It is said that whatever one desires, if the desire is followed assiduously, and is not exaggerated, is within reach. Jack had formulated a great desire. The energy Jack put into his particular desire was out of all proportion considered in relation to his desire for work. I am the same. Whatever Jack and I possess in common is amply made up by the studious energy we collectively display in striving to avoid the enslaving demon, Work. There we shine as a twin planet of the first magnitude.
Jack and I had been bosom companions. That was before ‘she’ had come along and made him a half-unwilling captive. I say half-unwilling with due respect to all personal feelings, for, though we of the “We.R.7” – his companions – had striven might and main to keep him in our bachelor fold, not one of us could blame him when we first saw the cause of his downfall – smiling sweetly, and charmingly attired in rationals – behind his new tandem.
Until then, as I have said, Jack and I had been bosom companions. We had pottered together; we had toured together; we had even camped together, and together we had made tandem tyres sing on many a highway. So it happened when Jack’s holidays came round I was hard at work – relatively hard, I mean. And when the time for my holidays approached, Jack was – relatively – hard at work. And Jack conceived a great desire – for another holiday. We were both keen; we would tour on tandem in Devon and Cornwall, camping, bathing, pottering. It would be a living fantasy of our old “We.R.7” days – a drawn-out resuscitation of Utopia. We enthused jointly, and declared that life could not continue without a realisation of our dreams. As time drew nearer to my holidays, Jack’s desire had kindled into a burning conviction that another holiday was his moral right; a sheer necessity. At work his desire began to show itself: Jack worked harder, displayed an unprecedented longing for it, craved to his employer for more. Such phenomena was bound to set the ‘boss’ wondering, so at the crucial moment Jack popped the momentous question. Of course he wasn’t so blatant about it, for Jack is something of a diplomat when the occasion demands. He knew trade was very slack, and thereby lay his chance…… the matter was somehow squared, and for the intermediate days Jack’s face took on a beam of pleasure.
There was a second hurdle to be jumped, but Jack’s desire was equal to any obstacle. ‘She’ had to be appeased of course, and though I am not at liberty to divulge (even were I in the position to) how he gained her approval, I can say that a picture postcard a day, a pot of Devon Cream, and a lovely holiday gift figured largely in the ultimate agreement.
During the last few days at home we promised postcards and Devon cream lavishly. Relatives and friends demanded at least a card each; some could only be satisfied with a pot of cream, and by the time the last request had been registered, our obligations – for a mere ten days tour – had assumed mountainous proportions. It was jocularly suggested that we take an abode somewhere close at hand, acquire a gross of assorted views of Devon and a large consignment of cream, and with ample cider at hand to work up the correct atmosphere, spend our ten days posting cream and cards.
But joking apart, all the essentials of a wonderful holiday were there. A tandem, a complete lightweight camping outfit, and two real pals. On preliminary canters – I as “Captain”. Jack as “crew”, we felt our old form creeping back, and never before had we romped along as we did on nightly excursions on that beautiful little speed-iron.
We left home on the Friday evening of a seemingly endless last day of work, with the prophecy to ‘fetch’ Devon by Sunday morning – for weal or woe.
Our old form came back to us immediately; with the harmony of dual effort we sped into the open country on glossy main roads of swinging contour. Often the legal speed-limit for mechanical vehicles was easily broken when a downward trend sent us free-wheeling beyond pedalling range (for we were geared low), and lane-ends, fork roads, and cyclists houses of call of many a year’s familiarity dropped back into the limbo of forgotten yesterdays. Sunset hid behind the low green hills of Peckforton as we, with restrained wheels, traversed the hill-foot lane to the old, beloved campsite below ‘the Gap’…….. and in less than two and a half hours from leaving home we were cooking supper under the eave of our ‘Itisa’, forty miles distant. The spell was on.
I awoke to pleasant sounds and sight. The stoves were both roaring, breakfast was sizzling, and Jack was cutting bread. I lay stunned for a time at this new, unexplained magnamity on the part of Jack. Perhaps he was turning over a new leaf. I hoped so, for here would be the Ideal Companion of my dreams, and a treasure if carefully and properly trained. I tried to train him a little there and then as I lay snug, but he retaliated with offensive remarks about laziness that was not at all consistent with the spirit of comradeship and helpfulness that I was striving to foster in him. In the end I had to leave the warm cosiness of the sleeping bag, and have a wash before I could breakfast in peace.
It was an ideal morning, the seeming herald of days to come, and in great spirits we packed up and continued the trek. The tangled network of lanes leading towards Whitchurch baffled us; we scorned to use a map in such a familiar district, and we soon got lost, wandering into the private grounds of Cholmondeley Castle on a beastly surfaced road that caused two spoke breakages. Close to the doors of the Castle, we were engaged in a quiet argument about the sheer lack of road knowledge the other possessed, when along came a gamekeeper, who joined the conversation. Our presence didn’t rhapsodise him altogether, and he said so quite bluntly as he directed us to the nearest exit. Somewhat subdued by the unfriendly ways of man, we hied along the main road to Whitchurch, where Jack disappeared into a cycle shop for some spokes, and I made myself at home on the kerb.
An hour later, he awoke me. He had been having the spokes made, apparently. We skipped away at a rare pace across Prees Heath, and into lovely Shropshire country, over a red sandstone range of hills to Hodnet and Crudgington; seventeen miles in well under the hour. We had lunch at an old-world inn at the latter place, and chatted with a motoring party who were returning home from holidays in Devon. They had left sunshine and warm winds…….. we carried on, dreaming about those warm winds and singing. That is, I sang. Jack croaked, although he swore to the opposite. Wellington’s dirt and industrialism put an end to our duet, and from Wellington two or three dusty hills left us hot and sticky till Madeley and fair Salop – and what Jack calls his singing again. We glided down into the Severn Valley, where Bridgenorth quaintly climbs a steep hill with an ancient street and bridge. Rural England, trim and sweet with villages hardly touched by the despoiler, lay along that shining highway. We climbed to the hilltop border of Worcestershire and looked outward into crinkly country deep in trees; we descended in graceful sweeps to Kidderminster, which lies so near the heart of school-book history and looks so, but the Saturday afternoon crowds a-shopping in the narrow streets turned us away (speaking metaphorically), and we hied towards Worcester. Near the top of a hill, a mile outside Kidderminster, a whipping sound behind us caused us to dismount just in time to catch the rear tyre blowing off the rim. Although puzzled, we replaced it light-heartedly enough, and immediately forgot it. Little did we dream what that accident foreboded, how it was to change our holiday completely, and almost change our Utopia into a fiasco. Almost……….
The sun was shining and all along the road rural folks hawked strawberries. I acquainted Jack with my great yearning for a tea of strawberries and cream, but Jack disagreed. Such delicacies are alright for ladies and invalids, he said, but for elephants, wolves and cyclists on tour they are unhealthy. Whilst I was heatedly engaged in pointing out the peculiar vitamin richness of this succulent dish there was a sharp explosion abaft and we sank to the rim. Our hearts sank as well as we reviewed the catastrophe, and the strawberry and cream argument was forgotten. The rear tyre had blown off and the inner tube was in a sorry case. We stood looking at it until Jack, in a rare flash of real brilliance, suggested that we have tea (there being a place at hand), so we repaired thence. There was another cyclist in, an enthusiast on a ‘sleeping bag’ weekend (camping without a tent), and after due discussion, he decided to join us.
Jack was the mechanic, so he repaired the tube whilst I gave advice. He disregarded it, as he always does, and in a couple of miles the same thing occurred again. All along the way to the ‘City of the Faithful’ we had three more bursts, and the road was strewn with bits of inner tube and epithets. Our companion was the guide in Worcester, which was narrow, crowded and confusing. We had to view the great cathedral from without, then we sat on the river wall till the sun was low, watching the pleasure boats on the broad bosom of the Severn. We left the city by the Severn Bridge and joined a secondary road.
The road was all we could desire with common land of golden gorse, woodlands, distant views of the placid river, and far hill-woods – the Malverns. The evening had settled quietly as a summer evening does, our tyre troubled us no more, and we became at peace with the world and each other. The slow march of dusk turned our thoughts to camping, then we remembered – the groceries ! Closing time an hour gone, Sunday tomorrow, and we hadn’t an atom of food. The quiet evening became loud with the alternating voices of Jack and I, and the road fled underwheel in response to the urge on the pedals – the urge to reach a village shop. The alarm proved false. Upton-on-Severn was our saving grace and we laid in well and truly, continuing our ride in settled state once more. Came Tewksbury, battlefield of long ago, with quaint old streets and a Saxon abbey that seemed still wrapped up in its turbulent history – and the Severn gliding placidly by. We lingered in Tewksbury till twilight’s deeper shades bade us move along, then made a gallant show on the Gloucester road. The gallant show came to a ludicrous end when the rear tyre flattened out. The Bogey had returned. The map came out, and a village by the Severn was settled on as our possible campsite; our friend bravely offered his bike so that I might go and make arrangements in advance. So I turned along two miles of lanes already summer-dark to the lovely little village of Deerhurst.