Ixion does France, 1998

The players
Me'n'DeeTriumph Sprident
Advanced JimTriumph Daytona Super III
George and Rosie CherryBMW R1100GS
Bryan RozierMuZ Scorpion
TerryBMW R1100GS
Advanced JeffHonda Transalp
Retarded MikeHonda Transalp
PhilBMW Funduro
GaryBMW R1100R
MattHonda CBR600
JohnSuzuki TL1000S
marvinYamaha FJ1200
Jeff-LucSuzuki GSX1100

With special guest appearances by

The spirit of Paul Yull

Jour 0 - doing the preliminary thing

The plan for me'n'Dee was to travel down to Mik'n'Mel's place for the Thursday night, to enable a good night's sleep before the Friday leisurely ride to the ferry. Astonishingly, everything went to plan (except that plan A, take the Tigger, had fallen by the wayside as the rear brake was still binding, so plan B, take the Sprident, came into play). We arrived without running out of petrol at all, and discovered Advanced Jim's Daytona 900 in standard "Advanced Jim's Daytona 900 at Mik'n'Mel's" mode, ie. everyone lying on the floor hitting it with hammers. Apparently he wanted to change the brake pads but hadn't worked out how to get the pins out (yes, you do hit them with a hammer). He decided to leave it until tomorrow and see if Paul Smart's could (a) do it for him or (b) flog him a few spare pins in case he knackered them getting them out.

Mel was suffering from a badly infected foot, which had taken on a resemblance to a red Marigold blown up with a garage air hose. Gamely (no, I don't mean she smelled) she hobbled round and sorted out a rather nice spag bol, and we wended our bedward ways.

Phrase of the day - "Perhaps a bigger hammer?"

Jour 1 - doing the ferry thing

Next morning's plan A was for Jim to get the brake pad pins from Paul Smart's ("Yes, we've got them in stock"). He returned after a fruitless mission, as the pins they had in stock were the screw-in ones for the other models. Plan B was made - find a French dealer and get them to do the pad change.

We bade farewell to Mik&Mel&Kai (and Napoleon and Widjit - sadly, it was to be the last time I saw Widjit) and headed Doverwards. At this point, I'd just like to say thanks to Mik'n'Mel for putting us up for the night - it was a real help, giving me a chance to get gradually acclimatised to long distance riding, and saving me from getting up at Gawd knows what time…

Arriving at Dover, I was momentarily alarmed by one driver - mobile phones are one thing, but he had a bloody camcorder! Oh, the car was French and left-hand drive…

Now we met up with various others of the party - George and Rosie Cherry (organisers), Bryan Rozier (Ixi at opposite end of scale to Mick Doohan), John Haley and Matt Ellis (who may be joining Ixie soon), Mike James, Phil Haswell (another possible Ixie recruit) and Terry Bunn. Uneventful trip on the ferry, after which Jim headed off to find a mechanic with a hammer and the rest of us headed off for Arras. We stopped for coffee in a small village, where Jim caught us up, having discovered that brake pad pins are drifted out from the inside out, not the outside in (but the big hammer is still mandatory). On we continued along boringly straight French roads to Arras.

Our way to the front of the hotel was blocked by crowd barriers, and the main square (which the hotel is on) was full of grandstands. What was this, some wide screen thing for Sunday's World Cup final? No, it was Interville (aka Jeux sans Frontieres, It's a Knockout, Hahahahahahaha, the Italians never stand a chance, they just enter it for a laugh, there they are ahead of the British team, hahahahahahahaha).

So we finished up in the underground car park, while marvin and Jeff-Luc, who had arrived before us, were parked behind the crowd barriers in the main square.

We found a bar or two or three, then a restaurant, then back to a bar to watch Interville on the telly. At some point, we were accosted by (apparently) a French HGV driver who had (allegedly) broken down and appeared to be doing his best to scrounge whatever he could off us. He got a cigarette (generous, us English, eh?).

Another bar, where the proprietor danced with Dee, while I chatted to the barmaid. Dee scrounged a load of free postcards. In celebration of winning Interville, a firework display happens which we almost got to the door in time to see. Finally back to the hotel where the bloody Interville scaffolding etc was being taken down. It's louder than bloody Stuart Hall out there. No sleep…

Phrase of the day - "Qu'est que fucking c'est le fucking wossname?"

Jour 2 - doing the thing with the U-turns

Late to breakfast, and we finally set off in the company of Advanced Jeff (who had been panicking as he thought Advanced Jim had gone off with his keys) and Advanced Jim. Yes, this was the Advanced party, bringing up the rear.

Our first stop was Laon, where we arrived as the others were leaving. It's a split-level town, with the cathedral and old town on top of a plateau and the low town spread out below, like a Bandit 600 spread out over a living room carpet. We ate in the square in front of the cathedral, and gazed at the carvings on its towers, the horses and cows and gargoyles looking back down at us.

Being the Advanced party, of course we were allowed to perform advanced Ixie manoeuvres. When Advanced Jim grepped the signposts at a roundabout for C*al*s and got the Calais turn, not the Chalons one, the pinnacle of advanced motoring was called for and we duly performed an Advanced U-turn on the autoroute. Don't try this at home, folks. From here, we continued to Langres, where we stopped for a while while Dee complained about lack of sunglasses. She'd got some, but one of the screws had fallen out, and although I'd repaired them beautifully with a safety pin, this wasn't enough. Still, she didn't find any…

Finally we headed for Beaune, which we found, and the hotel, which we didn't, heading out on the (rather pleasant) Dole road for rather too far. I'd have enjoyed it more if I wasn't feeling knackered. The day's final U-turn happened and we found the hotel, then me'n'Dee discover that as we had the most luggage, we got the room at the top. Bugger.

Out in the evening for food and drink, and we were given the security code for the hotel keypad. However, those of us who returned before the hotel closed were those who remembered the code, and those who returned at 1.30 found themselves locked out until 3.30 because they didn't have the code…

Phrase of the day - "Mike, your chain's making a horrible noise"

Jour 3 - doing the hairpin things

I was up early, as I hadn't been out late on jour 2, but Dee wasn't because she had. After breakfast, the early group set out on a series of U-turns, with Jeff-Luc performing the sacrificial dropping of the bike. marvin noticed that Jeff-Luc's tyre was even balder than his head, with a patch where the cords had been worn through when Jeff-Luc locked the rear wheel on jour 2. The bike did an equivalent amount of damage to Jeff-Luc's leg, despite Bryan's heroic attempt to save it with his own bike. We carried on regardless, with people strangely reluctant to station themselves behind Jeff-Luc.

The roads became more bendy, which was nice. Then we came to the start of the Alps. In order to make a road go up a hillside at a steep angle, one folds the road back on itself in what is technically known as a 'hairpin' but which is sometimes referred to in the Alps as 'oh fuck that's a long way down'. I was really making a mess of them, especially right-handers. Fortunately we stopped about halfway up, before I'd managed to fall off, and I had my first encounter with that wonder of hygiene, the French open bog. I got my head into gear and when we set off, I started actually looking properly in the direction I wanted to go and the hairpins became suddenly easier.

At some point, we found that an enterprising French gang had stolen the road. We continued over hardcore for a few hundred metres (thankfully with only gentle hairpins) until the road returned as suddenly as it went.

We had another couple of passes to go through, but now it was starting to seem easier. We stopped at the highest point we'd encounter today and looked round at the desert landscape that surrounds us. The sky is incredibly clear up here, the haze that you find further down (especially round towns) is absent, and the only thing that cuts down the enormous clarity of view is the big fluffy white things perched on top of some of the mountains. No, not sheep, clouds.

Finally, we headed off to our hotel for the next three days, the Yeti in ClocheChantemerle. The manager actually comes from Peterboghorror, and owns a black Tigger (with some bad karma, though he still loves it).

George has arranged something for every other day on this trip. Arras had Interville, today we had the World Cup with us in the host country which had unexpectedly got to the final. The first half happened to coincide with our food, which we were eating outside. Whenever a shout went up, several of us dashed back in to watch France's goals in slow motion action replay. Amazingly, they actually won - not that the French in the bar seemed very enthusiastic, we were making more noise than they were.

Phrase of the day - "Allons enfants de la patrie"

Jour 4 - doing the thing where nous sommes perdues

Activities day, and some went off to mountain bike down the scenery. Advanced Jim, John, Matt, marvin and me'n'Dee decided to try out the luge (hurl yourself down mountain while sitting on tea tray). We headed along the valley, us last and Matt just ahead. Dee and I both thought we saw the leading bikes head off to the left just before a tunnel and we headed off after them. Matt had also lost touch with the leaders and he turned round and came up with us. After a fair bit of casting around to try and find them, playing on gravelly hairpins, we decided to give up and head for La Grave for petrol, then back to the hotel. In La Grave, the first thing we saw was the others.

It turned out that the others had gone through the tunnel, after all. John had headed back to try and find us, and not come back again. Eventually, we headed on for the luge place. However, just before we got there, Dee decided she was unwell and wanted to go back to the hotel. I took her back, adjusted the chain on the Sprident, then headed back for Alp d'Huese for the luge, only to U-turn a few miles down the road when rain started sprinkling. The sky looked darkly ominous and I decided that duck and run for cover was probably a good idea.

The remainder of the day consisted of doing the drinking thing. With a bit more practice, I could get quite good at it.

Phrase of the day - "Mike, your chain's making a horrible noise"

Jour 5 - doing the white-water raft thing

This was activity day 2, the real Blue Peter badge day. First up was a ride around, taking in various high areas and lunch in a small village under a chateau. The village featured yet another of France's contribution to haut hygiene, the open WC, featuring used sanitary towel in the corner. Nice. On the way back, we once more encountered the work of the road stealing gang, and I felt seriously unhappy at negotiating a downhill sheet of gravel…

We headed off to Briancon, where we were supposed to set out from, and then (after the obligatory U-turn) discovered that we were to set out from a hundred yards up the road from the hotel. Off we rode, changed we got, and walked we up to the assembly bit. Here we changed into fetching wetsuits and lifejackets, and assembled at various rafts. No-one was surprised to see marvin head the rush for the one raft with a female driver (who promptly positioned him as far away as possible).

Next we were taught how to paddle the raft ("I say 'FORWARD', you paddle forward. I say 'BACK', you paddle back. I say 'FORWARD LEFT', the left paddles forward. I say 'BACK LEFT', the left paddles back. OK, let's go.". Lengthy tuition is not a French concept).

So in we got, off we paddled, and into the maelstrom we went.

For those who haven't been white-water rafting - you're missing out. I wouldn't choose to do it every day, but I'll be at the front of the queue at IxiFrance99. The boats bounce off the rocks and each other, and the water threatens to engulf you but doesn't succeed (most of the time). Plunging down a weir is quite an experience. Halfway down (the whole thing, not the weir), we all stopped and had to leap in the water above a swirling mass of water going down between some rocks, and try and get to our feet and walk out after shooting that bit. Although I did manage it, I was glad of the steadying paddle handle extended to me…

On the last section, a rock loomed maybe 100m before the end of the run. Each raft in turn was driven up onto this - when ours was, I found myself more out than in, water over my head. I turned the paddle and pointed the handle up and in, and Phil, who was sitting opposite me, grabbed it and pulled me in. For 30 seconds or so I lay in the bottom of the raft, getting my breath back. And then, finally, it was over. We struggled out of wetsuits and washed them out, then climbed into the minibus for the trip back to the hotel.

The day wasn't yet over, though. This was Bastille Day, and over the last day or two, a large quantity of fireworks had been assembled on the bottom of the slopes just a couple of hundred metres from the hotel. It was a not unimpressive display - so we know which week to go on IxiFrance99 anyway…

Phrase of the day - "Glug"

Jour 6 - doing the D994 thing

The next bit was at the suggestion of Paul and marvin, so if it all went pear-shaped then we had the ideal scapegoat. We were going to the Ardeche.

For those (like me) who are geographically challenged, let me summarise where we'd gone so far. Starting in the top middle, we'd headed fairly directly for the bottom right, and now we were heading for the bottom middle.

Jeff-Luc had still been unsuccessful in the acquisition of a new tyre, and so we had to leave him at the Hotel Yeti until Friday, when he would be newly equipped and ready to chase after us.

I joined Matt and John for the ride to the Ardeche. We had a little U-turn moment overshooting a left turn, and then found ourselves on some tarmac that had been left over from resurfacing Le Mans. Bloody great, off we hurtled into the wild blue and green yonder. We stopped a couple of times for photos, eventually reaching La Mure and stopping for coffee.

While sat sipping on the pavement, Advanced Jim came past and headed off for Mens. A rather strange French woman wandered along the street and examined the instruments on the bikes very closely, then wandered past us, leaning over to me and giving me the 'Victory' salute (no, not the Agincourt one, the one that bikers give each other in France). A few minutes later, we set off in pursuit, but with another photo stop or two, we arrived at Serres a little after Advanced Jim, who was already sitting at a cafe by a roundabout.

The next section of road was the D994, and we were unprepared by what we'd so far found in France for what now stretched out in front of us. For a change, the tarmac was flat and shiny patches were noticeable by their absence, and the road was turny, with excellent visibility, little traffic, just mile after mile of footpeg-to-footpeg swervery. This is probably the best road I've ever ridden on - at least that I can remember. I want to do it again…

However, all good things come to an end, and we encountered the road stealing gang again. After trundling our way across another nice patch of hardcore, we found the road still as twisty but the tarmac was back to "chaussee deformee", which as any fule kno means "deformed horses".

And so it came to pass that we finally arrived at Orgnac, where we found the hotel. One thing made it quite spectacular - the outside area, instead of being shaded by umbrellas which provided endless minutes of entertainment, was shaded by vines and had a couple of trees (olive perhaps?) growing up through the canopy.

George had organised canoeing for the morrow, and so we had a shopping expedition to purchase provisions - bread, cheese, wine, thou, salami, melons, apples - and then returned to the evening meal which George had organised, and more alcohol. George kept telling us how asking for ketchup was insulting to the chef, and Gary kept asking for ketchup.

The evening was spent attempting to convey the idea of exactly how many beers were required by any one person at any one time. If two people went up and one ordered two beers, then the other ordered two beers, the second order was disregarded presumably on the grounds that the stupides Anglaises didn't know what they were on about. It was only by one person removing both drinks, then the other person standing there for another few minutes, that the concept was grasped. I decided my schoolboy French was foundering severely when I couldn't remember 'thirty'…

Phrase of the day - "Wheeeeee!"

Jour 7 - doing the canoeing thing

Most of us had expressed an interest in canoeing through the Ardeche gorge, after George had put the idea into our heads, and so it was that George (in true George style - George does organising like most of us do breathing) had organised several canoes from a place down the road. We would ride there, be conveyed to a launching point, chucked off, and retrieved from the landing point, some 16 miles down-river (and where we'd left the bikes). Dressed in rather fetching life-jackets, we took to the water, and finally managed to get George to teach us how to paddle the canoes. Well, considering that George is a qualified canoe coach, the lesson was somewhat less than rudimentary ("Right, the one at the front paddles, the one at the rear paddles a bit less and steers"), and I had to rely on my rowing experience… Top tip - if you want to learn to canoe, don't go to a qualified coach.

Anyroadup, the river was mainly mill-pond-like, but every now and again we encountered these rapids (some of them were more like slows, but there you go). George's lesson for the rapids consisted of "paddle faster". Thanks, George. Still, we survived a few of these (though I did manage some intriguing 360 degree pirouettes half-way down some of them, all entirely controlled of course). I now had the system of directions down pat for Dee. "Paddle" meant actually do the paddling thing a bit, "PADDLE!" meant do the paddling thing only faster, and "Fucking PADDLE!" meant "We are approaching a rapids and you aren't even thinking about putting your paddle in the water". I wonder how many divorces these C2 canoes lead to? We paused for a rest and a swim, made fascinating by the tiny fish that surrounded us and darted into our shadows, then set off again.

The next pause was for lunch, and we pulled the canoes up onto a sloping slab of rock. After a tasty bit of grub (camembert, salami, red wine, as organised), we headed back off. George insisted on a slipway launch, and rather impressively totally submerged the bow of the canoe, half-filling it with water.

We set off just after George and Rosie, only to encounter them again a little later, completely foundered and being assisted by Jim and Bryan. This event left us (for a change) leading, as we came to what were most definitely the most impressive rapids of the day. They had to be shot right to left, then a sharp right turn to avoid the jagged rock thrusting out from the left bank. We left ourselves with room (the river was like the M6 in rush hour), then did the shooting thing, and I slammed the paddle in for the turn - just in time, the bow came round and we were past, the rock clipping us just behind where I sat.

This was an opportunity for us. I turned in 100m downstream and held the rocky bank as we watched for the others. The carnage was terrific - probably every other canoe missed the turn to the right and went head on into the rock face, then immediately capsized. Matt and John managed an incredibly sharp right turn, putting themselves broadside just below the rapids. George and Rosie slithered beautifully round the rock, actually staying to the left rather than turning right. A group of three canoes then tried to shoot the rapids, each in turn banging into the rock and capsizing. We didn't realise it then, but one of these was Jim and Bryan. Finally, marvin and Gary shot it in exactly the same style as we had.

I forgot to mention the scenery. Geographically, or geologically, one of the two, there's a large natural arch early on in the gorge, and looking up along most of its length you can see the strata drawn as if by pen and ruler. Naturally historically, the walls of the gorge are home to thousands of swallows (but no spits), whose constant song, combined with the chirruping of the cicadas, made a seagull colony sound quiet. Dragonflies play along the length of the gorge, and we saw one huge frog when we stopped for lunch. Fish, which I think were brown trout, were everywhere and of every size, from half a centimetre up. Desmond Morrisically, there are several areas where the approach to dress is basically to ignore it. George told us that 20 years ago when he last did this, there were loads of nudist colonies and security guards to stop you coming ashore with clothes on. This, of course, had nothing to do with marvin's decision to come along on the trip. Now, though, it would appear that naked and partially clothed just intermingle.

We made one more stop, just downstream of an easy rapids, where we all tried to cool off our rapidly burning skin. The day was disappearing at a fair rate of knots, and we still had some journeying to do.

As we appeared to be nearing journey's end, with the odd edifice becoming apparent, a stiff breeze blew up - unfortunately it was a headwind. These canoes are very shallow draught, so the wind counted for more than the current, and it was a struggle to continue. We came to one landing place where lots of canoes were going ashore, but Jim and Bryan waved us away because it wasn't ours, and we had another half kilometre to go to Grumpy Armand's landing place.

Finally, though, we were there. Canoes ashore, we went to the campsite office and retrieved our bits and pieces, and they gave us squash and iced water which I, for one, desperately needed. Donning our riding clothes, we headed back to the hotel.

As this was an 'every other day' (a jam day, I suppose the Red Queen would have called it), an event was obligatory, and this time it was Gary's 40th birthday. It didn't quite have the impact it could have had, because we were all knackered to a greater or lesser degree.

Phrase of the day - "Fucking PADDLE!"

Jour 8 - doing the thing with the raw steak

The day dawned bright, and I put my trainers in the sun to try and dry them out. Today was phase 1 of the planned strategic withdrawal.

First, I needed money. We set off to Barjac, and stopped by the marketplace. Traffic was stuck everywhere, and looking as if it would get even stucker by the 35 degree temperature melting the tarmac. I walked to the information kiosk, walked back for my passport, returned, and finally got my dosh, losing several kilograms in the process. We did a swift orbit of a triangle of road where I was unsure on whether to fork left or right, and headed on out.

Along the D907, at one point we had the option of going over the top or along the valley. I decided we'd done enough high altitude stuff for the moment, and went for the valley. The ride was generally pleasant, but someone with a nasty sense of humour had been putting little squares of loose gravel on the road exactly where the braking point was on the best line. It was just like being in Wales following Adny Woodwrad again. At one point we came across a wossname of goats (herd? flock? school?), most of the nannies on the left side of the road but the billy and one other nanny on the right. Seeing this roaring beast approaching, the billy decided to protect his harem and trotted across the road, followed by the last nanny, and gave me a bit of a brake test.

The section I really remember was the last part, which would have been almost as good as the D994 but for the crappy tarmac. If you can imagine the Cat and Fiddle road laid down flat on an undulating hilly countryside (so you can see where it's going for hundreds of metres ahead and you haven't got bloody great drops to worry about), then that's about it. We were into cattle country now, and herds of cows, a little lighter coloured than Jerseys, watched us pass. Charolais, I thought.

We arrived at the little village of Aubrac where we were staying the night, and pulled up in the market square by some of the others who had got there first, and who immediately told us we needed to go a little further up the road. We booked in to the hotel and returned to the others, where we watched as one by one the rest of the party arrived and turned into the market square when they saw us, and told each of them that they needed to go a little further up the road…

The market consisted of four stalls, one selling walking sticks, another bread, another salamis that looked like camel shit, and one for wine. The village itself used to be an abbey.

George decided to organise us for the evening meal, and sorted out two menus, which he explained carefully to us over the next few hours. John, Dee and I decided to go a la carte and hit the steaks - which, the proprietor explained to us, were actually Aubrac cattle. Yes, those big light-coloured lumps of beef on the hoof that we'd passed hadn't been Charolais but Aubrac. However, I forgot to ask for 'bien cui' (dunno about the spelling), so when it came, it was virtually raw. I ate mine, but Dee decided she couldn't face hers.

It was somewhere round this point (in fact, it was during the soup) that our errant, err, errer errived on the newly shod GSX1100, after his several days in exile entertaining the young ladies of ClocheChantemerle. He had found a reasonable short cut, so managed the trip in six hours or so.

We finally repaired to the bar, where I continued to practice my drinking, and thence to bed.

Phrase of the day - "Be able to stop in the distance you can see the road to be clear of goats"

Jour 9 - doing the heading back thing

Just for a change, me'n'Dee rode up alone. Well, we started off just after George and Rosie and a couple of others, but there was a liberal sprinkling of gravel early on which slowed me down. A fairly small section of road had been stolen, but this didn't prove much of a problem. I did have trouble actually getting a proper rhythm going, running wide on some right-handers and generally messing up.

The roads varied much as before, and, atypically, one French driver tried to knock me off one - still, he was driving a camper van, and I presume this overrides the national characteristics of being aware of bikes and giving them space.

We found the N122, and at last we had a ribbon of lovely tarmac to follow. Follow we indeed did, until it sank into my consciousness that the sign for St Jacques, where I was supposed to turn off, were several kilometres behind me…

I checked the map as we arrived in Murat, and worked out a route involving a left turn which I promptly missed. Still, we didn't miss the Madonna, standing on a small hill just outside the town, towering over us, and I didn't miss the next turn, which brought us through a tiny village with all the classic French components - the small walled cemetery, the church, the war memorial… We returned almost to Murat, but to the road just above it, so now we were level with the Madonna. Now we were on the D680, and shortly joined the D3. The road stealers had been out here too, but also the road straighteners - the D3 is a lovely sweepy road, but rather than just resurface it, every bend is being straightened so it can be yet another boring French road. By now, I was getting a lot more blase about gravel, and sailed across the latest patch without really slackening speed.

We stopped for lunch, but found that the cafe was only serving drinks, so a chocolate and a Coke later we headed on out. We passed through a small village where a wedding was being held - Dee thought it was a livestock auction because there were a couple of lambs loose on the road…

The last section of road towards Argenton had a lot of sharp but well-cambered bends, and even had a couple of left-rights where the right had a decreasing radius. These were the only decreasing radius turns I met up with in France (although double-apex bends can be found in any hilly area), and they gave me a bit of trouble - so I eased off for the next right hander, which proved lucky, as a car promptly came round the bend like a Scalextric car along the centre line and missed us by centimetres. That section of road would be really fast if you learnt it, but the first ride along it needed quite low speed as the surrounding trees masked how the road ran.

Anyway, we found our way into Argenton-sur-Creuse, and then hunted round a bit for the hotel. Two U-turns did it, and we found that we were the first to arrive. Dropping off the luggage and parking the bike, we strolled into town to find some food. As we did so, Bryan arrived, and we told him to unload and then park up (the private car park was a few hundred metres from the hotel). We wandered around the town and over one of the bridges over the Cruese, looking at the backs of the houses overlooking the river, with their ramshackle balconies and incongruous satellite dishes. The food quest continued and we got some chiens chauds from a boulangerie, and sat in the main square to eat them.

When finally everyone had arrived, we accumulated at the hotel and discussed eating. George had displayed signs of organising an evening meal at the hotel for us, and we were starting to feel rebellious, so we made our escape into town. We managed to find a rather pleasant establishment where the head honcho spoke English of the sprained (ie. better than my broken French) variety. After we'd convinced him that we were all ordering different things (I think he came from the George school of organising), we were supplied with various tasty and nutritious dishes, though my definition of chicken curry and theirs do differ somewhat.

Not all of us were present for that meal, though, and a little later the sound of sirens split the night. Gary and marvin were absent - were they holed up in another street, demanding ketchup?

We headed off for tonight's festivities, rather low-key by the standards of the week - a pageant of some sort with a small amateur orchestra playing on the bank of the river. We stood on the bridge watching, while from the ivy beneath the balcony of the house a couple of metres from me flew numerous bats, mostly tiny (pipistrelles?) but with a couple of larger ones.

After the orchestra displayed their desire to emulate the Portsmouth Symphonia, we decided to head back into town, where part of one street was sealed off with red and white tape and armed police stood guard. We began to get worried about marvin and Gary as they were obviously involved in some sort of armed siege due to Gary's desire for ketchup.

We arrived back at the hotel and drank a little more, while (according to Terry) various native evilbikerskum and sad dudes in high-performance cars were spinning their wheels around the main square. Time for bed, tomorrow would be a long day.

Phrase of the day - "Where's the fucking ketchup?"

Jour 10 - doing the thing with the final stretch home

The ride back to the ferry was to be a long one, about 260 miles. Me'n'Dee were up fairly early and headed on out, with the call of home now pulling us. By now the roads were boringly straight, and the ride resolved into a game of leapfrog between us and Advanced Jim, who passed us as we filled up with petrol, and who we repassed at some later point, only to have him come past us while we ate our sandwiches (fromage for me, pouillet for Dee, who was getting a bit tired of jambon).

Finally we reached Le Havre, spotted Jim filling up, and pulled in and waited for him. We proceeded together to the ferry, arriving in good time. Rather than sit in the blazing sun waiting to embark, we wandered into the terminal building bar, and found that they'd got the GP from the Sachsenring on the telly. With excellent timing, the GP finished a few minutes before boarding started, and we made our way onto the boat and into the bar.

There was still no sign of the others, and I began to wonder if they'd missed the boat. However, about ten minutes before sailing time, they all arrived together. The ferry sailed, a little more eventfully this time. Although marvin wasn't with us, so the croupiers had nothing to do, Sid and Doris Bonkers and their cousin Ned had been booked in to sing at us, and sing at us they did. Doris was obviously French from her accent, with a tendency to sing in the flat underneath. Roland played the drums, but in a more versatile fashion than he did last year, so there was no 4/4 rendition of 'Delilah'. A shame really, I'd like to hear it again to convince myself it wasn't all a dream (if "dream" is the tight word).

Finally we pulled into Portsmouth, and wended our way out into the English twilight. A quick search for petrol, and we were on our final leg, up the A34 and M40, up the A46 and past the Waterman, and finally home, to the ecstatic welcome of the dogs and the cat, and the tankful of dead goldfish. At least all the tropical fish had survived OK, and the birds.

Phrase of the day - "Drive on the left now"


Thanks are due to various people - George for running the whole thing and organising so much, and marvin and Paul Yull for sorting the whole thing out. Oh yes, and thanks to Paul Yull for getting the road atlas for me. It would have been nice to have had him with us, but I think he was there in spirit.

Also, from me'n'Dee, thanks to Mik'n'Mel for putting us up overnight,

Top tips for next year

Sunburn was the big problem. Take some factor 10 or so.

Get your petrol on a Switch/Delta type card.

Take a pair of crappy trainers or (better) canvas deck shoes for watersports.

Make sure you have two good tyres, plenty of meat on your brake pads, and a non-shagged chain.

Do the white water rafting.