On the first Scarboro Naked Bike Ride and an introduction to the walking enigma that is Blind Giles

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Blind Giles told me long ago about the plans for Scarborough's first naked bike ride. But, ever the pragmatist, he always has his reasons for asking.
"Maybe you'd like to... come along, Sherwood. It could be fun. And you could block off roads and be in charge of filming it all for me." I've never been one to turn down bizarre invitations. Besides, the prospect of seeing how the people of my hometown react to gratuitous nudity was a good one.  

Now, I've met Blind Giles at the Esplanade and he's here marshalling the other riders, many of whom he's already familiar with.

"What did you think of Bristol", asks one. "Too short? Yeah it should be a bit longer like Brighton."

"Did you hear what happened at Naked Bike Ride Paris?" asks another, as I pull Blind Giles aside - he's already naked and sporting a glittering gold anonymous mask and black shades - and ask for a photo of him.

"Can you believe this?" he whispers in a mischievous undertone. "But I'm so stressed about organising it that I won't be able to enjoy it and soak it all in. That's why I bought this last week," and he's got a GoPro strapped to his baseball cap, "It's 4k... the best quality you can buy."

He starts it recording and walks over to chat to his cohorts. "Hi!" he says to a mature blonde lady, in an uncharacteristically friendly and officious tone. "Are you joining us on the ride this afternoon??"

Most of the riders are ready, except Spengler, a young man with platinum white hair, who seems to be having some doubts.

"I mean, I am a naturist, but I'm not sure if people in this town are ready for it..." he looks over the sea and into the distance, fretfully. "Oh", he says, noticing that another man is stripping off. "Well, Jim's taking it all off, so I'll do it."

A man with military bearing called Stewart reads the rules of the ride, which drag on for 10 minutes, through a megaphone that makes obnoxious siren-type noises, then, once every possible eventuality has been covered, we're off.

Blind Giles asks me to count the riders. I drop to the back of the line and lurk there for a while like a slave driver, before following the parade of saggy arses and white pot bellies all the way to the top. There are only 3 women. They are all dressed in leggings and a bra.

"There's 24, not including me."

"Right, cheers," says Blind Giles, as two women holding 99-style ice creams give the first of many excited titters that we will hear throughout the day.

"Are you our photographer?" asks Thin Mick with a warm smile. "Maybe you should keep to the road rather than the footpath."

I smile in return but don't answer, fully intent on remaining free to have the best angle for photographs.

"Yeah", continues Thin Mick. "It's probably best to stay on the road."

I continue free-wheeling down the wide footpath, faster now, and one-handed, and hear Thin Mick pleading to Blind Giles. "I'm not sure if your friend heard me... I was saying it's probably a bit dangerous to ride on the pavement."

"Err yeah I'll tell him," he replies in a distracted voice.

It's all downhill at the moment, and we're descending to the foreshore, where crowds of people, many of them families, are enjoying a normal seaside afternoon.

"Police van ahead at 11 o'clock, lights flashing for some reason, everyone on guard," says Spengler into a walkie-talkie.

"Message received." comes the crackly reply from Stewart at the back.

But it's nothing to do with us, and our crew finally arrive outside the packed amusement arcades like a medieval marching band, all blowing horns and billowing flags, hailing passers by with a 'HELLOHHH MADAME' here and a 'WORLD NAKED BIKE RIDE!' there.

The face of a woman with rosy-red cheeks has frozen in time, her mouth standing agape, waiting for a sausage roll that will never arrive. An old lady retches into her coffee and glares at her elderly husband, as if to imply that, somehow, this is all his fault, and a cheeky-faced man with thinning hair gelled flat onto his head assumes, perhaps, that he's the only one with enough presence of mind to yell WAAAAHEEEYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!

All in all, the reactions are relatively mild, and the people of Scarborough seem to be seeing the funny side of it. We're outside the chalets after the Spa complex, this is the second break we've had already, and Stewart is pulling Blind Giles aside, saying to him, in a conspiratorial tone, "I've noticed that we have a rider, not mentioning any names, who is having trouble with his gears, and going into neutral A LOT." The rider in question is one of the few that aren't naked, one of the few without a GoPro camera strapped to his head. I wonder why he's doing the ride.

Thin Mick and Spengler pick up on the whispering and stalk over to take part.

"I don't want to ban him, but if he's waving around everywhere on the road it's dangerous, and maybe we should speak with him."

"He needs a better bike. We did explain all this on the Wiki pages."

"I don't think he's right for our bike ride, to be honest."

Blind Giles looks concerned at the excessive authoritarianism on display.

"Well if he can keep up, it's fine isn't it, and if he falls behind, that's also fine."

As the Council of Cocks hold their muttered conference, I can't help but notice, just within this small group, that there's been a fair amount of obsessional behavior on display already. The fretting, the repetitive, compulsive statements, the comforting joy of explaining and re-explaining procedures, the GoPro cameras attached to helmets, filming every second of presumably every ride that they travel up and down the country to do. Rather than a means of being free and letting go, it appears that being naked in public, at least for these men, is the ultimate means of taking control and commanding attention. Why else would they have the blow horns, the bells and the whistles?

"Yeah, I don't think that stop was entirely necessary," says one of the older men at the back, as we set off again, but what they don't know is that Blind Giles has plenty more of those surprises up his metaphorical sleeve.

"I just want to make sure that everyone has a chance to rest and take on fluids," he says with the air of a practiced spin doctor. When it comes to Blind Giles, the devil, as always, is in the malleable detail, but he betrays it for a second as two young women pass, giggling uncontrollably, and he has a quick glance downwards, a glance that is a little too protracted, designed to give his GoPro time to register what he sees in glorious 4k definition.

We're cycling back along the same stretch of beach, and having a spate of aggressive and negative reactions.

"What ya DOIN??" demands an incredulous male voice.

"Put it away!" demands another.

"Get it out!" shoots back Tania, one of the more relaxed female riders.

"Well I think it's disgusting,' says a tall lady with pursed lips. 'And really rude. I notice the women aren't naked, just the mucky old men."

"You're free to strip off and make up the numbers if you like love," replies Stewart.

An overweight girl in a tracksuit booms "I don't wanna see it mate, it's disgustin!" addressing no particular one person. As if to emphasise her disgust, she tilts her chin toward the floor and spits, but the saliva leaks so feebly from her lips that a stream of it ends up circumnavigating the globe of her second chin.

"Why ya doin' that?" the girl's friend shouts after the group. "People could get raped and allsorts."

The mature blonde in the bra has slowed down, allowing her partner to catch up to her, saying uncomfortably "I don't wanna be near the front anymore... I preferred it when we were behind them all." An overweight rider called Cockney Bill is beginning to loudly question the logistics of the ride.

"Why are we cammin back along 'ere?? That's the third time now."

We're heading towards the North Bay, and there's a queue of cars stuck behind us.

"Well, if we weren't stopping traffic before, we sure are now!" says Stewart with a hearty laugh.

A woman with a long pointy nose purses her lips judgmentally and asks 'why would you want to do THAT?'
I ask Spengler how he would answer that question.
"Well..." he begins, in a practiced tone. "The naked bike ride is about using our bodies to make ourselves seen, to promote the idea that cyclists should be seen and should be safe on the road. After all, a bike has no emissions compared to a car, or even worse, a diesel car. When people ask me why I do it, I explain to them how I was run over by a police car when I was fourteen, and..."
Spengler is warming to the subject but Blind Giles' is gesturing for us to turn right and then turn back on ourselves into the town, and the new instructions are causing more discord with the stragglers.
"What are we doin?" asks Cockney Bill. "Why are we fakkin abaat again?"
"Just gonna do another short stop," replies Blind Giles, but I know exactly why we're stopping - unbeknownst to the others - this is Blind Giles' street, and he has no intention of wasting the opportunity to create a glorious spectacle outside of his very doorstep. Even when the police rubber-stamped the proposed route of the ride, but suggested that the group don't go down this particular street 'because it has a drug problem at the bottom end', Blind Giles simply palmed off the suggestion on the basis that 'we won't go too far down the road, we'll just turn around here.' The ambiguous, reassuring statement that is then stretched to breaking point. Another of BG's psych-ops techniques for getting what he wants, when he wants.

Blind Giles is striding around confidently in his gold mask, assuring the potential mutineers that we had to stop here because 'this is an official stop'. His bike is down on the floor and it looks like we're going to be here for a while. Other riders are clearly uncomfortable, and haven't yet dismounted. Blind Giles' landlady has come out of the front door, and is taking pictures of us, but isn't smiling. Tania waves back, but the landlady simply points at her and screams in reply, like a grim, toothless banshee.
Meanwhile I turn around and make eye contact with a talking man who is wielding an empty bottle of White Lightning and sporting a scraggly, greying beard. It's this kind of guy that the police were warning Blind Giles about, and now he's here, he's found us, and he's pressed up against the wrought iron railings and in the middle of asking me 'do you know what I mean mate? I mean, what is all this? Why's it all men? If I were gonna ask you one thing mate, just one thing that you can do for me next time, Ah'd just like to see more WOMEN, more TITS. Is that alright mate? More WOMEN, more TITS. Do you know what ah mean? More WOMEN. More TITS. Is that too much to ask like? Does anyone wanna buy any DRAW by tha way? No? You're not interested are ya? But why are there only twohthree women? Listen, all o'ya. MORE. WOMEN. MORE. TITS.
The square is now full of people looking on from behind their garden walls. "This is fucking amazing", Blind Giles mutters in my ear, before picking up his bike. As I turn around to face him I notice a quiet old man that I hadn't seen before. His face is contoured with ancient worry lines, and he's gripping onto his bike with a pained and sheepish expression on his face. I look down and see a chub-on in the ascendancy, snaking up the frame of his bicycle like a bean vine. Nobody else seems to have noticed.

It looks like we're finally leaving the crescent after a good ten minutes of posturing, and BG is asking everyone to leave the grassy area via the exit closest to his apartment, and to exit the long way around the square. "Why don't we just leave from the closer one?" asks one of the men who has thus far been a silent participant, whilst shaking his head, and the feeling of mutiny is becoming something physical that is etched on many faces.

As we cycle away the White Lightning man, like a dog, becomes emboldened and more aggressive once we're in flight, and begins to shout his mantra so loud that it volleys and cracks between the two rows of apartments. "Ay! Where ya goin? Ah said more WOMEN, more TITS! Do you hear meh? MORE WOMEN, MORE FUCKIN' TITS! I'M A TIT MAN, NOT A KNOB MAN! MORE WOMEN, AND MORE, FUKKIN, TITS!!!!! I shoot one last glance at the crescent before I round the corner and it looks for all the world like Jubilee Day; neighbours that rarely talk to each other out in the street, arranged in animated huddles, enjoying the summer sun and snapping photographs on their little Japanese cameras.

We start up the last hill, ready to drop down steeply through the cobbled streets and snickleways of the old fishing town, and back, again, to the busy amusement arcades.
"Awww, fa FACKS sake!" screeches Cockney Bill, clearly defeated now. "Look how fakkin' steep this is! It's fair enough if you're a lad of twenty-five or thirty, but I'm fifty-fakkin-five and it's not fakkin' fair." He stops cycling and falls behind. Blind Giles is already careering into the bottom-end of Scarborough, sunlight reflecting in sharp beams from his mask, tensing his arse and legs into tight turns like some kind of mounted Spartan warrior.

We reach more traffic lights, and Blind Giles asks me to do another headcount. 18 people. We've lost 6 of them to mutiny. Maybe they weren't such cycling enthusiasts after all?
I ask Blind Giles about this after the bike ride finishes with a round of applause under Valley Bridge. Many of the riders walk over, fully-dressed now, to thank him, but many say that it was a little bit too long, that they're not sure if they'll come back next year.
"Well, they all wanna be free to have their own way but that conflicts with others who want the freedom to have it their own way, so someone's bound to end up complaining," BG explained.
"People who like being naked probably get angry at being restricted at what they can do, so, their natural reaction to that is to become controlling or insistent on being able to do things in a certain way. I probably can shorten it a bit. Anyway, no matter what they say, if it's Manchester on the Friday, York on the Saturday and Scarborough on the Sunday, they'll probably be back again."