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

Post 235: Camping Sale ... fill your boots

It’s festival season, a time when teenagers across the country travel great distances to see their musical heroes perform live in front of thousands. I know that it’s not just teenagers who go to festivals, but it’s the teenagers that interest me the most ...... and I don’t mean in an inappropriate way. Mature festival fans are simply that; ‘Mature’ and ‘Fanatical’. They tend to plan ahead and the festival weekends are like annual pilgrimages, they arrive with everything that they need and they leave with everything that they brought with them. Teenagers on the other had are quite possibly visiting Glastonbury, Reading or Chelmsford simply because it’s something that every teenager should do, a rite of passage, a once in a lifetime event. They enjoy the live music, they revel in the 72 hour party atmosphere but over the course of the weekend, many of those teenagers will discover that camping just really isn't their thing. Come Monday morning their festival experience will be history, Sebastian and Samantha will move on to planning their gap-year experience and behind them in a rubbish strewn field will be a veritable smorgasbord of abandoned camping equipment. Post festival access to the Glastonbury site might be quite difficult, but after many of the smaller festivals you can lightly grease the palm of a contract worker and the Blacks Adventure tent, the Karrimor sleeping bag and the Big Greta air mat can be yours for a song. If you’re planning a journey then ‘Free-Cycling’ can save you hundreds of pounds and those savings will convert directly into extra days on the road. Try it ..... it's not very 'British' but you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Post 234: Horizons Unlimited

This weekend I've been attending the 'Horizons Unlimited' annual gathering near Denby in Derbyshire. Five hundred current and future adventure motorcyclists all in the same place. I'd been invited to speak but I'd never done anything like that before, I felt like a fraud amongst the worthy. I was on the same menu as Ted Simon, Paul Pratt, Sam Manicom, Simon Gandolfi and the king of public speaking, Austin Vince. I was rubbing shoulders with the real hero's of adventure motorcycling, the people who'd bought the tee-shirts long before Google Earth had been there to help them along the way. I hope that I did alright, my rooms were full, the folks seemed to laugh in most of the right places and nobody seemed to sneak out early. A big 'Thank You' to everybody for their support, the feedback was humbling and it's ignited a new flame ...... it's time to buy another map.

The photograph above is of Peter and Kay Forwood with their trusty Harley. In the thirteen years since they retired, they've ridden this seemingly inappropriate bike in 193 Countries ..... that's every Country in the world. Please don't ask me to name them because I couldn't. I'd whined like a spoilt child crossing one single border in Russia but these people have crossed hundreds and are still smiling. When you talk with folks like Peter and Kay, you begin to understand that you really could do more than you ever thought possible.

I suspect that the introduction to Adventure Motorcycling for many people came through watching the 'Long Way Round' and 'Long Way Down' series with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. The series was amazingly successful, the books and DVD's were read and watched by millions and after their release, the streets of London were awash with BMW GS's dripping with Touratech bling. On the bikecentric areas of the Internet, people began throwing stones at Ewan and Charley, not for doing what they did, but for the amount of money that had been lavished on their projects. I didn't mind about their budgets, that was just a reflection of their own good fortune and if I'd ever had the choice, I would have gone for 'Rich Circulation' every time. When a problem arises on the road, that problem is often easier to solve if you can beat it to death with a bag full of money. Unfortunately, that's just the way that this world increasingly works. As I see it, the problem with Ewan and Charley's adventures, is simply that they made everything look so bloody difficult and dangerous. I can understand that as a commercial venture, there was a need to sensationalise their adventures, but I worry that in doing so they've dashed the dreams of many by making them worry about problems that simply really don't exist. Travelling on a motorcycle obviously raises problems that will need to be solved, but because you're riding a motorcycle, people will always stop and help you to solve them. (Once you're outside of London that is).

The overriding message from the Horizons Unlimited weekend was to sell your BMW R1200GS with it's Touratech garnish and to spend the money that you've saved on fuel for your next journey ...... my kind of people.

Over the weekend, I seemed to be the only speaker who didn't have a book to sell, but I'm working on that. Anyway, at least my hefty pile of 'Rejection Letters' got Saturday nights bonfire off to a very good start.

Post 233: Testing Times

The day after my 17th birthday aboard a Kawasaki KH250, I rode twice clockwise and twice anticlockwise around a small residential block in Darlington. I executed an emergency stop and then read the numberplate of a nearby car before answering four general questions on the highway code ..... total cost £3.20. After completing that twenty minute exercise, the nice man with the large clipboard handed me a certificate that entitled me to legally ride any motorcycle that I could afford on the roads of Blighty. At the time, I felt that the need to take a motorcycle test and the new legal requirement to wear a crash helmet were infringements on my liberty ........ but then I grew up.
April 27th 2009 was an important day for new bikers in Britain as it saw the introduction of the Driving Standards Agency's new Motorcycle Test. Since that day, the motorcycle newspapers and Internet bulletin boards have been rife with criticism of the DSA's new two-part test process. Apparently, in the safety of a non-road environment, new riders are being asked to make two quick changes in direction before executing an emergency stop from around 30 mph. Reports of 'dramatic accidents' and 'multiple injuries' seem to be everywhere and the 'Press' are blaming these incidents on the sharp decline in test applications from potential new riders .... what an absolute load of horse bollocks.
Ok, so the new test may be more expensive than it's predecessor and it may be more testing for the new rider, but it's supposed to be testing and the clue is in the title ..... it's a bloody 'Test'. Apparently 16 riders have crashed their bikes attempting to maneuver around static plastic road cones and a few have even been taken to hospital ..... wow! I work on a bike in London, I ride for 12 hours a day, I see hundreds of people riding bikes and scooters on the road and my assessment of their riding abilities are to be kind .... variable. If you take a tumble whilst riding around stationary cones in an empty car park then that's got to be a better learning process than trying it for the first time when avoiding a Black Cab in the rush-hour. If a new rider is scared of taking the tumble in the first place, then perhaps they should reconsider their entire relationship with powered two wheeled vehicles. In my eyes, tumbles come with the territory of riding and the opportunity to take your first tumbles in the supervised safety of a car park is an opportunity far too good to miss. With the able assistance of a calculator, I worked out that 1 in 250 applicants have taken a fall since April 27th ..... lower odds than winning the lottery but still an awful lot better than dying out on the road.
The only thing about the new DSA test that will deter new riders from taking it is the sensationalist reporting from people who should bloody well know better. The new DSA Motorcycle Test will probably help to save the lives of those who really want to learn ........ and will hopefully deter those who already know it all.
The photograph above is of my daughter Hannah when 12 years old. She's riding my Honda CBF600 dispatch bike on four inches of gravel in Great Saling. She didn't fall off the bike until she'd studied Newton's Laws of gravity in physics lessons at school ..... I wonder if there's a connection?

Post 232: Seriously folk's, .. It's your votes that count

The 'Clapometer' might just be for fun, but do our votes really count? On Friday June 5th 2009, after Caroline Flint had fallen on her hair straighteners and resigned from the Cabinet, Gordon Brown announced his emergency reshuffle. Flint had blamed the Prime Minister for treating his female colleagues as little more than 'Window Dressing', but I seem to remember recently seeing Caroline Flint draped across some DFS sofas in rather provocative poses in the Observer Magazine. The first reshuffle surprise was that Alastair Darling remained as Chancellor of the Exchequer when everybody had expected Gordon's best buddy Ed Balls to get the job. It later came to light that Alastair Darling had simply refused to move aside. It looked like the limp tail wagging the hapless dog. Looking through the list of Gordon Brown's new inner circle, five names caught my eye. The twice sacked and twice disgraced Peter Mandelson effectively becomes the second most powerful person in Government. He's promoted to Gordon Brown's defacto deputy and Alan Sugar is being brought in to support Mandelson's portfolio of industry and business. The next name that caught me eye was that of Glynis Kinnock, the wife of former leader Neil Kinnock, who will take over Caroline Flints responsibilities for Europe. Paul Drayson keeps his position as Minister for Science and the fifth name that struck me, Andrew Adonis, remains as Minister for Transport. Despite what you might think of these individuals, written in that way it all seems to be quite normal, nothing amiss and all above board. However, write those names in another way and it all seems to fly in the face of democracy and makes our individual votes seem quite pointless. Lord Mandelson, Lord Sugar, Lady Kinnock, Lord Drayson and Lord Adonis. These five Ministers are are not MP's, they are in fact all unelected members of the House of Lord's but are now making major decisions concerning the running of our democratic Country. Come to think of it, none of us ever voted for Gordon to be our Prime Minister either.

Everybody is speculating about just how long Gordon Brown can remain as party leader and the smart money seems to suggest that he'll be gone within the month. I'll stick my neck out and suggest that unless Labour suffer a major defeat in the European elections, come the next general election Gordon Brown will still be the leader of the Labour Party. If Labour MP's voted to replace him now then that would mean that we've had two consecutive Prime Ministers who were not appointed via a general election. Surely that's something that this Country just wouldn't accept. Despite anything we might think about the viability of the opposition parties, under Gordon Brown or even Alan Johnson, Labour haven't got a snowballs chance in hell of winning a general election any time soon. Thus, Labour MP's voting for a change of leader now would be akin to turkey's voting for an early Christmas. They've just lost their lucrative 'Expenses' and I'm sure that they wont vote too quickly to lose their jobs as well. Anyway, who in their right mind would want the job now?

It hasn't been the best of weeks for Gordon Brown or Labour, but then the Conservatives have very little to swagger about either. If Gordon Brown exists to make Tony Blair look competent, then he's probably doing the same thing for the Tory Party. The European election results will be announced on Sunday night and I suspect that the whiff of 'Expensegate' will do very few favours for any of the three main parties. We'll probably see a new selection of ambitious chancer's and the odd well meaning Green moving to join the European gravy train but I can hardly complain about that because I didn't actually vote. It's not that I didn't want to vote, it's just that for some strange reason we still hold our elections on Thursdays, a day when even in this current economic climate most people still go out to work. All parties complain about 'Poor Turnout', but When will they finally see the light and move our elections to a Sunday?

On a slightly funnier note, next time you hear a Labour or Conservative MP being interviewed on television or radio, see if they actually mention the term ''Expenses''. In the same way that MP's express 'Regrets' instead of 'Apologies', I've noticed that the new term for 'Expenses' seems to be ''Allowances'' ..... a different word but the same lingering stench.