Friday, 22 March 2019

In Liverpool – at the Adelphi Hotel...

Somehow the phrase 'hotel and spa' seems wrong. Very wrong. It's the 'spa' bit that doesn't ring true. I mean, 'hotel' is obvious: it's a big building, a very big building, and there are lots of rooms in which beds can be found, tea and coffee making facilities and bathrooms; there are bars, breakfast rooms, restaurants, it's a hotel alright, and I'm sure that the hotel management can make a case for their being a spa. But please, put aside any thoughts of glamorous women in white towelling robes and those so-called 'infinity pools', you're not going to find Joanna Lumley, but you might bump into Ross Kemp or Stacey Dooley. And talking of documentaries, there was one done on the Adelphi, many moons ago and if my memory serves me correctly, an old associate of mine used to work there, in its hey day, before it resembled something from a grainy video filmed from a diving bell making its way through the grand ballroom of the Titanic. In short, the Adelphi has had its day, its moment of magic, and now, sadly, it is but a shadow of its former self, it's more than a little rough around the edges, it's a place you ought to avoid like the plague.
The dated bathroom in room 618...

When I arrived off the train from Euston, I must admit that I was looking forward to my one-night stay in this old stalwart of the British hotel industry, but then I didn't realise how low it had stooped and how the clientele of yesteryear had been replaced by an edgy, anorak-clad brigade of people who probably couldn't afford the Adelphi of the past. Queuing with me was a man with a neck tattoo and those horrendous earlobe piercings and everybody looked, well, down-at-heel, including yours truly, it has to be said. I suddenly realised that this wasn't going to be what I was used to and that I wouldn't be looking forward to breakfast, lunch or dinner in the hotel restaurant.

It's my own fault. I didn't have to spend just £36 for the night, my company can (and does) stretch a little further than that, but I thought it would be alright – it wasn't.

I picked up my key card and headed for room 618 on the sixth floor. The room was labelled a 'designated smoking room', but I didn't smoke and they hadn't even asked me at the front desk. I had no reason to assume that they would look at me and think: 'smoker'. There was a pungent whiff of stale smoke in the corridor and the room and I never got used to it or the general neglect. One of the beds had a wonky leg that had keeled over, there were scuff marks here and there, an extremely dated bathroom and I just knew I was going to get out of there and check-in somewhere else, like my old friend the Liverpool Marriott – not just a case of 'any port in a storm' I can tell you.

The bed in room 618 – not nice...
I switched on the television and started watching something while sitting on the edge of the bed, but soon I decided to head outside and find somewhere decent to eat. I found Brown's and sat there wondering what to do. It was all very depressing. One thing that had bothered me was a sign on the front desk that said something like: 'we will not tolerate violence or abusive language against our staff' – fine on the London Underground, but in a hotel? It provided a glimpse of the Adelphi's demographic and, ultimately, it stiffened my resolve to find somewhere else to stay. Fortunately, I had my overnight bag with me (it wasn't a suitcase, more a satchel, so the hotel staff would be none the wiser if they saw me leaving through the revolving door). I'd paid up front, so all I had to do was hand in the key card, but I didn't. Instead, I would come back the following morning en route to my appointment and 'check out'.

After dinner I went back to the Adelphi just to see if I could stay there, but the smell of stale smoke persisted, the general neglect couldn't be ignored, the warning notice on the front desk about violence to staff, the clientele, they all made finding somewhere else to sleep a top priority. As I walked up the steps towards the lobby, there were scruffy-looking people sitting outside smoking, there were people clasping cans of lager, and a coffee cup was just left there, on the steps, for somebody else to pick up. Nobody was going to pick it up.
Tissue paper left on the floor...

On my way down (and out) of the hotel, there was a sign on the elevator doors reading 'Out of Order' – of course there was! There was also some screwed up tissue paper on the floor and I'd bet on it being there now, four days later.

They say you get what you pay for in life and you certainly do. A hotel room for £36 a night? There's no such thing as a free lunch, don't forget that. The Adelphi has had its moment in the limelight. Every dog has its day and in my opinion the hotel needs millions to be spent on refurbishment or, failing that, it should be demolished, turned into social housing, anything, but it's days as a hotel, surely, are numbered.

If you read this and are considering spending the night in the Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool, I would urge you to find somewhere else to stay. I headed for the Marriott.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Caked out!

Saturday was windy. Trees were swaying to and fro and there was drizzly rain too, here and there. Not pleasant. I had a bad cake day. It started early with two pieces of fruit cake 'round at mum's', not forgetting two Malted Milk biscuits I didn't need; then, later, I paid a visit to the Tudor Rose café in Westerham where I ordered a slice of Bakewell tart. It wasn't the best either, it was a sorry looking cake with a chunk of icing that should have adorned the top of it, hanging loose and revealing the cake underneath. I wasn't impressed, but then I haven't been impressed with the Tudor Rose of late. Whenever the owner isn't there, things slip, like the level of service and, it seems, the quality of the cake. There was also a stain inside my tea cup. After the Tudor Rose I had some driving to do, not much, but a little bit, and when I got home I (foolishly) opted for a pre-prepared prawn curry from Waitrose. Not the best thing in the world, but nobody felt like cooking, least of all me. I boiled up some rice and served up. The food was accompanied by some green beans (there had to be something healthy about it) and a glass of tap water. Not exactly the most glam meal in the world. Afterwards, I considered some Weetabix (two biscuits) for dessert, with honey on top, but as I opened the bread bin I spied some hot cross buns. All-in-all, a bad cake day and now, as I sit here writing this blogpost in the conservatory, the birds tweeting outside, the sun shining and blue skies, no clouds, I look ahead to a day that I intend to make cake-free. I can't possibly eat any more, seriously. Last week I did good. I managed a whole five days without biscuits, but I weakened on Friday and had an iced bun in the M&S café. The only bad thing I had last week was apple pie and custard on Tuesday, although that particular meal, in the Pop Inn Café, was not the best thing in the world (unusually, as it's a top notch caff in my opinion). My main course was chicken and mushroom pie with chips and peas – not good, but for most of the week I had sandwiches and I'd invested in some Be Good to Yourself chicken noodle cuppa soup, which saw me through and kept me away from the biscuits.

It started on Saturday with mum's fruit cake...
With so much eating going on, I was annoyed that I hadn't gone cycling on Saturday due to the heavy winds and drizzly rain, although in many ways one led to another: rain = no cycling = lots of cake. It's now Sunday morning and a ride is on the cards. The weather seems perfect and all I have to do now is make the tea, but what's this? A text? From Andy? A late abort? No, but Andy's running late. I suggest we meet at 0745hrs. The next paragraph will be after I return, so see you later...

Well, I'm back, feeling energised by a decent ride. I reached home around 0930hrs. We rode the slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop as Andy didn't have much time and I wasn't up for a longer ride. There were blue skies and sunshine, but the trees were bare and it was still a little on the chilly side. All week it's been windy and rainy, but the summer is on the way. It's light now when I wake up at 0600hrs, but the clocks go forward next week – or thereabouts – and that will mean slightly darker starts for a short while and lighter evenings, but either way it means summer is almost upon us.

Andy said he'd taken every possible photograph at the bus stop, he'd run out of ideas, so we didn't take any and besides, my phone had run out of power, despite the fact that it showed 34% of the battery life still available. That's the problem with iPhones. I'd happily revert back to the Nokia 3310, but I do use some of the functions of my 'smart' phone, like Google Maps and email and texts, although I could get by without them if I had to, as most of the time it's little more than a call home saying something like "I'm on the way home" or "I'm at East Croydon station". The old 3310 had great battery life and they fitted in the smallest of places, like a breast pocket on a jacket. They were also indestructible, give or take. Once I remember jogging over Riddlesdown Common and taking a fall. The phone landed with a bang (like I did) the back came off, but that was about it; I simply clicked it all back together and it was fine.

How to take a bad photograph...
On the ride back, Andy took The Ridge and I rode along the off-road path of the 269, risking a puncture. The wind had brought a small tree down across the path so I had to lift the bike over it and re-mount. And now, of course, I'm home and I'm about to hit the shower.

Later I let myself down again. I found myself in the Brewhouse Restaurant at Knole, a National Trust property. I ordered swede soup and bread, which was very tasty, but then ruined it by ordering a scone with cream and jam. Fortunately, a long walk followed, which took away my guilt.

The bike needs a jet clean, urgently. It's covered in mud and is looking in need of some TLC. Next week I'll pay a visit to the Esso garage on the green. Until then, goodbye dear readers, have a good week.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Heavy winds gave me an excuse not to ride...

I hate finding excuses not to ride, but heavy winds seemed like a good one. I'd had a good ride yesterday (see previous post) and that seemed to be in my favour as I considered whether to send myself an abort text or not. I knew Andy wasn't going, which made it all easier, but I still wanted a real excuse not to go out. Fortunately for me, when I looked out of the kitchen window at the tall conifer at the top of the garden, I could see it was raining. That'll do pig! So I didn't ride to mum's, I drove there, listening to John McLaughlin's Extrapolation, bringing back memories of driving to the coast in the late eighties/early nineties and walks in the Suffolk countryside. There was rain on my windscreen, which brought great comfort as it meant that I had good reason not to embark upon the six-mile ride from Sanderstead to Carshalton. I felt, in a way, justified to be sitting in my car, even if I did spot a cyclist battling the elements earlier on, having just left my house – and he was wearing shorts!

All was well at mum's, things were orderly, as they've always been. I enjoyed two triangular pieces of fruit cake and a cup of tea, plus a couple of tiny chocolate biscuits. While I opened the box of Elizabeth David Mints, I put the lid back on, scolding myself for even thinking about it.

Mum's clock radio was on Medium Wave – or so she said. She wanted FM and wondered whether I could sort it out. She has an old Roberts radio, but it's seen better days and I think she wanted the clock radio to be promoted so she could retire the old 'wireless'. When I took a look at the clock radio I discovered that it was already on FM, but I decided not to disappoint her. "There you go, mum, fixed it," I said, moving it on to her bedside table. She hurriedly took the Roberts radio away as if a car was waiting downstairs to take it to a care home.

I went downstairs to use the mildly claustrophobic bathroom adjoining the 'new room', which is really an old room, it's just that it was once new and the name stuck. The new room. I was still living at home when the new room was constructed and it quickly became the new dining room where we had breakfast, lunch and dinner. Things have moved on, though. Today, dinner is often served in the 'lounge', the 'through lounge', which was knocked through in the seventies.

Soon it was time to go and this time there was a sense of relief that I wasn't going to be donning helmet and old rucksack and heading out to mount the bike. The wind was strong, swaying the branches of some big trees, including Mrs Tillman's horse chestnut that lurched dangerously back and forth over the railway line. My car was parked outside and I knew that John McLaughlin's Extrapolation had a good 15 minutes left. I said goodbye to mum and told her not to stand on the doorstep waving me off, it was too breezy, too cold. I drove down to the bottom of the road, turned the car round and drove back up and as I passed mum's house she was still on the step waving as I passed.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Long way to Tatsfield Village...

It's light when I wake up these days. Summer is coming, but first there's spring. Some of the blossom trees are in bloom, some not. My blossom tree is still bare, but my California lilac in the back garden is starting to bloom, it's all looking very promising. Today (Saturday) was cloudy and dull, there was no rain, but I'm not sure what tomorrow holds. Andy won't be riding so I'll probably ride to mum's early in the morning.

Our bikes in Tatsfield Village. Pic by Andy Smith
Today I left the house around 0710hrs, I was running a little late. Fortunately, the puncture I fixed last Saturday had remained fixed. Both front and back tyres were rock hard and believe me, it makes a big difference. I found riding up Church Way slightly harder than usual, just because I missed riding last weekend, first because of the puncture to my rear tyre and second because of Storm Freya, which arrived on Sunday. The whole day was a wash-out, which meant no cycling. Miss a week and you soon find yourself out of condition.

Andy and I decided to ride the slow way to Tatsfield village and when we got there we did the usual: we took out the tea and biscuits and had a chinwag. I'm off the biscuits at the moment (I eat too many during the week). I've also stopped putting milk in my porridge, but the annoying thing is that eat too many biscuits during the week so I'm compensating by doing a lot of walking at lunch times. I'm averaging 12,400 steps per day and on one day I managed over 15,000 steps. For some reason I'm always hungry.

We rode out of Tatsfield and it looks as if by next week the daffodils will be in full bloom along Approach Road. We turned right and rode along Clarks Lane towards Botley Hill. Andy went home via the Ridge and I rode along the 269, moving on to the off-road track to avoid the speeding cars. I was going to hang a right and ride down Beech Road to avoid the 269, but decided to risk the off-road path all the way to Warlingham. Right now I have no idea whether I have a puncture, but I'll find out in the morning.

I was home before 1000hrs, had a shower and got on with my day.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

At last! Somebody who gets it! Thank you, Nick Cohen...

"On its own terms of regaining control of our borders, it [Brexit] has failed. Migration from the EU has fallen but migration from the rest of the world is at its highest since 2004. Given that the Brexit campaign specifically appealed to public fears of Islamist terrorism and Syrians, Iraqis and Turks pouring into Britain, it strikes me that Leave voters’ prime concern was not the arrival of French accountants and Spanish nurses." 

Nick Cohen, The Guardian.

Puncture halts ride and I hope for a lull in tomorrow's predicted bad weather...

I reckon I've missed the ride this weekend. There's some nasty weather coming in from the west and I think today, Saturday is going to be the only day we get a ride in. But it was not to be: I went through all the motions, of course. I made the tea, sorted out the milk and the tea bags, chucked the lot in my rucksack and then headed outside to jump on the bike. But no, there was a rear wheel puncture and while normally this wouldn't have phased me (I would have simply fixed it, arranged to meet Andy a little later and all would have been fine) today I had to get back early, so the lost time led me to abort the ride.
A randomly selected shot of Badesi beach in Sardinia on a windy day in 2016
I decided it was best to fix the puncture and set about the task calmly. As I write this, the bike is now repaired and both tyres have been pumped up hard. I hope I get to ride tomorrow, but if the weather is anything to go by I seriously doubt it, but you never know. If a ride is on, you can bet I'll be soaked by the time I return home.There might be a lull in proceedings that gets me out of the house, but I'm sure that, somewhere along the road, the heavens will open and I'll get wet, but let's see. It might be one of those freaky situations when I somehow escape an early morning cold shower, who knows?

While I'm here, what's been going on of late? Well, not much if the truth be told. I've been working ever since I returned from New Delhi and I'm not travelling anywhere until early April at present, although there might be trips to Vienna and Milan on the agenda, not sure yet. Having just returned from the garage after fixing that puncture, there's also a lot of clutter in there that needs to be sorted out and let's not forget that I need to decorate the hallway. I was reminded of this when I spied the paint brushes and the roller on the floor in the garage alongside two tins of paint. It's got to be done sooner or later so I need to put aside a weekend.

Mum had her hip replacement on 31 January and now she's fine and walking around quite normally. Amazing really. She's 89 (90 in November) and she's sailed through the whole thing without (touch wood) any issues. Things have gone back to normal as we no longer have to spend the nights round there. I used to spend Saturday and a day in the week over there and Jon and Chrissy (my brother and sister) would fill the other days. It's strange sleeping in my old bedroom and oddly not the same anymore. I prefer to be here in my own home six miles east of mum's.

Mike Carter has a new book out (All Together Now?) and needless to say it's fantastic. There will be a review here on this blog just as soon as I've finished it. The book I read before Carter's latest was Douglas Coupland's Girlfriend in a Coma, which was a little strange, and prior to that, Michel Houellbecq's Platform. He's got another book out in the UK later this year called Seratonin, which I'm really looking forward to; I first read Houellbecq back in 2007 – Atomised – and with everything that's going around Brexit, he's kind of part of the zeitgeist, which is all good.

Not much else to report, so I'll sign off. The photograph accompanying this post is of a beach in Badesi, Sardinia. It has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that I went on holiday there a couple of years ago, which was good.

I have nothing more to say other than here's hoping I get a ride in tomorrow.

Sunday – Storm Freya means no cycling

Bad weather had been mentioned once or twice on the television. So-called Storm Freya was on its way and it was due to hit on Sunday. I woke up at 0600hrs and immediately took a look at my neighbour's conservatory roof. The puddle was animated by rain so I immediately sent Andy an abort text and spent most of the day looking out of the window or reading Mike Carter's All Together Now, not forgetting a drive (as opposed to a ride) to mum's. It was a lazy day and a weekend without cycling.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

To Tatsfield Bus Stop and Godstone Green

The weather was perfect on Saturday and slightly cooler on Sunday, although both days were fine for cycling. On Saturday we rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop the slow way and because of heavy fog around Botley Hill, we rode back the slow way too, riding up Hesiers Hill. On Sunday we decided to ride to Godstone Green, not my favourite destination because of the hill on the return ride and that little bit of off-road through the golf course on the outward journey.

A burnt-out truck at the bottom of Hesiers Hill on Saturday morning
I was feeling despondent and depressed all weekend, mainly because I had to keep asking myself what is the point? Everything seemed so futile and pointless and my general state of mind was confirmed as being right, when I thought about the undeserving rich, those fat bastards (all weekend I've been using a much stronger word beginning with C and rhyming with hunt) who seem to have everything, but don't necessarily do anything more for it than those who don't enjoy the spoils of greebling to the boss and eating too much.

There are lots of these people around and they're always fat and beyond the help of exercise. Put simply, they're awful individuals who, quite frankly, I want to avoid like the plague they are; but it's not that easy.

I was watching a documentary the other day entitled Skint Britain. It was set in Hartlepool in the North East of the UK and it was all about people on Universal Credit, a new idea from our Government of Fat Bastards. Basically, these people are on their backs, they have nothing, but the Government's Universal Credit system means that they have to wait a whole month before receiving their benefits and for some of them it's disastrous. They resort to shoplifting and attacking local drug dealers to survive and despite all of this, the Government thinks it's a good system.

Andy's Blast almost at the top of Gangers Hill. I was still pedalling up...
In the corporate world (and in the Government), there are loads of complete idiots in positions of seniority because they're either good at one thing – greebling – or they just happen to be in the right place at the right time. Nobody likes these people in the workplace and you can bet your arse that they've trodden on a few people as they made their way to the top. Some of them shouldn't even be in work, they should have been put out to grass many years ago as their companies set about changing their business models; but no, they're still there earning a pointlessly large salary while their staff get by on a pittance. We all know people like this: two or three holidays a year, eating out all the time (and getting bigger and bigger in the process); half a dozen cars in the driveway – and it probably goes without saying that they vote Conservative. If Jeremy Corbyn ever makes it into Downing Street, he'll tax them into the Stone Age, which would be funny, but until then we've all got to live with the fat bastards.

The worst thing about these people is that they get richer on the work of other less well-paid individuals, the ones with the ideas, who earn virtually nothing and are always on the breadline, worrying about whether they can buy a book or go out for a curry or have lunch in a caff instead of relying upon sweaty egg sandwiches every day. They also have to wait and see what 'the boss' throws their way in the shape of a bonus and meanwhile they fret about whether they are going to be shafted in some way, which they probably will be.

And in all of this let's not forget the worst 'royal' ever – Megan chuffing Markle. Nothing to do with the corporate world, I know, but while people in Hartlepool are resorting to crime to eat, she's out spending £500,000 on a fucking baby shower in New York. Now there's greed for you! The awful Amal Clooney paid £125,000 for Markle's flight there and back in a private jet. And what does Markle do to appease the populace? She writes a load of patronising old bollocks on bananas using a felt pen and gives them to prostitutes. "You are strong" and words to that effect. Oh, there's a revolution coming, there's a revolution coming!

I view the weekends as stepping stones that I reach after five days of working. I was kind of looking forward to this weekend, but it all turned to shit when I was reminded early on that I was nothing, I simply work and work, day-in, day-out, and I get nowhere fast, I have no 'spoils of victory', no nothing, I simply 'get by' if I'm careful and I don't overspend; and you can bet that somewhere not that far away is a fucking fat bastard getting away with it. Come the revolution, of course, these people will be the first against the wall.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

To Botley Hill...

I hadn't been cycling since the middle of January. Various things – my mum and a bit of travelling – had stopped me and as I made my way around the suburban streets surrounding my house I felt a little sluggish. As Andy later remarked, as we wove our way around country lanes close to St. Leonard's church, the older you get, the harder it is to get back into condition.

One thing that amazed me was how light it is now in the morning. The last time I jumped on the bike it was dark when I left the house and I had to put my lights on. Now, a few weeks later it was broad daylight and the lights were not required – until later.

Bleak at Botley Hill
When we reached the turn off for Hesiers Hill and later Beddlestead Lane, we decided to ride along Beech Farm Road instead and it proved to be a mistake. Weatherwise, there was fog hanging low in the bare trees and hovering over the fields, but as we approached the 269 and turned left heading towards Botley Hill, we both opted for the off-road path as it was simply too dangerous to stay on the road.

As we passed Botley Hill, Andy stopped. Yes, he had a puncture. "We might as well stay here for our tea," I said and we did. Andy set about fixing his bike; the puncture was on the front tyre. The fog persisted and Andy decided to head home via the Ridge. I would have gone with him, but the thought of Sline's Oak Road bothered me enough to keep me on the off-road path back along the 269.

When I reached Warlingham Green I met a complete imbecile, a toothless individual driving a truck. He leaned out of the window and exclaimed, "Oi! Mate! Yer fucking front wheel is going round!" It was something I hadn't heard since I was at school, but this utter twat – I didn't ask, but I bet he voted Brexit – spat it out with, it has to be said, a high degree of hatred. I simply ignored the arsehole and pedalled on towards Hamsey Green and eventually I reached Sanderstead.
Andy fixing his puncture...

I was sleeping at mum's on Saturday night and opted not to ride on Sunday, which proved to be a big mistake as the weather was amazing. I was reading this morning (I'm writing this on Monday 18 February) that we're in for some kind of freak heatwave and temperatures of 20 degrees. Sounds good to me.

While I considered riding round the block, I went for a walk instead and later drove to Westerham.

Whenever I miss a ride I always 'consider' a ride around the block, but for some reason it never appeals. I think that if I make up my mind not to ride, somehow that decision sticks with me and the thought of riding around the block simply depresses me.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

What I think (and write) about at 38,000 feet...

Thursday 7th February 2019 – notes written on board BA256 from New Delhi to London

I woke around half five this morning and lolled around until it was time to get up. My alarm was due to sound at six o'clock, but I turned it off and then made final preparations for leaving New Delhi. I nipped upstairs to the business centre on the hotel's tenth floor and printed out my boarding pass for the flight and then headed downstairs for the last time. The plan was not to have any breakfast, just check out and get out, but the driver wasn't due until seven thirty and when one of the hotel staff asked me if I'd had breakfast I decided I just about had time for a couple of those small iced doughnuts, some masala porridge and a black tea without milk.

Checking out of the Park Hotel was very simple and soon I was sitting in the back of a cab (it wasn't a cab, it was a white Toyota car and I was one of three people sitting in it). I should have written 'on board' and saved myself a word.
Indira Ghandi International Airport, New Delhi, India...

We drove through the streets of the Indian capital and despite the early hour, there was still traffic on the road and an inevitable traffic jam. Once again, the sound of honking car horns, although not so much a honk, more a toot.

At the airport I checked in my bag and went straight to the rest room. The plan was to get 'nature' out of the way before embarking upon the nine-hour flight to London Heathrow's Terminal Five. And this was where disaster struck and, as always, it was all my own fault. I found a cubicle and did the necessary stuff that needed to be done, what myself and the International Man of Mystery call a 'mixed grill'. Everything was fine until I reached the wash basin. I placed my laptop case on a ledge above the sink, soaped my hands and then there was a loud, crashing bang; my case had keeled over and deposited my lap top in the sink, giving it a shower under the running tap. It all happened slowly – or so it seemed – but then it was damage limitation time. One of the attendants helped me dry the lap top while I sorted out the case. Unfortunately for me, I hadn't zipped up the case, so everything inside was falling out and into the sink where it took a soaking under the tap. This very notebook [these notes are being written in a notebook long hand] shows evidence of being exposed to water. It took a while to dab down the lap top and, as always, I was annoyed with myself for not zipping up the case. Still, what will be, will be. I gave my last 20 rupees to the attendant who helped me and then somebody else handed me a Dictaphone, which had also tumbled out of the case and into the sink. What a fucking unnecessary disaster.

Whenever the travelling resumes, the nightmares begin. Next up was queuing at passport control and then going through security. It's at this point that I wished I was home and not separated by nine hours of flying. Eventually I was through and had to run the gauntlet of commercialism that is the duty free shops. I hate them with a vengeance and ever since I gave up drinking nearly 16 months ago, I look at cans and bottles of booze in a different light; I group them in with cigarettes and when I look at them I feel a huge sense of relief that I have stopped and won't be going back. The bottles of whisky look bad for my health and I can't envisage ever buying one again. One way or another, I realise, I have been a fool and for many years, putting myself in harm's way for no reason. I must have been crazy to drink all that beer and wine. Was it ever any fun? The sore heads, the dry mouth, the humiliation the morning after, the upsets? Alcohol has never, ever done me any favours. I won't drink again and I'll never 'need a drink'.

There was a food court at the airport and I took the escalator to see what was on offer: McDonald's, a coffee shop (there's always people queuing at a coffee shop), some Indian operators, but I'd eaten enough over the past few days so I wandered for a while before resigning myself to go to Gate 1 and await boarding.

I am now on board the plane and I think we've been airborne for a good four hours, probably a little longer. I am sitting in seat 26A, an exit row on this Boeing 777, billed as a window seat, except there isn't a window right next to me, it's behind me and this I find annoying because it means that the woman sitting in seat 27A can shut down the blind whenever she wants, because it's her window and I have no say in the matter. Eventually, some time after we have taken off, she exerts her authority and I have no power to say 'leave the blind open'. There is a small window on the exit door in front of me, but I have to leave my seat if I'm to see what's going on outside, but eventually a steward comes along and closes it because the people to my right are both under blankets and asleep. How can people sleep on aeroplanes? I can't. Throughout my entire flying history I could count on one hand the number of times I have nodded off, only to be awoken by turbulence. I am not one of those people who cover themselves in blankets or make themselves at home by taking off their shoes, and you won't find me standing outside the toilet waiting for the occupant to come out. That said, I've just come back from the cramped bathroom. Sometimes I go in there just for a good quacking, other times just to stand up and stretch or undo the top button of my jeans to let things hang out for a while. Sitting down in a cramped seat for hours on end must cause all kinds of problems for one's internal organs, so it's nice to stand up straight for a few minutes. On other occasions, I go in there for no other reason than to pull faces at myself in the mirror or stick my fingers up and make 'tosser' gestures at my fellow passengers without them knowing. I find this particularly satisfying. Some times, I go in there and do everything – I multi-task – starting off with a good old quack, followed by a much-needed pee and, of course, a good old bout of silent obscenities aimed (unfairly and unnecessarily) at the other passengers. I wonder if they do the same? And don't you hate that whole 'mile-high' club thing? Surely, it's nigh on impossible to have sex in there, it's miles too cramped. A quick five-knuckle shuffle, maybe, but who would want to get their old man out on a flight, long haul or short haul – not me! And who would be that desperate? Can't they wait until they get home?
On the ground at T5, this is the plane that got me home... 

There's nothing better than being alone behind closed doors. I bet you I'm not the only one who, once alone in my hotel room, takes off all their clothes and then hops around the room naked whilst pulling funny faces at themselves when they pass the full-length mirror. I wonder how many other people hop around like a rabbit, naked, or with their pants over their heads, making noises that resemble the foreign language of the country they happen to be visiting, but are little more than unintelligible sounds laced with plain stupidity? Surely I'm not the only one. What about world leaders? Narendra Modi, Donald Trump, the Pope. Who out of that merry bunch would make a Hitler moustache out of shaving foam and goose step around their room or run through a pathetically choreographed dance routine while slapping their cocks and shouting "cashier number one, please!" I wonder how many hotel chains have video evidence, secretly filmed, of such behaviour?

I'm on a day flight (my favourite kind) but it's all pointless because the blinds are down and, as I mentioned earlier, I don't have the authority to open them. Imagine getting violent about it: "Oi! You! Yes, you! Open that fucking blind!" And then rubbing pasta salad in the face of the person occupying seat 27A. The trouble is the crew would probably gaffer tape me to my seat and the police would be waiting at the other end. I'd be an internet sensation for a day or two and then down at the Job Centre looking for a new job.

Perhaps I'll take a walk to the back of the plane, but that can be a pain in the arse too, a lot depends on the friendliness of the cabin crew. When I flew home from Tokyo in October last year, the crew was excellent, handing out chocolates, chatting and having fun. But when the crew lack that approachability, a trip to the back of the plane is mostly a waste of time if the reception is cold and frosty. Still, it's a chance to stretch my legs.

Something else I can't stand about flying is when one of my fellow passengers gets up and starts running through some kind of exercise routine as if they're just about to compete in an Olympic event. "Go back to your chuffing seat!" I feel like shouting, but of course I don't. I simply sneer to myself and check on the time. I reckon there's about two and a half hours left.

A baby is crying. It's the same baby that was crying at take-off. There's nothing worse than crying babies on planes. I guess we all feel like crying, but we can't because we're not babies and we're not insane.

I bought a Tin Tin book at Delhi Airport – or Indira Ghandi International Airport as it is known. Red Rackham's Treasure. It passed some time. When I was a kid I remember watching an animated adventure of the same story. It started with a voice exclaiming "Herge's Adventures of Tin Tin", and then the name of the story. The one that has stuck with me for years is "Herge's Adventures of Tin Tin: The Crab with the Golden Claws!" I can't remember the last time I read a comic book, although I guess it was a 'graphic novel' as it was over 50 pages in length. I've finished it and I'll take it home and place it on my book shelf.

I've just practiced what I've been preaching. I got up, went to the bathroom, quacked around, answered the call of nature, pulled a stupid face in the mirror and then waved my arms about above my head before opening the door and emerging with a completely straight face. The woman in seat 27A was looking at me suspiciously and I nearly laughed before taking my seat. I think she knows what I was doing in there, probably because she does the very same.

A very large woman dressed in black ('dressed in black, dressed in black, dressed in black, black, black') has just gone into the cramped bathroom. I remember her from the queue at passport control – or was it security? – back in Delhi. She was on her phone constantly. Whenever I saw her she had the phone to her ear. For all I know she's on the phone in the bathroom, but I doubt she'll get a signal. Actually, I'm more concerned about whether or not she'll be able to get her trousers off, there's such limited space. Worse still, what if she gets stuck in there? I reckon they would have to cut open the plane from the outside and winch her out. I pity whoever is sitting next to her. She's been in there a while and she's miles too big to do a dance routine. She might be doing 'tosser' signs at me right now or pulling a funny face in the mirror, who knows (and who wants to find out?). I wonder how much longer should we leave her in there before raising the alarm? Oh, hold on, I just heard the flush.

But hold the bus, I thought she was coming out, but perhaps she's not. Perhaps she needs the right angle of exit. The flush is pulled a second time – damn those floaters. She's a big lady but there's no sign of her. Perhaps she's in there now cursing herself. "You've practiced this many times, girl, now put your training into action, open that door and get the hell out!" But no, nothing. Should I politely tap on the door, inform the cabin crew or what? If in doubt, do nothing.

For a moment I thought I'd worked out the time incorrectly and that there was more time than I originally thought, but after making a few more calculations I realise that I was mistaken. I'd got it wrong. Fortunately, my original calculations were correct and we have under two hours to go. The cabin lights have come on; this is good news because it means that food of some description is going to be served. Judging by the time of day and depending on whether they are working on New Delhi or London time, we're either going to get something loosely based on afternoon tea or even another dinner. Lunch, rather predictably, had been roasted chicken breast. I'm sitting in cattle class, however, and that probably means I'll get a nose bag full of hay and a glass of water, unlike those posh and undeserving bastards in Premium Economy, Club and First Class.

It's hot food! Yippee! Chicken and pesto with pasta, plus a hard bread roll and a slice of cake. Just what the doctor ordered, I thought.

The people sitting next to me are still asleep. Actually, one of them stirred briefly and is now probably awake and just resting with her eyes closed. The man next to me, however, is still out for the count and covered with a blanket. He missed the meal. I considered asking Suki, for that is the name of the lady charged with the task of serving me during the flight, whether I could have his meal. I could do with another chicken with pesto and pasta, but I didn't bother asking. And besides, he'd probably opt for the vegetarian meal.

Slowly the passengers are coming round, there's more noise than previously so we're all gearing up, preparing for the moment when we disembark.

Soon we hear "cabin crew, take your seats for landing" and at this point I look out of the window and note that we're still miles away from the ground. The plane circles a bit and eventually descends. I can see the whole of Croydon at one point as we cross the Thames heading south and then bank west and run along the river, over Richmond and down on to the tarmac of T5. Once the plane comes to a standstill and the doors are opened, it's just a matter of standing there until it's my turn to leave. Soon I'm heading towards passport control, which was straightforward and hassle-free and then it's the baggage reclaim conveyor, number 8. Soon my bag arrives, I waltz through customs – there's never anybody there and I always wish I had a huge consignment of heroin and that somebody's going to pay me big for being the mule – and then I'm through to where taxi drivers hold up cards for weary travellers. I'm back home, but I'm concerned about the fat woman, although I know she did get out of the bathroom because I saw other people going in. Somehow I must have missed the moment. Then, suddenly, there she was, walking along the automated walkway – the typical behaviour of somebody with serious weight issues. Not that she bothered me. I simply headed for the exit and made my way home.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

In New Delhi, day four

If I lived in India I think I'd become a vegetarian. The food here is amazing. Not the dodgy street food, the stuff you get in the posh hotels. It's all fresh vegetables and cooked to perfection. You could say I've eaten well over the past few days. Today I skipped lunch as I was visiting the Red Fort in Old Delhi, an eye-opening experience if ever there was one. I took a cab from the hotel in to the old part of town, the roads were jam-packed with auto rickshaws and bicycle rickshaws and the noise from car horns was deafening. The traffic was awful, snarled up here and there, but soon I found myself at the Red Fort, queuing for a ticket at counter number four (the one for foreigners). I think we have to pay more than the Indians, which is probably understandable. We can afford it, I suppose that's the reasoning behind it.

Yours truly at the Red Fort...
I was given a slip of paper and a blue plastic disc, which I had to insert in the turnstile to gain access to the Fort. Once inside I wandered about, took a few photos and then linked up with my driver. He took me on a short journey to a huge market, bigger than Istanbul's Grand Bazaar and jam-packed with auto rickshaws and bicycle rickshaws. I found myself saying farewell to my driver and hopping aboard a bicycle rickshaw. The man driving it must be so incredibly fit and, let's face it, strong too, what with me sitting in the back after all the dinners I've been eating this week. The ride wasn't smooth, far from it, but it took me along colourful, narrow streets lined with shops selling sarees and wedding outfits, books, musical instruments, pashminas, jewellery, hats, you name it you could buy it here. Absolutely fantastic. We stopped off at a Buddhist temple, photographs were taken, and then we headed towards the Red Fort where I picked up my driver and we battled through the traffic in order to reach the hotel. What a fantastic day. Something good always comes out of something bad, in this case a cancelled meeting led me to the Red Fort. I was in serious danger of coming all this way and simply not seeing anything. My plan for visiting the Taj Mahal was scuppered (and besides it meant a long, long day and I really wasn't up for it to tell you the truth).

Inside the grounds of the Red Fort...
Another structure inside the Red Fort's grounds
After the Red Fort I hailed a rickshaw...
...and risked life and limb on busy roads
I got back to the hotel around 1700hrs, possibly a little later, but I had a few things to do before I hit the restaurant. Because I'd missed lunch I made the most of dinner, having soup and two stabs at the self-service buffet. For dessert I tried carrot fudge. Sounds bad, but believe me it was amazing.

View of Old Delhi from bicycle rickshaw
It's now just past 2300hrs - 2307 to be precise - and I'm up on the 10th floor, in the business centre. I've checked my emails, written a few and now I'm thinking about tomorrow. Tomorrow I fly home and I need to be out of the hotel around 0730, there's a car coming to pick me up. So I've got to settle my bill and head back to Indira Ghandi airport. I will miss India. It's a very special place. I love it's chaos, the strange smells, the honking car horns that carry on through the night, the sounds of a distant train horn, the food, the people, the mad traffic, there's not one element I can truly say I dislike, even those people who hassle me on the street aren't that bad, they're all part of this country's rich culture. And the fact that over the last week I have completely forgotten about Brexit can only be a good thing.

So, it's goodbye India. I hope to return again soon, preferably with my family.