Biking and training.

I have never been so trained in my life.

The year began with learning how to make blogs like this. Then I was taught how to ride a motorcycle, then how to do Victim Support, then how to resolve conflict (the mediation training) and then how to write better poetry. Last week, I added Restorative Justice to the list. That’s a sort of upgrade from Victim Support where you bring offenders up close and personal with the victims of their crimes. It’s done in a safe environment (sometimes the offender’s prison) and by means of a guided conversation. It can result in remarkable benefits for both parties. It reduces re-offending rates better than pretty much anything else and it enables the victim to put a human face to what might previously have been the stuff of nightmares.

I have also been to Brittany on the Royal Enfield! My wife, Charlotte, and I have been to France several times but never on a motorcycle and certainly not in her 21-year-old Nissan Micra. So we took both. The little red Nissan got a GB sticker and a pair of beam-benders and I made a rather classic-looking bracket for the Enfield’s GB sticker.

Back bike

Here it is – the only bike on the ferry.

So why take two vehicles? For the strenuous luxury of it. I ride 200+ miles on the motorbike but I ride light. All the luggage is in the support vehicle. When we get there, we can choose clothing suitable for the weather that day and go out sightseeing by motorcycle with Charlotte riding pillion.

The most enjoyable ride was the one we usually do by bicycle. That’s a steady uphill slog to Finisterre’s Mont St Michel. Right at the end, there’s a really steep bit. That last half mile would be difficult at the best of times but, at the end of a sweaty, breath-stealing cycle ride, it’s a killer. But not on a motorbike.

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Ha ha! You get to the steep bit, drop a cog, twist the throttle and up you go. Magic.

In the picture, you can see James Bering-Harris, one of Charlotte’s creations who often travels on holiday with us.

In the next picture, we see Charlotte at Restaurant Aristide in Huelgoat. It’s a charming place, run by an artist bloke. It’s like the authentic version of that ‘French’ cafe chain, Cafe Rouge. Have you seen those? They’re quirky in ways thought up by a committee of accountants and marketing twerks. Non-matching lampshades and suchlike.

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But Aristide is the real thing.

Right, there’s a BBC4 documentary about the song ‘Danny Boy’ starting soon so this will be where I sign off.

Just time to recall a joke told by the comedian Just Jones as part of his stage act.

Normally, when I finish my routine, I like to sing a song. Before I leave the stage, I like to sing ‘Danny Boy’.

[Audience goes ‘ooh’ and ”ahh’.]

And last week, I told the jokes, I sang ‘Danny Boy’ and there was an old boy in the front row of the audience crying his eyes out.

I said “Oh, I’m very sorry sir. You must be Irish.”

“No,” he said. “I’m a singer.”

More motorbiking!

My motorcycle training was only in March but it already seems to have happened on a different planet. Back then, the world was a dark-grey, bitterly cold sort of place with arctic winds and apocalyptic rain. Motorcycles were fast, four-cylinder things that cut through foul weather with high precision and oodles of Japanese horsepower. It was noisy, cold and highly stressful.

Now, with all tests behind me and a letter ‘A’ on my licence, motorcycling is becoming less difficult and more enjoyable every day. A week ago, I went over the new Severn Bridge to Bristol and visited my brother.

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Here he is, looking rather James Dean. You can also see that he’s being tempted. Like just about everyone who sees the bike for the first time, he said: “It’s beautiful!”

After Bristol, it was back on the road, Gloucester Road to be precise, and then the M48 which leads to the old Severn Bridge. This is an elegant, old-fashioned bridge from a gentler age. Riding across it on the Enfield, with very little traffic, it was easy to imagine oneself back in the 1960s. I shall just repeat, to the annoyance of car drivers, that, as a motorcyclist, you do not have to pay anything to cross the bridge. You just stop politely at the barrier, exchange a wave, a smile but no money, and the barrier rises for you. Twist the throttle and away you go.

Next stop was Caldicot, home of a couple of friends I hadn’t seen for ages. Yes, the fact that they lived near the old bridge was a deciding factor. Like many I know, Jane in Caldicot grew up around motorbikes and had always liked them. I don’t know why but it seems that most of the people I know turn out to have owned a BSA Bantam in the past.

On Friday, I finally made it up into the Brecon Beacons. Not going to visit anyone, this was just for the ride. Well past Merthyr and approaching Brecon, there is a beauty spot called Storey Arms. I have stopped there many times over the past 20 years and have always felt somewhat inadequate. Like a man in a lounge suit at a black-tie dinner. This is really a place where bikers stop for a rest and a cup of tea and maybe a bite to eat from the burger van. Car drivers are allowed to stop there but they are looked upon with pity. Now, finally, I was properly equipped for Story Arms!

Storey Arms

I rumbled into the lay-by and stopped where I would be able to photograph the bike with a nice background. I bought a cup of tea and immediately got chatting to a bloke called Dave from Staffordshire who was on his way to Somerset. Then two guys from Somerset turn up – one of them on a Triumph. You can just see half the front wheel of the Triumph in the picture.

Then it was on to Hay-on-Wye and lunch at The Granary. Rode home via Clyro, thus touching Radnorshire, which is important.

The weather turned as I was half way home and the A470 had strong crosswinds. Serious buffeting on the bike. This is where the first rule of motorcycling comes in. Well, first rule for me, anyway. The rule is: The bike will go where you look.

So, if there’s something ahead that you want to avoid, like a pothole, don’t look at the pothole, look at the bit of road you want to travel on. It works with buffeting too. Maintain a steady speed and just keep looking at the centre of the lane ahead of you. Well, after 600 words, I think you probably had enough. If you have been, thankyou for reading.

Next time, turning a routine trip into a little adventure and … carrying a pillion passenger for the first time!