Plague Diaries – Week#27

Plague Diaries – Week#27

A licky boom, boom down

So following discussion, the investigation of all possible loopholes, wormholes and arseholes, no end of reading and research, questioning British Cycling and the Police and anyone else who’d listen, there was no clarity and no certainty, but it looked like club runs, even in groups of 6 were verboten. Sigh.

It seemed clear cut to me that we’d be back to solo rides and that’s what I planned for, even as the debate continued. Finally “the Amorphous We” called off the club ride for the weekend, although G-Dawg did suggest that if everyone just so happened to be at the cafe at a certain time and we strictly enforced social distancing, we could at least benefit from such a serendipitous and guileless coincidence.

So then, I had a start point and I had an end point complete with a rendezvous time. It was just a case of filling in the middle. Before all that however, I had a bit of unfinished business, a side mission to reclaim a Strava K.O.M. that I’d lost while on holiday.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a hotly contested segment that hundreds of people are striving to capture, but a quiet stretch of road I use on my commute’s home. I’d set the record somewhat inadvertently coming back from work on my single-speed and, since it’s the only K.O.M. I’ve ever had, or I’m likely to ever have, I have a certain attachment to it.

My thinking was that if I tackled it at the start of my ride and on my good bike, and made a deliberate run at it, there was a reasonable chance I could snatch it back, even if it was just for a week or two. So, I took a circuitous route down the Heinous Hill, circled around my target, found the right gear and bashed my way upwards.

It felt fast, but I wouldn’t know if I’d been successful until I got home and downloaded the file to Strava.

I got back on course, crossing the river at Newburn and tackling the climb up Hospital Lane, before taking a left through Westerhope instead of my usual right. I found myself climbing Penny Hill from top to bottom for the first time. I was just over half way up when the unmistakable figure of G-Dawg in his multi-coloured Mapei jersey emerged from a side road ahead of me.

I accelerated to greet my clubmate and slowly began to close, until he looked back, saw he was being stalked by another cyclist, raised himself out of the saddle, stomped forcefully on the pedals … and rode away.

I’d already been climbing for about 5-minutes and had no response as G-Dawg disappeared around a corner in the distance ahead, probably not even realising who was trying to ride across to him just to say hello.

Then again, maybe he knew exactly who was chasing him …

I rounded the corner to find G-Dawg momentarily stopped by some temporary traffic lights and I arrived just as they turned green. I used my momentum to nip past, complaining loudly about the length of the hill I’d just been forced to climb and pushed on toward Stamfordham. I assume G-Dawg took a different route by dint of the fact that he didn’t catch and pass me somewhere along the way.

From Stamfordham I took the road to Whittle Dene reservoir, then followed the signs for Stagshaw. Climbing up through the plantations I had an awkward encounter with a black-eared hare that decided to belt straight down the road in front of me, instead of simply stepping to one side and disappearing into a hedge.

Every time my momentum saw me catch up with it I tapped my brakes and every time the hare heard the zissing of the pads it started to jink erratically, zig-zagging crazily across the tarmac in a manoeuvre obviously designed to make a predator miss.

This happened three or four times and I was getting embarrassed for the poor critter, until the light finally dawned in its little brain and it stepped off the road and into cover.

I pushed on through Matfen, turned for the Quarry and ran slap bang into a stiff headwind that was going to dog me pretty much the rest of the ride, as I routed through Belsay, Ogle and on to Kirkley and our low key club rendezvous.

The cafe was quiet today. I got served quickly and there was more than enough space for everyone to sit 3 or 4 metres apart.

Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, TripleD-Be and Triple D-El were already widely spaced around a table and it wasn’t long before Aether joined our impromptu collective, with a few others rolling up later.

Everyone seemed to be fully enjoying the Tour, little knowing at that point that the rather inevitable procession toward Paris was due a further surprise twist, one that would upend the Rog and Pog show to supplant it with the Pog and Rog show. Incredible.

Considering the Giro and Vuelta are generally more open and entertaining than the Tour – and we have both yet to come, it could be a vintage year for cycling’s Grand Tours, despite everything.

Even better, we have almost a full suite of Classics to look forward to, including, as Crazy Legs reminded us, an autumn Paris-Roubaix with a strong possibility of atrocious weather to spice things up even further.

Not everyone is a fan though, G-Dawg admitting he couldn’t see the novelty of riding on gravel, or cobbelstones, be it the pavé of Paris-Roubaix, or the sterrati of the Strade Bianche. His argument was that there were perfectly good roads leading to the same destination, so why would you use something inferior and from ages past. He does, I concede have a point, after all no one is competing in these races on ancient steel-framed clunkers. Secretly I suspect he’s just averse to the thought of all those nice shiny bikes getting trashed beyond even his cleaning and restorative prowess.

Crazy Legs informed us that he’d been well into his ride, when he determined his shorts were unbearably uncomfortable and it was a good while longer before he realised why – in a faux pas previously only committed by the Garrulous Kid, he found was still wearing his underpants. He then had to seek out a private and secluded stopping spot in order to more or less completely disrobe to remove the offending article.

Now, like an unrequited Tom Jones fan, he was carrying around his pre-worn knickers in his back pocket and offering them as an extra thermal layer to anyone who complained it was a bit chilly outside. As far as I’m aware there were no takers.

This got me wondering if there was an opposite to “going Commando” – perhaps “going Home Guard” or maybe “going Quisling?” Yeah, I know, it’ll never catch on.

Crazy Legs then asked everyone, “Would you grass your neighbours up for breaking quarantine rules?”

TripleD-Be looked mightily confused. “Grass?” he queried.

“Grass. Snitch. Nark. Fink?”

“Huh?”

“Become a stool pigeon?” I suggested, thinking that Kid Creole and the Coconuts perhaps-maybe could have troubled the Eurocharts back in the day?

TripleD-Bee looked even more bewildered now.

“Stool pigeon?” He mulled the alien phrase over, “As in a stool you sit on and pigeon like the bird?”

“Err – yes.”

“Informer,” someone suggested and that seemed to do the trick, he at least knew what we were getting at.

“But, why stool pigeon, where does this term come from?” he returned to the topic of Kid Creole’s 15-minutes of fame.

I had to admit I had absolutely no idea, perhaps leaving him even more confounded by the absurdity of the English language.

(The most plausible explanation I can find after additional research is that the term derives from the French estale, a pigeon used to entice a hawk into a net.)

Talk then meandered its way to the club time-trial.

“When is it?” TripleD-El queried.

“Next August,” Crazy Legs informed her.

“Ah, good, I don’t have to start training yet,” –

“Yeah, you do,” Crazy Legs shot back.

Ooph. Burn.

TripleD-El was left speechless, while TripleD-Be collapsed in a fit of giggles.

We left soon afterwards, before Anglo-Dutch relations became more fractious, each going our separate ways.

I routed home through Ponteland, finding I now had Snow’s “Informer” as the soundtrack to my ride. Stopped at the traffic lights just past the airport car pulled up behind and blasted me with a snarky sounding horn. I was stopped at a red light, standing perfectly still and composed, what could I possibly have done to earn the ire of this particular motorist? I decided to ignore it and pushed on when the lights changed.

The car pulled up alongside, the passenger window slid down and I braced myself for a stream of invective, or worse.

“Halloo there!” I glanced across to see the BFG leering at me from behind the wheel of his mini.

“Oh, hi.”

He doffed an imaginary hat and sped away. Oh well, looked like I was going to avoid ugly confrontations with arse-hat motorists. This week at least.

Plague Diaries – Week#19

Plague Diaries – Week#19

[With special bonus feature, incorporating the Plague Diaries – Week#18!]

Grupo Compacto

Avid and astute SLJ readers (is there actually such a thing, I wonder?) may have noted no reporting from the front-lines last week. This was ostensibly because I was on holiday, but in reality it has more to do with me being plain lazy.

It wasn’t quite the holiday I was looking forward to, either. Instead of swanning off to some small, Mediterranean island, I had an enforced staycation and got up to such exciting things as deep-cleaning an oven and moving Thing#1 from her old student flat to a new student flat ahead of her final year at university, should it actually start as planned in September.

I did manage one ride of note, meeting up with 5 other club members on the Thursday, just so they could skip away from me on a series of hills out west and watch me flail and grovel my way up behind them. I stacked up 128 kms and over 1,300 metres of climbing, including several sections taken at a quite blistering pace. The weather was kind and good fun was had by all – well, me anyway, despite the grovelling.

Numbers, Thursday 16th July

Two days later and still not sure I’d fully recovered, I was up in time to make the rendezvous for a return to the “new normal” that our Saturday club run’s have morphed into.

So, 7:15 found me sitting at the table having breakfast, catching up on the news, while occasionally casting unhappy glances at the sky outside. The news was all dreadful and thoroughly depressing and it was perfectly matched by the weather. Dense black clouds were roiling overhead and a gusting wind pelted the glass with a constant tattoo of hard rain.I knew the weather was meant to clear in an hour or two, but reasoned I’d be soaked through by that point. I also knew the weather was forecast to be much better tomorrow.

“Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow” is an old family adage and seemed like the perfect advice for this time and place, so I slunk back to bed to try again on Sunday.

Seven of us were out the following morning, in much improved weather and it was actually pleasant, although chilly despite long periods of bright sunshine. We decided to (rather daringly) flout government guidelines and travel in one, ever so slightly too large group. In case we were stopped, I began rehearsing a plausible defence around needing to test my eyes for group riding by … err, indulging in some group riding.

We set the cafe at Capheaton as our ultimate goal, so it was just a case of feeling our way there through some suitably democratic decision-making-on-the-fly.

I fell in with Plumose Pappus as we pushed out, getting my excuses in early and telling him how I’d been royally smashed on the climbs on Thursday and didn’t think I’d recovered yet. Even though he himself is one of those nauseatingly flyweight, climbing mavens, he seemed even more keen than me to disparage and dish the dirt his own kind.

We determined they all had unresolved Mummy issues and suffered from a sibling-driven inferiority complex. Hills then became emblematic of the mother’s breast and the crest they all raced to was the symbolic location of the nipple. As a hotchpotch, utterly nonsensical, made-up and barking-mad theory, Plumose Pappus concluded, it was no more outlandish and absurd than some of Freud’s wilder suppositions and there was maybe, perhaps, just the teeny-tiniest grain of truth in there too.

We made Capheaton without too much splintering of the group and paused for well-deserved coffee and cake. They’d opened up the entire hall as a large communal space now and, although impressively busy with cyclists from near and far, there was enough room to maintain the prerequisite 1 metre plus distance.

As the most responsible, mature and sober-looking among us, the staff latched onto Jimmy Mac as our presumptive leader and he was asked to provide contact details for Covid tracing should the need arise. He somehow resisted the urge to give them OGL’s name and completed the formalities, while I got on with the serious business of devouring a chocolate brownie. This proved every bit as good, if not better, than the carrot cake I’d had the last time I stopped here.

We had a quick catch-up with the Prof, out once again with his Backstreet Boys tribute act, then it was back on the bikes and heading home.

This jaunt added another 115 km and 1,000 plus metres of climbing to Thursday’s efforts. I still haven’t recovered yet.

Seven of Clubs – Sunday July 19th

So finally, onto Week#19 and, approaching the Saturday, all early versions of the weather had darkly forecast thunderstorms, although that threat seemed to be diminishing as the weekend approached. Still, I was prepared for the worst and shipped out with a rain jacket stuffed in my rear pocket.

Riding through Denton toward the rather poetically named Silver Lonnen, (but still nowhere near as good a place-name as neighbouring, Two Ball Lonnen) – I was somewhat surprised to find a queue, 20 or 30 people long, waiting outside a new shop. I was even more surprised when I found out it was actually a butcher’s and wondered what strange and exotic meats they were offering to draw such a crowd.

At the meeting point it was as close to a normal club-run as I could imagine, reminding me of a time before all this Covid malarkey grimly manifested. It wasn’t long before the pavement was crowded with bikes and biklists, around 23 strong, with the typical outpouring of our usual prattling blather and bolleaux.

G-Dawg bemoaned the weather the past few weeks that had been generally all-round-awful, but never bad enough to stop him riding. In fact it never is and he revealed Mrs. G-Dawg has given up asking if he’s “actually going to go out in that” because now she knows the answer. Yes. He is.

In direct contrast, Another Engine suggested his wife likes to have some “me-time” in the morning’s and really enjoys it when he’s out on the bike and not getting underfoot, to such an extent that she’ll excoriate him if his determination looks remotely like wavering. He described occasions when, peeking timidly around the bedroom curtains at angry, blackened skies, lashing rain and the treetops shaking in a raging gale, wondering if he should actually risk going out, only to be soundly berated from the warm confines of the bed he’d just abandoned: “Don’t be a pansy, go on, get yourself out, you wuss!”

Bless British Cycling, the’re doing their best in these unprecedented times, but the latest “easing of restrictions” that allow a small degree of road racing just seem nonsensical – “bunch racing is limited to 24 riders … and a maximum of 15 minutes per race.” That resembles no form of racing I’ve ever come across and everyone else seemed equally as bemused.

According to all accounts however, the local time-trialing scene appears to be flourishing and having to turn riders away, despite the new regulations that made Toshi San chuckle: the need for riders to bring their own pen to sign on.

The current restrictions mean there’s very little chance the local, elite level Beaumont Trophy and Curlew Cup races will go ahead this year, while hopes for the mass-participation, Cyclone sportive seems to be dangling by a thread.

For our ride, G-Dawg had devised a potential route and posted it up as a guide for whoever wanted to follow it. We split into groups of six, with a potential rendezvous at the Kirkley cafe arranged for 11.30. I pushed off and joined Jimmy Mac in leading the front group out … and away we went.

We were joined by G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, the Dormanator (aka Jake the Snake) and Kermit, to form a neat sextet, as we followed G-Dawg’s route down into the Tyne Valley.

Before we got there though we had to negotiate the suburbs, where we seemed to hit every red traffic light possible. I was only mildly disappointed that I couldn’t get a good chorus of Roxanne going, before we were out into the countryside, I was swinging over and someone else was pushing up to ride alongside Jimmy Mac.

This then pretty much set the pattern for the rest of the day. One of us would join Jimmy Mac on the front for a spell and peel off to rest and recover, while he just kept station, ploughing along with the pace high, through headwind, or tailwind, uphill or down and in and out the dusty bluebells to boot.

Into the valley and along the river, in the narrow lanes just past Ovingham a car somehow overtook us, squeezing past when there was no room to do so, a stupidly, dangerous manoeuvre that had the wing mirror millimetres from Jimmy Mac’s bars.

He had just about recovered his equilibrium and started checking behind, “to see if anyone else wants their car buffed,” when, moments later and with an explosive clatter and whir of furiously beating wings, a female pheasant launched itself from the hedgerow and swept past just under his nose. Close, but apparently not quite as close as the car had come.

We clawed our way out of the valley and dodged across the A69, regrouping before climbing the rest of the way clear and then dropping down to Whittle Dene Reservoir, running a section of an established club run in reverse.

Then it was straight through to Stamfordham, Callerton and a zig-zag route through the posh streets of Darras Hall, around numerous road works and lane closures to Ponteland. From there it was a fast burn along the winding, draggy road through to a grand finale, a frenetic uphill burst to the cafe, arriving, with incredible precision, spot on 11.30.

It wasn’t long until the rest of the mob arrived in their separate pods and one or two others joined from various solo or small group rides. By the time we’d been served and were sitting around the field, the sun had decided to join the party and it was blazing hot. Perfect for kicking back, relaxing and talking more balls than even Mitre manage.

Crazy Legs had been tickled by a video showing tourist boats at Niagara Falls, one American and one Candian, which seemed to perfectly encapsulate each countries contrasting approach to the Covid-19 threat. The US boat was rammed to the gunwales, with maybe sixty or seventy sweaty tourists, crammed cheek-by-jowl on its decks, while the similar sized Canadian boat had about a dozen passengers with plenty of space for social distancing and moving around.

We discussed our most likely national reaction to someone not wearing a facemask, or failing to maintain social distancing, which we decided was most likely be manifest not in a blazing argument, shanking with shiv, or capping of an ass, but that most censorious of British reactions, an almighty tut. (Isn’t the Almighty Tut one of Batman’s arch enemies?)

G-Dawg revealed he used to play football with a bloke who had the loudest tut known to man, perfectly audible anywhere on the pitch. Annoyingly, he wasn’t afraid to employ it either, in the face of any poor pass or mistimed tackle.

“He would tut so often, we called him Skippy,” G-Dawg revealed.

“Ah, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo,” a chuckling Crazy Legs reminisced, going rather misty eyed and finding a slight catch in his throat as he recalled the Australian TV version of Lassie, but one where the role of faithful and selfless animal-companion was changed from loyal, smart and intelligent dog, to a cantankerous, belligerent marsupial.

Photo by angello on Pexels.com

“‘Cept he wasn’t a kangaroo, but a wallaby,” I interjected in a smart-arse way, in part because I’d read this red-hot exposé in a gutter press Sunday tabloid, or similar, but mainly because I am indeed a smart-arse.

Further research suggests Skippy, or the numerous Skippy’s used in the filming this creaky, cheesy kids programme, were in fact Eastern Grey Kangaroos – at least one of which, as Crazy Legs reminded us, was probably maimed to provide the disembodied kangaroo arm with which “Skippy” would pick up or manipulate important plot items.

“I remember nearly being run over by a kangaroo when I went out for a jog once,” Jimmy Mac interjected. I assume he meant somewhere in the Outback and not more recently in the wilds of Northumberland.

Hmm, Jimmy Mac having a close shave at the hands of a dumb, thoughtless, unobservant animal. I sense a pattern here.

Meanwhile we watched Goose closely inspecting an e-bike parked next to the cafe. Crazy Legs recalled a patented Goose lecture about e-bikes at the top of a pass on one of our European Tours. His informed diatribe had lasted for a good 20 minutes, before he finally shrugged and blithely admitted that actually, he knew nothing about e-bikes whatsoever.

The Garrulous Kid is itching to get back to university and already looking forward to hitting the bars, parties and clubs – Covid be damned. G-Dawg mused that perhaps students should be made to wear something like a 2 metre diameter hula hoop to maintain correct social distancing at all times.

Crazy Legs had a much better idea and thought they should all be made to wear a plastic cone of shame, or Elizabethan collar, similar to those that vets use on dogs to stop them licking or scratching irritations. Obviously, we’d still want them to drink (we’re not that cruel) but I reasoned if the seal around the neck was watertight, they could just pour their drinks directly into the cone and then all they had to do would be to dip their heads and lap.

We think it’s a simple and elegant solution to a whole host of issues and can’t see any drawbacks. Patent pending.

Contemporaneously baked and chilled, we reluctantly decided it was time to leave and set out for home in our various groups, bringing to a close a club run that felt suspiciously normal.

Let’s hope there’s more to come.

Kangaroos, Cones and Close Shaves – Saturday July 25th

Plague Diaries – Week#10

Plague Diaries – Week#10

The Tranquillity of Solitude

*** NOTE: OFFICIALLY, THIS NEVER HAPPENED ***

Ok, now I know that last weeks stiff breeze was just a prelude, a dress rehearsal and a precursor for the main event, today’s sustained high winds. Apparently, according to the Met Office, 50 or 60 mph gusts are “very unusual” for this time of year. That’s good to know. Doesn’t make riding in it any easier though.

I could see the results of two days of tree-shaking blasts as soon as I stepped onto the pavement outside the house. It had given the neighbourhood trees a good thrashing and ripped off leaves to form a tattered, green confetti that had then been driven to shoal against the kerb at the side of the road.

The wind was unrelenting still and as I placed the bike on the road and swung a leg over the frame, I was being peppered with assorted debris, stripped from the trees and hurled down at me. This was going to be a little wild.

I decided I would set out and ride as much as possible into the wind to start with, try and get the worst bits over with and hopefully have a tailwind for the way back. It seemed like a decent plan, I’m just not sure I executed it all that successfully.

I picked my way carefully down the hill, the front wheel twitching a little nervously whenever the buildings and hedges opened up to let the wind scour through. Taking the turn ridiculously wide at the bottom, I turned upriver and into constant driving gusts. This’ll be a nice work out, then.

Crossing the river at Newburn, I started to climb up toward Throckley, stopping briefly to watch the bunting left over from the VE Day celebrations audibly snapping and cracking in the wind.

Past Albermarle Barracks and into the wide open expanse approaching Harlow Hill, I was getting the full force of the wind head-on, my pace slowed to a crawl and it was a real grind

Every hedgerow offer a little sanctuary, but every gap where a gate cut through was a potential trap, funnelling the wind through to unexpectedly snatch at your wheels and send you careering across the road. Even the cows seemed to have had enough and they were all huddled miserably in the corners of the fields, like boats driven from their moorings and piled against the shore.

The Military Road was much busier than the last time I’d travelled it and, struggling to maintain a straight line and facing increased speeding traffic, I bailed at Whittle Dene, taking to quieter and less exposed country lanes.

The wind didn’t seem to deter the anglers here, the lane was lined with cars and the lakeside with their owners, all hunkered down against the chill blasts and to all intents and purposes (but, who knows?) enjoying themselves.

From the reservoir I picked up a typical club run route, up to Mowden and Wall Houses and then through to Matfen.

It seemed like the wind had scoured all other cyclists from the roads, even on these well-travelled and popular routes. Where was everyone? I only saw two or three solo riders out and about – there was definitely no flouting of social-distancing guidelines today.

Just through Matfen and as the road passed through a small copse of trees I would say (without even needing to invoke my provisional poetic licence) that I could actually hear the wind roaring as it shook the branches overhead.

Pushing past the turn for the Quarry, I had a vague notion of dropping down the Ryals and looping through Colwell and around Hallington Reservoir, before heading home. It wasn’t the best thought-out plan, something I realised the moment I started the long, slow grind toward the village of Ryal. The wind, now full-bore and head-on, was driving a sputtering, stinging rain straight into my face as well as applying maximum drag. Hmm, this was unpleasant.

After what seemed a ridiculously long and hard slog, I finally crested the hill and started the long drop down the other side, relived just to be able to freewheel a little bit – I had no intention of pushing hard, that seemed suicidal.

As it was, I can honestly say I’ve never had a less enjoyable traversal of the Ryals, even when travelling the other way, up its damned slopes!

The wind was an immense, bellowing, battering force, blasting cold rain straight at me, while intermittently trying to wrench the front wheel sideways. I fought the bike all the way down until the hedgerows closed in on either side of the road and offered some relative calm and still air. If I’d thought about it, perhaps this was the day I should have been riding up the Ryals and aiming for a wind-assisted PR.

I re-assessed things at the bottom of the climb, noting the weather had turned ominously grey and suspecting it was closing in, I changed plans, cut my intended route short and started to climb out through Hallington.

I then picked up the road through Little Bavington, followed by a fast run down the side of the Blyth valley toward Capheaton. I stopped here to munch a cereal bar and worry some sheep, before pressing on and running down toward the Snake Bends and Belsay, right down the white line in the middle of the road as the surface is so crappy to either side.

Then again, I did spot 3 or 4 huge mounds of stone chippings piled up at the junction with the road from Wallridge. Does this mean they’re going to resurface this stretch? That would be nice, it would also make the run-in to one of our regular cafe sprints much less of a tooth-jangling, jolting, jarring horror show. We live in hope.

I swept through Belsay, noticing the cafe was now open, for takeaway’s at least, then it was Ogle, Ponteland and home.

Back in the shelter of the house, my day ended on a low note when I dropped my Garmin directly into a fresh mug of tea, where it did a passable imitation of a mini depth-charge. I know they’re supposed to be water-resistant, but this was a real test of concept.

Rescued and exiled to a bag of rice to dry out for a couple of hours, I turned it on with some trepidation. All seems to be working fine, but my ride file had somehow been corrupted, or in Strava terminology, “malformed”.

Which obviously means …

Luckily for me I’m still using the Road ID app so the family can track and trace me when I’m out on my lonesome, enjoying the tranquillity of solitude.

So, while officially this ride didn’t ever happen and will never pad out my Strava statistics, at least I know where I’ve been.

BTW – the Road ID app is totally free, and is an invaluable safety net for lone cyclists – and I don’t just mean when Strava fails them. I even seem to recall reviewing it 5 years ago! https://surlajante.com/2015/10/14/the-road-id-app-review/

Ooph! that makes me feel old …

Plague Diaries – Week#9

Plague Diaries – Week#9

Solitude Standing

Well UK lock-down conditions have been eased, somewhat chaotically and confusingly, but eased nonetheless. In real terms it makes no difference to the viability of group riding, so I’m still in solo mode, as I head out on a bright, somewhat chilly, Saturday morning.

(Every time I see or hear Bo-Jo’s “Stay Alert” imperative I’m not only reminded how nonsensical it sounds, but also that old chestnut – “Be Alert. Britain Needs Lerts.”)

As I dropped down the Heinous Hill, I felt the wind warping through my wheels and tugging at the rims. It was the first, rather testy appearance of what would be an almost constant companion throughout the day, a nagging, stiff breeze and one that I’d be turning directly into as soon as I hit the valley floor.

I headed up river, looking to cross over at Wylam, but as I approached the bridge, the blinking lights at the level crossing brought me to a halt. A good few seconds later, the barriers jerked into motion and slowly lowered. I guess if I’d been quick I could have nipped across, a la Paris-Roubaix 2015, but there were no prizes at the end and no peloton to escape from, so I stayed put.

I would have been perfectly safe crossing as it seemed a ridiculoulsy long wait, maybe around 5 minutes before the train finally trundled past. It took so long in fact, that at one point I was eyeing up the pedestrian footbridge and considering hoisting the bike on my shoulder and tackling its steep stairs cyclo-cross style, up and over the tracks.

While we waited, the traffic built up behind me until there were perhaps 4 or 5 cars queued there. Otherwise un-noteworthy in more normal times, this has to be considered major congestion these days. If it had been a weekday, this massive “traffic jam” might even have made the local radio station’s travel bulletin.

As cars built up on my side of the tracks, cyclists built up on the other. The pair opposite me arrived at different times, but were obviously acquainted and had the chance to catch up, while a family of four loitered behind them.

Finally, the train rumbled through the junction, the barriers stuttered into motion and at last we were all able to get under way again.

I made my way along the Tyne Valley, through Ovingham and toward Stocksfield, following the path that runs close to the river. Rolling along happily despite the headwind, noticing the bright green verges were sprinkled and spangled with all kinds of wild flowers. I recognised bright, sunny fringed dandelion heads, delicately-hued bluebells, tall foxgloves and the emerging, still green-tinged-white of young cow parsley, but had very little idea what the hundreds of bright magenta flowers were, or their smaller, pale blue cousins.

Just past Stocksfield I picked up a shadow, who rode in my wake for a mile or two, riding the fine line between drafting and maintaining correct social distancing. I either lost him on one of the hills, or he turned early to take a different route, as he was gone by the time the road spat me out just above Corbridge.

I guess I could easily have crossed the A69 at any one of three or four points along my route, given the lack of traffic, but I was aiming for Aydon, where the bridge took me up and over the road. As I suspected traffic on the dual-carriageway below was relatively light, although not as empty as the last time I’d crossed over it.

I climbed out of the valley and was soon on familiar club-run roads heading toward Matfen, Just after the Quarry turn, I stopped for a quick break, before tackling the climb, then swinging left and following the road down and through to the Snake Bends, deliberately not sprinting toward them and quite enjoying the fact.

To add on a few more miles, I then took one of our standard cafe run-ins and reversed it, up and over the Rollers, sweeping around Bolam Lake and then heading to Hartburn via Angerton. I could write that on part of this route I actually had a bit of a cross-tailwind, instead of a full-bore headwind … but nobody would believe me.

Instead of turning right and climbing up to Hartburn, I stayed on the road that finally brought me out just before the village of Middleton. I don’t think we’ve ever been this way before, I certainly don’t recall ever seeing the Marlish Water site where “spring water takes over 150 years to slowly filter through the rock strata”.

I wonder if it’s worth the wait?

My next landmark was Middleton Bank, taken at a fairly relaxed pace, I was tiring now and looking to head for home. Over the top, I passed Spry flying in the opposite direction, looking cool and resplendent in a replica Maglia Rosa.

A few more moments passed and then, trailing just behind him, came his dad, Andeven, looking slightly less assured and chasing hard (although if you asked him, he’d probably just claim that he was just following correct social distancing protocol.)

I was on the way home now, passing many other cyclists heading in both directions. I stopped just outside Ponteland to pull on a pair of arm warmers. It turned out it was too warm to wear them, but too chill not too. Oh well.

I persevered while feeling a little too warm and was soon climbing back up the hill and home, another 100km’s solo banked under my wheels and in my legs.

Plague Diaries – Week#8

Plague Diaries – Week#8

Six-Hundred and Fifty Kays of Solitude

Well, six-hundred and forty-eight kilometres actually, since lock-down, but I do have a provisional poetic licence and besides, what’s 2km between friends?

That, by the way represents 31 hours and 14 minutes of solo riding, in my own company.

It’s just as well I almost like myself …

Today was the perfect day to build this total, the sky exposed in huge patches of blue, so the sun beamed down brightly for extended periods – strong enough and long enough in fact, that I would make a very credible start on this years tan lines – well, once I’d ditched the arm warmers, which only lasted until I’d made it to the bridge.

Across the river and went climbing straight back out of the valley, up Hospital Lane, through Westerhope and out onto typical club run roads. I looked at the route on Strava afterwards and was surprised how much it was pretty much a straight north-south line.

I went through Ponteland, Kirkley and then, after around 30km, I found myself at the junction for the road that would lead toward Whalton and homeward. I was enjoying myself though and still hadn’t had enough, so I took a right here, turning away from Whalton, to add on a further loop through Molesden and Meldon.

That makes it sound like I had some sort of grand plan in mind, but to be honest I was happy to be riding, revelling in the weather and instinctively following wherever my front wheel decided to take me.

I might have been riding solo, but I was far from alone and must have passed dozens and dozens of other cyclists, out enjoying the weather and their allotted exercise period. The majority were club riders, but there were also plenty of civilians too, typically with their saddles set too low and knees sticking out like knobbly wind-brakes.

No matter, everyone seemed genuinely happy and riding with a smile on their face and it was great to see so many people enjoying the simple, pure pleasure of piloting a bike. In fact the only dissenting voice I heard came from a horsewoman on a sleek-looking, grey horse. She seemed mildly disappointed the weather wasn’t blazingly hot and demurred when I suggested we had “a nice day for it.”

At the Gubeon, I passed Alhambra, flying in the opposite direction, our hastily shouted hello’s the only direct contact I’ve had with the club since this whole sorry Covid-19 episode began.

I completed my loop and stopped at a random gate just outside Belsay for a quick break and the now obligatory photo of the bike propped against a random piece of scenery.

It was here I noted the shiny black flying insects, swarming over the top of every hedgerow in some kind of mad mating, or feeding frenzy. I’d been aware of them throughout the ride, occasionally pinging off my specs, rattling around in the vents of my helmet and once even dive-bombing, kamikaze-style, straight at my mouth, I just hadn’t realised just how many of the blighters were out and about.

Still, they seemed harmless, if occasionally annoying when they wandered inadvertently into my path. I left them alone and for the most part, they left me alone too.

From my resting place, I picked up a road for Ponteland, which soon deposited me on the Ogle road and back on familiar terrain, as I started to retrace my steps. I noticed the rape seed is coming in strongly now, huge swathes of land stained a bright and alien, acid yellow.

Meh, fields didn’t look like that when I was a nipper.

As I crested the top of Berwick Hill, I found I was enjoying myself and still hadn’t had enough, so I went right instead of left and back-tracked through Ponteland and out onto the High Callerton road. At Callerton itself, I was a bit disorientated to find a massive new housing estate had sprung up since the last time I took this route. Surely it wasn’t that long ago?

I kept going, but wasn’t reassured I hadn’t missed a turn until the landscape became familiar again and I was once more passing through Westerhope.

From there, I worked myself down to the river, across Newburn Bridge and struck out down the valley again. At the Blaydon roundabout, I found I was enjoying myself and still hadn’t had enough, so I took another detour, heading right along the Derwent Valley to Rowlands Gill.

From there, I took in the climb up to Burnopfield. Cresting this final, major hill of the day, I decided that was it, I really had had enough, so with no more detours, I skipped straight along the Fell and home.

Plague Diaries – Week#6

Plague Diaries – Week#6

The loneliness of the long distance cyclist

Into week#6 of the lockdown (but who’s counting) and G-Dawg took to social media to celebrate 30 days of quarantine with a link to the Chuck Berry’s classic, “30 Days.”

I immediately added this to my Coronavirus Top 10 playlist, which is coming along quite nicely now:

  1. My Sharona Corona – by The Knack. Crazy Legs’ original, all conquering ear-worm.
  2. Don’t Stand So Close To Me – by The Police, a plaintive paean to maintaining social-distancing.
  3. Isolation – by Joy Division, a breezy little ditty, recorded during one of their more sunny and carefree periods.
  4. Train in Vain – by The Clash, in celebration of all the exercise I’m doing, with no way to show off any (no doubt marginal) gains. I could as easily have picked Clampdown, or Armagideon Time, from the same peerless album/period.
  5. Smells Like Teen Spirit – by Nirvana, for prophetically appropriate lyrics, “I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us.” (See also: Thea Gilmore singing on Mainstream about “another kind of war that is raging in our bloodstream.”
  6. Are Friends Electric? – by Tubeway Army, for all the Zwifters amongst us. (I could, of course, have chosen any Taylor Zwift song … (well, if I actually knew any).
  7. You’re A Germ – by Wolf Alice, perhaps a more contemporary song than my original choice, Germ Free Adolescent, by X-Ray Spex.
  8. World Shut Your Mouth – by Julian Cope masterful advice from a former member of the self-proclaimed, Crucial Three. His contemporaries might have contributed “The Disease” – Echo and the Bunnymen, or “Seven Minutes to Midnight” – Wah! Heat (although to be fair, these days it’s probably a lot closer than 7 minutes on the old Doomsday Clock).
  9. Spread The Virus – by Cabaret Voltaire – perhaps what Covid-19 might sound like, if given voice!
  10. 30 Days by Chuck Berry. I’ve got the feeling G-Dawg might soon be cuing up 40 Days, by Slowdive and, I hope I’m wrong, but maybe even looking up some songs by 90 Day Men before this is over.

Any other suggestions?

In the news this week, Mrs. SLJ finished laying waste to our hedges and turned her dauntless topiary skills to the top of my head. If I had to guess, I think the look she was she was aiming for was Action Man circa his flock hair period.

It’s not the best haircut I’ve ever had, but by no means the worst either. Anyway, I think you’ll agree, she did a much better job than Melania…

As a consequence my helmet fits again and feels unimaginably cooler. Just in time, as we head into the weekend with the promise of fine, warm weather.

Even better, I get to wear our new, custom Santini kit for the first time, only a long 10-months after we started the procurement process in June last year!

Again with nothing pre-planned, I found myself crossing the river and climbing out of the valley via Hospital Lane. Having failed to find any sign of a hospital along its length, I concluded it was so called because you’re likely to need emergency care after scrambling up it.

From there I ticked off all the standard tropes of a fairly standard club run, through Ponteland to Limestone Lane, Stamfordham, Matfen and then down the Ryals, all done at a brisk enough pace to have my legs stinging and the breath wheezing in and out of my lungs like a pair of leaky bellows.

The long descent of the Ryal’s left me feeling chilled, so I pulled to a stop beside the war memorial at the bottom and parked myself on the bench there to let the sun warm my bones.

It really was a delightfully peaceful and bucolic scene, the roads empty of traffic and the only sounds were the buzz of fat bees droning through the grass and an almost constant chorus of chirpy, cheerful, chatty birdsong, punctured by the occasional plaintive bleat of newborn lambs.

I managed to stir myself before I got too comfortable, choosing, on the flip of a (mental) coin, to head up through Hallington. I was appalled by the deteriorating road surface here, which was even worse than I recall, but made it through without incident.

It was then our standard route home, through Belsay, Ogle and Kirkley. As I was heading back, everyone else seemed to be heading out into the now positively warm weather and I was passed by a constant stream of other cyclists in singles and in pairs.

I was particularly surprised by how many women cyclists I passed, which is brilliant, but did make me wonder where they usually ride and why we never seem to pass them?

By the time I crested Berwick Hill, I was paying the price for my early exuberance, the legs were heavy and shaky and I was running on empty. The trip home then was, by necessity, a much more sedate affair. By the time I’d dragged myself up the Heinous Hill I’d covered 60-miles, yet perversely thoroughly enjoyed my ride out. It’s fair to say I’m looking forward to a very lazy Sunday, a long lie-in, nothing too strenuous beyond a family walk. And hopefully a chance for a bit of recovery, before it all starts again.

Hang in there, we’re going to get through this.

Riding in the Buff

Riding in the Buff

Club Run, Saturday 7th December 2019

Total Distance: 108 km/67 miles with 422 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 38 minutes
Average Speed: 23.3km/h
Group Size: 28 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 10℃
Weather in a word or two: Surprisingly mild.

Ride Profile

Mild weather in December? No frost and no ice? Dry, with not the slightest hint of rain? Slightly breezy, but no debilitating gales? What could our feckless, mild curmudgeon of a club rider possibly find to complain about on this fine day?

Don’t worry folks, I’ve got it covered. It was the state of the roads. I don’t mean their divot-riven, crevasse-crazed, crumbling and cratered surfaces – that’s just a given these days and hardly worth a mention. The issue this time out was just how much wet mud and crud and dirt and filth and, and … drek was strewn across our paths.

Cleaning the bike afterwards was most assuredly a two bucket job.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Ahlambra arrived at the meeting place on a passably clean bike. I was going to suggest that, for once, he would be able to avoid any censure from OGL, when I realised he was riding without mudguards, so rebuke was sadly inevitable. It then became apparent that the bike was only clean, because it was his summer bike, uncharitably yanked out of hibernation in an hour of need.

Ahlambra explained that he’d been out for a ride when he’d somehow sheered through the crank bolts on his winter bike. Luckily, he hadn’t been too far from home and had carefully made it back, while somehow keeping a sliding chainring in place on the bottom bracket spindle, as he described it, “like a magician spinning plates.”

Still, he wasn’t the only one riding without guards, so plenty of good material was available for our traditional pre-ride inspection and ritual castigation. In fact, the weather was so mild that I was convinced someone would be brave and/or foolish enough to turn up wearing shorts, opening up entirely new avenues of derision.

I almost felt my prediction was going to be fulfilled immediately, when Rab Dee arrived at speed and with a daring flash of bare calf. But sadly, no, he was only wearing three-quarter length bibs. Just as I was about to give up, however, a bare-legged, be-shorted Goose bumped his steel behemoth (dubbed the Iron Horse by the Hammer) up onto the kerb to join us. Good man, I knew he wouldn’t let me down.

The stars had aligned and we had all the tropes available and primed for a classic and highly entertaining bit of OGL banter, larded with heapings of scorn and opprobrium, when G-Dawg revealed OGL was actually laid up poorly in bed and wouldn’t be riding today.

Princess Fiona had just returned from a (heartily recommended) mountain-biking trip in the Himalaya’s, where the internal flights sounded more technical, gnarly and terrifying than some of the actual rides down raw and precipitous mountain trails.

The small, single-engine planes used to transport riders, bikes and equipment between runs had been so delicate and finely balanced, that their internal loads and passengers had to be carefully matched and distributed, just to ensure they’d fly straight.

This proved too much for G-Dawg, the Dennis Bergkamp of our club, who refuses to step onto a plane these days and visibly blanched at the descriptions of seat-of-the-pants flying through high mountain passes. It’s a pretty safe bet he won’t be travelling to the Himalayas for his mountain-bike fix anytime soon.

It reminded me of a tale about one of Mrs. SLJ’s cousins, who had a similar fear of flying. In mid-flight across the Mediterranean, the captain had come on the intercom to suggest that if everyone looked out the left hand window, they’d get a good view of Corsica. Naturally, almost one entire side of the plane had dutifully stood up and shuffled across the aisle to peer out the windows, all except the cousin, who gripped his chair arms white knuckled and screamed, “Sit down! Sit down! You’ll have the bugger over!”

Route briefed in, numbers were sufficient to split into two groups and we planned a rendezvous and merging at Dyke Neuk. With all that decided, I dropped down the kerb and joined the first group as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


I fell in alongside TripleD-Bee, working hard to immerse himself in UK and even Geordieland culture, to the extent that he was willing to subject himself to 90-minutes of unalloyed pain and misery on a trip to St. James’ Park. There he would join a congregation of the deluded, watching dilettante multi-millionaires disconsolately kicking a surrogate pigs bladder around a paddock. Or something.

He admitted though that, despite his willing immersion, he hadn’t quite got to grips with the Geordie dialect yet. He was however working on the Jimmy Carr principle of finding that one phrase that perfectly and easily encapsulates the dialect and building from this. “Roller coaster” apparently is the phrase of choice for would-be Geordie speakers, so if you stumble across an odd cyclist constantly muttering “roller-coaster” to himself in a sing-song voice, you’ll know why. Anyway, be assured you haven’t discovered a confused Charles Manson acolyte, who’s simply got his fairground rides mixed up.



At the top of Bell’s Hill, G-Dawg and Aether swung aside and invited TripleD-Bee and me onto the front. We lasted little more than a mile, as, when we called out for directions, Jimmy Mac set us ploughing straight ahead when we should have turned left. We corrected too late and went from first place to last in one glorious, errant manoeuvre.

The Mur de Mitford was wet and slippery, causing G-Dawg no end of problems on his fixie and prompting Den Hague to lend a helping hand with a well-timed push. Gurning and grunting mightily, he made it up, but I’m not sure he enjoyed it.

From the Mur, we scaled the Curlicue Climb (Coldlaw) as an alternative to the Trench, where once again G-Dawg pondered the imponderable, trying to decide which of the two ways up he liked the best (or maybe t which hated the least). He sensibly decided the one he preferred was the one he wasn’t set to ride – which makes perfect sense to me.

Once again the front group went straight on when they should have turned left. I suspect that, once more this was at the prompting of Jimmy Mac, who’s building a formidable reputation as an errant and unreliable navigator, an official position within the club we haven’t been able to fill ever since the Prof defected to the Back Street Boys.

The remaining few followed the agreed plan and we made our way to Dyke Neuk and settled down for what would prove to be an extended wait. It was so long in fact, that we’d decided to push on and were just clipping in, when the second group finally appeared on the horizon. We merged the two groups on the fly and pushed on.

I fell in alongside Carlton, who made a ridiculously simple suggestion that perhaps we shouldn’t look to merge the groups on winter rides, when hanging around, slowly chilling (in all senses of the word) probably wasn’t such a smart idea. The man’s a genius.

We took Middleton Bank en masse and I pulled on the front from the crest of the hill, around the lake and over the rollers to the final climb. At this point I felt I’d done enough and sat back to let everyone else contest the sprint to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

If the cafe had been eerily quiet the week before, they were more than making up for it now and the place was rammed, including a sizeable contingent from the Blaydon club, who don’t typically use this a stop on their rides.

Our Jimmy Mac (mis)led splinter-group, having missed the long wait at Dyke Neuk, had arrived much earlier and were almost ready to go by the time we joined the long queue. In a poor piece of planning, or perhaps a poor show of form, they vacated their table in the crowded cafe before we’d been served. If they’d hung back just a little we could have smoothly transitioned from one group of cyclists to the next and especially annoyed all he waiting civilians. But it wasn’t to be.

TripleD-Be was in this group and I questioned whether he’d be allowed to leave without TripleD-El. He didn’t see it as a problem. “At least you can have lunch ready and on the table for her when she gets in,” I suggested.

He didn’t look too sure.

“At least I’ll get first use of the shower,” he countered. Fair play, to the victor go the spoils etc.

In the extended queue I had a discussion about the curse of helmet hair with Princess Fiona, still taking grief from her elderly mother for having a highly practical, but apparently too short, “too masculine” hair-do.

We decided that a wig was perhaps the only sensible answer, a conversation that ended with Mini Miss pointedly eyeing up a civilian with a too-neat, too perfect-looking bob and wondering if the hair was perhaps a mite unnatural. As the woman jostled past, she must have wondered why we were all staring fixedly at her head and unsuccessfully fighting to suppress a fit of giggles. I hope we didn’t give her too much of a complex.

I told TripleD-El her partner had skipped home, intent on taking up semi-permanent residence in the shower, until he’d drained the hot water tank. She wasn’t biting, but instead envisaged that not only would her lunch be waiting on the table when she arrived, but having already showered and cooked lunch and cleaned his own bike, TripleD-Be would be waiting eagerly to clean her bike for her.

I wonder how that worked out?

Ahlambra was one of the last to take a seat and I couldn’t help but marvel at that state of his footwear. He’d forgotten to pull on overshoes that morning and his once prisitine, shoes were now uniformly covered in a thick, shiny, slimy layer of beige-coloured slurry. “They’re nice shoes,” I told him, “Did you know they do them in white as well?”

After our usual quota of talking nonsense, we determined it was time to go and started gathering variously discarded articles of clothing.

Pulling on his buff. Kermit remarked that in certain company he always gets a strange reaction when he declares he’s been riding in his buff, often followed by various questions about the legality of such activity and just how uncomfortable it is.

[Despite any potential confusion, I still can’t bring myself to refer to a buff as a “neck gaiter” as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, this is far to close to the term neck goitre and conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images.]

TripleD-El provided further proof that cultural context was everything, relating how her workmates had seemingly over-reacted to her simple declaration that she’d “lost her licence.”

“Oh, no! What on earth did you do wrong?” she was asked.

“I think I must have left it in my other coat,” she’d replied, to some very confused looks.


The trip home was unremarkable and largely without impediment, other than having to negotiate the crowds on the bridge and mile long line of cars parked up haphazardly, either side of the river. The Rutherford Head rowing regatta was in full flow and enjoying much better weather than I seem to recall from last year’s sub-zero temperatures and freezing rain squalls.

And now we’re spiralling to toward the end of the year. I’ll miss next weeks ride as I retrieve Thing#1 from university, which gives me a week free from this nonsense and just a couple more opportunities to pad out mileage totals.

It looks like my next ride out will be our Christmas jumper … err… extravaganza, so I guess another mild, uncomfortably warm ride looks certain. We’ll see.


YTD Totals: 7,483 km / 4,650 miles with 96,385 metres of climbing

Diluvial Denial

Diluvial Denial

Club Run, Saturday 17th November 2019

Total Distance: 111 km/69 miles with 1,095m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 36 minutes
Average Speed: 24.1km/h
Group Size: 22 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 9℃
Weather in a word or two: Wet ‘n’ Wild

Ride Profile

With parts of the country subject to devastating rainfall and numerous homes submerged under floodwater, the North East seems to have escaped relatively intact despite the fact it had been raining heavily, off and on since Wednesday night.

The forecast for Saturday was for extended periods of this rain that started out as an 80% probability, then just increased as the day progressed. Whatever happened it looked like being a wet one. It was however noticeably warmer than it had been last week – so not all bad news, I guess.

There was only the lightest, finest, mist of precipitation as I set out and I did ponder stopping to take the rain jacket off. I hadn’t gone far though when a heavy shower dampened me and any enthusiasm I might have had for peeling away any protective layers. The rain was going to be an infrequent and intermittent companion for the rest of the morning, after which it would stop toying with us and just pour unremittingly.

Other than skirting some newly formed lagoons in unexpected places, testament to the volume of water that had fallen out of the skies in the past few days, my trip across to the meeting point was largely uneventful.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I pulled in alongside Captain Black, sheltering under the eaves of the multi-storey car park and peering out uncertainly into the wet gloom. He hasn’t been out for a good few weeks and certainly hadn’t picked the best of days to mark his return.

The Prof put in a surprise, cameo appearance, declaring his Back Street Boys tribute act don’t actually perform in the rain, which interferes with their hairstyles, or choreography, or some such. He was forced to concede we were a much hardier bunch, although obviously we don’t ride half as hard, half as far, or half as fast as his fair weather friends. (I’m fairly certain he even referred to them as “sugar plum fairies” at one point, but I may have misheard.)

Appropriately enough, our ride leader for the day (and first-time volunteer) was Rainman, who’d posted up a route which he kept insisting was no longer than normal. A more cynical man than I might have concluded he doth protest too much, but, at least it was different.

We discussed various alternatives to avoid potential flooded areas, much to the bemusement of the Hammer, who, in one of his usual declarative, dismissive statements, insisted, “Well, it’s hardly rained at all.”

Crazy Legs appeared out of the gloom, swept past us and, sporting a huge grin, attacked the lower slopes of the car park ramps. G-Dawg hesitated a brief second, before racing to join him, as our two fearless adventurers made good on their promise to find out exactly what was located at the top of the multi-storey car park.

Our intrepid explorers returned, seemingly unimpressed with their discoveries, but further swelling our numbers which were pushing twenty strong by the time Carlton rolled in to join us.

“Happy birthday!” someone called out to him, initiating an impromptu sing-a-long, as twenty, disparate voices were united in some fleeting semblance of harmony, in the dank, echoing confines of a grimy multi-storey. I’m not sure the car park has ever witnessed anything quite so moving, as we serenaded the anniversary of our compadre’s entry into this world some … aah … 25 years, or so ago. (Oh, plus a little bit … yeah, bit more … bit more … getting there … now add in the VAT)

Rainman began briefing in the route, but was stopped mid-flow.

“Who are you?” someone demanded.

“Call me whatever you like,” he suggested magnanimously.

“Oh, we do,” I assured him.

He completed the briefing, once again assuring us it was a very standard length route, but also that there were plenty of turn-off points should we decide to cut the ride short.

Then, at precisely 9:14, one entire minute early, he drove us out of our warm, dark and comforting sanctuary (did I really just write that?) and out onto the open roads.

This I suspect is an underlying reason for the fabled Dutch efficiency in their public transport systems. They cheat, leaving ahead of schedule so as not to arrive late.

I guess it’s just tough luck if you’re not there super-punctual and miss your train and indeed, our early start caught a few out. Ovis was only just arriving as we were leaving, Buster had to dart quickly across 4 lanes of busy traffic to tag onto the back, while Andeven, completely wrong footed and travelling up the opposite carriageway in the wrong direction, had to race away, circumnavigate a roundabout and chase on.

Still we managed to have some semblance of a group formed once we’d collected our stragglers and pushed out into the countryside.


I had a brief chat with the Prof, then found myself alongside Captain Black, who’s winter bike had suddenly developed automatic transmission. Unfortunately, it decided to change gear at the most inopportune times, turning the assault on even the gentlest of slopes into a grind fest as the chain kept skipping down his cassette. It had become so bad, he’s actually going to spend good money on his winter bike and upgrade from a Claris to full 105 groupset.

We took the road up toward the Cheese Farm, with an under-the-weather Crazy Legs making the effort to hang with the main group, solely to watch us make our way through the road-spanning puddles typically found in this lane.

This time around though, the road was disappointingly clear and he didn’t get that big schadenfreude, yuck-yuck-yuck moment, when he could laugh at anyone not in waterproof boots. He rolled off the back after this disappointment, taking anyone looking for a more relaxed ride along with him.

Over the top of Bell’s Hill, I dropped my chain and it was my turn to chase on. Despite, or maybe because of the weather, we weren’t hanging around and it was hard work.


Water, water everywhere

We threaded a thin isthmus between flooded road and sodden fields on the long drag up to Dyke Neuk and there called a brief halt to regroup and determine splits.

Dyke Neuk found Buster and Biden Fecht discussing possibilities for our overseas, mountain-scaling expedition next year, which looks set to feature the Dolomites. Asked what he thought of the idea, Biden Fecht held forth in a lengthy and impassioned exposition in what, to the untrained ear, sounded like credible Italian.

“Was that actually Italian?” an impressed, but still somewhat sceptical Buster asked.

“Si, si,” Biden Fecht deadpanned.

At Dyke Neuk instead of tracing our usual routes north or west, we turned south, dropping down the hill, to then climb back up through Meldon.

As we set off, a group coming up the hill warned us of more floods ahead and sure enough we were soon sloshing through another road spanning puddle. This was made worse by an impatient driver forcing his way through in the opposite direction, which not only pushed us off the crown of the road and into deeper water, but created a bow wave to wash over our feet. Pleasant.


Nor any drop to drink …

From Dyke Neuk onwards, our numbers were slowly whittled down, as the group splintered and various offshoots took various, shorter routes. This started when we reached Bolam Lake, within maybe a mile or two of the cafe, before inexplicably turning our backs on coffee and cake, as we headed north, through Angerton, Scots Gap, Cambo and Wallington, taking a massive loop around Middleton Bank, before finally approaching it from the west.

By the time we were climbing up toward Cambo, there were only about half a dozen of us left and I was feeling the pace and starting to lose contact. I was also closing in on 50 miles covered, before we had even reached the cafe.

As we finally turned toward Middleton Bank, there was a touch of wheels ahead. I was too far back to see what actually happened, but there was a bit of shouting and a bit of wild manoeuvring, with some grass verge surfing thrown in for good measure. Luckily, no one came down, but everyone stopped to assess the damage.

Well, everyone but me. I wasn’t stopping for anything, or anyone and sailed through the group to keep going, happy to have a bit of a lead onto Middleton Bank.

Caught on the slopes, I finally formed a grupetto with Biden Fecht, Ovis and Andeven (our two apparently chastened wheel-touchers and shunters) and we rode in to the cafe together.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Biden Fecht’s face was so mud besplattered that it even prompted one of the serving staff to ask if he’d been riding behind people all day. ##Cough## Wheelsucker.

I did briefly mention my misgiving about the length of the ride to Rainman and how I was already over 50 miles. He was still insisting it was a standard length, but perhaps he was struggling converting my retard units to kilometres?

I grabbed a cup of coffee and a Stollen scone (is it Christmas already?) and squeezed onto a bench alongside Crazy Legs and G-Dawg.

I ignored what I was certain was a blatant attempt by Crazy Legs to inflict a Lemonheads ear-worm on me, as he declared, enough about us, lets talk about me, I turned the conversation to glam-rockers, The Sweet, or as they were more simply known to me, Sweet.

Having not troubled the music charts since the late 70’s, the band are touring once more, behind a promotional poster that caught my attention as it suggests they haven’t aged well. Lead singer, Brian Connolly’s long platinum locks (or are they just grey now?) return in all their hirsute splendour, but the face they frame is looking decidedly time-ravaged – and he’s perhaps the pick of the bunch.

Anyway, not only did Crazy Legs show an unexpected degree of enthusiasm for seeing the tour, but he also reminded us of one of the Hammers greatest declarative statements: “Sweet, the band Led Zeppelin could have been.”

We chuckled. Again. Richard Rex, joined in too, but was obviously more of a Led Zep fan than Crazy Legs, G-Dawg or me and he seemed to pause to try to determine if the statement was complimentary or derogatory.

For some reason we then found ourselves trying to name Led Zeppelin tunes. G-Dawg was adamant he didn’t know any, while I cited their cover of the Rolf Harris classic, Stairway to Heaven (only kidding Zep fans) and perhaps, maybe the Top of the Pops theme tune. Richard Rex shook his head in dismay at our wilful ignorance.

Crazy Legs seemed to fare much better, with several titles rolling off his tongue: Black Dog(?) Rock and Roll(?) Kashmir(?) Huh? Suspicious …

His flimsy excuse was that his school discos were all carefully inclusive and strictly democratic, therefore, for every new wave/punk/mod or ska record that was played, they were forced to balance it with some metal/prog rock abomination.

Hmm …


We hustled out of the cafe, into the cold and the unrelenting drumming of serious rain, that had settled in to stay. The group was split leaving the car park and never had the chance to reform, as everyone put their heads down and just went, intent on getting out of the foul weather as quickly as possible.

Richard Rex went into full time-trial mode, powering away on the front, so I sat on his wheel for as long as I could hold on. There wasn’t a whole lot of talking, with everyone seemingly intent on just enduring the horrible conditions in silence. Nevertheless, there was enough communication to plan an alternative route through Ponteland, rather than risk the potential of flooded roads leading up to Berwick Hill.

That suited me, I’d already decided to go that way in order to shave a few miles off my total, now at least I’d have a few wheels to follow, even if I was struggling to hold them.

By the time I was swinging away to strike out solo, I accepted I was already as wet as I was ever going to be and was resigned to the weather staying foul. Once I dropped the pace back to something a bit more sustainable, I even found I was actually quite enjoying myself, which might be the kind of positive attitude I’m going to need more of. I get the feeling we’re heading toward more wretched weather and a bad winter.

By the time I reached home, I’d covered almost 70 miles, despite taking the short-cut through Ponteland.

On a heavy winter bike.

In the pouring rain.

And carrying an additional kilogram or two in water-logged clothing

Nice route…

For a perfect day.


YTD Totals: 6,993 km / 4,345 miles with 91,098 metres of climbing

The Puffin Ride

The Puffin Ride

Club Run, Saturday 9th November, 2019

Total Distance: 95 km/59 miles with 852 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 12 minutes
Average Speed: 22.6km/h
Group Size: 7 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature: 5℃
Weather in a word or two: Puffin weather?

Ride Profile

I wasn’t out last week, because, well … World Cup, baby! My work colleague, the bloke formerly known as Fat Dave, eruditely swayed my internal dilemma by arguing it had been 12 long years since the England rugby team last made a final, so I wasn’t likely to have this opportunity again until 2031, when I’d be … ulp … fast bearing down on my 70th birthday.

Apparently, in joining 12.8 million other disappointed TV-viewers, I’d missed a decent day for a bicycle ride, with an assortment of around 20 Celts, Continentals and hardened rugby-deniers out and about. It had obviously been a complete contrast to today, where, with temperatures hovering around freezing and the potential for ice on the roads, social media was already active with “should I ride?” queries.

Ride leader for the day, Benedict, had already peered outside and determined the conditions were marginal, at best. Meanwhile Aether was lobbying (apparently unsuccessfully) for a later start to give the sun a fighting chance, just time enough to eke out a little bit of warmth and reduce the likelihood of ice.

I’d stepped outside to pull the bike from the shed and immediately hustled back in, to change my thick base layer for the thickest I had. I pulled an old Castelli, long-sleeved, thermal jersey over this, topped it off with a winter jacket and stuffed a light rain jacket in my back pocket for god measure. I wasn’t expecting rain, but felt an extra windproof layer might be useful.

Shorts under winter tights, disco headband, buff, glove liners, thick gloves, trusty Thermolite socks, shoes and shoe covers and I felt I was just about good to go.

So I did.

I rolled slowly down the hill, looking for any signs of ice creeping out from the gutters, while carefully avoiding the wet and slippery mass of yellow leaves that lined the road.

Halfway down and the world suddenly turned white, as I passed into a thick, still and smothering shroud of freezing fog, that appeared to have been poured into the valley bottom. I checked my lights were on and blinking away furiously, as I slipped silently into this dim and clinging mist.

The windscreens of all the cars parked up on the side of the road were opaque with thick feathers of ice, while the grass was frozen stiff, white and curled up protectively. The cold struck at my fingers and toes and any area of exposed flesh on my face and I began to wonder if perhaps I needed further layers on top of my layers. It was chilly.

I don’t know if the stillness of the air played a part, but the Blaydon roundabout stank of spilled diesel. I couldn’t help channelling my inner Colonel Kilgore, but luckily no one was around to overhear my mad mutterings:

“Smell that? You smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. The smell, you know, that gasoline smell? It smells like … victory. Someday this war’s gonna end…”

2℃ the readout on the factory unit told me, as I crossed the train lines, before taking to the empty pavement to defy the traffic lights and cross the river without waiting. The bridge seemed to be floating in mid-air and if any rowers had been out I wouldn’t have spotted them through the opaque, milky whiteness that obscured the river surface.

Climbing out the other side of the valley, the transition was just as sudden, misty-fog giving way to clear, bright air between one pedal stroke and the next.

A cold but brilliant sun now bounced off the wet road, turning intermittent spots of diesel into shining, metallic-rainbow coloured blooms. I was obviously following a badly wounded bus and, with a little better knowledge of routes, I could probably have identified it from the tell-tale trail it had left in its wake and tracked it all the way back to its lair.

Distractions aside, I arrived at the meeting place at the usual time to find a solitary G-Dawg standing and waiting astride his fixie. We agreed we were likely to have a very small group defying the bitter cold to ride today.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:

While we waited to see who else was stupid brave enough to be out, we compared notes on the rugby. Neither of us had been remotely surprised by the result and we agreed the most deserving team had won on the day.

And, moving swiftly on …

We were eventually joined by Alhambra, OGL and two relatively new guys, lets call them Cowboys and Bison for now … just, because.

Alhambra won the prize for having the filthiest, mud-spattered bike and was immediately taken to task by OGL.

He did a quick, comedy double-take and tried on an astonished expression. “I swear it was clean when I left the house.”

No one was buying and he finally admitted he’d been so busy decorating at home, he’d never gotten around to the part of his to-do list that included cleaning his bike.

OGL was leant on for an extended discourse on the different through-axle options for disc wheels, as Bison is in the process of buying a new bike. At least he didn’t physically have to do anything, although it remains quite a popular option for someone to turn up with this, that, or the other wrong with their bike and needing some expert tinkering with.

G-Dawg expected that sooner or later someone would take this to the ultimate extreme and walk to the meeting place carrying an unrideable bike, before demanding OGL laid healing hands on it, to make everything work again.

Zardoz was the last to join us, making up a slightly less than magnificent seven. That looked like being it for the day.

A couple of minutes past our usual departure time, with no more joiners likely, we discussed ride options and decided to stick to main roads and bus routes that we hoped would be gritted and ice free, then off we went.


I pushed out onto the front with G-Dawg. It was a largely still day, so I held position for most of the ride. One benefit of this, I found when I got home, was a pristine, completely clean jacket, lacking the usual spots and dots of road grime picked up from the filthy, wet roads when riding amongst wheels with variable mudguard coverage.

Speaking of which, OGL wondered if anyone else had seen the “10 best winter bikes” feature on one of the inter-webby sites that cyclists are supposed to follow. Much to his amusement every other “winter” bike recommended had a carbon fibre frame and, more astonishingly, not a single one was shown with mudguards. Evidently these were designed for the South of France, not the harsh realities of a North East winter.

It was still decidedly chilly once we’d left the exotic micro-climate of the transport interchange centre bus station behind us, but, try as we might, we couldn’t find any ice and, all in all, if you got the protection right, it was a pleasant day for a ride.

G-Dawg was happy just to be able to wear his quilted and heavily insulated bike jacket again, something so warm, he reckons conditions only warrant its use just once or twice a year.



There were no Flat White adherents out with us and it wasn’t cold enough to impose UCI/Flat White extreme weather protocols, so we passed by the cafe at Kirkley Cycles with nothing more than a wistful glance and kept going.

At Whalton about 30km into the ride we called a halt to ponder our route options. This gave Bison a chance to spot the defibrillator inside an old-fashioned red phonebox and idly wonder if it could transmit a shock powerful enough to restore feeling to his toes.

OGL set course straight to the cafe, while the rest of us took on a loop to Bolam Lake, with Cowboys darting off the front as we took the hill out of the village.

“That’s a very early break for the cafe,” G-Dawg mused.

I assured him it was more likely just a desperate attempt to warm up, before I pushed up alongside Cowboys on the front.

At the lake, Zardoz decided it was still too early for us to head to the cafe, so we tacked on another few miles, before heading off for some much deserved coffee and cake.


Main topics of conversation at the Coffee stop:

Zardoz had been watching video of King Ted winning the Giro in 1974 and marvelled at the sheer grind and superhuman effort of climbing mountains with massive gears back in the day.

“Ah,” G-Dawg interjected, putting himself in the shoes of one of those prototypical hard-men racers, “Only 5 miles to the top of this mountain, so only another hour of this and then I can sit down again!”

OGL remembered the first time the cycling community were introduced to the compact, 34-tooth chainring that would allow almost anyone to spin up hills, rather than grunt, gurn and grind their way painfully upwards. The general consensus in the North East was that it would never catch on and it was really only for the most effete of poseurs.

“It didn’t help that they couldn’t work out whether it was supposed to go on the front, or the back of the bike.” G-Dawg quipped.

Talk of transgender cyclists, by way of Caster Semenya, led to G-Dawg realising he’d heard Pippa York on racing commentary, but had never actually seen her.

“You can still tell wee Bobby’s in there,” OGL said.

“Woah, that’s a bit personal,” Bison decided, “Anyway, you do know that size doesn’t matter, don’t you.”

Apparently it does though, as this led OGL and G-Dawg to recollect attending one of the Braveheart, Scottish Cycling dinners, alongside German track sprinter, the rather disproportionately shaped Robert Forstermann.

The 5’7″ tall Fostermann is renowned for having astonishing 34 inch thighs.

In circumference.

Each.

The chafing must be something awful and I argued he was the only person who could start a fire just by running down the street.

G-Dawg recalled the bizarre sight of stumbling into the Gents toilets only to find Robert Forsterman and a bunch of other pro-cyclists, lined up with their kecks around their ankles, comparing thigh girth.

OGL said that Forstermann had then appeared in a kilt, perhaps to more easily flash his famous thighs, possibly as a tribute to his hosts, or maybe because a visit to Scotland proved a eureka moment for a man for whom finding trousers that fit must be a real headache.

Talk of men in skirts and dresses reminded Zardoz of a Grayson Perry talk he’d recently heard. As well as being a ceramic artist of some repute, TV personality and cross-dresser, Perry is a keen mountain-biker who lauded the development of dropper seat posts, so he could choose to ride his bike in either cycling shoes, or wedges.

Zardoz reported that Perry has developed a whole routine about different cycling tribes, in which he suggests the term MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) is a bit of a misnomer and he thinks PUFFIN is far more accurate, or in Perry’s words, Piss Ugly Fat Feckers in Nylon.

82-year old Russ Mantle got a name check for becoming the first person in the UK to cycle one million miles – the equivalent of completing this year’s Tour de France route over 470 times. On average, the redoubtable Mr, Mantle reports riding around 15,000 miles every year and is looking forward to his next million miles.


With that as inspiration, we set out to pad our own, much more modest mileage totals and make our way home, deciding to stick to our usual route, although we suspected the lane through to Ogle would be flooded.

The good news was the lane was dry, the bad news was that Cowboys picked up a puncture. While OGL conducted an FNG Masterclass in puncture repair, we stood around and did what we do best, providing a running commentary, talked a load of bolleaux and mercilessly taking the piss.

On the repair front, things were going well, until OGL went to retrieve his pump from his bike and couldn’t detach it from the bottle cage.

“It’s not going to budge, do you think the hose is long enough to stretch from there?” I queried.

“If not, he’s going to have to bench-press the entire bike over his head 50 or 60 times to work the pump and get some air into the tyre,” G-Dawg suggested.

Luckily, the pump was finally released and could be applied in the more traditional manner. Bison watched on intently, admitting he wouldn’t have a clue how to change a tube, but then again, it didn’t matter anyway, because he never carried any spares!

I look forward to the certainty of his future induction into our Hall of Shame, reserved for those cyclists who find themselves stranded by the side of the road without the means and wherewithal to repair a simple mechanical problem.

Back up and running, on we went and it wasn’t long before G-Dawg was towing me through the Mad Mile and I could strike out for home. The fog had burned off by the time I was dropping back into the valley. Unfortunately, so had any reserves of energy I had left, I was running on fumes and starting to seriously bonk. I know this, because my mind became obsessively fixated on Mars bars, confectionery I would never even consider buying under normal circumstances.

Fighting the urge to succumb to sugary-sweetness almost as much as I fought dwindling energy resources and the gradient, I crawled with glacial slowness up the Heinous Hill and finally home, somehow without any detours to the local shops for sustenance. A victory of sorts.


YTD Totals: 6825 km / 4,240 miles with 89,241 metres of climbing

Carnal Gymnastics – The Sing-Along Version

Carnal Gymnastics – The Sing-Along Version

Club Run, Saturday 19th October, 2019

Total Distance: 104 km/65 miles with 1,064 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 13 minutes
Average Speed: 24.7km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 11℃
Weather in a word or two: OK. OK. OK. Rain.

Ride Profile

The weather forecast said rain and the traditional milestone of the hill climb has now been passed, all of which suggested it was time to break out the winter bike until the glorious rebirth of carbon next Spring.

In preparation for this day, the Peugeot had undergone a full service, new headset, bottom bracket, chain ring, chain, cassette, cables and tyres. Phew. It seemed good to go. I pulled it out of the shed and went back in to fetch a water bottle. As I stepped back outside, the rear tyre gave out a wet, flatulent guff and the back of the bike sank slowly and gracefully to the ground. Was it something I said?

Not a great start, but at least it happened outside my front door and not halfway down the hill. I worked to replace the tube in the comfort and warmth of the dining room, finally leaving, but now almost twenty minutes behind schedule.

Needing to shorten my route, I once more took to the muddy trails and bike paths that can, if you navigate them right, take you right up to the foot of the nearest bridge, without ever having to tangle with the busy dual-carriageways that make up the more standard approach.

Notice, I mentioned if you navigate them right. I think I’ve tried this on maybe three or four occasions and every time I’ve ended up in a slightly different place. Today was no different and somehow the trail spat me out on the fringes of that monument to Mammon, the Metrocentre shopping centre. I didn’t have the time or the will to backtrack, so took to the dual-carriageway at this point for the short hop to the bridge.

Luckily, it was still early and the roads were relatively car free. I made it across the river and picked up the pace to arrive at the meeting point more or less at the usual time.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:

Expecting a smaller than usual turnout, with a contingent off for some mountain-biking in the Kielder forest, I was surprised when Crazy Legs turned up, expecting him to be one of the key protagonists for some fat-tyre fun.

“I’ve torn something in my groin,” he explained.

“A guh-guh-guh-roin injury?”

His pronouncement had immediately caused flashbacks to the Cheers episode, where Sam as TV-sports pundit tried his hand at rapping … “Time to rap about a controversy…Gonna take a stand, won’t show no mer-cy… Lotta folks says jocks shouldn’t be…doing the sports news on TV…I don’t wanna hear the latest scores…from a bunch broadcast school boys…So get your scores from a guy like me…who knows what it’s like to have a guh-roin injury….Guh-guh-guh-roin, guh-guh-guh-roin injury.”

“Hmm, was this caused by some exotic, over-energetic, sexual misadventures?” I mused.

Apparently not, Crazy Legs explained it was actually the result of an incredible lightness of well-being – plagued by a (very) long-standing chest infection, he had just finished a course of antibiotics that left his lungs and airways uncharacteristically free of any breathing impediment. Buoyed by this startling feeling, Crazy Legs had decided to give the last half a mile of a ride home “the full welly” at maximum warp. The lungs had held up well, but the rest of his body decided to rebel instead.

Now he had no choice but to take things easy. “I won’t just be the slow group,” he confirmed, “I’ll be the ultra-slow group.”

“OK, the Ultra’s it is then,” I acknowledged, which cheered him up no end as the Ultra’s sounded much, much cooler than the Ultra Slow Group.

As an alternative to the main ride and the Ultra’s ride, Sneaky Pete had hatched a sneaky plan to hold a meeting of the Flat White Club targeted on the Gubeon cafe. This, Crazy Legs affirmed, would also be a good destination for the Ultra’s too.

Wincing and hobbling across to perch gingerly on the wall, the Crazy Legs wince deepened into a concerned scowl when the Cow Ranger rolled up on a Ribble he’d decided to convert to a winter bike. Identical to the much cossetted Ribble, this particular model had (in the eyes of Crazy Legs) been sacrilegiously yoked to full mudguards and heavy winter tyres, with the intent on riding it even when the weather wasn’t completely perfect.

Worse was to come, as the Cow Ranger determined he’d got a slow puncture in the front tyre. He took the wheel out, then bodily lifted the bike overhead and hauled it over the wall and out of the way.

“I thought you were just going to dump it in the bin there,” OGL quipped.

Everyone laughed. Well, everyone except for Crazy Legs, who just scowled with a face like thunder and told anyone who’d listen that he wasn’t happy …

Plumose Pappus reported that he’s already miserably failed in an attempt to be amongst the worlds most qualified unemployed, having just secured a job with the local NHS Trust. He’d even been out the night before to celebrate, discovering an unexpected love of karaoke and apparently finding his pièce de résistance in a full-throated rendition of The Proclaimers “500 miles“.

Once the Cow Ranger’s new winter bike was restored to working order, we were ready to go. I just had the chance to wonder how he could possibly cope with a bike that didn’t keep dropping its chain, when we were off, heading toward the lights and waiting for them to release us out onto the roads.


As we rotated in and out of the line, I had a chat with Sneaky Pete about Venetian detectives, French cop-shows and the possible casting of Tom Hanks as a grumpy Swedish man called Ove.

I then found myself alongside the Hammer, only riding with us for a while, as he’d promised to take his 13-year old daughter on the People’s March in Newcastle, where she was looking forward to heckling Brexiteers. I was just advising him not to treat her to a milkshake, when his chain started clunking and clanking.

“I’m going to stop to sort this out,” he told me, “just keep going.”

He slipped to the side and drifted back and, as instructed, we just kept going. Well, we did, until someone shouted “mechanical!” a sort of over-dramatic, premature ejaculation, if you will.

The pace instantly dissipated as the front pair eased uncertainly and we began to bunch up and fill out the lane on a dangerous stretch of road near the airport. This led to more unintelligible shouting and bellowing, with OGL and Taffy Steve becoming involved in an unseemly spat.

We found a safe place to pull over for a bit more kvetching and bitching and a shouty-sweary, handbags-at-ten-paces, sort of clamour, even as the Hammer sailed serenely past, brief mechanical almost instantly sorted.

Oh well …

Dropping down from Dinnington, the Cow Ranger determined things just weren’t right with his bike and decided to abort his ride. No doubt this secretly pleased Crazy Legs, who was probably convinced the Ribble had rebelled at the utter indignity of being treated as a winter bike and simply decided to stop working in protest.



Past the Cheese Farm, up Bells Hill and into Tranwell Woods we went, at which point, Aether had inserted one of his patented “there and back again” Twizzel Twists into our route. Biden Fecht flung out his arm to indicate we were turning left and almost smacked his riding companion in the face.

Dear me, we were a fractious lot today.

We rolled round the corner, found a lay-by and called a pee stop. Carlton enquired after Crazy Legs’ injury and wondered how he’d hurt himself. I assured him it wasn’t a result of any “carnal gymnastics” – a phrase he seemed to take such delight in, I invited him to use it as often as liked and suggested he should even consider building it into his c.v.

Under way again, the young FNG, Sid, pushed onto the front and was left dangling there, with all the grizzled vets queued up in the shelter of his rear wheel.

I eventually took pity on him and pushed up alongside him on the front, until the climb up to Dyke Neuk, where I let myself slide to the back. Once there we hung around, chatting about nothing in particular, while re-buffing Aether’s earnest attempts to get us moving again.

He finally prevailed and off went, the indefatigable Sid still on the front, but this time alongside Biden Fecht. I found myself riding with Plumose Pappus, ardently keen to convert me to his new-found love of all things karaoke. He even replayed last night’s highlight, his resolute rendition of The Proclaimers “500 Miles” complete with authentic accent, well … it would have been authentic, if The Proclaimers happened to be Irish and hailed from Dublin.

From there, the conversation took an unexpected turn to cover popular artists who all became a bit too self-importantly pompous and wont to disappear up their own rissoles. My prime example was Bono, who once booked his hat a $1,700 first-class seat on a trans-Atlantic flight. I assume Bono accompanied said hat on its trip, but who knows …

Plumose Pappus wondered if Sting belonged in this particular group, before wondering where Sting was now.

“Is he even still alive?” Plumose Pappus pondered.

“Ah, sort of death, where art thou Sting?” I queried, drawing a blank from Plumose Pappus, but a wry chuckle from Biden Fecht. To be fair, I think that was a cheap laugh, as even the most tenuous allusion to John Donne is likely to meet with the approval of our Professor of Renaissance Literature and Culture, Biden Fecht.

I followed up by explaining the last time I’d heard of Sting he was, somewhat preposterously singing about TWOC’ing cars in a Paris suburb, in duet with slinky French siren, Mylene Farmer.

Plumose Pappus then revealed that his mother had actually had some kind of close physical encounter with Sting, back in the day, which (I felt) I was able to top with my experience of peeing in the same urinal as AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson.

This inevitably led to some excited follow-up questions – (Oh OK, perhaps, it was more a feeling of dear-lord-what-is-he-on about-we’d-better-indulge-him, rather than actually excited.)

“The same urinal? At the same time?”

Well, it was technically a trough, so yes …

“Did you talk to him?”

I’m a bloke, standing peeing in a public toilet. What do you think?

“Was he wearing his cap?”

Obviously … but I don’t know if it had its own seat.

“Where was this?”

Lobley Hill Social Club.

“What was Brian Johnson, multi-millionaire, lead singer of mega rock band AC/DC doing in Lobley Hill Social Club?”

That I didn’t know – perhaps he was there for the Bingo?

I found myself at the back of the group as we closed on Middleton Bank. I managed to pass a few stragglers as we went up, but my legs suddenly felt weak and empty.

“I’m too old for this,” I gasped as I drew alongside Aether. He didn’t disagree. How rude.

Over the top, I gave chase to the front group, even though I already suspected I was never going to close the gap.

I did catch the young, indefatigable Sid on the approach to the Rollers, however, as he finally showed he was actually fatigable and we pushed on to the cafe together.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop

Aether learned that Mr. Boom was actually called Danny and sparked a table-wide rendition of Danny Boy.

“Oh Danny boy, the pipes the pipes are calling,
From glen to glen and down the mountain side …”

For some bizarre reason, this prompted Biden Fecht to try remembering a song about a mouse that nobody else recognised. Did he mean Em-I-See-Kay-Ee-Why-Em-Oh-You-Ess-Ee?

No.

I saw a mouse?

No.

Eek-a-mouse?

No – but this did prompt him into song, although I had to pull him up when what he started warbling was prime Barrington Levy …

Shoodilley-wop, shoodilley-woop, ooh woh ooh,
Eeh-ooh, eeh-ooh, Ooh-eeh-ooh,
Shoodilley-waddliley-diddley-diddley woh-oh-oh
Zeen!

Rather than the you-n-eek, Eek …

A wa do dem? A wa do dem dem dem?
A wa do dem? A wa do dem dem dem?
And me nuh know, and me nuh kno-o-ow
Me nuh know, and me nuh kno-o-ow

Honestly, you’d think a professor of renaissance literature would have a better understanding of the distinction between singjay and ragga reggae…


I had a further chat with Plumose Pappus on the way home. Now gainfully employed, he was looking forward to getting married, starting a family, crippling himself with a massive, unaffordable mortgage and the first signs of male pattern baldness, all before the end of the year.

I began to wonder if he wasn’t more mayfly than thistledown.

We contrasted his seemingly heavily-strictured, pre-ordained and homogenised life path, with that of our ex-companion and his near contemporary, Yoshi, who, in his latest adventure had travelled to Shanghai to pick up a new Giant bike, that he was now riding home, documenting his journey in a video-diary.

Undoubtedly an adventurous, profoundly life-changing and exciting experience though this is – and one Plumose Pappus suspected his mother might heartily encourage him to take on – we agreed that neither of us were cut out for such extreme stuff, while wondering what Yoshi could possible find to do next that wouldn’t seem impossibly dull and restricting.

As we entered the Mad Mile the rain started and once I’d struck out on my own, I stopped to pull on a rain jacket, suspecting that as soon as I did so the rain would stop.

Naturally it did, but it was only a temporary pause and as I was crossing the river, it came back with a vengeance.

Unusually, climbing Heinous Hill, I found myself in the company of another cyclist closing in on home. We had a brief chat as we toiled breathlessly upward, though, to be fair it wasn’t really the time, or the place to be sociable.

Still, it’s good to know I’m not the only bike in the village. Or something.


YTD Totals: 6,478 km / 4,025 miles with 85,188 metres of climbing