The story so far: a bronze age tribe from what is now known as the middle east had a belief in a tribal god who was the greatest of all gods. Over time, this tribal god was credited with greater and greater powers until the tribe came to believe He was the only God, and that He had chosen this tribe as His own people. Surprisingly, for a chosen people, this tribe had no end of problems, suffering slavery and discrimination and all manner of wars and tribulations, but still they remained loyal to this God. It was foretold that He would send the tribe a king to lead them to victory over their oppressors.
Fast forward a few centuries, and we find the tribe being oppressed yet again, this time by the Italians. I a little backwater town, a child is born to a young carpenter and his wife. The child grows to become a spiritual leader and teacher, and is credited with a number of miracles. Many people believe him to be the king sent by God, and foretold in the prophecy, but the majority of the members of the tribe reject this. They were expecting someone a bit more - how shall we put it - fierce, warlike… macho. Eventually, the religious leaders of the tribe arrange for the brutal lynching of the young man, achieving this with the co-operation of their Italian oppressors.
After the young man’s death, a few of his loyal followers continue to spread his teachings, and from these humble beginnings there grows a major world religion - if you count all the competing sects as a single religion, then it is certainly in the top four world wide.
And approximately 2,009 years after this young man’s birth (although someone lost count and the year is numbered in his honour as 2005) and on a date in December which owes more to the timing of the Solstice than to any attempt at historical accuracy, the anniversary of the young man’s birth is commemorated in a land many hundreds of miles away from his birthplace by nearly everyone of every race and creed (and none) having a couple of days off work - including today.
Many people choose to spend this day off sitting in front of the TV, eating too much, drinking to excess, and bickering. Being of a more spiritual persuasion (and lacking a TV anyway), I decide to go for a Coker ride.
It is a cold and damp morning. I drive down to the car park near to the Stoke Bardolph Estate, find the barrier is locked to keep out gypsies (goodwill to all mankind has its exceptions, apparently) and I park on the road. It is even colder and damper now - in fact there are spots of rain on the windscreen of the car.
I take the Coker out, put my waterproof/windproof cycling jacket on, and pick up my helmet. It feels wrong. The cradle has become detached from the shell. Committed to the ride, I decide to go without, but put on my traditional northern cloth cap to keep my head warm.
I walk the short distance to the starting point, noticing a family of three ahead of me, the child screaming and crying as the father encourages her to enjoy riding her new bicycle. No doubt the child would rather be watching TV, eating chocolate and drinking Sunny D. I wait for the family to pass through the gate, then follow them.
I haven’t ridden the Coker for a while. That first mount is always a bit of a challenge. The family of three blocks my path, father to the left, child in the middle, and mother is to the right, wittering something inane about falling over the handlebars of her mountain bike. I wait patiently for them to ride away so that I can prepare for my ride and mount without distractions. Father has other ideas. He is father, the alpha male, leader of his little tribe. He turns to me and instructs me to “Go on then.”
I speculate that this young man, who looks like he’s been middle aged since he hit 23, has no data on which to base his instructions or advice about my Coker riding. Perhaps I will do a running mount, in which case, by following his advice, about three paces before I leap into the saddle, I will strike his little girl with a wheel that is taller than her. Maybe I am not a good rider, and as I attempt a static mount, I will sail right over the Coker and land directly on top of the child. Alternatively, I could mount clumsily, wobble, and catch his wife with one of my sharply-pinned pedals. It is even possible that it will take me ten minutes to prepare the Coker for riding, during which time he and his family will become gradually colder and more dispirited.
I toy with the idea of discussing this with him. On what basis does he feel entitled to stand in my way and instruct me to ride a vehicle of a type that he has probably never seen before? Why does he not feel it is more appropriate for him to go about his own business, and leave me to take responsibility for mine? Instead, infused with the Christmas spirit, I limit my comment to a dry, “Well, I was waiting for you to get out of my way.”
“No, go on,” he insists, gesturing for me to ride between him and his child, who stands some 4 feet away from him. (Just over a metre.)
Fortunately, my first attempt at a mount is smooth, there is little wobble, and I ride briskly through the gap, as close to the man as I can manage. As I set off along the tarmac track, I hear the predictable, “Oh, look at that…” comment to his daughter. A certain type of person does that: they point out something remarkable or unusual to their child, partner or companions in a proprietorial way. “That is clever, and I saw it first, so I am clever too.”
Anyway, the first section of the ride is about 500 metres of smooth tarmac, and I use this to re-familiarise myself with the Coker. It is easy to cruise on a Coker, but high speed takes more nerve and concentration than on a smaller uni, and low speed takes more skill and timing.
The first obstacle is the cattle grid: a pit across the road, with a number of iron bars across it with 15 cm (6 inch) gaps between them. It should be no problem to ride across a cattle grid. I’ve done it a hundred times… but I fell off once (from a smaller wheel) and nearly broke my ankle (trapped between the bars) and nearly buckled my wheel (ditto). Ever since then, I have treated cattle grids with exaggerated caution. I slow down, line up at an exact right angle to the bars, and ride across with utmost care. There is a brief “thrum” and I am back on tarmaca firma.
10 metres later, I turn sharp right onto a rough unmade track, with a high hedge to my right, and allotments to my left. I overtake an elderly man walking his dog, who acknowledges me with a polite (if somewhat startled) “Good morning.” This track takes me towards the river, where it turns sharp left and leads me to one of my favourite short sections of cart track.
This cart track is a “green lane” wide enough for a Land Rover - or for two to pass each other if the drivers don’t mind scratching their doors - with high hedges to each side which arch over the top and almost join to make a tunnel. Today, the ground is wet and slimy, and I have a choice of two slippery wheel ruts, or the rough tussocky grass between. Every so often, there are wide mudbath puddles partly blocking my way, and low hanging thorny branches to snatch my cap if I am unwary. Chaffinches spring out of the hedges as I approach and fly ahead of me, like pilot fish swimming in front of a shark. As they get far enough ahead, they dive back into the hedge and perch, only to burst out again as I catch them up. The effect is like a constant Mexican wave of chaffinches.
It is still cold and damp, and as I pass under the power cables, I hear them crackling. The cold is seeping into my fingers and I wish I had gloves instead of fingerless wrist guards. I rub my hands together, blow on them, tuck them into my waist band - in fact I do all the things that do no good whatsoever, but you have to try them anyway when you’re cold. Deep down, I know the only answer is to ride hard enough to get warm - and that will make me sweaty so I won’t be able to stop! Oh, the joy of Cokering!
Coming out of the green lane, and passing a couple more dog walkers, I turn right towards the river again, and pick my way along a short section of deep wet grass. This leads to a very short but tricky little embankment and sharp left turn. (The left turn can actually be eliminated from the route by riding straight on into the river, but I habitually disregard this option.)
To be continued…