My Eighty Somethink Week as a Budding Author
I’m very fortunate in that my grandparents quite enjoyed making children. They were pretty good at it as well which in turn means that I’m blessed with a bucket full of cousins. I’ve got all sorts of cousins crossing all sexes and residing all over the world, from Norway to Walthamstowe. There’s an interesting variety of jobs as well, ranging from Ben who tours the country high-fiving surfers, David who shouts at young children and Sharon who shouts at older children who’ve exceeded their beer quota. We’re quite a close knit bunch of cousins almost entirely down to the tradition of the Barter family reunion. This was started many years ago by our parents as a thinly veiled excuse to drink party fours before 3pm. We’d all be shipped to a back garden somewhere and ordered to play cricket. The adults would pitch in after beer number five and occasionally an unfortunate young cousin would find themselves accidentally bowled instead of held.
Sadly parents age at the same rate as their kids and unfortunately they’re mortal, so the family reunion ran the risk of thinning out. Fortunately, the children have acquired the knack of procreation and the family continues to expand to meet any gaps that appear. This year cousin Ana stepped up to the parental line and announced that she was now assuming the mantle of reunion organiser. In the eighties this would have required endless phonecalls and kitchen calendar consultation. These days social networks replace paper and within hours of announcement the guest list was confirmed.
Initially my family were firmly off list due to other commitments. But the Queen pulled a raincheck on my parachute lesson so at the very last minute I was given the green light to go. Ana’s house is about seventy five miles away from mine and the forecast looked pretty good. What better excuse for a bike ride? I packed an overnight rucksack, abandoned my daughter at a sleepover and set off to Yeovil in the sunshine.
Forty miles later I was bollocksed. In planning the route I’d forgotten to check out the contours which had suddenly decided to assemble en-mass between Swindon and Yeovil. The sunshine didn’t help either as it ganged up with the hills to dehydrate me and paint big red reminders on my arms to always use sunscreen. Cresting a hill deep in the forest surrounding Longleat I espied a mirage, an ice cream van that sold the proper stuff served with a scoop rather than airbrushed onto a cone.
I breathlessly requested a ninety nine and was surprised to be met with a reply tinged with a hint of plumb. This was probably the best spoken ice cream man I’d ever encountered, I wondered whether it was the Marquesse of Bath but discounted that theory as there was an absence of naked women within the van. So, he served me, politely thanked me for the supply of the coinage and then enquired about my cycle ride. I bored him for a few minutes before collapsing on the grass to slather all over the ’99. A minute later his head popped out of the van, but this time it was resplendent with a Sky team baseball cap. Brand new by the look of it.
He asked me if I raced for a team. I simply pointed at my legs. He noted their width and then informed me that his nephew did a bit of cycling and wondered if I knew him. “Here we go “, I thought to myself, “I’m now going to have to pretend to be impressed by Charlie Fotherington-Smythe and his fifth place at Hillingdon in 1997”. He tipped his cap up a little and said:-
Now, we can all accept that life has its moments of serendipity. Margaret Thatcher ending up with dementia so she can genuinely not remember robbing us of our milk. Madonna, the gay icon taking a pasting from Elton John, and Dave Barter shagged out cyclist being served ice cream by Chris Froome’s uncle. We chatted some more and I picked up a few juicy titbits that shall remain firmly locked between my own two ears. Inspired I caned it on towards the family reunion finishing with a magnificent average speed of 16 mph. Chris rode faster than that up some of the Tour de France mountains.
It was fantastic to arrive before dark, even better to be handed a cold lager and slightly embarrassing to share a number of sweaty “mwahs” with my female cousins. Small children were everywhere, riding dogs, smashing rackets into swingball poles and generally making me feel very old. Mine are not so small anymore with their favourite pastime being “Facebook”. All of my cousins are very grown up now and we had a surprisingly adult evening as we browsed through old photos, marvelled at my eighties mullet and discussed everything from male brothel tea shops to the emotional last minutes spent with a dying parent.
Ana came up trumps as she fed us all vegetarian chilli. I came up trumps in the middle of the night after digesting it. Luckily my fellow tent occupants had been on the wine longer than I and slept through the gaseous assault.
The next day I quietly slipped away from the chaos of toddler breakfast time and retraced my way home. The route nipped away from Yeovil, under the A303 and then up a decent climb towards Woolston. This section of road was the thinnest of the ride by far, probably no more than six feet wide hedge to hedge. Before the thinness begins there are a myriad of signs ranging from:-
“Very windy road”
“Unsuitable for HGVs”
In fact there are so many warnings that I considered taking an alternative route myself as I had become a little bit wider due to Ana’s pavlova. Nevertheless I pressed on and after nearly a mile was stunned to encounter a coach.
Yes, a coach. Not a minibus, campervan or transit a full on fifty seater coach. I genuinely thought that I was witnessing some form of black magic. It was patently impossible to drive the coach through the narrow lanes to this point. It was as if the driver had annoyed a pagan cyclist who’d consequently magic’d him into the middle of nowhere, dooming the coach to a permanent residence upon this god forsaken stretch of road.
My options were severely limited by this four wheeled obstacle as the high hedgerow prevented me from passing. I could hear distant voices, one of which appeared to be a shrill woman advising in no uncertain terms that to proceed would be utter madness as the road only got worse. I remembered the journey down and had to agree with her as the lane turned a tiny ninety degree bend before heading up a steep tree shrouded hill.
I scratched my head for a while whilst contemplating the map. It looked like I was faced with a diversion up a very busy dual carriageway and I couldn’t be 100% sure that there was a connection back to my route home. A minute or two later the rear window of the coach flew open and the driver’s head popped out. It seemed that he was the lone occupant, he looked quite sweaty.
“Hello mate, you see me back innit, ok?”
He queried in broken English. Suddenly it all made sense. Another driver led astray by a cheap sat nav device designed for cars. I had no idea how on earth this was going to work. He had over a mile to reverse his coach back to the large roads including two very tight bends. He could hardly see me in his mirrors and I had no idea as to what obstacles lay deep within the hedgerows.
I told him that I would do my best. He gunned the engine and I motioned him backwards then a little to the left. He turned right. So I tried motioning him to the right and he carried on going right. So I mimed left hand down, he went right even more and I heard a crunch. I then furiously jumped up and down flapping both arms and screaming which made him stop and go forward a bit.
This carried on for over forty minutes. After ten minutes my bike was marooned in front of him so I had no escape option at all. After thirty five minutes we’d bumped and ground him down to the horror corner where I spotted an old farmyard with concrete floor. I screamed for a long time to get him to stop and then squeezed my way to the passenger door. He opened it using the special switch and a set of pneumatic pumps gracefully pushed the door outwards forcing me deep into the stinging nettle ladened hedge. I nearly lost it at that point, but managed to retain just enough humility to inform him of my cunning plan to get him into the farmyards where he could turn round.
Then two angels appeared.
When I say “angels”, I actually mean lady police officers. Who knows why they’d chosen to drive down this lane and they were a bit confused by the sweaty cyclist with nettle rash hugging their knees. But they immediately took charge, beginning with the important task of loudly calling the driver a complete pillock for managing to thrutch his coach thus far. Between the three of us we managed to coax the head of his coach into the yard. Then I spotted the dip and crossed myself as his rear wheels descended into it. The coach stuck fast as the wheels span and dumped the driver deeper into trouble. Then his differential began to make a noise which is the motoring equivalent of “Please make it stop, I can’t carry on much longer!”
At the crescendo of the coach’s pain it somehow gained traction and shot into the yard. The two lady coppers and I inspected the dip and shook heads a lot. It looked like he was going to really struggle to get out. I informed them that it was now my civic duty to bugger off and leave them to it. They told me that they were both considering the same course of action.
The rest of the ride home passed without incident. Reasonable weather and empty roads gave me the space for some contemplation. Seeing the family is always uplifting. Even when they take the piss out of you for turning up in white socks whilst waving photos of a mullet from years gone by. And any journey where the bike’s straddled in favour of car is always going to pay dividends. At the very least it will be peppered with incident. As I doubt an ice cream man would tell any old motorist that he’s Chris Froome’s uncle and marooned coach drivers would definitely be left in the lurch by hastily reversing car drivers.
Dave, 13th August 2012