Another guest blogger has kindly stepped up to the mark in our time of need! This contribution is from my old (old, old, old!) mate, Tony Clay, who describes himself as a long-distance member of our cycling club, before explaining that by this he means he lives a long way from Newcastle and not that he rides long distances anymore!
Currently residing in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire, Tony still has dual nationality and a Geordie passport and recalls his formative years “happily riding around Northumberland and Durham with some great people.”
This is a faithful telling of how he (and then, by association, yours truly) came to be cyclists, rather than … I don’t know … golfers? … lard-arsed sofa surfers? … sane and mellow normal people without a Lycra fetish? Maybe all, or none of these.
A Revelation on the Road to Damascus Hexham by Tony Clay
For the record, my other clubs – Tyne Road Club (at the same time as Joe Waugh(1)), Whitley Bay Road Club (at the same time as Mick Bradshaw(2)) Tyne Velo, Sheffield Phoenix, Sharrow CC, Meersbrook CC, Rutland CC (at the same time as Malcolm Elliott(3)), Thurcroft CC and my current local Club – Rotherham Wheelers (100 years old this Summer).
I’ve a couple of years on SLJ and have known him since I was 14. One of my fond memories is when he and I went on a YHA cycling tour around Devon and Cornwall in 1978. We had some laughs. I think it was £2 per night in the Youth Hostels back then and I booked and paid in advance by Postal Order, do they even exist today? (Mr. Google suggests that indeed, they still do, but I’ve never heard any one use, or even talk about them for decades!)
But anyway, let’s go back to my childhood… I had to visit a Psychotherapist some years ago and, though it sounds cliched, that was actually about the first thing he said to me, ‘Tell me about your childhood.’
Well, there was a small gang of us 14/15 year olds at school, a mixture of lads and lasses who ‘knocked about’ together, all very innocent. We all went to the after-school clubs, the youth club, the ‘movies’, walking, camping and canoeing together. Simpler times.
The summer holidays in 1974 saw some lovely weather. We all got the train to South Shields now and again for a day at the beach with Frisbees, burgers, coke and ice cream.
I can’t remember who suggested it but someone said, ‘let’s go for a bike ride’.
But I didn’t have a bike…
But, asking around I managed to borrow Dick Taylor’s bike. The bike was a Sturmey Archer, 3-speed ‘all steel’ Raleigh. I’m not sure what happened to the bike, but Dick Taylor went on to a place in the GB Olympic Kayak Team and, even at 16, he was quite an impressive physical specimen, tall, blonde and ‘fit as the proverbial butcher’s dog’. Perhaps he got that way riding his beast of a bike?
So, beastly bike sorted, where would we go?
The obvious choice was South Shields, only a 20-mile round trip and we could go on the beach with Frisbees, burgers, coke and ice cream. Perfect!
We decided to go to Hexham.
Initially not a bad idea as we knew Hexham quite well as we had been there many times at ‘Dukeshouse Wood’ School Camp, very happy times.
What we didn’t factor in was the distance… we didn’t even think about what is essentially a 50-mile round trip.
50 miles! I’d never ridden further than the local shops on my tricycle as a bairn!
So the ‘Liste de Engagements’ was:-
‘Rowesy’ riding his brother’s Holdsworth.
‘Fat Rowesy’, – no relation and earned the epithet “fat” principally to differentiate the two Rowesy’s. Fat Rowesy was on his brother’s Carlton Kermesse (a lovely bike which I later bought off him.)
‘Fat John’ on a BSA Tour of Britain.
‘Erra’ on a flat handlebar Raleigh Roadster.
‘Gutha’ on his brother’s Carlton, horribly hand painted with Hammerite.
‘Doddsy’ on his very own (he was posh) Carlton Ten. A really sound touring bike, in mint condition. They sell for around £250 to the ‘Eroica’ enthusiasts today.
‘Maundy’ on his PUCH (PUKE!) International, really cheap and horrible, horrible, horrible; (I could never determine if it was meant to be pronounced puke, or if this was some subtle kind of Austrian humour and should perhaps be pronounced poosh. You know, like a poosh bike? Ah, forget it.)
‘Bryan’ so utterly nondescript he didn’t even earn a nickname… and I can’t remember his bike either!
(It’s brilliant to realise that teenage kids are every bit as accomplished at coming up with pithy, creative nicknames as some of our, err, “mature” professional sportsmen. I’m looking at you Wrighty, Gazza, Giggsy, Waughy, Cookie, Floody et al. Simple rules – if the surname is too long, truncate it a bit, then all you have to do is stick an “ee” or “ah” on the end. Why didn’t I think of that, could have save myself a huge amount of time and soul-searching!)
Having no idea what we were letting ourselves in for, nobody had any food or drink and a couple of us didn’t even take any money, so we all had to chip in to get them their ‘burgers, coke and ice cream’ when we got there.
The journey and return is perhaps a story for another day, but the key moment in that ride was when I swopped bikes with Fat Rowesy for a few miles as we passed through Corbridge.
Going from a 3-speed steel ‘clunker’ to a real racing bike was amazing. A real revelation. His Carlton Kermesse had 10 gears, tubular tyres and lots of alloy kit. It zinged. It seemed to smoothly glide along and was utterly effortless to ride.
That is the precise moment, 46 years ago, when I got hooked on cycling.
To be continued?
(1) Joseph Alexander Waugh. Twice National Hill Climb Champion King of the Mountains,1975 Milk Race 2nd, at 5 Seconds, 1976 Milk Race, riding in support of the winner Bill Nickson 2nd to Robert Millar (Pippa York) National Road Race Championships 1979 Gold Medallist 100km TTT 1982 Commonwealth Games, with Malcolm Elliott
(SLJ: Also occasionally known as Joey Wah-oogah to eagle-eyed readers of this blerg.)
(2) Mick Bradshaw.
Gold, Silver and Bronze Medallist in National Time Trial Championships at 25, 50 and 100 miles.
And, after a heart transplant he came back to win medals in the World Transplant Games, coincidentally held in Newcastle, one tough cookie.
(3) Malcolm Elliott. What needs to be said? National Hill Climb Champion, National Road Race, National Criterium Champion, Milk Race Winner (and holds the record for the number of stage wins), Tour de France rider (read ‘Wide Eyed And Legless’), Vuelta a Espana Points Classification Winner, Gold Medallist 100km TTT 1982 Commonwealth Games AND the Road Race… and was still racing, very successfully, as a pro aged 49! And a lovely friendly guy!
Total Distance: 104 km / 65 miles with 1,114 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 19 minutes
Average Speed:24.1 km/h
Group size:20 riders
Weather in a word or two:Dry and windy
Early forecasts for this weekend promising wall-to-wall rain, encouraged a lively Facebook debate about mudguards, breaking winter bikes out of storage and making sure they’re fully prepped and ready for the club run and hard winter ahead. Someone even posted a very apposite illustration of fender zones, apparently the work of a Canadian designer and cyclists Jeff Werner:
Yet again though, the weather was to play tricks on us, a band of rain sweeping across the country overnight, but disappearing with the dawn. We were left with wet roads, lots of mud and gravel and puddles to negotiate but, most importantly, a day when no more rain was going to fall on our heads. As I headed out I even noticed big gaps in the broken cloud cover, limned in light with the edges suffused in a rose-gold glow from the rising sun. This was a direct contrast to last week’s unremitting and suffocating blanket of grey and it actually promised to be a pleasant day.
The weather was also relatively mild, so after an initial shock and once I started to pedal with some intent, the windproof jersey, long sleeve base layer, gloves, tights and winter boots became only marginally appropriate.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I reached the meeting point to find the Garrulous Kid bounding between his brand-new (eh?) “winter-bike” and anyone who turned up, just so he could tell them he had a brand new winter bike.
In-between times he was fiddling around with the saddle, trying to get the position “just so” – or perhaps “just barely tolerable” – who knows?
“I’ve got a new bike,” he announced as Crazy Legs rolled up on his venerable winter fixie.
Crazy Legs looked across, semi-interested “It’s a Trek?”
With sharp censorious exhalation, Crazy Legs shook his head in dismay, “Not much precision German engineering there, mind …”
As if to prove the point, the Garrulous Kid continued to wrestle with the saddle he seemed to be giving him all sorts of fits and conniptions.
Our group had a moment of silence to mark the demise of local bike shop, M. Steels Cycles after 120 years of operation, with OGL reporting that current owner and local cycling legend, Joe Waugh, has now lost not only his livelihood and pension nest-egg, but possibly the family home too. Grim times for bike shops he concluded, drawing parallels with the not-so-recent-now spate of pub closures and concluding that the entire business seemed to be struggling. I guess the moral of the story is to enjoy your LBS while you still can, I think they’re fighting a losing battle and can’t see how they possibly hope to compete with the convenience, vast choice and squeezed margins of the Internet.
G-Dawg started describing the route for today in fine detail, “So, Brunton Lane, through Dinnington, up past the Cheese Farm…” I saw Zardoz sidling closer with barely concealed intent.
“Tranwell … well, Tranwell Village not the Woods, up the Mur de Mitford for those with the legs and inclination … there’s a turn-off beforehand if you want to avoid the climb … “
Zardoz now had a mischievous glint in his eye and his moustache was twitching in anticipation.
“Pigdon, that climb that’s up the turn before the Trench, on to Dyke Neuk, then we’ll run a bit of the Cyclone route in reverse, Meldon, Whalton …”
Zardoz was now standing directly in front of G-Dawg, almost bursting with excitement.
“A right turn to Belsay and then a slightly different, uphill finish, into the village and on to the café,” G-Dawg concluded, drawing in a big breath.
Zardoz took just a second to compose himself and acquire a mask of guileless sincerity. “Oh, sorry, I wasn’t listening, could you repeat all that again?” he enquired innocently.
Meanwhile, someone finally took pity on the Garrulous Kid and helped him fix his saddle.
Off we went then, 20 lads and lasses, pushing off, clipping in and riding out in one big group.
I started out chatting with Crazy Legs, who was revelling in the ultra-smooth and silent ride delivered by his fixie. He was planning nothing more than a gentle roll around today, prior to jetting off to Spain avec velo for some winter warmth. He admitted to feeling run down and strangely listless, in need of a break and he’ll hopefully return more enthused – after all someone has to keep us entertained with off-kilter and off-key singing.
The sudden appearance of the Plank on the front of the group suggested we would need to be stopping for a pee soon – well to be fair to him, we had been riding for at least 15 minutes already. It was actually the Garrulous Kid though who called it, with an impeccable Blockbusters/Bob Holness impersonation, “Can I have a P please, Bob?” – even though he’s probably much too young to get the reference.
We pulled over at the top of Bell’s Hill, where the Garrulous Kid (“I’m always hungry!”) was soon seen devouring a pack of sports jelly beans which he declared, “has got electrolyte!”
I fell in beside him as we pushed on and was rather astounded to find out that not only do we have a club run in Kenya, but the Garrulous Kid is almost unique among cyclists because only he can do pull ups. Honestly, I don’t know where this stuff comes from.
Trying to steer the conversation onto slightly less fantastical and outlandish grounds, I enquired about his new Trek.
“When did you get your bike?”
“What? Wait … so, you’ve had the bike for 3 days – say at least 84 hours and you didn’t think about making sure everything fits and is working, until 15 minutes before you’re due to use it on a club run.”
The range of lame excuses he then trotted out were astonishing … homework – (“You’re off school all of next week”) … a telephone call (“What, lasting 3 whole days?”) … I had to go to the gym (!!! speechless !!!) … “I needed an emergency pedicure.”
OK, he didn’t actually use that last one, but might as well have.
I told him he was a complete and utter pillock and I’d be laughing my socks off when his saddle collapsed half-way around the ride due to his hurried, gimcrack fixing and fiddling. The Garrulous Kid assured me it would never happen and besides, the Plank helped him secure the saddle the second time around – i.e. after the first time, when having finished and declared the job sorted, he merely brushed the top and it fell with the force and speed of a greased guillotine.
A bit further along and I caught up with Taffy Steve, who started telling me how the Garrulous Kid had got his new bike on Tuesday, but waited right up until Saturday morning to actually make sure it fitted and was road ready. When Taffy Steve called him out on it, the Garrulous Kid had then reportedly come up with all sorts of lame excuses as to why he didn’t have time to sort the bike out, leading Taffy Steve to conclude he was dealing with a complete and utter pillock.
Déjà vu all over again … or, groundhog day with bikes.
“I’ve just been having exactly the same conversation,” I told him.
Taffy Steve punched the air with delight, “Yeah! Grouches unite!”
“But still,” he warned, “I feel a great disturbance in the force …”
Crazy Legs and Brink slipped quietly away off the back as we pushed closer to the foot of the Mur de Mitford. Unlike G-Dawg, Crazy Legs had no intention of tackling this lump on his fixie today.
For some unknown reason I found myself pedalling along, whistling “Be kind to your web footed friends” – or if you want to be more formal (but much less fun) – The Stars and Stripes Forever.
“Have you taken over the mantle of unfailingly cheery, chirpy and chipper-chappie now Crazy Legs has left us?” Taffy Steve wondered.
We stopped again under the echoing, concrete viaduct that carried the thrumming, traffic laden, A1 Great North Road over our heads.
“Stopping!” G-Dawg called and I added a “Pping, ping, ing” for effect.
“Is everyone all right?”
“Right, ight ght…” I added.
“Ok, let’s go.”
“Go, go, oh!”
Sorry, childish I know, but I don’t get out much.
G-Dawg moved up to the front as we approached the Mur de Mitford, hoping to take the corner at speed and carry as much momentum onto the climb as possible. A lone cyclist had come down the hill and was stopped in the middle of the road at the bottom. He looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights as G-Dawg thundered toward him, wondering whether to stand his ground, push on, or just dive out of the way.
G-Dawg swooped inside the stationery cyclist and then jinked sharp left, as a descending car now appeared around the first bend. Robbed of speed he was now engaged in a battle royalé with his single massive gear, the gradient and gravity.
I spun up behind, following his slow-motion, measured flexing and making sure I left enough room in case he needed to zig and zag a little to keep the momentum going. He didn’t and with one final push he was over the summit of the hill and could relax. Well, as much as a fixie will allow you to relax.
As we pushed along the main road toward Netherwhitton a young buck came flailing past in the opposite direction.
“That’s one of the Monkey Butler Boy’s wrecking crew,” the Garrulous Kid informed me, “J.”
“What, first you want a P. and now you want a J? Do you think we’re playing hangman or something?”
“No, no. His name’s Jay – J-A-Y.”
I feigned incomprehension, which is probably at the point the Garrulous Kid decided he’d had enough of all the auld grouches for one day and declared he was taking his new bike off to test it on Middleton Bank.
Nobody thought to stop him and nobody thought to go with him, instead, the rest of us took the left before the Trench and started up the much more prosaically named, but we all agreed, seemingly tougher, Coldlaw Woods climb.
Working our way to Dyke Neuk we turned down the hill we usually scramble up, but any fun in the descent was lost when we had to slow for a horse and rider and allow another group of cyclists climbing upwards to ease past (the Tyneside Vagabonds club run, I think).
We then took a surprisingly sharp and leg-sapping climb up the “Meldon Massif” before Ovis (“oh, I’m going quite well at the moment, aren’t I?”) and Caracol ramped up the speed, encouraged by the faintest whiff of coffee and cake in the air. We arrived at the café via a road we seldom travel up, with no real sprint, just a general quickening of the pace that had everyone strung out and left us all overheated.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
G-Dawg wondered why it took so long for them to cut and serve a couple of slices of ham and egg pie and we decided they were probably using lasers, the like of which haven’t been seen since Goldfinger threatened to bisect James Bond with one. Like Goldfinger’s, we also assumed these lasers moved … i–n–c–r–e–d–b–l–y s–l–o–w–l–y … which is great in a film when you want to give the resourceful super-spy ample opportunity to escape, but not so good when you’re waiting for some ham and egg pie.
The Colossus was identified as the person with the most interest in odd, barely functional gadgets and most likely to have a laser pie cutter – an impression reinforced seconds later when he started to wax lyrical about pizza scissors – apparently a perfect, synergistic hybrid of cutter and server combined – and an absolute must for every middle-class home.
Reunited with us at the café, Crazy Legs complained it was actually too mild and wasn’t surprised we were all over-heating. It reminded him of the Christmas Jumper ride, where we’d suffered like fat Labradors left in a sun-blasted, parked car and we all learned that day that wool and synthetic yarns are no substitute for high-tech, high-performance sportswear.
Remembering last year’s elf costume, the Colossus promised something even better this year. Hopefully this isn’t going to be something that’s going to turn his saddle an unseemly shade of pink again. Even so, I’m a little bit worried that he’s already planning so far ahead.
Captain Black mentioned that Alfa Romeo had just released a new model called the Stelvio. My interest was momentarily piqued, until I learned that unlike the Holdsworth Stelvio, the car wasn’t available in an eye-wrenching combination of red, yellow and black. How disappointing.
And then the Garrulous Kid came in, having been picked up and escorted in by the early morning ride group. He shamelessly admitted he had, after all needed to stop, as his saddle had worked its way loose yet again.
So then, Auld Grouches 1, Garrulous Kid nil.
Talk of loose saddles reminded me of the I’d had to swerve around something lying supine in the middle of the road and been convinced I was going to hit some weird, hairless and defenceless mammal. This turned out to be the Prof’s saddle which he’d somehow managed to completely jettison while riding serenely along.
Someone asked casually if this was the same Prof who frequently build up his own bikes and whether such absent mindedness, or mechanical ineptness could ever be conducive to ride safety …
On the way back I noticed my chain started to grind and I found it was as dry as sticks. Looks like three days of commuting in the rain had washed out all the oil. Easily fixed, but it made for a truly unpleasant last few mile. The only sound from a bike I can imagine being worse is the grinding rasp of cruddy brake blocks eating through your wheel rims. Shudder.
I don’t know if it was the change to the heavier Peugeot, the pace and climbing of the ride, or accumulated fatigue from commuting, but I was utterly exhausted by the time I crawled up the Heinous Hill to home. Still, not bad for a first winter ride.
YTD Totals: 6,207 km / 3,857 miles with 70,748 metres of climbing
Sitting in the café and discussing cycling heroes, Crazy Legs said his all-time favourite sprinter was the Tashkent Terror himself, one Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. While I’m sure a lot of the appeal had to do with Abdou’s blazing speed, his ferocious, erratic and kamikaze bike handling and spectacular crashes, I couldn’t help thinking that his name probably played a part too.
Would Djamolidine Abdoujaprov have been quite so popular had he been simply Igor Petrov?
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. DJAH-MOLLA-DEEN AB-DOO-JAP-AROFF. You could tell just by the way Crazy Legs savoured each and every syllable and let the name roll off his tongue that he found the sound pleasing. He was even more delighted when Richard of Flanders asked what was his full name was again and he had one more excuse to deeply intone:
“Abdoujaparov, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov”
Oh, come on, admit it, it’s so much better than stale, old clichéd: Bond, James Bond
We then had a chat about the rather more unfortunate Bauke Mollema – who we agreed also had a great name, but for all the wrong reasons. In Scotland and throughout the North East to bowk has an unpleasant meaning and association – defined by Urban Dictionary as – bowk:To puke, hurl, or chunder, especially after excessive intake of alcohol, curry, chocolate cake or all three.
So, Puker Mollema then. Oh dear.
This set me to thinking how much of my own, initial allure to cycling’s was tied into the exotic, unusual sounding names of the riders of the day, Joop Zoetemelk, Giovanni Battaglin, Francesco Moser …
And we can’t of course forget Lucien Van Impe – literally Lucien from the village of Impe, a small and otherwise boring and unremarkable town in East Flanders. This sounded not only exotic to me, but also seemed especially fitting for the mercurial, puckish grimpeur who would “bedevil” some of his great rivals in the mountains during Grand Tours.
The fact that writers could craft Sun-style, headline-worthy puns to match, was just an added bonus – the most memorable from the era being, of course: Van Impudence.
While the foreign and exotic sounding names of the continental riders had an attraction for cycling waifs and strays on Tyneside, we also used to wonder what the continental fans would make of our seemingly mundane, Anglicised monickers.
For example, the local hero around this time was Joe Waugh – multiple National Hill Climb Champion, winner of the Mountains Classification and 2nd overall in the Milk Race, two time Olympian and a National Time-Trial Champion to boot.
Toshi San and I would often amuse ourselves trying to imagine the conniptions his name might give to Eastern Bloc announcers when he lined up to start in the Peace Race:
“Lay-dees and jentleman, from Great Britaniya … Jowee Waah-ooghah!”
We could perhaps forgive those in continental Europe struggling with the pronunciation of Waugh, but what about the rest of the English speaking world?
As a native of the North East, Joe Waugh was, fiercely and rightly, Joe Woff to us, not Joe Worr as the softy southerners would have it. Still it wasn’t until I started trying to figure out Australian Batsmen Steve Waugh’s nickname that I realised something was truly amiss. Tugga? Tugga Woff? What’s all that about then?
At this point I realised most of the rest of the world were simply incapable of properly pronouncing the name Waugh.
Still, even though perhaps we should have known better, we held the BBC to higher standards. It was unforgiveable then when Joe had a very brief 30 seconds of fame and was interviewed by regular Grandstand sports presenter Frank Bough.
Confusingly, Frank Bough’s name was always, religiously pronounced as Boff, which was kind of ridiculous in its own right and sets him right up there with Puker Bauke Mollema in my mind
(Again, from the Urban Dictionary – boff:A term to describe quick sexual intercourse which includes the man not taking off his pants and a lot of dry humping.)
To have him refer to Joe as Joe Worr then, was, to us youngsters back in Tyneside an insult and an outrage and we were all willing Joe to answer, “Well, Mr Bore, the race was…”
Sadly, Joe was far too much of a gentleman to correct Mr. Bore. Or, maybe he accepted his name being mangled in this way as preferable to being known as Jowee Waa-ooghah?
Even today the tradition continues and there are riders that have an extra cachet simply because their name sounds interesting, weird, exotic or strangely melodious, for example I give you:
You’ll note I don’t include Tejay Van Garderen in this, although he has a suitably Flemish “hard-man” surname … but Tejay? T.J.? Really?
Anyway, I was reminded of my delight in unusual names during Stage 7 of the Giro, from Castroviillari to Alberobello. The highlight of the stage? An early break which featured both Giuseppe Fonzi and Simone Ponsi.
Fonzi and Ponsi working seamlessly together. It made my day. Well, to be fair it was an otherwise uneventful stage.