There is a well-known joke about a man who owns no clock or wristwatch but does own a trombone.
“How do you find out what time it is,” asks his puzzled house guest.
“Hand it over and I’ll show you,” the man says, and starts to play.
“Who the fuck is playing the trombone at three in the morning?!” comes the cry through the wall.
I have always thought it a bit unrealistic. Until about two am on Sunday.
I know it’s a rally. Sleep isn’t everyone’s priority – there is no ‘eleven o’clock rule’ like the one which keeps the peace at Camping and Caravanning Club meets. I had forgotten my earplugs so I made sure I got good and drunk the night before to give myself the best chance of oblivion. But I think it is Bad Form for the two-am-chatters to firstly pitch their tents all round mine about six inches away; and then to sit not in between two of their own tents but RIGHT IN FRONT OF MINE.
“It’s two in the fucking morning. Could you shut up?,” I asked politely, sticking my head out of my hemmed-in tent. There was humphing and grumping and a mutter of “Well I suppose it’s time to hit the sack,” and they shut up.
For three hours.
At five am, at least one of the party unzipped his tent and started packing up to go home. Cheerfully, loudly, and having banter with someone else who was up and about at the unholiest of morning hours.
I stuffed my ears with Johnson and Johnson wet wipes. They are good on stains but not great on the noises of pots rattling and a bike being packed. I huffed and puffed a bit in good British fashion.
And then I handed out the insults but hung back from getting out of the tent for fear of inflicting injury. Hell hath no fury like a hungover woman woken up twice, and like the trombone player’s neighbour I bellowed “It’s five o’clock in the morning – are you having a FUCKING LAUGH?”
In fact I already knew they were having a fucking laugh because that’s one of the noises that woke me up.
Of course then they started trying to pack quietly which is even noisier than someone packing without a care in the world. I rearranged my erzatz earplugs, put my head under the pillow and tried to salvage another hour or so of rest, for at 5am the Jack Daniels would still be in the queue for liver processing.
Apart from my over-loud neighbours it had been a brilliant weekend. Everyone in the MZ Riders Club says Carrog is the highlight of the rally season and it is in one of my favourite parts of Wales so I’ve had it booked in the calendar for ages. It is only about a hundred miles from my house so I went the long way to bag some Round Britain Rally landmarks on the way. I should have known it was going to be a trying day when I arrived at the first of them, a beautiful rural chapel, to find it was about to host a funeral. It is not easy to discreetly snap a photo on a two-stroke sidecar outfit when the dog likes to sing a little bike-starting song but I did my best.
LM-bagging completed I was peering at my map in the splendidly-named but difficult to pronounce Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain when a helpful Welsh chap talked me through the route I needed. The sat-nav was trying to punt me back onto the A5 up to Carrog, but on a beautiful sunny day with plenty of time in hand that would be dull. I wanted to go over the tops via Bala. All I needed to do was go back through the village, turn right at the pub, and head for Llanfechain, then Llanfillyn, then Llangynog, then Landrillo. No bother.
The sat-nav heard me ask for the quiet back roads and overshot. As we headed up the kind of goat tracks Biker Paul and I used to scare sheep on, I told myself that all was well, Bishop Brennan was coping, and we were fine even though the gap between the hedges was only just big enough for our wheels.
The roads got steeper and muddier, and the second thoughts got louder, and then we came round a corner to a lorry filling the road ahead, and started to slide gracefully back downhill on the mud towards the Landrover filling the road behind.
This was Not The Plan.
I switched the engine off to try and save the clutch and fishtailed to a halt broadside on with the tail of the chair in the hedge. Much like the Henchman in the first Austin Powers movie.
No bother – under the placid gazes of my motor-bound opposition I pointed the bike downhill, stared the Landrover down until they started reversing, and tucked into a field entry to let them continue their ascent.
Tried again, ended up at the same junction.
Turned round, tried again, saw the same junction ahead and took the only other option, which was another goat track tucked in the folds between farmland.
Slowly the grass strip up the middle faded away, the tarmac got wider, and then we turned a corner and – joy unbounded – white paint down the centre line! We had picked up the B4391 and it was plain sailing to the campsite.
Two months ago I was riding a bike that wouldn’t go 20 miles without dying. Apart from a brief lack of uphill traction, which was more to do with the mud in the road than anything to do with the bike, thanks to all my fettling it had coped with some really steep ascents, on a blazing hot day, with no bother at all. Forgive me for feeling bloody proud.
And how was the rally? Brilliant. Old friends re-met, twitter friends hugged in real life, and new friends made. And in a moment of splendid randomness, paths crossed with the wonderful Mark McArthur Christie who had set out to view the attractions of North Wales without realising this particular weekend they would include me, an indomitable red motorcycle and a three-legged dog.