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12th February 2004
Daisy's Diary: T-Days in Belgium
Graham and Chris Ham venture overseas again on Daisy, the 1948 Triumph Speed Twin. They encounter cobbles and endure a tank-slapper, spring an oil leak and ride away with panniers full of prizes...
It was dawn on a Saturday in mid-June. As Chris and I loaded Daisy into the long-suffering Espace, with a glorious sunrise just peeping over the rooftops, I felt irritated all over again that the ferry companies' refusal to consider motorcyclists as 'normal' people makes all this faffing necessary.
We were heading for the Triumph Owner's Club T-Days rally in Belgium, but had to do the Channel crossing with Daisy in the car, as the ticket for Daisy was going to cost some £115. With Daisy tucked away in the car, a special offer ticket only cost £20! As I travel a lot to foreign climes, I must take whatever savings that I can get.
As we crossed the Channel, the sunrise turned into one of those balmy, calm summer days we dream about, and we couldn't wait to ditch the car as soon as possible in France and hit the roads in proper style. Once out of the port of Calais we found the first available jumping-off point, pulled Daisy and the gear out, checked our route maps and looked forward to the morning's ride in almost perfect conditions .
As Daisy fired up, I was reminded that I had yet to sort out the timing gear rattle which came courtesy of the Alton alternator conversion. She sat warming up, sounding like a Massey Ferguson tractor, but we were soon on our way and the noise disappeared almost immediately. We'd got about 110 miles to do so it was a comfortable hop which we could undertake at a leisurely pace. We got onto the E40, which took us all the way up past Dunkirk, Ostend, Brugge and eventually, just past Ghent, we found the turn-off that took us down towards Zotegem and the T-Rally site. Daisy was once again performing faultlessly and it was just before 10am when we entered Velzeke.
Now, for those of you who hold the belief that the Sprung Hub was Eddie's greatest joke on his paying public, I can tell you that a Mk1 sprung hub, two-up, loaded for camping, is HIGHLY amusing on cobbles. And we were horrified to find that, once off the main routes, much of Belgium is cobbles! Old, uneven cobbles! Daisy was all over the place as we followed the little 'Triumph' signs to the site, and I felt like my teeth had all come loose by the time we found it! (I can't imagine what it was like for Chris on the little pillion pad).
So - we'd arrived - we rolled into the welcome canopy, collected tickets, mugs and badges before proceeding on to the well-appointed focus for the Rally. And here our Belgian friends had another little booby-trap for Daisy - a gravel road. 'So what ?' I here you all say. Well I'll tell you - the gravel, which is fairly firm for the first twenty feet, suddenly became about a foot deep and looser than an MP's morals. Daisy's little thin tyres ploughed in, the balance went, followed by desperate over-compensation on my part, the end result of which was a slow motion tank-slapper in front of the appreciative crowd. Gawd knows what they all thought, we must have looked like paid-up performers from Billy Smart's Circus!
We managed not to actually fall off, and pulled up onto the parking area where Daisy was determined to build on the bad entrance by putting particular effort into clanking and clattering her timing gear. I could feel the curious glances and stares burning into us - 'What...' they were thinking '...is that bloody awful noise ?'
Dismounting, we were quickly embraced by our fellow enthusiasts, who clearly had travelled from the four quarters of Europe. We detected German, French, Dutch and Belgian dialects but soon realised something strange - the word 'Daisy' with various accented pronunciation kept cropping up. I whispered to Chris, who confirmed that I wasn't imagining things - Daisy was definitely known to a number of these people!
I found myself being addressed by a large Belgian, complete with 'OK Corral' moustache, who introduced himself as Jan Vanden Bosche, president of the Triumph Owners' Club in Belgium. Jan was the rally organiser - our host - and he explained that Daisy is quite the celebrity in Belgium since her travels were chronicled both by a classic magazine and in 'Nacelle', the TOMCC's monthly rag. He quickly described the weekend for us, told us where everything was and explained that we could get breakfast next, courtesy of the little orange tickets dished out at the entrance. That done, we spent a while chatting to Jan, as well as the various people who came to examine the source of that clatter!
So, it was time to set up camp, before returning to mill about and drool over the various machines on display, which range from classic all the way through to Hinckley's finest offerings - a real mixed bag, but almost exclusively Triumph. The day had turned murderously hot and we were waiting for the afternoon run, which was due to be a 30 mile bimble through the countryside to a historic distillery - so that's all right then!
We set off at around 2pm, and it was soon distressing us that Jan seemed to have carefully selected the route to take in as many cobbled roads, farm tracks and railway crossings as he could find. The sprung hub was having a party at the back, whilst the slow pace necessary on such surfaces kept the revs just right for maximum clatter from the timing chest. By the time we reach the distillery, I desperately need a stiff drink!
We sampled some pleasant liquids, in blazing hot sunshine, before heading off to visit the TOMCC Belgium club bar. A very pleasant bar it is too. The sort of bar you never see in Olde Englande, but which our continental friends excel at. We spent a pleasant hour here, mercifully inside in the cool, before returning via some bigger, smoother roads (thank gawd) to prepare for the evening's cavorting and general larks.
By evening, we'd connected up with a contingent from the Berkshire TOMCC -- a regular bunch of rally-ers who we met at the Concorde rally last year. The same faces were at this one, and they know all about having a good time! Dinner duly came and went, consisting of entrees, soup, Flemish stew and chips followed by ice creams. This was liberally interspersed with a constant flow of those dangerous Belgian beers.
After dinner, we were entertained by excellent live music, enjoyed all the more when we discovered that we had wine tokens amongst the rally pack goodies (duly converted and drunk). Our position on the balcony outside made for a very pleasant evening. The forecourt was packed with bikes, and people were milling about all evening admiring the machinery, chatting, singing, drinking and generally chilling out in the warm summer evening. Eventually Jan conducted the awards and raffle and we were amazed that Daisy picked up the Best In Show award (so clearly this wasn't a judged by shiny bits and originality!), as well as the 'oldest bike ridden to the rally trophy. Chris went up to collect the trinkets and came back bursting with pride.
We finally stumbled off to the tent at around two in the morning, failed utterly to find the light or the kettle, gave up and collapsed in a heap, thoroughly content. Morning duly came, and it's probably not necessary to describe the sorry state of either Chris or myself. We met up with the Berkshire boys again at breakfast and seeing them clearly suffering made us feel much better...
And so it came to that time when we reluctantly packed up the gear, said our goodbyes and headed off towards home. Everyone was used to the clattering now, and we only got a coupled of puzzled glances as we fired Daisy up. We stopped for go-go juice quite early and found that the new Alton had worked itself loose and chewed up the cork gasket during this trip, so we had to stop every 20km or so to wipe up the oil that gathered around the front of the timing chest and was blowing over my boot.
As we headed back down the E40, there was a steady stream of Triumphs coming past us. Daisy certainly wasn't going to keep up with that lot, so we exchanged waves with most as they headed to the horizon, leaving us chuffing along at 65 in the nearside lane, contemplating what had been an altogether pleasant event.
So the Triumph Owners' T-Days Rally gets the Daisy seal of approval, and it's definitely one to put on your calendar if you can. Jan and his club put a lot of effort into this and it shows.
Thanks TOMCC Belgium - see you next year!
Worryingly, we found two sets of dates listed for this event in 2004, but we're pretty sure that June 25-27th is the right weekend.
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