For the love of motorcycles, joy-riding England

first time biker

Do you have any mental defects? Wait, what? That question was asked and answered when I hired a motorcycle in London. Something we’d all like to inquire during the course of our day, such a time-saving query. I’d never ridden a motorcycle. Bikes are dangerous. In fact, bikes rarely capture my imagination unless there are two people riding. Then I may wonder who they are, where they’re going and why they don’t have a car. So here’s what happened. I had a friend in town who’s pretty much Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycles. He suggested a ride to the coast, and since he has the required license which is an absolute prerequisite, I agreed.

open road

As a novice biker, I’m compelled to relay some first impressions. Beware: either everyone around you is oblivious to your presence and therefore trying to kill you, or they are genuinely curious about what type of person is riding. Hope for the later, assume the former. Sunshine and warm days are preferable. On a motorcycle, you are at the mercy and whim of the weather. Closer to nature than usual. Feeling the glorious elements, without the deceptive safety barrier and comfort of a metal frame. You and the road, not a metaphor. Going fifty miles per hour feels like the wind is playfully trying to unseat you. Sixty-four and the bike is fighting the air, unclear if you’re being thrust backwards or hurled toward your destination. Why do those cars have their wipers going, is it raining? Can’t feel it. Can’t see either. Seventy-three miles per hour and the wind is gently but firmly punching your shoulders in rhythmic cadence, left, right, left. Every muscle is ready, awareness levels on high alert. Fatigue reminds you to rest, replenish your fuel-levels and maybe take the opportunity to investigate your locale.

ready to ride

Turns out, motorcycles are cool; they can take you to another world or offer a new perspective on this one. Off the motorways, beyond the A-roads, that’s where you find the extraordinary. The British Isles are beautiful, especially the countryside. Picturesque, quaint, charming. Inns and pubs, pastures and fields, plus endless opportunities to follow the little brown signs that indicate an attraction of some description. A road trip to Brighton turned into a stop-over in Bognor Regis. That is the beauty of the open road and having only an intention in mind.

My fluid itinerary started in Wandsworth hiring a Suzuki from About Town, taking some refreshment in Surrey at The Cock Inn Pub & Dining and then onwards to the walks and views of the National Trust’s Box Hill. Not just a scene location in Jane Austen’s Emma, Box Hill is a summit of the North Downs, a ridge of chalk hills in southeast England that stretch from Farnham in Surrey to the White Cliffs of Dover in Kent.

Box Hill

Carefully traverse the aptly named Zig Zag Road and cruise toward Denbies Wine Estate or Summer’s Place Auction Ltd, an auction house specialising in garden statuary and natural history. Don’t miss the pretty market town and civil parish of Arundel, situated in a steep valley in West Sussex. With an immense castle and lovely shops, Arundel offers an ideal setting for some respite.

Some may scoff at Bognor Regis, a traditional seaside town but the reasonably priced, no-frills restaurant in the Navigator Hotel is welcoming and surprisingly lively, and nothing compares to sunrise on the coast.

Moral of my story: Travel your path anew. Drive a different route to work, walk or cycle, take the train. Abandon your routine. Avoid the familiar. Experience the world in a way that’s unusual for you, and love the journey.

biker chick

A very British Christmas

This year marked my first Christmas away from a familial home, instead deciding to remain in my English domicile. Upon relaying this intention to friends, the oft-reply wished me glad tidings, “you’ll be having a Charles Dickens Christmas!” Somewhat confused by this comment because I intended to stay in posh North London, not removed to the 19th century Victorian era. Nevertheless, I decided to ponder the prospective meaning of an English Noël.

One lovely aspect of Christmas in the U.K. (a nominally Christian country) is the unabashed awareness and unreserved “Happy Christmas” that passes many lips. Most everyone celebrates the holiday in some fashion regardless of religious persuasion, largely due to the cultural importance and inclusivity of the day.

My Christmas-day dawned with midnight Mass at St. Dominic’s with excited chirps of children blended into carols and Latin sung choruses. Evergreen branches sparsely decorated the church’s towering columns with vaulted ceilings compelling the eye toward enormous stained glass windows rising above the ornate gothic altar. When the pipe organ bellowed the closing hymn, Adeste Fideles, the church bells gracefully began to chime and I instinctively reached for my iPhone to capture the uplifting experience. Suppressing the notion, I momentarily chastised myself, closed my eyes and continued singing.

Somewhere betwixt the quaintly illuminated High Street decorations, a BBC special showcasing the nation’s best loved Christmas food and my own feast finale of flaming traditional pudding, I realised the magical merriment of Christmas in Britain – a truly Dickensian* Yuletide.

*Dickensian [dɪˈkɛnzɪən] b.  characterized by jollity and conviviality a Dickensian scene round the Christmas tree

Joyous sentiments of British Christmas culminate in New Year celebrations and fireworks over the Thames ~ for those observing the Gregorian calendar, best wishes for 2013!

London Nightscapes: Parliament, Big Ben, River Thames

London puts on a show for Christmas. We have Trafalgar Square’s giant Norwegian Spruce, the glamorous glitz of Oxford Street bursting with lights, a Winter Wonderland extravaganza in Hyde Park, and various “traditional German” Christmas markets. Multi-cultural Londoners universally wish each other “Happy Christmas” bidding glad tidings and good-will to one and all. When I recently visited the Christmas market held on London’s South Bank, it was one beautiful night in the capital. Here are my seven favourite photos.

~ Season’s Greetings from merry old England 

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