Anton Coaker: Tour of Britain? All that it lacked was bales and cows
A couple of the kids scrawling about my feet were very excited last weekend about some bicycle race that was coming through. I'd heard rumblings about it from my lovely wife, who does Parish Councillor type activities on occasion, so I was vaguely aware that it was forthcoming.
The road was to be closed. We don't know what would've happened if this had clashed with my needing to get hay home before the rain, or if I'd arrived at a road crossing with a herd of cows. I sometimes drive a flock of sheep a couple of miles along this road, avoiding a river they can't cross. Many of my colleagues would recognise the purple faced outrage that greets us when doing this, from about every fourth car driver. I generally smile and wave to everyone I've held up, although it wears a bit thin when some rep nudges right up to my ankles, or looks like he's going to run over Gyp. Sharp words have been used, and on more than one occasion drivers have suddenly been moved to pull back and lock their doors. A pal similarly burdened with moorland road crossings is a heavily built man, with an ordinarily mellow demeanour. However drivers who expect him to levitate his stock across the road find themselves in the mire of his dark side when they try to nudge him or his cattle aside, or tootle their horn. I understand that the new tactic involves a hefty swipe with his hazel stick – read cudgel – which seems to make them back off.
It is hardly a new phenomenon. When I was a spotty stripling, my Dad and I were moving the predecessors of the same flock along the road one spring. While I hunted a couple of miscreants out of the woods on the higher side, some berk thought he'd just push past this silly old bloke on his bay mare. Ha, was he in for a surprise? The old man had a big voice when riled, and from my vantage point within the young spruce plantation I could soon hear the one side of the "discussion". It was quickly apparent that someone "had better get out of his car and take his jacket off if he felt like that". With a sinking heart I pushed my strays back down to the wall, knowing full well Dad's ticker was fast on its way out, afloat on a raft of health issues. Roadside fisticuffs were certainly not just what the doctor had ordered. By the time I'd reappeared from the undergrowth, the driver of the nearest car had, in a stance I've come to recognise, wound his windows up, locked his doors and pulled right back. As I took up my position beside the old man, and we continued along behind the flock, he asked "sotto voice" what the driver was doing. I told him, and he whispered that this was just as well, as if it had gone any further, I was going to have to thump the bloke for him. Thanks Dad. And so I'm curious to note what happens nowadays, should an actual road closure unknowingly coincide with my agrarian doings. Happily, it wasn't tested on this occasion.
For some reason, it turned out that the kids weren't the only ones excited about seeing this bloke Waggly Briggins pedal through, with the hillside verges packed. It was just like the morning of that solar eclipse – there must've been thousands of em. Well, I thought, this bicycle race must be a lot more exciting than I'd assumed.
We'd arrived with a few minutes to spare, so I was able to stand about in the sun and chat with a few locals, but quickly dozens of motorcycle outriders started streaming past, leapfrogging each other as they stopped along the way. They were mostly coppers, along with medics and stewards. Before the racers appeared, we'd already seen three of these motorcycle outriders very nearly pile up, and then the cavalcade arrived. Seemingly, this race involves a few lads pedalling their hearts out, while three times as many hangers on charge along behind them in support cars and media vehicles. They jostled for position, with flashing lights and blaring horns, swerving all over the road, and generally acted like they were in a banger race. Fascinating. One or two straggling cyclists got in amongst the cars, and I suppose that the rules allow for their removal from the race by… well… "sudden death". I must admit that it was quite a spectacle, but I'm sure I could've made it a lot more interesting with a trailer load of bales, or 50 meandering bullocks.