Monthly Archives: August 2008

Canoeing at Carsington

Yes I know!

This is yet another of the ever increasing number of posts that deviate from the avowed intention of this blog by having nothing whatever to do with bikes, trains or music.  I can’t even claim a link to the header above by claiming that we travelled to Carsington Water on the bike. In some ways I envy that band of self-disciplined bloggers who stay 100% on topic – even being able to run several blogs to compartmentalise their life into the relavent areas for each set of readers. Anyway, I take  some consolation in the fact that very many of the blogs on the interweb are just as chaotic as this one.

An interest in boats has been part of our family for a very long time. My dad was instrumental in this, with his lifelong interest in Scouting, and for many years, a passionate involvement in water activities of all kinds. I will always remember Powells Pool in Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield as the venue for my own first tentative paddling in venerable lath and canvas kayaks. These were probably very similar to this one. I can also remember sitting in my first ever fibreglass canoe in about 1967. This belonged to an instructor who had come to teach us a little more than the basics. This boat was his own and was a Klepper Dolphin.

After a quick wander around Google, I was amazed to find that the company still exists, but concentrates on folding canoes these days. Their website is here.

From these early beginnings, my own messing about in boats of all shapes and sizes continued for many years, although it has had to drop away in recent times.

The 24th August is significant because it marks the end of another year of my occupation of a small piece of this planet; and the 23rd August is my eldest son, Gareth’s birthday. When the children were smaller, we would try to mark our almost-joint birthday by doing something together; perhaps going somewhere special, having a special meal or whatever.

The subject of this year’s celebration came up a while ago when we were talking with the boys some months ago. Someone suggested that we should go canoeing sometime and it was decided to mark this weekend by meeting up and getting afloat. For many weeks, nothing happened to crystallise this vague idea into any kind of shape until Sue decided to get her teeth into the idea, did some research on the net and found Carsington Sports and Leisure. They have canoes for hire on Carsington Reservoir in Derbyshire. The various offspring and partners were advised, interest was gauged as somewhere between enthusiastic and excited and bookings were made. It seems that canoe technology has moved on sonce the last 1960s and there is now a breed of canoe called “sit-on-tops“. These do not have the deck that kayaks enjoy, so in the evnt of a capsize, an inexperienced paddler is in no danger of being trapped, but will simply fall off into the water. Carsington also has Canadian canoes, traditional styled open boats.

The appointed day arrived and as I packed my spare clothes and towel into a rucksack, I had a real flashback to being 18 again because this was something that I did several times every week at that age. We set out to Carsington and met the rest of the family. The weather was overcast and threatening rain at any moment. I had been undecided about whether I really wanted to get wet and I decided not to go on the water, but to stay ashore with Sue and Emma, Gareth’s partner and fiancee.

The other young people were allocated wet suits and disappeared to get changed, reappearing a few moments later looking rather like the Tellytubbies from Children’s TV.  With buoyancy aids and paddles collected, they made their way to the water’s edge, boarded their boats, two single seaters for Gareth and Matthew, and a double, initially crewed by Daniel and his partner, Sophie.  Unusually for us, we had remembered to take the camera and first Sue and later I, kept busy getting photos of the fun. In fact, they were having so much fun that I had more than a twinge of regret that I wasn’t out there with them.

It was also great to see Sophie’s mum and dad who had come out to Carsington for a walk, but also I suspect, to see their daughter’s aquatic adventure as well.

After the hour afloat had passed all too quickly, the intrepid voyagers went to get changed and we all adjourned to one of Carsington’s cafes for hot drinks, followed by a piece each of one of Sue’s legendary Pavlovas, which we ate back at the car. This was when we discovered that we had forgotten to bring enough spoons, but undeterred, I can vouch for the fact that Strawberry Pavlova tasted just as good when eaten with your fingers.

It was heading for lucnchtime by now and Sue had booked Sunday lunch for us at the Hurt Arms, Ambergate. We enjoyed our usual good meal there (at the usual good prices). After an hour or so of eating and chatting, we agreed to do it again sometime. In fact some of the younger members of the party were talking enthusiastically about getting some training and qualification, buying their own boats and taking up the sport more regularly.

I’m fairly sure that we will go back to Carsington Water to go canoeing again.

It will be great if their interest in boats is part of my dad’s legacy that will continue into the next generation. Time will tell.

Ride Safe


Bike Plus

Like most bikers, and indeed, like the vast majority of car drivers, too, I took the training that I needed to get through the test and to qualify myself to ride unsupervised. After this, I had nothing further to do with training; not through any feeling of knowing it all, I was glad to get out and use my first Harley, the Sportster. One of my earliest posts on this blog was about the green machine and can be found here.

Even before I had passed my test (at the third attempt!), I was aware of Bike Plus, the post-test training scheme supported by Derbyshire County Council. However, I do not live in Derbyshire and so didn’t read the leaflet properly.

After riding the Sportster for more than two years and moving on to the even bigger Heritage Softail, I decided that it was time for some more training. It was fortunate that Bike Plus must have come back into my consciousness at about this time because I soon discovered that Derbyshire County Council (bless them) are prepared to subsidise riders who live outside the county, but who ride in Derbyshire. Since I very certainly fit the bill, I filled in the Bike Plus form and sent it off. It didn’t take long before a reply arrived offering me a 50% discount on the £180 cost of a day’s advanced training.

I was also very pleased that the training company that got me through my test, Shires Motorcycle Training, of Derby, were Bike Plus providers. I got on the phone, booked my training with them and settled back to wait for the appointed day.

The Saturday in question, a few weeks ago now, dawned dry , but overcast with a forecast of some rain later. I made sure that my waterproofs were in the pannier, along with the Bike Plus letter, along with my tax and MOT certificate and driving licence. I rode across from Nottingham to Derby in the dry and booked myself in, grabbed a coffee and was introduced to Colin, who was one of the instructors who taught on my Direct Access course almost three years ago. Even more surprisingly, he remembered me. Our group for this course was completed by Darren, who was a very experienced motorbike racer, but who had only just passed his test to ride on the road.

After making our introductions, checking the paperwork and finishing our coffee, we donned our waterproofs and set out just as the rain started. Although I kept hoping it would brighten up, it didn’t and we spent the whole day riding in the rain. I remember saying to Colin at one point that I guessed that my Harley would be only on the road for a hundred miles. Generally, us Harley owners don’t tend to ride in the rain if we can help it because that chrome takes such a long time to clean.

Of course, we saw two other Harleys on the road within a couple a minutes, but there really weren’t very many other bikes out on such a wet day.

The training and the riding itself was pitched at a more advanced level than I had expected. We were patched into the ubiquitous training radios with Colin giving us riding tips as well as directions as we navigated a wide range of roads, including those winding bends that Derbyshire offers in abundance. I was concentrating very much on getting my line around bends right. At the start of the day, Colin had talked about riding around the outside line of a bend and about seeing my lane on the road as three strips: the third nearest the kerb, used for right-hand bends; the middle third, to be generally avoided for normal riding and the outside third for straight roads and left hand bends.

Colin got us to think ahead and to position ourselves so that one bend flowed into another and as I gained confidence in my lines and in the grip offered by the bike’s tyres, especially in the wet, my speed started to increase in the bends. I don’t think I exceeded the speed limit at any time all day, but prior to this day, I had tackled most bends quite tentatively, slowing down a lot. At one point we were riding on the A610 towards Ambergate and I took some bends at 40mph for which I would previously have slowed down to 30 or less.

Despite the rain, I was really enjoying my riding and I am sure that I am both a faster and a safer rider for having taken advantage of Bike Plus. After our next ride together, Sue commented that I seemed more confident in my riding.

That comment alone made the £90 cost of the day worth every penny. If we had lived in Derbyshire, the subsidy could have been even bigger – with the “locals” paying just £50.

Sherwood Chapter’s committee has discussed offering rider skills training to its members and I firmly believe that they could do far worse that book a series of Bike Plus days.

Rise Safe

The Day The Music Died

If I was just a few years older, the phrase that I used for the title to this post could well have been the one that is normally attributed to Don MacLean’s “American Pie” lyric; the death of Buddy Holly in a plane crash. I must be a little younger than Don Maclean, so I don’t have a clear memory of that time. However, I vividly remember 1967.

It was on the 15th August 1967, 41 years ago today that the airwaves of Britain fell strangely quiet as the Marine Offences Act came into force, silencing all but one of the offshore pirate radio stations.

I got into the pirate stations very late in their all too brief history, but when I did, it was a life changing time for me. 1967 was my 4th year at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield where I was preparing for the dreaded GCE ‘O’ Level exams.  One of my fellow students used to rave about Radio Caroline and I switched part of my allegiance to this exciting and different station. I had already discovered Radio Luxembourg, the great 208, and was a regular under the blanket listener for years.

In those far-off days, medium wave was acceptable because we only had that and Long Wave stations, so the variable listening quality of all radio was simply part of our lives. What was new and different was the presentation and the music. Lively DJs and music that we could otherwise only hear in the soundproofed listening booth of the local record shop, Frosts the Chemist on Sutton Coldfield High Street, or in the Odeon on Saturday mornings before the 1960s institution that was cinema for children. 

I remember the feeling of loss when the pirates went that the brand new sound of Wonderful Radio One was only just able to replace.

In these days of bland, boring, highly formatted commercial radio available in FM stereo and in Digital quality, it’s hard to remember just how big and how important those pioneers were. I still find it amazing that the DJs whose names I can remember, with just one of two exceptions, came from that time. Tony Blackburn, Emperor Rosko, Robbie Dale, Tony Prince and John Peel, to name only a few of my heroes.

I have mixed feelings about the revivalists who have tried to re-create those glory days on short-term RSL licences or on the internet. An aging anorak can never replace those pioneers, and forty-one years on, it’s sobering to think how many of them are no longer with us.

I swapped a few emails recently with a presenter working for a station in the USA who agrees with me that radio these days has gone to “hell in a handcart”.

Let’s also not forget that the people behind those offshore pioneers were first and foremost businessmen running commercial radio stations. Even if the stations had continued to run from storm-tossed ships in the North Sea, they would have evolved, very probably into the kind of formatted, networked, money-making commercial radio that we have today.

So let’s hold out hope that the new community radio stations succeed in bringing some of the fun back to the airwaves.

Rise Safe

Snails, Flies and Other Pests … Sorry, Creatures

As part of what is becoming a series of posts on here that are totally unrelated to trains, bikes or music, here is a brief tale about Sue.  (For new readers, Sue is my wife). I am sure that she was some kind of small creature in a past life, probably a fly.

While most of us who see such creatures as pests would kill them at the drop of hat, Sue’s approach is very different. I used to think that it comes from  Buddhist philosophy. Although I now know that this is too simplistic a view of this religion. However, Sue won’t kill or even mistreat any living creature if she can possibly help it.

This leads us to some wonderful situations where she holds the back door open and invites a fly to leave the kitchen. Yes, she talks to them – out loud! Even more strangely, it seems to work. The offending fly almost always goes straight outside, never to be seen in our kitchen again.

I have also heard her apologising to spiders when she carefully traps them in a class and takes them outside.

However, the most recent adventure must be her best ever. Our house has a small front lawn and a larger back garden, both of which seem to have increasing large populations of snails. Whenever it rains, dozens of them appear from under the bush or other hiding place and can be seen all over the grass, on paths and on the driveway. When it dries up or gets warmer, they disappear back into shelter.

I found this explanation of their behavior on the New Scientist website (slightly edited by me):

 The garden snail, Helix aspersa or Cornu aspersum, was accidentally introduced into England, probably in Roman times, by trade with mainland Europe. Among other habitats, it is associated with disturbed areas such as gardens and waste ground.Avoiding loss of water is a major priority in the life of a snail, and is perhaps the single most important factor influencing their day-to-day activity and behaviour. As a result snails are essentially reclusive animals, spending much of their lives hidden away in sheltering microhabitats. Gardeners will be well aware that they can be found in abundance under bricks or stones.

Garden snails commonly come together in places that offer some type of protection, in particular to undergo aestivation and hibernation. Aestivation is a period of inactivity in dry weather during which snails avoid losing moisture by withdrawing into their shell and adhering to a substrate via a mucous membrane.

The other day, we finally agreed that we would have to do something about our snails. However, we ignored all the advice about how to kill them.

Instead, it was late one damp night that we ventured out into the front garden armed with a torch, a bucket and a pair of rubber gloves. I held the torch and acted as spotter while Sue picked up each snail and put it in the bucket. In about half an hour the bucket was three-quarters full with some serious escape attempts under way. Snails are tenacious little creatures and given half a chance would have been out of the bucket and along Sue’s arms. However, she was too quick for them.

With most, but by no means all, of the snails from the front garden in the bucket, the next problem was to decide what to do with them. As I have said, killing them was completely out of the question, so Sue and I set off down the street to a piece of waste ground at the side of a warehouse unit about 200 yards away from our house where the snails were re-housed into a clump of grass at the side of a large bush.

The following evening, we repeated the exercise in the back garden, rehousing almost as many snails again.

I still have my fingers crossed that we took them far enough that they won’t find they way back to our highly desirable snail sanctuary.

The amazing thing about Sue’s approach to living creatures is that we both eat meat.  I have admittted in the past that I am something of a hypocrite about this because I don’t have to hunt and kill the animals. I’m actually not keen on eating anything that I recognise as having once been alive, so that rules out quite a lot of fish for me, but I love beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey.

Maybe there’s not that much difference between Sue and me – we’re just a pair of old softies.

Ride Safe

PS I’ll be back tomorrow with another date related post. 

40 Years Ago Today – The End Of Steam?

August 11th 1968 is a date embedded in the memory of railway enthusiasts across the UK. It was the date of the last steam train run by the nationalised British Railways. There are lots of great video clips from this era on YouTube. There is even one of the famous “£15 Guinea Special” that ran from Liverpool to Carlisle and back exactly 40 years ago today.

Many of us believed that it really was the end of an era, and at the time, there were a lot of us who didn’t regret the passing of these dirty old machines. Remember, we were also in at the start of the new era of cleaner, faster diesel and electric trains. But the passing of years can add a rose-tint to the memory of us aging anoraks.

However, it wasn’t the end. It proved to be a new beginning for an entire movement of heritage railways that can now be found up and down the country, occupying former branch lines and even some former main routes. Some of the earliest preserved lines must be approaching their own 40th anniversaries in the next few years.

There have been a few preservation efforts that have failed, but even these have not led to the loss of any restored steam locomotives, although there are plenty of machines dotted around the country that have not turned a wheel in anger in the past four decades. These are the restoration projects that are either ongoing, on hold or vaguely planned for some time in the future. Restoration of a steam locomotive is hugely expensive and their running costs are not insignificant, although the labour and skills of hundreds, maybe thousands of volunteers also provide a massive subsidy to railway preservation as a whole.

But it is not just on the preserved lines that steam continues to flourish. After a few years of a complete ban on steam on the main lines, the preservationists campaigns came to fruition when they were allowed to put these machines back on the long-distance routes that they were originally built to handle. Now there is a small industry that provides locomotives, coaches and train crews on a very regular basis for steam-hauled trains aimed squarely at tourists and enthusiasts. The Highlands of Scotland have been well served by steam and a couple of years ago, I was been lucky enough to travel behind a steamer on one of my own favourite routes, the Cambrian Coast Line between Machynlleth and Porthmadog.

Looking to the future, these old machines are going to continue to need maintaining and there the preservationists will have to ask themselves some tough questions about just how to balance the need to replace worn-out components with new ones to keep a locomotive running against the need to preserve our heritage. Fortunately, the National Railway Museum is acutely aware of this dilemma and has put policies in place that will mean that some much loved machinery will end up as static museum exhibits in order to conserve that originality.

However, this summer, the first main-line steam locomotive to be completed for 40 years, Tornado, moved under its own power and is currently being tested on the preserved Great Central Railway. This loco was built as the 50th A1 locomotive, closely based on the original plans, but with small improvements to make it suitable for main line work on the 21st century railway, including more water capacity and modern railway safety electronics.

There are other groups working on new-build steam locomotives as well, including the Betton Grange group at Llangollen.

Yes, there’s an anniversary to commemorate today, but not with any sense of sadness. Today’s steam locomotives are far more loving maintained than they were in the final years of their work on BR. They provide links to a past that could easily have become no more than a few grainy old films or that TV series, Thomas The Tank Engine.

40 years on, steam is very much alive and well.

Ride Safe

The Eighth Day Of The Eighth Month Of the Eighth Year

This post is linked to today’s date and has nothing whatever to do with trains or bikes. I just started thinking about the things linked to the “Eighth Day”.

The Soul Band
The West Coast soul band Eighth Day were formed in 1966 and came under the umbrella of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s post Motown period at Invictus Records where they had a few minor hits and a couple of albums. They were certainly still around in 1998 with a third album release then.

The Hazel O’Connor Song
Eighth Day by Hazel O’Connor was from the (not very good) film, Breaking Glass.

Book By Thornton Wilder
This 1967 novel has been described as a forgotten gem. I’m not convinced that a book that sold over 70,000 copies and that I have actually read can really be said to have been forgotten. Eight Day was written late in the writer’s career which had begun in the 1920s.

Graphic Novel by Arni Lochner
This seems to be more of a work in progress than a finished novel, but it can found online as a third year project (presumably) from his university days. It isn’t clear whether it will ever be finished, but the site is very cool with some irritatingly dark music and cartoon-like graphics.

Film Directed By Jaco van Dormael
Eight Day is a French film made in 1996, Le Huitième Jour. It explores the world of Georges, a Down’s Syndrome sufferer and his quest for a meaningful relationship with businessman, Harry.

Vegetarian Cafe in Manchester
The first hit on google for “Eight Day” is this veggie cafe and shop run by a cooperative in Manchester. I’ve never been, but you never know what could happen in the future.

By the way, I like lots of veggie food, but I’m a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore. However, one with reservations about eating things that used to be alive.

This gives me an idea for another post that has nothing to to do with bikes, trains or music. Come back soon and I’ll tell you about Sue and the snails.

There are lots more things that I could add about the Eighth Day, and if you really want to make my eighth day, tell me about one or two of them by adding a comment.

Ride Safe


For quite a while now, Sue and I have been talking about finding time for a ride over to Hunstanton on the North Norfolk coast, which has itself become something of a mecca for bikers. I believe that Sunday is the biggest day for bikes, but as I am off work at the moment and Sue had a day off as well, we decided to go yesterday (Monday). The weather forecast was for isolated showers, so we packed our waterproofs (always a sensible precaution when riding in the UK in any case).  The rest of our advanced planning consisted of a decision to call in at Peckover House in Wisbech, a wonderful 18th century house that was once owned by a Quaker family who became quite big in the world of banking. The house is now owned by the National Trust.

Anyway, I am jumping ahead a little. We set off on the Heritage Softail through our fair, but congested city heading south-west towards Melton Mowbray. It was warm although  overcast, but when the sun came out, it was a glorious morning. We got to Melton in good time and continued out through Oakham, passing the large expanse of Rutland Water. We crossed the A1 and entered the town of Stamford where we managed to lose our way for a few minutes, but a stop in a side street and a quick consult of the map showed that a little more planning could have helped as we didn’t need to be in Stamford at all; we should have by-passed the town by taking the A1 south towards Peterborough.  I am not keen on retracing my route, mainly because it is an admission that my navigation was not 100%, so we continued along the A16 towards Market Deeping but swung left before this town towards Peterborough where we stopped for a coffee (getting one of our lattes free with a completed loyalty card) and a Chicken and Cheese Deli of the Dayat McDonalds before we picked up our semi-planned route for the final 20 mile run into Wisbech.

The centre of Wisbech is a wonderfully preserved Georgian port town, although there seems to be very little maritime activity on the River Nene these days. Parking was free in every car park we saw, and we easily found a space a short walk from the centre and, as it turned out, just behind Peckover House. Like most of the National Trust houses that we have visited, Peckover House was very well signposted and it was a short walk from the bike to the house. We arrived there a few minutes before the house was due to open at 1pm, so by the time we had obtained our tickets, the door was open and we were welcomed by a knowledgeable and friendly steward.

We were both very impressed with the house and its gardens. The Peckover family were obviously well-to-do, but in keeping with their Quaker beliefs, had a social conscience and were benefactors to the town. Unlike many of the big, grand country houses now in the care of the National Trust, this was a town house that felt like it could have been lived in by a real family. It had a very human scale, although the library is a big, and very impressive room. We were also very impressed that nothing was roped off in the way that much of the furniture in some rooms in other NT places are.

The gardens were also really well cared for and we enjoyed our walk through them to a building at the far end of the garden known as the Reed Barn. This is now a large tea room and a small second-hand book store. We enjoyed our tea and cake and, of course, came away with a couple of books.

Back on the bike and after a brief detour round the centre of Wisbech, we found the road towards Kings Lynn where the by-pass was far less busy than it had been on previous summer weekend trips to the area. We were soon clear of the town and heading north towards Hunstanton.

The last time we were in Hunstanton, we found a parking area just behind the south promenade, but the gate was locked, so we ended up on the sea front in an area where there were just two other machines, a Honda bike and a scooter. While we were there we spotted just one of two more bikes in this area, but Monday afternoon is clearly not a great time for a bike meet.

Hunstanton, although on the east coast of England, actually faces west onto the Wash. This meant that the view out to sea was actually of the south Lincolnshire coast, although we could not identify any specific places.

It struck both Sue and I while we were there was the fact that last time we had visited Hunstanton, there seemed to be huge numbers of very overweight people there. Now I’m the first to admit that I’m not the exactly small myself, so for this to have made such an impression, we must be talking BIG! Anyway, on this visit, we didn’t really see anyone who could have been called very obese.

There were a few spots of rain while we were eating our obligatory seaside ice cream, but it didn’t amount to much. We had a walk around the town and looked in a few of the shops before the main reason for our visit to the place – fish and chips.

We went into Bears Fish And Chips and were greeted by a friendly guy behind the counter who reminded both of us of Owen Newitt from the Vicar of Dibley. He certainly had some physical resemblance to Roger Lloyd Pack, the actor who played Owen, but his voice was pure Owen. The fish and chips were very good and there was plenty of them. There was a good mug of tea as well. If you visit Hunstanton,  Bears Fish and Chip Shop is at 26 Le Strange Terrace, Hunstanton, Norfolk, PE36 5AJ.

With the inner biker satisfied, we had a walk along the South Promenade and through the funfair. We weren’t tempted by the rides and as we walked back towards the bike, we decided to kit up and head for home.

The ride home meant retracing our steps to Kings Lynn before diverging from our ride out to head along the A17 towards Boston. In fact, I followed rather too many signs for Boston and ened up off our direct route (again) and in the middle of that town. Although this put a few extra miles on, it also gave us another opportunity for coffee stop which very fortuitously coincided with a brief shower of rain.

The ride back along the A52 was uneventful, although my confidence in cornering seemed to have settled into  a groove and I enjoyed this part of the ride.

I still feel pretty good and I wonder whether the day out on the bike with Sue has done some good for my depression as well.

Ride Safe