Sunday, 7 February 2016

Last minute change of plan means we head for the Tatsfield Bus Stop...

I often wonder if there's any end to my cockery. How foolish am I? Talk about 'engage brain before opening mouth'. Yesterday, having returned from a windy, rainy, damp ride to Westerham – see previous post – I ventured the opinion that waterproof clothing was a load of old tosh. Not waterproof in other words. I explained – to anybody who would listen – that I'd been on a wet and rainy ride wearing my waterproof clothing and that when I peeled off the trousers and my stylish Peter Storm, hooded top, the clothes underneath were still wet.

The Tatsfield Bus Stop, Sunday7 February 2016
Well, today I went out in the same waterproofs and there was no rain – we rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop (of which, more later). When I say 'we' I mean Phil and Andy and yours truly. We met at the usual place (Warlingham Green) and off we went, initially with the idea of riding to Westerham again, but Andy changed his mind and we stopped at the Tatsfield Bus Stop. But I digress. Let's get back to those waterproofs. So it wasn't raining. It was, in fact, a wonderful morning. Yes there was a few puddles left behind from overnight rain, but the skies were bright and blue, the temperature fairly mild and it was, in so many ways, perfect cycling weather.

When I reached home I took off the waterproof trousers and, lo and behold, the trousers I was wearing underneath – an old pair of brown Donnay gym trousers that had not only seen better days, but were splattered with white gloss paint from the olden days when I embraced decorating – were wet. How could this be? Not only was I wearing waterproof outer trousers, but also... it wasn't raining. And then, of course, it struck me. The dampness wasn't rain. How could it be? It was sweat. As I said earlier, there clearly is no limit to my general cockery.

Later in the day I remembered how I'd buggered up my daughter's bike while trying to fix it, so today I free-wheeled down to Cycle King, arguably the best bike shop in the Croydon area, to get it sorted. The bike was given a brakes service for under £15.00 and then I walked home with the bike and a small amount of shopping – Lurpak and some hot chocolate. I know how to live!

Andy, Phil and yours truly at the famous bus stop
Earlier in the day we'd ridden to the Tatsfield Bus Stop. It was a good ride as the weather was much improved on Saturday's rain and wind – and still very mild. The daffodils are already out and have been for a week or two.

Phil was waiting outside my front door around 0700hrs and we rode to the Green where we met Andy and headed south towards, well, initially Westerham, but then the Tatsfield Bus Stop. But you know all this as I've mentioned it earlier. We chatted about all sorts of things, one subject being push bikes powered by electric motors. Why? Surely they defeat the object – of getting some exercise.

Phil's sausage sarnies were simply the best (as always) and so were Andy's chocolate-flavoured Bel Vita biscuits. My Taste the Difference tea from Sainsbury's provided liquid refreshment and soon it was time to head home.

It was a clear day and at one point, riding along the 269, we could see the whole of Central London laid out in front of us. Andy said goodbye at Warlingham Green and Phil and I continued along the Limpsfield Road towards Sanderstead. We coasted down Church Way and then went our own way.

Andy's not going Saturday, but I'll be there and so will Phil. Andy's considering Westerham for next Sunday, which is fine by me.

Photography: both shots accompanying this post taken by Phil.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

To Westerham in the wind and rain...

Up with the lark and ready to ride. I listened to the news on radio four and then jumped out of bed and made my way to the kitchen where the kettle was filled with water and switched on; toast was placed in the toaster and milk in the saucepan – for the Shredded Wheat.

But there was rain. Well, drizzle, like a fine spray, but it didn't matter because it was warm outside. Waterproof clothing. know when somebody refers to something as 'bombproof'? Never believe them. Because anything with the word 'proof' after it is some kind of lie. I'm sure that anything described as 'bomb proof' would be blown to smithereens if somebody actually attached (and ignited) a bomb on it.

In a slightly different vein, 'stay press' anything invariably isn't; Anchor spreadable? Not always and if something is billed as waterproof – expect a soaking.
We sent this shot to Phil

I rode towards Church Way, in full waterproofs, in the wind and rain, and within a few minutes of leaving the house I was shiny. I felt and looked like the skipper of a North Sea trawler – somebody more than capable of pulling up a chair at the Skipper's Table – and, as I made slow progress up Church Way, the wind seemingly blowing me back down the street, I got wetter and wetter. The only reason I wasn't too bothered was because it was mild, not cold, and the truth of the matter was quite simple to understand: while I was certainly getting wet, the best word – or phrase – to describe it was probably 'a little damp'. Later, when I reached home (at 1010hrs) and peeled off the waterproofs, I had damp trousers underneath, but they weren't wet. Well, alright, they were wet, but I wasn't soaked through is what I'm saying.

Andy was waiting for me at the Green and when he mentioned Westerham – following on from a Facebook comment by yours truly pointing to the fact that I'd been eating too many cakes and biscuits during the week – I admit that I was astonished. Westerham? The northern Kent market town? I couldn't remember the last time we rode there. Andy reckoned it was about a year ago and I've yet to check the exact date. He's probably right.

We decided to get our heads down and ride along the 269, past Botley Hill, past the Tatsfield Bus Stop and down the hill into Westerham. The wind and rain continued, but it wasn't too bad. The rain was still little more than a fine drizzle and the worst thing was the wind. Eventually the rain eased off. We passed a jogger who was travelling in the opposite direction. "At least I'm going this way," she remarked cheerily, alluding to the fact that she had a tailwind while we had to endure a full-on headwind. "We'll have a headwind coming back too," said Andy cynically as we pushed on.

Some people really are slovenly. What idiot, I wondered, had spilt brightly-coloured Dulux paint not only at intervals along the 269, but also further along Clarks Lane as we made our descent into Westerham. How long that paint will be splattered on the 269's cycle lane and Clarks Lane is anybody's guess, but it looks a right mess and it ruins the look of the countryside.

Westerham hadn't changed a bit. The Costa Coffee had its windows boarded up and was closed after the accident over Christmas. Avid readers might recall that a car careened out of control off of the road and through a window of the coffee retail outlet, injuring many and killing an old lady of 70 years old. We noticed a few bunches of flowers left outside as we made our way past, heading in the direction of Churchill's statue on the green.

Everything was wet and there was nowhere to sit down so we stood there, drinking tea and munching Belvita biscuits. And yes, you did hear correctly, I've signed up to Facebook under my real name – Matthew Moggridge – where I've also set up a NoVisibleLycra page. But why I bothered I'll never know. Social media, as I've said many times before, is a complete and utter waste of time. I've been on Linkedin since 2009 and since then I've had ONE job interview (not that I'm looking). As for this blog, it's purely for my own pleasure (I love writing and I've enjoying writing everything I've written on these pages). Once I decided to 'monetise' the blog and guess what? A few ads appeared, but I never made a single penny. And now, for some ridiculous reason, I've signed up to Facebook.

We chatted about Top Gear. We both feel that Chris Evans won't pull it off – or rather he'll pull it off, in his own way, but he won't be able to recreate the magic of Messrs. Clarkson, May and Hammond. His biggest mistake would be trying to recreate what Clarkson and Co. created. And what the hell is Matt Le Blanc doing on the show? The strange thing about him is the fact that he's nothing like Joey from Friends. Now I know that's kind of obvious – he was, after all, acting – but I think people expect him to be Joey and he's not, he's quieter and considerably more reserved. Andy says they have an old 'stig' on the show too. Well, again, an 'old' Stig – a leftover from the glory days of Clarkson, May and Hammond. I'd love it to work for Chris Evans, I really would, but I'm still suffering withdrawal symptoms over Clarkson's departure.

The rain eased off early on in the ride and for most of the outward journey it was just wet tarmac and roadside puddles – not good if you don't have mudguards, but at least I had the waterproofs.

Reluctantly we mounted the bikes and rode out of Westerham. It's a long haul from the town to the bottom of the hill, but the hill itself isn't too bad. The problem is that it continues, naggingly, all the way to Botley Hill and beyond before we're able to settle in to a smooth ride along the 269 to Warlingham Green.

When I was a kid I remember pretending my bike was a train and that I was the driver. I made up mythical stations and pretended that kerbsides were platforms. The stations were named after some characteristic of the road, so if there was a plum tree the station was called Plumbury. Now, as I prepared to race past the Tatsfield Bus Stop without stopping I found myself imagining once again that I was driving a train, the non-stop Westerham to Sanderstead train that went through a station called Tatsfield Bus Stop. Silly, I know, but there you have it.

It's quite odd imagining things to be something they're not. I do it all the time. Going back to when I worked for a different publishing company, I remember, on my walks home during the dark, winter months, pretending that a pub fairly close to home was really an old haunted galleon and that I was in a rowing boat, alone, on calm black seas, when the old ship emerged from the fog and I continued on my journey, rowing alongside the eery, creaking, wooden hull, a bell ringing mysteriously on board, getting quieter as I rowed away from the mysterious vessel.

Andy and I parted company on the green and I reached home at 1010hrs. Here's hoping we both feel suitably inclined tomorrow morning to repeat today's performance.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

In Paris, pretending to be in the secret service...

Room 507 – too many pillows again...
The last time I was here in the French capital was January 2013 and now I'm back after a relatively smooth journey on the Eurostar from London. I was on the 1531hrs from St Pancras International, sitting in seat 51 and reading Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. I can't pass judgement on the book yet as I've only just started it, but it's a promising yarn, I can tell you that much.

At this stage in the proceedings I think it only right to warn you: I am a complete and utter cock. Whenever I travel, while I like to think that I'm some kind of government agent on a special mission, a man who can tell the time just by looking at the sun, even when it's cloudy, a man raised by wolves who sleeps with his eyes open and is more important to global security than Jason Bourne and James Bond rolled into one, the reality is something completely different.

With my casual air, I breezed off the Eurostar at the Gare du Nord in full spy mode: head down, but aware of those around me, ready, should it be necessary, to engage a lone wolf Jihadi in mortal combat. I am, of course, a black belt in origami. I can make a paper dog with one hand tied behind my back and blindfolded.

I loitered for a while on the station concourse, wondering whether to take a taxi to the hotel or jump on the metro. The latter was my preferred option as it meant I could carry on the spy fantasy, pretend I was being followed by somebody from the Romanian secret police and barge my way through from carriage to carriage, pushing innocent passengers out of the way in my attempt to escape until my only option is to run into the tunnel itself where, no doubt, I'll a meet a down-and-out who turns out to be from the CIA and knows a safe house.

I put my suitcase on the counter of an information booth, unzipped it and took out my travel documents. I needed to check on the address of the hotel, give them a call and see if it was possible to catch the metro. This I did and in the process I discovered that it was possible. I put my travel documents in my lightweight briefcase, pulled my suitcase off the counter... and, because I hadn't zipped it up after opening it, I deposited the entire contents (shirt, trousers, lap top, camera, various leads, underwear, socks, the lot) on the floor. It made such a din and turned the heads of those who previously must have been thinking 'wow, this guy must be with the secret service, I bet he can tell the time just by looking at the sun'. But oh no. This guy is, quite simply, a complete and utter cock, somebody not to be trusted with sparklers, let alone small arms and plastic explosives.

A hotel room with a hallway...not bad, eh?
As a loud cheer went up and was followed by some applause, I stood there, utterly humiliated, wondering what to do. There was only one option. With an awkward smile I bowed to my audience and then self-consciously set about gathering my belongings together, stuffing them back in the case and making a hasty escape. How embarrassing.

Once on the metro, my neck still feeling red and tingly with humiliation, I decided just to stand there and not even bother about the Romanian secret police. I changed from line four to line seven, jumped out a couple of stops later and then trundled my way up the road, dragging my troublesome suitcase behind me as if it were an unruly toddler on the first day of school term.

After about five or 10 minutes I reached my hotel and tried every locked door before I found the ostentatious main entrance where I was greeted by a cheery porter who carried my suitcase to the reception area. I went through the usual procedure of checking in and was eventually given a key card and told to make my way to the fifth floor and room 507. The porter carried my suitcase, but having only small change in my pocket, I didn't furnish him with a tip. He didn't seem too bothered and besides, tips aren't claimable on expenses. Perhaps I should have told him that.

These days when I check into a hotel I'm always thinking about those pesky jihadists. What if they turn up later on, all guns blazing? How the hell would I escape? Well, in the case of room 507, with great difficulty. While it is possible to open the window, I'd have to be anorexic to get through the thin gap as the window refuses to open more than about five inches. Outside there is a ledge, which I could easily walk along, even though it's five floors up from street level, but the whole thing is academic, unless I smashed the window and if I did that then the jihadist could follow me. What's the good of that?

It's 2030hrs and I need some dinner. There's a restaurant downstairs and I've been given a piece of card that entitles me to a 20% discounted meal. Well it beats pounding the streets looking for somewhere decent, but ending up in a restaurant with a silly name, like Hippopotamus (I've done that before).

Tonight, Josefin, definitely...
I've just eaten in the best hotel restaurant ever; well, the best since the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, California back in 2013. First, the service – faultless. Then the food – amazing. Things can't get better than this, surely?

Banke is a boutique hotel. It has to be because it's full of quirky this and quirky that, slightly loud furniture and fittings and a hip vibe that I rather like. The smell of burning incense followed me wherever I went. Well, not in the public areas, but in the corridors, in the lifts, it was there and it was kind of pleasant. The corridors were a bit dark, but that was all part of the X-Files chic of the place – the room numbers were somehow projected on to the walls by the side of the doors. Fantastic.

Qua, qua, qua, qua quirky – facing the strange
I moseyed on down to Josefin, the hotel restaurant on the ground floor opposite a noisy bar and part of a rather splendid – and slightly over-the-top – galleried area that embraced the front desk and the elevators. But wow! What a restaurant. And what amazing service too – thanks to the waitress who was called Alice. The menu was fantastic too. Starters – branded here as 'foreplay' and followed by the 'flavours of the sea'. Well, hasn't that always been the case?

I opted for cooked ham with peppers and followed by roasted cod and an amazing Tahon Rioja and then I made the mistake of ordering dessert (a long French name, but it involved a pear and sorbet and some kind of bakery item with cream). The mistake was the accompanying cocktail, but I still managed to finish it and then I thought I ought to take some air. It was getting late, but I decided to walk further along the street, all the way to a shop that sold electric bikes – it was closed. An electric bike is the equivalent of an electric rowing machine – why bother if you're not getting any exercise?

Another humiliating experience...
It was gone 2230hrs, but there were a few people about so I walked along the Rue La Fayette for roughly 30 minutes (15 minutes each way) and then retraced my steps to the hotel in the spitting rain. And then, once more, I made a complete fool of myself. This time it was back at the hotel. The aforementioned galleried and ornate reception area is also very dark and when an employee of the hotel, wearing a silly hat, greeted me, I took my eye off the ball (taken aback by his ridiculous appearance) and managed to trip over a step that I should have seen coming (it was around seven or eight inches high). I stumbled spectacularly, but somehow managed to remain on two feet.

Hastily I made my escape, into Schindler's Lift and away from the source of humiliation. And now, at almost 2330hrs, it's time for bed.

During the night I awoke, first at 0345hrs and then again at 0705hrs. The room was miles too hot, I realised, blaming the heat rather than the rich meal on the fact that my pulse was up and my mouth was dry. I'd been having fretful dreams too. One involved meeting a former work colleague by a babbling brook and simply chewing the fat; another involved holding a baby and then finally I was in a hotel corridor, it was painted white, brilliant white, and I was making my way to room 207. It was fretful because I had meant to check out some time ago. When I reached the room a chambermaid with one of those trolleys full of soaps and clean towels told me I couldn't go in. She spoke in French, which I couldn't understand, but I told her that all my stuff was in the room. For some reason I was topless – first naked, now topless, what's going on? She pretended not to understand me and then, with a smile, started to talk English in an American accident, as if to say 'only kidding'. At that stage I woke up and it was just past seven in the morning. Better get some breakfast...


The Banke Hotel was so good, I thought I'd provide the contact details for the Josefin restaurant in addition to the link for the hotel, which appears earlier in this post.

hotel Banke
20 rue la fayette - 75009 paris
Tel: + 33 (0) 1 55 33 22 22

Sunday, 24 January 2016

To St. Leonard's Church in thick fog...

It had been raining overnight. The roads were shiny and wet as I made my way up the hill towards the church. By the time I reached the top I was engulfed in thick fog. Riding through the churchyard alone was a haunting experience as one or two of the headstones were guarded by stone angels, their petrified wings outstretched and silhouetted against the grey skies.

Andy and I met at Warlingham Green as usual, but this morning it was shrouded in fog. We headed off for the Tatsfield Bus Stop, but decided to ride to St Leonard's Church instead. With fog so thick we figured it would be safer to stay off of the 269.
Warlingham Green, Sunday 24 January 2015 at 0735hrs

When we reached the church we bumped into the warden, who turned up from somewhere local in his Mercedes just to switch on the heating. We exchanged a few words and told him about our rides and how the longest route was to Dunton Green in Kent. He had taken all of five minutes to switch on the heating in the church and then returned to his Mercedes and drove off.

We drank tea and munched biscuits and talked about our early rides to Westerham in the pre-blog days and then we mounted our bikes and headed for home, vowing to ride out again next weekend.

The fog was thick for most of the ride back, but we both had front and rear lights so it didn't really matter.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Sunday morning and, so far, all is well...

It's now Sunday morning and yesterday's frustrations are behind me as another day dawns. Last night I had some weird dreams, one of which involved walking naked with a woman up a steep concrete alleyway in nearby Purley. Half way up, for some inexplicable reason, I found a discarded bright red towel, which I used to cover myself, and then proceeded to walk up the hill. The dream also involved the Duke of Edinburgh who, for some reason, I knew. I recall the round tables of a formal occasion and many people – men in dinner suits, women in posh frocks – as I made my way to some kind of shrine, only to find two cakes, one chocolate, the other coffee and walnut. The former was fine, but not my favourite. The latter, my favourite, was spoilt in some way, it was too gooey, as if it had melted.

When I woke up, the news was on, but I can't for the life of me remember any of the stories, although, as I gradually regained full consciousness, I found I was listening to Radio Four's Something Understood, which this week was all about poverty and the 'scandalous inequality' that exists in Great Britain today. There wasn't time to lie-in so I got up and peered out of the window: dry and still and no sign of any frost. Last night, prior to falling asleep, I listened to the wind and the noise of the foxes on the back lawn – they make a strange, squeaky sound – and then, after catching the noise of a few slamming car doors, I made up some kind of scenario in my head about how I'd engage burglars in conversation; it went something along the lines of "there's nothing worth nicking here, mate."

Now I'm downstairs in the living room, on the laptop. I've got the harsh light on over the dining table and I'm sitting here writing having eaten two Weetabix. I'm hoping that when I go to the garage in about 15 minutes, that my two bicycle tyres will be fully inflated. Let's see.

Ride aborted prior to reaching the green

As crazy days go, you don't get much crazier. Perhaps craziness has nothing to do with it. Perhaps it's just, I don't know, fate, the luck of the draw, a bad day. But either way it wasn't good. Phil had overslept as when I stepped outside into the dark, mild, morning air around 0700hrs there was no sign of him. But then he appeared. He'd overslept and hadn't made any of his signature sausage sandwiches, but it didn't matter – he'd bought cake.

There was a chance that a guy from Phil's office would join us on the ride and probably meet us on the green. But it all went to pot. My bike started to wobble about a quarter mile away and it was terminal; and what's more I'd left all my puncture repair stuff in the garage. Things weren't looking good.
Limpsfield Road around 0745hrs, Saturday 23 January 2016

Andy could have helped, until I realised that the puncture was underneath the leech already on the inner tube. I'd need a new one so we aborted the ride and because I had yet to buy the milk (we'd run out at home) we didn't even eat the cake!

I walked back along the Limpsfield Road – that's a posh name for the 269 – listening to the familiar squeak of a deflated rear tyre, until Phil arrived in the Volvo to pick me up and we drove back home. He lives across the street.

Later I walked to the nearest bike shop, chewed the fat with the sales guy, checked out some of the bikes and then bought an inner tube. As I returned home a black cat crossed my path and I had to wrack my brains about that: was it good or bad luck? I'd just have to be careful all day. Then Phil texted to say he accidentally smashed up a set of crystal wine glasses; and then I found a mirror balanced precariously on the window sill of a back bedroom.

I fixed the puncture, had lunch (soup and bread) and then drove to Sevenoaks in Kent. There's a big stately home near there called Knole. It's surrounded by desolate fields and woods and bare trees and populated with walkers and a few runners. We walked for over 50 minutes, just me, my wife and daughter, and then we came home. Tomorrow, as they say, is another day. Andy's on for a ride so if the weather holds it'll be okay.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Waving goodbye to mild weather...

The view from the house Sunday morning
I aborted Saturday's ride out of general tiredness and the need for a lie-in, but I thought all would be well on Sunday. However, last night I received a text from Phil pointing out that it had started snowing and that he was aborting. I peered out of the window and sure enough there was snow on the ground. I sent an abort text to Andy and now, as I sit in the living room at 0923hrs on Sunday morning – having enjoyed breakfast (Weetabix, tea and toast) I'm wondering what the hell I'm going to do today other than 'stay in'. There's nothing worse than 'staying in', but in this weather there's little else to do, mainly because driving becomes ultra-hazardous and the only alternative is to put on the walking boots and heavy coat and tread nervously on the snow in fear that one might go 'arse over tit'.

Hopefully, things will warm up, the snow will melt and all will be well with the world. That said, whenever it's snowed in the past, it always snows again, normally the following day or overnight, making matters worse for everyone. As for public transport, the train operating companies will be completely at sixes and sevens and it will take an age to get into work in the morning. It's going to be a fun week.

Weather update, 1056hrs: It's warm outside, not cold, and there's every indication that the snow is thawing. Unless it gets dramatically colder later on, I bet it will all be gone in the morning.

Cycling update, 1102hrs: Earlier, when I went outside to attend to a garbage issue, I took the opportunity of entering the garage to check out the puncture I'd fixed last night. I was curious as to whether it would be flat, rendering last night's 'abort' null and void as, ironically, I wouldn't have gone out anyway. However, when I touched the rear tyre it was still as solid as a rock. Not going cycling, of course, is typical of this time of year, but here's hoping we'll be riding next weekend.

Postscript at 1452hrs: As for 'waving goodbye to mild weather', it's pretty mild out there now and the snow has virtually disappeared. I'm even wondering how cold it was this morning when we should have out there riding the bikes (probably not that cold at all). Still, we didn't go out and there's no point getting uptight about it.

Final word 1838hrs: Having taken a drive to Westerham and then a brief stroll around the main street, I thought I'd report that it's cold, and getting colder. It's not as mild as I described it in my earlier postscript.