Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Sun Sets

 Au revoir!

Friday, December 31, 2021

The Fight Against 'Cashism'


Over the torrid past 21 months, Britain has changed almost beyond recognition - and not really for the better.

One of these horrid Covid trends is what I call "cashism"  - the refusal by some retailers to accept The Queen's coinage.

To be fair, this little bit of political correctness started before coronavirus had been heard of by most people. 

I recall a trendy coffee shop in Bermondsey Street, London, refusing to take cash in 2019.

It is interesting that it is the right-on establishments that seem to think that banishing real money is a good thing to do. 

I well remember the look of shock on the waitress's face when I told her that refusing to accept cash was discrimination against the poorest of the poor - adults without bank accounts. 

As well as children.

Yet, when retailers get it into their heads that something is fashionable, politically correct and "worthy", all logic goes out of the window. 

You see the same happening with bags. Some charity shops are now charging 10p for a paper bag, even though the Government's tax on plastic bags does not ask them to do this. It's a scam, plain and simple. The charity shop is profiteering on the back of political correctness, charging many times the cost of the paper bag and defenestrating good customer service.

But to get back to cash, it is painful that something that is so important to many people - and vital to the vulnerable - is being discarded under the slippery cloak of Covid. 

Caffe Nero, for instance, will not accept cash in most of its branches. Neither will Starbucks - and many the other so-called hospitality businesses. 

Often the lame excuse offered by staff is that cash spreads Covid-19, even though that is not the guidance from the World Health Organisation or the Bank of England, which points out the risk is no greater than touching any other surface. 

Newspapers have been inundated by complaints from their readers about this nefarious practice, another disgusting milestone on the decline of Britain's retail sector. 

Parents have had to make dashes to restaurants to pay the bill for their teenage kids when the restaurateur has refused to take cash for birthday parties et cetera.

Many others are being excluded entirely because of this blatant discrimination. 

For me, it indicates once again how political correctness is being used for corporate greed and the pandemic is being taken as a reason to attack freedom and push discriminatory political agendas.

It just goes to show how selfish society has become.

I am tempted to form the Anti-Cashist League (ACL) to fight cashism. 

It is important that when you are refused your right to use cash in an outlet, you make a complaint. 

In Northern Ireland, for instance, coffee shop chains have been forced into a U-turn by the people - and take cash again.

And it is great to see a bit of spirit occasionally, with right-minded shops refusing to take debit and credit cards.

Good for you!

Friday, January 08, 2021

Dorian van Braam the Elder RIP


This is not an easy one to write. After all the terrible things that have happened this year - to me and to millions of others - it was most pleasant to visit my dear friend Dorian van Braam the Elder at his apartment near Hove seafront a few days before Christmas. 

My partner Laura and I spent a wonderful evening with him - Dorian was so full of life, talking about his plans: to make a film of one of his colourful novels, to buy another plane (he once crashed a plane into a helicopter), to sue the AA (one of their vans had knocked him off his bicycle in London) and many, many others. We could hardly keep up. It was an invigorating evening after a hellish couple of months.

Dorian was intending to drive to his estate in Ireland for Christmas, but it was not to be. The following day, he emerged from a cafe in Hove, collapsed and died. Nothing could have been more unexpected.

Since then, Laura has written a brilliant obituary of Dorian van Braam the Elder, using some of the photographs I have taken of him over the years. I won't attempt to reprise the story of his life - Laura has penned it so well. All I can say is that I thought Dorian to be a true one-off, a unique character from another era who still rode a powerful motorbike, wrote thousands of words a day - and had the balls to stand up to The Man! It was an honour and a privilege to have known him and been his friend.

Here are my pictures of Dorian van Braam the Elder, ending with what I believe to be the last picture taken of him before his untimely departure from our screwed-up planet:

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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Victory in the Battle of Madeira Drive

The Reopen Madeira Drive Campaign - launched in early June by myself and my partner Laura King - has been victorious! Brighton & Hove City Council last night (Tuesday, 29 September 2020) voted to reopen the iconic seafront road in the way we proposed. . . in a wondrous U-turn and victory for common sense.

We started the Campaign after Madeira Drive was closed on the sly by the then Momentum-Labour-controlled Council with the support of the fanatical Green Party. 

I now understand that a group of senior Council officials, who are crazy about cycling, unscrupulously drove this agenda behind the scenes and persuaded lame-brained councillors to go along with it. If that is the case, it was a disgraceful abuse of their position as Council senior staff and public servants - and also speaks volumes about the gullibility and unsuitability of councillors in leadership positions.

Anyway, Madeira Drive is a very long, very wide and very quiet road, and it seemed to me that closing it because of the Covid-19 crisis was unjustified. 

There was plenty of room for walking, running and cycling as it was. Why shouldn't motorcyclists, scooterists and car drivers also use and enjoy the facilities? 

And, anyway, very few cyclists, runners and walkers chose to exercise there.

With Laura King's help, I started a petition on Brighton & Hove City Council's website, assuming - very naively - that Madeira Drive would be reopened fairly easily. 

How wrong I was! It quickly became apparent that the closure was not about Covid-19 at all, but was a symbolic gesture by the Hard Left to take out a road as a first step to making Brighton completely vehicle free. 

For four months, Laura and I have battled away. 

Our petition achieved nearly 11,000 signatures; four successful demonstrations were staged at Madeira Drive, uniting the Mods and the Rockers for the first time in half a century and attracting regional, national and international press coverage and even support from cyclists, and a war of words was waged in the Brighton Argus and on social media. 

And Laura's Reopen Madeira Drive to All Facebook group, moderated with the help of the tireless Tony Brighton, attracted more than 1,400 members and thousands of updates.

Moreover, Quadrophenia star Gary Shail even made a video backing the Campaign - and Specials star Neville Staple backed us online! Thanks, guys!

At last night's meeting of Brighton & Hove City Council's Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee (ETS), the decision to reopen it one way from Brighton Pier to the Mound was ratified, after being trumpeted well in advance by the Green Party's local leaders.

It is great that the Greens have changed their minds - and performed a neat U-turn. Listening to their spurious arguments at the previous ETS meeting and at a Special Full Council, to which Laura and I spoke and presented our petition, were thoroughly disturbing experiences. 

But I always knew that if we kept up the pressure, reality must eventually bite. With justice and the public on our side, we had to win eventually!

Throughout this Campaign, the South Coast Mods, of which I am proud to be a member, were amazing. 

In wind, rain and sun, they supported the four protests we organised, riding their beautiful classic Vespas and Lambrettas onto Madeira Drive despite the presence of Council stewards, and making some great speeches. 

The heroic Carl Bonner, who attracted BBC and ITV regional TV news crews, Diggers, Ralph and all the Mods were incredible! As were the Rockers, the cyclists and pedestrians who turned up to join the crusade.

And supporter Rob Arbery also did an incredible job at making the argument for disabled groups, who had been cut off from the disabled toilets by the changes, and bringing Brighton Palace Pier on side. The attack on the closure by the Pier's CEO was particularly good to see.

The Madeira Drive traders also gave us moral support with Trevor at the fish and chip shop also doing some spot-on media interviews, and Tarot card reader JJ Braiden making a cracking speech at one of the early rallies.

My partner Laura pushed the heritage angle - with the Madeira Terraces urgently needing restoration, which had been delayed by the closure. 

And the affable Councillor Lee Wares quickly understood the Madeira Drive issue and made some memorable speeches in Council meetings - against the hostile backdrop of tone-deaf Greens and Labour members.

But in the end, the compromise that we and Lee were backing has been accepted by the Greens, who had seized power halfway through this crisis and initially doubled down on Labour's unreasonable policy, but now, amusingly, are claiming credit for the idea.

I couldn't give a jot about that. What's important is that Council Leader Phelim Mac Cafferty has seen sense and found a way to persuade his zealot colleagues to reopen Madeira Drive.

Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle also, thankfully, started singing a different tune. 

Initially, shoot-from-the-lip Lloyd wanted a permanent closure for Madeira Drive, but later he conceded that a compromise was needed and motorcyclists and scooterists should be allowed to use it! 

Fair play! I admire anyone who has the guts and honesty to admit they were wrong.

Madeira Drive is a cultural gem, the spiritual home of Mods and Rockers, and a place for all to enjoy.

We chipped away at the Red-Green Wall, first winning a pledge to reopen Madeira Drive for events, then getting it reopened from the Mound to the Marina, then reopening the other half for the Mod Weekender on the August Bank Holiday. And Laura managed to place an excellent piece in Private Eye magazine about how the closure was affecting the restoration of Madeira Terraces. After all that, perhaps it was inevitable that Madeira Drive would be permanently reopened.

Looking back on the past four months, doing media interviews about them and reviewing the blog posts I kept up, I can see how many people helped me develop the Campaign - and get a successful outcome for Brighton & Hove.

Initially, I focused on the most outrageous aspects of what the Council had done - the discrimination against disabled people and the damage that it was doing the businesses of the traders on the Madeira Drive parade at a time when they were most vulnerable.

But my cyclist friend Gordon, who owns the magnificent G-Whizz Cycles on the street I live, made me see that I should not only be fighting other people's battles for them while downplaying my own particular interest.

Supporter Rob Arbery took up the cudgels for the disabled groups and the traders did what they could, considering that the Council is their belligerent and uncaring landlord, and I focused on the Mods and motorcyclists being deprived of their right to gather at Madeira Drive. It worked! The media loved the story, and both regional ITV and BBC TV, covered it, interviewing me, other Mods and Rockers, and the traders who rely on their business.

Broadly, I have always been a supporter of environmental aims - but this Campaign made me realise just how out of touch and unecological the current generation of Green politicians has become.

It did not bother them that the closure of Madeira Drive and the subsequent draconian cycle lane on the seafront road going up from Brighton Palace Pier were causing congestion and pollution - and actually damaging the environment far more than the previous arrangements.

Science simply did not come into it. The ideology of closing a road, and the symbolism of this unplanned act of rebellion, was the goal in itself - worth damaging the environment for, as far as the Brighton & Hove Greens and local far-left Momentum Labour parties were concerned.

They also appeared to play down discrimination against the disabled, when they were asked about it. 

For the Council leadership, it was as if combating racism is enough, and the other -isms, no longer mattered to them. Strange! And this attitude to those most in need has now resulted in Brighton & Hove City Council being investigated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. I hope they throw the book at them!

Once again, Momentum-Labour and the Green Party have brought shame onto the great city of Brighton & Hove.

I hope that Green and Labour leaders in Brighton & Hove will reflect seriously on the Madeira Drive debacle and realise that they do not always know best - and that genuine consultation with all user groups is vital before making any major road changes.

In particular, they need to consider if the councillors put in charge of the important areas of transport, environment and sustainability have the experience and competence for the job. 

For instance, someone with an obsession about one form of transport and a strong dislike of other forms is unlikely to do a good job for all the people of Brighton & Hove.

In truth, there was never any need to close Madeira Drive. 

Even during full lockdown, few cars were using it and there was plenty of room for cycling, running and walking. There always is. Madeira Drive has been a great source of parking revenue for Brighton & Hove City Council over the years but, ironically, it has never been a busy road. 

So, closing it achieved nothing, except costing the Council, which has a gaping hole in its finances of more than £20million, more than £1million in lost revenue, unpaid rents of traders and the totally unwarranted £12,000-a-month cost of Madeira Drive stewards (next time Phelim calls for a Council Tax increase, he needs to be reminded of this wanton waste of our money!)

And dividing the people of Brighton & Hove, pitting Mod & motorcyclist against cyclist, when they are all natural friends on two wheels, and causing additional upset and angst at a time when elected officials and leaders like Nancy Platts and Phelim Mac Cafferty should have been trying to unite the people of their fair city, already struggling from the economic impact and stress of the prolonged Covid-19 crisis.

For too long they put their ideology before the common good. . . and it was a disaster! Let that be a lesson for iterations of Brighton & Hove City Council going forward!

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Monday, August 17, 2020

150 Consecutive Days of Motorcycling: How I Passed My DAS Motorcycle Test

For more than three years I have been trying to pass my motorcycle test, and when lockdown started I saw it as a golden opportunity to get the experience I needed.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when my mates in the sixth form and at university were passing their motorbike tests, it was a piece of cake - a ride around the block examined by an official who wasn't even on a motorbike. 

At one point in the test he would jump out in front of the student who had to perform an emergency stop. Not many candidates failed.

My road safety-conscious father was wisely very agin motorcycling. It took my mum some persuading for him to agree to me riding my push-bike on the main road! 

And when I finally took up motorcycling, some 35 years later, the law has moved on and the full motorcycle test had become very difficult.

In 2014, I took up motorcycling at the age of 53. To be accurate, I bought a Vespa PX125 and became a Mod.

I took my CBT - a one-day course that everyone has to take to wear an L Plate and ride a machine of up to 125cc engine capacity on the public highways - with a nice guy in Eastbourne who went on to become a fridge repairman. 

There were two students that day, me and an 18-year-old lad, and we were both rubbish. I couldn't get the hang of the gears and rarely got the motorbike above 15 mph; the lad had no road sense and kept charging through junctions without looking first. 

It seemed like a miracle that at the end of the day we were both given certificates.

It took me a long time to get used to riding the Vespa, with her beautiful little wheels and handlebar gear shift. For the first three months, I rode round the block in first gear. 

Through my cat, the late Mr Cheeky, I met another motorcyclist, Nick, who was young and confident. We started riding out together, although I was still too slow and hesitant.

In November 2016, after redoing my CBT (you have to retake every two years if you haven't passed the full test), I decided I needed to move up in the motorised two-wheeled world. I plumped for a feisty firm of motorcycle tutors in Worthing, paid a substantial sum and booked onto a course to take the full Direct Access licence, allowing me to ride a motorbike or scooter of any size. 

At that point, I had ridden about 1,500 miles on my Vespa, mainly up and down the Brighton & Hove seafront, to and from Madeira Drive, a place that would come to be a major part of my life.

As usual, I was being vastly over-optimistic. I had no motorcycling experience - riding a scooter is very different - and the gung-ho company I'd chosen was not the one for me. 

I had three different instructors over the four or five days of the course and was left traumatised by the experience - scared witless by the experience of riding on fast roads like the M23 and M27 - and struggling to control the bike, a 650cc. Kawasaki, which anyway seemed to have developed malfunctioning gears. 

Needless to say, Test Day was a nightmare. I scraped through the "Mod 1" exercises - emergency stop, swerve, U-turn etc. done on a big courtyard at the Burgess Hill test centre - to the evident disgust of my instructor, who had developed a dislike of me, but then made numerous errors on the 40-minute "Mod 2" ride around. I left the test centre shaking and did not try again for two years, by which time the written test I'd taken had expired as had the Mod 1 pass!

At this point, I repeated my CBT day - for the third time - but with a new motorcycling school, Saferide, which near Brighton & Hove at Southwick Football Ground, Southwick. They seemed a lot gentler than their Worthing rivals and more willing to work with my fear of motorcycling and other anxieties. Indeed, they seemed to specialist in fearful students!

I had a day toying with the idea of my taking the motorcycle test on my Vespa PX125, which would have meant, if I passed, I could only ride motorbikes up to 125cc, although without an L plate and with a pillion passenger. I had an enjoyable day riding my PX125 on Sussex countryside roads. Unfortunately, I failed to get it up to the 62mph required for the motorbike test - with its current set-up it just wasn't fast or powerful enough.

Once again, it was late in the year - November - but I embarked another attempt my motorcycle test. This time I had Saferide's Chief Instructor and Owner, Tony Iles, a very pleasant and jovial guy (with a stock of terrible jokes, puns and Spoonerisms). 

This time I was on a 650cc Yahama MT07 motorcycle which was massively powerful with incredible torque. It has a maximum speed of around 130mph and the ability to accelerate at, for me, a shockingly great rate.

The worst part of learning to motorcycle is the lessons. Regardless of the skills of the tutor, if you are of a nervous disposition, you always end up frit. 

I think three days of tuition, losing about half a stone in weight. On the final day, Tony and another instructor, Alex, took me out for a 100-mile ride going through Petersfield, on the way to Winchester, and ending at a biker's cafe. It was a beautiful day and I finally started to enjoy it. 

I had already retaken the written exam (and passed with flying colours again) and now had to retake Mod 2, which I had passed just over two years before. This time, I excelled myself - and managed to fail, by one kilometre per hour on one exercise. I could not believe it!

I left the Burgess Hill test centre feeling despondent but, luckily, Sue, Saferide's very capable administrator, had another date lined up for me. This time, with the same examiner, I passed Mod 1 and went on to Mod 2 - the 40-minute
ride around. I was a bag of nerves and somehow got on and started up the wrong motorbike - another motor-riding school's Yamaha MT07! 

As the examiner was telling me through the radio to move off , I realised that the motorbike was a different colour from the one I'd arrived on. 

Hugely embarrassed, I switched off the engine, put it back on the side-stand and dismounted, to go in search of my MT07. Totally flustered, I cut the corner coming out of the test centre - a serious fault - and had failed before I'd even reached the road!

With my great dislike of riding in the wind and the rain, I decided to retire from motorcycling for the year, and pick it up again the following spring. I planned to have another crack at taking Mod 2 in April or May 2020. 

Tony Iles advised to buy a 125cc motorcycle - as opposed to a scooter - to get some proper experience with foot gears, which I had always struggled with. 

I raided my savings to buy a slightly used Yamaha YS125 from the On The Wheel, an excellent motorbike superstore at Fishersgate, near Brighton & Hove. It had been previously owned by a female police officer who, remarkably, had only done 122 miles before she sold it back to the store. I guess she was a very fast learner! It was as new and surprisingly like the MT07 without the high power and speed.

I vowed to teach myself to motorcycle by the spring. I took it out once on the A22 and got it up to 62 mph. The monsoon season then started. It seemed to rain continually for all of January and February this year. The YS125 was undercover in my yard - I did not ride it once. 

In early March I went on a couple fo rides, and then, as the sun came out, you-know-what happened. The world went into freeze-frame. Death stalked the streets. An no prizes for guessing my test date was cancelled.

Like everybody else I found myself stuck at home with an uncertain future as Government-fuelled paranoia swept the country like wildfire. I thought to myself: 'This is my time. It's my golden opportunity to overcome my fear of motorcycling!' On 13 March 2020, I embarked on my motorcycle odyssey, vowing to ride every day until I passed my DAS motorcycle test.

Rain or shine, I would go out, morning, noon or night. When the weather was all right, I'd ride to Seaford, Eastbourne, Shoreham or Worthing. If it was really horrendous, I'd go to George Street, Hove, or the Lanes, Brighton, braving high winds and horizontal rain. I forced myself to do it.

Everyone I know was very supportive of my efforts. My lovely neighbours, in particular, often asked me where I'd been that day, how many days of riding I'd done now and how many miles. Their son, Lowen, liked to sit on my motorbike and wanted to set off with me on his wooden bicycle (pictured earlier). 

At first, I was a bit worried about the vague guidelines around lockdown - exactly what they meant. I always had shopping bags in my rucksack and usually bought something essential if I stopped. I was totally socially distanced, with a helmet rather than a mask on. It was my daily exercise.

In the early days, it was perfect. The weather was generally good and the roads almost empty. I encountered police vehicles but, as I stuck strictly to the speed limit, they didn't trouble me at all. 

As the days turned to weeks and the weeks to months, my fear of motorcycling started to dissipate. I was still cautious but it became routine. The foot gears were no longer a problem - gear changes became second nature, as they are for me as a car driver.

The worst moment during lockdown came when someone tried to steal my Vespa, but the Mod and motorcyclist communities came to the rescue in a big way.

During the working week, I had to stay fairly close to Brighton & Hove while at weekends and on holiday I was able to head off to Littlehampton or Bognor Regis. However, I was sticking to the B-roads and avoiding fast roads like the A23 and A27. I had not entirely conquered my fears.

I came to cherish my daily excursion. It was a way to escape the madness - and the less one stopped the better. Day-trips can be tough without open cafes, so I took to taking a flask or a bottle of water in my rucksack. Wherever I went I witnessed almost empty streets - a nation in hiding.

I came to really admire that the shopkeepers who had stayed open for essentials or takeaways. I liked the trader in Madeira Drive, Brighton, who stayed open for customers during lockdown, although very soon Brighton & Hove City Council closed the road to make life doubly tough for him and other traders who later joined him. And I would often ride to Worthing to buy steaks at the superb discount butcher, Guildbourne Meats, in the otherwise deserted shopping precinct.

There were places like Worthing and Shoreham that became second homes to me. More welcoming to motorcyclists than Brighton & Hove has become under its extremist city council, it was always a pleasure to scoot off to Shoreham for a cup of tea, overlooking the River Adur. 

I also discovered how lovely Shoreham beach is and the nature reserve and enormous lake beside it. I also liked Shoreham Airport.

Over the 150 consecutive days of motorcycling, I rode around 2,100 miles. At weekends, I would ride to Eastbourne, almost totally deserted in lockdown, or Littlehampton, which is beautiful around the river, or Bognor Regis, which has a fast and quite scary road leading to it.  

Such peacefulness and tranquility I found in these locations.

Seaford, I also liked, Newhaven less so. The road to Birling Gap and through to Eastbourne is wonderful, beautiful landscapes and seascapes, winding roads, a feeling of being on top of the world. 

I also loved riding over Ditchling Beacon to Lewes and visiting my allotment.  

Eventually, after months of practising, lockdown started to lift - and the motorcycle test centre at Burgess Hill came back on tap.

Sue got me a test date - 16 July 2020 at 11.06am (the Government is very precise on this, if nothing else) - and informed me of a draconian set of rules introduced to combat the Bulls*it). So, I braced myself to go into battle again. I insisted on having only one day of prep on the MT07 - I felt any more would leave me too traumatised for the test - and was assigned a new instructor by Saferide, Graham, a gentle giant and former marine.

Graham did a lot of good, sitting me down for a couple of hours to talk about roundabouts, signalling and lifesaver checks. I have to admit I learnt a lot. Even though I have been driving a car for 40 years, there was plenty I didn't know. He was also very good on how to avoid "serious faults" - which automatically cause you to fail the motorcycle test. I realised my strategy had to be avoiding "serious faults" while accepting that, at my level of competence, I was going to pick quite a new minor faults.

As with all my instructors, he was fairly shocked at my unwillingness to ride fast on roads such as the M23 and M27 or to overtake other vehicles. In fact, Graham found enormous numbers of faults with my riding and bombarded with new techniques and tips.

After my day of tuition, I was feeling considerably less confident than I had done before. I realised that my 124 consecutive days of motorcycling had only taken me so far. I was far from guaranteed from passing. I could tell that Graham probably thought I wouldn't make it. But I kept thinking that there must be a big backlog of tests, which surely would make examiners a little more tolerant on borderline candidates.

However, I did not sleep at all well. I must have dropped off at midnight and woken up at 4am. Even with copious amounts of coffee, I was dog-tired and struggling to hold it together. 

I asked Graham to lead me the scenic route to Burgess Hill from Southwick, avoiding the M23. 'My nerves can't take it this morning," I said. So, we went over the Beacon and for two hours rode around country roads, with me stubbornly refusing to get up to speed in my half-comatose state. 'You'll fail for not going fast enough,' Graham warned. I replied: 'I'll lay on the speed for the test.' But I did learn a lot about tackling slow junctions super-cautiously.

More coffee at a cafe, and it was time to go. At the test centre there was no longer a waiting room. You lingered outside, in a mask, or my case a snood, until the examiner introduced himself. Because of his mask, I didn't recognise him at first as the examiner who'd failed on the previous occasion. At least this time there was less chance of me getting on the wrong motorbike!

Courtesy of Her Majesty's Government, I was led to a cave in the side of the building where I had to lay out my driving documents and withdraw while the examiner, Niall, checked them. There was then a lot of messing around to sort out the radio apparatus - all done socially distanced through masks. I was striving to stay awake and alert.

It didn't start well. For the "show and tell", I struggled to find the front brake fluid container, although I chanced upon it in the nick of time.

Off we went on the ride. I was extra careful not to cut the corner again coming out of the test centre, and tried to bear in mind everything Graham had taught me. In my earlier tests, I had been in hurry and reluctant to stop for fear of stalling.

This time I took a different approach, stopping at most junctions, before moving off and accelerating fast up to the speed limit. I was aware that I was making mistakes but focused on not making any "serious" or "dangerous" errors, which bring with them an automatic fail.

The radio kept cutting out and the examiner asked me pull up on the M23 slip road so he could fix it. We had a bit of a chat and then I had quite a long wait for a break in the traffic. When it came I accelerated up to 70mph in second gear and was doing the speed limit when I entered the M23 - a first for me!

Most of the test was a blur. I was painfully aware of my riding limitations, but just about holding it together. The weekend before, my biker friend and neighbour Chris had led me round some of the test routes. There was one with a long winding stretch on a country lane at national speed limit (60mph) that I particularly disliked. Even in my car, I wouldn't drive it faster than 45mph.

Sod's Law dictated that my test took me down this lane. I accelerated up to 60mph, following a speedy car, and threw that MT07 round the bends, hanging on for dear life. That may sound like fun but I hated every second of it! But it was soon over.

Back at the test centre, I was pretty shaken by the whole experience and bracing myself for the inevitable words signifying my failure.

When the examiner said I had passed, I literally could not believe my ears. However, then he reeled off a seemingly endless list of minor riding faults. 'You are getting what we call a PWB,' he said. I asked: 'What does PWB stand for?'

'Pass With Bollocking!' he replied. I said that was fine - I was totally delighted to pass under any circumstances. I knew full well that without the coronavirus crisis, I wouldn't have been good enough to even scrape thorough.

My therapist had also helped, persuading me that there was no earthly reason why I should not pass. To my surprise, she said that as a young model and actress, she'd passed her motorbike test - before, unfortunately, crashing into London's Parliament Square!

The day I passed - 16 July - was my 126th consecutive day of motorcycling. Why didn't I stop there? Partly because I wanted to show off my motorbike and my scooter without L plates on, partly due to the yearning to end on a nice round number.

Once I had the test pass, I started riding the Vespa more than the Yamaha, joining the original Mods who don't ride around with L plates on.

By that time, the Campaign to Reopen Madeira Drive was getting into full swing and, it was appropriate, that I completed the 150 days of riding with a rally at Madeira Drive, well supported by the Mods and the Rockers. Since then, I have taken a bit of break from motorcycling epics! 

Finally, I can thoroughly recommend Saferide as a motorcycle riding school - no matter how hard you find motorcycling!

When I have found a suitable bigger bike to tackle the fast roads on, I will be back for more lessons - to get my big motorbike riding career off to a good start!

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Sunday, August 09, 2020

Reopen Madeira Drive Campaign, Part 2


Sunday, 9 August Update:

Great protest today by Mods and Rockers at Madeira Drive!

Large numbers of Mods and other scooterists and Rockers and other bikers gathered from 10am - and were interviewed and filmed by BBC South East TV.

Helen, the charming presenter, and her cameraman Graham did a smashing job on covering the all angles. Thanks, guys!

Here is their excellent report.

And here's a fantastic video of the day by Rob Henderson. Thanks, Rob! And here and here are more videos.

The police were very helpful, particularly WPCs Sarah and Lucy, who somehow helped to negotiate for us to ride down Madeira Drive for the cameras. 

It was fabulous - Rockers and Mods in the same convoy, fighting for the same cause.

When we were parked up, I made a speech, as did leading South Coast Mod Diggers, my partner Laura King and biker Brian. In my speech, also here, I stressed out how we had come in the Campaign and said we were winning the argument.

Quadrophenia star Gary Shail, who played Spider in the cult Mods and Rockers film, sent a message of support to the assembled Rockers and Mods, also reported in the Brighton Argus.

Gary said: "Sorry I can’t be with you this Sunday for the protest to keep Madeira Drive open. 

"Madeira Drive was, of course, one of the key locations for the film Quadrophenia in which I played the character of Spider.

 “Madeira Drive is an incredibly significant place for Mods and bikers alike, who have been regular visitors to the shops, the restaurants, the bars and all the other places since the early Sixties. 

"And I think it’s incredibly sad that all these businesses will suffer, definitely, and, perhaps, even have to close if the planned road closure goes ahead. I believe this is a misguided and terrible decision to restrict this fantastic destination to specific interest groups at the expense of others.”


He added: “I really hope that this Sunday protest is well supported by Mods and Rockers alike, who with all the other supporters now have a petition with nearly 11,000 people.


“So let’s just hope that they might open the eyes of Brighton & Hove City Council and convince them that Madeira Drive is a cultural gem that must be reopened for all visitors."

Many thanks, Gary, for your support and to the South Coast Mods, of which I am proud to be a member, and to everyone else who attended or helped. 

Here's a nice video of the event made by South Coast Mod Diggers.

I will update this blog post with images and any other video clips as they come in.

* Black Friday, 14 August 2020:

Still reeling from the Green and Red wall that we hit last night - at the Special Meeting of Brighton & Hove City Council.

The Greens and Labour made it abundantly clear that they have no interest in saving the traders' season by reopening Madeira Drive or, indeed, ever doing so, and between them told just about every fib in the book to justify their prejudiced decision.

It became clear during the Madeira Drive petitions debate that Phelim Mac Cafferty and his Green group and Labour leader Nancy Platts and her colleagues do not really care about local jobs, the views of local people including the disabled, the history and traditions of the city - or the Council's finances. 

Between them, they could well end up leaving Brighton & Hove morally and financially bankrupt.

It was a real shock to realise just what a blinkered and extremist set-up we are up against.

Later in the meeting, every one of the Green and Labour councillors voted against Councllor Wares' very generous compromise motion to reopen Madeira Drive one way. 

Indeed, the only votes in support of the motion came from Tory councillors and one independent councillor, Bridget Fishleigh.

The only possible solution I can see now is for the Madeira Drive traders in the parade, who have been despicably betrayed by the Labour and Green councillors, to take legal action against the Council for the breach of their leases. (Yes, the Council is THEIR landlord - you couldn't make it up!)

Sadly, we haven't been able to make Phelim (who I am ashamed to say is my local councillor), and Nancy (whose decision makes me ashamed to be a Labour Party member) and their colleagues see reason.

This is the statement we put out after the painful debate on the Petitions last night:

Ollie Wilson and Laura King, the founders of the Reopen Madeira Drive Campaign, said: "The petitions' debate by Brighton & Hove City Council on the reopening of Madeira Drive has made a mockery of democracy.

"Green and Labour councillors were totally partisan, favouring the minority view and accepting statements that are simply untrue, such as the nonsense that Madeira Drive has been busy with cyclists and pedestrians or still needs to be closed because of the Covid-19 crisis. Our 1,360-strong Facebook group, Reopen Madeira Drive To All, has been uploading daily photographs of Madeira Drive at peak times which show this to be patently untrue.

"While hypocritically claiming to support local businesses, they have thrown Madeira Drive's traders under a bus, refusing to have an early decision on this issue at Committee or even commission a report, as Councillor Bridget Fishleigh sensibly proposed, to establish the true facts on the impacts - environmental and others - of the closure.

"Our Petition to reopen Madeira Drive has been supported by more than 10,600 people - yet Councillor Pete West gleefully cited the rival petition, with a paltry one third of the number of signatures, as evidence for keeping Madeira Drive closed, without making any reference to our much larger petition."

Ollie and Laura added: "The views of the motorcyclist and Mod community were entirely ignored by Green and Labour councillors - not even mentioned, despite the four successful protests that have taken place to reopen the Drive.

"And Council Leader Phelim Mac Cafferty revealed the Greens' real intention - to keep Madeira Drive closed while seeking investment by private developers, while at the same turning away millions of pounds of income in parking revenue, rent from traders and visitor income.

"Presenting this petition left us feeling completely disrespected and disenfranchised by Brighton & Hove City Council. 

"Only the Conservative group and two independent councillors listened to the voice of the people. It has made a travesty of justice on this issue for all those who work on Madeira Drive and may now lose their jobs, and the ordinary people of Brighton & Hove and visitors, who believe in equality, diversity and inclusivity and in sharing Madeira Drive with all user groups."

And this is the very reasonable Speech that Laura and I made, despite the Council's cranky technology and the Mayor rudely preventing me from reading the final paragraph (although, later, he allowed Phelim Mac Cafferty to go way over his allotted time):

[OLLIE] We speak to you today as representatives of more than 10,600 people who have signed our Petition to Reopen Madeira Drive to all users. We started it because we’d become aware there were no plans to reopen Madeira Drive, which was closed to motorcyclists and cars as a supposedly “temporary” measure to provide exercise space. When lockdown restrictions were lifted, it became apparent Madeira Drive would stay closed, impacting the enjoyment of the mods and bikers who meet there. It’s also badly hurting Madeira Drive’s traders, as trader Trevor Archard has made clear.


[LAURA] It’s clear a few individuals want a permanent closure of Madeira Drive as a stepping stone to making Brighton and Hove car free - without a city-wide public consultation. Despite the great length and width of Madeira Drive, it’s been deemed suitable for exclusive use by cyclists and pedestrians, many of whom prefer to use the existing cycle path and pavement. This is not inclusivity. And it is not busy as daily photographs from our 1,350-strong Facebook group evidenced.


[OLLIE] The Mods and Rockers are now united in the Battle to reopen Madeira Drive, where they have met at the parade of cafes and shops toward the Pier end of the Drive since the early Sixties. Four protests by Mods and Rockers have been held, attracting local, regional, national and, indeed, international media coverage. We welcome the Council’s decision last month to continue to allow official motoring events. However, the ongoing closure casts doubt on the less-official August Bank Holiday Mod Weekender, which attracts thousands of Mods, and over the years has brought in millions of pounds to our city and given pleasure to hundreds of thousands of people – locals and visitors. Madeira Drive is not purely the property of Brighton and Hove people. It’s a national and international destination – the spiritual home of Mods and Rockers and, of course, the setting for the iconic film Quadrophenia, a star of which, Gary Shail, has backed our campaign, describing the decision to keep Madeira Drive closed as ‘misguided and terrible’.

[LAURA] Our more than 10,600 supporters don’t want to consign our traditions and culture to the dustbin of history. Disabled people have also said the closure makes it hard for them to enjoy Madeira Drive and use the facilities provided for them.

Moreover, I work for the city’s heritage and believe the continued closure of Madeira Drive is detrimental to the prospects of restoring Madeira Terraces, which would reopen substantial pedestrian space and provide commercial opportunities. We welcome the Council’s decision to give all revenue from Madeira Drive parking toward the cost of restoring the Terraces and urge you to maximise that income.


[OLLIE] We endorse the Compromise Motion that Councillor Lee Wares is putting to your meeting today: to reopen Madeira Drive one way from the Aquarium Roundabout to Duke’s Mound, allowing a new cycle lane on the south-side of the road and between Duke’s Mound and Black Rock. It would allow access for mods and bikers and help the traders.  


[LAURA] The Motion is a fair solution to a highly controversial issue at a time when the Council should be trying to unite the people of Brighton & Hove and those who visit us. Our Petition has received almost three times the number of signatures of its rival cited by Councillor West with no reference to ours, and done so through the passion of stakeholders who use and visit Madeira Drive – not those who do not know where Madeira Drive is.


[OLLIE] Finally, when you vote on the Motion, we ask you to set aside party politics. Please think of all of the people you serve. Think about the local economy and local jobs. Think about our history, culture and traditions - and what makes people visit our fine city. Madeira Drive is a treasure. All the people who love it should be allowed to enjoy it equally. Tonight, YOU can make that happen.

[LAURA] We present our Petition of well over 10,600 signatures to Reopen Madeira Drive to all users.  [LAURA AND OLLIE] Thank you.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has helped in the Reopen Madeira Drive Campaign and Petition. Things will one day surprise us and come good again. 

What goes around comes around!

* Friday, 28 August:

Private Eye magazine has written a good article about the closure of Madeira Drive and the heritage implication (below).

Meanwhile, Mods are arriving for the Bank Holiday Weekender - and Madeira Drive is still shut!

Shame on you, Green/Labour Brighton & Hove City Council!

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