Author Archive

The Eyes have it, the Eyes have it

BOOK DESCRIPTION

What is great art? And why is it great art? Is it great art because it’s great art or because someone tells us that it’s great art? This fascinating book seeks to answer that question. Focusing on the pictures of Doreen Grey, James Frimley, Corey Smelter and Lachlan Dinsmore – known as the Coney Hall Group – this catalogue is from their first major exhibition, held in West Wickham in 2018. Curated by the noted art critic and road cyclist Julian Hutchings, it describes and analyses their pictures in detail, and finds depths of meaning and profundity which they themselves may not even have realised were there.

Dentures, Guns and Money: The Diary of a Home Care Worker

BOOK DESCRIPTION

The diary of Rita – a Home Care Worker – about her, her life, her useless husband and her sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, sometimes strange, ultimately life-affirming, uplifting experiences on the front line supporting elderly people in their own homes. With meditations on pay, conditions, zero hours contracts, dentures, guns, money and a lack thereof, racism, sexual assault, Lady Gaga (not that one) and Lucan the cat.

Cycling Shorts and Cycle Clips

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Looking for some cycling wit, interest, excitement, pathos and tragedy? You’ve stumbled on an exciting new voice. This collection of 55 short-form pieces includes short stories, monologues, movie reviews, book reviews, reportage and opinion from the wonderful world of cycling and is ideal for reading while travelling by plane, boat or train, on holiday, on the daily commute, with your feet up, in the bath or waiting for the peloton to come past. It includes the short story ‘Hot Wings’ set in Paris on the final day of the Tour de France and ‘Goats and Donkeys’ about Alpe d’Huez. It is an ideal gift for the cyclist in your life, even if – especially if – that cyclist is you.

The Monument

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Clovis and Eric are mates, retired and spend their days cycling. One day, sitting in their cafe, minding their own business and chewing the fat, they are drawn into a smuggling operation while taking part in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege sportive – one of the great cycling monuments. But what are they smuggling and who or what is it for?A mystery novella with an unexpected beginning, middle and ending.

The Marmot Murders

BOOK DESCRIPTION

‘Clovis tripped on a pile of rope; crates of empty bottles were strewn around, a long hose was coiled on a hook, pieces of discarded or broken furniture littered the floor, a chair, a table, a disco ball glittering faintly as it hung from a hook in the ceiling like a traitor’s head swinging on a gibbet. The silence was deep and heavy and held you down like a 30-tog duvet in an autumn chill. He tripped over something soft and looked down; there was a dark shape on the floor, like a sleeping bag with someone in it. But it wasn’t a sleeping bag with someone in it, it was a someone and they weren’t sleeping, they were dead…’ A murder mystery novella set on a Marmot Tours cycling holiday through the Picos d’Europa of Northern Spain. But who is doing the killings and why? If you love a mystery with faint echoes of Agatha Christie and you ever fancied a cycling holiday, then combine the two and escape for a few hours into this compelling story.

Love's Lost in Girona

Love’s Lost in Girona

BOOK DESCRIPTION

A story of love and loss set in the beautiful city of Girona.‘Funny, isn’t it,’ said Corcoran. ‘You come abroad, foreign country, sit outside, it’s warm, have a few drinks, away from home, it’s like a truth drug, you feel you want to unburden, in a way.’‘Unburden away, mate,’ said Sandman. ‘If you want to, of course.’‘You first,’ said Corcoran.‘What?’‘You go first. You tell me your secret; I’ll tell you mine. Don’t tell me you don’t have a secret; everyone has a secret.’Sandman, Corcoran, Maria and Thackeray are in the Catalan city of Girona for a week’s cycling. Amidst the beautiful surroundings of the ancient city and its glorious countryside, they learn secrets about their past which will affect their lives for years to come.

The Secret Diary of an Indoor Cat

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Are you a cat lover? Do you believe that cats can think, talk, write and communicate with humans? Then this is the book for you! What would a cat write in its diary, if it was kept indoors and kept a diary? What hopes and dreams and thwarted desires would it record? What would it think about the world in which it finds itself? This is the (true) diary of just such a cat – Sir Ian – funny, warm, existential, literary, thoughtful, profound and ultimately uplifting.

Tour de Fiction: Short stories and more

Book description

Looking for some cycling wit, interest, excitement, pathos and tragedy? You’ve stumbled on an exciting new voice. This collection of 8 short stories includes ‘Cingle’ – about Mont Ventoux, ‘Six Days’ about the Ghent Six races, ‘Bread and Butter pudding’ about that most traditional of cycling pursuits – the time trial, and ‘Only Connect’ about the secrets left at the end of a cycling life . It also includes the memoir ‘My Life in Bikes’ about a life’s obsession and the perils of believing in N+1. It is an ideal gift for the cyclist in your life, even if – especially if – that cyclist is you.

Lost

The group gathered at the roundabout for the regular Saturday club ride. Pigeons perched on the lamp-posts and one dropped a load of shit on to Jimmy’s jersey. ‘You’ve got shit on your jersey,’ said Clancy. ‘Fuck,’ said Jimmy. Fuck, fuck, fuck-de-fuck.’ ‘They hate you,’ said Clancy. ‘Where we going?’ said Clovis. ‘I tole you’, said Clancy. ‘It’s on the WhatsApp.’ ‘I didn’t see it.’ ‘Not my problem,’ said Clancy. The group headed off; Clancy in the lead, then Clovis, Norton, Lachlan, Norman and Jimmy in the rear. It was a cold, grey day, damp but not raining – yet. The roads were busy with Saturday morning shoppers, drivers heading out on their chores. The dull expanse of South London suburbs – Bromley, Sundridge, Grove Park, Mottingham, Eltham – slipped by. Clancy led them off-road, into parkland and paths. The road wound through the houses and came to a dead end. Clancy squeezed through the railings and on to the cycle path. Leaves hugged the ground and made it slippery. Clovis’s wheel caught on the railings and he tumbled backwards and landed heavily on the path. ‘Ouch! Fuck. Fuck,’ he said ‘You ok?’ they all chorused. ‘Fuck,’ he said again. He checked his bike over, felt his helmet for cracks, remounted and they continued on. The cycle path was little used, and the ground was coarse and rutted, over-grown with weeds and trailing tree branches. They came upon a disparate group of elderly ramblers; heavy shoes, fleeces, anoraks, waterproof trousers, beanie hats, maps in plastic cases round their necks, walking sticks, rambling along, oblivious to everyone else. ‘Excuse me,’ shouted Clancy. ‘Cyclists coming through.’ The ramblers were deaf, keeping watch for butterflies and ragwort, centipedes and birds of prey. ‘Excuse me,’ shouted Clancy again. The ramblers huffed and sighed and moved to the side. ‘Get a bell,’ said one. ‘Why should I?’ said Clancy. More suburbs – New Eltham, posh Blackheath, Greenwich, the edge of Charlton, up and over the hill by the Arsenal. Woolwich was scarred and desolate. Wind whipped through the shopping precinct. Impatient drivers pushing through the traffic, tensing at roundabouts, creeping forward at zebra crossings, tut-tutting at the slightest delay. They circled the roundabout, impatient truckers cursing at the ferry queue, slid down a slip road and sudden silence enveloped them as they hit the Thames Path. The path was smooth and well-made – apartment blocks to the right of them, railings, mud and the grey Thames to the left. The mud goes on forever; dark, gloopy and flat, with light dancing birds skating on its brown surface, the smell of baking shit oozing through the clear air from the sewage works. Coarse iron railings, few people, here the riverside apartment blocks morph into blocks of flats, the neatly kept enclosed gardens now fly-tipped and grubby. Au pairs pushing prams give way to single mothers pushing buggies. Desperation at the river’s edge, out here where the river ceases to flow. A tug boat chugs upstream pushing loaded barges. Abandoned wharfs, jetties jutting out into nothingness. A rowing boat beached above the water line. A broken motor-cycle shoved into the surf. A few people with thin, scarred arms, sitting in little huddles. Concrete blocks were dumped at the water’s edge. Everything felt dumped. Nothing was here out of choice. The water was grey. There are few people. A cycle path to nowhere. We’ve lost Jimmy. Every half hour their little wagon train halts, re-groups, forms a circle, waits for Jimmy. ‘I’m bleeding,’ said Clovis, looking at his bare leg – there was a smear of blood on his thigh. ‘It’s on my arm, look.’ Blood was seeping through the sleeve of his jacket. ‘Take your jacket off,’ said Lachlan. ‘No,’ said Clovis, ‘I don’t want to know. I’ll leave it ‘til I get home.’ ‘It’ll stick,’ said Lachlan. ‘When it dries, then it’ll hurt.’ ‘Thanks,’ said Clovis. Clovis is hungry. He reaches into his back pocket to grab some food. The energy bar is crumbly and sweet, sticky with dried fruits. Clovis takes a bite and re-wraps it and stuffs it back in his pocket. ‘Where’s Jimmy?’ said Clancy. ‘Dunno. He was here a minute ago.’ Jimmy hoves into view, eventually. Lost, still lost. Jimmy’s always lost. ‘Hurry up,’ said Clancy. ‘Don’t tell me what to do,’ said Jimmy. ‘Stop telling me what to do.’ Clancy looked at him, sighed, shook his head, said nothing. Silence hung in the air, threatening like a mugger. The group carried on. A mile further on and Jimmy is off the back again. ‘The fuck’s he gone now?’ said Clancy. Lachlan said, ‘he was here a minute ago.’ ‘I’m fed up with this,’ said Clancy. ‘Come on, leave him, let’s go. Let the fucker find his own way home.’ ‘That’s not nice,’ said Lachlan. ‘It’s not his fault.’ ‘Yeah? Whose fuckin’ fault is it then?’ Jimmy appeared, sees everyone looking at him, questioningly. ‘What?’ he said. ‘What?’ ‘Nothing,’ said Clancy. ‘Let’s go.’ The path is finished and they hit the road. Heavy traffic, filter lanes, families rushing to the supermarket, squeezing through gaps, hanging on Clancy’s wheel, desperate not to lose the slip-stream. Racing to beat the red lights. ‘Some of us feel we ought to wait at red lights,’ says Clovis. Traffic lights. Dartford. Cars waiting. There’s a little car, maybe a Volkswagen or a Vauxhall, grey, cheap and nasty. Two lads, young, clean-shaven, seem pleasant enough, more in the back seat probably, maybe girls. ‘Where’ve you come from?’ said a lad in the front seat. ‘West Wickham,’ said Norton. ‘I can pedal. Look.’ The lad sticks his feet out of the side window and waves them in the air. He sniggers. The lights stay red for a long time. ‘What’s it like?’ the lad says. ‘Cold,’ said Norton.  ‘Where you going?’ ‘Get some drugs.’ ‘Why d’you say that? We’re just having a conversation and you come out with that crap. Where you off to? Somewhere nice?’ ‘Get some drugs.’ ‘Forget it,’ said Norton ‘Crack. Heroin. Wantsum?’ ‘That’s just crap. You’re talking crap now.’ ‘Nice helmet. Mine’s bigger.’ Silence. ‘You in the Tour de France?’ Silence. The lights change. ‘Cunt,’ shouted the lad, as the car sped off around the corner. The narrow road weaves through the fields, dipping in and out of the woodland, dappled light drifting through the leaves. The road rises and falls, and Clancy pushes the pace higher; riders are gasping for breath, out of the saddle, straining on the climbs. They miss the junction and have to turn around and retrace their pedals. They meet Jimmy just by the junction; caught up at last. ‘Let’s go,’ said Clancy. The BMW burst out of the gloom, the driver with his elbow on the window-sill, two fingers resting on the steering wheel. The car is black with opaque windows, a drug dealer’s car. ‘Oi,’ shouts Norton. ‘Slow down.’ Jimmy is riding near the middle of the road, occasionally drifting over to the wrong side of the white lines. Oncoming cars have to swerve to miss him. He shouts after one, waves his fist, makes a gesture. ‘You’re too far to the right,’ said Lachlan. ‘Don’t ride so near the middle of the road.’ ‘Don’t tell me what to do,’ said Jimmy, belligerent. The road was long and the pace was high but they finally reached the Gates of Eden farm-shop and café. Across the muddy car-park and around the corner to the bleak shed of the café. A group of mountain bikers were just mounting up. Baggy shorts, muddy legs, dirt encrusted bikes with big tyres. ‘Uh oh,’ said one, ‘the professionals have arrived.’ They all trooped inside. It was near the end of lunch service and the serving ladies were having a snack. One rose to her feet as the group entered and slipped behind the counter. ‘What’ll it be, gents?’ she said. Jimmy dumped his helmet, gloves and phone on the table and headed to the counter. ‘Club rules,’ said Norton. ‘Keep helmets off the tables.’ Jimmy looked fierce. ‘Don’t tell me what to do,’ he said. They ordered bacon sandwiches, cake and mugs of tea. Lachlan ordered extra food and hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows on top – he worked shifts, lived far away and was always hungry – never had time or inclination to eat before the meeting point. They clustered round the table, with its plastic tablecloth, steam rising from their sweaty clothes. When they’d finished eating and been to the toilet, they trooped outside. Outside, a pretty woman was sitting at a bench cradling a cigarette. She watched as Clovis checked his bike over. ‘Where’ve you been?’ she said to Clovis. ‘Woolwich,’ said Clovis, ‘Thames path, Dartford, Erith.’ ‘How many miles?’ said the pretty woman. She was dark-haired, slim, nice nose, brown eyes, friendly, chatty, in a good mood. ’50 miles prolly,’ said Clovis. ’50 miles,’ she repeated, admiringly. ‘Aren’t you cold? You’ve got bare legs, they’re very brown.’ ‘Thanks,’ said Clovis. ‘Just got back from holiday.’ ‘Where d’you go?’ ‘Tenerife,’ said Clovis. ‘What’s that on your arm?’ she asked. ‘Blood,’ said Clovis, proudly. ‘I fell off. Don’t want to take my jacket off.’ ‘Ouch. It must hurt.’ ‘Nah,’ said Clovis. ‘He’s been very brave,’ said Clancy. ‘He doesn’t keep going on about it.’ Another woman came out of the café with two cups of coffee and gave one to her friend. ‘They’ve gone 50 miles,’ said the pretty woman. ‘He’s hurt his arm but he’s being brave.’ ‘Yeah?’ said the coffee cup woman. ‘Everyone ready?’ said Clancy. ‘Gotta go,’ said Clovis to the woman. They pushed off. The pretty woman smiled at Clovis. They rode out of the yard and onto the road with its slippery leaves. Clovis winced as his jersey rubbed on his arm. There was a dark patch on his elbow which spread down to his wrist. ‘You’re in there,’ said Norton. ‘Imagine if I’d commented on her legs,’ said Clovis. ‘I’d be in right trouble.’ ‘You’re in there,’ said Norton again. They pushed on down the hill to the traffic lights. ‘Which way we going?’ said Jimmy. ‘Shagrabbit hill, said Clancy. ‘Usual way.’ ‘See you at the top,’ said Jimmy. The hill was not hard but as it came near the end of the ride and everyone was tired, and they all wanted to race and be the first up, they pushed on, panting. Andrew reached the top first, then Clancy and Clovis. They pulled into a driveway and waited for the others and Jimmy. Norton arrived, long strings of pale spittle hanging from his chin. He crossed his arms on the handlebars and rested his head on his hands. He was panting, and his tongue was lolling from side to side. ‘Where’s Jimmy?’ said Clancy. ‘He was back about a hundred yards,’ said Norton, bringing the words out gradually. ‘Did he make the junction?’ said Clancy. ‘Yeah, I’m sure,’ said Norton. They waited. It was cold. ‘Got any plans?’ said Clancy, to no-one in particular. ‘Watch the rugby,’ said Norton. ‘Have a bath. Glass of wine.’ ‘Get in the shower,’ said Clovis. ‘Sort my arm out.’ ‘What arm?’ said Clancy. ‘What happened?’ ‘Very funny,’ said Clovis. ‘Fuck off.’ Norton’s phone buzzed. ‘Is it Jimmy?’ said Clancy. ‘Where is he?’ ‘It’s not Jimmy,’ said Norton. ‘It’s my wife.’ ‘Tell her I’ll be round later,’ said Clovis. Norton stuck his tongue out. ‘Fuck off,’ he said. ‘I’m going,’ said Clancy. ‘I’ve had enough, it’s getting cold.’ ‘What do we do about Jimmy?’ said Norton. ‘Who cares?’ said Clancy. ‘He can find his own way home. We can’t wait forever.’ ‘Maybe he’s lost,’ said Norton. ‘Maybe,’ said Clancy. ‘He could phone us if he was lost. People should know where they are; it’s a club rule.’ He got on his bike, headed off into the traffic, stuck his arm up and waved behind him. ‘See you next week,’ he shouted but it was lost in the wind.              

Macedonia

Clovis sat in his armchair reading Bradley Wiggins’ book, Icons. There was a newspaper cutting printed in the book, a race that Wiggins won, and there, in fourth place was the name – S Griskowitz, North Downs Wheelers Cycling Club. His club, Clovis’ club. Once a big name in the cycling firmament, now smaller, less well-known, but still chugging along, still with a proud tradition, still the occasional member who could make a splash on a bigger stage. Who was this S Griskowitz? Where had he come from? What had happened to him? What trajectory did his life take compared to Wiggins? Clovis texted his club-mates. Did anyone know who this man was? He was in the club, years ago, some older members remembered him. Clovis arranged to meet up with them and discuss club history. ‘Bring any old newsletters,’ said Clovis. ‘And any pictures, stories you have.’ They met in their usual café. Cold outside, warm inside, fog on the windows, not many tables occupied, Nina Simone on the shuffle, singing That’s All I Want From You. Norman had a doughnut, frosted with thick icing. Clovis had soup. Thick and green, like snot, bits floating in it. What’s the soup?’ said Norman. A little love that slowly grows and grows… ‘Not sure. Lots of garlic. Bit of potato, carrot.’ ‘What’s the green?’ ‘Not sure. It’s green soup. That’s what they call it. It’s the special. Green soup.’ ‘Green soup? Weird,’ said Norman. ‘What’s it taste of?’ ‘Green,’ said Clovis. I have no time to waste… ‘Left-overs,’ said Norman. ‘It’s left-overs, what it is.’ Clancy was one of the oldest members and had been in the club for more than 30 years, through the good times and the bad, the schisms and splits, the disagreements; he remembered all those who had threatened to leave over the years, and still kept in touch with some who had. He had grey hair, thinning, big eye-brows, fierce eyes. Slim, as they all were. Strong but the muscles not quite so strong and recovery took longer. But he still rode every other day and still did 150 miles in an average week. He drank tea: Earl Grey, splash of milk, a spoonful of sugar. ‘How can you put sugar in Earl Grey?’ said Clovis. ‘I always do. Did. Love it. It’s an acquired taste.’ Tomorrow might not come… ‘Not by me,’ said Clovis. Norman took a bite of his doughnut. The hard, white sugar cracked and fell down his chin. He rubbed the back of his hand across his lips. ‘Yeah,’ said Norman. ‘I remember him. Solomon, that was him. Back in the day, back in the day. Big guy, young, strong as an ox. Good rider. Albanian, I think. Or not. Macedonian, maybe. Croatia? Balkans, anyway. One of those rogue states.’ ‘Rogue?’ said Clovis. ‘You know what I mean,’ said Norman. ‘Civil war, Tito.’ Jam spurted out the side of the doughnut and splashed on his jersey. It looked like a blood stain. Clovis sipped his coffee. Americano with hot milk. Strong and thick, dense with a sharp taste that attacked the palate. He glanced at Marina behind the counter; dark wavy hair casually pushed behind her ears, tall, slim, pretty, long fingers, soft lips, foreign, strong accent, hard-working. She ignored him. ‘And?’ ‘I dunno,’ said Norman. ‘Disappeared after a few years.’ ‘We could find him,’ said Andrew. ‘It could be a Channel 4 documentary.’ A sunny day, with hopes up to the skies… ‘Good idea,’ said Clovis. ‘Where do we start?’ ‘Google it, always works.’ They sat there, iPhones in hand, the foursome, all Googling. ‘Anything?’ said Clovis. ‘He’s not on Facebook,’ said Andrew. ‘Smart boy.’ ‘Or Strava.’ ‘Not on Strava?’ said Clovis. ‘You sure? Can’t be a cyclist any more, then, if he’s not on Strava.’ ‘Or Twitter.’ ‘Not on Twitter? He’s really off-grid, isn’t he?’ ‘Off-grid?’ said Andrew. ‘Off-grid? What’s that, then?’ ‘No foot-print. No social media profile,’ said Clovis. ‘Perhaps he disappeared, like Lord Lucan.’ ‘Lucan’s dead,’ said Andrew. ‘Yeah? Who says?’ ‘I saw a documentary. He was shot and thrown overboard. In the Channel, by his friends. You know, Aspinall. Or was it the other way around? Anyway, he’s dead.’ ‘Maybe,’ said Clovis, mysteriously. I have no time to waste… Oh, for fuck’s sake,’ said Norman. ‘Forget Lucan.’ ‘There’s something here, on 192,’ said Andrew. ‘Same initial, same surname, right age profile. Lives in Streatham.’ ‘Is there an address? Phone number?’ ‘No, that costs, you need a subscription.’ ‘What would we do?’ said Andrew. ‘If we find him. Then what?’ ‘Ask him if he still cycles,’ said Norman. ‘He could re-join the club. See if he knows he’s in Wiggins’ book. How should I know? It’s a quest, innit? What do you do when you finish the quest?’ ‘Like Lord of the Rings,’ said Clovis. ‘We find the ring, and then…hang on. What happened to the ring?’ ‘They threw it in the crack of doom.’ ‘Painful,’ said Clovis. ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. When we find the ring. I mean, when we find him.’ They finished their coffees, stood up. ‘I’ll pay,’ said Norman. ‘No,’ said Clovis. ‘It’s my turn.’ He wanted to see Marina close-up. ‘And I’ve got my coffee token, I’m due a free one.’ ‘You’ll be lucky,’ said Clancy. He went to the counter and gazed longingly at Marina. She punched the buttons on the till, hardly noticed him. She was still thinking of sourdough and doughnuts, porridge recipes and cake fillings. Clovis used his contactless card – he loved contactless, it made him feel like a millionaire; he hardly carried cash any more, like the Queen. A little love, that’s all I want from you… ‘Bye Marina,’ he said. ‘Bye,’ she said. She couldn’t remember his name. They swaddled up; buffs, head scarves, gloves, helmets. Clancy unlocked the bikes. ‘You out Wednesday?’ said Clovis. ‘I ‘spect so,’ said Norman. ‘Me too,’ said Andrew. ‘Probably,’ said Clancy. Clovis drove to Streatham – he didn’t feel like cycling. The forecast said sleet and 2 degrees and the roads would be busy; he was worried about black ice. Streatham was suburbia, close packed little streets, big Edwardian houses. But that wasn’t where he was heading. He parked near a tower block; it was dark and foreboding and there was broken glass at the bottom of the stairs. The lift was out of order. He climbed the stairs to the sixth floor, knocked on a door. A small boy answered the door; maybe six years old, a shock of blonde hair, wide-eyed, dirty face, wearing shorts and a t-shirt with a picture of Zinedine Zidane on the front, barefooted; not Zidane, the boy. There was a large dog behind him, long-haired with a drooling mouth and dirty paws, peering round, anxious to see the stranger at the door. Clovis looked down at the boy who stared up at him, not saying anything. ‘Hello,’ said Clovis. ‘What’s your name?’ The boy said nothing. The dog barked. Clovis didn’t know what to do. ‘Nice doggie,’ he said. ‘What do you want?’ shouted a woman’s voice from deep inside the flat. ‘Who is it? Go away.’ ‘Er, my name is Clovis,’ Clovis shouted into the emptiness. The boy continued to look at him. The dog sat back on its haunches and began to lick its private parts. Clovis didn’t know what to do. An elderly woman appeared at the end of the corridor, wheeling herself along in a wheel-chair. She dragged herself with her stockinged feet, her arms resting on the arm-rests. Progress was very slow as the chair creaked and squeaked on the wooden floor. She stopped behind the dog. The boy turned and ran away. ‘Who are you?’ the woman said at last. ‘What do you want?’ She had grey hair, skinny arms, a shawl over her shoulders, a pair of glasses perched on the top of her head; one lens was cracked. ‘I was looking for Solomon,’ said Clovis. ‘Does he live here?’ ‘Why?’ ‘I’m from a cycling club – North Downs Wheelers,’ said Clovis. ‘Solomon was a member many years ago. I saw his name in a book. This book.’ He held out a photocopy of the page from Wiggins’ book. ‘I can’t see,’ said the woman. ‘I’m sorry,’ said Clovis. ‘I’m not blind. I mean, I haven’t got my glasses.’ ‘Oh,’ said Clovis. He didn’t feel he should tell her they were on her head. ‘Anyway, I found his name in this book and I wanted to find him. To see if he wanted to start cycling again. And see if he still cycled. Maybe join our club again.’ ‘He doesn’t cycle,’ said the woman. ‘Not any more. You’d better come in.’ She pushed herself backwards and then turned and headed off back down the corridor. ‘Not any more,’ she said again. Clovis entered through the door and shut it behind him. The dog brushed against his legs. ‘Nice doggie,’ he said. She entered a dark living room. The curtains were closed, the television on but the sound turned down. A two-bar heater blasted out heat. There was a man sleeping on a big dark brown leather sofa. He wore dark trousers and a T-shirt with a picture of Maradona on the front. He was swarthy and unshaven and was snoring steadily. ‘I’m sorry,’ said Clovis to the woman who had wheeled herself in front of the television. ‘I didn’t mean to disturb you.’ ‘Don’t mind him’ she said. ‘That’s Simon. He works nights. Make us some tea,’ she said then. ‘The kitchen’s there. You’d be quicker than me. You’ll find everything you need on the counter. Milk’s in the fridge. I take two sugars.’ A week later. The ride finished, back in the café. Marina still behind the counter, beautiful as ever. This time, Clovis had a latte. When it came there was the shape of a heart in the creamy froth on the surface. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘She fancies me.’ ‘They always do that,’ said Norman. ‘It’s not special for you. ‘So you say,’ said Clovis. ‘So you say.’ ‘You’re obsessed,’ said Andrew. ‘Why not?’ said Clovis. ‘Might as well be obsessed about something.’ ‘Any joy?’ said Norman. ‘With Marina?’ said Clovis. ‘No chance.’ ‘Not Marina. You’ve got no hope there. You’d have more luck with Lord Lucan. Any joy with the mysterious Solomon?’ ‘Lucan’s dead,’ said Andrew. ‘Forget Lucan! Jesus. Any joy with Solomon?’ ‘Yeah,’ said Clovis. ‘And?’ ‘I found him.’ ‘And? Christ, this is like pulling teeth.’ ‘Sorry’, said Clovis. He ordered toast. The girl brought it over; not Marina – she cooked, she didn’t serve. It came on a square plate, two slices of sourdough bread, lightly toasted, a pat of butter, a little glass dish of jam. He spread the butter on one of the slices. He had to scrape, the butter was hard. ‘You never get enough butter,’ he said. ‘Ask for more,’ said Norman. ‘You can always ask for more.’ ‘You never do that,’ said Clovis. ‘You never ask for more butter. That’s one of the rules.’ He took a bite of toast and chewed it carefully. ‘Mmmmmm,’ he said. ‘I found him. I got a subscription to 192 and got the address; it’s in Streatham, like I said. No phone number, just the address.’ ‘So, what are you gonna do?’ said Andrew. ‘I’ve done it. I went round there, knocked on the door.’ ‘And?’ ‘It wasn’t him.’ ‘What? It’s gotta be him,’ said Andrew. ‘It’s such an unusual name; same age, local, everything.’ ‘It doesn’t gotta be him, and I’m telling you, it wasn’t him. It was his brother. Twin brother.’ ‘Twin brother?’ said Norman. ‘I didn’t know he had a brother. Is he a cyclist?’ ‘Funnily enough,’ said Clovis. ‘No. He’s done a bit but mostly he’s a runner.’ ‘So, where’s Solomon? Did you find that out?’ ‘Yeah, I had a long chat with Simon, he’s the brother. And his grandmother, she lives there, she’s disabled, has disabilities, I mean. Simon remembered the club, said Solomon used to talk about it a lot. And about Wiggins. Crits at the Palace, club rides, races on the rollers, in the clubhouse, the Brighton run, evening 10s, everything, open 25, everything. He said Solomon went back to Macedonia in 1999; their parents were ill. He carried on cycling. Won a few races, just amateur stuff, road races, mostly. He was in the army. He coulda been a contender, said Simon. And then he got killed, in 2001.’ ‘Oh,’ said Norman. ‘Oh’, said Andrew. ‘How,’ said Clancy, speaking for the first time. ‘Land mine,’ said Clovis. ‘He was mine clearing in Serbia. Missed one, obviously. Killed instantly.’ ‘Oh,’ said Clancy. ‘He was a good cyclist.’ ‘But his brother wants to get back into cycling,’ said Clovis. ‘Simon. He wants to join the club. He’s going to come out on Saturday. He’s still got one of Solomon’s bikes. Steel.’ ‘That’s good,’ said Clancy. ‘He’d be good, it’s in the genes. How old is he now?’ ‘Same age as Solomon would have been,’ said Clovis. ’They were twins, don’t forget. 38.’ ‘Good,’ said Norman. Marina was at the sink, washing cups. Clovis looked at her; she looked nice from the back. Looked nice from the front too. An elderly couple came into the café and sat down. The man took a kindle out of his pocket and started reading. The woman started knitting. They didn’t talk. The man signalled to Marina, obviously regulars; she started the coffee machine. ‘Who wants more tea?’ said Andrew. ‘Go on then,’ said Clovis. ‘And shortbread. Get me shortbread.’  

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