A very different kettle of fish

After a ropey start with Stalag 17 at Victoria Wells having gone bust, preparations had gone really well. Chris had found a new venue able to take sufficient numbers – up to eighty peeps at one stage. There was a new computerised booking system devised by Ian, and Steve had done a really good deal with the hotel. The final planning meeting was held at Ian and Lou’s, where tons of chilli, rice, bread, cakes and huge volumes of tea and coffee vanished. The four groups and rides had been put together for all three days of the trip. The T-shirts had been ordered, the run leaders and back markers were all sorted and bacon butties and liquid refreshments all organised at our new start venue at the Plough in Wheatley.

The first thing to go Pete Tong was the t-shirt company, which went bust, but luckily for us we hadn’t parted with any cash. Next it was the weather, which had at first looked as if it would be a tad on the cool side but ok. By the Thursday it had all changed, and the trip was cancelled due to dire weather warnings of snow, sleet and the start of the next ice age. Then the hotel refused to refund any of our pennies. So that was it….. or was it?

First the TVI (Thame Village Idiots, aka, Craggy, Rawlins and Bowler) Society decided they were going in Bowler’s little red Jeep regardless of the f***ing weather. This then caused a flood of bloody-mindedness, and lots of others also decided that the weather could go swivel. In the end 20+ folk turned up at the hotel – none on bikes, thank God! Normal service resumed as everyone assembled in the bar, and tales of daring-do abounded. If Scott had had some of this lot with him he would have had no trouble beating that Amundsen guy to the pole.

So what to do on the Saturday? Step forward our intrepid mountain guide Richard Tickner. ‘Let’s go on a moderate to easy walk up the nearby mountain’ said the mountain man. ‘That sounds like a good shout’, said some hardy folk. The TVI didn’t like the sound of it as walking was involved. “Walking – that’s what you do when you get off your bike and go into the shop for your paper, baccy and Rizlas. Quite far enough for me to walk thank you very much!” said Rawlings. They did agree to walk into the town…

Other more sensible folk ventured off into bandit country of Anglesey to see some standing stones and to try to find Druids and male-voice choirs. They found the stones, but the Druids and the choirs had all buggered off to Australia to find some warm weather. I don’t know what the rest got up to, it’s probably safer not to ask.

Meanwhile Richard’s happy band had reached the Electric Mountain. This is a visitor centre for the Dinorwic power station. It’s billed as the world’s fastest-reacting power station, and is capable of supplying the national grid with power within twelve seconds of being asked for some volts and amps. This is all down to superior Welsh technology involving bucketloads of water and a big hole in the mountain to pour it all down. We watched a short video about how it was all made, the cost (£450 million), and how long it took to build (ten years). Then we went on the bus down into the bowels of the mountain, (do mountains have bowels?), to see the workings and some volts and amps, huge valves and spinning monster shafts, and some of the biggest dynamos I’ve ever seen.

Then there was another video in case anyone had fallen asleep during the first one, then we went back above ground to what passes for the normal world in these northern latitudes. All the English people (seisnegs we call them in Wales) believed the story about the water, and the amps and volts. How silly – everyone knows that you can’t have electricity and water in close proximity – try turning on your two-bar electric fire and chucking it in the bath and you’ll see what I mean. The truth is the hole in the mountain is where the red dragon lives. Y Ddraig Goch is his proper name, except on weekends when he’s called Colin. All the electricity is down to his fiery breath after dining at Mifanw Patel’s all-night curry house and fish bar. Some apprentice dragons live there as well, and they go to work every day disguised as camels, doing a shift in Ivor the Engine’s boiler.

Richard led us off for our second adventure, issued crampons and roped us all together for our “moderate walk” up the outside of the dragon’s lair, and off we went. Part way up the mountain, after pausing for some oxygen and Yak’s milk, I’m sure I spotted the ghostly figures of Hillary and Tensing waving at us through the driving snow and shouting for what sounded like the Kenny Everett character, Cupid Stunt. Soon we were a little bit uncertain of our position, or “lost” as some would say.

The party split into two factions, both certain that they knew the way. At this point Duncan technically overtook the run leader to scout ahead, so we all made a mental note for later. After much to-ing and fro-ing between the two groups we were sorted out by two locals, who said that if we carried on it would all get very bad with knee-deep snow drifts (big problem for Lou), big holes and a mountainside to fall down. They probably thought that we were all the Kenny Everett character as well.

After about one second of careful consideration we called Duncan back from his trek across the crevasse-strewn glacier, and headed back down the mountain to what passes for civilisation. We made it back to base camp for our next adventure, getting stuck into tea, coffee and cake in the honey and wine shop, which also sold mead. We tasted quite a lot of mead, as everyone kept pretending that they couldn’t remember which was which.

We thought we should then buy some mead as we had tasted about half the shop’s stock, and wobbled back to the hotel. It was a bit like being on holiday in Greece, except it was so bloody cold – you know when you try retsina, think it’s great, and when you get home it tastes like paraffin with horse piss in it. When I’ve summoned the courage to try the mead again I’ll let you know.

The TVI were back after their adventure, where they saw a lot of the back of a snow plough and the JCB that came to dig out the snow plough. What they did for the rest of the day is shrouded in mystery and swirling snow, but I’m sure I spotted some threads of sheep’s wool caught on the tailgate of the little red Jeep…

More of the same old stuff in the hotel – masses of booze and food, banter, exaggeration and downright lies, followed by yet more booze and an early night at half-one on Sunday morning. As it was 7Ws we had to have a go at the wooden spoon awards, but we couldn’t award proper wooden ones because we weren’t on bikes, so it was decided to award Duncan a virtual wooden spoon for technically overtaking the run leader.

It was a very different 7Ws, but extremely enjoyable with plenty of craic. A big thank you to all who braved the weather to get there. See some or all of you again next time.

The Cardiff Kid