An early start was on the cards this week as I did a bit of (unofficial) club kit delivery prior to the ride. This saw me leaving the house 30 minutes ahead of my normal departure to give myself a little wiggle room, only to find I was delivering the kit (to a slightly disheveled, only recently woken, but hopefully still grateful) recipient, a full 45 minutes ahead of schedule. How did that happen?
With time to fill, I took an aimless ramble through Newcastle’s most northerly suburbs but found nothing of note or interest. I was still early at the meeting point, catching up with the Judean People’s Front before their departure, their large numbers suggesting we too would likely have a major turnout on such a fine day. It was chilly but bright and dry with very little wind. Great conditions for a ride.
The uncharacteristic announcement of an imminent EGM continues to be the major topic of conversation within the club. This has not been helped by its governing authority refusing to disclose any sort of agenda, or any details about the purpose or proposed outcomes from the meeting. In fact, the only diktat that has been issued from on high is that people intending to turn up should carefully study the club history as outlined on its website beforehand.
TripleD-Be joked that in all likelihood this meant there would be loyalty test at the start of the night and only those who could demonstrate a forensic knowledge of the club’s history would be allowed in. We laughed, but then again …
In a club that has arbitrarily banned bona fide members from its Facebook page for no apparent reason, it didn’t surprise me that there appear to be a number of paid-up club members who have categorically not been invited to attend the EGM too. So, intrigue piled on top of interest on top of incredulity. Light blue touchpaper and retire to a safe distance …
Back to more immediate matters and Richard of Flanders had planned and would lead our ride today. The route carved out a big oblong out almost directly due north, before turning west, then south to the cafe at Capheaton, before heading for home. With enough numbers for three groups, we formed up and a very enthusiastic Richard of Flander chivvied our first set out and onto the roads at least 5 minutes before our usual departure time.
We tied to hold back the last group at least until bang on 9:15 as there are always those who time their arrival down to the last second, who knows, perhaps in an attempt to avoid one of OGL’s patented diatribes. AS the minutes ticked down I stood with Captain Black, peering up the road trying to identify an approaching rider that Captain Black was convinced was Carlton.
“Nah,” I told him,”It’s too early. It’s only 9:13. He’s never here until at least 9:14.”
Yep, I was right. It wasn’t Carlton. But two minutes later, just as we were kicking round the pedals to clip in and push off, up he rolled. Perfect timing as usual.
Out on the road, I had a brief catch-up with Biden Fecht, newly returned to us after a bout of illness and making his presence known with a bike that rattled and rang like a toolbox dropped down a stairwell. He had however somehow managed to sort his banshee brakes out, so at least they no longer shrieked and warbled like a scalded cat, so he now had the percussion track just about right, but had lost the over-arching tune.
I did a stint on the front with Captain Black, which was conveniently curtailed when we turned left just before Mitford to avoid a closed road, that apparently wasn’t closed and was where we were meant to be going. Just like that, I found myself right at the back, but it was a turn of events I was more than happy to live with.
By the time we’d completed the westerly leg of our run and had turned south, I was starting to struggle and run out of energy. The climb to the cafe at Capheaton was a proper grind, but at least succour and rest awaited me.
Some discussion took place at the time and venue for the mysterious EGM, with G-Dawg confirming it’s a week on Monday evening and at a local church. I wondered if this would prove useful if anyone needed to claim sanctuary on the night.
Carlton then put the most positive spin possible on the situation, saying the very fact a meeting had been called suggested there was some purpose behind it, otherwise, why bother calling it at all when we could have just have carried on, business as (ab)normal. Now that’s a fantastically positive outlook, but maybe one suited to prove the adage that to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.
We left en masse and tried to get organised into a couple of groups, so I hung back a little. Then, when we were finally underway I found my legs were completely empty and I was struggling to hold the wheels, even on a downhill section.
The gap quickly grew to be unbridgeable and I last saw the group at the top of the steep rise up onto the Belsay road. Oh well, time to start my solo ride back a little earlier than intended. It wasn’t fast and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was a nice day and a pleasant ride, so I was quite content to just amble and bumble my way home.
It gave me the opportunity to try out some new routes too, taking to the cycle paths along the Tyne, which is good for a few photo opps if nothing else. Things were going well until I tried the back lane up past Pedalling Squares. I guess I shouldn’t have tried to pick my way across the road-spanning, water-filled gorge that confronted me there, but I was tired and my brain wasn’t really functioning too well. I committed my front wheel to the stygian depths and thought I’d made it, until I hit the lip of this murky chasm and the tyre started hissing and spluttering like the fuse of a cartoon bomb.
Ugh. Bad timing. Still, I made it home in time to watch Tadej Pogačar simply ride away from everyone else en route to winning Strade Bianche. An impressive display … but I just don’t know.
Here we go again, one more Saturday, one more opportunity to bash the pedals around ceaslessly and see how tired I can make myself.
By the time I was threading my way around multiple lanes of parked cars, crews and the mob of blindly ambling spectators starting to assemble either side of the bridge, I realised there might just be some boatie-mcboatface, regatta-type-rowing-thingie imminent.
A little post-ride delving revealed I’d been in the midst of a British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) 4s and 8s competition that would run across both Saturday and Sunday. Perhaps, if I’d been more in tune with the sport, I could have lent some support to either my alma mater (if such a concept exists in the UK) and former employer, Northumbria University, or my current employer Newcastle University. As you might expect there’s a certain amount of rivalry and a bit of needle between the two, including some relatively amusing banter…
“Give me a C!”
“Give me a D!”
“Give me an E!”
“What have you got?”
“A place at Northumbria!”
At the meeting point, the relatively pleasant, dry, and refreshingly less windy weather had encouraged clubmates out in larger numbers than in recent weeks and, for some reason, around two dozen of us gathered in a loose circle with a wide-open space left in the, like a giant, nightmare and garishly coloured, fairy ring.
“Plenty room for some street-dance,” Crazy Legs encouraged me to “bust some moves” from where he sat, regally perched atop the wall. He was disappointed by my refusal to breakdance, but not yet discouraged.
“Tap dance, then?”
“Err … No.”
We decided “clogging” was probably more appropriate for someone teetering around in cleated cycling shoes.
“Clog dance, then?”
“No! Let it lie.”
I then learned, Brassneck has a significant birthday galloping toward him next week and has now reached that age where he’s due some extra special treatment and attention from the NHS – his very own, complimentary colonoscopy. The lucky, lucky chap.
OGL arrived and pushed his way into the centre of the circle.
“He’s going for it, he’s going to breakdance,” Crazy Legs announced sotto voce.
And then, wholly unnecessarily …
“He’s going to twerk!”
Aagh! There’s an image that’s going to take weeks to scrub from my imagination.
What actually happened was actually more remarkable than a lycra-clad septuagenarian twerking on a pavement in a suburb of Newcastle on a cold February morning, which actually isn’t as rare as you might think.
“I’ve booked a venue for a club EGM in 2 weeks’ time,” OGL announced. Mic drop. There was no further explanation.
There was though, a long, silent pause.
I looked at Crazy Legs.
Crazy Legs looked at me.
I shrugged. Bewildered.
He blinked slowly.
“I’m actually lost for words,” he declared.
Well, I guess there is a first time for everything.
“Don’t worry,” I reassured him, “It won’t last.”
And it didn’t. Aether stepped in to brief in the route for the ride and we grumbled and demurred and cajoled and extorted our way into three (more or less) equal groups, with the only rule of thumb that TripleD-El and TripleD-Be had to be separated. Then, off we went, each no doubt pondering why, after more than two decades of autocratic and anarchic rule, we were suddenly attempting to behave like a rational, normal and competently run cycling club.
I found myself in the third group, riding with Big Dunc and Sneaky Pete, (temporarily, perhaps) over an unpredictable bout of sciatica. We were bolstered by Aether, TripleD-El, Carlton, Teri TK, and Becker, our newly joined, trainee ironman, ironwoman, irongirl, ironwhatever. The route took in all the usual touch points, Kirkley Mill, Ogle, Belsay, Ingoe, Matfen, Stamfordham, but with the novelty of being in reverse order, so we’d actually be riding down the Quarry climb for a little bit of variety.
It was a ride where we kept passing stray members from the other groups, all stopped at the side of the road. Ion was the first of these, fixing a puncture just past Dinnington, while the entire rest of our first group waited around a bend in the road. I was quite impressed with how long it took for them to actually pass us again. We almost made it to Belsay before the catch was made.
Still, I thought things were going ok, until we reached Ryall village and took a left turn down toward Great Whittington. I know the route up this road, but can’t remember ever having ridden down it, or if I have it was with the benefit of gears. This is my excuse for not realising there was an unexpected and very nasty little hump midway. This is only 200 or 300 metres long, but has grades topping 20% and it managed to bring me to a gurning, grovelling and grinding crawl.
Oh well, at least it gave Carlton and Sneaky Pete the opportunity to question my sanity for not riding a “proper bike” and wonder about my masochistic intent.
En route to Stamfordham, we then passed Cowboys, alone and standing by the side of the road, fiddling with his phone and perhaps having to call for motor assistance. He waved us on as he was either ok, or he’d had a terminal mechanical and there was nothing we could do to help.
Just beyond a short dash up and off the somewhat dangerous A696, and not far from our cafe of choice for the day at Kirkley, we passed Ovis, also alone by the side of the road, having managed to slip everyone else to repair a puncture in splendid isolation and without a critical audience. (Note to self: I must ask him how he managed this impressive feat.)
It was near here, on an especially narrow lane, that we encountered a little grey-haired old lady, peering myopically over the steering wheel as she piloted a wallowing, silver BMW-7 Series right down the middle of the road.
She finally spotted the approaching bunch of cyclists but was obviously such a deep and unsettling shock that her brain seemed to freeze, while she continued to roll uncertainly straight toward us. I was just about to bail out into a ditch, when the car came to a dead halt, slap bang in the middle of the road, pretty much blocking the entire lane. Silly me, I shouldn’t have expected her to actually sully her tyres by pulling onto the grass verge to let us pass, that would have been disastrous.
Slowing almost to a standstill, I saw there was just barely enough room to carefully squeeze by down the right-hand side of the car, so that’s what we had to do, while she sat there, apparently paralysed. Hopefully, she could lip-read, but even if not, she probably managed to more or less divine just what I thought about her driving.
Free of this temporary roadblock and fast approaching the cafe, Big Dunc kicked up the speed and lined us out. I hung with the pace until it hit terminal single-speed velocity at around 36-37 kph, then it was just a case of trying to manage the gap and keep the front runners in sight as we closed rapidly on our (always richly deserved) cake and coffee.
So, back to Kirkley after a long, long absence and back to the interminable queuing. As we waited, Carlton and I reminisced about the good old days when we actually used to complain about the slow service at Belsay. Kirkley makes that operation look like a super-slick McDonald’s by comparison and after half an hour of fruitless delay, Carlton was all for boycotting the place for good.
As we waited a guy pulled up on a very smart-looking, Orbea e-bike. The bike he said had managed to keep him cycling well beyond the time when age and infirmity would have kept him grounded, but it hadn’t really solved his major difficulties getting on and off it – something he had to endure with far less grace than I’m sure he would have liked. Along with Big Dunc I saw an e-bike of my own in the not too distant future and I already have plans to spearhead the “Electric” division of the club.
Strangely, despite an almost pathological hatred of Kirkley, OGL keeps finding excuses for turning up and today was no exception. This visit was seemingly prompted by a need to tell everyone about forthcoming road closures near the route we’d taken today, while the council undertake some “culvert works.”
I declared my full support for this initiative, feeling fairly safe in my assertion that, “culvert’s are a protected species, aren’t they?”
“What did he have to say?” TripleD-El asked as he moved on to repeat what he’d just told us to the next group, “Whenever I see him, I can’t help just tuning out,” she confessed.
I assured her it was nothing important and then we were distracted by Aether and Becker finally rolling in. They’d been so long that we were almost at the front of the queue and were starting to get a bit anxious. Apparently, when the cafe madness had kicked off, Becker had ridden hard through a pothole and snake-bit both front and rear tyres, hence the protracted delay, with Aether the only one around to play the good Samaritan and help out. That was naughty of us and belated apologies are in order.
Finally served and sitting at the table, I asked TripleD-El what she was doing in the evening, two weeks on Monday. She looked at me quizzically.
“The club EGM?” I prompted.
“What? When was this announced?”
“Just this morning, I … oh, yeah, you tuned out?” I guessed.
She then wondered whether she could legitimately contribute to any discussion on the future direction of the club as she and TripleD-Be only have a few months left in the UK before returning to the Netherlands. Great news for them, sad for the rest of us. They’ll be missed.
My ride with the group ended a few hundred metres out of the cafe, when they all turned right, while I pressed on up through Ponteland already considering how many rowing fans I was going to have to avoid on the bridge as I made my way home.
More storms and the latest, Storm Eunice, gifted us a smattering of snow to nicely frame the newly arrived snowdrops in the garden. Sadly these are not the variety that recently sold for £1,850 at auction, so I’m not sitting on a potential early retirement fund. More luckily, the North East was at least spared the worst of the weather this time around, the snow didn’t last and by Saturday it was a bit blowy but relatively mild (yeah well, considering it’s still February.)
I wasn’t quite so lucky with my legs and my early push along the valley floor felt like much harder work than it should have been. Hmm, this was not the promising start I hoped for and had the makings of a long hard day in the saddle. My lack of vim and vigour meant I made the meeting point right on time, but with little margin for error and no time to meander idly around looking for closed roads today.
Here I found the Judean People’s Front gathering for their own run. Kermit hummed and hawed with his on-bike computer, until it finally beeped confirmation that it had located a signal.
“Ah, good,” he declared, “Seems Putin hasn’t invaded Ukraine quite yet and the satellites are still up.”
Then with a mighty “Hi-ho Silver!” (ok, maybe not) they were away.
While we waited to coalesce, ride leader for the day, Richard of Flanders noted we stood amongst a mosaic of broken glass strewn widely across the pavement, debris that G-Dawg expertly identified as being from 660ml bottles of Becks. Taking his ride leader status and civil duties totally to heart, piece by piece, Richard started clearing up errant shards of glass and dropping them into a nearby bin, while we waited for him to shred his fingers on this somewhat Sisyphean task.
I have to admit, I wasn’t too worried – I don’t recall ever puncturing on broken glass. Thorns on the other hand … well, you know where this is going.
We watched, all the while idly speculating if anyone had ever died of exsanguination on a club run, before concluding Richard didn’t need to brief in today’s route at all, we could simply follow the trail of blood dripping from his fingertips.
We got a small coterie of”proper racing snakes”™ out there as a formative first group, but there was a certain reluctance to join them and we were in danger of having unbalanced groups. Richard of Flanders sacrificed himself for the common good and agreed to join after G-Dawg suggested he was ride leader after all, so if the group was going too fast he could scream, shout and insult them OGL-style to impose a measure of control (and we all know how well that works.)
TripleD-El bumped off the pavement too, and then G-Dawg joined her, once I’d reminded him he wasn’t on his fixie today, so he had no excuse to hang back. That seemed to work and we were finally left with a manageably-sized last group.
We were just about to head off when we spotted the approaching figure of Spoons. “Ah, excellent, he’s here,” Goose exclaimed a little too enthusiastically. Odd. I didn’t realise there was a budding bromance here?
There wasn’t of course, It was just that under a spate of rear-wheel punctures last week, Goose had borrowed a spare inner tube from Spoons and now handed over a replacement. Captain Black suspected that it was the actual punctured tube, newly patched and neatly folded into a spare box rather than a brand spanking new tube, but obviously there was no reason to believe this scurrilous rumour. (Well, other than Captain Black’s long-abiding and close association with, and personal knowledge of Goose’s character …)
Debts repaid, we set off and I settled in alongside Goose on his panzerkampfwagen, steel touring bike to lead the group through Pont and up to Limestone Lane, a decent stint of over 10 miles before we ceded the front and dropped into the shelter of the group behind.
Through Dalton and out to Stamfordham and I was beginning to pay for the earlier efforts and struggling to keep pace with the group.
“It’s going to get horribly windy out toward the reservoir,” I told Goose as we pushed on and the ride got progressively harder. I was right too, even in the middle of the pack it was windy, but even worse, they’d been thrashing the hedges back on either side of the road and the surface was strewn with the splintered and scattered debris. This. Did. Not. Bode. Well.
Sure enough, we had only just cleared the danger area, when my front wheel began to rumble noisily as its air fled outwards. I sat up while urging everyone to continue on, happy enough to fix the puncture on my own and relieved that I could then press on at a slower and more sustainable pace. It took a lot of persuading, but they finally continued, while I set to stripping the punctured tube out of my front tyre.
I was just fishing out a replacement tube when Goose, Captain Black and Ovis returned, ostensibly to help and offer moral support, but really just so they could critique and laugh at my feeble repair efforts. Captain Black offered up something much more valuable than just mocking appraisal though, taking on the role of Daniel to find and remove the thorn from my paw tyre.
I reassembled things, hurriedly squirted enough air into my tyre to roll on, and we got going again. A couple of hundred metres around the next bend we picked up the entire club whose progress had also been sidelined by a spate of punctures. Amongst them, TripleD-El had survived unscathed, but TripleD-Be would later find a monstrous thorn that had somehow punctured through her tyre tread and then out through the sidewall, miraculously all without damaging the tube.
We passed the reservoir while I hung grimly on the back of the group and then had to make an unexpected u-turn when we strayed off route. We’d just corrected this and started to climb when it became Goose’s turn to pull over with a puncture. I dropped back with him in the company of Spoons, Captain Black and Caracol to form the latest puncture-critique panel, while the rest of the group pushed on.
Goose started pulling together the bits and pieces he needed to effect repairs, then paused and looked plaintively at Spoons.
“Ah. Oh. The … err … em … tube that I gave you this morning? …”
Spoons handed it back, while we all marvelled at the clever thinking of having a nominated “domestique” you could trick into carrying your spares around for you until they were needed. Genius.
Despite his best efforts, Goose couldn’t find any obvious cause of the puncture, which was about the third or fourth he’d suffered in as many weeks. To me, this would be all the signs I needed that new tyres were in order, but Goose complained he’d only had this set for about 5 years and he felt there was at least another 5,000 miles to be had out of them!
While he effected repairs I took the opportunity to force some more air into my own tyre, finishing the day with an incredible, awe-inspiring, 65 psi, when I got home and stuck the track pump on my (admittedly) still slightly flabby tyre.
Our small group was on its own now as we finally got going. “Perhaps we’ll have timed it perfectly and there’ll be no queue at the cafe by the time we get there,” Caracol mused optimistically.
“Do you think the cafe at Belsay will take Kirkley loyalty cards,” he then wondered idly.
“Hah!” I laughed back, “The cafe at Belsay won’t even take Belsay loyalty cards.” Something Crazy Legs had inadvertently discovered when he tried to redeem his a few weeks ago.
I struggled mightily up the Quarry climb, but just about managed to hang on over Hallington crossroads and down to West Belsay. Through the Snake Bends, the rest took the back lane through to the cafe, while I cut the corner off and skipped down the main road desperate for the recuperative powers coffee and cake might bestow.
There was, naturally, still a queue to negotiate, but it gave us ample opportunity to dissect and debate the virtues of the food on offer, with Goose extolling the mini quiche’s as a quality, highly recommended precursor to your standard cake of choice, an amuse-bouche if you will, or perhaps in Goose’s case an amuse-gob might be more appropriate.
Caracol decided it was worth a shot and I went along too, figuring I’d need as much fuel onboard as possible for the ride home. It was an interesting (and costly) combination, but not one I’m sure I’ll repeat.
With Goose failing to identify the cause of his recent spate of punctures, Captain Black relayed some sage advice from OGL that running a yellow duster or a bit of cotton wool around the inside of the tyre is a great way of finding any protrusions, as, even if you can’t feel them, they’re likely to catch up a few fibres and be easier to spot.
While eminently sensible, it was noted that people generally don’t usually carry cotton wool or yellow dusters while out on a bike, although I suppose Goose could ask Spoons to carry one for him. Captain Black suggested that, in extremis, you could possibly substitute a sheep for a yellow duster and then imagined the ensuing conversation with a farmer.
“‘Scuse me, do you mind if I borrow a sheep?”
“What the hell do you want that for?”
“Oh, it’s a long and involved story, but if you must know I …”
“Hold, on, hold on! You’re not one of those bloody cyclists are you?”
If this wasn’t surreal enough, the conversation then devolved further when Goose proclaimed he’d had the idea of inventing a bike wash, like a car wash, but on a miniature scale. He couldn’t decide however if you would ride your bike through the rollers, or maybe drive through with your bike on the roof of your car. He then abandoned the idea as impractical when he realised there probably wasn’t enough Polish workers left in the country to man new bike washes. (Apparently, in his neck of the woods, Polish car washes are almost as ubiquitous as Turkish barbers.)
Then, as an alternative to having a permanent tattoo, Spoons pondered that you could use something derived from cuttlefish chromatophores to change the colour of tattoo pigments so they could be turned on and off. Caracol was then all for just strapping a cuttlefish to one arm, a chameleon on the other and declaring the job done. Luckily, we decided it was time to go before things got too outlandish …
I stuck with the group through to Kirkley and then split to route home through Ponteland, pleased to be able to travel at my own (slow) pace.
After crossing the river and turning east I was overtaken by a youth on a small but very noisy motorbike, who blatted past me, then stuck his two legs out to either side and started pedalling the air around. I think I was meant to feel insulted, but it made me laugh out loud and kept me going for the grind up the Heinous Hill and home.
Following last week’s travails, I was aiming to complete the entirety of the next club ride, or at least make it as far as the all-important café stop, so the plan was to press the Peugout into service yet again. This was only reinforced by G-Dawg’s route which included both the Mur de Mitford (a mere 350 metres of sharp ascending, but topping out at 18% in parts and a bad, often slimy surface) and the long drag up the Trench.
A selection of gears for this assault on my body seemed appropriate, so I’d dutifully fixed the rear wheel puncture I’d limped home on of last week in anticipation of press-ganging the Pug into use once again.
I’d checked the bike out midweek and then on Friday evening made sure the tyre pressures were good in prep for use the next day. I shouldn’t have bothered. When I pulled the bike out the next morning the rear tyre had conspired to expire overnight and was flat and empty.
With no time to swap out the tube, I swapped bikes instead (and shoes, bad planning and different pedal systems!) and there we were, back on the single-speed despite the best of intentions. Was I ready for this? Nah, definitely not.
Saturday proved to be yet another windy day too, for about the fifth weekend in a row, but at least the widely forecast rain never materialised. This meant that there was a good chance the Mur de Mitford was perhaps semi-dry, or at least not awash with surface water and I might have a fighting chance of hauling my sorry carcass up it.
I had a blissfully uneventful ride across to the meeting point, arriving far too early and taking a tour around some local roads to fill in the time. It was here that I discovered the road past Fawdon Metro was closed for repair work, so turned around and backtracked.
Passing G-Dawg heading the other way, I tried telling him the road ahead was closed, but he just took my shouts and wild gesticulations as an overly enthusiastic greeting and sailed imperially onwards. Not that it mattered anyway, he just bluffed or blagged his way straight through the roadworks.
Even with the back-tracking and obligatory pee-stop I made it to the meeting point in good time, where a group of 16 or so gradually coalesced. This included Not Anthony who reported that last week he’d had to bail at high speed as an alternative to being blown into a roundabout. This apparently was the result of Brassneck cajoling their group into taking advantage of a ferocious tail-wind to try and capture a Strava segment PB for Mini Miss and then finding the helpful tail-wind suddenly became a deadly cross-wind.
Not Anthony reported that closely following young speedster Dingbat had gone over his handlebars in the ensuing kerfuffle, but both apparently survived with only minor cosmetic injuries to bikes and bodies.
“More importantly though,” I had to ask, “Did you get the PR?”
Luckily, I was told their sacrifices had indeed paid off.
Wonder of wonders, OGL reported that he’s been in contact with several local venues as he looks to arrange somewhere suitable for the club EGM demanded by British Cycling. I’ll just leave that one out there …
Even more wonderous and unlikely, Ovis put in a very rare appearance. So rare in fact that Crazy Legs wished him a happy new year and shook his hand and then repeated the gesture for the year before too.
Ovis had turned out in his habitual and seemingly indestructible Rochdale Tri kit – “Just so people still recognise me!” and brought along his usual abundance of malt loaf and self-effacement. “Oh, I’ve not been out much on the bike and I’m not very fit at all. I’ve just been doing little bits and pieces on the turbo. Hope I can keep up.”
Ovis would join the third group with me and of course, he was never off the front for more than a few minutes, relentlessly spearheading our efforts and driving the group on through strong headwinds, uphill and down dale.
Not fit, my arse! to borrow a turn of phrase from Jim Royle.
With his pace-setting, it wasn’t long before we were closing in on the Mur de Mitford and my main challenge for the day. While everyone else fussed over gear selection, I just rolled around the sharp left-hand turn, eased out of the saddle and got at it. It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t fast, but I just about managed, not putting too much force down through the pedals to keep the tyres gripping all the way up.
In the group ahead, G-Dawg wasn’t quite so lucky. He found he couldn’t push the much, much bigger gear on his fixie without standing up, but whenever he eased out of the saddle his rear wheel just skipped and spun uselessly across the greasy road surface. He ended up having to dismount and run up the hill cyclo-cross style. At least I was spared that indignity.
As we approached the long climb up the Trench, Ovis was (obviously) on the front, driving us on alongside Crazy Legs who suddenly started guffawing loudly. He then turned to me and nodded at Ovis.
“He says he’s not very fit and wants us to wait for him at the top!” he explained disbelievingly.
Naturally, Ovis led us up the Trench where we stopped to regroup before pushing on again, down the dip, dive and rise through Hartburn and on toward Angerton. This was the most exposed section of our route and, collectively, we could only recall one solitary occasion in over 10-years when anyone cycling this road has had the benefit of a tailwind.
Surprises apparently don’t come in three’s and with Ovis showing up for a club run and OGL (perhaps) preparing for a club EGM we’d evidently exhausted our quota of unlikely events for the day. It was the expected headwind. It was indeed as brutal as we thought it would be and by the time we’d climbed up to Bolam Lake I was starting to feel heavy-legged and tired.
Still, I thought, at least I can sacrifice myself to provide a good springboard for the café sprint, so I took to the front and started to wind up the pace. I pulled the group along until, halfway up the rollers I was done, swung over, sat up and watched the others zip away for the final climb and to contest sprint honours.
I thought I’d done a decent job of getting the group moving, until Crazy Legs informed me in the café that I’d been going much too slowly, he’d wanted to jump past much earlier but recognised I still wasn’t 100% fit so had indulged me a little.
Ooph! Talk about kicking a bloke when he’s down.
While enjoying some well-earned cake and coffee, Crazy Legs was keen to promote the world-renowned, architectural marvel and stunning tourist attraction that is the perspex tunnel linking the car park and Sainsbury’s supermarket in Bude, Cornwall. So great is its appeal that it has its own Trip Advisor page to extol its virtues as a “stunningly crafted marvel,” “truly life-changing” and an “awe inspiring and enthralling experience.”
As Dave M. from Prestwick gushed, “I have walked through the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – the towering domes, the gold-inlaid marble, the carpet that took 1000 weavers 100 years to complete, the thousand-tonne chandeliers – but nowhere does bus-shelter Perspex quite like Bude.”
With 946 excellent ratings out on 1,076 reviews, this sounds like a must-see, but of course, there are always people who don’t appreciate art and incredible human achievements, with Linden-S from High Wycombe “baffled at how an empty plastic tunnel running beside a supermarket can possibly be considered an attraction,” while John M of Woking simply declared it a “waste of time.” Philistines!
Crazy Legs then pressed us all to enter an “Ogle road lottery” and predict what conditions we would face when we took the lane through to the hamlet. Captain Black went for “very bad” I went for “bad” Crazy Legs “mingin'” G-Dawg, “fine” – while Sy6, undoubtedly a glass half full kind of guy, suggested the road would be “perfect” – miraculously restored to a pristine condition.
G-Dawg won that one, and we enjoyed a surprisingly mud-free and relatively dry passage. I was fading rapidly as we topped Berwick Hill, but managed to hold on through Dinnington and past the airport, before dropping off the back. Then it was just a long, slow slog home.
Where will we go When di quarantine ting done and everybody touch road?
I always like to start with a little Koffee. Just a bit disappointed no one ambushed me with cake.
So that’s my quarantine ting done and hopefully my last bout of COVID for a while. Call me old-fashioned, but I decided to go with the traditional self-isolation at home, rather than the new government-approved methodology of attending boozy parties with all and sundry.
Thankfully it wasn’t a particularly bad illness, but combined with a lack of exercise (2 weeks off the bike!) I appear to have been left with the lung capacity of an asthmatic canary. On the first day of official release, I went for a run (well, actually more of a graceless lumber) and it was so s-l-o-w and I felt like I was trying to breathe through airways filled with treacle.
Two days later, I tried again and it was only marginally easier and faster. So I approached the club run with a degree of trepidation and armed with the Peugeot and its smattering of gears for when things inevitably turned ugly.
And it was actually a club run. British Cycling have temporarily lifted our club’s suspension, although not without serious consequences. The first of these was that our junior, Go-Ride section broke away to form a separate, autonomous club with immediate effect. This was the only way they could run their sessions and retain their affiliation under the British Cycling Go-Ride banner and all the attendant benefits and safeguards it provides.
Although a serious income generating entity in its own right (and what self-respecting club wouldn’t want to have a popular and thriving junior section?) I doubt the club hierarchy are all that bothered by this loss. There always seemed to be a disconnect between the Go-Ride section and the rest of us and, as far as I can tell, their sole purpose was to serve as a symbolic stick that could be used to beat the senior riders with whenever we questioned … well, anything.
I do have to admit though, I’m going to miss the delicious sense of schadenfreude that occurred whenever OGL proudly anointed one of these youngsters as “the future of the club,” only to find a couple of weeks later that they’d jumped ship to find a more rational, active and forward-thinking group to train and ride with.
As for where this leaves the rest of us, well there’s still been no official communication from the club, but from what I can piece together, talking to people and reading between the lines, the long-term reinstatement of our British Cycling affiliation appears dependent on us adopting a series of simple and reasonable directives in a timely fashion, namely:
Hold an EGM and elect at least two other members to official/governing positions in the club.
Forward an up-to-date set of club accounts to British Cycling.
Adopt a club constitution to ensure good governance going forward.
I’ve no idea why any of this should prove difficult or contentious … oh, hold on … of course I have.
Anyway, back to the ride. Where will we go?
Buster had planned and would lead this week’s group, although he was wavering a little in the morning after reading forecasts for very high winds.
I didn’t think the wind was going to be that much of an issue and I was pleasantly surprised to find it was almost full light as I set off, crossing a flat and placid river where the rowers were out in force enjoying the smooth water. As I approached the climb out the other side of the valley I looked back to check the way was clear and moved out into the middle lane to take the 2nd exit off the roundabout. As I stopped at the lights a heavy wagon rolled up inside me stopped with an explosive hiss of air brakes and the engine rumbled then clanked to a stop. In the near silence, I heard the window whisk down as the driver leaned out to address me. I was wondering what I’d done to incur his ire, but he just wanted to have a chat about changes to the Highway Code!
Surprisingly, he seemed generally supportive of the changes, but concerned about the priority given cyclists riding up the inside and going straight ahead when he was trying to turn left at a junction. That’s actually not much of an issue for me as, except in extreme circumstances, I’d rather sit in the middle of the lane within a line of traffic than risk riding up the inside and having someone drive across my front. I get that this isn’t everyone’s modus operandi, but each to their own.
Up over the first hill and halfway across the next roundabout I was watching the two lanes of approaching traffic, trying to make eye contact with the drivers and reassure myself they’d seen me. The car in the outside lane eased to a stop, but the one on the outside? I slowed instinctively, the car reached the junction and braked sharply, just over the white line. I’ve no way of knowing if he’d not seen me until the last minute or always drove so frantically. I expect he wasn’t at all happy that I was now moving at a snail’s pace though and he had to wait an age until I’d passed.
At the third roundabout, things seemed much more under control. I’d eyeballed the two lanes of traffic I was just about to cross and both cars had slowed and were stopping when the car on the inside suddenly shot forward. I swerved violently into the inside lane, which was thankfully empty and somehow managed to avoid being mown down by an accelerating chunky, grey metallic Nissan Cashcow. I swung my arms about and swore loudly, but despite my blinking lights fore and aft and eye-bleedingly bright hi-viz gilet, I’m not convinced the driver ever noticed me, or realised how close I’d been to being smeared under their wheels.
That’s more than enough excitement for one day and proof, I suspect that no amount of new rules in the Highway Code are going to be proof against driver inattention. Gawd, I hate roundabouts.
To make matters worse, I think the mudguards on my bike had tensed up in anticipation of a collision and now I was riding accompanied by an ever-varying, never-ending cacophony of chirps, cheeps, chirrups and chuffs.
Luckily I made it to the meeting point without further incident and rolled up to join G-Dawg a new guy and a new gal. She was busy unwinding the metres and metres of electrician’s tape that she’d used to cocoon her pump with and hold it on her frame, explaining her boyfriend had stolen the actual mount to use on a separate ride he’d disappeared on. I took pity on her and fished mine out of my back pocket
G-Dawg explained she was one of those swimmer/runners who’d signed up for an Iron Man on the spur of the moment and needed to practice the bikling part. He also told me she’d survived last weeks club run in extreme conditions – despite being blown off her feet and into a ditch while she’d been standing at the side of the road.
I then got the full update on just how wild things had been last week and how lucky I’d been to miss out. The highlights (lowlights?) had been the wind on the road past the Sage building, where G-Dawg reckoned he’d almost been doing a track stand, out of the saddle, straining every sinew and gurning ridiculously as he tried to make even the slightest progress against a ferocious headwind.
Things had been so bad that Brassneck, Spoons and a few others had apparently only made it as far as Brunton Lane before abandoning after just 1km, cruelly snatching the record for the shortest club run in history out of the Garrulous Kid’s hands (at least he’d made it as far as Dinnington).
Not great conditions for a club run, but perhaps ideal for the Tegenwindfietsen, a Dutch cycle race that I remember Rainman telling me about and which sounds as insane as wanting to do an Iron Man. The Tegenwindfietsen is a time-trial ran on city bikes along the tops of the Dutch sea dykes and is only allowed to take place when a gale-force headwind can be guaranteed (7 or higher on the Beaufort Scale!)
Coincidently, it was apparently windy enough for the 7th edition of the Tegenwindfietsen to take place this weekend and it even earned a write-up in The Comic.
It proved mot quite windy enough to deter Buster in the final analysis. Just as G-Dawg was beginning to suspect he’d be a no-show, he rolled up, having taken the time to consult a far more reliable source than the BBC Weather app before venturing out, namely a 30ft conifer in his back garden, which he declared wasn’t moving enough to cause any real worries.
He briefed in the route, we split into two surprisingly equal-sized groups (entirely accidentally I suspect, by the law of averages it had to happen sooner or later) and away we went.
I dropped onto the front of the second group alongside G-Dawg and we’d barely turned off the main road before we got the call to stop. Behind us, whatever remedial work the new girl had attempted with my pump clearly hadn’t worked and half the group were clustered around her upended bike, needing to change the tyre. I wondered if she might use this mechanical as a handy excuse to snatch the brand new shortest club run record and abandon at this point, but apparently, neither punctures nor being blown into a ditch are enough to deter our newest rider.
The repairs did take forever though, and I was beginning to think those in attendance had allowed her to unravel the metres and metres of tape needed to get at her pump.
Finally, we got going again. The wind may not have been strong enough to trouble Buster’s conifer, or quite as bad as last week, but it was still a serious impediment to forward momentum. I hung on through Dinnington and Callerton, until the climb just before the turn to Darras where I ceded the front to Carlton and dropped back to try and find a bit more shelter.
By the time we reached Stamfordham I was conscious of approaching my limits. G-Dawg suggested a shorter route for those who wanted it, which sparked a confusing debate about whether the shorter route was longer, or the longer route was shorter. I determined that, regardless of their comparative lengths, either one was probably too much for me and so, while the rest split and pushed on, I turned to head back and battle the elements solo.
Bizarrely, 5 miles from home my mudguards finally decided they’d annoyed me enough for one day and all the chirps, cheeps, chirrups and chuffs suddenly and magically disappeared. I started the long slow crawl up the Heinous Hill then to just the accompaniment of my own torturous breathing, battling the slope, leaden legs, incipient cramping, a swirling, gusting wind that pushed me dangerously close to the kerb too many times to remember and a rapidly softening back tyre that I was determined to ride all the way home, no matter what.
Brutal. But, I survived. Hopefully next week the conditions (my own and the weather) might make things a little bit easier.
Into a new year we stumble and it’s back to the Saturday routine following two consecutive Monday rides during the holidays. The first of these would put a cap on my 2021 efforts in truly dire fashion as I appeared to bonk halfway around a 100km route, dropped off the back of the group and crawled the rest of the way home solo and most appropriately sur la jante.
This meant I also missed our annual pilgrimage to the cabin in the woods – the café at Bolam lake, which is perfectly servicable, reliably open when everything else is shuttered for the holidays, but for some reason, we seldom use if other choices are available.
The first Monday into the new year was much more successful, as we battled a strong headwind along the banks of the Tyne to the café at Bywell. Then, when everyone else had to turn north to climb out of the valley, I went rogue, crossed the bridge at Wylam and had a brilliantly fast, tailwind assisted and hugely enjoyable blast down the south bank of the river and home.
Although a somewhat shortened jaunt, at least it mean’t I had a few miles already banked for my first official club run of 2022.
Well, except the clubs affiliation to British Cycling has been actively suspended, so we can no longer have official club runs.
We first became aware of this when an eagle-eyed clubmate noticed our listing had abruptly disappeared from the BC website, but we had to wait three or four days before we got any sort of confirmation from the club hierarchy. (Is heirarchy an applicable term when all structures and governance are embodied in the whims of a single, solitary person?)
The official confirmation that the club’s affiliation to British Cycling had indeed been suspended came in the form of a terse, poorly worded and contradictory club communique which raised more questions than it answered, while suggesting the suspension was:
a). An utter shock that was unheralded and completely out of the blue with absolutely no hint of forewarning
b.) Totally and utterly unwarranted, and …
c.) Most importantly of all, somebody else’s fault entirely …
Call me cynical, but I’m not convinced by any of these points and this one is likely to run and run. Oh well, looks like we’re fully earning our subscriptions to the Chinese Curse (may you live in interesting times) to keep us entertained, although sometimes a bit of peace, calm and stability might be nice.
With no club run (ahem) to be planned, G-Dawg posted up a route just to let all his friends know where and when he intended to ride on Saturday and suggest that, if we should just happen to be on the exact same roads at the exact same time, well, that was pure coincidence wasn’t it…
There is, of course, nothing illegal about us riding as a group, it’s simply that this is no longer an official BC club run and as such we have no benefit from the blanket public liability insurance cover for club organised activities. (Or, at least that’s my very poor understanding of how things work, anyway.)
It wasn’t the best day for it either, cold, darkly overcast and with the threat of rain as an almost constant companion. I set off in darkness and swear 5-miles into my ride, it actually started to get darker. Then the rain bounced down, just enough to ensure I was suitably damp around the edges and ever so slightly uncomfortable.
I had to stop a few times to sort out my disapproving mudguards too, as their constant, censorious, tsk-tsk of my riding on every climb started to wear thin. I’ve no idea why mudguards that fitted perfectly last week should suddenly become an irritant. I guess that’s just the way it is.
I arrived at the meeting point to seek shelter in the dark recesses of the multi-storey car park, where we slowly assembled as a six-strong cohort. The weather didn’t seem that bad, so it was a fairly disappointing turnout, although perhaps people had been put off by Rainman’s prediction that violent thunderstorms would be sweeping the region just as we were due to set out. I’m still at a loss to work out where he picked up this idea from and, despite his blerg-moniker, he proved fantastically unreliable when it came to predicting levels of precipitation.
G-Dawg and Crazy Leg were on their fixies, Tri-Guy and me on single-speed bikes and Brassneck and Between were on normal road bikes. This was then perhaps the largest proportion of single-geared velocipedes on a club run in at least a quarter of a century and we estimated that between us we probably only had an average of just 8 gears each to choose from. Oh, wait, it wasn’t a club run at all. Scrub that.
Tri-Guy (it turns out he isn’t a triathlete at all, but a gravel biker) had managed to find some ice on a cycle path on the way across and had slid out. He reported there was no damage done, but he’d managed to plant his mitt in an icy puddle on his way down and his glove was now completely soaked through. It sounded innocuous at the time, but would result in having one seriously cold hand throughout the ride, like Michael Jackson asked to scrape a car windscreen, and he would eventually skip the café stop to head straight home to defrost (once he finally worked out exactly where the hell we had taken him and how to get back).
Crazy Legs declared he was grappling with last night’s curry and was in danger of losing and “doing a Dumoulin”, so set out for a solo ride which included a brief detour home, agreeing to meet up with us again at Kirkley café. The remaining 5 of us set out and just so happened to choose the exact same roads at the exact same time. What a coincidence.
At the top of Berwick Hill and with no sign of ice, we decided to risk at least part of the original route and take the lane through Kirkley Mill and out. Brassneck politely ushered me to the front for the descent as a sort of early warning device, relying on my penchant for finding errant patches of ice and reasoning if he saw me fall over he’d have plenty of time to stop or take evasive action. Charming.
We did find the odd rime of ice lurking in the gutters at the side of the road, which was not enough to cause any problems, but sufficient for us to skip the section planned for the shady lanes around Shilvington.
As we had passed through Kirkley on our outbound leg I’d glanced across at the rather gloomy, still dark horizon and asked G-Dawg if he knew what time sunrise was meant to be today.
It was meant as a rhetorical question, but, as we headed back an hour or so later the sun briefly broke cover to reveal itself skimming along, low on the horizon.
“Aha! There’s your sunrise,” G-Dawg exclaimed.
It seemed like it too, at 11.30 only three and a half hours later than scheduled. Still, I had to do a hard double-take just to convince myself that I wasn’t actually seeing a premature sunset, as our nearest star just didn’t seem to have the energy to clamber any higher into the sky and it was still pretty gloomy.
We eventually made it to the café at Kirkley, where we lost Tri-Guy to his frozen digits, but picked up a now substantially lighter Crazy Legs who’d enjoyed on his own solo ride. He went for the popular Mint Aero traybake as a reward and was gifted with a hugely massive, thick slab of doubly-delicious empty calories that buckled his paper plate as he tried to pick it up.
“That looks more like a block of pavé rather than something you’d want to ingest,” I suggested and Crazy Legs hauled it up triumphantly for all to see, posing as proud and content as Tom Boonen celebrating his fourth Paris-Roubaix win by kissing yet another hunk of stett.
We stepped over a large pooch sprawled bonelessly across the floor and to claim a table in the corner where, for some reason the talk turned to odd names. Crazy Legs was pleased I could confirm that he’d once worked with a guy called Robert Sherunkel (Mrs. SLJ used to be employed in the same organisation) while Brassneck contributed a colleague called Helmut Klingor. Luckily Taffy Steve wasn’t there, or we’d have had to include NASCAR driver, Dick Trickle in the conversation too.
We also had some thoughts about the prospects of meaningful change in the club and whether British Cycling’s sanctions would have any effect. I think we were all just as realistic as we were hopeful. Time will tell.
And then, it was time to leave, but … hold on … what was this? Crazy Legs couldn’t finish off his block of pavé? He’s obviously not a proper cyclist. He quietly folded the plate around blocky remains, ostensibly to keep it away from the dog stretched out snoring and completely uninterested beside us, but really just to conceal his inadequacy as a cyclist.
We then had a conversation about the bizarre things our canine friends will eat (G-Dawgs apparently have a very weird penchant for fox scat) while I wondered when chocolate had suddenly become such deadly poison to dogs. I remember my aunt and uncle had a dog that was seriously addicted to KitKats, but always seemed in remarkably rude health, so I remain confused.
We left the café with no clear answers about anything, other than the fact that, someplace, somewhere, Bob Sherunkle’s parents were probably still chuckling quietly to themselves.
I indicated I was heading home via Ponteland and the rest decided to join me for a change of route, so I had company as far as my turn at Twin Farms before I struck out for home alone. Not a bad not-a-club-run after all.
[Update: With the entirety of the rest of the household succumbing to the COVID-19 virus across the past fortnight, the inevitable has finally happened and I’ve just tested positive and embarked on my own period of splendid isolation. This obviously rules out club runs (of both the official and non-official variety) in the near future and pretty much writes off the whole of January for me. Oh well. Later.]
I hadn’t even left the house first thing Saturday and our WhatsApp group was buzzing with people crying off as freezing fog was blanketing the North East and upping the potential for icy roads. Others decided to delay an hour or two before venturing out, hoping to see things improve.
Me? I was up. I was ready. I didn’t feel like waiting. I took a peek out and decided it just didn’t look that bad and decided to give it a go and see how far I got, reasoning I could always turn back for home again. Anyway, it was our Christmas jumper ride and others were now invested in my ride. Thing#2 had a hand designing my wardrobe. She’d first selected one of her navy sweatshirts with a natty(?) tartan collar and an ugly kitten escaping from a gift-wrapped, be-ribboned Christmas present on the front. Now don’t get me wrong, this was truly naff, but it was also a little too sober and understated.
So, she dug deep into the dark, dark recesses of her wardrobe and returned with a horror of a Christmas jumper (she assures me she likes it) which was suitably gaudy and the epitome of bad taste – a festive green with white reindeer and snowflakes, red poinsettia and a massive rendering of David Attenborough’s face emblazoned on the front (alongside a green(?) and red robin.)
Luckily it said ATTENBRRRR under this picture, otherwise, you would have absolutely no idea who the jumper was trying to depict. It reminded me of those epic-fail likeness’s too often seen tattooed across some poor blokes back, where an utterly talentless artist has taken a photograph of his beloved family members, sometimes wives, but most often young kids, and rendered them in tattoo form as some deformed and mutated alien monster from my darkest nightmares.
For her part, Thing#1 had bedecked my bike in twinkling, much too subtle fairy lights and wrapped the top tube and seattube in luxuriously thick golden tinsel.
Ok. Let’s give it a go.
My first impression, as I dropped down the hill, was that it was indeed bitterly cold and Christmas jumpers are not even remotely windproof and I stayed uncomfortably cold until I was made to climb out the other side of the valley.
Before that, I crossed a still, silent river unaware if any rowers had braved the freezing temperatures, as everything under the bridge was invisible and swathed under a thick blanket of fog. I couldn’t even tell how high, or low the water was.
I reached the other bank and turned east, passing a small knot of Muckle riders churning in the opposite direction, obviously intent on a serious ride with no indulging the frivolity and stupidity of any of that Christmas jumper nonsense. I can’t help thinking they’ve got the right idea.
By the time I made the meeting point, I could see a band of ice crystals had started to form around the cuffs of my jumper and the final downhill stretch had chilled me once again. It was cold. Not as cold however as the -6℃ that OGL claimed it to be when he drove to the meeting point just to warn us that it was cold. Unless of course, he’d just driven in from Outer Siberia rather than Outer Fenham.
Despite being out on four wheels instead of two, he was fully dressed in full cycling kit, en route to the café at Belsay where a gathering of veterans was meeting to celebrate the achievements of local racing legend Ray Wetherell. G-Dawg would be our lone envoy at the event and our route was largely determined to get him there in time for the presentation.
G-Dawg and Aether were already at the meeting point, the former clearly surprised that even two others had turned up as he was expecting to ride on his own. As it was, we were then joined by the Cow Ranger, Teri TK and a Tri-Guy I wasn’t at all familiar with – to form a handy sextet.
We’d all made at least a token effort on the Christmas jumper front and Aether had seemingly swathed every square centimeter of his bike frame in thick, long-stranded, golden tinsel, even down to the long rear mudguard.
“Well, if nothing else,” I told him, “At least you’ll be invisible to radar.”
In the absence of a Christmas Jumper, Teri TK had gone with a navy blue Hawaiin shirt emblazoned with bright red Santa’s, only G-Dawg thought it might have been a pyjama top and asked jealousy if he’d managed to perfect the art of rolling straight out of bed and onto his bike.
Crazy Legs wandered up in civvies with his dog in tow, or perhaps it was the other way round, as Crazy Legs had tried tip-toeing carefully across icy pavements, only to be hauled enthusiastically forward by fearless Reggie, on much surer, four-footed traction. Anyway, the pair had arrived safely to spread seasonal greetings and good cheer, as Crazy Legs was one of those who’d delayed their ride to see if conditions improved, so he wasn’t sure of seeing us out on the road.
We had a bit chuckle about some recent transactions on our WhatsApp group, where someone had sold an office chair within seconds of posting it up, while MiniMiss had offered up two freetickets to see Gary Barlow live at the Arena … and had no takers. After a couple of hours of complete radio silence on the tickets, I’d concluded that a second-hand office chair had more pulling power than a former member of Take That and sparked an inevitable pile-on. This not only provided great entertainment but had left the original poster and office chair somewhat bemused and bewildered by the sudden, unexpected popularity of his second-hand furniture.
As we chatted, whenever Crazy Legs hands got cold he would pick up poor Reggie and bury his frozen digits in the dog’s fur, to leech away some warmth. It really was that cold, too cold to hang around for long and as soon as the clock hit 9:15 we determined there were no more lunatics likely to join us and we had to move before we froze in place.
G-Dawg and Aether led us out and alongside Teri TK, I slotted in behind them. There was something surreal about my view of Aether’s tinsel-enveloped bike from the back – it looked like he was riding an Afghan hound, with the slight sway of the rear mudguard resembling a tail, swishing from side to side.
Despite the bitter cold, the roads appeared ice-free fog and once the fog burned off, it was a beautiful crystal clear day, although the silvery-bright sun held no warmth whatsoever. The hedgerows out in the countryside were all ice-shrouded, still, white and glistening. Although bitterly cold, Aether reported his Garmin was reading -2.4℃ at one point, it was an extremely pleasant and convivial ride.
Through Stamfordham and the Cow Ranger and Tri Guy took to the front and they led through to Matfen, where they kept going, but the remaining four of us decided to adopt a Flat White ride protocol and stop for coffee.
The Matfen café was very welcoming, the coffee was good and G-Dawg was indulged with an early Christmas treat, the largest slice of corned beef pie I’ve ever seen.
Strange connections led from queries about if Frankenstein’s monster ever had a name, to Harry Potter’s owl, to Aether’s fascinating revelation that Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr had invented a frequency-hopping torpedo guidance system for the Allies during the war.
We had a chat with a local on leaving the café, then we were underway again, deciding to risk the Quarry en route to Belsay. Climbing out of Matfen we rode through the slightly unsettling phenomena of the rime encrusted trees occasionally shedding a tinkling cascade of ice pellets in our path, presumably a sign that the temperature had ticked up a degree or so.
The Quarry was the highest point of our ride and the crystal clear, still air provided spectacular views down into the Tyne Valley, where a thick bank of white fog still clung to the river. Even with the additional elevation and exposure, the top of the Quarry was still ice-free and we were soon cresting the slope and dropping down toward Belsay. G-Dawg offered Aether the chance to win the café sprint again, but he declined, wanting to win by stealth and subtlety rather than default. We rolled through Belsay, G-Dawg peeled off for the café and the three of us remaining set course for Kirkley, with potential rendezvous with any of the later starters, or G-Dawg, depending on how long he spent at Belsay.
As we approached Ogle I was eyeing the road suspiciously, unable to tell if its evil gleam was just because it was wet and the sun was bouncing directly off it, or there was a layer of ice lurking for the unwary. I voiced my concerns, asking Aether if he thought it was icy. He wasn’t sure either, but we weren’t kept in suspense for long.
We pushed through the cluster of houses, swung right and had just started to scale the rise out of the hamlet, when my wheels slid away from under me and I came down with a clatter. Behind me, either finding his own patch of deadly black ice, or startled because of my sudden nose-dive, Terri TK suddenly banged down too. I lay there for a moment, unable to unclip as my leg was cramping up, then slowly disengaged and untangled myself from the bike.
The fall had tried to even out all sticky-out bits down my right-hand side, so the point of my shoulder, elbow, top of my thigh and knee had all been subjected to a little gentle grating across the road surface. My brake lever was similarly scratched up and there was a hole in my favourite bibtights, but luckily all the damage was superficial.
Terri TK too reported no major injury, so we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down then walked our way very gingerly to the top of the slope. Before remounting, Aether phoned G-Dawg to warn him to be careful on this stretch, while I posted a similar warning on our WhatsApp ride group.
We later learned that the Big Yin and the Cow Ranger had both come down in the same spot, but luckily they too experienced no major damage. The Cow Ranger also said that on leaving us he and Tri-Guy had been tempted to go down the Ryalls until they met a bloke pushing his bike back up after hitting ice on the descent and sliding 30 metres down on his arse.
At Kirkley, Terri TK pushed on for home, while Aether and I called into the café for one last cup of coffee for the road and one last cup of coffee before I’d go to the valley below… No one else had shown by the time we left and we split shortly after leaving, Aether to try the potentially problematic lane up to Berwick Hill, while I followed shorter, more certain roads home through Ponteland.
The river valley and most of the hills south of the river were still shrouded in freezing fog and I was a little concerned the Heinous Hill might be a bit slippery, especially as I would have to climb most of it out of the saddle. Luckily my fears were unfounded and I made it back without the indignity of falling over again.
After a couple of nights sticking to the sheets and only being able to lie on one side, I’m mostly recovered now and looking forward to our last club ride of the year, the Monday after Christmas Day, weather permitting.
I started the day with perhaps the slowest ever descent off the Heinous Hill in the cold, damp and dark of Saturday morning, as I found myself catching and then trailing a massive JCB with backhoe down the bank. I was wondering whether to try and squeeze past when the driver involuntarily brake-tested me one of the corners and I felt my rear wheel lose grip and fishtail. This I took as fair warning that the road surface was either icy or greasy, so I scrubbed off the speed and dropped back to pick my way carefully down hoping to avoid becoming the hood ornament on an approaching car.
As I trundled over the bridge a short while later, a still-rising sun cast the river in a warm, rosy glow, smooth, glassy and featureless except in the distance where an 8-man crew was scything a rowing boat upstream, its wake resembling a huge zipper being pulled open across the surface of the water.
There was no one to chase and scare on the climb up to Denton Burn, but I still made good time and was early to the meeting place, so I did a quick peregrination around the area, meeting up with G-Dawg around Fawdon and riding in with him.
There we found TripleD-El, who couldn’t help but think she’d turned up unfashionably early, mainly because she was unfashionably early.
Our route architect this week was Crazy Legs and he’d gone for an all-time classic club run, predicated mainly on local bus routes where, hopefully, the roads would be gritted in case of ice. Our route then was through Ponteland, up Limestone Lane, Stamfordham, Matfen, the Quarry and then the café. The only novel wrinkle this time would be our choice of café, with Capheaton getting the nod for their very last weekend of operating before their Christmas break.
G-Dawg explained that Crazy Legs was actually on dog watch this weekend (i.e. actually dog watching, rather than in the nautical sense of an early evening shift), so wouldn’t be riding, but he would pop along to brief in the route.
Brassneck arrived, mightily pleased with himself for having secured a new Seamonsters cycling jersey to supplement his Bizarro one. Mini Miss looked on, perplexed.
“What’s that?” she wondered.
“A Wedding Present jersey,” he replied enthusiastically.
“But … but it’s not your wedding?” She was even more confused now.
“The Wedding Present are a popular beat combo,” Brassneck explained patiently, before dredging up one of those facts that are so random and inconsequential, that they simply have to be true, “They’re the only popular beat combo to match Elvis’s record of having 12 top 40 UK hits in a single year.”
“Ah. Right. Yeah.” Mini Miss pondered briefly, “Never heard of them!”
“Anyhow, the only problem is, I’ve now got the jersey just in time to put it away for the summer,” Brassneck lamented.
“I’ve just done the same,” TripleD-El informed us proudly, “I found the perfect jersey in Start Cycles, but it was a men’s one, but then I found they did a women’s version and I actually found one in my size, but it had a fault in it, so I thought they probably don’t have another one, but they did, so I bought that and now I’ve got it packed away until the summer. It’s the perfect blue to match my bike,” she added.
I looked at her Liv bike, then at her, then back down at her bike. From where I was standing, all I could see was a black bike frame.
“But your bike’s black?”
“It has blue highlights,” she insisted.
I looked again and still couldn’t see any blue. Maybe it was the flat lighting on an admittedly dull and grey day and in bright sunlight the bike would look completely transformed? Maybe the bike’s like one of those Magic Eye tricks that you have to stare at for long minutes before a secret picture is finally revealed? (They never work for me either). Maybe I just lack imagination, or just maybe I was being set-up in some sort of elaborate Dutch con game?
“I can’t see any blue,”
She looked down exasperatedly, but couldn’t seem to find any blue herself, then pointed determinedly at her bartape which had tiny holographic snowflakes etched into its surface.
Ok, I guess if the light catches those in a certain way they maybe-might appear blue …
I think the moral of this story is to never imply criticism of a woman’s attempts at colour-coordination. Ever.
Crazy Legs failed to show up to wave us off. (It’s understandable, the trauma of seeing others ride away while you’re not allowed to could break any man.) So G-Dawg briefed in the route, then chivvied, arm-twisted and cajoled us into two roughly even-sized groups. Group#2 was the most popular this week, I suspect because Jimmy Mac was with Group#1, so it would probably feature an unrelenting pace. As a result slightly more chivvying, arm-twisting and cajoling than usual was needed. Still, we got there in the end. Ish.
And off we went…
I fell alongside Zardoz and learned about further devastation that Storm Arwen had wrought on the region, forcing some re-jigging and the curtailment of a portion of the Winter Wonderland event his wife organises each year at Kielder Forest. (Zardoz still denies that he’s grown his fluffy white beard in anticipation of being given a starring role in Santa’s Workshop there, but no one believes him.)
We also had a chat about mountain climbing and how so many people have now climbed Everest that it’s just not all that remarkable anymore and yet they’re still dying while making the attempt. I suggested that climbing the mountain was firmly off my bucket-list and Zardoz helpfully introduced me to the concept of the anti-bucket-list, or fuck-it list. Splendid. Climbing Everest is definitely going in my fuck-it list.
At this point we were traveling along Limestone Lane, our original front pairing had peeled off and G-Dawg and Cowboys were now on point and in the wind, while we followed just behind.
“We’re getting awfully close to the front?” Zardoz suggested, starting to get twitchy.
“Do you want to call a pee-stop?” I wondered.
“Oh, am I that transparent?”
I re-assured him that it being G-Dawg on the front we were probably good until well after Stamfordham and so it proved and we made it to the top of the Quarry before the front was ceded. I took up the lead alongside Brassneck, as at that point Zardoz had somewhat mysteriously disappeared back into the pack, and we led the rest of the way to the café.
Having been served, I arrived at the table in time to hear Goose declare that the Moderna COVID vaccine was undoubtedly and irrefutably the best, because:
A. It was the vaccine he himself had received and,
B. It was the most expensive.
He was naturally implying that Moderna’s price was an indicator of quality and not simply the avarice of the faceless pharmaceutical conglomerate that produced it.
He illustrated his point with the example of two pairs of shoes, one pair costing £10 and the other £100.
“Which do you think would be better quality?” he challenged.
“Well, you wouldn’t get far in £10 shoes,” G-Dawg suggested, not unreasonably.
“No, but you’d have 9 other new pairs to change into,” Goose surmised, undermining his own argument and somewhat missing the point that someone who bought £10 shoes instead of £100 ones was unlikely to be able to afford to spend £100 either on a single, or multiple pairs.
I think at this point he was suggesting that quantity has a quality all of its own. Perhaps the greatest thing that Napoleon never said.
Hold on, that’s not right is it – the greatest thing Napoleon never said includes everything everyone else has ever said, including things like, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” or “time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” I think I mean the greatest thing attributed to Napoleon that he never actually said.
I was momentarily distracted by G-Dawg’s choice of cake, coffee and ham and pease pudding sandwich.
“Lunch?” I wondered.
By the time I tuned into the conversation on the other side of the table, Goose had moved on to speculating about why the French demand swimmers wear Speedo-style budgie smugglers in public pools. This, in turn, reminded him of the TV-series, Man from Atlantis, who Goose accused of wearing skin-tight, bright yellow, budgie smugglers.
I countered that they definitely weren’t Speedo’s, but shorts and I thought they were the sort of blue that would match TripleD-El’s bike. To be fair, at this point and not having actually seen the blue in question, I felt I could get away with matching it to practically any hue.
Anyway, Mr. Google later informed me that we were both right. And we were both wrong too. The Man from Atlantis did indeed wear shorts, not budgie smugglers. The shorts were indeed bright yellow and not blue.
We then tried to recall the actual premise for the show, which someone suggested was about crime-fighting, a bit like Batman, but set underwater. We then tried to imagine the types of underwater crime the Man from Atlantis could tackle, but other than someone plotting to rob Dogger Bank (boom tsk), we drew a blank.
Perhaps, someone then suggested, he was employed by French municipal authorities to ensure no one went swimming in pools while wearing shorts. Plausible, but surely scant material for the ensuing 2-series and 17 episodes?
By this time we’d pinned the show to around the early 80’s, identified its main star as Patrick Duffy and Brassneck had clarified that the Man from Atlantis had webbed feet, which he demonstrated by helpfully waggling his fingers in the air.
“Webbed feet? He must be from Norwich,” Captain Black quipped.
“Was Patrick Duffy from Norwich?” Goose enquired in all seriousness and above the whooshing noise Captain Black’s remark made as it sailed way over his head.
“Hold on, hold on,” Goose finally interjected, “Isn’t Patrick Duffy dead?”
We assured him that, to the best of our knowledge, he wasn’t.
“Oh, ok. I thought he was shot in the shower or something…”
Things were starting to get a little surreal, which Brassneck added to by suggesting Man from Atlantis was all well and good, but not a patch on Manimal.
“Manimal,” he explained, “could transform into various animals like a hawk or a jaguar.” He recalled it starred an English actor, which Google then confirmed as Simon MacCorkindale.
Most of us could vaguely remember the title of Manimal, but nothing else about the series. No one could remember Simon MacCorkindale, either, but strangely we all knew of his second wife, Susan George.
Even Brassneck was now struggling to remember which animals Manimal transformed into.
“A squirrel,” someone suggested, “And then at the end, he gets run over by a car.”
“A rabbit,” I suggested, “trying to sneak into an armed camp, he’s caught in a searchlight and freezes for the rest of the episode?”
None of our mockery seemed to have any effect on Brassneck and I’m convinced he went home and spent an age reconnecting with Manimal on YouTube
When next I looked up Zardoz was standing over Goose, brandishing his Rapha rain jacket in front of him like a matador’s cape, while Goose struggled with his phone and after an age of fiddling, took a photo of the inside of the jacket.
“No, no, that didn’t work,” Goose exclaimed.
“You need a photo of the outside,” someone suggested.
More fiddling with the phone, another unsuccessful photo and then more fiddling as Goose tried to work out how to turn his flash on. Kid’s and their phones, eh? They just won’t leave them alone.
Finally, Goose got the flash to work and showed us the resulting picture, the flash lighting up Zardoz’s jacket and transforming its dark purple appearance into a glowing, iridescent masterpiece. Quite impressive, but to my mind not a patch on the retina-burning reflective qualities of Proviz kit.
With enough nonsense disgorged to last us for another week, off we went again, following a standard route home. The first part back was cold, the second half was wet and somewhere along the way, Aether apparently claimed a sprint win that only he was contesting.
The miles passed without incident and I was soon heading off solo. A bit of pavement surfing got me through a closed stretch of road without having to detour and I started to climb the Heinous Hill just as the rain began in earnest. I was quite looking forward to a hot shower when I got home, but it wasn’t until I’d fished through all my jersey pockets three times that I realised I’d gone out without my keys.
I checked on the whereabouts of Mrs. SLJ, but she was off across town with Thing#2 who had a hair appointment and they were not due back for at least an hour or so. With the rain settling in, I did the only thing sensible and retired to Pedalling Squares for light refreshments and a chance to watch Wout van Aert ride away with another cyclo-cross race.
I think I’m really lucky to have a cycling cafe on my doorstep (even better with an LBS attached too) but it did mean a double assault on the Heinous Hill. Still, caffeine fuelled and ably bolstered by a fruit scone, the second ride up actually proved significantly easier than the first.
I finally got home in time to get ready and head out to a club social that evening. This involved too many poppadoms, a damn fine chicken Dhansak and numerous bottles of Cobra, while a grand time was had by all.
Dear me, we talk more than enough bolleaux after just a cup of coffee, adding large quantities of alcohol into the mix has a quite, quite startling multiplier effect.
After a lost weekend spent infiltrating Thing#1 into London, I was looking forward to getting back to the sanctuary and serenity of a club run, only to have my intentions cruelly dashed by Storm Arwen’s untimely arrival on these shores.
With the wind howling through the trees, filling the air with all manner of flying debris and detritus and hurling spiteful handfuls of rain to rattle against the windows, I might yet have ventured out first thing Saturday morning, but I woke to find our water supply had been cut off and that seemed a solid enough excuse to send me scurrying back to a still-warm bed.
In the event, we had the smallest club run that’s physically possible, with just two brave souls daring to venture out au vélo. (I contend that any less and it would officially have been a solo ride.) So hats-off, but straight-jackets on for our dynamic duo of G-Dawg and Brassneck. I’ve convinced myself they spent half the ride telling each other it was all perfectly fine and if they’d realised just how warm it was beforehand, they both would have worn shorts.
Another mild inconvenience for me was the Trek was still with my LBS for some much needed TLC after years of neglect and hard pedalling. This involved a new bottom bracket, headset, brake cables and chain and finally a replacement for the rear cog. Over time I’d manage to wear this latter item sharp enough so that I could have adopted it as a makeshift shuriken. (You know, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, or some other civilisation ending catastrophe). Anyway, this meant if I was going out it would have to be astride the unloved Peugeot and, to be honest, I just wasn’t feeling it.
A week later and the strong winds of Storm Arwen had thankfully passed, but not before leaving a noticeable and notable mark on the countryside. The sides of the road were littered with leaves and broken branches and down almost every country lane we found multiple raw tree stumps and broad swathes of sawdust from where fallen and damaged trees had been cut down and hauled away. The National Trust site at Wallington Hall near Morpeth, alone reported the loss of “thousands of trees” in what was described as “worst destruction caused by a storm in 40 years.”
This Saturday promised to be calmer, but just as c-c-c-cold and while temperatures weren’t low enough to have to worry about ice, the wind chill kept them down to low single-figures and prompted me to go for the full-on cold-weather gear. So back to the trusty Thermolite socks, thick overshoes, tights, headband and Galibier Colombière quilted jacket. This is insulated enough that I could get away with just a light base-layer and short-sleeved jersey underneath (and even then, the jersey was only needed so I had some pockets to stash bits and bobs in.)
I pondered whether it was cold enough to justify the mighty lobster mitts, but decided to just go for heavier gloves. It was a decision I regretted briefly, halfway through my ride across when my thumbs went numb, but they finally recovered enough that I felt comfortable. The opposite held true for G-Dawg, who ended up removing his lobster mitts and engaging in a bare-knuckle contest with the cold for the last hour before the café, as he was seriously overheating.
The bike was back too and running silky smooth and near silently. Astride it about the only thing I can hear is the slight whisk of tyres kissing tarmac. The only issue I had was the LBS only had a 15t cog to hand to replace my worn one. I’d had them fit that instead of delaying further to order in a new 14t one, reasoning it probably wouldn’t make all that much difference and even if it did, it was an easy fix I could handle myself. Theoretically, getting up hills would be slightly easier, but I was a bit concerned about what it might do to my top-end speed.
Over the river and starting the long, meandering climb up toward Denton Burn, I spotted a couple of cyclists toiling uphill ahead of me, an incentive to test my legs and see if I could catch them. Mission accomplished, as the road straightened toward the crest, I passed the first one.
“Good morning,” I called out chirpily, desperately trying to sound nonchalant and not at all out of breath.
“Jesus Christ!” the rider shrieked back in shocked surprise, obviously startled by my sudden, silent appearance on her shoulder.
“Sorry!” I called back as I slipped past her companion, who was now struggling to ride through his laughter.
Oops! Note to self – the bike is really, really quiet.
I made it to the meeting point without terrifying anyone else, where the usual madness enfolded: Crazy Legs danced around some to “Eye of the Tiger” – we know not why, G-Dawg entertained us relating his encounter last week with a teeny, tiny, vociferously swearing jockey, futilely engaged trying to help workmen move a massive fallen tree from the road because he was running late and supposed to be riding the 12.20 steeplechase at Newcastle Racecourse and OGL, castigated us for failing to sign up for his veteran cyclist get-together, despite the fact we were only ever invited as an afterthought once he realised the numbers didn’t quite stack up.
Buster briefed in the route and got set to lead the first group out. There was then an unseemly scramble to join him, which was in danger of leaving a seriously undermanned second group. This forced G-Dawg to invoke his special, super-hero power – the Teacher’s Voice™ – to bring order to chaos. Not heard since his retirement, but an ability he still retains full command of, it worked on unruly and recalcitrant pupils back then and worked just as well un unruly and recalcitrant cyclists now, as he quickly shamed Carlton and Cowboys out of their attempt to try and sneak away and join the front group.
Our second group finally got underway, 6 of us temporarily bolstered by the Flat White devotees who were already looking forward to their first coffee-stop of the day.
I slotted in for a spell beside Taffy Steve to hear how he’d survived the depredations of Storm Arwen (largely intact except for one fence panel smashed to flinders) but he reported the weather had been particularly spectacular, with boiling, raging seas all along the coast.
Our Flat White bretheren departed around Kirkley and we pressed on, catching sight of our first group up ahead and then, as they were seriously handicapped by Buster’s minuscule bladder, passing them when they were forced to stop for a pee break.
We dragged our way up to Dyke Neuk and paused long enough for the first group to join us. G-Dawg invited them to lead out again, so rightful order was fully restored and we got an extra minutes rest too.
The minor impediments of Hartburn and Middleton Bank were dispensed with and I took to the front alongside Cowboys as we started the long burn for the café. All good, except I was soon on the absolute limit, as I struggled to push past 35kph, my legs were a ridiculous spinning blur and I was scared of looking down in case they were smoking.
I wish I could treat the loss or gain of just a single tooth with the same aplomb as recently shown by Tevita Tuliʻakiʻono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau Vea, but it’s not to be. I never would have thought the addition of just one extra tooth at the back would make such a difference, but I’m going to have to revert back to the 14t cog.
Luckily, I managed to hold on until the road finally started to rise and a more seemly cadence could be established and then pushed past the final bend before sliding across to try and recover while everyone else darted past to contest the sprint.
At the café, before donning a facemask, I stripped off my gloves, helmet and headband, revealing, much to the delight of Crazy Legs, a very bad case of helmet-hair, what I assume was a ridiculous fin standing up to attention across the top of my head. I joined the back of a very long, very slow-moving queue to jeers of “baby shark!” while I tried to batter my errant hair down into something slightly less preposterous.
On sitting down I then became embroiled in the deep, philosophical question that had seemingly been exorcising the Flat White Club throughout their entire ride: Is it possible to fart while actively pedalling a bike?
Crazy Legs believed he had amply demonstrated this ability out on the road, but Taffy Steve contended that the squeaking, squelching noise he’d heard could have come from any part of Crazy Legs’ anatomy, if not indeed from his bike itself. He seemed particularly disappointed by the volume of the flatus, although I wasn’t sure if his protest was related to the millilitres, or decibels that had been produced. In an attempt to adjudicate, I suggested that a fart is a fart.
“Anyway,” I asked, “What were you expecting an excerpt from Flight of the Bumblebee, Trumpet Voluntary or something?”
Taffy Steve remained unconvinced and I’m sure this one will … err … rumble on.
The fact that one of Sting’s former bandmates (and a former club member) would be engaged to play at OGL’s veteran cyclist reunion that evening, gave Taffy Steve the opportunity to vent about just how dull, joyless, self-absorbed and pompous Mr. Sting appears to be these days. Then he had us guess at how much you’d need to pay to secure a ticket to see Sting play live at the London Palladium next year. Even our wildest guesses came nowhere close to tickets that range in price from an outrageous £387 in the “cheap” seats, to a frankly unbelievable £1,905!
As well as being a conspicuously dull man, Taffy Steve demanded to know if Sting had ever written a good, solo song “other than that alien one.”
“Russians?” I suggested.
“Oh yeah, I quite like that one,” Taffy Steve conceded, “So, name me a good Sting song other than Russians and that alien one?”
“Fields of Gold,” Crazy Legs volunteered.
“Okay, other than Russians, Fields of Gold and that alien one, name me a good Sting song?”
“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free?” someone else came up with.
“Okay, okay, other than Russians, Fields of Gold, If You Love Somebody Set Them Free and that alien one …”
“If I Ever Lose My Faith in You…”
Taffy Steve sighed, deeply troubled.
Meanwhile, one table along, the Chinese FNG who’d joined us for the first time that morning had brought one of his wheels into the café and was quietly working to fix a puncture. He seemed happy enough just getting on with it, but OGL declared he does “about 80 puncture repairs a day” and couldn’t resist “lending a hand.” You’d think someone who spends what must be at least half of their entire working life apparently changing tyres would welcome a break from same, but apparently not.
Looking on, Crazy Legs wondered how I’d be able to assign the Chinese kid a pseudonym in the blerg without offending the gods of political correctness, or insulting an entire nation of 1.4 billion people. He then decided that I wouldn’t need to, as the kid’s name was already cool enough and is apparently Cypher. (This is according to a quick conversation the two had had at the meeting point and based on the assumption that Crazy Legs both heard correctly and remembered the details. I’m not sure we can trust either of these faculties – just ask Still Nick and Not Anthony.)
While we blethered on, Captain Black followed a dad and small child toward the toilet where it looked like a prolonged nappy change was the order of the day in the men’s cubicle. Captain Black dutifully waited, but was still there 5 minutes later, when I suggested the toilets were pretty much non-binary and he might as well use the ladies cubicle. Naturally, as soon as he decided I was perhaps-probably right and disappeared inside, a stern-looking, middle-aged matron appeared and, much to our delight, followed him into the lobby.
Sometime later an abashed Captain Black emerged looking suitably chastened and admitting he’d been subject to “that look” the one only women can achieve that can easily shrivel a man’s soul and remind him of just how base and worthless he is. We naturally thought the entire episode was quite hilarious.
Outside once again and heading home, I caught up with Brassneck, who insisted the 60-70mph winds last week weren’t all that bad, as they were constant rather than gusting! I suggested he wasn’t really selling the ride particularly well. He then revealed that both he and G-Dawg had suffered a series of punctures late on, had limped through to the cafe at Kirkley and then both had phoned home for a lift back. So, there you have it, not only the smallest club run in history but the only one with a 100% abandonment rate too!
With Brassneck pondering how much of a mess the lane through from Kirkley to Berwick Hill might be following the passing of Storm Arwen, I decided I was tired enough that I didn’t want to find out, so gave it a miss and I left the group to route through Ponteland and shave a few miles off my trip home.
Another Saturday, another club ride, but I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling it. The legs felt tired and heavy right from the outset. Dropping down the hill and pushing out along the valley, I think I spent as much time looking at my legs as the road ahead, as if I could somehow visually discern what the problem was and, even more ridiculously, somehow fix it.
As I rode over the bridge even the river below seemed perplexed and worried by my struggles, wearing a wrinkled frown of consternation instead of its usual glassy smooth surface. Oh well, no turning back now.
I arrived at the meeting point in time to see a nowadays rare gathering of the Judean People’s Front. Interestingly, TripleD-Be and TripleD-El both arrived together, but he was soon waving her off cheerily as she hooked up with the JPF, while TripleD-Be joined our regulars, who were already chuckling at this display.
“I like her,” TripleD-Be started to explain, then paused.
“But …” Crazy Legs and G-Dawg continued for him, around their delighted laughter.
“We don’t have to do everything together.”
TripleD-Be explained that if they both rode in the same group, they’d then have the exact same ride and so it wouldn’t be worth talking about. This way they were guaranteed to have two completely different experiences.
This led to a rather serious (for us anyway) discussion of how difficult it must be to be in a long-term relationship with a work colleague, sharing so much time together, and then how awkward it would be if that relationship failed. This reminded me of seeing a Kurt Vonnegut lecture tour at the Tyneside Cinema (February 1983. Yikes, that’s in the previous century!) when he claimed that he’d been married twice as long as normal people as, being a writer who worked exclusively from home, he spent all day, most days with his wife.
Crazy Legs reported that the inaugural Flat White Club ride had been a great success although he had been slightly perturbed by one café sign that read …
… and wondered how we ended up so low down in the hierarchy.
Today was to be its second iteration and he’d even developed a hand signal so FWC members could secretly communicate their intent and allegiance, a kind of Ted Roger’s 3-2-1, or Phones-4-U type affair. It could catch on, just probably not with the kids.
Our route came courtesy of Buster, but he’d fooled us by lurking at the back in an unregulated non-official jersey, rather than the official, non-official jersey. For one brief moment, Crazy Legs thought he was going to have to step up and be a Proxy Buster, but the rightful ride architect finally surfaced to brief in the route.
Plans to return to the café at Capheaton were dashed due to its closure, but OGL assured us Belsay had reinstated their free refill policy, so that was our destination.
With Ion putting in a rare appearance and spearheading the front group, it was fairly certain only the hardened racing snakes would be tempted to join up, but we still managed to shuffle our numbers into 3 fairly decently sized clumps. I bumped down the kerb to join Group 2 and away we went.
I found myself riding alongside Brassneck, convinced it was still shorts weather. I remained sceptical and then warned him he’d better make the most of it as the Daily Heil had briefly paused terrifying its readership with the spectre of an invasion of illegal immigrants, to scare them with tales of an encroaching Arctic blast instead, replete with heavy blizzards, nose-diving temperatures and Christmas chaos and misery.
“Yes,” I assured him, “And it must be true, as the bookies have apparently slashed the odds on us having a white Christmas.”
“What,” he countered, “Again?”
Yep. I can’t help feeling the Daily Heil has a calendar reminder that pings every three months or so and tells them it’s time they pulled together yet another scare-story about life-threatening, extreme weather that was heading our way imminently … definitely … well … maybe … perhaps.
Approaching Mitford we took the left turn up toward Molesden for a change and I found myself on the front with Mini Miss as we charged past the farm where the dog that hated Crazy Legs used to lie in wait to ambush him. Don’t get me wrong, it actually hated all cyclists, but for some unknown reason, especially Crazy Legs, so we always felt safer with him in our number to deflect its aggression.
It was so bad Mini Miss said she would often deliberately avoid this road and its crazed canine guardian and, though it used to be a regular occurrence, it had been a long time since it featured on any of our routes. Now the farmyard was eerily quiet, apart from a fat cat asleep atop the wall next to the empty dog kennel, proof I guess that our once-nemesis must now be off chasing cyclists in doggy-heaven. Perhaps it’s safe to build this road back into our plans again?
By the time we hit Middleton Bank my legs were starting to protest and made heavy work of the ascent, but I took up the pace on the front for the final push to the café. I even managed a brief acceleration over the rollers and led everyone up the last drag, before they all bustled past in search of sprint glory.
We caught up with the Flat White Club in the café queue, were served and were heading toward the obviously vacant seats beside a glowering OGL, only to be diverted by Crazy Legs who suggested it was pleasant enough for us to have one final sit of the year outside in the garden.
Here we dissected OGL’s recent reminiscence about riding down the Twisties at 40mph while playing conkers, concluding that it was maybe, perhaps ever so slightly embellished and exaggerated and didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Who knows, maybe OGL was a Daily Heil journalist in a former life?
Speaking of exaggeration and embellishment, Taffy Steve was quick to point out that the story of conkers being banned from schoolyards on Health and Safety grounds was another bit of scare-mongering fabrication.
By then it was time to test if the café would live up to the promise of free coffee refills and the once-spurned, never forgiven G-Dawg was obviously keener than most to test this out. He retrieved a tray and loaded it up with all our mugs, then went out of his way to find more. Anyone at another table, cyclist or not? Yes, why not. Tea-drinkers who’d drained their pots and even those that hadn’t? Yes, why not. Visitors who long since abandoned their mugs on the table and departed? Yes, why not them too. He soon had a full, clinking, clanking tray and disappeared inside, ready to do battle for his just and righteous cause …
Yes, he returned with our free refills.
(And yes, I can exaggerate with the best of them.)
As we left the cafe I found Spoons minutely inspecting his wheels to try and decide if there was any part of the wear indicator still visible. He convinced himself there was the faintest discernible trace of a line around his brake track and reassured, away we went (although I suspect a new set of wheels will be on his wishlist).
On the way back I found the descent of Berwick Hill had suddenly become one of the hardest parts of the ride, with speeds pushing over 25mph and no ability to shift into a bigger gear, I ended up kicking furiously for a few revs, then freewheeling, then kicking again to try and maintain the high pace.
A couple of young racing snakes hit the front as we came off the climb and the speed shot right up – I know this because I somehow managed to pick up a Strava PB as we rushed through Dinnington. I hung on grimly through the long drag around the airport, but as we crested the hill and the road dipped down toward the mad mile, it became too fast and I eased and drifted back to let my burning legs recover before starting the solo ride home a little earlier than usual.
Next week I’ll be transporting Thing#1 to London, where she’s decided to live for a while, so no ride and plenty of time to recover. It’s also given me the opportunity to drop the Trek into Patrick at the Brassworks for some much-needed, long overdue maintenance, so perhaps I’ll feel like a new man on a new bike when I return?