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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland, please don't go

Scots -- or rather, people who live in Scotland -- are tomorrow voting on whether to break free of the United Kingdom and exist as an "independent" country. I put "independent" in quotes there because Scotland will almost certainly want to be part of the European Union. It will be independent of England, but still beholden to the laws and financial machinations of an external power. 

Although, rather menacingly, the current president of the European Council has said Scots would initially be cut adrift following a vote for independence. The EU laws, treaties and rights that Scotland currently enjoys would no longer apply.

For my own part, though, I hope Scotland will choose to avoid such thorny issues by continuing to be part of the United Kingdom. I have a number of emotional reasons for wanting them to stay, as well as a handful of rational reasons as to why I think it would be ill-advised to go.

I have no doubt that a nationalist would take issue with my expressing an opinion on the matter because: 1) I'm an American; 2) I'm an American.

I (rather proudly) come from a country that declared independence from the United Kingdom; isn't it hypocritical for me to say that it's alright for us but not Scotland? And secondly, ignoring America's history, my being from there means I am not from here -- not Scotland or England or any other part of the country/countries immediately affected by the 18 September referendum. So what right do I have to comment on it?

Dude, I have a blog. I have a right to comment on everything. But also, I have lived in the UK for 8 years and plan to apply for citizenship as soon as I am able. My opinion of the referendum is a reflection of my opinion on the Britain in which I want to live. Meanwhile, the United States is an apples and oranges comparison to Scotland, though there are some aspects of our experience worth noting. 

You, sir, are no United States of America

So, let's start there. History offers very few examples of countries winning independence and thereafter having everything go awesomely from day one. More often than not independence is followed by long periods of economic instability, political turmoil, civil wars, military coups and various other unhappy things. The United States experienced all but the military coups, and even with that one there have been a fair few individuals who formulated the idea.

Things got better for us after a century or so, of course. Though, I'd argue that much of the reason for that is that we have a hell of a lot of natural resources, a hell of a lot of space, and we're kind of far away from anyone who might want to attack us.

A better comparison for Scotland in terms of size, population and resources, would be Ireland. Yes, things turned out alright for them, too. But, again, it took them about 100 years to get there, and the journey wasn't a particularly happy one. Meanwhile, they are still particularly susceptible to a bad economy and a culture of emigration is very a part of the national narrative.

I suspect Scotland would manage to avoid internal military conflict, but the threat of political and financial instability is very real. As is the threat that said instability would last well beyond the lifetime of anyone who might vote yes in Thursday's referendum -- beyond their children's lifetimes and quite possibly beyond their grandchildren's lifetimes. I have no doubt Scotland can find its feet eventually. But it may be that by the time that happens, the offspring of those making Thursday's decision will no longer be Scottish. Like my great-great-grandmother did in the 1800s, they will have left Scotland to seek better opportunities elsewhere.

That reference to my own diminished Scottish roots is an acknowledgement that Scotland's 300 years in the union hasn't always been peaches and cream. And to that extent it's fair to say that a realistic view of the immediate financial impact isn't always a reason to call off a declaration of independence. If things are really crappy -- if people are being gunned down in the streets by an oppressive power -- then economy be damned.

So, perhaps if Scotland had declared independence after the Highland Clearances or the Battle of George Square it would have made sense. But those people are dead now. The perpetrators are dead; their ideas are dead. The United Kingdom from which nationalists now want to break -- the United Kingdom of today -- is a completely different one than existed then. It is prosperous, kind, increasingly diverse and, but for the weather and the inexplicable success of "Mrs. Brown's Boys" on television, not a terrible place to be. Certainly not so terrible that it's worth risking the misery and instability that independence might initially bring.

There's that whole EU thing, for example. If the European Union were to hold good on its threat, that would leave Scotland with the status of being just another non-EU country. Which presumably would mean that Scots would be treated like other non-EU immigrants. No automatic right to work in any of the 28 EU states; no borderless travel between them; no bailouts when your economy tanks; no funding to keep it from doing so; no ability to ship and sell your goods in the EU without tariff; and on and on. 

One wonders, too, what would happen to the thousands upon thousands of Scotland-born individuals presently living and working in other parts of Great Britain and the EU. Would they have to become citizens of those countries? Would they be deported back to Scotland? Would my Scottish friends suddenly be able to commiserate with my experiences as a non-EU immigrant: paying £500 a pop for visa applications and having no right to vote?

Truthfully, of course, things might not be so dire as that, because the European Union has the political fierceness of a toilet brush, and Scotland (currently) has oil. So, seeing EU leaders crumble and Scotland gaining quick acceptance as the 29th EU state is probable. But the whole issue speaks to the fact that there are a hell of a lot of uncertainties in independence.

And if we've learned anything from the Great Recession it's that financial markets are run by babies. What is isn't as relevant as what seems to be. Uncertainty creates instability. There is uncertainty in the financial sector, uncertainty in how long Scotland's oil will last, uncertainty about Scotland's world role, uncertainty in Scotland's ability to adequately fund its infrastructure, uncertainty about Scotland's future political landscape and on and on. Proponents of independence will say all these uncertainties are overblown but simply saying that something isn't true isn't enough to keep skittish institutions and investors from behaving as if it is.

We got a good thing goin' on

Those are some of the reasons I think it's a bad idea to go, but as I say, most of my opposition to the independence referendum comes from my emotional desire to see Scotland stay. The United Kingdom without it just isn't as good.

Back in May, I got a chance to spend a few days in Scotland. I rode my motorbike up there and it was my first time to have visited, despite years and years of making New Year's Resolutions to go. I experienced actual snow-capped mountains (as opposed to the tallish hills we have here in Wales), woodland that reminded me of Northern Minnesota, clean air, good beer, and fields of flowers so pretty I wanted to sell my bike to pay for an airline ticket so my mom could come see them. For these things alone I want Scotland to stay part of the United Kingdom; I want to be able to "claim" them, to be able to say those things are in the country where I live.

I got a chance to see a fair bit of the country, with the bulk of my time spent in Perthshire and Cairngorms National Park. Because the upcoming referendum was on my mind, one of the things that struck me about Scotl and is its people are not too terribly different to the peoples of other parts of the UK.

Having lived here so long, I know Britons tend to hate when I tell them how similar they all are. People here love to dwell on the tiny, tiny ways in which they are different from each other. For example, one of the ways to get my Devon-born wife to raise her voice in anger is to dare suggest there's nothing wrong with the way the people of Cornwall (the county immediately west of Devon) put cream and jam on their scones.

Whereas, of course, anyone who isn't from Cornwall or Devon would be hard-pressed to spot a difference between the two peoples. Both are telling the same jokes, wearing the same clothes, driving the same cars, listening to the same music, watching the same television shows, reading the same books, eating the same foods, espousing the same ideals, holding to the same social conventions, arguing the same political points, adhering to the same laws, avoiding going to the same churches and taking their holidays in the same places.

Obviously, when I say "same" I mean that people are behaving within the same spectrum. Every snowflake is different but not so much that there is no such thing as snow. And the fact is: although accents and tastes vary, the spectrum never really changes no matter where you go in the United Kingdom.

For my wife, her annoyance at the difference between Cornish and Devonshire folk is playful. I get that; having been raised in Minnesota I can claim all kinds of silly differences from neighbouring Wisconsin. But nationalists (in both Wales and Scotland) seem to look at insignificant differences and come to the conclusion the two sides are incompatible. It's nonsensical and undemocratic.

Having differences is good. Diversity is what makes a species and a culture survive and thrive. So, as much as there is benefit to the UK having Scotland, there is benefit to Scotland having the UK. Both places are better as a result of each other, and for those who come from outside the British Isles, the two are intrinsically linked. Scottishness is a part of Britishness. Certainly that's how I feel.

Why am I the one saying this?

And I'm not alone in feeling it. One of the side debates that has come out of the whole referendum issue is the question of what Britishness is. Nationalists, of course, insist that it is a construct -- a manufactured applies-to-all Englishness that is somehow oppressing us all. Or something like that. Whereas, on the other side of things it seems that one of the key facets of Britishness is feeling terribly awkward about it.So, it's something that's not being well defended.

Too often, Britishness is a bit like American patriotism in the sense that its most enthusiastic proponents are sometimes the ones who should be talking the least. Nigel Farage and the Orangemen are doing Britishness no favours by blustering through Scotland.

For me, though, Britishness -- modern Britishness -- is that similar spectrum of ideals I talked about. A spectrum that is, as I say, kind, welcoming and diverse on an overarching level. A spectrum that supports things like universal healthcare and environmental protection (and, yes, British Conservatives are in that spectrum). Modern Britishness is Kele Okereke and Tony Singh; it is not necessarily wearable. It's a mindset: awkwardness and humour, heart and tolerance. And particularly, Britishness is the concept preferred by the millions of us damned dirty immigrants who for the past half century or so have been making this island our own and reshaping it.

I can't find the article in which I learned this but I read not too long ago that newly-naturalised citizens, as well as second- and even third-generation immigrants overwhelmingly see themselves as British rather than English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish. I am not yet a naturalised citizen but will loop myself in with them. We want to be part of a whole, of a greater thing.

When nationalists rail against the idea of Britishness they are railing against that old Britain -- the dead Empire and its dead ideas. Or, perhaps they are railing against the idea of being part of a group that you cannot define by skin colour, accent, or religion...

Maybe my being a (potentially) new Briton makes me more willing to express an opinion about Scottish independence, but I find it frustrating that those in favour of preserving the union really didn't do much about it until less than a fortnight before the vote, when a potentially misleading poll suggested those in favour of separation had gained considerable ground.

Suddenly, that forced the three least inspiring men in the world -- David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg -- to hop a train north so they could deliver a handful of awkward stump speeches and unintentionally speak the lyrics of Al Green songs. To some extent, this explains why they hadn't done anything before: the leaders of the UK's main political parties are unconvincing in expressing affection for the country they lead.

But somebody should have been doing all this months ago. Time, effort and energy should have been invested in expressing to people on both sides of the border the importance, relevance and benefit of the United Kingdom remaining united.

To me, one of the driving factors for Scottish nationalists is a feeling of being ignored or marginalised. To that end, it seems the correct response to their threatening to leave is not to prove them right. When I was in Scotland in May, I saw no evidence of efforts by the Better Together campaign. The time between the referendum first being announced and tomorrow should have seen us all inundated with flag waving and cleverly crafted TV and radio pieces on the value of Britain and Britishness.

On that point, I guess I can understand why some Scots might want to leave. The overall lack of obvious effort to keep them as part of the family could be interpreted as either a sign of English arrogance or a sign that Britons don't take enough pride in their country to defend it. And really, who wants to be a part of that?

Monday, September 15, 2014

TMO: What I want: BMW F800GT

I'd be interested to see a percentage breakdown of my thoughts, i.e., a chart showing how much I think about this or that thing. Motorcycles would occupy a huge percentage, of course, to the extent that these thoughts would have to be broken down into sub-topics. Highest among those, I'd guess, are motorcycle-related thoughts on What Bike I Want To Get Next.

For some reason, it feels like a terribly important decision. Who cares about the future of Scotland or whether the United States can or even should defeat Islamic State; what really matters is what kind of bike I should be riding.

I think the reason I get so worked up about these things is that I feel I am catching up in terms of motorcycling. Although I earned my Minnesota motorcycle endorsement when I was 18 years old, I didn't actually start riding a bike until I was 36. So I feel like I am 18 years behind; I have missed out on nigh two decades of riding and owning various motorcycles. And how many vehicles you own in your lifetime is important, man.

Anyhoo, within the What Bike I Want To Get Next is the question of what type of bike I want, a question that is answered primarily by the question of what type of riding I do. That question, however, often gets blurred with the question of the type of riding I want to do, and by extension, questions about the type of rider I am, the type of rider I want to be and where those things intersect. Like I say, it's complicated stuff, and my mind spends all day doing a sort of Plinko thing with all the variables.

At the end of at least one of these complicated strings of thought is the BMW F800GT, a bike that's got a fair mix of marketing intangibles like "character" and "spirit" whilst remaining a highly functional machine. Click the link below to read more:


Friday, September 12, 2014

TMO: Thoughts on Harley-Davidson's 2015 line up

I mentioned before that I have an awkward emotional relationship with Harley-Davidson –– that one part of me gets really annoyed by the company's manufactured and somewhat sexist "lifestyle", whereas another part of me just really likes the look, sound and aura of the machines.

The knock-on effect of the latter is that I can sometimes be pretty fanboyish about the company. Actually, in fairness, I am pretty fanboyish about most motorcycle companies. I get excited to find out what they are producing, and what they have planned for the future.

I can't figure out why I am this way, why some part of me thinks it's important. I mean, it's not really. And within the logical part of my brain I know that. I know that the mass-produced bits of metal offered by various motorcycle companies –– bits of metal that I cannot even afford –– are really not too terribly relevant. That is especially true for a company like Harley-Davidson, whose products are, for the most part, luxury items.

So, paying attention to Harley-Davidson's model year lineup is like... I don't know... getting really worked up about "Strictly Come Dancing." Which is something I also do (though I don't think I will attempt to blog this year's series, as I've done in the past).

Nonetheless, paying attention is exactly what I've done, writing up a blog post on my impressions and disappointment with Harley-Davidson's planned 2015 offerings. Click the link below to read more:


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I may not be a dog person

We're spending the week with these bitches.
Jenn and I are this week house-sitting for her best friend's mother. We are in a quite-large house in West Sussex, providing company and food service for three golden retrievers, a small cat and a handful of chickens. 

It is, unquestionably, an enviable situation to be in. Literally within a stone's throw of South Downs National Park, we are in one of the most English of English landscapes. There is a garden from which to pick fresh fruit and vegetables, a grass tennis court on which Jenn and I have been doing DDP yoga, and a large patio where we eat our meals outside. 

Thanks to the power of the internets we are both working remotely –– able to be here without having to take off time from work –– but with the rest of our time we have been running country lanes, eating massive pub meals, hiking the South Downs Way, and just lounging on the sofa reading.

The latter activity is probably the most idyllic because it is then that the dogs and cat (the chickens stay in their coop) will come to lounge with us. The cat nuzzles a place next to my thigh and occasionally headbutts my elbow for fun. The dogs lie near our feet, expel the heavy sighs of canines and fart shamelessly.

They are delightful and stupid, the dogs. All females, they are aggressive only for attention. If you pet one, another will muscle in and demand that your giving of affection be a full-body affair: left hand scratching behind the ears of one dog, right hand rubbing the belly of another, legs squeezing a third.

They are fun to be around, fun to go on walks with, and –– if you can get used to the smell –– emotionally comforting on a level that is sort of hard to explain. But, oh my gosh, are they a bunch of trouble.

These dogs are pretty well trained, but still much of our routine revolves around their pooping and peeing. I make sure they get a chance to go out and do their thing before bed, then I need to be up at about 6:30 in the morning to let them out, else they'll start barking. And still, twice so far we have been greeted in the morning with a special doggie present on the floor –– of which all three of the dogs have disavowed any knowledge.

"Which one of you pooped on the carpet?" I asked this morning.

They looked at me as if I had said, "Which one of you wants a steak?"

Effie was suspicious when I claimed to not have any food.
Meanwhile, they will bark at anything –– especially things that are not there. One in particular, Effie, barks ceaselessly at the unknown. Perhaps there's poetry in that, but not at 7 in the morning. When not barking they are searching for food. Or finding some mud they can track into the house. Or strategically placing their hair on EVERY SINGLE THING.

I have always thought of myself as a dog person but in now actually living with the beasts I can't help but wonder if it's something I could put up with on an everyday basis. Because things only get worse when you take them away from the house.

On Sunday, Jenn and I took the dogs on a walk to a nearby pub for lunch. If you read just that sentence it probably sounds awesome, and for one or two fleeting moments –– watching these golden-haired dogs run across a field in the late summer sun –– it definitely was. But the rest of the time, I found myself emitting a constant soundtrack of reproach:

"Effie, get away from the road. Phoebe, come on, let's go. Sophie, leave that little boy alone. Effie, stop biting Sophie in the face. Phoebe, come on, let's go. Effie, leave that horse poop alone. No, I don't have any food. Sophie, leave that horse poop alone. No, I still don't have any food. Phoebe, come on, let's go...."

The responsibility of being a (temporary) dog owner was wearing me out. I had to pay attention to each little aspect of the world around me and consider how the dogs might respond to it, how it might respond to them: cars, people, other dogs, horses, woodland animals, the smell of faraway barbecues,  tricks of the light, and, of course, all kinds of things that were not there.

It's exhausting. I'm not sure I could live this way. After all these years of thinking otherwise, it turns out I may not be a dog person after all.

Though, having said that, it's probably worth noting that in writing this post I twice found myself getting up and seeking out the dogs just to be able to pet them.

Monday, September 8, 2014

TMO: A letter to Harley-Davidson

A recurring theme of my motorcycle blog is my awkward emotional relationship with Harley-Davidson. If you live in the United States, that famous motorcycle company is responsible for more than half of all the bikes you see on the road. Or, at least, more than half of the bikes sold in the United States. How many are out on the road at any given time is another question.

Indeed, critics of the brand and the manufactured lifestyle it built up through clothing lines and deliberately outdated technologies in the decades before the Great Recession often refer to Harley-Davidson motorcycles as "butt jewelry." Infamously, the bikes are not so much ridden as displayed.

There was certainly a great deal of that going on when I was growing up in the Upper Midwest in the 90s: loads of old dudes compensating for the lack of something in their personal lives through purchase of very loud, very shiny, very large, very expensive motorcycles they could not control. The overwhelming majority of these dudes were dicks to the point of caricature, and I generally blame that atmosphere for my not getting a motorcycle as a young man, even though I earned my motorcycle endorsement at age 18.

Because of them and others I would go on to encounter in all other parts of the United States I could easily deliver several hours of ranting vitriol on the subject of Harley-Davidson and the people who ride its bikes. But, I'll admit that I think some Harleys are cool. They look cool, they sound cool and they are cool to ride. I think, too, my attitude toward them has shifted quite a bit as a result of living in Britain. 

They are, after all, American motorcycles. Not in parts or even manufacture, necessarily, but in style and aura. Harley-Davidson is an American brand –– like Coca-Cola and Budweiser. And if you are the sort of person who often suffers from cripplingly severe homesickness, the idea of being able to constantly declare your nationality can seem kind of appealing.

Anyhoo, this post is sort of about the kind of bike that I wish Harley-Davidson would make for me. Click the link below to read more:

A letter to Harley-Davidson

Friday, September 5, 2014

TMO: What makes a rider-friendly region?

A few weeks ago I got a chance to visit Portsmouth for the first time in 13 years. It is strange that I have lived in Britain more than eight years and it had taken me this long. Especially considering how much I used to love that city. 

I don't suppose I need to put that last sentence in the past tense. If there were opportunity to live in Portsmouth again I probably would. Though, I'm realistic enough to know I wouldn't be as enraptured by the place. It is just a place, just a city. But it is the city where I first fell in love with Britain. And initially it was my deep obsession with returning to Portsmouth (and, by extension, Britain) that led to my moving to Cardiff.

Perhaps therein is one of the reasons I feel so negatively toward Wales' capital city. My experiences here have killed off so much of the love, excitement and enthusiasm I once felt toward Britain. I became so cynical that I lived for eight years just 140 miles from a place I used to love so damned much that I wrote an entire book about it and I never went there.

Until this August. I am happy to report that Portsmouth is less an ugly dog of a town than I remembered and that its residents are still as charmingly rude as always (a). Meanwhile, one thing I had never before spotted, or, at least, been properly alert to (b), was the fact that Portsmouth and the surrounding region of Southeast England are quite motorcycle friendly. 

There are notably more motorcyclists riding notably greater variety of motorcycle there than in Wales. And, perhaps simply as matter of course, businesses and other road users are more accommodating of motorcycles. The question, though, is why? That's something I ponder in this post. Click the link below to read more.


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(a) One could easily describe the people of Portsmouth as terribly unfriendly but that's not true. They are just very direct, and often part of their humour is to pretend to be mean. It takes some getting used to.

(b) In The Way Forward there is a part where Ben marvels at the fact that guys in Portsmouth will dress up like they're "in a middle-aged production of 'Grease'." This was an observation of my own when I lived there in the late 1990s. I now know that these guys were, in fact, a bunch of old rockers, i.e., part of the mods and rockers subculture of the 1960s.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

For once, I'm on the cutting edge

Myself and Rex in May 2003
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The picture above is of Rex Sorgatz and me roughly 11 years ago. I was living in San Diego at the time and -- as you can see -- rocking some terrible hair. If you've not heard of Rex, he's a tech super genius who's long had a knack for identifying internet trends a year or so before you even hear of them. Actually, if you follow his Twitter, you'll see that he gets bored of internet trends about a year before the rest of us hear of them -- to him the trend has already come and gone. The shark has been jumped and the waterski boat is back at the dock, its engine cooled.

At the time the above picture was taken, Rex and I were working for the same Minnesota-based company, though I was living in San Diego. It was May 2003 and I had just gotten into blogging. Which means, of course, that Rex had been doing it for years.

Keen observers will note that -- but for the exception of a joking backdated post -- this blog didn't come into being until a good year after the picture was taken. Inspired by Belle du Jour, which, at the time most of us believed to be a ruse propagated by a Mancunian journalist, I was blogging under a pseudonym that I honestly cannot now remember.

I do remember that it never really took off, probably in part because I struggled to keep my character story straight. At the start I couldn't decide whether the blog's author was male or female, then I was indecisive about his age, then I decided he lived in a city to which I had never been. Needless to say, none of the book deals that were being handed out to bloggers in those days ever came my way. Eventually I deleted the blog and chose to write under my own name.

It's easier that way. I have a terrible memory and struggle to remember my own narrative, let alone that of someone who doesn't exist. Indeed, as time moves ever forward I find this blog serves as a sort of auxiliary memory -- one that is internet searchable. How fast did I run the Fargo Half Marathon in 2005? I haven't a clue. But the blog, she remembers.

Anyhoo, I'm wandering away from my point, which is simply that this blog has been in constant operation since 2004. True, over the past decade there have been certain stretches that were rather light on content (e.g., the whole of 2013), but I've never officially stopped. And recently you* may have noticed a real effort to increase activity.

"Posting links to your motorcycle blog doesn't count as increased activity," you* might say.

Doesn't it? Before Tumblr, wasn't that the point of quite a few blogs?

But, also, take a closer look, homie. For the past six weeks or so (almost as long as I've been doing DDP Yoga, incidentally) I have managed to write at least one original post a week. And that brings us to the second point of this particular post, which is that in addition to having been blogging for a really long time I have been doing it more lately.

Most importantly, I have been doing it since before Rex stated on Twitter that everyone who blogged in 2003 should start again. Before he said that, y'all. Before. I am ahead of Rex. Which means I am a genius and a trendsetter.

Unless Rex was being sarcastic, which may well have been the case.

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* I'm not sure "you" exist. I quite often feel as if this is just a corner of the internet in which i talk to myself. I haven't decided how I feel about that. Sometimes I think it's OK, sometimes it feels a bit lonely. To that end, if Rex was being serious in saying that people should return to blogging again I suspect he wasn't thinking about me when he said it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

TMO -- Gear review: Michelin Pilot Road 4 tires

One of the reasons I am so dedicated to my motorcycle blog is the simple fact that it gives me things. Or, rather, things are given to me as a result of it. The most obvious example of this is my bike itself. A random Harley dude was impressed with the quality of my writing and offered to get me a bike if I did some copy writing work for him.

Another good example is the set of tires that are now on that bike. Through my blog I got a chance to go up to Michelin headquarters in beautiful Stoke-on-Trent earlier this year and be treated to a day of playing on motorcycles, and eating until I felt I was going to burst, and talking about tires.

Dude, I know so much about tires now. 

They also put a brand new set of Michelin Pilot Road 4 tires on my bike. Needless to say, the whole experience resulted in my being enamoured of Michelin. Is that the right phrasing? I mean to say that I am a Michelin fan boy, but want to state it in a clever way. They're the bee's knees. And I now find when I daydream about the motorcycles that I'd like to own I check first whether Michelin offers tires compatible to that model before committing to the fantasy. 

Anyhoo, I've put just shy of 3,000 miles on my Michelin tires and decided to write a review. Click the link below to read more.





Friday, August 29, 2014

TMO: Ride review: Yamaha MT-09 (Yamaha FZ-09)

On the same day I rode up to Birmingham to test ride the Yamaha MT-07 I also got a chance to putt around on the larger-engined MT-09. Both bikes look the same and both have bland names (I am never quite sure why so many motorcycle companies fail to give their bikes actual names, rather than letter/number codes) but their essence is different.

Engine is what I mean by essence. Motorcycles, after all, are mostly engine. That's part of the appeal, I think. There's something so delightfully idiotic about it. Someone has taken an engine and done little more than strapped some wheels to it, and with that you are free to hurtle yourself down roads. It makes you feel a bit like Slim Pickens riding an A bomb. So, the real essence of any motorcycle -- what makes one motorcycle truly different from another -- is its engine.

The MT-09 has a three-cylinder engine, which is supposed to be the happy middle ground between the feels-like-you're-on-a-tractor pull of a twin (i.e., the type of set-up used by Harley-Davidson machines) and the feels-like-you're-driving-a-Toyota smoothness of an inline four (i.e., the type of set-up used on my Honda). It's supposed to be fun and fast. That's not what I found in the MT-09, though. Click the link below to read the post.




Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A last hairah

Crikey, I have a big forehead.
I'm growing out my hair. It looks terrible at the moment but I'm hoping things will magically improve. Not that there's any historical evidence to suggest it will. I've grown my hair twice before, and in both cases it was generally agreed by all my friends and family to have been a bad idea.

But hope springs eternal. The idea was planted in my head a month or so ago when Jenn and I rode out to the Gower, a peninsula just to the west of Swansea that is listed as an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

It strikes me as so quintessentially British that there is such an official designation. And it is a designation that is so quintessentially British. Only the people of this soggy archipelago could turn a random phrase into another layer of bureaucracy. No doubt there exists, too, an official designation for A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit-Down. Surely it is possible (through a series of examinations, of course) to be awarded official He's a Bit Funny You Know status, which then makes one eligible for disability payments. 

All I can really tell you about Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) is that there are 46 of them in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I can't really explain what they are except to say they are kind of like the UK's national parks. But, see, explaining what the hell a national park is in Britain is equally challenging. And dude, I work for the national parks. 

Where was I? Oh, that's right. Hair. Jenn and I went swimming at the beach and I hadn't had a haircut in about a month, so I was beginning to look a little shaggy. The seawater managed to style my hair in such a way that, if I squinted and used a lot of imagination, made me think I looked kind of just a tiny bit like Matthew McConaughey.

And, really, that's a good enough reason to do just about anything. But also I suppose the idea of growing out my hair got into my head (see what I did there?) because I was thinking a lot about my then-upcoming 20-year high school reunion. Or rather, I was thinking about all the things one thinks about in connection to a 20-year high school reunion. Age and where I am in life and so on. Through this, some part of me decided I should grow my out hair again -- while I still have hair to grow.

A last hairah, if you will.

I'm not yet sure how long I want to grow it. At the very least, I'll take things this far, which is more or less how I was wearing my hair when I first moved to Wales 8 years ago. If I can be bothered, I might carry on to something like this, which is how I was rocking it just a few months before that. I'm not entirely sure how easy the latter would be when trying to stuff it into a motorcycle helmet, though. We'll see.

What's interesting to me about this sudden hair-growing business is that there seems to be an emotional reason for doing it, some subconscious statement I'm not sure I understand. As I say, I have grown out my hair twice before, and can now see a few patterns. Specifically, in all cases I have been exhausted with where I am. Not so much with where I am in my life, but where I am physically.

The first time I grew my hair long was during my final year living in San Diego. With the power of hindsight I can now say some decent things about America's Finest City but at the time I hated it. Hated it. Remember back in 1998 when Chris Jericho decided to list all the wrestling holds he knew? Similarly, I carried in my head a long list to explain why San Diego was one of the worst places one could ever have the misfortune of visiting.

Yes, it had beach and mountains and year-round agreeable weather, but it also had a whole lot of self-absorbed people who didn't give a damn about protecting those things, an untamed urban sprawl, and a corrupt local government that cared only about attracting tourism dollars but not about using those dollars to improve the lives of residents in any way. And if you were trying to get by on the salary of an associate producer at a local TV station you found yourself feeling very much like an indentured servant -- slipping ever deeper and more inescapably into debt.

So, when R got accepted into a master's degree programme at the University of Minnesota, and we knew we'd be leaving San Diego, I pretty much clocked out. I grew my hair, I started wearing T-shirts to work, and I stopped making any effort to socialise. San Diego wasn't my place anymore. I was just killing time; for me, it was as if we were living in an airport.

I loved that St. Paul. Still do. But within three years I was growing my hair again. This time because we were moving to Wales. I hadn't fallen out of love with good ol' Pig's Eye, but had become infatuated with the idea of moving to Britain, of finally earning a college degree, of having a life that I imagined people might be jealous of at a high school reunion (a). So, again I clocked out of where I was, again I grew my hair, again I wore T-shirts to work.

Eight years later, there are no terribly solid plans for Jenn and I to leave Cardiff. But I have clocked out, nonetheless. I'm wearing T-shirts at work, I'm growing out my hair, and I find it hard to be social.

There are plans to leave. We've been telling ourselves and others that we want to move to St. Paul in 2019 (b) but that date is pretty far away. As I've said many times before, God hates plans. Five years (or, well, 4 years, 10 months and 7 days) is a too-long time to plan for reliably. We can work toward something, can have a goal in mind, but all kinds of things can happen in the next 1,772 days that could change things entirely. It is a leaving date too nebulous and too distant for me to have clocked out.

But I have, man. I am so tired of this city (c). Tired of this region. It wears on me. Objectively, I can see that South Wales isn't the worst place in the world. I mean, hey, I'd choose Cymru over Cambodia any time. But emotionally I am so defeated by it all. And I find myself in a mental state of just waiting to go. Like sitting in an airport, waiting to be allowed to board a plane.

Some part of my brain has flicked the switch on this place. I'm ready to leave. The next 1,772 days cannot pass quickly enough. To pass the time, I'll be growing my hair.

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(a) It seemingly always comes back to high school reunions for me.

(b) I feel it would be poetic if we were to arrive on 4 July 2019, choosing Independence Day to mimic the scene in Avalon when the family patriarch arrives in America for the first time and thinks the fireworks are for him.

(c) See, from this point I had planned to write quite a bit about how displeased I am with every facet of South Wales, but that demands too much energy. There was a time when i could rant for hours, scream against this place with such vitriol it made me sick. But now I can't make myself care that much. I just want to go.