Friday, 30 December 2011

27th December - Tatsfield Churchyard

Despite a broken night, I decided to push ahead with a ride and rose at 6am in preparation. To be honest, had my phone been charged, I might have sent the 'abort' text, but I'm glad it wasn't and that I didn't.

It was a pleasant day and we'd both had decent festive breaks. Andy was at home on Christmas Day and I went to the mother-in-law's followed by my mum's on Boxing Day. All very pleasant. Today, 30th December 2011, I've just returned (last night) from two excellent days in the New Forest with friends. We go every year and it's always a great break, lots of walking around the forest and, of course, a few beers and loads of food. Great stuff.

Andy's bike gets into the festive spirit.
I'm getting a little concerned that this Christmas seems to be sailing by miles too fast. Soon I'll be sitting at my desk, working. Still, live for today and all that.

On the 27th, we cycled to the Tatsfield churchyard, but couldn't find a Christmas tree that looked any good; the one on Tatsfield Green, which we cycled to after drinking our tea, had lights and stuff, but it wasn't switched on and looked a bit dull. We cycled home and Andy said he'd decorate the bike.

Today, 30th December, it's a nice day out there, but I woke up too late for a ride and perhaps a break is as good as rest. Tomorrow, 31 December, will be our last ride of the year - here's hoping it stays nice out there.

Two years ago.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Eve morning - let's talk about dogs...

Tatsfield village on Christmas Eve morning, around 0815hrs. The Christmas tree on the green wasn't sparkling because the lights were off, but there was a fair amount of activity, mainly from people buying their early morning newspaper from Linda's store, one of those places that sells everything you need.
Dogs: cute, maybe, but they don't know the meaning of Andrex - even if
they feature in the advertisements.
There were a few people out walking their dogs. One man had three. At one point, as Andy and I sat down to enjoy our tea and cereal bar, it seemed as if all the dogs were barking at the same time. Sitting in the comfort of the covered bus stop, looking across to The Ship, Andy had something to say.

"I can't stand dogs," he said.
"I'm not sure," said I. "But I know what you mean."

Across the road a man emerged walking his dog. Right on cue, I thought.

"They're pack animals," Andy said.
"Man's best friend," I replied.
"I don't believe that; they just go where they're fed."
"Cats more so..."
"I hate cats too."
"I'd prefer a dog to a cat."
"Why own a dog? They're so much grief. Everything revolves around the dog. If you go out you have to ask yourself 'shall we bring the dog or leave it here?' and if you go on holiday, you've got to find somebody to look after it or put it in kennels. It's like having a baby for 15 years. People who own dogs need to feel wanted."

Andy had picked the right day to discuss dogs; there were loads of them: big ones, small ones, some in twos, some in threes, Tatsfield was a dog owners' paradise.

"The thing I hate about dogs is the smell," I said. "A kind of doggy smell, a damp smell, that suddenly hits you, it wafts past. I remember once, when I visited a social club near Derby, that the man who owned the club offered me a lift to the station. He warned me that he kept dogs and that the car was a bit of mess, but it wasn't the mess I was concerned about, it was the smell. For the whole journey I must have been pulling an awful face. All I wanted to do was pinch my nose."
"And every day you've got to take it out for a walk, whatever the weather, even when it's pouring down."
"Yes, and when you get back home, soaking wet, the dog shakes himself all over the carpet."
"And these days, you've got to pick up their turds too.
"That's the most off-putting bit."
"Yes, the feel of a hot, squashy turd through a plastic bag."
"Actually, the worst thing about dogs is that they don't wipe their arses."
"I've never thought of that before, but you're right, they don't."
"Imagine if you had to do it for them. Now there's a job I wouldn't relish."
"The dog wouldn't like it either."
"Think for a moment if humans acted like dogs. Imagine being at home, with nothing on. You answer the call of nature, you don't wipe your arse and then go and sit on the sofa. That's what it's like being a dog."
"Or doing that thing dogs do when they pull themselves along on their arses."
"Carpet surfing?"
"That's it."
"Our respective wives wouldn't be impressed."
"No, they wouldn't."
"That's a good point, though."
"What?"
"I've never thought of it before: that dogs never wipe their arses."
"Well, they can't, we'd have to do it for them and that's far worse than picking up their turds through a plastic bag."
"What time is it?"
"Time we got out of here I think."

We mounted our bikes and left Tatsfield and it's barking dogs behind us. We cycled past the desolate Reptile Zoo and were greeted by the sound of dogs, or was it wolves, crying and yelping. I wondered if a Komodo dragon was on the loose, but figured that a reptile zoo in Tatsfield would be limited to grass snakes and other less dangerous animals.

Merry Christmas to all our readers!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Helen Pidd on the Batavus Lento Deluxe

Writing in Saturday's Guardian Weekend magazine (17 December) Helen Pidd explains how she can never understand anybody who takes the bus when the option of cycling is open to them. Well, how about when it's raining, Helen? But, she argues, when she moved to a foreign country (I'm guessing Germany and Berlin) she bought a cheap bike and discovered that 'riding a rubbish bike is no fun at all'.
The male version of the Batavus Lento is available in blue and black.

Well, of course. Having spent around £700 on my Kona Scrap, I must admit that I would never trade it in for a cheap ride from Halfords (not that all Halfords bikes are cheap, they used to sell Konas there too).

Getting back to Helen: she took delivery of a Batavus Lento (click here for more details of the company behind the bike) and she described it thus: 'it was like having sex with somebody who knows how to do it after years with a blundering novice; like tasting real pesto after a lifetime eating it out of a jar'.

My pesto always comes from a jar and as for sex with a blundering novice, well, hey, I need more practice I guess.

Describing the Batavus Lento, Pidd said that turning the pedals was effortless and that 'a light tap on the brakes brought me to a firm yet peaceful stop'. She said that the front light (front light?) was powered by a dynamo (now, that's what I need) and that it was so bright she had 'enormous fun deliberately dazzling friends while pretending to be Mulder or Scully with their industrial torches'.

Just for the record, Mulder and Scully used Maglites.

According to Helen, 'a cute little pump' was built into the Lento's rear rack and was never needed.

The Batavus is a Dutch brand and while it is what Helen calls 'a traditional sit-up-and-beg' bike, it's pretty speedy too, with seven gears offering an excellent range. She never needed to dip below two and found herself 'really flying' along Berlin's Karl-Marx-Allee.

And then she went and ruined the whole article: 'The fact that it [the Lento] looks a little ploddy may be a disadvantage to some, but being underestimated by men on racing bikes is one of my favourite things'.

Hmmm...men, racing bikes. We're not all Lycra monkeys (or Mamils). 'I love swooshing past while they're fiddling with their clip-on shoes at the traffic lights'.

But is Helen ever really satisfied? No. She admits herself that she started to nit-pick. She thought the Lento was still a 'hulk of a bike' despite its aluminium frame, that the rack at the back was too chunky and the back light was not powered by a dynamo and needed batteries. She disliked the girly white or pink colour options (men, there is a male version of this bike in black or blue).

The colour options and, indeed, all her criticisms of the Lento were mere 'toothpaste squeezing/seat-up' sort of issues and not grounds for divorce (or, in the case of a bike, taking it back to the shop).

In short, Helen found the Lento a joy to ride and far better than taking the bus (although she didn't mention anything about her options when it rains).

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Tatsfield Village – Saturday 17th December 2011

Cold weather. The car outside had a dusting of frost on the roof, Sanderstead pond had a similar cellophane film of ice as I cycled by and, in short, it was cold. Fortunately, I had my full balaclava on and many layers of clothing and I didn't feel too bad. To be frank, I was just glad to be up and out on the bike as the weather, while cold, was strangely pleasant.
Tatsfield Village Green on Sunday November 21st 2010.
At the green, Andy and I decided to head for Tatsfield village and en route we checked out the reptile zoo, which was closed. There was a sign saying that a café was open from 7am, but there was no sign of life so we headed for the bus stop in the village opposite the pub.

We sat outside, drank our tea, ate our cereal bar and chatted about jobs and stuff before heading home and vowing to cycle again the following day. My last words to Andy were something like 'same place, same time tomorrow?' but it wasn't to be as I had a broken night. I sent Andy the Abort! text and went back to bed, not surfacing properly until around 10am. Andy texted me saying he'd had a lie-in, which was good news as my lack of cycling recently has been bugging me.

I phoned Andy and we discussed next week: a Christmas Eve cycle is definitely on the cards as is boxing day ride to Woodmansterne Green to meet Jon and eat some cake. That's the plan. My aim is to get a whole row of early nights in next week, particularly on Friday.

Incidentally, I'll also be available for rides on 30 and 31 December, not forgetting a New Year's Day ride if anybody's up for it.

Thought for the day: if quizzes are quizzical, what are tests?


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

That time of year....or just plain laziness?

The answer is probably a mix of the two. I didn't go cycling at all last week, but to be honest, I put it down to tiredness. At last I have a proper job, but it means getting up at the crack of dawn, which takes some getting used to; so it gets to the weekend, Andy's not going and I figure a lie-in will do me good – and it does! Add on a bit of poor weather, ie it's cold, and the end result is I don't go cycling.

Andy's weekend cycling route - I was in bed.

This is, of course, a sorry state of affairs that has to be rectified, but then again it is that time of year when the weather gets very cold – not that it's stopped us in the past – people start to go down with coughs and colds (fortunately, not yet) and a little thing called Christmas comes our way (the festive season has never stopped us, incidentally).

Andy did go last weekend, though, so I really can't use it as an excuse. In fact, he sent me a map of his route - just to make me feel that little bit more guilty! The truth of the matter was this: last Saturday, 10 December, was my birthday (I'm keeping quiet about my age) and I went round to a mate's house to celebrate as his wife and one-year-old daughter were both sharing my birth date. Coincidence or what? It's odd, as there's a girl in my office who shares the day too, it was Marco Pierre White's birthday on 11 December and my former colleague Sean's birthday on the 9th, not to forget an old pal, Andy Penfold, who also shares the 10th. All in all, then, birthday city!

Anyway, that was my excuse. This coming weekend, poor weather will be the only excuse and that excludes cold weather - only rain and heavy snow count as a reason for an abort text.

The photograph accompanying this post shows Andy's route last weekend.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Urban ride...

Breakfast at mum's - easily the highlight of the day.
The weather was grey and dark, but there were signs of clearer skies and I fancied getting out on the bike. Last week had been a poor show, yesterday was a good day, but I stayed away from the Kona and today there was no excuse. 

There are car problems; the pipe connecting the radiator to the engine blew last week, making us immobile for the weekend. Short trips became mammoth logistical nightmares and I figured the best way to see mum was to ride over there. It took me 35 minutes, possibly 40, but I got there; and what's wrong with the occasional urban ride?

I travelled down Barnfield to West Hill, hung a left on to the Upper Selsdon Road, heading towards Croydon, and then hung a left past the old Rail View pub (now The View) and on to the Brighton Road for all of 30 seconds before hanging right into Haling Park Road, riding a strenuous uphill route to the roundabout at Pampisford Road. Down past the vast expanses of playing field and round past Rockingham's garden centre and the ugly Hilton National towards the lights on the A23.

I turned right on to the A23 and then, about 500 yards later, swung left into a road that took me through an industrial estate, but brought me out on the Stafford Road beyond Fiveways. I rode towards Wallington, crossed the top of the high street and on to the mini roundabout at Boundary Road. Turning right, I headed towards the lights at the top of Ruskin Road where I turned left, passing Carshalton Park on my left and then finding myself at the Windsor Castle pub followed by a short burst of the Carshalton Road before turning right into Shorts Road, travelling the wrong way along a one-way street - but at this time in the morning, it mattered not.

At the end of Shorts Road, safely under the railway bridge, I'd arrived at Westmead Corner and it was only about 100 yards to Rossdale, where I turned left and cycled up the hill towards mum's.

A hearty breakfast awaited me: Shredded Wheat with hot milk and brown sugar, bread and marmalade and a boiled egg with fingers. Perfect! I washed down the lot with two huge mugs of tea, chewed the fat with mum for a bit and then headed for home again, getting back around 10.30am - just in time to get involved with a day of frustration - all based on just two words: jump leads.

Whenever the words 'jump' and 'leads' are put together, it means a day of shite lies ahead. There's nothing worse than getting them out of the boot, fixing them to the battery and then linking them to the battery of the car owned by the unfortunate other person who has to be involved to make them work - although later in the day, I went solo and jumped one of my cars with another. But let me explain that bit for you. 

On Friday the car seemed to explode while on the school run. The pipe joining the radiator with the engine fell apart and the car was abandoned a couple of miles from the house. Today, after my cycle, we went over there with my brother-in-law, got the thing moving again and I drove it home, being careful not to overheat it. 

Earlier in the day, my brother-in-law had connected his car to my dud one on the drive to charge the battery. This had been successful and I then drove the car to a nearby garage, filled the tank and drove home. Then (I hope this isn't boring you) after a spot of lunch we decided to drive over and see mum - except that we couldn't because the battery was totally dead. I then drove the fixed car on to the drive and jumped it with that, but it didn't work and now, as I write this, we have two crap cars outside, one on the road and one on the drive. What a nightmare!

One year ago...


Sunday, 27 November 2011

No cycling this weekend....

It's a shame, but it's true: no cycling this weekend. Saturday's no-show was understandable. I'd had a pretty heavy week, characterised by early starts, catching a train at 0740 every morning and then on Friday there was a party – and I didn't reach home until 0200.

Sunday, however, there was no excuse. After a good nine hours in bed, asleep, I should have been up with the lark, but I wasn't. To be honest, I was just too darn comfortable and in the end I slept on until nearly 9am. Am I a slob or what? You're right. I'm a slob. Or rather, I am this week.

I need to get it together next week. The biscuits must go, and the crisps, the sausage rolls, all of which I sampled last week. No more, that's it! Oh, and no cakes either! Or beer! So, there you have it. A poor show on my behalf, especially as I know that Andy's been off-roading down in Kent.

Two years ago.

In the news today, 27 November 2011:-
Gary Speed.
• Wales football manager Gary Speed has been found hanged at his home in Cheshire. Why he should have committed suicide is baffling as all of those who were with him hours before his death talked of his upbeat and positive outlook on life. Rumours that the Sun was about to run a big story on Speed were denied by the tabloid newspaper.

• The Arab League has imposed sanctions on Syria. Civil unrest in the country has resulted in the deaths of many civilians and international condemnation of the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

• Dominic Chilcott, British ambassador to Tehran, could be out of a job as the Iranians have threatened to expel him following sanctions imposed by Britain (and other nations).


Sunday, 20 November 2011

Wiggle gets a wiggle on! But what about 'Mamils'?

Andy will be pleased to note that his new catch phrase – actually, his only catchphrase – has a certain amount of topicality. There is, believe it or not, an online cycling retailer called Wiggle and the company is being courted by three private equity firms keen to get a piece of Wiggle.

Bridgepoint, the private equity house that owns sandwich chain Pret a Manger; Advent, owner of DFS, and the Swedish EQS are all expected to put in second bids this week and, apparently, there's an overseas bidder involved too.

Inner tubes and helmets are key products for Wiggle where sales jumped 55 per cent to £86 million - generating profits in excess of £10 million.

The success of Wiggle, however, is down to a new breed of male, known as 'mamils' – and that, sadly, stands for Middle-Aged Men in Lycra who, apparently, are choosing fast bikes over fast cars.

Wiggle is based in Portsmouth and was founded in 1999. It is currently majority-owned by private equity company Isis and is run by chairman Andy Bond (former boss of Asda and a cycling enthusiast).

As an alternative to selling, Wiggle is considering flotation.

But let's just go back to Mamils. It stands for Middle-Aged Men in Lycra. 

Thank God we're not Mamils!

Source: The Sunday Times.

The Morbid Ride

After my pioneering excursion on Friday (see previous post) Andy and I set off this morning (Sunday 20 November) for Coney Hall along the aforementioned route, past the wrecks of fairground equipment and the plastic bag full of urine hanging from a branch on the roadside.
Let there be light! And there was light! Andy finds a ray of sunshine
in a strangely depressing environment.
The ride itself was fine – nice and rural as we like it – but, to be honest, the destination left a lot to be desired. Not only was the recreation ground very exposed, it was also very, very cold and all the benches were wet. We were fine one minute, riding happily along Layhams Road, but suddenly, the temperature dropped. It was as if we'd riden into the freezer section of a supermarket.

First, we raced across the vast expanse of the Coney Hall recreation ground and then, realising there was little to do in the small high street, let alone sit down and drink our tea, we travelled a short way along the A2022 and then hung a left into Layhams Road. We found a church on the right, but it was, to be honest, a bit strange and a little depressing, especially when we found the grave of a 16-year-old boy, Jack Anthony Mander, who died way back in 1934. That was sad, but the churchyard itself was disorienting. It was on many levels, creating the impression that there were headstones all around us - in fact, there WERE headstones all around us; as well as above and below us, in front of us and behind us – and it was depressing.

We drank our tea standing up, looking at the headstone of Jack Anthony Mander, who died in March 1934, when my dad was five years old. I popped my head round the door of the church, where a band was rehearsing for a 10am service. I shook hands with the vicar and then went back outside to where Andy was waiting and we headed off, towards the A2022, and followed off-road paths towards Addington village (it's very posh, nothing like New Addington on the other side of the tram tracks).

From Addington Village we headed for Selsdon and parted company near the roundabout at the top of Sanderstead Hill.

Andy and I won't be cycling together again until December 4th, but something tells me we won't be heading for Coney Hall again and certainly not the churchyard off Layhams Road - too depressing.
Our route - taken from Andy's house in Caterham.


Friday, 18 November 2011

New ride discovered

I was on the saddle for just short of three hours and I have questions. Why do people pee in clear plastic bags and leave them hanging on branches by the side of the road? There's no punchline, I just want to know why as I saw a few on my new ride. To be honest, I thought it was something out of the Blair Witch Project, you know, weird signs left in the woods, but, well, if you have the answer, let me know.
Fields on Skid Hill Lane.
In addition to questions, I have made a discovery too: I now know where travelling fairgrounds go when they're not on the outskirts of town or bang in the middle of a local park entertaining the townsfolk.

Yesterday (Friday 18th November) I set out alone and I was on a mission: to find another destination. I found one, with plenty of park benches (a place called Coney Hall) and there's a better place (Keston) but I didn't get there, although it's roughly the same distance away.

The route's roughly the same: meet at Warlingham Green, travel along the road to Botley Hill (B269) and turn left into Beech Farm Road. Then travel along Hesiers Road (not Hesiers Hill). Hesiers Road becomes Skid Hill Lane and then, at the junction with King Henry's Drive, cycle straight over and into Layhams Road. Both Skid Hill Lane and Layhams Road are good roads, although the latter is longer and both are rural. I cycled the length of Layhams Road, but ended up on the A2022 Addington Road - that was a disappointment as I knew that by turning left I would have riden back towards home. Turning right would have taken me into Bromley and going straight ahead (up Corkscrew Hill) would have taken me to West Wickham.

I turned back on myself as the Coney Hall Recreation Ground was rather pleasant - plenty of benches! I crossed the fields into Church Drive, turned left and found a parade of shops - including a bike shop - but the shops were just shops so I rode back along Church Drive, left into Queensway and then right into Birch Tree Avenue. This led to Layhams Road, I turned left and retraced my route towards Skid Hill Lane and back home, via those back roads past St Leonard's Church, emerging at Warlingham Sainsbury's.
Looking down on the bottom of Hesiers Hill and Beddlestead Lane from Skid Hill Lane.
Along Layhams Road were a lot of gypsies - and fairground equipment. This, I realised, was where fairground rides (and their operators) take a rest. George Irwin's fairground rides to be precise. Layhams  has two roads - North Pole Lane and Nash Lane, both of which lead to Keston via Fox Lane and I reckon that Keston is where we should go, although the recreation ground at Coney Hall, while exposed, would be nice on a pleasant day.

Theoretically, there's a hell of a lot of off-road in the area. I found a 'footpath to Keston' off of Layhams Road (1.25 miles) but there's a vast expanse of land between Layhams and the busier A233 Westerham Road on Layhams' eastern side. It is possible, according to the map, to leave Keston on Fox Lane, turn right into Jackass Lane (no, not the same one) and then turning right into Blackness Lane and then following tracks a long way to Sheepbarn Lane, hanging a right and rejoining Layhams at the crossroads with King Henry's Drive and Skid Hill Lane.

The only problem is this: I was on the saddle for just short of three hours and without the customary NoVisibleLycra tea break. I left the house at 1020 and reached home at 1310. Translate this to our usual early morning times from the Green and that's 1010 back at the green - without stopping for tea!

I suggest we try a road ride to Keston and back first to test the time more than anything else.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A winter wonderland!

Yours truly 'doing a Shackleton'.
These two pics were taken in April 2008, long before NoVisibleLycra.blogspot.com was conceived and, as I was saying to Andy last week, I don't think they've ever been published.
Why Andy was smiling I don't know.
In April 2008 it snowed. Onc minute there was no snow and we'd managed to cycle all the way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop. But soon the snow came and we had to get home. At first, it seemed like fun, cycling in the snow, but our giggles turned to grimaces as the cold set in.

When I was at school, we used to call ugly people 'face ache'. As in, "Oi! Face ache!" But now, as we headed back along the B269 in the snow, our faces were genuinely aching. It wasn't pleasant and we were both glad to reach home.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Lest we forget...

Lest we forget, November 2011
Remembrance Sunday. Village greens around the UK were preparing for a service and Warlingham Green was no exception. As I returned from a ride to Westerham, a crowd had gathered, loudspeakers were wired up and there was a general buzz of expectancy about the place as I rode clockwise around the green, exiting at the 1 o'clock position and heading down the Limpsfield Road towards home.

As far as ceremonies go, it was a good day. Not a cloud in the sky and, more importantly, no fog – until later in the evening when I drove up towards Botley Hill and got caught. Very heavy fog. On Sunday morning, however, there was nothing but clear skies as I stood up on the pedals to climb Church Way.

We'd been planning a trip to Westerham but, as Andy said, we'd need to 'put a wiggle on' - that's an Andy phrase, it means 'get a move-on'. I was running about five minutes or so late, due to mislaying my mobile phone, so getting a wiggle on was a good idea.

Westerham is a great place to be when the sun shines, but being as it was early and there was no cover, the seats were wet so we stood by the statue of Winston Churchill. I took a short walk over to St. Mary's Church to see if there was any covered seating. There was, but it was the entranceway to the church and we didn't fancy being looked down upon by churchgoers as we sipped our tea. Besides, there was no rain, the sun was shining, who needed covered seating? Not us!

As we were about to leave, I noticed something: a flat tyre. We fixed it there and then before heading for home. Andy was in a hurry and we were late so he sped off, but I took the hill at my own pace. Andy must have really shifted as he was nowhere to be seen as I reached the Surrey Hills sign at the top of the hill - where there are long views of Clarks Lane.  When I reached Botley, God knows where Andy was, probably going up the hill from Wapses roundabout (on the other side of the A22).

I reached Sanderstead Church at 1030hrs and was back home by around 1040. The TV was on, Remembrance Sunday, the Cenotaph, and I caught David Cameron placing his wreath while perfecting his sincere and concerned face. He was probably thinking about how he could quicken the pace of his planned army redundancies – which affects injured servicemen. Remember: you step on a landmine and it's not just your limbs that go - it's your livelihood too.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Into the fog...

View across Clarks Lane to White Lane, Saturday 12 November 2011 around 0830hrs.

Last night, around 11.30pm, I switched on the radio just in time for the weather forecast and found that Saturday's fog was more widespread than I thought. Up on Botley Hill, fog has always been a problem, even in the height of summer. I remember when we used to drive out towards Botley Hill en route to a pub in Brasted. Sometimes, we'd be driving along and suddenly hit a wall of fog, even when, elsewhere it was as clear as crystal.

On Saturday, cycling only to the Tatsfield Bus Stop due to family commitments, the fog was what my dad would have called a 'real pea souper'. At least I think that's how the expression goes. Anyway, it was thick and while I know that I never have lights, nor, it seems to other cyclists – and they were riding fast and in packs. Very dangerous. At least I kept off-road.

We sat at the bus stop, from where Andy took this post's photograph, and found that cars disappeared before our eyes in a matter of seconds. It was a bit of a risky situation and it didn't clear either. On the way back, we stayed off road for most of the journey, hugging the grass banks leading down to the Botley Hill pub and then keeping off road for the length of the B269. The fog didn't clear until I reached Warlingham Green.

In the news at the moment: England's footy team beat Spain 1-0 last night, Silvio Berlusconi has resigned as Italy's prime minister, business secretary Vince Cable says he has sympathy for the anti-capitalist protesters camped outside of St. Paul's Cathedral, and it is being suggested by opposition leader Ed Miliband, that the Eurozone crisis is good news for David Cameron. Why? Because he can use it as a smokescreen to hide his inaction on the economy.

Two years ago....

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Into the woods

A brief cycle into the woods today at just past 1pm; well, probably nearer to 1.30pm. Climbed to the top, like we did on Sunday and then hurtled back down again, taking a different route to Sunday. Probably out for around 40 minutes.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Baffling punctures and the woods

On Saturday morning, I discovered that I had a slow puncture on my hands, although, when I went out into the garage and discovered the deflated front wheel, I started wondering about whether it was possible for the bike to have a spontaneous puncture, meaning that, perhaps in the early hours of Saturday morning, it just decided it was time to deflate. Who knows?

The route from Andy's house to the woods.
Anyway, I figured it was a slow one and that, when I arrived in the garage at just gone 7am on Sunday morning, it would still be half-inflated. But...it was flat and when I pumped it, it hissed. The slow puncture had speeded up as there was a hissing noise. I had a puncture to fix and I'd have to use my last 'Leech' (a heavy duty sticker for fixing punctures).

After calling Andy I whipped off the tyre, inflated the inner tube and expected to hear the same hissing, but no, it had gone and the tyre was seemingly fixed. There was no noise at all and I had to resort to the old bowl of water trick, but again, nothing. Was this, I wondered, a phantom puncture? In the end, I heard  something and noticed tiny bubbles on the dampened inner tube. Leech attached, wheel back on bike, Andy arrived and we headed off on my suburban 'Woodland Trek', which involves suburban streets and then the woods, which, at this time of year, looked the business: leaves, golden, all over the place.

We cycled along, dodging dogs, and then took a steep incline to the top, cranking the bikes into low gears. I lost momentum and had to walk a few yards before getting back on the bike and making it to the top.

You can see my house from the top of the woods. Andy and I sat on a wooden bench and drank our tea and once again the conversation turned to camping out, although the problem with Croham Hurst (that's the name of the wood) is that I've often seen police helicopters hovering above it and the occasional bonfire late at night, meaning there must be a few undesirables up there at night. Still, it would be an adventure.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

No sleep, thick fog and the Tatsfield Bus Stop...

The war memorial on Warlingham Green.
I keep waking up around 3am in the morning and then have a devil of a job getting back to sleep. On Saturday morning I was getting a little impatient - and decided to get up. It was around 4am. I stayed up, reading but had that nagging feeling that I should have been in bed. To be honest, I was fretting about a poor interview and had been, metaphorically, punching walls for most of Friday. It was one of those typical scenarios where you find yourself saying the first thing that comes into your head - and then realising how rubbish you were after leaving the interview. Anyway, water under the bridge. Move on. But, for some reason, I couldn't move on. The reason being that I'm good at what I do, but, through my own actions, I under-sell myself and lose out in the process. But, as I say, move on.

Andy's bike on the green.
So basically I'm loitering around the house early in the morning, wishing I could just go back to bed, but realising that going back would be pointless - and disastrous for cycling. So I stayed up, drank about three mugs of tea, had a couple slices of bread and marmalade and sat there reading. I couldn't be bothered to switch on the news channel because I knew it would be doom and gloom about the Eurozone countries or our own economic situation. The worst thing about the Eurozone is this: you just know they're going to fuck it up - the Germans, the French etc - as nobody seems to be able to take a decision. What will happen? Well, Greece's situation will definitely worsen, Italy will take us to the brink (if not over it) and the others (Ireland, Portugal, Belgium etc) will somehow get their acts together. That's my prediction, but either way, it all looks bad for Europe and I'm so glad we're not part of the Eurozone.

So, with that backdrop - and thick fog outside - I had another cup of tea and then prepared for the ride. I was tired. There was no way I was going far: the Tatsfield Bus Stop was going to be my limit, but I nearly didn't go at all. On reaching the garage, I had a flat front tyre, a very slow puncture, so after pumping it, I left for the Green and met Andy a little later than usual. As he waited around, he took these excellent shots, the ones accompanying this post.

We did cycle to the bus stop and met our old friend from a couple of weeks back. We don't know his name yet, but he's bought another bike, a Dawes Vantage, because he wants to keep the Galaxy in the warm during the cold and wet weather.

The three of us yabbered quite a lot and finally headed back around 0930hrs, reaching home at just gone ten. The ride had done me good - woken me up to be honest - and prepared me for the day ahead, which was pretty much average.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Time travel, Paddy Ashdown, a very steep hill...and buses

Once, a very long time ago, well, probably in the late eighties, I found myself on a train with a colleague. We were on our way back to London from Salisbury having visited somebody, but I can't remember who; it was something to do with a competition, so it must have involved pubs. Either way, we were coming home, by train, and we were accompanied by a six-pack of Wadworth's 6X - at  the time a beer that was largely only available in the West Country. These were pre-MMC Report days when nobody had dreamed up the concept of 'guest' ales.

Sadly, the fog had lifted and my pensive form was
revealed.
Anyway, we were on the train, in one of those compartments with the sliding doors, which you don't see anymore, sadly, and, to our surprise, the Rt. Hon. Paddy Ashdown MP (and then the leader of the Liberal Democrats) was sitting across from us reading some report or other. He was on the train already when we boarded at Salisbury and, for most of the journey, his head was buried in papers. He had a pair of those half-circle reading classes on - like bi-focals but without the top bit.

We, that is my colleague and I, were in a chatty frame of mind and I had come up with an idea: time travel. The premise was quite simple: that by using supersonic flight, it must be possible to travel back in time. I figured that it would be a good television stunt if somebody, on New Year's Eve, had a glass of Champagne to celebrate the New Year and then flew off to the next region of the world before it celebrated the new year. The deal was: you land, you have a glass of Champagne and then off you fly to the next destination. Simples!

The conversation was all about whether or not such a feat was possible, how many new years could be celebrated on the trip (before time caught up with you) and where you would finally end up. It was agreed, by my pal and I, that you'd have to start in the East and travel West and that you'd probably end up in the middle of the Pacific, somewhere near Hawaii, with that horrible sugary taste of Champagne in your mouth and a mild, but nagging headache.

What was funny about the train journey was Paddy Ashdown – just the fact that he was there. My pal and I were engaged in an animated conversation about time travel, punctuated as it was by the phisshing sound of cans of Wadworth's being opened - and we thought that Paddy was too engrossed in his paperwork to join in. And besides, we figured, two blokes with a six-pack of Wadworth's: who would want to engage them in conversation?

But the truth of the matter was that good old Paddy had been listening! And as we had resorted to the maps in the back of our diaries to work out where we'd end up in our fighter jet, Paddy joined in, disputed our calculations and then got back to his paperwork.

I was relating this tale to Andy at the Tatsfield Bus Stop on Saturday (29th October). I had to cut our ride short because my mum was coming round and I'd be driving her home to Sutton around 10.30am, so a short cycle - rather than Hunger's End - was on the cards and we chose the old faithful Tatsfield Bus Stop.

"Can he swing - from a web? No he can't, he's a pig." From the Simpsons 
movie. If you haven't seen it, then it's just a spider's web on a road
sign.
We were, it has to be said, breathless. Instead of going straight to the bus stop along the usual route, we roared down Titsey (in the thick fog and no, I didn't have any lights) and then swung a left into White Lane. Last week, the old bloke we'd met (at the Tatsfield Bus Stop) had told us about White Lane and how, only recently, cyclists were conducting time trials. We decided to give it go; me with a huge, heavy, metal cylindrical flask full of water, a mug, tea bags, milk and assorted spanners in my rucksack. No, as we've said before, 'precious grams' mean nothing to us.

White Lane, let it be said, is a real pig of a hill and probably the worst one ever. Just when you think you've nailed it, you haven't, and it's really, really steep. Ever since I've had my bike fixed (remember the summer of no brakes?) I've managed only to use the top eight of my 16 gears, but on White Lane (travelling from Titsey Hill to Clarks Lane) I had to use the lower eight too. Worst thing of all, I stopped and then couldn't get started again. In other words, White Lane defeated me, which means I've got to try again some time soon.

We arrived on Clarks Lane, across the road from the bus stop, knackered. In the fog, you could just about make out the bus stop. Andy, I must add, made it without stopping. After a short while, we crossed the road and were sitting at our bus stop, cracking open the cereal bars and tea and settling down for a chinwag.

Andy's been reading Danny Wallace and I remarked that he and another writer, Dave Gorman, used to share a flat together and that, oddly, there were quite similar in terms of their literary output. By that I mean that they both tend to come up with whacky ideas, that normally involve world travel, and then they write about it. I haven't read any Danny Wallace, but I know that one of his books - in which he says 'yes' to everything- was made into a movie recently, starring Jim Carrey.

I told Andy about Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure and his America Unchained, both excellent reads, and the one about how he travels the world in search of people who share his name: Dave Gorman. I haven't read that one yet, but I will.

And then the subject moved on to ideas for our own book. The problem is that most things have been done already. Even my idea - travelling around the coast of the UK by bus alone - has sort of been done by Paul Theroux, dad of Louis, in his excellent book, The Kingdom by the Sea.

By the time we'd finished yabbing, the fog had cleared and Andy took the photographs accompanying this post. I found a spider's web attached to the road sign for Approach Road.

On Sunday morning, I received a text message from Andy.

"It's raining."

I looked out of the window. It wasn't raining, but I knew that it probably was raining in Caterham so I suggested, wait for it, a rain check of half an hour and then, if it's not pissing down, an 8am start at the Green.

"Agreed."

But being that it was now 8am and not 7am, we had to do another short ride and decided upon the Tatsfield Bus Stop again. However, as we drew nearer, I said let's go to the village instead and we did. This time I had some excellent fruit cake, made by mum, and we both tucked in. You can't beat tea and fruit cake.

A woman arrived in an old Volvo 740 Saloon. By old, I mean 1984 and it was in perfect condition. And that, summed up Sunday's ride. We resolved to go to Hunger's End next week, so if you're listening Jon, this week we'll be there - problems and hassles permitting.

In Tatsfield there's a Reptile Zoo and it has a caff, which is apparently open from 7am on both a Saturday and Sunday - we'll be trying that out too!

Two Years Ago – click here!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Cycling Destinations Rated - now updated


Unbelievably, we missed out two key destinations - Chevening Church AND Longford Lake. They're both now rated (see link on right hand panel).

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Chevening Church

In the churchyard at Chevening enjoying the long shadows and the tea.
I never thought - and nor did Andy - that we'd be cycling along early on a Sunday morning discussing the X Factor... but we were! And the worst thing of all? We weren't discussing it ironically!

"I think Frankie Coccoza is definitely walking."
"Yeah, he was rubbish, even Gary Barlow admitted it."
"But they were having a right go at Misha B, weren't they?"
"Yeah, but I think that Kitty's mad, don't you?"
"Yeah. The gay bloke was good, though."
"Yeah. Don't think much of the bands."

And that little diversion took us half way up the B269 towards Botley Hill. We were on a long ride today and had met at the Green at 7am, not the usual 7.30am. This was not good for the soul. Why? Because normally, we get up at 6am, hang around the house for an hour drinking tea and checking emails and then leave, having at least woken up a bit. Meeting at 7am, however, means getting up, getting dressed immediately, trotting downstairs and making the tea and then zooming off on the bike. Admittedly, I had time to upload the blog post before this one (having written it the day before) but that was it - and it was pitch black outside, which meant riding on the path to the green as I only had a front light.

The long shadows of an early October morning caught in this shot by Andy.
We were headed for the lakes, the Longford Lakes at Chipstead in Kent - a good 32-mile round trip, but we didn't want to get home around 11am (it causes friction) so we left earlier.

"Talking about the X Factor means we're bona fide couch potatoes. You realise that, don't you?"
"Yes, I know; that and Strictly Come Dancing on the other side."

The two programmes are chalk and cheese - Waitrose and Tesco - but what to do on a Saturday night? And even that, of course, is a sad admission as there's plenty to do. Play a game! Read a book! But no, it's  Strictly and then X Factor.

"I can't stand Frankie Coccoza."
"Coccoza by name..."
"Yeah, right..."

And by now we'd reached the Hill and were hurtling down Clark's Lane and past the legendary Tatsfield Bus Stop.

On Saturday, the 'old geezer' with the Dawes Galaxy told us about a time trials on White Lane (a road that links Titsey Hill with Clarks Lane). Apparently, there's an organised event that involves cyclists seeing how fast they can cycle up from the Titsey end of White Lane to the finish on Clarks Lane. The event attracts a big crowd. Now this had fired us a little and we resolved that the next time we headed towards the bus stop, we'd go down Titsey Hill, hang a left into White Lane and then across to Clarks Lane before breaking open the tea and cereal bars.

Chevening Church is covered in scaffolding and surrounded 
by corrugated iron, so we took this shot before heading home.
Right now, we were in Pilgrims Lane, arguably the best road ever for cycling. The last time we were here was April when we all had a little too much Harvey's commemorative Royal Wedding ale, the name of which escapes me. Andy rode into a hedge on the way back and now, at the very same spot and having taken my eye off the ball, so to speak, I almost did the very same thing, but instead cut Andy up before regaining control and heading down the last stretch towards Sundridge Lane.

We decided to go to Chevening Church instead of Longford Lake and it proved to be a good decision. Chevening House is the official country retreat of both Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, and the foreign secretary, William Hague, but, as we unpacked our rucksacks and made ourselves comfortable in the churchyard at just gone 0830hrs, we couldn't for the life of us remember Hague's first name.

"Andrew, Brian, Christopher, David, Eric, Fred, Graham..."

I went through the alphabet, quietly to myself.

"....Peter, Robert, Stephen, Ulysses, William!"
Andy measures the ride from Caterham and back, which is 28.53 miles,
but I know that the same route from Sanderstead and back is roughly 32
miles.

"William. It's William Hague," I said, as Andy fiddled around with his camera and I sipped my tea.

We had visions of Hague and Clegg, lounging in novelty socks and polka dot boxers on opposing sofas, watching the X Factor amidst the baronial splendour of Chevening House and then extinguished the image by concentrating on getting the right shot for the blog.

As Andy pointed out, we hadn't included Chevening Church in our list of destinations – something that would have to be rectified. After 30 minutes of taking photos, munching cereal bars and drinking tea, we prepared for the gruelling journey home - 16 miles or so of climbing. Well, actually, it's 16 miles in total, but I reckon a good half of it is uphill. I managed to reach home at 10.30am so leaving early proved to be the right decision.

All pix taken by Andy Smith.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Tatsfield bus stop and a Dawes Galaxy...

Now that's what I call a different angle on an old bus stop!
Back in Stressville. Didn't sleep too well either. Woke up around 3.30am and then drifted in and out of sleep. The radio sprung to life at 6am and I toyed with the idea of getting up. Time for a ride and I needed one, having not gone out last weekend. The plan was Hunger's End, but to be honest, I wasn't in the mood. Despondency is awful, but fortunately I got out there and headed for the Green where Andy was waiting.

Time was short so we decided to go to the bus stop instead, which proved a good move. We sat there, drinking tea, flicking teabags on to the grass and chatting about my children's novel, that I've just published on Kindle  - here's hoping it'll make some money, but who am I kidding? It was always just something for my daughter, although my pal Geoff and I got carried away, produced an illustrative front cover, edited it, threw in an additional chapter and suddenly we're all expecting a Pulitzer prize.

Then, having sipped our teas, an old man arrived on a Dawes Galaxy, a brand new one he had bought on the internet for £800. A smart bike. A tourer. Twenty seven gears, mudguards, the works. Very sensible. He used to be a runner but his legs gave out and now he's back cycling again - he used to do it a while back with his nephew.

I'm guessing this guy is in his mid-to-late seventies - he has a brother who is 80 and lives in Cornwall and a running pal who is 81 and still visits the gym. He's just given up running and the two of them enjoy a long distance walk, like a nine-mile walk. What are they, supermen? Probably. It says a lot for cycling and general fitness.

We chewed the fat with the old guy for some time and I suddenly realised how anoraky we were all sounding, discussing tyres and gears and stuff. The old guy, we never got his name, commented that we must find it tough riding our bikes on the road. The tyres are huge and the bikes are designed for off-road riding. Yes, we said, we know. We like riding our Konas on the road and have no plans to change tack, although I must admit that the Dawes Galaxy did look very sensible and mildly desirable - not that I desire the sensible. The Galaxy had mudguards for a start, meaning no chance of a wet arse - unlike me on my Kona. But no, I'm sticking right where I am, cold arse be blowed! In fact, if anybody would care to blow my cold arse dry - using a hairdryer, perhaps, well, who needs mudguards?

We suggested to the man that he might like to join us and he said yes. We meet on the Green at 0730hrs normally, most weekends, we said, and we suspect that one day he'll be there, waiting, on his Dawes Galaxy. If he is there one day, it'll be the first time a stranger has joined us on a ride.
Our route.

He set off first, having told us where he was going: back along the 269 to Beech Farm Lane then round the lanes to Chelsham Church and back on to the Limpsfield Road at Warlingham Sainsbury's.

A few minutes later, Andy and I set off and said our customary goodbyes half way along the 269. I carried on towards Sanderstead and there I noticed a presence behind me, a shadow. A fellow cyclist! Well, it turned out to be the old guy. He'd caught me up, exchanged pleasantries and then he was off. There was no way I could catch him, no way at all, which kind of annoyed me. Why? Because I'm trying to work out whether it's me or the bike I ride or what? It seems that everybody is faster than me, they power past me and soon are gone and I can't figure it out. Okay, the old guy has a lighter and probably faster bike and he seems to be higher in the saddle, bearing down upon the handle bars, whereas I ride what amounts to a tractor, it's lower geared and very heavy. That might be it. Or, of course, it could be that I'm just terribly unfit, despite going out every weekend for the past six years on regular cycle rides ranging from 14 to 35 miles. Either way, it's a little annoying.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

D-Day Cycle from London to Caens

I told Andy in an email this morning that I'd be going out on a pioneering ride - but didn't. In fact, I haven't been cycling all weekend, although I'm planning a regular ride to the Botley all of next week, so that should make up for my slacking.

The reason I'm writing now is because Andy and I have been talking about doing something big next year and so far it's been decided that it will involve microbreweries, ie cycling from one to another throughout Kent and Sussex over a three-day period. Well, I'm not so sure about that now. Why? Because I've seen something else far more exciting.

This ad from Saturday's Guardian Weekend magazine.
It takes place over four days from 13 to 17 June 2012 and involves cycling from London to Caen and taking in the key sites of the Normandy landings. The finishing line is at the historic Pegasus Bridge and the idea is to raise funds for clearing landmines and destroying weapons in conflict zones around the world. I don't think we have to clear landmines or destroy weapons en route - surely not!

There's a registration fee, sadly, but it sounds good.

For further details, call 0161-238 5447 or email events@maginternational.org

There is a website: http://www.maginternational.org/d-day

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Helen Pidd's 'smug feeling of self-sufficiency'

My pal Alan refers to my Kona as a 'butcher's bike'. I know what he means: it's a little cumbersome. For a start, there are huge tyres, then there's the hefty, box-like frame and, as Alan would say, all I need is the name of 'Dewhurst' on the side, instead of Kona, and I've got a butcher's bike. Although, butchers' bikes, as I recall, are basically normal bikes with a kind of heavy, integral rack on the front, designed to carry a huge basket full of raw meat. My bike doesn't even have mudguards (something I tend to pay for dearly as the winter months draw nearer).

Anyway, butchers' bikes aside, Helen Pidd was in last Saturday's Guardian Weekend magazine - which I read in a café in Penge - writing about a bike called a Bullitt. The thing is, it doesn't really live up to the image conveyed in the name. The Bullitt is what Pidd calls a 'freight bike' and, it seems, Pidd has realised that her cycling obsession has gone too far. Whether Pidd sleeps with her bike, I don't know, but it's clear that she is obsessed and this is evidenced by her insistence on using a frieght bike - the Bullitt - as a means of moving house.
The Bullitt - I wouldn't fancy racing with it.
The bike was supplied to Pidd by a chap called Gizmo, who, like Pidd, lives in Berlin. Pidd found it great fun to ride and claims she'd seriously think about it for trips to the supermarket (if she was richer and had somewhere to store it).

Mind you, it costs £2,170 and you could buy a half-decent van for that, so Pidd, it has to be said, is definitely obsessed with pedal power and should, perhaps, lie down in a darkened room for an hour or so and then go hire a van, rather than mess around on a cumbersome freight bike, even if it is easier to ride than many of its rivals. Rivals? What's this? She's ridden other freight bikes? What's wrong with the woman?

Still, if you are obsessed with cycling - to the extent that you'd hire a bike instead of a van to move house - then you might like to take a look at the Bullitt. It can't be all bad if it gives Helen Pidd 'a smug feeling of self-sufficiency'.

Check out http://thebullittbike.co.uk

Friday, 14 October 2011

Saturday 8th October 2011...

Last weekend we went out earlier than usual and met at the Green at 7am for a short ride to the bus stop. There was no tea as we'd run out of milk and, well, it wasn't the best of rides. You can't beat a cup of tea and it would be fair to say that we both missed our customary warm drink.

I stayed over at mum's on Saturday night and on Sunday morning, rain put an end to any thoughts of a ride - an abort text was sent.

Monday, 3 October 2011

October 1st and 2nd

The phrase 'since records began' has been used by the weathermen whenever they discuss extreme weather. No doubt, this weekend's heat will bring the phrase out of the box again pretty soon. In short, it was hot and, to be fair to the weathermen, it had been forecasted during the week - we all knew it was coming our way.

As avid readers will know, our planned ride to Hunger's End would have been rather pleasant on Saturday, but I had things to do concerning motor transport and had to do without a ride on Saturday. Instead, I messed around at home as I had the place to myself. I mowed the lawn front and back, I cleaned the car and I had a cold beer and a ham sandwich in the garden - perfect!

The last time I experienced heat like this weekend, in October, was in 1981 while in Greece. Sunday was even hotter, they reckon 29 degrees, but it might have tipped 30. Fortunately, a ride was on the agenda and I left the house, laden with fruit cake, hot water and tea bags, to meet Andy for a ride. The plan was Westerham and we stuck to it.

I left the house in a tee-shirt and only experienced a mild coolness at the bottom of the hill as we crossed the Surrey/Kent border and headed for the bridge under the M25 - but even then it was mild.


Andy took this shot of Winston Churchill 
and my crash helmet
There's nothing better than Churchill's birthplace on a decent summer's day - although that word 'summer' should, perhaps, be changed to 'autumn' because there were, make no mistake, leaves on the ground and there are only three months to Christmas. But the weather was hot, even if there was enough dew on the benches surrounding the green, and on Winston's statue, to force us to stand and drink our tea.

Unknown to me when I packed the fruit cake, Andy had stuffed a bag of chocolate brioche pastries into his rucksack as well as the cereal bars, making the plinth of Churchill's statue a little crowded: flask, mugs, fruit cake, pastries and cereal bars. We left the latter for next week and I declined a second pastry on the assumption that having it would have made the exercise of cycling pointless.

It was October 2nd 2011, there was a farmer's market setting up in the town centre, but not on the green, a few people wandered about here and there and various motorcycles cruised noisily along the A25 en route to somewhere. Andy and I discussed owning motorcycles and realised that they would take up all of our time and cause friction at home. Going out for an early morning ride and being back home around 10am was fine, but owning a motorcycle would lead to excursions lasting the whole day and they would definitely not go down well at home. Furthermore, I have no desire for a motorcycle. The thought of wearing leathers and a heavy helmet on a hot day is one thing, the other is the risk of losing a limb or, worst still, my life. Not for me, I'm afraid, although I wouldn't mind owning a Harley - just to polish it.

While we agreed that Hunger's End would have to wait until next week, circumstances later in the day dictated that I must postpone my visit to Vampire Tints in Penge for yet another week - meaning that the week after next is now more likely, unless, of course, it's raining. Let's hope it remains dry.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Tatsfield Churchyard and Westerham...

A short one to Tatsfield Churchyard on Saturday (24th September) followed by a longer ride to Westerham on Sunday. The weather was fine on both days and there was mum's fruit cake to eat too, which was excellent (Andy and I are both fans).

The reason for the short run on Saturday was because I had commitments - well, one commitment: to organise a car for myself. Anyway, the plan was to visit the car showrooms and to take on one of those hefty 'personal plans', but to be honest, my heart wasn't in it. I'm not that type of person. I don't fork out, or rather, commit to a huge loan for a car. Car's don't appeal, I've always had secondhand cars and I've always driven them into the ground - like now (I own a 1997 316i BMW and it's on it's last legs). And that's the whole point: sooner or later it's going to leave me stranded on the hard shoulder of the M25, M26 or M20. Except that, so far (and we're talking one month in of doing 400 miles per week) nothing untoward has happened.
My 1997 BMW 316i on the drive - now doing 400 miles 
per week on three motorways.


The plan was to cycle to Hunger's End, but my commitments meant I could only afford a short ride – but then, when I returned, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to meet the smarmy car salesmen, we decided to buy our son's similarly spec'd BMW (a coupe version of ours and the same age). So, we didn't bother with car salesmen and we've saved ourselves the worry of commiting to such a large sum of money.

Secretly, however, I'd rather like a brand new car, but the voice of reason says no - not yet at any rate.

So, Tatsfield it was, followed on Sunday by a pleasant ride to Westerham, where all the benches were drenched with dew, forcing us to lean against the statue of Winston Churchill.

The thing is, while I fully expected to be able to visit Hunger's End this coming weekend - even down to chatting with Jon at lunchtime and running through what I planned to eat (scrambled egg on two slices of thick toast and a mug or two of tea) I reached home to discover that I have to be at the tint shop to have tinted windows restored to normal (a condition of the insurance).

So, guys, if you're listening - or rather reading - I can't go to Hunger's End this weekend either!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

17th and 18th September 2011

Jon at Woodmansterne Green.
I should have motivated myself to go cycling on Saturday, but it was damp and unpleasant-looking outside, Andy wasn't going and while I did consider Woodmansterne Green, I decided that I'd cycle round to mum's in the evening instead. Unfortunately, it was raining around 6pm on the Saturday so I drove over instead.

Waking up early at mum's, I drove home after the obligatory fairy cake and a cup of tea (no, I love them, that was a joke) I reached home and then cycled back to Woodmansterne where I met Jon for a welcomed chinwag, cup of tea, two of mum's fairy cakes and an over-ripe banana.

Woodmansterne is quite a work-out even if the ride there is a little boring and suburban. The weather was fine and all was well.

I cycled home and then spent the rest of the day in the car, taking Max to Euston. I don't know what was happening, but Parliament Square had been re-routed and we ended up going south of the river in order to go north again. Not good, but all's well that ends well.

It looks as if Hunger's End is seriously on the cards for this coming weekend. Andy texted me yesterday expressing his desire to go there, Jon has been hinting at a ride there too and, well, it would be good to visit the caff again - and hopefully the eccentric shaving man will be there.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Carshalton and the Tatsfield Bus Stop...

Yesterday it was a suburban cycle through the mean streets of Croydon, Wallington and Carshalton. Went over to see mum. It was a good 12-miler, but largely suburban streets. Last night I stayed over at mum's and awoke in the early morning and listened to the rain and wind outside. I must have nodded off because I came to around 0550hrs and could still hear the rain - or at least I thought I could. I fully expected an abort text from Andy but hadn't received one. I sent him one, saying something like, 'looking unlikely' and got a reply stating it wasn't raining over Caterham way. Then I looked out. What a beautiful day! Sure, it had been raining, the ground was wet and there were puddles, but the skies were clearing, a watery sun occasionally appeared behind smoky, fast-moving clouds and it was definitely time to hit the road.

Dog Shit Alley joins Shorts Road with West Street in Carshalton.
Start the day with a fairy cake, that's my motto. I had two of them and a large mug of tea before saying goodbye to mum and driving home to pick up the bike. We aimed for somewhere with cover and the Tatsfield Bus Stop seemed like a good idea.

September 11th, that fateful day back in 2001. I was in Tamworth, visiting a chef called Matthew Shropshall and so was my photographer, Rob Wilkinson. A strange day, but there you have it.

Today, the weather was fine, but it wasn't long before I had a wet arse (thanks to the puddles) and was beginning to reconsider, as I do at this time of year, whether to fit some mudguards. Knowing me, I probably won't, I'll just put up with it, but we'll see – I don't like having a wet arse.

Today really marked a change in the weather. For the past six months, despite what people say, the weather's been brilliant. It's nice outside now – sunshine everywhere – but the last six months have been fantastic. If you don't believe me, just check back through the pages of this blog, look at the blue skies in the photographs and you'll see what I mean. I can't stand people who moan and wonder what happened to the summer, as if we haven't had one, we have!!!
A different angle on an old bus stop? New
routes are definitely needed. 

But as I cycled with Andy towards Botley Hill, I noticed a difference in the weather. It was cooler for a start, it had been raining over night, there were big puddles everywhere, my arse was wet, I was considering mudguards, something had definitely changed.

During the summer months, an overcast day is depressing in the extreme, but the only bad day I recall this summer was when we did the Black Horse Ride in June. Outside of that, it's been great. In the summer, clouds are a bummer, but in the wintery months – or the lead-up to them – a cloudy day is welcomed as it brings to mind tea and cake in front of the fire. Well, we're not quite there yet, but, as I say, a change is out there and the risk of getting a soaking has increased. Soon, the gloves will go on – I thought about them this morning too.

At the Tatsfield Bus Stop we discussed cars and mileage, Peuguots versus BMW, big cars versus small, old cars versus new and we talked about discovering new routes because when I reached for the camera to take the traditional photograph for the weekly post – this post – we realised that we had exhausted every shot the Bus Stop could offer us. We need a new route – or a new destination – and I'll have to put my thinking cap on.

Jon suggested yesterday that we head out for Hunger's End next week and I suggested that Redhill hasn't been done for a while and there's a caff there open on Sunday. And what about Boxhill? A bit far, perhaps. Andy can't make next Saturday, but he's going on Sunday so possibly Redhill and then Hunger's End the following weekend. Who knows?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Tatsfield Churchyard

A ride to the Tatsfield Churchyard on Saturday 3 September where Andy and I chatted about Andy's London to Paris ride - for full details see Andy's report below. Sunday I aborted due to general tiredness (well, alright, a late night AND little sleep).

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Big Ben to the Eifel Tower - in Andy's own words...

Andy after he cycled to Paris, bank holdiay
weekend, 2011.
Andy Smith writes: Matt (Dixon), Richard and myself first talked about riding from London to Paris a year ago, but only recently did we start taking it seriously.

Richard found a route posted online from Dieppe, so it was decided that this would be our starting point in France for Paris. It would mean catching a ferry from Dieppe and arranging a view B&Bs. After that, all that remained was getting a day off work, booking the ferry and Eurostar and then just doing it.

Back in July, as a warm-up, we had a trip planned from Tring to the Cotswolds. This went well and boosted our confidence about tackling London to Paris.

Even so it was with some trepidation that we made our way to the start opposite the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben at seven in the morning. It was 26 August, the bank holiday weekend and the weather wasn’t looking good. Still, we took some photographs.

It was overcast as we set off, but the grey cloud was nothing compared to what came next.

We cycled through quiet pre-rush hour London streets and being as we were ‘counter-commuting’ there were no traffic problems. We were heading south and made it to the. Rendezvous cafe on the A22 in Kenley by nine. As we munched our much-needed breakfast, it started to rain and this set the scene for the rest of the day. The rain got heavier and heavier as the day wore on. The A22 is not the place to cycle in heavy rain with lorries throwing huge plumes of water all over us. Two hours in the pub at lunch time and still it was raining hard, but, an hour or so from Newhaven, it started to brighten up – and then, as we arrived in Newhaven and were looking for our first B&B,Matt got a puncture. Fortunately, there was a Halfords nearby.

The following morning we had an early start with a full English breakfast and then a short ride to the ferry where we queued up with around a dozen other cyclists. Some had support vehicles with them, but we didn’t.

It took four hours to reach France where there was no sign of the bad weather from yesterday.

Our plan meant a ride of about a dozen miles before joining a cycle path converted from a railway track. This was brilliant. No traffic, no map reading needed, and no hills. It was around thirty miles to our B&B. The cycle path still had the old stations along the way and yes, at times, I secretly pretended to be a train. En route there were some impressive chateaus, which made for good photo opportunities and by early evening, we reached Forges les Faux. 

In the morning we enjoyed croissants and coffee in the village square and prepared ourselves for what would be a much harder day. It was hotter for a start and while the countryside was pleasant enough, there were some pretty steep hills too. And being a Sunday, there weren’t many shops open for food and drink. We kept going until we found a bar in a little village where we enjoyed a couple of glasses of nature’s energy drink before speeding off to our next overnight stop at a hotel in Cergy.

Fortunately, there was a Chinese restaurant a walk away from the hotel where the phrase ‘Trois pour le buffet s’il vous plait’ tripped off the tongue. In English, that’s ‘three for the buffet, please’.

The next day we had more croissants, coffee – and some cake - for breakfast and this set us up for the last push to Paris.

After a few hours of riding on the road we entered the first of the parks that would take us to within a mile of the Eiffel Tower. The weather was great, and once into the parks there was no traffic to worry about. Who would be the first to see the Eiffel Tower?

We entered the centre of Paris on a converted aqueduct, which proved to be one of the highlights of the trip. We’d already had a glimpse of the Eifel Tower earlier on, but as we crept into the French capital it started to get really close. We cycled around the Longchamp Racecourse and out of the last park with only about one mile to go.

As we rounded the corner, there was the Pont d’Lena bridge and the Eifel Tower on the other side of the Seine.

We had done it! London to Paris on a bike and under our own steam. What could be greener? Matt and myself called home and Richard was able to wave to his family who were halfway up the Eifel Tower – all that remained now was a ride across Paris to the Gare du Nord and the Eurostar back to London.

Now, where are we going next year, I wonder?

Monday, 29 August 2011

To Carshalton for a stroll down memory lane...

Jon and yours truly on Woodmansterne Green, Saturday August 27th 2011.
Sunday, 2137hrs: Andy's back in the UK after his ride to Paris and NVL will be reporting on his adventures just as soon as he tells us more about what happened. He set off on Saturday, spent the night in Newhaven, then took the ferry over the channel and rode all the way to Paris.

Round at mum's - this shot taken in the kitchen.
I cycled every day of the bank holiday, first going to mum's on Saturday, then to Woodmansterne Green on Sunday and today, Bank Holiday Monday, I rode through suburban streets to Grove Park in Carshalton. On all three occasions I met with Jon and we talked a lot about dad. Now that I have a full-time job again, I've had some time to reflect a little more on dad's passing away.

These steps in Grove Park I used to climb when I was very, very young. What
they were used for, I'll never know.
Each ride this weekend was roughly 12 miles, meaning I rode the best part of 36 miles. The best ride was today for some reason. I think it was because we were in Grove Park, doing all sorts of things, revisiting old childhood haunts, like the old mill, the riverbank where we went fishing with nets on the end of a strip of bamboo, the big lakes opposite the church where mum and dad got married. Jon recalled an occasion when the lake opposite the Greyhound Hotel was frozen over and how he and a mate walked on it.

The Mill Pond in Grove Park - it lets the rest of the park down.
Grove Park is very nicely landscaped, there's the River Wandle, that runs through the park and, well, it's a great place, but one bit of it let the rest of it down: the mill pond. While the park as a whole looks good, the mill pond is a complete disaster; it looks like something out of an eco-disaster movie. In short, people have used it as a rubbish dump. There's old tyres, discarded drinks bottles, you name it, it's in there and that's just not good.

Jon and I stood around looking at the mess, having enjoyed the rest of the park. We met an old woman with a dog who said she'd lived in the area for 17 years. She told us how the park authorities seem to let the offenders get away with murder: they torch motorcycles and generally make a mess, presumably in the dead of night.

The Old Mill in Grove Park. Rumour has it that a young boy
met with an accident here and died.
We cycled around the park and it brought back many memories. I was amazed to find the old changing room and the playing field where we used to play football during 'games' lessons, or PE as it was known. The pitch looks much smaller than I remember it, but then again, I was much smaller.

One of two large lakes close to Carshalton's High Street.
We larked around in the children's playground, which was deserted. Jon had a go on the aerial ropeway - and there's video evidence as you've probably already discovered. We drank our tea by the side of one of the big lakes where a strange man with a plastic bag full of bread fed the ducks. He was obviously trying to cultivate some kind of Birdman of Alcatraz thing, but later we realised he was a bit nutty and gave him a wide berth.

Dad's presence was quite strong all weekend. He was definitely in the park and round at mum's and, while there was a strong sense of sadness in the air, it was good to ride around the park and find spots that brought back fine memories of an excellent childhood.