34: The Taming of the Shrewsbury

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What started off as a Christmas meal away from home had become a twice-yearly jaunt. The addition being a Summer get-together. In 2015 the Summer jaunt was to be Shrewsbury.

I felt as I wasn’t likely to have the usual holiday I decided to have an extra night, Friday as well as Saturday. Mr and Mrs Topman did the same.

Unfortunately, a few days before the trip Topman told me he and Mrs Topman wouldn’t be able to make it. That just left Scrumcyclist and me for the extra day.

I last visited Shrewsbury back in 1981, when Blameworthy and I went on holiday. He’d a few pubs he wanted to visit on the way. It served as a prelude to a week of booze-hounding, pool playing and general travelling along the North Wales coastline. Being in our twenties we were probably more like booze-puppies.

The only memory I have is of being outside a pub where there was a bridge nearby. However, the memory is vague and it’d be quite possible I’ve mixed it up with another memory…

The day of the journey it was raining. (Well, of course it was!) It was then, as I looked out of my bedroom window. I sighed but managed to find a light raincoat, not too heavy so I’d not arrive in a sodden mess.

Once I checked through to make sure I have packed everything I needed I decide to go to the station to have my traditional fight with the ticket machine.

I hate the bloody things and they bloody hate me; I am not paranoid, they really do! Time for these bouts are now added to my journey time whenever I go on a train journey. One becomes wise after a while.

As usual the ticket machines aren’t being used as I approach but once I get within fifteen feet a dozen or so people suddenly crowd around them.

Once I got my tickets I head off to the platform. The train I want, surprisingly, is already there and ready to be boarded; but not in any piratical way.

This meant I had time to settle day in a seat with a table – such luxury. Checking my watch, the train would leave in twenty minutes. The emphasis always on ‘should’; I’d decide long ago; bus and train timetables were produced to just keep printers in work.

I looked around and there are few people on board at that moment. But at some point, there will be the usual person who thinks that because I’m reading a book it means I want a conversation with them.

Across from me there is another set of four seats with a table. It’s the spot most likely for the obligatory noisy brat with a mother who has no real control over the ‘little darling’. It’s a little service all the rail companies provide for me; bless ‘em.

After the previous years’ experience (2014 see Telling Tales ‘Arrival’) I allowed for a thirty-minute gap between connections. I was determined – especially as I only had two days in Shrewsbury – not to waste any more time on travelling than I needed to. This seemed to work as the train to Newport was on time and the connection that would take me to Shrewsbury was also.

Deep joy!

However, the connecting train wasn’t without fun! Although I’d got a reserved seat, it was rather cramped – there must’ve been some sort of ‘fatso’ convention going on (to which I hadn’t been invited) somewhere and they’d all decided to get-together in the carriage I was in; so, any thoughts of doing much was severely limited. Even the small laptop I had was impossible to use with the old elbow room being at a premium. And, of course, having the table seat next to a window, meant I had to disturb the bloke next to me when I needed to go to the toilet. The trouble was, the more conscious I was of disturbing the chap the more I seemed to want to go. These days holding on is not an option; age brings with it all sorts of problems…

By the third time of disturbing the chap, I noticed there were seats in the other carriage which would let me come and go without disturbing someone. Besides, it gave me the elbow room I needed to use the laptop. So, self-sacrificing hero that I am, I moved and gave the chap rom to spread out.

It was halfway through this journey I ate my packed lunch. I always take a packed lunch when I take a long train journey. I hate paying train prices for refreshments, one mortgage in life is more than enough!

It was still drizzling when I arrived at Shrewsbury. I was beginning to think booking the extra day might not have been a good idea. The fantasy had been to spend the afternoon and early evening wandering around getting a feel for the place; depending on when Scrumcyclist would arrive. Still, what is done is done and if the worst comes to the worst I could polish up a few blog articles or catch up on some reading to pass the time.

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I didn’t pay too much attention to my surroundings as I left the station. I was too preoccupied with the drizzle and getting a location for the hotel via my mobile. It was about a ten-minute walk from the station and about five minutes from the town centre.

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Once at the hotel I booked in and settled myself into the room.

It was quite a large room. On the left as I walked in was the toilet and shower room – I was later to find out that the one in my room was recent addition. It certainly had a feel of newness to it. The bathroom made the room ‘L’ shaped. There were two single beds on the left beyond the bathroom. To the immediate right was a wardrobe, then a little further up was a small desk. Probably typical of me I latched onto the desk first, to me it almost seemed more important than the bed. It would mean I would have somewhere comfortable to work on with my laptop; with the rain outside that could become important.

I put my case on the nearest bed and then began putting my clothes away in the wardrobe near the door. It was then I saw a notice advertising free Wi-Fi. I’ve always been fond of the word ‘free’, I never tire of hearing it.

Once I had unpacked, I looked out of the window and although it was still dull out the rain had stopped. I thought about having a shower to wash away the journey but instead decided that the rain might not stay off for very long so I should explore a bit. I wanted to check the pub out that was almost literally ten feet from the hotel.

So, ten minutes later I was out of the hotel and standing outside The Hop & Friar. It was a Marston’s pub. I remember checking it out on-line some days ago. On the map, it seemed quite close to the hotel and going into street view I found out how close. But now, ahead of me, was the reality.

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I was tempted, yes, I must admit I was tempted. However, it was only 2.30pm and I felt I ought to be sober for when Scrumcyclist turned up. It was only fair.

Less than a week ago when I was looking on Street View of Google maps, I saw a sign in the pub window. It read:

“Telling a drunk woman to calm down is like trying to bath a cat.”

That sign was no longer in the window; another had taken its place:

“The jelly fish has survived for eight and half million years and doesn’t have a brain. This must be some comfort for stupid people…”

The centre was no more than five minutes away and I was immediately impressed by the lack of chain stores in sight. Most shops were individual. If you wanted most of the usual brands they could be found in a Mall not too far away, seemingly buried below ground level of the town; works for me…

I wandered around the town for about half an hour before heading for the river on the other side to the hotel. It was still dull weather but the rain had eased off. I took a few photographs and then made my way back into the town centre and thought, as it began to rain a fine light rain, I would have a look in the Darwin Shopping Centre. There were the usual mix of chain shops like Home Bargains, Monsoon, Poundland, River Island, Topshop (wonder if Topman’s relations are involved in that, Shrewsbury is close to Wales), Marks & Spencer, W.H. Smith….

It was around 4pm when I decided, after about two hours, I would take a rest. I found a good coffee shop and treated myself to a cappuccino; sod the expense, I thought, give the cat another gold-fish; you’re on a mini holiday after all.

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I found a place in the Shopping Centre called Café Flavour. I did think about going back to the Caffe Nero I saw on my wanderings, but felt a rest was in order and I would try this place out.

Like a lot of the shops in the Shopping Centre, it was in a compartment, like a room off a large corridor. The furnishings were comfortable and when I got my cappuccino I was told that they had an offer on. If I kept my receipt, then I could have my next drink for half-price. Worked for me!

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I found a seat where the likelihood of someone nesting next to me – usually a bint who couldn’t control her child, it’s not just the railways that provide this service – and pulled my iPad from my rucksack. I read for half an hour.

It was after this break that I decided to do a little more walking. I wanted to make my way to The Pear Tree where we would be eating tomorrow night. Perhaps get a photograph of it. However, before that I started to look at other pubs and eateries.

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I looked at a few places but as I was taking the long way round to see what I could discover it began that damn fine rain again. The road I was on was taking back to the hotel but I felt I might need a change of trousers by the time I got back to the hotel.

I sat in the small lounge where near the opening where I booked in just over four hours ago. It then in conversation with the chap on reception I found out that on room was one of many that was modernised; the bit with the toilet and shower room added, removing a corner of the room. The hotel owner also mentioned that for most of the week it had been rather sunny and warm. Hmm, well, I was here now, wasn’t I?

I reflected on how this wasn’t going to be the greatest of breaks if it was going to rain for the two days I was there. It was July and I expected sunshine; yes, I know, I was deluding myself. I was in England and all the jokes about the weather were unfortunately true.

It was now close to 7pm and the old tum-tum was demanding to be fed; it hadn’t been fed since 12.30pm today when I was on the train.

I looked outside and it was cloudy but the rain had stopped. I decided to have a walk into town. The intention was to find a restaurant but after over an hour of wandering around most seemed too crowded. I didn’t like the idea of either sharing a table or being too close to people I didn’t know.

So, I found a supermarket and bought sandwiches and fruit. I wasn’t sure what the hotel policy was on taking food back so I hid the food in the rucksack. I didn’t feel inclined to eat in the street; well, it’s an awfully common thing to do, isn’t it?

By the time I got back to the hotel it was after 9pm so by the time I fed, made some notes on the Laptop and read for a while it was after 10pm so I showered before having an early night…

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I got up at 7am the next morning and the weather couldn’t have been a bigger contrast to the previous day. The sun was shining, and on top of that I felt refreshed. I would say I leapt out of bed but at my age I rarely leap anywhere. Besides, I’d make one hell of a thump once I landed and the people in the room below might get a little miffed if they have to clean up bits of ceiling from their hair and the floor.

I was showered and shaved just before 8am and at the breakfast table.

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The breakfast was the full English. It was one of the things I always enjoyed whenever on a jaunt like this; tucking into a damn good cooked breakfast.

I checked my phone and it registered that I’d walked nearly ten miles’ yesterday. That made me feel rather pleased as this time last year I could hardly walk half a mile without a great deal of pain. Now it was becoming second nature to walk half a dozen miles a day and I rarely struggled. How things had changed…

I polished off the breakfast, washing it down with orange juice and coffee.

By 8.30am I was out exploring the street as I had yesterday but seeing Shrewsbury in (literally) a rather better light. I decided to see the river again, and travelled most of the streets I travelled yesterday; snapping away getting quite a few photographs.

I walked around with a greater enthusiasm than I did yesterday. It’s funny how a change in weather can bring about a change in attitude. I tried not to go too far from the town centre because I wanted to be back at the hotel after noon when I expected the first of the gang would arrive.

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As I was snapping a few pubs amongst all the other photographs, I thought of sending one to Blameworthy, see how long it would take him to guess where I was. However, I decided I’d wait until later, until I’d snapped a few more pubs before I’d do that. As it turned out I deferred on that idea and decided to wait until I updated the blog. (Which has taken over two years; my how time flies.)

It was just as well I didn’t wander too far because after a couple of hours I suddenly felt the need of a public toilet. The only one I knew for certain was in the Mall area which, although not far, was quite a distance considering the urgency of my need.

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Years ago, when I used to watch the sitcom ‘Dad’s Army’ I use to find it rather amusing the way Private Godfrey use to always ask to be excused; these days it was too close to home to be quite as funny…

I hurried as quickly as I could and was rapidly approaching the stage where a certain part of me was playing ‘flight of the bumble bee’; perhaps not as professionally performed as a full orchestra, but too close for comfort, especially as I was , so to speak, limited to only the one instrument!

Fortunately, I made it to the conveniences in the Mall just in time. I haven’t quite reached the stage where I wanted to be regarded as incontinent!

The more I looked around the more I told myself I wished I was here for a few more days. (I made a mental note to put it on the list of places to return to.) With the unique individualistic nature of a lot of the shops in this market town I felt it might well be somewhere the Pink Lady might also like to look around.

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At around 11am I got a cappuccino in the Café Flavour, the same place I got one the previous day; determined to take advantage of the offer of coffee at a reduced price of 99p having bought one there yesterday. As Tesco people tell you, ‘every little helps’; a slogan that doesn’t work awfully well as a chat up line!

Quite often I have a habit, when in a new place, where I just turn down streets without any real logical reason other than to see where they take me; pure curiosity. I’d been passed a church, a couple of pubs and ended up in the car park of a large building which had a rather scenic view despite there still being a few dark clouds hanging around. It showed the land beyond the town centre where trees seemed in abundance, almost hiding streets and houses. I could see a castle turret or at least something that looked like one.

A few hundred yards ahead there was the River Severn (not sure what happened to the other six, perhaps they dried up?). It ran into the distance on the left and right as I stood there taking in the view. If I wanted to get to that turret I would have to go the long way around; especially as I hadn’t thought to carry my swimming trunks with me. It was a warm day but not that warm…

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I moved on after ten minutes, especially as the car park I was in looked like being a tad private and staying too long might put me in a little trouble.

By about 12 I decided to go back to the hotel and take another shower. I was anticipating that some of the others might be arriving soon, besides I was feeling in need of a little rest. I felt I should be there to meet them. I suspected the first arrivals would be Sunny and Mr and Mrs Londontaff; they live near enough to each other to share a lift. They usually were one of the first to arrive.

There was no doubt in my mind who would be the last to arrive, and that would be Thinker. For a man of his high intelligence you would not have thought that he would find being on time such a difficult thing. Still, that was the reality and one we’d become accustomed to. Topman and I once decided if they were looking for another Doctor Who, then Thinker could be their man.

I was sitting in the lounge-reception area when the trio arrived. They looked over at me then back at the reception desk. Sunny took a second good look as I approached the reception desk. None of them had recognised me at first. The beard was gone and I wasn’t wearing what they considered my trademark bow tie. The hot weather made bow tie wearing rather uncomfortable.

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They booked in and then said they would freshen up before taking a walk around the town and get something to eat; perhaps a beer or two. It sounded like a good plan to me so I waited patiently in reception for them to return.

Londontaff is gluten intolerant so we needed to find somewhere they can cater for that.

Having walked around most of the town centre I can show them to the pubs that provide food alongside the beer; I wasn’t an expert on the menus but had at least noted where likely suitable eateries were. It took nearly an hour before we find one that caters to Londontaff’s needs.

The Hole in The Wall, a Marston’s pub was quite busy but seemed to suit Londontaff’s needs. Mrs Londontaff checked with the bar-staff and found that a meal could be that didn’t contain gluten.

The Pink Lady is dairy intolerant and it’s at times like these I feel rather lucky that I can eat almost anything without problems; and often do!

I went with Fish and chips with peas, even though there was a full three-course meal ahead of me that evening. (And a couple of pints of Pedigree. Well, I was on a sort of holiday and I hoped that all the walking I was doing would balance things out.

Before walking moving on, I went for a comfort break, and made a mistake because I was happily thinking of other things. I turned from the wash basin and saw a slot so tried shoving my hands in it thinking it was an automatic hand-drier. My hands wouldn’t fit, and I immediately realised it was a Durex machine. (Note to self: eye test badly needed!)

Sunny – who we converted to real ales – was anxious to find a local brew to sample. He was quite insistent because he felt it would be a shame to drink a beer you can get most places and not sample something particular to the area. I agreed with him but it was finding it.

We popped into a few shops before coming back, the idea being, we make out way to the hotel. However, in an attempt to get Sunny his pint of locally brewed ale, we tried the Nag’s Head.

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We stayed just over half an hour and managed to swill back two pints of Hobson’s Best.

The hotel is only a few minutes from the hotel and the sun is still shining. It bodes well for the evening get-together.  before deciding time is moving on and we need to make our way back to the hotel.

After today’s walking I felt as though I could with a shower and a couple of hours’ rest before the evening feast.

Adding together a couple of pints in The Hop & Friar, then a few along with the meal in The Pear Tree, four pubs were visited in that weekend; pretty low number considering how many Blameworthy and I would have tackled in the old days but as ol’ Bob D once remarked, ‘the times they are-a changing…’

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20: Moore To See

I suppose it really hit home when I opened the letter from Lord Brett Sinclair, with the Gold Napoleon ticket inside. I was going. So, confirmed I made the arrangements to go to London on the 10th September…

The Letter From Lord Brett Sinclair

So when I left home on the 10th I felt as though I was well organised; nothing left to chance. It was 11.45 and I was over half way to the Swindon Train Station. It was then, as I checked my iPhone for messages, I realised the charge was down to 65%. I would need to charge that when I got to the hotel…

Then I remembered I hadn’t packed my charger!

I thought about going back but decided against it. It would have meant a hurried journey to the Station. Also, I was sure it would last until I got home tomorrow…well, fairly sure….well, ok, I did not think I would need it urgently if it ran out…

I was off to London and I could not remember the last time I went to London. Well, if you do not include Paddington Station, where I stopped a couple of times this year to wait for a tube train to take me to the Greenford arm of the Company I work for.

I used the service where you collect your tickets from the machine at the station. I have to admit I am not over impressed with the bloody things. I mean, what if they had a tantrum and decided not to give you your tickets…

Well, it was funny I should mention that. I looked at the booking number on my iPhone note pad, Then I put my debit card in and nothing. The option to buy or collect never came up.

Great!

Out came the debit card and I tried again….and again….and again….and again. The Corporal Jones in me was beginning to surface…

Finally, after trying every conceivable way of putting the card in, it worked with the way I put it in the first time.

Cheers!

I entered the number only to be told it was not recognised. Three more tries and the machine had obviously got its sight back because it recognised the number I keyed and the message came up:

“Please wait for your tickets.”

As if I needed to be told!

I moved away from the machine. I was now suspicious and decided to check the tickets before I went any further. Were they all there, were they printed correctly? After what I had been through my confidence level was not high.

Now the second hurdle of the day. I got to the machine stations had put in all over the country whose only purpose, from my experience, is to assist passengers to miss their trains. Of all the journeys I have made since they installed the bloody things only twice has the ticket opened the barriers; nearly every time the guard has to let me through with his over-ride ticket.

The same thing happened today and I got about twenty feet from the machine when I was called back. Time was running out and the last thing I needed was some officious guard…

“Sir, sir,” she cried.

I turned round rather impatiently and I noticed she was holding something, but didn’t really register what it was.

“Is this your wallet,” she asked

“No,” was my first answer, then I looked more closely. It was!

My manners improved here, somewhat, and I thanked her after telling her some of the things that were in it. That was careless and could have made a big difference to the day I had planned out.

I thank her a couple of times more and then dash off to the platform.

The weather, when I got up looked quite bright, now it was dull. As I waited on the Station, I wondered if I would regret not bringing a my Columbo style raincoat. I shrugged. It was too bloody late now.

The train turned up on time – a pleasant surprise – and having got a reserved seat I did not hurry too much. I was placed on an Aisle seat and was next to some chap who was reading a football magazine. A little further up the train were some youths wearing football shirts.

I began to think. Why did they do that, wear football shirts? I suppose it was a tribal thing; bit like national flags. I looked at an overweight, seat busting chap, thinking how big the sizes must go up to? An injury in their favourite team and suddenly there is an announcement:

“Will the fat bastard in the team shirt report to the team manager…he’s needed to replace our star striker!”

Hmm. Ok. Too much time on my hands…

I decided to read for the hour or so I would be on the train. I removed my Amazon Kindle and opened up ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ by Ian Fleming; the last Bond novel written by the original author. Over the last couple of months I had been re-reading all the James Bond books again.

The train journey passed by quite quickly, and as we drew into Paddington I looked out of the window to see high-rise flats, most of which displaying the week’s laundry over the balcony. One had a bike. I thought about living in one of those high rises, especially with my fear of lifts and insistence on taking the stairs. By the time I would have got the bike down all those flights of stairs I would have been too tired to ride it!

Again, I avoided the rush and stayed seated until most people piled off. Then, once on the platform I needed the toilet. I found it quite quickly and looked at the price. Thirty pence.

Hey ho!

I got in, walking to the left, which the sign says is the way in. By the turnstile where you put your money in, is a chap, in a chair, looking relaxed.

“Go in the other way,” he says.

“Thought this was the way in,” I smiled.

“It is, but you need to go in through the way out.”

“Right…” I said, dubiously. I had never been one for riddles…

I turned round and went to the way out and got to the turnstile. I could not get my coins in because it was blocked with coins. I fiddled with it for a good ten minutes, the pressure in my bladder increasing. I was rapidly approaching the Red Indian war-dance stage of wanting to go.

Then some chap from behind just strolled through the turnstile. It was not locked and dependent on coins to release it. I watched two other blokes walk through before the urge in me focused my mind and I dashed in and to the nearest cubical, nearly knocking down to other blokes on the way. When you have got to go, you have got to go!

I stood there for around three minutes or more, my eyes glazed over as I emptied my bladder. The simple pleasures in life are often the best…

Once out of Paddington Station the changeable weather decided sun. I could live with that. I figured it might be a good idea to check out exactly where the venue for my evening in London was in relation to my hotel. I wanted to make sure I would allow enough time to get there later; I hate to rush.

I put the postcode in on the iPhone map app and it plotted the route for me, telling me how far and how long it should take me on foot. The positive was the route took me through Hyde Park, a lot of people about either jogging or walking. There were quite a few families about and events which seemed to be catering for them.

It was Kent House in Rutland Gardens that I was looking for. After thirty minutes or so I found it, tucked down a side-street, with a barrier and gatehouse vetting the cars who came and left.

A Nice Walk To The Venue Via Hyde Park

At around 6pm tonight it would be hosting an event for a company called Network. It was through this Company over the last half-dozen or so years that I managed to collect numerous DVD collections of some of my favourite ITC series of the sixties and seventies. Series like The Saint, The Champions, Man In A Suitcase and many of the Gerry Anderson TV Series along with The Sweeney.

Tonight I would be attending the launch of the 40th Anniversary of The Persuaders! To mark this event there would be a showing of two episodes of the new digitally re-mastered series. The two episodes had been chosen by Sir Roger Moore, who would be at the event that night and was probably the main reason I decided to go.

At the entrance to Rutland Gardens was a gatehouse with a guard working the barrier. I decided to make sure I was at the right place so went and spoke to him.

“Hello,” I said, being all for original openings. “But is Kent House down there?”

“Yes, sir, first building.”

“I’m attending an event by Network DVD tonight…”

The guard frowned. That caused a tingle to run the length of my spin. Had I got it wrong? Surely not? I checked my ticket – probably for the hundredth time. No, it was all set up for today…

The Gold Napoleon Ticket

“Yes, it’s being attended by Sir Roger Moore…” I said, old name dropper me.

Another frown, then a “Really.”

He looked up a list, then smiled at me. “Ah yes, hadn’t noticed that before. I only got on an hour or so ago. We don’t get told in advance. His driver is booked in. He’s been here before for some other event, some sort of awards, I think.”

It was my turn to say: “Really?”

“Yes, very nice bloke.”

“I’ve heard that,” I replied.

“Yes, that night he’d been inside for a couple of hours and then came out with a plateful of food and a drink for the driver outside. Didn’t have to bring it himself, could’ve sent someone else.”

We talked for a couple of minutes then I decide to walk to the hotel. It’s this part of the journey I needed to measure for that evening. It was now 1.30pm. I programmed the iPhone and by coincidence it was around two miles to the Hotel.

The bulk of the journey was quite straightforward, along Kensington High Street. About forty minutes later I found the turn-off just eight minutes after it had turned cloudy again and began spitting with rain.

I checked in at the hotel and found the room to be cramped with bunk bed, metal but felt comfortable; the bathroom was a small room with a toilet, basin and shower. One window, about eight inches square. It was open and let in little air. The room was stuffy and I was feeling hot.

I took a quick shower and decided the room was not a place to hang around in. The weather had brighten a little so I thought I would go for a stroll. It was less than ten minutes before I would be on Kensington High Street where the shops were.

I suddenly realised I had not eaten since 9am, so bought a couple of sandwiches, a drink and a Snickers bar. I know how to live!

The event called for formal attire and I had dressed in jacket trousers, shirt with tie but my footwear was the walking trainers. I had brought along my only pair of shoes. Heavy and steel toe-capped. They were uncomfortable like most shoes I had worn in my life. However, needs must…as some chap once said…

So around 16:45, with the shoes on I begin the walk, deciding as soon as I find a cash point I would take a bus, I managed to work out they ran regularly up and down Kensington High Street.

However, by the time I found a cash point which would give me my money without having to pay for the privilege I was almost fifty percent of the way there. I walked the rest as well and get to the venue twenty-two minutes early. But I got a few pub shots on the way; even if everyone seemed to try to get in on the photograph.

My feet were already beginning to hurt, and there was at least three hours or more to go. I hoped there was seating inside other than the screening room.

It was 17:38 when I got there, very much on time. The reception was at 18:00, the two episode viewing was supposed to be at 18:45.

About ten minutes later myself and other Gold Napoleon ticket holders were called in. A majority of the people seemed to have come in seventies gear; as suggested but fortunately was not compulsory.

In eight minutes the crowd started to move then a woman calls out if the Gold Napoleon Ticket holders would like to come to the front…

Other Side Of The Gold Napoleon Ticket

The time-table was changed, as I along with other Gold Napoleon ticket holders, walked in. Sir Roger Moore was to sign the copies of the Box Set. As I queued I got to see the original Aston Martin DBS, that Roger Moore drove as Lord Brett Sinclair. The boot was open and in was signed by both Tony Curtis and Roger Moore.

Maleclipboard checked by name and let me through and Femaleclipboard took me to the room where Sir Roger Moore was signing The Persuaders! Blu Ray box sets.

As I entered the large room I saw the man himself. In front of me in the queue was a bloke who told me the man to Sir Roger’s left was his PA. Much to his delight, my fellow queue mate saw another bloke stood in front of the desk where Sir Roger was seated, signing box sets. He was taking each person’s camera or camera-phones and taking pictures. Although a lot less outwardly demonstrative than my queue mate, I was pleased that there was an opportunity to get my photo taken with the man himself…

I had not brought my camera as I had read the blurb when the ticket arrived which indicated no cameras. However, all was not lost as my iPhone has got a perfectly good 5 megapixel camera which should do a good enough job. So, as my turn arrived I handed over my iPhone to the bloke in front of the desk and handed over the box set to Sir Roger Moore and showed him where I would like him to sign it.

The Signed Blu Ray Folder.

“Thanks for such an entertaining blog and your work in the children’s charity,” said Sir Roger to me.

I raised an eyebrow in surprise. “I didn’t think you read my blog?”

“Ah, you’ll be surprised,” he responded…

I woke up from the daydream. Yep the last bit of dialogue was a lie…

I said a few words, none of which were what I planned, and then moved on after getting back my iPhone.

It was then onto the reception room. I was given a glass of Champagne and then mingled amongst a bigger crowd than I would have expected. There were sandwiches, small cut without crusts available. There were egg and cress, chicken and Caesar salad, Brie and cranberry – not a proper cheese as far as I’m concerned, rather tasteless but the cranberry was ok though – beef and mustard. I ate about 12; but they were no more than 1.5 mouthfuls each…well I was hungry and had done quite a bit of walking that day!

After twenty minutes or so my feet and back were killing me; a combination of the walk to the venue and walking around the room with only two chairs and both of them in use by disable chaps. What made it worse was there were quite a few people wearing trainers! I need not have caused myself such grief!

The Cover For The First Release of The Persuaders! In The 80s

I drank about two and half glasses of the bubbly, then went onto orange juice and was relieved when they announced the episode screenings. A chance to rest the old dogs…

In the viewing room was quite a big screen. In front of it was a small stage and I did not need to be a detective to work out it was for the question and answer session after the screenings.

Once most people were seated, I got a bit of shock when Barry Norman came onto the stage and explained there was to be a change in the schedule. They would show the first episode then there would be a Q&A session which Barry Norman would moderate. Then the second episode chosen by Sir Roger Moore would be shown.

I was surprised Barry Norman was there, even more surprised to hear his high praise for Sir Roger, especially as behind the man’s back Norman was quite critical. Thinking about it, perhaps I should not have been surprised as he had always tended on the hypercritical in my opinion.

The first episode was shown and I enjoyed the novelty of seeing it on the Big Screen. Of course, it would have been better had people not insisted on holding up their mobile cameras at various intervals but there we go, for every advantage of today’s devices there are disadvantages.

So through the first ever televised episode of The Persuaders! (Overture) we went. It looked rather good up on the big screen. Projected from a Blu Ray player using one of the box sets.

The Q&A’s came. After regularly watching Barry Norman’s Film programme over the years, hearing the way he ran down old Sir Rog, I was quite surprised at his gushing praise for the man now…or was I? Years of watching his Film ‘whatever year’ programme should have prepared me for his ‘style’.

Anyway, despite Barry Norman’s probing, trying to dig up the ‘dirt’, so to speak, about things like Sir Roger’s working relationship with Tony Curtis, Sir Roger never dished out the dirt only the positive. It was the same with Sir Roger’s autobiography, where he made it clear from the outset his biography, ‘My Word Is My Bond’ was not going to be seedy revelations…

The Persuaders! Annual: Nearly 40 years old.

Once Barry got his questions in he generously allowed others from the audience to ask questions before the introduction to the second Persuaders! episode chosen by Sir Roger Moore.

The session must have gone on for forty minutes at least and ended with a standing ovation. I was one of the first three to stand up. I would like to say it was purely because I enjoyed it but that was only part of it. My arse was dead and standing up helped restore the blood supply.

Quite a few people left with the exit of Sir Roger Moore. But despite my protesting arse, I stayed on to watch the second episode ‘A Death In The Family’. I probably would not get the chance to see any episodes on the big screen again.

After the episode I left. My feet and arse were still killing me so I decided I would take the bus, it would drop me off near enough to the hotel to give the dogs only a short walk.

I bought a litre of orange juice and two Oatmeal bars in a shop before getting back to the hotel, tired. I drank half the orange juice, ate the bars and then went to bed; which was surprisingly comfortable.

As I drifted off I reflected on an episode of Inspector Morse, the one where he meets one of his heroes of Opera. It turned out to be a great disappointment to him; as did most things for him, which was why he (probably) was such a misery guts. I felt rather luckier than that because I had met one of my heroes and he had turned out to be very much as I imagined he would be…

Of course, it was a brief meeting in very amiable circumstances, but still, it was nice to be left without disappointment….

 

19: Conspiracy Theory

Mitchells Cycles

In 2009 I eased up on the bike a little in the June-July period, punctures and a work project got in the way a little. Besides, that year the Pink Lady was suffering from a frozen shoulder so there was less pressure to venture out into the country. I missed the quickness of riding a bike backwards and forwards to work; that and it helped me to keep the weight down.

Then the bike was back in action and for the latter half of 2009 and a month or so of 2010 I was back in the saddle. Then problems with the bike occurred again.

After a month or so I got a little fed up with punctures, wheel wobble, a lump in the tyre, stretching cable wires. It seemed no sooner did Velocipede get it working, than another problem occurred.

The Pink Lady berated me:

“Why don’t you go to Mitchell’s Cycles? It’s only a few minutes away?” said she.

“Well…well, I, well, Velocipede does all my repairs…”

“He hasn’t done this one, though, has he?” was the lady’s comeback.

“Well, no, no, he hasn’t…but…”

“And how long has the bike been off the road.”

“Well, a month…” Mumbled I.

“How long?” asked she, again.

“About a month…” I responded, thinking she hadn’t heard.

Then came the ‘less of the bullshit stare’. If one has never been subjected to the Pink Lady’s ‘less of the bullshit’ stare, then one has no right to criticise how easily one falls apart under it.

“Two months…”

The stare again.

“….and three weeks…”

“So when is he going to repair it?” demanded the Pink Lady.

“I’m not sure, I mean he’s busy, one doesn’t like to push…” I stammered.

“Have you asked?”

“Well, not exactly asked. Did mention there was a spot of bother…”

“The bike’s bloody useless, with the brakes going and a wobbly tyre and a puncture….?”

“Yes,” I mumbled, even more quietly than before; my foot was drawing patterns in the ground, rather like a sulky child.

“So are you going to ring him, asking him for a firm date?”

I was caught between defence of a friend, whom I hadn’t stated any urgency to, and trying to tactfully move the conversation on.

“I think he’s on holiday…” again, mumbling. I don’t think I was the mumbling sort until I met the Pink lady.

“Then take it to Mitchell’s Cycles…get it sorted out!”

I frowned, speaking a little more loudly. “Can’t do that. I mean if I didn’t let Velocipede do the repairs he’d be offended, he’d think I’d lost confidence in him!”

“Rubbish, Fitrambler, it has nothing to do with hurting Velocipede’s feelings. It’s because you’re a tight fisted git. You don’t want to spend the ten or twenty quid…”

“Ten or twenty quid,” I exclaimed.

“Yes, ten or twenty quid, if you want to get it done and it’d be ready within twenty-four hours.”

“Well, maybe, but I ought to give Velocipede another call, let him have a chance…”

“Tight fisted…” she repeated.

“Now look here, I’ll have you know that that’s the last thing I am…Me, tight fisted, how can you say such a thing!”

“Easy, you always procrastinate when it comes to spending money. ‘I’ll buy it later, when the price comes down,’ or ‘I’ll think about it’. By the time your wallet sees the light of day or you’ve thought about it the thing’s gone.”

“I’m hurt. Miser, that’s what you’re saying. Nothing could be further from the truth…”

“So you’ll be taking the bike to Mitchell’s Cycles then, to get it sorted out.”

It was, I am afraid to admit, a trap I fell into. To prove I wasn’t a miser I had to get the bike repaired at Mitchell’s Cycles. But I didn’t do it immediately (ha, ha!). I can do defiance!

A few days later I went into Mitchell’s Cycles and pointed out the problems with the bike and they quoted me about eighty quid. So much for the Pink Lady’s ten to twenty quid quote. Well, ok, it wasn’t just a tyre, it was the brakes, and the gears were a little in need of a touch of the old TLC.

While I was there I made some enquiries about something which bothered me ever since I’d taken up cycling again. Being upright when cycling. I saw people who were upright when cycling and yet I was always bent forward, no matter how high Velocipede put the handlebars.

The chap in the shop showed me a few bikes he called ‘sit up and beg’ bikes. I saw a Dawes, Town and Country and straight away I was smitten. There are only a few things that I have admired almost immediately – Pink Lady aside – but this bike was one of them.

I gave it a little thought, my bike wouldn’t be ready until Saturday. I told them there was no hurry; besides, the longer it took them the more I could sigh at the Pink Lady and say “Mitchell’s Cycles, not as fast as you led me to believe.” Alright, a little childish but…

Anyway, the more I thought about the other bike, the Dawes, the more I got the feeling I just had to have it. I didn’t mention this to the Pink Lady, just told her about the cost and the time it’d take Mitchell’s to do the job on the old bike.

So, a bit of a conspiracy played across the old noggin, not realising that soon I would be involved in an even bigger one not of my own making…

I decided to buy the bike and when we next went out for a ride I would bring the new bike along and surprise her. The only person I told about the new bike was Velocipede before I bought it, asking his advice.

Within twenty-four hours I was riding the new bike, new lights, and adjusted as needed. I rode to work for about seven working days when the Pink Lady was going shopping one Sunday and decided to use her bike.

I was clocking up about eight miles a day but still was not really all that fit.

When I got into town I parked the bike, locked it up and saw the Pink Lady’s bike parked a couple of bikes up from me. So, I met up with the Pink Lady and we had coffee before going round the shops.

While we were having coffee, the Pink Lady asked. “So, what’s the progress on your bike?”

Carefully, I said: “The old bike is being repaired, needs quite a few things doing to it.”

“So you haven’t got your bike with you?”

“I said, the old bike is with Mitchell’s,” I repeated, carefully.

We moved onto subjects anew…

A while later I walked with the Pink Lady to her bike, then, casually took my helmet out of my rutsack. When the Pink lady saw me she frowned.

“You said your bike was being repaired!” she said, and looked amongst the other bikes, frowning all the more. “I can’t see it.”

I smiled as I put my rutsack back on my back, then took out my keys and began unlocking the new bike.

She didn’t quite do a double take but it was close.

“This is my new bike,” I said.

“You never said you’d got a new bike?”

I just smiled. The Pink Lady looked over the bike and approved.

“Well, Fitrambler, as we’ve both got our bikes, how about a ride?” she suggested.

I was full of pride in my new bicycle that the idea seemed a good one.

“Where to?” asked I.

“I’ve been wanting to look at the path that leads to Chiseldon,” replied she.

That seemed okay to me, finding the beginning of a path to Chiseldon, not as though it will be all that far?

“Not too far, then.”

“Oh no,” said she, “not too far at all…”

Distances are relative to the person. A couple of of our short rides in the past have been rather long in my opinion, but one has managed. But I felt on safe ground with what she had suggested.

However, we weren’t going far, so I went along with it. After all, finding the new cycle path to Chiseldon wasn’t the same as riding it all the way to Chiseldon was it?

So, off we go, Fitrambler following the jean-clad bottom so familiar on bike rides. We went to the bottom of town and follow the Canal all the way to Old Town. Then it was onwards to Coate Water and beyond that to a road I knew from a previous ride. It was here I got a little worried because the last time I was on this road it led to a bloody great hill. My feelings on hills are well documented. But we only went a hundred or so yards before we turned off in what looked at first like someone’s stone chipped drive but led through into Coate Water.

We continued on and I began to identify familiar parts of Coate Water for over ten minutes before we were through and then almost to the motorway. This is where I began to get a little suspicious; especially when I saw the twisty-bridge thingy.

We got level with the twisty-bridge thingy – or rather the Pink Lady did – and began cycling up it.

I tried to register a protest here – like had we not gone far enough and how much further after the bridge – but the distance and noise of the bloody traffic drowned me out.

So, no choice but to go up the twisty-bridge thing, which I did and got to the other side, whereby it was downhill. There the Pink Lady slowed to see if I was still there but before I could shout out a protest it was arse chasing time again as she was off!

The route seemed straight enough until it veered off to the right and became rather steep; actually bloody steep.

Hill, bloody hill. Ahhh God!

Off went the Pink Lady, the distance between us increasing. There was something very familiar about the territory. As I moved through the gears and fortunately with this new bike there were more of them, I began to curse and swear.

I barely managed to get to the top of thing long and winding road (all due respect to the Beatles), but when I did I wasn’t a happy bunny.

I parked the bike about twenty feet away from where the Pink Lady was. I was trying to decide whether or not to throw the bike in the bushes or at the Pink Lady! This wasn’t what I agreed too.

Anyway hot and sweaty I calm down and the bike doesn’t get imbedded in the ground or indeed the Pink Lady – gentlemanly instincts prevailing. I leant it against a fence and walked ten or more yards away from the Pink Lady until all aggressive thoughts died down.

“Chiseldon,” said she.

“Great!” I responded in a less than enthusiastic tone.

As far as I saw it I’d gone three times as far as I planned and discovered there must be a language barrier between us. The Pink Lady originates from Nottingham, a place I have only visited once on official business door to door and not actually venturing out. So I was thinking now that ‘finding the path’ to somewhere meant not only finding it but following it to its logical bloody conclusion.

Thinking back it reminded me of my pub trips with Ol’ Blameworthy. He would often suggest a pub he was taking us to was just around what turned out to be the biggest and longest corner in existence.

Finally, we take the journey home….

The Old Residence

The following day, Monday, (walking like I was a member of the John Wayne impressionist society) I texted Velocipede and we arranged a bike ride for the coming Friday, despite my aches.

But, in view of yesterday’s experiences with the Pink Lady I decided I’d lay out some ground rules.

NO HILLS!

Velocipede assured me this will not be the case and he has a route in mind which will suit me nicely.

Being an amiable sort of chap, I believed him.

Friday arrived and we decide first to go over our childhood turf. So from the old Fitrambler residence we follow the Queens Drive until we get to Park South. We looked over our old houses, took a few photos of the front and back, and then cycle the way we would have done had we been going to school; really doing the memory lane thing.

The Back Way to the Old Residence: More boarded up nowadays.

Then from there we looked around the shopping centre opposite our old school and then back towards Coate Water. I let Velocipede lead and as went past Coate, turned into the same lane as the one the Pink Lady did last Sunday, I began to get a little tingle up the spine. More tingling as we turned up the driveway and started cutting our way through Coate Water.

No, I tell myself, following this bit is just a coincidence, a ride round Coate means nothing….

But when we rode past Coate Water and onto a side road, which then lead through some gates and exactly on the path through Coate Water which I travelled the previous Sunday with the Pink Lady, the spine is positively pin-prinkingly tingling!

I frowned but remembered the text. No hills and Velocipede agreed to that. I was wrong to doubt the chap, he just wouldn’t do that to me.

We followed the route until we got to the helter-skelter thingy.

We stopped there for a few seconds.

“Um, where are we going?”

“Over that,” he said, pointing to the helter-skelter thingy.

“Yes, and then?”

“A pub,” he tells me pleased.

“But there’s a bloody hill between the pub and the hill, isn’t there.”

His face wrinkles as little as he says: “Nah, not really.”

I think for a second or two and decide – quite naively as it turns out – that Velocipede probably knows an non-hill route on the other side. I mean, the agreement was no hills! (Yes, clutching at straws by now!)

Then he’s off again and I have no choice but to follow…

…UP A BLOODY GREAT TWISTY HILL. THE SAME BLOODY TWISTY HILL AS LAST SUNDAY!

I do a little better this time. Trying to concentrate on important things ahead to take my mind off the strain.

“Beer and pub, beer and pub…” I chant to myself, almost trying to put myself into a trance.

But as I struggled to get to the top, I rapidly began to wonder which part of my text ‘No hills’ he hadn’t understood?

Finally we reached the promised pub only to find it’s bloody closed! It’s either being refurbished or being converted into flats or a house. I don’t know which but I’m not happy.

The Elm Tree 1996 - Now no longer with us.

But Velocipede recovers from the temporary disappointment and says there is another one quite near we can try and, surprise, surprise, the route is via another large hill! Oh joy!

Happiness and old Fitrambler weren’t having any quality time together this evening.

In the midst of my tiredness, moaning and general demeanour of being pissed off at people who have difficulty digesting the phrase ‘I don’t like hill’, a theory begins to form.

It is a bloody conspiracy!

Tired and perhaps a touch delirious – it was a long day – I remembered Velocipede and the Pink Lady had met a couple of times at the monthly sojourn at the Glue Pot. Both committed cyclists for most of their lives!

Who’s to say they haven’t spoken to each other without me present or indeed while I might have been distracted talking to Wellread?

Can they think I’d really be naïve as to think two bike rides in a week should follow the same route and be put down as coincidence? No, no, no. A bloody conspiracy, I tell you!

Yep. Had to be a put up job. Yes, they were trying to kill me, I knew they were, no other explanation…my left eye was beginning to twitch by now and I was quietly manically laughing to myself…

We eventually left Chiseldon, made our way to Badbury and the Bakers Arms.

It was a long time ago when I last drank in that establishment. One of the first times was with Ol’ Blameworthy, when we worked at the same Company together back in the very late 1970s, early 1980s. Memories of darts games and copious amounts of 2Bs flowed through the old noggin.

The Back Garden of The Bakers at Badbury

Now the bar was knocked into one, making the place a lot more spacious. There was a quiz on and most of the seats were taken. Although the 2Bs was on we both decided to have Cider. I wasn’t sure of the strength, but it wasn’t very powerful falling down water.

It was a lovely evening (if you didn’t count the hills and the conspiracy). So we made our way through to the back garden. There were only two other people in the garden.

About thirty to forty minutes later we were back on the bikes and off, the way home.

Fortunately, any hills we confronted was a descent and not an ascent, so it was a little better. In fact where hills are concerned going down them is not a bother, I rather recommend it.

Still, (hills not included) it was a rather pleasant evening out. It was nice to see an old drinking hole, to see how it’d changed over the years.

However, no one will convince me that Velocipede and the Pink Lady didn’t conspire under the dubious pretext of humour, to put me through the same gruelling ride twice in one week!

I’m not paranoid, they really are out to get me….

18: Ups And Downs In The Saddle

The Pub At The Top Of The Hill - Calley Arms

After my first puncture messing up the first bike ride with the Pink Lady, the subsequent rides was somewhat more successful.

To be honest, it could not have been much worse!

We decided, correction, The Pink Lady, decided we would take a ride out to a gardening centre. That worried me a little. It was not so much the bike ride itself, but the memory which flashed through to Fitrambler brain; the Pink lady had taken a look at the Fitrambler garden recently – commonly known as the Fitrambler jungle.

Some have suggested I put a sign up at the back saying:

‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here!’

Legend has it Boy Scouts have been known to get lost in there on bob a job week! Of course, as with all legends, it starts with something simple and then is blown out of all proportion – I once found what looked like a boy scout cap…

Anyway, back to the bike ride…

‘It’s a lovely day and I need a few bits and pieces,’ said she.

‘You need a few bits and pieces.’ Said I.

‘Yes, and it’ll be a nice bike ride,’ the Pink Lady.

‘So, we’re going out for a bike ride to a gardening centre to get things for your garden, purely for yours?’ I repeated.

‘Something wrong with your ears, Fitrambler, that’s what I said.’

‘No, no, not at all. Absolutely, damn good idea.’

I was alright with that, long as she had not got it into her head to encourage me to spend money on the Fitrambler jungle. One likes to know the parameters once is working to. Besides, spending good money on the damn garden is bad enough but the bloody work that leads to. Well…

‘I’ve set our dinner going so that it’ll be ready when we get back…’

On hearing that the saliva glands began to work overtime. I tried to think of a way I could forgo the bike right and get to the dinner bit very quickly…

‘Are you ready, Freddie?’ she asked, and I straight away knew I would not get away with any excuse not to go on the bike ride, not if I wanted to stuff the old chops later.

Not that I did not want to go on the bike ride, but the thought of a Pink Lady dinner was distracting me somewhat!

Anyway, bikes out and helmets on, we were off, with, as usual, the Pink Lady leading the way.

What I did not realise was that we were not taking a direct route! This would be something which would become common over time, me confusing what was exactly happening…

We cycled to Old Town, from Toothill via the old railway line, through the back of Coate Water and up towards Hodson.

I sort of recognised the route or at least have travelled parts of it before in a car. How the direction fitted in with our journey to the Garden Centre I did not know. But these were early days of bike rides with The Pink Lady and I trusted her to lead the way.

To be honest, my sense of direction is not always perfect. Unless there’s a decent and sensible landmark. You know the sort of thing, pub, book shop, or a good place for a scoff, then I have a little difficulty. Also, in the last twenty years I had mainly gone places in cars…

What I should have remembered, though, was there’s a bloody great hill Hodson way. But as I said, only ever done the journey in a car and usually hills are not all that much of a problem in a car.

What I did remember was there were at least half a dozen times when I drank in there. First time when I got my first car and drove out there with Neatentidy, and then several times with Blameworthy. I think it was one visit with Blameworthy when I got one of my few 180’s at darts. History in the making.

Anyway, we obviously start at the bottom and as things go on, the Pink Lady gets further and further ahead and I start to slow down. Let’s face it, the Pink Lady has been cycling most of her life – almost came out of the womb with a bike attached. Me, I gave up around sixteen and only began again at 49. I just did not have her level of fitness.

Since I bought the new bike, I only used a few gears, having previously been used to around three gears on my bikes. On this hill I found myself getting right down to the lowest gear and still bloody struggling.

It got to a point where I felt I was going sideways, quite dangerous with the occasional oncoming car. It’s that sudden look of fear as they come round the corner and you are almost on their bonnet; a look that says ‘I think I just crapped myself!’

Fortunately, from my point of view, the sight of the oncoming car gave me a momentary burst of adrenalin and I managed to get over to my side of the road before having an impromptu flying lesson!

Unfortunately, this sudden energy burst did not last and I ended up getting off and walking, which was not much easier as most of my reserves of energy had been used trying to cycle up the bloody hill.

By this time my lungs were pounding like set of electric bellows which were on overload!

Finally, and what to me seemed hours later, but was probably only ten minutes later, I am approaching the top and there’s the Pink Lady leaning on her bike looking quite relaxed and smiling.

Now I am sure that the smiling was just a sign of friendliness but how I felt at that precise moment, combined with what I had just gone through, made me a tad suspicious that she was being smug.

When I eventually found enough breath to be able to speak, I explained:

‘Had..to..get..off..to..get..up..the..hill, couldn’t…peddle…any further.’

The Pink Lady asked: ‘Why didn’t you use the gears?’

I paused, fighting the urge to say: ‘because I didn’t have any ****ing gears left!’

After all, it was not her fault I was in the state I was, well, not entirely, anyway. Instead I looked across at the pub.

‘Been in there,’ I changed the subject, still sounding like a heavy breather on an obscene telephone call.

‘Do you want to go in.’

‘No. Best not.’

It was tempting, so very tempting but there were several reasons for my sudden bout of willpower. The first was that if I got inside she would have to drag me back out again. After what I just went through to get up the hill my enthusiasm for cycling had taken something of a bruising.

Secondly, I did not have enough money on me to pay for a round; or even just one for me!

I got about five minutes rest before we were off again and I was trying to keep up with the Pink Lady again.

Beautiful To Look At, A Long Way To Go!

That day I got to see the Pink Lady’s jean-covered arse more than her face as I followed it through the country roads. There are many worse things in life but it would have been nice to have narrowed the gap to less that three hundred yards!

But it was a lovely day; impending heart attack to one side.

Luckily, it was only a short upward ascension before we travelled down a very steep hill. This was a hill leading into more familiar territory, Wroughton.

Ah, good old Blameworthy and I walked to that village many a time in those days, trying to slate our thirst with beer…

I just caught the Pink Lady turn left at the end from my vast distance behind her. I did the same.

If nothing else, the ride down the hill at speed rested me a little and dried the sweat which previously was pouring out of every pore, so to speak.

This hill, although a lot easier, was a little frightening. I was going at a hell of a rate of knots and relying heavily of the breaks on the bike.

A few minutes later we were going up another hill before going off in the general direction of where the Pink Lady lived. A puzzle as I thought we were heading to the Garden Centre; wherever that was?

As it turned out we had gone in a wide circle in order to go away from the garden centre then curve back round to be back on track. It was at this point I should have begun to get a little more inquisitive, shall we say, about what routes we were taking; something I would attempt in future.

There were several more hills (not on the scale of the Hodson one, thankfully) before we finally arrive at the Garden Centre and the Pink Lady decides it might be an idea to have a cup of tea or coffee?

A cup? The distance I travelled and the effort I put in I wanted a bucket of coffee!

My keenest on cycling was depreciated a little on this first ride, especially the hill bit. I did try an tell myself I needed to get my fitness up a lot more and I would sail up the hills – or at least that was the opinion of the Pink Lady!

Hmm?

That hill, the one at Hodson, was not going to be the last one or indeed the last time I would have to try and cycle up it.

A week or so later we took a ride out towards the Village in at the top of Liddington. We began the journey from the Pink Lady’s house, where she was working on the meal we would have on our return. I can think of no better incentive for a bike ride than the prospect of a Pink Lady cooked meal at the end of it…

Fitrambler in paradise!

This time it felt a lot more civilized as I seemed better prepared for the hills; to be honest, I do not think they were any where as bad or twisty. I think it was the twisty-thing that did for me on the Hodson hill. There’s no real way to take a run at (or should that be a ride at it?) and get up a bit of speed. Whereas, going to Liddington that option was there.

The Pink Lady still remained ahead for the most part but I consoled myself with the fact I was being gentlemanly; you know, ladies first and all that.

We dropped off at the Village Inn at Liddington but the place was closed, which was bad news. Not happy with that at all, really bad form.

How Dare The Pub Not Be Open - The Village Inn.

So after a five or ten minute rest, where, for a few minutes of that rest, it spotted a little with rain, we moved on. Within half a mile the sun peeped out from behind the clouds.

Onwards we went, to our next port of call which was Wanborough. This time our (my) luck was in and the Calley Arms was open.

Time for a snifter!

Once we double locked our bikes up in the car park, we moved round to the front entrance. Never been much of one for the back entrance, not in my nature…

Up against the wall was an old rusting bike which the Pink Lady took a liking to. Out came the phone and she took a picture of it. I was not quite sure what the interest was but I was getting a little impatient for my ale.
I mean, be fair, the bike had been rotting away there for years, no reason why she could not have taken the photo on the way out? Still, that’s women for you. What they want you have to do now, what you want can wait a while!

Not A Bad Drop Of Beer And Much Needed - The Other Calley Arms.

Anyway, once inside I managed to get away with two drinks before we were on our way. To be honest, I did not want too many because of the journey home. Although a fine and sunny day, it was quite windy on some of the country roads.

Well, too many beers and there’s a pressing need to drain the old python; and having a crafty pee near a bush or something with a wind that might change direction at any minute; bit risky. It’s bad as a wet fart in white trousers! Not good for the image!

If I remember correctly, that ride was about 25 miles, which I did not discover until we got back to the Pink Lady’s house. She has a Speedo-come milometer on her bike; oddly enough in pink.

Made me feel rather good, cycling all that way. Of course what made me feel far, far better was sitting down to the Sunday roast the Pink Lady had cooked…

The rides during that Summer often began from the Pink Lady’s house or the canal bridge. And quite a few ended with dinner or lunch (and a pudding, no less) at the Pink Lady residence…

A Fitrambler cannot ask for more in life…well this one can’t!

17: Riding The Pain

I was told it would get easier. Really, it would. But after ten days I was getting rather doubtful.

Yes, ten days I had been riding the new bike and the old rear end was giving me trouble.

I mentioned the discomfort to the Pink Lady.

‘You’ll get use to it,’ said she. And then moved the conversation on to other things…

The lashings of sympathy overwhelmed me!

It was a balancing act really – no pun intended – riding the bike. The sore arse I did not like, but the actual ride itself was quite fun.

Backwards and forwards to work, 25 minutes each way was a lot quicker than the 50 minutes walking would take. It was good exercise and saved pounds on bus fare, so the pluses were there.

On the negative side, as previously stated, there was the ubiquitous sore arse. It felt painful as I got on and after the ride it felt like someone had taken a Bunsen burner to it. And I was walking bow-legged, like I had crapped myself.

Let’s be honest, Old Fitrambler here has never been a great friend of Mr Pain!

Still, I was persevering. I had thrown three hundred quid at this little convenience and was not going to give up easily. I worked out that to pay back what I spent it would take 94 rides to and from work. By putting away the bus fare into my TARDIS money-box I could pay it back; there would be plenty of room as the box never seemed to fill up…

I have to admit, I got as far as two hundred and ten quid before I started to forget or leave IOU notes…

However, I carried on. Even the snow did not stop me – slowed me down, perhaps, but it never stopped me. Nor when it belted down with rain did the Fitramber determination diminish.

I looked to see the thrashing rain and think: ‘Now, Fitrambler (I’m good with names) it’s not fit for man nor beast out there. But, what would Velocipede do? Would he let that stop him? Oh no. In all weathers, he would be out there on the bike, not letting anything stop him, moving through it with grim determination!’

As it happened some weeks later, the question of what Velocipede would do was revealed. We met in town and he told me. One look at the thrashing rain or the snow and it was a case of ‘Sod that!’ and out with the car.

Luckily, I did not know that when I was giving myself the pep-talk!

Even the Pink Lady has been known to lay off the old bike if she’s likely to have lots of trouble with the wind

Hmm. Perhaps I had better explain that. I’m not suggesting for one moment the Pink Lady is subject to severe bouts of flatulence, oh no, more about the winds of nature, blowing up a gale force.

I can understand that. Part of the route I take home leaves me out in the open, no buildings or woods to protect me from rather severe cross winds when they have a mind to blowing.

On one occasion the wind was so bad I reached the lowest gear on the bike and was still struggling to make any progress. So bad in fact, that a snail overtook me. Still, I’m sure it had racing stripes on its side, so I did not feel quite so embarrassed…

Moments like that made me a little inclined to give up. Trouble is, you never know which days are going to be like that? And if you have ridden to work, you bloody well have to ride back. It’s a sort of a rule!

Anyway, by the time the first month was up I suddenly realised the old rear end had stopped giving me grief. It was odd, the pain barrier just disappeared without me noticing it.

So, from then on until about a week after Christmas 2008 – over two months later – I was getting a lot fitter and enjoying the trip to and from work.

Already the Pink Lady was making plans to extend the biking experience to weekends for me. Ventures into the country. Velocipede was talking about bike rides to faraway places. My future was being mapped out…

I was a little cautious here. I was averaging about eight miles a day on the bike. Tour de France was not yet on my horizon.

Anyway, towards the end of January 2008 a pain developed between the thighs, just below the old meat and two veg. Gave me trouble sporadically when sitting down and riding. So, not to aggravate it further I stopped riding the bike for a week or so to see if it would heal itself. It did not, so I finally decided I would have to visit the doctor.

On the day of the appointment I was showed into see Dr Cheer, who grinned at me the minute I entered. I was not sure why he was so amused or what it was about the way I walked in that amused him, but I smiled politely back. Once he looked briefly away at his computer, I quickly checked my flies.

‘What’s the trouble?’ Dr Cheer asked, still smiling pleasantly.

I have always been a bit troubled by that sort of question from doctors. After all, it’s supposed to be them who do the diagnosis thingy?

I described the symptoms and then he asked if he could examine me. Well, anything for a laugh, me.

In the last few years I have seen doctors more than I have in the whole of my life put together and very rarely did the GP do much by the way of an examination in the past. Blood pressure check, but that was about all.

Still, thoroughness cannot be criticised in my view so I went off to the bed- thingy.

‘Right, drop the trousers and pants and lean forward on the bed.’

Ok, I will admit it, I did hesitate, I really did. It did not help when he put on the old rubber gloves. I had a horrible feeling what might be coming next. I could understand for hygiene purposes they have to do the rubber glove-thing; but both hands? What the hell was he going to get up to? Or indeed how far?

Still, I was glad I had taken a bath that morning. I was still nervous though. I mean, it was new territory to me, a bloke behind me while I have been bending over with the trousers and pants around the ankles. It was not a fun thing, although there might be a certain section of society that might disagree with me…um, so I have heard.

He began to poke and prodding near the anus and then below, a little further, then further…felt around a bit more and this time I was afraid he was going to extend his examination. Go the whole way; y’know, ‘open sesame’. A real eyeball bulging examination.

But no, he just covered old ground, so to speak and then got me to pull up the pants and trousers.

‘Can’t seem to feel anything…’

Move that hand a little more to the front and you will, I thought.

‘No lumps or anything sinister, probably a strained muscle,’ Dr Cheer said.

On reflection, it had not been too bad. I certainly got the right day for an examination round there. A couple of weeks ago, the old stomach had been playing up. A couple of prods then and I would not have been all that popular with Dr Cheer.

Dr Cheer gave me some tablets, something to deal with the muscle strain; things which would relax the muscle and let it heal.

So off I went, feeling a little happier.

It was six weeks before I got on the bike again, and then we were getting to the better weather and the Pink Lady’s plans for Sunday rides were coming to fruition.

Look out country folk, Fitrambler and the Pink Lady are on their way….

16: First Bike In Over 30 Years

A bike ride with The Pink Lady - Lydiard

I bought a bike in 2007, around the end of October, and did it to get some exercise. Well, that and to prevent nagging from the Pink Lady and Velocipede, both of whom are very keen cyclists.

I have always been more of a walker myself, but gradually I warmed to the idea of getting a bike; better than having my ears warmed by the aforementioned ardent cyclists.

For around two hundred and eighty quid I got a bike, lights, helmet, the lock, repair kit and pump. Oddly enough, the helmet took longer to choose than the bike. I deliberated for a good fifteen minutes over a purple coloured one, but in the end decided that would lead to loads of jokes. You are probably working on a few as you read, so I will leave it there.

As I handed over the cash I eagerly waited for my bike to be brought out when the Bike Chappie asked: ‘Will you put it together yourself or would you like us to do it?’

I frowned. ‘Put it together?’ I queried.

‘Yes.’

‘They’re in pieces, are they?’ I responded.

I thought I paid for a bike not a jigsaw puzzle!

‘Well not fully assembled. We make the necessary seat adjustments, put on the lights, fix the lock holder…’

‘O-K.’ I replied, slowly.

Velocipede did not mention any of this. It was starting to get a little complicated for the old Fitrambler brain.

‘No cost,’ Bike Chappie added, as an incentive.

Best thing he could have said. Two days later I collected the bike. Moved it towards the door, thinking it looked pretty good and, I admit, feeling a little keen now the moment had arrive. Then Bike Chappie stopped me in my tracks.

‘Don’t forget the check up,’ said Bike Chappie.

‘Sorry,’ I responded.

It was thirty years ago when I last rode a bike and then things were different (anyone mentioning Penny-farthings will be shot!). Why would I need a check up? I was fairly fit for my age and why specifically for riding a bike?

‘My doctor recommended I take up bike riding, so he must think I’m up to it.’

‘No, no,’ replied Bike Chappie, giving the sort of patronising smile you get when they know more than you do – a sort of Jeeves superiority. ‘No, a bike check up.’

‘A bike check up.’

‘Bit like an MOT for a car.’

‘Ok.’

He saw that I looked a little dubious so added. ‘All part of the service and the first one is free.’

Hearing the free bit made me a little more kindly disposed to the ‘check up’. Free is good, I like free.

I got the bike out of the shop and began to wheel it home. Then, after a few yards, decided why wheel it, home, rather defeats the object.

So I hung my Halford’s bag with the lock, helmet and repair kit over one handlebar and decided to mount the bike.

Should not be a problem. In my teenage years I rode a bike all the time. Getting back into it would be easy, I mean it would be just like riding….hm, yes, well you know what I mean.

So over goes the leg (cue titters for leg-over jokes) and I get on it. It seemed very high up and I started to wobble along, feeling a lot less confident. It was not as easy as I thought.

I started to approach a tree at just above walking pace and suddenly found my coordination was not up to it. I knew I should turn, avoid the tree, but for some reason, trying to keep my balance and turn was something I was not capable of.

Not thinking of the obvious, like squeezing the breaks, I leapt off, immediately wishing I had not been so rash.

A few minutes later, once I finished dabbing my eyes from a bent, holding-my-knees-position, wishing it was a ladies bike, I decided to go back to Plan A and walk the bike home.

I put the bike in the place which would become its home and sat at my table, thinking.

It was an understatement saying it had not gone well. I was prepared to be a little wobbly, even get achy legs after a ride but not achy danglers.

So, for the rest of the evening, every time I went passed the bike, my eyes produced an odd tear or two.

Next morning, I decide I have paid out enough for the thing, so I should at least attempt to ride the devil again.

So at an early hour – no neighbours out and about to think the Cabaret’s arrived – I make my second attempt to ride it. This time hoping the crossbar will not do a Platex bra on me, you know, lift and separate the old crown jewels.

I roll down the slight incline, helmet on head, trying to keep my balance and not doing a bad job of it. The problem begins when I get close to the end of the road where I need to turn right. For a few seconds this confuses the old grey matter and my coordination gets a little shaky but I manage the turn quite well, and do not fall off and more importantly the crown jewels do not take a belting!

Result!

Well, almost, the car that swerved to avoid me, made me realise that keeping my balance, being able to turn AND looking out for cars coming out of a T junction should have been on the operational list.

I got to work relatively unscathed that day. Got off the bike and the old legs felt a bit wobbly, and I seemed to be doing John Wayne impressions, but I was not as tired as I thought I would be.

That evening I rode back, still not feeling as achy as I thought I might be. Although it must be said I was suffering from sore arse syndrome; an inevitability when one has not ridden for years.

So, after tea that evening, I text The Pink Lady and Velocipede, let them know how things went.

The Pink Lady suggested I get some Panniers. Sounded a little disgusting to me until I looked up what they were on the internet. Bit like saddlebags for a horse but for a bike.

I decided to wait a while on that one, see how much I got into the bike riding before adding further expense.

It was a few days into the following week that The Pink Lady suggested we got for a bike ride. So we arranged something for the following weekend. I suggested ten miles on the basis it sounded a lot when walking. I think The Pink Lady’s reaction indicated something of a lack of ambition on my part.

By the following Saturday I got up early and needed to collect a parcel. I decided not to walk, I would go on the bike. Bound to take less time; besides, I felt I should use it as often as possible.

I got three-quarters of the way down the cycle path and the back wheel did not feel right. I got off and the tyre seemed alright, but it did not have me on it. I felt the tyre and found there was little air in it.

Puncture, I thought, my deductive powers being at their height at 9am in the morning.

Great! Today of all days!

I tried in vein to pump it up with my bicycle pump, for a while trying to convince myself it just needed a top up.

No such luck.

It was then I really looked at the pump, which, for a few seconds I considered in my frustration, launching into space. It was shaped rather like a circumcised penis. Something the Pink Lady would point out on another occasion. I had not noticed that before. Oddly enough, I have a penis that looks a little like a bicycle pump! Life’s full of coincidences…

Finally, I gave up. It was a puncture and no amount of pumping – regardless of what the pump is shaped like – would do any good.

I got my parcel, walked home pushing the bike and now wondered how I was going to break the news to The Pink Lady. We had not really got to know each other well at this time and so telling her I could not go on the bike ride because of a puncture might have sounded like I was trying to get out of it; she might think I was just being a wimp!

Looked like a circumcised thingy!

As I continued to curse, I put the thoughts of The Pink Lady to one side for a while.

One week into having a bike and my first puncture. One bloody week! This was why I was so hesitant about getting a bike. At least with walking you do not get punctures.

I tried to text and then call The Pink Lady but did not get any response to the texts and only her voicemail when I dialled.

There was nothing else to be done but meet up and grovel, really.

So I walked to the place where we agreed to meet. Needless to say, as I got closer, the lack of a bike at my side drew a frown to the awaiting Pink Lady.

‘Mm, got a puncture,’ I opened the conversation.

‘I wondered where your bike was?’

‘Yes, I went to get a parcel and got a puncture on the way. Left the bike at home…’

‘Couldn’t you fix it?’

I felt a ripple of inadequacy flow through my body. I confessed I could not.

Earlier in the week, with the news leaking around work Fitrambler was in possession of a set of wheels, I was given a bike helmet by a bloke I worked with. It was a nice gesture but the helmet was too small. I brought it with me for the Pink Lady, thinking it might fit her.

As I handed it over, I felt as though I was trying to compensate for the puncture, even though it was originally intended as a gift.

‘Perhaps we could do something else?’ I feebly suggested.

‘Like what?’ came the retort.

I could not think of an answer. I am not sure whether I was a little oversensitive at that moment in time or that the words really were a tad sharp.

After a few minutes which seemed a lot longer it was decided we would go back to The Pink Lady’s place. Luckily for me she did have a back up bike and although a female bike – a sigh from the Crown Jewels or my imagination? – it would do the job.

I felt I did not have much of a choice. I agree to go for a ride on the girlie bike.

The girlie bike was quite comfortable and it obviously solved the problem. It was about ten miles and I understood why The Pink Lady suggested it would be a short ride. I was still thinking in terms of how long it would take to walk ten miles!

We were back at the Pink Lady’s in quite a short time and she invited me to tea. Having experienced her cooking (a pudding) when visiting Mr and Mrs Thereslovely, my friends from Wales, there was no way I wanted to refuse; although I did try a little procrastination to be polite and also because I was not sure whether or not I was imposing…

After a rather good meal and a chat, I was thrown out – metaphorically speaking – at around 7.25pm; and on the bus I text Velocipede.

I was going to need his help dealing with the puncture….

Well, ok, if I’m perfectly honest, I was going to need him to fix the puncture. It was over thirty years since I last did one and the cog system for gears on the back wheel was less complicated then; only three gears!

I sighed. I hoped this was not going to be a taste of things to come, constant punctures…

15: No More Marching Up The Hill?

A chunk of the past, I thought, as I stopped at the bottom of the hill and saw the boards up. Even though the evidence was right in front on me I couldn’t believe it!

In the early eighties the Duke was a regular haunt for Blameworthy and I, but unlike a lot of people, we rarely went out drinking in the town at weekends. The pubs were too busy then. We spent an average of two to three nights a week in the Duke, breaking it up for visits to one or two others we particularly liked at the time.

We guzzled a lot of 2Bs then.

We indulged in many a long conversation or argument, both of which were never taken seriously. To be honest, we never remembered what they were about. So our theory was we didn’t vary the conversation night to night, probably just the same things over and over again.

Needless to say, we couldn’t prove the theory as we’d forget the results of any test conducted.

What we would have said to anyone who told us then that the price of a pint would go to about three quid, give or take, I’m not sure; although the news would be greeted by the need to order another pint! However, early on the eighties it got to fifty pence a pint (after a recent smash and grab by the government of the day; the same representatives who in opposition condemned a similar raid on the poor, defenceless drinker by the previous government); quite high enough!

Although any increase in the nectar of life is enough to reduce most hardened drinkers to sob – preferably not into their beer because that tends to dilute it – we tried to be positive about it.

‘That’s a two pence increase,’ Blameworthy sighed.

‘I know, I know,’ I sighed back, agreeing with him. Usually within the first few beers we were always amiable with each other.

‘Still on the bright side, it’s easy arithmetic, isn’t it. Two pints for a quid. Less fiddling with change, particularly when we’re less capable of dealing with it.’

I nodded. We raised our glasses and tasted the beer, satisfied it was as good as the last time. After all, that was what the evening was about. Ensuring the standards of beer. We were CAMRA members; it was our duty, no matter how unpleasant…

On those nights we drank an average of nine pints. I think back and wonder how, with that amount of ale in me, did I get any decent sleep and get up for work in the morning? It probably didn’t help matters that I often persuaded the hapless Blameworthy to divert to the Indian takeaway for a curry before going home.

I was and still am, very fond of curry, and foisting this fondness onto Blameworthy was unfair of me. Still, all credit to the chap, he usually had one with me. I like to think it was a result of his natural camaraderie, but I’m sure the influence of the aforementioned nine pints may also have been a contributing factor.

He did, in fairness, push me towards late night pizza’s, especially at the bottom of the town. Not that Old Fitrambler needed much pushing when came to the matter of shovelling food into the gob.

The good thing about pizza’s is they don’t cause such volatile and fruit-some flappy woof-woofs to emerge from the rear end; unlike spicy curry. It was probably why no one else in my family ever went into the Fitrambler bedroom after a drinking Session; well, at least they didn’t unless armed with the appropriate mask and aerosol…

Boarded up windows. I shook my head…

Now, standing outside the Duke, with these thoughts travelling through the old noggin, I knew it was extremely unlikely Blameworthy and I would clock up any more memories in there.

I cannot remember the first landlord who served us when we first ventured in there. I do recall, during this era, one particular landlord. He was rather a large chap, big barrel chest, black beard, with long hair brushed away from the forehead but hung down to the shoulders. He always seemed to wear the same navy blue turtle-necked sweater, with sleeves. He affected a grumpy manner which seemed to suggest he’d little time for anyone.

I think his name was Francis…

However, he was alright to Blameworthy and I. To be fair, he was hardly likely to fall out with two of his prize guzzlers…

His girlfriend, if memory serves, was petite, a startling contrast to him. I cannot recall her name.

Yes, Francis. He did try and get me involved in his sideline of selling cleaning materials over a couple of free pints to little success. Pyramid selling I believe it’s called nowadays.

Occasionally, we get a game or two of darts in, but it wasn’t the best of places for the game.

The board was close to the bar and the whole pub is little more than a couple of rooms of a corner house. This made visits backwards and forwards to the bar for beer rather perilous.

As a player, you need to be alert to the movements of other inebriated drinkers with only their next pint on their minds. So a patron straying by unexpectedly could lead to an accident.

And wouldn’t most of us take at least a little offense to a dart in the lug hole, no matter how unintentional…

I believe it the dartboard had several homes over the years, due to the odd shattered glass or associated injury. Or perhaps that was a coincidence?

Looking back to the mid-eighties, our visits became less and less frequent to the Duke, or indeed anywhere. Blameworthy went through a period where he didn’t want to drink in the town. Neatentidy and I tended to meet in other pubs in Old Town, so the Duke, for want of a better expression, fell out of favour.

Most of nineties I seemed to spend in the Glue Pot – currently still a haunt of mine – but it was mainly once a month as the decade went on. I rather pursued an unsustainable course with my finances – I got into debt – and was forced to restrict my drinking… and indeed most other activities which required the folding stuff…

This monthly visit became quite a tradition and on day trip to London I met Gloom-Laden, who eventually joined us on the monthly pilgrimage. In fact he took Blameworthy’s place when Blameworthy took a long sabbatical.

In the early years of this century, I re-established contact with Neatentidy after an absence of about six years.

Our first meeting place was the Glue Pot. Movenon and Pontyview couldn’t make it.

It was a good evening, and one which felt as if the gap years hadn’t existed.

I joined the Wednesday trio to make it a quartet and the Duke was visited every so often. Sometimes, at the kind condescension of Movenon we stayed for most of the evening. However, as befits the man, he always manages to get us to at least a second pub.

It wasn’t a favoured place, and I later learned Neatentidy wasn’t all that keen on the beer…

Boarded up windows. I shook my head…

The text telling me the bad news came through from Wellread. Now, I’m not for one minute suggesting Wellread is in the habit of telling fibs but I just didn’t want to believe what he was telling me. Even when I read a passing mention in the Swindon Advertiser, an article which referred to the re-opening of The Globe, I still didn’t want to believe it. So I decided to see for myself.

In the nineties, Gloom-Laden joined the fray, but he was, from certain remarks, not a great lover of the place or the beer.

‘Like soapy water,’ I believe was one comment directed at the beer.

We conducted most of our monthly drinking sessions in the Glue Pot.

What provoked the latest revival was the knock on effect of Blameworthy arranging a drink with the gang in the Glue Pot. Gloom-Laden was invited but didn’t turn up. However, a second meeting was arranged, this time at the Duke, straight after work.

Blameworthy had told me that old friends of his, Mr and Mrs N. Thusiastic had taken over the place – quite peacefully and legally, I might add – and were trying to run it as a going concern. Not easy when one considers the small size of the place and that it can offer little beyond the prospect of a good pint; the average drinker these days wants more.

N. Thusiastic, though, still kept his job, leaving most of the running to Mrs N. Thusiastic, until they were sure they could make it work.

I turned up at 5.30pm Friday, straight after work. Blameworthy was already there talking to the effervescent  Mrs N. Thusiastic. However, N. Thusiastic was still at work and didn’t join us until later in the evening.

I was told the Kingsdown was on. A strong-ish ale and one I decided to pass on. About four or more of those and my plans to get up early the next day would go of the window; in fact drinking Kingsdown all night would probably stop me getting up early Sunday morning!

After the disappointment of the last get-together I was hoping that Gloom-Laden would have turned up. I was especially keen on seeing the chap after a gap of some years. But he decided to decline, fearing too heavy a drinking session.

Just over half way through the evening, N. Thusiastic joined us. I commended him, as I had his good lady, on the improved quality of the beer.

‘I’d gone off 3Bs lately,’ I told him, ‘but this is the best 3Bs I’ve had in ages.’

Obviously that pleased him. But it was true, what I drank that nigh had restored my faith in the brew. He offered me a free pint but (uncharacteristically) I refused. I’d reached my limit for the evening.

While I was finishing my last pint I remember hearing N. Thusiastic tell Blameworthy it was him who’d given N. Thusiastic a greater interest in pubs and beers, which expanded beyond the Good Beer Guide. My own interest in Real Ale began under Blameworthy’s guidance….a story for another time…

Blameworthy was quite reluctant to take the credit on both counts; a tribute to the man’s immeasurable modesty.

Some weeks later, the gang got together for the Chippenham Beer Festival, including Gloom-Laden. The following day Blameworthy and I had a Sunday lunchtime beer in the Duke. A review of the previous day’s activities…

Blameworthy arranged another session on the following Friday. Again, this was directly after work. I’d been afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it. Work had caused quite a few late evenings. But make it I did.

Unfortunately, Blameworthy couldn’t make it. So I spoke to Gloom-Laden most of the evening.

He said he didn’t like the idea of a hung parliament, nor a resulting coalition government. Unfortunately for the old curmudgeon, there was a hung parliament and we did get a coalition government.

Over the next six months I dropped in on a Wednesday with Neatentidy before we went on elsewhere, depending on whose choice of venue it was. Although there was one occasion when the standard of the beer slipped, for the most part I enjoyed the beers there.

But in recent months, possibly as many as five or six we haven’t been in the place.

Sometimes you think things will be around forever but all things are transient and before you know it another part of your life has gone.

No more marching up the hill.

On the bright side, I do have a lot of good memories of that old public house…

Boarded up windows. I shook my head sadly as I walked away…

14: A Touch Of The Tartan

Fitrambler Goes Native

I got into work quite early after New Year’s day. Just as I was about to make the tea, Topman asks me if I’d like to go to Scotland to deliver mail. Never been to Scotland. Never been on a plane…double tick box job…
So, I was at Bristol Airport by 5.30pm, packed and ready.
Security was an experience. Off with the coat, walking trainers, belt, all objects like wallet, ID, mobile phone, hand luggage in a couple of totes. They went through separately.
Fortunately, the trousers stayed up. I put the belt back on as soon as I got my stuff back, followed by the trainers.
After a wait of about an hour, we were checked through to board the plane.
It was smaller than I expected, seating room wasn’t great. We settled in seats and after ten minutes the plane began trundling along the runway, picking up speed until it took off…
Wow!
I felt I was on drugs, getting light-headed; almost making victory signs and going ‘hey, man…’
However, after five minutes my stomach felt queasy…
The plane finally levelled off and the stomach settled down. The urge to fire my lunch as projectiles died as well.
Less than an hour later we landed, which felt just like taking off. We collected our bags, the hire car and were off to the hotel less than half an hour away. By now I was beginning to feel hungry. It’d been eight hours since luch. A hungry Fitrambler isn’t a pleasant site to behold!
We checked in, then off to our respective rooms. Fifteen minutes later I was in the bar. No decent beer, so I decided on the Guinness.
A few minutes later Topman and the gang arrived so we walked to the restaurant for a nosebag.
Looking at the prices on the menu I balked a little but the guts were still doing somersaults, so I’d have paid almost anything.
There were three of us at the table. The curry looked appealing but as I’d be on the streets for hours delivering mail tomorrow I had doubts. It’s bad enough getting caught short after drinking too much liquid, but…
I was convinced by Topman it wouldn’t be a problem.
The meals arrived and tasted ok. Topman was right, the curry wasn’t that powerful nor was there much of it. The curry was in a container the size of a pub ashtray. The rice was about the size of scoop of vanilla ice-cream. I used more calories eating it…
The meals were walloped back (three mouths, thereabouts), then we went to the bar. I managed three pints of Guinness before getting to bed at around mid-night.
All to report to breakfast at 7am.
The alarm on the mobile phone went off. I tried to ignore it.
By 6.15am the mobile won. I got up, staggered tiredly to the shower and woke myself up suddenly. It was the sudden, powerful needles of cold water on the vitals that did it! I pointed the nozzle away until the water (amongst other things) warmed up.
Breakfast was more up my street. Self-service job. I slapped two pieces of bacon, two eggs, two hash browns, two bits of black pudding, a couple of helpings of baked beans and mushrooms on the plate and went back to breakfast table.
I said a round of good mornings, then tucked in.
‘Like watching a piranha fish strip a man down to the bones,’ mumbled Topman.
I washed the lot down with two glasses of orange juice, a mug of tea and was ready to go in ten minutes.
Topman and I teamed up. We headed to the Delivery Office in Dunfermline, about half an hour’s drive away.
We got there to find snow and ice all over the car park and patches of dirty snow and ice along a lot of the main streets. The temperature was minus five.
We found a place to park and trekked to the DO.
That first day we sorted mail. Topman wasn’t a happy bunny. Nor was I. We wanted to go out on delivery…
When we left for the day the old tum was groaning. Not breaks since breakfast,, so on the way back we stumbled upon a Toby Carvery.
Fitrambler in paradise!
By 5.30pm we were back at the hotel, showered, changed and back off to the Toby. Topman and I wanted to try out the only real ale there, Deuchars IPA. I think we got through four pints before the urge to move on set in.
We took a walk to a pub recommended by the bar man. Corstorphine Inn. It was packed and noisy. But a good pub for watching football in…
Another couple of drinks and Topman said it was time to get something to eat. So, Snappy, Topman and myself made our way back to the hotel.
The meal was much like last night’s, I avoided the curry and tried the chicken, with carrots, potatoes and a sauce.
‘How was the chicken?’ Topman asked.
‘It was more like a cooked budgie…’ I muttered, ‘But it tasted ok.’
Topman smiled, so did Snapper.
Across the road, being close to a large window, we could see The Porterhouse, a steakhouse. Maybe the food would be better.
A couple more drinks and it was bed time.
I got back to the room, took a warm shower and then got into bed.
No sooner had my head hit the pillow than the alarm was going off…
6am.
I tiredly stumbled to the bathroom, took a shower to wake myself up, (without attacking the vitals this time) then dressed.
At 6.30am, I was tucking in a breakfast that was a repeat of yesterdays, except I drank two glasses of orange juice to help strike a healthy balance…
By 7am we were off to Dunfermline.
Forty minutes later I got my wish and I was on the streets of Dunfermline, delivering mail. A new adventure for old Fitrambler.
I didn’t mind being on my feet for most of the day. The thing which worried me was working quickly and efficiently enough. There were a dozen bags of mail to get through.
The first house made me groan. There was a large letter, cardboard stiffener in it which said ‘do not bend’. All very well, but the letter box although above average size, it wasn’t wide enough to get it through.
Being conscientious I didn’t bend but instead put a card through the door saying they’d need to collect.
That first day on the streets taught me a few lessons. The first is you can’t wear gloves. With them on I found I couldn’t sort out the letters for the next house. Twice I dropped the first bundle and was lucky they didn’t hit a mud patch. I spent valuable time re-sorting them. So off came the gloves. Fortunately, I got used to the cold.
Another thing I learnt, don’t sift out the letters for the next house when walking, not while there was ice on the ground.
Twice I watched it rain letters as I sat in a patch of ice.
We worked without breaks. The large breakfast served me well.
Around 5pm, back to the hotel to shower and change.
At 7pm we set off to the City Centre and parked close to a row of about five pubs. Seeing them old instincts surfaced and I wondered if I could sneak away to have a half in each, purely for research purposes.
However, Topman was keen to seek out the cheese shop he’d been to the last time he was there. So we found the shop. I was tempted, but held back. Not far from there was a whisky shop.
Get thee behind me Satan!
The cashmere scarves were tempting and this time I didn’t resist. The problem was which one to get? There were ones which were pattern pink, straight forward pink and a tartan pink? I saw one two shades of pink. I bought it.
‘Bought something,’ asked Topman.
His nose was in the bag before I could stop him.
‘Pink?’ he exclaimed.
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Glad we don’t have to share a room.’
‘It’s a present for the Pink Lady.’
‘Oh.’
Throughout the evening we had to stop for Snapper to catch us up or look round to see where he’d got to!
Snapper is mad-keen on photography and was never more than a few inches from his expensive camera.
So, every so often we had to call him up. It was like being out with a dog who kept stopping to sniff around!
Eventually we doubled back to the pubs I spotted earlier. There was the Last Drop, Maggie Dickson’s Pub, The White Hart didn’t have any decent real ale, but just as despair was setting in the fourth, The Beehive Inn, had working hand pumps.

Beehive Inn, Edinburgh

One of the great things about having Topman for a boss is he’s keen on real ale. So, we tried this pub.
Old Peculiar and a Scots ale called Fail Lair. I had the Old Peculiar and Topman the Fail Lair.
We had two pints each their, but Snapper and Badge stuck to non-alcoholic drinks.
The Black Bull was a temptation but Topman had to drive and so we made our way back to the hotel. Just as well as it was another early start in the morning.
I was in bed by 11.30pm…
Although it might’ve seemed like an early night it didn’t feel like it the next morning.
Groaning and muttering I dragged myself to the bathroom, took a shower, brushed the teeth and got dressed.
Breakfast was the piled high usual and we were off. We covered an area only a street or two away from where we were the day before.
Topman dropped me off with a large mail pouch.
First up was two lots of 3 story flats. Steps. These days I don’t like steps any more than I like hills. Not good.
The block I tried first I couldn’t get any of the residents to answer their buzzer. How the hell would I get in. What did the normal bloke do? Sighing I put them to one side and went to the next block and pressed a few buttons. The pouch was quite weighty so I wanted to get rid of as much mail as I could. Maybe that’s why they loaded you down so much, so you’d get it through the letter boxes quicker.
By the fourth button my back was hurting a little and I leaned against the door. Big mistake. I’d assumed it was locked.
Two minutes later after deciding the stairway ceiling could do with a coat of paint, I got up from the floor and got my mail back into the pouch. Fortunately, it was banded well, so it didn’t fly all over the place.
I delivered the mail, then decided to go back to the first block and try the door – conventionally by pushing at it – to see if it was open. It was so I delivered.
The pouch didn’t feel much lighter but it was a start.
Then I started on the odd numbers of the main street. The front door looked out onto the pavement, no gates to mess with.
81…83…85…89…
Huh?
I doubled back to check I hadn’t got it wrong and shoved the letters in the wrong letter box. It’d be embarrassing to knock on the door and ask for the letters back!
But no, number 87 wasn’t there. I looked a couple of doors before it and a couple after but it hadn’t been moved.
Hmm. I frowned.
Then as I put the letters to one side in the still bulging pouch, I got another three houses up to find another number was missing.
I stood still for a moment, scratched the noggin. This was Dunfermline not the bloody Bermuda triangle! A few more houses delivered to, and another bugger had disappeared.
Then at the end of a block of ten I found an alleyway. I walked down it. If anyone said anything I’d hide behind my role as a postie and claim ignorance.
The alley was about ten feet. First thing I came across was a few children’s toys in a small garden, in the distance to the left I saw the two blocks of flats I’d delivered to earlier. Further left was the
answer to a mystery.
At the top of about twenty odd steps were two doors next to each other. As I walked up the steps I found the missing houses, or rather flats.
I moved out into the main street again and continued to deliver the mail, nipping down allies as was necessary.
Once at the end of that street, I crossed the road having done all the odd numbers and began on the evens.
For the next few houses everything went smoothly. Then another house went missing….
64, 66, 70, 72, 74…
No 68?
Bugger!
I was scratching my head as a short old man in a cloth cap and overcoat seemed to be making a bee-line for me. The determined, serious look on his face got me a little worried. I felt I could see complaint all across his face.
He made some sounds for a few minutes, I thought he was clearing his throat but he’d actually started talking.
‘Pardon?’ I said.
‘Oh, you’re English.’
I nodded. ‘Yes, up from the far south.’
‘Ah, I thought you were no Paul, our usual postman.’
I explained why I was there and he nodded attentively.
‘How’re ye finding the round.’
‘Confusing.’
‘Aye, ye would.’ He pointed to the houses, odd numbers, I’d done earlier. ‘Flats. All on ‘em. Dinna use to be. I’ve here since 1925…’
(I felt like saying it was time he bought a house, but held back.)
‘….made them into flats, got rid of a few houses up there.’ He pointed to where I’d come from. ‘And ye’ll find this lot on this side are the same.’
I nodded. ‘Finding the numbers is difficult too.’ I told him and mentioned about number 68.
He grinned. ‘Aye, see that wee alleyway.’ He pointed to it, no more than a one person entrance. I nodded. ‘You’ll no see the number properly, covered in dirt. But down there is no. 68.’
I thanked him. He waved my thanks away. ‘I was a postman, started way back in the forties. In those days it was a different game, they’d Inspectors. Bastards they were, all dressed in black. Little Hitlers. If you turned up at the delivery office with just one piece of uniform missing, or your shoes no shiny enough, then it was away home, no point in signing on.’
He told me his name was Stan and lived in number 62, if I’d any more problems with missing houses.
I walked back, got no 68’s letters delivered, then looked out for alleyways, no matter how small when numbers seemed missing. I went down quite a few alleys, up twenty odd steps – always seemed that number – and often found doors but not all of them numbered. In some cases it they had a front door and a back door within a few feet of each other.
I got to chat with a receptionist at a psycho-therapy business. She helped me find an oddly titled house across the road.
As I was delivering the last few houses from the pouch, Topman rang me, asking me where I was and then he told me to wait there and he’d come to me.
We finished a little early that day and checked out of the hotel once we’d all freshened up. It was time to make the journey home.
Unlike the flight to Edinburgh airport, there were loads of people at the check in and we went through a zig-zagging queue. It seemed to take ages.
Then there was security, where belt, wallets and money and the like had to be put into totes.
Unfortunately, I left my watch on and some change in my trouser pocket.
Alarm bells rang and I was pulled over to one side.
Needless to say, Topman and all my colleagues looked suitably concerned.
(Yeah, right, they were holding their stomachs. A bloody great laugh!)
He searched me. First by hand, patting my sides…then he ran this electronic rod-like thing all around me. A vision on him slipping on surgical gloves went through my over active imagination. Fortunately, he seemed satisfied there was nothing else to set the alarm off so an exploration of my orifices wasn’t deemed necessary.
I wasn’t disappointed, oddly enough.
Red-faced, I joined my colleagues.
Then it was a wait before we could board the plane, and when we did, there was a delay while they fuelled it. I was getting bored with the waiting. There seemed to be a lot of it with plane travel! It didn’t make me anxious to travel by plane again.
We eventually took off and I went through the ‘high on drugs’ feeling until the plane levelled out.
An hour later the adventure was over. I’d ticked a few more boxes. I’d been on a plane and visited Edinburgh and Dunfermline, albeit briefly…
Wish I’d knocked off those pubs the day before, though…