Sunday, 21 August 2011

A Curious Adventure to the Bulldog Bash

Yeah, we went to the Bulldog Bash. We loaded our bikes up, we rode to Stratford Upon Avon and we camped for three days in a field of bikers. Well field does not even come close, it was a town made up of Bikers, fifty thousand Bikers. That is more people than live and work in some towns. We camped in a field that was populated by bikers, organised by Bikers and Policed by Bikers. In some respects what happens here is a new state and the UK is left at the front gate, in there you are under Biker Law and some times you can feel it.

Loaded up and ready to go.

The twenty fifth Bulldog Bash was a fantastic event, as a complete virgin of the event I was a little apprehensive of what to expect. I had heard stories of who it was organised by and having read a little into it, I was just a bit worried when we set off. Our bikes were loaded with tents, bedding, stoves and one plastic kitchen sink. My panniers were full to literally bursting point (I am still to have that seam fixed!) and everything we could squeeze in was packed in water proof bags!

My MP3 player was playing some very nice chilled out Black Metal as we headed onto the Motorway and we made our way through heavy traffic. Sadly the other carriageway was blocked due to a nasty accident and as we drew level with it, emergency crews were helping people from crumpled vehicles. Having heard the stories of Carol’s late father, himself a Paramedic and Ambulance man, I wished all of those hurt a fast and painless recovery, but doubted that it would be the case for all of them.

Leaving the Motorway and turning onto the A46 was a time to relax, the road here is lovely and riding a fully loaded bike was a pure joy. Carol was leading the way still and we were making easy progress. The excitement was starting build, my first Bulldog Bash. Butterflies flapped in my tummy with excited apprehension. 

Seemed like a nice place to stop!
Getting there is an adventure, after some brief stops for a rest and a slight deviation we approached the main gate, from here things were to get very interesting. The first sight of the event is a broken old aeroplane on the approach to the site; a gravel road leads to the main gate and series of scary looking, but very polite bikers who issued us with our bright orange wrist bands. From here on in, we were under a new kind of freedom, I could feel it in the air and on my skin.

Carol and I bought a new tent for this trip, a Vango Orchy 400, a tent big enough to sleep a football team. Well OK, maybe that is an exaggeration. We chose the tent especially because it is big enough to fix a motorbike in the porch. Technically, we could fit both motorbikes and both of us with all of our gear in our tent. It is for this reason that we chose it, after all who wants to be sat on a rainy campsite trying to fix a broken down bike while getting cold, wet and covered in mud? Not us.

Home sweet home!
Our tent did not go with out comment, but for us it was perfect. Once pitched, out came our air bed which was inflated thanks to Sylvie’s battery. With home made and the furniture set out, we went exploring, orange wrist bands giving us freedom of the town. Some of what I saw appalled me, some of what I saw amazed me and some of what I saw was more fun than anything I have done before.

There was one aspect of the Bulldog that I found very difficult to deal with and technically it was nothing to do with the event. One of the stores who shall remain nameless had several flags flying above its tent, flags of a seriously dubious nature baring Swastikas and the double lightening strike lettering of the SS. As a member of Amnesty International, as a free thinking human being and as firm anti fascist believer, I found these flags to be very offensive to my very heart and soul. The stall itself was selling BB Guns, knives, cross bows, catapults and seriously dodgy looking porn. Maybe it was innocent, but it made me feel very uncomfortable being on a site with company that was flying eight large and different Nazi flags.

On a more positive note, there were many things that amazed me, the biggest if which was the numbers of friendly, happy people. With a campsite the size of a town, I expected some disturbances and yet we only got disturbed by the sound of the drag strip opening at Nine in the morning! I slept better at the Bulldog, in our double sleeping bag, on our soft airbed than I do at home. I don’t think that anyone said an unkind word to us at any point of the weekend. Many towns have far worse behaviour on a Friday night that I saw at the whole of the Bulldog Bash. It is interesting to reflect on why that was and at one point while stood in the early hours of the morning, outside a toilet block waiting for Carol to come out, I realised that I felt safer stood there among all of those strangers than I did in my home town on a Saturday afternoon. Everywhere I looked were big burly and friendly bikers, who were having fun, enjoying a relaxed weekend and just keeping themselves to themselves. Our towns could learn a thing or two.

The Biker Town at night, peaceful and calm.
My introduction to the drag strip was frankly brilliant. As I sat there bike after bike roared up that strip recording speeds and times that just got better and better. The track glistened like wet leather in the hot sunshine, perfect Tarmac, smooth and dark and needle straight. What made my day was watching a rider on a bike that had a wire basket on the back blast up that track, front wheel arcing through the air with the engine screaming. Eleven seconds from start to the gate and not once did that rider lose control of that bike. The dark blue Suzuki SV650S with the loud can that recorded time after time after time up the track and just kept going gave me the seed of an idea, maybe one day I could blast my precious Sylvie up that track too? Carol and I talked about her sending Noreen down the track, but we chose against it in the end preferring to sit and watch as race after race took place. Yet as I sat there on the top row of the stands, looking down through the rickety structure, stomach slightly tense due to my fear of heights, I could not help but smile as the smell of burned rubber and exhaust gasses passed by me on the breeze.

It is pretty high up there!
 Then came the serious stuff, the bikes with huge engines, burning special fuel, spinning huge rear tyres that sat in long extended frames. A sense of urgency appeared on the track for the first time as these bikes sat there rumbling like old diesel trucks, turbos occasionally blowing off unwanted pressure. Burnouts sent plumes of smoke up into the air, the smell like exotic perfume to my gentle virgin nose. Then came the noise as each bike sprinted like shooting stars along that quarter mile straight line of perfect black. Something in my heart went click and I knew that I had found something very, very special. Those bikes, the incredibly determined riders upon them hit speeds I can only dream of on my precious SV. I saw the first bike blast through the gate in a fraction over nine seconds. Then came one that scored an eight second run.
Now that is a bike for fun only!
The jet car, Fire Force, deserves a special mention here. Nothing can prepare you for that thing. Having seen that thing run I can rest easy knowing that out there some where is a man called Martin who is an absolute speed demon. Starting the engine, a former Pratt and Whitney Helicopter engine, takes a special set of kit that is held in a van. The engine starts with a whine that can be heard all over the site, then a blast as fuel in injected, the engine speed picks up, the whine increased in pitch and then another blast of more fuel. The wall behind the car was visibly shaking as the thrust from that engine blasted into it. It takes about fifteen minutes to get the car ready, they play with the smoke by dumping diesel into the combustion chamber and the cloud hides the final seconds as the car is made ready before gently creeping to the line. Then some one takes a hammer to your ear drums! It truly felt like some one had hit me in the centre of my ears as that car fled past where we sat. A speed of nearly three hundred Miles per hour, a quarter mile of track covered in five seconds. I left the stands in a daze, I had just seen something impossibly dangerous and it changed the feel of my blood in my veins. One day, I am going to ride my bike down that track as furiously fast as I am able.

The Jet car ambles past at close to 300MPH!
Coming back again.
 After that show, nothing else can compare. We chatted to other bikers, we shared stories of silliness and lonely breakdowns and we shared in a community spirit that I rarely see else where. Children were rare, but those present were polite and well behaved. The food court had more choice than we could try in one weekend and cost more than we could earn in one month. The stalls on the main shopping area had everything from Army Surplus to Exotic leather goods. Carol managed to persuade me try on a Leather waist coat and to be honest I fell in love with it. With my badges attached and two little patches sown onto the back, she looked at and approved. I was now a proper biker.

Packed and ready to head for home again.
Packing everything back down and back onto our bikes was a sad affair. If I am honest I did not wish to go home, back to the humdrum of work and paying Council Tax and washing dishes in a dish washer. I was happy on the road, packing what I needed onto my bike wearing little and washing when I could. The sun was kind to us and the rain clouds kinder, the ground was warm and dry for leaving the field. Three gentlemen camped opposite proved that the old school and the new generation could ride together and enjoy it just the same. The family next to us, the children grown up and riding their own bikes, spoke only in kind words and good humour. After a weekend like that, why would anyone want to return home to the normality of a street where people stare because you ride a dirty great big motorcycle?

George, Mark and Henry. Teacher and former pupils enjoying bikes as friends.
The Bulldog Bash for me was not a bike rally, it was a visit to a town populated by bikers who no matter what all do something with as much joy and passion as I do, they live for that moment when riding the bike fills the heart with joy. It did not matter if they were a teenage Dance music fan or pension paid grandma, they were there for the same reason I was, because they loved bikes.

Stopping for breakfast on the way home.