Sunday, 18 March 2018

More snow means no cycling...

The roads were covered in snow this morning, always a bad sign, but Andy and I had already aborted today's ride. Yesterday was characterised by watching videos of The Fall performing Theme for Sparta FC and interviews with people like Stewart Lee (about The Fall). I ended up watching This is Your Life: John Peel, on which Mark E Smith made an appearance, not live in the studio (he was in Manchester performing). Alright, I'll admit it, I'm kind of obsessed with The Fall, but that's only because they were so good. Like a lot of bands, however, I was never 'in to them' at the time, although that's a weird thing to say as The Fall, unlike, say, The Smiths, have been around for the past 40 years. I did buy Levitate, a great album, especially the track I'm a Mummy.

But enough of The Fall, although it looks as if I'll be crawling around the internet later on the look-out for any interviews I haven't read before (a task and a half if you ask me).

Our curtains are still drawn, Andrew Marr's on the television, everybody's talking about the Russians and we're all experiencing Russian weather.

There's not much else to say, there never is when there's not much else to do other than watch TV, read the newspapers and generally chill out.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Planned ride to mum's aborted because of snow...

I was planning to meet Bon on Woodmansterne Green this morning, but when I looked out I could see the snow was coming. It started quietly, invisibly almost, but it was there, and soon I received a text from Bon suggesting we abort. We did. And now the snow is really coming down out there, the cars and slowly being covered, the lawns front and back are now white and it looks like a day of keeping warm, watching more television that I'm used to and, well, eating.

The weather forecasters are saying the snow is going to settle, meaning a ride tomorrow will be out of the question, but never say never.

Two weeks without a ride can't be good, but I might get out for a walk if the snow stops falling, although it looks as if it's going to snow all day.

The shot on the right is of my back garden. As you can see the snow is sticking around on the lawn, but it's not on the roads, which is good news. However, I reckon if the snow continues all day (as forecasted) then it might well cover the roads by tomorrow morning.

My Specialized Rockhopper is keeping warm in the garage and will probably remain there all weekend, as it did last weekend. But next week? Let's hope we all get on our bikes.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

In Bilbao...

1910hrs: The weather has improved considerably, there is a weak sun, but it's there, and I can see blue skies as I sit here in Starbucks having enjoyed a mint tea and a cinnamon Danish. The latter are very good as they're much thicker than the conventional varieties found in most bakeries. There's reggae playing, but I'd rather be listening to Theme for Sparta FC by The Fall because it's absolutely brilliant. Mind you, I'd better not drink any more tea otherwise I might become 'totally wired' to borrow from Mark E Smith's track of the same name.

This sums up my state of mind I'm afraid...
While there is sunshine and bluish skies, there's a wind blowing. The conifers are swaying a little bit, but it's nice to see the mountains silhouetted against the grey-blue skies.

I better not get too carried away with the old blogging or I'll miss my flight, but in all honesty I've run out of things to say and just want to be at home, although there's still a long way to go, even when I land in Stansted: two train journeys and a run on the London Underground, plus the possibility of another taxi. How awful it all is, seriously. I really don't need it if I'm honest. What had been a chilled time, give or take the work, which was full on, but worth it, the trip has been a good one, but it was ruined at the very last minute.

I'll sign off now as even iPhoto doesn't work so you'll have to make do with the shot on the right, a kind of representation of the state of my mind and the capacity of my brain.

In Avilés, Day Two and Day Three...

Well, it's technically day three as I flew in on Sunday evening, but who's counting? I flew easyJet and they have weird flight times: like they don't fly back until some ungodly hour tomorrow night and arrive in Stansted gone 11pm [or do they?*]. Something mad like that. Anyway, here I am, sitting in front of the flat screen television at the desk underneath it, the bed behind me, coffee machine to the left and nothing much to the right of me. Yes, I'm in Room 209 of the NH Palacio Hotel, Avilés.

Room 209, NH Palacio Hotel, Avilés
Yesterday was a long day, but I got a good night's sleep and went down for breakfast around 0800hrs, probably just a bit before. I travelled down in the elevator, two floors, and then bowled into the room where all the breakfast items were laid out before me: pastries, fresh fruit, yoghurt, bread, cereal, cheese, fruit juices, tea, coffee, the usual stuff, but today the coffee machines (both of them) had ceased to work so I couldn't enjoy this weird fruity tea, the one I had yesterday morning – not the same teabag, you understand, but the same variety. Anyway, it's still in my pocket now, as I thought I'd have it later in the room. The teabag in my pocket is wrapped and dry, not wet, just in case you thought I'd do such a thing.

So I'm in my room, I've got about three minutes before I'm due to head downstairs for a morning of work and then, after lunch, I'm free to do my own thing. I'll take a wander around and report back later.

Later on...
After lunch in Gijon (pronounced 'hee-hon') I decided to check out Avilés and realised pretty quickly that it's a small place and easily covered by a 90-minute walk. Now, I ought to point out that I'm referring only to the pedestrianised roads that spider out from the NH Palacio hotel and I say this because once I reached the end of one of these roads, the rest was queuing traffic and the occasional lorry, which wasn't quite as appealing as the quaint streets, free from vehicular congestion. I rarely retraced my steps, but managed to walk around the perimeter of the area until I found a road free of cars that would return me to the magic of this small city. Or is it a town? I'll have to ask somebody. I think it's a city, one of three in the area, the others being Oviedo, further inland, and Gijon**

The view from room 209, NH Palacio, Avilés
As I mentioned yesterday, this region of Spain (Asturias) is known as 'green Spain', the climate is very similar to the UK, more's the pity, although it's slightly warmer at present. The sea temperature in the summer appears to be similar to 'Great' Britain too, and while I've been here in Avilés there have been light showers, cloud and occasional sunshine, like yesterday (Tuesday 13th March) from around 1630hrs when I stopped for a small black tea sitting outside a café facing the main square. I sat there reading Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle and then headed back to the hotel to carry on watching Mark E Smith interviews, documentaries about the band and interviews with a former band member who has recently published a book about their time in The Fall.*** I tend to agree with the media about MES: he ploughed his own furrow, lived his life to his rules and was, quite simply a genius. He managed to run The Fall for over 40 years, produce about as many studio albums, one per year, and bring out many live albums and get involved in the world of ballet too. There's much to say about the man, but for now, considering he died, aged 60, at the end of January, I'll say Rest in Peace.

And while we're talking about great men who have passed away, let's not forget Ken Dodd, Professor Stephen Hawking and Jim Bowen, host of the 80's darts gameshow Bullseye. All of these are recent news since I've been here in (ahem) 'sunny' Spain.

I moseyed on back to the hotel, stopping at gift shops en route and not buying anything purely because there wouldn't be room to take whatever I purchased on the plane. I fly back late tonight (or do I?) and I can't help but wonder why easyJet runs such a sparse schedule. Had I been able I would have flown back immediately after the meeting on Monday, but there were no flights; there was nothing yesterday either and today (Wednesday 14th March) my flight takes off for Stansted around 2230hrs (or maybe it's 1030 in the morning). This in turn means another night in a hotel in Stansted, which I could really do without; I just want to be home.

A typical Avilés street
On Tuesday night, instead of trawling the streets indecisively for somewhere to eat an evening meal, I decided to try the hotel restaurant, which had been closed on Sunday evening. It looked a bit upmarket and, dare I say, a bit poncy. There were two poncy-looking waiters and the place was virtually empty bar one table full of poncy people (English and Spanish) and a couple of solitary diners like myself trying to be inconspicuous.

I can't say I was happy with the meal. I chose what was billed as a fresh vegetable roll with spinach soup, which, when it arrived, took me by surprise as I was expecting the rolls to resemble spring rolls, like the ones you get in Chinese restaurants, but no, it was basically two 'rolls' – which looked more like alien fingers covered in a thin membrane-like material that revealed the contents of striped carrot and asparagus. I didn't like it. The main course was 'Ox beef with roast potatoes, leading me to believe I'd be getting a hearty roast dinner (why else did I choose the vegetable roll to start?). But the reality was troubling: an architecturally challenging structure of ice hockey puck proportions with what looked like Parma ham entwined on top like a bad haircut. The meat was tough and chewy and fatty – just like Parma ham – and the best part of the dish was the potato and the accompanying bread roll. Dessert was the best of the lot, simplicity always brings out the best of anything. 'Seasonal fruits' was the dish and it consisted of pineapple, banana and sliced apple. I had a bottle of mineral water on the go, much to the dismay of the waiters who knew only too well that the restaurant would only make its money on alcohol sales, but for me the bill was a paltry 22 Euros, which did the job, and I left there feeling a little disappointed, but ready to hit the sack.

The NH Palacio Hotel from the main square
The best part of the meal wasn't the meal, it was the chilled environment, which enabled me to read my book in peace and under good light. When I reached my room I continued to follow the life of Mark E Smith on YouTube and then went to bed.

Wednesday 14th March
It's now 0836 hrs and time I made my way down to breakfast. Hopefully today the coffee machines will be working, not for the coffee but for the hot water (I'll be having some kind of purifying 'Bio' tea, only because it tastes nice.

I'll write more later probably but I've got to check out later on, hopefully noon, and then it's a case of literally hanging around until about 2000hrs for Luis, the taxi driver, to take me to my hotel. In fact, I'd better check things out on that score.

But oh how wrong I was! I won't bore you with the details, but the end result of everything not being as it seemed is that I had to act fast, check out and haul my sorry arse over to Bilbao. It took two coach journeys: one to Oviedo, the other to Bilbao (roughly three and a half hours) and now here I am, sitting in Starbucks having just enjoyed a cinnamon Danish and a cup of mint tea. "Dinner" a few minutes earlier, was a ham roll and a black tea without milk. Earlier there had been stormy conditions, but right now as I look out of the window it appears to have cleared up and I can see a few bluish skies through the cotton wool clouds. I took a taxi from Bilbao bus station in the pouring rain and once through security I managed to relax a little bit. I feel fine now, but the chilled day I thought I was going to have didn't materialise.

I don't know what's wrong with me sometimes, but, like all of us, I guess, I too am not infallible, I can (and do) get things wrong, but not drastically so. I'll be back in the UK around 2230hrs and then I think I'll try and get a train home rather than stay in another hotel for the night, even if that was my original, but doomed, plan.

* They don't basically, my error.
** Gijon, pronounced 'hee-hon'.
*** The Big Midweek by Steve Hanley.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

In Avilés, Asturia, Spain...

I should never have opened the chocolate-coated almonds, but I did. And I should never have opened the nuts, but I did. Fortunately, I never opened the jelly babies, but there's always tomorrow.

I'm sitting in front of a huge, flat-screen television watching, at close range, the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on CNBC. I tried to watch BBC World, but nothing happened, and it's too late and I'm too tired to watch Bloomberg and I really ought to be getting to bed in the huge double bed behind me with its six cushions, make that 'pillows'. Good question: when does a cushion become a pillow? Infact, what's differentiates a pillow from a cushion? Is it that pillows are rectangular and cushions are square or that pillows are to rest one's head upon while cushions are merely decorative? Who said philosophy is dead?

On the tarmac at Stansted ... horrible
I'm staying, for the next three days, in the NH Collection Palacio de Avilés in Northern Spain and it's very nice, so far, although when I got here around 9pm there was no restaurant open so I wandered outside, found what I thought was a bona fide eating establishment and ordered a Caprese on ciabatta bread, except that this was some kind of tapas bar, meaning that I should have ordered more than the one postage stamp-sized piece of bread with pesto and other stuff inside. There was a side of crisps, but they didn't disguise the fact that I was the only customer with just one, miniscule burger on a square white plate; everybody else had an array of different ciabattas containing different fillings, but me, I just had the one and it looked really stupid, especially as I'd also ordered a no-alcohol beer, which dwarfed everything on the plate. Disappointed, I left and went back to the hotel where I had two more chocolate-coated almonds and then decided against a camomile tea, although I could murder a Big Mac. I'm just going to have to wait for breakfast, or I could raid the minibar and have that packet of Oreos, but no, I mustn't do that, I should go to bed, get a good night's sleep and look forward to breakfast in the morning.

I flew in here from Stansted airport – easyJet, one hour and 40 minutes. The flight was fine, but the woman sitting next to me kept being sick into a bag. It didn't smell too bad, not that I'm suggesting vomit is in any way appealing, but I could have done without it, let's be fair.

Stansted Airport is a depressing place and so is the journey there from Liverpool Street station. East London looked awful and even when the train had reached 'the sticks' – if you can call Broxbourne 'the sticks' – it was still grey and miserable. Once I'd cleared security – which involved taking off my shoes – I had a late lunch in an American diner – chicken burger with sweet potato fries followed by a 'fruit bowl' with a scoop of ice cream on the side. Thank God I never had the ice cream plonked on the top of the fruit as it would have melted and melded in with the fruit juice and ended up looking unappetising.

Inside the NH Collection Palacio de Avilés
Monday 12th March
I awoke around 0500hrs to the sound of wind and rain outside my hotel room window. Peering out I noticed the palms swaying in the breeze. I could have stayed up but I went back to bed and eventually nodded off, waking up an hour later and then resetting the alarm to wake me in 30 minutes. And now hear I am, sitting in front of the computer, writing and I have nothing much to say other than I need to be ready and out by 0830hrs. I've got an hour.

I'm in a place that is known in the UK as 'green Spain'. I've been told that it's a beautiful part of the country and worthy, perhaps, of taking a holiday here later in the year. I'll get some time to wander around and check things out, but the good thing is it's only 90 minutes away from the Blightly.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

After the 'Beast' we head east – to the Tatsfield Bus Stop...

No through road – Hesiers Hill
I might have mentioned what the media has been calling the 'beast from the east'. Well, after a week of biting cold weather, it's finally gone. The biting cold weather and the snow is known collectively as 'the beast from the east'. All of last week there were cold winds and a dusting of snow everywhere; in some places there was a lot of snow, but down here in Greater London, it was only a sprinkling. Every morning I walked 20 minutes to the station (and then 20 minutes back in the evening). Trains were running fine too and my life was barely disrupted. It was cold enough to wear the balaclava to work, much to the amusement of my colleagues.

Elsewhere in the country people weren't so lucky. There were pictures in the papers and on the television of drifting snow and blizzard conditions both 'up north' and down in the South West of the country, not forgetting Kent, which is always badly hit. The weather came from Siberia, so we're told, and there have been fatalities, but I can honestly say that my experience of 'the beast' has been pretty good.

By Friday evening the temperatures began to warm up a little. It's been minus one, minus two around here but today (Sunday) it's now eight degrees. We didn't go out yesterday because it was still pretty bad, both in terms of the snow and ice on the ground and the temperatures, but today it's warmed up considerably and the roads are clear – clear enough for a ride, so I met Andy at the green and off we went to the Tatsfield Bus Stop (the slow way). When we reached the top of Hesiers Hill we were greeted with piles and piles of snow. The road was thick snow and so were the embankments so we diverted and rode west along Beech Road towards the 269 and then headed south towards Botley Hill. While the road was clear, the off-road path was nothing but piled-up snow, drifted snow, you name it, there was no way that anybody could use it let alone ride on it.

Snowed up – the off-road path on the 269
The bus stop was fine, nothing to report. We sat there drinking tea and munching biscuits occasionally greeting the odd Lycra monkey that passed by. It was nice to be out and about. Most of the week it's been too cold to venture out even for a walk.

The roads were wet with melting snow and as we rode back there was a stretch of tarmac where puddles on either side of the 269 joined in the middle. Andy was ahead of me and at one point a black 4x4 roared past straight down the middle in a reckless manner. Andy narrowly escaped a soaking.

We parted at the green, but vowed to be back next week for more cycling – weather permitting. The ride along the Limpsfield Road was fine. When I reached Sanderstead Pond it was still iced over and there seagulls walking on it and a few noisy ducks on the adjacent green. I sailed down Church Way 'no hands' and was soon home.

The 269's off-road path was truly out of bounds...
Looking down Beddlestead Lane from Clarks Lane...

Sunday, 25 February 2018

To Westerham for breakfast then the 'Woodland Trek'

There's Siberian weather heading our way next week. They reckon minus 12 degrees and plenty of snow and let's be fair here, it is cold out there, cold as hell. I can't say I was looking forward to Saturday's ride, not initially at any rate. The only saving grace, I felt, was that breakfast at the Tudor Rose café was on the cards. When the weather's cold, I need to know that there's something hot at the other end of the tracks, so to speak. And what's better than a pot of tea and breakfast in an English caff? Nothing, right?

Inside the Tudor Rose, Westerham...
So I knew the ride was going to involve the balaclava and the scarf. I knew the ride meant layers of clothing and plenty of them and I knew that I wouldn't be carrying a heavy flask full of hot water – and that's a bonus, I can tell you. What I forgot was that it would be daylight when I left the house, another bonus as it takes the edge off the cold weather. Another plus point was that I couldn't see any frost on car windscreens. Furthermore there were blue skies and sunshine as I rode up Church Way towards the Limpsfield Road and then on towards the green.

Andy arrived as I turned up and we headed for Westerham, heads down. It wasn't that cold, but then I was prepared and the old balaclava did the trick. The ride was good and soon we arrived at the Tudor Rose, padlocked the bikes outside and headed in for a hot breakfast. Andy chose a sausage sandwich while I ordered good old fashioned beans on toast. We ordered a pot of tea and sat there for about half an hour chilling, eating our breakfasts and sipping tea poured from a traditonal tea pot into mis-matching cups and saucers.

The Tudor Rose is good and there are plenty of cakes, good cakes, but listen, it was miles too early for cake. It was soon time to head home, reluctantly I must add, but it was 0910hrs and we really needed to be on our way. Fuelled by baked beans and toast I had plenty of energy and it saw me through. The ride up the hill, normally really tedious, was fine and soon we reached Botley Hill and the 269, which we both powered along. It was a good run, roughly 50 minutes, probably a little less, from Westerham to Warlingham Green and then 15 minutes from the green to home.

The ride was good. Very good. It set me up for the rest of the day, which was pretty chilled out. The weather was cold, but the sun was out and the skies were blue and everybody's waiting for the Siberian weather later in the week. It's now Sunday. Andy didn't go out today, he had a late night, so I sat around, lacking motivation to go out in the cold alone. Later I phoned Bon. "It's probably too late, but I'm thinking Woodmansterne Green." But it was too late so we arranged to ride out next Saturday instead.

I figured a ride would be good, even a short ride, so I embarked upon the good old Woodland Trek and added a few more roads for good measure; I was out for 44 minutes, but it was a good ride and when I got back I can't remember what I did. Oh yes, I went to Ikea and bought some lampshades and a light bulb, but I'm annoyed with myself and something needs to be done: there's not point getting loads of exercise if I'm going to scoff my face with cake and other baked items, like Danish pastries and snacks like Tim Tams (think Penguin bars but somehow a little tastier). I need a blanket biscuit ban starting tomorrow (Monday). But I'm not going to bore you with that now, let's see how my week goes.

On the Woodland Trek, note blue skies...
It's almost six o'clock and it's still not properly dark, which is good. It's getting lighter by the day, which is also good. Trouble is it's getting colder too and the thought of heavy snow doesn't really appeal to me as it might mess up next week's rides. I have a view about snow: it always strikes twice. You get a downfall of snow, it thaws a little bit and then you get some more and then it lingers and everybody treads carefully on their way to the office. Nobody wants to fall arse over tit. Anyway, I'm sitting here in the dark with nothing but the halogen glow of the television and my laptop illuminating the gloom.

Sunday roast beckons and I'm going to make it! I love Sunday roasts. I love roast chicken, I love Yorkshire puddings, Paxo stuffing, roast potatoes, root vegetables and mustard and I love apple crumble with custard. What else can I say, but no more cakes and biscuits after tomorrow.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

"Clearly, I will go sailing no more"

Some spare clothes are up for grabs and it's either me or the charity shop that gets them. A few nice pairs of jeans, a denim shirt, a hoody and a jumper.

"Not the jumper, it's old and has holes in it."

"But the jeans look fine," I said. "I'll try them on."

They fit perfectly. Great! I'm in shape and I'm looking good. "Let me try the denim shirt."

The shirt fits, the jeans look good, now what about that hoody?

"No, dad, you can't wear that."

"Why not? It looks good."

"No, you can't wear it."

I prance around in it, admiring how great it looks on me – or so I think. I'm proud of it and me.

"Dad, you can't wear it and you shouldn't be wearing double denim either."

"Double denim? Why not?"

"It's not right."

"But the hoody looks good..."

"No it doesn't."

I'm about to go out. I want to wear the hoody, but everybody thinks it's not a good idea. I start to feel a little self-conscious.

Later, on a walk into town...

"If we pass somebody that looks like you did in the hoody, I'll point them out.

In the supermarket...

"Over there."

"That's not it," I said. "He should be wearing a hoody."

And then another man...

"He's not even wearing a hoody," I say.

And then, of course, I get it. They think I'm too old to wear a hoody, that it simply doesn't look right on me. I'm past my hoody-wearing days. Suddenly, I felt old. I was, after all, 'dad'. And dads don't wear hoodies. But it was worse than that; I felt like Buzz Lightyear when he finally realises that he's a toy, a child's plaything, and he can't fly.

But no, it can't be true
I could fly if I wanted to
Like a bird in the sky
If I believe I can fly
Why I'd fly

Clearly, I will go sailing, no more*

* Randy Newman.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

"Planet Earth is blue...and there's nothing I can do."

Saturday morning was cold, very cold. Car windscreens were iced up when I peered outside and I knew then that the balaclava was absolutely necessary and so were many layers of clothing: a teeshirt, a hoody, a heavy jumper, then the rust-coloured jacket and, of course, a scarf. The other day I'd tried to wear glasses with the balaclava, it didn't work; the glasses kept steaming up making it impossible to see.
Andy on the ride out of Tatsfield village, Sunday 11th February 2018
At 0700hrs I opened the front door and stepped outside into the cold. Amazingly, it was light enough not to put on lights and this really was amazing. It's getting lighter and lighter. Only a week ago I had to put on my lights until I reached the green, and not long before that I had to keep them until we reached the bus stop or Westerham. This is great news as it means we're on the home straight towards summer and things can only get better. Yes, we'll probably get the odd soaking now and then – that's a constant threat throughout the year – and yes, we might need lights in a thick fog, which can creep up on us at any time of the year; but by and large, the colder weather may still be with us, but it's getting warmer by the day, and brighter, and that's all that matters.

My Specialized Rockhopper on Warlingham Green, Saturday 10th February
Andy was delayed, not by much, but we ended up heading for the Tatsfield Bus Stop – the fast way – instead of our planned visit to the Tudor Rose for breakfast – fortunately, I'd made the tea. While cold, it was bright and there were clear skies and when we reached the bus stop we had plenty to chat about, namely hypocrisy and ideology, and I suddenly realised how much of Noam Chomsky's Who Rules the World? I had taken on board. Okay, look, you could read this book and argue that the author has one major premise: that the USA is not to be trusted, they are the warmongers, the troublemakers, what they say goes, they support the Israelis and literally let them get away with murder. Did you know that since 2014, asserts Chomsky, the Israelis have killed more than two Palestinian children per week. Did you know that, despite numerous agreements being reached in search of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Israelis really haven't taken much notice of the tenets of any agreement drawn up, they constantly flout the UN and continue to this day to build illegal settlements on what is essentially Palestinian land. And guess what? The West simply turns a blind eye and has done for years. The Israelis have been getting away with murder for many many years and will continue to do so. Their aim is basically 'ethnic cleansing' and you'd be well advised not to listen too carefully to the propaganda put out by the West via the BBC and other news outlets.

A new World War One memorial at Tatsfield village
Now Chomsky might be wrong. Perhaps he is; perhaps the message from his book – that the real big bad wolf is the USA and everybody else is simply misunderstood – is simply wrong. And let's be honest here: I trust the Americans to come to my aid in times of trouble. If it wasn't for the Americans I'd be speaking German and driving a Volkswagen. That said, I wish I could speak German and there's nothing wrong with a Volkswagen.

One thing I can't stand, however, is blind faith. Blind faith in anything is troublesome. I know somebody who has blind faith in technology; he's always banging on about driverless cars as if they're the Holy Grail; they're not! Let's be honest here, driverless cars, when they become commonplace – if they become commonplace – are going to be run by big business, people like Branson, and furthermore it's another way that freedom is being taken away from the individual: no longer will we drive ourselves to our destination, we'll have to pay 'Virgin Cars' in order to get anywhere. Slowly, the world is becoming a Philip K Dick novel – big corporations running everything (think Elon Musk, a potential Bond villain if ever there was one).

A scruffy-looking yours truly on the 269 passing a frozen pond on Saturday's ride
Last year, at a conference in Brussels, I put this question to a panel of experts on the subject of technological change: "Doesn't the autonomous car take away the freedom of the individual? Presumably the car that arrives at my door will be owned by a third party, most likely a large corporation, and, therefore, the man in the street loses control, he is reliant on somebody else, 'the man', for his freedom. Won't this make the whole concept unappealing?"

It was a question that the panel debated for some time and while nobody really came out and agreed, my view is that the driverless car will curtail individual freedoms and should be avoided at all costs. Surely driverless trains first.

Jacob Rees-Mogg on the front cover of Private Eye's latest issue
And with 'blind faith' comes the hypocrisy of the idealogues. There's nothing worse than ideology. It leads to blind faith, oddly enough. We all believe that Russia is the big, bad wolf. Everything the Russians do is supposed to be wrong, they're influencing our elections (are they?), and they're up to no good on many levels (really?), but ultimately, even if they're not up to no good, the governments of the West want their people (you and me) to always believe that the Russians have no good intentions whatsoever. It's all rubbish. I know a few Russians. I spent some time in Moscow not that long ago and I found all the Russians I met there to be fantastic people. I walked from one side of the city to the other late at night and never encountered a single problem. But it's never the people who are fault, it's the governments behind them.

Lycra monkeys – you don't see many of them when the weather's cold...
Andy and I sat at the bus stop drinking tea, munching biscuits and discussing these very subjects and then, feeling suitably small and insignificant in the greater scheme of things, and insecure in the knowledge that 'the state' cares nothing for its general population, putting the welfare of large corporations way ahead of the man in the street, we pedalled off in the direction of home along the freezing cold B269, parting company on Warlingham Green and promising to be back for another ride on Sunday.

From noon on Saturday it rained non-stop and didn't really stop until the early hours of Sunday morning. When I woke up and peered outside the roads were dry and the car windscreens were clear, no sign of any ice. But when I found myself outside, wearing many layers and the balaclava and scarf, I realised that the clear bright skies and the crescent moon were a disguise – yes, even the weather wasn't to be trusted – perhaps the Russians had something to do with it. It was better than Saturday, but there was still a cold breeze and one we didn't notice on the outward ride to Tatsfield village (a change is as good as a rest).

Warlingham Green, 10 February 2018
The subject of today's conversation was rip-off Britain. I enjoyed a pub lunch on Saturday in darkest Sussex. Sandwiches cost £8.90. That's a lot of money for a sandwich, but it's par for the course. Everything is really expensive, everywhere, and unnecessarily so, and it goes right across the spectrum of anything we buy. Value for money simply doesn't exist anymore, even in 'the sales' where I'm always highly suspicious of the displayed prices. A pair of walking boots in Millets during a big sale? Something ridiculous like £87.00 and that's reduced from £115.00. Well, I don't believe that for one minute. I reckon that the stores put up the recommended retail price and the customer simply buys the product at the original, pre-sale price (or thereabouts). You can't trust a businessman – that's always worth remembering. All they want to do is make a profit and they don't care about anyone or anything that might stand in their way. People talk about privatising the NHS. That can only mean one thing: we will all be convinced by doctors to 'have things done' that doesn't need doing. It's already happening in the world of dentistry. I know somebody who was told that they needed a 'deep clean' and that it would cost them something like £300. That person went to see another dentist and was told they didn't need anything of the sort – she saved herself £300. But think of those who just accept what they're told.

The ride home was fine, but there was a strong head wind as we rode towards Botley Hill and a very cold breeze as we rode along the 269 towards the green, where we parted. All the way home I found myself wondering about Elon Musk and his Falcon Heavy rocket that lifted off from earth last week carrying one of Musk's Tesla sports cars. Can you really trust a businessman who is capable of launching a rocket into space? Apparently, the aforementioned Tesla is orbiting the planet playing David Bowie's Space Oddity on continuous loop and I found myself wondering, as I sang the lyrics to myself, whether or not I had synched up with the recording playing at that very moment on board the Tesla. I'll never know, of course. "Planet earth is blue and there's nothing I can do," I sang as I passed Warlingham Sainsbury's en route to the green.

Next week we WILL have breakfast at the Tudor Rose.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop...

Saturday was another wash-out. It was one of those days when it just didn't stop. There was a constant, drizzly rain from dawn until dusk and I did go outside twice with every intention of riding the bike, but it didn't happen. Why bother gettting cold and wet? Where's the fun? So I stayed at home and later drove to Westerham for lunch in the Tudor Rose. It was raining in Westerham too and I stood in the rain, answering a mechanised voice on my mobile phone as I paid for parking. It was one of those days when gazing through a rain-speckled windscreen at a Pay & Display machine seemed to sum things up rather nicely.

Andy and Matt at the Tatsfield Bus Stop...
The iphone said that Sunday would be better and it was: no rain. But it wasn't warm, just 2 degrees, balaclava weather. I rode along the quiet suburban streets, up Church Way to the Limpsfield Road and along a deserted Sanderstead High Street, not even any cars. I had a wide stretch of tarmac to myself. As I approached the green I saw Andy and he spied me too; there was no need to ride on to the green, we stopped momentarily and decided upon the slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop.

The slow way might sound appealing and in parts it is, but it's ruined by Beddlestead Lane and even Andy said so as we made our way towards the junction with Clarks Lane. The worst moment is when the energy of the downhill from the top of Hesiers Hill runs out, the pedals stiffen and the thought of a constant incline for the next 20 minutes or so hits home. Andy and I talked about evolution in between making way for the odd Lycra monkey and soon we found ourselves passing the the totem pole tree and the mobile phone mast. We rolled down Clarks Lane towards the bus stop and then unloaded the tea and biscuits.

As we sat there, chatting, a Lycra monkey and his pal turned up. He wore all the gear: the clippy cloppy shoes, the Lycra, the high-viz top, he rode a brand new Boardman bike... it was Phil! It had been a very long time since we'd seen Phil and it was rare to see him out in such cold weather. He was on his way to the Tudor Rose in Westerham for breakfast. After a brief chat he continued on his merry way and we enjoyed another cup of tea before heading for home.

The 269 was cold and I was glad for that balaclava but soon we found ourselves approaching the green where we parted company. I reached home at just gone 1000hrs and while I had intended to oil the chain, I forgot. Later another drive to Westerham for yet another jacket potato and chilli followed this time by a large slice of lemon cake (on Saturday I enjoyed Bakewell tart). A trip to mum's was on the agenda, but I had to say no to cake, and Sunday evening's planned apple pie and custard was also put on hold. I must have a sugar-free week at work or I'll be doing myself no good.

The Tudor Rose, incidentally, is under new management and seems to be doing very well. It was packed on Saturday at lunch time. The photograph on the left shows the display of cakes on offer – lemon cake, Bakewell tart, coffee and walnut, bread pudding, flapjacks, scones, rock cakes, lemon drizzle cake, the list is endless. They make and get through 45 cakes per week and I can vouch for their quality. It goes without saying that they're open for breakfast, so you can bet that Andy and I will be sitting there one morning in the not too distant future eating a hearty breakfast before our return ride up the tiresome Westerham Hill – a continual climb all the way to Botley Hill.

Andy braved the weather on Saturday. This shot from
Wapses roundabout in Caterham