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Harold Bridge sent in this change-of-pace offering. It has nothing to do with our club. It has nothing directly to do with randonneur cycling. It does, however, explore vividly the inner voice of a hard-ridding cyclotourist when faced with recognizable pressures from the larger cycling world. It's beautifully written and I quickly heard the words being spoken by the great late CBC broadcaster Alan Maitland - you'll hear it too. Surprisingly, there is no mention of this ancient jem on the internet, which is another good reason to slap it on a newsletter page. After the story Harold helps us to see it in context. [Eric F]

Getting 'em Round
by Hugo Paige

          One glorious evening in May or June 1938, The "Tourist" could be seen ascending the Cutting towards Brookman's Park Radio Station. Though his pace was brisk, it was also smooth and dignified. In those days one remained in the saddle and "ankled" one's way up the hill. If one of the younger members so far forgot himself as to try that heathen Continental method of mounting "en danseuse" he was promptly called to order by one of his "Elders & Betters": "Sit down & pedal!"

          Everything was perfect that evening, neither man nor machine had ever been in better shape. Not a Brylcreamed hair out of place, not an ache or a twinge anywhere, "Palm Beach" jacket and tweed shorts immaculate, burnished shoes vying for brilliance with the lustrous black & chrome of the bicycle, the rider looking very inch a Gentleman of the North Road, calmly and coolly taking his leisure on the A1. The bicycle too; had not run more sweetly, not a loose or oil starved bearing anywhere, new fangled derailleur working sweetly and silently, high pressure tyres barely audible on the road surface. And the sun was still high in the west, and the air balmy and full of summery scents; the Almighty was in his heaven and at least one of his servants below in a rare state of happiness and contentment. UNTIL……

          At the top of the Cutting, the bleat of a klaxon brought a tiny furrow to the Tourist's brow. Ignore it of course. He was riding in a straight line not 2 feet from the road's edge, and there was no other traffic in sight. But there it came again, closer and more insistent. Thoroughly irritated now, the Tourist waved the car on, but instead of passing it drew level to reveal the grinning face of the Wealthy Member, bursting with pride at his brand new 110 pound (sterling) family saloon (sedan). "Still running it in" he shouted and forged ahead. Whereupon, somehow, the Tourist was seized with a fit of madness, so strange and out of character that he was never able to explain it afterwards. Throwing all dignity to the winds, he switched to top gear and - oh, the shame of it- tucked in behind the speeding car and twiddled all the way down to the Merrythought where he arrived dishevelled, out of breath and out of temper. "Had her up to 40" cried the Wealthy Member. Hmm, allowing for a mendacious speedo that might have been a genuine 35 and 35 mph on a 76 inch gear makes how many revs per minute? Who cares anyway.

          For the Tourist, the evening was suddenly ruined; vanished the contented bliss of a few minutes ago. Furious at his own lapse from dignity, even more furious at the Wealthy Member for having provoked it, he sat sullenly apart from his fellows, getting more and more irritated at the conversation that swirled and washed around him. If only the speedmen would talk of something other than times and tyres, gears and gadgets, handlebars and headwinds, successes and "sags"…as if cycling were nothing but flogging yourself over prescribed road courses in the shortest possible time. What of the wind on the heath Brother? Oh sure it slowed you down so you were outside "evens" at the turn! Racing, racing, talk was of nothing but racing wherever they met. If only one could demonstrate, forcibly and effectively, one's distain for this obsession with speed, say by beating the speedmen at their own game in a nonchalant, throwaway manner, without special training and preparation? As he brooded over luke-warm tea the Tourist's sick fancy brought forth a notion so monstrous, so breathtakingly outrageous that he choked in his cup:

What if he was to so 'em up by winning the Little Heath Sprint?

          In those days the sprint up the long slope to Little Heath was the highlight of the run home on Wednesday evenings. Victory in the mad dash earned considerable respect and even prestige, regardless of success or failure in serious undertakings such as time trials. Only a man both fast and cunning could hope to be first at the top. Slyly, covertly, the Tourist began to survey the opposition and his heart sank. Practically everyone present was faster than he.

          But stay.. Wally Allen, courting and short of mileage was below his best. His partner, the formidable Les Couzens was on a "barrow" and therefore not in the running. Young Flippence and Hawkins inexperienced and might be out-manoeuvred. Neither Arthur Smith, or Ernie Haldane would stoop to anything as rowdy as a sprint on Little Heath, of all places. Ted Thorrington, despite his beautiful action, was not particularly fast uphill, nor was Wally Sheppard, nor the pair of Jacks (Loten and Sewell). Fred Birch and Arthur Lancaster one might hold - matter of form. Poor old "Bindle", Jack Bindloss, hadn't been too well. Ronnie Kirkin would kill himself on a 93inch gear. Len Copping wasn't around, neither was Peter Bury, but Geoff Spary was, and there was an insuperable problem: strong as a horse and in the pride of his youth. And - Oh Lord - Eric Povey with his explosive trackman's sprint - wouldn't get within a 100 yards of him.

          Disappointed, the Tourist was almost ready to abandon his crack-brained scheme when Povey re-kindled hope by leaving early. "Got to see my Girlfriend". That left Geoff Spary, but…shut him in, that was the answer.

          As usual, the long drag up to Brookman's Park is negotiated at a lively pace to guard against surprises, but still in formation. Down the Cutting, the freewheelers and twiddlers run away from those who can't get 'em round fast enough, but on the level stretch beyond the whole group reforms, the artful Tourist on Spary's offside in third row. By this time the speed is over "evens", there is no longer any pretence at light hearted chatter, hands are purposely down on the hooks, toe straps tightened, brows furrowed, hearts thumping, and the tension mounts with every turn of the cranks.

          Then, suddenly, right at the foot of the hill, one of the lesser lights snaps under the strain and jumps…. much too soon poor fool - only to be caught and annihilated by the pursuing wolf pack before he is halfway up. At the front row now, still with Spary on his left, the Tourist uses every artifice to prevent a real break before his landmark is reached. He knows that if he sprints at the yellow and black AA sign, and not before, he can sustain an all-out effort right to the top. But Spary has other ideas and decides to "go" sooner, so stop him! Lean on him! Hear his startled oath as he is thrown out of his stride and then go, Go, GO! With no one in front and the road clear, to hell with stile and ankling, heave, stamp, push, tug the handlebars out of the head clip, give it all you've got and then some for once in your lazy, self indulgent existence - Nearer and nearer the top, 75 yards to go, 50, don't look round, 30 yards, 20 - done it, by all that is wonderful - 10 yards and - oh no, NO! Raging like a maniac, face a horrible mucus festooned rictus, climbing all over his "barrow, "digging" so hard his toeclips strike sparks from the road-metal, Les Couzens thrashes the shuddering trike irresistibly level then past, to win by a length at the top with the whole mob boiling after him…..

          At the Potters Bar war memorial they are out of sight. Not that the Tourist can see too well at this stage, what with sweat blurred glasses and cosmic explosions taking place in his head. Limply, like a broken doll, he hangs onto his swaying machine, rasping lungs on fire and the taste of blood in his mouth, nausea clutching his stomach and legs turned water, rather less than semi-conscious and scarcely able to croak out the one thought in his brain: Beaten, beaten by a trike!

          After all the scheming, after playing that despicable trick on the honest Geoff. Anguish and shame blend with the bitterness of shame blend with the effects of over-exertion as the shattered wreak trickles down Potters Bar High Street and then, a new sharp dread - what will the others say? Will he not be mocked and derided unmercifully for having abandoned his (now palpably phoney) attitude of aloof disinterest and attempting to grasp a prize so obviously beyond his reach?

          Providentially, the traffic lights are red, and the others already over, to hell and gone toward Barnet, so the Tourist can pursue his "Via Dolorosa" alone, still struggling against dizziness and nausea. Praise be to God for the cool evening air and for a 57 inch gear to climb the mountains to Cockfosters!

          But when the poor wretch has decided that he will live, after all, he is nearly startled out of his saddle by a deep, derisive, hateful chuckle from somewhere in the region of his cape roll: "Hurt yourself? Serves you right for behaving like an idiot". Arthur Smith! Arthur who never participates in the sprint, but is never far behind either; Arthur who has obviously witnessed the whole debacle! Arthur of the mordent wit and caustic tongue! Something like hysteria wells up inside the exhausted Tourist; "Lord, am I to be spared nothing this evening"? All this, and Arthur too?

          So help me, I am going to give up cycling and lead a normal, happy life, and buy an old car, and learn to dance, and play tennis, and go out with girls like other young men. I haven't got the strength of a Couzens or a Spary (bet they don't suffer, the healthy hearty, insensitive brutes). I wasn't cut out for this, the toughest of all sports; why, I'm even risking my job turning up at the office every Monday morning half-dead with fatigue and fit for nothing. I must be doing untold damage to my health and my career. In fact I'm probably killing myself - "What's that? Oh yes - goodnight Arthur - yes, see you at Fuller's on Saturday…"

Contextualization by Harold:

"Getting 'em Round" appeared in a 1969 issue of the North Road Gazette. I think it is a wonderful word sketch of the Club immediately prior to WW2. I have often enjoyed reading it and in 1985 I convinced the then Editor, Roger Sewell, to re-print it.

The article was written by Hugo Paige who joined the NR in 1934. However, you won't find him under that name, but under "Pfeiffer". I think the family were of German origin and at some time around WW2 they had a name change.

There are some significant names mentioned: When I joined in 1944 Les Couzens held Club 25 record. Maybe by today's standards you may think it was a trike record at 1-03-??. But no, it was on two wheels. But not in competition. Les set up a private time trial, using what was known as the F4 course, Barnet Bypass, with a revision. He made maximum use of the rule about start & finish being no more than a mile apart. He started at the top of Digswell Hill, used that downhill & finished at the bottom after going round the Barnet Bypass. On, I think, a 92 inch gear!

Arthur Smith was another RRA record breaker, tourist & hard rider. He only ever had one job. He started his working life at the Admiralty as an office boy. He retired as a senior specification writer for naval armaments. At the outbreak of WW2 the Admiralty was moved to Bath and from then on the Smiths were west country folk.

I have cause to be grateful to Arthur & Ida. In 1946 I was doing technical training at RAF Melksham. At least, we Fleet Air Arm personal had our own division. As a minority group of the Senior Service we felt obliged to show the RAF types how to march to & from classes. The RAF would applaud!

The Bath CC were organising the National Championship 50 that year. Another lad & I went to Batheaston Youth Hostel where we shared a dormitory with Bob Maitland and the Solihull team. At the "50", a middle aged woman in cycling clothes walked over & asked if one of us was Harold Bridge. It was Ida Smith. That meeting led to some pleasant (in retrospect!) rides in and around the Mendips and Cheddar Gorge, into Oxford, across Salisbury Plain etc. My poor Mother got quite upset I wasn't going home on leave often enough.

"Fuller's": the café right by Girtford Bridge. A half century of history was plastered on the walls that were papered with historic photos. When Fuller's closed there was no chance to retrieve the photos, lost forever.

Harold Bridge
February 2009

February 28, 2009