I had a bizarre dream yesterday about riding a horse down the central motorway. I can’t remember if in the dream it was also a bike, or if it turned into a bike (or if a bike had turned into it) but it was a horse – And of course, this got me thinking about the eternal horse-bike comparisons. You care for them. You spend long hours with them, travelling, otherwise alone (I powerfully suspect that a modern Aslög, invited to meet Ragnar “Neither alone nor accompanied, either fasting nor eating, neither dressed nor undressed” would arrive with a motorcycle, a cup of tea, and wearing full leathers but no helmet). You feel like they have a lot of personality but, as with a horse, a lot of that personality is what you project onto them, or expect, or is a non-human behaviour given a human motivation (I insist that my beloved GZ, which hasn’t been able to be moved due to an electrical fault since the day that I passed my full test, is sulking). They’re valuable, beloved companions to their riders even if to a total stranger they’re “Just a means of transport”. They range from barely-clinging-to-life and worked to the bone, to pampered near-pets, to the core of their owner’s livelihood.

The big place where the comparison breaks though, is maintenance. Obviously, you have to keep both of them in their favoured environments (Actually, warm and dry with low salinity and not too much ambient dust or spores is ideal for both, as is giving the option to take the weight off their heels, in the form of soft straw or artificial bedding for a horse or a paddock stand for a bike, and a fleece blanket to prevent scrapes and surface chill and moisture for both of them… Hm) and you need to fuel or feed both of them commensurate to how much work they do (With the horse obviously doing work just to keep respiring – A horse’s engine basically constantly idles – and the bike should either be left with a full tank or winterised so that it doesn’t rust up) but actual maintenance – Vet med or service and repairs – is totally different. On a horse, leaving it with a problem is cruel. On a bike, as long as you don’t try to ride it, and it’s kept in those ideal conditions, it won’t get worse.

I’m not saying that every part of a bike has already reached the minimum of molecular complexity and thus the heat death of the universe – You can, literally, make matters worse – but you probably can’t do it casually, if you’ve taken the time to read ahead in your Haynes manual and apply a bit of common sense. Bikes may have diaphragms that can perforate and crush washers that can deform and fuses that can pop, but most parts of the machine, once taken off and cleaned and bent back into shape, are pretty durable and as long as they’re not either deliberately broken or corroded beyond use by time on the road, they can be fixed. If the worst comes to the worst, they can be replaced, piece by piece, either from the factory as a legacy part, or as parts from a donor bike. If you (and I know people who have found this) tighten up the mixture screw in a carburettor the whole way, you’ll only have to replace that screw. If you go off half-cocked and try to ride it after you’ve done this, you will literally blow the carbs off the engine and probably destroy either the carbs or the engine or both.

Effectively, if you have a problem, you notice the problem, and you fix the problem, you can’t go wrong. If you need to stop in the middle of disassembling the entire machine, you can just throw a sheet over it at night and leave it for weeks at a time, provided you’re in a relatively clean, dry, temperate environment.

Working on a bike, the worst that can happen is that you have to replace a component. Blow a fuse, shear a screw – You’ll be able to buy new ones. Strip the thread out of a socket – You can do amazing things with blobs of hot metal and the appropriate tap. Even go as far as fouling up the inside of a cylinder – It’ll take skill and money, but you can re-bore it and keep the engine block. My own EN was condemned in 2002 with a structurally corroded frame – Fifteen years later, given a strip-back, structural welding, a few new support bars, and a nice glossy black powdercoat, it’s thriving. It sat SORNed for at least two years at some point. You can’t SORN a horse. At worst, the component will be a large one – Like an engine, or an entire wiring harness. There are people who’ve brought bikes back to life from nothing more than an empty frame, a photograph, and a collection of classified ads in their local bike magazine. There are bikes where every component has been changed enough times that they’ve been handed a Single Vehicle Assessment form and told to re-register as a new vehicle.

As one of my machines is currently sitting awaiting a cure for carb icing (The effect of the venturi and the resulting vacuum, along with rapid heat transfer, in producing ice crystals under certain atmospheric conditions would be fascinating if it didn’t also cause my bike to drop to one cylinder at high speed and make a noise like tinsel being used as a carwash) and the other is awaiting a pickup so that I can work on it in the warm and dry, it is extremely reassuring to me.

Somewhat relatedly; It irks the shit out of me that in British English we only have one word which can in various dialects be used to mean bikehouse, bikehospital, bikegreengrocer, bikepetshop and bikehotel (That’d be a garage, a mechanic’s workshop, a petrol station, a showroom or a used bike dealer, and an underground multi-storey car park, in the dialects that differentiate). So basically, I can get my bike out of the garage and go to the garage on the way to the garage, then garage it there whilst I go to the garage to look at new bikes, then ride it to a garage in the city centre for a cup of coffee before going home and putting it back in the garage.

Totally unrelatedly – I’ve not slept for fifty-odd hours. Bugger insomnia.

Not enough prayers to Vulcan

So, my beautiful secondhand (Thirteenth hand) Kawasaki EN500 has now been in and out of the garage on and off for six weeks.


Part of me is pleased that the problem with it is completely stumping the professional mechanics, since it means that I wasn’t just stupid and shortsighted when I couldn’t spot it on my own. Part of me, obviously, wishes that it was something incredibly simple that I just overlooked and that they could have fixed in a second.


Part of me is pleased that the problem is only apparent once the bike is hot and being ridden hard, because there’s no way I’d have spotted it in my first test ride so I’m not just stupid for buying it. Part of me wishes it’d been incredibly obvious, then I’d not have bought it and not be having this problem.


Part of me is very happy that I have a rare, beautiful, strange, old bike, with a lot of character, and that even if I sell it after a couple of months, I’ll still at least have briefly owned a fire-breathing sweetheart. Part of me wishes that I’d bought one of the fifty million 535 Viragos still pootling around the b-roads of England, because I’d not be so attached to it, or if I was attached to it, it’d be rare that I found a problem in it that I couldn’t fix.


So now, with the bike back at the garage for the fifth time, having needed a pickup, running lean – a problem which could seize up the whole engine, causing a disaster that would write off the bike, destroy the engine and probably throw the rider if the bike was in motion at the time – and with a problem in either the pulsar coil or the carburettor, I’m stuck in a conundrum.


My other bike, my trusty and beloved GZ125, isn’t starting up. Some sort of electrical fault has killed its ability to ignite, so it’s been sitting under a tarp since the day I passed my bike test, waiting for me to find the time and the energy to fix it.


My partner’s bike, which I’m also insured to ride, a sweet and nippy Suzuki VanVan, has no battery, and needs a new battery purchasing before it’ll start up.


Currently, I have literally no means of transport, other than begging pillion rides off my best friend.


How long do I wait, and how much money do I throw, before I call it a day on the EN500 and sell him as a project? Time is ticking down.

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.

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.


Right, a recap of a really shitty month. Dear reader, I petition you to remember whilst reading this whole post that at the best of times I feel like an unnatural mistake and a crime against nature.


First – The good; A long ride out to Selby in the cold, haring along the A63 on my beloved little 125, to meet the EN500; My prospective new bike. It’s good – A handsome old machine, with a high-revving parallel twin engine, a belt drive, and a very comfortable riding position. This one comes with a touring screen, a USB hookup, panniers, a tool roll (full of tools) and a sparkly custom paint job (In Kawasaki purplish-black pearl). Of course, I bought it on the spot. Riding back in the pitch black on twisty, unlit roads, watching the frost forming a halo around the moon was a tonic for the soul.


6th of December was my bike test – Failed, with technically zero faults, which I consider to be a sign that I was doing rather well. Only clocked 48kmph on the hazard avoidance – I needed to do it at 49kmph. Considering that this was in deep fog, with the ground green and slippy with moss and ice, I think that I did the sensible thing in taking the course more slowly than I would on a bright summer’s day, really. Next attempt, 17th of January.


After that, me, my instructor M, and his wife AM, all went out to Selby in the van to pick up the EN500. It’s now safely ensconced in the bike office, basically until I pass my test.


About three days after this, and two days before I was due to go home for Christmas, I got a migraine. Not just an ordinary, two-days-and-it’s-done migraine, but a full-on seven day nightmare. For the first four days, I couldn’t tolerate any light; Literally, even with my hands over my eyes, and the curtains shut, at night I was still screaming that it was too bright. By day three, I was still vomiting after so much as a sip of cordial, and it was only day six before I could stand up without getting so dizzy that I fell straight over again. This, by the way, is with Zomig, morphine, and a couple of over-the-counter anti-nausea pills. Without Zomig, I assume I’d have just killed myself.


And then yesterday was physio. The first driver picked me up at 10am, which was where the issues started. Before reaching the ringroad she had;


  • Nearly crashed twice at roundabouts, as she seemed to think that priority was to the LEFT, and had seriously jarred my back both times.
  • Decided to opine at length about how I should stop taking my meds and start taking turmeric instead
  • Told me about her haemorroids, describing them as “Pain so bad [I] could never understand it”
  • Explained at length about how everyone with a mental illness was just workshy and grifting.
  • Told me about three tragic cases of beautiful young people she’d taken to hospital who had awful conditions that she had to pray for.
  • Touched my leg four times.
  • Insisted on manhandling me and my bags, really hurting my knee in the process.

Upon reaching the motorway, she drove for most of the way on the hard shoulder, or in the crawler lane, and my attempts at sleeping for most of the journey were wrecked by her veering around in the lane – Not changing lanes suddenly, just being unable to follow the lane or maintain a steady speed.


We got to the hospital anyway, and she insisted on checking me in, giving a load of spurious requirements to the receptionist (No, I do not need my bags carrying, or a wheelchair, and if I did, I would ask for myself, ta), and then hugging me (I froze) as she left.


Physio itself went well – three new exercises, and just still not being patronised or blamed, which is an incredible victory in itself. Today was with Physio HH again, who is basically my main physio now, and was working on my hips and lower back.


The exercises (Since I’m keeping track here)


  1. Lie on back, knees bent about a foot apart, feet also about a foot apart. Close eyes. Keeping one leg upright, slowly lower the other leg out sideways, then pick it back up.
  2. Lie on side, ankles together,knees bent at about 90 degrees (as if in a chair) – Slowly pick up top knee, to about six inches off the bottom knee, then lower it back down.
  3. Sit on a balance ball, bouncing slightly (for core strength)
  4. Sit on a balance ball arching and curving back, whilst staying upright – This is also how we found that my left leg is shorter than my right, and I’ve got a functional scoliosis.

On the way out, I ran into Physio T, who seemed both really happy to see me, and also really worried that she’d been meant to see me that day, and had missed me. She was surprised that I’d not been in inpatient rehab in the month in the middle, since our last appointment, but also seems to think that I’ll do well once I’m in it.


That’s the other thing – Inpatient rehab; Aka, the fabled Stanmore Programme. There’s two versions of it, the hotel version and the hospital version, and for obvious reasons I’d rather do the hotel version. It’d just be conducted by physios, H was very certain to advise me that there’d be no nurses on-hand, thus no care shift – But then, in the real world, I don’t exactly have nurses on-hand all the time either.


The journey home was fine, even if I did have a two hour wait for patient transport, and only got back at 10pm. Nine hours of travelling, two hours of waiting, and an hour of physio. Seems like a great use of time.


The trouble is, well, my mental health. It’s not exactly great right now, it’s stable, but it’s stable at a low ebb – Nothing seems worth doing, up to and including things like “getting dressed” or “washing”, and stuff like putting on clothes more complicated than just bike leathers or surplus is so terrifying that I go into paroxysms of anxiety for days. Likewise, any kind of socialising – I’ve seen Best Friend a slack handful of times since we were on holiday, and I’m not really spending time with Dearest either. For my own good, I’m not doing Christmas now, but I almost wish that I could have some kind of in-person social interactions with people without finding it hateful and pointless. Not because I feel like I want to, but because I know that’s what “real people” do, and I really do suffer when I’m feeling more aware of persistently feeling like I’m not real, or not equivalent to a “proper person”. Failing repeated tests on a technicality, failing my degree, ending up in non-standard NHS treatment because my local trust don’t think I’m worth treating, being very socially isolated by a combination of awkwardness, reluctance and circumstance (today I rang up a client, for free, and chatted for an hour because I had nothing better to do), and having a job that relies on being able to be a very good liar/actor/cold-reader, atop a childhood of feeling like a mistake, an exception-to-a-rule, an outsider and an ersatz substitute for being with “real people” makes for a distinct sense of being not-a-real-person. It’s probably no coincidence that I’m happiest and feel most like myself when I’m entirely alone and hard to physically pick out from the next person; ie, either on my bike and in my leathers, or swimming and underwater.


It’s not exactly rocket science that I’m plagued with suicidal ideation at the minute either. I’m watching TV and generally numbing myself out with morphine and lacework, but it’s there in my head and I’m having a bit of a shitty time making it stay shut up. Ah well, not long to longest night, and then with any hope, I’ll be on the way up into Spring.




Time is passing.


Well, in two days I’ve got Stanmore, again, which I’m trying to look forward to. Going to try to do it in one day again, and to try to get as much out of the single appointment as possible – If there is a second appointment, I probably won’t be able to afford to get to it, even with the disabled person’s railcard.


Just failed another Mod 1, so am about to take on the eighth attempt in December.


The kitchen ceiling is dripping in three places, and the bedroom wall has filled up with black mould because the outside downpipe has broken. Heating repair is coming on Monday, gutter repair was supposed to be today, but I’ve heard nothing yet.


I had to fill in a reapplication for PIP, which arrived on the 3rd of October and was due in for the 3rd of November. I got it sorted eventually, but it took me ages and again there’s something cripplingly embarrassing about having your best friend and their Mum both doing a close-reading of exactly how you wash your hair and feed yourself and wipe your arse. Was frankly mortifying to realise how antisocial I am now; How much I don’t like to see, or talk to new people, and how much it’s getting worse. It wasn’t that long ago, in lifetime terms, that I used to willingly go to societies, and parties, and to find value in meeting new, interesting people. My attempts at such this year turned pretty quickly into realising “I like the swimming, but I wish there were no other people” or “I like riding, but I wish I was the only person at this biker cafe” and, well, I’m not sure if that’s mental illness or just utter disillusionment with all other people. Anyway, it’s been coming on for a few years, but now other than Dearest and Best Friend, I’m a complete hermit, and even seeing them is a little exhausting.


In good news though: I’ve been swimming a couple of times, I went to Harrogate and got myself a nice lambswool jumper and a load of buttons, and my lacemaking is getting on a bit.


All I really want right now is to be out on my bike, or to be curled up in the warm with someone lovely, or just in general for it to be not this week at all.


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.

We should all wear fantastic red trousers and never be sad again.

This has been one of those downright fabulous week-and-a-bits. My pain levels have been high, I’ve been scraping a knee around the twisty corner of a serious anxiety problem, and I’ve been sleeping like a rat on a tilt-table, but it’s been a fantastic week.


I swam at my local baths, again, for the first time since November, and turned out two kilometres without really noticing it.

I went to the City bath, clocked in three 400m stretches at about five minutes each, in a 2.5-kilo total session, and spent so long in the sauna and steam rooms that I felt completely new when I came out.

I went to two sessions of the naturist swim, and was just completely relaxed and sociable.

I’ve been out for a  lazy run on the bike – Not going far, not getting far above 50mph, but doing it on the best of the twisties that my county has to offer, on a gorgeous spring-becoming-summer evening, with every hedgerow in blossom and bursting with fresh greenery. The hawthorn, particularly, is splendid this year, and after this morning’s rain (though the roads have dried nicely) its smell is hanging in the air as thick as steam. I absolutely love this kind of weather – Not too hot, not too dry, and the whole landscape feeling alive. I actually stopped to look at some extremely jolly sheep, and a lovely old piebald cob who was grazing in the wildflower-strewn field next to them. It’s been that kind of day.

My attempts at domesticating the local feral pigeons has resulted in a Flock – Chequer (A massive dark blue chequer who comes to the window five times a day), Blue Bar (A slightly smaller but not by far pale blue bar, who follows Chequer), Red (A small barless ash-red who avoids the other two), Big Red (A bigger, patchy, barred red who might be Red’s mate) and Big Blanc (A very dilute white-headed, crested red bar who only arrived this morning but Chequer keeps trying to chase away). I’ve also got an accidental twenty-kilo bag of racing pigeon feed for them, so that seems to be going down a treat.

And there’s been good news – my letter from Stanmore detailing Dr H’s assessment of me has arrived, and stuff to look forward to – My first ride on the Suzuki 650 is tomorrow.

My dissertation, which has basically been hanging over me like the sword of Damocles, is now just the toothpick of Damocles, since it’s nearly finished and just needs some gentle tidying-up in the form of a justification and some proofreading to be submitted.

Things are all looking up.


Find attached: Stanmore’s letter to me, and some cager’s attempt at “wit” that I found stuck under the pillion strap of my saddle today. Still not enough to make this week anything other than beautiful.