I knew before opening my eyes that is was the day I had been waiting on. There was movement and singing. The house martins were busy in the eaves above the window, a frenzy of feeding and fledging as the Saharan sun beckoned. They’ll be with us for only a few short weeks. It’s those days we start to count down once the school shoes have been bought.
But it was a day made for cycling, and very welcome too after the April weather of late where the washing is in and out under what you thought was a drying wind. The grass belies the season, deep and lush, growing incessantly; the hedgerows too.
And as we made our way round the lanes it was the hedges that caught my eye. Long straggly growth topping the hawthorn; the beech green and fresh. It won’t be long now before the hawthorn suffers at the farmer’s flail, and that means only one thing – puncture season.
There were other problems today though, that had me thinking of that womens’ road race the other day. Gripping it was, as the rain came down, Porter eventually left his jingoism that had so spoiled the mens’ event behind. But it was the punctures that stuck in the mind this morning, for there were loads of them, and I found myself in dreamland, doing my best to impersonate those real cyclists. There I was, arm in the air, waiting on the support car that wasn’t there. So I had to get my own hands dirty.
I had set out under one of theose skies seen all too rarely of late, a blue one, untroubled by wind, not even a breeze. The house martins weren’t alone in enjoying the warmth on their wings. On the march fence every post seemed to host a big black corbie. And limned at the top of the hill were two roe deer, watching, waiting. Off they bounced as I got closer than they would like. But I was only a mile from home, barely warmed up, and it was rare indeed to see the deer so far down the hill, away from the safety of their forest. The stoat too was on the prowl. I think they must have known.
For there I was, on the first rise of the run, grinding down through the gears, when I heard that crunching, the one that told me I was going nowhere. The chain had jumped off. Realising that support car remained in my dreams, I was soon back on, briefly. For it was a hill start, no easy thing on a ‘bent. And before I knew it the tarmac has jumped up to meet me, the co-ordination between right hand, left hand and feet failing miserably as I fought for the right gear to take me onwards. The water bottle rolled down the hill and the sheep laughed from across the fence.
But it was not till it happened a second time, the chain jumping that is, not the sideways exit, that I realised that I was trying to use gears that had been out of action for over a month now; redundant on the flatlands of Holland or on our Most Accessible Island. I’d put it all off for so long the mechanism had seized up, knees and gears, and those derailleur things that real cyclists can even pronounce. A right good clean was long overdue, and the chain has a certain way of letting you know.
But it was still good to get back out on the road, under a warm sun, on a clear and still day.