“No good deed ever goes unpunished”

This was the motto of a former boss of mine: a successful marine arbitrator with fingers in all sorts of other business pies, whose dubious associates and disastrous home life never failed to add a touch of levity to a dull day in the office.

Over the next few months, I expect this site might take on a new usefulness to Roynie and myself – as a pressure valve! Comment if you like, but sometimes it is just helpful to have a place to say the things you want to but, for one reason or another, cannot. The elephant in the room, if you like.

We  have become involved in a charity ride next summer.  There are, presently, just three riders and we each have a personal involvement with the charity, through a friend or family member. We also have the potential participation of a certain VIP, about whom I can say little (mainly because he may yet decide not to ride with us), but for whom Roynie and Jim (not “our” Jim, before you ask) are having to dust off their Sunday suits for a posh meeting in London.

The VIP – and the ride – are my fault.  The result of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.  One day I got an email from my cousin suggesting that we might like to participate in a 6,500 mile round trip from Scotland to Russia and back and, without giving it much further thought, I said “yes”.  Potential costly mistake one. Then I mentioned it to a fellow motorcycle fanatic at our local sailing club and he suggested that said personality enjoys the odd boys’ bike trip.  Anyway, having sent him an email via a mutual friend, we were slightly relieved when he said “no”, and then slightly worried to receive a second email response, a few days later, saying “may be”. Potential mistake two. He doesn’t have a bike of his own so, while making sponsorship overtures to a well-known British manufacturer, in the meantime I have acquired an extra bike: a bright yellow, 2002, BMW R1150GS. Costly mistake three? I truly hope not.

The organiser, Jim, is a great guy.  He is a retired engineer with absolutely no experience of motorcycle touring at all and his longest ride to date has been about 400 miles from his Berkshire village to Scotland.  His chosen bike is a BMW F800ST (a sports bike). But, as John and I well know, lack of experience and unsuitable bikes are no barrier to adventure.  (Those of you who rode with us in 2001 will remember that the Triumph Tiger was John’s first bike, and previously he had only ridden about 300 miles in total on mine.) Unfortunately, having no experience of a ride of this distance/duration, and clearly having been watching too much TV, he decided we needed a support vehicle: a mobile “garage” in the form of a modified horse box.

Thankfully, I doubt there will ever be any need to vent about interpersonal issues on this trip.  However, the horse box is a different matter. And it is precisely because Jim has taken such a pride in doing it up and finding a driver to accompany us across fourteen international borders, that we find ourselves unable to suggest that his mobile garage might be a teensy-weensy bit of a liability.

The makings of a book?  May be.  Anyway, if you are of a masochistic nature and have a hankering to visit Europe, you could always link up with us (as Len has promised to do) somewhere along the trail. It might be a laugh.

If you want to know more about the mission or even donate to the cause, click here to have a look at our official website.

November 7th – Home is where the craic* is

I’m writing again. This is a good thing – for me if not for you! After months of worry over the sale of our house in London, I rather lost the motivation. It wasn’t that blog-worthy stories didn’t occur, it was simply that any flashes of inspiration seemed to vanish as quickly as they had appeared. Anyway, a lot of what I wanted to write was just so damn depressing that no one would have wanted to read it. But that’s all in the past. Now we’re in Ireland.

Ireland? To bring you up to speed, one of the incentives for selling up in London (quite apart from not having the tedium of repairing damage caused by our charming, but careless, young tenants), was to use some of the equity to rebuild John’s family home in the West of Ireland. This has been a dream of ours since he and Mike bought back the ruined farmhouse from the forestry company in 1998. Why the farm was sold in the first place or how the house came to be destroyed by fire, makes for an interesting story in itself, but it would be too long in the telling. Suffice to say that John’s father passed away happy in the knowledge that his childhood home would be rebuilt and that the “new” flagstones, laid by John’s grandfather during the 60’s, might once again ring with the sound of music and laughter.

People around here remember the flagstones. They were the best in the neighbourhood and perfect for dancing.

The ruin is a sad sight now. One gable end was deliberately pushed in shortly after the fire and, as the years passed, wind and weather have gradually taken their toll on the weakened structure. Brambles and rushes have now overwhelmed what remains of the internal walls and chimney breast.

Rebuilding was never a realistic option. The farmhouse had a traditional layout consisting of a large central living room in which all cooking and entertaining took place, a large bedroom at one end, and two smaller ones at the other (one of which was also used to store salt pork, and sides of bacon hung from the ceiling). John remembers Aunt Gret cooking in a cauldron or on a bakestone over an open fire. There was no bathroom. Water for was brought up from a well each day and the surrounding fields served as a latrine. Even so, the family home is remembered for its craic.

The original house was, as our architect put it, a tad on the tidy side. Too small for modern-day living. In any event, planning regulations did not allow us to use the old footprint, as it was too close to the boundary. So we designed ourselves a spacious new three bedroom bungalow. The old cow cabin and cart shed together provided enough stone to level the site and, weather permitting, the foundations should go in this week. And, yes, we do hope to salvage those flagstones for our new living room.

In the meantime, John and I have a house-worth of furniture on our hands. Contemplating the cost of a year or so’s storage in the UK, coupled with a few weeks’ tourist accommodation, we decided it made economic sense to rent a house locally for the duration of the build. And here we are.

Having lived like a nomad out of suitcases for the last few weeks, I found myself having a Maureen O’Hara moment.  No sooner had John turned the key in the front door, than I was complaining that I wanted “me tings about me”*. In particular, having set off the smoke alarm twice cooking breakfast on Saturday, I needed my own pots and pans. A functioning washing machine would be a bonus too, along with an address …

Yes, it’s true. We have no idea of our address or, indeed, whether this house actually has one. Quite possibly, it doesn’t. Our building site is known locally as “Johnny Paddy’s”. Before the old house came to John, it belonged to his uncle, Johnny. So why “Johnny Paddy”? Rural Ireland was, until recently, populated by enormous families (John’s father had 16 siblings, 13 of whom survived into adulthood). Over the centuries, cousins have necessarily married cousins, albeit distant ones, and local surnames proliferated, with many instances of the same surname appearing in both sides of a family tree. John, of course, is a popular boys’ name. Since roads and houses didn’t have names, in order that the postman could differentiate between men of the same name that lived locally, it was customary to add the father’s name, in this case Pat or Paddy, John’s grandfather. Hence, “Johnny Paddy’s”. Perfectly logical. Even today, it isn’t necessary for a house to have a name. A friend of ours routinely found his mail on the front seat of his (unlocked) Volvo.

* Craic is an Irish term variously translated as fun, entertainment or gossip, depending on the context.
* From the 1952 film, “The Quiet Man”, where the plot revolves around the refusal of O’Hara’s “brother” to hand over a dowry of furniture and money, having discovered that he has been duped into allowing her to marry John Wayne.