The town of Hawes (pronounced, a single guttural syllable…whores!) in the Yorkshire Dales is one of those tourist honeypots.
Bored couples drag their kids up and down to kill an afternoon. They pop to the creamery, where Wensleydale Cheese is made, negotiating wall-to-wall Wallace and Gromit and hoovering up the free samples.
They mull over the word ‘creamery’, finding it to be weird and unsettling, and resolve not to take the kids there again.
Then they head home.
If I’m in Hawes I’m on my bike and deep into a Big Day™. Legs aching from the refusal of the Dales landscape to acknowledge the concept of ‘flat.’ It drapes itself across God’s own earth in a twisting, lumpy line of most resistance.
I have never been in Hawes and not had tired legs.
It plays out like this: I roll into town the thick end of forty miles from home; I prop my bike and clack my way into one of the twee tea rooms on offer; I order something hot and wet with a slice of something moist and fruity on the side; and I text my wife with the breaking (and ever hilarious) news that I’m ‘in whores.’
Oh, how we (I) laugh.
The town is also chock-a-block with paunchy, leather clad motorbikers. They leave the tea-rooms to the likes of me and gather, clunkily rocking on limbs pinned by metal plates, outside greasy-spoon caffs. Eating full-English and admiring each other’s throbbing machines.
We (cyclists and bikers) sometime overlap, and speak, but it’s awkward and lacking in rules. We (cyclists) wonder about the wisdom of a leather jacket on a twenty-five-degree sunny day, they (bikers) work hard not to linger on our shaved legs and Lycra.
Conversation no better than a stilted Zoom call over cheap WiFi.
Except, you may have heard, there’s a lockdown on. This Truman Show TV-set town has been stripped of its actors and their stage. AKA the cafes are shut. The cyclists and bikers, shorn of defensible territory, are forced to improvise a workable form of co-existence.
I find a shady tree and whip out a foil pack of jam butties from a jersey pocket. They stand, rocking on their heels, Mars Bars and thermos tea propped against chests. The neutral territory of the village green proving something of a leveller.
I am overly aware of the tightness of my shorts. They, with sedentary bodies built for bike and caff, don’t know where to put themselves. Some attempt casual Cleopatra-acts of drapery amongst the trees and dappled sunlight.
Tension hangs in the air like virus droplets.
It’s enough to ruin my lunch.