Some successful bike fettling

Last night, when Jan and I went to our tai chi class, we noticed that her bike had developed a click, once per pedal revolution. When we got home I tried a few experiments and discovered that I could feel the click if I gripped either crank and rocked the bike back and forth whilst applying gentle forward pressure on the crank. This should not happen to a bike that is not yet 6 months old.

I telephoned Thorn Cycles to ask advice and spoke to Steve, one of their mechanics. He wanted to be 100% sure that it was the bottom bracket and not a pedal, so he asked me to take the pedals off, grease the threads and replace them and also check that all five crank-arm bolts were done up tightly. They were, and the click was still there.

In the event I took the cranks off, for which I had to find my crank-pulling tool which I have not used for at least 25 years, and I discovered that I had a tool for tightening bottom brackets, which was in a kit I bought a few years ago and had never used. I managed to tighten the BB, reassembled the bike, and the click seems to have gone.

Later, I succeeded in removing the sprocket form the tandem’s Rohloff hub, something which has never been done before in over 11000 miles of cycling. This made me especially pleased, since I damaged the Rohloff of my solo machine when I attempted the same job a few weeks ago, and I had to send it back to Thorn to get it repaired.

Next I took the chain rings off and cleaned them – another job which I should have done before. They really need replacing so I’ve ordered some new ones. I also went to Richardsons’ and bought a new chain.

BHF “Cam to Coast” charity ride

An early train to Cambridge for the BHF Cam to Coast ride. At Lpoo St I met a chap I haven’t seen for quite a long time (he was on the Priory Park Committee about 10 years ago) and we had a good natter on the train up to Cambridge. A few minutes before we arrived I used the loo and who should come bouncing up to me but Barion and Clutterfly, on their way tandem shopping. We wove our way between the various colleges and found our way to Jesus Green (Clarion said it sounded like a profanity) and soon set off.

What an absolutely marvellous day for a bike ride! The escape from Cambridge was very pleasant, and a good deal of it was off road on very well maintained cycle paths. We went round the back of Addenbrooks Hospital, through Whittlesford, where some years ago I recall playing a Chess County Championship semifinal, I think against Cambs, and I think we lost. The mist cleared, although it was always hazy, and by Duxford it was time to get my legs out. I kept up (for me) a rattling good speed and those flimsy-looking wheels and the pencil-thin stays did their job and the bike and I didn’t end up in a crumpled heap. The Brooks Professional saddle was not the most comfortable, but it looks as though it has never been ridden. Where did I get that, I wonder?

We passed through Littlebury and the great heights of NW Essex loomed before us. I stopped on the bridge by Audley End to see if the black swans had nested there again. They did some years ago, during a period in which I taught in Saffron Walden and would come down to the river Granta to eat my lunch. However, this year I saw no signs of any, although there were plenty of Canada geese squabbling noisily.

When I got to Thaxted the Swan wasn’t serving any proper food so I went down the hill, acknowledging Gustav Holst’s house as I went by, and found a shop which I hoped would have cake. It didn’t. I was a bit surprised that a busy small town like Thaxted, with its spectacular church and wonderful Tudor guildhall, seems not to have a proper baker’s but near the shop I had tried there was a cake sale in aid of Macmillan Nurses. I bought two for £1 and washed them down with a fairly noxious banana milk shake that I’d been given by the chap I’d been chatting to on the train. The cakes really were quite awful. The sponge was rubbery, the icing was leathery and the words “Macmillan cancer care” or whatever it said were printed in lurid green ink.

I set off again and used the minor roads through Tilty and Little Easton. A pair of teenage girls were riding ahead of me and continually looked over their shoulders as I gradually gained on them. Eventually they moved over to the right and allowed me to overtake. We exchanged greetings and off I went.

The Cricketers pub in Dunmow was a scheduled drinks break but there were no other cyclists there when I arrived. I’d covered something like 35 miles and the generally nasty nature of the refreshments I’d consumed in Thaxted had had an unfortunate effect and although I had no desire to buy anything from the pub, I did need their facilities. Some minutes later, off I went again and made pretty good progress towards Great Leighs and the St. Anne’s Castle pub, whose claim to be the “Oldest pub in England” seems dubious to say the least. I bought some fish and chips and a pint of Nethergate ale yclept “Growler” (fnarr fnarr). I had just finished when a young lady asked me if I would look after her bottle for her. I suddenly realised that she was one of the team of Southend Cycle Instructors and there indeed were some more, including Sara Hadden, one of the Road Safety Officers, whom I’ve had on the back of my tandem. (that reminds me – I don’t think she’s on my list!)

I carried on, mostly riding alone, with not much happening, but noting the house where another composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, lived, on the outskirts of Boreham, until I began to climb. I climbed and I climbed and, as I climbed, I thought “This is The Mighty North Hill! I’m on my Mercian! This will be a ride to impress the MEMWNR crowd!” I hurtled down the south face towards Bicknacre and stopped briefly at the Swan to see if there was anyone there I knew, but now I was on very familiar roads, the sun was beginning to lose a bit of its power as the afternoon drew on and I wanted to get the ride over with. I toyed with the idea of going through Rayleigh, but in the end I stuck with the Watery Lane route and as I was riding along Lower Road, Hockley, I detected that there was someone on my wheel. I don’t recall this ever happening before, but have read enough ride reports from audaxers to realise that they find it irritating when some unidentified person plonks themselves right behind you, almost invading your personal space. You cant’s see them, only their shadow, and you wish they’d stop being such anti-social gits and identify themselves.

As the Ashingdon Road loomed ahead, I decided I’d had enough of this person’s company so I left the prescribed route and headed instead for Doggetts Farm. I’d end up cycling about half a mile further, but at least I’d have two or three miles of traffic-free peace and quiet and I’d lose whoever this parasite was who had all but leaped on my back. I did indeed lose my parasite and after Rochford I rejoined the route again. Now I was in Southend borough and using rather uneven tarmacadamed cycle lanes in the environs of the airport. I crossed the A127 near Tesco’s and then joined Westbourne Grove, whereupon my right shoe lace twanged itself on one of the teeth of my big ring and the outer casing snapped. This is exceedingly irritating as I have been having a lot of trouble with shoe laces recently and I don’t know anywhere in Southend that sells decent ones.

I avoided the cycle lane on the sea front as there were too many people milling about and shortly I arrived at Southchurch Park and the end of the ride. Sara and her friends were in one of the marquees and it turned out that they were celebrating Colette Kemp’s birthday (Colette is another of the road safety officers) so I inveigled myself and was duly offered a slice of birthday cake. After consuming it I trundled home to a lovely hot shower.

The Mercian on the bridge at Audley End.

SE Essex 75 mile ride

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.

High Easter 100k

This ride is the first anniversary of my longest ride ever, when I tackled the High Easter 200k. Then, the weather was dreadful and if the countryside was pleasant, it was lost on me. I covered 145 gruelling miles and I can’t honestly say I enjoyed it.

How different today was! The week leading up to the ride was not promising, as I had a cold, Jan had a cold, and the arthritis in my knees was so bad that on Tuesday I could only climb the stairs by going up on all fours. Gradually my cold improved, I had a steroid injection on Friday and this morning I awoke to a bit of pain in my hands but nowhere near enough for me to seriously consider staying at home, so I made for the 7.52 from Southend Vic and started riding from Chelmsford station at about 8.40. It surprised me that the train takes a mere 8 minutes to get from Shenfield to Chelmsford. In my imagination, they are much further apart than that.

The sun was quite warm when I set off along the Roxwell Road. I paid tribute to my first ever drinking establishment, the Black Bull, where most of my under-age drinking took place when I was in the Lower VI, from about 1970 onwards, and then took the right turn towards the Chignalls. I was on the Mercian, now boasting two wheels that I had built myself, and I seemed to be making pretty good progress. The roads were very quiet, there was plenty of wildlife about, and perhaps the most striking sighting I had was of a red-legged partridge which sat, totally docile, by the side of the road.

I reached High Easter Village Hall about five minutes before the start, so bought a bacon roll and a cup of tea. No-one I knew was riding today and the weather was good, so I had no particular desire for company. I resolved to start a few minutes after everyone else, so that I wasn’t constantly being overtaken, so it was 9.38 when I finally got on the bike and started pedalling.

There were one or two stragglers who rode past, with whom I exchanged “Good Morning”s, but for most of the time it was just Essex and me. And what a show the county put on for my benefit! Everything was green and fresh and bright, unless it was in flower, when it was mostly yellow, although there were a few whites and blues thrown into the mix. There were plenty of insects in the air and every so often I had to persuade something or other that my beard did not need pollinating, or had to duck my head quickly so that a fat bumblebee should thwack onto my Tilley had rather than hit me full in the face.

Progress was pleasingly rapid and my average speed gradually crept up. At one point I coughed just before passing a large oak tree, and I disturbed a little owl, which flew a quick loop over the rape flowers before returning to his slumber in the tree, although to be fair little owls tend to be more active during the day than most owl species. There was plenty of bird-song: chiff-chaffs, lots of whitethroats and a few yellow hammers, but no cuckoo, at least, not in the early part of the ride.

I rode through Ridley’s villages: past the defunct brewery, to which I doffed my hat, through Littley Green, where the Compasses still serves excellent gravity-drawn beer, although not at that time in the morning, White Notley, Cressing, Ranks Green, where the redundant pub-sign post still stands outside Pretty Lady House, and fairly rapidly Coggeshall came into view across a sea of yellow. It was just as well Jan was indisposed as all that rape would have finished her off.

Coffee and chocolate cake was on offer at the Dutch Nursery tea rooms, where I arrived some 25 minutes before the control closed, but was amongst the last to leave. After this I was on even more familiar territory as we approached Marks Tey, normally one of the most useful of stations for Pleasant Day Rides with Pubs, but not today: a replacement bus service was operating between Witham and Colchester. Now I had the sun at my back as the road took me due north for much of the time, heading for Wormingford and the first info control.

I had never crossed the Stour at this point before, and a very pretty little bridge it was. It was also around here that something unusual began to happen: I started to overtake other riders! Firstly it was a young couple who were looking at a map. I had been especially careful plotting my GPX this time, trying to anticipate where the computer might decide to do something I didn’t want it to, and say it myself as shouldn’t, I started to reap the rewards of a job well done.

Then there was a nice fast bit towards Bures, again familar territory, and I recalled the lumpy bits towards Lamarsh. There was the second info control and then the lovely little lane towards Twinstead. This was decidedly technical in places, as there was a goodly ridge of skog in the middle of the road and plenty of pot-holes as well. Then, just after the start of a fast descent, a sapling was leaning across the road and it was impossible to avoid riding through its twigs. Yet another moment to be thankful for a Tilley had as I put my head down and thwacked my way through.

There were more familiar roads through the Maplesteads and soon I arrived at the youth hostel in Castle Hedingham. One bowl of pasta, a cup of tea and a piece of fruit cake later and I was on my way once more, not the last to leave this time, although I was soon caught by one or two riders.

I have noticed that the post-lunch session is often the fastest and so it proved today, and for minutes on end I was maintaining speeds in excess of 25kph. Some time during the day, not far from Wormingford if I remember correctly, I heard some shouting behind and it was a peloton from the Shaftsbury club who went thundering past. However, they had clearly had a good lunch because some of them were still around at Castle Hedingham when I arrived and not long afterwards the whole troupe of them were stopped (I suppose, like geese, cyclists require a different collective noun when they are stopped?) as one of their number had punctured and everyone was milling around watching the fettlers. I thought it would have been a bit presumptuous to have offered help when there were so many hands to lighten the load, so I carried on.

On the climb towards Shalford, I caught up with a couple of blokes a fair bit older than me, and they were clearly struggling on the hill. I breezed past. Soon to the Felsted School water tower, into North End and across the A130 and I passed a few more stragglers. From that point back to the arrivée I was in a group of 6 or so, and we all arrived back exactly 6 hours after we left. I think my riding time was a little over 5 hours, and I had more than an hour to spare. Some minutes later the Shaftesbury arrived.

After a refreshing cup of tea and a few calories, I set off towards Chelmsford again, toying with the idea of cycling all the way back to Southend. I decided against: it is a testament to prednisolone acetate that I managed the ride at all so an extra 25 miles or so would definitely be tempting fate.

As I approached Chelmsford I was just congratulating myself on getting round a ride on the Mercian without suffering a mechanical when suddenly, just as I changed gear, there was an ominous crunch. I looked down to find that the front changer was caught at a rakish angle and a close inspection revealed that a vital component had sheared. That’s Campag for you: I reckon that gear changer was only 48 years old.

Total miles: 88

Time: 6h 58m 7s

Ave: 12.63 mph

Max: 31.7 mph

Brockenhurst and Burley

“Little Acorns” is set in a wooded valley and there is an interesting variety of wildlife on show. This morningwe saw coal tits and nuthatches on the feeder as well as the more usual tits and greenfinches.

The frost had mostly cleared by the time we set off at around 10 a.m. We turned left up thehill and back towards Hale by what is probably a marginally longer route, but almost certainly involves less climbing. We joined the B road towards Longcross and then headed south past Fritham towards the Bolderwood Ornamental Drive. My arthritis was giving me some trouble so progress was slow and we had a few rest stops for photographs. I had just seen a buzzard and I was trying to point it out to the others when suddenly it wasn’t a buzzard at all. Instead, it behaved very like the male hen harrier we had seen three years ago in the hills south of Burnley. The plumage was very different, though, and this bird came close enough for s to see the white patchat the base of the tail. Our guess that it was a female hen harrier was confirmed when we checked the bird book on returning to the B & B.

The ornamental drives were very fine, and we soon found ourselves in Brockenhurst. The Forester’s Arms provided a good pint of Ringwood 49er and a very acceptable baked potato with chilli, but I’m afraid I earned some Old Git points when I asked the barmaid to turn the excessively loud music down.

We tehn set off for Buley and Ringwood, and after passing through the outskirts of the latter, we came across a welcoming pub in the form of the Alice Lisle, a Fullers’ tied house. They had one hand pump serving Gales HSB and it was this pint which made me think that this was the beer provided by the landlord of the Newport Inn in Braishfield.

We had a fair old hill to climb after Stuckton and came across a load of cyclists who had wimped out and were walking up. I cannot stand being congratulated in a patronising manner by a person who is not even on a bike. However, it was not long before we had reached the B & B, showered and were ready for the Hopping Hare at the Horse & Groom. Mike and I had the mixed grill, and it was more than we could manage.

New Forest break – to Woodgreen

We left home in heavy snow, arrived at Southend Victoria where we managed to get the tandem into the train in once piece, and took some photographs of South Essex looking very white indeed.

On arriving at Liverpool Street we left via the Enormous Iron Monolith and made our way through more heavy snow via the Holborn Viaduct and Blackfriars Bridge into Stamford Street. From there, we used Upper Ground and Belvedere Road, which gave easy access to Waterloo Station. We had just missed the 11.05 but were in plenty of time to drink coffee, eat a pastie and catch the 11.35.

The South-western trains were relatively luxurious. We had to dismantle the tandem but had no difficulty storing it in the area provided for 3 bikes, and we found that the seats were comfortable and the lavatory worked satisfactorily. By the time we arrived at Winchester the sun was shining and most of the snow had gone.

After some fiddling around with the one-way system near the station we eventaully found ourselves on the Sarum Road and begun the long haul out of the town towards very pleasant countryside. There was not a great deal of traffic about and we made steady progress towards Braishfield, where we found the Newport Inn, but were informed by the landlord, who had emerged in blue overalls in order to work on his car, that the pub had just closed. We asked if it was OK to use the loos, which is was, and while we were part-way through a sardine sandwich the landlord reappeared bearing two half-pint glasses full of what looked very much like beer. “These are on the house!” said he, and we consumed what I believe to have been George Gale’s HSB.

On teh way to Kimbridge I lost track of the route on the map but for onceI had correctly programmed the GPS and it knew the way. We traversed the Test and took some photographs of a very fine river. You can always tell that you have left south-east England when the rivers look as though they mean it. We then headed south towards Furzley and entered the New Forest at Blackhill. At one point we saw a treecreeper alight on a telegraph pole, and we also witnessed a pair of greater spotted woodpeckers involved in some kind of aerial ritual.

From near Bramshaw I texted Jeff to say that we were about 8 miles out, although it was probably nearer 10, but we had a sharp climb to the Roger Penny Way and we continued upwards to an exposed plateau where the NW wind was impeding our progress to the extent that, when the road did flatten out, we were unable to exceed 8 mph.

After Hale, we had a chilly, swooping descent into Woodgreen, during which the snow started again. Then came a final climb to the B & B which we found easily, even though it was situated in an unmade road. We arrived around 5.30 and after unpacking and showering, went to the Horse and Groom for well-earned food and beer.

Fairies half-flat 200

Oh arse biscuits indeed!

I arrived in Bethersden, put the bits back on the bike which I had taken off it so that I could get it into the car, reported for duty and then I got a text message. It was Charlotte, asking me to report her having packed. The 300ers had a real Ordeal in the night, and having the Blue moon ride fresh in my memory, I understood perfectly. So Billy No Mates set off in the steady rain wondering for how long I could put up with this.

It was not long before Fatbloke’s Prophesy came to be. “It’s tempting providence,” said he, stroking what for the want of trying might be an impressive beard, “to put the words ‘Fairies’ and ‘flat’ into a ride title. No good will come of it! You mark my words!” Well, when I suddenly felt that sickening lurch to the left as the rear tyre flops about on the rim, I did indeed mark his words and gave him 10/10. Go to the Top of the Class, Fatters!

I had been building up quite a nice time cushion as well, but with about 30 minutes wasted replacing the tube (the first few of those were spent wandering along the road looking for somewhere safe to work on the bike), I was not in the best frame of minds, and even a decided lifting of the cloud cover and the sun appearing did not cheer me up as much as you might have expected. For one thing, although I carry two spare tubes, it doesn’t help a lot when one of them is a 700C and my tyres are 26 x 1.5″. A second packet of arse biscuits please.

Mr. Micawber could well have ridden Audaxes. Average speed with stops: 15.5 kph, result: happiness. Average speed with stops: 14.5 kph, result: misery. So I continued to be miserable even though the countryside was beautiful, there wasn’t a hill worthy of the name, and I was being treated to the nicest weather we have had for about 3 weeks.

It really is amazing how long it takes to claw back a time deficit. My average riding speed was well over 18kph, and I knew that this was enough to get me round and allow me to eat in some comfort. But throw a few fairy bites into the equation and suddenly it’s not enough again. Add to that the need to socialise (I don’t do miserable anti-social git) and I’m really up against it. I stopped at the first control for a bacon butty, a cup of tea, a natter with the controller (who lent me a track pump) and to put a patch on the perforated tube; then again by the roadside where a very pleasant couple had given up their Sunday in order to mark cards and feed Audaxeers. So by the time I had completed the first 100k, I was still well behind.

Luckily, being the lanterne rouge came to my rescue as all the other controllers were getting pretty fed up by the time I got there, and were ready to pack their bags and go as soon as I did, so although I arrived a little late at Rye, by the time I got to Hythe I was, remarkably, 15 minutes ahead of where I needed to be. Another quick butty, visit the kharsi and off on the home straight in glorious weather: indeed, the sun was so bright that at times I had trouble seeing the road.

I arrived back at Bethersden at around 9 p.m. feeling really quite pleased with myself, as this is the first 200k that I have completed without some sort of hitch or other. But I could hardly walk. My knees had seized up again. They were no problem when I was pedalling, but they didn’t want to do anything else.

The worst bit came on the M20. “Think” said my imaginary sign, “don’t drive when excruciating knee pain prevents you from transferring your right foot from the accelerator to the brake”.

One hot bath later, in which I washed my hair with a concoction called “Beautiful Brunette”, I’m hoping that the knees won’t give me as much trouble as they did last week after my 100 miler.

The Blue Moon Ride

Why do we do it?

I missed out on a perfectly decent FNRttC the previous evening, even deliberately going to CM without any tools so that I would not be able to ride then. They had reasonably fine weather whilst I knew that the forecast was worse for Saturday.

However, having gone all the way to Liverpool Street by train, met Oscar’s Dad & Annie01 off their train, made our way chez Comet and then enjoyed a wonderful Vietnamese meal at an establishment endorsed, apparently, by Mr. Blair (his judgment isn’t totally lacking, then) the time came for us to go. I was within a whisker of going straight back to Liverpool Street and heading for bed, but the Stubborn Git within me (sometimes I wonder if I have any other qualities) wouldn’t hear of it, so armed with overshoes, rain legs and a spanking new Goretex coat (a birthday present to myself earlier in the week), we headed for London Fields.

Eight of us sat down to eat: Charlotte, Comet, OD, Annie, Mark C, Nutty, Fidgetbuzz (who had ridden down from Norwich and parked his bike inside the restaurant) and myself. We left the Two Cs behind, one of whom had already been zzzing like a top for quite some time before we went to the restaurant. We got to London Fields and were joined by Chris S, Stefan and Adamski.

It rained and it rained and it rained and Piglet said to himself that he had never before seen such rain in all his life and he was …how old? Three? Or was it four? To be honest, I didn’t mind for the most part, because my waterproof gear was working well, but faerie puncturius aquaticus were out in large numbers and several intrepid cyclists were affected. Chris S twice, others (in the cold light of day I can’t remember who) and because the rest of us were getting cold standing around, the consensus was that most of the group should keep moving.

Annie took this advice seriously, and stoked up on e-numbers in the form of jelly babies and wine gums. During one particularly prolonged visitation, she told us that the main reason she cycled was to admire men’s bottoms. Now I’m a pretty broad-minded chap and if that’s what floats your boat, Annie (and indeed a boat would have been much more appropriate last night) then that’s fine by me, but on a night in which June is trying to pretend it’s November, I did cast a weather eye, as it were, at the lycra-clad buttocks there present, and frankly I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, even on Gay Pride day. Pass the jelly babies!

As time passed so Oscar’s Dad and I found ourselves in the most unusual position that we formed a breakaway group. The “fast men” were continually puncturing, the “middle” group also had a visit or two, Annie’s new and expensive-looking lights had packed up but the habitual lanterne rouge in the form of yours truly blazed a turgid trail though the Great Bardfield, Wethersfield, Finchingfield, the Hedinghams and we were eventually overhauled again, but news filtered through that Annie had had a bit of a mishap involving a drain. She hadn’t fallen off, but had been pretty shaken. OD and I continued fairly slowly, but there was no sign of them catching us.

Sometimes the rain almost stopped, and soon after 3 a.m. I thought, but wasn’t sure, that I detected a slight lifting of the darkness and we could definitely see that there were a few breaks in the clouds. We were going to be rewarded with a sparkling dawn and everything would be all right!

All wrong! True, the dawn was welcomed first with dualling songthrushes, then some blackbirds, and last of all the King of the Birds, the Wren, put in an appearance. But some time after Little Waldingfield (what a lovely village that is!) my fatigue was getting the better of me. I wasn’t short of blood sugar but my arse ached and a drowsy numbness pained my sense (no, no nightingales) and Oscar’s Dad was somewhere over the horizon. I started to fall asleep while cycling. It was a very odd experience, mini-absences of consciousness, enough to make me swerve violently as I came to, wondering why the verge was so close. Then I came on Oscar’s Dad, sitting on a bench, head back, eyes shut, mouth open, having a rain-soaked nap. This was the point at which I decided I’d had enough and as if to emphasise the point, so the heavens opened once again and the Japanese Water Torture accompanied me all the way into Stowmarket, to be replaced by another form of torture because the station lavatories were locked and my bowels were responding, as Charlotte had predicted they would, to some sort of exotic mushroom within the curry.

Eventually the station opened, I visited the lavatories, thankfully equipped with copious quantities of hot water in the wash basin, and then wrestled with the bloody ticket machine which for some reason didn’t want to allow me to claim my Network Rail card discount, so I hit the Senior button instead. No-one complained.

I hope the others are all OK. We all should be locked up for such acts of sheer stupidity.

Total miles: 90.26
Max: 30.1
Riding time:8h 40m 18s.
Ave: 10.4 mph

Midsummer Christmas Ride

It was a fairly prompt start from Shenfield Station, since Ben, Janet I were the last to arrive. At something like five past 10 we were on the road, a foolhardy band since the Met Office’s website showed the entire country covered in red as severe weather in the form of thunderstorms was forecast. However, our first worry was that we might get to the elevenses stop in Blackmore before it opened. Hall Lane, past Shenfield Church, is a very pleasant long descent, the ideal start to a ride, and one whose corresponding climb is well-concealed, so our speed was quite respectable. Through Doddinghurst we dashed, then Stondon Massey, another easy freewheel down the Nine Ashes Road and there was Blackmore, just as it always was, cake-laden and inviting.

Tea, coffee, cakes were all consumed and then Mike arrived from Cambridge, riding the storm like a very suave valkyrie on his stunning new Ti steed. We hung around for a bit waiting for the rain to subside a little, and then we would have been away other than an unsporting visitation form the pianoforte, or at least, something whose initials were p. f. Jurek was the victim, and it proved to be a bit of a problem, but just as Nutty was begining to flex his scar tissue ready to enter the fray, the faerie decided that discretion was the better part of valour and the tyre stayed hard.

Those of us who had donned our waterproofs now removed them again as the sun turned the wet roads into swirling vapours. We found our way along Spriggs Lane, noting the presence of the ostriches and llamas, and then crossed the main road at Norton Heath, carefully avoiding the café there as it appeared to be full of cyclists and we didn’t want to be mixing with that sort, now, did we?

These Essex lanes are an absolute delight, unless of course you are a bit short of time at the back end of a 200k audax, and I often wonder why it is that the road which approaches Willingale from the south has quite so many hairpin bends. It’s almost alpine with one very obvious omission, and that being stout red-faced yodelling fellows in Lederhosen. Through Wilingale we went, noting Spain and Doe, the two churches in one churchyard, separated by an elegant avenue of lime trees, in full flower at this time of year, and then onwards and northwards through Berners Roding and High Easter before emerging on the B road which heads towards Dunmow.

High Roding was our lunch stop, and the bar staff had done a grand job, providing us with some really tasty fare quite promptly. The beer was also very acceptable, and there was a certain amount of minor silliness involving a Father Christmas hat which Nutty had provided. I suggested singing a few carols but no-one seem interested, so after a brief snooze we wended our way. Mike left us at this point to return to Cambridge.

As we began our southward plod so the weather seemed to want to disrupt proceedings. There were dark clouds, rumbles of thunder, a very menacing looking storm to the south-west and another one to the east. Yet undeterred, the bold and intrepid party sped swiftly on until somewhere near Loves Green large raindrops began to bounce around us. Almost immediately the faerie was back, having sunk her fangs into Fixedwheelnut’s rear tyre. This was looking quite seriously like a water-born sprite which only emerged to do its damage in the rain.

Not long afterwards we found ourselves quite by chance inside a pub, the Viper, and again beer was consumed. Thereafter we sped through a wet Fryerning, not really interested in finding the Hall, even though it was apparently the birthplace of Charles Kortwright, thought by some to have been the fastest bowler in the history of cricket, and coiner of the phrase “Are you going, Doctor? You’ve still got one stump standing!” We decided to give the Buttsbury Ford a miss, on the grounds that it might have swollen to bicycle-consuming proportions, and headed along the old A12 and back via Mountnessing and Arnold’s Farm Lane to Shenfield.

If we had had any doubts beforehand, we knew we were in Essex now: the Mercedes driver who couldn’t safely overtake us spent about 10 seconds leaning on his horn; and when we entered the station we were treated to the Disruption of Service notices as some woebegone unfortunate had ended it all at Romford. The first train to Southend was announced but was on its way before we had had time to board it, and while second was being prepared, I overheard a couple approach the driver, who patiently explained that someone had committed suicide at Romford and that services would not be as per the timetable.

“Really!” exclaimed the youth, “Some people are so shtoopid!”

Another Audax poem

When bicycles stand by the wall
And tyre-treads leave a tell-tale trail
And flapjack’s in the village hall
And Arrivée’s the Holy Grail

When blood is nipt and ways be foul
Then randonneurs are on the prowl,
A mass of legs all pushing hard:
“Will you please stamp my brevet card?”

When lanes are all awash with skog
And Charlotte finds a garden cane
And Hummers gives Chris S a snog
And Comet’s gears have gone again

Amidst all this mayhem and trauma
We must be on the Willie Warmer!
A mass of legs all pushing hard:
“Will you please stamp my brevet card?”

W. Spokesheer.