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Riding with James Dean. 4/30/2004

Much has been said lately about the NS that the 18 year olds of this country are currently undergoing. Incidents involving theft, bullying, grevious harm, molestation, rape, unfair and unethical treatment, and sub standard food, amongst others, have been reported in the press, and various blogs.

It is sad to note that what started off as a well intentioned plan to provide the youth of this country with a common purpose and sense of unity has now disintegrated into a quagmire of incompetence, cronyism, corruption and degradation. There seems to have been no proper standard operating procedures or manuals incorporated into the training, where both facilitators and trainess alike will have a clear idea of what is to be provided to them, and what is expected of them. Trainees are made to wait for hours, whilst activities that are planned do not start on time, or the camps run into transportation logistics problems.

Sending young trainees into camps for indoctrination into something the government wants them to believe, and the way they are supposed to think, is a recipe for disaster. I have yet to meet the 18 year old who will do exactly as he or she is told. Teenagers are grudgingly compliant at the best of times, and forcing them to do something they don’t want to is not the way to mold them into being better citizens.

I give you a real life case. AZ is a young lad, just finished his high school, where he didn’t do too well. He is a regular attendee at the track where we practise and race, even though he comes from a lower income family, and obviously did not have the resources to start racing superbikes. But he was keen, and enthusiatic, and wasn’t afraid to learn, or work hard. He used to hang out with his friends, riding small 2 stroke bikes, usually stolen, or unlicensed, late at night, racing illegally on the streets, until one day he meet one of our group, and was invited to watch a track day. He was initially reluctant, but come out of curiosity.

His friends had told him not to get ideas above his station in life, that superbikers were a pompous and arrogant lot, that we would all laugh at him from turning up on his small, cheap motorcycle. The opposite was true. We treated him like a younger brother, and showed him our gear, and our bikes, and welcomed his help for things like moving bikes around and getting water and stuff. And occassionally, more often than not, one of us would lend him a race suit, and helmet, and he would get the chance to ride a full monty race bike around a world class racing circuit, for free.

We discovered that AZ had a talent for riding motorcycles. Raw, unfinished, rough, but talent all the same. He was young, and brave, and this counted in his favour. Until he got his letter calling him for the NS. He was devastated, because he would miss the initial practice days, and the first 2 races of the season. We had promised him a full ride in one of the races, fully sponsored, as a reward for all the help he had given us. We had all agreed to put forward $50 per rider, and this would pay for his race license and entrance fee and rental for a race bike. And he was really looking forward to it. We consoled him by saying he could do it later in the year, but he was inconsolable. 18 year olds are not known for their patience.

So with heavy heart, he went off to NS, and hated every minute of it. We received numberous SMS messages from him on the bad food, degrading treatment, lack of organisation, that he was experiencing. He simply cannot wait for it to be over, so that he can come back to the thing he loves most.

So thus, we have a case of a young man, who was being molded by his mentors, by people he looked up to and respected, who were giving him a direction and probably a career, taken away to submit himself to an ill executed government plan aimed at building so-called ‘unity’, that ‘unity’ being the official, approved government version. When at the track, he was learning everything he needed to know to becoming a useful, contributing member of society. With a little help from his friends.

Man’s best friend. 4/29/2004

I have always loved dogs, and have had dogs from very early in my life. It wasn’t because of choice. Someone had dumped a bucketful of puppies outside our house, and we heard them yelping in hunger early one morning. Upon investigation, we found 7 mongrel puppies in the bucket. We took them into the house and gave them all a saucerful of milk each, and my mother said I could keep one. I choose the meanest looking of the lot, and called him Fido.

Fido grew up to be a mean, evil tempered, short fused, son of a bitch. He was absolutely afraid of nothing, and had a habit of chasing cars. He regularly got into fights with dogs twice his size, and always sent them packing. He was the only dog I know who never lost a fight. Fido was my very first dog, and he taught me a lot about being responsible. He needed to be cleaned, fed, trained and so on. Which was a bit of a big task for a 6 year old, but I did it all.
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He had no respect for anyone in the house, expect my dad, even though my mum cooked his meals and I fed him. When he came back after a night out on the town, scarred and bleeding, my dad would be the one to pin him down and apply iodine to his wounds. All the while trying to avoid his biting, snarling mouth.

After a couple of years living in a huge house with about an acre of land in a small town, my dad was transferred to the big city. And Fido came with us in the car. During the journey, he sat in between my sibling and myself. Sometime during the course of the drive, we all fell asleep in the backseat, and my younger sibling must have nudged him or touched his tail or something, because he promptly snarled and bit my sibling, drawing blood. My sibling then had to sit in front with my mum on her lap, whilst Fido and I had the back seat all to ourselves.

Coming to the big city was a shock to Fido. The sudden move to a small house, with a postage stamp sized garden upset him greatly. He couldn’t get used to the fact that there were no chickens for him to chase, no cats to terrorise, too many cars to avoid. He became even more short-tempered.

Once, a plumber came to the house, needing to do some work. The gate was unlocked, and Fido was sitting in the porch, watching the plumber get off his motorcycle and get his toolbag and parts for the toilet that needed fixing. The plumber came to the gate, opened and saw Fido. He walked in, saying “nice doggie, nice doggie”. Fido took a deep breath and launched himself at the plumber, snarling like the Hound of the Baskervilles. The plumber saw the flying ball of brown fur coming at him and promptly dropped everything, beating a hasty retreat to the gate. He made it in the nick of time, with Fido closely behind, banging and barking away at the gate in frustration at not being able to maul the plumber. Fido then trotted back to the toolbag and stuff the plumber had dropped, and started sniffing slowly. He selected a toilet seat, and took it with him to his corner of the porch, where he lay down on top of it. I think he was using it as bait, wanting to see if the plumber would come back for it so he could have a second go. My mother had to come out and chain Fido, before the plumber would come back in.

The toilet seat? Fido refused to let anyone come near it, claiming it as a trophy of war. To the end, he would lie down on that toilet seat, waiting for the plumber to come back for it. Fido died one day about 2 years after that, pining for the wide open fields behind the big house.

Repost - Slicing Time. 4/16/2004

I was shuffling through my hard disk, getting rid of the chaff, when I found this in my archives. It first appeared in my first attempt at a blog, sometime in April of 2004.

Another weekend over. As I get older, I have begun to realise just how fast time seems to pass. Days and weeks and months fly past in a never ending blur. A short while ago, at the beginning of the year, just after Christmas and before the New Year began, I was lamenting my annual bonus, or rather the lack thereof. We’re cutting costs, they said. We have no new work coming in, they said. And thus I saw my plans of getting a new toy dashed. And that was 3 months ago. A quarter. 0.25. Where did the time go? What happened to it? What do I have to show for it?

I’m trying hard not to go apeshit. I realise that I am no longer the person I once was. My priorities are different now. I can actually do mortgage interest payment calculations in my head, for one thing. And I seem to be spending inordinate amounts of time in furniture shops and art galleries. I guess I now qualify for old fart status.

I just hope I don’t end up to be like some men I know, who drive Porsches and Ferraris, and pick up female companions young enough to be their daughters, trying to fend off male menopause, hanging on to the vestiges of a lost youth. A good friend of mine, who happens to be, let us say, comfortable, chucked his wife of 25 years, bought himself a superbike, and started chasing skirts. We looked on in amusement, until we realised that this man was desperate, and depressed. He had so many regrets.

Over conversation and beer, he admitted to us that he had regretted many things in his life, and his extreme change of lifestyle was his way of repudiating the fact that the Grim Reaper would be calling upon him in a matter of years, as he will come for us all. I pointed out to him that most of us choose to ride because we want to, not because we need to impress the ladies, but he wasn’t listening. All he wanted was the kind of lifestyle he wanted to have when he was young, and Hugh Hefner’s method of treating women was considered cool. May have worked in the 70s buddy, ain’t gonna work now. He wanted to do ‘things’ before he shuffled off this mortal coil.

Which made me take stock of my life. At a time when New Romantics were in, my contempararies were having serious relationships, getting married, buying houses, making babies. I, on the other hand, didn’t give a flying fuck about my future. I had a job which paid absolutely unreal money, and was bouncing all over the world. The work was dangerous, and the pay scales reflected it. And thus we spent money like there was no tomorrow, which for some of us, was absolutely true. I lived a lifestyle which many of my friends, then and now, were envious of. Which wasn’t what I wanted. I saw some of them coming home, to a nice house, and wife, and kids. And I wanted it. I wanted their stability. I wanted their life, as they wanted mine. The grass is always greener.

But the main thing…I never ever fucking regretted a single thing I ever did. All decisions I made, right or wrong, I live with today. The consequences of some of those decisions are still haunting me. I chose, and I live with it.

Virgins and Squids. 4/12/2004

The above does not concern sexual activity of any kind.

For those of my readers, (yes, all three of you), who were perhaps wondering why there has been nothing substantial written in the past few days, I have to plead lack of time. A weak excuse, but it happens to be the only one I have. Must remember to renew my subscription to Dial-an-Excuse.

I spent the Friday and the weekend getting prepared for a track day at the circuit. No big deal on normal occassions when it just involves me, but this time I was requested by some new bikers to bring them to the track for an introductory session. Track Virgins! Heh heh heh, just what the doctor ordered for some good natured ribbing on a Sunday morning. So some time was spent getting bikes prepared and sourcing the right protective gear and so on.

We got to the circuit a little late, after a breakfast of overpriced tasteless food. After getting set up and geared up, I took the first batch of virgins out on the track. They did fairly well, considering. I wasn’t pushing it, because the track was crowded with really fast riders getting some practise in before the first race of the season in 2 weeks time. I guess the virgins were a little intimidated by the pace of the fast guys, and it didn’t help that I occassionally disappeared down the track chasing some of my friends at race pace, leaving them behind. On standard tyres. On a borrowed bike from one of the virgins. Some of them were a little freaked by what a stock standard motorcycle was capable of. Especially with regard to lean angles.

One of the virgins asked me to take his Kawasaki 600 out on the track to take the tyre wear right to the edge, so that he could go back and brag about it his friends. I didn’t mind, considering what I did to the bike in the entrance to Turn 7. I lifted the back wheel under braking hard enough to give me nose bleed.

In the last session of the day, the main protaganist virgin, who rides a Yamaha R1, asked to follow me around the track. I obliged, riding a Honda 600 with fucked tyres and pillow soft suspension. He followed me around for 2 laps, and then over took me on the front straight, probably due to boredom at following a bike with a third less horsepower than his. He went past heading into turn 1, and I tucked in behind him. I was concious at this point, of a pack of 6 of my friends, who are really quick riders, catching up with us. He took a very slow line in 1, and then screwed the entry into turn 2, which meant that he was completely set up wrong for turn 3. So even though he had the faster more powerful bike, I had no problems keeping pace with him on a smaller, slower machine.

We were coming into 4, which is a 90 degree right hander. By this time, the virgin was extremely concious of the fact that there was a ‘train’ behind him of very fast bikes. And he was going to get steamrollered. I was right behind him when I saw him ride past the standard peel off point and entry in turn 4, and thought to myself that he was leaving it a little late. He promptly overshot the entry point. And then tried to get the bike back into the racing line by turning it hard over. And then he made the cardinal mistake of cracking open the throttle of a 140hp motorcycle. When leaned over and and the tyre was still scrabbling for grip.

I saw the back end step away, and the bike go down in a shower of sparks. He went tumbling after. I slowed up, as did the rest of the pack behind me, to pick our way past the debris. I saw him stand up and placed my bike between him and his fallen bike, and motioned him to get back to edge of the track.

The session was promptly red flagged, and when I entered the pits I was giggling. The young lad with his high powered motorcycle was very into being ‘the fastest’, and did it with some attitude. It was with some relish I told the other virgins what had happened. The aftermath of the incident was fairly light, scruffed fairings and a dented exhaust, with bruising to the body and pride. He learned some valuable lessons on Sunday, one of which is that quick, fast motorcycle riding does not necessarily require the fastest bike or the best equipment.

And speaking of equipment, yesterday being Easter Sunday, there was a large contingent of riders from the island city state south of us. About 30 or so bikes, most of whom came up with female pillion passengers. Which didn’t really phase us. But what we noticed was that without exception, all the pillions were dressed in street clothes, with no protective gear what so ever. Riding squidly we call it. And some of the southern riders were no better. We saw squid, with his girlfriend, going down the highway, riding his bike wearing shorts and open toed sandals. I shudder to think of what would happen if they fell. Skin grafts are fucking painful you twit! Get some proper gear if you love your life and your girlfriend.

Whenever I ride, on the track or the road, I always use proper protective gear, no matter what the weather.

Spinning Wheels. 4/8/2004

As most of my readers would have gathered by now, my life is very involved in motorcycles. I have been riding motorcycles for the best part of 24 years, and in that time have ridden almost every type of motorcycle ever made. I went through a dirt bike phase, a cruiser phase, a streetbike phase. I now find myself, at the halfway mark of my riding life, caught up with Italian exotica. Specifically Ducati, an Italian motorcycle which is now apparently considered ‘trendy’ to own. The marque has a proud racing history dating back to the 1950s, and their zenith was reached with 4 time back to back World Superbike Championships with a certain C. Fogarty.

The engines for these bikes are designed rather differently from the norm, utilising Desmodromic actuation for the valve train. The current incarnation of the bike is the Desmosedici, currently fastest bike in testing at Catalunya this year. Ducati intend to mount serious effort in contesting the MotoGP and taking some of the wins away from Honda, who are currently dominating the racing.

At my level, I participate in many track days at the circuit, and spend a lot of time blasting down canyons and up hills. On any given Sunday, I can be found either at the track, or up the mountains, striving to acheive that perfect balance of speed, lean angle and adrenaline.

One of the people in this picture is me.

Warp 9. Engage! 4/2/2004

I was reminded that yesterday was April Fool’s day, and was asked if I got sucked in. I have to report in the negative, simply because I was busy at work the whole day, and when I got back home the nephews were waiting for their maths tuition. So the first of April passed very quietly for me.

There was a time, when the first day of the fourth month was an excuse for general mayhem. On campus, almost any celebration or holiday was a reason to be wary. Going back to or leaving your dorm room was an exercise in caution. It gave me a fair idea of how soliders must feel when patrolling an urban area.

We were not encouraged to use or park our cars on campus, and hence many of us rode motorcycles. In my case it was no hardship, since I always liked motorcycles. One of our coursemates had something nicknamed a ‘Water Buffalo’, or sometimes, “The Teakettle”. In an era where large displacement motorcycles were air cooled and 4 strokes, Suzuki had produced the GT750, a water cooled 2 stroke 750cc motorcycle. The bike was built in the 1970s, and weighed about as much as a pregnant water buffalo. And handled about as well. The bike was also kick started, electric starters in those days being less than reliable.

On the 1st of April, when the owner of the bike was in lectures, we sneaked out, and jammed the thottle cables to the bike.

At the end of lectures, we all headed out to the parking lot, to await the sweating and cursing that was going to ensue when our friend started kicking the bike and it refused to start. What we didn’t know was that his throttle was already jamming slightly due to friction, and that when we jammed the cables, the throttle slides were in the *OPEN* position.

Said friend (who was not going to be our friend for much longer), put the key in the ignition, folded out the kickstarter, and stomped on it. And the bike started first time, to the surprise of all present, including the owner.

Remember the jammed cables with the slides in the open position?

The engine immediately revved up into the stratosphere with a wailing sound not unlike a banshee being fucked up the arse with a telephone pole. In his panic, he tried to kill the engine by closing the throttle, but the cables were jammed, so nothing happened. He tried closing the kill switch, but it wasn’t functioning. By now the engine was approaching terminal meltdown, and the sound was incredible. Campus security had been alerted and we could hear the sirens.

So he thought he would try stalling the engine by putting it in gear and dumping the clutch. He pulled the clutch, stuck it in gear, and dumped it. And the bike responded by immediately hoisting the front wheel up into the air and taking off down the road. You know that effect at the beginning of Star Trek where the ‘Enterprise’ goes into warp drive and there’s this blurry streak? This was exactly like that. Except that in this case there wasn’t any empty space to go warp 9 in. What the space in front of the now close to vertical water buffalo had was a campus security patrol car.

The bike ploughs into the patrol car at what was later estimated to be close to 45 mph.The bike crumples the bonnet and shatters the windscreen into a million pieces. Our friend has now decided that letting go of the bike would be a good idea, and does so. Unfortunately he still has enough forward momentum to fly forward, and tear off the car’s light bar with his knees, rolling and landing behind the car, and breaking the rear windscreen and crumpling the boot in the process. By this time, we had all stopped laughing and realised the seriousness of the situation.

The aftermath? One totalled bike. One totalled patrol car. And it was determined that the accident was due to malfunctioning motorcycle. No serious injuries. And no one got caught. The owner of the Water Buffalo? He collected his insurance money and bought a VF750F Interceptor. Also water cooled. Which didn’t have a kick start. But it did have a radiator, with the radiator cap easily accessible. And one of us who was working in the campus cafeteria brought over a box of jelly cystals one day.

But that’s another story for another time.