Thursday, 17 May 2012


Citroen CX , British EagleTouristique and tent at camp site in Norfolk.
Before I go any further, please bear in mind that nearly all of this stuff is from memory. The documented stuff won't start for a few years, so if I get anything wrong about dates or places don't hang back ! Correct it in the Comments section, Please !

Right, so where was I ?
Ah yes, in the middle of the first Iraqi War, the first fully televised war on British TV. The Falklands didn't count because of the censorship in force at the time, but most of the TV coverage we were getting of the Gulf War was American and often live, or at least only a few hours old.
My memories of that year were of global unrest and change....interesting times indeed ! 
The Balkan Conflict was about to erupt, most of Eastern Europe had ditched their Communist governments and Russia itself was to collapse at the end of this year. I remember from the previous year television coverage of the shooting of Nicolai Ceausescu the Romanian dictator and his wife, and being curiosly affected by it.
Could it, or should it, happen here ? This was before anyone really knew anything at all about Romanians !
World financial affairs were affecting us badly too. This year the Bank interest rate went up to nearly 15% which effectively doubled our mortgage payments.
This was stressful in the extreme !
 And this was when the nightmares started. Always on the same theme. I'm in a car, usually a BMW, and it's rolling downhill backwards and I'm panicking because the brakes don't work. You don't need a qualification in psychology to work out where a dream like that's coming from, do you ? This dream never left me until I retired, sold up and moved to France seventeen years later. 

 Fortunately we had plenty of work at the garage and money was coming in. But it felt that more of it was going out ! I just couldn't save money at all. 
So much for our plans of retiring early and going to live in France !
Mind you, if it wasn't for that dream I don't know how we would have got through those times. I don't mean the one about the runaway car of course !
Even the weather most of that year was crap ! Windy, wet and grey ! I think we went for two whole months without a bit of blue sky !

Billy Aire
But it wasn't all doom and gloom. One day this sort of apparition strolled down the lane and walked into the garage. This was Peter who lived in a derelict mansion on the other bank of the river. He looked like a cross between John Lennon and Viv Stanshall. Peter had obviously not come through the sixties unscathed ! But this day he was pretty straight and sober. He had a favour to give and a favour to ask. What he was giving, as in  "I don't want any money for this!", was a pretty reasonable old Citroen CX saloon car. Do you remember them ? Big French cars with super complicated suspension and brakes and instruments and controls completely different from anything else. French idiosyncrasy at it's best....or worst ! What he was asking for, was for it to be removed from his drive immediately ! 
Well, I had been without a car for a few months, and really wasn't too bothered , but this was free, it only needed a new battery, and it had a tow ball, so what the hell ! I now had a big super comfortable cruiser to float about in.....if I could afford the fuel !
Cousin Billy Aire was, at this time, a fairly regular visitor to the garage, mostly just for a cup of garage tea and a blether. He was always welcome, he got on well with us all. You would hardly think that, so the story goes, some ne-er do well, spying Billy at his front door, ran and threw himself out of a first story window to escape him.
A couple of days after Peter had given me the car he dropped in to give me the rest of the documents. I should really explain, at this point,  why Peter had given the car away. Peter was not long out of jail because he'd taken the rap for a local gangster, Eric Rowan, who'd actually sold us the garage a few years previously. It was some tax or vat swindle that they were involved in and because poor Peter was homeless and witless he didn't mind too much a year or so in jail, especially as Eric Rowan had said he'd make sure he wasn't homeless when he got out. So this was why Peter was living in this derelict property that belonged to Eric Rowan. Peter was scratching a living by selling scrap aluminium drinks cans and the odd beer keg he could pinch. Somehow or other he'd managed to get this Citroen but of course couldn't afford to do anything with it, so when the battery gave out, it just lay, unused, in the driveway. By now Eric had decided that there was a time limit on his promise to Peter and had given him notice to quit, or in Peter's words "Right you, get tae f*ck!  Ah've jist sell't this place so you're oot by the weekend an' take yer shite wi' ye !"
Cousin Billy was also in the garage. We were fixing him up with a piece of weaponry. This consisted of a meter long rod with an automatic centre punch attached  to the end. Billy was driving a nice Mercedes at the time and the idea was, that when he came across anyone in his bad books, he could just drive alongside them, lower his passenger window, lean across with the extended centre punch and by giving the drivers window on the other car a gentle poke, he could shatter the glass and give the person in it a few home truths ! It seemed to work well, he enjoyed telling us about the times he used it !
Peter came into the garage with the documents in his hand, clocked Billy and froze!  I thought he was either going to run or faint !
Billy looked at him and said " Dancer ya b*stard ! when did you get oot ?" and burst out laughing.
They obviously knew each other !
"No long ago, Billy, but ah'm keepin' ma nose clean the noo, honest !" Then he got off his mark....rapidly !
When Billy had stopped laughing, he told us about the first time he'd come across Peter. Billy was having a Perrier in the Hilton with some associates. Yes, seriously, a Perrier ! Billy is teetotal !
When in floats this Arab sheik with the robes, head dress, Ray Ban shades, the lot ! In dreadful English, he orders up a lavish meal and then loads of drink. Well, the idiots serve him, and it's only when the drink takes effect and the accent slips back into Glaswegian that he's eventually rumbled. Of course it's Peter, just working a scam ! The management were about to call the cops, but Billy and his pals had got such a laugh out of this that they paid his bill and sent him on his way.
Later, Billy was visiting a friend of his who was a guest of Her Majesty at the time in Chateau Barlinnie when he came across Peter again. This is where the name "Dancer " comes from. He told Billy that he just danced to whatever tune he was played ! "It's no sae bad, ah get three meals a day, a bitty dope and a roof ower ma heid. Jist fur tellin' a few lees."
Peter/Dancer was eventually given a council flat nearby and over the years he would drop in to see us in the garage. Sometimes hopelessly incapable through drink or drugs, but he was never offensive so we kind of put up with him. Pitied him really . However he seemed to get his act together eventually and went on the wagon and got heavily involved with satanism. You hardly knew which was worse ! But that seemed to be a phase he was going through and the last few times I saw Dancer he was looking quite the thing. He'd taken to wearing tweeds and a monocle and seemed to be involved with a woman who was looking after him. Good for her, I thought. I always had the idea that with a bit of positive support Dancer could have found contentment. Let's hope so !

Mimsie, Blandine and Marguerite in Paris.

As I've said already, the weather for the first seven months of the year were poor. Even in Paris you can see that it was unusually damp and grey. Mimsie and her pal Marguerite took a trip to visit Blandine in Paris and as usual thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I can't remember if this was the trip where they got so involved in last minute shopping that the bus left without them taking all their luggage and their passports. Or whether it was the trip that they were running short of time to catch the plane in Charles de Gaulle aeroport and Marguerite said " Och, stop rushing, Isabel, we'll just get the next one !" We used to worry about letting these two out by themselves, but they always made it home in one piece.

I was beginning to go a bit loopy with the weather. It seemed to be getting personal ! As I've said, I got my new bike in November of last year and I didn't want to use it in the worst of the winter weather so it wasn't till late March that I hopefully saw a gap in the rain one Sunday and took it out for our first ride together. The bike was great, I couldn't fault it ! It was everything I'd expected. 
I, on the other hand left a lot to be desired ! The overlong winter lay-off hadn't helped my fitness at all. So I struggled with the weather to build up some cycling fitness again. 

Richard Neil at Drumlanrig Castle

At the end of May, despite the unpromising forecast, I drove down to Drumlanrig Castle where they were having a cycle rally. It was KM151, after the very successful event the previous year, the KM150. The idea of the rally was to celebrate the 150th birthday of Kirkpatrick MacMillan's development of the hobby horse by adding pedals....actually treadles, but it meant that you could propel the machine without touching the ground. To me the whole thing has an air of the Loch Ness Monster about it, but what the hell, he was a local blacksmith, the Duke of Buccleuch was kindly giving us the use of the grounds and it was to encourage cycling in the area. 
It was a great do ! I thoroughly enjoyed myself and met a lot of interesting people. I found that riding with a group of real cyclists was fun ! I learned a lot. Even if the weather wasn't spectacular.
Then it was back to Glasgow and the rain.

Wheat fields and Sunshine in Lincolnshire.

Eventually, I couldn't take the rain any more and decided to take a cycling holiday somewhere in the UK that looked as if it might have better weather. So I headed off to Norfolk with my Touristique strapped to the back of the Citroen CX. As I booked into my first camp-site I was complaining about the weather we'd been having in Glasgow when the woman in charge said "Blimey, we hain't had no rain for weeks, luv, we could be a'doin with some !"
"Not this week !" I hoped .
And it didn't rain once, hot dry sunny, just what I needed .

Next day I set off with my bike loaded with camping gear and spent the next five days doing a tour of Norfolk and parts of Lincolnshire. 
At one point I had a broken spoke in my rear wheel, which I managed to replace without too much hassle, but this got me thinking more closely about what sort of cycling I really wanted to do. I reckoned that fully loaded cycle camping wasn't what I was looking for. I would need stronger, heavier wheels, but did I really enjoy cycling heavily loaded ? Not really, I much preferred travelling light.

A typical lunch stop.

So in future what I intended to do was to base myself somewhere and do day trips on my unloaded bike. In the years to come I got to love the sheer pleasure of riding a comfortable, responsive lightweight at a good brisk pace for hours at a time. I loved the feeling of being able to cover huge distances using just muscle power !

Branxton near Flodden Field.

Flodden Battlefield

I enjoyed my wee Norfolk adventure, especially being able to ride in sunshine ! On my way home I decided to spend a day or so in Coldstream, the name seemed strangely familiar somehow ?  This will be revealed later !
I found a great wee municipal camp site with shower and toilet facilities laid on. I took an unloaded tour southwards and came across the Flodden Battlefield where the Scots and English had a bit of a disagreement. I suppose the only good thing to come out of that was the songs "Flower of Scotland" and the old pipe tune "The flowers of the forest". While I'm on about flowers, I passed a wonderful thing on the trip back to Coldstream. Someone had planted a whole field with different coloured flowers in a pattern that re-created Van Gogh's Sunflowers painting. Truly spectacular !

1963 Ford Anglia and 1965 E type Jaguar in Delvin Road Garage.
So back refreshed to plain claes and porridge !
At least I had some interesting work to do such as the museum dodgers in the picture above. Certainly never made any money out of them ! But a bit of a challenge and a change from the usual spark plugs, oil and filter changes we were doing.

Alistair Rickett and Marisol Rodriguez with Alistair's nice E21 BMW 520i

Now here's a photo of Alistair and Marisol going to a wedding. Alistair had become a regular visitor to the garage ever since we press-ganged him into the Gate Stealing Squad. 
As you came perhaps make out from the photo, the gate to the premises was a disgraceful ramshackle wooden affair. I certainly couldn't afford a good stout metal gate and security fence, but one day Charlie O'Neil came in and told me that if I wanted, I could have the metal gates from the allotments that he was being evicted from. That is, if I took some tools to dismantle them and a van to collect them right away, otherwise they would be taken away for scrap. Just as we were getting the van loaded with tools Alistair dropped in on his bike after a training run. 
"Right, you'll do as well, we need some muscle to lift these things!" And Alistair was bundled into the van as well ! 
It really didn't take long for us to dismantle the gates and posts, especially as Charlie was rather anxious that we hurried up before the site owners came back ?
The penny dropped a few days later when we heard that the police were looking for a gang of scrap metal thieves who'd stolen a set of gates and posts from a building site. They were almost certainly Gypsies as one of them was wearing multi-coloured tights ! 
It turned out that Charlie was peeved at being turned out of the allotments where he had quite a thriving business going, and this was an act of revenge against the developers of the site !
So from then we started seeing Alistair socially and he started getting everyone out on the bike. Andy and Maureen, Douglas Reilly and even, eventually, John Stoddart, and our Dave !

I was really, by this time, wanting to start stretching my wings and had decided to go out for a run with the local branch of the Cyclists Touring Club, some of whom I'd met at the KM151 Rally at Drumlanrigg Castle in May. Alistair, Marisol, the Blackbourns and Douglas had all turned up early on the Sunday morning to go out with our Dave on the bikes and Alistair persuaded me that it would be much more fun going with them, rather than the CTC.
"Och, they're just a bunch of po-faced haddies ! All they ever talk about is bikes, they wouldnae know a good filthy joke to save themselves !"
So, needless to say, that was the start !

The first time I'd ever encountered Alistair was a few years previously. I was in a seedy Glasgow night club with George Morrison, the Porsche man, when I saw a naked figure leap from the balcony and land right on top of a particularly foul-mouthed drag artist !
"Good god ! Who on earth's that ?"
" Ach, that's just Alistair, he's aye daein' stuff like that"
George wasn't in the least perturbed by this, but pandemonium then ensued ! We all got tossed out, but to this day, Alistair still maintains that it was because somebody had slipped a truly filthy VHS tape onto the machine that fed all the TV screens in the place!

Marisol, Ian McGivern, and Dave and Alistair at Aberfoyle

Here's a picture of a wee group of us in the carpark at aberfoyle just about to climb the Duke's Pass and then ride round Loch Katrine. A good wee run! We did that many times over the following years.

Montrose Street Glasgow.

And here's us watching one of the city centre cycle races that Channel 4 were sponsoring at the time.

It came as a bit of a shock to me, I don't really know why, but all of a sudden our Dave was 40 !
I really am a poor party person and would not thank you for a surprise birthday do, but Dave's a bit like Mimsie, loves a party....but then he usually slinks off when he's had enough and leaves us to cope with the drunks and debris !

Blandine at Dave's 40th Birthday

Well we started off with some practical jokes like filling his car the night before with balloons, but the best thing was we had invited Blandine unknown to anyone else. So yes, we had a bit of a do !

Cousins Ian and Sylvia.

Lucy, Greta, John Neil and Blandine.
Ricky, Mimsie, me and Mary.

The next day, to clear our heads, we set out on the bikes with the usual suspects for a drum up on Cameron's Muir.
"What's a Drum Up ?"  Click on this  "The vanishing art of Drumming Up"    and all will be revealed.

Douglas, Ian, Andy,Marisol and Dave at Camerons Muir.

Blandine and Dave at the drum up.

We cycled there but Sandra and Blandine drove there so that we could show Blandine what a drum up actually was . 
I think she was bemused ! Perhaps a bit amused , but definitely bemused !

As the year drew to a close, Alistair came up with the idea of a trip to the Lake District to buy up some used Mountain Bikes from a hire company. He'd heard that if we went and bought four or five as a job lot we would get them pretty cheap. It was a bit of a gamble of course, some of the bikes would need plenty of work, others might have just come from the workshop and could be ridden away as they were.So one day in November Alistair, Ian McGivern and Douglas Reilly, I think, and I drove to Ambleside over the spectacular Kirkstone Pass. This was the first time I'd ever been to the Lake District. I'd always thought of it as too twee and over-hyped to be worth bothering with. Just shows you, doesn't it ? Try it before you dismiss it !
Well, we picked out a selection of Saracen mountain bikes and got them for a reasonable price although they all needed some work. The rest of the day we spent wandering around Ambleside and this was when I became aware of just how well known Alistair was. Several times we were stopped in the street by people catching up with him.
" Alistair, haven't seen you for ages ! When are you coming back?"
Alistair, by this time in his early thirties, was single, no commitments, no mortgage and a fair amount of disposable income was a great believer in disposing of income ! So he'd frequently just jump in his car head off with a girlfriend and spend weekends in places like Ambleside or Harrogate. 
Alistair likes twee !  And so do I as it turns out !
He's one of these people described aptly as "weel kent"
So it was Alistair that suggested that we get a group together and book a short holiday in a house he knew in December. Even in the Lake District, December can be pretty quiet so the owners of the house would be quite glad to let us have it at a good price.

Chapel Stile in Langdale.

We arrived in darkness, but this is the view from the kitchen the next morning. Very, very cold but dry and sunny. The accommodation was fine, cosy and well equipped. And Wainright's Inn was just across the road, so good beers and good food. We also got access to a local health spa to use the swimming pool and saunas. This was great !
I can hardly remember who was all there, Alistair and Marisol, Sandra and I, Andy and Maureen Blackbourn, our Dave and John Stoddart and Douglas Reilly. 
The days were spent out on the refurbished mountain bikes and evenings in Wainrights and then high jinks in the house.

Sandra and Dave in Chapel Stile
Sandra had spent the last year changing her diet and losing a fair bit of weight. She was pleased at that, but she was now suffering badly from pains in her back. As usual she never complained but I could tell she was not getting as much out of life as she should. By sheer chance I came across a book on Alexander Technique in Ambleside and over the next few evenings read it through.  I was vaguely aware of Alexander Technique but this was the first time I'd studied it, and it made sense. At this point Sandra would have considered almost anything rather than becoming dependant on pain killers which was all the medical trade were offering....or the knife....with no guarantee ! When we got home to Glasgow, I found a local Alexander Technique teacher and we both felt as if we were given a new lease of life. I'd better not start rambling on about this, I've still to tell you about "Sweatin' like a chief!"

John Stoddart and Marisol Rodriguez

Here's John Stoddart, with perhaps just one too many shandies, being tormented mercilessly by Marisol Rodriguez !

Maureen, Andy, Dave and myself at Chapel Stile

Us fuelling up before a day out on the bikes.

Douglas Reilly at Chapel Stile

Douglas Reilly getting set for a night of scoffing sweeties and watching "Die Hard"
...over and over again !

Alistair can be full of funny remarks and one time he came away with the fact that he was "sweating like a chief !" When we asked him about this he told us that it came from an apprentice he'd had  with a fine turn of Glaswegian phrases. One particular day the apprentice was perspiring heavily and he'd recently watched the Richard Harris movie "A Man Called Horse" So, with that peculiarly Glasgow affinity for the Wild West, he'd remembered the scene where the Indians were introducing Richard Harris to the delights of a steam bath and henceforth perspiring heavily was to him " Sweatin' like a chief !"

So that, more or less, was 1991 !

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