Category Archives: Riding

Arse

“My bike is louder than your bike!”

The smalls next door decided to have a sweet shop at the end of their drive this weekend, which was rather unkind at a time when I am strictly bound to the rules of Fat Club.

As I fitted the sat-nav mount to the handlebars of the Jawa they tempted me with less of a siren call, more of a bellow. “Would you like some sweeties?” I’m very glad that it was them offering me sweets and not the other way round!

As AdventureDog and I had a hard weekend of sidecar voyaging ahead, two small bags of cola bottles seemed a justifiable purchase. Larger small carefully tweezered them from her stash into a bag. “What were you doing last week under your car with a chainsaw?” she asked.

I don’t remember doing anything under my car with a chainsaw, but I was hacksawing the exhaust off. I explain, briefly. Meanwhile small small has run off to get his biker boots, for he is one of those tiny motocross riders with no fear, and wants to show me that not only is his bike louder than mine, his boots are better and he goes faster.

I have no doubt.

But it’s OK, because this weekend is about distance, not speed. I was fitting the sat-nav because for the first time in three years I was going somewhere on a bike that I hadn’t been before – the starting landmark for the Round Britain Rally.

Because the bastard snow has kept us within the city limits for far longer than planned, I was quite worried about the  160-mile round trip to the ARSE, the Annual Rally Start Event, when our furthest voyage has been the 13 miles to the Long Itch Diner. Or perhaps the abandoned run from Fife to Dundee last August which ended up on the Proprietor of the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery’s trailer.

So Saturday’s mission was to double that with a trip to Jack Hill’s Cafe, one of my favourite biker stops, and if all went well, make it back to Asda in time to take part in the Coventry Riders Action Group Easter Egg Run. I love a good egg run and I haven’t done one since I lived in East Anglia.

Of course it was raining on Saturday. Just like the good old days. I’m impressed that my personal weather system has waited the four years I’ve been away from motorcycle touring. It joyfully precipitated upon me all the way down the A45 to Jack’s, where I had a cup of tea instead of a fry-up, and AdventureDog gave me the face because he didn’t get any bacon.

Slowly, the niggles are being ironed out. Having 40psi in the rear tyre instead of 5 certainly improves the handling. Backing off the rear drum adjusters released an extra 5mph – may not sound that impressive but when you’re struggling to get up hills it makes a big difference! And all my bad habits are being shown up. On the 125 I brake into a corner and coast round. On an outfit that drifts you out into the oncoming traffic. Get your braking before the corner – biker 101. I may even have muttered IPSGA to myself.

Damp but happy, dog, chair, Jawa and I made it to Asda in time for a coffee, a chat about the insanity of the decision to charge bikers £12.50 a day to ride in London, and a rapid turnaround to head out on the egg run.

“I’ll keep it fairly slow,” said Baz, in the briefing. There must be a local definition of slow I’m not familiar with, I thought as we hurtled along the back roads around Wolvey and back to Broad Park House, a centre for children with learning disabilities. They were so excited to see the bikes and the best thing about the day was that everyone was happy to let the kids scramble into the seats, toot the horns, and generally have a whale of a time, even the chap with a gorgeous BSA and vintage sidecar who would have been quite justified in saying no. With three kids in the sidecar and two on the bike, they looked like they were ready to hit the road and have the best adventure ever, but for dog and I it was back to the cupboard via the petrol station to get ready for our Sunday run.

I have done 360-mile days, I have ridden from Lands End to John O’Groats (more than once) and I’ve even done one Brit Butt (Lite version) but for the last three years I have only ridden the three miles to work and back. Everything else has been done sitting on my arse in the Lomax, and one of the lessons of Saturday was that my riding fitness has withered away. It is OK, I tell myself. When I got my first big bike after learning, I was daunted by the thought of riding from Buckinghamshire to Sheffield, where then-hubs was working. I printed out out maps, wrote myself some tips, and survived.

On Sunday I packed a flask, a bacon sandwich, and a reminder that this wasn’t about heroic stamina, it was about getting started. And my raincloud had decided to take a holiday so it was a lovely day to bimble south, stop to do my velcro up again (it’s given up any kind of grip), stop to let the dog have a wee (should have gone before we went), stop for a coffee (roadside coffee always tastes better when you’re sat on a bike), have a go on the motorway (not a great idea), stop to check whether I’d filled the 2-stroke tank up (yes), and finally make it to the ARSE.

Touring on a 350cc outfit is slow.

It got slower on the way home and when I pulled in to the petrol station I discovered oil all over the crankcase. 2 for 2, I thought, and went home sad. But people who know 2-strokes and Jawas better than me say it is just dribble from the exhaust. So Easter is looking like this:-

  • remove, clean and refit exhaust headers
  • de-gunk the silencers as far as possible without setting them on fire or filling them with caustic soda.
  • clean and refit the carb

I hope Jesus would approve. After all, it is a resurrection of sorts.

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In which the universe has another go at finishing me off

If I had written this last night it would have been called “Red Sky at Night – Highwaylass’s delight” and it would have been a cheerful reflection on an evening ride home after a successful sidecar voyage to the far distant territories of the Birmingham suburbs.

But I’m writing it tonight and it’s called ”I’m shit out of luck, still.”

Last week the 2CV exhaust sheared off about two thirds of the way along its length. I’m already a week late going to Wrexham to collect a 2CV engine for the Lomax (snow stopped travel), and now I don’t have a car. I put the screws on a friend and he agreed to be chauffeur yesterday – then it turned out that the seller wasn’t going to be around to do a handover. So I had a free Saturday. If DPD had done their part, I would have spent the day fitting a new exhaust and all my mobility problems would be over.

Friday came and went with no parcel. After half an hour on hold I got to speak to a human who muttered something about the parcel not having been scanned out and he would upgrade me for free to Saturday morning delivery.

Saturday morning the tracker was going backwards – on Friday my parcel had “arrived” at Hinckley. On Saturday morning it was “on its way” to Hinckley. 20 minutes on hold to speak to a human who said no, don’t expect it today – it’s probably locked in a truck. Actually I’m imagining it swirling round and round some mythical maelstrom, unable to acheive escape velocity. It’s now supposed to be arriving tomorrow. I’m not holding my breath. It’s incredibly frustrating not to be able to talk to anyone prepared to give me a straight answer about what has gone wrong, and when I might actually get it.

Anyway, I was determined to make the best of it so instead of wrestling the exhaust,  Saturday saw dog, Jawa and I having a fun day out with no mechanical failures.

And today is the start of the year – the Round Britain Rally pre-ARSE ITCH, at the Long Itchingdon diner. After a foggy start the sun came out, we trundled down at a fair clip navigating the bends like someone who knew what they were doing, had a cup of tea, met old friends, and then it all went a bit wrong.

Piling back towards Cov we stuttered to a halt. OK – just need to switch onto reserve. But that’s just 100 miles from 15 litres of fuel. Is that about right for a 350cc engine with a sidecar and a fat bird?  And it seems that running dry has led to shite being sucked into the carb – 2 miles down the road there was a catch and a stutter, as if the engine was about to sieze, 8 miles down the road we could barely stagger round the Sainsbury’s car park, and then when parked up I discovered the carb pissing neat petrol all over the hot engine.

Brilliant.

Thank god for Twitter. Hit it with a hammer, said @midlifeclassics and @scunjee.

I know that it’s teething problems and to be expected. But I just want to go on a run and not have something die, blow up, risk spontenous combustion while I’m buying potatoes, or sieze.

And DPD if you’re listening, I really, really want my fucking parcel tomorrow.

 

 

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Filed under 2CV, Riding, Round Britain Rally

“Is there a technique to pushing this button?”

I have the flu. Too unwell to do anything that requires serious concentration, well enough to be bored stiff. To add insult to injury I have the flu in someone else’s house, because I am still a lodger despite trying to buy a house a month for the last six months.

What can an ill person do when they’re trying to be unobtrusive, and especially when their landlady’s electrician bellows ‘so what’s your lodger like, then?’ from the other side of your door.

Headphones seemed a good idea. So did podcasts. Armed with a list of recommendations from twitter friends, I figured I’d start with a dead cert – Chasing the Horizon, featuring Sam Manicom.

You probably already know that Sam is one of the friendliest stars in the overland galaxy. He gave me great advice when I was planning my Australia tour, and while he’s always ready with a welcome and a word when I see him at shows and events, I feel guilty because time chatting to me is time not making new converts or selling copies of his books.

So what a treat to be able to listen to Sam in conversation with Wes Fleming for just over an hour. Gently self-deprecating, Sam drinks tea and tells stories against himself – no Lone Hero Triumphing Over Adversity ego here!

Wes is a great host, and guides the conversation from the day Sam turned up to collect a brand-new Libby and was stumped by the absence of a kick-start – a feeling I remember well in making the shift from my own kick-start L-bike to a 600cc four-stroke with twin exhausts and an electric starter! – to his recent crash and broken arm.

Without being preachy, Sam reminds us that every ride is a good ride, and everyone on two wheels is part of the brilliant biker community.

I love that a man who has ridden quarter of a million miles still sees value in an everyday commute or a ride to the shops. If riding is feeling like a chore at the moment, or if you’re struggling on your L-plates and wondering if it’s really worth it, I thoroughly recommend finding a comfy chair, a cup of tea, and giving Sam and Wes 60 minutes of your time.

Find Chasing the Horizon here: http://www.bmwmoa.org/page/podcast

And Sam here: http://www.sam-manicom.com/

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“I belong to the road.” #thedarkisreading

IMG_0325“Expect nothing and fear nothing, here or anywhere. There’s your first lesson.”

According to the internet, which as we know can always be relied upon for truth and accuracy, in Iceland people look forward to the Yule Book Flood just as much as the coming of Father Christmas.

Jólabókaflóð has been a tradition there since the Second World War. Family and friends exchange books at Christmas, which must be opened and read straight away. This seems a far better way of spending Christmas than bickering over who gets to be in charge of the remote control, or sitting in separate rooms bingeing on box sets.

This year I was given a very special book by a wonderful friend so that I could take part in #thedarkisreading, a community read-along of Susan Cooper’s fantasy novel, The Dark is Rising.

I can’t remember a time when I hadn’t read it. I re-read it in 2016 when I was reading books where the plot is inseperable from the location, for a feature I was writing. The novel is set rather firmly in 1970s Buckinghamshire, at a time when villages still have post offices and London still has docks.

Both of my copies are currently in storage in Scotland. So now I have a lovely new edition, and am slightly disturbed to find that it is now a Vintage Classic.

There are no rules to the read-along – just to enjoy the book, and share thoughts. I’m reading it in real time, to match the action to the days between the Winter Solstice and Twelfth Night, so we’re currently in the pause between Christmas and New Year. The snow is falling, and the Stantons are cooped up in their rambling rural home.

It’s a story about lots of things, which I won’t go into in detail because you might want to read it for yourself – and you should.

When I read it as a child it was about British folklore, Herne the Hunter and the king who sleeps under the hill. I grew up near Alderley Edge and we don’t doubt that he is there, ready to ride out when Britain faces its greatest peril. And it was about being the youngest in a family and how that makes you separate from the rest of them.

This year I’m reading it and it’s a story about the power of the landscape, the old roads and those who travel them. John Smith says to Will Stanton:

“They can do me no harm. I come of the wrong breed for that. And in this time I belong to the road, as my craft belongs to all who use the road.”

Which means, of course, that it’s really a story about bikers. Those of us who like to trundle around the byways of Britain, at least. And the rector’s motorcycle plays a small but important role on Christmas Day.

From Susan Cooper the road winds through Alan Garner, Joan Aiken, T H White, Robin of Sherwood and J R R Tolkein to Terry Pratchett. Next Christmas I might start at the beginning of the Discworld and come back to reality some time in mid-January.

 

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Zen mind, beginners mind.

My luck is not getting any better. I had to pull out of my house purchase after the survey found that the roof needed replacing. My tax is so screwed up that I will be paying twice as much as normal until next April. And the weekend I had planned to ride the Jawa down from the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery was the weekend that winter decided to show up, with Met Office warnings for ice and snow.

I decided that the preservation of mental health made the outfit a survival item and arranged for it to come down on the back of a lowloader. If I don’t eat for the rest of Decmember I’ll be able to cover the fee.

The outfit arrived at 7am on Saturday morning. The keys followed in the post two hours later. I’m not saying I was desperate but the postie looked very surprised when I wrenched the door open as he turned into the drive. He was getting no chance to stick a card through and run away.

Wingman and I have been out twice already – the weather was horrible yesterday but today the sun came out while we were having a coffee and a burger at the drive-thru. I am remembering how to turn left and right, and that you need to give it an extra boot to get from third to fourth.

And it is lovely to be out on a bike and learning again. Wingman isn’t convinced yet but if I keep taking him to McDonalds for a plain burger he might come round.

 

 

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Standing in the shadows

Slightly odd day at the bike show. A kind benefactress sorted me out with a ticket, meaning my sorry skint ass could get through the gates – but how to get to the show?

I’ve recently become a convert to getting the train to Birmingham International and walking over the bridge, but the car park for my starting station is always rammed by 9am. So I could have taken the 125 to the car park, then got on the train carrying my lid – but we’ve all seen That Bloke who drives to the NEC, parks up, and opens his boot to reveal full race replica leathers and a helmet, which he changes into on the tarmac.

I don’t want to be that person!

I consulted.

Take the wee bike and have an adventure, said @scunjee, and since I have outsourced all major decisions in my life to my twitterati, I did.

We trundled doggedly along the A45 and round the back of the exhibition halls to the bike parking, shadowed by an Africa Twin. Way to rub it in, universe. And then when I was about to take a photo to show that little bikes can have big days out too, I discovered that being well-organised and putting your camera battery on to charge is only helpful if you remember to put it back into the camera.

Nothing to report on, nothing to take pictures with. I had become strangely invisible, written off as Not A Biker, despite my Overland tshirt.

Perhaps the Adventure Handbag was confusing people. Perhaps I have resting bitch face.

“Excuse me! Were you at the Overland Event?” asked a bloke in the Adventure bit. No, I said, sadly. Dogs aren’t allowed so I can’t go. Apparently that’s a conversation killer.

“Hello! Would you like your boots cleaned?” No thanks, I had them done at the Classic Bike Show last week. “Oh, you’re with that gentleman? Sorry!”

Not fit to be out alone, it seems.

Sam Manicom was warm and friendly as always, but I worry that if I chat too long I will stop him from selling books, so I bought Elspeth Beard and wandered along. Triumph’s new clothing range looks fantastic and after payday I might buy myself a birthday present from it. More importantly, it’s Shakey’s BlightyVersary soon, four years since he came to live with me from Portugal, so he now has a Kickstart mug from the cunningly disguised Tim Midlifeclassics, who had come to the show as Team Ogri. If you know an Ogri fan (with or without a coffee table) then buy them the magnificently presented complete works and keep them quiet until Spring.

As I trundled home, I had a moment of revelation.

In recent years, I have been experiencing my motorcycling at one remove. I could have said hello to Alun from Adventure Bike Rider, as a friend of Clive. I could have said hello to Nathan Millward, who I know through Nich. I could have said hello to Nick Sanders, as I bought a ticket to Mach 2 after Nick cleared me to attend in the Lomax with the Wingman, but couldn’t go (office politics from hell.) But that would have been odd.

The cure seems simple. Ride more.

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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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Beginners Mind

So we start again. Reuben from OLAS Motorcycle Transport dropped off my new Jawa outfit last night and tonight, with tax and insurance in place, AdventureDog took his new seat and we wobbled off down the road. In defiance of advice from the three chaps from the MZ Club who allowed me to gatecrash their breakfast on Sunday. They said “For God’s sake don’t go on the road.” But it’s a quiet road and it’s mostly straight, so not too many people were endangered. Today’s learning task was to get used to stopping and starting.

I do wobble to work most days on my little 125, but that doesn’t seem to count psychologically as riding. Tonight I zipped up my boots, put on my ancient blue Triumph jacket – bought with a bonus 15 years ago – and felt like a proper biker again.

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Old School: meeting Jupiter

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes. Most of mine are dead, so it’s not a dilemma I face very often. I have stopped entering those competitions where you nominate your ideal dinner party guests because no-one seems to agree with me that Nina Simone, Ayrton Senna, Che Guevara and Teresa Wallach would sparkle over the canapés.

In the small days of December when I was desperate for a distraction from packing up my life into another array of cardboard boxes, Coventry Transport Museum tweeted that Ted Simon would be visiting the city to launch a new exhibition and would be giving a talk about his travels.

Faithful readers will know that Ted Simon is the reason I still ride. They may not know that I missed out on seeing him a few years ago, when he launched the Ted Simon Foundation. I promised then that I wouldn’t let the next chance escape. But I have no Serious Motorcycle at the moment. In the winter half-light I puttered down to the Museum on the 125, and locked it up out of sight of the array of Large Gnarly Beasts that proper bikers arrive at such events on.

It is a popular internet trope that bikers would rather be on their bikes thinking about church than in church thinking about their bikes. On this occasion, we got to do both, because the venue wasn’t the museum, it was the beautiful medieval chapel round the corner. Which was suitably adorned with a large number of copies of Overland magazine and a large Triumph. And Ted Simon, seated near the altar, suave in suede, yellow socks, and reading glasses.

I have the very greatest admiration for anyone who sets off on a Big Trip. I have had the chance twice and bottled it both times. A dear friend has just set off. His biggest worry was that he wouldn’t achieve escape velocity, that responsibilities here in the UK would keep him tethered. But he fully expects to be able to come home, should he so choose. Ted reminded us that he set off, “on, as my girlfriend called it, ‘your fucking mission’” fully at peace with the idea that he might die on the road – “but somewhere along the way you have to throw your life into the hands of chance.”

These days, Ted concedes, “the idea of going round the world isn’t very dramatic any more. People are doing it all the time.”

But there are still roads to conquer. “Riding a motorcycle around the world is a political act,” Ted said. “We must take an interest in the world around us. It’s not where you go, it’s what you find.

“It’s about self-awareness and improving other people’s understanding of the world. Pick somewhere your imagination draws you to and go there.

“Find out what is really happening. Find out what it’s really like, come back and tell other people. Counter the impressions given by TV. It’s a liberating thing to do.”

For Ted, travel is a personal as well as a political liberation. “When you travel you are free to be whoever you want to be. We can free ourselves of the everyday contortions of trying to live up to other people’s expectations.”

What does the successful round-the-world traveller need? A bike, “the smaller the better,” and “an abundance of curiosity.”

I have the bike but I lacked the courage. Maybe it will be third time lucky for me. After all, another world is possible. And Ted said that journalists make the best travellers because we are scrappy, resourceful people. There is still hope.

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Random Act of Kindness

This is an easy one. A long time ago, when I was married and the internet didn’t have pictures and came down a phone line, I bought my very first motorbike. I bought it from a bloke in Surrey. He’d passed his test on it and had moved on to bigger things, and it was going to help me wobble round cones and parking lots until I passed my CBT and then a 2-day Direct Access course, because it was a lot easier to get a bike licence in the 1990s.

How does a non-rider get a KH100 round the M25?

These days there are many firms that will move a motorcycle around. Back then there was spoint, a member of my online riding crew called cix_bikers. After muttering that “I could piss that far” he hitched a trailer to his car, stuck the bike on the trailer, dropped it off in Buckinghamshire, had a pint, kipped on the floor and buggered off before breakfast.

I put my new helmet on, wobbled off to work and crashed on the way home. You learnt by experience in those days!

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