Zen mind, beginners mind.

My luck is not getting any better. I had to pull out of my house purchase after the survey found that the roof needed replacing. My tax is so screwed up that I will be paying twice as much as normal until next April. And the weekend I had planned to ride the Jawa down from the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery was the weekend that winter decided to show up, with Met Office warnings for ice and snow.

I decided that the preservation of mental health made the outfit a survival item and arranged for it to come down on the back of a lowloader. If I don’t eat for the rest of Decmember I’ll be able to cover the fee.

The outfit arrived at 7am on Saturday morning. The keys followed in the post two hours later. I’m not saying I was desperate but the postie looked very surprised when I wrenched the door open as he turned into the drive. He was getting no chance to stick a card through and run away.

Wingman and I have been out twice already – the weather was horrible yesterday but today the sun came out while we were having a coffee and a burger at the drive-thru. I am remembering how to turn left and right, and that you need to give it an extra boot to get from third to fourth.

And it is lovely to be out on a bike and learning again. Wingman isn’t convinced yet but if I keep taking him to McDonalds for a plain burger he might come round.

 

 

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Standing in the shadows

Slightly odd day at the bike show. A kind benefactress sorted me out with a ticket, meaning my sorry skint ass could get through the gates – but how to get to the show?

I’ve recently become a convert to getting the train to Birmingham International and walking over the bridge, but the car park for my starting station is always rammed by 9am. So I could have taken the 125 to the car park, then got on the train carrying my lid – but we’ve all seen That Bloke who drives to the NEC, parks up, and opens his boot to reveal full race replica leathers and a helmet, which he changes into on the tarmac.

I don’t want to be that person!

I consulted.

Take the wee bike and have an adventure, said @scunjee, and since I have outsourced all major decisions in my life to my twitterati, I did.

We trundled doggedly along the A45 and round the back of the exhibition halls to the bike parking, shadowed by an Africa Twin. Way to rub it in, universe. And then when I was about to take a photo to show that little bikes can have big days out too, I discovered that being well-organised and putting your camera battery on to charge is only helpful if you remember to put it back into the camera.

Nothing to report on, nothing to take pictures with. I had become strangely invisible, written off as Not A Biker, despite my Overland tshirt.

Perhaps the Adventure Handbag was confusing people. Perhaps I have resting bitch face.

“Excuse me! Were you at the Overland Event?” asked a bloke in the Adventure bit. No, I said, sadly. Dogs aren’t allowed so I can’t go. Apparently that’s a conversation killer.

“Hello! Would you like your boots cleaned?” No thanks, I had them done at the Classic Bike Show last week. “Oh, you’re with that gentleman? Sorry!”

Not fit to be out alone, it seems.

Sam Manicom was warm and friendly as always, but I worry that if I chat too long I will stop him from selling books, so I bought Elspeth Beard and wandered along. Triumph’s new clothing range looks fantastic and after payday I might buy myself a birthday present from it. More importantly, it’s Shakey’s BlightyVersary soon, four years since he came to live with me from Portugal, so he now has a Kickstart mug from the cunningly disguised Tim Midlifeclassics, who had come to the show as Team Ogri. If you know an Ogri fan (with or without a coffee table) then buy them the magnificently presented complete works and keep them quiet until Spring.

As I trundled home, I had a moment of revelation.

In recent years, I have been experiencing my motorcycling at one remove. I could have said hello to Alun from Adventure Bike Rider, as a friend of Clive. I could have said hello to Nathan Millward, who I know through Nich. I could have said hello to Nick Sanders, as I bought a ticket to Mach 2 after Nick cleared me to attend in the Lomax with the Wingman, but couldn’t go (office politics from hell.) But that would have been odd.

The cure seems simple. Ride more.

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A sort of homecoming

“Are you famous?”
No, not really….
“Do you want to be?”
Er…I just wanted to ask about joining the Vintage Motorcycle Club…

Volunteering for charity is supposed to be its own reward. I have recently signed up to be a Fat Controller for the local Blood Bikers – I have been looking for something useful to do with my time and I can answer telephones and send volunteer riders to hospital while based at home with AdventureDog.

Bob the Rota came to my temporary residence with an impressive set of induction materials and talked me through my new responsibilities. At the end of the evening, after he’d successfully co-ordinated two riders to collect from Nuneaton hospital and deliver to Coventry, he asked if I was going to the Classic Bike Show this weekend.

As earlier that day I’d opened a 600 quid legal bill and a tax demand for another 185 on top, I have had to slash all current spending that isn’t on food or petrol. I explained, with my sad face on. So he slipped me a wristband, and on Saturday morning I took my packed lunch to the NEC – on the train, to save the price of parking – and had a lovely day.

Last year I was being an Eastern Bloc Schraubenschlüsselfrau to promote the SALT tours, blissfully unaware that I was about make a really poor decision and turn my life upside down, again.

This year SALT wasn’t exhibiting but the Wartburg-Trabant IFA Club was out in force and it was just lovely to catch up with everyone and talk about what’s going to be happening next year. Now I am back in England again I’ll be able to join in – even though I don’t have the Trabi any more, because of the Jawa outfit I’m still eligible, so I’m looking forward already to Drive-it-Day in the Spring.

I wandered among the car clubs that – unlike the excellent value IFA Club – want the best part of a hundred quid as a membership fee, and was gently ignored by the sleek chaps at the desks, and then I got to the bike section, led there like a Bisto kid by the tempting aromas of rubber, oil and petrol rising under the hot lights. I couldn’t find Bob the Rota but I did get a warm welcome from the VMCC. We discussed whether I was qualified to be a member, being an owner of a G-reg motorcycle. I didn’t like to say that it was a pedal-and-pop Honda – I might join anyway and keep schtum.

Queuing at the 2CV Shop espresso Acadiene, the chap in front of me said “You have the blue Lomax, don’t you?”

I’m very sorry, but I don’t remember where I met you! Or maybe I haven’t met you, and you just know from my outrageously indiscreet social media profile.

So maybe the answer should have been yes, after all.

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Travellers’ Tales

He used to laugh at those people with the funny faces and the bells.
Ah, jesters ma’m.
No…lepers.

My friend Reg has a bright green Trabant called the Daisywagen. Not because it pushes them up, or smells of them, but because it transports his Airedale Terrier, Daisy. Well, he says Daisy is an Airedale, but I’m still suspicious that he got sold a Shetland pony in a chenille coat.

Ever since meeting Daisy I’ve been keen to read Gasoline Gypsy, the story of a woman who travelled through Canada, the USA and Mexico with Matelot, an Airedale she bought for the trip. Matelot travelled in a box on the back of a BSA Bantam, rested his head on Peggy’s shoulder when he felt affectionate, and jumped out and ran ahead when bored.

Yesterday I was at the National Motorcycle Museum for Museum Live and amid the stalls of Whitworth spanners , ethanol-proof fuel hose and stickers (“have you got any Gulf Oil stickers?” “Probably, I bought a collection of ten thousand.”), Gordon G May had a stall selling his own books and copies of Peggy’s. And he was very gracious when I told him I wasn’t after one of his. Maybe next year?

I left the museum with a large syringe, a date with the Warwickshire Blood BikersZoë Cano’s first book, Bonneville or Bust, which is next on the pile, and a hardback copy of Gasoline Gypsy,

I’m super-jealous of the cartoon on the cover, having my own hairy travelling companion. If anyone would like to draw me a cartoon of the wingman and I in the Lomax I’m very willing to pay!

But I digress.

Peggy’s book is a great read about a great adventure but a bit of a period piece. I love the detail that she travels with a typewriter and a camera – two essential tools now wrapped up into a tiny smartphone – though in a shocking oversight, Peggy doesn’t say what machine she used to capture her thoughts.  I’m less comfortable with her attitude to some of the people she meets – at times the tale does shade into ‘look at the funny Mexicans,’ and her relief at being back in the States is very, very clear. Is it all we can expect of someone travelling in the 1950s, or is it a reflection of a certain Home Counties Englishness?

Perhaps I’m being unfair. Peggy makes a lot of friends on the road and she comes across as brave, resourceful and able to strip a cylinder head in 15 minutes.

For me, the book absolutely excels when Peggy captures those magical moments when the road gives you its blessing.

“Once again we climbed up into the darkness of the silent mountains and the warm night. Then I gradually came into the light of the moon, which was steadily rising over the summit of the mountains. The road ahead was like a silver ribbon, winding up and up round the dark mountain sides. The beauty of the night was intense, and I wished that the drive would last for ever.”

One quick health warning: Any readers of the ‘all the gear, all the time’ persuasion should steer clear of this book. At various points, Peggy rides in a sundress, a ‘riding skirt’ that she had specially made, and, when struggling through a series of downpours, in bare feet. It’s an argument I occasionally have on twitter – the bike struggles to top 30mph, why does she need to wear any more than you’d wear to ride a bicycle?

The other aspect that troubles me is the reliance on being a solo woman traveller to get out of scrapes. Of course it’s wonderful that passing truckers, motorcycle shop proprietors, hotel owners, policemen and Dutch cargo ship captains should want to help a lady traveller and go out of their way to do so. But is this a good way to travel? At one point Peggy is down to her last few dimes and can’t afford to pay for a pitch in a state camping ground. She pitches, hopes to get away with it , and the kindly warden lets her off.

“Hope you had a good night’s rest, and say, I didn’t bother you about that seventy-five cents, I reckoned you were short of dough.”

Cheryl Strayed, half a century later, faces the same dilemma and it ends with her being forced to move on.

“If you’re going to stay here, you have to pay. If you can’t pay, you’ve got to pack up and leave. Them are the rules. We’ll keep the lights on while you pack.”

Cheryl isn’t a biker – she’s a hiker. She walks a thousand miles to get her life back on track after losing her mother, her family and her husband. Her story is also a period piece – she walked in 1995, when email was in its infancy and the internet still came down phone wires in black and white. She relies on letters from friends to keep in touch and has to telephone REI from a cafe for help with her boots.

I guess it’s human nature look for the parallels between our own journeys and the journeys of the people we come to know and admire through their words. I would definitely follow Peggy’s example and travel with a typewriter to Mexico, if it was possible to take AdventureDog with me. I love that Ted Simon is a journalist, like I have been, and according to Ted that means I have the skills and toughness to follow his example.

The things I hold in common with Cheryl Strayed are the things that I swept under the carpet. I might write about them again, but I fear it would be boring. Perhaps I only need to say that if you, like us, lost a mother to cancer when you were barely an adult, if your family drifted apart and you have nothing in common with your siblings, if your marriage didn’t stay the course, and if you did things that hurt yourself and others because nothing really mattered any more, then you should read Wild. And even if you haven’t, you should read it anyway because it’s a really great story. It will just probably make you cry a bit less.

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And sent her homeward, to think again.

So, Scotland kicked my arse. 6 months of unrelenting bad luck and things breaking. Failed starter motor, flat tyre on the 125, mice in the 2CV air box, rats eating the Lomax seat, broken door on the Dandy…crowning glory was an MOT fail for the Lomax thanks to a cracked chassis.

So I got to do almost none of the things I moved to Scotland for – no tours of the Highlands, no Highland games, no rallies, no classic car shows, no fun. I went to work, I sat in a room and wrote stuff, no-one talked to me, I went home, sat in a room in the forest with Shakey with no phone signal. He’s not much of a conversationalist, unless he’s singing for his dinner. I slowly lost the power of speech.

Unlike the barbarians, I know when I have been conquered. So I have turned tail and come back to England, to a job less than a mile from the one I left. But I have no house, I sold it when I moved north. And now I can’t afford to buy in the same postcode, because the market has risen but my capital has shrunk. And most of my stuff is in a container in Fife.

I feel like a fool.  I really thought I was going home, and going to an amazing job. Neither turned out to be true.

I once judged a man whom I was dating for living in a shared house. What had gone wrong in his life that he was an hour late for a date because he had to wait for the shower? Well, now I know. You take a series of decisions, each of which seem like a good idea, but which lead you further and further up the cliff, until, like a crag-bound sheep, you’re stuck and can no longer move forward or back.

There were some good things. I saw more of some special friends. And I bought a sidecar.  I was just getting the hang of it but now it is in storage in the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery and I am a very long way south.

I live in a spare room. I try to be grateful. It could be worse.

 

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RIP Olga Pronina

I hadn’t heard of this Russian rider, mainly because I don’t do Instagram, until news of her death broke today.

The usual muppets are out in force, saying that bikes are death machines, that she should have thought of her daughter before taking risks, that she should have toed the line and not drawn attention to herself. That death is somehow justified if you are a beautiful woman riding a motorcycle in inappropriate clothing. Though she did team her denim cut-offs with a back protector.

But she wrote this, about riding:

“Thank you for never failing me, for making my lonely nights better, for helping me to forget troubles of my life, for training my body and my brain.

“I am grateful to it for the sparkles in my eyes, for the warm wind blowing on my cheeks when my visor is open, for unbelievable excitement and a feeling of flowing in the air, for doses of adrenaline.”

“Thank you for gifting me freedom… and I know that I am not alone. There are thousands like me, those madly in love with their metal horses.”

It is unlikely that I will pose on an ice-ready Suzuki in a bikini and a smile. But I totally relate to Olga’s words.  Biking is freedom, and excitement, and not being alone.

 

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Beginners Mind

So we start again. Reuben from OLAS Motorcycle Transport dropped off my new Jawa outfit last night and tonight, with tax and insurance in place, AdventureDog took his new seat and we wobbled off down the road. In defiance of advice from the three chaps from the MZ Club who allowed me to gatecrash their breakfast on Sunday. They said “For God’s sake don’t go on the road.” But it’s a quiet road and it’s mostly straight, so not too many people were endangered. Today’s learning task was to get used to stopping and starting.

I do wobble to work most days on my little 125, but that doesn’t seem to count psychologically as riding. Tonight I zipped up my boots, put on my ancient blue Triumph jacket – bought with a bonus 15 years ago – and felt like a proper biker again.

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Are we going to take the doors off?

I am a bit lonely in my new life so I am making an effort to get out to car and bike-related events, to have fun and maybe meet some new friends.  Today 2CV Ecosse kindly started their Scenic Run from Cupar Highland Games, so I got to watch some Scottish cultural activities (no caber tossing- is this a myth?) while having a cup of tea on the rugby club balcony before the start.  Then Shakey kicked his water bowl over and we had to slink back to the car in disgrace.

The line-up is a bit of a Highwaylass History of 2CVs. Nearest the camera – just like my third, if it had a big painting of Tigger on the bonnet. Two to the right of Hortense – a duck egg blue 2CV Club, just like my first. Though without gaffa tape holding the headlight glass in.  I was also unreasonably excited to see an Actual Mehari – the French equivalent of the Trabant Kubel. The doors lift out so that you can enjoy the proximity of the tarmac.

It was a rather more sedate run than the rinky-dink anarchy of an IFA Day – and there were no fords to splash through, which was probably appreciated by Donald in his matt-black mean-as Lomax. But we did visit a herd of vintage horses.   Fife is home to a world-famous Clydesdale stud – ‘fresh and chilled semen available from all horses’ – and it was necessary to look Gorgeous George (right) firmly in the eye in order to avoid looking at his prize-winning tackle. I am a city girl, I’m not used to this sort of thing.

 

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Old School: meeting Jupiter

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes. Most of mine are dead, so it’s not a dilemma I face very often. I have stopped entering those competitions where you nominate your ideal dinner party guests because no-one seems to agree with me that Nina Simone, Ayrton Senna, Che Guevara and Teresa Wallach would sparkle over the canapés.

In the small days of December when I was desperate for a distraction from packing up my life into another array of cardboard boxes, Coventry Transport Museum tweeted that Ted Simon would be visiting the city to launch a new exhibition and would be giving a talk about his travels.

Faithful readers will know that Ted Simon is the reason I still ride. They may not know that I missed out on seeing him a few years ago, when he launched the Ted Simon Foundation. I promised then that I wouldn’t let the next chance escape. But I have no Serious Motorcycle at the moment. In the winter half-light I puttered down to the Museum on the 125, and locked it up out of sight of the array of Large Gnarly Beasts that proper bikers arrive at such events on.

It is a popular internet trope that bikers would rather be on their bikes thinking about church than in church thinking about their bikes. On this occasion, we got to do both, because the venue wasn’t the museum, it was the beautiful medieval chapel round the corner. Which was suitably adorned with a large number of copies of Overland magazine and a large Triumph. And Ted Simon, seated near the altar, suave in suede, yellow socks, and reading glasses.

I have the very greatest admiration for anyone who sets off on a Big Trip. I have had the chance twice and bottled it both times. A dear friend has just set off. His biggest worry was that he wouldn’t achieve escape velocity, that responsibilities here in the UK would keep him tethered. But he fully expects to be able to come home, should he so choose. Ted reminded us that he set off, “on, as my girlfriend called it, ‘your fucking mission’” fully at peace with the idea that he might die on the road – “but somewhere along the way you have to throw your life into the hands of chance.”

These days, Ted concedes, “the idea of going round the world isn’t very dramatic any more. People are doing it all the time.”

But there are still roads to conquer. “Riding a motorcycle around the world is a political act,” Ted said. “We must take an interest in the world around us. It’s not where you go, it’s what you find.

“It’s about self-awareness and improving other people’s understanding of the world. Pick somewhere your imagination draws you to and go there.

“Find out what is really happening. Find out what it’s really like, come back and tell other people. Counter the impressions given by TV. It’s a liberating thing to do.”

For Ted, travel is a personal as well as a political liberation. “When you travel you are free to be whoever you want to be. We can free ourselves of the everyday contortions of trying to live up to other people’s expectations.”

What does the successful round-the-world traveller need? A bike, “the smaller the better,” and “an abundance of curiosity.”

I have the bike but I lacked the courage. Maybe it will be third time lucky for me. After all, another world is possible. And Ted said that journalists make the best travellers because we are scrappy, resourceful people. There is still hope.

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At six o’clock I shall be serving wine

Last Saturday I stopped at Scourie, on the North Coast 500.  I had planned to catch up with Nathan Millward’s Garbage Run and camp with them, because surely there could be no problem aiming at a (slowly) moving target heading from Applecross to Durness and rendezvousing somewhere around teatime?

Turns out it’s more difficult than you’d think. And after a slightly traumatic day which included the Lomax suddenly turning into a low rider and scraping along the single track about an inch off the ground, I didn’t fancy adding any extra miles to the trip by retracing the route south to where the C90 boys had stopped. Also my camp site had a restaurant and bar. Double win.

So I pitched my tent, and admired the beautiful view, and the Hugh Grant-a-like in the one-man camper van behind me said “If your friend doesn’t make it, at six o’clock I shall be serving wine.”

How is the solo camping lady to respond to such an invitation?

Is it just wine?

Is it wine with a chaser of ‘would you like to see the inside of my camper van?’

Is it the kind of wine that requires you to have a shower and shave beforehand?

I decided to take no chances. A shower it would be. Just in case.  But as I trotted off to the cubicles I overheard Hugh inviting the other solo lady camper on the site to join us. Maybe he was hedging his bets. Maybe the camper van was a lot bigger on the inside than it looked.

Or maybe it really was just a six-o-clock chat among like-minded middle-aged travellers.

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