This is the 1996 Brussels Eurodemo from my personal perspective…
Before I start, I need to say that major respec' is due to MAG Belgium for their faultless organisation of the demo and it's ancillary activities, as far as I am concerned; it was a massive undertaking, one that I'm told proved far beyond the capabilities of their French counterparts 2 years ago, and yet they executed it utterly flawlessly.
Thursday - 29/8/96
The weekend began less than auspiciously, as I set off for Ramsgate on Thursday night; I was booked on the 00:45 Ramsgate ferry to Ostend, and needed to check-in at 00:15. I'd booked myself a cabin, to ensure that I got a good night's kip. However, best laid plans...
Firstly, I left Wycombe at about 22:00, half an hour later than I'd planned after a bit of trouble getting my goods and chattels attached to the bike resulted in me unpacking and repacking the thing so that I wasn't going to lose everything en-route. Once everything was bungied on to my satisfaction, I blasted off into the night with 130 miles in front of me and about 2 hours to do them in. The first part was OK - dry weather and an empty motorway as I headed down the M40 and round the M25, and I was able to easily maintain a steady... err.. 70mph ossifer. Then I hit the 18 miles of road works. I'd not anticipated a problem here, really, since I knew there wouldn't be that much traffic at this hour, so I figured I'd just sail through at half-impulse power then resume Warp drive at the other end. Sadly, the buggers like to ensure that you get held up whatever time of the day or night you head through that way, so they'd reduced the road to a single carriageway in many places while they did important and vital.. err... nothing at all in the coned off sections. By now, I'd started to regret the first use of my brand new (free from Ride magazine) earplugs, which while they had the desired effect of cutting out wind-roar - and thus made riding less fatiguing - had initially caused me to feel a bit queasy, and - I felt - had affected my balance. This affect became more obvious as I filtered/wobbled my way through the stationary traffic in the road works, and I found the disconnection from any external aural input in that situation more than a tad disconcerting. I also picked up a charming bruise on my left knee when fuckwit motorist 1997 decided, though he couldn't go anywhere, to suddenly pull out 2 feet and block my progress up the outside of the line of cars, forcing me to counter-steer round him and take out one of those flashing lamps on a cone with my patella. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to stop, go back, drag him out of his cage and violently insert said cone up his rectum.
Having finally cleared the road works, I was forced to pass a very inviting set of Services where (following my original plan) I would have stopped for a brew and a fag before heading boatwards fully refreshed; I couldn't see my watch, but I knew that I was now running late, so I pushed on hard down the M26 and then the M20. It was here that the wind started to rise, and it began to drizzle but I had to press on hard, regardless, so I did. As I headed up the M2 the conditions worsened, but at least the wind was fairly constant rather than gusting and blowing me about, so still I pressed on. By the time I shot off the end of the M2, the rain had stopped so visibility was good, but the roads were soaking wet, and as I quickly discovered, in a truly shocking state. I'd already backed off a lot, but was still moving 'cautiously briskly' as there seemed to be a dearth of other traffic about. First roundabout I came to, howling gale, water running off the road, and as I braked down in plenty of time from no more than thirty miles an hour I was horrified to feel the front wheel skipping around on the Himalayan grade bumps. The road was like that, with sudden 'OK' patches that began as soon as they ended, all the way into Ramsgate; too many 40 tonners, not enough road maintenance budget. The last 30 miles to my objective took forever, as discretion took the better part of valour. I switched over to reserve
just as I entered the outskirts of Ramsgate, before riding through the town to the ferry terminal. As I joined the queue of cars checking in, I pulled back a soggy leather sleeve to check my watch for the first time under the bright orange sodium lights of the port. 12:10 - I made it! "I'll have my head down in an hour or so" I thought to myself, as I jumped the queue and got my boarding documentation sorted out.
Friday - 30/8/96
I joined the back of a long queue of bikes, and immediately met up with a few familiar faces from Windsor MAG, before rushing to the terminal to have a piss and get a brew down my neck. Just as I was hurriedly gulping the warm liquified vomit that Ramsgate ferry terminal seems happy to sell as tea, the tannoy announced a delay of at least two hours. On enquiry, it turns out that the boat was still fighting it's way across from Ostend, through a Force 11 Storm! The two sailings previous to the 00:45 had been cancelled - which explained the vast number of bikes and pissed off bikers waiting to board, since the smaller of the two ships on the route had bottled out of even attempting the crossing in the weather pertaining. The 04:30 ferry had already been cancelled, since said boat was still hiding in Ostend.
While we waited, I chatted to a few of my fellow travellers. One couple, bizarrely enough, were sitting on their bikes (his a beemer, hers a Kwacker of some description) looking nonplussed when I struck up a conversation with them. 'Hi there', quoth I, 'You off to the Eurodemo?' 'Eh? What's that?'. I tried not to roll my eyes and told him. 'Oh.. that's what all these bikes are doing here then. Nope, we're going to a bike rally in Holland'. Some people are just strange, I guess...
The star turn of the queue, though, was a chap wearing the colours of the Wigan Pie Eaters MCC. His ST1100 had gone down with electrical trouble, and with no time to fix it he had dragged his winter rat - a completely bolloxed, dented and rusty 250 Superdream - out of the shed. By his own admission, he hadn't so much as changed the oil in 200,000 miles and if and when it blew up he'd just toss it in the hedge and walk away. Until then, notwithstanding the bald rear tyre or the ominous clatter from the engine, he had bungied eight tons of gear to it and ridden it down from Wigan, bound for the demo. He made it, too - though sadly, I last caught sight of him on the hard shoulder peering gloomily at the rear end as the demo run approached the assembly point in Brussels; I really hope he fixed it and caught up to go on the demo itself, since heroics of those proportions deserve their reward.
We finally got onto the boat at about half-past three, and made busy with severe amounts of rope in the tie-down department - Storm Force 11 didn't sound very bike-friendly, to be honest. After a visit to Duty Free and a fight with a huge checkout queue, I finally got my head down in my cabin at about 04:15, just as the ship hit the major weather. Apparently, upstairs the boat was awash with vomit; thankfully I had a cabin right on the centreline of the ship, so I just shut my eyes and tried to ignore the attempts of the sea to lob me out of the bunk.
Of course, our late departure buggered up the whole system. Rather than a pleasant night's kip, followed by lie-in in Ostend, a wake-up call and a pleasant leisurely breakfast, I was woken by the shriek of a Sally Line cleaner who marched in unbidden, vacuum cleaner at the ready, to be confronted by a snoring, naked fat-bastard who should already have been elsewhere, apparently. No time for the planned shower, I dragged myself out of bed and headed for the cafeteria where I grabbed my complimentary Croissant as I passed en-route to the bike. Leisurely breakfast my arse!
I arrived to an empty car deck with a couple of crewmen looking at my bike with that "this shouldn't be here" expression on their faces, and hurriedly lit up and launched, still half asleep. I got down the ramp without binning it - impressing even myself - then, without anyone to follow or any staff around waving me off, I went on an interesting unaccompanied tour of Ostend docks before finally finding the Duane and escaping into Belgium on the A10. First stop was petrol, and I cursed the fact that I hadn't felt able to stop for a fillup the previous night, since Belgian go-juice is (if you sit and work it out) more expensive than the British. Then off I went, revelling in the sheer strangeness of going the wrong way round roundabouts and riding on the right. I was astounded by Belgian drivers, who use their mirrors, don't pull out on you, make room for you, pull in as you come up behind them... scary, unnerving examples of good driving everywhere I looked. No sign of les flics either, and yet people observed the less-than-national (90, 70, 60 klik) speed limits through towns rigidly, and were generally less circumspect in the nationals. Bizarre - a nation of IAM members…
The drizzle resumed as I approached Gent on the E40, about 60 kliks outside Brussels, and since it was still before 9am UK time (10am CET, a fact I had managed to forget) and I didn't expect the campsite to be open before 12 (whereas in fact, some people had actually arrived a day early so it would have been open), I decided to stop at the first services I came to for some breakfast. Cold meat and cheese, a bread roll and a couple of cans of Diet Coke (because it’s only until you've tried tea the way the continentals drink it,that a cup of tea sounds like quite a good idea…) did little to assuage the hunger pangs, or defeat the still falling drizzle, but after exercising my rather limited French vocabulary I was able to determine that hot food would be available a bit later, so I decided to wait it out, smoking my way through a surfeit of duty-free fags and reading the bike mags I had brought with me. After a couple of hours, I went for a quick ablute, whereupon a very stern woman demanded 20Bf for the privilege ('service charge' - what a cheek! I had to wipe my own backside and everything!).
As I headed back into the cafe, and aimed myself at the food counter again a loud shriek of 'Ken!' violated my ears and I was pounced on by Zoe, of all people, who had come over under the auspices of her local MAG. Then we were approached by a Belgian, who introduced himself as a member of MAG Belgium and welcomed us to his country, and thanked us for our commitment and participation in the protest; why, he wondered, did the British turn up to these things in greater numbers than bikers of other nations who were geographically better placed to attend? Because, I suggested, we get more shit than they do. Belgium certainly appears far more bike-friendly than the good old UK; I saw a bike shop in virtually every town I passed through, and a lot of bikes and scooters on the roads. After he left, we had a good hot lunch, and nattered for a bit, but the drizzle was still ongoing so we decided that we had to go anyway - in my case, before I took root in the place. Since we were all going to the same destination, we set off in convoy and peeled off up the E17 towards Antwerp, having great fun playing with each other as we outran the worst of the drizzle. Sadly, at the point we reached J15 on the E17, our turn-off prior to a B-road blat to the campsite, they were in front and went straight on; they eventually made it about 2 minutes after me, but after having fought their way round the Antwerp ring-road during Friday rush hour - considerably less fun.
Off I went on a scenic tour of the Belgian hinterland, heading in roughly the right direction and passing many and various bikes of the custom cruiser persuasion on the way, all laden with luggage and chugging along at modest velocity. Some of the roads are a tad ropy, mind you, but fun all the same - except the tight 120 degree right hander on genuine wet cobbles which was courtesy of a roadworks diversion. I arrived at the campsite at about 17:30 CET, but by this time one of a disparate gaggle of bikes. The campsite turned out to be a military base outside the little village of Emblem. MAG Belgium marshals met us at the gate and relieved us of a tenner, then affixed identically numbered yellow plastic strips to both myself and bike, an attempt to ensure that nobody left with the wrong one... once inside we were directed round the base peri-track, past a score of huge transport hangers which had, from the signage, been quite recently vacated by the British Army. It was a tremendous sight, bikes and bikers as far as the eye could see. I circumnavigated the site twice, just staring in amazement. Bikes of every kind, tents everywhere, with the flags of riders rights groups and countries from across Europe fluttering high above them. Everywhere the thunder of engines as more and more people arrived, tents were pitched, beer was quaffed, spanners were wielded. Third time around, on a hunch, I peeled off into the last hanger which had been commandeered by some of the early arrivals as an indoor campsite, and decided that since I was in a Bivibag not a tent this was probably a good idea. Throughout the evening, the giant hanger gradually filled up with more and more people, including the rest of Wycombe MAG who ended up 20 yards from me more by luck than judgement; I moved to join them.
Having got myself sorted, and headed out to the Petrol station opposite the entrance to gas up the bike, it was time to explore the site. MAG Belgium had excelled themselves, with plenty of mobile bogs - which were pumped out regularly during the weekend - sinks and even shower units. One hangar was dedicated to the on-site mechanics, who had a fairly busy time, and a fleet of recovery trucks tasked to retrieve any broken down ticket-holders who blew-up en-route. The next was split between the usual market-type area, with stalls and the like, and the food come bar area which featured tables and chairs, a sound system which pumped out rock music, a bar and multifarious food stalls/trailers selling all manner of Belgian fast food. Very good it was too. The next hangar had a rather bigger bar and a stage at one end, and was the live music venue. The fourth and last hangar was the one I was dossing in.
First job was to find the Beer. The bar, and indeed the food, operated on a weird token-based system, due - I think - to some weird quirk of Belgian law. You bought your beer tokens, then exchanged them for beer. First night out I was asking for Beer, and getting Pils, then Mat Bell tipped me the wink that the stuff to ask for was 'Palm', a much better brew. It was after drinking more than one Pils, and if memory serves me right sharing a spliff with Zoe, that I literally stumbled over Mat, Angel, Jen and her boyfriend while wandering aimlessly around the campsite looking for people I might know. Gena had managed to jettison her wallet en-route to Dover, making them horrendously late, but they got there in the end.
And so, after pigging out on 'Pitta' (a Belgian Doner Kebab equivalent), drinking rather a lot of Pils, smoking at least one erotic cheroot and finally trying out the patent Wycombe MAG enamel-mug Tequila Slammer, to bed…
Saturday - 31/8/96
At about 08:00 CET (7am UK time) I was woken by the revving of a big twin from elsewhere in the hanger and cautiously opened my eyes. No hangover, but when I tried to sit up I realised that failing to bring my Karrimat with me had been a significant and regrettable oversight. A night on the concrete floor had left me stiff as a board, and unable to bend down far enough to put my boots on. Thankfully, I loosened up as the day progressed. Too lazy to walk, I cautiously rode the bike down the road for a quick dump and a chance to sluice the last 36 hours out of my system with cold water in one of the wash-troughs, then staggered across the road to buy a cup of tea from the CMA (Christian Motorcycle Association - harmless enough god-botherers patch club who seem to be into shredding rear tyres for Jesus and gently, harmlessly proselyting—I imagine that forceful, non-harmless proselyting would have got them a fairly serious smack in the mouth by now, anyway). They were also the only people selling tea, and even supplied milk and sugar for us Anglo-Saxon heathens. The hot-dog and the first fag of the day completed the constitutional restoration, and I rode back to my gear as fresh as a daisy (...if you believe that, you'll believe any old bollocks but at least I was now reasonably sure that I wasn't actually dead).
The program called for bikes to be ready to roll at 09:30 CET, and myself and the rest of Wycombe MAG dragged ourselves bodily into action to meet the deadline. First, we implemented phase 1 of our cunning plan - everybody donned the white coverall's they'd brought with them (except me, who was too much of a fat bastard to fit into mine, so a substitute from Windsor MAG had to be employed). The coveralls, each with a vinyl letter on the back, spelt "WYCOMBE AND NEARBY KONURBATIONS MAG". They also, anagrammatically, spelt "BIKER ARMY SAY NO TO MAD EU GOON", among other things; later, when we got to the Heysel car park, we had great fun doing our coreographed routines for the assembled throng of international bikers, and also for a passing French news-agency TV cameraman who I managed to collar. It seems that a lot of people remembered the white suits...
There were a few last minute panics - people who hadn't filled up the previous night for example, found they couldn't get out to the petrol station, and couldn't get back round the jammed, one way peri-track. Some people - who I felt very sorry for - forlornly watched the gathering swarm of bikes from the open door of the maintenance hangar. At 09:30, the first thousand bikes were unleashed and roared away from the assembly point on the campsite, as I waited for the rest of Wycombe MAG to get their shit together and join me, which they duly did - the Wycombe MAG and Cross of St. George flags both flying behind them. Time passed, as we chatted amongst ourselves, and then a police helicopter appeared overhead, which seemed to be a signal for engines to be fired up. Seconds later, the marshals dragged the barriers aside, and the second thousand - ourselves included - rolled forward towards the exit from the camp. As we did so, we passed a couple of police vans, an ambulance and a recovery truck which would all be following our path, and then a phalanx of 16 dayglo-helmetted Belgian bike-cops who were clearly our escort for the trip. We stopped again at the exit from the camp, and shut down, though this time I felt much more of a sense of anticipation. After about ten minutes, presumably once the organisation was good and ready, there was a signal and we fired up once more and, in a huge convoy 2 abreast, rolled out onto the public road towards the small town of Lier. We maintained a reasonably constant but gentle pace, a bit hard on the wrists on the Viffer (probably murder for the poor sod on the 916 I saw a few bikes up the queue) as we headed up the B road out of Emblem and joined the Lier ring, a wide and spacious dual carriageway. At every junction, there were either cops in peaked caps, MAG bike marshals or Bike cops stopping other traffic joining the road and getting entangled with us, or blocking junctions to wave us across red lights, or - as we joined the E19 heading South towards Brussels, even blocking the Motorway on ramps for us. At one point on a topographically concave section of the route, as we trundled inexorably southwards on the N19, I could see nothing but bikes as far as the horizon either ahead, or in my mirrors. Stunning sight. We lost a few who ended up parked up on the hard shoulder (so near and yet so far), but AFAIK, nobody crashed - pretty impressive with that many bikes dodging and weaving in such close proximity for so long. One of the best bits of the run in to Brussels was on the Brussels ring-road, when we went under a long motorway tunnel with incredible acoustics - the wall of sound from all those hundreds of bikes in there at one time was just incredible. The nearer we got to Brussels, the more spectators we could see - standing at junctions, out of their cars where the traffic had been stopped or packing the rail of Motorway bridges. Occasionally I was moved to wave, and was rewarded by return waves from adults and children alike.
We peeled off into the Heysel Stadium car park 'C', which has a slippery grit surface that caused me some worry lest I lob the bike on it, and parked up. For the next two or three hours, more runs from the campsite, and bikes and bikers from all over Europe streamed into the site. After us Wycombiensians had strutted our stuff in our white suits, I headed for something liquid and cool at one of the several trailer stalls, discovered to my annoyance that my fags were in my top box back at the campsite, circulated and chatted to various of my fellow demonstrators then wandered down to the stage area to catch the speechifying as it started. Simon Milward, despite the odd stumble, talked up a storm - and then various other riders rights leaders gave what seemed to be the same speech in their own languages (not terribly exciting), then a German Euro-MP in full leathers gave his own full-throttle speech in German, providing his own English translation - and that went down well. Next we had Roger Barton MEP - who came across as a sound bloke from the stage (more on this later) and then an extremely entertaining Aussie rep who had flown over specially, after meeting Simon at that Safety thing in Melbourne where Dr Brian 'Fuckwit airbag and leg protector' Chinn from the TRRL was trying to sell the world on his lunacy. A New Zealander rounded off the English speaking tally, and then it was back to the bike, and I decided that for a slow demo run through the centre of Brussels, I could happily bungee my lid to the back carrier, and venture forth with nothing more on my bonce than a pair of shades.
As the demo itself began, we could watch the close-packed stream of bikes and trikes as they headed for the exit, and disappeared from view. Eventually, after what seemed an age, it was our turn - and as we bumped off the loose surface onto tarmac, the car park still looked packed solid with bikes. This wasn't just something big, it was truly massive.
We closed Brussels. Brussels was shut, thank you very much, and the streets were lined with spectators and the odd policeman as we headed into the town centre at a slow, stop-start trickle, 8 or ten abreast. As we turned one corner, road jammed with bikes, we could see a stream of bikes on another road heading back the way we had come, and we exchanged waves and horn-hoots with them. The procession slowed still further as we bottlenecked up to a narrow, fiddly corner, bikes and riders both starting to overheat, then suddenly as we rounded it into a broad three lane avenue in Brussels city centre it was clear ahead and we took full advantage. Hair streaming in the wind, we blasted down the road enjoying the cooling breeze to the full, then went hard on the brakes as we reached the back of the body of the demo, as it crawled past the European Parliament building. The real cacophony was reserved for the commission, and the council of ministers, who both got the full repertoire of horn blowing, killswitch backfires and single digit salutes. Dotted round the route, from the back of bikes and from the open rear of hatchback cars were TV cameras filming the action, and I probably looked reaally kewl man on Le Channel Cinq Cable Spotlight Ce Soir or whatever it was as I rolled up behind one TV car, popped the front wheel a few inches, flashed the lights and then shot past him with one hand in the air. Or perhaps not...
Towards the end of the run, the road opened up again, and this time presented two adjacent 90 degree left and right jinks halfway along the fast bit, with a big crowd of spectators and several Belgian porkers watching as the assembled membership of Wycombe MAG laid their bikes over hard on both the left and then right hand sides. Shit, life doesn't get any more fun. Having said that, if I knew that such antics were going to be on the menu I would have definitely worn my lid...
As we passed the TV tower, which marked the end of the demo run itself, we were directed into a parking area, where we could reconfigure ourselves for the ride back to the campsite. This we duly did, and as we set off again we were funnelled out onto the Brussels Ring. Deciding that I would shoot off ahead, buy something cold and wet, then rejoin my fellow Wycombe MAGites as they passed, I blasted off on my own, and attached myself to the back of a large group of riders from the demo who clearly knew where they were going. Provided they went up the N19, I reasoned, they were the right people to stick with, since they weren't hanging about any. They soon peeled off the ring, but despite concern I followed anyway since I hadn't read the signpost, and I had to work quite hard to stay with them as they purposefully made progress around the outskirts of Brussels. I was just about to bottle out and make my own way back, when - via a slip road with a truly sickening downhill tight 180 degree hairpin on it which once again had me experiencing an excessively acute lean angle, though at a much slower speed than my last such experience - we emerged onto the N19. Satisfied, I relaxed into cruise mode as 30 miles flew by while we headed for...BEEP BEEP BEEP <Warning... priority interrupt from brain - why no signs for Antwerp?>. French number plates... signposts for Paris I notice... bollocks!!! Yep, I was following a french contingent home - the wrong bloody way! I turned around and headed back, sadder, wiser and wetter coz it had started to piss it down where I now was. That cost me half a tank of petrol and probably a couple of hours of drinking time. I filled up with gas just south of Antwerp and headed back to Lier, then turned off for Emblem, and this is where I made my first and last elementary continental riding mistake of the trip. There I am riding up the Emblem road when a car pulls straight out of a side turning and comes right for me on my side of the road... which was, as I realised while I dodged wildly round him and he was slamming everything on, not mine at all. Twat. Lucky twat. Sorry, innocent Belgian car driver person. I trickled back to the camp severely chastened...
Once off the bike, I came across that Roger Barton MEP who had parked his bike up and was chatting to a bunch of MAG people while sharing some of their homebrew stew. I got a chance to have a natter with him one to one, and he came across as a genuine, sound bloke. Apparently when Simon Milward first approached him ref. the FEM, he hadn't been on a bike for 20 years. Once he convinced him of the issues involved, Simon dragged him down a carpark one day and lent him a bike. To his surprise he found he could still ride it, and even enjoyed it. A week later he rolled up to the European Parliament on his own bike, in full leathers, for the first round of the 100bhp battle. The rest is history. Apparently, his own bike is a Jap 750, but for 'events' he always rides a European bike, either a Beemer or a Trumpet usually. He even took that Herr Bangermann for a pillion ride round Brussels, after they had won that one. Sound geezer, from first impressions. Too idealistic to make much headway as a politician, I fear, but a sound geezer none the less.
I was saddle sore, sweaty and suntanned, but after the demo another huge influx of bikes and bikers was underway. Time for some serious partying. I changed out of my leathers, then hit them with a large lump of wood until they stopped trying to run away on their own, and headed for the food and beer where once again, pausing only to buy a leather waistcoat coz I needed someplace to stash my fags and lighter, I behaved in a suitably debauched manner. By about 11pm, I needed a break and realised that since I had to be on a 13:30 CET ferry from Dunkirk next day, resuming the action later just wasn't on, so I went to bed. I kept getting woken up though, by pissed Wycombe MAGites tripping over me en-route to their tents. Most of them, of both sexes, who hadn't brought somebody with them had decided to help foster international or cross-group relations in a small fashion, so my sleep was further disturbed by various noisy multilingual drunken shagging sessions. You can't do that sort of thing in a bivi-bag, more is the pity. Finally one bloke staggered in to announce that his girlfriend, a fellow Wycombe MAGite, had fallen down a ditch while under the influence and had a suspected broken ankle. He'd come back to get her E111 (which they needed to see) and would be taken along in another ambulance. They were later both brought back, her ankle heavily strapped but not broken (I know because he bloody well stepped on me again) but it occurred to me that I hadn't bothered with an E111 myself, and was therefore risking god knows what consequences if I'd done myself an injury or gone down with food poisoning while I was out there. Since I had also not got round to organising any travel insurance either (I'd honestly meant to, but...), I would probably have been monumentally fucked I suspect.
Sunday - 01/9/96
I awoke at about 08:30 CET, to the sound of some of the more distant foreign contingents round about us eating breakfast, breaking camp and loading bikes. I levered myself out of my sleeping bag with even more difficulty than I had the previous day, and started to pack up. All around me, Wycombe MAG were as silent and immobile as the grave itself. Self inflicted abuse, I have no sympathy. As I finished loading the bike, Wycombe tent flaps started to be cautiously unzipped, as various bleary faces peered out painfully at the daylight, in genuine photophobic distress. Many of the faces were unexpected, certainly from the tents in which they were to be seen. None of them looked like they belonged to bodies that would be going anywhere anytime real soon. As soon as I was packed I rode off to breakfast, which pretty much mirrored yesterday's experience, then returned to say my goodbyes to the assembled company, who by now were looking marginally more animated than the surrounding architecture. Then, it was with sadness that I swung my leg over the VFR, fired it up and headed for the exit. As I did so, I took one last lingering look at the campsite, and mentally booked myself for Eurodemo 98. At the exit, I profusely thanked the MAG Belgium marshal who checked my yellow tags for the truly excellent work that he and his colleagues had done, and rolled out onto the Emblem road.
Against the clock, now, I headed for Antwerp, zipped around the ring road and then fired myself down the E17, holding speeds just below the ton. At Gent I peeled onto the E40, without stopping, and held the same pace. As I passed the Ostend turnoff, though, I was impatient to be off the bike and stretch my legs so I turned up the wick somewhat. I neared the French border, getting closer and closer to Dunkirk as I rattled along at a ton twenty or more with my eyes on the constant swivel for les flics. Then just before the French frontier, a diversion as the E40 was closed off for maintenance and I was shuttled off up a slip road; at the top I checked my watch... plenty of time. I slowed down to a more leisurely pace and followed signs to Dunkirk. As I crossed the French border I noticed how barkingly low the posted speed limits were on well surfaced, wide-open country roads (40kph anyone?) and how little notice anyone paid them as I joined in the flouting in a major way. Finally I hit Dunkirk, flicking onto reserve on the outskirts. No problem, I thought as I rolled through the streets looking for signs to the ferry terminal. Suddenly I was caught behind... a marching band, occupying the entire width of the road. I filtered to the front of the queue of cars creeping along at 3 mph and just sat there boggling. The bike heated up and started cooking my legs, my clutch hand lost it's sense of humour, and still this bloody oompah bend marching 8 abreast filled the entire (wide) fucking road. Eventually, after about ten minutes, a French trailie two up filtered past me, then without pausing shot up the pavement, round and past them. 'Bollocks to this', I thought, two minutes later, and did likewise.
Off I set in search of the ferry terminal once more. No sign of it on the docks, despite looking and asking. Finally, I found a sign and followed it. The signs continued, leading me out of town and indeed about halfway to sodding Calais - dunno why they call it Dunkirk ferry terminal, really I don't - and I was extremely worried about my fuel state by now. The only filling station I passed was shut, this being France on a Sunday, and I was mightily relieved to make it to the ferry terminal, just in time.
A boring return trip ensued, rather shorter than the outgoing voyage, and it seemed very shortly afterwards that I was riding down the ramp at Ramsgate thinking about finding petrol. As it was, I ran out about quarter of a mile before the first petrol station, just as I thought 'Ah! Thank fuck for that!". Fortunately, I love pushing fully laden bikes uphill on sunny days, wearing full leathers, when I ache all over before I start, so it wasn't a problem.
Next stop was the service area I had scorned on my way down to Ramsgate, to try and encourage my legs to bend again; here I met several other grinning Brits who were returning from the demo. All had the same exhausted but ecstatic grin on their faces.
From there, it was home and bed. A fantastic weekend, the like of which I will be very very lucky to ever experience again. About the only thing missing was that I didn't get my leg over :-), and I slightly regret that I booked myself a silly ferry back on the Sunday - Sunday night would have been a great idea, since I could have fully participated in Saturday night...
Ken Haylock [VFR750FG]
Copyright © 2003 Ken Haylock. All rights reserved.