Wheel alignment

Sunday 31 January 2021

Learning new skills

A number of motobloggers, me included; have made recent posts with some degree of philosophising about life in general, thanks to the nightmare of 2020.  Call it a mental recalibration about priorities, if you like.  I've certainly been thinking about "where to from here" more than usual, probably because I'm 74 this year.

Learning new skills is always uplifting, no matter what the subject matter.  Sometimes it's a matter of necessity, sometimes just for fun.  I've long wanted to go back to uni to attend U3A (University of the 3rd Age) lectures for senior citizens in philosophy, archaeology or similar; simply out of interest in doing something different.  My last formal academic stint was a postgrad diploma in quality assurance systems back in 1990 which was necessary for a major company project but bloody hell, it was terminally boring!  Unfortunately, where we live now involves a 4 hour round trip to the nearest university campus to attend U3A courses so attendance would be a real hassle.  On-line courses just aren't the same.  Back to the drawing board for something new and enjoyable then....

Regular readers will have seen the previous post which included a bit of garden landscaping whilst lockdown and its aftermath was in full swing.  Construction of a flight of steps and a decently-formed path through part of the garden was really enjoyable and also showed that with a modest number of woodworking tools, it was possible to get pretty good results with a bit of thought and planning.  Our eldest son thought he could leverage the newly-acquired skills and enthusiasm to his advantage and asked me to build a 1600mm x 1100mm substantial gate between the garage and fence at his house.  He's flat out with a young family so it would be good to help him out.

Having never built a gate before, the wondrous YouTube was consulted and there was a great "how to" video by local hardware chain Mitre 10. Some of the rebating involved the use of a dropsaw which I don't have.  However, careful use of my circular saw and a razor sharp chisel was a great substitute once I'd got the idea.  Didn't have big sash clamps either but a pair of vehicle ratchet tie downs were a perfect substitute - yayy!!!

Getting the frame square

Next step involved getting the angle-brace installed which was the trickiest part of the entire construction.  Each end had to be precisely cut into opposing corners, with a rebate in the centre for connecting to the centre brace.  Again, great learning watching the carpenter on the video on how to mark it up before cutting.

Adding the vertical facing boards

Cutting the facing boards and screwing them in place was a piece of cake apart from my mental math quantity calcs letting me down and having to return to the woodyard to get an extra length of board, sigh......

A bit of filler in the screw holes and it was time for priming and painting - here's the finished article, minus the hinges which were on order at the time.  Crikey, heavy duty stainless steel 125mm broad butt hinges are expensive - nearly NZ$90 for 3 of them (US64, 46GBP).

Just about worth their weight in gold....

The finished article minus hinges

All that remains is to trailer it to the city of Hamilton and install it with a decent latch.  A very satisfying first-time project, particularly in learning new techniques which are transferrable to future projects.

I also managed to fit in a very pleasant 450 km day on the KTM taking a serving police officer out for his Advanced Roadcraft Test.  Andy is a member of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Team, ensuring that road transport operators meet their legal obligations.  He just rides for fun as well as being an ex-road racer and active trials rider.  Theory test first which he aced 100% - 80% is required to pass.  Then it was out onto the road to assess his riding in motorway, city and country road environments; with him giving commentary about what he was observing and how that was impacting on his riding.  It was a close to flawless ride in surprisingly challenging conditions with high temperatures and a fair bit of tar bleed-through.  The latter called for a fair degree of vigilance on narrow, winding country roads.  Both of us thoroughly enjoyed the day and returned home in a fairly knackered state.  Good hydration and a mesh armoured jacket made it more pleasant than it would have otherwise been.

A delighted Officer Andy and his immaculate Africa Twin

Whilst being an IAM Examiner is really enjoyable on days like this, it's rather less fun on cold, wet days.  Part of the problem is that I live a long way from where most tests need to be conducted so it makes for a lengthy day in less than pleasant conditions.  As a nod to my age and a whole load of post-Covid mulling things over, I'll be retiring from an active IAM role at the end of the year but still plan to occasionally ride socially with them to maintain skills.  As mentioned earlier, it's quite a healthy thing to take on new challenges and learn new stuff!


Friday 1 January 2021

A year that wasn't all bad


From home - first light 2021

My first inclinations were not to write anything about 2020 for obvious reasons.  I also felt a bit of guilt because NZ dodged a bullet compared with most of the world, thanks to prompt and decisive action by our authorities following good science advice which allowed us to resume a pretty much normal life from mid-year.  Nonetheless, there was much to be quietly thankful for and in hindsight, it did provide an opportunity for a mental re-set with respect to the things which are truly important in one's life.  There were actually a surprising number of positive things which make for good memories.

Thinking back, our story started in mid-2019 as we found ourselves in Wuhan to start a boat trip up the Yangtze river as part of travelling through China (HERE).  No hint of things to come of course although we both developed head colds shortly afterwards.  

Moving through to February, 3 mates and I did a 2100 km "Green Badge" tour of the north island, combining it with attending the Institute of Advanced Motorists  annual conference  (Part 1).  What a grand trip that was, sticking to the back roads as much as possible with minimal other traffic about.  The Duke 790 proved to be a competent tourer with minimalist luggage and its light weight and razor-sharp steering really reduced riding fatigue.

The Forgotten World Highway - Moki Tunnel with Tony, Lloyd and Rex

It wasn't long after the tour when all hell broke loose.  Jennie had just flown halfway round the world to visit her sister in the UK when NZ announced the intention to close its borders, then go into lockdown.  A couple of days of panic ensued to get her home.  It was extremely close but thanks to our travel agent, she got home with no dramas, apart from it being a very expensive 6 days away from home! 

Lockdown itself wasn't particularly difficult as I behaved myself and Jennie didn't end up sticking a knife in my vital organs!  The main project was to digitize 35mm slides, negatives and old photos that we've had sitting about in boxes for multiple decades.  We bought a high quality scanner and some imaging software and have digitized about 2000 images to date.  It's been great fun although some of the fashions were cringe-worthy and have provided endless merriment for our kids.  The only consolation was that we all looked fairly similar in those days!  

1976 - Jennie expecting our first child.  Least said about the fashions the better!

1971 - me (right) at a mate's wedding in Wales.  Oh dear.....

There are still undiscovered slides lurking somewhere in the house which I'm very keen to find. One set is from the 1969 Isle of Man TT and the other is from the 1970 UK-USA Transatlantic Match racing series with legendary names like Cal Rayborn, Gary Nixon and Paul Smart taking part.  Those photos really will be a blast from the past!

Post-lockdown, it was back into fishing from our runabout with Jennie still catching more than me!  Motorcycling also resumed but interestingly during lockdown, I wasn't jumping up and down waiting to get on the road again which was slightly worrying.  However, when the time came, the first long solo ride in sunny winter conditions was absolutely wonderful and great for the soul.

Jennie waiting for the big one just outside Coromandel harbour

Unfortunately, a cataract in one eye had developed, arising from emergency surgery I had at the end of 2019 for a retinal tear.  It wasn't bad but was distracting when riding the motorcycle.  Further surgery to replace the lens was necessary.  It took just 20 minutes with no discomfort at all and I now have great vision again.

Part of our garden was in dire need of attention and we took to the foliage with saws and slashers.  That part sloped quite steeply and was also pretty slippery so we decided to get a tradesperson in to build steps.  That plan backfired big time as it was impossible to get one so we did it ourselves.  The downside was that took a solid month of hard work to do all the landscaping and put in new plants, plus being completely stuffed every evening!  The upside was that we saved money by doing it ourselves and it was really satisfying to learn new skills!

The first photo below is before we started the rebuild, having just cleared some of the foliage.  The second photo is how it is now.

Before the landscaping

How it is now

Back into regular riding, the slightly "snatchy" KTM front brakes which had manifested themselves from almost new had got worse and made slow speed handling rather tricky.  Some measurements were taken and both disc rotors had warped.  Fortunately, both my dealer and the KTM importer supported them being replaced under warranty and they're now as they should be. Actually, better than they've ever been because the EBC HH pads fitted in lockdown really give them some bite!

Brand new rotors being bedded in

Taking out a couple of serving police officers for their advanced assessments was a personal riding highlight.  One was a car-based Highway Patrol officer who was an ex-UK Class 1 bike cop.  Following him "making progress" on his big Honda ST1300 down tight country lanes was an utter privilege.  He'd lost none of his skills and made riding at pace look easy, which it certainly wasn't.

Officer Trevor having sailed through his Advanced Test

Another delight was that our 15 year old Jacaranda tree has flowered for the first time.  Patience had worn a bit thin and the bloody thing was edging closer to the chainsaw every year.  Perhaps trees can pick up the vibes as one morning, there it was covered in blue blossom - amazing.  A new gardening technique - waving a chainsaw at plants that aren't living up to expectations!

Jacaranda in full bloom

With Christmas having come and gone, it's worth mentioning a "Santa" present I got from Jennie which typifies her wicked (warped?) sense of humour.  I spent much of my working life as a professional engineer.  Jennie thinks that all engineers are socially awkward, bordering on AS or OCD.  Indeed, in her more exasperated moments, she has remarked more than once that it's like living with a 5 year old.  Personally, I think that says more about her school ma'am background than about me but however....

Anyway, unwrapping one of the Santa presents, this is what appeared:

The Engineers Activity Book for Children

It's from a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics series encouraging young people to follow one of the sciences as a career.  She clearly thought that it was pitched at my level and that's why I love her to bits - she doesn't take prisoners!

Overall and despite the horrors that Covid has inflicted on the world, there has been a good amount of normality and high points for us.  Hopefully, a travel bubble will soon open between NZ and Australia, allowing us to catch up with our daughter and her husband.  They moved to Melbourne at the start of 2020 and she now holds a senior psychologist position in the Department of Justice.  Not bad in less than 12 months.

Wishing everyone everything that you'd wish for yourselves and may 2021 be a whole lot better for all of us!

Jennie, granddaughter Molly and me, Christmas 2020