Sunday, 22 February 2015

Twats of the Antarctic...what were we thinking?

People sleepwalk through life; I know I do. Take Saturday morning, for instance. I woke up around 0600hrs, got out of bed, went downstairs, made myself a mug of tea, put an egg on the boil, made up some fingers, boiled some milk for a couple of Shredded Wheat and then sat down and watched BBC Breakfast while enjoying my very early breakfast. Outside it was dark. Not that I knew this for an absolute fact as the curtains were drawn and, as the clock edged its way towards my departure time (0700hrs) I'm sure it was getting brighter out there, but other than the darkness I saw through the kitchen window earlier, I wasn't sure what was happening outside. For all I knew it could be raining and that's a real downer for cycling. Nothing worse than getting wet through. But Andy hadn't sent any text messages warning me of the weather...or had he? Hold on a minute, what's all this? I'd picked up the iphone and spotted a couple of texts just as I was walking into the conservatory (now fully dressed and ready for the ride) and then I saw it: snow, lots of it, and it was hanging around too. The grass was getting progressively whiter as the iphone began to ring. Well, vibrate, as it was on 'silent'. It was Andy.

Twats of the Antarctic –my cycling outfit does me no favours whatsoever
"I can't believe this," I said. "It's snowing. I think we'll have to abort."
"Really? Are you sure? I say we go for it, head for The Ridge..."
"Well, we could, I guess. Let's aim for reaching the green and take things from there."

So off I went without any waterproof trousers or top, just me in my Tesco ASBO specials and the M&S hooded top, my rust-coloured old jacket, a baggy old jumper and, of course, the 'New York' beany hat – my Peter Storm flappy hat, incidentally, was absent-mindedly left on a train earlier in the week.

The bikes on their own. Note the snow... everywhere! Pic by Andy Smith
Outside, while I noted that the weather was oddly rather mild – certainly not balaclava weather, although I hadn't left that on a train – I also noted that the snow was relentless: laying on front lawns, covering parked cars and dissolving on my lips like chilled Disprin. But I ploughed on: along Ellenbridge, up Elmfield, up Church Way, along the Limpsfield Road to the green where I found Andy who, like me, was covered in snow. What were we thinking? The last time we experienced weather like this was April 2008 – something I always bring up whenever the subject of snow raises its head. "Well, we've had snow in April before, you know," I will remark smugly, and the response is often, "Really? That's late!"

The off-road bit I despise so much!
We stood there on the green wondering what to do when what we should have done (apart from turn around and go home) was head for somewhere offering a bit of cover, ie the Tatsfield bloody bus stop or the village, but for some reason we opted for a couple of exposed benches in a car park far, far away, on The Ridge, a stone's throw from Al Fayed's gaff. This meant riding down Slines Oak Road and along a lengthy stretch of off-road track that I absolutely abhor. It's part of our route to Godstone, a place we rarely visit because of the punishing hill on the return ride, but off we went nonetheless, the snow raining down upon us. It wasn't long before I was wet through and dreaming of having mudguards, but no, I didn't have any mudguards and I wasn't wearing any protective clothing. And while I wasn't cold as such, I was getting increasingly uncomfortable and there was to be no salvation, no nice, warm bus stop to shelter from the snow, and even if there had been a covered bus stop, sitting down would have been unpleasant. As unpleasant as, say, having a bath and then getting dressed or, worse still, getting back into bed, without drying myself. As unpleasant as being in a crowded train with a few sausages under the grill or eating an unexpectedly soft pickled onion.

View to the right of the bike along the off-road stretch
When we reached our destination there was no cover. There were no leaves on the trees and all we could do was stand under the bare branches of some shrub or other trying to pretend everything was alright, the sun was shining and we had a nice cup of tea and some BelVita biscuits to eat. We DID have a nice cup of tea and we DID have the biscuits, but it wasn't in the slightest bit pleasant and, after taking the shots that accompany this post, we mounted our trusty steeds and headed along a short stretch of off-road track (not the one pictured) before rejoining The Ridge and heading for Botley Hill and the return ride along the exposed 269 towards Warlingham Green. By this stage, of course, as any seasoned cyclist will tell you, we'd resigned ourselves to being wet and uncomfortable. I think I was more uncomfortable than Andy as his bike has a sensible pair of mudguards and, give or take, Andy was 'nice and comfy' – he certainly didn't have a cold, wet behind like I did.
View to the left of the bike along the off-road stretch I dislike
The roads were largely clear of snow and, as we headed home everything was getting wetter and wetter. There was still snow on the grass verges and in front gardens along the route, but it was thawing and within 30-40 minutes people would look puzzled if I suggested that there was thick snow everywhere only half an hour ago.

Andy and I parted at the green, vowing to meet up again on Sunday, weather permitting. I rode home and saw a sensibly dressed, clean, tidy and (more to the point) dry Phil about to drive off to Southampton with his daughter. I felt decidedly under-dressed in my wet-through Tesco ASBO specials, my face speckled with mud and, let's make no bones about it, I looked a complete mess.

A discarded Coke can heightened our sense of desolation
"Respect is due," I said, explaining how it really wasn't that cold, but who was I kidding? After bidding farewell to Phil I waddled off, locked the bike in the garage and then peeled off my wet clothes, chucked them all in the washing machine and made myself a cup of tea. Now don't get me wrong. I didn't just strip off and stand in the kitchen with no clothes on, making myself tea; I dried off first, put on some clean and dry clothes and then headed for the kitchen.

Bare trees meant little in the way of shelter
Later in the day I noticed that I was developing a sore throat and all because I hadn't really looked after myself. I was Twat of the Antarctic and if I caught a chill it was nobody's fault but mine.

Shortly after leaving the house the snow began to fall...
Sunday – to the Tatsfield Bus Stop
On Sunday we rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop – where we should have headed yesterday. Mum had given me a couple of slices of Christmas cake so we enjoyed tea, cake and BelVita biscuits. Andy had a puncture close to where he lives and was sorely tempted to abort, but we agreed to meet at the Tatsfield  bus stop as I didn't fancy standing around in the cold. I pedalled off from the green alone, but while the snow had gone, it was much colder than yesterday. I had the beany hat and balaclava combo on my head today, a scarf, the aforementioned rusty old jacket, a pair of trousers covered in white paint and an uncomfortable pair of gloves that were still wet from yesterday's lunacy.

On the way back we saw what looked like a nasty car accident. An ambulance and police car were in attendance and there was a small car – something like a Renault Clio or a Corsa, or even a Toyota Aygo – upturned in a field and some way from the road. How? That was the question we kept asking ourselves as we cycled past. It must have happened after 0800hrs, although Andy reached the bus stop from along The Ridge, not the 269, so he wouldn't have seen anything. We were guessing but the car must have been travelling very fast, lost control, mounted the verge, smashed right through the Hawthorn bushes and turned itself over. There were other cars parked up on the verge so I'm guessing they were involved or purely witnesses.

How seriously hurt those involved in the accident might have been we didn't dare to guess, but when we reached the junction at Beech Road the ambulance passed us slowly and without its sirens blazing – it could have meant that all was fine and that there was no need to rush or that there was no point in hurrying back as those inside were dead.

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