Category Archives: Introspection

Blues for Mama

On the face of it, lockdown is a perfect opportunity to develop new skills. But I am raging too much at the loss of all the things I enjoy doing outside of my house to accept knuckling down and getting on with something.

I worked hard to change from being a shy, retiring “wee Mary” into, frankly, a massive show-off. Riding motorcycles and playing the blues were the two chief means of achieving this, with a side order of pointing and shouting at people at Cadwell Park.

I could go back to the harmonica of mixed memory – like so much in my life, it started well but ended badly. On this occasion White Russians and Pink Floyd were to blame. But I don’t think it’s helpful to backtrack. Forging ahead to find new fields to fuck up in is, after all, the Highwaylass way.

A few years ago I bought a ukulele, and like most people I can thrash out a few skiffle tunes. It doesn’t satisfy my need to show off because the local uke group meets at a dog-unfriendly pub (or did, in the Before Times), and I don’t like the tunes in their songbook. (I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than strum along to Snow Patrol).

Last week I bought a Banjolele. The bastard offspring of a banjo and a ukulele, it has brought great joy into my lockdown purgatory. It has flames, which means I match the Wingman’s doggles. And everything looks better with flames. And more entertainingly, it comes with a Special Tool, for you have to tighten the banjo head every now and again and it reminds me of tightning up spokes.

An instrument that is nearly the same as building a motorcycle wheel – what more could a woman ask for?

I suppose, like Bill and Ted, I’d probably better learn to play.


Filed under Introspection, Riding

Acts of Kindness

It occasionally troubles me that I seem to need more looking after than a normal person. I do try to be self-sufficient, mainly because the Wingman lacks opposable thumbs and is rubbish at holding ladders, but when things go wrong I sigh, I dry my tears and then, incurring the wrath of all the efficient and effective women in the world, I ask a man for help.

Sometimes it’s even a man I know, though one of my more narrow escapes was when I had to flag a passing driver down to help me pick my Africa Twin up off the garage floor and he was most concerned that I should take his phone number and that he should come back on his way home from work to make sure I hadn’t dropped the bike again.

It’s World Kindness Day today. I’m not a very kind person. In fact I’ve recently been declared the most offensive woman someone has met in 50 years of rallying. But I do know lots of kind people and so I thought I would tell you about all the people who have helped me cure the MZ of all his various ailments. But that’s more stories than will fit in one post. So here’s just one of them…

Back in September I loaded up the tent and the dog and set off to Yorkshire for the MZ Riders Club Pheasant Camp. I didn’t get any further than Hayfield on the Friday because the bike stopped running in the rain, but that was OK because Hayfield has a brilliant camp site with a pub within the Wingman’s event horizon so we took an early bath and dried out in The Sportsman. Yorkshire was achieved the following day, and we had a lovely week trundling about, apart from the days it rained solidly which is a bit rubbish when you are stuck in a small tent with a wobbly dog.

While sitting in Middleton-in-Teesdale waiting for a bicycle race to come through I realised my lovely new whitewall tyre had stripped all of its tread. This was Not Good. I’d bought it in July because the previous tyre also had no tread in the centre. To have one bald tyre could be old age but to make another bald in about 200 miles of gentle 2-stroking – well, that wasn’t good news.

Yes, said the wisdom of the Fed. This is probably a set-up problem. They said things like “My narrow car is .5 toe in level sidecar frame and wheel at 90deg until I lean bike out 3 degrees then the sidecar frame has .187 to .250 rise on bike side so both cycles lean 3 degrees out and car tire ends up leaning opposite direction of m bike wheels the that’s done unweighted then when I sit on bike both my sidecars wheels are at 90 with only bike leaning away.” (It helps to read this in the voice of the recruiting sergeant from Alice’s Restaurant).

I needed a man who knew what that all meant. And by immense good fortune I knew one and he lives about 20 minutes from me.

Sure, said Matthew. Bring it along when you get home and I can look at it.

I didn’t much fancy 200 more miles on a bald tyre. But the north is a practical place and if you need a high-speed trailer tyre then the nearest garage will tell you where you can get one. After declining an invitation to swop the outfit for a Ducati Monster I sat with a cup of tea while a couple of highly efficient chaps refreshed my rubber, though in 20 minutes rather than an F1-style 4 handful of seconds.

And on a sunny Friday morning a week or so later, instead of setting out north for the Haggs Bank Adventure Bike Weekend I headed south for my induction into the mysteries of toe-in.

You need a washing line prop, a tape measure and a BFO hammer. You also need a lot of experience of setting up sidecars and a good eye.

It turned out to be only a one-cup problem.

The washing line prop and the tape measure revealed that my toe-in was immense – less camel toe, more moose knuckle. There was brief contemplation of removing the 8-inch wheel and fitting a big ten inch, but that escalated too quickly into needing to cut and weld the frame, so ambition was scaled back to deploying the BFO hammer to adjust the alignment so that the sidecar wheel was pointing in more-or-less the same direction as the bike.

It’s always a bit worrying watching someone take a hammer to your bike but the MZ is made of sterner stuff than me and raised no complaints. One quick lap of the village later to check for handing problems and we were done. I trundled home and Matthew got on with whatever he actually had planned for the day.

If you don’t have the good fortune to live near Matthew you can buy his book. And if you buy the book you will get to admire a picture of the Bishop illustrating one of the finer points of sidecar geometry.

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World Kindness Day

What’s the kindest thing anyone has done for you, asked a thread in AIBU (my guilty pleasure.)

That’s a good question, I thought. And one that deserves a proper answer, with pictures. And links.

Maybe even a list.

  1. In 1995 Sean Point (that’s not his real surname but I don’t think I ever knew it) picked up the KH100 I was going to learn to ride on from Lingfield, stuck it on a trailer, brought it round the M25 to Buckinghamshire and headed home again without even accepting petrol money. I don’t have any pictures of this, my ex-husband has them. Not sure why he wants pictures of his ex-wife’s first bike!
  2. Bynzi from the MZ Club sent me the kickstart assembly he was selling on ebay when I broke mine.
  3. Anthony from the MZ Club sold me his spare front brake disc for a Very Reasonable Sum because mine has so many ridges you could play it on a gramophone* and new ones are now unobtainable.
  4. @BikerBear64 and his German Living Free MCC brethren have sourced me a beautiful C-spanner for the exhaust and provided much advice when things haven’t gone quite to plan.
  5. @MichtyMike sent me an original MZ250 workshop manual which has been essential reading as we slide down the ‘things keep breaking’ snake before climbing the ladder back up to the road.
  6. In 2017 Gordon from the Scottish Sidecar Riders Group rode for an hour each way to let me have a shot of his Diversion 900 outfit in a car park in St Andrews, giving me the confidence to buy a sidecar for AdventureDog.
  7. In 2011 Muffy invited me to ride with the Blue Knights in Australia and rescued my entire vacation when the first bike I rented turned out to be a pile of shite. The rental guy in Perth was very, very willing to give me a refund after several large policemen Had A Word.
  8. Also in 2011 Woody the Sweeper gave up his New Year’s Eve to take me on a tour of WA’s coast while I waited for my replacement rental bike to be ready.
  9. In 2010 I was wrestling a tent down in despair (well, actually in Abington) because the person I thought was my future was giving me the silent treatment for daring to go on a motorcycle trip without him. (He didn’t ride.) Graham said, if you get lonely you can come and visit me.
  10. In 2013 Louis sent me The Wingman from Portugal.

That’s just ten things I can think of. There are lots more. Some of them don’t even relate to motorcycles.

*not my joke.


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Ring out solstice bells

It is the longest night of the year. Traditionally it’s a time for reflection on the year just gone, and a time for renewal and for faith in the future.

I think it is safe to say this last year has not been a resounding success. There has been a lot of darkness. I thought I was going home, to live in the place I always wanted to live, and to do an amazing job. These things did not come true.  Now I am back where I started, precariously housed, indifferently funded (thanks, taxman) and starting again. Again.

But there has also been light.  I lived in the forest, like Granny Weatherwax. Friends came to visit, and we ate cake, drank gin and looked for woodpeckers. I met some wonderful spiritual teachers. I walked with the dog  in an ancient grove visited and decorated by the Picts. Gordon gave me a shot of his sidecar and I bought a Jawa outfit for me and for the Wingman. If I may mix and match my spiritual traditions, the light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

The darkness keeps having a bloody good try, though. Last Sunday Dog and I went out to a pre-Christmas classic car and bike meet. At 40 miles it was our longest sidecar adventure to date and we did OK, if slowly. The tea was good, the sausage baps were excellent and I had a very niche chat with another lady biker about the challenges of persuading recovery services that your obscure vehicle needs taking home, not bodging by the roadside.

It proved to be prophetic. Half an hour later, ten minutes down the road, the Jawa choked and died. 2 hours later the recovery van turned up.

Lessons I need to remember :- always pack a golf umbrella. Buy WD40.

May I judge the chap from the classic meet who, on his way home in his little roadster, pulled over to ask what was happening but carried on when I said I had a fuel problem and was waiting for the wagon? I’m sure he had Sunday roast calling him home, but a nice dry car to wait in would have been lovely. “Thanks for coming, though,” he said, as he fucked off down the road.

Apparently the Japanese recommend a practice called ‘forest bathing’ for spiritual renewal. I was certainly well-bathed by the time Marcin arrived to wrangle the rig into the van and take us home. “It nearly didn’t go in,” he told his boss on the phone. ‘It’s a good job I’m a manly man.”

But now the sun is coming back up and life is renewing, again. There is a lot to look forward to, and many new connections to make.  Blessed be.






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End of Empire State of Mind

Border crossingAdventureDog and I are on the move. We are migrating to Scotland, where the best roads are.

I try and keep out of politics on this blog but bad things are happening in the world. When I ride, I know that I ride as part of an international bikerhood, a family where no-one is judged on their religion, their sexuality or their country of origin. (Though we might judge you for your Power Ranger outfit, your inability to corner or your love of handlebar tassels. This is done out of love and affection and to tease you into acknowledging the error of your ways.)

I have chosen to live in a country that values its international outlook and its friends in other nations. And by happy coincidence, one which has fine whisky, music and rugby players. We move in two days time.

I’m sad to leave my house in England and the friends I have made here. It feels like the last 6 months have seen so many positive changes and new opportunities and I’m leaving before they really take root and thrive.

But I learnt a long time ago that state of mind is selective*.  I choose that all of the positivity and growth I have been blessed with will come with me to this new life.

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.



*Annoyingly I can no longer link you to the post, because the Telegraph has taken it down. But it was good. A great post, with all the best words.


Filed under Introspection

There are days I think I have a normal life…

ipad and then I plugged my iPad in to the desktop at work to download a couple of interviews. Judging by my pics, my life is 15 per cent work, 19 per cent dog care, 42 per cent engine fettling, with a side order of knitting wombs and going to see Lee Mead.

At least it’s balanced and diverse!

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Paying the price

And here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice

Halfway through Season 4 of Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw faces a moment of terrible realisation.

Bad romantic choices mean she has to buy back her previously rent-controlled apartment.

She can’t get a loan. She doesn’t have any savings.

But she has spent $40,000 on shoes.

People who don’t wear tutus or oddly large corsages are supposed to suck their teeth and disapprove at this point, I believe.

I’ve taken a new job in a different city, and in order to afford it I need to sell my house and buy a new one without a mortgage.

If I hadn’t spent £300 a month for 18 months travelling to Scotland in an attempt to sustain a long distance relationship,

And if I hadn’t spent £3,000 on two clapped out cars to make it OK that he never got round to fixing my 2CV,

If I hadn’t had to spend another £300 having my bike brought home when it all went tits up,

I’d have enough in the bank to cover my mortgage payments for a year. And a  bit to cover legal fees and moving fees.

As it is, I’m now facing the stress of desperately needing to sell my house before I start my new life, and knowing that I now won’t be able to afford any of the houses in the “naice” part of town.

Somewhere in all this I’m sure there’s a life lesson.  At least Carrie had some lovely Manolos to show for her spending.





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Please tweet responsibly




So I and the proprietor of the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery are no more.

It turns out that you can’t express frustration with your relationship to 2,000 of your closest friends and followers on twitter without one of them showing it to him. What on earth is the world coming to!

After the ending of a relationship comes the terribly sad “getting your stuff back” period. I believe that for normal people, this usually covers CDs (though perhaps not any more, in this new world of downloads and Netflix), underpants and toothbrushes.

As my friend said, “only you could leave a motorbike at a bloke’s house.”

But she came home on April 1, bag and baggage, bringing a satnav cable, a drift for fitting fork seals, and a spare eyeliner.

Somewhere up north there is a rather nice Primus flask which has not made it home, because it wasn’t in the drawer that was mine to use. I will treat myself to a new one, for the new start.

I am glad the Triumph is home. i have sold 2Moos to Nikos, and so for all of last week I had no means of getting to work.

That is a boring reason to be glad she is home.

The real reason is that this is The Bike, and she is special to me. I chose her and bought her from new, once upon a time, a long time ago when I lived in a different city and had a different surname.

I bought the GS because my IAM Observer told me the Triumph was not the right bike for me, and I was foolish and believed him. Ruby and I had a lot of adventures but she is gone now. I bought the Africa Twin because I wanted to ride round the world, and because the person that rode it was a very talented rider and I thought it might rub off. I bought the Triumph because I thought she was the most beautiful bike in the world. I still do.

When my marriage ended these lines from TS Eliot were on my mind, because they caught the banality and the pain of the process.

“This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Although I am sad to be single again, this time I am not broken. The return of The Bike is the beginning of a new cycle, and once again Eliot has it, perfectly:


“We shall not cease from exploration,
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.”


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I must go down to the woods again

Einstein may have said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. The internet seems fairly clear on the attribution, but the internet also thinks that it was Marco Simoncelli who said “you live more in five minutes on a bike like this than some people do in a lifetime” when I’m pretty sure that was Burt Munro, or at least, Antony Hopkins as Burt Munro in The World’s Fastest Indian.

I am on holiday. Holidays are for having fun and trying new things, so I have booked two days of off-road training with the very lovely Jim Bryant of Enhanced Riding.

Readers with long memories will recall that 4 years ago I booked two days of off-road training with the BMW Off-Road Experience.

I didn’t enjoy that terribly much.

I hoped this time would be different.

I want to take part in the VINCE next year, riding the trails in the Spanish mountains. I want to go on  social rides with my local TRF branch, who organise regular outings as far afield as Devon and the Peak District.

Group training gets away from me very quickly – my learning curve is more of a flat line – so I thought that learning on my own would get me started and soon I would be trundling round the dirt with grace and power.

But of course, that was bonkers.

“Why are you so hard on yourself?” asked Jim.

Because ten-year olds can do this. To get used to the bike, Jim asked me to make a big figure of eight – left round a tree, down a gentle slope, right round another tree, back to the first tree and repeat. Four hours later I’m still trying to manage the left turn. On day 2 I could do it sitting down but couldn’t persuade myself to stand on the pegs, which is also bonkers because I was quite happy last week standing up on the lanes behind my house. We never got onto riding up and down slopes or bumping over obstacles.

I hate myself on days like this. It is, I think, a mental block. People talk about having a mental block when they can’t think of a name, or find their keys. This is something different, a huge, visceral, and absolute refusal.

Turn the bars and look where you want to go.


Stand on the pegs so we can do this properly.




It is my mind, it belongs to me, and yet it will not do what I want it to do.

This is disappointing.


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“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

I am at home “under the doctor” after coming down with a chest infection. I blame being coughed on by a small child but it might also just be the inevitable consequence of trying to do everything.

Since I have no energy to ride, I have been doing a little time travel instead. Like @HerLifeStory, I am an enthusiastic diary-keeper. When they’re full, I chuck them in a box, and very rarely open it.

Many people tell me the past should be left in peace. Like dogs, we should kick over the shit and move on. But I think that, maybe, if I could retrace my steps, I could avoid the detour through the woods which ends in the guts of the bad wolf awaiting rescue from the woodcutter. As a good feminist, I believe that I must stand on my own two feet, and then the involvement of a man who is good with a chopper can only be a bonus.

So I look back, to the days when I was taking on the world and having a brilliant time. And some things at least haven’t changed. On New Year’s Day 1987 I was working out how many shifts at £7.70 for 10 hours it would take before I could afford a bike.

“In two years it might get me a second-hand one. And if I get one I’m off. There’s loads I want to see. The Orkneys. Hadrian’s Wall. Bath. Stonehenge. York, London. Cornwall, Glastonbury, Silverstone, Herstmonceux, Nottingham. 
Paris. Venice, Corsica, Greece. The Parthenon. Crete, Ypres, Romania, Red Square, The Steppes, Denmark, Iceland, The Orient Express. 
Houston, NASA, Brazil, Kenya, Egypt, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Great Wall of China.
Singapore. Tokyo. The Grand Canyon.

When I did get 700 quid together I bought a car. So there’s one step down the wrong path! But I have my bikes now, and when I look at that (incredibly random) list, I’ve already covered a third of it. Some on a bike, some on the train, some in a Ford Capri and one on a yacht.

Though I’m really not sure why I wanted to go to Kenya, or Singapore. Maybe I need to go and look, then I might remember.


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