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Tuesday, November 06, 2018


During my life I have never given personal names to my cars or my extensive collection of motorcycles, generally referring to them by their manufacturer's name (the SAAB, the Enfield). However, this current small Honda bike, which could well be the last I own, just seems to be crying out to be christened "Elsie" (see number plate)

November sees me tucking up my motorcycles for bed until early March, when the frosts and snow have disappeared, also the salt strewn roads - anathema to chrome and general finish. (I continue to ride during this period, but in the comparative warmth of my plastic bodied (thus corrosion free) scooter.

So this down time can be used for service and maintenance. Elsie is in very good condition, but her tyres needed refreshing and with a motorcycle this means removing the wheels. I used to change my own tyres, but prefer, these days, to take the wheels to a local tyre factor. Whilst the wheels were out it was a good opportunity to inspect the chain and rear and front sprockets for wear. Elsie has trotted along now for 20,000 miles (made in 1992) and she wears her original set. They seemed in good nick, but I had bought in replacements in case, so it was a chance to put the drive into original condition.

Next job was to fit a top box. Since 1974 I had used such, attaching it to each new bike, but when I sold my last Royal Enfield it went with it. The Craven company has been revived and a replica is now available. Standard boxes come in black or white but for an extra thirty quid they will attempt to match your bike if you send them a paint sample. A girl likes to be colour co-ordinated so this I did for Elsie.

The difficulty was that she is becoming a "classic", in very original condition and only has a vestigal rear rack, which I wanted to preserve, so thought was needed.

Luckily I had in the odds and ends box a larger rear rack without any fittings, but how to fit this using Elsie's  existing rack was an interesting problem. First I needed to locate it so that measurements could be taken. So a hole was drilled through it and the existing rack and a bolt put through

Having worked out measurements I then constructed the brackets

Since I wanted to interfere a little as possible with the original rack these were located by a "sandwich" method using large robust washers and bolts

Finally I augmented the small locating bolt I had first fitted with a couple of stainless steel hose clips tightened well down.

Job done!

Fiddling around with motorcycles is almost as much fun as riding them!

Monday, October 22, 2018


It was a bright but breezy day and I decided to leave Ashford by the old Roman road through Aldington, once, no doubt a major highway but, some 2000 years later just a narrow lane. The sun and wind were on my back so it was warm and easy going.

Dropping down the escarpment at Lympne to The Marsh I turned into the wind and found it VERY breezy. I decided to take a break at the Lathe Barn cafe/restuarant where I knew I could sit on the patio in the sun but out of the wind. A group of cyclists was already there, so I passed the time of day and asked where they had ridden from. "We have just come up from Camber", one replied.

I suggested that they would find the going heavier on their return as it would be all head wind cycling and suggested that they might find an ebike like mine of some use."Yeah, I was thinking that maybe your bike would just suit me", said on of them, who, I noticed had no left leg below the knee. I commented that his injury did not stop him cycling and asked how it happened. "Stepped on a mine in Afghanistan. Cycling is part of my physical and mental recovery", was the clipped reply.

After a pleasant 30 minutes in their company and with a cream/jam scone and pot of tea inside me I made to set off again in their intended direction. "Race you!", shouted the ex-army guy. I demurred, preferring my own gentle 12 mph pace, alone. It was a clear day with typical Marsh skies and, in spite of the head wind the electric genie gave steady going.

However, a couple of miles after I stopped to take the above shot I rounded a corner of the lane to be confronted by this.

One expects to see the odd dead badger by the side of the lanes, but not a full length, 16.5 metre, 44 tonne, 12 wheeled artic blocking the way completely. In fact my only way past was to squeeze self and bike through the gap on the left between the hedge and lorry.

A Dutch driver, he was about 5 miles in any direction from a suitable road (for him) and had obviously got lost and was trying by satnav to reach such a road. A lot of HGV drivers seem to use car-type satnavs which are not at all suitable for behemoths which try to negotiate "lanes which wind like streams among the hedgerows" (to quote Betjeman, who enjoyed Romney Marsh). In fact their winding is to follow the dykes which cover this corner of Kent and all these lanes have deep ditches to each side which the driver found out to his cost when trying to get round this tight corner, putting his offside rear six wheels down into the 8 foot gully.

Engaging satnav must have switched off his brain because he passed a sign about 200 yards before this warning of a small bridge a mile ahead which he could never have crossed (assuming he could have negotiated the succession of tight corners to it). Note how he had destroyed one support of the sign, (see his wheel ruts). I managed to bend it back so it could be read.

In my years of training coach drivers I always insisted that, if they had to use a satnav, it was one designed for large vehicles and to KEEP THE BRAIN ACTIVE TO MAKE SURE THE ROADS WERE SUITABLE.

I much prefer maps. One can see everything around you and where the roads go, not putting one's trust into the "keyhole"view or disembodied voice of a Satnav. I have never owned one, although I grant that they could have their uses when negotiating strange towns.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


As can be seen from the map below The Isle of Oxney was once, really, an island in the nascent Romney Marsh area of Kent (my "Little Corner"). Before the Marsh was drained ("inned" in middle English) this was the vast estuary of three rivers, Rother, Tillingham and Brede.

The name of the island is, in fact, a tautology. Oxney in Old English meant "Oxen Island", so we now are calling it "The Isle of Oxen Island". But an interesting story is attached.

In the late 18th century excavations under the south transept of the church of Stone-in-Oxney revealed a Roman altar about 3 feet high. It is known that early Christian churches were often built on the site of Roman temples and the altar, although heavily weathered, once had depictions of a bull on all four sides. Naturally thoughts at the time turned to the worship of Mithras, but it wasn't "his" bull and has since been related to Apis, a bull-worship that came with the Romans from Egypt.

At that time the locals did not want a pagan object in their church so it was removed down to the site of the old Ferry House Inn, which originally was the only way across to the mainland. The ring at the bottom of the stone was probably added at that time to secure horses when calling at the inn. Eventually after much weathering a more enlightened time rescued it and it is now displayed once more, with pride, in the church.

So, where did it come from? It was made from Kentish ragstone , the nearest quarry being near the Roman Saxon Shore fortress, (Portus Lemanis)  near Hythe (see map). Why was it there? Does the island's name give a clue? Were oxen reared there and worshipped as Apis? The small village of Stone-in-Oxney takes its name from it.

Topography and history again! (and where a jaunt on an ebike can take you)

Friday, August 10, 2018


As a change from my usual cycling cafe stops I was sitting outside the Red Lion pub, Snargate. This is a traditional pub, been in the same family since Victoria was queen, serves only real ales from the keg and does not do meals. Its interior is still decorated in an old, traditional country pub way. I noted that a previous patron had abandoned their bike!

In spite of the "no meals" I was enjoying my egg and chips (pickled egg from jar and packet of potato crisps) and a pint of real ale.A group of walkers was sitting on the adjacent seat and discussing the local landmark which starts here. The Rhee Wall, which is distinguished by gothic lettering on the Ordnance Survey maps as "historic" and stretches for some 7.5 miles in a straight line across the Marsh to New Romney.

(click to enlarge)

"It must be Roman", said one, "as it is so long and straight and goes to New Romney, which must be a Roman name." I listened on and kept quiet. An etymologist would immediately question the actual location (Snargate) and the word Rhee (a water course or stream). The name Romney is derived from Old English 'at the spacious, or wide, river' recorded in  895 AD as Rumenea

In fact there is far more romance and interest here than "Roman" at which time the Marsh was a vast tidal lagoon with a few islets. The River Rother used to flow to New Romney in mediaeval times but a tempestuous storm in 1287 altered its main course to flow out at Rye instead. New Romney, an important harbour in the middle ages, lost the "flush" of the river and began to silt up. Something had to be done. 

So a major undertaking in the late 13th century was to gather together all the small streams from off the escarpment and"snare" them into a lock or "gate" system which became known as "Snargate". This was then fed into a 7.5 mile long canal made by running two parallel embankments towards New Romney - the aim being to flush out the silting harbour. Imagine doing this in 1290  in a remote marshy area!

Unfortunately it did not work for long and in fact increased the silting as the Rhee brought down quantities of sediment from the Wealden clays. Today New Romney, one of the great mediaeval  "Cinque Ports" is some 2 miles from the sea. A view of the threshhold to the main doorway of  St Nicholas' Church, once beside the harbour, shows that one needs to descend to the door where once one ascended steps to it.

There were unintended good outcomes though. The Rhee had gone out of use by 1500 but the quantities of silt brought down into it had levelled an earthway between the banks, which became a raised causeway across the Marsh. Today it is a lane leading into a straight main road to the coast. But cropmarks preserve its identity.

History, topography, map reading and etymology lead to far more romantic stories than "it must be...." collective opinions.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


On my cycling jaunts over Romney Marsh I like to stop occasionally to ease the posterior and wrists (legs are not too much of a problem due to the electric genie). Cafe stops are for a proper coffee and cake or lunch, but a need to sit down usually means finding a churchyard which has a seat. My days of sitting on the ground are past, once down there getting back up presents difficulties and is less comfortable anyway!

Hence an afternoon stop at Bilsington church. Sitting there, drinking coffee from my flask, I was able to see the field path rising up to the church from the Royal Military Canal below the escarpment. A lady of mature years was making her way through the yellow rape (canola) towards me.

Breathing heavily she approached my seat. "Do you mind company for a bit whilst I get my breath back?" I made room for her beside me. "Would you like some coffee?" (Luckily my flask has two cups, stowed "Russian Doll" manner.)

She was dressed in well used but quality "country " clothes and had an educated accent. "I do this walk every day. It keeps me supple since my son took over the farm and I have more time to myself. Also I can have a look how the crops are coming along." She was widowed, but lived in a bungalow on the farm, now run by her married son.

I had noticed a couple of gravestones with unusual names and asked if she knew their history.

"Ah, the Christmases. All gone now, but they were once local chimney sweeps. He started off with his brushes tied to the crossbar of his bike, but then had a motorbike and sidecar later. The bell? It used to be in the tower but they had to take it out as its wooden frame was getting dangerous. It is cracked anyway so couldn't be rung."

She got up to go. "That's better. Thanks for the drink. If you haven't been inside yet the reredos is unusual and worth a look."

It was, and very poignant too. An eminent judge, with two sons, well educated and started in the legal profession, had had it dedicated when he lost them both in the first few months of World War II. One with the British Expeditionary Force and the other dying from wounds at Dunkirk. Kipling's poem came immediately to mind, although relating to an earlier time.

(click to enlarge)

Monday, July 02, 2018


(click to enlarge)

About 18 months ago I bought a Chinese motorcycle  it was well made and reliable and I have enjoyed riding it. However, these days I am no longer earning and my only income is my pensions. Thus I need to part finance any motorcycle purchase from the sale of the previous one.

Watching trends, I have noticed that the public are still wary of Chinese motorcycles and this is reflected in their heavy depreciation .(Although practically everything these days seems to be made in China, if you carefully examine the pedigree).

So I resolved to sell it whilst it was comparatively new. Good old Ebay! It sold locally and easily at only £300 less than I paid for it. That sum was quite acceptable for 18 months "hire". Classic Japanese bikes are appreciating in value rapidly so I figured that was what I needed.

Now the machine in the image nestles in the garage, alongside my "winter use" Honda SHi 125 scooter. A 1992 model, they were only imported into the UK between 1988 - 92 so is pretty rare here. I scoured the country for one and had this one couriered down from Birmingham after talking to the previous owner about it. Although now 26 years old ("Classic"?) it is in perfect, original condition and has only covered 20,000 miles during its life. It is light (145 kgs) and has an electric start - both essential to me these days. It is also comfortable and very smooth. I bought it for £1,400 and it will sell at a profit when I need the cash to finance my (presumably) eventual invalid buggy!

Our motorcycling family grows. My daughter-in-Oz was always an enthusiastic pillion passenger from the age of about eight

but I abjured her never to ride a bike herself. She always abided by my wish, but her Aussie husband became a "born again biker" and the bug bit. At 50 (plus a little bit) she bought herself a 250 Honda, took training and passed her initial test first time. Then she 'fessed up to me -  tentatively! I was absolutely delighted.

Now she enjoys runs out in the hinterland of Perth, Western Australia with her husband, searching for the usual motor cyclist coffee stops.

Thursday, June 07, 2018


What Horace says is,
Eheu fugaces
Anni labuntur, Postume, Postume!
Years glide away, and are lost to me, lost to me!
Now, when the folks in the dance sport their merry toes,
Taglionis and Ellslers, Duvernays and Ceritos,
Sighing I murmur, ‘O mihi præteritos!’

I presume that others have experienced this:  What we have relied on our bodies to accomplish automatically, changes to thinking consciously about what we want to do. Later this transforms, invidiously to the completely impossible.

With age, following a stroke I eased my cycling by buying an electric-assisted model. It was a powerful "gents" machine which I enjoyed for a couple of years.

 How does one dismount from a "cross-barred" bicycle? Something I have never needed to consider since I first learnt to ride about 70 years ago. One stopped, both feet on the ground, astride the bike, and simply tossed the right leg backwards over the saddle. About a year ago I found that I could no longer do this - the hip joints just would not allow it. However I managed to continue with the bike by thinking about where and when I wanted to stop. With the bike in motion, left foot at the bottom of the pedal revolution I could still fling the right leg backwards and come to an elegant halt, both feet on the ground to the left of the bike.

Which is fine until one comes to an unplanned halt as I did one day in Ashford High Street, thinking to go into a newsagents. I stopped, still astride the bike and could not get off! I had to restart, then perform the manoeuvre  described in the last sentence of the last paragraph before I could divest myself of the thing.

Weeks later I was gliding happily down a woodland track through Orlestone Forest - a short cut to a village cafe at Hamstreet. Some soft mud had become rutted, my front wheel slid into the groove and I stopped suddenly to preserve balance. Picture me, sat astride the bike in verdant surroundings, birds giggling merrily, unable to move forward, back or sideways. I had to just drop the bike under me and step over it. This could not go on if I was to continue cycling as I decidedly want to.

About 18 months ago I published a post about e-bikes the very last sentence of which came to mind. Reluctantly I sold the lovely gents' machine and have invested in, what was once referred to as a "ladies' bicycle" or "dropped frame".

A transformation (no, I do not wear a skirt), the bike is nearly as responsive as its predecessor , I no longer have to think about stopping and woodland tracks are so much easier and relaxing. I probably should have done it some time ago.