Ride a White Swan

Ten years ago I sat on an East-bound Boeing watching the bright stars shining high above the Atlantic before the speeding sun brought an early dawn. Our contrails pointed back towards Chicago. I was heading home after visiting family in the Windy City; family who mean so much to me as the years pass by.

I love flying, but that short night I was troubled.

Just prior to leaving for the USA I had almost concluded a deal to purchase a motorbike, a lovely Pearlescent White Harley Davidson Centenary Softail, but there I was sitting in a 400 tonne cigar tube questioning whether I was doing the right thing….it was a lot of money!

The hostess invited me to close the window blind, I always get amused by that…do they think that someone is looking in from the outside at 30,000 feet altitude at night? I politely declined and explained that I was Astro-navigating, I was left alone, probably classed as a nut case…and back to my pondering.

In due course the wheels touched down at London Heathrow and we were launched into the machine that all long-haul travellers have to endure; emigration, customs, bureaucracy and of course queuing and standing in line…then it’s off to baggage reclaim.

At London Paddington station we gratefully sank into out First Class seats on the Westbound high-speed train back to Cornwall and relaxed. Mrs Dookes drifted off to sleep as I tackled a bacon sandwich and a cup of black coffee whilst admiring the pleasant English countryside speeding by at 125mph.

Mrs D’s phone buzzed with a text message; I picked it up and glanced at the words on the screen. I gently nudged my wife awake, “Message, not good.”

The text message was to tell us that one of Mrs D’s dearest and oldest friends had died.

Trudie was just 35 when she was taken by cervical cancer.

We knew that she was seriously ill before we flew out to the USA some weeks previously and had spent a beautiful day in her company; but it still came as a shock. No, it was shit….

Trudie; beautiful, delicate, lovely, wonderful, happy, loving Trudie….gone.

I wanted to scream, cry, sob and I host of other things…instead I stared out of the window and saw Trudie’s face in the clouds above the ripening wheat fields speeding past our carriage.

The rest of the journey passed in a blur; then the next two days merged into a mess of jet-lag and grief.

A few days later I was back in my office. The phone rang, it was 09:15.

Mrs Dookes was calling. She cut straight to the chase, “Dad had just called me, my cousin Andy has been found dead!”

It turned out that Andy had suffered a major heart attack in the middle of the night and had been found by his father, collapsed in the bathroom at his home.

Andy had not long turned 40.

I liked Andy, he was a bit of an odd-ball, but we shared many common interests like old machinery and trains; he was a nice bloke.

I put the phone down and stared out of the window. Life is too bloody short and at times bloody unfair.

I picked up the telephone again and dialled the motorcycle dealership.

“About that bike…I’ll pick it up on Friday!”

Ten years later I’m still riding that beautiful white Harley Davidson, that you folks know as “Harls.”

I’m just sorry that Andy never got to hear the rasp of her engine through those shot-gun pipes; and I’m desperately sad that Trudie never got to ride pillion behind me, I’m sure that Mrs Dookes wouldn’t have minded…!

…but you know sometimes I see a shadow in the workshop when I’m working on that bike and start the engine….and on other occasions when I’m riding I could swear that I get a hug, like someone is sitting behind me and has their arms around my waist.

Ten years on, I’ve ridden just about everywhere I’ve ever wanted to on that wonderful bike. I’ve also got a powerful bunch of very special memories forged on that lovely machine, but most of all I still feel that connection with two very special people taken too soon and for them I ride in their memory.

Andy. Trudie. I miss you both and love you still.

Catch the two of you one day.

“Ride it on out like a bird in the sky way
Ride it on out like you were a bird.
Ride a White Swan like the people of the Beltane.”

Dookes

Bees Above My Head.

A long time ago I concluded that the world was a wonderful place and that mankind was truly crazy.

Recent events have served to further cement my viewpoint. A cowardly bombing in Manchester, indiscriminate stabbings in London, hammer attacks in Paris, countless strange decisions by the President of the United States of America and political turmoil in the UK….

It all seems to suggest that by and large our planet would be a whole lot better off without it’s most successfully evolved mammals – us!

Then there are the Bees.

Now, I don’t really need to explain what a Bee is do I? Flying insects known the world over for their role in the pollination of many plant species, making them incredibly important ecologically and commercially.

It is estimated that Bees are worth over £400 million per year to the UK and €14.2 billion to the combined EU economy through the pollination of crops such as apples, tomatoes, peas, beans and soft fruit.

Bees range in size from less than two millimetres to over 39 millimetres long. There are some solitary species of Bee, but most live in ordered social colonies…a bit like humans really!

Bees have been around for millions of years, but in many parts of the world they are in trouble and their numbers are declining.

In some cases this is due to changes in agricultural techniques, which leads in turn to fewer wild flowers. Look at a field of wheat theses days and I bet that you won’t see many wild flowers growing amongst the cereal plants. It’s like a green desert. In the UK it is estimated that we have also lost around 97% of wildflower grassland since 1930, so as Bees rely entirely on flowers for their food, it’s not good news if you are a Bee!

In the last 77 years two native species of Bumble Bee have become extinct here in the UK, it is believed that this is due entirely to loss of habitat. The Honey Bees are having it tough as well; their numbers are struggling against disease and parasites.

At Dookes H.Q. I try to work alongside nature in our garden. I don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilisers and in the sixteen years that we have lived here I have planted literally hundreds of trees and shrubs. In addition, because I am an inherently lazy gardener, things are left a little on the wild side, which has the benefit of providing habitat to a whole host of different wildlife… well that’s my excuse anyway!

Anyway, back to the Bees!

For me, one of life’s simple pleasures is to sit out in the garden on a sunny day and quietly watch the wild world pass by. Top performer is always the humble little Bumble Bee as she busily buzzes from flower to flower-collecting pollen and nectar, humming to herself as she goes by.

One night, a few weeks ago, I was just starting to drift off to sleep when I was sure I could hear a faint humming noise. To start with I thought that Mrs Dookes had left the washing machine switched on downstairs in the kitchen, but no it didn’t sound like that.

Was this some new variation in my ever-present tinnitus? It didn’t seem to be; in fact it seemed to be coming from above me. Oh well, time for sleep!

A few nights later I could hear it again, but maybe a bit louder so time to investigate. Moving around the bedroom it seemed to be coming from near a small hatch to the loft space; I rattled the wooden hatch and was rewarded by an increase in the humming, actually it became a slightly agitated buzz. Hmm!

My initial thought was that Wasps had invaded us, so next morning I set out to investigate and climbed into the loft space via a different hatchway. The loft space in a 300-year-old house is not the nicest of places to craw around, but after a few minutes of attic contortions I arrived above our bedroom and cautiously peeled back the rockwool insulation layers that lie between the ceiling joists.

A Tree Bumble Bee nest, just like the one in our loft!
Photo RM Kelly

The familiar buzzing noise was revealed as about eight bumble bees emerged and started to angrily fly around my hand-held floodlight. There fixed firmly to the top of the hatch was a small cluster of around ten small waxy pots about 25mm tall and 10mm across; this was good news, no annoying Wasps, but busy active Bumble Bees! I quickly replaced the insulation, turned off the floodlight and sat still in the dark for a few minutes. Once the angry buzzing subsided I made my way back out of the loft space and informed Mrs Dookes about our new tenants.[

Further investigation of our new visitors has been quite interesting. It looks like we have a colony of Tree Bumble Bees, Bombus hypnorum, under our roof. This is a relatively new species to the UK, being normally native to Continental Europe, it was first noticed on our shores in 2001 and has been spreading around ever since. Unusually for a newly arrived species, it isn’t harmful to our native flora and best of all is a fantastically hard-working pollinator – which sounds like good news to me!

One of “Our Bees” pollinating chives.

It’s a few weeks now since my initial look at the nest and I estimate that the colony is probably peaking now at around 250-300 Bees, they’ve built quite a few little nest pots now and are happily raising their young. Sadly in a few short months they will start to die out and a new Virgin Queen will emerge, fly the nest, mate and hibernate until she starts her own new colony next Spring.

Chives are very popular!

In the evenings the buzzing of “our bees” is now quite pronounced up in the loft space above our heads; it’s quite restful really. They have distinct conversation patterns and it really is fascinating to listen to them chattering to each other. Fortunately, they are quite considerate and seem to go to sleep at the same time as us too, so no late night ‘Bee Parties’ either!

Outside in the garden we have definitely noticed an increase in the number of bees around our plants and flowers, the black currants are looking particularly good for the extra pollination and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a good crop.

Here’s to you the humble and delightful little Bumble Bee, thank you for gently invading our life and taking my mind off the troubles of our mad world!

“Sail on, sail on my little honey bee, sail on.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Batman is Dead!

Sad news came through yesterday, Adam West the actor famous for playing Batman in the 1960’s ABC T.V. series has passed away at the age of 88.

Yes, I know that the character has been portrayed by Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and others, but you can keep them.

To me Adam West was and always will be Batman, my Batman.

As a youngster I would eagerly await each episode as the “Caped Crusader” battled against recurring villains such as “The Joker,” “ The Riddler,” and “The Penguin.”

Batman usually got captured by his enemies, but always escaped just in the nick of time to save the day and see that justice prevailed!

In the imagination of small boys our bicycles were the sleek, cool, Batmobile and a piece of old sheet was our cape….we were Batman too!

So farewell Adam West, Batman forever, thanks for the good times and memories.

I’ll catch you again one day and as the programme always used to end:

“Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel.”

Dookes

Clouds

Clouds

It’s just about three months since my friend G had his horrendous crash.

For G it’s been three long months of pain, discomfort, worry and frustration.
For his family, well, let’s just say that its been difficult and there have been lots of dark clouds..

For my part, the time has been a bit weird and it has taken me a while to process in my mind just what happened. During that time I’ll be honest, I haven’t ridden much and haven’t really been in the mood to ride. True on one of the occasions that I popped over go see G I took my trusty Harls, but other than that…well I’ve just not really been feeling like taking to two wheels.

Until one evening earlier this week.

The phone rang, it was G.

During the early dark days immediately after the crash G made up his mind that his future petrol fuelled adrenaline fix would come on four wheels, not two. Initial thoughts centred on possibly a Lotus or Caterham Seven sports car; one of those things that look and feel like a go-cart on steroids! Then his fancy switched to a Mini Cooper; not any old Mini Cooper though, oh no, we were talking John Cooper Works and nearly 300bhp with twin turbo-chargers!

He knows what he likes does my mate G.

G’s recovery has now progressed to serious physiotherapy and by all accounts he has a top man on the case, with an attitude along the lines of, “The surgeon put you back together, now I’m going to make it all work again.” Fair play to G, he has embraced the whole rehab thing and not only is he being a good lad and doing all the therapy exercises, but he’s doing gym work and swimming as well, which is brilliant! Even more brilliant, he has progressed so well that he can now drive a car again, with the full permission of his doctor.

Anyway, I digress…

I answered the phone.

G was in ebullient form. He excitedly told me of his latest physio progress and how much more he was able to do since I had seen him last. Then out of the blue he hit me with it:

“I can twist the throttle and start to pull the brake with my right hand, left one for the clutch is no problem….”

I sat down.

“Run that by me again.”

“I’m going to ride again mate.”

Part of me sort of went into shock, while the other part just broke out into a big stupid grin. Even over the phone connection G’s enthusiasm was infectious, he chattered away with a happiness that I had not heard for some time.

G went on to explain that he and Mrs G had discussed the matter fully. Being a pretty switched on lady, she had noticed that whenever G had been talking to his motorcycling mates that his spirits were always lifted; two wheels or even the thought of riding two wheels was where he wanted to be. With his new Physiotherapist things had taken a serious turn for the positive and Mrs G could see that having the goal of riding again could only be a good thing. She also understands that crash was unfortunate, but not G’s fault and if he wanted to ride again…well that is OK by Mrs G!

….and so that was why last Thursday afternoon we were found in the showroom of a large motorcycle dealer in the heart of Cornwall.

It was a good choice, as the place is not only a Yamaha and Honda concession, but has a large and varied selection of nearly new bikes of many different makes. G and I were in our element going round and sitting on the different offerings! From my point of view it was, you understand, purely academic…but G wanted to size up what future options would be. G likes Adventure bikes, so the Honda Africa Twin came under scrutiny, but top of the pile and much to my surprise was a BMW GS; the handlebar and lever geometry seems to work best for G’s wrists, but who knows what he’ll end up with.

Back in the saddle, how about a smile G?

OK, its early days yet and G has a whole bunch more therapy to go through, but the future is looking much brighter, it’s like clouds have lifted!

Talking of which, we get some pretty special clouds here on Bodmin Moor…

How about this fantastic lenticular cloud formation.

“Ice cream castles in the air.”

Or high level fern like cirrus, a sure sign of fair weather, seems a good one to end on!

“Rows and flows of angel hair.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I really, really, really now feel like going out for a ride!

“Do not stop me, do not try,
cause I’m a motorcycle man
I get my kicks just when I can.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Big Sky on Bodmin Moor

OK, I have to plead guilty of living in a beautiful part of the world. True it’s not on the scale of the Alps, The Grand Canyon or the Norwegian Fjords, but you know in it’s own way Cornwall is right up there with the best of them!

The 80 square miles of Bodmin Moor lies in the heart of Cornwall’s geography and life. To explain, a Moorland is a type of habitat found in upland areas that are generally characterised by low growing sparse and tough vegetation on acidic soil. The United Kingdom hosts approximately 15% of the world’s moorland, which is great for me because I just love the wildness of this type of hard country. Best of all, Dookes H.Q. is right on the edge of the high moor; my moor.

I don’t intentionally take our easy access to the Moor for granted, but occasionally I have to give myself a slight kick on the backside to get out on the wild side and let my senses drink in the landscape. The beauty of the moor can be deceiving, this is truly hard country when the weather takes a turn for the worse and although you are never really very far from civilisation its easy for the unwary to get into trouble. On a day like this though, when skylarks soar and sing and the plaintive mew of the curlew drifts across the landscape all is well in the world. I find that even a short excursion onto the peatlands clears my head, both literally and spiritually, but then I always have loved the high country landscape. On a clear day it is possible to spot the other high moors of South West England, Exmoor and Dartmoor, from the slopes of Bodmin Moor.

Looking East at distant Dartmoor.

Like many moorlands, Bodmin Moor is almost totally bereft of trees. It is believed that clearance started in the neolithic era, between 12,000 – 6000 years ago. Those trees that remain are usually isolated and stunted by the poor soils and constant winds. This particular hawthorn, Crataegus in latin, always fascinates me.

I couldn’t help taking a few shots in black and white just to experiment.

I hope you agree that I am really lucky having all this just five minutes from my front door!

“On the hills where the wind goes over sheep-bitten turf,
where the bent grass beats upon the unploughed poorland..”
John Masefield

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Earth Day

I have my good friend Alba to thank for reminding me, via her stunning blog photography, that last Saturday was Earth Day. Click here to visit her blog and see what I mean!

OK, so I’m late, blame thirty years of running railways on that habit!

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on 22nd April. Worldwide, people come together to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It was first celebrated in 1970 and today Earth Day events in more than 193 countries are coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network.

In 1969 at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honor the Earth and the concept of peace, to first be celebrated on March 21, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This day of equinox was later sanctioned in a proclamation written by McConnell and signed by Secretary General U Thant at the United Nations. A month later a separate Earth Day was founded by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in first held on April 22, 1970. Nelson was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom award in recognition of his work. While the 22nd April Earth Day was focused on the United States, by 1990 it had spread to an international event involving 141 nations.

UN Secretary-General U Thant supported McConnell’s global initiative to celebrate this annual event; and on February 26, 1971, he signed a proclamation to that effect, saying:

“May there be only peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animate life.”

A beautiful sunset at Dookes H.Q. in Cornwall on Earth Day 2017.

On Earth Day 2016, Paris Agreement on Climate Change was signed by the United States, China, and some 120 other countries. This signing satisfied a key requirement for the entry into law of the historic draft climate protection treaty adopted by consensus of the 195 nations present at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

By Earth Day 2017, the new President of The United States had turned his back on the treaty. It appears to me that short-term profit and political appeasement are seemingly more important to him than the future existence of our Planet as a viable place to support life.

Wake up and get real people.

We only have one planet, isn’t it time that we started looking after it a bit more?

“We’re killing everything that’s alive
And anyone who tries to deny it
Wears a tie
And gets paid to lie.” Joe Walsh

Catch you soon.

Dookes

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Joni Mitchell

Keeping My Mouth Shut!

Hmm. There’s been a notable lack of posts from Dookes for the last few weeks. No, it’s not writers block…I’ve just not really had much to say.

I believe that Mark twain once said,
“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think that you are a fool, than open it and remove all doubt.”

Thinking about it, I’ve known quite a few folk over the years that fell into the latter category!

As folk say here in Cornwall, “What’s on?” Meaning what’s been happening then?

Well, the season is marching forward and Spring has firmly taken charge. Wild flowers are filling our hedgerows, birds are busy building nests and only this week I spotted the first migrating swallows cutting across a clear blue sky at Dookes H.Q.. In many Cornish gardens magnolias and camellias are in full bloom, their blossom may only last a few days, but I think they are worth the space that they take up for the rest of the year!

Magnolia in bloom at Launceston Castle.

On the motorbike front things have been quiet-ish. ‘Baby’ has a new set of brake pads; the old ones lasted 15,000 miles and included two Alpine adventures, so I guess that’s pretty fair for a bike that weighs over half a tonne! ‘Harls’ has been serviced and is pretty much looking as gorgeous as ever, but hey I am biased!

So sexy!

For one reason or another I always seem to be pretty busy and unfortunately that’s been eating into riding time…but I have been out and about on ‘Harls’ for a couple of nice head clearing ‘fifty milers.’

It’s been pretty weird though, riding a motorbike with G’s major crash still very fresh in the old memory. The whole thing has really shaken me, not the least seeing the photos of the scene and also riding past the very site. I was recounting this to another friend the other day. I was sort of trying still to make sense, is there is such a thing, of what happened. He listened intently, then told me that he believed that as I was what he called a “logical” person he was sure that if I only stopped and thought about it properly, without emotion, that I could work it out.

You know what? He was right!

I accept that riding a motorcycle has it’s inherent risks; add into the mix a large dose of idiot/inconsiderate/impatient other road users and the odds start to stack up against any two wheeler, powered or pedal. It’s part of a bunch of reasons why I keep up my advanced riding qualification and have regular assessment rides; it’s all about managing the risks as low as possible. The unexpected can and as G proved, does happen. I’m also a bit fatalistic and every time I ride out of our drive I steal a look over my shoulder, just in case…

Talking of G, he is making steady, if very slow, progress. I try to see him every week and really look forward to my visits with him. We are a proper pair of “Old Gits,” putting the world to rights over cups of coffee, grumbling about just about everything and also fiendishly plotting future adventures.

 Of course a lot of our plans are based around and depend on G’s recovery.

Lets not under exaggerate it; G’s body is pretty badly smashed up. Add into the mix the continuing treatment he’s going to have, it’s going to be a long haul and that’s without the stress that he goes through thinking about it all. Last Tuesday G had to have some of he wires holding his right hand together removed; he told me that the surgeon used a tool like a high-tech pair of pliers to pull them out, no anaesthetic was used, ouch!

Understandably, G has good days and not so good ones. I try to be upbeat, which generally is my nature anyway, but I do find it pretty hard sometimes when he gives me a bit of a grim reality reminder. Fortunately our sense of humour is pretty similar, “warped” was the word Mrs D used once. I have thought on a couple of occasions that I should have been a little less hasty with my suggestions…such as offering to loosen the screws in his arm…!

Oh well, its only what mates do!

On another matter, planning has begun for my next big solo road trip and that’s always an exciting time. More details to follow…

“Call me the breeze
I keep blowin’ down the road…”

Catch you soon.

Dookes