note: Wroxham, 25th Feb ’10

Driving past them in a car, milestones are just an off-white highlight in the hedgerow, or something else your eyes briefly stick to along with signposts, emergency telephones and dead pheasants. On a bike, milestones return to exactly what they are – solid, unchangeable distance engraved carefully into chalky granite. A point which acknowledges the time you have taken, the time you still have to take; the chiseling of the black letters into solid rock mirrors the greater change in speed. Artisan stonework to green metal sheets, embossed en masse. The slowing from mechanical acceleration to the circular pumping of thighs and pedals and revolving spokes.

Wroxham is caught. The face of the town is poor, but the wrinkled cul-de-sacs hide expensive cars, leisure boats and winnebagos. There is one large store and dozens of smaller shops, as you would expect. But again, it becomes clear that the majority of the presumably independent food and home improvement and clothes shops are actually owned by the large one; outlets, or pores: Roy’s of Wroxham, in view of Roy’s Toys, Roy’s DIY Centre, Roy’s Garden Centre, Roy’s Zone and Roy’s Children’s World. Whether the apostrophes are Roy’s or my own, it is unclear whether the children are offspring or adoptions.

Even the shops severed from Roy’s umbilical cord are bulging with a surreal confusion: a roadside hotdog and burger van sits next to a sign for Shakespeare’s, the inexplicable name for a type of fish bait; a pharmacy sells the usual colourful variety of tablets and syrups, along with discounted trips to Turkey. The single, surprisingly large pub – playing modern renditions of big-band ballads and Frank Sinatra – also incorporates a lunch and dinner service. After various items on the menu are the recognisable letters in brackets – v, for vegetarian; n, contains nuts; t, available to takeaway; but also a cryptic crossed zero, ø, which I discover means ‘may contain buckshot’. All the hallmarks of a chain restaurant offset with frayed jackets and old guns at daybreak.

Cycling back, there is a gap between the heavy breathing and the exhaustion we usually associate with it. On a bike, as with the long distance runner, heavy breathing is just a reassurance that all the physical mechanics of your body are working together – arms swing with momentum, hips turn and muscles absorb shock, the figure is propelled forward and our breath is thick and visible as sure as a chimney expels steam from an engine. Real fatigue comes when you start to constantly assume the bike chain is rubbing, your tyres are flat; when the bag on your back just wont sit right, and your eyelashes start to perform their function, catching flies and dust on the upper and lower blankets of your vision.

Uphill, I think about walking back to my bike in Wroxham. I walk past a suit and his fashionable assistant and I overhear their remark that all the houses are ‘muted, faded pink’ and I fear that my observations are the same as theirs. Judgment. The only difference is that mine are visible on the page whereas theirs are audible, which in itself is only the difference between company and solitude. So it is best, in both ways, to be silent. Breathing heavy into the milestones.


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