Saturday, 30 January 2010

30 Jan 2010: Frost or snow? Either way, it's white and cold...

No cycling and a Full English Breakfast instead. Now that can't be good for you.
A friend of mine came off his bike in the wintry weather earlier this month and, sadly, broke his arm. He's on the road to recovery but is having difficulty sleeping at night and might have to undergo another operation – here's hoping he doesn't have to. So, when I awoke late this morning and found what looked like a covering of snow on the ground I decided not to go cycling.

I've just heard the weather man on the television talk about widespread frost, so perhaps it's not snow, but either way I feel justified, if not a little disappointed, in not going.

Oversleeping was the main problem and that had a lot to do with not being able to get to sleep until around 1am. When I eventually did sleep, of course, I slept like a log. Why? Because of a large Whisky Mac, that's why. It was 8am when I awoke, then I saw the covering of frost or snow on the ground.

My phone battery was flat so I never heard Bon call; he HAS gone cycling and, as I write this, is probably at Woodmansterne Green. Yes, I do feel a little ashamed at my wimpiness and even now I'm thinking: go on, get dressed, get out there, but I'd rather eat sausages for breakfast. 

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Who can believe we wore shorts and tee shirts?

Matt and Andy in warmer weather in 2009

Yes, in this cold weather and times of wind and rain, who can believe that only a few months ago we were wearing shorts and tee shirts. Take a look at this shot taken on Woodmansterne Green.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

January 24th – to Westerham in Kent to discuss Harley-Davidsons

It was deceptively cold this morning, one of those days when the sun initially hid mischieviously behind blue-grey cloud as if enjoying the fact that icy air was blasting our faces as we descended towards Westerham from the dizzy heights of Clark's Lane. There was a mist clinging to the bare trees and here and there clumps of snow lingered from the blizzard conditions of early January.

We hadn't been to Westerham for some time so it was good to reach our bench and get out the tea and cereal bars. We had a lot to discuss and it all focused on the recent purchase, by our friend David, of a Harley-Davidson Sportster. The main thrust of the conversation was 'should we buy one to keep him company?' Not that it would be that easy, we're both broke, and it's hardly an excuse for turning up at home on a new motorcycle.

Andy knows about motorcycles, he's had a few in his time and he's been a dispatch rider, arguably one of the world's most dangerous jobs. Andy has come a cropper once or twice but he's still alive and he hasn't broken any bones but, as he admitted, it was more a case of luck than judgement and that, of course, is the big question mark hanging over our motorcycle ownership: are we going to kill ourselves?

The other issue concerning the purchase of a Harley is that old cliché that people roll out whenever the subject is mentioned: 'the mid-life crisis'. Personally, it's a phrase I'm getting a little tired of because it is the sort of thing people bring up when they want to stop somebody realising a dream and enjoying themselves. They hope, perhaps, that by merely mentioning the words – 'mid-life crisis' – the person it is aimed at will hastily rein in whatever dream they had for themselves and skulk off self-consciously having been sort of reprimanded by 'the grown-ups' who simply don't want anybody to have any fun. I come across this constantly. There's always somebody who will tell you not to do something and give you a good reason to back up their apathetic point. I've always wanted a real fire, logs or coal, I'm not bothered, but there are loads of people, my wife and parents included, who will moan about the mess and who will be charged with the task of cleaning it.

Where something like a Harley is concerned, it's almost a case of 'well, if I can't have one, why should you?' In fact, if you are considering the purchase of anything that might trigger the phrase 'mid-life crisis' I would say go ahead and do whatever it is: buying a Harley, getting a ticket to ride the Trans-Siberian Express, buying a bass guitar, whatever it might be. As the Nike people would say, 'just do it'.

That phrase 'mid-life' crisis is annoying and misleading on a number of levels. For a start, what is 'mid-life'? I wanted to buy a Harley-Davidson back in the mid-nineties (when I was mid-30s) after reading Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I never finished, more's the pity, and a work of literature that found me desperately hoping the Government of the time would invent something like an amnesty for unread novels in the same way that they do for knives and handguns. It would have been handed in to my local police station. The reality, of course, is that it sits on my bookshelf somewhere, crying out to me to give it another chance. But now I dare not try again as it might re-ignite my passion for the Harley-Davidson 883 Hugger, the bike with the buck horn bars and 'that characteristic Harley rumble'. It's so low on the ground I figured that if I got into any difficulties I could simply let go of it and bounce along the floor in slow motion like the guy in Electraglide in Blue.

But I had no plans on falling off, even though the threat of death or disability loomed large whenever the word 'motorcycle' raised its ugly head. For me, it was all about simply 'turning up' on the bike. It was never about getting my motor running and heading out on the highway, oh no; it was all about polishing the thing in the garage and, more importantly, arriving, turning up: at the gas station, at the school gates, at the office and so on; making an entrance, rather self-consciously, perhaps, but making a noisy entrance nonetheless wearing, perhaps one of those German stormtrooper helmets and having a huge chain draped diagonally across my upper body.

Andy says that there are two types of Harley rider and that we (and our pal David) don't really fit into either category. One is the wannabe Hell's Angels with their tattoos and that greasy, 'greebo' appearance – you know, the sort of people that appear on Scrapheap Challenge. What was that I was saying about German stormtrooper helmets and a large chain? Alright, when push comes to shove I'd be more conventional, it has to be said. I would do my best to play down any Hell's Angel fantasies. The other type is the line dancers, with their chequered shirts, their cowboy boots and their long grey moustaches who listen to Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. That doesn't appeal either.

But none of this gets away from the fact that owning a Harley-Davidson is a nice feeling; it's like when you were a kid and your dad bought you something, like a bike or a guitar or a hi fi system, it was yours to admire, yours to use and, in the case of the Harley, yours to polish. That is what this is all about, it's the joy of possession, of knowing that out there in the garage a low-slung Harley crouches menacingly behind push bikes and cardboard boxes full of junk, and that it can be rolled out on to the front drive to become a conversation piece, something to feel proud of owning.

Andy says its only a matter of time before you come off; he's come off many times, he's been over the handlebars, thanks to a tiny piece of grease on the road, although he admits he was going a little too fast. He's had numb thighs for weeks on end, has been unable to lift his arms above his shoulders for many days and, on one occasion, his knee inflated to the size of a football. It doesn't sound good to me. If I bought a Harley I would want to blank out all thoughts of injury and concentrate on the spiritual element of motorcycling: the wind in my face, the freedom, the noise of that V-twin, although I would always be conscious of the fact that I wasn't in America. It would, out of necessity be the M6, not Route 66; it would be the motorway, not the Interstate, pounds not dollars and Postman Pat policeman, not State Troopers. In other words, it would be a naff British movie, not one made in Hollywood.

If I lived somewhere up in the highlands of Scotland, I'd buy a Harley and use it only when the sun was shining. For the rest of the time it would be under lock and key and I would spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on it and, when nobody's around, I'd probably start making engine noises too.

There are other considerations too. Andy says that having a motorcycle can be a lonely business unless you have mates with similar interests. I know what he means. If I was planning a trip to the coast I'd want to go with somebody else – and I don't mean on the back. I've already resolved that if I ever bought a Harley (which I probably won't) I'll never take passengers on the basis that killing myself is fine, but I'd hate to be responsible for killing or maiming somebody else. So, perhaps Andy and I should buy a Harley just to keep Dave company on those long rides down to the beach. 

The main reason I didn't buy a bike back in the mid-nineties, however, was because of somebody I don't exactly know too well. We only met in the school playground if I happened to be dropping off my son at school. All I know about this other father that I occasionally nodded to was that he was a policeman and that he rode a motorcycle. One morning he greeted me with a smile and I noticed he was on crutches. It was that time of year when people returned from winter breaks skiing. I put two and two together and made three – he'd broken his leg in a skiing accident. Time for a few well-meaning gags and, of course, a jovial 'get well soon'. Except that he wasn't going to get well soon. He'd had a motorcycle accident. A woman driving a biscuit tin (cue the Boots ad song, 'here comes the girls') had pulled out of a side road and hadn't noticed him before it was too late. He had to have his leg amputated.

As I drove home from the school I started thinking. He's had his leg amputated, it's not coming back and all because somebody hadn't seen him. How the hell is he going to deal with that, I wondered, resolving not to buy a motorcycle, not now, not ever.

My main concern at the moment, however, is that David doesn't fall off. People say its inevitable but here's hoping he remains in one piece and rides safely.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

David's new Harley Davidson

David Foster outside my house with his new Harley-Davidson. When he pulled up outside, my wife asked me, "Have you ordered a pizza?"

Yes, it's an old cliché of having reached 'a certain age' and here's proof of it: our pal David (who owns a push bike but never uses it) has finally gotten round to buying a Harley. He took his test a while back and now has the bike (see pic above). More on this later, but needless to say, it's been the topic of conversation between Andy and I this morning while en route to Woodmansterne Green to meet Jon. Only a short cycle today as there are domestic things to do.

On the way home, I spotted a caff in Smitham and stopped for a pot of tea and a Danish pastry. Nice!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Sunday 17 Jan 2010 – a deflating morning!

Pix from the top: Jon, Andy and myself on Woodmansterne Green (note absence of snow); proof, if any was needed, that I finally bought a teapot with me; and my front wheel in the hallway of my house some time before 7am this morning. I would soon discover that my rear tyre was deflated too.

Up at 6am this morning and for good reason: I had a puncture to repair. I nipped outside into the garage, took off my front wheel and walked back into the kitchen where I repaired a puncture, drank a mug of tea, got stuff ready for the cycle to Westerham (that was the plan for today) and then out into the garage to put the front wheel back on the bike.

Tyre pumped up I was ready to go. I called Andy, told him I'd be a little late, not more than five minutes, and then, on touching my back tyre, I discovered another puncture. Time to abort the cycle. Well, not exactly. Andy said he'd cycle over to me for a local route (my Woodland Trek through suburban South Croydon and then off road into Croham Hurst). Not a great cycle so I suggested Woodmansterne Green and Andy agreed.

I managed to fix the rear puncture, get the wheel back on and inflate the tyre before Andy reached me and then we set off for Woodmansterne.

Jon still had the remnants of a cold, but I planned on calling him somewhere along the Foxley Lane in Purley to see if he was up for a cycle – but he beat me to it and called me instead. Jon and I have this little game we play with each other. Basically, I call him (or he calls me) and we pretend to be out of breath as if we're on our bikes, even if we're in our respective front rooms. He did this today and I had to convince him that I was genuinely on my bike and en route to Woodmansterne Green. We agreed to meet there.

Andy and I reached the Green at 0830hrs and, while it has been a long-running joke, I finally did bring a teapot with me (see pix above) and used my tartan scarf (purchased in Dublin in 1983) as a makeshift tea cosy. Not a bad cup of tea, to be honest, but it got cold rather quickly.

We chewed the fat with Jon when he arrived, resolved that next week we would go to Boxhill and Redhill (fighting talk!) and prove or disprove Jon's assertion over the mileage from Woodmansterne to both destinations – he reckons there's no more than five miles between Redhill and Boxhill, in distance terms, from Woodmansterne Green. A fiver rests on this: I say it's more than five miles. We'll see.

Nice weather today. Blue skies and sunshine. Makes a change from the past couple of weeks, which have been cold, frosty and snowy and not pleasant if you're out cycling.

That's it for today, folks. Oh, and by the way, we didn't go cycling yesterday (Jan 16th).

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Jon catches a cold

Jon on Woodmansterne Green minus his cold.

Jon says he would have gone cycling today, even in the snow, if he didn't have a cold and to be honest, looking outside my conservatory window at 0850hrs on Saturday 9 January 2010, it does look inviting. There are blue skies and a nice blanket of snow on the lawn, but let's not forget: it's bloody cold out there.

Bon, get well soon – we're going next weekend!

Friday, 8 January 2010

Punctures, cold weather and loads more snow...

My garden in the snow last January (2009) but it looks roughly the same at the moment!

Just been on the blower to Andy and it transpires that we both had punctures at exactly the same time last weekend. Having just left Andy at the top of Foxley Lane in Purley, I noticed that my front wheel was unusually wobbly. It turned out that I had a puncture. It was too cold to fix and I knew I had no more than a 20 to 30 minute walk at best so off I toddled in the direction of home.

Andy, on the other hand, had a puncture at roughly the same time and managed to get as far as the Godstone Road before deciding it needed to be fixed. Both punctures were on the front wheel and Andy had much further to travel so he fixed his there and then: it was a case of fix it or endure a walk in the cold for around an hour.

It's now Friday evening, just gone 7pm, as I write this and it really is brass monkey weather outside. The BBC news website is forecasting more cold weather and loads more snow for the South East (Kent and Surrey) so it looks as if the cycle might be off. Besides, I've yet to fix my puncture, it's been so cold. Sunday will probably be even worse so there's a good chance that all cycling activity this week will be off.

Andy and I have decided not to go and I need to relay this info to Jon. There's nothing worse than not going cycling at the weekend but let's not forget, there's always next weekend!!!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Counting sheep!

Carvings of what look like sheep on Woodmansterne Green.

Hooray! Andy and Jon talk politics. Hooray!

Jon and Andy 'talking politics' on the Green while I nipped off to buy some teabags.

3rd January – yes, Woodmansterne Green again!

A frozen leaf on Woodmansterne Green.

It was warmer at 6am this morning than it was two hours later. When I went out to retrieve my mobile phone from the car there was no frost on the windscreen of my car, but by just gone 0730hrs, the windscreen was completely iced up.

Outside there was still a full moon in a grey sky, everything seemed covered in ice and soon my feet were freezing cold. Andy overslept and Jon had a bet to make: he reckons that the distance from Woodmansterne Green to Boxhill is no more than five miles longer than Woodmansterne to Redhill. A fiver rests on this one. I bet that Boxhill is well over five miles longer than Redhill, based on the knowledge that travelling to Redhill and back from my house in South Croydon is a 28-mile round trip and I normally get home at a reasonable hour. Conversely, Boxhill (as this blog testifies) takes the whole morning and hovers between 35 and 40 miles in round trip terms.

Thought for the day: Why does the UK establishment reward failure? And why was Bruce Forsyth missed off the New Year Honours list? Let's start with rewarding failure. Arguably one of the biggest failures of late was the police shooting dead an innocent Brazilian on the tube at Stockwell. Who was in charge of the operation? Why, the aptly named Cressida Dick! And who was awarded the Queen's Medal? You got it! Cressida DICK!!!!

As for Brucie, well, he's what, 81? He might not be around next year so why wasn't he honoured?

2nd January 2010 – positively balmy!

Here's my bike resting against a pub sign adjacent to the Tatsfield bus stop. It might look sunny, but it was bloody freezing cold.

The phrase 'brass monkey' springs to mind, although that word 'springs' is totally out of place. It was freezing cold on both 2nd and 3rd of January and our first cycles of the new year.

On the 2nd, Andy and I cycled to the Tatsfield bus stop. Going downhill was agonising for face and ears and I wished for my balaclava, which I couldn't find in the house. Our feet froze too. Thank the Lord for gloves!

At the bus stop, Andy referred to the weather as 'positively balmy' as the sun rose its head from behind a nearby hedgerow, but then again he might have been talking about our general state of mental health. Who in their right mind would venture out in weather this cold?

There was a full moon in a grey sky and frozen muddy puddles that cracked underneath our tyres like creme brulées but when we reached the bus stop all was fine with the world and we sat there discussing the greatness of the Christmas Top Gear special in Bolivia. Shame they fixed so many things: like the Toyota Land Cruiser rolling off and crashing at the end, making the Land Rover, 'the most unreliable car in the world', the most reliable car in the world. Hmmmm...and let's not forget there were cameramen out in the forest with them, prompting the question, 'how did they get around?' Still, all that aside, it was easily the best programme on the box over Christmas along with James May's attempt at running a 00 gauge railway from, where, Barnstaple to Bideford if I can remember correctly.

On the way home I stopped off at Warlingham Green's Village Café for a mug of tea and two slices of toast and then, on reaching home, a hot bath. Perfect!