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A Man Needs A Shed May 3, 2012

Posted 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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1. xmoron - May 3, 2012

Il faut cultiver ton jardin … or ton auto. Most social networking activity involves worrying about whether or not you have kept up with your social networking duties – in other words the very opposite of liberation. But to cheer you up I have a copy of Bongo Fury for you and a second hand Klute dvd for when you are next in London.

2. markswill - May 3, 2012

Bongo Fury? Be still my racing heart. And I thoroughly agree with your take on the tyranny of social networking, Jan.

3. Tom Stewart - May 3, 2012

So Mark, you’ve bought a 1985 Honda. Which model?

markswill - May 3, 2012

Yes Tom, I’m afraid I have… a black CBX750F, 21k miles and near immaculate. Oh the shame of it.

Tom Stewart - May 3, 2012

No shame in that, Mark. Actually, I’d guessed it would either be a VF or CBX 750, but thought you might avoid the added complexity of the V4. Nice one.

Gus - May 5, 2012

A certain Real Classic motorcycle magazine editor told me you’d bought a CBX750 (You cropped up in conversation at Stafford).
Congratulations on picking up a great, but under-rated motorcycle.
I really enjoyed mine until some lowlife nicked it.

markswill - May 6, 2012

Yes Gus and Tom, a CBX750F it is. Black, of course.

4. paulblez - May 3, 2012

@Xmoron. Were you listening to Lord Barg & Co. discussing Voltaire’s Candide this morning on R4 too, or was it sublime coincidence that you used the memorable final phrase from his 1759 oeuvre as your opening comment ce matin? Moving on to books vs vehicles, Mark, my view is that it’s far more important to read the words, in any form, than to have an original signed hardback edition or whatever, especially if you never get around to reading it. Similarly, far more important to enjoy riding or driving one’s vehicle than to spend too much time making it look nice. But as any ex despatch rider will tell you, quality beats quantity every time, when it comes to driving, especially on motorbicycles in our unpredictable climate and congested SE England roads. So I would be far more bothered about having decent rubber on that old Honda CBX 750 than whether you can squeeze another 3bhp out of it. Personally, I need a real-life rather than a metaphorical shed ASAP and am determined to get one dans mon jardin this summer! Finally, I must take this opportunity, if you’ll indulge me, to plug the latest, May ish of the digital-only http://www.theridersdigest.co.uk !

5. markswill - May 3, 2012

Already viewed the Riders Digest Blez, courtesy of Mr Gurman. You’re right about the rubber though, I’m gonna need a new front boot pretty soon, but of course will opt for the cheapest possible option short of a part-worn example of some poor wheelchair-bound bleeder’s wrecked Ducati.
And I was too busy painting my nails to listen to Lord Barg this a.m., but will check it out on iPlayer to enjoy the spooky coincidence concerning Jan’s typically pithy comment.

xmoron - May 3, 2012

I must confess I had been listening to Lord Barg so the idea had planted. Just goes to show it must the best of all possible worlds…

6. John Manning - May 3, 2012

The ownership of a shed gives one the personal space, collected crap permitting, to be omnipotent in a small empire. Only a matter of scale different really than the aspirations of the regimes you question. Your heating cost problems will be solve when you weld the oil sodden rusty cills of your Citroen. A days free heating while it burns. Definitely a shed job rather than a living room one.

markswill - May 3, 2012

Highly amusing John… although the reference to the Citruin’s knackered cills will perplex those who don’t spend their precious time trawling the XM owners web forum like you and I. Fortunately the fire station’s literally 100 yards from me!

7. Ginny - May 3, 2012

What I enjoyed was the bike! I’m 60, that photo of me is maybe a year old. For the first time in my life, last summer I rode on the back of a Harley!

markswill - May 3, 2012

You’re a brave and clearly shameless woman Ginny: I’ve never ridden on the back of a Harley, and only on the front of one when I’ve been paid to do so (I used edit several bike mags… printed one, naturally).

8. rik - May 3, 2012

I’ve got three sheds, a summer house and a canary yellow 1966 Volvo Amazon and, of course, no money, but the hobbies are the things that actually make life bearable. Spending your precious resources on having the radiator on for an extra hour while you watch Britains Got Talent or TOWIE is like throwing the towel in. Technology can be great too; I just bought a keyboard from the great Satan Apple for around £60 which allows me to follow my other hobby of poncing around writing songs and scraps of music, using my Mac to create any kind of instrument any kind of sound. I’m kind of glad I can do that.

markswill - May 3, 2012

And I thought you were a captain of (digital) industry, Rik: shame on you for pleasing yourself. But THREE sheds? Come ON ?!

Neil Murray - May 3, 2012

As one who regularly buys old snotters, I mean desirable classics, to play with during the summer, and who last year completely ran out of space for them, this struck a chord. I mean, I had five bikes in the garage, three more down the side of the house, and another one out the front. So I bought a lock-up. Problem solved. Only that’s starting to fill up as well. Still, all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds (that’s just for you, Blez).

I always liked the CBX750F – the same engine lived on in the CB750 aka the Nighthawk, albeit detuned. The original CBX ws good for 130. And you’ve got at least 30,000 miles before the alternator drive chain wears out, which necessitates a full engine strip to replace….

Old books Kindles are for simply reading. Pukka books are for enjoying. I recently picked up immaculate first editions of two gems – The Modern Racing Car, 1950s edition, co-written by Sirling Moss and ‘Pom’ Pomeroy (one of the greatest motorcing journalists ever) and Phil Irving’s (he of Vincent fame) autobiography. Bliss is unconfined.

markswill - May 3, 2012

Good to hear from you Neil, but as a committed anorak, I’d question the ‘de-tuned’ aspect of your CBX commentary: ‘my’ bike is quoted at 93bhp, the CB700SC Nighthawk at a ‘mere’ 80bhp… although it was of course of a slightly lower capacity. In fact it’s also the model I REALLY wanted – they look so cool – but as a virtually U.S-only model, are like hen’s teeth here. Thought the alternator was gear-driven, too: the cams are certainly Hy-Vo driven jobs which is a better set-up than most as long as they’re kept well-lubed.

9. noel - May 3, 2012

John Peel ( we miss you John ) once said –

“men under 40 mostly think about women under 40, men over 40 mostly think about sheds”

declaration – I am over 40 (-:

My view is that its not possible to have too many toys and clearly that thinking extends to the size of the toy cupboard.

10. Russell - May 3, 2012

Mmmmm, women in sheds . . . . .cars in sheds . . . .maybe bikes in sheds? . . . you’re right, it’s all about the sheds.

markswill - May 3, 2012

Women in sheds? I think your darker fantasies have got the better of you, Russ.

11. Old Hack - May 3, 2012

It has never ceased to amaze me how sheds always end up (well, mine do anyway) in record time, jammed to the doorway from floor to ceiling with totally useless stuff while the expensive items sit outside in the weather.
I even acquired a second shed which ended the same way virtually overnight.
My gently rusting Suzuki Super Six lurks at the back of my 12 x 6 behind a solid wall of total junk while my 1200 Bandit lives mainly outdoors…
One day, when I’ve nothing else to do, the Six will be brought back to life – which I’ve been saying for over 20 years…

markswill - May 3, 2012

Hmmmmn, can’t say I’m surprised, John. But to be brutally frank, I don’t actually HAVE a shed! Just a rented garage/workshop and a council lock-up, the former I am shortly losing, the latter which leaks badly and the council cannot apparently waterproof… so you think YOU’VE got troubles?!

12. John Rushworth - May 3, 2012

“Hold the Frills, Enjoy the Thrills”……”…..as an old hand at buying less-than-popular motorcycles…. “. Quoting Mark of bygone year – brings me to the point, that regardless of the fact I’ve been running out of road and reading Mark’s meanderings for nigh on 40 years – you my digital friends it seems have sheds, bikes, cars and possibly real friends. I have but a cash bleeding boat (the Suzuki DRZ sold to fund), a Kindle, a tablet, a smart phone and I’m still not happy! But lordy what consumers of gluttony inhabit this thread. If you deserve one treat Mark – ditch the technology, do not skimp on tyres and go for a deserved ride. Thanks.

13. David Cobbold - May 4, 2012

Well Mark, congratulations (on this piece and the Honda acquisition). As some have mentioned above, getting on the road is the main thing, with or without a shed. Hope you make it over. Be in touch if you think it might happen. I may have a travel-loaded summer with work projects stateside (to be confirmed). About to flog the Ducrapi Multistrada, totally fed up with its unreliability. Going to buy the new KTM 690, which is fun to ride. Norton still there and a Husky WR250 for the field work. I can only concurr with you about Fesse de Bouc et al as we call it on the south side of the channel.

markswill - May 4, 2012

Not sure about the KTM David: fun to ride I’m sure, but maintenance hungry… and only one cylinder! BTW, I have been emailing you this week about a French trip, but no reply. Won’t broadcast it here, but wonder if your address has changed?

14. julesbollocks - May 4, 2012

I thought of the next thing, now all I need is a small fortune [to make a bigger fortune] to get the whole deal on the internet highway, it’s called ME, basically its a virtual smartphone that allows you to manage all your accounts-mail/fb/twitter/blog in one place. Eventually I want to develop the mobile version which ironically would be a virtual smart phone/tablet that you could access on the move.

markswill - May 4, 2012

Hasn’t this already been invented Jules? Isn’t it called the iPhone?

15. Hed Maginnis - May 6, 2012

Filofax no electricity required.

markswill - May 6, 2012

No electricity Hed, but a big pocket and you’ve got to buy new software every 12 months.

Hed Maginnis - May 6, 2012

Wuss. That’s why God made Schotts and Barbours. But can you believe that Belstaffs are now three figures and hip?

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