Sunday, 19 April 2015

Phil aborts, Andy and I ride to the churchyard and I ride alone to Botley Hill...

Yours truly at Botley Hill standing on newly sown grass seed...oh dear!
Phil ruled out cycling this weekend due to family commitments, leaving Andy and I to our own devices on Saturday morning. We could have gone to Westerham but in all honesty I don't think either of us were in the mood for that hill on the return journey – the Northern Kent market town would have to wait a few more weeks. Instead we rode to the Tatsfield Churchyard where we drank tea and munched on my favourite variety of BelVita biscuit, milk and cereal. Dunking them in my tea, however, I had forgotten their vulnerability and, on two occasions, had to fish out part of the soggy biscuit with a spoon. We chatted about this and that, mainly my trip to Amsterdam and how it was a very laid-back city full of laid-back people.

The weather was good. Or rather it wasn't raining. It was a little cold, but not unpleasant and not dissimilar to today's weather. I had a bit of a broken sleep last night and kept waking up every hour, finally drifting off around 0430hrs and then waking up with the alarm at 0600hrs, feeling weary and strongly considering an abort text to Andy. My phone was off so I switched it on and, after leaving it on the console table downstairs, I distinctly heard a short buzz and soon discovered that Andy had aborted, probably because he too had a broken night – that's what I'm guessing, although I might be wrong [I was wrong, he was knackered].

But I was up and out of bed, the kettle was on and I found myself staring out of the kitchen window on to the garden where a huge pile of chopped down bushes awaited my attention – it needed further chopping and then stuffing into green plastic bags and I was thinking that perhaps I didn't need to ride out after all as I had my exercise waiting for me on the lawn. I'd virtually resigned myself to not going out and when I checked my watch and noted that it was 0800hrs I decided that the garden would be my sole source of Sunday morning exercise...until I realised that my watch was still displaying Amsterdam time. It was only just gone 0700hrs, meaning I still had time to change my mind and get out on the road.

Austin Sevens on the Limpsfield Road...
I dithered. Why bother? But eventually, after a little more soul-searching, I put on my trainers and headed outside, hoping, perhaps, that I might have a flat tyre (although in all honesty I wasn't really hoping for a puncture, I think it just crossed my mind as a last resort). When I reached the bike there was no sign of anything wrong so I unpadlocked it and headed off in the usual direction.

Half the battle when confronted with a solo ride is getting out of bed, but that's not the end of it; once out and dressed there's plenty of time to over-analyse the situation and convince yourself that there are other things to do instead of cycling, but that nagging guilt is always there too, especially when the weather is good (or reasonable) and there's no real excuse other than pure laziness. For me, it's not until I've climbed Church Way that I'm fully out of the metaphorical woods. Once on level ground and riding through the churchyard – which has just re-opened after weeks of something or other being done to it – I knew that, bar a puncture, there was little to stop me.

I decided to head for Botley Hill, although Westerham crossed my mind (fleetingly) and I did consider the old faithful Tatsfield Bus Stop, but decided that Botley would do for today. Having left the house around 0730 – actually, later, it was roughly 0750hrs when I found myself on the bike and moving forward – I reached Botley around 55 minutes later. I wasn't really exerting myself. I left that to the Lycra monkeys in their Colnago-branded cycling shorts.

Solo rides often mean no tea or biscuits so riding to Botley was a good idea as there was nowhere to make myself comfortable and then regret not making a flask of tea. I lingered around a little bit to take the rather stupid photograph that accompanies this post (I should have been at least another two feet to my left) and then I headed back along the B269 in time to see what must have been some kind of Austin Seven car rally: there were loads of them and they were all being driven by grey-haired, grey-bearded men who were probably as old as the cars themselves.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

In Amsterdam...

One of many canals found in Amsterdam
I flew out of London City Airport on Monday afternoon heading for Amsterdam and around 45 minutes later I was there. I jumped on a train from Schipol to Amsterdam Centraal Station and then, rather than take a taxi, I walked to my hotel on the other side of town (approximately a 30-minute walk). Walking is fine and I admit to doing a lot of it, but hauling a suitcase behind me makes it a little unpleasant. However, eventually I reached my destination – the Best Western Leidse Square – and a small room (room 356) with a single bed and cell-like proportions. There was definitely not enough room to swing a cat although, after a fashion, I found myself liking my cell. I've said before that large rooms I find uncomfortable. I don't like them and I suppose it's got something to do with the unused space surrounding me. In a similar manner, I'd rather camp in a small back garden, say, rather than in the corner of a very large field. I don't know, something along those lines.

I was tired and if I'm honest I could have done without dinner. In fact I was seriously considering not having dinner and just hitting the sack but convention kicked in: I always have dinner at dinner time (although the time was edging towards 9pm). So I went out with no idea of where to eat, although, having stayed in this hotel once before – in room 357 opposite room 356 and a much better room, I hasten to add – I knew what was out there. There was an Indonesian restaurant about five minutes away, there was an array of cheap and nasty places, plus some standard trattorias and pizzerias in and around the Leidseplein area and, nearby, a couple of hotel restaurants.

Soup served in a jar at Joost. Why not a bowl? Why? Why?
Avid readers will recall that the last time I was here I went down with food poisoning. At the time I initially blamed it on the Indonesian restaurant, but I was wrong: it was a seafood restaurant near the coast that I'd visited with a Dutch colleague. That aside, I didn't fancy the Indonesian place so I went into the cosy-looking restaurant in a hotel owned by the NH Hotels chain (I'm assuming it's a chain). It was dark and candlelit and I'd left my glasses in the room so I couldn't really make out the items on the menu. I worked out that the restaurant was predominantly offering steak (this was a place for people who like to pig out and while I used to be that sort of person, for the past year or so I've been watching my weight so I wasn't impressed. I opted for the soup of the day (I think it was potato and leek) followed by some kind of risotto, but I could have made do with soup and bread, I just felt a little guilty coming into a place where I was expected to eat half a cow and just order soup – a bit like going to an Indian restaurant in the UK and choosing egg and chips from the 'international menu'. I had a glass of red wine and some mineral water and then went back to the hotel and hit the sack.

My business meeting for the next two days was back near the Centraal station, mildly annoying as there was a cocktail reception for the event in question the night I arrived and I could have dropped in and introduced myself had I known where the place was. Still, it was not to be and I eventually opted for a cab on Tuesday morning to take me to the hotel in question. But that was my only taxi. For the rest of the trip I walked there and back and it was very enjoyable, thanks to excellent weather. Hotter than Spain the UK papers were saying before I left for Amsterdam and I have to admit that it was very nice walking along the canals and through the streets of this great Dutch city, watching the many cyclists riding along the cycle paths. I could have cycled to work these past two days but because the cycle paths don't necessarily follow the same route one would take on foot I decided not to introduce any more confusion into my daily routine. Besides, with the sun shining it was very pleasant.

A traditional Dutch 'Stampotje'. Tasty.
On Tuesday night I had another late dinner in the hotel restaurant across the road from the Best Western (which doesn't have a restaurant). The Vondel Hotel is worth remembering should I find myself here again, which is highly likely. First, it has a restaurant and, judging by the demeanour of the staff and the general vibe, it's probably quite a decent hotel all round. That said, I've never been a fan of 'quirkyness' because, like Quentin Tarantino movies, a lot of the time the word quirkyness deserves the inverted commas because it's not natural, it's contrived. In the case of the Vondel Hotel's Joost restaurant it was serving soup in a lidded jar, not a bowl. I wonder what they were thinking? "Right, this'll impress them: soup in a jar, not a bowl!" Well, no, it's just annoying. What sort of reaction are they expecting. "Wow! Soup served in a jar! Radical! Perhaps next time they'll hollow out the receiver of an old telephone and fill both ends with soup...now that would be really impressive!" Having said that, the soup was good and the main course even better, it was a traditional Dutch 'Stampotje' (I hope that's right) and consisted of mashed potato, a fillet of white fish and pickles – very tasty. I skipped dessert.

Last night, business over, I took a longer walk than usual and tired myself out in the process. I ended up enjoying a glass of wine and some very salty nachos with a guacomole dip by the canalside, reading The Economist's view on various subjects from Iran's nuclear deal with the west to the fact that both David Cameron and Ed Milliband are making predictable promises to the electorate along the usual ideological lines. The paper argues that had they both gone against the grain – let's say Cameron announcing he would end the non-dom taxation rule and Milliband cutting taxes for top earners – then the electorate might have more respect and turn out to vote; it's looking as if turn-out will be low and that another coalition government will be in place after May 7th or whenever it is the election is taking place.

My view of the canalside last night.
By the time I reached my hotel I couldn't be bothered to go out again so I skipped dinner, hit the sack around 8.30pm and here I am, refreshed after a decent night's sleep (and a pleasant breakfast) ready to see what the day has to offer. In essence, not much. I've got to check out of the hotel, put my bags in storage for an hour or so, probably find somewhere to have lunch (near Centraal station) and then jump on a train to Schipol. Before I do that I've got to write a couple of emails and then I'll be heading home.

Oddly, I gave the Best Western Leidse Square a fairly poor review on TripAdvisor the last time I was here, but this time I had a better stay. Perhaps they knew I was coming as the phone in my room didn't work and the room was tiny, although, compared with my last visit, the breakfast was much better – the fresh fruit salad wasn't as tired-looking and the general vibe was better, possibly because there were more people than last time. But if you consider the faulty phone, the tiny cell-like room and the mildly grubby and very slow to arrive lift, well, perhaps another poor review is on the cards, especially when there's a decent hotel just across the road. That said, the room was fine, I got a decent night's sleep, the shower worked fine so I shouldn't really complain and let's face it, the hotel is bang in the centre of Amsterdam. Who could ask for more? Well, alright, a restaurant would have been nice, a phone that worked, a faster lift, a bigger room...

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Stop Press! Reigate Bike Ride is back on!!!

A shot from the 2012 Black Horse Ride
In all honesty I can't remember when we last rode the Black Horse Ride, but we certainly didn't ride it last year because it wasn't happening. But now it's back, I've noticed, having just read an email from the organiser. To be honest, I didn't look at it too closely, but I have seen that there's a 136km option on the table. We ought to be doing it, is the message of this post, which, incidentally, is being written from sunny Amsterdam – yes, it's sunny here too – where it's just gone 1850hrs and I really ought to be considering dinner.

In fact, going back to the Black Horse Ride, when I said I hadn't looked too closely at the email, what I meant was, I haven't really given any consideration to whether it's still called the Black Horse Ride, it might not be; there was a PDF attached to the email, which I'll go back and read in more depth in a second, but the long and the short of it is this: we must put in a NoVisibleLycra team...and dare we consider the 136km option (or was I not looking too closely at the email – can they really mean 136km? That's virtually 85 miles!!!!).

Right, I've re-checked my email and there's no mention of the pub at all. In fact, the ride is called the Reigate Rouleur (which sounds a bit Lycra Monkey to me) but there are four rides ranging from 50km to 136km through the Surrey and Kent countryside and there will be a fully marked course, feed stations and support vehicles. I'll keep you updated, but I'd imagine Andy will be the main information source on this one.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Sport talk – 'the language of those with nothing to say.' Discuss.

Now, that might sound a little bit harsh and, if the truth be known, it probably is, but being one of those people who, for whatever reason – I can't think of anything specific – doesn't particularly like 'sport' (and I've put the word in inverted commas because I mean all sport) it's a subject worthy of discussion.

Gooners – another name for Arsenal supporters
Fortunately, I'm not alone. Phil appears to feel the same way, although he started the conversation going by asking me if I'd been watching the golf. In all honesty, no, I hadn't been watching it because if there's one thing in this world I can't stand (there's more than one thing) it's watching sport. I'm simply not interested. Although, having said that, I'd picked up snippets of information about the golf (currently playing out in the USA at Augusta, but don't ask me the name of the tournament, I don't know, although it might be called The Masters) and I'd picked up that the guy in front was called Jordan Speith and the current runner up somebody called Justin, possibly Justin Rose. So I made the big mistake that all sports-hating people make when confronted with the question 'did you watch the [enter name of sport]' and brought into play the names of Jordan and Justin. Immediately I sounded as if I knew what I was talking about, part of the clan no less! Had it not been Phil who had asked the question I might have been forced to brazen it out by saying something phoney, like, "Yeah, I reckon Speith will go the whole way, just look at the way he's playing, he's at the top of his game." Pure, utter bullshit, but when you're 'talking sport', especially if you're a bloke (and let's face it, 'blokes' are supposed to talk about sport. We're supposed to be sick with sport us blokes) a sentence like that will get you out of jail free, but the problem arises if the person who asked the original question, "Did you watch the...?" comes back with something that requires a little bit more knowledge. In which case you can't beat a bit of history. Delve deep, mind, as, you're now in the thick of it and the only other alternative is to say something like, "Oh, bollocks! Listen, I know fuck all about golf, I can't stand it, don't try and hold a conversation with me about golf!" So, go for the historical approach, "For me, Jacklin's the best golfer I've had the pleasure of watching. Remember that hole-in-one?" The truth is, I do remember the hole-in-one, but at what tournament, what year, I couldn't begin to tell you.

Fortunately, I didn't have to go through any of this because Phil admitted that while he had been watching a bit of the golf at Augusta, he too wasn't really a sportaholic, much to my relief. But what is it about sport lovers? Oddly, I've never heard a woman engage another woman with the phrase, "Did you catch any of the [add sport of your choice] last night?" Perhaps it's because women are quite comfortable in their own skin and don't necessarily feel the need to enter into a challenging conversation of any kind, unlike 'blokes'. Sport, Phil said, was the language of those with nothing to say, and I know just what he means. Men feel they have to engage their fellow man in boring, shallow 'did you catch the rugby last night?" conversations just for the sake, perhaps, of not having to endure an awkward silence. Bring on the awkward silence, that's what I say. Bring it on! For a lot of men their entire conversational repertoire is based on bullshit-based sports chat and some men seem to know a lot of it: they know all about every team in the Premiership, the personalities, the goals, the name of the ground, "Good result at Loftus Road, the Gooners will be celebrating tonight." What? Loftus Road? The Gooners? Isn't that something to do with Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers? Or was that The Goons? The Gooners? If somebody said that to me in a lift I'd think they were crazy. "Sorry, where's Loftus Road? Who are the Gooners? Are you mad? Somebody call the police!" And the most refreshing response would be, "No, not mad, just a little sad. In all honesty, I'd rather give you the impression that I 'know my sport' rather than just bid you good morning and comment on the weather." How refreshing, but no, it would never happen. And my expected response to the Loftus road comment is supposed to be, "Yeah! Amazing result." In fact, knowing nothing about football and having no desire to know anything about it, that would be a good retort as I would know now that the Gooners (who are they?) are celebrating so they can't have lost and I'm giving my adversary the impression that I might be a Gooner myself. Result! He might then provide the score, "Yeah, 4-1, brilliant." To which all I need to say is, "Yeah, nice one!" and then move on to another subject – or hope and pray that whoever started the conversation has reached his floor and exits the lift.

And the thing that's really annoying is that people who are 'sick with sport' – remember Radio 1's Andy Peebles? – seem to be ruling the roost... and the airwaves! They've gone and given Clare fucking Balding her own sports-related chat show! As if Sue Barker's A Question of Sport isn't enough!

And then, of course, there's cycling. The fact that I ride a bike leads loads of people to think that I'm a cyclist! I must be up there with Bradley Wiggins, they think, and I must, of course, don Lycra and those awful luminous orange shoes and ride a sleek racing bike with dropped bars and I must take a keen interest in the Tour de France and be saddened by the antics of Lance Armstrong. Look, get it straight: I never watch the Tour de France or any other cycling event, I have no sporting aspirations where cycling is concerned OTHER than reaching my destination with enough time to spare to enjoy a slice of cake or a biscuit and definitely a cup of tea. I care nothing for 'precious grams' either – I just like riding my bike in the fresh air and sitting with Phil and Andy and whoever else might tag along and talking rubbish for half an hour. Period! Nothing more! Hopefully it keeps me fitter than I would otherwise be if I didn't ride out every weekend.

I could go on and on about this subject, but I won't. Instead, I'll refer you to something I prepared earlier, an article all about 'the beautiful game' – now there's a contradiction in terms. Anyway, check out this link, hell, just click here, for the article in question.

To the Tatsfield Churchyard – for a healthy breakfast!
This weekend involved just one ride. Saturday, Andy planned to ride to Brighton but instead rode to a pub on the outskirts of town and then cycled back (53 miles in total). I should have gone out alone, but I dithered, as I'm prone to do when I have no motivation to go out. The annoying thing is that had I gone out at 0700hrs and riden to Botley Hill I would have been home before it started to rain. But no, I didn't go out and I resigned myself to getting no exercise until Sunday when Phil joined me and we rode to Warlingham Green to meet Andy.

Forest fruits, natural yoghurt and granola...lovely!
Phil normally brings sausage sandwiches with him, which are always much appreciated, and if it's not sausage sandwiches it might be a Bakewell tart or a Christmas cake, but today he bucked the trend completely and brought something healthy, but kept us in suspense until we reached our destination, the Tatsfield Churchyard. The surprise? Well, not sausage sandwiches and nothing remotely similar. Phil brought out four dishes followed by natural yoghurt, forest fruits and granola... and it was fantastic! Another 'respective is due' for Phil!

The weather was fantastic, as was yesterday's. Saturday saw just one burst of rain around 0915hrs but then there was sunshine. This morning was very pleasant too and as the day wore on the sun shone brightly even if there was a cool, occasionally blustery breeze. The weather people are saying our weather is going to rival Spain.

The churchyard is on a hill and is quite high up so there was the odd chilly moment this morning but, by and large, it was pleasant and so was the ride and it was all made a lot better by Phil's breakfast, Andy's Belvita biscuits and, of course, my flask of hot water and accompanying Twinings teabags.

A good ride was had by all and we're all together again next Saturday, weather permitting.

L to R: Matt, Phil and Andy at the churchyard

Monday, 6 April 2015

Delays mean another trip to Tatsfield Bus Stop...

Warlingham Green, Monday 6th April 2015, 0730 hrs.
Andy was slightly delayed but it was enough for us to rethink our planned ride to Westerham. The weather was fantastic: blue skies and cottonwool clouds and the temperature much warmer than the rest of the Easter weekend. We decided to head for the bus stop again, although we toyed with the churchyard and the village, and when we got there we did what we always do: drink tea and munch BelVita biscuits.

Lycra monkeys. Give them a bit of hot weather and out they come; you see hardly any during the colder months of the year and then suddenly there they are in their Lycra shorts and sponsored tops, although they're not even sponsored, they're just wearing tops covered in logos. And what's with the new fashion of brightly-coloured footwear? Luminous footwear!

As we sat at the bus stop, watching a passing Lycra monkey who was wearing bright red above-the-knee shorts we wondered what must be going through his mind as he pulls on his gear in the morning. Can he really think he looks good? And as for those idiots in the brightly-coloured footwear, what must they be thinking? Clearly, they must all think they look really good otherwise they wouldn't wear such awful clothing. Instead, they'd look like us in our Tesco ASBO specials (well, MY Tesco ASBO specials). Perhaps all that 'precious grams' stuff is because they know that if they put on a bit of weight they wouldn't look so good in their Lycra garments?

Later in the day I drove to Westerham and the weather was still wonderful. There was bright sunshine and plenty of people wandering about, enjoying the weather and the attractions on offer in this Kent market town.

Next Saturday Andy's riding to Brighton, leaving me to motivate myself to get out and ride the bike. I'll probably ride to the bus stop again, unless Phil's up for a longer ride. Andy should be back on Sunday so we might finally reach Westerham. I'm not even sure if we've been to Westerham in 2015 yet. Hold on a second while I check the archive...and the answer is no, we haven't riden to Westerham this year. In fact, the last time we were there was Sunday 30 November 2014.

Time for tea at the Tatsfield Bus Stop...


Another rear wheel puncture means we ride to the Tatsfield Bus Stop...

Sunday 5th April 2015: Having fixed my first puncture in a long time on Good Friday afternoon, resulting in the abandonment of our first ride of the Easter break, I was looking forward to Sunday morning's cycling.

500 yards from Warlingham Green
We'd enjoyed a brief run to Botley Hill on Saturday morning and now it was looking as if the weather was improving – and the temperature warming up. A jaunt to Westerham was on the cards, but it was not to be; about 500 yards from Warlingham Green I detected the familiar wobble of a puncture. As always, at first I didn't believe it. Surely not again! But soon the tyre had deflated and I was forced to walk to the green, past the retirement homes, with that familiar squeak of rubber on tarmac to accompany me. Having arrived at the green I up-ended the bike, whipped off the rear wheel and set to work on fixing the puncture while chatting to Andy about this and that.

The delay meant we had to abandon our trip to Westerham and instead head for the familiar Tatsfield Bus Stop. The weather had improved considerably. Unlike Saturday there were no puddles on the road, the temperature was warmer and it wasn't so grey and overcast. The improved weather brought out the Lycra monkeys.

Andy and I had a few interesting things to discuss, including (briefly) a little chat about Top Gear and Clarkson, but having bored you already with this, I won't say anymore. We munched our Belvita biscuits, we sipped tea and probably chatted for longer than normal before deciding to head for home. The weather was getting warmer but it was still a little chilly as we raced back along the B269 towards Warlingham Green where we parted company, vowing to ride out again tomorrow.

Fixing the puncture on Warlingham Green


Fast way to Botley Hill for tea and biscuits...

Saturday 4th April 2015: It must have rained overnight as there were huge puddles everywhere, especially along the B269 and this can be dangerous if you're riding a bike as the urge is to drift into the middle of the road to avoid them (especially if your bike doesn't have mudguards!). The sky was dark and overcast and, let's face it, it might have rained at any time, but it didn't, which was fortunate, as today we were riding to Botley Hill where there is little, in fact, no cover whatsoever.

Andy and I met on Warlingham Green and headed off towards our destination in a good mood. I hadn't been on the bike for a long time, or at least it felt that way. The last time I rode out was to the churchyard prior to my trip to Rio, which has been well-documented on this blog (just scroll back a few posts or check out individual postings on the side panel to the right of this text).

The bikes at Botley Hill on Saturday 4th April 2015
When we reached Botley Hill we parked the bikes and got out the tea and biscuits, which we scoffed while discussing a variety of topics, including, of course, Clarkson's recent sacking, although not for long. The main topic of conversation was the new café/bicycle shop that recently opened in Westerham. Andy brought along an advertisement that had appeared in his local rag, which shows that the shop has some kind of link to a fitness company. We talked about the 'boutique' look of the place, which we both disagreed with (the Tudor Rose Tearoom is more in keeping with what a cyclist wants from a caff in our opinion) and the fact that the ad has a load of people standing in front of the café/bike shop in some kind of cycling uniform – possibly a  Lycra uniform – was also a little off-putting as we also abhor Lycra monkeys with a vengeance. What we also found slightly irksome about the ad was the phrase that went something like 'you don't have to wear Lycra' to visit the caff, which implied, of course, that the Lycra Monkey was their primary focus but, alright, if you don't wear it you can still come in. It's a bit like saying, "You don't have to wear Lycra, but it helps.'

Andy said that the worst thing about the new caff would have to be the sound of Lycra Monkeys in those awful cycling shoes they wear, clickety clicking across the wood or laminated flooring of the establishment. "Imagine. You're sitting there and suddenly the door opens – dinga ling! – and then the next thing you hear is 'click, click, click, click, click' as the Lycra Monkey makes his way into the shop," said Andy. I nodded knowingly as we continued to enjoy our tea and Belvita biscuits (which somehow taste different when you're standing up – there's no bench at Botley Hill).

And then, of course, we discussed the Lycra Monkey and asked our usual question: why? Why get up in the morning and put on body-hugging, brightly-coloured Lycra leggings and a top covered in brand names? Why? You're not being sponsored. And why do they wear those luminous cycling shoes?

Something has happened to the Botley Hill Farmhouse but we're not exactly sure what. It's still there, but they've tidied up around the pub itself and Andy says the marquee, which was used to host live bands, has gone and is going to be replaced with a more permanent structure. Good news, I said, because if there's new management involved (I'm not saying there is, but IF there is) then they don't want to get rid of the live bands as I'd imagine they are the chief revenue source for the pub.

The ride back was cold and, as usual, there was a headwind. I was glad to be out on the bike again. Not riding for a couple of weeks or more was noticeable. I found it quite a hard slog cycling up Church Way this morning, which shows how easy it is to get out of condition. Tomorrow we're planning to ride to Westerham as the weather is supposed to improve for Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday. Here's hoping!