I'm sure this qualifies to be in a blog about motorcycle travel.
You definitely lean into all the bends throughout the 800-mile round trip. Almost needing knee-sliders, would you believe?
Not only that, but there's a poem about the journey that I learnt at school while helping my Dad service and repair his 1950s 600cc Panther sidecar outfit.
From a Railway Carriage
Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!
(Robert Louis Stevenson)
Here's a photo to go with the clickety-click of the lines above, somewhere around Shap on the way to Carlisle.
Another couple From a Tilting Railway Carriage near Beattock on the way to Glasgow.
And even better, by the amazing technology of modern TV, a little video shot out the window.
Very appropriate, on the day before the start of this trip was the September grand reunion of a bunch of retired video and outside-broadcast engineers, who used to work for the TV Network bit of the old 'Post Office Telephones'.
Back in the days when we worked together, a production like the one in the frame above would have needed a couple of 5-ton lorries, a microwave mast, and a generator truck to power it all.
Nowadays, a little camera the size of a packet of cigarettes does it all.
My, how time flies!
It's a 3-hour bus ride from Glasgow station, past Loch Lomond and down the Mull of Kintyre to Kennacraig, where the ferry waits to take passengers on the 2-hour sailing to the Isle of Islay, the Queen of the Hebrides.
Halfway across, at the southern end of Caol Ila, steam gave way to sail, or something like that.
A little boat sails across the path of our ferry, the good ship 'Finlaggan' with the Scottish Saltire flying from its bow.
Anyway, now comes the ambling rambling bit about why I found myself on the train to Glasgow and the bus and ferry to the Isle of Islay.
This little gem is in a collection of old secondhand sheet music I've collected over thirty years or so.
Published in 1932 -
Price 3/6d net. - For the practice of various pop rhythms that were the rage in the 20s and 30s.
The U.S. version was a little more brash in its advice for the pianist -
Such a brilliant music book that it's still in print eighty years on.
My old copy has a 'bonus' piece printed on the back cover, that definitely isn't a 'practice piece'. It's nearly all black ink on the page with hardly any white space. And it's the first 16 bars of a devilishly difficult composition called 'Champagne' by Zez Confrey, who until recently had remained a complete mystery to me.
When my piano teacher said she hadn't heard of him either, it prompted me to find out who he was. Everything is possible with the Internet.
Well, he was a pianist and composer in the same era as Scott Joplin and Fats Waller. Less well known because he composed a lot of 'novelty' stuff and transcribed it onto player-piano rolls. Maybe his compositions were so difficult, only a machine could play them.....
I found a youtube audio of him -
And another, of a pianist I'd never heard of, playing the Zez Confrey composition Dizzy Fingers.
That led to my discovery of the Isle of Islay Jazz Festival, where this modern-day exponent of ragtime and Harlem Stride was booked for three gigs.
So I decided it's time to add another island to my current collection of the Scottish Western Isles (Arran, Skye and Holy Isle). And while booking things up I made another discovery - this island is stuffed full of whisky distilleries.
Never mind, I'll cope with that. Hic!
Arriving on Islay.
Main Street, Bowmore, descends steeply to the little harbour at the bottom.
Where I was reminded of an entry I posted on this blog way back in June 2009 (my, how time flies!)
It included this quotation that I quite liked -
"The mode of locomotion should be slow, the slower the better, and be often interrupted by leisurely halts to sit on vantage points and stop at question marks."
(Carl Sauer, the Association of American Geographers).
At last, here in Bowmore, I found my question mark -
Q. "Where's the distillery around here?"
A. "Over to the left just beyond the harbour wall."
Followed by another question. Some Jazz Festival leaflets were stacked in a local shop, that told of an extra show to be put on, featuring the pianists Nick Ramm, Stephanie Trick and Kit Downes.
But didn't say when or where......
That was the question. And the few people I asked didn't know either.
But the tourist office came to the rescue suggesting the Celtic Shop at the top of town. They were selling tickets for the extra show which had been squeezed between Saturday's lunchtime and tea-time gigs, and would be held in Ionad Chaluim Chille Ile. Which was another question mark to stop at.
It's a community centre just outside Bowmore that teaches the Gaelic language and culture.
There were close to 20 performers in the festival spread across sixteen shows over three days, kicking off at the Lagavulin whisky distillery (just past the Laphroaig Distillery) -
with Stephanie Trick -
she of the blurred hands.
Followed that evening by Grooveyard
in the village hall right next door to the Bruichladdich Distillery.
This band wasn't really my thing, but there wasn't long to wait until the first show the next day which was at Rhinns Hall in Portnahaven, a little beyond the new Kilchoman Distillery -
and featured the same blurred hands as yesterday.
The Nova Scotia Jazz Band followed straight afterwards -
Then there was time for some photos at Portnahaven -
before visiting Ionad Chaluim Chille Ile where this magnificent tapestry hangs in the hall.
The finale on Saturday was Blues 'N' Trouble, back in the hall next to Bruichladdich Distillery.
Sunday's programme started at the Ardbeg Distillery. The road twists through Port Ellen, the embarkation town for the ferries. In the little fishing harbour there seemed to be a bit of satire on display about Scottish-English politics.
A fleet of fishing boats were tied up against the big storm which had been forecast for the past two days and had now arrived.
Two boats, side-by-side, displayed an intriguing array of flags.
On one boat was an upsidedown Union Jack, traditionally a distress signal, flying right next to a flag depicting the 'Rizla X' logo.
The Scottish boat 'Kayleigh M', from here in Port Ellen.
The boat alongside was flying a yellow computer smiley with tongue hanging out :p right below the Isle of Man flag.
There must be some message here. Something like - Manx boat to Scottish boat: "Hey, get yourself free of that parcel of rogues down south, like we are!" Scottish boat to Manx boat: "Look at my flags - I already am!"
Or something like that - maybe....
In the pouring rain and howling gale there was no one on board to ask, so it was onwards to the Ardbeg distillery.
For the last of Stephanie Trick's four shows.
Which included 'Death Ray Boogie' by Pete Johnson.
Followed by London duo Wednesday Gray and Nick Ramm. Just four bottles of Ardbeg Single Malt between them.
Lastly, a local Islay trio performed at the Outback Art Gallery in the wilds of the far west of the island. An obscene distance from the Kilchomen Distillery - 3 miles at least.
Colin Steele, Mario Caribe, Graeme Stephen.
Photos from around the island -
Scenery at Sanaigmore near the Outback Gallery.
Near Port Askaig. Isle of Jura beyond the narrow straights.
The Mull of Oa, at the southern tip of the island.
Mull of Oa.
Mull of Oa.
Mull of Oa.
A rainbow hits the ground in the River Laggan valley.
Finlaggan. The ancient home of the Lords of the Isles for four hundred years.
Their stronghold was on the tiny islands of Eilean Mor and Eilean na Comhairle, at the right of the lake.
Eilean Mor from the lakeside.
Ruin on Eilean Mor. The Island of Jura in the far distance.
Not a ruin. The Atlantic Ocean near Lossit Bay.
I've never fancied whisky much, having bad memories of a mad over-indulgence during an International Six Days Trial on the Isle of Man (it's always islands, isn't it?) around 1970. The TT is always beer-only, so it's much safer.
Anyway, Lagavulin were very generous in their sponsorship of the jazz festival, giving everyone a good nip of their 16-year-old single malt at most of the venues.
Including the musicians.
At the Outback Art Gallery on Sunday.
And after a very short while, it was obvious that it wasn't just one nip each. It was perfectly OK to nip back to the serving table for a second.... And maybe a third for all I know. And very nice it was too. It seemed that a bottle to take home would be a good souvenir of a good week.
What's more, there are eight distilleries on the island, so here's yet another question mark.
Which one to choose?
The tasting trail was on!
One of the shows over the weekend was at the Ardbeg Distillery where we had a sample of their 12-year-old. Not so nice I thought.
That left six to try hic and after a few jolly days this was the winner.
Back where it all started.
No, I didn't walk out of a venue with a Jazz Festival glass hidden under my jacket.
It still had some whisky in it. The next show was right across the island and I didn't want to consume the full nip (being not the first of the day) before taking the road out there. But I did fancy one of those Jazz Festival glasses if it was possible.
So I decided to just ask, at the end of the performance, when all the glasses were being packed away back into their boxes.
"Can you buy these glasses at the distillery?"
"Aye, y'can buy a nice range of glasses there."
"No, I mean, these ones with the Jazz Festival logo?"
The Distiller looked a bit thoughtful for a moment, leaned close, and whispered in broad Scottish, "Ye'll be welcome t' tak that one with you!"
There's one last Islay adventure, the road to the ferry harbour near the Laphroaig Distillery, through some wide flat countryside. And the sheep and the cattle everywhere. Must be careful not to hit one.
It's strange. The farm animals only seem to wander along the road in the vicinity of the airport.
But then I noticed, of course! They have to be corralled onto the road and its grassy verges, otherwise they'd be grazing the island's airstrip just alongside. That would be trickier I suppose.
- Mind that dozy sheep shuffling around ahead, it's already got three hooves on the tarmac!
For the train ride back to Euston the poetry was packed away. To be replaced by Honky Tonk Train Boogie, an improvisation on a blues composition by Meade Lux Lewis. Filmed live in Rhinns Hall on the Saturday.
A different sort of clickety-click. The eagle-eyed might notice that the piano was wobbling around on its castors at times. Well, we're on a tilting train!
But when you look out the window at night, you wouldn't know it.
I just wanted to know what a moving night shot through the window would look like with my little camera. Somewhere between the M25 and Euston.
Such a pleasant little event it was, that Steve laid on a re-run last weekend.
Very nice too.
There was no missing the location, with or without GPS, down a little B-road.
Complete with the world's flags strung out to welcome the world's travellers.
But the dirt track up the embankment on to the field was a little steep,
specially if you've no engine.
I'd left mine at home. So I parked at the bottom of the field temporarily (just for the photo).
After which, pedal-power dragged my bicycle back amongst the tents at the top. Tons of room in the vast field.
The train took the strain part way, from home to Basingstoke. And back again afterwards.
There was the usual Saturday ride-out into the lanes. But with not a tow-rope in sight I found an activity just as satisfying.
And you know how it is when you're sunk in your favourite chair with a fresh brew - it takes a little while to rush to your tent and rummage for a camera when a bike appears returning from the day's outing.
Almost got the whole team in the frame, just the top of helmets missing, but what does that matter when a mug of tea is at stake?
Well, maybe it does matter, they'd not long returned from a bicycle trip right round SE Asia and China.
Tea and chat occupied all the rest of the time, so no more photos, except this.
An excellent repair to a plastic side panel with a big chunk melted away by the silencer. I just happen to know of a little Yamaha in my garage in the same situation. So this idea should fix it nicely.
Thanks to Elaine, who had travelled all the way down from Yorkshire, for the neat design.
Thanks also to Belle and Gordon for the great presentation about their Stella Alpina run back in July. On Honda C90s as always.
I hope things have been better today at Brands Hatch than yesterday. And Pete has had some proper fun on the Rudge in the parade laps.
I've not been there today because I've been here.
On or close to this date each year there's usually a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight fly-past over the airfield.
And sure enough, despite all the cloud, these two appeared early afternoon.
Weaving side-to-side southwards following the Eastbourne Road, after a couple of circuits above us on Kenley Airfield.
For an hour before, the cloud had drifted in and out, white and black. As ever, the gliders were flying. Cloud is usually good for gliding, plenty of thermals.
They stayed in the sky until shortly before the Spitfire and Hurricane were due, so I got a bit of practice in with my camera.
No gliders here, just a strange funnel of cloud stretching across the airfield to the north.
The Spitfire and Hurricane appeared as dots way over to the right of this lot, the direction of Biggin Hill, five and a half miles away, where they took off.
I hope the parades were going OK at Brands as well.
- Update 1 - The Brooklands bikes got 4 laps in during the parade session at Brands on Sunday.
- Update 2 - Yes, I'll have to learn how to slow down the shutter speed on this camera of mine. Those WWII fighter planes look like they're stationary in the air with motionless propellers. Not a problem with the gliders of course.
Pete's a volunteer at the Brooklands Museum where he helps to keep the vintage and veteran bikes in running order, sufficient for them to take a gallop around the GP circuit at Brands Hatch during the lunchtime parade laps.
So yesterday, off we went.
A group of museum volunteers brought along a batch of old bikes to ride in the parades over the two days of racing.
After unloading in the paddock, the next task was scrutineering (or 'tech inspection' as they seem to call it now, but we'll stick to the good-old English name).
So here's Pete on the Brooklands Rudge, finished in the scrutineering bay and being given a gentle shove towards the noise-testing section.
Where he's surrounded by operating theatre staff, who are checking that they can still see the noise meter through the smoke, and hear each other, while Pete revs the engine.
And he's away, back to the paddock.
A few of the museum bikes, ready for the parade laps.
A magnificent Grindlay Peerless is slotted back into line after scrutineering.
To be carefully inspected by a passer-by.
New Imperial and Velocette.
Vintage AJS fitted with contemporary minimalist ironing board seat (sprung at rear). Shiny OK Supreme being readied behind .
The OK Supreme again, behind a majestic pair of Norton Internationals .
The Norton Inters from the other side, nice BSA behind .
The BSA again .
Being as these bikes are pretty old, part of the tender-loving-care involves repairing their elastic bands.
But yesterday a more unusual repair was needed.
Replacing the broken string on the recoil starter of the petrol-engined roller-starter used to start the bikes in the paddock, ready for the start of the parade laps.
That's enough starting for now I think - on with the photos.
A collection of Nortons brought along by the Norton Owners Club.
A neat and shiny line of (mostly) BSA Gold Stars from the Goldstar Club.
And a smaller BSA cousin with the advantage of added open-air sidecar.
Moving on to the day's programme on the circuit - well, unfortunately and sadly, Saturday's lunchtime parade laps never took place.
Towards the end of the morning practice sessions for the race riders, one of those quiet and eerie hushes descended on the paddock and the circuit, that when you've heard it once, you never forget. A sombre atmosphere pervades all the proceedings.
There'd been a crash on the hill after Druids Hairpin going down to Graham Hill Bend.
One of the race riders, Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, died in the crash.
With the rest of the day's timetable subsequently re-arranged, the parade laps were cancelled.
The first time I experienced such a happening was when Fritz Scheidegger was killed at Mallory Park in March 1967, in the 'Sidecar Race of the Year'.
You never forget the quietness that envelops the noisy racetrack. I still remember fondly the little Honda CB160 bike that I'd ridden there, and the sober 120-mile ride home, during which bike and rider in a strange way grew closer and closer together. A pity that bike was stolen about a year later - it was meant to be, I suppose.
Back at a somewhat subdued Brands Hatch, the programme of races got under way later than scheduled.
Some photos from various places around the Brands Hatch GP circuit.
Firstly, descending Paddock Hill Bend (a pretty steep hill for those who don't know it):
Bursting forth from under the bridge at the top of Hawthorne Hill.
Out in the countryside I found myself on the rally-racing track. Hope it's not in use....
It leads to Dingle Dell and then the exit of Sheene Curve.
A couple of pics at the entrance to Stirlings.
And out of the exit.
There's a slight rise in the track which provides lift for take-off on the fast straight section to Clearways. In a hundred shots trying to pan the bikes, I managed at last to catch one with air under the front wheel.
And finally, a first-lap traffic jam at Surtees. The pits and garages beyond.
It seems, the older the bike, the greater the excuse to celebrate when it passes an MOT.
My little Yamaha of Cape Town fame still waits hopefully - for when I can get body and soul together for the messy job of changing the front brake hose. Soon, soon.
But the Aprilia, I hoped, needed nothing done. And its MOT time of the year had come round again.
So I thought I'd take some photos during the test last week. Just for posterity, and because there might be something to take a photo of - like the tester finding a wobbly wheel or no lights.
The suspense can be unbearable while he's doing his stuff.
Here's the Aprilia being tested - well, about a hundred yards down the road behind me, at the East Grinstead Aprilia shop. The suspense is unbearable.
The 3:30 from Sheffield comes to a halt, brakes working fine. My Aprilia is still in the testing garage down the road. Hope the brakes are OK.
And it passed - amazing what a bit of steam can do. Time for a celebration.
*Timetable correction* That was the 3:30 from Sheffield Park not the 3:30 from Sheffield, which would have had a spot of bother reaching East Grinstead along the Bluebell Line.
The everlasting sunshine on offer lately reminded me that it's been a while since I had breakfast at the Ace Cafe. So with 52 weeks of MOT left I fixed that, and got a shot of the Aprilia at last.
In 1965 I used to ride past here on my little Zundapp scooter. I once stopped outside and felt a hundred black-leather-clad eyes swivel in my direction. The Zundapp, uniquely in 1965, had an electric start. So I pressed it, felt the leather-clad eyes narrow, and sped off at the incredibly slow speed that the 1950s engine could muster.
There's a whimsical saying that's become associated with nostalgia at the Ace Cafe (and there's a lot of it!) "For the want of Speed and a Cup of Tea." Back in '65 I had no speed so the tea had to wait.
I don't usually take photos of bikes at these sorts of places - once you start you'll never stop. But I thought this might be an exception.
One day, all tyres will be this size....
Back to smaller tyres, I heard the other week that someone up at Donington Park had taken a photo of me at the HUBB camping weekend. Here it is.
And it doesn't need an MOT. Bliss!
As well as the Aprilia receiving a good looking over, I did as well, at the hospital. All looking good, the main thing being the lack of serious side-effects, allowing the hormone treatment to continue for the final year.
I've tried to find bits of humour in the last two years of treatment, and found an ideal novelty last week, for use on Friday.
A friend and I visited the Glassblowing Centre near London Bridge. We go now and again to see the latest incredible artworks in glass.
While in the area my friend wanted to pop into the medical bookshop in Guy's Hospital, to buy a skeleton, (like you do). She's a teacher-trainer of Alexander Technique and needed a new one. It's a vital part of class-work, becomes worn-out through constant handling by students, and they sell them in the bookshop. Amongst lots of other stuff.
Like biros that look exactly like syringes. In fact, they look exactly like the implant catheters, complete with return spring inside, that the nurse will stick into me on Friday for my 12-weekly hormone dose.
So I've this idea. I'll ask the nurse if she's already got a loaded catheter from the chemists next door, whip out my biro and nonchalantly suggest she returns her's as I've got my own special one direct from Guy's Hospital, no less!
Right - looks like a Brit is about to win Le Tour, again. Must go check.
Specially as he was born in Kenya. And trained years ago with his mentor David Kinjah in Kikuyu, outside Nairobi on the road to Kisumu, Eldoret and Uganda.
That should be quite a Celebration in Paris! And Kikuyu.
From bagatelle to picture book.
In Kilkenny, on the way to Athy, tea was called for.
Something else was calling me as well, not sure what.
Maybe it was just a postcard in the newsagent's shop.
Bridge over the River Nore.
Then on to Athy.
Like a lot of Irish towns, it's having a hard time at the moment. Sadly, there are boarded-up shops and bars dotted around the streets.
A local photographer had an idea to improve and brighten the image of closed-down business premises, by putting up photographs of Athy people instead of blank and foreboding boards in the windows and doors.
The Canal Side Inn has a lot of windows and doors, so a lot of photos are there. The whole set-up around the town is known as The Athy Expo.
There was a lot of noise coming from the other side of the canal. Over there was a place that's definitely not shuttered up. The grain depot. It seemed as lively as it's probably ever been. A huge lorry was unloading at the base of the grain elevator which blows the crop high up into the silos. It all looked rather dramatic with towering angles and acres of steel work.
The canal here is the Grand Canal from Athy to Dublin. Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, when describing barges arriving in Dublin with their cargoes bound for the Guinness brewery, said they came from 'a far-flung town'. That'll do for a title.
Here's the Athy Lock.
The moored barge '113B Athy' is overtaken by a form of transport still seen on the streets in town.
Here, the Barrow River flows under the Crom-a-Boo Bridge past White's Castle in the centre of town. The Grand Canal joins the river nearby.
So on to the shopfronts. There are still a lot of bustling businesses with colourful frontages giving Irish towns lots of character. It must take a typographer with special skills to lay out the multi-coloured Gaelic script a foot or more tall.
This has been done before on postcards and in books, but here's a gallery of Irish colour. First, in Clonakilty.
The Guinness vans over here are the purest black possible, with the deepest of shines. Absolutely sparkling like mirrors.
And in Athy.
The 'bar' inside Kanes Bar where I learned about Culnacleha.
Not a Sainsburys nor Boots amongst them.
And now in Mountshannon on the shores of Lough Derg.
Also known as 'Spud's Place'
"Hold on.... How did this dull old frontage get in on the act?"
"Look at the next photo. This is a true Heritage Building!"
The last stronghold in Ireland of the long-lost art of telephone cord repairing.... "Number please?"
Must be worth a mention, no?
Let's move on quickly, a hundred yards down the road.
The modern version of the Mountshannon Telephone Exchange would easily fit into the jacket pocket of whoever lives here.
In the harbour, someone's been reading 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'.
Phaedrus is here. There'd always be someone to talk to on that boat.
(OK, tenuous link there, but I need to get a motorbike in somewhere.
Both names come from the Greek for 'bright' - one f the other m).
Sculpture entitled White-tailed Eagle.
They're establishing themselves on one of the islands here.
In the Dingle Book Shop was a glossy volume of outdoor photography entitled something like 'Irish Light'.
This is my attempt....
Still in Mountshannon, this signpost was a bit perplexing for a moment or two.
Until I discovered it was pointing the way to Holy Island. Not the one off of the Isle of Arran but here on Lough Derg near the Mountshannon jetty. And I learnt that the distance indicated is miles, not that other measure people seem to use when the fancy takes.
Returning to Athy for a moment, and wondering last weekend what I might find in O'Brien's Bar, well, I found out.
Frank O'Brien was behind the bar and got straight into showing me postcards and letters he'd received from visitors to last year's Shackleton Autumn School. They were from travellers and researchers working in Antarctic islands like South Georgia, and bases on the peninsular.
He'd met the Irish explorer Frank Nugent a few times. So I mentioned how, during his talk in Anascaul, the name of his boat-builder had caught my attention.
"So you're a C'nyon!" said Frank.
"Well, my wife's family is too," he continued. "I've been to those same churches, Bekan, Logboys and around. She had family from those villages.
You must be a distant cousin of my son! I always say, you don't have to look far for your own relatives! Except my son's in Japan just now."
I had a feeling I'd learn something unexpected in O'Briens, but didn't imagine that.
Just to round things off, in Kanes Bar the landlady told me that Culnacleha is Gaelic for cornerstone.
So that's why the little cluster of cottages at a corner on the Claremorris road is called Culnacleha.
And this might be the answer to another of those 'questions at the end of the Universe'.
"What is time?"
Here's the answer. Time is an Inch. Or a few of them.
A bit of a bagatelle from the Emerald Isle. My visit over the last couple of weeks.
I never expected to find an elephant in the bush in southern Ireland. But they're there if you look.
Some photos from Jungle City Clonakilty
This one was on Inchydoney Island, a short walk from Clonakilty.
Inchydoney = doughnut with a one-inch hole. So they look after their inches and miles here.
The speed limit may be 60km/h, but you should co-operate by not parking for one mile.
Returning along the causeway from Inchydoney to Clonakilty, I decided to snap this photo.
It's what greeted my eyes as I glanced downwards over a disused slipway, right at the water's edge.
Gazing serenely up at me and straight through me to the blue sky beyond, this bright-eyed doll seemed to be strangely bursting with spirit after some eventful journey. Who knows where, how or why?
Just made of plastic, yet with smiley expression that reached beyond the blue of the sky and embraced the whole Universe above. The look of a being, plastic or no, that had found peaceful wide-eyed enlightenment, stranded and broken on an estuary tide-line here in Inchydoney, the doughnut with the one-inch hole.
"I have journeyed through the galaxies. I have traversed the heavens. I have seen the wonders of the universe. But TELL me, what is this THING you call Spirit?"
Perhaps the surfer riding a wave under the same blue sky, a little along the beach from the causeway, would know the answer to 'the question at the end of the Universe'.
Or Professor Orangutan who I met as he reposed on a wall to watch life go by, across from An Teach Beag in Jungle City Clonakilty.
Or Precious Tears the tiger, window shopping along Spillers Lane.
Or maybe Madame Braque the crocodile might know the answer, lurking in the garden of Harte's Courtyard.
Or the mother and baby elephants keeping a wary eye on Precious Tears in Spillers Lane.
Or the big cat guarding 'jagged edge'. (Should be 'jagged teeth' I think).
Or the cheeky monkey sitting on an airplane's steering yoke in Recorder's Alley.
All inanimate beings, like the all-seeing doll on the Inchydoney slipway. But, gazing blissfully straight through all the onlookers, to wherever it is they gaze, maybe they can answer, "what is this THING you call Spirit?"
After a couple of days the wild animals chased me off to Anascaul via Skibbereen.
The Irish Potato Famine hit Skibbereen harder than just about any other Irish town.
A folksong here
In Anascaul it's the time of the -
Even in nearby Dingle the sausages are ready.
Three days of Irish Ice Adventure and Celebration.
All revolving, like the rest of the world, around the South Pole.
Music, dance, drama, treks, storytelling and more.
The Grand Welcoming Parade kicked things off on Saturday.
And it rained on the parade....
The Endurance battles through an Irish Atlantic storm.
One of Tom Crean's puppies gets a lift.
And 'Tom the Pole' watches over it all as the bow of the Endurance hoves into view.
A special riot of dance, drama, music and comedy entertained all us visitors that evening.
Followed by dinner and Guinness in the South Pole Inn.
Next day was a hike in the footsteps of Tom Crean, from the South Pole Inn to Minard Castle in Dingle Bay. Where in July 1893 he signed up for the Royal Navy at the Coast Guard station that used to be there.
Singer songwriter Cliff Wedgbury (on right) sings 'The Ballad of Tom Crean' on the slipway.
And Michael Smith, the biographer of Tom Crean, relates anecdotes from the explorer's life.
Perhaps this happened to Tom Crean - the lane blocked by cows on the way to milking.
After embarking at Minard, Crean was carried by his navy postings to New Zealand where he signed up for Scott's ship Discovery bound for Antarctica.
After departing Minard, we were carried by our feet to Tom Crean's childhood house, and thence to the place of his burial.
Well, as we approached the cemetary a strange rainbow appeared - there was a lot of rain. It was strange because it was so low to the ground, just skimmimg above it.
And a little way further on, down a path off of the road, was our destination. Which made the rainbow even stranger, because there was no doubt that the left hand end of it must have been over the graveyard.
This was the first time I had been here.
Crean family tomb, built by Tom while he was landlord of the South Pole Inn.
The porcelain floral tribute set in a glass dome was placed on the tomb by Admiral Teddy Evans in 1938, at the time of Tom Crean's funeral.
Crean saved Evans' life in February 1912 by treking solo across 35 miles of featureless ice and deep snow, to raise the alarm.
On our little trek a distant relative of Crean placed a new wreath to mark the occasion.
Followed by dinner and Guinness in the South Pole Inn.
The final day started at the South Pole Inn, to collect our magnificent certificates to mark the occasion of the Annascaul Tom Crean Trail.
'One for the sideboard'
Followed by a rivetting presentation by Frank Nugent entitled 'In the footsteps of Howard-Bury, Shackleton and Crozier'. Title almost self-explanatory, three Irish explorers who tackled Everest, Antarctica and both Polar Circles. Frank's story covered his own amazing escapades in following the footsteps of all three. But in particular his attempt on Everest, and later sailing a replica of Shackleton's lifeboat James Caird, named Tom Crean, the 800 miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia. A voyage that saw the replica boat capsize three times in mountains of waves, with all the crew surviving.
Frank's photos of both his Everest ascent, and his crossing of the Southern Ocean, were stunning.
This eye-opening account, along with more music and children's shows, marked the end of the festival.
Followed by dinner and Guinness in the South Pole Inn.
Where it was then time to contemplate an unexpectedly rivetting part of Frank's presentation.
He had described the design of the replica boat. And his visit to Dulwich College to take exhaustive measurements and photos of the real James Caird. (It's on permanent display there).
Frank then explained that he gave the job of construction to Ireland's best boat builder,
"A superb carpenter by the name of Jarlath C'nnahn."
My head spun..... "Jarlath Who??"
"Rewind a bit there! That was definitely the Dublin pronunciation of C'nyon!"
"Press the pause button please.... I've got a question there.... What name did you say???"
Not nine months ago I'd discovered that a branch of the Cunnane family had become carpenters in Knock, in 1895. And that the pews in Bekan church were made by W Cunnane and Sons, telephone Knock 9.
"What was that name he said??" I had asked myself earlier, as Frank was explaining the finer points of the construction of the Tom Crean. The boat that he would sail across the roughest seas in the world. "Err... can you repeat that earlier bit?"
As soon as Frank finished his presentation I nipped down to the front. I had a slight advantage, as Frank, Aidan Dooley and I all took breakfast together that morning. We were in the same B&B. Where visitors find this reassuring view of the place of pilgrimage, right across the road.
"Frank, can you tell me the name of the constructor again. How do you spell the first name?
.... and the last name? .... C-u-n-n-a-n-e..... Right!
Where's he from, Frank?
Oh, Knock! You don't say!"
I never expected to find another line of my ancestor's family here at the Tom Crean Festival in tiny Anascaul. But that's life I suppose!
I wonder what I'll find in the Shackleton Heritage Centre in Athy, my next stop. Or in O'Brien's Grocery and Bar across the road?
"Low wages, bitter cold,
long hours of complete darkness.
Safe return doubtful.
Honour and recognition in event of success."
That advert, according to polar folklore, was placed in The Times newspaper by Shackleton for his 1914 Trans-Antarctic expedition.
Despite the $100 prize still being offered today for anyone able to prove this advert's existence, no one's ever found it.
But I can vouch for the truth of at least the headline, the title of this maddest of entries.
For at the Fountain Centre a few months ago, Maria, who works there, bellowed in my ear those fateful words,
"Ken! Men wanted for hazardous journey!"
She was helping organise the 2013 fund-raising Grand Fashion Show. The hazardous journey was the voyage, on two feet, down the ballroom catwalk of the Mandolay Hotel Guildford in front of over 500 paying guests.
A journey that was indeed more hazardous than anything I've ever done on two wheels.
For instance, this journey the other day, by Aprilia, was far less hazardous.
The Fountain Centre is part of St Lukes Cancer Centre. Always nice to visit, often there're a few other riders there.
This is where the name comes from - there's a fountain in the very pleasant gardens round the back.
And another, a bit small to see, in another corner of the gardens.
A huge number of volunteers put a huge amount of work into this show, as do the men's and ladies' fashion departments of Debenhams, whose gear we all wore on the Hazardous Journey.
It's a major annual fund-raiser for the Fountain Centre, and all the models are patients who enjoy its facilities.
And Maria had pressganged me into the catwalk troop.
What an evening it was!
The rough idea is that a dozen women and four men - or however many Maria has managed to rope in - wander up and down the catwalk showing off the new fashions. The women have three or so changes of outfit, so about 36 ladies' outfits are paraded.
Us men have just the one outfit each. Well, the whole evening is really a big hen party. Not much demand for us....
It starts with a visit to Debenhams for measuring up. Where I find that the outfit will include a waistcoat, because they measure specially for that.
Other than that, we don't know what the garb is going to be. There's a degree of secrecy surrounding this...
"It'll be formal," I thought. "It'd be handy to have a prop of some sort, a fancy cane, say."
That idea sprang to mind the morning of the event, so no chance of finding one of those. But better still, I found a fancy artificial buttonhole flower. "That'll do nicely," I predicted.
Arriving at the hotel, there's surprise No.1.
Not everyone is wearing Debenham's stuff.
Guildford Fire Brigade are in attendance, in full protective gear including helmets.
"WHAT are they expecting to happen?" us men wondered, sharing the changing room with them.
All we can find out is that they've done it before, last year and the year before.
OK, so now we know that the "Hazardous" is REAL!
Four men's outfits arrive, all formal morning suits with white or glittery waistcoats.
Ideal, I thought, for the buttonhole I've got in my pocket. That's one secret the firemen don't know about....
The women are all ready, the audience full of anticipation and warmed up nicely with some pretty bouncy music from the first-rate DJ, and the first lady onto the catwalk steps up.
She's on the arm of one of the firemen. Well, the crowd gives a big cheer, the fireman sends her off down the catwalk and collects her when she returns.
Ditto the second model. The firemen form an orderly line to escort each model in turn onto the catwalk and back off afterwards.
OK, but what happens when it's our turn? Us men?
After about six parades by the ladies, the seventh saunters down the catwalk. The fireman escort waiting at the end sways to the music - and unbuttons his heavy protective jacket. Straightaway it looks like the women weren't expecting this but quickly get into the act.
By the time a few more models have paraded down the catwalk, the firemen don't have to do the unbuttoning any more, the models take care of that and the removal of the jacket at the end of each walk, revealing nothing but braces underneath.
So the audience goes slightly the insane side of crazy....
OK, but what happens when it's our turn? Us men?
There have been about 20 women's outfits modelled now, discarded firemen's jackets are lying all over the place, and someone backstage calls out, "Men in two minutes please!"
OK, but what happens now it's our turn??
The last woman reaches the end of the catwalk, to be scooped up into the air in the arms of a topless Guildford fireman and carried off past us four male models waiting expectantly in line. It's our turn now. So there'll be Guildford nurses - in uniform - as escorts - right?
The audience have gone the insane side of crazy. It's deafening.
The first man is ushered to the end of the catwalk, ready.
There are no nurses.
The first Fountain Centre patient of the male gender mounts the catwalk alone. But no matter, the audience are wild, you can do anything. Just open the morning suit jacket wide as the Debenhams staff demonstrated earlier, to show off the fancy lining and glittery waistcoat. No fireman can match that!
He returns and it's my turn.
Wander jauntily, sort of, along the catwalk, turn around here and there. Every movement brings shrieks and screams from the audience. Open the jacket to display the waistcoat, I'm deafened by the noise.
Arrive at the top of the catwalk, the guests of honour are there, the Mayor and Lady Mayoress and entourage, showing no decorum whatsoever. Clapping and cheering with encouragement!
Open the jacket again, and what's this I spy??
There's a huge great orange buttonhole in my inside pocket!
Pluck it out, wave it around and put it in its proper place in my lapel.
The overpowering volume of the noise worries me now, the ceiling might fall in.
..... The other two members of our merry band of male models parade their outfits, and that's the first half done. Alvin Stardust entertains during the interval.
The second half - similar. The women are in 'Ascot' type day outfits, firemen in best parade uniforms with all polished buttons, becoming topless as before, visibility good.
Then a model appears in bridal gear, plus bridesmaids. Us four make up bridegroom, best man, father of the bride (me), father of the groom.
The DJ ramps the music up, the firemen make up the rest of the male wedding guests, the whole shebang fills the catwalk, the roof gets raised....
I'm glad I stayed in the hotel overnight - the party was still going on at breakfast the next morning!
The evening raised about £13,000 for the Fountain Centre. Well, what can you say?
Just this - with minimal further comment - some photos. (By photographers at the event)
"Safe return doubtful."
Huge thanks to the Guildford Fire Station Blue and White watches for getting us out alive.
Like a lot of good things, the wonderful art class at the Fountain Centre in Guildford came to an end at Easter. The teacher had done a great job not only of guiding us over a year or more in producing pieces both amazing and strange, but also in having our work exhibited in a small art show in Guildford's Royal Surrey Hospital.
But as one door closes another opens.
I found another art class at a support centre much closer to home, the South East Cancer Help Centre in Purley. A short bicycle ride from home.
And what an art class it is!!
Diametrically opposite to the class at the Fountain Centre, but equally as inspirational and supportive. I think you'd have to attend both to understand how.
Malcolm is one of the students.
"I'm looking for a bike I can ride on the roads," he told me. "I've one in the garage but it's an old collector's classic, pre-War French and not registered for the roads here."
"What do you fancy?" I asked.
"A good BSA Bantam. I used to race those."
"You raced Bantams!" say I. "With the Bantam Racing Club?"
"That's right," says Malcolm.
"And the British Formula Club?" I enquire.
"Yep, back in the 1960s to early 70s."
"Well! Me too. On a Honda, then a Norton Commando. Do you remember at Snetterton when ....??"
"I certainly do, then at Lydden there was ....." replied Malcolm.
".......... ......... ......!"
From then on, not much art has been done .........
But so what??
This support centre runs a lot of local visits and outside activities. Those that I've tried have been pretty entertaining.
An old bluebell wood on the way to Edenbridge, that kept us busy for an afternoon before retiring to a hostelry in Oxted.
About eight cars set off from Purley, not all being very sure of exactly where the obscure carpark was.
Six arrived more-or-less together. The seventh some time later, they'd been looking for the eighth, which never arrived. Various mobile phones were used to try to make contact, but out in the country there was hardly any service. It sounded, through the breaks and crackles, like they were halfway to Dover...
Malcolm was in that car - he assured us later that they did arrive and explored the carpets of blue a short while after the rest of us.
The S.E. Cancer Help Centre celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. One of the many events to mark it is the "String Of Pearls" arts and crafts exhibition in the Fairfield Halls in Croydon.
Well, four of my pieces were accepted for hanging.
Two just happened to be hung under the watchful eyes of a very young H.M. Queen Mum.
(The two large and strange items in wide white borders)
And one at the right of the stairs.
(Top right-hand corner - it's been in this blog before - my take on the London 2012 stadium)
And display boards showing some of the dozens of projects and activities undertaken by volunteers and members.
From drama, choir and Christmas events with the Mayor of Croydon, to the visit of Prince Charles a few years ago.
Now, must see if I can find a BSA Bantam somewhere so Malcolm can ride to next year's HUBB UK meeting....
But there was an advert for it shining out of the local free paper, like a beacon.
"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
Probably the 3rd or 4th time I've used those words in this blog.
It'll appear again I'm sure.
Since the early 80s I've had an electric piano.
And an electric piano designed in the late 70s, appearing in Practical Electronics as a kit of parts, is a very crude device indeed by today's standards.
(As an aside, for a year or more before that, I had an ordinary upright piano, which by dint of incredible age (1800s) and worse condition, was even cruder. Hence I swapped it for an electric version, with the added advantage of headphones and undisturbed neighbours).
I'm sure any competent and accomplished pianist could have produced magnificent renditions on both instruments - but I couldn't. And doubt I ever will...... but you never know.....
For the last 10 years or so I've fancied an upgrade. Something 'digital' as they say now.
Up in Manchester last year I wandered into the big Yamaha showroom - pianos not motorbikes - (something's gone a bit awry with the topic of this blog). I was amazed at the quality and specifications of modern digital pianos, and the prices in comparison with what I paid back in 1982.
I used to glance in the window of the local piano shop now and again whilst walking from the bakers to the hardware shop. "Just looking."
Then in February that same local shop placed this advert.
A personal message aimed directly at me!
So it had to be done. Straightaway. I booked my first ever piano lesson, 15 minutes for free.
On the evening before 'Learn to Play Day' my head was full of anticipation, but it relented for a moment just enough to allow a much more useful thought to come rushing in like a steam train.
It's in the next town, where I bought a beginner's guitar for my son Richard about 25 years ago.
It never took off, but I still have that guitar.
I phoned first thing the next morning. Did they have any guitar lessons left?
"What about violin?" I asked.
I'd never even touched a violin let alone put bow to string.
But the student was ready, the advert had appeared, and the answer down the phone line was, "How about 3pm, or 3:30?"
So I nipped over there after the piano lesson at Vivace.
Within a week I had a magnificent digital piano installed in my front room,
incorporating all the latest mechanical as well as electronic technology.
Being an octave-and-a-half wider than my old one, a well-worn armchair had to go to make room.
And I now have to own up to having chucked two pianos, over the years, in the skip.
That's one more than the score for motorbikes.
Here's an old photo of the old one, with the guitar purchased from Potters all those years ago.
And a peek at the 1970s circuitry and crude mechanical key mechanism. Just for those interested, you understand.
A close-up of the out-in-the-open-air switch system. An early attempt at some sort of touch-sensitivity, with silver contact springs that tarnished black instantly (vertical in centre of pic), ruining any effect that the designer may have attempted to create.
Now, somehow, weekly lessons and daily practice have been stuffed into life's rich tapestry.
So that old adage that I heard many times at work in the 1990s, is truer now than ever.
"When you retire, you'll never ever know how on earth you ever had the time to go to work. Ever."
And don't even mention the violin....
In 15 minutes from absolute scratch, the excellent teacher at Potter's had me playing a 4-note scale and able to hear if a note was out, although not yet the ability to correct it - probably lots of years to do that.
This time of year Caterham is a real buzzing place. You don't have to go up to town for the best entertainment (even though, down here in Whyteleafe, we allow people from up the hill to use our three railway stations).
No, we have our own 'Street Pianos' right here, on the street.
Here's one Vivace put out earlier, right opposite the library.
I hope neither piano nor Aprilia end up in the skip.....
And I take my hat off to Vivace (as you can see in the pic) for this great community spirit.
Just after the photo was taken, a mum and two small daughters had an impromptu open-air piano practice. In fact, it was the mum who took the photo.
So now I'm planning next year's Learn To Play Day.
"Up in London," the proprietor of Vivace told me, "they take it really seriously. People plan and phone around as soon as the date is announced, squeezing in as many bookings for 15-minute lessons as they can."
That's me! Violin, saxophone, guitar, banjo, xylophone, bass, accordion, bandoneón, flute....
It's been a while since the previous entry.
Well, Melbourne to Donington is a long way.
There may be a glut of postings now, playing catch-up.
(You wait weeks for a bus then four hundred and seven arrive at once.
That is - the 407 bus, it takes me to Caterham or Croydon whenever I fancy using my bus pass).
Back to business - a couple of weeks ago I was juggling motorbike, bicycle, car and train. All possibilities for a big adventure travel event.
For a fleeting moment of madness, airplanes also featured.
So what was this 'Epic' with the array of transport possibilities?
It was this:
(from the HU advert)
It's at the Donington Park campgrounds, which are next to the Donington GP racetrack, next to East Midlands Airport, next to East Midlands station, next to the M1.
There's probably a canal thereabouts too.
Back in 2009, when Caroline, Beau and I used this annual event as a dummy run of sorts for Africa, it was in Ripley, Derbyshire. That venue was becoming too small so this year it moved lock, stock and barrel to the big campsite at Donington Park.
But right now I don't have a motorbike on the road that can carry camping gear. The Yamaha awaits an MOT - soon I hope, soon. (See later posts for where all the time has gone - am hoping to have a bit of time to blog about it all).
And the Aprilia, which is gloriously on the road, can only carry me, my door keys, and a newspaper - just about.
So I had the idea to cycle there. It's very much a bicycle event as well.
And I can carry full camping gear on my Marinoni bicycle.
The last time was from Canada to Mexico in 2001, so it's about time I did it again.
Now, the British weather in May ("Farmers fear unkindly May, Frost by night and hail by day" - no bicycles there then) isn't really conducive to pedalling comfortably from Whyteleafe to Donington, particularly with a wet long-range forecast, so I needed a plan to minimise the drenchings.
Perm any 1 from train, car, airplane.
"Train!" I thought, with easy access to St. Pancras and the line which stops at all sorts of places approaching East Midlands Airport. But sadly, a bicycle on a regional line isn't an easy, convenient and carefree proposition, even with my OldCodger's Rail Card.
So I toddled off with bicycle inside car, arriving at the Donington Hotel on the Monday before, planning to pedal away to Rutlandshire and beyond and return for the first day of the HUBB UK on the Thursday. (Car left at hotel).
But rain - lots of it - interrupted play.
I set off dodging downpours and headed along the nearby Sustrans cycle network, only to find the first section is called The Cloud Trail.
Not an auspicious name for the first miles of cycling during a rainy week.
The trail stretches out ahead towards Loughborough.
Here, it's a disused railway line.
With strange and ethnic signposts along the way.
Black clouds hang over the Cloud Trail.
Beyond the disused railway, it gets hilly.
On the far side of Loughborough towards Rutland Water (which I had hoped to reach), the clouds formed up and the rain fell, right outside the Farmers Den Teashop. A pretty good oasis for the hours and hours of wet rain that ensued.
Specially as there was this amazing private museum full of old preserved vehicles, fascinating gems and a few - err - 'collectibles'.
In the workshop a big old Austin was in the process of restoration, and these - sidecars are always a curiosity:
A BSA V-twin.
It was a handy touch of serendipity as the rain went on and on, and the tea flowed. Ditto for another customer and his mum who took refuge at the same table as me, solely because he was hopelessly lost.
"We don't know this area and I set my sat-nav to find a supermarket. But it sent us down a dead-end road that ended in someone's muddy yard. Then I saw this place."
He turned out to be quite a serious cyclist so we swapped a few tales.
A reader used to be a repairer and builder of industrial lawn mowers (now retired). So here's a photo for him.
Outside, a good splashing of puddles, and a Gilbert Scott red telephone kiosk. Yep, I worked inside those a few times.
What's more (unashamed reminiscence here), back in 1965 I spent about 3 days in the Duroglass factory in Blackhorse Lane Walthamstow (anyone remember that?) watching with great amazement the Polish glassblowers making the globes seen here atop the petrol pumps. With my supervisor we were supposed to be moving a telephone between offices, a 3-hour job in those old-technology days. But we were kept mesmerised for day after day by the huge oil-fired furnace operation (three 8-pot different colours, one 2-pot, one day tank, 3 continuous tanks), on a massive stage from which the six glassblowers would dangle their steel tubes with the heavy molten glass globes spinning on the end, to achieve the right shape. It was a furious rage of fire, colour and acrobatic whirling of hot glass.
The factory also made oven glass. So proud were the glassblowers of their work, and the fact that they had entertained us for all that time, that they boxed up a huge array of dishes, pans and casseroles for each of us to cart away home.
I think the main thing I learnt there was not so much about how to shift a telephone extension, but how to fill out the timesheet so a job of 3 hours took 3 days. I think it was just a matter of the spelling.
So the Farmers Den Teashop was a pretty good place to spend a rainy afternoon
The rain eased up about closing time enough to go looking for a B&B.
Which was here, right next to the Grand Union Canal and River Soar.
There - I said there'd be a canal somewhere....
Dodging the showers the next day, aiming to arrive at the campsite for the start of the HUBB show, I found Belton Church coming into scenic view from a leafy lane somewhere north-west of Loughborough.
And somewhere along the disused railway part of the Cloud Trail, it's only 10 miles to Derby. There's a thought.....
But the HUBB called, and we arrive for registration,
handing over a couple of bottles of bubbly for the Prostate Cancer UK Grand Raffle.
The tent is pitched, the sun appears, the tea is on and the campground fills up.
But not with bicycles - see later.
Now, the title of this roving and rambling essay needs explaining a bit. I did indeed complete a 'Melbourne To Donington Bicycle Epic'.
Here's the Melbourne-Donington road, with Breedon-on-the-Hill Church in the distance.
It's two miles long, and I cycled there and back, to visit amongst other places, Melbourne Hall and its ancient mill pond.
And the animals gazing over the wall watching the geese.
And the church from an inner courtyard.
And an ATM but you know what they look like.
Back at the HUBB campground, the Expedition Vehicle Show was in full swing on the Saturday. The categories were 'Most Travelled', 'Best Modifications', and 'On A Tight Budget'.
'MyMarinoni' pokes a front wheel just ahead of a line of motorbikes in the show.
Well, the judges had a hell of a job selecting the winners.
Some of these bikes had been right around the world, some many times, on the road for as long as 14 years. How do they rank such a distinguished field?
At the other extreme there was difficulty in the bicycle class.
Only one bicycle was entered......
In the categories of 'Most Travelled' and 'On A Tight Budget'.
I won both.....
Not a proper competition really. The next morning I met a cyclist in amongst the trade tents.
"Why didn't you enter the show yesterday?" I enquired.
"I was one of the judges....."
It turned out that 3 or 4 other cyclists arrived on Thursday. I had chatted to one of them. But they all left on Saturday morning, squeezing in another mission somewhere.
My two prizes were very nice, and the Prostate Cancer UK charity, beneficiaries of this HUBB event, have a big cycling event in Exeter soon.
So those goodies are now added to the prizes for that event where there should be more than one competitor in the field.
A couple of entries in the motorbike class:
The Honda Africa Twin of Ian Coates
I'll invite you to do what it says on his right hand pannier....
I was selling raffle tickets on Friday and Saturday and it was an honour to have Ian buy his from me. As far as I know, he didn't win anything, but I somehow think that's not a problem for him.....
Specially as he was the outright winner of the 'Most Travelled' motorcycle category.
He's off to the Isle of Man TT now, and then riding to Mongolia, and then..... he doesn't know.
Another entry was this
Ed March's Honda C90 right next to my Marinoni.
This is Ed's overland ride back from Malaysia last year, on the bike above.
He had the audience in tears and stitches during his presentation about his recent Germany to North Cape trip on the same bike, camping, in February.
Watch out for the Youtube when it appears, specially his little adventure in Northern Norway involving the steel pole of a roadsign, a tongue, and about 20 degrees of frost.....
Here's the big group photo
Which only leaves a couple of photos from the end of the event, the Grand Sending Off of four adventurers, two on their round-the-world trip, and two on their trip to Mongolia.
Antarctica in Cambridge, And Gliders in Whyteleafe
Continuing the Antarctic theme for now. November heralds the start of the Antarctic summer.
So a new programme of events gets underway, starting with the AGM of the Friends of the Scott Polar Research Institute.
Where it's winter.
So, to keep warm, there's a buffet get-together.
Under a nice warm polar bear skin in the cosy SPRI lecture theatre.
Somewhere in these photos there's a granddaughter of Scott, a granddaughter of Shackleton, a grandson of Frank Debenham (Scott's geologist) and a granddaughter of Scott's Chief Engineer on the Discovery.
And other descendants of early Antarctic explorers.
There's an electrifying enthusiasm for all things Antarctic at these gatherings which gives a great sense of shared fascination.
Afterwards there's time for a visit to the pub. Being in Cambridge, these places are well used by the students.
In this case, it seems, Civil Engineering students.
Practising Newtonian Mechanics.
As the crane driver goes off for his tea break, we end up with a pretty wobbly structure.
Newton's Laws take over and Mike has to leap clear of tons of falling masonry.
Next time, safety helmets will be worn!
Earlier in the day, before the buffet, the AGM was held in a grand Cambridge University lecture theatre across the courtyard from the museum.
There, I spied a few notices imploring the students, "Don't throw your chewing gum in the toilets. Put it in the bins."
Now, I would think the one place in the world where students would not have to be told about the problems of chewing gum sticking to everything, would be Cambridge University's Department of Chemistry, the owners of the lecture theatre!
So I looked at their website. It says,
"We pride ourselves on offering our students an excellent education, and strive to provide an inspiring environment to encourage and enable the best science."
So there you are, they even place revision notes in the toilets.
Now, it's a small world.
On the Clancy Centenary Ride we had a big lunch at the Giant's Causeway Hotel. There I met a local Northern Ireland rider named John who also has an interest in things Polar. He asked me to pass on his regards to Kari Herbert who gave one of the presentations at the Shackleton Autumn School.
Well, Kari was pleased to hear from John, so I said I'd pass her regards back. Which I did. Whereupon John told me he'd seen the video on this blog of Mary Peters switching off the last analogue tv transmissions.
And that he used to work for the BBC, in the 1980s at the Crystal Palace transmitter (I put a photo of that on the same blog posting) and then at the Divis transmitter (where Mary Peters was filmed switching stuff off) in the 1990s and later.
John tells me that in the second half of the youtube video, the transmitter engineer with a large folder of papers and the yellow jerkin is checking the BBC 1 analogue transmitter, that had already been switched off and had large "Do Not Repower" notices hung on it.
So it was poetic justice I suppose in light of my work on Channel Four, that it was the last channel to be switched off, and caught on video.
Pity about the lack of turn-ups.
Back in Whyteleafe, on a particularly sunny morning earlier today, I cycled onto Kenley Airfield as I had an errand not far away. (A new dose of hormone treament - hence the Movember link at the top of this entry).
I attempted a few photos of the gliders taking off, and thought they came out OK so here they are.
A takeoff flying away from the camera and into the sun.
Kenley Control: "Your traffic is an inch in front of your nose."
"Left for Gatwick, right for Heathrow"
(It might be tricky to see the direction here. We're looking at the top of the glider and it's flying upwards and away from the camera. The towing cable about to detach)
I'm getting the hang of the video buttons on my camera. So while the sun was shining I put these on youtube.
The 'Despatcher' on the right is signalling to the winch operator to slowly wind in the slack cable.
If it's done too fast the front of the glider will be ripped out when the slack is taken up.
There are a couple of loops of slack just visible on the ground to the right of the cockpit. When all is wound in the Despatcher signals for full speed.
Heading south from Dublin, the road to Athy passes near to Mondello Park, a motor racing track that hosts some major Irish motorcycle events. But alas, on the day I was passing, a track-day for cars was in progress. Almost a waste of good tarmac.
So some photos for my son Richard who's strictly a 4-wheel man, not two.
More 4-wheel stuff for a moment or two....
Our B&B in Athy was very close to the course of the original Gordon Bennett motor races.
Not too close though, there was never any disturbance during the night.
There's a memorial at the Moat of Ardscull, on the local stretch of the Dublin-Athy road that was part of the circuit. The cars also hurtled through Athy - I bet O'Brien's was packed with handlebar moustaches and leather goggles. Made a change from sledges and huskies I suppose.
I can just imagine a driver outside of O'Brien's not being sure which way the course went. He'd definitely get directions to the South Pole.
Onwards from Athy to Annascaul the route took Mike and me through the town of Adare. So we stopped to make a toast in tea to our own first landfall on Antarctica nearly thirteen years ago, which was at Cape Adare.
There, we had our first lesson in strictly NOT approaching the penguins but sitting still on a rock and letting them waddle up and peck your clothes to bits. We were also able to visit Borchgrevink's hut from his 1899 Southern Cross expedition, the first structure to be built on Antarctica.
Back home after the conclusion of this Irish expedition, there was a sunny day shortly after returning, so I took a stroll to Fickleshole. For lunch.
The seasons change, and with them the scenery, so I took a few different photos along the same route.
With leaves starting to drop, a 'menorah' tree appears - it looked like the candlestick.
Sorry, last bit of TV stuff here.
When that Channel 4 network was being built, it used up the last of the capacity on the route to Brighton. A new microwave link was installed, in good time for the next new TV channel, imaginatively called Channel Five. A mast was needed on the North Downs, and Fickleshole was chosen. (There were already a couple of air-traffic radio masts up there).
And would you believe it? I think that mast has crept into this photo.
Spoils the countryside, does all that TV.
A sunset followed on the evening of the next day. Not for the first time there were good views from my front room.
The fire spread into the trees. or so it seemed. It was 5th November, so that was an OK bonfire.
Hot news from the High Street is that MBT shoes have been saved. Someone bought the company so shopping for shoes comes to a screeching halt. Just in time. It's been taking so long to decide which pair to wear I haven't had time to post this entry.
To cram Family History Research, The Clancy Centenary Ride, the Shackleton Autumn School, and a pilgrimage to the South Pole Inn, all into one little trip to Ireland resulted in what felt like a real epic voyage.
So there are some reflections and contemplations to be mulled over.
On the very first day, I learned the correct local pronunciation of my old family name.
"C'nyon." And slight variations.
On almost the last day, in the South Pole Inn, a family from Dublin was having lunch. The mum was very well-travelled particularly in Africa. But in Ireland as well.
She asked about my family research, and pronounced the name "C'nnahn."
"It'll be 'C'nyon' in the west," she told me, "But 'C'nnahn' here in the east. It's like that for a lot of names. What about 'Rabbit', have you come across that?"
Well, I had. In our B&B just up the road from the pub.
Where I found this:
I feel bits of jigsaw coming together. I found a headstone in the old part of the Tulrohaun graveyard listing three generations of Cunnanes. That graveyard was dangerous to explore. It was completely unkempt with grass a foot high hiding everything including sunken old headstones ready to trip you up. But most effectively, the grass hid the scores of rabbit holes. Deep rabbit holes which swallowed your leg at every other step, needing both hands constantly free ready to steady yourself.
A librarian in Dublin had also mentioned the Rabbit connection.
You never stop learning.
In the same B&B in Annascaul there was a very old map on the wall, which displayed this little gem:
Common myles of Irland. A good old Elizabethan measure. Handy to check that my GPS is getting things right, what with it having settings for statute miles, nautical miles, kilometres, minutes of arc, and heaven knows what else.
For family interest, here's County Mayo from that map. I don't recognise anything. GPS map-making was just a glimmer in Sir Walter Raleigh's eye; satellites in those days disintegrated everytime they were fired from those huge cannons.
Being Elizabethan, West is Up.
Despite having had 'Common myles of Irland', then 'Miliarium Hibernicorum' followed by ordinary English miles, the Republic of Ireland now has 'kilometres' for distances and speeds on the roads.
Such things should stay strictly on the continent I think. After all, there are a lot of towns here called 'Inch'. One famous one is on a spectacular bit of coast in Dingle Bay near the South Pole Inn.
I've never seen a signpost to anywhere called 'Centimetre'.
That sews it up for me.
When you hire a car, of course the speedo is in kph. Which is ok I suppose.
Until you go on the Clancy Centenary Ride with the lunchstop in Enniskillen on the first day.
Or at the Giant's Causeway on the second. Or finishing in Belfast.
Suddenly the speed limits are in mph.
Well, every speedo I've ever seen in Europe has a tiny set of numbers around the outside of the dial to show mph.
Without warning I'm at the mercy of the speed cameras and my mental arithmetic.
And as I've said before, despite all this hormone stuff I'm on, I still can't do more than one thing at a time. And that includes driving and doing sums. (But I do now have a cupboard-full of new shoes - that's another story).
So I potter slowly along the roads in the North looking for a shop to buy a felt-tip, to write my own numbers on the dial. And hope they don't sell shoes as well.
Talking of cupboards of shoes, a long time ago I became hooked on those MBT shoes. The ones that have no heel, just a pivot point underneath the instep so your foot rocks back and forth all the time.
I think they're brilliant. They're supposed to be good for just about everything. Including backs, which is what led the inventor to develop them. I've never had back trouble and still don't so I hope it stays that way.
Well, despite my enthusiasm for them, they never became popular. People look at me as though I'm mad when I describe and demonstrate them. And the inevitable happened. The makers went bust.
It was a Swiss company, and in the classic way, the inventor who did a brilliant job of the design and development never let go of the company to someone who could run it as a successful shoe-selling business.
And MBT shoes suddenly disappeared from the shops. As did some of the shops selling them.
But one or two outlets still had stock so a few enthusiastic types like me decided to fill up their cupboards quickly. And that hormone treatment helped very nicely thank you. I was out there for a while buying shoes as fast as I could find them. Fill yer boots!
Talking of boots, back in Ireland I was wandering around the large graveyard at Bekan (like y' do) whan a local man arrived with gardening gear and boots. He had a few graves to tend, and asked the usual question, what name was I looking for?
Straight away he answered, "Ahh, the O'C'nyons!"
He was the first and only person to put the 'O' on the front. But at least I know now that that form exists.
Followed by, "It's bin a'terrible raining here, I hope the ground's dried out a bit now. I've never heard of any O'C'nyons as far south as Culnacleha but there's a few 'round here. Not that I know them myself now.
There's Mass at 11:30, it could be worth seeing the Priest."
Which I did. But there were no records. Except, "There was a Joseph C'nyarn. He was Archbishop of Tuam until the late eighties. Don't know anything about his family at all."
And Culnacleha is in the parish of Annagh which is in the barony of Costello in the diocese of Tuam in County Mayo in the province of Connacht (or Connaught). Glad I got that straight.
The evening before the start of the Clancy Centenary Ride, I found myself in Bewley's Cafe, where I saw a lot of paintings around the walls, and this notice:
Well, I thought, they may have a lifetime association with Irish art, so maybe it's time they looked at a bit of English stuff. Next time I'm over here I'll bring along a sought-after piece, hot from my hanging at the St Luke's art gallery in arty Guildford.
Over the last few days, I've taken a huge leap into the 22nd century. It might as well be the 22nd century as far as I'm concerned, as I've put my very first video on youtube.
It was a mere 50 years ago that I trundled up to a local radio hobby club having heard that another member would be there with an amateur TV station. Well, I wanted to see that for sure. I had been utterly fascinated by this television stuff since seeing a TV set for the first time about four years earlier, aged about ten. How on earth did a moving picture appear on a screen after travelling through the air from who-knows-where and then along a bit of wire to the aerial socket????
The club member with the TV stuff had spent a small fortune buying a surplus camera set-up from the BBC. He needed a lorry to get it to the school hall, and very nearly a crane to put it in place. Just the camera must have weighed a couple of hundredweight, on a tripod with big wheels of about the same weight. Cables of two inches diameter snaked to a stack of electronics full of hot, brightly glowing valves that would dwarf the sound and lighting gear of a touring band today.
All that to display a dim blurry picture on the tiny round screen of a TV about the size of a sideboard. We took it in turns to stand in front of the camera and wave a hand - just for a moment in case this early incarnation of a Dalek was really a deadly ray-gun.
It was my turn.
The screen showed me and my moving hand, and having shown it, I moved on. And the picture evaporated. A second larger truck would have been needed for all the paraphernalia to record the moment for posterity. Not that any such stuff really existed at the time.
That was before I left school. Now, in what seems like no time at all, I can go to a local shop, hand over not-a-lot of cash and walk away with something that fits in my pocket, films and records an hour or more of HD TV, and sends it over a telephone line to a place where everyone else in the world can see it!!
My mind still boggles. Which is good I suppose as it indicates to me that it's still working....
This is what my mind is boggling at, my first 'youtube'!
The 1922 Henderson in full song.
Dancing pushrods and valve springs exposed to the outside world, just behind the exhausts.
Which neatly brings me to the hot news on the second day of the Clancy ride.
All the analogue TV transmissions across the whole of Ireland (including Northern Ireland) were switched off on that day. Completing the analogue switch-off across the entire British Isles. 24th October 2012.
On the news in Ireland they were asking what happens to the radio spectrum that's now empty.
Well, they couldn't have been paying attention to this blog. I even posted a photo of the phone fitted to the handlebars of the 1922 Henderson. It's a secret prototype that'll go on sale very soon. It may be a bit new-fangled for today's 4G, 5G and 6G mobile phone connoisseurs, but the iMorse Phone is about to hit the shops, with the unique miniaturised morse key.
It's hacker-proof. Once you learn the dots and dashes, no one will have the foggiest idea what you're talking about.
This switch-off of all the analogue TV is big nostalgic stuff for some readers of this blog, my old work colleagues. So the rest of you will have to divert around this anorak stuff, or fall asleep if you haven't already.
Many of those work mates spent a lot more years than me working on the networks that carried all the analogue BBC and ITV programmes. In the 1970s I learned from them what an art it was to link together multiple transmission lines, each 200 miles or so long, with such precision that programmes carried from London appeared in homes in Inverness, and everywhere else, as clearly and as colourfully as they appeared in the studio where the action was taking place.
(Easy to do now, not so in those days).
Part of the art was to be able to stare at the circuit-tester screens for hours and hours, in a little room on some remote hilltop next to a TV mast. And watch the waveforms shown here while making endless adjustments until they met the exact measurements required. The measurements being down to fractions of millionths of a second.
(The website is from the US NTSC system - UK's PAL was similar).
These wave patterns on the screen then became the 'specification record' for the London-to-Plymouth link, or whatever link was being lined up, and a set of detailed photos were taken using huge Polaroid cameras with all those old chemical-filled sachets that leaked in your toolbox.
This morning the sun shone brightly as I left the pool at Crystal Palace. So for old times' sake I took this photo of a place where the 'art' just mentioned above would have been undertaken. Not on a remote hilltop in this case but never mind.
Now, it's best not to have regrets. But I was working once at just such a place somewhere in remote West Wales. The station manager was, like a lot of engineering managers in those days, a WWII veteran and hadn't heard of health and safety. And in the transmitter building he kept all the gear needed for the task he suggested.
Standing right under the four legs of the mast, you couldn't help but look up into the magnificent structure (not as high as the Eiffel Tower but you get the idea). In the nice calm summery weather he suggested, "Why don't you climb up?" All matter-of-fact, like.
Still don't know why I didn't.
There were occasional hiccups in those analogue days.
I had the honour back in 1979 to be the project engineer for the construction of the analogue network to carry the new Channel Four TV service.
On the opening afternoon, 2nd November 1982 (30th anniversary just gone!) there was a real buzz going round the control room in the Post Office Tower. The first welcome announcement was being transmitted from the Channel 4 studios just round the corner in a converted cinema (the old Scala Cinema).
Suddenly, all the screens went blank. The sense of horror that flashed around the room was palpable - all the TVs across the country that were tuned to Channel 4 had also gone blank.
But all those networks were protected with overlays and standbys that were more complex than the networks themselves. So the break was bypassed and made good within a second or so, in time for the start of the first gripping edition of Countdown at 4:40pm precisely.
About a minute later a technician had identified the exact cause. It was in a bit of equipment right there in the control room, at the bottom of a rack in an aisle that was crowded with staff watching the big event on the screens all around the room.
Horror of horrors - in those days some trousers had turn-ups, and the turn-up on one particular pair (not mine, your Honour) had hooked onto a switch low down at floor level, and pulled it....
The horror was that the very few switches fitted to this stuff were supposed to be securely covered up to prevent just such a thing ever happening. Someone had dropped a clanger, but we survived to tell the tale.
So I was very disappointed to see this.
Olympic gold medallist Mary Peters switching off the last UK analogue transmissions just outside of Belfast. At 10:00am precisely.
I mean to say - she's definitely wearing trousers. But used her finger!
All that research we did into using turn-ups - all wasted.
And to add insult to injury, the label at the top of that rack says 'CH4 B'! (See the 'A' rack at 38 seconds in - there are always two)
There's no justice!
This extract from an old journal might help to explain the significance of all this nerdy rambling. Part of 'the article wot I wrote', from International Broadcast Engineer, November 1982.
Plenty of mumbo-jumbo for job titles and department names in those days!
The last time I was here in Annascaul, I didn't quite find the house where Tom Crean was born. I found what I thought was the location, but the track was impassable with churned-up mud. My single pair of shoes had to last me the rest of the visit and RyanAir back to Gatwick.
Substantial wellington boots were needed.
On this visit I still had no boots, but Mike was with me.
He's been here before, and navigated us to the same spot that I closed in on last year.
The path was OK and we found the house.
But is this the house where Tom Crean was born?
There are doubts.
He was born in 1877. Some say that this house doesn't look that old.
Just before reaching the house we found this, down a slope on the other side of the track:
Pretty well inaccessible.
It looks more likely to have been here in 1877. And it's near a stream, which some research suggests was the case.
So this could be a project for another time. Is this the house where Crean was born and brought up?
Mike and I thought we'd now do a mini re-enactment.
In 1893 Crean walked from here to a small Royal Navy base at Minard Castle in Dingle Bay. There he embarked his first ship and started his navy career.
Mike's been there before, but was driven by a local and couldn't be sure of the way. So we guessed.
Just find a lane going south, and downhill as well. It took a couple of goes and then we found it.
A small piece of Dingle Bay with a little slipway tucked over to the right.
Could this winch be 120 years old?
Probably not, but never mind.
There's a sizeable house just above this slipway and below Minard Castle, where the owner confirmed that this is the Minard Inlet recorded in the Royal Navy papers.
Well, we had found this landmark, so then it was off for another re-enactment. Maybe the most important one.
A drink in the South Pole Inn in Annascaul. The pub that Tom Crean built.
Where there was a fire roaring.
And Hallowe'en paraphenalia competing for space with all the Antarctic memorabilia.
This place is stuffed full with photos, memorabilia and ephemera. As well as Guinness and Tom Crean 18/35 Lager as well.
That's to signify the 35 miles Tom Crean walked in 18 hours across the ice, with no life support or water, to get help for Teddy Evans who had completely collapsed with scurvy. Crean had already marched 1,400 miles with the support party before his final push.
This pub really is a place of pilgrimage for anyone caught by the 'Antarctic bug'.
The landlord, Gary, related an anecdote from a few weeks ago.
"Two visitors had been in so far that day, looked around, had a beer and the usual eager chat. Later, another visitor arrived. We got chatting about the pub and Tom Crean, when he said he'd just returned from the actual South Pole. And proudly reckoned that he'd be the only visitor that had done that.
"Unfortunately I had to tell him he was the third that day!"
Gary invited us to the Holy of Holies. The upstairs room.
Part of which, where the fireplace is, used to be Tom Crean's bedroom. Before it was all opened up into a big function room.
Outside, there was a photo-pilgrimage to be made, to the man himself.
Back inside, author Mike had a few copies of his book for Gary to put behind the bar.
The S.S. Terra Nova (1884-1943)
Later on we were lucky enough to have a pleasant chat with the present owner of the pub, Tom Kennedy. Crean's first biography was published in 2000 and since then a number of others have appeared, published mainly in Ireland where his biographies sell in greater numbers.
We discussed a couple of these with Tom, and a few ideas about unexplored areas of Crean's life sprung up. Who knows?
During our couple of days in Annascaul we fitted in a side trip to Dingle, which coincided with plenty of Irish rain and an Irish rainbow over the marina.
We departed Annascaul learning that a major event is in the planning stage for next year, so we'll definitely be back for that.
And there'll be another Shackleton Autumn School as well. So just for good measure we stayed a final night in Athy and visited once again that most Irish of Irish pubs, O'Brien's.
O'Brien's frontage has been untouched for 130 years. So there's a model of it next to a page of Shackleton cuttings, in the refreshment room behind the grocery.
Now we look forward to Dublin Airport for our return home, and '.... honour and recognition in case of success.'
The tents are all erected and sledge parked, ready for the blizzard - of visitors.
This is going to be a name-dropping blog post. And why not?
And a long post as well - a helluva lot happened over the weekend. Feel free to leave whenever you wish.
Shackleton was born and raised close to Athy, in southern County Kildare.
(Remember, it's Irish. So 'Athy' rhymes with 'attire' but without the '-re' on the end. Or try 'at-tie'. Hope that helps).
He is closely associated with the island of South Georgia, hundreds of miles south-east of the Falklands, and is buried there.
Recently, the ashes of his right-hand man, Frank Wild, were taken there and placed next to him.
Frank Wild is remembered as the man that Shackleton left behind in charge of 21 other men stranded on Elephant Island, when the latter sailed to South Georgia for help. It was Wild's task to keep the men motivated and disciplined against the knowledge that they may never be rescued if Shackleton's journey failed.
Shackleton was accompanied on the stormy passage to South Georgia by Frank Worsley, captain of The Endurance. His job was to navigate a route across 800 miles of the Southern Ocean to find help on that tiny lone island, having already navigated around the Weddell Sea to find the even tinier Elephant Island and temporary refuge for the ship's company.
Finding South Georgia whilst sailing the lifeboat 'James Caird', without engine, was a far greater achievement than the simple task of steering Neil Armstrong the quarter-million miles to the Moon. In fact, since the advent of satellite navigation, there is now no journey in Christendom or the Universe that is anywhere near as difficult to steer than that boat voyage. (As an aside, the 15-year-old and very basic GPS device that was given to me when I retired still gives excellent directions, including over here in Ireland).
Anyway, many years ago I happened to meet Lady Alexandra Shackleton, (Ernest's granddaughter) at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. I hadn't long returned from Antarctica and at that time she had yet to visit the continent, despite having been to South Georgia and the Falklands a few times. She was interested in how our voyage went and the little adventures we had on the way. Whereupon she fixed me with a purposeful eye and said, "You just can't leave it at that, sailing to the Ross Sea and Ross Island. You simply must go one day and see South Georgia. It's absolutely stunning. In a different way to the other side of the continent. No excuses now!"
She's quite a charismatic person and I've never forgotten that conversation.
Well, a brand new expedition is about to depart. An attempt to faithfully recreate that voyage of the James Caird across the Southern Ocean to South Georgia, plus the 36-hour climb right across the island over the snow and ice-covered central mountains.
Believe me, this expedition will be considerably more faithful to the original event than our recent re-enactment of Carl Clancy's 'crossing of Ireland'. Something like 99% against our 5%, or less.
Many attempts have been undertaken in the past, but none have succeeded in both the boat voyage and the crossing of the island in one journey.
A replica of the James Caird has been built, named "Alexandra Shackleton" and launched by herself, and is ready to go early next year.
There'll be one acknowledgement to modern ways of doing things. A 'proper' boat will accompany the James Caird replica on its journey.
'Cheating' maybe, but the only way to fund such an undertaking these days is to provide news reports, documentary footage and fly-on-the-wall small talk to a viewing public. The escort vessel will in no way interfere with or aid the passage of the 'Alexandra Shackleton'. But it does have an additional fund-raising feature - bunks for sale to the travelling public.
Well, what to do about that?? It'll be going straight to South Georgia.
A website invited expressions of interest. Then disappeared. Later a new website appeared, with details and prices. Don't remember the prices right now but definitely a king's ransom and a half.
Plus the details. The voyage would be from Punta Arenas to Elephant Island (as near as conditions allow) and onwards to South Georgia shadowing the replica James Caird. Then return to Buenos Aires. A huge circle around the Southern Ocean, on a Tall Ships type sailing boat! (With auxilliary engine).
From the blurb: "Yes, you will be seasick, but don't worry it will subside after a day or so." A day or so!
"If not, there will be qualified medics and a doctor on board." If not!!
There's more. "You will be taken on as a 'ship's hand' and be expected to assist in the sailing of the ship under the crew's roster. Including climbing rigging to set sails for which training will be given before setting sail to Antarctica."
What a way to get to see South Georgia!
I'll be watching this expedition closely. Not only will the voyage of the 'Alexandra Shackleton' be riveting, I'm sure, but also the tales to be told by the 'travelling public' on board the support vessel, the Tall Ship Pelican.
In the meantime, after the Autumn School has finished, I'll be employing my old GPS to steer Mike and me from Athy to Tom Crean's South Pole Inn through the Irish lanes. That'll be quite enough for now.
A few photos from the presentations:
Talk entitled Early Days, Rivalry and Leadership.
Kari Herbert's dad was the renowned polar researcher and explorer Sir Wally Herbert.
She grew up in the frozen far north-west of Greenland with her parents, so has a bit of personal experience of the subject.
Kathleen Scott with son Peter on the left, Emily Shackleton with son Edward on the right
Moving on, a presentation on Antarctic legacies.
About to depart on the 60-mile winter journey. Temperatures down to -56 deg C.
(L - R)Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard on their return, 5 weeks later.
Amazingly, Bowers in the centre looks just like many a biker sat in a cafe after a long-ish ride in the cold. Probably why Scott took him with the party to the South Pole.
Michael Smith talks about the Irishmen in Scott's expeditions.
My arrows show the South Pole (blue), and the destination of the icebreaker in which Mike and I shared a cabin 12 years ago (black, in McMurdo Sound).
Tom Crean, whose pub we'll be visiting (again) in a few days.
It's been rumoured that a notable museum visitor (when this photo was on display) observed, "It would look much nicer if he was scrubbed up."
Tom with his wife Ellen and two of his 3 daughters.
And the last known photo, Tom outside his pub.
A nice anecdote:
Patrick Keohane gained a place on Scott's Terra Nova expedition. His sister sent him a card for St Patrick's day, but he had already left his ship HMS Impulse at Devonport and transferred to Terra Nova.
To cater for this possibility his sister had written "Or elsewhere" at the end of the address. And indeed, the postcard was sent on to Antarctica.
By the time of its arrival Patrick Keohane had departed (in 1913) back to Ireland.
So the card was placed on the mantlepiece in Scott's hut at Cape Evans.
There it rested until an Australian expedition came calling in 1963, and arranged its safe passage to a suitable museum.
Patrick Keohane was one of the party that found Scott's tent, on 12th November 1912 (one hundred years ago on Monday week), with the frozen bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers
The Shackleton Autumn School is held in the Athy Heritage Centre right in the middle of the main square. It attracts an esoteric bunch of enthusiasts and scholars from all over the world. From the US, to Scandinavia, to Japan.
I think the main reason for the choice of the Heritage Centre as the venue is the handy location of a premises, immediately across the road, that serves as Mission Control (all expeditions need one of those), a conference room, refreshment room and grocery.
Inside, I make a new polar discovery. Tea is available in O'Brien's Bar!
Frank O'Brien, the 90-year-old owner of O'Brien's grocery and bar, holds an audience in the Conference Room while he recites The Navigators.
A poem dedicated to Shackleton and the Irish members of his crews, written by a resident of Narraghmore parish.
Aileen, who is off on a voyage to the Antarctic Peninsular in February next year,
persuades Mike to sign a copy of his book, The S.S. Terra Nova.
Escaping the blizzard and Mission Control we ski past the expedition tent, and the stores still lashed to the sledge
and record our arrival at the nearby River Barrow with a photo opportunity.
Some photos from the museum inside the Heritage Centre.
A model of Shackleton's ship, The Endurance.
A selection of Ponting's photos from Scott's Terra Nova expedition.
(A bit like my front room)
Outside once again, there's entertainment in the cloisters of a fine old Athy building.
Now, after a most excellent weekend, Mike and I are ready to set sail for The South Pole.
Shackleton's (1913?) newspaper advert, calling for expedition crew, stated "Safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success."
We hope for the latter.
In the meantime, the website linked above offers US$100 to the first person to find the original copy of this advert. That task is even more difficult, I think, than finding South Georgia in an open sailing boat.
One hundred years ago this week, an Irish American, Carl Stearns Clancy, set off from Philadelphia with his riding companion Walter Storey, on a pair of 4-cylinder Henderson motorcycles, with a map that would guide them right round the world.
Clancy's friend pulled out in Paris, but Clancy himself completed the journey and is now considered to be the first motorcyclist to ever ride around the world.
For the Irish leg, he started in Dublin on 23rd October 1912 and rode to Donegal, and onwards to Belfast the following day. So on 23rd Oct 2012 a bunch of riders started out to retrace his steps.
And a lot of razzmatazz there was.
A 1922 Henderson was brought along to the departure party and was ridden around the car park a few times by Gary Walker, who joined us on the ride to Donegal on an 'ordinary' bike.
The boots that Gary is wearing here are the very same boots that Clancy wore on his trip. They survived through a long series of connections between the Clancy family and friends.
Preparing for the demonstration ride.
Feargal O'Neill, the organiser of this Grand Ride, looks on.
The starter on the left next to Paddy Guerin, owner of the Henderson, who has a steadying hand on Gary's shoulder.
And he's away! The Centenary Ride begins!
(If only Gary would put the book down)
Recent book by Dr. Gregory W Frazier. (Note the boots)
It was a false start. There's tea and biscuits in the showroom first, to take a break from the misty rain.
This 1922 Henderson has a mobile phone fitted.
A rare early version, consisting of a morse key for sending morse code, right on the handlebar.
( . . . - - - . . . for the emergency services)
Called The iMorse (or even ..Morse), it's a dual purpose device. Holding the key down earths all the electrics, the only way to stop the engine.
The 1922 Henderson in full song.
Dancing pushrods and valve springs exposed to the outside world, just behind the exhausts.
Arriving at the lunchtime stop in Enniskillen
And at the overnight stop in Donegal.
Clancy was here. A 100 years ago today.
From Donegal, Clancy did a side excursion to the Slieve League Cliffs.
So we did as well.
It looked like there may be a strange sunset.
But first a look at the Giant's Desk and Chair.
Round to the left, the moon put in an appearance.
Remaining pink sky to the right.
The Wednesday morning departure from Donegal - there's talk of how to load the beer kegs onto the bikes.
Seen on the Donegal to Derry road. Letterkenny, twinned with Khomas Conservancy.
On the way to the Giant's Causeway. Looking back to Portrush from Magheracross.
And onwards to the Causeway in the far distance.
Arrival at the Giant's Causeway Hotel for lunch. The group had grown to well over 30 bikes.
Quick briefing for the final run into Belfast.
Clancy headed to Belfast Docks for a ship to Glasgow. But no one knows which docks.
So we headed to tea and sandwiches at Adelaide Insurance Services instead.
A grand ending to a grand ride.
According to what I heard in the marquee, quite a few riders here have already put the next Clancy Centenary Ride in their diaries.
Many Thanks to Feargal for setting it all up. It was a great centenary event.
Next up: head down to Athy for the 2012 Shackleton Autumn School.
My visit to Ireland is a four-handed affair.
The first was the family history bit in County Mayo, over the past few days.
Much work on this has already been done over many years by relatives, which led me to the Culnacleha Crossroads.
This is where, in 1841, my bit of the Cunnane family lived. Later, at the time of the potato famine, one of the sons emigrated to Liverpool and moved to Derby where he married. The couple were my Great Grandparents.
A distant cousin visited this place about 30 years ago and found only ruined cottages with no roofs. Now, the ruined cottages must all have been renovated to smart houses during the Irish boom years of the 1990s.
There's no church nor graveyard in Culnacleha, so no tangible place to start research. But in Tulrohaun, the next hamlet, there's a Post Office and a cemetary. The cemetary holds four Cunnane headstones covering the years 1912 to 2009, but nothing as far back as 1841.
A local farmer asked me what name I was looking for.
"Cunnane." I said, as it's spelt and as we always say it in South London.
"Arrh, C'nyon!" he said.
The first item of research - how to pronounce it!
"There're no C'nyons in Culnacleha, don't know if ever there were in the 1800s. There's two C'nyon houses in Carrowmore West about two miles along the road. The rest are up in Bricken."
Well, it's Cunnanes of the early 1800s I'm looking for rather than modern-day C'nyons, but everything's useful and lots more interesting info was to come my way.
I felt a pull to The Post Office (started work there nearly 50 years ago) so set off to find the Tulrohaun Post Mistress.
Despite the hamlet comprising only four houses and the graveyard, it took a bit of searching, as the Post Office is just one room at the far end of one of the houses, the end away from the road.
Well, the Post Mistress is about 70 and had a complete record of all headstones in the cemetary, with photos, in her sideboard. And confirmed what the farmer had told me earlier.
"Also," she said. "Try the priest at Bekan. All the others around here are too young to know much. He'll be sure to be able to help. All the records are there."
The next stop for now was Logboy Church in another hamlet adjacent to Culnacleha. No cemetary and hardly a house that I could see. Inside was one pew dedicated to the family of Martin Cunnane of Carrownedan, a hamlet in the wrong direction from Culnacleha.
Then on to Bricken church. By now I had found that all these hamlets have three or more spellings. Many of them have similar names, so it gets a bit tricky. Bricken can be Brickeen, or Brickin.
Anyway, no Cunnanes there, nor in the tiny graveyard. But there were a few huge headstones in a tinier enclosed area, for the Crean family, from the 1870s to the 1950s. That's OK, I'll be visiting Tom Crean's South Pole Inn down in the South, a week and a half later, with Mike.
But in the Church I bumped into an elderly local.
"Come outside," he said. "I'll show you a Cunnane house just across the field. But it's empty now, has been for many years."
He then reeled off a list of names of the folks who lived there. All now in the Tulrohaun cemetary if I heard him correctly.
The empty house in Bricken.
Next was Bekan church and its cemetary. This is quite a way from Culnacleha, but the records (such as they turned out to be) are here. Lots of Cunnanes as well, from 1918 to 2010. And a memorial pew in the church to Mrs John Cunnane of Treenreevagh, a hamlet way over the wrong side from Culnacleha.
A few days earlier I had looked on the internet at the guides to the records in the National Library of Ireland, and the National Archives.
Both announced that in the Parish of Annagh, which is where all this research is taking place, (and includes the shrine at Knock), the only old records surviving are baptisms from 1875 to 1880.
Not much, as later confirmed by the priest at Bekan.
"I don't know of any Cunnanes ever researching their history. Hardly any old records exist around here," he told me.
On first arriving in Mayo I visited the library at Claremorris, the main town in this area. The librarian had some useful books, one of which explained that Mayo was a particularly poor county (and Annagh one of the poorest parishes I think).
If a parish couldn't afford people who had the skills to write, then no records were kept.
"When someone died, the villagers would just take him into a field and look after him in the simplest way. No record would be made," I read.
Taking photos at Culnacleha Cross Roads I met another local couple. They confirmed that there were no Cunnanes in Culnacleha, and that two houses along the road in Carrowmore West were in the Cunnane family, but that one had been empty for quite a while.
I suppose one of my most notable discoveries has been the pronunciation of the family name.
A parishioner in the church in Bekan, and cemetary workers I met there, both said, "C'nyarn is the fancy way of saying it, if you're clergy or someone. Otherwise it's C'nyon."
Another discovery was in Bekan church. As well as the pew dedicated to John Cunnane's wife, about a third of all the pews there carry this label:
And a bit of further research revealed that in Knock Folk Museum is a document showing the indenture of one William Cunnane, son of John Mark Cunnane, as apprentice carpenter to James Sloyan, Carpenter, of Knock. Dated 23rd September 1895.
By then, his cousin who had emigrated to Liverpool about thirty years earlier was bringing up a few children in Derby, one of whom was Peter, my Grandad, born 1879.
All this rather brings me to the conclusion that the Culnacleha arm of the family may well have been somewhat isolated from all the other Cunnanes, for some reason or other. Geographically, the majority of them lived around Bekan with quite a few to the south around Bricken and others just to the northwest in Knock. Culnacleha is out of that area, to the southeast up against the boundary with Roscommon.
Maybe that's what led at least one of them to emigrate to England.
Moving on, I'd set aside a day to visit the National Library of Ireland and the National Records next to Trinity College in Dublin. Which I did earlier today.
One of the books I'd browsed in Claremorris library warned about the practicality of this: "You're quite likely to be spinning through miles of microfilm stuffed full of names, examining the names starting with A and then B and C, suddenly finding you've arrived at the Ts with no awareness at all of having read the Ds, Es, F,G,H.... Winding all the way back will be needed and trying to stay awake for 20 minutes at the second attempt!"
Yes, it's almost like that. The helpful librarian, agreeing that no births, deaths or marriage records exist for the period I'm looking at, suggested a few ancient survey publications:
"The Tithe Applotment Book of the Irish Church Temporalities Commission. Diocese of Tuam, Parish of Annagh, January 1835."
So I toddled off to the grand reading room here:
Only matched by the fat armchairs and tables in the grand gents toilet.
Which one to fall asleep in?
With the microfilm loaded, a spin of the viewer revealed page upon page of spidery, faded and creased handwriting, hardly legible, and not in any order.
So just for posterity I copied a couple of pages on which something resembling the word 'Culnacleha' appeared in the left hand column.
What do you think?
The other columns are for the name of the landholder followed by acreages held, quality, rents paid etc, repeated twice for 'Titheable' and 'Untitheable'.
There was a little entertainment to be had in deciphering the entries under 'Quality'.
I could make out Arable, Bog, Rock & Bog, Stoney, Bottom Pasture, Inferior. Others were so technical I couldn't make them out at all.
I tried one more of the librarian's suggestions. A learned journal entitled 'Persons Who Have Suffered Losses in Their Property in the 1798 Rebellion'.
Another few miles of microfilm.
(By the way, I discovered from an old map that there are Irish miles and English miles, or Miliarium Hibernicorum and Anglicorum)
I found the records for the County of Mayo in the last Miliarium Hibernicorum of the film. There were no Cunnanes among the persons suffering losses.
So that's about the end of that - for now...
Next up: a visit to Dublin's BMW dealer for the Clancy Centenary Ride to Belfast via Donegal.
When the Student is ready, the Teacher will appear.
One of the most fundamental proverbs of human existence.
I first saw this in a book by the 'notorious' Indian guru, Osho. (Notorious because he died rich and famous, having gained a place in the Guinness Book of Records for owning the greatest number of Rolls Royce cars of anyone living).
Well, never mind, because in the ten years or so since I discovered this quotation, I've found it to be the truest of them all.
Drifting into an art class at the time that I did, and having work hung in an exhibition a year later (as in my previous post) is one of the most graphic (or artistic) examples of its accuracy.
Another instance was a few years before I had ever seen this quote.
Early in 1999 the chairman of the 'Friends of the SPRI' (a happy band of supporters with an enduring interest in the Polar Museum and its well-being) negotiated a substantial discount for a group voyage to Antarctica for the following January 2000, on a Russian icebreaker chartered by the tourist industry.
Over many years preceeding, I'd done a lot of homework on visiting Antarctica, including following the news of the first tourist voyage of the Lindblad Explorer. (Which spectacularly sank off the coast of Antarctica in 2007 after hitting an iceberg).
I had made serious enquiries off and on about tickets, but it never seemed to be 'the right time'.
Well, January 2000 was exactly 'the right time' and a nice discount dropped right into my lap, courtesy of the negotiating skills of the 'Friends' chairman.
- When the student is ready, the teacher will appear! - QED.
I'm still in touch with my cabin-mate from that voyage, and we had a beer together after the Captain Scott centenary memorial service in St Paul's earlier this year.
"What do you think about going back?" he asked.
Well! What can you say to that?
"It's the centenary year," he continued. "I've heard there are special events being arranged. We could go back to one or two places we've visited before. What do you think?"
I thought, people say it’s not good to go back to such places, as they are never as you remember them and the disappointment can be considerable.
But I’ll take the risk.
We decided that's an excellent idea, so off we go!
Mike has found that the 2012 Shackleton Autumn School will be running a special programme of events, in Athy, Ireland. That's not far from the South Pole Inn where we'll make a return visit afterwards.
In the meantime, Mike, author of The S.S. Terra Nova, (the complete history of the expedition ship that Scott took on that fateful journey), is an accomplished traveller and researcher, and has produced a whimsically formal itinerary for us to keep track of our great adventure.
A few days before picking up Mike at Dublin Airport I'll be joining in with the Clancy Centenary Ride from Dublin to Belfast. Should be a good outing, not as cold as Antarctica.
During the few days before that, I'm spending time in County Mayo, continuing the extensive research that my aunt and a great uncle have done into our family history in the parish of Annagh. Between them they have reached as far back as 1841, with a record showing births as far back as 1801. I'm aiming to find the place where they lived in 1841 and trace the records back further if possible.
And, taking a moment to travel rapidly forwards in time for news of descendants, my two grandchildren and their Mum have launched themselves onto the pages of the Sunday newspaper. Click here for the full story!
The evening before I fly to Ireland, there's a preview for Robert Falcon Scott: A Century On, the final Centenary exhibition at the Polar Museum. So mustn't miss that.
Will post a log of all findings on my return.
Lastly, yesterday was almost dry, so I set off on two feet to Fickleshole. And it looked wintry on the way.
It was indoor weather, and this seat was free. That'll do nicely.
On the return trek, the skies darkened making the Warlingham Park clock tower a touch more imposing against the ominous clouds.
Five past four already - must be a slow outing today.
Then the skies brighten up nicely.
Allowing the sun to sparkle on the wet ploughed furrows while the rain fell like stair rods.
Back in the 1960s, having left school and started out in the world, one of the first discoveries that I made was about Art, and going to college for it.
I went to a modern College of Art and Technology in East London. These were fashionable in those days and could eventually lead to a degree in Engineering or Art, if you'd otherwise opted out of 'A' levels as I had. The 'art' at these colleges was slanted very much towards the commercial end of the subject, art for design, advertising, theatre and so on.
Straightaway the daily routine at college made me question the decision I'd made to embark on engineering as a career. The timetable went something like this:
8:40 - arrive at college, for lessons to start at 8:45 sharp. College pretty empty at that time.
10:30 - nip down to the canteen for 10-min tea break. Canteen jam-packed with art students.
10:40 - back to class. Art students still nattering away in their tea break.
12:15 - zip down to the canteen for 45-min lunch break. Canteen jam-packed with art students.
1:00pm - back to class. Art students still nattering away in their lunch break.
Afternoon tea break - same as the morning.
5:15pm - slide down the banisters (part of mechanics homework). Dash out the exit to parked motorbike with a mountain of incomprehensible homework. College all deserted.
The art students clearly had about five hours of lessons a day, compared to our solid eight hours of lectures on the wonders of imaginary and irrational numbers and the laws of Kirchhoff, Fourier and Laplace. And we were learning the laws of riding motorbikes on the road as well. Some serious thought was needed about a more rational future.
But I never liked art much at school and was glad to reach the year when it didn't feature in the timetable any more. So I avoided it ever since.
Until last year - and a diagnosis.
The cancer unit at Guildford hospital has a wonderful support facility calledThe Fountain Centre, offering all sorts of therapies and classes and other help for patients. So I thought I'd have a dabble with the Art Therapy class.
Maybe it would be fewer hours per day than keeping motorbikes on the road.
What a revelation!
The class is so brilliantly arranged and taught, I now find myself being hung in an art exhibition. Who'd have thought it!?
The exhibition was all the work of our dedicated teacher, Fi Channon, who persuaded a friend to frame our pictures for free, (page 2-3, headed "Art therapy") and also persuaded the actor James Cosmo (Trainspotting, Narnia, Game of Thrones and more) to open it.
Which he did, yesterday. Making it a most wonderful and uplifting day.
It's a small class, only three of us (two patients and a carer), and this is the exhibition of our work. Displayed around the walls of the chemotherapy department of St Lukes cancer centre. We hope it'll persuade more patients to join the class.
My daughter Caroline, on a visit from her new home in Rwanda, studies the pieces.
Teacher Fi shows actor James Cosmo around our exhibition.
One of McCrankpin's weirder works ('the ghost') is amongst those receiving critical appraisal.
And another ('the two feathers')
Across the corridor in the Fountain Centre's art room, Caroline tries out some painting techniques. James Cosmo gets ambushed for an autograph or three by one of Fi's students, Carolyn. Margaret, right, looks on.
The BIG Finale -
The OSCARS meet The TURNER PRIZE in Fi's Art Therapy Class of 2012.
To illustrate the idea behind these classes a little more, this next piece of mine didn't qualify for the exhibition.
Fi teaches a technique to help clear your mind of any and all thoughts of what you're going to paint, and how and even why? With an empty and vacant mind, you put paint to paper and see where it goes entirely of its own volition.
Which didn't quite happen with this -
"You definitely put thought into that picture," said Fi.
I think it started off OK, all abstract with no idea of a destination. But it was during the big build-up to the London Olympics.
So couldn't help it really....
Nor this. The Zundapp Bella scooter and GPO van that I passed my driving tests on, parked outside the Olympic Stadium.
- to the past week.
It's not far from Manchester to a huge jolly tourist attraction in the Pennines.
Just across the border in West Yorkshire.
No passport or photo ID required.
So I'm now in a bustling real-life filmset full of eager visitors.
Brought about by a simple little TV programme that just happened to wander along aimlessly, ambling around for nearly forty years, with an anarchic cast of bus pass holders who knew how to live life properly!
And for good measure I journeyed here on my own bus pass. So there!
Some photos -
Looking for Compo - Nora's front door is just above the visitors' heads.
All right in front of the river, handy for falling into.
Roughly Compo's route from home to Sid's Cafe.
Sid's (latterly Ivy's).
The town of Holmfirth is a quaint tightly-woven bundle of narrow, steep and winding stairs, paths and cobbled lanes.
All the scenes below are squeezed in just above Sid's Cafe.
Must have been good fun with a TV crew rampaging all through it day after day.
But of course, this is a motorcycle (& bicycle) web site, so I'd better pay some attention to that.
I found Wally Batty pulling up to his local club.
Parking next to another Holmfirth bike.
. . . . Oops - wrong! That must have been Nelly going to collect Pearl.
Wally rides a Ducati now, somewhere up in the sky. But pops back now and again for tea at Sid's.
I snapped him parking right across the road, just before the 3:40 bus to Huddersfield arrived to take me back.
There's nothing quite like mixing your antidotes. Back in Manchester I found a neat little cafe in the Buddhist centre.
Well, the Buddha is Laughing merrily as he minds the industrial steam pressure, so I'll click the 'send' button while I'm logged into his wifi.
The final part of the test was to park the 40-tonner as close to the pedestrian as possible without touching him. Or without him even realising I was there in the huge articulated lorry.
This test checks that you're able to use the front-view mirror to see if anyone is loitering on the crossing in the blind-spot right in front of the bumper, and to manouvre right up close. Without this mirror the pedestrian is completely hidden from the driver's view - that is - my view. So I have to show I can use it properly and keep out-of-sight pedestrians safe.
Having passed that with flying colours,
it was time to get comfortable in the driver's air-seat for the 200-mile run to Glasgow, hauling 38 tons of Yamaha motorcycles.
"Are we nearly there yet?"
What all this has to do with the Labour Party Conference, I don't know, but the truck was on the concourse ready to go and they wanted someone in the driver's seat.
There was also a letter to be posted.
This Horizons Unlimited website is owned and run by a Canadian couple, Grant and Susan Johnson. They rode around the world in the 1980s and 90s, put their story on the internet, and it became the HU website that you see today.
Well, a few months after I received my diagnosis of prostate cancer last year, Grant received his. He and Susan have posted elsewhere on this website news of their progress since that moment. And we've exchanged a few messages of support for which I'm very grateful.
A month or so ago Grant announced that the chosen charity of the Horizons Unlimited website will be Prostate Cancer UK. (From which I've received lots of useful info).
And, the British Post Office has since announced the same.
So here's an Olympic Gold letterbox that appeared just as I needed it.
I don't know what this has to do with the conference either, but I think I was posting one of the many protest postcards demanding the re-nationalisation of the railways.
So now I'll have to find a train to drive as well.
But I can't do that just yet, as this got in the way.
I've always been puzzled by the number of travellers who post photos of plates of food in their writings about their journeys. I suppose they can be interesting sometimes, so I'm posting a photo or two of bottles of free beer from this past week.
The photo above is of a small corner of a free bar dispensing various European beers. And a very civilised queue to reach it. Drinking the beer was supposed to help the situation with the Euro currency, so said a Member of the European Parliament at this jolly symposium about the good, the bad and the ugly of the E.U.
So I can't drive a train just yet.
Specially as the very next evening, would you believe it, another free bar popped up, well stocked with the most wonderful Palestinian beer.
A plentiful supply of Taybeh Beer.
A special treat indeed as this is hardly ever obtainable outside of Palestine. It's brewed by a microbrewery in a Christian community in Taybeh north of Jerusalem.
Train driving will have to wait a little longer.
When it came to the food, I didn't reach the elaborate trays of Baklava fast enough. The one or two lonely pieces remaining wouldn't have made any sort of photo.
Stepping back a week, just before heading off on this trip to Manchester, I made another outing on foot to the White Bear in Fickleshole.
And I found that the Mystery Crop Squares of a few days earlier had mysteriously transformed into Mystery Crop Circles.
Either that, or an 18-wheel articulated lorry was about to arrive to have its tyres changed.
And it wasn't the one that I passed my test with.
Politics - you can't always believe it.....
Yes, there's been a bit of spin here.
There wasn't really 38 tons of Yamahas on the road to Glasgow. That would probably have been too many for the local showrooms to fit in.
The main activities at this sort of event, outside of the conference, are the scores of 'fringe' meetings and seminars taking place every day from early morning to late evening. Organised and funded by lobby groups, unions, interest groups and so on. The Times newspaper arranged a debate about cycle safety where everyone could have their say. They brought in MPs and groups like the RAC, SusTrans, and cycling associations. And, because stats seem to show that a growing proportion of bicycle accidents involve heavy goods vehicles, a haulage association was invited as well. They arranged for an articulated lorry to be parked at the conference centre.
Cyclists and anyone else interested could have a look at the technology being fitted, aimed at making bike-riders a bit safer when they pedal closer to these behemoths than is really sensible.
The idea was to sit in the driver's seat and see it demonstrated that about 10 bicycles could easily congregate around the area of the front nearside wheel and passenger's door and be completely invisible to the driver. It's quite a lesson.
Any motorbikes amongst them are OK I suppose, they can immediately zip forward into open spaces ahead and get out of the way. But not cyclists.
So they demonstrated the various devices like tracking nearside mirrors (that swivel as the trailer behind moves out of line with the driver's cab) and sensors that buzz when something is close to the nearside.
It was also surprising to see (or not see actually) that when stopped at a zebra crossing, a lot of the people on the crossing are competely out of the driver's view.
But by 'eck - are these cabs luxurious, or what?
And the plentiful supply of free beer was definitely not spin - but might have been later on.
Specially the morning after.
When the guy on the stage asked for some serious comments,
Spinning umbrellas sprung up around the auditorium - and there were no leaks in the roof....
Oh well. Out on the streets of Manchester, if you look around enough while leaving the big truck at home (does Chris Eubank still drive his one down to Brighton's Sainsburys?) you encounter things not found elsewhere. Cue more table-top photos of drinks.
I happened across this place, where you can order a pot of Darjeeling leaf tea, complete with that rare item these days, a tea strainer, and even rarer, a 4-minute timer to ensure a perfect brew.
Funnily enough it's called Teacup.
Years ago I worked a few times in Manchester and learned my way around it a bit. But the last time I was here was a few weeks before the central Arndale area was blown to pieces by a bomb. Now, it's all different, and I can't find my way anywhere through the maze of new tram lines.
So fate must have taken me to Teacup....
It's a well-established bit of advice. The best exercise to minimise any after-effects of prostate treatment - radiotherapy or surgery - is walking.
So I do quite a bit now.
Which takes up a lot of time, so other things have to take second place.
A while ago I happened upon a map of local footpaths and bridleways and made an interesting discovery.
I can walk all the way from home to one of the best pubs around almost entirely on footpaths, and almost in a straight line. Making it a much shorter distance than going by road.
And only about 200 yards of tarmac in four and a half miles, plus half a mile through Whyteleafe to reach the start.
That's a ten mile round trip. Which with lunch takes up most of the day.
Other things have to take second place....
I made this discovery sometime in the spring and have had quite a few good lunches since.
Including yesterday, when I took my camera. So here's a 'journey in pictures'.
Down the hill into Whyteleafe.
Here we see the effect of this route being a 'straight line' to the pub. As there are lots of valleys hereabouts, the straight line makes it pretty steep. The next few bits of path take us right to the top of the scenery in this photo. The top of the trees to the right.
The path on the right is a steep staircase with huge steps which lead to the top of the 'Dobbin', and then:
To the start of the next part of the climb,
opening out here. This is roughly at the top of the tree-line in pic.1
And I realise the bag of carrots is still in the fridge. Well, I'm not going back....
Well out of Whyteleafe now, a bit of tarmac leads to the sports field and the path carries on beyond.
This tunnel of trees continues the 'dead straight' theme.
Followed by the next valley to cross.
A straight path straight down.
Another straight up, with Mystery Crop Squares along the way.
And a bit of tarmac to cross.
The traffic here is pretty sedate these days. It wasn't always thus. In the 80s my XBR Honda would get close to a hundred along here (I wasn't the only one) and a steady reduction in the speed limit to the present 40mph has seen the end of those days.
One of thousands of casualties of the Great Hurricane of 1987, left to decay where it fell.
The path long since diverted around it, and out between the trees on the left, to:
A farmer hereabouts likes to do the Wembley Stadium thing on his crop fields.
Or perhaps he's Irish. From the air this field looks like an Irish Harp, and these are the strings.
Beyond the far side of the harp field there's a hellishly complicated crossroads.
The Spaghetti Junction of footpaths. With arms missing from the sign, to boot.
I remember now - keep going in a straight line.
It's the one through the wooden barrier, right of picture.
The narrow onward path between dense woods and a fence skirts round a Victorian psychiatric hospital. Now transformed into a smart estate, with some old buildings preserved, including the clock tower.
Quarter to twelve and all's well.
The woods open up a bit from being impenetrably dense.
And we find the only off-road vehicle (or on-road for that matter) to be seen on this trip.
Been here since the last century I think. (That sounds a long time ago!) What's more, this little wood is known as The Gripes - where Gripe Water comes from....
The final valley to cross, and almost the steepest.
Looking up the path coming down.
And the start of the climb up the other side.
Almost 5 miles and the pub's up there somewhere....
Very appropriately, this is called High Hill Road. A long time since it's been a road, but it's still definitely a high hill.
Beyond the warning signs.....
Beyond the sign for the sixteenth century hamlet of Fickleshole....
(Two farms, one pub, horse population about the same as human population)
A few events over the past few weeks. Starting with a brilliant Horizons Unlimited get-together in Hampshire.
Small and perfectly formed, about eighteen of us there.
Wide open spaces. Some sun at last.
We were at a Hampshire golf club, but well away from the fairways and greens.
Steve arranged a green-lane ride out for the Saturday morning. Not a high demand for that, just Steve and me.
At the tea stop, a few road bikes stopped by as well.
A moment for a breather, a photo, and to check out the next bit.
Taking on water.
On the Saturday evening we took over the 19th Hole where the catering team laid on a magnificent curry.
Followed by two presentations by HU travellers.
The first was by Tim Cullis, the world's expert on travelling in Morocco on 2 wheels.
There's hardly anywhere in the country he's not been and he gave us a good look at it all.
I had a camera problem at this point - it developed a leak.
Letters were falling out of the pictures. Probably you can see.
Anyway, the sun shone even more strongly the next morning, for our journey home.
This balloon passed gently by but wasn't giving any lifts.
I found the missing letters from Belle and Nadine's opening slide!
Moving on, a couple of postings back I gave a prediction about the weather and getting my Aprilia MOT'ed.
Well, about a month ago, there was a dry day. A good while after Wimbledon, as predicted. So I set off for the MOT shop.
The tank was near empty after the bike's three-year lay-up, so I stopped to fill up.
Returning from the cash desk I spied my brand new petrol pouring straight back out of the tank and onto the hot exhaust pipe. Where half of it turned into a huge cloud of vapour and the rest formed a lake on the forecourt.
That was a bit surprising. Thoughts of an MOT suddenly disappeared, and a call to the breakdown people was the only thing I could think of.
A brilliant mechanic arrived and together we determined that inside the Aprilia petrol tank are two flexible tubes, one providing the air vent to the tank, the other the overflow from the filler cap area.
And the air vent pipe had broken inside the tank, allowing the fuel to drain straight out. Probably a side-effect of it lying idle for three years.
Luckily, the breakdown man was able to set up a temporary fix so I could continue to the test centre where, after all the drama, it passed.
So we're back on the road at last.
With a permanent repair done, I set off on the Aprilia to the estuary of the River Blackwater in Essex for a Pre-65 motocross meeting. Where my friend Geoff was racing.
Just beyond my bike, Geoff starts up his BSA scrambler for the next race.
And gets into the action. (No. 444)
And away round the course.
Lunch break. Geoff snaps the evidence that I can still reach handlebars and footrests at the same time.
The track gets pretty crowded in the afternoon races.
The following weekend the weather continued to hold for another HU camping weekend, in the Mendip Hills this time.
Early-ish Friday afternoon and the signing on area is filling nicely.
The Saturday ride-out was a bit crowded compared to Hampshire two weeks earlier - 14 of us.
Filling up before the off.
There was lots of hilly scenery in the Mendips
The steeper hills gave us a chance of a break as we re-grouped.
Here, an amazing 1950s Harley Davidson, no rear suspension, no mudguards and with road tyres, reaches the summit.
The lane was narrow as well. Lots of bikes came up with bits of hedge wrapped around handlebars.
The last lane was the steepest of the lot.
And all lumpy limestone - wet and slippery.
And narrow too. As soon as someone got into difficulties, the following riders found their way blocked until he was helped on his way. Except, that is, a couple of real experts who seemed to be able to ride right up the embankments, wall-of-death style, defying gravity, to skirt round the stuck rider.
It took a while for riders to gather at the top. Steve here arriving after helping those stuck further down.
Nearly all safely gathered in.
Sunday morning was rainy, misty and damp. A dull scene of packing up for home.
I'm using a new camera now, my last one suddenly stopped working a few months ago.
And having found those letters missing from the photo of the Hampshire weekend presentation, I thought I'd have a close look at that old broken camera.
Its the one I used all the way through Africa.
Well, once again I found some strange things.
Back in the postings about my time in Namibia are these two photos:
I wrote in those postings, maybe there's a letter or two missing.
And there they were, when I looked inside that old camera!
Who'd have thought it!
Yesterday was the Transit of Venus, earlier today was the Transit of East Surrey.
The Transit of East Surrey occurs every six months.
The Transit of Venus occurs every 110 years or so. In pairs, about 8 years apart.
It's when the planet Venus passes directly between the Earth and the sun, making it visible as a silhouette against the face of the sun.
To see one is quite something. You have to be born at the right time, give or take about 70 years. Neither of my parents lived at the time of a Transit, and my Grandchildren will never see one. With any luck my greatgrandchildren will be alive at the time of the next pair of Transits, but not necessarily.
So I made sure to see the previous one, in June 2004, which was easy as it was readily visible in Europe.
I was at the 60th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy and set up a simple white card and telescope clipped to my Honda Dominator to display the sun's image.
There's a tiny dark dot near the top edge of the sun's disc, which is the silhouette of the planet Venus passing between the Earth and the sun.
That Transit was quite satisfying to witness, seeing as they happen so infrequently.
Consequently, the past week has focussed attention on the possibility of seeing two of them in one lifetime.
But the timing of yesterday's Transit was a little less sociable than 8 years ago.
It would be in progress right at sunrise, at a quarter to five. Demanding clear skies on the north-eastern horizon first thing in the morning.
So the evening before yesterday I followed the weather forecast closely. And it looked pretty hopeless.
Never mind, everything is possible. The Transit commenced late that same evening, visible in other parts of the word, enabling me to watch live feeds on the internet from observatories in the southern US and Hawaii. And pretty good pictures they were:
Internet feed from Mauna Loa, Hawaii, early on in the Transit. Venus is travelling from left to right. Telescope fitted with red sun-filter. 11:50pm London time.
Wider view from Mauna Loa with blue filter, at 00:47 Wednesday morning. Venus is above a large area of surface activity.
Magnificent close-up at the same time, showing lots of activity on the sun's surface. Live internet feed from Prescott Observatory, Arizona, via the SLOOH Space Camera service.
A while after the above observations, the sun set over the US, and then Hawaii.
But by now, the sunrise at Kenley Airfield, up above Whyteleafe, was approaching.
I checked the weather outside. Well, it looked like it was clearing - maybe......
So I collected together tripod, binoculars, white card, sun-viewing glass filter and camera and set off up to the airfield a few minutes away.
A father and son were already there, looking at the moon through a large telescope. The sky was nice and clear in the west, but stuffed full of dark cloud on the eastern horizon.
A few more small groups arrived while the dense clouds to the east swirled around in the wind, growing a little brighter.
And amazingly, (well, we were amazed), after a little more waiting, the clouds parted enough for clear views of the sun for the final 20 minutes of the Transit.
We were able to watch the tiny dark silhouette of Venus reach the edge of the face of the sun, and then disappear from view on its continuing orbit around it.
On returning home, the final few minutes of the Transit were still being observed in Japan, live on the internet:
From Kobe, Japan, via SLOOH again. About 10 minutes to the finish. Half an hour after the end of the Transit at Kenley.
A pretty lucky thing, to see two Transits in a lifetime! And with the help of the internet, at different places around the Earth.
That was yesterday. Today was the Transit of East Surrey to reach the hospital of the same name. For a consultation and to pick up the results of last week's 6-monthly test.
Transiting East Surrey earlier today - there's lots of horse life here. More than on Venus I think.
Well, the results were ready, and show that the ongoing treatment is still keeping everything clear. Resulting in the next tests being booked in another 6 month's time.
Venus's next transit is in 2117.
There's also the last day in the present Mayan calendar to look forward to, 21st December 2012 if you're interested.
The Thundersprint and Loch Ness - A ride in the freezer.
Have been on a journey to the Arctic Circle. It had been temporarily moved right down to Stoke-on-Trent, and my first destination was Northwich. Which is sufficiently further north to almost qualify as the North Pole. I took clothes for May.....
I had always fancied visiting the annual Thundersprint. And as it was on the way to a Horizons Unlimited camping weekend on Loch Ness the following weekend, then this was the year to do it.
I was surprised at the amount of interest the bike attracted, which made for a nice day.
I laid out a map with the bike show entry page, plus some photos, next to the front wheel.
The sun shone, but it stayed resolutely cold. I wondered about Loch Ness.
Sunday was the Sprint day. Sun still shining, cold colder.
The pedestrian town centre of Northwich became reminiscent, on a small scale, of the Isle of Man TT.
Bikes wedged in everywhere, a good many boxed in for the duration.
I wondered about Loch Ness again, but set off north the next day.
Under black clouds well past the North Pole, somewhere around Carlisle, the wind roared right in my face. Climbing up a motorway hill I was slowed right down to 4th gear and I wondered about Loch Ness yet again.
The next exit, I decided, would be enough. I'd do a U-turn, head south, be home and warm by the following day.
Well, it was one of those interminably long bits of motorway, no exit until the next country. It was enough time and distance for the wind to drop and the sun to shine for a while, lifting spirits. Which brought me, a few days later and after my arrival at the Loch Ness campsite, to:
The top of the Bealach na Ba pass (Pass of the Cattle), up above Applecross and overlooking the Isle of Skye.
But it was still COLD. Enough snow to put your front wheel on.
HM The Bike seemed to be drawn to the snow.
This was the Saturday ride-out from the campsite at Loch Ness, arranged by local members of Horizons Unlimited.
And then we were at the water's edge. Isles of Raasay and Skye beyond.
It might have been cold (it was!) but at least all the views were clear, everywhere.
The next day it was south, at last. Just as far as Dundee for a long-awaited visit to Ian, one of the friends that Caroline and I went to Ukraine and Russia with in 1996.
Excuse for a Ukraine photo.
Lost in Kiev. Ian of Dundee looks at the camera while fellow rider, also Ian, tries to get directions from locals. Caroline remains sitting on the pillion of our Ducati, observing the goings-on. Ian's and Ian's bikes were both Harleys.
A few minutes later a police car turned up (they always do), looked at the address that we had on paper written in Cyrillic, and escorted us right through the city to the front door.
Back to my Scottish trip, it was a little warmer in Dundee. After a great visit and a substantial Scottish breakfast prepared by Ian, things very slowly thawed on the journey southwards to home. Thanks Ian!
During those 2 weeks Scotland had its coldest May day ever. And shortly after my arrival home, its warmest May day ever!
Wonderful British weather, as anyone following the Diamond Jubilee will see.
Coming up in the blog:
There's been progress in the garage here. My hooligan rocket-ship racing Aprilia (RSV Mille) is running at last after 3 years of disuse, and should feature in a future posting. Have checked I can still sit on it and reach both handlebars and footrests at the same time.
All set for the annual MOT test. But obviously we need dry weather for that! Hah! It's bucketing down and probably won't stop now til after Wimbledon.
Watch this space.
Now back to Bodmin Moor, and the beasts and ghosts.
A few weeks ago, a few Krazy Bikers assembled in Minions, Cornwall, for a HorizonsUnlimited mini-meeting, and an exploration of the county's finest Green Lanes.
Organised by Rossi, who provided his garden for camping and his lounge for rest and recovery. It was a fantastic weeked of Mud and Mayhem. All thanks to Rossi and Mrs Rossi.
Most of us arrived on trail/overland bikes. But Belle, Gordon and Nadine arrived on Honda C90s, as a trial run before their departure a few days later for The Gambia. They were taking part in this year's 'Scooters in the Sahara' charity run, to deliver simple automatic motorbikes to Gambian health workers.
All details on the blogs above.
Belle, Gordon and Nadine opted out of Saturday's 60-mile ride around the muddy tracks of Bodmin, preferring instead a ride around the coastal towns, mainly on tarmac but testing their tyres on a bit of mud as well. They needed, after all, to preserve their bikes for the trans-Sahara marathon ahead.
So some photos of the ride:
For some (me) it was hellish difficult. For some of the youngsters, it looked dead easy.
Particularly when I was temporarily held up by a rider in front (Mez, I think) who had stalled his engine on a narrow lane that comprised solely of two 10-inch-deep ruts in the mud. I was grateful for the little breather as I watched Mez prod his kick-start a couple of times (no electric start on his bike). But he, and I, quickly realised that the rut was so deep and narrow that his foot just couldn't push the kick-start down anywhere near enough to have any effect. At that instant I thought to myself, "Ahh, bliss.... this could be quite a long rest!"
But no. With the idea of pulling his wheels out of the ruts he got straight off his bike. Which itself was some feat as this tiny narrow lane was squeezed between two 6-foot high vertical mud embankments.
Well, as I was the rider behind I was obliged to get off and help extract his bike. Even if it didn't look possible. Whereupon I made a worrying discovery - I didn't have sufficient energy left to get off my bike in this mess of deep ruts and vertical mud walls.
I had almost reached the situation where the only way to get off my bike was to fall off. And as the mud was pretty wet and soft - well that was OK I suppose.
Anyway, it wasn't needed. Mez dragged his bike up and out of the rut as though it were made of paper, forced it sideways across the lane so the kickstart was high enough to be used, and somehow kicked it enough to restart his engine. Thereupon he spun his rear wheel half a turn, just sufficient to slip it back in line with the front, and nipped off into the distance.
So much for my long rest....
So (at last) some photos of the ride.
One of a few wayside rest-stops.
One of a few river crossings. This one at Lerryn.
Only one lunchstop, with real Cornish Pasties. At The Ship Inn.
The Beast of Bodmin Moor (aka McCrankpin) takes the plunge in another river crossing.
As rare as the Loch Ness Monster: The Ghost of Bodmin Moor. (Rossi, rumour has it)
McCrankpin eyes up the long stretch of rough ground to the next green, and asks his caddy for a No. 1 iron.
Another muddy rest-stop.
A corner on The Abandoned Hill.
There were, if I remember right, two local riders with us, plus Rossi. The conversation at a rest break went something like:
Rossi: What to you think of XXX Hill, should we try it? 1st Local Rider: It's a bit steep and it'll be muddy. We could just go and have a look. 2nd Local Rider: We should at least have a look, you never know....
So off we went to the unknown hill at an unknown location. (Unknown to us visitors that is).
After a while, on a moderate lane, I rounded a bend to find a rocky hill ahead. So I slowed right down to let the rider in front get well away. The usual technique when you don't know what to expect - he might stop very suddenly.....
I got going up the hill and found I was doing "OK" but a sharp right corner appeared. What was round it - who knows?
Well, the hill continued, but it was OK and I was managing a respectable speed. Then the corner in the photo appeared. (We were going the opposite way to the riders in the photo).
It was sharp left. Very sharp. What was round it - who knows?
Well, feeling pretty confident I 'attacked' it, so to speak, just to hear someone shouting something at me as I steered left.
Then immediately I could see what lay beyond - a vertical wall of mud and rocks with at least two bikes halfway up it, stationary and being manoeuvred into mud-and-rock-laden U-turns.
And I could see, straightaway, that if I went an inch further up this wall, there'd be no way at all that I'd be able to complete those sorts of U-turns.
So I stopped. The rider who had shouted at me came over. "I don't think anyone's going to get up there. If I were you I'd turn round right here, there's enough room!"
So I did and hopped of the bike to take this photo of the riders in front returning after their successful U-turns.
But at least we did go and "have a look."
Shortly after our return to Minions, the three C90s arrive after their trip around the coastal towns.
(L to R: Nadine, Belle, Gordon)
Now, they are handing those same bikes over to the staff at Bansang Hospital, The Gambia.
HU Cornwall campsite, sunny Saturday afternoon.
Everyone survived and made it to the other event of the day, evening in The Cheesewring pub.
(Photos 1 to 6 by Steve. The last two by Jack, Steve's son)
There's an old motorbike tradition called the Dragon Rally. Held each year, middle weekend of February, on the slopes of Snowdon in North Wales.
You go with the thickest riding jacket you can find and a cheap sleeping bag - on account of not being able to afford an expensive one back in those days.
1967 that is.
Tent not needed as old military huts were dotted around the site, a disused army depot. But on my first visit friends said to share their tent - it'd keep it warmer inside. Seemed a good idea - the huts had no glass in the windows and no doors in the doorways. But in the middle of the night I awoke outside in the snow. Being on Snowdon the campsite was all on a slope and I'd rolled out of the tent, which was pre-1967 economy style, having no groundsheet nor pegs. The floors inside the old huts were level so I used one of those the following years.
On the Sunday morning rallyists would fry the remaining sausages, pack luggage, mend bikes and say almost in unison, "Next year we'll have to do the Elephant. What d'ya say? Did y'read about last month's one in the Motorcycling Weekly?"
"Sure did," everyone would reply. "Next year, definitely. Always January isn't it?"
"And the snow there's always reliable, not like here."
"Yep, we'll do it next year - will get good tyres for it."
"I'll book the ferry, I can get a discount. How many?"
"All of us of course!"
Each and every year all that enthusiastic talk was repeated but I don't remember if any of us ever set off to find the great legend.
I didn't, and it's taken me forty-five years to do the pilgrimage. You don't even need a ferry ticket now, the Eurotunnel train makes the journey a handy bit quicker.
The Elephant has floated around in my head all those years, the more recent trigger being, I think, "What'll I do now, after Africa?" It's waxed and waned the past year, leading to my ordering a pair of TKC80 'mud and snow' tyres just before Christmas. I fitted the rear when they arrived and the front after I returned from Edinburgh, and thought, "That'll do, just fitting those tyres was enough work in this cold weather - that'll be my 'Elephant' for this year."
Then on Thursday Geoff phoned, one of those fellow Dragon rallyists from years past, asking about my plans. Well, they'd gone, I said. All that tyre-changing work outside in the cold had cured me of the idea.
Except, the next evening, I went and checked the 10-day weather forecast. Wow! Almost solid sunshine!
It's now or never!
So I hurriedly changed the oil, fitted the panniers and checked everything that hadn't already been checked for the previous MOT test. And caught an early-ish train under the Channel on Monday morning.
It was a strange feeling, loading up the bike once more and setting off on the road again.
I lived over a year on this bike and out of this luggage. Why stop?
I found a quarter-inch layer of the Namib Desert covering the air filter when I changed it. Chunks of Tanzanian dirt road fell out of the creases of the panniers - you can tell by the colours.
As I set off round the Caterham bypass and the M25/M20 route: "The last time I came this way I rode into Cape Town thirteen months later. All those towns and villages down the length of Africa."
Strange thoughts and feelings indeed.
Last time I carried tropical kit for the tropics.
This time, twenty layers of clothing for -20degC.
So how did it go?
All shut in - HM The Bike TTR250 on the Royal Train through the Channel Tunnel.
I made Cologne Monday evening, 314 miles, a bit of rain and a short but intense shower of hail. I decided full oversuit would be needed Tuesday.
Which got me a shade past Würzburg after the first snow of the trip. Just a light flurry up on the hills. 218 miles.
This is 'valley' country the manager of the hotel back in Cologne had told me that morning.
"You're going to Nürnberg and beyond?" he queried. "You'll cross all the valleys! You can't do that on a motorbike in January, there'll be snow! You won't get through!"
"I'm going to the Elephant." I replied.
"Ahhh! I've heard of that.... You're crazy. How many thousands will turn up?"
Everyone in Germany has heard of the Elephant at some time in their lives. They started it after all, in 1956.
"Somewhere between five and ten thousand," I replied. "The more snow the more go."
He wished me well as I forced my layers of clothing into submission so I could climb aboard the bike.
And sure enough there were valleys with chocolate-box alpine villages nestling in them, all green pasture and ornate traditional houses with just a sprinkling of glistening snow so far. And magic-kingdom castles suspended on the peaks.
And I made a useful discovery. It became pretty cold after the snow flurry, demanding a stop for hot drinks. I didn't fancy tea and they had no hot chocolate so I tried a cappuccino. Well, what an effect! For almost the next hour on the bike I was as warm as toast. Is it really the cappuccino doing this, I thought? Or is this some supersonic hot flush triggered by the hormone stuff they squirt into me? I didn't remember a single one all through yesterday's ride and there are usually a few per day. Perhaps it's like the buses, none yesterday now half a dozen have arrived together.
Hard frost Wednesday morning and snow all around. Just a sprinkling, so not enough to even be called 'snow' I suppose - not here anyway. But could only manage 60 miles, a lot of it through freezing mist, before having to stop to test out the cappuccino effect.
Four bikes went past in that 60 miles, all German number plates. Two sports types with no luggage near Nürnberg. Must have been commuters. Commuting on 2 wheels in this weather! I'm not so crazy after all.
The second pair were definitely Elephant-bound. You can always tell. They were on a mission.
The cappuccino effect didn't work so well back on the road, only 50 miles to the next stop with temperatures dropping.
It's all these stops that take up the time on this trip, with the fixed routine each time. Remove mits, remove gloves. Take off oversuit, waterproofs, under jacket, over trousers, under trousers, insideout trousers. At last you can reach inside for cash, credit card or whatever else is needed.
Then it all has to go back on.
But this time, around midday, the mists cleared, the sun slowly broke through, the snow all disappeared and the weather was brilliant at last. I started to doubt that this Elephant would really be in the snow, there was none to be seen on hills nor valleys.
At the next and final stop I found this group:
A sidecar club donning their heavy sheepskin ponchos for the final run to the Elephant. You can always tell.
And then we were there. In the snow-covered hills and valleys of the Bavarian Forest. 180 miles for the day making 712 in all.
This was Wednesday afternoon, the site being prepared, everyone aiming for this special Elephant place:
On Thursday riders were arriving in greater numbers, and quickly-detachable skis are a handy accessory:
Or a quickly-swappable snow-track to replace the rear wheel.
This tricycle rider had to stop hurriedly. The Elephant mascot on his helmet fell over his eyes - he couldn't see the entrance.
His seating arrangement on his little scooter was very convenient - I suppose it has to be if you're travelling hundreds of miles very slowly.
I took his photo with his camera, so he returned the gesture.
There's lots of versatile stuff here, like this:
A ski for snow. . . .
. . . and wheels handy when you reach the tarmac.
Sidecar outfits can be such difficult things to park if there's not much room while you're loading up the hay:
Plenty is needed to pitch your tent on.
There must be some horses to feed somewhere.
Perhaps belonging to the porta-potti riding photographer.
A different arrangement of two wheels. And remove the seat to save space, use straw instead.
And lots of firewood needed for heating and cooking:
Build your sidecar out of wood and you can just set fire to it.
Or bring the whole chuck-wagon along.
This rider arrived pulling his throttle wire with a pair of pliers for the last few hundred miles.
The cable had snapped just above the carb. Seemed an extreme way of keeping your right hand warm.
There's a regular bus service up the hill to the catering kiosk:
The last one of the day makes it with a half load of passengers.
I took my own bike for a tour of the rally camp site.
A Union Jack and Manx flag fluttering here, but no one at home.
Across the way is the one-wheeled half-track receiving a close inspection.
Looking back towards the main entrance, the big crowds yet to arrive.
The next day.
Chief Elephant bestows blessing for homeward journey on bike and rider.
General view in the gathering gloom late in the day.
And Little Lion catches a bit of snow for its efforts.
A neat bar steward has been at work here.
It's not just a matter of turn up and pitch a tent:
A big-enough patch of snow has to be dug first.
And space for the bikes.
Then pipe in the Haggis!
(About 3 days late for Burns Night but never mind)
There were definitely a lot of stove-pipe fitters here:
You may have noticed by now, that however many photos I took of tents and rally scenes, my tent never appeared. My camera just wouldn't photograph it for some reason. I really don't understand these digital cameras. Maybe it had something to do with my tent being in my garage back home. When I did manage to snap it, this is how it came out:
Some place in Thurmansbang! Five miles away.
Allright, it was OK being on a bike in these temperatures, but I was sure it would be better not to be in a tent. For me anyway, just this once.
Plus a couple of dozen other riders, from Italy and Spain mainly:
So, if you didn't know what The Elephant was before today, maybe these pictures will have helped.
It's like a rite of passage I suppose and there's an old saying in these circles - 'If I have to explain, you wouldn't understand'.
But here's another aspect of this pilgrimage - my first ever motorcycle, in 1966, was a Zundapp. (It was a scooter actually but we'll keep quiet about that). Zundapp made proper bikes during the War and afterwards, including a sidecar model of military heritage that became well-known as a true 'all-terrain' vehicle. Because of that, Zundapp named it the 'Green Elephant', maybe after Hannibal's exploits and because it was green. It built up a dedicated group of owners in Germany during the 1950s. The 'owners club' of the time decided to instigate a mid-winter rally in such a remote location that only Zundapp Green Elephants would be able to reach it, or so they hoped.
And so it all began.
I set off home Sunday morning, weather fairly fine. But cold. Had to stop for the day about halfway between Würzburg and Frankfurt.
Monday was threatening, all the way to Aachen where the threat got real. It started snowing. All wet stuff that sticks to your visor and needs constant clearing for any visibility. It was OK as the autobahn remained clear enough and the lorries provided something visible to follow in the murk.
Until the Belgian border outside Aachen. No salt or grit thereafter. As the snow deepened, the trucks disappeared down the many exits around Aachen until there were none. Nor cars. Do they know something I don't, I thought?
I took the next exit, found a hotel along roads covered with snow turning to ice, and called it a day.
A final few photos, an elephant in every snap:
Another came along
I think this was the biggest elephant on site, and the tiniest bike.
Well, that's that done for the year.
The little TTR shows seventy thousand miles now - it needs a little rest....
After two brilliant weeks on Holy Isle I nipped across Scotland to Edinburgh to stay with my cousin Geraldine for a few days. Now her Dad, like mine, was a motorbike-and-sidecar family man so she's no stranger to adventures on 2(3) wheels. And maybe that heritage led her to the idea of driving north to visit the commune at Findhorn near Elgin.
Well, the weather reports from up north told of snow gates being closed on some of the roads, so Geraldine had an inspired vision of an alternative outing.
Which was to visit Samye Ling in Eskdalemuir, the headquarters of the Buddhist group that operates the centre on Holy Island. It was founded by Lama Akong Rinpoche and is now run by his brother Lama Yeshe Losal. It's just a couple of hour's drive south from Edinburgh, and led to the next corner you can't see round.
We spent a very pleasant lunchtime and afternoon there, sitting in on a ceremony in the magnificent temple, and wandering around the grounds, the stupa, the library, the little shop and the Tibetan teahouse. For Geraldine it was her first ever visit to a Buddhist establishment, so we tried to steer a steady course leading to rapid enlightenment! This entire centre is designed to make visitors feel they are truly in Tibet and it certainly succeeds. We asked the monk who led the earlier ceremony for directions to the library and received an immediate and very cheery reply in Tibetan - he speaks no English.
The door of the teahouse had a notice pinned on it: "The teahouse will open between 7pm and 9pm this evening to welcome the return of Lama Akong Rinpoche from his long absence in Tibet."
Well, what a coincidence - the founder of the monastery returns this evening! The staff in the teahouse told us there'd be a simple welome for the Lama at the main gates and a procession right through the centre to the residence at the rear. A pure coincidence too good to miss so we booked ourselves in for the 6pm supper in the main dining room. This gave Geraldine a chance to take the wonderful honour of volunteering to wash up after the twenty or so residents had finished their meals. Not only were we the only visitors still there, but the only washer-up volunteers as well, so we had the opportunity to learn a lot more about the centre from the kitchen volunteers.
That left a while to wait before the arrival of Lama Akong, but the teahouse was open again so we returned there. Our coffee and hot chocolate were interrupted by one of the nuns poking her head round the door: "We're lighting the 1008 Lamps Ceremony and we need some help otherwise it won't all be lit by the time Lama Akong arrives. We're in the Butterlamp House."
We leapt to the occasion and nipped round to the long wooden cabin that houses a good proportion of Scotland's stocks of tea lights. There we found half a dozen residents furiously lighting rows of tea lights - sorry - serenely lighting rows of tea lights, having done about five hundred so far. We all joined in and the job was quickly, and mindfully, finished.
A Thousand and Eight Lamps, burning gently in the Butterlamp House,
alongside a row of small stupas.
One of the welcoming fires being tended at the gates.
Everyone is welcome at the gates and the procession, and Lama Akong places a Khata (symbolic greeting scarf) around everyone present.
Including that evening's washer-uppers.
(No, we were not entering novice orders!)
On the way out, a picture of the revolving prayer wheels surrounding the main stupa, before we returned to Edinburgh.
Finally, on a trip a couple of days later to Loch Leven, we bagged a picture of a meditating heron.
Then it was off south across the border and home.
A thought entered my head on the way. See next posting....
The end of a wonderful two weeks on Holy Isle. Christmas and New Year.
And it's difficult to say what makes it so good, in the midst of the constant winter gales, rain storms, and little occasional sun.
To start off, maybe it's best to say what the island doesn't have:
Mechanised transport of any sort. (Except - see below)
Mobile phone service
And what it does have:
A small group of guests and volunteers sharing the same aim of making this a special time and place.
Top-notch vegetarian catering by dedicated expert cooks.
The shared honour of using the only wheels on the island, to fetch firewood to the dining room in any wheelbarrow you can find.
A huge real Christmas tree, reaching the ceiling, with lights.
The Freedom of the Island.
Which just leaves the winter-time photos:
The main centre for visitors is at the northern end of the island:
The main building - accommodation, office, library and kitchen/dining room. And vegetable and herb gardens.
The link to the outside world - the jetty at the end of the stupas. Ferry boat loading up.
The only 'road' on the island - one wheelbarrow wide.
The 'Peace Hall' teaching and meditation room.
A circular walk from the main building crosses the three central peaks, Mullach Beag, Mullach Mor (1026ft) and Creag Liath, in a line leading right to the southern end of the island. Which is otherwise known as 'Southend'. This is a little confusing for me, because the buildings at 'Southend' house a four-year Buddhist retreat - all strictly out-of-bounds. Not at all like the Southend I know.
The Four Directions from the highest peak, Mullach Mor:
South. Looking over Creag Liath. Isle of Arran is to the right.
West. Isle of Arran and Lamlash Bay across the water.
North. Top of Mullach Beag in foreground, the east coast of Isle of Arran beyond.
East. The west coast of Scotland in the mist.
On the way down towards 'Southend', the conical form of Ailsa Craig comes into view, 18 miles distant beyond an Isle of Arran headland.
Followed by the 'Inner Lighthouse' and the 4-year retreat in the old lighthouse buildings.
A small beach east of the retreat area gives another view of Ailsa Craig.
Two newer retreat homes and the Retreat Master's cabin. Mullach Mor at top right.
There's a little caravan-like structure between the two homes. This is a tea-house and amenity hut for builders and volunteers.
Two nights after I took this photo the winds were fierce enough to blow this hut over and down the slope, completely destroying it. There was a reflective mood in the main centre for a while on that day.
Leaving the retreat area for the coastal path back to the main centre. Mullach Mor on the right of picture.
Wild Eriskay ponies. Ailsa Craig beyond.
There are only three species of mammals living on the island (apart from humans). These ponies, Soay sheep and Sanaan goats. All completely wild.
Along the coastal path, Buddhist artists have painted intricate images of Deities and Masters on some of the larger rocks:
The yogi Milarepa
Marpa the Translator.
The ponies study Green Tara.
Mullach Mor watches over the coastal path and the rock paintings.
Further along, the stupas at the main centre come into view.
A couple of photos taken during a storm:
No boats from the outside world today (nor yesterday, nor tomorrow)
There were strange stormy sunsets in angry black skies above the black hills of Arran:
This one from the inside of St. Molaise's cave. (Pron: Mo-lash-eh)
The Celtic St. Molaise lived in this cave alongside the coastal path for about ten years in the 6th century AD:
It's quite cosy inside, even the floor gets swept now and again.
Other wintertime scenes around the vegetable and herb gardens:
Two days before departure date another Atlantic storm swept in. With the forecast grim, our return to the Scottish mainland was postponed for a day and a half. Overnight it matched the most violent storm so far with no electricity in the morning. That evening everything was by candlelight and camping-style head-light.
On the delayed departure day the two-man crew made half a dozen attempts at the jetty before the remnants of the storm allowed the rigid inflatable to tie up safely.
And we were on our way to some new adventure. Another corner with something round it. (Not including the Adrossan ferry which hit the dockside the night before, leaving the car ramp the only way for pedestrians to disembark on all sailings).
Now, you may well ask, what does all this have to do with motorcycling? Or even adventure motorcycling?
Well, in the early 1960s, a Tibetan Lama called Akong Rinpoche was sent from a Buddhist community in India to the UK to establish the first Tibetan monastery here. This he did in Dumfriesshire, Scotland.
His younger brother Jamdrak, also holding senior Buddhist positions in India, was intrigued by the idea of this new monastery in 'the west'. He smuggled himself out of his community and travelled to see Akong's project.
Unfortunately, on the way, Jamdrak was seduced by the hippy lifestyles of 1960s England and went right off the rails and onto a Harley Davidson, which he rode around London for a few years while helping to run a clothing boutique. (Me, I was on a Honda CB77 mending telephone exchanges).
Akong Rinpoche, by then running the new monastery in Scotland, rescued his brother and managed to guide him back to the Buddhist path.
Jamdrak was later ordained as a monk with the name Yeshe Losal and took over the running of the monastery in Scotland. In 1992 he bought Holy Island to establish it as a 'Peace Centre' open to all visitors from all faiths or none. He had the new teaching and accommodation facilities built, established the retreats, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Except history doesn't reveal whether Lama Yeshe Losal ever loaded his Harley onto the Holy Isle ferry boat to take it over. There's no tarmac there, so probably he didn't.
The North West, that is. I'm going to use the reference to Way Out West in a previous posting as an excuse to include this youtube link.
It sort of introduces a trip I'll be doing over Christmas and New Year. In that there may be a lonesome pine where I'm going, but there'll definitely be no trails or lanes or tarmac or motor transport. Nor much else.
It all started back in the mid to late 90s. Caroline and my son Richard had left home and set up their own places, and in the lead-up to Christmas one year they had no idea of what they'd be doing. You know the sort of thing - maybe they would go over there, nip back here, or visit somewhere else, or maybe not. It didn't seem to matter, as Christmas would happen wherever they were.
So, an intriguing advert caught my eye:
"Alternative Christmas at the Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Taunton, Somerset. Escape boozy parties, TV films and plastic Santas and find peace through meditation. Large country mansion, vegetarian food, country walks. Seven nights' all inclusive is £140 for dormitory accommodation; £195 for a single room. All facilities are shared. Contact: St Audries House....."
Just phoning the number seemed like seriously taking the plunge for something rather strange. And I found that all single rooms had gone (there were very few), the dormitories were full (there were very few), but another room would be cleared out if there was sufficient demand. So I demanded, and set off down to the Quantock Hills looking for a run-down mansion house, built around 1850, above a beach near Watchet. St. Audries House was quite a find.
And very dilapidated. But the bits that had been restored were wonderful and quite sufficient, including the 'cleared out extra room' where the ancient beds were kept away from the walls so that plaster didn't fall on you in the night.
Even better, only a couple of sticks of wood had to be scavenged to wedge the windows closed.
There was a very pleasant and ornate teaching room, an incredible shrine room, and a magnificent tudor galleried hall that served as cafeteria and lounge, with a creaking kitchen adjacent.
And two jewels in the crown.
A huge open fireplace in the hall, the only heating in the whole place (for December and January). It was the responsibility of everyone to keep it stocked with firewood, which in turn was the responsibility of everyone to collect and gather in, making sure it was old and dry. (Newly cut branches are homes to thousands of tiny creatures and therefore can't be burnt).
And a telephone engineers' delight. Not a telephone system, but better. A mechanical network of old wires and pulleys and bells and springs and enamelled signs and levers, stretching along corridors, around corners and through walls, begging to be lovingly restored. A pull of a lever in some ancient abandoned study in a far corner of the mansion would set a rusty old bell ringing in 'the parlour', dangling with twenty others on spiral springs, high on a wall next to the kitchen. The ornate enamelled sign below was inscribed "Master's room. Latin," or some such similar. (The manor had been a public school for about 50 years). What joy!
(A posh example from this website).
Us guests numbered about 30, and no two came from the same part of the country, had the same job or interests, or had anything else in common whatsoever.
A barrister, actor, singer, writer, water diviner, ex-convict (drugs) now a bus driver, teacher, travel guide, student, newly-ordained Buddhist monk from Spain, ditto nun from Wales (with parents in tow), artist, caterer, butcher, baker, candlestick maker, the list went on.
Plus an incredibly enthusiastic staff of ordained and lay Buddhists to help us get organised.
It was quite a Christmas and New Year with no shortage of entertainment. Musicians brought instruments and played from the gallery, actors performed set pieces by the fire, poets recited, parlour games were organised, caterers catered, everyone mucked in.
Plus truly thought-provoking teachings.
Later the same year I returned for another two weeks.
The dilapidation was worse.
A few years later the deteriorating building proved too much to keep going. The rest of the story is here.
Sadly the residents had to sell up and find a more manageable place in Bristol.
Over the years since then, I checked now and again to see if the group had established another location that could take in visitors for weeks at a time, but they hadn't.
It was quite a shock later to discover that the old manor house is now a 5-star hotel specialising exclusively in weddings. The spirit of the 90s, and the old mechanical bell system, all gone.
(Stuffed full of mobile phones I would guess).
Anyway, being grounded in the UK for a while, I went off to Ulverston back in August to spend one week at a two-week event at the Buddhist centre at the Conishead Priory. And found that I'd been away from this sort of venue for far too long. Thirteen years or more.
Bouncing between hospitals and surgeries meant that this was a last-minute booking, for only the second week of the festival, and all the limited indoor accomodation was long gone. But it was good to get inside my tent again.
The only, slight, disappointment was that unlike St. Audries, where thirty of us and about fifteen residents made for a very merry and rambling event, at Conishead in August the visitors alone numbered between two and three thousand. A bit overwhelming.
So, with Caroline working in Khartoum, and Richard spending this Christmas at Sam's mum's in Devon, I decided to look around for another 'Alternative Christmas'.
And found a long-established Buddhist centre in Scotland with an outpost on Holy Isle (off of the coast of the Isle of Arran), where two weeks of teachings and events will be run over this year's festive season. With about 60 guests if it's full, and ten or so residents. So more the size of St. Audries than Conishead.
Transport is a ferry to the Isle of Arran, followed by a little motorboat across the water to Holy Isle.
When the weather permits.
And no roads, trails, shops, TVs, cars, or politicians (well, I suppose there could be one amongst the guests, it's allowed I think).
A chunk of my brand new adventure came to an end last week, pending pit-stops over the next few years for engine and frame checks, and hormone top-ups in between.
The Doc says there's nothing detectable of my old prostate tumour and the checkups will be every six months for now.
Phew! I hope not to do that sort of journey again. Plain old two wheels (or four, or two feet,) will do in future.
In the meantime I was sitting under the belfry in Cheapside the other day when Bow Bells started ringing. Not the usual half-muffled arrangement but full volume, for forty-five minutes. Bells built to be heard the five miles to Highgate and well beyond. Unwisely I was wearing neither earplugs nor helmet and I think one or the other is prescribed for such a venture. My ears were ringing all the way home.
And the wearing of an iPod stuffed into your ears whilst crossing the churchyard during the bell-ringing really ought to be a hanging offence. Or at least the same as jumping a red light.
"What's that? ............... you'll have to speak up dear!!"
My route to London when not on two wheels is by train to London Bridge. (There was a time when it became harder to find a space to park a motorbike than a car, and now it's even worse with the removal of lots of traditional parking spots on pavement frontages and alleys).
Right alongside London Bridge station is an impertinent little competitor to the Post Office Tower in the Tallest Building Stakes. (The Daily Mail still occasionally calls it the Post Office Tower, so I will too).
This upstart is called the London Shard, which is under construction and is now supposed to be 300 feet taller than The P.O. Tower.
Well, I don't think so.
I've walked past it many a time and it looks nowhere near as high as that good old Fitzrovia landmark.
A couple of weeks ago I alighted from the train at London Bridge and stood for a moment on the platform with my neck craned up, peering at the pointed top of this building, trying to convince myself it was taller. No, nowhere near it.
The platform cleared a bit so I walked along towards the exit at the end. Still looking straight up at the Shard's summit I could also see the edge of the platform's roof, slightly to the right. So I thought, if I could judge the angles to the top of the Shard and to the top of the platform roof, and find out how high this roof is, I'd have the answer. Good idea! Where's the Station Master?
Then I noticed the angle of the roof appeared to be changing, so quickly looked ahead again. And saw I was about a footstep and a half from dropping off of the platform and onto the track.....
Need a change of strategy, and I found it the other day when walking under the other end of London Bridge. Out of curiosity I nipped down the narrow steps under the bridge that descend right into the Thames. I call them 'Oliver Twist Steps' as I don't think they have a name, and that fits perfectly. Or maybe 'Bill Sikes Steps' would be better.
Anyway, about a foot from the water's edge I found a brilliant view of this new imposter of a building. So I took a couple of photos.
Looking down the slippery steps - Mind The Tide
Now, the tides all around Britain are measured with reference to the tide at London Bridge, so if I measure these photos acurately I must be able to check exactly if this thing is taller than my old workplace.
It's that time of year - the shops full to bursting with stuff - when the Magician of the Skies, the Lone Pilot with the Biggest Flight Plan, has to be tracked down to make sure his map has the grandchildren's chimney clearly marked for the Big Night.
But where to find him? Where to start?
Somewhere ancient and undisturbed. Where his route will have remained unchanged for millennia.
The Ashdown Forest.
It's the oldest open space around here. And there are extensive views from the top, I'm bound to spot something up there.
No, not a single red nose.
Here's another spot to try, right on the old London to Lewes Roman Road. He should be zooming up and down here at this time of year.
If he's out there anywhere, has must have equipped himself with a stealth sleigh.
The chief oracle around here is Winnie the Pooh - he's in Hartfield - he'll know for sure. Especially as the North Pole is close by....
No, at Pooh Corner they tell me he's been searching for Mr. Crimble too, all week.
I know! With his schedule of deliveries he'll definitely have a Blackberry.
We'll try here:
No, another wild goose chase.
I need some help here, an expert co-pilot, someone who knows about the man in the big red coat.
Well, you saw him here first, back in April '09, trying to stow aboard for a free trip to Cape Town:
Now he looks like he's ready to be our navigator.
So off we go with Oliver, looking for transport with two seats, to find this elusive Father Christmas.
Something like this:
"There should be enough seats in this. I wonder if the engine can keep up with Santa's sleigh - I'll go and have a look just as soon as I've finished this icecream!"
"This thing is stuffed with so much coal, steam and mince pies, Santa must be around here somewhere keeping warm."
"No wonder that little motorbike couldn't find him".
"Steaming along now, will soon catch up with his reindeer."
"This strange dog just gave me a telescope. That'll help."
"Or is it a tube of smarties? Maybe Santa is inside."
"Right, this must be Santa's station. - Mind The Reindeer!"
"HERE he is!"
"I'll have an XT600 please, all fitted up for going around the world. I'll borrow your maps as well."
("I hope grandad's got my address in his pocket, otherwise we've wasted our time!")
A little jaunt of photos around a bit of South West Ireland. Mainly in the rain and mist and wind. (Severe gale 9 on the BBC shipping forecast - longwave 198kHz - what a great institution! Not only for those at sea, but when you're clinging to the edge of land as well).
The title of this entry has nothing to do with the area, but I couldn't think of a better one.
(Except Way Out West, but that's Laurel and Hardy who we've had twice already if I remember right).
Gateway to the far west of the Skellig Ring at Ballynabloun.
A Little Irish Lane
On the seafront in Waterville. No matter what I tried with camera and computer, this would only come out in black and white.
Silent as well -
Must be the Lone Prospector on the right.
Somewhere on the South West Ring of Kerry. Had to Blu-tac my shoes to the ground.
"... perhaps Storm 10 later...."
The Bumpy Irish Road to Bantry Bay.
Hope the journey back home, via Skibbereen, Cork and over the Irish Sea, is smoother.
You never know what simple adventure may lie round the next corner.
But first, last night I saw a brilliant staging of 'Tom Crean - Antarctic Explorer' at the INEC Theatre Killarney.
Slightly updated from the version I'd previously seen, which in turn had developed from the first performance I ever saw, in the tiny lecture theatre of the Scott Polar Museum in Cambridge, about eight years ago.
Research into the Scott and Shackleton era of Antarctic exploration continues to unearth new aspects and information. - For instance, the photos that Scott himself took on his fateful journey to the South Pole (with Tom Crean as far as the final supply depot) were completely lost until a few years ago when they were found in a New York sale room. The great-nephew of Scott's right-hand man retrieved the prints for posterity and published them for the first time just last month, but the negatives still appear to be lost forever.
(Right now is the 100th anniversary of when many of those photos were taken).
Likewise, the story of Crean's life slowly becomes more complete through ongoing research.
So it was that last night I learnt that on retiring to Anascaul in 1920, things were a bit tricky (read - very dangerous) for someone who had spent over twenty years in the British Royal Navy. So he disappeared to Dublin for a year or so to shake off all notion of his naval and Antarctic history. He didn't return to Anascaul until all knowledge of his past had truly been lost in time.
And he never murmured a word about it.
And the name of the pub that he ran for the rest of his life was just that - nothing more than just a name.
Well, not any more it's not.
- For anyone interested in more about Tom Crean, the wikipedia page is petty good.
Anyway, I nipped into a back-alley pub in Killarney to get out of the rain (almost but not quite non-stop since Wednesday). And as I ordered "a Guinness with fish and chips please," a local customer seated at the bar immediately piped up, "Hey begorra! You must be from the Elephant and Castle. What did you do there?"
Well, when I got back up off the floor, I replied, "Yes, I was born in that very area, near the Imperial War Museum. Always worked in London including a couple of years in the 60s just off Borough High Street."
"I could tell straight away!" he said, and continued to relate how he'd managed many of the pubs in and around Lambeth between 1960 and the late 80s.
"I returned back here to Killarney afterwards but I still visit a few times a year - my children's families all live over there."
So, like most things in Ireland, that conversation took many a wandering twist and turn, helped by the gravity of the Guinness.
Outside once again, and around the next corner, I bumped into a wonderful method of adventure travel, yet to be introduced into this blog.
It was in the final stages of preparation, about to set off.
So here it is.
And about time too:
Waiting to gallop aboard the carousel, ready to turn and run rings around the moon. What an adventure!
To The South Pole.
And at last I was off, with a Ryanair ticket. I wondered what airport they would deliver me to. Southend? Southampton? South Of The Border? Down Mexico Way?
No, it was Cork.
And just beyond Killarney lay my destination.
The pub that Tom built.
He was born here:
- and is a true local hero. He's everywhere, including on the stairs of the B&Bs.
And in the garden opposite the Post Office.
I headed off along the 'Anascaul Straightaway' towards the house where he was born.
Taking off above the South Pole Inn (blue building to the left behind a tree).
The Straightaway is so straight it would make Einstein proud.
Photo taken from close to Tom Crean's birthplace - just as the sun came out. Anascaul is in the bottom of the distant valley.
Maybe this was why Tom Crean came to like marching in dead straight lines across Antarctica. And good enough at it to save the lives of his companions.
Notice the slight kink in the lane, caused by the force of gravity exerted by the Guinness brewery in Dublin. Just as Einstein calculated.
Then I found this:
The secret ingredient of Guinness.
They feed old bicycles into the muck spreaders to fertilise the barley fields.
No wonder 'It's good for you', and its gravity is strong enough to make bends appear in the roads on the other side of the country!
You read it here first in McCrankpin's Meanderings.
There's more than just emerald green in the colour of the countryside here, even in dull old November.
A little west of the South Pole Inn is the town of Dingle, and beyond that the Dingle Peninsula.
At Dún Chaoin you reach the furthest west you can go on mainland Europe.
But wait! There's a ferry to a group of tiny islands even further west.
Today the weather is fearsomely bad, not good for taking photos let alone a ferry - it's difficult to stand up in the wind:
Dún Chaoin Bay.
Further round towards the pier for the Blasket Islands Ferry.
No, there are definitely no ferries today to the Blasket Islands.
So a right blasket case this excursion turned out to be....
Today, the Atlantic weather is so fierce it's even stopping the rivers in their tracks:
If this little stream thinks it's going to reach the ocean it's got another think coming.
"No way José! You'll need a hose to squirt you through this wind and into those waves."
Further along, this farm gate had become a leaky lock gate.
Maybe an oil tanker will come cruising down here in a moment, its GPS mistaking Ceann Sraithe, just up the road, for Canal Suez. Better move on.
Back in Anascaul there's a local industry specialising in Black Pudding.
The landlady in the B&B tried to convince an Amercan couple how good it is with the cooked breakfast, but made the fatal mistake of giving an honest answer to the question, "What's in it?"
So that's alright then, I'll have theirs.
Up in the hills above Anascaul is Lake Anscaul, with some deep reflections in the still waters.
And some colour by the lane to the lake.
Then it was off to Killarney by way of the sunset at Inch Beach in Dingle Bay:
- for a performance of Aidan Dooley's one-man play of Tom Crean's life.
Eight or nine years ago Aidan Dooley performed this play in the South Pole Inn, to an invited audience that included two of Crean's daughters, both in their 80s at the time.
Well, this performance went down in history as being a particularly emotional one. It was the first time his daughters had ever heard of their late father's heroic exploits.
(When Tom Crean retired back to Anascaul from the Navy, in 1920, his Antarctic adventures were long behind him, and he never told anyone, including his daughters, what he got up to down in The South. And he kept no diaries. So it wasn't until long after his death in 1938, when Antarctic historians started to delve into the diaries of his companions, that his life story started to see the light of day. His first biography wasn't published until about the time of Aidan Dooley's performance in the South Pole Inn).
I'm sure it'll be just as good a performance in the theatre in Killarney this evening. In my research I've never found if Tom Crean has any grandchildren - maybe there'll be some in the audience.......
Had a particularly enjoyable outing through more Surrey byways on my latest trip to Guildford.
There's a huge patient support centre at St Lukes with a wide range of activities and therapies, some free, some almost free. So I joined the art class. One morning per week, everything provided, making for a much more relaxed visit than when undertaking treatment there.
Ideal for getting lost and muddy on a motorbike on the way.
And in a way, playing with the artist materials (inks this week, acrylics last week) is a little like playing with the mud in these lanes. You use a brush on the paper, a motorbike on the lane.
The lanes and the woodlands in these Surrey Hills are all pretty ancient, the woods are quite dense and the lanes well hidden under the leafy canopies. There's not much light. I really need a tripod for the long exposures but I'm not going to carry that amount of luggage.
So on this little trip I mainly took photos when the sun was squeezing enough brightness through the branches.
Firstly, back to Hogden Lane around the Polesden Lacey estate. I found the route this time.
A couple of photos along the slope down to the end of the lane, where it joins Ranmore Common Road:
Oh, to be in England now that November's there.
Five hundred yards along the tarmac of Ranmore Common Road towards Guildford brings us to Drove Road. And about half a mile down there:
Yes, there are lots of riders that would have had a go at jumping over this, but I'd just spent the morning delicately applying inks to paper, so I wasn't really prepared for rough stuff. And there was no first-aid back-up team.
When I first saw it, I thought of the state of these byways back in the 60s and 70s, when uncertainties about their status led to some individuals blocking the lanes with whatever they could find to stop us riders using them.
But this trunk had definitely fallen from the remaining stump just out of view, and probably not long before I arrived.
It wasn't difficult to clear out the way and the journey continued.
There was plenty of mud and water further on.
My plan was to fork right here onto Sheepwalk Lane, just next to this gate. But I didn't expect this sign in the straight on direction.
Years ago the rest of Drove Road was closed by the council at this point. It had become severly damaged by over-use (mainly by 4X4 vehicles unfortunately) with deep ruts which became rivers in the rain adding to the erosion. The ancient features of this track were in danger of being completely destroyed.
Even more so on Beggars Lane, which this track leads to about half a mile further on. That's an old steep chalk track dropping down the side of Hackhurst Downs to the A25 Guildford Road at Gomshall. I hadn't bothered to look up the latest status of these two tracks, assuming they were still closed.
I don't know if it happens elsewhere in the country, but the council here has a policy of repairing badly damaged byways and re-opening them to two-wheeled traffic only where there's a danger of four-wheel traffic continuing to cause problems. London Lane at Shere is one such (only bikes allowed on that lane in the winter). And here's the rest of Drove Road, now open to bikes (and small horse-drawn carts) only.
So we'll give it a try.
I took a few photos where there was still light reaching the lane.
Still on Drove Road.
And on to Beggars Lane.
At the start of the descent down Hackhurst Downs, there's a strange road sign, reflective and scattering the flashlight everywhere.
The Highway Code that I remember always used to say "Keep Left."
Here, we're encouraged to wander all over the road as we like. How neat is that?
On reaching the bottom at the A25 it was off to the usual stop at Box Hill. But once back on the tarmac away from the mud you suddenly realise how cold you're getting. And a common effect of my continuing hormone treatment is an occasional loss of temperature control. Hot one minute, cold the next. So time to call it a day for today and find a new thermostat.
I'll return to Beggars Lane before the winter progresses too far and ride it in the other direction, up the hill (I hope - the chalk's pretty slippery in places). But Ireland beckons in the meantime.
Then there's Fullers Farm Road and Wix Lane further towards Guildford, and Ponds Lane in Little London.
Not to mention all the byways beyond Guildford around Frensham and Hindhead. Will probably need a new carnet and a laissez-passer to get there.
I took another couple of alternative routes between home and Guildford, so below are a couple of photos.
But firstly I read the other day about two lads who are soon to embark on an adventure on two scooters to raise money for Cancer Research UK. And would you know it, their 2,300 mile Round Britain Route includes a ride from Caterham to Guildford, the same route that I've been trundling along every weekday for the last 8 weeks. More info below.
They'll be sticking to the tarmac known as the M25 and the A3. But in my book, Admirals Road across Fetcham Downs is on the most direct route to the Linear Accelerators of St Lukes. There was just a modicum of mud on the day that I went that way.
(If you can find the other end of this byway you'll be close to London Lane, the next stretch of mud on the way to Guildford - see previous posting)
Once I was on this track, memories came back of attempting to ride it maybe 15 years ago, and giving up because I just could not work out where it went.
All around Polesden Lacey there's a dense network of footpaths and bridleways in all directions, and the byway known as Hogden Lane snakes through the middle of it all. So you have to follow its route carefully.
Well, I reached a junction of five muddy tracks about a mile from the start, with not a single 'Byway' sign. But a little way back two bikes had passed me going the other way, near the photo above, so I was sure I was on the right track.
I retraced my steps, found the site of the photo, so turned round and continued on.
But no, the lanes at the next junction were all signposted bridleways.
Oh dear, cardinal sin No.1, riding on a bridleway.
At least everywhere was deserted (the rain had started), so I took the best guess and found myself heading towards Polesden Lacey and a track that had council rubbish bins along the edge. That's no guarantee that it's a right-of-way so I hurried on and found tarmac at last. A quick check of the sign pointing back showed "Bridleway".
Oh dear again, will need to do some serious map reading before riding that one again, so I headed straight for tea at Box Hill.
Anyway, my treatment at St Lukes Cancer Centre has now been completed, the last rendition of Name, Rank and Serial Number given, the last beams fired. So we enter a new era. That is, nothing happens until mid-December when testing starts to see how things stand, so I'll have more time now to navigate these ancient tracks properly.
I tried to bring some humour to these treatment sessions - laughter is the best medicine. Apart from crazy games with nebulous particles, this seemed to go down well:
It's a tradition that patients bring in some token of appreciation for the Radiographers on their last day of treatment. Usually that's a tin of Roses or Quality Street chocolates. But in the waiting lounge we all notice that most, if not all the chocolates end up on the coffee table, for consumption by us patients, which didn't seem quite right. So one day one of our number announced that he would bring in some smart fancy biscuits instead, which the staff could have with their tea breaks. Seemed a good idea.
Well, the very next day, one of the two Linear Accelerators that do pelvis treatments broke down. (There are six in all of various types). The Radiographers were under a lot of stress as they tried to fit all the patients that were arriving onto the one remaining machine. They have some experience of this as these machines are serviced quite frequently. On those days all the patients on the out-of-action machine are scheduled onto the other machine later in the day, and the shift continues until about 8pm.
So this particular day was going to be an unexpectedly long one for staff and patients. Lots of time for chats around the coffee table.
Someone mentioned what a good suggestion was made yesterday to bring in biscuits instead of chocolates, and I had this crazy idea. "I know, I'll bring in a box of broken biscuits to go with the broken machine."
A conversation broke out about where you can buy them these days.
"Woolworths used to sell them."
"You could buy them on market stalls."
"Iceland sold them the last time I was there."
I thought the internet would sort it out, no problem, so I checked when I returned home. And there it was. Dairy Crest will deliver a box of broken biscuits if you click the right button, and they just happen to deliver my milk in the mornings.
So the next morning I tied the box up in a piece of ribbon and added a label announcing:
Biscuit Accelerator Spare Parts
Handle With Care
"To help you relax during your tea break after yesterday's hectic sessions!" I said when I arrived for treatment. And the Radiographers seemed to get the joke, I'm pleased to say, as they pushed and shoved me around the treatment table with millimetre accuracy, lining me up ready for take-off.
Ben Bromilow and Olly Newby-Robson have set themselves The Unbearable Challenge.
For a tiny part of that challenge they'll be riding from Caterham to Guildford on the morning of Friday 18th November. Normally I'd definitely go along with them. But I'll be visiting The South Pole.
The one in Ireland, on the Dingle Peninsular. (See Adventure Into Space for an explanation).
Ben and Olly's nationwide route will take them to every BMW bike dealer in the country, over just 5 days, starting and finishing in Peterborough.
Their website sends out an invitation for as many riders as possible to get involved and accompany them along their way. So have a look and see if you can fit a section of their ride into one of your days. Maybe even Caterham to Guildford.
At Last. HM The Bike is back amongst its subjects - mud, sand, ruts, stones, holes, good dirt.
And when you go to Guildford by bike for radiotherapy, there's only one way home.
Starting here after the daily dose of sub-atomic particles:
Then continuing from Shere, taking London Lane, on the left by the cricket field.
Yes, there's a hamlet called Little London just south of Shere, this is the lane that leads to it:
The rutted road to Little London.
No need for a side-stand. Just lean the bike against the side of the rut. That'll do.
The 20-metre swimming pool in the road has dried out a bit - only paddling today.
Next, Wolvens Lane, south from Wotton. Right at the Wotton Hatch pub (Shere Drop beer on tap).
A bit narrower than the M25, the alternative route. And no cars to see here.
It's an ancient sunken track - and dark.
Tea at Box Hill before the last stretch home:
Packed with bikes on a Sunday - not so many on a Friday afternoon.
And the view of the Surrey Hills from up top.
That was my first real ride on the TTR since Cape Town airport, so quite an occasion. Although the recent MOT annual test was a bit of an adventure.
"What have you brought me here?"demanded the tester.
"I can't see whether these pipes are for petrol, brake hydraulics or rear shock adjuster. They're buried in a mess of oily sand and mud and look as though they've been leaking for months. But who knows? Maybe it's just oil off of the chain."
"I've found a petrol tap here, buried in dirt, and the pipe seems to go nowhere!"
I explained it fed the open-ended stub of pipe clipped to the sub-frame, to fill my Coleman stove for tea in the depths of the desert.
The look of bewilderment spread further across his face.
We had a little chat about the softness of the sand on Tanzanian roads and he was kind enough to acknowledge, "I know the last thing you want to do is wash all this good African dirt off your bike - but it's got to be done. I can't see what I'm supposed to be examining under it all!"
It's taken quite a few months to reach this stage although not much work was needed. Repair of the headlamp, new rear tyre, new bulb above the rear number plate.
And now this.
For anyone considering such an overland journey, I can definitely now confirm that the hardest part by far of the whole undertaking, London to Cape Town, and air-freight back, is cleaning the bike when you return home so the tester can see it.
But it's done at last, with the Green Piece Of Paper now in my hands.
It's Saturday now. The sun's shining, there's a day off from treatment, I think I'll continue where I left off yesterday and check out some more of those alternative routes.
In the meantime, Caroline came over for a week a little while ago.
I learnt that Beau's bike, hardly running by the time they reached Addis Ababa on their way from Nairobi to Khartoum, needed new piston rings which were couriered over from Fowlers of Bristol. That fixed the problem enabling them to make the final dash to Khartoum just in time to change old money for new.
But Caroline's Serow was misfiring as well, and the mechanic that helped with Beau's bike wasn't so good with carburetors. He butchered it somewhat and made no improvement to the problem. So Caroline brought it here to Whyteleafe for checking.
The pilot screw had been almost destroyed but was just salvageable. We also made an ultra-short screwdriver, which you need for adjusting this pilot screw without damaging it when the carburetor is fixed on the bike and engine running.
On removing the throttle slide for a check, the needle and clip fell straight out, separately. So we're hoping that now it's all been put back together properly, the bike will run better when Caroline re-fits the carb back in Khartoum.
Sun's shining, time for some more ancient Surrey dirt roads.
A group of scientists in Switzerland, next door to their colleagues searching for the Higgs boson particle, announced on Thursday that they had caught a whole load of neutrinos, red-handed, exceeding the speed limit. They clocked them leaving Switzerland and arriving in Italy so quickly they must have been going at well over the speed of light.
Well, I wanted to check this out. And where better than the linear accelerator launching all those super-fast particles everyday aimed straight at my new tattoos? With no need to hide the radar gun out of sight in the bushes.
But as usual, 'health and safety' got in the way.
"Aim that thing at the machine while it's firing at you and it'll be more than just your prostate tumour that gets shrivelled!" the Radiographers warned gravely, yesterday.
"OK. So when you've done your stuff," I suggested, "we'll check the walls opposite. All we have to do is measure the depth of the holes and how hard the plaster is, and we'll know how fast the little villains were travelling, just like the motorway accident investigators."
That went down like a lead balloon. All I got was a firm, "All done, see you Monday."
So I'll have to rely on those scientists in Switzerland to find the right answers and prove, maybe, Einstein was wrong. That B1 road in Namibia isdead straight after all, not curved in some space-time continuum malarkey.
It's early days yet, but I don't seem to have had much luck so far in my attempts to conduct simple experiments with those NHS linear accelerators.
One day last week one of them broke down. Engineers hurried back and forth carrying boxes of spare parts and the queue of patients grew. I had to keep a low profile in case someone thought I'd broken it. Specially when, ahead of my time, I was called in for my session in front of the waiting queue. My machine was still going fine, it was the other one that had stopped working.
Early the week before last the other bunch of scientists in Switzerland, the Higgs boson crowd, had a meeting about 'how will they know when they've searched far and wide enough to confirm it doesn't exist?'
A very philosophical question. They've not found it after a couple of years so far, so how much longer must they search for?
I thought I'd lend a hand - inside a glove.
I'm sure that at least one or two Higgs must have popped out of the radiotherapy machine while I've been under it - it's just a feeling you get, in your most nether of nether regions.
So one day I turned up with a hidden baseball glove, and smuggled it neatly into the treatment room. No easy task as all these machines are housed inside concrete bunkers. The long access corridors have a couple of right-angle corners in them to keep all the straight-line radiation inside, and are starkly bare, so it's difficult to carry something without it being noticed.
When the zapping was all done and the Radiographers called, "Mind the drop!" as I hopped off the table, they were horrified.
"Whhaaat's THAT??" they shrieked, pointing at my clenched right hand inside the huge glove.
"I think I just caught a Higgs boson! Want to have a look?"
"OK. You sure it's there?"
"Well, it only exists for a tiny fraction of a micro-nano second, so you'll have to look really closely."
I slowly opened my gloved hand........
"Oh, look at that! It's gone!!" "See you tomorrow!"
I saw a funny sight at Guildford station the other day.
I've taken to using the train some days to travel to the hospital - the fare is less than the petrol. And it's green. Although I think that must be code for something - "Code green, Obi-Wan!" The trains are blue/red on the Guildford line and white/yellow on the Croydon line. I'm glad I got that sorted.
Waiting on the platform for my train home, a strange apparition came into view approaching from the London direction.
An old full-sized steam engine pulled two passenger carriages of similar age along the main line and majestically through the station. But no "puff - chuff - puff - chuff."
The whole entourage was being pulled by a diesel loco, only slightly newer than the steam train. Obviously trundling along to one of those preserved railway lines on the south coast.
The steam loco was dormant. Dead in fact. No fire, no smoke, no steam. There wasn't even a connecting rod fitted on the side facing me, although the valve gear was gracefully swaying to and fro.
In the cab of the diesel unit were two drivers all decked out in their hi-vis orange vests.
But despite there being no life at all in the silent steam engine behind, there on its cold and draughty footplate, with not a chance of frying a single egg, were at least half a dozen 'drivers' and 'firemen' having a high old time!
Another adventure journey.
It was such a surreal sight I didn't think for a moment to grab my camera from my rucksack to snap a quick picture. (I always take it on this journey - I'm sure to get a photo of those particles one day....)
"Eighty-three on the gantry ... eighty four ... eighty-five ... mark!"
"Need four degrees left."
.......The cockpit moves .......
"Right. All back! All still, don't move!"
.......There's a loud Ker-klunk with a metallic droning - lights dim and green laser beams prance around. Navigational crosshairs are projected from a lens out of sight and reflect in the shiny overhead console.
You notice yet another interrogation of your dog-tag chip.
Now starts the loud raw buzzing from beneath, followed by a massive structure visible in the right corner of your eye swinging out and quickly disappearing far below. The lights come back up.
On a screen hanging from the ceiling coloured columns of numbers scroll too fast to see. The wandering lasers converge up above.
Suddenly the noises cease. There's celestial silence, punctuated by an occasional firing of a navigation motor somewhere off to the left.
"Cabin crew, doors to manual."
"Mind the gap."
........Now, if your crew went through this procedure with such precision and discipline you'd expect one thing, wouldn't you?
Same as me.
That's right - we're lifting off the launch pad for Saturn!
What a disappointment then, when after a few minutes of warp 3.8 through the stars you hear, "OK, all done. See you tomorrow."
"What? Did the sat-nav fail again? Where's Scotty?"
All that's left to do is to take the earthly tarmac back home and try again the next day - unless it's Friday when you wait until Monday. Astronaut flight-crews don't work weekends, but I never noticed that in Star Trek. Something else you can't believe!
The space traveller here was brave enough to video his journey and shove it on youtube, all nicely speeded up to compress the boring bits. But I see his flight failed to launch too - not like the good old days when they shot men off to the moon three at a time, no trouble!
Maybe bad weather cancelled his take-off.
So that's the routine for a while now, with not much to report on adventure motorcycling, on the road or in space.
Notwithstanding that, here's another excuse for a youtube link.
I'm toying with the idea of taking a spaceflight over to Ireland, in November. So it depends on the outcome of my present crop of spaceflights.
It was opened and run by Tom Crean, who took part in more Antarctic expeditions and marched more miles on the continent than almost any other explorer of his times. So he truly learned something about adventure.
One of his best known rescue adventures was the 800-mile voyage that he undertook with Shackleton, in an open boat across the South Atlantic from Elephant Island to South Georgia. It features in the Kenneth Branagh film Shackleton, Tom Crean played by Mark McGann.
The actual open boat used in that rescue, the James Caird, is on permanent view at Dulwich College.
Well, years ago a young Irish actor and playwright heard about Tom Crean's life and was inspired to write a one-man play all about it. Now Aidan Dooley has been performing his homage to Crean all over the world for more than ten years.
He's just announced a new tour of the play in November, around Ireland, including Killarney, a snowball's throw from The South Pole Inn.
I've seen this play twice now, and very atmospheric and realistic it is too. Especially in small lecture theatres where the audience numbers about 80 and are all seated close around Aidan Dooley's imaginative set.
So another viewing will do no harm I think, particularly being close to Tom Crean's pub.
I decided that going by air would be more commodious than by road. Which means, I suppose, RyanAir.
You can get a flight for fifty pea! (At that price, strictly through the air, not into space).
I've flown with them before, they're ok-ish I find, and a friend recently pointed me to this youtube video for a very Irish review of Ireland's best-known airline.
Stansted to Tralee. Maybe I'll go by sea, after all!
For those who haven't seen it - enjoy!
But don't mock - one day, far, far in the future, they'll take you to Saturn. It'll be the planet they land on when you want to go to Jupiter.
My first home was a small bomb-damaged rented terraced house in London's Pimlico, where my parents and grandparents lived. By the time of my arrival, the post-war renovation of London was well underway, led by a new estate of high-rise flats going up on a flattened corner of Pimlico, one block from our home.
It's called The Churchill Gardens Estate, and is the only post-war social-housing project built according to the imaginative plans of Professor Patrick Abercrombie.
Despite not living on the estate itself, I could never keep away from the playgrounds to be found there, such was the creativity that had gone into their designs. Features included castles, flying saucers, massive sand pits set in concrete ocean liners, and much, much more, all of which would be completely impossible to build in today's cotton-wool society.
The castle featured a narrow stone circular staircase going down into a dungeon and up to the keep, where an outdoor rope walkway led to another set of stairs leading down to the rest of the playground. It wouldn't do at all to slip down the stairs, off of the walkway or over the walls, as only concrete and brick would stop your fall.
Ditto the flying saucer, seen here at 1min 16secs into the piece. And a local history piece here.
Another wonderful feature was this:
1923 Aveling and Porter 10-tonner. Six nominal horse-power.
Originally working the roads of Dorchester, it was acquired on retirement by Westminster City Council as a playground installation on the Churchill Gardens Estate. From about 1953 to 1981 it took pride of place, its wheels set in concrete right next to the castle.
I really don't know what I learned playing all over it, falling off it, squashing my fingers in it or being pushed off of it when the time came for someone else to have a go. But I do remember, aged 6 or 7 or 8, being determined to repair this thing and make it roll.
And there was only one thing stopping me: I no longer lived there.
My family had moved to East London, via White City, before my second birthday. The Victorian terraced house had had its top floor and half the next floor blown off by a bomb that landed across the road, so it wasn't really big enough now for burgeoning families and grandchildren. Thus my working visits to 'Churchill' were limited to a few hours on occasional weekend trips to my grandparents who still lived there.
And a few hours a month just wasn't enough time for a seven-year-old to repair a boiler, straighten a bent piston rod and weld up a rusty chimney. About all I could do was scavenge sticks of wood from the bomb site across the road from my grandparent's house and stuff them into the rusty firebox.
I couldn't even light the fire - buying matches would have been a capital offence. Sometimes though, an older boy would arrive, with some sort of 'match permit'. We'd get a flickering blaze going, half suffocating ourselves in the smoke, but no matter how hard both of us pulled on the regulator handle with all our weight, the ten tons of roller would never budge.
Then I remembered - my grandad, just round the corner, was a London fireman.
We never stood a chance of rolling a single inch of road!
A local know-all said something about 'needing water as well'....... don't be silly, my grandad uses that, it'll put the fire out we'd just spent ages lighting!!
But someone else did get this magnificent machine moving.
The local worthies of later years threw up their hands in horror at the dangers that lurked in children's concrete castles and idle steam rollers, and declared this most popular of playgrounds infinitely more dangerous than sitting in front of a TV computer game. They demanded its demolition.
Thus Churchill was freed from its concrete wheel chocks and fell into the hands of a new owner who completed what I started!
But I have never known who, nor seen the finished result.
Until a short while ago when I happened across a grand announcement for the Great Dorset Steam Fair - 2011, the biggest such thing in the world!
"I must find it there," I thought.
And here it is - last weekend!
Just what I needed for the Moyale-Isiolo road!
"You're only the second person who's ever confessed to jumping all over my Roller all those years ago," the present owner told me.
"Look at all the dents in the canopy! Your fellow culprit said there was a wall alongside, which you all used to climb up on, jump onto the canopy, then onto the wheels and into the footplate. Is that right?"
What could I say.
The present owner, the second since Westminster council disposed of it, is a 'preserver' rather than a 'restorer', doing just enough work to keep the machine safe and functional, no more. A lot of it certainly looks as though it's never been painted since those playground days of the 50s, although some of it must have been, as the first owner replaced the boiler and tubes.
"Cast your mind back," he asked. "When you were bouncing all over it, did you notice? Was the Aveling badge there on the front? The rampant horse?"
He gave me a deep meaningful look, one to stimulate anyone's memory cells into a super-human effort of data retrieval, pleading with my brain to remember.
"The badge you see here," he continued, his gaze probing my face for fifty-five-year-old information, "was on the machine when I bought it from the first owner, but no one seems to know whether it's the original. It would be nice to know! Do you remember?"
His eyes flicked to and fro, attempting to build a super-highway between my head, the front of Churchill and the Churchill Gardens Estate. But it was a feat of memory too far.
"We used to spend all our time trying to fix the clutch and accelerator," I replied. "We never bothered with: Look! There's a 1923 Aveling model 503! Let's see if we can get the badge off it while no one's looking. A dry box of matches was far more important."
So sadly, I couldn't help.
But I did suggest, "The Royal Institute of British Architects has a massive picture library of that estate. Some of it is on their web site and one photo shows the rear half of your steam roller in the playground. Maybe a browse through their archives will reveal the truth of the matter."
So I left him pondering, 'do I really want to know or is it better left alone?'
Later, just to prove it does indeed roll along after all those years being nailed down in Pimlico, off it trundled across the fairground, through the black smoke of dozens of fellow steam engines.
Fire and Water, Blazing like it Ought'a. Churchill rolls the dirt.
I wonder if one of these has ever done London to Cape Town, or RTW?
Back home, I've a new project.
Every weekday now I make my way slowly through half-closed motorways to the radiotherapy unit in Guildford.
There, it's compulsory to recite name, rank and serial number on arrival.
That is: name, first line of address and date of birth.
Twice. At reception and then in the ops room. Everyday.
So tomorrow I'm off to the vets. I'll get a little chip put in the back of my neck to save all this identification rigmarole. It'll have my life history on it, present and all past addresses - you'll be able to read this blog from it.
But alas, "No, don't do that, it'll be a waste. We don't have anything to read the chip with," they tell me, standing next to half a ton and a million pounds worth of Linear Accelerator!
Well, I have the answer. On Monday I'll turn up with the chip installed, and a donation of a Kindle with WiFi. That'll revolutionise things a bit in the NHS!
But today, a possibly better opportunity arose. Some of the zapping appointments were different to normal, including mine, because these Linear Accelerators are serviced quite regularly. By in-house engineers. So I've put out a feeler to the hospital's engineering department to see if I can sneak a look inside one of them during its service. Maybe I'll see a straightforward way for the machine to directly read the chip in the patient's neck........
That may sound a bit crazy, but you never know. Back in the late 60s, my boss at the time gained a patent and not a little fame by developing a device that became extensively used for a while in medical labs. It was a carousel of test tubes, about 40 or so, that rotated in steps. It held each tube precisely under any sort of sampling or testing paraphenalia, for an exact amount of time, as required, accurate to a millisecond or so.
He'd worked for many years on old-fashioned electro-mechanical telephone exchanges and developed his machine from what he'd learnt on that job. The basic mechanism being a switching uni-selector. Quite an advanced idea at the time, although, of course, the fast progress of technology meant his machine was probably superceded within a few years, or less.
By the time he gained the patent for it he'd moved on to the development of advanced (at that time) multi-channel cable TV networks where he was my boss, and continued to come up with all sorts of ideas for spin-off applications.
So you never know. My idea may come to something, although I'm sure someone else is already steaming ahead with a similar chip-reading idea for patient identification.
Either that, or tomorrow is the 1st of April. Hope I didn't miss an appointment.
Next time, I'll have a good supply of syrup to go with the waffle.....
While I was enjoying the Lake District, riots were going on in London. And elsewhere.
But riots have been occurring in London, and in Engand, for centuries. It's not really a new thing.
But that's no excuse, and it's very sad.
Equally sad is all the rubbish that is said and printed in the media, most of it to serve one of three objectives:
To increase newspaper sales,
To increase viewing figures,
To make political capital.
I was pointed to the following video a few weeks ago, when hoards of people were out on the streets on the Isle of Man and its capital, Douglas, occupying the roads and pavements and completely curtailing normal everyday activities. It's a video made by an onlooker showing the police brutality they employ, mainly on holiday visitors, to try to make things safe enough for residents to continue their day-to-day lives unhindered.
If you're concerned that similar techiques should be used where you live, then maybe you should write to your MP and local council straightaway.
In the meantime, I was just thinking it's about twenty-two years since I've been to the IOM. This video brings back memories (not much has changed at all in the Island's culture), so it's definitely time to take an adventure up there again. Next year.......
News From Addis Ababa
Firstly, the truck that Caroline and Beau had arranged to take them to Addis from Awasa didn't turn up. So Beau lined up a few clean spark plugs and a plug spanner in a roll of rag, and they set off on their own. A number of 'stopped to make adjustments' sessions later they reached Addis.
Beau dismantled the top-end of his engine and found evidence of serious oil-burning.
Although the cylinder head didn't look too bad for an engine of unknown history.
But a lot of carbon in those inlet ports.
A local mechanic found new valve oil-seals, but drew a blank on piston rings.
So they reassembled everything, tried it out, and found no difference. Still a huge amount of smoke from the exhaust and the spark plug being oiled up in very short order.
The top end was removed again, and new piston rings obtained from Fowlers of Bristol and couriered out.
On re-assembly a bolt broke (don't know which one yet) delaying things a bit more. Which was tricky because Caroline has a deadline to be back at work in Khartoum which required moving on from Addis by Friday at the latest.
As it was, Beau had his bike back on the road by Friday afternoon, running OK, so they both departed for Khartoum very early Saturday.
We wish them well. And hope to hear of their arrival in Khartoum early in the coming week.
Moving on, I've at last acquired the most traditional of biker's accessory. All on the NHS, free of charge.
Tattoos. Three of them. How about that?
I had them done last week, as various technicians and medics took careful aim with lasers, CT scanners and felt-tip pens.
My three tiny dots will show the supercharged beams of particles the correct route to the tumour during daily radiotherapy, just like a GPS I suppose.
I'll assume the accuracy is a shade better than with my fourteen-year old GPS that steered me well enough around Africa.
I get asked now and again about progress.
Firstly I get confused, is it about medicine or astrology? I was born under the sign of cancer - so is the treatment for 'constellations'?
You see how easy it is to get confused.
So I read the leaflet again that comes with the hormone treatment drug. No, this is definitely for the medical complaint.
There's a long list of side effects.
There are so many, they are organised into groups according to the basic nature of the unwanted effect. It gives you a sense of confidence in the navigation skills of the pharmacologists - maybe.
In the top group it says 'weight gain'. Oh dear, always difficult, that.
Further down the long leaflet, in another group we see, 'weight loss'.
"Errrr! Didn't you just miss a turning there? That's the direction we want isn't it?"
No matter, we can always turn round.
It's the side effects that aren't listed that I'll need to mention at the next consultation.
I'm having to fight a serious one already, and I have many months of this stuff ahead.
I feel a worrying, almost irresistible urge, that's becoming impossible to combat.
....... to - errrr - go shopping!
J&S would be bad enough - but M&S!!!!
People who know about the hormone treatment ask, "Hey, how's it going? Can you do two things at once yet?"
"Not a hope. I can't even walk to the exit and chew gum when I suddenly find myself inside Marks & Spencers!"
I'm hoping, as I haven't yet asked, that when the radiotherapy gets under way next week they won't put the same restrictions on me that I had after spending a while in the Department of Nuclear Medicine having my skeleton probed by glowing isotopes. They said I had to keep away from pregnant women and babies for the rest of the day. Well, I suppose that was OK as the 'rest of my day' comprised going to Waitrose (side effect of the hormone stuff) where you rarely bump into another customer who doesn't have the full house of a bus pass and a senior railcard. Isn't senior citizenship wonderful? Nuclear Medicine, "What's that?" I thought when the appointment arrived. I had visions of a week or so of covert security checks being done on me, like when I used to visit Aldermaston and Dungeness for work. Although no restrictions then on picking up babies.
But no, when I arrived for the appointment I was whisked straight in for the process, no photographing or airport security or anything.
But thinking about it again, when the 'nuclear nurse' was administering the isotopes, she did suddenly exclaim, "Ah, you're wearing the same MBT trainers as me!"
That must have been it..... security clearance by secretly checking my trainers!
At the Inn in Nether Wasdale four guests were setting off to scale Scafell Pike after breakfast, equipped with a day's provisions in rucksacks.
So I asked the barman, "That mountain, can you just walk up it, or does it require real climbing, hands as well as feet?"
"No, you can just hike up, it's part of a hiking route."
But this is England's highest mountain, I thought. There must be a catch somewhere.
Anyway, I set off for the Wasdale Head car park at its base, just to do a recce, you understand, just to see the scenery. Carrying nothing, I climbed over the first stile and crossed the first field. I realised I'd left my water behind but had a few Brazil nuts, my camera and jacket. That'll do for a quick recce.
Three and a half hours later, somehow or other, I'd arrived at the top.
Once you get going, there doesn't seem to be a reason to stop, apart from the physical aches and twinges. But I was full of Dharma and Heruka Empowerment from Conishead Priory, and it did a good job.
Plus, there are the motivating people you meet on the way up.
"Hi, you look like you're out for a Sunday stroll."
Well, yes, I did feel a bit conspicuous - no rucksack, water bottle or provisions.
I encountered a couple of serious climbers laden with ropes and climbing paraphernalia, headed not to the top but to the high vertiginous rock cliffs off to the right.
"You're nearly halfway, you'll get there no problem."
"How are we doing for time?" I asked.
"Don't know, but these lads will know."
We asked a group just passing.
"Quarter past twelve."
"There, you've got plenty of time for a nice easy climb to the top."
They pointed out the tricky section up ahead, the 'Vertical Scramble' at a place called Mickledore, up above Hollow Stones.
"After that it's straightforward, except the route isn't very clear. But there are plenty of people on the mountain so that'll be alright. Do you have a map?"
Yes, I had a map.
So onwards and upwards.
Someone said to remember that you can't see the actual summit until you're just five minutes away, "So that's always a nice surprise!"
And it was.
Especially as I had neither intention nor even less, expectation, of undertaking this whole enterprise when I stepped out of the car park a worrying distance below.
On approaching the 'Vertical Scramble' with an aching tiredness setting in, I thought for a moment of Shackleton on his 1908 expedition. He called a halt to his march to the South Pole with just 97 miles to go, after walking and hauling sledges 750 miles from Cape Royds. He turned his men round and headed back, sensing that a safe return would become unattainable otherwise.
But there was a lot of camaraderie on these slopes and the unexpected goal was achieved. Not without disappointment though. A knowledgeable hiker on his way down had assured me there was an ice cream van at the top - you can't believe anything you hear these days.
So, the photos:
Wastwater from a little way up the climb.
Small stream to cross a little further up.
The summit is way out of sight way above this lot.
And only a tiny triangle of Wastwater is left in sight.
The 'Vertical Scramble' at Mickledore. In centre of pic.
Looking back down the scramble.
Shortly after, in the far distance, Sellafield (Windscale nuclear) comes into view, the Irish Sea beyond.
Quite suddenly, the crowd at the summit appears. What a welcome sight!
The dog wonders, "Why??"
The views from the summit look-out. Roughly west, with Wastwater visible again at this height.
Everyone asks one another to take photos.
Eventually it was time to start the long trek down. Chats with other climbers, the appearance of a second route joining my one near the top, and a look at my map, revealed that there are two routes. I'd completely missed the alternative one on the way up. It was slightly longer but avoided a descent down the tricky scrambling path, so that was alright then.
By the time I'd got some way below 'Hollow Stones', a look behind revealed that the low clouds had now descended to these crags a long way below the summit.
Total round trip is a shade under six miles, with elevation gain of 2900 feet (just over 1/2 mile). Very leisurely if you take all day, and an excellent way to spend the day if you find good weather in the Lake District.
That's the key I suppose - the weather. The Lake District is said to be the rainiest part of England at any time of year. Including these couple of weeks. Today's was almost the best weather of my visit, so it's just as well I ventured to the bottom of Scafell Pike and took advantage of it, but even then the clouds descended later in the day (although staying dry).
I'm puzzled though. Touring around all these lakes and mountains, there are campsites everywhere. And a lot of them are full. In the wettest part of the country.
Why's that then?
Well, see below. After my quick first-time visit up here I think I can safely say, like the rain and the campsites, there are more pubs, breweries and tea-rooms to visit than in any other bit of English countryside. There's always one nearby so you can escape the rain.
Back at the Screes Inn in Nether Wasdale I felt a touch of deja vu. Apart from my legs no longer working, the railways and rivers of East Africa sprung back to mind. I couldn't make head nor tail of the London Underground map pinned up in the bar.
Not only was there no Victoria Line, but no Victoria Nile nor Circle Line either:
Perhaps they don't know that the Circle Line is actually the shape of a bottle of beer on its side, with Aldgate at the bottleneck end, and The Best 12 in London at the bottom of the neck. Imagine this is the inside of your engine the next time you're bowling along on your bike.....
You'll see here that the Coniston Brewing Company produces an excellent beer called Oliver's Light Ale.
I'll have to have a serious word with that Grandson of mine......
But Cumbria truly has a remarkable collection of independent breweries. In Ambleside I had a superb pint of Laughing Gravy, from Ulverston. It features in the previous posting on this blog and the posting for 10th June 2009.
He's right here, nipping Ollie's trouser leg:
Stan's dog Laughing Gravy who features in the film of the same name.
A small selection of Laurel and Hardy titles now re-born in Ulverston beers.
Right across the road from the Screes Inn is the micro-brewery 'Strands Brewery'. One of their brews is called Errmmm (brewed for the undecided).
I sampled some.
"What does it taste like?"
How come I've never been to this part of England before??
"Across the Ganges?
The Silk Road?
The Road To Mandalay?
The Gun Barrel Highway?
You've still never seen Grasmere, have you? Kilnshaw Chimney?
Nor Scafell Pike.
Around the world you go, and never seen the magnificence of your own doorstep!"
"Well actually," I ventured to reply to my friend Michael, "I'm going to Ulverston first, with tent, then a saunter around to Ambleside and to Wastwater and thereabouts."
I explained that with my 'Little Interruption' now added to the proceedings, I've decided it's a good opportunity to see my own doorstep - to give it a scrub.
"And about time too," replied Michael. "And for all that scenery and wilderness that you've neglected all these years, make sure you take a good strong brush!"
Michael is an expert and devotee of the Lake District. Every time I've told him about some new trip or big adventure, he's responded with a big sigh, a wagging finger, and, "Look, it's only a little way up the M6, why are you going two continents away when you've yet to see the best bits of your own country??"
I'd saved up this announcement, and not booked anything, till the last moment.
"When are you going?" he enquired.
He looked pleased and gave me an endless list of valleys to visit, peaks to climb and views to appreciate.
So off I went to see mountains again, in the North West of England.
I thought I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, when a sign on the road said 'Isle of Man TT'
"No, this is the wrong place and wrong time," I thought. Although The Island is just across the water and more-or-less dead ahead.
Also dead ahead was the Lakeland Motor Museum, with a special display of this year's TT races.
And I learned where the endless debate ends on which tyre to use for mud, for sand, for desert, for rocks, for marbles. Right here:
As far as I can see, the ideal tyre for everything.
No need, even, to remove the wheel to mend a puncture.
Where can I buy one?
A 1909 version of the Panther my Dad commuted to work on daily in the 50s and 60s. Completely different to his in every respect of course. Except, enigmatically, the engine. It's hardly changed.
Round the back, I was surprised to find my old office, nicely done up with fresh paint.
No, I didn't ride a BSA AA sidecar outfit, but occasionally repaired the phones in these things, and in those other similar boxes now referred to as 'The Tardis'.
Fifty years ago you could just about fit a phone, a tool wallet and a stranded traveller in one. Now, they seem to fit a phone, tools and a time traveller in one, plus a huge consol room with power station attached. I've been trying to find out how, so I can do the same with my garage.
Haven't found out yet but am still working on it.
I've had this in the pipeline at home for a while, hoping it will reveal the secret when construction gets underway.
Will let you know.
In Ulverston I stopped here:
Three Minds without a single Thought.
This photo replaces the original one in the posting for 10th June 2009, 'Question Marks'.
And then on to here, a couple of miles south, to pitch my tent:
Or rather, in the midst of the aboretum just below these twin entrance towers of Conishead Priory, on the western side of Morecambe Bay.
There were upwards of five hundred tents packed into this dense little forest, cheek by guy-rope. Squeezed in amongst Douglas Fir, Coast Redwoods, and ancient Cedars, Beech and Oaks.
After a couple of nights of adventure with the stair-rod rain, the tent population fell a bit:
But I was pleased with the performance of my little tent in the deluges, not having used it since the desert of Namibia.
After a week and a bit at Conishead Priory I headed to Ambleside at the top end of Lake Windermere, to stay and explore for a couple of days.
(Not in my tent now, this from my bedroom window)
First was one of Michael's places, the steep twisty back road (known as The Struggle) to Kirkstone Pass, around Kilnshaw Chimney.
A wee chink of Lake Windermere from some way up The Struggle.
Windermere from about two-thirds up the Chimney.
That was enough mountaineering I thought, with the clouds loitering with intent and the wind seeming to carry a message.
Shortly after I got back down, this was the wind's message.
Then on to Ullswater where the sun half came out.
On departing Ambleside I headed west to the Hardknot Pass.
Approaching the start of the pass.
A little way up the pass, looking back towards Ambleside.
Approaching the summit of the Hardknot Pass.
And looking back down again.
Looking ahead from the summit down towards Eskdale.
Heading north-east from Eskdale brings us to Wast Water. The lower slopes of Scafell Pike on the right.
Great Scoatfell, just north of the village of Nether Wasdale.
And the village inn just happened to have a room free for a couple of days.
There are quite active discussions from time to time in forums on this website and others, about what really is an adventure in our modern age.
Countries mentioned in this blog include Egypt, Libya and Syria. Well, there are adventures going on in those places now, but sadly not of a nature to attract most users of this website. Many threads now comprise discussions on how at least two of these countries can be avoided, temporarily at least.
A contributor to one of the forums said, “The concept of adventure, what it is, is all in the mind.” Which is exactly right I think.
Other contributors have pointed to celebrated travel and exploration books, citing various individual titles as the ‘definition of adventure’. So I’ll mention here, The Worst Journey In The World, the account of an incredible adventure in the depths of the Antarctic winter, that commenced a hundred years ago tomorrow, 27th June 1911.
It lasted five weeks and was a part of Scott’s second exploration of Antarctica. Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard hauled sledges laden down with everything needed to support life in that environment, across a deep-frozen and chaotic polar landscape, in continuous night time darkness, with not even a tent for shelter after it was ripped away in a blizzard. Miraculously they found it again after a few days wrapped around rocks and boulders. This adventure is usually overshadowed by Scott’s fateful journey to the South Pole the following summer when he took Wilson and Bowers with him. None returned.
Apsley Cherry-Garrard states in his preface to The Worst Journey, ‘The writing of a book is an adventure, even if you don’t think anyone is going to read it.......’
How true. And right now, ditto this blog.
I’ve started a new adventure. It commenced back in February when I decided enough is enough, after a couple of months of the English winter I needed some sun, so booked a one-way ticket to the south of Spain.
I thought maybe to stay over there until Easter, or until sufficient sunlight had returned to England to venture back. Before departure, one of those “you never know what’s round the corner” events occurred, the start of maybe my biggest adventure yet.
So here it is, on the eve of the hundredth anniversary of Cherry-Garrard’s great adventure in Antarctica.
I had to hurry back from Spain earlier than planned to deal with that “round the corner” incident. It led to many more journeys, hither and thither, a crescendo of unknowns and mysteries building up to the big one. That was back in the middle of May when I arrived at the final destination after all those expedition trips of the previous weeks. I felt like a tin of baked beans that had travelled through the bar code scanner half a dozen times, beeping and blipping and buzzing, before finally arriving on the other side of the checkout with the price revealed at last.
Who would have thought that I would now need to reminisce a bunch of past motorcycle adventures, right in the middle of this most unknown of all adventures?
"Well, everything's clear!"
Phew! That was good to hear.
"Except, on your bone scan, there's a strange hotspot."
"Here we go," I thought. "There's always a BUT!........"
The Doc expanded the image on the screen, a ghostly skull-and-crossbones apparition staring straight out into the room in the way that skulls and crossbones do.
Except, that was me!
There was a strange and distinct black dot, right above the eerie, empty eye-socket. Like the beginnings of a real pirate eye-patch.
The Doc leaned towards me and tapped my own left eyebrow. "It's right here, in the bone.
“And it’s a bit rare. So we need to account for it.”
“Old damage and injuries will show up on this scan,” he continued. “So have you ever had any trauma there?"
Well, where to begin!...... Trauma! What a sudden change of topic!....... How far back do you want to go? How long have you got?
It took a moment to get my thoughts straight. After paying intense attention to unknown future adventures, I suddenly had to grope around in the past.
It was as though that tin of baked beans was travelling back through the checkout yet again.
"About twelve years ago. A motorbike crash. Hit the ground face down, slid quite fast head-first into the steel post of a road-side crash barrier. I remember that bit quite well. The usual slow-motion effect for a second or two, thinking I've a good helmet on, I must aim for the post head-on, otherwise I'll be squashed pretty violently under the hard edge of the barrier. That won’t be good. My helmet was quite badly cracked. I have no other memory of the accident or what led up to it, so they diagnosed concussion and kept me in. Broke my hand in two places."
“Ahh, that’ll be it for sure,” said the Doc.
“And another one,” I continued.
“Eighteen years ago, motorbike again. Haven’t the faintest idea what happened. No witnesses. I was found with my bike in a pile distributed around the base of a lampost up on the kerb. Unconscious for quite a few hours, no memory of anything for many hours before it happened. Dislocated shoulder, broken ankle, broken ribs. They brought me right here to this hospital. First class care, and helmet with a big crack in it.”
“OK, I think that’ll explain it nicely.”
“Hold on, there’s this as well. Forty years ago, another motorbike I’m afraid. Locked my front brake at Braddan Bridge on the Isle of Man, slid a long way with both me and the bike hitting the edge of the kerb I think. It was the day before practice week started and I had the honour of being told at Noble’s Hospital ‘You’re the first in here this year!’ So at least something came out of it. Bike was OK and no bones broken.”
“Well, I think we’re safe to ignore this little dot then.....”
“Just remembered - around 1965 - no motorbike this time. I was day dreaming and walked into the road right in front of a car. You know, they’re such dangerous things those cars. But luckily for the driver there was a witness because I don’t remember a thing from about three hours before to about five hours afterwards when I woke up in hospital. Don’t know what part of me hit the tarmac but nothing broken. Wasn’t wearing a helmet of course.”
“Right, that sews it up........”
“Wait! There’s more - 1963 - a bicycle this time - I was pedalling furiously downhill as you do at that age, but it was thick fog and at night - smacked straight into the back of a parked car and smashed my nose quite badly, needed an operation to put it back together. Don’t remember what else hit the car other than the front wheel and my nose, but something else must have at that speed.”
“That’ll be en-..........”
“........ probably the last one, about three of four years old, playing in the street outside my grandparents’ house in central London (as children did in those days!) A neighbour found me unconscious on the pavement, he had to knock on a few doors to find out where I belonged. I still remember waking up in a stark hospital room with strange people, trapped in a steel cot, and all dark outside by then. The conclusion was, I either ran straight into a lampost or tripped up the kerb and hit my head on the pavement. No one saw it, Pimlico was a very quiet neighbourhood in those days.”
“Well, that one is probably too long ago to......”
“It’s a bit strange isn’t it?” I interrupted. “After all that, the little dot on my scan seems to be a bit on the small side, don‘t you think?“
"Well, it's a place cancers hardly ever get to, including from the prostate. Very rare. So I think we can eliminate it from enquiries now.”
Then it was back to the reality of the situation. A very high level of confidence that the tumour hasn’t spread, and treatment started straightaway. Hormone juggling first, leading up to radiotherapy after three months.
At a later appointment to book the radio work (sounds like old times back in the telecoms industry) we reviewed all the scans again.
“Yes, we’re certain there’s nothing on any of the scans that shows any spreading.”
“But we can never rule out any microscopic spread. On the other hand,” continued the Doc, “you remember I estimated that this tumour started about twenty-five years ago. Well, seeing your account of past bone traumas, I think I’m confident to say that the tumour in your prostate has found it’s such a dangerous world out there that it long ago decided never to venture out.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “But tell me this. Seeing your account of this hormone treatment, when I go to the swimming pool tomorrow for my usual session, should I enquire as to which changing room to use? Will they be able to give me a sensible answer?”
“Noooo.... Should be no need for that!” he replied. “But if ever you find you can stop shaving in the mornings, maybe then will be the time to tactfully enquire.”
“But don’t worry,” he continued, “by the time the Olympic team selections start, you’ll still definitely qualify for the men’s events, in one aspect at least.”
.......... So a completely different sort of adventure continues for now. And writing about it is certainly an adventure in itself.
And would you believe it? The radiotherapy takes place in Guildford. The most direct route there is via a neat little network of muddy and sandy green lane byways between Leatherhead and Shere. So I hope HM The Bike will be well used during this episode - with no more bone traumas........
Moving on, there’s not much in the way of photos you can use to illustrate the foregoing story. So for a different sort of adventure I’ve transferred a few more pictures to the digital world from my visit to Antarctica.
And as announced in the earlier posting of 18th June, here’s the most outrageous bit of parking I’ve ever seen.
Mr. Polar Parking Attendant, looking remarkably like one R. McCrankpin, prepares to slap an ice-encrusted parking ticket onto the windscreen of the good ship ‘Captain Baker’, registered as ‘Kapitan Khlebnikov’ at the Russian DVLA. (In Cyrillic of course).
Windscreen? What windscreen? Where?
The Meter Maids give up and build a snowman instead.
Reversing neatly out of the parking space.
“Honest Your Honour, there wasn’t a single ‘No Parking’ sign to be seen!”
I made this trip in January 2000, on the Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov, then chartered to the tourist industry after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its navy.
A truly incredible journey from Tasmania, stopping off at many Australian and New Zealand sub-Antarctic islands on the way. Landings on the Antarctic continent followed at Cape Adare to visit Borchgrevink's 1899 hut (still in well-maintained condition) and the Italian research base at Terra Nova Bay, before arriving in McMurdo Sound and the U.S. base. This brought us to the southernmost point of sea navigation, 843 miles from the South Pole.
All us passengers had free access to the bridge at all times. With the proviso, "Please don't fiddle with the main GPS, it's connected to the auto-pilot. We've fitted another one, to the right, for passengers to play with. The ship's radar is also available for your amusement whenever the crew aren't using it."
The two helicopters on board took us on many excursions inland, including to Taylor’s Dry Valley in one of the world’s most extreme deserts.
On the return, the ship moored up at Cape Royds and Cape Evans for visits to Shackleton‘s 1907 hut and Scott‘s 1911 hut. Followed by a close approach to the Ross Ice Shelf, within about a hundred yards or so. But the planned helicopter landings onto the top of the shelf were abandoned owing to southerly blizzard winds blowing from the interior.
There were Yamaha Enduros on board as well that took us on a few landfalls, (which gives this posting a least a little relevance to this website.......)
But I didn't think much of the choice of tyres for the local terrain.
Some more photos:
A day or so out of Hobart, roughly where the Pacific meets the Southern Ocean, we moored up at Macquarie Island. An Australian World Heritage Site. Very appropriate as it seemed to be home to half the world’s population of seals and penguins.
A popular beach. Popular with about 20,000 Royal Penguins. The photo doesn’t convey the volume of the noise I’m afraid.
The Khlebnikov’s engine room was too vast to fit into one camera lens, this is a small part of one of six diesel engines......
...... and some essential spares - a couple of pistons, a shade larger than you’d find inside any Yamaha.
Other than that, this engine room was just too huge to capture in a single picture.
Back out on deck, we headed south through the Ross Sea towards Ross Island, with Victoria Land on our right (sorry, starboard).
Close to the tongue of the Campbell Glacier we took helicopter rides up and over it.
The view from above.
Cherry-Garrard’s expedition crossed a few glacier tongues on its way from Cape Evans to Cape Crozier, the entire length of Ross Island plus a bit. They would have negotiated terrain similar to this, with loaded sledges, in the dark, there and back.
Ross Island came into view, enabling a pretty unique photo.
Mt Erebus is an active volcano, ejecting a constant column of steam. Consequently in these climes, for around 90% of the time, its summit is shrouded in cloud.
The temperature must have lifted on our summer arrival, and so did the cloud.
At the western end of Ross Island, where the Ross Sea is permanently frozen, the ship is parked up for helicopter access to McMurdo, Scott Base and Scott’s Discovery expedition hut of 1901-04. The two helicopters ferry us all to Hut Point for a visit to the hut, and a climb up Observation Hill which overlooks it and the two research bases.
Looking roughly northwest. In the distance are the mountains of Victoria Land.
The wide polished track on the left is the roadway access to the ice airstrip some way in the distance.
The open water is a man-made ‘turning pool’, kept open by a US icebreaker, where supply ships moor up and manoeuvre.
Without a doubt, this is an expensive place for the K. Khlebnikov to park, even though it‘s capable of cutting its own bay.
Scott’s 1901 Discovery Hut
Built to last maybe 20 years, it still stands against the Antarctic weather, but needs much care and restoration work to do so.
A small corner of the interior.
Through the helicopter window, about to land in the Taylor Dry Valley, west of Ross Island amongst the Royal Society mountain ranges.
The Taylor Glacier flows into the Dry Valley. The extreme desert conditions result in none of this ice ever turning to liquid water. It evaporates straight into the atmosphere.
After departing McMurdo Sound we moored at Cape Royds to visit Shackleton’s Nimrod hut.
A corner of the sleeping quarters. Reindeer skin sleeping bag, about a hundred years old, looks like it’s skin-side-outside-fur-side-inside.
(Yes, Beau has set Ponting’s little poem to music. But don’t know how to transcribe music scores onto this website).
This tour had some wacky excursions on the agenda as well as lots of serious sight-seeing stuff. Firstly, a barbeque on the ice.
Having found a firm-looking expanse of solid floating sea ice, on the way back north from McMurdo Sound, the K.K. was neatly parked.
Red flags mark where passengers are allowed to go, and more importantly, not allowed to go.
A few rows of tables were laid out, a couple of gas BBQs and everything was in full swing.
(Rustus McC is 2nd back on the right hand side)
But the ice had other ideas.
Sat next to the parked ship, we munched on our burgers and lamb chops, and took photos, oblivious to everything around.
The shadow of a crew member fell across the end of our table. “Hi there! Everything OK with your meal? Warm enough? Now, there’s no need to panic, please keep calm and wait till you’re called. We have to interrupt the festivities.”
“Immediately I call you, and not a moment before” she continued earnestly, “you must instantly get up and follow me precisely to the bottom of the gangway. Please, nobody step out of line!”
The ice had begun to crack. Inconveniently and quite seriously almost under our feet, with a few hundred fathoms of icy water right below.
What’s more, it happened before our ice cream dessert was served!
Against our threat of mutiny, we were hurriedly herded back to the gangway in strict single file as huge cracks and open water snaked towards our shuffling queue.
Even a concerned penguin came along to wave us off of the disintegrating ice while the crew quickly craned all the tables and BBQ goodies back on deck.
Growling cracks and leads of open water zigzagged towards our feet as we hurried onto the first steps of the gangway.
Everyone was safely counted back on board in good time. Panic didn’t ensue.
And it wasn’t only our ice cream afters that had to be cancelled. Plans to camp out that night in real polar tents on the ice were well and truly scuppered.
OK, it wouldn’t have been a real night, with twenty-four hour daylight, but that’s not the point......
Further along the Victoria Land coast, a small group of Emperor Penguins had been discovered in a tiny inlet. There are strict rules on how close humans are allowed to approach wildlife specially in this sort of unusual situation. It was unusual because by now all Emperors had left the continent to live in the sea for a few months. We never expected to see any at this time of year.
This group must have been unwell in some way, there were still traces of their winter coats on them.
The Zodiac inflatable boats with their Yamaha Enduro engines brought us to the entrance of the inlet just sufficiently close to catch a glimpse.
Many of the huge icebergs that break off of the ice shelves have massive caves cut into them by a few years of wave action.
Inside these caves great icicles form, hanging from the ceilings, growing ever bigger from the spray from waves.
Often, these icebergs become top heavy and turn turtle, and then slowly disintegrate.
Thus what were once massive icicles hanging from ceilings become pointed ice columns standing up on top of decaying slabs of old iceberg.
Another strange formation, the Stonehenge Iceberg.
A helicopter-landing onto Sturge Island was on the itinerary, but weather intervened again. Instead, we crowded onto the bridge to watch the helmsman make as close an approach as possible to the ice cliffs in very murky conditions. It became quite hushed on the bridge as the ghostly white cliffs slowly filled all the windows.
A few moments after I snapped this scene the helmsman steered us sharp left (oops, hard a'port) for a cruise close alongside the island's coastline.
The Antarctic conditions might have stopped us helicoptering up onto the Ross Ice Shelf, and camping on the sea ice, but never mind, there were still crazy interludes on the menu to compensate.
Near Cape Adare on the return sailing, we found a 20 mile by 15 mile iceberg that was nice and firmly grounded, and in the sunshine.
Some of the crew were lifted up onto it, with shovels and bottles, to build a bar out of blocks of snow. Before we knew it we were all flown in for an impromptu farewell party.
Helicopter final approach.
The dual-purpose ice bar and landing platform. We all hoped that this helicopter was bringing an ice bucket - it wasn't to be.
Being a proper iceberg, it had crevasses. This was a junior one. We were allowed to approach it carefully, lay prone on the ice, and wriggle the last short distance to peer right down inside it.
There we could point our camera lenses straight down into the depths to get the obligatory photo.
I don’t recall anyone attempting this after consuming too much champagne but the crew kept a very close eye on proceedings.
Final toast on departing the Ross Sea and its convivial iceberg.
(Top of the ship’s mast and funnel just visible behind)
Very suitable choice of bubbly from the icebreaker’s extensive wine cellar.
The sun was two hours late this morning. It was supposed to rise at 4:52 but didn't show up until 7am, through a chink in the cloud.
Not a very good performance. Its wages should be docked. Or maybe the salary of those astronomers who organise all this stuff - the rising of the sun and the passage of the stars.
Or are the weather forecasters to blame? I don't know.
I was at Stonehenge waiting for it, in the dark, along with ten thousand or so other hopefuls, many of whom were on their way to Glastonbury. It's that sort of event. Not many suits and ties to be seen here. And a little bit of mud. Not much, just enough to ensure the suits are left at home.
When you visit Stonehenge on a normal day, you're kept well away from the stones by stout ropes and guards. No hugging or touching allowed. Thus the solstice is really the only time to visit for that 'up close experience'.
A fairly typical encounter: Close to sunrise I happened to be standing on a fallen stone at the edge of the circle. A Guinevere look-alike came up and asked, "Can you see King Arthur from up there?"
"Well, there must be close on a thousand people in there, what does he look like?"
"He's wearing a big shiny crown!"
"Oh, of course! No, I don't see any crowns. Lots of stag's heads and goat's horns though, if that helps."
An adventure back in time.
So, a few photos to add some variety to the blog. No bikes, nor cars are allowed within about a mile of the site on the night of the solstice. So only the stones, and people heading for Glastonbury feature in the pictures.
It's a funny thing, but there were lots of Guineveres there......
Where are you Beau? Still in Khartoum?
"Yes, still here. The music students have just done a jazz concert at the French Cultural Institute. A great time!"
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