Sometimes, things just don’t go as planned.

Take last Monday for example.

It was a lovely day, the sort of day that just screams at me, “Go ride motorcycle!” and to be polite, I accepted nature’s invitation.

My plan was to visit my old friend Vifferman, who lives about 50 miles away from Dookes H.Q. and to ride a nice circuitous, leisurely, route in the glorious sunshine.

Going out all was well for a few miles, until I got onto the A30 main road. That’s where we had our first inclination that this could be an “interesting” ride. Overtaking a VW camper van I had to smartly take avoiding action as it gently eased onto my lane without any indication. Yes, thought so… the driver was busy talking on his mobile telephone!

After that Hettie purred along nicely and we enjoyed the new lush greenery that always erupts into growth this time of year. It truly was the most perfect English Spring morning and a perfect time to be on two wheels.

Mr and Mrs Viff were on fine form and we did that most British of things, we drank tea outside in the sunshine; lovely.

In due course it was time to bid farewell and hit the road again. I decided to take in part of the A39 Atlantic Highway, mainly because it’s one of my local favourite roads, which is as good a reason as any.

That’s when the fun really started, not.

Traffic wasn’t too busy, but in one or two spots it was slightly bunched by some heavy goods vehicles, trucks to most of us. It wasn’t that these trucks were hanging about, but rural Devon roads are not straight Autobahns, they have bends and hills, lots of them. Add into the mix some hesitant car drivers, speed restrictions through the pretty villages and there you have a mobile traffic jam; except if you are on a motorcycle!

The thing I always watch out for when overtaking traffic in such a situation is jealous car drivers. You probably know the sort, they can’t/won’t overtake themselves and don’t see why anyone else should either. Sometimes they try to block by moving out across the road, or another trick is to try to close out the gap that the overtaking vehicle is moving into; either way they are annoying and very dangerous!

When making an overtake I always plan my passing move considering where I am going to, that I can abort and move back in with plenty of time and have a back up plan “B” if needed, this last one usually means somewhere else safe to go…! Oh and I also plan not to cause anyone else on the road problems with my actions.

Needless to say, as I carefully began to move through the traffic I was keeping very alert to any possible stupid antics….and sure enough to driver of a Mercedes 4×4 took exception to me passing him and attempted to accelerate to block my exit by closing the gap to the car in front of him; hmm clever, not! Fortunately at this point it was a nice straight empty road and Hettie easily cruised past him and the next two cars without any problem, but what the *@^# was that for?

Later on the same road on another overtake, another 4×4, a BMW this time, accelerated as I passed him and I mean really accelerated! Oh yes, the clown was another mobile phone user too, with one hand on the steering wheel and one firmly pushing his phone into his ear!!!

Now can anyone tell me just why some people think that it is acceptable to use a mobile telephone whilst driving?

I found some space on the road away from traffic and tried to enjoy the ride again, but in all honesty I couldn’t. Those three examples of crass stupidity, aggression and selfishness had left me more stressed than when I set out; time to cut the ride short and head home.

“Look all around, there’s nothin’ but blue skies.
Look straight ahead, nothin’ but blue skies”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Riding on Ahead

I don’t often sit staring at a blank screen wondering what to write.

I don’t often have tears in my eyes when I sit at a computer screen.

I don’t normally find it difficult to articulate what I want to say.

This isn’t a “Normal” moment…

Over the years of blogging, I have occasionally mentioned my mate G, he of motorcycles and leukaemia.

On the 26th of December, G’s battle with cancer came to an end. He was 52 and leaves behind a loving wife and two young teenage children.

He also leaves behind a lifetime of memories, achievements and laughter.

G was a complex character, his highs were incredible, he could make a large room helpless with laughter; on the other side he had lows, deep black lows. Mostly though, he was a “Glass Half-Full” chap and it was only when his health issues got too much did he sometimes slightly look on the downside.

Our relationship was mixed. Mostly, we were great mates who had wonderful times together and yes we had some really great times! We also had moments, like in any relationship, when we really couldn’t stand the sight of each other; yet we came through it, eventually.

When, three and a half years ago he told me that he had cancer it shook me to the core. I tried to always be there for him.

Then he had a big motorcycle accident and I sat by his bed in the trauma unit as the medics tried to figure out if they could save his hands, let alone make then work again. In the weeks and months that he slowly recovered, I used to drive over to his house and again sit with him; then we would laugh and tell each other tales of what we would do once he was well.

He bought another motorcycle and the surgeons got him strong enough to ride. I went with him to collect the bike, a Yamaha Super Ténéré that had been modified to accommodate his injured hands; his joy at being on two wheels again was humbling.

Picking up the new bike, June 2017.

We rode again together, as often as his health allowed and the light came on in his eyes again.

The day after Christmas that light went out for the last time.

G, I loved you through all of our ups and downs, even through the times that you annoyed the hell out of me and drove me up the wall in frustration! You did what little brothers are supposed to do and did it very well; I’m missing you already.

Hwyl fawr, brawd bach!

Dookes

Arrival or Departure

Frequently, in those idle moments that journeys throw at me, I ponder what is better, Arrivals or Departures?

I know, the old Dookes grey matter wanders in mysterious ways, but bear with me and I’ll explain where I’m coming from.

As I type this our ferry is making it’s final approach to Arrive in the Port of Roscoff. On-board there is a palpable air of excitement, stoked in no small part by a number of French school groups. The children are chattering in the animated carefree way that only the young can indulge in. They don’t worry if everything is packed, passport and documents ready, someone else takes care of that!

For my part, I sit in the lounge watching busy activity on the quayside as dockers secure the mooring ropes and make fast the ship against the dock. The strong Solstice morning sun glares through the windows, it’s certainly looking like its going to be a lovely day. It’s early, too early for everything except strong coffee and a moment to let the day come to me; let it Arrive if you like.

Departing Plymouth


Last night we took the short ride from Dookes H.Q. to the port of Plymouth, so often the beginning of various adventures. It was the moment of Departure and in many ways I hate it; yet at the same time I love it too… weird eh?

I hate leaving behind everything that is precious and closest to me, Mrs Dookes, our home, comfort in the familiar; yet there’s an adventure and exploration lying ahead of us.

The open road….calling.


As I get older that wrench of separation gets harder and the excitement of the unknown diminishes.

Then we hit the road and the focus switches, time to concentrate.

Arrival or Departure?

It kind of depends on which one you are doing…

Catch you later.

Dookes

“The Riding Season Is Over” – Oh Really?

There are times in my motorcycling life that I find the need to do a little bit of explaining…

The title of this blog is “Hogrider Dookes.”

This is because:
a) I ride Harley Davidson motorcycles.
b) My name is Dookes.

Simple…well yes, so far, but as regular readers, the “Blogonaughts,” may recall, I like to class myself as “A Motorcyclist who happens to ride Harley’s” and not a Harley Rider. There is a big difference.

Back in November I visited the “Motorcycle Live” exhibition in Birmingham, this annual event is the biggest motorcycle show in the UK and goes on for nearly two weeks. All the major manufacturers attend, along with countless aftermarket suppliers and trade stands, it’s a fantastic event for anyone with a passion for motorcycles. I had a super day looking at everything from the latest things on two wheels to clothing, luggage and other accessories. True I did have a sit on one of Harley’s 2018 models, but then I also sat on Honda’s, Ducati’s, KTM’s, Yamaha’s and even a Royal Enfield…eclectic, is probably the best way to describe my taste.

Royal Enfield at Motor Cycle Live.

Then, just before the nonsense of Christmas and New Year, I found myself chatting to one of the Road Captains from our local Harley Owners Group Chapter; the subject of the exhibition came up in our conversation and I enthused about all the different bikes I had seen.

“I’m not interested in other bikes, just Harley’s.” Was the somewhat scornful response. Fair enough, point taken, said individual then went on to tell me that his own bike, an Ultra Limited Low, had been put away for the next few months as “The Riding Season is over until Spring.”

The thing is, he’s not alone. Lots of motorcyclists pack their bikes away in the Autumn and hibernate until the Spring, maybe Harley Riders more than most.

I guess that’s what I mean about being a Motorcyclist who happens to ride Harley’s and not a “Harley Rider.”

You see, I ride all year round and I’m in a silly way I’m bloomin’ proud of that!

True, sometimes a four-hour ride equals eight hours of cleaning and polishing afterwards, but it isn’t half worth it! Take the situation just before Christmas for example.

For a few weeks we had been enduring our usual share of Cornish winter gales; loads of rain, high winds, hail and just a dusting of snow on the high moors. Then the wind dropped, the sun came out and the temperature plummeted.

What better thing to do than to hit the road on two wheels with a motorcycling pal for company?

My artist mate Mark is always up for a ride at the drop of a hat and like me isn’t too bothered by winter weather. Mark rides a solid Honda CB1200, a real no-nonsense bike that suits him down to the ground and if I’m honest a model that I really like too, but which one of my two-wheeled ladies should I take?
Well, I did consider Baby Blue so that I could hide from the cold behind her big faring, but as Harls was already pretty filthy from me riding around in the week before I settled on her. Anyway, my heated jacket and gloves would keep the cold out!

High on Dartmoor and just a little dirty.


For some reason, probably just because we could, we decided on the delights of the high ground of Dartmoor on the border of Cornwall and Devon. Only a few days earlier the moor had been lying under a light blanket of snow, but now the roads were clear if a bit wet from running-off water, the sky blue and the air crisp. This was motorcycling for the purist!

Highway to heaven.


I think that I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Views like this are always better on two wheels.


On the way back we called in on the local Harley Dealership, Plymouth Harley Davidson, ours were the only two bikes in the parking lot.

In the showroom, salesman Kev grinned at me.
“Hi Dookes, I see the 12 month riding season is still open then?”

It certainly is Kev, it certainly is!

“Bleak winter sunset with sky of lavender…”*

Catch you soon.

Dookes

* Images In a Moment of Time, Ryan Richard Nych

Christmas Eve – Better Than The Main Event!

I always raise a wry smile when I hear people ask, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

It’s as if that one day demands gargantuan effort and logistical planning for it to happen or be a success!

Now I know to an awful lot of folk in the “Christian” Western World that Christmas is indeed a massive thing, both in its preparation and execution; it’s not for me to say that they are wrong, but some years ago I had reason to re-think my own approach to the holiday, let me tell you about it.

In those days I was still working in the railway industry, I was a senior manager in the responsible for the delivery the safe operation of passenger train services. I had a fantastic team of local operations managers and train-crew who were dedicated to the job that they did, we had a great time working together. Our area of responsibility covered the Southern half of the U.K., it was demanding work but very satisfying.

In the lead up to any holiday period we always saw increased usage of our services as people travelled to enjoy their days off with family and friends. The Christmas period on the railways was and still is, a bit different, as it is the only time of the year that trains actually stopped running for the two-day holiday; so there is just a bit more pressure to get people home before the shut-down!

As the Christmas holiday was approaching we were struggling; a virus was going around that was severely stretching our train-crew resources and sadly a couple of services had been cancelled due to staff sickness. Our resources centre was doing a great job covering the timetable and the remaining staff were really helping out by being as flexible as possible, but we were up against it!

By the morning of Christmas Eve we had shuffled the deck enough to cover every train…except the last one.

Now I had a mantra, that basically said Never, cancel the last train.

I talked through the situation with the Duty Managers in the Control and Resources Centre. We were short of a Train Manager (known as a Guard/Conductor, in other places) for the last 200 miles of the last train, as a result the Control staff had already began to look at the possibility of using replacement road coaches.

I wasn’t at all happy about 300 of our passengers being put on a fleet of buses, especially so late on Christmas Eve!

No, it wasn’t a train like this either, but hey it’s sort of Christmassy!


As a career railwayman, over the years I had been trained in and done just about all of the jobs in the operations department, what’s more I had ensured that I maintained my Safety Critical Competency Certifications too. All our frontline staff and union representatives knew that “The Old Man” was quite capable of doing any of their jobs, especially in an emergency and this was an emergency!

It didn’t take me more than a couple of seconds to decide that if the last service needed a Train Manager that I would cover the shift.

I’ve got to say that Mrs Dookes wasn’t over happy when I told her what I was going to do, but she understood; she knew I was a railwayman and running railways was what I did.

As for the train. Well, from what I can remember it all went well and ran on time with no dramas, but it did have a nice “Travelling Home for Christmas” vibe.

We delivered the passengers to their destinations on time, then put the train away at the end of the run.

A taxi was waiting to take me home, which was about 100 miles away, I walked into our decorated house at one o’clock on Christmas morning…it was still Christmas Eve to me!

Waiting on the table was a candle-lit light meal of delicious goodies that Mrs Dookes had prepared and a chilled bottle of champagne to go with it too!

That’s how we have celebrated Christmas Eve ever since and in a way it’s become our most important tradition of the festive period, better than the main event in many ways!

I was incredibly lucky in my railway career; I worked in some amazing places alongside incredible people doing special things to keep the wheels rolling. Sometimes things were grim, but I have lovely memories of the camaraderie that we shared doing a job that most of us loved.

Tonight, when Mrs Dookes and I sit down to our supper I’ll raise a glass of something bubbly, toast railway people the world over. Then I’ll quietly think of that Christmas Eve so long ago and thank goodness that I’m married to a wonderful lady who understands what makes me tick and who created such a lovely tradition out of my stubbornness not to cancel a train!

Have a peaceful Christmas everyone!

Dookes

Tanks a Million!

The rehabilitation of my mate G continues at an almost frightening pace, particularly as he is now able to ride his motorcycle again. By that I don’t mean that he is riding his bike at a frightening pace! The great thing is that he has regained his zest for life again and two wheels are largely responsible for that.

We seem to have slipped into a weekly routine of having a worthwhile ride to somewhere specific and take in some good riding roads along the way.

Last week’s excursion saw us on another great “Boys Day Out” as Mrs Dookes is now calling them. Where previously we visited an aviation museum, this time we kept our feet firmly on the ground and set our destination as The Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset.

The museum traces the history of armoured fighting vehicles and particularly tanks, from their invention over 100 years ago right through to the present day. There are over 300 vehicles on display and it is the largest collection of tanks in the world.

First though we had to get there.

I met G in Exeter at his favourite motorcycle dealership and after a good double espresso we hit the road. I took Baby Blue, partly because she is so comfortable on a transit run, but also because I’m back in love with riding her after some months of mixed emotions, but more of that in another post…

The road east out of Exeter, the A30, is largely fast dual carriageway and although it runs through pleasant enough country it’s pretty boring. At Honiton, once famous for its lace making, we turned onto the A35 and followed it for about 40 miles to Dorchester. Now I always get frustrated with the ’35; it runs through lovely scenery, has enough bends to make it interesting on a bike, but it’s always snarled up with traffic and this morning was situation normal!

On a bike it’s true that you can usually make progress where other vehicles struggle, but even so it becomes hard work and if you are constantly looking for the next overtake opportunity it’s a tad difficult to also look at the scenery!

By Dorchester I was ready for a change and taking a more looping route away from traffic we soon arrived at Bovington.

The museum is located ay Bovington Camp, home of the British Army’s Tank Corps and the place where most tracked vehicle training and repair is carried out by the Army. It’s a busy place and you are just as likely to find a tank scurrying along the surrounding roads as a mail delivery van.

A tank in the car park!

In other words this is big-boys-toys country!

There are seven display halls in the museum. The first, called “The Tank Story Hall,” has a collection of key vehicles displayed in chronological order to show the evolution of tanks through the last 100 years. I found it fascinating and dallied so much that G soon wandered on ahead of me!

“Little Willie” the very first tank.

Incidentally, do you know that the name “Tank” stems from when the British Army were building the first vehicles in 1915? At the time, fearful of espionage, the prefered name of “Armoured Landship” was replaced with “tank” as a subterfuge to explain why vast amounts of boiler plate steel was being built onto track laying chassis….and the name has stuck ever since.

Another hall is dedicated to showing the very first tanks in the context to which they saw action, on the battlefields of France in World War One. This part of the collection struck particular resonance with me after tracing the footsteps and experiences of both my Grandfathers during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. If you missed those posts then please click here to read more. One of the tanks here, which actually saw action during those grim days, is posed in a particularly striking way, as if crossing No-Mans Land and attacking enemy trenches.

Across No-Man’s Land in WW1

As World War 1 tank as seen from the receiving end!

Looking at some of these early tanks, I was struck by their primitive nature and even though they were clad in boiler-plate they were not at all impervious to penetration by anything but the lightest bullet.

Bullet hole in WW1 tank.

They were brave men who took these machines into battle.

I went a bit crazy with my camera, but after a while realised that apart from colour difference one tank begins to look pretty much like any other after a while….I hear sighs from Mrs Dookes in the background! So I resorted to up close and personal stuff, just for entertainment!

Prize exhibit at the museum is Tiger 131, the only original working German Second World War Tiger Tank in the world; incidentally, the majority of the tanks here all still work, how brilliant is that! The added bonus with these being working machines is that they not only look great, but they smell good too…yeah, I know, it’s a bloke thing; axle grease, diesel fuel and gear oil, magic!

Tiger 131, 63tonnes of trouble.

Amongst all this engineering and heavy plant, it’s important not to forget that these are killing machines; they bristle with guns, armour and missiles. Amongst the machismo of ever bigger and more deadly machines there a quiet corners where extraordinary, often tragic tales of bravery and sacrifice are recounted and give the chance for remembrance and contemplation.

Finally, for those of you that are either film or Brad Pitt fans, the tank “Fury” from the 2014 film of the same name is also on display in “as filmed condition, along with some interesting props from the film. The Tiger also appeared in the film unsurprisingly playing the part of one of the bad guys, such is Hollywood!

Fury

Anyway, top marks to the Tank Museum, not only is it a great day out and I highly recommend it, but your admission ticket can be used again as much as you like for up to 12 months; I think that G and I will be back!

Any great day out deserves a great ride home, so once again we struck out to the Jurassic Coast, grabbed an ice-cream in Bridport and just rode the twisties back West. 250miles all in when I got back to Dookes H.Q..

Here’s to the next time.

“I put a Tiger in your tank.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Greasy Leather

One great thing about living in Cornwall is the weather…Yes I did really write that!

Someone once said that the UK doesn’t have a climate, we just have weather and that is divided into ten months winter and two months bad weather!

Personally, I tend to take the view that there is no such thing as bad weather, just a bad choice of coat!

Now a confession…I like wearing leather…

…when riding motorbikes!

Sure I have a variety of riding gear and modern synthetic alternatives are extremely good, certainly some of the stuff with Kevlar woven panels perform impressively, however my apparel of choice is good old-fashioned traditional cow skin. Riding clothing has to perform a multitude of tasks, prime of which is protecting the wearer in the event of a tumble, but it also is the first line of defence in keeping you warm, dry and comfortable.

That last one is a prerequisite for me, I have a set of Harley Davidson FXRG leathers that are so comfy to wear and that I’ve had for years.

Like many other things associated with motorbikes, there is a degree of maintenance required to keep your leathers not only looking good, but also to ensure that they don’t let you down when you need them. Leather being a natural material needs “feeding” to keep oils in it’s pores and therefore retain its water-resistant properties.

Last Saturday I took a ride up to Bideford on the beautiful North Devon coast, it’s just over 50 miles from Dookes H.Q. and my mission was to drop in and see my oldest pal “Vifferman.”

“Viff” and I go back a long way, well over half a century, in fact the only living person that I have known longer than him is my Mother…wow that’s scary! “Viff” had recently lost a good friend, in fact he had read the eulogy at his mates funeral only earlier in the week, I had to go see him.

Riding along the wonderful A39, the Atlantic Highway, in the morning was simply fantastic. Traffic was light, weather nice and clear, road dry, what was there not to like!

After spending some time with “Viff,” inspecting his son George’s model railway and enjoying a Devon pasty for lunch it was time to head home…and ride into darkening skies!

The trouble with coastal living is that the weather changes just like in the mountains, at the flip of a coin. We were heading straight into black towering Cumulonimbus storm clouds and true to fashion after ten miles we rode into it, one second it was dry, next, bam, rain!

I settled into a tedious further 40 miles of standing water, driving rain, gusting wind and spray. Lovely, not!

Once back at Dookes H.Q. and after putting Baby away in the workshop I got out of my riding gear and discovered I had…a slightly wet crotch!

OK, I know it I’m getting older, but I’ve not yet lost control of things down there just yet…well I’m pretty sure I haven’t anyway!

Sure enough, close examination revealed that my leather trousers had evidence of a bit of water ingress and this got me thinking; when was the last time I had treated my leathers to some waterproof dressing?

Guiltily, I concluded that it was at least two years ago. Whoops! As the FXRG leathers aren’t made any more, they’ve been replaced by hybrid leather/synthetic, I’d better look after these a bit better!

So yesterday there I was in the workshop with the radio on and leather gear spread out on the workbench. Using a pair of disposable gloves I spent a happy couple of hours thoroughly rubbing leather dressing into the leather. imageBy not using a cloth the warmth of my hands helped the greasy dressing penetrate deep into the leather and after a good going over the jacket and trousers looked a lot better for it as well.
image
I must admit that not wasn’t an unpleasant thing to do, certainly more enjoyable than the wet crotch anyway! I’m just kicking myself that I’d left it so long, but hey at least I wasn’t in the middle of a big trip when I found the leak.

I’ve just thought, there’s another pair of trousers that need doing…better dash and sort those now!

“Hell bent, hell bent for leather.”

Catch you later.

Dookes