‘This is where my route falls down,’ admits my father. ‘I don’t know how to get back.’ Taking a sanguine view, he pours our well-deserved tonic – a flask of tea – and consults the map again. His finger traces the disused railway line we’re cycling along, and he absent-mindedly eats my last apple and raisin biscuit. Oh brilliant, now it’s too late to consider rationing provisions; deep on the Cuckoo Trail, almost 500 metres from the nearest bakery, this is rash behaviour indeed.
‘We can go diddly, diddly, diddly,’ continues Dad, munching merrily, his index finger carving a slalom through Sussex lanes depicted on the Ordnance Survey. ‘Then there’s only an inch of pants.’ Do you need an interpreter, readers? By “pants”, he means “main road”. ‘Oh hang on,’ he exclaims, realising there’s a fly in the proverbial ointment. ‘How old’s this map? 1987? Ooh, that dual carriageway might not be on here.’ Great, we’re stranded, delirious without so much as a Garibaldi to see us through.
From the Sublime..
It had been a topping morning thus far, peddling through the sublime beauty of the Pevensey Levels. We’d soared through somnolent hamlets with the equilibrium of eagles, the world our oyster. There was even a Morris Minor in a pub car park – a sure sign, if ever there was one, that all was right with the world. (Dad’s equilibrium, however, was rather being assisted by a snazzy Air Comfort saddle from Lidl.) In short, here were two heroes of a different stripe entirely, picking up any derring-do gauntlet you’d care to throw down. Unstoppable, you might say. Well, until we stopped – for a wee wee and a cuppa.
‘Banana or an apple?’ Dad had asked, graciously offering his only son first dibs. Our steeds rolled to a halt and a coffee flask was uncorked. ‘Ooh, banana please,’ I enthused. Well, he did a curious thing. He wrinkled his nose, tutted and applied a caveat the size of a dashed orchard. To be truthful, he withdrew any choice at all and tucked straight into the sole, delicious-looking, perfectly formed banana.
The apple was twirled expertly between his fingers and proffered alluringly, the bruising kept hidden. Well, as alluringly as a man can offer a starving boy a piece of fruit whilst simultaneously stuffing a banana down his face. ‘This apple’s brilliant,’ he cooed, as the Serpent may have done in the Garden of Eden. ‘Grew it myself, you know. Bought a tree from Lidl for about £1.49.’ Well, if it’s so good, why doesn’t he eat it himself instead of cramming that banana down his blasted, bloated throat, I thought. ‘Thanks Dad,’ I gushed, crestfallen.
..To The Ridiculous
A little later, freewheeling beside a meandering river, Dad pointed out a little spot where he’d erected a tent 41 years ago. ‘For a bit of privacy with your mother,’ he explained. ‘Of course, you’d think “Hallo” if you saw a tent just here at the side of the road now, but back then it was more common.’ The short version is that a busybody policeman turned up shortly afterwards, rapping on the tent zip and demanding to see whether my mother (no doubt in a state of undress) was all right. ‘You do realise your tax disc expires at the end of October,’ the copper had persisted to Dad after Mum had squeaked that she was OK and would he please buzz off. It was the middle of June.
Other than a brief run-in with the son of a lowborn innkeeper in Hailsham – ‘ooh, hallo,’ said Dad, ‘I saw you the other day emptying our bin,’ – little else of interest happened on our ride. But we did get onto the topic of false addresses. You know, just in case you have your collar felt by the constabulary.
Alas, with the advent of internet, you couldn’t get away with it now, but quick as a flash, Dad can still rattle his off. ‘Peter Jones, 23 Manor Park Road, Sevenoaks,’ he intoned guiltily, not that he’d ever have been brave or dishonest enough to actually lie to a policeman, busybody or not. Postcodes, just in case you were wondering, weren’t fully introduced to the UK until 1974.
Remember our impending peril of dehydration and possibility of missing lunch? Well, with a little doubling back, we arrived safely back in Pevensey for a pint and a sandwich. ‘People who don’t eat lunch want slapping,’ concluded Dad rather sensibly. And he asked the barmaid to fetch some ketchup..