The Adventurer

Bank Holiday Season

Lots of bank holidays recently/soon… and I’ve managed to make use of some, not of others.

But first up, recent gigs:

  • Augustines (formerly We Are Augustines) – at Koko.  I can’t figure out if these guys are a guilty pleasure, or genuinely good.  But in any case – another good gig.  They just seem so stoked to be playing.  Mandatory encore, acoustic song from balconyexcursion into crowd, cover of a ‘local’/semi-topical band/song.  Overall, good.  I’m going to take some of their optimism, and rescind my earlier predictions that they would become more and more annoyingly earnest.
  • John Butler Trio – at Brixton Academy.  Good.  Except, as soon as I reached the venue, I remembered… “there are going to be a lot of australians here”… and sure enough, the sheer volume of cheap shiny faux-leather, leopard-skin prints, and just general loudness – spectacular.  Although I started wondering, how different was this from a Black Seeds gig – with the “young-kiwi-in-london” crowd?  After some amateur postulation over mini-bottle after mini-bottle of Black Tower, I decided it boils down to aussies being full of self-confident naivete, while kiwis are self-aware naivete… or perhaps self-conscious naivete… can’t decide.  Anyway – John Butler Trio… good.  Very good, really enjoyed the gig.  Plenty of energetic songs done by the Trio, a few more extended classic John Butler solo efforts.  And, of course, some preachin’.
  • Devendra Banhart – at the Barbican.  Actually, Devendra was the 1st act, main act was Rokia Trao – and the show was the kickoff event for Nonesuch Records 50-year celebrations at the Barbican.  I’m considering grabbing tickets for more events.  But the one I did go to so far – it was obvious a very large proportion of the crowd was solely there to see Devendra Banhart – even though he was doing this solo/acoustic.  And as such, had nobody to rein in his completely random ramblings when he did start speaking between songs.  Or give him direction when he foolishly opened the floor for the crowd to start requesting songs.  But – when he did play, it was rather good.  I stayed around to check out Rokia Traore – and was glad I did.  Really good – I can’t find any videos of that particular gig, but one from recently, which looks rather similar.. or a video of a full concert from last year, which again looks very similar, excepting the setting – including when she really gets going at about the hour mark.  What is it about Mali, that generates so many spectacular musicians?
  • Nick Lowe – at the Union Chapel.  Always going to be good, and it was.  It was just last night, so no videos available on the youtube yet, but – rest assured, good.  About half the show, just him and his guitar.  Then for the second half, he had John Paul Jones (as in, Led Zeppelin) playing bass.

Bike rides:

  • Easter, meandered towards Wales, spent two days just criss-crossing every National Park I could find… the Black Mountains… awesome.  One amazing road, and several other just really really good ones.  The main danger, being nervous sheep – there were a couple which looked like they were going to jump right in my path, but luckily – no such thing happened.  Then on the Monday, meandered my way back towards London, picking random B-roads, ofttimes finding that I’d gone in a circle, or was heading away from London.  But all good… until a pheasant hit me.  Or rather, I should say, I hit a pheasant… at 70 mph.  Right in the centre of the chest, which was probably quite lucky – if it had hit an arm, handlebar, I’m guessing I could quite easily have dropped handlebar, and/or even swerved quite wildly.  But – nope, just a good solid kick to the chest, and the head must have hit my helmet – as I certainly took a little blow to the helmet/head somehow.  But, I stayed on, and stayed going… once I’d checked I was still in a straight line, and head was straight too… checked I wasn’t holding a dazed bird in my lap – but no such luck.  And with white-line-fever, I didn’t bother going back to see if it was dazed or dead on the road.  Regret that now…  somebody told me that it was illegal to ‘claim’ roadkill if you were the driver… but I believe that isn’t actually true.  In any case, probably would have been quite tricky hanging a pheasant in my apartment.
  • Last weekend – headed south.  Criss-crossed the South Downs national park several times, before finding a hotel at Bognor Regis to stay the night.  Turns out that the hotel was your stereotypical colonial-times hotel, with all the sorts of practices one reads about in Agatha Christie novels.  Designed for tour groups.  Dinner at a certain time, with your choice of meal made at breakfast.  A ballroom, the Garden Room, big lawns, bar open at very specific times, etc etc.  And the town – a typical “British seaside resort” town.  Pier, ‘amusement centres’, cheap restaurants, bad fish and chips, bad beach, rental deckchairs, and then Butlins… I’d never seen a Butlins, or similar, before – and even now – I just rode past it.  But it, and several other neighbouring similar entities – is apparently a ‘holiday camp’.  I think it’s just a hotel, and some sort of ‘so-called-fun park’ rolled into one?  I don’t really get it… it’s like they’ve found a place where it would be good to have a holiday, like the seaside… and then built this big complex there, designed such that you would never actually go visit/see/experience the reason for the location being a good holiday destination.  I just don’t get it.
    Anyway – next day, got up – keen to leave this place in my rearview mirror… discovered I didn’t have a clutch.  Realised this was most likely to my clutch fluid being effectively empty… couldn’t get the plate off to refill, neither could AA guy… settled in for a long van ride back to London – but recovery guy suggested he have a go, did so – got it off, sweet – refilled – I was off on my way.  Found myself in the Cotswald Water Park… and once again, I found myself confused.  Similar to Bognor Regis – it seemed like just dozens and dozens of ‘holiday camps’, based around, and encroaching on, a similar number of bad lakes… bad in that I couldn’t tell if they were natural, but ruined by the man-made nonsense going on around them… or artificial – and therefore just inherently bad, as man-made attempts at water features normally are.  Happy Land.  At one point, I discovered the tiny dirty country lane I was riding on, about to leave – was called “Happy Land”.  Not “Happy Land Lane”, or “Happy Land Row”, or “Happy Land Road”… just “Happy Land”.   Happy Land smelt quite a lot of the cowshit it was covered in.  After a day of randomly riding in circles, including through Avebury (home to Europe’s largest neolithic stone circle) several times, found a very nice road from Marlborough-Avebury… I need to remember and revisit… nice corners, hills, a big white horse on the hill, neolithic stones… everything – settled into a hotel in Marlborough… where it seems some family reunion or similar was in progress, with parents very drunk, and unsupervised children running around the hotel/pub – and it seems that at one point a food fight had taken place (parents or children – unknown).
    Monday – more meandering, before finally joining the A40, and making my way into the heart of London.  When, just as I am in the right-hand lane of what is effectively, if not officially, a motorway – heading up an overpass… my rear tyre goes.  Flat/burst/punctured – whatever… I’m in the middle of very very busy traffic, all impatiently driving home after the long weekend.  I pull over to the right of the right hand lane… hazard lights on… trying to make myself the smallest target/nuisance as possible… pull out the phone to dial somebody, anybody – maybe police? – just about to dial… phone switches itself off, no battery.  Awesome.  But, as it happens – I was right next to a police headquarters – they must have spotted me – sent a truck, which blocked traffic – I pushed my bike off the motorway to a nearby side-street, called roadside assistance from a payphone, and sat down to wait 2 hours to be picked up.
  • This weekend – picked up the bike, after having both tyres replaced, full service, MOT.  Should be safe again now – and I’m pretty sure the clutch fluid, and rear tyre going – were both my own fault… I hadn’t checked clutch fluid for a long time… and rear tyre, I had noticed was getting a little bald… just didn’t realise how bad it actually was.  In the future – much more diligent.  So, bike is as good as new now… rode it into town, did some shopping – mostly ridiculously overpriced clothing/accessories.  Then remembered that ridiculously overpriced places love to package their stuff in ridiculously over-sized packaging.  So, ended up riding home with a big luxury brand name shopping bag hanging from one handlebar, my mochila/backpack crammed full of other stuff – during a period when it seemed the rain had stopped (which it did, mostly)

So – sitting here now, with post-shopping regret… nearly every ridiculously over-priced item purchased was wrong for one reason or another.  Still, it was a nice day out.  Now – off to do more shopping, but today – cheap stuff, food, anything which will assist me in using up all the tinned foods I bought 2 years ago, as “ingredients for emergency meals” – but which I have never used, and will apparently expire next month.  I see some uninteresting meal options between now and flying to NZ.

Storms, flooding, gales, bog fires

Britain – stormy weather, flooding, bursts of wind pushing my bike over, and bog fires.  And Russell Brand doing his best Michael Moore impression (trying to argue for something which is worth arguing for… but in such a bad way that he looks like an idiot, and damages the argument in doing so).  I’m reconsidering my New Year’s Resolution of becoming British.  Speaking of which, an update on such Resolutions:

Becoming British: Mixed results… finished studying my “Life in the UK” book – telling me all about how “Britain is a fantastic place to live…”.  But haven’t done much about it since… need to book myself an exam I think, before I forget “the values and principles of the UK”.   Slightly related – have signed up to English Heritage  – with free entry to all sorts of castles, historic sites, etc, etc.

Eating one-handed: Mixed results… probably succeeding in this about as much as I normally do anyway.  Should have, could have, come up with a better worded/intended Resolution.

Drink water: Mixed results… generally doing quite well.  Drinking lots of water whenever I’m “in routine”… ie: at home, or at the London office.  But any deviation from routine – where I don’t have my water bottles reminding me… not so good.

Side-project resolutions: Mixed results… still on plan to get rid of all my hair, probably when next in NZ – allow niece/nephews to cut it off.  Or somewhere/sometime when there’s some sun, but not too much sun; North Korea is looking unlikely this year… trip to NZ might preclude a trip to NK soon thereafter; I’ve started back on the rowing maching, but not as religiously as in 2012… and running out of suitable TV material to watch while exercising.

All in all – a poor set of Resolutions, looking back.  I blame that on 2013… its effects linger on.


Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – all right.  That’s about it.

Phoenix – really good.  Quite enjoyed this one… a bit louder than I expected, as gigs often are.  More energy brought to the live set, or whatever.  But yeah – no one extra-special thing, just good music, decent energy, decent lighting… adding up to rather good.

Bill Callahan – good.  I was rather tired for this one… after Phoenix on Wednesday, and a team dinner/drinks in Kent on Thursday.  So – off the train back from Kent on Friday evening, head home, change, head to Royal Festival Hall.  Find I’ve got a very sweet seat, nice and civilised like.  So settle in for the gig… but the seat was a mixed blessing.  I think I dozed off near the end… but overall, a nice quiet evening.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – very, very good.  Opening act: Harper Simon, son of Paul.  At the end of his set, announced all his ‘merch’ was available for free.  Then the main act… just really, really good.  Straight away – it was obviously going to be good.  Just so much energy, stage presence (easy when there’s 10 of you I guess), with such original/varied songs… and then there was the crowd interaction.  Inviting members of the crowd to sing a verse (which worked amazingly well), or play harmonica; inviting crowd members onto stage to sing/dance/hug (which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before is nearly always a sign of a great gig… I don’t know how/why/which-direction the cause-effect is).  And of course, their hit song at the end – which annoyed me for some reason (I expected a more original setlist) – but they did it rather well.  And played, I believe – well past the official curfew.

The Adventurer… haven’t been out on it too often recently.  Storms, flooding, gales, and bog fires – you know.  But – did go out one weekend… before I realised there were storms, flooding, etc.  Had spent a few days in the Kent office… so took the opportunity to stay out there Friday night – meaning on Saturday… I was already in the countryside – and didn’t have the 1 hour journey each way through concrete – just to get in/out of London.  So – headed to Battle… and toured the site of the Battle of Hastings, 1066… where William became the Conqueror, Harold became dead, and England became a French province.  Headed onwards… in decidedly less sunny weather… and wondering about the terrible drainage of english roads… considering (what I thought to be) very little rain recently – there was a LOT of water just flowing over the roads.  But then I started noticing fields under water.  Apparently, a lot more rain had fallen recently than I thought.  And then I hit the coast, with thoughts of a nice scenic ride along the coast.  Stopped at one beach – stretch the legs… as I prepared to head off again, sleet, gusts of wind strong enough to make me very worried about me & bike being knocked over, and then the rain.  So – onwards to Dover, trying to figure if I should go faster so that I have momentum on my side, or slowly so that if a gust of wind really threw me – it’s not a 70mph collision with a curb.  Anyway – headed on, intending to tour the Dover castle and get some hot food… but that was closed.  Headed instead to Deal, and checked out the Deal castle very quickly.  Rather smaller than the Dover one.  Still drizzling, but not stormy… headed on to Margate, arriving at a hotel just in time to watch the 2nd half of England losing to France in the rugby (I stayed quiet about 1066).  Sunday – relatively scenic route back to London.

Future – a few gigs lined up.  Need to get some more momentum on the becoming British thing.  Hope to head to the Isle of Man sometime this year.  Looks like I’m visiting New Zealand in June… don’t have definite plans/dates yet, except a flight to Rarotonga on 7th June.  Which means I’ll be missing Arcade Fire.

Back on that hoss

Firstly – a couple of gigs:

  • Cat Power – she may be cray-cray, but she can sing.  This was re-scheduled from last year, so had been looking forward to it for quite some time.  Not disappointed.  And as a bonus, as I was hanging out in the member’s bar, had a chat with the Customer Relations Officer, or some such.  And I happened to mention I was gutted to miss out on tickets to The National – scheduled for the very next night – which had effectively sold out in under 5 minutes.  She gave me her card, so I could call the next day – in case she could do something about that.  I did call, she could do something about it (had a couple of spare ‘hospitality’ or VIP tickets or something – which she’s not allowed to sell) – and I got my name on the door, and made a donation to the Roundhouse charity, for about the price of a ticket (I actually rounded it up a fair bit).
  • So – The National.  Very pleased to get into this… considering the ridiculous demand for them, and there was no way of buying ‘scalped’ tickets.  And yeah, good.  Other than new songs, rather reminiscent of the last time I saw them – didn’t play “All The Wine”, and did acoustic Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks… but I was pleased.  I do like me The National.

And then it was time to get back on that horse… or all 70 of those horses, on my sweet new bike.  I sold my old one for £70… which I felt guilty about.  It would have felt a bit better if I hadn’t got any money for it, but… I used the money for new gear, and to get a MOT (WOF) for the new one (which I’d been assured it would come with, but did not).

Anyway – the new bike.  A 1997 Triumph Adventurer… when doing a bit of research on it… one of the first reviews I read had described it using the phrase “adds dollop of crass to already glittery, faux concoction.”  This intrigued me.  But when I went on to read “…the Triumph Adventurer is about as cool and stylish as purple velvet loon pants.” – I bought the bike without ever having actually seen/touched it – let alone sat on it.  (I bought it over the phone, and had it delivered from Stoke).

I took it out for one short ride, on a slightly wet Sunday – and confirmed that it worked, an that I worked (my legs, in particular).  And then, the following Sunday – with essentially all new gear/clothing, a backpack, and the hardly-ridden bike – set off for the Czech Republic.

A couple of things came apparent:

  • My new Kriega backpack/rucksack is awesome.  I read all sorts of reviews, claiming it takes the weight off your shoulders, can hardly feel it, etc – with suitable cynicism.  But they’re all true!  Good work Kriega.  But then, any company who puts a 10 year guarantee on their backpack is probably pretty confident in their product.
  • My nerves are shot.  Riding on the motorway, every little noise, shudder, gust of wind – had my head full of visions of my front wheel falling off.  And that just got worse as I headed into Germany – on the autobahn, where one feels obligated to go even faster; and in Czechland – where the roads had lengthy stretches of constant ‘bumps’, which I could never be sure were actually in the road… and my mind was constantly coming up with possible scenarios explaining what I was feeling… most involving my bike about to fall apart underneath me, at 130km/h.

But – I made it safe-and-sound.  Caught the ferry from Dover, to Dunkirk – and then headed into Belgium.  Stayed a night at a pension in some weird small town, which seems to exist in order to allow people to come and do some pilgrimage?  There were multiple shops selling ‘religious items’, and what I think were big bottles of holy water.  But not a single restaurant/supermarket/etc willing to sell me food after about 9pm – when I arrived.  Eventually the people at the pension I was staying at – took pity on me, and cooked me a dinner.  A massive, massive dinner – which I tried very hard to finish, but could not.  And the nice man from the hotel/pension I’d originally booked a room in (but closed at 8pm – so sent me elsewhere) – offered to store my bike indoors for me.  Much appreciated.  Well done, weird little Banneux.

The next day – headed off into Germany, and the autobahns.  Some people really do go quite fast on those… but generally, probably not much more than countries which do have hard speed limits.  Anyway – I trundled along on that, once or twice winding it up to see how fast the new bike (and my nerve), was capable.  Well – my nerve failed first… I was happy to see the speedo hit 100mph.  According to one website, top speed is about 190km/h.  I don’t see any need to prove/disprove that.  Anyway – mostly headed along at the ‘recommended’ speed limit of around 130 km/h, often dropping down a bit slower and just cruising behind trucks/etc in the ‘slow lane’.  And made it all the way across Germany in a day… found a small town just before the Czech border, and eventually found a hotel/pension to book into.  Lovely place – garage for the bike… but once again food was problematic.  I’d arrived at a decent time – I thought – but still very difficult finding anything on a Monday night.  So – found an icecream bar which served beer, and bar-snacks in the form of “ham-and-cheese toast sandwiches”.  Good work Vohenstrauss.

Next day – across the border into Czechland.  From memory, the motorway between Germany & Prague wasn’t too bad.  Just the wind messing with my head, making me continuously think I was going to die.  But after Prague – eastern Czechland… particularly the right-hand ‘slow lane’… horrible horrible constant ‘judders’.  And like I said above – my mind constantly coming up with explanations for this, involving a stone in my tyre about to cause it to burst, or something snagged somewhere, about to lock a wheel completely, or just that it really was the road – but was about to cause a tyre to burst or something.  Just constant doubts/terrors.  Awesome, good fun.  But eventually made it to Pustimer, where the ridiculous hospitality began.

Ludek’s parents… without a word of english between them – guessed who I was, invited me in, and just started plying me with pivo, slivovice, and food.  I was stranded there for a couple of hours – just being bombarded with brutal quantities/qualities of hospitality, until everybody else returned from visiting castles.  More pivo & slivovice, and eventually left to go to Ludek’s auntie’s house, which she’d given over to us for the week.  So yeah – my first impression of Czech hospitality: freely given beer, slivovice, food, and a house (with a swimming pool).

Slivovice probably warrants a word here.  After having this clear liquor forced upon me… I did a quick google search, to figure out what it was I was reading.  The first half-a-dozen ‘hits’ were all news stories, about how the Czech government had banned all hard liquor for a period last year – after several deaths… from people drinking slivovice.  Apparently, quite a few cases of blindness also.  Apparently now, a popular toast is “see you later” – making fun of this.

Anyway – a few days of such hospitality, lots and lots of very hot sunshine, and a couple of bike rides around the Czech country-side… the days passed by.  I’d nearly forgotten there was a wedding involved.  But there was a wedding, so we went to that.  Very nice wedding, and very good reception.  From what I recall.  I remember somebody giving me a beer soon after I entered the reception venue (while this doesn’t sound that strange… nobody else was); I vaguely remember a haka; and I vaguely remember dancing… including one very successful “knee slide”, and two very unsuccessful knee slides (evidenced the next day by spectacular bruising… injuries now more evident (visually and pain-wise) than any lingering effects from falling off my bike).

The usual post-wedding hungover tired lazy day or two… a couple of nights in Prague (Prague is quite nice) – and then a few days taking mostly non-motorway routes back to England.  The sat-nav took me on some brilliant roads, and also some rather dodgy ones.  The Adventurer isn’t really designed for gravel roads. but it coped.  I took a detour to ride along the Rhine for a while, that was spectacular.  Koblenz valley, I think it was called – with constant castles on the skyline.  Very cool.  A night in Germany, a night in Luxembourg, and a night in Belgium – before catching a ferry from Calais back to the white cliffs of Dover, and back to London.

2,500 miles, or near to, by the end of it.  Didn’t get pulled over once – which is lucky, as it seems my left rear indicator hasn’t been working since I don’t know when.  And in France, there’s all sorts of ridiculous rules for motorists, and motorcyclists in particular.  Have to carry a breathalyser (which I did), but also – put 4 reflective stickers onto your helmet.  And they have to be such a type that they are impossible to remove, “without damaging the helmet”.  WTF?

All in all, a good trip.  And it’s probably about time I learnt how to perform some basic maintenance on the bike… overdue for the chain being cleaned/lubed/oiled.  A general clean is also overdue… I got my glittery faux concoction a little dirty over the last couple of weeks.

Just looking over photos – I’d nearly forgotten about our daytrip to Brno – visiting the castle, and the pub where your drinks are delivered to your table by model train.  Such a brilliant concept/gimmick.

EDIT: To answer the little sister’s question… by the end of it, motorways still gave me irrational fear, but I’m loving the small country roads/etc.  But I guess that’s the way it should be anyway.Booze Train

Booze TrainGermany-Belgium border

Germany-Belgium border