Big Bertha in the 21st Century

When one doesn’t mingle too often with young people of around 10 to 15 years old one can easily succumb to media stereotypes and imagine them all as slothful, unhealthy screen addicts who sit playing Dystopian games on their iPads all day whilst eating Nachos (or whatever carbohydrate based snack is currently flavour of the month) and grunting absent mindedly at their parent or carer. I imagine a lot of 10 to 15 year olds hold even more dismissive images of ancient old characters such as myself.

“When I was that age”, I think to myself, “I would have been out all day in the endless Summer Holidays up at Shorne Woods with Jeff & Bas & Eddie cycling round dangerous woodland tracks on unsuitable heavy bicycles.”

One particular focus I remember was “Big Bertha”, which was a hill into a deep woodland pit SO steep one almost went forwards over the handlebars in descent before hitting a small drumlin at the bottom which lifted both wheels off the ground in a terrifying and garment soiling manner. I’m not sure why it was called “Big Bertha” but it could have been associated with the name of Mr “Old Man” Rivers the Headmaster’s cane at our Junior School which was the ultimate deterrent after one had had various bits of anatomy hit with a metal ruler by Mr Sears the form teacher. I later learned that “Big Bertha” was a German Howitzer deployed by the Germans in World War One.

Anyway, on a recent trip to Lancashire whilst walking our dogs I was amazed and very pleased to come across this:

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The next day we passed the same place and found a lad of around 12 with a spade and wheelbarrow adding extra stunts and hazards to what already looked a fairly tough gig and when I proffered friendly encouragement was met with good humour and a wonderful up-beat attitude.

I left with a spring in my step and a new resolution not to believe any of the hype – there IS a positive and dynamic young generation coming through to deal with all the shite and debt we have left them. We all need to keep our fingers crossed for them.

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Coast to Coast

Well my fourth “Way of the Roses” was completed last week and we were blessed with the most amazingly un -English weather. My brother kept comparing the landscape to New Zealand where he has cycled regularly, and it’s a lot cheaper to get to Morecambe.

A few highlights:

1. We had a preparatory evening meal at the Art Deco Midland Hotel in Morecambe which ticked off one of my bucket list wishes. It was lovely fried fish dishes although the open expanse of glass in the restaurant left us a little fried too.

2. I was surprised at how different the 170 mile route looked in high summer – I’d only ever seen it in early Spring or Autumn before and normally with a touch of precipitation involved. It looks stunning in sunshine and this provides a partial explanation for me (aka Mr GPS) getting lost three times.

3. There seem to have been a few changes to the route since I last completed it. All hills have been made 15 degrees steeper and all mileages extended by 15%. I must report this to the organisers. (I am from Norfolk, it has to be said).

4. Never wear yellow at harvest time. I was pursued by a million little black flies until I ripped off the yellow jersey in Ripon and bought a blue striped t-shirt in the Edinburgh Woolen Mill. Blue striped insects followed me from there to York.

5. It was lovely to have the company of daughter Jemma for three days and she took the challenge at every stage with a smile and a positive attitude. I’m very proud of her.

6. Big Al and his Dad Les raised £2000 from our trip for Cancer Research so that was another happy outcome.

Roses grow on you

There’s an old saying that if you’re onto a good thing you should stick with it, or “don’t mess with a winning formula”. Peter Falk is an excellent example, playing the wonderful Columbo character from 1960 till 2003.

So it is with me and the “Way of the Roses”, a long distance cycle route from Morecambe on the West Coast to Bridlington in the East coast. It is quite the best cycle route I’ve ever found and when I last did it (for the third time) 3 years ago I made the mistake of saying it was my last.

Now armed (legged?) with a new titanium hip and with a brilliant young family team to pace me I’m about to set off on the Way of the Roses again tomorrow. I’m very much looking forward to it.

About Face

Last week something momentous happened.

Not on the World stage or even village level – it was a lightbulb moment in my head so won’t affect anyone apart from one of the World’s richest men. I’m talking, of course, of Mr Mark Zuckerberg.

Last Thursday I suddenly realised I’d been working as one of his chief suppliers of “content” for 10 years and it was time to retire. Perhaps “content” is a tad grandiose a description for pictures of dogs and endless convoluted puns which I often have trouble deciphering myself when they show up 3 years later “on this day”.  But still. Enough is enough.

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I’d wavered a bit after the Cambridge Analytica fiasco but carried on as usual because the profiled advertising revenue model for “free” internet services is no longer novel and I happily trade my soul for the amazing goodies in Google’s cupboard. However, it suddenly dawned upon me that the Facebook exchange model has become grossly out of balance since everything has gone mobile. The omnipresence of my beloved iPhone was encouraging me to open the mobile Facebook app at 6.30am in the morning and, on and off, until I’m safely tucked into bed in my jim jams with a mug of horlicks and digestive biscuit at 9.45pm.

So I deleted the Facebook App from my phone and am realising that life is not lived through a small 6″ x 3″ window trying to entertain or impress people I often hardly know but here in the present. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through other people’s digital lives when I awake, I pop into the other room and practice my guitar. I’m even thinking of reading the odd book.

I haven’t deserted Facebook altogether and have retained a link on my desktop but have taken off most of my notifications and intend simply “popping by” from time to time like the irritating ex-alcoholic at a drinks party. Special occasions or trips may still require a picture and The PBGV and Tibetan Terrier groups may still need the odd picture of our lovely four legged team.

What I won’t miss is:

  1. Political Posts where people feel the need to nail their voting colours to the mast – it’s very un-English, negative and extremely tedious.
  2. Feuds and bitter disputes on the village web site about parking, poo and parish council. These get borderline psychotic post wine-o-clock and make you wonder about the future of homo sapiens.
  3. Twee virtue signalling posts about wisdom, normally involving native American Indians.
  4. Videos from that youthful religious group, “the Lad’s Bible” usually involving swearing and someone getting badly hurt for “bantz”.
  5. Endless adverts for stuff I’ve recently purchased.

Rock Follies

Our local auction is always bustling with scruffy and unloved specimens, but a few weeks ago I came across this:

Old, battered, over-strung and with a broken socket …. but enough about me.

A fanciful whim entered my head which somehow overrode the boring sensible part of my brain which we will refer to as “Trevor”. Trevor was saying things like “you can’t even play the bass guitar” and “what would you do with it” and “it’s broken anyway”. I left a £10 bid just to show Trevor that when it comes to rock and roll he doesn’t always call the shots (plus I was pretty sure I wouldn’t win it).

Later that day I drove back to the auction to collect my £10 bass guitar, which we shall call Jack after Mr Bruce of Cream. “Trevor, meet Jack”, I joked, before the po-faced misery pointed out that the Jack socket was hanging loose. “So am I , Grandad”, I said whilst doing that rock-hand-thing with my thumb and little finger.

I’ve never set hands on a bass guitar or even seen the appeal – after all, you can’t sit down with a bass and produce a stand-alone tune like a guitar. But my brother-in-law from France plays electric bass and is very good and I’ve got a grandson who is a budding bassist so I began to have daydreams of me and them sitting down to produce some hot club of Paris jazzy vibes.

I thought I’d summon my inner Barry Bucknell and restore Jack to his former glory myself, so I took it apart and laid out the pieces like James May did in what my wife refers to as “that paint-drying programme”. Talking of which, I fancied losing the chipped red paint and having a wood grain body so set to with paint stripper. The tin urged the user to treat the stuff like critical plutonium with masks and gloves and breathing apparatus but the reality was it wouldn’t even make a mark on the surface. In a flash of inspiration I borrowed a neighbour’s heavy duty sander and attacked the body with gusto.

Quite pleased with the woodgrain result, I then found the electric controls as well as the jack socket were duff and the pick-guard was impossible to clean so I ordered both from popular internet sites for £6 and £8 respectively. The volume and tone controls came pre-wired with their new jack socket for £6 delivered – from Hong Kong! (If I took it into our Post Office to send tracked to Hong Kong it would cost £10.15 just for sending). Anyway, it all duly arrived and I spent a furrow-browed morning in the sunshine wrestling with Jack’s re-assembly.

I was quite pleased with the result, which exceeded my expectations.

The next step was to get some tuneful bass sounds out of it so I repaired (good word!) to our local music shop (yes, we have one!) and enquired as to whether they could do a proper set-up on it that would pass muster with my brother-in-law. Luke looked askance, there was much head-shaking, sucking of teeth and expressions such as “good money after bad” and I eventually left the shop with Jack tucked under my arm and us both looking looking flat and glum.

HOWEVER, on the way home I decided two things.

ONE: Jack would become an attractive piece of wall-art in my office and a constant reminder for Trevor that we can all be a bit rash from time to time, and things never turn out quite like you think they will.

TWO: Having fallen quite strongly for the idea of a bass in the house, I got on to my Amazonian chums and this bad boy will be arriving on Saturday.  Meet Jack II :

BASSPIC

I just need to casually mention this to Mrs Rine and we’re all good to go!

Diss & Disc Discoveries

Yesterday the weather was the glorious blue sky and sunshine we’ve missed so I took the opportunity to do my longest bike ride in 18 months in preparation for the 100 mile Diss Cycathlon in June. Here’s what I found out:

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1. 55 miles is a blinking long way, even in Norfolk. I’m seriously considering revising my rashly conceived 100 mile entry in the Diss Cycathlon back to 50. That’s my current Diss stance.

2. For the 10 miles out of Long Stratton I really felt like giving up completely. My legs just did not seem to have the strength to get me home and I was even struggling on downhill sections (with the wind behind me).

3. Finally in desperation I stopped and turned the bike over to check the wheels. I spun the front wheel and …er… it didn’t. It was locked solid with the disc brake almost glowing like a superheated capsule re-entering earth atmosphere.

4. We all know that modern cars have become so technologically advanced that the idea of the amateur “tinkering” with them has all but died out. That has always been part of the appeal of the bicycle to me – transparent human-scale technology that relies on no outside input other that the rider’s effort. But the hydraulic disc brake system on my new Boardman Hybrid was palpably non-transparent – a baffling array of tubes, knobs and nuts containing a mysterious fluid which appeared to have expanded in the heat and locked the pads on the disc.

5. Surprising myself with my own ingenuity, I eventually managed to open a small bleed valve and release enough oil to slacken off the pads. If there had been any passers-by on that quiet Norfolk lane they would have been bemused to witness this red-faced old wrinkly with an upside-down bike shouting “Yes! I’ve found the bleeding valve!”.

6. Once I tried riding again without the front brake locked on things were remarkably easier and I even posted my 2nd fastest time on the last 2.5 mile Strava sprint to my house.  That said, I don’t think I was quite ready to complete a second 50 mile loop that day, thanks very much.

Keeping Hot Things Hot and Cold Things Cold

thetford

When I first moved up to Thetford in Norfolk in the early 1970’s it was a veritable hub of industry.

Up until the 1960’s that hadn’t been the case as the career choice for young Thetfordians was simply beween the “Canning Factory”, the “Pulp Mill” or local agricultural or forestry work (Burrell’s Steam Engine Factory had long closed). In the 1960’s that all changed when the town was declared an “overspill” town by the Greater London Council and large new Industrial Plants with associated housing developments were built to encourage economic activity from London’s main conurbation to the fresh fields of East Anglia.  The population grew from around 7,000 to 17,000 in a very short space of time and for a while the town became the fastest growing in England. Notable businesses included Danepack (Tulip International) which ran one of the largest bacon production factories in the UK, Airscrew-Weyroc (chipboard production), Travenol Laboratories and THERMOS the eponymous flask people.

Other activities followed and the retail centre of Thetford grew. It had one small supermarket in the middle of the main street which used to do rather well.   The crew of Dad’s Army used to use the Bell Hotel when they were doing their filming.

If I had been making a film about this part of Thetford’s history my soundbed of choice would be “Telegraph Road” by Dire Straits about a sleepy rural town transformed by the arrival of the Railroad.

“Then came the churches, then came the schools
Then came the lawyers, then came the rules
Then came the trains and the trucks with their load
And the dirty old track was the A11”

Returning to the town today to visit Lidl amongst the great expanse of hypermarkets on the periphery I was struck by how much it had changed.  The major activities of “making things” had given way to “retailing things” and all this was occurring around the car-park rich edges whilst the centre clings on to its few speciality and charity shops like grim death.  Since things like insurance policies and bank loans became “products” and sales meetings became “workshops” there seemed to be a wistful longing for the days when we could actually make our own stuff.

This feeling of change became more poignant when we moved on to the massive Tesco Superstore and I discovered this evidence of Thetford’s historic past on one of the shelves. Check the address.

Thermos

I suppose I shouldn’t become overly sentimental about the loss of Industry – after all, it wasn’t all sweetness and came with an overhead of pollution, disease and downtrodden workers. And taking the longer view, I remembered reading how Thetford had been the 4th largest town in England at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086 and went on to become the ecclesiastical centre of East Anglia.  However the Dissolution in the 16th Century led to a rapid decline in the town’s fortunes and it was one of the very last towns in England to develop a mains drainage system.

At least it’s now got its conveniences.

*The title of this post relates to the old observation about Thermos Flasks. They keep hot things hot and cold things cold – but how do they know which one to do?*