Sunday, 11 February 2018

"Planet Earth is blue...and there's nothing I can do."

Saturday morning was cold, very cold. Car windscreens were iced up when I peered outside and I knew then that the balaclava was absolutely necessary and so were many layers of clothing: a teeshirt, a hoody, a heavy jumper, then the rust-coloured jacket and, of course, a scarf. The other day I'd tried to wear glasses with the balaclava, it didn't work; the glasses kept steaming up making it impossible to see.
Andy on the ride out of Tatsfield village, Sunday 11th February 2018
At 0700hrs I opened the front door and stepped outside into the cold. Amazingly, it was light enough not to put on lights and this really was amazing. It's getting lighter and lighter. Only a week ago I had to put on my lights until I reached the green, and not long before that I had to keep them until we reached the bus stop or Westerham. This is great news as it means we're on the home straight towards summer and things can only get better. Yes, we'll probably get the odd soaking now and then – that's a constant threat throughout the year – and yes, we might need lights in a thick fog, which can creep up on us at any time of the year; but by and large, the colder weather may still be with us, but it's getting warmer by the day, and brighter, and that's all that matters.

My Specialized Rockhopper on Warlingham Green, Saturday 10th February
Andy was delayed, not by much, but we ended up heading for the Tatsfield Bus Stop – the fast way – instead of our planned visit to the Tudor Rose for breakfast – fortunately, I'd made the tea. While cold, it was bright and there were clear skies and when we reached the bus stop we had plenty to chat about, namely hypocrisy and ideology, and I suddenly realised how much of Noam Chomsky's Who Rules the World? I had taken on board. Okay, look, you could read this book and argue that the author has one major premise: that the USA is not to be trusted, they are the warmongers, the troublemakers, what they say goes, they support the Israelis and literally let them get away with murder. Did you know that since 2014, asserts Chomsky, the Israelis have killed more than two Palestinian children per week. Did you know that, despite numerous agreements being reached in search of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Israelis really haven't taken much notice of the tenets of any agreement drawn up, they constantly flout the UN and continue to this day to build illegal settlements on what is essentially Palestinian land. And guess what? The West simply turns a blind eye and has done for years. The Israelis have been getting away with murder for many many years and will continue to do so. Their aim is basically 'ethnic cleansing' and you'd be well advised not to listen too carefully to the propaganda put out by the West via the BBC and other news outlets.

A new World War One memorial at Tatsfield village
Now Chomsky might be wrong. Perhaps he is; perhaps the message from his book – that the real big bad wolf is the USA and everybody else is simply misunderstood – is simply wrong. And let's be honest here: I trust the Americans to come to my aid in times of trouble. If it wasn't for the Americans I'd be speaking German and driving a Volkswagen. That said, I wish I could speak German and there's nothing wrong with a Volkswagen.

One thing I can't stand, however, is blind faith. Blind faith in anything is troublesome. I know somebody who has blind faith in technology; he's always banging on about driverless cars as if they're the Holy Grail; they're not! Let's be honest here, driverless cars, when they become commonplace – if they become commonplace – are going to be run by big business, people like Branson, and furthermore it's another way that freedom is being taken away from the individual: no longer will we drive ourselves to our destination, we'll have to pay 'Virgin Cars' in order to get anywhere. Slowly, the world is becoming a Philip K Dick novel – big corporations running everything (think Elon Musk, a potential Bond villain if ever there was one).

A scruffy-looking yours truly on the 269 passing a frozen pond on Saturday's ride
Last year, at a conference in Brussels, I put this question to a panel of experts on the subject of technological change: "Doesn't the autonomous car take away the freedom of the individual? Presumably the car that arrives at my door will be owned by a third party, most likely a large corporation, and, therefore, the man in the street loses control, he is reliant on somebody else, 'the man', for his freedom. Won't this make the whole concept unappealing?"

It was a question that the panel debated for some time and while nobody really came out and agreed, my view is that the driverless car will curtail individual freedoms and should be avoided at all costs. Surely driverless trains first.

Jacob Rees-Mogg on the front cover of Private Eye's latest issue
And with 'blind faith' comes the hypocrisy of the idealogues. There's nothing worse than ideology. It leads to blind faith, oddly enough. We all believe that Russia is the big, bad wolf. Everything the Russians do is supposed to be wrong, they're influencing our elections (are they?), and they're up to no good on many levels (really?), but ultimately, even if they're not up to no good, the governments of the West want their people (you and me) to always believe that the Russians have no good intentions whatsoever. It's all rubbish. I know a few Russians. I spent some time in Moscow not that long ago and I found all the Russians I met there to be fantastic people. I walked from one side of the city to the other late at night and never encountered a single problem. But it's never the people who are fault, it's the governments behind them.

Lycra monkeys – you don't see many of them when the weather's cold...
Andy and I sat at the bus stop drinking tea, munching biscuits and discussing these very subjects and then, feeling suitably small and insignificant in the greater scheme of things, and insecure in the knowledge that 'the state' cares nothing for its general population, putting the welfare of large corporations way ahead of the man in the street, we pedalled off in the direction of home along the freezing cold B269, parting company on Warlingham Green and promising to be back for another ride on Sunday.

From noon on Saturday it rained non-stop and didn't really stop until the early hours of Sunday morning. When I woke up and peered outside the roads were dry and the car windscreens were clear, no sign of any ice. But when I found myself outside, wearing many layers and the balaclava and scarf, I realised that the clear bright skies and the crescent moon were a disguise – yes, even the weather wasn't to be trusted – perhaps the Russians had something to do with it. It was better than Saturday, but there was still a cold breeze and one we didn't notice on the outward ride to Tatsfield village (a change is as good as a rest).

Warlingham Green, 10 February 2018
The subject of today's conversation was rip-off Britain. I enjoyed a pub lunch on Saturday in darkest Sussex. Sandwiches cost £8.90. That's a lot of money for a sandwich, but it's par for the course. Everything is really expensive, everywhere, and unnecessarily so, and it goes right across the spectrum of anything we buy. Value for money simply doesn't exist anymore, even in 'the sales' where I'm always highly suspicious of the displayed prices. A pair of walking boots in Millets during a big sale? Something ridiculous like £87.00 and that's reduced from £115.00. Well, I don't believe that for one minute. I reckon that the stores put up the recommended retail price and the customer simply buys the product at the original, pre-sale price (or thereabouts). You can't trust a businessman – that's always worth remembering. All they want to do is make a profit and they don't care about anyone or anything that might stand in their way. People talk about privatising the NHS. That can only mean one thing: we will all be convinced by doctors to 'have things done' that doesn't need doing. It's already happening in the world of dentistry. I know somebody who was told that they needed a 'deep clean' and that it would cost them something like £300. That person went to see another dentist and was told they didn't need anything of the sort – she saved herself £300. But think of those who just accept what they're told.

The ride home was fine, but there was a strong head wind as we rode towards Botley Hill and a very cold breeze as we rode along the 269 towards the green, where we parted. All the way home I found myself wondering about Elon Musk and his Falcon Heavy rocket that lifted off from earth last week carrying one of Musk's Tesla sports cars. Can you really trust a businessman who is capable of launching a rocket into space? Apparently, the aforementioned Tesla is orbiting the planet playing David Bowie's Space Oddity on continuous loop and I found myself wondering, as I sang the lyrics to myself, whether or not I had synched up with the recording playing at that very moment on board the Tesla. I'll never know, of course. "Planet earth is blue and there's nothing I can do," I sang as I passed Warlingham Sainsbury's en route to the green.

Next week we WILL have breakfast at the Tudor Rose.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop...

Saturday was another wash-out. It was one of those days when it just didn't stop. There was a constant, drizzly rain from dawn until dusk and I did go outside twice with every intention of riding the bike, but it didn't happen. Why bother gettting cold and wet? Where's the fun? So I stayed at home and later drove to Westerham for lunch in the Tudor Rose. It was raining in Westerham too and I stood in the rain, answering a mechanised voice on my mobile phone as I paid for parking. It was one of those days when gazing through a rain-speckled windscreen at a Pay & Display machine seemed to sum things up rather nicely.

Andy and Matt at the Tatsfield Bus Stop...
The iphone said that Sunday would be better and it was: no rain. But it wasn't warm, just 2 degrees, balaclava weather. I rode along the quiet suburban streets, up Church Way to the Limpsfield Road and along a deserted Sanderstead High Street, not even any cars. I had a wide stretch of tarmac to myself. As I approached the green I saw Andy and he spied me too; there was no need to ride on to the green, we stopped momentarily and decided upon the slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop.

The slow way might sound appealing and in parts it is, but it's ruined by Beddlestead Lane and even Andy said so as we made our way towards the junction with Clarks Lane. The worst moment is when the energy of the downhill from the top of Hesiers Hill runs out, the pedals stiffen and the thought of a constant incline for the next 20 minutes or so hits home. Andy and I talked about evolution in between making way for the odd Lycra monkey and soon we found ourselves passing the the totem pole tree and the mobile phone mast. We rolled down Clarks Lane towards the bus stop and then unloaded the tea and biscuits.

As we sat there, chatting, a Lycra monkey and his pal turned up. He wore all the gear: the clippy cloppy shoes, the Lycra, the high-viz top, he rode a brand new Boardman bike... it was Phil! It had been a very long time since we'd seen Phil and it was rare to see him out in such cold weather. He was on his way to the Tudor Rose in Westerham for breakfast. After a brief chat he continued on his merry way and we enjoyed another cup of tea before heading for home.

The 269 was cold and I was glad for that balaclava but soon we found ourselves approaching the green where we parted company. I reached home at just gone 1000hrs and while I had intended to oil the chain, I forgot. Later another drive to Westerham for yet another jacket potato and chilli followed this time by a large slice of lemon cake (on Saturday I enjoyed Bakewell tart). A trip to mum's was on the agenda, but I had to say no to cake, and Sunday evening's planned apple pie and custard was also put on hold. I must have a sugar-free week at work or I'll be doing myself no good.

The Tudor Rose, incidentally, is under new management and seems to be doing very well. It was packed on Saturday at lunch time. The photograph on the left shows the display of cakes on offer – lemon cake, Bakewell tart, coffee and walnut, bread pudding, flapjacks, scones, rock cakes, lemon drizzle cake, the list is endless. They make and get through 45 cakes per week and I can vouch for their quality. It goes without saying that they're open for breakfast, so you can bet that Andy and I will be sitting there one morning in the not too distant future eating a hearty breakfast before our return ride up the tiresome Westerham Hill – a continual climb all the way to Botley Hill.

Andy braved the weather on Saturday. This shot from
Wapses roundabout in Caterham

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Saturday morning: To Westerham – 22 miles

I have a new iphone and with a new iphone comes new apps, notably a health app, which monitors my sleep, offers tips on 'mindfulness' and tells me how many kilometres I've walked and how many steps I've taken. Except that when I jump on a bike, as I did yesterday morning, it gets confused and still thinks I'm walking, so I manually input distance information, which then shows up on a graph. All very technical, as my dad would have said.

Heading towards Botley Hill on the 269, Saturday 27th January 2018...
Yesterday morning I was awoken by the sound of birdsong. It was as if I was sleeping in an aviary. It was the health app doing its thing and waking me up calmly, rather than the sudden imposition of the daily news, courtesy of Radio Four, although, once I'd switched it off I jumped back into bed and listened to the news headlines, which I can't remember. This morning there was news of the tragic case of three teenagers killed by a car that came off the road at a bus stop. The driver was arrested, but the passenger ran off. No doubt he'll be found.

Saturday's ride was a trip to Westerham in Kent, a 22-mile round trip. The weather was perfect, not as cold as it has been, but cold enough to make wearing a balaclava cosy and warm.

The mornings are getting lighter. Only a fortnight ago my bike lights went on at 0700hrs – or thereabouts – and were switched off when we reached the bus stop about 40 minutes later. Yesterday they were switched off at the green before we even set off. It won't be long before summer comes, I thought, remembering Thin Lizzy.

We rode along the 269 and at one point the road opens out to fields on either side and that's when I always feel good, especially if the weather is fine, like it was yesterday. There was sunshine for a start and clearish skies. It was one of those mornings when the trees were silhouetted like in a painting and there was a sense of water colours.

The ride down was uneventful as both bikes performed well, although I think my chain needs oiling. We sailed past the bus stop and down the hill, under the M25 and into Westerham. Our old stop point has been turned into a memorial garden, for what or who I don't know, although I guess it could be for the person who died a couple of years ago when a car drove into a Costa Coffee outlet on the green. I don't know, but we sat there, like we used to in the early days and while we couldn't sit down because the benches were soaked through with dewy dampness, we stood there drinking tea and munching biscuits until it was time to head home.

The worst thing about riding to Westerham is the long and slow hill on the return ride; it's unrelenting from the word go, but the key is not to think too deeply about it and soon you'll find yourself approaching Botley Hill and the downhill ride towards Warlingham and then home. We parted at the green as usual, promising to be back in the morning.

Westerham's Memorial Gardens next to the Co-op...
It's Sunday morning now. 0655hrs to be precise. I'm listening to classical piano music when I should be getting up and making the tea for today's ride. My problem is I make myself too cosy.

The sign has been fixed.
• Sunday morning we rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop (16 miles) the fast way and while we were there we spent a lot of time wondering why Southern Rail train drivers earn so much money: £38k for two years while training and then £68k/yr thereafter as a qualified driver, with the possibility to earn up to £75k with overtime. That's more than nurses and GPs, and some airline pilots don't earn as much as that. It all makes me wonder why it is that we're getting driverless cars before driverless trains. Alright, I know there's the Docklands Light Railway, but surely driverless trains are safer than driverless cars. And why should Southern drivers get paid so much, they're always on strike.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Pre-ride ramblings...

Strange dreams last night. Vivid but strange. One involved being in a house with a man, a sort of slightly overweight man, an American with short hair, not quite a crop, more woolly, a strange honey colour, but a nice guy all the same. I was going somewhere, I don't know or recall exactly where, but somewhere important to him, something linked to the military, possibly the air force. He gave me what I initially thought was an old flag, but it could have been a raggedy old tee-shirt as I swear it had flimsy short sleeves. It might have been made of cheesecloth or something similar, although I remember him denying it was a tee-shirt. It mattered not, but apparently whenever I reached my destination I should seek something out, what I don't know, and it would all make sense. Except that where it was I never made it or had no intention of going there. The next thing I knew I was on some kind of outward bound adventure with some work colleagues. We stood in a damp car park awaiting for the doors to the car to be unlocked. It was one of those small cars with some kind of 4x4 ability and it was muddy and unkempt. Inside there were three seats from one side to the other and naturally I didn't want the middle seat. Two people were already inside and, unfortunately for me, they moved down so that I did get the middle seat. But I wasn't there for long, in fact I only remember taking my seat and looking mildly disgusted at the scuffed mud on the seats in front of me, the empty crisp packets. I was alone, walking along the street, somewhere unforgiven perhaps, the damp pavements, tall trees, big, old houses. A car being driven by a woman slowed in order to turn right into a driveway, which just so happened to be where I was headed. It was one of those huge places that used to be one massive house but had since been turned into flats or offices, creaky wooden floors, winding staircases. As I turned right into the place she slowed and let me go first. There was an unkempt lawn, overgrown grass and lots of mud and tyre tracks and puddles. Gingerly I made my way towards the entrance, nearly slipping once, but managing to keep myself on two feet. There was some kind of security system, but I got through and there, behind a glass, was a colleague from the past. He said nothing, but I approached him and there was some kind of interaction. The ethereal quality of things was disturbed by the arrival of a large dog who eventually decided to lie on his back. I was mildly worried about the dog, but then I was awake and wondering what time it was – it was time to have my Saturday ride with Andy and it was only 0500hrs, an hour to go before I had to get up. The hour sped past and soon BBC Radio London news was blurting out of the clock radio – Tom Petty died of an accidental drugs overdose. And now I'm downstairs, listening to Morning Phase by Beck, an album released in 2014 connected in some way to his 2002 album, Sea Change, which I first heard in a coffee bar in Memphis. Both are brilliant albums and I'm not sure which one I like the most. They're both laid back enough to play early in the morning, like now, but I've got to put some socks on, trainers, balaclava, make tea and head off in the dark to meet Andy at the Green. Sadly, it was not to be. An abort text followed by a phone call stopped the ride dead in its tracks – it was raining and it looks as if the weekend will be a wash-out.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Slow way to (ahem) the Tatsfield Bus Stop

In the winter months we're always riding to the bus stop and you know why, it's sheltered from the wind and rain. I didn't ride on Saturday, having arrived home around midnight on Friday. If you've read the previous post you will already know that I was in Lisbon.

Yours truly arriving at the famous Tatsfield Bus Stop...
So, it's Sunday morning and, as always, I could do with a lie-in, but I'm also well aware that I need a ride too. I'm dressed and ready to hit the cold morning air having eaten porridge with blueberries and banana and drank a cup of decaffeinated Yorkshire tea. Perfect.

Outside it is dark and cold and I didn't have the balaclava, more's the pity, but I set off for the green and soon I got there. Andy was there and, well, you know where we were headed. We went the slow way, which was more scenic and much safer than the alternative.

"I love the smell of woodsmoke," I said as we passed a huge pile of smoking wood chips.
"Wonder why they do that?" Andy asked.
"There must be a reason," I said and we continued on our way, none the wiser.

We wound our way around the quiet, narrow country lanes, down Hesiers Hill and up Beddlestead Lane and then sat at the bus stop watching the passing Lycra monkeys.

Tea drank, biscuits eaten we packed up and headed home, the fast way, and parted company on the green and another fairly lazy day lay ahead.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

In Lisbon...

I've never been to Lisbon. I've been to Porto in the north of Portugal, but not the capital in the south. And now 'I've never been to Lisbon' is a phrase I can't use anymore, it's a tee-shirt slogan that simply wouldn't make sense.

I flew there from Gatwick airport on the 1040hrs TAP flight and once the plane had climbed through the fog that covered southern England like a blanket, there were blue skies and cotton wool clouds below us as we flew south west, across the channel and over a bit France before crossing the Bay of Biscay and then heading out to sea before sweeping round and back over the sea and into Lisbon. It was a great flight: smooth and the food was free! It wasn't a feast, just a roll (not sure what was in it, either tuna or chicken, but it was free, along with a small and sweet pretzel and a cup of tea (although they didn't provide the milk, more's the pity).

Trams like this one are all over Lisbon and in souvenir shops
Getting through security at Lisbon airport was fast and soon I was heading into the town in a cab where I was booked, for one night, into the H10 Duque de Loulé Hotel. It was a fantastic place and I wished I'd stayed for another night, but you can't have everything and, once I'd checked out yesterday morning and the day wore on, I started thinking about the ordeal of a late flight back to Blighty. I hate night flights and while the outward journey was absolutely fine, the easyJet flight home was, shall we say, a little choppy. Clear air turbulence, said the female pilot, as I gritted my teeth and got on with it; I mean, once you're up there, what can you do?

Typical Lisbon living...
Friday during the day was fine. After hitting the sack around midnight on Thursday I awoke refreshed and ready to hike around town with the international man of mystery. The Lisbon Bike Share scheme was considered, but only briefly as we found walking a far preferable option. We headed down the street towards the sea and emerged on to a huge square with restaurants lining its left and right sides. Later we would enjoy a light lunch, but right now we headed to the seafront, turned left and then wove our way around narrow, steep lanes looking for a church that we never really found. But that was of no consequence because we did find a pleasant coffee shop where we both had a cappuccino and then made our way back to the main square to meet a pal who never materialised. But again, it didn't matter. We sat there, people watching and chatting about this and that and then, having paid for our lunch (a chicken wrap and a non-alcohol beer, the international man of mystery had a salad and a coke) we headed off, with a guy called Sam, and continued to wander about. I bought a fridge magnet and then we found ourselves in a rather strange coffee house that seemed to double as an antique shop. We had another cappuccino and then carried on milling around the city until it was time to congregate back at the hotel.
A view of Lisbon...
The weather had been fine, certainly better than in the UK. There was sunshine, blue skies and cotton wool clouds and the temperature was around 15 degrees, unlike in Prague, roughly this time last year, when we were treading carefully over icy pavements.

The main square with the sea behind me...
At Lisbon airport there was chaos. There was a big queue for security and then, after my suitcase cleared the scanner I restocked it and then forgot it was open when I picked it up. The contents of the case fell noisily to the floor. Unlike in Paris, when I last pulled this stunt, there was no applause as I self-consciously picked up my stuff and rammed it hastily back into the case. What a cock.

Room 905, H10 Duque de Loulé Hotel, Lisbon
Then the day's caffeine kicked in. I'd been off it for the best part of three months and those three cappuccinos earlier started to make me feel a little weird. I bought three bottles of mineral water and drank them in quick succession as I felt very hot-headed and might have had a temperature. I felt a little better as we queued for the flight at gate 214. And then, of course, there was the flight home and that clear air turbulence I spoke about earlier. I hate it. I sat by the window but there was nothing but blackness outside so I just sat there and waited for the flight to end, which it eventually did, and earlier than expected. We landed around 1015hrs, cleared security, hired a taxi and then headed for home. I don't know about you, but I can't just go to bed straight from the airport so I sat up and watched television – Glam Rock on the BBC. I hadn't eaten anything since that chicken wrap at lunch time. Well, alright, I had a coconut cake with one of the coffees mid-afternoon, but that was it, so I found a teacake in the bread bin and followed up with a couple of cheese rolls, and a decaffeinated tea.
View from Room 905, Duque de Loulé Hotel
Those cheese rolls were a good choice. Later I had a really weird dream, which is what eating cheese late at night is all about. Jack Black was in the dream. He was on a dance floor in a club somewhere, wearing beige chinos and a flowery shirt. Then he was on a chat show – or at least I think it was a chat show – sitting on a circular leather sofa. For some reason, I was there too. There was a man with a severely deformed face. In the beginning he wore mirrored sun glasses, but when he took them off you could see his awful deformity and then he started to spew his awful, extreme right, bigoted, racist views. At that point I woke up. And here I sit, at the living room table, pissed off to note that Friends is being re-run on Netflix and that awful Phoebe is singing Smelly Cat.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Cold weather continues...

Saturday was cold and so was Sunday, but coldness wasn't the reason for my abort. Sadly, I stayed up too late on Saturday night and I just knew that I needed more sleep so I aborted. There were also a few commitments that I needed to keep, so I didn't go out. When I eventually set foot outside I realised just how cold it was and felt kind of glad that I didn't go for a ride. Andy braved it and that made me feel even worse about not going; he's got a plan that involves trying to go cycling on both days of the weekend. To be fair, we've done pretty well: the last two weekends we've riden out on Saturday and Sunday, another reason why I feel bad about not going. It's likely that I'll only be riding on Sunday next week too. Why? Because I'm anticipating a late night next Friday and that will put Saturday in the pot – unless it's one of those occasions where I find myself awake at some ungodly hour and get out of bed and think 'I'll go on a ride'.

As I write this it's 0640hrs and I won't lie: I've been sitting here thinking 'ride to work, ride to work, there's a train strike'. But I know that riding to work is a real hassle and I've already started to think of what I'd need to pack: a pair of trousers, my shoes, a shirt, the list goes on and besides, you know how I feel about riding to work, it's not good. Fine if the office was down the road, but it isn't. It's a pleasant ride, but having to go to work at the end of it is the problem. Once a week to work? I've thought about it, let's be fair, but it doesn't take away the hassle element.

Andy's camera spots a light aircraft in somebody's garden...
Andy went on a local ride and on the way he found an aeroplane in somebody's front garden. It hadn't crashed or anything, it was just there, and the weird thing is this: he didn't spot it, his Go-Pro camera did; it wasn't until he reached home and played it back that he noticed it. I've just read Andy's blogpost on the subject and again, pangs of self-guilt for not hitting the road yesterday. The thing is this: I don't know about you, but if I'm out late, when I get home I can't go straight to bed. I have to chill a little first, either by watching a bit of television or, in my case on Saturday night, listening to a bit of music, going through Spotify looking for old albums I remember listening to years ago, that sort of thing, and that's why I didn't hit the sack until gone midnight (shortly after sending the abort text). You live and learn.

Right now it's Monday morning. I was up early at 0538hrs and I'm sitting here now writing this and listening to Beck's Sea Change album. In fact I haven't stopped listening to it ever since Christmas morning. In fact it's funny how having a long break over the festive season introduces new things to my life, new routines if you like. Over the holidays I made a point of being up early, being downstairs, listening to music while messing around, like now, on the computer, checking out Twitter, firing off what I think are humorous comments here and there, checking the email and so on. I spent a lot of time over Christmas reading Bruce Dickinson's autobiography, which I've almost finished, and a lot of the reading was accompanied by Beck's aforementioned album. I'd sit on the sofa with a peppermint tea (yes, a peppermint tea) and read in between visiting relatives and eating. It was so chilled and long may it continue. Right now, though, I've got to get ready for work. There's a train strike, as I've already mentioned, but the trains normally run okay, let's see...

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Biting cold wind on the return ride down Beddlestead Lane...

I considered an 'abort' this morning – for all of a few seconds. Once I was out of bed and making the organic porridge (with blueberries, sliced banana and raspberries) I was feeling a little more positive about an early morning ride after being back at work for a week. But it didn't stop me from being sluggish and slow. I texted Andy to say I was running late (because I was running late) but once out and on the bike, cycling around the neighbourhood in the dark, I recovered my determination just in time for Church Way, an uphill slog along a wet and rain-soaked road. It had been raining overnight and as I made my way along the Limpsfield Road, which was surprisingly busy, I took in the last of the Christmas decorations that lined the road. This was, after all, the last of the 12 days of Christmas. Later today I would be dumping our Christmas tree in the back garden, stage one of the process that will see it leave the house for good – until next year. Andy and I worked out that there are 353 days to Christmas.

On the 12th day of Christmas, Andy needs to ditch the tinsel
We rode the predictable 'slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop' only because it's relatively close-by, is covered and has seats, protecting us from the elements. Today's biggest problem (apart from the constant threat of rain) was fog. As we inched our way towards Beddlestead Lane, past the huge, black puddles that lined most of the roads we rode along, a fog seemed to be rolling in. By the time we reached the junction with Clarks Lane it was fairly thick and it got thicker before thinning out, shortly before we packed our stuff away and prepared for the ride home.

While the outward ride was a little cold, it was nothing to the return journey. The temperature had dropped considerably; so much so that we decided to ride back the slow way, based on the premise that the cold wind would be less severe along Beddlestead Lane than it would be on the 269. It was probably the right thing to do, but I've not experienced such a cold blast of icy wind as I did this morning riding towards Hesiers Hill and preparing myself for the uphill climb, which isn't a walk in the park at the best of times. The cold wind was so unpleasant that I longed for the balaclava sitting at home in the hallway cupboard. It was so cold I had to slow right down until I reached the bottom of Hesiers Hill when the temperature rose a little.

Hesiers, as always, was a struggle, but a fairly short-lived one, and soon Andy and I found ourselves weaving our way around the narrow lanes heading towards Chelsham and the short ride from there to the green. "Same time tomorrow?" said I. "Yes," said Andy, and we both headed for our respective homes. For me the remainder of the ride was fairly pleasant. The temperature had risen, the rain held off and it wasn't long before I was in the warmth of the house, chilling, reading Bruce Dickinson's autobiography while listening to Where the Eagle Flies, an album by Traffic, followed by Carole King's Tapestry, all good stuff.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Happy New Year (to all my readers!)

It's New Year's Day 2018. Outside everything is still, even at 0911hrs. I woke up at 0832hrs having got to bed around 0100hrs. I 'saw in the New Year' alone – meaning I was the only one still awake – watching a bit of Jools Holland and then switching to Nile Rodgers on BBC1. The thing I hate about watching Hootenanny, apart from the name, is that mildly corny music-head snobbery that surrounds the programme and, worst of all, the fact that it isn't live. That means it is recorded during the week and that when everybody says 'Happy New Year' it's not really, it's probably something like 27th December, possibly earlier, but either way it doesn't sit comfortably with me; I'd much prefer it to be properly live.

New Year – time for reflection, says Andy
So it's 2018 and the anti-climax that is the 'new year' is upon us; basically everything is the same as it was 24 hours ago except that there are people with pointless hangovers waking up in strange places and considering making their way home, or just waking up with a sore head and stumbling down to the kitchen for a pint glass full of cold water and something for their headache. I, on the other hand, can smugly report no hangover because I didn't drink a thing, apart from a peppermint tea. It all goes back to that dizziness thing I've been complaining about, which is still there, I'm just managing to avoid sending the room spinning by not getting up suddenly, not turning my head too fast and being a little careful. I'm not drinking because I don't want to add to the problem, although, by and large, like at this very moment, I don't have a problem.

In fact, on the dizziness front, a friend of mine texted me yesterday to say that his daughter has it too. The only common denominator between her and me is that we both had transatlantic flights just prior to getting dizzy. As I said, I don't have a problem now because I'm sitting upright and it seems to go when I'm out and about and standing upright. At night, though, I still sleep with three pillows, which seems to help, and the only time I might possibly experience any issues is getting out of bed. As a result, since it first occurred back in late October, I sleep on my left side and still get in and out of bed 'carefully'. I know that one false move and the room will spin. There is, apparently, something called the Epply Manoeuvre that can be done by a doctor – after two or three sessions the dizziness is supposed to go. I still might go and see my GP again, but I'm fine.

Trying in vain to keep my saddle dry...
On the cycling front, it's been good. For the last two weeks we've rode twice a week, Saturday and Sunday, although we didn't have our traditional Boxing Day ride and it's too late to go out for a New Year's Day ride. I was planning to see Bon today.

Today is Monday. Yesterday and Saturday we rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, the slow way. There were heavy gusts of wind along the way on both rides and on Sunday a bit of rain too. In fact, it must have rained heavily during the night before both rides as there were huge puddles, some spanning the width of the road in front of us.

We had mum's Christmas Cake on Saturday and the good old Belvita biscuits yesterday. In a way I'm looking forward to the cake going for good. Alright, I've had one piece per day since around 27th December, but it'll be good not to have the temptation. That said I fancy a bit right now, but I'll resist as I've just enjoyed a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea.

Riding the slow way to the bus stop has always been a bit of an ordeal, but it's easy to blank it out, either by the heads-down approach or by chatting our way out of it; the great bit is passing the mobile phone mast and having just 75 yards or so to go before reaching Clarks Lane.

Yesterday, the combination of wind and rain meant that the seats at the Tatsfield Bus Stop were damp. Andy sat on his gloves, I sat on my rucksack and all was well. We discussed ways of modernising the shelter by adding an awning at the top and, perhaps, a small gated wall at the bottom to prevent the seat from getting wet during windy, rainy weather, but somehow we didn't think Tandridge Council would take our requests seriously.

Riding along the 269 in windy, rainy conditions is not good, especially if the puddles straddle the road like they did this weekend. The temptation, of course, is to avoid the puddles, but that means drifting into the middle of the road, which is not good when you consider that everybody else, on both sides of the road, is doing the same thing. The alternative is the off-road path or riding back the slow way, but taking the latter option means climbing Hesiers Hill, which takes up valuable time. Yesterday, on riding through what amounted to a small pond, I took a soaking on my right leg half way along the 269, just before the downhill stretch on the return run.

Coughlans opens early – worth knowing
We'd left later than usual yesterday. I'd texted Andy suggesting we met at the green at 0800hrs, not the usual 0730hrs. I needed to chill a little more than usual. Andy agreed. In fact I think we both considered sending the dreaded 'abort' text. When I hit the air I noticed it was raining so I texted Andy, just in case he too had rain. Let's face it, the aim of that text was to kind of abort the ride, but we both knew it was only 'spitting' a little, so the ride continued. Luckily, the only real heavy rain hit home when we were safely undercover at the bus stop and, unbelievably, it cleared up before we packed up and headed for home.

We parted at the green, but we'll be back next week, same time, same channel (as they used to say on American television).

• It's amazing what you don't notice while cycling. The photo below, taken by Andy's 'on-bike' camera shows a car passing me yesterday as we both rode back along the 269. It's a dangerous road and when you get cyclists and motorists coming at you in both directions there's not a great deal of space; and let's not forget that there is an off-road path we could be using.

Yours truly on the 269 yesterday morning...
My only worry about the above shot is that I'm wondering how far that car could move further to the right without drifting into oncoming traffic. He's given me what, about 4ft clearance? He's not exactly pushing me on to the grass bank. Just a thought.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Drifting through No Man's Land

Christmas came and went like a whirlwind, leaving me, as always, wondering what all the fuss was about. The fuss in question starts early, back in October, when some bright spark decides it's time to discuss how many shopping days there are before Christmas Day. That always gets people's backs up, but most dismiss the news and get on with their lives until, one day, they find themselves in December, long after the shops have erected Christmas trees in their display windows, and thoughts turn to Christmas card lists and who's going where on the big day. The period from around 6th December onwards goes fairly fast, egged on by the closing episodes of reality television shows, like Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor and then, in my house at any rate, there's a couple of birthdays and a few trips to 'the shops' to buy presents and then it is upon us.

I'm always amazed at the way people suddenly become survivalists. They act like those militiamen in America who store up food supplies in secret hide-outs for the day when the Government falls and there is nothing left but anarchy. Except that we're only talking about one day when the shops aren't open. ONE DAY!!! And yet, if you visit Sainsbury's or Waitrose or any of the big supermarket chains on, say, Christmas Eve, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the end of the world is nigh. Fat people, some so fat you'll stand there wondering why they even need to eat for the next month or so, are standing in the queue for the check-out with a shopping trolley full to the very top with all manner of foodstuffs – bread, booze, buns, biscuits, baloney, you name it, it's in their trolley.

Once it's all over, like it is now, we enter a strange, timeless period when it's pretty easy to lose track of what day it is; the television schedules are all over the place, nobody appears to be working, the streets are deserted and in my case I just slob around doing as little as possible. As the light fades (as it is now) the house darkens as nobody switches on a light – not yet at any rate – and I, like now, bask in the halogen glow of my computer screen wondering whether it's time to pick up Bruce Dickinson's autobiography, a valued Christmas present. I've been dipping in and out of it ever since Christmas morning when I unwrapped it just prior to roasting some potatoes.

Dickinson (lead vocalist, Iron Maiden, if you didn't know) intrigues me and it's a lot to do with his multiple talents: rock star, fencer, writer, airline pilot. He is of a similar age to me (he's about seven or eight months younger) so there are elements of his life that are familiar to me, certainly his early life: the bands he admired and so forth. He's one of those people I would definitely invite to 'my dream dinner party' along with Will Self, John Lydon, Julian Cope and Mark E Smith, all of whom 'have books out' (Self has a lot of books out) and I'd like to read all of them. Equally good is they are all alive; I've noticed that a lot of people, when asked for the Q&A page of any self-respecting Sunday or Saturday supplement, often bring in to play people long dead when asked who they would invite to their dream dinner party.

I admire Dickinson for his determination and enthusiasm. Perhaps I envy him those qualities. Like a lot of people, I have often dreamed of being in a rock band. If I was in one, I'd play bass purely because it's a cool instrument and I used to play violin in the school orchestra, it's roughly the same strings. The violin is GDAE and the bass is the reverse, EADG. But things get in the way. Money for a start; there's never a spare £500 floating around to buy a Fender Precision bass, or spare cash for a few lessons. Other things get in the way too, like work, sleep and general living, although I think I could fit in the time. I'm tempted to make playing the bass something I undertake in 2018, but I'm wary of new year resolutions as I never keep them. That said, today marks two months since I 'gave up' drinking. The phrase 'gave up' is in inverted commas because I haven't given up for any reason; it's not because I drink (or drank) too much, it's just that I've started 'not drinking' and now I'm thinking: how far can I go? And don't get me wrong, I'm not climbing the walls in desperation; the truth of the matter is that I don't need it. I can go without. And that's the best way to 'do things' in my opinion: don't say 'right, I'm going to play the bass guitar this year', just buy one and start and see how things go.

With Dickinson's autobiography, I haven't yet reached the bit (if it exists) where he talks about learning to fly, but I hope he devotes some space to it. I caught an interview with the great man on BBC Breakfast a few days ago in which he told Charlie Stayt that he trained with British Airways and flew commercial airliners in the early noughties. He also captained 'Ed Force One' and flew the band around the world on tour – I remember watching that on television. You simply can't get more rock and roll than that, can you?

The weather outside is cold but not frightful. There was still ice on the windscreen of the car late in the afternoon and the grass on the front lawn was crunchy. Christmas lights in front gardens illuminated my route to the store where I bought various things. I was following part of my cycling route along Church Way and then I walked through the churchyard, light fading fast, headstones silhouetted against the night sky. It was now that I remembered people did go to work today. There was traffic travelling hither and thither as I moseyed on down the high street, hands in pockets to protect them from the cold.

Walking through the churchyard en route to the store...
The walk back seemed colder than the walk out, but now I'm home, listening to Sea Change by Beck, a scented candle flickering nearby. I first heard this chilled album in Barista Parlour in Nashville in May and now I'm enjoying a peppermint tea listening to it.

Little Women is being serialised on the BBC and it's on now as I write this. Yesterday it was followed by the final part of The Miniaturist so tonight I'm not sure what will follow, but I love this time of year. I just love the laid back, chilled air of everything, the fact that I won't be getting up at the crack of dawn to go to work or even on an early morning ride, although I might go out later tomorrow, possibly for an urban ride to mum's or Woodmansterne Green, who knows? Right now, I'm just going to chill out, have another peppermint tea (not very rock and roll, I know).

One thing that Dickinson makes crystal clear about being a rock star is this: it's not an easy life. Yes, it's great fun – I'd imagine – and exhilarating too, not to mention creative, but it's hard and challenging work and while mega-rewarding in all possible ways...who am I kidding? It must be incredible, all that flying around the world, tour buses, sound checks, studio time, the fans, the hotel life and to top it all, imagine being an airline pilot too! Hats off to Bruce Dickinson, not only for being the archetypal rock star, but also for writing a great rock autobiography, which, fortunately, I've yet to finish.