When it comes to visits to the NEC, I feel like a chameleon. Obviously if you’ve met me this stretches credibility. How much blending can a 6 foot woman built for comfort with hair the colour of a London bus do?
It’s more of an internal adaptation. The first year I went to the show I had a guest ticket courtesy of Craig Carey-Clinch. It said VIP on it in silver leaf and I enjoyed the insider status that came attached to a job working as head of campaigns for a Large Motoring Organisation. I spent the next few years getting closer to the industry, until one year I found myself with a staff pass, which came with an obligation to spend my time in the show having meetings with chief executives about sales data rather than having meetings with the rest of the lobby, motorcycling friends and journalists in the bar. Though I did sneak off for the Wall of Death.
Paradoxically the nearer I got to the centre of things the more of an outsider I felt. So I walked away from that job, and 10 months later out of work all together. Oops.
Last year I went to the show in a new disguise – freelance journalist. I’m still not sure it’s a role I’m playing terribly well. I feel like there’s a Haynes manual for it that everyone else in the motorcycle media has got, and all I’ve got is a smudgy pdf of the page that says “reassembly is the reverse of disassembly.”
But it must be true because editors ask me to write for them. Sometimes they even ask me twice.
This year was my second visit on a press pass. I’ve come full circle and am about to start again. Instead of discussing data with Chief Executives and Chairman I talked travel with Paddy Tyson and Sam Manicom. I looked at off-road bikes and I asked lots and lots of questions. KTM were happy to let me stand inexpertly on the pegs of the new Freeride 350. The lovely people from Bumpy’s walked me in a nervous figure of 8 on their Gas Gas, finishing their lunch ten minutes early to make it possible and offering me a warm welcome at their Yorkshire Trials Park. And I entered all the competitions offering trail riding holidays in warm places with the gusto that I used to enter the ones offering shiny new fast bikes.
What’s it all in aid of? I’m going travelling. I’m starting with Australia, and when I get back I’m going to find out just how little money it’s possible to spend on the tedious business of living so that I can build up enough funds to just keep rolling. It’s not an original plan, but it’s the one with my name on it.
I nearly bought Building the Ultimate Adventure Motorcycle: The Essential Guide to Preparing a Bike for the Journey of a Lifetime for three pages in it by Austin Vince. He’s incredibly rude about guided tours and writes of the importance not only of making your own plans but also of creating your own diary, movie or website about what you did. His view is that we should be doers, not passive consumers. Something that it’s been too easy for me to forget these last few years. Slightly ironically, it was the point about not being consumers that stopped my buying the book, because one of my great failing is the belief that reading about something is pretty much the same as actually doing it and that’s a trap I’m trying to escape.
So this year for me, just as it was way back in the beginning, the NEC was all about possibilities. It’s about becoming a new rider again, and about finding the allies who are going to help me reach the horizon. Probably rather slowly, and with a lot of stopping and putting my feet down, but, after all, as Ted Simon said, the interruptions are the journey.