My Seventy Sixth Week as a Budding Author
Have you ever thought long and hard about what will end up written upon your gravestone? Being a slightly morbid sort of bloke I must admit that I have given it some cogitation. The optimist in me always hopes that it will be something along the lines of:
“Here lies Dave Barter 1966 - 2070, Literary genius, Tour de France winner (vets singlespeed category), Inventor of the word famous mobile phone doorbell before that kid who actually patented it”
However, my mind is governed by realism and the truth is that I think my gravestone will hold a simple epitaph that will state:-
“Here lies Dave….he tried”
And I do try very hard at most things. Writing’s one of them and my trying encompasses attempting to bash out some relatively original words that are devoid of the usual stereotyping. I’ve read a lot of other cycling articles and get a bit fed up of hearing about burning thighs, pain barriers, soaring heart rates or fights with gravity. They all stereotype cycle rides and are to be frank a bit boring as we’ve heard them all before (especially from me as one of the four appears in at least eight of my previous writings). But sometimes it’s hard to avoid the stereotype and this week one made itself clearly known to me as I fought valiantly to complete the photography for the book.
In fact, scratch one stereotype, let’s make it two, as the stereotypical British weather pattern of relentless rain during summer reared it’s ugly head (wahey a cliche!) and bit me on the arse (ok, that’s enough). I had a clear plan for book completion pinned to the wall of the shed which cleared stated “All photography complete by the end of June”. This meant giving up every free weekend to a road trip with bike, camera and child photographer stuffed into the car. Driving to some nether region of the UK where I would ponce around on the bike and the child would attempt in vain to get a photo of me looking slightly competent. There are complex family reasons as to why it had to be a child, basically their diaries are fuller than mine and each weekend was booked with some event that meant Helen had to stay at home and ferry an alternating child to it. This left a remaining child that could be reluctantly seconded to photography duty with Dad.
The weekend before last had “Available child” and “Lake District/Northumberland” pencilled onto it. The British climate had other ideas, it had “Lake District/Northumberland” and “Jetwash” written on its calendar. The weekend after had “Wales” with four sub-locations written optimistically next to it. British climate reached for the blue marker and simply coloured in the whole weekend whilst simultaneously phoning Michael Fish and warning him not to get it wrong this time. In desperation I scurried round the BBC Weather website looking for a ray of hope which was delivered in last Sunday’s forecast. There appeared to be potential for a modicum of sun in the New Forest. I needed to take photos there so I bribed daughter Holly with the promise of a can of coke (sugar deprivation works wonders in our house) and the plan was hatched.
What I hadn’t realised was that every other occupant of the British Isles had also seen the same forecast and subsequently decided to descend upon the New Forest on Sunday for a nice bit of forest mixed with scattered cloud and sunshine. This adds a new dimension to our road based photoshoot, especially given that I’m trying to portray the cyclist riding in good light on an empty road. Holly and I found the perfect location deep in the forest area where the speed limit is forty miles per hour. I set the camera up for her and we agreed that a zoom shot would showcase the road which required me to be some distance away on the bike. There was a lot of cloud but equally a decent amount of wind which meant waiting for the right moment when the clouds parted and the sun lit up the road. Now, if it was just me, Holly, the road and the clouds then the whole process would be relatively straightforward. However, add the entire population of Britain driving across the scene and it all becomes fiendishly complex.
I would sit on the bike by the side of the road waiting for the sun to come out. I’d then have to wait for this to coincide with a gap in the traffic from BOTH directions and pedal towards Holly who’d get the shot. It’s sounding complex already, but throw in some ponies. The New Forest is littered with them, they’re pretty wild and don’t give a hoot about cars (or maybe they don’t give a neigh, I’m not sure?). These ponies wander wilfully into the road causing the traffic to slow and bunch up which in turn fills my road with cars ruining my shot.
It gets worse.
Every cyclist in the world had also seen the forecast and made a beeline for the New Forest for a rare day’s rain free pedalling. Not only did I have cars leaking into my frame there were cyclists as well. Which would have been OK if they weren’t all wearing garishly coloured fluorescent waterproofs and pushing their bikes up moderately graded hills. I cheerily said “Hello” to a couple of pushers glad that the ability to translate the fire behind the eyes doesn’t exist as “Get the fucking hell on with it please you’re ruining my shot” would definitely end up with my being reported to the CTC.
After a whole series of failed attempts I was about to suggest we give up and go elsewhere when stereotype number two wandered into the scene. Actually, he didn’t wander, he floored it. Yes, the silver BMW driver.
Much of the New Forest has a forty mph speed limit for a good reason as described above. It’s stuffed full of bends, humps, horses and pushing cyclists. Travelling at faster than forty is always going to end in either tears or a collection of bikes and human/equine body parts upon the windscreen. Although I hated all of the drivers interrupting my shoot with a vengeance I did grudgingly respect their adherence to the limit. However, Mr Stereotype didn’t, he attempted to pass most of them as I watched in horror up the road. I knew that on passing me he would encounter a group of horses that were distracting traffic and also some more pushing cyclists in the distance. So feeling both scared and public spirited I made a “Warning! slow down” signal by raising and lowering my arm.
Problem is we are dealing with a stereotype here and he responded as stereotypes will by reaching out of his window with his left arm and pointing clearly to the sky with his middle finger. He just about had time to swerve over to the right side of the road and miss the horses, the caravan he was overtaking, the pushing cyclists and the gasp of horror from my mouth. What happened next has caused me to lose all faith in the British public.
A four by four that I can’t identify travelling in the opposite direction passed me. The passenger window was wound down and I heard the time honoured phrase, specially reserved for sanctimonious cyclist, screamed at me as the car passed by.
And let’s just say he didn’t mean the opposite of “can”. This is what it has come to on the road. Warn a motorist of a hazard ahead whilst holding a bike and you’re scum worthy of the highest form of both visual and verbal assault. If Jeremy Clarkson had made the same warning gesture, the car would have meekly pulled in and then returned for an autograph. But a cyclist, let’s simply stereotype them as sanctimonious overtaker haters. There’s no way they could possibly have been trying to save a life.
Holly and I moved to a quieter spot and took loads of photos that were only pissed about with by ponies. To be honest I didn’t mind as they can’t say “caaaaaaannnnntttt” and also they live there so have every right to stroll into the frame and hold a hoof over the subject’s head. As we sat slurping our cans of coke and eating lunch I told Holly that I genuinely despair for all of us, not based on Mr Stereotype, but “Mr caaaannnnnnttt instead”. She was about to reply when a marauding pony intervened and tried to nick her sandwich. Now I despair for the ponies as well.
Dave, 20th June 2012