From Zero to Hero in Seventy Two Hours.

Snatched from the claws of defeat, we ended in triumph.

Our synchronised skating team, Absolutely Adults,  of which I am a member, was concerned about traveling to Belgium in the aftermath of recent events. Four members of a team of twelve had already pulled out, leaving only eight skaters available to try and make a team we were going to be looking pretty pathetic. Furthermore, one of those eight remaining skaters was also wobbling as she didn’t want to be part of such a low scoring team, after all the efforts of the season. Somehow managing to coax her back into the team, then we were back to eight, with one hour of practice left before we departed for Belgium to take part in our first international synchronised skating tournament; talk about Mission Impossible!!  No time for drama or stroking individual egos! Just focus on the job in hand and let’s get on and skate!

The reality was that all seemed lost with the clock counting down to us not being able to take part in the Belgium event.

Enter head synchro coach, Ryan Sowter, who persuaded my daughter Annie and her BF, Maia, to join our team. One of the other skaters, Patrick was just leaving the rink!! He was coerced, read ‘ordered’ back onto the ice and with around fifty minutes of ice time available , we started to rehearse our routine, against all odds, we just might pull this out of the bag, despite our feeling that we were finished before we had started.

I had been adamant that I was going, at any event, for my team and for the people of Belgium; I wanted to show my solidarity, come what may.  Despite all odds, and various skaters leaving the rink, we, the remaining skaters, were going to make this happen, nothing more needs to be said, that’s the reality and we had fifty minutes to make his happen or fail in the process.

Fast forward to the morning of the event and my own two practice run throughs were pretty dire! Hard ice(!) and becoming disorientated with different people on the ice, left me needing to pull it out of the bag for the main event.  After hanging around for hours and hours, we were on!

Our new team skated really well with the words of coach Ryan still ringing in our ears, ‘enjoy your routine and enjoy the experience’ We increased our personal best from around 17 at Nottingham, UK to a medal earning score of 21.52!!  This was a massive achievement to the end of our season only made possible by our three ‘guest’ skaters who skated down to our level and used our routine as a warm up for their technical four and a half minute routine some time later the same afternoon!

I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by the photos that I subsequently posted of our new team’s success.  Why should I be and who in their right mind would want us to play down our fantastic achievement?!

I am elated and want to share our  team success for Absolutely Adults and for GB. This could have been so different had Ryan not intervened at the eleventh hour – everything else is BS. We could have simply walked away over the pressure of recent events, but we each took the decision to take part. Personally, despite having an autistic son who has only ever been left once before in his twenty two years,  I felt drawn to an event where the organisers were desperately willing us to attend, simply trying to hold the event together.

Ironically, everything seemed stacked against us from the start. From the four team members who withdrew from the event to the hotel cancelling the rooms for half of the skaters who had decided to take part(!?) and a good friend’s car being towed away early on Saturday morning (LOL!) – it was as if we were really meant to not have come and I even envied those team mates who had bailed and who would still be in bed in the UK!!  Yet, our end result was success, a real feeling of solidarity towards our Belgium neighbours, and a fantastic experience that I will never forget.

It may only be seventy hours, but the feeling as we stood on the ice, holding hands in one large circle for the people of Belgium will live with me forever. ‘Nobody will take that away from me,’ as the song goes!

I really want to take my hat off and to congratulate Maia Burgess, Annie Hodgson and Patrick Ward for stepping in despite having less than one hours practice time to make what was going to be ‘another country team pulling out’ to end up as a fantastic GB performance ‘against all odds’.

Ryan Sowter and George Strachan need to be saluted for not giving up on the remaining Adults with just one hour’s rehearsal left and for finding a way to make it happen – I doubt that at twenty two, I would have had the single-mindedness  and integrity to focus on the problem at hand, ignore the personal distractions, and work towards a solution, as they both did: respect is truly due!

My personal takeaways from Belgium?

I had a truly memorable three days. There was a particularly special moment for me, holding hands with my daughter on the ice during the routine. I’ve often suggested to her that we should dance together on the ice, only to be met with the usual retort from an eighteen year old daughter! Thanks to the scenario that we had been forced into,  she had no alternative, having been co-opted onto the ice, she had to hold my hand ….   with a smile!

People of Belgium, you will always now have a special place in my heart, I salute you for your endurance in the face of extreme adversity and I thank you for my special memories.

 

 

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EU wide speeding ticket day on April 16th

Duvet day!

Tour On 2 Wheels

Speed-laserThe Germans started the so called “Blitzmarathon” which is a 24 hour period in which on nationwide scale in Germany all available speed measuring equipment and personell is being deployed to catch those driving over the speed limit. This year more countries in the EU will join into the effort which will take place from April 16th at 06:00am till April 17th at 06:00am. So note this date in your calendar, and on that day keep your eyes open to prevent getting speed-tax’d. Or better, obey the speed limit rules,

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Chapter One JDI!

Two guys from the UK, a 40-year-old, Dave and a 56-year- old, that’s me, Ricci, hired two large motorbikes and rode around Southern California for a few days. Here’s our story.

Did the trip pan out exactly the way that we had both expected? Er, No! I think we sleep walked into it a bit and we certainly gained some insight into how to crack on and dig deep when you’re up a mountain in freezing conditions! We had some good fun and I can honestly say that we did really enjoy ourselves; four weeks later, I’m still thinking back to the trip – the highlights and the more challenging elements.

So, if you’ve never hired a bike to take off for a few days or were thinking about cruising around SOCAL in the future, or are just a bit inquisitive about how a couple of somewhat intelligent guys threw caution to the wind and survived, then stick around!

First things first. I’m not a blogger or a writer. I can and do write music, instrumental music actually, but have never been able to write lyrics. A friend called Debbie (https://twitter.com/Debbiekirlew) is a professional writer and blogger. Her articles are really well constructed and provocative. Don’t expect this from me! It’s not that I CBA, I just don’t have that talent.

Anyway, our story started some months ago in 2015 when Dave and I found ourselves just talking about possibly hiring a couple of bikes in California after the annual music show in Anaheim.

Ricci at NAMMCalled the NAMM show, it’s now in its 116th year and takes place in the Convention Center over the road from the original Disneyland park. It’s the trade show for anyone involved in the manufacture, distribution and retailing of musical instruments. From penny whistles to recording studios – you can see it all here.

Another of its unique qualities is that it takes place in Southern California and that just happens to be the home of many a famous rock star, so, expect to see some famous faces walking up and down the aisles or conducting signing sessions on manufacturers’ stands.

I’ve been attending this show since 1989. They should really give me a badge or something! The first couple of times, I did squeeze a visit, literally over the road to Disneyland, but ever since those first few trips, on Sunday night, after the show finishes, I have simply got back on the plane and returned home to my wife and family. Nothing wrong with that, I can hear you say, but I’ve had a yearning or an itch that needs scratching!

Dave and I both ride Harleys in the UK: that’s Skipton in Yorkshire and Datchet in Berkshire respectively. For those of you in the know, nuff said! Harley riders expect their bikes to make a lot of noise and to garner admiring glances but they’re not built for breakneck speed. Well that will be fine as we’re just going to be cruising around California and what’s more, everyone rides Harleys in CA!

So we both started researching online. I had come across a company called EagleRider, http://www.eaglerider.com that talked the talk – they offer motorcycle rental, guided tours or self ride – these guys had a fantastic website, whether you wanted to ride across America or just had 24 hours to hire a bike, it would be no problem. They also had a massive range of Harleys, Indians (check them out, they are works of art) as well as other European bikes.

I raised the topic with my wife Jo. She’s made it plain over the years that she has no wish to ever sit on the back of a bike. She was cool about me extending my trip as long as I was careful. Of course, this was just going to be a little jaunt up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), over to Santa Barbara via Santa Maria and back, ‘taking it easy,’ as the Eagles song goes.

One early evening in December, around 6 pm, which would be 10am Pacific standard time, (UK is eight hours ahead of California) Dave and I put a call into EagleRider. We had a few questions about whether the route we were thinking of taking was suitable in January and needed to make that first step into getting something booked.

The route we were thinking of taking would take us from the EagleRider offices near LAX airport onto the PCH, up to Oxnard, onto Santa Barbara and continuing to Santa Maria across to Ojai and back down Eaglerider tripto EagleRider, three days and two nights, nice and easy (map courtesy of EagleRider).

The guy on the other end of the phone, Duncan, sounded really cool and level headed. Sure, nothing was a problem, oh; don’t forget to bring your wet riding kit as we’re expecting El Niño this year! El Niño is a weather phenomenon that heats up the Pacific by a few degrees and causes storms and bad weather across California. I think it happens every eight to ten years and we were going to be in for it in January 2016.

Dave seemed to think that a bit of rain was ‘no problem’ so encouraged by his gung-ho attitude, I also agreed that rain was fine, hey, we’re from England, the home of rain!

Just a bit about Dave. He’s northern or, more specifically, a Yorkshireman, from Skipton. I like his rather matter of fact way of thinking– he doesn’t do BS. He had been riding bikes for years so I was confident that he knew what he was talking about. Just as well I suppose as there was going to be a particular moment of reckoning where we were both going to have to prove that we knew what we are doing!

I had been through the ROSPA training course with an expert tutor, called Graham Knight. This system is based on the system of motorcycle control, which is detailed in Motorcycle Roadcraft – The Police Rider’s Handbook. Since my training and my subsequent test, where I had received a gold pass, (boom!) I still hear Graham’s calming voice and wise words in my ear, giving me advice about positioning the bike, making progress, staying in a protective bubble and the best line of all, ‘take the lane of least resistance!’ Little did I know his advice was to come in handy!

Duncan, from EagleRider, sent us a quote over for the trip. Bike hire; a couple of Harley Davidson Road Kings. These are big iconic Harleys with saddlebags and windscreens that would gobble up those miles and make us fit in perfectly!

Then Dave dropped his bombshell. Er, Ricci, Dave said in his laconic Yorkshire accent. ‘I’m thinking of hiring a Triumph Explorer on this trip’ What? Dave! We’re going to the US of A, home of the Harley! We were in danger of looking decidedly out of place! Amazing though these bikes are, can we really be seen riding anything else in Southern California?!

I think I nearly convinced him out of it until he told me that EagleRider also had BMW R1200GS bikes for hire. Now I recognise that most of you reading this will have no idea what a R1200GS actually is.

Do you remember the ‘Long Way Round’ challenge, where Ewan McGregor and his mate, Charley Boorman, rode a couple of bikes through 12 countries in just 115 days? Some of these countries were pretty much inaccessible to four-wheel drive vehicles let alone a motorbike, but they somehow made it! They did it on these bikes and certainly proved their worth.

This had spawned a whole new genre of motorbike, the traillie bike. Big engine, big petrol tank, loads of storage and you’re ready to travel the globe, or up the M4 motorway into Central London! These bikes don’t come cheap, around £15,000 ($21,000) but they do bristle with technological aids to make your global tour or daily commute that bit more comfortable! Four different riding modes, road, rain, off road and going for it!(I made that one up!). A commanding riding position, electronic stability, heated grips and a clever computer that can tell you loads of info such as icy roads during your ride.

I know I’ve gone a bit off topic but I’m just trying to position just where this BMW sits in the minds of bikers. It’s the number one selling bike in Europe, again, despite its hefty price tag and it commands an insane second hand value. All down to Ewan and Charley who took these bikes around the globe.

Incidentally, the guys at KTM, an Austrian traillie bike manufacturer had been previously approached by Ewan and the gang but it seemed that the powers that be at KTM didn’t think they would make it or didn’t know who Ewan McGregor was! I wonder if the executive responsible for that decision is still there?!

Being totally honest, I do kinda lust after the BMW (it’s a 50-something thang!) So it actually made sense for me to choose it and either get it out of my system or convince myself to sell the Harley and become a R1200GS owner!

I remember telling the missus that I had decided on the Beemer (BMW) for the ride and waited for the abuse! I took it and gently explained about the wisdom of riding a ‘very safe’ BMW over half a ton of Harley Davidson, trying to convince myself at the same time!

So, the night before I leave for the USA. It’s gone 10pm and I’m being picked up at 8am; time to start packing.

Boots, leather jacket, two pairs of gloves, neck scarf, helmet, stop! Helmet was too big to fit into the bag. Ok, leave it and buy a cheap one out there. Bike trousers * 2, one pair of reinforced black jeans and another pair of Gore-Tex biker trousers, visor cleaner and microfibre cloth, flashlight, etc. You get the picture. I had a suitcase rammed full of biker gear and then I needed another suitcase with a suit, business attire and smart casual wear for the first four days of the Music Show.

It felt really strange packing what was ostensibly a ‘holiday’ suitcase as well as my regular business suitcase. Was I going to be able to concentrate on the main job in hand and compartmentalise the fact that I was going riding round SOCAL whilst I was doing business at the show?

The King is Dead, Long Live the King.

What a year it’s turning out to be.

I’m not going to catalogue all the musicians who have already passed away but it does seem like the Grim Reaper has suddenly turned his attention to the music industry with a certain vigour.

Recently we have bade farewell to so many  musical greats. Only this week, the fifth Beatle, George Martin joined this illustrious group – I had the pleasure some years ago of lunching at his home in Oxfordshire with his charming wife. I recall that the corridor was stacked with gold disks, too many than wall space allowed. What a charming pair they were and how inferior I felt in their presence.

As an adolescent, having been sent to a Cathedral choir school from the age of seven, I had a very eclectic and rather over developed musical taste. Much contemporary music was just too shallow for my palate until I came across Emerson Lake and Palmer.

Here I was, as a fifteen year old musician, listening to music that enthralled me and yet I couldn’t fully understand the chord progressions!  I had no way of being capable of playing the tracks by ear, something I was able to do with most music of that time!

Fast forward to 1987 and I had the delight of meeting one Keith Emerson of ELP and having  lunch with him. Here was a real musical legend and I was sitting opposite him. He was a real gentleman, relaxed and such a pleasant guy. I was in charge of a music store in central London, Keith would come in to town on his motorbike and want to discuss how to control the filters of a Roland sampler from the Yamaha KX88. A quick call to our hexadecimal bods in the R&D section, and we’d have an answer.

Some years later, I remember selling Keith a KORG M1 synth for his son. Everyone wanted the distinctive sound of the M1!

I have ofELPten said that if challenged to take one album to a desert island, I would take the strangely entitled Brain Salad Surgery from ELP.
I really can’t handle the thought that Keith has passed. He was only seventy one.

Benny was a bouncer from the Palais de Danse……….

So now he works for Jesus
As the bouncer at St. Peter’s Gate.

God bless you Keith.