Sunday, 23 November 2014

No bike, no cycling (and besides, its raining)

Finally took my bike to the repair shop to have its gears sorted out. They told me it needed a new block and a new chain. As always, I never trust anybody and feel that they're ripping me off, it's a condition of modern life, that constant feeling of being ripped off, as we live in a society where everything has a price and people, generally, are greedy. So, when I arrive at the bike shop and I'm told it's a new chain and a new block that is required I don't believe the guy. But what to do? Walk out of the shop and find another bike shop to get another quote? They'll likely rip me off too. So, having left it there I spent the remainder of my journey to Croydon trying to convince myself that it did need a new chain and block. I mean it's a good eight years old so perhaps it's time I replaced the chain and block. "That's why it's slipping," said the guy in the shop, I recalled as I walked in the drizzle towards the shopping mall, but I can't help but hear his boss, on training day, saying, "Right, if anybody comes in with faulty gears, try and tell them they need a new chain and block. They probably won't need either, but it means money for the store and profits for the bosses."

So no bike means no cycling, which means lying in bed. I never lie in for long anyway, but I switched off the alarm and didn't get up until past 9 o'clock on Saturday. Today, Sunday, I was a little earlier, but it was really nice not having to get up and go. While I feel a little restless when I don't go cycling, that's because the bike is out there in the garage, waiting. But when it's in the 'bike hospital' there's a perfect excuse.

Equally, as I sit here now, there's heavy rain hammering on the roof of the conservatory, which means I probably wouldn't have gone out anyway. I sent Andy an 'abort' text. "No bike until next week. Enjoy your ride, though." The 'enjoy your ride' bit is a joke, but I was surprised to receive a text back from Andy, "I didn't enjoy all of it. The heavy rain at the end wasn't good." Andy definitely gets a 'respect is due' for being out in the rain, but I won't hide my smugness as I read his text in the warmth of my house and sheltered from the rain.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

This week and last week

Last week, possibly Sunday, I can't recall, we rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, mainly because the bus stop is covered and this means the seats are dry when the weather has been cold and wet. However, not having mudguards meant that I was wet so from my perspective it was pointless; we could have gone to Westerham and stood up to drink our tea. Either way I would have been wet. I need mudguards or a sensible bike, let's face it.

So, we rode to the bus stop on, I think, Sunday 9 November. We haven't spent a great deal of time at the old Tatsfield Bus Stop of late. We've been riding to Westerham or taking suburban rides or, as the week before last, to the Tatsfield Churchyard where the seats were dry but then it started to rain and, as avid readers will be only too aware, there's no cover at the churchyard.

This week we planned to ride to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, mainly because of the aforementioned dry seat argument, which, as I've said, means nothing if you're wet anyway, thanks to no mudguards. But I won't labour the point.

Last Sunday at Tatsfield Bus Stop
Yesterday, as we rode along the Limpsfield Road, past the new cycle shop opposite Sainsbury's, we decided to take the slow route, until we remembered the state of my gears. Whenever I ride up any hill they slip and clunk and then the chain falls off or slips on to the smaller front crank. The bike needs a service, but, as always, money is short so, like everything else in my life at present, I leave it until it gets so bad I have to fix it. Like now. However, today I had to make do with dismounting every time a hill approached. Yesterday morning, as I reached the top of Church Way, I had to dismount and then, as we weaved our way around the country lanes adjacent to the B269, I found myself dismounting again and again.

Instead of riding the slow way to the bus stop – Andy figured I'd be walking the length of Beddlestead Lane (a long and winding hill) – we decided to investigate Scotshall Lane, one of the very few roads in the area we haven't explored. It was pleasant for a while, but when we reached the end we found ourselves in the Farleigh area (turn left for the Harrow pub and then?). Opposite the pub we found a covered bus stop but it was so depressing and cramped with its fold-up, heavy duty plastic seats and its ugly green paintwork that we decided to ride back into Warlingham and part ways at Warlingham Green – without drinking tea or munching biscuits. Not a brilliant ride but at least we know what to expect at the other end of Scotshall Lane – nothing!

To make matters worse (what with the faulty gears, the rubbish bus stop and the short ride) it started to rain and we both got soaked.

Last night I had sent Andy and Phil an 'abort' text. I was tired and feeling a little despondent, but I texted Andy and said that I might change my mind in the morning. Clearly, if you have read this far, you already know that I did change my mind. I texted Andy again and said I'd meet him at the usual time on the green. Perhaps I should have stayed in bed.

Sunday 16th November – to Tatsfield Village!
Another place we haven't been to for a while is good old Tatsfield Village. After yesterday's miserable ride, we decided to pay it a visit. The weather was much better: no rain for a start and it brightened up as we headed along the 269. Perfect cycling weather and, once I'd got underway there were no problems with the gears. I found that the bike rode well if the chain was on the smaller crank at the front and mid-way through the rear gears.

Tatsfield Village hasn't changed a bit since our last visit – why would it, I hear you ask.  It's the same old, same old, so we sat there for a while discussing our bikes and my gears and other bicycle-related chat as we sipped tea and munched our biscuits.

Tatsfield Village, Sunday 16 November 2014 – 
manic expression due to almost missing the self-timer
The journey home proved very troublesome for yours truly. Those gears decided to play up big time. In fact, there was no way the chain was going to slip on to the larger front crank, making the ride home extremely slow. Andy must have been relieved to say goodbye half way along the 269. As for me, I limped home at a snail's pace. Despite the fact that we only went to Tatsfield Village, I reached home just before 1000hrs – half an hour later than I would have returned had we gone to Westerham (and my gears had been working properly).

So the bike needs to visit the repair shop and I'm thinking of Ross Cycles in Caterham. I can't abide the thought of Halford's. Every time I've taken my bike to Halford's it comes out worse than when it went in or there's something wrong with it. For instance, the last time I had it serviced in Halford's they did something to the forks – making them more springy than necessary and, it has to be said, for their own ends, not mine! I'd told them to tighten up the front forks; they loosened them – probably so they could mess around doing jumps in the car park. Either way, I wasn't happy and resolved there and then never to get the bike serviced in Halford's again. I'm also a little reticient about Evans Cycles (where they're bound to come up with some spurious reason why they have to charge me a fortune. Equally off the list is the bike shop in Redhill as I believe he's miles too expensive and probably suggests things that need doing when they don't. I wouldn't mind, but I'm at rock bottom financially. I've even considered buying a secondhand bike for £75 rather than shell out more on getting my existing bike serviced. Andy says it would be a big mistake – a false economy – as a cheaper ride means cheaper parts and cheaper parts mean more frequent servicing. It's looking like Ross Cycles, but that means no riding next Saturday or Sunday, although I can live with that. The only problem will be getting over there as the ride is hilly and the bike ain't up to it.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Food poisoning, techno confusion and general frustration...

In between the clouds en route to Amsterdam
I flew out of City Airport on Monday lunchtime in the rain and wind. This made for a bumpy (ish) flight with nothing but the whiteness of the clouds outside the window. I wouldn't say it was unpleasant, but anything but a smooth and carefree flight makes me a little edgey...and to top it all there was hardly any time to eat or drink anything. Well, almost anything. By the time I'd finished a small plastic carton of orange juice and an even smaller bag of crisps (that's what they call in-flight service these days, even on major airlines) I had hardly any time for a tiny 187ml bottle of red wine, something I always enjoy when flying.

While I'd only been in the air for 40 minutes I still felt a little shattered, mainly because everything happened so quickly. One minute I was in London, the next I was high above the clouds and then I found myself on the ground in another country. Bad timing on my part meant that I would be away from home for the entire week, although it all worked out for the best in the end. I'd arranged a meeting for Tuesday in the Netherlands but had to attend a conference in Germany on Thursday. Logistically, it worked out fine. Late on Tuesday afternoon, work done, I hired a bike to ride from the hotel to Amsterdam Centraal Station where I bought a ticket to Dusseldorf.
Bike 775 – this Batavus ferried me to the Centraal Station
It would have been foolhardy of me to visit Amsterdam and not ride a bike as the Netherlands is THE city for cyclists. Furthermore, hiring the bike cost me just 15 Euros. A taxi there and back would have cost triple the amount.
Wherever I look there are bikes, like here on a canal
Where cycling is concerned, the UK should take note of how things are done in Holland; for a start the cycle lanes are more than just lines drawn with chalk in the road. In the Netherlands the cyclist comes first and the cycle lanes are completely separated from the roads. This is good news for the cyclist who, it has to be said, wins out in any court case with a motorist, a bit like in the UK where, if I crashed into the car in front of me I would be at fault in terms of insurance liability.

Taken from one of Amsterdam's cycle lanes
And think for one minute how fit the Dutch must be; all that cycling around in a city where it's legal to enjoy a spliff with your coffee. Personally, I prefer a millionaire's shortbread or a couple of stem ginger biscuits – each to their own – but it's amazing how the Dutch can stand up, let alone ride bicycles around a busy city without coming a cropper.

Bikes everywhere...
Amsterdam is full of bikes. There are, I am told, 16 million people and 12 million bikes and this fact doesn't go unnoticed. Everywhere I look there are bikes: against the walls, in giant bicycle sheds, they're everywhere and most of them are of the 'sit-up-and-beg' variety and mainly traditional women's frames, which are riden by male and female alike. Batavus is a frequently seen brand. Occasionally I might see somebody on a top-of-the-range mountain bike, but this is rare and the equivalent in motoring terms, of seeing somebody driving, say, a Bugatti Veyron.
On the bike...

And while it is generally safe, much safer than in the UK, to ride a bike in the Netherlands, it is also worth remembering that motorised scooters are allowed to ride in the cycle lanes...not that you'll see many of them, but bear it mind as they whizz around at twice the speed of the bicycles. It's also worth bearing in mind that there are a lot of cyclists in the Netherlands and they're all comin' atcha, meaning there is no room for those who dawdle along or stop or change direction - like yours truly looking for signs to the railway station. Those cycle lanes cover the entire country. On the train yesterday, as I left Arnhem behind and headed for the German border, I noticed how there were still cycle lanes right up until the train crossed into Germany.

Having arrived at Amsterdam's Centraal railway station
I spent a lot of time on the bike as I didn't really have a clue where I was going. I had taken a brief look at a street map of Amsterdam, supplied by my hotel, and I deduced from it that it was a straight road to and from the Centraal Station. What I didn't count on was the fact that there are certain areas of the city where cycling is prohibited AND there are policemen waiting for those who break the rules – not to fine them, but to tell them, in a laid back manner, not to ride in pedestrianised areas. I'd imagine that pedestrians are at the top of the pecking order in the Netherlands, followed by cyclists and then motorists. When I saw a policeman I quickly jumped off the bike and decided to stay off until I found a cycle lane (there are plenty of them). I'm sure that a map exists of all the cycle lanes and where they lead to, but I only possessed a street map...and I'd left that in my hotel room.

I set off during the daylight hours and returned after dark. You could say I enjoyed the ride, even if the weather was a little on the chilly side, although Monday's rain had ceased and the Dutch had a couple of days of decent weather ahead of them.

Parked up and padlocked outside Centraal Station
'Like sucking snot off the back of a tortoise'
So far, so good, you might be thinking – and to a degree you'd be right. On Monday afternoon I had been taken to an oyster bar in Amsterdam and it looked like (and I'm sure it was) a decent establishment. I'm not a great fan of oysters. In fact, I rarely eat them. In my entire life I've only had them a couple of times and on one occasion, the person offering them to me (a publican called Eddie Cheeseman) told me that eating oysters was like (and I quote) 'sucking snot off the back of a tortoise'. He wasn't far wrong, but on this occasion, I thought they were quite tasty – and very meaty. I ate three of them. The oyster restaurant seemed to specialise in selling uncooked food. I'd say 'sushi' but meat was also involved. The oysters were raw and we also had steak tartar...again, I'm not a fan. I like my food to be hot. Cooked in other words, but it would have been rude to object so I gave it all a go and after a couple of small glasses or red wine all seemed well with the world. In fact, all was well with the world.

Looking out from Amsterdam Centraal Station
The following morning (Tuesday) I was up with the lark, enjoying (if that's the word) the rather lame breakfast offering of my Best Western hotel and looking forward to my day of interviewing and meeting various people connected with my line of work. It went well and we, that is my colleague who took me to the oyster bar and I, decided to have lunch in a seafood restaurant by the sea (on the basis that a seafood restaurant on the coast had to be good, right?). It was very pleasant. We both had Dover sole and a beer and then went back to work.

Later, after I had said farewell to my Dutch colleagues, I went on the aforementioned bike ride to pick up my train ticket to Dusseldorf and then I thought I'd have a relatively early night. But first, a visit to an Indonesian restaurant for a late dinner. I had a relatively mild, straightforward chicken dish with vegetable soup at the same restaurant on Monday night and, as you know, I awoke on Tuesday morning feeling rather good and looking forward to my day at work. On Tuesday night, after the bike ride, I went for a longish walk looking for somewhere different to eat but ending up in the same Indonesian restaurant – not a problem. This time I ordered prawns and all was well. I left the restaurant (minus the receipt and had to go back for it) and, when I reached my hotel room, I settled in for that 'relatively early night' which meant I was going to watch a BBC thriller starring James Nesbit called The Missing or Missing. But I felt tired – and found the drama a little slow and boring – so I switched off the television and hit the sack.

"Would sir like to sit on the toilet all night?"
At 0300hrs, however, I was wide awake and feeling a little dodgy in the stomach department. You know how you clock that something is up but don't want to admit it in case you're right? That's how I was feeling. I won't even tell you what happened next, I'll simply leave that to your imagination, but suffice it to say that I was finished the following the day. A lack of sleep and a general weariness made it impossible for me to function properly. It took me an age to pack my suitcase and get myself together enough to check out of the hotel and after I'd managed that I simply sat in one of the bright orange seats near the front desk and tried to sleep (I had about an hour before I had to get my act together and call a cab to take me to the Centraal station). When it was time to go I was feeling a tiny bit better, it has to be said. There was no risk, for instance, of making an exhibition of myself in public (not that it's possible to make an exhibition of oneself in private). I ordered a cab and reached the station with 10 minutes to spare, jumped on the train, found a seat and then spent the journey staring out of the window in a state of unmedicated weariness while fending off the attentions of a toddler who kept calling me 'dad' and offering me the biscuits she had dropped on the floor. Had I been feeling a little brighter I might have sung that Kid Creole number, "Annie, I'm not your daddy!", but I wasn't feeling bright at all.

When I reached Dusseldorf I had a short walk to the fantastic Leonardo Hotel on Ludwig Erhard Allee and the welcoming face of receptionist Natalie Williams. After checking in, I went straight to my room – it was about 1530hrs – and slept through to 2222hrs (that's what it said on my iphone when I regained consciousness, I'm not trying to brag about my 'preciseness'). I had consumed nothing all day other than a half litre of mineral water purchased from a vending machine opposite the front desk of the Amsterdam hotel.

In a weary state I lay in bed watching BBC World and listening to how US president Obama faces a rocky couple years having been trounced by the Republicans in the mid-term elections; there was stuff about Ebola and an interview with Zimbabwe's minister of tourism (Hardtalk) who discussed building some kind of theme park and casino at a time when the country simply doesn't need one. Is he crazy or what? Mugabe is in his early nineties (91) but there are rumours that his family wants to retain power after his demise.

I wandered downstairs to buy a bottle of mineral water and to ask if there were any snacks available; the answer on the latter was no, but there were free, shiny and very green Granny Smiths in a bowl so I had one of those and returned to my room where I fell asleep and didn't wake up until 0730hrs – feeling good. Thursday morning and I felt absolutely fine. Fine enough to eat a decent breakfast followed by lunch and now I'm considering dinner. Hmmm, perhaps some raw seafood and uncooked meat!

This morning, when I reached the conference, my colleague who had enjoyed the oysters with me on Monday afternoon, told me that he too had experienced what I have already detailed above. This means that it might have been our lunch by the sea OR those oysters. The consensus of opinion was the former. Another colleague of mine related a tale of how he enjoyed a few oysters earlier in the year in Paris and they came back to haunt him two days later. And there was me blaming the Indonesian restaurant (which was clearly innocent). It was either the oysters or the Dover sole, but let's remember this: the Dover sole was cooked, the oysters were uncooked...or perhaps it was the steak tartar – think minced beef, uncooked – very dangerous. I mean, let's be honest. Would you go to your local butcher, buy a half pound of mince and start eating it raw on your way home? Well, that's what steak tartar is all about. Add a few raw onions from the greengrocer and Bob's your toilet attendant!

And now there's nothing much else to say. I will certainly be avoiding seafood, especially oysters and, indeed, anything that isn't cooked. Who in their right mind eats food that is uncooked, unless it's something like fresh fruit and vegetables? Only wild animals don't cook their meat. Having said that, I'm rather partial to a bit of raw cauliflower and only the other week I was munching away on some raw cabbage while cooking the Sunday roast, but no more raw food, however trendy it's supposed to be. There's nothing trendy about sitting on the throne at 0300hrs trying not to be sick.

Techno confusion and general frustration...
That's the food poisoning dealt with, as for the 'techno confusion' and the 'general frustration' one neatly links into the other: despite keying in my password and user name correctly, I couldn't access my work email account this evening; that's one frustration; then the WiFi in my hotel room didn't work (I'm downstairs writing this on the hotel 'business centre' computer) and, if I'm honest, I'm getting a little fed up with my general slapstick behaviour. I put on a pair of glasses, I look down at a book, the glasses fall off – once they fell off and dropped into a bowl of soup in a restaurant. And how about this: I'm sitting in a conference hall, I take out my glasses case and immediately can't find it. Where the hell has it gone, I fume inwardly, not wanting to let others know of my frustration. I eventually find them wedged underneath the seat next to me where they must have quietly fallen after I'd allowed them to rest on the cushion. And then there's simultaneous translation. I hate it! Why can't everybody speak the international language – English? I feel really guilty about not speaking another language. I wish I'd learned French or German, but then again my secondary modern 1970s education stipulated that I was too thick to learn a foreign language. Not that they'd in any way tested me. "Secondary Modern Schools are Designed to Produce Failures." Discuss.

Something else that bugged me on this trip in particular was my constant inclination, when leaving the hotel room in Dusseldorf (Room 501) to turn left instead of right. The correct way to the elevators was to turn right, not left, but every time I left the room, deep in thought about something or other, I turned left and then, realising my mistake, adjusted my direction accordingly and headed for the elevator vestibule. Is that the right word? Vestibule? I only got it right when I vacated the room for the last time, which was doubly frustrating because I knew I wouldn't have the pleasure of getting it right again.

Fortunately, I missed out on one big frustration: Germany's train drivers were on strike today so it was lucky that I travelled to Dusseldorf yesterday, even if I was completely out of it. We'll leave it there, but let this post be a lesson to all who read it: don't eat raw fish or meat, it ain't big and it ain't clever and its definitely not trendy.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

To the Tatsfield Churchyard...

Saturday 1st November proved to be a relatively uneventful day for our cycling. We rode to the Tatsfield Churchyard, which was far enough for both of us. Andy broke out the Belvita biscuits, I poured the tea and then, after a brief period of relaxation – during which time it rained but we remained seated at our bench as it wasn't at all bad (and it was very warm) – we jumped back on the bikes and headed for home following the usual route. Andy branched off halfway along the 269 and I carried on home.
Matt and Andy at the Tatsfield Churchyard

While we both vowed to ride to Westerham today (Sunday 2nd November) it never happened. Andy aborted due to a lack of sleep and when I awoke (earlier than anticipated around 0400hrs) I was greeted by the sound of the wind outside. The wind was soon joined by the rain and it didn't really stop. In fact, it's raining now (at 1647hrs). So the chances are that we would have aborted anyway.

Missing a ride is bad news and whenever it happens and I don't get my fix of fresh air and exercise I feel decidedly downbeat all day. Restless is the word I'm looking for; restless and dissatisfied. But when the weather's poor there's little to be done other than sit around watching television programmes like Escape to the Country and Len Goodman talking to Ainsley Harriott in Blackpool...not forgetting Points of View and, on ITV, Downtown Abbey, which I'm missing (fortunately) because I'm upstairs, in the bedroom, writing this post.

But rainy days are really good days because it's a time when things can be very cosy – lamps on, curtains drawn, wind blowing outside, the sound of rain hitting the windows and the promise of a hot meal as darkness sets in. To be honest, I could do with more days like this instead of rushing around here and there and not taking things easy.

North Downs Cycles
One thing I almost forgot to mention was the new bike shop that has opened on the 269 opposite Warlingham Sainsbury's. I popped in there on Saturday morning as I rode back towards Warlingham Green and found the guy I've met once or twice on the green while waiting for Andy to arrive – the guy I once described as 'the gung-ho cyclist'. It's his shop! The stock is a little on the expensive side. Who, for instance, would spend £4,000 on a mountain bike? You'd need to be a real pro, but I guess it's the real pro they're aiming at – the sort of mountain biker that wears Lycra, perhaps. The bikes in North Downs Cycles put my old Kona to shame as they sport carbon fibre frames (ultra light) and they really look the business. However, if I had four grand to splash out on a mountain bike, I'd probably buy a secondhand Harley Davidson Sportster, although, in reality, I probably wouldn't as the grand sum of £4,000 would come in very handy at the moment for much more mundane reasons, like paying back a debt, and besides, I haven't passed my bike test and I think motorcycles are dangerous. A few years ago I went through a phase of wanting a motorcycle, but I'm over it now, thankfully.

Hopefully next week we'll get two rides in.

One year ago...


Monday, 27 October 2014

As the clocks go back...

If time is a winged chariot soaring through outer space, then I was ahead of it on Sunday morning. Despite the fact that, for most people, the clocks going back mean an extra hour in bed, it wasn't to be for me as I woke up ahead of the game. The clock glowing brightly on my bedside table was living in the future and the only reliable piece of time-telling equipment was my iphone, which was downstairs on the console table awaiting its chance to shout out that it was six o'clock and time to get up. But I was way ahead of the game. I turned and looked at the bedside clock and it was something like four o'clock in the morning, which meant it was really an hour earlier, although downstairs in iphone land all was well. I had hoped that I might wake up nearer to 'six am' only to remember that it was really only five am, but no. It was annoying because once awake, it's impossible to get back to sleep. Or rather it's not impossible, I just tend to nod back off about a minute before it's time to get up. And sure enough, the iphone, like that monkey in Toy Story 3, starting making a noise downstairs.

"There's a job for you in the fire escape trade! Come up to town!"

"What's that?"
"Don't worry, it's the iphone. Time to go for a ride."
"What time is it?"
"Well, it's really six o'clock, but it's also seven o'clock."
"What's the real time?"
"Six."
"But it's really seven."
"No, it's six, but yesterday, at this very moment, it was seven o'clock."
"The clocks have gone back."
"Yes."

Why is it that when the clocks go back everyone gets up to 'experience' the thrill of being up at a time when, only 24 hours earlier, it was an hour later than the present? Outside nothing looked any different,   except it was a little darker. It doesn't make any sense but, suddenly, downstairs was blessed with three people rather than just me pottering around silently in the kitchen. The silence was disturbed by Desperate Housewives and I eventually headed for the garage around ten past seven o'clock.

The gears were still playing up, but what was I expecting? That they would cure themselves? That the bike would somehow 'get better'? A trip to the bike shop still beckons in other words.

I sent Andy a text. "Running 10 minutes late" and then made my way towards the green. It was a pleasant day. Not too cold, but dark and grey and looking like rain, although, fortunately, we were spared a soaking.

I should have riden out yesterday, but I had to drive over to Balham (in South London) early in the morning, which was mildly annoying – not that Andy went out and with Phil away on holiday it was only me. Still, it gave me a chance to listen to Radio Four in the car, which was good and for some reason I hadn't put two and two together where the broadcaster and journalist Jay Rayner was concerned: he's Claire Rayner's son. I remember meeting his father, who was a really good artist, but I can't remember the circumstances behind the meeting. I might also have met Claire Rayner too, but I can't remember.

The lake was on the agenda, but...
The plan was to head for the lake and had I not left later and had there not been things to do I would have gone there. It's odd how all three of us – Andy, Phil and myself – have all been to the lake alone but not as a 'team', not since May 2013 (if my memory serves me correctly) when Phil and I rode there. Instead we rode to Westerham and as we roared along the 269 ('puttered' would be a more apt description) a vintage Ferrari was coming the other way. It was green. Rare, says Andy, but I don't give a stuff about cars. They are, for me, and much to Andy's horror, purely a means of getting from A to B. "After a few rides it would be just a dashboard and a windscreen, like any other car, the wipers going back and forth in the rain," I said, dismissively, and Andy threatened to turn around a cycle home.

We rode to Botley and on the B2024 (Clarks Lane) heading for Westerham. It was typical NoVisibleLycra weather – dark skies, the threat of rain, but it was relatively warm. Perfect cycling conditions, we both agreed as we rode into the town centre.

As we sat and drank tea, we also munched biscuits and discussed the case for not making a living out of photography. Well, not so much dismissing it entirely but agreeing that, these days, thanks to digital technology, most people think they're professional photographers and this kind of limits the market for those who take photographs for a living. In editorial circles, the digital revolution means that journalists now double as photographers (and the quality dips considerably as a result), leaving advertising as the only real outlet for the professional photographer. I'm not a photographer, but I know one of the very best, Robert Wilkinson; Andy, on the other hand, would love to make a career out of what is now a hobby. And who can blame him? But, as we both said, it's a tough nut to crack, especially if you're just starting out.

Mounting the bikes we headed out of Westerham and prepared ourselves for Westerham Hill and that long climb towards the Botley Hill Farmhouse. We've run out of ideas on the photography front (hence the shot above of a fire escape in northern England) and decided that new destinations were needed to make our blog images less predictable (shots of the bikes, shots of Churchill's or General Wolfe's statue, shots of us sitting at the bench drinking tea – all very predictable). We discussed the lake, but then realised we'd exhausted it in photography terms and besides, it's just that little bit too far for a Saturday or Sunday morning. That said, we haven't been to Hunger's End for a while or Redhill (and there's plenty of photographic opportunities in Redhill, I can tell you!

The irony of it all!
To take our minds off the hill, we discussed irony. A good example of something that is ironic is Nigel Farage being an MEP,  a Member of the European Parliament. Why? Because Nigel Farage is anti-Europe and wants the UK to come out of Europe – he's causing the Tories a lot of problems at the moment on matters concerning immigration. It's ironic, therefore, that he is an MEP and also quite ridiculous when you consider that if Nigel Farage's UKIP achieves its ultimate objective, Mr Farage will be out of a job!

We then set about distinguishing irony from 'contradictory' and from 'hypocrisy' and it all got a little heavy as we heaved our way up the hill, passing the steps leading to the Tatsfield Churchyard and pressing on past the Tatsfield Bus Stop to the Botley Hill roundabout. Was it hypocritcal of Nigel Farage to be an MEP? Or was there some kind of contradiction involved? Was it a paradox or purely ridiculous? We never really came to any conclusion, but it helped pass the time as we climbed the hill and soon we were riding along the 269 heading North. It was a clear day and from across vast expanses of fields and suburbia, in the distance, but clearly visible, we could see the entire panorama of Central London stretching from West to East and embracing the City of London and Docklands.

Andy left half way along the 269, heading for Wapses Roundabout and another climb, this time into Caterham on the Hill. I carried on towards Warlingham Green, but stopped off briefly to answer the call of nature near the pond at the top of Slines Oak Road. There's a new bike shop opened opposite Warlingham Sainsbury's, selling top-end mountain bikes with obscure brand names I've never heard of before; something tells me this is real pro's shop.

I reached home at just past 10 o'clock and got on with the rest of my Sunday – a pleasant trip to Forest Row for tea and cake and then a browse around what we call 'The Elephant Shop' at Sheffield Park, 10 miles north of Lewes.



Sunday, 19 October 2014

Finding the source of the B269...on another solo ride to Botley Hill

You know, it's odd how anybody can be SO boring, but here I am being just that: boring. I mean, who in their right mind would be interested in finding the source of a B-Road? As if 'the source' of a B-Road even exists! They simply start and finish. They're not rivers, like the Nile or the Amazon, they're simply tarmac roads that, most of the time, go to boring places – just like the writer of this post.
The Red Deer, South Croydon, marks the start of the 269.

The B269 goes to Edenbridge. It starts in South Croydon next to a pub called the Red Deer, except that the pub in question doesn't exist anymore; it's now a Morrison's Local (a small supermarket) that has cashed in on the fact that pubs all over the UK are closing at a rate of knots, thanks to a number of reasons. One reason is the amount of duty the Government puts on beer. The brewers simply pass it on to the customers and now a pint of bitter will set you back almost £4. In some parts of London, a pint is even more expensive than that!

Another reason for the pubs closing down is home entertainment. Rather than go out, a lot of people stew in front of their flatscreen televisions with cheap beer they purchased from the supermarket. In fact, there's a kind of irony in the fact that a former pub has been transformed into a supermarket, but there you have it; the Red Deer isn't the first and it won't be the last. In fact, there's a pub in Sutton (or there was a pub in Sutton) called the Woodman and it is now a Tesco Express. What a sorry state of affairs.

So the B269 starts by a former pub. The Red Deer used to be a live band venue 'back in the day.

Further along the 269 – Sanderstead Church and pond
I was on my way to mum's this morning. I'd left later than usual as it was raining heavily when I was originally due to leave the house and meet Andy at Warlingham Green. We agreed to abort, but then, as the sun rose, the rain stopped. I sent Andy a text saying I was going out, but he didn't reply until later in the day (Andy rode out locally). It was around 0800hrs when I found myself on the bike and decided to head for mum's, but then I changed my mind. I didn't fancy the suburban ride. I didn't change my mind, however, until I reached the Brighton Road and saw, in the distance, the Red Deer.

I decided to ride the length of the B269 from beginning to end (wrongly thinking that it ended just past Botley Hill. Why I thought that, I don't know, but when I reached Botley, my heart sank as I saw a road sign stating that Edenbridge – not Botley Hill – was the end of the line for the 269.

Reaching familiar territory – Warlingham Green
The ride from the Red Deer to Sanderstead (the only bit of the 269 that I haven't riden along with any purpose) is basically one long suburban hill flanked by residential property. It levels out when it reaches Sanderstead High Street and remains relatively flat until it passes Ledgers Road, where things get a little more rural and, for a short while, a little steeper. But I ride this section of the road virtually every weekend and I've probably told you about it many times before; I've even riden the bit beyond Botley, down Titsey Hill and around the corner into Limpsfield, but I've yet to ride to Edenbridge, although that's likely to be next on the agenda.

The 269 soon leaves suburbia behind it...
Today I rode all the way to Botley Hill (I say 'all the way' as if it's miles and miles when, in reality, it's our shortest default ride) from the Red Deer in South Croydon and then, because I was riding alone, there was no tea or biscuits. And when there's nothing to eat or drink, there's nothing else to do other than get home, so off I went, getting soaked in the process, but not from the rain. It was the puddles left behind from the rain and the spray that caused the problems. The rain had stopped ages ago – around 0700hrs to be sort of precise – but it had left behind wet roads and puddles. My bike has no mudguards – it's never had mudguards as it's not that sort of bike – but when it rains, well, put it this way, it's a bit of a hassle keeping dry. When I reach home under such circumstances I'm not allowed to sit down (understandably) so I take everything off, change and then have a much-needed cup of tea.

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the 
B269 continues to Edenbridge. And there was me thinking
it came to an end just past the Botley Hill Farmhouse.
I might ride down Titsey Hill again one of these days and follow the 269 to the end, to Edenbridge, let's see, but today I was happy with simply taking a ride as the rain had threatened to keep me indoors. Fortunately, it stopped.

I like this shot of the old Scrap, taken Sunday on the 269.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Solo ride to Botley Hill (14 miles)

Both Phil and Andy aborted so it was left to me to fly the flag for the blog. I wavered a little at first, but around 0800hrs I headed for the garage and my awaiting bike. A short ride was on the cards so I opted for Botley Hill, although I toyed with the idea of the Tatsfield Bus Stop. However, with no tea to drink (I rarely make the tea when I'm riding alone) I figured that a virtually non-stop ride to Botley would be best, with a brief stop to take the obligatory photograph or two.

At The Ridge, near Botley Hill roundabout, Saturday 18 October 2014
The weather was amazing. While there was a fairly strong breeze, very gusty and travelling from right to left as I made my way along the B269, it was surprisingly warm, which was very pleasant. Not quite like having the hairdryer blowing on my face, but not far off. The sky was like a water colour painting, a kind of light blue-grey colour with streaked clouds here and there; talk about an Indian summer, it's getting to be more like an Indian winter (although I know what they're like, having visited Southern India at Christmas time a few years ago – and they're not like England in October).

My gears are still playing up. This time they were clunking and cracking a little more than usual, but, as always, they eventually settled down and at one stage I discovered that the chain had magically moved on to the lower crank at the right, something it hadn't done for a few weeks. So I need to pay a visit to the bike shop (as I said last week) but, sadly, once again, I'm still on Skid Row so it'll have to wait.

I rode past all the usual landmarks: Warlingham Sainsbury's; Knights Garden Centre; the pond at the top of Slines Oak Road and then all the way to Botley Hill where I rode past the pub, down to the roundabout and then, stopping briefly at the top of The Ridge to take the shots accompanying his post, I  re-mounted and rode home.

Yours truly at The Ridge this morning
While it had rained during the night or early morning (there were puddles to prove it and I got a wet arse due to my insistence not to buy mudguards) there was no sign of more rain throughout the ride and I reached home relatively unscathed by the weather. I must remember, however, not to ride 'no hands' when there are gusts of wind around – even if they are warm gusts. As I rode cockily down Church Way a sudden gust almost knocked off balance and off the bike, but, fortunately, I managed to retain control of the machine as I rode towards Morley Road and home.

Here's hoping that Andy's on for a ride tomorrow. I don't think Phil will be there as he seems to be fairly busy these days.