A foreign country explored

Yesterday, taking advantage of the heat, it being a Saturday, having a spotlessly clean motorbike, and having nothing else to do, I went abroad.

A453, A42, M42, M5, M50.

Yes, I went to Wales.

I left the house at 6am, and arrived in Abergavenny at 9am.

The Blorenge (rhymes with orange)

The Blorenge (rhymes with orange)

I had a hot chocolate and very healthy bacon sandwich, whilst sitting outside the Get Together in St John’s Square.

Putting picnic benches outside there is a great idea; gives the area a very cosmopolitan feel, and enabled me to sit where I could keep an eye on the ZX10R.

Needless to say the local bureaucrats don’t like that idea and are working hard to stop someone from having a success.

Kind of shoots down the ’embrace café culture’ policy of a former Prime Minister.

The fun police strike

The fun police strike


Nicely refreshed I went up the Blorenge (rhymes with orange), and just chilled out. Walked about a bit. Lay down in the long grass and read a bit.

May have accidentally dozed a bit.

Keeper's Pond

Keeper’s Pond

After that break I went down through Blaenavon and up the mountain opposite, Coedcae, to Forgeside, where I went to junior school.

I left it in better condition!

I left it in better condition!

Then I dropped back into Blaenavon, and took the Garn Road through Garn-yr-ew, Brynmawr, into Merthyr Tydfil, through Nant-ddu, and down off the mountain into Brecon, below.

I walked around Brecon a bit, but didn’t hang around because the town was heavingly full of people and far too hot to be in close proximity of many strangers.

I bailed out of Brecon, turned left at Llangorse and headed, generally, north-north east.

I stopped at a country pub about halfway between Hereford and Worcester for some much-needed refreshment.



And then back home.

When I had started the trip I was considering staying out overnight.

Frankly I should have.

The round-trip came in at 427 miles. And that was a bit too much. The heat of the day didn’t help either.

I would definitely do that run again.

And I would extend the road-miles, maybe aim for the west coast of Wales.

And I would stay out overnight. I wasn’t as sharp, towards the end of the day as I should have been, despite frequent stops.

But it was a great run out, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

What did you get up to?

A very long way down

Yesterday I did a 220-mile round-trip on the Daytona.

In a nutshell, I went to Wales to stand on top of a very drafty mountain, to film two scenes that totalled four minutes.

But I had the helmetcam running all the time I was on the bike.

And I filmed the scariest drop off a mountain I know.

Most mountain roads snake left and right and wind the traveller up (or down) the mountain by a slightly indirect route.

This road (Blaenavon to Llanover via Capel Newydd) drops straight down off the top of the mountain.

And the road surface is pitted, broken and has a smattering of loose gravel all over it.

It’s not a sensible road to ride a motorbike down.


Trip: done

as usual, if you click on each image and, when it’s loaded, click on it again, you’ll get the full-screen option

Mid-morning on Saturday, despite the -2c, I sat on the Bandit in the freezing sunshine and pointed it westwards.

I chose to avoid the motorways and as many main roads as possible.

Conditions were really not that bad, despite the chills.

The run through the Forest of Dean was brilliant, I do love that road. I used to ride an old BSA Bantam over that route, as a schoolboy.

I stopped in Monmouth for a medicinal Pain au Raison and an equally medicinal hot chocolate.

And then continued westwards until I saw the sight of – bizarrely – what I consider to be home:











I found a pub doing B&B, checked in, and went for a bit of a hooley through a piece of the Black Mountains that I know so well from my youth.

Painful long-dead memories were reawakened. Emotions ran high. And also, I managed to get my right knee down (intentionally!) on a brilliantly sharp mountain pass bend that I have been aching to try that on for decades.

The bend, if you’re interested, is here: 51.815885,-3.05399 (I can’t even begin to describe the uphill gradient that road is on. It’s amazingly steep, like looking up a mountain. Oh. It is!)

On top of the mountain I stopped at Keepers Pond for a view-check:









I then rode the bike over to the other side of the mountain for a look at the view there:











Back at the pub I put the Bandit to bed (the pub owner very kindly offered me a garage space) and went walkabout and foraged for food.

Much later, about 9pm, I went for a drink.

I left that pub after midnight, slightly well-oiled, and having flirted somewhat with one or two girls on Twitter.

I can’t help that. It’s in my genes. Jeans?

The next morning I had a semi-full Welsh breakfast, then headed more or less back the way I’d come in to Wales, out through the Forest of Dean.

I stopped en-route for a coffee at Rich and Dawn’s house and admired their new addition (it’s a human, this time, not another racing car).

And then I trundled home.

The poor old Bandit, after two days of thrashing around the Black Mountains in winter, was a state:











The quick application of two runs of warm soapy water and a wipe down soon had her looking like this:











And then I went to Sainsbury’s and bought food.

What did you do this weekend?


Contemplating a trip

The forecast for this weekend is for two cold but very bright and sunny days.

So I’m thinking of taking a little trip out on the Bandit.

Maybe, my head says, head westwards on Saturday? Perhaps, it says, head across country in to Wales? How about, find a pub doing B&B, stay the night, have a few beers?

And then, says my head, the next morning (after the full Welsh/English or similar), head up to the Black Mountains on the bike and have a bit of a hooley on those lovely mountain roads?

Then head home, getting back for tea on Sunday?

Yes, this is the trip I’m contemplating.

Unless my plans change.

A nice day out with a friend

I decided that my German houseguest needed to see more of the UK than just Oxfordshire, so we took a trip down the A40 and I introduced her to Wales.

The first stop was Raglan Castle which looks remarkably like this:

Raglan Castle

Or, from another angle, it looked like this:

Raglan Castle - bird's-eye view


Then we hit nearby Abergavenny for some spicy mushroom soup. Well, we had spicy mushroom soup, we didn’t go there just for that, obv. Anyway. That looked like this:

Spicy mushroom soup


Then we went on top of the Blorenge and, with great predictability, the weather clamped down and tried to blow us/rain us off the mountain.

We retreated.

We got down to the Usk valley and felt the need for coffee.

I decided to try and put another part of my past behind me, so we went to Llansantfraed Court for refreshments.

That’s where Sophie and I got married.

And yes, it did feel like closing another door.

We had a bit of a chat, Heike and me, as we sprawled across the couch in front of the log fire.

I tried to explain how having another human being around has helped keep me sane during such a critical week.

She looked faintly embarrassed.

I tried to teach her how to pronounce Llansantfraed.

She kept making it sound like ‘handsome Fred’.


Anyway, we are home now.

We’re going to watch ‘Paul’, then eat the vegetable stew that Heike cooked yesterday, and then we’re going to watch Grosse Pointe Blank.

We seem intent on drinking much cider.

I might be asleep before the evening is concluded.

Wales for the Welsh! (and the ducks)

I drove to Wales, yesterday, to do some filming.

The trip down there (M4, A4042) was a breeze; there were only about 40 morons on the road who should not have been behind the controls of their vehicles.

And the weather was clear – which made the views very pleasant.

But once I’d left the flatlands of the valleys and got up to the mountain top, the scene of the shoot, it rained.

And then it rained.

And then it poured down.

Here’s a quick video of (some of) the drive down there.

Unfortunately, because of the torrential downpour, the film I shot while I was up in the mountains is unusable.

A dinner date

This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know you can hear us, Earthmen. We are transmitting on all your radio and television frequencies. We will continue to strike when and where you least expect it. At the appoint hour, as the clock is chiming, the wings of the world will be clipped.’
(Introduction to Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, The Trap, series  1, episode 7, first aired 11th October 1967)

I don’t know why, but when Soph and I got home this evening, I just started to recite the first three sentences of that monologue. I couldn’t remember the whole piece though; my brain had obviously deleted the grammatically incorrect sentence and the inaccurate image.


It is that time of the year again.

I have been invited to a school reunion dinner.

And that opens up the big question; do I want to go to an all-male, black-tie dinner, in Wales (obv), with 90 other chaps next month?

The guest speaker is another former Old Boy (I absolutely bloody hate those two words) who is, apparently, a world-renowned poet, writer and and TV presenter.


Do I need to add that I have never been to a school reunion?

What would you do?

In other news.

I keep forgetting to switch on the pedometer on my phone.

This is a hell of a shame, especially given the tremendous amount of walking I seem to be doing – about 6 miles today.

But I can’t be exactly sure because I didn’t switch the bloody pedometer.


And we’re back in 5, 4, 3, 2…

Hello, welcome back!

[canned audience applause]

Before the break we were speaking to John and Donny about their gay love for each other and how their fervent desire for increasingly dangerous sex led them to a Swiss ski-lift in the early hours of the morning armed with a tube of KY Jelly, a mountaineering crampon, a collapsible walking stick and a length of climbing rope.

Now it’s time to meet with Soph and Bren who have just finished a tour of the more mountainous bits of the Welsh mountains.

[canned laughter]

Yes, sorry. We’ve been away. But now we’re back and with many photographs in our possession.

Look, it’s my name! (nearly):


And we went to that place with that name:


And then we went up one of these:


And saw views like this:


And tomorrow it’s back to work for me, but not for her (lucky thing!).

Many things to catch up on, but they’ll have to keep for another time.



I grew up in a town called Abergavenny which is tucked away in the bottom right-hand edge of the Welsh borders. And when I say I grew up there that’s actually a lie but not in a bad way. I should explain.

I actually spent my first eight years in a small, mountain-top town called Blaenavon; the main industries in that town (about a hundred and fifty years ago) were steel and coal. But both of those industries had died out before I started school and this left, in their place… nothing at all.

Even now there is nothing by way of a major employer in Blaenavon; claiming benefits, having illegitimate babies and glue-sniffing can’t be counted as being major employers. This, of course, is a terrible stereotyping statement but, sadly, it is an accurate one.

Another accurate statement is that life in that former steel and coal town today bears as much relationship to life in one of Europe’s major cities, as life in one of today’s major European cities is related to life in Dickensian London.

But my mother and step-father moved the family (older brother at boarding school all of his education life and then whisked straight in to the army the day he graduated; me, the troublemaker from hell who struggled to stay in various schools; sister who could do no wrong except to me when the parental back was turned – and frequently got away with it because she was, after all, a girl; and baby brother who was the apple of my wicked step-father’s eye) from Blaenavon. Though not to Abergavenny as I implied at the start of this piece.

Instead we moved to an isolated, very tiny, rural village called Llanover, half a dozen miles outside of Abergavenny. And when I say ‘we moved to Llanover’ I need to clarify once again. What I actually meant was that we didn’t move to Llanover.

We moved to an even more isolated farmhouse one and a half miles outside the village, bang in the middle of absolutely nowheresville.

The name ‘Llanover’ was applied to our address merely as a location identifier for postal deliveries, rather than as a statement of the community to which we did not belong.

As you may have guessed, because of the remoteness of where we lived – school – was (eventually) in the nearest big town; Abergavenny. I’ve used the word ‘eventually’ because the second of two expulsions needed to happen before I actually moved school to Abergavenny.

The massive downside to living in an isolated rural landscape a mile and a half walk away from a tiny village that in turn is a long (not to mention prohibitively expensive) bus ride from the small, provincial Welsh town that housed:
a) school
b) school friends and
c) the centre of the non-school universe (the places in town where all schoolchildren just hung around when not in school)…

Well yes, the downside was, of course, in those dim and distant pre-internet days, complete and utter isolation.

Ah well, that’s my mother’s logic for you.

But back to the point.

The town of Abergavenny had, in those days, a couple of not-very-good restaurants, a huge number of small shops, a few cafs, a Halfords, a Burtons, a Woolworths, a tack shop, a near completely ruined castle and many public houses.

We didn’t visit the not very good restaurants, The Wicked Witch of South Wales (I’m sorry I mean my mother) is, for her very many failings, a Cordon Bleu chef who would only patronise fooderies that equalled her own output. This meant occasional meals at Mario’s delightful restaurant (the staff there went out of their way to make sure the children were exceptionally well looked after), though I doubt even She goes there now, now that they no longer have their Michelin star. She’s a terrible snob, the Wicked Witch of South Wales.

On school days I’d hang out at Dennah’s Cafe (a wonderfully sleazy biker caff with pinball machines, mugs of tea, chip butties and a lung-shrivelling atmosphere of Embassy Regal so thick you needed to cut through it with a Boy Scout). I was forbidden by the Matriarch from even darkening the doorway to Dennah’s Cafe, but the reality is that I spent many happy hours, days and sometimes even weeks in there, when I should have been at my desk in some school or other whilst learning how to conjugate the verb ‘to listen’ to fourteen decimal places in Latin.

Over the road from Dennah’s was the funny little Greek cafe/restaurant which, despite the best efforts of the friendly family who lived and worked there, had as much warmth as a witch’s tit on a cold day in mid-January.

I’m sorry if any witches looking in find that offensive. I’m sure you really don’t have cold tits. It’s just a colloquialism.

Up the road from the Greek cafe there was the puzzlingly-named fish-and-chip shop plus sit-down cafe that was called… ‘Quo Vadis?’ Yeah, how completely bizarre is that?

And that, in those cold, dank and dark ages of my schoolboy existence, was all Abergavenny had to offer a pimply, hormone-ravaged creature that was neither boy nor man but was, definitely, male.

Near Quo Vadis was an absolute treasure of a shop; A.G. Pinch & Co. In this dark mess of an inglenook you could find a dozen different varieties of pasta; herbs from Spain, spices from the Orient (no, not the football club) and a thousand ingredients from as many countries. Not many people shopped at Pinch’s because, in small-town Walesville, not many people (apart from The Wicked Witch of South Wales) knew how to use the ingredients that Pinch’s sold. But Mr Pinch loved my mother and she loved him back. In a strictly platonic way. Although as she did sleep with the fathers of several of my school-friends as well as a couple of her staff (my equally wicked stepfather being, by now, banished to South Africa for giving me one public beating too many), I don’t suppose I should entirely rule this possibility out.

Further up the High Street was the centre of Abergavenny. No, not the town hall. I mean two hundred metres further up the road from the Town Hall, but on the same side.


The large stand-out lettering over the many-doored entrance said F.W. Woolworth & Co, but it was Woolies to everyone.

Home of the oft-attempted shoplift at the Pick and Mix counter, the place where the record counter played bad music very loudly, the place of many confusing – yet interesting – hardware and kitchenware bits and bobs that stood, unlabelled and unpriced, on racks at the back of the store. But it was more than a shop.

Woolies was a meeting place.

On Saturdays the girls would inevitably congregate at the front entrance whilst the boys would hang around the (look, can you please get your mind out of the gutter for just a couple of minutes?) Market Street entrance. Yes, it was also the back entrance, but we really didn’t need to go there, did we?

And the two groups would eventually cruise past each other inside the store, usually at the record counter, and there might even have been an occasional fragmenting of the Us and the Them in to smaller groups and – even more occasionally – further breaking down of the social hierarchy in to… couples!

On school-days we’d hang around the main entrance to Woolies when the weather was warmer; if the weather was inclement the FWW record counter was pressed in to service once more.

The staff hated us; I don’t think that’s too strong a statement.

But they did need us.

Every now and then pocket money day would arrive for one or more of us (or some illicitly saved School Dinner Money would be pressed in to an entirely different kind of service envisaged by the parental) and cash was exchanged for sweets (or in my case, for records).

As well as being a meeting place, Abergavenny’s Woolies was also a hugely important place in the history and the folk lore of the town.

It was Digby North who rode his pony in to Woolworths one Saturday afternoon and caused major disturbance (near ‘the women’s counter’) and a minor heart-attack in trying to get in and out as unnoticeably as possible.

It was in Woolies that I had a moment of… not altogether my best behaviour… or two, which may have involved some distinctly… Pythonesque conduct.

It was through Woolies that some of the quicker members of the school cross-country tean streaked. Twice.

And it was through FW Woolworth that we would occasionally have ’round the block’ timed races, where, as individuals, we’d have to leave the east wall of the Town Hall, run down Market Street, sprint up the punishing stairs in to the back entrance of Woolworth, dash through the store, run out the front, turn left, hammer down the High Street, turn left, clatter down Market Street and hurl ourselves at the mark on the Town Hall wall.

That was a Great Race.

If you were lucky and received an early draw it was a doddle, but if you were drawn to go third or even later, you were in for a tough time; the staff in Woolies would be waiting for you – but your time still counted against you. Getting caught was just tough luck and made you an even bigger loser!

There were a number of shops at the far end of the High Street but, apart from the music shop where I spent almost as much money on sheet music as I did in Woolies on records, we didn’t patronise them. That was the end of town where teachers and – worse – parents went.

And today it is gone. Woolworth in Abergavenny is no more. It’s been there longer than I’ve been alive but it’s gone. Like Pinch’s. And Quo Vadis. And Burton’s. And Denna’s Caff. And the tack shop. And the music shop.

All that’s left in Abergavenny these days are a different assortment of Cafes, some newer restaurants, a handful of Estate Agents that no-one patronises, Building Societies where few people save, a handful of hairdressers and very many memories.

Abergavenny always felt (even to a very young schoolboy) as if it were a town that could have been. It never really had much going for it, but it could have been something special – if only it could have known what it wanted in the first place!

Being the focal point of a relatively minor Top 20 hit in 1968 for Marty Wilde (Kim Wilde’s father!) doesn’t count as either being something special or knowing what it wanted.

And with this week’s closure of Woolies another little piece of Abergavenny has died; the ruined castle moves one step closer to immortality.

And the truly sad thing about all of this is that the passing of Woolies is being echoed around the country this week.

Time for a break

I started this week with a resolve to take breaks every now and then, get up, stretch my legs, drink tea and just get back in to it.

As it’s now – checks watch – 13.10 and I’ve been at it since first thing this morning I don’t seem to be doing very well in the resolution stakes, do I?

So I’m taking a break, enjoying a cuppa and stretching my brain in a different direction…

Sunday I took Soph off to the hotel where we got married.

Not straight there, first we stopped in Abergavenny, had a coffee, walked about, people-watched and so on.

Then we drove to the top of a mountain and walked about a bit – on past Foxhunter’s Grave and up to the Trig Point on The Blorenge peak, from where we worked out we could see five counties and two countries:

  • Monmouthshire
  • Herefordshire
  • Worcestershire
  • Somerset, and
  • Powys

Oh yes, and England and Wales, being the two countries.

With the cobwebs blown right out of our heads we got back in the car and meandered down off the mountain and away to the hotel.

Where a wedding was in the offing.

So let me ask a question – two questions.

Do women really wear stuff like that on their heads at weddings these days? Or was it simply an elaborate family joke which everyone else wouldn’t get?

For a brief moment it was like being in the Extreme End of the royal enclosure at Ascot Ladies Day.

I saw one woman who looked as though she was wearing a massively over-sized version of the kind of foliage that my Pimm’s would usually arrive with.

All that was missing was a crow in the upper branches and I’d have been looking at a not-very-mini-representation of the upper foliage of the New Forest.

Kin bonkers.


After a little bit of chortling at the various styles of head-dress (and a gasp of wonder at the worst case of mutton masquerading as lamb ever!) we went up to our room and against my best intentions there may have been some naughty bed-related activity.


A little before 7.30, freshly scrubbed and smartly dressed, we tottered down to the bar where we sat, aperitif’d and made high-level executive decisions about our next load of calorific intake.

Which somehow, miraculously, turned in to a five course meal – go figure!

Later, feeling very well fed, we rolled upstairs with our fat little bellies, flopped in to bed and – it’s fair to say – suffered a broken night’s sleep as a result of our gluttony.

The following morning we still had cooked breakfast though!

We tottered around the grounds, snapping photographs like a pair of tourists, then went back to our room where more cuddling was had.

Then we packed, paid, left and made our way to Worcester and a small amount of shopping took place and then on homewards.

As soon as we arrived I fixed the podcast website which had been hacked again. Bastards. It only took 28 seconds but that’s not the point. I could have fixed it from Wales except I had made a conscious decision not to take the laptop. Oh well.

I’ve replaced the design for now, because those charming little rogues are not getting in through the root or to the base of the website, so I suspect there’s a security vulnerability in the template that I have been using. Ho hum.

I need a php expert to debug that wordpress theme for me. Or perhaps I need to learn php and debug it myself. Because I have so much time on my hands… 🙂

Last night we had an early night, I think we were in bed before 19.30.

Two episodes of Angel filled the time between hitting the sheets and eyes closing for the night.

The shattering alarm this morning was not pleasant but I had a soft/firm and very beautiful woman in my arms, so waking couldn’t have been any better. Except for the alarm.

And that’s it really: travelled, walked, talked (there was, it must be said, much talking between us), people-watched, ate, travelled…

I haven’t even mentioned the Amazing Drunk Woman in the restaurant at dinner! So many things, so little time.

Speaking of, it’s now 13.38 and time I had something to eat.

Speak later.

But before I go… How was your weekend? Did you get up to anything or did you choose to use the Bank Holiday (if you had one) to just veg out?

B. x