Thursday, 30 May 2013

Stage 2 - Le Havre to Brionne. 30 May 2013

First Real Day

So much for "getting settled" on the boat. I sat in the terminal until 10 o'clock when I was told I had to embark and then proceeded to stand in the car park for an hour with all the motorcyclists. They were good fun but the high-viz guys were painfully slow getting the boat loaded and it didn't leave till nearly 12 o'clock midnight.

I had a seat booked in a little quiet room with about twenty places. I was really tired so I didn't even walk around the boat. The seat reclined but not enough so I unrolled my sleeping bag and mat and kipped on the floor. I couldn't get comfortable and didn't sleep particularly well. I was awoken an hour earlier than I had expected by an announcement to "get to your vehicle" so I must have dropped off OK. I grabbed my clothes bag and toiletries bag and took a chance that the toilet would be free. The assembly area outside of the room was full of people who had been ready for ages just dying to queue up. I wandered through them in my vest and (long) pants and found the bog was empty. I did what I had to do and then got ready and was soon on the deck loading the bike for the day.

I got out of Le Havre reasonably well. It is quite a big place and it was really busy being morning rush hour and with the ferry traffic as well. I rolled along the footpath slowly early on in the same direction as all of the ferry traffic. The signs in the town were good although the skies weren't. Later on there were choices to be made and I had to keep stopping to look at the map. There were no road names just occasional numbers which scuppered me a bit. My planning was generally the names of the roads so you live and learn. The heavens opened and I was in the middle of nowhere so I couldn't shelter and got soaked. I waited in the first available bus shelter and had a bit to eat. The rain eased and I set off. I was wet anyway and felt I needed to make progress. There was a decision to make at nearly every junction and I got a couple wrong but there were a lot of options and I wasn't particularly worried. I knew where I was going - just not going the quickest way. I bought some water - flavoured mmmm- and bananas at a Carrefour and got on a decent stretch of road where I knew where I was going so I made decent progress for a while, although it was raining steadily and not pleasant at all.

I was feeling a bit tired and there were early signs of saddlesoreness. The day's destination, Evreux, was still a long way off so I had a decision to make. Get stuck in and get there or stop somewhere else like Brionne. There was also an option to stop at Brionne for some food and rest for an hour and then finish the job. There would be enough light. There were further complications because two of the three phone batteries were flat and the laptop was on its last legs. As I slogged up a hill the decision was to stop at Brionne but then on the downward slope it was carry on to Evreux.

Brionne won. I'm in a hotel which is just about acceptable but my host can't or won't speak English and it is too expensive. After settling in I had trouble getting the wifi (French call it weefee) going. There was nobody about when I looked around. Later I rang "reception" and it must have transferred to yon mon's mobile. He said he would sort it tomorrow. I said it was very important, me being an eminent author with thousands, OK hundreds, let's say 5 or 6, hanging on my every word. He paused and said "5 minutes" in excellent English. Ten minutes later there was a knock on the door and a there stood a tiny, about 4ft tall, and extremely thin young lady with a similarly thin but 6ft plus young man. They tried all the usual things I had tried and the girl tried to attach to the wifi on her own phone without success. I then suggested the obvious, i.e., "reset" or "recharge". The young man disappeared and before he came back "voila!" I always wanted to say that in real life. So, old Tom out-geeked the French geeks. I've done some washing and sorted the electronics out. I need to organise tomorrow's route (without using road names) and will probably then have an early night. I may be camping for the next couple of nights so may not have internet access. I will keep notes and will update the blog when I can.      

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Stage 1 - Frome (Salisbury) to Portsmouth. 29 May 2013

Mel's offer of a lift past Salisbury was most welcome. I had not been on the bike for a week and hadn't carried the bags for more than a year so I couldn't have made the 80 miles or so.

Getting ready in the morning took me back to last year. The contents of the bags strewn around the room to be meticulously replaced in the bags in the correct order depending on the day's expectations.

We loaded the bike and stuff into Mel's camper van and set off. Frome is quite a hilly little number and I would not have enjoyed leaving the town for that reason alone. The countryside on the way to Salisbury was tremendous, typically English I would say with all the shades of greenery on the trees in the gently undulating landscape.

Mel told me another tale of his involvement with the Town Council. Some County workmen were repairing broken stone flags with tarmac. When asked about this atrocity they said it was County Council policy. Mel and other Council members waited for them to finish and then went around digging out the tarmac themselves and replacing it with proper stone flags donated by a local merchant. He then revealed that it is not County Council policy anymore.

We got to Salisbury and wandered through the town to the cathedral. A very impressive place it was too. There was an exhibition about the Magna Carta in an annexe type building which was particularly interesting but my main thoughts were elsewhere.

The time came to set off and we called at Greggs for a butty or two and drove uphill for miles in the direction of Southampton. Thankfully there were no obvious places for Mel to turn around so he kept on going. It was his idea - honest. I was keeping quiet until enough was enough. He kicked me out and we said our farewells. Don't leave it so long etc. I was just about ready to get going when I saw him waving with a toot from on the other carriageway.

So I was on the road again. Rain had threatened from about midday but the clouds seemed quite high in the distance. I took it really easy. There was no rush. The boat didn't sail until 11pm and I didn't want to be hanging round for too long. The road was busy and quite narrow in places so I went on the footpath when there was one.

That Peter Kay type rain started about 5 miles from Portsmouth. I stopped and sheltered in a bus stop for half an hour or so and the rain eased a bit. I called at a Co-op for some milk for tomorrow's breakfast and some fresh orange juice and landed here at the ferry terminal which is warm and dry. I'll get on the boat as soon as I can and "get settled"

Away we go

Tuesday 28th May, the start of the latest adventure.

I woke with just about enough time to see my little girl off to work. Next time I see her will be in the warmth of Calis Beach or maybe Rhodes. I made the final arrangements and said my farewells to Tom III and MLW and set off to Wigan Wallgate for the train to Frome. I couldn't believe the weight of the bike with the bags on. I was knackered after the 1.87km ride and for a second I doubted that I could ride 60 miles a day fully laden. I reminded myself that I had done just that a year ago and made myself feel a bit better.

I had my train ticket but had to book the bike on each of the three legs of the journey separately with three different companies. The Manchester to Bristol leg was ok but the other two didn't have a booking policy. It depended on whether there was room on the train which caused me some concern in the lead up. All was fine and it was an uneventful journey in the end. I  got soaked in the five minutes from Frome station to Mel and Sandy's house but soon dried out with warmth of their roaring fire and the warmth of their welcome. We sat and chatted for ages and then I caught up with the blog while Sandy prepared the food. I got my stuff organised a bit better and we then went to the Cornerhouse for a couple of pints. The Butcombe was ok but was a bit ruby which is not really my type of beer. We had a laugh wondering what Americans would make of "butt comb". I then enjoyed a couple of pints of a paler beer brewed on the premises before we wandered back for food, wine and the ubiquitous photographs and memories.

Sandy is the perfect hostess and in her spare time "sorts out" all the adult education in the area. She is very modest. Mel revealed that there would be very few courses available if it weren't for Sandy's hard work and expertise.

Mel is also semi-retired. Can you imagine sitting in the pub on a Friday night with a group of like-minded grumpy old men complaining about the Town Council? Mel says "Let's do something about it", and they did. They formed their own political party -IFF - Independence for Frome - and shifted the Conservatives at the next election. He is now the Leader of the Council and quite glibly told me of the main focus int he coming year. "We're going to remodel the town centre". He said it like it was made of lego.

These revelations didn't really surprise me because these two were always very motivational characters and it looks like they will never stop. The best thing about it though is that their "hobby" improves other people's lives.

Nine hours sleep sorts most mini-hangovers and I'm here now in the morning, suitably fed and ready to start the proper bike ride. Portsmouth is 80 miles away which I have deemed to be too far so Mel is taking me to the other side of Salisbury  which is only 40 miles from the ferry port for the overnight boat to Europe. 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

And on the Last Day...

.....all hell let loose.

I never stopped. The remainder of the family - YT, the BYW, the even more BYD and Barney - all went out visiting and kindly left me to my manic final arrangements - up and down the stairs - in and out of the garage - until I was happy to be invaded by those remaining family members who were not being visited by my lot.

I made tea for thousands and a few coffees and, to be honest, enjoyed boring everybody with the intricate details of last year's ride until, just as they were all dropping off, the cavalry arrived home. I sloped off and watched a bit of cricket and Championship playoff footy. We then had a lovely sort of farewell meal together and I eventually packed the bags and loaded them on to the bike.

Sorted. Bedtime. What will tomorrow bring?

Manchester 10k Sunday 26th May

What a great day. I hated getting up so early on a Sunday to catch the 0941 to Deansgate but it was worth it. So much positivity everywhere. All of those people of all shapes and sizes giving up their time and effort for the benefit of others. I had a go during the running craze few years ago but events were never on this scale and so well organised.

My nephew, our Dan, was away early and we saw him bounding along soon after the start. We moved to near the finish line and had segs on our eyes but didn’t see him at the end so I can only conclude he wimped out and didn’t finish until we get official confirmation. Tom junior went a bit later and we saw him pacing himself early on and also near the end. He got round in about 50 mins but he hadn’t trained much and it was a rare hot day so he was happy with his time. He’s got the bug now and is intending to go for the Wigan 10k later in the year amongst others. The BYD is also inspired and made some vague indication of interest but I can’t see it really.

All of the mainstream charities were very well represented - and so they should be - but we all know about them and as I came away I couldn’t help but feel particularly good about my choice to support two very deserving and little known charities which desperately require more awareness.    

I was very tired when we made it home and didn't feel like doing any packing or sorting so I watched the cricket instead. I got some enthusiasm from somewhere later on and got the bike ready to some extent. My hero of a son went to work in the local pub despite his earlier efforts and I was there like a shot when he finished at 9 0'clock and rang home to see if we fancied meeting him for a pint. We did. 

One day to get my act together before lift off on Tuesday.