Sunday, 27 February 2011

"Another one's been born in Seattle..."

In the 1974 film, It's Alive by Larry Cohen, the movie ends with somebody answering a phone and hearing the words, "Another one's been born in Seattle..." The last scene, if I recall correctly, is of the phone swinging by its cord as it dawns on whoever answered it that the mutant creatures, which I think were breeding in the sewers and had been eradicated – hadn't been.

Anyway, now it looks as if they've made their way over to England and the quaint village of Godstone.

Left to right: Me, me, me and (ahem) me again! 
Actually, the truth is that Andy, a whizz at photoshop, knocked this up this morning. What a great pic, Andy. Thanks for that.

And then, a few hours later, I checked on my emails. I'd received another message from Andy – with another attachment. And here it is!

Left to right: Andy, Andy and (ahem) Andy again! Great work!

Godstone Green – it's been a while!

After yesterday's soaking, it was good to peer out of the window this morning (Sunday 27 February) to find the roads dry and the skies clear. What a great day! Actually, at around 2pm this afternoon it bucketed down, but all morning it was fantastic, making our cycle superb.

Godstone Green, Sunday 27 February 2011 and a very pleasant morning.

We decided to head out to Godstone Green and set off towards Ganger's Hill for the first time in ages. It was a good ride, even if my rear brake was still non-existent and it was impossible to change down to the small crank at the front (an even bigger problem on the return trip as we climbed out of Godstone).

We sat on the Green drinking tea and munching our cereal bars, chatting about motorcycles and, of course, our pal David who has just upgraded his Harley Sportster and bought something much bigger and very (ahem) yellow. A bit (ahem) Dale Winton. A touch Graham Norton, a tad Oscar Wilde, if you get my drift, and, of course, a bit ostentatious to boot. I understand that David has a bright yellow helmet too.

Anyway, we chatted about the Hell's Angels, we talked about Moto Guzzi transverse Vs, we watched the ducks in the pond and then, after messing around with a bit of photography, we headed home and I decided the right answer to the question, often asked in interviews was 'doughnuts'. The question? "What do you consider to be your main weaknesses?" Answer: doughnuts. It made me laugh, put it that way.

Saturday, 26 February 2011


Not much to say about today other than it was wet so we decided to go to the Botley Hill roundabout and come straight back. My fault as I suggested late last night that we meet at 8am, which we did, but it was pretty dark out there and had already been raining. Then, as we got half way along the B269, what started as drizzle turned into miserable rain, but we persevered and went on towards the Botley Hill roundabout, me without mudguards or my waterproof cycling trousers – yes, my arse was wet again while Andy's was bone dry!

Andy reckons this photo sums up the day....

It was so miserable at the roundabout – where we'd stopped to have our tea and cereal bar – that we decided not to bother and cycled home instead. Andy turned left into The Ridge and I went back along the B269 and got absolutely soaked in the process – and so did Andy, judging by a text he's sent me. Not good, but I was home before 0930, which was good.

Matt thinks this shot sums up the day.

We're going again tomorrow and hopefully the weather will be better. It's still raining now.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Sunday, 20 February 2011

I know I'm equally to blame, but...

...we must get our acts together. Next Saturday, how about Merstham? Jon, if you're reading this, we'll see you there (Hunger's End); Andy, I'll meet you at the Green, usual time. Let's do it, as Gary Gilmore once said.
"Let's do it."

Apologies to Andy...

I was awake at around 4am this morning and you know how, when you wake up in the middle of night, you start fretting about stuff – in my case a drive to Wiltshire later this morning – well, I got to thinking that I would abort the cycle. I didn't particularly want to abort it, but the best bet was to 'get out early' so I got up and sent the 'abort' text – to my pal Geoff.

Oblivious to this little error I then wandered downstairs and made myself a cup of tea, thinking all the time that I was up and I might as well go for a ride. It wasn't raining and even if I rode to the Tatsfield bus stop, I'd be back in time to go off around 10am to sunny Wiltshire. In fact, having sent the abort text, I still glanced up at the clock at key moments and thought, "I could still change things, call Andy and say I was going and meet him at the Green." But I didn't. It would all be too much – cycling to the bus stop, cycling back, then racing off in the car.

At 0725hrs I glanced at the clock and was thinking that, under normal circumstances, I'd be at the Green by now – or approaching it at any rate.

It wasn't until 0746, when Andy texted me asking, "Where are you?" that I realised something was up. Oh dear, I'd texted the wrong person. Geoff, if his phone wasn't on silent, would have been awoken by a loud 'ding!' He probably wondered why I was writing 'abort' and then fell back asleep, only to be awoken an hour or two later with another text from me, stating that the earlier message was for Andy, not for Geoff.

"You wouldn't like me when I'm angry!"
Anyway, I guess Andy's not happy. He's a bit like Bruce Banner: 'you wouldn't like me when I'm angry'. I don't blame him for being pissed off. Had the message reached him he would, no doubt, have enjoyed a lie-in this morning. Andy: on the plus side, at least you got out there and cycled, if that's any consolation.

Then, Jon rang. I told him I wasn't going today and he was, I think, relieved as the weather was a little grey, and that could always mean rain. Personally, I'm annoyed with myself because I know darn well that we're not going to leave the house at 10am, we're going to slop around here and will probably leave around noon, meaning I could have gone cycling. All very irritating.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Interesting facts

Bought a copy of The Economist yesterday. I used to read it regularly and found that I was always up-to-date with what was going on in the world – and quite annoyingly clued-up about things in general too.

The Eitai Bridge in Tokyo,  the world's largest city in 2010.

Anyway, in the current edition – and I'd imagine in all issues – there's a page called Liveanomics and it lists various facts about this and that. For instance, the world's fastest growing cities in terms of forecasted annual growth between 2006 and 2020. The fastest is Beihai in China with 10.6 per cent followed by Ghaziabad in India (5.2 per cent), Sana'a in Yemen (5 per cent); Surat in India (5 per cent) and Kabul (4.7 per cent).

What I found staggering, though, was London's demise as one of the world's largest cities. Back in 1950, New York-Newark was the largest city with a population of 12.34 million people. Tokyo was second with 11.27 million people, followed by London with 8.36 million, Paris with 6.52 million and Moscow with 5.36 million.

Today, Tokyo takes top place with 36.67 million, Delhi is second with 22.16 million, Sao Paulo with 20.26 million, Mumbai with 20.04 million and Mexico City with 19.46 million. London is nowhere to be seen! And nor is New York!

Tatsfield Bus Stop – always a safe bet

I discovered, last week (Sunday 13 February) that it wasn't my front brake that was playing up but my rear brake and no, I've done nothing about it since. I had planned to cycle over Andy's way, where there's a bike shop, and get it repaired, but I didn't because I had too much else on, such as passing the magazine for press (which took a week in the end).

Andy at the Tatsfield Bus Stop on Sunday 13 February. His arse was not wet.

In fact, I didn't even get out during the week on my half-hour sprint cycles – until yesterday and by then it was obvious that by not going, I'd slowly become less fit as the week progressed. How do I know? Because towards the end of last week - when I went out every day – I was getting home with three minutes and 27 seconds to spare before the 30-minute alarm was set off. Yesterday, when I ventured out after four days off, the margin had reduced to just one minute and 21 seconds: considerably slower.

After leaving Andy and reaching Botley, I took this rather bleak photograph.
Last Sunday, Andy and I had gone to the Tatsfield bus top, a place that is rapidly becoming our default destination. It's a good 16-mile round trip and we can enjoy our tea and cereal bars in all weathers. Which brings me to the subject of my arse. Yes, my arse. My cold, wet and uncomfortable arse that makes it impossible for me to sit down. I can't bear the thought or the feeling of sitting down with a wet bottom and, for this reason alone, I'm considering mudguards. Yes, cosmetic surgery for the bike, the dirt jumper, and another sign, perhaps, that maturity is beginning to take over as it does when you have a 'sensible haircut' or buy 'sensible shoes'. I know that my bike was not the 'sensible' choice, but by shoving on some mudguards, it gains a bit of the mundane – and I get to have a dry arse!

Anyway, I haven't done it yet, because there hasn't been time so at the moment it's still an immature, unsensible bike and if I venture out today – as was planned with Jon – by now I'd have a wet arse. Why? Because it's raining out there and my proposed trip to Woodmansterne Green has just been cancelled.

So, here I am writing my blog and wondering what to do for two days I've decided to take off during the half-term holidays next week.

My road home. Just leaving the Botley and heading towards Sanderstead on the B269.

I'll hopefully go cycling tomorrow, but that depends on many different things. It's game on at the moment with Andy and we'll probably go to Tatsfield Village, but who knows? Better go...

Friday, 18 February 2011

Forget 007, here's the Factor 001...

Andy brought this rather amazing device to my attention and while you can't see it (unless you click on the link below) it's a bike, although the people over at Factor 001 like to call it an 'integrated, cohesive device', considering it was designed, as they say, 'from the ground up'.

Nice bike, but if I had £23,000 - or thereabouts - to spend on a push bike, then I'd probably not bother. I don't know about you, but that's a lot for a bike and you can bet, once you've been on a few rides, you'll be thinking, 'why the hell did I spend £23,000 on this thing'. And I bet it gets punctures like normal bikes too.

Factor 001's website, by the way, is very good.

Click here for more information.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Tatsfield Village

The rain-laden B269. I liked those trees.

It had been raining, the roads were still peppered with puddles and it looked as if it was going to pour down any second.  In fact, as I left the house it was raining, but I carried on, albeit slightly late due to writing the last post on Nestles. Andy sent me a text as I arrived at the Green. It simply said, "Hmmmm". He was right, I was late, but not THAT late.

My Kona waiting on the B269 for Andy who was inspecting his front wheel.

My rear brake is playing up. I thought it was the front, but it's the back, so the bike needs to pay a visit to the shop. Perhaps on Monday, it's still rideable.

We decided to go for Tatsfield Village where there was shelter if it did rain, but it didn't, although I got a really wet arse, thanks to no mudguards. That's something else I'm going to have to fix soon as it's ruining all my clothes and making me feel cold. I can't bear to sit down when I reach the bus stop so I've got to get some mudguards.

Andy talked about Top Gear and how much we like it, we drank our tea, ate our cereal bars and then headed home.

They – the local council – were fixing a part of the B269, just for the record.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Nestlé or Nestles?

Well, there's only one way to find out: sing the song!

"The Milky Bar Kid is..." and then I forget the lyrics, but the punchline is definitely, "Nestles' Milky Bar!"

I love the way they've spelt the name.
It's Nestles, not Nestlé in the same way that it's Knorr with a silent K, not "Ker-norr". I've been the editor of a number of food magazines and I distinctly remember going to a press conference concerning the brand Buitoni. Now, as far as I remember, it's pronounced "Bew-Tony" as in "Bew-Tony Real Ravioli – don't talk, EAT!" This was the punchline to a television ad, some years ago, but the American voiceover certainly did not pronounce it "Booey-Tony". And yet, at a press event, senior marketing directors insisted that it was "Booey-Tony" and not "Bew-Tony".

Why even go there on a cycling blog? Well, last night was an historical occasion: myself, Andy, our pal David (the one with the Harley) and our mate Geoff, went out for a curry. The last time we did this, rather shamefully, was in 2006 and it was at that curry that Andy and I decided to start cycling.

Anyway, something else you need to know about David: he's getting a bit 'right on'. I mean, for a start, he's become a vegetarian – and, to be fair, he's looking pretty good on it too – but I could never be a non-meat eater. Alright, I could (and pracically have) given up red meat, but I couldn't be without my roast chicken dinner on a Sunday and I'm occasionally partial to a burger, but very, very rarely. Besides, I tried being vegetarian once and inadvertently scoffed a Scotch egg, forgetting that the egg was wrapped in sausage meat.

In No Visible Lycra terms, David is the 'fifth Beatle' – he's been out with us once and hasn't used his Kona Smoke (a bike I advised him to buy and proof yet again that I should be a Kona salesman) since – and I'm talking years, not weeks.

That aside, though, we reached the end of the meal and the waiter puts down a plate of After Eights (nothing better after an Indian meal) but David declines to eat his (so I jumped in!). Why isn't David eating his After Eight mint? Because he's got something against Nestles (we'll stick to the old pronounciation). Something to do with formula milk and the developing world, mainly Africa.

From a position of ignorance, I argued that if mothers feed their babies formula rather than breast feed, that's not Nestles' fault, but, I'll be honest, the whole thing stuck with me and I woke up this morning eager to find out more about the issue. Naturally, I checked out Google and discovered that Nestles has, for some time, allegedly, been unethically marketing its milk to poor mothers in developing countries. Here's what Wikipedia says:-

"Advocacy groups and charities have accused Nestlé of unethical methods of promoting infant formula over breast-milk to poor mothers in developing countries. For example, IBFAN claim that Nestlé supports the distribution of free powdered formula samples to hospitals and maternity wards; after leaving the hospital, the formula is no longer free, but because the supplementation has interfered with lactation the family must continue to buy the formula. IBFAN also allege that Nestlé uses "humanitarian aid" to create markets, does not label its products in a language appropriate to the country where they are sold, and offers gifts and sponsorship to influence health workers to promote its products."

It's important to point out that Nestles has denied the allegations, but nevertheless, this is more than a storm in a tea cup. In fact, there is now an organisation called the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) that monitors what's going on in respect of the Swiss giant and its baby milk marketing.

In 1999, incidentally, the issue was picked up by The Mark Thomas Comedy Project. Mark Thomas is brilliant, he's written a great book on Coca Cola's activities in the developing world and has campaigned on many different issues (click here for more information). Here again is what Wikipedia have written:-

"In one portion of the show he [Thomas] "received a tin of baby milk from Mozambique. All instructions are in English. 33 languages and dialects are recognised in Mozambique. Portuguese is the official language. However, only about 30% of the population can speak it. English is usually the second language for people in Mozambique."

There is clearly a problem, but once again – as with a lot of stuff like this – while the truth appears to be staring us all in the face about the big corporations and their unethical behaviour, nothing seems to get done. As I mentioned above, Nestles has denied all the allegations against it and, I'd imagine, will continue to do so, leaving only direct action – in the form of people, like David, boycotting Nestles products – which, perhaps one day, will work. But then again it might not.

Having said that, here's more from the issue's Wikipedia entry:-

"Many European universities, colleges and schools have banned the sale of Nestlé products from their shops and vending manchines. In the United Kingdom, 73 student unions, 102 businesses, 30 faith groups, 20 health groups, 33 consumer groups, 18 local authorities, 12 trade unions, education groups, 31 MPs, and many celebrities support the boycott."

So, perhaps things are getting done, although again, Nestles continues to deny the allegations.

It is, however, very difficult to boycott a company like Nestles because it makes so many different things and owns so many different brands. If you want a break, for instance, you have a Kit Kat – well, not David because Kit Kat is a Nestles brand. So is Nescafe and Nestea (the latter we see or hear little about in the UK for some reason). Can David eat three Shredded Wheat? Probably, but he won't because it's a Nestles product. Fancy a hot dog, David? Well, alright, he's vegetarian, so no, he doesn't, but if he wasn't a vegetarian he still wouldn't eat them. Why? Because one of the biggest hotdog brands is Herta and it belongs to Nestles. Smarties, Aero, Lion Bars and Carnation milk are also Nestles products.

And when you're sitting in a restaurant and you order coffee, how do you know that the coffee is not Nestles? Well, to be fair to restaurateurs, they would be mad serving their customers instant coffee as opposed to roast and ground, it's just not the done thing (although Nestles would beg to differ).

The big problem, I believe, rests with a very misleading phrase – 'corporate social responsibility' – which the big multinationals think is their get-out clause for any wrongdoing. They think that if they build a small brick building in the middle of a rainforest and call it a school, then all their bad deeds will in some way be forgiven or covered up. In some cases it probably amounts to bribery, but it's much worse and far less blatant, it's all about getting people on your side. 

You can bet your arse that all large conglomerates do a lot of 'corporate social responsibility' to cover up what they're really up to; ultimately, all they care about is profit, pure and simple, and if that means killing babies or ruining water supplies, you name it, they don't care. But as soon as criticism is levelled at them, they'll play their joker and start waving the 'corporate social responsibility' thing at whoever is protesting, as if to say, "Look at all the good we're doing for the natives: they have a school, a water main and we've bought them a load of laptops."

What gets me about the mothers out in Africa using the formula milk is why they don't breast feed; it is, after all, the most natural thing there is, it must, surely, be a natural reflex in most women and it's best for the baby. Don't tell me there's a Nestles sales rep by their bedsides waggling an index finger and saying, "No, no, breast is not best, Mrs Gatanga, use this!" and then hands over a jar of the dreaded formula. [David informs me that this does happen.]

Still, things are being achieved on the boycott front, which is good news and while, to be honest, I can't be bothered to make a point out of avoiding eating Nestles products – to be honest I rather like Yorkie bars – hats off to David for doing his bit.

Oh, and if you don't want that After Eight mint....hand it over!

Weather update...

Michael Fish: he once said there wouldn't be a hurricane, but then there was one!
Just seen Michael Fish, looking decidedly unkempt and dressed in some kind of black coat, as if he'd just walked in from a blizzard. He was presenting the weather on the BBC and I just caught 'fine on Saturday, rain on Sunday', which kind of means we've got to go for it tomorrow.

Thomas Edison: he invented the lightbulb!

Today – within the hour – I will embark on another 30-minute sprint, meaning I've done it everyday of this week and yes, I do feel better as a result, which is good. I'm planning to keep it up. Yesterday I was out in the drizzle, proof of true dedication.
The good-looking one from The Bangles.

Oh, and I have no rear brake. Pull on the lever: nothing; so it's got to be fixed. Fortunately, I've still got a front brake.

And somebody, stop me from constantly whistling 'Walk Like an Egyptian' by the Bangles.

And one last thing, Thomas Edison, the man who invented the lightbulb, would be 164 years old today if he hadn't died. Yes, it's his birthday!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

To Tatsfield Village...

We're getting there, but slowly. By that I mean that the New Year is now underway and we're kind of getting out there, but need to do much more. This week we only went on Sunday, last week we didn't go at all and the week before that we just went on a Sunday too. In other words, we're slacking and need to sort ourselves out.

Andy's Kona on Warlingham Green at 0730 hrs. I was nowhere to be seen, but I was on my way! Honest!
I've suggested that this coming weekend we head on down to Westerham, which would dust away the old cobwebs a little. Mind you, I think I need to get my act together too. I've been leaving the house miles too late.

In fact, the photograph illustrating this post was sent to me by Andy on Sunday morning to give me some idea about what Warlingham Green looks like at 0730hrs. I think Andy was trying to be funny by suggesting that I'm not on time. He's right, of course, so I don't have a leg to stand on. This weekend I plan to make the tea early and be a little more organised and then I'll leave the house bang on 0700hrs and hey, I'll be early! That's the plan at any rate.

Other news...

I've started cycling every day. Only a shortish 30-minute sprint, but it's keeping me fit (I hope) and it's been working like this: I set my stop watch for 30 minutes and then see if I can get back before the alarm goes off. So far, so good. On my first attempt on Saturday 6th February I got back with 1.48 minutes left; yesterday (Monday 7th February) I returned with 1.11 minutes to go (this was due to strong winds that slowed me down) and this morning, I'm not sure what time I put in as the mobile phone needed charging, but I reckon it was an okay time even if I did stop the bike at one stage in the woods. Let's see what tomorrow brings, but my plan is to do this every day. It's a half-hour run from either 0900hrs to 0930hrs or, as I'm planning, an early one at 0700hrs.

The route:-

Barnfield Road then left into Ellenbridge.
Turn right into Southcote Road.
Straight across Ridgeway into Hook Hill.
Hook Hill to Briton Hill Road.
Left into Church way heading towards Morley Road.
Turning back into Church Way and hanging left into Norfolk Avenue.
Turn left into Arundel Avenue and the follow road towards Ridge Langley.
Turn left into Ridge Langley, go round the loop and out through the alley onto the Upper Selsdon Road.
Turn left onto Selsdon Road and then cross the road and go off-road through the golf course and into Croham Hurst Woods.
Turn left on Croham Manor Road, then left on to Upper Selsdon Road before hanging right into West Hill and then left into Barnfield Road.