There is an annual ritual that happens every summer.
Ron (Collarbone) is insistent that under no circumstances is he going to organise another December canal ride into London. The list of reasons includes: too many people; not enough people; people not letting him know whether they are coming; too many people saying they are coming; people not keeping up with the group; people going off the front of the group and getting lost. The Crest members and also the Maldon and District (MAD) listen politely and nod in sympathy.
And so it came to pass that despite all these moans once again the Christmas Canal Ride to London took place on the second Saturday of December like the previous 10 years or more of this now annual tradition. Despite his protestations, Collarbone organised a brilliant day out which gets better and better.
There were more of us than ever, the word getting round during the autumn. For the second year running all participants were required to dress up in Santa outfits. These were supplied by Collar from the back of his van at a bargain price and the participants were soon hopping around on the bridge at Ponders End Lock trying to get their overshoes through the legs without ripping the paper thin fabric. This time lessons had been learnt from last year and there were plentiful rolls of gaffer tape and safety pins to reinforce the seams where they would strain against saddles and chainsets.
Luxury additions this time included a welcome glass of warm mulled wine and chocolates to help us on our way.
At 9 am on the dot, 50 of us set off. Firm instructions from ‘Bone included No Crashes and No Punctures! Pigs might fly, we all thought but we nodded our agreement in order to humour him. Down to the canal bank from the bridge and pretty soon we were passing worrying omens of a dead rat and dead duck in our path.
Not surprisingly the puncture pixie struck early by Tottenham Marshes. Collarbone’s exhortations had evidently fallen on deaf ears.
Undaunted we continued along an ingenious route branching off from the canal through the Olympic Park, out the other side of Victoria Park and through a series of alleyways, Haggerston Park and Shoreditch.
We were expecting to encounter other groups of Santas and sure enough, in Clerkenwell, we passed a big assembly of medical students in turkey suits swilling early beers. They looked at us in astonishment and as I passed I heard one say “Blimey, it’s a load of cycling Dads.” Which was largely a fair description except for a younger member of our group who was most upset to be lumped in with the majority.
Another first was a coffee stop where we had the first crash of the day. No names but your writer was brought down on a sandpaper surfaced zebra crossing by –
no, I will keep it confidential although the two of us had a lively discussion as to whose fault it was.
Fired up with caffeine it was onward through nooks and crannies in Holborn and then Trafalgar Square, The Mall and Parliament Square where we were greeted with widespread cheers and phone filming. Through the Vaults arch at Waterloo- if you have never been through that tunnel then you haven’t seen London properly.
A series of loops and figures of eight had us thoroughly disorientated so I can’t tell you whether the lunch stop was before or after Charlie Chaplin’s birthplace. Oh, and there was another crash in Lambeth Palace Park. And another visit from the puncture pixie.
Lunch is always a big feast for cyclists and I can recommend the cafe in Vauxhall. Except I can’t remember its name. Except it used to belong to Charlie Chaplin’s uncle. Or was it Alfred Hitchcock’s. The usual group sing along was led by Paul “Bollard” O’Kelly wearing a Lionel Richie wig accompanied on spoons by Twig. Remounting, Bollard led us round the corner to Lambeth Walk where we performed a raucous version of the music hall tune with an audience of locals emerging from shops and the launderette.
A few more parks were quickly traversed before another loop around Peckham including Bellenden Road. I don’t make these names up. Another stack up at a junction and we were on our way up to the river side. But two more punctures delayed things so that by now night was falling and we were still south of the river.
Wow, the Thames looks wonderful at twilight in winter, particularly Greenwich around the Cutty Sark. Before descending into the foot tunnel Paul O’Bollard once again led us in a rendition, this time of a sea shanty appropriate for the tea clipper parked next to us.
There was a debate about whether cyclists are allowed to ride through the foot tunnel. Look it up on-line for the answer. Back to safety on the north side, the group started to split up but the dedicated beer samplers carried on back up the Lee for an evening session. Some of them not getting home till 1 am.
For those who weren’t there, it is hard to describe the thrill of riding in a big group through central London dressed up as Santas, being cheered on by the crowds. As a bonus, there is the discovery of back alleyways, squares and parks that you didn’t know existed. London is an infinite city – you will never discover it all.
Well here’s to next year. Except Ron has already said that under no circumstances is he doing it again. So, see you at Ponders End Lock on the second Saturday next December.