Saturday 8 February 2020 18:50
(…and other ramblings from a brain still foggy with flu.)
“Who is that apparently tiny, slim redhead in the picture?” I hear you ask, “It’s not…!”. Ah, read on Macduff…
Although I was, and am still, feeling completely Charlie Romeo, yesterday I decided I was going a bit stir crazy. The car desperately needed to have a run and the sun was shining, and so – probably unwisely – I took a little road trip.
My destination was Seawhite’s Factory Shop, in West Sussex. They’re known as “Seawhite of Brighton”, so I always thought they were in the depths of the city. However, I discovered a couple of weeks ago that in fact they’re on the edge of a tiny village, just an hour’s drive away from me; or so Google Maps told me.
(For those of you who don’t know, Seawhite make really good, affordable, sketchbooks. They sell directly to educational establishments and retail outlets, but their factory shop has loads of reduced stock, and even other art supplies like brushes and paints.)
By pure coincidence, the village where Seawhite are happens to be where some of my ancestors, on mum’s side, were from, and I did think of visiting the churchyard while I was there, but as Google’s estimate of the journey time was rather optimistic, it was not to be.
Anyway, I digress.
How does all this link up to the young ginger haired cyclist on the book cover – and yes, dear reader, ’tis me? Well, the route to Seawhite’s took me along roads and lanes that I haven’t travelled since my cycling days, almost forty years ago. Then they were all very familiar to me, although I confess it was largely the pubs that I recalled, but also the village names; even occasional ordinary landmarks, like gateways and old houses, brought back memories of Sunday rides with dear friends, many of whom are now sadly long gone (one of whom I married!).
On my way home, in another village, slowed to a crawl in a line of cars waiting by some roadworks, I glanced at the boarded up building beside me and was transported back to the day that photo was taken…
But I’m jumping ahead.
I knew that my drive to Seawhite’s would take me along familiar routes, but there were surprises too. One in particular was a now slightly run down roadside diner, that I suddenly recognised as having once been the Little Chef where – one summer’s afternoon – I met up with my mum and my aunt; me on my bike as always then. I remember we spent a lovely couple of hours there, sitting outside in the sunshine chatting, before mum and her sister went on to do some family history research… at the very village I was heading to yesterday.
It was a sweet memory, as were all of them, but as I remembered, I knew I was a very different ‘me’ back then – absolutely no self confidence for one thing, no idea of what lay ahead, full of doubts and fears that seem utterly absurd now. It felt like a lesson: that far more is possible than we sometimes believe, that fears pass, and we can achieve not just the seemingly unachievable, but also the unimaginable.
When I was driving through those lanes yesterday, I thought that I could teach that young, shy me a few things, show her how much her future held. Now I think it’s more likely that she reached back in time and has taught me.
At the time the handbook in the photo was being planned, I was working for what was then called the Cyclists’ Touring Club – now Cycling UK, and the cyclists’ version of the Automobile Association – as their Technical Officer and National Event Organiser, and unofficially, also the Archivist and Historian. Amongst other things I sat on the relevant British Standards Institute committees in London, and was consultant to the Consumer Association on cycling equipment for articles in their Which? magazine. I also tested all manner of equipment on behalf of the CTC (including whole bicycles), and wrote technical articles for the magazine that was available through major newsagents across the country. I organised the annual rally and exhibition based on the Knavesmire Racecourse in York, hosting equipment manufacturers such as Raleigh and other well known names in the cycling world. I was young, quiet, and shy, and lacking in self confidence – but I did all those things; and I forget…
If someone suggested I take on a role like that now I would feel utterly incapable and unqualified. But I’ve sat in a stuffy boardroom and won the arguments for the safety and practicalities of cycle equipment with a bunch of old men in suits who cared only for their profit margins. I’ve organised events attended by thousands. I’ve written articles that were published in a widely read magazine (and I suddenly recall I even illustrated at least one). I’ve even appeared on the cover of a little book sold – albeit briefly – in shops across the land!
Why on earth am I doubting what I can do next?
As I was passing that boarded up pub yesterday, and I remembered the day all those years ago, it made me smile and prompted me to dig out the little handbook in the picture above. On the day of the photo shoot, we – the very tall young man from The Ramblers’ Association and I – were treated to lunch in that pub, and I remembered with a smile that I had been disgruntled to realise that the very smart maroon shorts I’d been given to wear were too tight to allow me to eat! Ah, then as now I enjoyed my food, and to turn down a meal – a free meal at that – completely over rode any excitement I might otherwise have felt at being a ‘cover girl’…
Some things never change. I still have no more need for fame than fortune – comfy clothes and to be treated to a hearty meal now and then, and I’m happy (and to write and draw, and create more happy memories). That’ll do me.
(Oh I would like to get shot of this cold though!)