Thursday, 3 January 2019

Harp Hilly 100...coast and back...Basil's Balls Up Band

My cycling friend, Al, acting on information given him by his son, tells me that there are many platform zeros up and down the country, and that Redhill station in Surrey isn’t the only one, as I had supposed in my previous blog.

 A blog which made the grievous error of not being about cycling.

I am bemused, at first, to learn there are more platform zeros.  But then I quickly become bored because clearly this was only of interest had Redhill been unique in this respect.

I first met Al when we both rode the Harp RC Hilly 100 kilometre reliability trial in the Chiltern Hills, west of London. It was a damp, misty day. We were in the scratch group riding – breathlessly in my case –  with the stars like Steve Heffernan and Skol Six winner Tony Gowland.
We both got round in the allotted time, pleased to say.  Made the legs ache.

At one point when our group caught and passed a slower group the bunch swelled to near on 80 riders. The speed shot up as the scratch guys attacked down the wrong side of the road to get by and for a while it was a full on road race, to my cost.

 I got shelled in the sort out.  This was about two thirds round the hilly course in the Chilterns and I struggled the remaining kilometres to make the cut.

Al and I then rode home to London, where we discovered we were almost neighbours, living in shared flats in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, close by Earls Court.

We’d clocked about 160-kilometers, including riding out and home, and agreed to meet up that evening to repair the damage – a few pints at the Abingdon. Nice bunch of locals, including John – LT to his friends – he was a guard on London Underground.  And there was little old Sid, usually astride a bar stool crouched forward as if riding a gee gee, as befits his former profession, a jockey.

He’d be well sozzled on gin when Al and I walked in – by which time the kindly bar staff were refilling his glass with water to keep in the saddle.

You live where, a horrified  Martyn Roach said. The time trialling and road star commuted to work up and down the horribly busy Cromwell Road, hard by my flat. I understood Martyn’s horror that a fresh air cyclist should live amongst all that traffic mayhem. I used to think that about the area until I discovered the area’s hidden charms – not to mention easy eating in the Hot Pot and supermarkets open 24 hours.

The flower seller was a character. In his 40s, always looked a bit beaten up with his half-closed eyes.

 It was impossible to make out his sales patter, “Oi, deez a bunch crahurrm a 50 pence.” Once, when I stopped to buy some flowers, I said,  what are you shouting?

“Nuffink, mate, “Nuffink!”

He was a feature, a kindly soul who would help anyone and who once foiled a robbery attempt.

I learned that after he was found in his lockup, with a single shot to the head. That was a shocking business.

So was the matter of the police shooting nearby of Steven Waldorf, mistaken for escaped prisoner David Martin.

The police from the local nick were having celebratory drink in the Abingdon when a customer who had just seen the news walked in.

“What you lot laffing ‘bout about. You shot the wrong guy…it’s on the news.”

Those stories stick in the mind, as does this, a lighter tale.

This was the press stake out of a house near the Abingdon pub one cold November, snappers and hacks making repeated calls on the pub to warm up.  The story centred on young Prince Andrew and American actress and model Koo Stark who resided there. They were dating! Good tabloid stuff.

“Don’t worry, mates, don’t worry, we’ve got a story. We’ve got a story,” an anxious reporter said to photographers after a long night when nothing happened.

Never a dull moment.

We’d sometimes go the Kensington to hear Basil’s Balls up Band. Hilarious.  Blues, rock, Country and Western. They could do it all, accomplished musicians. They’d start with a quality rendition before sending it up.

Their signing off number was Dancers Dilemma, the drummer continuously missing the beat and everyone else off key. Laugh? I nearly died every time.


Al sent me a YouTube film of them playing at Croyde, the Devon surging resort in 2014!

Obviously some changes to personnel, but the key man was still there, Randy, who played sax and was the funny man.

When I went training, I’d escape London by going west, into Richmond Park only a few miles away, and from there by way of the green corridors of suburbia into the Surrey Hills 25 miles away.

But on Wednesday there was the all day run to the coast, if I was due a day off work.

I persuaded Al to join me on one of these epics.

Riders met at a cafe’ at Kew Bridge 9:00am. Bubble and Squeak to set us up. The proprietor calling out, go on you guys, gerrout on the road!

 The bunch included pro national cyclo-cross champion Keith Mernickle and Johnny Morris (aka the Bear).

We headed off towards the coast in a fast, wait for nobody group, recalled Al. Another shattering day but you had to get the miles in.

I recall one other rider in that group,  Gerry Butterfill puncturing and stopping time and again to pump up his softening tyre on that boring rolling A24 dual carriageway  half-way to the coast.  And Keith Mernickle, spotting a group of riders in the distance calling back down the line for Gerry.

He’s stopped to pump up his tub, again, someone shouted.

When he gets back send him up here, Keith shouted back.

Gerry, riding in the hooks,  gets back on for the umpteenth time

 Gerry, Keith wants you up the front.

Up to the front goes Gerry, ever the dutiful team man.

See that group up there, Gerry, said Keith, as in the far distance figures disappeared over a short rise.

Go up there and find out who they are.

Gerry does as bid, swerving out to tuck in behind a truck…and rapidly draws away from us.

He’d have to be quick; his back wheel was swishing about as his back tyre was going soft again.

We catch him some 20 minutes later, waiting for us. He dutifully reported to Mernickle on who the guys were, then immediately stopped to pump up his tyre for fourth time!

No one waited!

Strong as a horse, Gerry.

120 mile round trip, with a stop for lunch!

Al now lives in Gods Own Country – Yorkshire which, as no one needs reminding, hosted a smashing Grand Depart of the Tour in 2014, and since then every year there is Tour de Yorkshire. And now, in 2019, such is the county’s enthusiasm for bike racing, Yorkshire hosts the World Road Race Championships to be based in Harrogate

The finish line will be near Betty’s, the famous tea and cake emporium. I imagine they will have some special treats that week, rainbow cupcakes and the like.

Tek care, as they say.

Which is something some of the new converts to cycling need to learn.

 I narrowly avoided colliding with one such as he attempted a U-turn in a blind bend top of  Box Hill.    You arsehole, I shouted.

If I’d been driving (that’s a laugh, I’ve never driven) I’d probably have had him and the next thing you know he’d be in an air ambulance.

We never used to see this sort of behaviour. Clearly he was one of the “All the gear no idea” brigade who have taken up the sport since it’s become popular. These clowns are the main reason I mostly avoid riding at weekends.

By the way, I am now selective in observing the custom of acknowledging other cyclists on the road. Those stupid enough to be wearing shorts in the winter are ignored.