We slept late. Each day the time had been creeping later, and during a soliloquy in the sleeping bag I wondered vaguely if we should pass the noontide abed before our holiday ended. Something would have to be done, and as Jack was showing his inherent laziness, I became perturbed at the possibility of actually being forced to get up first. This thought troubled me, for I hate getting up before Jack. The morning was calm until we began to argue about who should go and see the farmer, for if one of us did not go he would very soon see us. We wondered if he had already seen us, for the time was 9.30am. The discovery that we had no eggs terminated the argument, and Jack went off for those requisites, and to pacify the farmer, while I prepared breakfast – and watched and listened for signs of conflict as a faithful pal should. He returned smiling, for our carefully prepared yarn had “worked”; we were forgiven, and supplied with eggs, milk and water.
At 11am we moved away and soon reached Exeter. Whilst engaged in a merry game of ‘touch and miss’ with the traffic in the narrow tram-lined streets, our back tyre exploded with a roar, and with dangerous haste we pulled up. People appeared from nowhere in hundreds, and we found ourselves surveying the wreckage of a tube with a vast throng surrounding us. A nearby cycle shop sold us a new tube, and we walked to the Cathedral and forgot our bogey in the ecstasy of the magnificent pile – for a time. We had to take the wheel out to get the new tube on, so I held up the tandem while Jack fingered the chain and nicely blacked his hands. Then the chain somehow got fast between the gear wheels, resisting all his efforts to free it. Surveying his ruined hands, Jack begged me to have a try, though only after due deliberation did I consent, and with effort and oath in picturesque combination, we put it right between us and messed up my hands as well, to Jack’s obvious relish. Then we sailed away, gingerly at first, but with increasing confidence until we were skipping away as carelessly as ever.
Four miles outside of Exeter, when we were speeding away down a steep, narrow lane, there was a great convulsive wriggle abaft; we skidded wildly across, and fetched up in the hedge. The back tyre had blown off again, and in the new tube was a great rent. Jack sang a swan-song in studious meditation, and I, sitting on the bank, decided not to disturb him. He was thinking ! When Jack thinks, a tremendous amount of energy is required – more than he thinks is his share in pushing the tandem. At last he came out of his trance and said with great weight and finality “We shall have to mend it”. I applauded this very obvious fact as the result of his mathematical brain, though the solution seemed as obscure as ever.
We mended it with meticulous care, and put the tyre on with equally commendable pains. We blew it up, and whilst pumping away ever so carefully, the tyre blew off on the unseen side and with a terrifying explosion, our brand-new, four-and-sixpenny tube passed out of existence. We gazed at it sadly for a moment, then we grinned. In two minutes we were roaring with laughter ! Seemingly, there was no reason to laugh, but we saw the funny side. And that was the spirit all the holiday.
A companion who can laugh at mishaps; who can argue and stand argument in the best way; who can ride like a Trojan and face the ‘music’ with a grin; who can turn round when he is up against a continual and dogged ‘run’ of sheer misfortune and laugh outright; who can in that way turn a tour that bids to become a fiasco into the best holiday ever, is a companion to be treasured. A companion like Jack !
At this latest mishap we came to the conclusion that the tyre was an ‘oversize’, so Jack volunteered to go back to Exeter and get a new tyre and tube. We stopped a motorcyclist; Jack got on to the pillion, and I washed my hands, gave a youngster the remains of the tube, and went off to a cottage nearby for some light refreshment. An hour and a half later Jack returned with a new outfit, and then we soon got a move on, feeling strangely secure at last. Hunger came on; we bought in at a little village overlooking the Exe estuary, and in a side lane ate up everything we had bought and yearned for more.
We slid down to Starcross, a tiny resort on the mouth of the Exe, and in a post office, packed up the delinquent tyre and with it a biting criticism for Mr Dunlop. Thereafter, relieved to get it off our hands, we went on our way rejoicing that our troubles were at an end.
In the dull heat of afternoon we toiled up a steep lane till – presto! the sea, the warm South sea at last ! A calm expanse of grey Atlantic, and across the river-bar, the bulwarks of Dorset; we dropped suddenly into little Dawlish, and pulled up at the end of the prom where the cliffs come down to the road. Passing motorists gave us an encore as we climbed up to the breezy top again, and in two miles sped down with screaming brakes into Teignmouth, where we landed onto the promenade. We were seeking a quiet bathing place for the sea was calm and enticing, but there was no quietude there, and once more we turned away, crossing the long excoriance [sic] that is called a bridge, and paying for it when we ought to have been paid if true values are the criteria. A monstrous hill reduced us to masses of perspiration, but the views held us in glad wonder, and we began to think the dream coming true in spite of being hopelessly behind our loose plans.
Once we found a sandy track, walked over a turfy common, and looked over cliffs at a tiny cove, beautiful, though marred by quarries and refreshment rooms. We flew down through suburbs and crossed a traffic-blocked tram termini to the little jetty of Old Torquay. A tiny harbour crowded with fishing craft in a picturesque corner of a wide bay where floated the low, grim hulks of several grey warships. Along the promenade we saw gardens and trees of strange, foreign appearance, for tropical plants grow freely at Torquay. This was an index to Devon weather, and in anticipation we rummaged out our bathing costumes and fingered lovingly the tiny phial of Lavender Essence that was to be our safeguard against mosquitoes. But no quiet bathing place could we find.
At Paignton, a tropical-looking attachment to Torquay, we held a hunger council, as it was long past tea-time, and of food we had none, but again it was Early Closing day, and we searched long and frantically for the necessities of life. Just beyond Paignton, a notice board outside a cottage announced that campsites were available, and upon enquiry, a buxom lady assured us that she could find us (for a consideration), the very place we wanted, and as her description tallied with our ideal, we hailed her as our deliverer, bought some more food, and hied away to our dream place.
As soon as we reached the place we knew that all was not quite as made out to be, but a small silky man with a silky voice virtually grabbed us, and while we gathered our wits, bustled us into a large, fenced off quagmire with tents and caravans all round the edge. We resigned ourselves to the worst, and bade our crafty-voiced guide lead us to our pitch, whereupon we were taken to a small space between two tents. That is the best I can call it, a ‘space’ marked off with sawdust and the number 6 painted on a piece of wood. It oozed with mud, but, as Jack philosophically remarked, it would at least be soft enough.
Our neat little Camping Club tent was the envy of the camp. The others were of the heavy canvas type, mostly tarred over, and pegged out by wooden pegs and innumerable guidelines. Soon we stood in the centre of an admiring crowd which eagerly swallowed every point of virtue about the ‘Itisa’.
Then, like real he-men, we slugged off for a swim. As the lady had promised, we were on the field nearest the shore, but she had omitted to mention that there was a high embankment between which carried the busy Great Western Railway line, and entirely monopolised the view. When we divested, the night became immediately chilly, and the sea was ever so cold. Five minutes was long enough to give us an attack of the shivers, and we returned, our child-like faith in the balmy seas of the West country shattered for ever.
Visitors still continued to inspect our camping complex while we, too hungry to take justifiable pride by showing them, prepared for ourselves a luxurious tea-supper, and got well down in our stock. The silky man came for his fee, which seemed preposterous. Jack, in his most disarming tones, hinted that he ought to be glad to pay us for the privilege we bestowed on him by using up a bit of his marshes, but he was a glib and hardened profiteer, so the words went without effect. He suggested that we take a trip to the middle of the morass to read the camp rules, but without waders we refused to do so. Besides, camp rules are best read whilst leaving the site. We learned that we could hire a mattress, blankets, waterproofs, or have our breakfast at the house, but these things were of no use to us. We travelled complete.
We decided to go to bed early for once, and be up and away early on the morrow. We had to redeem ourselves somehow. Just as we were pleasantly ‘passing over’ a motorcyclist started his engine and drove the thoughts of blissful slumber from our minds for over an hour; his infernal persistence driving lurid language from our (usually) respectable tongues. The silence that followed was short-lived, for an express thundered past on its way to Plymouth, and shortly after another flew by with a piercing shriek – on its way from Plymouth. In between golden little silences, one or two stopping trains rolled laconically by, but these we could have gladly suffered were it not that a party came in who had been on the spree in Torquay, and spoke not in whispers of it. This spirited – much spirited – crew yawled and shouted their way into the we sma’ hours until we, tired of issuing threats and tirades, and weary of wooing hopeless sleep, arose, had another supper, and added our quota to the general pandemonium by starting our primus in full blast. This we kept going in savage glee till the whole camp turned on us, and we went to sleep happy in the knowledge that at least we had done our bit to the general welfare.