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Published: January 23rd 2010
21st April ‘09
Great Aunt Gwen is attired in leather driving gloves. She happily pilots the Mercedes well under the speed limit. Full beam dazzles other road users, and she occasionally deigns to indicate off a roundabout, all the while calling me ‘daahling.’ She is taking me to a Lancashire village, for a hearty meal with her daughter Judith and Judith’s husband Tom. Again, I’m not sure what sort of a relation Judith is - a cousin twice removed, or something equally convoluted, I expect.
Judith has a super house - a sheep farm, actually - that is a seventeenth century wool store on an old packhorse route. All is going swimmingly - animals clucking and baaing - until I’m not allowed a beer because I have to cycle later this evening. Tssk is what I say to that, and the decision is overruled. Tom joins me in a bottle of strong "Black Sheep".
’See light yonder?’ asks Tom, in his broad dialect, while a feast is laid before us. The pub he is pointing at, on a distant hill, is where The Hollies wrote ‘The Air That You Breathe’. Judith gestures in the opposite direction to where
the Bronte sisters lived. I butter another slice of damson bread, and wonder if I can get away with a second bottle of ale. In yet another direction, across the Yorkshire border - they moved it in 1973, and the dispute continues - lies the ‘rhubarb triangle’. Under the cover of darkness, rhubarb is grown in an area pinned by three major towns. It is picked by candlelight. When rhubarb is pink, it is ‘forced’; when green, it is ordinary. There was me thinking that it’s grim up north, yet we’re surrounded by beauty and history.
Judith’s spare room is offered as a base for exploring, but, sadly, as you may have forgotten, I am actually on tour with AC/DC, requiring attendance to move a truck far more often than I’d like. As I’ve said before, the job would be great if it wasn’t for all the driving.
Back in Manchester today, we’re parked, for logistical reasons, not at the Evening News Arena but at the National Cycling Centre. Inside, seven days a week, as might be expected, cycling training or racing is held. Bikes, helmets and shoes can be hired for taster sessions, but I opt
instead for a spot of spectatorship from the upstairs gallery. After following a few circuits, I traipse downstairs again with a furrowed brow. A staff member attempts to explain the aspects of cycling that I don’t understand.
Why is part of the track at an angle of 45 degrees, and not flat? And why do those lycra-clad chappies have filled-in wheels? She blushes and shrugs, but has a reasonable stab at answering my questions. Just then, a man in a leotard emerges from the changing rooms, pushing a racing cycle. Ah, the very man to ask. I didn’t notice whether he shaves his legs to gain extra speed, but let’s assume that he does. He tells me that the steep slope is for sprint races, to gain acceleration - though surely time is lost ascending it first? - and that the ‘disc wheels’ are an aerodynamic feature, to eliminate air between the spokes. ‘There y’ar,’says the staff girl, ‘I told yer it were summat t’ do wi’ wind.’ ..
22nd April: (“Manchester - Birmingham”)
Little Dick and I cycled to PC World last night. Sadly, like the misused apostrophe, computers seem here to stay and so the
bullet must be bitten - laptops with cracked screens must be replaced. Within seconds we’ve had enough: for a start it is airless inside, and, secondly, that bloody annoying voice keeps chanting “PC World” over the Tannoy. Neither of us want to spend much money - we both own cars bought at around the £400 mark - and so our pimply attendant has only to explain the difference between the two cheapest models.
Great, that was easy - we’ll have two of your crappest laptops then, please. Ah, obviously they don’t have two in stock. Our teenager begins a spiel about other stores in Greater Manchester where they might have the same hardware. He utterly fails to notice that Little Dick is holding a detachable bicycle saddle, thereby unlikely to be travelling by car. However, as luck would have it, this store does have one of each cheap laptop.
“Spotty” wants our addresses at the checkout, and then tries every line in the book to encourage product care and support packages as extras. We mention that we leave the country again soon, making cancellation of one-month policies a trifle awkward. ‘When are you back again?’ he asks. We
mention a figure of about three months, and he asks, in the manner of a boy knowing only PC World and the occasional disco, ‘where are you going on holiday together?’
The National Exhibition Centre, situated romantically off the M42, would make a poor holiday spot. Granted, it has a train station, and an airport, but it otherwise heralds little of interest. Accordingly, at 11.30 sharp this morning, my mate Woody rolls up - ooh, in a BMW with a personalised plate - and whisks me away. ‘Alright shag?’ he asks. They talk a bit funny in Worcestershire.
Back in his village, obviously after a pint and a pub lunch, he pretends to work, organising double-driving for the touring industry. Protein supplements and energy drinks lie discarded alongside ashtrays. I suggest that these body-building stimulants are probably not designed for people intending to spend an idle afternoon checking Facebook. There is a gymnasium downstairs but he argues that, ‘they say not to do it every day.’ As he lights a roll-up and sips a coffee, he maintains that ‘it’s just a question of toning up a bit.’
On the way back to the truck we call in
at Chateau Impney Hotel, a grand, incongruous edifice on the Worcester Road. A little while ago - well, 1875, if we’re going to split hairs - a chap called John Corbett fell in love with a ravishing French Governess. Modelled on Versailles and the Loire Valley chateaux, he had this house built for her. 3000 men toiled on its construction, creating 155 acres of parkland. I can hardly wait to look inside. Ah, it is shut until tomorrow morning. A lazy, trickling waterfall in the manicured garden does its best to drown out the rumble of the nearby M5. We can’t loiter too long, however, because Woody is meeting a girl for last orders. Oh great, don’t worry about me..
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