many years ago, long before the age of the bicycle (for me at any rate) and at a time when thewashingmachinepost as a name for anything would have been laughed at longer and harder than it is today, i actually won a competition. this is such a noteworthy happenstance in my career, that it's hard to believe that this is likely the first time i've mentioned it in pixels. however, for correctly naming ella fitzgerald's hit record (a tisket, a tasket, seeing as you ask), and a couple of other questions, the nature of which i cannot recall, my prize was an all expenses paid trip to london, staying in the grosvenor house hotel, park lane with tickets to see oscar peterson and ella fitzgerald in concert with ronnie scott's big band, plus a four course dinner.
for many of you used to four on the floor thump music, the foregoing will mean little, but i currently have, stashed in an obscure part of an obscure cupboard in washingmachinepost cottage, a programme of the event, autographed to me from ella fitzgerald, whom i was taken backstage to meet after the concert.
because this was of some import to the magazine in which the competition had appeared (a folk music publication, as i remember), they had summoned a photographer for the occasion, but neglected to inform him as to the status of the event. so while my co-winner and i mingled (and i use the term in its loosest sense) with the hoi polloi, wearing the nearest i had to formal attire at the time, the hapless photographer had unfortunately just returned from, shall we say, an out of town, engagement, and arrived wearing a woolly hat and combat fatigues carrying a rucksack.
aside from several disdainful looks from the serving staff, the poor guy stood out like a sore thumb all evening; the one or two other photographers present, had obviously visited moss bros. and blended into the evening admirably.
thus, having been invited to participate in the 2010 tweed run, and despite being aware that the cycling community is far more tolerant of off centre cycling attire, it was incumbent on this participant to make as much effort as possible in order to blend in. you would doubtless do well to enquire of the other 399 riders, as to how successful i was, but i'd like to think that the only real giveaway was the faction cycling, upcycled cap brandishing pink plaid, fore, aft and peak.
i don't know london at all well, though i can find my way around the various eateries in euston station, and thus had no real idea as to how long it would take from base camp to tweed run. so i arrived excruciatingly early for the grand depart from the tate britain, having trailed a rather more eccentrically tweed attired rider round roads that looked nothing like the google maps i had printed off before travelling. you surely must have been in the situation at one time or another when, having made the supreme effort, those around you manage to diminish this feeling at every tick of the clock? i have never seen such a fine collection of tweed and brooks saddles anywhere, anyhow, anytime. having been unable to acquire a pair of rapha merino argyle socks in time, i wore a pair of short argyle pattern everyday socks in the hope that no-one would notice. however, all around were dressed in tweed suits, with plus twos, plus fours, more argyle patterns than jonathan vaughters ever thought possible, along with flat caps and one or two persons sporting tweed headgear that appeared to have been made by an air-bag manufacturer.
many female cyclists wore skirts, stockings, party frocks, high heeled shoes, bright red lipstick, and even a pair of tweed hot pants. there were plenty of elderly bicycles being ridden; i overheard a gentleman riding aft of my single malt jacket tell that his bicycle had been made in 1910. how many carbon frames from today will be doing the tweed run in 2110 (and would you want to)? and on the male side of the brooks saddle, exotic facial hair was much to the fore. i had toyed with the idea of working my way up to something splendid in this department myself over the last couple of weeks, but in view of the flair on show in london town, i'm rather glad i remained clean shaven.
london's first tweed run was held last year, much lower key than this year's event, incorporating around 120 riders. sign-up was limited to 400 this year; who knew there was this much tweed waiting to greet fresh air? the fact that the sun shone from morning till eve was a distinct bonus.
i cannot for one minute tell you where we rode, though we did pass buckingham palace, we did make inroads to piccadilly circus, wheel ourselves around hyde park and sauntered down savile row. the marshalling for the event, all carried out by members of the tweed run organisation was little short of miraculous. there was no police presence at all, though a couple of bright yellow ambulance cyclists accompanied us around.
to place this ride in context, 400 cyclists on a wide variety of machinery, somewhat eccentrically dressed, rode fourteen miles, tightly packed, through central london on a saturday afternoon, and those brave people with marshal tags on their cycles, stopped buses, taxis and regular motor traffic simply by turning the bicycles side-on to the flow of traffic. don't try this at home.
i'm afraid i didn't talk much; concentration on the wheels in front took precedence, and it's testament to the skills of all those taking part that, to my knowledge, no-one came a cropper, and carnage was happily avoided. movement was often a bit stoppy/starty, a situation that would likely be unavoidable in any city, but the tea stop in hyde park was a welcome relief for the brake fingers, where tea and cucumber sandwiches were accompanied by a string trio on the lawn. refinement at its best.
if you were there, i hope you enjoyed your day as much as i did; if you weren't, the 2011 tweed run is only twelve months away.
posted tuesday 13 april 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................