Sunday, August 01, 2010

'Built to invade inferior nations':encounters with British machinery



Or so Bike magazine heralded, as the subtitle for the review of Triumph's Sprint GT. A bigger bike than needed, a tourer, but still, a Triumph. I prefer the atavistic (but not too) charm of the Bonneville.I found the magazine at a roadside cafe magazine stand on the way to Stratford upon Avon, and, lacking reading material with decent pictures,grabbed it. The announcement in huge type NORTON IS BACK was the clincher. Apparently they are revived and building . British motorcycle manufacturers (most notably Triumph,BSA, and Norton) have a complicated , entwined history. These sometimes quirky motorcycles are attractive examples of British machinery.

A simpler device was encountered in Stratford upon Avon . We were touring a cottage garden when I spotted a potato with large feathers around its circumference suspended on a string between two thin stakes. The wind would catch the feathers, and the spud would spin , and the feathers would presumaby scare away birds. Marvelous! A fascinatingly simple machine. and a clever solution to a problem.

Once the bus (no, coach, RR, must get the nomenclature right) fetched up on Windermere, there were two encounters with very different machinery. We were milling about waiting to board a ferry when I saw two teenage boys, about 15 or 16, readying their homemade raft. It was made from some plastic drums on which they had placed a very comfy looking love seat. Of course, I had to go over and check out their cobbled ( no,RR, bodged; this is Britain) rig. I asked who gets to go first, wished 'em luck, conversed briefly,then went about my business. I do not think the enthusiastic young men would have listened to an adult warning as to the (lack of) sea worthiness of their setup. I hope it turned out well for them, gotta admire their initiative. Rejoining the herd, I heard a distinctive sound of turbo props, buzzing not very high off the deck. It was a pair of RAF Shorts Tucano trainers, maybe 50 feet off the water,heading North. Several of these snappy trainers were seen throughout the day. This aviation geek's day was made later when a trio of aircraft flew over, albeit at a higher altitude. One was a Tucano, and the second was a Eurofighter Typhoon, pretty sharp for a kerosene burner. The third, I swear, was a Gloster Meteor. I am pretty good at aircraft ID, and the day was hazy, but that is my story and I'm stickin' to it. There must have been an airshow in the vicinity.

I encountered a piece of British machinery later with a more mundane function. After washing my hands I dried my hands using a Dyson Airblade. I have seen a Dyson air multiplier on sale in the States.It is a clever update of air movement technology replacing fan blades with airfoil technology. The Airblade, once one places one's hands in the machine, scrapes the moisture off the hands using a precleaned jet of air. Very quick and effective, no trying to find a place to wipe half dry hands after using this device. I swear, I was very thirsty after using the device. After using it, I jabbered about it to the Missus to the point of tedium, I'm sure.


1 comment:

Barrett Bonden said...

Quirky is good but needs decoding. It's often a synonym for a bike that employs a total-loss oil system. It's true those bikes looked handsome but look again and you find it's because their engines were simple and this allowed lots of space in which to enthrone the hardware. A typical story from the period concerns the Ariel Square Four. Configure an angine so there are two cylinders in front and two cylinders (in the same block) behind and you have a perfect recipe for over-heating. You would have thought that the most infantile designer would have recognised this before making the first tentative drawing on the back of an envelope. But no, that same engine endured for (I think) decades and no one at Ariel did a damn thing about it. I am conscious that telling tales like this puts a damper on your enthusiasm, one of the qualities that makes your blog what it is. But my thoughts slide back in time to my Triumph Speed Twin and a reminder that every so often one of the wires to the commutator ring would break free and the engine would misfire until the wire was re-soldered. Everybody says the Japs destroyed British bike manufacturers by offering starter motors but the Japs addressed themselves to a deeper, more important malaise than a mere disinclination to use the kick-start.

Could it had been a Meteor? I don't know. All I do know is I'm glad I wasn't flying in it.