About Paul

DSA-approved Motorcycle Instructor (CBT & DAS), dreamer and adventurer, married to Tracy and with far too many children and grandchildren to mention. See website for further details!

A new assignment

Once again I’ve been lax in updating the blog. There are no excuses, it just seems less important than it used to. When I was travelling every day and had much to write about.

I still have much to write about, what with the trainees that brighten my days as I teach them the intricacies of riding motorcycles, the goings-on at home with the boys and Tracy and the saga of dealing with my late mother’s estate. But it just doesn’t catch my imagination sufficiently for me to allocate an hour of my time to sit and type dribble.

So no apologies. Just irregular updates.

And this update is now somewhat overdue, because it relates to events that started way back before last November. I only remember it goes back that far because in November I went to the NEC Motorcycle Show and to the Globebusters reunion event that followed. It was just after confirming my attendance that I got a cryptic email from Kevin (co-boss of Globebusters with his wife Julia) asking if I was still interested in some guiding work. Now I’d been here before, as I entered discussions about working wirth them back in 2009 during my epic Trans-Americas trip, but rather screwed up my chances by crashing big-style. Things hadn’t worked out last time for a number of reasons (my accident actually being much less significant than a better candidate also being on the scene!), so I didn’t hold my breath this time, but agreed to discuss options at the reunion.

To cut a long story short (and skip all the bits about alcohol-related shenanigins which were a feature of previous Globebusters-related blog entries), I’ve been asked to join the Globebusters team in leading the Trans-Americas Expedition later this year. At present, I’ll be joining the team in Tucson as there are fewer riders needing guiding on the North American section; then guiding them down through Mexico, Guatamala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. I’ve already started my training by passing 2 ITC First Aid qualifications, and digging out my old Spanish books (I’ll need to open them soon!). I also spent 2 days at Globebusters HQ undertaking expedition guide training, and am under no illusions as to the challenge ahead.

As Kevin always says, “It’s not a holiday, it’s an adventure!”.

Only this time, I’ll be responsible for trying to get everyone else safely through it. Something I needed help with when I tried it myself…

The best of times, the worst of times…

2012 has been a somewhat mixed year. Not one that I’ll look back on with great affection, but one that has been at times very challenging, sometimes even depressing, whilst on rare occasions showing glimpses of real joy.

Back in January our focus was all on the courts and trying to resolve the long-running saga of getting proper parental input to the lives of Tracy’s boys. Over Christmas, Konnor had expressed a very strong desire to stay with us rather than return to live with his Dad, and so the battle lines were drawn and we went to war. Finally common sense won the day, with his Dad relenting and giving in to his wishes. During February and March we tried our best to get him settled in to his new home, which was also his school until we finally managed to get him into the one we wanted, whilst his brother went to live with Tracy’s parents so he could finish his GCSEs before moving Up North.

April saw a brief holiday in Buxton in our motorhome, which turned into a battle for survival when the snow came down and almost buried us. May saw me split my time between motorcycle instructing and travelling to Edinburgh to work on Tesco Bank’s IT Strategy, but also saw me spend a week in the sunshine in St Helens taking my RoSPA Diploma in Advanced Motorcycle Instruction qualification which I was delighted to pass with flying colours.

June brought the first of the year’s real shocks, when I discovered I’d had a mild heart attack whilst paintballing the day before Konnor’s birthday. I’d realised something wasn’t right when I nearly passed out, but to discover I had a severely narrowed coronary artery that needed a “stent” putting in was quite disturbing. July and August were therefore somewhat subdued, as I attended cardiac rehab, Tracy and I went on a proper diet (cutting out fats and reducing sugar intake) and we focused our attentions on our health for once. I did manage to continue instructing, though, and started to increase the number of days I was working as it proved great therapy!

We had a short holiday in Devon whilst the boys enjoyed more adventurous activities at PJH in Lincolnshire, driving karts, buggies, abseiling and generally having the sort of holiday I’d had loved at their age (and still would!).

But the biggest event of August, and the highlight of the year, was on Tracy’s birthday, when she got back on the bike for the first time since the accident in 2007. That was the story of the last blog entry – it proving such a hard act to follow that it’s been over 4 months since I last wrote anything!

By September I was back to full health albeit with the aid of a set of daily tablets that rivalled Tracy’s own collection of meds, and we settled back into the routine of working and keeping house. Tracy enjoyed her role as Grandma and babysitter for Niamh, who by now had become almost a permanent fixture in the Beattie household, her collection of toys occupying half the front room. I also think Grandpa developed more than a little soft spot for her too, given how much time they spent together!

September also brought about the year’s saddest moment, when we finally lost Paul’s mum, who had been battling against a chest infection since being admitted to hospital in June. When she was first admitted we didn’t really expect her to come out again, so it was great that she did, even if it meant she couldn’t return to the care home she’d called home for the past year. The nursing home we eventually found for her made her feel at home, but sadly she relapsed and passed away at the hospital – whilst Tracy was in hospital herself having yet another operation.

October saw a family gathering on what would have been Paul’s mum’s 83rd birthday, a sad occasion made happier by the usual round of family-style mickey-taking and reminiscing about old times. November saw Paul’s busiest working month of instructing, despite the inclement weather, whilst Tracy also got herself some part-time work as a data researcher, a job she can do at home in short bursts so it doesn’t cause her too much discomfort.

And so to December and the run-up to Christmas and the end of the year. Whilst we were all looking forward to a big family Christmas, the hand-of-fate that seems to have slapped us more than once in 2012 struck again, with Paul catching a stomach bug on Christmas Eve, ruling him out of Christmas Dinner duties (a job he loves!). Boxing Day had to be postponed as a result, and even the family trip to Haverhill at the weekend to see Tracy’s family was impacted as despite Paul recovering, Sean contracted the bug and had to stay home.

And so to New Year’s Eve.

Now we can say “Goodbye” to 2012. A year that saw our lives change as we became a family again with the boys moving in with us, saw Tracy get back on the bike, Paul complete his qualifications as a motorcycle instructor and begin to earn his living from his passion; a year that also saw low points with Paul having a serious health scare, yet more operations for Tracy and the sad passing of Paul’s mum.

2013 starts tomorrow, and we are determined to ensure that we make a better job of it than we did 2012.

Cheers!

5 Years On

5 years ago, on Tracy’s birthday, the 23rd August 2007, whilst riding through the stunning scenery near the High Tatra mountains in Slovakia, our lives were changed permanently in a heartbeat.

We were heading back to the campsite having spent the morning sightseeing, when we were hit hard by a truck performing an illegal U-turn without warning just as we were alongside. The impact broke my knee and destroyed my bike. But worse, it also seriously injured my wonderful wife, Tracy, leaving her with a catalogue of injuries that don’t warrant repeating. Her spirit and strength enabled her to endure endless operations and skin-grafts and hours of painful physio and rehabilitation. She suffered a lot with post-traumatic stress disorder and had endless nightmares as she relived the moments before and immediately after the incident. She was forced to give up the nursing career she had pursued since she was a young child and leave her job as a district nurse. She had to learn to manage with a right arm that is barely functional, and to put up with the disgusted stares of passers-by should they catch a glimpse of her wasted right forearm (which she still hides whenever she can). She takes so many tablets to control the constant pain she is in that the pharmacists at our local Boots know her by name and we have had to allocate an entire kitchen cupboard to store. She naturally and understandably developed a fear of motorcycles that was in stark contrast to her pre-incident love of them. She would often be panic-stricken when I would return from a ride a few minutes later than I’d thought, and I’d return home to see her pale face eagerly watching for me from the window, the fear that something had happened to me etched on her face.

So what happened 5 years to the day after the accident was nothing short of a miracle.

The picture tells the story better than I ever could. Just look at the smile on her face…

Tracy rides again

Yes, she decided that it was time for her to get back on a bike again. Something I thought would never happen.

Whilst she will never be able to ride her own bike again (her right arm is permanently disabled), she used to love coming on my bike and it’s just fantastic to have her back there once more!

Our first ride together was relatively short, just over the moors to Hebden Bridge for a coffee, but her smile was just as wide when we got back, so I hope it won’t be too long before we can get out again and perhaps go a little further. I doubt her back will ever be strong enough to put up with long journeys, but at least now we can once again share one of our lives’ greatest passions - being out on our motorcycle!

This ol’ heart of mine…

Ok, so when we got the new blog I made a promise to try and keep it up to date. And I’ve failed, miserably. So much has happened since my last post I seriously don’t know where to start.

So I’ll start with the biggest news.

On 10th June, whilst paintballing with the lads for Konnor’s birthday, I became very lightheaded and had some pain in my arms. Turns out I had a heart attack. The shock when the doctor told me early the following morning while I sat in A&E following the blood test (the ECG had been normal and they were doing the routing blood test to rule out a heart attack!) almost killed me. The only sign that I’d had one was elevated Tropinin levels in my blood, which can’t be denied. So I spent a very distressing night in “resus”, listening to the dreadful sound of families losing loved ones whilst I lay there connected to a heart monitor and feeling as fit as ever. My lightheadedness, arm pain and mild nausea had long since passed. To cut a long story short, I was in hospital for a week, during which time I read a lot of books on my Kindle and watched England play in the World Cup (I’m surprised they let us watch it on the cardiac ward, perhaps they were short of beds and wanted a few of us to croak from the stress!). During the week I had an ultrasound scan on my heart which showed it was undamaged, then on the Friday I had an angiogram so they could look at my cardiac arteries. That’s where they found the problem, a severely narrowed section of artery restricting the bloodflow to the muscle of my heart. A few minutes later the narrowing was opened with a balloon (not the party type they make dog-shapes out of, but a small surgical one) and then a stent was put in to keep it open. The results of this amazing procedure were then shown to me in the form of “before and after” images, the latter looking like a network of dark wide pipes whilst the former had one that looked like it was the result of a botched plumbing job. I was discharged the following day with strict instructions to rest and do nothing, which for once I followed (Tracy made sure of that!). Since then I’ve started a cardiac rehabilitation course at the hospital which is getting me back to fitness, I’ve modified my diet to cut down on fats & sugars as well as helping me lose weight, and I’ve been walking much more than before.

It was a real shock, but I guess it was to be expected, given I hit several of the high-risk indicators – family history of heart problems with both my parents, high blood pressure (also inherited from my father!), raised cholesterol, ex-smoker (gave up 20 years ago) and overweight (no excuses, that one’s my fault!). But I’m only 50 fer-chrissakes!!

But life, as always, goes on. I’m feeling fine (and have been since 9pm on the day it happened!) and am getting fitter again. I had to take time off from work – which meant not finishing the assignment at Tesco Bank I mentioned last time, although before my incident we’d got the IT Strategy into a good state so they could finish it without me – as well as time away from instructing. But I’m back doing the latter again now, and enjoying it just as much as before.

Other News #1 – Putting myself to the Test, again!

Before my “incident”, I spent a week in the sunshine in St Helens taking a RoSPA Diploma in Advanced Riding Instruction course/exam. This is widely regarded as the highest standard of motorcycle riding/instruction qualification available to those outside the police force, and I went with some trepidation in case I didn’t meet the standard required. The course itself started with an assessment of my riding (which had to be at RoSPA Gold standard and remain there all week!), then we had a day in the classroom before spending the next 2 days “instructing” various role-play scenarios whilst learning on the job. Our instructor was very entertaining as he pretended to be everything from an old boy (ex fighter-pilot type) who was sure his riding was perfect (it wasn’t!) through to a young racer who wanted a faster bike to use on the road (and who rode it like he stole it, but still managed to stay legal!). I was joined on the course by 2 guys from the Derby RoSPA group and we had a great time, and we certainly learnt a lot, most of which was a result of the conversations and debats amongst us whilst our tutor listened and steered the debate towards a conclusion. On the final day we were joined by our examiner and once we’d completed the theory test we went out individually, first to have our riding assessed, then to instruct in another role play (this one more difficult as the rider was already RoSPA Silver standard, going for Gold).

The worst thing about the course, though, was finishing it and not knowing the outcome. It took several weeks before the results were finally made available to us, but I’m glad to report that all 3 of us passed with flying colours. So now I’m permitted to use the letters “RoSPA (Dip)” after my name and tell everyone that will listen, as well as those that won’t, that I’ve got a Diploma in Advanced Riding Instruction!

When the results came through I then went and took the DSA’s Theory Test for post-test trainers, which is basically the same test as new riders take except with more questions and a higher pass mark. And I passed that too, with 100% on the theory test questions and a respectable 80% on the Hazard Perception test (the latter I was a bit miffed about, but the way the test works it’s not unusual for very experienced riders to score low or even fail!). That allowed me to register for the DSA’s Register of Post-Test Motorcycle Trainers and to teach their Enhanced Rider Scheme as well as train experienced riders to take their advanced tests with either the IAM or RoSPA. It also completes all the qualifications I can take as a motorcycle instructor!

Other news #2 – Polly-gone :(

Sadly we’ve had to let Polly go. Our lovely motorhome simply wasn’t getting used the way we intended a year ago when we bought her, and with both boys now living with us, and me working weekends instructing, it looked increasingly unlikely we’d be using her much at all. So we made the difficult decision to sell her. It was emotional handing the keys over to her new owner, but we know we’ve done the right thing as we simply can’t afford to have all that money tied up in something we don’t use. We’ve put some of the proceeds towards an adventure holiday for the boys where they get to do motorsports daily for a week, whilst Tracy and I are escaping to Devon for some relaxation and peace and quiet!

Other news #3 – everything else!

I’m sure there’s been lots of other things that have happened over the past month or so since I last posted, but I really can’t remember them all, and besides, this post is long enough. Let’s hope I get inspired to update the blog more often in the coming weeks, or I’ll have to have a serious rethink as to whether it’s worthwhile keeping it. Let me know what you think – post a comment below!

Every Little Helps

In my last post I made a comment about needing to earn some money, in order to support my various adventures. Which is partly the reason why I’ve not posted for a little while. What I have been doing is spending 3 days a week up in Edinburgh once again working for Tesco Bank.

I got an email from an old friend who is Head of Architecture there, to see if I’d time to come back and help him pull together an IT Strategy document. Basically this is needed to document how Information Technology will enable the bank to realise its overall business objectives. I had done some work on this a year ago when I was last at the bank and now there was a real push to get it completed and agreed by the bank’s board and the FSA. As I’m working as a motorcycle instructor at the weekend and didn’t want to stop doing so, I offered to work Tuesday to Thursday in Edinburgh. Fortunately this was acceptable to Tesco, so now I catch the 6am train up on Tuesday, meaning a 4:50am getup!, and return at 9:30pm on Thursday. I then get a day off before heading to Salford to meet my trainees.

It’s an odd feeling being back in an office working as an IT consultant again, and I must admit that when I catch glimpse of the sun shining outside I wish I was instructing instead, but there’s no comparison between the two when it comes to which helps the business bank account!

I won’t go into detail about the IT Strategy work as it’s commercially sensitive, as well as being less interesting to anyone outside the corporate world, but it’s good to be doing something that will hopefully enable Tesco bank to be a success in the future. The instructing has been going really well too, with lots of enthusiastic trainees both for cbt and direct access. I had my first 2 module 2 trainees last Sunday, taking then on a long ride round the roads near the Atherton test centre which are used for the on road motorcycle test. We rode around 80 miles as I helped them correct a few riding errors and also made sure their reading of the road and reaction to road signs and markings was up to test standard. On their tests, one passed but sadly the second one failed for repeatedly hesitating and riding too slowly, something that hadn’t been evident during our ride. What was pleasing was their reaction to my instruction and the fact that neither failed due to a fault or omission on my part.

So I’m once again flat out working at least 5 days a week, which is taking its toll on my leisure time and means I’ve got an ever-increasing list of jobs I need to do when I finally get time. But it’s nice to know that I’m back earning more money than we’re spending again!

When riding for work is a pleasure, what’s riding for pleasure?

Now that I’ve settled in to my new role as a Motorcycle Instructor, most of my riding involves demonstrating various manoevres on the training yard or road (my U-turns have improved quite a lot!), or following trainees as they get their first taste of “survival riding” on the roads of Salford and Manchester.

So far I’ve had glorious sunshine and torrential rain, gentle breezes and howling gales and even the odd bit of hail thrown in for good measure. But one thing remains constant. The sheer pleasure of being outdoors and riding my bike. Add to that the smiles of the complete “newbie” trainees when they finally find that they are riding the bike (and not the other way round, which is how it feels at first!), and I don’t regret having chosen a much less well-paid way to earn a crust.

But it’s not all plain sailing. One of my trainees, who shall remain nameless, was having difficulty with the slow-speed exercises that form most of the Module-1 motorcycle test during his Direct Access training recently. Having had a full day with the boss, Rob, he was entrusted to me for his 2nd day, and we had the yard all to ourselves. After spending a little while explaining the difference between how the clutch is used on a bike vs his car, and having got his slow-speed control really sorted, we moved on to the turning exercises. Once he’d mastered the U-turn we started on the figure-of-8 exercise, which the day before had been his undoing, when he dropped the bike after pulling in the clutch (a no-no as it results in loss of stability). And he was looking so good I took his picture…

No more than a couple of seconds after this was taken, he pulled in the clutch and dropped the bike. Doh! After restoring his confidence and reassuring him that Rob wouldn’t mind yet another broken indicator lense, he had another go, and completed a perfect figure-of-8. Then another perfect figure-of-8. Then pulled in the clutch whilst turning and down the bike went on the other side, resulting in matching broken front indicator lenses. But I’m not one for quitting or letting my trainees quit, so we continued until he had mastered the art of controlling the bike and not dropping it on the floor.

I’ve also had some challenging days, when the mix of trainees creates its own problems, such as last week, when I had 4 trainees, 2 of whom could already ride and 2 who were complete beginners. What made it worse was the 2 “experts” were riding the automatic scooters, whilst the 2 newbies were on the geared 125cc bikes. Needless to say the “experts” were bored stiff within half an hour of starting the yard work, whilst I paid most of my attention to the teaching the newbies the intracacies of clutch control and looking where they were going. When the “experts” started deliberately riding at the cones, it was time to send them in for a coffee before bringing them out again for the observation exercises. This is where things evened up, because by now the newbies were riding well, with good control, and being car drivers understood the need for rear observations and when to do them, whilst the “experts” didn’t. At the end of the day, though, I’d managed to get them all through the full CBT syllabus, including the 2-hour road ride during which the “experts” both had chance to appreciate why the “lifesaver” glance into their blind-spot is so named, curtesy of some incredibly bad driving from the local car traffic. Needless to say they were both appreciative of the lessons I’d forced them to listen to earlier in the day!

But if riding for work is a pleasure, then riding for pleasure is still a real joy. This weekend I had the chance to ride solely for pleasure, as I headed up to Kirkby Stephen in between the Yorkshrie Dales and the Lake District for the Adventure Bike Rider magazine’s “Back to the Boil Rally”. This is a repeat of the rally I went to last April, when one of the ABR forum members opened his new campsite a week early to host a rally for readers of the magazine. Paul & Maria who run the excellent Takoda Campsite organise the rally which includes a fabulous “Curry Night” for charity, raising money for a village in Tamil Nadu, India (which last year bought the first beds for the schoolchildren living there). Cooked by local chef Jessie, the food last year was outstanding and so I was eager to return this year, even though I would only be able to stay Friday night as I had things to do on Saturday.

So I loaded up the panniers and strapped on my tent and off I went on another mini-adventure. I took the scenic route up via Skipton and the Yorkshire Dales, passing the Tennant Arms at Kilsney where Tracy and I stayed when I asked her to marry me, and on via a stop for soup at the biker cafe in Hawes. After stopping at the Co-Op for supplies (beer and eggs/bacon for brekkie) I met up with a guy I knew from the Dambusters run last year, and headed to the campsite. Pitching up next to Neil, one of the other instructors at the training school where I work, I was once again happy to be camping.

Once settled in I went for a wander and was delighted to find several people who remembered me from last year, and it wasn’t long before the beer and conversation flowing. With over 60 bikes in attendence there was a fair crowd gathering for the curry which was served shortly after 7pm, and boy, was it good!

Jessie and her team of helpers had excelled themselves once again, catering for 150 people. I’m not sure there were that many present, but with most being “adventure biker types” (see “Hairy Bikers”), it was all gone fairly quickly. With the raffle, we also raised over £1,000 for the charity, as well, which can’t be bad!

Suitably stuffed and smelling of curry and beer, we naturally headed into town to the local pub, which must have heard we were back in town, judging by the sign outside…

Inside was utter chaos, though, as the local teenage population had decended on the pub to drink the hours away before a coach arrived at 10:30pm to take them somewhere to a club. It was a real clash of cultures, as barely-dressed young girls and their studs mixed at the bar with 50 or so middle-aged bikers in multiple layers of gore-tex armoured clothing. When one of our party, who shall remain nameless (at least here, everyone else knows who he is!), feeling the after-effects of the curry and gassy beer, erm, “let rip”, the poor young lass next to him at the bar nearly fainted!

I suspect there may not be a welcome sign outside next year…

Eventually I had to call it a night and wandered back to camp leaving the rest of the group partying until closing time. Still stuffed with curry I had no more room for beer and waddled contentedly into the field, crawled into my tent and fell soundly asleep. When I woke briefly in the middle of the night, the only sounds were the thunderous roars of countless blokes snoring loudly! I felt sorry for any light sleepers, as I drifted off again, no doubt to join the pre-dawn chorus…

In the morning I abandoned plans to cook my own breakfast due to the state of my cookware (which I spent a happy hour cleaning once home again) and packed up, bid farewell to my fellow campers and rode off into the gloom. Despite the overcast skies I decided to ride into the Lakes before heading South to visit Nikki and then my mum, riding over to Penrith where I stopped at the Little Chef for breakfast, then by the side of beautiful Ullswater and over Kirkstone Pass and on to Windermere. Once again, I could imagine myself off on a much longer adventure, and were it not for Tracy (and a lack of funds!), I would have been tempted to simply keep going…


But the one night away has stirred my desire to get away again, but first, I need to earn some money!
 

 

Home Sweet Home…

With the snow melting all around us it was clear that we would be able to return home on Friday as planned, but we still had time for one last walk up to Solomon’s Temple and the opportunity for me to borrow Tracy’s camera and try and get a few shots of the stunning scenery. So whilst she stayed behind to prepare dinner, Konnor and I kitted up once more and headed up the hillside to the temple. What a contrast this walk was to the 2 previous ones! First we’d all had a cold wind and rain showers to content with, then Konnor and I had braved a blizzard to get necessary supplies, and here we were faced with blue skies and sunshine (it was still cold, though). Just beautiful…

Once again we climbed the temple steps and admired the view, before climbing back down and looking out over Buxton from the big arched doorway.

As we made our way back to the caravan site, Konnor couldn’t resist the few remaining snow drifts, launching himself into the deep snow, clearly full of the joys of Spring…

After our final night in Polly we made our way home again, unpacked Polly and returned her to the farm where she lives in between adventures. With Konnor starting school again after Easter, and me now working most weekends, we wonder when we’ll be able to take her out to play again…

The following day, Saturday, Tracy had to drive down to Haverhill to meet Sean who was returning from his school trip to the USA that afternoon, whilst I went to work leaving Carlie (who had come home from Uni for a break whilst we were away) looked after Konnor. Work was interesting to say the least, with 4 new riders to take through their CBTs, none of whom had any experience of riding bikes at all. It was a fun day, though, as once again I got to see big smiles emerge on their faces as they got to terms with controlling the bikes. Not only were they new to riding, but 3 of them didn’t even drive! By the end of the day they were all riding the bikes under control, but I felt only 2 of them were ready for the mandatory road ride (the 2 riding the automatic scooters and so not having to worry about clutch control). The road ride then highlighted their lack of experience and road-sense, and after an hour I had to call it a day as they were worn-out and no longer improving. Whilst I hadn’t been able to get any of the 4 to the required safe standard to issue them with their CBT certificates, they’d all had a full day and enjoyed the experience, and all had learnt a lot. A few more hours each and they’ll be out on the roads on their own, equipped with the basic skills to enable them to at least be safe whilst they gain experience.

By the time I’d got home Tracy had picked up Sean and was already making her way back, opting to return home in one day so we could all have Easter Sunday together. Unfortunately Carlie and Mike had to go home as they had their own plans before Tracy returned. When she finally got home, Sean was suffering from serious jet-lag and barely able to speak!

On Easter Sunday he was a little better and Katie, Brian and Niamh came round for a slap-up roast lamb dinner, before I settled down to watch the first MotoGP race of the season.

How nice to be home again!

Dreaming of a White Easter…

 

When the sun was baking us to a crisp the other week, Tracy told me she’d seen a weather forecast that was predicting snow at Easter. I laughed, ignored it, and we booked a short break in Buxton. On arrival it was windy but dry and we spent the afternoon chilling out, with Tracy and Konnor taking a short walk to the rocks on the entrance road whilst I updated the blog.

 

Tuesday dawned windy and with a smattering of rain but that wasn’t going to deter us from getting outdoors and into the freshening air. We walked out of the site and up the hill to a small round stone tower known as Solomon’s Temple which would have afforded us spectacular views over the surrounding hills and over Buxton itself. As it was, the view was somewhat obscured by low cloud, but we could just about make out Buxton Opera house and the Pavilion Gardens.

 

 

From here we walked down into Grin Low Wood and passed the “Go Ape” attraction which consisted of several high wires and zip wires through the trees. Investigations revealed that it was necessary for an adult to accompany anyone under 18, which meant either Tracy or I accompanying Konnor, and with the price reaching a whopping £50 for 2 of us, we decided to skip it. The decision had nothing to do with fear of heights, honestly!

 

After a scone and brew in the café by Poole’s Cavern, which Tracy and Konnor were planning to visit on Thursday when I went to work, we made our way back over the hill to the caravan site. It was a steep ascent, and by the time we’d got back to Polly we were all quite tired, but glad of the exercise. That evening we played Pass the Pigs (I lost, as usual) and had curry and pasta for tea then watched Monster’s Inc. before calling it a night.

 

And what a night it turned out to be.

 

When Tracy woke the following morning and looked out of the window, her “Oh My God!” expression had us all clambering for a view. Outside was white. Pure white. It had started snowing in the middle of the night and hadn’t stopped, the ground already covered by 8” of the white stuff. The blizzard was in full flow and it was clear that it was in for the day, meaning a hasty re-plan was required. Despite the intermittent mobile signal I was able to send a message to work to let them know I wouldn’t be able to get in tomorrow as planned. Then we needed to get some supplies as we were running low, having planned to go to the shop today. With the weather so bad, Konnor and I left Tracy tucked up warm inside Polly and set off into the storm with a cheery “We’re just going outside, we may be gone for some time”.

 

From the road out of the site it was almost impossible to see Polly – see if you can find her in the picture below…

 

 

It was hard going walking in the deep snow, and it took Konnor and I well over 1.5 hours to walk the 3 miles to the supermarket the other side of Buxton. We stocked up on bread, milk and other essentials such as Hot Cross Buns and cup-a-soup and made our way back again. A short stop on the hillside in view of Polly to make snow-angels was wasted as Tracy couldn’t see us in the gloom. Back at Polly we dried off and tucked in to warming cup-a-soup before settling down to play Logo (which I won!) before watching some episodes of Criminal Minds. Outside the snow stopped, but the ground remained covered and we weren’t too optimistic about getting off the site tomorrow (Thursday).

 

However, Thursday dawned bright and sunny with the early morning sun reflecting off the snow as it slowly started to melt.

 

 

With the possibility of getting offsite, and with the snow still making walking treacherous for Tracy, we dug out the car and drove into Buxton to visit Poole’s Cavern. This is a remarkable old limestone cave, which has been turned into a tourist attraction and for the princely sum of £22.50 we were all able to take the guided tour. Our tour guide pointed out the various weird calcite formations and explained their history and how they were formed. I could barely hear him, but the cave was quite spectacular regardless, even if the photographs don’t do it justice.

 

 

 

With our fill of tourist culture, we drove into the town centre to find a café for a spot of lunch and to buy a snow-shovel (so that it never snows again) before returning once more to Polly to relax and enjoy the sweets we bought from the Traditional Olde Worlde Sweet Shoppe.

April Fool!

At least that’s how I felt when I turned up for my first day at RJH Driver and Rider Training to take a couple of guys through their Compulsory Basic Training and checked their driving licences. One was French, and had lost his photocard licence so had brought his passport as proof of ID together with his counterpart licence. The other was Somalian. Fortunately, both had UK driving licences (the former only provisional but a quick phonecall to the DVLA confirmed provisional entitlement to ride motorcycles) and spoke excellent English. The second “April Fool” was when I was taking them through their emergency braking exercise and as usual I asked how many times during their driving career they’d had to perform one (to highlight that real emergencies are rare and to explore hazard perception). “Never” was the understandable reply from the Frenchman with the provisional licence. “Lots of times” was the rather unnerving reply from the other guy. “Well, you must be a bad driver then!” was my retort, to which he replied, “I do them almost every day as part of my job… I’m a driving instructor!”.

 

The rest of the day went well up until we did the emergency stop on the road, when the Frenchman ignored my earlier pleas and the skills he’d developed practicing in the safety of the yard and panicked, grabbing the front brake on the scooter hard and flailing his legs about. In a split second he was on the ground, as was the scooter. He was completely unharmed and embarassed. I was shocked, the image of the blind panic in his face immediately following my raising of my hand imprinted on my mind forever. And my target of never having a trainee drop a bike ruined. Damn. As there was no damage done we continued, repeating the exercise several times after more briefing to ensure he wouldn’t panic again if he was unfortunate enough to encounter a real emergency. I think I learnt a lesson too, to emp[hasize even more that an “emergency stop” is nothing more than a “controlled stop done more efficiently”.

 

The following day I rode to work with the temperature showing -1.5degrees and with the scare-mongering headlines forecasting snow on my mind. But the sky was blue and the sun came out as I finished putting the cones out .


All ready for the trainees

 

My trainees for the day were a couple of young guys who had never ridden bikes at all before. The smiles on their faces when I ‘d got them riding safely round the yard and stopping (controlled, of course!) set the tone for a really enjoyable day. Whislt we didn’t get to do the 2-hour road ride, they had a great day and went home happy, ready to complete their training on another day. There’s a lot to the CBT, and if you’ve never ridden before it can be too much, so part of the instructor’s job is to ensure his trainees don’t get too tired before they head out on the road. On this occasion, it was their decision to call it a day, as one had been at work until 2am, before turning up at the training centre at 8am!


Learning how to slalom
 

Having worked for 2 consecutive days, it was time for a holiday, so this morning Tracy, Konnor and I loaded up Polly and headed for the Caravan Club site in Buxton. Truth be told, we had this booked for a couple of weeks, using the first week of the Easter holidays to get away in Polly for the first time this year. When we went to pick her up on Wednesday to give her a good clean she wouldn’t start with a flat battery but after putting it on charge for a couple of days she was good to go, and after a good cleaning was all set. So here we are, enjoying a relaxing few days away. Except I’ve got to go home on Wednesday night as I’m working on Thursday, but I’ll be coming back for the last night before we head home again on Friday. Who knows, I might even get to beat Konnor at Swingball a few times before then!

Tracy and Konnor warming up

Spring is in the air!

It’s a funny time of year, Spring.

It started this year, officially, last Tuesday and almost immediately things started changing. First, it started getting warmer and a strange pale-yellow object was seen to rise in the East before slowly making its way across the sky and disappearing in an orangle glow over the houses to the West of us. I’ve vague memories of seeing this orb before, way back in the dim-and-distant past before the clocks went back last year. I hope it stays this time as if I recall it brought me much happiness…

The other weird thing that has happened since Spring sprung is that I’ve been contacted by several people who must have had burning ears as I was thinking about them. Good people, old friends and acquaintances I’d not heard from in a while. They were curious as to what madcap schemes I’ve been up to and am planning. And weirdest of all is that this coincided with me finally getting round to sorting out the website again, bringing various pages back up to date and creating the new blog before Fasthosts (where this rubbish is stored for all to see) delete the old blog platform.

So, perhaps I ought to spend a few minutes recapping on the major life-changes that have occurred since I last blogged, way back when I was returning from my last adventure (the Trans AM Trail).

Let’s start with family changes. Back in June 2011, my gorgeous 9th grandchild was born to Tracy’s eldest daughter Katie and her partner Brian. Baby Niamh is simply gorgeous and is already showing worrying signs of enjoying listening to Granpa reading her stories…

Tell me a story Granpa
Also on the family front, we have finally concluded the long-running saga concerning access to and residency of Tracy’s boys (Sean & Konnor). Separations and divorces are rarely simple affairs and nearly always the resultant relationships between the parties end badly. Such was the case with Tracy and her ex, with whom the boys have lived since their separation long ago. Eventually we felt we had no choice but to seek a change to the contact order we’d obtained through the courts in 2010, with a view to getting a residency order so that they could come and live with us. With Sean approaching 16 (he will be on 1st April 2012) and able to vote with his feet and fulfil his stated intent to move North to live with us, and Konnor also expressing a desire to move, we went back to court once more. After a short skirmish the other party decided such a move was for the best and capitulated. Konnor moved in with us immediately whilst Sean has moved in with Tracy’s parents until he finishes his GCSEs this summer. Since Konnor’s arrival we’ve been doing battle with the Local Education Authority to try and get him into a decent school. This has also been somewhat fraught but eventually successful as he has now got a place at our first choice – Royton & Crompton School. In the meantime, Tracy and I have become “teachers” as we’ve been schooling him at home. I think he may initially have thought coming to live with us would be an easy ride, but he’s now found out we can be pretty strict task-masters when it matters. He’s settled down well, despite the hard work, and seems to be enjoying life with us. Last weekend I took him to the bike show in Manchester and bought him a helmet, jacket and trousers (all for £130!) to go with the boots & gloves he’s borrowed from his mum, so now he’s also enjoying getting on the back of the bike. He’s also joined Ju-Jitsu classes locally, so is starting to make some Northern friends. He still says “barth” and “grarse” though, not “bath” and “grass”, but I’m working on that…

Aside from family stuff, there’s also been some life-changes regarding work for both Tracy and me. Tracy has started work as a volunteer advisor with the Citizens’ Advice Board, initially working Monday and half-day Wednesday until she was forced to stop due to the court case and custody changes. Realising that a full day in a chair resulted in excrutiating pain in her back for days afterwards, she’s dropped her hours down to half-day Monday and Wednesday now. But it’s enjoyable work and she likes having something to do that takes her out of the house.

As for me, well, I’ve been working occasionally on Saturdays teaching Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) for LTL Rider Training in Rochdale. I’ve recently taken and passed my Direct Access assessment at Cardington, home of the Driving Standards Agency and a place that strikes fear into the heart of any wannabee driving or riding instructor. The assessment was only half a day and nowhere near as scary as the 2-day CBT assessment, but I was still relieved to pass. With that qualification secured, I’ve also registered with another training school, RJH Driver & Rider Training in Manchester, and am currently waiting for my “ticket” (the photo-licence) to come through so I can start work for real and getting paid. They’ve a 7-day a week training area, so hopefully I’ll be very busy soon!

And that’s about it. Tracy and I managed a trip to Turkey last October which I’ve not yet written about or posted any pictures, but it was just a short week-long holiday at the end of the season. We’ve no big trips or huge adventures planned, the compensation claim is still ongoing so the smallholding dream remains just that for now, but we’re both enjoying what we’re doing and with Spring here and the sun shining, life is good…