Sunnier Days

I’m sitting in our log cabin at Dookes H.Q. and looking out at the world.

The view from the cabin.


All is quiet, still and largely silent, save for the birds singing and the odd noise from sheep in the field.

Our Planet is getting quite a bit different from what it was a few short weeks ago.

Are we managing what is happening, or are we looking at extinction from the wrong end of the telescope?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that thinking of better days helps!

Earlier today I was scanning through some photos taken on my Pyrenees trip last year, they made me smile. Sunny days, people mixing freely, people enjoying themselves.

I spent my first night in the Pyrenees in the small village of Sare, which apart from agriculture and lovely scenery doesn’t have much else except campsites catering for the annual summer influx of visitors.

Just back down the road though at Col de Saint Ignace was the reason for me passing this way and after breakfast I set out to investigate “La Petit Train de la Rhune,” The Little Train of The Rhune.

This is an historic metre gauge rack railway at the Western end of the Pyrenees, which over 4.2km/2.6miles climbs to the summit of the Rhune Mountain.

The plan to build the line was first drawn up around 1908 and local Government law was passed soon afterwards with construction starting in 1912. Opening didn’t happen until 1924 though, World war One got in the way!

The railway climbs 736metres/2415ft from the base station to the summit and for the technically minded is equipped with the Strub rack system, which allows the train to literally pull itself up the mountain by a gear wheel engaging with a rack that is laid between the rails. Normal railways are pretty useless at climbing steep gradients, as the coefficient of friction between steel wheels on a steel rail is not high! The rack and pinion system gets round that problem.

One feature that makes this railway pretty special is that it is powered by three-phase electricity and there are only three others like that in the world! That’s pretty cool for an engineering geek like me!

The Complicated 3 Phase Current Collection Gear.


Services are operated by a four wheeled electric locomotive that pushes two passenger coaches up the mountain, peculiarly each coach has a four wheeled bogie at one end but only a two wheeled axle at the other; I haven’t been able to figure out why!

The railway normally operates from Mid-March until the end of September.


I considered having a quick ride, but the first train of the day was fully booked and I really didn’t feel like hanging around to see if I could get on the next one…but hey I saw it and got a few nice photos!

Just the thing to look back at and raise a smile to sunnier times!

“There is no more new frontier
we have got to make it here”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

Always Look On The Bright Side of Life!

I originally started this post writing about how the whole Coronavirus situation is globally pretty much out of control.

Then it descended into a rant…, which isn’t really what is needed, or indeed what I want to post!

If we didn’t know before, we now have conclusive proof that he world truly has gone mad!

It all started, or at least was first reported, in China back in December.

Unregulated free movement of people between Continents facilitated the worldwide spread of the disease. Leaders around the World first either dithered or claimed denial; either way they failed to take action and possibly now it may be too late.

It’s certainly too late for the thousands that have already died.

Last night, at 20:30 UK time, our Government effectively put our Country, the United Kingdom into lock-down.

What does this mean?

Well, basically, unless you are going shopping for food or have a medical emergency everyone must stay at home. Initially this situation will last a minimum of three weeks, and then it will be reviewed. Obviously essential services and medical staff are given more latitude.

In essence this is a good idea, to stop people mingling and therefore, hopefully, restrict the spread of the virus.

To me, it does appear to be action well overdue.

Whilst at first glance it may all appear a bit draconian, but there are, as ever in any situation, definite plus points.

At present the UK is largely blessed with glorious early Spring weather and whilst we are in effect starting a period of “house arrest” here at Dookes H.Q. things are not bad at all. Mrs Dookes works from home anyway and I’m retired.

Cherry Blossom at Dookes H.Q.


It’s a time to count one’s blessings; we live in a beautiful part of the world, we have a lovely home and we have sunshine!

Wild Primrose, (Primula Vulgaris) at Dookes H.Q.


Stay safe out there, wherever you are. Look after yourselves and hopefully we’ll all make it through to the other side.

I have a feeling that the world is going to be a very different place in future.

Catch you soon

Dookes

Time To Breath Again

Sometimes I feel that the world is getting more scary and crazy by the passing of each day.

When I was younger we lived under the seemingly permanent threat of nuclear oblivion in four minutes time; it was the height of the Cold War and all it apparently needed was one crazy finger on the button….!

I guess we sort of lived with it and just dealt with it. Probably most of us were so blissfully ignorant about exactly what and where the threat was coming from that we were able to get on with our lives in that isolated state. Indeed any news that did filter to the general population was either very old by the time of publication, newspapers, or restricted in its broadcast, via television and radio.

These days things are just about as different as you can get. News is instant, a social commodity and generally totally unrestricted, unedited and uncontrolled.

Hysteria by media seems now to be the norm!

Over the last few weeks the world has been gripped by the spread of a virus.

Now please don’t think that I’m making light of the situation, I’m not; I am however totally fed up with the industry that feeds, leech like, on this and any other “Bad News Story” that may be circulating.

This evening I watched a news piece on British television that dealt with hard facts and real information, it took about three minutes; then we were bombarded by a succession of journalists, not scientists nor doctors, but mere wordsmiths who spent the next ten minutes speculating and hypothesising over what “might happen next.” Please people, give us facts not gossip!

Thankfully today dawned fine, very, very mighty fine!

You know what comes next….Time to get out on two wheels!!!

I’ve realised that probably the greatest thing about retirement is the ability to say at the drop of a hat, “Stuff it all, let’s ride!”

I rolled Hettie out of the workshop and hooked up with a mate of mine; Mark is also retired…sort of, he’s an artist, but he’s also a biker who loves the Cornish countryside.

At his suggestion we headed West, to the stunning Sennen Cove.

Sennen Cove


Our ride was superb, dry roads, blue sky, fresh cool air in our faces and an almost warm sun on our backs.

Sennen lies a couple of miles from Lands End at the extreme Western tip of Cornwall, if you put to sea here and turn left, it’s next stop Newfoundland, Canada.

Canada is that way!


It can be wild in Sennen, but on a day like today it’s the nearest to heaven you can find around these parts. I sort of take the view that there is no point in living in a beautiful part of the world if you don’t enjoy it!

Sennen Cove is also home to a famous Lifeboat Station. Here two boats are manned by volunteer crew, ready to go to the assistance of any in peril on the sea at any time of the day or night, whatever the weather or sea state. These are truly very brave and dedicated people.

The lifeboat launches down this slipway.

Just what I needed to keep the old life perspective in balance!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Making Hettie Mine.

Hi Gang, sorry I’ve been off air again, but I’m back now and raring to go!

Regular Blogonaughts will probably realise that in many things I tend to be a bit of a stayer, once I find something that I like, I stick with it. Things like a comfy pair of shoes or a favourite pullover will last me for years and I’m just the same with motorcycles too.

My beloved Harls and I have been together for a long time now and over the many years we have evolved in each others company. I’ve added little things to make our ride experiences more refined and more comfortable for me and easier for her too.

Harls

It’s funny, but for some reasonI never really fully “clicked” with Big Blue, perhaps in the back of my mind I knew that she wouldn’t be around with me for long. On the other hand I’m getting along just fine with Hettie, my lovely Heritage Classic, who joined us at Dookes H.Q. in April 2018; in other words nearly two years gone by, where did that go!

The decision to part with Blue and buy Hettie wasn’t hard after I’d test ridden some of the new Harley Davidson Softail range just before their general release, they were stunningly good. It also didn’t take me very long to realise that I was onto a winner once I took delivery of Hettie either! She is one fantastic motorcycle.

Hettie

If you had told me a few years ago that I would purchase a “Heritage” Harley I would have just shook my head and walked away. The old Heritage Softail was to my eye the very typical stereotype caricature of what lots of Non-Harley riders think of when you mention the marque, all chrome and tassels! Definitely, not me. Then along came the new Softails and things were different and to my eye, different in a very good way. Although it’s fair to say that the bikes retain a certain classic period look, it’s understated and functional, but more than that, they are just sublime to ride.

At least Hettie would be, if I ever manage to get out on her!

Once I took delivery of her I quickly racked up 500miles and gave her an oil change. Now I know that Harley Davidson’s have their first service at 1000miles, but I’m an engineer of the old school…. oil is cheap, engines aren’t!

Since that 500mile oil change things slowed up quite a lot, life stuff got in the way, but now I’m starting to play catch up with Hettie, we’ve managed about 2000miles since then; that’s 2000 smile-filled miles, I’m really loving this bike!

As she looses that “new machine stiffness” I have begun to appreciate just how nice these new Softails are. Although Hettie “only” has the 107cubic inch engine, that’s 1745cc in metric, it’s more than ample for the job in hand and the way the power smoothly feeds in when asked for is lovely, there’s no bad habits with this engine.

As I get to know Hettie, I’ve begun to notice what’s missing and to make the little improvements that will make her my motorcycle.

Some things are very small and simple. I like to know the time when I’m riding and although the multifunction display will show me that, I like a real clock, so there’s an analogue clock on the right hand side of her handlebars now. With a matching air temperature gauge on the left.

On the engine bars I now have a pair of what Harley calls “Soft Lowers.” These are simple slip on wind protectors that keep the weather off my lower legs very nicely, yep, I’m getting older and liking my comforts! I have a pair of “highway peg” footrests that I may just mount on those engine bars in due course.

I’ve fitted a sport luggage rack to the sissy bar, it’s reasonably small, but just big enough to take a Givi tank-bag mounting ring like I’ve fitted to Harls. The Givi “Tanklock” system is really designed for adventure bikes and features a docking ring that is screwed around the tank filler, various different size bags can then be simply locked onto the ring as the user wishes. This system is not designed for Harley Davidson’s, but I figured out a way of attaching one of the rings to Harls’ rack and I have found the ability to have a quick release small bag to be invaluable. I’m now going to do the same with Hettie, there’s no point in having engineering skills if you don’t use them! I’ll show you that in a future post.

The latest shiny things to go on have been a pair of Screaming Eagle Street Cannon slip-on exhaust mufflers. These are the first part of what Harley Davidson call a Stage One tuning package and although they give the bike a nice low bass exhaust note, they are not noticeably louder and best of all they are street legal! We followed that with a “Stage One Tuning” engine re-map and a new air cleaner to help her breath easier.

Next up I looked at more luggage options. The original equipment panniers are ok, but Leather Pro make some lovely bags that are stylish, slightly bigger that the OE ones and have a better lock arrangement than Harley’s design, which frankly gets in the way. The Leather Pro’s have been fitted, along with a pair of luggage protector bars.

Finally, for now anyway, I’ve splashed out on a Garmin Zumo 595 Sat Nav and Touratech mount. Yes, shock horror a SatNav!!! Actually I’ve had one on Harles for a couple of years now, they can be very useful dodging the traffic!

I’m now having a think about what else is needed…as opposed to what I’d like to add!

For now, that’s enough to be going on with, other than just enjoying this wonderful addition to my riding life.

“If you start it up
Kick on the starter
Give it all you got”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Ring Out Those Bells!

“Now is the Solstice of the year.
Winter is the glad song that you hear.”

As part of my extended birthday celebrations last weekend I had the pleasure of attending The Jethro Tull Christmas Concert in the wonderful Medieval Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral: Photo Rodw


The was a bit of a pilgrimage for me as a long time Tull (and indeed other Prog Rock bands) fan, I had never seen one of their Christmas Concerts. Putting it simply, it was wonderful! To cap it all they performed their seasonal hit “Solstice Bells” and I was accompanied by my oldest mate known in this blog as Vifferman!

Incidentally, 100% of the ticket sales were donated to the upkeep of that wonderful ancient Cathedral.

Now it doesn’t take much to make me happy, which might seem a bit strange for a chap who owns two big Harley Davidson motorbikes, but it’s true. Today, for example, is one of those things that no-one can own, hold or claim; it’s the Winter Solstice and I’m a very happy Dookes as a result!

It’s probably fair to say that this has become my favourite day of the whole year!

In our Northern Hemisphere it is the shortest day, when the Sun barely shows itself above the horizon and then for the briefest possible time! Sunset today was just before 16:00hrs!

Stennes Sones Orkney


The Solstice marks the turn of the seasons when the days begin to grow longer and the warmth of Summer begins its long return journey.

It’s also the real beginning of Winter.

I written before how the relevance of this turning point has become stronger for me as I have grown older; I now understand the ancient people who venerated the turning seasons and the Celestial Calendar.

It appears that since the dawn of time our forbears have found reason to celebrate a festival of light in the depths of the darkest day of the year. So why not have a party to celebrate the ending of one celestial year and the beginning of a new one?

Sounds good to me, but then I am a Welsh Wizard/Dewin Cymreig and a Druid to boot!

Let’s not forget that many other cultures and religions around the world also celebrate festivals at this time of the year and have the rebirth of light firmly as their focus.
The Christian Church has celebrated the birthday of Jesus Christ, Christmas, on December 25th since the 4th Century when Pope Julius I chose the date in an effort to replace the Roman Feast of Saturnalia. In several languages, not just English, people have compared the rebirth of the sun to the birth of the son of God.

It’s also interesting to reflect that the origins of many “traditional” Western Christmas decorations such as the Yule Log, Tree and Wreath can trace back to pre-Christian times.

Familiar decorations of green, red and white cast back to the Wiccan traditions and the Druids. The old Pagan Mid-Winter Festival of Yule also included feasting and gift giving, doesn’t it all sound very familiar?!?!

When I was younger we always did the usual Christmas decoration stuff, including a highly non-authentic artificial tree! My late father did little to dress the tree, but had his own take on the whole decoration thing that he insisted on doing himself; every year he would garland the house with boughs of green holly and evergreen, it was only then that I truly used to feel that things were being done properly. I suspect that my Celtic blood has a lot to do with this and I still carry on that tradition today in Dookes H.Q., I adore the house smelling of pine and other evergreens! image

Many Pagan religions had a tradition where it was customary to place holly leaves and branches in and around dwellings during winter. It was believed that the good spirits who inhabited forests could come into their homes and use the holly as shelter against the cold; whilst at the same time malevolent forces and spells would be repelled.

Mrs Dookes enters into the spirit of the season with her splendid handmade evergreen wreaths. This reflects another Celtic tradition, the wreath’s circle has no beginning or end and the evergreen represents life in the depths of winter.

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, The Solstice, Dongzhi, Yalda, Saturnalia, Malkh, any other festival that I may have missed, or just looking forward to having a restful holiday, have a truly wonderful time and maybe spare a thought, or penny, for those less fortunate.

Thanks for joining me for the ride this year, it’s been a ball and I hope you will saddle up with Harls, Hettie and I in 2020 for more two-wheeled adventure and opinion!

“Praise be to the distant sister sun,
joyful as the silver planets run.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

With grateful thanks to Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull for sharing the Solstice over many decades!

Time Passing

“Time is but the space between our memories; as soon as we cease to perceive this space, time has disappeared.” – Henri Frederic Amiel

I rather like this quote

It’s a funny thing is time.

In some ways we view it as an abstract, then in other moments it’s the source of stress and pressure.

One thing is for certain, for all of us it is passing by and then one day, on a very personal level it runs out!

Time is the very embodiment of our being and the one central indelible cog of the universe, the fourth dimension.

Time is, as Albert Einstein observed, relative.

When we are young it seems to be infinite; a day, a week a summer holiday…all can seemingly last forever.

Then as we age, time takes on a different face, it becomes urgent; “Time Flies” is the saying and suddenly those same days and weeks are stolen from us like ice melting on a hot day.

We realise that time is indeed infinite, but our time is limited…

I recently enjoyed celebrating a pretty significant birthday.

Over two weekends, yes that’s right two, Mrs Dookes and I were hosted by a gin distillery, dined in one of the UK’s best restaurants, watched a Welsh Rugby International Game(yes we won!) and generally celebrated me getting older by greatly enjoying each other’s company!!!

All was, however, tinged with just a little sadness for loved ones who are no longer with us; their time having previously run out…In fact, whilst at the rugby match I pondered the friends I had attended that particular stadium with previously; one is dead, one paralysed from the neck down, one too ill to attend; I really did feel like the last man standing.

All is not doom and gloom though.

Life is Ok, good even, apart from the inevitable aches and pains from a lifetime of sporting and other activity!

I’m still here and just to celebrate I went out a bought myself a survivor’s present; I bought a watch, so I can keep an eye on all that precious time!

“If I could keep time in a bottle…”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

Rest, Preparation and Cooking

I feel that my recent posts have been more than a little spasmodic and a bit disjointed. My posts of my latest trip sort of ended mid travels and I haven’t got going since…there is a reason for this and as I assured folks previously, it isn’t because I fell of a motorbike!

Harls on the coast in Brittany, near the end of our trip to the Pyrenees in June.


No, it’s much more mundane, yet even more stressful, we have been moving house!

The legal process was well underway when I went off on my travels, but I hope that you’ll understand, my mind was a time caught up in the whole nonsense that moving house entails.

Now, some three months later, the dust is finally settling and life is returning to a degree of normality. I still can’t find things in the kitchen and my new workshop resembles a cross between a rummage sale and a direct hit from a medium sized bomb, other than that, life is normal!

It must be, Mrs Dookes is now mentioning the “D” word, “Decorating” and I can foresee what the coming autumn months will entail!

So why the move from our lovely 300 year old house with two acres of garden to something more modern and compact? I think I just answered the question.

300 year old historic buildings are great, but they also take up a great deal of time (and money) to maintain and two acres of garden of which a lot was wooded are, I find as I advance in years, bloody hard work too! So we’ve downsized a little bit and yes, apart from the imminent decorating; removing a fireplace, installing a new wood burning stove, installing a new kitchen, building bedroom wardrobes, re-roofing a garage, repairing a log cabin and finally sorting my workshop…we should be able to take things a bit easier!

To prepare for the imminent onslaught of such delights, Mrs Dookes and I have slipped away to France for a couple of week’s relaxation and self-indulgence of a gastronomic nature.

No two-wheeled vehicles are involved this time, I get away with a lot as it is, no need to push the envelope too much!

Mrs D has found a lovely and well equipped gîte for us in the middle of a forest in the Touraine National Park. It’s about as far away from civilisation as you can get, our only neighbours are the wild animals and trees.

Over the coming days we don’t intend to do much; other than to watch the Rugby World Cup, which started well for Wales today, cook, walk and relax….I may also do the odd blog post!

Cooking wise, I delight in preparing traditional French dishes in France, using fresh local ingredients. It’s one of my great passions and something that I caught from my late lamented mate Floyd. His mantra of avoiding the complex over-thought stuff and sticking to traditional recipes and methods has stood me well over the years. My two favourite cookery books are one of Floyd’s own and a very well thumbed French one, both of which I have with me and if you’ll excuse me I’m now off to the kitchen!

Boeuf Bourguignon with a damn fine St Emilion!


Catch you soon.

Dookes