The Ship of Theseus

The Ship of Theseus

With the weather a few degrees warmer but essentially following the same pattern as last Saturday, it was a case of repeating last week’s successful layering strategy to get me through the chilly start and into the temperate/bordering on pleasant late morning.

One major difference though was the wind which had a real chill edge to it and was strong enough to seriously slow me down as I crossed the river and pushed on eastwards.

It also blew a tiny, black fly into my face and I watched helpless as it skated across my spec lenses, hung precariously balanced on the edge for the briefest moment, and then plunged into the corner of my eye.

This proved a painful distraction for the next few minutes, as I tried to furiously blink and wipe away the discomfort. The only good thing was it took my mind off the new stem I’d fitted to my bike and now found to be ever so slightly misaligned with my front wheel. It wasn’t physically affecting anything, but every time I looked down I had a weird sense of vertigo and it was making me feel nauseous. Luckily, despite the headwind, I was able to reach the meeting place with enough time to unbolt and realign my bars.

Funnily enough, just after fitting the new stem, the venerable Toshi San had asked how my Holdsworth “Reg” was these days and I’d rather off-handedly replied, “like Trigger’s broom.”

The character Trigger in the TV comedy Only Fools and Horses claims to have used the same broom for 20 years before revealing it has only “had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.”

Thinking about it now though, that seems a much more accurate description than I intended, as the only original parts of the Focus Cayo I bought in, oh maybe 2014, are the front mech, the handlebars, brake calipers and 90% of the STI levers. Since then I’ve replaced the frame and fork for the Holdsworth (crash damage in 2016), had three stems, three seatposts, half a dozen saddles (still haven’t found one that suits me) at least 5 sets of wheels, one rear derailleur, two or three sets of pedals, new bottle cages and even new bar ends.

Add to this the usual consumables that wear out over time and need replacing: tyres, tubes, chains, cables, bar tape, cassettes, headsets, brake blocks, bottom brackets and whatnot and, at any point, could I legitimately claim to have a new bike?

This is the Ship of Theseus paradox, about which Plutarch asked if every single piece of wood on a ship was replaced over a number of years, was it still the same ship? This philosophical conundrum has perplexed the smartest of thinkers over the centuries, but being a cyclist of the n+1 persuasion, I can assert that it’s still the same bike – because at no point have I ever not wanted something newer and shinier.

But I digress …

Today marked the welcome return of the Famous Cumbria (Dave/Steve) not seen since the last time he rode off the front up the Trench and, despite our repeated shouts, sailed blithely past the left-hand turn at the top and disappeared. Now he had returned to us, potentially after circumnavigating the entire globe and it seemed only fitting that he had the opportunity to do it all again.

This was because Biden Fecht had planned today’s route to include a climb up the Trench in what otherwise seemed a random cut and paste of regularly traveled roads that would at least give everything a patina of freshness. This included a descent down “Curlicue Bank” (hint: not its real name) for the sole purpose of 5 minutes later climbing back up the Trench to pretty much where we started.

Just for a change, Biden Fecht also selected the seldom visited cafe at Bolam Lake for our coffee interlude, the “cabin the woods” offering plentiful seating, decently quick service (well, by cycling cafe standards) and excellent value for money, with the only major drawback being it was cash only, so back to carrying lots of jingly coins in your back pocket.

Still, as Taffy Steve observed, now we’ve freed ourselves of the shackles of always using the cafe at Belsay, we have a lot more variety in terms of routes (as well as coffee and cake offerings)

Meanwhile, G-Dawg and Jimmy Mac discussed last night’s rugby game, where the Newcastle team were decidedly dreadful. They determined that we were subject to the universal yet unwritten law that states that a city can’t have two professional sports teams doing well at the same time. Given this rule, it was obvious that with the football team being one of the form clubs in the Premiership, the rugby club has to suffer as a consequence – they can’t both be good.

“Hang on,” I interjected, “I remember it wasn’t so long ago when the rugby team and football team were both shite.”

“Oh, yeah,” G-Dawg acknowledged, “But that’s not against the rules.”

We got three reasonably similar-sized groups out and onto the road without too much trouble (for a change) and away we went.

It was a bit of a mish-mash of a route, but greater than the sum of its parts. It worked well and all was good. The third group I was travelling with passed the second group, held up by a puncture just past the Cheese Farm and, despite a lengthy stop at Dyke Neuk, they never seem to close and we wouldn’t see them again until the cafe stop.

As we left Dyke Neuk, Crazy Legs explained the next part of the ride was a long descent, solely to have a long climb back to more or less exactly where we’d just been.

“Well, that pretty much sums-up cycling, doesn’t it?” Goose replied sagely. No one disagreed and no one opted for the couple of hundred flat metres to the top of the Trench in lieu of the descent and subsequent climb.

We’d already impressed on the Famous Cumbrian that we would take the left-hand turn at the top of the Trench, just to make sure he didn’t miss it and ride off into the sunset again, but as we dropped down Curlicue Bank, I felt it was worth reinforcing our route for him.

“So, it’s first left at the top of the Trench,” I confirmed with Crazy Legs, loudly enough for the Famous Cumbrian to overhear.

“Yes. The very first left at the top of the climb,” Crazy Legs emphasised for clarity.

“Is this left turn easy to miss?” a puzzled Famous Cumbrian queried.

“Apparently,” I dead-panned. Well, I thought it was funny.

We made it to the top of the Trench without any difficulties and the Famous Cumbrian even made the left turn. We took the swoop and rise through Hartburn and then the left turn toward Angerton, where Crazy Legs celebrated the astonishing, potentially miraculous lack of headwind along this most notorious and most-exposed part of our route.

One last clamber and a very short descent later and we were at the cabin in the woods.

We then had one of those interludes where our rambling conversation didn’t have any particular focus, but it ceaselessly looped and bounced all over the place, while we all misheard or misremembered things. It was the kind of surreal conversation I imagine you might encounter in a particularly eccentric and fesity old people’s home where the inmates are stimulated by patchy recall and half-understood snippets of tabloid headlines.

It started when I asked about Crazy Leg’s sister. She’d been hospitalised for a week when chest pains were diagnosed as a suspected heart-attack, but it turned out the discomfort was simply due to muscle strain. Meanwhile, Crazy Legs himself has had the results of a recent blood test revealing high cholesterol. I don’t think he has any hope of a mis-diagnosis in this instance as he affirmed his recent diet has consisted primarily of chocolate, crisps and beer.

Somehow this led to Goose declaring that he’d been to Popeye’s village and we felt obliged to break the bad news to him that Popeye was in fact a fictional character. He was, of course, referring to the set of the Popeye movie which had featured Robin Williams, (not as Crazy Legs suggested Robbie Williams, which would have made it a whole different kind of film).

Whatever the merits of the film, or its set, I suggested the greatest thing about it was probably the near-perfect casting of the Olive Oyl character, although he couldn’t remember who the actress was. (It was not Olive Rudge from On The Buses as Crazy Legs helpfully suggested).

Popeye prompted talk of Sylvester Stallone and his curious habit while filming the Rocky series to always take one “real” punch to set himself up for the fight scenes, or at least he used to until he told Dolph Lungren, “punch me as hard as you can in the chest” and he ended up in intensive care for four days. Maybe this is what happened to Crazy Legs’ sister?

Crazy Legs then had us try to guess the well-known film that Sylvester Stallone had directed, but even with the clues that it was a sequel and starred John Travolta, none of us could. I did recall a film that Stallone not only directed but wrote (and was surprisingly entertaining). I knew it was about a wrestler, had Tom Waits appropriately playing a character called Mumbles, but again the title eluded me. (It was not, as Crazy Legs suggested “The Wrestler.”)

Someone wondered if Stallone’s mother was still alive. Naturally, nobody could remember her name, but we reasoned she was either deceased, or so truly ancient she was unlikely to be putting in many personal appearances. Then again we were also conscious of Kirk Douglas who lived to a ripe old age and, while fairly sure he had recently passed, there was no certainty in the group.

Somehow Kirk Doulas segued into Caribbean food and discussion about the Scotch Bonnet and whether it was the hottest pepper as measured on the Scoville Scale (not as Crazy Legs suggested the Schofield Scale, which apparently measures how naff your morning TV programmes are.)

At least we all agreed that the Scotch Bonnet wasn’t the hottest pepper around, but (obviously) no one could remember what was.

There was then a discussion about whether you could be the victim of physically “spiking” (i.e. injected with a drug) without realising it had happened. For the record, I have absolutely no recollection of how the conversation ended up here!

We backtracked to learn Crazy Legs’ dog is jealously possessive of pine cones and likes to lick people after being fed. Mrs Crazy Legs argues it’s a sign of affection, Crazy Legs thinks it’s a canine form of tongue cleaning …

Luckily it was time to leave, before someone else had a go at spinning the conversation randomiser wheel, and we saddled up to scoot.

It was a good and pleasant run back. Then as we crested Berwick Hill I nodded at the red flag, fluttering taut above the firing range and noted the direction it was streaming.

“That’s looking like a block headwind all the way back to the coast for you,” I suggested to Taffy Steve. He resignedly acknowledged this was probably true, but one man’s misery might be another’s good fortune and so it proved – I had a tailwind/cross-tailwind to help me up all major climbs on the way back and thoroughly enjoyed my wind-assisted amble home.


Just for the record and thanks to the power invested in me by Mr. Google, I can tell you that:

The Popeye film set is near the village of Mellieha on the island of Malta.

The actress who played Olive Oyl in the Popeye movie was Shelley Duvall.

The sequel Stallone directed John Travolta in was Staying Alive.

The wrestling film Stallone wrote and directed was Paradise Alley. Surprisingly he doesn’t play a wrestler.

Stallone’s mother was called Jackie and she died in 2020 aged 98.

Kirk Douglas was 103 when he died. It was relatively recently, also in 2020.

The Carolina Reaper is officially the World’s Hottest Pepper rated at 2.2 Million Scoville units or 200x hotter than a jalapeño. In contrast, the Scotch Bonnet is only 40x hotter than a jalapeño. (I apologise in advance to my Dutch friends if the Scoville Scale is composed of retard units.)

Mr. Google has no idea why Crazy Legs’ dog feels the need to lick people after being fed. Perhaps it’s a suitable topic for the world’s greatest thinkers now I’ve finally cracked the paradox of the Ship of Theseus?



Photo by Lasse Møller on Unsplash

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