Monthly Archives: July 2015

Lost in France.


The idea that travel expands the mind, or at least ones horizons, is an adage that I hold dear to my heart yet like many activities in life there is no single standard by which the rewards of partaking in it can be judged.  There are many facets to travel, it should never be considered a homogenous item,  yet it can still be partitioned  into those two great divisions to which we humans are constantly seeking a balance and they are quantity and quality. Rushing around the world without taking the time to pause and reflect upon  culture and circumstances that are present in places foreign to ourselves is, I believe, of little value compared with attuning ones self to the local environment. This can never be a complete experience for a visitor, one has to be born to that place for it to be so, yet there is a spectrum of opportunity available to the traveler ranging from the briefest of flirtations to total immersion,  the latter being a lifetime’s work that few of us would contemplate while former constitutes the experience of too many.

Given that the opportunities to travel are limited by cost and time for the majority, what can be done to make the most of these two resources? A question to which there is no straight answer for it is highly dependent upon our own interests and experiences and we each have to decide what it is that we are seeking.  From my own perspective it is a more intimate engagement with the surroundings and ethos to which I have directed myself and it is often the case that I am drawn to France for an alternative take upon the world. Why this country should appear so different from any of its neighbours is something of a mystery and rather an annoyance to the impatient architects of a grand but bland unified Europe, yet it is a blessing that should be enjoyed before it is too late.

How can this singular cultural identity be defined? Not very easily at all, it’s often a case of just knowing it, almost by instinct, but there are clues for those who wish to look a little deeper and while wandering around central France last summer I came across several traces of what we might consider references to the French character that are incomplete on their own but may be accumulated to provide a much richer picture. The image shown here is  one such tiny item in a much larger tapestry. It is quite unremarkable in a way, a few plant pots strewn about a stage of stone and concrete, colour against  a colourless background,  renewal amongst decay, yet it is in this very juxtaposition that we see a glimpse of the romance of the peasant life that the French hold closer to their bosom than the more unsentimental countries to the north and east.

There is a texture within this picture that is not always apparent when visiting the Netherlands or Germany for instance, where everything is modern and up to date and oh so wonderful and correct. But the French don’t buy into that narrative to anything like the same degree. Gentrification is fine, but it denies the passing of time, the ticking of the clock, the turning of the calendar which dictates that we must all grow old and whither while youth and hope grow up around us. In the photograph we can see that some effort has been put into repair and improvement, there is new capping upon the wall and a filling of cement at the head of the steps yet the plaster crumbles from the walls and the cracks run untamed by the attention of the householder. It is a nature doing what she does, she takes the fresh and wholesome and degrades it in a constant cycle of revitalisation, a process which the French celebrate rather than deny despite it conflicting with the constant desire to progress in the general field of human achievement. They have, after all, a great dependence on nuclear power which would seem miles away from this genteel scene, although the hearts of many a technician may not be quite so distant after all, and here, in this fragment from somewhere in France, we have that struggle encapsulated in a quite abstract form.

Travel, as already suggested, is whatever you want to make of it and here, away from the regular tourist spots, I found a small space that captures a characteristic of a culture that is quite separate to ours and is as worthy, if somewhat quieter, a reward than the chance to gape at the Eiffel Tower along with millions of others. The tower may be promoted as an  ‘attraction’, but is it really as alluring as this unvisited spot?

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Triumph Reawakes! (hopefully)


Those who have had the misfortune of suffering my opinions on bikes will know that I carry something of a flame for Triumphs. Why this should be so is somewhat unclear, I can only put it down to having a Triumph bicycle in my youth,  although at the time it was no more than a brand name for Tube Investments who also owned Raleigh. Triumph pushbikes and Triumph motorcycles do share a common heritage and there was something about the solidity of that old bike and the miles we did together as I grew up through my teens that has remained riveted within my soul as firmly as the Triumph badge was riveted to its headstock.

My next full on encounter with the name was when I was casting around for a motorbike to replace a competent but dull Diversion and found myself falling in love with a 1200 Trophy . As a newly born again biker my knowledge of the market was over 20 years out of date and so it was something of a shock, a quite delightful one, to see the name resplendent in gold upon a majestic  tourer of British Racing Green. The last I had heard of the marque it was all disputes, co-ops and bankruptcies , its purchase and rehabilitation by John Bloor had gone unnoticed amongst the business of work and families which had filled my years since, yet what had been created was something unique with a strong identity that spoke of values that went beyond mere stop watches and rev limits. Its aura was undeniably British without any resort to cheap appeals to patriotism which the marketing department (ill)judged to  be necessary at a later date. Unfortunately a patch of ice sealed the fate of that machine and so it was that I moved on with broken heart, and rib, to something lighter and brighter, a Daytona 900 from the first year of the new company’s operation. I still have that bike although it is not taken out often, she can be quite a handful at times and needs to be ridden with purpose, the rider has to be in charge and as long as you keep your mind on the job then her soul will sing and you’ll be as one.

Those two bikes belonged to Hinckley Triumph’s early days, they had what was known as a spine frame, and then, in the late nineties they went all twin spar and the character changed completely. It wasn’t all bad, the Sprint, which is particularly characteristic of the type, is a far more relaxing bike to ride and doesn’t demand the input of that early Daytona and, what’s more, it still retains some soul, although not as intense. From then on though Triumph seemed to lose their way while chasing the competition, ‘Anything BMW can do we can do better’ seemed to be the mantra for a few years, but they didn’t have the sales volume, the resources or the experience to live up to it. It didn’t seem to affect sales though as the graph kept pointing in the right direction and the Speed Triple topped the charts on a regular basis, yet one wonders if they could have done even better if they were not so focused on the Teutonic  manufacturer. It is telling that the best selling Triumph models were those that the company had created from their own imagination, the 675 Daytona being the classic example. The various new Tigers and Trophies of the last few years are well respected bikes and move quickly enough through the showrooms but they always had the image of being ever so slightly copycat editions of German designs.

In parallel to this chasing around after others Triumph made plans for separate ventures, one a manufacturing plant in India, the other being the production of small off road recreational and utility vehicles. Neither came to anything but the energy was lost and in 2014 all they could promise was new paint schemes for the venerable Bonneville for the following model year. I despaired!  However, all is not lost after all, they have just announced, sort of, that a new platform, as is the jargon nowadays, is being developed around which a new range of models will be built. Putting aside the fact that both Ducatti and Yamaha have been planning this for a while it does seem that they are picking themselves up and moving on again, especially as one of the mooted machines will be a sports tourer of around 125hp, which is where the present Sprint is now. So in the spirit of goodwill I’d like to make a few suggestion as to how they might make the bike more appealing to those of us who like to tour and are still, at heart, great supporters of the brand.

1. First up is weather protection, I know I know, we are meant to call it ‘wind management’ nowdays, but whatever name you apply a proper arrangement for keeping the rain off while you are moving would be appreciated.

2. Large lumps of torque are also a must. Ranging up and down the box in a hurry is for the race track, not the twists and turns of many a delightful European road.

3. Plenty of luggage capacity. By this I don’t just mean vast warehouses slung each side of the rear end, but the space and ability to strap such things as tents with ample room for a topbox and/or a tank bag.

4. The minimisation of tools required for repairs and servicing.  The rider should be able to remove both wheels in the middle of nowhere without the need for a mega spanner at least!

5. Leading on from the above the engine should be accessible without having to displace tanks and fairings, or at least make them easy to remove. I was told by a recovery company who were meant to offer roadside assistance that they never take off the plastics when trying to find a fault because it takes too long. Think about that Triumph.

6. Soul, a bike needs to move you to want to ride it someplace.

That’s a first half dozen, I’ll maybe be blogging with some more one day, but I think I have covered the basics there.

Good luck Mr Bloor!


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Unknown Waters

IMGP9622wbA quiet evening at Kinvarra

Linkedin is a strange beast but occasionally the insipid grey fog of  articles such as ‘101 Things You Didn’t About Your Bosses Shoelaces’ or ‘Nothing  is so Gorgeous as Millennials’  (whatever they are) rolls back to reveal the occasional bright spot of conversation and knowledge. Recently  such a chat has been going on  amongst the members of a  bike group I’m signed up to. The original poster started by asking where people had been over the weekend on their bikes and as is the way of these things the thread soon took on a life of its own with much of the attention focused on riding in Ireland. There is much to recommend the country as a destination whether on two wheels or four so I thought for this blog I’d select half a dozen pictures taken over the years that feature coastal and lakeside scenes that are not so often visited yet remain distinctly beautiful and distinctly Irish with not a Guinness gate or Blarney stone amongst them!


Spiddal, Co Galway

IMG_3609Taken a few years ago this quiet harbour is the epitome of a delicious and totally relaxed idleness.


Marble Hall, Co Donegal.

DSC_1370wbGrowing up in the Britain of the Seventies Ireland was always portrayed as a dull place of violence and disturbance and the very word ‘Ulster ‘ was sure to drag a shadow of dread across the sunniest of outlooks. Yet this is Ulster today and probably as it always has been.

Lough Derg, Co Tipperary.


I have written before of the tranquility of the Irish lough and here we can see the untamed growth reaching down to man’s attempts to provide a shelter for his craft, yet they mean each other no harm.


Portmagee, Co Kerry

MMFC0011wbA trawler rests quietly at the quay as very little goes on around her, yet the scent of fish and fishing still lingers. Valencia Island provides the backdrop from where the first transatlantic cables were laid.

Lough Corrib, Co Galway

IMG_3546Somewhere on the western shore lies this wonderful spot, I had followed my nose in getting there, letting the bike take me to this place, but I couldn’t say exactly where it is, just south of Oughterard I think. Ireland is full of such quiet surprises.

 Killybegs, Co Donegal.

_IGP4486The small ports and harbours of Ireland are mainly quiet now, few boats go out to fish and the dark rumours of a rigged market abound. As a price of entry into the EU Ireland gave up its fishing rights  and while her trawlers now remain docked for many months of the year these Spanish line fishermen unload their catch at Killybegs, from where it is trucked directly to their home country.