Early train to Manchester this morning, and Robin picks me up from the station. He drives me to Charlotte’s and we drop off my bag before heading over to Bowlee Riders. Rob part owns Bowlee – it’s a motorcycle training business based in Middleton. If anyone needs a CBT in the Manchester area, get over there.
In no time at all I’m sitting on a Honda Grom.
I’ve got it for the week. It’s a tiny little 125cc machine, beautifully kitted up. For something so small it packs a surprising punch. Much as I like to jump in with both feet, I’m very aware of how much damage these things can do so I’m cautious. Robin shouldn’t still be alive after breaking everything a few years ago and he’s training me. He gives me an earpiece and I almost rip my ear off getting the helmet on. Second attempt is more successful though, and before long I’m out on the road with both my ears and Robin behind me giving me tips and instructions as we go. With him behind me taking away the responsibility of thinking about where I’m going I can focus wholly on stuff like not going face first into a wall, cancelling my indicator and avoiding the potholes. The roads in Manchester are in a condition you’d expect from somewhere that has recently suffered an aerial bombardment. Which makes it a good city in which to get used to biking. Another great friend who teaches motorcycling says “You’re invisible and everyone is trying to kill you ” In Manchester the roads are trying to kill you too. You have no choice but to concentrate.
We ride for a long time before eventually we get to The Royal Northern College of Music. This is where I’ll be working, and we pull up out the front. Immediately I run into the Assistant Director who persuades me to come in for a costume fitting on my day off in exchange for a couple of rounds of drink and some meal tickets. I drink some Estrella 0.0, keep the vouchers for another day, and try out my costume.
I’m already in love with my trenchcoat.
Duty discharged I got back on the bike, but this time it was dark and I didn’t have the disembodied voice of Robin to see me right. Driving a bike is a visceral experience, even this little Grom. You are constantly totally alert. If you’ve got an itch you mostly can’t scratch it. My hands got so cold at the start that I can still feel the residual chill in them now, hours later. I got lost on the way home. My helmet strap was digging into my neck. My nose was running. And I didn’t care enough to stop because the whole experience was forcing me to be utterly completely and uncompromisingly alert with all senses and wide awake and loving it. Now I have some glove liners thanks to Robin. I have a waterproof armoured coat too. Tomorrow it might rain, and perversely I’m quite looking forward to riding in the wet. It’ll be hard. I’ll need to be awake. But for tonight I’m already in bed in this lovely little room, and I’m tired from the riding. It takes it out of you. For someone that relishes challenge, riding an unfamiliar machine that’s a feather away from death through an unfamiliar city – that somehow counts as fun. Some of us are just wired that way. But don’t fret. Robin is a very careful and patient instructor and I know I wouldn’t be extended this generosity if he didn’t know of me that I’m going to be as careful as possible on the thing. Despite it being so much fun.