Category Archives: work/life

Farewell Boris Bikes – hello to the Brompton folding-bike experience

Brompton logo smallDuring my daily commute from Eastbourne to St Pancras and all the way back, I have been doing some ‘commuter observing’. And I have noticed most ‘hard-core’ travellers have two specialised devices in their possession. The first is a computer screen of some kind, to help distract from the long train journey by delivering various forms of entertainment.

This can vary from reading ebooks on a Kindle or similar, to watching the latest instalment of Game of Thrones on an iPad or Andriod tablet. Occasionally I have even spotted commuters actually doing work on the train.

Now that I have settled on my somewhat garish clementine orange Yoga Pro ‘laptop’, it is time to move on to the second of these devices.

And that takes us from new technology to an invention nearly 200 years old – the velocipede, more recently known as the bicycle.
Brompton Logos B&W on top

But for the serious commuter just any old bike won’t do. Or more specifically, won’t be allowed by the train operating companies. Having endured standing room only on trains for many years, I am sympathetic with banning of full-sized bicycles during the rush-hour times. Although, perhaps bringing back the guard’s van would be a way of accommodating conventional two-wheelers.

In the meantime, the only solution is a folding-bike, and this explains why they are such a common sight on my morning and evening journeys. With the rapid increase in cycling in London over the past few years has come an increasing choice of bikes, and folding-bikes in particular.

Using my information search skills I conducted thorough research into the subject, and came up with a shortlist of two manufacturers. Both had excellent reviews, and both cost just under £1,000. The first was of course the Brompton, which is by far-and-away the market leader. And a proud ‘made-in-Britain’ product exported around the world.

So being perverse I decided to go for the alternative brand. I found a shop near Eastbourne which stocked both makes, and explained my wishes to the salesman over the phone. He assured me that I would come out of the shop with a Brompton rather than the brand I wanted. And it turned out he was right. After a short discussion, the superiority its ingenious folding system and 25 percent smaller size when folded, won me over to the Brompton.Brompton folding bike

But why I hear you asking, have you abandoned the wonderful Barclays Bike Hire Scheme you blogged about in 2010? The answer – sadly, is that the Boris Bike service (which should really be called ‘Ken Bike’ in recognition of Boris’ predecessor Ken Livingston’s decision to implement the project) is not reliable enough for my needs.

A combination of glitchy technology and lack of bikes has always been something of a problem. But  since moving to Eastbourne, at least fifty percent of my attempts to hire a bike have failed. And doubling the annual subscription to £90 has only added insult to injury. The unreliability of the Barclay’s scheme added significantly to the stress of my morning journey. And as the secret to successful long distance commuting is to remove as many variables as possible, it had to be replaced with something more reliable.

Today is only day-one of my folding bike commute, so it is too early to say how effective this serious investment in improving my commuting experience will  turn out to be.


Personalised car number plates. Fun – Flash – or just plain Naff

Last November the father of autonumerology, Noel Woodall died at the age of 82. Noel is credited with creating the market for personalised car number plates in the UK, worth more than £2bn to the Treasury since 1989.

Noel WoodallHis interest in what grew into a multi-million pound business began in 1960 when he noticed a car driving past with the plate BB 4. He discovered it belonged to a local Blackpool Bookmaker. Thinking other people might also be interested in memorable number plates, he started the first cherished number plate business in the country.

As this was in a time before the Internet, Noel went on a research mission to his local public library, and was surprised not to find a single book on the subject. So, being the entrepreneurial type he put an advert in the RAF’s Air Mail magazine, asking for information about distinctive number plates. He received so much information in response, he decided to compile and publish it in a small book entitled Car Number Galaxy – Celebrities. It cost him £250 to produce, which was 6 months’ wages at that time.

He went on to publish more than 20 books, including Veterans, More Celebrities, Cartoons and a series called Car Numbers, written with Brian Heaton and described by its publishers as “one of the longest running, and most popular publications about vehicle registrations”.

Car Number Galaxy 1963

As for me, I grew up with a strong prejudice against preening drivers who paraded around the streets with vanity plates adorning their shiny cars, like some kind of automotive bling jewellery. I couldn’t think of a more idiotic way to waste money than to ‘invest’ in an ‘IAM GR8’ plate.

So, I was glad to read that even people involved in the industry recognise its controversial nature. Piers England an auctioneer from the DVLA’s auction company admitted, “We call them marmite products – you either love them or hate them.” To quote one contributor to an online discussion “When I see a vanity plate, I think only one thing: ID 10T”.

List of the 10 most expensive plates sold by the DVLA

  1. 1 D – £352,000
  2. 51 NGH – £254,000
  3. 1 RH – £247,000
  4. K1 NGS – £231,000
  5. 1 O – £210,000
  6. 1 A – £200,000
  7. 1 OO – £197,000
  8. 2 O -  £142,000
  9. 6 B – £130,000
  10. 1 HRH – £113,000

So how then can I even start to justify my recent purchase of N11 1NFO for my humble Skoda Octavia? The answer is a combination of my failing memory and local car park rules. Until recently there was an opportunity to end a shopping trip in town with a good deed by handing over my parking ticket to a new arrival. The grateful recipient could then benefit from whatever time remained.

The local council became aware of this ‘good Samaritan’ behaviour and decided they were losing valuable income. The solution was to introduce shiny new ‘intelligent’ ticket machines which required your car registration number in addition to payment. This was printed on the ticket to prevent it being transferred to another car. So no more ‘random acts of kindness’ in the council owned car parks thank you very much.

As well as being frustrated by this meanness of spirit, this change led to a challenge for me. Sadly I have never managed to memorise any of the number plates of any of the various cars and motorbikes I have owned since passing my driving test back in 1976. So I would either have to park with my bumper in view of the ticket machine or keep a note of my number to hand. A third and unexpected solution was to buy a new plate with a memorable number.

After much internet research and even more soul-searching I was finally ready to go ahead and join this group I had enjoyed despising for so many years. The change in my thinking came about when I realised a personalised plate was just about the only way to express personality and even humour on a product that is standardised and factory produced. If you own a Ford Mondeo it looks just a like any other Ford Mondeo apart from a limited range of colours. Although I did see a chrome-plated car the other day which was so bright it actually hurt my eyes.


But just having an initial or two, combined with a number seemed to be a wasted opportunity. And I began to take notice of properly memorable numbers I came across in my travels. Whilst cycling through the East End of London on a ‘Boris bike’ I spotted SK1NT on the back of a brand new Rolls Royce. A nice example of four wheeled irony. I also saw a rather surprising DARR0N on an Audie A4 queuing to get out of Legoland.

Mazda car MX55-NOB

My challenge was to see if I could find a memorable plate amongst those listed at the DVLA  starting price of £250. Needless to say, there wasn’t anything close to ‘librarian’ at that price. I compromised on a combination of my initials and info (my chosen profession), with an additional redundant ‘I’ stuck in the middle.

The irony of this story is that by the time I had deliberated, purchased the number, had the plates made up, sent in the forms, and finally got out my screwdriver and physically replaced them, the council had changed their parking policy. Outraged shoppers had bombarded the local council with complaints and the local newspaper had picked up on the issue. After initially robustly defending their new ‘fairer’ policy, the politicians realised they were on a losing wicket and eventually caved in. So now when I go shopping I no longer need to enter my number plate into the ticket machine, undermining the original reason for personalising my car’s identity.


12 amazing reasons why In through the Outfield is back and better than ever

Neil InfieldApologies for the rather hyperbolic headline above, but according to social media experts a catchy headline is the number one way of getting visitors to your blog. And as I have been rather neglecting In through the Outfield in recent months, I think it needs a bit of a boost.

In fact according to , Alasdair Inglis from Grow, Your online content must be more like terrible journalism.

Use clever, attention catching headlines

Headlines are probably the single most important aspect of your post. You could write mind-blowing, world changing content but if you don’t write good headlines, no one’s going to click through and read them. Therefore they need to be attractive and intriguing enough to make readers check out your blog.

Here are some great tips to help create better headlines:

  • Go with numbers or numbered lists. There’s a reason why your Facebook feed is choking on articles like “11 sexist cats that look like Ryan Gosling”. Learn from sites like Buzzfeed and maybe one day your content can annoy the whole of the internet, too.
  • Use compelling, emotive adjectives. Whilst this isn’t your high school creative writing class, using more engaging words like: “amazing”, “beautiful”, “inspiring” etc will make your article sound much more interesting.
  • Make your headlines are intriguing, but not too vague. Upworthy do a great job of this, giving you just enough information to whet your appetite, whilst not giving away the payload.
  • Use keyword research. Make sure you know what the most searched terms are for what you’re writing about and make sure that they’re in your headline. If your target audience is searching for “How to write better headlines”, make sure that your blog post headline will show up on their search.

Right – now that we have got that important information out of the way, I can explain why I am back in the blogging saddle after my unplanned sabbatical. I am now commuting to work at the British Library from Eastbourne, which has extended my daily journey to over two hours each way. However this gives me plenty of time for reading, snoozing or even blogging, as I cruise through the beautiful Sussex countryside alongside the South Downs at the mercy of the Southern railway service.

Sunset over Fulking Escarpment

Sunset over Fulking Escarpment in the South Downs National Park, England (© Matt Gibson/Loop Images)

The other factor enabling me to revive my blog is of course technology. I spent many weeks researching the best computer to support my newly extended commute. I looked at getting a bigger and smarter phone than my current almost perfect Motorola Razr I (small in size, long in battery life). The new breed of smart phones are amazing, but unless you have fingers much smaller and more nimble than my clunking great ones, typing anything more than a short note is too painful. And although the recent ones have pocket-stretching sized screens, they are still too small to work on a blog post or effectively surf the web. But the real killer blow, is when you actually use any of their amazing features for more than a few minutes, their battery life disappears to almost nothing.

Next came a choice of tablets, of Apple or Android flavours. They have long battery life, bigger screens and are nice a light and compact to carry around. However, they don’t have keyboards, and as a touch-typer since my teens I can’t stand typing on a screen. It’s a bit like having to ride a moped once you have experienced a proper motorbike – there is just no going back. Admittedly you can buy a keyboard attachments, but the keys are incredibly cramped and obviously an after-thought, rather than designed-in. Also I need to run Word and Powerpoint from time to time, which meant the Microsoft Surface came closest to my rather demanding requirements. However their poor battery life put paid to that.

That left laptops, or Ultrabooks, as the small, thin and powerful ones are now known. However, when not typing or editing presentations I liked the idea of some light entertainment to help pass the time on train. And I have watched fellow commuters struggling to get a good viewing position on their laptops to watch the latest instalment of Game of Thrones. More research led to the new breed of ‘hybrid’ machines, and the appropriately named Yoga series from Lenovo.

I finally settled on the Yoga Pro 2, with its 3,200×1,800-pixel touch screen, claimed nine hour battery life, backlit full size keyboard, and flexible screen.


I have already tested out what Lenovo call the Stand mode to view BBC shows downloaded from iPlayer. And it works really well, with the keyboard tucked behind out of the way. I’m not sure how often I would get to use the Tent mode, and I have to admit that it makes a pretty clunky tablet when folded flat. This isn’t helped by Windows 8, which still needs some work to compete with Android as a touch interface.

So there you have it, new technology combined with an something of an epically long commute (nothing compared to these hardy Scots) are the keys to getting this blog back on its feet again.

Private Case – Public Scandal – The Secret books in the British Library

I find it fascinating how much our attitudes to subjects change over time. In this case the topic is the British Library’s collection of pornography. In the past a few individuals have become somewhat obsessed by the various holdings in our Private Case collection. This seems Private_Case-Public_Scandal-coverstrange to me, in an era permeated by sexual content, from  television shows like Big Brother, to teenagers sexting each other, and virtually unrestricted access to pornography through the internet.

Since first joining The British Library back in 2006, I have heard many myths and legends about the collection of pornographic material. It was, I was confidently assured, the second largest in the world, behind the rather surprising winner, the Vatican Library, and slightly ahead of the Library of Congress in Washington, home of the First Amendment.

As a ‘newbie’ in the library I received this information in good faith, and in the knowledge that the collection was safely locked-away our basements, where I was unlikely ever to stumble across them.

However a chance mention in an article about the National Library of Australia led me to Private Case – Public Scandal by Peter Fryer. Published in 1966, this book claimed to expose the deep dark secrets of what was then known as the British Museum library (home to the famous Round Reading Room).

Naturally my first instinct was to look up this controversial publication on Explore The British Library, and within minutes I had located and ordered it.

I can’t claim to be an expert on Erotic Fiction , but I was surprised by just how dull and turgid these 160 short pages turned out to be. The contents mostly consists of excessively detailed reports of the author’s struggles to unearth the library’s ‘hidden gems’, his numerous letters to those in charge at that time, and many lists of the controversial titles and their provenance.

Perhaps any serious attempt to catalogue the more ‘exciting’ content of The British Library stacks was bound to end up being something of a snooze, but I have to say I was disappointed. However here are some of the highlights I thought worth noting:

Early on Fryer reports that;
“The BM collection of erotica is without doubt the most comprehensive in the world. The Kinsey Collection does not hold a candle to it. The celebrated Enfer Of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris probably runs it a close second; but the alleged riches, in this field, possessed by the Vatican, the Library of Congress, and the Bodleian in Oxford, turn out to be small fry indeed compared with Bloomsbury’s well-stocked private case.”

It seems that the confusion stems from their “courage and honesty” in listing publicly their collections, whereas, up until the 1960’s The British Library had not.

Later on, Fryer recounts an episode relating to a request for a ‘naughty’ book by Iwan Bloch. He is asked to meet with the Superintendent of books who explains that he has to satisfy himself, that Fryer’s purpose  was serious, and that he was unlikely to steal, mark, or mutilate the book.

It was subsequently explained to Fryer, that the intention of this kind of interview is to protect the library’s books from the readers, “which experience has shown to be a necessary part of a librarian’s duty, rather than to protect readers from books, which is not thought to be a librarian’s business in this country.”

Fryer divides up the library’s collection of erotica into several categories including what he terms ‘sexological works’, which include books on “contraception, guides to erotic technique and coital positions, sociological surveys of teenage copulation in Cockfosters and homosexuality in Rutland.” I’m guessing this last part was Fryers attempt at humour.

round_Reading_RoomA section of the book covers the history of the Private Case at the British Library and includes mention of Anthony Panizzi, of one of the key figures in its development. Rather surprisingly Panizzi was not British, but an Italian lawyer and revolutionary democrat, who had been sentenced to death by the government of Modena. He escaped to England in 1823 and joined the British Museum staff, working his way up to Keeper of printed books by 1837. During his tenure Panizzi grew the book collection from 200,000, to over a million by the time of his retirement in 1866. Many of these were catalogued by Panizzi himself., The creation of the famous round reading room was also his idea.

In keeping with his democratic principles Panizzi wanted the library to be open to all students of knowledge.

“He wanted the student to have the same means of indulging his curiosity on any topic, consulting all authorities, and ‘fathoming the most intricate enquiry’, as the richest man in the kingdom. ‘And I contend’, he added, ‘that Government is bound to give him the most liberal and unlimited assistance in this respect.’”

This was quite a change from the views of his predecessor Henry Ellis, who opposed the idea of opening on public holidays because, “I think that the most mischievous part of the population is abroad and about at such a time.” Ellis claimed that if the library was not closed for the Easter holiday period, “the place… would really be unwholesome.”

Fryer managed to track down an article published in the English Review from December 1913, complaining about hidden books in the British Museum. In The Taboos of the British Museum Library, the authors claimed there were three general classes of books liable to be secreted by the library at that time:
1.    Subversive of the throne
2.    Subversive of religion
3.    Of an improper or obscene character

In response to an author who’s latest book had been ‘dissapeared’, the Keeper of books wrote this rather unhelpful reply;
“Dear Sir, – In your letter of the 12th July, referring to books which are not entered in the catalogue, you ask me whether there are any printed instructions issued, and available for public use, by which the public may know of the existence of such books, and to the conditions under which they may be consulted. My reply to your question is that there are no printed instructions relating to such books.”

A_Dictionary_of_ExplosivesTowards the end of the book Fryer covers some of the non-erotica related causes for books in the library being ‘suppressed’. One, is if the publication has resulted in a successful libel case. Others are breach of copyright by the publishers, or serious factual errors in the publication. A more interesting cause was those containing commercial or state secrets. Examples included  the cautiously titled Statement respecting the Prevalence of Certain Immoral Practices in his Majesty’s Navy from 1821, and those containing information on lock-picking and safe-breaking. Also included was the 1895 edition of Lieutenant-Colonel John Ponsonby Cundill’s Dictionary of Explosives.

Fryer makes his views on these restrictions clear on the final page of the book;
“It is high time the museum authorities realized that the un-catalogued books in their care are not their private property, and that their refusal to let people know exactly what they have and have not got is unworthy of a great national library and totally inimical to scholarship.”

Since those repressive days of the 1960’s the library has indeed opened up the catalogue, and these curiosities can be found. But only ordered up from the basement by those who have a serious academic interest.

Going the whole Hog from San Diego to Las Vegas

300px-Harley-Davidson.svgAfter my ‘once in a lifetime’ trip to the top of Kilimanjaro with my son, friends asked what my next adventure would be. My reply was ‘I have no plans’.

However, the annual SLA conference in San Diego at the beginning of June provided an opportunity to revisit an adventure from my youth. Aged 18, during my gap year between school and university,  I flew to the Philadelphia, bought a Suzuki GS750 motorbike and rode over ten thousand miles around the United States and Canada. Although it was certainly a big journey, the confidence that youth brings, meant I was not in awe of the scale of the undertaking. Each morning I just got on the bike and headed on towards the next suitable camp-site for the night with my ‘one-man’ tent. It was all about the journey and encounters made on the way, rather than any particular destination.


Suzuki GS750 circa 1976

Thirty five years on I decided to make sure I had the ‘right’ bike for the trip. Which meant hiring a Harley Davidson Road King for the two long days of riding from San Diego to Las Vegas and back. In my younger biker days, Harleys or Hogs as they are affectionately known to their fans, were something of a joke in the UK. They were infamous for their unreliable low power ‘agricultural’ engines, their inability to lean around even the mildest of bend without something hitting the road, or even more worrying, the ability to stop when required.

But driving through Death Valley in the heat of the day, on the Suzuki 750 all those years ago, gave me a new appreciation of the benefits of a solid slow cruiser that would run all day at 60mph with the engine ticking over a lazy pace.

I snuck away from the final session of the excellent 2013 SLA conference, and headed up to the offices of Eagle Rider located in Old Town San Diego. It was at this point the scale of the undertaking began to dawn on me. On first sight the bike was even bigger than I was expecting. Sparkling in the bright sun from its many chromed surfaces, it was simply enormous. Weighing in at 385kg and packing a 1700cc V-twin air-cooled engine it looked too heavy to hold upright, let alone ride the 450 miles to Vegas. Before the trip I had joked to friends how different this bike would be compared to my pocket rocket Kawasaki KR-1S safely tucked away in my garden shed at home.

The Road King was literally three times heavier, and seven times bigger in the engine department.




… and large

And the harsh reality of this monster Harley was unnerving to say the least. This wasn’t helped by finding out that the local riders’ idea of a crash helmet barely covered the top of my head. After a somewhat cursory introduction by Andy from Eagle Rider, who does this many times a day, I was ready to hit the road.

Literally hitting the road and ending up in hospital was precisely what I sat there worrying about for a few minutes. Until Andy popped his head out of the office and asked if I was ok. My response was a falsely confident wave and a reluctant prod with my thumb on the starter button. The engine cranked into life and settled into a chug-chug burble. I stomped it into first gear and wobbled out of the parking lot into the San Diego evening rush hour.

Half an hour later I was back at my hotel dripping with sweat and cursing this unrideable dinosaur of a bike. As I struggled to park without dropping it in the street, Laura (my conference mentee) appeared from nowhere and said hello. I spent the next five minutes lambasting the bike’s failings as well as my inability to ride it properly. Her considered response was that it ‘looked cool’.
After an unsettled night and a ‘last’ breakfast with my fellow conference attending Brits, it was time to set off. If you look closely at the photo below, you can see the look of trepidation in my eyes.

The first major challenge was filling up the tank with ‘gas’. The option to pay with cash didn’t work so I tried using my credit card. That didn’t work either, as I didn’t have the required US zip code. I popped into the kiosk to ask for help and learned that you have to pay cash in advance. After filing up, the cashier pointed the way to Interstate 8 East to take me out of town to begin my trip.

The first half-hour of riding was spent working out in my head how I would explain to my friends why I had taken the bike the straight back to Eagle Rider. The next half-hour had me contemplating a half-day riding round the beautiful windy roads of the exotically named Volcan Mountains Wilderness Preserve. Certainly the sights of birds of prey circulating above, plus what I think was a Coyote with a fresh kill in its mouth, distracted me from the challenge of getting the bike round the next tight bend in the road.

Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve

By the next half-hour I was starting to consider the possibility a slightly longer journey. And after a break for a desperately needed drink at the Miner’s Diner in tiny Julian CA, I  finally decided to keep going and see how far I could get before dark. The unexpected gift of a large piece of scrumptious home-made apple pie (shades of Twin Peaks) certainly helped cheer my mood.

butler-motorcycle-maps-logoFortunately, thanks to a suggestion at the conference by fellow librarian biker Jill Strand, I was now in possession of a Butler Motorcycle map of Southern California. This showed all the best (windiest and traffic free) roads in the area, and I used it to plot a scenic route towards Las Vegas. Early on I learned two important things about Californian roads. One, they are very poorly signposted, with an assumption you have satellite navigation, or are a local and know where you are going. I lost count of the number of times I had to stop and ask for directions. Two, when the warning sign on the approach to a corner says 10mph it means 10mph (for me on the Road King anyway). The first couple of times I used my UK tactic of adding 10mph going into the corner, and nearly didn’t make it around the bend at all. After a couple more heart-stopping moments I followed the signs advice religiously.

The scenery on the way up through Warner Springs and on to Hemet was stunningly beautiful. Alternating from wild scrubland to horse ranch prairies with exotic names such as Sycamore Canyon Stables and Paradise Valley Ranch. The next challenge was finding my way through Hemet and on to the San Bernardino National Forest. After many miles of almost deserted highways, the road gradually became urbanised and busy with traffic. Once again there were no signs other than for the individual streets I was crossing. At a set of traffic lights I asked a likely looking pick-up truck driver for help. He said ‘just keep going straight forward’, so I did. Five miles later the buildings and traffic began to lessen, and then I was back out on my own again in the wild country.

This time the road climbed up into the quaint Cherry Valley and back down into Yucaipa. It was time for more fuel before heading up into the mountains again in search of Big Bear Lake. Despite being a city of over 50,000 people, it took me ages to find a working gas station. Finally I found a shiny new one with the owner on-hand inspecting his pride and joy. Unfortunately for me I was a week too early, and I left the forecourt with his repeated refrain ringing in my ears, ‘come back next week, when we are open’.

After locating what seemed to be the only functioning gas station in town, I asked for directions again with my trusty map to hand. Sadly the woman on the till only knew the way to the nearest  interstate and nothing more. I could see where the mountains were beyond the edge of town, so headed in that direction. After a confident start the dual carriageway turned into a single highway, and then rather abruptly it ended somewhat like the photo below.

Pavement Ends

I struggled to turn the bike around and once again I searched for a likely looking local to ask for directions. This time I struck gold and was given clear instructions which worked. However, I experienced the same slightly odd phenomenon of the road gradually becoming less urban, and then quite suddenly I was out on my own again.

This time the road wound its way steeply up towards Onyx Peak at nearly 9,000 feet high. The air cooled noticeably and there was a delicious scent of mountain pine. The regular signs warning of rock-falls helped me concentrate on the road ahead though. It was around this time I became aware of the particular style of acknowledgement from other Harley riders. Back the UK about half the bike coming the other way will give a nod or a cursory wave. But in the US it is more a stretched out arm with a couple of fingers pointed. All done in the most casual style to ensure ‘coolness’ is maintained. Needless to say there is a video explaining it all in detail on YouTube.

As I wound my way down the mountain to Big Bear Lake, I wondered if the name was still pertinent. I it probably was, so decided not to stop and investigate the size of the furry inhabitants.

Next stop was the gas station in Big Bear, which had no gas, (I could see a pattern starting to  emerge). But it did have ‘rest rooms’ and desperately needed water to combat the dehydrating heat. Another tip of ‘just keep on this road’ took me out of town and up into spectacular views east towards the desert and somewhere over the horizon Las Vegas itself.

First views of the California desert looking West - - June 2013

Some more 10mph corners led down to dusty scrubland plains dotted with occasional houses. Cars were now down to less than one a mile, so I hoped the bike wouldn’t leave me stranded here, or that I would veer onto the sandy edge of the road and crash. With the sun setting in the west I cranked up the big lumpy engine and headed north towards Barstow and Interstate 15.

I reasoned I would be able to cope riding in the dark on the brightly lit motorway. This turned out to be a bit optimistic as the road wasn’t lit. But the sheer volume of traffic including great big Peterbilt and Kenworth eighteen-wheelers showed the way ahead. Once I hit the interstate I managed to work out how to get the cruise control working, and at last was able to give my right-hand some much needed rest. As by this time my fingers were starting to go numb from the engine vibrations. Much like at home in the UK, the 70mph speed limit meant 80mph in practice. And although the bike would definitely have gone faster with a quoted top speed of 110mph, I didn’t feel safe over 75 or so. This meant I was battered by a constant flow of big rigs cruising past with blasts of turbulence in their wake. If that wasn’t enough to worry about, powerful gusts of wind coming across from the desert were buffeting me. So I was in constant fear of getting blown off the bike. The bike itself remained unruffled and brushed off every eddy and gust with barely a reaction. Finally the great weight and plodding engine started to make sense.

The Mad Greek Cafe

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Famous Greeks

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I needed one more fill-up to make it to Vegas, so stopped in Baker just short of the Nevada border. Even in the dark I could see there wasn’t much to the town apart from gas stations and fast food joints. A recommendation from the petrol pump attendant sent me down to the Mad Greek which was much like the ubiquitous American burger joint, but with a Greek twist. I ordered a large coffee and ate a self-destructing burger while admiring their odd list of famous Greeks (plus honorary Greeks such as Winston Churchill), whilst contemplating my remaining 100 miles.

Powered by the coffee and with cruise control set to 70mph, I made it on to Primm, a very poor substitute for Las Vegas (smaller and tackier) just over the state border. As I piled on the miles I began to detect a glow in the distant sky, which I hoped would be the lights of my destination. Soon I could see a beam of light pointing skyward from what turned out to be the Luxor hotel. Gradually the familiar sights of Las Vegas came into view and I turned off the interstate for a cruise up and down the famous Vegas strip.

Having been down to the Stratosphere Tower and back I decided to chance my arm on getting a cheap room at the source of the beam of light which had guided me in to town. It was midnight by now, but the streets were still busy with traffic and drunken pedestrians, with a surprising number of them UK Northerners. A little gentle negotiating with the friendly receptionist from Chicago resulted in a $40 room (plus taxes of course), plus the $20 drinks voucher for spending in the hotel bars. A desperately needed shower and change had me back out on the streets by 1am, once I had used up my drinks voucher on a Mai Tai cocktail. Things were a bit quieter now with families with really quite young children in tow making their way back to their rooms.

Some of these children looked as young as eight and needless to say looked as tired as I felt. I manage to make it half-way along the strip, gawping at the bold architectural statements lining the road, each one more outrageous than the next. Despite the bright neon lights and in some cases pyrotechnics competing for my attention, it was the balletic splendour of the Bellagio Fountains that made the biggest impression. Sadly the Harley Davidson café was closed so I wasn’t able to ask about the incongruous Harley hedges growing outside. I couldn’t resist stopping to chat to a group of friendly Vegas bikers lined up next the road. We briefly compared notes on the various Harley models now that I was an ‘expert’ on the Road King after one day of riding.

Just a few yards from home I bumped into a man holding a sign (a common sight in America)  offering ten minutes of reflexology for ten dollars. As a fan of its restorative qualities I couldn’t resist, and was led to a dark and sweaty room populated by a pack of drunken northerner Brits spending their last dollars on this treat. I resisted my therapists attempts to extend my treatment in exchange for another $10, and headed back to the Luxor for some desperately needed sleep.


I was now starting to worry about meeting my 5pm deadline for returning the bike the following day, so left the curtains open to let the sun help wake me up. I neglected to check what time the sun rises Nevada in June so was woken at 6am by the bright morning light. I couldn’t get back to sleep properly so packed away and prepared to set off back to San Diego. First stop was the gas station across from the hotel, where I noticed a group of Volvo cars all with laptops on the front seat. As a Volvo owner myself I quizzed one of the drivers and discovered they were company men from Sweden testing out secret new features on the cars. I wondered what they thought of life on the desert roads around Las Vegas.

alien-fresh-jerky-bakerI decided the only safe way to get back in time was to stick to interstate 15 all the way across towards Los Angeles and then down to San Diego. A stop for fuel back in Baker in the heat of the early morning had me tempted by the Alien Beef Jerky store, but I had no additional room on board the bike.
Next stop was Victorville where I refuelled my body with a large coffee and small burger from local favourite fast food chain the In-N-Out Burger. A California based alternative take on the ubiquitous burger restaurant where the burgers are cooked to order, and the staff are paid more than the state minimum.

I was starting to get fed up of the persistent heat, humidity and increasing volumes of traffic on the interstate, and decided to head for what I hoped would be a cooler route along the Pacific coast. The bikers map showed a gold standard road winding over the Santa Anna Mountains to the ocean and Interstate 5 the Pacific Highway. I managed to find the turn-off despite a severe lack of signage, but soon got lost in the back streets of Perris. Once again I asked a likely looking local in a pick-up truck ‘which way to the Pacific?’ His response was (cue the hillbilly accent), ‘the Pacific? … I don’t know!’ Considering it was just twenty or thirty miles away through the hills, I was not impressed. I tried again with a younger version, and this time was pointed in the right direction with the warning that it was ‘dangerous up there in the hills’. Apart from the risk of not making it around one of the tight bends, I couldn’t see what he was worried about. But it seems many of the locals never stray far from the main highways.

However, it was slow going on this beautifully scenic and windy route up through Caspers Regional Park, and I began to worry again about missing my deadline. After more minimalist road signage, I managed to find the Pacific Highway and headed south in heavy traffic. Fortunately I was right about the temperate and revelled in the cool ocean breeze. It took thirty miles before I encountered a sign telling me how far I had left to San Diego. It was 53 miles and I had an hour and half to make it. I began to relax and allowed myself a quick stop at Aliso Creek viewpoint, which also happened to be a naval helicopter training site. So I spent five minutes being buzzed by Huey helicopters and having my photo taken.

Finally made it to the Pacific Ocean - June 2013

With just ten miles to go, I rode into the worst traffic jam I had encountered on the entire trip. The cars were trickling along at five miles an hour, and soon my stress levels were up, as I wondered if the staff would stay on and wait for me after 5pm. Just as I was starting to panic, the sign for San Diego Old Town appeared and I left the motorway jam behind me. Luckily I recognised the tram depot from my taxi ride out the previous day, so was able to quickly home in on the Eagle Rider depot where Andy was waiting for me. I looked at the clock and discovered I had arrived back with just ten minutes to spare. I think Andy was almost as surprised as me that the bike had come through unscathed. Sadly I  I couldn’t say the same about my numb wrist and badly aching bum.

I have put my photos and a couple of phone-camera videos onto my Flickr pages here:

And for the geographers I have saved my routes onto Google maps:

A new begining for In through the outfield

From today In through the outfield will switch from being an official British Library Business & IP Centre blog to a personal one from me Neil Infield.

The reason for this is the creation of an Innovation and Enterprise team blog written by my colleagues in Business & IP Centre, as well as our partners.

The blog will cover the essentials of starting and growing your business with stories from people who have already been there and can share their experiences. We will be talking about their successes and learning from mistakes made along the way.


Eat Street has sold out… of food

As last Friday was a lovely warm day I decided to pop over to Eat Street (now KERB) for lunch.

Unfortunately I had left it a bit late and by the time I got there everything had gone.

However, I did have a a nice chat to the staff on the Bell and Brisket stand about their non-Kosher hot salt beef bagels, and how they had to struggle through the miserable winter months until the rewards of the late spring weather brought out the customers.

Next week I will make sure I get out nice and early before they run out of supplies.

Just looking at the photos makes my mouth water.


Anorak – now a cool brand and a Success Story

anorak_logo I have blogged in the past about the importance of using a ‘made-up’ name for your trademark, but there are other ways to establish a distinctive but protected presence in the market place.

I was recently helping a couple of customers in the Centre find some useful market research reports on home wares. In conversation I discovered they were the founders of Anorak, a company who make and sell ‘functional products inspired by the great outdoors’. I also learned that we had helped them along their journey to success over the last four years, so they qualify as one of our Success Stories.

For me, the story here is the ingenuity of taking a widely used slang term with negative connotations, and subverted it into something cool and trendy.



According to Wikipedia the term anorak came from the Observer newspaper’s description of UK trainspotters, based on their preferred form of clothing. Allegedly members of this group often wore, the by then very unfashionable anorak jackets, when standing for hours on chilly railway station platforms noting down details of passing trains.

However according to the Guardian Newspaper’s Notes and Queries column, the term was was originally created by Radio Caroline Disk Jockey Andy Archer in the early 70′. He used the word anoraks on air, to describe the boatloads of fans who came out to visit the pirate radio ships anchored off the Dutch coast.

During the 1980′s it became a general derogatory term for a someone with an obsessive interest in unfashionable and largely solitary interests. 1980’s UK rock group Marillion called one of their albums Anoraknophobia, referring to the long running in-joke that Marillion fans were sometimes called freaks or anoraks.

isle of wight computer geek iow

In the United States the term geek or nerd is often used instead, but is not associated with a particular item of clothing as far as I am aware. The exception might be the wearing of large unfashionable glasses. The US based company GeekSquad have also attempted to exploit the label to their own advantage.

The word anorak is derived from Greenland Eskimo ‘anoraq’, used to describe a waterproof jacket, typically with a hood, of a kind originally used in polar regions.

I am aware that this post may be in danger of straying into anorak territory itself with this level of obsessive detail, so I will stop here.


Anorak_fox_mugAbout Us

Introducing Anorak. A British brand with its heart planted firmly in the great outdoors. Inspired by childhood camping adventures (in a bright orange campervan), Anorak’s founder and Creative Director Laurie Robertson uses striking silhouettes to bring a touch of fun and whimsy to homewares and outdoor lifestyle accessories.

From Kissing Rabbits to Proud Foxes, Anorak’s animal designs are bold, bright and a good deal less timid than their real life relatives. But looks aren’t everything, so the entire Anorak product range has function at its heart. The wash bags are wipe clean, the sleeping bags have leg room a plenty, the picnic blankets are light enough to carry on the longest of country strolls. So if you’re a fan of the great outdoors (even when you’re indoors) and think fun should follow function, remember to pack your Anorak.

Victoria Beckham aka Posh Spice versus POSH football


Source Wikimedia

Following on from my post on Cara Delevingne the brand, I had a look at Victoria and David  Beckham and their brands, as they have been in the news a lot recently after their return to the UK from California.

Victoria Beckham has always been clever in business, and sensibly attempted to trademark the term Posh (her nickname in the Spice Girls) early on.

However, her application was contested by Peterborough Football club who were able to prove they had been known as The POSH since the 1920′s.

Naturally after winning the court case, the club went into action and registered The POSH at the IPO (Intellectual peterborough-unitedProperty Office). However, they seem to have got a rather carried away, and instead of choosing one or two relevant business classes from the 45 Nice scheme like normal, they paid for an amazing 28 classes (see below for details).

So although they are making good use of class 25 for their t-shirts and scarves. I’m wondering how they are planning to exploit class 13 Firearms; ammunition and projectiles or class 34 Tobacco; smokers’ articles; matches. Perhaps they will surprise their fans and branch out into cigarettes.

the_posh_shirtVictoria bounced back from this initial set-back and has successfully established her Victoria Beckham brand in the key luxury product categories of sunglasses, scent and houte couture. According to her business is currently worth £30 million.


 List of goods or services

Class 03:
Detergents; bleaching preparations and other substances for laundry use; cleaning, polishing, scouring and abrasive preparations; dentifrices; antiperspirants; deodorants for personal use.
Class 08:
Hand tools; hand operated implements; razors.
Class 09:
Apparatus for recording, transmission or reproduction of sound or images; optical or magnetic data carriers; recording discs; video recordings; automatic vending machines; calculators; data processing equipment; computers, computer programs; computer games; prerecorded discs and tapes; protective clothing; and parts and fittings, all included in Class 9 for any of the aforesaid goods.
Class 11:
Apparatus for ventilating, water supply and sanitary purposes; and parts and fittings, all included in Class 11, for any of the aforesaid goods.
Class 12:
Vehicles; apparatus for locomotion by land, air or water; and parts and fittings, all included in Class 12, for any of the aforesaid goods.
Class 13:
Firearms; ammunition and projectiles; explosives; fireworks.
Class 14:
Cufflinks; watches and clocks.
Class 15:
Musical instruments; electronic musical instruments; and parts and fittings, all included in Class 15, for any of the aforesaid goods.
Class 16:
Publications; pens, pencils, writing instruments; playing cards.
Class 17:
Rubber, gutta-purcha, gum, mica; goods made of any of the aforesaid materials; plastics in extruded form for use in manufacture; packing, stopping, insulating and packaging materials; flexible hoses and pipes, not of metal.
Class 18:
Bags, sports bags.
Class 20:
Garment hangers.
Class 21:
Household or kitchen utensils and containers (not of precious metal or coated therewith); combs; sponges; brushes other than paintbrushes; articles for cleaning purposes; steel wool; glassware, porcelain and earthenware, all included in Class 21; mugs, tankards, ashtrays.
Class 24:
Textiles and textile articles; bed and table covers; bedding.
Class 25:
Clothing; articles of outer clothing for men, women and for children; headgear; ties.
Class 26:
Cloth badges; badges not of precious metal.
Class 27:
Carpets, rugs, mats and matting; linoleum and other materials for covering existing floors; floor and wall tiles; wall hangings not of textile; wallpaper.
Class 28:
Toys, games and playthings; gymnastic and sporting articles; articles for use in playing football.
Class 29:
Meat, fish, poultry and game; meat extracts; preserved, dried and cooked fruits and vegetables; jellies, jams, fruit sauces; eggs, milk and milk products; edible oils and fats; prepared meals, goods of Class 29 predominating.
Class 30:
Coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, rice, tapioca, sago, artificial coffee; flour and preparations made from cereals, bread, pastry and confectionery, ices; honey, treacle; salt, mustard; vinegar, sauces (condiments); spices; ice; prepared meals, goods of Class 30 predominating.
Class 31:
Agricultural, horticultural and forestry products and grains included in Class 31; live animals; fresh fruits and vegetables; seeds, natural plants and flowers; foodstuffs for animals, malt.
Class 32:
Beer, mineral and aerated waters and other non-alcoholic drinks; soft drinks; fruit drinks and fruit juices; syrups and other preparations for making beverages.
Class 33:
Alcoholic beverages other than beer.
Class 34:
Tobacco; smokers’ articles; matches.
Class 36:
Insurance services; financial affairs; monetary affairs; banking services; credit card services; debit card services; exchanging money; investment services; financial sponsorship.
Class 38:
Telephone and telecommunication services; rental of telephone and telecommunication equipment.
Class 41:
Providing of training; entertainment; sporting and cultural activities.
Class 42:
Computer programming; snack bar services; news reporter services; security guard services; crowd control services.
Class 13:
Firearms; ammunition and projectiles

Success Story – Rachel Kolsky and Go London Tours

Rachel_KolskyI have known Rachel Kolsky for many years prior to my starting here in the British Library Business & IP Centre.

So it was great to be in a position to be help with her growing business Go London Tours. As a prize-winning Blue Badge guide, Rachel certainly didn’t need any tips from me on how to give tours. However, marketing (as is so often the case) was not her strong point, so we worked on reaching a wider audience.

One of the best ways to demonstrate your expertise and passion to the world, is to publish a book. And this is just what Rachel has done, along with co-author Roslyn Rawson. Jewish London is already on its third print-run, with great reviews on Amazon. I am hoping as a consequence tourists will start flooding onto Rachel’s website and book onto her tours.

I have read Jewish London, and endorse those positive comments. It is clearly laid out with a great  many colour photos of the sights. It includes several walking tours of different parts of the city  showing off their Jewish heritage, and discovering hidden gems. Rachel’s enthusiasm shines through the text and makes you want to take a look. And I love the way she always includes suggestions for places to eat on route. In my view there is nothing worse than exploring on an empty stomach.

Kiratiana Freelon has kindly given me permission to reproduce part of an interview Rachel gave to kiratianatravels, and which appears in full in Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Multicultural London.

If you had to describe Jewish London in one sentence, what would you say?

Jewish London offers tourists, as well as residents, a wealth of experiences: cultural, religious, artistic and gastronomic.

How did you first develop your signature Jewish Tour of Brick Lane? When did you start? About how many people have you taken on the tour over the years?

My first public tour of the Jewish East End was in September 2000, the year I earned my first guiding qualification.

However, the Jewish East End remains the classic tour. You can begin at the edge of the city or you can, as I now prefer, start within the Jewish East End at Aldgate and weave your way in and around Brick Lane. That way, you uncover the stories of the Jewish community for whom this area was once their home and workplace.

The tour continues to develop as more stories come to light and my groups share their family experiences with me. What was once a street of houses is now a filled with tailors and banana ripeners, furriers and synagogue caretakers. Their memories, together with the ever changing nature of Brick Lane, is what makes this a continuing fascination for me. I never tire of leading the Jewish East End tours in Brick Lane.

Literally thousands of people, whether Londoners or tourists, whether on foot or in vehicles, have been on my tours, and here’s hoping there will be many more.

The Jewish East End was larger than many imagine, and many groups, once they have rediscovered Brick Lane, want to explore further. I have devised a series of Jewish East End tours that cover areas such as Whitechapel, Mile End, and Stepney, or specific themes such as Radicals & Revolutionaries and Women of Worth.

Why did you finally decided to write the book?

Roslyn, my co-author, and I love travelling. Wherever we are in the world, we seek out Jewish heritage, synagogues, and try and meet members of the local communities. Amazingly, there was no guidebook to Jewish London. Despite a growing interest in London’s Jewish heritage, vibrant cultural centres, literature festivals, music and dance, no guidebook existed to ensure visitors and residents have all the information they need in one easy-to-read format.

Roslyn and I volunteer at Jewish Book Week and, two years ago, after one of our shifts, she asked me if I had ever thought of writing a book based on the tours I lead around London.  Roslyn’s knowledge of the Jewish community, particularly the synagogues and food, matched my knowledge of the history of Jewish London. iI seemed that we must write the book!

The book covers both walking tours around key areas of Jewish interest, but also includes features about historic cemeteries, Jewish art and artists, important Jewish personalities such as Disraeli and the Rothschilds, areas off the beaten track, and suggested days out. Holocaust memorials are all listed, and museums and Judaica are profiled. Several sites are relatively unknown, so we hope the book will encourage greater number of visitors.