Gentleman Cyclist

December 31, 2006

New Year’s Eve

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:13 am

Posted on 31 December 2006

Well, that was surreal.

The sky cleared this evening so, mad fool that I am, I decided to knock off the remaining 14.75 miles to meet my monthly target of 600. So I went round the block. 28 times.

I’m not sure, but I think I might have had a bit of insight into the wacky world of Michael Hutchinson. It’s boring. And it feels like cheating! Cycling isn’t supposed to be for an abstract purpose, viz. putting a number of beans in a bag. It’s supposed to be for getting to work or enjoying the countryside. OK, there is a satisfaction to be had from the physical exercise, but not just for making the mileometer tick over.

Why just round the block? Well, I didn’t want to meet any piss-heads and where I live, it’s a short urban one-way system of two parallel residential roads. I didn’t want to brave NYE traffic, and if I’m going round the block, I am never more than a 5 minute walk from home in case tere is a puncture of whatever.

On something like the 18th lap, a small but noisy group of teenage girls noticed me. Thereafter, I got a loud cheer every time I passed their house, and one one occasion a camera flashed. I only saw 4 moving vehicles during the entire 1 hour 21 minutes 59 seconds it took me, and one of those, bizarrely, was someone out having a driving lesson! At 11.30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve!

Just for good measure, and a bit of variety, I did the last lap in the opposite direction.

December 28, 2006

ACF Christmas Ride

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:12 am

Posted on 28 December 2006

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!

December 27, 2006

Thorn Raven Sport Tour

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:05 am

Posted on 27 December 2006

I’m coming up to the end of my 100 day money back guarantee on my Thorn Raven Sport Tour, and I think it’s time to put my thoughts onto virtual paper.

I cannot claim any qualification to compare this bike to any other modern velocipede because I had such a long lay-off from cycling that the last time I rode, the mountain bike hadn’t been invented, much less the hybrid. I’ve owned a Brompton for a couple of years, I bought a Ridgeback Neutron (Shimano hub gear) because I couldn’t afford the Thorn, but then the funds appeared and, after some research, I took the plunge, safe in the knowledge that if the bike and I didn’t get on, there was Thorn’s famous guarantee I could fall back on if all else failed.

I took delivery of the beast on 22nd September and since then, I have covered 1188 miles on it. They haven’t been totally trouble-free miles: on the first Critical Mass I attended, I was having trouble with the seat pin slipping, and subsequently had similar problems with the carbon bars. Clearly, I had had to fit / adjust these myself and the problem arose because I was just too reticent with the allen key. I had read that carbon needed careful treatment, so a phone call to Bridgewater sorted me out: tighten up as much as you would for alloy bars/seatpost and any damage will be replaced under guarantee. Well, I did, and the seatpost problem was sorted out instantly. I think I have now got the bars where I want them as well, although this took a little longer.

Simon L3 had advised that a Thorn Raven was, first and foremost, for hauling heavy loads. Presumably the Sport Tour version was for hauling heavy loads a bit more quickly? If so, then that was exactly what I needed, because  every time I get on a bike, I am hauling a heavy load. The luggage is extra to this.

Rogerzilla tells us that his is dull to ride. That may be so, but at 52 years old, arthritic and overweight, I am not bothered about twitchy, responsive frames. I am keen to reduce my bulk, and I think that it is no coincidence that I have lost at least a stone since riding the Thorn. I just love riding it. It is relatively effortless, it has loads of gears which some have considered superfluous in flat Essex, but I need them, it is a stiff frame, made out of Reynolds 853 conical tubing. I have managed my first Audax, I have had at least one other 70-mile plus ride and several over 60, and I have had absolutely no aches and pains as a result of riding. Neither have I had any saddle soreness, although that is probably more down to the fact that in the last 100 days I have also taken to wearing purpose-built cycling gear, combined with a Brooks saddle.

I suspect that the wide tyres slow me down a little, and indeed during a 40+ CC ride one of the other riders, possibly fed up with waiting for me at the top of every hill, commented towards the end of a ride that he thought I might go a little faster if my tyres were pumped up harder. I countered that the tyre concerned (Panaracer Pasela Tourguard) were pumped to the 65lb/sq in recommendation, but that it was purely a result of my enormous bulk that I am slow.

People have passed comment on the noise of the gears, especially in 7. Yes, they do make a churning, meshy mechanical noise, but it is not particularly obtrusive, and I have known many a freewheel on a derailleur-equipped machine which is far louder. I can’t say I have noticed the noise getting any less, but it doesn’t bother me at all. While riding alongside Vicky, she commented that she rather liked the noise. Most of the time, the noisiest part of the bike are the saddle springs in the Brooks Flier.

One thing I have noticed is that, in some gears, freewheeling is quieter than in others. Also, in at least one gear, the ratchety noise pulsates as though at certain stages of the wheel turn there is more going on that at other stages. My poor brain can’t get round this, so I put it down to some sort of highly complex sun-and-planet movement within the hub.

I have a Schmidt front hub with B & M Lumotec front light, and it is pretty good, but I haven’t noticed it being any better than the Shimano / Basta combination on the Ridgeback. However, that has not stopped me spending some Christmas money on Solidlights, such has been the enthusiasm amonst some ACFers.

I should make a comment about the main reason for me getting so much carbon: as an arthritis sufferer, I wanted the nearest thing I could get to an orthopaedic bike. Very wide grips on the bars, padded bar ends, you name it, I wanted it. I am not sure how much it has helped my arthritis, but I am pretty sure that my pins-&-needles are rather less on the Thorn than they are on the Ridgeback.

I definitely wanted straight bars as I also have a fairly long-standing back problem which has recurred once since riding the Thorn. There was one spacer left on the aheadset, so I bunged it in below the bars and now I think the riding position is pretty well perfect.

I am very satisfied with my bike. I was wondering if I had made the right decision, and whether a straight-barred Condor might have been as good, and of course until I have ridden one I will never know. However, I am covering more miles than I ever have before while suffering no ill effects which I can put down to cycling. I would be out riding it now except for the fact that my left shoulder is currently suffering a good deal of arthritic pain and I have been unable to shake off a really nasty cough & cold which has been affecting me for the  past fortnight or so.

I have had one broken spoke, and the good people at Thorn sent me some spares and asked me to keep them informed of any other problems. I have been perfectly happy with the after-care service.

I shall be taking it to Derbyshire for the Hopey New Year ride on 6th January. I’ll let you know how I get on.

December 22, 2006

In the Bleak Midwinter

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:43 am

Posted on 22 December 2006

I like a bargain. I have wasted large amounts of money over the years on items which have seen little use and have never justified me purchasing them, just because they were cheap. So when Field & Trek, one fine summer’s day, advertised their balaclavas at a reduced price, I jumped at the chance. The standard colour was black, and they, if I remember correctly, were about £14, but F & T had a whole consignment of aubergine ones which they couldn’t shift, and they were going for £3 each. So I am the owner of a very fetching aubergine balaclava.

It doesn’t get a lot of use. In fact, I think I’ve owned it for about 3 years and today was the second time I have worn it, but it was brilliant. There’s nothing particularly new to tell about my route, except that I did a few more miles today than is my wont. It’s just that it was possibly the coldest bike ride I have endured since my late teens when my brother and I set off when the temperature was -10°C for a day’s pike fishing when we had to break the ice to get our lines in the water. We didn’t catch anything except pneumonia.

I went along the sea front where brent geese were doing what brent geese do in the winter. Then I cycled inland to Barling and Wakering, and instead of going straight home I retraced my steps to find that the tide had come in.

The freezing fog had some very interesting effects. Firstly, I noticed that my gloves were covered in white rime where the moisture was being collected and then freezing. Then, the outer brake and gear cables had a spiral pattern of frost on them – very pretty. Later, looking down, the front of my fleecy longs, from knees to ankles, looked as though they had had a dusting of icing sugar. Finally, every so often I noticed that a delicate film of ice was collecting on the brake levers and that I was destroying it every time I applied the brakes. As the warmth and pressure from my hands came in contact with the levers, so these tiny filigrees of ice would fly off behind me. I would have loved to have been able to photograph them, but I had left the camera behind on the grounds that no-one ever gets decent photos in the fog.

I met another cyclist on the sea front, or more precisely he overtook me only to be overtaken himself by the faeries a few hundred yards further on. I fancied that I could hear my Panaracer Paselas chuckling to one another about the sorry state of his Gator Skins as I pulled alongside to offer him help I was very pleased he didn’t need.

I finished off the ride with a couple of errands, in the first case to collect a prescription for my next three months’ tablets. The doctor looked very alarmed at the sight of a potential terrorist in his surgery, but recognised me soon enough; and I also went into a school to collect a cheque, on this occasion carefully removing my disguise before presenting myself to the secretary.

The verdict on the ride was that I kept beautifully warm, except for my feet, and I have concluded that this is because SPDs involve a sizeable chunk of metal in close proximity to the ball of the foot, and all the heat is conducted down the cranks just to keep the bottom bracket turning smoothly.

December 16, 2006

Father of the Bride

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:27 am

Posted on 16 December 2006

Ladies & Gentlemen,
It is traditional on occasions such as this for the Bride’s father to make the first speech and that, apparently, is because he is considered to be the host for the day, welcoming you all and especially the Groom’s family, who have travelled such a long way to be with us. So, speaking as one who inhabits the arctic wastes of Essex, it is indeed a very great privilege for me to welcome you, John and Lorraine, to your home county of Kent! Lovely to see you here. And of course I extend that welcome to every one of the guests. I’d like to make a special mention of Janet’s mum and my dad, neither of whom go out much these days, but have made a particular effort on this occasion.

On the spur of the moment, I invited the assembled company to sing Happy Birthday to my dad, who was 92 last Sunday. My then 3 year old niece, not quite sure what we were celebrating, sung it to him 30 years ago at our wedding. He was tickled pink both times!

Now of course this is a very proud day for Janet & me. It is my pleasant duty to sing the bride’s praises, and this could indeed be a very long song. I would like to spend a few moments telling anyone who isn’t aware of the fact that we’ve got a wonderful daughter. She has many talents: she is a 4th generation teacher in a line beginning with my grandmother; she is a born organiser, a trait she no doubt inherited from my mother, at whose funeral a couple of years ago Ellen spoke so movingly. Who else but Ellen, in their first term at University, could have arranged a 4-course Christmas Dinner for 20-odd students using Tesco ingredients and Halls of Residence cookers and come away not having poisoned anyone? A couple of years ago she was the driving force behind a surprise party we organised for Janet, in which 26 people sat down to eat the terrific meal that Ellen had masterminded and cooked, using three different cookers in different parts of Southend.

So, Ben, if you are into intimate candle-lit dinners for two, or even three dozen people, then you’ve married the right woman.

Ellen is witty, charming, creative, beautiful and intelligent, but with Janet as a mother one would expect nothing less. I recall one Christmas, when Ellen was about 14 years old, my mother instigated a game of I-Spy. There had been the usual round of tinsel, balloon, christmas tree, candle, fairy light etc when it was my mother’s turn. “I spy with my little eye something beginning with G F”, said mother, expecting the answer “gas fire”.

“Geriatric fool” came Ellen’s instant response, demonstrating in one fell swoop both her wit and her charm.

Now Ellen is politically very astute and quite an environmentalist. The excellent meal that we have just enjoyed, for example, consisted very largely of locally-produced food and of course buying locally is one of the greenest things you can do as it reduces the amount of fuel required for transport and so on. And you may not be aware that Ellen has chosen a very environmentally-friendly husband. For example, last Christmas my then son-in-law-elect’s present to me was some packets of veg seed, 2 broom handles and some of his old clothes, recycled, so that I could construct a scarecrow. The scarecrow never was constructed, but we still have some of the vegetables that Ben’s present produced.

Another example of Ellen’s environmental credentials is that she has made a conscious decision never to learn to drive, preferring to be chauffeured around everywhere, which of course means a halving of the vehicle’s emissions as they are shared between two people rather than being attributable to her alone. Indeed, when she was at Warwick University she took this anti-car sentiment to extremes, walking out like some kind of latter-day suffragette in front of a moving vehicle and breaking its windscreen with her head. That was, to put it mildly, a harrowing day for Janet and me but luckily she sustained no injury to warrant her staying in hospital. According to the A & E staff in Coventry, Ben, you are taking on a woman with an unusually spherical cranium. Well done!

Ellen is an excellent portrait artist as those of you who have seen her picture of my father will agree; a fine musician, having performed with, amongst others, the Jimmy Jones Band in Canterbury; and, of course, she is a talented chess player, having been part of a National Schools’ Champion team and representing Essex at both Junior and Adult chess, but never quite landing a British Junior Individual title, coming second by half-a-point on about 4 occasions. But more important than any of these, she is loyal and loving, and she is great fun to have around, always being quick to laugh at even my jokes, especially after she has had a few drinks.

No Bride’s Father’s speech is complete without the cliché about not losing a daughter but gaining a son-in-law and of course Ben is a very remarkable chap with an excellent taste… in beer, so rare with the younger generation these days mumble mumble. Handicapped as he was with a childhood infatuation with Moira Stewart, he overcame all this to achieve great things. Who can have anything but the greatest respect for a man who can walk all the way from John O’Groats to Land’s End and still be on speaking terms with his companion to the extent that he asks him to be his Best Man? And his Marilyn Munro impersonations at fancy dress parties have to be seen to be believed… I almost fancied him myself.

I must conclude with a word of warning to Ben: there are other men in Ellen’s life. In the first case, like Ben, he’s good-looking, athletic, intelligent, suave, and excellent company. However, unlike Ben, he’s never caught a squirrel, in spite of having expended a lot of energy in their pursuit. And unlike Ben he loves chewing his bone, he comes when you whistle and he chases his balls all over the park and brings them back in his mouth.

In the second case, Ellen has shared her bed with the whole of Bexley.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in drinking to the future health, happiness and prosperity of the new Mr & Mrs Crozier, Ben & Ellen.

December 10, 2006

A Ride borne out of Frustration

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:22 am

Posted on 10 December 2006

I was really fed up yesterday. The weather was gorgeous for the first time after a week or more of seemingly incessant wind and rain, and I had a whole load of family duties to perform. There was my daughter’s wedding practice, in which we drove over 100 miles so that we could practice walking arm-in-arm up an imaginary aisle in time to a piece of music which the pianist (my son) hasn’t learnt properly yet. We got back to Southend just in time for me to have a short ride (18 miles or so) and then we had to go to Huntingdon (180 mile round trip) to celebrate the first anniversary of my nephew’s wedding. We arrived home at aboout 1 in the morning.

The forecast for today had not been good, so when I logged on the the Met Office’s recently revamped, and I think superb, website, to find that Sunday was not going to be so bad after all, I determined to put a few miles in.

The day dawned bright and frosty, so after a quick breakfast I was on my way, leaving a house full of slumbering relatives. There was hardly any traffic about so I thought I would use roads I normally treat as out of bounds, but when I reached Rochford I absent-mindedly executed a right turn where I had intended to go straight on, and found myself using the scenic route after all. I was glad I did, because the gravel pit at Doggetts Farm was beautiful on a frosty morning.

After taking the photo, I noticed something not quite right with the bike, and when I lifted the back wheel off the ground and turned the pedals, there was that depressing sound of rim on brake block as the wheel had gone out of true – I had broken a spoke! My Thorn Raven is still in its first 100 days’ use and is therefore subject to a full money back guarantee if I’m not absolutely delighted. Well, I wasn’t delighted that I had a broken spoke and a wheel that wasn’t true, but for some reason when I rode, there was less friction between block and rim than I expected, so I won’t be asking for my money back. I considered going back home and changing bikes, but instead I decided to carry on and see how it went.

As I approached Hullbridge it occurred to me that there was a bike shop there. I’d never been inside and it always looked a bit tacky from the outside, with a couple of mannequins wearing some ancient fluorescent cycling gear. However, I pulled up and tried the door – it was open! Bicycle Repair Man greeted me (no, not Michael Palin) and he agreed to try to fix my spoke.

Ten minutes later and £5 lighter, my day’s ride was back on track, my wheel was true, and I was heading for the Dengie Peninsula.

I used the old road to Woodham Ferrers, and then headed towards East Hanningfield, but took the first right turn, along the wonderfully-named Workhouse Road. I crossed the B-whatever-it-is into Edwins Hall Road and climbed and climbed from not much above sea level to a little further above sea level. I was admiring the view that was spreading out to my right when suddenly I was awoken from my reverie by a decided loss of friction as a sheet of black ice took my back wheel away. Many of us have had clipless moments, but this was a bikeless moment, and how I did it I don’t know, but my left foot was unclipped in an instant and on the ground, thereby avoiding by a nanosecond or so my second spill in a week. I dismounted, but even then found wheeling the bike up the hill quite a problem, my feet trying to slide in one direction while the bike went in the other.

When the road levelled out again, I rode once more, but keeping my left foot unclipped in case of emergencies. The Flambirds Farm Track came and went, I visited Cock Clarks, where I should have had my lunch last Thursday but for a mishap in the storm, up Purleigh Hill and past the church, noticing for the first time that the weather vane is in the shape of a fish, possibly a zander, judging by the double dorsal fin. I wonder why? Then there was the lovely downhill section as I headed for the Round Bush, a pub that doubles up as a café. I was ravenous by this time, having covered 24 miles (that’s 12 miles to the shredded wheat) and selected Breakfast Number 1 from the menu, but my Breakfast Number 2, a light meal consisting of egg, bacon, sausage, beans, fried bread, bread & butter, chips and a mug of tea. Just like Winnie-the-Pooh, I took it into a corner and went with it, so that nobody should disturb it.

Half an hour later Winnie-the-Pooh wiped his mouth with the back of his glove, got back on his bicycle, and pedalled towards Bradwell.

On the way to Bradwell, there is a conundrum in the form of
St. Lawrence Hill
. Should this hill have a chevron or not? It depends upon the age of your ordnance map. The old 1-inch (1:63360) maps give it a chevron. The modern 1:50000 don’t. Anyway, it’s well over 20 years since I last attempted to ride up it, so today I gave it a go even though there is an easy alternative.

My opinion is that it is at least 1 in 7, and therefore should have a chevron – it seems to me that it is steeper than the hill near Kingston Lisle that we climbed on the Oxford Ice Cream Ride. I got into bottom gear and kept churning away, and was met by a cyclist coming in the opposite direction, a woman with a lovely smile, some pretty decent gear and a perfectly respectable bike. She smiled – or possible sniggered – at me as she went past, and I said, between gasps, “Just don’t ask!” She didn’t, but sped down the hill and on her way.

After a stop for a few photographs, I carried on to Bradwell, then Tillingham, but this time decided to avoid Southminster and Burnham because the wind had risen, just as the forecast had said it would, and I wanted to avoid riding in the dark. There are one or two quite irksome hills, including a long, tedious slog through Cold Norton along a road with a narrow bridge over a disused railway. Here, lights allow vehicles through from one direction at a time, and that is a pain. I can’t manage more than 8 mph along this stretch, cars overtake and then stop in a queue.

The further I went, the stronger the wind became, and all I was thinking about was pedalling. Even on the downhills, my speed remained low, and when I returned to the Old Woodham Road, it was time for a Small Smackerel of Something, so I went into the “Butterfly World” restaurant. Tea and flapjack worked a treat, and then it was the final 15 miles, all of it with a head- or cross-wind, home again. I arrived just before the final bit of the weather forecast materialised and the rain started.

Total distance: 70.95 miles

Total cycling time: 6 hrs 26 min 25 sec

Total time out of house: 8 hours.

December 2, 2006

A False Economy

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:16 am

Posted on 2 December 2006

I let cowardice get the better of me today. I have a 14 mile round trip on a Friday to one of my schools. The problem was that it had been raining, more rain looked to be in the air, it was dark and dank and dismal and that was at about 2 in the afternoon. I took the car.

It normally takes me about 40 minutes in each direction to do that ride. Today, in the car, it took me 30 minutes on the way out and 39 on the way back so I gained myself 11 minutes, spent a lot on petrol, polluted the atmosphere and, when I got back, I realised that I would now have to go on another ride to compensate for the one I hadn’t done.

That extra ride was my normal pootle, about 17 miles of sea front, barracks turned up-market housing estate, a couple of villages, and a couple of unlit rural roads punctuated by withered flowers tied to telegraph poles, the tell-tale sign round these parts of boy racers doomed to race no more. But tonight it was far from normal. For one thing, the wind was stronger than I can remember when doing that particular route; and the rain which had threatened to come this afternoon arrived in earnest this evening.

Southend is an odd town. The bits for which it is noted, the tat and tack associated with the sea front, nestle cheek-by-jowl with a different world. A wild, windswept world of wading birds and weapons testing. Tonight, that sinister world, a cross between Charles Dickens and H. G. Wells with some George Orwell thrown in for good measure, flexed its muscles just to let the fragile cyclist know who was boss. Tonight, there were waves.

Real waves are rare in Southend. For one thing, half the time the water is more than a mile away. When the tide does come in, there is such a wide expanse of flat mud that the water is too shallow for proper waves to find their way to the shore. Being an estuary, and an east-facing one at that, the Thames is well sheltered from the prevailing wind. But tonight the waves were pounding the shore as though they meant it, and by the time I got to East Beach, the point at which the river hands over to the North Sea, they were doing a passable impression of the Atlantic at Rhosili.

Whereas my sea-front ride had been subjected to a cross-wind, now I had turned the corner the wind was behind me. I freewheeled on a flat road and accelerated as I did so, suddenly scattering a flock of wading birds who were sheltering in the car park. Parts of the Essex Coast are really little bits of Siberia which got lost, and this ride took me back to a couple of years ago when I took part in the Wetlands Bird Survey, trying to make a not totally wild guess at the numbers of each different species which were out on the mud. When there’s a flock of about 10,000 medium-sized nondescript grey wading birds a quarter of a mile away on the mud and the wind is blowing so strongly that your tripod keeps falling over, how can you honestly tell the ratio of knots to grey plovers?

But I digress. Tonight, I disturbed some small waders as I rode through the middle of them, and their eery cries were all around me as they took flight, unseen ghosts in the unremitting darkness. Then, fleetingly, I was back in civilisation as I came across a dog-walker and his pooch, both struggling against the rigours of advancing age and a force 8.

Heading out towards Wakering, the wind was with me and I thought of Clarion’s lovely description of wheels on a wet road, and mine positively sung as I sped along. Past a couple of pubs, heaving with Friday night, another deserted and in darkness, and soon I was past Barling Church and on Mucking Hall Road. I should have had this  to myself, and mostly I did, but there was one vehicle in particular which caught the eye, for all the wrong reasons. What does a new Range Rover with a registration number of X 1 RR tell you about its owner?

The rain was heavier now, and I stopped to put my waterproof on, keeping my glasses perched on the end of my nose so that I could see over the top of them. Straight into the wind I rode, struggling to keep my speed above 8 miles per hour. There is one short stretch of respite, as the winding Shopland Road turns north and has a slight downhill. We’ve had the tandem over 25 mph on that stretch, but tonight I settled for about 18, savouring the last bit of wind assistance I would receive before heading south again along Sutton Road and the final two-mile slog home to fresh coffee.

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