costing just £7.50 in petrol for a week's travel to and from work - that's only £1.50 a day!
So despite having had an exhausting week at work, and with temperatures climbing into the region where I generally want to hide in the corner being a sweaty mess clutching yet another pint of homebrew, I've still managed to arrive home with a big silly grin on my face.
OK, the little YBR is never going to set anyone's hair on fire with only 10bhp on tap, but it keeps up with the traffic, and slips past it when it comes to a grinding halt. Plus with ridiculously low road tax, insurance, and parts costs I really feel this is one of the best decisions I've ever made. With the added benefit of being yet another subtle way in which I've been able to opt out of the rat race.
I love being able to do anything different from the masses; I love being just that little bit different and sticking two fingers up at the sort of convention that has the majority scrabbling to have everything bigger or better than the next person, whether it's a super-frugal motorcycle, not watching TV or having a TV license, or simply not caring that I don't have fancy foreign holidays.
The decision to run such a vehicle wasn't taken lightly, and I've lost count of the hours, days, and months I spent agonizing over the whys and wherefores of all the possible permutations of vehicles that would make the most sense. The 1200 Bandit remains - there's no way I'm getting rid of that yet, and running the two bikes is still half the cost of one small car. Besides, riding something with all the performance of a wilting lettuce all week means that the big fella is guaranteed to scare the shit out of me when I take it out at the weekend. Commuting daily on a big bike makes you become blase to its performance capabilities and too easily you find yourself being very naughty indeed without even trying, until one day you catch yourself being a loony and the realisation hits you that the sense of immortality that you've built up around yourself could very soon come crashing down around your ears leaving you trying to convince either the cops or St Peter that "It wasn't my fault, guv..."
So as well as being a smile-inducing, wallet-friendly two fingered salute that allows you to arrive at your destination calm and collected, this featherweight little 125 is also a much needed reality check that could ultimately extend my life expectancy beyond what it has been of late.
So the big revelation is that oddly enough, it doesn't have to be fast to be fun. My acceleration-fuelled adrenaline-junkie alter-ego can quite easily be controlled with the alternative thrill of trying to not slow down for the twisty bits to avoid the tedium of trying to regain speed again.
It's sometimes said that good things come in small packages, and in this case I think it might just be true.