Another guest blogger has kindly stepped up to the mark in our time of need! This contribution is from my old (old, old, old!) mate, Tony Clay, who describes himself as a long-distance member of our cycling club, before explaining that by this he means he lives a long way from Newcastle and not that he rides long distances anymore!
Currently residing in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire, Tony still has dual nationality and a Geordie passport and recalls his formative years “happily riding around Northumberland and Durham with some great people.”
This is a faithful telling of how he (and then, by association, yours truly) came to be cyclists, rather than … I don’t know … golfers? … lard-arsed sofa surfers? … sane and mellow normal people without a Lycra fetish? Maybe all, or none of these.
A Revelation on the Road to Damascus Hexham by Tony Clay
For the record, my other clubs – Tyne Road Club (at the same time as Joe Waugh(1)), Whitley Bay Road Club (at the same time as Mick Bradshaw(2)) Tyne Velo, Sheffield Phoenix, Sharrow CC, Meersbrook CC, Rutland CC (at the same time as Malcolm Elliott(3)), Thurcroft CC and my current local Club – Rotherham Wheelers (100 years old this Summer).
I’ve a couple of years on SLJ and have known him since I was 14. One of my fond memories is when he and I went on a YHA cycling tour around Devon and Cornwall in 1978. We had some laughs. I think it was £2 per night in the Youth Hostels back then and I booked and paid in advance by Postal Order, do they even exist today? (Mr. Google suggests that indeed, they still do, but I’ve never heard any one use, or even talk about them for decades!)
But anyway, let’s go back to my childhood… I had to visit a Psychotherapist some years ago and, though it sounds cliched, that was actually about the first thing he said to me, ‘Tell me about your childhood.’
Well, there was a small gang of us 14/15 year olds at school, a mixture of lads and lasses who ‘knocked about’ together, all very innocent. We all went to the after-school clubs, the youth club, the ‘movies’, walking, camping and canoeing together. Simpler times.
The summer holidays in 1974 saw some lovely weather. We all got the train to South Shields now and again for a day at the beach with Frisbees, burgers, coke and ice cream.
I can’t remember who suggested it but someone said, ‘let’s go for a bike ride’.
But I didn’t have a bike…
But, asking around I managed to borrow Dick Taylor’s bike. The bike was a Sturmey Archer, 3-speed ‘all steel’ Raleigh. I’m not sure what happened to the bike, but Dick Taylor went on to a place in the GB Olympic Kayak Team and, even at 16, he was quite an impressive physical specimen, tall, blonde and ‘fit as the proverbial butcher’s dog’. Perhaps he got that way riding his beast of a bike?
So, beastly bike sorted, where would we go?
The obvious choice was South Shields, only a 20-mile round trip and we could go on the beach with Frisbees, burgers, coke and ice cream. Perfect!
We decided to go to Hexham.
Initially not a bad idea as we knew Hexham quite well as we had been there many times at ‘Dukeshouse Wood’ School Camp, very happy times.
What we didn’t factor in was the distance… we didn’t even think about what is essentially a 50-mile round trip.
50 miles! I’d never ridden further than the local shops on my tricycle as a bairn!
So the ‘Liste de Engagements’ was:-
‘Rowesy’ riding his brother’s Holdsworth.
‘Fat Rowesy’, – no relation and earned the epithet “fat” principally to differentiate the two Rowesy’s. Fat Rowesy was on his brother’s Carlton Kermesse (a lovely bike which I later bought off him.)
‘Fat John’ on a BSA Tour of Britain.
‘Erra’ on a flat handlebar Raleigh Roadster.
‘Gutha’ on his brother’s Carlton, horribly hand painted with Hammerite.
‘Doddsy’ on his very own (he was posh) Carlton Ten. A really sound touring bike, in mint condition. They sell for around £250 to the ‘Eroica’ enthusiasts today.
‘Maundy’ on his PUCH (PUKE!) International, really cheap and horrible, horrible, horrible; (I could never determine if it was meant to be pronounced puke, or if this was some subtle kind of Austrian humour and should perhaps be pronounced poosh. You know, like a poosh bike? Ah, forget it.)
‘Bryan’ so utterly nondescript he didn’t even earn a nickname… and I can’t remember his bike either!
(It’s brilliant to realise that teenage kids are every bit as accomplished at coming up with pithy, creative nicknames as some of our, err, “mature” professional sportsmen. I’m looking at you Wrighty, Gazza, Giggsy, Waughy, Cookie, Floody et al. Simple rules – if the surname is too long, truncate it a bit, then all you have to do is stick an “ee” or “ah” on the end. Why didn’t I think of that, could have save myself a huge amount of time and soul-searching!)
Having no idea what we were letting ourselves in for, nobody had any food or drink and a couple of us didn’t even take any money, so we all had to chip in to get them their ‘burgers, coke and ice cream’ when we got there.
The journey and return is perhaps a story for another day, but the key moment in that ride was when I swopped bikes with Fat Rowesy for a few miles as we passed through Corbridge.
Going from a 3-speed steel ‘clunker’ to a real racing bike was amazing. A real revelation. His Carlton Kermesse had 10 gears, tubular tyres and lots of alloy kit. It zinged. It seemed to smoothly glide along and was utterly effortless to ride.
That is the precise moment, 46 years ago, when I got hooked on cycling.
To be continued?
(1) Joseph Alexander Waugh. Twice National Hill Climb Champion King of the Mountains,1975 Milk Race 2nd, at 5 Seconds, 1976 Milk Race, riding in support of the winner Bill Nickson 2nd to Robert Millar (Pippa York) National Road Race Championships 1979 Gold Medallist 100km TTT 1982 Commonwealth Games, with Malcolm Elliott
(SLJ: Also occasionally known as Joey Wah-oogah to eagle-eyed readers of this blerg.)
(2) Mick Bradshaw.
Gold, Silver and Bronze Medallist in National Time Trial Championships at 25, 50 and 100 miles.
And, after a heart transplant he came back to win medals in the World Transplant Games, coincidentally held in Newcastle, one tough cookie.
(3) Malcolm Elliott. What needs to be said? National Hill Climb Champion, National Road Race, National Criterium Champion, Milk Race Winner (and holds the record for the number of stage wins), Tour de France rider (read ‘Wide Eyed And Legless’), Vuelta a Espana Points Classification Winner, Gold Medallist 100km TTT 1982 Commonwealth Games AND the Road Race… and was still racing, very successfully, as a pro aged 49! And a lovely friendly guy!
Total Distance: 106 km / 66 miles with 1,212 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Average Speed: 23.6 km/h
Group size: 38+
Weather in a word or two: Back to balmy
Or to be more precise, mony a mickle maks a muckle, but why let accuracy stand in the way of a good headline …
Our weird fortnightly weather cycle was once again bang-on, last weeks extremes of snow and ice and rain replaced by a temperate, bright and breezy day.
As I dropped off the hill, I spotted a group of 5 or 6 other riders ahead and was (naturally) compelled to give chase. My pursuit was somewhat hampered when the traffic lights intervened between us, just outside Blaydon. As I tried to regain lost momentum, another rider whipped past with a bright and breezy, “Morning!”
This was a Muckle C.C. rider, travelling at high speed and wearing shorts and a short-sleeved jersey. It was warmer than last week, but shorts and a short-sleeved jersey? Perhaps he needed to ride that fast just to keep warm?
I thought he might have been chasing to join onto the group upfront, but he blew straight past them as well. A man on a mission.
As he disappeared up the road, I caught the others as they turned down toward the bridge, sitting in the wheels, until they crossed the river and swung left, while I turned right to pick my way through to the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
G-Dawg pondered if the Garrulous Kid’s ride last week had perhaps been the shortest in club history, following his abandonment in a blizzard of sleet just as outside Dinnington.
“What was it,” he pondered, “All of about eight miles?”
The Garrulous Kid himself was better prepared today, on his winter bike with mudguards and the added protection of overshoes. He’d survive better this time out.
Princess Fiona recounted her epic IronmanIronwoman Ironprincess experiences which, she concluded, she’d thoroughly enjoyed, despite feeling sick for 5-days afterwards. Apparently this post-event illness is a common occurrence. Throughout her recounting the Colossus looked on in disbelief and mute horror, utterly convinced he was in the presence of someone needing psychiatric help.
On his fixie again, G-Dawg’s new bell drew some attention, with Jimmy Mac finding it rather melodic and pleasing, polite and not insistent. Then he ruined all his good work by comparing it to something he expected to hear on a creaky old sitcom, although he couldn’t quite decide if it belonged on “Open All Hours” or “Are You Being Served?”
For some unbeknown reason, today was building up to be the most popular ride of the year and I kept revising the headcount as more and more rolled in. It was up to over 30 by the time Crazy Legs started outlining the route and he suggested a split start with a re-grouping just before tackling the Mur de Mitford.
He was interrupted by a big bloke on a mountain bike trying to find a way through the dozens of riders and bikes sprawled across the pavement and bellowing for us to make way.
“He needs a nice polite bell,” someone suggested.
Yes, well, I don’t think he did polite.
I counted a decent 15 or 16 heading for the front group, so hung back. In theory this was an equitable split, I just hadn’t counted on people continuing to roll-up right until the moment we left and then, more joining us en route. By the time it all shook out the second group was still about 24 strong.
I dropped in behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs as we set out, chatting with Sneaky Pete, who insisted there was a very thin line between being committed and needing to be committed. He thought last week’s ride, given the conditions, crossed this threshold and verged into insanity. I couldn’t really disagree, but countered that, despite everything, it had actually been thoroughly entertaining.
As we passed through Dinnington and swept down the hill, I noticed my camera wobbling somewhat precariously. Deciding the bolt might have worked a little loose, I gave it a quick tug to test it. Sure enough, it had worked loose. I was left foolishly brandishing the bolt as it came away in my hands and the camera clattered and bounced away down the road.
I swung over and back-tracked to where Caracol had stopped to pick up the camera, shoved it in a back pocket and then we gave chase, latching back onto the group in short order. Caracol had been one of the riders joining just as we left the meeting place, and had pushed our numbers on the day close to 40.
We made our way past the Cheese Farm, picking up yet another rider behind us. As we approached Bell’s Hill, he nudged forwards to have a chat and we discovered he wasn’t one of ours.
“What club’s this?” he wondered, obviously somewhat bewildered to encounter such a big pack.
I told him and he nodded up toward the middle of the group where OGL was toiling away alongside Brink.
“Ah, should have guessed … seeing him.”
As he said this, I realised that, despite the rather magnificent turnout, there was only one rider amongst us displaying a club jersey. There’s something wrong, somewhere.
“You don’t usually travel in such a large group,” he mused and was even more nonplussed when I told him we’d actually split into two and there was another motley bunch of us further up the road.
Our new back-marker proved to be another Muckle C.C. rider, although he mentioned he was also involved in the administration of the (relatively new and hugely successful) NTR (North Tyneside Riders.)
“This is your chance,” I urged him, as we approached the bottom of Bell’s Hill, “Attack now and you’ll be able to get past.”
“But you have to do it sitting down, looking cool and barely breathing,” Caracol joked.
“I definitely can’t manage that,” our Muckle rider responded, but took our advice anyway. It was either that, or sit at the back, confined to our pace, until he could find somewhere to turn off.
He worked his way smartly up the outside on the climb and then disappeared over the top. Before we crested the rise, he was followed by yet another lone Muckle rider. They seemed to be everywhere today.
I took the opportunity of the climb to reposition myself in the middle of the pack, just before our ride was interrupted by shouts of what everyone took to be a puncture. The group pulled to a stop in a lay-by, while I turned back to see what was happening.
I met the Cow Ranger coming the other way and he told me someone had punctured, but was really struggling anyway, so had decided to pack in. We rejoined the others, who’d taken the opportunity for an impromptu pee stop and tried to work out who it was that had abandoned.
“A Spanish guy,” the Cow Ranger informed us, ” He was really struggling to keep up, so has decided to call it a day.”
“Tomás?” I enquired, “Swedish-Spanish guy, on an old steel frame?” confusedly thinking about Toledo Tom, our very own colinabo, who is so strong I couldn’t possibly envisage him struggling, even in the last throes of a dire battle with the Black Death.
“Well, Spanish guy on a steel frame, definitely,” the Cow Ranger suggested a little hesitantly.
I was still disbelieving, “Tall, thin, fast?”
“Nope, no, nah, definitely not any of them.”
OGL confirmed that Toledo Tom was in the front group and this was a different Spanish guy. Huh, we have more than one? Hoodafunkedit.
Off we trundled again, until, just past Tranwell, OGL led an early strike off toward the café, while the rest of us pushed on for a rendezvous with our front group, who had pulled up under the main A1 bridge and were waiting patiently.
From there we dropped down into the Wansbeck valley, following the river toward Mitford and the dreaded “Mur.” Oncoming traffic had us stacked up and stopped at the bottom of the hill, so it was a particularly unhelpful standing start, especially for G-Dawg on his fixie.
The lack of run-in momentum had him grinding painfully upwards and I hustled past as fast as I could, thinking I didn’t want to be in the firing line of all the bloody cartilage, sprung steel, wiry tendons, gears and other assorted shrapnel if his cyborg knees suddenly explode under the strain.
We had decided to split the group via natural selection on the climb and I was well-positioned in the front third as we pushed over the top.
More climbing followed, as we ran up through Hag’s Wood. I was chatting to the Garrulous Kid … well, listening to the Garrulous Kid chatting away, while he rode on my inside. Then, there was a loud, rasping, zzzt-zzzt-zzzt and he suddenly disappeared.
He’d touched wheels with the rider in front and gone head over heels into a grass bank, threading the needle between two massive tree boles with what looked like expert precision, but was simply timely serendipity.
We waited for him to identify to pull himself up and conclude no permanent damage had been done, to bike or rider. He dusted himself down and away we went again.
A little later on, I caught up with him and he happily declared, “Well, I haven’t fallen off in ages!”
We were now tackling the Trench and I was climbing alongside Captain Black, who was bemoaning the fact that he was on his winter bike and we were now competing on a level playing field.
“I hate my winter bike!” the Garrulous Kid added, and once more we patiently explained that this was the entire point of owning a winter-bike.
Out of the Trench and heading toward Angerton and a notoriously exposed road over the moors, I was in the second group and hunting around for some big bodies to shelter behind. I’d moved smartly up to follow Captain Black and G-Dawg as we turned into a headwind and the road began to climb, when disaster struck, G-Dawg punctured and waved us all through. Despite all my machinations I found myself on the front and leading the second group on the drag up and around Bolam Lake.
As we started our run for the café, Captain Black took over and injected a bit of pace, driving us up over the rollers and down the other side. I pulled up alongside him on the final drag and he shook his head and declared himself “done in.” Fair enough, I was more than happy to give the sprint a miss today. The Garrulous Kid flailed around us and launched himself off the front and no one blinked, there was no reaction and no attempt to chase, as we rolled the rest of the way to the café behind him.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
With around 40 of us, other cyclists and the usual gathering of civilians, the café was full to bursting and late arrivals couldn’t get a seat and ended up eating and drinking where they stood.
I found a small space in the corner alongside Biden Fecht and the Garrulous Kid, pressed up close to the fire. It was hot, but at least it was a seat – a hot-seat if you like.
The Garrulous Kid has had his first offer of a place at university and was already anticipating Freshers. I wondered which part he was looking forward to the most, getting so hog-whimperingly drunk he endangers his own life, bobbing for apples in a bucket of stale urine, or having his head shaved? (Of course, dear reader, this type of initiation “hazing” never actually happens at British universities these days.)
He’s also planning which societies he can get involved him. I tried to warn him off the Rubik’s Society by claiming they were all square (sorreee!) and suggested he take up falconry instead. He looked at me as if I was mad and had just invented the ancient and noble art of hunting with birds of prey simply to trick him. I don’t know if that says more about him, or me.
OGL wandered past and deposited a old race programme for the 1952 Beaumont Trophy on the table. I eyed it warily, like a discarded perfume bottle filled with Novichok. Enticing as it was, I was determined not to go anywhere near it, as I didn’t want the responsibility of making sure this ancient and venerable piece of club history made it back to its rightful owner unsullied.
Biden Fecht did dare a quick look, before swiftly passing it on and was seemingly intrigued by some of the club names, all the Wheeler’s and Couriers, as well as the grandly named VC Electric.
Biden Fecht liked the old style, traditional “Wheelers” as a club name – some of those, such as the Whitley Bay Wheelers no longer exist, but the nearby, Ferryhill Wheeler’s (founded in 1926) appear to be still going strong. ( I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I like Clarion as a club name and the Sunderland Clarion trace their club back even further, to the late 1800’s!)
Sadly, many of the clubs in the programme, and that I grew up with, appear to no longer be around, including VC Electric, the Cleveland Couriers, Tyne Road Club, the Northern Couriers and possibly (if their dormant webiste is anything to go by) even the venerable Tyne Velo. Sic transit gloria.
(The Garrulous Kid wanted reassurance that some of our long standing, club miffs held at least a grain of truth, but I told him we had no interest in Dutch rabbits.)
Unplanned, but perhaps for the best, we left the café a handful at a time and I joined a group spearheaded by Taffy Steve and the Cow Ranger.
They completed their stint at the front as we approached Ogle and I took over alongside Biden Fecht. As we “boolled” along we had a chat about the general desire for some kind of reform within the club and even (shock# horror#) the seemingly far-fetched notion of evolving from an autocracy (some might even say dictatorship) to a democracy.
As someone spending a lot of time shuttling between Newcastle and Aberdeen, Biden Fecht was happy to volunteer to be the clubs representative in Northern Scotia, while I suggested I could be the Warden of the Southern Marches, or all the empty, barren and dangerous lands to the south of the River Tyne, where the club is ever afraid to venture.
One thing we did both agree on, neither of us wanted to be the Keeper of the Stool.
We dragged the group through Kirkley and to the top of Berwick Hill, before Biden Fecht suggested we let someone else batter themselves into the wind. I agreed and we pulled over and waved the next pair through, only at the last minute realising one of these was Plumose Pappus.
“Oh no, we’re not going to be popular,” Biden Fecht observed and true enough, Plumose Pappus hit the front and immediately drove up the pace.
Everyone hung tough until the sharp rise into Dinnington, where Plumose Pappus dropped the hammer, putting in a searing acceleration that splintered the group apart. A small, select knot formed up front and, as the road levelled and straightened, it began to pull away.
Aether tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.
Captain Black tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.
Princess Fiona tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.
I tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.
Caracol tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.
At the last, Kermit managed to bridge across, but no on could go with him.
Thwarted, we settled into our own little group and pushed on anyway and I followed Caracol’s wheel until everyone else swung away and I pushed on solo, through the Mad Mile and away home.
YTD Totals: 6,416 km / 3,987 miles with 78,593 metres of climbing