I RECENTLY returned invigorated from a French cycling holiday with my husband and two friends. I’m a bit jaded about holidays these days and don’t expect much, but this was a roaring success. We were based around Chinon in the Loire Valley and, with baguettes sticking out of our saddlebags, we biked through fields of sunflowers, melons, apples, pears and vines to reach spectacular châteaux. It was sunny and breezy, and our fitness improved by the day. Best of all were the cycling paths built on the levees of the Loire.
Along these flat-topped flood defences, we crackled on the fine sandy surface, with flashes of the river appearing through hedgerows, and trees closing overhead to form long cool tunnels. We passed old fishing communities from which the river had receded, and people selling tomatoes from their gardens. It was easy to go excitingly fast because the bikes were in good order and the ground was level. I was astonished by how far you could go, just under your own steam. There was no traffic to fear, not a camion in sight, only fellow cyclists who passed with a jolly ‘Bonjour!’. It was gorgeous. I can’t wait to go again.
Galvanising too, was the advice from the representative of the holiday company who, on learning that none of us had cycled much since childhood, intoned: ‘I recommend a precautionary application of antiseptic cream to the entire crotch area.’
‘Indeed,’ murmured my husband. ‘And so you might, matey.’
At home, we have five Cotswold sheep, and one is a castrated ram named Roger. I’ve told my husband that I’m keeping Roger for mutton, but this is a lie. He isn’t going anywhere, because I like him, and he earns his keep as an ace mower. Recently, he’s been hampered by a sore foot, which is caused by a malodorous, cheesy-looking condition called scald. This is treated by trimming and the use of a special spray from the vet, and Roger is exceptionally obliging, picking his feet up daintily like a pony for the farrier. I didn’t have to struggle to get him to co-operate, so I was surprised the next day to find that my shoulder was uncomfortable, and that a ghastly pain shot through it as I turned over in bed that night.
Two days later, I went to Yorkshire TV, to appear as the light relief in Dictionary Corner on Countdown. By then, the pain in my right arm was dire, a great lump had appeared on the front of my shoulder, and I was reduced to carrying my arm before me, like a handbag. It was awful.
Countdown kindly arranged a lunchtime dash to a Leeds physiotherapist, where I was slotted in between an athletic black man and a mightily enhanced blonde, both suffering from whiplash injuries. My problem was identified as a tame-sounding inflamed tendon, but the rest of the day passed in a fog of pain. Any Countdown fans watching these programmes when they are aired in November can recognize me by my dead eyes and pasted-on smile. I always scoffed at the term ‘frozen shoulder’, joking that it described someone who had stayed too long in the fridge. Not any more.
Thankfully, it improved, and I started a 21-date tour with performances in the beautiful Borders and Lake District. Finding I had packed too little, I was trying on a top in Marks and Spencer in Kendal, when I heard from an adjacent cubicle the plaintive voice of an elderly lady appealing to the assistant: ‘I’ll have to ask you to help me, dear,’ she said, weakly. ‘I’ve got such a painful shoulder.’ Afire with compassion, it was all I could do not to wrench back her curtain and button up that cardi myself. Oh yes, those of us with rogered shoulders have to help each other.
Our son, after years of anticipation, bought himself a fine black labrador bitch, intending to transform her into the gun dog of his dreams. Sadly, she has turned out to be of a very nervous disposition, and is particularly alarmed by the ping of the toaster:
Our labrador is frightened of the toaster,
When we use it, she is paralysed with fright,
And it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference,
Whether we use wholemeal, granary or white.
We used to hope she’d scare away intruders,
And bark at burglars; that would have been nice,
But no, we have to put our arms around her,
And say: ‘Don’t worry, only one more slice!’
Pam Ayres’ latest book, ‘The Works: The Classic Collection’, has just been republished in a new illustrated hardback edition by BBC Books at £14.99, and her latest audio CD, ‘Pam Ayres: The Broken Woman, Studio Collection II’, has just been released by Hodder and Stoughton at £14.99