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A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 19

As I lie on the grass outside Dufton Youth Hostel, more adventurers arrive, and we all look shiftily at each other. Two tall, well-muscled and modishly attired young cyclists power up on straight handle-barred road bikes. A father and son on a traditional walking holiday approach from the hills. The son is ten years older than me and the father doesn’t look as though he’ll see out the night. They check in and I don’t see them again until the morning. Either fourteen hours sleep or they slipped across to The Stag early doors and made quite a night of it. An elderly German couple who don’t say anything to anyone else and certainly not to each other, though they seem always on the point of doing so. A  pleasant young woman who’s sweat shirt says vet school  gives off an air of friendly approachableness along with an air of the experienced local. She’s been staying there for four days and is our established resident. We rely on her to help us distinguish a kettle from a pan and a knife from a fork. She is a little young for an actual vet but is most obliging.

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Our party is completed by a slight fellow of no great stature. His face is adorned by a beard of sorts and he knows everything. The cyclists are young and inexperienced as well as being desperate to tell someone else what they had already spent all day telling each other. They fall in with our light winged dryad of the beard and they take over the sofas in lounging postures of men who have fortunately fallen among friends.

Half and hour later I hear cyclist one whispering some sort of a secret code to his buddy. I didn’t catch all of it but it gave me the impression they were hatching a plot to get away from the weedy know-all. His Omniscience had by this time attached himself to the German couple who, still seemed about to embark on speech but, couldn’t have got a word in edgeways as they were episodically lectured on the dangers of a common currency, the documentaries of Robert Flaherty and the novels and wisdom of Mark Twain.

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The vet school girl made herself a perfect meal for one and looked socially inclined enough to risk a conversation but wise enough to see danger signs in the tiny fellow. She contented herself with making small talk about her ostrich farm with the taciturn older cycling fellow who was using the biggest pan to boil up a whole packet of spaghetti before emptying a full bottle of pesto and a small tub of creme fraiche on top. They sat at different ends of a long dining table and passed an agreeable half hour. Neither said much.

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Though I’d worked for the youth hostels for two years, I’d only ever once slept in a shared dormitory. It was an experience I didn’t want to repeat.  First of all there’s the ablutions. Men who take their recreation in outdoor pursuits are noisy washers. They slather faces and necks, torsos and armpits with soapy suds before sluicing it off in an orgy of flying water, face rubbing and making noises with their mouths, that are a cross between blowing raspberries, and how you greet a baby (if you are a person who doesn’t know how to greet a baby). The great wash is followed by the endless parade around the dormitory in enormous underpants, of a style not seen since national service, and then the great re-telling of how they managed to walk, a minimum of thirty five miles, including banks and cliffs of an Alpine scale, and all on a cereal bar and a slab of Kendal mint cake. The endless telling of great walks and epic cycle rides starts at lights out and finally fades away at two in the morning. I was tired and in need of peace. I’ve happily shared a room for thirty years but tonight I wanted some solitude.

I asked if it were possible to have a room to myself. The YHA had made a big thing of this feature of modern hosteling in luring the Johnson pound and getting me to re-join.

“If that wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

But, it seems that it would be too much trouble. “If you book a room I’ll have to charge you for the full room.”

“They had room rates at Haworth.”

“I’m afraid we don’t do single rooms here. If you want a room you’ll have to pay forty pounds. It’s to cover the extra cleaning.”

“I promise I won’t make a mess.”

“We haven’t got the staff to clean extra rooms.”

Once again I was unwilling to point out the weaknesses in his stance. That the extra staff didn’t seem to be a problem if I paid an amount that would get me a room in an hotel. That I was capable and willing to sweep, dust, polish and vacuum any mess that I made.

I paid it. I wanted the peace to sleep, I wanted the freedom to read, or make myself a cup of tea if I couldn’t sleep and I was determined to use up forty pounds of electricity on showers and use of their laundry room. It is the last time I stay in a youth hostel. If I’m going to be charged a hotel rate, I may as well have hotel benefits.

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Our leader  later appeared in full chef’s regalia, taking orders for dinner from the cyclists using the language of Marco Pierre White, before serving up something that looked remarkably like the offerings put together with gravy browning and wallpaper paste by the ex warden at Hawes.

The village itself looked lovely. I contented myself with viewing it from a lying down position on the green while becoming more and more absorbed with The Old Wives’ Tale.  I’d been enjoying it but tonight was the night when I came to an understanding of why it is so highly regarded; simply superb characterisation.

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The weedy fellow is eyeing me and my book. I feel the benefit of his wisdom approaching and regard forty pounds an undoubted bargain for my own private bolt hole.