My Sixty First Week as a Budding Author
“Pick up your bloody mess will you!”, emotive words shouted at generations of young people by disapproving elders. A constant reminder that the litter issue we suffer from in urban and other areas is always the fault of the youngsters. Nobody would dare drop anything in the old days for fear of a naked birching by the local bobby in view of all on the village green. The fact that there was nothing to drop in the first place is immaterial to the argument. “If we had have had plastic wrappers, we’d have eaten them for nourishment” would be the elderly refrain.
Problem is I am equally guilty as the giffords. I’m constantly shouting this very phrase at my own children, always with me standing outside of their bedroom and them cowering within. Mess really bloody annoys me and they know it. Yet this does absolutely nothing to dissuade them from liberally scattering all of their possessions and half of the kitchen cupboard across their bedroom carpets. They say things like “It’s my room, I like it like this” and then get the arse when I empty the vegetable recycling bin onto their bed. My daughter even tried to construct a lucid argument based upon the fact that the mess had gone that little bit too far and was therefore beyond her capability as a child to rectify it. I disconnected the internet and within an hour she had mended her ways.
So clearly I am mess intolerant. Slightly hypocritical as areas of my life are all over the place including my computer hard drive, bike bits box and the magazine pile next to my bed. But that doesn’t stop me appreciating a semblance of order. I’m dead jealous of those with tidy houses, neatly arranged tool boards, cars that are absent of dust/chocolate eclair wrappers and gardens that could host antique roadshow. I do try hard though and feel that a quest for order is as noble as actually achieving it. Which is why I absolutely f**king hate farmers.
Even I have to admit that comes a bit left field. Beginning an article berating your messy children and then leading immediately into a distaste for those of an arable disposition. However, there is sound reasoning behind this as every other road cyclist will tell you. Let me explain further.
As of the beginning of this week, three rides were all that were needed to complete the information gathering for the book. The oracle of Countryfile spake and informed me that the approaching clement weather would allow me to tick off two of the three in a period of a few days. I hastily stuffed bike and riding gear into the car and headed up to Telford in order to knock off ride number one, a hilly epic winding through the Shropshire hills and over the Long Mynd. Things were looking good as I left The Wrekin and rode unhindered through Coalbrookdale. The rain was absent and roads dry, my freshly clean bike almost shone in the sunlight that forced its way through the thinning cloud.
But then I ventured onto the smaller roads, into the territory of the farmers and within minutes all was not well. This is the time of year when our farmers decide that tarmac is all a bit passé and needs sprucing up a little. So as a public service they drive from the shit strewn fields onto the roads liberally dolling out copious amounts of mud/cowcrap to paint the surface a seasonal brown. Some of them take a more organic approach and dispense with the tractor wheel as a distribution device preferring to spray from the cattle direct. Lakes of warm bovine piss lurk between mounds of steaming half digested grass ready to catch out the unwary cyclist often known as Dave.
Within fifteen minutes of hitting the lanes I was covered from head to foot in crap. I ended up looking like I'd been for some extreme organic spray tanning session led by Clarissa Dickenson. My bike was unrecognisable, it looked like I was riding a frame made from slurry and to make matters worse it began to properly clog. The Easton forks have clearance issues, it only takes a few millimeters of mud to cause an annoying rub on the tyre. The only cure is to stop and frantically shove twigs deep into the fork and try and dislodge it.
This was spoiling an otherwise epic ride. I began to fume about the farmers. Why the hell can’t they bloody well clear their mess up? Why do we scream blue murder at an errant chav who drops a Snickers wrapper, yet doff cap and salute the “way of the country” to a farmer who distributes four tons of cow shit down a scenic lane? Things get worse when you look at their farmyards. The places are littered with broken down machinery, old tractors, cars from the seventies and all manner of fertiliser bags/drums/pallets/farmers wives/chickens/EU subsidy receipts.
But like my daughter, the farmers when confronted would come up with the “difficulty” repost. “Well you see it’d be too expensive to clear them roads my lover”, they’d reply, “The EU don’t have a subsidy for that and we’d actually have to pay for it”. I’d then counter that they could always travel from field to field on their own land, but they’d argue that this would spoil the nice hedgerows they’d cultivated or get more mud on their VAT free tractor that they’d have to clean.
Surely it wouldn’t be too hard to fit some sort of brush to the back of the tractor? Or failing that there’s the old fashioned way of getting out there with a hose and a broom. And don’t go giving me all of that “You don’t understand the ways of the country, farmers work all hours and cows won’t milk themselves” bollocks. Because I’ve listened to the Archers and all farmers ever do is gossip about Beryl then get killed falling off roofs. It just needs some innovation to succumb the problem. How about attaching the brooms to the cows as they are led to the milkshed? Or adding huge great doormats at the field entrance so the tractor can wipe its virtual feet?
I finished the ride in a bit of a sulk, packed the bike and most of Shropshire’s topsoil into the car and mooched off to Norfolk for the second ride. This was a whole different kettle of fish. The Norfolk farmers have much better manners and the roads were remarkably shit free. Furthermore there was a huge absence of hills to boot and the sun made an appearance for most of the day. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t able to inject some form of stress. This was perfectly achieved due to the ferry at Woolbastwick.
I’d planned a loop that crosses the Bure Marshes, for those in the dark this needs a ferry to achieve due to complete lack of a suitable bridge. The ferry runs all through British Summer time, other times of the year you are advised to ring and check. On Monday I rang them and a salty old dog informed me that they would probably be running on Thursday when I planned to ride. But best ring and check on the day. No problem. I wrote the number on my map and duly called it after 30 minutes of setting off.
No answer. It was 9.30am and I imagined that they were having a late start so left it another 30 minutes as I cycled ever closer. No answer. A tinge of stress began to appear as the alternative was an extra fifteen miles on top of a route that was already eighty miles long. I kept calling and kept getting no answer. I rode closer and closer to the point of no return and eventually after 30 odd miles I rode over it. An inner voice told me that all would be OK. The reason they weren’t answering was because they were out in the boat busily ferrying passengers across the river.
Ten miles later the awful truth became apparent. At riverside I found a complete absence of ferry, I called one final time to receive the traditional no answer. I then said the traditional “f**k it” and looked for alternative options. An old couple were messing about with a boat on the other side. I shouted a ferry based enquiry at them, hoping that they would sense my plight and offer a lift. They just shook their heads in a mixture of confusion and (possibly) derision. I then stared hopefully at the sign advertising the ferry, maybe there was an alternative number. But the number that I already had stared back at me. Or did it?
Frantically I dug out the map. Some idiot had transcribed the number incorrectly. A “5” and “6” had become switched in the journey from mind to pen. I called the number on the sign and guess what...a salty old dog answered and happily agreed to come and pick me up.
The rest of the ride continued without hitch. In fact I probably picked the best day of 2012 so far to cycle the Norfolk broads. If I’d omitted the arm-warmers I reckon I could even have cultivated a touch of sunburn. The only other minor annoyance was my misreading of the wind direction from the weather forecast causing me to end the ride with thirty miles of nagging headwind.
So, two down, one to go. Northumberland holds the key to the completion of my major book project. Sadly the forecast is on the wane and the nasty weather set to return. Next week will more than likely be computer based. Cycling writing interspersed with angry letters to MPs concerning errant farmers and their soiling of roads. And I’ve not even touched on their hedgecutting …..
2nd March 2012