Monday, 21 May 2018

Sunday 20th May – slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop...

Long grass at the Tatsfield bus stop...
After Philadelphia, last Sunday (20th May) was my first ride for a fortnight and in between then and now I did something to my back, putting even Sunday's ride in jeopardy. On Saturday I cleaned and oiled the bike and did a bit of gardening and, as a result, I loosened up a little bit and set myself on the road to recovery. Oddly, there was no real pain. I think I know what I did to myself: I moved a heavy box of magazines with my right foot and must have pulled something. Either way, I keeled over to my right and looked lopsided and I had difficulty walking, although the latter was the result of wearing the wrong shoes to walk miles around the city. When I jumped off the plane at Heathrow, I hobbled through passport control and baggage reclaim and limped my way to the front door of my house about an hour or so later. However, as soon as I took the shoes off, my foot healed immediately, leaving just the lower back issue. That improved slowly and while I still had problems after sitting down for a while (stiffness) all was generally well. I had no problem sleeping, I could sit down without being in pain, it was only the initial five to 10 minutes after having sat down that proved problematic.

So on Sunday, having established that I could still get on and off of a bicycle, I headed for Warlingham Green to met Andy who, unlike me, has been riding quite a bit. We decided to aim for the Tatsfield Bus Stop and ride the slow way, which was great as the weather was amazing and I was surprised at how much things had grown since my last ride. There was cowslip aplenty on either side of the road, the trees were in full bloom and there was a strong feeling that summer had arrived as we headed along Beddlestead Lane, not really worrying about the uphill slog of it all. The monkeys were out in force too and after drinking our tea, munching our biscuits and chewing the fat we headed towards Botley Hill and spotted Phil (now a full Lycra Monkey) whizzing past and heading, we assumed, for Westerham. There was no time to stop, but I later sent a text basically saying hello. Now that the sun is out, we expect to see more of Phil, he's come out of hibernation after all.

We rode down the 269 in the hazy sunshine and stopped at the green to say our goodbyes and arrange next week's ride. Andy can't make Sunday but Saturday and Bank Holiday Monday are game on, so here's hoping for some more decent weather.

The ride along the Limpsfield Road was pretty uneventful, but when I reached Sanderstead Pond it was good to see everything in bloom. I rolled down Church Way, put the bike in the garage on got on with the rest of my day.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Last hours in Philadelphia...

After packing my suitcase and checking out of the hotel I handed my luggage to the bell hop or the porters or the guys on the concierge desk, whatever you want to call them, and then headed out. My plan was to visit the Mutter Museum – a place where you'll find skulls and embryos and damaged limbs and all sorts of horrible things, but you know what? It wasn't horrible enough for me. I was expecting a much bigger building with much more horrific exhibits, but no, it was a little tame. Even the bit where you could see what it was like to have your arm amputated was, well, it was tame. I left $18 worse off and then walked a long way down 22nd Street before realising I was travelling in the wrong direction. I retraced my steps until I found Locust and headed towards the centre of town and, of course, Bellini.

Tiramisu, home-made, at Bellini, Philadelphia – yummy!
The restaurant was empty bar a small party of people celebrating their daughter's graduation. I ordered potato and leek soup followed by tortellini with mushroom sauce and shrimp and then I fell victim to temptation. All week I had avoided desserts and rightly so, but a home-made tiramisu was not to be missed so I ordered one followed by a peppermint tea. After paying the bill I hobbled out on to the street and headed back to the Doubletree and then to the Good Karma Café next door for an orange blossom tea and a read of my book, Unknown Pleasures by Peter Hook. Soon, however, it was time to pick up my cases from the hotel and take the shuttle to the airport. And then, of course, all the travel hassles start, not that there were many of them. The main grief is always security and I'm amazed how the procedure changes. Why did I have to take my shoes off on the return flight when I didn't have to take them off coming out? Annoying. Once through I just sat at the gate (A16). Normally I'd go and find some kind of burger or chicken joint and order a glass of cabernet and get chatting with somebody, but this time I just sat there waiting to board.

I tried to upgrade myself by explaining my back issue in the hope I'd get sent to business class, but no, they weren't interested unless I paid the best part of $500. Sod that. So I sat in seat 44C, an aisle seat, on the 747 that would be taking me across the Atlantic. During the flight I mixed watching the map – I'm intrigued about something known as the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone, which is in the middle of the Atlantic. What is it? There's stuff online about it, but I've not had time to sit and read it. Anyway, it exists and that's all that matters. Or does it matter? Probably not. When I wasn't watching the map I was reading or looking at my watch, which was set to Philadelphia time.

Inside Bellini, Friday around 1pm...

The flight was smooth and soon it landed (at 0636hrs). I hobbled off the plane, picked up my case from the baggage reclaim and then went in search of my Albanian taxi driver. He was a nice guy, but for some reason took me home via central London, along the West Way, Hammersmith, Chelsea, across Wandsworth Bridge, through Streatham and Croydon and eventually home. I went straight to bed and slept for six hours solid, waking around 1530hrs. And now I'm just chilling, the Eurovision Song Contest is on and spaghetti bolognaise is cooking in the kitchen. What more could I ask for?

I liked Philadelphia, it was good city, an established city, like New York and Chicago and I hope I'll go back there again soon. My pal Martin lives there and I'm hoping to return soon.

Friday, 11 May 2018

The Eastern State Penitentiary and more...

The Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, USA
In my hotel room (room 1712) there is a television, like in most hotel rooms; and it goes without saying that here in the USA there's a lot of channels and most of it is pretty much rubbish. Well, one channel proved itself worthwhile and that was the channel promoting tourism in Philadelphia. While watching it, lying on my bed, I spotted something very interesting: the Eastern State Penitentiary, a now defunct prison right in the centre of the town which is run as a museum. In short, it's incredible and if you're in Philadelphia for any reason, make sure you get on over there because it's brilliant.

I took a cab over there from the Doubletree yesterday lunchtime, having worked all morning in the room, and it was the best decision I ever made. For a start there's an audio tour narrated by the great Steve Buscemi and then there's the overall haunting quality of the place, which it's now empty and dilapidated old cells, complete with rusty bed frames, the foreboding high walls and battlements, this place is really like an old castle. So definitely pay a visit if you're in the area, that's my advice.

Al Capone's cell at Eastern State Penitentiary...
Lunch was at Jack's across the street: a cheese steak (actually, I'll take back what I said about them, they're not that good and I should have ordered something lighter). Lunch was fine, but a little lonely. Now that my colleague has gone home I'm left alone and while it's okay, it's good to have somebody to chat to over lunch. Not today. I sat there with a large bottle of sparkling mineral water and a Becks Blue (oh, I didn't need that Becks Blue, no sir) and, well, it gets a little depressing. Later I took the trolley bus, which was free, back to the Doubletree – or as close as it took me, which was Macy's – and then wandered around the town for a bit before heading back to the room to watch a bit of television, make some finishing touches to an article I was writing and then consider what I was going to do for dinner.

I wandered around the city in the dark, up Locust, past Pietro's where my colleague and I had enjoyed dinner a couple nights ago, and began to get a little despondent about things. Where's the fun gone? Nothing appealed to me food wise, everything was crowded and noisy and the food not that good, perhaps I should just head back to the hotel and watch television, that cheese steak at lunch was enough, I could easily get through to breakfast. But then I found Bellini, an Italian restaurant that at first looked a little pricey and probably could be if you went over the top. I walked around a bit more, but then decided that Bellini was likely to be the best bet, so I ambled in and took a seat. Zahara the waitress was very welcoming. She ran through the specials of the day and I later opted for one of them, the chicken and lentil soup, which was tremendous. Some bread had arrived, but I only had one small piece and awaited my main course: grilled or baked or pan-fried fillet of salmon on a bed of green beans and accompanied by a side of fresh asparagus – I probably could have gone without the asparagus, but it was wonderful and I ate the lot. A bottle of sparkling mineral water accompanied this amazing meal and I finished with a peppermint tea, vowing to return, possibly in a few hours, for lunch the following day (I rather fancied some home-made pasta to fuel me up for tomorrow night's flight home). I left the restaurant and walked back up Locust (Bellini was in a side road off of Locust) and I was amazed by how close this excellent restaurant was to the Doubletree. My colleague and I had missed it.

Spooky cell at Eastern State Penitentiary...
The food's been good, though, to be fair. I've eaten salmon most of the week, I've avoided desserts and I've definitely remained off the alcohol.

This morning when I woke up I thought I'd throw all my pants into the corridor just for the fun of it and then, naked, go for a run along Broad Street before breakfast. Actually, I'm lying, I didn't do anything of the sort. Why would I? It was just the thought of doing it that made me laugh. I mean, had I actually done it I'd be in prison now, or in the state looney bin, I'd probably make the news too, but there you go.

The police were out in force this morning cycling around town. It must be some kind of sponsored ride, but they sure need to do some exercise. Yesterday I saw a policemen walk into a Dunkin' Donuts store not far from the hotel and that, of course, is the big cliché, that of American policemen and donuts (or doughnuts).

All week I've stuck to the same breakfast and today was my last one: a bowl of cubed melon, a bowl of porridge, scrambled egg, 'breakfast potatoes' and one sausage, not forgetting a mug of tea. It was good and it kept me going until lunch time. I've avoided bread most of the time, avoided desserts too and as I've just said I've not touched any alcohol. All round pretty boring.

Another cell block at Eastern State Penitentiary...
It's odd how not drinking is changing my outlook on life. The strange bit is that the fun has been taken out of things – the enjoyment too. I used to look forward to finding a decent restaurant and ordering a large glass of Cabernet with my meal, but now that I'm not drinking the whole appeal of eating anywhere has disappeared as food becomes merely a necessity, a fuel stop and, therefore, anywhere will do. Last night in Bellini it was the same. I found myself sitting there, bored, nobody to talk to, and there was seemingly no point in being there. Other guests were celebrating with friends and family, there were a few couples on a night out and me, sitting there playing with my iphone, not even enjoying the people watching element of solitary dining. When you're not drinking, bars and restaurants lose meaning and even now I'm revisiting my decision to return to Bellini for lunch, what's the point? I might as well go to the coffee shop next door to the hotel (the Good Karma Café) and have an orange blossom tea and a cookie, where the light is sufficient enough for me to read Unknown Pleasures by Peter Hook, the story of his time in the band Joy Division (which became New Order). In fact it would be fair to say that coffee shops have taken over from pubs and bars and restaurants as the places to chill out. It gives me a new vice, though: cake. And by cake I mean anything – a millionaire's shortbread, coffee and walnut cake, Bakewell tart, you name it.

Dinner at Bellini last night
Taking the trolley bus back towards the hotel from the Eastern State Penitentiary yesterday afternoon was good as I passed those famous steps featured in the movie Rocky. Again, though, I found myself thinking so what? So what? Perhaps being alcohol-free for over six months has changed things psychologically. I mean I've never gone so long without a drink in all of my life, so I'm kind of rebooting the system, like switching myself off and on and starting again, erasing the tapes and presenting my new self to the world, that of 'can't be bothered', 'so what?' and so forth. I used to enjoy wandering around a foreign city in a kind of Cabernet haze, thinking my own thoughts, but now I'm in the real world, all the time, and things are pretty normal, I can see through stuff I never saw through in the past and mainly I see through the notion of 'enjoying a night out drinking' – it's not necessary, it doesn't go anywhere or achieve anything and I end up with a furry tongue in the morning and feel it necessary to comment, "good night last night" when it wasn't really, it was just that I thought I ought to say something about the boozy evening if only to discover if I'd said or done anything I shouldn't have. "Yeah, it was a good night until you stripped naked and jogged along Broad Street, throwing a selection of your pants at passers-by."

Part of my Doubletree breakfast...
In fact, why bother to eat and drink out at all? It's just fuel after all. Why spend the money? I'd rather stare at the sea if I'm honest, or go for a long walk. But there are loads of things that simply aren't worth doing, like shopping. I was in Macy's yesterday afternoon looking at watches and the woman said there was a deal on and I'd get so much off if I bought one and even more if I took on a Macy's credit card (or some kind of scheme). And I thought about it (I was never going to do it). To be honest I thought about the pointlessness of it. Why buy a watch? I don't need one. Alright, I no longer have a decent watch (I had to sell my Rolex, sadly) so you could argue that I do need one, but I don't really. The Timex I own does the job. And then there's clothes. Why buy Tommy Hilfiger? Why buy any brand? Who needs to spend the extra money on a Gucci shirt when a plain old shirt will do the same thing: keep you covered up. I wandered around the floors at Macy's looking at all the stuff on hangers and thought, no, it's all crap, all worthless, there's no point in spending the money, it wouldn't provide any pleasure and soon enough the clothes or goods I buy will be yesterday's news and it'll be time to buy something else to keep me amused. I've never ever followed fashion and do my best NEVER to wear anything that advertises the clothes maker. Why should I give them free advertising as I walk along the street? Fine if they pay me, but no, they're not going to, so they can fuck off. That said, I'm wearing a tee-shirt at the moment that says 'Jack Daniels' and this morning the man in the breakfast room took to calling me 'Mister Jack Daniels'. I'll admit it mildly annoyed me, but I shrugged it off with a smile and got on with my life.
The view from room 1712, Hilton Doubletree Philadelphia
The fun has gone out of flying too as I used to enjoy a couple of those little bottles of red wine. In fact, on Saturday just past I flew from London to Philadelphia without a drop of alcohol. It was still the same old same old – eight uncomfortable hours in the air. And now I've got to repeat the process in reverse this evening at 1845hrs – Flight BA66. I get home just before 0700hrs on Saturday morning. I'm not looking forward to it. And to be fair, even with a bottle of wine, it's no fun as I'd end up feeling considerably more weary and tired, so perhaps it's best not to drink.

Room 1712, Hilton Doubletree, Philadelphia, USA
Outside the sun is shining. It's going to be 80 degrees F on Sunday here in Philadelphia and it's already hot out there as I can see the sun filtering through the curtains of my hotel room. It's funny how one gets accustomed to hotel rooms. This place has been 'home' for the past six days, a safe haven from the world outside, and now I'm saying goodbye and heading back to my real home. I've got to check out of here at 1100hrs and then I'll be a kind of homeless nomad until the shuttle takes me to the airport at 1545hrs and my long and laborious flight home. To make matters worse, I have a bad back. I'm not sure what I did to it, but if I sit down for any period of time, I have trouble walking. So seven or eight hours on a plane is going to do me in. Oh, for an upgrade. I need to be able to lie down and then I'll be fine, but sitting in seat 44C as I think I will be this evening, is not going to do me any good.

I'd better sign off and start packing things away. Then I plan to spend most of the rest of the day standing up and not sitting down as sitting down, while not painful, leads to pain when I stand up. I wish I knew how I did this, but I don't, it could be anything, it might have been the flight over, it might have been the way I picked up or put down my suitcase, it might have been anything, but I've got to deal with it and let's put it this way: I can't wait to get home.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

In Philadelphia...Day two and Day Three...

The day kicked off with a spot of running. Not me, you understand (I can't stand running and for good reason). No, it was the general population of this great city – for it is a great city. People of all shapes and sizes were wearing shorts and tee-shirts and pounding the tarmac of Broad Street for a 10km run – Broad Street, believe it or not is 10km long, probably longer.

Contestants in the 10k Broad Street run...
I overheard somebody in the lift say there were over 30,000 runners and it was, I must say, a great spectacle. There were police on Trek mountain bikes mingling with the runners, some looking a little puffed and overweight, but clearly there, I'd imagine, to prevent a tragedy like the Boston bombing. We stood on the sidelines taking snaps on our iphones and then dived into a coffee shop where I enjoyed an orange blossom tea (which was seriously good).

At 1000hrs (or thereabouts) I met Martin, my pal in the hotel lobby and we took the train to Chestnut Hill where he lives. What a wonderful place. Beautiful houses, birds tweeting from the trees, the scent of flowers in the air and, most importantly, tranquility. There was a row of decent shops too and I was reminded ever so slightly of a place in the UK called Lindfield in West Sussex, only miles better – not a tacky convenience store in sight.

After a drive around the local area we finished up in the Tavern on the Hill, a small, dark, woody sort of place offering excellent everything from decent ales (I opted for Becks no-alcohol beer) and some good food too. I tried a Philadelphia special: a cheese steak sandwich, which was fantastic.
Tranquility in Chestnut Hill

The local trains (and buses) over here are run by an organisation (or company) called Septa. I jumped on a train leaving Chestnut Hill at 1456hrs and got back to the downtown half an hour later, alighting at Jefferson and heading straight to the convention centre where I'd be based for the next few days.

My colleague and I milled around, had dinner and then hit the sack and now it's Monday – or Day Three – in Philadelphia, a Bank Holiday in the UK and I've done something to my back, which ain't funny. I can hardly walk and it's made worse by sitting down, which I'm doing now. My walking has slowed to a snail's pace, I've keeled over to the right in postural terms and I'm reminded of 2005 when the same thing happened and I felt like shit for months, couldn't sleep at night and was generally in a bad way. I'm hoping things will improve, but it's not looking likely, which means I'll be even worse when I arrive back in the UK on Saturday morning after a long transatlantic flight, which I'm not looking forward to – and I very much doubt if I'll get an upgrade, which would help as it's a night flight and I hate night flights at the best of times, but with this back problem it's going to be very unpleasant.

Philadelphia special: a cheese steak...
I'm writing from my hotel room after lunch in the Hard Rock Café where I had salmon, mashed potatoes and green beans and a couple of very very low alcohol beers, so low, apparently, there was virtually no alcohol at all, or at least I hope that's the case. Our tattooed waitress told us she used to be homeless and a heroin addict, but had turned her life around and was getting married to somebody who was also homeless and had changed his life around too (all's well that ends well). I checked out CVS for Nurofen and they had all these weird brands of pills so I left empty-handed. I don't feel too bad, but when I get up after sitting down it does pain me a bit and I can't walk, but other than that, well, it's fine; actually it's not fine at all and I keep thinking about that flight on Friday evening. All I know is this: it ain't going to get any better. Not for a while at any rate.

The great thing about Philadelphia is that it's a proper city, it's got old-looking, established buildings that wouldn't look out of place in London and it has an established transport infrastructure taking people out to equally established suburbs and because it's not one of the USA's smaller cities, it's one of those places that never sleeps, there are people around all the time, the streets are full of people and cars on the weekends unlike, say, San Antonio where the place empties out, the roads and sidewalks are deserted and I always get the feeling that I'm not in a 'proper' city, like Chicago or New York or Philadelphia.

The 1456 Septa train from Chestnut to Jefferson
What I don't like about Philadelphia is the preponderance of homeless people; they're on every street corner asking for money or cigarettes or harassing people while they eat an evening meal – yes, folks, it's hot enough in May to eat alfresco as we did last night in Pietro's and yes a homeless person passed by on more than occasion (the same person) to ask for cigarettes. I got the feeling that the homeless here were more confrontational than in London, but I might be wrong.


Sunday, 6 May 2018

In Philadelphia...day one

It's great when I visit somewhere new and Philadelphia is somewhere new. Up until this point, the only thing I knew about Philadelphia was soft cheese. Cream cheese, is that right? Cream cheese and a guy called Martin, my old pal, who lives here and I'll be seeing him later today, just as soon as I've had some breakfast and acclimatised myself to the fact that I'm five hours behind UK time.

I flew yesterday afternoon on BA0067 from Heathrow Terminal Five. The flight was delayed about three hours thanks to a fuel leak of some sort. I thought we were going to be taken off the plane and flown out on another one, but the engineers did their job and we eventually left the UK around 1530hrs, a good three hours after our scheduled departure time.

BA0067 at Philadelphia airport – three hours delayed!!!
The flight was good, very smooth, and I enjoyed (as always) the inflight meal. I have the chicken every time and it was fantastic, nice and tender, just how I like it and rounded off with a chocolate mousse dessert, the obligatory hard bread roll and some cheese crackers, not forgetting a chunk of cheese. I ate the lot, plus mineral water, plus tea, and anything they gave me basically. Eating passes the time and, as you know, boredom induces a kind of faux hunger. Later we got a chicken sandwich and a bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk and one of the cabin crew secretly fed me with a couple of Mini Heros, or whatever they're called. I'm still not drinking (as you all know) but I was tempted by the free mini bottles of red wine (and managed to resist). In fact, this is the first transatlantic flight I've done without alcohol and I must say (rather smugly, perhaps) that I feel a hell of a lot fresher than I normally do. I mean, it's a quarter to six in the morning, I've been up since around 1630hrs (after about five hours' sleep) and I feel fine. I'm looking forward to breakfast and in a second or two I'll probably take a shower and go exploring (there's a pool on the fifth floor). I'm on the 17th floor so I get a good view of the city, although, oddly, it's still dark here.

On the flight over I watched Blade Runner 2049; it was good, but not a patch on the 1979 original. I just managed to finish it before we landed.

Immigration, normally a problem, was smooth and so was baggage reclaim and then it was a shortish cab right into downtown Philly, a late dinner (late on UK time) and then time to hit the sack. And now I'm awake, as you all know because I'm sitting here typing this; it's now 0550hrs and there's not a great deal to talk about right now as I haven't really done a great deal. Martin turns up at 1000hrs, which will be great, and we'll probably drive around town, have some lunch, that sort of thing, and then work kicks in around 1500hrs.

Annoyingly, the weather in the UK is really nice and guess what? I'm here in cloudy old Philadelphia and not riding a bike. I bet Andy went out. Hopefully photographic evidence will follow.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Sunday – solo ride to mum's...

Monday 30 April: Last night a strange and vivid dream. It involved being in some kind of shop, or somewhere, I'm not quite sure. There was a large and very detailed model of a galleon and it cost £300, or just over, and I wanted it. But it was clear I wasn't going to get it, everybody around me frowned at the idea of me buying a radio-controlled model of a galleon. Dad was there and he quite rightly pointed out that one freak wave down on the coast at Felpham would trash the boat. He had a point and despite that I was disappointed that the boat wouldn't be mine. When I woke up around 0430hrs I noticed that the front door was open and ajar. Was there an intruder in the house? I went downstairs to check, but no, somebody (whoever was last in) must have forgotten to lock the door.

It rained all night and it looks as if it will rain all day today (Monday 30 April) and possibly all day tomorrow too, improving by Wednesday. Somebody on the radio said that a month's worth of rain will fall in certain parts of the country.

Saturday (28 April) was rained off, but Sunday seemed to be rain-free, just a little cloudy. Well, overcast and dull and probably quite a lot of cloud. It was also very cold. As I rode down West Hill and along Essenden Road a cold wind hit me square in the face. It was very unpleasant, but whenever I think about cold weather in April I'm reminded of the time that we (Andy and I) were caught out in the snow (see photo).

Like everything with cycling, the rider eventually gets used to it, be it sleet, rain or snow, and sure enough I soon forgot about the cold as I climbed Hayling Park Road and rode past the lonely and misty playing fields en route to the A23.

Botley Hill, April 2008... it was cold
As I rode through the industrial estate there were crowds of people waiting for some kind of 'factory outlet' to open. Later, on my return, I saw people leaving with large black plastic bags but I had no idea what they were carrying.

It was later than usual and therefore busier as I rode through Wallington and crossed the mini roundabout at the top of Boundary Road into Stanley Park Road, turning right at the top of the hill into Crichton Road, passing the Village Bakery and turning right on to Park Hill. I sailed down the hill towards the Windsor Castle, hung a left, then a right, then a left and then another left and I was 'home'. A cup of tea awaited me along with a slice of fruit cake and mum and I made small talk.

On the ride back I stopped at the BP garage, which now sports an M&S where I intended to buy a few things, but couldn't because I'd left my wallet and cash in a different pair of trousers and not the ones I was wearing. Mildly annoyed I jumped back on the bike and returned home following the outward route but in reverse. I reached home around 1100hrs.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Alcohol and me...

Today I can announce that I have not touched any alcohol for six months. To be honest, it's no hardship and, as I've said before, it's not as if I had to give up drinking: I'm not an alcoholic, I don't drink too much, there's no reason whatsoever other than what's the point in drinking? I can truthfully say, however, that alcohol has never been a friend to me, it's not something that in anyway makes me feel better. Now that I'm not drinking, for example, I've noticed I sleep better. I don't wake up in the middle of the night, heart racing – unless I have a bad dream, which is rare – and generally I feel good. Furthermore, I don't suffer from headaches or weariness in the morning (as I used to if I'd been drinking the night before). There are so many benefits to not drinking: I can drive a car without thinking how many units of alcohol I've consumed; if I go out anywhere I can drive and not have to worry about public transport late at night or having to get a cab home, and guess what? The chances of me making a fool of myself, saying or doing something I'll later regret or just simply looking awful (bloodshot eyes) is nil, it won't happen. I'll never wake up in the morning wondering what the hell I said to so and so or whether I really did shout obscenities at the boss, or surely I didn't make lewd comments in front of relatives, not me, surely? But in the past I can testify to doing much worse and all because I overdid the alcohol. Well, not any more. I'm through.

"Broken night, sir? Said something you shouldn't, sir?"
I'm saving money too. I'm amazed when I go out for a meal how low the bill is when it arrives. "How much?" Booze bumps up the price considerably. Take it away and virtually every meal is good value, but there is a problem. Not an unsolvable problem, but a problem nonetheless. In the days of alcohol, I used to look forward to reaching a restaurant (when on business abroad), ordering a meal and a large glass of Cabernet and just chilling. That moment when my lips touch the glass in the pleasant surroundings, say, of my favourite restaurant in Dusseldorf (Da Bruno on Karlstrasse) is priceless. I used to immediately relax and look forward to my meal. Well, not last week. I went back to Da Bruno roughly a year after my last visit and, oddly, I wasn't looking forward to it because I knew I wouldn't be drinking my large glass of red wine. Instead I ordered a bottle of sparkling mineral water and found myself sitting there purely to go through the motions of eating, as if it didn't really matter where I ate out as long as I was, in a sense, refuelling my body because that's all I was doing. I wasn't enjoying the experience, I might as well have been in a coffee shop or a caff with a big mug of tea. In other words, not drinking changes the eating out dynamic considerably, almost to the point of there being no point. In many ways it's quite depressing because it takes away the enjoyment.

I am being extremely puritanical at the moment. Not only am I not drinking, I've also stopped caffeine, preferring decaffeinated everything and drinking a lot of peppermint tea when I visit a coffee shop like Starbucks or Costa. The problem here is that I compensate by eating cake (I have to have some vice) and now I'm thinking: perhaps I ought to give up cake too, and biscuits and bread, all of which I've stepped up a little over the past six months. In fact, even visiting a coffee shop is becoming a little boring and would become more so if I stopped eating cake, so I appear to be cutting off all avenues of fun and enjoyment in life. I'm now viewing things through a different lense, looking down (slightly) on those with a drink in their hands and longing for the solitude of my hotel room where I can write or watch television or just go to sleep, hit the sack early and feel refreshed in the morning.

The thing is, though, I don't want to go back to drinking. I've started to imagine how I'd feel if, for example, I'd ordered a glass of red wine in Da Bruno the other night: I would feel so disappointed in myself and I'd hate the notion that I had gone back six months and would have to revisit Day One again and wouldn't be in the position I am now until late October.

I'm also avoiding certain people and specific scenarios where I might be pressurised into having a drink – "Go on, a half won't hurt you!" – or simply avoiding people because I know they'll give me a hard time. Not that I'd crumble. I've already been in such scenarios and have been adamant that I'm not touching a drop, but there's always a lot of explaining to do and a real need to explain too, as if the act of announcing that I'm not drinking is not enough and has to be backed up with solid reasons in order to regain the acceptance of those who fully expect me to 'have a few beers'.

"What you drinking?"
"Nothing, I thought I'd lay off for a while."
"Not drinking? You? Bloody hell, what's the matter?"
"Nothing, just thought I'd give it a rest."
"How about a half?"
"No, thanks, just a no-alcohol beer will do."
"Go on, have a half, won't do you any harm."
"It's not that, I just don't want to drink."
"Well how about something different, a whisky, gin?"
"No, really, I'll just have a no-alcohol beer."
"I can't believe this; I never thought I'd see the day, my old mate not drinking."
"It's not forever."
"You're getting old, that's what it is, the slippery slope."
"Age has nothing to do with it, I just want to lay off for a while."
"You're getting boring in your old age."
"Fuck off!"
"No, seriously, you're getting old."
"Aren't we all."
"Yes, but why give up drinking? Come on just a half."
"No seriously, I'll have a no-alcohol beer."
"Gaylord."

The thing is, people don't accept it and I guess I've got to accept that fact, I'll be crossed off their Christmas card list and not invited to future events because I'm no longer 'one of them'. Some people say that's fine and at least you know who your true friends are, and yes, that's true, but 'not drinking' is viewed with suspicion. People don't want non-drinkers around them, remembering everything they do and say while under the influence and adopting a stance of superiority over them as if to say "silly idiot, one day you'll learn".

For now, though, I'm sticking with not drinking because I feel good and I feel free. I can drive a car when I want to, I sleep better at night, I don't wake up feeling weary and I certainly don't make a fool of myself in public and then worry about what I might have said or done. All round, the benefits outweigh the downsides.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

I take a shower and worry that I might be part of some warped magic trick...

The bathroom in my hotel room is small. There is definitely not much room to swing a cat so I'm glad I didn't bring Tibbles with me – he doesn't like it when I grab his tail and take him for a spin.

It's a pretty standard bathroom in all but one respect: the shower curtain is bright red and it put me on guard as I stripped off and stood there having already been frightened by the magnified mirror that brought me up close and personal with myself. Nothing worse, especially when a shave is required. Now, however, there's a bigger threat, the shower cubicle.

I stepped in half expecting Debbie McGee to pull the shower curtain across for me, but there was nobody there but me so I had to do it myself. It was a pleasant shower, until I realised that the water wasn't escaping down a plug hole but slowly filling up on the verge of overspilling on to the bathroom floor. The last time that happened was in a posh hotel in the South of France, Cannes to be precise, and I had to use all the towels in the room to soak up the water.

It's brighter than it looks...
After a good old sprinkling of hot water and liberal splashings of shower gel, I prepared myself for the moment when I drew back the curtain and returned to the room. I turned off the shower, turned to face the curtain and hoped and prayed there wouldn't be an audience of women seated cross-legged outside awaiting my appearance. Fortunately I was alone as I searched for a towel to dry myself.

But then a horrendous thought: what if my room is the only one with a red shower curtain? What if all occupants of room 109 past and present are unknowingly part of some lewd cabaret act for the other guests? Perhaps they're all downstairs now watching on a flatscreen television fixed to the wall in the breakfast room as I exit the shower and faff around looking for a towel. I'd soon find out as my next stop was the breakfast room. I just hope nobody smirks as I walk in; if they do then I'll know the awful truth.

The breakfast room is on the ground floor and when I enter nobody says a word, nobody smiles. I'm in the clear. Or am I? Perhaps that's the deal. Perhaps the general manager briefs all the spectators not to give the game away when I come down for breakfast. I scrutinise the Japanese girl sitting diagonally across from me for any signs of mirth, but she's a true professional, probably a veteran of the hotel's shower room scam. She won't break that easily, I think, as I find and self-consciously serve myself some Sugar Puffs and brew up a peppermint tea.

"Room number?" says one of the hotel's breakfast room staff. Room number! As if she doesn't know! Perhaps that is the cue for when the other guests can let go and guffaw loud and heartily at my misfortune for quite literally being the butt of the joke. But there is no reaction. I continue with my breakfast; I gently sip the peppermint tea, I find some scrambled egg, make myself another peppermint tea, play with my iphone and then it is time to go. They really have only one more chance to let rip as I leave the room. But no, I hear nothing and conclude that the whole sordid affair is nothing more than a figment of my own warped imagination.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

In Dusseldorf – once again...

There were problems and they could have upset the applecart. First, I could have missed my flight thanks to my lolling about at home, basking in time I didn't really have. It was a bit like Aviles, Spain, when I was staring at my air ticket for days without realising I'd got it all wrong. I won't bore you with the details, but the problems I encountered – which were all of my own making – are alluded to in previous posts.

So the same thing is happening. I'm upstairs, I'd even considered a haircut, but then I check my air ticket and realise I'm cutting it more than fine on getting to the airport on time. So I call my cab company and pay over the telephone using my credit card. Within five minutes a cab arrives and I'm heading to Terminal Five, Heathrow at double quick speed. And when I got there they hadn't even displayed the gate. I used the Fast Track access to security (I asked nicely, told her my dilemma, that I was running late) and soon I was flight side with a few minutes to spare before the gate was displayed, gate A17.

The view from seat 10F...
I got on the plane, took my seat (10F, the exit row, so loads more legroom than usual) and then it was just a matter of waiting for the plane to be pushed back from the jetty and off we go; except that the machine used to push the plane was a little too heavy-handed. I noticed it, but nobody else seeemed to, the judder, and soon the captain was on the intercom telling us that the plane had been jolted a little too hard and there was damage to the nose of the aircraft. With our safety in mind he decided that the plane needed to be worked on in the hangar so he found us another plane and we headed for Dusseldorf around 1730hrs – not the scheduled 1510hrs. It was fine as it gave me a chance to eat something (ciabatta with pesto and mozzarella, a cup of tea and a cookie). It also meant that I didn't spend any money on the plane. Instead I flicked through the High Life magazine, read John Simpson's column (which was on the fall of the Berlin Wall) and then skimmed through Business Life, the Shop magazine and the M&S food menu.

The flight took around 55 minutes, I sailed through passport control, took the train to the centre of town having first used the Sky Train to the airport's railway station, and then walked from Dusseldorf Hbf to the Wyndham Garden, which is alright. I nipped out for something to eat and after wandering the streets in the dark for about 15-20 minutes decided that Sofra Gastronomietetriebe on Graf-Adolf-Strasse would be alright: it was. Nothing to write home about, but just fitted the bill. I ordered Piccata di Pollo and a couple of Becks Blue (no alcohol beer) and then finished off Renegade: the lives and tales of Mark E. Smith. A great book and a truly great bloke.

The internet was down in the restaurant so I had to pay with cash (EUR22.10) which was fairly reasonable. Just as well I drew some out at the airport! I couldn't face a dessert so I left the restaurant and walked the short walk back to the hotel from where I write this blog post.

On the way back to the hotel I noticed that this weekend (29th April) is the Dusseldorf Marathon. There was a sign saying as much strapped to a pole.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Hot weather, just like a midsummer's day...

On Friday last week my senses kicked in again after almost a week of simply not existing at all. Not all my senses: I could still see and hear and feel things, but my sense of taste and smell had left the building and there's nothing worse than not being able to taste what you're eating. But as I was walking to work, the sun shining, the skies blue, my lost senses returned and I felt that I could smell everything: the flowers, the air, the whole lot. It was a great feeling as I wasn't feeling good at all last week and had to leave the bike in the garage – not this weekend.

Summer had arrived early...
The added bonus, of course, was the weather. It was perfect. On Saturday we rode the long way to the Tatsfield bus stop and on Sunday we headed for Westerham. Both rides were perfect in every respect. The slow run to the bus stop was good because it enabled us to chat about this and that as we made our way along Beddlestead Lane and you know what? I think there's some kind of secret bunker towards the end of it, on the left hand side. It has slide-back heavy-duty metal doors that presumably would be pushed back to reveal steps leading down.

Andy's tee-shirt...
At the bus stop we both discovered that we were wearing tee-shirts with silly slogans so a couple of photographs followed and then, having sipped tea and munched BelVita biscuits, we headed back along Clarks Lane and then the 269, eventually parting on Warlingham Green.

My tee-shirt...
Sunday it was Westerham. We'd decided to take tea and biscuits with us rather than sit in the Tudor Rose, which wasn't open when we arrived, but showed signs of life around 0820hrs (a young girl and an older woman arrived and set up the tables and chairs outside).

Vintage BSA motorcycle...
But we were too busy chatting to a white-haired man in a Belstaff jacket, the proud owner of a BSA motorcycle and side car that he'd owned since the late 80s. He was on his way to a café near Brands Hatch but had stopped off for a coffee at Costa and noticed us admiring his bike. Andy had already taken photographs, one of which accompanies this post. The man talked about how he acquired the bike, its history and so forth, claiming that Gloria Hunniford and Sir Cliff Richard had both been photographed on the bike. He'd even had Father Christmas sitting in the side car, he said. "He'd come all the way from Lapland, the cunt."

He asked us about our ride and we told him we started in Croydon and that it was a 22-mile round trip. We said we'd be riding home soon because we had stuff to do, giving the man a chance to moan about women. "They always want you doing something," he said, adding that it was not a problem he suffered from, which we took to mean he was a single man, probably a divorced man, I thought, but he was a nice enough bloke, somebody that might be described (by a woman) as a lovable rogue, perhaps, a bit of a cheeky chappy.

In truth he delayed us for about 20 minutes from sitting down and drinking our tea, which was waiting in my rucksack – the flask of hot water, the milk and the teabags – and Andy had our biscuits in his along with a few innertubes. Eventually he hopped on the bike, kick-started it a couple of times and then rolled off along the A25 towards Brasted. He was heading first for Eynsford and then on to Brands Hatch before riding back to Brockley where, no doubt, he would leave the bike and head for the pub.

We sat on the green, watching various classic cars and motorcycles rumble past and eventually we packed up, jumped on the bikes and headed up the hill towards Botley. Andy said goodbye at the Ridge because we were running late so I rode the 269 alone and didn't stop when I reached Warlingham Green. I reached home at gone 1030hrs.