Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Very excited to published in this anthology

“With Our Eyes Wide Open” published by Curtis Bausse is an anthology containing one of my short stories called “Graduation”. It’s ready to pre-order on Amazon only £1.49 and it’s full of fantastic stories – not be missed.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Bucket List

On my Bucket List is ‘Learn how to ride a motorbike’ and in brackets (get full bike licence). To do this, one must first obtain one’s CBT or Compulsory Basic Training.

So, I organised a free taster session with a local training centre and found myself on a scooter, on a disused runway, near Manston Airport. Carl, my trainer, had a wealth of training techniques up his sleeve. There was a lot of carrot and a little stick. The carrot being - there are two rules, Jess: Don’t run me over and don’t end up in the field. The stick being – Jess, every time you touch the front brake, you owe me a beer. However, with his cunning use of childhood references, I was soon riding around the runway on a Honda CBF125, changing gear and everything, Sir! 
Carl stood in the middle of the runway and demonstrated how the Karate Kid would help me change gear by raising his right hand up in the air, in a gripping motion, to remind me to release the throttle. Then his left hand in the air – engage clutch and then hopping around on one foot for change gear. My deranged Sensei trained me through turning and weaving with the patience of a saint, safe in the knowledge that I owed him enough alcohol to open a small off-licence. He reminded me to think of Sooty and Sweep when checking I was in first gear. Just as Sooty tapped his magic wand three times, so should I tap my gear leaver three times, which would ensure I was in the correct gear. I enquired, wryly, if this gambit worked with the young people to which he responded “Yes, although sometimes they don’t know who Sooty is.”

A week later I returned to obtain my certificate. Up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning I joined three young men in the portacabin on site. Bleary eyed, we all pulled on waterproofs and sipped coffee, psyching ourselves up for the day ahead. Two of the chaps were renewing their certificates and the other one came from a family of bikers and was here to get his CBT as a rite of passage. I have exactly an hour and half of riding under my belt.

After about half an hour or so, I was seriously doubting my ability to make it around the next traffic cone let alone mastering the open road. Every time I looked up, the three lads had completed their manoeuvres and were lined up on their bikes, arms folded across their chests, like the three horsemen of the apocalypse, waiting for the fourth horseman to catch up! But catch up I did. Steve, my instructor, (handy – has same name as husband) had a similar obsession with alcoholic related penance. His rules were, if you hit the horn instead of the indicators, you owe him a bottle of vodka and a similar fine for leaving the indicators on after turning. I was starting to think Carl and Steve had some sort of side-line in hooch retail. 

Whilst practising on my own on the side runway, another rider passed me and I received and returned my first nod, biker to biker. I mentally punched the air, as I could not have let go of the grips if my life depended on it!

Steve, who should also be canonised, kept positive and upbeat. He announced during a short lunch break that myself and the younger lad would be going out on the road with him first. We donned high-viz jackets and one-way radios. Steve warned us he would not be able to hear us and we devised a horn related signal in case there was a problem. 

After a false start when the young chaps’ indicators stopped working, we were off. In convoy, we followed Steve to Acol, Birchington, Westgate and surrounding villages. We indicated, turned, approached roundabouts, left roundabouts, sped up, slowed down, stopped and started. Steve coaching us all the way over the radio. We stopped at a petrol station and filled up and Steve told us we were doing great and were now homeward bound.
As we entered a dual carriageway, Steve encouraged us to gain a bit of speed and before long I was cruising behind him at 55 miles per hour with the wind in my hair and the open road ahead. This is what it’s all about!
With the rapture of a gospel choir member, I lifted my helmet clad chin and sang at the top of my voice;
 “Got my motor runnin', Head out on the highway, Lookin' for adventure, And whatever comes my way”
(With slightly adjusted lyrics, of course) and then the euphoria was cut short by the sudden thought that my instructor may have fibbed about the one-way radio and could, at this point, have his helmet full of my dulcet tones! (Had he also heard all the expletives that had peppered the whole trip?)
But I carried on, because in my head I am on a huge cruiser with big chopper handle bars and foot plates up by the fork so you can rest your legs on that long-distance trip from coast to coast. Shades on, open face helmet, the sun blazing on my bikini clad shoulders…. It all starts to get a bit Daisy Duke then so I’ll leave that to your imagination but suffice to say, I was feeling very pleased with myself. 
Shoulders finally relaxed and a grin that was almost dislodging my helmet, we arrived back at base. I graciously accepted my CBT certificate (with my Action man gripping hands).

I now jump on the back of hubby’s bike with renewed respect and awe. I’ll never be able to ride his Triumph because I can barely reach the floor when I sit on it, but one day I will ride alongside him on my own two wheels.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Leader of the pack

Having mastered our first tour and several mini tours we are now feeling very confident with all things bike and decided it was time to join a Gang!

There were two possibilities: We already knew about a café just out of town where bikers congregate once a week and fill the car park with a colourful display of bikes and riders. We searched the web and found, fortuitously, another club that meets in a pub just a couple of streets away from our abode. Staggering distance actually, although we would be going by bike so no imbibing would occur.

The café club Facebook page professes a warm welcome to all new comers, so we polished the Triumph went for a short ride and then pulled into the café car park ready to embrace our new Brothers. What ensued was akin to that famous scene in “The American Werewolf in London”. David and Jack enter the pub on the Moors and walk straight into a game of darts being played by the locals. The whole pub stops and looks at them and the Brian Glover character utters those foreboding words “You made me miss my shot”
We were met with a few hooded looks over tea mugs. No hearty back-slaps, no welcome Brother and Sister, where do you hail from on that shiny, new beast? Indeed, just to add to our popularity a police car pulled in shortly after us and several nervous types loitered by their machines poised for a quick getaway. A few people glanced at us and the bike but no one made eye contact. We ordered a cup of tea and hung around for a while but the warm welcome must have taken the night off. So we jumped back on and went home.

We’ve dealt with a few cold shoulders in our time so unfazed, the following evening we attended the second group. Here we were met by Warm Welcome’s younger brother Luke Warm Welcome! Not many members had come by bike and several people were sitting nursing pints in civvies so it was quite hard to tell who was in the club or just drinking at the pub. We made ourselves talk to a couple of people and discovered that this group offered not only a raffle but our Holiest of Grail, the weekly RIDE OUT. And it was planned for the following Sunday!

Sunday, first thing, like two kids on Christmas morning we were up, dressed, leather clad and raring to go. The bikers meet at 9 am for a 9.30 am start. A minute past 9am we pulled into the pub car park - which was absolutely empty. We chuckled at how keen we were and waited impatiently, looking up expectantly at every approaching engine sound. Finally, after about 20 minutes, to our relief, two bikes pulled in and we made friends with Brian and John. These two excellent chaps took us under their faring and offered to take us on a ride out to Herne Bay for a spot of breakfast.
It was like a magical mystery tour with a side order of puzzlement. We followed these two gents on their big bikes over hill and dale. Just when we thought we knew the route they were taking, one of them would leave an indicator on for 5 miles keeping us on the edge of our leather seat for a non-existent turn off. But there is no denying the thrill of a group ride out. Following the Leader of the Pack (or whoever volunteers to ride up front): The sense of belonging, the anticipation, the frown of concentration through gravelly, unfamiliar country roads and the little gasps of recognition as the winding route brings us out onto more familiar highways.
We parked up on the seafront in Herne Bay and got to know our new friends over a Full English. John took the lead on the way home and took us on yet another route back. As we entered our home town we peeled off with a cheery wave having been invited to join them any Sunday for a Ride Out. Holy Grail found, sipped from and booked for every Sunday from now on (weather permitting).

Maybe one day my Steve will be Leader of the Pack.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Returner Riders

Steve and I are returner riders.

As a teenager I would get my friend to drop me home on the back of his bike and stop about 6 houses away from mine so my Dad didn’t hear it. I borrowed a huge helmet which would probably have shot off with a sneeze.

When Steve and I first started dating over 23 years ago, he had a sexy, grey Virago, the approaching sound of which used to fill me with giddy anticipation. We travelled everywhere on it visiting the rellies at weekends. We were always laden with bags, ruck sacks (front and back) and, I am ashamed to say, thought a few extra layers were good enough protection. Ah the invincibility of youth!

Then Steve used a Honda CBR 600 for commuting for a while (with full gear). The responsibility of 2 young children and a daily ride highlighted the need for better safety wear for Steve and meant that I did not really ride pillion at all.

Two decades later a change of circumstances and lifestyle has resulted in a joint mid-life crisis and the purchase of a beautiful, brand new, Caspian blue Triumph Sprint GT.
Now I distinctly remember sliding on and off the Virago like a nubile gazelle back in ‘93. Sadly 23 years of wear and tear on the old knees appear to have worn away any antelope-like agility much like the synovial fluid in my joints. I am also a smidgen wider in the girth. So I have had to become rather innovative at mounting and dismounting the bike, using a tug on my right knee to get my leg over the saddle and a really unattractive hopping motion to get off. The hopping dismount follows a nasty little incident on our first big ride out. I was dismounting at the petrol station which is a slightly different movement with the top box and both panniers on. A little last minute twist is required which in this instance meant I slipped off the pedal and then just kept going backwards in the direction I had been turning. Flat on my back between bike and pump and landing on the pump plinth edge on my ribs. I’m not sure if they broke or bruised (or both) but they are still a little painful a few weeks later. It made me very aware that leathers and helmet are great but if you really came off it would hurt like hell. So after some consultation with helpful hubby I now place left foot firmly on ground and do a hopping pulling thing to get my right leg through. More ‘gazelle caught in a man trap’ these days. 
But as a mature lady I really don’t care what I look like because when I am on that bike I am 18 again – every time! Because, even if I do say so myself I look rather good in my new Triumph leathers. Slimming and biker chick cool with a bit of a Suzi Quatro thing going on with the hair. (There is no cure for helmet hair. After extensive research with bandannas, pin curls, plaits, bunches and hair nets I have gone with the shove some sun glasses on my head like a hair band after removing helmet!)

So we have just returned from our first big adventure on the bike: a seven hundred odd mile round trip to a beautiful French town just north west of Dijon. The trip through the tunnel was seamless and the tone was set for the whole journey by the French border control chap who didn’t even ask us to remove our helmets but merely looked at our passports and nodded to us both and read out our names with a thick French accent, “Stefan et Jessica”
We got some great tips from another biker couple on the train who advised us to stop every hour and indeed we found frequent stops were needed in order to get some feeling back in the rear end and extremities.

The view is quite different from the back of the bike. With the height I can see a bit more than I might from a car. The French countryside is extremely picturesque and we did take some of the minor roads so we could enjoy the tiny villages with their fabulous old architecture surrounded by rolling countryside.
After 2 nights and a day in a pretty medieval village we made the journey home. This was even better as we made several short stops and perfected some wriggling and stretching moves that made for a more comfortable journey. The 4 hour wait at Calais in the full black leathers in 30 degree heat is an entirely different story but all in all this was a fantastic first mini tour.

One final little mention of how I really appreciate the biker community camaraderie and etiquette. Motor bike riders nod to each other as they pass. A nod of mutual respect. Back in the day this was a forward nod which has evolved, these days, to a short, sideways inclination of the head. On the motorway in France (as here in the UK) we often received (and returned) a wave from bikers on the other carriageway. There is also a great foot wave where a fellow biker overtakes and then extends his right leg by way of greeting and acknowledgement. There is even a wave or nod between pillions. A single motion which seems to say “Only we know”. Only we know the thrill of riding on the back of a bike with the sound and strength of the rushing wind, with the onslaught of smells and the raw delight of the open road and elements. Only we know that focusing on the nape of his (or her) neck, sometimes, is enough……