The Bad Tempered Balloon Man

by Matt Triewly

In the summer I turned twenty I was on a cycling holiday with a chum called Steve. The plan was that we would catch the train to East Kent, stay at the youth hostel in Doddington on the first night and then cycle back to Portsmouth over a week in stages using youth hostels....

As I'm writing this, I'm recalling long steep hills, drizzle, exhaustion but also beautiful days, the smell of the country, that pungent odour of fresh rain on hot tarmac, the wind in my hair and the sun on my back. Also, chatting to interesting people who we would never see again plus the novelty of waking up in a different location each day.

Anyway, Steve had carefully worked out our route beforehand, using specialist maps, which avoided main roads and skirted around hills. We had booked the youth hostels in advance and also made sure our bikes were sound mechanically. We only took the minimum of clothes and other essentials like tools which were packed tight into waterproof panniers. In addition, we'd made sure we were fit enough for the enterprise by going on long bike rides for a couple of months before. What could go wrong?

Well, the truth of the matter is that nothing really did go wrong apart from a puncture Steve sustained around about Cosham - he merely wheeled his bike back to the ferry instead of riding it.

Was it a coming of age trip with 'boys' facing adversity and character-building encounters to become 'men'? Well, no; I was no longer a virgin as I was in a relationship with Claudia who now lived on the mainland. As for Steve he was a virgin and still about a year from meeting his wife whom he would be totally faithful and loyal to.

Was it a journey of 'self-discovery'? No, we both knew what kind of people we were; though in my case I wasn't quite prepared to reveal the complete extent of my kinks at that point in my life.

So, the trip couldn't be remade as a Mike Leigh play or even turned into a film like Deliverance where a couple of cyclists make a wrong turn and stumble across some nasty country types doing something they shouldn't in the woods...

Na, none of the above. But there is one incident I do remember, and it is kind of funny - now. Okay, I have to be honest, though I'm a fairly pleasant person most of the time I can when tired and frustrated get grumpy and bad tempered and there were times on the trip when I got grumpy and bad tempered and swore a lot and even stamped my little feet. Now, when I did Steve would just stand there patiently and wait for me to calm down before we would carry on. He was a nice fella. Having said that I never stayed bad tempered for long; it was always a sudden squall for me - still is. Anyway, I only 'lost my rag' a few times whilst Steve remained cool. However, there was one occasion when we had taken the wrong turning and gone several miles off our route before discovering we had. Now, on that particular day it was raining quite heavily, was fairly windy and we had both put our waterproofs on. After a couple of miles, I was really wet with sweat so I took them off and carried on in just shorts and a t-shirt; I'd be soaked whatever. Steve had opted for keeping his on. So, we were stopped in this road in the middle of nowhere, rain pelting down, whilst Steve fished in his pannier for the map. Once he'd managed to open it (it was the size of an Ordinance Survey map and as unwieldy) he'd then sworn and said, "Fuck, we've gone about seven miles out of our way. We should have taken that road there. We can get back on route by taking the next left turn, but we've still wasted time and energy cycling a lot of miles we needn't have. What a bloody day to have gone the wrong fucking way."

I could see he was more cross with himself than anything as he prided himself upon meticulous planning. He then proceeded to attempt to fold the map up but as he did the wind kept blowing it out. Of course, the longer he tried the stronger the wind blew and frustrated his attempts even more. Finally driven to a brief bout of temper he just screwed the map up into a ball and stuffed it back into his pannier. For some reason seeing the normally calm Steve getting rather rattled amused me; though I did attempt to supress a grin. We then mounted our bikes and proceeded with our journey but not for long as there was a loud crunching sound as Steve's chain leapt off the cogs and jammed into the sprockets. This was just the last straw for Steve who jumped of his bike and threw it to the ground before giving the prone beast a good kicking. The best of it was that the wind had now blown up his orange waterproofs giving him the appearance of a 'balloon man'. I don't know what the odd passing motorist would have thought having seen him, but I just burst out laughing. Steve realising I was laughing then angrily responded by shouting at me: "You FUCKING fat cunt, in all the times I've stood there whilst you had a tantrum and I never said a thing and the first time I lose my temper and you laugh your fucking head off. You CUNT!"

When he said that I just laughed even more.

It was a classic moment.

After a few minutes he did calm down and we carried on. But only after he'd taken his waterproofs off and sorted his chain out.

Oh, well, happy memories...

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