Simmer Dim Rally
15th Simmer Dim Rally 1996, Islesburgh MCC - Shetland
First, some statistics:
I knew that the tread on my tyres was - shall we say - fairly low, but it was definitely still visible. Unfortunately, for the week before the trip I was on night shift, and this makes it quite difficult to get out for food, let alone tyres, so I decided to chance it, and find somewhere on the way to get them changed. If I was lucky, the company concerned would take the wheels off for me, as the fixed panniers require you to use a raised platform and drop the wheel out, and I don't have such a piece of equipment in my garage. I was sure I wasn't going to use the same brand of tyres again as I only managed 7000 miles from the rear, (5500 before Shetland), and 9500 from the front, (8000), and that isn't enough by my standards.
Sunday - Sipson to Boot (358 miles)
When I left home on the Sunday morning it was hot, very hot. So much so that, although I started with my jacket on and had every intention to keep it on, by the time I reached my first fuel stop only three miles from home, I decided to give up because the sweat build-up inside it was getting unbearable.
The first stop on my Shetland Trek this year was at the 'Rotary Day' organised by the Norton Rotary Enthusiasts Club in the grounds of Stanford Hall just outside Lutterworth. My friends, Elise & Al, were already in the Lake District, and I was going to meet up with them in the evening. They were supposed to ring me on Saturday night to tell me where they were staying, but as no call was received I assumed we were resorting to 'Plan B' which involved leaving a message on my answer machine, which I could access from wherever I was, and this should enable me to find them.
I was a little disappointed with the meeting, which seemed to consist entirely of a few dozen Norton rotaries - both F1s and Commanders - with some Suzuki RE5s and a few DKW/Hercules machines, but not, as rumoured, a Van Veen, parking in a row with the riders walking back and forth looking at all the bikes and chatting with each other. This may sound more interesting than it actually was, as all F1s are painted black, although one had a Union Jack worked into the overall design, and the vast majority of Commanders are grey. A lot of the earlier Interpol 2s are white, showing their police origin, and some of the last production run were painted different colours. I was parked next to one guy who claimed to be riding the FIRST Commander (frame/engine No. 4001), who was in turn next to the claimed LAST Commander, (put together from spares after the company went bust for the last time). This first machine had done only 25,000 miles whereas mine, (frame/engine No. 4108), had done over 60,000. Not what you would call over-used?
Nothing was organised, no special guests, raffle, games or competitions of any sort. There were three stalls selling bits and bobs. One of these was obviously hastily arranged, consisting of a man selling Rotary emblem key rings and badges from a pannier on the grass. Another was run by the Jumbo UK people, a worthy organisation that organises trips on combos and trikes for disabled children. The last stand was fairly useful, however, as it was run by the actual Norton Owners Club, and had some spares which way be useful to rotary owners, like the correct spark plugs, for example, but not chain gaiters, of which I was in desperate need.
I managed to put up with this inactivity for nearly three hours before my throttle hand started twitching. As I left the non-event, having made sure my chain oil was topped up, the process of which gained me quite an audience for some reason, I headed north-ish, still jacket-less, and stopped at the first phone box I came upon to see if Elise had left a message on my machine. When I found she had I was only slightly relieved, as I now knew roughly which area of the Lake District to head for. I hammered back to the motorway, the M6 this time, and slotted the bike back into 80mph mode. One thing I couldn't believe was the petrol mileage I was getting; for the first time in my history on that bike I was getting over 55 mpg! I know that most of you will be used to this sort of figure, but when you get used to low-forties it does come as a pleasant surprise.
Later, back on the A roads, as I picked up some signs for Ravenglass, I began to think again about Elise's message, and decided to check my phone one more time, to see if she had left another message, or to double-check what she had originally said. As it happened, she had indeed called again, and this time gave me their precise location. Luckily for me the phone box I stopped at was about 100yds past the turn-off I now needed to take, and a couple of minutes later I was outside the King George IV pub in Boot, just outside Eskdale Green, and there they were.
They told me where the campsite was, and off I went, set up my tent, and returned to the pub, only to find that they had now stopped serving food, (Elise & Al had just finished their meal), so I made do with a cold glass of Pepsi. It wasn't long before closing time, and we made our way back to the site for some much-needed rest.
Monday - Boot to Kinross (199 miles)
The next day my sunburnt arms were really letting me know how badly I had treated them on the trip up. Luckily Elise had some after-sun cream that helped a lot, but the weather was now a fair bit cooler, so I resumed wearing my jacket anyway. I performed the now familiar morning ritual of topping up the radiator and the chaincase, and checking what was left of the tread on the tyres. All was OK so we set off.
After what seemed an eternity we arrived at Kinross Services, a former meeting place for Simmer Dimwits, just off the M90 (Jct 6), only to find the camping area blocked off. I enquired at the information office and found that this was because some 'travelling folk' had arrived there and refused to move on, (a contradiction in terms if I ever heard one). When they eventually got rid of them it was decided to prevent any future problems by not letting anybody camp there again. Whilst in the office I managed to obtain directions to the nearest campsite, just south of the village of Kinross, and it was there we stopped, six hours after leaving Boot, having stopped for a very nice pub lunch halfway, and in Egremont for Elise's hayfever treatment, and some sunblock for me.
Just after we arrived and set up, a German couple on - of course - a BMW turned up, but we never spoke to each other, and they had already gone when we got up in the morning. This later-than-scheduled arrival put paid to my plan to find a tyre dealer nearby, and I started thinking of getting them changed in Aberdeen on the way home.
Tuesday - Kinross to Aberdeen (115 miles)
Very little happened on Tuesday, the trip to Aberdeen went without problem, and the customary lunch stop at the Finavon Hotel was quite pleasant, (even if the ignition cutout on my side stand delayed me starting my bike afterwards). The only problem was when I got lost in Aberdeen - again! I claim it was only because I kept checking the other two were staying with me through the traffic that I missed the last sign to Hazlehead campsite, and we ended up heading towards Inverness. That aside it was a great relief to have reached our goal, only another five miles to the harbour now!
When we arrived there were already several Dimwits set up - some of them were surprised to see me as they had heard about my ban, and thought it was still in effect. I also found out that the people who used to camp at Kinross services nowadays stop at Inverbervie, (or 'In-for-a-bevvie'), instead.
This time we had only taken 3 hours and it was nice to have some time to relax for a change.
In the evening everybody took the bus down to the city centre. Most went straight to the pub, (Prince of Wales), but Elise, Al & I, along with Jock from, interestingly enough, somewhere near Kinross services, went to the local Pizza Hut first, where Jock made endless outrageously flirtatious comments to the young waitress after he found out it was her first night. We joined the others after our meal, meeting a couple from Derby who had moved up to Shetland a couple of years ago, (a lot of rally-goers seem to try this - some with more success than others). The three of us were the first to go back to the campsite, as we didn't fancy waiting until chucking-out time and then having to pay for a taxi. Some of the others apparently didn't get back until after 2am, but by this time I was past caring.
Wednesday - Aberdeen to Lerwick (5 road + 200 sea miles)
When I was returning my toilet-block key, to the reception, I noticed that one holiday-maker was not prepared to miss any TV whilst on holiday as, in addition to his normal aerial, hanging from a tree next to his/her caravan, there was a satellite dish connected up as well! However, most of the Dimwits were quite happy to get away from TV for a few days, (especially with the damned football moving all the programs around), even to the extent of avoiding pubs with TVs in them!
Elise & Al, not put off by my inability to find the campsite on Tuesday, insisted on me leading them to the harbour. Having learned which way to go at the major fork in the road, after the fiasco several years back, I found the main drag - Union Street - fairly easily, and was about to turn down Market Street when I saw a sign saying that it lead to the BR station and I knew that the station is quite a way from the harbour, so instead I went straight on. WRONG! It did lead to the harbour, but the new one-way system also requires people to get to the station from that road. This time I realised my error quite quickly, and we managed to turn around and find our way back to the harbour.
After we parked up next to another Commander, (Stuart Tod, 15-timer and Commander rider, was back on his this year), as we had several hours to kill, and it was far too early to settle down in the pub, we decided to pop into town to get some supplies for the ferry trip. Also, Elise needed professional help with her camera, which was playing up and while we were there we again found ourselves outside Pizza Hut, so we decided to lunch there.
When we got back to the harbour Elise & Al's friends from Kent had arrived, as had a guy I knew to be a local. This particular person usually spends the whole rally with his head painted, normally different colours each day, with a predominant blue theme. I asked about where to get my tyres changed. I had in mind the area's largest bike dealers but he was adamant that this was a very bad move, and he knew of a little place in one of the back streets, so we arranged that he would show me where this was on the Monday morning.
In the pub Elise was a little miffed that Stovies and Oatcake was no longer on the bar menu, but since we had already eaten she wasn't too upset.
People started drifting onto the boat from about 4:30pm, including a crowd from Derby wearing Sombreros who heard it was a bit sunny up there.
The ferry trip was again horrendously rough, and the antacid indigestion tablets I was trying out only just stopped me being violently sick again. This time I didn't eat anything beforehand, so I couldn't blame that this year. I just sat down and tried to get some sleep. One thing I noticed this year was that the extra policemen that go up with us, (to take care of the locals, not us), no longer bother changing into plain clothes. This always had been pointless, as they were immediately identifiable amongst us, (clean shoes, pressed jeans etc).
Thursday - Lerwick to Vidlin (23 miles)
The Rally Proper
Having not eaten the night before, the breakfast from the cafeteria on the boat was very welcome. I nearly missed it as I slept through the announcement over the speakers.
The sky was looking its usual grey as we docked, and the air was noticeably cooler, with a stiff breeze, but this is usual for Shetland. The local press was there in force again, with one brave fool standing on the off-ramp with a video camera, who we only just managed to miss. There was supposed to be a Journalist from the Sunday Times there as well, but when she found out that a 'rally' was not the sporting event she had supposed, she lost interest and never turned up.
In the harbour area, while I was sorting my helmet and jacket out for the blast to Vidlin, I was greeted by another Ian, an ex-member of the ABC from Watford, (another Dimwit who emigrated and now works as a lorry driver). There followed a nice run up to the rally site, it may be 23 miles but it only takes about 15 minutes as the police don't seem to worry too much about speed limits. The only thing that stops people from going completely over the top on the throttle, (apart from the sharp corners with steep drops and sheep on the road) is the price of petrol on the islands - it's at least 15p per litre more than on the mainland.
The wind made putting the tents up a little difficult, but it never got anywhere near as bad as the year half the tents got destroyed. One group of locals had a good idea - instead of a tent they were sleeping in one of those big inflatable life rafts with roofs. One of them tried to convince me that the wind just blew it in from the sea, but then admitted that it took a lot of effort to blow it up.
When I booked in I was again given two badges, this year's rally badge depicted a man crawling around on the floor, apparently without trousers, crying "HELP! Feed me beer", the other one was the special one that only four of us would be getting this year - the '15 Simmer Dims - Special Nutters Award' badge, which will go very nicely with my five and ten year badges, which are getting increasingly common.In the afternoon the Boot Party took its usual toll of rallyists, even though hardly anybody threw up this year.
This was followed by an impromptu game where people held a huge mallet at arms length, and carefully lowered the head until it tapped their nose, before taking it away again, all the time keeping the arm straight. Later on the first band was barely acceptable, but this was alleviated when the barbecue started up, as most of us ate the food in the hall, while the band was playing in the marquee.
As became the pattern of the weekend the second band were far better, (i.e. they played songs we could recognise), and they played on into Friday morning. They had a break part way through their set, and the four of us full attendees were called forward, and we were presented with individually engraved tankards. Very nice and quite unexpected.
Elise's pal from Bromley, (his name was either Stu, or Lou, depending on who was talking about him), managed to get roaring drunk, and was last seen flat on his stomach in the corner of the marquee, but not before dancing, (staggering), around arm-in-arm with one of the local bikers - a total psycho who I have never seen sober, who's name is definitely Stu.
On Friday it was nice not having to pack up the tent. The wind was slightly stronger, this time bringing very light showers with it, not enough to require a jacket, but cold enough to require a jumper, (or, indeed, a WMA sweatshirt!). I ventured over the road to the much-expanded village store, now nick-named Herculson's Hypermarket, which had by now become the village Post Office as well, (but no payphone - whenever I called 'her indoors' I had to walk about a mile down to the jetty).
Today was billed as 'Free time' with a 'Possible Treasure Hunt or Bike Tour to place of local interest', (read PUB). When this failed to materialise, Elise, Al & I went down to Lerwick for a nice filling brunch, followed by some souvenir shopping. Then we shot over to Scalloway Castle, (Star Trek fans may be interested to note that the castle was built by one Patrick Stewart).
After wandering around the ruins we decided to visit Hillswick where the rally was held last year. Without the bikes surrounding it, we almost didn't recognise the hall. Al wouldn't have recognised it anyway - this was his first time. When we got to the bar of the St Magnus Hotel we were the only customers. Perhaps all the regulars were in a pub with a TV - although by this time Scotland were out of the Euro96 thing. The others started on another pint of the 'Orkney Dark', so I left them to it and headed back to Vidlin. I got back well in time for the Buffet, which is fine if you like salad. I don't, so I made do with some sliced chicken & ham and a cheese roll.
Elise & Al got back before I got to the front of the queue, and by the time I had finished the first band had started up, and we all partied well until dawn.
Due to the late/early finish I didn't get up until about 11:30 on Saturday morning. When I left my tent I noticed an ambulance outside the hall. I just thought somebody must have seriously overdone it last night. As it turned out, I'm glad I kept my thoughts to myself. I asked Speed, from Crawley, what was going on, and was told that Gerry had keeled over. Gerry was going to get the 'Oldest Rallyist' award on Sunday, and had been interviewed by Grampian ITV; the interview had been shown the previous evening. With his white hair and large white beard he would have made an ideal Santa Claus. The work of the ambulancemen, and the Paramedics, one of which was a rallyist, was to no avail - Gerry died of a heart attack that morning.
Gerry's death cast a shadow over the rest of the rally for me, and also for the others that knew him, (and completely ruined the day of the woman running the woollens stall in the hall, where he collapsed). Although I didn't know him as well as some, I didn't think he would have wanted the organisers to cancel the day's events as they did, but maybe I'm just being selfish. The visit from the Jarl Squad, the folk group and dancing in the hall, and the games were all dropped, which left us all with nothing to do.
After Elise & Al finally got out of their tent we had a discussion, and elected to go to visit the 'Jarlshof' Iron Age settlement, (named by Sir Walter Scott, apparently), in sight of Sumburgh airstrip, at the southern tip of the island. I must admit to getting a bit concerned about my worn tyres on the rough road surfaces off the beaten track, but I was mostly puzzled as to why the right hand side of the front tyre had worn more than the left.
After an hour or two of walking round the settlement we decided to head back into Lerwick for a Chinese meal, as the lunch back at the rally had also been cancelled. The 'Golden Coach' is still the only Chinese restaurant/takeaway in Shetland, (but there are now two Indian ones). We arrived there just after the carnival procession started, the restaurant being adjacent to the start point, so we managed to park fairly close by, and only had to go through two 'road closed' signs.
After our excellent meal there was only one place to go, due to all the pubs in Lerwick being totally packed and full of smoke, and that was back to the rally site. When we got back most, but by no means all, of the others had gone to the carnival/booze-up. Apparently quite a lot of other people drove into town just for the procession and came back immediately after, avoiding the pubs like we did. So nothing much was happening for a while. Elise & Al took the chance to have yet another (very noisy) 'rest' in their tent, while I went and phoned 'her indoors'.
At about 10pm the coaches started coming back, and the partying restarted in earnest. When one of the locals - called Nigel - arrived, the DJ made an announcement but as his accent was particularly broad I couldn't make head or tail of it. The only part I understood was that he had some 'Niggly Beards' for sale, proceeds to a local charity, so that anybody that wished could pretend to be Nigel. Even though I had no idea who Nigel was, nor why I should wish to imitate him, I bought one, and there were several guys, (and gals), who did likewise, resulting in a lot of obviously false black beards in the hall.
There was a large contingent from the 'Buzzards MCC' from Scotland, which included quite a lot of girls. They spent most of the night discovering just how much beer they could throw over each other, which I am told was preferable to actually drinking the stuff.
Elise's friend Stu/Lou was drunk again, even more so than on previous nights, and after collapsing outside on a pile of pallets, he was carried back to his tent, yelling at the top of his voice that he was fine, and didn't want to go anywhere. He never did return, however, proving that he was totally incapable of any but the most basic of movements, in the state he was in.
One good thing was that the wind changed to more easterly, almost completely clearing the sky, meaning that there was light all night at last, (and it stopped the rain as well).
The party went on into the wee small hours and, purely for the purposes of journalistic research, I managed to make it almost to the end.
By Sunday morning the wind had picked up again, which had the usual effect on the practised expertise of putting away the tent. The increased difficulty of this supposedly simple operation meant that, once again, I wasn't finished in time to help the organisers let down the marquee, as they always ask our assistance. The last time I remember helping them was the time they took it down on the Saturday morning in the force 8 slight breeze, a couple of years back. Some time ago they also asked for our help when putting it up!
I didn't win any awards again this year, and the 'Oldest Rallyist' award wasn't even mentioned. The 'Long Distance Continental' awards (male & female) went to the German couple on Harleys, both of which had solid seats, and were apparently illegal in Germany for some of the bits that had been bolted on, (the spectre of Type Approval awaits).
The rest of the day passed without incident, everybody arrived at the ferry terminal well in time, despite being told not to get there too early - but where else is there to go in Shetland on a Sunday morning?
This video is by Phil. Excuse the shaky picture, it was due to the wind, honest.
While waiting for loading I topped up the chain oil - have you ever decided to make an adjustment to your bike and then discovered that the spanner you need is safely in the tool roll completely encased in luggage? Luckily somebody had one of the right size readily to hand.
The boat trip was, as usual, flatter, and they were showing the same film as the trip up, but as I hadn't seen it, I didn't mind too much. When I tried to watch it, however, the viewing room was half filled with noisy kids on a school trip to the mainland who, when asked to be quiet, only shouted "sook ma bobbin" at the person asking, and carried on. It would appear that even Shetland schools have trouble controlling their pupils on away trips. But, from what I saw of the film, it wasn't worth watching anyway. beware of comedians who produce, direct and star in 'serious' films.
Having less of a problem with sea-sickness for the homeward bound journey meant I had no trouble getting some sleep, and again I didn't wake up when they announced breakfast over the speakers, but the movement of the other passengers soon woke me.
Monday - Aberdeen to Sipson (589 miles)
I followed Ian, the Aberdonian, through a rather tortuous route to his tyre dealer in a back street, and he waited until we were there before he told me that;
1) the guy preferred payment in cash, which I had run out of, and
2) he probably didn't open until 9am, and it was only 8.
After a short think I decided not to bother with him and to hit the road as soon as possible and see if there was anywhere on the way to do it.
There was terrible traffic that morning, and it took me a good hour to get out of the city. When I finally managed to escape the gravitational pull of Aberdeen the miles started to disappear quite rapidly, as did my petrol, and I occasionally passed other Dimwits on their way home, or wherever they were going to continue their holiday.
For some reason, which I still can't work out, I decided to cut across country from Edinburgh to Glasgow, via the M8, and join the M74/A74 at the top, and thereafter follow the M6/M5/M42/M40 as I had before. When I eventually stopped for lunch, I was only halfway through when Elise and Al turned up, and joined me, even though they usually hate fast food places. We all left at the same time and I tucked in behind them for a few miles, but soon got bored and raced past them with a wave, desperate to get home as soon as possible.
I had adopted a strategy of one long stop after 100miles, followed by a shorter one after a further thirty, when I filled up, then 100miles again. The next time I had a long stop I pulled in behind Lou/Stu's friends from Bexley, although Lou/Stu himself had blasted off at high speed to get home to wifey. We compared bald tyres until they left, and I carefully draped my jacket over my front wheel as a police car prowled the car park.
By the time I got to the M40 I had discovered that at over 90mph, however steadily I took it, my mpg dropped to around 40, so I decided that I shouldn't really go much over eighty. I also discovered when I stopped at the Warwick services, that canvas was starting to show on the rear tyre. I must admit, however, that the checks I had been making up to then were, at best, cursory, so there was no way to tell how long it had been there.
After quite a while spent considering the options, which included; giving up and calling the RAC; carrying on and risking death, etc. Since I was fairly close to home by now I opted for the latter, but would considerably reduce my speed, so as to lessen any injuries I might incur, and stop at the next services to check how it was doing. When I eventually got there, the patch didn't appear to have grown, so I carried on at strangely increasing speed, (well, I tried not to go faster, but my wrist had other ideas), and turned up on my doorstep at 8:44pm - 589miles and nearly 13hours later. When I looked the canvas patch was still virtually the same size as when I first discovered it, and I managed to get it changed at my local workshop, before they did the MOT. It failed the MOT due to a defective brake light bulb, but that was easily replaced.
- Phil (the Spill) Drackley