Back at the NEC

I am big. It’s the show that got small.

Though in fairness it probably hasn’t. It’s just that there wasn’t very much to grab me this year. I am not in the market for a new bike, and barring a lottery win or the invention of a pillion pal for dogs, won’t be for some years. I don’t need a new lid. Well, actually, I do need a new lid but I’m not prepared to risk a repeat of the Getting My Head Stuck in an AGV experience. And I have Big Hair today. I am too fat for any new clothes and I would have bought a courier bag but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of luggage or touring gear this year. Maybe I missed it.

What was strongly in evidence was encouragement and advice for new riders, which was great to see. Those of us who got a full licence after 25 minutes of lapping the town centre without falling off are a dying breed. We need to help new riders through the insane hurdles the government has inflicted upon learners in the name of safety or riding will go the way of the sedan chair.

More than 30 years ago I had a poster of a Kawasaki on my wall and a glossy A5 booklet about learner-legal Kawasakis and the Star Rider training scheme under my pillow. So it was with nostalgic joy  I discovered that Kawasaki has launched Kawasaki Rider Training Services this year, a one-stop shop from total novice to full licence, via a UK wide network of approved training schools.  There’s even a discount for NUS card-holders.

I also had a lovely chat with Duncan Gough, who is an expert on travelling in Spain and has written a small book on travel writing. I always have in mind when I set out that I will do some sketching along the way but never do. So I shall take Duncan’s advice: “All you need to do is make a start.”




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I should have ironed the factory

15034008_10154767142872577_354449354_oLife has been difficult of late. I lent Scabbers to the BBC and this happened – a literary and literal demolition job. A replacement engine and gearbox are on their way from Germany but it will be mid-December before they get here and Scabbers went away for pre-BBC fixing in June.  All that stress and not even a lovely story as a souvenir. I think perhaps he didn’t want to go to the factory without me.

Maybe he will be fixed in time for next year’s SALT tour. (That is a tautology, by the way, and causes sub-editors teeth to itch in the same way as PIN number and ATM machine). I have been promoting the splendid collective madness that is SALT at the NEC Classic Car Show. Uniforms are always interesting. In two weeks time at the bike show, most people in the NEC will be wearing black t-shirts, beards and boots. Your classic car chap was more likely to be found in mid-range jeans, a polo shirt and a sports jacket. They roamed in pairs. Some of them roamed up to the SALT stand, where Sarah and I were playing the part of kombinat workers at our suspiciously 2-dimensional car plant.

“I should have ironed the factory,” the Northern Comissar ruefully observed, afterwards. But it does look rather splendid in the photos. The big blue car is a Moskvich and the red one isn’t a Lada, though many of the herds of roaming car chaps took some persuading. Apart from a young lad, the skinniness of whose legs was only outdone by the pointiness of his shoes. “That’s Ed Hughes’s Tavria!” he declared, with joy.

Lots of people thought we were offering actual tours of Russia. That would be dull. It is much more fun to bring Eastern Bloc cars and their owners together to create a little theatre in the byways and fords of the UK. Or in the Pavilion of the NEC.



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Testing times

P1050752The Lomax passed. This was good. We went back to my Class 3 tester who understands ‘unusual’ cars and I sat smiling anxiously in the corner labelled ‘MOT viewing’ until the man in the overalls muttered ‘yes that’ll do.’ We had a chat about proposals to increase the gap between MOT tests and the problems caused by continuous insurance enforcement when your vehicles are in boxes. I drove home happy in the knowledge that I had two legal vehicles. Except I didn’t. I was looking for something else and found the MOT for my daily ride. I also found that it didn’t fall due in October. A new test was required with some urgency.

That’s OK, I have the Lomax.

Oh no I don’t.

Wingman and I Lomaxed to the New Forest and used 500 ml of oil getting there and 500 ml getting back. Bugger, I thought, and posted on Facebook that the rear seal must need replacing.

Wait, said Practical Ed. Have your rings failed, thus increasing the crankcase pressure and pushing oil out of all available orifices? (I don’t think he said orifices but it is a magnificent word).

Small sinking feeling. That day I was trying to overtake a BMW on the A14 and had a small overheating moment…Hortense showed no ill-effects from similar but her engine is old and baggy.

Compression test. Large sinking feeling.

So today we are taking the heads off again, because no summer is complete without this job.

The 125 passed its MOT, so I still have one means of transport. Mr Spon Gate shook his head sadly when I explained that I also have a Triumph but I use it less now I have a dog. His conclusion that I have collapsed into an erratic middle age was confirmed when I went for my wallet to find it was at home.

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supervisorWell – that was a roller coaster weekend. I’ve had it set aside for a few months as Lomax MOT preparation – Hortense and Scabbers are both unroadworthy at the moment and the Triumph has no MOT so if I can’t get the Lomax through I’ll be reduced to my CG125 for all my transport needs.

It’s been a long process. We had two days in Norfolk last month so that the splendid Alexander of the eponymous 2CV workshop could replace the front wheel bearings and kingpins. I have the Special Tool for kingpins but live in fear that I will get them out but not get the new ones in. Alexander fought them all day and reported that Bill the Bodger had done some unusual welding and peening on the old bearings which made removing them rather heavier engineering than normal, but that all had ended well.

Next on the list was the seatbelt clasp. Last year we sneaked through with gaffer tape and a miracle. This year I had bought a splendid new three-point static harness but worried that I’d get the seat out and fit the new belt but not be able to get back onto the rails. The Traction Engineer dropped in to help. The job involved breaking several Dremel parts and a drill bit but now it’s not just Shakey that can clunk-click every trip.

And all that was left was valve clearances, points and timing, oil changes, and handbrake adjustment. And bodging some brackets onto the front wing as I think ‘bodywork dropping off’ would lessen my chances of passing. These days, these are easy jobs.

It was a good day for fettling. Shakey supervised. And when everything was back on the car and the tools were tidied away he crouched down to go under a low bar and did something awful to himself. When he’s hurt or scared he runs for a cuddle. And he was very hurt. We went to the vet for a morphine jab, and in the morning we went back to the vet as soon as they opened because he was crying with pain and I was crying too because I couldn’t make it better.

He was whisked away for methadone and x-rays with a warning that I should think about having him put to sleep if the pain couldn’t be brought under control.

If it had been our last trip in the Lomax it would have been a lovely one, with the sun freshly-risen and the flowers along the verges nodding as we passed. But it is not time yet to say goodbye.

The vet called about 3pm.

“How did he lose his leg again?”

“He got run over, I’m told”

“It’s just that he’s got six bullets in his body.”

Not content with beating him and abandoning him, some scrote in Portugal took pot shots at him with an air rifle.

He’s also got a slightly dislocated hip and arthritis in his back legs and spine. This happens when you are a front-leg amputee.

When we were in Norfolk waiting for the Lomax to be fettled we met a pair of Border Terriers who were friends with Baldrick. Poor Baldrick had his front legs munched off by a big Staffie and he has a cart from Eddie’s Wheels. We had a chat about wheels at the time but I filed them in the ‘maybe later’ spot.

Waiting at home for the vet to call was awful. I am never at home without Shakey. Occasionally I will be away at work and he stays with friends, but that’s added up to less than two weeks in since he came to live with me. He is my wingman and we do things together or we don’t do them at all.

Driving him back from the vets I realised the time for wheels isn’t later, it’s now.  But 700 quid is a lot of money for me these days. Why not pass the hat round, said friends. I thought about it. You can call it crowdfunding, or kick-starter, or GoFundMe, but at the end of the day it’s all begging, isn’t it?

As kids we weren’t allowed to go Trick or Treating or carol singing because it was just begging. Sound of mother spinning in grave. But she was wrong about a lot of things.

I checked in with a couple of friends. Don’t be daft, they said. He needs the wheels and people will want to help.

And in less than one day he has a full piggy bank and will be measured for his wheels at the weekend.

I write quite often about how I am blessed in my friends. Today has been another demonstration, if proof were ever needed, that despite all the horror that is surrounding us in the news at the moment, it will always be outweighed by love. Thank you.

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Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg!


Handing over the Relay Ride mascot at Matlock

Two things happen to me at times of stress. I go temporarily blind, and I swell up like one of those killer Japanese sushi fish.

So imagine me, if you like, peering at the screen through the flashing zig zag lines of an ocular migraine, and struggling to reach the keyboard with my T-Rex arms stretching round the enormous bay window of my belly. As it is nearly 9pm at least none of you should be put off your dinner by this vision of blogging glory.

Why so stressed? The Trabant has lost control of its bodily functions and pissed its brake fluid all over the drive. The 2CV’s steering has been destroyed by the professionals I entrusted it to, a fact I discovered while driving 3 hours to a work engagement on Saturday morning.

So if I need to go anywhere on more than 2 wheels in the near future I shall be travelling by Lomax. The Lomax is bodily sound but cost me 400 quid and three days in Norfolk last week to get new kingpins and wheel bearings installed. I persuade myself that I can at least feel 400 quid’s worth of improvement. I can’t fit my beautiful new cycle wings to the Lomax because they are a different shape from the old ones and the brackets need attention with a BFO hammer. At times like this I need the Proprietor of the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery.  He is good with hammers and other blunt instruments. He was going to come for a visit but I was in Norfolk.

I hold this against Norfolk. I also object to the fact it rained solidly from 7pm to 10pm every evening, which meant AdventureDog and I got rather fed up of looking at the inside of the tent.  And the campsite being twinned with The Arse End of Nowhere, I couldn’t even get Planet Rock to divert us from the sound of the rain.

Before Norfolk called, although it wasn’t wholly a bad thing as it meant I could bag three landmarks and have a few beers with camping friends on Saturday night, we had a brief tour of parts north. This was much drier and involved a visit through the looking glass into the world of family domesticity that I lost somewhere along the road.

I was late to my rendezvous on Monday because I was in the Lomax. Like Dolores van Cartier, it is a conspicuous person. I parked it near a canal junction to catch a landmark and caught the attention instead of a pair of New Zealanders on a tour of the Potteries. It seemed an odd place to be touring, but they were having a good time and were off to Glasgow next. I had to dash their hopes that it might stop raining. The hydrologic cycle will not be denied. The rest of Monday was making apple pie and cake, laughing at inappropriate fart jokes and drinking proper northern beer in a proper northern pub while Dog watched the football.   I fear he may have returned to his roots and be supporting Portugal.

Tuesday morning was trying to stay out of the way of the chaos of getting three small people to school and two large ones to their jobs. We had two landmarks to bag and a lunch date at another lovely pub, this one by a river in Yorkshire. And then two other small people needed to be driven noisily, but not too quickly, round their estate in a Lomax because they had never seen one before, before the day’s journey finished at an amazing dog-friendly hotel near Bakewell.

hotelI seem to be spending a lot of time in Bakewell this year. it is the home of the fabled Trabant graveyard, where Wilfred the Traction Engineer and I went on an American Pickers style adventure in June looking for useful parts while fending off the humping guard dog. Cerberus had nothing on this chap. I decided to stop there on Tuesday evening because on Wednesday I was doing a leg of the Relay Ride, a fundraiser for the Blood Bikes.

I was to meet my handover at Stoke on Trent railway station. This would have been easier if the rendezvous hadn’t been at 9am on bin-lorry day, and if the station hadn’t had three car parks. We found each other eventually and headed over to Matlock, self, Dog and Mascot in lead, large Harley Davidson riding shotgun. Landrover and horse trailer in front proceeding with extreme caution down double-white-lined roads. Blood pressure high!

Handover at Matlock safely achieved, my escort said “DId you know you’ve got no brake lights?”

As a question, when you’re just three weeks away from an MOT. that’s about as welcome as “Did I mention that I had genital herpes?”

So my plan for the rest of the day had to get scratched in favour of heading home and getting the multimeter out.

It turned out I had no brake lights because of this ->wire

So I haven’t had any for quite some time.

This is the peril of riding solo. I must get Dog trained up to do pre-flight checks.

PS We found an amazing road across the corner of the moors towards Bakewell. I threw the Lomax through the corners and giggled like a loon in the evening sun. The sat nav didn’t want to lead me to it. I think someone has bribed Garmin to keep the lovely, lonely tarmac a special secret known only to cyclists and sheep.

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Barkas Mad

ScabbyTrabi at the car show

ScabbyTrabi at the car show

“Morning!” shouted my Eastern Bloc fellow-traveller, cheerfully, to the lady cyclist pedalling determinedly up a steep hill just outside Wortley.

“Fuck’s sake,” she replied, Yorkshire brogue as broad as her bottom.

In her defence,we would have been the tenth Trabant to pass her in as many minutes, making an unholy racket and rattling clouds of two-stroke into her lungs.

She’d made the grave error of choosing to cycle along the road chosen by Dominic, Commissar North, for the day’s run through the post-industrial highlights of South Yorkshire.  There were another ten cars behind us, though none quite so bonkers as the Trabant Tramp cabriolet, only recently repatriated from the Canary Islands. Though the Tatra ran it a close second. Imagine a vehicle that wouldn’t look out of place in Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon series, with twin fans and side air ducts that could swallow a small dog. No, two small dogs. Now have it driven by three students from Bristol.

Dear readers,  welcome to SALT – Soviet Auto Luxury Tours, proudly described as ‘the best UK-based tours for all classic Eastern Bloc cars.’ And quite possibly the only UK-based tour for classic Eastern Bloc cars.

SALT pulls off that brilliant combination of tongue-in-cheek fun delivered with utter sincerity and meticulous attention to detail, creating a parallel universe in which it’s quite normal to have Karl Marx and Michael Gorbachev turn up at a gala dinner in Sheffield, and for our table’s group effort at the post-dinner quiz to be praised for its collective nature rather than condemned for cheating!

Not a Capitalist Running Dog

Not a Capitalist Running Dog

Before the dinner former Top Gear host and bike journalist Steve Berry put me in a headlock as part of a demonstration of the opening routine of 1980s wrestling star Mick McManus. And that wasn’t the strangest thing about the weekend. On Friday evening I found myself transfixed by several hours of real-time tram footage shot just after the fall of the Wall.  That was quite weird, but not as weird as the episode of DDR children’s show featuring puppets Jan and Tini on a tour of the Barkas factory.

“Did you think,” asked Dominic, “when you bought your QEK, that you’d be sitting on a Friday night watching puppets buff a Barkas?”

I really can’t say I did…but I’m very glad it happened! Now that I’ve sold Werner I don’t really have a need for ScabbyTrabbi, but we had so much fun bombing about the countryside with like-minded fellow travellers that I’m keeping him for the social life. Well, I say ScabbyTrabi and I had fun on the drives but I’m lying – mostly I bombed about the countryside as a passenger in the Tramp, navigating and drinking gin. Someone has to keep the bourgeoise Western end up.

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When worlds collide

imageI am capable of standing in a motor factors and selecting the right spark plugs for a variety of engines. But it would seem I am no longer capable of choosing a foundation without experiencing the blind panic of Father Ted in a lingerie department.

I am going to a Posh Dinner on Saturday. Fortunately the Posh Frock still fits, and I have no doubt of its poshness since I bought it in Marlow to go to a dinner with the Lord Mayor of London at the Mansion House. But I haven’t had to wear a full face for about 18 months.

I used to wear the works every day, because the day I didn’t was the day the BBC would request a motoring spokesperson to say ‘something must be done’ in front of a camera every half hour until the news agenda rolled on. That doesn’t happen these days. And I spend a lot more time outdoors so I couldn’t just buy my old colour and run away.

A kind lady in a white coat on the Clinique stand took pity on me and now I have a full Girl Kit again. The last time I bought a full kit, I tested it out in the Groucho Club. This weekend it’s for an outing of Eastern Bloc vehicles. I’d say exotica but I think that might not be correct. Anyway, that’s three stealth boasts in one post so I will stop now.

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We’ve got ourselves a convoy (not really, officer)


The Lomax meets the Lancaster. Photo by Pete Kent

I’m a very law abiding person but I feel terribly guilty whenever I see a police car. My sins have found me out and they are coming for me. So itwas a nerve-wracking moment when a panda car (they’re not called that any more, are they!) pulled into the car park where the Bomber County Cannonball had assembled, in thwarted hope of an ice cream, to have a word.

I don’t think we were doing anything illegal – but in a week when Harlow Council had been awarded an injunction banning groups of two or more motorcycles travelling in convoy, it’s difficult to be sure.

Whatever was said seemed to do the trick and he trundled away. Maybe he just wanted a closer look at the cars. It can’t be every day that a Ferrari, a Porsche, a Caterham, a Lotus, an MG that looks like a shark and the magnificent Chavalier are seen in rural Lincolnshire. Oh, and the Lomax.

I was supposed to be at a gig but had to cancel for political reasons. Clearly this was a sign from God, as Neil Motospeed sent out a tweet about the run at the same moment I was wavering about rearranging my leave. Still spaces left on the Cannonball, he said.   Sounds like fun, I thought. Sounds possibly like the Lomax might not be the right vehicle though..

Not at all, said the Cannonballers. Come along.

So on a sunny windswept Cleethorpes promenade, I introduced the Wingman, stuck my Cannonball stickers on the car, so that the police might more easily identify us, and got cut up at the first roundabout by an old bloke who had no understanding of the Highway Code.

It’s a few years since I’ve had to concentrate quite so hard on my cornering. During the One of Our Old Farts is Missing Tour I spent my days frying my brain and my tyres trying to keep up with Graham, and I was only giving away 150cc (and about 50 years of riding experience).

In Lincs, even with both hamsters running full pelt I’m guessing the Lomax was a good 1200cc down on the next smallest engine on the run. We could keep in touch through the corners but as soon as the roads opened up the big beasts would roar away. It was fun trying though, and we covered the beautiful bends around Cadwell Park that we used to play on with the HRT crew.
Bomber County Cannonball 2016
The morning was all about the twisty tarmac and the bright blue skies. Just before 1pm we pulled into East Kirkby Aviation Centre, where the NX611 Arvo Lancaster ‘Just Jane’ lives – not just to look at it but to line up in front of it for a monster photo-opportunity and also to see its engines fire up for a taxi run across the airfield. It’s impossibly moving to hear the engines start and to imagine a whole squadron of them heading up into the dusk. The average age of a Lancaster crew was 22 – some were as young as 16. These days we don’t trust lads that age to be in charge of a motorcycle, which doesn’t feel like progress.

From the museum the Cannonball headed more placidly towards the Pyewipe Inn and a celebratory dinner. Sadly the Wingman had to wait in the car but he seemed quite happy chilling out in the garden beside the canal with the occasional treat.

I’m always proud of AdventureDog, who made lots of new friends and wore his doggles for a few photos – but at the end of the day I was also proud beyond measure of the Lomax. We’d run with the big boys and not disgraced ourselves. It’s probably the hardest day’s driving it has endured since the rebuild, and it was absolutely flawless.

*Both of the awesome photos on this post are by Cannonballer Pete Kent. See the rest of his Bomber County Cannonball pics on Flickr.

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You’re a bloody idiot

wales copy copyIt seemed a bit harsh. The bloke in the blue car who’d chased me down the M6 and wound down his window to deliver his verdict hardly knew me. I didn’t think I’d done anything particularly idiotic – changed lanes, discovered the  one I was in was about to dump me off the motorway into darkest Birmingham, changed back. Maybe he was fulfilling the role of Caesar’s slave, because frankly I was feeling pretty immortal.

There are few things as good as driving a car that was a basket-case when you first got it, hearing its barbaric yawp from the engine that you rebuilt,  and knowing that you and your doggy sidekick have got three more days of road trip ahead – and a weather forecast promising lots and lots of sun, which is unusual for the Welsh National Rally.

As already noted, this was my first solo run – though it isn’t ever really a solo run, not even a little bit. Steve and Jim, the Twins-soon-to-be-separated-by-a-CrossRunner were at the bunkhouse already, so Thursday night was fish and chips and a pot of tea. On Friday they were off towards St Davids, while AdventureDog and I were heading down the border towards Hereford and then heading into the mountains for what should have been a five-landmark day. The satnav foiled this plan by deciding, after I missed my turn to a landmark in the valleys, to shrug its electronic shoulders and decide we had been close enough, no need to tell me. Well done for trying. I didn’t notice for another half an hour. Bloody annoying but a good lesson for the Rally – always go point-to-point, don’t trust the technology! And the consolation prize was a drive down an amazing twisty road across a miniature moorland which I had no idea existed in this former mining heartland – stunning views interrupted by the occasional heart attack when a local came bombing round the hairpins not expecting to find a small blue roller skate in the middle of the road.

wales1 copySalt was rubbed firmly into the wound when I got back to the bunkhouse and the Twins pointed out that the back road from my final landmark to the one I dropped for lack of time was about 10 miles up a goat track, not the 40 mile detour that the Garmin wanted me to take.  It has turned into some sort of nanny, making its own decisions for me. ‘Not that way, dear, it’s not safe for you.’ It needs a telling!

On Friday evening the rest of Team RBR turned up – JD, and the Bell brothers, standing in for dad. Maps were checked – my tatty paper Wales Touring maps from my first RBR in 2003, Jim’s laminated A4 cards with route info and a photo of each target, the Bells with an amazingly detailed plan of attack and a GoPro.

We set off on Saturday morning. I got lost trying to find the petrol station, which wasn’t the best of starts, but it did mean my arrival at Castle Caerinion was perfectly timed to get my card stamped and get going.

I wanted a Dragon this year – I had worked out that to do the extra four locations added only 40 miles or so to the route, the sun was shining, and I would never have such a good chance again. But time gets away from you so quickly. This may have been because I spent the first half of the rally going up the goat tracks just for the entertainment value. On my second road I rounded a bend to find a BMW pilot covered in mud from knees to neck and his partner helping him fetch the bike out of the hedge. ‘It gets worse,’ they said. ‘You’ll be OK though.’ And it’s true – roads I wouldn’t dare on the Triumph are a breeze on three wheels. Shakey looked a bit alarmed when we headed sideways in a three-wheel drift towards the fence but it ended well.

At 4pm we were still somewhere the wrong side of Machynlleth. But there was only one WNR location and one Dragon left and the sun was still shining .We pulled in to Dinas Mawddwy, which sounds like one of P Diddy’s aliases, to be greeted by thumbs up and cheering from a group of blokes outside the pub. Cool. I stopped 200 yards further down the road to dive into the ladies. Not so cool. But they did give me directions to the Merion Mill, and that was my silver in the bag. The miles to the last reservoir were some of the best of the rally – empty roads, late afternoon sunshine, a happy dog under blue skies – perfection. And then the last miles back to Castle Caerinion were under a biblical thunderstorm with thunderbolts, lightning and torrential rain. Still, if you are gong to be soaked, far better to be soaked at the end when you can gain bragging rights but go home to dry out!

Standout memories of the day? A big cheery wave from JD who was heading south while I was heading north to the Dinas Dinlle airport. No, it’s not a Morgan. Finally escaping the 20-mph sightseers and powering round the sweeping curves of Snowdonia to see the granite soaring skywards. Incredibly polite Americans asking what on earth I was driving. A much-needed Mars Bar in the Co-Op car park. And my fabulous new coaster! Same again next year?

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Filed under Lomax, Round Britain Rally, spring, Welsh National Rally


ChotGq7WkAEuS30.jpg largeThe Lomax is fettled, my toolkit is ready – though in an IKEA tupperware box, not a fabulous oilcloth tool roll – my maps are prepared and I am ready to set out for Welshpool tomorrow afternoon.

If the weather is good I will go out on Friday and bag RBR landmarks. If it isn’t good I will lounge ar0und in the Severn Bunkhouse or possibly walk up the road to the pub.

I have tried to plan for fixing things that I know to have gone wrong with the Lomax in the past. This has included the condenser failing in the points box, and bits of the exhaust dropping off. So I have gaffa tape and cable ties, that ought to do it.

I never used to be able to take part in the rally because it was always the same weekend as the Thundersprint. These days Frank is writing truly excellent books and not organising sprint races in an M&S car park so I am free to roam the Celtic fringes. Sadly this means I don’t get to enjoy my annual reunion with Nikos .

Proving that it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks, this year I am flying solo. Well, solo in human terms, for the WingMan will be with me. In previous years I have done the run with Badders and Self. This year they are both working so I have had to work out my own route, and if the exhaust falls off again, do my own repairs. I am being brave and undaunted by the prospect.



Filed under Lomax, Riding