February 19th – Do you wanna dance?

If you put “Knockliscrane” into Microsoft’s spell checker you get “knocking shop”. Best we add our rental address to the computer’s dictionary, to avoid any awkward misunderstandings …

The build is currently being hampered by the weather, but John and I have been far from idle. Aside from route planning and writing (and rewriting) press releases for the Moscow ride, we have planned our new kitchen, researched important stuff like satellite television and home movie systems, started golf lessons, learned to make soda bread and joined two dance classes.

They are big into social dancing here in Ireland, at least in Co. Clare they are. Not just “dad dancing” , i.e. rhythmless swaying, accompanied by extravagant hand gestures while miming to the lyrics. I mean proper ballroom dancing: foxtrots, waltzes, quicksteps, and the like. Dances of which I am embarrassingly ignorant. Strictly … two left feet!  John, at least, remembers learning a waltz in his youth, and although slightly less orangutan-like in its execution than his efforts in the disco … oobee doo, hoopdeewee, I wanna be like yoo-hoo-hoo, it is still less than elegant.

To be unable to dance is not only a social handicap but can, I have discovered, prove physically hazardous. Try explaining that you can’t to a man who has spent the last four days at a wedding, who has lost the power of speech and hearing, and whose only hope of staying awake is to keep moving. No such word!

Thus, John and I spent an enjoyable Wednesday evening being taught Jive at extremely grand Woodstock Hotel and Country Club in Ennis.

I said two dance classes, didn’t I.

We came away from Wednesday’s class, determined to practice what we had learned at home. And we might have done, had we not confused matters by signing up for a Set dancing class at the local church hall.

Equal in popularity to the foxtrot and the waltz, around here, is the traditional Irish Set dance. Sets are a bit like Scottish reels but, in my experience, far more likely to be seen in pubs and at parties throughout the year.

It was a mixed ability group but, as our teacher, Tom, said, there wasn’t much to the steps – as long as you got them right – and you could learn the figures out of a book. Well, that’s the theory anyway. Women out numbered men 4 to 1, so two or three of the women were conscripted to dance as men. It’s actually quite a skill – being able to mirror the movements of your partner if you are used to being the female half of the couple!

So off we went. In twos to start with: advance, retire, step left, step right …easy. Much easier than the Jive anyway. I could get the hang of this …

Inspector ClouseauUnfortunately, I had only just got the hang of this, when Tom (a man whose teeth bear an uncanny resemblance to Peter Sellers’ Hunchback of Notre Dame),  started arranging couples in the middle of the room for the “first figure”. Uh?! The music started and, watching intently, yes, I could still make out the steps we had just practiced. Only we hadn’t been warned that we would need to move around the room with our partners – at speed! At this point it helps to know your right from your left and the difference between clockwise and anti-clockwise. It also helps to have a smaller room (John) and shorter legs (me) … Then came the second figure.

“You’ve picked a nice tempo, Tom”, commented the woman next to me, as I was recovering my balance, “nice and easy …”!!! Having danced several of these practice figures, I learned two things. First, don’t look at your feet, or you will eventually fall over them; and, second, bring a bottle of water with you.

So, tell me, alcohol and dancing … how does that work?!

February 6th – trailer for sale or rent …

I’ve had Roger Miller’s tune in my head since Friday last.

Since we sold our London house in October, we haven’t been settled anywhere for more than three weeks … and mightly tiring all this travelling is getting. I haven’t exactly helped matters by buying a second motorcycle: a 2002 BMW R1150GS, the “Yellow Peril”.  However, it gave John the excuse he needed to buy a big multi-purpose trailer … I need to have the new bike inspected by the DRIRE (déjà vu?) before it can be registered in France, and we need to get the car and all three bikes over to Ireland in May, prior to our wee Russian trip. Besides which, a trailer will probably be handy if I ever make good on my threat to buy a Harley!

We left France on 20th January. John was determined that we didn’t need to use the roof box. The argument was logical. We were picking up a trailer in Birmingham, en route to Ireland, so would have so much more space next time. But, by the time I had loaded up various kitchen items, a suitcase full of linen, the cats, and a larger than average quantity of cheap booze from Spain, we had run out of room for clothes … So we departed with roof box: the car low on springs and heavy on fuel.

After a week in the UK, it was time to leave for Ireland. The original plan was for JR to pick up the cats from Leafy Oak and for him to drive, and for me to ride the Yellow Peril, up to Waltham St. Lawrence for a meeting to discuss our Moscow ride … then drive/ride from there to Birmingham to pick up the trailer. Sadly, due to unforeseen circumstances, we ended up attending the funeral of one of John’s ex-colleagues* instead. I donned a reasonably smart knee-length black woollen coat, and hoped that no one would notice my m/c leathers underneath.

Anyway, we left Hanwell about 2pm …

Phoenix Trailers closes early on Fridays, so the owner had kindly suggested that we pick the trailer up from his home in Bridgnorth. We arrived at about 5pm, just as it was getting dark … The temperature on the way up had varied between -1C and +2C. I was bloody freezing!

Before we could hitch up the trailer, John had to fit the removeable towbar. So I parked on the pavement with the bike’s newly-fitted French headlight trained on his rear bumper. The towbar is conveniently stowed in the spare wheel, which is neatly located under the carpet in the boot … which was full. So we had to unload it.

The trailer salesman looked on bemused as John fitted the phallic-looking towbar in place and tried to lock it. He pushed and pulled. He jogged it up and down. He took it out and gave it another go. No dice. “Trailerman John” went back inside and fetched a hammer. John gave the tow bar a smart tap and the head of the hammer fell off. He examined the locking mechanism, and tried again but it became perfectly clear to the assembled audience, that for all the wriggling, jiggling and lubrication it was definitely “not tonight Josephine” for the trailer.

John’s mood was not helped by my suggestion that we would not, in fact, be able to fit more than one motorbike on the 9’ x 4’ trailer anyway. “It’s up to you”, he said, “but do you really want to be riding all the way to Co. Clare in this weather?” He was right. I didn’t. At this point, Trailerman reappears with a tape measure. “Are you able to remove your screen and wing mirrors?” he said, “That bike is too tall for the trailer as it is”. It was obvious. The multi-purpose trailer comes with rails to support a tarpauline cover, and the 1150 enduro was much too tall to pass under them. This particular problem was soon remedied by removing the rails. However, with John no closer to fitting the towbar, we agreed that the problem would probably be easier to solve in daylight, and we might as well to find a hotel for the night. Luckily for me, there was a pet-friendly Travelodge in Wolverhampton: twelve cold, dark, miles away. We rebooked our 8.20am ferry and reloaded the boot.

In the morning, we were delighted to find a Skoda dealer … back in Bridgnorth. The area is popular with bikers and it was easy to see why. It was quite sunny, and the twisty and undulating roads through the frosty countryside actually made for quite a pleasant ride. Gratifyingly, the problem with the towbar wasn’t just us being cackhanded. The guys had to put the car up on the hoist to clean rust out of the receiving mechanism.

Over a curry and a beer the previous evening, John and I had agreed that the multi-purpose trailer was a waste of money if we were unable to use it for more than one bike. But Trailerman John was a decent fellow and offered to swap it for a big 3-bike trailer and refund the difference. “You have straps, don’t you?” he asked.

The bike trailers were not stored at his factory, but at a remote farm about fifteen minutes away. Trailerman led the way, followed by John in the car and me on the bike. It was Saturday morning, and he wasn’t meant to be at work. Once he was sure we were satisfied with the three bike trailer, he made his excuses and left us to hitch it up and load the bike … something we have never had to do alone before. But there’s a first time for everything.

We lined the bike up with the steel ramp and John managed to operate the throttle and clutch efficiently, while keeping the wheels straight. The process was actually far simpler than we had feared it might be. The front wheel lodged neatly in the metal hoop at the front of the trailer and John was able to easily hold the bike upright until I strapped it down.

Unfortunately, the straps were in a side pocket of the boot, so he had to wait while I unloaded it again …

We had two sorts of straps: two inch-wide red ones and two longer two-inch wide black ones. Unfortunately, the red ones were too short and the black ones, aside from being ridiculously long, had no ratchet system. In other words, both were completely useless.

So there we were, on a farm in the middle of nowhere, now running late for the 1.50pm ferry, with a bike on a trailer that we couldn’t secure. The best we could do was to unhitch the trailer and lock the bike up while we went to find some suitable straps. Getting the bike off the trailer was a piece of cake – except that the trailer was no longer attached to the car, so it tipped violently as the weight of the bike took over. No damage was done other than to John’s underpants.

Now all we had to do was repack the boot …

I got in the car and we drove to Phoenix Trailers’ factory in Deuxhill where we knew that Trailerman John had had an appointment. When we got there it was locked up and deserted but, before we had time to use the phone, yer man had pulled up behind us. “I saw you drive through Bridgnorth without the trailer, so I knew you must have had some sort of problem”, he said. He opened up his store and sold us 8 beautiful two-piece straps with hooks on the ends: purpose-made for bikes, four for my bike and four for John’s. Then he was gone again.

I looked at John. “Did you take a note of where that farm was?” I said. John looked momentarily aghast. In all the panic, neither of us had a clue even what the name of the village was. We could, conceivably, get completely lost trying to find our way back to the bike and trailer.

In fact, it is a testament to the beauty of the area, that we were able, quite easily, to retrace our steps using various noteworthy buildings and views as waypoints. And, once reunited with the bike and trailer, we quickly loaded up and got underway. The next ferry was at 9.30pm.

We eventually arrived home in Co. Clare at 5.30am last Sunday.

*RIP Garath Davies. Remembered for his quick wit and one-liners, I’m sure he would have found something apt to say about our trailer saga.