If you have to drive in England, and please avoid it at all costs, then at least do it in style. You will not get to your destination more quickly but your ageing arse and the pain that stands in for your lumber region will at least find some relief.
For, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a car on English Motorways is in want of his sanity. Don’t let the adverts fool you. You will not speed along empty roads in glorious sunshine and spectacular scenery accompanied by a headscarf wearing Kathryn Hepburn lookalike who promises a happy ending upon arrival at your destination in some romantic hotel. No, your fate is to be tearing into the abyss of grey water being thrown by the bucket load at your windscreen as you find yourself surrounded by towering trucks driven by demons from the seventh depths of hell whose only care is to get to wherever they are going regardless of any collateral damage be that rabbit, bugs or your wellbeing.
You will be tailgated. For some unknown reason many drivers want to know what is on your back seat and thus play chicken with the brake lights they see in front. Data on stopping distances on wet roads are but a dim and distant memory to them as they leave their fates to the capricious whims of the furies. I’ve seen better driving skills being exercised by rum soaked drunken and testosterone fuelled matelots riding the dodgems at the fairground on Helston Flora Day.
You will crawl behind a truck who is ‘overtaking’ another truck at 58 miles per hour while the fast lane is out of bounds to you due to the wide boys and sales reps, high on crack cocaine, exercising their ‘right’ to drive like complete wankers at over 90 miles an hour in a soon to be crashed BMW.
You will wonder where everyone is going? Surely someone must be at work? Did everyone take today to go somewhere? Is the school run allowed on motorways?
The A roads are no better.
King’s Lynn to Norwich is not Route 66. You will certainly not ‘get your kicks’ nor will you be tempted to roll the window down, put on your shades, with arm resting on the door and sing to Elvis Presley on the radio. The road ahead will not stretch into the desert sunset in a straight line along the cactus lined highway to Hotel California. You will instead follow a tractor, the white van delivering tat to twats in time for teatime, the prat in an Audi who thinks he is Lewis Hamilton, a distracted mother with a car full of brats all shouting at her and a businessman in a hurry to get to the next Premier Inn where he can dream of eating a microwave dinner in the ‘restaurant’ before going to bed disappointed that Sharon from accounts was not there. He will go to bed after a late night snifter, turn to Babe Station and think of the short skirted but unavailable Sharon while he falls asleep only to wake up with his dick in his hand at 3 am.
That is an English road trip. Pissing rain, bitter disappointment and a wank.
Where was I?
While Mr Harris and Dr Tatham head to the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ that is Norwich in a Mercedes Vito van (nice), I drove the Mercedes C200 (even fucking nicer, excuse my french). I am not usually impressed by cars. They are merely methods of transportation infinitely inferior to trains. For a start you have to drive them yourself and keep awake while doing so. You cannot drink, nor can you drift aimlessly into a reverie about the time you found yourself covered in chocolate and being thrown into a party of sweet toothed lesbians and their overly sexed entourage of bisexual partners.
(I might have dreamt that).
The Mercedes C200 deserves a mention, due to its overwhelming comfort. Everything in it works beautifully as it should. Every section of the seat can be adjusted, I counted at least 4 different moving parts to it. It heats up in the winter and gently caresses one’s testicles with what feels like a soft hand in a velvet glove, if you press the right button. German built and designed, you see. I wish we’d lost the war. I had previously already spent the best part of 10 hours getting to Kings Lynn in it, and upon arrival felt as fresh as the cherry blossom in spring, and as the smell of freshly baked bread and a day old baby’s head. The car gently and soothingly consumed the miles to Norwich enabling me to treat every other road user with contempt and pity. Come the revolution, I shall mandate that if it is necessary to travel by road, then a Mercedes should be issued to each and every citizen (except the couple who live in the flat upstairs and seem to be unaware that 50 shades of Grey is fiction and does not need reenacting at two in the morning. A man can only take so many muffled screams. By the way, I now know their ‘safe words’).
Arrival in Norwich as the sun sets over the river is a delight. It would have been better if the Sat Nav had the correct post code coordinates. After a bit of map reading and a lot of swearing I find the hotel itself. The Premier Inn (for t’was our hotel…I hope they have Babe Station) overlooks the River Wensum as it winds it way through the city. The Cathedral Spire pokes above the trees a short distance away. There is a pissed women shouting near the bridge over the river, “lets be ‘aving you” I think it is.
Tonight is beer and curry night. Dr Tatham’s medical chums of yore are in town with a half baked plan to cycle from Norwich to Romford. A distance of quite some miles across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, it has to be said. If they are as good at medical practice as they are at organising a cycling trip, I suggest you go kill yourself now. Their bravado is matched only by incompetence and a complete ignorance of the art of cycling any distance further than the mile to the pub. Team Sky they ain’t. We met up in a pub to enjoy some pre curry bonhomie and the talking of bollocks.
The good doctors currently come from far and wide….Droitwhich, Diss, Romford, Ireland and Never Never Land. I think one gave his address as Number 1, Clueless, Cloud Cuckoo Land. I blame the parents. Tomorrow it will rain. I suspect that will not dampen their spirits, merely soak their bones and stoke their bloody mindedness. Beer and curry is a great combination, but in preparation for a 60 mile cycle in the rain it may prove exciting as their normal bowel patterns are disrupted. The crown will go to the chap who can find his way to the loo the quickest after mile 10.
Our plan is different. We will not be rushing to join them southwards to The Only Way is Essex.
So we bid the chaps goodnight in the hotel bar as we prepare to go our separate ways on the morrow.
Now, settle down. Get comfortable. Mr Harris planned a trip around Norwich that must be just one of the greatest journeys ever taken. In our estimation that is. You may like the Maldives, or a weekend break in New York. You may enjoy bashing your bishop in Barnstaple or choking your chicken in Chichester…but, nothing can quite match a trip on the North Norfolk Steam Railway.
You need to realise that there is nothing like a steam engine to gladden the heart and quicken the pulse of three silly old ugly blind bikers in Norfolk. We can hardly curb our enthusiasm at the thought. We’ve talked about this for months, boxes of tissues have been used, imaginations running wild at the thought of steam hauled steel on rail. The sight, sound and smell of coal, fire and steam, brass and copper pipes, steel connecting rods, hissing, misty clouds, dirt and smuts from chimney, oil on trousers and dirty rags. Bloody heaven.
Norwich railway station is just across the river, its gothic dome standing proud above the platforms. The plan is to take a train to Cromer and from thence cycle to Sheringham on the coast. The NNR starts at Sheringham and clatters some miles to a nowhere called Holt. One of our party, overcome with the thought of travelling by train and thus devoid of judgement, boards the wrong train, and as he enters the doors lock behind him. Thankfully, this train is going nowhere and after much jollity the guard releases the doors to facilitate his disembarkation for the correct train.
Our train then winds gently across the Fenland and the Broads towards the coast. Our bikes are safely stowed aboard. Giggles are hardly suppressed. There is something touching about the ease with which grown men can be pleased. All it takes is a beer, or a train, or a rumination on the aesthetic similarity between a pint of Guinness and the stocking clad legs of a young lady bent on flirtation. It is the juxtaposition of black and white that does it. This latter thought had been prompted by the sight of a young lady hitching up her skirt to adjust her stocking tops as she walked down the Prince of Wales Road in Norwich the previous night. This remembrance had nearly caused a member of our party to choke with laughter whilst cycling and thus risking a crash into the hedge. Easily pleased, men are.
Sheringham is a pretty seaside town, bunting fluttered in the sunshine in the high street. Tourists crowded the pavements and the coffee shops. The sky above the roofs hinted at blue. The North Sea sparkles and glistens, reminiscent of the Balearic Island paradise of Ibiza. The warm breeze caresses the skin, prompting the shedding of clothes while bikini clad women laze upon the golden sands in a coquettish demeanour. That’s what I saw anyway, rather than the hordes of Nora Batty clones stuffing their faces with fish and chips while shouting to the kids as if we are in an episode of East Enders. Fat blokes waddling along the sea front grunting for beer in a fashion free zone, dressed as they were for the Arctic but with sock footed sandals and Heavy Metal T shirts.
Upon arrival at the station, the steam engine slowly glides in. I’ll leave it there. I will not be responsible otherwise for what I write next given the level of excitement this drew from us. The station, as with most heritage lines, is of course exactly like it would have been pre Beeching (damn his soul), and so dates from anywhere between 1930 to 1960, the heyday of the Railways. The tickets are cardboard and the guard punches them with a hole punch. The excitement just mounts. We rattle slowly along the coast and then inland to Holt. Heads are out of windows, waving at people in the countryside, the engine is chuffing up slopes and then gliding down the other side.
At Holt there is even a model railway layout, and a proper row of red fire buckets hanging on the wall. We disembark and one member of the party is minus a bike helmet, due to over exuberance back at Sheringham, leading to momentary lapses of reason and forgetfulness. It is probably in the lost property office right now.
The journey back to Norwich is a delightful 30 miles (ish) jaunt, the last 5 miles or so along a disused railway track (bugger Beeching but a boon to bikers). Upon arrival in the city, the route takes us past a pub called the ‘Adam and Eve’ and yes we would believe it. Being only a mile or even less from ‘Lenny’s’ we are able to make a decision about visiting the Norwich City Football Club shop or stopping for an ale.
Its thirsty work, cycling, and so the decision was swiftly made.
Did you know Norwich cathedral’s spire is off centre? No one notices this at all, unless you stand at one of the gates (can’t remember which one), then line your self up with a ‘gable end’ (?). Suffice to say it takes a mathematical mindset to notice this. Once spotted however, it could grate. It is the princess and the pea of the cathedral world. I guess it is too late to put it right? I blame the monks who, proud of their ale making and goat comforting skills, probably did not bother supervising the masons due to a surfeit of ale infused bonhomie and a little light afternoon buggery. That’s medievalism for you.
Somewhere in the world there are three old blokes on bikes, cycling languidly along the countryside noting all the relevant flora and fauna, learning about the local history and reminiscing about the times when access to stocking tops was as easy as falling off your bike in a gale. Getting away from the madness of car stoked roads into bucolic whimsy is an absolute joy, and should be prescribed as primary prevention for heart disease, diabetes and erectile dysfunction. Wives and girlfriends are welcome of course to join in but I suspect the degree of pointless drivel being talked would drive them to insanity and knitting. This is not a gender/sexist issue. I just think most women are just a bit too busy, too sensible or giving birth. The humble bicycle is thus a stairway to heaven, providing access to dreams, steam trains, revolutionary fervour and country pubs.