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!

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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 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.

Red Right Hand

Suddenly I am BUSY.

 

Last week, I passed my Mod 1. Regular readers may know this was the ninth or tenth attempt. And I passed it, not powered on by confidence or love or hope, but by the things that have always been there for me; Righteous indignation and pain.

 

So, the first manouevre in the test is the manual handling. This is where the rider has to push the bike from one bay into another without hitting the cones or dropping the bike. There are no official guidelines on how to do this, and due to being skinny and (critically!) extremely disabled, I tend to do it by sitting astride the bike and pushing it backwards with my feet. this is, according to the actual rules of the test, perfectly legit.

 

According to this examiner though, that wasn’t manual handling, and manual handling explicitly meant “Standing beside the bike, one hand on the bars and one on the tail”.

 

This of course took literally five minutes of agonised pushing to move the bike from one parking bay to the next, complete with shoulders exploding out of socket, discs herniating, literal crying. But, I did it. And from that point on, I was fuelled with finest grade vitriol. I did a control exercise and figure-8 that could have gone in a training manual. My slow ride was a stately crawl. I U-turned with enough room left over to drive a bus through between my bike and the kerb. In the high speed exercises, I hit the speed gates at closer to twice the required speed than below it. I passed, with two faults (One for having difficulty in the manual handling, one for taking a while to brake after the hazard avoidance) and booked straight in for my Mod 2.

 

I got home, and found out that my Grandmother was in hospital with a broken wrist. So the next morning, I loaded up the bike and rode North.

 

I’m not going to talk about her being in hospital, because that’s not my story, but suffice to say that being up north, even though I got to see Sambuca Guy again and go to Ocean Road for a curry, and watch the ships on the river, was exhausting.

 

I also got pulled over by the police on the coast road for having a burst light – So they got out the screwdrivers and spare bulb kit, patched me up, and sent me on my way. Because even the police are nice on Tyneside.

 

Anyway, after three nights away, I rode home, getting to Thirsk just as it started to snow, then fell into bed in a complete pile.

 

The next few days will be possibly busiest. Here’s my last few days, as they’ve been, and my plans for the next weeks;

15th – Bike training

16th – Day of rest

17th – Mod 1 (I passed!)

18th – Leather shopping to reupholster the EN500’s saddle

19th – Ride North, visit Grandmother in hospital

20th – Jerry-rig existing bike headlamp, out with Sambuca Guy

21st – Visit Grandmother in hospital, socialise with family

22nd – Ride home, 120 miles in a snowstorm

23rd – Today! Rest! Sleep! Possibly go out this evening but I really don’t want to.

Tomorrow (24th) – Go to the garage to get the parts for the new headlight (Am switching from a single 5″ light to a pair of 4″ ones)

25th – Rheumatology at StJ, then Ghost In The Shell at the pictures in the evening.

26th – Bike training

27th – Going to Boggle Hole Youth Hostel for the weekend, because Whitby.

28th – Day in Whitby

29th – Ride home

30th – More bike training

31st  – Nana’s birthday, but also a day off.

1st – Bike TEST, as in my Mod 2

2nd – Day off!

3rd – Physio at Stanmore again.

 

…As you can see, by my standards, this is being a busy month.

Multibollock.

After a bit of soul-searching about whether or not I really wanted to go, and right-up-to-getting-in-the-car wobblies about coming home early, I actually went on holiday.

 

It’s increasingly a yearly tradition – Me and Best Friend and his parents get a holiday cottage somewhere (First one was at Ullswater in a converted barn, second was at Whitby in a big shed on a caravan park, this one was a ground-floor flat in what had been a gentleman’s residence overlooking Esthwaite) and have a nice, chilled-out week doing touristy stuff.

 

This time, even more so than the previous times, it was fucked up by me being incredibly mentally ill.

 

Day one, I stayed in my room and refused to talk to anyone, having a full-on “I want to take my body off and never put it back on again” level of badness.

Day two was good – Finding somewhere to sit around the banks of Coniston, with lots of damselflies and Herdwick sheep and generally just nice weather and scenery.

Day three was a boat trip on Ullswater, on the same steamer as the first time, which was wonderfully relaxing – Just sitting on the quarterdeck, admittedly spending part of the time lying flat on my back and staring up at the sky because sitting upright was too much for my spine. Then trying to go up the path to the youth hostel on Helvellyn, which I failed and basically collapsed during, needing such a vast amount of morphine that I was entirely a turnip on the way home.

Day four was recovering from that, pootling about the grounds of the house where there was so much wildlife; Tree-creepers, greater spotted woodpeckers (A whole family of them!) a young buzzard, an osprey catching a fish from the lake and then slowly circling up, giving us a good view of it as it flew off, a muntjac looking very furtive, a young slow-worm basking on the wall, a vole that wasn’t even slightly scared of humans, and plenty of swifts and swallows and other birds that would have been a headline-spot back home. Still, largely, just sitting in the corner and wibbling a bit, and planning to go home early.

Day five was rowing boats on Esthwaite, variously taking turns to try to row and/or paddle, which I did surprisingly well at and didn’t end up in the water at all. Desperately wanting to go home, but electing to stay because however stressed I felt, I’d probably feel worse if I wasn’t allowed to show how worried I was about politics. And then, at 21.50, we instituted a media blackout, so as not to get completely caught up in the referendum (us all having postal-voted weeks ago). Instead, we watched Rome and enthused about the Marian reforms and ancient mass-production of things like segmented lorica and single-use amphorae. We got to sleep at about 02.00.

At 04.30 on day six I woke up to go to the toilet and checked my phone to see how the results were coming in. I then lay back down, making an uncontrollable noise of distress, which woke up Best Friend. I tried to pass it off as just a shoulder spasm, letting him sleep a bit longer, but within about fifteen minutes he was waking up, and asked point-blank if I knew the result yet, since I was reading. I told him, and then we were both awake and miserable and angry. At about 5.30, we heard the others moving around the kitchen, getting coffee, so apparently nobody had any sleep that night.

 

Not to be deterred, but wanting to avoid all people, we went to the miniature railway at Ravenglass and Eskdale and avoided getting on it, instead taking plenty of photos in the station and the rail yard, then slowly made our way down to the ruins of the Roman bath at Muncaster. Despite the first half of the day having tiny locomotives – Combining two of my favourite things, trains and things which are the wrong size – I actually think that the bath was my favourite part of the day. They’ve got the distinction of being the tallest standing Roman ruins in England, and they were both amazingly complete and amazingly empty and untouched; Other than a tiny signpost saying roughly what they were, they were just some stone walls standing in a field. Stone walls, with square relieving arches, and surviving Roman plaster, and alcoves for the god of the bath, and the remains of the hypercaust visible near the caldarium, and a long green depression in the grass where the frigidarium would once have been, and just generally a wonderful sense of peace and being far away from the horrors of modernity. And we got to the Cumbrian coast, with its odd green clay pebbles and huge plates of broken bivalve shells, and happy Friesian cattle and alpacas grazing right up to the tide line.

 

On the way back to the flat, there were buzzards everywhere, and pretty bikes on the road, and generally the world seemed fine as long as we just avoided all human contact. But, well, all human contact needed avoiding.

 

The Sunday after getting back home, I went for a long ride out on the bike, basically circumnavigating the county before ending up in the biker cafe on the border. It was, frankly, a beautiful day. Blue skies, grass and fields just starting to turn from green to gold in places, and a cafe and field and car park full of happy bikers and their families, eating ice creams, enjoying the sunshine, snoozing on the grass, admiring each other’s machines. I parked up between a glorious triked Rocket 3 and a red Aprillia that looked like a wasp, bought a baked potato and a bottle of Lucozade, then sat on the hill overlooking the entire field, generally enjoying simultaneously being surrounded by people and being left basically alone.

 

Then the Monday was Attempt Two on the Mod 1 – Did not pass; Honestly think I was set up to fail, having not had a chance to ride the bike at all beforehand, but at least I had a nice paper of chips and nearly witnessed my riding instructor buying a lifesize fibreglass gorilla for the garden. Have booked back in for the 19th of July, at 08.00, which feels a bit early in the day to be doing anything at all. But needs must when the devil drives.

 

Tomorrow is an appointment at rheumatology- Firstly, I have no idea what for, but presumably this is my usual standing appointment, and secondly, I really don’t want to go since I don’t want to think about being ill right now any more than I really have to.

Look forwards, go forwards, look down, fall down.

I am home. I am home and back in my bed.

There is something dark in going on holiday to somewhere that looks exactly like your hometown. I can only describe it as being like running into your ex, your abusive ex, at a sit-down dinner with a lot of complete strangers.

This was a place that looked exactly like the place that fucked me up. Plastic signs on redbrick terraces, every shop either a takeaway or a bookie’s or a secondhand furniture place. Old pubs with neon signs, vertical drinking in places that could have ben so nice with half as many people, at a quarter of the volume. Cranes and half-gutted container ships looming over everything, little cobles stuck in sandbars that the owners would claim were daily runners but that probably hadn’t been out of the river-mouth in years. Caravan parks like shiny tumours, never quite spilling prosperity out onto the rest of the town. Dusty farmland in tiny patches, clinging on despite the pollution, crisscrossed with tracks from youth on scramble bikes and the police chasing them. Dead factories and scrubby patches of vacant ground, where corrugated tin sheds had been pulled down and left bare as “development opportunities”. And through it all the smell of mud and oil and seawater.

But worse – This looked to me as my old hometown looked to other people. Everyone I’d taken home, had seen… That. In me. Had seen me as part of it, shaped by it, with the stink of it on me. Horrible ugly place that I’d barely survived, and where every last interaction had left a scar, and it was on me.

I felt sick. I wanted to die. I wanted to curl up, put my arms over my head, and never come out.

All else this weekend – The midnight walk out to Haile Fort, losing my shoe in the Humber mud the day after, buying the motorbike, seeing the swallows flocking over the fields before their migration – is lost in that feeling of being back in hell.

But I am home, and back in my bed.

Do you believe in valkyries?

So, today was Bike Trip One – Going to see Bike One, in Orrell, 50 miles, three trains, a bus, and a short, muddy hike away. Thankfully, I was spared most of the short muddy hike by the bike’s current keeper driving down to the railway station to collect me. Whilst out, I also dropped off the change bucket that I’ve been storing up since 2007 at the bank, and found myself £106 richer than I thought.

It’s a good looking bike – 2005 Suzuki Marauder (In a colour I can only describe as “Utter twattock red”, and thus perfect), 30,000 miles on the clock (owch), Cat Ced more than five years ago for “something cosmetic” which has since been repaired (The painted parts of the bodywork are pristine), lost most of its chrome (mope), but it’s like riding a Shetland pony – Short and fat and heavy, not particularly quick, but comfortable, comfortable. It’s got saddlebags and a sissy bar, so at some point it was evidently someone’s two-person long-distance ride, even if recently it’s been a to-university-and-back vehicle for a lone student. It’s promising, and it’s a few hundred quid below market value, due to it taking up too much space in the owners’ garage.

There’s basically a slack handful of companies that I’m looking at (Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki), either a custom-cruiser or a commuter bike, but since at 125-size the difference is negligible I basically mean “Any unfaired or minimally-faired bike, with a comfy, upright-ish riding position, room to carry stuff, and preferably a teardrop fuel tank and wire-spoke wheels because I am a complete fool for pretties”, and with a budget under about a grand, since that leaves me with money enough to pay my tax and insurance, get my theory certificate, and some Big Bike (Direct Access) lessons before taking my test.

My travel radius to find said bike is, apparently, about fifty miles – That covers my city, all the other cities and towns in its conurbation, and the nearest big cities to the north, south, and west. This of course leaves the problem that I might have to do my first solo ride, on a new bike, on unfamiliar roads and up to a distance of fifty miles, after a rail journey of, apparently, up to about three hours once I’ve allowed for the bus to my railway station, changing trains in little towns and taking branch lines into adorable villages where there’s only one train an hour.

Suddenly, it’s all the more obvious why I want a bike, and it’s not just about the fun of actually riding it – I want to be able to leave the city without having to take a whole day just to get to and from my destination. Today I spent seven hours travelling, for a half-hour of looking at a bike. This, in my world, is about normal. I used to travel two and a half hours each way to spend two hours a week volunteering at the Greyhound Trust. Likewise, I used to happily travel two or more hours each way to go to naginata or iaido practise, in three different cities. When I did roller derby, that was an hour’s commute, on two trains and a bus, three times a week. I can’t afford that much time now, but I bet that if I was a bit more independently mobile, thus with shorter journey times and less pressure (The difference between “ten minutes late” on the train, when missing a connection by a minute can make an hour’s difference at the other end, and “ten minutes late” in private transport, where that ten minutes is the same ten minutes at the end of the journey), I would get back into doing that sort of thing. Hence, bike.

And, after the ridiculously long day (Which started with me waking up at half past five to deal with the dog vomiting everywhere – He was fine, in the end, but it was terrifying for all of us) I decided to go for a swim. Well, it turns out that “Three bottles of Lucozade and a flapjack on the train” isn’t exactly the breakfast of champions, so tonight’s swim was slow and disheartening. On the other hand, I’m now sleepy and warm, and have license to go to sleep. Tomorrow, all I have to do is phone a couple of bike sellers (Two more GZ125s, one of them closer to home) and maybe think about ringing around for double glazing, since the house is starting to leak.

And the day after that, I might be going to Cleethorpes on holiday. Three holidays on the beach within the year – Look at me being decadent!