A Man Needs A Shed May 3, 2012Posted by markswill in About me, Cars and Bikes, Politics, Schmolitics.
As per my last outing, this scrawl owes much to other, more original authors in other, more original media. Much, but not everything, so let’s get the trite and personal out of the way first, and what could be more apt in both regards than a man and his hobbies?
I, for example, spend far too much money and time than is sensible for a man of my means futzing around with old cars and, periodically, old motorcycles. And in anticipation of a balmy summer and, more pragmatically, to cling onto the column I’ve scribbled these past couple of years for a classic bike mag whilst not actually owning a classic bike, now is one of those periods. And of course as I rode this 27 year-old, yet scarily fast Honda back from the very nice man in Evesham who’s hobby it had long been, it started raining. As it has done virtually ever since: so much for summer larks on two wheels.
But as is the way with such pastimes, inability to use the bugger in the manner intended – or more disparagingly, being a fair-weather biker – hasn’t prevented me from making plans to upgrade the suspension, re-jet the carburetors and maybe buy some panniers so I can pop over to Southern France and visit my biker pal David as I’ve been threatening to do for years now. Same goes for my aged Lancia and Citroen, although the latter is less of a hobby and more of a ‘daily driver’ (pause for hoots of laughter in North London), but all of them are to varying extents, strictly an indulgence.
This was brought home to me once again when I came to tax the Lancia this week – I only use it during the Summer which as mentioned, we still live in hope of – and figure out whether I can trust my patchy mechanical ability (and patchier patience) to adjust the valve clearances, replace the brake pads and torque-down the cylinder heads or pay for someone who knows what they’re doing to, well, do it. Or should I forgot all this expensive mechanical nonsense and concentrate instead on more cerebral pursuits like the R. Crumb and Degas exhibitions that are tempting me to Paris this month, or maybe go and visit a couple of seriously ailing friends in foreign climes whilst they’re still clinging on, or buy a few hundred quids-worth of all the hardback books I keep meaning to read before they become so much digital Kindling, or acquire all that unowned Frank Zappa and Bruce Springsteen vinyl whilst it’s still – just – affordable… you can perhaps see where this is going? (And BTW, Bruce’s new ‘Wrecking Ball’ album is a cracker).
Yes, I’m sure you know people with much more useful or more intellectually, spiritually, hey, even morally worthwhile ‘hobbies’. But when there’s so much crap going on around us, and even when, as I’m sure most of us are, we’re having trouble maintaining certain standards of creature comfort, physical health or moral self-respect, should an oil-pressure warning switch for a long obsolete Italian car or a first edition of Thomas McGuane’s ‘Panama’ take precedence over keeping the radiators on an extra hour or two of a sodden, chilly May evening? In other words, are ‘hobbies’ a useless waste of time?
SHREDDING THE COMPETITION Beats me, and the same might be said of John Naughton’s piece in last Sunday’s Observer which refreshingly (for him) asked “Has the internet run out of ideas…?” Naughton, one of those infuriatingly uncritical middle-aged champions of virtually everything electronic and new, argued that like other “gloriously creative, anarchic technologies” before it, e.g. telephony, t.v., film, the interweb is now governed by a few massive corporations whose initial geeky enthusiasms and certainly ideals have been subverted by the dubious codes of “shareholder value”.
“But perhaps,” he argues, “the biggest curb on innovation is that the technologies that might serve as the springboards for next-generation surprises are increasingly closed and controlled.” He cites Facebook – the Wal-Mart of the interweb – “busily creating a walled garden in which the only innovations that can arise from it are ones allowed by (its) proprietors. The same applies to the tethered devices we know as smartphones and tablets.”
Naughton is right, and as I occasionally delve into divisive, self-serving ‘conversations’ about the future of print vs. digital publishing on the arguably pointless business forum that is Linked-In, it’s clear that whilst the former may be dying out fast, the latter is disappearing up its own fragmenting commercial rectum because FarceBerk, Google, Apple (yes, Apple) and the rest damn well aren’t going to let anyone else into their playground.
The other likely eventuality, which admittedly Naughton also mentioned, was darkly posited by Andreas Whittam-Smith in a piece I clipped from The Independent back in February 2011. Hurling the much-lauded baton of ‘digital democracy’ then being heralded as empowering the so-called (and with hindsight, rather hollow) ‘Arab spring’ back into the black hole where it had long resided, Whittam-Smith noted the formation of Iran’s cyber-police and China’s hundreds of thousands of cyber-snitchers (the latter of course with Google’s acquiescence). Surveillance of websites and increasingly, mobile phone and tablet traffic is relatively easily mounted and, as he notes, “In Saudi Arabia, citizens are encouraged to report ‘immoral’ sites for blocking. The beauty of this approach for repressive regimes is that they can claim they are merely responding to public opinion.”
Well of course we Brits don’t inhabit such a regime, at least not unless the civic glue that binds us is washed away by the economic strictures of the posh boys and their banker pals who currently rule us, but I think I’ll slope off to my metaphoric shed, stick my head in a metaphoric bucket of sand, and see if I can get a few more horsepower out of the Honda.
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