Friday, 21 December 2012

Bath or Bust (buggered bits permitted)

I am sure that you know this truth for yourselves, there is a point in your life when you have the glorious summer, it is a time in your life that can never be repeated or bettered in terms of the things that you do to excess. 

The summer of 1996 was the summer that would really be the end of my childhood, despite my actually being in my twenties. I had spent the summer holiday pursuing my glorious hobbies of climbing and mountain biking, while also getting to know a group of friends who were about to become so precious to me that even now, I will never ever forget them. By the end of the summer of 1997, my degree had come to an end and I was forced (sulking and swearing) into the adult world and a very poor show I made of it too.

As I sit here at the end of 2012, it feels like a very long time has passed since that glorious summer of 1996 and the spring of 1997. Yet when a link to 1997 suddenly reopened, I could not let it pass by unremarked or unvisited. Looking back at who I was then, I cannot help but feel that I was so terribly young, so blatantly naïve and still so innocent of life. I am not in any way saddened by this, although at a push I may admit that I miss the carefree nature of it all, but where I am now is a life of greater experience and with so much less sadness. So where is this rambling introduction to a curious adventure leading you may well ask?

Ahh, the memories of warm dry days.

From out of no where came the messenger on winged feet who stated boldly that HE was back, my dear old friend, my climbing companion, my tandem stoker and my teacher. The emblematic Dr Livingstone as it were, the man who vanished, the man who taught me about my inner strength and my having the courage to do the things that scared me and not just the dangerous sports. So the chance to meet up with a most dear friend could not simply be missed and Carol and I made our way to see him and enjoy a moment of his delicate company, his witty word play and his compelling stories of daring. After an evening of reminiscing over the old times shared and talk of new and curious adventures undertaken since, we ended our evening and wished each other well and more new exciting adventures to come. As we parted again, I never expected to see my friend again and I truly was somewhat saddened.

A short while later, I was informed that Mr Mysterious was once again in the beautiful hell that is Bath and that he would love to meet us for a coffee and a natter. To do so would mean a trip to Bath via motorcycle though given that Carol was at work during the week and could not take the time from her day to drive me there. So my friend and I agreed on a time to meet on that Thursday morning. Before leaving my warm and comfortable home I swallowed enough pain killers to keep my shoulder suitably mellow, I slowly and rather painfully donned my bike leathers and the water proof outers and then got my precious Sylvie out of the garage. Being the powerful warrior woman that I am, I was going to see my friend no matter what and if things got too nasty, I had my TENS machine in my handbag!

Sadly, Thursday morning dawned with rain, the persistent heavy rain and dark clouds of winter, but at least it was warm. Freezing rain is not great for riding motorcycles whether you are broken or not. So with a full tank of fuel and my engine purring I made my way through the rain on worryingly slippery roads and from deep with in came the sort of smile that only an adventurer can understand. Riding in the rain is not horrible if you are warm. Warm and dry is preferable, but warm and wet will do. Cold and wet though is dangerous and at speed on a bike, the cold wind can quickly suck the heat from your body. I though had the pleasure of not only riding through the rain while staying not only warm and dry, but also of being comfortable and almost pain free.

My first stop was just passed Churchill when I had to pull over for a short rest for a few minutes, fighting the bike along the soaked busy town roads that had the rainbow of spilled diesel across them had made my shoulder ache rather unpleasantly and taking five minutes out helped to ease that pain. What I did not know though was that from Churchill, the roads were about to become somewhat more epic and I can say now that with hindsight, it was an adventure that I will treasure for many years to come.

The road from Churchill to Bath goes through the Mendips and is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery that Somerset has to offer, the cloud clung to the hill sides like avenging wraiths, smoky claws dropping down into the gullies. The fields ran with sediment heavy, wood stain brown water, looking more like a winter marsh than the baked grazing land that they had been in 1997. My speed was steady, I was not blasting along, but I was making steadfast progress in a manner that the conditions safely allowed. The tyres on my bike held a constant firm grip on the road no matter what the rising waters could leave behind as their evidential detritus trail of naughtiness. So if you want to try a truly fantastic tyre for all conditions, give some thought to ContiMotions by Continental, they really are very, very impressive.

I passed the turning for Burrington Combe and the road conditions grew even more treacherous, the metal drain covers at the side of the road puked forth thick dark water rather than swallowing it down and a steady river of water was starting to flow down the side of the road. My concentration was held fast as I slipped into that state that experience climbers know well, a stillness of the soul and the absolute awareness of what you are doing. I have only felt this feeling when I have been involved in either complex technical climbing or when painting delicate works of art. For me, the rest of the world vanishes and all that matters is the task being undertaken, it is like a level of deep thought, a place where the brain is so at peace with what is being done that it ignores everything that is not relevant at that moment. It is the complete submersion into the moment and I love that feeling because at that moment, I am not a rider on a motorcycle. I am instead the machine. The engine is my heart and its pulse is my pulse.

The roads conditions continued to deteriorate when a steady trickle of gravel began running down the middle of each lane being carried by the water from the hills above. The streams at the side of the road had become torrents and ahead of me approaching at speed was a large delivery lorry. I saw the wall of water rise up as the truck rushed through the flood with an urgency known only to delivery drivers on a deadline. The water was a foot deep and I approached this ford across the road with trepidation, my speed reduced to a level that I felt comfortable with and yet not so slow that I would stall if the water proved too deep for my nerves. The steam from the sudden emersion of my exhaust pipe and the resultant hiss were most gratifying, but what was more pleasing was the realisation that I was no longer afraid of riding in floods. In 2008, I crashed a training bike while traversing such a flood and have never forgotten the feeling of fear as the bike failed to follow my lead and instead careered almost unguided into the back of my instructor’s bike.

My next flood was even deeper and it covered both sides of the road for some distance, the grin on my face was suddenly and viciously wiped off though when a large van sped through from the other way and the wall of water hit me in the chest with the force of a punch. The impact on my helmet threw my head back and yet my Sylvie just carried on unflinching of such dangers. The road could have held nothing but dry tarmac for her, given the relaxed feeling she gave at the handle bars. My precious Suzuki SV650 just continues to inspire and impress me and for all of her subtle quirks she is a truly magnificent machine.

From that point the road developed into a series of sweeping S bends so deluged that I pondered the need for a jet ski. Yet with every rain soaked and water washed curve, the absolute involvement with the activity grew within me and left me hungry for the next perilous curve until once again I was the morph of woman and machine. My tempered, swift and even relentless little bike swept through every corner as if she were a train on rails, through the floods and muddy puddles that occasionally came up to her engine cases and which would erupt a cloud of violently hissing steam as it ran over the hot exhaust pipe. Finally and with a little sadness that my journey was over, I passed through the village of Corston and then past the entrance to my former place of study, Bath Spa University. From there is was a quick blast down the duel carriage way, a trip I remember doing on a bike once before with another dear friend. I was a pillion upon his recently rebuilt CB750 and what a fine machine it had been.

Sylvie simply and capably danced along the miles, the biggest limitation to her that day had as always been me, crippled as I was by shoulder and other forms of pain. Given how well she handled the bad weather and even how well she handled the snow only a couple of years ago, I would happily say that she is one of the finest road bikes out there, her light weight and impeccable road manners make her a constant joy to live with and yet at a moments notice there comes forth the sharp little demon horns and she lets out the hooligan from with in that furious little heart of an engine. My SV650 is more than just a plain commuter bike, she has soul and passion under that insectile fairing and I can honestly say that I love my bike.

As for Mr Mysterious, well that is a story for another day.

Back in the days before they invented colour.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

You Madam, are clearly an Arse Hole

Yesterday afternoon,  I popped into the local sorting office of the Post Office to collect a packet that they needed me to sign for, but could not get when they delivered due to me being out. This is a common enough task I am sure and many of you will have also undertaken such a task.

Yet, while I stood waiting in the queue that stretched not only across the room, but into the next room and then through the front door outside into the cold, I noticed a sign on the wall. I am sure that you are no doubt well aware of the tedium that is a long queue and rather than strike up a conversation with someone who could potentially be a maniac, I chose to read  that sign. It was a a piece of laminated A4 paper and was typed in Bold large print and read as follows. 

Verbal abuse of Post Office workers will not be tolerated. Any such abuse will cause the counter to be closed and the Police to be called. 

It all seemed a little harsh, after all how many of us grew up loving Postman Pat? Are people really that bad tempered, rude and obnoxious that they can shout abuse at lovable Pat and his black and white cat Jess? 

When I am waiting in a queue I have noticed that time becomes strangely relative. Maybe you have noticed this too. While waiting in line to be served by what ever counter you are waiting for, keep an eye on your watch and see if time slows down for you too? It is an unusual effect of queuing and I am sure that Einstein also noted this. Outside, life continues at normal speed, but inside, time slows down and then when you step outside, it all jumps on you with a sudden leap forcing you to catch up with a jolt! 

When I finally got to the front of the very long continent crossing queue, I came face to face with the woman behind the counter, let's out of congenial politeness call her Postwoman Patricia, although she really did not have a cat, black and white or otherwise with her. It was however right at that very moment that I suddenly understood the need for the big bold  print sign. 

It seems that the Post Office are now employing people who have no understanding of basic manners or customer service. I was spoken to with such venom and bile that I was utterly taken aback and started to laugh. Which caused others in the continent spanning queue behind me start to laugh too. I remained polite through out our brief relationship of service user meeting service provider and not once was I given even the vaguest of half smiles or the slightest nod of fake good will. I am forced to ask what could have possibly caused such an attitude from some one who no doubt has a home and a family and maybe even a black and white cat? 

Was it perhaps the excessively long hours she was forced to work by an uncaring system of Governance, simply to be able to provide sustenance for her family? Maybe it was an uncaring management system that forces her to be placed in a position where she must spend all day indoors in a building that slows down time? Or just maybe, after a long hard shift of dealing with other human beings, she was simply tired and grumpy? I seriously hoped that by giving her the opportunity to be rude to me, she could go home and relax, probably by cuddling her precious cat, black and white or otherwise. 

So that was the post office, but what else do we deal with on a almost daily basis? Have you ever met a Chugger? Do you know what a Chugger is? Well, a Chugger, my dear reader, is a person employed by an agency for an hourly wage to stand on a busy high street and charity mug shoppers, no matter who they are. These are the people who charities hire at vast sums of cash to stand there in town, with their fake smiles of joy and then tell you what a terrible time what ever Polar Bear, Political Prisoner, Starving Child or Patch of Rain Forest is having right at that very second. In fact that very second that you are wandering about enjoying the richness of your own fat contented lives. They tell you this while they stand there, noble and brave, unafraid of the elements, the hunters, the torturers, the warlords and the loggers and try to make you part with your top secret bank details, so you can pay their charity some of your hard earned cash.

Now remember, there are some things that you really need to consider when dealing with Chuggers. Namely, how much of your charitable donation is going to fund Chuggers likes them? How much of your charitable donation is being paid out into a large salary to the Chairman of the board of the company that runs the Chuggers? Also bare in mind that some of these Chuggers will be on commission,  the more suckers they get to sign up to their very worthy causes, the more cash they can earn, so that they too can give it all to charity! Of course they give all of their wages to charity, because after all, they can survive on the warm glow of just smug self righteousness.  These people will also tend to step right into path and try to engage you in conversation. How do I know this you may ask? Because in this last week I have encountered these people and it left me feeling rather annoyed, both with my self and with them. 

My reason for feeling cross with myself is because I broke the golden rule of dealing with Chuggers, I acknowledged their existence. They work in packs you know, I managed to slip past the first and then was almost tripped up by the second, causing me to have to stop in my tracks. Yet it was the third who got me. As I tried to walk around him, he walked into my path and just kept coming. Now as much as I hate being rude, I could take no more after a day of bad news and worse officials. So as he closed in me I told him to Fuck off! This is not like me, I am a member of several charities and pay directly from my bank, having researched my chosen charity and then found them myself. 

The young man did not stop smiling as he continued to close in on me, but he did inform me quietly and while still smiling that big fake smile that I was in fact, an arsehole! Now, as much as this may be true and yes I can admit it, I did not need such a man dealing with my emotions on a day when I am barely able to deal with them myself. One swift word later and the man with the fake smile was silently think that I was an arsehole, but at least he then had the good grace to keep it to himself. However, the town council are aware of Chuggers and they know that they can be trouble. I know this because I phoned them up once I got home and made some inquiries. Chuggers it seems are able to work our streets by the good grace of our councils and they have conditions placed upon them.

So I have some advice for you if you encounter Chuggers who are annoying, make a complaint, talk to your local officials and get these annoying people off of our streets. Then because you are caring and do want to give to charity, go and research one. For me, I chose a couple of human rights charities that works world wide, a local wild life charity and another one that has meaning to me. It is not that hard to find a group that represents your beliefs and you know what? If you do this, you really do not need chuggers. 

As for the Post Office, maybe they do get people in there who are so rude and violently aggressive that it justifies the bold print sign, but does that really justify them being rude to all of their customers? 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Didn’t we have a lovely time…

Occasionally, adventures happen that are totally unexpected, unplanned and just seem to fall into place, take for instance the day that a dear friend to Curious Adventures, Jan, went to Plymouth with Jayne.

Our friend Jan is in Medical School, training how to cut people up, slice bits off of their feet and make old ladies walking a little better. To do so, she drives a hundred miles from home to Plymouth University and then a hundred miles back home again, every day, clocking up a thousand miles per week. As you can imagine such a journey on your own can be extremely boring, especially when you do it all of the time. So occasionally, Jayne scrounges a lift and goes on a trip to Plymouth, partly to keep Jan company and partly to see friends down there.

On this particular day, it started out grey and dark, but it blossomed into beautiful autumnal sunshine, the trees were hues of green, red and gold, the sky was bluer than a Goth girls veins and the laughter from the car was raucous. We left Curious Towers at just before six in the morning and took a gentle trip down the M5, gently cruising along chatting and being rather silly. The miles slid by and before we knew it, we were passing Exeter and joining the A38.

Driving along enjoying a damn good chat.
As we joined the A38, my tummy started to make complaints, a result of the medication that I am currently taking for a damaged shoulder. I am reminded of a clip from the film Train Spotting, when the main character comes off the drugs and suddenly he is no longer constipated! I felt the same sudden urge and expressed my concern to Jan. She quickly found a service station and we pulled into Kenford Services. I left the car with the clenched buttocks of the runny bottomed. Having been suitably ill, I then discovered that the toilet flush did not work. Somewhat embarrassed, there was only one course of action I could take.

Running away was rather difficult due to the pain in my shoulder, but I did the best that I could, with injury comes a reduction in movement and trying to run does involve using your shoulder muscles. Have you ever seen that half hearted run that people use when they cross the road? That was all I was capable of, but leaving behind the toilet of doom was my aim.

Back on the road, we continued our journey south west and marveled at the beauty of the trees that skirted the edge of Dartmoor. Finally the outskirts of Plymouth came into view at just after eight in the morning, we dropped off the A38 and descended the slip road to the Marsh Mills roundabout.

Seeing my brother Pauly and his wife Lorraine again was lovely, but seeing their beautiful cats, including the three month old Toby and nineteen year old Apricot was worth the journey alone. Apricot is a very beautiful and very vocal calico cat that is painfully thin and grateful for any affection she can get. Why is she like this you may ask? The shocking truth is that Pauly and Lorraine rescued her after her owners abandoned her and even made comments about doing unpleasant things to her. With the love of her new owners, she is recovering, she is growing some body fat again and most importantly of all, she is being loved with out condition. Most of the cats that live with Pauly and Lorraine are rescues, but Toby was a kitten from one of their own and he is lovely, a smoky grey bundle of fluff and affection.

Pauly, Gemma, Lorraine and Toby the Cat

There is however something that Pauly and Lorraine share with Curious Adventures and that is a love of adventures into the wild and unknown be it by mountain bike, by foot or even by four by four! So when Pauly suggested that he take me for a ride in his Toyota truck, I almost danced with excitement. Green lane drivers face a lot of misunderstanding, what people think is that they are brutal maniacs chewing up the countryside with Chelsea tractors. The truth though is that these small groups of enthusiasts campaign for rights of access to the places that many farmers want to deny access to such as old By-Ways, forgotten tracks and roads that are public rights of way, but have not been surfaced. Pauly told me of how some farmers will dump old ruined cars into these lanes or cut down large trees that block the tracks, just to try to stop access. He told me of angry farmers threatening drivers with shot guns and some of his stories were more than shocking just in the way that he had been spoken to. I thought I had experienced bad things as a mountain biker with people trying to limit access to the country side, but no one has ever threatened to shoot me!

Pauly and the truck

Pauly’s truck is a gentle giant, inside it feels like a luxury car, the large supportive seats are comfortable, but the climb up into the cab is surprisingly difficult. Once inside, and with the door shut you would not know that you were in a vehicle that can climb a rocky slope like a tank or can pull a burned out wheel-less car from a tiny lane. We dropped down a tiny twisty tarmac covered lane to a ford that stretched out in front of us for about forty or fifty metres, the water was flowing fast and looked worryingly deep. I was honestly hugely excited, driving a car through a river! What a buzz.

The water splashed up over the sides of the truck and we simply rolled across the river as if it was a perfectly normal road. The bow wave was impressive but what was to come was more than awesome. The truck climbed the slope from the river and then rolled onto a muddy track, the tyres gripped and with a deliberate slow bite into the mud and we started to progress up a track that on a mountain bike would have been damn hard work. 

Driving in the middle of a river with Pauly.

As we climbed the track, the truck gently rocked as it climbed over roots and rocks. I giggled like a school girl and gazed out of the window at the beautiful Dartmoor scenery. As we rounded a corner we came to a stop. In front of us was a rocky outcrop, a section of track that had been cut out of the bed rock, leaving chunks of rock the size of shoe boxes piled up on each other! It looked impassable. Pauly adjusted his gear box into a low ratio gear and we gently started to inch forwards. The engine quietly growled and it sounded like we should have been moving at about thirty miles per hour. Instead we crawled forwards at a walking pace and the wheels started to climb the slate boulders. The truck rocked alarmingly as it climbed across the rocks, but not once did this surefooted machine slip or spin its wheels. Looking out of the back window, all I could see down the leaf covered lane was two lines of compressed leaves. You could barely tell that we had passed.

We passed the rocky section with the exciting ease of a rock climber at a peak of fitness. I have found climbs that have tested me as a climber and I have used my strength and agility to overcome a difficult move with grace and control. This incredible truck did exactly that, with grace, poise and controlled power. Seeing it first hand was a huge amount of fun. From that point the top of the lane was in sight and we exited it onto a tiny metaled road. However, Pauly skilfully managed to turn his truck around and we returned the same way we had just come. To say I was impressed by his driving skill and the abilities of his truck is an understatement, yet what really impressed me was the comfort and luxury in which we made this journey. I really want to do this again, it is fabulous. 

Hanging out with my Bro Pauly.

If you want to try this too, go and look up your local four by four club, study your Ordnance Survey Map looking for these Green Lanes and most of all, treat the country side with respect while you enjoy it. Just bare in mind though, while many people object to four by four drivers going across country on Dartmoor, it has a dark secret. Dartmoor is a National Park. Yes, a National Park that allows live firing by the military, meaning that the moors are in places, littered with unexploded ordnance.

There are also several companies that have open cast mines stripping the china clay from the hill sides and the rivers run turquoise from the pollution of this industry. Farmers and land owners have erected fences and blocked paths. I have seen this as a mountain biker for years and trust me, when you try to ride your bike across a bridle way that has been covered in cow shit by farmers moving live stock, you quickly realise that many of these guardians of the country side are only out for their own gains. I may sound cynical, but in this day and age, we have to fight our corner for access to the countryside.

The Beast of Dartmoor.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Day we nearly went to London

Meet Jan, she is lovely.

Jayne and Jan in Florence the Camper Van
Now Jan is a good friend of Curious Adventures, she has provided more than a few moments of fun and silliness, so when she told us that she owned a motorcycle and wanted to go to Winchester to get it, we were more than happy to make a day of it... But we did not know what was going to happen then did we?

Concerns are raised over allowing Jayne and her bottom in the van

So we loaded up Florence the Camper Van with cakes, crisps and pies and set off to Hampshire, however Carol quickly vetoed the singing of silly songs and Padre Paul cringed in the front when Jan and I stared singing Cum by arr or however the hell you spell that!

Florence with Padre Paul in the front
Now Padre Paul is not your average run of the mill Vicar, he is in fact something rather special and is in fact ordained by the same church who ordained myself. But it is always fun to head out Vicaring especially when like me, you are a swearing Nun with a motorbike fixation.

Vicar safe with children shocker!
So it was while we were trundling up the Motorway that I, Sister Sweary Jayne decided to play I Spy. My first choice was "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with C!" I was told that no one wanted to play with me because they knew that I was just being rude. So we played twenty Questions and Padre Paul proved to be really rather good at this.

Stopping at Membury Services gave us a chance to use the kitchen in the van and make a cuppa, have a pie and a banana and read a book. Biker Rock Radio DJ The Prof had lent me a book by Dean Koontz and frankly it was really not very good. The prose was poorly composed, the story line although potentially exciting, was badly developed and during the day I managed to read well over one hundred of sixty pages due to the poor nature of the writing.

Blankets and a cuppa make Jayne a happy girl

The Biker Rock Radio Outside Broadcast unit unfolds

We left Membury and continued on our journey into Hampshire and finally arrived at our Destination, the home of Jan's motorcycle, a Suzuki GP100 called Son of Dillon! The bike is blue in colour, with a matching blue top box and it was also running when we arrived. However, it does need a good clean and polish and the exhaust is a little rusty! With the machine quickly loaded into Florence we all piled back in and prepared to leave. The chap who had been looking after Jan's bike was flummoxed by a pile of Vicars and Nuns turning up, talking about Black Metal Festivals and sports bikes and to be honest, that is just how we like it!

The journey back home was cold, really really cold! The van's heater had failed us and all four of us were freezing, Carol and I sat in the back covered in blankets and still we shivered! I managed to continue reading despite darkness thanks to the dim lights in the van and my book was still failing to inspire me though and when I read out some of the poorly written prose, the laughter in the van was entirely justified. Still we ambled along the road, heading home?

The road was long and straight, Jan needed to take a turn off the M3 onto the A34, but while we were chatting, we barely noticed that it was such a long way. A very long way indeed... It was only when Carol looked up and noticed that the coming exit was for Farnborough that we realised that we had gone a little far and were in fact heading to London! So with a quick dash down some dark country lanes, bumpy B roads and forgotten tracks we found our way to Reading and the route back home. A stop for a wee was most definitely needed. But boy was it ever cold!

You never feel the cold when you soul is burning with evil
Vicar warms parishioner shocker
The motorway signs over head on the M4 told us the bad news that parts of the M5 were so heavily clogged that traffic was at a standstill, but still we headed home, joking, laughing and eating doughnuts. Thankfully when we finally hit the M5, it was all but empty and the last few miles home were rolling by. Jan learned how to flash at truck drivers! No, not like that, you dirty minded lot. As the heavily laden van trundled along the road, we would be over taken by trucks and as they went past, Jan would flash her head lights to let them know that they were safely past. Finally, bitterly cold and rather hungry, we rolled back into Weston and stopped outside a lovely Chinese take away before heading over to Jan's to eat the lovely hot food we had just bought.

It was a lovely day out, a day spent with dear friends doing silly things and enjoying being in lovely company. It is just a shame that we were all so cold on the way home! Updates on Dillon the motorcycle will be posted as soon as we can get some good pictures with Jan riding him. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

What a day

You may well have noticed that of late, Curious Adventures have been more curious and less adventurous and there is a reason for this, Jayne (yes OK, me) has a knackered shoulder! A knackered shoulder that makes riding her bike rather hard and painful work, after all think about how your bike steers. With counter steering, as a rider you push the side away from you where you want to go, hence the name of counter steering. Well, for those of you not familiar with the technique, please do not try steering the opposite way you want to go, it will result in you crashing painfully into what ever is not where you want to go! Counter steering is done by placing a gentle pressure upon the bar, not actually turning the bars, it works by effectively changing the push on the front wheel and banking the bike over. Now I am sure that there people reading this who have a far better understanding of the physics of this technique than I do and I would love to read how it really works, but for now that will do. Why did I mention it? Well because I just can’t do it at the moment.

So with a knackered shoulder I have been forced to endure all manner of helpful medical staff from our beloved NHS prodding, poking, pulling or pushing my bits and pieces. Most recently I have endured needles shoved deep into my muscle tissue, intense massage of my neck and exercises involving rubber bands. None of this has worked. The exercises have made it worse, the massage made it worse and as for the needles, do you really need to ask? Oh alright, yes they made it worse. All of which brings me to MRI scans. Magnetic Resonance Imagery is a fantastic science where using a combination of fantastic physics, breath taking biology and a man with a bad hair cut, the medics can have a look about inside your body with out having to slice into it like a crusty loaf!

The down side though is that an MRI scanner costs an absolute fortune and each scan costs a smaller but still significant fortune. So they are not handed out to just anyone and today I had an appointment to see if I justified having a scan. Well, that is supposed to be what today was about.

So Carol and I set off this afternoon at close to half past twelve, giving us an hour to make a journey that should only take twenty minutes. Our first stop was for fuel because my bike was showing a worrying fuel light having driven a pitiful 87 miles since my last fuel stop. With the pump droning away I filled both my and Carol’s bikes and then went and paid up the ridiculous sum wanted for a thimble full of go-go juice. Back outside, when we switched on Noreen  and tried to start the engine, it resolutely sat there refusing to burn the thimble full of petrol we had just dripped into it. We tried again and nothing happened. So we kept on trying, Carol wiggled wires and pushed and pulled switches and buttons, but still nothing. Time was counting down, forty minutes to the appointment.

We looked at each other, Noreen was going no where, Carol shook her head angrily and had a gentle word in the bikes ear. Now let’s be honest here, when Carol has a gentle word in your ear, it is wise that you listen. The bike did just that and with another push of the button, it roared into life, with just a couple of sets of traffic lights and couple of roundabouts to get through before hitting the motorway. That was until we discovered that the A370 was running at speeds only seen by your average snail! We finally got to the motorway, twenty minutes until my appointment. We raced off down the slip way and joined the busy traffic and began to make progress towards Clevedon, half way there, Noreen started to do odd things. 

Her rear light started to flash, but not in a way that is easy to explain. The rear light of the ZRX has two bulbs and they started to flash alternately, one side and then the other. The light then flicked off and relights. It flashes some more and then flashes off again. As we approached the Clevedon exit it became apparent that Noreen also had another problem, her rear tyre had decided to let all of it’s air out. We rolled to the top of the slip way, turned on to the road into the town and headed down to the roundabout, where we discovered that the tyre had totally deflated. Unfortunately, the car behind us was not completely understanding of our predicament and hooted angrily. With no real choice, we rode carefully around the roundabout, Noreen also decided that at that moment it was a perfect time to run on only three cylinders! Ten minutes until my appointment.

Fortunately there is a Shell garage just around the corner from where we pulled over, which is why we made our way there, only to discover that it had closed and was being renovated! The workmen there guided us away to another garage, but we just did not have time. So we limped Noreen, running on three cylinders and a flat tyre to the hospital. Five minutes until my appointment! We arrived, parked up and ran like buggery to get there on time and made it to reception at twenty nine minutes and thirty seconds past the hour.

The medical stuff was dealt with I walked out of the room, tears in my eyes, an intense burning pain in my shoulder and a worried Carol on my arm. Back in the car park, Noreen was sat on a flat tyre. We rolled it down the hill and out of the car park and phoned the RAC. Following a  quick chat with the call centre and we settled down for an afternoon of waiting on the pavement. Carol bought a local newspaper that took us less than ten minutes to read and we sat there, bored. Finally after an hour and twenty minutes we had a phone call from a manger at the RAC call centre who apologised for the long wait that we had enjoyed, but promised faithfully that a truck would be with us as soon as possible.

Another forty minutes passed, Carol and I considered learning to juggle to pass the time, but we were saved from this torture by Martyn, the truck driver, who phoned to ask where we were. It was great news, our Knight in orange overalls was coming, but coming from Gloucester, he had a journey time of another forty minutes. Carol and I sat there, bored, we even considered taking up knitting! Finally though, he arrived and we were able to load Noreen onto the back of the fabulous RAC truck. Martyn himself was a jolly chap and chatted all of the way home, Carol rode Sylvie back home and got the garage ready to receive a poorly Noreen. Jayne got to ride in another fabulous truck and finally at nearly seven in the evening, exhausted, Carol and I walked through our front door and sat down. It had been another curious adventure. 

Show me the way to go home, I'm tired and I want to go to bed!
I want my bike back!
No bike looks good on the back of a truck.
The urge to ride her home like that was so hard to ignore.

Monday, 8 October 2012

To oil or not to oil... Now there is a question...

Now for those of you who enjoy riding motorcycles, there is the extra pleasure of home servicing, getting your hands dirty and doing the jobs that your bike needs to stay healthy and happy. But with home servicing there is a down side, what do you do with the used engine oil? With a motorcycle like mine, the engine oil also acts as the gear box oil, it soaks the clutch plates and lines the bores. So as you can imagine, what comes out of the sump plug at the bottom of the engine is not the nice golden silky fluid that is poured in through the filler cap.

Now getting rid of used engine oil is fairly simple, as is joked about in the fabulous film (and book come to that, but I have not read it, so can't be fully sure) Fight Club, used engine makes a great lawn fertilizer! The truth though is that used engine oil is poisonous. The muck that comes out of an engine after a season of hard use is carcinogenic, it contains fragments of metal if you are unlucky and lumps of crank if you are really unlucky. It also contains the microscopic particles worn from your clutch plates and carbon particles from your cylinders, so yeah, it is pretty mucky stuff. On a serious note, really really do not pour this stuff into the environment, it is horribly dangerous to wildlife, it destroys habitats and dumping this muck out there will get you a massive, massive fine if you are caught!

So Carol and I set about an experiment, you see I had read on the internet that it was possible to use used engine oils to lubricate your chain, via the chain oiling mechanism, however with your oil full of nasty impurities who wants to spray that over the drive system of their pride and joy? So I made a filter, on the end of a funnel and we passed half a litre of dirty oil through the filter and then checked it to see what was left behind. The top filter contained the sort of detritus you find in old oil cans, but the bottom filter contained nothing but a soggy bit of oil that had not made it through. 

So the next step was to filter a little more and this is exactly what we did, so we ended up with close to five litres of filter old engine oil in a nice clean bucket! However, fitting in with our recycling ethos, the bucket was recycled too. The top was fitted into place and into this I added a little soap dispenser pump and promptly pumped a small sample out into a specimen bottle. Now you may be wondering why I did this, but lets carry on with what I did first before I explain it.

Taking the specimen bottle, I gave it a damn good shake and made sure that any nasties were held in suspension with in the fluid and then taped a very strong neodymium magnet to the side. I then sat it on its side and left it for a week. By doing this, I could then examine that part of the specimen bottle for ferrous particles by gently tipping it and leaving any bits stuck in the magnetic fields. 

Now you can ask if you have to why I did this? The answer my dears is to look for steel fragments, anything small enough to pass through the filters that could potentially damage my chain. After a week, the magnet was surprising in its complete lack of ferrous particles stuck to it. So that leaves us with a bucket of oil and a fairly clear idea that it is well filtered. 

My next step was to contact our old friends at Tutoro Chain Oilers, and ask their opinion and other than a few suggestions as to what may be useful additives, they say why not give it a try. So that leads me to this point and a question for you folks out there in Curious Adventure land. 

Do you think that used engine oil makes a good chain lube for use in your automatic chain oiler? Have you done it and does it prevent rust and keep your chain healthy or does it just spray a poisonous nasty mess onto you bike? So come on folks, don't be shy. Tell us what you think?


Tutoro Auto Chain Oiler as fitted to Sylvie

Tutoro Auto Chain Oiler as fitted to Noreen

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Busy bee in September!

Hello dear friends, fear not, you have not been forgotten, I will admit to a general malaise that has made curious adventures few and far between,  but I have a couple here for you gorgeous folks this evening. So let's start with some old nails and swarf... Yes, Phil is a lovely lad and he was down in Bristol recently from "oop Noorf!" when he happened to drop me a text saying hello. Well it would have been rude to ignore it, so we agreed to meet up in Gordano Services, despite the on going problems with my shoulder and have a catch up, having been friends for a long old time, since first meeting on the dark pages of B3ta! Now I know that most of you familiar with B3ta are expecting a child eating sociopath, but the truth is this, Phil is the sort of bloke you really want to know. He can fix anything, but specialises in machines from a more innocent age and despite not being born until after I left school, he has a knowledge of classic bikes that can put a lot of collectors to shame. He is also a thoroughly decent type who did not mind too much my utter failure to arrive on time.

Jayne and Phil
"So what caused this uncharacteristic flaw in Jayne?" I hear you ask. Well, the truth is somewhat embarrassing. You see, I was getting ready to go out and looked at my watch and though that I had plenty of time. However, not wanting to leave the poor chap too long, I hurried along with my getting ready to go out. A short while later I checked my watch again and noticed that hardly any time had passed me by, so I went and got my kit sorted and found my keys. Then I checked my watch again and noticed that in fact no time had passed me by! The damn watch battery had failed me and for over an hour, my watch had been telling the same time. Cue the sudden rush to get going.

This was also the morning that Sylvie, my trusted SV, decided to fail me too. She point blank refused to start and having backed her out of the garage and locked up, she sat on the side of the road coughing like an asthmatic that has swallowed a whole feather pillow (trust me, I used to be asthmatic, so I know how this sounds!) found under a sofa! Yes, my beautiful bike failed me and I was not a happy teddy. Yet, when I mentioned threats of physical violence against my precious bike she leapt into life and we shot of down the street. Thankfully, Phil was a forgiving sort and had a little chuckle at my predicament. 

So after a brief chat, I waved him off as he headed his way back up to Derby and I took a mellow ride back home, sadly an act of necessity rather than an enjoyable bimble. You see my bloody shoulder has been damaged again and I have been pretty much unable to ride for the whole summer. Sylvie had clocked up less miles in three months, than she was clocking up in a week, a situation I am most unhappy about. So now I am waiting for an MRI scan so that they can look inside my shoulder and tell me that I have an impingement. Oh the joy. 

This month also saw the publication of my fabulous new book, House of Hurt and other stories. 
Buy my book, it is awesome!
Yes, I have finally done it. After an awful lot of encouragement, I have finally collated some of my short stories into one volume that you can buy from Amazon.  The work involved in writing a book is unbelievably huge and then converting it to Kindle format takes even longer. However, it was all worth it when the book was finally uploaded and we used one of Carol's amazing photographs for the cover. Yes, that is Alby the owl on there and yes it does have relevance to the book.

September also sees the last Weston Bike Night of 2012. Such a sad event cannot go with out passing comment after a particularly difficult summer (although let's be honest, this year we went straight from spring into autumn!) of rain, cold winds and a low turn out. All was not lost though and this year, Bike Night raised an impressive eight thousand pounds for the Royal British Legion. We would like to think that in our own way, Carol and I helped a little with that. 

Caught on camera once again!
Jackie the Dog dances in the laser show
Huddling for warmth on a summer evening in the UK!

Weston Super Mare in the summer.
So with a fond farewell to Bike Night, we are left wondering what to do on a Thursday evening now and I think that all of us were sad to see it end for another year. A huge thank you must go out to Lyn and Matt who have worked so hard on Bike Night every week organising the event. While a huge round of applause go to the team working with Carol to make Bike Night a fun event with Biker Rock Radio. Yes, I mean you Rich, Ghost, Alex, Doc, Kitty and Cookie. 

Also in September, the Biker Rock Radio trailer failed us. The frame cracked, the sides dropped and door would not shut anymore. So with an empty pocket and a big smile we headed over to see our friend Gareth.

Jayne enjoys watching other people do the work.
Given the sorry state that the trailer had got into, it was refreshing to see it catching fire from welding, but Gareth was able to fix it and together with Carol, the Biker Rock Trailer was back up to good health. Which leads us onto Gareth's skills, he is a fab welder, but never ask if you can enter his competition to beat his bike! It will cost you a pound to enter and that is all I am going to say!

So with September nearly over and October rapidly approaching like a hint of cold air from under the bathroom door, we manage one last weekend of sunshine. Sadly it was not to be spent riding the bikes, it was rather spent in the garage playing with them. Alex's Yamaha DT50 generated the most interest with Alex, Carol, Steve and Gareth all getting their hands dirty, leaving Jayne to work on Sylvie. Sadly for Alex, it seems that clocking up an impressive thousand miles a month on the little bike has come at a price. The piston has given up the job and is now sulking on the coffee table, being battered and abused by bits of piston ring flying about in the cylinder. 

Tank off
More bits off
One buggered piston
Hopefully, a new piston and a bit of fettling will see the proud little bike back on the road very soon. Just in time for another harsh winter.

As for Sylvie, things were also pretty buggered. The engine fault had manifested into a "only firing on one" problem and then as I lifted the tank to work on her, the heavy fuel tank took a dive to the road, bounced on the Tarmac and got scratched. I was mortified, but Alex was there like a shot and helped to pick up the bits and pieces. Sadly, it has now become apparent just how badly the tank was resprayed following the accident last year when the biggest problem that the tank has is that the paint it so deep, it has been gouged, like furrow in a field. 

However, the running fault was quickly identified and two new spark plugs were rammed into place and then came the TPS or throttle position sensor check. A huge thank you here to the online community that is the Org. Having trawled through there for information, I was able to perform the adjustment with perfect ease and soon had her running like she should and pulling away with a new found vigor. Jolly good stuff in my book, I should say. Once again, Carol and her fabulous photography skills come to the rescue. 

The Culprit with shiny new bolts
The little dash before the C indicates that the TPS is wrong.
Better, but not quite there yet.
So that was our September and in a strange kind of way that you could almost call curious, we had some adventures. See you soon. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

A family day out

Oh yes, but how do you have a family day out if you are a Biker family?

A family of bikers
Well, you jump on your bikes and go for a ride. Sadly ever since Alex took delivery of his 2005 Yamaha DT50 as his first ever bike, it has had problem after problem and has infuriatingly refused to start! So before he gave up completely and threw the bike in the sea, he gave it one last chance, with Carol and her fabulous tool box.

We ordered some new bits and waited patiently for them to arrive. Luckily for us E-Bay proved to be a worth while place to shop, until the company involved told us that the part we had ordered and paid for was not one that they even had in stock, despite them advertising it! So after a few cross e-mails, they special ordered one and shipped it out.

Carol fitted it and we kicked the bike over, at long last, it fired in to life and sat there purring away, like a tiger with a head ache! Alex was overjoyed and arrived in time to put it back together with a little help from Carol and I. Nothing like the irritating mechanical inefficiency of a machine to bond a family unit!

Alex then jumped on his bike and took it for a spin around the block, at first he was a little nervous, having learned the hard way that bikes that break down mid corner tend to fall over! However, after a couple of laps of the street, he was looking as cool as a polar bear on a particularly cold Tuesday!

Alex on Yoshi, the Yamaha DT50
So it was then off down to Sand Bay, the test track of the masses. However once safely there we were accosted by the Rozzers! They pulled over to chat about bikes and wish Alex a safe and fun riding career, however Jayne joking that she did not have a license caused a gleeful Policeman to rub his hands together and start looking forwards to impounding her bike and riding it back to the cop shop!

Riding back home in the dark with Alex was one of the proudest moments in Carol’s life and Jayne was sat at the back of the queue smiling like a loony on Largactyl! Alex however was riding like a road god and his exhaust was spitting out orange sparks as the engine raced! The sound and smell of burning two stroke oil and the little clouds of exhaust smoke made riding at the back a similar experience to riding across Dartmoor when the beast is about on a foggy night!

Bikes and Rozzers

So what do we do now, we chat to the Rozzers!
 So, this post is about Alex, well done to him for starting out on his biking career. Alex is joining the next generation of bikers and we need them to keep the memories of what biking is about alive and also create new ones in the future. Keep on Biking. 

Alex on Carol's bike

Friday, 13 July 2012

Oh what a Gig...

Bloodstock, Metal to the Masses Battle of the Bands.
Bristol Final. Thursday 12th July

Bands playing were       :- Fever Sea
                        :- Seprevation
                        :- Control the Storm
                        :- Somnus

The premise behind this gig was that the many bands in Bristol were competing for a place on the Bloodstock stage and even being sent out to Waken. With such a prize, was it any wonder that some very talented bands tried to get to the place?

Carol and I were invited to the final of the events by the organiser Lawrence and frankly it was not a disappointment. Every band that played showed a level of professionalism unsurpassed by many actually signed bands. Not every band was to my personal taste, but it was not possible to fault them for effort, talent or showmanship. Frankly, having four bands of this quality on one stage in the same night is just spoiling the appreciative fans.

Now as a reviewer, I am looking to be critical, offer my opinion and let you know if I think that seeing these bands is worth while, but you know what? You need to check out these bands yourselves, if you get the chance, do so. You will not be disappointed because each one of them was awesome.

The intro by Simon from Bloodstock was fun and informative, seeing that metal is alive and well in the UK was obviously a boost for him and seeing the fans responding to his comments and free t-shirts was pretty cool. He then told the crowd that tonights winner was going to Bloodstock. You could feel the excitement in the air.

The first band was my personal favourite, which is one hell of a statement given the impressive display that was about to commence. So Fever Sea, a band so heavy that they have their own gravity! If you want to categorise them, imagine a band made up of six parts Neurosis and four parts Isis. With elements of evil and pain, the sound that came from these guys was bleak and dark. Frankly, it was beautiful. I could feel every blast beat in my heart, physically and metaphorically. The music is punishing, angry and aggressive and just when you thought that the torment on stage could not get worse, the singer starts hitting himself with the mic. It symbolises the pain of the music and the show is utterly epic.

Fever Sea
The singers vocals are mixed between the guttural despairing howls of a dying animal and the clean crisp sound of a man who knows how to use his voice to touch the heart of Gods. This band are the sort of band that you want to spend time listening too, this is not a band to have in the back ground when you have friends over, this is a band that want you to feel the emotion of every song and I think that they are right. I want to hear them on an album because it think that they have the sort of sound that can pull in light. A thirty minute set was not enough.

As Fever Sea left the stage, the change over crew hit it running and the next band started to set up.  Carol popped outside for a fag and I watched the crowd sudden swell, including a couple who were clearly the parents of one of the bands members.

Seprevation were all smiles, innocent smiles and Iron Maiden patches. Nothing indicated that we were about to be battered about the head with some brutal Thrash Metal! The lead singer is everything that is good about Old School Thrash, he has the smile that screams out loudly “I love what I fucking do!”  He has the gurns needed to front a band like this and he works his face as hard as he works his Bass. Kids this young throwing out Thrash of this quality cannot be a bad thing, the roots of the scene can be heard in there, but this is all original and the crowd are clearly and rightly on their side.

One word of warning though, if you go and see this band, make an appointment with your spinal unit for the next day! Head Banging that hard must cause damage! Fuck me, they went for it and you can see the allegiance to the scene in their denim cut offs and band shirts.

Now I have stated that you can hear the influences in the sound and this is not a bad thing, I could hear the old school being channelled by this band, bands I have not listened to or thought about since I was in my late teens. This is a band that will be worshipped in modern German Thrash circles and we all know how mad German Thrash fans can be for the music. The pace is typical of thrash, it gallops along, no that is not right, this is beyond gallop, This is the equivalent of a drag bike on a quarter mile, damn they are fast!

The vocals came through loud and clear, clearly enjoying his singing and yet bashing away at that bass, which leads me to a question. How the fuck does a guy like this head bang like a loon, continue to play his guitar like it is a tactical weapon and sing like that, all at the same time! I would hazard that this guy can rub his tummy, pat his head and juggle chainsaws at the same time!

The energy coming from the stage is huge, you could have run a city on the power produced, these kids are energised with a love of thrash and the influence is so clear it pats them on the back with gratitude for keeping the scene alive. The Slayer influenced solos are accomplished and expertly executed, have these guys done anything else in their youth other than listen to the best musicians out there? I knew that they would be successful, but at the end of the night when they were announced as winners, I do not think that they believed it. Well done lads, Bloodstock and Waken will love you.

The third band to hit the stage were Control the Storm, a six piece band with a woman vocalist, a manic keyboardist and a lead guitarist who has probably been intimate with that guitar! Now let me state for the record, I am not a fan of power metal for any of it’s dramatic solos and squawking vocals, but even I can see when a band is worthy of respect. Sadly for the first couple of songs, the sound levels were somewhat out and the singers vocals were buried in the guitars along with the keyboard. However, once this was sorted, a talented and exceptional band rocked through the sort of set that makes men in kilts want to quaff ale and rampage!

Control the Storm
When I saw them hit the stage I had horrible fears of a Nightwish clone, but this is actually a long way from the reality. This band are a disciplined, practiced and relentless force to be reckoned with. Carol the photographer looked at me and gave me her biggest smile of the night, her thumbs up only added to the message. This band was Carol’s band of the night and I am pretty sure that she would have been happy to just see this band all evening. Knowing that I am a nasty cow who loves black metal she has told me that I have to tell you how much she enjoyed their performance.

For me, I can admit that they know their stuff, but I would ask that they sutbly change their mix a little so that the vocals, keyboard and backing vocals are a little higher in the mix. The drumming and guitar though are mesmerising and played with an honest intent and brutality that is refreshing in the power metal scene. Each song is performed with an honest integrity, this band earnestly want you to believe in them as mush as they do themselves and to be honest it is not hard to be drawn along, even if you are a jaded Black Metal fan like me. The fan that climbed the support beams that hold up the ceiling just so that he could rock out is a clear sign that these guys know what they are doing and when they get you in their sights, they absolutely shine. Power Metal is pure escapist fun and if that is your thing, you will love this band, but maybe not as much as Carol did!

The last band of the night was Somnus, and as soon as I saw the Bass player, I knew that I would enjoy the music about to start. You see as every one in the metal scene knows, when you see a man with his head on upside down, it is going to get heavy! Yes, the ubiquitous Heavy Metal Beard and shaved head look is an indicator that the next band mean serious business. The Anthrax shirt on the guitarist suggests that they know what heavy stuff is and then the painfully sharp witted singer comes forward. Noise annihilates the crowd, the screamed vocals brutalise the room. Oh fuck yes…

Somnus bring you the Death strike. I stood there watching that stage and I knew that this band were going to hurt us, but it was ok, they had to do so! When Simon introduced them he warned us that they were going to rip our faces off and he played it down. Musically they are deeply intense, it comes at you wave after wave of brutality, clearly a professional band, doing what is encoded in their genes, this is the terminator of death metal, they just do not stop! The first two tracks decimate the room, the suddenly enlarged crown worship them for doing so. The vocalist is terrifying in his intensity, this is not a band you want to face when you are in the wrong, they will flatten you with a look.

In terms of delivery, this band is by a head, above the other bands that played, yet the political side to them makes them a difficult pill for the fun loving metal heads to swallow. Do not listen to this band if you like songs about riding on freight trains, roses with thorns or girls who are poison. Do listen to this band if you are mature enough to understand that the world is shit, to know that capitalism is eating the soul of humanity and that fascism is not the way ahead for a thinking society. This band are making a point and it is nailed on to their performance with integrity and anger and hatred of injustice. I knew this after three songs and then he said it, “This song is about my desire to punch Simon Cowell in the face… with Jason’s (Bass player) cock!”

Leaping into the crowds and surfing over the hands of those who adore them while still managing to brutalise the crowd with evil vocals is a skill that this man has mastered, their stage presence is intimidating and yet loving. There is a feral quality to them, like a hungry tiger, you want to approach, but worry that you may get eaten! With the last song played, I was reminded of Ripley in Aliens. We were just Nuked from Orbit! What a gig.

Through out the night, the biggest problem was the sound levels, given the difficulties of the room, it was impressively handled, but it was there for almost every act. The final speech from Bloodstock Simon was heartfelt and earnest. Heavy metal music is about passion and the scene is alive and well despite what the mainstream wants you to believe. I have been lucky in that I have seen some great bands in the last couple of weeks, but the message is important here. You must absolutely support the new up and coming bands, give them a place to play, congratulate them when they succeed and don’t hold a grudge if they need to practice a little more. With out the musicians and fans, there is no scene, yet with out the scene, you will be drip fed the sort of music that Simon Cowell believes is right for you. Say no to manufactured Pop Music, organised number ones that put the latest radio friendly shite in the sales lists. Say no to this bollocks and embrace your local scene. There are bands out there who are blowing peoples minds and at this gig I saw four of them.

Support your local scene and have your mind blown, you will not regret it and send the corporate music machine this message. FUCK YOU!

 We would like to give a big Thank you to Lawrence from Megalith Pro Motions for the tickets and warm welcome at the venue. Folks, you need to keep your eye on these guys, because they have some good stuff on the books and they support the scene. Keep it real guys, we need more promoters like you at Megalith Pro Motions to make brilliant events like this work as well as this one.