Forest Row Bike Club
Newhaven: 27 August 2006
“Hallo John, don’t forget it’s 9 o’clock tomorrow”. “Oh, hallo Ron, thanks very much, I hadn’t realised”. And expecting to have to pull on the waterproofs, the next morning I looked out of the window and couldn’t believe it, but yes, shorts and short sleeves would do. And so thought Ron, Steve, and Zoë, too. We were all glad to see that Steve’s arm had finally healed up. We’d just decided that no more were going to turn up, and that we had better get moving to meet Jane at Heaven Farm, when up turns a ‘Mod’ on a scooter. Blimey, we’re going to get duffed up, I thought, when the said ‘Mod’ pulls off his helmet and lo! and behold, it was Don. He didn’t half look the part too, except he didn’t have long enough winklepickers on. No matter. He had a prior engagement, and had turned up to wish us well. We got chatting, of course, and Ron began to hop around a bit, and it dawned on us that we ought to be going. Don wished us a good ride, and sped off to beat up a few ‘Rockers’, no doubt. So up Priory Road we began to pedal. I heard Ron ask Steve what had happened to me. He thought that as he couldn’t hear me talking, I must’ve been left behind. Blooming cheek! It didn’t stop him asking me a few minutes later to speed off ahead and meet Jane, as we were obviously not going to meet her in time. So, being a good few years younger, and like a whippet let off the leash, I zoomed ahead and, slowing down again some three miles ahead of the others so I looked nonchalant, met Jane standing seductively in a layby. Thinking I was 15 minutes late, Jane informed me that she’d not been there long, as she’d been held up by a herd of cattle going up the road for milking. Now I’ve heard some excuses……..
And so once the others had finally caught up, and explanations exchanged, we meandered off through the lanes towards Lewes, exchanging pleasantries. So it was that I learned that Zoë had been in a rush that morning as she had been looking after her grandchildren, and had had to wake them early before they were ready. And Steve had just returned from Norfolk where he had seen some spoonbills for the first time, and a magnificent swallowtail butterfly, the only place in Britain to see them. And that Ron had changed most of his transmission the day before, and that his chain kept jumping a cog. Oh, the oaths! Soap and water, Ron.
Jane and I were musing that the last time we had traversed these lanes, it had been just the two of us, as practically everyone else was on holiday in Belgium. It had been really hot, and a very enjoyable day. Well, it was for me, anyway.
All of a sudden, an elderly fella comes cycling along towards us. He looked so old and doddery, I wondered how on earth Ron could have got in front of us and turned back. In fact, as the old gentleman said “Good morning” and whizzed by, I recognised Frank Penton from my other club, the Clarencourt. Frank was one of my racing heroes when I first joined over 30 years ago. I hadn’t seen him for a good few years. I just had to turn round and chase him down, and we had a very pleasant conversation. With a great deal of difficulty, and out of deference to one of my seniors, I let Frank get a word in, and learnt that he will be 77 in a few days time. I hope I look as good if I get to his age. He very soon urged me to go back and catch up my mates, and I marvelled at the older generation’s ability for self-sacrifice. ‘Must be the war,’ I thought, as I pedalled back to meet the others, just as Ron was dialling into his mobile phone to give me a b******ing.
And on to Lewes, where Zoë was doubtful about going on, so we stopped in our favourite café and had a coffee while we discussed it. Persuasion didn’t work, but the thumbscrews did, thus the bikes were once again mounted. Opposite the café is a very steep, cobbled lane, which looks very like that one in the old Hovis advert. We gingerly descended it, and at the bottom read a notice that informed us that, I’m not sure how many years ago, the then Prince Regent, soon to be George IV, had once raced down it in a coach and four, for a wager. It is not recorded if he won. A little later, alongside the road out of town, Steve remarked on an apple tree at the roadside. I guessed that it might have germinated from a core thrown from a hansom cab many years before, and Steve ventured that it may even have been thrown by George IV from his coach and four after his bet, and he may well be right!
I pointed out to Steve the steep slope up the side of the South Downs, leading eventually to Firle Beacon. He told me that he had once bet his young son a Mars Bar that he could cycle up that hill the fastest. When his son had beaten him to the summit, he’d looked into his saddle bag to pay his son his winnings, only to find that he didn’t in fact have one. Although he assures me he made up for that Mars Bar many times over, through the years, his son has never forgiven him, and the hill is now known to him as ‘Mars Bar Hill’.
Once at Newhaven, we stopped on the edge of the shopping centre for a comfort break, and tben snaked through it, and over a huge plaque in the pavement, divided into six sections, each one of which related an intersting fact about the town.
1. The worst tragedy of the town was in 1800 or thereabouts, when a ship was wrecked in a storm below the cliffs, and all aboard were drowned except one soul, ironically a non-swimmer.
2. During the war, lots of lights were erected at Cuckmere Haven, some miles along the coast, and when the Jerries flew over on their raids, they were turned on, whilst the ones at Newhaven were simultaneously turned off. Thus, they were attracted like moths away from the town, and many lives were saved.
3. The River Ouse used to flow into the sea at Seaford, but it gradually silted up. To prevent flooding, another channel was dug through to the sea, forming a new haven. Geddit?
Ron and most of the others had gone on, so I didn’t have time to read the other sections, but Steve had hung back for me, and together we chased the others down. This may have been the moment when he reminded me that whilst mending one of his punctures on the Treasure Hunt three weeks ago, he had leant his bike against a wire fence, only to find himself in receipt of a jolt of electricity strong enough to deter a bull. Not being able to believe it, he tried it again to see if it was true. With his hair rendered frizzy and smoking, he decided to believe it!
Before the café, we just had to get as far as the sea, and Ron tried his best to get Zoé to strip off and have a swim. I’m not sure of his motives, but I think Zoé was, and firmly declined his offer. At last, the café was warm, and the smell of breakfast inviting. Unfortunately, the young waitress wasn’t, and was one of the most miserable people I have met in a long time, if you don’t count Ron. She obviously didn’t enjoy her job, but needed the money. The food was good though, and we all had a feast, especially Steve and Zoé who had noticed the sign advertising Sunday lunch of roast beef and all the trimmings for £4.20. And how they had the nerve to sit and eat that in front of us, I don’t know. It looked and sounded fantastic. We slurped away to the sight of a humungous great ferry turning 180° in the river just outside the café, and heading off to the land of onions, foie gras and garlic, and waddled outside to find Jane’s bike was the only one to have fallen over. Nothing broken, so we nipped over the road to the public loo, advertising on its wall that it was the last one before Frogland, and then we set off for home.
I, for one, couldn’t believe that although for a lot of the time on the way down we’d had a tail wind, we seemed to have another tail wind on the way back. Now, in my lengthy experience of cycling, this is a rare occurrence indeed. So, make the most of it we did. Arriving at the station at Isfield, a vote was taken about stopping for tea or not, and ‘not’ was not an option. Especially as Ron was obviously delerious, and paid for us all. I, of course, took the mickey and had two pieces of cake. Everyone kept on about the fact that the last time we were here, we were lucky enough to be given a bowl of free strawberries each, and had the nerve to ask if the favour could be repeated. We were firmly informed that the answer was in the negative.
Well, Scrooge, er, I mean Ron, decided that we couldn’t stay in a place like that, so we gently meandered home from another lovely day. Sad to say that Val had had a fall from her bike while out with her mates, and hurt her left leg. Being female, she didn’t make a fuss, and reckoned it was nothing. I hope she is alright by now. That apart, another lovely day.
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