Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In memoriam

I attended a memorial service last weekend. Alistair, one of my old motorcycling friends, died unexpectedly in July but I couldn’t make it to his funeral in the States. But I was determined to go to the memorial in Cumbria. Furthermore, as the invitation requested tartan, Hawaiian shirts and motorcycle gear, I managed two of the three. A kilt doesn’t really go with winter motorcycling, does it?

Googling revealed that I could rent a motorbike from Hunts Honda in Manchester. This rather set up the other travel arrangements: Abu Dhabi to Manchester, with a short train ride between the airport and the bike shop. I maintain a reputation with the old Portsmouth Poly Motorcycle Club alumni, later Team Thrasher, that my preferred style of motorcycle involves a large plastic barn door on the front, shaft drive, and cavernous boxes on the back. But not a Goldwing. I rented a Pan European: the Honda ST1300, which is the bike Honda aims at exactly the same market that Kawasaki aims at with its Concours, 1400GTR.

Manchester was inevitably cold and damp. I’d brought all my own bike gear except for ‘waterproof’ winter gloves which I purchased from the bike shop. Getting cash out of the ATM proved a stressful and fruitless exercise as I had managed to forget my PIN. This sort of thing happens when you don’t use the card for many months. So I had to drop into Barclays to get the PIN reset. Luckily I’d brought a credit card too.

After picking up the Pan I was off oop north. The M6 motorway isn’t signposted anywhere in southern Manchester except towards Birmingham, and that is in entirely the wrong direction. Navigation was by keeping the sun more or less to my back until I spotted a sign advertising Lakeland. Ah, the M6 at last. And I didn’t need to resort to GPS: my navigation skills remain intact! And then came the rain.

I last rode a motorbike in the rain in the summer of 1998, and last rode in the cold in 1995. As the air temperature dropped from 10°C to 6°C, the dark and pendulous clouds dropped their load. Theoretically I could keep rolling and the barn door would keep most of the rain off. But as the rain came down in cats and dogs, I hit roadworks and was reduced to a soggy crawl, splashing through the poodles. I looked for a bridge to hide under, but these were Not Coming In Lancashire. Actually, there was one, but it was coned off and not accessible. ‘Waterproof’ gloves should not be confused with those that resist the ingress of water.

Further north, the Lune Valley is one of the wettest parts of the UK. Given that cars were racing past me in the rain and spray well in excess of speeds I was willing to do, perhaps a re-spelling of Lune is in order.

So that it was possible to get to the memorial in good time, and to mitigate any problems with delayed flights, volcanic eruptions or alien invasions, I had a spare day. I used this to head as far north as Hexham to see some other old friends for the first time in several years. Anyway, I still owed them a CD of their wedding photos that I took in the antediluvian Days Before Digital. There was a certain amount of reminiscing, and an appropriate quantity of Old Peculier was involved. Oh, and a proper breakfast before I set off for Kendal early the following morning.

I was glad of the Pan’s ambient air temperature display. When it shows numbers like 5°C, all the wet stuff on the road is at least known to be liquid, despite the ominous ‘Road liable to icing’ signs. And liquid water on the road at least offers limits to the lack of grip.

Truth to tell, I was even more pleased when the hotel appeared and I was able to get indoors and change out of my bike gear and into my Hawaiian shirt. More bikes appeared. Animal and DT both arrived on their current steeds, as did other friends, and through local contacts several more local bikers showed up for the memorial ride. Other old PPMCC members arrived too: Martin and Hedgepig. Facebook is marvellous for reconnecting with old friends, but perhaps we should keep in closer contact than once every 25 years.

Following the excellent memorial service, where we were able to look at some of Alistair’s superb photography and share reminiscences, anecdotes and other memories, as many as could donned motorcycle gear and headed off to a local beauty spot to scatter the ashes. The basic idea was to take Alistair on a final thrash up some bendy roads. We all went the pretty way; nobody got their pegs down or fell off. The cars took a more direct route and arrived before the bikes. There was no rain, and the view was spectacular.

The evening was spent chatting and commiserating with Alistair’s family and friends. And after another of those glorious unhealthy hearty breakfasts (I don’t think they’ve heard of ‘healthy’ in northern England...) the following morning I was off to Manchester to return the motorbike and head for the airport. The weather was cold, but wonderfully sunny.

It was an immense shock to lose Alistair too soon, and I extend my sympathy to those whom he had touched over the years. I am extremely glad that I made the effort to attend the memorial, and especially that it was possible to turn up on a motorcycle, one of Alistair’s favourite things.

Goodbye, buddy.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Attempted murder: Fine Dh500

I had the extreme misfortune to find myself on the wrong side of a 23 year old Emirati this morning. He tried to kill me.

Instead of the usual and illegal practice of tailgating in his gigantic GMC Sierra pickup in order to intimidate me and my Yaris out of the way, this gentleman rammed my car. Then he rammed it again and knocked it sideways. This is at high speed, in heavy traffic, in the left lane of the Emirates Road.

I wrestled to regain control and chased after the pickup, which was now making good its escape up the right-hand side of the road, and we pulled over on to the breakdown lane.

Eventually, two and a half hours later the police arrived. As I explained to the officer, “For one moment, I thought I was going to die.”

According to the Dubai Police website, my antagonist’s recent driving record is nothing to be proud of:-

  • Dh600 fine from Dubai Police on 29 August: Speeding.

  • Dh600 fine from Dubai Police on 01 September: Speeding.

  • Dh800 fine from Sharjah Police on 04 October: Don’t know, but it earned 2 black points.

And a Dh500 fine from Dubai Police on 19 October for attempted murder.

Less than a speeding ticket.


Monday, October 11, 2010

So much for the beautiful south

It could be Bani Yas, or anywhere;
Sweihan or Al Ain,
’cos after dark Arabia
All looks the bleedin’ same.

Is it reasonable, or am I completely out of order to imagine that, when heading towards Dubai, if I put my car in the lane labelled “Dubai” in white on a large blue signboard, then Dubai is the general direction I’ll find myself going in?

Apparently, it’s totally unreasonable.

I left Abu Dhabi on the wrong road last night, and instead of hurtling back past Raha Beach, I found myself on the Al Ain road. Obviously, for anyone who lives in the area, there will be a left turn somewhere to take me north instead of east. I missed the turning on to Airport Road because of a platoon of Ashok Leyland buses impersonating a train. But not to worry; there’s a junction on to the Emirates Road eleven kilometres further down the road. There were even numerous illuminated gantry signs confirming that a Dubai turning was coming up.

But at the last moment, it turned out that the new improved interchange 24°18.5’N 054°36’E is in fact not yet open for business. And covering up the deceitful direction signage is apparently beyond the wit of Man.

So on to Al Wathba. A further six kilometres to a junction. Now I turned in a generally northerly direction, which turned out to be another wrong decision. The road is a deceptive ram-rod straight dual carriageway (apart from one inexplicably single carriageway section), and at every roundabout the direction signage helpfully confirmed that this was an appropriate direction for Dubai. Until, after 13km, the road was blocked. Presumably the next section is still under construction. Street lighting stretched ahead and over the horizon, illuminated direction signs advertised Dubai as a place to go, yet I was now obliged to make a U-turn into a place called Al Shamkha.

Naturally, all direction signage now vanished and I ended up using the moon to work out my orientation. Eventually I ended up on the Sweihan Road. I don’t want to go to Sweihan! I want Dubai! They’re in different directions!

Four kilometres to an interchange. But, as I noted above, it was under construction and barriered off, so the “Dubai” signs were useless. An additional eight kilometres to a roundabout where I could at last make a U-turn and head back to Abu Dhabi.

Two and a half hours it took me to get home last night, with a 60km detour.

It was all my fault, of course, for making the initial slip-up as I crossed Maqta Bridge. But how about some helpful signage? And what’s wrong with covering up direction signs that are – temporarily – completely wrong?


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