Thursday, 25 October 2012

Policing Commisars

We have elections for the brand new concept of Police and Crime Commissioners in a few weeks. For me, the most pressing question to date has been what I'd have thought was a very basic one, `who the fuck are they`? I only got the names the other day, but as to my previous question `WTFAT`, I'm still none the wiser. Voting for someone whose credentials and abilities are a mystery is just like any other election. I was really hoping for something better than this.

And another minor point; anyone know if we're going to get  `Courts Commissioners` as well; people who can oversee and bring some understanding and relevency to sentencing and methods of criminals' rehabilitation? It occurs to me that as good a level of service and efficiency as the police may attain, it won't matter one iota if naff all happens once the crims are processed into a spluttering, stuttering system - a bit like putting top grade fuel into an engine that has no oil. Or is that more vital information that has yet to be made available to me?


I was looking for a new bike.We'd be moving to start a new venture and I would be back on the treadmill, commuting a fair distance to work. I had been hired as a consultant for an interesting, one could even say `unique`,  project. My days as a consultant were now over. I had succeeded in being selected to head the centre that would be the launch pad for the project I had helped to create.

I trawled the motorcycle press to study form. I wanted a general purpose machine that was big and powerful. Commuting doesn't require `big and powerful`, I require it. I wanted something I could load up with luggage and travel distances on, but I also wanted something that was lively, handled as surefootedly as a mountain goat and was above all a pleasure to ride. I started looking closely at the adventure/enduro types and after shortlisting what I fancied, set about fixing up test rides from local dealers. Always interesting and great fun.

I had ridden the big Honda Varadero and a couple of BMW GS's before deciding to try a bike I'd always had a strong liking for, the Triumph Tiger 900 triple. My nearest dealer was an hours ride away and so after confirming there were some in stock I rolled across into the next county on my Harley Davidson Road King. This bike was my retirement gift to myself and I had no intention of letting it go in a trade off. I was buying a second one, the first time in my life I felt I could afford to run two quality bikes. I kicked out the big, chromed stand which Harley Davidson refer to for some strange reason as the `jiffy` stand and let the bike rest over easy, assuming that familiar lazy lean to the left that all Harley's have, like how a person would prop their head on their hand whilst sat casually at a bar.

I found a lovely red Tiger complete with colour coordinated luggage and sat on it, stared at it from all angles and then ran a dozen or more questions through my head all asking pretty much the same thing,  `can I live with this?`. I wandered over to the lady behind the desk and requested a test ride. No problem. My documents were checked and she motioned to a colleague to push the bike out front. She then said, "We don't allow unaccompanied test rides so one of our staff will come with you". I had never heard of this before, but I needed to ride that bike so, whatever. I asked how I was to be accompanied, thinking that a pillion rider could be tolerated, although I wouldn't get on the back with a rider I didn't know. It turned out that the young woman who pushed the bike out was going to lead me around and had re-appeared in full leathers carrying a helmet. She said `I'll take out the new Daytona, I love riding that bike`. And so it began.

We rolled out of the dealers, me on a larger capacity but enduro-styled machine following saleslady riding what was a very, very quick sports bike. She led me out of the town and onto a road that headed out into the countryside. Before we'd even reached the end of the 30mph speed limit she wrung its neck and the bike leapt off like a TT racer which, in effect, it was. I wound up the Tiger and was immediately impressed by the 900cc triple cylinder motor which was a dee-light. It flew and I quickly gained on the lady and her beloved 675 triple - until she saw me in her mirrors and then off she went again, front wheel clawing into the air. I glanced down and saw that, in a blink, I had gone from legal to 40 mph beyond the National speed limit. Although I was comfortable on this empty, straight road at this speed, I was certainly not wishing to break the law in such a flagrant manner and on a bike I had barely even warmed up. I rolled off the throttle and decided to do my own test ride regardless of Betty Boop and the rocket between her legs.

The following 30 minutes found us swinging through multiple bends and blasting along straights. I was riding noticably quicker than her through the former and she was disappearing ahead on the latter, whilst I rode my own ride, legally. The final few minutes were on a dual carriageway that led back to the dealership. I sat comfortably on the big Tiger and decided I really liked it, especially that fabulous motor and its very apt tiger-like snarl as I opened it up. I was doing 75 as we approached the 50mph limit signs. Rocket woman was behind me for the only time during the ride. As I crossed the 50 limit, my speed was exactly 50, just like the police driving school trained me. The lady on the Daytona went past me in the outside lane at a speed I would estimate at being in excees of 110mph - well in excess, although I'd never prove it in court!

At the dealers I handed in the keys and grabbed a coffee from the machine. Ms `Valentino Rossi` re-appeared in her corporate kit, her cheeks still rosy flushed from her exhilerating ride. Together with the other lady they came over and asked me what I thought of the Tiger. I gave them my considered views on its many and various qualities and concluded that it was a brilliant bike and how I was deighted that Triumph were producing such good kit. My riding `supervisor` agreed and then told me that she thought I was a `really good rider`, which she wasn't expecting on account of the fact I `arrived on a big Harley` and how she felt she couldn't have gone any quicker through the bends yet I seemed to be breezing through them and that she thought I was going to pass her. I then said that I knew the bike was very quick but that I had no desire to exceed the speed limits by as big a margin as she did. I also pointed out that I wasn't a Harley rider, but that I was a motorcyclist who happened to own a Harley.

I finished my coffee and told the manager lady that I'd think about it. As I turned to leave I had a change of mind and decided to clear the air, for I was troubled. I asked her about the accompanied ride policy and then mentioned how much her sales lady enjoyed the Daytona and seemed very confident on it. I then said that I would be brutally honest and stated how I believed she was lucky  that I wasn't some sort of `Alpha Male` rider that might have seen this fast lady on a fast bike as some sort of threat or challenge, both equally dangerous things. I pointed out that riding in excess of 100mph whilst leading a perfect stranger out on powerful motorcycles was, in my opinion, a very risky business. She took it quite well and apologised, saying that she knew the other gal `loved that 675`. I told her I was more than happy with the test ride and that I was simply stating that the next man who wants to test a bike and gets behind her colleague might not have the same riding experience as me and, worse, might feel the need to exert himself beyond his limitations - I reiterated, a very risky business .

 I then noticed a pile of leaflets on her desk. They were publicising "Bikesafe". I pointed them out and we got into a conversation about the scheme. She thought it was a good idea and told me that all her staff had taken up the chance to ride with a Class 1 advanced police motorcyclist and how much they had benefited from the experience. She asked me if I'd taken it up. I told her that I had spent my last year in the neighbouring police force, that I was the deputy head of the traffic division and that going round all the bike dealers persuading them to support the scheme was one of the most positive things I did in that time. It was at this point that I noticed her previously healthy complexion change and the colour rapidly drain from her face, turning a sort of milky grey. Her expression changed to one that I imagine was prevalent during the French Revolution, in the lines awaiting the guillotine. I said `cheerio` and left. I think the conversation had just about dried up anyway.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Buy British (boots)

The news tells us that unemployment has fallen by 50,000. I don't see this as a green shoot of recovery but I am hoping. What can I do to help? I'm not working although I probably could, but I have a private pension  so I am more likely to do voluntary stuff these days. I remember in the late 60's there was a big campaign to `Buy British`. One could argue that, these days, our industrial clout is not even a shadow of its former mighty self and so buying British is easier said than done, but one has to try.

But when we do find gems in our midst we should shout about it. We have a great boot and shoe business in North Yorkshire. Their products are sold all over the world. I have read journals of bikers who have ridden the Americas, Africa and all points south and those who shod themselves in these boots always said they made the best choice and wouldn't ride in anything else. The much studied "Ride" magazine's products test section always puts one of their products in the top 3.

They also make walking, mountaineering and other `outdoor` boots, some of which are first choice for military, including elite special forces.

I rolled into their factory/showroom in Richmond on Monday. We were en route home from a few days in the Lake District. They measured me up, noted my dimensions on a card, which they would store on a database, and we were on our way in no time. They didn't have my size in stock but sent me an email to say they would be making my boots soon and that they would be delivered in about 3 weeks. They are less expensive than some boots whose longevity and resistance to water has been deemed `questionable` in tests. A riding pal has them and should be a salesman he loves them so much.

The downside? It occurred to me that they are so well made and the aftercare service of repairing and re-soling is so good, they may be the last boots I buy. Talk about a mortality check :0 mind you, I soon got over that as I pranced around the kitchen listening to a bit of "Saxon" on Planet Rock - until my reading glasses fell into my porridge, golden syrup and blueberries, duh.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Meanwhile, in France.....

It would seem that the Queens of the Eu, the French, are going to lead us all to safety heaven because they do know what's best.

They have conducted Le research and discovered that a sleepy driver/rider behind the wheel or handlebars is just as dangerous as a drunk one. In fact, sacre bleu, they found that drivers who were either drunk OR sleepy were twice, yes that's deux fois, as likely to cause un accident as someone who was sober or well rested (or perhaps even both of the latter).

 Is this why they have introduced compulsory carrying of breath test kits to all motoristes and mandatory wearing of hi viz to le moto riders? Stands to reason really. If you are in France and driving or about to, you will be able to administer your own breath test. I'm not sure if instructions then require you to place yourself under arrest, caution yourself against self incrimination and then get yourself to the nearest police station, but I bet they're working on it.

Planting incriminating substances or weapons in your back pockets and self inflicting yourself with blows that won't show the bruises are apparently optional. (flick knives are still legal in France, I believe).

And to add insult, a researcher in the USA, Christopher Drake of The Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Disorders and Research Centre in Detroit, Michigan said, "We know from experimental studies that just four hours of sleep loss will produce as much impairment as a six pack of beer". If it really was mainstream American beer they used, I can't see this research holding water, unless it improved the driving in which case they may be onto something.

But finally, some sense. I read in my informative Biker periodical "The Road" that a blue plaque is to be unveiled at The Ace Cafe on November 4th to the Third Earl of Harrow, aka Screaming Lord Sutch. 

Dave, I miss your common sense. Rave in Peace old chum.

U.K. D.I.Y.

My old contacts tell me that some 1,200 Met police officers are receiving their "Dear John/Jane" letters saying their services are no longer required. These are to officers who were employed under the 30+ and 30 + PLUS schemes which, like it or not, have been a major contribution to the service. This scheme has been defunct in many other forces for some time so the Met has done well to hang on thus far. The scheme basically re-employs officers who have reached their retirement point of 30 years service, but who were offered the chance to stay on beyond that date, at a proportionally reduced rate of pay.

This comes at a time when the Government seem to be getting all excited about `allowing` people to whack burglars who enter their homes (uninvited and with intent to steal, rape, comit GBH etc., of course, otherwise they wouldn't be burglars). `Scumbags` posing as meter readers etc require extra caution as some may actually be genuine and work for utility companies requiring those £digits£. The smoke and mirrors here is that folk have always been entitled to use reasonable force in defence of themselves and their property, so I wonder what's new? Surely it's nothing to do with political party conference time, is it?

On a different tack, but having a ring of similarity about it, I phoned my health centre last week as I had earache. They are fantastic, friendly folks. I got an appointment for 20 minutes later!! I had to get my skates on (my motorcycle gear actually) to make the appointment in time - I was impressed at the speed of the service. The doctor checked out the offending lughole and declared `wax on the eardrum`. I told him that I suspected as much as I'd had my ears syringed 6 weeks earlier, having had to apply olive oil for 2 weeks prior to (a common biker symptom due to wearing earplugs) but the nurse's `Ear O' scope` wasn't working, neither was the one she borrowed from a doctor's office, so she couldn't be sure she'd dealt with it properly, something that turned out to be correct. I was sent off with more instructions to administer olive oil for a week whilst they sent for new light bulbs for their otoscopes - or was this just a cunning ploy to buy them time?

I phoned for another appointment at midday yesterday and was seen 5 hours later, again, pretty good. This time, nursie had a lugscope that was working (either that or she was  speaking very convincingly) and a few minutes later I could see/hear/everything again! Out came stale extra virgin olive oil and a sundried tomato. Deep joy.

I just wonder what government strategies will come forth so that the new concept of DiY policing will migrate over to the health service?

Monday, 15 October 2012

We all deserve a little piece

Nobel Peace Prizes - Please take one (or two)

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Savile Row - Suits you, sir?

We have a problem. It  appears to involve attitudes to women and not just in the workplace. It appears to be `still widespread` but I'm not exactly sure how wide that spread actually is because I haven't studied it, but I know many have and they say it is.

Having started work as a sixteen year old in the late 60's (when teenagers really did work - ooh, another sweeping generalisation?) I found myself in a little agricultural unit where there was a disproportionate number of women working on a sort of production line where carrots were cleaned and bagged. I worked at the heavy humping end, or rather the beginning, of this line. Every now and again I would have to enter the place where the women were. I was warned about it. It wasn't so much a `forbidden zone` or even a `no-go` area, it was more a `go carefully or `be prepared` area. When I did have to enter the domain of the she-beasts I found it both highly amusing and strangely enjoyable, but then again I only had to be in there for a few minutes before re-joining the men's section where I toiled with another young guy and the occasional presence of the foreman. I even had my lunch separate from the ladies, although I suppose I could have joined them. I don't think anybody did though.

My memory of entering the ladies zone is now one of vague images of women whose ages I cannot be sure of and whose faces I can no longer conjure up with any accuracy. I can just recall the noisy banter that came my way, banter that included graphic, highly detailed physical activities involving me and random women from this little gang, activities that I had a vague idea about but absolutely no experience of. I think I made some jaunty, jovial reply that caused a few laughs and giggles. I never stayed there long enough to find out if this would have worn me down or made my life miserable, but a few years on I would occasionally think of them and wonder how I'd fare if I took some leave from my career and go back for a couple of weeks casual labour, just to see what might transpire now that I was armed with a little more experience. This remained a mere passing fantasy.

I heard some of this lady's speech on the BBC radio news this morning. Wow! She was firing on all cylinders. It was great stuff. The article put me in mind of  a great piece of writing by the author,  world circumnavigator by motorbike and journalist, Ted Simon, on his thoughts about the Australian leg of his 4 year journey as recounted in his best selling book "Jupiter's Travels". Here's an extract:

It was a continent I only knew as a caricature. perhaps because it was so far away, the only images that seemed to travel the distance were absurdly overblown. Australians were the ancient Gauls of the twentieth century, a good hearted people so untouched by the nicities of civilisation that with one sweep of their good intentions they could do more damage than an elephant in Harrods.
Australian women, I knew, were big and brazen and went about the streets dressed and made up for the stage in the belief that the right way to catch a man was to incite him to rape. The wounds sustained during this savage form of courtship were soothed by swimming two hundred lengths before breakfast.
Australian men were big and bronzed and wore shorts and singlets from which their muscled limbs extended like four strings of sausages. At the end of one of the upper strings was attached either a tennis raquet or a small bottle of beer called a `stubbie`. They ambled about in hot sunshine being disgustingly frank about their natural functions and waiting to be incited to rape. If one of these King Kong figures appeared over the skyline the thing to do was run for your life.

This was a remarkably perceptive piece of writing and, for me, pretty much captured the comic images as capitalised by the wonderfully erudite Barry Humphries and his most famous Australian alter egos Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson. Of course Ted Simon was merely making a point on prejudice and the above passage was immediately clarified by the following:

I looked around me with the freshest eye I could imagine in the dusty December heat. I saw men ambling in singlets and shorts. Their muscles looked remarkably like sausages. I saw women who had apparently slipped offstage during the interval of a matinee performace of  Cabaret. They looked as though anything less than rape might be mistaken for indifference. I noticed that many men wore tailored shorts with cute little slits up the seams like cheongsams to show a little extra flash of thigh, and the obscene thought crossed my mind that maybe they were hoping to be raped as well. 
I saw some men, still in their youth, with the grossest beer bellies it was possible to imagine, cultivated at great expense, and I was overcome by the noise people made and the difficulty they had in showing each other affection.
Then one day I set out to photograph these things I had noticed. Not one revolting beer belly came my way; not one girl was dressed in such tasteless extravagance as to be worth recording. To my annoyance I saw men and women appearing to be softly and openly appreciative of each other. The truth bore in on me that I had been seeing only extremes in the crowd; the most flamboyant, the most threatening, the most crass, just as an Australian in London would see only Poms in pin-striped suits and bowler hats.

And so here were are, once again, being treated to the debate about male sexual predators. I have seen them in the workplace. I have even evidenced examples of it and brought my concerns to the attention of senior managers through formal and established policy and procedures. In the case I flagged up, nothing was done and I believe that others suffered from this failure of senior `management` to act. I admire anyone who stands their ground and where necessary blows the whistle. I despise those who fail them when they do. The current celebrity case that has become headline news does not surprise me in the least. I once met the individual and if ever someone had `something of the night` about them then, in my opinion, this one did.

But I do hate to hear the `all men are rapists`crowd who use these cases to claim quod erat demonstrandum. They are out there among us, that is true. The really clever ones are often those you might consider the least likely. Some end up in court - and some get knighted.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Remembrance is alive and well

There is only one mention of a motorcycle in this story.

On Wednesday night I went to this small museum. My wife had bought us tickets to see one of their occasional film shows. This particular evening they showed 3 films, the last being about “Operation Titanic” , when American bombers were based in Russia, which was the only `officially produced` film shown.

The first two films were recently discovered and were special for a couple of reasons, the first being that they were shot in colour, most unusual for that time and the second and most special reason was that they were shot by aircrew. They were home movies, a personal record of life on a USAAF/RAF air base in the East of England. East Anglia (us English were once known as “Angles” in ancient times) was turned into one huge American airfield, predominantly bomber bases. Col. Jimmy Stewart aka George Bailey (only a couple of months before "Its a Wonderful Life" can be shown on TV once again) flew from an airfiled 10 miles to the north of where I type this and within a 5 mile radius were numerous other airfields that were the home to B24 Liberators which were gradually replaced, as action intensified, by B17 Flying Fortresses. Other bases were gradually equipped with P51 Mustangs and P47 Thunderbolts, the “Little Friends” who at last had the range to escort them all the way. Memorabilia is everywhere, if one chooses to seek it out.

The footage was as fascinating as it was poignant, with the happy faces of young Americans larking about wrestling each other and playing up to the camera, just as kids do on beaches and playing fields. Other images showed nervous but determined aircrews posing beneath their giant machines, some smiling bravely for the camera but all of them showing more than a trace of apprehension. The footage taken from the aircraft as they lifted off from the base near the small Suffolk town of Eye showed a landscape that is still recognisable today, albeit that the airfield is now an industrial estate.

What really delighted me was that the visitors centre, a typical WW2 `Nissan` hut that I was sitting in, was packed to its parabolic steel rafters. It was a `sell out`. On this chilly autumn night local people from young teens to folks in their 80′s had come along to watch the films. The couple I was sitting next to were near neighbours of mine. They were in their early teens when the Americans came. The man is now 82 and his wife a little younger. They are both fit and active. He bought himself a Harley Davidson Sportster a few years ago, encouraged by his wife – my kind of gal!

As the last film came to a close, it showed the base closing down for good and the American airmen locking up shop and flying home. The base commander had opened it up to local people and laid on refreshments so that they could bid their farewells and wave off their American neighbours for the last time, in beautiful peacetime. Local farmers,  children and pretty young women in their best dresses could be seen waving off the last aircraft and then turning to each other in the strange silence that they knew, this time, would remain.  It was not entirely a party atmosphere because losses at the base had been heavy, hence the nickname given to the group, “The Bloody Hundredth”.  We were told by the museum curator of one particular raid where fourteen B17′s left Thorpe Abbotts to `deliver iron and steel to Germany` and only one aircraft returned. A shattering statistic for one base to bear, after one raid. 130 men, gone, from just one base, in a single mission.

As the lights came up I turned to my neighbours to ask a question and noticed that tissues were out dabbing moist eyes.  I said, “I bet it was strange once they’d gone”. The man replied, “Oh yes, it really was, but lovely and quiet, we knew they weren’t going to get hurt anymore”. His wife said, “We really missed them” and her husband agreed.

May we continue to remember.