Category Archives: Great writers

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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Filed under Great writers, ifa

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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Filed under Books, Great writers, Riding, Travel

This be the verse

cb5e7-img_0078Today’s blog challenge prompt is Mother.

I don’t want to write about my mother. This blog is too full of introspective navel-gazing emotionally incontient posts as it is.

When necessary I try to look back with kindness but mostly I try not to look back at all.

I had the good fortune to be led to Women Who Run With The Wolves, a book about how folk stories can teach us about our intuitive feminine nature – that wildness that is too easily trained away by mothers who want us to be good, to be quiet, to know our place. Dr Pinkola Estes writes about our vital need to have joy, to dance, to rejoice in our own bodies, and to find as many mothers as we require.

One of the stories in the book is Sealskin/Soulskin, a story originally from the Inuit Nation about how sometimes we need to step out of our everyday lives and go back to the well, the soul-place that feeds our spirit. You can read some of the story here, or the full story in the book.

For me, that place is the road. My father once told me that I “wouldn’t have got away with this if your mother was still alive.” I am quite sure she would not have allowed me to ride motorcycles. And I would never have discovered the gifts the road can bring.


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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Goodbye, Blake

B7-Logo1I was very sad to read the news today that Gareth Thomas, star of Blake’s 7, has passed away.

I adored Blake’s 7 growing up. Looking back at it now, thanks to the miracle of YouTube, although the sets were wobbly the storylines were crafted from steel.

Star Trek had good guys and bad guys, and you could tell the difference from their eyeliner.

Blake’s 7 had good men who did bad things out of weakness, and bad men who did good things if it served their interests. It had strong female characters, and one of the most badass villainesses of all time.

Watching it as a child I learnt important lessons. The Government isn’t always on your side. The security forces aren’t always the good guys. Justice can be manipulated.

And as @keepof4worlds said when trying to answer the question, “Is it like Star Trek?”

In a deeply dystopian future, the galaxy is ruled by a Federation that is totalitarian and uses mind-controlling drugs to pacify its population. A group of criminals, led by a revolutionary accused of paedophilia in order to discredit him, acquire a powerful alien star ship and begin a campaign to fight back, with declining degrees of success. Only in the Britain of the 1970s would this be considered suitable viewing for kids at 7pm

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Fear and Loathing

Went to Chelsea today to see Gonzo, the exhibition of some of Hunter S Thompson’s photos. There were only around 9 or 10 in the gallery and about half of those were of the Angels he hung out with while writing about them – which were the photos I wanted to see. Truly amazing to see these characters who’ve only been names in Hunter’s books as living, drinking, wheelying bikers, dirty denim against the California sky – but there were no names in the captions so we had to play “guess the Angel” – Terry the Tramp? Magoo? Mother Miles? Mouldy Marvin?

The most interesting thing is that they really don’t look that scary – you have to work hard at imagining them against the backdrop of chino-clad buzzcut early 1960’s conform-or-die USA to get any whiff of the moral panic and outrage that Hunter takes to pieces in Hell’s Angels.

From the final chapter..”…with the throttle screwed on, there is only the barest margin and no room at all for mistakes. It has to be done right..and that’s when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms…You watch the white line and try to lean with it…howling through a turn to the right, then to the left and down the long hill to Pacifica…letting off now, watching for cops, but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the Edge…The Edge….There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others – the living – are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to do when it came time to choose between Now and Later.”

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