Monthly Archives: September 2008

The Credit Crunch Gets Personal

I’ve been watching the news stories about the plight of banking across the world with interest. I was surprised at the complexity that the international banking system has woven across the world, and in particular across the Atlantic Ocean.  I have watched and read quite a lot and I think I understand some of the issues behind the notorious “No” vote in the American House of Representatives this week.

It’s long been true that when the USA sneezes, Britain catches a cold and our own housebuilding industry, in particular, has been very hard hit by the banks clamp-down on lending. Thousands of workers in the construction sector are being laid off.

This week the whole credit crunch came too close to home when my son was told that he was out of work.

He is a very skilled plumber who was working for a small company that has bent over backwards to keep him on for as long as they could. However, with empty order books of their own, they have had to “let him go”.

He worked hard to study for a trade that was supposed to set him up in a career that would last for years. Indeed, he was at our house this weekend fitting new taps in our kitchen, when I had the chance to see his professionalism in action.

When we spoke on the phone yesterday after he had been given the bad news, he was considering spending some time out of plumbing and even said that he would be prepared to stack shelves in his local supermarket. But what really got to me was when he said that he would have to give up the rented house that he is sharing with his girlfriend and is considering moving back in with his mother (who was my first wife). 

I’m not politician, neither am I an economist, but as a dad, and at a visceral level, I wonder why should we let “them” spend our money to bail out the city fat cats whose irresponsible lending got themselves into this mess?  Why can’t the billions of pounds that are being offered by the US and UK governments be spent on building the social housing that both our countries need?

Ride Safe
Dave

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Wedding – First Dance

When Sue and I are out and about with our disco hats on during the summer months, the majority of our gigs are weddings. These vary a great deal from couple to couple and even from venue to venue. However, the almost unchanging soundtrack to a wedding is the anthemic, some would say cheesy, songs that get everyone from granny to the bridesmaid up and enjoying themselves on the dance floor.

But before the guests are “officially” let loose there is an important final ceremony in a day that is usually packed with ceremonial and tradition. I have no influence over the way the service goes, nor can I control the best man’s speech. But I do have input into the way the bride and groom’s first dance is integrated into the evening’s entertainment.

I really like it when I can make a bit of a production of calling the bride and groom onto the floor, using their married name which is still something of a novelty for everyone present. Then with suitable lighting effects running, pressing the start button on the song that they have spent weeks agonising over and will recall for years to come – the first dance.

This weekend’s bride and groom chose “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol.

I have put a selection of other recent songs that we have played on wedding page of our disco website at www.phoenixdiscotheque.co.uk. and although the wedding “season” is almost over for this year, I am going to post each first dance song as I play it.

At our own wedding, we chose “From This Moment” by Shania Twain and every time I hear this song, it brings back great memories of our special day. 

Isn’t romance great?

Ride Safe
Dave

Blog Writer’s Block

I don’t suppose you’ve even noticed, but I have been acutely aware that it’s been nearly three weeks since my last contribution to this blog. It’s not that I’ve gone cold on the idea of blogging, more that my time has been very full and I have hit a point of self doubt in which I question whether what I have to write would be worth reading.

I have just been wandering aimlessly around Google and found this paragraph of inspiration quoted by Cybele May on NaNoWriMo at http://blog.nanowrimo.org/node/17. It’s from an American poet named William Stafford, who must have experienced the same doubts that I’ve been having.

“I believe that the so-called ‘writing block’ is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance … one should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing … I can imagine a person beginning to feel he’s not able to write up to that standard he imagines the world has set for him. But to me that’s surrealistic. The only standard I can rationally have is the standard I’m meeting right now … You should be more willing to forgive yourself. It doesn’t make any difference if you are good or bad today. The assessment of the product is something that happens after you’e done it.”

Reading William Stafford’s words as well as talking to Sue, my wife, has made me realise that there has been a lot going on in recent weeks that should have been described here. We do have an interesting life and although it has been rather dominated by things at work recently, I have not grabbed opportunities to describe several experiences that would have been well worth writing about.

  • An unusual disco for a birthday party that we did in the old Servants Hall at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire
  • A disco for a wedding at the Beeches Hotelin West Bridgford
  • The autumn diesel weekend at Peak Rail
  • One of very few rides that we made just yesterday on the Harley (due more to the dreadful weather this summer than my innate idleness)

Last time I had some time away from blogging, I said that I’d try to catch up and never did, but maybe, just maybe I can find some new inspiration to share some of the things that we get up to in the coming weeks.

Ride Safe
Dave

Visitor Milestones

This morning, I looked at the statistics that WordPress so comprehensively provide and I was delighted to realise that, for the first time ever, we had more than 100 visits to ChuffingHog during last week.

Another pending milestone is that we are going to hit our 1000th visit sometime towards the end of this week.

When I started writing this nonsense, I hoped that a few people might pick up on it. It’s great that so many people, most of whom I will probably never meet, can be bothered to read this. However, these fall into perspective as very minor milestones when you realise that my own blogging role model and icon Larry Grogan (whose style, wit and insight I can never hope to match) has had over a million visits to his own blog, Funky16Corners. He also has two other popular blogs at Iron Leg and Paperback Rider.

From me, thanks for your visit, especially if you’ve been here before and have come back for more. I’ll try to find more biking, railway and occasional music stories to fill a couple of idle moments.

Ride Safe
Dave

Sherwood 9 – Part 3

This is Part 3 of my story of last weekend’s rally held by Sherwood Chapter of the Harley Owners’ Group. Predictably enough, the tale starts with Part 1, and continues via Part 2 to where we left off on Saturday afternoon.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that the weather across the weekend was very kind to us and that Saturday was warm and dry. During the afternoon and evening, the clouds cleared to leave a beautiful evening. After Friday night’s experience of high temperatures in the function room, a few of us discussed the possibility of bringing the disco and band outside. We looked at a few possibilities, including moving a marquee, but none of the initial ideas were really suitable as it would have meant setting up equipment on very uneven surfaces. However, once we had looked at the patio area just outside the function room, it didn’t take long to see that there was plenty of room for both the band and the disco.

At this point, the band had yet to arrive, but all the disco gear was still set up inside the function room. I made a few noises about needing some “humpers” to help us move it and eventually Chapter Director Pete Clifford and Magazine Editor and Webmaster Dai Gunter turned up and helped to move the picnic tables that were in the music space and to carry the equipment that Sue and I had already de-rigged outside where I then spent the next hour re-rigging it. During this time the band turned up and set up their own equipment.

The band booked for Saturday night were “The Crew“. Although I had never seen them, they came very highly recommended by a friend of mine who had worked with them on another outdoor gig a couple of weeks previously.  From the moment that they arrived, it was clear that they are bunch of consummate professionals who simply got on with setting up their own equipment in a well-organised, calm and efficient way. Well before 8pm, I was able to start the disco after checking that they did not need or want to do a full band soundcheck.

In itself, this was unusual. Most bands will spend ages tinkering with their sound (the longest soundcheck I can remember was over two hours), but the crew obviously know their equipment inside out and after a short time tuning the saxophone, they left me to and the crowd to our own devices for the first hour.

There was a “human moment” during the band’s set-up period when one of them said to me that he was a bit worried that the person who had booked them might have made a mistake because they aren’t a rock band, but a sixties one. I was able to reassure them that they were exactly right for the crowd and this turned out to be exactly the case. As soon as they started their set, after a brilliant intro featuring some classic Radio Luxembourg jingles from the 208 days, the dance floor was packed all evening.

Sherwood 9 - The Outside Dance Floor On Saturday Night

Sherwood 9 - The Outside Dance Floor On Saturday Night

The atmosphere during the whole evening was buzzing. The previous night had been OK, but it just could not compare to Saturday night at Sherwood 9. Part of the improvementwas due to the move outside, but in no small part, was also due to the band who completely lived up to my first impressions. At one point while they were on stage, I was chatting to someone who asked me if the disco was running on automatic. It was an understandable mistake because their sound was uncannily like that on the original versions of those sixties classics.

Sherwood 9 - The Crew Playing Live On Stage

Sherwood 9 - The Crew Playing Live On Stage

One of the features of Saturday night at the recent Sherwood Chapter rallies that I have attended has been that the committee members dress up in “Robin Hood” fancy dress. This year, the Medieval theme was publicised with the rally information and it seemed that quite a lot of other people also made a real effort to dress up as well.

However, the way that this was organised on the night itself left me feeling just a little upset. Sue had spent an amazing amount of time and effort making costumes for both of us, but because of the equipment move and re-rig, we had no time to go and get changed before the night started. Sue and I spoke about this and agreed that we would dash back to our cabin while the band were playing their first set and that we would then be ready for the fancy dress parade.  I had even found some authentic medieval music to play during the fancy dress parade.

Imagine how I felt when, ten minutes before the band were due to come on, while I was totally tied up with the disco, to be told “we’ll do the fancy dress parade now.”  Sue tried to get them to delay the parade, but no chance.  I was close to walking away at that moment, but gritted my teeth and played the medieval music while our own costumes languished in the cabin.

Sherwood 9 - Some Of The Fancy Dress Costumes

Sherwood 9 - Some Of The Fancy Dress Costumes

Once the band started, Sue and I were able to slip away and change, although it did hurt that we were excluded from joining in with the parade. Later that evening, we asked Snake’s Pix, who were the official rally photographers, to take this picture of us together.

Sherwood 9 - Our Fancy Dress, Handmade By Sue

Sherwood 9 - Our Fancy Dress, Handmade By Sue

In between the band’s two sets, there was the raffle and presentation of the bike show prizes before the now traditional and most spectacular, Sherwood rally fireworks.

After the band finishes, the final disco set can be a bit of an anti-climax, but the atmosphere didn’t let up at all. At one point I was playing classic dance tracks from the “Euphoria” CDs to an enthusiastic crowd who carried on dancing even after I faded Abba’s “Super Trouper” up underneath the dance beats. It was a crazy kind of night that would be hard to replicate.  It must have been after 1am that word came through that we had had a complaint about the noise from Ancaster village, so I turned part of my sound system off and reduced the bass level. Even this did nothing to dampen the atmosphere which lasted right up until I ended the evening at just after 2am.

On Saturday night at Sherwood 9, all the various elements came together to make it one of the best nights I have had in quite a long time.  However, we got back to the cabin, still in fancy dress with no pockets and therefore no keys for the cabin. I felt terrible that Sue had to wake one of the people sharing the cabin with us to let us in. Profuse apologies were offered and I want to repeat them here. Sorry Margaret!

Sunday morning dawned with the rumble of the early departures heading for home. I woke up and after a quick cup of tea, headed across to the pile of disco equipment that we had piled just inside the function room door at the end of the previous night. I packed the remaining bits away and loaded the car before heading back to the cabin for breakfast. By this time Sue (and the other residents of the cabin were all up and busy clearing up.)

Once we had packed our clothes and other bits and pieces, we went across to the central rally area where most of the trade stands were still doing some fairly brisk last-minute business. While I wandered around looking at shiny chrome bits, Sue chatted to the man on the Auto-Proud stall. She asked him about the melted boot sole that was persistently refusing to be removed from the pipes on our Heritage Softail. He immediately came up with the solution and a few minutes later demonstrated his Restoration Polish which, in about 15 seconds removed some of the stubborn rubber that I had already spent more than an hour failing to shift. We immediately parted with the cash to equip ourselves with a pack containing this wonder fluid as well as Polymer Polish and Screen and Visor cleaner.

I have yet to use these products on a thorough bike clean, but when I do (at the weekend, I hope), I’ll try to report back on them, but my initial impression is very favourable.

We had booked in for Sunday lunch at the Woodland Waters restaurant and enjoyed a carvery in the company of a couple who had shared our cabin all weekend, “Wingco” Dave and Sally, before getting kitted up and heading for home. Just at that moment, the rain that had held off all weekend finally arrived, but it didn’t matter – that’s why we have waterproofs.

Final thoughts – a good, enjoyable weekend overall. I probably take on too much work, which mucked up our involvement in the ride-out as well as in the fancy dress parade, but I think Sue will agree that I’m not likely to change that part of me.

Next year the chapter is already talking about doing something special, but I’m not allowed to tell you about it yet.

Ride Safe
Dave

Sherwood 9 – Part 2

This continues my personal take on Sherwood 9 which began with Part 1. You might like to start there too as it might help to make some sense of this.
Sherwood 9 Rally Ticket

Sherwood 9 Rally Ticket

The rally took place this past weekend, as you can see from the dates on the rally ticket, above. My experience of Thursday and Friday at the rally are in part 1. In this I described how I spent all day helping out on the gate before going into the function room to get the band sorted out and to do the disco. By 1:30 am, when I called a halt to the music, I was tired. In fact I was absolutely kn*cker*d.

Sue and I got back to the cabin by about quarter to two and I don’t remember anything else until about 8am on Saturday when the fan in the bathroom the other side of the wall from my head woke me up as one of the occupants of the lodge, who had all kept far more sensible hours, performed their morning ablutions. I rolled over again and tried to sleep, but by about 9 am, we had given up and crawled reluctantly out of the very comfortable pit. I still felt like death warmed up, so we agreed that the controls of a motorbike were not really safe in my hands that morning.

This meant that we had decided not to go on the rally ride-out.  However, after a bite of breakfast, we strolled across to the rally centre (just outside the bar and restaurant at Woodland Waters) to see the bikers assemble and set off. When we got there, Kev Taylor, Assistant Director of the chapter, was staffing the gate on his own, so I stayed to help him while sue wandered around with her camera in hand snapping lots of pictures of the preparations for the ride.

The Ride-Out

Sherwood 9 - Road Captains Briefing By Ride-out Leader, Y.I Man Jeff

Sherwood 9 - Road Captains' Briefing By Ride-out Leader, Y.I Man Jeff

Safety is always a big issue for all HOG chapters, especially for the big ride-outs like this one. With Sherwood Chapter, every ride starts with some careful planning. For a big ride, the ride leader and many of the road captains will have travelled the route by car and bike several times before the date.

While Jeff was briefing the road captains and marshalls, the ride was assembling.

Sherwood 9 - Bikes and Riders Assembling For the Ride-Out

Sherwood 9 - Bikes and Riders Assembling For the Ride-Out

There were 139 bikes (plus the marshalls) on the Sherwood 9 ride to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirby. Sue got a number of pictures of the ride as the bikes rumbled around Woodland Waters and out onto the Lincolnshire roads.

Sherwood 9 - The Ride Starts

Sherwood 9 - The Ride Starts

I felt really sorry to see the ride-out depart and not to be part of it, but it was the sensible decision in view of the state of my body at the time.

Kev and I stayed on the gate for another couple of hours to welcome a few more rally latecomers before we decided that enough was definitely enough. Although we don’t have lots of rally experience, we had always gone on the ride-out. So I found it to be a strange atmosphere that was left behind as the roar of the bikes faded into the distance.

The Morning After

It soon became clear that we were by no means the only ones who had not gone out that morning. We spoke to a number of people, including Liz from the Robin Hood Harley-Davidson shop, who were still recovering from some the excesses of Friday night. Whilst I can be sure that it was only tiredness that affected me that morning, others had definitely over-indulged in the products available at the bar.

Traders’ Stalls

While the site was quiet, Sue went to explore the traders who had set up their stalls at the rally. There were stalls selling T-shirts with a bewildering array of designs, you could have bought all kinds of leather accessories and other bike related souvenirs and there were quite a lot of shiny chrome bits ready to be bolted on to your bike. There was a stall selling cleaning materials (about which I will write more later), but the most popular stall on site all weekend must have been that of Sharon the Pancake Lady.

She is an amazing woman who, like Ronnie Barker’s Arkwright character from the old TV series, is “Open All Hours”. You can buy a very late night banana and chocolate pancake after the disco has finished and be 100% confident that she’ll be open for the early risers to have their bacon butties.

Sue’s favourite stall quickly became the one from our sponsoring dealer, Robin Hood Harley-Davidson. They were offering some amazing deals on T-shirts and other Harley badged clothing. I think I came back from the rally with at least two new T-shirts and a couple of new shirts, all on offer at amazingly low prices. Sue even found a T-shirt that she liked and that fit her.  Sue also bought me one of the Rally 9 T-shirts from “Fingers”, who produced and sold them on behalf of the chapter. As I write this, it is in the wash, so I can’t get a photo of it at the moment. In fact, in all the photos that Sue took during the weekend, there isn’t one that shows the rally T-shirt properly.

Committee T-Shirts

I can’t get too far away from the topic of T-Shirts without mentioning the horrible orange monstrosities that were handed out to committee members so that we could be identified. They had the Sherwood 9 Logo printed on the front and “Sherwood On Duty Official” printed on the back. Yes, with classic schoolboy humour, they read “Sod Off”.  However, the problem with them was not the colour, nor was it the tasteful design. They were made of a polyester mix that made them both stretchy and very sweaty.  I am not as slim as I once wished I was and frankly, nor is Sue.  I did wear my T-shirt, but Sue went off to try hers on and refused point-blank to have it clinging to every lump and bump.

The idea of a committee T-shirt was basically a good one, but this year’s attempt was not the best way to do it

After we had wandered around the site for a while, we headed back to the cabin and went to sleep for an hour or so. However, we were woken by bikes returning from the ride-out.  I decided to get up when one of the people sharing the cabin with us offered a cup of tea, although Sue rolled over and tried to get back to sleep for another hour or so.

The Bike Show And Silly Games

One of the features of a rally is the bike show where proud owners of customised machines, (and let’s face it, just about every Harley gets customised in some way) have the opportunity to show their bike off and for the rally-goers to vote for the best bike in a number of classes.  I have never been tempted to subject any of my own bikes to detailed criticism in a bike show, and this appears to be the opinion of the vast majority of bikers. Fortunately, there are enough people with big enough egos and nice enough bikes to make a competition of it. At Sherwood’s rallies, the Ladies of Harley organise the bike show under the leadership of committee member Jane Confrey.

Sherwood 9 - Leatherman's Bike

Sherwood 9 - Leatherman's Bike

Sue took this picture of the bike belonging to Sherwood Chapter member “Leatherman”, which won one of categories of the bike show with his machine that features this beautifully tooled leather saddle and bags.

While the bike show was being set up, Sam York and her team organised a number of silly games. As a fully paid up member of the cowards’ guild, I retired to the cabin, safely out of the way.

As I still have the whole saga of Saturday night and Sunday morning to write about, this is heading inexorably for part 3. See you there.

Ride Safe
Dave

Sherwood 9 – Part 1

Sue and I spent the past weekend at Sherwood 9, the 9th rally held by the Sherwood Chapter of the Harley Owners Group.
Sherwood 9 - Sue And I Find A Rare Moment To Relax

Sherwood 9 - Sue And I Find A Rare Moment To Relax

The Perfect Venue
 
The past three rallies have all been held at Woodland Waters, at Ancaster in Lincolnshire. This is a fishing, camping and rural holiday complex built on a set of reclaimed gravel pits and has proved to be an ideal site for our rally. I had many positive comments from people all weekend about the venue, one lady saying, “Compared to the muddy fields of lots of other rallies, this place (Woodland Waters) is perfect.”
Shelduck - Our Lodge At Woodland Waters

Shelduck - Our Lodge At Woodland Waters

 Planning

As we are both members of the chapter committee, Sue and I arrived at the site on Thursday afternoon, ready to help with setting up. As it turned out, all we had to do was set up the disco equipment in the large function room behind Woody’s Bar and the site restaurant as there were quite a lot of other chapter members and rally-goers who had all done the same. In no time at all the chapter marquee was up, the gate tent was ready and the site had started to fill up quite nicely. We even had time for a committee meeting to discuss the final arrangements for the weekend and to continue with some of the planning for next year’s rally.

Although this was the start of the weekend itself, our involvement in Sherwood 9 had been active for many months. I had been taking bookings for the rally itself as well as for the log cabin lodges set around the lakes. We had 286 pre-booked places with more than 130 more people turning up and paying at the gate. I am convinced that the weather played a significant part in attracting such a good turnout for the weekend, although the venue itself also received a lot of compliments and, I hope, the rally programme itself is also a reason for people to make the journey from all over the country. We had HOG members from chapters across the country. I recall talking to representatives of New Forest, Fenlanders, Aire Valley, Nene Valley and of course, a lot of members of Sherwood Chapter. I’m quite willing to concede that there will have been other chapters there as well, but I can’t necessarily remember them all.

Serious Miles By Scots Riders

I do recall seeing some riders from Scotland arrive on the Friday and was amazed when I learned that they had ridden down to Bridgewater (in Somerset) and back on Saturday. I suppose that after their trip from Scotland to the midlands, three hours each way to Somerset was a local jaunt for them.

The Gate 

Sherwood 9 Gate Crew (A Few Of Us)

Sherwood 9 Gate Crew (A Few Of Us)

On Friday, the rally “officially” opened when we opened the gate just before midday. From about 10:30, though, a group of about eight of us had been finishing stuffing leaflets, flyers and the ubiquitous black bin bags into the welcome packs that each person was given as they arrived and booked in. The gate prcedure soon became a well-oiled machine, with several people welcoming the arriving bikers (including the ones in cars, caravans and motor-homes. With tickets checked or money collected, details were recorded on the pre-printed list of ticket holders or on the money taken sheets and rally packs were handed over.

I must have spent about eight hours on the gate on Friday, although several others did even longer stints. Although it was quite hard work, it was very enjoyable. At 7pm, I went off to make sure that the band was OK and to get ready for my own involvement on the disco.

Rally Pins

Sherwood 9 Rally Pin

Sherwood 9 Rally Pin

As I look back, I now feel that we made a mistake deciding that the all-important rally pins would only be available for people who had pre-booked. 

It only takes a cursory glance at almost any biker’s leather or denim waistcoat to realise that pins and patches are a central part of biker culture.  There were quite a number of disgruntled people who had to be told that pins were only for pre-booked people. However, within a few hours, we had decided to make pins available to anyone who wanted one, even if it meant ordering some more. Sue took quite a lot of orders for pins during the rest of weekend, but if you haven’t ordered yet and would like one (or more), please let Sue know by email to secretary@sherwoodchapter.co.uk as soon as possible.

Friday Night

Friday is very much arrival day at the rally, but by the evening, the vast majority of attendees are on site with tents pitched or well settled into cabins. So the evening is good time to emerge, renew old friendships and make new ones, to socialise and become part of the weekend proper. Obviously, this centres on the bars. It is also part of the rally culture (about which I will write more) that there is a band (or sometimes a couple of bands) and a disco to provide some entertainment. For the past couple of years, we have provided the disco for Sherwood’s rally (and for Hoggin’ The Beaver). This year we set up the disco in large function room, in the same spot as it was last year at the side of the stage where Friday’s band, Little Giants. They describe their sound as “Funkin’ Country Soul Rock” and this turned out to be fair description of their two sets. I enjoyed their music, although their PA system might have been a little small for the room.

 Friday Night at Sherwood 9 - Little Giants On Stage

Friday Night at Sherwood 9 - Little Giants On Stage

Unfortunately, Woodland Waters’ function room is not very well ventilated and the temperature in the room drove most people outside for most of the evening.  This was great for those conversations, but it left the atmosphere in the room a little flat, with too few people on the dance floor or at the tables. However, I had a great time, digging out some classic rock tracks and mixing in a lot of 60s and 70s hits.  It seems that Harley owners do tend to be of a “certain” age.

In Part 2, I’ll try to cover my Saturday exhaustion, why we missed the ride-out, the trade stands and the Bike Show at Sherwood 9.
 
It will be Part 3 before we get to Saturday night’s fun.
 
Ride Safe
Dave