Jane and I met at Billericay in order to cycle the old (pre-2012) SEG-75 mile route. At about 4 a.m. I had my doubts that I would make it as I lay wide awake, my nasal cavity informing me that I was probably getting a cold. Lest I let Jane down, and not having her phone number, I left my nice warm bed with my nice warm wife slumbering gently in it and made my way downstairs to the computer, visiting the whisky bottle en route, PMing Jane to ask her to phone me soon after 7 to check whether I was fit to ride. Her call arrived just as I got out of bed for the second time, and I decided that I was.
We left Billericay at about 9.30 and headed towards Ramsden Heath. I pointed out to Jane, who wanted to know, various places of interest along the way: my brother’s house, the chapel where my mother played the organ for many a long year, the assortment of luxury apartments which occupy the site of the house I was brought up in, the Indian restaurant that used to be the De Beauvoir Arms (known to all locals as “The Beavers”: in my youth, the expression “to go up the Beavers” was used widely and with no hint of mirth by many a thirsty young man from Downham and Ramsden Heath). Then we passed the private residence which used to be the school I attended during the winter of 1962-63, the pond that froze solid and we used to slide on, the water treatment plant which was my brother’s place of employment for 42 years, and the primary school where my sis-in-law was deputy head. Jane herself was familiar with some of these places, having lived in Wickford in her youth.
The weather was generally benign. Thin cloud, weak sunshine, mild, a gentle headwind – very much the sort of day and landscape to be painted in watercolours. We passed through Stock and Margaretting and soon we were in Writtle and I was forgetting whether we had to turn right or left for the tea room. I got it right second time and we sat outside, Jane equipped with her second choice of cake (coffee and walnut) and a cup of coffee, me with a pot of tea with scones, cream and blackcurrant jam. This tea room is now run by the Wilkins jam people, of Tiptree (by coincidence Auntie Helen and I passed another, in Dedham, yesterday). While we were there, a former teaching colleague of mine, one Mr. Werrett, turned up with his wife, and I made a great effort to pretend not to be there and he took the hint and didn’t engage me in conversation.
At around 11.30 we headed off again, towards Chelmsford initially and then along the Chignal Road. We gradually worked our way northwards, through Pleshey, past the Leather Bottle where there were no checkpoints today and it was far too early for lunch, and on through Felsted, and eventually arriving at the Blue Egg for lunch at 1.30ish. It was remarkably crowded, partly because it’s half term and many of the diners were children, but also because the food is especially good. Jane and I had identical lunches: a large bowl of wild mushroom soup each and half a “galette”, although this galette was by no means similar to the galettes I had eaten in Brittany last summer. It was, however, very good, and we agreed that, had we known how much soup and bread we were to be served with, we would probably not have had the galette.
At approximately 2.15 we were on the bikes again and back-tracking along the route of the Dun Run towards Stebbing. I was becoming increasingly concerned as my bowels were making their presence felt and I was not aware of any suitable venue for evacuating them anywhere along our route. In France, most villages have their conveniences, but not so England. We went back into Felsted and, on a whim, headed into the village centre where I thought there might be a loo, but although Felsted has a large and influential public school which has, in recent years, provided more than its fair share of cricketers to the England team, it does not have a public lavatory.
The church was open and I thought to myself “There’ll be a loo in there!”
A man was painting a wall and two others were watching him.
“Can I help?” asked one of the spectators.
“Is there a loo in here?” I replied.
“Well, there is, but I don’t think I can let you use it.” said he
“It is the Lord’s Will!” was my retort.
And faced with such an overwhelming theosophical argument, he relented and went back to watching paint dry. I emerged in much greater comfort than I went in, and praised the Lord in his wisdom and mercy.
From that point on there were no further stops for food or anti-food, although we admired some optimistic rooks building their nests and, shortly before reaching Mill Green and The Viper pub, we stopped for a few minutes whilst a large herd of fallow deer made up their communal minds whether or not they were going to cross the road. We tried guessing how many there were. I don’t think there were more than 100, but I could have been wrong. It seemed that our presence was a major factor in their decision to head back towards the woods on the other side of the field, where they stopped for a bit. We carried on and I informed Jane about Charles Kortwright, who was born in Fryerning Hall, along our route, and who was said by some, including the late Mr. Arlott, to have been the fastest bowler of all time and who coined the snappy phrase “Are you going, Doctor? You’ve still got one stump standing!”
From such a gentle day weather-wise, we were treated to a magnificent sunset, full of orange, purple and vermilion, as we freewheeled down the road into Ingatestone, allegedly closed, but we laughed at the silly “Road Closed” signs and went that way anyway. We both decided that riding through the Buttsbury ford would have been A Mistake and at about 5.50 we arrived at Billericay Station. Within a couple of minutes I was on my train, about 5 minutes later Jane was on hers, and I am now in a lovely warm house with working central heating, and full of stew and dumplings.
I’d like to thank Jane for her spiffing company and her comment about my trim bottom, and look forward to another splendid ride in the not-too-distant future.