In Italy, I learned, they do it differently. They have a civilised, communal solution. Cycling through a town or village, the call goes out: ‘acqua!’
The drinking water fountain has been spotted. The group roll in, clip out, and fill bottles. These reliable sources of mid-ride refreshment, appearing just when you need them, necessitate the carrying of just one bottle, no matter how far you ride.
They pop up in France and elsewhere too but not, generally, in the UK.
And so it was that one recent Wednesday evening a group of three of us found ourselves out in the sticks, around 9pm, twenty miles from home, and without water.
Fifty post-work miles were already in the legs. Throats were dry. Local shops were shut. Italian public drinking fountains were a thousand miles south-east.
And then, mercifully, the call went out: ‘pub!’
The Smithy Inn appeared to save the day. We rolled in, clipped out, and I clacked into the bar with three bottles requiring a refill. My riding companions waited outside, stretching limbs and talking nonsense.
Can I be cheeky and get some tap water?
A waiter wandered past with plates of pub food. Locals drinking and chatting. And me, sweaty, Lycra-clad and self-conscious. Ruining the ambience.
Very aware of the sweat patch around my arse crack and the fidgeting need to, ahem…‘re-arrange’ the front of my shorts.
Eyes were on me.
Should I order a pint, out of politeness?
Maybe crack a joke about my sweaty bum?
Another waiter strolled past, a plate of home-made pie in one hand and a vast fish and chips in the other.
Right now, as the cyclist ordering tap water, I’m risking a diplomatic incident. I can feel the tension. Maybe I should ask for pints of ale in the drinks bottles? Perhaps order something from the specials board to slip in the jersey pocket and nibble on the way home?
Then we become paying punters and the tension is broken. Free to wear Lycra in the pub with impunity and scratch the body parts of our choosing. How much do I need to spend to assume the status of paying customer?
I’m not sure of the etiquette here.
Three brim-full bottles are plonked on the bar.
Erm…I’ll have a Kit Kat as well please.
(Image: Nationaal Archief [No restrictions])