Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hungary for some sightseeing

W!ZZ Air is Hungary's answer to Ryanair, EasyJet, FlyDubai, and any number of other budget, no-frills airlines. Checked bags are extra. Hand luggage that goes in the overhead bin is extra. Guaranteeing an empty seat (the middle one in a row of three) is extra. Food and drink on board is extra, although tins of Heineken still cost half what they charge in the airport bar. The seats don't recline, and Wizz flies in and out of Dubai's other airport, DWC. This is a bit of a trek from Mirdif, but the airport is huge and very quiet.

Beloved Wife had booked her trip to Budapest months ago when flights were 50p, and she pointed out that as the airport transfers by taxi and the hotel room would cost the same for one or two pax, would I like to dredge up the airfare and come along? I'd never been to Hungary, so I checked flights and discovered that I could get on the same outbound flight as Beloved Wife - although Priority Boarding and Guaranteed Empty Adjacent seat were not available. As it happened, I was one of the last to board, so I sought Beloved Wife
in her aisle seat and asked for the window seat. Hey presto! Empty seat between us. By good fortune, a similar thing happened on my return flight.

Having arrived at BUD, we awaited Beloved Wife's loud orange bag, and then took a €30 taxi ride into town and the five-star Corinthia hotel - formerly the Grand Hotel Royal - and grabbed forty winks before the sightseeing started.

The First Day

After an alfreso breakfast in a street café, we headed into town, looking at the late 19th and early 20th century architecture. Caryatids and Atlantes are everywhere. At the Opera House, one of the statues was of a sphinx, apparently doing a very feline thing.

Sphinx: playing with a ball of wool?

Then we encountered St Stephen's Basilica, a late 19th century church. We went inside, and I realised that I'd never seen a real Holy Relic before. It's the mummified right hand of the eponymous St Stephen (d. 15th Aug 1038; Canonised 15th Aug 1083) who founded the State.

St Stephen's Basilica exterior. Stern-looking saints.
Main entrance to St Stephen's.
Reliquary. Flash photography forbidden,
so you gotta put cash in the slot
to fire up the lights to make photography possible.
We paid to go up the lift into the dome, from where there are some excellent views.

View to the west, towards Buda from Pest 

Parliament building rather out-Gothics the one in London.
Under the dome.
I took the spiral staircase back down to ground level. There are so many spiral staircases in Budapest!

Here's just one of them.
We noted that there was to be an organ recital at 5pm, so we headed off to the tourist shops, mindful of the need to be back for Bach.

Busker 1
Busker 2

There were several buskers out and about, displaying varying levels of competence. These two were pretty good. Very popular items for sale were silly hats, plus traditional Hungarian embroidery and the inevitable "My [insert relative] went to Budapest and bought me this T-shirt". Oh, and this:

Smoking dragon.
We eventually found our way right down to the Danube, which was fast-flowing but nowhere near as blue as Johann Strauss would have us believe.

An der schönen braunen Donau
Back to St Stephen's for the organ recital, and then we went in search of food and then back to the hotel for sleep.

The Second Day

St Matthias and Fisherman's Bastion.
Beloved Wife and I emerged from the arms of Morpheus eventually and, after a streetside breakfast of Hungarian omelettes we headed over the Chain Bridge and up the funicular railway to Buda Palace.

It seems that lovers swear their undying allegiance
by clapping a padlock on to the Chain Bridge

Funicular railway and (unnamed) tunnel
(although the Adam Clark Tunnel after its designer might be appropriate).
We arrived just in time for the Changing of the Guard, which we stopped and watched, and then went over to St Matthias' Cathedral and Fisherman's Bastion, from where excellent views were to be had.

What a glorious nation!
St Matthias' roof.
View of the Parliament building from Fisherman's Bastion.
According to Beloved Wife's guidebook, the oldest extant cake shop in Hungary was nearby. It was too: just down the road about 50m.

It was also Beer o'clock.
I foolishly chose to ignore the advice to catch a bus and then a tram to get to Margaret's Island, and we ended up walking around 2.6km down some very steep, uneven cobbled streets until we found the bridge. The island is basically a park, where locals and tourists alike go to get away from the noise and smells of the city. There are bicycles and electric golf buggies to rent by the hour, there's a dancing fountain, there's candy-floss and other junk food for sale, and there's a thermal bath complex. This last one was what we were aiming for, heedless of the fact that it was a further 1.5km walk up the island.

Dancing fountains on Margaret's island.
Bikes for rent.
The Palatinus pool complex has various pools at a selection of temperatures and depths, with fountains and air bubbles. And picnic areas on the grass under the trees, and food and beverage outlets. I went down all the water flumes, including an extra steep one that delivers the participant into the bottom pool at about 30km/h, briefly doubling the number of his tonsils...

A slightly unusual, although perfectly decent thing from my point of view was the unisex changing rooms. You change in a private cubicle and then put your outdoor stuff in a locker, but there's no separate Ladies and Gents.

Having walked "bloody miles," we attempted to get a tram back to the hotel, only to discover that we had to pre-purchase tickets at a main station. So we walked back, stopping halfway at an Italian restaurant near the main railway station.

By the time we got back to the hotel, "bloody miles" turned out to be over 10km on Shanks' Pony, plus another 400m of breast stroke. Quite a lot really, but it probably burned off the beer and cake.

The Third Day

After breakfast at our new favourite café, we bought a book of ten tickets at the metro station by the opera house. Beloved Wife decreed that we should visit a shopping mall so that she could pick up some comfortable shoes that are inexplicably Not Coming In Dubai™. We rode the metro to the end of the line; she bought shoes. "Ooh, these are comfy. I'll take three pairs."

Opera metro station.
Now back into town and the Hungarian National Museum.

Roman tombstones.
Elsewhere in the museum, a "No Photos" rule was being strictly enforced by armed Bottom Inspectors, so I wasn't able to take very many, and I didn't use flash. It irked me that I should have bought a photography permit, but when we paid our admissions, I was told that the permit wasn't necessary.

Overly ornate meerschaum pipe.
Armour plating.

Having finished with the museum, we went back to the basement to recover our left luggage comprising a bag full of ladies' shoes, and then there was an enormous clap of thunder and the heavens opened. Beloved Wife had an umbrella; I had my hat. But there was nothing for it but to sit in the café and drink wine at €0.50 a glass and wait for the rain to ease off.

Budapest in the rain.
When it failed to stop, we headed off into the rain, and were actually fairly damp by the time we got to the Hard Rock Café and decided that enough was enough and we needed dryness and food.

Picture disc: Warren Zevon - Werewolves of London
I'm told that the (obviously heavy metal) sheet music
welded on to this railing is by KISS.

The Fourth Day

Another bath? Aren't we clean enough?

Apparently not. This time we took the metro to the Szechenyi Spa, a huge complex of indoor and outdoor baths, steam rooms, and saunas in a gloriously neoclassical building.

The outdoor baths.
Care was necessary. Some of the tubs were at 36°C or more; others were at a gonad-shrivelling 16°C. Great fun was to be had in a couple of the pools where water was delivered in jets to cause the entire pool volume to rotate, dragging the bathers with it in a circular drift dive.

Having spent enough time here to dissolve, Beloved Wife and I wandered around the park.

Vajdahunyad castle and moat.
Vajdahunyad castle.
There was still more to see and do, so after a beer, we boarded the metro and headed back into town and the market hall at Vamhaz Square.

Market exterior.
They love their ornate roof tiles, don't they?
Market interior. Regrettably, all these hats were too small.
It wasn't only Communist-era hats for sale. Beloved Wife purchased a handbag and some candied fruit. Not from the same shop, obviously; this isn't Dragon Mart.

As we were both by now getting the munchies, we crossed Liberty Bridge into Buda, and found a small traditional Hungarian reataurant next to the dead-posh Gellert Hotel. Beloved Wife informs me that the Gellert was typically cheaper than the Corinthia, but that when she checked, they only had single rooms; grotty concrete boxes around the back, and no opulent rooms as per the brochure.

Over the Liberty Bridge.
The restaurant was deserted when we arrived, but soon became filled with a coachload of German tourists. There was traditional live music laid on, presumably for these tourists. The musical trio was nonplussed to discover that when we got up to leave, the Germans were rather more interested in my kilt.

Yes, I've been wearing my Utilikilt around Budapest every day, and why not? It has deep, pickpocket-resistant pockets.

It was too late to go into the main synagogue by the time we got back to the city centre, so I had to satisfy myself with exterior photos followed by an early-evening walk through the Jewish quarter back to the hotel.


The Fifth Day

That was the lot, really. We went out to breakfast, and then returned to the Corinthia for our luggage and a taxi to the airport. I flew to Dubai, while Beloved Wife headed off two hours later for a girls-only week in Amsterdam.

As I didn't have any checked bags, it took the grand total of ten minutes from touchdown at DWC to hailing a taxi. I was even home at a civilised hour, and Luna the cat was pleased to see me back.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Happy birthday, NTB

English Civil War re-enactment.
That's Muggins, over there on the far, far left.

Photo from Sir Thomas Tyldesley's Regiment of Foote FB page, edited by me.
Well, I’m back. As discussed in my immediately previous post, the main reason for spending ten days in England was to attend an English Civil War re-enactment at Marlborough in Wiltshire. I wouldn’t normally have made the effort, but it was the Norfolke Trayned Bandes’ fortieth birthday party. We’ve been re-enacting the Civil war for rather longer than the actual seventeenth-century event.

Having arrived in Plymouth in the wee hours, courtesy of Qatar Airways and National Express coaches, I grabbed some sleep and then enjoyed the first of a series of hearty English breakfasts. Huzzah for Nanny Goat! That evening, it being Nephew #1’s eighteenth birthday, I took him down the pub and force-fed him beer. He’d obviously never drunk beer in a pub before. As I’d not had any ‘proper’ real ale since last October, my first pint unsurprisingly hardly touched the sides. For shame! Nephew #1 was to get his birthday present a few days later, wherein he’d hurl himself from a serviceable aircraft in a tandem skydive. I’ve seen the photos, but as they’ve STILL not been uploaded on to social media, my plan to post one here still sits firmly in the Pending tray.

Picture of a nephew in freefall will go here eventually.

Nanny Goat had very kindly offered the use of her new car. She disposed of her ten-year-old City Rover earlier this year and purchased a very clean 2011 Toyota Aygo. It burns about half the petrol that the Rover did, which means 44mpg around town and an excellent 55mpg under my rather heavy right hoof on a long run. For the ECW muster trip I had a passenger, and by dropping the back seats this minuscule car swallowed all of our kit, a birthday cake, and had room to spare.

I am, in fact, not left-handed!
Speaking of kit, I rummaged in the attic and have rescued some of my other re-enactment costumes and hardware. I decided not to import my spring-steel cup-hilt rapier into the UAE, and that’s still languishing in England. For the weekend, I borrowed a massive tent, an air mattress, sleeping bag, etc. Only afterwards did I discover my old tent in Nanny Goat’s attic, by which time it was too late.

The weekend weather in Marlborough was truly excellent, except for one squally downpour that hit the campsite while I was halfway through erecting my tent. It was up sufficiently to provide shelter for several campers. Having established camp, I and several many Norfolkes headed off to the small but perfectly-formed beer tent. I deployed my recorder, and there was much singing well into the night. I’m mildly surprised how many songs I could remember after a gap of over sixteen years.

Drill occurred on Saturday morning after an unhealthy breakfast at the burger van and a second breakfast back at the Norfolkes’ campsite. Drill is a practice for the afternoon’s battle. As a drum wasn’t available, I took the opportunity to take photos. I’d not be taking a camera on to the field during the actual battle. Anyway, I’d have a drum and therefore no free hands.

Norfolkes engage Blackwells and Tyldesleys.
There might be a certain amount of violence.

And after drill, a small group including myself wandered down the hill into Marlborough in search of provisions and refreshment. The Town Council who were sponsoring the event as part of commemoration of the real Siege of Marlborough (December 1642) wished members to go into town in full seventeenth-century kit. Several went armed with swords. 

At the Green Dragon Inn, there were real ales for sale, left over from a recent beer festival, at a splendid £2 a pint (which is nearly half-price for Dyne Sythe). I confessed that my tankard held slightly more than a pint; the landlord thanked me for my honesty and filled it to the brim anyway. As I was dressed like a Hobbit, I found it necessary to play music from Lord of the Rings in the bar (to applause) and then we retired to the beer garden for pipe-weed and more music. And more ale, I confess.

Birthday cakes.

The Norfolkes’ 40th birthday party was at the campsite after the battle, where much cake, booze, and food was consumed.

And then on Sunday, we did it all again, except that this time the Royalists won.

Back to Plymouth, and to my delight Nanny Goat had had her new internet delivered. She’s now decided to drag herself into the 21st century. “Old Mrs Brady is 86 and she uses Skype and Facebook. If she can do it…”

Plymouth Sound.

I unpacked the modem/router and plugged it in. It was ready to go after about five minutes. There was no computer in the house except for my telephone. After trips to the computer shops, Nanny Goat has decided she wants a tablet computer. Something that’ll do email, Skype, and a bit of web browsing. She’s taking lessons and advice from her tech-savvy grandson, my Nephew #2, and will probably pick up a Samsung Galaxy for a knock-down discount when the 2015 models start to appear. Incidentally, I’m astounded to see Nanny Goat gets over 12Mbps, and she pays a mere £5 per month more than for just the telephone landline. The router is free.

Speaking of Nephew #2, my sister suggested that he might like to spend some quality time with his uncle, so the two of us went karting. He’s about half my weight, so unsurprisingly quicker on the track. To my irritation, I only discovered that it was possible to do the tight chicane at full throttle during the third and final session on the track. Nanny Goat took pictures, politely declining the opportunity to demonstrate to us how karting should be done.

Nephew in Kart 9 gives chase to his XXL uncle in Kart 10

Kart 9 overtakes Kart 10.
All too soon, I was back in Dubai with a suitcase stuffed with liquorice from Tiger Treats of Looe, and historical costume and hardware but no sword. Beloved Wife, recently returned from nearly a month in the United States, would be off to Budapest in a day or so, and would I like to come?

And so it came to pass that I hardly had time to download my photos before the pair of us were off to Hungary for a few days. But that’s another story for another blog post.


Friday, July 18, 2014

In stitches

Regimental colour
While Beloved Wife has been away in the Rebellious Colonies, I've been preparing for my trip to England next week. The primary reason for going is to get involved with an English Civil War battle re-enactment. My old ECW regiment, the Norfolke Trayned Bandes, is having its 40th birthday, so here's an opportunity to meet old friends in the flesh rather than on Facebook, to engage in quiet and sober reflection, or more likely have a riotous party.

Naturally, I donated all my old 17th century kit many years ago, not that any of it would by now have fitted my middle-aged spread, so I'd be needing new costume.

In other news, Beloved Wife and I made contact with the Incipient Shire of the Pearl Coast. Who? A small UAE-based group of re-enactors who are looking to start up a local Shire; a section of the Society for Creative Anachronism. The National ran a story with a picture gallery.

What to do about garb? Linen is easy to obtain in Dubai, down in Satwa; wool less so, but I found something that would suffice. I got some white linen and set about making a big floppy shirt and some Authenti-boxers.

We bought a sewing machine to replace Beloved Wife's old steam-powered device, and I've been practising on it. Two shirts, two pairs of underpants, and various other simple projects later, I'm at last beginning to get the hang of this marvel of whirling mechanisms.

Doublets and breeches are, however, beyond my ability. I sought advice from the NTB and Frances emailed me basic patterns plus a whole lot of advice. Mike of the Incipient Shire lent me a doublet too, and all this went with many photos and yards of linen and wool to my new favourite tailor in Satwa.

Sleeveless jack

I figure that after Marlborough, it's unlikely that I'll be an NTB regular, so I've picked garb that can be used for SCA stuff here in the hotter clime of the Middle East.

Further to this historical re-enactment, I've been practising on my recorders. It's an instrument authentic for any time after about 1388, so is good for 17th century. I do need to learn more authentitunes, though. My repertoire currently ranges from Liberty Bell, through The Teddy Bears' Picnic, The Beatles, Bach, and even some Iron Maiden. Beloved Wife is probably glad she's in the USA and out of earshot.


Friday, July 04, 2014

Monty bank

You don’t suppose for an instant that you’d simply forget a pile of cash that you put somewhere? Even pirates traditionally made a map to where they buried their treasure; they surely didn’t forget about it. But normal, non-piratical people apparently do forget their bank accounts. I can see the situation of someone dying, having left no will, no relatives, and no instructions for what the bank should do with the money. As you can’t take it with you, what’s a bank to do?

Here is what should happen:-

“Dear Valued Customer,
We note that you have not done anything with your bank account for some time. Please confirm that you still need it, and need it to be active, by doing something with that account within the next 30 days. Pay something in, perhaps, or make a withdrawal. Actually, as it’s an internet-only online savings account, just log on using your secure username, password, security device, mother’s pet’s maiden name, and gaze at the account balance. That will be enough to let us know that we shouldn’t bugger about with your account. If you don’t do anything at all, after 30 days we’ll set the account  to ‘Dormant,’ and you can then contact us when you want to wake it up.”

I wonder how long a Dormant account has to remain so before the Bank assumes that it can steal your money? Or “Absorbed as charge,” as they prefer to express it.

Anyway, over at my favourite Local Global Emporium of Red Triangles, they do it a different way:-

“Dear Mr Goat,
We note that you have not done anything with your online-only savings account, so we set it to ‘Dormant’ two days ago. Here are several irregularly-spaced flaming hoops you now need to jump through.”

So I took the account details along with my original passport to one of the Red Triangles shops in a shopping mall. “This account. It’s Dormant, but you have to go to a main branch to do something about it.”

“But the bank’s blurb says a Relationship Manager can sort it out, and that’s what it says on this plaque on your desk.”

“Not me, Mr Goat; a Relationship Manager at a branch. It’s a teller service; not an administrative one, despite what it looks like. And as we’re in Ramadan, all the bank’s branches shut at 2pm, about three minutes ago.”

Now, if I had indeed forgotten about a significant pile of cash for a year I might not be surprised at having the account put to sleep. But I look at it at least every month when doing the domestic accounts. I use a microscope so that I can see the interest accrued.  Seemingly, just accessing the account isn’t activity enough. I might be inclined to move money about, but there’s little incentive to make a deposit when the interest rate pays fractions of one percent. Similarly, what’s the point of making a withdrawal when I can buy a kilo of bananas with the monthly interest?

But what really gets up my nose is the bank’s keenness to shut down online access to an online-only account without prior warning. Wouldn’t it have been so much simpler to offer some timely alert so that I could move a nominal amount of cash around while I was banking online, instead of what I now need to do: drive all over town? Twice.


It gets better and better. I've now been to the bank, learned that reactivating a dormant account requires the filling in of forms, the presentation of at least one bank-issued card, my original passport and Emirates ID, and the making of a withdrawal. So it's both administrative and teller operations.

According to the relationship manager, in order for an account not to be suspended, the policy over at Red Triangles is that a withdrawal must be made at least once every three months. It is however possible to make deposits into a suspended account.

For Crying Out Loud! The e-saver account permits one and only one withdrawal per month without loss of all interest. I am apparently obliged to withdraw a nominal amount every 89 days just to prevent the account from being suspended, and then risk losing interest on the entire balance if I have to take out more money.

This is a Deposit Account. It's for Savings. Where, aside from the colossal interest paid [Hahahaha], is the incentive to save with Red Triangles?


Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Censure the censor

There’s been quite a bit of news here in the UAE about the new cyber-crimes law. It isn’t just to make hacking, phishing, scamming, and virus uploading illegal. Defamation is a big issue too. The local media were all abuzz a while ago when it turned out that, for example, it’s a criminal offence to make an assault in a public place an item of common knowledge by posting it on YouTube. It’s also potentially illegal to tag photographs on Facebook without the owner of the face giving written consent. In fact, even taking pictures of people turns out to be against the law, unless you have written permission.

Here’s me imagining that someone gurning in front of a camera gives that permission, but apparently not. Taking allegedly amusing photos of the scenes of drunken debauchery at any one of Dubai’s alcohol-fuelled Friday brunches could well lead to trouble, and we can see why. Imagine that I get my inebriated mugshot uploaded and tagged. Then, without my knowledge, it gets circulated by friends of friends of friends, and it lands in the inbox of my hypothetical ultra-conservative boss. A very real possibility of “Sayonara, Habibi!”

In practice, of course, the vast majority of pictures and tags are just fine; everyone’s happy to appear on their Facebook friends’ timelines, and innocuous pictures of a few friends having a couple of jars will not even be noticed, let alone commented upon.

A somewhat alarming part of the cyber-crimes law is that I am apparently responsible for what other people post in my blog or Facebook comments. I post a story, a few of my friends make comments, the thread goes off at a tangent, and then someone in Australia posts a supposedly witty remark concerning the intelligence and parentage of some prominent individual or corporate entity here in the UAE. That defamatory post would now be my fault.  

Hence the disclamatory footer on this blog. How can I possibly be held responsible if a hyperlink to a third-party’s website leads to something that someone, somewhere might find offensive?

The two local internet service providers in the UAE both provide connections to the 'net solely through proxy servers. It is obviously illegal to attempt to bypass the proxy, which automatically blocks gambling, anti-Islam, porn, and a whole lot more besides. Anonymising software that you can download from REDACTED is obviously not on an accessible website.

It’s coming to the United Kingdom too. “The [British] government is promoting filters to prevent children and young people from seeing content that is supposed to be for over 18s. This includes pornography and sites that talk about alcohol, smoking, anorexia and hate speech.”

I checked, and according to the website, TalkTalk has blocked my blog. There appears to be no way of contacting whatever faceless bureaucrat made the decision (because it’s doubtless a machine). Attempts to contact TalkTalk end when it becomes obvious that I don’t have an account with them. And never shall I.

So read this blog while you still can. The Grumpy Goat: Too controversial for TalkTalk.

To end on a happy note, and I realise that it goes with the current season in the way that ice-cream goes with ketchup, but here’s an old joke that circulated in Saudi Arabia a few years ago, on the run-up to the feasting season at the end of December. We’re already used to euphemisms such as “Festive” and also “Special Beverages” and even “Curly-Tailed Dog.” The UAE is, I'm pleased to report, much more relaxed than this.

Christmas Dinner Menu

Champagne Reception

Melon and Ham

Main Course
Roasted Christmas Turkey
Pork Chipolata Sausages
Roast potatoes
Red Wine Gravy

Choice of red or white Wine

Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter

To Finish
Port and Cheese Board
Tea or Coffee

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Fast* track

Photo credit: Pradeep Warrier
“If you wanna go any faster, take it to the track.”

Dubai Autodrome advertises both car and bike track days where, we are told, there are no speed limits, no speed cameras, no manhole covers, no sand spits, no donkeys on the road, and no crazy Afghan truck drivers on the wrong side of the road. In addition, the only other motorists out there are consenting adults, all doing more-or-less the same thing in the same direction. And there are marshals, and first-aid facilities in case of a spill.

In truth, taking my bike to a track session would probably be overall a lot safer than a Friday trip to Kalba. But that had until recently, not got me on to the track. For ever and a day, my excuse was not having any full leathers, and they’re mandatory for bikers. Then last December happened, and I resorted to my back-up excuse: cowardice.

Anyway, a lot of the Autodrome track sessions were for experienced riders only, and I satisfied myself with taking photos.

And then an alert of a ‘Newbies’ evening session dropped into my inbox. I hummed and hawed, and then with a couple of days to go I booked and paid online. No excuses now; I’d be at the Autodrome on Thursday evening.

The advertised itinerary was three groups, and three 20-minute sessions for each group. Because Thursday is a work day, and also it’s summer and consequently ridiculously hot, not many bikers turned up. Most arrived in shorts and flip-flops with their racing bikes on trailers. Muggins rolled up with a small selection of tools in his panniers and fully dressed for action.

I prepped my bike by removing the panniers and clicking the rear suspension up by one notch, and then went to register. They gave out customer loyalty cards. “Do six track sessions, and the seventh one is free.” The summer sessions are on the short, Club circuit because that’s the only one with floodlights, and are consequently cheaper than winter track days on the full GP circuit. “Do six summer sessions,” we were advised, “And save the free one for the full circuit!”

It also turned out that only about four of us were in the Group C “Newbies” and Autodrome management decided to combine Groups A and B. Net result: three 25-minute sessions rather than 20 minutes. Bonus! While we were being briefed in air-conditioned comfort, the bikes were scrutineered, and when I got back to the pit garage my bike had an approval sticker on it. Good to go.

It was with no little trepidation that I queued up on the pit lane for two familiarisation laps, following the leader at relatively low speed to learn the official racing lines where the track was most grippy. The first Group C session followed immediately. As there were only four of us, I felt as though I had the track to myself until a Frenchman on a BMW S1100RR went steaming past me on the start/finish straight and I had someone to race follow. Newbies aren’t allowed to overtake except on the start/finish straight, and he had 193BHP as opposed to my mere 135BHP. I overtook him a couple of laps later and, I’m told, he spent the rest of the session right behind me. I say, “I’m told,” because we all had to fold in our mirrors in accordance with the First Rule of Italian Driving: “Whats-a behind me is not important.”

I got progressively quicker throughout the session, and 25 minutes later I was quite relieved to see the chequered flag so I could come into the pits and have some cold water and a sandwich.

The sun was setting when the second session started, not that this made any material difference to the temperature. By now I was becoming a little more consistent with my braking and gear-changing points. I’d chatted with a couple of the experienced guys and learned a couple of markers on the asphalt. Notably, “Squeeze between the kerb and the pothole on the hard right into the uphill chicane or you’ll be all over the place through the chicane and very, very slow.”

Full-throttle acceleration to the red line isn’t something my bike experiences very often, but it got plenty of that past the grandstand. And I could feel the ABS and slipper clutch doing its work on the hard braking into corners. In over five years and 50,000km I’ve not decked a footrest. Now I was doing so regularly, and the bike remained rock-steady while cranked over. Perceived wisdom for track riding is that at this point one should slide one’s arse off the seat and stick one’s knee out. I’ve never been comfortable with that. My new seat, with its broad cheeks to support my, erm, broad cheeks, rather discourages that sort of behaviour. A bike seat that is comfortable and supportive on long touring trips isn’t the best one for flinging a 300kg 1400cc machine around a track that’s designed for 600cc supersport crotch-rockets. I had to content myself with leaning my upper body and easing off the throttle a little so that nothing other than the folding footpegs actually hit the deck.

I was, on average, one second per lap quicker on the second session, and a further second quicker on the third, despite darkness having fallen. I may have been the only punter on the track by the end of the third session. One guy had gone home because he’d rather foolishly turned up with a tinted visor and wasn’t allowed to participate in the dark.

I’ve learned a lot from my first track session. Firstly it’s a lot of fun, even when not riding as fast as you dare. Second, I now know that my bike handles in a predictable and steady manner, even when cranked over as far as I dare. Previous bikes have squirmed and protested under those conditions and threatened to pitch me off. And I think that’s pretty good for a heavyweight, shaft-drive tourer. I now know that in my road riding, I’m well within the bike’s performance envelope. My normal sport/touring tyres I ran to their edges. There is evidently no need for me to consider softer, sportier rubber than Pirelli Angel ST or equivalent.

In fact, the single problem came on the way home. I got stuck at two sets of traffic lights and spent about eight minutes having my bike pour boiling hot air all over my legs, and by the time I got indoors I was bordering on heat exhaustion. A litre of oral rehydration salts and a cool shower sorted that out.

* In the grand scheme of things I'm not very quick. My best lap was 1'25" which is distinctly unimpressive when compared to UAE Sportsbike Championship times of around 1'06".


Monday, June 02, 2014

Game of Thrones

The Goat admits it: his grand tourer doesn’t have a particularly comfortable saddle. It should have, bearing in mind that the 1400GTR is supposed to be capable of crossing continents, but the Concours14/GTR forums are full of complaints about how uncomfortable the seat is, and which after-market custom saddle is best.

Here, then, is the Game of Thrones. Opinions are like arses, in that everybody has one. And every one of them is slightly different. Understandably, this fiscally astute Goat is reluctant to lash out many hundreds of dollars on a throne that may or may not improve his personal seating arrangement upon his own Black Beast. It’s fair enough for Seth Laam to say he’ll adjust his custom seat if he didn’t get it 100% right first time, but this is an option that isn’t realistically available to Muggins who’s half a planet away.

Muggins did notice that the police GTRs imported to the UAE for reviewing by the Sharjah constabulary came with Corbin single seats, and the Goat asked his friendly neighbourhood Kawasaki dealer nicely if he could borrow one of these saddles for a weekend. The idea was that, if he liked the Corbin, he’d order one of his own. But no, that option wasn’t available. Neither was borrowing  a police-spec GTR with all the blues and twos. No surprises there, then.

Just in case a random surfer happens upon this blog in an effort to find a customised motorcycle saddle, here’s the list of links:-

And for air cushions:-

It’s very quickly obvious that pretty much any option involves the expenses of specialist craftsmen working with high-quality materials, plus the shipping charges from the USA and import taxes. Plus, in some cases, a need to ship the old seat so that it may be adjusted. Few if any of the options are realistically available for an impecunious Goat living in Dubai. It’s not solely a cost issue. The Goat would happily pay full price for the right product, but would very much prefer a ‘try-before-you-buy’ option.

However, a solution has presented itself in the form of Mr Rasheed of Delmon Upholstery Est. in Satwa. (Opposite the Municipality office).

Old cover off, and
cutting about to commence
Day 1:    The Goat brought his existing motorcycle seat into the shop and, assisted by various photos of customised seats downloaded from the internet, supervised as Mr Rasheed removed the old cracked vinyl and started to hack at the foam with an ancient breadknife.

Trimming the foam.
Draft final. Old foam cut and new blue foam added.
Day 2:    The Goat dropped into the shop to review the draft final shape of the foam. The seat had been adjusted to move the low point further back, widened slightly, and had a saddle horn added at the front. The Goat sat on his reprofiled saddle and declared it good.

Day 3:    Mr Rasheed covered the foam with a smoothing layer of spongy interfacing, and stitched a marine-grade black vinyl cover. By mid-afternoon on the third day, the seat was back on the bike.

More photos of the process, along with some finished custom saddles from which the Goat may have obtained inspiration, are here.

The Goat is to try it out and come back to the shop if there are any adjustments required, which is nice.

Oh, and as the Goat also owns a Road Zeppelin, motorcycle seat comfort, or the lack of it, should hopefully no longer be an issue.



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