Digital photographs, physical postcards

Like a lot of the digital generation while I like sending postcards and letters, I quite often forget one of: buying them, writing them or sending them. I also struggle to find a postcards that I like, that epitomise my holiday and that are, if at all possible, appropriate for the person I’m sending them to.

There is something nice about the delayed nature of a postcard. Yes, I can send a photograph instantly to someone via a myriad of photo-sharing apps, picture message or email but those methods lack the apparent thoughtfulness and extra effort that goes into sending a physical card. I’m still not very good at remembering to do all the steps though.

This is not aided by my dislike of shopping, particularly shopping in the kind of tourist tat shops that sell postcards (I don’t mind so much picking one up from the local post office, newsagent or campsite shop but that’s a different blog post).

Conveniently just before I went on holiday this year I happened to be sat near someone else’s television when an advert for Touchnote came on. I’d never really got the hang of moonpig.com but something about the way Touchnote presented themselves made me give it a try.

Touchnote have an app for your phone ( iPhone / android ) as well as a website, so, however you tend to take your photographs it should be easy enough to generate a postcard or greetings card from your pictures. On holiday of course the simplest way to do it is with your phone.

There were a couple of things about the experience that I found a little faffy, inputting the address the first time being one of them.  I struggled to get my phone to populate the app correctly so I had to do some copying and pasting. I sent two cards from my holiday (three if you count the one my 4 year old niece sent to her mum).

On all three occasions I received a pretty email from Touchnote showing me the postcard I had created and a subsequent email letting me know that the postcard had been dispatched.

Card 1:

Single image with text and address on the back.

I used this photograph of Weymouth Beach. In a nice touch, the cards have the location the photograph was taken on the back.  It was received two days later by my mother (if I’d been abroad clearly that would have been faster than regular mail but lacking the interestingly foreign stamps).

Card 2

This time I started fiddling with the settings and made a multi-photograph card with crops of some of the images I took of Beer Beach.

 There are a limited number of layouts you can use, and at the moment you can only remove the white bands round the edges on single image postcards (although I rather liked it so I left it in on mine). However you can tweak the photos and zoom in and out as much as you like to make the postcards look how you want them to.

The actual postcards

So here they are, the postcards that were printed using my photographs:

IMG_0433.JPGThe card stock is nice and solid and the image reproduction is pretty good – the photographs were taken on an iPhone 6 so I wasn’t expecting DSLR quality but they’re not bad. The printing style makes them look quite old school as well so you could imagine they’d been sat in a shop since before sending postcards went out of fashion.

Pros/Cons/&c

Pros:

  • the recipient doesn’t have to attempt to read my truly awful handwriting
  • I can pick a photograph that I took of my personal holiday experience and send it to a friend/family member knowing that they will be able to receive it in physical form
  • it’s quick and easy, I did the whole thing from my phone in about 5 minutes
  • I don’t have to remember to buy the physical postcard/stamp or post it
  • no wondering if your postcard will actually make it, and if it doesn’t you know who to complain to

Cons:

  • no funny foreign stamps
  • if you have awful weather or aren’t a particularly good photographer you might struggle to get a shot that you consider “postcard worthy”
  • it might not seem as personal as a hand written card to some older/more traditional members of your family/friendship group

Conclusion:

I will be using Touchnote again and would definitely recommend it

National Model Engineering and Modelling Exhibition 2015

This weekend Skippy, Bran and I went to the National Model Engineering and Modelling Exhibition 2015. Somehow we managed to get out without buying all the things. We did take a few photographs though:


This isn’t part of the model engineering exhibition but I really want it!

  

Not as many photos as you were expecting? I was clearly too busy looking at things to photograph them…

Maker Faire UK 2015

Maker Faire UK is held at the Center for Life in Newcastle. I attended, complete with Skippy and my recent biohacking project, as part of Hackspace Manchester.

Here are some of the things I saw while I was there:

A chocolate 3D printer

Sextapod!

(Quickly renamed sexypod)

Giant neo-pixel display

2015-04-26-12.38.07
Mini neo-pixel display the game code was later put onto the giant screen

neopixel_display

 

 

 

 

 

 

More 3D Printers

Daleks and a Wookie

These laser cut bunnies were everywhere!

DIY CNC Plasma Cutter

(WANT!)

& some other things:

2015-04-26-13.25.55 2015-04-26-12.28.20

When 3D Prints go wrong

I set one of these printing last night:

10p holder.
10p holder

I’ve printed about 16 of these so far (they’re for a bingo hall and take £25 worth of 10p’s as £1 blocks). This morning Bob messaged me to let me know that my print had failed… fairly spectacularly.

Time lapse of the print failing:

When I arrived at HAC:Man this is what I found:

The moral of this story is: if you can possibly avoid it, don’t leave a running 3D printer unattended.

Refuge @northteapower

image

When Almost Famous caught fire this afternoon I initially didn’t think much of it. It’s at the other end of the street to HacMan so it didn’t seem like it would affect me even though I was in the space at the time. The first I knew about it in fact was someone knocking on the door asking if there was any fire in the space as there was an alarm going off. There wasn’t and I could barely hear the alarm over the radio so I went back to work and ignored it.

Eventually however, not only did more pictures filter through from Skippy but the bloke who’d originally knocked on the door came to say the police were evacuating the street. Ah well said pretty much the whole of Edge Street, lets go to North Tea Power.

So we did, and it was packed. However, the staff gallantly did their best and seemed completely un-phased by the influx of displaced workers.

It is in the face of this hardship that I am reviewing them:

Coffee (caffè latte made with skimmed milk)

Their coffee may be small but it certainly packs a punch, strong and flavoursome without any hint of scorching either to the coffee or the milk. 10/10

Tea (milk no sugar)

At Skippy’s behest I also ordered “tea”, a request which completely failed to do justice to their long list of teas. As a result I also have no idea what the class as common or garden tea but what ever it was it was lovely, even I could have drunk it without sugar and I am not a fan of tea (black, green, white or any other variety). I will drink it if there’s nothing else, with milk and by preference two sugars but really I’d rather have water.

Food

We didn’t eat while we were at North Tea Power today but I was aware of food going out while I was there and boy did it smell good. I only hope it tasted as nice.

Overview

I would definitely recommend North Tea Power to anyone who is a fan of quality beverages. If you favour quantity however this is probably not the place for you.

The food smelled amazing and should I ever eat there I will happily give them a review of that as well. The staff were calm and friendly under pressure.

Oh and they’re dog friendly so they get a positive for that too.

Highly recommended

image

Big Bike Licence: Part 4 – Module Two

Having passed my Mod 1 test I was back at the unit the following day to be “tortured” by Nick.

Day 1

It was another clear(ish), icy day with just a hint of fog thus taking the temperature down from a comfortable 1 deg C to a somewhat uncomfortable -1 deg C. We ran out of milk in the morning and I nearly froze walking the dog (she wasn’t that impressed by the whole idea either). I ended up grabbing breakfast from the corner shop on the way down the hill (way to be healthy) and making tea/coffee for Nick and Toby when I got in.

There were two very friendly gentlemen in the unit when I arrived being taken through their compulsory bike training by Mark while I shivered, made coffee and fretted about my Module Two test.

First task of the day (the tea making doesn’t really qualify) was to write a list of the things the examiner would be looking for on the board. While there’s a lot of individual tasks that make up the answer (and no the answer isn’t everything it fundamentally boils down to the following four aspects.

Your riding should be:

  • Safe: basically that all your checks are in place, that you are travelling at an appropriate speed for the road/conditions, that you’re in control of the bike, you know all the normal stuff.
  • in control so no unnecessary wobbling, no dragging your foot, no skidding and above all, no dropping the bike
  • don’t impact anybody you don’t pull out on anyone and make them slam their brakes on or take evasive action, you don’t indicate that you’re turning when you’re not, or not indicate when you are etc.
  • If you have done all of the above you will blend with the traffic

After it had warmed up a bit we went out for a ride. It wasn’t my greatest ride ever and certainly wasn’t helped by the fog we were plunged into which froze my hands and caused me to lose concentration while riding. Not great. I eventually pulled over and warmed my hands on Nick’s heated grips (I should have done it sooner).

Nick then spent the next bit of the ride breaking my ability to do junctions by picking up on all my faults and making me think about why I was making them. By the time we headed back to the unit for lunch I was thinking so much about how to do a junction I forgot about how to ride a bike…

2013 01 11 12 19 42
Ah warmth

While we were having some food and a warm up Nick ran through the stages of learning with me – it’s not a necessary part of the training but it was an interesting thing to do and I did feel a whole lot better about it for thinking things through in a variety of ways.

So the stages of learning:

  1. unconscious incompetence: you’ve never done it before therefore you can’t do it and you don’t know why you can’t do it
  2. conscious incompetence: you’re learning how to do it, you know you can’t do it and you know why
  3. conscious competence: you’re getting the hang of doing it but it’s taking a lot of thought and concentration to get it right.
  4. unconscious competence: you know how to do it and you don’t have to think about doing it right thus leaving your brain free to think about other things – like road signs and whether you left the kettle on. This doesn’t mean that you’re riding dangerously it just means you’re so used to it that you don’t have to focus so much on what you’re doing.

At lunch time I was very firmly in the conscious competence range with occasional dips into conscious incompetence. I knew what I was doing and I knew how to do it but I couldn’t necessarily do everything that was required of me all at the same time.

We went back out again after lunch and during the afternoon I moved further up the scale and managed to make it from conscious competence to moments of unconscious competence. Result, but not good enough for my test on Saturday so it’s back in for another half day possibly days training to take me up to a test standard.

Day 2

This morning I was joined by a guy who had passed his Mod 1 the same day as me and had managed to arrange his Mod 2 test for the following Monday. He’d booked the test himself in St Helens and despite doing his Mod 1 on a test centre bike had chosen to do his Mod 2 on his own bike. He’d booked in for half a days training and was using his own bike for this as well.

When we got on the bikes it became clear that he didn’t have any wing mirrors (I’m not sure if this proved to be a problem on test day or not) but it did mean that his checks were very important.

We spent the morning going through everything that we would be expected to do on the Mod 2 (with the codicil that I would be expected to get up to 60-65mph on the dual carriageway on my test whereas Toby kept us at about 50mph as there was a fair chance the 125 wouldn’t get that fast. When we stopped for a debrief the complaints started coming.

I had been leading for most of the morning and apparently I was using my breaks too much when I stopped at junctions and traffic lights. My response to this was that I probably wasn’t putting it on as hard as he thought I was and that possibly he should watch the gap rather than my break light. Apparently he was watching the gap. I know that the break light is extremely sensitive on the bike I was using as I had had to change my riding position because riding covering the break occasionally meant that my foot would catch the pedal and I’d put the break light on even though I wasn’t actually breaking.

I suggested he go in front for the rest of the ride and he pointed out to me that he didn’t have as much acceleration as I did therefore I wasn’t to complain when it took us a while to get up to speed – wasn’t planning on it. I’ve ridden a 125 for the last year and quite a lot of miles – I know what they can and can’t do.

We also practiced hill starts – the hill we were taken to for this excursive is supremely difficult particularly on a heavy, high bike that I’m not particularly used to. Doing it on a 125 would have been very easy but sadly I don’t have that option on my test. Toby pointed out that if I could do that one I would have no problems on my test as they wouldn’t pick anything that hard – but that there would be a hill start at some point.

I left the day – not exactly feeling confident that I would pass but knowing that I had done as much as I possibly could.

Test Day

The test was in St Helens which meant the three of us getting there early, the bikes being loaded into the van along with two of the students, and my being loaded onto the back of Degs bike. (Two instructors, three students and the van only has three seats.)

About 5 miles down the road I realised I’d forgotten my driving licence – this is a bit of a problem when it comes to doing a bike test. At the first available set of traffic lights I let Degs know and we pulled over so I could ring Skippy and get him to come to St Helens with it – cause you know, there’s nothing like getting the day off to a good start.

I then spent the rest of the ride consciously relaxing, moving with the bike and focusing on the fact that everything was as it would be by this point.

We arrived at the test centre an hour early, Skippy and my driving licence arrived about 10 minutes later.

The problem with waiting around is that it increases the chances of getting stressed so by the time I was actually due to go out on my test I was extremely wound up.

The test itself seemed to last no time at all. I got back to the test centre utterly convinced I’d failed, but I hadn’t – I’d passed. I’m still not sure how.

2013 01 12 14 35 30

Big Bike Licence: Part 3 – Module One

Getting from the assessment day to passing my Module One test has been a bit of an ordeal to be honest a 500cc bike is bigger than anything I’ve ever ridden before, the acceleration is a touch scary and at times it really hasn’t felt like I was in control of the bike…

Day 1

It’s December, it’s cold, very very foggy and has intermittently been raining as though it were trying to make up for years of drought in a couple of hours. With this in mind, and having recently discovered just how scary riding in heavy fog can be I find myself obsessively checking the weather forecast. Funnily enough I’m not that happy to discover this:

2012 12 18 08 47 50

This was the last day Skippy and I did together and the first (and only) day I rode the blue bike. In theory Cheshire Biker Training have 3 identical CBF-500’s in reality they’re not quite the same. The bike I rode on my acclimatisation was different to the one I rode for the first day of the training and no where near as comfortable.

2012 12 27 22 05 28Having been enjoying it last time I came in, I found this day terrifying and I really didn’t feel like I was comfortable on the bike at all. We took a ride out in the morning and I crawled through a lot of fog on a bike that felt like it was riding me, rather than the other way round. It was cold, I couldn’t see very far ahead of me, my visor and my glasses were fogged up and I was riding a bike I was scared of – and boy could you tell by the way I was riding.

None the less we went over to the rugby club in the afternoon to have a play on the Module One test route (and the site), I couldn’t get the bike to do the simplest of things like slalom neatly or do a figure of eight and there was no way in hell I was going to try doing a turn in the road, let alone an emergency stop. No matter what I did, it didn’t feel comfortable and the more I did, the less comfortable it felt. I was cold, pissed off and close to quitting; believing there was no way I’d ever be able to ride a big bike.

None the less at the end of the day I book myself in for my Module 1 test (not that I’m a sucker for punishment or anything) and another couple of training days (this time in January). We then head off to Swindon for Christmas without the motorbike – thus meaning I’m unable to practice any of the skills I’ve learned over the day, not a great feeling.

Day 2

Despite my best intentions to go out on GLaDOS and practice we get back to discover that she has a flat battery and possibly an electrical fault. As we only get back a day before I’m due to go in for my next lesson there’s no way I’m going to get to go out, as it turns out, this was probably a good thing.

When I get to the unit, I make a cup of tea (this is the normal morning routine) and have a look at the bikes. As I’ve said I didn’t feel very comfortable on the blue bike, the seat felt very high and wide which I had somehow convinced myself was just in my imagination. In the cold light of morning however, I realise that it wasn’t and the seat on the blue bike really was different to the other two. With this in mind I ask Nick and Toby if I can ride one of the two silver bikes instead which appear to me to have more comfortable seats. Nick suggests that one of them would be better than the other as it has a slightly lower seat (which means I can actually reach the floor when sitting on it) and higher handlebars, both of these things change my riding position and mean that the bike feels better balanced to me.

As a result I have one of the best rides I’ve ever had in the morning. I feel in control of the bike, I’m starting to make progress and not be scared of the acceleration. I’m still a bit overwhelmed by having to learn how to ride a bigger bike and at the same time pay attention to learning how to ride in a different way to the way I have ridden before but it’s starting to feel more natural. I come to realise that I wasn’t using the gears properly when I was riding a 125, firstly because in comparison to the 500 they have naff all engine breaking and secondly because I have naturally good balance and I was using that to compensate for my lack of knowledge regarding correct use of gears and brakes.

By lunchtime I’m comfortable enough to go up to the Module 1 test site again and I spend the afternoon learning how to get the bike to slalom, figure of eight and turn in the road. By the end of the day I’m confident that I can do all of these manoeuvres, and I know full well that I am ready to move onto the speed work. It’s just me and the instructor on the site which is unusual but it does mean that both of us can focus. This is something I’m extremely grateful for, and probably made the difference between my passing my Module 1 and failing it.

At the beginning of the day Nick offers me a Module 2 test date that’s only 3 days after my Module 1. Initially I accept it, cautiously but I’m pleased to have it offered. He suggests I see how the day goes and give him an answer before I leave. It’s been such a good day that at the end of it I accept the Module 2 test date aware that if I fail the Module 1 I won’t have enough time to cancel the test and will therefore lose my £75. So no pressure.

Day 3

Booked deliberately with a day clear between it and the previous training session in case I should need it this day was entirely focused on the Module 1 test and was in fact the day before my test.

There were three of us training on the site, with two instructors Toby and Degs. Degs had brought the other two participants from a different training centre, while I rode up with Toby from the unit. Cheshire Biker Training and their sister riding school Stockport have exclusive access to the Module One test site in Macclesfield. It’s basically the rugby club car park with the course marked out on it but it does mean that anyone training with them has a natural advantage as they have then trained for a full day on the actual test site prior to doing their test (or in my case a day and a half).

Module 1 Test Site

We go through the aspects of the test in the order in which we will go through them on test day. First up is manual handling (not something I make a habit of doing). Even with my 125 I used to get on the damn thing and paddle her in preference to pushing her around – legs are stronger than arms after all. Anyway on test day you have to push your bike backwards out of one “parking bay” and then backwards into the other so that it’s pointing down the site. The shortest route between the two points is to push the bike and steer it at the same time but that hurt so much I nearly cried so Toby and Degs showed me a different technique instead which involved me pushing the bike out backwards in a straight line, turning it forwards and then pushing it into the other bay backwards in a straight line. Convoluted but easier to do and more sane than pushing the thing backwards. It’s a bit of an odd task if only because it’s highly unlikely I would ever bother to push a bike anywhere, that’s what the engine is for, and if I do have to push a bike I’m likely to paddle it backwards and push it forwards but still.

Next up was the slalom, figure of eight, slow ride in a straight line and U turn all of which I’d done before and only needed to tidy up (phew). Once we’d all done that it was on to the speed manoeuvres (but not at speed at least not initially). There are three laps to be done at speed:

    1. a sighting lap: showing that you can control the bike round in an arc and then stop in a controlled manner with your front wheel in between four cones.
    2. the emergency stop: following the same arc, passing through the speed trap at a minimum of 50kph (31mph) and stopping as quickly as possible following a signal from the examiner without skidding, overshooting or otherwise making a fool of yourself

the evasive manoeuvre: following the same arc, passing through the speed trap at a minimum of 50kph and swerving as though to avoid a vehicle backing into your path before regaining your original line and stopping in a controlled manner with your wheel between two cones

All of this must be done without:

  • putting your foot down when you’re not stopping
  • wobbling too badly
  • falling off
  • skidding
  • forgetting to do your checks before moving the bike
  • touching any of the cones with any part of yourself or the bike

You’re allowed 5 minors – skidding (providing you recover) and taking too long to stop on the emergency stop are minors, as is forgetting to do your checks (so technically if you forget all of them you could fail because of that). You can also get a minor for passing through the speed trap at 48 or 49kph during the emergency stop and the evasive manoeuvre.

Putting your foot down, falling off, skidding badly or touching any of the cones with anything is an instant fail.

By the end of the day (with quite a lot of encouragement from Degs and Toby) I was managing to do the speed exercises at somewhere between 48 and 55kph consistently. Keeping my hand away from the clutch during the cornering and as Degs put it “grabbing a handful” as I came out of the corner made a great difference to my ability to get up to the speeds required. I wouldn’t say I ended the day confident I’d pass but I was fairly sure it was as good as it was going to get at that point.

Test Day

I spend the time between my training and my test trying not to run through it in my head over and over again. I get myself completely wound up and stressed anyway. I don’t need to be at the unit until 1100 (my test is at 1235) so I spend the morning doing anything ANYTHING but think about the test. I end up walking down to the unit listening to Nine Inch Nails – Broken EP as close to full volume as I can physically manage. I’m calm by the time I reach the unit but not for long.

Toby and I ride out to the test centre where we meet Degs and the two young men who were training with me the day before. Although when I originally booked the test it was the last one of the day somehow I’ve been moved forward so that out of our little group I am in fact the first one to go through…

Waiting at the test site is nerve wracking to say the least. It’s set out exactly as it was the day before except that where we had little plastic bubbles there were now foot high cones, and they were in the correct colours as well rather than being made up from the colours that were available. There are two additions however, a bright orange fence separating the waiting area from the testing area and a gentleman in a HiVis jacket with a clipboard. It is the presence of this man that makes the site particularly scary.

Being first had its advantages, it meant that I didn’t have to wait around for long and at least I got it over and done with but knowing the others were there and watching did make it slightly scarier.

The manual handling was as difficult as I expected it to be. The slalom, figure of eight, slow ride and U turn went ok. I thought I’d messed up the U turn and not ended it in the right place or in a controlled enough manner but the only criticism I got for the slow exercises was that my shoulder check and U turn were too far apart – I can live with that.

The sighting round went fine, the examiner waits by the box and goes to check his equipment. It seems to take an inordinately long time for him to come back again and ask you to turn your bike round.

2013 01 09 19 48 39Next comes the emergency stop, it is here that Deg’s suggestion to “grab a handful” as I come out of the bend resulted in an emergency stop that caused me to think I’d failed. I watched the examiner as I came out of the speed trap and as his hand went up I slammed on the anchors. The beginning of the brake went fine, but there was a slight skid in the middle, I was never in any danger of coming off or even wobbling significantly, suddenly there was grip again and I was stopped. Apparently Toby was sure I was done at this point but the examiner merely checked the speed trap and asked me to turn round.

I do the same again but this time nipping through the avoidance cones and stop with my front wheel in the right place. I’m utterly convinced I’ve failed. The examiner allows me off the test site and we walk up to the office.

I’ve passed.

My second minor is for revving while coming to a halt during the emergency stop. That’s it. And my speeds for the manoeuvres? The emergency stop was was done at 62kph (38mph) and the evasive manoeuvre was done from 58kph (36mph). Slightly scary. Yes, I still blame Degs.

2013 01 09 19 46 46
My Module 1 Pass Certificate and a well deserved pint.

Big Bike Licence – Part 2 – Assessment Day

Having passed our theory tests (and messed up doing both parts of our Practical tests prior to the rule change on 19th January) the only thing left to do was book ourselves in for some training on “big bikes”. We had by this point come to terms with the fact that we would not be doing our tests under the pre-19th January rules so we took ourselves over to [Cheshire Biker Training](http://www.cheshirebikertraining.co.uk/index.php) and booked an assessment day. While we were there we chatted about the new rules and what we’d have to do in order to take the big bike test. I wasn’t really thinking about it as the Direct Access Scheme (DAS) at this point but of course this is the route we are taking as we are starting the process before the rule change – after the rule change it’s only those of us lucky enough to be [over 24 who will have this option](http://www.bikelicence.co.uk/). Everyone else will have to go through staged access meaning that they have to be at least 21 before they will be able to gain an unrestricted category A licence.

Once we’d booked ourselves in and looked at the bikes (I left wishing I hadn’t) the temperature proceeded to spend the next few days plummeting even further than it previously had. The day we booked they had cancelled 12 bike tests due to ice apparently. A kindly friend told me winter riding would make me a better rider than I would otherwise be… I looked at the ice on the ground, went “no, I don’t think so”, holed myself up in my nice warm boat and only ventured out to walk the dog. So much for getting back on a motorbike before the assessment day. We watched the weather with a level of trepidation, neither of us was particularly keen on riding on ice unnecessarily however we also didn’t want to put off staring to work our way through any longer than we already had. Besides I have that Virago to think about.

In the event the weather broke on the day of our training so we traipsed down the hill in full motorbike gear in heavy rain. It would be cold and wet all day but at least it wasn’t icy. We spent the morning out on 125cc motorbikes. The first part of the assessment was a gentle ride out to see how we did on bikes. Apparently we did ok. It was cold and wet so we headed back to the centre for a cup of tea and to talk about areas that needed improvement. Having defrosted slightly we were back out on the 125s to practice control techniques. This meant a lot of turning corners and unlearning a bad habits (in my case), I’ve done a lot of mileage in a short space of time with very little training and, while I ride well (or at least well enough to be put on a 500cc bike) I do have some “interesting” ways of doing things which may, or may not be the correct way of doing them. Having spent a lot of time on a push bike prior to learning to ride a motorbike, I rely quite a lot on natural balance which is fine on a push bike or a 125 but not so good on a much heavier 500. It was on this second trip out on a 125 that the driver of a skip lorry decided to pull out on me without actually looking to see if there were any vehicles behind him. I got quite a lot of praise for the way I dealt with it, to be fair I was going very slowly at the time and it’s not the first time someone’s jumped out on me. Plus I managed to avoid swearing at him either verbally or via gesticulation.

Once we got back this time we talked through the requirements for going out on the 500s. Scary. We’d had two instructors at all times during the day, though three in total as they were doing PPD (personal and professional development), we didn’t mind as it meant we got a variety of teaching techniques over the course of the day. That first ride on a 500 was a bit scary. I loved it but it was still scary. I don’t like going fast and I left still a little scared that the bike would fall over if I wasn’t careful. We rode out to a village, had a hot chocolate and then rode back to the centre for a cup of tea and a debrief. [Skippy](http://skippy.org.uk) led on the way out, and I led on the way back (one of my major concerns for the day was that I would struggle to hear the radios as I had problems on my CBT (Compulsory Bike Training) understanding what the instructor was saying however this time there were no problems at all). At times I managed to relax and just ride but some of the time I was focusing too much on the fact that I was riding an unfamiliar bike and fretting about it all going wrong.

Once we were most of the way back to the centre it nearly did all go wrong. We were turning right at a cross junction with traffic lights. The traffic coming towards us was on the same phase as us. When the lights changed the car turning across in front of me and I moved at the same time, this was fine and perfectly legal, we were clearing the junction, in fact it wouldn’t be worthy of a mention at all had a car not popped out from the one in front of me, I saw it heading towards me and just for a second I was convinced I was going underneath it. Fortunately I had the confidence of my convictions and got myself off the junction leaving my instructors and Skippy caught in the middle of the junction. We were less than two minutes ride from the centre and as it was double yellows the whole way round I headed back to the centre happy that they would follow me as soon as they could.

Despite that moment I then spent the whole evening being utterly jazzed that I’d been out on a 500. It was a really good feeling and I never wanted it to end. (That said I did get back quite wet and cold.) We promptly booked ourselves in for another days training some of which would, hopefully, be spent on the Mod 1 course.

the 500cc bikes we practiced on.

Why we should leave Wills, Kate and the royal foetus alone

Two days ago a young woman announced she was pregnant with her first child. This is a moment of jubilation and worry for anyone. Particularly for those who are in the public eye.

This particular young woman, having announced her pregnancy, is now going to be watched like a hawk throughout the rest of it, and probably, throughout the rest of her life. Now to be fair she did sign up for this, she was well aware when she married William Windsor that not only was she was marrying into the most famous family in the UK, she was also marrying the second in line for the throne. There is no way she can have been ignorant of the media storms surrounding Williams mother (Diana Princess of Wales) nor can she have missed the fact that every single silly thing either William or his brother Harry have ever done has been reported widely in the media. She knew what she was getting into and she decided it was worth it.

Then she got pregnant. Well that was bound to happen really, it’s what married couples do, and it’s what the nation expected them to do. Her pregnancy was announced by the palace on 3rd December 2012, after Catherine had been admitted to hospital suffering from hyperemesis gravid arum she is believed to be less than 12 weeks pregnant.

This announcement therefore was forced by circumstance, they would no doubt, have liked to be able to wait longer. To confirm that everything was OK. Instead Catherine is in hospital suffering from a severe illness which is being reported in the papers as “morning sickness” which is really something of an understatement in the circumstances and is leading I believe to some claiming she is receiving special treatment because of who she is. This is probably, to an extent true, this baby is very important and there is no way that anyone involved in the care of the Duchess of Cambridge can be unaware of this fact.

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In the hours after the announcement came my Twitter feed was full of tweets tagged #royalbaby. There’s nothing unusual about this, it was an important announcement, so important apparently that for a few hours at least it drowned out tweets relating to International Day of Persons with Disabilities. What was interesting about the comments in my feed was that predominantly they were from people who were complaining that the announcement of the Royal Baby would mean that that would be all we would hear about in the news until well after the birth. And really, do we need daily updates on the state of the contents of the Duchess of Cambridge’s womb?

The answer to this is no, we don’t. In fact it would be better for everyone including the Royal Foetus if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, having been forced to announce the pregnancy were now left alone to cope with the difficulties that they are clearly having on their own with the support of their family. Because right now, I suspect that it doesn’t matter very much to them whether or not the nation is supportive of them, and is worried about the state of their baby and the Duchess of Cambridge herself.

It doesn’t matter right now whether or not that small group of cells will grow into a male or female baby. What matters right now, to William, to Catherine and to the rest of their families is that Catherine has been taken to hospital suffering from a condition which if left untreated can kill; and for which the only solution is to terminate the pregnancy or suffer. Since terminating the pregnancy isn’t an option for this particular young woman (setting aside her and her husbands feeling about terminations), she’s going to have to suffer so wouldn’t it be better if we all backed off, let them have time and space and congratulated them when the baby is finally born.

Speculation isn’t going to help and for those who don’t want to hear the ins and outs of every moment of Catherine’s pregnancy shutting up about it is going to send a clear message to the media that we would like them to respect this young couples privacy and let them tell us what’s going on in their own time.

Discussing their every move and reporting on rumour and speculation isn’t going to help. What’s going on is none of our business, this is between them, and like walking past when you can see there’s been an accident but the paramedics are already there. Letting them get on with it is the best thing we can possibly do.

Please, let them be. I wouldn’t want my body, my baby to be exposed to this level of media attention and they shouldn’t have to suffer it either.

Big Bike Licence: Part 1

2012 09 15 12 03 04
Shiny new big bike, with optional lurcher.

Today I did my bike theory test. I passed. I now have two years to get my grown up bike licence.

Except that I don’t. I have a motorbike that I can’t ride stored securely in a friends garage waiting for me to pass my test. It’s a nice bike, a perfect first bike after test in fact. That is, if the test you do is the current A2 – restricted to 33 brake horse power for two years then ride what ever you like.

Unfortunately, because I am a pessimist I haven’t booked my practical A2 test yet. There is now, an 8 week (minimum) waiting list at all of the test centres I could possibly manage to get to (including some that aren’t in the same area of the country as me. This meand that I’m going to have to take the Mod 2 of my test under the new rules, this is entirely my own fault for procrastinating so I’m not blaming anyone but it is difficult to find information about the new rules. At least, I found it a touch counter intuitive.The upshot of my search is that I will have to do my Module One test on a category A bike in order to get a full bike licence. If I do my Module One on a bike which is currently suitable for A2 I will only get an A1 licence which means that my beautiful bike will be spending a few more years in my friends garage while I gain experience and then take another practical test.

2012 10 28 14 55 48
Slightly overloaded 125 (everything is secure though).
2012 11 02 11 47 16
Being rescued after I hit the deck in North Wales … not a good day.

If you’re interested there is a table showing which sub-category of motorcycle you’ll need to use for your Mod 2 if you do your Mod 1 under the old rules and here are the specifics of the new rules relating to riders who pass their tests on or after 19 January 2013.

It all seems a bit odd to me, although it does also seem to be a tidying up of the rules. Each category goes on from the one below and you have to be over 24 to ride a big bike at all.

Those who know me via twitter (and who happened to be around at the appropriate moments), will know I’ve taken a couple of quite nasty slides across the black-top already so the prospect of having to do my test on a big bike doesn’t fill me with glee. On the other hand it will probably make me a much better rider than I would otherwise have been.

Here’s to being able to collect my bike as soon as possible. Though hopefully, not by van.

If you are looking to do a practical test, there’s a list of national test centres and the approximate waiting times available here, but only between 0600 and 2340 (I have no idea why, maybe they think the internet gets turned off at night).

UPDATE:

I have been down to Cheshire Biker Training who were recommended to me by the local bike shop. We talked the options through, and, as I can’t see any advantages to doing a medium bike licence (the new A2) I have booked myself in for an assessment day. So, on Friday 14th December I get to go down to the bike centre and show them that I can ride a 125. Once they’re happy that I can do that they’re going to put me on a big bike (…) and teach me how to ride all over again. Depending on how well I do, they’ll work out how much training I need to go through my Mod 1 and Mod 2 tests (I only pay for the training I receive). Here’s hoping I don’t make a complete fool of myself.