Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop and then onwards – to Westerham...

Strange dreams last night, but nothing to do with the weekend's cycling. I was in a foreign country, possibly North Korea. Many people were swimming in a large bay, but there was something wrong with the water: it looked more like the chlorinated water found in a municipal swimming baths. It didn't matter, though, I jumped in and had a swim, it was fine and much needed. Then I found myself in what must have been a ruined or bombed-out building. There were children climbing down from a precarious piece of brickwork. Suddenly, all was gone and I was in my old bedroom at the family home in Sutton. Work colleagues were there, two of them, one male, one female. I was peering into my wardrobe where there was a lot of graffiti, and there was a feeling that somebody else had once occupied the bedroom, somebody who was a bit of a character, a lovable rogue even. It certainly wasn't me. The wall on which the graffiti was written was in a bad state: peeling wallpaper, and I was looking into the space, which, for some reason, had a small, lead-paned window and I began to wonder whether it could have been transformed into a small room. I turned to my colleagues and said I could do with some paint stripper and then, of course, I woke up. It was 0523hrs and daylight was seeping through the patterned curtains.
Westerham green, Sunday 10th June 2018
Having returned late from Poland on Friday night, I enjoyed a lie-in on Saturday morning, but was ready to rock on Sunday. Andy was tired and suggested the slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop. The slow way is ideal if we want to chat as we ride along, so off we went, turning left at the roundabout beyond Warlingham Sainsbury's, chatting about the global steel industry and Donald Trump. Trump features a lot in many people's conversations these days. In fact, as I write this (later than normal – I've got a bit of catching up to do) Trump has met with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, in Singapore – history in the making.
Westerham green, Sunday 10th June 2018
When we reached the bus stop, we did what we always do: sit and chat while drinking tea and munching biscuits, although I didn't bother with the biscuits so Andy ate mine. I'm addicted to biscuits and I'm trying to kick the habit, but it's hard. It was 0917hrs when I looked at my watch. It was later than we thought so Andy said he'd be heading back via The Ridge, which is just short of Botley Hill. I decided to push on to Westerham alone and rode leisurely down the hill into Kent.

We had no more tea so I could have visited the Tudor Rose, but I didn't have a padlock for the bike so instead I sat on the green, watching classic cars roar past on the A25. There was a group of bikers to my right and they were all kitted out head to foot in leathers. At one stage a team photograph was suggested and they all marched over to Churchill's statue where a cyclist sitting on the grass agreed to take the shot. The bikers marched back to their bikes and roared off along the A25 heading east. I sat there for around 15 minutes and then hit the road, not looking forward to the slow climb up the hill.

The off-road track along the B269...
On the 269 I used the off-road path, which proved annoying as I was constantly ringing my bell to alert joggers or give way to oncoming cyclists, but soon I reached Warlingham Sainsbury's and rejoined the road, riding round the green and along the Limpsfield Road into Sanderstead and then free-wheeling down Church Way towards home.

The weather was amazing – another hot weekend – and I spent most of it in the garden tidying up the edges and drinking tea. Andy's not riding next week so it's down to me to motivate myself. I'll probably ride to mum's on Saturday and possibly Sunday too.

Monday, 11 June 2018

In Warsaw...

I took an early flight out of London Heathrow Terminal 3 to Warsaw. A reasonably pleasant flight, albeit a bit cloudy, although, that said, the cloud was covering the UK only, it seemed. Within minutes of take-off we broke through the clouds and there were blue skies and sunshine above, as always. It's amazing when you think about it, that a lot of the time there's just a thin layer of cloud between the English and the sunshine and we're all below it moaning. I must admit, having spent four days in Warsaw, where temperatures hit 28 degrees and there was little in the way of cloud, that I started to feel very depressed as the plane slowly descended into the murk where Theresa May and the fucking awful Conservative party ruled the cuntry and police cuts mean there's now been 74 knife murders in the capital.
In plane, on tarmac, Heathrow T3, 5th June

Warsaw was a wonderful place. A peaceful, calm city bathed in sunshine and no sense of threat on the streets. People were happy.

Two minutes out of Heathrow T3... blue skies!
The ride from the airport to my hotel, the Sheraton Warsaw, was fairly short and I spent the next two days working and not really seeing a great deal of the city. I wandered with colleagues to the Buddha Indian restaurant, about a ten-minute walk from the hotel, and on day two wandered a little further down the street to Kaiser, a restaurant I discovered on my last visit, which was roughly one year ago.

About to land in Warsaw, Poland...
On Thursday night, with all the work completed I wandered a little further down the street, to the main square at the bottom where we found a kind of hybrid restaurant offering Italian food mainly, but also dishes like wild boar stroganoff, which was alright, but I wished I'd ordered a pizza instead. I'm still off the alcohol: eight months on 28 June, not that I'm counting. I'm really not. I don't think I'll drink alcohol again to be honest. The trouble with not drinking, of course, is that you're always explaining yourself. People think you're not drinking because you're an alcoholic – that's what they want to think, that's what they hope is true, because in the UK people like one upmanship, they like to think they're better than you.

View from room 542, Sheraton Warsaw hotel
Refurbished hotel rooms...
The hotel had given us refurbished rooms. I remember last year they were in the process of refurbishment. Well, now the rooms have been done, they've made a start at any rate, and I had room 542, which was huge. There was a massive double bed (I reckon it would sleep at least half a dozen people comfortably). The bathroom was fantastic: the shower had two showerheads, one attached to the wall and the other detachable. It was possible to switch from one to the other. Unlike in American hotels, where the bathtubs are shallow and easy to step into, here at the Sheraton Warsaw they're higher and, therefore, the job of getting into and out of the tub is a little precarious – and those hard marble edges are not very forgiving, I thought to myself as I clambered in and out of the shower.
Throughout my stay I never watched television, but there was a decent flat screen in front of the bed and over a minibar, which was fully stocked. I had a chunky KitKat but that was it. A fully stocked minibar, as we all know, is a sign that the hotel trusts its guests. Similarly, there were proper coathangers – another sign that the hotel trusts its guests.

Room 542, Sheraton Warsaw Hotel
Friend of the stars!
Last year we shared the hotel with Damon Albarn and Gorillaz, and spotted Mr Albarn sitting outside a Polish restaurant with some members of his band. This year, the hotel played host to the President of Germany. There was something big going on politically. Whenever we were out in the streets there were motorcades whizzing past with noisy police escorts.

Large double bed in room 582 Sheraton Warsaw
The best day of all was Friday (8th June) when we had a free (ish) day. The flight didn't take off until 1825hrs so we didn't need to be at the airport until 1625. Consequently, we moseyed around town in the 28 degree heat, stopping for tea and then lunch and then moseying back to the hotel to await a taxi.
One of many impressive buildings in Warsaw
The flight back was smooth and I stared out of the window as Poland slowly disappeared from view and I was left with nothing but a blue summer haze. As we approached the UK the cloud built up and we seemed to be circling over London for some time before the plane descended through the clouds and landed.
More impressive buildings in Warsaw...
Racist cab driver...
My journey back home from Heathrow wasn't too pleasant. My taxi driver was an out and out racist who kept referring to London Mayor Siddiq Khan as 'that muslim piece of shit' or 'that muslim piece of stool'. For him, Khan was the root of all evil and he relied, as many racists do, on the story that Khan was the son of a bus driver. That fact, he said, was Khan's only reason for being British. I've never heard so much foul-mouthed venom spat from another human being's lips. He wasn't worried about what I might have thought, he just kept up this barrage of abuse. He was angry. An ex-serviceman who was once stationed in Germany and was claiming to have a few holes in his body (the implication being he was shot), but he was 72 now and retired and I figured he wasn't shot by a muslim). Ironically, the taxi company he works for relies upon many immigrants to drive its cabs: Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, Eastern Europeans, you name it. It was rare, I thought, to have a British cab driver and highly unfortunate that he happened to be an out and out racist.

It's the Pope!!!
Leaving Warsaw and heading home...
Back at Heathrow T3...

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Wonderful weather, wonderful rides...

Last weekend the weather was perfect so we had two excellent rides, one to the Tatsfield Bus Stop (the slow way there and back); and another ride to Tandridge, a destination we haven't visited for many years.

On Saturday the slow way to the bus stop seemed like a good idea, and because the weather was fine, we ambled along at our own pace, stopping, like last week, to admire the red poppies in the field along Beddlestead Lane. Their colour and number were more intense than last week, prompting us, once again, to get off the bikes and try to take a decent photograph. We really needed to get into the field, but there's a ditch and then a load of thistles so we didn't bother. Instead, we got back on the bikes and chatted as we rode along, occasionally making room for noisy Lycra monkeys.

Instead of BelVita biscuits I enjoyed a banana. I'm trying to give up biscuits and believe me, it's harder than giving up smoking or drinking, but I didn't weaken and after a couple of peppermint teas (I fancied a change) we jumped on the bikes and headed home, going back the way we came and being forced to climb Hesiers Hill in the process. Andy's about to embark upon some kind of hill climb challenge, so the more hills, the better. Hesiers is quite an ordeal, but as long as you're in the right gear (a very low one) then it's simply a case of head down and get on with it.

Church in Tandridge, Surrey – perfect!
We got home at a reasonable hour and there was plenty of work to do in the garden, which is fine on a decent day. I mowed the lawn front and back and spent a lot of time sitting under the umbrella drinking tea – a perfect way to spend a Saturday.

On Sunday we could have quite easily repeated Saturday's ride, but sometimes the thought of Beddlestead Lane makes us yearn for something different. We talked about riding to Oxted, which would have involved the infamous Titsey Hill or going to Flowers Farm in Godstone or even Godstone itself, but I remembered that there was some kind of weekend concert going on at the farm – Godstonebury (geddit? Glastonbury? Godstonebury?) – so we headed instead for a place called Tandridge, which meant following the route for Godstone, down Gangers Lane, but branching off left and taking a steep downhill run (14%) until we crossed over the M25 and then found ourselves on the A25, turning right and then first left on to Jackass Lane.

Prior to reaching the A25, we rode along the winding country lanes, the birds twittering in the trees and the sound of our mountain bike tyres on the tarmac being the only noises breaking the silence of the early morning, a deer crossed the road right in front of us; it was one of those moments to cherish: a wild deer prancing gracefully across the road and into the woods on the other side. Andy managed to capture the moment on his Go-Pro camera, which was great.

We followed the road down to a small green and then turned left and found a church. I can't remember the name of the church, but we found a bench in the churchyard and out came the tea and biscuits. This time I weakened, but with a massive hill ahead of me on the return ride, they were sorely needed.

It was a real Daily Mail, Midsomer Murders sort of place with plenty of well-to-do and filthy rich old people coming out of the church and bidding us a good morning. The thought of the hill delayed our departure, but soon we were on our way, psyching ourselves for the climb to come. And while it wasn't easy, it wasn't difficult either and soon we found ourselves on the country lanes close to Marden Woods and heading towards the Ridge and then Woldingham. We parted at the top of Sline's Oak Road, Andy heading for Caterham, me riding down to Butlers Dene Road where I turned left and then right on to a short gravel track followed by a left back on to Sline's Oak Road. The last hill was the last few yards of Sline's Oak Road, the bit where it joins the 269, where I turned left and headed through Warlingham, along the Limpsfield Road and home.

I arrived home around 1020hrs, put the bike in the garage and got on with the day, which meant more sitting in the garden under the umbrella in the summer sunshine. It was too hot to do any gardening so I simply chilled out and enjoyed the rest of my weekend.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Slow way there and back – to the Tatsfield Bus Stop

It's Tuesday morning. The day after the bank holiday Monday and last night some strange dreams. One involved watching somebody arrive by car at a shopfront that was shuttered up and covered in graffitti. There was a small door and the driver of the car jumped out, mistaking the place for a hotel. I wasn't the driver. I was a spectator wondering why somebody would mistake a shuttered shopfront covered in graffiti for a hotel. But then I became the driver, stepping through the small door into the dark and squalid surroundings inside. Drug users were in there and I was definitely not in the UK, but somewhere in the USA. Later the shop front changed. The shutters and graffiti were gone and instead there was a different, older building with two upright, rectangular windows and a wooden door between them. The name of Ortiz was over the door. I asked one of the occupants why he'd let himself fall into such a state of depravity, he mumbled an answer. I was certainly being held there against my will, as some form of punishment, but I wasn't always there. At one stage I wrote a note to the police, long hand, but never finished it. Then I found myself closer to home, in Westmead Road in the London suburbs where I used to live. I was driving and noticed that cars were reversing at speed towards me. There was some kind of commotion and it turned out to be a gunman in the back of a car shooting people at random. Later I encountered the gunman, who was now out of the car and on foot. I ran into suburban streets, turning left and right and left in order to lose him and then I woke up, it was light outside and the time was 0543.

Our bikes parked on Beddlestead Lane...
Poppies, thousands of them, in a field on Beddlestead Lane
That name Ortiz bugged me as I made my way downstairs to make tea and porridge, but all I could find online was a reference to boxing and a reference to horse racing. It had been a great weekend of cycling. We managed two out of three days and on both occasions rode the slow way to and from the Tatsfield Bus Stop where we chilled out in the early morning summer sun. On Saturday, as we drank our tea, a fog rolled in and that's why we rode back the slow way, which meant we'd have to tackle Hesiers Hill, not a problem. In fact, Andy's in training to ride up a few hills in the Caterham area so it was a good move in his books. I paced myself and rode slowly to the top where Andy was waiting and we continued the ride home.

Early morning summer sunshine on Beddlestead Lane
We didn't ride on Sunday and while I was going to ride to mum's early that morning, mum was in tizzy about visitors so I didn't bother. Monday we headed for the bus stop again and the poppies in a field on a sloping hill stopped us in our tracks. We were on Beddlestead Lane, close to the memorial to 'Skelly', a cyclist. A blanket of red covered the hill and I suggested that Andy should take a photograph. On Saturday we'd spotted the poppies but were put off the idea of trampsing into the field to take a closer look by the brambles and thistles that stood in our way as Andy was wearing shorts. Monday morning the poppies had intensified so we took a closer look but discovered a wide ditch, like a moat, stopping us from going any further. Well, we could have jumped, but then we'd have to jump back so we stayed put on the bank and took a few snaps, me on the iphone, Andy using something a little more professional.

A rural idyll...
Further along Beddlestead Lane a most unwelcomed sight: fly tippers had been at work. A pile of rubbish on the roadside: an old wooden chest of draws, a rusty old barbecue and many other bits of rubbish somebody had just dumped.

We continued on our way, chatting about this and that – bikes, photography, work – and it wasn't long before we reached our destination. Normally Beddlestead Lane is long and strenuous, but on both Saturday and Monday it was a little more chilled, which had a lot to do with the pleasant weather.

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.

Summer arrives at the Tatsfield Bus Stop
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.

Our bikes at the bus stop. Pic by Andy Smith

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, with 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 the modern equivalent of the Eastern State Penitentiary, or in Bellevue, if it still exists. I'd probably make the local television 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.