Tom's Tale


Dusk on the 3rd day.  A flat out sprint up the last hill, lungs rasping, Jonathan Edwards-Goring just ahead, Mikey Hole behind, David “LA Law” Whitestone relaxing at the back, Jonno the Pro up the front.  Big mouth Baigrie calls for a sprint finish and crosses the (imaginary) line 5th out of 5.  Ah well.  They’re young and they’re fit, and I’m old and fat.  Next time I must remember to cycle at the back with big Jason Peers and Victor Ubogu and da’Guins, Carol and Paul Tindley, and the other real heroes:  Adam Tyrer, the 3rd of our giant front-row, but impressively seldom amongst the back markers;  and the once Lance Armstrong like, but now sadly found out too (but still trying) Howard Johnson, all of whom spend twice as long in the bumnumbing saddle bravely grinding out the miles.

We’re all knackered. 50 miles mostly uphill in a day may be a piece of p for Cooney and Galbraith (if they can avoid the crash barriers) but it’s way too much for all of us who actually made the trip.  It’s worth it though, for our climb took us to the campsite plateau high in champagne clean air of the foothills of Atlas mountains.  The plateau looked like a 21st Century Ishandlwana (see “Zulu Dawn”) with the 2 man pup tents laid out in ranks around what could be a parade ground, with latrines in one corner and a huge carpeted tent at the other end, with adjoining commissaries to feed all 50 odd of us for a feast we richly deserved.


We cycled in amazed at the prep and planning and relieved to see we each had an airbed and sleeping bag, and then as we gathered and opened our hard earned and almost icy beers (getting beer cold in the desert takes real ice and lots of it, Lord knows where it came from) the sun started to set and suddenly we felt the movie set had changed to ‘Zulu’, for the tops of the hills surrounding us were suddenly full of figures, not beating their shields, but talking on their mobile phones: just as ominous, in a 21st century way. 


Of course the only threat was from the pack of wild dogs that rampaged through the camp at 0500 the next morning, but even they were harmless once they had met a half-naked Fuller seeking relief.  Like many before them, they ran for the hills. They were lucky, they could have hung around and been roasted hanging by their heels in the specially built clay oven like the two lambs that Claude, our very own Moses, had organised to feed us the previous evening.


For after the beer and (for the more fastidious amongst us) bucket showers, and after Chris Drake had secured himself the evening’s top fine for opening up his hanging wardrobe outside his tent, the better to select the appropriate one of his several shark-skin suits, and after Nick the Doc had finally led our super heavyweight rearguard  up the hill, and after Luke Burdess had over-tipped the local dancing maidens so that they wobbled their thoroughly clad, but still obviously vast arses around the campfire for an hour longer than any of us needed, though the wine and beer numbed the ratatatatat tedium of the initially fantastic percussion trio sufficiently so that we could laugh at Steve Pennington and Sarah and Alan Bennie’s bootilicious attempt to foster warmer cultural relations, and savour the olives and bread and smells of roasting lamb, after all of that, it was time to grab a seat in the Berber palace of a tent and sip the sweet tea and desert temperature Red and tuck in. 


Your scribe, also the fines-master, properly appointed by God, or Rod as many call him in error, but later to be deemed an imposter by the hanging Judge, Robin “the Ancient of Days” Moore, had had the hours of tribal dancing to prepare his cruel prosecution, and the snitches had been most forthcoming, so that everyone suffered in the cause, except oddly enough the ever cheerful Chris Lyons, who deserved much attention, but slipped the net yet again. (See you next time Chris). Simeon Thrower was popularly adjudged Tour Hero for winning the last full stage of the day despite consuming entire hamlets of cigars and rivers of vodka all night long the last two nights.  He’s 62 and will live to 124 I reckon.  Sadly these married men (and women, you are most welcome) tours boast no Rotten Romeos as did rugby tours of yore, but they do feature the Prat d’Jour, (or Wanker of the Day in Yorkshirees), which went to Dave, The Quiet American, for being an oxymoron.


After the all-inclusive fines (“Big Willy” Luff, fined £10 for having bought a hat that had crystals in the lining that the salesman had said would keep him cool, was my personal favourite, though Philip Rowley and David Baty deserve a mention for being fined without even passing regard to justice of fair play, and on a scale Karl Marx would have approved of) the lamb and drink flowed and then, in an organisational triumph, an electric keyboard appeared, on a stand even; song-sheets were handed round and Paul ‘Hammond’ Curran played all the old faves, so we could bellow the words, pausing only to recover from Mike’s Delilah, (imagine, a Welshy that simply cannot sing!) and relish the annual reprise of Eric’s Carpenter’s medley.  Was their ever a more cherubic Truant than Eric Newnham, though he cannily kept us waiting another year for the legendary “Flipper”, unless I missed something in Will’s Morrocan haze?  Then back came Paul and Bazza and on we sang, slowly reducing in number until just a dozen or so clustered round the campfire, to watch Bazza firewalk (in shoes and in drink) before St Gunnar the Swede took him off to the loo or their tent, or was it both?


And thus to dawn on the 4th day, a slathering of Sudocreme on the bruised bits, a slithering into Lycra and a crustiness of socks and shoes and then the great finding of the right bike and the tired cavalcade flowed back down the mountain the way we had come, for the long-morning trek back into Marrakesh.  We are a bonded group now, for sharing pain and humour does that better than anything else. 


The sharing and humour had started many hours before. For before the night on the plateau we had gathered at Gatwick, drunk the pool bar dry at the hotelAndalusia Marrakech, roared home the Ryder Cup in the tension of a legendary comeback until the wee hours, raced a dawn sprint and awarded the winner the WotD in a fit of oh so English “It’s a bit Boerish to presume to wear the winner’s T-shirt from the off and then cut up the faster riders on the last corner to actually win.” (Fok jou ok, as one might say in the Rainbow Nation!) Then we had cycled through the swarms of mopeds and hordes of Toyotas and French things even more decrepitand older than we felt.  On we went, out along a surprise freeway to the Palmeira, a weird half world of golf courses in the desert and mud huts amidst the mansions, where we tried finding shade beneath a single frondless desert palm, and found a dead camel down a hole instead, (which rather puts one off ones dates and nuts and energy squirts dontchaknow).  And with Peter Farley ever pointing out how big the ever closer mountains were we had peddled on up the slopes through Bazza’s village and on and on until the Hotel California. 


Why Bazza’s village?  Well, as I wrote to my sponsor base, “The Moroccans in the mountain villages were shy yet friendly, with the exception of one mob of school kids whose village we passed through as school came out. I was at the front (natch) and pedalled through their surprise, all waving happily, but our rear guard coming through 30 minutes later, and starring Victor Ubogu (whom you may remember as a dashing England prop) and Jason Peers and Adam Tyrer (whom some of you will know as very fine fat mates of mine), was forced to ride to the aid of the very skinny Barry Drinkwater, whose 60-something body the kids were dragging from his bike. We know not what the pre-teens plans were, (probably to show him to their teacher as an example of the degenerative effect of heavy metal music, alcohol and nicotine on the European male), but happily our rear guard weigh far more than 800 pounds between them (and I do not exaggerate, Victor is much the smallest!) so form a very effective heavy cavalry when they get agitated. Kids routed and day saved by vast bulk and strong bikes!


And the Hotel California?  Well there it was, in the middle of the middle of a desert nowhere.  A hotelier’s folly if ever I saw one.  A gleaming quadrangle of perfect lawns and cool pools and looxury spa, with 50 5* beds and BYO booze and seriously good Berber food all to ourselves.  We endured the disappointingly chastest of leg massages;  then Daryl Clark, Dave Shack, and the dark horses, Des Murphy and Paul Fletcher led us in the drinking of 300 tins or more before general collapse and a far too early wake up call for the hardest day.  We warmed up Tai-Chi style, which video of dis-co-ordination will go viral if ever Andy ‘Fellini’ Matthews releases it.  It was good for we beleaguered taxpayers to see our pet bankers, John Muncey and Nick Price tying themselves in knots, though far sterner punishments would be meted out by the foothills themselves. 


We set off en masse and cycled on, ever more disparately, up the slopes to the snow covered peaks in the distance, surreally escorted by a loop-de-looping red baron who could at any moment have strafed our maybe 5 mile long scattered column of struggling non-cyclists.


After an hour or so for the first to arrive, and 2 hours or more for the last, we paused along our rutted track where our support team had found some shade.  We repaired battered bikes and watched doomed newts in the fast drying mud and compared colours of pee and numbers of punctures and then set off once more to distant lunch.  The dirt ended eventually and then the road opened up, a proper highway, swooping down long hills and up mercifully short ones, the best cycling of the trip, we could have gone on for miles more on such a road, but like a good army, we go as fast as our slowest and so we paused again, sheltering in the shade of a wall some optimistic local had built to proclaim a piece of the unyielding desert his own.  We watched Jonno fall into the ditch for no good reason other than it featured the only vegetation in miles.  A thornbush of course.  We hadn’t laughed so much since Aunt Mabel caught her left tit in a mangle, as they say.


We cycled on through the hills to lunch on a tented rooftop, where the icy Cokes cost the same as at the Wolseley; but hey, hopefully they’ll invest the profit in improving the toilets, entering which took desperate need.  They don’t need to do anything about the food, that was wonderful.  The Moroccans do tomato salad better than even than the Sicilians and the lamb tagines were perfectly overdone and the fruit as sweet as the maidens might well be underneath their veils and burkhas for all we knew.  A wonderful lunch in the fitful breeze and then down through the long ribbon development of a town to the muddy haberdashers and warehouses down by the river and then up the long, long, long hills until, just as the wind came head on to stop us at the top, the longest gentlest decent a cyclist ever dreamed of.  Mile upon mile of gentle downs, where we created drafting peletons to suck each other along, though they generally broke up before they had started, for we are not really cyclists in truth; more party animals, (except Alex Milas who is just a rock-GOD), who find ourselves on two wheels travelling between parties for a few days a year.  And then, after a long regroup at a crossroads where Kulveer Ranger (far from his native land of The Club At The Ivy) and“Iffy” Illy Jaffar, a man straight out of Star Wars and our only stocking wearing Truant   soon became the main attractions to the myriad bug-eyed schoolboys, before on and on and up and up, into the wind to the plateau where this novella started.


We finished the 4th day, which started in camp if you cast your mind back a few paragraphs, in a blitz of drafting, with the American, the Welshman, the Swede and the South African and was that Charles Bradbrook flying the Cross of St George, I saw there too, hauling in Jonno the breakaway Pro just before the green T shirt waved us to the regrouping spot, and before we grind our way in a great green crocodile into the heavy heat of the traffic jams and slowly into the Medina and the main mosque, where the ritual photo’s needed to be taken in the blazing sun, and then onto the sublime luxury of the Sofitel, where the lunch buffet was international and the other guests found our sweat and smell rather lowered the tone, at least until we showered and swam and spruced up after which we looked just like them, but more British, if you know what I mean.  Then we toured the Souk or slept and then tried to get a drink (those who consider drink a sin never make the best barmen) and then we all gathered together one last time and headed off to the magnificent tiled tourist trap that was our final dinner venue, where Rod did the badges and Moore, Curran and Farley held court and found yet more misdemeanours to fine for our good causes.  Had we not given enough?  Never mind, we ate and drank as fast as our waiters could serve, for our race was run and we were finished.  Several really were, for the finger of fate had selected at least a dozen for the trots, some very seriously.  The rest adjourned to one nightclub, then another and then scattered back to beds as tourists do, even more knackered than a knackered knacker’s knacker. 


And then on a grey day 5 we mostly flew home, mostly asleep and said our fond farewells at the baggage carousel, all promising to be there when Rod next leads us into the dirt, dysentery and dives of our next faded empire of the 3rd world.  I can’t wait!




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