April 25th – Jurassic Park …

Teenagers have a way with words. When my cousin, Ella, was about 15, her father, a single parent of three, sent her to stay with Mum so that he could take a bit of a break. The Isle of Wight has been a popular summer resort since the Victorian times and generations of children have enjoyed summers synonymous with grazed knees, banana sandwiches, shrimping nets, sandy underpants, skinny-dipping, first dances, first kisses, first … Ah, halcyon days!

However , as foreign travel became affordable to the masses, the mild climate and holiday atmosphere spawned a rash of old people’s homes. While the families still descend from London in August, the Island has attracted the nickname of “God’s Waiting Room” for the rest of the year. And, unfortunately, a seaside town out of season is never going to cut it with a bored teen.

Not all the old folk here are anonymous inmates of residential care homes. In common with many of her contemporaries, Mum herself chose to ‘retire’ to the Isle of Wight after my father died. Our family have strong links with the Island. I was spending my summer holidays here, racing keelboats from the local sailing club and, to Mum, it seemed the most natural thing to do. However, when she announced her plans, my grandmother told her, “You’ll live till you’re 100 and go mad. Everyone does.”

Sitting down to lunch in the Club dining room, Ella surveyed Mum’s lame, deaf and toothless friends. “Ugh, me-no-paus-al …”, she huffed, “do we really HAVE to eat in Jurassic Park!”

That was twenty years ago. But the name seemed so apt, it stuck. We had lunch there today. Not much has changed. Only now, sadly, it is Mum and her contemporaries who are the fossils.

Founded in 1886, the sailing club is the oldest on the Island. It boasts three competitive classes for adult sailors and a growing reputation as a centre of excellence for sail training for youngsters from age 8 and up. Progress indeed, since I was a child, when under-18’s were not allowed to cross the gravel in front of the clubhouse (a pre-fab wooden cricket pavilion, constructed by Boulter and Paul of Norwich circa 1896), let alone set foot in the dining room! Until the 70’s, we were confined to the Dinghy Club (started in 1925 by David Niven and a friend), and just barely tolerated on the basis that we were neither seen nor heard by the senior members. Any accidental trespass into the adults’ territory was invariably met with a severe rebuke from any one of a dozen purple-faced moustaches lining the bar room balcony. But that was then.

Nowadays, throughout the winter (except when the footie is on Sky at the Village Inn), the Club is the focus of our social circle. Summer too, though the landscape changes a bit after Easter with the arrival of the London set, keen to secure places for their children on Cadet Week. These people are generally my contemporaries, though I am always slightly shocked to see how we have all aged. Terrifyingly, their children are now of an age to be organising Dinghy Club events themselves.

As the weather warms up, the older year-round residents take refuge in their gardens, reliquishing their Scrabble and bridge evenings in favour of more nautically-inspired events for the under-60’s, “the young”! Even so, there are moments when one could be forgiven for mistaking the Club dining room for some sort of posh retirement home.

“Do you want pudding, Mr Hamilton?”, asks a young waitress.
What is it?”, comes the reply.
“Rhubarb Crumble or Chocolate Torte”.
“Chocolate sauce, eh? Yes, I’ll think I’ll have vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.”
“Err, we can do vanilla ice cream, but we don’t have chocolate sauce, I’m afraid.”
“No chocolate sauce? Then why did you offer it? I’ll just have vanilla ice cream, thank you.” Then, in a stage whisper, “Really, I don’t know where they find these waitresses … ”
I don’t know either, but I swear they are some of the most patient teenagers you will find anywhere. Our waitress moves on.
“Pudding, Mrs Pilchard?”
“Sorry, what?”
“Would you like desert, Mrs Pilchard?”
“Oooh yes! What is it?”
“Rhubard Crumble or Chocolate Torte”.
“With custard? I do like home-made custard, don’t you? What did you say the choices were …?”

“Me” time

I got a bit bored with the duck theme and thought the site could do with a bit of a makeover. I’ve gone back to the original theme, but let me know if you want your duck back. LOL. I felt we’d got a bit stale, so I thought I’d start this year’s riding season with a blog entry. But don’t feel obliged to follow suit. Some ride reports would be nice, but feel free to keep things going with the odd joke, or anything else really …

After a couple of months of nursing and housekeeping for mum, I was, in John’s words, becoming a “right moody bint”! I certainly felt overdue for some “me” time, so John and I caught an early ferry over to the mainland and went for a bike ride. The excuse, as if I needed one, was that we needed to flick the duster over our London house and collect the post. John generally goes up once a week, but our joint absence gave Mum the opportunity to “manage” on her own for the day for the first time in nine months. Anyway, I had booked a test ride …

Since our last American trip, John has been on about buying a Triumph Thunderbird for the next one. The Thunderbird does nothing for me, and John knows it. But he is determined to “buy British” and I suppose I ought to salute his patriotism – even if it does mean another trip punctuated with detours to uncooperative Triumph dealers. Talking to Willie over Skype a few weeks back, I said if John went ahead and bought a Triumph cruiser, I would be tempted to buy a well-known American marque.  I could then be sure of finding a dealer when I (inevitably) needed one and it would, after all these years, make sense of all those T-shirts! Willie didn’t take me seriously and, to be fair, I was half joking. But, as luck would have it, a couple of days later my copy of Bike Magazine dropped through the letter box … with a full page ad encouraging folks to test ride a Harley. Must be fate, me thinks. So I entered my vital statistics(!) on the Harley site and let it choose a suitable bike for me. And that, my friends, is how I ended up riding a Road King Classic … amongst other things.

The dealer is located in Guildford, so we were close to both highway and some really lovely country roads … and the weather was gorgeous. I only had the Road King for an hour, but I discovered plenty that I wouldn’t have guessed by looking at it – not all of it, I have to say, good. The bike got some admiring glances out on the A3 … and I got some bemused ones. Luckily, at 80mph (I didn’t know Harleys went that fast LOL), I didn’t have time to explain that the bike wasn’t mine. Like the Queen, simply smile and wave, smile and wave … Then again, if I’d thought about all those leafy lanes and picturesque Surrey villages, I probably wouldn’t have booked the ride at all. The first junction we came across was a mini-roundabout. Eek! Mercifully, the bike turned out to be a lot nimbler than the supertanker I had feared it might be. Suffice to say, I delivered the bike back to the dealer unblemished, with a numb butt and a very big grin on my face. May be, just may be …

Talking about our plans back at the showroom, John mentioned the Thunderbird (he couldn’t be tempted to try the Road King). All credit to him, the nerdy salesman (much more interested in promoting his own custom bikes than selling a stock model) directed us down the road to Bramley, where there is a very amenable Triumph dealer. And that, my friends, is how I ended up riding a 2300cc (140 in³) Rocket III!

I’m glad I pushed John into riding the Thunderbird. It was such a nice day and we were having fun. We rocked up at the Triumph dealer on spec and asked if he happened to have a Thunderbird demo that we could test.

He did, and we could.

Parked next to the Thunderbird, there was a Rocket III. “Now that’s a cool bike”, I said, “why not go for one of those.” “Too big”, said John, “and for France we would have to detune it to 106 bhp.” “Shame”, says I, “sounds plenty to me.” Seeing that John wasn’t interested in the Rocket, the salesman asked if I’d like to take it out. Is the Pope a catholic?! (On second thoughts, please don’t answer that. But you know what I mean.)

In the end, I rode both the Rocket and the Thunderbird, but I’ll stick with my opinion that the Rocket is a better bike. Mad, of course. But better. The (non-stock) gel seat and riding position were more comfortable for me than the Road King. My only quibble was that it felt heavy on the roundabouts (we have lots of “circles” in England), which seemed odd for something so powerful. Surprisingly, the Road King handled better. I wondered whether the tyre pressures weren’t a little low. The only thing I could compare the Rocket with was Doug’s Valkyrie, and there really isn’t much similarity. I remember the Honda as being much lighter and easier to ride. Even so, I think John may be a convert. We both agreed that, while the Thunderbird was more stable at slow speeds, it seemed a bit light at the front end. Odd. Skittish almost.

It is all rather academic anyway as, until we sell our London house, we can’t afford to buy anything. The dealers didn’t seem to mind, though we conveniently forgot to tell them that we would likely buy our next bikes in the States.