Author Topic: London to Hastings

London to Hastings
« on: August 05, 2015 »
‘Sam gave us his pre-ride talk complete with highly entertaining flyer, before the same-as-it-ever-was trudge to the 'burbs’

This reminded me of something. A free Easton beartrap headset adjuster to the person who can name the movie:

‘I know I'm different, but from now on I'm going to try and be the same.’
‘The same as what?’
‘The same as people who aren't different.’

One of the nicest things about cycling in London under the guidance of another person is that you get to join the dots differently, making new places out of old ones using the new bits in between. I’m not sure I’d remember every turn of our route from Somerset House to Crystal Palace Park, but the exit from the city is not an inconvenience to be wished away, but the all-important opening chapter of the story.

I’ve seen the dinosaurs before, but on this balmy morning I fancied there was something more fittingly swampy about their habitat than I remembered. I pictured humongous dragonflies landing on my handlebars – big enough to topple the bike over. Although they’ve got nothing on the tautly-stuffed Walrus in the nearby Horniman Museum, the slack-bellied, lizardy dinosaurs have a suitably dated vibe in this era of agile, gaudy, sometimes feathery CGI representations.

I am reminded of the evolution of Bill Watterson’s dinosaur drawings for Calvin & Hobbes (I’d post pics, but he gets upset about that sort of thing):

Back in the ‘60s, dinosaurs were imagined as lumbering, dim-witted, cold-blooded, oversized lizards. That’s how I drew them in the first strips, and these drawings are now pretty embarrassing to look at. When I realized that dinosaurs offered Calvin interesting story possibilities, I started searching for books to rekindle my interest in them. It was then I discovered what I’d missed in paleontology during the last twenty years.

Similarly influenced, I am now unable to view groups of grazing wood pigeons without them morphing into herds of brontosaurus, but by far the most dinosaury thing I have ever seen was in the unlikely setting of a backyard in suburban Bielefeld, Northern Germany, where a friend’s father kept Modern English Game Chickens. These rangy, belligerent mofos could jump from a standing start onto stuff Danny MacAskill would flunk – the only thing stopping them eating you is that they’re about a foot tall. Spot the difference.


Modern English Game Chicken:

[Enough about dinosaurs. – Ed.]

The ride was hilly. This might have been mentioned before. I excused myself in advance for lollygagging™ – I’m not a fast climber over any distance anyway, and I have got slower of late through beer and general hopelessness. Adrian was nursing an iffy knee and was thus also on somewhat reduced power, so over the course of the ride Team Kaffenback settled into a reasonably well-matched rhythm, lagging near the back on the tougher bits, and reeling the front back in over easier terrain. Sam, meanwhile, was pulling off some kind of time travel or doppelgänger trick, whilst the rest of us puzzled, like the parents in The Happiest Days of Your Life, over just how he managed to be simultaneously at the front, the back, and in the middle of the ride. ‘There he is again!’ we’d occasionally exclaim, wanting only Margaret Rutherford there to chime in, ‘So he is. The fellow is quite ubiquitous.’

After Hosey Hill, we nodded to one of the Sams pedalling upstream and hammered along a rolling road through the woods until we hit a T-junction. ‘Got to be a left,’ said one of us. ‘Got to be,’ agreed the other, ‘but maybe wait and regroup here anyway.’ So we waited. And then we waited a bit longer. And then we recalled a left turn we had shunned, signposted ‘Chartwell’, and remembered that the route was to be punctuated by stops at Houses of Note (we’d paused at Darwin’s earlier and narrowly avoided nomination for the appropriate award whilst standing in the road gawking at it). I texted Sam: ‘Ade and I have gone the wrong way. We are at the end of Hosey Common Road. Don’t come back for us. We will turn left and head you off.’

So we turned left, and then left again because that looked like the way, and had travelled barely a mile when another of the Sams – the shepherdy one – came positively hurtling in the opposite direction, exuding a concern for our wellbeing that was both touching and slightly guilt-inducing. I resolved to be better behaved.

My penance was to be the reluctant immediate witness to the two pre-lunch incidents that weren’t as nasty as they could have been. I was close behind Jason when his chain snapped, and can testify that he did well to stay upright. The momentary panic involved in thinking that a companion is about to hit the deck was, as it turned out, just so much training for a much hairier moment on a long descent. We might or might not have been warned to take it easy, but that is tough advice to follow on the kind of ride where the topography is an unfolding hymn to the power of gravity. I was definitely the third person going too fast down the hill, and I suspect I was not the last. A cheeky left-hand bend near the bottom co-incided with a bump or dip of some kind. It was the best of motives that persuaded the rider at the front that the thing to do was to stop and warn the remaining riders of the hazard, but the decision, and the manoeuvre, was too abrupt. The dual time-frame in which I had leisure to watch the second rider (Russ) consider an evasive manoeuvre to the right, change his mind and aim for the larger gap opening up on the left, and then reconsider once more on the grounds of momentum, camber, and relative softness of landing surfaces, before seeming to have made it clear and then finally being claimed by an advancing hedge, requires the skills of a better writer. Here’s one, describing something only marginally more terrifying:
He saw partly on the ceiling and partly on the wall the moving shadow of an arm with a clenched hand holding a carving knife. It flickered up and down. Its movements were leisurely. They were leisurely enough for Mr Verloc to recognise the limb and the weapon.

They were leisurely enough for him to take in the full meaning of the portent, and to taste the flavour of death rising in his gorge. His wife had gone raving mad - murdering mad. They were leisurely enough for the first paralysing effect of this discovery to pass away before a resolute determination to come out victorious from the ghastly struggle with that armed lunatic. They were leisurely enough for Mr Verloc to elaborate a plan of defence involving a dash behind the table, and the felling of the woman to the ground with a heavy wooden chair. But they were not leisurely enough to allow Mr Verloc the time to move either hand or foot. The knife was already planted in his breast. It met no resistance on its way. […] Mr Verloc, the Secret Agent, turning slightly on his side with the force of the blow, expired without stirring a limb, in the muttered sound of the word "Don't" by way of protest.

I think it was ‘argh’ that I exclaimed, or possibly ‘nnngh’, but you get the gist. Russ was on the deck - shaken, scraped and bleeding but in much better shape than he might have been. Adrian appeared in time to ask the all-important question, and to puzzle briefly about an unlikely form of spoke damage, and we pressed on to Westerham, where we paused on the green with coffees (iced and otherwise), argued about Wolfes and Foxes, and somehow prevented Jason from taking a selfie on Churchill’s lap.

Our lunch stop at a Look-Mum-Alike café in Tunbridge Wells was enriched by a visit from a local dignitary, and by a particularly nail-biting moment of the penultimate Tour stage. By rights, and by the schedule, we should have been away long before Quintana’s sensational attack on Alpe d’Huez and Froome’s perfectly-judged response, and we’d have been none the wiser until the highlights; but a hiatus with someone’s baguette bought us just enough time to be obliged to dig our heels in until the end of the race, while our leader chewed his nails and doubtless pondered on the relative merits of herding cats and driving a mule train.

Did I mention the hills? There were lots. Looking at our charmingly-illustrated Hill Guide, as I write this a week or more later, feels not so much like a memory-jogger as a sort of supplementary fiction. It may be a product of Welsh toponymic tendencies, but as we approached Rogues Hill its ominousness, and its hint of inbuilt reproach, had caused me to paraphrase in my head a question of Padgett Powell’s: does a nameless hill make you more or less nervous than a hill with a name? Church Hill did not have one, for me, until afterwards when I read up on it via the guide and the ride reports. I have no recollection of a church on it, but it was undeniably a hill.

Sam has cultivated an approach to hills which is a heady concoction of hedonism, masochism, conscientiousness, necessary deception and brazen effrontery. He has an invisible balloon-machine attached to his bike. Being invisible, I don’t know quite how it works, but it means he can go uphill at whatever speed he chooses. I haven’t got one of these, so I always go uphill slower than I go on the flat. The hill I liked best was the ‘last’ one, even though I didn’t like its little kick at the beginning. Its surfaces were smooth, its gradient varied, its summit graced with a kindly figure bearing sweetmeats.

Things have been written elsewhere about the extraordinary good fortune or sinister masterplan that led to Mad Jack Fuller being disinterred in remarkably good shape for a chat. I will decide which explanation I favour when I have a more robust data set correlating Rides Led by Sam AND Unlikely Star Appearances.

I didn’t finish the ride – I had prevailed upon the hospitality of a Ridiculous Old Lush in Brighton and wanted to make it over there in time for a sociable pint, and before I risked courting a pillorying in the CycleChat ‘Beer?’ thread. There were a few others who Had to Be Somewhere Else, so after a briskly exhilarating dart across what I later discovered were the Pevensey Levels, Nigel, Adrian, Stu and I did a celebratory lap of the roundabout and followed a sign to a railway station. Shortly this became two signposts, and two stations; variations on a Pevensey theme. Adrian flipped the Magic Tossing Coin and it came down on the side of Pevensey and Westham. A lucky escape.

The last cyclist to wait at Pevensey Bay for a train to Brighton:

We established the time of the next eastward train, which left a window just large enough for me to effect a dash (I say a dash, but it was more of a mince, as I’d already carried the bike over the footbridge to the other platform and returned unsteadily on cheap Chinese fake-SPD-SL cleats) to The Heron Inn, where the people were charm itself, to procure three bottles of Abbot Ale for the majority bibulous contingent.

Been searching for the lost mojo a while now. It seems possible that I will look back on the road to Hastings as the place where I caught a glimpse of it again, always ahead of me over some hill or other but not so far that I despair of catching it on the descent. The company was great, not to mention impossibly stylish. Next time I’ll make the whole ride.

Thank you, Sam.