Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Haven't blogged lately 'cos Georgie's been here for a week. Flew back yesterday. Drove her to Limoges airport in blistering heat. Must have been in the mid-30s. Then drove back and collapsed in front of the telly, dripping sweat. Watched Murray beat Gasquet then walked the dogs down the stream for a cooling dip which they greatly appreciated. Bit later, Georgie rang to say she'd arrived safely. Apparently flew on the same flight as that bloke who writes for the Telegraph about his life out here in the Limousin. I always reckoned he sounded a bit of a plonker rather than a proper chap but Georgie didn't agree. However, having observed his somewhat prima-donna-ish attitude to his wife, kids and cabin staff, she's now changed her mind.

Slept last night with a single sheet and the windows wide open. All very muggy. Woke up this morning to the same blistering heat. If anything, even hotter than yesterday. Checked the outdoor thermometer at around mid-day. 38 degrees. Phew, what a scorcher. Perfect weather for washing clothes. Just done a couple of loads. First load sheets were already dry when I slung the second load on the line. Used the dirty water to water the plants. Chucked about eight or nine bucketfuls out there. Dried out almost immediately.

Just switched the telly on to watch a bit of Wimbledon. Amazed to see it's raining in SW19. Could do with some of that rain out here. Mind you, I've just noticed some very big clouds gathering in the east, behind the church. Might be stormy ce soir.

Wednesday morning - Yup, storm last night. Woken up by rain, thunder, lightning and panicking dogs at 5am. Shut the windows, made a cup of tea and tried to calm the dogs down. Failed miserably. Went back to bed. Sultry weather now just a distant memory.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Yesterday. Sunday. Had it all planned. Get up late, give the mutts a walk, settle down in front of the telly for the three races from the Barcelona Moto GP, then an afternoon's weeding and strimming in the garden, followed by a quick cooking session of chops, onions and mash, a leisurely scotch and dry aperitif in the evening sunlight, then a bit of Sunday night telly and a post-sunset dogwalk up the old granite cross (sunsets are late at this time of year) before crawling into my pit.

But it didn't work out that way.

Weather clouded over halfway through the Moto GP, with distant thunder. Just managed to catch the end of the final race before lightning triggered the electricity cut-out. Spent the next hour trying to calm the dogs who were hyperventilating and shivering with fear (they really do get serious heebie-jeebies in storms). Then Hadrien (neighbour's son) turned up and said come on down at about 5.30 and he'll cut my hair (doesn't really need cutting but hair that's longer than about half an inch is considered terribly bad form around these parts). Storm cleared at around 4ish so gave the dogs a quick walk to calm them down. Big puddles. Really fresh air after the earlier muggyness. Garden too wet for weeding and strimming so went down to Hadrien's. Turned out Isabelle had lent his hair-cutting thingy to his cousin. Shall have to remain a long-haired git. Joined Christian, Hadrien, Denis and Davide for a beer and a chat in the afternoon sun (they'd been spannering Davide's Citroen Mehari). Then Isabelle and her mum turned up. Insisted I come round for supper at 6.30. Then pottered off back home with Hadrien who I'd press ganged into helping me remove the front forks from my Greeves (it's a two-man operation that I've been meaning to do for a year or more but Hadrien's rarely around since he's started work - would take too long to explain). Time was now about 6ish so had half an hour before reporting for supper. Gave the dogs another quick walk then fed them. Turned up at Isabelle's at 6.30 on the dot. Joined Isabelle, Janette (her mum), Christian, Hadrien, Patrice (Hadrien's boss farmer who'd turned up to pick up Hadrien and drive him to Ahun for another week's hard graft on his cattle farm) and his wife (I presume they're married but they might not be) and kid for an aperitif or three under a parasol on the terrace in the evening sun. Then it started raining again so we all went inside. Ironically, the telly was showing a news snippet about farmers enduring drought conditions in northern France. Failed crops and starving cattle due to lack of grassy pastures. All very strange while the rain hammered down outside. Enjoyed an extremely pleasant supper of rustic ham with melon (salt on melon - Isabelle's invention which tastes surprisingly delicious), then veal with 'wide' haricots, then tagliatelle (dunno how it's spelt), then goat's cheese and home-made chocolate cake with a sort of tangy custardy sauce (made by Patrice's lady who may or may not be his wife), accompanied by a cheeky little '09 (a very good year) red from the Auvergne region while thunder and lightning raged outside. Storm over, I wobbled off home at about 9ish and just managed to catch a snap of a rainbow over the church. Gave the dogs yet another quick walk (they'd obviously been panicking whilst left on their own during the storm), watched a telly programme about Murray Walker (once I'd switched the electricity back on), made a cup of tea and then hit the pit.

Shall attempt to do a bit of weeding and strimming this afternoon. Then knock up those chops, onions and mash. Weather and neighbours permitting.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nothing's ever simple

Long story. But where to begin...? Well, being a motorbike-mad geriatric who's increasingly aware of the limited time I have left for proper biking, I decided last February to sell my elderly BMW R100GS and buy the perfect motorcycle for my biking swansong. After much reading of magazine and internet reports, I eventually decided that the Honda VFR800i pre-Vtech model exactly fitted the bill. As luck would have it, I spotted a mint, low mileage, 2001 model on eBay which, although being UK registered, was originally imported from Europe and thus had a kilometre speedo and right-dipping headlight - perfect for France - so I bought it. Next, I visited my local insurance man and transferred the insurance from the BMW to the Honda. No problem, apart from a slight price hike and a three month time limit to get the bike French registered. Having read an in-depth 'how to register a UK bike in France' report on the internet, the three month time limit seemed perfectly adequate.

First stage in the registration process was to obtain a 'certificate of conformity' from Honda France. To do this I completed a lengthy questionnaire and provided various 'part' numbers of items such as engine, frame, indicator lenses, silencer, etc. - an exercise that demanded much grovelling around underneath the bike with a torch and strong specs. Sent off the form and duly waited for the arrival of the 'certificat de conformité' from Honda France. Internet reports indicated that the average waiting time would be around two months. No problem had I filled in the form as soon as I purchased the bike. This would have given me about a month to complete the easy-peasy final registering stage. But, typically, I was a bit slow off the mark in a) translating the questionnaire, and b) getting around to digging out all the required bike part numbers. So, time-wise, I knew I was up against it before my three month insurance period expired. No problem, thought I. If the certificate from Honda arrives after the insurance expires, I can simply stick the bike on the trailer and tow it to the local traffic inspector's yard for final (stage 2) approval. But what if Honda France refuse to issue a certificate of conformity because the bike wasn't sold new through one of their official UK dealers (it came into the UK through the 'back door' via Wheels International, a non-Honda dealer)? Then I'd have to get the bike back to the UK uninsured and sell it. Panic set in. What to do? How to solve the problem?

With just four days left before my three month insurance period expired and still no sign of the Honda certificate, I decided to ride the bike back to the UK, get it MoT'd (MoT had expired) and insured through a UK company, ride it back to France and continue to wait for the dreaded Honda certificate of conformity to arrive. Then, if they okayed the bike, I could go ahead and complete the registration process. And if they rejected it, I could legally ride it back to the UK, sell it, buy a French registered bike and avoid all this hassle. Ah, another thing..., forgot to mention that in France there's a power limit on imported pre-2002 motorcycles (why 2002? - dunno). That limit is 106bhp. Sod's law, the Honda produces 107bhp. Some county registration departments ignore this slight excess and allow the VFR800 to be registered while others play by the rules and say "sorry sunshine, can't allow it." Seems to be the luck of the draw who one gets at the registration desk. Another reason for my jitters.

So..., a week ago last Monday, I visited my insurance man, explained my plan and asked if my insurance was okay to ride to England. Told me it was fine but said that in four days' time the bike's registration number would automatically be listed with the French police as being an uninsured bike so if I was stopped on the return journey I'd have to prove that I had new UK insurance. To get this, he gave a no-claims bonus document written in French which appeared to confirm just two years (the time I've been bike insured in France) rather than the forty-odd that I've actually been riding. Maybe this is the French way. Didn't have time to question it and, anyway, the topic was far too complicated for discussion by a Frenchie who doesn't speak English and an Ecossais who doesn't parlez-vous Français. Left his office late afternoon, loaded up the dogs and delivered them to the kennels. Set off next day for Caen at around mid-day, caught the late night ferry and arrived at Portsmouth at dawn.

Quick p.s. to the last sentence... I'd only ridden the bike a couple of times prior to the Caen trip and both rides had been short and enjoyable. However, the ride to Caen was long (400 miles) and not so enjoyable. By the time I arrived at the ferryport, my wrists ached and I had cramp in both legs due to the forward-leaning riding position. Also, being smitten with a short, bullish neck, I'd found it difficult to look over my shoulder to execute the 'lifesaver' manouevre before overtaking. Loved the engine and performance but not so sure about the ergonomics. Rightly regarded as a sports tourer but, for me, the emphasis was on sports rather than touring. Or maybe I'm just getting old. What's with the 'maybe'?

First stop in England was my fave motorbike shop in Guildford where they MoT'd the bike. Actually, I fib. First stop was McDonald's in Petersfield where I grabbed a quick brekkie, having slept through breakfast on the boat. Next stop was one of many on the traffic-jam approach to Hindhead where I incorrectly thought the new tunnel underpass had been recently opened. Then Guildford. MoT certificate safely tucked away, I then headed for Georgie and Don's Putney flat where I planned to phone my old UK insurers and insure the bike.

Phoned up and immediately hit a problem. Because I haven't been insured in the UK for more than two years, my no-claims bonus has been wiped out. Yes, they could transfer my two years n.c.b. from France but only if it was written in English. Whaaat?!!! Rip-off or what! No way would Monsieur Petit provide an English translation of my insurance papers and no wonder insurance companies make so much money. Anyway, with little alternative I asked for a quote. £950. Pardon? £950..., but you can pay in monthly installments if you wish. Gee thanks. I'll give it some thought. Thought about it and devised a plan. Plan B. And C. And maybe D.

Rode the bike back to my Guildford shop, explained the situation and asked if they'd stick it in their showroom with a big 'for sale' sign. Then caught the train back to Putney. Now, how to get back to France? Option 1 - book a flight to Limoges, catch a bus to my local town of Felletin then buy a French registered bike (trouble is they're pricey and usually high mileages). Option 2 - buy a 'sensible' UK registered bike (maybe a Honda Transalp) that would be way cheaper to insure than the VFR, ride it back and then get it French registered. All highly unsatisfactory but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Made myself a coffee and delved into the Motor Cycle News small ads. Nothing much there. Then tried eBay. Found an interesting 950 KTM Adventure with low miles for just £4000. Phoned up and asked a few questions. Fitted the bill but was slightly put off by a BMW biker I'd briefly chatted to in Felletin saying the saddle wasn't too comfy on long trips. So I kept searching. Maybe something will suddenly turn up. I have an overworked guardian angel who regularly gets me out of messes. And sure enough, bingo! Up popped a 1989 BMW R100GS (same as my previous bike which I always regretted selling) with just six thousand miles being auctioned by a BMW dealer in Dorchester. Rang 'em up and asked what the bidding reserve was. £4500, but they were hoping for more (these bikes are on the 'up').

Next day, with bidding stuck on £4000 and just ten minutes to go, I sat poised at the laptop ready to sling in a bid at the last minute. With ten seconds to go, I put in my bid. Didn't register for some reason. Panic! Checked the bidding. Bidding closed. Reserve figure not reached. Rang the dealership immediately. Said I'd bid but nothing happened. Burst into tears and the very nice salesman said I could have it if I paid a deposit there and then. Did so, then asked if I could pick it up the following day (Saturday). No problem, see you tomorrow (BMW insurance provided for just £250 with five day free introductory offer and 90 days European travel, perfect for getting back to France and getting the bike French registered - BMW are far more helpful than Honda in that respect - and this model only produces a measly 60bhp, well within this daft 106bhp limit). Caught the train down there and rode the bike back to Putney in time to watch the Barcelona-ManU final. Next day, caught the night ferry to Caen, rode home, got changed, picked up the dogs, had supper round at Isabelle and Christian's and went to bed with non-achy wrists and non-crampy legs. Now all I have to do is get the bike French registered. Here we go again. Only this time I have six months - three with BMW insurance then another three when I sign up with Monsieur Petit. Should be time enough.