Category Archives: Friends

It’s sheep we’re up against

P1070441If you are going to splutter to a halt on a remote Peak District byway in your newly re-engined Lomax then there is probably no better company to do it in that in the midst of a convoy of the Eastern Bloc’s most iconic engineering. Spare length of 5.5mm fuel line? Produced after a brief rummage in the boot of a Lada. Someone willing to suck on the end of said fuel line to clear the vapour lock? The driver of the Lada. Moral support, encouragement and a push? From the Skoda and the Trabant behind.

That was Saturday afternoon. It was a blazing hot day and the Lomax Did Not Like It.

Like the Lomax, I was unhappy.

When I pay someone to do a job I would like it to be done better than I can do it. The new-ish engine suffers from chronic overheating. Since discovering this in Wales I have replaced and adjusted the points, sorting out the over-long screw which was scoring the front of the cam and interfering with the centrifugal advance. I’ve redone the valve clearances, because the exhaust clearances were just about closed. I’ve blown through all the carb jets and reset the float height.

And on Friday after a miserable drive through Stoke city centre we worked out that the oil cooler was clogged like a 60-a-day man’s arteries. Rob bravely put it to his lips and blew until a gout of oil gushed out onto the grass. This is not what I was expecting. I suspect it wasn’t what he was expecting either, but I lent him my spanners in exchange so he could sort out his bent boot hinge.

Al fresco engineering is a tradition of the Foxfield IFA Club meet, and it is comforting to be surrounded by resourceful people who remain unconcerned when the exhaust falls off the back of their bike halfway up a hill out of Cheadle and cheerfully discuss the best way of bungeeing it back on to get home without melting any elastic instead of booting it into the nearest skip.

Being good Communists we believe in the good of the collective. But owing to an administrative cock-up somewhere along the line the family who had booked the station for an all-day party on Saturday hadn’t been told there would be a thirsty collection of harmless eccentrics camped next to the miniature railway.

“Hello!” I said to the woman blowing up balloons on Saturday morning. “Whose party is it?”
“It’s for my dad. He’s retiring, and it’s his birthday, and he’s beaten cancer.”
“Excellent. We’re a car club, we come here every year. It’s a shame about the double-booking, isn’t it”
“No you can’t use the bar.”

I like to think that if it had been the other way round and I’d been the party host I’d have welcomed the leavening of my family party with a few interesting outsiders. But that probably says more about how I feel about my family than anything else.

We went to the pub instead.

Saturday was the road run and the total collapse of the Lomax. With the roadside repair of the fuel lines and a boost from David’s spare battery – kept charged in the Lada, just in case – we got going again, only to run straight into the back of a flock of sheep being herded at slow collie pace up the hill. Yes, just perfect when your car is so hot it’s boiling its own petrol.

Eventually they turned off and we trundled agonizingly into the very beautiful village of Hartington for the lunch stop. AdventureDog enjoyed an ice cream. I enjoyed passive-aggressively saying ‘you’re welcome’ to the woman who ignored the fact that we’d stepped back to let her down the stairs from the ladies loo and headed off into the distance. This infuriated her so much that she came all the way back up the stairs to tell me that she was unsteady on her feet and concentrating, and it was much more sensible for the person at the bottom of the stairs to wait. She tailed off after a minute and said, “You’re not in a very good mood, are you?”

Well spotted.

We staggered on. The company was good even if the engine was struggling. Next on the list is a swop for cooler spark plugs and my special hot-temperature coil. And another round of carb cleaning.

Sometimes when the day has not gone well it’s very nice to sit and drink beer with friends. The problem with rounds is that you sit down and other people bring you the pints. The other problem is that I’ve not been drinking much since last September and have become a truly cheap date. So this year it was my turn to have the intervention and have my mug of sparkling East German wine which I was womanfully quaffing round the camp fire on being rescued from the pub gently removed from me.

Well – if my car is behaving badly perhaps I’m also allowed to be.


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Better days

I am sitting holding a leather jacket while the man it belongs to does something daring. This makes me laugh. It’s the kind of thing I imagine a Pink Lady might do for her favourite T-bird. It’s not what I do. I rebuild carburettors, scour North Wales for spark plugs and drop the needle in the throttle to stop my engine running lean.

It didn’t help. Last weekend I came home from Welshpool in Biker Paul’s car while the Jawa went back to Wisbech with a wrecked gearbox. I no longer own it. It has gone back whence it came, for £1500 less than I paid for it. Add to that the £800 quid it cost me to ferry it up to Scotland and back down again, about a hundred for miscellaneous repair parts and a big tin of Jizer to degrease the baffles, two pounds twenty for the jar of Nutella and 50 quid in fuel and 2-stroke that I filled up with but didn’t get to use for the Welsh National Rally and the tiny number of trouble-free miles it covered seem like an extremely expensive luxury.

I am a bit bitter.

It doesn’t help that I am back in Wales this weekend for the Wartburg-Trabant IFA Club’s Eastern Bloc Vehicle Weekend. The first one of these I took part in was based around Lacock and was Scabbers the Trabi’s only happy outing before his long and painful expiration.

As the Jawa has now followed in Scabbers’ tyre tracks, this year I have come to Llangollen in Hortense, who is trying to blend in with her 602cc engine and lack of top speed. Just to rub salt in the wound, the hotel we gather in for Friday night’s meal is about 400 yards from the hill on which the Jawa’s gearbox gave up.

To be fair, if you are feeling sore about the failure of your Eastern Bloc vehicle, there is no better company to be among. Markus the Barkas didn’t make it at all, having broken his clutch cable over the Bank Holiday. Wilfred the Traction Engineer had to rebuild his top end over the winter after discovering that the Tramp had eaten a piston ring. The Ural pilot sat next to me at dinner had to learn how to set up and time his ignition rotor. Cheerfulness in the face of adversity is the secret. Beer helps.

It was a beautiful sunny weekend and AdventureDog and I assumed our traditional seat in the right hand side of the Tramp for Saturday’s train adventure and road run. With a short pause to reattach the exhaust and a second brief halt to change a spark plug after one of the cylinders stops working. Perhaps my expectations of Jawa ownership were too high.

Why am I holding a leather jacket? Because on Sunday morning we had an excursion across the Pontcysyllte aqueduct. The lad who opens up and sells the tickets also races grasstrack and does first aid at race meetings. He had a cautionary tale about a sidecar passenger who fell out when the outfit flipped over during a race and was found walking back to base with a broken leg. “It’s only a flesh wound,” I said. Without breaking stride he said “Tis but a scratch” and carried on with the story.

On a glorious sunny day, sitting in a canal boat crossing one of the wonders of the industrial world isn’t really challenging enough for the adventurous two-stroke traveller. MZ Tim said, “can we walk back?”

No problem, said the crew.

I thought about it. I have climbed the Diamond Tree. But no-one wants to see a grown woman cry. Dog and I stood on the towpath so that we could say we had done it but returned to the safe haven of the bows of the narrow boat and sat there trying not to look down. We took our jacket-holding duties seriously and handed it back in the sunshine at the Jones the Boat basin.

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This is what anticipation looks like

It is May.

I have had strep throat for 2 months. (“That’s a bit American. We call it tonsilitis,” said the annoying GP.)  It has seen off two sets of antibiotics, though why the NHS decided to give me the same drugs twice is a puzzle.

So alternate therapies are needed. I am sitting with a turquiose towel wrapped round my throat. I will leave you to work out why with the aid of google. And I am going to the far north. In a turquoise Lomax, which will be helpful for my karma.

Helpfully, it’s not as far north as it used to be, and I can get there in a long weekend instead of 10 days. (Coincidentally, the length of an ineffective course of penicillin.)

It is May, and in May it is traditional for me to ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats, though the last time this happened was 2011.  There is a run happening right now, organised by the intrepid Nathan Millward. He probably doesn’t remember but he was brilliantly helpful to me when I was planning my WA ride, so any adventure led by him is likely to be a good one.

Lands End was too far for me to go to join in, so I am sneaking in at Durness on Friday night and doing the final stage. I am wholly inconspicuous so I expect to get away with it.*


*This may  be untrue.


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Simple pleasures

Due to teething problems with finding new digs in my new town, I am in a hotel and have to take AdventureDog to sit in the car while I work. This requires a very early start to bag one of the spaces in the office car park.

But that meant we were walking on the beach while the sun rose and painted the castle walls in glorious colours and the surf rolled gently in. We had the place to ourselves, and then we got coffee and watched the rest of the town wake up.

The day turned to hell after that, but at least it started well 🙂

This afternoon I am hoping that the Proprietor of the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery will be able to come and help me move my bikes into my new place. This evening I shall be meeting up with friends.

Friends, bikes, dogs – that will do for me.

This post is part of the February 2017 Brave, Bold Beautiful Blogger Challenge by desert-campingToadmama. Find out more here: Brave, Bold, Blogger Challenge.  I really enjoyed #29in29 and know that I need a kick up the arse to start posting again.


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Three pics you’ve never shared

Another really challenging topic from Toadmama! Three photos that I’ve never shared? I share everything! I’ve had a good search through my camera roll and it’s mostly the Lomax engine in pieces and photos of AdventureDog, because I truly dread the day his abused bones hurt him so much that I have to send him ahead of me into the dark. He is scared of the dark and I normally step ahead of him so that he can see it is OK.

I have picked these three.

32523684231_1a8eb39fbb_zThis is Winston, from Australia’s Black Dog Ride, having a day trip to Cambridge. Steve Andrews, the Black Dog Ride founder, has recently stepped down. He has done a huge amount to raise awareness of depression and suicide, and to get people talking about mental health. Winston is wearing his doggles because it is sunny and is about to tuck into a nice pastry. It was one of my last days in Cambridge.


31803300344_c95e08b1ec_zThis is Shakey and me in a motel after moving out of our last house but one, in order to move to the West Midlands for the job I have just finished. He is a big fan of Saturday night telly. We were about to move into a caravan parked in a commune. It was a tough couple of months but we were kept afloat by our amazing friends.




32646425895_760b008239_zThis is one of my amazing friends being Stunt Biker for a magazine feature on motorcycle camping. It was supposed to be me in the pictures but a few days before the shoot I fell down some stairs and bruised my arse rather severely. So Boffin volunteered to be my stunt double. It all worked out rather nicely as he is a much better rider than me and was able to take Roy the cameraman pillion for some video footage.

This post is part of the February 2017 Brave, Bold Beautiful Blogger Challenge by desert-campingToadmama. Find out more here: Brave, Bold, Blogger Challenge.  I really enjoyed #29in29 and know that I need a kick up the arse to start posting again.

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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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“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

P1010631 ScooterBob has joined me in a wee tipple to celebrate passing my 6-month probation at work.

Apparently my opening quote is from Seneca, the Roman philosopher. I feel very lucky to be able to call myself a professional journalist.

Although I try to fool  myself into thinking I can learn to rebuild engines, or play the harmonia in a blues band, or ride a motorcycle, the truth is that I am a writer.

I am lucky to be in my job, but I have taken a lot of steps to get here, from starting my blog  eight years ago, to asking for work experience at RiDE, and pitching for freelance commissions on camping magazines and the Sunday papers.

I lost a few people along the way. That’s why it’s just me and ScooterBob celebrating.

I gained a lot more than I lost, though. And that’s another reason why ScooterBob is helping me to celebrate.  The enormous privilege of being a writer is that someone halfway round the world can read your words, feel them resonate, and maybe even make a comment back. And when you’re just starting out, for someone like Bob to leave kind comments means the world.

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ScooterBob has come to visit.

IMG_1387 It’s my turn to host ScooterBob. Sadly we won’t be going on many adventures as once again the Lomax requires surgery. The Interesting Welsh Roads proved too much for my exhaust, though overall the engine held out really well.

I hope that Bob won’t mind keeping me company while I try and get the exhaust studs out of the manifold. He was always very encouraging with his comments on my posts during last year’s top end rebuild saga.

He will be coming on a camping weekend with me this weekend and I hope to show him some of Coventry’s finest sights next week. We have Ted Simon’s motorcycle in our Transport Museum and I think Bob would like to see it.

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Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake

IMG_0062While my house is being rewired I’m back staying with longsuffering friends in England’s Second City. They kindly allowed me over the threshold to clean up my borrowed motorhome at the beginning of the year, and now, like a vampire, they can’t get rid of me!

I would normally earn my keep in such circumstances by buying wine, but these friends are Very Serious Wine People, and I felt that my usual tactic of going into the Co-Op and seeing what had been reduced from a tenner to a fiver would fall short. So I went to a Very Nice Wine Shop in the posh bit of Coventry (yes, it does have one) in the hope that I would be able to ask advice from the shopkeeper.

Sadly the shopkeeper(s) turned out to be a posse of young lads who were very knowledgeable about the equipment at the gym, how their friend might have come by a questionable mark on his neck, and the best ways of mitigating it. I may be doing them a disservice, but I felt their knowledge of wine might have been slightly less encyclopedic. So I fell back on my other buying strategy – comedy names – and emerged with a bottle of Innocent Bystander and a bottle of Evolution.

The red was very good but the white was excellent, apparently.


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Goodnight, Bob

FuzzyGalore has just told me that BobSkoot has passed away.

I looked forward to Bob’s comments on my posts. He was always kind and supportive, things which I seem to need more than most people.

Goodnight, Bob, and sleep well, wherever you are.


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