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A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 62

The descent on the eastern side of the Slieve Bloom mountains towards the town of Mountrath is exhilarating. I’d hoped for five miles without a pedal stroke in anger and got somewhere nearer eight. At times going faster than a fellow with bags strapped to the back wants to go; at times plain sailing. Sheer magic. The downhill racer would duck and tuck into the bends and make themselves as aerodynamically arrow like as they can. I am a much bigger unit than I used to be. I’ve never gone hell for leather down the slopes. I enjoy using the broadness of my back as a sail when the wind is behind me. I was quite happy to sit up and use my chest as a wind break, an anchor, an inverted parachute.

I was still going a good trundle but my companions shot off into the distance leaving a perfectly rounded bottom as a fading memory and lasting proof that lycra doesn’t have to make you look gormless and misshapen.

My clutching at the brake levers on the steepest section would have me thrown off any self respecting cycle team. I’m flying back through trees and water and open roads. Sheep on hillsides and cows in the meadow. The odometer has hit forty miles per hour despite my best efforts to go slow and I’ve clocked three miles before I’ve had time to check my watch. I’m as happy as a pig in muck. I’m in my element and am just about to break into a particularly upbeat performance of Arthur McBride when a voice speaks straight into my right ear.

It was the woman from the grumpy male/happy female cycling team.

“You got ahead of us there. We took the wrong turning.”

“It was the only way I was going to end up in front. You descend pretty fast.”

She eyed me with a mild lasciviousness that I have managed to avoid for a number of years. “Well, I do like climbing but I like going down a whole lot more.”

The boyfriend , perhaps in anticipation of this sort of comment had already pedalled off ahead with considerable dudgeon. He was playing the DH Lawrence role and I was pedalling along with Frieda. It was  not entirely unpleasant company, but I was happy when the frisky Irish Colleen calmed into a rather elegant conversationalist.  The flirting didn’t last long. She must have had a chance to get a close look at me and realised that though about the same age as George Clooney and in possession of a pair of legs that even I was falling in love with; there was nonetheless not a great deal to get over excited about. The fellow looked a lot like Geoffrey Palmer from the early Butterflies days. She looked not unlike Carly Simon from the No Secrets cover and I look a little bit like Vic Reeves from some angles and Dr House from others.

Put simply, she is truly beautiful and I feel a mixture of rapture and worry (that Geoffrey might tire of the chat and attack me with a tyre iron). I got the impression it wasn’t a new situation for him. We chat for a half dozen miles, all the way to Mountrath.

Like every Irish person who had asked where I’d pedalled from, she sounded genuinely impressed at my circuit and has a great many questions. Which was the longest stage? How long had I been away from home? Was I married? Was I missing the family? Where was I heading to next? I was good on the first there. The latter? Well, I hadn’t a clue. I was heading South East. That was all I knew.

They were out on a training run for some charity event. I’ve never understood this kind of thing. “Hello work colleague. I’m going to cycle from Buckshee to Blemish in a caveman costume. Would you give me a pile of money please?” Why should I? is one question. Why do I? is a better one. As a teacher I usually sponsor kids in my class if they are swimming a mile or going on a long walk but they are children.

The one’s I really can’t understand are the ones where a bunch of otherwise fairly pointless people fly stupid distances to hike up Kilimanjaro to raise something less than the subsidy on the aviation fuel to get them there. Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse sent this up as Smashie and Nicey raising money by flying around in their helicopters for a couple of hours.

But maybe I’m just a grump. Why don’t these intrepid twerps just do a day’s work and donate that if the fundraising is the end product. But of course the fund raising isn’t the end product; it’s the excuse.

“Will you sponsor me to enter a Santa Clause sprint down Blackpool front?” “No, but, if you go away and stop bothering me, I’ll give twenty pounds to any charity you choose.”

“But you miss the point. We’re raising awareness.”

No. You’re missing the point. Nobody cares.”

I could have said things like that but she really did look a lot like Carly Simon. She was going to cycle around the Ring of Kerry and was taking Geoffrey Palmer with her. I’m all in favour. I’m also all in favour of fundraising. I just don’t quite see how the two things have become linked.

They have matching bicycles and as we continue to glide along (I can’t actually remember if I speeded up to their pace – the man stayed at exactly 100 meters ahead – or if they slowed down to mine) she tells me about an Irish government scheme to get the country up on bicycles. The respective ministers arrive at the Dáil in their chauffeur driver Mercedes and tell the rest of the country “We are going to pedal our way out of recession.” To quote Milligan: “Suddenly it’s we!”

They have become so keen and green that they have been offering to pay half the cost of a new bicycle up to 2000 euros.

We approach Mountrath. “Where are you going next?” she asks.

“I’m not sure how you pronounce it” I say. “It ends in x and sounds like a Yorkshire monastery.” I see a sign that reads Abbeyloix. “That’s it I say.

The husband appears from nowhere. “That’s straight on.” he says. “”We turn right and head back to Roscrea.” He gives he the most defiant look a man in floppy spandex can muster and she follows him into the distance. They appear to be having some form of animated conversation as they disappear from view. I get off and decide I’m in the mood to explore.