Tuesday, March 28, 2017

St. Emilion

Bought a 1995 BMW F650 Funduro motorcycle about a year ago and used it just once to go about five minutes down the road where the back brake locked on. So I stopped. Brake caliper smoking hot. Let it cool down. Neighbour Christian stopped to help with his massive lorry. Helped me get it back home on a trailer. Took it to the local bikeshop for repair. Didn't try it out to see if the fault persisted. Didn't trust the damned thing. So the bike stayed in the shed.

Spotted an ad for a top notch, recently serviced, low kilometrage, 1999 Funduro with new tyres and BMW top case and panniers, down south in a village near St. Emilion, about a month ago. Immediately emailed the seller with a few questions. His answers and tone assured me that he and the bike were good 'uns so we struck a deal. Unfortunately he was just about to go away on business or a holiday (I wasn't sure which) so the sale would have to wait for a few weeks.

Drove down there last Sunday with the bike trailer hitched to the dogwagon. Set off before dawn at 6.30, which was 5.30 in old time (clocks went forward that night) with Georgie, Hamish and a load of extras such as Thermos of coffee, croissants, water, belts (to tie the bike down on the trailer), assorted cds, hi-viz vests, warning triangle, car documents, cash to buy bike, trailer spare wheel, a day's worth of medication (three pills and one powder), maps, tyre pressure gauge, dog water bowl, and a load of other stuff that I can't remember (it's surprising what you need to pack in if you're off for the day). Headed to Ussel, turned right onto the motorway (A89 autoroute to Bordeaux), bypassed Brive, turned off at Montpon, then south on a little road to Chatillon-la-Bataille, then right to 33350 Sainte Magne de Castillon. Arrived at about 11.30, signed the papers, paid the dosh, loaded up the bike and drove off about an hour later.

Headed back to Montpon via the St. Emilion vine country. Very picturesque, especially on a sunny Sunday as it was that day. Interesting to see the vines in March before the leaves appear. Row upon row of gnarled stumps. Come September and October it'll all be different. Lovely bit of countryside. Did a tiny bit of research when I returned home and apparently this little area is perfect for wine-making with an ideal climate and humidity and a soil that's rich in limestone and fossils. And although it's a tiny area, it's home to loads of different wine chateaux each with their own wine label. Foreign buyers are moving in, investing in wine chateaux for ludicrous sums. And there are different levels of wine quality. Grand Cru, or summink. Unfortunately I'm a novice in this subject. To become an expert takes a lifetime. Fascinating study though. (Vine photos nicked from the internet.)

All went well on the homeward trail 'til I made the decision to go through Brive instead of taking the bypass (the bypass route includes a long, steep uphill section which would be a nightmare in an underpowered, 1.4 litre, Citroen ZX dogwagon pulling a trailer and bike). Sunday in Brive, no problemo thought I. However, unbeknown to moi, that afternoon Brive rugby team were hosting a match against Montpellier. TV cameras, the lot. Premier league rugby is hugely popular in France so you can imagine the traffic chaos, especially when one arrives about forty minutes before kick off. Then, to make matters worse, roadworks meant a diversion. Traffic jams with a bike trailer. Oh, joy.

Somehow, I know not how, we escaped the bedlam and found ourselves back on the right road. Stopped off at the service area just east of Tulle for a welcome break in the sun. We'd stopped here about nine hours earlier for coffee and a croissant when there was frost on the grass. Not there now though. Gave Hamish a quick walk then slung him back in the back and headed off again. Well, when I say 'walk', we tried to give him a walk but he insists on stopping and sniffing all the doggy smells at a ridiculously slow pace so 'drag' would be more accurate than 'walk'.

Arrived home safe and sound at around 7.30, unloaded the bike, unhitched the trailer, unpacked the car and took Hamish for an evening stroll up Sprocket Hill. Job done. Bought four bottles of different St. Emilion wines the next day from an Aubusson supermarché. Pricey stuff compared to my usual cheapo rosé. Good though. Almost polished off a bouteille last night with supper. Shall sample another ce soir.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Snow Moon

Impressive full moon last night. Looked very big, even bigger than the one a few weeks back (or was it months?) which was supposed to be the biggest for ages. Apparently it's known as the 'Snow Moon' because the full moon of February generally occurs when we're up to our necks in that white stuff. And, according to the internet, there was a lunar eclipse yesterday too. So, full moon, Snow Moon and lunar eclipse - the moon certainly had his hat on last night.

Naturally, being a hermit recluse, I hadn't the foggiest idea about all this, so when I drove up to Sprocket Hill with Hamish and Georgie for our evening stroll, the big moon came as a big surprise. As is usual when something's worth photographing, the camera was miles away, perched on the desk back home. But, nae bother, one has one's trendy mobile smartphone with its thoroughly modern built-in camera. Nowhere near as good as a proper digital camera, but better than nowt, even though the pictures are a bit fuzzy and the shutter has this maddening tendency to operate at the merest hint of body movement, resulting in an abundance of unwanted snaps including feet, out of focus sky and blurred treetops.

Anyways, we legged it up Sprocket Hill for a good view of the moon and the surrounding countryside and it was well worth the effort. A truly cosmic experience. Mind you, it was a bit slippy underfoot due to recent muckspreading. Luckily this was at the tail end of a sunny day so the muck had sort of dried out. Had it still been of its liquid or damp consistency, Hamish would have been rolling left, right and centre, thus preparing himself for an unwanted shower when he returned home, not to mention his generous adding of perfumery (his opinion) to the stinking dogwagon's interior.

When I downloaded the moon snaps, there were some other photos as well which I'd forgotten about. These included some snaps of a snowy soirée dogwalk at the same location a few days back, plus a photo of the view out front taken this afternoon - very foggy, and chilly.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Final fling

Sold the Honda CBR1000F a while ago and replaced it with a BMW Funduro. Sold the Greeves trials bike and have now reluctantly accepted the sad fact that my trials-riding days are over. On the car front, up until recently I was happy with the Citroen ZX dogwagon as a runaround and the 1992 BMW 320i for longer trips. But..., having now reached the ripe old age of seventy, I rather fancied a final fling with a rorty beast before further physical degeneration robs me of the joy of driving. So I decided to keep the ZX and swap the Beemer for... what? A Ferrari perhaps? Or an Aston? Don't be silly. Limited finances dictated that the budget should be somewhere around €5k, or maybe a tad more.

Spent a month trawling the Leboncoin site (a French website for buying and selling all sorts of stuff) for a lowish mileage (kilometrage actually!) rorty beast that was within budget. Came up with a big fat zero. Then, as is often the way, budgetry constraints flew out the window and I found myself looking at cars in the €10-15k price range. Clearly I'd lost the plot and reluctantly sort of decided to hang onto the Beemer.

But..., that car itch continued to demand scratching. Just in case anyone's interested, the cars I considered included the following: Porsche 944 (good 'uns too pricey), Mercedes 280se 1980's version (good 'uns too pricey), 1994-1997 Jaguar with the 3.2 six cylinder inline engine (good 'uns too pricey), Audi TT (good 'uns too pricey), 3.0 and 3.2 litre Alfa Romeo (good 'uns too pricey) ...see a pattern developing here?

Then, having accepted that I'd be hanging onto my trusty Beemer for the forseeable future, or at least until that elusive lottery win suddenly happened, what should turn up but a car that ticked most of the boxes including that damned budgetty one. So I nipped down to Cahors and snapped it up. Er, not quite that simple. Firstly I had to arrange insurance, then arrange a 'cheque de banque' (involved a 40 mile drive St. Leonard de Noblat and back), and then book travel (train west to Limoges, then train south to Cahors). Ideally, I should have driven down to see the car (nearly 200 miles there and back) before making these arrangements, but I couldn't be arsed, and, anyway, after intensive questioning via the internet (plus a single confusing phone call - the seller's command of English was on a par with my understanding of French, i.e. practically zero) I was convinced the car was a good 'un, and, if it wasn't, I could always say "no thanks" and hop back on a homeward train. Fortunately, everything was groovy so, as I said, I snapped it up and boogied back north in my new acquisition while listening to the tuneful purr of one of the world's finest engines.

Next, unload the Beemer. But before composing a Leboncoin ad I had to get the car through a Controle Technic test (French equivalent of an MoT - if you sell a car it has to have a less than six months old CT... and mine was seven months old). Er, it failed. Dodgy front steering arms, or summink. As I write, the car is in the local Peugeot garage awaiting collection having been fitted with with new wotsit thingys. Neighbour Isabelle has kindly offered to drive me down there in an hour's time. So..., tomorrow I prepare the car for sale. Ooh, it's all go.

Meanwhile, daft as it may sound, I still find myself trawling the internet for bikes and cars. Well, not so much for cars due to exhaustion in hunting for the ideal Alfa. Anyways, here's a trio of bikey gems that have tickled my fancy...

First off, a 1978 350cc CCM trials bike in excellent nick with a price tag of £11,999, offers considered. Hmm, bit pricey methinks, but maybe someone will snap it up. Or maybe not!

Next, a little cracker. An immaculate 1979 Honda 400-4 that's only done just under 2000 miles, up for grabs at £9495. Love it. Need a lottery win.

And finally, my ideal bike if I wasn't so crippled with the aches and pains of being a geriatric old fart, a year 2000, 50th anniversary limited edition, Honda VFR800, in mint condition, with only 5716 miles and a very reasonable asking price of £5495. If I win tonight's lottery, that bike will be in my shed by this time next week.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Doc advised daily walks to stem further physical decomposition. But walking without canine company is boring. So, a couple of months back, I lashed out on a Westie pup. Thought of calling the impish bundle of mischief Rabies. Or maybe Pavlov. But opted for a rather boring Hamish instead. I'd forgotten the negative aspects of puppy ownership, such as puddles and poo indoors. And chewed furniture, clothes, bedclothes, door frames and various other items. Anyway, touch wood, we seem to be over the worst bit now. However, he's taken to rolling in cow and deer poo. Smelly! So he gets hosed down in the shower. Seems to think it's a fun game. Ah well, c'est la vie.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I have a mobile phone which never gets used. It's a 25(?) year old Nokia about the size of a small brick that I purchased in a rash moment when people told me that not having a mobile phone was thoroughly unprofessional. I think I used the damned thing barely a dozen times before stuffing it in a drawer. I don't use it in France because it's still registered in the UK so calls cost an arm and a leg.

Anyways..., what with worrying about having a heart attack when out walking, or being marooned due to a mechanical breakdown with car or motorbike, or being separated from Georgie in a crowded supermarket, I grudgingly accepted that the time had come to take a giant step into the 21st Century by investing in one of these modern smart phone thingys. But which one?

Read a few internet reports where the Apple iPhone appeared to be item of choice by the trendies. Then read other reports that implied they weren't worth their premium prices. Cheaper phones were just as good, if not better. Then discovered that the new and very expensive Apple iPhone 6 was prone to bending. Not good. Choice was then further complicated by Georgie saying that choosing a phone was easy-peasy compared to choosing an operational contract system plan thingy.

With mind boggled and decision making process well and truly scuppered, I sought the help and advice of an enthusiastic, and English-speaking, sales assistant in the electrical goods department of the vast LeClerc supermarket complex at Gueret. After much umming, ahhing, ooing and asking loads of stupid questions, I eventually plumped for a Samsung S5 Mini with a cheap'n'cheerful pay as you go contract thingy which can be upgraded at a later date if that particular contract is found to be inappropriate. Job done.

Since that fateful day (about three weeks ago) I've been attempting to figure out how this smart example of advanced technology operates. I'm still totally baffled, but can now switch the thing on, make a call, take a photo, change the photo's size and recharge the battery. I presume this scientific masterpiece has at least 5,724 other capabilities all of which are immediately apparent to any spotty faced layabout under the age of ten. Kids' stuff. Unfortunately, being post-youth by about five decades (otherwise known as youthleth) I remain totally oblivious to what those capabilities are.

However, complex or not, it's now sort of taken over as my camera. Far easier to stuff in a trouser pocket. Took some snaps t'other day out back on an evening stroll. The trees up the back lane are now in full foliage. If I can dig out some earlier snaps it'll be interesting to compare them with how it looks now. Good views from up the back hill, especially on a sunny June soirée. I think it was a couple of days after the longest day. Took a snap of the tree shadow hitting the back of the house just before the sun went down at its most northerly point on the western horizon (I do this every year, don't know why). The selection also includes the first snap I took with the phone - the morning view out of a downstairs window. And..., a piccy of the local watering hole on market day (last Friday) where I perched myself on a barstool and ordered a grand créme and a syrop citron while Georgie was off buying flowery stuff from her fave market stall.

Right, shall now attempt to load 'em up.

Honda CBR1000f

Drove to Plauzat (just south of Clermont-Ferrand) on Sunday to look at a Honda CBR1000f for sale. Yes I know I've only recently bought a darned good Transalp, but it's a wee bit tall for an old git with short legs like moi, and it's a wee bit underpowered when two-up. So I thought I'd take a quick look at something a bit oomphier and lower just to see if it was as good as it sounded in the ad (they usually ain't, but this one was).

Anyways..., inspection over, we decided on a leisurely drive home up the cross country back roads through the glorious volcanic hills of the Auvergne. Seemed much more sensible than whizzing back the way we'd come via those boring main roads. And very glad we were too that we'd made that decision. We passed through some lovely towns such as Saint-Nectaire, Murol and Le Mont-Dore, and it's always a treat to drive through the Auvergne hills on a sunny day with wide, clear views. We stopped off for a coffee and sarnie at a hilltop caff (La Buron du Col de la Croix Morand, I found out afterwards by searching the internet). Apparently it's under ten feet of snow in winter. Hard to imagine on a gloriously sunny day like Sunday.

P.S. Returned to Plauzat the following week (7 July) by public transport (7.12am bus from Felletin to Montluçon, two hour wait, 10.36 train to Clermont-Ferrand, arrived 12.01, temperature a sweltering 39°, met by bike seller who drove us to Plauzat). Paperwork done, I hit the road (around 2ish?) and returned home via the same route as the previous week, stopping again at the hilltop caff. Arrived home 4.30ish.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Le Mans '15

Just over a year ago the surgeon chopped off the end of my toe. This was the result of a dodgy ticker, a blocked artery at the top of my leg and bad circulation - blood wasn't reaching a couple of toes of my left foot. Bit like frostbite. I remember at the time thinking maybe this marks the end of my motorcycling days. So I sold the bike and had an empty garage over winter. Come spring, my foot felt a bit better so I thought I'd chance it and have a final motorcycling fling before hanging up my leathers and binning my helmet. Wasn't sure my lack of physical mobility would mean that boarding a bike would be an impossibility but, what the heck, I'd give it a try. So I bought a cheap and cheerful old banger of a bike for €3000 (sight unseen, apart from a few photos), had it delivered and stuck it in the shed. A few days later I eventually boarded the bike and had a quick spin up the back lanes. Luckily all went well. Had it gone badly I'd have sold the bike and given up.

With the MotoGP season in full swing, the French GP at Le Mans loomed. Mentioned it to Georgie who immediately went online and booked two tickets. That done, I then booked an hotel just outside Tours, about 60 miles from Le Mans (most of the closer ones were already fully booked). We then had a two-up trial run just to see if we could manage a little spin without falling off, getting cramp or suffering muscle spasms. Again, luckily, all went well. Er..., apart from discovering my old leathers no longer fitted (waistline expanded due to lack of exercise) and nor did my biker boots (feet expanded due to water retension in lower legs). Getting old is rubbish.

Anyways..., left home last Saturday morning at around 11ish and headed north following the route Gueret, Poitiers, Tours. Luckily the weather was average with only one teeny weeny bit of rain. I didn't have any wet weather gear due to a) it not fitting any more, and b) not having panniers to put it in (Georgie had a rucksack but that was full of whatever stuff she puts in there). Arrived at the hotel at around 5.30ish (Les Fontaines, Rochecorbon). Very nice place, still retained much of its original charm, hadn't been ponced up and ruined like so many hotels that have been 'modernised'. They didn't do evening meals so we hopped back on the bike and raided a restaurant just up the road (Restaurant de l'Embarcadere, Rochecorbon). Had a fab bit of grub followed by a sundown amble on the banks of the Loire where Georgie pointed out various flowery bits (including fig trees) that obviously flourish in the warm micro climate of this wine region. Then boogied back to the hotel for an early night.

Sunday morn dawned sunny with a big blue sky. Great. No need for wet weather gear. Hit the road at around 8.30ish after a pleasant brekkie which gave us loads of time to travel the 60 miles to Le Mans for the first race at 11. But..., there were massive traffic jams approaching the circuit. We eventually stood trackside (by the Rossi fan club stand) with three minutes to spare. Heard the 125cc race start but couldn't see it due to being vertically challenged and standing behind row upon row of giants. (Er..., I thought they seemed extremely fast for 125s so I just checked what engines they use. Well, knock me down with a feather, they're not 125s, they are in fact 250s. And single cylinder four-strokes at that. Learn summat new every day.) Caught sight of the big screen and checked for Danny Kent's position. Bah, not listed, must have fallen off. (Wrong. He was actually way down in almost last place due to qualifying in yesterday's rainy session.) By about the fourth lap he was around 17th. About ten laps later he was tailing the leading pack. With one lap to go he was 3rd. Unfortunately he finished 4th, but what a ride! Hero.

 For the next race (Moto2, 600cc bikes) we left the giants and headed for the zig-zag bend after the start straight. Discovered more giants. Only saw glimpses of the track with an occasional flash as a rider whizzed by. Heard 'em though. Georgie missed this race due to queueing for a bottle of water so I could take my lunchtime powder medication. I'd have happily chewed the powder but Georgie insisted it had to be taken with water. She queued for a good half hour or more with me standing on higher ground waiting. So we both missed the race. Bit later we spotted a tap by the medics' cabin that people were using for a quick drink. No queues. Ah well, c'est la vie.

Next up was the main race. But first we had to endure 45 minutes (or was it an hour?) of standing in the midday sun waiting for the riders to get prepared. As I didn't have a hat I perched my sweatshirt on my head in a vain attempt to avoid sunburn. Could have stood in the shade of an adjacent stand but would have lost my reasonable viewing position. Ooh, it was hot. Standing there in leather trousers, shifting weight from one foot to the other, then back again, and repositioning a badly behaved sweatshirt back on my head after it had slowly slid down my back or over my face, was not great fun. Time dragged. Oh for a seat. And oh for some shade. If we come here again we're booking a seat in that shady stand with an uninterrupted view of the track. Oh yes.

After what seemed an eternity, the bark of a distant engine announced the arrival of the main event. The bikes whizzed past as they headed for the start. Then whizzed past again on their warm up lap. Then whizzed past again in a blur as the race began. Then, suddenly, it was over. Lorenzo had won, Rossi second and Dovizioso third. Time to go home.

 Legged it back to the bike park with 100,000 others. Eventually found the bike, donned gear onto sweaty bod, jumped aboard and joined the thousands of other bikes jostling and wobbling onto chocabloc exit roads. Nightmare. Then hit a vaguely open road, notched out of bottom and second gears, wound her up and felt the relief of coolish air entering a hot helmet. Then a welcome stop for petrol and coffee about an hour up the road. Loads of bikers. Then same again after another hour. And again. Missed the Limoges turn off at Poitiers so lost an hour at dusk. Dark by the time we hit the autoroute to Gueret. Arrived home at 11.30, knackered and shivering. Well worth the effort though. Woke up Monday morning with sunburn. Ouch.