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

Habits and Rituals…Plus a Bit of Planning!

I’m one of those funny folks who has to follow certain rituals and if you spoke to Mrs Dookes she’d probably tell you that I have a number of habits, most of which she finds annoying!

Certain things I do, I do because that’s how I always have done them. One such habit is how I put on on my motorcycle boots and gloves. In this particular case it has to be left hand or foot first, never the right first. Crazy, I know and not at all based on any superstition either, it’s just the way I do it!

Another habit I have is the “End of Trip Photograph.”

For years now I have always marked the end of one of my Mainland Europe trips with a commemorative photograph taken by the sea in Brittany and just before getting the ferry back to the UK.

There’s actually a little common sense in this habit. It’s a way of taking a quiet breather before heading to the ferry port, a place to gather thoughts and yes probably kill a little time to avoid a long tedious wait before boarding and probably realise just how dirty my beloved Harls has become!

It’s honest dirt, riding dirt!

For years I used to negotiate the tight streets and alleys of Carentec, to a small harbour on the North Brittany coast, before I found a better spot nearby and so that’s where I now head for.

It’s great to park up there and breath in that lovely seaweed and salt laden air that only an estuary can deliver.Then to take time to reflect on the trip just completed and possibly begin to form some ideas of the next little trundle on two wheels….of course take the obligatory photo and maybe pick up a couple of shells off the foreshore!

Last time I found this lovely scallop shell.

I thought that was pretty apt, as part of our route through the Pyrenees had followed the Camino de Santiago pilgrims trail, which is marked by the symbol of a Scallop Shell, like this one in Cahors.

Bronze Scallop Shell in Cahors


Then it’s mount up and head for the ferry. get on board, get into my cabin, do some onboard shopping, then have a nice meal. Possibly then have a sleep and next thing is we are arriving back into Plymouth!

The final ritual is the chore of getting back into the UK via immigration control and customs…it’s been painful enough whilst we’ve been part of the European Union, goodness knows how bad it will get after Brexit!!!!

Now about those next trip plans….

“As long as we’re moving man I don’t care where we are”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

The Abandoned Station of Spies, Gold and Refugees.

I like finding and exploring interesting places and if I can do that by motorbike, then I’m a very happy Dookes.

When I do my trip planning I am always on the look out for places that hold history or fascinating stories. Last year in the Pyrenees a golden opportunity presented itself that was far to good to miss. OK it did entail an additional 50mile diversion, but hey that’s what a riding trip is all about, the ride!

We had a leisurely start; our overnight farm accommodation was basic but comfortable, with the added bonus of stunning views and an outdoor swimming pool!

It’s a dirty job…

Harls and I trundled happily through the low Pyrenean foothills until we reached the valley of the Gave d’Aspe and turned South towards Spain.

It didn’t take me long to pick out the course of the single track railway line that winds up the valley almost parallel to the N134 road. This was the remains of the former Pau to Canfranc Railway.

Down in the Valley

Built by the Chemin de fer du Midi after a French government convention with Spain in 1904 this was intended to be a figurehead infrastructure scheme linking the two nations over a totally undeveloped new route.

The only problem was that the Pyrenees lay in the way.

The construction of the new line gradually wound its way towards the mountains, in July 1912 ground was broken for the excavation of the Somport Tunnel, three years later construction was completed, the tunnel is 7875metre long. Unfortunately the new line had to wait until 1923 before an station was built just over the Spanish border at Canfrnac and a further five years before it was opened!

From the start the route was always going to be difficult to operate, severe gradients added to the cost of construction, whilst the most fundamental problem was that the French and Spanish railways both had different track gauges!

France has the “Standard” gauge of 1435mm, whilst Spain has the “Iberian” gauge of 1668mm, neither country’s trains fitted the other’s track; Canfranc was always going to be an interchange point!

The Spanish were determined to make a bold statement with the new terminus, the main building is 240metres/790ft long, it has 365 windows and 156 doors; in it’s day it was the second largest railway station building in Europe, only Leipzig was bigger.

Although located high in the mountains, it must have been a busy place with the need to transfer all the passengers, baggage, parcels, mail and freight; not to mention all the Customs and other bureaucracy that fed from it!

During World War Two the station entered strange period. Nominally “Neutral” Spain extended it’s operating agreement with France to the Vichy Regime, puppets of the occupying German Nazis. Trains of French grain headed to Canfranc, whilst Spanish tungsten headed North to feed the Nazi war machine. Looted gold was also a noted wartime cargo. The station became the haunt of spies, where secrets were traded and clandestine deals made. Refugees from war torn Europe trickled through, particularly escaping Jews and escaped allied military personal were not uncommon passengers.

By the 1960’s Canfranc’s glory days were long gone, but it’s fate was sealed on 20 March 1970 when a runaway freight train on the French side of the Somport tunnel derailed and demolished one of the largest river bridges. The French Government decided not to rebuild it but to truncate the line some 11km from the border at Bedous.

In Spain, Canfranc Station is still open, if two trains a day formed of a single car can be counted as open!

The main station building after years of neglect and standing derelict is currently under gradual restoration. The local government of Aragon plans to turn it into a hotel and visitor centre and at the same time build a more modern station alongside, because international trains are coming back! On the French side work has started to rebuild the line and with modern “Gauge Changing” technology through trains will now be possible.

In the meantime, Harls and I purred over the Somport Pass, 1632m/5354ft.

Somport Pass

We paused to take in the view and then rolled down the hill to Canfranc, just to see with our own eyes what all the fuss was about.

Canfranc Sation


We weren’t disappointed!

I think I’ll come back for a train ride one day.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

It’s Just a Date on The Calendar!

I’m going to get straight down to it…I hate New Year!

It’s just a date on the calendar.
For example, when was the last time anyone wished you “Happy 28th March” ???

I know, lots of things have happened on the 28th March:

In 1801 the Treaty of Florence ended the war between France and the Kingdom of Naples. – Interesting.
In 1802 the second ever asteroid was discovered, it was named 2 Pallas. – Cool.
In 1910 the first seaplane took off from water. – Also Cool.
In 1942 British Commandos raided St Nazaire and disabled the Normandy Dry Dock. – Legendary.

….but my point is New Year is just another date on the Gregorian calendar and really has no special significance. You can choose any one of the other 365 and find significant things in history, yet for the most part we just ignore them.

Around the world tomorrow, on each local stroke of Midnight things go silly; bells ring, fireworks are let off and people jump into fountains! Then for the next month or so we have to put up with cheery “Happy New Year” from everyone we speak to whether we know them or not!

I even got wished “HNY” today, a full 38 hours before midnight on the 31st/1st!!!

I guess if it makes you happy, go for it.

Me? I’ll be tucked up in bed and asleep, dreaming of Harley days to come….which leads me on to today.

As a bid to take my mind off the impending date change I got the two girls out of the workshop. Hettie needed a wash and polish.

Hettie

Harls just needed checking over and telling how much I love her!

Harls

Once Hettie was beautified, I started them both up and let them warm through before tucking them up safely in the workshop again.

Yes OK, there is a New Year coming and yes I’m looking forward to it, if only to get out and do some Harley miles again!

Catch you soon

Oh yes, I nearly forgot…..Happy New Year!

Dookes

Remembering Teresa, Ellen and John who rode on ahead in 2019.

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

Cooking up Some Magic

This post is a bit of an experiment…my blog originally started to be all about my travels on a Harley Davidson; it’s sort of morphed into something more to that.

Following encouragement of various Blog friends I’m trying something a bit radical for me, Blog Cooking!

Lets see how it goes, but I warn you now if you don’t like pictures of meat cooking or even the thought of eating it…look away now!

Now where was I?

Time always seems to go so fast when I am in France, it’s probably because I enjoy myself so much here. There are moments however, when time seems to stand still and almost go backwards, regardless of where I am in the world.

Last Sunday was just one of those moments and it all revolved around a game of Rugby, or to be more precise, Rugby Union; the game played with 15 in each team.

The occasion? Wales were playing Australia in one of the group games of the World Cup.

Regular Blogonaughts may remember that I am a passionate supporter of my nation’s rugby team. I take every opportunity I can to go to home games in Cardiff and if not I watch televised games.

Just like on Sunday. I may be in France and the Welsh rugby team may be in Cardiff, but thankfully French television are providing excellent coverage of all the World Cup games. At 12:15 local time I settled in front of the screen to enjoy.

The first 40 minutes were thrilling, Wales played some excellent rugby and deservedly went into half time with a healthy 23-8 lead.

Then came the second half and time stood still. Australia edged back into the match and I began to get decidedly twitchy; at 26-25 I was more than worried! Then a wonderful penalty kick took Wales to 29-25 and solid work saw them over the line to a well earned win!

I was more than a little delighted!!!

Mrs Dookes is well used to seeing my emotional rollercoaster in action when it comes to my beloved Wales rugby team. She deserved a treat and so I headed off to the kitchen, time to cook!

After boeuf bourguignon one of my favourite French dishes is Magret de Canard, seared duck breast.

When I was younger, the only cooked duck I ever seemed to come across in the U.K. was a wretched thing called “Duck à la Orange.” It was generally half a rather thin and pathetic bird cooked to death and smothered with a sticky marmalade like incredibly sweet orange sauce. We didn’t know much better, but even then I thought that there had to be nicer ways of serving duck than this.

Then I discovered my old mate Floyd who introduced me to French cuisine, life and food was never going to be the same again.

So let’s start with basics, this is a dead easy dish to make. You can find all sorts of recipes for it, but take it from me, simple is best!

First up you’ll need the following:

Shallots, I like échalion, the long ones.
Garlic, get the plumpest freshest you can find, not the dried sad stuff in the supermarket, or better still grow your own!

The best garlic available!


Carrots.
A sprig of fresh Rosemary.
A couple of Bay leaves.
Red Wine, I used a Côtes du Marmandais, tasty but not overpowering.
Sea Salt and crushed black pepper.

Oh yes and a duck breast! – This is obviously important as it’s the whole point of the dish, don’t skimp get the best you can. Here in France you can get lovely plump ones, with a nice layer of fat under the skin, that are big enough to feed two, the one I used weighed 450grammes.

So lets go.

First up, skin and roughly chop the shallots and garlic, I give the garlic a bit of a bash just to lightly crush it and release all those lovely juices. Scrape the carrots and cut into batons about 5cm long.

Turn the oven on and pre-heat to 100ºC

Heat some olive oil in a solid frying pan, rub salt and pepper into the duck breast and when the pan is good and hot, but not smoking, place the meat into it skin side down. Sear the meat until the skin is a lovely golden colour and the fat is starting to melt. About 3 minutes should do it, but if you don’t like it too bloody give it another minute then turn and cook the other side.

Looking good!

Remove the duck breast from the pan, wrap in foil and pop into the oven to rest.

Throw the shallots, garlic and carrots into the same pan and cook for about ten minutes until the shallots start to glaze and take on a light golden colour; don’t have the heat too high or you will burn the garlic and make it bitter.

Now for the fun! Pour in the wine, to start with I put in about 400ml and bring up the heat. You can flame off the excess alcohol, but with the cooking it will all just about disappear anyway. Add the rosemary and bay leaves then reduce for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally to stop it catching.

Once everything has nicely cooked down it’s time for a bit of French magic…

Almost all French home kitchen has a food mill, a mouli-purée, you can use a sieve if you don’t have one, but you now have to purée the lovely deep maroon contents of your pan.

The Magic Mouli

Put your prized purée in a fresh pan and return to a gentle heat. Season to your own taste, I like a lot of pepper. At the same time I added a couple of teaspoons of Confiture de Pruneaux d’Agen, which is a rather nice French plum jam, which is not too sweet and has a nice sharpness. If I was being more fussy I would have soaked some dried prunes in wine and used those, but sometimes life is too short!

Remove the duck breast from it’s resting place, put on a cutting board and admire.

….and admire.

Then cut it into diagonal slices, keeping a nice strip of skin and fat on each slice.

Divide up between you and your dining companion of choice, give the meat a nice dressing of the wonderful rich sauce. I served it with fresh green beans and my version of a croquette potato, again all very simple.

Push out the boat and accompany with a really nice, but not too heavy, red wine along with your very favourite dining companion, in my case Mrs D!

We had a bottle of Chateau de la Grille 2015, a Chinon wine from about ten miles away from where we are staying, lovely.

Well, there you are. That’s the first time I’ve ever shared one of my recipes on line and the first cooking blog post I also ever done….I hope you enjoyed it, I’ll get back to motorbikes soon.

Oh, look out, Wales play Fiji on the 9th October; Cymru am Byth!

Catch you soon.

Dookes