Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Mooching around Brussels or "?ooching qround Brussels"

I have just returned from dinner. It took me a long while to work out where to dine as there was plenty of choice between Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Spanish and just plain pub grub, but with the added benefit of Belgian beer. After circling round a few times I settled on Spago on the Rue Du Pont de la Carpe, Karperbrugstraat 13. There were candles on the table and a generally relaxed vibe and I wanted something simple that was not going to keep me up all night.

Fortunately, I had the latest issue of Private Eye to keep me company as there is nothing worse than dining alone unless I have something to read or a smart phone to play with. I was asked if I wanted to sit at the bar and of course I did not so they directed me to a table in the corner by the window. I opted for the seat facing into the restaurant, rather than stare at my reflection all night, and when the menu arrived I perused it and then chose Parma ham with melon followed by fillet of salmon.

Whenever I order Parma ham and melon I am always taken aback by the amount of ham they pile on the plate, but I always manage to eat it. Odd that I can eat Parma ham with melon but gag at the thought of pineapple on pizza.  The main course was wonderful, served on a rectangular white plate and accompanied by boiled potatoes, artichoke and baby vine tomatoes. I asked for a Merlot but the waiter just about understood "red wine" and I was too tired to take the conversation any further.

All was good but the service was a little slow when it came to ordering dessert, so I simply did not bother and asked for the bill instead.

I wandered around for a bit afterwards and considered two things: a Belgian beer in one of the many bars close to the hotel; and secondly, a haircut in one of the many barbers that are open late here in Brussels. In the end I did neither and instead returned to the hotel to try and work out how to the type the "at" symbol in order to access this blog. After about half an hour of getting steadily more frustrated, just like last night, I managed to copy an "at" sign, so here I am having great difficulty writing on what I have just learned is known as an "azerty" keyboard. Trust me, it is really infuriating.

And now, having reached the end of this post I've found the apostrophe key, but I'm not going to go through the post changing the text, I'm going to leave everything in place to remind myself of the irritation. To type a full point, for example, I have to use the shift key.

Allow me to give you another example of this ridiculous keyboard. Here goes:

?y nq,e is ?qtthez ?oggridge qnd Iù, the quthor of NoVisibleLycrq; itùs q blog qll qbout cycling ,qinly; but zith q bit of trqvel stuff throzn in for good ,eqsure: Iù, auite obsessed zith ,y blog so i,qgine hoz qnnoyed I zqs zhen I discovered thqt I hqd left ,y lqp top chqrger behind qnd hqd to rely; like noz; on zhqt is knozn qs q "azerty" keyboqrd: Still; I ,qnqged to zork out hoz to type qn "qt" sy,bol; qlthough the reqlity is thqt I copied qn "qt" sy,bol: I still hqvenùt zorked out hoz to type one: Zell; I better sign off qnd hit the sqck; not thqt I need to qs I donùt hqve qn eqrly stqrt: Iùve got to check out qnd heqd for ho,e:

See if you can work it out: Goodnight:

Postscript: On the morning of my last day I was told that to type the @ sign (as I just did) I need to depress control plus alt plus zero. You live and learn. But all the other keyboard hassles remain (see above).

Still in Brussels...

I was moaning about the hotel in the last post and the fact that the computer keyboards are different here in Belgium than they are in the UK: the A key is where the Q should be and the M is where the L can be found and so on. It makes life very difficult. Let me try and give you an example:

"Noz is the ti,e for qll good ,en to co,e to the qid of the pqrty:"

That should read: "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party." But I am getting used to it, although I cannot find the apostrophe key so I have to write out the word "cannot" instead and I have to write "I am" rather than the abbreviated form. It is not a major problem and the more I use this keyboard, the easier it becomes.

There is little more to say; I am used to the hotel, where the breakfast is good and the bathroom works fine, not to mention the television, which has both BBC1 and BBC2, so I cannot complain of being out of touch. Getting back to breakfast, I have made a point of having CoCo Pops everyday along with a cup of coffee. Not tea? No, because the cups are too small, which is a little annoying. I have enjoyed fresh fruit daily; yesterday I enjoyed melon and pineapple and today it was orange.Today I had a croissant too and a banana.

The hotel is a little on the noisy side. I am not sure why, but I think it has a lot to do with the acoustics of the building. Everything makes a noise louder than normal; unless it is down to the fact that my ears were recently sorted out at the surgery (I cannot use the word "doctor" in the possessive as I cannot work out how to type an apostrophe) . There is a noisy bastard in Room 108 across the hall. He is quite happy to be half dressed and have the door open as I pass and  quite happy to speak loudly with his partner or girlfriend or wife, who knows? But outside of plain noisy sons of bitches, it seems that everything makes much more noise than you might expect and by and large it goes on through the night: Somebody dragging a suitcase to his or her room seems to make one helluva noise and I can hear doors closing and children wailing and the sound of laughter; and you know what? I kind of enjoy it; there is something very friendly about this place and if, like me, you find yourself alone in a hotel room, sometimes the noise of other guests can be comforting.

I have walked everywhere and avoided taking taxis, which is a good thing. It is roughly 25 minutes to walk from where I am now to my hotel and then another 25 minutes back to Brussels railway station where I catch the train to London. Tonight I am alone, which is good. I will take an early dinner somewhere followed by a walk around and then, finally, I will stroll back to the hotel and hit the sack.

It is nearly 1500hrs and I really ought to be moving away from business centre and start to formalise some sort of plan for later:

Sunday, 15 October 2017

In Brussels and not happy...

I walked from the central station having jumped off the 1258hrs Eurostar from London St Pancras International. I'd had a ham roll and a glass of Merlot from the restaurant beyond passport control and the ride was pretty smooth; it only takes a couple of hours.

Once in Brussels I walked from the station to my hotel (the Catalonia, about 25 minutes) and then, after checking in (room 107), I walked all the way to Avenue Louise, another 25 minutes, but I kept getting lost, thanks to the iphone's ridiculous navigation system. I walked around in circles at least a dozen times before the phone ran out of power and I just took a guess. Fortunately, my guesswork was pretty good and I found the Grand Sablon Hotel, where I'd stayed once before, and asked for directions. They've refurbished the place and it looks totally different, but I didn't have time to yabber with the receptionist, I had a cocktail reception to attend although, oddly, you never get cocktails at cocktail receptions. There was wine and beer and Champagne (or something like Champagne) plus a few 'nibbles' and while I was there I said my hellos to various people.

Room 107, Catalonia Hotel, Brussels
It took me half an hour to get back to where my hotel was located and en route I mooched around trying to find somewhere decent to eat. I settled on a Cuban restaurant, the only one in Brussels, apparently, and while I tried to relax, I couldn't. I ordered a Jupiler beer and a chicken dish with rice and while it was alright, I wasn't completely happy and I was definitely not relaxed.

Meal over I walked back to the hotel where there's some sort of curfew around 2130hrs, but, I was told, there's always somebody on reception and there's a doorbell so I'm not going to be left out in the cold.

Having left my charger at home, my laptop, on which I'm typing now only has so much time before it simply switches itself off. I'm expecting it to happen any second now as a new battery is needed. But until that moment, I'll keep on typing. Downstairs there's a business centre, but all the keys are different so it was impossible to work out which combination of keys (control + this + that) would give the @ sign. I started to get frustrated and banged the keyboard, the whole thing froze so I evacuated the area and headed for my room and here I am typing away, while I can.

The conference starts tomorrow and I'm here until Wednesday. Generally I'm not in a good place: I'm uptight, angry, annoyed, unhappy, depressed, you name it and little things are starting to annoy me, like business centre computers with stupid keyboards and hotels that close up shop at 2130hrs and charge extra for breakfast. Everything is annoying me and I know for a fact that I won't sleep well as I've had a couple of glasses of wine at the reception and a small beer in the restaurant, all in the name of trying to calm down, trying to be relaxed. The last time I travelled – to Vienna – I was totally relaxed, but then I'd been cycling every day and I felt good about life. Not so today. I need a haircut too. In fact I'm looking a mess generally, which adds to my general anger. I need  a decent suit, some shirts and a new pair of shoes. But recent over-spending has left me short of cash so I have to look like a tramp, with my straggly hair. I've noticed, however, that barbers are open late in this neck of the woods. So perhaps I'll have a haircut tomorrow when the conference is over, except that there's a dinner so it'll have to wait until Wednesday morning.

The view from Room 107's window...
The hotel's alright, but it's not brilliant. Breakfast tomorrow morning will be the big decider, but I'm not holding out for much. But there are plus points: proper coat hangers and a minibar means the hotel trusts its guests, there's a safe, which took me a few minutes to work out how set the code, but it's working now and everything seems alright. I'm on the first floor and the hotel room is very beige. There's laminated 'wood' floors and I have to put the keycard into a slot in the wall to make the lights work. There's a big widescreen TV over the desk facing the bed, a mirror to the left of the television and a reasonable-looking bathroom, but the vibe in my head is bad, I'm not relaxed, I've got a long day ahead of me tomorrow.

There is a bike share scheme, but, as always, it's complicated. I might try and work out how to use it, but in all honesty, I'm not here that long, I won't have time tomorrow morning and after that there's not much point, although I'm planning to at least try to cycle to work once or twice a week.

I better post this before the computer runs out of power.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Cheers, ears! Back on the bike, but aborted Sunday

There's been a fair amount of discussion lately about the inevitability of life getting in the way of cycling; one day it's me aborting, the next it's Andy, and when I look back over the past month, there's not been a great deal of riding. Last week I found myself in Winchester, the week before I was in Scotland and I was as deaf as a post (see previous post).

On Friday I went to the doctor's to sort my ears out once and for all and, during the process, there was a fantastic moment when, all of a sudden, I could hear again. Suddenly I could hear the whirr of machinery (the surgery's heating system, perhaps, I'm not sure), then, on returning home the noises of the house, absent for two or three months, had returned. Every creak, every knock, startled me and then a strange scratching, which turned out to be a magpie on the sill of the landing window. It was as if my life had suddenly acquired Dolby Surround Sound.

Andy and the bikes at the Tatsfield Bus Stop
I was looking forward to Saturday's ride and while the weather was cloudy and overcast and there was a fine rain that didn't really affect anything, it was good to be riding along the Limpsfield Road en route to the green to meet Andy. Having not been on the bike for a good fortnight, riding up Church Way proved more of an effort than usual, but soon the green (and Andy) appeared and we decided to ride 'the slow way' to the Tatsfield Bus Stop.

Andy had been cultivating a scraggly-looking beard and I started to wonder whether he fancied himself as a hipster, but no, he told me, it would be coming off over the weekend – there had been complaints. I certainly didn't envy him the task of removing it, there's nothing worse than shaving after a day or two, let alone a few weeks. Rather him than me, I thought.

We wove our way around the country lanes towards Beddlestead Lane, that interminable climb towards Clarks Lane, and then hung a left and sailed towards the bus stop where the tea and BelVita's were produced. Andy had forgotten his cup.

The plan was to ride today, Sunday, and I've been kicking myself for aborting early this morning. I didn't get a good night's sleep, waking here and there throughout the night, and by 0500hrs (or thereabouts) I figured it best to abort. Now, looking outside at 0825hrs, the sun is shining and the sky is blue and I can't say I'm happy about the situation. Another missed opportunity.

At the bus stop yesterday, we discussed not cycling and worked out that the colder months of the year were to blame for most 'abort' texts. I randomly looked at the month of January 2013 on my iPhone (oddly there was a clear signal, there isn't normally). I accessed the mobile phone version of the blog and found that, apart from one ride on New Year's Day, by yours truly, we didn't cycle together that month until 26th January, almost an entire month without riding. Why? A mixture of reasons: travelling, holidays, heavy snow, you name it.

Apart from walking, cycling is my only form of exercise and I really need to ensure that I ride at least twice a week (Saturday and Sunday). I should really try and get one in during the week too, possibly a mid-week ride to work or even a "Botley before work? What a burk!" So watch this space. I often think about taking the bike into work by train and cycling home.

The bad months for riding are usually January and February. The run-up to Christmas is usually fairly mild, characterised by days like today, which are clear and crisp and full of blue skies and sunshine, even in December.

Here's to next week.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

As deaf as a post...

Sunday 1st October: For many weeks now I've had trouble hearing. It happens now and then. Let's say at least the last two months, if not longer. It normally clears within a few minutes of getting out of bed, but when I'm lying down I can't hear a thing. I doubt if I'd hear the alarm go off and this was proved correct a few minutes ago; last night I'd set my alarm for 0630hrs and when it went off, it went unnoticed by yours truly until I walked into the kitchen, about 15 minutes later, to notice my phone flashing. 'Tap to snooze' it said, but that would mean not hearing it again in around eight minutes so I slid my forefinger across the screen, tapped out my passcode and cut off the alarm.

Last week I finally admitted defeat. I made an appointment at the doctor's surgery and was told what I already knew, that both ears were totally 'occluded'. I think that's the word she used. I informed her that I'd been regularly putting olive oil into both ears and she told me to come back next Friday to sort it out. NEXT FRIDAY!!!! They don't have the old syringes they used to; these days it's a small electronic device that beavers away until hearing is restored. I can't wait. The last time I had it done was in 2011 and while, since then, there has been one incident, the olive oil drops did the trick. Not this time.

This morning I was awake around 0400hrs and there's nothing worse than lying in bed being unable to hear, but I managed it until around 0523hrs when I had to get up. But this time it didn't clear. In fact, as I write this at 0713hrs I can't even hear my fingers on the keyboard of the lap top, I keep tapping on the wooden dining room table to assess how bad things are and I can only say that things are really bad. Earlier I considered aborting the ride as I'm guessing it's fairly dangerous riding without being able to hear what's coming up behind me. For a long while I ignored the idea, but then I realised the awful truth: I'd have to abort. Just before 0700hrs I sent Andy a text and then I looked out on the back garden, hoping that it was raining so I could say to myself something along the lines of "well, it was raining anyway", but while it was a little breezy, judging by the swaying trees and shrubs, the bird bath was still, although it had clearly been raining overnight.

As we race towards the year end, the weather is closing in. When I wake up – normally around 0600hrs – it's now dark and I have to switch a light on. There's a bite in the air too and, of course, there's rain, not every day, but it's there, along with grey cloud. It rained overnight for sure and the ground is wet, similar conditions to around a year ago when Andy and I rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, me on my brand new Specialized Crosstrail Sport. I took the corner too fast and came off the bike. Not good. I hobbled around for weeks afterwards, but I'm fine now.

Fine, but I'm as deaf as a post and I haven't been on the bike for a fortnight. Here's to next week!

Monday, 18 September 2017

Mark Beaumont breaks round-the-world cycling record

Mark Beaumont
Mark Beaumont, an endurance cyclist, has broken the round-the-world cycling record.

Mark cycled 18,000 miles around the world in 78 days and 14 hours. "It's going to take a couple of weeks for me to decompress and come back to reality," he said on his return to Paris where he started.

Beaumont averaged 240 miles per day and cut the current world record by a third.

For more on this story, click here.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

To Woodmansterne Green (twice) to see Bon...

Saturday 16th September: I haven't been on the bike for a couple of weeks, but I distinctly remember Andy saying of his ride last Saturday that there was a definite bite to the air. We're entering that great but deceptive period of bright blue skies and sunshine but unexpectedly cold (or cool) weather. This morning I felt it myself. Initially I thought I'd just wear a tee-shirt as it was bound to be warm, but my decision to wear the scruffy-looking blue hoody, the one with the paint stain, proved to be right. It was a little chilly and the cold air went straight through me as I headed south on West Hill and turned right on to the B269 heading towards Purley. Close to Sanderstead railway station I hung a left and weaved my way over to the Purley Downs and up towards Pampisford Road

Woodmansterne Green, always a pleasant place to be (in decent weather)
It was later than usual (just gone 0730hrs) and the plan was to ride through Purley, along Foxley Lane and onwards to Woodmansterne Green where I would met Bon. He had just arrived as I pedalled the last 50 yards or so to the Green and once parked up, out came the tea, but no BelVita biscuits. I should have bought some from the newsagent's, but didn't want to use a credit or debit card for a packet of Digestives. Tea alone was fine.

As always our conversation was wide and varied and tinged with good humour, and at one stage we got on to the subject of humiliation and news that a man had been fined for taking photographs up women's skirts using his mobile phone. I said to Bon that if that was me I'd probably move to a crofter's cottage in a remote part of Scotland and never darken anybody's doorstep ever again and he felt the same way.

Before cycling became the weekend sporting activity, Bon and I used to swim on Saturday and Sunday mornings at Cheam swimming baths on the Malden Road, often known as the Malden Road pool. It was an old-fashioned pool with separate male and female changing, a 9ft deep end and we had to swim 27 lengths for half a mile and 54 for the mile. We'd be in the water around 0800hrs and out before the clock hit 0830hrs and then after a Mars Bar and a cup of vending machine tea in a paper cup we'd make our way to the car park where we would chew the fat about this and that before heading home.

Swimming is a great sport as it makes you feel so good afterwards. I used to enjoy the hot shower and that lovely clean feeling I'd feel all day. We swam twice a week, sometimes three, and often we'd throw in a one-miler just to test ourselves. I should really start it up again, but in all honesty cycling has taken over big time and I'd have to fit it in later in the day or during the week. There's something about a swimming pool.

We spoke about jobs and pensions and old times back at the family home and then, after drinking two cups of tea each we decided it was time to head home.

My route was straightforward following an off-road track a short distance and then the path to the mini roundabout at the top of Wallington, across into Foxley Lane, along Pampisford and then cutting through the side streets and emerging close to Sanderstead railway station. My last climb was the south face of West Hill, but it's much easier than it sounds if you get your head down and concentrate on the tarmac in front you.

Sunday 17th September: It was dull and overcast this morning and much colder than yesterday. I followed the same route to the same place and met the same person, Bon. There was a charity cycle ride to Brighton that passed by Woodmansterne Green before dipping down towards the Midday Sun and the horror of How Lane (I know, I've done it). Judging by the numbers on the front of the bikes I saw, there were at least 5,000 plus riders.

London to Brighton cyclists heading for How Lane (the horror! the horror!)
Bon and I drank tea (Lipton's Yellow Label) and chatted about a range of subjects, just like yesterday, and then we headed home, me in one direction, Bon in the other. I reached home around 1000hrs having tackled the south face of West Hill.

The bike needs a clean and an oiling. It's nearly been one whole year without a puncture or needing to pump up the tyres.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

September and the depressing reality that summer has left the building...

Monday 11 September: Arriving back in the UK after a sunny week away in Sardinia and there's definitely a bite in the air, which means winter is approaching. When I made my way downstairs around 0600hrs yesterday morning – the plan originally was to go riding on Sunday morning, but I aborted the night before – it was almost dark outside. I considered putting on the kitchen light, but that would have been too depressing.

Cloudy skies and closer-to-home destinations...
The weather improved as the day progressed and soon there were blue skies and sunshine, but later in the day the weather deteriorated and it started to rain, although it was still one of those situations when I wished I hadn't aborted. Andy went out and said it was very pleasant even if it was a little bit 'parky' first thing.

It's coming round to NVL's time of year, characterised by cloudy weather and potential rain, sitting at the Tatsfield Bus Stop with tea and BelVita biscuits contemplating the ride home and, of course, donning the gloves and the extra layer of clothing. We're approaching that time of year when it's easy to be caught out: wearing just a tee-shirt when a warmer jumper would have been advisable, packing the waterproof trousers in case of rain and riding closer to home to destinations offering shelter from the storm. Shelter means just one thing: the Tatsfield Bus Stop. Westerham becomes a risky bridge too far and anything else is off the agenda until the spring. Not that we get really bad weather in the run-up to Christmas. There! I said it! Christmas! Soon people will be counting the days, the shopping days, and the kids are already 'back to skool'. Shop window displays will feature mini blackboards and yes, it's all very, very depressing. Even more so when you remember that Strictly Come Dancing is back on the box and that's a countdown of sorts to the festive season and the false bonhomie of the New Year celebrations.

Weather permitting I'll be back in the saddle next weekend.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Rogue sub-editor incurs wrath of the PC brigade!

Cycling Weekly found itself in deep water after a picture caption reading 'token attractive woman' appeared in the magazine next to a photograph of a female cyclist.

For more, click here.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Lycra looks rubbish on anybody over 8st – my sentiments exactly, Sir Chris!

Sir Chris Hoy with medals...

Can't believe that Sir Chris Hoy is being hounded by the political correctness brigade over his remarks about Lycra. The thing is, he's right: that's why this blog is called NoVisibleLycra, it's also why we constantly refer to those who don the Lycra and go out cycling as 'Lycra Monkeys'. Put it this way, you wouldn't catch me wearing it. Body shaming? My arse!

But what irks me most is that Hoy felt he had to apologise for his remarks.

Click here for the full story.