Sunday, 24 April 2011

Celebrating St Patrick's Day in April in the Middle of France

I'm not weird, right? My mum thinks I'm weird because I never wanted kids. And even The Lovely Nina sometimes says that I'm eccentric. I'm not. I'm very normal. Very, very normal indeed. And the talking gerbils that live in my hair agree. No, I'm not odd, but I met a man today who is.

I was cycling through the Champagne region of France and hit the town of Thierry Chateau. Walking with a drunken gait at the side of the road in mid-afternoon was an older bloke wearing what appeared to be a giant, Guiness-sponsored, St Patrick's Day comedy hat. That's unusual, I thought. You only normally see such hats on drunken idiots on St. Paddy's night. I know, I've worn one.

A minute or two later I decided to stop at a junction and check which way I should be going. While sat on the grass having a minute off the bike, hat man approached me and in an accent that sounded heavily French asked me if I was cycle touring. Oui, I replied. He then gave some sort of indication that he was doing the same thing. Really? I asked if he was French and he said, "Non, anglais". Right, so we were both English.

I know that I'm a bit of a porker but Andrew really didn't look like a cyclist. A packet of loose tobacco bulging from his shirt pocket isn't a definite sign of a non-cyclist but it's not that common. He spoke with a strong Norfolk accent and muttered to himself under his breath. Andrew was cycling from East Anglia to Palermo on an electric bike, towing a little trailer. If you're unaware, an electric bike charges up when you pedal so that it can give you a helping hand when climbing up the hills. The trailer was attached to the bike with the loosest, wobbliest fitting you could imagine. It was like the sort of handiwork I'd do, and then pay someone to put right.

It had taken him three weeks to get from Dieppe to here, and it's not that far. He'd wasted a lot of time getting lost in Dieppe until the early hours of the morning when he'd been picked up by the police and decided he would overnight in the cop shop until they got sick of him and told him where the nearest hotel was. And why did he get lost? He refuses to carry maps. No, he's not a modern cyclist using the latest spunky SatNav. He has simply used Google Earth to write down all the names of the towns that he will pass through from Norwich to Palermo so he always knows where to head next. Foolproof! Unless there's one of France's frequent Route Barrée signs blocking your way. Or the village you need isn't signposted. Or you take a wrong turning. Or, or, or a million different reasons. Get a map, you chump! They're cheap, especially if you're doing the daily distance he's doing.

Oh yes, and how far are you travelling each day? About twenty miles, he replied. And how long have you planned to get to Palermo? Well, the money will last for three months, he said. Something told me he possibly hadn't done the maths. Ninety days at twenty miles per day, especially when during the first twenty of those days he'd moved about one hundred and forty miles, isn't going to get him to Palermo.

Anyway, mad though he was, good luck to him. However far he gets, he'll have an adventure. And if you're one of the lovely people somewhere across Europe who has agreed to meet me later in the trip, keep your eyes out for him. He's bound to end up near one of you. My money's on St. Petersburg. The first thing you will notice is the hat. The second thing will probably be the trailer overtaking him on the downhills.

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