It wasn’t the first time in its twenty-year lifetime that I have called out in desperation to the bike, “What’s wrong with you NOW?”
A motorcycle is a magnificent thing when it is working but a source of frustration and dismay when it stops unexpectedly, leaving the rider feeling helpless and bemused as it rolls slowly to a silent, ignominious halt. It had happened whilst travelling in many different countries. This time it happened in England – not too far from my home.
Dismayed, I sat there in a state of disbelief. Everything had been fine on leaving the Bristol mechanic who had just had it for a week to sort out various problems. How could something else have gone wrong within twenty miles of riding away from the workshop? But there I was by a set of traffic lights on the A38 at Thornbury. Luckily, there was a paved area for getting off the main road. When I removed my helmet, there was a strong smell of petrol so I turned the tap off and had a look around. Big bulging drips emerged from the carburettor and petrol poured out when I temporarily turned it on again. I got the tool-kit out and started to fiddle about. This was something that hadn’t happened before. Perhaps the carburettor float that regulates the petrol flow had become stuck. Then I tried to start the bike and there was no power. Nothing. So now I had two problems. Electrics baffle me so, with a sigh of resignation, I put down my spanner, picked up my phone and rang the breakdown service.
A chirpy young man who, like everyone else the world over, was probably looking forward to his Friday evening, took my details and reassured me that someone would be along soon; so I stood by the bike and waited.
Just as I was musing that ‘If this were India, someone would have stopped to help by now,’ a scruffy van pulled up and the female passenger called out from the wound-down window “Are you alright?” I walked over to the van where the couple sat, engine still running. “I’m on my way to Tewkesbury. Thanks for stopping but I’ve called the breakdown people. They won’t be long.”
The man driving turned off the engine, got out and opened the rear doors. After a quick visual assessment he said, “Cancel the breakdown. We’ll take you.” I had at least another hour’s ride in front of me to Tewkesbury where I was presenting and signing books at a weekend bike show for women. I was due to display my bike and do a talk at eleven o’clock the following morning. These kind people should just leave me to wait for the breakdown service. After all, it was summer; it was late afternoon and it wasn’t raining. I’d be fine.
They would not hear of it and the matter was taken out of my hands. I cancelled the breakdown service and clambered in the back of the van, crouching next to my Royal Enfield, which by now had been secured with ratchet straps. “We just need to pop home to feed the animals” they said, as we veered off the main road and into a nearby village. It was not a large, grand house and the space was filled with teenaged children and pets in a relaxed and affectionate atmosphere. Even the good-natured animals were at ease with each other, the rabbit freely wandering around the garden together with the cat and the dog. Across the lane, the horse plodded companionably towards us as we waited at the wooden gate with her hay supper.
After petting the animals, giving them their dinner and having a cup of tea ourselves, we set off again for a field somewhere the other side of the historic market town of Tewkesbury.
Conversation was easy. We chatted about who we were and what we did as you do when you’ve just been rescued and are travelling with people you don’t know although you’ve just been to their house, met the members of their household and had a cup of tea – that great leveller, comforter and sociable drink the whole world over. He was a scaffolder and she a carer in a residential care home. I told them the world travel history of my motorbike. We discussed local places we all knew. They said they came into Bristol on special occasions for a slap-up meal at their favourite restaurant.
We arrived at the beautiful riverside location and unloaded the bike near the presentation hall ready for the morning. There was a pub on site where the couple allowed me to buy them a drink but they would not let me pay for their meals. They looked upon the episode as a bit of fun and better than staying indoors on such a balmy, summer evening. They would not accept a contribution towards petrol and left after giving me their address and a request for a postcard from wherever I travelled to next. I thanked them profusely for their kindness but they told me they were happy to help out a biker in need.
The weekend went most enjoyably. I met people I already knew, made new friends and learned from the presentations of other women. On the Sunday afternoon, the bike and I were taken home by breakdown truck. I visited the lovely couple’s favourite restaurant where a voucher was specially made for me to send to them as thanks for their ready thoughtfulness.
I was used to people helping me with roadside repairs, directions and impromptu accommodation. It had happened countless times during my world travels with this dinosaur of a motorbike but I hadn’t expected such magnanimity on my home ground. It was yet another lesson demonstrating that wherever you are, be it Thornbury or Thessaloniki, Bristol or Bangalore, Melbourne or Hobart, it’s the people you meet who give cause for humility and gratitude.
It’s the same the whole world over.
(Editor’s note; I asked Jacqui what the problem had turned out to be and she told me that aside from the sticky carb float, there’d been an intermittent problem with the ignition for ages but she’s replaced it now.)