Monday, 30 August 2010

Unusual photo of the week...

Check out this sunflower growing in the
gutter of my street. Amazing!

Boring photograph of the week

Turn left for Westerham and right for Botley Hill.
Check out this incredibly boring pic. It's a Give Way sign at the junction between Clark's Lane and Approach Road on the outskirts of Tatsfield, but only a few feet from the famous Tatsfield Bus Stop.

New shoes, my foot!

My new walking boots from Shoe Zone in Brixham, but
there's more than one outlet. My last pair of cycling shoes
were bought in a Shoe Zone in Huddersfield – for a fiver!
Jimmy Choo? Not a chance! Timberland boots? Oh, please! Nope, the best shoe shop in the world is Shoe Zone. Why? Because the prices are brilliant and the quality's okay too. Check out what I'm wearing in the photograph above – they're walking boots with steel toe caps and they only cost me £24.99! Ideal for cycling and walking.

For more details of Shoe Zone, click here.

To the Tatsfield bus stop – twice!

I've been on holiday in a cottage in Brixham overlooking the harbour and it was tremendous. I love small harbour towns choc-a-bloc with little fishing boats and people who resemble pirates, and Brixham fitted the bill nicely. The weather was okay. We had a rainy day (last Wednesday) and the rest of the time was a mix of sun and clear skies – I swam in the sea three times, although it was fucking cold – and there were a few changeable days when one minute it was raining and the next it was sunny.

Brixham Harbour from the house we rented for a week.

I didn't really want to come home to be honest, but I had to and now it's Monday evening and that means work tomorrow. Mind you, I enjoy my job, always have done, so that makes things a little better – thank the Lord. Another good thing about coming home, of course, is the cycling. I didn't go last week and I did get through a few Cornish pasties, so a cycle was needed.

Andy and I met at 0730hrs on Sunday, the day after I got back, and headed out (the slow way) towards the Tatsfield bus stop. There was loads to do at home so a longer cycle was out of bounds and, to be honest, I was knackered, having drove the 223 miles home the previous day. Find out more about Brixham by clicking here.

A Bristol Fighter - one of many cars from the company.
We chatted about cars and I said that I was never really bothered about them; I didn't really care for sports cars and if I did have a load of money, I'd never buy a Ferrari; I just don't see the attraction. Andy said that if he had loads of cash he'd buy a Bristol and I think I'd probably do the same. For Andy, the Bristol is a cool car because you don't see many about, they have that classic look and the company builds each car by hand. Click here for more details on Bristol Cars Ltd.

Parting company at the Good Companions, a pub in Hamsey, we went our separate ways and Andy texted me later – actually, very early in the morning, about 0545 hrs, to say he had the flu and couldn't make it. I was so relieved because I'd been at a party until gone midnight and couldn't really face a ride. I turned off my alarm and went back to bed but then, around 0900hrs, I set out alone for the Tatsfield bus stop. I had a plan: take the Saturday Guardian's Review section and a flask of tea and chill out at, yes, the bus stop. But, as avid readers of this blog will know only too well, the Tatsfield bus stop is no ordinary place: it's made of wood, it's covered (providing shelter from the rain and snow etc) and it has a long integral bench. In short, I love it and, while this might sound a little bit sad, bank holiday Monday proved to be one of the best cycling days ever for yours truly. Why? Well, I sat there, mug of hot tea by my side reading Colm Toibin's short story. The sun was shining but there was a breeze, a cool, refreshing breeze, that ruffled the tall blades of grass in front of the bus stop. Click here for more information on Colm Toibin.

Colm Toibin's short story in Saturday's Guardian Review.
I know what you're thinking: little things please little minds, but it was truly wonderful sitting there, blue skies overhead, a mild breeze, a cup of tea and the Guardian's review section. The only thing I missed was Andy's company, our usual banter and, of course, Andy's teaspoon (I had to fish out my teabag nimbly using my fingers).

I left the house much later than usual (around 9am). In fact, it took me just under an hour to reach the bus stop and then I must have been sitting there for a good 30 minutes or more before heading back home (the fast way and off-road, risking a puncture but not getting one).

It was a bit of a lazy day, thanks to that late night, although I did manage to chop down a small tree in the garden (that was encroaching on next door) and then I took a shower and went to see my mum and dad. Jon had been there earlier in the day; he'd cycled round.

...and here's yours truly, writing this blog post.
Mum makes exceedingly good cakes and I weakened and had a slice of fruit cake with my tea. We left around 5pm and then I made a cottage pie for everyone.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Cycling England for the chop?

It is rumoured that Cycling England and the long-established Cycling Proficiency Test for children are to be axed by our horrible coalition government. It's that word 'coalition' that I hate the most. Coalition forces, coalition government – horrible, horrible, horrible.

Click here for more news on the likely demise of Cycling England.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Beaver Water World, Tatsfield.

I mentioned Beaver Water World in my last post, but didn't realise what it was or what great work it's doing to protect our beavers. Check out their website by clicking here .

Reverse Cycology and losing our bearings

Corn field near the Tatsfield bus stop, 15 August 2010.
When I woke up around 5am this morning and looked out of the window, I felt considerably disheartened by the heavy mist hanging over the woods. In fact, the woods were invisible, completely concealed by mist and everything outside had that damp appearance. It had been raining, obviously, and judging by the colour of the sky – a menacing dark grey – it was about to rain again.

Andy outside Tatsfield Village, 15 August 2010.

Forever the optimist, I went back to bed, but with only around half an hour before the alarm on my mobile would ring out, I figured it might be best to simply get up, go downstairs, make some tea and watch the bird bath for signs of droplets of rain. That, of course, would then prompt me to text Andy with one word: abort! It wasn't something I wanted to do as Andy hadn't been cycling for a while (well, he didn't go last week or yesterday and I hadn't exactly been that self-motivated, especially if there was a likelihood of getting soaked).

Norheads Lane where it joins Beddlestead Lane – an off-road
route to Biggin Hill.
Anyway, as the clock moved around towards 7am, the weather seemed roughly the same and Andy and I had decided to go for it, meeting on the Green at the old time of 0730hrs. The plan was to ride to the Tatsfield bus stop, the fast way, on the basis that a quick cycle was best in these conditions if a soaking was going to be avoided.
Where Beddlestead Lane and Tatsfield Approach Rd join 
Clarks Lane. The famous Tatsfield Bus Stop is on the right at
the top of TatsfieldApproach Road, diagonally across from
White Lane on the other side of the road.

Fortunately, there was no rain and we decided to go to the Tatsfield bus stop by reversing the route and going the other way down Hesiers Hill, up Beddlestead Lane and then hanging a left on Clarks Lane towards the bus stop. This proved to be quite a work-out, especially coming up Beddlestead Lane, which is a long climb towards Clark's Lane, but we reached the bus stop, knackered but fine and looking forward to our tea and cereal bar.

The route was good: we rode up the Limpsfield Road as usual, then up past Knight's Garden Centre, but turned left into Ledgers Road and then right into Washpond Lane, left on to a stretch of Chelsham Court Road and then right into Hesiers Hill where we picked up considerable speed as the road turned into Beddlestead Lane. We turned left on to Clarks Lane and stopped at the bus stop on the corner of the Tatsfield Approach Road.

For our return journey we decided to go into Tatsfield to investigate a series of 'café' signs we'd seen on earlier rides; we figured the caff was somewhere in the village. It turned out to be inside Reptile World – on my map it's called Beaver Water World (see post above this one), although they could be different places altogether. Either way, it was open early on a Sunday morning and might well be a reason not to carry a flask on a future ride this way.

Going into Tatsfield and finding a way back home has been a problem in the past, long before I started this blog, and it proved to be one this time too, although, as Andy pointed out, we'd found yet another new route so our pioneering days were far from over!

We followed Lusted Hall Lane into Biggin Hill, turning left into Sunningvale Avenue and then left again into Norheads Lane, which proved to be a pig of a hill surrounded by suburban housing. However, Norheads Lane proved to be an interesting place as it opened out into cornfields and gave us a nice bit of off-road riding until we found ourselves back on the Beddlestead Lane and confused as to which way to go. After faffing around with our SatNav on the iphones, we decided to turn right, went up Hesiers Hill the other way and then home the via Church Lane, emerging at the roundabout just beyond Warlingham Sainsbury's.

We escaped a soaking too. In fact, the weather turned out to be nice and pleasant and fairly hot. The bikes were both fine too, although I remarked to Andy that I'd found an amazing bike shop near Penrith during the week (Penrith is in the Lake District in Cumbria). The shop was in Cockermouth (where they had the floods last November) and it sold Ghost bikes, which are amazing-looking machines made in Germany. There were no prices on display, but I reckon they were on the expensive side. Mind you, the Lake District is a good place for mountain biking and I'd imagine that is why such a top-of-the-range bike shop resides in a remote place like Cockermouth. Put it this way, Penrith is the nearest railway station and that was £70 taxi ride away. Was I ripped off? Possibly, but I don't think so as the journey was metered.

Cockermouth's a great place, actually; right in the middle of the Lake District for a start, but also home to Jenning's Brewery where they brew some excellent cask ales. Click here for more details.

For more details on Cockermouth, click here.

For information on the Cockermouth floods, click here .

The Allerdale Court Hotel in Cockermouth is excellent. Click here for more details .

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Pandering to the needs of fat people

Back in the day, when I went to school, fat people were, if you like, a rarity. You didn't see that many on the streets; and at school, well, everyone knew a 'fatty' and had fond, early memories of the phenomenon now affectionately known as 'moobs', or 'man boobs'. I remember 'our' fatty during games lessons running around self-consciously in a string vest with his arms folded, but he was a nice guy and nobody went further than calling him 'fatty' or 'fatso'.

"Thank the Lord for plus-sizes! Make that two doughnuts, Fred."
Today, of course, the number of fat people is expanding at a rate of knots and this morning I read that a quarter of UK women are now size 18 or larger – and that's big! I always thought that bingo wings were reserved for aunties and school dinner ladies, but obviously not; nowadays, they're everywhere. Who knows, perhaps one day fat people will be able to fly!

During the week I was on a train travelling from Preston through to Leeds. It's a lovely, scenic route going through some amazing parts of Yorkshire, like Hebden Bridge, but one thing that will stick in my memory more than the rolling hills of the Pennines and the quaint houses nestled in the valleys around Halifax and Sowerby Bridge, was a huge woman, not a very old woman I hasten to add, but she was huge, massive, enormous. She had the proportions of a nuclear power station and had somehow managed to stuff herself into the seat by the window, leaving little in the way of room for a petite young woman who was perched precariously on the edge of her aisle seat.

Being a chauvinist, I felt sorry for the husband, although he did have tattoos. I imagined he had a rough time in bed, not in the sexual sense, but just grabbing his share of the duvet and mattress. Perhaps he sleeps on the sofa, who knows, although I figured it would be easy to mistake his wife for a sofa. If she covered herself in a flowery printed material and sat very still, perhaps with a prop, like a standard lamp, next to her, I began to wonder how many people would unwittingly take a seat?

As I sat there, a carriage full of young toddlers who must have collectively soiled their nappies because the train reeked of shit and everybody sat there with sour expressions on their faces, I had the urge to lean over and whisper, "Excuse me, listen, I don't know you, but please, for your own sake, stop eating cakes or whatever it is that is making you the size of a dust cart," but I reckon the guy with the tattoo would probably have leaned over and whacked me so I said owt (as they say in the Pennines).

When she got off the train, I realised that I was not travelling on one of those tilting 'Pendolino' trains after all and that the woman in question had been putting all our lives at risk by not standing in the centre of the carriage to even out the weight. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get the picture.

So, over a quarter of UK women are a size 18, thanks to doughnuts, burgers and a sedentary lifestyle and you know what really gets me about fat women? They never consider exercise as an option; it's always Weightwatchers and going on a diet when a decent cycle round the block every morning would be a tremendous help to lessen their bulging frames.

Market research company Mintel is behind the staggering fact that over a quarter of UK women are absolutely huge and they estimate that the women's 'plus size' market has grown (like the women themselves) by 45 per cent and is now worth £3.8 billion – that's £200 million less than the UK's pub grub market, but catching up fast!

A quarter of adults in the UK are now classed as 'obese' and that is broken down as follows: 66 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women – and all they have to do to rectify the problem is eat less and exercise more. But no, they would rather adhere to the view that obesity is a disease or that they are in some way genetically predisposed to resembling the stock of a DFS store or, indeed, the warehouse itself.

In 1993, claims Mintel, the proportion of adult men classed as 'obese' was 13 per cent. In 2008 that figure had almost doubled to 24 per cent. For women, the figure was 16 per cent to 25 per cent.

Now we all know what a burden these people, with their self-inflicted condition, put on the NHS, but what amazes me is the way society makes way for them. Wouldn't it be better if clothing manufacturers simply refused to make plus sizes? I don't know about you, but if ever I nip out to buy a pair of trousers and discover I need a higher waist size than before, I refuse to admit defeat and instead buy my normal size and then make every effort possible to lose the additional weight. Buying that bigger size is an admission of failure and I'm only talking a rise from a 32in waist to 34in.

According to Mintel's senior fashion analyst, Tamara Sender, 'plus-size consumers' (she means fat people) are looking for more fashionable plus-size garments. Fed up with looking like Sizewell B, they're expecting clothing manufacturers to do their level best to disguise their fatness and make them look a little bit more acceptable on the streets of Britain. "Please, hide my bingo wings!"

Fair enough, you might think, but again it reeks of accepting their obesity and doing nothing to rectify the matter. "Make that two doughnuts, Fred."

Mintel's Sender urges the clothing industry to no longer look upon fat people as 'niche' or a 'minority', and 'wake up to the growth potential of this market'. Well, she's right about the 'growth potential' as these people are expanding faster than one of those emergency inflatable rafts you see in nautical disaster movies.

A far better solution, I think, would be for clothing manufacturers to make a stand and say: "Enough is enough! We're clothing manufacturers, we don't make marquees, we're not in the intermediate bulk container market, let fat people stay indoors until they're thin enough to come out and buy normal-sized clothes."

But no, if there's a market, there's money and who cares if people simply eat themselves into an early grave if there's profit to be made. Nope, clothing manufacturers are rubbing their hands together with glee while exclaiming, 'Let them eat cake!'

Sunday, 8 August 2010

To Woodmansterne Green on Sunday, but no cycling on Saturday

Now, if I was dishonest (with myself) I'd blame the rain. Saturday morning at around 0645hrs was looking a bit rough: grey skies threatening rain, a damp, rain-sodden garden proving that it had already rained and so on. In other words, I'd have gotten away with simply saying 'it was raining and I decided not to go', but, truthfully, while the weather looked as if it was threatening rain, it never rained – well, not until later. Had I been motivated enough I'd have gone out. I could have made Botley Hill and back and avoided a soaking, but I decided just not to go and then, when eventually it did rain, I felt comfortable with my laziness.

Jon and Matt at Woodmansterne Green, Sunday 8th August 2010
I phoned Jon as Woodmansterne was on the agenda, but he looked out of his window and thought: it's definitely going to rain. He would have been right, it did rain, so even a trip to Woodmansterne Green was out of the equation.

But not going cycling isn't good and I felt kind of 'not right' for the rest of the day. Andy's out of action this weekend and Saturday of next weekend, so I do have the perfect opportunity just to laze around. Normally I resist the temptation to be lazy and get out on the bike, but not this Saturday. Still, there was always Sunday and Jon seemed to be back on the scene so I called him and we agreed to meet at Woodmansterne Green.

When we got there we drank tea and chewed the fat about this and that and then we cycled home.

Generally, then, a pretty uninspiring weekend's cycling, but I plan to make up for that next week. I might even go out first thing tomorrow morning ('Botley before work? What a burk!') but I'm not sure yet. Knowing me I'll get up too late and simply not go. Perhaps a 'woodland trek?' Maybe.

The weather was a little suspect this morning, but it didn't rain and while it was a little cool (for tee-shirts), it's quite warm out now (it's 1450hrs on Sunday 8th August) and it's quite pleasant. There are woolly white clouds and blue skies, no wind – and all is still and dry.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Mayor Boris Johnson's solution to London traffic – bikes!

Bikes for hire – and they're not cheap. In fact, it's really dangerous cycling
in London. Best, in fact, to get the tube or walk, as I was doing when I spotted
these bikes.

To Westerham – for a soaking!

Hard to believe, considering the amazing weather we've been having over here in the UK, that there was the risk of a soaking. In truth, of course, it was more than just a risk – it was a reality.

Reaching the top of the hill out of Westerham in the rain, Saturday 31 July 2010.
Fortunately, it was warm, so it didn't really matter and the rain didn't arrive until we embarked upon our return trip. There was a fine drizzle, but it went on and on and on; it was a bit like being sprayed by one of those nozzled water containers used to spray delicate plants. Not that Andy and I would describe ourselves as delicate flowers – unless we'd had a few the night before, but then I'd describe a hangover as 'feeling a bit rough', not delicate.

The rain did make it a little depressing, though, prompting Andy to claim that the summer was over. Well, yes and no. Later the weather picked up and it was quite pleasant, always warm and now, as I write this on a Sunday evening, there are clouds, but it's still quite warm.

Going to Westerham again was good, even if we did get a little wet. Andy decided to buy a Danish pastry instead of eating his cereal bar (so I ate his too!) and we sat there drinking tea and chatting about nothing in particular.

Going down Clark's Lane towards Westerham there are signs reading 'Café' – but there's no café. Andy reckons the caff in question is in Tatsfield village, which would be interesting, as only a few posts back I explained how the reason why we tend not to go into the village was because it lacks a caff and shelter from the weather* – that's why we go no further than the Tatsfield Bus Stop at the junction with Clarks Lane and Approach Road. Next week, I think that we'll have to take a trek into Tatsfield to find out more about the elusive café.

Didn't go on Sunday and there was no sign of Jon again this week either.

* There is shelter in Tatsfield village under a wooden bus stop similar to the one mentioned above at the junction with Clarks Lane and Approach Road.