Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Waffling warmist a dim bulb

The return to the political stage of Toronto's ex-Mayor David Miller cannot go unremarked. Now a sinecurist with the World Wildlife Fund, a job with no known success criteria, you wonder whether he is coming unhinged. Promoting the wacky WWF Earth Hour, where we all are supposed to turn the lights off and blunder about in the dark, he says: "Climate change is overwhelming. It's literally causing problems at a global scale, and sometimes it's hard as an individual to think what you could do to help."
Stop talking nonsense comes to mind. In the photograph accompanying the story in the Toronto metro newspaper I notice Miller is wearing a scarf to keep warm. You couldn't make this stuff up!
His timing is unfortunate. Toronto is yet to recover from one of the harshest winters since records began but that does not stop Miller blathering on about the evils of global warming. He also cannot resist interfering in the politics of his old bailiwick by promoting his transit agenda based on streetcars and light rail. Using the royal "we" he says: "We have the best rapid transit plan - all the engineering has been done - we just need to build." As a 'has been' his plans have no more validity than yours or mine.
Anybody who actually rides on the TTC in the rush hour will know that the streetcars are worse than cattle trucks. I used to think that the TTC was just badly managed. I now know that it is rotten from top to bottom. Perhaps David Miller could do us all a favour and report the TTC to the WWF for cruelty to the poor passengers.
Here is an abridged version of some of David Miller's achievements:
* The hero of the G20 summit (more arrests in a day than any other in Canadian history).
* Provoking a five-week garbage strike, and then losing to his union chums.
* Burnishing his crisis-management skills by remaining absent after the Sunrise propane explosion.
* Paying $35 million not to build the bridge to the island airport.
* Failing to spot a $47m liability for the Pan-Am games.
* Presiding over a disgraceful regime at Municipal Licensing Services to the detriment of small business.
* Turning a blind eye when Adam Giambrone was caught with his hand in the till.
* Spending much of his time on foreign "jollies" while the city stagnated.
I must say I've missed David Miller's pronouncements, as comical in their own way as our very own dear Rob Ford.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Disinformation

"If you believe we are going to build a wall you are mistaken." Walter Ulbricht

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Great quote: How true

"Propose to an Englishman any principle, or any instrument, however admirable, and you will observe that the whole effort of the English mind is directed to find a difficulty, a defect, or an impossibility in it. If you speak to him of a machine for peeling a potato, he will pronounce it impossible: if you peel a potato with it before his eyes, he will declare it useless because it will not slice a pineapple." Charles Babbage (1791–1871)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Chuggabug Tour 2013

Annette is blogging our smart car tour here on SCOOT.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Riding on the City of New Orleans

Toronto was underwater, after widespread flooding, as we prepared to set off for our train trip to New Orleans, which departs from Chicago. We rode the subway and streetcar to Billy Bishop City Centre Airport, Toronto’s great little downtown runway, for the flight to Chi-town. Enjoying the free coffee, snacks and newspapers in the lounge our Porter flight was only forty minutes late departing. A result considering we spoke to a couple headed for New York who had been delayed for two days.
We arrived at Chicago Midway, shot through customs and took the Orange Line to Quincy on the loop, $2.25 per person. A short walk a few blocks west, across the river, and we arrive at historic Union Station, where we checked our baggage at the Metropolitan Lounge. Nearby Lou Mitchell’s at 565 West Jackson Boulevard provided the diner experience for lunch, somewhat on the tourist beat but worthwhile for a treat, $31.88 for two plus tip. We then took a walk around the loop to the public library, the books-on-sale section being a shadow of its former self. At Barnes & Noble I bought “Car Guys vs Bean Counters – The battle for the Soul of American Business” by Bob Lutz, $16. (How GM nickel and dimed itself into oblivion.)
Back at Union Station we settle into the subterranean waiting room. Our Pullman host Jessica says we will be boarding at 19:20 for the scheduled 20:00 departure. Passengers are embarking for all points of the compass but I look around for fellow Pullman passengers in vain. Jessica informs us that we are the only passengers for the private railcar and that we will have our own steward (Jody) and chef (Daniel Traynor). We are shown to the Master Suite, with double bed, in the Pullman car called Pontchartrain, attached to the back of the Amtrak “City of New Orleans.”
We leave bang on time and are shortly joined at the rear of the train by Amtrak conductor Mary. On reaching 21st Street we back around on track B2 to BNSF Main 3, crossing over to Main 1, then up the St. Charles Airline to 16th Street Tower, where we join the Illinois Central tracks, now CN. Mary is a fundie when it comes to Chicago railroading, pointing out relics of B+O, CSX, Santa Fe, Grand Trunk and Rock Island as we head out of the city. Another landmark we pass is the old Pullman factory.
The Big Easy is 934 miles away so we change for dinner, smart casual, and try to get used to being waited on hand and foot. The relish tray features pickled watermelon rind, a southern speciality, in the first of four courses. I settle for gin and tonic, Chardonnay and Courvoisier to accompany the meal. No mint julep.
Day 2. Next morning I am up early enjoying the ride through the swamp into Memphis, Tennessee. Coffee about six o’clock is most welcome as I stretch my legs on the platform. We reach the state of Mississippi with its hardscrabble towns of shacks and shanties. At Jackson I photograph the Capitol building in the distance. Legend has it that the statue of Robert E. Lee atop the building was turned around on refurbishment, so that he now turns his back on the north. We roll into NOLA mid-afternoon, passing Lake Pontchartrain, and catch a cab to our hotel at the Country Inn and Suites on Magazine Street. Comfy and quiet in a rustic older building. We crash out.
Day 3. Next morning we set off to walk the two blocks to the French Quarter bright and early before the heat of the day takes hold. We read the papers at Community Coffee at St. Philip and Royal. We look round the French Market but to our chagrin there are no streetcars running on the Riverside section. We stop by the National Parks tourist information where they have interactive screens showing films about New Orleans music.
We lunch at Pierre Maspero’s, 440 Chartres Street. A greeter lady was handing out menus on the street but shrimp and grits were not on the menu. After some haggling we secured this superb creamy southern delicacy at $17 a plate. I said: “this should be your signature dish!” I sample the Abita Amber craft beer.
We ride the Canal Street streetcar to Cemeteries, where the above ground graveyards are to be found. Day pass $3. After time out we ride the St. Charles streetcar in the rush hour which then short turns. Back at the hotel they are making a movie outside which involves mardi gras scenes. We scoop up the necklaces thrown by the actors from their faux floats. We have a sandwich supper from CVS.
Day 4. We take the Riverside walk, past Harrah’s Casino, to the Hilton Hotel to get some cash. I score a free newspaper. Back on the streetcar (Red then Green) we short turn once more on St Charles due to construction. We backtrack to Rite Aid, where Goldenberg’s peanut chews from Philadelphia are on sale at $1 a throw, water 50 cents. Our Rite-Aid discount card is earning its keep. We cross the street to Fresh Market, a supermarket in an old mansion and former funeral home, $5.25 for two coffees plus two delicious pastries sitting on the verandah. Deal!
We leave the streetcar at Lee Circle and walk to the Civil War Museum, $8 per person, recommended. We then walk back to the hotel where they directed us to Mother’s for lunch. This is a popular spot with down home cooking that involves queuing in the hot sun. We sample Seafood Gumbo and Red Beans and Rice. In the evening we walk to Mulate’s, for Cajun food and music, $65.22 plus tip. (Both these are tourist eateries outside the French Quarter.) We share crabmeat stuffed with mushrooms followed by blackened catfish. I sample the Pontchartrain Pilsner, $4.99 a bottle. The Cajun band Le Touché are performing and folk of all ages get up and dance. Good service.
Day 5. A rare occurrence for us, we take an organized bus tour to the sugar plantations of Oak Alley and Laura’s, situated on the Mississippi river in the direction of Baton Rouge. As the bus pulls into Oak Alley I spot a hummingbird feeding on a bush. I later spot some more. To my surprise not even the resident tour guide has seen them.
At Laura’s the Creole tour guide laments the influence of the Anglo-southerners – the abolition of the Code Noir before the Civil War (which allegedly provided a route out of slavery for those that desired it most, and is ignored in the history books) and official hostility to the French language in modern times. He stated that the original meaning of Creole was that you were born in Louisiana, spoke French, and were Roman Catholic. It had no racial connotation. He also criticized the abolition of slavery by the Yankees, which provided little or no relief for the slaves on the plantations. Things are never quite the way they seem.
We took a walk down Bourbon Street on Saturday night, (also Bastille Day week-end) at six o’clock. It is bedlam! There are too many guys in bras and mostly second rate rock music. What will it be like by midnight after too many hand-grenade cocktails? We retreated to the hotel and consoled ourselves with Abita beer and pizza at the bar. Earlier we were listening to WWOZ (dubya-dubya-oh-zee) in the Ten-Cent-Store.
Day 6. We hike a couple of blocks with our luggage to Canal Street. We take the recently opened UPT/Loyola streetcar to Union Passenger Terminal, which doubles as the Greyhound bus stop. The 1954-built concourse is splendid with a large pillarless area. Could this be one of the last passenger stations from the golden era to be built in the United States? A lady passenger, headed for the west coast via Chicago, is lamenting the loss of service on Jacksonville-Tallahassee-New Orleans, formerly part of the Sunset Limited route. We lodge our luggage with Amtrak and walk to St. Charles for coffee. We note the old streetcar tracks on Howard which, but for a short gap, connect Lee Circle to the train station. There are proposals to reinstate this section.
Joining the train at UPT we are held up by a snafu by the Amtrak crew whereby they passed a red signal in the yard and have to be stood down (in the UK known as a SPAD - signal passed at danger). I drink some Pinot Grigio in the Club Car to compensate, while we wait for another crew. We are joined in our two-car consist (Chebanse sleeping car, Adirondack Club car) by two couples, one from Illinois, one from Detroit. Champagne is flowing for an anniversary at dinner in the diner.
Day 7. We roll onto Chicago, after making a stop at Kankakee, arriving about 90 minutes late. We never did catch back the time lost at the start despite rolling at eighty plus m.p.h. on some sections. We hike across the Chicago River and find a taxi that is pointing in our direction, thereby avoiding a detour. We check in early at the Silversmith Hotel, at Wabash/Madison stop on the Loop, (our second choice as the Palmer House was fully booked). We head for the architecture boat tour on foot. Despite my dislike of tour boats this is a splendid trip. Annette buys me a beer to calm me down. The man at the microphone was both lighthearted and informative, the facts coming thick and fast, while not talking down to the audience. Outstanding. Late lunch at Corner Bakery Café, 360 North Michigan Ave. Free lemonade with coupons handed out on street. Then late supper al fresco on a warm night at Pizano’s Pizza and Pasta, round the corner from our hotel on Madison. Giant portions of pasta - Pasta Primavera: $14.95; Pasta A “La” Dino: $16.95.
Day 8. Up early for 07:00 breakfast at the Silversmith. Room charge $249, comfy but a bit spendy plus $40.84 room tax, ouch. Disappointing Continental breakfast in nice surroundings, free newspapers. I was trying hard not to end on a bum note! The Orange Line is right outside and we reach Midway airport in short order (unlikely that a taxi would be any quicker). The little Porter plane takes us home.
Would I go back to New Orleans? You betcha!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Road to Rouen

Small Wheels bicycle tour, June 2013
When touring on a Brompton the same incidents from previous years seem to happen all over again. First of all something drops off Richard's bike early on - this year it was a toe clip. Despite careful route planning we always seem to go off piste. We lack the foresight to carry basic supplies at all times and end up nearly "hitting the wall." We also worry too much about the weather. Dire forecasts of broiling sunshine and thunderstorms failed to materialise at crucial points. Overall it was a blast with only limited mechanical difficulties as we worked our way across the beautiful Normandy countryside to the Sarthe.
I am riding an orange long-wheelbase 'H' model Brompton, with custom handlebars and 6-speed Sturmey Archer gears, entered by Jack Kellett. Sadly Jack has to give this trip a miss so my partner in crime is Richard Banks aboard the familiar black 'P' model Brompton with butterfly handlebars and SRAM six-speed gears.
We set off from Lewes on the Sunday night by train reaching the port of Newhaven in plenty of time to catch the 23:00 ferry for Dieppe. We meet an assortment of other cyclists headed for unlikely adventures in la France Profonde. A lady of about seventy is riding to Versailles on a yellow Brompton 3-speed for charity. A younger couple are heading for Paris via the Voie Verte, having already completed the London-Brighton event. Bikes are banned on trains for the day of this ride, folders excepted, so they joke it will be easier to get back to London via Paris. An elderly gentleman is riding from Derbyshire to Avignon on a old road-racer - "I must get there as my wife is arriving." The camaraderie of cycling is infectious.
Stage 1
After some shots of Calvados in the bar we retire to our cabin for about three hours sleep. All too soon a man is making an unholy noise in the corridor urging us to rise from our slumbers. We are up and ready to rock, taking a quick coffee, then down the gangplank through customs and traversing Dieppe in the dark, on the ‘Road to Rouen’. We reach the D154 which gives us a relatively flat route south. The lack of traffic early morning makes for a relatively safe ride but of course no bars are open to take a drink or provide a croissant. We press on and after a couple of hours and sixteen miles I collapse into a chair outdoors at a café in the square at Auffay, being plied with Perrier and coffee, and after a change of shirt somewhat revived. We take trailfood en route and a pot of tea indoors in the rain at St. Victor, enjoying the Valley of the Scie and following the "iron compass," the railway built by the British in the pioneering days, on the D3 to Clères. There is an unexpected down hill section after the long climb from Torcy to Longueville, during which Richard stayed aboard. He has vowed not to get off on any hills and sticks to this. Chapeau.
We take the D155 to Montville and Malaunay, reaching the suburbs of Rouen, encountering the dreaded bendy-buses, then descend to the Seine, struggling to find our hotel on the west bank. A bus is honking at us as we enter an underpass in order to cross the river. Richard gives the driver an old-fashioned gesture. We are indoors at midday, our precious bikes safely folded in the hotel room at St-Sever. We take a rest and then struggle to find any restaurants serving food mid-afternoon. A veggie-burger and chips is scant reward for all our efforts. We tighten up the nut on the seatpost on the orange Brompton to counter a sagging saddle. Distance covered: 46 miles.
Rest day
Next day is a free day for sightseeing, starting at the archives for a quick bit of genealogical research. We take coffee at the fashionably-named Bar des Abattoirs, 33 rue Henri II de Plantagenêt. Richard acquires a new tour habit, adding a Calvados chaser at breakfast time. We walk into town across the river, seeing the Cathedral, Le Gros Horloge and the Printemps department store, and finding Rouen to be well worth a visit. Some small beers are followed by a trip to the Eglise Sainte Jeanne d'Arc and lunch al fresco at an excellent Italian restaurant, 40 Euros for two courses and a bottle of wine, including generous tip. We ride the tram back to our hotel, sampling some beers outdoors in the evening without venturing far. We dine at our hotel without breaking the bank: Hotel Rouen St-Sever, 20 Place de L'Eglise St-Sever, Rouen, 76100; Phone: +33235628182.
Stage 2
Next morning stage two takes us in the direction of Elbeuf, following the tram lines some of the way and avoiding the main roads. After another pot of tea in exurbia [Oissel] we divert on to a cycle path which rapidly runs out, another snafu at the chateau. We reach the Route des Roches guided by the Seine upstream in a towering limestone gorge. A right/left for Thuit Anger is the easiest route out of the Seine Valley that we can find, but still involves a long climb. We are making good time across the plateau among the wheat fields, via Iville, before desecending for pasta lunch at Le Neubourg, with its busy market, featuring many racks of clothes that have never been in fashion. Some irritating British old buffer tries to make fun of the Brompton bicycles, boasting about how he does nothing with his time in retirement. He doesn't know what he is missing. We wrong slot exiting Le Neubourg condemning ourselves to a windy ride across the prairie via Combon and Bray. We descend to Serquigny taking double-Orangina at a cafe where the patron produces two sugar crepes on the house. It is just amazing how fair people can be. We reach Bernay in good order riding across the cobbles, but there is a sting in the tail as we both climb out of town to the Hotel Acropole, 10 Rue Grande Malouve, Bernay, 27300; Phone: +33232460606. The adjacent restaurant provides beers on the terrace and we tuck in indoors while a thunderstorm erupts around us. Distance covered: 54 miles
Stage 3
Leaving Bernay, we choose the Voie Verte on an old railway line to Broglie. These bike routes are a mixed blessing, often among the trees with little to look at and cold first thing in the morning. This is cycling for softies, on routes, as in this case, which only go a short distance and are not worth a diversion. We acquire two bottles of Badoit at Broglie, needing the minerals in the water. An infusion at a café at Montreuil l’Argillé is most acceptable. We continue to Verneusses, then D232 to Huegon and Cisai-St-Aubin. A lady on the road stops me as she is anxiously looking for a lost dog. We take to the D338 south of Brionne where we quickly tire of the trucks on the main road, diverting to Le Merlerault for quiche and strawberry custard tart for lunch from a patisserie. A fountain in the village provides a welcome spray and wash. After Orangina at Sées, we take the quieter way, [D42, D309] via Bursard, arriving at Alençon running on empty late afternoon. Le Mans counterparts Dave Roadway, Martin Woodward and Stuart Batchelor join us for drinks at the bar. Hôtel Ibis Alençon, 13 place Poulet Malassis, Alençon, 61000; Phone: +33233806767. Recommended. Distance covered: 61 miles
Stage 4
We slip out of Alençon early via the historic centre, taking the D55 to Champfleur. There is a dilemna on this tour. Do you go bushwhacking and ride the quieter, more hilly roads with poorer surfaces or blast down the shorter main roads with the heavier traffic and their own long ascents? In reality you do a mixture of both depending on the mood. We reach Beaumont-sur-Sarthe on the main road heading for Montbizot. We choose to skirt Le Mans to the west, via La Bazoge and Allonnes. We meet Laurent Brochard, [1997 world road racing] cycling champion, and stop to chat. He is not riding a bicycle but a strange contraption with two paddles on which to stand. He quickly disappears up a hill. A pitstop for Orangina at a café and the patron insists on photographing the bikes and riders. We arrive at the Café de la Gare in Spay at 14:05. The boss, a veteran of Paris-Brest, fits us in for a late omelet lunch followed by tarte aux pommes. Distance covered: 48 miles. Total distance: 209 miles.
Postscript
On the Monday after Le Mans at Little Common when unloading the orange bike I notice it had sustained a puncture, subsequently found to be a nail through the tire. This happened right at the end of the tour, a relatively fortunate occurrence. At some point in France we fell to wondering why the orange bike did not coast as well as the black one. Back in Sussex I discuss the possibility of a dragging brake. Adjustments to the front brake by Jack produce a dramatic improvement in performance on a twenty mile test ride to Ripe, after the puncture was fixed. By the way Audi won the 24-Hours of Le Mans once again.

Plus Points: Collaborative long distance cycling, suitable distances, good-value hotels en route, reliable Brompton bikes, disposable clothing.
Downsides: Lack of sleep on the ferry, leaving Dieppe without drinks early morning.
Learning points: Feed before problems (again), stick with Badoit, more-suitable clothing, bike tune-up.
Overall: Well organised (many thanks for logistical support), good company, health benefits, roll on 2014.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mucke to the fore in fourth hour

The #007 Aston Martin driven by Stefan Mucke is in the lead here at Nurburgring as we countdown to four hours complete, followed by the Audi #4 (Ammermuller, Stippler, Stuck, Stuck). Third is the Manthey Racing #50 Porsche (Holzer, Tandy, Bergmeister, Lietz). Fourth the other Manthey Racing #18 Porsche (Lieb, Dumas, Luhr, Bernhard).

Aston takes the fight to Audi

Two hours gone in Ring 24: #4 is in the lead (Ammermuller, Stippler, Stuck, Stuck) followed by the #007 Aston Martin (Turner, Mucke, Simonsen, Lamy). #1 Audi #3rd (Rockenfeller, Fassler, Stippler, Winkelhock). Manthey Racing have climbed the leader board with the #50 Porsche (Holzer, Tandy, Bergmeister, Lietz). The #22 Mercedes (Graf, Jager, Seyffarth, Bastian is 4th. Update: Aston Martin takes the lead at 14 laps. Fierce battle between Aston and Audi.

Aston in the mix


After an hour and a half the #007 Vantage is in fourth place overall at Ring 24 (Turner, Mucke, Simonsen, Lamy). Pic by RLT.

The lull before the storm


Matthew Marsh, centre left, confers with Aston Martin team-mates prior to the start of the Nurburgring 24 Hours. The cars are currently on the installation lap. Pic by Colin Marsh.