Evils of camping . . . . .

May 20, 2011 § 4 Comments

The 3pm drive into the village was an hair-raising one to say the least, from the tight and even tighter 90 degree turns of the roads to the seemingly aimless sheep who, through some unfathomable sense of divine navigation, had decided to adorn the middle of the bending meandering B roads like fallen, unkempt clouds.

With a few more turns, twists and titchy tiny hump backed bridges came the entrance to the campsite, or rather the gates to a darker, less favourable, outdoor living experience.

The surroundings looked excellent, the canal – with its boats, yachts and barges – looked idyllic. Was this the holy grail of campsites? Had we found the Shangri-La of camping? And on my birthday too, this was the beginning of a successful year of travelling heaven . . . or so I thought, would all my hopes, wishes and dreams be dashed? I was only 300m from knowing the horrible truth.

The smell . . . it was the eternal odour of decay, death and disease. The burning smells, the animal smells, the smouldering flesh from the barbeque smells, the stench was rank, it was all wrong, it was all right-now.

Greeted by a dog, at least it appeared to be a dog. On closer inspection, it only had 3 legs, its left ear was missing and one good eye.  It was and still is a dog of whose description escapes me – I am still shocked. It looked like its last meal would have been remains of Lucifer’s last supper. It hobbled around trying to follow our wallowing van into the second gates. The gates that signalled the last chance to get the hell out of there and to get out of they’re alive. Not that anyone would ever survive getting out of somewhere not alive or dead.

The last few gear changes, the last few rotations of the wheels and turns of the steering wheel, revealed the gate master, the keeper of the camp-yards deepest and darkest secrets. She, the one who covets the gold and silver the weary travellers wish to part with for a piece of camping nirvana.

“Herrrlllo” was the greeting from the withered lips below the crooked nose on her tarnished face.

She couldn’t have been taller than 4 feet tall, slightly built with long brown scruffy hair.  She didn’t have anything on here feet apart from dog mess and chicken droppings. Not the type of shoes you could find on the shelves of Barratts Shoes, wearing a brown cardigan that looked like it had been made from the pelt of the campsites previous dog – it smelled like it too. I couldn’t follow directly behind her; I had to follow just to the left with my head in the air to get a fresh breath to stop the stink building up on the inner walls of my nose.

“Thiiiissss waaaay”, she crowed

“Am I ok to leave my van here?” I nervously answered

“It’s aaalllll gooooood” was her response, then she turned and walked away.

With a building sense of dread, regret and tense nervousness I couldn’t shake – I left the security of the van and made my way to the doorway of the wooden shack from which all transactions were executed, for want of a better expression.

Time seemed to expand, things outside looked to me as if they were being distorted, was this nerves? Was it some strange bend in evil time I was experiencing? Oh I wanted to be in my van again. Oh I wanted to be at another campsite. But I was here, I was going to survive, it wasn’t in my ever-crumbling nature to give in, to relent.

“How much do I owe you?”, there was no turning back now, I had created the first bond with the demon, was she a demon? Or was she simply an innocent old lady trying to make a living and provide expectant travellers a warming place to stay in the wilderness? I don’t think so. She-shaman-demon-hose-beast would be more fitting.

There was a cat, glaring, smelly striped feline of evil. I went to stroke it, it let out a screech, a noise so disturbing it could be used to signal the start to the end of all time. Maybe it was, maybe this was the last time I would be camping, living outdoors, experiencing any camper recreational bliss. I would soon find out.

She-demon appeared from nowhere, “Fifteeeeen poouuunds!” she barked. I nearly jumped out of my, already crawling, undulating skin. While I was outlining my spiritual demise, she had summonsed the toll for my stay from the devils dowry.

I handed her a crisp twenty-pound note, which I have acquired from the ATM in the previous village. Her eyes gazed upon it like it was some kind of extraterrestrial monetary offering.

“Fiiiiive pooouuunds chaaaaange!” she had done her maths, she was from this planet, thank god– or was it a rouse? So many questions. I hardly had room in my brain for the sense I would need to survive this leg of my journey.

I removed the five pounds change from her unwashed, wizened old hand quicker than a hare going round a dog track, she didn’t even see my hand move. I just wanted to get away from her before she turned me into a large, wet slimy toad. I didn’t even want to hang around long enough to check if the note was from this century or a darker time where paying the ferryman was as regular as the plague.

With a final screech and scrawk from the cat and a final exhale of my own clean breath I left the cabin.

“Theeere iiis yoooour pllllot” was the final banshee moan from the old woman as she pointed to a spidery-branched bush with an crushed orange traffic cone behind it. Why I heard “weeellllcommme to Saaallloms lllllot”, I do not know. Maybe it was the sounds that resembled the devils garden all around me, maybe it was the stares from all of the farm yard and domestic animals everywhere I turned, whichever it was it was nurturing the dark thoughts whirring around my head and they weren’t subsiding.

“Are you happy with your site?”, before I’d reversed the van into the bumpy, potholed pitch, a voice from half-a-toyota-rav-four hollered.

With a puzzled look on my face, “er . . . . its fine thanks, is this all yours” I replied, looking around and pointing at the grounds, animals, strange woman in the cabin and with nervous anticipation of any sort of recognisable response.

“Yup, unfortunately!” looking as if he’s been landed with sorting out the national debt in an hour, “It’s all mine” Then he drove off towards the cluster of caravans and campers that adorned the entrance when I arrived.

Without hesitation I climbed back in my van, turned the key and put it into gear. There was no measurable time between me getting the van going to actually being on the pitch with the electric hook-up plugged in and the doors of the van locked and me safe inside. I felt like a 12 year old after watching Jaws for the first time, I felt stupid. All this was in my head but yet the fear was still there, but still felt I should be hiding behind a sofa somewhere, not here facing this horror.

“Bugger!” I needed a pee.  Why now? What a time to need a pee. Should I play it safe and use a pot-noodle container instead? It was a king-sized pot-noodle container, it would definitely hold but I would still have to discard it. “Damn! – I need to go for a wee!”

I played the whole journey, to the shower block, over in my mind.

Get out of the front door, drivers door. Lock it with the key that has “FB”on it. Be sure to have it ready. Have the shower block key in the other hand. Quickly open the van door, lock it behind me. Walk briskly to the shower block, making sure not to walk in an animal remains or droppings, get into the shower room, got to the loo, wash hands. Head down another brisk walk on the opposite direction to the van, get in, lock the door . . . . . safe and bloody well sound.

What actually happened was; I fell out of the van, dropped the keys, walked into a pile of dog poo and tripped over the steps to the shower block. I couldn’t find the right shower room, no loo roll when I finally did, no soap, barely any water. Slightly stressed, I walked back to the van after a very satisfying pee – washed the dog poo from my shoes, got back in the van, crawled into my sleeping bag . . . .safe and bloody well sound . . . . until night time.

It’s 8pm before I actually settle and stop peering out of the window to see if someone’s tampering with the van, the bikes or my sanity. The strange looking cluster of well-embedded caravans that welcomed me when I arrived are still active with the joys, merriment and ruckus of a teen party gone wrong, when will it end? The dogs are barking. Are they the beasts that call the demons to their nightly endeavours?

It is now 11pm, the ducks are still squawking, the dogs are the still barking, the demons are still screaming and I am sitting in horrid anticipation of a night of debauchery and din and, honestly, I am shitting myself.

Will I survive till morning? If this is my last line of text and I haven’t written anything else . . . . . then no, I was right and this was the hell site of all campsites, get my body out of here.

I wrote this while sitting in my campervan on my birthday this year. It was an interesting time, to say the least.It is only a draft – a germ of an idea. Let me know what you think of my writing. I will use your comments to improve. Thank you in advance.


Under the awning

May 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

“The condensation was building on the inside of the roof. The sun had risen earlier than I’d expected and I was worried about the dampness ruining the previous nights work. I had arranged all of my tools, in alphabetical order, on the two wooden folding tablets. They were fake oak tables, which my mother had given to me to make my life more comfortable. They certainly did make my life more comfortable. I no longer had to lay the tools on the floor. I had somewhere to arrange them and keep them safe and clean.

The wind was picking up. It blew the left and right doors in and out. It made me imagine the motions of a young, hot, couple having sex. It was rhythmic but clumsy and passionless. There was no soul.

I was getting cold and the metal on my tools were even colder. I could hardly pick them up to finish the project I had started. I needed to finish it that night. I was on an early shift the morning after and needed to be back before the staff noticed I’d disappeared.

I started cutting and carving, hoping the sound wouldn’t wake the neighbouring occupants and bring attention to my twilight activities. It was difficult keeping it a secret. I couldn’t let anyone know what I was doing. It would most certainly spoil everything. Not just for me, but for my family. I wanted it to be a surprise.

They would never believe, in a million years, it was something I could do on my own or that I was even capable. This whole situation would puzzle them – always. They would never understand, or belief for that matter, that I could do it. Have I said that? Not with my timetable anyway. The hospital kept me pretty busy. I would volunteer late shifts and unsociable hours so that I could buy everything I needed so I was able to fit my other work into my life.

My upbringing could have been better, not that it matters. But we didn’t have much in the way of luxuries. I needed to make sure I didn’t go without. I wanted a better life. That’s why I became a doctor, you know, and my fascination with life. To be responsible for another persons life is the most amazing power. I mean, I knew it was a high paid career and I also knew it would be a career that would help me with my other jobs – my amazing projects. I also knew that it would satisfy all of my desires. I knew quite a lot, didn’t I?

Luckily, within a few hours of the sun rising the dew had subsided and before the neighbours had started stirring. Just in time for me to put the final touches to first of my thirteen projects. I call them projects; but really, they are works of art as far as I am concerned. I have to sculpt, mould, construct and deconstruct – so it is art to me. I have to create complex organic shapes and morph them to adhere to complex shapes and deforming constructions – It’s art – it really is art. It’s difficult. I don’t expect you to understand, you are not like me – that’s clear . . . no one is.

I listened intently, as I always have, as the morning came alive. In silence, I sat on the folded camp chair for hours while the neighbours rose from their nightly slumber. The doors of their dwellings thumped open. It was a strange sensation. It was like the banging of a military drum, exciting all around to the dawning of the impending conflict.  I’d been alone all night. I had only the distant sound of nocturnal vehicles to keep me company. The sensation of those nightly souls hovering around my vicinity added to my creative process, its part of the work, it adds to my process.

I chose the dead of night to create my sculptors because the solitude allowed me to concentrate on the finer aspects of the craft. The eye is in the detail. That’s what my mother used to say. It’s true. If I allowed myself to forget the details I wouldn’t be noticed. That would ruin everything. I didn’t want to my art to be displayed until I was ready. That was the part I enjoyed the most. I needed that control over everything. I want you to understand that! I mean; you get to know your art. It’s personal. You feel for it. I did anyway. Ask any other artist like me, they really get into what they are doing, and it becomes part of their soul. Regardless of the their motivation, it consumes them. It’s all they think about. It’s only natural. If you don’t love what you do to your very core, you’re not an artist; you’re not a craftsman, you’re soulless, empty and a downright shell. I mean, how could you not be that close to something and not feel for it?

The only thing that bothered me was everyone finding out and ruining my big surprise. It was strange, weird even. It motivated me to keep going. My mum would say, the more you focussed on the drive the more driven you were. I didn’t get it at first. It only clicked once I’d completed my first piece. She was wonderful. The piece was wonderful, not my mother.

I remember them all.  I remember them as if they were ex-girlfriends. But in all honesty the first changed me forever. After her I couldn’t stop the work. It became addictive, almost taking over my medical work. The more I carved and the more I owned my craft, the more it took over me. They spoke to me while I carved. They were alive.

There was, in fact is, no one like me – for sure. I know that, I just need everyone else to know. I need everyone to appreciate that, no matter how many other artists or craftsmen there seems to be, I am the best.

It wasn’t about the quantity; to me it was purely about quality. But I won’t lie to you, I didn’t think of the number in the beginning but the more I did it the more the number thirteen seemed to be the right number to finish on. I can’t tell you why it just resonated. I have said that before haven’t I? No? The number thirteen touched me. Imagine your mum saying to you, for the first time, I love you – not that mine ever has – it just makes you feel a certain way. It’s unexplainable. Did your mum ever tell you she loved you? How does that feel? Wet?

It was the thirteenth that was the most difficult. It was bigger. When I say “IT” I mean her, she of course. I tried to get something new from each piece. I played with getting closer and closer. I tried to love each one differently.  That way I could tell the story of each of them and try to convince any stranger to feel the same about them, about my art, as me.

Take my patience for instance, they all have a different story, have lived different lived and I love telling their stories. I love telling the stories of their lives and the stories of their deaths, it makes me feel whole and complete, it feels right. And to have a control of their lives, to have their lives in your hands makes you feel special, alive and settling in their last moments. It’s like playing god – almost. You can’t take that shit lightly – you have to make the most of it. I suppose that’s why it happened, that art I mean. Can I call it art? I just want you to understand that’s all. I want to paint a picture that everyone can understand. I helped them. They are where they should be.

When you save someone’s life, you allow those people to live longer. When you take someone’s life, you give him or her eternal existence. Ever lasting soul. You allow them to live for longer in other people’s memories, people who didn’t even know them.  It’s like Jesus, we didn’t know him but god left his image for all of us to remember. God I tell you. I mean, you’re not going to forget their names are you. You are going to sleep every night with their angelic faces burned into your mind. You didn’t even know them and you wouldn’t forget. I have done what I had to. My job is complete – Inspector; my job is done. I have given them eternal life.

They should be thankful. You should be thankful. I have changed everyone’s life forever. I have changed your life.”

“Thank you, Dr McAllister, for your insightful and open confession. Your victims families can now have closure. Can you please read what I have written, then sign here and here.”

Open Road, Open Mind, Open Throttle

May 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Day One // Home Comforts or midnight tent erecting.

For some bizarre reason I have decided to load up my bike at 10:30pm on 17th April 2009 and travel the not so quiet roads of the peak district and camp out for the night.

I had the option of staying in my nice cosey house, tv on watching Ewan and Charley going the long way round taking notes and wishing I was doing what they are doing, but I decide to upsticks and get on my own bike in the middle of the night and go into the middle of somewhere, maybe thats what being a true biker/explorer is all about, I don’t know yet – this is all new to me.

After loading the bike up with the necessities (tent, spare socks, bananas, water, spare biking gloves, bike lock, trainers, books), I positioned myself upright on the bike, put it in gear, opened the throttle . . . . then . . . . . remembered I hadn’t charged my phone up. How was anyone gonna contact me, or how was I gonna contact anyone if this whole things went tits and I fell into a deep ravine in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t be found? So I sat in the car for half and hour to charge the phone. it only went upto 30% which would probably give me enough time to call myself out of any situation if I turned the phone off after receiving every text/email – it is an iphone after all.

Again, I sat on the bike (upright), put it into gear, slowly let the clutch out and opened the throttle – I was finally setting off.

Its amazing the thoughts that go through your head when you are setting off for the first time on a motorbike into the unknown and on your own. Where shall I go next? (I hadn’t even completed my first trip), had I packed the right stuff, had I remembered my tent pegs. The last thought I had was . . . I hope the camp site has room for me.

I had decided, in my infinite wisdom, to just ride there and see, rather than ringing ahead and making sure, I thought it would only add to the adventure if there wasn’t any room and I had to sleep on my bike under the stars in the freezing cold, was ignorance and stupidity part of being an adventure biker? I’m sure I would find out.

I was travelling on the A616 for what seemed ages, getting more and more tired, then a sign appeared “Welcome to Crowden”, then before I knew it I was in Tintwhistle, I had totally gone past the camp site, slightly miffed, I got off the bike to have a drink before setting off back, so I thought I’d take the first pic of my bike (see pic above, just in case you were wondering). I imagine this to be the first of many, I suppose you have to take a pic of your bike in different locations to prove to the viewer/reader that you had actually ridden there.

I rode back to the camp site, only to suddenly find, what I can only describe as a complete fuckwit, driving stupidly quick behind me in a white van just as I turned into the campsite entrance. It gave me my first experience of other drivers not having any consideration for me as a biker, there was more to follow . . . . all character building stuff.

I finally pulled into the campsite at 12:30pm it was eerily silent, there wasn’t a soul in sight and all camper van lights were off and all tents were blowing in the breeze that was slowly building up to quite a strong wind. I looked around for the strange man that I had seen the week before when I took my son to the camp site for the first time, but he was nowhere to be seen. Not that I expected him to be around at that time of night.

Suddenly this beared man appeared from the toilets with a torch, putting 2 and 2 together I’d decide he worked at the camp, “can I pitch my tent up and pay you in the morning” I said, a voice from behind the beard said “you can but I will only spend the money on booze, I don’t work here” – it was an easy mistake to make, it was late and pitch black. It was then that he educated me in the ways of camping. I could pitch my tent up then see the fella running the site in the morning and pay him then . . . I heard what he’d said, but for some reason I thought . . .”I’ll go and see if he is up and pay him now”, just trying to be right.

I strolled all the way around his camper van, there were lights on, so I knocked on his door. Like a scene from “confessions of a campsite attendent”, an old man with no teeth in and his tweeds around his ankles appeared at the door. So many questions were going through my mind, the one at the forefront was, how deep in a wank does a man need to be to forget to pull his trousers up before answering the door and when he got there what the hell was he going to expect?

“Is it ok to pitch my tent and see you in the morning” I said, trying to look him square in the eyes so as not to rome and see little campsite attendent looking right at me. “Justh pifth up and thee me in tha morning” he spat through his gums . . . . “no worries, night” I sloped off quickly.

Shall I start my bike and wake everyone up I thought or shall I struggle and try and turn the bike round and push it up the hill to a nice plot? Yeah fuck it, if I close my eyes they will never hear me (late night thinking, still shell shocked from the sight of my campsite attendent).

Getting everything off my bike I needed to pitch the tent I laid the main part of the tent down on the ground, all of a sudden a gust of wind whipped the tent up and the metal ring on the corner snapped up and hit me clean in the left eye, I laughed . . . . its 12:30 at night, I am cold, tired, stupid and the cherry on the cake may have just given me a black eye . . . .what a great start to my first journey.

30minutes struggling and 15 minutes getting to grips with the basic logistics of bike camping, I finally slipped into my sleeping bag turned off my lamp and shut my eyes . . . . the first part over, only 2 nights and 2 days to go!

Day Two // Mind Mapping with new people

Good morning . . . .was it though? I was fucking freezing, the sleeping bag, although lightweight, was also lightweight in warmth. I had managed to pitch my tent on the gnarliest piece of ground and I woke up with a back feeling like the child catchers cane from Chitty Chitty bang bang!

The birds were tweeting, the sheep were bleatingand the cocks were crowing, I’ll leave that there before it sounds like a scene from a bestialitymovie.

I couldn’t stay in that position any longer, back into my biker trousers, which by some stupid late night school boy error was the only pair of trousers I had packed,. They were already started to smell funky . . .betty swollocks.

I headed up the road towards the Youth Hostel for a well earned breakfast. What I needed was a full English to start my day off and get me ready for my journey ahead to the welsh hills. On my way I came across a pheasant (again, not wanting to sound like a bestiality movie). On my last visit to this campsite Bayley had asked me to take a picture of one, but it was too quick and escaped the clutches of my 5 x optical zoom. Not this time though, he’s there somewhere in the middle of the pic, honestly.

I arrived at the hostel doors, there wasn’t anyone in sight, I had arisen and not even looked to see what time it was . . . just then a man came to the door and opened it, “you were here last week, where’s your son” he asked. He was the man that was kind enough to let Bayley and I have a breakfast each for half the price. We exchanged pleasantries then I asked “if I could have a breakfast?”. “You will have to wait half an hour, you can sit and have a coffee if you like and I will fetch some bread for toast” he said and showed me to the canteen.

After about 20 minutes, he appeared with a tray of bread for toast, I was starving by this point. I asked him “Do you run this place then”, “no, I am the assistant manager” he replied. We then entered into a conversation where he told me he was originally a teacher and got despondentwith the bureaucracy of the job and decide to do something more spiritually and community based and found Crowden YHA.

Leaving the canteen a second time, he returned with the the tray for the plates and cutlery . . . “What brings you back” he asked, “I am in search of a new me” I joyfully replied, yes, joyfully . . I was happy I had gotten on the bike in the dark to be hit in the eye by my tent and to be stood in front of a complete stranger talking about something other than making money and asp programming.

” I went through that a while ago” he added, “I am now doing a PHD in my spare time and doing this as my job”, I asked him how he was doing in his PHD and he said ” much better after discovering Mind Mapping”. Now I think about it, if I wouldn’t have asked that question, I wouldn’t be sat here tying this blog, If I would have left the conversation there or asked another totally different question my life and that weekend would have been ordinary and just the same . . . . but I did.

He went on to explain about Tony Buzan and his incredible discovery and development of Mind Mapping. “I have a book upstairs yau can read while having breakfast if you like”, “Of course I’d love to” I replied instantly.

While eating my breakfast which consisted (if you are interested, if not too late), 3 sausages, beans, bacon and toast . . oh and a yoghurt and some coffee, I had learned about the basics of how the brain works, how to make mind mapping lists and how it could change my life. I was hungry for more, not breakfast!, mind mapping. I was going to go into the nearest town to buy a copy of The Mind Map Book, by Tony and Barry Buzan straight away. I walked into the kitchen and went to hand the book back, “That is incredible and may have just changed my life, what is your name by the way?”, “Peter”, he replied. “What a coincidence, so is mine”. I had a “doodoo, doodoo” (tales from the unexpected theme) moment. Something was happening here, something out of the ordinary.

“You can have that copy” Peter said. “Really, are you sure?”.
“Of course you can, I have another copy at home”
“Well if you sure” I added.
“What I will do then” I said “is, go away and read it, then come back and discuss what I think over something to eat and a coffee”
“that sounds good to me” Said Peter and took down my number.

I walked away from the hostel, after paying Peter for the lovely breakfast . . . . I felt like a new person, I had just experienced an epiphany. I could feel the start of a new me.

I strolled down the hill, past the sheep, past the pheasants and past the cocks, that were no longer crowing and back to my tent with a massive grin on my face.

I was half an hour into packing my stuff up when the man with the beard and torch from the previous night came over to me “how did it go last night?”, “Ok” I replied and told him about the man with the ankle high tweeds and wonderful speecth. He laughed, “I thought he was strange” he added.

We talked for about an hour . . about children, life, work experiences, travelling and how not look trendy at 40. Don’t ask.

After another half an hour, everything was packed, I sat on my bike, read my map and list of directions once more. Sat upright on the bike, popped it into gear, slowly let out the clutch, opened the throttle and off I went again onto the next leg of my journey.

Wales here I come or rather . . . Gwrymiau ‘ma ddeuwn. Try saying that with your teeth out you perv!

Day Three // Don’t talk to strangers . . . . bollocks . . . . talk to em, they are interesting, just don’t accept sweets!

I pulled out of the entrance of the camp site, it felt good to be back on the bike, natural and I was looking forward to being on it for the morning.
I am so glad I chose to buy a dual-sport, a bike made for the job, its a comfortable and on long distance journeys you thank, whoever it is that looks down on us, that you didn’t got for a sports bike, my old back couldn’t handle it. (now there’s an admittance)

All I had to do was get to Colwyn Bay that morning and I would have completed the first part of my first alone bike trip. I stopped off at a petrol station just after leaving the camp site and bought myself an A5 map of England, I figured it would come in handy if I got lost in between the places I had printed out, it turns out that it was one of my better ideas that day.

Another admittance, please don’t tell anyone, but I’m not the greatest at directions and my map reading skills left a lot to be desired. I have since developed the ability to point the map in the direction of where I am going and read the roads that way, it works. And yes, as Victorian as it may be, I refuse point blank to use GPS or Sat Navs when ,I feel, the idea of riding a bike on your own to places you have never ridden before with the aid of technology defeats the object. For me this is all about discovery, discovering myself and my limits, discovering new places and discovering and meeting new people. I don’t want any help doing it, the only guidance I need is the divine kind, whatever that may be.

I rode through Tintwhistle . . . . .again, it looks different in the light, smaller somehow, a bit like . . . *cough* . .well . . .nothing, never mind.

Anyway back to the story, the list of places I had printed off and taped to my tank for ease of use, before leaving home read as follows;

• Doncaster to Goldthorpe
• Then follow A6195 to Kingston
• Then A628 to Tintwhistle as the other day.
• A560 to Bredbury to cheadle to Altrincham
• A56 to Lymm
• A56 to Stockton Heath
• A56 to Hapsford
• A5117 to Shotwick
• A548 – coastal road to pensarn
• A55 to colwyn bay

All I had to do was get to each of these points using my new map book and jobs a good-un. There was a sense of massive achievement when I actually saw a sign with the name of one of my keypoints on it, the phrase “yyeeeeaaahhhh, oh I’m good” was used quite a few times, and not just cos of my new directional and map reading abilities, also the fact that I had got on my bike in the first place when I could have stayed at home in comfort.

The sign for Bredbury was whizzing by me, I was heading towards Cheadle, a sign appeared “yyeeeeaaahhhh, oh I’m good”, I followed the road intently, still having problems with knowing which gear I was in “It’ll come to me, don’t stress” I said to myself on many occasions, remembering what Warren has said to me just before my last test.

I had lost all sense of time, so I can’t tell you how long it took to get through Cheadle to Stockport, if I was gonna guess I would say three quarters of an hour, but I was there.

There was a massive roundabout just off the M60 with signs too all areas of Manchester, this confused the hell out of me. This was my first (more than 2 lane) roundabout that I had to navigate, my senses where on full alert – I approached what I thought was the correct lane, then all of a sudden a car appeared from nowhere just to the right of me, trying to get in my lane – what had just gone on?, was I wrong to be in this lane?

Even though I had been driving for over 15 years and knew I was in the right lane, probably because riding a bike was new to me, I questioned whether I was right or not – If I had been in the car I wouldn’t have questioned it at all. Maybe its because I felt so vunerable on the bike being inexperienced that I let him cut across me into my lane and took it on the chin, admittance number 3, there probably would have been an exchange of sweet words and helpful hand gestures if I had been in the car.

I remember something my motorbike instructor told me . . . “if someone is being a cock, don’t antagonise them, just pull over and let them be a cock somewhere else”, now why didn’t my car driving instructor say that to me, my driving experiences over the last 15 years would have been a lot less stressful.

I needed a coffee to continue with this level of awareness. I pulled off the roundabout in the correct lane and not a cock car driver anywhere.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted an outdoors shop to the left of me, “brilliant” I thought, I can pick up some essentials, warmer socks, some other trousers, some kind of tool kit and some thermals . . . for anyone out there that hasn’t invested in a set of thermals, GET SOME NOW!

As I pulled in I saw a woman standing by a burger van watching me riding my bike, my male ego automatically kicked in, Britney Spears was playing in my head . . . .”do you wanna piece of me” Which piece she wanted was unclear, but which ever piece it was . . . was cold and in need of thermals.

After spending 10 minutes getting off the bike, getting out of my gear and clearing my head of Britney Spears, I entered the shop . . . “fuck me this place is huge” I thought, there was so much stuff I just couldn’t concentrate. I did what I always do when I go to a shop I can’t be arsed to navigate around, I went to the nearest assistant and I told her what I wanted and was hoping she could guide me round. She was new and couldn’t even tell me whether they sold camping gear or not, what the hell was she doing on the shop floor . . . . . ya just can’t get the staff . . . .to help!

A helpful man called Peter, (thats the second Peter I had encountered in one day that helped me out – maybe its something to do with it being a saintly name ;o)) “What is that you’re after” he asked in a thick Manc accent. If I had closed my eyes I could have sworn that Liam Gallagher was helping my find some whooly thermals. “thermals, tools and socks” I said. “follow me, they are over here, here and here”. “Do you sell bike cigarette adapters?” I aksed him
“No we don’t you’ll need to go to a bike shop I think” he said
“Gutted, no worries, you don’t know of any around here do you!?” I asked
“yeah theres a large store around the corner on the A34, I will draw you directions”
“thank you thats great, I appreciate it”

I went to the counter to pay for my new camping gear and to cause the woman behind the counter some stress over the packaging I didn’t want.

That’s one thing about travelling by bike that you don’t have to consider when travelling by car . . .weight. I could carry the whole japanese sumo wrestling team in the boot of my car and could still do 150 and drive the car round a penny for an hour, but on a bike the story is totally the opposite. You have to make sure that everything you are carrying on a bike is evenily distributed or cornering becomes an issue – listen at me talking like I know anything about biking, the arrogance.

I got a bargain, the full amount I should have paid for my camping gear was £75, if I bought a discount card for £4, I got the lot for £54 . . . .what a saving. After leaving the store I did think “but was the gear expensive beforehand?” too late, I has ripped off all the packaging right in front of the store assistant and handed it to her, I couldn’t take any of it back now, oh um!.

After putting my new stuff in my panniers, I looked over at the burger van and decided a coffee was in order, but the woman was still there, I could do with a coffee without someone feeling my up in my biking pants. Bugger it I’ll suffer a molestation, the coffee had better be good and she had better have warm hands.

As I approached the van the woman popped her head from inside the van. . . .”you a biker then?”, I had an helmet in my hands, I was covered in biker gear from head to toe and I had just ridden in on a bike, but I still didn’t class myself as a biker. “yeah, I guess so” I said with a cheeky grin on my face.

We entered into a conversation about, how her friend – who for legal reasons shall remain nameless – was an idiot on a bike, didn’t wear the right gear and took corners like a she was trying to end it. “its nice to see somone thats dressed for the occasion”, “which occasion is that then” I said. “riding properly, looking after themsleves and being sensible”. she added.
“I’ve only just passed my test and I don’t intent to END IT, by being a biker knobhead”, yeah I said knobhead to a complete stranger, a female one at that – I felt a tad ashamed but because I couldn’t see a noticable change in her facial expression that she noticed I had said it, I didn’t worry too much.

We stood talking for about an hour (again, lost all sense of time, so this is my best guestimate). We spoke about the two Peters, the doo-doo moment, mind mapping and changing who we are and having the ability to become a better person if we really wanted to . . . . it was great.

I don’t talk to strangers, not because my mum told me not to, but because I have been sat behind a computer all my life and have lost the ability to talk to a complete stranger and enjoy it, she didn’t give me any sweets so I wasn’t suspicious. I have discovered listening, the more you listen to peoples stories, the more you learn and if theres one thing I enjoy most in this world, its learning and discovering.

I have waffled on a bit now, anyway, I got back on the bike truned left up, continued up the A560 and headed towards Altrincham., nothing much happened, onto the A56 through Lymm, still nothing much happening, just me the bike my thoughts and lots of traffic lights and stopping. continued up the A56 through Stockton Heath and Hapsford then onto the Welsh Costal Road, the A55.

Now is it me or when you see a coastal road on a map, you automatically think its going to scenic, there are going to views to die for, time to stop for photos, horizons that disappear into the sea . . . blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda. Well the welsh coastal road (at the uk end anyway) is completely obscurred by fences, walls and roads, it wasn’t till I go to Colwyn Bay that I actually saw the sea. I was on my own so I couldn’t do the . . . “are we there yet!”, if I had started it I would have done my head in, and when you’re trapped in an helmet with your own head that wouldn’t have been advisable.

The A55 down towards Colwyn Bay is a beautiful road, you can just see Llanudno in the background, its beautiful. I was getting excited, but feeling a little bit vunerable, I didn’t know where I was, what signs to read, which roads to take, what time it was or where I was going. But thats what its all about I kept saying to myself.

I saw a sign that said “Conwyn”, it looked like Colwyn, so I headed down there, pulled off the first roundabout and into a service station. I pulled up at the side of two bikers, I was nervous . . . “please don’t drop the fucking bike, ya knobhead” I said to myself. I professionally pulled up got off my bike and tried to do everything I could not to look like I had just passed my test. I runied the image by telling the biker beside me “where am I, I have just passed my test, I am so glad I have managed to get here”.
“nice one, exciting times” he said to me
“yeah guess so, I’ve loved every mile” I added with a big grin on my face

I was talking to bikers about biking, nervous times. I always wondered what it was like to talk to other bikers about biking, would they be looking for tell-tale signs that you didn’t have a clue about what you were talking about, would they know that from the bike you chose or the gear you wore . . .fuck me, the pressure if I thought about it, was immense. I think thats why I told him straight away, so there was no doubt. It seemed to work. I arrogantly complimented his bike and how it sounded, what else was I going to say, I didn’t even know what it was except it was white and sounded hard.

After going through that, I still didn’t have a clue where I was or where I needed to be. I swallowed my pride in my helmet (no one could see me do it). Theres not a lot you can do in an helmet apart from swallow your pride and think to yourself. I asked a man getting out of his car, “where is the campsite?”, “which one?” he asked, SHIT! I was in my gloves, map in the pannier and it would take me a few minutes to get sorted, it wouldn’t have been fair to ask him to stay put . . .then . . . “is that the address of the place” he asked while pointing at my fake tank with the directions taped to it. I had totally forgotten my efficiency, I had put the address on the paper – phew! He pointed my in the right direction, I got back on my bike and after missing a car pulling out of the petrol station by a whisker set off towards the camp site.

Less than 2 miles down the road there was a sign that said “Dinarth Hall” and I could see a few tents in the field at the site of it, I had passed the sign so I had to ride up the next roundabout, turn round. . . obviusly, thats what round abouts are for . . . and head back. The word roundabout is loosly used on this occasion as what it was, was a blob of paint on the road . . now this is going to test my slow manouvering technique . . it was close, I nearly lost it at one point, but there was no one around and if there was ever a time to do my first fall-off-your-bike, it was then.

I pulled into the entrance of the campsite and entered the reception, which was an old caravan with an old couple sat watching a group of teens modifying a group of ford cars, one of which was an escort cosworth, which I was impressed with. The couple had a combined age of around 190 I’d guess and between them had enough functionality to get the job done . . . I am sure the old man, who throughout half an hours conversation, didn’t take his eyes off my groin, impressive as it is and I could understand, I still felt uncomfortable.

I paid my £9 to pitch my tent, left the staring dirty old man (what is it about camp site attendents?) to watch someone elses groin and rode down to the campsite, I rode over the gnarly field nearly flying over the handlebars after missing the biggest ditch in the middle of the field, again . . there was noone around, so it would have been an ideal time to have my fall-off-your-bike for the first time, but again, I survived and parked up on the flattest piece of ground I could find.

I was here, yippeeeeeeeeee, the first treck under my belt and few more biker miles to talk about and impress my fellow bikers with . . . . . . chroesawa at gwrymiau! (welcome to wales)

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