On cold and wet Monday night in February, a figure is stooping over a partly undressed motorcycle. The floodlight illuminating his formerly high-vis coat that's now anything but, while the rain drips gently from his nose. The beam of his head torch attempts to light the odd corners of the bike as he tries to reassemble the bike like a three-dimensional jigsaw.
Tuesday dawns and it's bitterly cold. I'm booked on to the lunchtime ferry from Holyhead to Dublin, and it's going to be a ride to be endured rather than enjoyed. The panniers are filled and fitted to the bike, I've got a few extra layers of clothing on, the bike is outside the house and it's time to go.
Where's the key?
I've just taken the bike out of the garage, and I needed to key for that - it can't be far away... It's not in the top-box, it's not in my jacket or trousers. Or my trousers under my over-trousers. Or the kitchen. Or the lounge. Or the key storage place. Or the study. Or on the drawers in the bedroom... ARGH!
Twenty minutes later than planned, I'm on my way after finding the key in the bathroom(!). I don't get far before the storm-collar on my jacket comes undone at the wrong end of the zip. Pulling over in to a lay-by on the A1 I try to put it right, and end up spending an age trying to unzip and reattach the collar to the jacket (it's never done that before!). Do you ever get the feeling you're not supposed to be going away?
Setting off again I settle in for the long haul to Holyhead in Wales where I have an appointment with the aptly named Stena Adventurer for a crossing to Dublin.
The A14 is a dull road, and the M6 isn't much better. Eventually the cold gets the better of me, and I stop for a coffee at Stafford Services. I'm only there for twenty minutes, but in that time I get a phone call from the builder who was supposed to come and do an estimate at the weekend. "No, you can't come today, I'm not going to be there".
Turning off the Motorway network on to A roads, the traffic isn't too bad and I make reasonable progress. Not long after crossing in to Wales I need some fuel and pull off the dual carriageway in to a petrol station: "What's that on the road? Diesel? Oh joy...".
No harm done, and as I leave I see someone setting about with a bucket of sand. "You're going to need a lot more than that!".
The sun is shining as I arrive at the ferry terminal and check in for the crossing. The HSS is moored against the quay, and the Irish Ferries boat is also in town. My boat, Stena Adventurer, is at the other side of the harbour and we trundle from one holding area to the next until eventually the bike is aboard and securely strapped down. I'm the only bike on the crossing.
Travelling alone, I've opted for the Stena Plus upgrade with a separate lounge offering free tea, coffee, pastries, nibbles and the like, which gives the possibly false sense of security that I can leave my bike kit while wandering around the ship.
One of the perks of Stena Plus, if you're a car driver, is priority boarding. You're given a card to hang on your rear-view mirror which also has the magic code to open the door to the lounge. I wasn't driving a car, didn't have a rear-view mirror to hang the card, didn't get priority boarding, and didn't have the code to get in to the lounge. Fail.
Thankfully there are stewards present who let me in once I'd convinced them that I had paid for the upgrade, and that I didn't realise I was supposed to have been given an access card at check-in ("If I'd known, I'd have asked for it!").
It was a very smooth crossing, and we slid gently alongside in Dublin at 17.00 that evening. Just in time for rush-hour. If you've ever been to Dublin you'll know just how bad the traffic is, and whilst there is a tunnel from the port that bypasses the city centre, it's 10€ for cars and motorbikes (but free for lorries and coaches). I guess the aim is to attract the bigger vehicles and keep them out of the city.
I'm booked in to the Holiday Inn Express, Dublin Airport, so I battle through the traffic (not easy on the Adventure with panniers!) and finally get there to discover there's no HIE at the airport. After a couple of laps of the airport I give up and stop at a hotel I'm told used to be Holiday Inn and get given directions back towards the city centre. Ho hum...
All in all, not the greatest start to a holiday. Having been made redundant at the end of January, I decided to do a bit of travelling. The original plan was to go to Iceland, but the ferry doesn't start running until April and I'd managed to secure a new job starting in March. The alternative plan was to go to Ireland and have a wander around: I've not been there for many, many years despite having originally come from Belfast.
With the first, slightly inauspicious, day out of the way, I was looking forward to the rest of the trip.