Saturday, 17 March 2012
Chez l'escargot: NOTHING MUCH CHANGES
I have been riding with some of these 'boys and girls' for sixty years now, though to look at some of them you could be forgiven for thinking it was much longer. From carefree club runs and cut-throat races in our teens and twenties, we have pedalled on through our middle years and can now be found, every Thursday, at a cafe stop, sweaty and knackered, but still half a lap up on the undertaker. Over coffee there is always much banter relating to 'the old days', but now peppered with gloomy comparisons of hospital appointments and biopsies.
Later, riding home alone, I chanced upon a bizarre cycling hobo, his small body completely swamped by a high visibility yellow jacket, to which was attached a cavernous, monk like, yellow cowl. Surprisingly, he pedalled like a 'proper' cyclist and there was something oddly familiar about him, but as I got nearer, I was embarrassed and dismayed to see that he was wearing ordinary trousers with trouser clips, confronting me with a serious moral and ethical dilemma as to whether I should acknowledge his existence.
Not obvious to the outsider, cycling has a virtually impenetrable hierarchical structure which makes the British class system appear egalitarian. The question of who speaks to who, if at all, is extremely complicated. For example, a road cyclist will rarely greet a mountain biker, although as mountain bikers blank everyone, even each other, it's a rather pointless snub. Some club members ignore 'poseurs' cavorting in garish continental professional team strip, the 'poseurs' curl their lips at anyone on a bike worth less than £3k, and a radical fringe element blanks anyone wearing the wrong shoes. Further incomprehensible prejudices appertain within sub divisions of the sport and regional variations may apply.
You will imagine my genteel distress therefore, on unwittingly finding myself in the presence of trouser clips. However, my curiosity about the apparitions identity overcame my innate distaste and I decided on sociability, so I eased my way past and offered a patronising grunt by way of greeting.
Within seconds, the hobo had caught me back and a voice from deep within the cowl enquired, "Is that Nick?" and lurking in its dark recesses I discovered Norman, an old club mate who in the 1950's was one of the fastest twenty-five mile time trial riders in the country. (Norman is eighty-six now, and like a lot of old bike riders, tends to eccentricity, which perhaps explains the cowl and the trouser clips.)
There followed a short period of dysfunctional conversation. We are both a bit deaf, wearing helmets doesn't help, and Normans ridiculous headgear seemed impervious to normal levels of vocal communication.
I eventually gleaned that he was "having a ride out to Malvern," about twenty miles down the road, "or maybe Ledbury," about fifteen miles further on and involving the long drag over the Malvern Hills, quite testing for someone fifty years younger. I never got to find out how Norman proposed to tackle the long return trip to Bromsgrove, because at that precise moment we swung left to assault a nasty little drag leading up to a 'T' junction. I slowed a bit, but Norman didn't and the old b*****d shot me off his wheel like a cork from a bottle, just like he used to do fifty years before. He waved to me as he turned left at the 'T' leaving me seething with indignation and humiliation.
Sixty years on, and nothing much changes.