And So To Bed...

And So To Bed...

 

Route from Harwich to Norfolk

 

I stayed the night in the old university boathouse, stood next to the river, looking out over the expanse of Jesus Common.  The same smells of plastic floors and stale kit filled the ground floor.  Even as I left in the morning, some of the current university rowers were already there, sliding up and down on those engines of pain – the rowing machines – the rhythmical whirring bringing back a sort of nostalgic horror at the sheer volume of time spent on those things during my university years. 

 

Goldie Boathouse

Goldie Boathouse

 

Happily stepping outside and breathing some fresh air, I found that I had awoken to see Cambridge under a glorious October morning sky – and few cities in the world are more lovely in this light.

 

The River Cam

The River Cam

 

Two friends were coming up from London with their bikes to ride with me the last 80km home.  But I had time before our rendez-vous, and I spent it cycling slowly along the River Cam, along the edge of Jesus Green, past Magdalene College and round to the “Backs” – an area of parkland which follows the river and allows beautiful views into the grounds of 5 or 6 colleges, situated grandly one after the other.  I then pedalled up to look into my old faculty building, the School of Archaeology.  A place where I probably should have spent far more time than I did. 

 

Avenue leading to Trinity College

The back avenue leading to Trinity College

 

King's College, Cambridge

King's College Chapel, from the Backs

 

The Mathematical Bridge, Queen's College, Cambridge

The Mathematical Bridge, Queen's College

 

Anyway, if I wanted a picture-perfect homecoming, I was certainly getting it. 

 

I’d prepared myself for muddy roads and Fenland drizzle and irritating headwinds.  What I got was a stunning warm October day, and a wind at my back.

 

Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology

The School of Archaeology and Anthropology

 

My two friends are both called William.  Will and Bill.  They couldn’t be more different, but they were the only two who’d stuck up their hands to say they’d accompany me on the final day. 

 

Will worked as a teacher before becoming a vicar in London.  He is almost living proof that God exists (in my view).  I’d known him at university, and then ran into him again after a gap of a few years, during which time he’d retrained from being a teacher to being the leader of a church.  Somehow, from somewhere, or someone, he seems to have acquired wisdom and compassion quite beyond anything I saw (in him or anyone else) at university.  And much I’ve seen since too.  But it was quite typical of him, that he should be one of my two friends who would see me over the line.

 

Bill is Skipper’s older brother.  (I hope you remember who Skipper is from these travel notes back in Austria.)  He works for a hedge fund.  I’ve always thought he was a dead ringer for Jude Law, except he has a far better taste in women, being married to a lovely lady called Katie.  He probably tops the list of my friends for “most charming smile” in the 30 – 40 year old category.  (And there are one or two serious contenders).  But this merely expresses the genuine warmth and friendliness that come so naturally to him.  Early on we identified a kind of kindred spirit between us in contrast to each of our brothers, Christian (my older) and Skipper (his younger).  The reason being that each of them like to be top dog (in the nicest possible way) whereas Bill and I are comfortable feeling we have nothing much to prove.  In this we have always shared a certain complicity. 

 

I was touched that both of these friends wanted to be there for the final run-in.

 

With Bill on the left and Will on the right

In front of King's College, Cambridge

 

It seemed like an unlikely trio starting out, but it worked remarkably well as the day progressed.

 

So after a slap-up breakfast in The Copper Kettle teashop looking out onto the grandeur of King’s Parade, off we went.

 

King's Parade, in the sunshine

Early morning on King's Parade

 

We were soon moving away from the outskirts of town, and out into the fenland that is typical of most of the land that lies between Cambridge and the county of Norfolk to the north. 

 

We had to follow a fairly busy road for the first 20km or so to the town of Ely.  The land is flat as a pancake and characterised by fields of heavy rich dark soil that are bordered by elevated dykes. 

 

Where the traffic would allow, we would catch snippets of banter, catching up on their lives and them listening to a bit more detail about things that had happened through this year.  I asked Will about his wife and kids.

 

“Oh, they’re doing great in general, but Lou’s not feeling so good today.  She said to say sorry she couldn’t be up in Norfolk to welcome you home.”

 

I then turned to Bill.

 

“How’s Katie and Lara then?  Weren’t they gonna be there at the finish?”

 

“Oh yeah, that was the plan.  But Katie caught this weird bug off Lara and is feeling rotten today.  She’s really sorry she can’t come.”

 

“That’s OK,” I said.  It occurred to me suddenly that in Austria, Skipper and my younger brother Lecka had asked me to give them some hints about how I wanted my homecoming to be.  “But hang on,” I thought to myself, “Why would Skipper want to know this if he wasn’t gonna be there?”  Which he wasn’t.  At least that’s what he’d told me.

 

“So what’s Skipper’s excuse then?” I asked Bill.

 

“Er…” (small pause) “I think he said something about some dinner party that had been booked for ages and he couldn’t get out of.”

 

Sounds very vague.  It seemed to me like something fishy was going on.  It was then that the penny dropped in my mind.  “They’re all lying their heads off,” I thought to myself.  “The little swine……Hee hee hee.  They think they can fool me.  They’re all up there already, aren’t they?  I wonder how many of my friends will be there.  30?  Maybe even 50?  Wow!  That would be cool!  I’ll play along with it though, if that’s what they want.  Hee hee!!”

 

I started to feel very excited. 

 

Which was good, because cycling along away from Cambridge, I’d been feeling very peculiar.  I didn’t know what to feel.  Excited? Sad? Satisfied? Braced for an anti-climax? Ready to return to ordinary life with all the immediacy of slamming into a brick wall?  What?  All this was churning around my mind.

 

Which only goes to show that the Cambridgeshire fenland is a miserable place at the best of times. 

 

This was after all an undeniably good time. 

 

We stopped for a very English pub lunch by the River Ouse, with pints of shandy standing in for the Austrian Radlers which were so popular the last time I’d had company on the road. 

 

English pub lunch...gotta love 'em

About to enjoy my lunch

 

It wasn’t much further onward that we crossed the county boundary and we were finally entering my home county of Norfolk. 

 

How did I feel about this?

 

Well, this next bit is a bit of a joke, but I thought to answer this question I would adapt, as an “homage” to my home in Norfolk, the lyrics from the Alicia Keys song about New York.  (Which happened to be on my iPod as I’d been cycling through England).  Norfolk.  New York.  New York. Norfolk.  You get it?

 

OK…. (sung in the Norfolk vernacular)

 

Arrrr, Narr-fuk
Arrrr, Narr-fuk…

Growed up on a farrm,
Wa’ shaded orwl arownd
Wi’ them owd trees
Sparras ollways there
‘Crars th’ feld runn a ha’er
Tha’s blowin’ a breez
If Oi hent thought no more
Rec’an Oi’d be orfal sore
This place to leev
But Oi know it wunt change nun
No matter wa’ Oi dun
Nor wa’ time’ll weev

Ev’n ef tha’ ent orwl tha’ seems
Oi garrt a barraful a’ dreams
Derlin’, Oi'm frum

Chorus
Narr-fuk, cun’ry jungle
warr dreams ur made arv
Thur’ent nurthin’ you kent doo
Now yurr’ en Narr-fuk
Them felds ‘ll make yooo
fil brend nooo
Begg skois wa’ enspoir yooo
How ‘bout that Narr-fuk,
Narr-fuk, Narr-fuk

Orn them beechs laang,
Kent doo nuthin’ raang
Them klowwds terr boi,
Sims yuh harrt must starp
Wen tha’ sun ‘ee drarps
N’ parr’rijus doo phloi
En tha’ soiylejj heep
N’ them pigs wa’
Douwn th’end th’dreft we keep
Then th’ Dabblin’ Duck
Furra poin’ orr too
Fo’ya gouw hum furra sleep

Ent harrf hard tuh stuy kleen
Oi garrt a barraful a’ dreams
Derlin’, Oi'm frum

Chorus
Narr-fuk, cun’ry jungle
warr dreams ur made arv
Thur’ent nurthin’ you kent doo
Now yurr’ en Narr-fuk
Them felds ‘ll make yooo
fil brend nooo
Begg skois wa’ enspoir yooo
Houw ‘bout that Narr-fuk,
Narr-fuk, Narr-fuk

Oo’ needs gouw douwn en th’ begg si’ee
Yooo garrt ak-urs n’ ak-urs
Se’in’ pre-iy
Hent sen nouw place a’ c’n kumpair
Nart frum Harng Karng op ta hair
‘S hur y’owrl say “yair, yair yairrr”

Chorus
Narr-fuk, cun’ry jungle
warr dreams ur made arv
Thur’ent nurthin’ you kent doo
Now yurr’ en Narr-fuk
Them felds ‘ll make yooo
fil brend nooo
Begg skois wot enspoir yooo
Houw ‘bout that Narr-fuk,
Narr-fuk, Narr-fuk

 

(With apologies to Alicia.  If you're not familiar with the tune, her infinitely better original is here.)

 

So anyway, arriving in Norfolk felt like a big deal.  We came out of the flat country and then turned off the busy road and headed east.  The sun was shining.  The air was clear.  The light was golden.

 

Norfolk had never looked better.

 

Will leading the way into Norfolk proper

Will still leading the way

 

We must have done about 60 of our 80km for the day.  Poor old Will had sat on the front of our little peloton for most of the day which had suited me fine, as it was far less effort drafting behind him.  Even though the wind had been at our backs almost the whole way, he was getting pretty tired. 

 

Bill was starting to feel the distance a bit too.

 

I, on the other hand, was in the process of getting a massive injection of adrenaline that would last me easily until our arrival 20km later.  In fact, I was getting more and more excited, and I simply couldn’t sit down in my seat.  I was just bouncing along standing up in the pedals, and I believe it was somewhere around Downham Market that I started making trumpeting noises.

 

Nearly there!

Closing in...

 

As we drew closer and closer, I knew all the villages we were passing through well.  We pulled off the main road and took to the back roads. 

 

It was only a matter of about 10km now.  The oak leaves sparkled, the shadows lengthened, the noises subsided, only birdsong (if you listened carefully). 

 

The sun falling in the West

Some of the final moments on the road

 

My younger brother Lecka called.  “Where are you?” he said.

 

“Getting pretty close!” I replied.

 

“I’m gonna come and meet you to ride in the last couple of miles.  Which way are you coming?” 

 

“We can meet on the Castle Acre crossroads.  We should be there in about 20 minutes.”

 

“OK – I’ll be there.”

 

“Lecka?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Make sure you bring your horn.”

 

“What, the hunting horn?  Sure, no problem, I’ll bring it.”

 

Excellent!  Every arrival needs a horn.   Siegfried had a horn.  I wanted a horn.

 

It wasn’t long before the three of us were rolling up and down the very little undulations in the landscape just a few kilometres to the south of my parents’ farm. 

 

Bill and Will were getting to the end of their energy levels – I was getting way over-excited.  All I could think was, “This is it!  This is it!  I’ve done it! I’ve done it!  I’m finally here! Woohoooooo!”  (Cue more trumpeting noises)

 

All the dark hilltop woodlands and the box-cut beech hedges, the neatly sown rows of wheat in the fields took on the form of a familiar embrace – like the very nature of Norfolk itself was gathering me up in its arms to say welcome home.

 

We reached the crossroads and there was Lecka.  We gave each other a big hug and he revealed his surprise, which was his little son Isaac who was sat on a dinky little seat just behind his handlebars.  It was his 2nd birthday that day.  I think he thought I was his birthday surprise.

 

Lecka and mini-Lecka arrive on the scene

"Leckas" - great and small

 

And Lecka had remembered the horn.

 

So now the five of us carried on up what I promised Will and Bill was definitely the last hill of the day.  The sunlight was slowly dying in the west.  My companion on the road saying goodbye.

 

Goodbye golden road....

 

“Blow the horn!  Blow the horn!” 

 

(Lecka is your go-to man if you need a rendition of the Last Post bugle tune so he was definitely the man to announce my arrival to the landscape.)  The notes rang out across the little valley.

 

There are three different roads by which you might approach the farm from the south.

 

The top of the last hill

 

“So Lecka – which way should we take?”

 

“Let’s go up and through the village,” he said.

 

“Ho ho!” I thought to myself. “They’ve got the whole village out to welcome me home.”  I couldn’t believe it.  I imagined the friendly faces lining the little street, raised glasses, happy hour on at the pub, perhaps a band or a banner, who knows?

 

We came down the final hill and the rush of air provided the final free-wheeling thrill of the whole bleedin’ adventure. 

 

Amazing!

 

We came to the junction to turn up to the village. 

 

And then Lecka said, “Actually, let’s go up the drift” (which is a back lane across the farmland).

 

“Eh?” I thought. “But what about the band, and my banner?  What about the crowd of villagers up there?”

 

It suddenly occurred to me that when “the penny had dropped” earlier in the day, in fact it was a bad penny.  Or a dud.  The air suddenly went out of my over-inflated expectations of this homecoming pageantry, till it was reduced to something no doubt far more realistic. 

 

Oh well.  That’s how it would have been in the movie anyway.

 

Still, we had the horn.

 

“Blow the horn!!” I cried again.

 

And so he did.

 

And then we were climbing over the shallow hill past my father’s fields, and past the little fir plantation as flurries of pigeons took off into the evening sky over our heads, and free-wheeling past the meadows where my mother keeps her horse, and along the line of poplar trees just behind our house. 

 

And into the farmyard itself. 

 

The horn echoed loudly one last time against the walls of the barns. 

 

And there was the house and the little crowd of friends and family.

 

And something that looked like a finish line strung up between the two lime trees in front of the house.  Actually it looked more like it was going to slice my head off, than signal my arrival. 

 

I tried to go round it, just as a roar escaped from the throat of my father’s big black dog, Banjo.  In all the preparations, everyone had forgotten that he has a special aversion to people on bikes. 

 

Sensible fellow.

 

I don’t suppose the sunglasses and red turban wound around my head helped him recognise his old friend any better.

 

Instead he bounded out at me and did what no other dog in the entire Eurasian landmass had dared do: he jumped up and bit me. 

 

I let out a yelp.

 

As I deferred to the crowd and went round to break the finish line (head down, eyes shut and charge – it did break), Banjo thought he’d go in for one more bite. 

 

Still, you can’t be annoyed with this dog for long.  He’s too cute.

 

And suddenly there I was. 

 

Finished. 

 

Half the world.  Two continents.  20 countries.  3 seas.  17,096km.  10,685 miles.  374 days.  Two tyres.  Five punctures.  One pair of shoes.  And a partridge in a pear tree.

 

C’est fini…

 

Il momento ultimo

 

There was then a very weird moment when I stood there stationary, and no one moved or said anything.  I wasn’t sure what to do.

 

(Being English we don’t make these moments any easier.)

 

But eventually one of my friends moved in and gave me a hug.  And then my parents, and then everyone else.

 

More bottles of champagne were opened. 

 

The first sip of Champagne - very sweet

 

Hurray!

 

And even though there was no band, no surprise congregation of dozens of old friends, no tears of reunion (well, apart from my mother obviously)..….

 

 

…it felt great to be home.

 

With my Ma...

 

 

 

So what’s it all about, Theo? 

 

 

Well, I’ll leave that for another time.

 

 

 Fiddler - looking spruce for the occasion

 

 

 

*****************************

 

 

 

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

and to him who has no might he increases strength.

Even youths shall faint and be weary,

and young men shall fall exhausted;

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;

they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

they shall run and not be weary;

they shall walk and not faint.

 

Thank You.

 

 

Bavarian dreamtime

 

 


Comments (6)

Simon McC
Said this on 1-29-2012 At 12:59 pm

Theo, I have bee reading your posts over the past couple of weeks or so and having been waiting patiently for the last few entries!

I'm interested to see what you will do next!

 

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

SMc

Christian
Said this on 1-29-2012 At 09:00 pm

Epic! Brings a tear to my eye too. Wish we could have been there for the homecoming. Certainly a relief after putting you on that ferry all those months and miles ago. Well done little brother!

Nanna
Said this on 1-30-2012 At 05:29 pm

Wow..I remember that day... So nice to relive it and feel as if I was somehow there. Foggy eyes.:) Well done again.

Rebecca Pauline
Said this on 1-30-2012 At 10:02 pm

Many episodes truly tickled me! truly.  Just the ticket.  Nothing like a good read! Thank you.

Mary
Said this on 2-6-2012 At 08:09 am

Mary,

I have enjoyed every bend in the road...think I even felt that final bite.  Let me know when you plan to cycle across Cananda.

God Bless you my friend.

Vanessa
Said this on 5-19-2012 At 01:03 pm

Hello Theo - Based on your comments and charity efforts you seem to have a heart to help women and children in real need, so I urge you to visit the following website: www.thea21campaign.org - a Christian ministry that is focused on rescuing women and children trapped in human trafficking. Please do what you can to help - even if it is simply to create awareness through emails etc. Thank you and God bless.

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