Category Archives: Travel

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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And sent her homeward, to think again.

So, Scotland kicked my arse. 6 months of unrelenting bad luck and things breaking. Failed starter motor, flat tyre on the 125, mice in the 2CV air box, rats eating the Lomax seat, broken door on the Dandy…crowning glory was an MOT fail for the Lomax thanks to a cracked chassis.

So I got to do almost none of the things I moved to Scotland for – no tours of the Highlands, no Highland games, no rallies, no classic car shows, no fun. I went to work, I sat in a room and wrote stuff, no-one talked to me, I went home, sat in a room in the forest with Shakey with no phone signal. He’s not much of a conversationalist, unless he’s singing for his dinner. I slowly lost the power of speech.

Unlike the barbarians, I know when I have been conquered. So I have turned tail and come back to England, to a job less than a mile from the one I left. But I have no house, I sold it when I moved north. And now I can’t afford to buy in the same postcode, because the market has risen but my capital has shrunk. And most of my stuff is in a container in Fife.

I feel like a fool.  I really thought I was going home, and going to an amazing job. Neither turned out to be true.

I once judged a man whom I was dating for living in a shared house. What had gone wrong in his life that he was an hour late for a date because he had to wait for the shower? Well, now I know. You take a series of decisions, each of which seem like a good idea, but which lead you further and further up the cliff, until, like a crag-bound sheep, you’re stuck and can no longer move forward or back.

There were some good things. I saw more of some special friends. And I bought a sidecar.  I was just getting the hang of it but now it is in storage in the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery and I am a very long way south.

I live in a spare room. I try to be grateful. It could be worse.

 

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Less is more

stuffToday’s Blog Challenge Prompt is ‘your least favourite chore.’

Now I would have said, chain oiling. My excuse for a long time was that my bike had no centre stand so I had to get it done at the workshop. But if I’m going to be honest, and honesty is always this blog’s policy, it’s actually tidying up.

I have lots of excuses for not tidying up. I lived for a couple of years with a man who thought that tidying up was an expression of bourgeoise vanity. If I objected to his leaving wilted allotment crops – or, indeed, a bottle of piss for the compost heap – on the side in the kitchen I wasn’t asking to live in a clean home, I was pointing out that I was better than him and therefore had to be put in my place.

It is easier to leave things in a bit of a state than re-open those scars.

But that was near on ten years ago, and it is time to get over it. I had to tidy up the house after Christmas because it is for sale. It does look lots better without 2CV wings peeking out from behind the sofa and a thin layer of paperwork all over the carpet. It is soothing to live in a tidy environment and it’s much easier to get things done when I can sit at a surface and start a task without having to clear it of nuts, bolts and dog treats first.

The challenge will be to keep this up in my new house! I have read most of Marie Kondo’s really quite stern book on the topic this weekend, as I have no wifi (this is why this post is late). We nearly fell out when she wrote about tearing pages out of books – meaning they can’t be donated but must be thrown away – but thankfully she doesn’t advocate this any more. Some of her ideas are a little extreme, but two of her suggestions are really liberating. One is about considering the true purpose of any item. I used to feel obliged to keep every birthday, get well soon and good luck card I ever received. She says the purpose of the card is to convey the message. Once you have read the message, its purpose is complete and it can be thanked and recycled without guilt.  The other is about keepsakes and mementoes. I have a bad memory and like to keep ticket stubs, theatre programmes, postcards and other physical manifestations of past experience.

She writes: “It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure…The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”

Her main recommendation is to have much, much less stuff. She says that discarding must precede tidying, and that when you have done it properly, you will come to a point where you have the perfect amount of possessions.

This makes me think of my magnificent Great Aunt. As I head into my new life in my new country I have with me her teddy bear, brand new in 1918, and her demonstration of how to live a happy life as a single woman. She moved from a large detached house in a Surrey village into a sheltered flat. Even though she must have had to give most of her things away, she kept enough key pieces that her tiny flat held just as much of her personality as the big house had.  Sherry and slightly soggy crisps were still served out of the corner cabinet, and afternoon tea was still wheeled in on her vintage trolley. She lived with less, but it was still a big, happy life. That is a good way to be.

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Back at the NEC

I am big. It’s the show that got small.

Though in fairness it probably hasn’t. It’s just that there wasn’t very much to grab me this year. I am not in the market for a new bike, and barring a lottery win or the invention of a pillion pal for dogs, won’t be for some years. I don’t need a new lid. Well, actually, I do need a new lid but I’m not prepared to risk a repeat of the Getting My Head Stuck in an AGV experience. And I have Big Hair today. I am too fat for any new clothes and I would have bought a courier bag but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of luggage or touring gear this year. Maybe I missed it.

What was strongly in evidence was encouragement and advice for new riders, which was great to see. Those of us who got a full licence after 25 minutes of lapping the town centre without falling off are a dying breed. We need to help new riders through the insane hurdles the government has inflicted upon learners in the name of safety or riding will go the way of the sedan chair.

More than 30 years ago I had a poster of a Kawasaki on my wall and a glossy A5 booklet about learner-legal Kawasakis and the Star Rider training scheme under my pillow. So it was with nostalgic joy  I discovered that Kawasaki has launched Kawasaki Rider Training Services this year, a one-stop shop from total novice to full licence, via a UK wide network of approved training schools.  There’s even a discount for NUS card-holders.

I also had a lovely chat with Duncan Gough, who is an expert on travelling in Spain and has written a small book on travel writing. I always have in mind when I set out that I will do some sketching along the way but never do. So I shall take Duncan’s advice: “All you need to do is make a start.”

 

 

 

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An appeal to the Patron Saint of Wayfarers

No, not that Christopher upstart.

The original and best patron saint of wayfarers is St Botolph, a member of the Saxon nobility and founder of a monastery on land given to him by King Anna.

This story proves that having a girl’s name was no barrier to success in AngloSaxon England, just as having a beard is no barrier to winning Eurovision if you are also rocking a fishtail evening gown.

St Botolph’s church is just opposite my office and normally before I go travelling I pop in and say hello,  but this week I have been working at home while a succession of practical chaps build me a new garden fence. So in a very modern twist, I am checking in virtually.

It’s not terribly clear how St Botolph got displaced by St Christopher. Perhaps St Christopher had better PR. 

 

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Vorsprung durch Technik

Image

Shakey and I are off to the Black Forest soon. I am very daunted by the prospect. This is a bit daft. I have been to Australia and ridden around on the far side of the world. But for some reason the 400 miles between the Chunnel and the Black Forest are freaking me out.

I don’t speak German. I don’t really read it either, other than the confrontational linguistics set out in my brother’s Commando magazines. These have given me the sure and certain belief that U-Boat captains wear polo necks and sea boots and are Decent Chaps, whereas certain Bad Eggs in the Luftwaffe will shoot at you if you are a sitting duck under your parachute. They have not given me much in the way of useful advice about buying petrol or asking what time breakfast is served.

I have a route in the satnav but Hortense has no power socket. Will the Garmin’s battery last a whole day? I have a road map but the scale is really small and I want to avoid the toll roads. I suppose they will be my fall-back – if I get lost, I can head to the superslab and look for really big direction signs.

I have a co-pilot but I don’t think he is very good at reading maps.

21 years ago I did a very similar trip, in my very first 2CV. That pre-dated satnav by several decades, and I survived fine. I wish I could remember more about the trip than scouring the verge looking for my headlamp glass that had fallen out, and having an al-fresco pee in a field of sunflowers. (Don’t worry, the photo is me gaffa-taping the headlight back together. Not the other thing. It’s not That Kind of Blog.)

There will be no wi-fi in the hotel in the Black Forest. This is possibly even scarier than the thought of navigating in Europe with only a Portuguese three-legged dog for company.

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Inspiring find!

I knew Ted Simon had written some follow-ups (follows-up?) to Jupiter’s Travels more recently but didn’t know he’d written one in the 80s. So I was very excited to find this in a brilliant bookshop in Eastbourne called Tome. Every book is £2, even beautiful old Penguins and big gardening books.  I was in Eastbourne because old friends were worried about me and didn’t want me to be on my own but I think things are OK now. 

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The blog of the beast!

I hadn’t realised we stood at 666 posts. How apt that I am off to see Iron Maiden next weekend.

But that wasn’t what I came  to talk about. I came to talk about my new bike!

It has become increasingly clear that the end of the tarmac should not signify the end of exploring. Also Dave the D is starting to be very creative in the definition of “road” beside which a LM can be found.

So I bought this very purple and very undaunting TTR on ebay. I think it stands for “Trying To Ride.” Alun and Gary from “WeMoveBikesandQuads” whipped it down the A1 for me and now it is in my garage making friends with 2 Moos.

I don’t own any brightly coloured polyester off-road pants. Though the bike is bright enough for both of us… And it’s a long time since I did the BMW Off Road school. How hard can it be? Maybe it will be like falling off a bicycle….

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Empty Road, Evening Sun

I am going an A Big Adventure soon. I am excited about it but I am worried as well, because I will have to keep up with people who ride motorcycles for a living, and that has not always been my strength. I can keep up with couriers in the city, but dodging the sheep on tiny countryside twisties gives me The Fear.

Fears are for facing and overcoming, as far as possible. There seems little point in panicking about things it is in my power to improve.

So for the first time in a long time I went out on my bike to practice.

I live in the Flatlands where the roads tend to be straight and level, with the occasional 90 degree corner to keep you awake. But there are about three bends a few miles from my house, and I went out to ride them in a low gear and kick the habit of looking at the corner and braking into it.

It seemed very easy until my mind wandered off into practicing a conversation I needed to have today. Then the bends went to pot. So I conclude that it isn’t only men that can’t multitask. And I also conclude that the challenge might not be riding. It might be concentrating.

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This is where I am staying

I can see a banjo and a canoe. How worried should I be?

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