The Fate of a Champ.


1953 Austin Champ

Reflections on the workings of fate and recollections of childhood were stirred recently when I was asked to prepare an article on the Austin Champ, which was the British Army’s answer to the Jeep back in the early fifties. The memories were of a friend’s dad who bought one when they were being demobbed a decade or two after their introduction. He used to take us for mad rides around the local countryside in the open topped beast for this was before people worried much about mixing kids and cars and we held on for dear life as he charged up and down the lanes seeking puddles so that we might get splashed, all great fun and fit to the get the poor fellow locked up nowadays. Naturally, a matt green ex army vehicle was going to be an attraction to any set of lads but what made this one even more special was that it had a Rolls Royce engine and that, at the time, really meant something, or it did to us anyway.

Now, as it turns out the engine was actually made by Austin under licence from the luxury car maker, not that we would have cared much even we’d grasped the concept, yet looking back several decades later the relationship between two car makers that operated at completely different ends of the market gives us some insight to how British industry has changed over the years. After he war Britain still struggled to keep its appearance of imperial importance. The then War Office decided that it couldn’t afford to keep buying American Jeeps, not with the shortage of sterling, so it set out to build its own and like all such projects it became something of an engineers solution to a soldiers problem, sometimes that can work and sometimes it doesn’t. The Champ was heavy and complex but certainly worked, its manufacture was contracted out to Austin and the engine was to be the smallest of Rolls Royce’s new B series of motors, it all came together and it wasn’t a bad vehicle at all, with 11,500 being built in the Midlands.

Could it happen today? That’s an excellent question, it would certainly take a dire emergency and the appropriation of the required manufacturing facilities by the government, the big difference being that neither Austin or Rolls Royce are likely to be involved, The Austin name is now in Chinese hands and Rolls Royce make jet engines while the car division is that part of the BMW empire which happens to own the rights to the famous logo.

So where could it be made? One answer may be found by returning to the late forties when a frustrated farmer and influential automotive engineer by the name of Maurice Wilks decided that he could make a better hash of the Jeep, which was probably not difficult as the original had been designed and built in about three months flat. The company he worked for was also looking for a stop gap product to build until the steel shortage eased. Thus it was that a rather basically engineered aluminum clad Rover four wheel drive car-tractor hybrid came into being  which was launched in 1948 with the hope of selling a few thousand a year. It went on to sell in its millions and  quickly attracted a loyal following, including the  army, for it did most of what the Champ did for half the price and it’s been in their fleet ever since. Indeed, so useful was it that production of the Champ was actually curtailed in its favour, meaning that there would be quite some irony in the fact that should Britain ever need another home built Jeep then one strong candidate for its production would be the Land Rover Plant at Solihull, but such is fate.


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Is Marketing Killing the Media?

MMFC9671lnkwbImage: We all need space to breath.

Or maybe marketing now is the media!

It’s getting ever more difficult to tell apart nowadays, adverts and editorial used to be two different items in the press and even in the early days of the web. As a rule a clear distinction between what was paid for by companies and what was the opinion of writers was maintained by most publications. Of course there was always something of an overlap but  readers would know and the offending publications suffer a certain derision if they tried to hide the fact, but such niceties seem to have been forgotten in the rush to get products planted in the face of the reader.

The web has led the fall in standards due, in main, to its desperate search for cheap, but preferably free, content. In pursuit of its own ideal  it has happily ignored the idea that readers read because they want to learn about the world and not because they want to be lambasted by blatant spin about the latest gizmo or product or whatever.  The printed media, terrified by the growth of its digital rival has swiftly followed suite and its hard to pick up a magazine or paper today and not detect the suggestion that  advertising revenue is of as great a concern  as  giving an honest account. Perhaps we in Ireland are more prone to this due to the small population and greater reliance upon a reduced pool of advertisers, but the effect is by no means confined to these shores.

Yes indeed, I certainly have an interest in these matters so am biased, but isn’t that the point of debate? If none of us took a stance then society would suffocate in a grey goo of tedium and it is a similar tedium that threatens to kill the media altogether. Of course editors and publishers have to keep an eye on the revenue stream but too much interference with the editorial content by advertisers will, and I think is, killing the platform altogether. So when magazines and papers are gone, Adblock is ubiquitous and nobody bothers to read the advertorial that pretends to be news on websites then how are all these wonderfully smart young marketing types who have gained proud dominance over the various channels going to get their message across? Will they, perhaps, have to resort to actually offering a quality product and level of service rather than depend on blanket saturation of the airwaves? It must be a terrifying thought for some.

So my message to over zealous marketing types is this; let the press be free! We are, outside of the tabloids, a fairly decent lot, as are most companies,  and we are happy to report that which is good without the micro management of advertisers fearful that they may lose an edge if they don’t have the final say in everything that is said of them. Respect, after all, has to be earned rather than demanded, indeed, by insisting upon it then it is lost altogether.

Days in Alberta

MMFC9418My book about Germany was inspired by a visit to the country, a visit of just a few days and yet it opened a whole new history and perspective on how Europe had evolved. Surely a summer in Canada would yield a great deal more for, as a friend said to me, if three days in Germany produced a book what would three months in Canada do? The answer was, well, nothing, it left me unable to formulate any great passages or prose and I have often wondered why.  Maybe looking at the images of the place two years on would offer up a cause so I thought I’d share a few thoughts of some pictures I’d brought back, maybe that will start the process.

MMFC9249This is the town of Cold Lake, the town in which I was based. On the Eastern edge of Alberta it’s pretty much in the middle of the country. Its business is oil and fracking in particular. It also has a major airbase of some fame, but that’s for another day. Working on the oilfields pays well, very well, but not everybody can get in on the scene. It helps to be Canadian and it helps to be white. Of course that’s never stated, but hey, we all knew the rules.   One of the regular highlights of the town was a car meet held a few times over the summer. Bring  your ride and shoot the breeze at the A&W burger bar. A&W are like moms apple pie to the Canadians, heritage is its greatest asset. They are mostly good old boys and most will chat to ‘foreign workers’ but not all.

MMFC9351Ardmore.  Well it’s there on the map of the state and on the ground as well. This, I think, was its biggest building, other than the ‘shops’ as the workshops that service the oil industry are known. Places where you buy stuff are called stores. I never knew this hotel or cafe to be open although I was assured they were still in business. Funny that, but I never pressed the question. A crossroads, a store and a hundred houses or so comprised the rest of the town.

IMGP5214adjDusk at Cold Lake and the town had closed down. This truck was unloading something into a store, although there didn’t seem to be any great quantities involved. The electricity wires were safer in the air than under the barely made ally that ran down the back of the main street, aesthetics were not the major concern in Cold Lake.

MMFC9366 (2)I thought this place deserted, abandoned, as plain a building as can be imagined with only false optimism of better days to come preventing it from being a ruin altogether. But no, once or twice a week it comes to bawdy life as ladies divest themselves of their clothing for the entertainment of the menfolk. Strip clubs are popular in Canada, but never spoken off in polite circles. This was at Fort Kent, a town smaller still than Ardmore.

MMFC9375adjAcross the road, literally, from the den of ill virtue was the church, and this was a wedding one Saturday morning. The bride was brought to the place by school bus, specially dressed for the occasion and driven by her father to whom, as I understood the situation, it belonged. The church is of mid European origin and the pastor,as well as  much of the congregation, spoke in a tongue that was akin to German, but I recollect not what it is called.  It is the custom for the bride to be the last to enter the church, alone, and she cut a strange figure, outside by herself, waiting for her cue.

MMFC9420A catholic church this time, at a town called Wabasca Desmarais. Oil once again brings men and women here, to this place from which no read leads except the one you came in on heading north, and the one you leave on, heading south. It’s the same road, you are at the top of a loop. There is, incredibly enough, a tourist office here and I remember the pretty girl, bored out of her skull, being bedazzled by a lonely traveler who had ventured this far.  She recommended a motel, the only motel, but they knew the price of oil and the generous allowances of the usual visitors and charged accordingly. I demurred and pressed on.

MMFC9424A burger bar at Wabasca Desmarais, there was another, much posher, one that called itself a restaurant, but they, like the motel were not afraid of asking big numbers for the privilege of crossing the threshold. This was where we others ate, a big sky and lonely poles being the major features. And the sky is big, and there is space, lots of space with buildings like this tacked upon its surface. Nothing seems anchored to the landscape, only the legends carried by the lore of the first nations, all else is fluff and temporary.

MMFC9418Which brings us back to the community centre at Calling Lake. Built on a reserve, a stranger has the right to be in this public place, but we were warned never to stray from the ground that is recognised as being shared. We don’t know it over here but there is a terrible chasm that lies between  the first nations and the settlers in the outback of Canada. It is a creation of distrust of the whites who in turn seem to fear the native population. It is a tragedy. Perhaps I was offered the chance to bridge it, I shall never know for sure, but by then I had recognised that this country, beautiful as she can be, was not my home.

This interweb marketing thingie….

DSC_7507LinkinDo we really know where we are going with web marketing?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’d be the first to point out what an incredible feat of engineering the internet is and the ability of the WWW to disseminate information in such quantity and at such speed  fills me with awe. It’s exponential rate of growth over the past two decades has also been phenomenal along with the realisation of the digital world of which it is a major part, yet the web is now suffering from its own cleverness, it has reached a point where one starts to ask; what is the point?

The problem is that the the majority of information that we are presented with is trying to sell us something, not just physical goods but also financial services, programmes (apps if you must) political and religious ideas and ideals and plenty of other ‘stuff’ that we neither want nor care much about. Those of us who actually want to find out things, useful facts and so on, are left to pick our way through this lush jungle of colour to try and find occasional morsels of meat amongst the empty promise of bamboo shoots.

This brings me on to my second declaration where I would point out that I am not against using the web as a sales channel per se, not at all, however, in the minds of far too many this has become the sole reason for it’s existence and we need to remind ourselves that this is not the case at all.  We’d all do well to sit back with a coffee and reflect upon what the web is actually meant to be about rather than try and devise ever more intrusive ways to impose a product on  peoples conscience in the hope that they might buy it, because that is ultimately counter productive and I think we are already seeing the law of diminishing returns coming into play.

I look around the web, I read the the various self elected gurus pontificating on the finer points of the latest piece of genius they have alighted upon, I see the hollow blandness of ‘white space’ being elevated to an art form to cover for the idleness of not doing a proper job, I listen to those who pretend they hold the key to the dark art of web marketing and I really struggle to connect much of it to the world that the rest of us inhabit. Yet they continue to fill the bowl with the popcorn  of futility and wonder why they are having to run ever faster just to keep up.

I should, at this point, also point out that there are companies who aware of the pitfalls and perils of overselling themselves on the web and strive to create an informative and intelligent presence that compliments an overall marketing strategy rather than replacing it entirely.  Balance and planning are good things, but not always present in any great quantity.

To illustrate what I mean there is one particular basic fact of commercial life that is so often overlooked that one feels that it is deliberately ignored for fear that it might upset the pretty fabrications of the experts, and that is every business is different! I know I know, it must come as a shock to the lads and lasses who take an abstract concept of what a business actually is and then try and apply a standardised answer not realising that this is the reason they are so often ignored.  A self employed person providing a service such as plumbing or printing has not the same aspirations and needs as a multinational, nor may they appeal to the same customer base, sorry, cohort. Big companies have the resources to set up and target a web based marketing campaign with constant adjustments and updates, smaller firms generally  do not, so why talk about them as if they have?

These disparate factors  have led to all sorts of answers being sought and the flooding of the web with nonsensical attempts at flogging stuff because everybody believes there is one magic song sheet to sing from, there isn’t! So if we are going to discuss web based marketing strategies then we need to make it quite clear as to what sort of businesses we are addressing our concerns, advice and comments before jumping on a bandwagon and driving it down everybody’s throats without a thought as to whether it is a suitable pill or not.

As I stated at the beginning, the internet and web are incredible achievements but I fear we do stand to lose many of the opportunities they present through careless and unthoughtful pursuit of a common ideal. One size does not fit all, nor does the web have all the answers, printed media is still very valid as an advertising tool in many fields,  but that’s another blog altogether.

Knowing the unknown

EuroportWindmills and trade, the Dutch will never change!

Since a college trip of far too many years ago the hours that I have spent in Holland can be counted upon one hand, yet I still feel I know the place, hold an empathy and share their concerns although it would too far fetched to think of it as a second home. I am also of the notion that I would not feel out of place in the country, nor that I would go without company or good cheer should I ever find myself there for any length of time such is the feeling of fellowship I have enjoyed with the Dutch over the years, they are, I think, perhaps the most closely aligned to the sort of Englishness that I am familiar with than any other European nationality.

As one or two readers of this blog may have noticed I am rather keen on visiting France, and it is mainly because many Dutch also enjoy doing so that I have got to know them over the years. No self respecting French campsite could consider itself successful without a solid collection of camper vans bearing the letters NL on their number plates, nor would any ferry trip be complete without having at least one lengthy conversation with a Dutch family keen to practice their English, and so it is by degrees that the relationship with them has grown to a feeling of familiarity that I have yet to share with any other nationality, other than the Irish amongst whom I live.

Despite this it is not always an unbridled rapture I experience whenever I meet any one of their number, they too have their habits and peculiarities which they carry with them when they spill out of their tiny overcrowded country into the open air of rural France or wherever they are heading. Many a time I have seen a caravan pull up and almost the first item to be attended to is the satellite dish which is carefully pointed in the appropriate direction before being swiftly followed by the inhabitants withdrawing inside rarely to be spied again. Fair enough, if a holiday is watching the box within a different set of walls while a happier form of life goes on around you then so be it, but it is a rather sad state of affairs to see telly gazing raised to such prominence in anybody’s life.

On the other hand they can be immeasurably hospitable. One such occasion involved a  vegetarian couple  inviting an obviously lonely looking biker to a supper of salad and beans. Unfortunately the  reaction was as catastrophic as it was predictable so I suppose it was kind of mother nature to ameliorate the situation with a gentle breeze that may have freshened the air but could hardly disguise the rumblings and eruptions emanating from their guest. The raven haired lady thought it was quite hilarious and could barely disguise her mirth which thankfully went some way to easing the embarrassment as well as demonstrating that other great Dutch trait, a rugged honesty that does not shirk from telling it as it is. As we said our farewells the next morning the laughter was still in her eyes and often since I have wondered whether it was a regular joke they played.  But that aside it was an interesting evening with much intelligent conversation, banter and reaffirmation of a common bond that lies between the Dutch and many of the English.

I say many of the English for I cannot speak for all of them, let alone the whole gamut of ‘the British’. The Welsh I know for fact are more akin to the Bretons of France while the Scottish and Irish have always felt closer to each other than either to their past tormentors, which leaves the English somewhat alone except for the Dutch and some Nordic affiliation for those living at more northerly  latitudes. Having been reared mainly in the southern counties the lands of Normandy never struck me as different or particularly foreign in appearance and I need to be beyond the region before I feel I have arrived in France for real.  The people though, are delightfully French from the moment the ferry docks and that Frenchness is quite different from our Englishness and the Dutch’s Dutchness, yet when we are abroad the people from England and the Netherlands will tend to associate with each other far more readily than they will with other nationalities and many a pleasant memory is associated with their companionship. I really ought to get over there sometime and get to know them at home.


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The Fine Delight of Riding.

DSC_3046wbbrdDonzy, A quiet corner discovered by bike.


Coming off the roundabout in a gorgeous sweep to the right the bike lifted her head in anticipation of the road ahead, so much so that there would have been little response to any attempt at steering yet I knew her trajectory was right and with the throttle eased she settled back to her normal stance, centred in the lane and pulling away nicely from the flashing blue lights of the two fire service trucks passed out on the exit from the island. Now what, you may ask, was any biker or motorist doing overtaking emergency vehicles responding to a call, especially at a junction? But when I tell you that the second vehicle of the pair, a Series III Land Rover  with a trailer, seemed impatient with the first, those who know of the woeful lack of speed in these otherwise fine off roaders will understand that their rate of progress hardly matched the urgency of their mission. And I was not alone, a fellow on Gixxer 1000 had been trailing me through town and now the way was clear he came past with a wave of the leg and a rush of acceleration that I had no hope of matching encumbered as I was with the luggage of a fortnights touring.

It is for these moments of joy that we bikers live. My greatest wish would be that I could place them in a bottle and share with all those who question the wisdom of riding and after those days in France that bottle contained not just the one surge of life affirming exultation but many many more examples of what the passion is all about. Every hour on the bike would grant seconds or even minutes of complete serenity, of a connection with a meaning that transcends the monotonous and  ridicules the regular, it brings a purity of thought that I seldom experience elsewhere although I am sure there are other activities in which the participants would claim the same awareness brought about by this sense of power and total responsibility for your own destiny. It is a bliss, a zen like state that one can savour but must not wallow in, for that is the path to misfortune.

Yet biking is not all about the thrill of control, there is so much more it offers. On the same day that I met the local fire service earnestly urging modern tractor speeds from their appliances I had sauntered along unknown roads that no tourist would consider the need of visiting, passed through quiet villages with churches that were at once far too magnificent for the humble collection of houses gathered around, tripped over hidden chateaus that boasted vineyards of note to only those who truly know about wine and gardens that had been freshly brought down from paradise that very morning. Shunning such wretchedness as a GPS, relying only upon  a map to provide the names of two towns between which I would travel and keeping the sun to my left or to my right as a guide to the general direction I should be heading I would set off in the confidence that I would arrive and that France would share her soft bosom of visual ambrosia on the way. I am very rarely disappointed.

And that is just France. Ireland will also offer up her secrets to those who shed the concerns and strictures of the guide book, who understand the word travel as a synonym for exploration and discovery in an unhurried manner. She too has roads that will truly engage the biker although their character is less open and foreseeable, instead, she has hidden corners and challenges that will call for an alertness and an ad hoc planning regime in the business of maintaining motion that the manuals will rarely mention in fear that it counter their beautiful arguments of roadcraft. But let that not discourage those who are willing to show an independence from the rule book that the Emerald Isle requires if she is to be enjoyed as she should be, at a pace of your choice and in a mood of contemplation rather than wild exuberance.

If you have kindly read these words so far I do hope that you are perhaps a little wiser as to the pleasure and satisfaction that informs the choice of many of those who ride, who eschew the comfort of a car when wishing to travel and learn a little of other places. It is perhaps the most rewarding way to transit or tour, the thinking man’s driving no less.

Lost in France.


The idea that travel expands the mind, or at least ones horizons, is an adage that I hold dear to my heart yet like many activities in life there is no single standard by which the rewards of partaking in it can be judged.  There are many facets to travel, it should never be considered a homogenous item,  yet it can still be partitioned  into those two great divisions to which we humans are constantly seeking a balance and they are quantity and quality. Rushing around the world without taking the time to pause and reflect upon  culture and circumstances that are present in places foreign to ourselves is, I believe, of little value compared with attuning ones self to the local environment. This can never be a complete experience for a visitor, one has to be born to that place for it to be so, yet there is a spectrum of opportunity available to the traveler ranging from the briefest of flirtations to total immersion,  the latter being a lifetime’s work that few of us would contemplate while former constitutes the experience of too many.

Given that the opportunities to travel are limited by cost and time for the majority, what can be done to make the most of these two resources? A question to which there is no straight answer for it is highly dependent upon our own interests and experiences and we each have to decide what it is that we are seeking.  From my own perspective it is a more intimate engagement with the surroundings and ethos to which I have directed myself and it is often the case that I am drawn to France for an alternative take upon the world. Why this country should appear so different from any of its neighbours is something of a mystery and rather an annoyance to the impatient architects of a grand but bland unified Europe, yet it is a blessing that should be enjoyed before it is too late.

How can this singular cultural identity be defined? Not very easily at all, it’s often a case of just knowing it, almost by instinct, but there are clues for those who wish to look a little deeper and while wandering around central France last summer I came across several traces of what we might consider references to the French character that are incomplete on their own but may be accumulated to provide a much richer picture. The image shown here is  one such tiny item in a much larger tapestry. It is quite unremarkable in a way, a few plant pots strewn about a stage of stone and concrete, colour against  a colourless background,  renewal amongst decay, yet it is in this very juxtaposition that we see a glimpse of the romance of the peasant life that the French hold closer to their bosom than the more unsentimental countries to the north and east.

There is a texture within this picture that is not always apparent when visiting the Netherlands or Germany for instance, where everything is modern and up to date and oh so wonderful and correct. But the French don’t buy into that narrative to anything like the same degree. Gentrification is fine, but it denies the passing of time, the ticking of the clock, the turning of the calendar which dictates that we must all grow old and whither while youth and hope grow up around us. In the photograph we can see that some effort has been put into repair and improvement, there is new capping upon the wall and a filling of cement at the head of the steps yet the plaster crumbles from the walls and the cracks run untamed by the attention of the householder. It is a nature doing what she does, she takes the fresh and wholesome and degrades it in a constant cycle of revitalisation, a process which the French celebrate rather than deny despite it conflicting with the constant desire to progress in the general field of human achievement. They have, after all, a great dependence on nuclear power which would seem miles away from this genteel scene, although the hearts of many a technician may not be quite so distant after all, and here, in this fragment from somewhere in France, we have that struggle encapsulated in a quite abstract form.

Travel, as already suggested, is whatever you want to make of it and here, away from the regular tourist spots, I found a small space that captures a characteristic of a culture that is quite separate to ours and is as worthy, if somewhat quieter, a reward than the chance to gape at the Eiffel Tower along with millions of others. The tower may be promoted as an  ‘attraction’, but is it really as alluring as this unvisited spot?

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Triumph Reawakes! (hopefully)


Those who have had the misfortune of suffering my opinions on bikes will know that I carry something of a flame for Triumphs. Why this should be so is somewhat unclear, I can only put it down to having a Triumph bicycle in my youth,  although at the time it was no more than a brand name for Tube Investments who also owned Raleigh. Triumph pushbikes and Triumph motorcycles do share a common heritage and there was something about the solidity of that old bike and the miles we did together as I grew up through my teens that has remained riveted within my soul as firmly as the Triumph badge was riveted to its headstock.

My next full on encounter with the name was when I was casting around for a motorbike to replace a competent but dull Diversion and found myself falling in love with a 1200 Trophy . As a newly born again biker my knowledge of the market was over 20 years out of date and so it was something of a shock, a quite delightful one, to see the name resplendent in gold upon a majestic  tourer of British Racing Green. The last I had heard of the marque it was all disputes, co-ops and bankruptcies , its purchase and rehabilitation by John Bloor had gone unnoticed amongst the business of work and families which had filled my years since, yet what had been created was something unique with a strong identity that spoke of values that went beyond mere stop watches and rev limits. Its aura was undeniably British without any resort to cheap appeals to patriotism which the marketing department (ill)judged to  be necessary at a later date. Unfortunately a patch of ice sealed the fate of that machine and so it was that I moved on with broken heart, and rib, to something lighter and brighter, a Daytona 900 from the first year of the new company’s operation. I still have that bike although it is not taken out often, she can be quite a handful at times and needs to be ridden with purpose, the rider has to be in charge and as long as you keep your mind on the job then her soul will sing and you’ll be as one.

Those two bikes belonged to Hinckley Triumph’s early days, they had what was known as a spine frame, and then, in the late nineties they went all twin spar and the character changed completely. It wasn’t all bad, the Sprint, which is particularly characteristic of the type, is a far more relaxing bike to ride and doesn’t demand the input of that early Daytona and, what’s more, it still retains some soul, although not as intense. From then on though Triumph seemed to lose their way while chasing the competition, ‘Anything BMW can do we can do better’ seemed to be the mantra for a few years, but they didn’t have the sales volume, the resources or the experience to live up to it. It didn’t seem to affect sales though as the graph kept pointing in the right direction and the Speed Triple topped the charts on a regular basis, yet one wonders if they could have done even better if they were not so focused on the Teutonic  manufacturer. It is telling that the best selling Triumph models were those that the company had created from their own imagination, the 675 Daytona being the classic example. The various new Tigers and Trophies of the last few years are well respected bikes and move quickly enough through the showrooms but they always had the image of being ever so slightly copycat editions of German designs.

In parallel to this chasing around after others Triumph made plans for separate ventures, one a manufacturing plant in India, the other being the production of small off road recreational and utility vehicles. Neither came to anything but the energy was lost and in 2014 all they could promise was new paint schemes for the venerable Bonneville for the following model year. I despaired!  However, all is not lost after all, they have just announced, sort of, that a new platform, as is the jargon nowadays, is being developed around which a new range of models will be built. Putting aside the fact that both Ducatti and Yamaha have been planning this for a while it does seem that they are picking themselves up and moving on again, especially as one of the mooted machines will be a sports tourer of around 125hp, which is where the present Sprint is now. So in the spirit of goodwill I’d like to make a few suggestion as to how they might make the bike more appealing to those of us who like to tour and are still, at heart, great supporters of the brand.

1. First up is weather protection, I know I know, we are meant to call it ‘wind management’ nowdays, but whatever name you apply a proper arrangement for keeping the rain off while you are moving would be appreciated.

2. Large lumps of torque are also a must. Ranging up and down the box in a hurry is for the race track, not the twists and turns of many a delightful European road.

3. Plenty of luggage capacity. By this I don’t just mean vast warehouses slung each side of the rear end, but the space and ability to strap such things as tents with ample room for a topbox and/or a tank bag.

4. The minimisation of tools required for repairs and servicing.  The rider should be able to remove both wheels in the middle of nowhere without the need for a mega spanner at least!

5. Leading on from the above the engine should be accessible without having to displace tanks and fairings, or at least make them easy to remove. I was told by a recovery company who were meant to offer roadside assistance that they never take off the plastics when trying to find a fault because it takes too long. Think about that Triumph.

6. Soul, a bike needs to move you to want to ride it someplace.

That’s a first half dozen, I’ll maybe be blogging with some more one day, but I think I have covered the basics there.

Good luck Mr Bloor!


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Unknown Waters

IMGP9622wbA quiet evening at Kinvarra

Linkedin is a strange beast but occasionally the insipid grey fog of  articles such as ‘101 Things You Didn’t About Your Bosses Shoelaces’ or ‘Nothing  is so Gorgeous as Millennials’  (whatever they are) rolls back to reveal the occasional bright spot of conversation and knowledge. Recently  such a chat has been going on  amongst the members of a  bike group I’m signed up to. The original poster started by asking where people had been over the weekend on their bikes and as is the way of these things the thread soon took on a life of its own with much of the attention focused on riding in Ireland. There is much to recommend the country as a destination whether on two wheels or four so I thought for this blog I’d select half a dozen pictures taken over the years that feature coastal and lakeside scenes that are not so often visited yet remain distinctly beautiful and distinctly Irish with not a Guinness gate or Blarney stone amongst them!


Spiddal, Co Galway

IMG_3609Taken a few years ago this quiet harbour is the epitome of a delicious and totally relaxed idleness.


Marble Hall, Co Donegal.

DSC_1370wbGrowing up in the Britain of the Seventies Ireland was always portrayed as a dull place of violence and disturbance and the very word ‘Ulster ‘ was sure to drag a shadow of dread across the sunniest of outlooks. Yet this is Ulster today and probably as it always has been.

Lough Derg, Co Tipperary.


I have written before of the tranquility of the Irish lough and here we can see the untamed growth reaching down to man’s attempts to provide a shelter for his craft, yet they mean each other no harm.


Portmagee, Co Kerry

MMFC0011wbA trawler rests quietly at the quay as very little goes on around her, yet the scent of fish and fishing still lingers. Valencia Island provides the backdrop from where the first transatlantic cables were laid.

Lough Corrib, Co Galway

IMG_3546Somewhere on the western shore lies this wonderful spot, I had followed my nose in getting there, letting the bike take me to this place, but I couldn’t say exactly where it is, just south of Oughterard I think. Ireland is full of such quiet surprises.

 Killybegs, Co Donegal.

_IGP4486The small ports and harbours of Ireland are mainly quiet now, few boats go out to fish and the dark rumours of a rigged market abound. As a price of entry into the EU Ireland gave up its fishing rights  and while her trawlers now remain docked for many months of the year these Spanish line fishermen unload their catch at Killybegs, from where it is trucked directly to their home country.

A Grumpy Film Addict Writes….


Spot the difference, film or digital?

I have a regular page in Farm and Plant Buyers Guide, a magazine that is a thoroughly up to date operation  and thrives despite being one of those sooo old fashioned printed (ugh!) media thingies. For the latest issue I used the above image, it’s one I took about ten years ago in the UK and although it’s a reasonable portrayal of the subject I never thought of it as being anything special, that is until I saw it in print.

As a photo it’s still not earth shattering but when printed and displayed on paper, as it was meant to be, it took on a life of its own. It was a picture that spoke to the viewer rather than just being an abstract representation of a solid object, the sum was greater than its parts, and the reason why? It was taken on film. Maybe you are thinking this is a foolish romance, an aching for a genteel past and denial of the present, but I think not. Over the last couple of weeks I have been working on history of tractors and one of my source books is printed entirely in black and white with copious photos, it was published in 2001 so we can be fairly sure that even the most recent pictures in it were also taken on film while older ones had to be which allows us to trace the development of photography over the last century through the photos shown as well as appreciate just how much more informative and interesting older B&W photos can be.

Why this should be so is a puzzle that has in fact been bugging me for a while. Despite all the talk about desaturated digital images being as good or as convincing as film based B&W I have never been persuaded. Film relies on a random assortment of pigments and crystals to record how reflected light has passed through a lens while digital is a rigid array of light receptive cells that accurately measure the energy they receive. The physics involved in describing the difference is beyond me but a difference there certainly is.

The same does not apply to colour photos to quite the same degree and this, I believe, is due the extra information that they supply. Black and white shows the structure and texture of things, colour just adds another layer of information and in photography this extra data swamps the finesse and critical detail of seeing subjects purely in terms of how much light they reflect (or emit) and demands that we also consider the wavelength of that light. We cannot cope with all this extra  information and so we lose the purity of perceiving the fabric and are detracted instead by its gaudiness. It’s worth noting that there are 20 times more Rod cells in our retina than there are cones. Rods are more sensitive to light levels but cannot detect colour, that is the job of the cones and despite their greatly inferior numbers they are responsible for about half the visual information our brain receives.

Colour simply blots out the finer qualities of B&W and digital cameras aid and abet this process to a quite incredible degree so if colour is of paramount importance in a photo then digital is the method of choice. Simply removing the colour information from a digital photograph does not put it on a par with film, for the balance of the light’s quality has been upset by the colour filter that is part of every digital sensor.

So is it safe to conclude that the glorious days of film have been destroyed for ever by the advent of digital? Well no, for another very noticeable factor is that the best B&W photos were taken during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s when film still relied on silver salts rather than organic pigments, there was a punch and impact about them that was lost long before digital took over. Yet, despite this, a B&W photo captured on film and printed on paper is still a thing of beauty that exceeds a desaturated array of digital pixels transmitted by radiant screen, often by a good margin. Will I be switching back to film for B&W? Of course, I’ll start again tomorrow, something I have been saying for nearly a decade now!

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