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Cyclist on the Celtic Fringe … Part 7

Two hours of sitting in sunshine eating and drinking gave some relief to the fatigue in my legs and lungs. The relief ended at the very first sign of an uphill gradient. I’ve cycled this road a hundred times commuting to jobs ranging from counting bus parts to teaching Romantic poetry in Calderdale. I never once even thought of getting off to push. I do this evening. All the relaxation, all the fried food and sugar and tea and cake that delighted my taste buds and satisfied my appetite now come back to add  a great slab of weight. Each pedal turn hurts. Even when pushing my calves feel stretched to the snap. They’d offered to make a bed up for me at the place I once called home. It’s after five thirty. Why am I still cycling?

I know I’m in Yorkshire but it isn’t tightness of pocket. I’ve only paid £18 for the room at Haworth. I’d pay double that on the instant to stop the pain. I’m weary and fatigued but I’m not pushing myself beyond my limits. I’ve had trouble with the essential working parts of the machine that is me in the past. Since then I’ve given up a forty year smoking habit and, though I never actually planned on stopping, and probably have bottles of beer and wine down a cellar I rarely venture down, it is a few years since I drank alcohol. Any minor loss; and I don’t miss it at all; is offset by an everyday feeling of well-being. I had my share in my time. I’m happy to stand back from the bar and let others have theirs. I don’t want any going back to the days when heart and lungs gave notice of mortality. It’s a life I can mostly call a happy one. Having turned from  the most likely ways to bring things to a close I don’t want to follow those like Douglas Adams and my old professor, Ted Wragg, and indeed, very nearly Andrew Marr, in over exercising myself into the next world.

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I have an inbuilt clock. I can keep at a certain endurance for a long time. I don’t want to go above this. At this particular moment in time as I climb up to Ainley Top, I would book into the first hotel that I see and let the endurance end. The hotel I come to has been called The Saxon, The Pennine President and The Pennine Hilton in its time. It’s now called The Cedar Court. I’ve stayed in it. It’s OK. It’s also at the top of the long drop into Elland. If it were at the bottom of the hill I’d book in. Being at the top, I pedal my last and swish my way down a neo-motorway and into one of my favourite Yorkshire towns. For the second time in the day, a long period of downhill leaves the gears in a mess. I repeat the Oughtibridge broddling and get gears that function in a rather crunchy, temperamental way.

The next part of the journey is done in three mile stages.

Elland is Elland. It goes about its business in a quietly efficient Yorkshire way. I remember a story from my early days in the area when a lorry’s brakes failed coming down the Ainleys. At that time the road went straight into the heart of the town. Today the bypass sweeps smooth  on a  bow bend . The driver knew his fate was sealed but instead of not caring, made it his last ever actions to steer the careering pantechnicon away from people and straight into the town bridge. He died instantly. No-one else was hurt. He was rightly hailed a hero.

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The view is different as you approach the town. For fifty years the main landmark has been the Gannex Mill where Joe Kagan made the raincoats made famous by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Kagan’s coats were also worn by the unlikely foursome, Mao Zedung, Lyndon Johnson, Nikita Khrushchev and Her Majesty the Queen. He rose up to fame and great wealth. Was rewarded for working closely with Huddersfield’s great Prime Minister by being made first a peer and then a Baron. Being part of Wilson’s resignation honours was not necessarily to be a part of the most honoured. Those elevated on this occasion became something of a list of the sleazy and the seedy of seventies Britain. I always liked Harold Wilson, but he wasn’t the best at picking his friends. Kagan went to prison for tax evasion but later became an advocate for prison reform. The Gannex Mill which landmarked the town every bit as much as the Liver Building landmarks Liverpool, has gone. The town doesn’t look the same at all.

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I avoid the bypass and take the quiet road out through West Vale and Greetland and enjoy a little bit of a second wind as I’m reminded of days working for the bus company and spending more time touring the pubs in little towns (using the free bus pass that came with the job) with a nuggetty fellow called Tommy Dorsey and a woman with platinum blonde hair who I think was called Linda. Tommy was a genius for explaining to our direct boss how we had actually been working with great efficiency and therefore didn’t need to be at the depot quite as much as stock checkers usually are. Granted, there was the excuse for an occasional jaunt up to Todmorden to check their stores, but there was absolutely no excuse to be in West Vale other than that there was a very nice riverside pub there.

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I remember on another day being paid by the bus company to sit and watch cricket at Elland’s neat little ground. An ageing Brian Close was turning out for the locals and Tommy wanted me to know that he knew him. “Awreeghht Brian me old cocker. ‘Ows tha’ doing?” greeted my fellow skiver as if to his best mate.

Close looked up from the plated salad that was served to all the players in a marquee and squinted towards the rubicund features of the casual workman. Having worked out that he had never seen this man before in his life he responded with typical bonhomie and Yorkshire wit. “F*** Off C***. Ahmm ‘aving me dinner!”

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We had the last laugh. Not only did we get a full day’s pay to enjoy the cricket and free transport home but we also got three plated salads each and  the best part of a gallon of ale from the players dressing room. I’m not a particularly dishonest person. Tommy wasn’t a particularly bad influence. He just had his own version of socialism which worked on a principle of, if re-distribution of wealth is taking too long by conventional means, it can’t hurt to give it a helping hand every now and then.

The second wind ran out at a hill called SalterHebble which brings you into my favourite West Yorkshire town. In the eighteenth century beggars were advised to avoid going to “Hull, Hell and Halifax.” It’s always been taken as fairly obvious why you should avoid the first two. OK, Hull has just been made City of Culture for 2017, but it has never quite been decided if this is given to a city rich in culture or a city desperately in need of that entity. You avoided Halifax because they had a gibbet and they weren’t afraid to use it. Halifax isn’t great in throwing anything away. It has kept much of its glorious and inglorious past and the gibbet is still there.

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You can find it on Gibbet Street.