Monday, June 18, 2012

Gold Coast, Bike Gangs, Brisbane, Hitchhiking, and Cairns

Sarah and Chad
Sarah Beetson moved over here about 6 years ago, following her heart which had attached itself to Chad. They live on a farm near the Gold Coast and apart from being important friends to catch up with, they were also the keepers of my tent, which they had since I sent it to them from Greece nearly a year ago. We represent Sarah as a top illustrator, she also worked in the office for some time before she made it over to Australia. She still works for us beyond her amazing illustration work, by being our talent scout and managing the 5000+ applications to join the agency from artists that we get each year.
Sarah with her the family budgie perched on her hat
Where they live is an oasis surrounded by extraordinary development that they have been resistant to. The farm is in a valley and bordered by a sort of national park they can see very little of the new building work that is only minutes from their gate. David and Heather, Chad's father and mother, own the farm which is a mixture of beef, macadamia nuts, delicious custard apples, avocados, lemons and tangerines to mention just a few of the richness that the land provides them. They have been there since the mid-1800 when their forebear left Somerset. All around them their neighbouring farmers have sold out. By and large they ended up sad and in many cases grossly cheated by developers. To David the idea of selling equates to selling his mother and although multimillions probably could be theirs, it would not be worth the loss of a way of life and a land deeply loved.

David about to take Batty for a spin...he came back ashen and was shaking his head in disbelief and amusement that anyone would be mad enough to ride a bike like Batty anywhere, let a lone around the world... He is use to Harleys and Triumphs
David is a member of a local infamous biking club, who are rather like the Hells' Angels. Although he now has a lot less to do with it, the tales of parties and great extremes by him as a club member (and treasurer and chief party venue host) are enough for a book or 2. What I liked, apart from the entertainment and insight, was how all their 4 children are pretty straight-laced comparatively. I suppose if you've heard your father talking about antics and abuses of all shapes and sizes, any teenage rebellion and the like would never compete.

We went to the Brisbane and visited the GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art). Some amazing work and is Australia's most visited Gallery....That fact has to speak volumes to those that knock modern art.

David looking down over his valley
Chad walked over the whole farm bare-footed. David and he took me on a tour of the farm and all the work he was doing to clear the Lantana weed from the higher ground

Just over the hill and the Gold Coast creeping fast
I did fly down to Sydney to discuss possibly setting up the agency there with someone who would be great. That has yet to be formalised, but the economy is pretty brisk here and we seem to be doing more more work for Australia as well as representing a number of great artists from Australia and New Zealand, so it does make sense to look into.

If it is boring me, I hate to think what readers are thinking….bloody fool (batty), is my emotion half the time. Yet again I have gummed up the piston rings, and this time using just 10% veg oil. I am surprised as much as disappointed that I seem to be spending half my time in oily circumstances fixing the bike, but as I've mentioned before each time it happens I get to be the beneficiary of great kindnesses and experiences that just driving around would not ever produce. I broke down this time at a garage long way from a large town, but luckily the lady who owned the garage, Joyce, let me take the bike back to her hotel and use her shed, some 30 km away. Her boyfriend put Batty on his trailer and I booked in for a night or 2. Unfortunately I broke one of the piston rings, so I ended up hitchhiking 800 km to Cairns in a 60 ton truck, driven by the chatty and generous Kevin.
Kevin strapping down the curtains
  This was a novel and enjoyable experience. Truck drivers have been my constant road companions and to see the road from their perspective was illuminating to say the least. They have a very bad press, and they feel like victimised part of the community, of course there are 2 sides to this but they feel they are pressurized by the consumer ultimately, to keep long hours delivering our demands and of course when anything goes wrong the other vehicle nearly always comes off worse. They are heavily regulated now and the days of speed (as in the drug) and ridiculous hours behind them, there is still heavy police interference that they feel is over the top.

Jack in his workshop
24 hours later I was in Cairns and in the very good care of Jack Erskine. Jack has a worldwide reputation in the sports fishing world, having come to Cairns as a young man with a love of fishing and an engineering mindset had him making some of the world's finest fishing reels and other tackle. As well as this he also enjoys Royal Enfield motorcycles and was a contact and customer of Henry, and who built Batty. After a few days I had the parts from all of the Jack's great contacts in the city and started my return.

As luck would have it Kevin was driving south so for the 1st quarter of the journey I was with him. Then, much to my frustration and his delight, a girl in a passing car flashed her  apparently beautifully proportioned naked top half at him. Alas I was out of view….. that was the 3rd time it had ever happened to him in 30 years on the road.  Kevin had to drop me at Townsville as he had a collection to make  in a different direction, so I ended up trying to find a lift for a couple of hours. It is very disconcerting not known when one might find a lift, but at 9 o'clock at night salvation came in the form of the Devil. Devil, or Lloyd as his passport denotes, reminded me that 'devil' spelt backwards spells 'lived'. And this man certainly had including 7 years in prison for various acts as a gang member of the Bandidos, a worldwide biking gang. Although this gives an impression of a pretty outlaw type character, it is balance off against his wish to build a community for disadvantaged children, as he was, so that they could have opportunities that he did not.

I got back to Carmila at 4 o'clock in the morning to find a key in a room from me. The next day I got Batty going again with all the help and spare parts that Jack had provided.

A vague plan in New Zealand with Miriam, the, to try and meet in Australia was all of a sudden a reality, as a text message reported that she was only a day away, and roughly en route. She cycled 90 km to Ravenswood, and Batty drove about 500 km, both over 10 hours ...I was a lot more knackered than she. It was great catching up and hearing how her tales on the road that found her at rodeos one week, and helping out at a properly the next, all linked by her quest to find remote and wild trails through the Australian bush.

Our respective steads in front of the Imperial Hotel

This was the other option in Ravenswood.....
I loved this sort of sculpture park of rusting iron machinery from the gold mines over the years
 I am now in a place called Cape Tribulation, that was recommended to me by Lee in Melbourne it is a beautiful spot north of Cairns. It is where the Great Barrier Reef meets the rainforest and I look forward to some lazy days and a bit of a diving.

At the end of next week I need to get back to Cairns and spend a few days with Jack who has kindly offered to help me get some more engine work done. Although that is running okay, there have been some consequences of all the dismantling and troubles to the big end bearing and as he is so well-connected and happy to help, it makes sense to do that here rather than in places unknown. Not only will the company be great, it will give me hopefully some peace of mind for the next few countries, particularly as I will be running only on diesel and not any veg oil. This now inevitable situation is humbling to say the least, having started out with such intent, named this blog about it, have kind friends create a fitting logo, and a wish to carry a message about the use of near carbon neutral and sustainable contemporary fuels is all down the pan. If only I had carried on using the 1st engine…..

Friday, June 1, 2012

One year gone, Sydney, Blue Mountains, Tamworth and Byron Bay.

It comes as a bit of a shock when I realise that it was a year ago that I waved goodbye to home family and friends. At times it could have been the blinking of an eye, at others it seems like a different life. I have loved almost every of the moment trip so far and relish the coming year making my way home.

My Australian weeks are rushing by in a blur of social and mechanical frenzies. The feelings of home, overwhelming hospitality and generosity from all those I meet are pretty much the same here as in New Zealand. There is also another feeling emerging that the longer I am away from the developing world, the more I am yearning to go back to it. This is not because I want to live there, but for me at the moment at least, greater interest and fascination are found in cultures and societies least like my own.

That said I am enjoying my time in the 1st world immensely. Meeting lots of people I work with, competitors, friends of friends, members of the Royal Enfield Club of Australia, and do you remember I mentioned how many of the girls from my 20s disappeared off to this land into the arms of Australian men, well I have caught up with a number of them and had a lot of fun doing so.

A rather blurry picture of Stuart which  is quite fitting given the number of ales we had enjoyed as he took me around numerous bars in Fitzroy,  a fun part of Melbourne. We represent Stuart and he moved to Australia about 6 years ago and  it looks like he is set for the duration, very happily.
Another fine evening spent with Wai and her delightful family in Melbourne. Wai and I have been talking and working together for at least 10 years, and finally to meet has been a great reward of this trip.

My now fellow members of the Australian Royal Enfield Club,  I have been honoured with membership whilst here...most grateful and humbling....a grt gang of friends.  They were kind enough to host me for dinner and beer one evening whilst I was in Melbourne. It was openly joked that Batty had only one other Royal Enfield to keep her company out side the pub, the others were all "second' bikes that the membership rode, which tended to be Japanese...
It looks like we were in a betting shop, in fact it was  like many bars in Australia, where gambling seems to be deeply rooted in society.
I left for Sydney planning to take about 3 days, however 2 things happened to handicap this plan. Firstly my primary chain cover bolt stripped it's thread about 200 miles from Melbourne, and secondly a new attempt to use vegetable oil and a 10% petrol mix unfortunately failed to work.
The results of my primary chain case coming undone
 As luck would have it, and indeed as has been the case in so many of my ridiculous escapades trying to use vegetable oil,  I managed to break down very close to a helping hand.  In this case it was Andy, who had heard me coming to a stop outside a local hotel in the tiny village of Cowwarr, seeking a bed. In Australia as a hangover from the prohibition years, a hotel does not mean it necessarily has any rooms and is often, as in this case, just a bar. Andy had just come back from work and on seeing my problem, he kindly said to come over to his workshop where he had various British bikes, and he would re-tap the thread. In fact it meant going into a local town to get the right thread, but once done Andy set to and made a fine job of it. 
Earlier in the day, before the bolt had stripped, I knew all was not well with the petrol/veg oil mix and the engine was behaving in the fashion I had learnt to fear before engine failure. So after all Andy's kind kind work, the engine did not start, and I was stranded at 7pm. Andy said "Well there is the more for dinner Love" he called to his wife. So along with their 4 sons, aged from about 12 to 18, Mr and Mrs Andy we had a great evening discussing local life, the aeroplanes Andy works on for fun, the fires that killed so many a few years prior (Andy is a volunteer firefighter locally), and answers to my omni present question on who and how their family came to Oz in the first place. Always a fascinatingly and different story every time, but always a story of bravery and ambition or desperation and conviction. 
Andy works for the local council collecting bins all around the beautiful district and left at 5 in the morning. I struggled to get at the bike by 7, but with the help of Dan, the eldest, got Batty back on the road by mid day....well that would have been the case had I not over tightened the bolt Andy had so laboriously fixed the night before, breaking the housing it was in. My heart just flopped initially, but as luck would have it I managed to get Batty to Brian in Heyfield 10 miles down the road and he and his brother re tapped it and got the cover better than new. All done with a generous refusal of payment, and a great 'cheering off' as I left.

Andy and Brian discussing Batty's needs. I was saying to Brian how knocked out I had been by everyone's kindness when he said "Everyone is nice...until it comes to money" well I guess I know what he means, and money does change people, but I loved the simplicity of the truism.
Andy tapping away.
The next day was my longest ride yet and managed to clock up 350 miles. I had a very important date and that was to join Kirstie and her family for her birthday dinner.  So my incentive was strong. 10 happy hours in the saddle, doing a lot of Spanish lessons (I want to at least be able to ask for a beer when I get to Mexico)

Wal, Charlie, Georgie and Kirstie at a cottage they have in the southern alps an hour south of Sydney, they are doing it up as an investment.  I went on to stay with them 10 days later near Tamworth, their more permanent home.
Mike (my initial and regular contact in Oz fro the RE Club) John and Mark. My welcoming committee of some of the Sydney Royal Enfielders for a ride along the coast in to Sydney.
I stayed with Mike and Gilda for a couple of nights and they were hugely kind and welcoming as I grappled with the wonders of Sydney.
Mike off to work on his Jubilee Bonnie...rather fitting given the celebrations in the Commonwealth

Bondi Beach...terrible picture, but wanted to log the place on the blog 
Gilda spend nearly a day showing me the delights of her Sydney,  from where she grew up, to one of the most famous views/ icons in the world (second only to Mickey Mouse in global recognision apparently)
Again not an inspiring picture, but it is of the NSW Art Gallery, which I would recommend  every time for a visit...matches the best anywhere.

Walking down towards the Opera house

I went up one of the pillars in the bridge that holds a Museum.  An amazing structure to  get up close to.
One of many provocative and challenging pieces in the Contemporary Art Museum
I would recommend the hour long tour of the Opera House to anyone....I am now such a fan, and cannot think of another building in the world that matches the quite astonishingly individual and exquisite statement of a place and nation.
Here is John mending Batty's stands. Both her side and centre ones were hopeless and now with a good deal of  weld, she can stand up for herself with ease and strength. Mike, Roger, Mark and I had all ridden out to John's house on a Sunday morning. Where John and Viv had me to stay in their beautiful house in the foot hills of the Blue Mountains. John is the only person I have knowingly met who has won the lottery. It was not a hugest of wins, but amounted to a new house apparently. However it was 30 years ago and his then wife left him taking the money with was the best thing that ever happened to him he insisted, and by the look of his very happy circumstance I can quite see why he says that.
John showed me an old trick taught to him by a German engineer 40 years ago of taking the seals off the front wheel bearing we were replacing and spreading in much more grease, then sealing them up again...twice the life and more he assured me. 
Mike and John's project 1920s Royal Enfield

3 Sisters at Katoomba

This was the view from the guests cottage I was honoured enough to stay in whilst  visiting Annabel and her parents.
They made me very at home and spoilt me rotten. Annabel lives in London, but along with her family, has oscillated between Sydney, Devon and London for many years, so I was very luck to have coincided with her.

Annabel and Jono. Because it was innocent I can recount that the last time I saw Jono was having a party (pillow fight really) with loads of friends in a huge bed in a fine National Trust house, that was reputedly slept in by His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie. It was at a farewell party before she left the UK for Oz 20 years ago....the 3 of us had a lunch as if it was the next day....lovely lovely people. I recounted to her the exodus of girls to Oz 20 years ago and us English blokes' concerns, and she pointedly said it was pretty annoying at the time for the Ozzie girls when all these English girls came over and married their men...always cause and effect.

This is a failed attempt to capture the remoteness, beauty and scale of Gananny, the property that Fiona and Reg tend. Reg is 4th generation on the farm and to want to live anywhere else is quite understandably ridiculous.
Fiona and Reg, just before I left. Banjo the dog insisted on blessing Batty with his territorial  mark.
I am hopeless at staying longer than I said I would, but at Gananny, not only did I not want to leave but I could not, as I got trapped by huge down pours that made the dirt roads near impassable on Batty's road tyres.

I left in the end to go on to stay with Kirstie and Wal again near Tamworth and as luck would have it some neighbours were having a bit of an event, which included an exhibition by a stunt horseman and his steed called BJ.... apparently it was not short for 'Blow Job' I was corrected, but was a famous horse star  in the film "Australia".

My last girl pal from Dorset and Devon days that I  caught up with in what was a fortnight of happy memories, and being very well looked after.
Bekah and Roland live very near Byron Bay, which meant very little to me initially, but as Roland kindly spent a day showing me all the sights of this beautiful part, I soon understood why it has become a much desired area. It has much of the beauty of Dorset but with some useful degrees and surf that most can only dream about...apparently

My Plan now is to head north to Cairns in about a weeks time. I have to drop back to Sydney for a work thingy next week, but that will only be for a day, and I will fly it. I am hoping to get some diving on the Great Barrier Reef and a bit of sun...

Re matters engine and veg oil etc. I had a great meet up with David in Sydney, who has been advising on all things to do with the fuel. David is a glamour photographer when he is not powering everything by veg oil, and has loads of experience and stories on both matters. He has helped uncover the secrets of my woes that has stopped me using veg oil. The new engines have been slightly re designed to make them comply with diesel emission regulations. This involves lowering the combustion temperatures, which is done by one or all of 3 things, lowering the compression, lowering the injector pressure and retarding the timing. Any of these things are obviously fine with diesel, but when trying to combust veg oil's greater viscous properties and slightly different burning properties, they fail and the fuel only partially burns. The unburnt residue is swept into the rings etc and quickly causing the compression to disappear. 

I have written to Yanmar for their help, and will see what the meantime it is biodiesel if I can get it, or diesel with the odd litre of veg oil thrown into keep some pretence at vegibiking.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Auckland farewell, Press, photo shoot, Australia, service and repairs

My last few days in Auckland both typified much of the generosity and fun that I had in the whole of New Zealand. This time the blame falls wholly on the shoulders of Hadleigh. We had met 10 months ago in Srinagar in Kashmir, where we were staying in the same guesthouse. In fact the meeting lasted about a minute, but when I came back to my bike a few hours later I found a note from Hadleigh saying if my world tour included New Zealand, to get in touch. We exchange one or 2 e-mails at that stage but good to his word as soon as I e-mailed when I arrived, his door was thrown open.
Not only did he provide a bed, we had a couple of nights out in Auckland and he and his housemates proved very good company so that I left New Zealand very much on a high.

Aha (from Greenland), Teresa, and Hadleigh on his deck.
Piha beach...a moody day

We got caught in a squall, but smiles never faltered
There was also a work element, by chance. As it turns out Hadleigh is a top-notch creative director and had lots of useful and interesting insights into the creative world in Australia and New Zealand as well as India, where he had spent a couple of years and has strong connections with.

Chris Power is the nephew of Trevor, and a motorcycle journalist. We met at the Auckland Museum for a photo shoot and interview. I nervously await how that comes out, depending on which you will see a copy on these pages!

It was Anzac day and fitting somehow to be on what they call consecrated land at a national place on a bike from Britain
It was great to find this quote in NZ, having been so moved by it in the Dardenelles.

I also had a very enjoyable lunch with Nadia Flower, who we represent. It was very good to meet her at long last and get her angle on the creative world both locally and internationally.

Like New Zealand, Australia has had a long history in my imagination, and to get here at last filled me with excitement. Now it's not that I thought anything but the best of any of the Australian men I've met, but there was a point in my mid-20s when it seemed that every girl in my community was having great love affairs with Australians, marrying them and then moving over here. So here I am about to discover what the magic is.

I was met at Melbourne airport by Mark, it was almost midnight on a Friday night which was well beyond the call of duty, but very welcome. He and his lovely wife Lucy and kids now live here, but I knew Mark when we were children in Devon.... his Dad was my godfather.

Nothing more could have been done to greater my welcome, and my introduction to domestic life Williamstown style was started with whiskey and over the next few days it was a combination of sightseeing, ball games, bicycle rides but invariably that whiskey bottle seemed to pries itself open at the day's end.
Docked in Williamstown, the Steve Urwin of Sea Shepherd Org haunts the Japanese whaling fleet and has succeeded in making it an almost non profitable business for the whalers
A replica of the Enterprise that founded Melbourne in 1835. Johnny and Molly snapped

Johnny, Harvey, birthday girl Marge (neighbour / surrogate granny) and Molly
A few months ago I received an e-mail from a chap called Mike, based in Australia and stating that he and his friends had been following the blog from early in the trip and as members of the Australian Royal Enfield Club, would like to meet. That was a lovely e-mail to receive and we had intermittently corresponded since then. I had asked if he could recommend a place to get Batty serviced, and he introduced me to Guy.

Guy and Jude live about an hour and a half from Melbourne and they welcomed this stranger into their house, and Batty into Guy's workshop. I was there for 4 days and it so happened that these 4 days were ones of rain, I don't mean light rain, this was the very definition of non-riding weather. So it was a perfect bike servicing window. Spare parts were stolen from some of Guy's long suffering bikes, Norman from the RE Club came over for a whole day and helped me with some thread worn screws, various weldings and Batty was restored to far better health. My health was improved by non stop plates full of deliciousness,  a glass that never emptied and endless good company.

The message I found inside the front door
Guy busying away on his Carberry double barrel dream machine. This is one of a production of 11 bikes that he and others created...completely beautiful.
Jude waiting for he guest to join her and Guy on a ride.

Norm giving a day to my cause...
I returned to Melbourne for a big night out with Mark, Lucy and their friend Marnie. The night life is very busy and the first 3 'happening' restaurants had this no booking policy and were rammed for 3 hours, we ended up in a great place called Cookie. The girls got chat up furiously by the waiters, and ordered exactly what these young fellas recommended....I think Mark and I felt like amused passengers on that particular aspect of the evening. It was delicious though and happy passengers we were.

For those following my fuel challenges, I have a new Guru called David in Sydney. I am looking forward to meeting him, but in the meantime I am using a 10% mix of petrol in with the veg oil. I at last understand from him that petrol will ignite a little earlier than diesel in the cycle, enabling much more combustion of the veg oil than before. At the time of writing, I have done 100 miles like this, and if I get to Sydney my confidence in the new approach will be all the more. I know David has a few more plans for Batty, but that will be for a later post.
Tim and Mark who arrived at the meeting place a little before Batty. Mark had been talking about this great biking road, and then Guy and Jude as to ride it was a joy. Tim joined us and after the obligatory pie, the 10 - 15 minute ride was right up there with the best of them.
A famed meeting point for those who ride the Black Spur near Healesville, Vic