School’s out. The sun is out. It’s the weekend. The other Beers have departed for another county on dog sitting duty. I am alone.
What to do?
Get out the fat-tyred bike, go buy a paper in town, read it in a cafe (preferably outdoors).
Granted this is not the most earth shaking of plans, but it is – pause for effect – perfect.
Our dwelling is in a little village a handful of miles from the lovely country town of Marlborough here in Wiltshire. Connecting the two is the A346. South of the M4 it’s properly straight for several miles – what did the Romans ever do for us? – before becoming narrow, curvy and poorly sighted on the approaches to town. It’s a fast road and a turnpike that conveys more than local traffic. Huge wagons ply it. While they do so, everyone else tries to overtake despite limited vision, skinny lanes, hefty verges, double white lines, lots of little junctions for hamlets, driveways, fields and residences from cottages to “hices.” (“One has a weekend hice near Marlborough, so much nearer than Tuscany…”)
In short, this road is no place for a bicycle.
But that’s okay. Howcome? Because whereas the road meanders the old Chiseldon to Marlborough railway track is much straighter. It’s wonderfully comforting as you pedal your way under the trees to think that the road rage metres away might as well be on another planet. The near silence of bikes mean you sneak up on bunnies, birds of prey and other humans.
The sun has brought out joggers, ramblers, dog walkers, horsey types and other cyclists. Since the weather has been pants for the last million years, it’s not surprising to see people capitalising on a spot of sun. On the whole it adds to the ride with smiles, hellos, hardly any being chased by dogs and a solitary near decapitation by a rambler who clearly has not engaged brain as I cycle by.
Quite soon I arrive in Marlborough High St where the entire population of England is trying to park it’s collective car. Armed with a broadsheet – the Guardian so I can read Bradley Wiggins column – I plop into a chair outside a cafe.
At this point I mentally high-five myself for flawless execution of plan. [You: eh? What’s come over him? Me: Coming back to work after a totally outstanding sabbatical has given the day job a heart-shrivelling, joy crushing, soul sapping doing-this-for-the-next-quarter-of-a-century inevitability. So much so that I am inappropriately delirious with joy to have achieved this oh-so-minor goal.]
I order a poncy coffee.
Before the excess creamy stuff has been sucked off my treat, a friend stops by: “You seem to be enjoying yourself?”
[Before we go any futher, re-read the sentence-and-a-bit above. Filthy isn’t it? Filthy and you didn’t even notice. I bet you’ve been reading the “Fifty Shades…” series you perv’. Honestly, you disgust me.
Now on with the blog.]
Apparently, as said friend returns past I ooze [stop it] the persona of a chap who doesn’t have his kids with him sitting there with shades, shorts, cuppa and paper on a Saturday morning. Guilty as charged Jackie. It seems terribly indulgent, to the point of minor wrongness. For a moment I try to imagine not having a family and just living this bourgeois life forever. I’d probably implode from all the self-indulgence. [Note to self: thank Mrs B & offspring for preventing me from such a terrible fate.]
Paper and beverage aside, it is tremendously entertaining watching the slowly circulating motors home in on parking spaces. Parking is always available in Marlborough but as befits a town from 1204 it’s unlike the purpose built lot at your mega-mall. (Top Gear did an amusing parking “challenge” in 70s exotica some years ago.) Add to that the current penchant for ridiculously big cars. Then add the key factor: crap drivers.
As cars have ballooned in scale, gained power-everything controls, insulated their inhabitants from the outside and developed satnavery, drivers have – on today’s evidence – become imbeciles. I chase an entrepreneurial thought of manning the town with uniformed parallel parking attendants who charge a fee to reverse your chariot into a space. The pricing system would be on a size related sliding scale matrixed with how OTT/un-neccesarily expensive/showy the car is. A boggo Ford Fiesta would be 50p. A Mini two quid. A Land Rover Defender: Two quid. A Range Rover? Fifty. (Quid, obv.) Anything by Mercedes/BMW £12.89 + VAT + Exorbitant Surcharges. Chelsea Tractors? £20. Audi drivers get a free punch in the face. Yes we take plastic. We even have a club rate for townies with holiday homes in the county. (It’s the local rate + 75%.)
Have we always been this bad at parking?
I search my mind for evidence. It occurs that the oodles of mini dents peppering Mrs B’s Marlborough-frequenting wheels point toward long-term poor parkery. (By other drivers darling, other drivers.
It all points toward the sheer splendidness of the bicycle. No parking woes, no parking charges. You get fit. You get to see the countryside.
Okay, okay. You get all wet when it rains, you get all sweaty and you get all dead if you traverse the A346.
I ride home in high spirits. These are lifted even further when I encounter a late-middle aged rambling lady having a pee by the side of the cycle path. I literally – hilariously – catch her with her pants down.
You just don’t hear bikes coming…
“Better out than in!” I suggest cheerily as she hoists her shorts up in alarm without ceasing to tinkle (one imagines).
Exercise and fresh air are clearly of benefit. Then the added bonus is to indulge in a little harmless schadenfreude at the roadside. Bicycles: what’s not to like?