Sunday, 16 September 2018

Beddlestead Lane, the bus stop and the churchyard...

Early morning and there's a bite in the air that means summer is on the way out, but it hasn't gone completely and it's not going quietly. In fact, generally speaking, the weather is perfect for this time of year. I'm wearing a hoody over a tee-shirt (the one that says 'I bring nothing to the table') and by the time I return I kind of wish I hadn't bothered with the hoody. It's still warm out there is what I'm saying and we're moving into late September.

Yesterday and today (Sunday) are roughly on a par weatherwise. It's pleasantly warm with a bit of sunshine here and there and blue skies later in the day. Saturday I was running late because I couldn't find any decent footwear. I had two sub-standard pairs of trainers, purchased from Sports Direct, one of which now sported holes in both heels. The other pair I threw out, so it was a case of 'do I wear my work shoes on the ride or is there an alternative?' Fortunately, I found my red leather Converse All-Stars at the back of the wardrobe – I rarely wear them – and set about the tiresome task of lacing them up. The end result was a text to Andy saying let's meet at 0745hrs.
Tatsfield Churchyard, Sunday 16th September 2018. Pic by Andy Smith
The plan, if I recall from last week, was to head to Westerham for breakfast, but time was moving on, so the slow way to the bus stop was the chosen route, which gave us a chance to chat as we rode along Beddlestead Lane. Normally we see plenty of Lycra Monkeys on Beddlestead, but we didn't see any on this occasion and we only saw one car. Later, when we reached the Tatsfield bus stop – our chosen destination – a few more came along, one having cycled up White Lane and the rest just coming from Botley Hill en route towards Westerham or vice versa. We sat there drinking tea and eating our biscuits with little to say other than to remark on how overgrown things were looking. The grass in front of the bus stop was long and in need of a cut and the grass banks of Clarks Lane were equally dishevelled from where we were sitting and in dire need of a trim.

Before we headed home I inflated my tyres – for the first time in two years. The bike is almost two years old now and not only have I not blown up the tyres since I bought it, I haven't had a puncture either. Last week I noticed a bit of a wobble when I turned left and then right coming down Elmfield Way and into Southcote Road and Andy said they definitely needed pumping up. I gave both front and back around 50-60 blasts of the pump and the bike rode well on the return trip as a result. Andy parted company at the Ridge, although we had considered riding back down Beddlestead Lane and up Hesiers Hill. In many ways I regret not doing this, but it was easier to take the off-road path along the 269. I reached home around 0945hrs and made a mental note to clean the bike and buy some touch-up paint off Ebay.
"Are they leather All-Stars, man?" Why, yes they are!!!
On Sunday morning I was keen to be on time after yesterday's faff trying to find suitable footwear. I'll have to get some trainers in the week and a decent pair of cycling trousers, but for today's ride it would have to be the leather All-Stars and jeans again, not forgetting the Jack Wills hoodie. I left the house around 0700hrs and headed up Church Way towards the Limpsfield Road with a mind full of stupid scenarios whirling around in my head. The first occurred when I spotted a supermarket delivery van driver in the doorway of a house on Ellenbridge. As I passed he saw me and I saw him and I started to imagine that he might have been some kind of a criminal. Perhaps he had just committed a murder and was worried that I might go to the police with his description. I pedalled away and imagined a scene at night where he took chase and we ended up in some nearby woods. Naturally I would have travelled deeper in to the woods on the bike, although I envisioned dumping the bike and making my getaway on foot, crunching my way over leaves and twigs, looking back to see the van with its headlights on full beam illuminating the woods, and the menacing silhouette of the 'murderer' seeing if he could spot me.

My next stupid scenario involved pretending to be Russian in order to escape from a gang of nutters intent on stealing my bike. I put on a meercat accent and threatened my assailants with novichok. Oddly, it worked and I lived to ride another day. By now I had reached Hamsey high street, which, as always, looks a little bit run-down and soon I was on the home straight towards the green. Andy wasn't there, but soon he arrived and we headed off.

Warlingham Green, Sunday 16th September
"How was your day?"
"The usual," said Andy.

I explained how I had done some shopping and then went over to mum's for tea and cake – well, four slices in the end and yes, it's got to stop. Really, it's got to stop.

We decided upon the Tatsfield Churchyard – the fast way – and rode along the 269 towards Botley Hill, turning left at the roundabout and riding down Clarks Lane, past the Tatsfield bus stop on our left and then slowing, turning left and hauling ourselves and our bikes up the mossy wooden steps to the churchyard where there appear to be more graves every time we pay a visit.

As we drank our tea and dunked our BelVita biscuits (well, I did, I don't know about Andy) we discussed the lack of time and the lack of leisure in our lives. "It's money," I said. "If we had more money we could do stuff, but we don't." Andy remarked that he just exists and how the weekend is over too quickly and then it's back to work. By and large I feel the same way. A change in lifestyle is needed, but how? In Andy's case, perhaps he could become a wedding photographer and spend his days leisurely processing images on his lap top in between jobs. "You'd miss a few weekend rides," I said, but then the fantasy brought me in, as some kind of writer, sitting at home looking out on rolling hills and contemplating my next book. "We'd have to ride during the week," said Andy as I poured our second and last cup of tea. "But we'd be our own bosses so it wouldn't matter."

It was soon time to go. We wheeled the bikes out of the churchyard and headed for Clarks Lane. The ride is uphill all the way to Botley as we were joining the hill that starts back in Westerham. Andy said goodbye at the Ridge and I used the off-road path flanking the 269 – it's safer, but there's always a jogger with headphones who can't hear me coming so I have to slow down. Not today – or rather not until I'd almost completed the journey. There was a jogger coming towards me and she stopped to let me pass her, but further along there was a jogger ahead of me, she had headphones on and I figured I'd be behind her for ages so I rode on to the road, close to Slines Oak, and headed into Warlingham.

Sunday league footy has started so there are always loads of parked cars close to the playing fields on my left as I ride home. I always give parked cars plenty of room just in case some dozey old bag opens the door and sends me flying – so far I've been lucky. All was well and soon I passed through Hamsey High Street and then Sanderstead. The traffic had picked up a little bit as I crossed the Addington Road and sailed down Church Way towards home. It had been a good weekend of cycling and now there's next week to look forward to.

Monday, 10 September 2018

To Woodmansterne Green and Westerham – powered by euphoric music...

The good weather continues and I find myself with a song in my head. Elvis Costello's I can't stand up for falling down. It's brilliant, like most of his stuff, and it's powering me along the street. Don't get me wrong, I'm not singing it out loud, that would never do, but it's in my head, giving me that euphoric feeling, which in turn propels me along the road a little faster than otherwise. It's motivational. A bit like when I hear Wake Up Boo by the Boo Radleys – although there's something sad about that song, I just don't know what. Perhaps it's something to do with this lyric:-

But you can't blame me
Not for the death of summer
But you're gonna say what you wanna say
You have to put the death in everything

Or perhaps not. Perhaps it's more to do with the extreme (in my opinion) euphoria of the song and perhaps extreme euphoria is close (in my mind) to being tearfully depressing – or tears of joy. I don't know what I'm talking about, so ignore me.

Bon and I met at 0730hrs on the green at Woodmansterne, a great meeting place, especially when the sun is shining. We did our usual: chatted about this and that, drank a couple of mugs of tea and then headed home.

Bon, it must be said, is looking good and it's got plenty to do with the fact that he's doing a lot of gardening – all that fresh air and exercise (he's cycling from one garden to the next so it's a double whammy on the fitness front).

Woodmansterne Green, Saturday 8th September 2019
The roadworks in Foxley Lane have completely disappeared and as I rode towards the mini roundabout close to the lavender fields, Bon was coming the other way. We both turned left and headed towards the green, parking up by the felled tree, which has been there since the hurricane of 1987 and started to drink tea and chat. It was pleasant, as it always is, and we probably stayed longer than planned. Bon had to get back to walk the dogs and was wary of Saturday football matches as his dog, Bruno, has been known to chase the ball and disrupt the games. "Who owns that fucking dog?" is a phrase Bon is familiar with, which made me laugh.

We eventually parted and I headed back, initially off-road until I reached the mini roundabout at the top of Foxley Lane, always a bit busy, but I got across safely, rode the length of Foxley, sailed past Cycle Republic, hung a right and then rode straight across the Brighton Road, along a few of Purley's back streets and then up Purley Downs Road, hanging a left into Norman Road, past Purley Oaks railway station, then past Sanderstead station and eventually up the strenuous south face of West Hill.

Andy on the edge of a cornfield, Sunday 9th September
That Elvis Costello track belted out of my brain on Sunday morning as I rode along the Limpsfield Road to Warlingham Green where Andy and I decided Westerham was on the cards. "Let's get our heads down, no talking, and just get there," I said, and off we went, the fast way. It was an exhilarating ride for both of us and I pushed as hard as I could with the sound of Elvis Costello ringing out from my in-built Walkman, all the way, reaching the green at around 0815hrs. We had tea and Belvitas, talked about many things, including the pre-blog days and around 0900hrs we decided it was time to head home.

For a euphoric song, Elvis Costello's I can't stand up for falling down has depressing lyrics, but to me it's more motivational than the Boo Radleys.

I'm the living result
I'm a man who's been hurt a little too much

And I've tasted the bitterness of my own tears

Sadness is all my lonely heart can feel
I can't stand up for falling down
I can't stand up for falling down
Simple though love is
Still it confused me

Why I'm not loved the way I should be

Now I've lived with heartaches

And I've roomed with fear

I've dealt with despair

And I've wrestled with tears
The ride out of Westerham is always a bit daunting, but the weather was good so it really didn't matter. Well, it did matter as the ride to Botley is all up hill, but we stopped when I spied a corn field – as if that would change anything – and took the photographs accompanying this post.

The cornfield, Sunday 9th September 2019...
Andy and I parted company at The Ridge, vowing to be back in the saddle next weekend. I took the off-road path along the 269 and reached home at around 1015hrs.

All-in-all, a great weekend and perfect weather too.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Strange dreams...

People say you dream just before you wake up, but it always seems as if the dream has been going on throughout the night. I would say we'll never know, but we do because the boffins in white coats have been conducting tests.

Anyway, last night (or first thing this morning before I woke up) I had a strange dream and as with all strange dreams (well, not all of them) I remember it. Or bits of it. I'm sure there was more, but all I can remember are two elements of it. First was a hotel room bed, white sheets. In fact it was, I think, two hotel room beds pushed together: a double and a single. For some reason there were room keys relating not to the room, but the beds – or rather the spaces the beds made up – were numbered, but not visibly, there weren't any numbers on the beds. I had a key for the single bed – or perhaps it wasn't a single bed, it might have been one big bed that could accommodate three people. I had key 102. Then, the other two bed spaces required keys 111 and 112. That was one element of the dream. I vaguely recall a very brief outdoor scene, possibly outside the hotel, the grounds. An overcast day, very dark, but daylight. Lawns and damp, mossy concrete.

The second part of the dream was even stranger. Again, a bed, this time a double, and, as with the beds pushed together, white sheets. But next to the bed, right next to bed's left hand side (if you were standing at the foot of the bed) there were two white Formica cubicles, the sort of thing you might find in an office bathroom. The cubicles were worryingly narrow, one more so than the other. Potential occupants would need to enter sideways and if you were really fat you'd stand no chance. Inside the narrowest cubicle furthest away from the bed was a woman with a baby, this much I knew, but she wasn't happy and I was concerned about her. At times, the silence from the cubicle worried me.

To the cottage!

I went to bed late on Friday night. God knows why. I was just sitting there, nodding off, watching the television. I should have hit the sack earlier, but sometimes I don't, I drag things out and soon the clock announces midnight and I feel I ought to crawl upstairs to bed having checked all the doors are locked and, if necessary, putting the dishwasher on (that way I know I'll have an easy time of it in the morning and I won't have to wash anything up). There's nothing worse than coming downstairs to dirty plates and pots and pans.

Outside the cottage, Sunday 2nd September 2019. Pic by Andy Smith
A late night means a late start and I woke up at 0730hrs thinking about calling Bon and meeting at Woodmansterne Green, but I was still tired and the very thought of riding the bike made me shudder. I kept imagining bits of the route and thinking how awful it would be struggling all the way to Woodmansterne and then having to come back.

As always, of course, my decision not to go turns to one of regret as the sun starts to shine and I slowly emerge from my sleepiness, but invariably it's too late to go, the moment has been lost and I have to resign myself to simply not cycling, while ensuring in my own head that I do go the following day – Sunday.

Andy had a late night on Saturday and sent through a text saying meet at 0800hrs, half an hour later than usual. I agree, but on the proviso that it's a short one. I suggest the 'cottage', a direct ride there and back, and Andy agrees. The following morning we met at the green and headed off along the Limpsfield Road towards the 269, although, technically speaking, the Limpsfield Road is the 269.

Room with a view: looking out from 'the cottage'...
It's a fairly short ride to the cottage: we ride halfway along the 269 and then go off-road along a gravel track flanked on either side by fields. We turn left and have a short but exhilarating ride downhill and then left towards the wooden shack we call the cottage. Once there we unload our rucksacks. Andy brings out the BelVita biscuits and I plonk a heavy Stanley flask, milk and teabags on the wooden table.

Stunning woodland views from 'the cottage'...
We sat there for around half an hour, probably a bit longer, but around 0900hrs we're ready to leave and the initial bit of the return ride is pretty exhausting. It's uphill on gravel and requires the lowest possible gears, although it's advisable not to stand up on the pedals (as I did) and risk rear wheel spin. Neither of us dismounted, which was good, and soon we found ourselves back on the 269 and ready for the ride to Warlingham Green. We got back there just before 0930hrs, said goodbye until next week and went our separate ways. I got home around 0945hrs and later headed out to towards Petworth in West Sussex, but not on the bike.

Next week we really must ride on both days. Last week (the bank holiday weekend) I managed two rides (to Woodmansterne and then the very long way to Tatsfield Village). Andy didn't ride on the Saturday, but rode with me on Sunday and probably went out alone on the Monday. This week we both had just one ride, so next week we're thinking Westerham for Saturday and haven't thought any further on where we might go on Sunday.

Andy's Kona at the cottage, Sunday 2nd September 2019. Pic by Andy Smith
The great thing about our recent exploration of off-road tracks is this: they've yielded new rides. The cottage, for example, is a new ride, it can be short (like Sunday) or longer if we go via Washpond Road and the stile without purpose. It's also a great place to shelter from the rain. Sunday's ride was excellent and, all in, took just 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete. The other week we found an excellent field, a little further than the Tatsfield bus stop – again, a new route if there's been no rain as there's nowhere to sit other than on the ground.

Weatherwise, things have been good. Sunday was a beautiful day and so was Saturday and now, as I write this on Monday evening, the sun is shining outside

Monday, 27 August 2018

Woodmansterne and the very long way to Tatsfield Village – and a huge hill!

It's definitely colder. When I stepped outside on Saturday morning at some time past 0730hrs there was a distinct nip in the air. I felt compelled to wear a hoodie. Once on the bike, en route to Woodmansterne Green, the cool air went through my clothing and, yes, I was cold. Summer, I figured, was on the way out and it looked as if the Bank Holiday weekend would be 'changeable' at best. Those carefree days of extreme heat and scorched lawns were gone, until next year, perhaps, but who knows?

Foxley Lane in Purley is all dug up. I think it has something to do with the water supply. How do I know this? I saw a workman in orange overalls with the word 'water' written on his back. Alright, he might have been a dyslexic Water Mitty, but I doubt it. Once clear of the road works, which spanned the entire road, I reached the roundabout, crossed it and headed towards the lavender fields at the southern most tip of Carshalton and when I got there I turned left and rode towards the green.

Bon turned up after about five minutes later and we both drank tea and chatted about this and that. I told him that I'd be going to Felpham later and we roamed around the green for a while before Bon borrowed my pump to inflate his rear tyre and we eventually went our separate ways.

I did go to Felpham and visited every holiday home my dad had rented going back to when I was about six. It was a walk of over five miles, on the beach, and there were four houses to visit. All but one – the Heron – was on the beach: Georgia, Merryweather and Seafront. The Heron was still called The Heron, which was good to see.

The weather was good on Saturday, but it started to rain a little bit around 5pm. It might have rained overnight, but if it did, it had stopped way before I woke up on Sunday morning. I was going to abort the ride as I was feeling tired, having done all that walking and driving the day before and not getting home until gone 2200hrs. But I didn't abort. I texted Andy that I'd be running late and reached the green just before 0800hrs.

Sunday 27 August 2018, Tatsfield village
Andy was thinking about breakfast at Flowers Farm, but as time had moved on, the notion of riding the slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop raised its ugly head. I didn't fancy Beddlestead Lane; it's long and seemingly never-ending, but we both decided to do it and off we went, saving any chat until we reached the quiet lanes that lead towards Hesiers Hill.

Andy spoke of a jobsworth 'Parky' who wouldn't let him take photographs in a Hampstead park and as we approached an off-road track on the left hand side of Beddlestead Lane – a track that would morph into Norheads Lane – I said 'let's take it and head for Tatsfield Village'. We'd come the other way before (and found ourselves on Beddlestead Lane). It was a while back, but I remembered an extreme hill and it was definitely Norheads Lane. The difference, of course, was that this time we were travelling in the opposite direction.

Norheads Lane took us into Biggin Hill, a place full of souped up Fiestas with lowered suspension and tinted windows parked in steep driveways. I quite liked it. We rode around until we saw a sign for Tatsfield and eventually followed Lusted Hall Lane, a long and very steep hill, which took us – the very slow way – into Tatsfield Village where we headed for the bus stop opposite the Old Ship pub and broke out the tea and biscuits. I had a banana and for good reason. Yesterday evening in a pub in Petworth (The Angel Inn) I ordered a chocolate brulée. It was huge – too huge, almost inedible huge – so I ate half of it and still felt like I'd done myself big internal damage. While the chocolate was very tasty, it was the consistency of putty and as a result, I left the pub considerably heavier. So before I left home for the ride I packed a banana on the basis that it would do me good, unlike the biscuits.

It was soon time to leave. We headed out of Tatsfield village and towards the famous bus stop at the end of Approach Road followed by a right turn on to Clarks Lane towards Botley Hill. Andy and I parted at The Ridge and I rode along the 269 on the off-road track, front suspension adjusted for the uneven pathway.

The plan was to ride on Bank Holiday Monday and I regretted the 'abort' text as soon as I'd sent it, but sometimes there's pressure to stay behind, although not riding always makes me short-tempered and today I found myself teetering on a bad mood most of the time. We'd planned breakfast in Westerham at the Tudor Rose and we'd been looking forward to it, but no, it was not to be. Andy's not riding next Saturday so I'll probably meet Bon and ride to Woodmansterne Green. Perhaps breakfast in Westerham or Godstone next Sunday.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Off-road exploration continues...

When I woke up I followed my usual routine. I know routines change, but not this one. Or rather most of the time everything remains the same. At 0600hrs the sound of birdsong. Not real birdsong, but the iPhone's bedtime app waking me up. For a short while I lie there listening to it, but then I get up and switch it off, pull on a pair of trousers of some sort and a tee-shirt and peer out of the window to check the weather. Then I head downstairs, open the kitchen door and fill the kettle with water. After switching it on I seek out the small saucepan. If I can't see it I know it's either in the sink, soaking, probably because there was rice in it the night before, or – and this is my favoured situation – it's in the dishwasher, nice and clean and ready to use. Rarely, I open the dishwasher and find it isn't done and I feel a little deflated, sometimes so much so that I simply don't bother with the ritual of making the porridge, but if it's clean I pull it out, along with a clean bowl, place the saucepan on the hob, measure out three tablespoons of porridge – normally Flahaven's multi-seeded but over the last two days sachets of Golden Syrup-flavoured oats, not ideal, but better than nothing. Today I'll go to the store to buy some more multi-seed. I pour a cup of milk with water, normally half-and-half, into the pan, switch it on and then put a tea bag into my favourite Cath Kidson mug. When the water's boiled I leave it for a minute or two and then pour it into the cup, almost to the top, and then add a drop of milk. Once this is done I take fruit from the fridge: blueberries, strawberries (quartered), grapes, raspberries and place them into a colander for washing. I put the washed fruit in the bowl followed by sliced banana and turn the porridge down to simmer and when its ready pour it over the fruit. Normally I'll add a sprinkling of sugar, but we're out of stock so a dribble of honey or, as has been the case these last two days, nothing because the porridge is flavoured. I prefer multi-seed and will buy more today.

Andy and I at our new found shelter or 'cottage'. Can't wait for snow!!!
Yesterday was cloudy, but not cold, and there was no sign of any rain. Wearing jeans and my Montreal tee-shirt I headed for the green, carrying a rucksack which contained, among other things, a heavy flask full of hot water, four teabags and some milk. We were both running late and had agreed to meet at 0745hrs instead of 15 minutes earlier and this time we both knew where we were headed: to the off-road path off the 269 to engage in some more exploration. When we reached the turn-off, Andy took a photograph of the path, which disappeared into infinity while I took a leak; that huge mug of tea goes right through me sometimes and this was one of those occasions. "Go on without me," said Andy as he busied himself with taking the shot and putting the camera, which he complained was very slow, back into a plastic bag and then into his rucksack. I pedalled off and down the hill, but waited further along the track. We pushed on, but found the path disappointing. It led us down nettle-infested narrow paths and there was plenty of grouse running around as we'd stumbled across some kind of breeding facility, complete with electric fence, chicken wire fences and feeding devices. Eventually we realised we'd come round in circles and decided to take a different path. Soon we found ourselves on the track we'd found last week and were about to head back to the 269 when Andy spotted a right turn that wound its way downhill to a small wooden shelter with a table and bench seats, an ideal spot for tea, we thought, and got on with the task of making it. The shelter was a great find. Andy's taken to calling it our 'cottage' and it does have the feel of a house, being made of wood. There's also an aluminium ladder resting in the rafters.

We chatted about all sorts, even Brexit was mentioned, before we packed away our stuff and headed back up the hill to the track that would take us to the 269. Andy hit the road and I took the off-road track and eventually we parted at the Green, vowing to be back at the usual time on Sunday.

When Sunday rolled around both of us were a little tired, or certainly feeling more sluggish than usual, so we decided to ride the fast way to the churchyard. As usual it was deserted. We broke out the tea and biscuits, although today I had a banana instead of Belvitas, and we sat there discussing the education system as well as other stuff, all in a fairly light-hearted manner.

Andy said goodbye at the Ridge and I continued down the 269, taking the off-road path all the way to Warlingham where I rejoined the road. I reached home around 0945hrs.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

To the Tatsfield Churchyard...and on Sunday a new off-road route!

I was going to abort Saturday's ride on the basis that I'd just returned from Vienna and needed to lie in, but I woke at 0600hrs and didn't reinstate the ride immediately, but eventually I sent a text to Andy suggesting we met at the green at 0800hrs. He agreed. We decided to head the slow way to the Tatsfield Churchyard and when we got there we chatted about my non-cycling blogposts. Andy says they're very angry and I found myself agreeing. He's right. I get a little tetchy, especially about Brexit, I'm no fan of the Conservative Party and I abhor Boris Johnson with his 'master race' haircut and his dishonest attitude towards politics. Boris thinks only of number one, himself, he wants to be PM and he doesn't give a damn about the country. Oops! There I go again, being angry, so I'll shut up. Andy's right. When I'm out of the country I tend to see it for what it is and it annoys me. Andy also dislikes my bastardisation of the word 'country'. I simply take out the 'o' in protest to the way the place is developing and the fact that Brexit won't improve anything, least of all immigration, one of the key issues that has led to our forthcoming isolation from our neighbours, the Europeans. And let's face it, Brexiteers weren't worried about EU immigration, which is falling and might mean that UK businesses have to increase wages (oh dear!); no, they were concerned about non-EU immigration, which, weirdly, the UK government has always been able to do something about, but has chosen not to do anything. The weird thing is this: I visit these places where trains are clean and run on time, where the roads aren't clogged up with traffic and where there seems to be less violence on the street and I think: why isn't England like this? And then I think of the Conservative Party, austerity, police cuts, rising crime, arseholes like Boris Johnson and it just makes me angry.

Andy and yours truly, in the middle of a field, Sunday12 August 2018
So, we found ourselves at the churchyard and the weather was perfect. Slightly cooler than it has been, but it's perfect weather and what better place than the churchyard to enjoy it? It had rained overnight so our newly found field was out of bounds. On the trudge up to the bench I noticed plenty of dew so anywhere without a bench was out of the question. The weather is now more in line with what it should be in August, but that said, the heatwave is likely to return, according to one of the tabloids.
Not far from the road, which turned out to be the 269...
On Sunday I fully expected it to be raining, but it wasn't. The skies were a bluey grey and it was cooler than yesterday, but it was still fine enough to risk it without taking waterproof clothing. Andy, on the other hand, had brought a hooded top and when he reached the green he took it off because it was too hot.

We considered the slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, but I didn't fancy Beddlestead Lane – although I made short work of it yesterday –  so we thought we'd go the stile, which is at the end of an off-road, downhill track off the Washpond Road. Washpond Road is a pleasant country lane with a hill at the far end and fields on either side. It leads on to Beech Road (I think) and the off-road track is on the right hand side as you head towards the top of Hesiers Hill. The track – or 'trail' as I kept calling off-road tracks today (Sunday) – was overgrown with nettles (as Andy discovered to his cost, he was wearing shorts). We hadn't been this way for a long time – November 2013 to be precise – and for a minute I thought we'd taken another off-road track. But I was mistaken, it was the right one, just very overgrown.
The stile that lacks purpose – we headed left of it to eventually find the 269
We threw our bikes over the stile. Well, we didn't throw them, we placed them over the stile and then climbed over ourselves and made our way to 'the stile' – basically a stile that lacks meaning or purpose, it's basically a stile on it's on that doesn't need to be stepped upon to reach the other side. The stile faces a hill and Andy and I felt we had to see if we could reach the top on our bikes. I tried it first and succeeded and Andy followed. We felt justly proud of ourselves having discussed which gear we should select prior to mounting the bikes.

After drinking tea and eating biscuits, we didn't follow the original path back up to the Washpond Road as we knew it would mean walking all the way to the top and Andy couldn't face the nettles. I didn't blame him. Instead we followed the track behind the stile and continued off-road for some time until we reached the road, which turned out to be the 269. We vowed to return next weekend and check out another path that would take us on the other side of the hill opposite the stile, the hill we both proudly climbed.

We rode down the 269, Andy on the road and me following the off-road track (sometimes I don't feel safe on the 269). We parted company at Warlingham Green and headed our own separate ways.

Returning home – where standards are in free fall...

Friday 10th August: Another fine day on the weather front. I woke up in Vienna on a beautiful morning and after checking the computer, I moseyed on down for breakfast – nothing fancy, just muesli, vanilla yoghurt and a mint tea. At Motel One, people were having breakfast outside, but I stayed in and afterwards returned to my room to answer emails and then pack up and check out. I wish I'd packed the night before, showered early and got out in the air, but I slobbed around and eventually checked out with about an hour to spare before I needed to head for the airport.

View from Room 103, Motel One, Vienna
I took a walk around streets I remembered from my previous visits and then took a last look at the fairground, which has a completely different vibe during the day; the rides aren't as colourful, there's less people, but the rides keep going and people continue enjoying themselves. Being there was a bit like taking one last look at the sea as a kid before dad drove us home from a fortnight in Felpham or Middleton-on-Sea and we had a long, hot summer ahead of us playing in the back garden. In the end, I resigned myself to the fact that I needed to get on the move and, sadly, experience the hassles of travelling again.

I went from Messe Prater on line U2 to Praterstern and from there changed to line U1 and rode to the hauptbahnhof where I picked up a train to Vienna airport. On the platform, waiting for the 1412hrs train, I met an employee of OBB, the railway company. He was on his way to catch a flight to Zurich from where he would pick up a train and ride back to Vienna. He was a nice bloke, wearing the company uniform, which was smart, and he told me he'd been working for OBB for eight years. Clearly he enjoyed his job. He spoke about long train journeys to Bucharest and Warsaw and all over Europe and I'll admit that I did envy him. He seemed extremely happy and clearly loved talking about his job as a train manager, in charge of dealing with unruly people, answering passengers' questions, checking tickets and generally being the guy to go to if you needed something. On the way to the airport he pointed out a huge oil refinery on the outskirts of Vienna. Here, he said, the country receives its oil from Russia. He said that Vienna was home to the largest cemetery in Europe and pointed it out. In between the trees I spotted the odd headstone.

Inside Room 103. Eat your heart out, Emin!
When the 1412hrs airport train arrived we parted company, but never shook hands as we simply got carried away in the crowd; he was heading for Terminal 3 while I needed Terminal 1. Here at Vienna, security is at the gate, which in a way is good as that whole tedious process is broken up somewhat. There's passport control and then nothing until just before you fly. I headed towards gate D22 where I discovered my flight was delayed, it turned out considerably delayed. Initially, though, just 20 minutes, so I sat in the restaurant close to the gate and ordered a chicken pannini and a mint tea. Once I'd boarded the plane we had to sit there for an hour waiting for 'our slot' to land at Heathrow. But eventually we took off and there was a lot of cloud. The seat next to me on the flight was vacant so I could spread out a little bit, which was good. I read a bit of my book, Don't Skip Out on Me by Willy Vlautin, but spent most of the time looking out the window at the clouds below. Eventually the high cloud cleared and the picture outside the window was the same as always: cotton wool cloud below and blue skies above. It was a pleasant flight as I was in seat 12a, an exit row, so I had more leg room too.

My phone ran out of power, which was annoying. On arrival at Heathrow T3 I found a Caffe Nero, ordered a teacake and a mint tea and sat there waiting for the phone to charge, but it didn't – the plugs weren't working. I was, after all, back in the UK where standards have dropped severely and were as nothing when compared to those in Austria. From a place where trains run on time and are spotless clean to a place were train carriages have a liberal sprinkling of crumbs and fast food wrappers on the floors and seats. From a place where people are well-dressed and smart to a place where people shuffle along in jeans and trainers and wear bleak colours; from a place where train travel is relatively cheap to a place where it costs £270 to travel to and from London to Liverpool – thanks to Virgin's old beardy. I could go on but I won't. Well, alright, I will go on. How about this: I've been wearing white shirts all week, wandering around Austrian cities and they've remained spotless clean. I was in London for no more than 30 minutes and a I found a grey stripe of dirt running from one end of my left sleeve to the other. Why? Because I was back in the UK.

Did you know that the healthiest city in the world is Amsterdam followed by Oslo? Me neither, but guess what, London doesn't make the top 25. Click here for more. Interesting to note how most of the cities in the top 25 are in Europe. One, Mangalore, is in Southern India, it came 24th. There are others outside of Europe, but not many. Wellington in New Zealand and Perth in Western Australia both made the list and were high up.

In the end, having finished my teacake and drank my mint tea I headed home. The weather was cooler than Austria's 35C, but that was the only plus point.

Friday, 10 August 2018

In Vienna – and it's still sweltering hot

Thursday 9th August: I probably woke up in the night, but again I remained in bed and got up around 0600hrs. I had to pack and check out of the Park Inn by Radisson and have breakfast, not necessarily in that order, and then my aim, after yesterday, was to avoid the heat. It's virtually impossible to keep out of the sun, but I'll do my best.
At Linz station I had another pastry...

After checking out, I left my suitcase at the hotel and headed off in search of a tram to a place called Plus City; it's a huge shopping mall in a place called Leonding on the outskirts of Linz. I needed to board tram 3 or 4, and number 4 arrived. I had a business appointment close to the mall, which culminated in lunch at L'Osteria back at Plus City. As I write this, coincidentally, I am sitting in L'Osteria in Vienna, close to the fairground. Between my lunch at Plus City and now I've travelled by train from Linz to Vienna. First I took a tram from Plus City to Linz, then, after a brief walk back to the hotel to retrieve my suitcase and freshly dry-cleaned shirts, three of them, I re-packed my suitcase to accommodate the shirts and then headed for the tram again. The tram took me to the hauptbahnhof (railway station) and there I purchased a ticket to Vienna. I was scheduled to ride the 1616hrs, which, uncharacteristically for Austria, was delayed, but only by 15 minutes.

It doesn't matter where in the world I go, there's no escaping people these days; they're everywhere and they're always on trains, so the chance of a seat alone was out of the question and it was very hot, but the train was air-conditioned so all was well. I considered upgrading to first class but in the end I contented myself with the usual pastime of reading the news on my mobile phone, reading my book –Willy Vlautin's latest, Don't Skip Out on Me – and looking out of the window at the passing scenery. I was sharing a table with an Indian gentleman and his wife. He was doing something on a Lenovo lap top, she was just sitting there looking out of the window, like I was. It was a pleasant enough journey and now I'm in Vienna. But once I'd arrived at the main station I tried (successfully) to remember how to get to my favourite hotel, which is Motel One, just outside of Messe Prater metro station; and no, that's not why it's called, in fact it isn't called Metro One, it's called Motel One, I'm losing my marbles because it's hot and sweaty everywhere – 35 degrees today, so my shirt is sticking to my back, you know what I'm saying.

Arriving at Vienna Hauptbahnhof, Wednesday 9 August 2018

I took the U1 line to Praterstern and changed on to the U2 line for one stop to Messe Prater. Then it was a case of remembering whether to take the Messe or Prater exit. I correctly chose the latter and within minutes I was checked in and making my way to room 103 on the first floor.

A new (and scary) ride at the fairground: I watched but never bought a ticket...
As far as I can tell, based on three previous stays at Motel One Messe Prater, all the rooms are identical and I always have a few niggly problems. When I first stayed here in June last year – arguably my best ever business trip thanks to a bike, good weather and a generally pleasant vibe – I had great difficulty finding the switch to the bedside lamps, which were poised over the pillows of the bed. At one stage, I considered dismantling the lights, but in the end I resorted to calling the girl on reception, who came to my room and pointed out the switches. I felt extremely stupid. I mean, I could have simply pulled the keycard from the socket by the door and plunged the room into total darkness, but that would have meant losing control and I don't like losing control at the best of times. I panic sometimes when taking off a jumper and it gets stuck with me still inside it, so being in a dark room without the means to turn on the bedside lamp was out of the question.

I know how he feels...
On my second visit last December, I found the desk was too far away from the power sockets on the other side of the room and had to re-arrange the furniture accordingly. This must have happened on my first visit too, but I can't remember. It's certainly happened this time round, on my third visit, as I've just re-arranged things to make it possible to use my lap top on the desk. In fact, talking of my third visit, this visit,  I was a little miffed that the girl on the front desk didn't provide me with the username and password for the WiFi. There are no phones in the rooms, so you have to call the hotel's main number to reach the reception desk using your mobile phone (the general assumption is that everybody has a mobile phone these days). Or, of course, go downstairs and ask for the username and password in person, which is what I did. Mildly inconvenient? Of course it was. Finally, my favourite part of the Motel One experience – the tropical fish screensaver on the wall-mounted television – wasn't quite right. The picture and the captivating music, which is playing as I write this, keeps breaking up, turning what was a pleasant dream, the whole basis of my love for this particular Motel One, into a kind of mild nightmare; it's as if the horrors of life are always there, in the shadows, hiding under the surface, like a menacing shark below thin ice, the thin membrane of happiness we're all led to believe is the mainstay of our short lives when, in reality, it's little more than false hopes masquerading as happy permanence in an otherwise uncertain world. But dreams are there to be broken, just like the rules, and for that reason, never try to recreate past happiness and never try to meet your heroes because all that happens is you break through the ice and see everything for what it is – and it's not good. The key to survival is to keep dreaming.
Another new attraction at the fairground...

I took a walk through the fairground, checking out a scary new ride and saying no, never, not in a million years. I like walking through fairgrounds, but I'm not keen on the rides, apart from the tame ones, like the Dodgems. I made my way to L'Osteria – my fourth visit in under a year, possibly even my fifth as I might have come here for lunch and dinner on a previous trip, I can't remember. This is, however, my second visit in one day, having already had lunch at L'Osteria in Plus City, Leonding, where I had a wonderful (and very large) pizza. I didn't fancy another huge pizza so I opted for mushroom risotto, a Crostino and two small bottles of still mineral water. Now I must get the check, pay up and head back through the fairground, past all the colourful but scary rides to Motel One and hopefully a good night's sleep.

When I got back I switched on the television and tried to watch a movie featuring Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone and James Woods, not sure what it was called, but it was pretty good, even dubbed over in German. But I got bored, switched it off and went to sleep.
The starkness of a Motel One corridor...

And now it's Friday morning. I fly back today at 1540hrs. I need to check out of here at noon and then make my way to the airport and my flight home to the UK.

Outside of my hotel room the sun is shining and I can hear the sound of children playing in a nearby school playground. That strange, haunting music and the tropical fish are just over my left shoulder and I'm sitting at the desk, which I moved from it's original position to the wall next to the bed. I can also hear distant screams from the fairground.

Time to sign off and get on with the business of getting home.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

In Linz – and it's really hot here...

The Danube, Wednesday 8th August, 7pm...
Wednesday 8th August: I always wake up too early and this morning it was 0300hrs. I knew this because I heard the church clock chime three times. As always, the temptation was to get up, but I resisted and simply stayed put, I stood my ground against insomnia, and eventually won through and fell asleep. I woke at 0600hrs to the sound of birds chirping and tweeting, it was as if I was in the Amazon rain forest, but in reality I was in my hotel room in Linz, listening to the sound coming out of my iphone. The sound of exotic birds is a far more pleasant way of waking up than a storming alarm one has to get up and switch off. Eventually, however, when suitably accustomed to 'being awake' – which doesn't take me long – I got up and switched it off. I then spent an hour typing up my notes from yesterday (see yesterday's post for said notes) and then I headed downstairs to the hotel's restaurant for breakfast.

I can't say I was impressed by breakfast. I had a peppermint tea, Ronnefeldt, in a good-sized mug with a colourful handle (which I later noticed was the hotel's motif and could be found on all the hotel room doors). I bring up the subject of mugs and cups because in a lot of hotels the mug (or cup) is always too small to really enjoy and I find myself stuffing the teabag into the mug or cup and not really enjoying the end result. Well, not at the Park Inn by Radisson. I had a proper mug with a coloured handle and believe me, it made a big difference to my day. But the rest of the breakfast was disappointing and it cost me 18 Euros (12 Euros if I go and book for tomorrow morning at reception when I finish breakfast today).

The main square, Wednesday 8th August
The breakfast room is a narrow space with a long bar on the right hand side and seating (some of it high) on the left. The food on offer stretches the length of the bar and beyond and consists of the usual suspects: there's the cooked breakfast of fried egg, sausage and beans, and there's the cereals, there's a few cheeses and pastries, fruit juices and fresh fruit as well as tinned, but it all looks a little tired and not very inviting. As a result, I've only had a bowl of muesli with added seeds plus a fried egg and two smallish sausages. It's not as relaxing as I had expected, put it that way, and the shape of the room means there's a bit of walking involved too and we all know the effort involved in that first thing in the morning: get a bowl of cereal, walk back to the table, go back to the food display, choose something else and walk back again – there's a lot of tooing and fro-ing and I've definitely picked the wrong seat, the farthest away from the action, so to speak. The other alternative, of course, is to see how much you can stack up in both hands, but that often ends in disaster, with the whole lot hitting the floor with a crash, other guests being splashed by falling orange juice and having their trousers ruined by a helping of baked beans or some raspberry yoghurt. On this occasion, of course, I had clearly selected the wrong seat – but any exercise is good, so do I care? No, of course not.

Note the lack of traffic. Nice isn't it?
However, I'll take back what I said about the fresh fruit as they've replenished it and the new batch looks bright and colourful and worth eating. There's also some broken up cookies so I've taken a few chunks, poured myself a second mint tea and now I'm relatively happy, although perhaps the cookie was a bridge too far. I wish I knew where I could buy Ronnefeldt teas. Peppermint in German is 'pfefferminze'.

It's another fine day outside. There's a hazy early morning sun and I feel the need for a walk after that cookie and 'the full Austrian' even if I did have no more than a fried egg and two small sausages. A walk will sort it out.

Or will a walk sort anything out? It appears to me that I have a big problem with eating at the moment and the biggest offender is cakes. I can't help myself, especially here in Linz. I weakened at lunch time and then, just now, I weakened again. A mint tea simply wouldn't do, would it? I had to have a little cake with a couple of strawberries on top, I couldn't leave it alone. It can only mean one thing: another walk – but can I walk far enough to burn off the calories? I doubt it, but let's at least try.

Dinner at the Park Inn by Radisson, Linz...
I walked to the river, the Danube, crossed the bridge and kept on walking until the city ran out, past Lentia City (a small shopping mall with more restaurants than shops) and I found myself getting dangerously close to suburbia and normal lives. I turned and walked back, clocking a sign that told me it was hot – 34 degrees C, now that's hot when you consider it was gone 1900hrs.

I crossed back over the bridge and made my way past countless shops before I started to think of dinner. I considered an Italian, but in the end decided to eat in the hotel restaurant: tomato soup, tuna steak with risotto, a small side salad and a couple of alcohol-free wheat beers. All seemed fine with the world – until I got back to my room. Suddenly, I felt hot around the back of my neck, my pulse was up and my head was throbbing and I notice that my entire body was now red and blotchy: my arms, legs, torso, my face, the lot. My stomach was sticking out too, making me appear malnourished like those kids in Africa you see on documentaries or the television news. Heatstroke, or heat exhaustion (I checked online for symptoms). All that walking in 34 deg C heat, what a fool. I went downstairs and bought two large bottles of still mineral water and when I returned to my room I switched the air con on full blast while I guzzled the water. After a short while I started to feel better, my pulse dropped and, miraculously, the red and blotchy skin disappeared completely, although my head ached, which is rare for me as I never get headaches.

This is how I felt the following morning...
I went to bed, having switched the air con back to automatic. While I did wake up at 0300hrs, I remained in bed and fell asleep, waking at 0600hrs. I showered and shaved and brushed my teeth and headed for breakfast: muesli, seeds, mint tea and a small pastry. It's Thursday morning and I feel fine now and I'm beginning to wonder whether it was a heat-related ailment or something else. Perhaps I'd had an allergic reaction to the tuna steak, I don't know, but I feel fine and inclined to have one more mint tea.

I can't say I'm happy with the breakfasts here at the Park Inn by Radisson, but being English, I won't complain, there's no need to because there's nothing wrong, it's just in my head, merely something I see – or think I see – that others wouldn't necessarily bother about: the shape of the space, the vibe, I don't know, but I have an issue with it. I'll probably go on Trip Advisor and try to express my feelings there. Don't get me wrong, it's fine overall, I won't be complaining, but there's something about the way things are set out, something about the space in which the whole experience resides. I'm here early today so the food offering is certainly less tired-looking than it was yesterday, which is a plus point for early risers.

Today I check out and later I'll be heading back to Vienna by train and then to my favourite hotel, Motel One, Messe Prater, which is right next door to this great city's famous fairground with it's Third Man Ferris wheel.

It's another sweltering hot day and I plan to keep out of the sun as I don't want a repeat of last night's nightmare.

Right! Time for another mint tea.