It’s 6am on a Friday in June, and some sort of semi-conscious recollection tells me that this is D-Day for the annual club invasion of France and that I really should be heading for the nearest ferry terminal. After managing a state of denial about my increasingly frantic alarm, I finally give in to its electronic persistence and fall out of bed at 6:30. But by 7:20 I’m sitting on the loading ramp of the ferry in Portsmouth harbour.
Call me an antisocial git (form an orderly queue, please), but a 5am hack across 120miles of Southern England to reach the Chunnel with the main group is not my idea of wakeful fun. The fast SeaCat had been full (a P&O claim later denied by others) so I took the slow boat, arrived in Le Havre at 3pm and I was sitting in the bar in the Hotel Dauphin in L’Aigle by 4:30pm.
Which was probably a mistake, as I was cheerfully beered-up by the time everyone else arrived and great concentration was required to maintain conversation. Which of course explained my headache the next day – too much concentration, clearly. As before, the Hotel Dauphin was welcoming, hospitable and thoroughly pleasant. Pity then that I wasn’t there – along with the rest of the ‘disreputable bachelor’ contingent, I’d been booked into the only other nearby alternative, the Hotel Artus. L’Aigle is a small town and, it being national Musique week, everywhere was booked solid, so t’was Hobson’s choice. And I have stayed in worse: a flophouse in The Congo being about all that springs readily to mind. One night there was quite enough, after which bribery, corruption, luck and pathetic whimperings found me a place in Le Dauphin.
First Aside: when does a habit become a tradition? In each of the last two years a certain member of the club has entirely failed to finish the French trip on the same motorcycle he started on. That looks like a habit. Now it might be pushing it to claim that two years of expiring Ducati, BMW-hurling and deer attack can be called a tradition. Three I’d suggest lays a good claim. So, while sitting contemplating the joys of Biere pression, I heard motorcycles approaching. Particularly, I heard the sound of a v-twin exhaust playing continuo to the rattle of a Ducati clutch. “Aha”, thought I, “that’ll be either Malcolm or John, then”, just as a group of machines hove into view, led by Mr C’s Ducati. I’d just got as far as thinking, “Coo, he’s made it this ti…”, when I saw the state of the fairing. So let’s call it a tradition, shall we?