The Christmas Cracker

The Christmas Cracker

Club Run, Saturday 17th December, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                104 km/65 miles with1,019 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                       4 hours 27 minutes

Average Speed:                              23.4 km/h

Group size:                                      28 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                  7°C

Weather in a word or two:          Rinse and repeat?


 

 

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Ride Profile

 


The Ride:

For what was surely an unprecedented third week in a row, we were rewarded with surprisingly mild December weather for what would be an important club run – our annual Christmas Jumper ride. Having determined that next week’s Christmas Eve ride might be less well populated as family concerns get in the way of the serious business of bike riding, this was the chosen day for fun, frivolity and … err … looking a bit of a tit.

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The Christmas Cracker – featuring the artistic talents of Mr Phil Smith …

In a “if you can’t beat ‘em, embrace em” moment, I’d blinged up the Pug with tinsel and fairy lights wrapped around the top tube and found a workable, half-assed concession to tastelessness: a bright red Star Wars-themed jumper featuring repeating patterns of storm troopers, AT-AT’s Tie Fighters, light sabres and Darth Vader as a passable substitute for snowflakes, garlands, holly, snowmen, Santa Claus and all that usual festive guff. It would have to do.

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… a “blinged-up” Pug …

Making my way across to the meeting point reminded me why, despite ridicule from the general public, cycling specific clothing is really the only sensible stuff to wear on a bike. A rapid descent found the wind cutting straight through the jumper and chilling me instantly, while clambering back up the other side of the valley, its lack of breathability soon had me sweating and soaked.

Combine the two effects and repeat several times and you have the recipe for a truly uncomfortable ride. It was like stepping back in time to when I first started cycling – a period before lycra and other high-tech sports fabrics – a time of cotton undershirts, thick woollen jerseys and shorts with real chamois leather inserts. Despite the fashion for all things vintage, trust me, the clothing of this period was largely impractical and had nothing to recommend it.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

My arrival at the meeting point was at least welcomed by the Garrulous Kid, dressed as a Christmas Elf and standing between the BFG and Red Max, in their usual cycling kit, the pair having made no concession to the seasonal occasion.

The Garrulous Kid was starting to suspect he’d been the victim of a cruel hoax and made to dress like an idiot, while everyone else would appear in their normal gear, so he greeted my arrival with a growing sense of relief.

His fears were further allayed when Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, OGL, Princess Fiona, Laurelan, Sneaky Pete, Taffy Steve, Penelope Pitstop, Mini Miss and others arrived in their festive garb. Special mention has to go to Captain Black, in a natty, understated Christmas jumper that was (naturally) black, while Son of G-Dawg wore and elf costume, complete with stripy hot-pants that drew appreciation from the ladies and, rather unexpectedly from OGL. Hmm, yes … moving swiftly on.

Surveying the assorted Christmas jumpers, costumes, accessories and bling, the BFG looked down at his sober and sombre riding kit and quipped, “I’m starting to feel a bit silly, now.”

The Prof then appeared wearing a towering, knitted woolly hat with a massive pom-pom.

“Is there a helmet under there?” I asked.

“That’s a euphemism, isn’t it?” Crazy Legs suggested helpfully, before adding, “I think the jury’s still out on that one.”

I checked-in with the post-operative BFG, who assured me he was in the best of health now, the doctors having declared he has the heart of a teenager, but the knees of an obese 80-year-old, arthritic trampolinist. These are apparently shot and crumbling like a Cadbury’s flake and will eventually need replacing. Gentlemen, we can re-build him.

Much like cycling kit, the advances in medical technology truly are remarkable and the Red Max declared he never thought while watching the Six Million Man that it would ever be anything but fiction.

I wondered if the BFG would prefer Campagnolo or Shimano knee joints and he quickly sided with the Italians, reasoning it would be no good having tiny little Japanese knees on his massive hulking frame.

Meanwhile, OGL started his doom and gloom pitch, beginning with his bad back and ending with dire warnings from his contact in the Outer Hebrides that we were likely to encounter “sheet, black-ice” everywhere.

“Is there anything quite as sad,” Crazy Legs enquired, “as a grumpy old man in a jolly Christmas jumper.”


28 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out to chase down the alluring Christmas Elf in his hot-pants, mainly following the main roads until we assured ourselves that there was very little chance of encountering any ice, even in the darkest, shadiest hollows that abound in the wilds of deepest, sun-deprived Northumberland.

I dropped in beside Sneaky Peter for discussions about the physics of braking, rubbish TV, the film about the Potomac crash pilot, recent Scandi-thrillers, riding the Cold War borders on the East German equivalent of a Boris Bike (in the middle of winter) and my own recent and unfortunate initiation into the fine art of naked rat-clubbing.

At the first stop I joined Taffy Steve and the Red Max who were holding an impromptu inquisition into why the Garrulous Kid hadn’t been out on last week’s ride and found them thoroughly unconvinced by his lame, tissue-thin excuses – principally that he’d been getting a haircut.

Several times in the next few hours I was to remind the Garrulous Kid of the adage: if you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. But my advice went sadly unheeded.

Blustering never seems to work as vindication and through its application the Kid foolishly revealed that he couldn’t escape getting his hair cut … because he had to go with his mum.

It then transpired that he hadn’t gone to a normal, walk-in barbers, but to a hairdressing salon … and not even a unisex hairdresser, but a fully-appointed, la-di-dah ladies’ salon … somewhere exclusive, where you had to make an appointment weeks in advance … and then, not to some local, corner-shop operation, but a high class, high-cost, exclusive salon, slap-bang in the city centre.

And the hole kept getting deeper and deeper, while we all gathered around and peered down at the accused at the bottom, still digging and still serving up excuses, though his voice was growing fainter and fainter as he delved further and further down into trouble.

He was now grasping at straws, suggesting a “free” complementary cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows was a motivating factor and then began a horrifying, risible series of comments about how using hair-straighteners wasn’t all that bad, about how they had washed and blow-dried his hair before it was cut and how he’d never, ever, set foot in any kind of establishment with a red and white striped pole outside, or subjected his head to mechanical clippers and a numbered haircut.

Condemned by his own words and for failure to provide a sufficiently robust and manly excuse for not riding last week, Red Max and Taffy Steve declared the Garrulous Kid would have until we reached the café to come up with a sincere apology, or a more acceptable excuse. Then, as punishment, he would have to stand on a table in the middle of the café and beg forgiveness from each and every one of us.

There was only time then to laugh at Mini Miss, who’d become so over-heated in her Christmas jumper that she’d tied the arms around her neck and was wearing it like a cape, a dodgy 80’s affectation from around the time Haircut 100 (rather fittingly) regularly featured on Top of the Pops.

Onward we rode, with his impending punishment obviously weighing heavily on the Garrulous Kid. He asked me what would happen if he didn’t apologise and I suggested we would snap his pump in half and strip him of his tyre levers.

He then wanted to know how the café staff would react if he was to stand on a table and I told they were well used to it and then, when he wondered how OGL would take it, I suggested he actually looked forward to these ritual humiliations.

A dispirited Garrulous Kid then drifted back and I heard him have almost the exact same conversation with Crazy Legs and then one or two others.

We split the group at Dyke Neuk and I joined the longer, harder, faster group, where I found Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve sharing a bottle in a style I thought reminiscent of Coppi and Bartali, but which Crazy Legs assured me was more like an ancient RAF VC10 tanker refuelling an equally aged Victor bomber in mid-air. 100,000 shaking rivets flying in a tight formation and barely holding everything together.

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… an unintended homage to Coppi and Bartali …

We split from the self-flagellation ride, with De Uitheems Bloem sowing instant confusion in our ranks by going the wrong way and then turning around in the middle of a narrow lane. Further on and after dropping down and climbing up to Hartburn, it was Laurelan’s turn, performing an abrupt and chaotic volte face to head back down the hill.

“What’s happening?” I called as I passed Crazy Legs, pulled over and waiting for her by the side of the road.

I didn’t quite catch what he was saying and my brain seemed to interpret his words into the phrase “She’s gone to rescue a bird.” Hah! Weird.

“What,” I asked Cowin’ Bovril, seeking clarification, “Is happening?”

“She’s gone to rescue a bird,” he replied.

Huh?

Still dissatisfied, I dropped back to Carlton and tried again, convinced there was a massive disconnect between my ears and my brain.

“She’s gone to rescue a bird.” he said.

OK, that was unexpected.

You can read more of Laurelan’s dramatic Robin Rescue in her own words here, but in short, on the wild descent she’d seen the little fellow in the middle of the road, went back to collect him, check him over for obvious damage and then transfer him to the relative sanctuary of a hedgerow. Why the bird was sitting unconcernedly in the middle of the road and seemingly so placid I don’t know, but at least he was spared a gruesome end under the wheels of a car (or rampaging cyclist).

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… and Laurelan’s helping hands

We pressed on, minus the Avian Rescue Brigade, becoming strung out as the route began to rise up toward Angerton. Cowin’ Bovril and then Taffy Steve became distanced, so at the top of the last, nasty little climb to Bolam Lake I called on Sneaky Pete to drop back with me and wait.

Taffy Steve re-joined and moved straight to the front to set a brisk pace that soon had us catching and overhauling the Garrulous Kid and then Carlton, disgorged from the front group, slowly dying a thousand deaths and grateful for a wheel to cling to.

As we swooped through the Milestone Woods and up onto the rollers, I took over at the front and we began to close down on the leaders, but they were soon duking it out for the sprint on the final hill and pulled away again, while I tried to keep our pace steady all the way to the café.

I hung around outside long enough to see the Garrulous Kid roll in with Cowin’ Bovril – he’d been distanced at the last and I was beginning to wonder if he’d decided not to stop in case we really did make him stand on a table and apologise to everyone.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

With the Garrulous Kid still protesting his hair cut excuse was perfectly valid, strange tales and reminiscing about encounters with proper barbers abounded, a fascinating peek into a decidedly odd, male preserve and its  peculiar rite of passage.

I suggested barbers were great because it was the only time you ever got to read The Sun or Daily Star and, as I understood it, by law you are actually compelled to at least pick up and look at these publications as an integral part of your visit.

Captain Black recalled his Turkish barber using a candle to burn the hairs out of the inside of his ears, which not only produced a fearsome and horrifying crackling noise that still haunts his nightmares, but a lingering stink of burning hair that survived multiple washing attempts. I think he was particularly grateful his nose hairs weren’t subjected to the same, rather scary treatment.

Along with Son of G-Dawg, I was unconscionably proud of the fact our haircuts cost less than a tenner, including a very generous tip, while the Red Max recalled overhearing a rather disturbing conversation in a Wallsend barbers:

“So, how old are you, son?”

“Twelve.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Dunno.”

“I wanted to be a porn star. That didn’t really work out…”

On a similar note, the BFG recalled being asked if he required “anything for the weekend” and replying that he was only 10.

Meanwhile, Buster reported his own acute discomfort, suffered when starting a conversation with a beautiful black girl who was cutting his hair. She was surprised when he correctly identified her accent as coming from the Natal region of South Africa and he explained he’d once gone out with a girl who’d moved to the area from the same region, someone called Taonga.

“Oh!” the girl replied, “My mother’s called Taonga…”

We then tried to convince the Garrulous Kid that it was traditional to follow the Christmas Jumper Ride with a Bikini Ride the following week. The Red Max suggested he had a spare bikini he was willing to lend the Kid if he didn’t have one and that it was an appropriate, itsie-bitsie, teeny-weenie, red and white spotted number, in tribute the King of the Mountains jersey in the Tour. I told him I would be “rocking” a lime green mankini and we impressed on him the importance of not letting the side down next Saturday.

Thankfully, the conversation turned to unassailable Strava KoM’s and I declared I was thinking of setting one up for my own driveway. We then decided that the ultimate, nightmare scenario for the worst possible burglary of all time, would be when someone broke in, nicked your best bike and unwittingly set an unassailable new record on your personal driveway KoM as they were making a quick getaway on your pride and joy.


We paused for a Christmas jumper photo opportunity outside the café, where Son of G-Dawg discovered that his “elf hot-pants” had dyed his saddle a deep and unfortunate shade of pink. I consoled him with the thought that he’d probably be able to sell it to zeB now, who seemed to have a penchant for unusual and contrasting (if not downright clashing) coloured saddles.

“Hee-hee,” OGL cackled, “It looks like he’s on his menstrual cycle!”

“Oh,” I responded, refusing to sink quite so low, “I thought he was on his Trek.” [Sorry.]

As I split from my group for the ride home, I couldn’t help notice how strangely, but pleasantly quiet the roads were, even those around and leading up to that Mecca to Mammon and Mayhem, the MetroCentre.

Soon I was waiting at the traffic lights to cross the river, where I managed to catch a glimpse of what must have been the ultimate Christmas Club Ride approaching from the opposite direction.

The lead rider was dressed in full Santa Claus regalia, including a long, fake beard, while behind him came a Herald Angel in white robe/sheet, with glittery wings and a tinsel halo bobbing above his helmet. The third rider in line though appeared to have the prize for the best costume fully (ahem) “wrapped up” as he appeared to be riding with a large, fully decorated, Christmas tree strapped to his back and towering up above his head!

I crossed the bridge, rounded the bend and pulled over to wait for them to pass, so I could take in the full details of their festive excess. Sadly, however they must to have turned off the main road onto the river-side path immediately after crossing, so I was unable to see them in all their glory, or pick up any tips for next year’s Christmas ride.

As I clawed my way up the last, steepest ramp of the Heinous Hill, and old feller walking down the other way called out

“You must be fit.”

“Hmm, maybe.” I agreed, “Either that, or mad.”

Still, that’s likely “it” – I’m done for the year, unless someone organises a sneaky, mid-holiday/mid-week ride, or I can somehow shoe-horn a foreshortened Christmas Eve run in, around family commitments.

So on that note, let the madness cease and the legs pause and rest for a while – well, at least until next year, when we might just start all over again…


YTD Totals: 7,117 km / 4,422miles with 74,102 metres of climbing

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