I have just finished watching an amazing film based on the true story of Philippe Petit who crossed the 200 foot gap between the 110 story twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York in 1974.
The Walk is worth watching just for the vertigo inducing scenes of his perilous and spectacular high wire walk. The film is also an amazing recreation of the world famous towers I climbed during my gap-year trip round the USA in 1980. And which were of course destroyed by the terrorist attack on that terrible day 11 September 2001.
But for me the story also parallels many aspects of starting a business.
Perseverance – The first time the story’s hero sees tightrope walkers in the Circus as a young boy, he is determined to learn the skill. He spends his teenage years practicing his ‘calling’, by first walking on five ropes, then four, then three and two, before getting down to a single line tied between two trees. I wonder how many times he fell during those years of apprenticeship.
Overcoming failure – Petit’s first public outing is a humiliating disaster in which he falls into a lake due to performance nerves. It would have been easy to understand if he had chosen to end his ambition at that point.
Finding your audience/customers – Petit moves to Paris and develops his skill as an entertainer. He learns where the best places to perform are, and how to manage his audience.
Having a vision – Philippe is always looking for new and more audacious places to hang his wire, and spots the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral. He sneaks in at night and sets up his cable, before giving the early morning tourists something of a surprise view. According to the film, he chances across a photo of the World Trade Center towers in a dentist waiting room. In a close up scene he slowly draws a thin straight pencil line between the two buildings and immediately this becomes his obsession.
The passion to keep going – The training, planning and preparation required to walk between the twin towers before they are completed appears to be impossible, but it is Petit’s passion that drives his small team of ‘co-conspirators’ on.
Having a mentor – Philippe persuades high-wire expert Papa Rudy from the circus to teach him everything he needs to know to be able to walk between the towers. Including the most dangerous part of any wire walk, the last three steps.
Detailed planning and research – The walk is illegal, so the team have to do an immense amount of research on the building-site of the twin towers to work out how to get the equipment needed up onto the roofs in time for the crossing at first-light.
Valuing your team – There is a moment in the film, the night before the adventure begins, where Philippe is reminded by his girlfriend that he has not thanked his team for their contribution. He immediately wakes everyone up to express his appreciation.
Adapting to changing circumstances – During the night while setting up the equipment for the walk, Philippe and his accomplice Jeff have to hide for three hours balanced on a steel girder from the security guard. This prevents our hero from checking the cables on the other tower as originally planned. He decides to go ahead anyway and trust in the work of his team.
Celebrating success – Once the police release Petit and his team from custody they celebrate their incredible achievement with a champagne and a Chinese meal. Many entrepreneurs are too busy rushing onto their next goal, without stopping to recognize an important milestone or success.
Achieving the impossible – Most of the people Petit met in the build-up to his walk said it couldn’t be done and that he was mad. He proved them wrong. He believed in himself and his abilities in the way everyone starting a business needs to.
My dad has always been something of an early adopter, keen to try out new ideas and inventions. He bought a Sharp EL-801 one of the first pocket calculators, a Sinclair ZX 80 computer, and VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a shiny new set of Trolley Bags in his cupboard the other day.
A little research shows the colourful product was invented in Ireland by Paul Doyle in 2010 and is protected by a patent for A Re-usable Bag System.
With the imminent charge for plastic bags in England, the time is right for Trolley Bags to clean up. The Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015 comes into force on 5 October. And the order requires sellers who employ more than 250 people to charge 5p for a “single use carrier bag” which is less than 70 microns (0.07mm) thick.
On my regular drive to my parents house I pass several food vans catering to the hungry driver.
Their names vary from the mundane Joe’s Food Shack, to the humorous such as Mrs Doyles, which alludes to the iconic character appearing in the legendary Father Ted comedy series.
But my favourite is a tiny little white van with a bright red Yummy’s logo and a 1950’s style waitress winking out at the passing motorists. When you add in their strapline Well Tasty, I think they get credit for an effective promotion in a competitive market.
For this trip I decided to go for something different to the monster Harley Davidson Road King of 2013. I considered a BMW sports tourer, famed for their ride-ability and ergonomics, or perhaps my first ever ride on a British Triumph. But when I rang through to Eagle Rider I discovered the choice was just Harleys or Indians, so I went with the Indian Chieftain. If I had thought the Road King was a handful, the Chieftain was more so. With 111 cubic inches or 1,811 cubic centimetres, the engine was only slightly smaller than the one powering my five door family saloon. And weighing in at 848lbs (385 kilos) it was three times heavier than my Kawasaki KR-1R tucked up in my garage at home.
The Boston branch of Eagle Rider was being refurbished after damage caused by the severe winter storms, so pick-up was from their Foxboro branch MOM’s to the west of the City. This meant travelling by train, which was something of an American cultural experience in its own right. Sadly, trains are a badly neglected form of transport in the United States compared to Europe. The carriages on the commuter train I caught looked straight out of the 1950’s, with cracked leather seats in long rows. The windows were so worn and scratched I couldn’t even see which stations I was passing through, let alone a view of the landscape I was passing through. Luckily, and somewhat at odds with the ancient nature of the train was the provision of free Wi-Fi. So I got out my laptop and used Google maps to work out when I had arrived at my station.
The weather forecast of heavy wind and rain had my leaving the SLA Conference earlier than planned. I hoped that by picking the bike up early and heading north, I might be able to keep ahead of the worst of the weather. I smiled sardonically to myself, when remembering my conversation about wet weather with John from Eagle Rider several weeks earlier. He had warned I wouldn’t get a refund if I cancelled due to wet weather. I replied that I was British and so had plenty of experience of riding in the wet. Also, having been a Boy Scout in my youth, I had come prepared and packed my ancient Rukka jacket from my days as a motorcycle messenger in London in my twenties. I had also managed to squeeze my armoured leather jacket, boots, gloves, and waterproof trousers into my case. My crash helmet wouldn’t fit, so became my hand-luggage for the flight.
My station stop of Norfolk turned out to be a quiet suburban town with just a single rail track running through it. So I soaked up the genteel atmosphere in the warm afternoon sun watching the logging trucks roll by, as I waited for my lift.
Once I arrived at MOMs, sorting out the paperwork was quick and easy. Following a short introduction to my big blue shiny Chieftain bike, I was wobbling off into the heavy but fast moving traffic, heading west on Route 1.
Lots of Indians waiting to hit the road with mine in front
I joined Interstate 495 heading north, but after about an hour surrounded by speeding traffic I decided I needed to check I was actually heading in the right direction. I pulled off at a service station and parked next to a well-used Harley and its grizzled owner. He was heading hundreds of miles south for his son’s graduation, but having already done over 100,000 miles on his lean bike, was remarkably relaxed about the journey ahead.
Minimalist Harley vs bloated Indian
I returned to the motorway just as the predicted rain clouds began rolling in from the west. But I was still really uncertain of my route without a decent map plus confusing road signs. I was looking out for route 125 north and naively assumed they would be in a logical sequence. They weren’t – and having checked on my return home, the actual order of road numbers was 62, 117, 111, 2, 119, 225, 4, 3, 3A, 38, 28, 125 and 108. I think the word ‘random’ applies here.
After nearly two hours of heavy traffic and feeling close to despair, a sign for 125 flashed up and I dived off the motorway and headed north towards Kingston and Rochester. Immediately everything improved. At last I could get a proper feel for the bike between my legs. I could appreciate the smooth engine with its powerful low-rev torque, light clutch, strong brakes and most surprising of all – nimble handling. I was also impressed by the green lawns and white paint on picket fences and wooden architecture typical of the New Hampshire region.
Reading Church New Hampshire
Sadly my equanimity wasn’t to last long, as the sparse road signs didn’t give me any confidence about my direction of travel. My planned 7pm meetup with old friend Ric began to look doubtful. The fuel gauge indicated a quarter tank remaining, so I stopped for ‘gas’. And was stunned to find I couldn’t even squeeze $10 worth in. The station was on a four way junction, so I after discovering they didn’t sell local maps, I asked which road for Lake Sebago. Considering it is a popular tourist destination, I was a bit surprised no knew which one to take. I picked the most likely looking road and headed on uncertainly.
By now the scenery had changed from manicured lawns, to impenetrable pine forests and lumber yards with the odd nudist campsite thrown in. The heavy traffic had all but disappeared, replaced by the occasional enormous log laden truck hurtling towards me along the narrow road. This was when the sheer weight of my bike became an advantage, as the turbulence from the passing lorries barely caused a flicker.
It was around this time that the rain storm finally caught up with me, forcing me to stop and put on my ancient waterproofs. I also raised the wonderful electrically powered windscreen up to its highest level to push the water droplets over my head. I knew I must be getting nearer to Ric’s house by now, but the sun was starting to set and I my stress levels were rising. The next town was Standish where the road signs were a complete disaster. I wasted twenty minutes riding round in circles until I eventually found the right road out of town.
Just ten miles on and I had at last arrived at Sebago Lake. So I got out my Google map printout to help pinpoint Ric’s house. However in the real world there was a big gap between numbers three and ten, and I needed number seven. I asked a couple of locals, but they hadn’t heard of Ric, so I rang and discovered I had somehow got his address wrong. His house number was 2,000 higher and six miles further along the road.
It was at this point I realised my main headlights weren’t working. But, fortunately the daylight driving lights were quite bright, so I could see the road ahead. But I couldn’t see the house numbers clearly, and I was annoying drivers coming towards me who assumed I hadn’t dipped my lights for them. They punished me by keeping theirs on full beam, blinding me. I saw the house numbers go over 2000 and slowed right down. But then then suddenly went back down to one again. I sped up, but after another five miles had run out of houses altogether, so turned around.
It was getting properly dark now and my stress levels were peaking. I zoomed back along the road desperately looking for the house, and before I knew it was back at Sebago Lake. I could hear my phone ringing and fought to remove my gloves and helmet in time to talk to Ric. They had seen me ride by earlier and suggested I meet them instead at Naples before the local restaurant closed. I hurtled back along the road looking this time for the road sign to the town. But somehow missed this in the dark. I pulled into a closed gas station and rang Ric. He sounded exasperated, which I could well understand, and told me to stay where I was until he arrived.
Ten minutes later and his truck appeared along with his smiling face. By now there was only one place left open that might still be serving, so I followed Ric and his wife there for a late beer and burger. The journey had taken my over six hours instead of under three according to Google maps. I couldn’t believe how patient Ric had been with what appeared to be my deliberate repeated attempts to miss his house. After a quick tour of their beautiful lakeside house I collapsed into bed and slept hard on the soft bed.
Ready to hit the road again bright and early
Both Ric and his wife had work the next day, and I had a full day of riding ahead of me. So after a strong coffee and a quick catch-up from the old days, I was on my way. My first stop was at Naples which I had failed to find the night before. In the bright morning sunlight I was able to take in the stunning lakeside views and to admire a big group of Harley Davidson bikes gathered in the car park.
The bridge into Jackson
My only planned destination for that day was Mt Washington, which according to Motorcycle Rides website was an exciting challenge for a motorbike. The road to the mountain wound its way through dense pine forest, with signs warning of moose crossing, and very little traffic apart from a surprising number of motorbikes coming the other way. I could see my fuel was running low, so took a detour into sleepy little Jackson, but could find nothing of note other than tourist trinkets and an impressive wooden bridge over the river.
By the time I reached the car park at the foot of the Mt Washington the gauge indicated I had less than a quarter left. I got chatting to a friendly couple on ‘his and hers’ motorbikes. He had a brand new Indian Scout with all the trimmings including tassels on the front mudguard, and she was on a very futuristic looking trike. They had been up the mountain before, so we reviewed the pros and cons of the climb. In particular my considerable fear of heights.
Despite my issues with vertigo I decided I might as well give it a go after coming all this way. Sixteen dollars later and I was heading up a narrow winding tree-lined tarmac road. Soon the incline increased while the trees decreased, and I could now see just how steep the drops off the side of the road were. I took the bike down to first gear and crept forward up the mountain road.
Suddenly the fuel gauge showed the tank was nearly empty, which was came as a nasty surprise. It looked like I wouldn’t be able to make it to the top. Around the next bend the tarmac gave way to a slippery dusty dirt track. And I could feel the panic rising up through my stomach. Soon after fuel gauge began to flash warning signs at me, but I carried on up, looking for places to turn around and free-wheel back down the mountain. Somehow the bike kept going, and the dirt road was replaced by nice grippy tarmac again. And then the top of the mountain came into view and I was able to stop. I climbed off the bike and stood on my shaking legs and took in the one hundred mile views.
One hundred mile views from the top of Mt Washington
After a few minutes to recover my equilibrium, I set off to explore the peak and to search for some gas to get me back down. It was warm in the bright sunlight but the air temperature was chilly at this altitude, and I found an icy puddle in the shade. There was a stiff breeze blowing, but fortunately nothing compared to the day they recorded the highest wind speed in the world at 231 miles per hour in 1934.
After a having a quick nose around the original Tip Top hotel built in 1853, I returned to my bike and prepared to head back down the mountain. I was greatly surprised and relieved to see the fuel gauge indicating quarter full again, although this increased to three-quarters on the steeper downhill sections, which was bizarre. Thank goodness the return journey was not nearly as terrifying as the way up, and twenty minutes later I was back at the bottom feeling calm again.
Next up was a ninety mile loop of roads recommended by the Motorcycle Rides website. These were wonderfully traffic free, with only the occasional logging truck to keep me alert. Plus a few other bikers exploring these roads, who never failed to return my ‘American’ bikers wave. I couldn’t resist stopping for a few minutes at Umbagog Lake where the quiet calm of the water and views of the distant mountains were wonderfully restorative. The warning about the dangers of thin ice seemed incongruous in the 30 degree centigrade heat, but gave a hint towards the winter weather here.
Umbagog Lake in the midday sun
I reached the most northerly point on my the trip at Errol, which turned out to be not much more than a sign-post. Then turned south towards Berlin and the best roads of the whole trip. I revelled in the long open curves as the road followed the track of the fast flowing and appropriately named Bear Brook river. The wonderful views of the mountains were constantly changing with each bend. These roads were virtually deserted, with my only concern bumping into a bear or moose. I did actually have to slow right down to let a large female moose wander imperiously across the highway at one point.
Next stop was Gorham where I just managed to squeeze another $10 of fuel into the tank. A recommendation from the lady at the gas station led me to Mr Pizza where I decided a celebratory brunch was in order, so went with prawns, cheesy pasta, garlic bread, salad and a local beer. But what sounded like a modest sized meal on the menu at $9.50 turned out to be something of a eating challenge. The food was delicious but also incredibly rich, but I kept going until I had eaten the lot. On arrival, mine was the only bike at the restaurant, but during my short lunch break, Harleys began to arrive and noisily park up. By the time I left they were filling up the car park.
As it was still relatively early, I decided there was time to pay a visit to Laconia bike week to see what with the oldest bikers rally in the United States was like.
An example of a Peterbilt truck
The road there took me down to Carroll with plenty of big fast logging trucks on the road. In my mirrors I could see a particularly intimidating Peterbilt truck bearing down on me from behind, so increased my speed to a steady 70 miles an hour to prevent it overtaking.
After a few miles I noticed the truck had disappeared and been replaced by a slightly odd looking brown car. I allowed it to get closer and realised it was a County Sheriff police car – and that I was speeding. I subtly slowed down to 50 and cruised along for another ten miles until they got bored of following me.
But in Carroll I noticed there was another cop car on my tail. So I kept rigidly to the 30mph speed limit until I reached the edge of town and they disappeared for good. I discovered later the police weren’t worried about my speed but my level of intoxication, apparently many bikers ride drunk during the Laconia festival.
I could tell I was getting nearer to my destination as the bikes started to outnumber the cars on the road. The road signs were no help, so I decided to follow a particularly loud Harley in the hope they were also heading to the gathering. This bike had an incredibly loud exhaust pipe, forcing me to drop back a long way to protect my ears. I could only imagine what it must have been like for the rider and pillion sitting on the bike all day.
The road wound through more beautiful mountain scenery before dropping down to a series of small lakes. Finally I started seeing signs for Laconia, so let my noisy guide go and stopped for more fuel. Parked up at the gas station was a shiny new BMW adventure bike, so I pulled up alongside and began chatting to its husband and wife riders. They had been coming to Laconia for many years and thought nothing of the 18 hour ride from their hometown in the mid-west. He was a big fan of European bikes, and had a Ducati and Triumph to go along with his impressive BMW. I noticed they were wearing crash helmets, and we talked about why so many bikers I had seen didn’t have any protection on their heads, and how crazy they were.
Next stop was the town of Laconia itself, but having explored the main streets thoroughly I was confused by the lack of bikes in the town. I stopped and asked one of the few groups of riders in town and they explained the big gathering was over on Lakeside, and that I could follow them there. It was a ten mile ride, but soon the road were swarming with bikers, out numbering the cars by ten to one. At Lakeside the road had been closed to all but bikes and I managed squeeze into a parking space next to a ‘Jesus bike’.
There were lots of kiosks and stalls selling fast food and bike related gear, with the addition of quite a few mobile tattoo parlours which were proving popular. There were some amazing custom bikes on show, many of which looked virtually unrideable. I heard later that most are driven there in vans and then wheeled out for short show-off rides.
After an hour fully immersing myself in this uniquely American experience (I only spotted two European and two Japanese bikes). I decided it was time to head south. The sun was setting over the lake and knew I would need to put in some miles in, to find a motel that wasn’t booked out to bikers.
I managed to find route 107 which was a lovely quiet rural road peppered with farms and small villages. After 40 miles of riding and with darkness descending, I came to a small town and conducted a fruitless search for a motel. I asked for help from a group of locals chatting outside the only store left open. Apparently the nearest hotels were in Concord another 20 miles on. By now it was completely dark, so I sped-up and followed their directions. On the approach to Concord the signs indicated I had a choice of three exits to choose from. I guessed that the middle one would take me to the town centre, but was wrong. I spent 20 minutes exploring suburban lanes with enormous houses before I turned around and head back to the junction. Five miles in that direction and I could see the lights of the town centre approaching. A quick exploration of Concord town centre revealed just one Holiday Inn, but with full car park. It was 10pm, and after 13 hours on the road I was more than ready to dismount my wonderful two wheeled steed.
Dinner for one
I found a gap for my bike and entered the hotel lobby with trepidation. What a relief! They had just three rooms left, and within minutes I was soaking my aching body in a big tub of steaming hot water. I still didn’t feel hungry after my epic lunch, so made do with my emergency supplies of Mac & Cheese crisps and bottled water.
I slept solidly on the big comfortable bed until nine the next morning, and was packed and ready to go by nine thirty. I decided to miss the hotel breakfast and instead look out for a local diner on the road. I wanted to find a quiet route to get me back to MOM’s as I had plenty of time, and keep off the motorways. Route 3 to Manchester was a small road, but was also a busy one with lots of traffic, stop lights and 30 limits. And Manchester turned out to be a big town with heavy traffic crawling through its many junctions. The temperature was already up into the high 20’s Centigrade and the wafts of heat rising up from the engine big hot engine didn’t help.
Also, the sign-posts were virtually non-existent with nothing showing the way to Salem New Hampshire. All I could see were signs for I 93 so I followed them until I found myself battling with 80mph traffic speeding towards Boston. I got off the motorway as soon as I could and cruised through Salem town looking for an alternative for my brunch to the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts. I saw a small wooden shack by the side of the road with a sign proclaiming ‘We serve the best coffee in Salem’. I took their nearly full car park as a good sign and pulled off at the next turning. And very nearly dropped the motorbike turning on the loose gravel surface. With relief I pulled into the car park and strode into the café where I was met by a cheery welcome. The friendly chef guaranteed I would enjoy the house special with added hot sauce pictured below. And he was right.
As I sat enjoying my brunch in a bun and coffee, I noticed my fellow diners were concentrating on television screens showing just a series of changing numbers. I realised the café shared its space with a lottery shop, and most of the customers were punters not diners. The lottery sales counter displayed a series of photocopied A4 posters proudly exclaiming recent winning tickets they had sold. I noticed there were no prizes larger than a thousand dollars, but this didn’t stop a string of enthusiastic gamblers queueing up to buy more.
I returned to my now baking-hot bike and set off in search of route 3 to take me into the Boston suburbs. Soon I was heading south through heavy traffic and burning hot sun. Once again the signage was minimalist, so I concentrated on keeping straight on. Many U-turns and stops to check my map were required to keep on track, with sometimes a glimpse of the right route sign after I had already taken the wrong road.
At one point the road was closed for resurfacing with a helpful diversion sign showing me the way to go. Unfortunately that first sign was also the last, so I had to guess how to re-join the main road through a series of housing estates.
All this took a lot of time and I began to get concerned about making it to MOMs for my 4pm deadline. More heavy traffic and I was close to the motorway into central Boston and decided a more radical approach was needed. I worked out if I took I93 into the city, I could switch onto I90 out again. Soon I was fighting amongst four lanes of 80mph traffic towards the high-rise towers of Boston.
Then suddenly I was underground in the infamous Central Artery/Tunnel Project (CA/T), known unofficially as the Big Dig. The sign for I90 West flashed up and I was just able to squeeze over into the correct lane in time. But then the traffic slowed down rapidly to crawling pace. I was pincered between a big van in front and a roaring big truck right behind me. The temperature displayed on my screen showed 89 Fahrenheit and I could feel myself becoming feint from the heat and exhaust fumes. After twenty minutes of this particular torture we emerged into startling bright light. Soon the traffic eased, along with my nerves and we were back up to a steady 80mph. Twenty miles further on I came off the turnpike and used my last $20 bill to pay at the toll and ask for directions. Just keep going straight ahead was the advice, and I was soon cruising along route 1 looking forward to a punctual arrival. But with no road signs for several miles I stopped at a gas station for help. Still the advice was keep going straight on.
Finally there was a sign and it was for Norfolk, so I turned off knowing I would be able to work out my way from there. I found Norfolk, but not the railway station, so I asked for directions again knowing time was running out. A friendly trucker was sure the Foxboro branch of MOMs had closed, which didn’t inspire confidence in his directions. Ten miles later and I was lost and in desperation phoned MOMs for help. They said I was on 1A and should be on 1, and gave me clear instructions to get to them. Even so, thanks to very misleading road signs I took another detour wasting valuable minutes. Finally I could see their distinctive logo ahead. I pulled up outside the store and switched off the throbbing v-twin for the last time. I ripped off my helmet and jacket from my overheated body.
John was there to welcome me back, with no complaints about my lateness. And very soon I was out of my biking gear and ready to head to Boston Logan airport. We piled into a MOMs van and were soon mixing it up with the rush hour traffic. As we travelled back along route 1 towards the motorway, I realised that if I had listened to the directions I would have got back nice and early. Instead of desperately racing around the local roads getting increasingly lost.
John and his mechanic colleague talked about biking in the region and the risqué reputation of the Lacunia bikers. He said the refusal to wear helmets came from the ‘Live free or Die’ moto dating back to the days independence from English rule. I had already noticed this uncompromising message on the bumpers of New Hampshire cars on my travels.
This hard-line attitude which was reinforced by the number of gun stores I saw along the way, some marketing their lethal wares specifically at women using a ‘Guns 4 Girls’ slogan.
Waiting for my flight home I worked out the statistics of my trip. I had travelled 700 miles and ridden for 24 of the 48 hour hire period. I had also been up and down an 8,000 foot mountain. And this time I wasn’t taking home an unwanted souvenir in the shape of severe back-ache thanks to my new kidney belt.
On my travels around Sussex I recently found myself looking at the back of a van with this very distinctive image staring back at me. On further inspection I discovered it wasn’t the reincarnation of ZZ Top, but Bearded Bros Removals of Brighton. As you can see from this screen shot below, they are acually quite a friendly bunch.
This started me thinking about removals companies and how some of them attract customers using unusual and memorable names.
When I moved house last year we used Rhino Removals. Who happily did lived up to their reputation rather than their name, and were nice and gentle with packing up and moving our household. I’m not sure the artwork they use on the side of their vans is helpful from this point of view.I did a little bit of research using the Business & IP Centre company databases and came up with list of fun names for removals firms. I was glad to see there was an Aardvark Removals there, which must date back to the days of alphebitical printed listings. Having two A’s at the front of your name ensures you are the first in the list,
My favourites two are Movers Not Shakers and Exodus Removals & Transport. But I’m also a fan of United States based The Sultans Of Schlep!
My first step was to buy a cheap and cheerful cycle helmet, mostly to placate my concerned partner. At that point I was still doubtful about its value as there was some evidence to the contrary (Cycle helmets are useless, says brain surgeon). However, after a few months mingling with cars, buses, lorries and other cyclists, I started to appreciate the fragility of the human head. Especially when it has the potential of coming into contact with any of these solid metal vehicles, or even just a patch of hard tarmacadam road. So recently I upgraded my helmet to an ‘urban’ model with more protection, and hopefully a tad more style.
My Giro Sutton bash hat
Next came a choice that drops me off the bottom of the fashion scale. My fluorescent orange and yellow safety vest may be a faux-pas from a style perspective, but it certainly gets me noticed – which is the point of wearing it. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen car drivers and pedestrians glance in my direction, then doing a double-take and stopping their imminent move into my path, as the bright colours of my vest hit their brain receptors.
I spent my formative years riding a motorbike on London roads, so I know that anything on two wheels is effectively invisible to most other road users. I still remember the “I’m sorry – I didn’t see you” from when I was knocked down by a car in the Walworth Road in 1989. And I really want to avoid hearing it again.
In those days it was the engine driving the wheels rather than my legs, and the two rear-view mirrors were something of an irrelevance. The acceleration of my motorbike meant I needed to focus on what was in front of me, not behind me.
I can see behind with my Mirrycle mirror
On a pedal powered bike it is more of a fifty-fifty front and rear. I still need to concentrate on the road ahead for rogue pedestrians and cars pulling out in front of me. But I also need to be aware of what is coming up behind me. Is it a taxi who is going to squeeze me into the kerb, or a bus desperately trying to get the stop in front of me, or a monster truck who’s air draft is going to blow me over.
I am even at risk from young Lycra clad cyclists, who I’m sure see an old codger like me riding a Brompton in a suit, as someone they can whiz past. So the ability to see them bearing down on me at speed, and so give them space to pass, is very helpful to both of us.
I still look round behind me quite a bit too, using what the Police call the lifesaver. This tends be before a manoeuvre, or to make eye contact with a driver who is about to cut me up.
Knowing what is going on behind me gives me choices and avoids dangerous surprises. So that makes my Mirrycle perhaps my most valuable investment in terms of safety on my trusty Brompton. In fact based on my experience I would recommend that every bike should be fitted with at least one mirror as a standard safety feature.
Update November 2015
Interesting to see Garmin have now come out with a radar system for detecting vehicles sneaking up behind you. I still think my mirror will do for now.
However, despite a previous attempt with Lego Universe in 2010 (which only lasted a couple of years), they have allowed Minecraft to become the monopoly player in the digital building block market place. Started by Markus Persson in 2009 it has grown to a user base of 70 million, and in September of 2014 was taken over by Microsoft in a $2.5 billion deal.
But now It turns out that Lego has not been idle during the spectacular growth of Minecraft and recently ‘soft-launched’ Lego Worlds on Steam for beta testing.
Lego Worlds is an open-world construction and exploration game in which every single element is constructed from digital Lego components. Players can change the existing worlds, or construct their own. Each landscape contains Lego vehicles, mini-figures and creatures (including the essential dragon), and are all based on real-life play-sets.
My step-son is a Lego fanatic in all of its incarnations, as well as being a keen Minecraft player. So after seeing a rave review from the influential Nerd Cubed on his YouTube channel, he was keen to buy a copy for the relatively modest cost of £11.99.
Once the download was complete he was in seventh heaven exploring the vast Lego worlds available on the system. I was amazed by the superb quality of the graphics, with the tiniest details of the real-world Lego pieces recreated on the screen. In addition to being able to travel around the virtual worlds either on foot or by climbing on board available transport such as motorbikes and horses, it was possible to recreate entire models using a ‘magic’ wand. So a helicopter or house could be conjured up within seconds and put to use.
This virtual Lego world contained the by now traditional elements seen in Minecraft of the ability to mine and build, whilst having to fight off scary monsters in the shape of Lego skeletons. But it had the added attraction of the full set of models carried over from the real-world available to build and adapt.
The beta test is due to continue until early 2016, and it will be fascinating to see how successful this game will become once fully launched into the market.
It’s been over a year since I bought my Brompton folding bicycle to help cope with my long-distance commute from Eastbourne. I have to admit there was a steep learning curve to get the complex folding system (there is only one way to do it right – but lots of ways to do it wrong). And adapting to the hyper-sensitive steering (which does become something of an advantage once mastered), took much longer. But apart from these early niggles, the bike has been a joy to own and use.
So let’s start with a list of negatives from a year in the saddle:
The almost daily stories of death and injury, often appearing on the cover of Evening Standard, make me question the risks I am taking.
Having to share the road with tipper trucks, articulated lorries, and buses. They are noisy, big and scary for a cyclist.
Fellow cyclists who blatantly ignore red lights. I can see the temptation to get going, but they give all of us such a bad name.
Taxi drivers who squeeze you into the curb. I wonder if it is deliberate, or perhaps they just didn’t they see me? On reflection I would say a combination of their skill and experience, probably means it is a conscious action.
Teenage scooter drivers with some kind of ‘death-wish’ who cut through the smallest of gaps and swerve across multiple lanes of traffic.
Pot-holes, which seem to multiply nearer the edge of the road (where I want to cycle), forcing me out into the path of cars and vans.
Pedestrians with headphones and tunnel vision, determined to cross their patch of road, often right in front of me. They seem entirely oblivious to the world around them.
Badly thought out and implemented cycle lanes. For instance my daily route takes me over Southwark Bridge with its blue cycle highway. On the bridge I feel nice and safe with a concrete bollard between me and the heavy construction lorries. But coming off the bridge, I have to filter through three lanes of those monsters, praying the lights don’t chance until I get to the safe haven of the cycle box at the front. It is genuinely scary.
Cobbled back streets. I love the fact that London is steeped in history, but my bottom would appreciate some smoother tarmac please.
That was a bit depressing, so let’s end with some positives from the year of the Brompton:
Mental health. According to an Evening Standard, one of the best ways of helping to develop a Mindfulness approach to live is to cycle regularly.
Exercise. I can feel my legs getting stronger and my stomach getting a bit smaller every time I swing my leg over the Brompton’s saddle.
Surprising pedestrians. My favourite trick is to stop for pedestrians as they step onto a zebra crossing. I usually have to wave them on, as they think it is some kind of trick, having become accustomed to cyclists cutting in front of them.
Getting to work on time. I can usually get to work five minutes earlier than if I changed trains and relied on Thameslink to get me across central London.
Knowing I can fold my bike up and get on the tube if necessary. So far I have only been ‘rained off’ once.
Being able to get from Kings Cross to Oxford Circus in 15 minutes. It’s even quicker than the tube.
I’ve just finished reading a great book with an even greater title. The Name of the Beast by professional ‘namer’ Neil Taylor, is a guide to the ‘Perilous process of naming, brands, products and companies’.
You can tell Neil is slightly scarred from his years as a senior naming consultant at Interbrand where he discovered (much like for graphic designers), everyone is an expert. And some are very cynical about the role of professional namers such as Neil.
According to Andrew Mueller in Guardian newspaper;
“There are people, enviable yet contemptible, who make good livings inventing names for companies.
In fact, if you’re a CEO about to shovel a five-figure fee at some twit called Nathan to come up with a name like Twerq or Zamp Plus or X-Zite!, get in touch – for half the money, I’ll do you something at least as good, and certainly no more foolish.”
And people often have strong emotional bonds to brands they have grown up with, and are now being ‘messed about with’. Neil give a classic example of name failure, when Royal Mail changed to Consignia in 2000. He prints three pages of hostile comments from the time, which culminated in an embarrassing ‘volt-face’ just 15 months later.
For me, the most useful part of the book is chapter 3 where he covers the different approaches to naming.
Descriptive names By using the Ronseal approach, ‘they do exactly what they say on the tin’, see the history of the famous phrase. Obvious examples would be pretty much anything that starts with British (think Airways, Gas, Petroleum, Telecom etc). Sadly these names are often too good to be true, and cause problems when you go international, or change what you do over time.
Neil uses one of my favourite examples, The Carphone Warehouse. This name accurately described the brick sized phones sold in warehouse outlets when they were starting out. But today they sell sleek smartphones is smart high-street shops. I wonder if the chairman Charles Dunstone called a meeting one day to come up with a new name. But someone pointed out they had left it too late, and anyway the business was doing just fine with the original name. The positive brand values had been absorbed into the name, and risked being thrown away with a new name.
So although descriptive names save you having to explain what the company does, they have almost all already been taken, and even if not, can risk being too descriptive to allow you to register a trademark. For instance, Compare the Market and We Buy Any Car have been refused a trademark, but Compare the Meerkat and Webuyanycar.com were allowed.
Moving on from literally descriptive names, image-based names work by association using metaphors. Neil gives the examples of Visa (the shopping equivalent of a passport) and Viagra (think life and Niagra). If successful this approach can give a brand a personality which can appeal to customers.
Some of the most powerful brands on the planet use abstract and in some cases, made up words. Apple is currently the most profitable business in history. George Eastman used Kodak because he thought k’s were cool, so why not have one at the beginning and end of his brand name? Citroen did something similar until relatively recently when they ‘owned’ the letter X. Starting out with CX, BX and XM and then moving onto more creative names such as Xsara and Xantia.
The best thing about a made up name is that it can’t already be registered as a trademark to someone else, although you do still have to be careful it isn’t similar to a word that is in use.
Names of provenance
These are abstract names, but derive from a place or person. In fact, nearly half of the world’s top 100 brands use family names. Examples would be McDonald’s, Ford, Cadbury, Kellogg’s and Dyson.
Names that break the rules After spending many pages explaining the options for naming and going into detail about how to brain-storm for names, Neil give some examples of names that break the rules.
For example, I can’t believe it’s not butter, is about as far away from a short and simple brand name as you can get, even though it does sort of explain what the product is. He uses the example of U2 who have a ‘rubbish’ name but global success, whereas Half Man – Half Biscuit have brilliant one, but are long forgotten except by a few faithful fans. Or how about Smeg fridges? Surely no one would by a brand whose name is associated with “a substance that collects inside male genitalia”. But thanks to their bright colours and trendy retro design they have become very popular indeed.
I am glad to see that Neil spends a bit of time talking about trade marks, even if it is in a rather short chapter titled The long arm of the law. He points out how trade marks trump company or domain names, which means they need to be checked first. The famous cases of Apple Corps vs Apple Computer is covered, and Budweiser US vs Budweiser Czech lager beers.
He explains how a name can exist in different classes of business activity using Polo as an example – a VW car, a mint with a hole, and expensive clothing. As long as the consumer is not confused about what and who they are buying from, there is no problem.
Neil is definitely not a fan of trade mark lawyers, but does admit they can help you work out the risk of choosing a particular name. It all comes down to predicting how the owners of similar names with react. How likely are they to send you a ‘cease and desist’ letter from their lawyers?
So you don’t have to like a name, or understand what it means for it to be successful. As long as it is legal, available and memorable you should be ok. If Cillit Bang can become a household name, surely anything goes.
Last week I joined in with the LIKE (London Information and Knowledge Exchange) visit to the Cartoon Museum.
For several years I had walked past the building in Little Russell Street, just around the corner from the British Museum, on my way to work. So I was curious to see what was inside.
After a short introduction from the director and some typically ‘info-pro’ questions relating to copyright of the collection, we were free to explore the exhibits.
Downstairs I took in the permanent collection of historical works from seminal cartoonists such as Hogarth, Gillray and Cruikshank. Coming up to date with some hard-hitting images relating to the Charlie Hebdo shooting.
Next was the current featured exhibition Heckling Hitler, with cartoons and comic art from World War II. There were some classics by David Low which you can view on the British Cartoon Archive.
In addition were some famous government propaganda posters from the time, including Coughs and sneezes spread diseases, Careless Talk Costs Lives and Doctor Carrot the ‘children’s friend’.
On the way upstairs I stumbled across a short video from Simon’s Cat. This creature was a new discovery, but this example was a brilliant reminder of my own cat’s ruthless methods of getting my attention.
Upstairs was a wonderful collection of original drawings from the likes of Dennis the Menace, Dan Dare, Rupert Bear and Roy of the Rovers. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar sight from my youth. On closer inspection it turned out to be a page from the Trigan Empire, which appeared in my childhood magazine Look and Learn. An unexpected blast from the past.
I would strongly recommend a visit to the museum if you get the opportunity.
The Cartoon Museum
35 Little Russell St