Monday, June 22, 2009

Fête de la Musique

Yesterday (21st June) was one of the annual high spots of French folklore.

Not because it was the longest day.
Nor because it was the official beginning of summer, which always confuses UK friends who think that should be the middle of summer.

But, every year, 21st June is "Fête de la Musique".

When anybody & everybody turns out in the streets & plays music of any sort.
In all towns & most villages.

All evening.
With huge, wandering audiences.
Who often join in.

Personally, I could do without the talent-less efforts such as the occasional hi-fi at full blast on a balcony, and we do tend to avoid the very, very, noisy stuff which attracts "les jeunes".
But what surprise & delight to find so many soloists, vocal groups, pipe bands, massed drums & ad-hoc minstrel bands on every street corner.

Hard to imagine there is so much talent & enthusiasm lying unseen the rest of the year.
And gratifying to see such a huge, happy, family turn-out to watch, listen, applaud & join in.
In spite of the rain.
Ah, that seems to be another tradition on 21st June.

All this seems so firmly entrenched that it is hard to imagine that it only started in 1982.
A rare stroke of genius by then Culture Minister Jack Lang.

Thanks very much, Jack!

Parting thot: "Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?" – Bobby Kennedy (G B Shaw?)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wot, No Campsites?

We are still in the pre-GPS era for navigation.
Nothing Luddite, you understand, we just keep putting off the great leap forward.

That means we still use those cute folding paper maps, of which we have a sizeable collection.
They can last quite a long time with careful use & Scottish ancestors, so we often come across whole sections of Motorway which were just fields on our map.
And discover quite a lot of new houses in the hamlet of Milton Keynes.

Our French-based maps include a 3 000 000:1 Michelin of Europe for the broad-brush stuff, a 1 000 000:1 Michelin of France for route-planning, a lot of old-format 200 000:1 Michelin area maps for actual in-car navigation & many 25 000:1 IGN local maps for walking & cycling.
For "abroad" we have a mix of Michelins & whatever we find locally.

Over the last 30-odd years, we have done quite a lot of casual, car-based camping.
Usually finding convenient campsites on the map wherever we chose to stop or whenever it was getting late-ish.
In Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland, Spain, Luxembourg & a few others.

Recently, we decided to wander over towards Poitou-Charente, which we had not visited before, so we bought some new Michelin area maps.
The new format is 150 000:1 instead of 200 000:1 & the maps are really too big to handle in a car.
But the real surprise was that no campsites are marked.

So we went to Georama, the wonderful Strasbourg Map Shop, only to find it appears to have shut down.
Presumably a collateral victim of GPS.
Very sad news.

We eventually found IGN area maps in several other book shops.
No campsites on them either.
Nobody could suggest any area maps with campsites, even in "Au Vieux Campeur" where they seemed surprised by the question.

In the end, we had to buy a complete, 738-page camping guide which includes 15 maps at 1 000 000:1 with campsites indicated, but with neither addresses nor directions.
Trying to find anything with a 1 000 000:1 map is not going to be easy.
This solution is not satisfactory.
We need something better.
Presumably other people do too?

Out of curiosity, I checked a selection of old maps on our shelf, and all the following maps indicate campsites perfectly well:
Ordnance Survey Travel Map of Western Scotland – 250 000:1
Ordnance Survey Touring Map of Devon & Cornwall – 270 070:1 (no comment)
Ordnance Survey Landranger Map of Luton & Hertford – 50 000:1
Michelin National Map of Switzerland – 400 000:1
Michelin Regional Map of South Germany – 400 000:1
Michelin National Map of Belgium & Luxembourg – 350 000:1
Swiss Touring Club National Map of Switzerland – 301 000:1
Ravenstein Map of South Germany – 500 000:1
Kummerly & Frey Map of Baden-Wurttemberg – 250 000:1
Freytag & Berndt National Map of Croatia – 250 000:1
Studio F.M.B. Regional Map of Emilia Romagna – 300 000:1
IGN Local Map of Wasselonne – 25 000:1
And all the many others in the same editions.

None of those were selected for having campsites, we just assumed road maps had campsites, and they did.
Now the major French ones of France don't, unless you get down to IGN Local 25 000:1 maps.
You would need a very large number of those for touring.

This seems crazy.
Why do they omit campsites when they include everything else from nuclear power stations to mountain huts (see illustration)?
Do I have to start buying non-French maps of France to get campsites?

Parting thot: "When you come to a fork in the road - take it." – Yogi Bear?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Parallel Uni-verse

The trouble with Internet browsing is that one thing leads to another.

When looking for a bike rack for my car, I got side-tracked into folding bikes.

Folding bikes took me to Brompton in UK.

Brompton led to Schlumpf in Switzerland.
There, I was intrigued, but not tempted, by the many 2-speed epicyclic bottom-bracket gearsets on display.
Including one for belt-drive bikes with Shimano 8-speed hubs.
Wonder how big that market is?

Even more intriguing was the section on Unicycle Hubs.
Had you ever imagined a multi-speed unicycle?
Me neither.
But they look real, Swiss & beautifully made.
Is somebody making a living from this ultra-niche market?
There is hope for the world yet.

And the KH version, for heavy-duty off-road use, including jumps up to 1.5 meters?
Oh sure, it does include a warning of possible death if you don't get your high-speed monocycling gearshift quite right…

Well, I must have led a pretty sheltered existence for the last 65 years.
Nowhere in my universe have I seen, read about, or even imagined, heavy-duty, off-road, 2-speed unicycles.

In fact, I have been back to the site several times, to make sure it is still there & to check it is not some kind of joke.
But no, it's quite serious though that is maybe not the best word.
With links to, for instance, the International Unicycling Federation:

And forums:
Where you can feel gripped by the plight of one unicyclist asking for help because his unike keeps turning right & he has to get 4 miles to work every day.

The real trouble is that I am beginning to feel a familiar itch.

Not for a heavy-duty off-road 2-speed unicycle, of course.
That would be pretty silly.
But maybe just a little flat, smooth, 1-speed job?

I hope it wears off soon.

Parting thot: "When you're finished changing, you're finished." - Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bikes On or In Cars

From my frequent but unadventurous bike rides, I am beginning to feel I know every inch of the local back-roads & cycle tracks.
And I usually regret, at the end of each ride, that our village is at the top of lots of more-or-less-steep hills.

So, for some time, I have been thinking of using the car to move my biking start/finish points to other places.
Partly for variety & partly to avoid the last uphill grind.

I see most people manage to hang a bike or two on the back of their car easily enough.
The simplest racks strap on to the boot or hatch door & support bikes under a horizontal(ish) cross-bar.
My bike has a very sloping cross-bar but no rack of this type is recommended for my (1999 Suzuki) car anyway.
Probably the hatch door & plastic bumper are too flimsy.
More elaborate racks support bikes under the wheels but then become too big & heavy to strap on & usually end up needing a tow-bar & ball-hitch to stand on.
Suzuki didn't recommend tow-bars when the car was new, so now it is a rusty 10-year-old…

Another approach to this problem is via folding bikes.
We have had a couple of cheap second-hand folders but they have been shaky, creaky, inefficient devices, not attractive for more than very short, flat, smooth trips.
And not that small when folded either.

Of course, there has been progress since those old bikes & you can now find all manner of folders from pocket-size to 28" wheeled, from single-speed to 27-speed, with advanced suspension, disc brakes & even recumbent 3-wheelers.

One manufacturer alone – Dahon – makes a bigger range of folders than you would think possible, including a couple of very neat jobs with 8-speed Shimano hub gears (Dahon Mu XL Sport & Curve XL).
I have not seen any locally & they don't fold that small.
They do look good on the websites though.

In the end, I let myself be influenced by numerous articles, forums & blogs suggesting that Brompton folders are a class above the others.
I have heard them described as the Rolls-Royce of folders, but the ones I have seen have looked more like the Morgan of folders.
I would never have considered one based on a visual inspection.
The first thing you notice is the front forks are just pinched together at the wheel spindle, like a very cheap kid's bike.
And all the brakes & fittings look anything but Rolls Royce.
OK, they do fold very neatly.
Stupidly, I have ordered one, without even a test-drive.

Brompton only do one model, though with some minor variations.
The biggest option is a £420 Titanium frame, but even I am reasonable enough to avoid that one.
And you can specify mudguards, carriers, bags & lights, which I don't want.
And lots of bright expensive colours, but I am having cheap black.

Then there is a choice of 1/2/3/6/12 gears, but none of those choices is any good really.
Even the 1-gear has a derailleur-like chain tensioner, because the folding mechanism alters the chain-wheel spacing..
The 2-speed uses this tensioner like a normal derailleur but with only 2 cogs.
The 3-speed has a hub gear, like an old Sturmey-Archer, but by SRAM.
The 6-speed uses a special very wide ratio Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub as well as the 2-speed derailleur, with one shifter for each hand.
The 12-speed is the 6-speed plus an expensive Swiss 2-speed hub gear in the bottom bracket, operated by kicking the pedal spindle with one foot for up & the other foot for down.
Not sure how you pedal & steer while using both hands & both feet to change gear - should be interesting to watch.

I am getting the 6-speed, against my better judgement.
It does offer a reasonable 3:1 ratio range, like an 8-speed hub, but sounds anything but convenient to use.
I wrote to Brompton & asked why they don't just fit an 8-speed hub, which is the obvious answer & which lots of forums & even the Wikipedia article suggest.
They say the Shimano hub is too wide for their frame & sent me the address of somebody in Scotland
who installs 8-speed Sturmey Archer hubs for £200 or sends kits for £300.
I gave up a ordered the 6-speed.

Actually I have ordered it from Brussels as they sell at about UK prices, whereas French & German dealers have more than 200€ extra mark-up.
Fortunately we have kind friends who work in Brussels & have a house in Strasbourg & are willing to do the delivery.
Otherwise it would still have been worth collecting it ourselves from Brussels.

Need to wait a couple of months for delivery, so no comments until then.

Some Brompton-ish sites:

Parting thot: "A bicycle for the mind (Apple computer)" – Steve Jobs

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Just bought a new shirt.

And, as usual, had to spend 10 minutes unpicking the name label which was apparently specially designed to be as irritating to the skin as possible.
And had to carefully cut off the size tab, which is not only irritatingly rough, but is cunningly placed to rub your neck & cannot be unpicked.

Do the people who design, make & sell these things ever try them, or at least talk to anybody who tries them?

Or is it some kind of joke?

Parting thot: "Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate." - Thomas Jones

Monday, June 1, 2009


Something I see quite often continues to puzzle me.

When the moon is half-way between "new" & "full" then it is D-shaped.
If you can see the half-moon like that, then logically the sun should be somewhere along the line of symmetry of the half moon.
In other words, the half-round part must be pointing towards the sun.

Particularly, before sunrise & after sunset, the half-round part must point down, since the moon is above my horizon & the sun is below it.
But I often notice both before sunrise & after sunset, the half-round part definitely pointing a little upwards.

Attached is an example from after sunset this evening.
There is no horizon on this cropped image, but the black line is a vertical door-frame.

I haven't managed to explain this yet.

Parting thot: "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." - Mark Twain