August 9th, 2011

Brigadier

In My Backyard

Yesterday morning, having returned late on Sunday night from a lovely weekend in France, I woke to breakfast news on Radio 2. The top story was about riots and I idly wondered which country they were in. Imagine my shock when the next thing I heard was 'West End'.

I stopped for shopping at the New Cross Sainsbury's on my way home last night. Although it was open, all the metal shutters were down and it looked horrible. Then two exits of the Loampit Hill roundabout were blocked by police vehicles, and I had to go home via Blackheath and Eltham (MY RIOT HELL).

Twitter said Bromley might be in the firing line and concerned friends sent me texts. I found it hard to believe - Bromley? Who'd riot in Bromley? Yet apparently they did.

I have not seen any rioting or looting with my own eyes, and my commute doesn't go through the town centre so I didn't check it out this morning. The number of sirens and helicopters heard last night seemed about average.

Very, very cross and disappointed at the moment with my 'hood, my country and my species.
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Orange Vespa Huskyteer

Bike Normandy, 5-7 August 2011: Sunday

Unbelievably, it was our last day already - just when I'd convinced myself that ride/eat/chat was my default lifestyle. We loaded topboxes, strapped on tailpacks and set out to cram as much riding in as possible before our 5:30PM ferry. The sun had come out at last and it was lovely riding weather: dry, bright and not too hot.

Passing through one village, I noticed a car boot sale in progress. Howard happened to be marking the junction and nobly suggested I stop and check it out while he waited for me. I made this addition to my scooter collection, for €1:



A little way beyond here lay the Hillclimb, another of Bike Normandy's 'special' roads. I loved this - a series of swept but forgiving uphill curves, which the bitey little automatic engines of the scooters lapped up. As a bonus, delicious coffee awaited at the top.

Charles's GTS suffered an electrical fault soon after we set off again, providing an opportunity for some members of the party to try each other's bikes out while Charles and Doug worked on the problem. Then there were more lovely, lovely roads - my favourite stretch of the weekend, I think, was a fast A road section with wide open bends - before mussels for lunch down by the river.

We left the nice roads, hit the dual carriageway, and all too soon we were saying our farewells to John and Jen (and also to Charles, who would travel onwards to meet his family in Dieppe) at the ferry terminal. We rolled on board Brittany Ferries' Mont St Michel and found some comfortable seats to collapse into for the six-hour crossing.

As we sailed homewards, I reflected that although it seemed as though moments had passed since I was outward bound on the Normandie Express, I seemed to have packed at least a week's worth of experience (and weather) into three days. I think everyone did at least one thing they'd never done before, and I know everyone had a brilliant time - or else they're very polite and very good at lying. A repeat visit is already under discussion.

Why do I keep going back to Bike Normandy? Could be the roads, could be the company, could be the food, but really it's the quality of the insults. Never before has my helmet been compared to one of the Smash Martians.



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Orange Vespa Huskyteer

Bike Normandy, 5-7 August 2011: Saturday

On Saturday morning we headed to the wide, smooth road christened 'The Racetrack' by Bike Normandy, always the high point of Howard's trips there. John had the bright idea of filming the 'proper' bikes going along very slowly, but with the riders bent over the handlebars as if caning it, while the scooters zipped past.

It was glorious to be leading my pack, even though Jen, Howard and David shot past me in short order. I chased them down the hill, Doug snapping at my heels, and only a queue of slow-moving cars and a solid white line spoiled my run towards the end.

Halfway round the Racetrack my exhaust suddenly started to sound noisy again. Inspection revealed a gap a millimetre long between the downpipe and the silencer, and John promised to find a repair shop later in the afternoon.

Meanwhile I pressed on, making inappropriately Harleyesque noises. The afternoon's ride was somewhat spoiled by a large BMW with a Paris number plate whose driver objected to the idea of bikers overtaking him and expressed this by nearly taking David out.

I decided what would piss the driver off beyond anything else would be an overtake by a 200cc Vespa, so I made this my life's mission. Stupid, dangerous and provocative? Well, yes. But I bloody did it.

Meanwhile, at the front of the group, John had investigated a nearby bike shop and found it closed. So he took me to a lawnmower repair shop. The receptionist kept saying no, no, we don't do motorbikes, but the mechanic was much more obliging and patched the hole with a sheet of metal and some Jubilee clips.

We rejoined the others and had our final coffee stop before heading back. On the way the rain grew heavier and waterproofs were donned. With the prospect of a shower and dinner at the end of half an hour's ride, though, it didn't seem too bad, and I enjoyed following Howard through the puddles.

After dinner (goats' cheese toasts, duck with lentils, sauté potatoes and red cabbage, baked Camembert, bread-and-butter pudding, just for the record) we watched the day's events on film. The footage and accompanying comments were so hilarious I nearly choked on my Calvados.



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Orange Vespa Huskyteer

Bike Normandy, 5-7 August 2011: Friday

I've written before about Bike Normandy, a biker B&B near Falaise whose owners John and Jen will take you out for a group ride along wonderful roads then make you dinner in the evening.

On previous visits with biking friends I've always thought that it would be fun to bring a group of scooters. This year I put the plan into motion.

It wasn't 100% scooters: Howard was on his Fireblade, David on a Kawasaki Versys, and we were also joined by a stranger on a Triumph who'd been fitted into the last space for our weekend. (Luckily for us and him, he had a great sense of humour.)

The auto quotient was, however, impressive. My Vespa GT200 was the smallest of the pack, Doug's Yamaha TMax the largest at 500cc, with a Piaggio X9 and three Vespa GTSes in between all weighing in at 250cc.

My machine's exhaust suddenly went very loud a week before the trip, but my mechanic pal slapped putty on it and pronounced that it should last the weekend, just about, maybe.

For me the holiday started on Thursday evening, which I spent with silverwindblade and Anna in Portsmouth. On my way down I found Doug and Charles lurking in a layby just after the newly-opened Hindhead Tunnel, and we continued in convoy.

On Friday morning I left Silv and Anna's pad at half-past five, having been awake and excited for an hour and hoping I wouldn't wake them. Stopping to tank up outside the city centre, I discovered Simon (X9) and Emma (red GTS) at the pumps, and while I was filling up Howard arrived too. So I proudly led my troops the quarter of a mile to the ferry terminal.

We were on the fast boat, which deposited us at Caen three and a half hours later. Soon we'd been welcomed and briefed by John and Jen and were setting off past Pegasus Bridge for our first helping of French rural roads.

Under the influence of a sudden rain shower we stopped for lunch sooner rather than later, enjoying buckwheat pancakes - galettes - deep in cider country in the pretty village of Beuvron-en-Auge.

By 6:30 we were back chez Bike Normandy, unpacking, showering, changing and enjoying a beer or cider in their garden overlooking the Falaise Gap. While we flopped exhausted into chairs, chatting and playing with Della the Bernese Mountain Dog, John and Jen retired to the servants' quarters to produce a four-course meal.

The food and drink were superb, but the conversation even better. At five to midnight I was the first to crack and go up to bed.

The day's route was scenic, enjoyable and not too challenging. We spent it getting used to riding together, to John's leadership, Jen's tail-ending and our taking it in turns to mark junctions in the middle. I get the impression that the first day is a quiet one while Bike Normandy get the measure of the group.

If we were being tested we must have passed, because we were amply rewarded over the rest of the weekend.



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