Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Two fingers, Harley style

I was unable to write at all last night, as the chaps, and especially the VIP visitors that have descended upon us for a few days, seemed out of sorts with a TV that wasn’t working. Odd that, for when it was working, the chaps at least seemed to prefer the attractions of the Mosquito Bar to the repetitive output of satellite TV. Perhaps they felt duty bound to keep the VIP’s company for not one of them suggested a run ashore.

I decided, therefore, that I would try and hook the laptop and the computer projector up to the stereo so that we could all watch a film. The first hurdle was the variety of power points, none of which seemed suitable for any of the cables I had. My projector was fitted with a South African plug, something I realised I probably would not need again, so I lopped off the plug in order to replace it with an English one. This was when I discovered that the wires inside were coloured brown, greeny blue and white. Impossible to check how they were connected up inside the plug as it was one of these moulded affairs that was clearly designed to stop people like me messing with it.

OK. Is the greeny blue wire more green than blue, in other words, could it be the neutral cable? Or was it more blue than green, which would make it the negative cable? Or did the combination of colours bear no relationship whatsoever to any internationally recognised system of colour coding? I decided that brown was definitely live. No idea why, for there was no logical thought process allowing me to arrive at that conclusion. That left me with a 50/50 chance of getting it right, if I wasn’t already wrong that is. Reluctant to test the cable wiring on an expensive and correspondingly fragile projector, I asked Akim the house boy, (not the HR Manager, sadly) to fetch the kettle. He duly returned with a large, shiny catering sized chrome kettle. I plugged it in and keen to help, Akim switched it on while resting his hand on the metal surface.

Now I had often warned Akim about his almost incessant habit of mopping the floors, presenting as it did a slip hazard for the house guests. I do not think that in this case the slipperiness of the floor contributed to him falling writhing to the ground like an Ox with its throat slit as much as its moistness which, in contact with his bare feet, provided the perfect conduit to earth for the thirteen or so amps that flashed unexpectedly through his body. The golden rule of first aid when dealing with a victim of electrocution is to isolate him from the electrical source. This Akim had done for himself to spectacular effect by clearing the coffee table in a single bound propelled by involuntarily galvanised muscles. I have no idea what the language was that he resorted to in extremis as he unsteadily picked himself up from the floor, but there was palpable awe in his mantra. Given that his eyes were like saucers when they lit upon the kettle again, I am certain that his relationship with it in the future will never be entirely comfortable.

Satisfied that apart from a few bruises and a tingling arm he was otherwise undamaged, I swapped the cables over. Akim, he really is a good sport, ran down to the junction box at the corner of the street to reconnect the neighbourhood to its electricity supply. On his return, however, he seemed reluctant to assist me by performing the quick test again so we had to wait until a pleasant sizzling noise reminded me that I had forgotten to refill the kettle after Akim had emptied it so stylishly. At least I knew the plug was now wired up correctly. I gave the kettle back to Akim who, I observed with interest, wore his flip-flops to traverse across the lounge.

Next problem was this awesome box that formed the major part of the stereo system. Apart from a myriad of very bright and highly distracting flashing lights and welcome messages, there was a confusing abundance of connectors, knobs and buttons all housed in a menacingly angular black and chrome case. Now I am not one normally intimidated by electronic equipment of any kind but on the only other occasion I used this device, to play a CD, it took me a good ten minutes to work out how to get the CD tray open. When it came to getting the CD out again, I have to confess I resorted to judicious use of a table knife. The malevolence of the object knew no bounds. Eventually I decided that only one type of cable would do. It required the same connector at both ends, the type of connector one finds on Walkman headphones, and I did not have one. I was ready to accept defeat at this stage but the rest of the chaps, having been royally entertained so far, were reluctant to let the lack of a cable end their fun so soon. It is astonishing what these VIP’s have in their briefcases. In no time I was faced with a bewildering array of cables matched only by an equal number of suggestions as to where I might connect them. Happily a suitable cable was found and the head VIP exercised his right to select the film.

The Rick Moranis version of the Little Shop of Horrors is, I think, the best film rendition of this famously amusing play. Projected as it was across the entire width of the lounge, the image was about eight feet high. The sight of a giant vegetable, taller than a man, consuming the mortal remains of a dismembered dentist evidently left quite an impression on the collection of house staff that had assembled on the patio to watch the film through the French windows. Glancing from the darkened room I saw a row of dumbstruck faces and popping eyes garishly illuminated by the reflected image on the wall. I suppose they look at plant life now with the same superstitious respect that I did as a young boy after seeing ‘Day of the Triffids’. At least ‘Audrey II’ was not as mobile as the Triffids even if it was far more voluble towards the end. ‘Feed me Seymour, feed me now! Must be Blood! Must be Fresh!’ and that classic song, ‘Sure looks like plant food to me’. I can think of a few people that look like plant food to me too.

It was seeing that film for the first time that made me go out and buy a Harley Davidson. The sight of Steve Martin hopping off his classic Harley and it parking itself by the kerb was just too cool. Even the fact that his character in the film was a sadistic maniac didn’t detract from the obvious rebellious connotations of black leather jackets, V Twin motorcycles and a disdain for helmets. Constrained by the etiquette and tradition of a British Army officer’s mess, I longed to let my hair down, even if at the time it was only two centimetres long and if left to its own devices would stick up rather than hang down. Snorting his own personal supply of Nitrous Oxide, he was always going to ‘have me a snort of Gaaas, I’m really going to enjoy this one….’ while Rick Moranis fumbled ineptly for his revolver. Well I had a gas on my Harley. The damn thing had no brakes worth a damn and on a wet road you could get through half a rosary before bringing the thing to a halt. It had the turning circle and manoeuvrability of a fully laden tanker and you could only lean it into a corner about three degrees before a shower of sparks reminded you that it had grounded again. At least it wasn’t like my Ducati. That would lean over so far that if you absent mindedly left your foot under the gear lever ready for the change up, the approaching road surface would force an unexpected, definitely frightening and, in one case, disastrous and very painful gear change. With the Harley, though, nothing happened quickly. Even losing control of it on an icy road in Germany and falling off it was a leisurely affair, the ‘bike signalling well in advance its inability to stay upright followed by an almost apologetic slow motion capitulation to gravity. Ample time for me to ensure that nothing vital to me, like a leg, was left in the way of over two hundred kilograms of Milwaukee steel on its way to crushing contact with unforgiving tarmac. That ‘bike was a hoot. Whereas on the Ducati, I would insert metal pegs into my knee sliders to leave a trail of incandescence as my friends and I clawed our way round the fast curves of the Harz mountains (such youthful hooliganism), the Harley, with a lot less sphincter constricting effort, would leave a far more impressive pyrotechnic wake as I steadily abraded the side stand kick tab on one side and the lower exhaust mounting bracket on the other. My old mate Dirk went one better. He fitted footplates to his Harley and in no time at all had them impressively chamfered to fifty per cent their former mass. Purists would decry such abuse of an American Icon but they’re missing the point. The very soul of a Harley was borne out of a refusal to buckle under an enforced adherence to rules, someone else’s idea of the norms and conventions of society. It gave a sense of freedom, of prison shackles cast asunder. An icon indeed, but one ridden by iconoclasts. A real gas.

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