Tuesday, 25 February 2020

In praise of Jonesy's Jukebox...

This article is all about one person: Steve Jones. For those of you who don't know about the Sex Pistols, Steve Jones was the lead guitarist. In short, the man is a legend - and not just in his own lunch time. He taught himself to play the guitar some three months before the Pistols first went on stage and, along with Paul Cook, John Lydon and Glen Matlock (my knowledge is a little sketchy here, but I'm going to assume that Matlock did play on the Never Mind the Bollocks album) went on to make history, changing the face of music forever. Hats off for that alone, guys.

On air - Steve Jones on Jonesy's Jukebox...
The reason this article is all about one person (Steve Jones) is because of Jonesy's Jukebox, a radio show that I stumbled upon whilst on You Tube. In essence, Jonesy's Jukebox is a chat show, but not like the usual stuff you get on the television. For a start, it's a radio show, but it's filmed too as it appears on You Tube. It's not like 'the usual stuff' because Jones is a musician and a legend so he knows about the music industry, he has insider knowledge and he doesn't go in for the usual chit chat rubbish offered by the likes of Jonathan Ross and Parkinson; and I think that is why he manages to attract the big names, like Slash, Brian May, Robert Plant, Iggy Pop, David Coverdale, John Carpenter, Billy Idol, Paul Cook, Alice Cooper and Todd Rundgren to name but a few. I've listed these guys off the top of my head, but there are many more (John Lydon and, I think, Pete Townshend have also been on).

Invariably, Jones kicks off most of his interviews with the phrase, "How are you doing?" Or "what you been up to?" Simple questions, but perfect. And what's more there's no boring chat based on the fact that the interviewee has a new album out or a tour. Alright, there might be a bit of it, but by and large, because Jones let's them talk and is not interested in anything sensationalist, the rock stars relax, they know that Jones is on the level, part of the whole rock thing, and they open up to him. And let me say now that it's an absolutely fantastic thing as there is clearly mutual respect between Jones and his guests.

I can't get enough of Jonesy's Jukebox and while half of my love of the programme is the guests, the main facet of the show is Jones himself, he's so down to earth, so inoffensive, a pleasant man who means no harm and is keen to share his knowledge with his guests and learn anew from them. It's great listening to the conversation, which is like eavesdropping on a pub conversation or, better still, being a part of the chat.

Jonesy's interview with Brian May was fantastic as both men clearly wanted to be there; May was chuffed to bits to be in the presence of Jones and while they did chat about the time when they shared a studio back in the day, the chat revolved around vegetarianism, veganism and whether or not there is life after death. And this is when Jonesy comes into his own because he's not the great intellectual (who is?). Well, Brian May I suppose, but my point is that Jonesy puts across the layman's view, he's not trying to be Melvyn Bragg or David Starkey, he's the man in the street.

I fully intend to read Jonesy's book because his early life was not your average upbringing, far from it. He was no angel – and readily admits, even on air, that he was famed for stealing musical instruments and equipment from bands prior to being in the Pistols – he was abused by a family member, and there's a strong hint of a life of crime had music (and being a member of the Sex Pistols) not saved him from law courts and prison cells. And I must say that I'm glad for him and saddened, I must add, when he announced on air that he had suffered from a heart attack. One person the world doesn't want to lose (not for some time, at any rate) is Steve Jones.

Jonesy lives in LA - or close by, I'm not exactly sure where - and I think he enjoys the sunshine and riding his motorcycle to work, doing the radio show. I mean, what a life! He's one of those people I'd love to meet, one of those people I'd like to chat to as we're roughly the same age (he might be a couple of years older than me, I'm now 62). I think if I was a rock star I'd want to be on Jonesy's Jukebox ahead of anybody else's show. Forget all those American chat show hosts, forget Jonathan Ross, James Corden, all of them, I'd settle for Jonesy's Jukebox and it seems as if the rock star fraternity feel the same way.

What else can I say to Jonesy other than keep fit, keep healthy and keep on keeping on with Jonesy's Jukebox, it's a great show.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Woodmansterne Saturday, Bus Stop on Sunday...

It's Sunday morning, 0643hrs and Andy and I have decided to wait until 0700hrs before we decide on whether a ride is on the cards or night. All night the wind has been blowing hard and I awoke early and listened to it gusting around outside as I lay there, right hand on forehead contemplating an abort text.

Library shot of the Tatsfield Bus Stop. Today's weather similar to this.
Now I'm up, sitting in front the laptop with two pieces of toast long eaten and a cup of Earl Grey decaff (without milk) wondering what the light will bring. If it's anything like yesterday I probably will go cycling. I remember sitting here in exactly the same position having resigned myself to not going out when Bon texted to ask if I was going. I called him and said it was a bit blowy out there, but somehow decided it was okay and agreed to meet him around a quarter past eight on Woodmansterne Green.

I left the house around 0750 and headed down the road, turning left on to West Hill and then riding through Purley, along Foxley Lane, now decimated by the development of flats, and on towards the turn-off for Woodmansterne. It was a very pleasant day with the occasional gust, but generally fine.

When I reached the green there was no sign of Bon. Normally he gets there early and comes down the road to meet me, but there was no sign of him. I parked up by Jean Merrington's circular bench and waited and suddenly there he was, in his car! Now, normally I would have been pissed off with this, but clearly something had occurred. The problem was that my phone had run out of power so I didn't know what, until he told me: he'd reached the garage and found a puncture, texted me to abort but of course I didn't get it so he drove to the green instead. It was fine, we drank tea and chatted and then, around 0908hrs headed back to our respective homes.

Library shot of Woodmansterne Green...
And now I sit here, a full day later, wondering whether Andy and I will meet at the usual time on Warlingham Green, it's looking highly likely. In fact I'd better get a move-on, clean up the cups from yesterday and sort things out.

Yesterday's weather was far better than today's. Yesterday the occasional gust of wind, today a mild drizzle, wet roads and gusty winds, but on both days it's been warm. So warm that I instinctively didn't wear the balaclava this weekend. There are daffodils all over the place and some of the trees have started to blossom so there are signs of better weather to come, but we're not out of the woods yet.

Warlingham Green on Sunday morning
We decided to ride the slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop and it was a good ride. We kept pace with one another, chatted about various things en route and when we reached the bus stop and found the bench to be wet (and our respective arses) we stood up and continued the conversation as we looked out on the drizzly greyness of the scene before us. There were a few Lycra monkeys around, but not many.

Andy and I parted company at The Ridge and vowed to be back in the saddle next weekend (weather permitting). I rode along the 269 and now I'm home and changed and back on the lap top writing the last few words of this blogpost. There are no images this weekend, or rather no fresh images were taken as my phone ran out of power and Andy didn't take any. The shots that you see above are what the BBC would call a 'library pictures', meaning they weren't taken on today's ride but are from the archive.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

We were mesmerised by the media...

Both of us. Andy and yours truly. We'd both been listening, watching, reading about Storm Dennis, which has followed hot on the heels of Storm Ciara. It was due to hit overnight, last night, and I probably did hear some gusts of wind, and when I woke up around 0600hrs, having stayed up later than usual because I figured I'd be aborting the ride, I did just that: I aborted. I went back to bed, but not for long. Once I'm awake, it's not long before I get up and head downstairs for breakfast, and by 0630hrs I was looking out of the window trying to see the puddle on next door's roof, but it was too dark. Too dark to see what the weather was doing. But I'd aborted the ride, it didn't really matter.

When things brightened up, it didn't look too bad outside. I couldn't detect any rain, or not much of it, and the wind wasn't by any means a constant. Why the hell did I abort? I'd been mesmerised by the media! And so, incidentally, had Andy. I texted later to see if he went out and the answer was no. He had banked on Storm Henry hitting hard and had resigned himself to not riding. We both felt cheated, but there was nothing we could do.

As the day progressed, the rains came. I stood outside of Pearson's, a cycle shop in Sutton, Surrey, looking at the wet pavements and the puddles. There was a bit of shopping to do, but that was it and eventually I was home listening to the rain. My iphone said there was a 100% chance of rain all the way through to the morning and beyond so I started to think I'll abort before hitting the sack and that way I won't have a fretful night's sleep worrying (or wondering) what the weather will be like in the morning. "Just assume it's going to be crap," I said to myself later while watching Basic Instinct and being singularly unimpressed by the much-publicised 'full vadge view' offered to the film's detectives. Back in the day it was one of those scenes men felt they ought to have some kind of opinion on, the stereotypical opinion being little more that Phwoar! But I remember at the time not finding Sharon Stone that appealing. Nothing's changed.

So I'd better hit the sack, get some sleep. Got to stop eating shit. Coffee and walnut cake has to go, along with too many visits to the cafe.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

To Westerham! And a visit to the Tudor Rose cafe...

Why have I got a wet arse? It's a question I asked myself when we reached Westerham and were standing outside the Tudor Rose cafe. The roads were wet, there were big puddles lining the 269 on the ride down and it had definitely been raining overnight so I put it down to that and then we bowled into the caff and ordered breakfast: Sausage sandwich for Andy and scrambled egg on toast for yours truly, plus a pot of tea. The last time we did this was 2019, at the Costa Coffee just up the road. On that occasion we sat outside, but today we took a seat inside and enjoyed the ambience of the whole thing. We could have had cake but opted for a proper breakfast instead.

Saturday morning at the Tudor Rose cafe
Why have I got a wet arse? That was the question. And while I blamed the wet weather, the puddles and the dampness, the reality was a little depressing. In a nutshell, two of those thermal mug thingys full of water in my rucksack had started leaking and the resulting dampness soaked through the rucksack and on to my backside. How annoying is that? Anyway, I thought I'd mention it.

The ride was good, there and back. In fact, on the way back I felt energised enough not to even worry or whinge about the hill. Normally, it pisses me off having to ride back up the hill towards Botley, but not today because I'd eaten that scrambled egg on toast and enjoyed a cup or two of tea; add to that the light-hearted conversation with Andy and you have the perfect recipe for feeling good.

Oh, and we ought to discuss the weather. Apparently there's a storm brewing and it's going to hit later today. It's going to be really bad news apparently, lots of rain, lots of wind, the usual stuff, and it might mean we don't ride out tomorrow. Well, look, if it rains I'm not going out, but if it's just a bit of windy weather, well, I can handle that and we can ride 'the slow way' to the bus stop. Here's hoping.

I suggested we pay more visits to the caff and we will.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Making my way home...

It was too cold to be out in the air for longer than five or 10 minutes, so I took shelter in the warmth of a shopping centre, wandering around and realising there was absolutely nothing I wanted. I found myself in a Huawei shop where it turns out that the Chinese company is going for that Apple market. They have some smart-looking smart phones, tablets and laptops, not forgetting a few watches too, and they're much cheaper than Apple phones. But I've just signed on the dotted line to keep my old iphone 5S on a Sim-only deal for just £13 per month. Not bad when you consider I have 5GB and unlimited texts and minutes.
Lunch at Hard Rock Helsinki

I decided to grin and bear the cold and walk to Stockmann's where I took another look at a lantern I was considering buying, but decided not to; I then checked out everything from saucepans to teapots and nothing appealed. Nothing made me want to reach for the credit card and buy something.

Across the road was a Hard Rock Cafe, time to get myself a Hard Rock Helsinki fridge magnet and lunch, which was very pleasant as the restaurant was half empty. Afterwards I had to head back to the hotel to pick up my bag and then head for the central station and a train to the airport. I jumped on the 1356hrs from platform 5 and was feeling a little bit sleepy. For a short while I read Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq and then drifted off to sleep. Fortunately I was awake when the train arrived at the airport.

It was then a case of logging on to one of those terminals to check in. I discovered they'd given me an aisle seat, which I didn't want, but it said I couldn't change it, which was annoying. But as I'd reached the airport ahead of schedule I decided to seek out a bag drop-off desk to see if it was possible to get a window seat. It was! I was seat 11c but I'm now seat 9a - result!

And then, of course, it was time to go through security, which was fine and then run the gauntlet of the society of the spectacle. I never buy anything off of those bastards, but I did spray myself with a couple of the aftershave testers before proceeding through the rest of the muck: alcohol, chocolates, watches, you name it, they're trying to flog it, but no way, I've wised up and I'm now sitting in Nordic Kitchen eating a cinnamon roll and drinking a mint tea and a small bar of Karl Fazer chocolate, because it's the best.

Helsinki's Central Station
I tell you what really confuses me, people from South East Asia who walk around wearing masks as if they know something we don't - or is it out of politeness because they don't want us to catch their cold or flu or whatever ailment they might have picked up? Who knows? Certainly not me.

Anyway, the noticeboard says I've got to go to the gate, which is two minutes away. There's not much more to say so I'll sign off.

The flight was good and roughly on time. It was clear skies all the way until we reached the UK and we landed with a bit of a bang. I'm home now, watching the news.

A brief word about Finland: What a fantastic country and what lovely people. It was my first time and I hope I'll have cause to return again soon.

Mooching around Helsinki in the cold...

Night view from the window of room 659
I feel sorry for any fashion victims who live in Helsinki and find themselves wandering the streets of the Finnish capital in jeans with slits on the knees and elsewhere on the garment: they must be chuffing freezing! Alright, I've experienced worse weather in Sweden some years ago, when it was minus 26 degrees in Stockholm and a whopping great minus 40 degrees further north in Lulea, but here in Helsinki today the temperature is minus 5 degrees and if you factor in the wind coming in off the sea, well, you're talking fairly unpleasant. Not the sort of weather that makes a stroll around the city anywhere near pleasant.

Tonight, leaving a restaurant that was easily a mile away from the hotel, my colleague asked if I wanted to take a taxi. "No, let's walk," I replied, only to regret the decision as we put our best feet forward. It was brass monkey weather, put it that way, and I was so glad to reach the warmth of the Scandic Simonketta. As soon as the reception doors opened automatically - you have to watch automatic doors when they open outwards - a blanket of warm air revived me.

Helsinki Cathedral
I wouldn't want to be a beggar in Helsinki either, not in January, because the same applies: how the hell can they stay warm? I can't imagine sleeping rough on these streets, it would be SO unpleasant and probably life-threatening in weather the Fins are describing as 'postively balmy' for this time of year.

Fortunately, I am neither a fashion victim nor a beggar. In fact, as I write this, I'm ensconced in my room enjoying the warmth of the hotel and thanking my lucky stars that I'm not outside. I can't imagine how awful it would be on a bicycle. I would need my balaclava and that's a fact. I wonder if there's a bike share scheme?

I did take a mooch around yesterday afternoon, around 4pm, and paid a visit to Stockmann's, Helsinki's answer to a big London department store like Peter Jones. But I wasn't really looking for anything in particular and simply wandered about, taking the lift from the ground floor to the second, moseying about for a while and then going up to the 5th to look at the homewares. I managed a walk too, probably around 30 minutes or so, but the cold stung my face and I simply had to grin and bear it.

Stockmann: Helsinki's answer to Harrods
I've found out some interesting facts about Finland, the main one being that it has a population of 5.5 million. Think about that for a minute: 5.5 million in the whole country, which is a considerably bigger land mass than the UK, which has a population of over 60 million and counting. It's very pleasant in that respect: there's very little in the way of traffic jams and there's never too many people on the streets. Something else I've noticed about this great city is that all the doors open outwards, not inwards, and this, I am told, is fire regulations as it means people on the inside can kick outwards on the door to get it open in the event of fire inside the building. How considerate! I've also learnt that the Finnish language is phonetic so that I could simply read out a page of Finnish writing even if I didn't understand it; apparently the idea is that you emphasise the first syllable of all words. I've probably picked up other facts about this great country, but I can't remember them right now. The main thing is it's freezing out there and I'm glad to be in my room.

I sleep with the lights out and the curtains drawn back so that the illuminated logos on the building opposite bring some light into the room. I lie on my back looking at the ceiling, which is peppered with devices like a fire sprinkler, a smoke alarm and spotlights, listening to the sound of trams as they rumble and creak their way up the hill, but invariably I wake up after a fretful dream of some sort and then find it difficult to get back to sleep. This morning when I check the clock on my iphone it was almost 0530hrs, not bad in a sense, but I didn't hit the sack until midnight. This time I did fall back to sleep and had a strange dream about a group of people, young and old, playing football in the street with a tennis ball. There were other dreams, but I can't recall them. The alarm went off at 0730hrs and I decided to loll about in bed until a quarter past eight before showering and heading downstairs for breakfast. I had a bowl of porridge, a smaller bowl of raspberry or blue berry yoghurt, two cinnamon rolls, which were fantastic and a small sour dough roll. I enjoyed two green teas while simply chilling and looking outside at the sun shining, but knowing it was minus five out there. I woke up with a mild headache, but it's gone now.

I could do with a bar of Karl Fazer milk chocolate. I might nip to the supermarket later and get some to take home. There were two bars in the minibar, but as you can imagine, they're gone now. Yesterday evening I was flagging a bit, but the chocolate pepped me up a little bit.

Check-out is at noon and I've got to pack, but fortunately I travel light, much to the amusement of my colleagues who, fortunately, aren't here to see the tiny bag I'm using for this two-day trip. I say two days but really it's three, but two nights. Somehow I manage to get everything into what amounts to a small bag like those they hand out to conference delegates. I've got it down to a fine art and even manage to get the laptop in there too. No waiting around at the baggage reclaim for me! I can even stow my bag under the seat in front of me.

I need to check out how to get to the airport without using a taxi, nothing worse than taxis and I try not to use them. There's a bus operated by Finnair and I'm sure there must be a train too so I need to pay a visit to the front desk to find out. After that I'm going to brave the cold, head outside, mooch around for a bit and then grab a coffee somewhere. There appears to be an abundance of Roberts coffee outlets dotted around town so I'm planning to dive into one of them later for a mint tea and a read of Michel Houellebecq's Serotonin, my current book.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Notes from flight D82952 from London Gatwick to Helsinki...

I was wide awake at just after 0400hrs and unable to get back to sleep, not for want of trying. I tried taking measured breaths and closing my eyes, but I wasn't sleepy enough. It wasn't like the old days, when waking up in the middle of the night was the ultimate pleasure because I would feel luxuriously sleepy and ready to fall straight back to sleep. Back in the day I looked forward to a broken night, sometimes I used to set my alarm too early just so I could reset it and fall back to sleep just so I could experience the joy of lying there thinking pleasant thoughts. Somewhere along the line things changed, those thoughts became fretful and now, if I'm awake, I'm awake and it'll take a while to get back to sleep. Sometimes I fail and I simply get up and go downstairs.

Healthy breakfast at Gatwick's South Terminal
Just before 0500hrs I jumped out of bed and switched off all the alarms that I had thought would be necessary to wake me up, but, as I suspected, I didn't need them. After making myself fruit, porridge and toast I put the finishing touches to packing my bag and then waited for the taxi to arrive. When it did I noticed Gupta was at the wheel. He's a bit of racist, but believe it or not he's alright, he's simply one of those people that likes to moan about virtually everything and, of course, now he can no longer moan about the European Union because we're out. Although he still moans about immigration, one of his chief bugbears, but let's not forget his son's messy divorce and his various health ailments. But deep down, this ex-services cab driver is alright and despite previous posts, in which I probably paint a bleaker picture, I quite like him.
At Helsinki, still in the plane, looks drizzly

He arrived on the dot at 0600hrs to take me to Gatwick airport and an early flight to Helsinki in Finland. I have never been to Finland before so I'm looking forward to the trip.

On the way to the terminal building after Gupta had dropped me off, I met a woman who lives in Pimlico, London, somewhere close to Lupus Street. She hailed originally from the West of Ireland and was on her way to Dublin to watch her own racehorse compete in a race, although she wasn't 100% sure that the horse would run, but was going anyway. She was flying Ryanair on the basis that they're cheap. I was flying Norwegian. In fact I refuse point blank to fly with Ryanair: I never have and I never will and it's all down to to the fact that I distrust them and the guy who heads up the budget airline.

Once I'd checked in I milled around for a while, spraying myself with expensive aftershave. It's the only time I smell nice. I bought a few things and then went in search of something to eat, nothing special. I visited the Wonder Tree restaurant where I ordered and enjoyed a mint tea, a slice of toast and something called a Berry Yoghurt Bowl (£11.45). My flight appeared on the destinations board at 0800hrs and was due to depart from gate 18 so I paid up and went in search of the gate.

On the bus waiting for the stragglers...
I am on flight D8 2952 and sitting in seat 12a, a much-appreciated window seat, affording me excellent views of tiny cotton wool clouds some distance below me. It's fairly clear outside (now that we've cleared the cloud hanging over Gatwick) and even at 39,000 feet I can still see land and sea, roads and rivers below me.

The flight isn't full. Who else would be so foolish to fly on a Sunday morning? I have an entire row to myself and that means I can spread out a little bit.

I had been under the impression that the flying time to Helsinki was roughly three hours, but no, it's two hours and 25 minutes, which is a relief, although I must admit that I'm nice and relaxed and enjoying every minute.

I've brought a 500ml bottle of Pellegrino on board, but I swear I heard them say that passengers must buy everything from the airline so I've not opened it - until now - as I think the service is over, but they will probably admonish me for my insolence.

Toasted cheese and ham and mint tea at Moi Bar, Helsinki
Last night I was on top of the world chilling out at home watching (on Netflix) The Great Escape, but conscious that I needed to be up at 0500hrs I stopped the movie after David McCallum had exited through the tunnel and will have to watch the rest on my return.

My room at Scandic Simonkentta, Helsinki
Down below I can see land, mainly a mix of large and small (some very small) islands. Miraculously the sea is blue and off in the distance there is a hazy smattering of thin cloud. This is what pilots call 'excellent flying weather' or 'conditions' and I love it when I know things are going to be relatively smooth and free from too much turbulence.

There's probably about an hour left to run on this flight and outside the land has given way to the sea, so there's little to see. In addition to being a window seat, 12a is also an engine seat.

I'm taking sneaky swigs from my bottle of Pellegrino because right now I'm really into Pellegrino sparkling mineral water. All week at work I've been downing a one litre bottle just after lunch having purchased it for £1.50 from the Co-op. It's something I haven't done for a long time, but there's nothing better and now that I'm not drinking alcohol (it's been just over two years and two months and I'm getting boring about it) I've decided to drink more Pellegrino, mainly because non-alcohol beers are piss poor and I can't be bothered to pretend anymore. In the same way that Sir Bobby Charlton and Arthur Scargill should have swept their comb-overs aside and announced, fuck it, I'm bald! Well, metaphorically I'm doing the same. It's a bit like my vegetarian sausages theory which I will now explain.

The view from my hotel window...
Okay, if you're a vegetarian why bother eating vegetarian sausages? Why would you want to eat something that resembles the very thing you've decided not to eat anymore? In the same way, why should (or why would) somebody who has given up drinking want to be drinking something that looks exactly like what he or she has given up? No-alcohol beer will never taste the same as real beer so why drink it? It's horrible and simple serves to remind you of what you are missing by not drinking. Not that I'm missing alcohol, not one bit as it happens. There are people who drink no-alcohol beer to hide the fact that they are not drinking, which is fine for a while, but once you become comfortable with being a non-drinker and don't care what others think about your decision, that's when it's good to start on the Pellegrino. Perhaps a no-alcohol beer with a curry, but that's about it.

It's 1105hrs (UK time) and I reckon there's around 30-40 minutes left to go. Outside there is no sign of land, just wispy clouds below me and the sea. I think I might read a bit more of Michel Houellebecq's Serotonin. There's 25 minutes to go according to the captain and we will shortly be starting our descent into Helsinki where it's 5 degrees, cloudy and rainy. Ugh! Just like England. As we descended through layered cloud I saw nothing that resembled land until we had virtually hit the tarmac. The landing was perfect, so smooth and soon the plane parked up to await a few buses that were being sent to ferry us back to the terminal building. We were all waiting inside the plane, some people were standing in the aisles, but I chose to simply sit there and wait it out. Soon, I was up and out of the plane, on the staircase leading down to the tarmac and the waiting buses. There was rock salt on the stairs, a clear sign that things get pretty icy here in Finland.

Where doors open outwards...
In fact, I was told that the current weather in Helsinki was out of character with the time of year. There should have been at least a foot of snow on the ground, but apparently the Finnish capital is experiencing the warmest of temperatures for January 'since records began'. It was good in a sense because it meant that I wouldn't be slipping and sliding all over the place and possibly even falling 'arse over tit' in the process.

After clearing passport control I followed signs to arrivals and found myself wandering through lairy displays of alcohol, cigarettes, fragrances and watches, not forgetting fur coats and anything else you might care to throw in. Talk about the Society of the Spectacle, it's obscene. And rather than stop and buy anything I simply used the testers to make myself smell good again, based on the assumption that the Allure I'd sprayed on my face at Gatwick had worn off.

I found myself in Moi Bar opposite Starbucks where I ordered a cheese and ham toastie and a mint tea. It was fantastic and there was a real risk that I'll eat another one so took a wander.

To brighten up winter streets in Helsinki they keep the festive spirit alive
I made my way to the Hilton hotel just outside the airport where a car drove me into the centre of town and a lovely hotel where I am staying now. It's very pleasant and I'm looking forward to breakfast. The room is good, there's a minibar, a television, a decent bathroom and a desk. Add in WiFi and you could say I'm as happy as Larry.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Residing in an edgy part of town...

It's 29 January 2020, the year has hardly got airborne and yet I'm on my second foreign trip, this time a quick one-nighter in the European capital of Brussels, and the UK is on the verge of leaving the EU, much to my dismay and, indeed, horror.

Dress it up as much as you like, it's a cheese & ham toastie
I had an angst-ridden lunch in Le Pain Quotidien (see pic above) just across from where travellers board the Eurostar at St Pancras International. It's not my favourite restaurant and the reason is simple: they take their time and I always get the feeling that they've forgotten my order, especially when the waiter I've already given my drinks order to comes back and asks me what I'd like to drink. It doesn't bode well for catching the train. And to think that I arrived well ahead of time, a good hour before departure, but slowly time runs out. One minute I'm looking at around an hour to eat a cheese and ham toasty - alright, it was dressed up with some fancy name, but it was basically a cheese and ham toasted sandwich with a small salad and some tomato ketchup on the side. It was nothing special, but it did the job and I hurriedly asked for the bill before rushing off to go through the fafferama of security, although it's nowhere near as bad as the airport.

The train departed from Platform 10 and the journey - all two hours of it - passed by pretty smoothly thanks to Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq. And when I jumped off at the other end I got my bearings and headed off for what my iphone was telling me was a 9-minute walk to the hotel, the Mercure. For a brief moment I thought I would get lost as it was dark and I'm never 100% sure that I'm walking in the right direction when I'm using the phone's GPS system. However, as I trudged along I suddenly saw the hotel, separated by a few road works and now here I am in room 209 on the second floor after what can only be described as a speedy, efficient and friendly check-in.

Suddenly, there was the Mercure Hotel...
It's a great room. Alright, it's pretty standard, although instead of the usual twin beds pushed together there's a real double bed with cushions, loads of them, well, six in total including two little purple ones. Unusually, there's a separate bathroom and toilet, which I rather like, there's a flatscreen television on the wall opposite the bed, a shower room observation window, frosted in the middle to spare embarassment and, of course, there's a desk, a table and a chair.

The WiFi was simplicity itself and, well, I'm thinking about going out and finding somewhere to eat as the hotel offers a few snacks like pizza, baguettes, chips and two mains (chicken tikka masala and spaghetti bolognaise and I'm guessing they're not homemade, although I suppose the pasta dish might be). I could stay in and order room service, but where's the fun in that? And besides, if I get back early, I can continue reading Houellbecq, which was my Christmas present.

I feel at home in this room for some reason. Sometimes hotels have it, other times they don't and it's not down to how posh they are either, it's hard to explain, but this place has it. It's not a hotel to be impressed by because it's a standard, average-priced establishment that does what it says on the tin. For me the acid test is always the breakfast. There's no restaurant, but there is a small bar by the front desk where all the items on the room service menu are going to be available, but it's not a very comfortable-looking place and I'm not keen on being downstairs close to the bustling lobby, not that it's bustling.

Room 209, Mercure Hotel, Brussels...
Out on the streets in the dark, I'm aware that the district through which I tread isn't looking too good. Outside of the extensive roadworks that have ripped up a lot of the streets, there's a menacing air about the place, brought about largely by the groups of bearded young men who seem to be peppered around as I walk in search of somewhere to eat. There are plenty of dodgy-looking cafes with Formica-topped tables and dull lighting, packed with, yes, you've guessed it, bearded men who haven't bothered taking off their coats. There are hardly any women on these streets and when I do spot one she is wearing a headscarf.

I am pretty close to an area called Molenbeek where, according to an article by a GQ journalist, all nine 'known perpetrators of the November 2015 Paris attacks had a connection with the neighbourhood'. And it gets worse: The March 2016 Brussels airport bombing was planned here by associates of Salah Abdeslam who grew up here; the guns used in the Charlie Hebdo attack were sourced from the area... need I go on? Terrorist attacks are always linked to Molenbeek, but fortunately that's not quite where I am, although, judging by those I meet on the streets, the scenario is kind of similar, although I hope I'm not sounding too xenophobic, perhaps more concerned for my own welfare.

Being somebody who unwittingly walked through LA gangland back in 2013, I figured the mean streets of Brussels were fine, even after dark, and while I passed many a bearded gentleman, three of whom approached me for money (but didn't accept Mastercard) I continued to mooch around. I thought it was kind of okay. It was only when I started to read about the district that I began to feel a little uneasy. I walked some distance down one street hoping the neighbourhood would improve or that I might stumble upon a decent restaurant, but the hotel had already recommended La Ruche, a French place offering a lot of meat in the shape of mainly beef and ribs and burgers. After walking away, I decided to bite the bullet and go inside. I was shown to a table for one, squeezed between a couple on my right and a young family on my left. I went against the beefy grain of the place and ordered a chicken burger with sweet potato fries and a bottle of Pellegrino and then sat down and noticed that I was the only person without a beard and a Mediterranean complexion. If this was an Isis stronghold, then I was easy meat. As I awaited my meal I looked around to see if there were any other westerners in the restaurant. I couldn't see anybody, but the place was civilised, the food was good and the service excellent and soon I forgot about the potential danger I might have been in; in fact I began to wonder if it was all a load of hot air. Everybody seemed perfectly respectable, it was just me letting the media brainwash me, albeit temporarily. I'll always remember my dad telling me never to be 'mesmerised by the media'.

La Ruche restaurant - nice burgers!
This is not, however, a pleasant part of Brussels, Molenbeek or not, and nothing like the area surrounding the famous Grand Place which, I was told by the woman on the front desk of my hotel, was only 15 minutes away. But it was getting late and I couldn't be bothered to go hiking around in the dark and then find it was too late to eat. La Ruche was fine and very reasonable: the bill hovered around 15 Euros, which was good by any standard, and the food was top notch. The restaurant was very French with its marble-topped bar and waiting staff sporting black aprons tied around their waists. There was a huge wooden-framed mirror behind the bar and elegant lighting, high ceilings and a pleasant hubbub and nobody appeared to be giving me strange looks of an Isis nature.

In all honesty, I could easily have been mugged outside on the dark and edgy streets. I was wandering around, alone, in a foreign country, in a considerably downbeat district, I was accosted on three occasions by bearded men of Mediterranean origin asking me for money, there were saunas and sex shops, men standing around in groups smoking, hardly any women about and those I did see sported a headscarf; this wasn't exactly Knightsbridge, although, these days, perhaps there's not much difference.

Just as I was about to get up and pay my bill, a man looking distinctly western was led to a table. For a moment I thought he might be English and that we could exchange knowing glances at one another. He had that Bill Bryson look about him, but without the weight, and it was only when I noticed he was wearing thick, patterned trousers (which were slightly lairy) that I figured he couldn't be English, he didn't look drab enough. Either way he appeared a little concerned about something, probably the idea of dining alone, and seemed to be looking at me for reassurance, which I don't think I provided. He and I were the only westerners in the restaurant, not that it mattered.

Inside La Ruche
I paid up and left after what I can only describe as a very pleasant dinner, and while I'm going on about being the only westerner in the restaurant, apart from that bloke I just mentioned, there was nothing wrong with the place or its clientele, everyone seemed to be getting on. It was only a short distance to the hotel, but before I got there I was approached by the last of three men who had accosted me to ask for money and for each one I had the same excuse, "I haven't got any money, just a credit card I'm afraid," spoken assertively, slightly impatiently and in a very clear and English manner, and it confused him enough for me to carry on without further conversation. The weird thing was the way the last guy came out of nowhere.

So I got back 'home', which is what a hotel becomes when I'm away on business and now I sit here writing in the room, in my little oasis of calm and safety, happy that next on my agenda is to hit the bathroom and then hit the sack. Next stop: breakfast!

It's now morning, 0618 to be precise, time for a shower and a shave and then breakfast. I won't go for a walk because it's all pretty unsavoury out there, nothing worth looking at other than a sex shop and there's nothing very appealing about it, not that I know, I just passed it by, as you do, whilst on the hunt for a restaurant. There was an old man peering through the window at the various appliances on display and I pitied his sorry soul.

The more I read about the district in which I am currently residing, the more I'm thinking twice about my nocturnal mooching last night. My local metro station is Lemonnier and there are bad things being said about the place and its surroundings online, mainly that it's dangerous and 'a Mediterranean district' of town peopled largely by North Africans. Knife attacks and theft are not unheard of round here and there appears to be some kind of argument going on about identifying certain districts of Brussels as 'Mediterranean'. The liberal David Weytsman has spoken about the unacceptability of dividing the city into districts by ethnicity in an article in Le Soir, which is roughly a year old. I'm rather glad that I'm travelling light and not hauling a massive suitcase behind me. I'm guessing you need to be nimble on your feet around here.
Chicken burger and sweet potato fries...
Breakfast was good, but I didn't over indulge. I could have enjoyed frankfurters and mustard, vegetables, baked beans, mushrooms and scrambled egg, but I opted for a bowl of granola, a glass of real orange juice (they have a machine that squashes oranges so it's fresh and real and not concentrated) and a cinnamon tea, plus a tiny bread roll.
View from room 209, Mercure, Brussels
A busy day lay ahead of me; instead of taking the metro from Lemonnier I was advised by the hotel receptionist to walk to Brussels Midi and get the train from there to Schuman. The walk back to Midi was very short, under five minutes, which made me wonder why it took me around double that on the way in. It's not a problem. Schuman, I think that's how you spell it, was further away than I thought but it was only a short walk from there to my destination. Soon the work was done and I headed back to Brussels Midi to catch the Eurostar, the 1252. But I missed it by around eight minutes. I knew I would because the seminar I attended ran over by 30 minutes thanks to a keen Chinese journalist asking too many questions, and then there was a problem on the trains, but I was rescheduled on the next train out and now I'm sitting in a restaurant across from the terminal. I've got to be back there by 1420hrs at the very latest - not a problem. Although that said, it's 1339hrs and I'm still sitting here typing this blogpost and editing it as I go along.

I've ordered home-made lasagne and a half litre bottle of Chaudfontaine mineral water and the restaurant is busy. The bill was 21 Euros, not bad. I'll be back in London by 4pm.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Mum's last week and then two foggy rides to the bus stop...

I think this is a first: I didn't write about last week's ride... until today. A whole week elapsed and I never sat down and described last weekend's one ride. I got back from Budapest the Friday before last too tired to consider a ride on Saturday. Andy was going to ride to Smallfield but had a problem with his gears, a big problem. The gear level broke and he was stuck in top gear. His Kona is now in the shop being repaired so Andy arrived this morning on his racer. Anyway, let's not talk about today just yet, it's time to discuss last week's ride to mum's. There were two problems for Andy last week: first the gear lever issue, but then, on Sunday, the lock to his garage door was frozen so he couldn't get his bike out.

I had options: cycle to mum's, cycle to Westerham or the bus stop alone or meet Bon on Woodmansterne Green. I opted for riding to mum's and later discovered that Bon had gone to Brixham so it was the right decision.
Purley playing fields around 0730hrs last Sunday morning...very cold...
It was cold outside. Very cold. Remember that Andy's lock had frozen over and that's why I was riding to mum's. I was outside, opening up the garage door when he called to tell me the bad news and because I was outside, in the cold air, and ready to ride, there was little point in going back. I stayed out and decided that, give or take, riding to mum's was probably the least painful experience.

Cold streets, icy roads, frosted grass and grey skies
I rode through Croydon, or rather I skirted Croydon, heading down the Selsdon Road, up Hayling Park Road, around the playing fields at Purley, on to the A23 and through the industrial estate towards Stafford Road, Wallington, and then into Carshalton and mum's place.

The A23 early on Sunday morning last week, it was cold
We sat in the living room talking about this and that, mainly the garden and the fact that mum, who is in her 91st year, was out there chopping back the ivy that had taken over the fence on the right hand side of her house. It goes without saying that I ate some cake, just one slice, and a cup of tea. I think I made myself a second cup, but steered clear of a second slice of cake.

Tea and cake at mum's - making it all worthwhile...
I followed the outward route home, which is far quicker and less painful than riding through the smallholdings towards the Croydon Road, and then turning left and heading into Purley. Going that way means grappling with the south face of West Hill, never a pleasant experience, albeit short-lived.

That was last week's riding in a nutshell and yes, had I not had a late night on Friday, courtesy of easyJet, I'd have riden out on Saturday too, but shit happens.

Today's ride...
It was fairly warm out today, around 5 degrees, so no frost on car windscreens or anywhere else for that matter. I was running late - of course I was, I'm always faffing around at the last minute - but soon I was outside and ready to rock. Well, let's not put it like that. I set off at a steady pace having texted Andy to say I was running a little late but was on my way.

Once at the green we decided to head for the Tatsfield Bus Stop (the slow way). Not ideal, I thought, but perhaps Westerham was a bridge too far today. That said we really ought to try our best to get as many rides to Westerham in as possible. And we need to visit the caff again too, although last Sunday I was in there, at the Tudor Rose, eating a toasted tea cake and sipping tea from a dainty cup. They're losing it a bit in there; whenever the boss is out of town they let things slip and people start to get a little tetchy when they're not being served (I know I am). I don't blame them and last week there was a load of mother hens in there with babies. Huge women, young women, who certainly need not only a diet but some exercise too. As a friend of mine might have said, "Never mind the boat, check out the BMI." There they were with babies and bags and loads of baby stuff, taking up space and being very annoying and clucky. Everybody was being ignored - except them.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, we rode the slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop and as we neared the end of Beddlestead Lane we found ourselves in thick fog and it didn't fade out. After drinking tea and chatting we headed home, Andy riding along the Ridge and me hitting the 269, but staying on the off-road path for my own safety. I got home, had some more breakfast (I'd enjoyed porridge and fruit around 0600hrs so now it was scrambled eggs, tomatoes, onion, mushrooms and toast).

Right now I'm writing this while listening to Stewart Copeland talking, enthusing and being inspirational on the television. Last night I watched episode two and now I'm watching episode one, in fact, if I'm truthful I'm now watching episode two again as I'm watching on iplayer so episode one has ended and episode two has kicked in. I could watch Stewart Copeland all day, he's absolutely brilliant, so enthusiastic, you can read the positivity, the enthusiasm, the passion, in his face. He LOVES music and I love that. Please, more Stewart Copeland on the TV. Okay, so episode two is back on and I'm listening to it, but in truth I'm inspired enough to want to put Spotify on and listen to some of my own music, well, not music I've composed, but music I've stored on my iphone. "I'll be happy movin' when I wish to...". Now I've switched to Nantucket Sleighride by Mountain, what a great song. It starts off like a battleship edging out of the estuary into open sea and then meanders along, picking up pace...and then reminds me of Brian Waldren who in turn reminds of Yoda for some reason. Enough, perhaps a bit of heavy funk, like the Fat Back Band and Yum Yum (Gimme Some), yes, that'll do, but I'm restless, I keep flicking the tracks, now The Rimshots (an unfortunate name if ever there was one) but 7654321 (Blow Your Whistle) is brilliant, although again rather unsavoury-sounding. I used to own the single and probably still have it somewhere.

It's getting late, but it's Saturday and everybody is doing their own thing, which I like as it means I can sit here writing, listening to music like Funky Nassau - Part 1, brilliant. "Mini skirts, maxi skirts and afro hairdos" - sometimes music is so good it brings a tear to my eye, like now; I've got to pull myself together. Long Train Runnin' by the Doobie Brothers, that's good, but in all honesty, not right for my mood. Perhaps REM, Pop Song 89. "Should we talk about the weather? Should we talk about the government?"

The plan is to ride tomorrow so let's hope we're not stopped by inclement weather or punctures. I must check the bike later as I rode the off-road track this morning because of the fog. Got to do two rides this weekend!

Sunday's ride - to the Tatsfield Bus Stop!
And yes, we rode the slow way too. It was energising. I even mentioned to Andy that Beddlestead Lane wasn't that bad, because, in a way, it was magical: we had the fog, not as heavy as on Saturday and, in a way, beautiful. As we neared the end of the lane I could see the mobile phone mast, but only just, and the birds could be seen but only at close quarters, it was possible to watch them disappear into the mist. There was a mystical element to it all and when you ad that to the energising effect it all has, then it can only be good.

There was a break in routine. The flask had been replaced with two of those insulated mugs. In other words we both had our own cups and all we had to do was add a teabag.

We watched cyclists disappear and cars vanish and soon it was time for us to do the same. Once again, Andy hit The Ridge and I jumped on the 269's off-road track. It was peaceful, very little traffic and when the fog lifted I went back on the road.

I felt great so when I reached home it was time for a full English of sausages, eggs, toast and tomatoes. Later I hit 'shuffle' on Spotify and, basically, had another day of kind of slobbing around. It was great. And now it's Monday and I'm listening to Maybelline by Chuck Berry. Soon I'll be in the bathroom, getting ready for work and the week will commence.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

In Budapest...

Thursday 16th January: I'm writing to you from room 501 of the Hilton Hotel in Budapest. This morning I was up at 0530hrs in order to catch the first train to Gatwick and an easyJet flight, which took two hours and 10 minutes and was pretty smooth all the way over. Heavy fog hung like a shroud over the airport, prompting some kin of instruments-only landing that mean all electronic devices had to be switched off and couldn't even be on flight-safe mode. I complied, but many people ignore such requests and that never fails to annoy me. I especially despise the know-it-all types who think they know better than those who work for the airlines. "You don't have to switch your phone off, it makes no difference," they say without a shred of knowledge.

Room 501, Hilton Budapest, the one in Buda
The journey by coach from the airport to the hotel was extended because of some kind of altercation between the coach driver and somebody in a rental car, but I eventually got here and checked in and now, at last, solitude. The room is very pleasant and peaceful; there's the usual twin beds pushed together to look like a double (they're not fooling anybody, least of all me) and the now obligatory flat-screen television plus a minibar and a round table, which doubled as the desk and dining table. Incidentally, I could have eaten a Kit Kat but chose a small tin of salted peanuts instead.

Because I was starving when I reached the room - and based on a texted photo I received from the International Man of Mystery of his burger and chips - I decided to order one myself along with an alcohol-free beer (well, 0.5% abv). It was a late lunch and much needed and took around half an hour to arrive at my door.

I was last in Budapest in late September when the weather was a little warmer, but while it is cold here, it's not as bad as I thought, even if the trees on the route from the airport were frosted in a very pleasant and festively decorative way.
Coffee and cake in Lipoti Bakery & Cafe
I'm here until tomorrow night and I'm looking forward to walking around the city after the work is completed. There's nothing better than mooching around and that is what I intend to do before boarding a return flight tomorrow night. A new pair of Doctor Marten's shoes need breaking in. I bought them in Street Talk, an amazing little store in Redhill in Surrey, having originally purchased a pair of Kickers boots that leaked - not good - so I exchanged them at no extra cost, which is also good because they were £30 more expensive and they never charged me the extra. People talk about the death of the high street, but if all shops were like Street Talk in Redhill, then perhaps there would be less boarded up shop fronts.

Was this the best cafe in town?
Friday 17th January
I didn't sleep well; I tend not to when I'm staying in a hotel, especially if I'm only there for one night. I must have hit the sack around 1130hrs having enjoyed a pleasant dinner in a restaurant close to the hotel, and while I did sleep, it was in short bursts, punctuated by fretful dreams. I remember dreaming and then waking up and the pattern persisting as the night progressed. As always, I was eventually woken up by my iphone at 0700hrs. I jumped out of bed to press the snooze button, but when it started again 10 minutes later I resigned myself to getting up, having a shower - and what a wonderful experience that was - and then getting ready for breakfast. I was in the restaurant by 0730 hrs and I decided to go mad, starting with a bowl of porridge and a couple of small pastries plus a strawberry yoghurt and a banana and then continuing with scrambled egg, mushrooms and sausages and following up with fresh fruit - slices of orange, tinned peaches and melon, not forgetting a banana, all washed down with a peach tea followed by lemon and lime tea. I half-inched a handful of teabags to take home, they won't miss them, and then I left without touching the orange juice I'd ordered.

The stunning view from Room 501...
Breakfast over, I'm back in the room...
I've had an Eartha and I'm ready for a day of walking around Budapest, a great city if ever there was one. I'm waiting for the International Man of Mystery to surface. It's 0838hrs, I've sent him three photos of my mammoth three-course breakfast and I've heard nothing back. Time, perhaps, to check out of the hotel ahead of everybody else. I thought there might a pool, but there wasn't and even if there had been I didn't bring my trunks.

I went downstairs with my book, 1971 by David Hepworth, and sat on a chair close to the elevators reading it until my companion surfaced. Having checked-in my overnight bag with the concierge we headed outside, turning left and slowly making our way down the hill to the river and, of course, the Chain Bridge. On the way we passed by the Hungarian President's work quarters, which was guarded by police and soldiers, and then crossed the Danube. Once off the bridge we carried on walking for a short while and then was about to make a left turn in the direction of the next bridge when we stopped at a cafe, Lipoti Bakery and Cafe, for a cake and a cappuccino, all very pleasant and it was good to rest our feet before resuming our journey. We were now on the Pest part of the city and heading towards the bridge that would take us back over the river to Buda. We passed small artisanal shops and old book stores where I found a Thomas Tryon novel, but not the one I'd been looking for, Harvest Home. I've been on the look-out for it for years, but have never found it and I'm left wondering why it's so rare.

The International Man of Mystery's burger
A little further along I stumbled upon a music shop and another potential passion of mine - or perhaps that should be an unfulfilled desire of mine, a need I've had since the age of six: to play the bass guitar. I say a 'desire', but not really; it's more that back then I wanted one, I didn't get one and, if I'm honest I forgot all about it, but occasionally kid myself that I want one, until I start questioning myself, asking myself, and then I think well, perhaps not. But occasionally I think I should get one and learn how to play it. For some reason my parents never bought me one; perhaps they thought I'd join a rock band - or form one myself - instead of wearing a suit and working in an office. The fantasy, the passion, the yearning (perhaps all three words are little exaggerated) have nagged at me, but I've never had the spare cash to buy one. You know the deal, there's always something else to buy. The reason I think I can play the bass is because my mum and dad were happy for me to learn how to play the violin; they saw it, perhaps, as a little more civilised (and not so 'common') and wouldn't have minded so much if I had become a concert violinist wearing tails and sporting a bow tie or whatever it is that concert violinists wear. I played the fiddle throughout my school life and even took a few private lessons with my music teacher, Frank Stapleton, who, for some reason, we all called Frog. But I changed when I reached the second year of high school, found that I was easily led and soon I became a bit of rebel who didn't really want to be in the school orchestra rehearsing. I wanted to be out on my bike down at River Gardens with my magapult breaking the windows of a derelict factory, not practising Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddigore. When I left school I sold the violin and bought an air pistol as I figured I'd never make the London Symphony Orchestra, but perhaps I could shine in Wormwood Scrubs. Thoughts of learning the bass surfaced again around 2008 when I found myself in the New Forest over the Christmas period. Everybody there was playing guitar and I often picked one up in an idle moment, not really knowing what I was doing, but I somehow rekindled my old desire for a bass and found again that there was never enough spare cash floating about to buy one. Perhaps I should sell my useless Rolex and get one, which I eventually did, but that was to pay off a debt so the bass guitar never materialised. I'm annoyed about selling the watch too, although it never kept the correct time, needed to be serviced (at a cost of £400) and was far too ostentatious to wear out on the mean streets of London. But now I figure I could teach myself how to play the bass and besides, it would be a relaxing thing to do and a great achievement if I succeeded.

My burger! I was starving hungry, nowt went to waste...
We spent some time in the music shop. I felt like an imposter. I picked up a secondhand Fender Precision bass and then looked at a couple of acoustic bass guitars upstairs; and then we left and continued on our journey towards the funicular railway opposite the Chain Bridge. Perhaps if I'd really wanted a bass guitar I'd have bought one by now. Clearly it's not that much of a passion, even a potential passion. Perhaps I need to buy one to realise that I don't want one, who knows, although I think I'd give it a go (learning how to play) as I'm more grown up these days. The irony of the whole situation is that I have bought a book on how to play the bass guitar, but not the guitar.

Now that's what I call a church!
Our walk continued and eventually we reached the bridge that would take us back to Buda. The plan was to cross the bridge and turn left and then head for the funicular railway that would take us back to the hotel. It was cold (around -2 degrees) but thankfully we were both kitted out with the appropriate clothing and were glad of our woolly hats that we'd pulled down over our ears. I wasn't wearing gloves, but for some reason it wasn't that bad. I think my hands were numb to the cold.

Yours truly in hat and coat
The bridge back to Buda - which is the posh part of the city - had a kind of dog leg shape to it. Half way across it turned slightly left, but trams still thundered across it and so did cars and pedestrians. Once clear of the bridge we turned left and kept walking. Soon we were on board the funicular railway and heading up the hill and back to the grandiose buildings, the presidential palace and a small cafe that we'd found inside the Prima grocery store. The cafe didn't appear to have a name, but it was quaint and cosy and perfect for when the weather was cold. We followed some stairs at the back of the store that led up to a galleried walkway to the cafe. On Thursday, the day we arrived in Budapest, we'd gone in for a cappuccino and a small triangular pastry, an iced fancy as they're known in the UK. This time we ordered a late lunch of ham and eggs and a cup of tea. There were four fried eggs and they'd been cooked with the ham and laid on top of lettuce leaves. There was also sliced tomato and peppers and a soft bread roll into which the International Man of Mystery loaded some of his ham and eggs. I left my roll to last.
Ham and eggs with a roll and cappuccino
The cafe had a pleasant ambience. It was, in fact, the place of my dreams, the cafe I always look out for but never find. I knew that I could come back here and sit and read my book and that, of course, was the exactly what I did. Nobody would find me up here, I thought! Believe me these places are rare, but they do exist.
It's that church again...
After the International Man of Mystery had departed by coach to the airport and a flight back to the UK, I did go back, book in hand, and ordered another iced fancy and a cup of tea, it was around 1600hrs and dark outside, just how I like it. There's nothing better than being in a cosy cafe as the light fades, armed with a decent book, sipping from a cup of tea and nibbling a pastry of some sort. I was living the dream - at last! But before I revisited the in-store cafe I wandered around, checked out a another secondhand bookstore, peered into other cafes, wandered into an arty clothes shop, checked out the fridge magnets and bobble hats and bought nothing. I have everything I need except, perhaps for that bass guitar.
Inside Lipoti Bakery and Cafe...
After sitting there for quite a while I considered heading back to the hotel, but was joined by two colleagues and stayed for another cup of tea. We chatted and were joined by two more colleagues and then it was time to leave. I paid up and headed back to the hotel where a coach was waiting to whisk us off to the airport and a flight home. But the plane was delayed. I wandered off alone with my book to the far end of the airport and ordered a bottle of mineral water and banana from a Cafe Ritazza before finding a table and continuing to read David Hepworth's 1971. I checked out a few of the airport shops, sprayed myself with some expensive aftershave and then, eventually headed for the gate and the flight home. It was late when we touched down at Gatwick, just gone midnight, and it would be 0100hrs before I reached home, far too late so I aborted the ride and hit the sack.

Looking down on the Danube and the Chain Bridge from Buda