It has been an old-school weekend. Because Ruby’s battery is playing silly buggers and stranded me outside the chip shop I thought I’d better not take her to the inaugural Cheddar Mendip RBR Gathering. Also, and don’t tell either of them, one of the two Gnarly Things in the garage has got to go. I can’t afford to run three bikes any more, and one of my lingering doubts has been whether I can do all the things on the Africa Twin that I’m used to doing with Ruby. (Apart from waiting outside the chip shop for the man from ETA.)
This was also a test weekend for the tipi – which means I was probably the only camper this weekend hoping for rain – properly timed, in the hours of darkness, so as not to upset too many people – in order to find out whether rearranging my flaps as recommended by Tentipi UK will indeed prevent unwanted leaks. (The answer appears to be yes. Who’d have thought it?)
The only flaw in this plan is that the Africa Twin has neither a satnav mount nor a baglux harness for the attaching of mapcases to. The challenge this presents to me is amply demonstrated by the fact that it came as a surprise when I sat down on Thursday night to plan my route to find that the Mendips are not in fact near Minehead.
An anxious Thursday night editing the amount of kit I normally sling on the bike for a weekend, writing out instructions that, at a pinch, I could sellotape to the tank, and fretting about the lack of frame to strap the tipi to, was followed by a 6am wake-up call from next door’s screaming child. One cup of coffee and a short amount of faffing with tie-downs later, I was off. Thanks to the miracle of modern communications – and the fact that I’d mentioned my planned route on twitter – I had a rendezvous with @Jezza1956 at noon in Monmouth to hit – and 5 landmarks later I made it just 45 minutes late, which I thought wasn’t too shabby.
“Blimey, that’s big” said a man on crutches as I parked up. Assuming he was referring to the Africa Twin and not the size of my arse, that made it two for two in terms of stops and conversations, which I think may have sealed Ruby’s fate. No-one talks to me when I pull up to a kerb on her. The Triumph is a magnet for nostalgic old men, who like to tell me about their national service, while at the M6 services the Africa Twin had attracted the attention of a chauffeur who wanted to tell me about the Brough Superior he’d owned as a lad but sold on for 25 quid.
Cheddar is Jerry’s stamping ground so we had a short play in the Wye Valley, a steak-and-ale pie lunch in Tintern, a rather hot and sweaty time battling traffic on the M5, and then he very kindly delivered me via Burrington Combe to the gate of the campsite and handed me into the care of Jacki and Mommybear.
Checking in has become my least favourite part of staying at a Camping and Caravan Club Camp Site. “It’s just a small tent, isn’t it?” said the site manager. No. It’s a tipi, it’s 10 foot in diameter, and I did tick the box that explained that on the web site. “Oh, we thought it was just 10 foot in one direction. Well, maybe you’ll fit.”
They took me past Jacki and Phil – and the two big empty sites opposite them – and to the bottom of the site and a small corner about 8 by 6 foot. “No chance,” I said. “Oh. Oh, I’ll see if there’s anything I can do,” said the manager, and vanished.
When you’ve been riding for 12 hours, you look forward to getting your tent up, having a shower and getting changed into civvies. You don’t look forward to being left standing like a muppet on a campsite and then having to go and hunt down the people who are supposed to be sorting it out, to find that they’ve been distracted by selling loaves of bread and tubes of toothpaste to campers who’ve been given a site that does fit their tent.
I had a small strop in the shop and they gave me a great big pitch under a tree. So on Saturday afternoon I could lie in the tent for a disco nap and watch the leaves making patterns on the canvas. Which was nice. Opposite a family with three boys who wanted to play football with my bike as the goalpost. Which wasn’t. Yes, I felt like a bitch when the keenest footballer picked up the ball with his saddest face on and went back to see his dad. But it wore off pretty quick when his dad expressed the view that no-one fucking cared about my fucking bike and people like me should leave his family the fuck alone. The thing I used to like about the Club was that they were strict about noise after 11pm and about ball games outside the play area. This site wasn’t particularly bothered about either and I don’t think I’ll be rushing back.
But the weekend wasn’t about the site, it was about the company. As well as Jezza@cix, who was one of the people who watched over my first wobbly U-turns, figures of 8 and camping weekends when my bike was a KH100, Viv’s birthday barbecue brought together the usual suspects of the RBR social section, a scattering of grandchildren, Gordon’s girlfriend and the RBR debut of Desperado, who packs up a tent even quicker than Paul Belcher.
On Saturday Jerry and Marysa met us at the Rose and Portcullis for carvery and skittles – analogue ten-pinbowling. With only nine pins, Andy picking up the skittles and the balls being sent back to the business end through a length of sloping drainpipe. Told you it was an old-school weekend!
Sunday morning was about packing up and saying goodbye. I am still a long way from coming to terms with going home from these fantastic events to my quiet house and my own company. I distracted myself with a ride over Salisbury Plain and past Silbury Hill, one of my favourite places on earth. Not that I’ve seen much of the rest of the earth yet to compare it to. So this is my new cunning plan. If I just keep going, then I don’t have to worry about going home.