Vegan thoughts

Mildly irritated by the now-constant assumption that “Vegan” and “Understands farming” have to be mutual opposites, and that all vegans have to constantly be at war with pastoral farmers, and seeking converts.


So, my pitch, since people keep basically asking that this be set out like some kind of stall. I’ve been vegan since 2011 and vegetarian since 1997. I went vegan on my second “attempt”, after a previous try in 2008, which didn’t work due to needing to live off mostly vending machine chocolate and milky tea whilst working in a teaching lab.

**I know that not everyone can be vegan. I know that not everyone wants to be vegan. I honestly consider that being vegan or being carnist (Or vegetarian, or pescatarian, or fruitarian, or following a religious diet) are basically irrelevant personal choices, and that many people will pick a diet based on similar morality which looks totally different to someone else presented with the same operating criteria. There is no moral absolutism on who is doing the “right thing”. It’s no better or worse to make food choices based on how many animals were killed to make the meal, or how the workers at harvest and processing were treated, or to only buy things from the corner shop where the owner doesn’t mistreat his dogs, or to not buy goods imported from (Regime), or to only buy food that’s produced locally, or to only eat roadkill or culled meat, or to only eat supermarket waste, or to only eat at restaurants where the staff keep their tips, or to only eat food that you know you can share with your housemates.


**I know that not everyone can be vegan. I know that not everyone wants to be vegan. People’s dietary choices are constrained by their financial or geographical location, by their cultural expectations. It’s no better or worse to decide that you want to eat something to continue your grandparents’ food traditions, or to feed yourself cheaply enough that you can put away a fiver a week, or to pick food based on what your kids will eat as well, or on what will keep without needing to go in the fridge, or to eat something because it reminds you of somewhere or someone that you love, or to pick food based on it being a cheap and pleasurable way of improving your day.


**I know that not everyone can be vegan. I know that not everyone wants to be vegan. I know that people pick their diets based on their health, whether they need low-adhesion, low-fibre, low-fat, low-sugar, low-FODMAP, high-protein, high-fat, short-peptides-only, TPN, a rush of sugar to get them out of bed with the first can of Irn Bru, a rush of sugar to keep them out of a diabetic hypo, a ready meal or instant mash because it doesn’t take hand strength, instant noodles because they don’t take washing up, hot jam doughnuts because sometimes all that will keep you sane is comfort food, or the exact same bowl of rice every day prepared in the exact same way because it’s all that’s safe.


**I know that a lot of people see someone else choosing not to eat animal products as a threat, or as a moral challenge, or as a bit of one-upmanship. It’s not, at least not in my case although I am certain that some people do it purely to be holier-than-thou, because someone will try everything eventually.  Most people seem to get some sort of near-orgasmic rush of pleasure from consuming meat or dairy products (Either that, or they’re all lying when they say “Oh but a bacon sandwich? Really? Not even slightly tempted? How can you not want a bacon sandwich, one bite and you’ll be down the chicken shop at 2am, eating out of a bucket…”) – I don’t, and I never have as far as I can remember. I’ve never really prized creamy, cheesy, fatty flavours, or soft or juicy textures; As an adult I’ve grown very fond of coconut fat,  but the thought of the traditional “vegan converting” foods like fudge sundaes or bacon-double-cheeseburgers does pretty much nothing for me. I eat plenty of “frivolous” stuff (But really, why do we have to assign moral value to foods anyway?) but they all tend towards being sugary and sour, or spicy – fizzy cola cubes, bubblegum flavoured stretchy not-exactly-liquorice, Skittles, achaar pickles, vindaloo with whole hands of ginger, deep fried mirchi bhaji stuffed with stuff. Stuff like that. I basically have the tastebuds of a seven-year-old. Where animal products do give me greater benefit than they would to the average person, I still use them (I believe that some of my pills have lactose as a binding ingredient, and even though my bike leathers are secondhand, they’re still leather). I feel like it’s a waste of an animal’s life to give its meat to me, who won’t appreciate it, as opposed to giving it to someone who feels that a meal is incomplete without it, or who badly needs the easily-digestible protein and fats.


**I know that a lot of people who have chosen not to eat animal products see people who’ve chosen to eat them as morally backward. Those people are, if not outright idiots, then at least ignorant and probably acting in bad faith, other than maybe a tiny few who really do have a mental illness that should probably be treated with some kind of CBT in order to allow them to interact comfortably with the rest of society. You can’t have grown up in the UK and pretend to be completely shocked and scandalised by seeing a packet of sausages in a communal fridge. There is no great moral benefit in pretending to have a fainting fit every time you pass someone wearing a fur collar or putting milk in their coffee. If it really does horrify you to the point of nausea to see someone making a fry-up or eating a block of cheese, concentrate hard on your own reactions, identify that another person eating meat will not personally harm you, and (if you really can’t control it) calmly move away from the situation. Screaming and lashing out and crying and generally making a scene won’t help, at all.


**I know that most pastoral farmers care about the welfare of their animals – I’ve stepped in to help at enough calvings and lambings, and have put down more than my fair share of ducks and chickens who’d either passed their laying prime, or who’ve just been destined for the table. I still believe that it’s a waste of the farmer’s good work to expend energy on trying to sell their meat, eggs, or milk to me, since I’m unlikely to enjoy eating them. Wool, hides, horns, bones or feathers, I will happily buy by the bucketload since I always have a use for them. As I write this, I’m sitting with my feet on a deerskin rug which I tanned myself, from a hide which was otherwise going to waste at the local butcher’s (Most small butchers who process game don’t have the facilities or client base to use the skins, and will gladly give them away to anyone who can reliably pick them up. The same applies to antler and large bones which are great dog treats or carving blanks, depending on their condition).


**I know that arable farming also kills animals and damages the local ecosystem, as well as having poor human rights records – But I don’t think that I could reasonably afford to eat enough good-quality meat to significantly reduce the amount of grains and vegetables that I eat, and it’s debatable whether humans suffer more in picking crops under a gangmaster, or processing cattle in a slaughterhouse.


**Most arguments about veganism boil down to classism – Either that the “Ignorant working class” should bow to the superior knowledge of their enlightened middle-class vegan counterparts, or that the “Pigshit thick coddled townies” should gaze in awe upon the superior wisdom of their salt-of-the-earth rural meat-eating farmers. Neither is 100% accurate (A hill farmer in Yorkshire doesn’t necessarily know more about the environmental or human cost of prawn farming in Vietnam than his London-based vegan adversary) and honestly given the nature of global trade, of how poor the accountability trail for so many foodstuffs is (Unless you know the farmer, you don’t know that your “British beef” is really British – It could just have been slaughtered or processed here, and that’s even before we get into food scandals), and how deeply emotive and based in what feels right rather than what is logical the notion of what is or isn’t wholesome food is, there pretty much can’t be “One right and true Objective Picture”.


**There doesn’t seem to be much conclusive proof either way for whether a vegan or a carnist diet is better for the majority of healthy adults, and a lot of studies have been skewed either by picking the most health-conscious vegans (the type who plan meals, take vitamin supplements and measure their blood pressure) or by picking the least health conscious carnists (archetypally, a commercial driver who eats at Big Lil’s Cafe for breakfast every morning and then doesn’t eat anything but strong coffee until nearly midnight). Or vice versa – There’s plenty of vegans who live on instant ramen and bourbon biscuits, and plenty of carnists who carefully measure out their steamed chicken breast portion (the size of a pack of playing cards!) and match it up with brown rice.


**The paradox that the only vegans you ever hear about are the annoying shouty ones really isn’t helping anyone.

Skies littered with five pointed stars

The last few days have been beautiful, exhausting, and frankly just the kind of lovely chaos that I’ve been needing.


The last few weeks have been hell. As most of you know, my Grandmother has fairly late-stage Alzheimers now, and has just been taken into respite care after a whole load of nigh-impossible tasks. She’s up North, in the homeland, I’m a hundred and fifty odd miles away. Other than phoning and chatting and trying to keep everyone else on an even keel, I can’t help. My one hope on “helping” is getting my bike functional again, getting up North and running errands. I can’t do emotional stuff, I’m shit at talking about problems, but I can pick up groceries and hassle doctors and make sure that the right meds go to the right people and argue the pros and cons of memantine and quetiapine and citalopram and all that.

My bike, which got home three days ago, has thrown a back wheel bearing. Went out for a first shakedown ride on it with Best Friend, and within eight miles of home it had thrown the bearing, leaving us stranded out in a residential street in a village between the town we left from and the one we were aiming for. Fortunately, help was at hand; First and old gent who’d had a Honda 90 and was more than happy to lend us his extensive toolkit, then a family who all owned Triumphs and classic Minis who offered advice and hand wipes as we stripped the bike down to find the problem (Initially, of curse, assuming the fuelling was the problem, again).


Whilst at Best Friend’s house, we rescued a Staffordshire bull terrier. She was lost, stuck out in the back alley in the middle of a downpour, at midnight (I spotted her when checking on the bikes before going to bed). She came into the house when invited, and only when invited, and ate everything given to her (About eight pouches of cat food), but nothing that we didn’t give her, and then sat down happily on a sheepskin to be fussed over and checked for an identity tattoo, a chipping scar, or a name tag. Admitting defeat, we kept her until the next morning, when we went to seek her owners (She slept perfectly well in the guest room, and held her excretions until she got outside).  Taking her to the local park, nobody recognised her. Asking a column of schoolchildren and their teacher, nobody recognised her (The teacher told the children to come forwards and look at the dog to see if they knew her. The classroom assistant, near the back, grabbed three of the children from the back who had come forward to see if they recognised the dog,and told them off with an “Oh aren’t you three nosey!” – I think this sums up classroom assistants really. Total lack of curiosity and blind adherence to routine and love of wielding heavy authority over the powerless.) Eventually I found people who may have been her owners… But they hadn’t noticed that their dog was gone until the morning. I took her to the vet, who scanned her chip and said that they’d take her back to her owners, who’d now have to pay a fine to get her back.

And, to top it all off, I’m now nocturnal again, just when it’s the least convenient. Oh well, there was an hour change a couple of days ago which might hurry me back towards diurnality. At least I’ve had the impetus to tidy out my nest, make some lace (And still get to lace school at that) and make a second bed for myself.

The man in black

The week before last, I booked in a GP appointment to ask to have my tubes tied.


It felt like I was being cross-examined, and like whatever I said my answer would be wrong.


“Do you have a long-term partner?” (Yes) “And what does he think about you getting this done?” (It’s none of his business/he’s supportive) “But what if you were in a different relationship, with someone who wasn’t supportive?” (Why would I be in a relationship with someone who wanted something so different out of life/Are you saying that you want a future partner to be able to reproductively coerce me?)


“What do you understand by the term tubal ligation?” (I describe the procedure, the effect on hormone levels -ie, none – the possible side effects) “Oh, but don’t you understand that it’s permanent?” (That’s the point. Literally the whole point.)


“Why don’t you want a coil anymore?” (It’s not permanent.) “But you’re not having any side effects?” (IT’S NOT PERMANENT.) “Why do you think you’ve had difficulty with coil insertions?” (Because it had to be done under a general anaesthetic and then it fell out and then it slipped upwards and IT’S NOT PERMAMENT.)


Why don’t you want children?” (I never have. It would be dangerous. I don’t want to pass on my illness.) “Oh why do you think that you’re ill?” (Have you read my notes?) “Why do you think that it would be passed on to a child?” (Do you understand the meaning of genetic?)


She wrote down all of my answers then said “Well, since you’re so young, I’m going to reccommend a very long course of counselling first, before you get the referral.”


I’m so young. SO YOUNG. I’m thirty. My grandmother was through menopause by 35. I’ve miscarried and know that I can’t carry to term due to an intersex condition, atop the EDS making it so dangerous. I’ve lived all over the world, taken a dozen career paths, worked with children, and just know they aren’t for me, but it’s assumed that a few hours of sitting in front of a happy maternal girl in a quirky dress with a sympathetic expression who says “But… Babies? Babies?! BABIES!!!!” will make me throw my life plans and physical reality up in the air and risk my life, my sanity and my ability to support myself and want to spawn. Or that a hypothetical future-partner deciding that he wants to whelp onto me is more important than my lifelong wishes.


Fucking amazing.


Anyway, first session of counselling is at 9am on the 10th of May. 9am. The poor counsellor is going to come out of that session not only not wanting children, but being pro-extinction-of-the-human-race.

YHA February: Hartington Hall Part Three – Doris Strikes

I was greeted at 8.30 by my comrades knocking on the door to call me to breakfast, and sprang out of bed feeling completely refreshed and looking forward to the day ahead. The itinerary was simple; Breakfast, leather up, ride to Matlock, meet the others, ride back to the Manifold Inn, natter, eat, natter more, ride back to Hartington to drink more.

Breakfast was lovely – Tinned grapefruit and peaches, toast, more fruit, gentle chatter and looking forward to the day ahead. A few more of the forum had checked in on Skype as being on their way, but a few more had cancelled for the weather.

We unlocked the bikes – My borrowed VanVan, a 1400 Intruder and a Kawasaki ZZR, and set out towards Matlock. By the time we’d got more than a few miles, I knew I wouldn’t make it out there, the wind was just far too strong, knocking me all over the road. I pulled over, explained the problem, and returned to the hostel as they headed on to Matlock, twenty-odd miles away to meet the rest, planning to meet them later at the Manifold.

I got back to Hartington, stopping once on the way to offer my phone to a stranded motorist (“A Geordie biker? Of course you stopped. Geordies are helpful, bikers are helpful, you must practically have had to take an oath…”) and settled in for a couple of hours of lacemaking in the lounge before going back out. The weather seemed to ease, so when one o clock rolled around I got back into my full kit and set off.

Here the problems began.

Firstly, I went the wrong way which was the start of my problems. I got a long way up the a515 before I realised, so pulled into the gate of a camping and caravan site in Pomeroy. Wherein my battery died. Remember that dead battery? I knew it would come back to haunt me. The wind was picking up a little, so I ventured across the cattle grid where I was met by a border collie, who insistently herded me down to the farmhouse, where a woman was both unsurprised to see me and knew right away what to do. “My husband is around. He’s a biker. He’ll help.” Minutes later he came out with a baler and a 10mm spanner, we took the saddle off, jumped the battery off the baler’s enormous industrial battery, and got it running.

“I’ve always liked these.” he said thoughtfully – he rode a BMW touring machine – “What’re they like?”

The only sensible response was to step down and offer to let him spin it around the yard. He did so, and upon his return I think I saw his smile before I saw the headlamp. The VanVan really is a bike that loves mud, and puddles, and fields, and just generally it makes people smile. He was very happy, and very helpful – Blocked the traffic with the baler to let me out onto the main road, where I set off back towards Hartington.

Here, the problems got worse. The a515 is a high, exposed road, with the winds of what became Storm Doris howling across it west-to-east. I was on a bike which, with me on it, still weighed less than 150kg, and was running flat-out, carefully picking a tacked line to stay upright and leaning hard in a hell of a wind, on a downhill. Clearly, nobody sane would get within spitting distance of this vehicle, understanding that I was currently a very vulnerable road user through no fault of my own, and I had no way to stop to fix this problem.

Unfortunately, Silver Fiesta Driver did not think this. Silver Fiesta Cunt was so important that, even though I was already at the speed limit for this road, he would wait until I was sufficiently tucked-in to the side of the road, then race to overtake me. He overtook me so close, in fact, that he just slammed hard into my rear right indicator.

I consider it a testament of my skill and machine sympathy that I managed to arrange a soft landing for both myself and the bike in the ditch at the side of the road, but this is how me, and the VanVan ended up upside-down in six inches of water in a ditch. I extracted myself from under it, and that’s where things get blurry.

I remember taking my gloves off and flinging them at the bike and screaming.

I remember a woman in a blue estate stopping on the far side of the road for a second, asking “Are you all right?” and when I shakily answered an honest, concussed “I don’t know. I got hit.” replied with “Oh you’re fine, you look fine” and driving off at high speed.

I remember a car stopping, an arm around my shoulders to hold me up, and someone saying very slowly “Have you been hit?” and then “Sit in my car whilst I run this up to the pub for you.”

I remember sitting in a car and wanting to get out to apologise to the man who was now pushing my bike up the road to the pub, since the dead battery meant that it wouldn’t restart.

I remember him returning, driving me up to the pub, and saying that he’d put money behind the bar so that I could get a coffee, and that he’d be back after picking his son up to check that I was all right.

I remember the landlady getting me the phone so that I could phone the Manifold to see where the bikers were, and the landlord of the Manifold saying that the bikers had just left to find one of their wives who was in some trouble up on the a-road.

I remember staring at my coffee and not being sure how much sugar to put in it, and thinking that this was a very nice medieval pub.

I remember Intruder-rider checking me over for obvious head injuries, whilst one of his friends checked my helmet for cracks.

And then time seemed to return to its normal flow, and the five of us were sat at a table eating a whole Sunday dinner by a crackling fire, surrounded by suits of armour and ageing taxidermy. And, you know, it was a really nice afternoon.

Getting the bike back to Hartington was a nightmare. The same winds that had basically unhorsed and unmanned me earlier were still howling. I did not want to get on the bike. The bike refused to start, repeatedly, until three of the others gave it a good old hoick around the car park to bump it. And then I was back on. Triumph America rode in front, then Intruder, then ZZR, Bonneville having had to get home to get his kids to bed.

We had to stop a good few times, with pep talks and wailing at every step, but eventually I just went visor-down, timed it between the gusts, and ripped out ahead of the pack to get back as fast as I could. Having the trail of four friendly vehicles behind me made it a thousand times easier.

Back at Hartington I dropped the bike in its spot, got inside, and immediately got a gin gimlet, the first of many. Using the dead battery as a figleaf, I phoned for breakdown recovery, and arranged it for 10am the next day. The rest of the night, the three of us sat and chatted, unbothered by incomers, I still working on and off on my lace, the others uploading photos of the day, all of us having a couple of quiet, calming pints. We said our goodbyes that evening, knowing that in the morning we all had different schedules to keep.

The next morning, they were both gone long before I woke up, but my bike had been un-bent and was spotless. The courier arrived at 10 exactly – A fellow biker, who’d toured the Sahara, Canada, the States and most of Europe and Asia, ridden the length and breadth of the UK on a push bike, and who was cheerfully un-patronising as we sat in the van listening to Black Sabbath and getting the bike home safely.

The VanVan was returned to its rightful place next to its brother, I flopped into the house completely exhausted, but overall despite all the bad luck, it was still a really good weekend full of scenery and bikes and good people. Two successes so far!

YHA February: Hartington Hall Part 2 – At the sign of the prancing autobai

The VanVan is utterly bananas to ride. I don’t know quite who or what it was made for, but haring across the hills and between the old mill towns on either side of the Pennines at a steady 50mph is probably about right. By the time I reached Huddersfield I was in love with this impossibly-light, responsive, lively bike. It didn’t have power – It’s 0-60 time is “It’ll do 0-60… No, that’s it, it will do 0-60 eventually” but it had character. It’s so short and narrow that it filters through gaps that even my beloved GZ would have found challenging.

Rising up through the winding paths into the Peaks, heading for Glossop In The High Peak over the famous-for-good-reasons Snake Pass, I was completely blown over by the scenery; Heather moors wilder than anything I’d seen south of the border, the high mass of Kinder Scout, the violent twists of the high road which still, somehow, HGVs thought they could traverse. It was beautiful. I passed through Glossop, which looks like something out of a steampunk novella, all high temples to industry, two beautiful viaducts joined in a Y over the road, the water running in a mill-race alongside the road. It felt like a self-contained, cold, lonely world even though logically I know it can’t be far outside of Manchester.

After Glossop the air got colder still, the terrain more wild and ragged – The road ran alongside the water in the bottom of a valley, leading to a tight bridge over a reservoir near Crowden. After this, exhaustion seemed to hit. On a bigger, more comfortable bike, and in better weather, it would have been a beautiful run. On the VanVan in the cold, with the dark descending and the rain whipping across in the howling wind, it was cruel and unusual punishment. By the time I reached the last road down to Hartington, passing the quarries where the trucks seemed to howl past every couple of seconds, I was so tired that I was counting every junction.

At this point, an HGV from the quarry decided to “help” by tailgating me.

You may know when you’re on a bike of the dual “splish-splish” sound, of the front and then back wheel going through puddles. I was getting “Splish-splish-splishROAR”because the HGV was literally so close that it was about the distance from my tail as my front wheel was from my back. Larger vehicles do this to bikes in the hope of making us speed up, not realising that a bike as small as the VanVan, at 60mph, is giving it basically all that it can. On the uphills, stretching the speed limit a little, I pulled ground away from it, and then on the downhills it caught back up, desperate to scare me, to prove his driver was manlier, or more aggressive, or more skilful.

We were in the rain. In the dark. On an unfamiliar road. The stopping distance of an HGV is lacking at the best of times. I saw my turn-off, and, this HGV being so close, I couldn’t slow down to take it. Instead, I took a left into a layby a hundred yards down the road, after gaining as much ground as I could. The driver honked his horn as he went past, clearly feeling like a big tough guy.

I wish I had the courage to harry someone on a 125cc bike. It must take real guts when you’re only driving a forty tonne quarry truck.

I turned around on the now empty road, and made my way down the last stretch into Hartington.

Hartington Hall is beautiful. I don’t know if I can accurately convey it, but imagine if you will; You’re cold, you’re sore, you’re angry at HGV drivers, you’re wet through and have been riding for nearly four hours. You have a dislocated shoulder and can’t feel your hands, or anything below your knees. You see a hall, a beautiful stately home with sweeping lawns atop a hill. You realise that is, in fact, your destination. You park your bike and half-dismount, half-fall-off, and crawl up to the great heavy oak door, and unlatch it, falling in in a mess, your skin grey all over, shaking and exhausted.

Two helpful bikers – Your friends, whom you’ve only met once before – help you down into a chaise. Your boots come off. Your helmet and gloves are stowed for you, as one of them goes to collect your pack and bring the bike up to the collective parking. Your eyes focus a bit. There are candles in every alcove, a roaring log fire in the huge medieval inglenook, low tables and settees and thick rugs on the floor so you can walk around barefoot. You’re warm. You’re comfortable. Someone has got your morphine out of your pack, so in a minute or two you won’t be in pain either. Dinner is ready for you, and it’s good. A set of keys are pressed into your hand – That’s for your bunk, which is just upstairs and you can go and sleep in it right now if you want. A pint of really rather nourishing porter is placed in front of you, as soon as you’re warm enough to drink it without spilling.

Hartington Hall is magic.

Once I’d warmed up and proof-of-like had been posted to the forum (Though some still maintain that the photo is just one of my compatriots holding up my dead body) we had a fantastic evening. Conversation flowed like we’d known each other forever.

Around midnight, we were joined by someone who I’ll call Middleclass Man. Middleclass Man seemed pleasant enough. He came from the bar and asked, pleasantly, if we minded having him join us for a last drink before bed. We assented, shuffled up the settee, and made room for him. Unfortunately, this was Middleclass Man, so no room was enough room. Our conversation, which had been about everything under the sun, mostly wildlife and crafting things and our previous adventures, was about Bikers. What did Bikers think about Easy Rider? Were One Percenters really a big thing? Did we really have to pay our respects to them? He had an MX5 once, you know, he’d always wanted a bike.. What kind of Bike should he get? He thought he’d suit something classic and sporty and Italian but… What do you all Ride?Ooh crashes, have you been in crashes? What do you think of that? Oh wow, your leg is such a mess? Can I touch it? Can I feel that bit? Can YOU feel that bit? Wow wow wow so braaave. How do you cope, knowing this can just happen to any of you? Money won’t make you happy, surely, this is what you need to make you happy (I quickly shut him up on that at least, pointing out that it’s nice to be able to not worry about where your next meal is coming from when you’re also looking at a hefty bill for new carbs) and did we all know, he wasn’t ashamed, he smoked a joint now and then and he thought it would cure all the world’s ills…

He told us all that what we really needed was a heads-up-display in our visors for when we were lost. I produced my trusty record cards with the directions on, another of us explained sat-nav-to-earpiece, a third just checked out of the conversation. He was insistent. Could not understand that a half-second of overlay would result in being totally disoriented, or that somehow the bikers may know better about riding than he did.

All the while, he kept getting up to go to the bar to get more drinks for himself. The bar, which had been closed for several hours. I was amazed and horrified by the sense of sheer entitlement that would lend someone to take over someone else’s conversation and then steal from the inn that we were all staying in. He seemed to think he was Very Naughty. I assume that by next morning, his story to his travelling companions would have been that he was up late drinking with the Hell’s Angels.

Honestly though, he was fun. Perverse fun, but fun.

I got back to my dorm (ten to a room) at around 2am, to find a fight already in progress. All I heard of it was “It’s you that’s being a bitch! Stop tutting at me!” “But it’s hard to sleep with you flashing a light around!” and then one person storming off to sleep downstairs, after stage-whispering to me that it was impossible to sleep up here with so many bitches.

I waited half a second, then said “Right, since we’re all awake, can I have a light on to find my bunk?”

This of course started another round of vociferous argument which strangely fell into deadly hushed silence when I dropped my two metre chain lock off the top bunk onto the floor, creating a noise that said in no uncertain terms “THE BIKER is sleepy now. Go to sleep.”

I slept actually pretty blissfully after that.

YHA February: Hartington Hall Part One – The knacker’s yard.

February brought my second YHA trip, this time with my bike forum buddies – We’d arranged to meet up in Matlock to pass Marvin the Monkey to his next host, I was due a youth hostel visit, and there was one right next to where we needed to stay.

Now, to clarify matters – On the 1st of February, I passed my full bike test. After a year of complete devotion to working on this and driving myself to exhaustion, this was a big thing for me. So after passing the Mod 2 on the first try (Oh how I will miss the Gladius! Sweet, nippy, powerful little machine that will sit up and dance with barely more than a thought!) and saying a somewhat tearful goodbye to my instructor, I was elated and excited to get the EN500 out on the road. I rode home on the GZ, and in jealous protest at feeling like it was being replaced in my affections, it threw its brake light, putting itself out of action for the duration.

My first tasks as a fully-fledged Idiot were banal ones; Getting The EN to the garage for a brake service (The front caliper was bent and the hoses were pissing brake fluid), and taking Dearest’s VanVan up for an MOT. So both bikes went out, and both bikes came back, and I went over to Best Friend’s house on the trike as a pillion.

The EN is a very different beast to the Gladius, and clearly not even the same species as the docile, breathless GZ. Bringing it home from the bike office, it bucked and fishtailed and screamed, threatening to drop me on my feet or skip up the exhausts of the cars in front. After the first hundred miles on it though, I felt like it was mine-and-me, as a good bike should, somewhere between a deep friendship and being a limb. It’s strong, it accelerates inexorably with a gentle whirr of liquid-coolant and a hum of high-revving parallel-twin goodness, it’s comfortable and sturdy and gentle, now that I understand how to talk to it, with that reserve of high power sitting always a hair’s breadth away, ready to pull me out of danger or to let me relax a little when cruising at seventy instead of constantly shepherding an engine that’s right on its redline. I fell in love, all over again, excited to learn where the new machine would take me. So I took it for a real ride – Washburn, Summerbridge, Greenhowe, Skipton. Thankfully I had Best Friend with me on the trike as a support vehicle, since the problems appeared almost as soon as I went out. Eight miles out, I had a little power loss and then a sudden uncontrollable acceleration. I pulled over intoa pub car park, explained the problem, and then kept on going. A hundred yards outside of the pub, it ground to a complete halt. I flagged down a passing tourer, who raced ahead to catch up to the trike, and pointed him back up the hill to where I was, just out of sight.

Trike returned, and together we shepherded the EN into a sleepy housing estate. A few roadside diagnostics (Are the carbs drawing properly? Is the air filter intact and clean? Rev up and drop through the gears to check for stalling or racing, poddle around the estate a few times to see if it does it again) and we were satisfied to ride on thinking it was just a one-off incident. We rode up to The Sun at Washburn, for a delicious plate of chips and microshandy, and a lovely chat with all the other local dog owners and bikers, including a handful of One Percenters who were all delighted to see a pair of mad old vintage machines on the road enjoying the weather (The EN500 is 27, The Trike is 20, one is an icon and the other is increasingly scarce and cult). At this point, we deliberated; Do we carry on, or do we call it a day and go on. I looked out at the glorious cold sunlight with the hint of spring in the air and the smell of fresh grass and sheep, weighed up the chances of running into trouble, and said; “Yeah, let’s ride on”.

The leg of the journey up to Summerbridge was so fast and clear, it was like a dream. It was why we ride. Broad, twisty roads, golden-green fields full of young lambs springing into life, red kites hanging in the still air under a blue sky, every other machine on the road seeming to be a bike or a classic car, all driven impeccably. The bike lost power once, but then started up again with no real issue, so we agreed to turn in to the next pub (Our planned next rest point) to sort things out. We stopped at a pub on Greenhowe Hill, where I encountered another biker from the Homeland; An older gent on a 1200 Sportster who had lived most of his life half a mile from where I grew up. In the words of Best Friend; “It was lovely to see, that spark of recognition from both of you… Then the Geordie accents got thicker and thicker and faster and faster until all I could tell was that you were both happy and nostalgic. But I couldn’t understand a word.” For my part, I was so happy to have felt that kind of kinship again. I feel very much like a stranger in my own homeland a lot of the time, so it’s good to see that other Geordies still see the Tyne in my blood.

It was on the way out of the second pub that things got unfortunate. Passing Bedlam, there were a few more sudden accelerate-then-grind-to-a-halt moments, including on a steep downhill. And then they got more frequent. At each stop, I was increasingly morose, exhuasted, sore and demoralised, and without Best Friend’s help, I’d have almost certainly just dropped her and phoned for breakdown recovery. By the time we were back in the City, we couldn’t risk the ring-road because at every traffic light, every junction, every couple of seconds, the bike was stalling and refusing to restart, even with her enrichment circuit fully on, as if she was dead cold. In the end, I was having to launch her hard on the back wheel from every stop, since letting her revs drop meant she’d die on the spot and probably not restart. I locked her in for the night, climbed onto the pillion of the trike, and went back to Best Friend’s house for a carb clinic. We knew where the problem was going to sit, we just had to hash it out.

The next day, I want home, and the EN was collected in the garage’s van, which took her away with all the solemnity and urgency of an ambulance. A day later, they phoned back – Problem solved, her carb boots were loose and they’d put them back on. I came out, picked her up, got her back as far as the bottom of the valley, and the problem started again. I shepherded her home, the garage apologised, collected her again, and she’s remained there ever since.

The night before heading off to Hartington, I charged up the GZ’s battery and replaced his rear bulb. In the morning, ready to leave, I discovered that even with the battery allegedly charged, he wasn’t going anywhere. So, Dearest being Dearest, offered me the VanVan for the weekend, a bike that I adore and have always wanted to ride for more than just the odd pop to the garage. And I had, after all, MOTed it the week before, I had earnt the right to take it out over the Peaks and really violate it.

The VanVan got as far as the garage before the battery died. A quick perk with the jump leads from Best Friend’s car, and I was on my way South…

YHA January: Boggle Hole

So, this is the year where I have decided to go to one youth hostel a month. I love the YHA, they’ve got the perfect level of comfort and communality for me since I prefer to travel alone, and they’re in interesting places. There’s also dozens of them within a day’s ride of me, and they range from about £10 to £20 a night for a bed in a dorm. Ideal.


My first trip out was to Boggle Hole, which is a tiny, modern hostel on the beach near Whitby. I’d intended to go on the Friday afternoon, spend a day on the beach on the Saturday, then ride home again on the Sunday. Upon trying to set out on the Friday morning however, I found that the Marauders’ battery was dead. Not flat – DEAD. So, given a bit of help from my friends, I got to Halfords, bought a battery, charged it up overnight and set off a day late.


The ride was fantastic. Out to Pickering, then along the high roads over the moors (Including taking that legendary bend at the Saltersgate Inn) before finally dropping down into Whitby from the north just as the sun was setting. I got a little lost on the farm tracks and tiny cliffside villages, but made it into the youth hostel just as it got dark. My bunk was up in the Annexe, a ferociously modern building high up on the cliffside, which took me a painfully long time to reach in the first place, so I dropped off my things then returned to the beach for a spot of beachcombing, and then dinner in the cafe. My haul that evening was a coupe of crinoid stems, an interesting coral, and a lone gryphea. As I sat in the dining room, I reflected that this might be my last cross-country trip on the GZ, since I’d just passed my Mod 1 and had my Mod 2 booked in for  matter of days’ time. It was a good, solid little bike, it had carried me up and down the frankly extravagant hills of Whitby (Parts of Blue Bell and the coast roads were signed as 1:33. The GZ did them cheerfully, if slowly, without a hint of tipping or being buffeted).


After tea, I went back up to my bunk, and since it was already about nine, I settled in to read for a few hours. My roommates (four to a dorm) seemed fine – I had a nice chat with one who was doing about the same as I was, taking odd nights out at regular intervals, and who loved the beach – and by about midnight all of us were asleep without issue, despite a lot of admittance that this was all our first night in dorms since we were teenagers.


The next morning I was awake before sunrise, so slipped out of the dorm as quietly as possible and down onto the beach to watch the sun come up. Watching the sun rise, slowly, from a red glow to a great yellow slick across the sky and the water, punctuated with dark grey clouds, to finally a cold high blue which made the yellow cliffs look all the brighter, I couldn’t think of a better way to start the day. After filling up a little bag of more crinoid stems, two rather lovely ammonites, and a couple of just plain pretty quartzites and smooth green mudstones, I headed back to the hostel for breakfast and checkout.


On the way out of the hostel, I got to the top of the slope and found that a second bike was parked up next to mine, a Kawasaki W, the newer, sparklier Kawasaki which looks so much like a Triumph that I almost did a double take. A brief chat with its owner, who had also just popped into the hostel for the night, and then I was off on my way. I quickly popped up to the Abbey, just to say that I’d been, then turned around and headed back up past Blue Bell to go home.


And then the weather turned. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a proper sea fret, but it’s not something to be trifled with. As I crossed the high moors, visibility was literally so low that I couldn’t see my own front wheel, and my bar ends were distinctly fading into the fog. The whole thing glowed (Above it, the sun was clearly shining its heart out) so it was like being blindfolded with three or four layers of silk chiffon, whilst standing outside on a bright summer day. I carried on, a happy synergy of man and machine, comfortable and content that the bike would keep me safe and grip the road, even as the occasional cager gave up and rolled off into a layby to wait for it to pass. After the first ten minutes or so, I was the only person on the road, and that was absolutely perfect. The strange, cold, glowing silence, with the only hints of movement being the bright drops of water forming on my visor and in my eyelashes as the fog condensed, was mine and mine alone.


The ride home, after getting down into civilisation and below the treeline, was uneventful and fast, other than a brief moment where I was literally the only person on a major stretch of dual carriageway for about five miles, so I thought the world might have ended, and I was home again before most people even considered the day to be starting.


All in all, a short but successful first YHA trip of the year.