I passed!

I passed, I passed, I passed!
I just got back home from Merthyr Tydfil where I took the test.
After my lunchtime test, I had to wait for a fellow student, Sean, to take his test. And he passed as well.
So we followed the instructor back to Cardiff as qualified bikers. Symbolically, we were not fitted with radios!
We did, er, 70mph (officer) on the way home.
Tomorrow, I will ride my Royal Enfield home from its shed in Cowbridge.

What’s all this about a motorbike?

Mod 1

Here I am with a grin on my face next to another grinning chap on a rainy day in Newport, south Wales.This is how it feels when you pass the Mod 1, the motorcycle manoeuvering  test. Having previously passed the CBT and the theory tests, I now have one test to go before I am street legal on a bike. Which bike will it be? This one. A lovely Royal Enfield. My test is on Monday, 15 April.

Wish me well.

Royal Enfield

Me and my bike.

Becoming a biker

Right, so I’ve got the bike, now I have to get a licence.

When I was a young man, in another millennium, passing a motorbike test was easy-peasy. And a lot of young men got killed or badly injured. When I was 16, I had a moped which I rode for a year with ‘L’ plates. At any time, I could have taken a test on that moped and got a motorcycle licence. If I’d done that, then either:

A) I wouldn’t have to go through all the bother of taking the modern tests.

B) I would have died young.


For many years, my driving licence – even when it changed to plastic – had a little symbol of a motorbike on it, showing my provisional entitlement to ride. When my latest licence arrived, I was quite annoyed to see that the little motorbike wasn’t there. I resolved to get it back – and then some!

So first I bought a motorbike. It just sort of happened. I found myself chatting with some middle-aged bikers  in a small engineering workshop in the Vale of Glamorgan, chequebook at the ready, eyeing a gorgeous, gleaming, black-and-chrome machine. How the hell did I get here?

Two days previously, I had been having lunch in my favourite seaside cafe when a bloke turned up on a classic, single-cylinder Royal Enfield from the 1950s . It turned out he was a good friend of Pam, the cafe’s cook, who was a recent convert to motorcycling. Pam introduced the biker as Chris. I told him I had been thinking of getting a bike, probably a Royal Enfield. I wasn’t after a screaming rocket  with vivid stripes and designer aggression, I just had a hankering for a classic motorcycle, something noble and steady.

“I know a man who’s selling one just like that,” said Chris. It was three years old but had been maintained to perfection by an aircraft engineer. It was an all-black, 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet with a pillion seat and a black leather pouch on the front. Pam thought it was destiny.

So I met the owner two days later in Chris’s shed. Turns out he was not merely an aircraft engineer but he had actually rebuilt two Spitfires to full airworthiness. Well, that sold it. My grandfather, Percy Whitehead, worked at Rolls Royce during World War Two. His job was building Merlin engines for Spitfires. I always smile and think of him when I’m at an air show and hear the distinctive Merlin roar as a Spitfire passes overhead. Now, here in front of me, stood a retired Spitfire builder who needed a bit of ready cash. Reader, I gave him the money.

More on the motorbike story in the next blog. Also a shed and garden update!

Yes, I’ve got a motorbike!

Redundancy acquaints a man with the back yard of his mind. This is the part of ourselves that gets scant attention when we go to work every day and always have more urgent things to bother about. But when the distractions of urgency have been removed, one can see this yard and its contents more clearly.

I once spent a week with the British Army in Northern Ireland. This was in the 1990s when the ‘Troubles’ were on and the IRA was still active. I was allowed to see inside a bunker which I shall describe only vaguely but it was a sort of co-ordination centre where there were maps and so on to show what was going on in that troubled province. It was a highly stressful environment because soldiers on the ground relied on information from that bunker. If the information was not correct, was not correctly interpreted or was not passed to the right people at the right time, that could result in people being killed who might otherwise have been saved. Everyday work in this bunker was literally a matter of life and death. In this bunker was a large poster. It did not say ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, it said:

Don’t do what’s urgent – do what’s important.

I don’t suppose they put that poster up on Day One. It will have been put there after someone had focused on immediate (and relatively trivial) issues instead of the main job and, as a consequence, lives were lost. In the civilian workplace, a total cock-up at the office rarely means anything worse than a lost contract or a tedious job having to be done all over again. This means we can ignore the ‘Do what’s important’ message for year after year without any lives being lost. Except our own.

Royal Enfield

Me and my bike.

So, in the back yard of my mind there are three things – poetry, a shed and a motorbike. The poetry survived, rather like a rose bush in my actual back garden which I discovered after removing a mass of brambles and bindweed which the previous owners had allowed to grow there. The long-term yearnings for a motorbike and a good shed were there as well, obscured by ‘urgent’ concerns.

Yes, it’s a Royal Enfield. More about my motorcycle adventure in my next post.

New shed tomorrow!

This is a big deal. For eight years, since we moved into this house, there has been a cheap, pentagonal wooden shed at the bottom of the garden. But the poor thing never knew what it was to be a shed. Not a true shed.

My wife thought of it as a place to put stuff you didn’t want in the house, such as deck chairs, bags of cat litter, curtain-pole fixtures from the old house.

The truth is that if you stuff your shed with junk, it ceases to be a shed; it’s just a junk room at the bottom of the garden. A true shed – a man’s shed – may contain only certain things. So tomorrow, I’m taking delivery of my new shed that will contain manly items such as nuts, bolts, tools and tins of creosote. And, to solve the problem of deck chairs and curtain fixtures, I’m getting another shed!

Two Sheds!

This one’s called a ‘Garden Store’ which one might describe as a small, windowless shed or a large wooden box with a sloping top. But that’s it; the second shed will solve the problem. The girlie stuff will go in one shed, blokey stuff in the other. And that will leave room in the blokey shed for that all-important shed asset – space!

Today, I’ll empty the old shed and clear the ground for the new installations. Fortunately, no rain is forecast for today or tomorrow so I can leave stuff out overnight.

If anyone has any suggestions for things that a shed simply must contain, let’s hear them.

Building a website at last!

Although I have owned a couple of domain names for ages, I have never got round to learning how to do the website thing. Now, thanks to redundancy which gives me the time, and the NUJ which gives me the training, I am well on the way. Watch out for a jolly interesting website coming our way soon!

More to follow …

And here’s some more. It’s a case of the more you learn, the more you understand how little you know.
It will take time to do this properly – even to get it started properly – but I will do it.