Christmas Eve – Better Than The Main Event!

I always raise a wry smile when I hear people ask, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

It’s as if that one day demands gargantuan effort and logistical planning for it to happen or be a success!

Now I know to an awful lot of folk in the “Christian” Western World that Christmas is indeed a massive thing, both in its preparation and execution; it’s not for me to say that they are wrong, but some years ago I had reason to re-think my own approach to the holiday, let me tell you about it.

In those days I was still working in the railway industry, I was a senior manager in the responsible for the delivery the safe operation of passenger train services. I had a fantastic team of local operations managers and train-crew who were dedicated to the job that they did, we had a great time working together. Our area of responsibility covered the Southern half of the U.K., it was demanding work but very satisfying.

In the lead up to any holiday period we always saw increased usage of our services as people travelled to enjoy their days off with family and friends. The Christmas period on the railways was and still is, a bit different, as it is the only time of the year that trains actually stopped running for the two-day holiday; so there is just a bit more pressure to get people home before the shut-down!

As the Christmas holiday was approaching we were struggling; a virus was going around that was severely stretching our train-crew resources and sadly a couple of services had been cancelled due to staff sickness. Our resources centre was doing a great job covering the timetable and the remaining staff were really helping out by being as flexible as possible, but we were up against it!

By the morning of Christmas Eve we had shuffled the deck enough to cover every train…except the last one.

Now I had a mantra, that basically said Never, cancel the last train.

I talked through the situation with the Duty Managers in the Control and Resources Centre. We were short of a Train Manager (known as a Guard/Conductor, in other places) for the last 200 miles of the last train, as a result the Control staff had already began to look at the possibility of using replacement road coaches.

I wasn’t at all happy about 300 of our passengers being put on a fleet of buses, especially so late on Christmas Eve!

No, it wasn’t a train like this either, but hey it’s sort of Christmassy!

As a career railwayman, over the years I had been trained in and done just about all of the jobs in the operations department, what’s more I had ensured that I maintained my Safety Critical Competency Certifications too. All our frontline staff and union representatives knew that “The Old Man” was quite capable of doing any of their jobs, especially in an emergency and this was an emergency!

It didn’t take me more than a couple of seconds to decide that if the last service needed a Train Manager that I would cover the shift.

I’ve got to say that Mrs Dookes wasn’t over happy when I told her what I was going to do, but she understood; she knew I was a railwayman and running railways was what I did.

As for the train. Well, from what I can remember it all went well and ran on time with no dramas, but it did have a nice “Travelling Home for Christmas” vibe.

We delivered the passengers to their destinations on time, then put the train away at the end of the run.

A taxi was waiting to take me home, which was about 100 miles away, I walked into our decorated house at one o’clock on Christmas morning…it was still Christmas Eve to me!

Waiting on the table was a candle-lit light meal of delicious goodies that Mrs Dookes had prepared and a chilled bottle of champagne to go with it too!

That’s how we have celebrated Christmas Eve ever since and in a way it’s become our most important tradition of the festive period, better than the main event in many ways!

I was incredibly lucky in my railway career; I worked in some amazing places alongside incredible people doing special things to keep the wheels rolling. Sometimes things were grim, but I have lovely memories of the camaraderie that we shared doing a job that most of us loved.

Tonight, when Mrs Dookes and I sit down to our supper I’ll raise a glass of something bubbly, toast railway people the world over. Then I’ll quietly think of that Christmas Eve so long ago and thank goodness that I’m married to a wonderful lady who understands what makes me tick and who created such a lovely tradition out of my stubbornness not to cancel a train!

Have a peaceful Christmas everyone!



Red Sky In The Morning.

Sometimes it’s worth getting up the first time the alarm sounds and not hitting the “Snooze” button. Yesterday in Brittany was a case in point.

Surprisingly the evening with Denis didn’t get out of hand and I slept “The sleep of the just,” with only the alarm disturbing me. I got out of bed and threw open the shutters, dawn was breaking in the Eastern sky with rich hues of amber, red and gold; it was too good to miss, so I sat I the window taking in the show that the sun was giving.

In the back of my mind I pondered the old adage,”Red sky in the morning, sailors warning.” Hmm, oh well, we’ve taken pretty much everything that the weather clerk has thrown at us this trip, something else won’t matter. Will it?

Denis was waiting when I wandered downstairs, his smile every bit as warm as the sun.
“Bonjour Gallois, bien dormi, ça va?”
“Oui mon ami ça va et merci, j’ai très bien dormi!”

He broke into a rare bit of stilted English,
“Bacon and eggs? Zee full English?”

He roared with laughter as I shook my head…he knew what I was going to say.

“Merci, non. J’aurai une omelette, comme d’habitude!”

More laughter, Denis knows I always have an omelette for breakfast with him; it’s because they are the best, which I frequently remind him. Anyway he gets fun out of the bacon and eggs routine!

Of course there’s the usual French breakfast fare to go with it; bread, croissants, pain au chocolat and as this is Bretagne, little Madeleine cakes…which just beg to be dipped briefly in your cup of coffee to give sublime breakfast happiness!

Soon, too soon, it was time to hit the road again and in the French way there were hugs and kisses all round. Ann stood on the steps of the Château waving me goodbye, Denis had disappeared off to feed his horses, he doesn’t do the actual departure bit very well.

I turned Harls North West and headed for our ferry port at Roscoff, just over 100 miles away through delightful Breton scenery. True, Brittany isn’t as spectacular as the mountains that we’ve been in for the last fortnight, but to me it has a homely feel. It’s the region of France where I first “got it” about the country and the people, that’s wholly down to Mrs Dookes; she worked here years ago and imparted her love of the place to me. I’ve never really looked back since!

Then there was the weather, what a lovely day it had turned into and stayed that way right to the ferry. Thank you La France, I’ll forgive you the downpours we had to endure previously!

….and so to sea. The ferry link between Brittany and Plymouth is really convenient for me as Dookes H.Q. is only about 25 miles from the port and usually a doddle to cover.

I like travelling with Brittany Ferries, that’s not an advert for them – I’m just a satisfied customer. I always get a cabin, irrespective if it’s a day or night sailing, as it makes a good base to securely dump things whilst I enjoy the facilities of the ship and also because I appreciate getting some sleep. No difference this time either!

Getting near to the U.K.the weather closed in and by the time we docked it was full-on driving rain. Oh joy in the darkness!

Then, just to add to my overflowing cup of happiness on the way home, the highways authority had decided to dig up the road and install diversions…then we ran into fog and still it rained…bear in mind that these are rural roads with no street-lighting, not fun. That blasted red sky!

Grumbling aside, it was good to roll Harls into my workshop, shut the doors, turn on the dehumidifiers, thank her for a job well done and promise in the next couple for days to wash the considerable amount of road grime off her.

2736 miles without missing a beat. “Pas mal,” as Denis says, yes not at all bad for an old lady, the true star of the show!

Incredibly big thanks to Mrs Dookes for the latitude that she gives me to go travelling, whilst she keeps H.Q. ticking over; yeah I know that I’m a lucky chap in so many ways.

There’s more to tell about this trip dear reader, so please pop back again soon when I post more pictures and stories of things we saw along the road.

“Let me be a travelling man, I’m a roadrunner baby, roadrunner.”

Catch you soon




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.


Goodbye Dog Days of Summer

OK I admit it, I’ve not been out on two wheels anywhere near enough in recent weeks!

I’m not over worried about the lack of bike action though. I had to smile to myself yesterday when the latest copy of HOG, Harley Owners Group, magazine dropped through the Dookes letterbox and the editorial commented that this year’s  “Riding Season” was coming to a close.

I’m sure that I have previously mentioned, to me there is no defined “Riding Season.” I ride all year round, whenever I can get out. It’s just about having the right gear and more importantly the right mental attitude and the commitment to clean the bike off afterwards…!

As I said in my last post, life has been busy and just as if I needed reminding to slow up a bit my body has done it for me. A torn Achilles tendon and a mild kidney infection have slowed me up nicely and given some badly needed time for recharging the old Dookes batteries. I do feel a bit of a fraud though, my mate leukaemia battling G is back in hospital and considerably more poorly than I am; here’s thinking of you fella.

Sadly, summer in the Northern Hemisphere is beginning to wind down; shadows are getting longer and the nights are noticeably drawing in. We’ve still been enjoying plenty of good weather though, all is not yet mists and leaf-fall, but the dog days are certainly gone for another year.

In our garden at Dookes HQ we have a delightful raised bed planted full of various types of mint. It’s useful as a herb for cooking, but at this time of year I love it because the flowers acts as a magnet to butterflies and bees.  This summer the butterfly population of Cornwall has been noticeably depleted, possibly this is a result of our mild wet winter last year, so its been great to see at least some of our residents topping up their nectar levels on our mint blossom. On a glorious morning the other day I grabbed a camera and stalked the butterflies for a few minutes, I must say that I am quite pleased with the results!


This rather lovely Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais ureicae) caught my eye with its dazzling colours. This is one species that has suffered a worrying decline in recent years, particularly in the South of our country. One theory is that is being attacked by a parasitic fly, whose range is spreading due to global warning. It’s still one of our most widespread butterflies and occurs throughout the British Isles. I just glad it chose our garden!


Looking at the photos, I think that they might be two  different butterflies as the wing pattern doesn’t seem the same in both photos. I am, however, very pleased with the results and I hope you like them.

“What it’s like to walk amongst butterflies.”

Catch you soon.




Hello everyone.
I’ve signed up to another Blogging University course, similar to the ones I did last year. This one is all about Photography, so climb on board, this ride could get interesting and I really do not know where we will be going!

Today’s assignment: Home.


Let me explain what is going on.

There’s a Welsh rugby shirt and a small Ddraig Goch/Red Dragon (the symbol of Wales) lit by a lamp whose base is made from a piece of Aberllefenni slate from the heart of Mid Wales.

These are things that are dear to me and link me to Wales, the Land of My Fathers, where my heart is and which will be forever “home.”

Each night as I turn out the light my hand touches that piece of rock and I am in contact with home, I makes me happy and at the same time a little sad; we call it “Hiraeth” in the old language.

Catch you soon.


“Hiraeth” is a Welsh word with no direct translation in English. It represents a longing for the homeland, but not mere homesickness, it is an expression of the bond with the old country when one is away from it…