Slate

Slate

2023, eh? A new year. A clean slate. I’m not holding out hope for much of an improvement on the past twelve months, so at least I’m not likely to be disappointed.

Early Saturday and the rain was a rude wake-up call, a cold slap in the face from a dark and foreboding sky. As I passed over the river it was still, black, oily, and unfathomable. Chill tendrils of dampness were already starting to infiltrate their way into my socks and gloves, the rain was ticking angrily on my back and bouncing off both my helmet and the slick road surface, while the sun seemed to have abandoned any attempt to lift the gloom too – and here’s me thinking the mornings are going to be getting lighter. It’s so much easier to roll over and just stay in bed when it’s like this …

Happy New Year, sucker and welcome to 2023.

I trolled my way across to the meeting point in an unpleasant if otherwise unmemorable start to things.

“It’s going to be a lovely day …” G-Dawg boldly announced once I’d arrived and unclipped, pausing slightly for comedic effect before delivering the punchline, “This afternoon.” That sounded about right, by 2.00 pm, once everyone was home and hosed the weather was indeed forecast to improve. Slightly.

Sheltering from the continuing rain under the dark eaves of the multi-story car park, there was some discussion about coordinating efforts to wrest a little more control of the club into the hands of its members at our forthcoming AGM. The particular topic under discussion is sure to prove as divisively entertaining as it will be contentious, but I’m hoping to keep a guarded neutrality. Let’s see how that goes.

Then, not that I’m implying any possible link to despotic and delusional sociopaths or their famously repressive regimes, G-Dawg informed me OGL wouldn’t be out today as he’d apparently been roped into unavoidable (in his household anyway) Novy God celebrations. Rodine – slava!

He may not have been alone as there was a fairly subdued turnout and it looked like we had just about enough to form one single group, with no need to coerce anyway into the faster group. The rank weather hadn’t however deterred our first flippin’ new guy of the year, complete with – panniers, pannier bag, jeans and trainers. Still, he was young, big and strong so likely to be ok. Altogether around nine of us set out, with Crazy Legs and Brassneck forming a Flat White contingent, whose early escape would be covered by the late arriving Buster and Spoons who we picked up on our way out of the city.

I joined Goose on the front as we wound through Ponteland where workmen were busying unentangling the Christmas lights from the trees in the village centre. I suggested putting them up a simple process of illumination, but wasn’t sure what you could call taking them down. Meanwhile Goose informed me he was wrestling with a book that took to explaining the metaverse he’d received as a Christmas present. I then made the silly, fatal error of asking him to tell me what he’d deduced from his reading so far …

15 minutes of quite incomprehensible bluster and much uhm-ming and aah-ing later and I decided to simplify things and just asked if it managed to confirm my long-held suspicion that Mark Zuckerberg was a complete twat. Despite my total lack of understanding, I was at least kept entertained by Goose’s ramblings and we made it through Stamfordham almost without noticing, where we swapped off the front and dropped back. A brief stop to shed jackets was called for as the rain eased away, but I was too distrustful of the weather to partake.

The Flat White club chose Matfen as stop-off number#1 and we left them behind as we pushed on and scaled the Quarry. G-Dawg was feeling uncharacteristically powerless, and his fixie was proving entirely unforgiving, so he was off the pace on the climbs. I dropped back to ride with him and he suggested missing out the loop around Scot’s Gap, which seemed eminently sensible to me.

We climbed up to the Capheaton cafe, for once devoid of bikes and cyclists and could almost hear the anguished wailing and gnashing of teeth from inside as we rode straight past without stopping. It looked like being an uncharacteristically quiet day there – I hope they found enough business to justify opening.

At the bottom of the descent from the cafe, New Guy had a puncture and we pulled over to replace his tube. G-Dawg suggested the rest pressed on while he hung back with Cowboys and me to help make repairs and then we’d pick up his proposed short-cut to the cafe at Belsay. So that’s what we did, the rest continued onwards, while we fixed the puncture and then cut along the River Wansbeck to the base of Middleton Bank. We clambered up and regrouped over the top, the new guy complaining that he was starting to flag a little as we crested the hill, but he’d done well so far, and the worst was well and truly behind him.

At the cafe the Flat White’s joined us having picked up Captain Black along the way – (he’d worked on their entirely predictable itinerary would include bacon sarnies at Matfen and had intercepted them there, having cleverly enjoyed a lie-in as well as missing the worst of the weather.)

With the cafe once again full, Crazy Legs squeezed onto our table while Brassneck and Captain Black declared it was mild enough to sit out in the garden, where they lasted all of 5-minutes before the cold drove them back inside.

Crazy Legs told us he was looking forward to a holiday in Bruges, which we were all envious of. Well, everyone except for Brassneck who is perhaps the only person I know who can attest that a very serious mosquito problem exists in West Flanders, or at least a very serious mosquito problem if, like him, your blood irresistibly tastes like pure ambrosia to the pesky little buggers. His last trip to Bruges allegedly saw him return looking as though he’d either done 12 rounds with the local Blue Angels Motorcycle Club, or Mrs. Brassneck had somehow discovered just how much he spends on vinyl every month.

Talk of Bruges unsurprisingly led to admiration for “In Bruges” the Martin McDonagh film, with everyone looking forward to seeing his latest offering, The Banshees of Inisherin. Well, everyone except me because I’ve already seen it and declared it perhaps the most depressing film I’d ever experienced.

“But, I thought it was a comedy,” Biden Fecht exclaimed.

“Yeah,” I affirmed, “So did I.”

I found myself on the front alongside the Bruges Mosquito Magnet as we undertook what he declared was going to be a “bimble” homewards, keeping the pace luxuriously low to avoid dislodging the still suffering G-Dawg. Along the way, the old Pilot classic “January” was given an airing and there was an unexpected namecheck for Elkie Brookes (I don’t know why – maybe something to do with “Sunshine After the Rain?”) Then, The Selecter were called out for writing songs which chiefly consisted of repeating the title over and over, ad nauseum – Exhibit A. for the prosecution being “Too Much Pressure” in which the phrase “too much pressure” is sung over 60 times. Try it next time you’re up for a bit of Two-Tone karaoke and see just how bored you get.

This repetitiveness, I declared was something The Corrs were also often accused of, but I failed to convince anyone because none of us could remotely remember any Corrs songs to test the theory on. I actually think we were all quite pleased by our collective Corrs-amnesia, perhaps there are some benefits from age-induced cognitive decline after all?

Right, forget the 12th day of Christmas, or even the Epiphany, because by the time we hit Dinnington, the Bruges Mosquito Magnet had declared that the reappearance of the fish and chip van outside the shops would mark the actual, official indication that the holiday season was well and truly over.

It wasn’t there, so the party must go on …

The pleasant bimble home was spoiled as soon as I left the group, when I found myself battering full-on into a fierce headwind that had seemingly sprung up out of nowhere. This would combine with another ride of over a hundred kilometres to leave me feeling well drained by the time I’d scraped my way up the Heinous Hill and home. Before that though I had to negotiate through the crowds milling around outside the rugby stadium, where the Leicester Tigers supporters seemd to outnumber the Newcastle Falcons fans by about 5 to 1. I was later shocked to learn the home team somehow managed to prevail over the league champions by a remarkable 45-26 scoreline – definitely the upset of the year so far …well, seven days in anyway.

Elsewhere, Aether proclaimed via social media that he’d spotted a dead skunk by the side of the road. Personally I think this was a Pepé Le Pew moment and what he’d acrually seen was a dead cat that had an accidental brush with some wet paint. Still, it sets an interesting precedent to see what sort of exotic wildlife we might encounter this year. And, if we’re really lucky, a lot of it may still be alive and well and the victim of speeding motor cars. Is that too much to ask?


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 7th January 2023
Riding Time:5 hours 20 minutes
Riding Distance:108km/59 miles with 947m of climbing
Average Speed:20.2km/h
Group Size:11 riders, 1 FNG’s
Temperature:11℃
Weather in a word or two:Pish!
Year to date:174km/3,240 miles with 1,845m of climbing

bike derailleur” by gfairchild is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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