Two Funerals and Nearly a Last Chance

I’ve not really been in the mood for posting over the last 24 hours, other things on my mind you see.

As regular Blogonaughts will recall I lost little brother Greg at Christmas time and a few weeks ago, Mrs Dookes lost one of her closest friends.

Again, the curse of the big C – Cancer struck and like Greg, Theresa was only in her fifties.

Yesterday was Theresa’s funeral.

I’m still crunching the miles here in France, so obviously I wasn’t there, but Mrs Dookes was and on the phone last night she sounded so upset.

Dear lovely Theresa gone. She was one of identical triplets, her eyes could either light up a room or cut plate steel, so intense were they. Theresa, who worked like crazy so she and her husband could retire early. Theresa, who rode horses, ran long distance events and cycled, she was so super fit. In my mind I can see her sitting in our kitchen laughing and smiling

Now taken by that bastard, Cancer.

The thing about motorcycling is that you get time and space to think about things. Yes I know that I also have to concentrate on the road and all the fiends trying to kill motorcyclists as well, but thinking time is available.

So yeah, I’ve been thinking, thinking that the life clock is always ticking, compared to T and G, I’m running ahead of it.

Time to reappraise though, do things whilst we can so that we can look back and say “Done it’” not “I wish that…”

I have a big(ish) birthday later in the year.

I’m making a list in my mind and I’m going to get into and go for gear for it; mostly it involves people and particularly those I hold close to me.

“See my friends,
Layin’ ‘cross the river,”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Hitchhiking the Galaxy

Yes I know, old Dookes has been off air for a week or so…but sometimes if you’ve nothing useful to say its best to keep your mouth shut!

Life trundles on here in Cornwall, the first storms of autumn and winter have arrived and it seems like a good excuse to light up the log fire and get snug.

First it was former tropical hurricane “Ophilia” that shook the roof slates and now we are just getting over storm “Brian” who was, I believe, described as a weather bomb! Actually he was a bit disappointing, not quite the vicious beast that the meteorologists and media made him out to be, but hey I wouldn’t have wanted to ride a motorcycle as he blew through!

Before all the wind and rain started with a vengeance I managed to sneak out for a quick 150 miler with my old mate G. What a pair we were too…G with his semi-rebuilt wrists and me with two knackered shoulders. We worked out that he was OK turning right and I could manage left, then we ended up in a gravel covered car-park….!

Do you know that feeling when you get a bit stuck, then can’t help laughing and then you really can’t move? I’m still chuckling thinking about it!!

Our trip took us to the Western end of our County of Cornwall; one of those “Going Nowhere Particular” sort of rides, but just great to be out on two wheels again.

Mounts Bay in West Cornwall, simply beautiful.


Then just as life starts getting back into some sort of routine something happens that sort of puts everything back into perspective and highlights just what is important and what is trivial.

Yesterday evening I was at an informal social event with some friends who like me do a bit of looking after ancient ruins and sites. We were having a great time, a bit of ten-pin bowling and supper. I made the observation that I hadn’t seen one of our number for a while…only to learn that he had passed away a couple of weeks ago after a very short battle with savage cancer!

Now in the light of a beautiful Cornish Autumn day I’m trying to get my head round it.

It’s the fragility of life that’s so haunting; it’s not great that I’m typing this at a desk with a mirror behind it either! Whilst on the inside I’m looking out of what I feel are a 19 year olds eyes, what I see confirms that the rest is considerably older. A few weeks ago Mrs Dookes lost one of her dearest Aunts, yes it was a bit of a shock, but the lady was into her 80’s and as my dear late father used to say, “Had a fair innings.” Chris, on the other hand was around the same age as me, not at all good; no I’m not in my 80’s yet either!

Just for once I’m pleased to have tinnitus today, it’s giving me a sort of curtain to hide behind whilst I process the departure of Chris.

Chris, who had an air about him that was a cross between cultured indifference and barbed cynicism; but whose intellect was as sharp as a razor, yet gentle a silk and observations on life the universe and everything would leave me a helpless wreck convulsed with laughter. The lucky sod still had an amazing full head of blond hair too!

The sharp-eyed amongst you will have spotted my oblique reference to Douglas Adams brilliant book, “The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.” Chris loved that book, as do I and we would frequently trade quotes in greeting to each other. I’m going to miss that.

Farewell Chris; on reflection it’s probably good that I didn’t get to say goodbye face to face, I want to remember you as I knew you.

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

P.S. “Don’t Panic.”

Ride a White Swan

Ten years ago I sat on an East-bound Boeing watching the bright stars shining high above the Atlantic before the speeding sun brought an early dawn. Our contrails pointed back towards Chicago. I was heading home after visiting family in the Windy City; family who mean so much to me as the years pass by.

I love flying, but that short night I was troubled.

Just prior to leaving for the USA I had almost concluded a deal to purchase a motorbike, a lovely Pearlescent White Harley Davidson Centenary Softail, but there I was sitting in a 400 tonne cigar tube questioning whether I was doing the right thing….it was a lot of money!

The hostess invited me to close the window blind, I always get amused by that…do they think that someone is looking in from the outside at 30,000 feet altitude at night? I politely declined and explained that I was Astro-navigating, I was left alone, probably classed as a nut case…and back to my pondering.

In due course the wheels touched down at London Heathrow and we were launched into the machine that all long-haul travellers have to endure; emigration, customs, bureaucracy and of course queuing and standing in line…then it’s off to baggage reclaim.

At London Paddington station we gratefully sank into out First Class seats on the Westbound high-speed train back to Cornwall and relaxed. Mrs Dookes drifted off to sleep as I tackled a bacon sandwich and a cup of black coffee whilst admiring the pleasant English countryside speeding by at 125mph.

Mrs D’s phone buzzed with a text message; I picked it up and glanced at the words on the screen. I gently nudged my wife awake, “Message, not good.”

The text message was to tell us that one of Mrs D’s dearest and oldest friends had died.

Trudie was just 35 when she was taken by cervical cancer.

We knew that she was seriously ill before we flew out to the USA some weeks previously and had spent a beautiful day in her company; but it still came as a shock. No, it was shit….

Trudie; beautiful, delicate, lovely, wonderful, happy, loving Trudie….gone.

I wanted to scream, cry, sob and I host of other things…instead I stared out of the window and saw Trudie’s face in the clouds above the ripening wheat fields speeding past our carriage.

The rest of the journey passed in a blur; then the next two days merged into a mess of jet-lag and grief.

A few days later I was back in my office. The phone rang, it was 09:15.

Mrs Dookes was calling. She cut straight to the chase, “Dad had just called me, my cousin Andy has been found dead!”

It turned out that Andy had suffered a major heart attack in the middle of the night and had been found by his father, collapsed in the bathroom at his home.

Andy had not long turned 40.

I liked Andy, he was a bit of an odd-ball, but we shared many common interests like old machinery and trains; he was a nice bloke.

I put the phone down and stared out of the window. Life is too bloody short and at times bloody unfair.

I picked up the telephone again and dialled the motorcycle dealership.

“About that bike…I’ll pick it up on Friday!”

Ten years later I’m still riding that beautiful white Harley Davidson, that you folks know as “Harls.”

I’m just sorry that Andy never got to hear the rasp of her engine through those shot-gun pipes; and I’m desperately sad that Trudie never got to ride pillion behind me, I’m sure that Mrs Dookes wouldn’t have minded…!

…but you know sometimes I see a shadow in the workshop when I’m working on that bike and start the engine….and on other occasions when I’m riding I could swear that I get a hug, like someone is sitting behind me and has their arms around my waist.

Ten years on, I’ve ridden just about everywhere I’ve ever wanted to on that wonderful bike. I’ve also got a powerful bunch of very special memories forged on that lovely machine, but most of all I still feel that connection with two very special people taken too soon and for them I ride in their memory.

Andy. Trudie. I miss you both and love you still.

Catch the two of you one day.

“Ride it on out like a bird in the sky way
Ride it on out like you were a bird.
Ride a White Swan like the people of the Beltane.”

Dookes

Equalising the Equinox

There are some days when you just have to get out there and celebrate the sheer joy of life and if you can share that with one of your dearest mates then so much the better.

If that mate is battling cancer…

Well, it’s sort of inspiring and at the same time frankly humbling.

The Autumn Equinox, 22nd September this year, dawned bright and sunny.

I had arranged to meet G in the historic city of Exeter, about 50 miles from Dookes H.Q., just enough miles to warm up both man and machine. At our rendezvous G was on good form and after fueling both riders and machines we set out Eastwards along the beautiful South Devon coast. p1070794

We trundled along in glorious early autumn sunshine; OK I’ll be honest, I trundled along whilst G flicked his Yamaha Super Tenere effortlessly through the corners. These days, knowing what he has been going through, it always makes me smile when G does that with a motorbike; you see I know that underneath his crash helmet will be a big grin and that makes me happy too!

The beautiful County of Devon soon gave way to its equally lovely neighbour, Dorset and the famous world Heritage Site of the “Jurassic Coast.” The area cuts across nearly 190 million years of geological history, covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Fossilised remains found in its rocks testify to the land having changed over the millennia from tropical seas to desert and marshland. The region is a magnet to fossil hunters from around the world whilst the mellow yellow rock is very easy on the eye and the gentle hills a delight to a motorcyclist. There are many interesting features along the coastal landscape with the natural arch of Durdle Door being probably the most famous.

Durdle Door -  Photo by Saffron Blaze

Durdle Door – Photo by Saffron Blaze

Between Abbotsbury and Portland the impressive shingle bank of Chesil Beach extends for 18 miles (29Km). The beach is 200 metres wide and 15 metres high and shelters a broad lagoon known as The Fleet. It is fascinating that the size of the shingle pebbles on the beach varies from West to East; they range from pea size at West Bay to around the size of an orange near Portland.

Chesil Bank

Chesil Beach

We paused high above Chesil, partly for a breather, but also to take in the stunning view and enjoy the gentle sea breeze. When a Westerly gale is blowing here the place changes out of all recognition and takes on a ferocious face as the many shipwrecks that litter the seabed here bear witness.

From Chesil we turned inland and skirted the county town of Dorchester before heading north onto the chalk downlands. At Cerne Abbas it was time for another stop, we needed to discuss the important matter of lunch, but also to grab a cheeky view of the famous Cerne Abbas Giant, a massive fella, (in more ways than one!), carved in the chalk hillside.p1070814

This old chap is a bit of a mystery. Some people believe he is a Celtic fertility symbol and dates from around 10 AD, others say that he is Roman and represents Hercules, whilst a third school of thought is that he dates from the 17th century and is a caricature of Oliver Cromwell. My shot of him shows that he needs a bit of re-chalking so thanks to Pete Harlow for the use of his aerial picture.

Carne Abbas Giant - Aerial shot by Pete Harlow

Carne Abbas Giant – Aerial shot by Pete Harlow

We decided on lunch in Sherborne, a short ride from the Giant and after a gentle stroll around the old castle settled down to a relaxing meal. p1070818

Sherborne Old Castle was built in the 12th century as the fortified palace of the Bishop of Salisbury; it seems a tad strange for a Bishop to live in a castle! p1070824Later the castle was home to Sir Walter Raleigh and following its siege during the English Civil War was left in ruins by General Fairfax of the Parliamentary Army in 1645.p1070848

Today Sir Walter is said to return to his castle each St Michael’s Eve, 29th September, to roam the grounds and check up on his beloved former home. I don’t blame him, it’s a lovely place.

Refueled by our lunch we turned East and soon were crossing the Somerset Levels. This region of around 160,000 acres is an ancient coastal plain and wetland area of tremendously important habitat and biodiversity of international importance, plus rich agricultural land. It has been inhabited since at least 4000BC.
p1070864
The levels mostly lie only about 20 feet above mean sea level, but in some places only manage 10-12 feet. With peak spring tides of around 25 feet you can see the area is frequently in trouble from flooding. Drainage and land reclamation has been going on here since the 12th century, but every now and then nature shows who is still really in charge!

I like to think of the levels as our local equivalent of “Big Sky” country, it certainly is a pretty special place.

Burrow Mump is a hill and historic site that lies towards the Western levels. Our road passed the base of the hill and I couldn’t resist squeezing off a quick moody shot looking towards the ruined church on top of the hill.p1070857

Our route to deliver G back home swept over the lovely Blackdown Hills at Whiteball where on sweeping roads we crossed back into Devon. We parted just by G’s house, set in rolling rural loveliness between the Rivers Exe and Creedy.

My friend looked a tad tired as I rode off, tired but happy. I still had another 50 miles to ride, 50 more glorious twisty miles to enjoy my lovely big blue Harley and reflect on special times shared with special friends.

The equinox had been equalised, everything was balanced up nicely.

“It’s easy watchin’ seasons go
As sunshine turns to new-born snow.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

p1070861

Ice in my Morphine.

Just recently it’s all been bit strange in the world of Dookes. In many ways everything in my life has ben well sorted, ordered and under control, which for an untidy sod like me is a bit of a minor miracle!

Then along come the curved balls, you know those things over which we have absolutely no control and things go, well, crazy!

I don’t know if it’s a function of getting older, or if because I have more time these days to think about the little things, but sometimes I do feel like I’m trying to swim against a tide of treacle!

Now don’t worry, I’m not slipping into any sort of depression, nor am I unburdening by way of the Internet, but at times when the world really all seems stupid I’m so glad of my two-wheeled friends.

Regular blogonaughts know of my mate G’s ongoing battle with cancer. I’ve come to hate that bloody condition, not just for the dirty way that it attacks and eats people, but also and probably more so, the effect it’s pernicious tendrils have on the people surrounding it’s victim. 

Just lately G hasn’t been at all good. Because his immune system is being attacked by the cancer he is extremely susceptible and vulnerable to all types of infections; the sort that healthy people can shrug off with a couple of over the counter tablets could easily kill him. Unfortunately my pal has picked up a couple of these infections and has been spending quite a bit of time in hospital plugged into IV antibiotics, morphine and a cocktail of other drugs.

To make his discomfort complete his larynx has been damaged by the chemotherapy and he can’t talk.

Earlier this week he was feeling a bit better and was desperate to get out for a bit of two-wheeled therapy. We tentatively arranged a meet up for yesterday and we were both looking forward to sharing some quality time together on our motorbikes.

Then came the bombshell; G had developed a temperature, quite a high temperature at that. His wonky immune system seems to only kick in a temperature when he’s really ill and then it goes bonkers. In addition he’d developed raging ear ache and totally lost his appetite, yep my pal was on his way back into hospital again; back to isolation and no visitors except his immediate family, back to that IV drip as well.

It’s strange, I felt numb about the whole situation and needed to find some space to get my head around things. I’d arranged to ride out with G, so the best thing to do seemed to ride out for him now!

As I pushed Baby out of the workshop I resolved to ride steady, ride to savour the day and ride to park things out on the highway.

It didn’t take long before the deep roar of Baby’s engine and the rumble of the road beneath us had me smiling again, bikes do that to me!

I decided to loop around the West of our neighbouring county of Devon, where the gentle and beautiful scenery always seems to welcome me. I stuck to secondary roads, I didn’t want the hassle of too much traffic getting in the way. Passing through small towns like Okehampton, Halwill Junction and Holsworthy life was definitely beginning to look a whole lot better.

I stopped for a coffee and exchanged text messages with G. I didn’t dare tell him I was out riding and when he reads this I’ll be in deep s**t!

Setting off for home my mind travelled back to just over a year ago, before G was diagnosed with leukaemia. We rode the same route together one evening and in my mind I could see him in front of me on his beloved little Triumph Bonneville, flicking the bike through the bends with consummate ease and trying to out-run my bike’s superior power on the straights. What fun we had that evening.

Passing back into my county of Cornwall I paused at the wonderfully named New Bridge, which I suppose it was once but as it dates from 1504 I think that must have been a long time ago! The River Tamar marks much of the boundary between the two counties and at this spot it is beginning to meander in its wide lush valley, just the spot for a bit of quiet contemplation and time to be grateful for many special things.

I mounted up and twenty minutes later was home at Dookes H.Q..

Swimming against a tide of treacle is hard work, but just occasionally you get to surf a little roller and things can start to look up a bit!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Oh yes, the “Ice in my Morphine” comment came from G when I told him to take more ice in his whisky to bring his temperature down! G thought that it would do more good in his painkiller!!! 

A House Call

As I’ve reported previously, my Welsh mate G is currently undergoing chemotherapy in his fight against leukaemia. Just lately he’s been in and out of hospital quite a lot with a series of blood transfusions and tests.

Being the optimistic little sod that he is, this is not such a bad thing; you see the Rugby World Cup is currently underway and as England are the hosts, all of the games are being screened on television. So a spell in hospital = an opportunity to watch rugby, great!

But, it ain’t all that great.

The whole cancer thing is shit; if you excuse me being so basal.

G was at home the other day, his family were going out and rugby was going to be on the television. Hey, a friend has got to do what friends do best; I bought the sausages and Greg cooked lunch! Well Ok, I did have a super 50 mile ride over to his place too! I took Harls, I needed her rawness, simplicity and noise.
P1050015
The ride was lovely; it was one of those mornings when the diffused sunlight gives the world an ethereal feel, all cosy and comforting, if a tad on the cool side with the first chill of autumn.

Greg lives in Devon, the neighbouring county to Cornwall where Dookes H.Q. is based. It’s one of the wonderful things about geography, the two counties are separated by one river, the Tamar, but in many ways couldn’t be more different. Cornwall reflects its hard rock granite foundations and tends to be a bit craggy and sharp; whilst Devon mostly sits on softer Old Red Sandstone making for a more rolling landscape that is very easy on the eye. P1050009

We had a great afternoon together. He may be unwell, but his cooking is as good as ever. We laughed a lot, the rugby was entertaining, we watched videos of motorcycle road trips and did loads of planning for future trips when Greg is well again. It’s looking like most of Europe and Scandinavia won’t be safe once we get going!

Riding home I had time to reflect on the true value of friendship. To me it’s not like family, with real friends its much deeper than that. I’ve had too many family members really hurt me over the years, but my friends never have. Sure we’ve pissed each other off on occasions, but with true friends you can tell each other why and how, then move on. Greg and I have shared many experiences over the years and I aim to share many more with him in future.

The rumble of Harl’s exhaust as we rode home into the setting evening sun was comforting. Yes, perhaps I was going a tad fast at times, but I felt vibrantly alive. This compulsory getting older thing is a bit of a bummer; growing up is, in my book, still optional!

“Summers going fast, 
nights growing colder. 

Children growing up
, old friends growing older.


Freeze this moment a little bit longer
, make each sensation a little bit stronger.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Friends; In Need, Indeed.

Its been a strange few months in the world of Dookes.

First up and with the support of Mrs Dookes I decided to jack in the rat race, calm down and retire early. It’s big tick in the box for that one, but I’ll be honest it’s still taking a bit of getting used to! So much so that I’ve found something to keep me out of mischief for a few days a week . . . more details of that in a future post though! Yeah, I’m a tease.

Then, just as I was getting used to life changes I got the news about my mate G, or Greg as you all now know him.

I’ll be honest, the situation that G has found himself in has hit me sideways and in a way that I would never have thought possible. I really get what he wrote about dealing with the realisation of a cancer diagnosis, in his words; “Or one of my friends…

I can handle it, it’s me…. A strange one but as it’s me it makes it bearable.”

He had his first dose of Chemotherapy on Wednesday and late in the afternoon I received a text message from him to let me know how he’d got on. We played message ping-pong for a few minutes each response getting a bit sillier! At the time I was sitting on a cliff high above the Atlantic rollers on the North Cornwall coast. G’s ever optimistic messages both heartened me and humbled me at the same time. Looking West, the approaching sunset and majestic clouds lifted my spirits as I worried for my friend and at the same time felt so utterly helpless.P1040839

The evening before I had enjoyed a wonderful ride with an other dear friend, Vifferman. In fact, as regular blogonaughts may recall, Viff is my oldest friend we go back over 50 years.

Viff understood that I needed a bit of support and a good thrash on two wheels followed by fish and chips by the sea in Bude was an excellent antidote for the “feeling hopelessly useless” blues! Thanks Viff.P1040811OK, its a Honda, buts it’s Vifferman’s Honda!

Anyway, the point is that as usual Vifferman gets it and this time he could see that I was a bit “Wobbly.” It’s probably a culmination of lots of things that has made this a pretty emotional summer, but the main thing is how the friends network is working and supporting each other, which is just great.

No really surprising that it all largely revolves around two wheels either!

“At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines.”

Catch you all soon,

Dookes

PS Special thanks to Mrs Dookes, Alba, Curtis, Bones, Ginamarie, John and many others for being there too, you all mean the world to me!