26 Apr 2011

The Great Escape

John Sturges's film The Great Escape was shown on French TV yesterday. Watching it (mainly to see Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn again, and of course for the motorcycle scenes that McQueen stunted himself, together with his mate Budd Ekins), I was often reminded of this brilliant sketch by the British comic pair Armstrong and Miller on the same theme. If you don't already know of this series, you can find it on Youtube. The juxtaposition formed by the scenes, costumes and accents from these RAF types during WWII with contemporary suburban slang talk is a brilliant idea.

24 Apr 2011

Husqvarna 250 WR from 1979

We are getting a bit confused with the numbers here, and I forgot to take my camera with me the other day when I went to collect my latest find (or folly, of you prefer). She is Swedish, and will become motorbike number 14 in purely chronological terms. I shall try to explain...

We will maybe straighten out the numbers a bit first, not that they matter in the slightest. All will become clear when I have actually got my hands on the modified Norton Commando that I told you about in the last article of this series. I said that this Norton was going to be bike number 14. In fact it will be number 15 since I recently found a 1979 Husqvarna WR 250 (the enduro version of the motocross bike) at a reasonable price given its apparent condition. Since I bought it and am now running the thing, it logically becomes bike number 14, and the revamped Commando, due to appear again late May or early June, will take 15th place. Ok, so what? What about this bike then?

The photo above is not even of my bike, altjhough it is the same model. Maybe I will get around to taking some pics sometime and show you. For the moment I am going to take it out to the country and hit the dirt to see how it works. In fact by the time you read this I will be there!

I have always liked Huskies and yet this is the first time I have owned one. I would probably have most liked to have a four-stroke version, but the prices are a bit out of my reach, and the simplicity of this one is very attractive. Here is another picture, this time of a 1981 model but there were ony detail changes betwwen the two versions I think, so you get the general idea. It is light and basic, robust, with a two-stroke motor, and you can virtually place the front end where you need to. About what is needed for an enduro machine, and probably good enough for me.

It now remains to be seen how an Italian, a Brit and a Swede will get on together in my garage. I'll keep you posted on this European menage-à-trois.

22 Apr 2011

Inspired by the uncertainty principle

In case there be any misunderstanding here, I should state at the outset that I have close to no scientific background or culture, but that, although I usually find scientific discoveries and theories hard to grasp on a scale that runs from 0 to maybe 3, full grasp being rated at 20, they often fascinate me by their apparent implications in other fields. This may cause me to over-construe or misinterprate these implications, but so what?  

I read in a book the other day an explanation of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics that got me thinking about possible implications in other fields.

Maybe we should start with the definition of this theory that I found in Wikipedia (where else?)

In quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle states by precise inequalities that certain pairs of physical properties, such as position and momentum, cannot be simultaneously known to arbitrarily high precision. That is, the more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely the other can be measured.

Published by Werner Heisenberg in 1927, the principle implies that it is impossible to determine simultaneously both the position and the momentum of an electron or any other particle with any great degree of accuracy or certainty. This is not a statement about researchers' ability to measure the quantities. Rather, it is a statement about the system itself. That is, a system cannot be defined to have simultaneously singular values of these pairs of quantities. The principle states that a minimum exists for the product of the uncertainties in these properties that is equal to or greater than one half of ħ the reduced Planck constant (ħ = h/2π).

Werner Heisenberg

If one applies this principle to other fields than quantum mechanics, the implications are huge. In the section of my profession devoted to tasting and rating wines, for instance, it validates my instinctive feeling (albeit based on years of experience) that any attempt to make the tasting procedure appear to be fully objective is a total illusion. The very fact of observing a smell or a flavour alters that smell or flavour. Added to which, each individual being a separate system, there is no chance that the observations made by two individuals can correspond exactly one with another.

The same would obviously apply to other aesthetic experiences. Take the case of painting for example. When one looks at a painting, one can feel one's own perception changing in time. One can also alter one's impressions of a work by shifting, even slightly, from side to side or by looking at it from closer or further away. This, to me, is something akin to the Uncertainty Principle. And putting two observers in front of the same painting results in two very different systems of observation being created, as each person brings to their system not only their particuler and individual physical and intellectual capacities, but also their separate past experiences and present moods, all of which will influence their way of looking and interpreting what they see. Hence the object observed is NOT quantifiable, and is ever changing.

Does this mean that we should not try to exchange our points of view on aesthetic experiences, since the chances of these being understood or felt by another person are quite slim? I think not, as we need to create common ground to live together, and part of that common ground is built through our exchanging points of view on what we observe in the world around us.


20 Apr 2011

What to read in the Financial Times

I read various newspapers, in an irregular manner. By that I mean that, although I have my preferences, I hold no newspaper subscription (apart from bike magazines that is) and try to take a look at a wide range of papers from time to time. But I rarely buy a paper more than three times per week.

I see the Financial Times regularly when travelling, but I only buy a copy very occasionally. It is often on offer for free on planes or in hotels, and I usually take it. Although I skip all the financial stuff which does not interest me, I nearly always find plenty of very good articles to read. In fact it is a great newspaper, since it confides its columns to people who can write and who know their subjects well.

On the topics that regularly interest me, the Arts articles are usually excellent, as is the wine section in the Weekend issue, written (usually) by Jancis Robinson. Amongst the regular contributors who write about business issues in a general way that links them to what I consider to be the real world (ie human beings), I always read what Lucy Kellaway has to say, as she is a brilliant columnist. She is shown on the top left-hand corner of the image below, and her column is usually to be found on a page called Business Life, which is quite suitable as she indeed covers the link between the two words.

In a copy of the FT (dated Monday April 18th 2011) that I picked up recently on a trip to London, she wrote about the salaries and bonuses of top executives, and the difficulty of finding clear information and honest justification for these amidst the waffle that fills the pages of companies' annual reports. She nearly always manages to make her subjects both clear and funny, and this article is no exception. I cannot resist quoting a couple of passages from it.

"I have just spent the morning doing something that has left me feeling bored and grumpy. I have been reading annual reports and proxy statements, concentrating on the bit where companies try to justify why their top person got paid quite so much. What has annoyed me isn't just the fact that most chief executives earn more than they are worth: this has been the case for such a long time that outrage fatigue has set in. Instead, it is the increasing quantity of flannel and pseudo-scientific analysis in which the numbers are now wrapped."

She goes on to give three examples, from the annual reports of Barclays, Hewlett Packard and Kraft. About the latter, she says this: "my favourite statement this year is Kraft's, which seeks to explain why Irene Rosenfeld got a bonus of $2.1 million in return for missing her financial targets. Just in case anyone is simplistic enough to think that if you don't hit the target you don't get a bonus, the report pulls out of the hat a whole new set of reasons for why she deserved one. Some of these are pathetically mundane....but other are more puzzling. "Improved talent pipeline developed through retention of Cadbury leaders" it says. I think this horrible, tortuous phrase means that Rosenfeld has hung on to a few top people at the confectioner - which isn't the impression one gets from reading the newspapers."

Kellaway concludes her article thus: "It makes me wish for a return to the bad old days when companies simply named the sum paid to the top people. No explanantions or excuses were given. Shareholders didn't have the foggiest idea of how the figures were arrived at, but then, for all the pages that I've ground through this morning, I'm none the wiser either. The bland numbers, stripped of all excuses, would surely be easier to grasp - and harder to defend. And they could be made harder still by the addition of one further figure: the ratio of the pay of the person at the top to the person at the bottom."

That's the stuff Lucy!

Read on ....

17 Apr 2011

The wine of the week is a Beaujolais

I have recently spoken, and perhaps too often, about wines costing 20 euros a bottle or even more. I am about to amend my evil ways, at least for a while, although we all know that the fickle finger of fate may intervene at any time. This weeks's wine costs a mere 5 euros from the estate that produces it!

The wines of Beaujolais, just north of the city of Lyon, have been much maligned over recent years, most probably on account of too many bad wines coming from this beautiful region, usually under the appellation Beaujolais Nouveau, but not exclusively. I should say that there are good Beaujolais Nouveau as well. This wine is not "nouveau". It has in fact just been released from the 2010 vintage and it is one of the most delicious drinks of red wine that I have experienced for a while. To give you some idea of how much I like it, I bought a case of 6 bottles less than a week ago when visiting the producer and I only have 3 left! It is true that I have had a little help from my friends. But it is equally true that I always have a lot of different wines hanging around waiting to be tasted. So this means something.

Domaine Les Bruyères is a small wine estate whose main commercial activity (it is also a family home) is renting appartments on the estate (these are known as gîtes in France). You may have trouble finding it as the name is also used by many other estates, often in other wine areas, so here is the contact:

Anne-Dominique et Bernard VACHON, Les Bruyères, 573 Chemin St Jean, 69220 Pommiers (near Saint Lager) tel : 06 80 84 14 71

And here is a picture of the buildings, looking towards the wing that harbours the gîtes. It does not unfortunately show the surroundings, which are beautiful, but the vines in the foreground are the ones that produce the wine I am talking about here. To enquire about this form of rental, you should go to the web site of Gîtes de France, Beaujolais (section gîte rural). The reference numbers of the 2 charming appartments whose façades are to be seen in the photograph are 1525 and 1526.

I really like the label of this wine (see above), as it is simple and elegant, showing the name Beaujolais in a finely legible script, with the estate and the owners' names printed clearly but in smaller type below. The back label tells a story about the place it comes from, avoiding any bla-bla about the wine, which is allowed to speak for itself. And this wine speaks very well and clearly.

Its aromas remind us of ripe and fresh fruit, with just a whiff of woodland that adds a vision of the hills beyond the vines. On the palate, the texture is smooth and quite full, surrounding the crisp fruit flavours that are vivacious and finely tuned. The first glass makes you want another one, always a good sign for this type of wine whose light alcohol levels compared to so many modern wines are a real joy for the hedonistic drinker who hates getting drunk!

The same producer also makes a very good rosé, sold, at the same very reasonable price, under the name Gamay rosé (gamay is the red Beaujolais grape).

I think I am am going to buy a few more cases of the red Beaujolais, as it has to be the ideal summer red wine. And maybe a bit of rosé too...

16 Apr 2011

My 14th bike will be a modified Norton Commando 850

Yes, the attentive reader will probably have not only noticed the future tense, but may also realise quite soon that this bike has already featured on these pages. It is in fact my 11th bike, recently re-purchased, but with quite a few modifications that are currently being carried out by Frank Chatokhine in his workshop near Chartres.

I spoke about this project in my New Year's bike resolution article :

Now here is a visual reminder of what the bike looked like just before I took it to the good doctor Chatokhine. Not bad, I know, but one is never satisfied!

The basic model is a Mk11A roadster, which I first had rebuilt many years ago. At this time I had the large Interstate tank fitted (as seen in this photo above).

I have yet to see the finished machine, for the very good reason that it doesn't yet fully exist, except in my mind and on the specification sheet that I worked out with the help and advice of Frank. So this is really just a good excuse to do a little advance drooling before this project finally materializes. I should add that I fully expect there to be an ongoing element to this project, with other modifications to come as I ride this machine in its new form and see what works best and what does not.

Let's have a look at what it might look like. None of these pictures are exactly right, as they are all of other bikes, but each of them contains some of the parts and aspects that will be included in my project.

For a start the large tank on my existing bike will go, not because I dislike it, but because it needs to go in order to fit the nicely shaped and finished (and far more confortable than the original sack of sludge and pebbles that was the Norton standard seat) American seat made by Corbin. The new tank will be a metal (I dislike fibreglass, especially for fuel tanks) Roadster model, as indeed this bike orginally carried. This is proven by the triangular side panels, as the true Interstate model has larger side panels. This means a paint job on both the tank and the side panels (black with gold striping for both). The picture above shows the general idea quite well, although my bike has a grey-painted frame and black mudguards (mods that date from the previous rebuild and that I have decided to keep for now). The wheels will be rebuilt on alloy rims, again as for the bike in this photograph and fitted with modern Avon tyres. I am not a purist and the Dunlop K81's date a bit in terms of performance.

Here is another modified Commando with a Corbin seat and black mudguards, although the paint job on the tank is different (and quite successful too). Mine will also stick to the "pea-shooter" silencers (not that silent really!) as shown on the first two pictures, and primary case will not be black either. 

Braking is one of the main weak points on the Commando in its original form, so the front disc will be changed for something similar to the one above, together with a different master cylinder and pipes. The fork will be overhauled but basically remain unchanged although I may add a brace as there will just be a single disc at the front.

Although I love the cast aluminium alloy pieces of the original footrest supports, the pegs are set too far forward so I am having Norvil rearsets fitted like on this machine. I am not going for clip-ons or dropped bars however as I feel a flat handlebar is more confortable. I had one on my first Commando (the Fastback model) and liked it. We shall just see how the riding position turns out and adjust if needed.

There will be a few other minor mechanical and electrical modifications, to improve some practical details, such as electronic ignition, a dry battery, an anti-return valve on the oil tank, and so on. I do not like the big, boxy air filter much so two smaller individual filters will be fitted to the Amal carbs, a bit like on the bike below. This will entail some modification of the battery tray that lies behind the filter. And the equally boxy Norton rear light will be changed for a smaller, sleeker model from a US Triumph. My bike has no indicators fitted, so we will leave it that way too. The rear view mirror will be compact and folding, fitted to the end of the bar. The general philosophy is to keep things simple. Maybe a single carburettor in the future?

Hopefully I will be able to show you the real thing in a month or two.

Footnote (a bit more than a couple of months later)
And here are some images of the finished machine....

Ride well!

15 Apr 2011

What does luxury mean for you?

Given the blatant commercial abuse and overplay of the term "luxury" these days, with an incessant avalanche of increasingly vulgar advertising for so-called "luxury" goods and services of all kinds, I sometimes feel just a little sympathetic even with the Chinese authorities, who appear to want to ban the use of the "l" word altogether.

One evening this week, while passing through my local street market, I suddenly had a small flash of inspiration. I was not aiming to buy anything, but the desire for some kalamata olives (you know, those juicy purple ones that are quite big but not huge) suddenly came over me. Buying them was not that easy, and ended up costing me more than I anticipated. It was not that I got carried away in my purchase by taking on tons of the things, or that I veered off the straight and narrow of my inintial inspiration by trying all kinds of other goods. No, the stall-holder simply did not have any change for the 20 euro note that I handed him. So I offered to go and find some change and plunged rather shamedly into my local book shop which is conveniently situated just 20 yards from the changeless olive merchant. I say shamedly since I usually stride in there with a distinct purpose and a specific book or list thereof in mind. Not this time. I just wanted to find a book priced at 15 euros so that I could pay for my kalamata olives with the left-over from my 20 euros note. After a bit of wandering around the shelves, a sudden inspiration hit me. (Again, you say? That makes twice in one day. Take it easy or you will blow a fuse!). I read, some time ago, a short book by Julian Gracq and found his writing quite wonderful, and it had occurred to me within the last month that it was time that I explored his work further. So I found a small tome of his whose price fitted my initial aspiration towards purple olives and bought it. 15 euros for his first novel, called au Chateau d'Argol (182 pages which you have to separate with a knife or other blade-like object as in former times, from the publisher José Corti).

Back I went to the olive stall and happily collected my olives. I then proceeded to finger my way into the plastic bag that contained them and start eating them on my walk home, enjoying their softly textured saltiness and experiencing a ripple of happiness through, I assumed, having indulged myself in an absolute luxury: ie something that I didn't really need, that I hadn't at all planned, and which nevertheless gave me considerable pleasure.

Here are the olives that survived, back in my kitchen. Doubtless they will give me additional bursts of pleasure in the hours and days to come, forming a salty version of the proustien madeleine. 

So what is the point of all this? Well I suppose it is just to say that luxury in not necessarily big, or costly, or hard to get, or glitzy, or far away, or a piece of bagage with silly letters written all over it. Luxury is, for example, an unexpected moment, a crack in time, a turn of the head to find something or someone that makes you smile. And, in this case, I will look forward to reading Julian Gracq this weekend whilst eating olives. Double time!

14 Apr 2011

Sachin Tendulkar, a very great cricket player and an Indian hero

After the recent Indian victory in the one-day international Cricket World Cup tournament, which was recently held on the Indian sub-continent, it is time to pay tribute to one of the greatest batsmen to have ever graced the oval fields of cricket: one of the most complex and fascinating games the British have spread around some parts of the world.

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, who played a sometimes decisive role in the winning Indian team, is widely recongised as one of cricket's all-time greats.  To quote the Wikipedia entry under his name (one presumes it is accurate), Tendulkar "is the leading run-scorer and century maker in Test and one-day international cricket. In 2002, just 12 years into his career, Wisden ranked him the second greatest Test batsman of all time, behind Donald Bradman, and the second greatest one-day-international (ODI) batsman of all time, behind Viv Richards. In September 2007, the Australian leg spinner Shane Warne rated Tendulkar as the greatest player he has played with or against. Tendulkar was an integral part of the 2011 Cricket World Cup winning Indian team at the later part of his career, his first such win in six World Cup appearances with India. Tendulkar is the first and the only player in Test Cricket history to score fifty centuries, and the first to score fifty centuries in all international cricket combined; he now has 99 centuries in international cricket. On 17 October 2008, when he surpassed Brian Lara's (another gret player, from the West Indies) record for the most runs scored in Test cricket, he also became the first batsman to score 12,000, 13,000 and 14,000 runs in that form of the game, having also been the third batsman and first Indian to pass 11,000 runs in Test cricket. He was also the first player to score 10,000 runs in one-day internationals, and also the first player to cross every subsequent 1000-run mark that has been crossed in ODI cricket history and 200 runs in a one-day international match."

And so the list of his achievements continues, for at least another paragraph. The "greatest" this or that is a fairly meaningless concept to me, but suffice it to say that Tendulkar is a national hero in India, and has been for some time. The recent World Cup is just another jot to add to his already hugely successful career. What I enjoy most about his style of play with the bat is it's classic elegance. He is quite the contray of a slogger as a batsman. The beauty of his strokeplay and footwork make him a Bach amongst a bunch of (sometimes) Wagners.

I do not know the man but he looks very open and friendly. Hopefully he is modest too, although goodness knows he has achieved enough to warrant a little bit of self-satisfaction!

13 Apr 2011

Bordeaux the Magnificent 2

One of the most popular of all the posts that I have made on this blog in the 6 months for which it has now been going has been one that I made quite early on, called Bordeaux the Magnificent: http://morethanjustwine.blogspot.com/2010/12/bordeaux-magnificent.html

Bordeaux is indeed one of France's (and Europe's) finest cities. I recently returned there for a mixture of work and a short weekend spent wandering around the town. It never ceases to dazzle me with the scale and beauty of its architecture dating from, mainly, the 18th and 19th centuries, the care to be seen in all kinds of details at every level, and the recent opening up of the city to what has to be one of its greatest assets, the River Garonne, which curves through the edge of the city, giving it its historical purpose as a port, and now its new opportunity (the waterfront, that is) as a vast playground for all who live there or come to visit. 

Here is a short photographic essay, with suggested themes that could be developed in the future :

 River Bordeaux

Theatre Bordeaux

Smart Bordeaux
(what you see right opposite the previous picture)

Street Bordeaux

Door Bordeaux
(most old private houses have been divided into flats)

Gateway Bordeaux
(one of the few reminders that this was also a medieval city)

Pavement Bordeaux

Roman Bordeaux
(yes, they were here too)

Chinese Bordeaux (yes, they are here too)

Bollard Bordeaux
(Back to the river. Interestingly the French word for this is "bitte", which has a double meaning)

9 Apr 2011

Wine of the week

I have now lost count of the wines that I have named "wine of the week" in the 6 months since I started this blog. I know for sure that it has not been every week, but I have tried to keep this going as a fairly regular column, and I do taste a lot of wines, so there are many candidates!

Anyway, I will only make a post when I find a wine to be particularly good, and to merit its place at whatever price, but always linked to the quality it delivers for that price. Talking of which, this weeks wine is rather expensive for its appellation (Anjou), but it is very good, so one cannot really quibble at the price, since if one put it alongside other dry white wines (to which category it belongs) at similar price levels it should show up very well.

 Les Noëls de Montbenault, Chenin 2009, (vin de France / Anjou blanc, from the Loire)

There seems to be some confusion as to the appellation of this wine, meaning its administrative designation. I bought it in a shop in Paris that sells it under the simple designation "Vin de France",  which could indicate that it did not officially receive its appellation for some silly reason. Yet I have also seen it on sale under the "Anjou" designation, which is indeed the geographical region from which it comes. Who cares, except that this may make it a little more complicated to find in a shop or on a wine list.

Its label is banal and the name of the the cuvée is hard to remember and far too long. But the proof of the pudding is always in the eating!

The main thing it that the wine is very good. It is made entirely from the chenin blanc grape, and it comes from the left bank of the Loire region near Angers. The producer's name is Richard Leroy.

tasting notes
This is a fairly powerful but perfectly dry white wine whose keen acidity just underscores its ripe citrus and tropical fruit flavours. It thus manages to be both full of flavours and very refreshing. It is one of the best wines of its type that I have come across for some time, and it is well worth its price range (20/25 euros in France, according to the retailer).

Here are links to two retailers who may have the wine in stock:


8 Apr 2011

girls on motorcycles 4

Seen this week on the very chic French blog (which is in English) called Southsiders

I couldn't resist posting it almost immediately. Now I quite realise that this lady is not dressed correctly for any serious biking. I mean her helmet is not even fastened properly!

According to the Southsiders blog, her name is Kylie and she lives in Bali (not a great rhyme, but I guess we will have to take it as it comes). Ah, now I begin to see the bike conection more clearly. Look at the fuel tank. Can you see "Deus" written on there? 

Deux ex Machina is an Australian outfit that puts together some pretty amazing specials out of old bikes, updating them in a way whilst maintaining a rustic spirit that I like a lot, even if some of the bits can occasionally get a bit clumsy for my taste.  And Deus have opened up a subsidiary in Bali, building specials from the machines -mostly Japanese- that you see running around this beautiful island.

How about this beauty, apparently based on a Yamaha SRX 600? I think this one must be in Australia (definitely not Bali, is it) or are those the Bonneville salt flats? Really nice bike anyway.

Back to our initial topic, which, I think, was girls on motorcycles. Here is to goddess Kylie (the Balinese are mainly of the Hindu persuasion, in case you were wondering). Want a ride anyone?

7 Apr 2011

Down to the gym

I know, there is something more than faintly ridiculous about going to the gym, but I do it regularly and enjoy it a lot, so here goes with a short article, as these things are far better kept short: action, not words, is of the essence, naturally.

Winston Churchill, when asked how he came to live to 90 whilst drinking and smoking heavily for much of his life, famously answered "No sport!" Maybe this story is apocryphal, and maybe, as often, he somewhat re-arranged the truth to suit himself and the image he wanted to project of his behaviour. But since he, like myself, went to a British public school (not the same one and obviously not at the same time), I very much doubt whether the great man managed to escape from sport altogether throughout his lifetime. And he was for a some time an accomplished horseman, so maybe the proper response to his comment would be "horseshit!"

English private and public school education (the same system, but different ages of the children for those who wonder about this curious denomination for what is an almost totally private and elistist system) puts sports very much at stage centre. In fact at the schools that I attended, and at the time I was there, it was considerably better for image amongst one's peer group to be good at sports than to be good at studies! I know, the old saying "the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton" is a bit hoary, but maybe it had some truth in it. Then again, there was also Blücher and the Prussians, which certainly counted for much more!

Cricket, rugby, the "Field game" (a strange mixture between soccer and rugby), fives (the Basques will recognize this game, on the right above), rackets (this one too perhaps), squash, boxing and long-distance running were part of my regular menu when a schoolboy. I then quit most of that in order to have time to draw and paint, just going to the gym and boxing to keep fit. I later worked physically as a joiner-cabinet-maker and stone mason for quite a while, which I suppose helped to kept me in shape, and played a little amateur rugby. A long time later I realised that if I didn't want to let myself decay too fast, I had better take some regular exercise again, and started running a bit and going to the gym regularly.

So just what is it that makes one feel good after and taking some fairly strenuous physical exercise? Part of it is psychological, due to the feeling that you have manged to push yourself into making an effort that you were not that keen to make in the first place. Part of it is chemical, as the body secretes stuff during effort to reduce the pain, and this seems to have a conducive effect on body and mind, making you want more of this activity. Masochism in action maybe? And then there is the sheer physical and mental pleasure of actually feeling better, somehow more in balance and in harmony with the world, in your own small way. Mens san in corpore sano, I suppose, even if this quotation from Juvenal may be a little off its intended track.

Get down to the gym, or something

6 Apr 2011

Isle of Man TT circuit with Guy Martin anybody?

Guy Martin is currently one of the best specialists of this redoutable road circuit that has probably killed more riders than any other. He had a fearsome crash here in 2010 but is planning to ride it again in 2011, and I hope that he wins. A film on the TT (Tourist Trophy) and Guy Martin will be released shortly and I for one will run to see it.

This fireball below is the result of the crash that Guy survived. Not much left of the bike, which was doing around 150 mph when it occurred, but he let go of it quick enough and was wearing an air-bag suit. He spent quite a while in hospital with multiple injuries but was very lucky to survive.

Meantime here is a film of a run he did in 2007 on the Isle of Man TT circuit (sometimes called the Moutain circuit), commented by the man himself with plenty of tips on how to tackle the tricky bits. And when he says "clip the border", you would better believe him!

Another word of warning: when he says let the throttle go, he usually means, I think, turn it hard on. And for those who do not live in the UK, Guy has a pronouced northern accent and speaks very fast: he needs to speak damn fast in order to keep up with his riding speeds! And remember that in this film you are travelling at average speeds of around 130 mph (209 kph) on ordinary small roads, which makes for top speeds of over 200 mph.

And now there is also the film, Closer to the Edge, that has been made about the TT, starring all the usual suspects and especially Guy Martin. Here is the piece that I have written about it, but get the DVD on all accounts!

5 Apr 2011

Joe Lovano and Charlie Parker

Joe Lovano played for one evening in Paris recently, at the New Morning, and I went to hear him. I very much enjoy his latest album, entitled Bird Songs, about which Luc, who is a mainstay of the comments section of this blog, first informed me. This album was the basis for the two sets that Lovano played with his current quintet, unusually composed of 2 drummers (a Cuban and an American), a Bulgarian bass player and an American pianist.

It is never an easy exercise (or else so easy that people settle for pure facility) to revisit what have become standards, especially when these were created by one of the greatest that jazz has ever seen (I mean Charlie Parker). Lovano deals with the matter beautifully, never loosing his own style, sound and phrasing. This is perhaps helped by the fact that he plays mainly tenor, compared to Parker's alto. But his occasional use of the soprano sax or the flute are equally convincing.

On the night that I heard Lovano play, he appeared to have a new bass player, called Petar Slavov, who was beautifully musical, as indeed were the two drummers, Francisco Mela and Otis Brown. I admit to having had some apprehensions that two drummers would over-dominate the sound, but they are as discreet as they are complementary, and the combination works just fine.

I notice that Downbeat magazine, in its 58th annual referendum awards, has recently elected Lovano best tenor, best musician of the year, and his US Five as best group of the year. This sort of thing will not impress Luc, but I guess it means something. Anyway I really enjoyed the two sets. His sound is beautiful. 
(photo David Cobbold)

And now for your present. This record is great!

4 Apr 2011

2011 Cricket World Cup: a total victory for the Indian continent

I realise that the sport called cricket may be fairly unknown to many of my readers, but it is a great game which also happens to be the second most popular team sport in the world, after soccer (yes, 2 billion Indians make an impact, for a start!).

The 2011 edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup has just terminated, with 14 participants in the initial pool stages. Held this year between February 19th and April 2nd on the Indian sub-continent (with India, Sri-Lanka and Bangladesh as joint hosts, Pakistan having been removed as a possible host following the 2009 terrorist attack in Pakistan on the Sri-Lankan team). When this contest started about six weeks ago, I predicted India to be favourites, and was proved to be right, India having just defeating Sri-Lanka in the final by 6 wickets. This is the second time that India has won this contest, which is hosted in a different country each time.

In fact the whole contest was a pretty resounding victory for the Indian sub-continent, with Pakistan, India and Sri-Lanka all reaching the semi-finals, the odd-team-out being New Zealand. This constituted a considerable upset as many of the top teams were beaten in the quarter-finals: England, Australia, South Africa and West Indies. Even if it was predictable that India would at least make it to the final on their home ground, the fact that three teams from the continent were in the semi-finals is surely a surprise and a credit to the quality of cricket as it is played on the sub-continent. And the way that the Pakistan team gracefully accepted their narrow defeat by the Indians, their arch enemies, is perhaps a sign of hope that sport might, finally, do more than fan the flames of stupid hatred between nations. Let us hope so!

congratulations to the Indian team

Here are the results of the final stages of the tournament:

FINAL: Saturday, 2 April
India v Sri Lanka, played at Mumbai (India)

India won by six wickets

29 March

Sri Lanka v New Zealand, played at Colombo (Sri Lanka)
Sri Lanka won by five wickets

30 March
India v Pakistan, played at Mohali (Punjab, India) 

India won by 29 runs


March 23
Pakistan v West Indies, played at Mirpur (Bangladesh)
Pakistan won by 10 wickets

March 24
India v Australia, played at Ahmedabad (India)
India won by five wickets

March 25
South Africa v New Zealand, played at Mirpur (Bangladesh)
New Zealand won by 42 runs
March 26
Sri Lanka v England, Colombo (Sri Lanka)
Sri Lanka won by 10 wickets

A word on the performance of the English team
England were on the end of a gruelling tour of Australia, about which I have already spoken on this blog. On that tour they brilliantly beat Australia in the Ashes contest (the best of 5 five-day matches), and then comprehensively lost a series of one day games against the same opposition. The players clearly arrived at the World Cup quite tired and jaded, and indeed several team members dropped out through injuries. They were in fact lucky to make it to the quarter finals of this World Cup, having been beaten by Ireland, which is not usually a top-notch cricket team but who played a fantastic game that day. They also lost to Bangladesh, not a top team either, although they did beat South Africa and the West Indies. Their tied game with India, the final winners, was one of the highlights of the tournament. So a mixed performance, with great highs but too many lows and a probable explanation of too many games played in the past few months.

3 Apr 2011

wine of the week: what price is right for a very good wine?

The problem with looking down on the wines of a particular region for some time is that you tend to lower your expectations of them, and so the level of price that you are prepared to pay for them. Now I have never actually looked down on the wines of any region, including those of Provence. This is a region capable of producing some very fine reds and whites, often the equal of those from its neighbourong Rhône valley. I will not mention the rosés, which are in a sadly huge majority and which sell quite easily by themselves with no help from me (and some are very good too!).

I recently tasted a range of red wines from a Provençal estate called Château Grand Boise, and they attracted my attention for a number of reasons. There were four different wines and all were quite different one from the other. Two used cabernet sauvignon, blended with syrah or with grenache and syrah. The other two were blends of syrah and grenache, or syrah, grenache and carignan. One of the wines had a ridiculously heavy bottle designed, presumably, for weightlifters. All the wines were good, but one of them stood out for me. It is a cuvée called Jadis, and it is presented in a Burgundy-type bottle, which is quite unusual (but not unique, as the excellent Château de Roquefort also uses this shape) in the region.

Château Grand Boise, "Jadis" 2008, Côtes de Provence

I feel that the choice of the bottle shape of this cuvée is not accidental. When tasting it, I was constantly reminded of the finesse and sensuality of very fine red Brugundy. Naturally it carries more of a southern, sunny accent in its warmth, due both to its climate and its grape varieties. This wine uses grenache, syrah and carignan, apparently from very old vines. The grapes are hand picked and fermented in whole bunches (no de-stemming) in small tanks. The juice is not pumped over, but drawn off from the tank daily into vessels and then poured over the must, thus avoiding oxydation and ensuring that the extraction of tannins and colour is fine and gradual.  After its fermentation and maceration it is aged in large barrels for 18 months. 

tasting notes
Reasonably deep but not excessive colour (I should say that I attach slight importance to the colour of a wine). A fine and delicate nose with aromas that reminded me successively of fresh red fruit, wild herbs and mild spices, plus a slightly earthy touch that made me think, as well as its type of fruit aromas, very much of Borgundy in a warm year. This finesse is much in evidence on the palate, which is incredibly silky in its texture, with fruit flavours that also show freshness and focus. It feels warmer than a Pinot Noir, but is perfectly balanced for its type and has a lovely finish that tapers away gently: soft, smooth and elegant.

Now for the price aspect. When one tastes a wine as fine as this, one tends to forget the price factor for a while, remaining concerntrated on the sheer sensual pleasure. I suppose that if I was pushed into putting a price on this without knowing where it came from, I would say between 25 and 50 euros, as price depends so much on the reputation and market of a region or the individual producer. Now knowing that this wine comes from Provence, I may well have gone for 25 euros, simply because I am used to wines from this area that cost between 7 and 20 euros, but rarely above. This is of course unfair in a way, as I know that I would be paying upwards of 30 euros for this kind of quality in Burgundy. Yet Provence does not have the reputation and recognition of Burgundy for its red wines, and I was surprised to learn that this bottle is priced at a hefty 36 euros. Is it worth it? That will depend on your point of view. It certainly gave me as much pleasure as the most refined of good burgundies, say at a Premier Cru level. So, in that sense, it is worth its high price. Yet will the market follow its palate? It may be a little early for this kind of price level in Provence, however much I can recommend the quality of this wine. 

Take a look at their web site. As well as producing very good wines, Château Grand Boise also looks like a really nice place to stay, with views over the Mont Sainte Victoire


2 Apr 2011

My thirteenth bike is another Ducati Multistrada...

Ducati Multistrada 1000SDS

You will have noticed the IS in the title. This is the bike that I currently ride. It has, of course, had the odd modification from this original specification. The Norton Commando is at the doctor's for a mechanical and esthetic face-lift at the moment.

I owned my first Multistrada (the grey one shown in the previous entry to this series) for 3 years, and, when participating in the Centopassi rally in the Alps with it during the summer of 2005, I spent quite a bit of time riding with a few Ducati-owning friends I made there. One of them was a guy called Marcel Camilleri, the owner (at that time, and still today) of the Ducati concessionaire in Toulon. I understand he has since expanded his business, and I am glad for him. He is a really nice guy and a very good and fast rider, including when he has his wife, Michèle, behind him. (If you read this Marcel, all the best!). Anyway Marcel was riding the "S" version of the Multistrada 1000 (a red one), whereas I had the ordinary version. The "S" has Ohlins supension front and back and a few other goodies, including stronger handlebars. Maybe my bike of that time had some slight handling problems as I had dropped it previously and perhaps the front wheel had taken a small ding. In any case I found it hard following Marcel along the twisty bits (hell, there wasn't much else!) even when trying quite hard, and he was riding two-up and me solo. So he agreed to swap bikes for a while and the difference was so amazing that I decided then to switch for an "S" version as soon as I could. This is how it went, when following a KTM which loves the same kind of going...

Marcel's Multi also had some very sticky Michelin tyres, whereas I ran (and still do) the standard Pirelli Scorpions that were apparently developed for this machine. I think I will try the latest Michelin tyres on the bike this summer. The real revelation was the supension though. It made the bike feel like it was glued to the road even when the surface got bad. And it kind of ironed out a lot of the smaller bumps. My grey Multi used to shake its head often coming hard out of corners, whereas the S version was so much easier to keep straight.

So, during the winter of 2005/6, I traded the grey one in for a low-mileage black 'S' model that had been the Ducati Paris dealer's demo bike.  And I still have it and love it. Problems and modifications? Oh, a few in both compartments, but just as with any bike that lives and has its own spirit. Let's do the modifications first. 

Termignoni exhaust system with suitable admission programming, to let it breath a bit better, as well as making a nicer sound (the original noise I found a bit tinny). A 14 tooth front sprocket, to lower the gearing and improve acceleration low down. A small mudguard at back to protect the rear suspension. Later on I got rid of the catalyser in the exhaust system, which made it breathe even better and make a slightly deeper sound too. The motor has felt much crisper since then. When I go on long trips I add on rear paniers. As the left-hand mirror kept breaking through vibration, I have fitted smaller and more solid Ducati Performance ones, which seem ok so far (they had better be, given their price). These are not fitted to the bike in this photo, which isn't mine. A clutch kit which has slightly reduced the clattering and prolongs the clutch life, and a partly open cover to the dry clutch. Other minor mods so far have been aesthetic. I have kept the original seat which I find quite ok on this model.

Problems? I have mentioned the rear-view mirrors. Much more serious have been the valve guides which, on the engine series of which mine is a part, apparently had a metal deficiency of some kind making them wear prematurely after about 15,000 kms. This meant changing the cylinder heads. Expensive, but I hope worthwhile in the long run. Since I had this done last summer the bike starts better, idles evenly even whether cold or hot (this wasn't the case before) and seems to accelerate better too, although the latter impression may have something to with removing the catalyser, which was done at the same time. It currently has over 25,000 kms and will do a lot more this summer. Great bike, and it can do much more than I am able to let it.

Am I tempted by the new 1200 Multistrada? Well, for a start I cannot remotely afford one, and I don't like the look of the thing much either (that horrible duck's bill at the front would have to go!). It is, by all accounts, a very good bike and perfoms well above the level of my 6-year-old model. But why change a machine that suits you so well? It can do town if needed to, with no problems. I hate motorways on a bike but it cruises fine thanks to the fairing, and when equipped with the side packs and a tank top makes travel easy. Its best part of course is playing the twisties and the hills. That is its true element. A very good all-rounder, with an engine that has feel, good acceleration and quite enough power for roads, excellent handling and braking, and just a couple of foibles to keep you amused (that ******* fuel gauge). And I love the clatter of the dry clutch.

If I had to (or was able to) buy another Ducati, it would be a 749 or 999 (the S or R versions) for another kind of fun. I tried a 999 once and loved the feel. But that is not on the cards right now. We will talk about dreams another time.

Night, night.