Keighley Boys' Grammar School
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Ira and the Cycling Club Outing

Full of ale late one Friday night, The Cycling Club committee decided to support a request from Keighworth Victoria Hospital.  They wanted the Club to run a sponsored cycle ride, as it was the Cycling Club’s fiftieth anniversary.  So they decided that those members who could still ride a bicycle would cycle to Skiproyd, then ride over the hill to Boltby Abbey before returning home.  A distance of roughly 25 miles.  An easy gentle run for the average fit cyclist.  And an easy money raiser for the hospital if the riders completed the course with fifty sponsors backing them for a £1 each.

However, no member of the Cycling Club had cycled seriously after the first ten years of its existence. It began life as a hut on a parcel of land picked up cheap in 1875 bang in the middle of Keighworth.  Since then, the town had flourished and had grown.  It now sprawled for miles up the Aire and Worth Valleys: over the hillside at Ruddledene; taking in Ingerworth and Utworth – once tiny hamlets.  Now like the villages of Haworth and Oakworth, they were part of the booming Borough of Keighworth.

As a result the price of the land owned by the tiny Cycling Club rose.  It went up even higher when a block of offices, banks and shops was built on it.  The Cycling Club moved from its humble hut into palatial premises on the second floor of the block.  It had its own bar and a long room with leather-upholstered seating all round the perimeter, where tables were set for the members to drink at and play dominoes and cards.  At the end furthest from the door it accommodated two full-size snooker tables, and in a side room, just off the bar, the serious card players gambled each night.

As you can imagine, cycling gradually petered out as more affluent - and corpulent  -members joined the Club.  By the turn of the century, the Cycling Club cycled in name only.  It had become a ‘gentleman’s club’; a drinking club for up-and-coming professional men, taking itself less seriously, however, than the Masonic Lodge at the other end of the block, who paid it rent.  It niggled the Masons from the start – but that’s another story.

The bandmaster of the Keighworth Silver Prize Band was a member of the Club and promised to give the twenty volunteer cyclists a right royal send-off.  Not to be outdone, when he heard of it, the mayor (a man who liked the sound of his own voice) said he’d turn up, too, and give a short speech.  The committee said that was all right as long as he remembered to keep it short and not waffle on. 

Preparations began and the occasion grew.  This was to be an anniversary no one would forget, and as it transpired no one did forget it; least of all the cyclists.  Bunting was hung across the street outside the Club.  The scouts were to provide a guard of honour and the police lined the road up to the traffic lights where the cyclists would turn off on Skiproyd Road.  On the day, the whole town turned up to cheer them off.

Clad in their shorts and belly-bulging vests, before they set off the twenty Cycling Clubbers lined up respectfully before the faded sepia photograph from fifty years before hanging over the fireplace.  There stood the original members posing like true Victorian gents alongside their ancient bicycles, including a couple of penny-farthings.  They surrounded their president, who sported a huge moustache and side whiskers, gazing proudly down on their 20th century counterparts.  They solemnly raised their glasses and toasted their predecessors before going downstairs and mounting their bikes.

Alderman William Theakstone, the mayor, wished them well and would have wished them much more, but they took off to the tune of “Hail the Conquering hero Comes!” played by the band, who marched before them to the traffic lights.  There, the band peeled off left, while the cyclists turned right to the cheers of the crowd lining the pavements.

They’d gone only two miles up the road, as far as Utworth, when Tommy Fairburn had a puncture most conveniently outside the Roebuck Inn.  It was a sunny morning and they were already warm, so while Tommy mended his puncture, they passed the time quaffing a pint outside the inn. When Tommy had had his pint they set off once more.

About three miles further on as they approached Steetham, a stray mongrel dog began to harass them, barking loudly and snapping at their heels.  Harry Barker lashed out at it with his foot, lost his balance and fell off. He gashed his knee and while some of them pelted the wretched dog with stones, the others attended to Harry’s wound.

This happened two hundred yards before the Goat’s Head pub into which Harry limped to get some first-aid.  The rest followed, and while mine host bandaged Harry’s leg, his friends drank a sympathetic glass of ale.  When his leg was bandaged he re-joined them for a glass of whisky – just to numb the pain.

Well fortified they set off yet again for Skiproyd, but had to make a detour off the main road, up a quiet country lane near Southam as nature began to call.  About a mile up the lane and well away from public view, they parked their bikes against a wall and nipped over it into a field to have a much needed pee.

But no sooner had they started pumping ships when out of nowhere appeared an open-topped charabanc, full of ladies and their children from Bradford Ebenezer Chapel on their annual outing up the Dales.  As the charabanc drew level with the Clubbers, now full of good cheer and bonhomie, the cyclists raised their caps being the gentlemen they were, and continued peeing.  The good ladies were not amused.

Raised higher than the wall, they could see over it and quickly looked the other way, tut-tutting among themselves and gazing into the middle distance.  A little girl staring out of the coach enquired in a loud voice, “Mummy, what are those men doing over the wall?”  She was immediately shushed and made to face the other way.

When the coach had passed, the Cycling Clubbers buttoned up and re-mounted, heading for Southam, where a cousin of one of them kept the Black Bull.  It would have been discourteous to have passed by and in any case it was mid-day, so in they traipsed when they reached the pub.  The sun was well up and the regulars were seated outside enjoying their pints.  They were joined by twenty thirsty hungry  Keighworthians, who stayed for lunch – just six miles past the Keighworth boundary.

They were distinctly sleepy when they left, so it was agreed they’d adjourn for a nap in a hay meadow, about a mile up the lane out of the village and not far from the Skiproyd main road.  The meadow had been mown not long before and the hay was stacked in two great hayricks, sweet-smelling, comfortable and inviting.  They leaned their bikes against the wall and kipped down against the hay and it wasn’t long before they drifted into a deep sleep.  Elysium!  Warm scented hay, blue skies above with the golden sun smiling down on them.

Alas, the fickle gods looked on with envy.  Once the Clubbers were soundly asleep, they conjured up rain-clouds and opened them wide.  Within seconds the Cycling Club worthies were soaked, but so soundly did they sleep in Bacchus’ arms, they felt nothing till they woke up.  They set off for Skiproyd decidedly wet and very subdued.  But not for long.

The Snaygill Inn was just up the road and once they’d reached it. They persuaded the landlord to light a fire to dry themselves by while they drank his best ale. The afternoon was nearly gone by the time they set off with the landlord and locals waving them on their way.  Their day out was rapidly becoming an ale Odyssey.

Ira Fothergill made the mistake of eating some pickled eggs at the pub.  They were past their sell-by date and after forty minutes he felt decidedly ill.  He just had to go to the loo and stopped by a field with a hen hut in the middle.  He left his bike with the others and bolted for the hut.  He’d just about finished throwing up and bending to nature and was hitching up his shorts, when a huge Shorthorn bull lumbered from a dip in the field and saw Ira trespassing on his preserve.

Ira wondered what on earth the others were shouting about and pointing behind him.  He didn’t see the bull till it came bellowing towards him at the double.  If he’d tried to dash across the field it would have had him, so he bolted round the hut.  So did the bull.  Round and round they went till Harry Farrar yelled, “Get inside the hut, Ira!” 

While the bull was on the other side Ira skipped inside the hen hut.  Hens went squawking in all directions.  Their mass exit from the hut startled the bull, which backed off but stayed staring balefully at Ira who peered through the window.

Harry Farrar then had the bright idea of luring the bull away.  He climbed the gate at the far end of the field and shouted at the bull, dancing up and down waving his red jersey like a matador.  The bull turned and charged towards him, urged on by those looking over the wall.  Harry kept his nerve till the brute was well clear of the hut.  Then, when it was only yards away, he vaulted quickly over the gate and re-joined the others.

Ira left the hut covered in hen muck and feathers and ran to the wall, clambering over it as the bull returned from the gate.  All of them, Ira included, mounted and rode off at a great pace, leaving the bull to vent his rage bellowing and hoofing up great clods of earth.  They could still hear him ranting two miles away when they stopped at the Craven Arms for a final noggin while Ira tidied himself up.  They stayed there some time and reached Skiproyd in the dark.

It was too late to cycle back and they were too full of ale, so they went to the railway station and bought tickets to Keighworth.  The train arrive a few minutes later and they piled on board once they’d deposited their bikes in the luggage van.  They found three empty compartments and settled down to sleep as the train pulled out of the station.

It was Ira who woke first some time later as the train clanked to a halt.  He peered bleary-eyed through the window, but didn’t recognise where they were. It certainly wasn’t Keighworth Station. Not until a porter walking the length of the train called out, “Carlise!  Carlisle!” did he come to with a jerk.

 Ira jerked the window open and shouted to the porter, “Where did you say this is?”

“Carlisle,” he repeated.  “Next stop is Dumfries in Scotland.”

The Clubbers had gone onto the wrong platform at Skiproyd and were now over a hundred and fifty miles upline when they ought to have been only ten miles downline.

“For heavens’ sake don’t let the train leave till we’ve got our bikes off,” he pleaded, then rushed round waking the rest.  They tumbled out of the train and grabbed their bikes before crossing the bridge to the downline platform back to Keighworth. It was 2 o’clock in the morning and they had to wait in a cold empty station three hours for the next train south.

By the time they arrived home late the next morning, they were a very dishevelled crew and very sober.  Before they left Carlisle, Ira managed to make a phone call to the Club steward.  He wasn’t very pleased at first when he had to get out of bed at half-past two in the morning, but he saw the funny side of it when Ira explained how they came to be in Carlisle.  Their wives, however, never ever found it funny and they never let them forget it.

However, the Clubbers did raise a tidy sum for the hospital, even if they’d spent a tidy sum on ale raising it, and the mayor, who handed over the cheque to the hospital secretary, congratulated them on their splendid effort and hoped they’d repeat their success, but they never went cycling again.  The following year when they were asked to sponsor the hospital, they ran a snooker and darts competition in the Club and didn’t leave the bar. 

                                                          John Waddington-Feather ©