Plague Diaries Week#58 – Fin de Cycle

Plague Diaries Week#58 – Fin de Cycle

Given (to my mind) the onerous task of devising a route for this week’s ride, at the coffee stop last week Crazy Legs had felt impelled to resurrect our Classic Club Café sprint for next Saturday, over the rollers and up the long drag to Belsay. He even suggested stopping at the café there for old time’s sake. I happened to mention, for some misguided reason, that I was feeling nostalgic for Middleton Bank, a climb I hadn’t suffered on for at least a year and, hey presto, he had the bones of a route. A quick double-check to ensure the café at Belsay would actually be open for business and Crazy Legs went away to fill in the rest of the ride and post it up for people to accept or ignore, depending on their inclination.

With the Holdsworth still undergoing remedial surgery and not wanting to waste another good day riding the heavy winter bike, I had a week to find and secure a replacement mount. Surprisingly, this proved considerably easier than I imagined, when Gumtree directed me to a nearly new, barely ridden velocipede in the care of a 77-year old cyclist whose knees had given out and prevented him from riding.

So, for a few hundred quid, I’m now the owner of what is (solely in my estimation, of course) Halford’s most aesthetically pleasing creation, an Intuition 13 Alpha, from a very brief time when the UK’s biggest and possibly most maligned motorist discount store was dabbling in (semi-)performance bikes. I do seem to have an penchant for picking up a manufacturers fin de cycle products (if you’ll excuse the pun.) The Intuition range is no longer manufactured, while the Holdsworth Stelvio was one of the last frames produced by that venerable company before they caved and were acquired by Planet-X. Even my winter bike, the Peugeot CR23 was part of a 2 bike range they pulled together for the briefest of ill-founded forays back into the UK market, via an exclusive deal with Evans that only seemed to have lasted 12 months.

Where the Holdsworth is the epitome of gaudy overstatement, a violent clash of glossy black, red and yellow, with the brand name unforgivably and inexplicably plastered a dozen times across its frame, the chalk-white 13 is at the opposite extreme, a model of simplistic minimalism, the most striking feature being an odd, inversed 13 “dossard” stuck on the back of the seat post. It adds nothing and I’m not sure I like it, but has survived. For now.

The bike was in mint condition, having been ridden only twice in anger and pretty much ready to roll. I switched out the stock 23mm Vittoria Zafiro’s for my favoured 25mm Rubino’s and will eventually get round to replacing the SPD’s for my usual Look Keo pedals and, maybe the wheels (although the current set seem light, roll well and are carefully colour coordinated). Still, minor details aside, there was nothing to prevent its debut and participation in the club run on Saturday.

The same can’t be said for G-Dawg, who, just a few days after this blerg noted how many middle-aged blokes seem to suffer serious injuries playing five-a-side, went out to play five-a-side and broke his leg. Apparently, according to his social media posts, that means he’ll now have to play in goal for his team next week and, possibly worse, he’ll be off the bike for an extended period of time. Yikes!

On Saturday morning, last minute tinkering with this, that and t’other, had me leaving the house half an hour behind schedule, so I had no choice but to engage in a bit of dual-carriageway surfing, cross the river at the nearest bridge and push hard all the way to the meeting point, arriving completely winded, already tired, but almost on time, with Jimmy Mac already leading out the first group of fast-men and racing snakes (the two are not mutually exclusive.)

I paused only long enough to catch OGL offering up a free, used torque wrench to anyone who had a need.

“Is this the same torque wrench you were trying to sell me for a tenner last week?” Goose enquired ruefully. Apparently it was, but that’s as much of the conversation as I caught as I formed up with Aether, who was leading out the second group and away we went. When I finally had time to look back and determine who I was riding with, alongside Aether, I found myself in the company of Spoons and 3 FNG’s.

Up past the Cheese Farm and out through Tranwell, I noticed the rape seed is starting to flower and it’s pervasive and slightly sickly aroma already hung heavy over the lanes.

We dropped down toward the River Wansbeck, by-passing the entrance to the Mur de Mitford to take the gentler climb westward out of the valley. Then it was through Dyke Neuk to the dip and rise through Hartburn.

We knew somewhere along this route we were supposed to take a secret turn onto a road that had been on our routes a few times, but no one I’ve been with has ever found. Aether had prepared for this test in advance, tracing our proposed route on Google maps, before switching to the satellite view to try and spot an obvious landmark that could guide us.

“I managed to spot a big, round thing,” he told me.

“Sounds promising.”

“I thought so too, so I zoomed in for a closer look.”

“Ah-ha.”

“It was a tree…”

“Oh. Right-o. So we’re looking for a tree then? Well, that certainly narrows things down.”

Still, somehow Aether managed to pick the right tree out of the hundreds of thousands that lined our route and we traversed the secret road before pushing on to Scot’s Gap. A left turn onto the still incredibly crappy road surface and we were heading straight for Middleton Bank. Off the back, heavy-legged and struggling upwards, I seriously started to question my own sanity and what it was about the climb that had inexplicably created a sense of longing to relive the experience.

Still, once over the climb, I managed to coax a little more speed out of the legs and we coalesced as a single group again and hauled ass for the café. Here at least there were patches and strips of new road surface, making a welcome change and encouraging a little more speed. I attacked over the rollers – you know, just because – and found Aether jumping at the same time. Hmm, maybe I’m becoming predictable. Then we re-grouped on the descent and started the long drag up to the café, more or less in formation and at a relatively sedate pace. On the front alongside one of the FNG’s I nudged my wheel slightly ahead of his and so, by default, won a sprint he didn’t even know we were contesting. Well, they all count in my book.

We found the Colossus already seated at the café.

“How’s your dad taking his injury?” I enquired, “Already stir crazy and unbearable?”

Unsurprisingly, the answer was yes.

“Even more to the point,” Aether wanted to know, “How’s your mum coping?”

The Colossus just shook his head in quiet resignation. Hmm, not good.

Talking about dangerous sports, one of the FNG’s told us the most violent sport he’d ever witnessed had been a game of football for the blind, played on an enclosed pitch with the players often running full tilt into each other and any inanimate objects, as they chased pell-mell after a ball with a bell inside.

“You should see the mayhem if a pet cat gets loose on the pitch, too!” Another FNG added.

Before leaving I had a chat with Crazy Legs. He’d had a superb great morning riding with OGL and ribbing him mightily every time his expensive Di2 system shipped his chain, which was apparently far too often. We arranged to meet early next week before the ride so I could finally deliver him his new jersey. This might stop his constant carping, but I seriously doubt it.

Then it was time to go and as our group left the table it seemed to signal a mass exodus and we all gathered in the car park as a small, white car pulled up. The passenger side door swung fully open and out came a shiny, metal crutch. Then another. And then a foot in a plaster cast and finally, G-Dawg slowly and awkwardly emerged. He can’t ride, but Mrs G-Dawg had agreed to drive him to the café in an attempt to stop his constant sulking.

Saluting G-Dawg had us all bunched together leading the café, so I injected a bit of pace on Berwick Hill to break us up. The fast group took the opportunity to zip past near the top and gave me a target to chase and I was able to go full pelt with absolutely no danger of ever closing the gap to them.

Yet another FNG (where are the all coming from) spelled me on the from Dinnington to just past the airport, then I was into the Mad Mile and swinging away for the solo trek home.

The new bike served perfectly, I’m sure the ride wouldn’t have been as enjoyable on the Peugeot, but the chalk-white finish may be a little difficult to maintain, so assuming the Holdsworth is restored to full functionality, the 13 might get the cossetted, Ribble-esque treatment and get to avoid the rain like a hydrophobic cat.


Ride Distance:98km/61 miles with 936m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 0 minutes
Average Speed:24.5km/h
Group Size:6 riders, 3 FNG’s
Temperature:14 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Cool
Year to date:1,179km/733 miles with 12,507m of climbing

Plague Diaries Week#57 – Altered Carbon

Plague Diaries Week#57 – Altered Carbon

With a week off before starting my new job, on Wednesday I played the good clubmate and set up to deliver a batch of new (unofficial) jerseys to four of our number. Door-to-door delivery by dedicated bike courier – now that’s what I call service. Waiting just long enough for the rush hour traffic to die down, the first on my list was the Ticker, which found me staying on the south side of the river, but heading due east and out almost to the coast. Following some disembodied Google navigation in an ear-piece, took me over some pretty rough and broken trails as my route ran along the banks of the Tyne, bouncing over kerbs, tree roots and fractured tarmac, while slaloming around potholes, glittering sprays of broken glass and dimly wandering dogs replete with dimly wandering owners. Seat of the pants stuff, but we made it.

I took up the offer of a coffee al fresco and the Ticker (obviously a man of many hidden talents) noted he would have whipped up a batch of fresh scones if I hadn’t arrived quite so early. He had already provided the highlight of the Classic’s Season when, on our WhatsApp bike racing group chat, I’d wondered how Kasper Asgren felt finding himself in the decisive move at the Tour of Flanders, but sandwiched between Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout Van Aert. “Like a bloke who’s just realised he’s sharing a taxi with the Kray twins,” the Ticker had aptly suggested. Now he was in contention not only for Comeback Comment of the year, but for Cyclist’s Coffee Stop of the Year, albeit a little too far out of the way to become a regular fixture on our club runs.

[Major hat tip to Kasper Asgren by the way, for managing to outwit and outmuscle both MVP and WVA and take a quite stunning and unexpected (to me, anyway) victory.]

From the Tickers abode, I tracked back west toward the city, dropping down to the river before crossing the Millennium Bridge and climbing out the other side, skirting the city centre to drop off point 2. I handed over the jersey picked up my bike by the stem and saddle … and found myself holding two separate bits of bike, my seatpost having silently crumbled just below the clamp. Naturally it had broken in the worst possible place, with the ragged remains of the pin sat 5mm deep in the frame and leaving nothing to grip to pull it out. I had to abandon my mission, leaving both Biden Fecht and Crazy Legs shirtless, call my own personal voiture balai and deposit the bike in LBS to see if it can be rescued or will need to be trashed.

With the weekend approaching I was left with a choice of riding the Frankenstein single-speed, or lumpen Peugeot, although it wasn’t a long debate once I saw Buster’s planned route, with it’s smattering of climbs, including the Mur de Mitford and the Trench. Heavy or not, at least the Peugeot had the advantage of a choice of gears. Although Aether’s Bianchi had survived last weeks mishap, his rear mech was smashed and had snapped several spokes as it tore loose, so his good bike would also be hors combat for the weekend. He too was planning on riding his heavy winter bike, so we agreed to ride together and hopefully avoid any fast groups or racing snakes.

At the moment we seem caught in a repeating cycle of weather characterised by below freezing nights and brilliantly bright, but deathly chill days. Saturday was to be no different. This shockingly-cold-to-moderately-cool pattern meant the Golidlocks ‘just right’ layering formula was especially problematic and even pushed one uncertain FNG to post on Facebook to seek clothing advice. The girls in the club found this highly amusing as they had previously thought they were the ones seeking fashion tips and arranging clothing coordination. Naturally the range of advice to the FNG went from my gloves, jersey, jacket, cap, buff, tights and overshoes, to G-Dawgs shorts and short-sleeved jersey only – so wide as to be be utterly useless.

On Saturday morning I made my own best guess at the right number of layers and clothing combinations, but the descent off the Heinous Hill had me shivering and convinced I’d badly misjudged. It wasn’t until I was climbing out the other side of the valley that I began to feel comfortable.

Even being thrown onto the winter bike hadn’t lessened my enthusiasm for the untarnished novelty of another group ride and I was out early and at the meeting place well before 9.00. There I found the clubs latest splinter cell about to head out on their own ride, with the Prof tagging along and so confirming the scurrilous rumours that he’d split from the Backstreet Boys. A sizeable dozen or so left, leaving those of us not yet in open rebellion at the club hierarchy scattered on a suddenly empty pavement, like flotsam from a receding tide.

Once the splinter cell had departed, we opted for a more discrete presence, so reconvened under the eaves of the multi-storey car park and out of the public gaze. With cyclists being figures of hate as it is, we don’t need any unwarranted criticism for being perceived to be flouting COVID distancing rules too.

It was here that perhaps the strangest FNG yet (a surprisingly high bar!) introduced himself. Clad in just a skin-tight, long-sleeved base layer, skinny jeans and trainers, he declared a new found love for cycling and a desire to solve the eternal conundrum of how you clip in to clipless pedals, as well as learn how to “get aero.” (I assume he meant his riding position and not the popular bubbly chocolate confectionery, but who knows?) He tailed off by suggesting he’d been building up the length of his rides and was now managing “about 4 miles at a time.” I was hoping I’d misheard that last statement, but didn’t wait to clarify as we now had an agreed first group and the winter-bike brigade of Aether and me rode out, along with an escort of fast-movers comprising Crazy Legs, Not Anthony and one of last Sunday’s FNG’s.

Stopped at the first set of lights, we saw route planner and nominal ride leader Buster just approaching, so we barracked him for his tardiness, feigned ignorance about the route and peppered him with questions – is it right here, or left? Where are we going again? Which way? etc. Well, we thought it was funny …

Out of the roads, we found Crazy Legs on fine form and in full human jukebox mode. “Construction Time(?)” gave way to “Into the Groove” after he pulled the FNG back for three-quarter wheeling and was met with the excuse that the FNG was just “in the groove.” This then morphed into Kool & the Gang’s “Groove Tonight.” Carefully picking our way around a Dove’s Building Materials lorry delivering supplies, he eschewed the obvious, more rumbunctious “Wings of a Dove” for “When Doves Cry,” prompting a deep philosophical discussion about whether doves can actually cry and if they do, do they make a sound. (Personally, I think they’re most likely to be silent weepers, but if anyone does know, drop me a line). “When Doves Cry” segued seamlessly into “Purple Rain” and then numerous others as Crazy Legs declared the best thing about riding in groups again (as well as an appreciative audience for his warbling) was the fact that he had enough stimulus to ensure he never got stuck with a single bad song on permanent repeat.

In this way the miles slipped past until we were approaching the short, sharp Mur de Mitford and I was discussing with Crazy Legs the merits of not warning the FNG about what was just ahead, hoping he might take on the climb in the big ring so we could watch his knees explode halfway up. Perhaps luckily, our evil intentions were thwarted as Not Anthony let the cat out of the bag, outlining a climb of less than half a kilometre but at an average of 7% and a 14% max. In part it’s brutality is predicated on the fact it’s accessed directly from a sharp left junction which robs you of all momentum and its rough, yet conversely slippery surface.

At the top, all knees mercifully still intact, we regrouped and decided to miss out the planned loop around Croftside, pushing out along the more direct route to Pigdon before scaling the Trench. I dropped to the back as we started the climb, riding alongside Aether and shouting abuse at those skipping ahead of us on their lightweight summer bikes.

Again we regrouped over the top for the run to Dyke Neuk then cut through Meldon, Whalton and Ogle and on to the café at Kirkley.

At the café we were astonished to find NO QUEUE, a fact which which we simply couldn’t process, so ended up dutifully waiting behind two blokes even though they insisted several times that were just leaving and weren’t waiting to be served. Finally realising that there really wasn’t a queue, we took full advantage of our luck and were served and seated in quick order and primed to welcome in our other 6-man groups as they rolled up one by one.

“Nice top that,” Crazy Legs greeted everyone wearing one of the new jersey’s, “Wish I had one of them,” he said wistfully, while pointedly looking at me. Bastard.

The FNG surprised us by understanding a reference to “classic” (i.e. old and creaking) children’s TV and we learnt he was in fact a big fan of Gerry Anderson and Captain Scarlet in particular. We wondered whether a Captain Black would still be allowed these days, or would be substituted for a Captain BAME, while I felt a Captain Rainbow was probably needed to cover off the LGBTQ community too. Then the whole premise of the show, with the Mysterons as belligerently evil and vengeful arch enemies was dissected in the light of the first episode when it was the humans who destroyed the peaceful Mysteron settlement on Mars completely without provocation. This absurdity was nothing, we felt, in comparison to the design of the SHADO interceptor from the show UFO, with its single big fuck-off missile attached to the nose cone. None of us could work out what the correct procedure was if confronted by 2 or more opposing UFO’s at a time, when you only carried the chance to destroy one of them.

G-Dawg arrived with his group (“Nice jersey that,” Crazy Legs complimented him) and we learned his latest road rash injury wasn’t caused by a bike fall, but the artificial turf of a five a side pitch. (I know more middle-aged blokes who have suffered serious injury playing five-a-side than all other sports combined.) I wondered how many (allegedly) carcinogenic and toxic pellets he’d managed to collect in the wound and he admitted the cleaning had hurt more than the actual injury.

Crazy Legs recalled his worst injury was coming of a holiday rental scooter face first and skinning both his palms, wounds, I suggested, that probably enforced celibacy on him for a fortnight.

G-Dawg related that no matter how hard he tried he was always trailing the pellets from the artificial pitches into the house and even though he took of his socks and shoes and dusted himself down, he always woke up in the morning to find a pile of them in his bed. Going for a brace of sexually related insults, I suggested they probably got caught up in his wrinkly old scrotum … and then ride-planner Buster arrived with the last group to save me attempting a hat-trick of insults.

Buster got served and wandered over with a frothy coffee (froffee coffee?) plonked himself down on a nearby chair and started waxing lyrical about the bit of his route that we’d avoided, which he said has a new, super-smooth tarmac surface that has to be experienced to be believed. He got quite animated in his advocacy of the the road, started waving his arms about and sloshed coffee out of his cup and onto his crotch, where it quickly spread to form a unfortunately placed, hugely unsightly and highly suspect frothy, creamy stain.

“Whoa,” Crazy Legs observed, “That stretch of road really, really does excite you.”

We seemed to have been sitting around, enjoying the warm sun and talking garbage for an age, but eventually it was time to leave. Crazy Legs went off to route home through Saltwick, most the other went for Berwick Hill, while I took a solo ride out through Ponteland and home. Climbing the last, steepest ramps of the Heinous Hill sometine later, a frazzled Mum, pushing a heavy looking pram began berating her two young offspring who were lagging behind and complaining about the slope. “Eee, howay,” she admonished “Yoo’ze lottar fastah than me.”

As I struggled past, I couldn’t help thinking that seemed like a suitable tagline I should adopt for all my future cycling exploits.

Ride Distance:102km/63 miles with 1,129m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 10 minutes
Average Speed:24.4km/h
Group Size:5 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:14 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Cool
Year to date:1,081km/672 miles with 11,571m of climbing
Photo by LEONARDO VAZQUEZ on Pexels.com

Sprung – Plague Diaries Week#56

Sprung – Plague Diaries Week#56

Its me again, Face you forever gonna see again, Never been scared of none of dem,
No problem, I’m come, come again…

Photo by William Eickler on Pexels.com

Hmmm. Kind of quiet in here.

Now 56 weeks into the pandemic, the new norm was in danger of becoming just the plain, old norm and dull and boring at that, but finally things seem to be changing. So how’s your world these days? I’m old enough to have come to terms with the fact that nothing ever lasts, things constantly change, evolve and never stand still. As Mr. Tom Hanks has been known to reassuringly intone for the benefit of nervous Wittertainment subscribers the world over, “This too shall pass.”

So, a somewhat fatalistic outlook, but the main question I find myself asking is whether things are on an upward trajectory and getting better, or slipping and spiralling downward.

Today, I’m thinking things appear to be slowly improving. Along with 40 million other UK residents I’ve received my first dose of COVID vaccine (AstraZeneca) and I’m on the brink of starting a new job, or perhaps to be more accurate the same job, but for a different University.

Up until a fortnight ago, cycling in Lockdown Part 2, was confined to solo rides, although refreshingly leavened by ‘accidentally’ bumping into other club members at the Kirkley café, where we’d stand or sit, huddled and shivering in a large freezing field and bellow at each other from a safe social distance. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing and many claimed these Saturday rides remained the absolute pinnacle of their week.

During these times of shouted discourse we agreed that, despite Bo-Jo’s feckless leadership of a covey of sleazy, grasping shills, rife with cronyism and frequently bumbling through false steps, U-turns and the inertia of inaction, the Govin’mint was somehow going to avoid blame and accountability for the UK’s inflated death rate simply because the mass vaccination programme is seen as a bit of a success. We also discovered that the world is a safer, saner place without the 45th President of the United States, although it’s undoubtedly less entertaining. Oh, yes, we also learned that in the Netherlands, Toilet Duck strongly recommends Toilet Duck and, if you ever happen to be in Nigeria, never, ever refer to someone as a bit ‘Dundee United.’ Hmm.

My mileage, already suffering from the loss of midweek commuting rides has been further hit by a couple of recent weekends of heavy snowfall that kept me off the bike. In fact, things were so bad one particular Saturday that Mrs. G-Dawg even managed to persuade the indomitable G-Dawg that it wasn’t wise to venture outside, even on his mountain bike. This was advice she would later regret however, as he confessed to spending the rest of the weekend sighing glumly and moping around the house with a “face like a smacked arse”. She’ll not make that mistake again and is now likely to usher him out for a weekend rides regardless, even in the face of tempest, hurricane or blizzard.

I have finally fixed the Peugeot winter bike but have been preferring to take my solo rides on my Frankenstein-esque single-speed for its simplicity and Zen-like qualities, although I’ll readily admit there’s nothing at all Zen-like about my final, contorted and agonisingly slow grind up the Heinous Hill after 3 or 4 hours of riding sans gears.

For the past few weeks though, despite the bitter cold, it’s been bone dry and we’ve already passed that glorious epiphany of being able to break the “good bike” out from its winter slumber. (I celebrated my first “summer” ride by getting a bit carried away and ended up chalking up a 104km solo loop.)

Then, a fortnight ago, the Rule of Six was re-instated generally and British Cycling went even further and endorsed group rides of up to 16 at a time. We decided to err on the side of caution and reinstated group rides with a maximum of six per group. I missed out on the first such venture, arriving late to the meeting point, but coincidentally meeting up with an equally tardy Biden Fecht to form an impromptu trio – him, me and his warbling, howling, banshee-like rim brakes that accompanied us in a moving sound-cloud, shrieking like a cadre of scalded cat’s when even the slightest pressure was applied to the brake levers and spooking and scattering wildlife and livestock in its wake.

This week I missed out on the Saturday ride as, somewhat terrifyingly, it was Thing#1’s birthday (22 years already!) – so a rare Sunday ride beckoned, in a group, if we could muster enough bodies groups of 6.

We actually managed a rather awkward 7 with Aether, Biden Fecht, Plumose Pappus, TripleD-Be, myself and 2 FNG’s, so decided to split into a 4 and a 3, all heading to the café at Capheaton.

Things were going smoothly until, as we approached the airport, with a wince inducing crunch, Aether’s rear mech unexpectedly decided to commit a noisy seppuku, detaching itself from the frame and determinedly hurling itself into his spokes. The gear hanger had snapped and we couldn’t immediately tell if it had served its primary purpose, or taken part of his rear dropout with it. We left Aether standing by the side of the road awaiting a hastily arranged voiture balai and still not knowing the ultimate fate of his beloved Bianchi.

Reduced to just six now, we regrouped as one and pressed onwards, through Ponteland and Black Heddon (Bam-A-Lam) toward Capheaton. TripleD-Be warned the FNG’s that things might get a little feisty on the final climb up to the café and they bravely tried to hold the wheels as the pace went from fast to frantic. I was more than content to sit back and let then get on with it, easing up the final climb to roll in to the café sur la jante. Somehow, it seemed appropriate.

The FNG’s doubled-down on precautionary caffeine input (coffee and massive slices of the cafe’s estimable coffee and walnut cake) to fuel the ride home and we all shuffled outside to rest, recuperate and ramble. There we met the Prof surprisingly accompanied by but one single-follower. Someone would later allege that, like Kevin Richardson – (thank you Wikipedia) – the Prof has now split from his Backstreet Boys tribute band, no doubt citing artistic differences.

In our brief conversation the Prof warned me against ever arguing with an idiot, as they always have the advantage of experience. I didn’t argue with him.

It was a quick stop and we were soon ready to leave, with the Prof and his acolyte inviting themselves to tag along for the ride home and making a bit of a mockery of our prior sacrifices to ensure we were never in a group of more than six. Still the acolyte did provide a moment of levity when his bottle was suddenly catapulted out onto the road and Plumose Pappus and I decide he’d “bottled it” – spending the next few miles sniggering in appreciation of our our own juvenile humour.

I decided to route through Ponteland rather than Berwick Hill to trim our numbers back toward the seemly, just in case there were any COVID zealots looking for an excuse to (further) disparage cyclists and I enjoyed a very pleasant, incident free ride back across the river and home.

So, there we have it, the first group ride of 2021 is in the books and we can see the small shoots of recovery. It’s been a long time coming, but hopefully there’ll be a few more club runs yet, before the next disaster bites.

Ride Distance: 92km/57 miles with 830m of climbing
Riding Time: 3 hours 50 minutes
Average Speed: 24.0km/h
Group Size: 7 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature: -0 ℃
Weather in a word or two: Bright. Bitter.
Year to date:

Plague Diaries – Week#33

Plague Diaries – Week#33

I hear the sound of an abundance of rain

Dear Lord, I’m getting tardy with these things and I’m running about a week behind. Busy times, folks …

Anyway, here we go again, surfing the fringes of Storm Aidan, I was prepared for another wet and windy Saturday, still on the single-speed in anticipation of the widely forecast rain dumping itself on my head. Plus ça change.

On the river, the rowing clubs were out with a full complement of boats, including several 8-man crews, something I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Not sure how the Rule of Six applies in a rowing hull, but there you go. I wish I could say this was a harbinger of a return to some form of normality, but we all know that’s not how this is going to work out.

Despite the obvious drawback of being without gears, I decided I couldn’t restrict my route too much, otherwise I’d be forced to trudge around the same circuit, over and over again, like some sort of two-bit, enfeebled cycling Sisyphus. This is Northumberland after all, so you don’t have to go too much out of your way to find hill or two. With this in mind I aimed vaguely toward Whittle Dene Reservoir, happy just to see how hard the going was and adjust as needed.

Just outside Dalton, I passed Aether heading in the opposite direction, I think that was my first sight of another cyclist since setting out. I cut through Stamfordham and out to the Reservoir. Here the water was an inky, impenetrable black, but there were more fishermen out than I’d seen in a long time, all clustered under the southern embankment to escape the wind and hopefully provide a bit of shelter when the rain arrived. Would it, I wondered – I’d already enjoyed a much drier ride than anticipated.

Clambering up through the plantations towards Stagshaw, I made it onto the road for Matfen when that moment arrived and the rain suddenly cut in. I stopped to pull on a jacket before continuing, passing Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril just outside the village, heading the other way and already looking wet and suitably miserable.

The rain was enough to dissuade me from further wandering, so I started to plot a route toward Kirkley – cake, coffee, comrades, craic and a little bit of shelter in the big, chill barn.

En route I passed a solo OGL, seemingly heading home and then, a few moments later a solo Dabman, seemingly just heading out, off into the downpour and putting a brave face on things.

At the café and in a break with tradition, I ordered a piece of corned beef pie, before grabbing a coffee and wandering off into the big chill barn to find Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, Richard of Flanders, Taffy Steve, Sneaky Pete and Aether already comfortably ensconced.

The corned-beef pie arrived on a plate covered with a tea towel. We wondered if this was for the big reveal when the tea towel was whisked away to display the fabulous dish beneath.

“Nah, it’s just to keep the rain off,” the waitress told us bluntly. Oh well, so much for theatre.

The pie was actually worth a bit of a fanfare and a reveal though. They’d obviously decided they weren’t going to get too many customers today, so served up a piece that would have covered a third of a large dinner plate.

It was good, too, although I’m not sure I could eat that amount every week.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We then engaged in a game of one-upmanship that was like an enactment of the scar-bragging scene from Jaws, just with all the noteworthy cicatrices replaced with troublesome small, furry rodents.

G-Dawg started it off, complaining that “the cat” – he won’t admit to actually owning it, climbs up onto the bedroom windowsill outside and howls to be let in at night. Nervous of the awful racket disturbing the neighbours, G-Dawg eventually relents and opens the window so the small feline harridan can clamber in. Bad enough that his sleep is so disturbed, but last week when he opened the window, the cat, like a swashbuckling pirate carrying a dagger, had a live mouse clenched between its teeth . The cat hopped in and immediately released its prey into the bedroom. Cue instant mayhem.

I described being woken in the middle of the night to find one of our cats prowling around a basket in the hallway. I’d unthinkingly moved the basket to investigate and a large rat had scurried out, ran down the hallway and disappeared into the darkened bedroom, where a blissfully unaware Mrs SLJ was about to get a rude awakening.

Turning the lights on revealed no intruder, so I figured it must be hiding under the bed. I ventured downstairs to retrieve a red, plastic handled mop and after, several minutes of waggling it under the bed managed to cause the rat to flee.

I followed in mad pursuit, the cat at my heels, stark-bollock naked, swearing loudly, while wildly swinging the mop at the rat, only for my weapon of choice to start to disintegrate into red shiny splinters with every errant blow.

Down the hallway, down the stairs, by the time we got the rat cornered in the lobby I was holding a rather short, rather useless stump of the mop handle. Still, while the rat was distracted, actually attacking the cat, I managed to apply the coup de grace with a cycling shoe to the head. Now I know why they’re made with super stiff soles – and all this time I’ve been thinking it was for an efficient transfer of power from foot to pedal!

“Well, that’s nothing,” Crazy Legs began, telling of a fated holiday in Greece when, one night, they discovered a mouse scurrying around the apartment. Once again the stark naked man in the story picked up a broom and gave chase, round and round the apartment while an equally naked Mrs. Crazy Legs leapt up onto the middle of the bed shrieking like a Tom and Jerry character.

“Out the door, get it out the door,” Mrs. Crazy Legs had screamed, so Crazy Legs flung the door wide open, only to be confronted by his neighbours returning from a late night out.

Uncomprehendingly, they took in the naked screaming woman on the bed and the panting, naked man brandishing a broom.

“Oh, hello there,” Crazy Legs finally ventured as a way of breaking the rather uneasy silence.

“Err, hi,” the neighbours finally responded, trying to shuffle quietly away, as Crazy Legs nodded solemnly, just the once … and slowly closed the door on the unfortunate scene.

Even Richard of Flanders’ tale of a holiday complete with a snake in the toilet couldn’t top that one.

Slowly and reluctantly we set out to leave in ones and two’s. Still chomping my way through the mammoth pie I was the last one standing, when Mini Miss arrived with a runner turned newly-minted cyclist in tow, the change in sport prompted by brutalised knee-joints.

I had a brief chat with them, before joining the exodus and heading for home.

This proved a bit of a struggle through intermittent showers, a buffeting headwind, slick and slippery roads, waterlogged clothing and desperately tired legs. I didn’t so much climb the Heinous Hill as grovel my way upwards, still I’d ridden where I wanted, my ride total topped the usual 1,000 metres of climbing and the single-speed had proven itself a reliable alternative.

One day I’ll fix up the Peugeot.

Plague Diaries #Week 31

Plague Diaries #Week 31

Against the Odds

A year that’s already been grim and dark and difficult took an even blacker turn last weekend when my Dad died. Dad, Grandad, husband, brother, son, uncle, rugby player, ballroom dancer, draughtsman, engineering designer … all that and much more.

His death leaves an unfillable void, his life an indelible mark.

These sad circumstances kept me off the bike just when I could have done with the therapeutic, head-clearing relief of a long ride, so I was particularly determined to get out this weekend.

The weather was an issue with a rainy midweek only starting to clear as the weekend approached, but Saturday, the forecasts assured everyone, with a sly wink and a smile would be ok. Only an 11% chance of short, swiftly passing showers the BBC weather app proclaimed. Reasonable odds. I’ll take those.

Except Friday night was unexpectedly wet and there was plenty of surface water still around when I woke on Saturday morning. I decided I needed mudguards, but with Peugeot temporarily hors de combat, laid up with a seized rear-derailleur, I was left with a (Hobson’s) choice of my commuting single-speed, or a wet backside.

I’m not sure I’d enjoy a normal club ride on the mongrel single-speed, which is suitably tatty, odd-looking and mismatched enough that it can be left safely, chained up on campus in the full knowledge it will attract absolutely no interest whatsoever from even the most desperate of blind bicycle thieves.

Mechanically it’s sound and its simplicity makes it a joy to ride, but its designed to give me a fighting chance of making it up the big hills at either end of my commute. This means it’s got a 34 x 14 gear ratio, so my legs spin out at about 23 mph – which would be pretty hopeless for any mad dash to the café. As I’d be riding solo, however and maintaining strict social-distancing at all times, I decided I could get away with it, as long as I found a route with no particularly steep, sharp climbs.

As an afterthought, just before I set off I crammed a light jacket in my back pocket, just in case, against all odds, I did actually encounter some rain on my travels.

It was a stop-start sort of beginning, rolling down the Heinous Hill I found I couldn’t clip in and had to stop to dislodge a sliver of dried mud from under my cleat. I still can’t work out how it got there.

Then, once over the river, I glanced down at my Garmin and found I’d already covered over 70 kilometres! Oops, looked like some idiot forgot to reset their bike computer. I stopped to correct my lapse, then pushed on, climbing out of the valley to route through Denton Burn, Kingston Park and out into the countryside.

At that point a third stop was called for as a dank, cold, rain started sifting down until the air was sodden and everything, which most definitely included me, was quickly soaked through. And that’s how it stayed for the rest of the morning, wet and chilly, with my afterthought jacket providing some relief, until it too became water-logged.

Still, the climb up Berwick Hill was about the perfect steepness for me, taken at a brisk pace that soon had me warmed up. I routed through Kirkley, past the café and out toward the Gubeon. Just past the café I passed two cyclists going the other way and it wasn’t until I was level that I realised it was Taffy Steve and Sneaky Pete. Sneaky Pete would later apologise for not acknowledging me, being cold, wet and huddled within his own private bubble of misery. I told him he should just use my favourite excuse, that he’d been travelling at such speed he’d never had a chance to recognise who he passed.

A few miles further up the road, a group of about half a dozen riders, dragged themselves past, clustered together and obviously feeling no need for social distancing. I don’t agree, but it’s their call. An even bigger breach of etiquette in my books was the complete lack of mudguards on what seemed to be their very best, shiny plastic bikes and they kicked up rooster tails of dirty spray behind them as they ground by.

As the road started to develop a few testing bumps and lumps, I made an effort to catch and overtake them, just nudging ahead before having to take evasive action to avoid another cyclist who’d lurched into the road having seemingly emerged out of the hedgerow.

“Oh, hello,” said the erratic cyclist, as I scurried past. I immediately recognising the Prof under all his layers of protective wear.

“Bonjour Monsieur,” I greeted him.

“You’re not who I was expecting to see,” the Prof exclaimed, then, “Ah, there they are!” Apparently I’d just been overtaken, and then overtaken in turn, a gaggle of Backstreet Boys (and at least one Backstreet Gal.) They all reformed behind me, but luckily were going right at the next junction, while I was heading left.

I pressed on through Whalton, passing the Colossus who, somewhat disappointingly (but understandably) was not on on his Time-Trial bike today. Routing through Belsay, I took the lane to Ogle, passing a couple of tractors hacking back the hedges on either side of the road and yet again escaping without finding an errant thorn embedded in my tyre. This luck can’t last.

I pulled into the café at Kirkley chilled and soaked through, but generally in good spirits, wandering into the barn just as the Backstreet Boys exited, to find G-Dawg and the Colossus huddled around one of the tables they’d set up inside.

It wasn’t going to be the cosiest of café stops, but it was dry, out of the wind and, if G-Dawg was to be believed noticeably warmer than standing outside in the rain. I’m not wholly convinced, but it was shelter of a kind.

I complained bitterly that the forecast had predicted only the smallest chance of brief, passing showers and demanded to know where this prolonged, incessant downpour had sprung from. No one could help me.

One benefit of bad weather was the lack of a queue and I was quickly served and on my way back to the barn when a flatus-powered (by his own admission) Crazy Legs arrived to join us.

G-Dawg bemoaned the on-going Covid restrictions and the 3-tier system recently introduced by a Government seemingly flailing to find something that might just about work and more concerned with finding a catchy (i.e. banal) slogan in lieu of a way of reducing infections. As evidence I give you the nonsensical “Stay Alert” a wannabe-nursery rhyme “Hands, Face, Space” and the Arthur Conan Doyle “Rule of Six.”

The latest is a 3-tier, truncated DefCon scale, which saw Front Wheel Neil beating all the tabloid press to the punch, when he announced that he’d told us it would all end in tiers, almost as soon as the initiative was launched.

We quickly summarised the three tiers as:

Tier#1 – you’re up shit creek

Tier#2 – you’re still up shit creek, but now you’ve lost your paddle

Tier#3 – you’re up shit creek without a paddle, your boat is taking in water and there’s a tsunami brewing on the horizon.

G-Dawg was particularly perplexed that the guidelines for moving between tiers were unknown and totally depressed by the thought that there was no safe tier – Tier#0 for example, where life was normal. Surely, we surmised, there must be a small village in the Cotswolds, or a remote island off the coast of Scotland, that was safe enough to be free of any restrictions?

As we discussed such weighty matters, Buster emerged from the gloom outside, cold, wet and complaining about the weather forecast and how he’d been duped into believing the chance for rain was miniscule.

He’d been so taken in that he’d ventured out on his brand new “good bike” – a Cervelo he’d earmarked for only riding in perfect conditions. Maybe this also explains the Backstreet Boys lack of mudguards and perhaps they’re deserving the benefit of doubt?

Maybe.

When Busters food order hadn’t arrived tout de suite, Crazy Legs persuaded him to go check on it, suggesting the café had an unfortunate habit of misplacing orders, especially, rather bizarrely, when it wasn’t too busy.

“Don’t worry though,” he assured Buster as he got up, “If they have forgotten, they tend to slip a fried egg on top as compensation.”

“Hmm, I’m not sure I’d like a fried egg plonked on top of my Victoria sponge,” I offered.

We decided this probably would be an unwelcome gift on Victoria sponge, but perhaps a worthy addition to a fruit scone, as long as, Crazy Legs determined, it was an especially runny egg. Who knows, one day we might even try it.

The rest of the conversation was taken up with discussing the current state of professional cycling. The Giro, was seen as high entertainment, but with a bizarre list of contenders. “You know things aren’t normal when Pozzovivo is up there challenging for the lead, ” Crazy Legs asserted, although pleased as punch for one of his favourite riders.

The bizarreness of the Giro was in direct contrast to an absolutely enthralling Classics seasons, with Alaphillipe, van der Poel, van Aert and assorted others providing spills and thrills in equal measure and the faintest glimmer of normality.

By the time we were ready to leave the rain had passed, it was warming up and dangerously close to pleasant. I was almost dry by the time I made it to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, the bike had served me well and I won’t hesitate to use it again for longer rides, but I must admit there are times when an additional gear or two wouldn’t go amiss and this was one of them.

Carnal Gymnastics – The Sing-Along Version

Carnal Gymnastics – The Sing-Along Version

Club Run, Saturday 19th October, 2019

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

Ride Profile

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

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

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

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

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:

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

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

“A guh-guh-guh-roin injury?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well …

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



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

Dear me, we were a fractious lot today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The same urinal? At the same time?”

Well, it was technically a trough, so yes …

“Did you talk to him?”

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

“Was he wearing his cap?”

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

“Where was this?”

Lobley Hill Social Club.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop

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

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

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

No.

I saw a mouse?

No.

Eek-a-mouse?

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

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

Rather than the you-n-eek, Eek …

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Silver Surfer

Silver Surfer
Total Distance: 53 km/33 miles with 950 m of climbing
Riding Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Average Speed: 22.8km/h
Group Size:
Temperature: 20℃
Weather in a word or two:Damn fine.

Ride Profile

Time. I just can’t seem to scrape together enough of this elusive, precious resource these days.

— or maybe, I’m just lazy.

Either way, it took me an excruciating 3-weeks to write-up and post about my misadventures in the Alps and all the while weekends kept ticking past. I now realise I’m in danger of losing this blerg’s raison d’etre, the celebration of the venerable club run, with all it’s attendant lurid colour, madness, madcap characters, incessant chatter and mayhem.

I was hoping to report that normal service would now be resumed, but events have conspired against me. More of that later, but first a brief recap of what I’ve missed and what you’ve been spared …

Club Run, Saturday 22nd June : Got a Short, Little, Span of Attention Distance : 109km Elevation Gain: 1,133 m Riding Time: 4 hours 2 minutes

My first ride back from the Alps, not quite recovered and riding with very heavy legs. The Monkey Butler Boy wore a new pair of shorts complete with a sheer, translucent back panel, which is undoubtedly marketed as being more aero. The Red Max branded them as vaguely obscene and off-putting and insisted the Monkey Butler Boy ride behind him at all times. I wondered if, given this animal-like, ritual display, a change of name to Baboon Butler Boy wasn’t in order.

The Red Max complained the Monkey Butler Boy had stolen his trademark use of selected red highlights, although, to be fair the Red Max has never taken it to the extreme of exposing a big, pimply, scarlet baboon-ass in his quest for colour co-ordination.

At the cafe, talk turned to the upcoming Team Time Trial which Captain Black has somehow found himself press-ganged into riding. Throughout the discussion he kept looking at me with pleading eyes and silently mouthing “Help” and “Save Me” across the table. Sadly, I felt powerless to intervene.

As well as the physical pain and torment of actually riding the event, he may also have to suffer the indignity and mental anguish of donning our most unloved of club jersey’s. Astonishingly, the Cow Ranger declared wearing the club jersey should make you feel ten feet tall and unbeatable.

So, apparently not like a giant box of orange and lime Tic Tacs, then?



Club Run, Saturday 29th June : Topsy Turvy Distance : 122km Elevation Gain: 1,140 m Riding Time: 4 hours 37 minutes

A genius route, planned by Taffy Steve that turned our entire world upside down and shattered all kinds of preconceived notions. He had us riding up to Rothley Crossroads the wrong way, using the route we usually take to get away from the hated junction. It’s hated because we usually get there via a long, leaden drag, on lumpen, heavy roads, not quite steep enough to be called proper climbing, but not flat enough to power up sitting in the saddle.

Guess what? The alternative route is even worse…

Amidst much wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth, I heard several riders vow they would never, ever, ever complain about our more typical route up to Rothley Crossroads again.

The ride was noteworthy as, perhaps the first time, we’d had a full complement of all four of our current refugees from the Netherlands out at the same time. As Taffy Steve quipped, we had numbers enough to form our own Dutch corner.

At the cafe, budding biological scientist the Garrulous Kid insulted our European compatriots by insisting the metric system was “crap.” He declared what we really needed was a decimal system that was easy to use, adaptable, internationally recognised, universally accepted and simple to pick up and apply. (Yes, I know he just described the metric system, but remember this is in Garrulous Kid World, which is dangerously unhitched from reality.)

Club Run, Saturday 29th June : Great British Bicycle Rides with Philomena Crank Distance : 122km Elevation Gain: 1,140 m Riding Time: 4 hours 37 minutes

My second annual Anti-Cyclone Ride, which has grown from a base of just two participants, Taffy Steve and The Red Max three years ago, to the 2019 edition which reached almost standard club run numbers. Twenty-two of us set out for a route that would occasionally intersect with the Cyclone Sportive, most importantly at a number of feed-stations where copious amounts of cake and coffee could be purchased.

For me, the most notable moment of the day was when my left hand crank slowly unwound from it’s spindle and came off, still attached to my shoe by its cleat. The Goose helped me fit it back on using the pinch bolts, but the crank cap appeared damaged. Still, I managed to make it the rest of the way around our route and right to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, before I felt my foot tracing that weird lemniscate pattern as the crank unwound again.

Bad luck, but reasonable timing, as it happened right outside Pedalling Squares cycling cafe. I was able to call in to their bike workshop, the Brassworks, where Patrick patched me up enough to get the rest of the way up the hill and home.

Later in the week the bike would travel back down to the Brassworks for a proper fix and, as a special treat, top to bottom service. I’ve no idea what was to blame for the unfortunate mechanical, perhaps the bike was damaged in transit after all?

And that’s me pretty much caught up and back on schedule. With Reg still convalescing, I was looking forward to a rare summer club run aboard the Peugeot, my winter bike.

I prepped the bike the night before and things were going well as I crossed the river and started backtracking down the valley. That was when my bottom bracket started to creak and complain.

By the time I started climbing out the other side, the creaking had turned into a full on chorus of complaints, as if a nest full of ever-hungry fledglings had taken up residence in my bottom bracket and were demanding to be fed.

A bit of tinkering gave temporary relief, but it wasn’t long before the hungry birds returned with a vengeance. I reluctantly pulled the pin and aborted the ride, turning back. Even if the bottom bracket had held up mechanically, I couldn’t ride with that cacophony as an accompaniment.

Home by 9.30, too late to join the club, but too early to call it a day, I pulled out my bike of last resort, the single-speed I use for commuting. I bravely and foolishly decided to head due-south, for a few loops around the Silver Hills, where I used to ride as a kid. You’d think I’d know better by now.

My ride profile shows the change, my clearly defined ride of two halves, as I went from relatively benign to brutally bumpy. This included a couple of 4th Category climbs with 25% gradients and lots of ragged, wet and gravel-strewn surfaces. Single-speed vs. Silver Hills is definitely an unequal contest, but I got a decent work-out and, to be honest, I quite enjoyed myself in an odd, masochistic and not-to-be-soon-repeated sort of way.


YTD Totals: 4,651 km / 2,890 miles with 62,397 metres of climbing

Proper Paggered

Proper Paggered

Club Run, Saturday 2nd March, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:109 km/68 miles with 1,205 m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 12 minutes
Average Speed:25.9km/h
Group Size:23 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature:14℃
Weather in a word or two:The calm before?

Ride Profile

The freakishly mild weather has added a new and unwelcome dimension to my personal prevarications, I now not only have to wrestle with critical clothing choices, but even the most basic, fundamental issue of which bike to ride.

I can’t remember ever riding the summer bike in February, but I did last week and once the genie is out of the bottle, it becomes much harder to entice it back in again. Friday night then saw me prepping both the Holdsworth and Peugeot for potential deployment on Saturday, depending on what the morning brought.

10 minutes before leaving I still hadn’t settled on a bike, which was bad news as I didn’t know which shoes to pull on. The ground looked dry and the sky was clear, but it may have rained elsewhere along our route and the forecast highlighted the potential for infrequent light showers.

Aagh! The Master of Prevarication strikes again.

Eenie-meenie-miny-mo?

No, come on, you’re a grown man, make a decision and live with the consequences. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen, Reg might get a bid muddy and wet, but he’s not some effete, cossetted Ribble. Beside, if you’re going to flaunt Flandrian colours, you should expect to enjoy a bit of mud and rain occasionally. So two weeks in a row I get an early Easter present and the chance to ride “the good bike.”

While it still seems too early for good bikes, perhaps it really is that time of year already. Alternatively, maybe the flowers too are confused by the freakishly mild weather. Whatever the reason, the verges are already studded with bright yellow, purple and white crocuses and, here and there, a few premature daffodils have raised their frilly periscopes to check out the conditions.

I swooped down toward the river just as the barriers of the level crossing raised their arms in salute, catching and passing a fellow cyclist who somehow seemed offended by my cheery good morning as I slipped past.

He accelerated to sit huffing and puffing away on my rear wheel all the way to the bridge. I stopped as the lights turned red, but he simply accelerated down the span. Each to his own, but I couldn’t help feeling it was more luck than good judgement that he didn’t meet an impatient driver coming the other way, though.

From there it was all plain sailing and it wasn’t long before I was rolling up to the meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Taffy Steve immediately took me to task for not describing in minute detail the magical epiphany that accompanies the change from winter bike to summer bike – even if I had to repeat everything I said the year before … and the year before that (and potentially even the year before that.)

Even though he knows it’s coming, like me he’s still amazed by the difference in feel and heft when he swaps his thrice-cursed winter bike of pig iron (pig aluminium?) for the lightweight titanium love-child. Such an important stage in the natural, evolution of the cyclists year, he argues, requires the ritual description of the clouds parting, pillars of golden light blazing down and the angelic singing of the heavenly hosts.

Almost as good as swapping winter bike for summer version, the Garrulous Kid has finally had his Focus Cayo serviced and new cassette, chain, bottom bracket, cables and brake blocks fitted. He insisted everyone admire his newly restored bike and, to be fair, given his past record we might as well imprint it on our memories now, because it won’t look this good until after its next service.

G-Dawg wondered why he hadn’t gone for a black chain with red highlights, like Jimmy Mac’s, but why pay for it, in a week or two his chain will be suitably black, once it had the chance to build up that sticky, oily, coating of protective black grunge again.

By way of contrast, the similarly aged Monkey Butler Boy and Archie Miedes spent the first 5 minutes cleaning and polishing off the mud and crud that had accumulated on their bikes just on their way across to the meeting point.

Szell was out (for the first time this year?) prompting Crazy Legs to enquire if the chrysalis had broken and then checking to ensure that Middleton Bank was definitely planned on our itinerary, with instructions to put it in if it wasn’t there already.

Jimmy Mac outlined the route for the day and had us split into two groups, somehow conspiring to get G-Dawg to take the second group so he could have fun at the front.


As this first group rode out, I tagged onto the back and was joined by Benedict. After the first couple of miles he declared it was a much more civilised and relaxing way to start the ride, rather than giving them a head-start and then hammering away, trying to catch up as we’d done last week.

The boys were feisty today though and we set off at such an infernal pace, I’m not sure we’d have managed bridge across if we had delayed. I netted 14 Strava PR’s in the first 30km alone, as Jimmy Mac, Kermit, Andeven, Rainman and others conspired to propel the group along at breakneck speed.



At one point, as we started to lose riders out the back on a climb, I told Jimmy Mac I didn’t think the pace was sustainable … but we sustained it anyway. In this way the first handful of miles passed under our wheels in a blur, without pause or let-up and no lack of pain.

Just past Mitford, the Garrulous Kid engineered a solo break and, as we started to close in on our traditional stop point at Dyke Neuk, Biden Fecht decided to close him down and piled more speed on top of speed. All this over a road that most definitely resides amongst my least favourites

Still, the catch was made and then we hammered up to the Dyke Neuk Inn to stop, catch our breath and patch our splintered group back together. There we settled in to wait for our second group to join us – given our pace, I suspected it would take much longer than usual.

We were disappointed to find the banana plantations we were secretly cultivating in the area had failed to take root. Still, there’s time yet.

As we waited, we were entertained by the Monkey Butler Boy describing being chased by “the Bizzies.”

“The Bizzies?” we wondered.

“Bizzies?”

The obvious question wasn’t why the Monkey Butler Boy and his associates might find themselves attracting the interest of the boys in blue, but when and how Wallsend had been transported from Tyneside to Merseyside?

The first false alarm in our wait was the appearance of a group of cyclists, who turned out to be an NTR splinter cell. They reported no sign of our second group, despite travelling up the same roads we expected them to use on their approach.

The second false-alarm was the appearance of Big Dunc, who we thought might be the vanguard of the second group, until he admitted he’d left them for a sneaky short-cut.

Finally the second group arrived and I learned I’d missed a round of Leo Sayer ear-worms that Crazy Legs, the Ticker and Taffy Steve had inflicted on each other – You Make me Feel Like Dancing, One Man Band and The Show Must Go On.

Crazy Legs had only managed to banish this insane indignity by recalling the Breakaway song – apparently not the Art Garfunkel/Gallagher and Lyle number, but the advertising jingle for Breakaway Biscuits.

I couldn’t remember that particular ad and my Sutherland’s Spread recollection (Sutherland’s, Sutherland’s scrumptious Sutherland’s, spread on sumptuous Sutherland’s spread …) fell on deaf ears, so I pulled the pin on a “When I Need You” labelled, Leo Sayer grenade, rolled it into the middle of the group and rode off.

Away we went again, almost instinctively falling into the original two groups, causing Crazy Legs to bark with laughter and wonder why the first group had even bothered to wait. Can’t say he didn’t have a point, although we did manage to steal G-Dawg away from the second group.

Around the next corner though, we ran into a surprisingly strong headwind and Carlton, on the front of the second group, put in a huge effort dragging everyone across the gap so they could find a bit of shelter.

We stayed together through the swoop and clamber through Hartburn, before some took a left, while the rest pushed on to Scots Gap and coalesced into two distinct groups.

Archie Miedes then hit the front and seemed intent on shredding the legs of all us old blokes, driving us on towards Scots Gap. “It’s been this mad all morning,” I managed to gasp at G-Dawg as we ripped along.

Archie Miedes ceded the front as we pushed through Scot’s Gap, but as we took the wide, right turn toward Middleton Bank, the speed obviously wasn’t fast enough for his liking, so he pushed onto the front and ramped up the pace again.

Everyone seemed to be going at full gas on the descent to the climb and I tucked in and hunkered down, trying to surf the slipstreams and freewheel enough to recover a little. As we approached the climb itself, I couldn’t help thinking that this was going to hurt and I’d struggle to hang on. Then Archie Miedes pulled up lame … or with a puncture anyway … and suddenly the pace and urgency evaporated.

With enough people back-tracking to help out the puncture victim, I decided to push on to the top of the hill at a more leisurely pace, thinking I’d get it over with before stopping to regroup.

I picked up Biden Fecht on the way and he decided it was a reasonable plan, kicking away up the hill while I took it at a much more considered and relaxed pootle.

Rainman obviously had the same idea and passed me on the way up.
“That’s the most pleasant ride I’ve ever had up here,” I declared as I joined the pair now waiting at the entrance to the farm at the top of the hill.

Without the blood-pounding, tunnel-vision and screaming legs of a full on assault of the slope, it was quite a gentle, easy ascent and a completely different experience.

“I could actually hear birds singing all the way up,” Biden Fecht revealed cheerfully.

“And I didn’t even know there was a farm here,” Rainman added.

As we waited, chatting, Kermit clambered past, intent on pushing straight onto the cafe. With repairs well in hand at the bottom of the hill and nothing we could add to proceedings, we decided to follow and joined him.

We pushed on with a slightly ragged through-and-off, building up our speed until once again my legs were screaming, my lungs burning and I was just about hanging on. I was, in the Ticker’s profound words, proper paggered as we hit the bottom of the Rollers …

… so I attacked.

Tradition. It’s not to be taken lightly, so I felt I had no choice in the matter.

I almost had a gap, but couldn’t sustain it over the third and fourth humps, succeeding only in distancing Kermit, battling bravely, but severely handicapped riding his winter bike.

Rainman shot past and away and I tagged onto Biden Fecht’s wheel as he set off in pursuit, hanging there until the final climb, when he put in a big dig to bring back Rainman. It fell just short of its target, but left me trailing.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee shop:

Once again we determined that we could probably get away with sitting outside, proof if ever it’s needed that you can’t accurately judge ambient temperature following a mile long uphill sprint.

It was a bit chilly, but after some prevarication we stuck it out. Following our example we were joined by most of the later arrivals until we had two bench tables filled on either side. It was a comradely, misery loves company type of collective suffering and I’m not convinced there was any benefit from shared body heat.

Crazy Legs arrived sat down and then shot up again with cramp in his foot. He kicked off a boot and clambered onto the bench, bouncing on his toes to try and ease the pain. As he towered over me I was waiting for a “O Captain, my Captain” moment, but he wasn’t in the mood for channelling Walt Whitman and all I got was a minuscule, cramp-inspired whimper instead of a mighty, barbaric yawp.

The last group to arrive escorted Archie Miedes home and we learned his tyres belonged amongst the ranks of those that seem almost impossibly hard to remove and replace.

We also learned that Archie Miedes had earned himself an everlasting place in the Hall of Shame, reserved for those who go out for a ride without the means and wherewithal to repair a simple puncture. It’s not a good place to be, but he’s in there with some surprisingly illustrious and esteemed company.

To prove his new found maturity, the Garrulous Kid proudly announced he, at least, was now carrying both a spare tube and tyre levers. No pump though, or CO2 canister, so I’m not exactly sure if that actually makes him more, or less foolhardy.

Crazy Legs recalled the day one of our former riders, Arnold, became inducted into the Hall of Shame. He’d punctured the week before and broken his pump, which was fortuitous timing as it was coming up to his birthday and he was struggling to think of anything he wanted as a present.

The following Saturday he punctured again and, shamefacedly had to admit he didn’t have the means and wherewithal to repair a simple puncture, flagging down Crazy Legs to ask for a pump to borrow.

“I thought you were getting a new pump for your birthday?” a perplexed Crazy Legs had asked.

“I am. My wife’s already bought it, but I’m not allowed to use it because my actual birthday’s not until tomorrow,” Arnold had ruefully replied.

This reminded me of (surely an urban myth) the story of a new season-ticket holder at Newcastle, who’d been surprised the seat beside him remained empty, game, after game, after game. With a reportedly long waiting list for tickets he’d enquired if perhaps the seat was available to purchase only to be told it definitely had an owner.

When said owner finally turned up, he’d informed his new neighbour not to enquire why he’d missed so many games, but finally relented to reveal he’d his wife had bought the season ticket for a Christmas present …

Just about everything we discussed then paled into insignificance by the highlight of the day, or maybe month, or perhaps even the year. This was the rather startling declaration from the Garrulous Kid – and I quote him exactly here so there’s no misunderstanding –

“I share a bath with my sister.”

Yes, well, hmmm. Moving swiftly on …


After such a blockbuster revelation, everyone was ready to go, with some riders turning left from the cafe for a slightly longer return ride. I took the usual right, keen to get home and catch the start of the Classics and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Proper bike racing has finally started again.

I dropped in alongside Jimmy Mac as we turned off the main road onto the lanes.

My Garmin has just told me it’s battery is low,” he started, “and suggested I switch it to Power-Saving Mode. So I did and it just turned itself off completely!”

Well, we had to admit, that was the ultimate power-saving mode and his Garmin would probably retain its limited charge for days now, if not weeks.

“Let’s keep it together up the climb,” OGL called as we approached the bottom of Berwick Hill. As if on cue, G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid immediately surged off the front and chased each other up the hill.

I accelerated to track them, pulling those with the legs left to follow upwards. As I caught up with a grinning G-Dawg on the reverse slope, he predicted a Facebook rant about group riding etiquette sometime that night.

He wasn’t to be disappointed.

We pushed on into the Mad Mile side by side, both commenting on the sudden, stiff headwind that appeared to have been lying in wait until just that very moment. So, it’s back to that is it? Great.

Let’s see what next week brings.


YTD Totals: 1,353 km / 841 miles with 18,447 metres of climbing

Tinselitis and Other Chaffin’ Nonsense

Tinselitis and Other Chaffin’ Nonsense
Total Distance:100km/62 miles with 1,025 metres climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 11 minutes
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:26
Temperature: 8°C
Weather in a word or two:Mild

Ride Profile

Heavy rain overnight had cleared, but left the road soaked and my tyres made a sibilant hiss and seemed to be shushing me all the way down the hill … shhh!

It was chillier than I’d expected, the digital sign on the factory unit flashing just 6°C, a grey, drab, dreary, dark start. Still, we were only one day removed from shortest day of the year and the rain wasn’t forecast to return. It would do.

And then, once across the river and turning back on myself, I was rewarded by a glorious sunrise. Well, not so much the sun rising, it was more as if the earth had cracked and was leaking molten light from its core, painting the underbelly of the clouds in a roseate glow and setting the horizon to flame. It was worth the price of admission alone.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

We had a good turnout for the ride and a varied assortment of Christmas jumpers, T-shirts, lights, tinsel and dangling baubles, but G-Dawg and the Colossus stole the show. G-Dawg in bright red ladies leggings (he assured me they were bought specially and not stolen from his wife’s wardrobe) topped with a very busy top, all Santa hats, Christmas trees and ribbon-wrapped gifts.

And then the Colossus… well, the Colossus wore a formal Christmas suit – blazer and trousers, heavily patterned in striped candy canes, stars and Christmas stockings, a garish, riotous, technicolour nightmare, that I found vaguely threatening. In fact, his outfit lacked only a jaunty bowler hat to resemble a psychedelic tolchoking malchick from a fever dream Clockwork Orange.

The Monkey Butler Boy had his entire bike frame swathed and swaddled in ropes of thick golden tinsel. Given his usual obsessions, the obvious question then was, is that actually aero? Would the individual strands of tinsel smooth turbulent airflow and make it more laminar? Were boffins from Team Sky watching, measuring and gauging, with an eye to next years Tour de France and more marginal gains?

G-Dawg was worried the tinsel could get caught in the Monkey Butler Boys cassette and suddenly lock his freewheel, while I thought it might unravel and trail behind him, like a meteor’s tail on an earth bound Haleys comet.

Just before 9.15 Garmin Muppet Time, G-Dawg stepped up to address the gathered throng, “Hello, for those of you who don’t know, this is Richard,” Richard of Flanders uncertainly raised an arm, “and this is the route for the day …”


We split into two, with a general coalescing agreed at Hallington, once we were out of the ‘burbs. I dropped onto the back of the first group and away we went, the Cow Ranger on the front and driving us at a brisk pace from the off.

I slotted in beside the Red Max, currently languishing in the dog house as he’d miscalculated his holidays at work and now has to be in on Christmas Eve. Even worse, being responsible for all the work planning, he’d previously decided there would be no early finish for those unfortunates pulling the last shift, not reckoning on actually being one of them himself.

Riding behind the Monkey Butler Boy, I had to continuously swipe loose bits tinsel out of my face, as he shed a golden trail in his wake. It prompted me to enquire after the health of Red Max’s Christmas tree and I learned that not only had the Monkey Butler Boy denuded it of all the tinsel, but one of their cats had perfected the fine art of hooking baubles off with a single claw and disdainfully flinging them across the room.



With the Cow Ranger driving us onward and with the occasional manoeuvre to avoid the blizzards of stray tinsel being shed ahead of me, we were soon at the rendezvous point and pulled over to wait for the second group.

The Monkey Butler Boy dropped his bike into a ditch and started taking pictures on his phone.

“I’m gonna ‘gram them,” he declared.

“Huh?” I asked brightly.

“Gram them,” he repeated.

I still had no idea what he was saying.

“Eh?”

“Put them on Instagram,” he explained, rolling his eyes at the old dotard.

“Oh. Ah. Right. Instagram”

Richard of Flanders complimented the Peugeot on it’s subtle French branding, tricolour bar end plugs that match the even more subtle tricolour etched into the top tube. I’d bought these from the same place as the Lion of Flanders plugs for the Holdsworth, VeloHeaven a not too expensive bit of bike bling, that I thought added a nice touch. Of course I didn’t admit to
Googling the French flag to confirm that I’d put them in the wrong way round at first.

The Monkey Butler Boy looked down at his once gleaming, white shoes in disdain. “No matter how many baby wipes you use, you just can’t keep them pristine and white,” he moaned. The shoes were indeed looking somewhat yellowed and poisonous now. I realised he wasn’t wearing overshoes and then that he was wearing mitts not gloves.

“Aren’t your hands cold?” I wondered.

“Freezing. But they were fine when I set off from Wallsend this morning.” Ah right, that’ll be the famous Wallsend microclimate then, warmed by the benign currents of the Jet Stream and North Atlantic Drift, a balmy, semi-tropical enclave in the heart of frigid Tyneside.

We seemed to wait an age for the other group to join us (they’d had a puncture) and talk turned to Christmas preparations. The Garrulous Kid was complaining about the expense of presents for his girlfriend and then, admitted he didn’t like Christmas Day at all, chiefly because his uncle always brought his bulldog around (let’s just call the dog Onan for now) and it always had vigorous sexual congress with the Garrulous Kid’s pillow.

“Let me guess,” the Red Max piped up, ” And you don’t realise until you wake up with the pillowcase stuck to your face?”

“Hmm, that explains your strange doggy odour,” I volunteered, “I thought it was just your Pedigree Chum body spray.”

The Red Max then wondered if blaming the dog for random, seminal emissions in a teenagers bedroom wasn’t a bit unfair on our canine friends and he imagined an on-going conversation between the Garrulous Kid and his mother …

“Ugh! What’s this?”

“Oh Mum! Onan’s been at it again.”

“But your uncle hasn’t been round with the dog for three months now…”

With the Monkey Butler Boy continuing to shed tinsel, I remarked that at least German Fighter Command wouldn’t know our numbers, or the destination of our raid.

“Huh?” the Monkey Butler Boy asked brightly.

“Window.” I told him.

“Eh?”

He still had no idea what I was saying.

“Window,” I repeated,”Düppel, radar countermeasures” rolling my eyes at the ignorance of youth.

“He’ll always be chaff in the wind to me,” the Red Max added as a postscript.

Luckily, we were saved from further discourse when the second group finally rolled past, we tagged on the back and were off again.

At one point above us a small kestrel appeared, fluttering wings and split-second pauses keeping it fixed in place, hanging directly over the road. “Drone!” the Big Yin announced wryly. Well, I chuckled, but then I hadn’t been delayed at Gatwick for 16 hours.

We picked our way through to Mitford, descending into the Wansbeck Valley to the accompaniment of a droning, honking wail from a set of vigorously asphyxiated bag-pipes. We then passed the lone piper, obviously banished out into the chill, dank garden to practice his dark arts, well out of the earshot of the rest of his family.

The discordant wailing brought a small tear to Aether’s eye and he emitted a little, subdued “Och aye the noo!” Everyone else seemed to quicken their pace to put a bit of distance between us and the unnatural noise as quickly as possible.

We did a loop around Mitford and then, as a novel, new twist, found ourselves cautiously descending the Mur de Mitford for the first time. All went well and then we were back to climbing. I managed to reserve a stint on the front until after the hated drag up to Dyke Neuk this time.

The various assaults on our senses continued as we passed the Dyke Neuk inn, this time it was to be smell not hearing that suffered, the air heavy with the rather unpleasant odour of over-cooked Brussell sprouts.

On the front alongside me, Richard of Flanders slowed the pace down and we kept the group together down through the dip and rise around Hartburn and the turn for Angerton, where we called a pee stop.

The group became attenuated on the climb up to Bolam Lake, as Spry rode off the front. A few hundred metres later and Ovis and Andeven followed. I waited to see if anyone was going to take up the chase and when they didn’t, I swung wide and accelerated away.

I thought a few others might follow my lead and we could work together to bridge across to the front. I had no takers though and I ended up hanging off the front on a bit of a chasse patates. Still, whatever gap I’d opened up most have been fairly sizeable as I hung out there through the Milestone Woods, up and over the rollers and round the corner of the last bend on the final climb, before I was caught and dropped.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I took perhaps a last chance for another seasonal stollen scone, working on the assumption they’ll not be around much longer and I should enjoy them while I can. I ordered, while pondering why the Garrulous Kid’s helmet appeared to have Special Liz written on one side.

At our table, Buster had decided wool jumpers, no matter how jaunty they looked, were no substitute for technical sportswear, complaining he’d been overheating during the ride, but chilled at the same time as his Santa jumper wasn’t even remotely windproof. Usually this would have been the cue for OGL to tell us all about the good old day, riding in thick, wool jerseys and shorts with a real chamois insert, but he was absent and missed a golden opportunity for more lore building.

Buster said he’s considering joining Crazy Legs’ annual expedition to the mountains of France next year, finances permitting. He took the opportunity to question Captain Black and me about the trip. He was particularly keen to understand the niceties of our typical itinerary, which was usually a Thursday depart, travelling on BA to France via a Heathrow transfer, 3 days riding and a return trip on the Monday by the same route.

He then did that quick phone-tapping thing that youngsters do. “Hmm, Queasy Jet fly direct to Geneva, but only twice a week, Sunday’s and Friday’s.” He paused to consider.

“That means we could fly out on a Sunday, have 4 days riding and fly back on a Friday. That would still be cheaper and easier than the BA flights, especially if we hired bikes across there and didn’t have to pay baggage fees. Then of course, hiring the cars would be a lot cheaper and simpler too.”

“Woah, woah, woah, hold on youngster, ” I complained, “You can’t just come in and tip the current order upside down based on logic, common sense and a bucketful of sound economic and logistical benefits!”

We all admired the Red Max’s new gloves, bright red of course and newly purchased from Planet X. They even had a fold away cover so you could convert them to mitts for a bit of added protection.

He admitted he’d actually bought them as a Christmas present for the Monkey Butler Boy, but took a liking to them when they arrived, so had decided to keep them. Once again Taffy Steve was left in awe and deeply humbled by the Red Max’s innate parenting skills – a sort of a modern day Spartan agoge based on the principles that if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.

It was time then for us to all line up for the semi-traditional, group photo outside, with Carlton stepping up to the plate as our resident Ansel Adams.

“Will you post it up somewhere?” Princess Fiona enquired.

There then followed one of those awkward and tentative, new-tech conversations us older folk have when discussing something that’s (rudely) second nature to the youngsters, with lots of uncertain talk about airdrops, cloud postings, instant messaging and the like.

I was tempted to step in and suggest that Carlton simply ‘gram the pictures, but didn’t rate my chances of explaining how to do it if someone called my bluff.


Photo opportunities fulfilled for another year, we were then off, splitting into two groups, the Red Max leading a handful off on a slightly longer, alternative route home. I stuck to the traditional return run, facing strict instruction to be back on time to greet scheduled holiday visitors.


Paul Dorman©

I spent the ride back chatting with Buster about the parlous state of the guitar industry and the value for money vs. quality conundrum of Planet X. Once again I found myself recommending their mighty lobster mitts for the most extreme conditions.

Before long I was following the Colossus and G-Dawg through the Mad Mile, chuckling at all the people pointing out the strange man in the strange suit. Then I was off on my own, riding unusually quiet roads, even those around the local shopping centre. It might have been a quiet Christmas for the nation’s High Street businesses, but I’m not complaining


YTD Totals: 7,261 km / 4,512 miles with 88,830 metres of climbing.

Fantastic Day

Fantastic Day

Club Run, Saturday 20th October, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  111 km / 69 miles with 1,116 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 22 minute

Average Speed:                                25.4 km/h

Group size:                                         27 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    17°C

Weather in a word or two:          Fantastic


 

fantastic
Ride Profile


What a gorgeous and glorious day.

As I rolled down the valley, the sun crept into clear space beneath a band of dark, low cloud and threw a ridiculously long, sharp shadow ahead of me, cartoonish, spindly legs whirring under a peanut body topped with a spiky pinhead.

The concentrated, liquid light tangled itself in all the fading, autumnal leaves on the trees, setting them aflame in a lambent, amber glow that looked like a photo someone had applied far too much contrast to.

It sho was purdy, though.

One of the more noticeable attributes of the Pug is its near silent running, the freewheel is mute, the chain makes a hushed, barely audible whisper and when the brakes and rims combine they are completely and oddly soundless. This combined with an eerie lack of traffic, let me pick out the buzzing of the power lines, a rustle of a small bird, or mammals in the hedgerow, the slap of water against the bridge piles as I crossed the river and the rhythmic, shouted commands of the stroke, as a 4-man boat shot the arches and slid smoothly out into open water.

My ride in was equally as smooth, calm and tranquil and I arrived a few minutes before my usual time, to find Crazy Legs uncharacteristically there before me and, even more unexpectedly, chatting with Szell. Szell is normally well into hibernation mode by now, but this year is seriously challenging to still be riding with us in November.


Main topics of conversation at the start

“I’ve been here fifteen minutes already,” Crazy Legs explained cheerfully, before revealing his enthusiasm was in no way related the arrival of house guests, which may, or may not, have given him the urge to vacate the house for a while.

G-Dawg rolled in with the Colossus and there was some discussion about the intended route, which Aether had posted-up, but Crazy Legs insisted had suddenly changed mid-week, while he was looking at it online. Aether arrived and was equally as adamant that the route was the same one he’d originally devised and he hadn’t tinkered with it at all.

“Woah,” I contributed, “I think we’ve been hacked by the Russians.” Imagining some sophisticated, Fancy Bears, cyber-espionage group from the GRU interfering with our group rides for their own nefarious purposes. I’m sure, if pressed OGL would blame the Chinese.

G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and Aether talked through the proposed route and all its various permutations, finally agreeing on one definitive version. Everyone seemed to be in accord, which was good, but I’m still no closer to knowing if, unlikely as it may sound, our group rides are an on-going, potential target for cyber-terrorists.

“Anyway,” Aether wondered, “Is orange the new club colour?” nodding at G-Dawg, Szell, the Colossus and Crazy Legs, who were all bedecked in various shades of orange.

There was then a quite unseemly spat, when Szell declared the particular shade of orange that Crazy Legs was wearing was  “girly.” This escalated into a surprisingly sophisticated, mature and philosophical discourse, punctuated by the trading of clever epithets and witty, barbs. Such as:  “you stink!” … “no, your mum stinks!” …etc.

Ignoring the squabbling children, G-Dawg informed us OGL probably wouldn’t be joining us for the ride as he’d been receiving treatment for a dodgy hip. Otherwise the good weather had enticed a sizeable mob of 27 guys and gals out for the day and we decided to split into two groups with a merge point agreed further along the route.

So, we split the group into two … or, to be more accurate, tried to split into two, but the front group was dwarfed by those holding back to ride in the second group. I pushed across to even up the numbers and one or two others were coerced into joining us.

At the lights G-Dawg did a quick headcount, we had 11, leaving 16 behind, it would have to do. “Just watch,” G-Dawg mused, “OGL will turn up late and everyone in the second group will suddenly stampede to join the first.”


Luckily it wasn’t to be and I pushed out alongside the Colossus and away we went, averaging a reasonable 17-18mph for the first 10 miles or so, before ceding the front to Captain Black and Richard of Flanders.

A little further on, we found ourselves being trailed by a massive, six-wheeled piece of heavy-duty farm equipment. Stopped by some temporary lights, we shuffled off to the side of the road to let this behemoth through ahead of us. It was too big to argue with.

The traffic lights reminded the Colossus of a game he used to play while travelling with his dad – “Would I Have Died?” – a vehicular take on Russian-roulette, where you imagine ignoring a red stop light and see if you would make it through to the other side without being obliterated by on-coming traffic.

The lights changed, the behemoth squeezed past and we followed. There was no traffic approaching from the other direction – this time we wouldn’t have died. So, that’s “Would I Have Died?” – I think you’ll agree it’s a fun game for all the family, but obviously not to be undertaken in real life (unless you’re Dutch or have Dutch leanings) – after all, you’ll only lose once.

We made it to the designated lay-by and pulled in to wait for the second group to catch up, chatting about tomorrows highly popular Muckle Open Hill Climb, where they had a field of over 100 riders and a range of creative prizes, including awards for the fastest time on a fixie, or MTB, biggest improvement from last year, a lantern rouge and spot prizes for 36th, 69th and 90th.

We felt deliberately being last would be a difficult challenge, but targeting a spot prize almost impossible – although that didn’t stop us pondering Byzantine plots to try and achieve it.

The second group rolled in and we briefly coalesced, before those wanting a shorter ride to the café were swinging away again.


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The rest pressed on, heading towards the reservoir and points beyond. I joined G-Dawg, Aether and Crazy Leg, darting across the Military Road ahead of everyone else and while we waited for the others to catch up, talk turned back to the planned route.

G-Dawg was disappointed Aether hadn’t “gone pro” and taped the route outline to his handlebars this time.

Reaching into his back pocket in a “Ta-Da!” moment though, Aether pulled out and brandished a sheet of paper, shaking it vigorously in the wind, like Chamberlain declaring peace in our time.

“I have a print-out of the route here.”

“Careful!” Crazy Legs advised, “If you lose that we could be lost for days!”

On we went, up through the back roads toward the village of Ryal, G-Dawg noted that the previously prolific loose chippings seemed to have been swept from the new road surface, perhaps by the rain, perhaps through the collective passage of Taffy Steve, catching them between his tyres and fork crown. We hoped that now he would finally be able to make it through without getting more stones jammed in his frame. As an added bonus, I hear he’s now also the proud owner of a fabulous new gravel path in his garden.

We were closing in on the Quarry Climb when Sneaky Pete ran his wheel through a pot and punctured, rolling to a stop. Crazy Legs waved the rest of the group on, while I dropped back with him to help out.

Sneaky Pete soon had the tube replaced and together we started wrestling the tyre back onto the rim. As we struggled with the last section, Crazy Legs leaned in to help, his thumb barely grazing the sidewall as the tyre popped suddenly into place.

“Your welcome,” he said distractedly, while gazing in awe at his newly revealed, super-powerful, “golden thumb”.

We tag-teamed the pump-work and soon had the tyre inflated to an acceptable pressure – well, for cyclists with severely challenged upper-body strength – potentially a massive, herculean and awe-inspiring 30 psi or so. It would (have to) do. Off we went again, now somewhat inexplicably singing “My Sharona” and then following up with “My Angel is a Centrefold.”

As we turned up toward the Quarry, Crazy Legs began relating a conversation with a younger work colleague, who had said two lines that Crazy Legs immediately recognised as a direct quote from the Talking Heads song, “Road to Nowhere.”

“Ah! A Talking Heads fan?” Crazy Legs had enquired.

“Eh? What?” the work colleague was just confused.

“Talking Heads? Road to Nowhere? You know David Byrne?”

“Nah, mate, haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about…”

Apparently this hadn’t been a clever quote, referencing a subversive, 80’s alternative rock group, but actual, real-life management speak, much to Crazy Legs’ disdain. Now though, he was struggling to remember what the offending lines were.

“I’m just guessing, but I bet it wasn’t ‘and you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack,’” I suggested.

“No, it wasn’t that,” Crazy Legs confirmed and immediately started singing, “And you may find yourself, living in a shotgun shack, and you may find yourself in another part of the world, and you may find yourself, behind the wheel of a large automobile …”

He paused a second …

“Hey! That’s not the Road to Nowhere.”

“Yeah, like I said, I bet it wasn’t ‘and you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack.’

And, to be fair, I was right.”

Much like our all-hands-to-the-pump, tyre-inflation approach, we tag-teamed the run-in too, taking turns to drive us onwards and were at the café in short-order, where, true gent that he is, Sneaky Pete insisted on paying for our coffee and cakes as a (wholly unnecessary, but thoughtful) thank you for our assistance in helping with his puncture.

Crazy Legs is already planning to carry a pocketful of tacks to drop in front of Sneaky Pete on the run into the café next week.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop

Orders secured, we ventured out into the garden to finds the rest of the mob enjoying what could potentially be our last outside café stop of 2018.

Here we found Szell and I learned that he’s actually a restorative dentist and not, as I thought, an ex-Nazi intent of finding out “if it’s safe.” He then started on a mini-tirade, seemingly intent on insulting everyone at the table by association and the rest of the world by direct implication. Merchant bankers, teachers, Talking Heads, Lloyd Cole, the NHS, cosmetic surgery, dental veneers, C-list celebrities, reality television shows … it went on.

The rant seemed to be heading towards an all encompassing, scintillating climax, but I was heading toward coffee refills …

“Between inhuman looking lip implants and ridiculously artificial dental veneers, we’re on the cusp of …” Szell pontificated, but sadly (or, maybe gladly?) I didn’t manage to catch what exactly it was that we were on the cusp of. At that point in time, additional caffeine intake seemed much more important than learning the horrendous fate of civilised society.

Crazy Legs had removed his helmet to reveal a bad case of fungal cap – his Bianchi casquette, spotted and dotted with patches of mould. This, he determined was either a result of storing the cap in his garage, or perhaps, he suggested the proof that as we get older, we start to exude fungus …

This was the cap Crazy Legs had bought after I’d harangued him to replace his previous, wonky-brimmed effort, by suggesting it made him look like the village idiot. Naturally then, the demise of his current, fungal cap was all my fault.

“Anyway, I don’t know who made you the arbiter of taste,” he concluded. To be fair, neither did I.

Loud and persistent barking drew our attention to the distant hills and eventually a pack of hounds were to be seen tearing across an open field and presaging the arrival of the local hunt. There was obviously no fox, but the Colossus did suggest the leading hound was an odd russet colour and seemingly had a distinctly bushy tail…

The hounds were soon followed by the local horse-faced toffs on their very, very big, very, very expensive, horse-faced horses. We were just happy they didn’t seem to be heading our way

Meanwhile, Aether set his own, metaphorical, fox running amongst the hounds, when he politely enquired of a late arriving OGL, if now was perhaps a timely opportunity for the club to break with long-established tradition and fully-embrace the 18th century and the glorious emancipation of mankind … by holding an AGM for club members. Radical, audacious, revolutionary, I know and, much like the hunt, just as likely to see the fur flying.


We set out for home, somehow split into different groups and I joined one that had become intermingled with the Back Street Boys. When the inevitable attack went on Berwick Hill, I let it go and found myself trailing Captain Black, content to ride at my own pace.

He glanced back, “Ah, you’re obviously suffering from winter-bikitis,” he remarked. I explained that I hadn’t even thought about it and just picked out the Pug from habit, missing a glorious opportunity for one last Holdsworth, carbon-hurrah and being perhaps the only one out on a winter bike.

“Tsk, tsk,” he chided, “Schoolboy error.” True enough. He then decided to show me what I was missing, accelerating smoothly away, while I clung (more or less) to his rear wheel, unable to take a turn on the front even if I’d wanted to. (I didn’t).

With the help of Captain Black’s motor-pacing, we began to close on a small knot of our riders who’d become detached from the Back Street Boys’ train. He dragged me across the gap and, when the majority swung away left, I was able to latch onto Spoons as we entered the Mad Mile.

With the Peugeot in full stealth-mode and giving its best impersonation of silent running, I’m not even sure he knew I was there and engaged in blatant wheel-sucking, until I popped out, waved him off and swung the opposite way around the roundabout for my solo ride home.

The rest of the ride back was as smooth and serene as the outbound trip. I was tired and in no hurry, so I got to enjoy the perfect weather – might as well make the most of it, it isn’t going to last.


YTD Totals: 6,124 km / 3,805 miles with 74,898 metres of climbing