Rear View Part 12 - Ripley Yarns

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What comes but once a year?

I hate camping. No really, you can wax as lyrical as you like about waking up to the smell of the countryside, and the self-sufficient self-satisfaction element — I miss a proper bed and a loo that can be easily reached in the middle of the night. The agreement is that I will do one camping trip a year. And this was it. I did try to keep my moaning to a minimum during packing, honest, while a growing mound of sleeping bags, mats, pillows, tent, awning, fold-up chairs and battery lamps all had to be found a spot on the bike. Which of course eats into my shoe-and-moisturiser space allowance. (Actually, I'm such a fan of Crocs these days that they're the only shoes I take on bike weekends.) However, with that lot stacked up behind me instead of the rather more sturdy top-box, it did feel rather like leaning against a giant marshmallow.

Motorway Madness

I'd decided not to bring my own bike — as a tyro rider I'm still getting used to different sorts of riding conditions, and the madness that is English motorways on a Bank Holiday weekend is an experience that I'm happy to defer. Sitting on the back, I was able to just shut my eyes as Dai filtered through the static traffic, trying not to listen out for the expensive-sounding scrape of pannier against Merc passenger door. The GPS did her stuff well, and we were pulling into the campsite, just a stone's throw away from the Denby pottery factory, before 6 pm. I located the homemade cider we'd ordered while Dai did his macho bit hammering tent pegs about the place. The sun was shining, the cider was ice-cold, and the banter with fellow campers was warm and welcoming.

My plan when camping is to get drunk enough to be able to fall asleep without noticing the lumps in the ground, and I think I must have achieved that required level of drunkenness, as I have vague recollections of doing my (in)famous 'Elvis Paisley' impression...

The Old Trip to the Old Stomping Ground

Having sussed out that we were only 15 miles from Nottingham, we decided to spend some time round the places where Dai had spent his student days. We took a little drive around Hyson Green, where he used to live, and he pointed out his favourite chip shop, and where he'd bought his first big bike, as well as paying homage to Paul Weller by riding down the cobbled streets of Stanley Road. We were
surprised by the large numbers of coppers about the place, and on chatting to one of them in order to determine where best to park, we gleaned that it was because of the Leeds-Forest match that afternoon. Hope there wasn't too much trouble. We parked in the shade of the castle walls, and strolled hand in hand down past Robin Hood's statue to ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, the oldest pub in the known universe,
dating back to 1189. I enjoyed a pint of the eponymous real ale (ah, the joys of being a pillion!) to wash down a rather lacklustre ploughman's lunch. The pub itself is an absolute gem, with lots of little nooks and crannies (and no doubt crooks and nannies) carved out of the rock under the castle. We shared a table in the sunshine with a couple of Catherine-Tate clones, and tried not to burst out laughing until we'd left the pub and were out of earshot.

There seems to be a current vogue for the re-telling of old tales in a new way: Wicked gives the witch's side of the story in The Wizard of Oz, while Hoodwinked explains what really happened in 'Little Red Riding Hood'. I wondered if I could make my fortune by re-working the Robin Hood story — you know, hard-working citizens forced to hand over their gold to be given to those wastrels who can't be bothered to get a proper job, administered by a group of tight-wearing tree-hugging party-lovers who don't even live in a proper house. I'd
call it Sheriff!, with the compulsory exclamation mark. A musical for our tymes, methinks.

Back at the campsite, we got ready for the Hawaiian-themed evening — I tied a bright green sarong around my waist and threw a couple of lei around my neck, while Dai was aiming for the who's got the loudest Hawaiian shirt prize. We gamely had a go on the surf machine — I had the record at 50 seconds, and was of two minds whether to try rallying more troops from the bar to have a go, or keep schtum and so keep my record. The live band got going about 8 — they played a mix of music from the Dr Feelgood/Stranglers stable, which I found rather good, but as the tent was a goodly distance from the bar they didn't get the audience they deserved. However, a finale of Blockheads, with some suitable Dad-dancing, was a sight that will stay with me for a long time. Sadly.

Mr Testicles

Special guest for the evening, and compering the raffle, was Mr Testicles, trying to raise awareness of male cancers. Testicular cancer is one of the easiest to cure, if it's caught early enough. Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong is an inspiring survivor of it. The natural reluctance of macho blokes to do anything like checking the state of their balls, let alone take a problem to the doctor, is what he's trying to fight against, and so he goes around various male-oriented gatherings, dressed as a giant pair of googlies, using humour to get the message across. Did you know that prostate cancer is almost unknown in Asia? Or that it is high in Sweden, because the non-smoking, fish-eating, safe car-driving lifestyle means that they live so long that's the only thing that gets them in the end? Oh, and Lady Luck was with us
in the raffle, where we won three prizes, and Dai won a bottle of bubbly for the best shirt!

The Road Home

Up early, considering it was a Sunday, so as to start striking camp and getting everything aboard. The boat was busy, although not as packed to the gills as it had been on the outward leg, but getting through Dublin was hampered by the fact that there was a GAA match on. However, once north of the city it was smooth all the way. Belfast and Dublin are only 100 miles apart, but 20 years ago it took three hours to make the journey. The road was essentially a winding country lane along a paternoster chain of villages — Ballbriggan, Monasteraboice, Castlebellingham — with the two major towns of Dundalk and Drogheda guaranteed to have a bottleneck. The former's claim to fame is that it is home to the Irish singing sibling sensations The Corrs, who have sold more records than U2, apparently. The latter is the site of the Battle of the Boyne, where in 1690 King James was defeated by William of Orange, an event that is still fervently remembered by loyalists each 12th July. Today, the river Boyne is crossed by a sleekly beautiful new bridge, and the toll fee of 90 cents seems a small price to pay for the joy of zooming through the graceful pyramid of cable stays over the majestic river. Toll money aside, much of the rest of this road has now been upgraded using European funding, and on the newest section, only opened a few weeks ago, the tarmac was still velvetty smooth. We succeeded in shaving about 10 minutes off the ETA
shown by the GPS.

So that's the end of the summer. No more trips away planned, just a bit of fiddling and fettling to do to the bikes to have them all ready for next year.

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