I decided, about 4 a.m., after a particularly violent coughing fit, that I wasn’t well enough to go on this ride. I had pretty well made up my mind that I would take a dozen or so maps to Shenfield Station, give them to any cyclists who happened to be about, and then get on the next train home and go back to bed.
I got up around 8.15, and decided that I might as well take my bike with me just in case I felt well enough to ride, so I put some cycling gear on as well. I had pumped the tyres up and lubed the chain the night before, so all I had to do was make sure I had the maps and then I could turn round and come home again once I had distributed them. I bought my ticket at Prittlewell, served as ever by Councillor Denis Garne, (Lab, Kursaal Ward) who generously asked me if I had a railcard. I was a bit confused: I do indeed have a Netword railcard, but they don’t work before 10 a.m. and I was getting on the 9.28. “Oh, I thought you might have a pensioner’s rail card.” Git!
Well, if people are, or appear to be, under 18, then pubs reserve the right to refuse to serve them. Surely, if railway staff reserve the right to insult their passengers by telling them they look over 60 when they are only 52, should they not have the duty to knock the price down willy-nilly?
On arriving at Shenfield, whom should I see up the platform but Fatters, wheeling his fixie. We emerged from the station entrance expecting to see a throng of cyclists, but there was none. This was a little concerning, because Emilio & Charlotte had already declared their intention to cycle all the way from Ealing, including two or three foolhardy miles along the A12, and I knew they set off around 7 a.m.
Gradually, cyclists began to arrrive, including a few who had been lurking round the back in the car park, and eventually there were well over 20 of us. At 10.25 I tried to bring the troops to order, but E & C were still taking on calories & tea, so it was nearly 10.35 by the time we set sail. Most people I didn’t know, and although they introduced themselves, now, some 7 hours later, I am none the wiser. Hopefully, photographic evidence will act as a roll call and names can be placed in slots.
We set off in particularly benign atmospheric conditions. There was little wind, it was mild, and the sun was shining! We left behind the rather scruffy housing estate which constitutes Hutton (definitely not to be confused with Hutton Mount, oh no most certainly not!) and almost as soon as we went underneath the Southend-bound railway line, we were in open country, and it stayed that way for pretty much the entire ride. Mountnessing came and went, as did Swallows Cross, Wyatts Green, Hook End, Tipps Cross, Stondon Massey and Paslow Wood Common. Homage was paid to the Black Horse, a former very fine pub turned private residence, and after that it was a clear run from Nine Ashes down to Blackmore and our coffee stop.
Although we had booked our slot, some other cyclists beat us to it and at one point the lady of the house was in grave danger of running out of mugs. However, everyone was fed & watered and by 11.30 we were on our way again. It is not a long ride to Radley Green, although it is a very quiet one, and within an hour we were clamouring for food at another place. Beer was bought, sandwiches were delivered, and another cycling group, this time enormous rugby players from Ongar (the setting of John Osborne’s famous play “Look Back in Ongar”) turned up to make the bar a very crowded place indeed. For a pub that does not normally open on weekday lunchtimes the landlord did very well today.
By 1.15 we were on our way again and still the sun was shining. Everything was just going too smoothly. I thought I had hit upon a great idea: make the slowest cyclist lead the ride, then no-one has to wait at the top of hills for him or her. The snag was that I had published a map, and after the uphill section began around Cooksmill Green, I was leading from the back. We were all together again as we crossed the A414 near Norton Heath, but after that it was a free-for-all. Everyone whizzed past the Viper, which I was actually quite keen to stop at, and the Cricketers and by the time I reached the Woolpack at Fryerning, there was only one cyclist in sight, and that was Pete, who had also been left behind and was scratching his metaphorical head wondering which way to go. The inference here was that as I had lost sight of Pete, and he had lost sight of the rest of the group, they were probably at least half a mile away. I assumed, naïvely, that they would wait in Ingatestone. Pete & I reached the centre of Ingatestone and there was no sign of any cyclists. I suggested that it was obvious they had gone the wrong way and that we should have a coffee stop and leave a telephone message to let them know where we were, they could sort out their problem and come and find us. That particular tea shop only seated 12 in any case, so trying to fit double that number in would have been taxing indeed on the waitress.
We were half-way through our cups of coffee when Fatters returned my call: the peloton was by the Buttsbury Ford. They had gone the right way after all! Pete & I finished our drinks in a leisurely fashion and then set off in pursuit. Pete rode through the water, I chickened out and went over the footbridge. We went through Padham Green and then down Marsh Lane, eventually to rejoin the main ride who broke out into spontaneous applause as we approached. From here, it was an easy couple of miles back to Shenfield Station and the total shambles which passes for a railway system in this country.
PS We went past an ostrich farm and actually saw some ostriches!