Sunday, 9 August 2020

Lockdown, Part 35: A sense of doom

During the week I read that Michelle Obama was suffering from a kind of low-grade depression linked to the 'lockdown' and a sense of disappointment at the way things are moving in the USA. Well, I'm with her on that and I think the main source of what I can only describe as 'low grade depression' is a nagging sense of doom. I used to feel that way occasionally and whenever it arose I would wrack my brains to find its source. Normally, it was work-related, like when your holiday draws to a close and the spectre of work on Monday looms large.

When the lockdown started I was full of bravado about it. In short, I was loving it. I told readers here on the blog that it was great, like Christmas. I was eating a lot, cooking a lot and cycling a lot, all good in my book. But now I'm wondering whether I was putting on a brave face, making the best of things and, I suppose, being British. I kind of believed it, though. I got into a routine. I did the shopping, I was in charge of what everybody was eating, I developed weekly theme nights on Saturdays, set up a fictional restaurant, Handel's, and I started watching box sets (X Files, Ozark, The Sinner). I used to criticise people who watched box sets. I know people who do nothing else but watch end-to-end episodes for months and years on end, it's not healthy. Well, now I'm doing the same thing and I'm putting it down to trying to shut out the reality of the situation. Outside of lockdown, therefore, watching box sets all day is a sign that you simply can't handle the reality of your life.

Redhill on Saturday around noon...
The novelty of lockdown, however, has, as I've said recently, started to wear off. The cycling has moved from being a leisure activity to something I must do to maintain a certain level of fitness and suddenly the routine of everything has become oppressive. Everything has become monochromatic, the multi-faceted aspect of life has left the building and I'm left very down. Watching television, I find that there are plenty of reminders of a time when there was no lockdown. Sometimes, somebody actually says 'this was filmed before lockdown' and then there are shots of people in coffee shops or in crowded nightclubs and it's like watching people from another planet, another time. And now it's all made that little bit worse by television advertising for holidays and hotels and the fact that everybody is thinking: Yeah, fine, but what if we have to self-isolate on our return and what if the travel company goes bust? Suddenly, nothing is simple anymore.

The last thing I want to do now is fly. The idea of sitting on a plane wearing a mask is too much. I'd happily have a 'staycation' - now there's a horrible word - preferably on the south coast, but anywhere not too far away will do. I seem to yearn for a holiday more and more these days, much more than I used to, and that's probably because I'm working at home and home has become the office and a constant reminder of being at work.

I think the worst thing is knowing that nothing is going to change, not for the foreseeable future at any rate. The whole thing has been 'normalised' and people, as we all know, keep talking about the 'new normal' as if resigning themselves to a future of social distancing, self-isolation and treating everybody as lepers. Wearing a mask and socially distancing are now part of life (until they find a vaccine) but even then problems loom. While I like reading about conspiracy theories I've noticed that I'm starting to believe them, especially the notion that a vaccine might be some kind of sinister plot by 'the establishment' or the so-called 'illuminati' to kill people off, reduce the population a little bit and ease up on pensions payments. Perhaps that's what the whole virus thing is about, reducing global population levels, and I'm starting to wonder whether I'd take the vaccine if it was offered or simply take my chances with the virus as those around me start foaming from the mouth and dying from a mystery illness while world leaders smile slyly at one another at the next G20 meeting.

That feeling of being doomed persists. Whereas in the past it was an occasional thing and when I discovered that it was connected to work or a dentist's appointment I returned to the land of the living, now it's there constantly. I feel as if I'm always frowning and definitely always bad-tempered about something. I think I'm watching box sets and 'homely' crime series (like Midsomer Murders) to shut out the reality of the situation and I wonder whether those I used to look down upon for spending their waking lives ploughing through season after season of Breaking Bad were, in fact, experiencing a constant state of depression even prior to the virus. Who knows? Perhaps there are a lot of very sad people on this planet, getting by through total immersion in fiction.

I kid myself that my regular bike rides are making me superfit, but I'm forgetting that the bike rides are all the exercise I'm getting. In the good old, pre-lockdown days, I would be walking a lot during the day, walking to and from the station, walking around the office and sometimes walking a few extra miles at lunch time; and in the evening I might hoof it to the next station up the line from where I normally board the train. Cycling was, if you like, an adjunct to all of this - short rides to the bus stop or Woodmansterne Green to see Bon, it didn't matter as I was getting loads of other forms of exercise. But let's not be too harsh on my riding, the cycling is good whichever way you look at it and life would have been hell if my chosen sport had been swimming as all the pools are closed and I'd be left with the prospect of 'wild swimming' in some rat-infested lake.

Lunch at the Pop Inn in Redhill on Saturday
This week I rode around 67 miles, as opposed to last week's 88 miles. The weather has been extremely hot. On Friday it was 37 degrees and when it came to getting on the bike I shuffled outside, hot and bothered, and managed to reach the top of Church Lane before deciding it was simply too hot to ride the bike. I had been out on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Had I forced myself to ride the bike on Friday I would have been in line for a respectable weekly total of something like 91 miles, but no, I freewheeled back along the road and put the bike back in the garage. On Saturday morning I left early for Redhill. It took me about an hour to get there - on quiet and car-free roads - and 90 minutes to get back, thanks to massive hills that slowed me down, but it was a great ride and in between I visited the Pop Inn Cafe for a chicken fillet sandwich and a mug of tea. The Pop Inn hasn't suffered, they stayed open during the lockdown as a takeaway operation and then reopened as a cafe once things were allowed to open up a little. There's a couple of tables people can't use - the Pop Inn's nod to social distancing - and when I got there I decided to sit outside in the sunshine. Lunch over I got back on the bike and headed out of town, initially on the A23, but then branching off right and riding along Frenchies Road and then under the tracks and into Merstham before heading out of town and towards Warwick Wold Road and then over the motorway, right into Springbottom Lane, left on to White Hill Lane (a very, very steep hill) and onwards to Chaldon, Caterham, Whyteleafe and the ominous Tithe Pit Shaw Lane in where, Warlingham or Whytleafe? It's another massive hill, that's all you need to know. Unlike Prince Andrew, by the time I was on the level of Wentworth Road and heading towards the Limpsfield Road (B269) I was a sweating, blubbering hulk in camouflage shorts and a bright orange tee-shirt.

When I reached home I had a bowl of Alpen and then a shower followed by a trip to Waitrose to do the weekly shop. I was feeling good.

On Sunday, the plan was to meet Andy at 0800hrs at the Churchyard, our first early meeting in months. I left the house around 0715hrs and felt the cool early morning breeze on my face as I pedalled along Ellenbridge towards Church Lane. There were hardly any cars on the road and soon I was out in the open countryside heading towards Botley Hill, turning left on to Clarks Lane and riding down the hill towards St. Mary's. Andy was already there. We chatted about lockdown and our bikes. Andy's gear cable had snapped, but the bike was still fit to ride. I drank tea and a small wrapped cookie given to me by Andy, and soon we were on our way home. I rode back along the 269, but then took a right on Beech Farm Road followed by a left on Washpond Road, a right on to Ledgers Road and a left on to Church Road. Soon I was back on the 269 and heading for Warlingham Green. Andy had said goodbye at The Ridge and we vowed to meet again next Sunday.

I haven't seen an early morning mist for many months and it was good to catch one today on my right hand side as I rode along Clarks Lane and started on my descent towards the churchyard. Had I stayed on the bike I would have descended further (into Westerham). I would might have experienced a cold breeze on my face and arms as the road levelled out and the temperature dropped momentarily before I reached the Northern Kent market town. But today it was the churchyard where solitude rules supreme and always has done. It's a great place, especially on a summer's day, and with social distancing still on everybody's agenda, it offered Andy and I a wooden bench each.

I reached home before 1000hrs and painted the canopy over the kitchen window, it needed a second coat, and now it's done and drying in the heat of the sun. The heat has been constant this past week, culminating in Friday's 37-degrees scorcher and continuing throughout the weekend. It was very hot on the ride to and from Redhill, and it was hot today too, but going early meant slightly cooler air, I think it was around 13 degrees when I left the house at just gone 0700hrs. There's rumour of stormy weather mid-week and I'm sure there will be loads of Daily Mail-readers saying it'll be good for the garden, my mum among them. Hot weather has characterised the lockdown and in many ways it's been a waste of a decent summer.

That word 'lockdown', of course, doesn't really tell it like it is. In a sense we're all still in lockdown, despite the various 'relaxations'. The new normal basically means that we go out to go shopping, wearing a mask and we can only go somewhere else, like the pub, if we have booked in advance. And when we get there we find food ordering via mobile phone apps and seats socially distanced from one another. This is the annoying and depressing reality, that things are the same, but they're not the same. And then, of course, there are large pockets of resistance, like the 'covidiots' on our beaches cramming themselves on to the sand and throwing caution to the wind. And let's not forget those who refuse to wear a mask, just to be stroppy about it.

It's now just gone 1800hrs on Sunday evening, it's still hot outside and I'm sitting in the shade of my living room thinking about cooking dinner but then realising it's almost too hot to eat right now. Perhaps I'll put the oven on around 1900hrs when things have cooled a little.

Another week beckons and every second will be exactly the same as the last 20 or so: work, ride, dinner, television, sleep... repeat and fade.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Lockdown, Part 34: To the lake!

Around three decades ago I bought a Supergrass album from Virgin Records (£13.99) and never really listened to it. The CD in question? In it for the Money. So I'm driving over to mum's and I've decided to listen to it, properly, in the way we used to 'listen' to albums back in the olden days. I remember how I used to listen to albums and how they changed as familiarity with specific tracks crept in. Well, here I am doing just that, but in a car. When I used to 'listen' to albums, it was 'back home' when I lived with mum and dad. I'd be in the bedroom playing whatever it might be over and over again, rocking with the rhythm and soon getting to grips with the good and bad tracks. But here I am three decades on, driving (a great place to get to grips with any album) and I've decided that the track Late in the Day is fantastic. In fact, while I say 'here I am', I'm not sitting in the car anymore, I'm now at home and I've found the track on Spotify. Let me level with you: I found the track on Spotify, I listened to it and now I've moved on, to the Charlatans, and before that I listened to Roll with It by Oasis, a top band if you ask me. Anyway, why am I telling you this? There's no reason really, no inner meaning, no hidden message, I've just been listening to Supergrass and found a great track on one of their albums. That's all there is.

The Honey Monster got there before me...
What's happening with the lockdown? Who knows? Well, the pubs have re-opened (I've been a couple of times, but to eat, not drink, apart from mineral water). Everything is opening up. In fact, I've lost touch with what you can and can't do. All I do know is that masks are now compulsory in shops and on public transport, although today (Saturday) I saw three people in Waitrose who weren't wearing masks. Very annoying. How come they think they're special? It's not worth saying anything, but they didn't look like people with 'special needs'. I think they were just waiting for somebody to challenge them so they could tell them to 'fuck off'. Something like that. But while things are supposedly easing up, we're hearing that a second wave is now a full-on reality we all need to be aware of; pubs, claims the BBC, might have to close so that schools can re-open. Eh? Why? It's all mixed messages. Johnson's going to try and tackle obesity, mainly because he's a fat bastard and nearly died as a result. COVID doesn't like fat people. My advice? Just eat fresh food, it's that simple, and it's cheaper than buying all that pre-prepared shit, which is full of salt and all sorts of rubbish.

Chipstead Lake, Saturday 1st August 2021 around 0925hrs...
I've done pretty well on the cycling front this week. But let's go back and look, roughly, at how things have been going since I got the bike out of the shop. After a week of no cycling when I didn't have the bike, I put in something like 64 miles, then last week it was 71 and now, this week, I've managed 88.15 miles. During the week I rode three 20-milers and I gave them all stupid names, like the Reverse Chump and Bastard - a direct ride into Tatsfield Village and then round to St. Mary's church, on to Clarks Lane, then back on the 269 and hanging a right on to Beech Farm Road, following the lanes round to Warlingham Sainsbury's then rejoining the Limpsfield Road (which is the 269) and heading for home. In essence I did this three times, with minor variations. The second ride I called a Slogger, Chump and Bastard and then there was a Beddlestead Chump Bastard Womble, all variations on a theme, setting me up nicely for today's ride to the lakes, which wasn't given a silly name (not yet at any rate). I've not riden to the lakes for a long time and as Andy and I have always said, we tend these days to ride to the lakes alone. Why that should be, I don't know, but it's true and I was there today, early and alone, arriving at 0921hrs and then just basking in the sun with the Honey Monster, just him and I, looking at the lake and soaking up a few rays. I brought a Vanilla Chai tea along for the ride and chilled for a good 20 minutes before packing things up and embarking upon the gruelling return ride. Make no mistake, a 30-miler to the lakes and back will take it out of you. When I reached home I made myself another breakfast. Having already eaten porridge and fruit around 0700hrs, when I reached home at 1100hrs, I added two Shredded Wheat, a slice of bread and butter and a cup of tea. Much needed. I'll be honest, I was feeling deliciously weary and tired, that lovely relaxed feeling that strenuous exercise gives you. I had a shower and then slobbed around for a bit, watching The Railway Children and then, around 1600hrs, going shopping to Waitrose, where I saw those three mask-less individuals.

Sheree's Store and Tearoom in Tatsfield village - closed when I got there!
I forgot to mention the tearoom I 'discovered' in Tatsfield  village on one of my mid-week rides. Sheree's Store and Tearoom looked rather good and one to remember for Andy and I when the early rides start up again. I got there just past 1700hrs hoping I'd be able to buy myself some mineral water, but no, it was closed. In fact, I realised that on a ride from my house into Tatsfield village, whether the fast or the slow way, once you've passed Warlingham Sainsbury's there's nowhere in hell where you can stock up on food or water so it's best to take stuff with you. It was hot during the week and I was thirsty, but I resigned myself to the fact that I'd have to wait until I reached home. Thirsty work.

The village sign and the pub...
The lakes was a great ride, seriously good, so chilled, especially riding along Pilgrims Lane. I could have sat there all day on the green in front of the pub and was reminded of a ride I did with Andy back in April 2011; that was a hot day too and we all had too much to drink, but in a good way. There's a Harvey's pub in Chipstead, right by the lake, and it offers great beer and excellent food. I remember once when Andy and I rode to the lakes early one morning and the waft of bacon sandwiches from the pub reached our noses, but they weren't selling them, it was too early, so we simply enjoyed the aroma and then headed home.

The weather has been amazing, not just of late but throughout the lockdown. I took Friday off because the temperature reached 34 degrees Centigrade, the hottest July 31st in 200 years, or so they say, which I'm guessing is when records began. Perhaps not. Today it was warm, not as hot as yesterday, but very, very pleasant. It's hot now. There's a cool breeze coming in from an open window and outside I note it's a full moon. It's 2145hrs and dark. Let's not forget, we've passed the summer solstice so it's getting dark again in the evening, very depressing. But there's still a lot of summer time left, it's now 1st August and the year has been flying by and everyone has been stuck indoors protecting themselves from COVID-19. The virus has ruined 2020 and it's such as shame because it's been a real scorcher.

While the lockdown is supposed to be easing, in essence nothing has changed for most people. There are still queues at the supermarket, people are still socially distancing and while the government is paying people to eat out and encouraging us to go back to work, there's now talk of a second wave and another lockdown. It's all getting very tiresome.

Woodmansterne Green
Sunday was another hot day and I rode to Woodmansterne Green to see Bon. We had a good chat about stuff and departed around 1000hrs. The ride from Sanderstead is 10.59 miles and took exactly one hour, that's 30 minutes each way.

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Lockdown, Part 33: A week without cycling...

You might recall that last week (or was it the week before?) I somehow managed to damage the joint below the big toe on my left foot. I made matters worse by riding to Westerham (21 miles) last Saturday and then, well, I saw sense and decided to have a rest from riding the bike. I hadn't done too badly. The first week back after picking up my bike from Ross Cycles I put in around 64 miles and then the following week, culminating with last Saturday's 21-miler to Westerham, I think I upped the ante to 71 miles. All was good, but the time off from riding proved to be a good idea. I haven't been on the bike for eight days and while my lack of riding nagged at me for a day or two, I put my mind to rest by reasoning that all the gardening I was doing instead was more than compensating. In truth, it wasn't, but who cares?

Chicken, leek and tarragon pie - you can't beat decent pub food!
On Thursday I went to a local garden centre and bought a few boxes of 'weed & feed' (I know how to live when I'm on holiday!). I applied it liberally to the lawn and the following morning the grass had been blackened. I'm told that a change of colour proves that it's working, doing its job, killing off the weeds and moss, so I'm not that worried about it. In fact I'm glad that my lawn is well and truly on the mend and on the way to greatness, or at least I hope so. The weeds and the moss will hopefully be replaced by vibrant and green grass and I can enjoy it for the rest of the summer.

The Rockhopper resting outside Tatsfield village...
It's not just the lawn that's been getting a bit of TLC, although the lawn is pretty important in the general scheme of things as it's huge and takes up a lot of space. I also dug up a flower bed (make that a weed bed) on the right of the lawn and replanted it with shrubs and flowers, also purchased from the aforementioned garden centre. And let's not forget the window canopy, which was in a right state and in serious need of a coat of paint. I got up on a rickety old step ladder clasping a wire brush and it wasn't long before the canopy was ready for an undercoat. It now awaits a second coat, but that can wait until next weekend.

The pond in the centre of Tatsfield village.
I suppose you could say I've been very busy, running around between garden centres and D.I.Y shops. Technically, I had taken the week off work, but in reality I only had one 'day off' - on Wednesday - when I drove into darkest Sussex for a pub lunch. Because of 'social distancing' and the virus we booked in advance and had to order our food using our mobile phones. It was easy and the food was delicious and we also paid via the phone so there was little in the way of human contact. The other good thing about it was not having to wait for the waiter to deliver the bill or worry about how much of tip we should give (we didn't give any tip, I mean why when there's no real 'service'?). Actually, the meal was good, especially the chicken and leek pie, the mash, the vegetables, the whole lot, but I don't think the phone ordering system offered the opportunity for us to tip electronically. I never carry cash so sadly there was no tip.

To complete my week of gardening I need to order a parasol and I'll do that later on line, then I can go back to work tomorrow safe in the knowledge that I've well and truly 'done my bit'.

St. Mary's church, Tatsfield
Today I initially considered riding solo to the lakes, but in all honesty, by the time I was ready to hit the air it was almost 0800hrs and I realised it would take the best part of almost three hours to complete, possibly less if I didn't stop for tea, but where's the fun in that? So I called Bon, or rather I texted him a single word question: 'cycle?'. And then I set off with my phone on 'loud' so I could hear it if he called back, but he didn't (until I was almost home) so I pressed on towards Warlingham Green and then beyond, riding the 269 to Botley Hill and then heading east on Clarks Lane. Initially I thought I'd ride into Westerham, but then I changed my mind and rode towards St Mary's church in Tatsfield, but not directly. I turned left on Approach Road and went through the village instead, getting in a bit of a pickle when I approached some temporary traffic lights (I was in the wrong gear and the lights were on a hill so I ended up walking and remounting on the other side).

Yours truly in Tatsfield
I passed the entrance to the churchyard and rode down the hill on to Clarks Lane again, turning right and heading up the hill towards Botley and the 269. Later I turned right again into Beech Farm Road and while I kind of considered hanging a left into Washpond Lane, I carried on round and eventually passed St Leonard's church on my right and then Ledgers Road on my left and then I was back at Warlingham Sainsbury's where I turned right and continued down the Limpsfield Road to home. I was pleased to note that I'd almost riden 20 miles. All I need to do now is keep that up for five days and I'll be approaching the magical 100-mile week, but let's not walk before we can run.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Lockdown, Part 32: Something Better Change.

The other day I decided to take a walk around the block, just a half-hour stroll to get some exercise having been stuck indoors all day working. As I walked, I found myself thinking back five years or so to the time when, for some reason, the joint below my big toe swelled up and I had great difficulty walking. It lasted for about two or three days, wasn't painful unless I put weight on it and that's about it. However, as I continued to walk - without pain and with no sign of the ailment I last experienced in 2015 - I said myself, something along the lines of: "I seem to have gotten rid of that big toe ailment I had all those years ago, must be cleaner living, not drinking and so forth." And with that I continued on my walk and when it was over I sat around, watched TV, all the usual stuff. The following day I had the ailment again. Now, perhaps it's coincidence, but I'm not so sure and I highly recommend people not to tempt fate because that's what I did, I'm sure. I started thinking about something and for some reason it happened. I hobbled around for the day, went to bed early and when I woke up in the morning, while the joint below the toe was still swollen, I was no longer in pain. Cue a 21-mile bike ride to Westerham during which I experienced no pain, nothing. However, as the day progressed, and I took a drive into darkest Sussex, the pain returned and I found myself limping around again. Perhaps I shouldn't have gone cycling, perhaps I aggravated it, so I resolved not to go today (Sunday). I was planning a ride to Woodmansterne Green to see Bon, sometime around 0700hrs, but in all honesty nothing had been arranged and my original plan had been to meet Andy at the Churchyard, hopefully an hour earlier than normal (at 1000hrs) although again, nothing had been arranged. So when I woke up I decided to give things a rest. Last week I'd cycled around 71 miles (my week is currently running from Sunday to Saturday) so I figured a day off might do me some good, although, even now, at 0928, I still feel like jumping on the bike and going somewhere. I'm going to resist the temptation.

War time memorial in Tatsfield Village last week on the Churchyard Chump
It's now 2019hrs, the Durrell's are on television (far too middle class for my liking) and I'm sitting looking out on the garden. There's blue skies and scattered clouds here and there, it's been a fairly pleasant day. There was a little drizzly rain this morning, but it's warm out and ideal cycling weather. I'm glad I gave it rest, though. I've been obsessing about it of late and what's the point? In fact, I'd say I'm getting irritated about a lot of things and I'm going to blame the 'lockdown'. Not, as I've said before, that I'm in any real state of lockdown. It's just the whole being at home thing, not getting much of a change of scene, although that's not true either: yesterday I drove to Petworth in West Sussex and mooched around a bit. Today I've been taking it easy, but I think it's the whole thing about working from 0800 to 1600, then going cycling (alone) then returning home, having dinner, watching The Sinner, falling asleep and then going to bed (repeat and fade). The swollen foot didn't help matters, but I've been a bit short-tempered (more so when I've missed a ride, although I did pretty well this week). I'm annoyed with the Government, annoyed with the state of popular music (just listen to Capital Radio and you'll know what I mean) and, most of all, I'm fed up with myself for all sorts of reasons. I need to achieve something, but I don't know what. I'm always reading about people doing 'great things' with their lives and I'm starting to feel a little small and insignificant in the greater scheme of things. But so what? Who isn't small and insignificant? I've been thinking back on stuff and berating myself on so many levels, but then, when I think about it, I've done alright one way or another, I've got nothing to complain about and there are plenty of reasons to utter the phrase 'and there, but for the grace of God go I'. I could do with a better night's sleep, that's for sure, perhaps a lot of this is to do with feeling weary and tired and in need of more sleep, get to bed before 2300. I don't know, but I'd better snap out of it.

On the green at Westerham on Saturday morning
On the cycling front, it's been good this week. I managed to get in four rides including yesterday's ride to Westerham, 21.05 miles. I sat on the green in the sunshine chilling before heading home up the hill. Prior to that ride I rode the Slines Oak Slogger, riding up the 269, turning right on to Slines Oak Road all the way to Woldingham and then hanging a left and heading for the golf course, bearing right on to The Ridge, riding to Botley Hill, crossing the 269 and then heading east on Clarks Lane but turning left on to Beddlestead and then tackling Hesiers Hill. In fact, that's not right. The ride before the Westerham journey was the Slines Oak Slogger, but in the other direction (coming down Hesiers and then riding up Slines Oak Road on to the 269, turning left and riding home). I did it the other way around earlier in the week, actually last Sunday if I'm not mistaken. So I rode Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On Tuesday I rode the Churchyard Chump, a straight ride along the 269 to Tatsfield Village via the Churchyard, but circling it and riding through Tatsfield Village, emerging on Approach Road, turning right at the Bus Stop and heading home via Botley Hill, that was 17 miles. Thursday was the Slines Oak Slogger (17.5 miles) and Saturday was Westerham (21 miles). My week started last Sunday when I rode the Slogger via a steep climb up Hesiers Hill and, as I said, I repeated the ride on Thursday but in reverse. For details of all my rides, click here.

Village cricket on Wisborough Green in West Sussex on Saturday afternoon
There's two kinds of cycling as I've said before: cycling for the fun of it (which was the way Andy and I used to ride at weekends, early in the morning); and cycling to keep fit, which is what I'm doing now, riding alone, not stopping for tea and not really enjoying it. It might be another reason why things aren't right at the moment. Cycling, while fine, is a kind of necessity at present because I'm indoors all day and genuinely need the exercise. Often I have to force myself to go out because I don't particularly want to. The novelty has worn off I guess. I'm also riding in the early evening, which is problematic because we have dinner to sort out on my return and then there's nothing left but to crash in front of the television. The routine is starting to annoy me, perhaps that's it. As the Stranglers used to sing: Something Better Change.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Lockdown, Part 31: Fantasyland

I live in a fantasy world. I am always riding along in a dream, sometimes saving people from the soon-to-be burning wreckage of a private jet, other times being a rock star, admired and loved by all and sundry, and then other times living in a house on the beach, enjoying a lazy life of looking out to sea, going for long beach walks and breathing in the sea air. If it's none of the above then it's being a successful novelist, working only when I choose and living a life of solitude in a house with a huge, overgrown garden. The central thread running though these often quite vivid fantasies is financial security and not worrying or fretting about the future, and also relaxation and not having to do anything I don't want to do; it's not worrying about pensions or retirement but simply chilling, by the sea, taking each day as it comes and being at peace with the world. In a nutshell, I need a holiday.

This week, while roaming the aisles of my local supermarket, I decided to buy a copy of The Week, a weekly news magazine, and inside I found a page entitled Best Properties on the Market, a selection eight properties and only one within my grasp, a stone cottage in Inverness-shire with six bedrooms, a share in a salmon and trout river and some 89 acres of pasture and grazings. It's in the middle of nowhere and I can see myself there just doing nothing but cycling, eating and sleeping and having visitors up from the smoke to ride with me and generally chill out. Kilmonivaig Farm, that's the name of the place, and if I sold up I could afford it, but what the hell would I do stuck up in Inverness-shire as the weather closes in? How would I make money? Well, my view is never let the practicalities get in the way of a good fantasy and besides, I'm working remotely now, I could work remotely from Inverness-shire, as long as there's WiFi.

Fields at the bottom of Hesiers Hill...
If I'm honest, I'd prefer the nine-bedroomed Clarghyll Hall in Cumbria, a grade ll listed country house steeped in 500 years of history and crying out for me to be its new owner. I'd better get a lottery ticket next week because this stately pile is currently out of my reach, which is a little depressing. The Gart in Perthshire, Scotland, is also out of my reach, but it looks amazing and I can see myself there eating venison and drinking rich, red wine. Well, alright, I've given up drinking so a vanilla chai and a hot cross bun would have to suffice.

The Rockhopper at the bottom of Hesiers Hill
It's Sunday and I've been chilling this afternoon in the back garden, enjoying the sunshine. This morning I rode what I'm calling the Sline's Oak Slogger, which saw me ride all the way to Woldingham and then hang a left and head towards the golf course and, of course, Ganger's Hill, but turning left and following The Ridge all the way to Botley Hill and onwards to Beddlestead Lane. I rarely cycle from the Clarks Lane end of Beddlestead towards Hesiers Hill and for one good reason: Hesiers Hill. It's steep and not pleasant, but today I did it. Beddlestead is peaceful and quiet, once a few yards in there's perfect silence, apart from the tweeting birds and the whirr of a Lycra Monkey's wheels. There were a few of them riding up the lane and heading to Westerham, but there were many moments when I had the road to myself and could simply chill with a warm breeze on my face and the prospect of a nasty hill at the end. I took the ascent in my stride and soon I was at the top and winding my way around the country lanes, past St. Leonard's church and round towards Warlingham Sainsbury's and home.

Looking up Hesiers Hill
Yesterday I rode the Beddlestead Beach Farm Bastard, an 18-mile ride (as opposed to today's 17-miler) so I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself. Last week I rode a total of 60 miles and I'm slowly getting back into my stride after around a week off waiting for the bike to be serviced. Hopefully, this week I'll ride more, perhaps get up to 80 miles, who knows? It all depends on the weather, but everybody's saying it's going to be warm so here's to some pleasant evening rides.

The lockdown continues, or rather it doesn't. Who knows? One minute we're told not to use public transport and work from home if we can; and now we're being given money by the Government to eat out and get back to work, using the trains and buses if need be. There's a lot of mixed messages, but the general view is that things are getting back to normality (or rather the 'new normal' of social distancing and masks and booking up to visit the local boozer). Until they find a vaccine we've just got to get on with it.

The Rockhopper has been running like a dream since Ross Cycles serviced it
I think what I need is a holiday. I need to switch off completely and spend some time staring at the sea and not thinking about anything other than whatever book I'm reading and where my next meal is coming from. But I've got to stop eating for the sake of it, out of boredom more than anything else, that sneaky bowl of cornflakes, that slice of bread and peanut butter, a late-night bowl of Alpen or a Rachel's yoghurt, it's all surplus to requirements if I'm honest and it has to stop.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Lockdown, Part 30: Whatever!

The weather's been changeable. There's been rain. It's stopped me riding the bike. The frequency of my cycling has dipped from six days a week to three. Not cycling isn't good, it always makes me feel sluggish, unhappy, doomed and I get a little depressed as a result. I shouldn't be like this. The less I go the more difficult it is to motivate myself, I start to find it all too much. I find myself in the garage, looking at the bike and wondering whether it's worth unpadlocking it or simply going back in the house and forgetting about everything. It happened last week. I started imagining myself riding along Ellenbridge, heading up Church Way and then riding along the Limpsfield Road and it made me feel weary. I went back inside the house and forgot about it. It's different at the weekend. At the weekend I don't have to work so I can go cycling in the morning, meet Andy at the churchyard and if the sun is shining I feel good about the world. Last week I managed three rides (Sunday, Thursday and Friday) and to be fair, I feel good about that too. Today I started the second week of riding since the bike was returned to me - or rather since I went to the bike shop to get the Rockhopper. I've decided not to fret about riding or not riding. I'm accepting that things change. The run of good weather that motivated me to ride six days a week has gone so from now on it's the luck of the draw and also whether I'm feeling up to it. I hope that nine times out of 10 I do feel motivated to get out there, but if I don't, then so be it.

Swimming in the sea...
I think the lockdown is starting to get on people's nerves, it's getting on mine. People are looking for change and it's coming, of course it is, but it's more about what kind of change and the fact that we've all got to socially distance and people keep talking about the 'new normal', which nobody wants. We all want the old normal, although I'm thinking that I don't want the cars back on the road or the planes in the sky. I quite liked it without them, but now things are looking like the old days. When I cycle along the Limpsfield Road there's increased traffic, so while it's supposed to be 'the new normal' there's some of the old normal too. But hey, the economy has to bounce back somehow or we'll all run out of money.

What annoys me about 'the lockdown' is the way it's portrayed on the television. I keep seeing advertisements showing people 'stuck at home' tutoring their kids or exercising in the living room or singing from their balconies and I find myself thinking why are they doing that? Since lockdown I've been riding miles and miles on the bike, going out shopping, walking, you name it, there's no need to be stuck indoors and yet that's the picture the media wants to portray, that we're all at home, stuck indoors and slowing driving ourselves crazy.

Wisborough Green
I was listening to LBC on Saturday and the presenter (I can't remember his name) was asking listeners what drastic changes have they made to their lives or their way of thinking as a result of lockdown. And this is something else I find odd about the media portrayal of the situation, the assumption that the experience, for all of us, has been life-changing and that whole World War ll analogy. My problem with this is that I don't think it has been life-changing at all; we've all been stuck indoors, that's all. We haven't been at war, or under siege, there's always been food around, even if we've had to queue for it, so why should we be experiencing anything life-changing? And then I started wondering how things had changed for me. Well, I need a haircut, that's for sure, but I'm not getting uptight about it. I mean it's only been possible to have a haircut since yesterday. Up until then it's been a case of leave it alone or reach for the clippers. In all honesty, I can't be bothered, let it grow, that's what I've been thinking. Who cares if it's long? I've been eating more than normal, but all good stuff. I'm buying more food than I was pre-lockdown. I get through a family pack of Alpen in a week, I'm eating lots of fresh fruit and I've started eating bread like I used to, but I try to limit myself to just four slices per day maximum. Chocolate bars are back on the agenda. I often find myself eating a Wispa bar while waiting in the queue for the check-out. That's got to stop. And I'm staying up late watching box sets, that's new. I'm now on Season Six of the X Files, I watched the whole of Ozark, the whole of Cardinal and now I'm on to The Sinner with Bill Pullman and the jury's out on that at the moment. I've stopped watching the news. And that's because we've become a one news story nation. It was Brexit and now it's the pandemic and I've started taking a different perspective on it all. I mean, with the pandemic, what's the story? There's a virus, it's bad news for some, but not so bad for others, it's highly contagious and the Government has been bungling everything as it goes along. End of story basically. And it looks as if Brexit is going to come back. There's also the intensifying soap opera of the Epstein case, that's hotting up now that the FBI has arrested Ghislaine Maxwell, and here's hoping she's going to blow the gaff on all the establishment figures involved, especially Prince Andrew. But other than that, there's little else.  I swam in the sea, that's the big news from me of late. About a week ago I headed down to Felpham on the south coast on a very hot day and hit the beach, there was nobody there (hardly). I shared the sea with a couple of people and their kid and I went straight in, without hesitation. The sea was warm and I spent around 40 minutes in the water. The last time I swam in the sea was in 2015 in Brazil, Copacabana Bay, and the following day I went down with an upset stomach. Not nice and you can read about it here. Sea swimming again was great fun and reminded me that I'd really like to live by the sea, but I doubt I ever will.

The shops are empty...
I must point out that I know people have suffered from the lockdown. I feel sorry for anybody stuck in a flat without a balcony or a communal garden, I feel sorry for people who are getting on top of one another in a small space with no possible escape, I feel sorry for those who haven't discovered cycling or a means of escape like I have. 

What I can't get to grips with is the future and how it's all going to change or get back to normal. And by normal I don't mean the new normal, I mean the real normal, the old normal, the world we used to know. I don't want to have my haircut by somebody wearing a visor. I don't want to put my name down to go to the pub.

I suppose I wish the whole thing would stop and go back to normal. I guess everybody feels the same way.

Today I rode to the churchyard to meet Andy. We sat there in the sunshine chatting and chilling for around half an hour and then we headed home, parting company at The Ridge like in the old days. I carried on down the 269 and reached home at 1220 hrs. The weather's been great today. 

When I reached the churchyard, Andy had yet to arrive...

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Lockdown, Part 29: Getting the bike back from the shop...

I've had a week without the bike. A whole week of not cycling. And while I said in a previous post that a bike equals freedom, there's something free about not having one too. Everytime I started to feel guilty about not getting exercise, I remembered that I didn't have a bike and, therefore, that it didn't matter. I substituted cycling with walking, but I never kept it up and eventually any kind of fitness regimen I might have thought I had, crumbled around me and I simply got on with being a slob. It's amazing how quickly you forget 'being fit', although I'm guessing that a week out of the saddle is meaningless in terms of 'losing fitness'. That said, I think it's the case that when you stop exercising you very quickly find yourself out of condition. The downwards spiral develops quicker than the upwards one, I'm told, which is, of course, the essence of Sod's Law, like when you drop a slice of toast it always lands butter side down. The only thing I did notice about not exercising, having cycled almost daily since lockdown, is that I get depressed quicker than when I was keeping fit. It's easier to despair and to think the worst and to fall off the happiness stall when you're not generating endorphins or whatever is that exercise generates. I feel like I haven't been writing as much either, certainly not this blog and, to be fair, not anything else.

You can see my bike resting against the window
I was beginning to wonder whether or not I'd get the bike back. The guy in the store said he'd email me, but he didn't so eventually I called and there appears to have been some kind of confusion based on somebody else having an identical bike, it wasn't clear, but yes, my bike was ready and I could pick it up tomorrow (Saturday). "But wait until I send you an email," he said, although I didn't. I called again and he said come round now, so I did. He was shutting up shop at 1300hrs and when I looked at the clock that's exactly what time it was. "Are you sure?" He said yes, he'd be there faffing around for a while so I drove over there, it's just under six miles, with all the family in the car so that somebody could get the car back as I rode home.

What had been done? Well, the brakes for a start, they were main reason it went in, but I asked for a bronze service and a clean too, might as well keep the bike looking neat and tidy, I thought. The brakes were fixed but there had been some scoring of the disc, which he said we ought to keep a watch on. I was expecting him to replace the disc, but he didn't. There was also a new chain and block and that was it. The bike is four this year (I bought it in October 2016, it's a long story) so a service was on the cards. I paid up an additional £54, added to the £61 I'd already paid for the bronze service and clean and off I went. It was good to be back on the bike and I must say that it rode well. I'd go further and say it was like riding a new bike. While the ride over was 5.7 miles, the ride back was 7.1 miles and this was largely due to me getting lost. I followed the road left from the bike shop and then took a left and thought I'd pass the Esso garage that I use as a landmark, but no, I didn't. In fact I'm not sure where I ended up. I stopped, turned around and cycled past the bike shop again, past the big Tesco on my left and then hung a right at the lights and rode towards Auckland Road (where my pal Dave used to live) and headed towards Whyteleafe Hill, from where all was fine. The ride back involves a killer hill, Tithepit Shaw Lane, but like everything in life it's not that bad when you're doing it. I managed to escape the rain, which was good, as it was raining when we left in the car. It took me 40 minutes, whereas the outward ride had taken me 38 minutes. It's little facts like these that make having the Strava app on the phone so worthwhile.

The outward ride to the bike shop
And now it's Sunday morning and the sun is shining out there. I've thought about going early, like in the olden days pre-lockdown, and I still might go early, but the plan is to ride out later, at around 1000hrs and meet Andy at the Churchyard for 11am. Going back to my rides with silly names (see previous post) this means the Churchyard Chuffer, a straight ride along the 269 and then Clarks Lane that covers 15.5 miles. I'd thought about going earlier, riding to the lakes, but no, not today, possibly next week and possibly earlier, get the riding out of the way early.

Next week I'll hopefully get back into the stride of things with a few Ledgers Double Loops, the odd Washpond Womble and possibly even a Beech Farm Bastard, we'll see. I've just eaten breakfast (no-sugar Alpen with black grapes and sliced strawberries thrown in plus a cup of decaff tea. All is quiet at 0710hrs, I haven't put the radio on. The sun is filtering through the curtains, it's around 12 degrees out there and the weather has cooled down since the heat of last week. I took Thursday off and drove to the beach where I swam in the sea, the first time since Copacabana Beach in 2015. The sea was warm and I stayed in for around 30 minutes, it was wonderful. As always I wish I'd been staying down there for the night so I could repeat the process the following morning, but no, I had to drive home, which is always a bit of a pain.

The lockdown is being eased some more. By July 4th the pubs will re-open, there are already more cars on the road and things are (sadly in so many ways) returning to normal. It was great having hardly any cars on the road, but now they're back and I'm hoping all this talk about more cycle lanes is not just hot air. People have started to talk about going back to working in an office and to be honest it doesn't bother me. The worst thing about the current set-up is that I'm stuck in the house ALL day, that's why I'm exercising daily on the bike, to keep fit and active. I won't say I'm not getting bored with it. 

Mowing the lawn was one substitute for riding the bike

I meant to take two days off last week, but only took one, so I might take my second day next week. The weather's not as good next week, but I'm going to keep an eye out for the sun and if it materialises I'll quickly arrange some annual leave and possibly head for the beach again.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Lockdown, Part 28: Giving my rides stupid names

It's Thursday and it's raining. It's one of those days when it simply rains all day and occasionally when I look out I think it has stopped, but it hasn't. Closer inspection - or just looking at the birdbath - reveals that it's going to carry on all day. It's doubtful I'll get a ride in today, but I'm not overly bothered about this because, since Monday, I've been riding daily: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and I've made up some new routes. That said, it's now nearly 1630 and the sun's out, but I've kind of resigned myself to not going out. The problem is it'll probably REALLY rain all day tomorrow and then I'll be two days down, here's hoping that's not the case.

On Monday I rode the Ledgers Double Loop, which was basically a ride up to and beyond Knights Garden centre, turn left into Ledgers Road and then ride two loops before heading home along the 269. In total I rode 12.5 miles. The following day I did what I called the Ledgers Triple Loop, which was basically the same ride except I added an additional loop, bringing the total to just over 15 miles. And then last night I tackled the Washpond Womble, basically one loop of the Ledgers route but on the second, turning right on to Church Lane, following the road round into Beech Farm Road then taking a right hand turn on to Washpond Road and then right on to Ledgers, a left on to Church Lane and heading towards Warlingham Sainsbury's where a right turn takes me on to the 269 and home.

The Washpond Womble is a good ride...
The reason I'm naming my rides is because of Strava, it gives me that option so why not take it? The Ledgers Double Loop took me one hour and three minutes at an average speed of 12 mph and it's important to note that I rode the entire route in the rain. Fortunately, it wasn't cold, but I was soaked when I reached home, feeling elated that I stayed out there and didn't give up the ghost.

On Tuesday the Ledgers Triple Loop covered just over 15 miles and the weather was pleasant, there was sunshine and warmth and I was out on the bike for 1.18hrs. Strava is saying my speed averaged 24 mph, which I find hard to believe, although I will say that I am riding a lot faster these days so it might be right.

I mentioned in my last post that I was going to 're-calibrate' based on last week's lack of cycling. What I meant was that I would change my cycling week from the current Wednesday to Tuesday with one day off to Monday to Sunday, still keeping the day off (which I'll probably take today bearing in mind the rain). Going by the 'old week' I would have riden 54 miles in a week due to not riding for three days of last week because of the rain. Fair enough. I went from 100-mile weeks down to 83 miles, then 75 miles and last week just 54 miles. Under the new cycling week, I've covered around 43 miles so if I ride around 15 miles tomorrow my total will go to 58 miles plus, say, a Westerham (22 miles) = 80 miles and then another 15 on top, perhaps, and that's 95 miles. Fairly respectable.

On Monday we had showers, sometimes heavy; on Tuesday there was sunshine with occasional light showers and Wednesday was also pleasant and warm. Today, as I say, is changeable (it's currently sunny) but by and large it's been raining all day (so far) and they say it'll stop around 5pm, but who knows?

On Friday (yesterday) I did the Ledgers Double Loop and rode 20.23km, which is roughly 12.5 miles and it took me one hour and three minutes at an average speed of 11.6 mph. Since Monday I've covered 56.3 miles and I would have gone out this morning on a longer ride, which would have taken me to almost, or even just over, 80 miles. Why haven't I gone out? Because I'm taking the bike in to Ross Cycles in Caterham for repairs. I'll probably ride another six miles to Caterham, taking me to 62 miles. My distances have been coming down from 100 miles/week to 83 then 70 something and now a paltry 62 miles. I lost three days last week due to rain, this week I rode every week day bar Thursday and I would have put in a decent time had it not been for my bike needing new brakes and a service. And now, of course, I have no bike so next week's mileage is going to be nil. It's not good.

Here's those rides I was talking about. They're all on my Strava, he said, pretentiously. 

1. The Ledgers Triple Loop, 15.1 miles.
Ride to Ledgers Road, turn left and do two circles before heading back along B269.

2. The Ledgers Double Loop, 12.5 miles.
Same as the Ledgers Triple Loop but just two loops, not three.

3. The Beech Farm Bastard, 18.7 miles.
Riding to Ledgers Road, following country lanes around and up Beech Farm Road, turn left on B269 and ride to Botley roundabout, then onwards to the Tatsfield Bus Stop and back via Beech Farm Road.

4. The Churchyard Chuffer, 15.5 miles.
Straight ride from home to the churchyard and back.

5. The Titsey Toughie, 23 miles.
Ride to Westerham then head along A25 to Oxted, up Titsey Hill and down B269 to reach home.

6. The Tatsfield Toss Pot, 16.8 miles.
Direct ride to the Tatsfield Bus Stop going via Beech Farm Road on outward journey and back on the B269.

7. The Botley Burk, 15.2 miles.
Via Beech Farm Road on outward journey and then straight down the B269 to home.

8. The Warlingham Wobbler, 12.2 miles.
Botley Hill via Beech Farm Road but with Strava switched on at Warlingham Green. Straight run back down the B269.

9. The Washpond Womble, 16.2 miles.
On second loop of Ledgers Road turn right instead of left and head for Beech Farm Road, but take the Washpond turn on the right and do two circuits after which you turn right on to Ledgers and then left on to Church Lane and head for Warlingham Sainsbury's and the B269 to home.

10. The Norfolk Nobbler, 8 miles.
My original ride around the local streets. Twice round and up (and down) Norfolk Avenue four times, from front to back. Quite a good, albeit short ride, takes around 40 minutes.

11. The Slines Oak Slogger, 17.5 miles.
Two ways of doing this: first is to ride along the 269 heading towards Botley Hill and then turning right on Slines Oak Road, riding the length of it to Woldingham, turning left and riding past the golf course before bearing left on to The Ridge, riding towards Botley Hill, crossing the 269, riding down Clarks Lane, turning left on Beddlestead, riding up Hesiers Hill, round the country lanes, joining the Limpsfield Road at Warlingham Sainsbury's and then heading for home. Alternatively, do it in reverse.

12. The Churchyard Chump, 17 miles.
Riding direct to the Churchyard along the 269 and then Clarks Lane, but on reaching the churchyard follow the road around it and into Tatsfield Village, exiting on Approach Road, turning right at the famous Tatsfield Bus Stop, riding towards Botley Hill, heading home on the 269.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Lockdown, Part 27: A need to recalibrate - and a sense of foreboding

I suppose if you really want to know what's bugging me it's my lack of cycling. I completed my last full week on Tuesday just passed having riden just 74.7 miles. The previous week I'd covered around 83 miles and this week, well, let's not talk about it. After last Tuesday, when I noted the 74.7 miles, I took my traditional day off on Wednesday, meaning I needed to ride Thursday through Tuesday (this coming Tuesday) to build up a reasonable mileage. But no, it wasn't to be: there was rain on Thursday and Friday and while I managed between 27 and 30 miles on Saturday, I didn't go out today (Sunday 14th June) leaving me just tomorrow and Tuesday to up the ante, but it will only be by 30-odd miles meaning, at best, this week's total will be 60 miles. It's not good and I can't say I'm happy about it. In a nutshell I need to get my act together.
Andy leaving the churchyard last weekend...

Yesterday I almost rode to the lakes, which was good. I was in the saddle from 0910hrs until around noon, so almost three hours and I must have averaged around 12 miles/hour so I'm guessing I put in around 27 to 30 miles. My iphone ran out of power so I couldn't rely upon Strava to give me an accurate mileage, but I know I'm in that ballpark. And now I'm sounding like a Lycra monkey obsessing about miles and my Strava.

Not cycling bugs me a lot and I'm prone to fretful thinking. I've noticed that all my fretfulness revolves around achievement (or lack of it). It's a kind of obsession and it used to be much worse than it is now. I mean, up until lockdown I cycled twice a week at most, which could mean anything from a mere 30-odd miles per week to, at best, 66 miles if Andy and I managed, say, three trips to Westerham (at roughly 22 miles per trip). The latter, of course, was extremely rare and could only really happen if there was a bank holiday. Invariably, we'd average 32 miles a week and the rest of the time we'd be working and I'd probably get a couple of walks in at the office. I say 'at the office' but I mean in the surrounding area, clocking up a couple of miles on each walk.

We're all eating too much...
But because, since lockdown, I've been riding daily I think that's why when I don't ride for a few days I start to feel guilty and I shouldn't. But try telling me that, as I do every time the dilemma arises. I just don't listen to myself and I'm not listening now as I write this. 

A bit of armchair escapism!
It's crucial that I do get the exercise. Lockdown's fine, but it involves staying in most of the day; there's no 'lunch break' walk with Paul, no wander around the shops. I tend to spend most of my day confined to a desk, sitting down, so when I don't get that bike ride it's not good, especially when you consider that there are more chocolate bars in my life and more apple pies with custard. Pre-lockdown they were both rare and they need to be rare again, but they were counteracted by the daily cycling, the 100 miles per week that I was doing for four consecutive weeks. Miss a day or two and I start to feel sluggish, fat, heavy, whatever you want to call it.

The weekend weather has been very pleasant. Yesterday's ride along Pilgrim's Lane towards Longford Lake was idyllic. There was sunshine and blue skies and scented hedgerows, it was wonderful. I stopped at the end of Ovenden Road and turned back towards the churchyard where I was meeting Andy. We both estimated my ride to be 'in the high twenties', meaning it could have been anything from 27 miles to 30. I'm gunning for an average speed of 12 miles per hour, meaning 30 miles, but I reckon the reality is probably 28, bearing in mind that had Strava been on, that's what it would have been. I'm guessing, of course, and my plan next weekend, weather permitting, is to leave the house around 30 minutes earlier and head for the lakes. I might even have breakfast there: a small dish of Alpen, a slice of bread and some tea would be amazing, sitting there in the early morning sunshine on a mid-June day just admiring my surroundings. Let's see.

I'm getting a sense of foreboding about things and I don't know why. It's the lockdown and the uncertainty of the future I think. I was driving to the coast this morning and it was bugging me. I think I need a holiday. I need to be in one of those houses on the beach down at Felpham on the Summerley Estate, just a week, although two would be better, doing nothing but reading and walking and possibly even swimming in the sea.

I was remembering times on the beach with my pal Andy back in the eighties. We'd go in swimming and then we would head for the Castle Tandoori in Arundel, the whole thing was a laugh from start to finish, but these days I notice I'm no longer laughing and that's for many reasons not least the awful news we've been subjected to these past four years: Trump being elected the leader of the free world, Boris Johnson being the Prime Minister of England (the least deserving and truly awful leader this country has had since, er... oh, his pal David Cameron, who many commentators have branded the worst Prime Minister in British history (they're not wrong, but I'm sure Boris might take that prize too). Then there was Brexit, engineered by that cock-a-like cunt Cummings. And now the fucking virus that has basically fucked everything, although I'd love to discover that David Icke was right all along and the whole thing was some kind of hoax. If that ever came to light I wouldn't be able to stop laughing, seriously, but it won't ever happen, let's face it.

Lastly, the protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA. They're all making out that Floyd is some kind of saint when we all know that the man was a criminal. Fine, he didn't deserve to die over a fake $20 bill and that, of course, is the argument, which I totally understand, but why there are protests in the UK I don't know. This is not a racist country. Yes, there are racist incidents, of course there are, what country avoids them? But I wouldn't say black people or Asian people or anybody gets a particularly rough ride over here. I mean that's why there are so many boats crossing the English Channel full of migrants: everybody wants a piece of the UK - until the realise what a shithole it's become. Unbridled immigration has caused problems and one of them, of course, is Brexit.

So I'm looking out on my garden, the sun is shining, it's 1931hrs and I'm thinking of walking off an apple and blackberry pie I've just eaten, not to forget the Madagascan Vanilla custard. As I've said, it's got to stop, especially if my cycling is sloping off a bit. Next week the bike goes in for a service and a clean. The front brake has been buggered for many weeks, but can I find a cycle shop that will just take it in and fix it? No I can't, so it's got progressively worse. Andy took a look at it when I arrived at the churchyard yesterday and he thinks I might need a new disc too. Well, so be it, I thought.

Putting the bike in for repair, of course, means no riding from Saturday next week for a few days so I need to make the most of next week. I know there's rain floating around, but I'm just going to get done what I can and hope that will satisfy me. I hope that disc is alright, but I'm not going to fret about it.

It was great on the beach today. I love it down there. It's the only place that I feel real, relaxed, at peace with the world and somehow immortal, or at least full of life. I don't know why that is, probably because I have a lot of happy memories from my childhood holidays along that stretch of coastline. For me it's a house with a garden, with a gate at the end of it and beyond that the sea. 

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Lockdown, Part 26: Cyclogeography

Shamed by not riding out yesterday, and mildly hassled by the mundane chores of a Saturday morning, I abandoned my attempt to meet Andy at 1100hrs at the Tatsfield Churchyard. Looking at mileage I figured it would be good to go out earlier and get something like Westerham under the belt before other things, like shopping, got in the way. I set off around 0915hrs with the northern Kent market town on my mind, but as I rode along I considered a shorter ride, working out in my head what I'd need to for the rest of the week to keep my mileage respectable. In the end I pushed ahead with the idea of heading for Westerham.

I rode the normal route through the leafy suburbs of Church Way, a considerable hill, across the fairly busy Addington Road and through the churchyard and into Onslow Gardens, a road consisting of fairly large detached houses. I took a right into Blenheim Gardens, hung a right on to Cranleigh Gardens (with my favourite curry house of old on the left hand corner) and then left on to the Limpsfield Road, the B269 no less, which, ultimately, would take me to Edenbridge.

The ride along the Limpsfield Road is pretty standard fayre for me; it's a busy road flanked to the left and right by a variety of different housing types, but mostly a mix of terraced properties and semi-detached all the way to Hamsey and then Warlingham Green where a small war memorial forms the centre piece of the green itself and is surrounded by a mix of old Victorian terraced houses and shops (a newsagent, Co-op, Nisa Today and India Dining (a restaurant) stand out).

Beyond the green I pass an Esso 24-hour garage on my right and Warlingham's village hall on the left, there's Chez Vous, which used to be Villa Sonia, a hotel and restaurant, and then a row of terraced Victorian properties on the left and a mixture of housing on the right, including a large detached house that looks out of place on the main road. More modern housing can be found further along the road, some detached and semi-detached bungalows, some recently built blocks of flats and and then the huge car park of Warlingham Sainsbury's where people queue, for social distancing purposes, prior to shopping.

On the A25 close to Oxted
Beyond Sainsbury's a roundabout offers up a choice of routes: the quieter country lanes to the left and the continuation of the B269 straight ahead. I decide to take the latter route and once past Knights Garden Centre the road offers fields and woods on either side, a small pond at the top of Slines Oak Road and a few houses dotted here and there in woods on the right. Most of this section of the 269 is flanked by fields with an occasional farm house set back from the road.

The Botley Hill Farmhouse pub on the right offers a huge car park and is set back from the road. It used to be a teashop in days gone by, but I've always known it as a pub, although it has undergone a change of management recently. Passing the pub I head for the mini-roundabout and turn left on to Clarks Lane heading east towards the Tatsfield Bus Stop and then the churchyard, both on the left. The covered bus stop, where Andy and I often stopped for tea pre-lockdown is made of wood and provides much-needed shelter from the rain and snow when the weather gets rough. It is located at the top of Approach Road on the left of Clarks Lane. Approach Road heads into Tatsfield village where there is a shop, a restaurant and a pub and a small pond. Not much seems to go on there.

The bike picks up speed as it heads down hill towards the churchyard. There are fields on either side, but those on the right eventually lead to the M25, which can be heard purring in the distance. The road winds it way downwards, past the entrance to the Park Wood Golf Club on the left and eventually past a sign for Kent, the so-called Garden of England. This stretch of road is fast and enjoyable and soon, after going under the M25, I arrive in Westerham, but I decide not to stop. Instead, I turn right on to the A25 and ride west to Oxted, the plan being to ride up Titsey Hill and rejoin the 269 at Botley Hill. 

Riding from east to west I have a strong headwind to contend with and it slows me down considerably as I weave my way through the outskirts of Westerham and on to a route without cycle lanes. There is, however, plenty of visibility as there are fields on either side of me and an open road ahead. The Grasshopper pub, a huge mock tudor building on the right, is under some kind of refurbishment, either flats or a budget hotel. I figure on the latter as I pass the structural steel frame that will eventually be joined to the main building, which I'm guessing they can't knock down because it's of historical interest. I remember having Sunday lunch there on many occasions. It was a carvery and it always reminds me of my father-in-law, a man who had a calming influence on me and everybody he met.

At the top of Titsey Hill near Botley
The A25 has some big houses on its left side, heading west, concealed from sight by trees and bushes and protected by huge gates. Names like Wildwood and Hatchetts and with sweeping driveways, these are the homes of wealthy people who clearly want nothing to do with the outside world. There are keypads on gateposts and little chance of glimpsing the main properties. Soon I find myself in Limpsfield, one of those places that seemingly doesn't exist as there are no houses to be seen, not for a short while at any rate, but then, suddenly, civilisation reasserts itself as I approach the outskirts of Oxted. I've gone from Surrey into Kent and back into Surrey again and now I turn right into Snatts Road and down into Oxted High Street, which is quiet and traffic-free. At the Deep Blue fish & chip restaurant to my left, where I remember visiting just prior to lockdown, I turn right. There's a bank on the corner, a Nat West I think, and further up the road on the right is Oxted Library. I'm looking for Glanville Road on the right, which will take me towards the Titsey Estate and the climb towards Botley Hill.

Glanville Road is characterised by large houses, not as large as those I found along the A25 (Wildwood and Hatchetts spring to mind) but big places worth, probably, at the time of writing, around the £900,000 to £1.2 million mark, possibly a lot more. In Glanville, the houses are a mix of ages, I'm guessing: some sixties and seventies, but others earlier. Towards the end of the road the price dips, the houses become semi-detached and terraced and then I turn right and left and head towards Titsey Hill, a 16% incline that can be an ordeal. I crank the bike down into the low gears, psyche myself up for the climb and then get on with it. All the way up there is nothing but trees on either side of the road and it seems to go on forever. I make at least three or four turns and still can't see any sign of civilisation, or an end to the climb, but soon a road sign announces the roundabout at Botley Hill and I'm back on familiar ground, the B269 heading north this time and flanked by fields and farmland on either side. I pass the pub on my left this time and at one point I have a tremendous view of the whole of London. I can see Canary Wharf and then, what seems about a foot away, the Shard and the City of London, it's easily 20 to 25 miles away, maybe more, or perhaps less, let's settle for 20 miles.

I pass Beech Farm Road on my right and then Ledgers Lane also on my right, then the pond at the top of Slines Oak Road on the left and Knights Garden Centre further along on the right. Sainsbury's is coming up and then I'm heading towards Warlingham Green beyond which lies Hamsey and then Sanderstead High Street. I cut across the 269 and into Cranleigh Gardens, take a left into Blenheim, a left on to Onslow Gardens and back through the churchyard towards the busy Addington Road. I cross it and roll down Church Way, which has parked cars on both sides of the road, and then I turn left on to Morley, right on to Elmfield Way, left into Southcote, right to Ellenbridge and right on to Barnfield. Nearly home.

In total I rode 37.27km, that's roughly 23 miles. I was in the saddle for two hours and five minutes and averaged 17.8km/hour. On the ride there was an elevation gain of 475 metres.

I feel more than compensated for not going out yesterday as I've now riden 39 miles this week, so far.