I pumped up the tyre and was on the doorstep of Dave Wilkins' workshop at opening time for the second day running. Half an hour later I was suitably plugged and on my way.
Howard and I spent Thursday evening in the welcoming company of galahadwarhorse, plus a neighbour's nosy cat, departing Clanfield for the ferry port at 5:45 the next morning and immediately finding our travelling companions Simon and Emma, both on shiny new scooters, in the queue. One four-hour Fast Cat ride later, we were disembarking in Caen and met by Bike Normandy's John and Jeanette plus our other two scooterists, Doug and Charles, who had crossed under separate cover the previous day. The party was completed by a couple on a Honda Deauville who had wanted a nice leisurely group to join.
Friday had its fair share of disasters. Tricked by the brilliant warmth and sunshine at the port, we removed layers and opened jacket vents only to be caught in torrential rain half an hour later. We stopped at the side of a road now running like a river and clambered into waterproofs. The original lunch stop was switched to a closer destination: a waterfront restaurant famed for moules, visited on several previous occasions. I had a croque madame, the weather cheered up, and we remounted to tackle roads that had magically dried up to provide a smooth surface and luscious curves.
But here the second calamity of the day befell, as the most sedate and law-abiding rider of us all was flashed by a speed cop doing 124kph while overtaking a lorry. We all chipped in towards the €90 fine, since it could (and probably should) have been any one of us. The jokes lasted all weekend and were taken in good part.
The best ride of the day, for me, came right at the end, between the town of Trun and Bike Normandy's home base. I was following the incredibly speedy Jeanette, whose guidance through the straights and bends allowed me to increase my own pace, and was furthermore filled with anticipation of a shower, drinks and dinner, not to mention romping with Della the Bernese mountain dog. I was disappointed in none of these things.
By Saturday I'd reacquainted myself with how French roads work, and with a day's worth of intense, technical riding behind me had loosened up enough to enjoy myself despite further showers. The eight of us swapped around within the group, between John and Jen at front and rear, going fast or slowly as mood or ability dictated. Coffee and lunch stops were full of pleased grins, anecdotes, apologies for overtaking and did-you-see?s. At the last coffee break we voted unanimously in favour of MOAR RIDING rather than an earlier arrival back at the gîte for more chillout time, which only made dinner more well-earned and welcome.
On Sunday we visited the German and Allied war cemeteries side by side, and I was as usual moved to tears by the inscriptions. It would take days to read all of them. This was followed by lunch at a creperie, where I enjoyed a galette - a buckwheat pancake - with smoked salmon and leeks, with a sprinkling of caviare on top.
More torrential rain occurred out of nowhere while we ate, flooding the gutters and making us dash back to the bikes to retrieve helmets and jackets left exposed to the elements. We waited it out under the restaurant's awning or on the church steps, departing in sunshine for a route that was faster than that originally planned, due to departure times, but much jollier than the usual end-of-holiday motorway slog.
In the end we had time for a quick look at Pegasus Bridge before parting at the port. Cider on board the Mont St Michel provided a last taste of France.
When the ferry docked in Portsmouth at half-past ten, Howard discovered that his bike wouldn't start. He had to push it through passport control and out into the night, where I kept him company until the breakdown service came to cart him off, then hit the A3 for London.
I arrived home at 2:30AM, peeled a large dead insect off my forehead, and went to bed.