Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Dinner at The Commodore Hotel, Instow

Followers of this blog know that I occasionally like to treat myself to a posh meal at a nice restaurant or hotel. As a holiday treat. As a chance to wear something dressy, and not just a waterproof jacket and jeggings. And an opportunity to meet similarly-minded people - I nearly always do! And if you are a regular reader you'll know that I am friendly company, easy to get along with, and can chat with anyone.

I'd been into Barnstaple late in the afternoon, and now, on my way back to Great Torrington, had decided to drive 'home' via Instow and Bideford. A fine sunset was getting under way. It looked like this by the time I reached Instow, which is a nautical, boaty little place with lots of sand. It looks across to the even more nautical and boaty Appledore. A magic moment for horse riders, and for lovers:


So what to eat tonight, I wondered. I love cooking in the caravan, but I was in the mood to buy a meal out. And I thought of The Commodore Hotel, which must be close by. I'd had a recommendation to eat there from a lady called Pam, whom I'd met at Eggesford station last September - see my post on 7 October 2013 titled Ashreigney - and Pam at Eggesford. And later, when mentioning the Hotel to Phil and Ann in the kitchen at Higher Darracott Farm (where I was pitched), there were nods of assent: it was definitely a premier place to stay and dine at, possibly the best in the area. So it needed only a slight nudge to send me there sooner or later. And lo, there it was, golden in the sunset:


I wasn't exactly dressed to kill, but I went in and made enquiries, secured the evening's menu to glance at, and booked a table for one.


The friendly lady at Reception said I might not need to dine alone. A businesswoman on her own was staying there, and she might like to have company in the Hotel's Marine Restaurant. As if on cue, she arrived just as we were speaking: a smart, slim, thirty-something professional, very well-dressed in green silk trousers with a red-and-gold silk jacket, lovely hair, a beautiful face, and fine hands. But a thought limp and tired. We fell into brief conversation. She'd been recruiting all day, and although sharing a table with me was a charming idea to her, she really wanted to eat quickly in the bar and then go early to bed. No problems. I bet she would have been excellent company in the Restaurant, but I could imagine just how wearing a day spent interviewing people might be. I'd sat on recruitment panels myself in the past.

An hour an a half later I was back, transformed. The lady at reception seemed pleased to see me again, and commented on how nice I looked. I studied the evening menu afresh, rapidly made up my mind, placed my order with James the Restaurant Manager, and finished off my aperitif. It was dark now, and a little windy. But I was able to park Fiona close to the entrance, and I'd had time to contemplate the twinkling lights of Appledore across the Torridge estuary, and the warm lights of the Hotel, as seen from outside:


I wore a favourite blue dress, my pearls, and had my hair up. The Prada bag had an outing that night, too.

In the Marine Restaurant, James showed me to my table. There were several couples dining, all rather older than me, clearly staying at the Hotel so that their dinner was part of an inclusive deal. I was eyed up pretty thoroughly. I think they couldn't quite work out why I was there, and alone to boot. After all, it was still late March, pre-Easter, and not at all the main holiday season. And I was not dressed as if I were a road warrior, living out of a suitcase. (They couldn't know that I had the use of a big wardrobe in my caravan) I'm sure I was much discussed! Not rudely, of course.

I asked James for a large glass of white wine, I forget what, but it was good. Water also of course. It was a three-course dinner, but it felt like four. After some toasted bread, I began with Crab Custard Tart - lobster mayonnaise, tartar salad, and a crab beignet:


Whimsical and tasty. This was followed by a delicate sorbet, to refresh the palate. Then the main: Duo of Pork - fillet and braised cheek, roast celeriac, pickled walnuts, red wine shallots, and a spiced jus. Here's a not-very-good picture of it, which makes it look as if it had simply been shovelled onto my plate. 'Twas not so:


It was amazingly delicious. And filling - I hesitated over having anything too rich for dessert. After discussion, I chose a selection of West Country cheeses, which arrived on a slate:


I'd just decided to give up cheese at home, to cut down my regular fat intake, and so this was a real treat.

The service from James and others was smooth and efficient, and I felt very well looked after. James was clearly a busy man, but we had a little conversation nevertheless. I explained how dining on my own was completely the norm for me, and I mentioned a similar kind of meal the previous October, at The George Hotel at Stamford. James knew it. And he wasn't the only one.

After the cheese, I said I'd like to have coffee in the bar perhaps, and settle up there. But I didn't. A couple who had been seated far over to my right, not really in my line of sight at all, came over and said that they knew The George at Stamford too. Would I like to chat with them over coffee, in the Residents' Lounge? I demurred: I wasn't a resident! Oh, that wouldn't matter. So that's what we did for the next hour.

They were a lovely couple named Douglas and Ruth, and they lived in Skegness. They were staying a night or two, having been to Cornwall. They were travelling slowly back home, seeing family on the way. Here they are:


I really liked them, and we got on so well. Once more I reflected how kind fate was to me, to send me pleasant people all the time. I felt sad afterwards that I would probably never see them again. Except that at a hotel like this one, you never quite know who you might run into. It was the favourite choice of several visiting celebrities. That view, I suppose. And no doubt the quality of the rooms (I should have asked to see a suite) and the food. Phil Spencer and Kirsty Allsop, for instance, of Channel 4's Location, Location, Location had stayed here. Pam at Eggesford had told me they always stayed at The Commodore when looking at properties in North Devon for their TV clients. A picture on a wall near Reception proved it:


My goodness it was chilly when I left the Hotel after settling my bill! Well-insulated Fiona still contained some warm air from my drive earlier, however, and I was soon cosy again. The bill was a reasonable £41.40, less than half what I paid at The George. But then The George had been full of well-heeled types who were used to eye-watering prices.


Surprisingly, I saw from their brochure that I could stay at The Commodore in the height of the summer holiday season for £791 per week, full board. OK, they would charge me another £10.50 a night as a single-occupancy supplement, which bumped the all-in price up to £864. Which is £123 per night. But that's still not bad for an amazing room with the kind of sea view my opening photos suggest, and meals of the same quality that I had that night. Plus the chance to suck up to Phil and Kirsty!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The call of the bluebells - and Durdle Door


The English countryside in Spring is one of the great sights on the planet, especially so when the bluebells begin to emerge from their slumber and turn the land sky-blue. And it strikes me that nowhere does this happen with more splendour than in Sussex, although I will admit freely that the heavily-wooded Surrey Hills and the North Downs can look beautiful too, and possibly more perfectly carpeted with blue, marred only by excessive shade:


The topmost shot was taken by me in 2006 near Bewl Water, on the Sussex-Kent border. The next two (with mauvebells rather than bluebells) was taken way back in 2002 on Hackhurst Downs, a little bit of the western North Downs above Gomshall, and clearly shows how early digital cameras failed to get colours quite right. But the effect of a dense, ankle-high swathe of bluebells is still captured.

The title of this post also mentions Durdle Door, that giant Jurassic arch on the Dorset coast, itself dwarfed by the colossal cliffs to the east and west, but always impressive, and no more so than on a crisp Spring morning when the walking boots are on, and a few miles of breathtaking coastline will be absolutely the right tonic for a jaded mind or any kind of unhappy thinking. Some shots of mine from 2008 and 2009:


Bluebells and high white cliffs epitomise the special allure of Southern England. We fought wars to protect them. Wars against the Spanish, wars against the French, wars against the Germans, and wars against greedy (can I say psychopathic?) property developers. There is collective cultural emotion invested in those iconic little blue flowers, in those iconic stalwart cliffs. And many other things too: the majestic mountains of Wales and Scotland; the lakes of Cumbria; the ancient cathedrals; Stonehenge; the Uffington White Horse; the Rollright Stones; the timeless flow of the Severn or the Thames; the cool, clear, gentle waters of the Test in Hampshire, disturbed only occasionally by a fish taking a fly; the peal of bells from a country church; the darting wren and the vigilant red robin of leafy suburban gardens everywhere; the Union Jack flag. Worth a fight indeed. And sorely missed when abroad.

In 2007 M--- and I spent two months touring New Zealand top to toe. Both Islands. We wanted to see it all. And it was a rewarding experience that I will never forget. Nor need I - I have all our photographs that were any good, thousands of them. The photo-shoot to end them all, at least so far.

We went there in March and spent all of April there. Their late summer, shading off into Autumn. Our Spring. And despite the wonder of the place, there came a moment when we realised that we were missing the transformation of the drab brown winter landscape back home into a fresh new green-and-yellow-and-blue fairyland - new green shoots, bright yellow daffodils, and the dear bluebells. We were also yearning for the particular glories of the English coast that we loved.

I recorded the very moment this happened in the Travel Diary that I kept on my laptop as we went from place to place, stopping overnight at this or that site (a mere gravel lakeside, or a proper holiday park) in our campervan. We were in South Island, working our way down to the furthest south-west that the State Highways could take us. We'd just seen the Norwegian scenery of Milford Sound. Now we were looking at lakes, with these sorts of views:


But even so, I wrote this:

2007 0326 POSSUM LODGE HOLIDAY PARK, Murrell Avenue, Manapouri, NZ
1 night.

Hookup.

Close to the attractive Lake Manapouri, this was a decent site with good facilities, although not spacious: all the campervans were packed in together in a circle.  We were still pestered with the black biting flies.  The fee was $NZ 28.00.  

The local walkways were nice, as was the beach and the harbour. 

It was here that we first started to look forward to going home.  We weren't yet tired of New Zealand, but the thought of a week on the Dorset coast was highly appealing.  Tyneham and Warbarrow Bay, for instance.

It was the twenty-third day in New Zealand, with 34 more to go. Altogether - if you include flying time and days spent in Los Angeles and Hong Kong - we were absent from home for over two months. Funny how one suddenly longs for the familiar sights of home after only three weeks or so, even if one is having a brilliant time! From this twenty-third day, a tipping-point so to speak, we took in the New Zealand scene with no less enjoyment, but not with quite such eagerness, because home was on our minds and each day abroad was standing in the way of a blissful reunion.

And we kept on seeing reminders of home that we'd be better off not seeing. There were chestnut trees and conkers in Christchurch city...


...and a riverside restaurant there called Oxford-on-Avon, where you could get a kind of Roast Sunday Lunch with Yorkshire Pudding, and the odd duck would waddle in from the stream outside, quacking in a Sussex dialect:


And later on, now once more in North Island, there were country scenes like this, near Havelock North, that seemed uncannily reminiscent of Wiltshire. It only tugged at one's home-loving heart, and fed a growing homesickness:


Maybe the infuriating blackflies at Manapouri had something to do with it - worse than Scottish midges! We encountered them all along the west coast of New Zealand's South Island, and quite far inland too. Wherever there was lots of rain and lots of water. Here's one, trying to get into the campervan, with its devil's horns:


At Milford Sound, there was a framed notice telling of the role the blackfly played in Maori legend:


But no, it wasn't just the flies. We wanted the Cobb at Lyme Regis, the sunset at Sennen Cove, the fresh-mown hay in a field near Hailsham, the sheep on Romney Marsh, the soft sand at West Wittering, and the green bareness of the South Downs. Two days before that overnight stop at Manapouri, two days before the tipping-point, we'd seen an outdoor exhibition of photographs at Wanaka, and one of them was of that prehistoric White Horse at Uffington, on the north-facing chalk escarpment between Swindon and Wantage:


I do remember being taken aback, seeing that in New Zealand of all places. It was an intrusion. We were as geographically far from England as it was possible to get. We did not want to be recalled to Oxfordshire just yet. But we were recalled. It was like emigrating by choice to a foreign land, and loving the life, and the new friends, and the sunshine, and the food, and all the other delights, and then one day hearing an accordion strike up, and the plaintive sung words of a traditional English folk song...and whether it tells of Tolpuddle or Tyneside, all is lost in an instant.

There's no place like home.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Could I be a psychopath?

I caught only the last half-hour of Channel 4's Psychopath Night a little while ago, but they screened it again on More 4 two nights back, and I was able to see the bits I had missed on the first occasion. If you didn't see it at all, I can tell you that it was a two-hour examination of what kind of persons psychopaths are, illustrated by film and real-life examples.

Contrary to what most might suppose, psychopaths are not at all rare, and far from being only brutal killers with empty minds, may be intelligent people of great talent, likely to be drawn to certain high-grade occupations in which they can wield great power and influence.

But whether brute or banker, they all share some identifying characteristics. Such as regarding themselves as the most important person around, having a sense of complete infallibility, an inability to be shocked, and a tendency to regard other people simply as positive or negative assets in whatever enterprise they pursue, and not as persons with feelings to take into account. A psychopath, however charming, is calculating and manipulative. A psychpath could be the best kind of person to have around if you need someone along who has a cool head and a fearless approach to danger. Or someone who will without emotion and without guilt carry out an order or instruction, regardless of its effect on other people's wellbeing. Psychopaths are survivors and extremely well focussed on whatever their task is. But they are also self-centred, incapable of accepting fault or blame, and unable to empathise with anyone else's position.

Or so I understood the unfolding message of the programme.

There was also an online test one could take, to show where on the spectrum of pychopathy one might be: a score of 0 indicating a self-sacrificing saint, and a score of 100 indicating someone who is the absolute centre of their universe, and completely uncaring about the welfare of others.

I took this test, and you will be pleased to know that I scored only 24, indicating someone who does think of other people and can empathise with them. Well, that's a relief!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Daredevil, and points arising


I'd never heard of Daredevil until quite by chance I saw this page from a 1966 comic pasted up on a pub wall a few months back:


It's a page from an early Daredevil story, in which he is brought by gangsters to 'defend' a judge in a mock trial convened by The Owl, a vindictive mega-businessman with a crooked outlook on life, who decided to pursue a high-level career in crime. The Owl was jailed by the judge for his misdeeds. But he escaped, and is now exacting a sweet revenge - he hopes. At this point The Owl does not know that the blind attorney being led down the steps is in fact Daredevil, a super-hero, who will of course act to save the judge and confound The Owl. The first in a long series of repeated encounters over the years.

You can read all about Daredevil at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daredevil_(Marvel_Comics), and about The Owl at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owl_(Marvel_Comics).

Now a couple of general points.

First, I am not a regular reader of comics, and never was, but I do think they are of huge cultural significance, and very influential. They are a very accessible form of commercial art with wide circulation and appeal.

Second, comic or satirical drawings have been around for a very long time. For instance, think of the political and social-comment drawings of Hogarth in the eighteenth century. We approach those on a somewhat more highbrow level than the modern comic, but the basic elements are all there: a strongly-drawn picture that contains recognisable characters; bubbles to show what the characters are saying as they leer, lust, fornicate, pontificate, threaten, or whatever; captions to explain the action further; subsidiary things going on in the picture that add subtlety and credibility; and a persuasive moral point driven home through the actions and attitude of hero (or anti-hero), his helpers, and his opponents. In Hogarth's day, the 'frame' would be large, one picture in itself, and lots would be happening in it at the same time. Nowadays, each frame is small, and deals with just a character or two, and one segment of the action - but then the story will be carried forward in a series of pictures that melt into each other.

Setting aside the story-lines, I was always chiefly fascinated by the power and economy of the drawing in modern comics of the type published by Marvel Comics and DC Comics. It was a deliberately simplified style, obviously, but at the same time it had to clearly convey the character's emotional state - not an easy thing to do - and, without being too fussy with the artwork, a character had to seem three-dimensional, believably muscular (muscles seem to be the convention for super-heroes!), and their movements - often sudden and swift and directional - had to be suggested solely through marks drawn on paper. All this calls for artistic skill of a high order. I recognised that, and admired it. The ability to convincingly depict 'solidity', 'movement' and a character's 'inner life' is surely one of those things that separates professionals from amateurs.

Then there are the captions and speech in the word-bubbles. Again, a terse, tightly-economic style is used, written usually in easy-to-read block capitals with important words in bold. Have you ever considered how well and efficiently the action is thrust forward by these verbal devices? And how the words in the boxes or bubbles integrate with the character-drawings, as part of the overall design for that frame?

The Wikipedia articles on the characters of Daredevil and The Owl reveal the effort and depth of thought that went into their creation - the Daredevil article particularly. If you wish to get an idea of the work involved then do study what is said. Nowadays the computer (see for instance http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer-generated_imagery) is a fantastic help, and wasn't around when Daredevil was first launched in the 1960s, but pencil and inking skills are still vital at the concept stage, or when suggesting and drafting a story-line.

Back to Daredevil. I spoke of the care taken in his creation and development. He had to be given a background, and subtle elements in his character, motivation, and abilities as a super-hero. It was essential to round him out, make him believable, and make the reader want to follow his life as it changed through issue after issue.

The pre-eminent fact about him is that he is blind. He was blinded by exposure to radiation as a boy. But that affected his other senses, changing them for the better. He became incredibly aware of things around him, as if seeing a three-dimensional wrap-around monochrome mental image in fine detail. He could function as if normally sighted and more: he had a sixth-sense of another living person's presence. His hearing, taste, and smell were heightened to abnormally acute levels. He could tell for instance if a person were lying, because he could hear their heartbeat. His sense of touch was so good that he could 'read' a printed page by detecting the shape of each letter from the ink standing proud of the paper surface.

But then there were a few subtleties. He couldn't see colours. Smooth images like a glossy printed photograph were blank to him. It was possible to foil or even immobilise him with sensory overload, such as too much confusing sound. These limitations - fictional though they are - give Daredevil a 'credibility' lacking in the can-do-anything-effortlessly Superman, and other superheroes of that type. OK, Superman becomes pathetic and bedridden if his arch-enemy Lex Luthor tosses a small lump of Kryptonite at him. But that is such an unlikely and contrived way of slowing Superman down. I find the more comprehensible physical limitations imposed on Daredevil much more appealing.

Unfortunately, though, I rather think Daredevil would face certain difficulties in the world of 2014. He wouldn't be able to use his fingertips to 'read' a computer screen, nor 'see' what a mobile phone could tell him. In a screen-based universe the touch-dependant person loses out. (And that must apply to real blind people)

What about super-heroes in general? What is it all about?

It's an urban myth thing, of course, anybody can see that: another variation on the good versus bad theme. Impressionable youths and psychopaths apart, I don't think anyone really believes that super-heroes exist, or that anybody actually possesses super-powers. But what if it were true? Disney's The Incredibles was a very clever cartoon take on what might be the actual life of a family with a range of super-powers between them (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Incredibles) - and the problems that could arise in 'ordinary life' for such a family. The constant dilemma of who to help, just because you can. The irritations and disruptions you cause to the community from, say, constantly damaging the local infrastructure and keeping local taxes high. The problems that having a super-power can pose for children, not least the unwelcome sensation of feeling like a misfit. The disruption to normal home life, to such an extent that you want to forget that you are in any way special - and who you really are.

There are parallels here with any situation in which a person has a Secret Identity that must be kept hidden. Anyone who has tried to live one life, when deep down they are someone else and need to live another. Does that resonate with you?

And believe me, if stuck in that situation, no super power you might possess can possibly help. That's why Daredevil, and even the awesome-super-capable-from-any-angle Superman, both have a rough on-off love-life. Ha! Just the love-life? They had it easy.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Suck it, creep! Butt out, punk! Eat sh*t and die!


I bet you're wondering what kind of madness has gripped Miss Melford after her morning toast-and-marmalade. Read on.

I mentioned yesterday that I'd come across some photocopied cartoons up in the attic, dating from the 1980s, and given to me in the 1990s by a biker friend. By way of background, I should explain that during the 1990s I knew of three biking enthusiasts - meaning mo'bikes, naturally.

One was a small, slim, very clever and individualistic young lady called Ceinwen. We had a certain rapport, cumulating in a sunny day out in Kent together, with a yummy cream tea to finish. And then she showed me her monster motorbike at home. Oh! Way too scary! I slid away from further contact.

I think she went on to fulfil her ambition to join the Revenue's elite Enquiry Branch - the team that investigated and prosecuted high-profile people likely to make the national dailies. Not to be confused with the Board's Investigation Office, the feared BIO, who looked into internal frauds and other things, and were beyond ruthless.

You didn't know that the Inland Revenue was full of extraordinarily sharp and intelligent specialists who made the rest of us (myself included) look like silly little girls in pink frocks? Hah! Such innocence. Behind the scenes there was a hard machine that put people away, and gave its victims a rough time with scant courtesy. Not like the urbane and civilised old-school treatment yours truly meted out to her customers. When I retired, several accountancy firms (though not all, of course) expressed sorrow at the severance of a good working relationship. It felt genuine. I don't imagine that the activities of EB, and especially the BIO, generated anything more than fear and hate. But then they were professionals and did their job thoroughly, and with commitment. The sort of people who always do the hidden dirty work, in government departments across the world. We tend to feel threatened by them, but if they were not there some truly awful criminals would rampage unchecked.

I sound like Batman on a rant in the Batcave beneath Wayne Manor: They're criminals, Robin, every one! And we have a mission to defeat them and put them behind bars! Robin: Holy tommy-guns, Batman! Alfred: Dinner is served, sir. A digression not completely irrelevant to this post, or more particularly one to come. Back to my 1990s biker friends.

The other two biking enthusiasts were Will and Mark. I met both when fencing (with rapiers, not larchwood).

Will was a big-hearted, very likeable chap, a Sussex Man to his fingertips, up for anything, whose original trade was agricultural mechanic; but when I knew him he had turned to roofing and bricklaying. He insisted on total honesty in his friendships, and he was the one who actually asked me, outright, as we were driving over to a party in Loxwood one night, whether I was gay. I screeched to a halt, rounded on him, and told him in crystal-clear language that I was not. Which was indeed the truth: women were (and remain) the magnetic creatures in my universe, not men, whatever men's points of interest. That made matters definite for him, and he was reassured. Will was a nice person, but I don't think he can have coped well with what has happened to me. (He would have found out - at second-hand - in late 2008, after M--- told all to his girlfriend) He was a daring biker, riding an old but very powerful Kawasaki ('Who can catch a Kawasaki?'). Apparently he once did 130 mph on the A24, on the way up to Box Hill, where all the Surrey and Sussex bikers like to meet up. The Police were not amused. But not vindictive over it, either.

Then there was Mark, a graduate of St Andrews University, a terribly keen photographer, who, for a career, decided not to follow his student friends into the nuclear industry, but instead ended up - after a spell in another kind of job in Horsham - as the Science Chief at a certain very well-known steelworks in South Wales. Mark was amiability itself. An odd contrast to the mercurial and super-active Will. Although, being men, both could get moody and miffed. But both also liked a drink at the pub, and some droll mutual banter, and both were mad on bikes. Where Will championed his olde and trustye black Kawasaki, and wore ancient leathers and a helmet from the 1950s, possibly his dad's, Mark liked swish modern flash red-and-white racing bikes, snazzy leathers, and a state-of-the-art helmet from the year 2050. When I knew him, he was into Honda's racing bikes, and owned a CBR-Something. And yet, despite such top-notch equipment, Will never believed that Mark had the bottle for a really insane road race with him up the A24. I can offer no judgement. I was never into bikes and their performance - even though very near my retirement I took on an interesting case at work that for a while immersed me in the half-glam world of Superbike Racing. (It was about the set-off of substantial racing losses - one man's personal dream to win the Championship regardless of expense. It contained intriguing legal arguments, and was unresolved when I left)

Anyway, Mark had some old magazines, and these featured an occasional one-page comic strip entitled 'Big Dug's Probing Eyeball', in which a motorbike topic was dealt with on humorous lines. It first appeared late in 1985, and then on into 1986. The strip was the work of the 'Breeden Bros' - K and D Breeden. I haven't been able to find out anything about the Probing Eyeball, nor the Breeden Bros, on the Internet. But there is a female cartoonist called Jennie Breeden who produces a comic strip on life situations called The Devil's Panties (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Devil's_Panties and http://thedevilspanties.com/) and she has in the past been an occasional blogger on LiveJournal (see http://jenniebreeden.livejournal.com/) I wondered whether she might be a daughter of one of those Breeden brothers from thirty years back, but she was clearly brought up across the Atlantic, and her cartoons are very American. Whereas the Probing Eyeball is dripping with hardcore British bike culture. So a mere coincidence in the surnames, methinks.

I always, and I mean totally always, claim that I have no vestige of humour in me. Miss Panface. But those Probing Eyeball cartoons made me giggle. I really liked the language. Let's look closely at two of the four issues that Mark photocopied for me.

The first one (actually Issue #1) dates from 1985, and offers advice on the key statements to make to other bikers, and anyone else.


For those with impaired eyesight - even though you can click on the picture and see it enlarged in a gallery - I will transcribe the captions, thus:

Do little girls laugh at you? Do taxis park on your feet? If you ride a small foreign motorcycle the chances are you need help. Big Dug has a few tips - HOW YOU CAN BE COOL ON A HONDA C90.

Whenever out on a run yo must always wear yo TRIUMPH T-shirt.

If anybody asks (a Hell's Angels type stops to converse) 'WHY! WHAT SORT OF MO'CYCLE IS THAT, MADAM?', yo must reply 'WHY SIR! A TRIUMPH OF COURSE'. 

Purchase a genuine TRIUMPH spare part, for example, a T120 chaincase inspection plate (part number 572440). It should be glued in a conspicuous position on the motorcycle and pointed to if a bystander doubts the validity of yo claim to own a TRIUMPH. (Doubting bystander: Uh???)

To any other questions yo should always give one the following replies. For example:

(To a blond gay easy rider at the bar, who says 'And what's your name, you big hunky bike boy?')
SUCK IT, CREEP! (actually it's Clint)

Or

(To a shop lady who says 'Fish, chips and peas...that'll be 69 pence, please, luvvy')
BUTT OUT, PUNK!

Or 

(To a Policeman making a polite enquiry, who says 'May I see your driving licence, sonny?')
EAT SH*T AND DIE! (...Officer...) 
And Big Dug adds to this the following advice: NB There is never any excuse for being rude to an officer of the law in the pursuance of his duty. Always address him with respect.'

Next month you'll need two empty squeezy bottles, a roll of sticky-backed plastic, and a pair of dad's old underpants, as we show you how to convert your C90 into a ton-up roadburner.

Interesting things to note here. The use of 'yo' for 'you' or 'your'. Mark told me that for a while there was an absolute craze for saying 'yo' to other people. Oh? When was that then? And was it only a biker thing? Whenever it was, it had never entered into my little world. (Maybe it will come back one day. Who can say? No man) Then there is the price of a fish and chip meal in 1985 - 69 pence! It would be more like £6.90 in 2014.

Here's my favourite. It's Issue #3 from early 1986. Big Dug reveals Kamikazi's latest superbike:


Once again, the transcription:

FIRST WITH THE FACTS - SCOOP ROAD TEST
Wheelie incwedible fiend monster rockets to top of performance twee! Wed hot tester Wild Wild Wally Wathbone got first blast on the tasty new tarmac terror from Kamikazi - the sensational GRX1100RIP. We bring you his scoop test!

IT'S THE BUSINESS
Wow and cor! Kamikazi have come up with a real hit formula cracker this time. From the huge white speedo that only starts when it hits 100 mph to the sporty trick alloy cans, the razor sharp sculptured macho styling says AWESOME-SUPER-CAPABLE from any angle.

SAY-YOUR-PRAYERS PERFORMANCE
Vicious but fair, the great gobs of power lurking in the high-tech mill stomp in pulling like a train with brutal low-down grunt to the outer limits of squash-your-eyeballs hit-you-like-a-brick shrivel-your-balls top-end savagery.

NO VEGETARIAN THIS ONE
Hustling the beast through a cruelly tortuous series of ice-covered hairpin bends at well over the ton shows the GRX is top dog in the throw-it-around-and-pass-the-sick-bag stakes. And the cut and thrust of the urban jungle is all in a day's work for this mild-mannered but merciless marauder.

The only naff spots are the atrociously shaped come-back-BMW-all-is-forgiven designer horn button, and the perfectly padded flip-up bum perch which is embarrassingly loud (Watching crowd at Box Hill grins as tester dismounts from steed with a fart-like PHHLARPPP! noise from said bum perch, and blushes with shame) 

Unfortunately a minor spill prevented us from completing a full test (picture of an elaborate high-speed crash ending in KKKRANG! for the bike, and apparently serious injury for the tester). Even so, the bike's a real state-of-the-art just-the-job piece of shoot-from-the-hip take-no-prisoners future classic hardware. With its flush-fit retractable bungee hooks, on-board head-up computer display, integrated power support systems (IPSS), and ninety-eight way adjustable anti-dive restricted-rise suspension setup (98 WAADRRSS), this easy-on-the-juice up-and-at-'em take-THAT-Englander keenly priced wacetwack wefugee leaves the competition dead on the showroom floor...until next month that is.

More points of interest! The overblown motor-journalist style is a spoof, obviously, but lingers on in Top Gear to this day. Which shows up the age and cultural background of Messrs Clarkson, May and Hammond, n'est-ce pas? Actually so much of this 1986 language is still current! Was Probing Eyeball ahead of its time? Note the snide dig at the vegetarian movement. I'm most intrigued about the 'on-board head-up computer display'. What? Something like Google Glass in 1986? Visionary!

Here are the two other issues, #2 and #5, although I won't trouble anyone with a transcription:


It's good to know that when, having consumed an early lunch - it'll be cold tongue, olives, and sweet sun-dried Mediterranean tomatoes today I think - and I drive over to Waitrose in Burgess Hill, I shall have techniques to deal with any situation.

Why! What kind of car is that, madam?
Why sir! It's a VOLVO of course!

And what's your name, you delicious sweetie-pie?
SUCK IT, CREEP!

Your Waitrose bill today is £47.85, madam, less a My Waitrose Card discount of 72 pence, and the 80 pence refund on car parking.
BUTT OUT, PUNK!

Excuse me, madam! Would you like to contribute anything towards the Burgess Hill Food Bank. Either a tin of something you've just bought, or perhaps a little money?
EAT SH*T AND DIE!

Yo can see that my attic discovery could be game-changing.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Museum pieces

This is another gadget post. It's got a kind of social-history slant, which may be interesting. But even so, I quite understand if your eyes are already glazing over. Just look away, and await tomorrow's post.

Well, I was up in the attic yesterday and came across two things that I'd forgotten I had up there. One was a series of photocopied cartoons from the 1980s, given to me by a biker friend in the 1990s (there'll be a post on that). The other was my Dad's mobile phone. He let me fix him up with a dead-simple Nokia 1100. This was the phone I'd now rediscovered.

The Nokia 1100 was an inexpensive little phone intended mainly for users in developing countries. It was plastic but robust, with a small mono screen and a battery life you might measure in weeks. Here'a 2004 picture of mine:


It did voice calls and texting rather well, and had WAP (ugh) if you really wanted the Internet. It was an honest, foolproof low-cost device of obvious durability. If you dropped it, it wouldn't break.

I bought 1100s for myself and M--- in July 2004. I bought a slightly more refined version for M--- (the 1112) in June 2007, and for all I know she is using it to this day. Her 1112 came from Tesco: the phone itself was free; you simply had to buy an initial £30 of pay-as-you go airtime, likely to last her six months. Say £5 per month all in. What a good deal! That was the point of such phones: simplicity, handiness, long battery life, low running costs.

That's the reason I bought Dad one. It was set up so that if he wanted to phone me he just pressed '1' on the keyboard. I think he kept it in his car. He may have needed to charge it up two or three times before he died in May 2009. Hardly more.

I suppose I'd now better justify the title of this post, and take you through my mobile phones. The first ever was a Sagem MC920, bought at Woolworths in Shoreham-by-Sea in November 2000. I'd been experiencing commuting difficulties - a spate of delayed or cancelled trains - and then, after I struggled in one winter's morning only to find that there was no power at the office, and my journey had been wasted, I decided that it was now worth buying a mobile phone so that people could reach me (and I could reach them) if I happened to be stuck on a station platform, or in a held-up train. Thus my mobile phone ownership commenced as a reaction to a genuine need.

The Sagem was horrible phone really, the epitome of creaky plastic, strange operation, and hard-to read, hard-to-press buttons, all swathed in a vile black stitched-leather-and-plastic case, as in this shot from May 2002. It's the Thing (by May 2002 the Much-Unloved Thing) at top left centre:


It's resting on my encased Nikon Coolpix 990 digital camera from May 2000 - still fairly cutting-edge at that moment. Below, another early-2000s icon, a Palm m500 PDA, which I did love. But wouldn't you agree? All of them museum pieces now?

I got so cheesed off with the Sagem that in April 2003 I bought a Philips Fisio 825, which superficially seemed to propel me into a different, brighter world. It had a colour screen! Nicer buttons! It creaked less! Here it is, in a shot from July 2004, sitting on the right of its Nokia successor (tricked out in an experimental blue case - I soon reverted to black and silver):


The Philips was an improvement on the Sagem, but it wasn't an endearing or simple or fast phone to use, and we didn't bond. Good buttons, and good navigation menus, really mattered in the days before touchscreens. You could get them on the high-end phones of the day, notably the BlackBerries. But I wasn't yet sold on paying big money for a mobile device. I still had the notion that phones were for speaking to people, but I hated speaking over the phone. And nobody in my everyday life could text. It just wasn't worth getting anything amazing.

The Nokia 1100 (from July 2004) was a back-to-basics phone compared with the Philips, but it did its stuff so much better. It turned me into a Nokia fan. Gradually I had more and more reason to call people and text, and the Nokia 1100 made these chores seem almost enjoyable. It had a long run in my hands. But there was still no Internet to be had on it, except WAP (retches and pukes). It wasn't a 'fun' device, unless you were addicted to a game called Snake. I wasn't.

Then, with transition in full swing, I decided that I needed a much more sophisticated approach to telephony, and the Internet full-on. So I bought a Nokia E71 online in March 2009. It was a revelation. A nice colour screen; indeed, the largest screen yet. Excellent sound output - I could install my music collection, and it was lovely to hear. It was high-grade white plastic and chrome metal, and it looked rather classy. It held its own against my new fashion acquisitions:


The Nokia E71 was much more satisfying to use. I called it Joanna, my first phone to get a name. Joanna gained my high regard. But she wasn't perfect: those tiny keyboard buttons were always a pain. I found it fiddly and tiring to use them to compose blog posts while away in the caravan - although that was something extraordinary in itself, the ability to blog using a mobile phone! And my eyes felt strained after a long post: the screen was still too small. But I stayed with Joanna for over three years.

Inevitably I moved up to a touchscreen phone. In August 2012, still mindful of costs, I got a Samsung Galaxy SII (or S2) from the Vodafone shop in Brighton. My first contract phone. Last year's phone, but still a big advance for me in 2012. Here she is next to Joanna, on this day-of-acquisition shot:


Quickly named Eloise, this phone changed my entire approach to phone ownership and what I might use a phone for. A smartphone was essentially a super-connected computer that you could pop into your bag. With all the possibilities that implies. I won't dwell on my S2. Eloise gave me superb service until replaced by Demelza, my S5, exactly two weeks ago on 11 April. Demelza has effortlessly upped the game.

Now look at this! It's Dad's old Nokia 1100 from 2005 nestling next to Demelza from 2014:


Demelza looks like a phone from another planet. No wonder her kind seem like weird monoliths of the sort found on the Moon in the film 2001: a Space Odyssey.

You know, I firmly believe that I may now evolve further (stops making ape noises, and stands up with bone in hand). Time for a cuppa.