APRIL CHAPTER :
Two pink buoys set off on Fool's Day, with a merry freak-bike band;
They leave the Palace Gates at one, to circumnavigate the land.
So down the Mall they go in convoy: pennies, rickshaws, tandems too,
Then past Big Ben, above the taxis, beneath spring skies of dazzling blue.
At Westminster Bridge they cross the Thames south, and pedal alongside the water,
Which will stay on their left for six thousand miles, till they come to the North shore, months later.
Past Greenwich the time comes to wave off their parents and follow the line of Old Father, alone,
Trace the Thames whale's journey towards open water, as at last the Tall Riders leave home.
By derelict factories and bright steely clouds, the cyclists begin to make headway,
A rainbow appears direct over Dagenham, and the Thames crow-foots out to the Medway.
Spirits sink with the sun; the obstacles mount; and afternoon darkens to pewter,
So the bikes are de-panniered and hauled over stiles (designed to keep rudeboys off scooters).
An emotional day; they've launched without hitch, despite at least six months of worry,
Their tent is soon pitched in a romantic spot: 'twixt vast shopping centre and quarry.
Next morn they start early without having eaten: no tea, no shower nor bath,
Only ten minutes later they halt for an hour when the Princess's chain breaks in half.
The Manager fiddles to fix this delay (the first minor blip in good cheer),
They push on to Chatham to eat Weetabix - and mum's bara brith on the pier.
They weave through spring blossoms in estuarine suburbs, and dove-cooing cul-de-sacs,
Then ride the sea wall through faded resorts with a blustery wind at their backs.
Down Margate parade, the Dreamlands Arcade, which under-paid immigrants tend,
Then up in the gloom to Bleak House and Broadstairs (these were of course Dickens's ends).
"What gems undiscovered!" the brothers reflect, as they ride into Ramsgate for dark,
"Those beach-hut tycoons will gentrify soon, and eat up these towns like land sharks.."
Night two's to be spent, away from the tent, with the friendliest people in Thanet,
Who invite them in, to eat with their kin, and watch Attenborough's show on the planet.
To these shallow inlets the Vikings first rowed, and launched their attacks on the nation,
And ages before, both Christians and Romans came here to found civilisations.
The gileted pair are already grubby: a couple of wandering urchins,
While the sulphurous whiff of Kent cabbage fields wafts between flint-towered churches.
From Sandwich to Deal they're the talk of the town: they look so incredibly jokey,
Two towering cyclists, dwarfing thatched houses, whose neat lawns are purpled with crocii.
"Oi! How d'you stop?" the Reebok kids shout (such questions wherever they went),
Local amazement brings media engagement: a feature on BBC Kent.
They roll on to Dover and get in the news, now coastal celebs of sorts,
French long-haul lorries slow down in amazement, then clog up the container ports.
Atop the chalk cliffs the Union Jacks fly, by Albion's coconut gorse,
Then down to the levels of flat Romney marsh, to camp on the edge of a golf course.
Dry pasta for supper but camping's still fun - the small tent has yet to feel squalid,
But temperatures drop: next day "Oh my gosh! My water bottle's frozen solid!"
Rusty barbed wire guards Dungeoness plant as they lug their great bikes through the shingle,
Then leave this strange landscape and up Fairlight hill, to set alvioli a-tingle.
The climb is a battle; they drop into Hastings, its tudor-beamed streets and ice cream,
The youth peter out towards Bexhill and Eastbourne, where retirement homes are the theme.
Skip past Beachy Head, take the calm Cuckoo Trail, which guides them through bunny-holed woodlands,
To the house of an uncle, ex-Olympic skier, who's one of their father's good friends.
Each buoy gets a bed; risotto abounds, and levels of luxury heighten,
Which stands them in stead for the next little leg: to blaze up their candles in Brighton.
The Wilmington Man is now long-forgot for our sinewy day-glow darlings,
And Brighton is rampant and raucus and rough, Pavilion encircled by starlings.
But no time for birds.. must be on their way, but before leaving all the commotion,
A stop off at Merlin's for wise herbal counsel, and breakfast of porridge and potion.
For the wedding-cake houses of Worthing they set, teeth gritted along the sea edge,
Past Fat Boy Slim's mansion and into the wind, they barely go 6 m.p.h.
But rewards come thickly with fresh parsnip soup, at the house of their old History teacher,
And later on, Bognor - both famished again - with no time for Butlins to feature.
Food shopping is tough even when one's not hungry - the choice of baked beans is splendid,
But walking the aisles on an empty stomach is certainly not recommended.
Soon dusk starts to fall, they're dizzy and faint, the atmosphere's turning uncanny,
A call then comes through from a good London chum, who says they can stay with his granny.
Elspeth directs them to West Wittering; they come to the cottage eventually,
She cooks them some soup and makes up the beds.. she's only four years off a century.
A remarkable lady, and not a screw loose, an incredibly competent host,
She lives in a house which is all self-maintained, and her mind is still sharper than most.
"It's good what you're doing, I love your high bikes!" Her props give them much satisfaction,
"The new generation is all mobile phones, just talk, talk, talk, talk, and no action."
Today's youth discussed, they jump to their steeds, and piston-esque legs start to thicken,
Homage to pay to an octagenarian, (comparatively, a spring chicken).
Gawping at stars is undignified, but the young brothers rap at the door;
Tall Bike's the game and the Tour's to be mastered... out hobbles Sir Patrick Moore.
"Can I give you a drink? Oh well, best of luck! You really are welcome to stay.."
He's writing a book, in the midst of his thoughts, and probably light years away.
O'er clean mobile homes St George's flags flap; the bigger the unit, the fatter the man;
Waterways crossed in varying craft: first dinghy,
then ferry, then catamaran.
Mainland casinos are left in the dark (so sorry Craig David: your music is fab),
But Tall Bike Tour Britain is missing Southampton, to sail the Solent then eat some kebab.
The first Isle of Wight night is spent by some beach huts, then crossing the island a traffic light's breached,
They're flagged by a lame pair of jobs-worth policemen, who write them a ticket for thirty pounds EACH.
They can look over hedgerows and peer over fences and see all that's happening up on the first floor,
But this sad offence is a costy reminder, that even the tall bikes are not above Law.
Despite Grochall snooties the Overners are friendly: some beekeepers welcome them to Hunny Hill,
And Freshwater hospitality's boundless: the six-foot-high vagrants find kind Caulkheads still.
Momentum is stalled, tour's barely begun - awareness they can't strain themselves in the slightest;
The Manager's been just a tad over-zealous, and given his poor self some mild tendonitis.
Mileage trickles in Lymington lanes, it's time to rest those injured legs;
Camper vans, Jaguars, miniature dogs... the boys get a feast of beans and eggs.
They leave the E-type in the yard and carry on - no cause for moping;
Emails in the local library - haven when the heavens open.
While Gore-tex drips there's press to contact, maintain the project to the kernel;
Admin stuff is like a business, not least to write the online journal.
Despite the rain they hunt a campsite, relying both on local tips,
"Hengistbury head, you'll find a bed" chime two fair maids that serve them chips.
Another night pitched by the beach huts - sounds of waves, no need for torches;
Moon is full and casting shadows; breakfast on the slatted porches.
Can't depend on weakened tendon: if it aches you mustn't force it,
So they hop-skotch round Poole harbour, rainy Hants slurs into Dorset.
Surfers' tales in low-beamed pubs, and fireside bike talk in the boozers -
Charlie Hobbs of Worth Matravers rides down cliffs on old beach cruisers.
Next daybreak the Manx feels springy; Purbeck still in sea mists wrapped;
Princess very close to tears: the greatest fear's the frame has snapped.
Luckily it's just a loose rack - Simon's welds are holding strong,
Tall bikes even go cross country, British-built: you can't go wrong.
Impromptu speech down by Corfe Castle: Manager addresses strangers,
Up the ridge past burnt-out tanks and cordonned army firing ranges.
Lulworth Cove is shimmering, azure waters like the Med;
Tired travellers stop to picnic - tinned sardines on brown sliced bread.
Gloomy hillside into Portland: fed-up kids, the place run-down,
Chesil Beach leads to an island... eerie evening light, sun-down.
There they find the famous quarry, rough-hewn boulders now redundant;
Pitch the tent amongst the stones that once were cut to build up London.
Branflakes next at Portland Bill; panniers packed up nice and tidy;
Twitchers gazing out to sea wish them well on this Good Friday.
A-roads throb with Easter tourists, hot-crossed buns the season's classic;
Daffodils bloom on the verges, rock beneath is all Jurassic.
No fossil hunts nor chocolate eggs (though keeping count of buns they've had),
And meet old friends for seaside treats, then get a call from Mum and Dad,
Brief respite from all the camping: deluxe Bridport B&B;
Ensuite showers and shag-pile carpets, windows that can see the sea.
Breakfast buffet gets hit hard
With appetites of massive mammals.
Fuel tanks full, they charge on Devon: start the next leg with a bang;
Freak-bike networks spread their tendrils: more of Chunkolini's gang.
Saddle-high in Lyme Regis, now enjoying Dawlish assets;
In Torquay it's slightly harder to root out redeeming facets.
Trampy hats and clothes all stinky, faces rough - in need of barbers;
Rolling over red-earthed fields, down to pretty painted harbours.
Seagulls circle over Salcombe where they find a fresh-cut lawn;
Passing pairs of robust bullocks: beefy legs and British brawn.
Rides in more boats than hot dinners,
Wiggling their way slowly South;
Surface drainage straight off Dartmoor - every river has a mouth.
Every morning same routine: six Weetabix stuffing faces;
Choke on Plymouth, cross to Cornwall...
Tall bikes take one to high places.
All the dreams of English grandeur couldn't even close to render
Such scenes of aristocracy, a whirlwind night of utter splendour.
Through the stately gates the hooves trot, tall bikes to the lowly stable;
Soaking in the ancient bath tubs for as long as one is able.
Next, by contrast, steamy jungle: greenhouses of vast dimension;
As building domes on wastelands go, this one's not a bad invention.
The Eden Project's foliage gives a good sense of paradise,
And fits in with the tall bike ethos; bags all packed in Carradice.
A guided tour behind the scenes; accomodation there on site;
A whole farmhouse for them to share, where the pair then spend the night.
A Mevagissey Odyssey: illicit spice brings tangled karma;
Giggling spells and silly japes are ended by a local farmer.
Turrets swaying through the fog, the dopey-minded souls advise
To not mix double-decker bikes with eating zoot and exercise.
Fuzzy heads and muggy headlands, potions reserved just for wizards;
Spell lifted as evening falls, Tour reaches the tip of Lizard.
Chateaux stand on island outcrops;
Children scamper through the alleys Of the tiny cornish harbours,
Join the tall bikes on small Raleighs.
Ivo-Cam comes out to film,
And trails the goose chase willy-nilly;
Past Penzance and beyond Mousehole, England points it's toe at Scilly.
Tacky tourist tasteless tat - it's very tricky to resist The £10 photo with that sign
(Today Land's End is robed in mist).
No car park is further West, a farewell fanfare from the foghorn;
Ambrosia in wilds of Zennor; tapioca tins of frogspawn.
Though intent is to buy local - Aldi's good - they do begrudge it,
Alas impressions of each place are governed by the shoestring budget.
"Tall bikes hung with brace of pheasants" is discussed between the shops,
Eating off the land's accomplished: wild garlic and thieving crops.
Two poached cauliflowers later, Steepest descent of their lives;
Surfers bobbing by the Tate, The first tall bikes to hit St Ives.
That night atop the crumbling cliffs
Princess's mood turns more than manic: Manager has disappeared - Over the cliff? - a cause for panic.
Minutes seem like hours in the brother's absence: all alone;
Then he's found behind a wall, gabbling on his mobile phone.
A sudden death to end the Tour Would no doubt have been a shock;
Cause for contemplation in the chapel of St Enodoc.
Betjeman lies by crooked spire with waves in earshot of his soul;
Around him England's playing golf, the poet at the 14th hole.
Childhood memories of Tintagel; mist is swirling like a dervish;
Black slate walls of Boscastle
Where the bridge has been refurbished.
Half hour later, bright blue skies, hills a mirage with inferno;
Cross a log over a stream,
Back to Devon, out of Kernow.
Sleep in dunes at Westward Ho!
A place of international fame: The only town in all the world, with a "!" in it's name.
From Appledore to Barnstaple, two lugworm-catchers start to follow;
Gruff and loyal company, their necks and knuckles inked with swallows.
Topography's a breath-taker, nothing short of scenic;
But kitchen standards in the field are pretty unhygenic.
This combined with mild heat stroke plus poisoned pickled eggs,
Loose motions make for hasty stops during the steepest legs.
From Valley of Rocks to Porlock Hill, all 30% gradient;
With constant threat of puke-like farts, the boys don't feel too radiant.
Brake pads hot down Lynmouth Hill - one couldn't go much faster;
The Princess has a blowout : bloody nearly spells disaster.
Desperate hunt for camps on Exmoor, forearms sore from lack of sunblock;
A caravan is chanced upon, and eyebrows raise: the door is unlocked...
No one seems to be about, there's even bedding - should they risk it?
As odd accomodation goes then this one really takes the biscuit.
A friend comes out to join the tall bikes; "If you like you can slipstream us,
Or draft from Weston-Super-Mare", the riders say to Dj Leamas.
Past Morris Men
And Chopper gangs
And mudflats glistening with salt crystals, The TB gang skirts Portishead for friends
And food in Bristol.
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