Monday, 22 August 2016

The Specialized Crosstrail Sport Disc hybrid

On Saturday morning the weather was lovely. There was a breeze and the trees sounded like waterfalls. The skies were blue and dotted here and there with cotton wool cloud, but a threat of rain loomed – or showers – and I would have liked a ride, but didn't get one. Too much was going on. I had to pick up my new bike, a Specialized Crosstrail Sport Disc, from Evans Cycles in Gatwick and that involved a train journey.

I jumped aboard the 1108 from Sanderstead, changed at East Croydon and sped towards Gatwick on a brand new Thameslink train.

'Police' escort...
At Gatwick I knew I was going to have problems finding James Watt Way, home of Evans Cycles in Gatwick. The SatNav on the phone was useless so I asked a man sitting behind the wheel of a huge Mitsubishi four-by-four, part of Gatwick's road traffic team. I thought he was a cop, but, as he later explained as we drove towards Evans Cycles, he gave me a lift there purely because the roads were 60mph and there were no pavements. Nice guy, lived in Eastbourne and was half way through a 12-hour shift (he starts at 0600hrs and finishes at 1800hrs). We talked about his job and he said he's seen a few sights in his time.

Soon we arrived at Evans Cycles' Gatwick store. It was a big shop, full of decent-looking bikes of all shapes and sizes plus clothing and various accessories, including saddles. It was early, just before noon, so I browsed a little, before taking possession of my new bike. I love bike shops and I'll admit now that all week I've been like a little kid waiting for Christmas Day. I wouldn't say I've been counting the days, but in a way I have been. Last week was my first week back from holiday and I was still very much in holiday mood, although I still got work done.

Riding back to Gatwick station...
Having taken possession of my new bike I rode it around the car park just to acclimatise myself to the new machine. It was fine and soon I headed off in the direction of Gatwick airport along those aforementioned fast roads. When I reached the station it was jam-packed with people who had returned from holidays abroad so I went to the rear of the train and still had problems squeezing myself and the bike into the carriage. I had debated riding all the way home, but the weather was changeable. Windy and rainy and then sunshine. I might have taken a major soaking had I cycled towards Redhill and then through the Surrey Hills to Caterham and, ultimately, Sanderstead.

The bike was perfect. The gears changed up and down smoothly, the ride was smooth too and when I reached East Croydon I decided to ride home and not wait for the connection to Sanderstead. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but Southern trains are shit. For the last six months, if not longer, they have been delayed and cancelled and I've been late for work and all sorts of things. They can't be trusted and should be stripped of their franchise. Now that I've got a bike that handles on and off road with ease I might even cycle into work once or twice a week and reduce the fares a bit. Either way I'm going to take the bus from now on, it cuts the fares in half and it's fairly pleasant sitting there, reading, as the bus trundles its way along the A23 towards Redhill.

When I got the bike home I couldn't stop going into the garage to stroke the frame and generally act like a kid about it. When I was a kid I remember once taking a new pair of Wellington boots to bed with me, although I think eyebrows might have been raised had I clambered upstairs with the Crosstrail and spent the night arm-in-arm with it in the bedroom.

What's really good about a new bike is the 'owners' manual', although I was expecting more in the way of diagrams and maintenance guides. These days, however, things are a little more stripped down than they used to be: I was directed on-line for a lot of stuff and there was a CD that contained an electronic version of the printed manual.

The first proper ride...
I could hardly conceal my general excitement over the forthcoming ride, my first on the Crosstrail. Fortunately it was a pleasant day. There was no rain and it was fairly warm. I was up with the lark at 0600hrs and by 0700hrs I was in the garage unpadlocking the new bike. Phil saw me wheel it out on to the drive and needless to say he was impressed. Soon we were on our way to Warlingham Green. The Crosstrail took everything in its stride and provided a fast, smooth ride characterised by easy gear changes.

Speed, that was the key, and the Crosstrail had plenty of it, facilitated by its 27 gears and egged on by its sleek design. It looked good and, as we headed towards our chosen destination – Tatsfield village – I opened it up and found it had plenty to offer. Beddlestead Lane, normally a big ordeal for yours truly on the Scrap, was a walk in the park and seemed to rush by in a matter of minutes. Once on Clarks Lane I powered towards Approach Road, hanging a sharp left and metaphorically putting my foot down. The speed was incredible and some of the turns were a little hairy, but the Crosstrail handled them well. What also pleased me about this excellent bike was its stability. The fact that the forks could be adjusted for on- or off-road riding was a major bonus, even if it made the odd bump harsher in terms of impact than the spongy front suspension of the Scrap. But it was great to be able to turn around and check on possible traffic behind me without losing balance, as I used to on the Scrap.

The Crosstrail has a solid feeling about it; not indestructible, but a dependable strength. Gear changing is smooth, both front and rear, and braking equally soft, but effective. The ride was comfortable too, more so than I expected having not riden a bike with a conventional saddle for the past decade.

I was looking forward to the return ride, especially the 269, and the Crosstrail didn't disappoint; it sped along at lightning speed and maintained a fast pace all the way to Warlingham.

The fact that the Crosstrail is a hybrid means 'access all areas' – the trail and the tarmac – and this gives the rider added freedom as it means the bike can go virtually anywhere.

Sizing guide
Problems? None at all bar the Specialized sizing guide, which says that, at 6ft tall (I'm probably slightly taller) I should have a large frame. Anybody from 5' 9" should be riding a large framed Crosstrail, according to Specialised. Fine, that's what I've got, but the manual says there should be around 2 inches clearance, when in the standing position, between crotch and crossbar. There isn't. The big inner debate I'm having, therefore, is whether to take it back and replace it with a medium-sized frame.

The Crosstrail lives up to the name of 'Sport Disc'. It's fast, it's energetic and if it's fitness you want, combined with safety and dependability, then it's the bike to own. Sleek good looks are an added bonus.

For a full specification of the Crosstrail Sport Disc, click here.

For the reason why I bought a new bike, click here.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Bicycle dilemmas...

I always thought that bicycles were indestructible. For me, a bike is for life, not just for Christmas, but that said, in my life time, I've owned five bikes, including a Moulton Mini, and I only know the whereabouts of one of them, my Kona Scrap, which, right now, is in the garage, unpadlocked, having been on what might have been its last ride.

Shock! Horror! It's last ride? Well, it's like this...

First, like a lot of people, I tend to expect things to work without question, particularly my bike. I ride it, I finish riding it, I chuck it in the garage and then I repeat the process as and when. Occasionally I get a puncture, I fix it and get back on. Sometimes the bike takes a trip to the repair shop, but then I carry on riding it week in and week out.

Castello Aragonese, Ischia – just part of this wonderful Italian island...
What I fail to understand is this: bikes are like cars; they're like human beings. They must be taken care of or they will buckle under the strain of things and die and that, my friends is what might be happening to the old Kona Scrap.

Cycle Republic...
You might be wondering what I'm talking about, I know that I wonder sometimes; so I'll relate the tale to you. The week before I went on holiday – yes, I've been to Ischia for a relaxing week in the sun – I decided that I'd mosey on into Purley (a 15-minute ride from where I live) and put the old Kona in for a full service at Cycle Republic, which has just opened and now occupies the same large space once occupied by the great Motorcycle City, a place I used to go religiously on a Sunday morning to sit on the cruisers and fantasise about owning a motorcycle. Call it a mid-life crisis. I never did buy a motorbike and that's probably why I'm still alive, writing this blogpost; had I bought one I might be dead or limbless.

How much?
So I take the bike in for a service and tell the guy manning the workshop that I'll be away for a week. I went into work and then around lunchtime I get a call from the shop. "It's going to cost around £200," said Cycle Republic's Brian. "Personally, I'd buy a new bike," he added. A new bike? He started speaking in the same way a mechanic might disparagingly discuss a clapped out old banger of a car and to be quite honest, I couldn't believe it. Surely, I thought, bikes went on forever, they're basically a frame, two wheels, brakes and gears and if you replace bits that are faulty you're merely prolonging the bike's life. They're not write-offs like cars.

But oh how wrong I was! Apparently. For the rest of the day I worried and fretted and thought things through. A new bike? The thought has rarely crossed my mind to be honest. My bike is my bike, it's 10 years old, I can't just sling it on the scrap heap and buy a new one! Or can I? No! If it's £200 then so be it, I'll get it fixed. So I called back and told him to go ahead and then I went on holiday for a week, fretting a little bit and losing sleep here and there because I'd have to explain away the £200 bill, possibly more, that I'd be getting when I returned sun-tanned and relaxed from Ischia. It was a great holiday, thanks, I just wished I'd booked a fortnight and not just seven days, but you can't have everything.
Should it stay or should it go?
Getting back to the bike, for me, the 'big day' was Saturday, the one just gone, as I'd have to go and fetch my bike and hand over the money. I levelled the situation at home and headed off to pick up my 'new' Kona, but when I reached the shop, the bike hadn't been fixed at all. "I'm still trying to get the parts," said Brian. This, of course, was great news. He said he wouldn't push ahead until he'd told me the price, but that he'd need a few more days.

I ought to explain exactly what needed to be done on the old Scrap. It needs a new chain and block, the gears need servicing, it could do with a new bottom bracket, the brakes need a service, the crank needs replacing, the pedals are edging towards the day when they'll have to be replaced and the bearings in the front wheel are completely blown.

Is bicycle servicing a bit of a scam?
Up until this point I was quite happy with Cycle Republic. I was not committed to pay the aforementioned £200, they'd let me know the final cost once they'd sourced all the parts and then I could either go ahead with it or take back my bike unserviced. I left it with them, but then I remembered Cycle King, another bike shop about a mile or two down the road in South Croydon. They were an honest bunch of guys and would give me a quote while I waited, so I shot back into Cycle Republic and asked for my bike. I must point out that I was a little annoyed with Cycle Republic mainly because Brian said that for the money it would cost to repair my bike he could sell me a Carrera. Hmmm... is this whole bicycle servicing thing a bit of a scam, I thought? Fine if you bike doesn't really need a servicing, they can replace a few cables and charge you £40 or £50 and laugh all the way to the bank. But if your bike really does need to be serviced, then hey, why not try to sell the customer a new bike. "Not worth fixing, mate," they might say. Not worth fixing? A write-off? Surely not. But it's true – or so they say.

A courtesy bike?
So I took back the bike and asked them to let me know the cost of the servicing as and when they'd sourced all the parts. Something else that riled me was the whole notion of a 'courtesy bike'. Things really are beginning to sound pretty car-like. Soon we'll have to get our bikes insured and have number plates fitted. A courtesy bike? It's not a bad idea and the wheel of the Carrera Brian tried to sell me had a circular piece of card stuck to the front wheel saying something like, "why be without a bike while yours is being serviced? Take this courtesy bike." It was a blatant message. Basically you could have the Carrera as a courtesy bike while yours was being serviced. So I asked Brian if I could have it. "No," he said, not really explaining why, but he did say I could have a rather crappy old bike they kept round the back. This pissed me off. Why advertise the Carrera so blatantly as a courtesy bike when it actually wasn't? Unless, of course, he simply didn't like the cut of my jib.

The bigger deal for me, however, was the scam behind bike 'servicing' and the fact that people with bikes that really needed a service, like mine, were basically told that it's not worth it, but how about a new Carrera? When Brian presented the Carrera to me as a possible new bike, I was appalled. "But isn't the Carrera Halfords' own-brand bicycle and aren't they, well, a bit crap?"

The horror! The horror!
In many ways, it was the sort of statement that could 'rumble' the true identity of Cycle Republic. Fine, it comes across as a radical-sounding, left-leaning, Guardian-reading sort of establishment full of potential Jeremy Corbyns going everywhere by bike. That word 'Republic' brings a touch of Che Guevara to the proceedings, perhaps. But, hold on, it's owned by Halfords and possibly it's a kind of undercover Halfords ('nobody needs to know our true identity'). Perhaps mentioning the word 'Halfords' in a Cycle Republic store is a bit like bringing up Voldemort's name. Imagine horrified customers stopping dead in their tracks. "Halfords? We're really in Halfords?" they might exclaim in horror prior to running into the streets screaming. But when I mentioned the word there was nobody around so Cycle Republic lived to trade another day.

Cycle King
The old Scrap creaked its way along the A23 for a couple of miles and eventually reached Cycle King where I was met by the store manager, an amiable gentlemen who knows a thing or two about bikes. I've always trusted Cycle King because they're a no-nonsense outfit that always calls a spade a spade. He looked at the bike and very quickly told me it was going to cost me an arm and leg, more than £200, nearer to £250 – "you'd be better off buying a new bike," he said, pointing me in the direction of some Ammaco hybrids, the CR750, and the CR450 (the latter being the same as the former, but with block brakes).

Cycle King in South Croydon, a trustworthy place...
I wasn't convinced, but I was getting there. That whole argument about the old Scrap being totally inappropriate for what we do, the fact that a more conventional bike would do the trick, the reality that servicing the Scrap would cost roughly the same as buying a new bike. It all started to add up. Or was the argument really that servicing my bike would cost roughly the same as buying a crappy bike, like the Carrera? Yes, that is the answer and when I really think hard about it, I wonder whether the reason Cycle Republic didn't touch my bike while I was away on holiday was because they wanted to wait until my return to see if they could sell me a new bike? Put it this way, I took the bike away but asked them to call me Monday – when they said they would have a price for me – and it's now four days later and I've heard nothing. Why? Because they're not interested in servicing my bike when they could sell me a new one instead.

The best comparison, however, would probably be something like this: you own a classic Aston Martin DB7, it needs around £5,000 worth of work doing to it and somebody at the garage says, "Not worth it, mate. You could buy a brand new Kia Piccanto instead."

Today we rode to the Tatsfield Churchyard, me on my beleaguered Scrap, which creaked its way up Church Way and along the Limpsfield Road. I hadn't seen Phil since the wedding and he said he'd enjoyed his honeymoon in Sardinia. We met Andy at the Green and rode off. Later, at the churchyard, we discussed the whole bicycle dilemma, running through everything that needed fixing: bottom bracket, gears, crank, wheel bearings...and we ended up deciding that a new bike was the best way to go.
The old Kona Scrap in happier times...
I'm going to be very sad to see the back of the Scrap, even if it is an inappropriate ride for me. I've had it for 10 years, but now, perhaps, it's time to get a more sensible bike, a hybrid, something with more gears, something lighter, with thinner tyres. But what? A Specialized Sirrus or one of the Ammaco bikes, the CR750 or CR450? It's what you might call a 'bicycle dilemma'.

Or is it? I've made the decision NOT to buy a bike from either Cycle King or Cycle Republic purely because they suggested I should buy a new bike – in other words, buy a new bike from them rather than service my Kona. How very dare they! There must be some kind of sales policy linked to bike servicing. "If the bill is more than X, try to sell the customer a new bike." And besides, Carrera and Ammaco are not exactly a match for a Kona, they're cheap bikes with cheap parts and they're not really designed to last. Furthermore, you really do get what you pay for in this world. I realised I'd be better off with a proper brand, a leading player in the field, be it another Kona, a Marin, Trek, Specialized or Giant.

The Specialized Crosstrail Sport Disc...

As luck would have it I found myself in a bike shop in Forest Row, near East Grinstead, and there it was: the Specialized Crosstrail Sport Disc. 27 gears! Lock-out forks for on- and off-road, available in matt black, just like my old Marin. The shop was offering 25% off the RRP so it was only to be £412.50. Not bad. In the end, however, thanks to Evans Cycles' Price Match policy I was able to buy the bike for the discounted price from an Evans store in Gatwick. I pick it up on Saturday and we're keeping the old Scrap in the garage until we can fix it. All's well that ends well, thanks to Evans Cycles where, incidentally, I bought the Kona Scrap 10 years ago.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Is it just me?

Sometimes, when I'm on my way home from work, feeling tired, weary and occasionally troubled, I look longingly at a green GWR train to Reading that always seems to be sitting on the platform awaiting a green light. Often I arrive in time to see the driver exit the rear of the train and make his way to the front and then I get the chance to take a peek into the driver's cab and imagine myself sitting there on the comfortable seat, driving the train.

As the train's diesel engine ticks over I find myself drawn to the First Class carriage – or rather the rear of the carriage that is given over to First Class ticket holders. I'm not a First Class ticket holder for one reason: I don't believe that the addition of a white napkin on the back of a seat warrants additional spend.

But putting class aside, all I'm seeking out is comfort and peace. Not First Class comfort and peace. I peer into the coach and imagine myself sitting in the seat at the rear of the carriage, having already purchased a half bottle of decent red wine, a plastic cup, a decent sandwich, possibly a cake or a pastry and an insulated paper cup of tea with the milk already added – and the teabag left in.

The rest is simple: the train embarks upon it's journey to Reading, once on the move I have a glass or two of wine and a nibble of the sandwich, a bite of the cake, and I just sit back, look out of the window and chill out. To be honest, I rather hope that the train never stops and just keeps going, but I know that sooner or later it will arrive at Reading and I will disembark, slightly bleary-eyed and wishing I was closer to home.

It could, of course, all go wrong. Should I ever take the train I'm likely to do so on impulse, meaning I won't have a valid ticket. Having consumed the wine I might be approached by an inspector who might threaten a penalty fare. I might get shirty. Alcohol is involved. I might find myself ejected from the train at an obscure station, like North Camp, where I might be met by the transport police. It could all get very nasty and I might end up spending the night at Her Majesty's Pleasure somewhere in the Reading area. Oh dear!

Sunday, 31 July 2016

The last of the short rides to Botley Hill...

Botley Hill, Sunday morning. Photo: Andy Smith
Fortunately, today, Sunday, represents the last of the short rides to Botley Hill. Last week, as avid readers will know, I rode to Botley Hill twice, early, as I had stuff to do during the day that required me being back at the house before 0930hrs. Alright, once in a while it's fine, but it's nice to ride a little further – to the churchyard or the village or even Westerham, not to mention the lakes, although we haven't been along Pilgrim's Lane for a long while.

It was just Andy and I today – and for good reason. Phil was in Sardinia embarking upon day two of his honeymoon. On Friday just past (29th July) Phil married Jane and now, as husband and wife, they're probably soaking up a few rays of Sardinian sunshine.

Both Andy and I and our respective other halves attended the wedding at the splendid Wiston House near Steyning in West Sussex. It was a great day in so many ways – decent weather for a start, great food and, of course, great company.

Wiston House has to be seen to be believed. It's an amazing place surrounded by beautiful grounds and it even has it's own church, although the wedding was a civil ceremony, and I gave a reading at the beginning and managed to finish it without any hiccups, which is always good news and fortunately, is generally the case.

The Kona Scrap at Botley Hill

The weather wasn't supposed to be as good as it was. During the week Phil had been watching the forecast and was concerned that there might be rain, but there was nothing but hazy, English summer sunshine throughout the day and into the early evening.

There's accommodation at Wiston House some of us stayed over and had the pleasure of continued decent weather the following morning. After breakfast – and having said our goodbyes – we took a stroll around the grounds and then headed south to Shoreham, the plan being to take a look at the place before driving home, but there was a sudden (and prolonged) downpour of rain, which prompted us to find the A23 and drive home. The rain stopped as soon as we moved away from the coast and the good weather continued for the whole of Saturday.

Sunday was the same. I left the house for Botley Hill around 0635hrs and was quite surprised to find the temperature a bit nippy. So nippy that I considered returning to the house to pick up the rust-coloured jacket, but decided instead to push ahead along Ellenbridge, up Elmfield and, ultimately, up Church Way.

Like last week I was cycling alone, leaving the house earlier and meeting Andy at Botley Hill. This was to save time and to ensure that I was back home before 0930hrs (I got home around 0906hrs). Thinking about it, however, it was pointless leaving earlier as I met Andy, who left at the usual time and we both headed home at the same time, so why I pushed the envelope and left early I'll never know. I think it made me feel more comfortable in myself in the sense of getting there early, being there when Andy arrived and then seemingly have greater control over the time we headed back. Whatever the reason, I don't have to do it again.

A fine morning at Botley Hill...
The weather warmed up as I rode along the Limpsfield Road, past Warlingham Green, then Warlingham Sainsbury's and, of course, Knight's Garden Centre. From then onwards the 269 was very quiet and there was hardly anybody around as I rode towards Botley Hill. I arrived at just gone 0730hrs, quite early, and parked the bike. I took off my crash helmet and paced up and down, partly to warm up as my back was cold. That might sound odd, but having had my rucksack pressing against me for the duration of the ride, the sweat cooled and I found myself feeling a little chilly.

The sun was up and the skies were blue and, like last week, there was a paraglider in the skies. A motorised paraglider who had taken off from a nearby field and was now buzzing around above me taking in the same scenery he took in last week. Wasn't he bored? Soon Andy arrived, from a different direction than last week. Instead of following the tried and tested route, he came from The Ridge and was riding his racer. Today, he told me, was Ride London.

Out came the tea and biscuits and Andy and I talked about Friday's wedding and Wiston House, which had impressed us both. Then we moved on, for some reason, to winning the lottery. I said if I won millions I'd buy a house on the beach, nothing the size of Wiston House, but probably something with five or six bedrooms and a decent sea view. That said, I'm quite happy where I am and what about the cycling? If I lived on the South Coast I wouldn't be riding to the Tatsfield Bus Stop or the village or the churchyard. I wouldn't be riding to Westerham or the lakes, but I guess I'd find other places to visit on the bike, like Arundel and Littlehampton and Pagham beach, which is always a little desolate. I'd probably give up work and travel a lot. I might have a place in Italy and I'd let my pals visit rent-free and I'd probably spend a lot of time out of the country, on holiday.

It was soon time to ride home and there was still a mildy cool breeze as we headed down the 269. It made me wish I'd worn that rusty old jacket. Andy and I parted company at the green and I headed home on the Limpsfield Road, getting home, as I said, around 0906hrs.

Later I went to mum's and sat in the garden eating fruit cake and drinking tea. Being round at mum's always reminds me of when I was a kid and dad was alive, reading his newspaper and smoking his Three Castles cigarettes in the sunshine.

During the summer months mum's garden is completely secluded, which is great. But the sound of mowers and radios in adjacent gardens and the occasional train travelling from Carshalton to Sutton or vice versa can't be shut out – not that I've ever shunned the sounds of trains and radios and neighbours mowing their lawns.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

To Botley Hill – twice!

The weather throughout the weekend was fantastic, requiring little more than a tee-shirt and trousers on both rides. We rode to Botley Hill, mainly because of time constraints for both of us. I had to drive to west London for a family event and Andy had to go shopping – Phil gets married on Friday and both Andy and I, plus our respective other halves, are invited.

Andy's Kona Blast at Botley Hill. Pic: Andy Smith.
On a good day, even Botley Hill looks like an inviting destination. We met at the green as usual and enjoyed a short but pleasant ride, the fast way along the 269, stopping outside the pub where there is a strip of grass on the roadside. It was then a simple matter of eating a few biscuits and drinking tea.

After a short while we headed home, parting at the green and vowing to ride again on Sunday, which we did, although this time it was only me with the time constraints. I texted Andy saying let's meet at Botley. I planned to leave around half an hour earlier than usual, get to the green and hang around for Andy, then drink the tea and munch the biscuits and then head home. I needed to be back by 0930hrs, hence the earlier start. It all worked fine. Having made the tea I left the house just before 0645hrs and reached Botley Hill at 0737.

It was such a wonderful day. The sun was out, the skies were blue and everything was still. All I could hear were the birds in the hedgerows and possibly the occasional sheep in a distant field. If it wasn't heaven on earth it was pretty close. You couldn't really get much better and once again I felt as if I should camp somewhere, in an adjoining field. It would have been great, I thought, to wake up here at sunrise with nothing but the cool air, the blue sky and the sound of the wild life waking up to a new day.

Andy arrived just before 0800hrs and, like yesterday, we chatted about stuff while drinking tea and eating those BelVita biscuits. The subject was the pointlessness of social media, a subject we have visited before. Once again I found myself saying how I'd been on Linkedin since early 2009 and have only ever been singled out for a job interview once – back in 2010. Facebook with paperclips is how I would describe Linkedin. Like most social media I could live without it. Likewise Twitter, although the blog, the one you're reading right now, is fine. Fine because I'm not doing it for any reason other than my own entertainment.

We could have spent the rest of the morning there chatting about this and that, although the tea had run out and so had the biscuits. There was, however, the Botley Hill Farmhouse pub and it's so-called Sheep Shed, which sold tea and cakes, so we wouldn't have starved. But it was time to head home.

The day remained warm and sunny and I spent most of it in the back garden mowing lawns and pulling out sycamore trees growing in the flowerbeds.

My next ride will be Sunday and it will probably be similar to Sunday's ride as I have to take somebody somewhere early in the morning. Botley Hill will beckon again and if the weather holds, all will be fine with the world.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

To the Tatsfield churchyard – the slow way (part two)

It was another fine morning. No direct sunshine as such, but it was warm. Very warm. Tee-shirt weather. I sat in the house, on the computer, writing a review of Tiffins, a teashop in Petworth, West Sussex – click here for more – and also for Trip Advisor. When I looked at the clock it was almost 0700hrs and I knew that Phil would be outside and raring to go so I switched off the computer, ran into the kitchen, made the tea, put on a pair of trainers and managed to be on the doorstep – actually in the garage unlocking the bike – at 0706hrs. Not bad going.

Yesterday, Phil and Steve had cycled a good 50km (he'd returned home around 11am) while as regular readers will know already, Andy and I headed for the Tatsfield churchyard where we stuffed our faces with biscuits before remounting our bikes and heading home.

Beddlestead Lane – it looks harmless, but it's one long uphill struggle...
When we reached the green we waited for Andy, pretending, when he arrived, that we'd been sitting there for ages. Then we decided that another visit to the Tatsfield churchyard would be good as there's nothing better on a hot day than an English churchyard. We also decided to go the slow way so that we could chat a little and not have to worry too much about cars on the 269, although there was plenty of loose gravel in the road, especially at the bottom of Hesiers Hill. "Gravel!" I shouted, and we all managed to stay on our bikes and continue up Beddlestead Lane, the long, inclining Beddlestead Lane that never seems to end.

Phil had bought himself a small saddle bag that amazingly managed to contain a large china cup and a puncture repair kit; he'd also been given, by Steve, a Garmin mileage monitor.

At the churchyard we discussed many things, even that philosophical argument about nothing really existing and how we all saw reality differently. We moved on to discuss how everything we see before us is made up as we go along so that, for example, nobody else exists except for us and we make up, create, our own reality as we move along. I started to mention a book by Philip K Dick, UBIK, and a character called Jory Miller and I think at that point Phil got a little bored. Perhaps rightly so.

We all loved the Englishness of the Tatsfield churchyard, we all loved its peace and tranquility and we all agreed that it was very the best place to be on a day like today – warm, hazy sunshine and a very slight breeze every now and then. The perfect setting.

The conversation turned towards how we could all sit there for most of the day doing nothing and this in turn morphed into a conversation about the traditional Bavarian breakfast of white sausage with sweet mustard washed down with a chilled German beer. This came about because we were discussing what would make a stay at the churchyard a little more appealing – what would keep us there for hours on end. In fact, it started by discussing down-and-outs and their penchant for churchyards. We talked about drinking cans of Special Brew, crushing them after use and generally making a mess of the place and how such behaviour would certainly be frowned upon by those in charge of the churchyard. I said we could move to an adjoining field, if things got nasty, and sling our used cans over our shoulders and into the churchyard – and this led towards the conversation about the Bavarian breakfast.

It was then decided that after Phil's wedding – and when he returns from his honeymoon – we would enjoy a Bavarian breakfast of our own making at the Tatsfield churchyard – weather permitting. Phil would make the sausage sandwiches and Andy and I would provide chilled beer (we opted for Stella, but we could always buy a German beer, there are plenty of different brands available). The idea, however, was Phil's sausage sandwiches washed down by two cans of Stella each. Here's hoping for continued good weather, in the sense of no rain or cold temperatures, when we eventually pick the day for the mad, early morning Bavarian breakfast.

We walked our bikes down the steps to the roadside laughing about the idea of the Bavarian breakfast caper – something that would now definitely be happening. Secretly, I think we're all looking forward to it.

Sunday was Phil's last ride this side of his forthcoming marriage on 29th July – NoVisibleLycra will be represented in the shape of Andy and yours truly.

The Sunday weather continued to be unbelievable – and, like yesterday, would remain so. In fact it improved and the sun came out. The rest of my day was fairly lazy. I cleaned up a tent in the back garden and let it dry in the sun before stuffing it back into its bag. I visited mum's for tea and cake. We all sat in mum's garden, which was in full bloom, and talked about this and that.

Dinner later was chicken risotto followed by an early evening lounging around in the garden as the sun went down. There was a full moon that later illuminated the entire garden like a spotlight. I talked about how we should camp out in the garden, but I think I'm alone on that one.

I went to bed early, opening the rear and front windows to let in some fresh summer air. I started to nod off but had to go downstairs to lock things up. This act, however, led to me watching Long Way Down, a movie starring Pierce Brosnan and Sam Neill, all about four people who, I think, make a suicide pact. It was a comedy, oddly, and I had to stick with it to the end, eventually retiring to bed around 11.30pm.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

To the Tatsfield Churchyard... the slow way!

Phil was off Lycra-monkeying, leaving Andy and yours truly to nosh biscuits and drink tea at the Tatsfield Churchyard. "We might as well make the most of this weather," said Andy as we pulled out of Warlingham Green, heading south on the Limpsfield Road.

We decided to go the slow way via Beddlestead Lane – always a pain in the proverbial – and as Andy and I pedalled up hill we started to wonder when it would all end, although we kind of knew that once we pass the dead tree and then the mobile phone mast, it's soon over and we're on Clarks Lane. From there it's all down hill and the only bad bit is the walk up some steps to the churchyard where we park our bikes, take a pew and eat the biscuits, BelVita Milk and Cereal, our favourites. On the tea front, the PG Tips has been used up and we're back on the Twining's English Breakfast – a much smoother and more flavoursome brew.

We sat and chatted about Andy's photographic work and then we moved on to discussing how great life would be if we had around £100,000 in the bank. The conversation developed from the notion that, at any one time, a lot of people are just four weeks from out and out poverty and possibly homelessness. Four weeks! "What we need is a buffer of, say, £100,000," one of us said and then we got on to the idea of having a mundane job, one we could leave behind at the end of the day and just switch off. Something like an Ocado delivery driver.
Is it a bird, is it a plane or is it a clothes catalogue pose?

The weather was perfect and it got better as the day progressed. Foolishly, I wore my rust-coloured jacket over a tee-shirt plus a pair of cords and some heavy walking boots – not ideal in hot weather, but it wasn't that bad.

The ride back was exhilarating. We stuck to the 269 and parted company at Warlingham Green. I reached home around 1000hrs, showered and shaved and then headed off into darkest West Sussex where later I would sample the delights of Tiffin's, a great little caff on one of Petworth's back streets, although, theoretically, it was the town's High Street.

Right now it's 1742hrs and it's still very muggy, if a little overcast, outside. We're on for a ride tomorrow and the weather's going to be warm but cloudy. There might be some overnight rain, which could mean wet roads, but hey, with a new rear mudguard and can rest assured that my arse will remain dry or, as Andy might say, "nice and comfy". Andy, incidentally, bought me the aforementioned mudguard so thanks very much, Andy.

You may be wondering why – or perhaps what – Andy is pointing at in the shot accompanying this post. The answer is nothing at all. We'd been chatting about typical photographic poses adopted by models, specifically those found in clothes catalogues, involving men or women or both pointing at something, normally while wearing deck shoes and nautical-themed clothing. Well, that's what the photograph is all about. Silly, I know, but there you have it.

Here's hoping we get out tomorrow.