The plan began to form when I learned that one of my favourite aircraft, the Saab Viggen, would be performing at Sanicole Air Show in Belgium on my very actual birthday. Hunting for accommodation nearby, I found the Hotel Ibis in Hasselt and noticed the Nationaal Jenevermuseum in close proximity. It was on.
Mike, a friend from the X9 Forum who moved to Belgium a few years ago, kindly offered accommodation on Friday night, so I arranged to meet Howard at the Channel Tunnel for the 19:20 crossing. I set off from work at a quarter to five, and half an hour later got a rear puncture on the M25.
Traffic was slow, luckily, but I had to work my way across three lanes of it on a machine which was becoming less controllable with every passing moment. By the time I arrived on the hard shoulder I was feeling as wobbly as my bike.
I feared that my holiday might end before it had started: what with the traffic and its being Friday evening I reckoned on at least an hour's wait for the breakdown van, and I wasn't sure they'd be willing to repair my tyre, which had already been plugged once (the last time I went abroad for the weekend, funnily enough). But whether by luck or some combination of lone female/motorway/need to get to the Chunnel tonight, the RAC man was with me within half an hour and had fixed the tyre five minutes later. (I do carry a puncture repair kit, but we do not attempt to carry out vehicle repairs on motorways, we get the hell over the barrier and as far from the carriageway as possible.)
So efficient was the service that I was able to catch the next train after the one I'd booked on, at 19:50. Howard had received my texts explaining what was up and had waited for me; when I arrived he was being asked by a woman in a hi-viz why he was loitering around the checkin, so it was a good thing I turned up to corroborate his story.
We were the only bikes crossing and got a carriage to ourselves - which doesn't really make things any more comfortable. But it's still a thrill to emerge in France just 35 minutes after leaving England. (Or slightly longer in this case, as a car further along the train had broken down.)
Mike was waiting for us at a petrol station, as previously arranged (I'd appraised him of the incident and later departure time too), and led us to his lovely home, where we devoured a home-made shepherd's pie and fell into bed.