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Masks!

The heavy oak doors flung open before a furious behemoth stormed through, his face an alarming hue of red, with foaming saliva peppered over a 1980s grey goatee beard.

“Stupid old bastards! Half-dead cretins!” he yelled, kicking over the elephant-foot umbrella stand on his way across the cavernous entrance hall towards the huge outer doors. “You count for nothing in Spain, you pricks!”

“Morning Kev”, muttered Mark Neate from a dark corner of the foyer – never intending for his greeting to actually be heard.

“Oh well that’s going to put them in great bloody form, that is…”, grumbled Mark. He sat hunched over with his chin in his hands, the furrows of his brow perhaps even more pronounced than normal. His shirt, a neck size or two too small, dug uncomfortably into his neck whilst Clare stared at him pitifully and straightened his creased necktie.

“Don’t worry petal, you’ll do just fine – remember you’re doing this for me, sweetie-pie”.

“Yes dear.” His response lacked the conviction Clare would have hoped for.

There was a loud ‘Tsk’ from the darkest corner of the hallway, a shadowy figure sat bolt upright, staring at the ceiling with her eyes rolled back in her head.

“NEXT! No Limits Racing!”

Mark looked sheepishly at his wife, slowly hauling himself from the wooden bench. He shuffled towards the oak doors and into the brightly lit room. The walls were lined with portraits of men who clearly had one foot in the grave and the other on a Triumph oil spill. Each one, to a man, was scowling disapprovingly from the walls above. Across the back wall sat five similarly decrepit – but medically alive – old walruses, sporting various designs of scratchy grey facial hair and pronounced looks of discontent. Their beady dark eyes were trained on Mark, staring from either side of their bulbous, lumpy, veiny noses – witness to years of whiskey abuse. All, that was, but the most portly and sweaty of the five who appeared much more interested in Clare as she strode purposefully into the room.

“What brings you to the hallowed halls of the ACU, Mr Neate?”, mumbled the largest of the dark figures.

There was a long pause before a loving finger to the ribs from Clare brought Mark to life and he muttered “Face masks, m’lord”.

“God preserve us, not this again?” blurted the official. Spittle flew from his fat lips and into his glass of sparkling water. His complexion suggested he spat more water into his glass than he ever took out.

Mark looked to Clare with a pleading expression, but the scowl left him in no doubt there was no getting out of this.

“I would like to formally object to your facemask ruling in the interests of the wellbeing of my staff. If we are to have a hope of running a successful weekend at Cadwell, the ruling must be overturned.”

“MIS-ter Neate, do we look like the sort of men who, on a whim or a fancy from some backstreet racer will overturn our judgement on a matter of the utmost gravity? Our ruling must stand!” bellowed the official.

One of the less impressive of the five grey-suited lumps was wriggling in is velvet chair. Lockdown had led to an extra stone or two round the waist and his wife’s skimpy underwear was chafing something awful under his elasticated Farahs.

Mark ignored the distraction and looked to Clare.

“I told you…”

“Do it.”

“No.”

“I said do it…”

“Erm, your honourable highnesses, may I please bring forward a witness to present our case, please, please, Sir?”

“Christ…”, muttered the lead walruss, “Go on then but make it quick.”

Mark stared to the doors at the back of the hall, “Toni, could you join us please?”

The panel instantly stared at each other with alarm, their vast bushy eyebrows suddenly lifting several inches higher up their liver-spotted foreheads.

“Suffering fuck, they’re bringing in the Downie!”

To a man, all five officials sunk into their chairs, suddenly adopting the posture of year nine schoolboys having been caught red-handed by Miss Strickland playing pocket billiards under the desk in a History lesson.

The figure appeared from the entrance hall. Her dark eyes were trained on the main man, not breaking her lazer stare for a second.

“Why doesn’t she blink? I hate that she doesn’t blink?!”

“Shut-up you clown”

Toni Downie took her position, several feet closer to the bench than the grey, dusty and now slightly paler men would have liked. The black sheen of her neatly combed hair matched the full length leather jacket, looking all the world like gestapo.

“Hello, boys.” Toni sneered. “Nice to see you again”

You don’t debate the Downie. You never debate the Downie. Their heads dropped further.

“Picture this, from your plump velvet pulpits, boys, sat there sweating on your comfy little haemorrhoid rings. Imagine being put behind glass. Imagine being put there for days. In the same hard, plastic seat. Now imagine a line of club racers. Yes – club racers. Imagine that line never ends. For days. Imagine the intellect you are presented with. Imagine the outright, unfathomable stupidity of the questions, the arguments, the moans and the whinges. For just one minute imagine the sheer knuckle-dragging, unwashed misery I am presented with. Imagine the smell as these van dwellers sweat all day in leather suits that reek like festering dog-corpses, pissing in Irn Bru bottles, hands thick in engine oil. The children – oh the ferrel little brats – running amok. Imagine having to pretend not to hate every last one of the shoeless little urchins.”

The stare was ice-cold, eyelids now seemingly redundant. Black eye liner intensified the effect. The words came out with a hiss, the sound a melody of pure venom. Yet there was a barely-perceptible but definite smirk in the corner of her mouth as she spoke. Behind the bench, a pair of grey Farahs had a large and rapidly increasing dark patch growing down one inside leg.

“Imagine this sat beside you,” her arm springing to point at Mark as he stared at his scuffed black shoes, “misery personified in your ear all day every day. Imagine Mister ‘fingernails on a blackboard’ Banting who couldn’t take anything seriously if his balls were in a vice, bouncing around the place like Zebedee on Es with his nose in his phone. All behind glass. In a Portakabin. With no heating. And no cooling. And no blinds. Do you get it? Do you understand? Can you picture it??”

Three pairs of Farahs were now destined for the dry cleaners as red velvet seats soaked up the permanent scent of old-man piss.

“And over the horizon, a ray of hope. A pandemic, airbourne, for which the most effective preventative measure is a face mask. Can you imagine for one moment the bliss, the pure relief I felt at the idea of not having to see the toothless, bristly, filthy, rancorous-breathed mugs of that swarm of imbeciles for days on end? Can you imagine how much more palatable the misery which is my life would be if we had those pitiful beings masked and gagged? AND YOU FIVE PRICKS DECIDE WE DON’T NEED MASKS??? GIVE ME FUCKING MASKS!! MAKE THEM WEAR THEM! MAKE THEM!!!!”

It was over before it begun. They knew it. There was no retort that would not enrage the Downie and thus there was no retort that could even be considered.

“Motion overturned. Mandatory facemasks at Cadwell Park” muttered the official.

The No Limits three strode out of the building, Mark almost breaking into a girly skip. He stopped in the car park and looked to Toni.

“Misery personified??”

Toni lifted her eyebrows and gave him a faux-surprised look. Mark quickly hopped into the long, black Beemer, knowing when to quit. Clare winked at Toni, Toni winked back with a smile – both safe in the knowledge of who actually ran things at No Limits.

And so it was. Cadwell Park 2020 was a masked affair. And not just the ugly ones – even the girls had to cover their bakes.

Team ‘What’s An Apex?’ had a lively masked weekend in the sun. Geordie Henderson, Sean Kenyon and Dan Boucher were the team this round. One pit crew barely made it when his van broke down. We had a mechanical in solo practice. For the second race meeting in a row, two of our riders went down in the solo race before the Endurance. One rider pulled out of endurance to fix his bike only to join again after a simple fix was found. Our first rider out had a mechanical in the first laps forcing a pit stop. Red flags, safety cars, an all-action race but we finished second in class despite all of this. Even then we were not done. Another crash for Dan in a solo on Sunday and even when we had finished racing Mr Kenyon decided to finish the weekend by dropping his bike in a field….

A mad but highly satisfying weekend with a great crowd. We are all very much looking forward to Donington in a few weeks time.

SOUNDTRACK TO THE WEEKEND

My Soundtrack to the Weekend selection is from within our very own team. Captain Henderson presented with this obscenity, actually proposing that this was our energy source for three days. The redundant black thing rattling in a heap used to be an exhaust.

I cannot tell you the depth of personal affront this caused me, being associated with someone responsible for such a pollution. Not only did I have to hide in shame as the crowds gathered to see what it was that was registering on the Richter scale in Louth, but Mrs Henderson had to go all weekend with her locks untamed by the magic of Mr Dyson’s Supersonic due to the chronic inefficiency of the clattering yellow fire hazard. This has resulted in a significant Brownie-point deficit for our captain.

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The Sickness of Suzuki-San

Suzuki-San sat cross-legged in his unassuming little wooden hut, high above the misty foothills of Mount SRAD and his sprawling Suzuki factory. A solitary workbench with the wretched appearance of millenia of hard use stood against one wall. A few simple but well-worn tools hung neatly on rusty nails above the bench, with a simple wooden cup and saucer lying amongst various unidentifiable engine parts on the worktop. Despite being perched on a mountaintop above the clouds, bathed from the outside in Japanese sunlight, the hut was dreary inside. The only splash of colour was a dog-eared, heavily fingerprinted calendar which hadn’t progressed beyond February. Grinder – 2020.

Hunched over a filthy iPhone 4, twirling the tip of his moustache between oily fingertips, Suzuki-san’s shoulders began to jiggle – almost imperceptibly at first but slowly amplifying until suddenly he threw his head back, whipping his long beard over his head, tears streaming down his wizened face, hollering with laughter. These were the moments Suzuki-San lived for.

Far away in a similarly sun-drenched corner of England, a ragtag team of Irish, Welsh, Sarfeners and Northern-England types were planning a hopelessly optimistic attempt at claiming a trophy in a three-hour endurance race under the name of Team What’s An Apex. With a smorgasbord of machinery from Japan and Germany, the hope was to survive two solo races each just to get to the start line of the Endurance race on Saturday afternoon. There was great excitement amongst the riders for the race ahead, all riders that was except for one.

Because in his little blue tent, surrounded by generations of Wallis’s, Neil was having doubts. Normally the very picture of laid-back, rolly-puffing nonchalance, today there was a butterfly in the belly. Rain was forecast. Heavy rain. Right at the start of endurance. And Neil’s Suzuki had no traction control.

For a week Neil had been trying to get out of this one. Oulton Park is a beast of a track on a thou and with heavy rain comes rivers at Oulton. Not where you want to be trying to control a couple hundred wreckless horses with your right hand. Neil’s first attempt was to break a clutch rod. Having done his homework he knew there wasn’t one to be had in Europe and with a six-week lead time from Japan (Suzuki-San will not be rushed) he reckoned he’d landed the perfect excuse. But the poor lad under-estimated the tenacity and generosity of the No Limits race paddock and no sooner had he flagged the issue than it was resolved through selfless donation of a spare rod from the Shrek. Damn.

So it was back to the same strategy as the previous race weekend – deploy secret Suzuki technology mid-race to get out of jail free. The CBBTF (Can’t Be Bothered To Finish) button used at the last race meeting is a fairly straightforward one but it has a flaw – whilst it gets you out of the current race it typically results in a minor technical issue which is easily resolved. With an over-eager support crew waiting in the garage, Neil knew he had to go big to guarantee going home.

The Suzuki Premature End to the Weekend (SPEW) function was one of Suzuki-San’s least-known but favourite developments. Along with the TL1000S and the RGV500, it was a direct result of a sick sense of humour developed over his one-hundred and eleven year existence alone on a mountaintop with a paper cup and hairy bailer twine his only connection to the outside world and the factory far below.

His thinking was this – if you are that desperate to end your weekend, then you’ll be prepared to take risks. And riders who take risks were Suzuki-San’s sole form of entertainment – other than his calendar, that is. Like anyone who paid good money for a TL1000S or was so maniacal they thought an RGV500 was a wise move, a man prepared to push the SPEW button was most certainly a man who could provide a giggle.

The odds of a favourable SPEW outcome are good. A thrown rod, a fried ECU, a lunched gearbox were all regular and effective results of taking drastic action. But Suzuki-San, as is his wont, built in a surprise. Every now and again, just for sport, the SPEW algorithm would decide it was time for takeoff. Little did Neil know, but SPEW had decided that he was the perfect candidate. By doubting the technical ability of Suzuki-San’s greatest creation – the GSXR1000 – in the wet, Neil had already thrown the weight of probability against himself. To plan to let down a team all fired up for a three hour endurance round – well that sealed the deal.

And so it was that in the first solo race, Neil rolled the dice. First lap, Cascades, slam that button and wait for the mechanical mayhem of a blown engine. But this time was different. There wasn’t a bang or a crunch, no plumes of black smoke. Just a rise in RPM and then a strange, floating feeling.

Suzuki-San woke suddenly from his slumber, hunched over his crossed legs. A red intermittent glow lighting up the darkness brought him round quickly – he checked and the LED carefully positioned behind Mr February’s posing pouch was flashing on and off accompanied by a dull buzzing sound. It didn’t happen often, but when it did this made life worthwhile. Grabbing his iPhone he logged in to his SPEW portal, connecting to Oulton Park CCTV just in time to see Mr Wallis catapulted from his Rockers Racing steed, slung into orbit and pile-driven into the tarmac. Suzuki-San’s giggles rose to hysterical laughter when as a result of the SPEW highside event, a second rider went down like a tonne of Wagyu-poo – none other than Neil’s Endurance team-mate Mr Frizzell. It’s always a bonus when you can skittle a Kraut bike, but this was the jackpot taking out half a team in one hit. Suzuki-San hoisted himself from the wooden floor, still in fits of giggles, and gently lifted the calendar off it’s rusty nail as he shuffled off to the outhouse to end a perfect day.

So whilst Suzuki-San’s sick sense of humour was well-sated, half of Team What’s An Apex were lying out cold on the track. Being a BMW rider, Mr Frizzell didn’t get the full SPEW experience, with only concussion and heavy bruising. But as a fully paid-up Suzuki fanbois, Neil got VIP treatment. Helicopter ride, a rib cage like an out of date bag of Twiglets, a lung like last year’s birthday balloon, a couple of crumpled digits and several more vertebrae than he was born with. Suzuki-San doesn’t do subtle.

And so it was that Team WAA were left with Geordie Henderson and Daniel Boucher to ride for three hours on Kwak and BMW respectively. The sun shone, nothing went wrong, we won – First in Class thanks to faultless riding and execution.

The End.

PS: Get well soon guys. Whilst we like to laugh and joke, we also appreciate that injuries have real impact on everything so as always – we’re here to help.

PPS: My new feature is ‘Soundtrack to the Weekend’. This week’s single – ‘Wolf Power’ by Rawlings Racing had an easy-listening melody and solid bass line. A significantly higher-quality listen than most in the paddock.

PPPS: I always enjoy being surrounded by athletes and professionals, the NLR paddock is a truly inspiring place!

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Every Day Is A School Day

Like an ex-smoker lurking round the fire exit deep breathing, I turned up at Snetterton to hang round racers like a scruffy, mouldy recovering addict. It had been too long and I craved lungs filled with petrol fumes and black fingernails.

I chose to lurk round team BellnDs – Sean Kenyon, Neil Wallis, Geordie Henderson with Martin on security. They seemed approachable, I could get up close and I was confident I could get deep sniffs of race.

And so it was, I was welcomed into garage five and was straight away able to lick slicks, embrace warm exhausts and run my fingers along oily chains. Martin was easily distracted and I found myself writhing on the floor with my tongue probing deep into filthy, dusty-black Brembo M4s. The Castrol was once again pulsing through my veins and I was in my happy place.

Desires sated, it was down to business – as cover for my guilty little erotic agenda I had promised to help with the endurance race. Strategy was straightforward – ride round until the fuel runs out. Martin being on pit wall duty meant I could lurk in the garage quietly fingering the other two hot bikes as they ticked with satisfaction.

The things you can get away with when wearing a facemask….

Endurance went silky smooth, all riders delivering full to empty sessions and pit stops were well managed by Martin and Judith. The team finished third and I can’t lie, seeing the trophies arrive did make a little bit of wee come out. All said a highly ‘satisfying’ day.

Through the day I managed to catch up with a few old friends but I also missed seeing some others. Snetterton was mad busy, great to see a full paddock under relentless sunshine. In the evening I went back to the caravan, had a few beers and a cold shower and put myself to bed. There was no shortage of dreams on Saturday night. Which reminds me, I have some laundry to do when I get home.

Sunday was school day. I thought I knew a bit about modern bikes but I went home with a deeper understanding than I went with. Endurance takes its toll on a rider and jumping back on the next day to ride sprint races is not always desirable or achievable. But there’s pride to be considered so ‘I’m old and tired’ isn’t something anyone wants to hear let alone say. And so it seems some very specific features have been introduced to modern bikes to cope.

Sean is old-skool, when he couldn’t be bothered riding any more he just barrelled into a hairpin and wiped out the front – that’s what I’m used to. But Neil and Geordie are more high tech, with two different technologies delivering similar results but with more grace and less cost.

Geordie was first to deploy, hitting the DMMR* button on the Kawasaki saving him the effort of a race start in first race on Sunday. The team next door helpfully reset the error codes but before race two began Geordie deployed again, lighting the dash up like a Kawasaki Christmas tree and disabling the quick shifter again. Another 8 laps of effort avoided without losing face.

Neil showed more staying power, not hitting the Suzuki patented CBBTF** button until half way through second race on Sunday. The chain exited gracefully from the bike and Neil could relax and go home with head held high.

There were some other minor issues over the weekend which were all dealt with without drama, overall it was a cracking race weekend with a very friendly team, the event overall was brilliantly run by No Limits again.

Well done to all involved, thank you to Team BellenDs and associated ladies and children for the welcome back to the paddock, I take away some happy memories which I will recall in some of my quiet, personal moments of reflection.

See y’all at Oulton. Love you long time. Xxx

Technical Glossary:

*DMMR – DON’T MAKE ME RIDE.
Lights up the Kawasaki dash and disables quickshifting, avoiding any need to even start the race.

**CBBTF – CAN’T BE BOTHERED TO FINISH.
Ejects chain from Suzuki and enables graceful retirement.

Impure thoughts…
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de Brew

A recent hobby of mine is beer making.

With £30 worth of ingredients, 30 litres of water and a bit of time I can fill a 33 pint keg with excellent quality beer and have enough left over to fill a few bottles. The equipment cost a few quid but will last for years and retain value.

Home brew has an iffy reputation, but proper all grain brewing – brewing from scratch with raw ingredients – can easily surpass pub beer for quality. The equipment I use is essentially a mini professional grade brewing kit. Any lack of beer quality is down to the brewer not the equipment.

It’s not a complicated process – just grain, water, hops and yeast with a bit of heat and time. I am no expert – far from it – and when you get into the nerdy details of the chemistry of brewing then the process becomes as complicated as you want it to be. But ultimately it boils down to the same basic ingredients and steps.

Firstly heat some malted grain in water for an hour, circulating water through the grain. The extracts from the malted grain form the base of the beer.

Then pass more hot water through the grain before chucking it (or making dog biscuits from it).

After that is the boil – usually a one hour boil during which time hops can be added at different stages for different bitterness and aroma. From the end of the boil, the beer must not touch anything not sanitised.

Then filter the liquid and cool it to the target temperature for fermentation by using a counterflow cooler – passing cold water over the hot liquid. Transfer the mix to the fermenter at this temperature and add the yeast.

The yeast gets to work producing alcohol and flavour as well as CO2. This takes a few days. Hops can then again be added for extra flavour.

As the beer ferments, monitor it using a bluetooth device which pushes the data to the cloud for remote monitoring.

Transfer to a keg.

Apply CO2 under pressure to create the appropriate level of carbonation. The beer improves over time in the keg.

Alternatively bottle, add sugar to create CO2 and cap.

And serve.

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Pond life

The human race is facing a pandemic.

A virus, CoronaVirus Disease 19, has transmitted from animals to humans. Humans have no inherent immunity to it. It is highly contagious and in a small but significant percentage of cases it requires critical care and may be fatal.

There is no treatment, antibiotics do not work. There is no vaccine. All that can be done for now is to treat the symptoms. The virus attacks the lungs and leads to pneumonia.

Unchecked, the virus spreads exponentially and within days or weeks will overwhelm any first world healthcare service. Without implementing isolation within the UK the virus is expected to kill 250,000 people directly. This does not consider the people who would die from other conditions due to unavailability of resources.

Try projecting this out by a few weeks.

Children tend to weather the infection well but are very efficient carriers. Older people suffer disproportionately. People with underlying health conditions are also very vulnerable. There is increasing evidence that even healthy young people are arriving in ICU.

For the most part, most people I know agree that if every government on the planet is taking extraordinary measures and if everyone qualified to comment from a medical standpoint is in agreement on the severity of this threat then we should probably follow guidance from the best sources we have. That means following new and increasingly intrusive guidance on a daily basis as the facts emerge.

It’s not the numbers. It’s the trend. Look where we are headed.

The disruption is unprecedented in peacetime. Economies will suffer massively, there will be huge job losses and many industries may never recover. But that is, apparently, what it will take to weather this.

Not everyone can get their heads around this. Especially people who it doesn’t suit. They grasp for any defence as to why they should not lose out on income or have to stop doing things they enjoy. Why they should not have to stop hobbies or going to the pub. It’s all a massive overreaction apparently.

They compare it to the flu. We have vaccines for flu. We have inherent defences against it in our bodies. Many people die from it but only after the very best treatment. We administer pain relief and palliative care. We know how many people will be affected each year and our health care system is set up to cope. The mortality rate for flu is <0.2% but the death toll is high as it has spread across the globe. CV-19 has not spread yet, but the mortality rate is believed to be upwards of 1%.

They compare it to suicide, heart disease, anything. All things that we provide treatment for all day every day, many of which are at least partly self-inflicted. You get the very best care we can give and if you can be saved you will be.

They blame Soros or the Chinese or come up with any number of ludicrous tin foil hat theories – anything but accept the reality of the situation. Anything to avoid a first world brat having to disrupt their plans.

It seems the whole point of what we are doing is deliberately and studiously ignored – avoiding a sudden and overwhelming run on our healthcare system that means chronic shortages of critical care, will kill many of our medical staff and will lead to hundreds of thousands of people dying of pneumonia. Dying of oxygen starvation, outside of hospital. Choices made every minute of every day as to who gets life saving treatment and who is allowed to die. The issue is not about how serious the disease is compared to others, it is not how many people died today or yesterday. It is about the predicted path of where this is going and every day the data supports the projections. By the time people start to appreciate how serious it is, we will be way, way too late. Doubling the cases every day is no big issue when the numbers are low. But double a big number is a very, very big number.

And it is not just the CV-19 patients. The people who are currently relying on critical care – they will either be taken off it or they will block it from a CV-19 patient. You will be allowed to die if you are too old or weak. If you have a disabled child they will need to give way to a sick mother. Your sick parents will have their oxygen removed and they will die when a younger patient arrives on the ward.

How prepared are we for this?

We won’t stop people dying from CV-19. But we can slow the rate of infection to something that is approaching manageable so we have the best chance of treating and saving as many as possible. That seems like the right thing to do. To at least try to treat people.

The only way this can happen is if everyone takes on the joint responsibility of slowing the progress of this disease. We won’t stop it – that requires complete lockdown and only creates a temporary pause in its progress. So we have to let it trickle through the community, keeping it away from people we know it will kill and hoping the rest of us can, for the most part, recover and become resistant to getting it again. The very small headroom we have in the NHS can be expanded, we buy time to develop vaccines and on a daily basis we increase our understanding of what the virus is and how to treat it.

It is easy to profile those who have a problem with joint responsibility. They are the same people who would be the most vocal and outraged if their parents or children died in agony in a hospital car park. They would demand answers and want to know who was responsible. And it would never be themselves. It’s always someone else’s job to make things happen without inconveniencing them.

These people cannot see past themselves. It seems to be an increasingly common trait and contrasts horribly to what we hear about generations before and how they dealt with extraordinary hardships. But these people can’t imagine that this disease would kill them so why worry about the others who would probably die of something else anyway? Why worry about the healthcare workers? The teachers? The public servants who can’t hide at home? The elderly and infirm? As long as Billy Big Balls gets to do what he wants. The same Billy who was first in line to fill two trolleys with toilet rolls because ‘fuck everyone else’.

Like most things, this epidemic will probably turn out to be less serious than the worst predictions. This is because humans are very clever and there is undoubtedly massive efforts to get on top of this happening across the globe. But hope is not a strategy. We must plan for the worst because science and statistics say it can happen.

The best explanation of what we need to do that I have seen is in the link below. Please take five minutes to read it and have a think about why you really don’t want to acknowledge what we all know – that we all have a part to play in this and that we have to think about this not from the perspective of an individual, not even as a nation. But as a species. A species that is better than other species because we look out for each other.

What needs to happen.

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Good-bye my lover

I’ve had some shit cars. Most of them seemed great at the time and I was happy with all of them apart from the Mitsubishi Warrior which was utter, utter dung. But none of them could be described as ‘performance’ cars, given that all but the very first Seat Ibiza were 4×4 apart from the vans.

Then in 2011 I decided I needed a car with some poke. Yes, I get my speed kicks from two wheels but I thought I owed it to myself to get something with at least a little bit of oomph just once in my life. I toyed with the idea of a Cayman and some other options but settled on the S4, a car which I hadn’t quite appreciated until I did my homework.

With 333hp delivered via a three litre supercharged v6 petrol, quattro four wheel drive and dynamic suspension/steering/braking it was just about perfect as a fun, practical road car. Comfortable for long journeys (it did 21,000 miles in one year slogging it from Reading to Ipswich) and with enough power to make me smile when I wanted it to, it was a very well balanced car. Practicality was not an issue, comfortable seating for four (rear seats probably used less than 15 times) and it was the Avant so a big boot for the dawg. It was very highly specced so had all the toys.

Service costs were about the same as a standard A4, tyres a bit more but not silly (it didn’t have ‘look at me’ sized rims because it was a car for actual driving). It only had one minor issue with a known fault that causes a brake wear light to come on – fixed easily once diagnosed. Otherwise it delivered 75,000 faultless miles over nine years. Used a bit of oil, but apparently they all do.

Two idiots stole my car from outside Star City in Birmingham whilst I was with a customer. They smashed the driver’s window and used the OBD port to reprogram the car/key and drove off. It’s a well known vulnerability in keyless start Audis. They and an accomplice used the car two days later as a getaway car in a violent robbery, then abandoned it in a residential area. They had replaced the broken window and a broken door mirror.

By the time I got to inspect the car (four weeks later when the police finally stopped wasting time) it was a sorry sight. Smashed glass throughout the previously mint interior which had then been sat on ruining pristine leather. Every external panel had some damage, the floor pan was dented in two places. Uneconomic to repair.

So after a bit of negotiation with LV insurance, I have a settlement figure.

All the advice I get is ‘buy what appreciates, lease what depreciates’ but that’s bullshit unless you see your car as nothing more than a tool (which for many it is). I don’t like long term debt – whatever sits on my drive needs to be mine. If my wealth takes a nose-dive, I’d rather be trying to sell an asset than convince a finance company not to screw me into oblivion to let me out of a contract.

I did a very quick PCP calculation and to drive a new S4 I’d be paying at least £7,800 per year over four years. Doing the sums, my car cost me £2,700 per year and there was no good reason to change it.

I suppose my point is if you manage to find a car that ticks all the boxes and proves reliable, then owning it and maximising on the investment can prove a much cheaper option. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a new car during those nine years – I often did – I just couldn’t find anything that was so much better than what I had that it justified the cost.

So it’s time for my new car. I reckon I know what I’m buying but until I do there is no point in sharing. And who cares anyway? But it will be a couple of years old and I am hoping will do me for a few years (until they ban them, realistically). I’m glad I am getting to change but sad it was forced on me. The longer I had the Audi, the more I developed a sense of pride in not needing to change it. I was thinking of taking it to 10 years old or 90,000 just for fun. It won’t happen now, but not out of choice.

Good-bye old friend.

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Andalumeria

de Zoo is back. From a Euro. In one piece. Wonders will never cease.

Having had my ass kicked severely by the BMW on a wet Jerez last November, I only just recovered in time for Almeria/Andalucia on 28th Feb. My back isn’t 100% and my knee is bad but I knew I could rattle round for a while on the SV if I could fit in my badly beaten leathers.

You see, my self pity has had a rather unattractive side-effect. Being in constant discomfort and not being able to train leaves me unhappy and I turn to fat food and drink. So it was a more portly and less fit version of myself who turned up to Spain hoping to fit in a pair of custom fit leathers that were custom fit when I was at a svelte 11 stone-something instead of the mess I’m in now.

Getting into the cold, stiff leathers was not fun, even my boots protested. But with a few gallons of Spanish sweat on board they soon become pliable enough to forget about.

Uncle Philios oozing style

We were on board the 72hp SV650 pizza bike. Andalucia is technical but flowing and twisty and I knew it would work for the little bike, Almeria I was less sure of due to the inordinately long straight. I booked into group 4 of 4 for both to see how we went. We soon got pushed into group 3 for Andalucia and as soon as I got a clear lap Tony let me into group 3 for Almeria.

We holidayed with Track Sense again because when it comes to making it easy, Tony is as good as they come. Along with myself and Philios was Blue and a gang of Northern Ireland head-the-balls, so the craic was always going to be ninety. We were set up in the Andalucia garages which was ideal. Lots of space and power.

So how was the SV? Crackin’. I mean, proper, laugh-out-loud fun. Take the fun of riding these tracks on a litre bike, then take away the arse-clenching braking, the brutal power and huge weight and you get the SV. You just have to keep it wound up and once you do, everything becomes more fun. Everything is more flowing, no stop-start cornering, no fear of banging on the power. The straights become an opportunity to breathe and regroup. The corners are an exercise in blind faith. And it’s all just fun!

No doubt, a few more ponies would not go amiss. By the end of the Almeria straight I’m staring at the restaurant and wondering what’s for lunch. But then when was a straight line fun anyway? It leads me to think my perfect bike is not a litre bike and maybe the SV is a touch too basic. 765 perhaps?

Anyway I enjoyed both circuits even more than I did in the past and would take the SV back there in a heartbeat. There were a lot of big and expensive bikes shown up over the three days and despite banging in a lot of laps, the SV never missed a beat. I went from being very sore on day one to feeling almost fit on day three, doing both sessions on the combined track in the afternoon – which was bliss on the little bike.

As a destination I love Andalumeria. It’s a 40 min drive to track from Almeria but well worth it to stay in town with dozens of great food places within 5 minutes of the hotel. Not much English is spoken by the locals, but that’s a good thing in my book – we get life too easy. We headed for local Tapas most nights, going back to a couple of favourites from before.

Being British, we order 4x too much food

One of our group did manage a spectacular spill, hats off for doing the job right Mr Smallwoods…

But despite being knocked to shite, he didn’t shy away from his civic duties (while we watched on, beers in hand…)

Nothing new with Mr Blue, same poses and same unfathomable mess.

A great trip, good to catch up with old accomplices and meet some new (and fast) Norn Iron folks. It’s one of my favourite places to ride and to visit, I hope I’ll be back.

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How to wreck a set of BKS leathers

The quick answer is – I’m not sure.

In 2015 I decided to splash out on custom BKS leathers. BKS don’t make so many custom race leathers any more – they make leathers for the UK’s police forces which takes up most of their time. They were highly specced and fully customised, the sizing and design work took hours. They fit like a (very tight) glove, on first wearing them I was genuinely worried I would never be able to move enough in them to ride a bike.

They went back early on for a very minor adjustment to the neck band, very prompt service and the leathers were perfect after that. They loosened up beautifully but were still perfectly neat everywhere – and have remained so to this day.

Design

One aspect of leathers often overlooked is whether the sleeve or leg has the capacity to rotate around the limb. It’s all very well having an elbow protector but if the arms of your leathers can twist, they will – and your protection will be next to useless. This becomes a bigger issue if you have non-leather stretch panels which could twist round so you slide on them. I cringe when I see track day riders wearing what are essentially leather bags. With good custom fit, the bits designed to cover certain areas stay there no matter what.

First outing

So what have my leathers been through? They’ve been crashed on the grass at Cadwell, slid across tarmac twice at Anglesay, been slung down the end of the back straight at Donington, dragged across tarmac and deep into gravel in Cartagena, highsided in the wet at Snetterton and finally highsided in the wet at 70mph onto tarmac and through gravel at Jerez.

What repairs have they had? They went back once in 2017 to get tidied up. They had no holes, no failed leather, no failed stitching – but there were areas where the abrasion had started to affect some stitching and some stretch panels had been damaged. They’ve been crashed a few times since. Here is how they look…

The right buttock is where I landed at 70mph and hit the ground with enough force to detach my skin from the muscle underneath across half of my lower back.

These things crash so well it is ridiculous. The metal caps on all raised points are worth their weight in gold, they keep the leather off the ground and mean you slide on Titanium. Where the leather is grazed, it seems to do very little damage. The stitching is rock solid.

Custom handmade BKS leathers are expensive compared to a lot of alternatives, but given the wear I have had out of them, the service I received and the fact that they are still intact – means they were worth every penny and a lot more. Whilst I have broken my bones, suffered a lot of bruising, wrecked half a dozen helmets – no part of my skin was ever damaged. You can’t ask for better than that.

And I’m not done yet.

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Stick to the SV650, wee man.

As a practice likely to present a positive contribution towards a long and happy life, highsiding powerful motorbikes is not a great choice. In fact due to the likelihood of loss of life/limbs/faculties/mobility/motorcycle/self respect, it is a decidedly poor selection of pastime.

For the uninitiated, a highside is when the back of a speeding motorbike decides to overtake the front but part way through the manoeuvre decides instead to throw itself on its side, thereby catapulting any human who was previously straddling said bike skyward. The closest equivalent is jumping out of the sunroof of a car at speed. A happy ending is highly unlikely for either rider or motorcycle.

Classic highside

Contributing factors to the likelihood of a highside are increased angle of dangle, reduced coefficient of friction and increased power applied through the rear tyre. So gassing it through a wet off-camber left hander is a good place to start.

A lowside, in contrast, is a cowardly manner of removing yourself from a travelling motorcycle. It involves slowly laying the bike on its side and sliding carefully onto the tarmac.

There were three crashes I am aware of at Jerry’s race circuit in southern Spain last weekend. Big Blue, Marc Marquez and me. Two of these riders took the easy route into the gravel, lowsiding their way off their bikes in slow motion like ungainly leather slugs. One (the man who won the MotoGP series this year) went crying to hospital for a shoulder operation, the other moaned for two days about his staved finger.

The third stuntman was I. Having spent the morning enjoying an open pit lane riding my S1000rr on Sliperelli wets – the brand new rear having been carried to Spain as hold luggage – I started to build pace during an afternoon session. The section from corner two to exit of four was the section of track I had spent most time trying to get right and I am confident my line was good. But without so much as a by-your-leave or even a hint of a warning the rear let go at 70mph. I was highsided across the track, the bike ended up just in the gravel and me much further in. I don’t remember much as I landed on my back and was knocked cold, but I wasn’t too nimble to my feet when I did come round.

Head first to avoid damage to important bits

But did I whimper? Did I whinge? Not me. Besides it only hurts when I move. Or stand up. Or sit down. Or turn my head. Or walk. Or breathe. Or lie down. Particularly lying down. But as I say, not a word of complaint from I. Despite it being very, very, very sore. And the bruises are huge. Like across my fat arse and down my gorgeous thigh. But I don’t even mention it.

I’ve not even mentioned the huge bruise and extreme pain.

What of the bike and gear? Well the bike has been worse – it didn’t tumble but it did swallow a lot of gravel both down it’s throat and also up its exhaust as it managed to end up with the exhaust pointing forwards. So new exhaust, sticky out bits and fairings. Another beautiful Arai is toast, although insurance should cover it. BKS leathers are intact (they really are exceptional) and my Held gloves appear undamaged. X-rays in Spain and UK confirmed that my skeleton is in no more pieces than before the crash, which is nice.

Warning – this is the bit when I get preachy, shoving ‘lessons learned’ down your throat like you can’t think for yourself…

Back Protectors.

For the love of all that is holy, never go on track without one. One look at the pattern of damage on my pastey carcass would tell you that immediately. I can also tell you that based on the pain in my back a week later I am confident I would not be walking today had I not had a back protector on that day. I’ve always worn one and always will. Despite the utter agony I am quietly tolerating without even mentioning it, I am truly grateful that all I have is torn and twisted muscles. Baz Luhrmann reckoned suncream, I’m here to tell you its back protectors.

So what else happened? Well we got to see some real racers in action, from both the Irish racing scene and the MotoGP paddock. We got to spend a bit of time admiring the MotoGP Aprilia garage and chatting to one of their techs as well as having a great chat with an Ohlins tech in the hotel bar. On our way to the flight we got to watch the MotoGP lads put in a few practice laps on the 2020 machines too, amazing to see.

But what was most impressive was the professionalism of the Irish racing contingent. I knew Blue was coming with a ‘new’ bike, a late model S1000rr but not the 2020 model. I was expecting something pretty flash but I hadn’t appreciated the technology leap from my 2010 bike to this rocketship. It turns out that weight saving, higher performance and reliability have been achieved through the intensive use of one particular space age material…

Duck tape.

For it was duck tape that constituted 80% of this BMW. From the front to the back, it was liberally employed on a vast range of applications.

And not only on the bike. Helmet technology has clearly progressed significantly since I bought my old-fashioned Arai, because the latest Shark lids now use not only duck tape – but also superglue – to hold the visor on. Fascinating, Arai really need to start paying attention to these cutting edge developments.

Another aspect of the Irish paddock strategy is electrical safety. As a retired H&S man, Phil loved sharing space with these guys.

Yet another aspect of Irish racing strategy that never fails to impress is how paddock space is maximised, using every available inch of space in search for ultimate efficiency. It’s like Blue packs a self-inflating lifeboat at the bottom of a giant toolbox and within five minutes of arriving pulls the orange pull-cord and runs. The resulting carnage is what we live amongst for the next three days.

Space age seating amongst the carnage

One side-effect of this ultimate tool-spreading strategy is the absolute iron-clad guarantee that Blue is the last man packed up. Every. Single. Time.

What about Phil ‘Ginsters’ Miles? The man who wasn’t sure if he was over this whole trackday thing seemed to leave with a definite spring in his step. And no wonder. Having sorted his suspension he started taking chunks out of his lap times and was banging in some smooth laps with great lines. He ended up making a considerable improvement on his previous PB and I have a feeling the GSXR won’t be for sale any time soon… Phil also insisted on waiting around while the little Spanish doctor lady x-rayed and probed me, for which I am very grateful.

Me? Well I shared my remaining time between self-medicating regular doses of cerveza and being a fairly useless pit bitch, all the while not once mentioning the excruciating pain I was suffering.

Worth a mention of Track Sense who deliver hassle-free, professionally run track days every time. Highly recommended alongside No Limits for the very best Euro trips with great customer service.

A great trip with great company, you really can’t beat a good euro. But always wear a back protector.

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Let’s go to Croft, she said.

Croft
/krɒft/
noun: A croft is a fenced or enclosed area of land, usually small and arable, and usually, but not always, with a crofter’s dwelling thereon.

Circuit
/ˈsəːkɪt/
noun: a roughly circular line, route, or movement that starts and finishes at the same place.

On planning my 2019 year of racing, I knew we would be missing some rounds. Donington 1, Donington 2 and Croft were the three, the first two out of necessity and the third out of choice. But the Mrs decided we should do the last round so I started doing some research on this ‘Croft’ place. At this stage all I knew was it was ‘north’.

I started by checking Google maps on my phone but as the blister gradually formed and finally started bleeding over the screen, I gave up scrolling northwards. This was clearly uncharted territory.

Upon asking around, the best indication of where this mysterious place was was the explanation ‘it’s Stocky’s local circuit’. The hairs on my neck instantly stood on end, the blood draining from my face – a place that breeds Stockys is no place for a city boy like me…

Taking Thursday off to travel, we set forth in our trusty Sprinter to venture into the wilds. At first the four-lane motorways provided a sense of security, flanked by execs driving shiny new German saloon cars at speed. As the hours turned to days, our surroundings became less and less familiar. Trucks, driven by broad-shouldered men with odd facial hair and wearing checkered shirts, suspender belts and stockings. Roads with only two lanes. Ancient estate cars being driven at 45mph, nursing the odometer gently past the 450,000 mile mark.

As we warily trundled on, so the light faded as the coal dust blocked the sunlight. The smell of lard, generations old but still in the same pan, clogged the aircon whilst the industrial smog caught the backs of our throats. An overwhelming sense of Brexit filled the air. This was no place for southerners.

The sat nav flickered, gradually losing signal before finally surrendering and displaying a simple but poignant recommendation…

Turn Around. Now.

The tarmacadam roads morphed into dirt tracks, liberally coated in generations of animal excrement. The Mercedes slithered and writhed in objection as we pushed on – we had come this far, we would see the fabled Croft Circuit if it killed us. We suspected it might.

This was clean caravan when we left the south

Following the stars, we made it to the entrance gate where the gatekeeper – clearly a position of significant standing in this community – demanded a vehicle pass before entry. Clocking the bedraggled whippet attached to his sagging trousers on a length of hairy bailer twine, we thought it best to comply – Cerberus was quite clearly rabid.

We were granted free passage, albeit followed by a suspicious stare. The flames from the pyres at the entrance to the main paddock caused lines of pitchforks to glint in the darkness. This was a local paddock for local people. We drove past, looking the other way.

Banished to the airstrip, we approached gingerly, unsure if the comically oversized rats spread across the crumbling stone surface would stand and fight or give way. They sloped off to the hedgerow but with an attitude that suggested they would return, possibly in numbers.

The winds whipped around us as we tried to establish a secure base, without warning a vicious gust flipped the awning, tables and all. Knowing we had only minutes to spare before the vermin in the hedgerows regrouped, the structure was righted and we set about adding ballast and locking down. This was going to be a rough ride. Caravan door shut tight and lights off, we lay in bed staring at the ceiling listening to the gales try to rip our camp apart. The rain drove against the caravan in heavy sheets, ratchet straps transforming the awning into a parachute on the side of the caravan. What madness was this? What had possessed us to keep going even past Leeds? Past Leeds?!

Northern class – White Range Rover reg plate ‘LOO’ parked beside what were undisputedly the season’s worst crappers. I plopped in my own caravan rather than reverse up to one of these.

A calm descended in time for practice day morning. Track soaking, I limped out on wets to find out which way the track went. Badgers and ferrets scattered from the track as we approached, riding on the pleasantly winding trail through the fields until a final corner which could only have been designed by a very bitter and twisted human being with a serious grudge against bikers. Second lap was alarming as the track bit back, oozing a rainbow oil slick into the puddles the entire length of the circuit. These men are sick! They race on oil!! I’m not man enough for this!!!

Innovation… should have worn wellies

As it turns out this was in fact a certain Mr Mason liberally sharing the contents of his 650 twin with everyone else in the paddock and closing the track for most of the day… I fully expected to witness my first public hanging that morning, but the pitchfork brigade remained surprisingly calm. Maybe he is one of their own.

A wet session, a semi-wet session which destroyed my only wet tyre and a dry session and we were done. Zips closed, doors shut, we huddled together to wait out another onslaught from the northern weather. And it came, in waves. Awnings creaking and groaning, ratchet straps whipping in the gale, caravan threatening to roll and rain doing its best to shatter the windows. A long night.

Saturday was qualifying and race one for me, qualified 6th, finished 6th in a dry race. Fun if uneventful, I just couldn’t catch Mr Plummer ahead of me and just managed to fend off a challenge from the rear.

Our breathing became easier by Saturday afternoon as the coal dust had settled on our lungs and we quite enjoyed a relaxed afternoon/evening in our little corner of the airstrip, with some of the sun’s distant rays making it through the smog. Maybe it’s not as bad up here in the wilds as we thought, I opined over a chicken dinner. How naive.

Sunday, racing starts bright and early at midday. Mid-bloody-day? It seems the word that religion was all a big con hasn’t made it this far. To be fair, I wonder of they’re not all witches and warlocks up this way… Anyway the rain is of biblical proportions. The place is drenched. I walk round the empty circuit to check on conditions and it was here that I witnessed the highlight of my weekend, it made it all worthwhile. Please turn up your speakers and listen to some true northern race commentary. This is pure comedy gold. Message to Mr Neate – this man every round please?

When I stopped laughing, we had a race in the wet – finished P8, again behind Plummer this time having a race-long battle chasing him down. We were both lucky not to collect Mr Booth on his Ducati as he stalled out of hateful, nasty, ridiculous corner one but we made it past on either side and Mr Plummer held me off to the end.

Aerial view of the circuit

And that was it. The rain fell and fell some more. Not like southern rain that has the decency to stop every now and again, this just kept on until the circuit was flooded. Nothing to be done, No Limits called it. Quick check of the watch and the realisation dawned – if we get this right I could get home before the Indian shuts – let’s get the fork outta here! We shoved everything, soaking wet, into the van, hitched the caravan and made a run for home. Leaving the smog, the darkness and the rain behind we arrived home and the Indian stayed open another ten minutes so they could sell me my Jalfrezi. Proper end to the season…

Race for a Ruby. They shut at 10 on a Sunday…

As it happens I actually know some Northern folks, big thanks to Steve for popping along on his R-Nine-T on Friday and again with the family on Sunday. Great to catch up with them all – just sorry Sunday was such a wash-out (but then they’re used to it – they live here).

Respect to No Limits for doing their very best this weekend, nobody made it easy. This extends to the whole season which has been another great one, thanks to all who make it such a pleasure to be part of – marshalls, ladies with bingo pens at the gate, ladies with flags, office team, management. Top job, always.

What now? Well, I had decided that this would be my last race weekend. Time to move on and try something new. But apparently as a married man I am supposed to ‘consult’ with my better half on such matters and it turns out she has different ideas – so who knows?! Either way, whether I race again or not I have had an absolute ball over the last five years and have achieved more than I ever thought I might. Good friends, clean racing, proper fun and the odd trophy to make up for the odd broken bone.

Safe winter everyone and STAY SOUTH!

7th in championship having missed two full rounds, happy with that for my first foray into wee twins
The dry race.
Holding up 500s…

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