Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 226: One Year On

Time flies when your having fun and 23rd April 2009 came as something of a surprise, ..... it marked 365 days since Poor Circulation, with the help of a new battery from White Bros. Honda in Darlington, had departed from St Teresa's Hospice. Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to celebrate the 1st Anniversary with the Tiger but shared the day instead with the slightly less charismatic 1050 Sprint ST courtesy of Triumph UK. It's funny how things have changed because a year ago I didn't really like the Tiger at all, I regretted choosing it for the journey and even as we headed into Europe on the 1st of May, I doubted it's ability to complete a full circuit of the world.
Time and tenacity have proved me and a good many other doubters,.... to be wrong. Aside from a snapped clutch cable changed at the side of the road in Siberia, a loose battery terminal in Irkutsk and a blown headlight bulb replaced in Boonville Ca., the Tiger took the entire journey in it's ample stride while many other seemingly more appropriate bikes were disintegrating all around me in Russia. 28,000 miles on a variety of roads and aside from fuel and oil, the Tiger consumed just two tyres, one clutch cable, one headlight bulb, one set of brake pads and a drive chain, ..... which is really not too bad when your working on a very tight budget. It ran perfectly well on 86 Ron fuel in Russia and averaged just over 50 mpg for the whole journey. The £20 tent and £10 sleeping bag lasted the course and £20 spent on the army surplus Gortex jacket and trousers was quite possibly the best investment that I've ever made. The £2 mud-foot stopped the bike from falling over and the £5 auxiliary fuel and water tanks kept the journey moving when populations became scarce. The modifications were more 'Heath Robinson' than 'Touratech', but they seemed to work well and probably saved me a small fortune. The major safety addition to the bike were the engine protection bars donated by Frank at '' and although I tried to avoid crashing too often, they saved me from physical and financial disaster on many occasions. The maps that I took with me could have been more accurate but the £5 compass that was super-glued to the Tiger's screen was always true. It took us East, it kept us away from wars and it brought us back to the Ace Cafe in London, .... £5 well spent.
The original budget that I set was £20 per day with an additional £5,000 for the bike, the kit, the insurances and all flights and sea journeys. People laughed and people looked concerned, they said that it couldn't be done but I had confidence in the generosity of strangers and set off in blind faith. In the final analysis, the budget came out at just under £28 per day, but assuming that the Tiger still has a resale value of around £3,000 -ever the optimist- then the whole journey was completed at a total cost of £7,000, .... which is probably a little less than the more famous ''Long Way'' adventures. If I then account for the financial support that I received, the actual total budget came out at a little less than £20 per day, ..... and so using Alastair Darling's system of accountancy, I guess that I was actually under budget. I'm not sure if I set out to 'Prove' anything, but what I hope I've shown is that with generous help from others, you don't need to have a huge amount of money, experience or skill in order to live your dream, ........ you just have to decide to do it.
I was lucky in that the help from CitySprint and writing for The Riders Digest paid for my fuel and allowed me to stay in motels, and in some cases brothels, for at least 19 of the 197 nights spent on the road. Not taking a credit card was perhaps not the wisest of decisions, but it actually worked in my favour. It meant that I relied upon cash and before departure I changed my budget from GB£ into US$ at a rate of 1 to 2, ... which was accidentally perfect timing.
In the four months since arriving back in the UK I've found it difficult to settle and spending time trying to create a book that is readable has simply reminded me that life on the road is far better than life in a student bedsit. It's been difficult fitting 28 weeks of adventure into the limited space available between two covers of a book but I hope that in the end it all makes entertaining sense. I'm now 75% of the way to raising my target of £5,000 for St Teresa's Hospice and once that target has been reached, I'll be setting out on a second adventure. I'd like to once again say thank you to all of those who donated via my justgiving site and assure you all that every penny is greatly appreciated.
Next week I'll hopefully explain a little more about the future plans for 'Poor Circulation' but in the meantime, ........ I've got a Triumph Tiger that needs a little love.
Riding Tip of The Day: If you love your motorcycle but loath the sight of fresh blood, then always remember to remove the security chain before you ride away. Don't worry, ..... just a minor flesh wound to the knee and a slightly more serious bruise to my credibility.

Post 225: A Minor Triumph

The happy blond weather-girl with the gloss varnish suntan promised me the warmest day of the year so far and Grodon Brown said 'Sorry', .. it was going to be a very good day indeed. The large fleet of freshly prepared Triumph 'Press Bikes' was very impressive, ... but the second garage filled with the crashed examples was not so. The weather-girl had been way off the mark, it was pi**ing down and as I stood dripping gallons of unwanted rainwater onto the polished floors of the Hinckley factory, I felt like a total fraud, .... were they really going to let me ride out of here on a shiny new bike?
Well, ... they did, and after I promised not to crash it, I left the premises on a brand new Triumph Sprint ST before any further questions could be asked. The journey back home was truly forgettable but that had little to do with the Triumph and a lot to do with the weather and the fact that I still live in Essex. In the past, whenever I've taken delivery of a new bike, and when I say 'new bike', I really mean 'new to me', I wake up each morning excited at the prospect of riding it, no matter what the weather is doing. However, for some reason this Triumph was different. It lived where my Tiger is normally parked but unlike the Tiger, the Sprint ST didn't call out for me to come and ride it. It's a nice bike, it does everything that the Triumph engineers designed it to do; it's fast, it's stable, it handles reasonably well and the engine is magnificent, .... but it all just seemed so very very dull.
After a few days of ignoring it, the sun finally came out, the roads dried and I decided that it was time to go out and play. I picked out an old and familiar route and without too much in the way of expectations, I set out to see if I could fall in love with the shiny black Triumph. The ride began in familiar territory,.... it was alright, .... it was vaguely amusing, but it wasn't exactly thrilling. Then at some point close to the Essex-Suffolk border, ... everything changed. For no apparent reason, the Triumph ditched it's frumpy knickers and climbed into something altogether more appealing. It just suddenly sprang to life and before I knew why or what was happening, .... I was in bloody Norfolk. It was a fast ride, but it was also a lazy ride, you don't so much 'Ride' this bike, it's more that you 'Think' about what you want it to do and it just does it without you having to invest any physical effort. The Sprint ST is classified as a 'Sports Tourer' which I guess makes it something of a compromise, but while I can think of many bikes more suited to long distance touring, I can now think of very few bikes that would be faster or easier to ride from A to B on real British roads. The controls are light and for a 200 Kg bike, it hides it's weight well and on the smoother roads, it actually feels quite light and playful. The suspension is fully adjustable, but to a knob like me this just means that there are more things to screw up and the fact that it didn't enjoy the rougher road surfaces is probably due to my lack of engineering know-how rather than any flaw in the bikes design.
The Triumph is a sensible choice, it's not as radical as the Speed Triple of Dayton 675 but once you find it's sweet spot, it's an absolute joy to ride. The knickers that it changed into are not exactly Agent Provocateur and the Sprint ST will always feel more like a 'Wife' than a 'Mistress', but my smile has returned and I might even miss it when I to have to take it back to Hinckley next week.

Post 224: Labour Pains

No, I haven’t got a major announcement to make, it’s honestly just a hernia and I sincerely hope that final relief will come via a surgeon and not a midwife. I’m not even in any great pain at the moment, … but I suspect that Gordon Brown might be. Last weekend I went to see the movie ’The Boat that Rocked’, a Richard Curtis comedy about the growth and eventual demise of Pirate Radio in the 1960’s and 70’s,…. and since then I’ve come over all nostalgic. While I’m now busily downloading a whole new range of music onto my iPod and wishing that they’d bring back Spitting Image, Gordon’s hoping that Spitting Image will remain in it’s box but that Alistair Campbell will make a return to Downing Street instead.

I’ve absolutely no wish to get ‘Political’ here, either correctly or incorrectly, but as my week has progressed on the shady side of dull, I’ve got absolutely nothing else to write about. Damian McBride, one of Gordon Brown’s closest personal friends and senior advisers, has been sending scurrilous emails to a ‘’Labour Blogger’’ in which he claims to be developing stories that are designed to undermine the credibility of David Cameron and George Osborne. Now, I’m certainly not against dishing the dirt on our political elite, but I’d expect that any gossip emanating from 10 Downing Street would be a little more credible than that found in the school playground or the Daily Express.

David Cameron and Gideon Osborne -he wisely changed his name to George before entering politics - are men born into aristocratic families and have thus enjoyed the privileges that their family fortunes have afforded them. They’ve enjoyed the finest educations that money could buy and have passed through the venerable gates of St Paul’s School, Eton College and Oxford. At Oxford, as undergraduates with money in both their pockets and their trust funds, they became members of the notorious Bullingdon Club, a posh dining club where an excess of money seemingly more than compensates for any lack in behavioural standards. With the Darius‘s and Sebastian’s of David and George’s set now feeling the fiscal pinch and hawking their Old Masters down at Cash Converter‘s in Belgravia , just how dim is Damien McBride that he feels the need to ’invent’ any stories in the first place? Get the Sun or News of the World to flash some cash in exchange for some dirt, they get the ’Story’ and Darius and Sebastian can keep their paintings. If this story had been in a preliminary script for ’Yes Minister’, it would have kicked back for being too unbelievable. For heaven’s sake, surely you can’t go through the English boarding school system and not leave any skeletons clinking away in your designer travelling trunk, …. can you? It might not have been quite so bad if the stories had simply concerned the two Ministers because at least they chose to enter politics in the first place, but the attacks were also aimed at their families. Apparently Mr McBride thought that it would be a good idea to question the mental state of their respective wives, ...... less than four weeks after the death of the Cameron's eldest son,... what a nice guy! Gordon Brown has expressed his 'Regret' to the families concerned, but has so far refused to actually say that he is 'Sorry'. The metamorphis of New Labour into Old Tory is now seemingly complete and Downing Street is once more the 'comedic', and sadly not 'tragic', gift that just can’t stop giving. My advice to Gordon Brown is not to call for Alistair Campbell‘s return, ….. but to instead seek advice from Sir Humphrey.

The other thing that distracted me from my boredom this week were the new demonstrations in Thailand. This week it was the turn of the folk’s wearing Red to be vexed with the Thai Government and this in turn provided an ideal opportunity for the people dressed in Blue to get angry with everybody else. I assume that the Yellow’s simply couldn’t think of anything new to be annoyed about and so stayed at home to enjoy the weekends Songkran festivities instead. I don’t pretend to understand anything at all about the politics of Thailand but I think that the Red's support Taksin because of his 'Buy One Get One Free' offer on cows for the farmers and that the Yellow's didin't like that policy because they were asked to pay for the cows. As for the Blue's, well I think that they just like throwing stones at anybody dressed in any colour other than blue. Every time that I travel to Thailand I carry an assortment of coloured tee shirts in my hand luggage, ….. just in case.
Meanwhile in North Korea, Kim Jong Il has kicked out the Nuclear Inspectors because they didn't believe that the satellite he launched two weeks ago was simply for the purposes of playing 'Revolutionary Music' to the rest of the world. Kim Jong Il is an interesting looking man, and if you ever wondered what 'Brains' did after he retired from Thunderbirds, .... look no further,...... but I often wonder what happened to the delicious Tin-Tin.

On Saturday morning, I collected a rather heavy package from the printers. It’s the latest draft of the book, a word document, four hundred pages of double spaced ‘Ariel 10’ words, it weighs several kilo’s and cost a small fortune to have printed. Unfortunately, before saving the document onto a memory stick, I’d forgotten to employ ’Tools’ and hadn’t added ’Page Numbers’ to the file. After inadvertently rearranging the sequence, Sunday evening and the majority of Monday have been spent trying to put the pages back into the correct order. You wouldn’t think that this was a difficult task, but it bloody is in a room measuring 4m x 3m and when your reading glasses are nowhere to be found. Now that it‘s finally back in sequence, I’ve got to find my glasses, buy a pack of red pens and edit the whole thing again before hawking it around to see if anybody is willing to publish it. Perhaps they will, perhaps they wont, and while the labour of writing it has been a pain ….. actually doing something worth writing about has been the biggest blast of my entire life.

Hopefully I’ll have something more ‘Bikey’ to write about next week, … for tomorrow I pick up a new Triumph from Hinckley. I still don’t know what I’ll do with it or even where I’ll take it, but I’ve promised Triumph’s press department that I’ll try not to crash this one, … so fingers crossed.

Post 223: Literary Times

This week started with the Tiger sailing through it’s MOT without one single ‘Advisory’ and the front tyre that had been fitted way back in Volgograd didn’t even get a mention. It’s now taxed and tested and I’m all set for another year of riding, .... I just need to decide where to take it. All week the sun's been shining, not a single drop of rain has fallen and our good friends the Obama’s came to pay us a visit. They met with my ex-friend Gordon Brown and eighteen of their acquaintances at the Excel Centre in E16, ….. which I’m sure must have been an absolute treat for all of them. In fact, I haven’t seen Gordon look quite so chirpy since Tony and Cherie waved their way out of Downing Street, with unbelievably perfect timing, to begin their new lives in the seemingly lucrative world of semi-retirement. Gordon Brown divides opinion but Barack Obama doesn’t, everybody loves him. They’d journeyed to E16 in search of a trillion dollar’s of new fiscal stimulus, but sadly for Gordon, Mervin King had misquoted the popular President and before the summit began, had uttered the fatal words, ... ’’No we can’t’’. It seems that our prudent Prime Minister has exceeded his overdraft limit and his bank manager has quite publicly smacked his abundant arse. But with true British spirit, Gordon maintained his smile, stiffened his lip and passed around the begging cap anyway. Nicholas Sarkozy stood on tiptoes but pretend that he still couldn’t reach, Angela Merkle busied herself adjusting the political beach-towels, King Abdullah shrugged his shoulders and muttered something uncomplimentary about the falling price of light sweet crude, President Hu Jinto seemed content with his existing majority holding in ''USA Plc'' and Silvio Burlosconi was far too engorssed in this months copy of ‘Leaders Wives‘ to even notice it‘s passing. The cap was returned to sender bereft of hard currency and goodwill. Undeterred, Gordon then moved the goalposts and decided that I-O-U‘s would be perfectly acceptable. And so it was that the IMF was given authority to print the required trillion dollars, using recycled paper of course, and with the addition of a liberal dose of spin, it was mission accomplished for Gordon Brown. He may not have come away from E16 with everything that he’d wanted, but on his return to Downing Street he was greeted with the brighter news that MP’s had awarded themselves an inflation busting pay rise and an extra few hundred thousand pounds in pension provisions, …. an amount that should in some way compensate them for the loss of free access to porn movies. Call me cynical, ……. and I’ll take it as a compliment.

Closer to home, but not literally so, the lovely Tassaneeya telephoned to say that she’d just been waved down for speeding by several young men wearing overly tight brown uniforms on the road to Chumpae. The Thai Police are an interesting group of thankfully underpaid public servants, enforcers of law in a land where the fragrance of your grease generally determines the outcome of your low-level legal encounters. Thankfully, an undeniably winning smile, a letter confirming her iminent attendance at an interview for a new position in government and a few hundred Thai Baht ensured her smooth progress towards Chumpae, …. and hopefully progress on the ladder of career success. I’m not sure that I would have got away quite so lightly had I committed a similar offence here in Blighty. Tassaneeya had learned her lesson and had left the crime scene with nothing but good thoughts and respect for authority. If the same thing had happened to me, I’d by now be wrecking speed camera’s, campaigning against police performance targets and questioning the parentage of any person who in their working lives has chosen to wear a cap. It probably wouldn’t stop me from exceeding the speed limit in the future, I’d just be slightly more careful about where I did it. It’s not that the Thai way is better than the British way, but it does seem to get the job done and everybody at least learns their lesson or achieves their goal, … and surely that‘s the real point behind these laws anyway.

With very little in the way of writing or editing achieved, progress on the book was further thwarted by the arrival in the mail of ’The Carin’ Sharin’ Chronicles’ by Dave Gurman. I didn’t have time to read the whole book, so I just read the introduction, .. and then the preface, .. and then chapters one through twenty, .. and then the acknowledgements…. and now I’m waiting for him to publish the second volume. It’s taken him almost thirty years to write this one and so I’m not really holding my breath whilst waiting for the next, but if it’s half as good as volume one, then it will definitely be worth waiting for. I don’t think that I appeared in any of his tales about life in general and despatch riding in particular, but many of the characters and situations had an alarming feeling of familiarity. The collection of short stories are like literary Marmite, there is no middle ground and you’ll either love them or hate them, but if you’ve ever wondered what goes through a courier’s mind, or indeed if we have a complete mind between us, …. then get hold of a copy and you wont be disappointed. Available from all good book shops blah blah blah, but not surprisingly ’Sold Out’ on Amazon, … way to go Mr Gurman.