Monday, 2 May 2016

Bank Holiday Weekend Cycling – Part two: to Westerham for tea, toast and cake...

Of late – and by 'of late' I mean for many years – my life has been largely devoid of music, mainly because it's impossible to listen to it without some kind of interruption, somebody asking me to 'turn it down' or requesting different music or wanting to discuss something. Ultimately, whenever I consider putting on some music, I think twice and decide not to bother.

As music has basically seeped away from my day-to-day life, like a burst water main, the machinery designed to bring music into the house started to fall into disrepair too. Old speakers soon found themselves in the garage en route to the municipal tip and now there is an amplifier and a CD player sitting self-consciously unconnected and redundant in the living room.

The music itself is in a state of disrepair. CDs can be found in a draw, not inside their original packaging but somewhere else: a New Order Best Of, for instance, might be residing in REM's Out of Time packaging and vice versa, and some CDs have no packaging. Needless to say some of them get damaged so that on the odd occasion when I find myself driving to mum's alone or nipping out to the supermarket to buy some milk, I place a CD in the player and it jumps, so I either switch if off or listen to the radio instead.

In all honesty, music has ceased to be important. I won't listen to anything produced beyond, say, 1995 – around that time good music stopped and a mixture of hip hop and Simon Cowell took over, giving the world some of the worst music it's ever likely to hear. It's not going to get any better either so I'm left with my memories and a few damaged CDs. When I say that music is no longer important to me, it used to define my very existence by providing the soundtrack to my life. I lived my life as if it was some kind of movie with me as the big star. Perhaps we're all guilty of this.

From an early age – probably around 13 onwards – I had been listening to music, trying to find meaning and relevance in the lyrics and, occasionally, transporting myself into a fantasy world where I was the lead guitarist playing in front of a huge audience, until the record ended and I came crashing back down to earth and found myself in my bedroom or, if I engage in such fantasies now, Sainsbury's or round at mum's house. And while I really should know better, I still engage in such fantasies.

Some people put music on as 'background' noise. I can't do this. Or rather I can, but I tend to want to listen to whatever is playing, drift off into some kind of other world and, hopefully, stay there for as long as I can. But, of course, such activity is impossible nowadays as there's always something else to do and, therefore, music is no longer relevant simply because there's never any time to just sit down and listen to it like there used to be. In many ways it's sad because I've always believed that music is good for the soul.

So, this week, on a mid-week drive over to mum's, I found All Mod Cons by The Jam – undamaged. What a tremendous album. From the word go it's brilliance shines through and it took me right back to 1978, a strange and formative year for me in so many ways. It reminded me of Bon, my brother, and going to the pub in Carshalton and drinking pints of Young's and not really having any worries – no mortgages, no bills, no responsibilities.

A few days later I found myself walking around the streets of Redhill with Jezza, a work colleague, who asked me to name any other artist – other than Paul Weller – who had not only remained relevant, but was still putting out cutting edge albums. I tried. The Rolling Stones? No, they're largely reliant upon their back catalogue. I wracked my brain and eventually scored: David Bowie. I was right, but Weller, as Jezza was keen to point out, was the only one of our contemporaries – Jezza and I are roughly the same age – who was still of massive relevance today and, of course, is still with us.

Yesterday, as I stood alone at the check-out in Sainsbury's, I spied Quadrophenia – a double CD set with a smaller version of the black and white story that's interwoven into the cover of the original vinyl offering. It was only £5. I'd earlier put a copy of the Observer into my trolley and now I picked it up and noted the price – a good £3. I cast it aside and put Quadrophenia on to the conveyor instead.

What can I say? Quadrophenia, in my opinion, is the best Who album. Better than Tommy, better than Who's Next, better than The Who by Numbers and so on. There are so many aspects of this great double album to bring out, but for now just two: Keith Moon's drumming and John Entwhistle's bass after Daltry has belted out, "Can you see the real me, can yer, CAN YER?!!!!" Driving home yesterday from mum's I found myself replaying it time and time again, it was that good. And when you think about it, what an achievement – the Who have had TWO albums turned into movies.

Another fantastic bit of drumming by Keith Moon can be found at the beginning of the track Bell Boy. Honestly, it's just amazing and, let's face it, they're all good – all four members of the Who.

Breakfast in Westerham. Pic by Andy Smith.
But right now, as I write this, my brain's in-built Walkman is playing In the Crowd from All Mod Cons. It's on from the moment I'm conscious or, as yesterday, when I rode along the Limpsfield Road towards the Green where Andy was waiting. We headed out to Westerham on what was easily the best day of the weekend – blue skies and sunshine and warmth. There was no heavy flask of water in the rucksack, no teabags and no milk as we were headed for the Tudor Rose café where we would enjoy tea, toast and the most amazing fruit cake.

The ride to Westerham was perfect. Great views, albeit with a few Lycra monkeys thrown in for good measure. We sat outside the Tudor Rose and watched the market traders setting up their stalls. Our tea arrived in a huge (and heavy) white teapot followed by two slices of thick, buttered toast and, of course, a couple of slabs of fruit cake. People walked past – dog walkers and old-age pensioners – and we sat there trying to put out of our minds the journey home and that long hill. But soon we were back on the bikes and heading towards the dreaded hill and I said something like, "Soon we'll be at Botley wondering what all the fuss was about." In truth, it was not that bad – it never is. The initial hill is peppered with flat sections and then, once beyond the Surrey Hills totem pole, it's a slow burn to Botley. We soon reached the pub and all that remained was the ride north along the 269 towards the Green. It was such a clear day we could see London stretched out before us, from the Shard to Docklands, but it soon disappeared behind the trees and suddenly we were back in suburbia.

We parted company at the Green and decided not to ride on Bank Holiday Monday, but, as I sit here now on that very day, with the time only minutes away from 0830hrs, I'm still mulling over a possible ride, although I don't think I'll bother. Instead, I'll take my exercise in the garden, sawing a few branches, pulling out some Devil's Forget-Me-Nots and sweeping the patio. Summer is fast approaching, the garden is starting to bloom... and In the Crowd is still playing in my head.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Bank Holiday Weekend Cycling – Part One: to the Tatsfield Churchyard

It's been a good weekend for cycling. First, Andy announced that he would be riding on Saturday. This is always good news as it means we head off somewhere and I'm not saddled with an urban ride, something I enjoy now and then, but it's good to get out in to the countryside, especially when the weather's fine.

While there are blue skies and sunshine, I've noticed a frost on the lawn in the mornings and, let's face it, the weather has been a little suspect. We've had the odd snow flurry, put it that way. Saturday (yesterday) was certainly colder than today (Sunday) but both days were bright and not really that cold at all.

On Saturday we headed to the Tatsfield Churchyard where, fortunately, the benches were dry, so we sat there eating chocolate-flavoured BelVita biscuits and talking about blogging. Andy has set up a photography blog and wants some advice from me, the grand master of the blogosphere (as the world of blogging is known).
A good example of bad photography, taken by yours truly at the churchyard
Andy, as you probably know already, is a keen photographer and he's written a post about the relative merits of digital photography over the more conventional film-based photography characterised by visits to the chemist to get your snaps developed. Initially, Andy's argument was as follows: it's a shame that digital photography has, in a sense, taken away the 'sociability' of taking pictures. By that he means that gone are the days when you take your film to the chemist, hand them over the counter, get given a slip of paper and told to come back at the end of the week. Then, when you pick up your photos you take them to the office and show your friends, having first weeded out those in which your finger has accidentally covered the lense and so on.

You might have a few shots blown up and framed, but the key here is that the shots are accessible. Alright, you might shove them in a draw with a load more paper wallets full of snaps, previously developed at Boots, but by and large, you can ferret around in that draw whenever you want and find the images you've been looking for. Sometimes, simply sitting on the sofa handing round a few old family photos is a pleasant thing to do, but these days that luxury has left the building as most people store their images on the hard drive of their lap tops, rarely to be seen by man or beast.

But is that really true? It could be argued that the advent of digital photography has brought the art of the snapper to virtually everybody in the country. Who hasn't got a smart phone these days? Most people are taking shots of virtually everything they encounter. I know that I'm one of those sad individuals who even takes photographs of cakes and bowls of soup in cafés and then I'm more than happy to share those images with anybody who's interested.

How many times do you see people sitting on park benches, sitting in pubs or cafés showing their friends shots of whatever they got up to the previous night? And then, of course, there's the growing and perhaps unsavoury practice of 'sexting' where promiscuous images of boyfriends and girlfriends are shared on social media, normally as some kind or revenge. In other words, photography is no longer something we do on holiday, it's something we're doing all the time. Take me and this blog. I'm always taking images, however dull, of the Tatsfield Bus Stop, the churchyard, our bikes, you name it, anything that might in some way depict the weekend's cycling.

The downside of the digital photography revolution, of course, is that everybody thinks they are professional photographers, and that's because the technology behind digital devices allows us to think that way. It's possible to turn an image into a sepia tone or black and white, or God knows what, but suddenly, we're all David Bailey and this, of course, is playing havoc with the livelihood of the professional who suddenly finds he's not getting so many wedding assignments or magazine editorial shots. Why? Because old so and so has a digital SLR, he can take your wedding photographs. Or the editor has been given a cheap, brushed aluminium digital camera that he now takes on all assignments.

But that, I suppose, is the only real downside of digital photography and it's up to the professionals to regroup and come up with something that will keep them in business. I know a top photographer who can do things with a digital camera that I can only dream of – and he seems to be doing alright, although, to be fair, he's mainly doing advertising shoots these days as most publishers are far too stingy to allow their editors to spend money on photography.

So, there you have it, that's what Andy and I were discussing at the churchyard in the sunshine as we drank our tea and munched our biscuits. We then rode home and vowed to ride to Westerham the following day, which we did and I'll report on it later today.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Losing my religion...

One thing that's really getting to me these days, is the whole necessity for everyone to be PC about stuff – especially about religion.

You know what, I'm not really religious. I went to a Church of England school. I was christened in a Church of England church.

The Church of England was invented by King Henry Vlll so that he could get it on with Anne Boleyn and that just about about sums up my 'religion'. I rarely go to church and I have a great deal of trouble believing some of the stuff the bible expects me to believe. You know what I'm talking about: Jesus walking on water, the loaves and the fishes and so on. Even the ressurrection. I don't know anybody who has come back from the dead, I don't know about you.

Most people hold some kind of religious belief or faith, even if it's really basic. Me, for instance, I find myself praying to God when there's a bit of turbulence on a flight. I occasionally pray for continued good health. But you know what? Generally speaking, I just get on with my life. I hope for the best, like most people. One thing I don't do is go on and on about my religion. Mainly because I'm not that religious, I am quite skeptical about the whole thing. I find that wherever there's religion there are problems, often problems linked with war and violence (think Northern Ireland, think the Middle East, think anywhere there's unrest).

So I take a step back and I think, hold on a second, why even get involved with this stuff? And I don't get involved. I can't be bothered. I'm not interested in other people's religious beliefs and I don't care if they're interested in mine or not. You know what? The last thing I'd want to be involved with is 'Jihad' or 'Holy War'. What the hell's that all about? Who would want a holy war and why? There's nothing holy about war.

I have no ambitions whatsoever to convert anybody to follow my religion, that of the Church of England. Why would I want to convert anybody? Equally, I don't want to be converted to other people's religions because ultimately I believe they are all questionable.

Whenever I see the Pope I almost laugh out loud at the ridiculous outfit he has to wear to set him apart from 'lesser mortals'. Marx referred to religion as the 'opium of the people', a form of social control, keeping people in their place. Think of the 10 commandments, they're all rules we're supposed to follow through life and listen here, I'm not saying they're wrong. Thou Shalt Not Kill. Well, of course not. Why would you want to kill anybody? So, in a nutshell, I'm not particularly religious and while I accept that other people are, I don't expect anybody to try and force their beliefs on me. It's a free country over here in the UK and we're all allowed to preach what the hell we want (well, let's not get started on whether or not there's freedom of speech in a democratic country as there's plenty of evidence that says we're not as free as we think we are).

So, let's get back to the Muslims. I wish them all well as long as they don't expect me to convert to Islam. I don't want to convert, not because I think Islam is good or bad or whatever. To be honest I know little about it, other than there's a book called the Koran, like my Bible, they pray in Mosques, not churches and, thanks to the mass media, we're all told to beware, thanks to the work of Islamic State and the Taliban and so on.

The mass media has stirred up folk devils and created what sociologists call a 'moral panic'. We see a man with a beard and a Mediterranean tan and we all wonder what's in his rucksack. No wonder the Muslim world is a little pissed off with the west. They're not all extremists, are they? If you believe the right wing media, they ARE all extremists.

But for me, I say live and let live. But also, don't bother me with your religion because I won't be bombarding you with mine. I don't want to know. For me religion, if it exists at all, is a personal thing. It's something you keep to yourself. You don't bother others with it, you don't try to explain your religion to others. Why should you? And why should anybody listen?

People always say never discuss politics or religion with anybody. They have a point. It's so boring, especially when you remember that a lot of it is hard to believe in the first place. It's magic at the end of the day, and who believes in magic these days?

It's not that I find religion boring, that's not it at all. Religion is interesting, of course it is, but we all have things we engage with and things we don't and for me another man's beliefs are another man's beliefs. I'm not saying that I don't find them interesting, although invariably I don't, but I'm simply saying that he can keep his beliefs and he can forget any idea about trying to convert me to his way of thinking because it simply isn't going to happen. And the reason for that is simple: I don't believe. Politics, fine. That's real. It's not 'magic'.

There are merits in left and right, Republican and Democrat, Tory and Labour, and I can see the arguments and understand why they exist. But religion! No, I don't believe in what the Bible or the Koran has to say. Does God exist? Who knows? Somehow I think not. If God exists, it's something like Mother Nature. Now that's a great wonder of the world, the fact that we and the animals and the plants and the seasons are all built in a certain way. The human body is amazing. Why? Now that's the question. What's the plan? But is it an old man with a white beard and a stick? I doubt it; things just 'are'.

So I don't want some guy with a beard and a copy of the Koran, or the Pope with a St. Christopher, or whoever, telling me THIS is how it is, because in simple terms, it isn't. Nothing is like it is. It all comes down to freedom at the end of the day. We should all be free to think freely and in whichever way we want.

The Syrian conflict isn't about religion. Alright, there are a lot of religiously-motivated people involved in the conflict, more's the pity, but it's not a fight about who believes what; it's a fight about a regime that people don't particularly like and want to change. Those with religious motivations are getting involved and that's a shame, but it's not about one 'God' against another.

I'm not about to change my view unless, perhaps, I witness a miracle. I don't know. Freedom is the answer and not being forced to believe something against our will.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Rail strike – so I ride to work!

Riding to work, as I've said before, is not exactly a fun thing to do. Once I'm in the saddle I always feel as if somebody – probably me – has upturned one of those old fashioned hour glasses full of sand and then, as I make my way towards my destination, the sand is seeping through one end of the glass and collecting in a pile at the bottom of the one below. In other words, I'm riding against the clock. Not that I have any real sense of urgency. Oh no, I'd rather take things a little easy, ease myself in to the ride, take in my surroundings and generally enjoy what I'm doing.

Southern, a train operating company, are on strike. I think it's something to do with the introduction of new 12-car trains without guards, but I can't be certain. There hasn't been a train strike for a long time. It reminds me of the old days of Ted Heath in the 1970s when we had a three-day week. Fortunately, back then, I was a kid and train strikes didn't really bother me. They bothered my dad instead. I'll always remember him going on about Ray Buckton, the head of ASLEF, who was always causing industrial strife off the back of a rail strike.

The Henty Wingman – I used mine today
Anyway, there are no trains so I had two choices: ride to work or take the bus and I chose the former. Unfortunately, because it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, I didn't leave the house until late (just gone 0800hrs, probably around 0810hrs by the time I was actually on the bike and riding up Ellenbridge. In fact, for me, the worst bit of the entire ride was probably from leaving the house until I reached the top of Church Way, because it seems to take an age to get there. The rest of the outward journey was pretty much fine. I rode up the Limpsfield Road to Wentworth Way, rode the length of Wentworth Way, past Warlingham High School, down Tithepit Shaw Lane, up Whyteleafe Hill and then Whyteleafe Road, emerging God knows where, somewhere in Caterham, and then turning right at Stanstead Road and following it all the way through the rural badlands on the outskirts of Merstham before descending, along Warwick Wold Road, into the back end of Merstham, turning left just before School Hill and finding Battlebridge Lane or Road, I can't remember. Soon I was heading for the local leisure centre where I padlocked the bike to the rack and paid the extortionate sum of £5 for a shower, including a quid for a locker token.

Then the hassles started. For a moment I thought I'd left my glasses behind – but I hadn't – and generally it was all a bit irritable, mainly because time was moving on, I'd left later than I should have and it was heading towards 1000hrs. I discovered that the sandwiches I'd lovingly made (tuna, spring onion and tomato) had been squashed into a ball. I had to throw them out and later visit the M&S café for soup and rolls. But once I'd showered and changed into my suit I cycled the short ride to the office, padlocked the bike and embarked upon a day's work. I was feeling totally energised and chatty and, it has to be said, on top of the world. If anything I was too full of beans.

A few potential problems lurked. I was convinced on the ride down that my front tyre was going to explode on me. While I thought my front wheel was buckled, closer inspection led to me to discover that there was a strange bulge in the tyre. I figured it could blow any minute, but it didn't. Punctures are just what I don't need when I'm riding to and from work and, fortunately, nothing happened.

The last time I remembered snow in April was back in 2008 but we had some today. Just a burst followed by blue skies and sunshine. Fortunately I was safe and sound in the office and not on the bike. But sooner or later I'd be back on the bike. I decided to leave it until after 6pm when I figured the traffic would be calmer. Unfortunately the weather was looking decidedly dodgy. The skies had darkened and rain was threatened as I headed up a brief stretch of the A23 en route to Merstham via Frenches Road. It was spitting rain and I was constantly assessing in my mind where I could take shelter in a downpour, but it never came. I was so worried I would get drenched that I stopped off at Merstham railway station where I was told there were no trains. There was nothing for it, I'd have to ride all the way home, but which way?

I was tempted to ride the slow way, the rural route through Chaldon, similar, in fact, to my outward journey, but I was conscious of a possible downpour and decided instead to head up the A23 and through Coulsdon and Purley.While I thought it would be unpleasant, it wasn't. Probably because I'd left it later and the traffic was getting less and less. In fact, it wasn't until I reached Purley Cross that there were potential danger spots, although I managed to negotiate all the problems and soon found myself in the back streets beyond Purley Station and heading up the Purley Oaks Road or the Purley Downs Road, I can't remember which, although I think it was the latter.

It last snowed in April in 2008....
When I reached home I felt totally energised, but also very hungry and enjoyed every bit of my dinner, washed down with a pint of London Pride – not forgetting Weetabix and sliced banana and a slice of brown bread without any butter. I'm still hungry now, but also a little tired. The football is on. Manchester City versus Real Madrid, it's 0-0 and not a very exciting match.

I'm so glad I rode in today, but whether I feel like doing it tomorrow, I'm not sure. I took a few risks today. I cycled without a crash helmet, I didn't take a pump or any leeches with me to fix a puncture and I didn't wear any waterproof clothing. In other words, I left myself vulnerable to outside forces. Not a good idea, but fortunately the Gods were on my side and now, as I sit here writing this, I'm beginning to feel pleasantly tired.

The Henty Wingman
Today's ride relied upon the Henty Wingman, a kind of suit carrier and rucksack combined. I put my suit inside the . Wingman along with a pair of shoes, a towel, soap, glasses, sandwiches, a clean shirt, everything I needed was in the Wingman and it performed well on both outward and inward journeys. For more details on the Henty Wingman, click here.

For more on the Henty Wingman, visit the company's site, which is www.henty.cc

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Those were the days of miracle and wonder...

Last weekend it was Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. This week it's Paul Simon's Boy in the Bubble on my in-built sound system that seems to be playing something, constantly, like musical tinnitus, whenever I'm conscious. The reason for last week's tune was the fact that Zeppelin were in court over the opening chords to their mammoth anthem – a band called Spirit from America's west coast was claiming that the heavy rock band powered by Page and Plant had 'stolen' some chords from a song called Taurus.

I like Spirit. When I was a hopeless teenager – and in my equally hopeless early twenties – they were constantly playing in my head and I'd advise all readers to check out The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus and an album entitled Future Games. Very strange, but very good too. There's also an album called Spirit of 76, which is well worth listening to if you veer towards the strange, as I've always done.

The reason for Paul Simon's Boy in the Bubble was probably Jools Holland's BBC2 show, Later. Paul Simon was on the programme – I'd imagine he's been recording some new stuff – but all you have to do is mention the name Paul Simon and I immediately think of Graceland, an amazing album that I never bought, but one I heard a few times. Boy in the Bubble has a great, flatulent bass line that carries the song, so it was playing loud and clear as I rolled down West Hill on my way to mum's yesterday morning.
The blossoms are out at Purley Playing Fields
While the sun was out and the skies were blue, there was a chill in the air, albeit a mild one, as I headed towards mum's house, following the usual route and stopping, as always, when I reached the Purley Playing Fields, this time to take a shot of a blossom tree in full bloom. That's one of the great things about this time of year. When the blossom trees are out there's hope in the air and a mild scent of the summer to come.

The ride to mum's, as always, was uneventful, and while I was hoping to see my brother's Cannondale parked up outside mum's house, it wasn't there and he later texted me, following my text explaining that I was on my way, to say he woke up late.

A house full of Kit-Kats.
I had the usual fantastic breakfast: boiled egg with fingers, some soft, white bread, a few chunks of fresh orange and some tea. In fact I had two, possibly three mugs of tea and a small Kit-Kat from the Kit-Kat House (see photo right).

As always, mum has plenty to say about what's going on in the road.

"Next door's having another baby, Math! That'll be three little babies living next door and she's such a tiny thing [the woman who will be giving birth, not the babies]."

They're doing a lot of work to their house, knocking down walls, pulling down garages, adding this and adding that. "He's the project manager, Math, but he's a trained electrician, he's ever so good."

It's at times like these that I start to feel inadequate when I consider my complete lack of DIY skills and the fact that a little bit of painting – or anything for that matter – is a big deal for me.

"The curtains are drawn down the road. I think Elizabeth has died, Math."
"Elizabeth? Dead? But why?"
"Something to do with arthritis, I think."
"That's a shame, she was only young, " I said, remembering the family when I was kid and living at home. I can see them all clearly now as I can the whole street, back in the days when the sun was always shining and Billy Wheeler, who lived across from us, was building a boat – a big boat – on his front drive.

But just because the curtains are drawn doesn't mean somebody's died. Don't most people draw their curtains? Perhaps they simply forgot to draw them back. I can't believe she's dead just because she didn't draw back her curtains one morning.
Typical of the things you'll find in mum's garden...

We started to speak about other people in the road, now long gone or long dead, like the Bottomleys. I might have related to you the tale of the Best Wishes chocolates and it was odd that it didn't come up as it normally does, but it passed us both by. In a nutshell, when I was a child, probably under 10 years old, the aptly named Mrs Bottomley handed me a large box of chocolates and I, quite rightly, thought they were for me and me alone. The occasion was a trip to the cinema to watch Mary Poppins. Having decided that the chocolates were mine, I proceeded to scoff the lot of them, palming others off with some Opal Mints that I happened to possess. The end result? I was ill. My arse was on fire and I was pebbledashing anything in sight, including the inside of my uncle's mini van. It was a family story that ran and ran and even today, when the words 'Best' and 'Wishes' are uttered together on family occasions, eyes turn towards me and smiles break out on the faces of family members. I still feel I owe my uncle an apology for that day.

I started to wonder again whether drawn curtains necessarily mean that somebody has died, but mum was adamant. "The husband has come back from Canada," she said.
"What was he doing in Canada?"
"Elizabeth came back, she didn't like it there," mum explained.
"Perhaps he's over here for a holiday," I suggested.

Another breakfast at mum's...
We started talking about our old neighbours: Mrs Bottomley, Mr and Mrs Lee, the Morrisons – Mr Morrison looked like Boris Karloff – Mrs King, the Conquests (Bill and Betty), Mr and Mrs Elliot, the Tillmans (including Elizabeth), the Clarkes and, of course, Mike and Sonia, who moved into Mr Dale's old house. I'll always remember Mr Dale, an old chap who we always invited in for a drink on Christmas morning. He was sit quietly in the corner, smiling occasionally while sipping Harvey's Bristol Cream.

We never spoke about the people on the other side of the road – the bit leading down to Westmead Road to the right of mum's – as they were rarely part the mainstream goings on and were only occasionally part of the story. There was Mr Hooper the alcoholic – I recall him doddering around drunk at our Silver Jubilee street party – Mr Doyle, the former Mosquito pilot – who once shouted out 'too early!' in his west country accent when we were carol singing early in December – the Spaldings, the Barringtons and, of course, the Reeves, who threw the occasional flamboyant party.

"Would you like to look at my cherry tree?" asked mum.

Mum's garden – she spends a lot of time keeping it neat and tidy...
We went into the garden and then came in again as it was a bit chilly. I had another cup of tea and then put on my hat and gloves and said goodbye to mum. Halfway down the road I realised I'd left my mobile phone, glasses and camera behind and so turned around to retrieve them.

The traffic was heavy on the ride back, but not until I reached Wallington. It started to spit with rain too, but never got any worse and I escaped a soaking, arriving home around 1040hrs.

On Sunday morning there was rain so we aborted. It was dull and grey outside and I vowed to go on a short ride later. And by 'short' I mean the Woodland Trek. Then I set about finding Boy in the Bubble on Spotify, but in vain. Later, perhaps.


Sunday, 17 April 2016

Round to mum's on Saturday and then to the Tatsfield Churchyard on the Sabbath...

It had been raining overnight. I knew this because of the puddle on next door's conservatory roof. The skies were grey and there was a general threat of more rain in the air, but while I could have simply gone back to bed, I didn't. I went downstairs, made some tea and then considered my options; there were really only two. I could slob about at home or ride to mum's. I chose the latter.

The playing fields at Purley early on Saturday morning
I followed the usual route, stopping by the playing fields to take a photograph of the bleak landscape before pushing on towards the A23 where I would turn right and then left and head into Wallington, then Carshalton Beeches and then mum's. There were spits of rain, but nothing more and I arrived at mum's dry and ready for breakfast, which was being prepared: boiled egg, an orange chopped into bits, two small slices of buttered bread and marmalade. I don't touch marmalade these days, or jam, or honey come to think of it – bad for the teeth, but everything else was eaten and I sat there chatting with mum about this and that.

Yours truly near the playing fields
Mum's been busy making cuttings for her hanging baskets.

"These dahlias are for you – when they're ready," she said, showing me a small plastic container no bigger than a yoghurt pot in which there were small green shoots breaking the surface.

As always, I asked after the others – the others being my brother and sister – and all was fine. In fact, I texted Jon to see if he fancied meeting round at mum's, but he had an optician's appointment. Criss, apparently, is enjoying her retirement. I find it odd to think that she's 'retired'. She had a part-time job in M&S, but now stays home doing what I don't know, but I'm sure a visit to the pub once or twice is never off the agenda.

"I did a bit of 'destroy it yourself' this week," said mum, referring to a draw in the kitchen that previously contained cutlery. "But it all went wrong so I sealed it up with 'no more nails'," she said, explaining how the draw no longer exists and that the cutlery has been found a new home.

Breakfast at mum's and very tasty it was too!
"I don't need so many draws anyway," she added with a note of resignation as I continued to sip my tea.

We moved into the living room where I thumbed through Wednesday's Daily Mail – a truly awful newspaper. The garden, I noticed, was looking good.

"I don't like it when people see me mowing the lawn," said mum. A strange remark if ever there was one, and not something I'd heard her say before.

"Why?" asked I, mildly surprised at the comment, but it turned out to be nothing more than self-consciousness. Odd really when you consider that to see mum mowing the lawn the neighbour next-door would have to be looking down from his back bedroom. Something told me he's got better things to do.

The view through mum's kitchen window
Soon it was time to head home. The weather outside still looked a little dodgy and I kind of resigned myself to getting a soaking somewhere between Sutton and Sanderstead. Somehow I managed to escape it. While dull and overcast, I rode all the way home – following my outward route – without more than a drop of rain. It did rain within minutes of me returning, but that's fine as I was warm and dry and looking forward to lunch time.

Mum and yours truly on Saturday
I cycled around 12 miles, which is better than a prod in the eye with a sharp stick.

Sunday's ride – to the Tatsfield Churchyard!
I knew the weather was going to be better than Saturday so when Radio Four's 0600hrs news sprang to life – news of an earthquake in Ecuador – I was kind of ready to roll. Except that I must have drifted back to sleep again, because I didn't hear anymore news, just the theme music to Star Wars. I'm assuming that this was something to do with Something Understood, although I can't for the life of me remember what this week's subject was all about.

At 0609hrs I jumped out of bed and, sure enough, it was a much more pleasant day than yesterday. Alright, there was a light dusting of frost on the ground, but there were blue skies and sunshine too and I knew that Andy would be at the Green waiting for me later on.

Yours truly at the Tatsfield Churchyard
Downstairs I made some breakfast: two Weetabix with blueberries and sliced bananas plus a cup of tea and then I sat down in front of the lap top and wrote stuff for the blog. While I was expecting to see Phil outside at 0700hrs, I received an abort text instead. He said it was too cold and while I would beg to differ – blue skies and sunshine outside said otherwise – there was a frost on the ground and Andy later told me that coming down Whyteleafe Hill he was a bit chilly around the ears.

We decided to put our heads down and head for the churchyard where we munched chocolate BelVita biscuits and sipped tea. I was sporting a new cup! A metal cup with a clip on the handle, which meant I could clip it to the outside of my rucksack, giving other cyclists the impression that I was some kind of hobo cycling around the country and always ready to accept a cup of tea if offered. It's amazing how little things please little minds, but perhaps that's not the case. Perhaps I just love having new 'stuff' even it's just a cup.

For the journey back, I attached my new cup to the outside of my rucksack just to make other riders envious of it and me, but I don't think anybody was impressed. Having a metal cup, of course, means that if I drop it – a few weeks ago I dropped a china cup and smashed it into pieces – it won't break.

We chatted about dieting and then headed back home, discussing tax avoidance and evasion as we descended the steps from the churchyard to the road.

Andy sets up his own blog...
Andy, incidentally, has set up his own blog, focused primarily around his photography. For more details, click here.

The ride home was pleasant enough. We rode towards Botley Hill, headed north along the 269 and parted company at Warlingham Green. Andy won't be riding over the next half a dozen or so Saturdays, which means I'll have to motivate myself.







Sunday, 10 April 2016

A clear day – so we head to Westerham and the Tudor Rose café...

When I first woke up this morning I clearly remember catching bits of the news in between drifting back to sleep. At one point I couldn't quite make out what was going on. The news had ended and I could hear music. There's rarely music on Radio Four, that's left to Radio One, Two and Three, so what had happened? I figured somebody had messed with the dial. For a split second I wondered what day it was and there was a temporary, mild disappointment at the thought of it being Monday until I realised it was Sunday, a whole day stretched ahead of me and I should be up and out of bed and preparing for today's ride.

Outside the Tudor Rose, Sunday 11th April
The music on the radio was from Something Understood, but because I'd drifted in and out of sleep I didn't catch the beginning of the programme, so I had no idea of what it was about.

Jumping out of bed I headed towards the rear window where I pulled aside the curtain to find a bright, clear day with little sign of rain. There was a light frost on the lawn, but it didn't phase me. Time to make myself a cup of tea. And now, here I am sitting at the dining room table, lap top in front of me, writing a few words for the old blog.

Yesterday the rain continued on and off for most of the day. A fine drizzle sprayed the earth and later on the day brightened up, but while I considered 'a late ride' I knew that it would have disrupted the day. That's why Andy and I get up at the crack of dawn at weekends, it's not only about less traffic, it's about having the rest of the day free to do family stuff.

We'd planned a visit to the Tudor Rose this morning, which was great news for me as it meant I wouldn't have to carry a heavy flask full of hot water plus a mug, tea bags and milk. And I tell you what, it was something else having a virtually weightless rucksack.

I messed around on the computer and answered the call of nature, which made me a little late. I didn't leave the house until around 0706hrs. By the time I was on the road it was easily 0710hrs so I decided to push it and raced off up Ellenbridge, into SouthCote, then Elmfield and Morley and up Church Way. I was putting in a decent pace and didn't stop as Church Way turned steep. As I rode past Sanderstead Pond, I ruffled a few pigeons' feathers and then, once on the Limpsfield Road, I powered towards the green, passing all the usual places, such as Hamsey Green. When I reached the green I couldn't see Andy, but I did take a quick glance at the clock and I'd certainly made up some time. Andy was already on the road and beckoning to me to keep going. This I did and as we made our way towards Knight's Garden Centre and the quieter, more rural parts of the 269 we both agreed it was 'heads down' until Westerham.

The faster pace continued as we both kept our heads down, watching the moving tarmac as we progressed towards Botley Hill. The weather was dry and fairly warm, there were blossoms on the trees – always a good sign – and not a rain cloud in sight. We rounded the roundabout and rode into Clarks Lane, past the Tatsfield Bus Stop and down the hill in Westerham. The speed was maintained down the hill and along the road into Westerham, there was no let-up and soon we arrived. The Tudor Rose café was under new management – and had been for some time – and it had a cosy appearance about it. There were cakes on display – bread pudding, carrot cake, iced buns, you name it – but I decided that bread pudding for breakfast simply wasn't cricket, so I opted for two slices of white bread toast and a pot of tea for two. Andy ordered a sausage sandwich.

Matt and Andy at the Tudor Rose café
The sun was out so we sat outside and chewed the fat about David Cameron and the European Union and then tucked in to our breakfasts. It was absolutely fantastic. If the truth be known, this was one of the best rides we'd undertaken in a long time and I must admit that I was truly energised. Clearly, not having the haul the heavy flask and the milk and the cup in my rucksack gave me a new found energy that was clearly having a good effect.

There were plenty of Lycra monkeys around. I checked the immediate surroundings in case there were any auctioneers in the vicinity, but I couldn't see any and that probably explained why nobody had shouted 'Gavel!!!!'. We saw Phil's mate Steve, but he didn't see us. Andy, of course, didn't know him from Adam, and he clearly hadn't noticed me. Alright, I could have attracted his attention, but that might have meant explaining who I was and I hate having to do that. "You remember, don't you? About a month ago? You, me and Phil rode the long way to the Tatsfield bus stop? You had a puncture along Beddlestead Lane?" Perhaps the explanation wouldn't have been necessary, who knows, but he didn't see me so it's all academic at the end of the day.

We headed for home. The worst part of the ride from Westerham to Warlingham (where Andy and I part company) is the bit from the town centre to the bottom of the hill. It seems to take an age, but today we took it in our stride and then knuckled down for the hill itself, which continues all the way to Botley Hill. From there onwards it's a doddle and we flew along. The entire ride was energising in the extreme. Andy and I parted company at the green, vowing to ride out next weekend and then we continued on our individual journeys (Andy to Caterham and me to Sanderstead). I powered along the Limpsfield Road and made good time, arriving home around 1010hrs.

It was to be a chilled out day. I sat and watched Andrew Marr on the iplayer, listening to Nigel Lawson's interview about the European Union – he's a key Brexit campaigner – and then Jeremy Corbyn discussing the issue of David Cameron's hypocrisy and the wider problem of tax havens, like Panama.

There was little to do. I put a couple of lightbulbs into the ceiling lights of our bedroom and chilled until lunchtime when I made cheese salad and cheese and pickle sandwiches. Lunch over I drove to Banstead Woods, having decided that four quid for the Headley Heath car park was a fucking rip-off – thieving bastards! The woods were wonderful and, on reaching home, I've been chilling out, re-reading bits of Mike Carter's One Man & His Bike, the most wonderful book. I might even re-read it just as soon as I finish Willy Vlautin's The Free. I've read all of Vlautin's output and so far it's all good. Other books on my agenda? Platform by Houllebecq and Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon. I'd also like to read David Ceserani's The Final Solution, but it's thirty quid so I'll need to do a bit of saving.

Right now, I'm enjoying a glass of Malbec, sitting on the sofa in my conservatory writing this blogpost. Work tomorrow, more's the pity, but as my dear old dad would have said, "That's life I guess, that's life." Never a truer word and all that.