Thursday, 31 March 2011

Botley instead of work? I haven't got any work!

A pint of Pale Ale from the Westerham Brewery.

It's Thursday. I'm in the house, sending off emails and generally considering my future. Last night I was on the radio, BBC Five Live, talking about mobile phones. I'd got back home around 1am in the morning (it was a late-night chat show) and went straight to bed. Waking up around 7am, I took a brief drive locally and returned home. After sitting at the computer screen for most of the morning, I decided that I had to get out of the house.

I jumped on the bike and headed for Botley Hill Farmhouse. Or rather the roundabout beyond and then, on seeing the pub, I decided to indulge myself and order a pint of delicious pale ale, brewed locally by the Westerham Brewery. It was a light, pale ale and absolutely wonderful. I ordered a chicken and bacon ciabatta with chips and brown sauce and decided to sit outside and brave the windy conditions. The alternative was sitting inside, as suggested by the waitress, but that meant leaving the bike, unpadlocked, outside.

The Scrap outside the pub.
The food was great, but the beer was better and I toyed with the idea of another one, but decided it would be a mistake.

The journey back was very pleasant. I went off-road, risking a puncture but not getting one and even the ride from Warlingham Sainsbury's to home wasn't as dangerous as I suspected. Kids being ferried home from assorted schools in the area meant there was more traffic than Andy and I experience on our weekend rides, but I reached home safely, feeling good about getting out on the bike mid-week. Perhaps I'll go tomorrow too, but only if the weather's good, like it was today.

Looking outside now as I sit here in the conservatory, there are blue skies and scattered clouds and while it must have rained last night, it's dry now.

Monday, 28 March 2011

The Tea Drinker

Yours truly drinking tea at the Tatsfield Village bus stop on Sunday morning.

Photo taken by Andy Smith.

Vintage MG spotted in supermarket car park

Off to Waitrose to buy some razor blades yesterday and look what I found! A vintage MG. Mind you, I say it's 'vintage', check out that automatic gearbox.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Pix of our pal Dave on his new Harley-Davidson

"I don't want it unless there's extra pepperoni!" I shouted to the pizza delivery man – until I realised it was David on his new Harley.
A lairy helmet to match a lairy bike – and look at that crash helmet too!
It's big, a bit gay in terms of the colour scheme, but it's quite nice – and very noisy. In a nutshell, now that David's legally allowed to ride a bike that isn't de-tuned, he's gone and bought another one. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are a few shots, taken by yours truly.

That SatNav on the handlebars takes away a little cred, David.

That's a bit more restful on the eyes, don't you think?

Early start at the Green

7am, Woodmansterne Green and I was there first – and that's a first!
I didn't go cycling yesterday as Andy wasn't going and I didn't get a call from Jon. I slobbed about at home, getting a little irate about my current state of employment – on the dole if I don't get a job by the end of next month. To be honest, it's all very stressful. It's that nagging thought that, after my next pay cheque, nothing. I won't say too much about it here, for obvious reasons, but suffice it to say that there's a lot of tension in the house and I'm not sleeping that well either.

A host of golden daffodils in Tatsfield Village.
Today, the clocks went forward, meaning I lost an hour's sleep on top of losing sleep anyway. Andy wanted to meet at 7am instead of 7.30am, but I was awake at 0430hrs (meaning it was really 0530hrs). I jumped out of bed at 0554, switched off the alarm on the mobile and headed downstairs to make some tea and a bread and marmalade sandwich. Call me Paddington, I don't care.

This was taken last week in all that fog, but it's a
metaphor, perhaps, for my disappearing career
Half an hour later and I was out of the house, heading towards the green. I got there before Andy, which was a first (or rather, it's rare). We debated where to go and decided upon (ahem) Tatsfield Village. Well, why not? It's a good enough distance so we get the much-needed exercise and it's not as boring as Woodmansterne Green – or rather, it's not as boring as the ride to Woodmansterne Green.

The daffodils were out on the village green at Tatsfield and we sat and drank our tea, as we always do. Next week, if we can motivate ourselves, we're planning a trip to Merstham and a visit to the Hunger's End café, which means, for me, scrambled egg on toast and a mug of tea.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Tatsfield Bus Stop – it's just the way things are at the moment

Me arriving at Warlingham Green.
Not much in the way of spare cash at the moment, so any thoughts about taking the bike down to the garage to get it fixed are out of the question. There's two things wrong: one, the rear brake has gone completely; and two, the bike won't change down at the front, meaning that hills that are normally fine now mean getting off and walking. As a result, I'm constantly suggesting going to Tatsfield as the hills are okay with just the larger front crank and there's no dodgy downhill stuff that could see me flying headfirst through a hedge – or the radiator of an oncoming car.

At the Tatsfield bus stop.
So, after yesterday's trip to Woodmansterne to meet Jon, who arrived in his car, it's time for a proper ride but only to the Tatsfield bus stop. To be fair, I did consider Westerham as we sped down Clarks Lane on our approach to the bus stop, but decided against it due to time considerations mainly as I can climb out of Westerham with just the front crank and the downhill into town, while touch and go, is fine as I know that stretch of road like the back of my hand. Still, we stopped at the bus stop, chewed the fat, drank tea, munched cereal bars and returned home.

Andy took these photographs.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Andy locked out of his garage and Jon turns up – in his car!

For whatever reason, I awoke this morning at 0400hrs and eventually decided to get out of bed, make a cup of tea and some bread and marmalade and check out the emails and stuff. No, I didn't look at anything dodgy, just the emails and work-related stuff and then it was time to head off to Warlingham Green.

Woodmansterne Green taken in November 2009 I think.
 I dropped Andy a text explaining how I was running about five minutes late and then, as I pedalled along Church Way there was a message from Andy. Ding! "You're on your own, I can't get into my garage." Or words to that effect. I dabbled with the idea a. of going home. b of going alone to Botley Hill or the Tatsfield Bus Stop or c. calling Jon and heading over to Woodmansterne Green – for the first time this year. I opted for the latter and agreed to meet Jon around 8am.
Andy: locked out of his garage, he aborted.

Jon: ignore that bike, today he drove to Woodmansterne!

All the way there I took it easy and when I reached the Green and sat down on Jean Merrington's memorial bench, I awaited Jon's arrival. Out came the tea and, as I sat there, I noticed Jon over at the newsagent's  clasping the Saturday edition of the Times. Where, I wondered, was his bike? He'd been trying to reach me on my mobile, unaware that it had run out of power (so I couldn't take any photographs as I didn't have the camera with me).

He'd come by car! What a cheek! First Andy can't get into his garage and then Jon turns up on four wheels. His excuse? He had a slow puncture – that had gone flat – and his pump had broken.

I didn't matter. We strolled around chatting about this and that and then I cycled home while he drove. Still, I got the exercise, although my bike is need of repair: no rear brake, a rusty chain, the gears are buggered, so all-in-all it's a bit dangerous, but I can handle it. Of course, when I reached West Hill I walked up, miles to too steep at the Sanderstead Road end to climb with wonky gears.

Home at 0945, I mowed the lawn, ate lunch in the garden under an umbrella – it was positively balmy, to coin an Andy Smith phrase, drank a bottle of Alhambra, a Spanish beer, and then kicked a football around, vacuumed out the inside of the car and went to see mum and dad.

Dad's still got his awful moustache. I might have mentioned it before: it's green, or some kind of funny colour. As I said to Jon this morning, it looks like an old woman's minge. Horrible! Dad's not on-line, so he won't read this, otherwise I'd say, "Dad! Shave it off!"

Monday, 14 March 2011

Andy and I at the Tatsfield Village bus stop...

Yours truly (left) with Andy at the Tatsfield Village bus stop, Sunday 13 March 2011.

We both arsed around trying to take this self-portrait at the Tatsfield Village bus stop, but eventually Andy captured the shot perfectly on his complicated Nikon digital camera.

Tatsfield village

A field halfway along the B269 and yards from where Andy and I parted company.
Sunday 13 March 2011: Having watched Top Gear recently and got a little excited about (ahem) the Skoda Yeti, I was amazed not only to see one – in Tatsfield – but to discover that it wasn't exactly of Chelsea Tractor proportions. Andy and I were sitting at the village bus stop gassing about something or other and there it was and we both agreed that we'd like one – not that either of us have the money, but that's another issue.

Andy on the B269 prior to parting company.
So, Tatsfield Village. We're here because it's a good destination, not too boring, a fairly good distance away and there's a covered bus stop to shelter from the weather. Mind you, it is fast becoming our default destination, but that's because of the state of my bike – gears and rear brake are buggered – and the run to the village is not big on steep hills. It's still a good 16-mile round trip.

It was hard to believe I was only 30 minutes or so away from civilisation
Compared with Saturday, Sunday's weather was not good. Later in the day (around 3pm) it rained and I took shelter in a Costa Coffee shop, watching the rain dribble from the awning, but on the ride it was damp and misty. The word 'misty' is an understatement; up on Botley Hill it was very thick fog – a real pea soup as they say – and yes, you've guessed it, I had no lights.

We managed to avoid a soaking, although I picked up a wet arse, courtesy of no mudguards, but that was the height of any problems we encountered.

Andy's found a new way home along a dirt track half way along the B269 on the return trip, so we parted company in fog and vowed to meet again next week. I stopped and took a few photographs and they illustrate this post.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Helen Pidd's brilliant article on the Velorbis Victoria Balloon

I know there are not many left-leaning Guardian readers amongst those who glance at my blog, so I'll have to state now that I am probably the only one. Every Saturday I buy and enjoy reading the Guardian for so many reasons, some of which I've already discussed in a previous post. Something I probably didn't mention the last time I brought up my favourite broadsheet, was a regular feature in The Guide, a small A5 magazine devoted to what's on the television.

In the Guide, in addition to finding out what movies are being screened during the week on television and at the cinema – and, up until recently, a brilliant column by the great Charlie Brooker – is something entitled Michael Holden's All Ears. It is, arguably, one of the funniest columns in journalism at the moment and if you want an example, click here to check out this Saturday's edition, it's very, very funny. Alright, I know there's nothing worse than having other people's sense of humour forced upon you (and I'm not saying you'll laugh as much as I always do) but give it go, it's great.

Something else that makes the Guardian on a Saturday praiseworthy in the extreme – apart from the property column, Snooping About, in the magazine, and the celebrity Q&A (this week it's Sarah Brown, Gordon's other half) is that, in addition to car reviews, also in the magazine, there's occasionally reviews of bicycles.

This week, Helen Pidd, has penned a review of the Velorbis Victoria Balloon. First, what a great name for a bicycle. It sounds like something out of Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.

The Velorbis Victoria Balloon – my type of bike.

Anyway, Pidd lives in Berlin – a great city – and there are a lot of cobbled streets there which, she points out, are not good for cyclists. So, rather than ship over her 'skinny-tyred road bike', she decided to buy the Velorbis Victoria Balloon, a bike from Holland. With a ladies frame and high, chromium handle bars, this is what you could call a 'proper bike', the sort of thing that, by rights, should have a basket. I'm sure there must be a men's version.

Here's the bloke's version! Look at those tyres!

Pidd likes the bike because the tyres are 'as fat as three bratwursts' and won't get stuck in the tramlines of the city and, no doubt, make easy work of the cobbled streets. The problem is the price – £695! Mind you, I can talk. I bought a bike for £684 a few years ago and it too has huge, bulbous tyres that, like Pidd's new bike, would make easy work of cobbled streets. In fact, I'd love to ship my bike over to Berlin just to ride the cobbles on it. One day, perhaps.

And here's Helen Pidd! If you Google her, there's loads of stuff.

Pidd employed similar reasoning behind her purchase of the Velorbis Victoria Balloon as I did when I purchased my Kona Scrap. "There is no getting away from the fact that this is a big, heavy, expensive bike – £700 is a lot to spend on something too sluggish ever to transport you very far, very fast. But – and this is a big but – it's both beautiful and indestructible." My sentiments exactly about the Kona Scrap, a bike a friend of mine refers to as my Dewhurst bike. He means that it looks like a butcher's bike and he's right, it does, but I love it.

Tyres like bratwursts and begging to be abused – my £700 Kona Scrap.
Note the Spongy Wonder saddle, which I added.

Pidd's love for the Velorbis is infectious. "If you are forced to keep your poor bike out in the cold, this is the model that says, "It's OK, don't worry about me." Except that, knowing it cost me the best part of £700 would make me worry and produce countless sleepless nights – perhaps not so much in Berlin, but over here in Croydon I wouldn't fancy it's chances.

The Velorbis is hand-made from German steel and is coated with a special rust repellent, says Pidd, and I love the fact that she's detected 'a masochistic streak' in a bike that dares its reader to take it out in the snow (who would ever do that with a brand new bike?). I remember, when I was about 10 years old and the proud owner of a brand new Moulton Mini (yes, I know, they're naff, but it was my first ever bike and I loved it). There was no way that I was taking it outside in the rain for fear of getting it dirty.

The Velorbis sounds like my sort of bike, although it only has three gears (good old Sturmey Archer) and a 'coaster brake' that, says Pidd, 'kicks in when you pedal backwards'. Excellent stuff! The Velorbis dispenses with a conventional rear brake – giving it even more cred. There's a Brooks saddle too and, something else you see little of these days: a dynamo lighting system (now that would be useful for somebody like me who risks life and limb (and the threat of the law) by riding out without lights in the early morning darkness of the winter months.

Pidd clatters along the cobbles of Kreuzberg in 'a regal riding position' and claims that the bike is 'just the job'.

Bicycle: The Complete Guide to Everyday Cycling by Helen Pidd is now available. It is published by Penguin and costs £14.99 – or £11.99 if you buy it from the Guardian bookshop by clicking here. 

If you want to buy a Velorbis bicycle, click here!

To the Tatsfield bus stop on my own

Up and out relatively early, but no sign of Andy. This was odd, I thought, as I arrived at Warlingham Green, until I checked my iphone – Andy can't make it, leaving me on the Green thinking, 'well, at least I'm out in the open air'. I called Jon but he had a cold so I resolved to cycle initially to Botley Hill and then straight back, but ended up heading for the Tatsfield bus stop where I stopped and enjoyed a couple of mugs of tea.

The Tatsfield bus stop, March 12th 2011.

The weather was fine (it still is); blue skies and not cold at all – and no sign of rain whatsoever, so a pleasant ride. I chilled out for a bit at the bus stop and then headed for home along the B269, the usual route, and nothing out of the ordinary happened.

Andy's going tomorrow so hopefully the weather will hold.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Bike shop and caff combined – surely a dream come true

If there's two things in this world that I love, it's tea shops and bike shops. I like the former because, well, who doesn't like a tea shop with its selection of cakes and pastries, possibly a few newspapers and a general good vibe. Then there's the bike shop. Call me a kid, but I still get excited looking at the bikes and all the accessories.

John Lehman, holding the wheel of cyclist Diana Meyers
in R & E Cycles in Seattle, USA. Bike cafés like this are opening
in bike-friendly US cities like Portland and San Francisco too. Photo courtesy

Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that there's a growing trend these days towards combined teashops and caffs with bike shops – a place where cyclists can have their bikes repaired while sipping a cup of English Breakfast tea and munching, perhaps, on a Danish pastry or some millionaire's shortbread. 

It's all to do with the rising price of oil and the fact that more and more people are jumping on their bikes to get around, leaving the car at home.

For more information, click here.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Calorie-burning exercise – cycling comes fifth

Typical calorie expenditure9 - stone (57kg) woman11 - stone (70kg) man

Running (calories per hour at 8-minute mile pace)



Swimming (calories per hour for continuous laps)



Uphill walking at a 10% gradient (calories per hour)


Rowing (calories per hour at a moderate pace)


Cycling (calories per hour at 12-14mph pace )


Jogging (calories per hour at 12-minute mile pace)


Walking (calories per hour at 15-minute mile pace)

And this is brilliant!

Andy's got an app on his iphone that details the routes taken on our cycles. Click the link for a mile-by-mile run-down of Saturday's trip to Westerham and back.

Click here! 

And for details of our ride to Tatsfield today (Sunday 6 March) click here!

Tatsfield Village – and the who the hell is Neil Mack?

Neil Mack as he probably looked in The Ship on Saturday night.
It was still very cold, but I think Andy was feeling it more than I was as he didn't want to linger around taking photographs. We cycled to Tatsfield Village today and sat at the bus stop opposite The Ship pub discussing 'stuff', like what we'd do with £51 million. Andy's in a syndicate at work and would stand to win £4 million this week on Euromillions if his tickets come up – he's heard nothing yet.

Two things that intrigued me about Tatsfield today. First, it is twinned with Vern D'Anjou in France, and second, last night (Saturday 5th March) a chap called Neil Mack was playing live at The Ship. Let's start with Vern D'Anjou, not that there's much to say.

Vern D'Anjou is North East of Nantes and South East of Rennes and South West of Le Mans. There's not much else to say about Vern D'Anjou and very little about the place on the net either, bar travel sites and some of those are written in French. Talking of France, Andy is going to cycle to Paris in August. I'd like to go with him, but unless I have a decent holiday booked for the family, which at present is looking unlikley, I can't really piss off to France for four days, leaving them all at home, so I'm not going with him, sadly – although I will be doing the Black Horse Ride this year, which has moved from May to June (more on this in a later post).

A church in the French town of Vern D'Anjou, 
which is twinned with Tatsfield.

As for Neil Mack, well, thanks to Andy there is plenty to say about this guy. Andy emailed me to say that it was Neil Mack, not – as I'd originally written – Neil Tait (who's an accomplished artist). Anyway, Neil Mack, what a fiddler! Check out this piece of music – click here.

In fact, talking of Neil Mack, he's playing a gig with his band on 31 March in Great Bookham in Surrey. I'm assuming it's the same Neil Mack (there's a lot of Neil Macks on Google), but if you're interested in going it's £5 per ticket and the address is the Bookham Grange Hotel, Little Bookham, Leatherhead, Surrey KT23 3HS

The Bookham Grange Hotel.

In fact, it gets better as Neil Mack has a test page for a forthcoming website  – click here! And if that's not enough to be getting on with, here's a photograph of the man in action!

Spookily, there's another Neil Mack – or it could be the same one – who is into mountain biking. Check out his details by clicking here.

While we sat at the bus stop – drinking tea and munching our Jordan's cereal bar – we chatted about running a pub and decided it was too much like hard work, even if I did rather impress myself with my knowledge of 'the grey pound' and what I'd do to maintain consumer interest in the pub during the week – curry nights, real ale, darts matches and so on, but then I have spent the last three years working on a magazine for the licensed club trade. No wonder I'm an expert!

The cycle home, like yesterday, was very cold. Andy took The Ridge again and I used the B269, very exposed and very cold.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

To Westerham

It was freezing cold going down the hill into Westerham yesterday (March 5th) and both Andy and I were glad to reach the bench in the high street (opposite an underwear store) to drink our tea. We hadn't been to Westerham for a while and our original resting place near the convenience store was decorated with fast food boxes and spit so we moved further into the town centre – not that there's much of a town centre in Westerham, it's one of those places with just a high street and a road running through the middle of it.

Dirty bike and a dirty mind. Needless to say we
both felt a bit awkward about our chosen rest spot.
Winston Churchill lived in Westerham, at Chartwell, and there's a statue of the great man on the green opposite and excellent tearoom. Anyway, we must have reached there just before 0830. We left at 0900 hours and I reached home at around 1020.

Halfway up Clarks Lane on the return trip from Westerham.

I still have non-existent rear brakes and a faulty gear system and the bike needs a good clean.

The road ahead: looking up Clarks Lane towards Botley Hill.

What's happening in the news? Well, Libya is still in crisis and moving towards civil war, if it hasn't reached that stage already, and here in the UK we're all waiting for the budget of chancellor George Osborne.