WAR STORIES

WAR STORIES

WAR STORIES

High above “The Garden of England”

I suppose it’s driving the school bus that makes the mind return to one’s own childhood and all that
entailed and can be remembered. In the UK we didn’t have school buses apart from those schools
that were not close to public transport routes so after primary education in the village school and
taking  the “then” dreaded 11+ exam it was off to the “big” school in the local town. I had 3 public bus
routes serving my village of Bridge, only three miles from my place of learning in Canterbury. All three
of these buses would arrive within 20 minutes in the morning, the 15 from Dover and then the 16 and
17 coming along two different routes from Folkestone and in the evening about the same schedule
leaving Canterbury but only one of each per hour.

My bus in the East Kent livery of red and cream

From the age of about 11 I was determined to join the Royal Air Force and very little else was of
interest to me at this age. Looking at my village where I grew up we had a collection of shops, a
bakery, chemist, several auto technicians, butchers, a barber, flower shop and for later delights………
3 public houses known to all and sundry as the village pub!

The Red Lion

Immediately opposite where I lived on the main road was what would become my  all time favorite,
“The Red Lion”, whose brewery was Fremlins, an old and established brewery who served a very good
pint of bitter. Further up the village, but within 300 yards was “The White Horse” which was owned by a
national company called Whitbread.

Never had all those hanging baskets in my day !

Next door to me was the Chemist and then the side street of “Brewery Lane” and on the other side of
the lane was the last pub called “The Plough & Harrow” who sold a Kent produced ale under the
Shepherd Neame banner. Two pubs within 50 feet of my front door!

The Plough & Harrow

At the bottom of Brewery Lane there was a private entrance to a large estate and delightful country
manor which was owned by the Neame family. This was later sold and became a nightclub where all
the rock bands of the era played including the Beatles and the Kinks. This was a late night venue after
all the mainstay pubs had closed as I discovered on one of my rare visits back to Bridge while I was
out in Cyprus flying the Canberra Bomber

My first “tour” on Canberra Bombers in Cyprus

Never having been a “Neamers Man” I was surprised doing this article to find out a lot about the
company after my cousin sent me an email with some of the Shepherd Neame advertising of their
latest beer. The company is the oldest brewery in Great Britain !! dating back to 1698 and since I left
Kent they have been hard at it buying up pubs throughout the south east of England.

Their new beer was introduced in 1990 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the WW II Battle of Britain
which took place predominately in the skies over Kent. The new beer was called “Spitfire” and their
advertising is a clever play on wartime memories and is all bannered under the “Bottle of Britain”.
Having flown with the real Battle of Britain Flight out of Coningsby in Lincolnshire for 8 years during my
time in the RAF their advertising and my boyhood memories had to be worth an article.

The Real Thing ! The RAF Battle of Britain  Memorial Flight

When this new beer came out I was in Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf War and at that time my favorite
gunmaker, Beretta, issued a Battle of Britain limited edition 12 bore to comemorate the 50th
anniversary. I was offered gun No 50/50 for the 50th and as money wasn’t an object snapped it up.
Needless to say 50/50 for the 50th was very special with exhibition wood, and gold engraving!

The B of B Beretta 687EELL  No 50/50

Engraved with WW II fighters instead of gamebirds

As with anything of a nostalgic note we remember what we want to remember and when one thinks
of WWII and aerial battles one of the first fighters that comes to mind is the Spitfire (and no doubt why
Shepherd Neame chose it for their new beer) whereas in reality the real “killing” machine was in fact
the Hawker Hurricane.

The timeless beauty of the Spitfire

The Hurricane

Anyway, that aside, let’s see what the advertising boys at Neamers came up with, I haven’t included
them all but here are some of my favorites.

An epic air battle over the Kent countryside

Not factually part of the actual Battle of Britain a Lancaster of 617 Squadron drops the “Barnes Wallis
bouncing bomb”  during the famous Dams Raid. However, having been on the Lanc for 8 years I’m
glad the Neamers Men included her in their advertising

617 Squadron with the bouncing bomb

Of course a fair number of enemy aircraft were also shot down having been identified by the Royal
Observer Corps who spent,like myself, hours studying aircraft recognition silhouettes to prevent
“blue on blue” engagements.

An AA battery crewed by  Timber Woods,  Chalkey White,  Nobby Clark
and Dusty Miller commanded by Sgt Lefty Wright

Another one that I like is the “play on words and misspelling, a bit George Bushish” but conveys the
message that Spitfire is beyond comparison.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever !

A flock of Focke Wulf 190’s

Our Neamers men also used a lot of the classic wartime banter and must have had a riotous time
coming up with some of the slogans. Phrases I remember from my time in the RAF were
“Wizard prang”, “What rotten luck”,  “Golly gosh !”, “Johnny went in the drink”, and so on.  Others were
various adaptations of Churchill’s famous remark ” Never was so much owed by so many to so few”
……… which while we were under training was changed to
“Never was so much owed by so Few to so many”   referring to our bank loans to pay for poor choices
of exotic cars, fast women and bouts of ill advised drinking!

Very clever ! but it never got into pint/print

The 6 minute pint !

and finally……..

I will have to wait until my next trip to Blighty but until then………….

SQN LDR TONY DOWN RAF (Rtd)

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  • 11/10/2010 8:57 PM Dave Rhodes wrote:
    I was only two years old when WW2 began, and when Dad went off to War – we were moved from the Birkenhead area to North Wales, staying with Granny before getting our own home. – Although a very long time ago, I still have memories of bombers overhead on route to Liverpool, and of Spitfires from the local airfield (Rednal) – gas masks and air-raid shelters became normal to us, as did seeing the German POW’s from a camp down the road.
    A fine article Tony and one which I will forward to my brother in the UK.
    Reply to this
  • 11/10/2010 9:30 PM jim crain wrote:
    Hey Tony, Thanks for the story. I love this stuff perhaps more than the trials. Veterans day tomorrow, different country but right concept for the holiday! Thanks for your service! Jim
    Reply to this
  • 11/7/2011 5:34 PM Eric Wilkinson wrote:
    Living on Greenford/Northolt border, we used to cycle along the A40 to the aerodrome to watch the action. From watching the man running out of the control tower and firing a warning Verey pistol in the air ,the aircrews running out of their huts,jumping into 15cwt trucks and being driven round to the aircraft dispersal points where the Spitfires were Quickly being started up by their ground crews.Then you heard the Merlins revving up ( a sound you never forget )and then the Spitfires taxied down to the easterly end of the airfield for take-off.What a sight to see 9 or 12 Spits taking off together across the bumpy grass airfield and then up into the western sky.That was 70 years ago and I can still see that scene now as if it were yesterday.We often saw them returning with bits of wing or tail missing !!We were often moved on by the police but how could we, as young boys , resist such excitement ? We always came back after they had gone.I was 14 at the time.
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CLOSING THE SHADE GARDEN

CLOSING THE SHADE GARDEN

CLOSING THE SHADE GARDEN

With fall upon us Brenda announces she wants to officially close the Shade Garden for the winter
months. The party will be on Monday and take the form of a “Cheese & Wine”. Well I didn’t expect the
recently acquired wines to make it to Christmas so no real surprises here.

The feast awaits…….

My tasks are simple, run into Cortez and get all the shopping and be ready to commence proceedings
at 2. All tasks completed, everything laid out out and ready to go by the appointed time.

Round 1

Nice cheeses

Fresh warm bread

The “to die for” blueberry chocs

Plan B is to scurry into the Lodge Room should it pour down with rain and Plan C is to press on
regardless should none of the limited invited guests show up. Predictably no body turns up and by
1530 two bottles of Merlot have hit the dust and the royal “WE” are in full swing and enjoying the feast.
Around 1600 the guests arrive and in short order immerse themselves in Napa’s finest.

Two bottles in, and going well

…..a little later

The fire is lit, guests arrive

By 1700 the party is in full flow, the fire is lit and the volume on the music is rising! The Rombauer
portish Zinfandel joins the empties collection amid the fast growing bottles of Merlot.

1800, the fire is burning brightly, a few lights have fallen off peoples christmas trees, the cheeses are
disappearing and so is the wine at an alarming rate !

The fast vanishing merlot

“It’s delicious !”

Enjoyed by all

As the mists of merlot, the bouquet of Napa, blend with the wood smoke of aspens, the participants
in this “Druidish” event become intoxicated with all growing things and dancing begins to celebrate
the great god of the shade garden, akin to being with the Oracle at Delphi.

Night descends over the Shade Garden

Mystical Druid smoke intoxicates all…….

Moved by the music

Some time later, we know not when, I am away in the well known land of nod.  It would seem that
during my slumbers the frogs and gnomes have tidied up, cheeses returned to colder climes, and
those bottles remaining re-racked for another day.

The scene tells all !

TONY DOWN

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PRECIOUS CARGO

 

 

PRECIOUS CARGO

PRECIOUS CARGO
Wednesday morning and at 0530 some awful noise erupts signalling my start time and back to Pied
Piper duties driving Cathy’s bus, no 22, for 3 days while she is away for a minor surgery.

Many of you, like myself, dread catching up with a morning or evening Yellow machine only to find that
just as a passing opportunity arrives those 8 way amber flashers start and you know what will happen
……. very soon the brake lights will come on and the ambers will change to RED.

Children dashing around and rushing to leave or meet parents and then the red signs are off and so
is the Formula 1 Bluebird who streaks off at warp speed and as you struggle to catch up, on come
those ambers again!

While YOU sit and fume, consider this……. I’m not a truck driver, my load is NOT secure, other than
mine there are NO seat belts, and the passengers come in all sizes from 5 year olds up to senior
citizen children moving into their next phase of life. I don’t have a manifest but I DO have a truck load of
responsibility. There could be up to 67 of them on board and just like an aircraft they take their time to
find a seat and sit down, and we won’t be moving until they are sitting. Periodically as a queue
develops behind the bus we will pull over and let you by so take advantage of this manoeuvre and be
on your way at whatever speed pleases you.

So you won’t find me speeding with talking, walking freight, and there are 6 mirrors on the Yellow Peril
which need to be incorporated in the “scan” and the bathroom size viewer above my head to see what
they are doing and take remedial action if needed. Driving one of these is intense and requires a
similar amount of attention to riding a motorcycle well.  As with all moving objects smoothness is the
key and a much higher level of anticipation is required to prevent hard braking and little unrestrained
faces banging into seat backs in front of them. Cast your own minds back and remember children
always end up falling face first into everything with the resultant nose bleeds!…. well mine did !

On most of the county roads the routes used are graded but tend to go wash boardy and have a few
bumps and potholes and I wonder what they will become in the snow which can only be a few weeks
away. I hear horror stories on each route and areas that can become treacherous even with chains
and retarders and try and remember where others have got stuck before me. Maybe its pride but this
School District does NOT have snow days! The manned machine WILL get through, or at least that’s
the impression I get so more challenges await the rookie driver.

Just another run to school

The bus will get through!

Of course as a parent you have a common sense choice of safety when it comes to your children but
questions must surely be asked when conditions are so adverse that even the plow is struggling.
However, I thank you for your trust, and hope that I can exercise my duties with the upmost care, and
collect and deliver your offspring, come rain or shine, …… and then when day is done, return them
warm and safe as they are indeed a PRECIOUS CARGO.

TONY DOWN

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TWO DAYS TO DOLORES

TWO DAYS TO DOLORES

TWO DAYS TO DOLORES

Monday morning and time to start the 1100 mile recovery leg back to Dolores. Just need to lash in the
bicycles, final check on the Bavarian thing and hope they all make it back in an upright position.
Glasses, bottles and all things breakable are stowed and around 0830 I get the all clear from the crew
to start engines.

“Captain to crew, prepare for engine start”

Back through town and a 30 mile southerly stint to rejoin that awful Californian section of I80. Nothing
changes and we bounce and bounce our way towards Sacremento and I’m mentally comparing this to
Paris – Roubet on the cobbles of the famous cycle race. Very soon we are in fog and then that changes
to gale force crosswinds and the fog is replaced with blowing dust ! The in flight drinks service is
problematic in these conditions.

Some Frisco fog rolls in

“I’ll take a brandy, and Perrier waters for them”

All to soon we are going uphill and now the rubberized surface goes back to lumpy concrete which
must have been layed in the 60’s and all needs replacing. Never mind California DOT are working on
the hard shoulders, a somewhat misguided use of funds in my opinion.

Well at least today we don’t have to go through California Customs & Immigration which on the way
out was a bit like “Will beg for groceries”
Q1  “What’s in the trailer?”
Q2 “Got any fruit ?”
Q3 “Got any root vegetables?”
Q4 “Got any firewood?”

Thank God we have made it over the summit at Donner Pass and the Nevada state line can’t be far
away. Down the hill and onto Nevada roads and a driving surface at last, and here I can’t help but
think perhaps Mister Swartzenegger should be taken on this ride to show him the difference between
a ROAD and a CART TRACK !

“I have to say these CA roads are bloody RUFF”

“Arnie, there is NO way a sleeping dog can lie on these roads !”

Through Reno so now how far can we get before nightfall ? I would like to make Wendover on the
Utah border which will then give us the 120 mile run into Salt Lake and if we leave circa 0800
tomorrow then we should be there after morning rush hour. Driving eastbound the setting sun is
obviously behind us today and barring any emergency we should be in Wendover about 8 tonight.
My main fear is a blown tire as tire carcasses seem to be the only road kill on this deserted highway.

Reno at last and back to smooth Nevada roads

No problems from the passengers on this leg other than some complaints about seating
arrangements in first class.

“I booked first class and don’t see why I should share with this dog”

Cresting the last ridge all the neon lights of another gambling mecca obscenely capture the night
sky. We drift into the Rainbow Casino’s parking lot and settle in amongst all the big rigs who clearly
use this as a regular rest point.

The gaudy Rainbow

Tuesday morning and on the road shortly after 8 we set sail over the marsh lands of Utah. The mind
imagines the thoughts of the early settlers as they tried to navigate the salt marshes and bogs with
their wagon trains. I can only imagine it must have taken nearly two weeks to get across those
marshes and get on higher ground around what would become Wendover.

Our crossing goes well, a last refueling at Tooele and onward down I15 to the turn off on 6 and up the
pass and down to Price. Today the weather is nice, Fall is here,  and unlike the rain day coming the
other way, we can see!

All the colors along 6

In the lower pass there are some giant wind turbines and we wonder just how big those blades are ?
We soon find out as trucks are coming down the hill carrying 2 a piece on over size loads.

These are new

That answers that question

Pretty big !

Miles and miles of Utah nothing we make Moab and now just a 2 hour jaunt to home. Bumpy but
simple driving and we make it to Cozy on time and as far as we know without  an “RV”  incident!

TONY DOWN

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SUNDAY IN CALISTOGA

SUNDAY IN CALISTOGA

SUNDAY IN CALISTOGA

Today the plan is to visit the park where we got married and take in a band festival that should be
playing at the site all day. Brenda rings the number only to be told it has been canceled.

The cycling plan is now abandoned so time for a bit more Beemering in the Napa Valley. Lets hope
we can get on the road before Rosa Klebb arrives with that clipboard.

As the bendy road was so much fun yesterday we will take that northbound and look at some of the
smaller towns along the way and investigate some of the foreclosures which are everywhere in these
hard financial times.

Once again its hot and a bit more two wheeled activity on the super bends and clearly some of the
riders are very familiar with the route and the sequence.

Those bends again !

Just gorgeous

We view a few of the foreclosure offerings, and for the money, some are excellent value while others
have little to offer as they have very little real estate and nowhere to park RV’s and trailers. Within the
mainstay of Napa Valley and Calistoga in particular there is nothing to indicate there was ever a
recession and house prices are still at a premium.

Sold for $355,000 in 2005, your’s today for $104,000

Having seen what we set off to see Brenda needs refueling so we give the Brewery in Middletown the
once over and try a couple of their beers. Well at least they give you a “sampler” and surprisingly I try
their Pale with Blackberry!  Not dissimilar to a lager & lime from my youth.

Middletown’s Brew Pub and Pizza joint

The Napa Valley really is a beautiful place and with all the grapes, firs and sun dried burnt off grasses
it reminds me of all my years spent in Cyprus, my personal jewel of the Mediterranean. We pass so
many vineyards with a ton of grapes still on the vines and wonder whether any of them will make a
special “to die for” wine from the 2010 vintage.

More bendy roads

Grapes, firs and dead grassy hillsides just like Cyprus

Evening by a lake

A very warm ride into a setting sun back down the bendy road and now time to reload the Beemer and
attempt to keep it upright for the 1100 mile home run. This gets completed, and no sign of Rosa or that
bloody clipboard. Tonight will be a gentle cycle into town, a wander round those shops still open and
take in a little evening repast to wrap up our visit to this magical place.

Downtown Calistoga for the last time of this visit

TONY DOWN

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A BASH ON A BASHED BEEMER

A BASH ON A BASHED BEEMER

A BASH ON A BASHED BEEMER

Saturday morning and with hangovers dwindling time to get the bikes and the Beemer out to play as
Brenda wants to visit all the local small towns. First task is to empty the tanks as our current slot has
no dump facility. Jacks up once more, all shore lines disconnected and another trundle around the
park to the dump station.

Dumped and set up again

Dumping complete back to the given slot and no way to make 135 turn so out on the main road and
around a square of right, right, right and right again for a straight on entry.  All reestablished when
Chucky’s bride, Rosa, arrives with her clip board once more to tell us we are taking up TWO slots and
must move again!!  Everything unplugged once more and the jacks are getting a real good workout
and off again around the park and park in the opposite direction as if I go any further left I will hang
over the slot both front and back.

“You are to move zee bus….. or zeeese gentlemen vill do it !”

Lined up again facing the other way I now find our neighbor has both 30 amp outlets feeding his rig ?
Consult Miss Chucky who, after another blasting from Brenda, says we can have BOTH slots but, now
as I can’t reach the other power pedestal, its jacks up again and once more round my multiple rights
square!

Thanks ! …… my “Power Hog” neighbor

“Zerr vill be no more moving of zee bus !”

Finally established, jacks down water and 30 amp on, time to get the bikes out of the trailer.  After
dealing with Rosa we now encounter the second nightmare of the morning………. thanks to the
disgraceful California roads the Beemer has toppled over in the trailer despite 4 rachet tie downs.
Eventually get all 850 lbs of Bavarian machinery upright and drag it out to survey the damage. With
all the bouncing up and down across these so called freeways full of potholes one of the circular tie
down points has unraveled like a cheap piece of macaroni allowing the full tension on the other to
pull the bike over. The nice chrome runner above the side buffer has shattered being chromed
plastic!!!! and the top of the passenger seat has a hole rubbed in it. Not a happy camper!!!

Expensive Bavarian chromed plastic

There’s a hole in my Beemer, dear Rosa, a hole………

Now its very warm and with all the twoing and froing we need to get this show on the road and get
stuck into some bendy roads. Mapquest shows some real “bendy bits” on a local road leading up to
Middletown. Well worth a look so lets go.

Ooooooohh !!

The bends are as good for real as they look on the map but as they just keep coming there is little
chance of much in the way of accels from the apexes as you are immediately confronted with yet
another blind one. Man, you would need to ride this road a few times to get the hang of it.

The fun starts here with an uphill right…

Another blind left

Zipper de doo da……

Zipper de dey……

…….. my, oh my, what a beautiful day………..

Power on……..

“We feel the need 4 speed”

Into Middletown which is similar to Dolores in many respects with its own Brewery and Pizza tavern
and the local spit & sawdust bar across the street called Nobles. A quick break here for refreshments
and on past more vineyards and down the road less traveled in the search for Pope Valley. Roads
here are a mix of straights and then some bendy bits leading us down the other side of the Napa
Valley.  Another nature break and we find some giant fir cones which of course Brenda wants for
Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations. Somewhere south and near St Helena we rejoin the
Silverado Trail and wend our way Northbound to the outskirts of Calistoga.

Bendy ? yes, but some straight bits too

Souvenir giant fir cones

Time to change the Beemer into bicycles and head off into town for our anniversary supper. A couple
of drinks and a nice bottle of merlot from Sterling Vineyards, somewhere we need to visit next time,
and into the meal of Oysters for her and Mussels for him followed by Fillet (superbly cooked) creamed
spinach, and some cheesy potatoes. I’m done but Brenda takes a Creme Brulee to finish a
memorable meal and a nice day.

The end of our Anniversary Meal

 Pedalling home in a pleasant 70 degrees at an altitude near sea level is so much nicer than 7000′
in Dolores!

TONY & BRENDA

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A DAY OUT WITH BACCHUS

A DAY OUT WITH BACCHUS

A DAY OUT WITH BACCHUS

The Roman God of all things grape and wine was Bacchus, who later went on to win the title of
“God of Orgies” but today we will concentrate just on his love of the grape.

Nice one Bacchus !

Suitably refreshed after a good nights rest I’m ready to take on the might of the Napa harvest and
Brenda has many a bottle on her shopping list. Our plan, subject to Jason the driver, will be to try for a
few new wineries and of course still take in a couple of our favorites including Frank’s and Rutherford
Hill. …… and a stop at Dean & Delucca’s for some high end cheese for the picnic.

Brenda continues phoning the office to check on our slot but still no answer which is getting annoying.
We are due to leave on the wine tour at 1100 so time to get showered and changed and be ready with
dogs walked and their hair still on them and not on us!

More phone calls and still nothing, and then at 1050 some woman arrives with a clip board,  and had
she had an arm band she could easily have been Rosa Klebb or the Camp Commandant. She tells
Brenda they don’t retrieve their messages, she is also new, she doesn’t know our booking, but we
MUST move NOW !!

“You are to move zeee coach…. NOW !”

Just as I’m disconnecting everything and getting the jacks up Jason arrives! Round the park twice and
finally into another slot which only has 30 amp and no dump facilities. Seems the Safari will run on 30
amp as long as services are selected one at a time and no overloads occur, well we will sort all this
out tomorrow!

Into the Limo, and off to Frank’s who supplied the Champers at our wedding FOC so we need to say
thank you yet again. Things have changed dramatically here and the old uneven floored shack has
been replaced with nice gardens and an upmarket tasting room. As much fun as before, champers to
start, then the room temperature Chardonnay “Because we can!” and onto the reds and of course the
LPR Zinfandel (Liquid Pantie Remover). They also have a new “writer” who decribes wines in a way
that defies any rational sense !

I just might agree

The new upmarket tasting rooms


Imaginative writing

A couple of bottles later and Brenda already has a buzz, we venture into a new one for us at the
Rombauer Vineyards. Beautiful gardens in a truly lovely setting but our tasting host is somewhat snotty
and also reluctant to pour before dollar bills are exchanged. Jason sweetens the deal and snot nose
is put in his place as we wander through his selection. Nothing really of note until we get to the 2008
Zinfandel which has a delightful “Port” consistency and goes exceedingly well with chocolate. Can’t
resist a couple of bottles of this even if snot nose isn’t keen on giving us the normal complimentary
glasses. Also not keen on me having two pieces of chocolate!

Someone is a keen gardener

The Tasting rooms

Getting a buzz !

Off the hill and down to the valley floor once more and into another new location at Wm Harrison.
Brenda goes barrel hunting and another tasting begins on some rather bland but expensive offerings.
However, despite Brenda’s wish to buy up the place we just settle for fun conversation with jovial
bartending lady and purchase a nice bottle of their 2008 Pinot Noir.

Brenda takes her own tour

How much by the cask ?

“You bought ONE ! …with REAL money

Jason and I wait

Time for picnic bits so off to Dean &  Delucca and after their mini tastings suitable cheeses, a fig jam
and an olive loaf are in our hamper and we set off upward for our favorite of Rutherford Hill.

Any of that 2001 ?

While tasting some of their selections we mention the long standing story of the 2001 Merlot which
was without doubt the best wine we ever tasted on our first visit. Lo, and behold, the man says he
thinks he saw some of it recently. While he vanishes into the bowels of the cellars we arm ourselves
with the classic opener, two boxes of the “to die for” blueberry chocolates and a souvenir book to mark
the occasion. ….. and lo, our man returns with a case of the 2001, two bottles of their port and our first
two bottles from their monthly wine club.

Armed with all our goodies time to take the party outside and enjoy the gorgeous picnic setting while
looking across the valley.

Fantastic views

Exactly what we came for

Yum, yum !

One bottle less, cheeses part consumed, the delightful day runs to a close and all too soon we are
back in Calistoga and rapidly (in my case) falling asleep.

He was a good bottle

TONY DOWN

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STOP WHINING, START WINING

STOP WHINING, START WINING

STOP WHINING, START WINING

A boom of thunder at 0600 puts all thoughts of further sleeping aside and now I can hear the pouring
rain thrashing against the windows and sheeting off the roof…… well better get into action so while
coffee is underway time to look outside and survey the synoptic situation. Very wet, and still flashes
and crashes from the thunderstorms which seem to be all around us.

Breakfast will be taken on board so time to walk the pack who know that today is the “road trip” but
then they thought it was yesterday too and spent the whole day squeaking and cooing like a flock of
doves. Bag after bag of goodies once more are deposited for yours truly to hump onto the coach……
and I thought we WERE loaded !

0845, we are all done, Luna the cat, is our final passenger and with all checks nearly complete and
only 45 mins adrift…… “Gentlemen Start Your Engines”………. nice idea, the giant CAT motor thrashes
itself to death cranking over furiously but for some reason it refuses to fire?   ……….
oh, for FS ! not NOW !!!!!

This is MY first road trip!

Further attempts are fruitless and while engineering go through intensive diagnostics the Starship
won’t start Impulse engines. …… and now the fridge lights have gone out, the main computer panel
isn’t functioning and neither is the inverter panel and it seems we have lost all 12 volt services. There
is a Master switch in the doorwell but this is in the correct position so we are none the wiser.

With visions of a disaster in the making time to haul out the battery tray and see what the rain and
storm could have done to upset the fully functional ship which was running fine yesterday. Clean the
batteries and as I’m working I’m told we now have power to the fridge, so maybe I’m in the right
department. Wire brush everything and more and more services come back on line ?…….. time for
another crank of the motor.

It runs, so without risking anything else the ignition key is left in place and the rest are removed as I
set off to secure all the open panels. At 0945 the rig is on the move, harmony is restored, and Luna the
cat is completely unphased by the whole operation and seems to be enjoying her first road trip.

I don’t need any directions for the first 1000 miles so we set off through Monticello, Moab and then up
to I70 for a short run before turning North on 6 to mate up with I15 at Provo. Northbound there is a lot of
black cloud and by the time we arrive at the foothills at Price its full wiper time and we are in continuous
rain. Out of the mountains and 50 miles north on I15 to Salt Lake to pick up I80 and then Westbound
across the Great Salt Lake, past the exit for the Tooele Trials then Wendover, Reno and onward to
Sacremento.

Seems everyone is out and about today in a “Cruise America” thing and you always know when there
is one ahead of you as the entire caravan of traffic slows up and then maintains a nice steady 50 mph!
Maybe they have a limiter on the motor or maybe the drivers are petrified of going any faster. Today we
are only 100 miles into the route and I’ve counted 16 of them already.

Finally he gets back in “his” lane

Out of Moab and the site of Jim Lipscombe’s Red Rock Rumble trial from 2006. This was held on a
pocket handkerchief piece of land which was covered in excavated rocks while work was taking place
on the hotel behind. Strangley the wheel tracks are still there today like Dinosaur tracks and in the 4
years since the event they still haven’t moved the rocks!

Wheeltracks to the left of the sign where a section was

Out of Price and into the bad weather

Heavy, continuous rain for the next 300 miles!

The rain continues and now its very windy and road signs tell us 50 mph winds at Tooele !  Well as I
struggle to hold a straight line with 60′ of slab sided vehicle I can believe it!!  Refuel at Tooele and for
once the card and pump are in harmony and I get fuel without the two duty visits inside the main
building. Back on the road we find the first victim of the winds as an 18 wheeler is on its side and
recovery trucks are everywhere.

This doesn’t look good !

The Boss will not be pleased

Through Wendover and the first signs of the gambling obsession as we hit the Nevada line. However,
the rain has stopped but the good thing is that its thick cloud covering the setting sun so driving is
relatively pleasant. With the 2 hour delay this morning the decision is Elko and we roll in at 1945 with
just over half distance completed.

The new plan says leave early, avoid Sacremento rush hour like the plague, and try and hold a 65
average on the freeway. Good plan but  although I’m willing consulting my watch on wake up it says
0745, but its still darkish ?  Ah, ha! we are now in Pacific, so its only 0645 and I can be on the road
before 8.

Miles and miles of nothing but Nevada roads are a pleasure to drive on unlike the crap cart tracks
of Arizona and certain parts of Colorado……… but we know we still have California to deal with!

Mile after mile of Nevada nothing, but the roads are gorgeous

Apart from the awful California roads which are a state disgrace, potholes, chunks of concrete
missing and bone jarring jolts as every crack is crossed…… and even where they have tried to repair
the roads in a half arsed way the surface is still below an acceptable standard, and why oh why are
there pieces of the new surface missing every time there is a bridge?

Finally  the eyeballs drop back in their sockets as the turn off for Napa is made. A gentle trundle up
the valley through all the pleasant towns and roadside famous vineyards, more of which we will see
tomorrow. 1700 Pacific time we pull into our slot in Calistoga. Connections all made time for a couple
of beers and some well earned rest.

Almost there, the town of St Helena

Brenda’s favorite avenue of trees

You “can” smell the grapes……… honest!

The place they have allocated us is not what we asked for as we needed full hook up on a pull
through with 50 amp service. The one we are given is a “back in” and not acceptable as I don’t wish to
off load the trailer. Brenda leaves many messages on the answer phone but no replies tonight so we
will sort it out tomorrow.

TONY DOWN

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NIP OFF TO NAPA

 

NIP OFF TO NAPA

NIP OFF TO NAPA

It’s October again and Brenda’s tip jar is full so time to “Nip off to Napa” once more and explore the
grape harvest and no, if the coach keeps running we won’t be going to the other NAPA, the auto store!

All preparations are made, Wednesday will be departure day, and we won’t be taking trials bikes and
won’t be going to Hollister either.  Food and provisions are all duly loaded on Monday so Tuesday sees
me loading the trailer, attending to last minute garden and household duties before checking the bus
and getting all ship shape while Brenda takes on her last of the week pizza making activities at the
Brewery.

Trailer all swept out, all the trials spare boxes unloaded, riding kit removed and all things Beemer
loaded in their place. The Beemer battery had been on charge all day Monday so only a quick
refuelling trip and tire check and she should be ready. Quick  spit and polish and she is looking good.
The duty check over on the bus, more oil in the motor, coolant good, tires still at their spec. Run
Brenda into work, move the trailer around the front and change over to the Safari and off for the next
dose of expensive fluids. Now back with full tanks and ready to hitch up the trailer without my assistant,
a few in and outs of the coach but eventually get the tow ball under the trailer hitch  (must be all the
School bus reversing!)…… all connected, lights working, time to load the Beemer. Not an easy solo
task but with a bit of thought she is lashed in place. The two bicycles are next just in case madam
wants to cycle round Calistoga with full wine tanks.

With all pre departure duties done for my part,  just clothes and remaining vitals to load in the
morning for our theoretical 0800 departure and the 1100 mile run into deepest California. Time to
consult Mapquest and see how far I can drive tomorrow. Like most things in life, 2 choices, either
695 miles to the Walmart at Winnemucca, NV, or 575 to another supercenter at Elko also in NV.
Weather conditions and a host of other factors will determine the final outcome, and of course with
all the good intentions in the world when has one of these trips ever left on time?

TONY DOWN

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A TEAR IN THE EYE

A TEAR IN THE EYE

A TEAR IN THE EYE

My “Blackcat” logo

About February 1995 I was sitting outside my house in Phoenix having a smoke when a small
tortoishell cat appeared on the patio with much mewing. Clearly a feral cat she backed off whenever I
went near, but once I was seated again she would return. Water, milk, some pieces of ham and
chicken and then she was gone. Night after night the ritual continued for about a week until she would
then stay on the patio until I went inside.

Another week and she gets bolder and eventually enjoys my affections and stroking and arches her
back to show acceptance. Now she is around the house all day and gone after her evening meal until
one morning she pokes her head through the kitchen door only to find Max the labrador and Dopey the
spaniel flopping around on the cool tile floor. Both dogs collected a few “Ali” butterfly jabs and hooks
and in no time accepted they were no match for the intruder.

Raticus rules

The fur bundle is here to stay so a name has to be given? Finally, “Raticus” is the given handle and
“Ratcat” seems the norm. The inbred survival and hunting expertise is evident and she continually
brings me presents of Quail and Rabbit along with Lizards which are continuous play things until they
leave their tail at the scene and scuttle off under the fridge or TV to die and the stink the house out until
the remains are found.

Raticus, has a couple of litters, fathers unknown, and I decide to keep one who is a big grey male cat
with a black moustache who was appropriately called Adolf.  He became very submissive and mother,
Ratcat, would knock the stuffing out of him in daily playfights. A very happy cat he went to the Vet to be
neutered but whether they screwed up the injection I shall never know as I was less than 3 miles away
having dropped him off when they rang me on my cell to say he had passed away? I rather think a new
nurse in training had given him an overdose by mistake.

When Brenda and I first met she had her own grey long haired cat called Luna and after many
weekends Luna moved in with me and Ratcat about a month before Brenda did. Well at least they had
someone to box with and play hide and seek.

The Luna cat

Dogs, puppies and others come and go and neither cat is phased with any of the new arrivals and
quickly stamp their seal of disapproval on any behavior that doesn’t conform to feline wishes.

With a major dog flap in the rear door the cats come and go as they please and on all our RV
adventures they stayed at home supplementing their endless food supply with more fresh rabbits and
other creatures. The move to Colorado sees a change in their lifestyle as we are close to the main
road and although they may have adapted the decision is for them to be “house” cats.

On our return from Casper in September the Ratcat is looking much thinner and although still eating
well and very playful she is turning into a bag of bones. We suspect she is fading. No signs of
discomfort, she enjoys life to the full pushing her nose under my elbow while I’m eating, reminding me
that there must be a tasty morsel on the plate for her!

“Are you looking at me ?”

Friday, October 1st and Ratcat is sitting looking at the water bowl and hardly replying to my ridiculous
cat noises. Later she disappears under the bed, a well known don’t bother me cat antic. In the evening
she is not present for the family meal and we are getting a shade worried.

2140, and after a day in hiding I find her on the bathroom floor. I pick her up and bring her into the
lounge where she looks at all the dogs and me and settles down on my lap. I cuddle and stroke her
and she is seemingly content and at exactly 2200 she stops breathing. Her life is done, she had
waited all day to say those last goodbyes and now she is away to enjoy her remaining other 8 lives.

Saturday morning and armed with pick axe, shovels various and other tools a final resting place is dug
under a big tree and close to one of my raised beds. She is laid to rest, never to be forgotten, as my
longest friend in the USA. Suitable headstones are found and Raticus has her own place on this planet
and in my heart.

R.I P.

TONY DOWN

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  • 10/8/2010 9:16 PM Scott wrote:
    I am sorry for your loss Tony.
    Reply to this
  • 10/11/2010 1:17 PM Peter Revesz wrote:
    Real sorry mate, I came on this site looking for a trials Bullet and got sidetracked by this… I know what it’s like after burying several cats over the last few years… they have a habit of doing this to us but we still don’t learn, do we?
    Reply to this
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