Saturday, 24 June 2017

To Flowers Farm...to discuss Glastonbury, charity songs and one minute's silence

There has been some extremely hot weather in the UK this past week. Some have likened it to the heatwave of 1976, which British people will never forget. When I jumped off the plane from Stockholm on Wednesday afternoon I was hit by the heat as if I'd just arrived in Athens or Malaga. It was oppressive and all week the windows of the house have been open throughout the night.

It's now Saturday, 1250hrs, and I've been back from the ride for a good three hours. The weather is still hot, but not as oppressive; it's not warm enough, for example to make sitting in the conservatory unpleasant.
Tea and cake at Flowers Farm near Godstone. Pic by Andy Smith
We rode to Flowers Farm for tea and cake and the ride was perfect, certainly on the way there, although the return journey was made all the more challenging by the huge hill that takes us from the farm all the way to the golf course at Woldingham. It's a long, hard slog peppered with patronising Lycra Monkeys. "Well done," one of them remarked as we climbed the hill and he rode down. "Fuck off, you ----!" is what we felt like saying, but it would have been most unsportsmanlike of us, so we both emitted an awkward and insincere laugh that roughly translated to 'Fuck off, you ----!' But it's water off a Lycra Monkey's back and in all honesty we're not really bothered. What gets me most is their shouting when a bunch of them hurtle down hill and spy a car approaching from the opposite direction. "Car!!!!"

We laughed off the lunacy of Lycra and continued on our merry way, parting company at the top of Slines Oak Road. Andy continued towards Wapses roundabout where he climbed towards Caterham-on-the-Hill, while I got my head down and tackled the mountain that is Slines Oak Road, emerging on the 269, turning left and heading for Warlingham and then Sanderstead. I reached home around 1000hrs and treated myself to a relaxing cup of tea.

While scoffing cake and drinking tea at Flowers Farm we chatted about all manner of roasted meats including how Glastonbury has become an establishment event reserved for those who can afford the extortionate price of what has become a kind of 'rite of passage' for young people, an event controlled by the establishment and no longer a hotbed of drug-taking subversity and anti-government feeling, but instead a kind of musical version of Wimbledon. Except that it's not Sue Barker telling us that Andy Murray is on Court One playing Federer, it's Jo Wiley, the eternal student, informing us that Radiohead is about to perform on the Pyramid Stage.

Outside Flowers Farm. Pic by Andy Smith
I like Radiohead, but why they used the occasion to 'get political' I'll never know. What's the point when you're playing at an event that has been hijacked by the establishment and where the audience largely consists of little rich kids whose parents voted Conservative and are probably back at the tent making a chick pea curry for supper? It's all so middle class. I found myself wondering what was left for the great unwashed and couldn't think of anything.

As if on cue a charity record came on the radio and Andy fidgeted uncomfortably. We both wondered why charity records have become so popular and how every disaster, natural or otherwise, has to have one. In the olden days there was no such thing as a charity record. I don't recall the Beatles and the Rolling Stones getting together to produce a charity record for the Aberfan disaster. And what about the Staines air crash or the victims of the Moors murderers or the Herald of Free Enterprise horror? But suddenly there's Cowell and Malone rallying the troops for yet another poppy show of low octane popsters wearing headphones 'in the studio' or singing in front of one of those huge, retro microphones. Give it a rest, guys.

I suppose if we're talking about charity records we might as well have a word about the one minute's silence. They seem to be quite common these days thanks to terror attacks and awful tragedies like the Grenfell Tower fire, but ultimately their potency will wane if we have one every week. Again, in the olden days the one-minute silence was reserved for armistice day, not everything bad that happens in the world. When will it end? And, worse still, who decides on what warrants a national one minute's silence? If we've done it for one terrorist incident, we've got to do it for all of them or somebody's going to feel that their tragedy is being downgraded.

It was time to leave and a punishing hill awaited us, but you've read about that already.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Last day in Stockholm...

I awoke this morning and immediately found myself thinking about the shower in my hotel room's bathroom and how I was going to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to set it right and get some hot water. It's not something I particularly relish; I don't want to be fretting about something so minor, but that's the way it is. There was some faffing about, I knew there would be, but somehow I managed to get the water hotter than yesterday, although there was a risk that it would get dangerously hot so I did what I had to do and got the hell out.
Cramped bathroom in NOFO's room 315...

Drying in such a small room is nigh on impossible. In terms of swinging cats, which people always discuss when a small space is involved, it wouldn't be possible, so you can imagine how problematic it was to dry myself down. It became a two-location process: first, a general dusting down while in the bathroom and then finish the job out in the room, although even then there are issues.

The word 'faff' is a good one as it explains so much about NOFO. It's a nice hotel, but there's an element of faff about it. First, the faff of the cold water coming from the shower, then the faff about the teabags. You may recall that yesterday I was baffled by the napkin-like pieces of paper that were supposed to be teabags, well, they ARE teabags, I discovered today. In essence, the hotel expects its guests to make their own teabags. What I thought were napkins were, in fact, open teabags. All you have to do is spoon your chosen tea into the bag and then leave in resting in the cup until the tea is infused in the bag. Fine, but why oh why be put to all that trouble when a simple teabag would do? That said, this morning, out of principle, I did have a go and it was fine. I enjoyed a mug of English Breakfast tea after initially giving up and going for the safe option of coffee.

Breakfast, by and large, was the same as yesterday: muesli, fresh melon, coffee, a few biscuits but no rice cakes. They were there, I just didn't fancy them.

Locally brewed beer at Bistroteket...
Check-out is at noon, but I've got to be at the airport by then so I'll have to get a move-on. Last night I enjoyed a really good meal at a place called Bistroteket (Bondegatan 54, 116 33 Stockholm). I'd been scouting around the area for somewhere to eat and eventually decided that I'd give Bistroteket a go, even though, initially, I thought I'd made a big mistake. I hadn't. There was no English menu available so the waiter explained what was on offer and I chose cold meats (charcuterie) with salad to start followed by salmon steak with asparagus and a couple of locally brewed beers from Stockholm, not forgetting a cappuccino.

The restaurant's clientele was mixed, old and young and the place had a kind of French vibe about it. There was low-hanging lighting, marble sills and table tops, black and white floor tiles and a retro bar area. There were single candles on each table and there was music too. Afterwards I found my way to Bistro Boheme for a last beer before bed and then, after a fairly good night's sleep I got up, faffed around in the bathroom and then went for breakfast.

I'm going to repeat my outward journey of Monday in a minute. In fact, I did a dummy run after breakfast and realised that Stockholm South railway station is only 10 minutes' walk from the NOFO Hotel, just a straight road. On the way back I bought some Lipton's teabags in a Co-op close to the railway station and now, here I am, back on the blog with just minutes to spare before I need to be on my way.
Salmon with aspargus at Bistroteket... nice!

While there are a few white clouds out there and a light breeze, it is still a pleasant day. I need to be at the airport by noon and shortly I'll be taking the train to Marsta and getting the 583 bus to the airport where the plan is to catch the 1410hrs Norwegian flight back to Gatwick Airport and from there a taxi home, or the train, whatever appeals to me at the time. There's little much else to say, other than Stockholm is a nice place and I hope I'll be back soon.

All that remains now is to pack my bags – or rather continue the packing process that started prior to my earlier walk – and then check out. I don't like checking out of hotels, but then I don't like checking in either. Either way it's got to be done so I'll bid you all farewell and see you next time.

Oh well, back to Theresa May and Brexit and all the usual politics bollocks I've come to expect from the UK.

For my Trip Advisor hotel and restaurant reviews, click here.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

In Stockholm...

I can't remember the last time I was in Stockholm, but I think it was longer ago than I think. I almost stopped off here on the way to Lulea recently, possibly towards the end of last year, but a pilots' strike by SAS, Sweden's 'national carrier', halted my progress from the UK at Copenhagen and I flew home. But prior to that attempt I have the sneaky suspicion that I last visited the Swedish capital in the last century.

I flew out of London Gatwick Airport this afternoon, around 1330hrs, on a Norwegian 737 (seat 11a) and after a smooth flight, during which I enjoyed a spicy, hot chicken tikka masala and a couple of glasses of red wine, not forgetting some cashew nuts (I hadn't eaten since breakfast) I settled down for what turned out to be a smooth ride into Stockholm.

Stockholm South station, now just a shortish walk in the heat
Once on the ground and through baggage reclaim, passport control and everything else, I bought a train ticket to Stockholm South, which is close to where I was staying. At the airport (Arlanda) I had two options: take a train from Uppsala C or take a bus, the 583, to Marsta railway station, a short bus ride away, where the fare to Stockholm South would be much, much cheaper. For a moment I wavered (I was on expenses so why bother saving the money?) but then I thought why not? There was a big difference in the price. At Uppsala it was something like 150 Swedish Krona whereas at Marsta it was only 43 Swedish Krona. I took the bus and there was a train in the station when it arrived.

The journey to Stockholm South was long, probably around 30 - 40 minutes, but the sun was shining the skies were blue and the weather was the same as it's been in the UK this past week – hot and sunny. When I arrived at my destination, I asked one person for general directions to a region of Stockholm known as Sodermalm and then followed my instincts, which turned out fine. Soon I found myself at the NOFO hotel and was I glad that my sense of direction had been so on the money.

NOFO Hotel, Stockholm
I'm also glad that I picked such a quirky hotel. The NOFO is a strange place; it used to be a brewery and then the Columbus Hotel for the best part of 40 years, but now it's the NOFO and while I was told what the name means, I can't remember, or rather the explanation was a little confusing so I gave up trying to understand.

Södermalm is described as the 'vibrant heart of the city' and the NOFO Hotel is said to be 'steeped in the history of Söder. It was built in 1783 and has served as a brewery and as a barracks for the city guard. Today it is claimed to be one of the world's most stylish city districts. "You will love the enchanting mix of people, bars, shopping, restaurants and culture," says the NOFO's general manager, Desiré Eklund. She's right, it's a very pleasant part of Stockholm and yes, I could live here!

NOFO is both a hotel and a wine bar set in its own quiet courtyard. It's dark and welcoming interior and it's friendly receptionist made the whole experience very warming and I was glad I was here for the next two days as there seemed to be a lot of depth about the place and I was eager to enjoy it to the full.

I would have stayed in for dinner, but I got the feeling that the offering was fairly light when what I needed (as always) was a substantial meal. The receptionist offered some suggestions and I set off in search of a restaurant. Only a short walk from the hotel, down Sodermannagaten and then hanging a left on Skanegatan (I'm leaving off crucial accents on some these place names purely because I don't know how to find them on the keyboard) I found a small green, which, according to the map provided by the hotel, was called Nytoget. There were restaurants close to the green, two of which the hotel had recommended, but I chose a place called Bistro Boheme (Skanegatan 83, 116-35 Stockholm). It was hot enough, even around 2000hrs, to sit outside, so I ordered a Czech beer (a dark beer) along with grilled tuna steak (tonfisk) and salad and a Californian Pinot Noir – all good – followed by a Creme Catalana, the Boheme's take on a Creme Brulée. A cappuccino rounded off the meal and I made my way back to the hotel, trying to remember the route I had taken.

Tuna steaks with vegetables and salad at Bistro Boheme...
I'm now back in Room 315 and to say it's small would be an understatement; but despite its cell-like proportions, I rather like it. In fact, I've always been a fan of small rooms (as opposed to huge ones) and I like the Velux window, which means I can see out, but people can't see in – just how I like it, although the view is limited,  just trees and sky, but I'm not complaining. The bathroom is a little compact too, but it's all good and I should really be hitting the sack and getting a good night's sleep as it's now almost 2230hrs here in Stockholm (an hour earlier in the UK).

I stayed up and watched the first Mad Max movie on Netflix, hitting the pillow around midnight. During the night it rained heavily, hitting that Velux window with such force it awakened me on a couple of occasions. While a Velux is fairly quirky there are a couple of downsides: first, heavy rain hitting the glass surface makes a real din; and second, while there is a blind, I left it half-concealing the window and so I was awoken early by the brightness of a summer morning. In all honesty, I like traditional curtains that can be drawn and a more pleasing view than just trees and sky.

Cinnamon cremé brulée
It's 0618hrs the morning after the night I arrived (it's Tuesday) as I write this and a day of work beckons, although I'm a little concerned about the state of my clothes. I've brought two shirts with me, but they've both seen better days and I need to buy some new ones. Likewise my suit, which is now hanging from a coathanger on the wall (there's no wardrobe, just four coat hooks mounted on wood and screwed to the wall). The walls are white and the floors laminated wood. The bathroom floor and the tiny entrance lobby to the room – I suppose in some perverse way you could say I was staying in a very small one-bedroomed apartment – are tiled.

There is a small desk, a wall-mounted flatscreen television, an angle-poise lamp like the one in Toy Story movies (or all Pixar movies) and what is made to look like a make-shift lamp fixed to the wall with a flex hanging down and plugged into the wall, as if a temporary measure. I suppose that alone bestows 'boutique hotel' status on the NOFO. A single bed is crammed into the corner, there's a fire detector on the ceiling and two shelves by the entrance where 'tea and coffee-making facilities' reside on a tray next to a hairdryer. I don't think I've ever used a hotel hairdryer. There's no sign of an iron, but under the shelves a large shoe horn hangs from a smaller arrangement of hooks screwed to the wall. I don't think I've ever had occasion to use a shoe horn either. Three magazines rest on a shelf underneath the desk but they're all written in Swedish so all I can do is look at the pictures. There are four decorative cushions under the Velux window resting on what looks like a huge block of concrete, which has been painted white; I'm using it to spread out my 'stuff' like my mobile phone, travel adaptors, last night's dinner receipt, my glasses case, wallet, maps and yesterday's newspapers (picked up free at Gatwick).

View from Room 315, NOFO Hotel, Stockholm
The weather has changed. The blue skies and sunshine have been replaced by grey skies and blustery wind, more like the weather should be in these parts. I remember coming here when it was minus 26 degrees and then I flew north to Lulea where temperatures plummeted to minus 40 and there were lakes frozen over – so much so that cars could be driven across them, the ice being something like three feet thick.

Going back to my hotel room's compact bathroom, it is a so-called 'wet room', which basically means the sink, the toilet and the shower are in the same room, with the latter only separated by a shower curtain. For some reason, there is a window cleaner's squeegy lying on the floor and I can only assume it's there to wipe the mirror clean when the hot shower steams it up; except that the water is cold, lukewarm at best, and it took me an age to work out how to get it lukewarm, by a process of trial and error. In the end it was just about bearable and I managed to wash and shave while in the shower. I turned the tap on the sink this way and that to see if there was any sign of hot water, but no, there wasn't; and in my book a hotel without hot water – or a hotel where getting the hot water to work is a serious faff – is not worthy of a return visit. I don't need the aggravation, although I kind of like NOFO so before I decide not to make a return visit, there's always tomorrow's shower – it might work!
Room 315, NOFO Hotel, Stockholm

It's 0730hrs and I'm ready for breakfast... and now, at 0815hrs I'm back and can report that breakfast was fine. I enjoyed cereal (muesli with raisins), some rice cakes and some fresh melon plus a cup of strong, black coffee. Why not tea, you might ask. Well, in all honesty it was a little confusing. They had two huge containers of coffee (with depressable levers to dispense it) and one containing hot water, presumably for tea. Next to the hot water was leaf tea in glass containers, but nothing remotely like a teapot in which to place the tea prior to dispensing the hot water. There was also a small glass jar containing 'tea bags' but on closer inspection these appeared to be paper napkins (I couldn't see any tea inside them) so rather than engage in more faffing around (the shower had already proved a bridge too far) I opted for black coffee and enjoyed my breakfast watching a muted BBC World News – Brexit talks and the passing away of Otto Warmbier after returning to the US from North Korea featured.

And now at 1648hrs, the blue sky and sunshine back in place and the tree outside my Velux window swaying slightly in the breeze, I'm back in my room. The bed has been made, as I expected it to be, but all else is quiet. I keep thinking about going downstairs for a glass of wine, sitting in the courtyard and relaxing with the newspaper, but there's work to be done and by the time I've finished it, it will be dinner time and then, tomorrow, I fly home. It's whether to go back to Bistro Boheme or try somewhere different, but I'll make that decision later, after I've completed my work.

For my Trip Advisor hotel and restaurant reviews, click here.

At least the cushions aren't on the bed!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

To the Tatsfield Churchyard...

Having returned from Poland on Friday evening, I figured that a planned ride to Flowers Farm for tea and cake might be a bridge too far, bearing in mind the huge climb on the return journey to reach The Ridge. Not only that, the weather was hot and had been so all week. The thought of such a hill on such a sweltering day filled me with dread so we decided that we'd ride to the churchyard – the fast way.

The Tatsfield Churchyard, Saturday 17 June 2017
The journey, as you might expect, was pretty uneventful. I was running about 15 minutes late, but that was fine and when we reached our destination, instead of climbing the steps leading up to the churchyard from Clarks Lane, we followed the road around to the front entrance of the church, which was a hard uphill slog, and then cycled round to where the benches look out across the headstones towards the south downs shimmering in the hazy summer sky.

Out came the tea and the biscuits and we tried to keep our conversation away from politics, and largely succeeded, talking mainly about my time in Poland.

There's nothing better than the churchyard on a hot day, but soon that moment came when we had to cycle back home. I packed up the flask, the milk and my cup and soon we were heading down the steps towards Clarks Lane and the uphill ride to Botley Hill, followed by the fast ride along the 269 towards Warlingham where we parted company.

Sunday morning...
We had planned to ride to Flowers Farm this morning, Sunday 18th June, but Andy aborted and signed off with the obligatory "enjoy your ride" – although, sadly, I didn't. The alarm hadn't gone off and I laid in bed until 0825hrs. It's now just over two hours later, I've eaten breakfast and the sun is already scorching the back lawn. I'm considering a ride around the block, purely to provide some exercise, but I can't see my travelling far in the heat, although I might venture out later when the sun cools a little.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Warsaw – a chilled out city

Cream of asparagus soup in Kaiser, Warsaw
I woke later than usual, purely because I didn't have to get up early. A late breakfast followed (cereal, yoghurt, tea, fresh fruit) and then I checked out, leaving my luggage with the concierge. The woman on the front desk gave me an umbrella because it was raining a little bit outside. I took it and strolled out of the hotel towards the old town, past Buddha, an Indian restaurant that I've enjoyed twice in the space of three days.

The journey took no more than 20 minutes and I popped my head around a few shop doors en route, checking out an antiques shop that sold military coats and gas masks and typewritters from a bygone age. I looked at a few clothes shops for women. My route took me back up the main street in search of a decent restaurant for lunch. I had time to kill before catching my flight to London Heathrow so I figured I might as well chill out.

It's funny how wherever I go around the world everything is so samey, especially in Europe, but everywhere really. Budapest or Bucharest or Berlin or Warsaw or Amsterdam or Dusseldorf, it doesn't matter where I am in the world, there's a sameyness about it all; cities follow an established format, like countries do, so there's a bike share scheme (check); there are restaurants with umbrellas outside (check); there's an obligatory church or two (check), a main square of some description (check), a monument of some sort (check), global brands like Starbucks and Costa (check on both counts) you know what I'm saying. In fact, where the latter brands were concerned there was an abundance of Costa Coffee outlets, most of them known as Green Costa Coffee. Once I remember flying for something like 10 hours to Calgary in North Western Canada and when I got there I found a Claires Accessories. It was a very depressing moment.

Grilled chicken with vegetables at Kaiser
I'm very choosy when it comes to restaurants, but I eventually stumbled upon Kaiser at Chmielna 24, a pleasant-looking restaurant with outdoor seating and a chilled vibe generated by laid back jazz music. Despite the rain earlier on, the sun had broken through the clouds as I took a seat, having noticed something about an asparagus festival. 

Kaiser is a pleasant restaurant, not too far from the Sheraton where I have been staying since Tuesday. All is good. I've just enjoyed cream of asparagus soup and a glass of Rioja. In fact, I've just ordered another one while I await my main course of chicken with vegetables – including asparagus.

Rather annoyingly a huge dust cart is disturbing the peace. I'd been enjoying the laid back music and generally chilling, but now the music is being drowned out by a Scania P270 and it would be nice if it just drove away and left Kaiser in the chilled out state it's been used to over the past 30 minutes. But no, life isn't that simple.

The waiter just offered me a cushion to sit on and I declined his offer; you see, I'm sitting outside on a wicker chair, but it's fine. Now the dumpster has gone and my food has arrived. Life doesn't get much better than this.

The food was top notch too: perfectly grilled chicken breast with boiled potatoes, carrots and asparagus, nicely arranged on the plate. I've just ordered apple pie with vanilla ice cream and a cinnamon coffee, although it was tempting to order another glass of wine.

The sun is out, at last, and I've just weakened and ordered another glass of wine. I mean, why not? It's a beautiful day, there's a laid back jazz playing, I've had a couple of good days and I've got time to kill before my flight home. The coffee is great and the apple pie is on the way.

This is truly wonderful. Warsaw is a laid back place and it's, hold on a second, the apple pie has now arrived and, like the main course, it is well-presented. There is an ample slice of pie surrounded by fresh strawberries, raspberries and blackberries alongside a small dish of vanilla custard and a serving of vanilla ice cream, not forgetting strawberry coulis. It's all too much for yours truly but I'm loving every minute of it.

Apple pie with vanilla ice cream at Kaiser
In fact, if you ever find yourself in Warsaw, visit Kaiser and stay in the Sheraton Hotel too. You never know, you might bump into Damon Albarn of Gorillaz and Blur fame. Alright, I didn't bump into him, but I did see him across the street in a Polish restaurant, sitting outside with some of his band mates. Both Blur and Gorillaz are amazing and if you've not listened to anything by Gorillaz then you're missing out.

My day got even better. After lunch I strolled back to the hotel to retrieve my suitcase and then I considered taking the train to the airport. The receptionist told me it took around half an hour and the train station was about a 10-minute walk away. There were trains, she said, at ten to the hour and twenty past, but in the end I figured it would be best to simply jump in a taxi, which I did, and on the way there I listened to Howard Jones on the radio, "I won't let the sun go down on me..." and found myself getting confused with Nik Kershaw's excellent "Wouldn't it be Nice". I'm not sure of the exact title, but it's a great track and, as I queued for the security and all the hassle of taking my laptop out of my bag, I tried to sing the song to myself, initially gettting it mixed up with the aforementioned Howard Jones track, but eventually getting there.

I wandered aimlessly around the airport killing time before the flight. I can't recall how many circuits I made of the terminal building, but it was a fair few. Having eaten a large meal I couldn't be bothered with sitting in a Costa with a Millionaire's Shortbread and a mug of tea so I just strolled about, getting increasingly bored. But my boredom turned to elation when I boarded the 1815hrs BA flight to Heathrow and discovered a virtually empty plane. I had a window seat in an Exit row and nobody in my row, so I ordered a sandwich, two of those little bottles of red wine, a paper cup full of English breakfast tea and a bottle of mineral water, all for around £13.

The flight was smooth and bathed in sunshine all the way over, and I found I was even more chilled out than when I was sitting in Kaiser eating chicken and drinking Rioja.

By the way, check out Gorillaz' Stylo by clicking here.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

In Warsaw... and David Cameron's on the plane!

The first thing worth pointing out is that I never, repeat, NEVER, take an early flight unless it's absolutely necessary; but if I allow somebody else to book my plane ticket... well, what can I say? This morning I had to get up at the crack of dawn (0400hrs) in order to catch the 0725hrs BA flight to Warsaw.

I showered and shaved late last night and then jumped into bed, but was rudely awakened by my iphone alarm at 0400hrs and had 20 minutes to make the final preparations for my trip, namely sort my lap top out, eat a banana and zip up my suitcase. The taxi driver was already waiting outside, but after my trip to Nashville, when the bastard took me to Gatwick instead of Heathrow, I wasn't holding out much hope. In fact, I got a bit worried when he said he was going via Fulham rather than round the M25, but being as it was only 0430hrs I figured there would be no traffic and it was fine.

Once at Terminal Three of Heathrow airport I enjoyed a breakfast of omelette, toast and tea – top marks to the waiter for offering me a free top-up of tea – and then, after a minor wander about I headed for Gate 11 and the flight to Warsaw.

Omelette for breakfast at Oriel, T3.
What amazed me about Terminal Three – although perhaps it's the same for all airport terminals, I don't know, is that very early in the morning it was empty, hardly anybody there. I strolled nonchalantly into the duty free section, sprayed myself with some expensive after shave and then found Oriel and, of course, breakfast. The restaurant was empty but slowly it filled up and before long it was a bustling place along with the rest of the terminal, a bit like watching one of those speeded-up time movies.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron was on the same flight, but I never saw him, although it explains why there was a uniformed copper in the jetty joining the plane to the terminal building. I wonder where he was going? I considered 'having a word' about the in-out referendum he'd been responsible for, but figured it wasn't worth it. "Leave it! He's not worth it!"

The flight was fine, as smooth as you like, until it hit some cloud on the descent into Warsaw, then it got a little bumpy, but nothing to write home about, he said, mildly shitting himself. I know, ultimately, I'm a wimp, but I don't care; and besides, it doesn't really bother me. I'm so used to it these days I just go with the flow.

I'm glad I had breakfast at Oriel because I resent paying BA for an M&S sandwich and a cup of Rosie. No, they should be giving away their food and drink as part of the fare, and, hey, I bet you any money you like that the fare has gone up rather than gone down.

I had some writing to do while in the air and it worked out well, although thanks also (once again) to John Simpson's column in High Life, which is always my saviour on flights long and short. I like Simpson's writing style and I love the stories he tells, this month about a brick he found (and was allowed to keep) in Iraq back in the 1990s. All good stuff in my opinion.

View from room 201, Sheraton, Warsaw...
Having written what I needed to write and not having a book to read – I couldn't fit Steinbeck's East of Eden into my case – I spent the remainder of the flight circling all the destinations I had visited on the High Life route maps and then realised that there were many places around the world that hadn't been graced by my presence. One day, I thought, one day.

Once through passport control and baggage reclaim, it was a short cab ride to the Sheraton Hotel from where I write this. From what I've seen of the hotel so far, it's very good; the room is excellent, not dissimilar to the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, California, except that the weather's not as good.

A curry for lunch – you can't beat a curry for lunch or dinner – and now it's down to work, but I might take a shower and freshen up a little bit first.

Earlier, when I first reached the room after a fairly straightforward check-in process, I did my usual foraging around to check things out: First, the hotel DEFINITELY trusts its guests. Second, the coat hangers are just that, proper coat hangers with hooks; and third, there's a fully-stocked minibar. There's a large double bed, a huge flatscreen television, a decent-looking bathroom, a desk, free WiFi, tea and coffee making facilities, an iron plus an ironing board, a safe and ample wardrobe space. In other words, it's all good – so far – and everything looks neat and tidy as it's all packed away and out of sight.

Room 201, Sheraton, Warsaw, Poland – nice room!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

To Westerham – to sing the blues (Der-derdalla-dum!)

It's the weekend after the June 2017 General Election and Andy and I meet on the green at the usual time. We decide to 'get our heads down' and ride to Westerham. The weather is fantastic, perhaps not as hot as last weekend, but just as nice in many ways; there are cottonwool clouds in a blue sky and all is well with the world. There is one rule, however, before we set off and that is: we're not going to talk about politics. It's a good idea. Since 2015 when David Cameron, leader of the coalition with the Lib-Dems, promised an 'in-out' referendum on Europe and promptly took the country out of the European Union (he put party ahead of the interests of the country because he was running scared of UKIP stealing Tory votes) we've heard nothing but "Brexit". Cameron then resigned and Theresa May took over, trouncing bumbling Boris 'yes I do look ridiculous' Johnson and Michael 'call me Orville' Gove in the leadership contest. Boris became Foreign Secretary (who made that stupid decision?) and Gove was unceremoniously sacked.

Then, having promised not to call a General Election until 2020, Theresa May changed her mind – she's known for doing that – and we all set off for the polling station on Thursday. That's the bad news. The good news is that she messed up completely. Not only did she put in a piss-poor performance throughout her campaign, thanks to two hapless advisers – Nick Timothy (he of the awful beard) and Fiona Hill – she was almost defeated by Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party, which made considerable gains, while the Tories lost seats and now have to form a government with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on a 'confidence and supply' basis. And the funniest thing of all? She didn't have to call an election until 2020! I haven't stopped laughing! As for politics fatigue, we might well have another General Election later in the year.

Westerham, Kent, Saturday 10th June 2017 – note virtually cloudless skies
We rode to Westerham in silence, concentrating only on the road ahead, which was empty. Yes, the occasional Lycra Monkey en route, but nothing to write home about, and soon we found ourselves on the Green, sitting behind the statue of General Wolfe. We drank tea, we ate biscuits, we always do, and for some reason we started a conversation about music. I said that I simply didn't listen to music anymore, or rarely, normally in the car, but I've lost it completely, there are no bands I particularly like, I can't remember the last time I bought a CD and, well, that's it. How, I don't recall, but we got on to the subject of things people are kind of 'expected' to like. For instance, if you're really into your music, you're kind of duty-bound to say you like The Blues Brothers and The Commitments, two films I've never seen – along with Star Wars, the Matrix and so on; and then I said something about how I can't stand the blues, and threw in the rather arrogant notion that anybody can play the blues, just give them a gazoo and off they'll go. It's simple: You make up your lyrics and punctuate them with "Der-derdalla-Dum". So, as follows:-

I woke up this morning
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
I was feeling quite shit
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
Made me some coffee
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
I felt like a tit
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
Then I went to bathroom
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
I needed a shit
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
And that's when I knew mah life-wazza-sham
Coz I'm a loser, baby
24 carat! – I'm such a tit
I'm a loser, honey
Yeah! Can't even write a hit
"Derdalla, derdalla, derdalla derdalla dum, da-da dum"  
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
Came outta the toilet
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
Went straight to the car
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
Turned on the ignition
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
But I ain't goin' far
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
No gas in the tank
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
So I head back indoors
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
I'm feeling so mean
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
I just git to the stores
And that's when I knew mah life-wazza-sham
Coz I'm a loser, baby
[Short guitar riff – 'bip beele!, bip beele!]
24 carat! – I'm such a tit
[Bip beele! Bip beele!]
I'm a loser, honey
Can't even write a hit
"Derdalla, derdalla, derdalla derdalla dum, da-da dum"  
Said I'm a loser, little baby
"Derdalla-dum!"
Man! I'm such a tit!

Just in case I have written a hit song, it's Copyright Matthew Moggridge!

Perhaps I'll stop there, but you get my point. Who needs Eric Clapton or Seasick Steve when you've got me, Moronic Matt. I can turn out a tune with the best of them! Who can't?

The ride home was like it always is and, as always, we parted on the green and went home to enjoy the rest of the weekend.