Mates 12

That next morning will always be special to me. I woke to bright sunlight shining around the edges of the curtains and filtering through the material, Caro still burbling away in her sleep, the room ripe with the smell of our demonstration of parental intent the night before. I felt embarrassed as I imagined what the cleaners would make of the state of our bedding.

She woke as I kissed her, and I whispered that we really needed to shower before finding out whether the pub breakfast would be as tasty as the previous evening’s meal. Yes, we did end up showering together, but a rumble from my stomach drew attention away from naughtiness to nourishment. We were both in similar outfits of shorts, T-shirts and approach shoes, as the press called our footwear, so apart from a quick attack of her hair with towel and brush there wasn’t much to delay us.

A decent selection of cereals and juices awaited us, and from what we saw another couple digging into, the Full English would be a good one. A waitress delivered two steaming pots to our table, and after I had poured our first cups of tea, Caro popped the lid from the pot and went to pour in the extra hot water to top it up.

The extra hot water turned out to be coffee. As the waitress delivered a rack of toast, she looked at Caro, her hand still on said coffee pot, and sniffed.

“Just topped the tea up with the coffee, haven’t you?”

Caro was very, very pink, too pink to speak, it seemed, for she just nodded.

A sigh from our waitress.

“D’ya want coffee, tea or both?”

I smiled at her.

“We’re tea people, Miss”

“Tina, that’s me. Give me five minutes and you’ll have a fresh pot. Now, are you going for cooked stuff after your cereal? You have a choice of…”

A long list of ingredients followed, which seemed to give Caro time to recover her voice, for when the waitress looked at her, pen poised over her little notepad, my lover just said “Yes”

Tina’s eyebrows lifted, and as she looked at me, I simply shrugged and nodded.

“How do yer want yer eggs? Fried, poached or scrambled?”

We had no need for lunch that day, which we spent threading our way down through the maze of embankments and paths to Cuckmere Haven, where Caro went a little intense over some birds. Our pub was at the Birling end of the Seven Sisters, so my bike sat safely in the visitor centre car park while a very nice woman in the visitor centre looked after our riding kit and we walked free. I do not believe I had ever been happier than I was that day.

The slog up to the top of the first/last Sister left us sweating, but of course one of us had brought a flask, and we took some time sprawled on the close-cropped turf simply staring up into the huge blue bowl of the sky as gulls and loose children competed at which could scream the loudest. Despite the noise, I was absolutely at peace, neither of us seeming to feel the need to speak, perhaps in fear of breaking the spell that held us.

We had to move, in the end, after a huge number of photos had been seized, and as I took one of Caro staring out to sea through her binoculars, I was approached by a smiling middle-aged woman.

“Would you like a picture together, love?”

I nodded my thanks, and she dropped her voice to a whisper.

“You on honeymoon?”

“Pardon? Oh; no. Just happy”

“Long may that continue. So many smiles from you two, I just thought, you know”

“It’s that obvious?”

She chuckled, pointing out a group of rather noisy youngsters.

“If you two can lie all peaceful on the grass while my grandkids try and kill each other, then that’s special on its own. Which way do you want the shot?”

We faced south-east for the photo, and years later I was amused to see that the reverse view, from the Coastguard Cottages near Seaford, had become a ‘standard’ shot for everything from calendars through book covers to electronic computer wallpaper. Our own picture ended up enlarged and framed, and the older woman got a hug from each of us before she went back to rounding up her brood and Caro and I started towards the Campbell monument.

The bench there gave us a comfy spot to drink our second flask of tea, which set Caro giggling.

“Penny for them?”

“She’s not here, love!”

“You know what I meant”

“Ah, just thinking of another brew up, and state of this bench, well, it’s as bad as that shelter on Foel Grach”

“Scenery’s better there, though”

She turned almost serious.

“Not sure… Well, yes, I am, and you’re right, but this is different. Got its own grandeur, this place, and you don’t get fulmars in the Carneddau”

“You do get thieving bloody gulls, though”

“Fair point, fairly made, Mister R!”

“How could it not be, Mrs R”

I grinned at her, stupidly happy.

“Back to the bike by way of the valley or the South Downs Way?”

“Ah, stay high for a bit. Should pick up some passerines, and before you say it, different habitat to the flood plain”

“I love it when you get all serious”

“Bloody well hope so! And all the other times as well, I trust”

“Of course. Offski?”


The visitor centre had our kit, as well as a café, so we did the traditional thing of a cake stop before our ride back to the pub, where we took a slightly later evening meal as a result of the extra calories.

The next day gave us the usual choice of which side of London to ride round. Queue at Heathrow or queue at the Dartford Crossing? I opted for Dartford, as the other side of London always seems far worse to me, and in the end there were fewer dickheads than was usual for those toll gates, and once we were north of the river and the Southend traffic had peeled off, we made good time to my sneaky corner-cut along the A414 to the M1, the bike running like clockwork as the roundabouts on the shortcut gave me a chance to do some riding as opposed to the steady monotony of the motorway. It wasn’t long before I was settling the bike onto its centre stand in our garage as Caro set the kettle going along with the immersion heater for a proper soak in the bath—for her, naturally: I would make do with a shower.

There was a message waiting on our answer machine, from Keith. They would both be free Friday evening onwards, and did we fancy a walk out to the Village, and by Village, they didn’t care whether it was our one or theirs. I tossed a coin, which Caro took from me.

“Nope. No sofa for me. They can come over; I’ll change the spare bed on Thursday. Give them a shout and ask if they want to eat out or in. Oh; ask them who’s on in the folk club this week. Lost track, I have, with all that shagging”

As I picked up the phone, she grinned again.

“And NO, Mr R, do NOT tell them why I have lost track”

They weren’t in, so I left a message for them, and it was just after Caro and I had settled our freshly-bathed bodies under the duvet that the phone rang.

“Hiya, Mike! Sorry about the hour; we were up Eyam again”

“Anything decent?”

“Er, I led Long John’s and Pen did Sunset Slab”

“Bloody hell! Did she find any gear placements?”

“ER, no. I was crapping myself all the way up. Her way up”

“Keep her away from Sundowner, then”

“I was thinking more of the Etive Slabs”

“Of come on! Neither of you is that mad! Anyway, Caro is insistent that you two come over here, and we hit Cutenhoe. She’s being picky about sleeping in a bed again”

‘She’ managed to get a hand free to slap my bare arse, and as Keith laughed and made silly jokes about sado-masochism, we confirmed arrangements for the following weekend. A meal in one of the pubs to be followed by some liver damaging, Keith’s bike sleeping next to ours in our garage.

It turned into another great evening, as was to be expected when four good friends got together. Caro had slipped behind my back to give Auds and Alan a ring, so there were six of us, which made it an even better night, filled with bragging about grades and routes, none of it really serious.

At no point did either of us mention our decision. I think we both held a superstitious dread of naming a future that might decide to take another path. What we did do was agree to a joint trip up three weeks later, to the Dark Peak. Alan was clear about logistics.

“Me and Auds, got our car. We can squeeze most of the kit in, if you like, You four will be biking, won’t you?”

Keith simply raised his pint glass.

“That’s us, mate! Lean and efficient”

Auds snorted out a laugh.

“Yeah, as long as someone else carries all your kit!”

The plan worked well in the end, despite our less-than honest protests, and it became yet another ritual. We would camp at North Leas under Stanage, walking across field paths in failing light to Hathersage for the pubs, returning with the help of Petzl head torches, our days spent on steep, rough rock, with the exception of Caro, who would drift off onto the moor, surrounded by red grouse, meadow pipits, ring ouzels and god knew what else.

Life was bloody good. Suck that up, Derek and Simes!

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