Wednesday 30 November 2011

An extra bit of sculpture for you

Saw an article on the news today about the refurbishment of Oscar Wilde's tomb in Paris. The tomb, designed by Sir Jacob Epstein, had become damaged by the amount of visitors (women presumably) who had left lipstick kisses on it. The tomb was refurbished and protected by a glass screen, and was formally unveiled in a ceremony by Oscar's grandson, Merlin Holland, and the actor Rupert Everett (pictured).

More details on the BBC website.

Monday 28 November 2011


Over the last few years I've been a bit amused by how styles from the 60s and 70s have become fashionable again, and there's also nostalgia for a 'golden era' that allegedly existed in the 70s. I say allegedly because I was a teenager then and it was rubbish, so I'm rather amused to see trendy pop groups wearing clothes that I wore when I was 16. However, they don't get the subtleties - 'plain' sports shoes are pretty cool, but I nearly fell off my chair laughing when I saw a picture of Liam Gallagher wearing a parka! And, no doubt, thinking he was really cool! Us 'oldies' who lived through it the first time round know that anyone who wore a parka past the age of 14 was immediately branded a 'Mummy's Boy'!
The automotive world hasn't been spared this 60s/70s nostalgia, just look how successful the VW Beetle, Mini, and Fiat 500 have been by aping previous styles, and Triumph's whole Bonneville range has shown that bikes aren't immune from it either.
Even children's toys like the Raleigh Chopper and the Spacehopper have made a comeback, and they've been joined by another horror from my childhood. I was a branch of electrical shop Maplin and what did I see but a Stylophone! Yes, a good old Stylophone as advertised by Rolf Harris.

I did a bit of looking round the Web and found that the Stylophone is back in production. Let's hope it's better than the version built back in the 60s and 70s, which to be honest sounded like a wasp in a Coke can. Add to that they used to go out of tune depending on battery life and keyboard cleanliness, and the keys were sometimes out of tune with each other.
However, they did have their celebrity fans. David Bowie used one on Space Oddity,

And later in his career,

It almost goes with saying that Kraftwerk have used them, and have even played one live,

Here they are doing Pocket Calculator live on minimalist instruments. At 0:27, you can see Karl Bartos playing one. Also, dig the groovy dancing - who says Germans don't understand irony!
I also found some video of Little Boots using one one Later with Jools Holland:

The info with the video mentions that the thing with the flashing lights is a Tenori-on made by Yamaha, a sort of touch screen sequencer type thing. You can tell I don't know anything about this, so you may as well go to the website.
I like how she uses a mixture of 'good old technology' - a grand piano, 'good new technology' - the Tenori-on, and 'oldish rubbish technology' - the Stylophone. Can't help thinking it would have been much easier sampling a Stylophone into a modern instrument with a 'proper' keyboard'.
The most important thing about the Stylophone is the price. In the late 60s one cost £8.80, and now it costs £9.99 from Maplin. Shows how the price of electronics has gone down, and I would imagine that the new Stylophones are made in China rather than the UK, as was the case with the old ones.
I would also imagine that with the advances in technology, the new Stylophone is a lot better electronically, and will stay in tune, and be less 'battery hungry' that the old ones. Whether it still sounds like a wasp in a Coke can, we'll have to wait and see!!
I might buy one to see what it's like, but if you've got small children, DON'T buy them one for Christmas. The insistent, tuneless buzzing will drive you mad!!

Sunday 27 November 2011

Saturday 26 November 2011

Friday bike

Yes, I know it's Saturday!

Some manufacturers set out (or end up!) with a distinctive 'signature' that defines their products. A lot of the British companies stuck by the parallel twin, Ducati and Moto Guzzi are defined by their V twin engines, BMW their flat twins, and most of all Harley Davidson with their custom V twins. The Harley signature is so well defined that other manufacturers try to copy it as closely as patent laws allow. (Remember Harley tried to take a legal action against Honda who they said had copied their distinctive 'potato, potato' engine sound?)
You've got to admire Harley Davidson as they've made a successful business out of marketing a range of bikes that are distinctively different from other manufacturers, and are the one brand non-motorcyclists have heard of. Personally, I don't get the Harley 'thing', but enough people do to keep the company going, and if that's what they want, who am I to disagree?
However, there is one (and only one) Harley V twin that I have ever wanted or admired, and to underline the fact that I don't get the Harley 'thing', it's their least successful model!

The 1977-79 XLCR Cafe Racer. Built as a competitor to European and Japanese sports bikes, and latching on to the 'cafe racer' fashion popular in the US at the time, it never really 'gelled' as a model. Too different from the norm for Harley riders, and too expensive and slow to compete with European and Japanese bikes, it was destined to fail.
Basically just a Sportster engine in a modified Sportster frame with alloy wheels, good brakes (a first for a Harley!), but stupendous styling! Most Harleys are, to British tastes, pretty ugly and styled in the 'tart's handbag' mileau, but the XLCR looked really sharp. A BMW type fairing, a tank similar to a Honda CB400, a tailpiece influenced by flattrackers, and THAT exhaust, all added together to create a well balanced package. The beautiful way the exhaust downpipes flow in then out of each other is a work of art, and are the icing on the cake as far as I'm concerned.
Whilst it's undoubtedly a beautiful bike, owning one might be a bit of a chore as the engine is very low tech and it was built during an era were build quality was far down the list of priorities for Harley. But would it be any harder to live with than a 70s British bike?
According to what I could find on the Web, about 3,200 were built, and no doubt very few made it to the UK. So few in fact, that I've never actually seen one, and have only seen a couple for sale (for ludicrously high prices) over the years.(Cue Larry coming along and saying 'I've got three in my shed, and they only cost me $10 each!')
More details here.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Cool car

Sometimes when you're looking on the Web, the most unexpected things pop up. I was looking at the website of a company that makes number plates, and in their 'Plate of the Month' page there was this lovely wedding photo:

Imagine going to your wedding in an early Trabant! Not sure what this model is called, but no doubt mr.combo will be along in a minute to tell us (It's a bit older than the one he had).
Also, isn't the colour very similar to 'Periwinkle' and 'Creme de la Creme'? - That's what's called 'good taste'!

Sunday 20 November 2011

Useful things no. 2

A friend showed me a little device he had bought that impressed me so much that I bought one for myself. It's a small (and I mean very small) powered loudspeaker for use with iPods, etc, called the x-mini. It folds down to smaller than a tennis ball.

In use it unclips and expands to become a proper resonator.

Pictured here expanded along with the carry bag and recharging lead that come with it. You can also see the connecting lead that clips to the base when not in use.
To give an idea of scale, here's one connected to an iPod Touch, with a tape measure, a £1 coin and a 1 Euro coin.

In use the quality of sound is stunning! I would never have believed that you could get such a high quality and volume of sound out of something so small. I had expected it to sound really 'tinny', but it manages lower frequencies very well.
It has a 3.5mm output socket, so that you can 'daisy chain' another x-mini for more volume. This socket is useful if you want to use it with a radio or an Ipod with a radio function.
Personal radios use the earphone lead as an antenna, so the short lead of the x-mini doesn't work very well. If you plug another lead into the x-mini's output, it will act as an antenna and pick up radio stations adequately.

The battery is recharged from any USB port via the supplied lead, so can be plugged into a laptop computer.
Ideal for carrying on a bike when touring as it allows you to listen to your Ipod or radio in your hotel room or tent. If you don't have a laptop with you, you can always recharge it from the USB port you can fit to your bike (next 'Useful things' post).
I got mine from Amazon, where strangely it's cheaper in black. There are loads of other people selling them on the Web, so hunt around for the best price.

National Motorcycle Museum

I've posted some photos I took during a visit to the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham in 2000 on Flikr. Here

This was before they had the fire, so it's possible that some of the bikes here have been lost.
Sorry for the poor quality, but I'd used a compact film camera with a tiny flash.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Unusual Fountain/Sculpture of the Week

You want weird? I've got weird! How about two mechanical statues of men urinating into a pool? Not weird enough?
OK, the pool is the shape of the Czech Republic and the statues 'write' quotations from famous residents of Prague.
You can interrupt the statues by sending them a text message and they will then 'write' your message.
It's in the grounds of the Franz Kafka Museum in Prague (which probably explains everything).

See, I wasn't making it up! The sculptor, David Cerny, has created all sorts of weird artworks, and even his website is a bit 'unusual'.
Franz Kafka Museum website.

Friday 18 November 2011

Friday bike

Bet you've never heard of this one! The company which is now Italjet used a number of other people's engines in their earlier bikes. One of these was the 1969 Sport Junior 125, which used an MZ engine:

This is the only bike I've heard of that used an MZ engine, (other than MZs of course).
Italjet built a number of bikes using British engines, including the 500 Velocette and 750 Royal Enfield powered Indians.
They also built a couple of models using Triumph engines:

Nowadays they built quads and scooters, but a few years ago they showed a prototype Amarcord 125, which unfortunately didn't reach production.


Found a picture of an Italjet Triumph. What a great looking bike! From an article (in French) with pictures of Italjets  (and Italjet built Indians) with British engines.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Cartoon character

If you didn't grow up in Glasgow, then you won't get this one!
I bought a packet of tubs of yoghurt and was amused to see this flavour.

When I was a child, it was normal for working class women called Agnes to have their name reversed and be called 'Senga'. So 'Senga Strawberry' sound like a Glaswegian cartoon character.
The strange pronunciations of names in Glasgow once led to a bizarre misunderstanding. It's also common for men called Hugh to have their name pronounced 'Shug' or 'Shooey'. At once place I worked, a 'Shooey' phoned and left a message for a workmate. This would not have been a problem had the phone call not been taken by a Frenchman. He came up to me later and, looking confused, said that he's taken a phone call from someone called 'Sewage'!

Paisley Artists

Yesterday I attended the opening of the annual show by a local art club, Paisley Artists. My wife, Kathleen, had been a member of the club for many years, and had served as its President. She had always been very enthusiastic and active in the club until her health started to decline. I was very pleased to be asked by the club to display a couple of Kathleen's pictures at this year's exhibition.

There was very limited space in the gallery, so they could only display some of her smaller paintings, and they placed a very nice dedication to her between them.

Many of the club members took time to speak to me, and it was heartening to know how fond they were of her and how much she had been missed.
The exhibition is on until the 17th of December at Paisley Museum and Art Galleries, and well worth a visit if you're passing.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Unusual Fountain/Sculpture of the Week

This one is in reply to the bike sculpture mr. combo posted on his blog.

This sculpture marks the site of the former AJS factory in Wolverhampton. The factory has long gone and the site is now occupied by a Waitrose supermarket.

Friday 11 November 2011

Friday bikes

Two for you this week. Both are prototypes shown by Yamaha at the recent Tokyo Show, so might never be seen again.

First up is the XTW 250 'Ryoku'. I really like the funky charm of this bike and it looks like an exaggerated version of the 'agri' bikes sold in countries like Australia. I think this would be a lot of fun as a 250cc engine would give it enough power to be interesting, the semi trail setup would allow a degree of mild off roading, and the good luggage carrying ability and screen would let you tour on it.
However, as the market for 250s is close to zero in Europe, the best we could hope for was a 600 version.
Yamaha call it an 'SUV motorcycle' and say it's “Yamaha's idea of a dependable partner for people who love motorcycles and the outdoor life.”

Next is the even less likely Y125 'Moegi'.

According to Yamaha; “Besides its appeal as a personal vehicle for daily commuting, it sports an active image that will lure owners on longer jaunts on the weekends.”

Tyres look a bit skinny for comfort! Good to see that manufacturers are exploring new ideas and not just sticking to traditional designs.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Unusual Fountain/Sculpture of the Week

Blame mr. combo for this one. We were discussing unusual fountains and sculptures and he suggested I start 'Unusual fountain/sculpture of the week'.
First is a weird fountain in Bruges/Brugge, Belgium that I saw a couple of years ago. I contains a group of figures including cyclists, fish and mermaids.

No, I don't understand it either, despite an explanation, and I've no idea why the mermaid squirts water out of her nipples.
If my brother can get away with 'Roundabout of the Week' then I can get away with 'Unusual Fountain/Sculpture of the Week'!

Saturday 5 November 2011

Hallowe'en fun and games

I've been meaning to write this for the last week, but I've been waiting for some photos that haven't appeared yet.
Last Saturday I went out to a Hallowe'en party at the O2 Academy in Glasgow. This is the former New Bedford cinema, now used as a concert venue and night club. It had been mentioned to me by my friend David who has been to a number of events held there by the organisers, Club Noir. Club Noir is the biggest burlesque club in the world, and holds a few events a year in Glasgow and Dundee.
David had thought it would be good for me to go out for an evening after all I've been through this year, and it would be the first time that I would be in what could be termed a 'night club'. (Last time I was out at an event like this was about 25 years ago, back when there were 'discothèques'!)
As it was Hallowe'en, I would have to go in fancy dress, but what to wear? This was quickly answered when I was dropping off some stuff at a charity shop and spotted a suitably baggy suit. Fitted me perfectly, so £6 later I had the start of my 'gangster' costume. I got a black shirt, white tie, spats, and went to a hat shop and bought a proper hat.  Ebay supplied an fake cigar, stick on moustache, and an inflatable Tommy gun. (I had bought a plastic toy Tommy gun, but that had fallen foul of Club Noir's 'no real or replica weapons' rule).
OK, you want to see a picture - here's me in David's house just as we were leaving:

Impressive, eh? As I don't drink we went in my car, unlike many of the other people there who travelled by public transport in their costumes. Talking of costumes, there were lots of really good and imaginative ones, with most of the women dressing in a 'burlesque' costume (more about that later).
The evening consisted of a number of stage acts punctuated by a DJ playing dance music. Can I get one thing clear - despite what people have said, there were NO STRIPPERS! There was a band, a fire eating singer (really impressive!), a singing pole dancer (gymnastic rather than erotic), and Club Noir's troupe of exotic dancers. They perform dance sequences that involved removing some of their clothes, but as nobody ends up naked they're not strippers. Also, looking at the other people there in their costumes is a major part of the evening.
Club Noir has a strict rule that you're not allowed to take photos in the main part of the club, only in the foyer and one of the bars. They have an official photographer who photos people with their permission for their website, but pictures from the Hallowe'en event haven't been posted yet.
This is understandable as a number of famous people attend, but may not want it to be publicised (there was a feature on an early evening Scottish news programme, where one of the presenters performed on stage. Here)
Also, a lot of women wear a lot fewer clothes than they might feel comfortable being photographed in. The usual 'burlesque costume' is a corset, fishnet stockings, suspenders, and very high heels. Yes, I remember the days when women wore clothes over their underwear! Needless to say, the more scantily clad women avoid the areas where photography is allowed. I took a couple of pictures there showing some of the wonderful costumes.

Yes, that woman in the centre of the picture is only wearing pants, pasties, and a tight lace garment! Woman at the right is wearing the more popular corset (hers has a small 'skirt', most didn't have this)

David had gone dressed as a vampire, with fangs and custom made (and somewhat uncomfortable) contact lenses. We had our picture taken together, and I'm trying not to laugh, hence the facial expression!

I also sneaked a picture on the main dancefloor. Unfortunately it was dark and I was using a compact camera with a flash the size of a peanut.

I had a great night and really enjoyed myself. Everyone seemed happy and it felt really 'safe'. When I used to go to discothèques, there was always a hint of violence in the air and you had to be careful how you looked at people. Here, there were no problems. Also, for a man of my age it was 'safe' as the vast majority of women were far too young for me, so I could talk or dance with women half my age and wearing only their underwear without them thinking I'm trying to pick them up!
Keep your eye on the gallery on Club Noir's website for pictures of the Hallowe'en event.


This one's been doing the rounds of websites and fora, so I thought I'd post it here.

No I don't know what it is either, but I think it looks really good. I know it's not practical, and has probably been done as a styling exercise, but I love the 'steam punk' look. There's too many customs and cafe racers about, so let's applaud someone thinking along original lines.

Friday 4 November 2011

Friday bikes (and cars, and trains, etc.....)

As I was on holiday today I took the opportunity to visit the Riverside Museum in Glasgow. This opened earlier this year and replaces the old Transport Museum at the Kelvin Hall. This had been a favourite of mine, and when I had worked at the nearby University of Glasgow, I could visit it at lunchtime.
As the name suggests, the Riverside is beside the River Clyde, so ships can be berthed alongside. At the moment the Glenlee 'The Tall Ship' is berthed there and open for visits. Today there was a large party of very young and noisy schoolchildren running about the boat, so I'll visit it on another occasion.

The Riverside itself is a stunning building designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, and there are numerous pictures of it on her website. The museum doesn't open until 11 on a Friday, and as I was a bit early I wandered round it taking photos.

This is the North Entrance (car park side).

And this is an attempt at an 'artistic' shot of the South Entrance (river side).

Whilst I was waiting, I took a photo of the paddle steamer Waverley berthed outside the nearby Science Centre. The Waverley has a special place in your memory if you grew up in the West of Scotland in the 60s and 70s. It was saved from being scrapped by a public appeal and is the last sea going paddle steamer in the world. Website

The museum opened, and I made my way in to see their huge collection of cars, bikes, train, trams, etc. One of the first things I saw was a display of Graeme Obree's racing bicycles.

Bike at the front is his home built Old Faithful. Next to the display there was a monitor, which when you pressed a button showed a short video by Graeme describing how he built the bikes.

There's just so many exhibits that bikes and cars are displayed on the walls.

They are particularly proud of this huge Glasgow built locomotive that was brought back from South Africa, the recovery was shown as a television programme.

The Clyde having been a major shipbuilding river means that there are dozens of models from the shipyards.

Some former Glasgow Corporation trams:

A Hillman Imp, built 3 miles from my house.

Douglas speedway bike.

And this is just silly, a Honda CBX 1000 based custom.

Back in the 50s and 60s, if you received a telegram, it was delivered on a BSA Bantam.

A view from the balcony.

This is just a flavour of the museum. I took over 50 photographs and that was only of a fraction of the exhibits. Well worth a visit if you're ever in Glasgow, and best of all, it's FREE! They just ask for a voluntary £1 donation. Even car parking is only £1 for 4 hours, and motorbikes park for free.
As for my 'Friday bike', I bought this in the museum shop for £9.99:

A Chinese made clockwork outfit. The box says 'This is not a toy' but I regard this as a 'proper' toy as it's dangerous! The edges are quite sharp, so a child would quickly learn that sharp things can cut you! That's what I call 'educational'. Kids these days, far too soft!!!