Down on the Somerset Levels, in a hamlet named Stathe, lives a paragon of virtue; a man regarding his peerless body as a temple. ‘They’ve got a brilliant new machine down the gym,’ he says languorously. ‘It does everything – chocolate, crisps…’
What am I doing here in the West Country? Well, I had an engagement in Bath and decided to drive the extra mileage to see Big Steve. Well, if I’m brutally honest, it saved me forking out for a hotel. Still, it’s awfully nice to see him. ‘Fancy a cider?’ he asks at 9am, leaning heavily on a kitchen surface and clutching a Budweiser bottle.
‘I’d prefer tea, my old kidney stone,’ I groan, brushing sleep from the corner of my eyes. Yet, surprisingly, in laying out the accoutrements of tea making, I’m faced with Pure Skimmed milk in the fridge. Eh? An injured glance at Big Steve soon explains the anomaly. ‘I’m not this shape naturally, you know,’ he boasts. ‘Takes a bit of discipline.’ Ah, I see.
Well, this is certainly the spot for keeping trim – the leafy lanes, a similar topography to The Netherlands, are perfectly suited to cycling. Once upon a time this area was seabed; the adjoining medieval village of Langport, as you might guess from its name, was formerly a port.
And Glastonbury, on the ancient Isle of Avalon, is but a stone’s throw away. The festival? Ah, that’s actually in a little village called Pilton, approximately twelve miles from Glastonbury itself. It’s known as Battle of Sedgemoor territory round here and simply glorious on a warm, sunny day.
So what does Big Steve think about gently peddling a two-wheeler in the sunshine through topography similar to the Netherlands? ‘Bane of my life, cyclists are,’ he says charitably. ‘I told one I’d wrap a scaffolding bar round his head and chuck his bike in the stream if he threw any more stones at me. And do you know what he said? He said, “Are you threatening me?” Bloody idiot. I said, “No, what that actually means is I live at Number Eight, why don’t you pop round for a cup of tea sometime.”’
He puts his feet up for a minute after this heated recollection. And contortedly takes a telephone call – his muscles don’t seem to fit if he holds a mobile in the normal fashion – before reminding me of a funny evening in Switzerland some years ago. Heaven knows what we were doing in an Alpine bar but the point is that I was approached by a handful of Scandinavian teenage girls. When I say “teenage”, I mean late teens, as in old enough.
‘Are you Mika Hakkinen?’ they cooed, blonde shocks of magnificent hair beguiling me. Well, having more front than Brighton, I nodded and in a nanosecond launched into a disingenuous spiel. You see, beneath this polished veneer lies a fool. ‘Wanker, you mean,’ corrects Steve. He’s got a point.
Anyway, I took a gamble and assumed this Mika lad that I’d never heard of was part of a boy band. So I tested the water with talk of working on my latest LP release. As Big Steve so rightly discerned earlier, what a wanker. The girls walked away, disheartened. Undoubtedly lesbians, of course..
Big Steve mops rivulets of sweat from his brow – the kitchen towel is never far away – after the exertion of retelling yet another story. Well, that and the mammoth five-yard dash to the fridge for a tin of Strongbow. And he sighs breathlessly. Now, on first appearances, one might erroneously infer that he’s out of condition. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, his latest medical report indicates athletic cholesterol.
Everything in Moderation..
Star jumps have been scaled down a little, though, over the last fifteen years or so. The trick, he maintains, is to do one leg at a time, preferably whilst sitting down enjoying a cigarette and a drink. Alternate arms, too, are occasionally outstretched in sequence but experience has proved it’s better to rest the lower limbs at this point. Overtaxing oneself through exercise can lead to dangerous overload levels of serotonin, apparently.
To that end, he regards the short walk this morning up nearby Murrow Bump as unnecessary. ‘I’ll stay down the bottom and look after the cars or something,’ he says, selflessly forsaking his daily routine. And he has a nice sit down, listening out for an infrequent passing tractor. Lovely spot, the Somerset Levels, but they do talk a bit funny..