That Magnificent Man

Today is the first day of the Nevil Shute conference, held this year in a town not merely like, but identical to, Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territories. Much to my regret, I am here, and not there. The air fare, hotel bill, conference fees and incidentals add up to an amount that the sensible person would prefer to spend on something of longer-term benefit to both themselves and callmemadam.

My friend Mike, of my visit to Bournemouth Air Museum fame, isn't there either. In his case it's for health reasons. He's well, but barred from long-haul travel, following a trip to Oz last November for the cricket, which nearly killed him. We can't have that.

But we're both at Alice in virtual form. Our mutual friend Phil – my agency-bossing, bike-riding, music-loving Evil Twin – is there to give a presentation on Sir Alan Cobham, whose aerial exploits in the 1920s and 30s did so much to promote air-mindedness in Britain. Cobham and Shute had a lot in common. Both began their careers at De Havilland's. Before starting Flight Refuelling (now Cobham plc), Cobham joined Shute on the board of Airspeed Limited, and his flying circus National Aviation Day was the launch customer for the Airspeed Ferry.

Phil has made a recording of Mike reading the opening chapter of Shute's novel Round The Bend, in which Cobham makes a cameo appearance. At his request I've added some clips from the BBC/Open University Nation on Film programme about Sir Alan, and some images from books, creating an audio-visual experience to introduce the presentation. I hope the delegates will enjoy it. And now, through the wonder of YouTube, so can those of us regrettably unable to be in Australia this week!

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First Second Sunday

Today was the first of the bike club's Second Sunday Runs – a regular monthly social ride with a definite leader and destination. But with the programme for the rest of the season already complete, no-one had yet stepped up to lead today's. Hats off to Nick who volunteered at the last minute to guide us to the bacon sandwiches of Yeovil Junction.

Immediately after setting off we were embroiled in a traffic jam of Ashley Heath car boot sale enthusiasts. We made better progress than they did, but it was still painful. And pointless: callmemadam had been there two hours earlier. There were no more bargains to be had.

Once clear, the minor roads of Dorset – Horton, Witchampton, Tollard Royal - were a sheer delight in the warm sunshine. That's what I call a social ride, miles away from cold weather gear and serious A31 congestion. This year's first ride in me leathers, and first descent of Zig Zag Hill, officially Britain's twistiest road.

Much of the route was familiar but Nick knew an excellent back road from Sherborne to Yeovil via Thornford, Yetminster and Ryme Intrinseca. Why anyone would want to travel on the mundane A30, when for just a few extra miles they could visit these delightful spots, is a mystery. What's more it took us to our destination without passing through the town. Or most of us ... a few SMS messages rounded up the final stragglers including huskyteer.

Yeovil Junction has numerous attractions including a charming steam locomotive that shunts up and down, but the buffet was closed. As were Pen Mill station's on the other side of the town, and the Sherborne establishment. Having left quite a few by the wayside, at this point we final four hardcores headed South via Cerne Abbas for guaranteed coffee at Dorchester's Top O'Town. At home I rounded off a suitably relaxing Easter day with Robert Aldrich's Flight Of The Phoenix – a favourite since I saw it at the Embassy, Chesham in 1965.

Good for him

Guinness is everywhere at the moment, not just in callmemadam's blog and our store-cupboard. In the throes of his acrimonious divorce, Paul McCartney is being "comforted" by heiress film-maker Sabrina Guinness. As callmemadam points out, at least he knows she's not just after his money.

According to the Torygraph they like to sit and talk about Al Gore. I suppose they have long exhausted the topic of her cousin Tara Browne who blew his mind out in a car (he didn't notice that the lights had changed).

Several Pieces of Luck

After the bike-related aggravation of recent weeks, something good to report. When I got home from the bike club meeting on Monday evening, my laptop was missing from the back seat where I'd secured it with a bungee. (This isn't the good part.) How annoying that I'd previously travelled hundreds of miles in this configuration, and it had failed on a two-mile trip in a 30mph limit. I retraced my route, but no sign. Rats! Not that it was a laptop of value: old and slow, long since retired from the office, no irreplaceable data or embarrassing secrets. Its value was in being set up how I wanted, with the software I needed. More, inside the case had been a pad with my notes from the meeting, for newsletter editing purposes.

Then this afternoon I got a call from an ex-client of five years ago. They'd had a call about a laptop that had been found. Of all the coincidences, the case had contained a mail message printed on the back of one of their old letterheads, now used as scrap paper chez nous. A couple of phone calls later I was heading for Blandford to meet the gentleman who'd kindly stopped his car at the roundabout to retrieve an object lying in the road, and whose acute detective work had led him to me via the ex-client. And now I'm typing this upon that very laptop – still old and slow, but intact and fully functional.

So, at least four pieces of luck there.
  • The vehicle following me home on Monday hadn't been a bus or an artic (or indeed a bicycle whose rider might easily have come to grief)
  • Its driver had been a person of resource and sagacity, not to mention integrity
  • Someone at the ex-client's remembered me and knew how to get in touch
  • The computer had been robust enough to survive the tarmac interface (thank you, Dell)
My luck seems to be IN – perhaps I should buy a lottery ticket. But first I think I'll get myself a new bungee.
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Pond Life

Well, both the bike and my heated clothing managed to hold themselves together this morning for 60 miles of rural Dorset and Wilts, on a ride from Avon Forest via Verwood, Cranborne, 6d Handley and Ebbesbourne Wake, up to Ansty for a look at its charming pond, and home via a cuppa at Compton Abbas airfield.

Things are looking good for huskyteer's ride to Flanders next weekend.


Motorpsycho Nitemare

The bike went in for its 24,000-mile service yesterday and the shop lent me an F800S for the day. Brand new, and a cute little thing – I called it a mini-moto but BMW prefers "entry level sportsbike". Having enquired, I'd been assured that it featured an accessory socket, and plugged myself in before setting off home. Before the first traffic lights it was clear that my heating circuits weren't working, but in the pitch dark and hammering rain I didn't feel like diagnostics. It turns out that the socket's current limited, while the heated gear has a duty cycle controller, demanding full power for short bursts. So no go. Dreamed I was an Eskimo.

It also hasn't got a top box. Loan bikes never do, and so I took my cargo net with me. Stashing my lunch-box, I lost grip on one of the hooks, and it sproinged up and hit me in the eye. Ouch.

I handed over the best part of a fortnight's wages for the service, new battery, new starter-motor, oils, gaskets and what-not, and headed for home on my own bike in warmth and comfort. From enjoying good progress along the Bere Regis by-pass, it suddenly lost power and started vibrating. After an hour's wait in a cold lay-by, the shop's service manager arrived with a van and my third bike of the day, an R850R. This one's socket might have worked, but it was too dark to transfer the connector and controller from my bike. So for a second day, I arrived home shivering.

Off to work on it this morning, two pairs of gloves and the grips on full chat, and that cargo net again. Could anything else go wrong? Yes it damn well could. When I arrived my lovely yellow Banana Guard (not to mention its contents) was missing, believed fallen off somewhere along the A31. That'll have to be replaced - we post-war kiddies can't live without our bananas, preferably unbruised.

Now I've heard from the shop that the RT has a burned-out exhaust valve – burned-out exhaust valve 2 of 2. Stand by for another massive bill, even though they'll kindly charge me only half the labour, and nothing for yesterday's rescue or the loaner. I love my Beemer, it's superbly comfortable and satisfying in every way, but not sure whether I can stand the cost (and the pain) of ownership. As I've said before, and hoped not to say again: none of my Yamahas ever broke down.
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