Wheel alignment

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Going Full Circle

Voluntary community work seems to be particularly strong in NZ, almost to the point where it's part of the national psyche and long may it continue! Jennie helps at the local historic gold mining museum and as regular readers know, I volunteer with the Institute of Advanced Motorists.  IAM started in the UK and is based on the UK Police Roadcraft training system which is taught for both bikes and cars in several countries.  Passing the Advanced Roadcraft Test is arguably the highest civilian riding/driving qualification in the countries where it is taught.

The Police Roadcraft "bible"

The journey to raise my mediocre riding standard by joining IAM has been documented earlier in the blog.  Firstly by passing the Advanced Test after 8 months of blood, sweat and tears, then going on to train as an Observer (Instructor) which took a further year and enables me to "pay it forward" by helping others.  I'm currently Senior Observer for my region of NZ and spent last weekend in Auckland helping to start a number of riders who have passed their Advanced Test on their journey to becoming Observers themselves.  Hence the reference in the post title as going full circle!

It really is one of those rare occasions in life where there is no downside whatsoever.  I get to ride my bike in the company of people who care about their riding and want to continually upskill.  It also forces me to maintain my personal standards as I get retested every two years!  When I first became an Observer, it was Dan Bateman from Team Oregon rider training in the US who said to me, "Remember that you will forever be known differently now. It is a tremendous responsibility to always reflect the proper ideals” .  He was absolutely on the money, but the benefits have been enormous, not the least being my own enjoyment of riding having increased immeasurably.

Anyway, back to the weekend.....

Chief Examiner Philip opening proceedings

The two days consisted of presentations by experienced Observers on the technicalities of how to observe both good riding and improvement opportunities in a rider's skill set and how to succinctly incorporate them into debriefing the rider and giving them a  detailed written report focussing on both the things they do well and improvement areas to practice.

Some of the attentive participants, sweating on what was to come!

Interpersonal skills are also an essential element of being a good Observer in order to positively engage with the people they are mentoring - humility, patience, being constructive and so forth.  Absolutely no place for egos in IAM NZ and that quality is reinforced and treasured by everyone.

Observer Richard covering some of the interpersonal skills

Theory is interspersed with practice rides, where Observers become the "new" riders being assessed and build in subtle errors into their riding.  The Trainee Observers practice observing what riders do well and areas for improvement whilst giving directions over comms.  Having to remember key items in the ride to discuss later whilst maintaining their own standards is far from easy!

Nervous grin from Trainee Observer Hayden as he prepares to observe my riding!

This is my favourite part of the course where Trainee Observers are filled with panic, trying to remember all the positives and improvement areas ready to complete a coherent report on return. Every one of them makes the same comment - so much information to process in addition to maintaining their own riding.   Most of the immediate feedback at ride end is actually rather colourful and involves words that won't bear repeating on these pages. Being called a complete bastard was one of the milder things I've been labelled on previous courses - all in fun of course.  Takes me back to when I was in the same position and what I thought of my mentor!

Trainee Observer Tessa debriefing Steve

At the end of the 2 day course, each Trainee is allocated a permanent Observer mentor who is responsible for coaching the T/O through a series of training modules in real life training situations. The modules are only signed off when the T/O demonstrates repeated mastery of that particular module.  In practical terms, it takes up to a year before reaching the standard required to sit the full Observer Test.  The Test itself  takes the best part of the day.  A written test to check knowledge of the NZ road rules and the Police Roadcraft system - 80% in both sections required to pass.  Next is a one hour assessed ride in motorway, city and country environments to ensure that the Trainee Observer has maintained his or her personal skills.  They are required to give a commentary of their situational awareness and how that is impacting on their riding.  Finally, they are observed conducting an assessment on another rider for around 1 1/2 hours in a range of environments, demonstrating advanced techniques to the trainee if required then conducting a debrief and writing the formal report.

Riders from Auckland and Wellington in deep discussion

If it was easy, it wouldn't have the reputation that it does and riders wouldn't have the level of quiet pride that they do in both achieving a huge personal milestone and having a real impact on road safety.  It also has a spin-off into life away from motorcycling in terms of personal conduct and interaction with other people.  As mentioned earlier, there has been no downside whatsoever to becoming a member of IAM and hopefully, will allow me to enjoy motorcycling well into my 70's.  Not too bad for someone who could be described as a bit of a hooligan until a few years ago!

Finally, one of the riders who joined IAM a year ago has written a blog about his experiences, warts 'n all.  Rob rides a Suzuki Hayabusa and was already what might be described as an experienced rider. Very well written with refreshing honesty and a lot of humour. The first blog post is HERE .  Newer posts can be accessed by clicking on Newer Posts at the bottom of each page or through the archive.  Rob passed his Advanced Test at the start of this month and has now started on the road to becoming an Observer.  Another turn of the wheel!

Thursday 14 July 2016

Bula, bula from Fiji

Bula is Fijian for Hello/Greetings and it gets said about 500 times a day when you're there!

Our 44th wedding anniversary rolls around at the end of the month and although we've visited a good number of the Pacific Islands, Fiji hasn't been one of them.  A good time to rectify that!  We told our adult kids that we were taking a break and received the predictable sarcastic response, "A break from what, exactly?"  We'd booked in at a small resort mainly staffed by residents of a local village on the south-west corner of the main island.  With flying time only 3 hours from Auckland, plus a 45 minute drive to the resort, we could hit the ground running, so to speak.

Air NZ's splendid silver fern logo and tail koru

Land ho!  Arty first shot of Fiji

Upon arrival, the receptionist and Jennie were chatting away and Jennie mentioned that it was our 44th anniversary so on the spot, we were upgraded to a lagoon front property - nice score honey!!!  Huge apartment, massive bed you could have an orgy on (Jennie says, "in your dreams, boy") with a spa bath out on the deck.  Shell necklaces on the bed shaped to say "Bula" along with fresh hibiscus flowers - nice touch!

Step straight off the deck onto the lawn and this is what you see (and you could hear the clunk of my jaw hitting the deck).  The other person on this trip was far more refined than her less cultured husband and took it all in her stride.

I suppose it'll have to do......

The rest of the day was spent exploring all the facilities and planning adventures for the coming days. Oh, and quietly sipping the odd beer and cocktails!

Tough day at the office

Fijians, like most Pacific Islanders, are incredibly friendly and really go the extra mile to make sure that visitors to their shores enjoy the experience.  The service isn't the formal type that you would expect perhaps in Europe or Asia, it's low key and laid back but totally on the ball - love it!

Every evening, there was a local cultural performance of some kind and beautifully done, followed by dinner under the stars and a stroll back to our room...... magic.

Jennie seemed to be taking an exceptionally keen interest.....

Curved swimming pool lit from under water - spectacular

An encounter with a local villager at the lagoon ended with us being taken for a boat tour round a nearby island where they keep their goats and pigs, even dropping us off on a deserted beach to walk the length of it and picking us up at the other end.  Really doesn't get better than that.

Village boats at the lagoon entrance

Off we go......

One of the island deserted beaches - well, apart from.....

Never let it be said that that our holidays don't lack variety.  Just before we arrived, it was reported in the international press that a tourist had found a human body part on a beach not far from us.  The Fijian navy divers were brought in to search the reef  and we saw them heading out on several mornings.  Apparently, it involved a Russian couple who were living on the island so who knows what the investigation will reveal!

Back to more relaxing parts of the break, we love visiting produce markets to see what is grown and to chat with locals.  Fiji grows the usual range of gorgeous tropical fruits and the range of vegetables was pretty impressive.  We were particularly impressed with taro root chips seasoned with fiery local chilli powder - made quite a change from normal potato chips.  A little less keen to try fish that had been sitting in the sun for a couple of hours though.

Beautiful fresh produce at amazingly low prices by western standards

A trip to an eco reserve area to look at some local wildlife showed various bird species with the most amazing colours, as well as all sorts of reptiles.  Jennie didn't seem at all fazed handling a snake!  Here's an interesting factoid...... Fiji imported mongooses (mongeese?) to control snakes which live in their sugar cane plantations.  You see them trotting about all over the place.

Unbelievable colours

Snakes alive.......

Wild ginger

Bright colours weren't just restricted to land animals and plants, with the reef fish also having spectacular colours, as well as starfish the size of dinner plates having the most amazing electric blue colour.

Fiji must be called the land of sunsets as every night was stunning and quite different - here's a selection which were an utter privilege to see....

Locals in traditional grass skirts silhouetted at sunset

No self-respecting moto blog avoids food porn and on our last night, we had dinner at their award-winning top restaurant.  My word, the service and food quality were equal to the best food we've had anywhere.  Amuse-bouche to start, then wonderful palate-cleaners such as homemade mango sorbet between courses....... doing it in style!

Dinner under the stars

Exquisite presentation - sure beats the normal biker meat pie at a gas station!

At the end of the meal, the staff sprang a lovely surprise on us with an extra dessert of fresh mango cheesecake with coconut ice cream and anniversary greetings piped in dark chocolate.  The only downer was that Jennie wouldn't let me lick the chocolate off the plate, but there again, she's always had a sight more class than me.


In a recent post, Aussie moto-blogger Chillertek took the mickey by asking what sort of a busy social life was possible for a 68 year old (i.e. me) to have.  Well Steve, now you know - one with no debt and kids who have left home *grin* .

Wonder where the next adventure will take us?