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Monday
Feb082016

Two from the Eight Decades 

I was born this day February 8th 1936, in a village called Dunsfold in Surrey England. Just South of London. I tried to write a brief decade by decade account of my life, but found 80 years was too long to summarise in a blog post. So gave up and decided to post some pictures from the first two. The earliest picture I have is the one above. Already learning to keep my head down and my eyes open.

With my Dad in my first year or so. He was so proud of me back then. WWII took him away for 5 years when I was 4 and when he came home I was 9 years old. I realize now how annoying 9 year old boys can be. No wonder he hated me.

My earliest picture with my mother, as she was usually the photographer. Aged about two I'm guessing.

1940 Aged 4. Why so serious? WWII had started.

About the same time. The tents in the background are an army camp. With my Uncle David, who I was named after.

1944. Left to right, my Mother, My younger sister Betty, my step-sister Joyce and myself.

A school picture. My mother wrote the date on the back, 1944. I was eight.

1948 The war was over, I was 12. Here with my sister.

1949. Aged 13, with my first new bike. A Hercules Roadster.

The local church choir. Me on the right age 13.

1950. Age 14, on a horse at my Aunt's Riding School.

1951, One of my last school pictures. Aged 15. (Is that a hint of a smile, or a fuck you smirk?)

1952. My first year racing. Age 16.

1952, At the end of my first season racing, collecting my trophies. After years of my father and school teachers telling me I was useless, people were praising me and telling me I was good at something. No wonder I fell in love with cycling.

1953. Aged 17. Riding in the National 12 Hour TT Championship. Covered 220 miles in the 12 hours.

1954. On the right aged 18. Wearing the fashion of the day, discovering girls. Into music, modern jazz mostly. Rock n' Roll was yet to burst on the scene a couple of years later. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were only 11 years of age. And People think those guys are old?

 

And that was only the beginning, I'm off to enjoy the rest of my day, after all I will only turn 80 once.

 

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Monday
Feb012016

The Importance of a Paint Facility

One of the largest outlays in setting up a framebuilding business is a paint facility, by that I mean to include a totaly enclosed, dust free paint booth.

It is a large expense to set up and maintain, because it takes up a lot of space. It therefore it prohibits one from working out of their home, or some tiny hole-in-the wall shop. In most places you can’t spray paint in a residential neighborhood anyway. You have to own or rent space in an industrial area.

Rent is a huge overhead when running any business. It is the reason I eventually went out of business in 1993 when the demand for road frames dropped to a level where I could not generate enough income to pay the rent on a 1500 sq. ft. industrial unit.

I could have maybe squeezed into a 1000 ft. space, but the rent would not have been that much lower, plus I would have had the expense of moving, costing money I didn’t have.

My paint booth was totally enclosed, it measured 20 x 20 feet. That is 400 sq. ft. and with at least a 3 foot space required all around it, you can maybe appreciate that any space under 1500 sq. ft. for the rest of the shop would be a squeeze.

At one end of the booth was a large fan that drew the air from inside the booth and exhausted it through a 2 ft. diameter vent through the roof. The air was drawn through replaceable filters that caught the paint over-spray.

 At the opposite end of the booth were air intake filters. These were “Sticky” so they caught dust and prevented it from entering the booth. The booth had a partition inside, one side to hang frames being painted, the other side was where the painting took place.

The partition prevented frames waiting and those just pained, and therefore still wet, from getting over-spray on them. I also had an electric paint curing oven that baked the paint to 250 degrees. This was another essential piece of equipment, as It allowed paint to be sanded for the next coat in an hour or so, rather than wait a day or more for it to air dry.

Owning a similar facility with a paint booth, is also the reason why I never started up again years later when the demand for road frames picked up. My shop cost $30,000 to set up in 1983, today that figure would be closer to $100,000. Too large an initial outlay, with no guarantee I would ever see a return on the investment.

Is it essential to have a paint facility? I am often asked. The answer is no, but it is for me. Many framebuilders build frames and ship them somewhere else to be painted. But the paint job is more than half the profit in building a frame.

To me, the paint is as important as the building of the frame, and the two go hand in hand. The paint is what the customer sees, it is too significant to be left in the hands of some outside entity. I would never build frames and not have total control over painting them.

There is the cost of shipping the frames both to and from the painter, and there is also the time factor. When you have your own facility you can handle a rush job easily. Mistakes and flaws can be fixed immediately, and even a complete strip and re-paint is not the end of the world.

The one drawback is, you have to produce enough frames to warrant the expense of owning your own paint facility. One or two frames a week won’t cut it. Initially I painted myself, but at the height of my production in the mid-1980s, it became necessary to train and employ a full time painter. I produced as many as 30 frames a month. It was a good and profitable business.

When the demand dropped below 20 frames a month, I could lay off employees, but I still had the rent and overhead on the fairly large industrial space. Times have changed. In the eighties if you wanted a top of the line bicycle frame, it was hand brazed, lugged steel.

Those days are gone forever, and it is the reason why builders like Ben Serotta, myself and others are no longer building frames. And really I do not need to build anymore frames, there are thousands of them still out there. They come up for sale ever week on eBay and Craig’s List, many of them hardly used and still in mint condition.

Even on frames that have had a lot of use, the paint has held up well, which speaks volumes for my always having my own paint facility.

 

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Monday
Jan252016

An Appeal for Help

I have been reluctant in the past to ask for help, but then I realized that organizations like PBS regularly ask for donations. Things don’t just run on their own.

I have always given of my time freely, and I am prepared to continue doing that. But last year I ventured out and went on a speaking tour of the West Coast.

The response was good, but I have come to realize that my following, when it comes to active owners of bikes I built, numbers are only around 400. Not a huge number.

On the Tour, people were kind enough to offer a place to stay which was a wonderful experience and cut the cost of hotels. However, there were still some hotels, air fares, and car rental. The idea was that tee shirt sales would cover this cost. But with a relatively small following, this didn’t happen, and I am still left with a number of tee shirts unsold.

I was also left with $6,000 of credit card debt, which when one is on a limited income like me, it is an extremely stressful burden to pay off. I will do it, it is my obligation, but I will not do it again, not without help. Which is where this appeal comes in.

I can continue with my blog and my Bike Registry as I have been doing for a number of years, but to be active outside of that, I need some help. First I have left over tee shirts to sell. They are part of the debt I incurred. To move them out is my first priority.

If you own a bike I built and haven’t done so already, please buy a tee shirt. If you don’t yet own a bike I built but are waiting for one your size to come along, buy a tee shirt, and maybe the Karma with cause a bike in your size to appear. If you are a regular reader of my inane scribblings here, you may like to contribute a dollar or two.

I have a new tee shirt, a “Life is all about Ass” design, which is part of the lyrics to a song I wrote.

My plans are to record the song, and put it on YouTube. People tell me it may go viral, and my problems might be over.

If I can sell the tee shirts I have, I hope to bring out more creative and desirable designs.

If you don’t have $26.50 to plonk down on a shirt ($20 + $6.50 *postage.) then a small donation would be appreciated. I have added a PayPal Donation Button in the left column of this blog. No donation is too small, especially if you make the donation re-occur monthly. (That option is on the PayPal Donation page.) In that case $1 or $2 a month would be greatly appreciated, and is all I would expect anyone to contribute on an ongoing monthly basis.

I know in these hard times there are many charities with their hand out for money. If you cannot contribute, I understand. In fact I would not want anyone to contribute or commit to more than they can afford. But if you can spare a small amount  it would be greatly appreciated.

I would prefer to sell worthwhile products, rather than ask for handouts, but until my online store gets going I have to ask for donations too. My 80th. birthday is in two weeks, think of it as a birthday gift.

 

 *Sorry, USPS increased postage rates.

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Monday
Jan182016

Words

What sets the human species apart from all others? I believe it is not that we have a superior brain or opposing thumbs, it is language, our ability to communicate with words.

I recently learned that a crow, a bird with a high level of intelligence, makes a different sound if a human is approaching, than if a cat is in the vicinity. It appears that crows have a simple language, but nothing close to the sophistication of human words that can not only be spoken, but written too.

I prefer the written word. It can be edited, whereas often the spoken word comes out and cannot be taken back. The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is seldom true.

Physical pain we tend to forget, but when someone says something nasty those words are locked away in our memory bank to be brought back along with the hurt, over and over again.

It takes a strong person to recognize that these were only words and it is our choice to relive them. It is not easy, if I say “Don’t think of elephants," the first thing that will come to your mind is a large grey animal with big ears and a trunk.

Fond memories can be re-told to others and relived in our own mind. Bad memories often get re-told and are exaggerated, made worse than they originally were. The cleaver lines and comebacks we recite in re-telling the story, are not the words we actually said, but rather what we wish we had said.

Told over and over the stories eventually become our reality. Others will steal our stories, make them their own and retell them until they become their reality. This is how urban myths are born.

“Talk is cheap,” is another common expression. Some can talk for hours and say nothing, certain politicians have honed this to an art form. Words may be cheap, but say the wrong thing and it can cost a politician or other public figure dearly.

People who talk incessantly miss out on a lot. For one thing by talking continuously they are not letting others express their views. Then when the other person speaks they are not listening because they are thinking of what they will say next.  

It is only by listening to others that communication pays off. A thought from outside our own mind can spark an entirely new line of thinking.

Words can be powerful at times but other times are inadequate. When someone dies, even with writing skills, words will fail me. Had I been there I would not need words, just to listen, hold a hand or give a hug would have been enough.

Words are not always necessary, and though cheap should not be wasted. Words can build us up, or knock us down. They can be both our blessing and our curse.

 

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Friday
Jan082016

Men in White Suits (A Short Story.)

I noticed the men in white suits always worked in twos. One tall, heavy, an older man in his late forties, maybe fifty.

He stood in the doorway, arms folded, like he was guarding it. Stopping me from leaving, which I wasn’t, but never-the-less intimidating.

A younger man in his early twenties, not much older than me was preparing something on a cart. He turned and handed me some liquid in a small cup.

“Here, drink this.”

It tasted bitter. The young white coat patted the top of a gurney.

“Jump up here.” I did as he asked.

I lay there staring at the fluorescent ceiling lights. It was quiet except for muffled voices off in another room somewhere. I strained my head around to see if the white coats had left. The older one was still there in the doorway. ’The stereo-typical good cop-bad cop,’ I was thinking. Only they weren’t cops, but they represented the same thing. Authority.

I drifted into semi-consciousness. I was vaguely aware of more white suits crowding around me, strapping me to the gurney, placing something on my head, squeezing my face, and shoving a rubber plug in my mouth. Then a screeching sound like feedback through a loud speaker. Wheeeeeeeeeeeee.

For a brief moment zig-jag patterns of light danced left to right across my field of vision. Then nothing, I was unconscious. I awoke in what seemed like a few seconds later. I was still strapped down, but the room was empty. The lights overhead were turned off. There were no widows in the room, just the light through the open door to a corridor. 

The first thing I noticed was that I had pissed on myself. Urine soaked my back, and stung the insides of my thighs. My head felt like my brain was twice its normal size and was pushing my eyeballs out of their sockets.

“Hey,” I yelled, “Anybody there?”

The young white coat came back in the room, “How are you?” he asked. “Do you have a headache?”

“Yes, I have the mother of all headaches. What the fuck did you just do to me?”

“You had ECT, Electroconvulsive Therapy. It’s part of your treatment.”

“I pissed myself.”

“I see that, it’s not unusual. I’ll take you for a bath, and get you some clean pajamas.”

The older white suit suddenly materialized and began removing the restraints.

“Can you sit up? Here’s something for your headache.”

The young white suit helped me up and handed me two tablets and some water. I took them and lay back down. They pushed me down the corridor to a bathroom where they helped me out of my wet pajamas and into a warm bath.   

 

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