So…what happened next? It was Mrs J’s turn to be my pillion pussy and as I adjusted things and stuffed essential stuff into the saddlebags, Mrs J had her usual Sunday morning visit from her Dad as his new wife does church on a Sunday and Chas likes to miss all the “Arm waving and gibberish”, it is a modern church, “City Impact” or something like that…..not really his cup of tea but Miss Whiplash seems to think her soul is worth saving and at nearly 80 I would imagine we all have to consider our chances with the big man upstairs as the sands of time start to look a bit on the thin side.
But away with such maudlin thoughts! As Chas slurped his coffee and sucked on a pink wafer biscuit and Mrs J tried desperately to steer the conversation away from his sex-life….eeeeeeuuuuuuwwwwww!!!!! I went off to gas up the Hog and frighten the locals.
I had been riding fairly gently all of the previous day and was glad to note that this morning I just hopped on the beast and threw it through the bends like I had been born on it and rightly so, the stakes were high, I would have Mrs J on the back and I had a reputation to uphold as a real biker.
The skies looked a bit grim as we saddled up but the forecast was for better weather to the south, in the Waikato and Matamata-Piako regions, which was all good because that was where we were heading.
I had a meeting in Titirangi on the way (work has to be done when people are available) but that would be lunch.
Mrs J is only a wee slip of a lass and like me, was practically born on a motorcycle, as back in the middle-ages, when we were created, many parents had motorcycles with sidecars, rather than a car, so she did not affect the handling at all and this is fortunate as within 500 metres some half-dead dumbass, an old guy, decided to turn into his drive right in front of me and the old reactions were still there, I managed to find the brakes and the horn button simultaneously and advised him as to my presence and my thoughts regarding how well his parents knew each other, both at the same time.
Rather than feeling all shook up by this episode I was filled with confidence that as a born-again-biker I still had the reactions of a greased whippet on amphetamines…
Mrs J afterwards told me that as she looked back she could see the unmistakable silhouette of a man getting an earful from his Mrs.
I was dialled-in now, calculating the angle of attack of everything on the road and processing an alarming amount of information in a very short space of time. I would be glad to get off the motorway and onto the empty roads of the Waikato.
Just a mile or two down the road it started to piss down, so we threw cool to the wind (who were we kidding, Mrs J was wearing blue-spotted gardening gloves) and donned our waterproofs, Mine were super-dooper mountain gear and Mrs J had the spare set from the boat (the ones that don’t smell of fish) and set off to Titirangi, which is in West Auckland.
Wearing waterproofs is the most effective way of ensuring it doesn’t rain but better to look like a dry dork than a wet one and we kept them on.
Lunch was a pleasant affair, I talked over some expedition assessment issues with Ms Jolly-Hockeysticks and had a laugh or two about teenagers before we mounted up and left her to it…whatever “it” might be in Titirangi for a semi-retired school mistress.
Droning through AKL
on wet roads was one of those slightly nervous missions, involving the odd involuntary tightening of the sphincter and occasional sotto-voce invective but things got drier as we vectored south and by the time we rejoined Highway 1 at Takanini it was all good, what few showers were about were limp affairs, lacking any fury or commitment and I cranked the Harley up to 110km/h, relaxed into the saddle and looked back to see if Mrs J was still there, so little had I heard from her.
The cissy-bar and big comfy seat meant that Mrs J could sit back and relax, none of that undignified, clinging to hubby like a limpet, just to stay on board, nope, she was able to sit back and take it all in, secure in the knowledge that behind a set of handlebars I was a different kind of person, more likely to rip the wheels off any passing trucks who “looked at her in a funny way” than to do something muppetty….this is largely due to her not being able to ride a motorcycle and so the “back seat driver” instinct does not come into play.
Highway 1 droned by with only one person coming too close and getting the Terminator Death Stare from me and we made the turn off to Highway 2 with no peaks of adrenaline or panic, just a shit-eating grin and big dose of endorphins….which means we were having fun….I really was too, you have to think about what you are doing when riding a bike, well no, maybe not think, but focus, get into that Zen state where you the bike and the ribbon of tarmac become one, the all-consuming trip of not simply travelling but experiencing a journey, being part of it, emotionally, physically and completely…you are the road and the road is you, the bike and you are one and Jonathon Livingstone Seagull starts to make sense.
We had a code worked out; a tap on my right shoulder meant “stop at next facility” a tap on the left shoulder meant “For Fucks sake stop…NOW!!” and was usually applied within a bladder or fear context…usually a bladder thing.
I knew that somewhere along Highway 2 I would get the right shoulder tapped and pressed on with my mission as I knew there were many cafes along this route.
“Ride to the conditions, when they change reduce your speed” goes the irritatingly catchy road safety tune on NZ
radio….on a motorsickle this has a deeper meaning, in a car it means “dark” or “rain” but on two wheels, where you have about a 10th as much rubber connecting you to the road, it means analysing each road surface, the atmospheric conditions, disturbances in the force and the conviction that, in any given situation, if there is something utterly stupid that can be done to endanger your life, somebody, usually in a Nissan, will try to oblige and cause you harm.
After 30-odd years of being a biker, this process is natural and it keeps you from getting tired because you don’t get bored, you’re always in the moment.
Which meant the time passed unnoticed as I cruised happily along, back in a groove I should never have left…..tap, tap, on my right shoulder and after a bit of a snafu, pulling into a place that wasn’t a café, we rocked up at the “Petticoat Lane Café”…which suited my Cockney Passenger just right….and they had Earl Grey Tea!
We divested ourselves of some of our waterproofs here and attended to those functions that we humans deem necessary at such places.
I stood outside the toilet (round the back of the building) for ages, waiting for the incumbent to emerge and it eventually dawned on me that the notice mentioning toilets, in the café, might have been a clue….one needs to obtain the key first!!
D’oh!!! And double D’oh!!! I got the key and performed upon the throne to then rejoin Mrs J who had found a flower-garden to sit in and ponder on the circumstances that first caused someone to chuck Bergamot Oil into a tea bag…
Ms J assured me that she was having the best time ever and apart from one slightly aching inner-thigh muscle she was in good transportable order and had a desire to visit Te Aroha, the town called love, her best mate, Blonde-by-Nature comes from there and although they had set out together on many occasions to visit, they had always, due to the flexible nature of BbN’s approach to missions, ended up somewhere else.
Great, I knew a very nice back road that would take us there under the radar of mere mortals, a swoop through the fine scenery that is the Waikato.
Once past the twisty bits I settled into a 100km/h rhythm so we could savour the rich farmyard smells and avoid any sheep or cows, who, for whatever reason, may be involved in their own private diasporas but lacking any roads sense might form a hazard that is best avoided.
Then came a shuffling from behind and without warning Mrs J yelled in my ear “Open it up then, give it some” and made that peculiar twisting motion that all bikers understand.
“Oh joy!” I thought, “Mrs WJwants to go fast!!” I wound back the throttle and hung on, a V-twin Harley, although blessed with an engine capacity many family hatchbacks would envy, does not charge off with neck-snapping acceleration, it is far more sedate, first the noise increases, then, with a gentle push, like a whale nudging an airbed, it gathers up its skirts, brandishes its sword and with a yell and a few bars of “Rise of the Valkyrie” hurls itself down the road like Brunhilda in hot pursuit of a well-built Viking lad.
It is an awesome experience, as if, upon encountering sturdy girls playing hockey, one becomes fascinated, amused, filled with fear, respect and a twinge of naughtiness…the speedo got round to 160 kp/h (100mph) in a decent time but hanging onto the raised handlebars at this speed was becoming difficult, my fingers hurting with the effort and worrying that I might let go and have my arm whipped back the slipstream to slap Mrs J upside her head I slowed down to the 120-140 kp/h range and overtook a line of cars and trucks over the course of 3 straights and their attendant corners……damn that was fun!!!
Mrs J loved it, I loved it and the bike loved it, the cops were off attending to an escaped goat or something and we had the freedom of the road….yee harrrr!!!!
We reached the end of the back road and hung a left onto the main road into Te Aroha, nirvana was in sight! A few short minutes and we hove into town and parked up outside the Quilt Museum to stop and take it all in.
Te Aroha is a strange place, sitting in isolation at the foot of the Kaimai range of mountains, the only town of any substance for miles around, an air of somnambulance hangs over everything, no-one moves fast, time shuffles as if its ambition to advance is stifled by the enormity of having the only clock in the region, the tower wherein it sits dominating the centre of town like a twisted reminder that elsewhere, people are hurrying, striving to accomplish unnamed things to a deadline that only the Gods know, yet here, the breeding cycles of ruminants are the only markers of the passage of time and nothing is important enough to matter and humans are merely the facilitators of natures cycle of birth, death and procreation.
The shops are fronted by a covered walkway, to insulate the townspeople against rain, wind and sun, to further their disconnection from the real world, or is it to keep them in their reality, to buffer them from any rhythm other than that of the farming calendar?
Music plays from speakers along the strip, timeless music, that may be from the 1950’s or it may be a modern pastiche of the 1950’s, tunes selected by a committee of elders who do not wish their good citizens to be troubled by the likes of Atomic Kitten and Good Charlotte, lest they seek a life less ordinary, to hurry away and melt into the madding crowds of Hamilton or Auckland to fade into anonymity and the relentless hustle of the rat race.
In Te Aroha the people are still a community and to spend time there leaves one with a choice, to fear its lazy charms and move on lest one become trapped there, freed of the woes of commerce and progress but trapped nonetheless…or to stay put and accept the isolation that is a connection in itself an otherness from a time gone by that many seek but more are unable to handle.
We chose the former path, it was enough for us to know it exists and should we ever feel the need to slow down time and retire to the past, we can go there and slip into the dream but the decadent charms of Hamilton and a restaurant that was actually open, caused us to fill up with petrol, pay our respects to this snapshot of tranquillity and cross the bridge over the Waihou (New Water) river and head west, back to the familiar flow of time and try to forget the sense of unease, that sneaking feeling that maybe we had turned down an offer we should not have refused.
Winding up the throttle as we passed the milk processing plant, something made me curb the urge for speed and in an instant we both spotted the cop car, sitting in a lay-by, ready to stop anyone from carrying excess speed and undue haste over the bridge and into town.
Once out of radar range I cranked it up a notch and made full use of the excellent road to take the last chance of a good blast, because we both knew that at 9am the next day, we would have to give the Harley back and the excellent adventure would over.
It was with mixed feelings that we entered Hamilton and took the back streets to the motel, a bit like the last square of chocolate….does one gobble it and enjoy the transient pleasure? Or let it melt slowly in the mouth to prolong the moment?
The last bend in Richmond Road is a proper 90 degree right hander, I lay the bike over, squirted the throttle and heard the footboards scrape on the tarmac, sparks flew out and I smiled, I had explored the limits of the bike’s handling and had now officially got my money’s worth…I could check-in with a clear conscience…..
The Bella Vista Motel chain operates a cash rewards system for “Frequent Sleepers” and I was entitled to a free room with spa-bath (Jacuzzi) and with impending hunger and a good coating of road-grime we were now happy to stop riding.
After checking in and emptying the saddle bags all over the floor of the room we sat outside with drinks of water in hand and gazed at the bike, Mrs J summed it all up when she indicated the bike and said “Not so much a vehicle….more of a pet really”….I knew exactly what she meant.
Once we had calmed down from the thrill of the day Mrs J decided to try out the bathroom and as I watched the National Geographic Channel a range of noises came from the bathroom, these culminated with a squeak and a cry of “Oooh, that wasn’t meant to happen!....Andeee!”
I opened the door to see what ailed my dearest life-partner and found that she had felt a need for bubbles and emptied a small bottle of shampoo into the Jacuzzi….oh dear…the jets in the bath had whisked the shampoo into a mountain of foam, a mountain that was growing by the minute, the foam reached halfway up the walls and spilled out onto the floor, it expanded unchecked and turned the bathroom into a passable replica of an Ibiza foam-party!
Mrs J all but disappeared, only her head was showing and that because of her sustained attempts to keep an air passage open.
We laughed until we cried and I decide to join Mrs J in the tub as my only hope of a good wash was trying to escape out of the window….but the foam had disguised the water level and Mrs J had filled the bath up to the top, Archimedes must have had a similar episode all those years ago and foamy water erupted out onto the floor, which thankfully had a drain in it.
I pulled the bathplug and the force of the escaping water nearly sucked my buttocks down into the pipes, I jammed it back in and we both collapsed with mirth.
Surveying the scene I was reminded of the chapter in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” where Hunter S Thompson and his 300 –pound Samoan Attorney completely trashed their motel room, flooded it and scared the crap out of the chambermaid by telling her they were secret agents….we didn’t have a chambermaid to terrify but the mess we had created was worthy of the king of “Gonzo-Journalism”….we decided to go and eat while the mess subsided to a point where we could make the call as to whether we left in the dead of night or stayed to clear it up in the morning.
The Thai food at the “Siam Delight” was the best we have ever had, we parked the Harley outside the door, on the pavement and kept sneaking admiring glances, Mrs J got quite protective of it and watched carefully when any of the many admirers stopped to have a closer look…….I think we have a convert!
The rest of the evening was spent working out how we would raise the necessary funds to buy our own Hog and how soon we could trust the kids enough to “look after” the house, so we could head off for a tour of the South Island.
Late that night, after Mrs J had declared that only a bag of Maltesers would keep her from an early grave, I took one last ride in the warm evening air, clad only in shorts, a leather jacket and my boots. I rode slowly round the empty streets to the all-night BP
station, listening to the thud-thud of the engine and grooving over the bark from the exhausts as I pulled away from the lights…..I knew then that we were both hooked, that the good times we had had in the early days of our relationship, when were real bikers, were not an illusion, they say one should never go back but in this case, we should never have left….Santa….bring me a big, loud, Harley or I won’t be responsible for my actions……
We, the undersigned, do hereby consent.....