Just four of us met at a pretty cold Cross at 9.00 on Sunday for the long ride to West Meon. Leader was meant to be Russell, but he sadly suffered a car puncture on the way, and as apparently modern cars don’t come with a spare wheel he had to wait for a breakdown van. Someone else had had to cancel so that left myself (Bob), Adam, Sam and Paul. Sam was suffering having been out cycling in the torrential rain the day before and didn’t know if he would go the whole way, so suggested I lead. That was fine but as soon as I said so he brightly suggested “shall we go to Arlesford?” The explanation for this, of course, was that if he’s the leader he can’t interfere with the planned route, so getting someone else to lead is the perfect solution, and cheered him up no end.
So we set off for West Meon as planned, intending to go via Rowlands Castle via Clay Lane and Westbourne as usual. But along West Ashling Rd Sam sprung a puncture in his back wheel, apparently the latest in a run of them. Perhaps it’s just me, my mind firmly on Marathon Pluses and the like, but it didn’t look that surprising, the tyre nice, smooth, gossamer thin and looking absolutely ready for riding on thin air, provided there wasn’t a wind. But it was soon mended and we continued to Rowlands and coffee at the Beehive. There we got in a muddle as we automatically went in to order as we had been doing during Son of Lockdown. Three of us got the message that we had to go outside and sit down to be served, but Sam had ordered and got his coffee at the counter which meant he wasn’t allowed to sit down, which he was surprisingly compliant about leading me to feel worried for his health. I had a bacon roll in case there wasn’t much available at West Meon, as there was a lot of cyclists about; I thought the West Meon cafe might get very crowded.
After that we went up via Finchdean to Buriton, and thence to East Meon and along the Meon Valley to West Meon, getting there about 12.30. There were a few other cyclists, though it wasn’t as crowded as I feared. But they weren’t in full gear yet after Son of Lockdown, and had run out of soup that I had been looking forward to, and sausages, so only bacon and egg sandwiches were left, but they were very good even though I didn’t really want two lots of bacon. Before we left, Peter from the Adur/Arun group turned up, and they had by then run out of bacon as well. He asked for ham but that was off, so I think he had a cheese sandwich.
We left to take the least objectionable route up the Downs, over the old railway and up Old Winchester Hill, then along the ridge towards Clanfield, turning left at Petersfield Lane. There Sam sprung another puncture, same wheel.
Adam used his long experience to examine the tyre, but couldn’t find anything lodged in it, just the myriad of holes where outside bodies had visited, Sam’s familiarity with the colander like surface reflected in his various comments of “ooo, haven’t seen that one before, that wasn’t there yesterday”. Again the puncture to my untutored eye seemed not very much of a surprise; completely unblemished by a tread and looking like it could easily have rivalled a three-ply Kleenex for thickness, the tyre looked as if taming winter roads would be as easy for it as paying the trombone. If there was nothing in the tyre I imagined it could only have been that the holes let stuff out as easily as in, a list of the road debris that might have entered needing to include shingle, dead rabbits, left over kerbstones, small bridges and the occasional roadside burger van. I thought it would be easier to list the things that we would be less likely to find in Sam’s tyres, prime among which would be “air”.
We stopped again at the Beehive for tea, the discussion over Sam’s punctures and associated matters continuing with close examination of the now burgeoning number of spent inner tubes.
Mediaeval scholars, it is said, would sometimes debate “How many angels can fit on the head of a needle?” Some say that this is a story invented to mock those theologians, but it seems that some speculation along those lines may have been part of academic dialogue, and while the answer could never be found beyond “an infinite number”, the question provoked a realisation of deeper meanings, a sense of the spiritual gulf between physical measurement and metaphysical contemplation.
In a direct descendent of this scholarly endeavour, we in the Philosophical Department of the Bognor and Chichester CTC developed our own version of this discourse in exploring the question: “How many holes can be found on the surface of Sam’s Inner Tubes?” In parallel with our forerunners of the middle ages, a precise answer can never be found beyond “an infinite number”, but the question provokes a change in the way of thinking, a fundamental shift to a new plane of consciousness. Suddenly new insights become manifest, and revelatory thoughts abound, such as “perhaps it would be a good idea to buy some new tyres that have a semblance of a tread and more puncture resistance than a desiccated tomato skin”.
What will come of this enlightenment? Only time will tell, and meanwhile we left for the last leg of our journey apprehensive about a possible Third Puncture along the way. But we were in luck! Just as we were starting out down Woodberry Lane what must have been a large bird of prey took a mighty dump on Paul. At least I think Paul said “luck” but that might not have been the exact word he used, encrusted as he was in a thick and slowly congealing layer of albatross poo, but the aforementioned excrement undoubtedly did the trick, and No More Punctures happened at all.
And so our Odyssey came to its triumphant close, after 51 miles, two punctures and a bucket load of ornithological whoopsie.