Monday, 30 May 2011

Westerham in the fog

Our bikes resting against Churchill's statue on the green at Westerham. Andy
took this shot.
Sunday 30 May 2011: No rain, but grey skies and a thick fog on the higher reaches of the B269 and Clarks Lane. There was a dampness in the air, but the fog cleared as we made our descent into Westerham, where it tried to rain, but didn't.

The last time we were here, it was bright sunshine as the Rotary Club erected stands on the green for its fete, but today the green was empty, bar a mother and child on a couple of those stainless steel scooters.

We parked our bikes against the statue of Churchill and sipped our tea while gazing across the green at a mansion house with standard lamps in it's downstairs windows and table lamps in all the rest. We figured the house would cost upwards of £1.5 million on the open market – out of our price range!

The idea of opening our own bike shop surfaced again, not that we'll ever do it. We looked at shopfronts in Westerham and decided that we didn't want a store with access via steps – bad news if you've got a bike shop. I mooted the idea of a bike shop and caff combined, like the place in Seattle I wrote about a few posts ago.

As we headed out of Westerham, the fog still clung to the surrounding hills, but the roads were clear until we reached Botley Hill. I decided to risk a puncture and cycle off-road on the basis that a flat tyre I could handle, a road accident I couldn't; remember, my bike has no rear brakes and a loose (ish) nut on the front wheel (something I'd forgotten about earlier as I hurtled down the hill into Westerham).

Andy and I parted company half way along the B269 and, as I continued towards Warlingham, the fog lifted so I hit the road again.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Woodmansterne Green with Jon – it's been a while!

Jon and Matt, Woodmansterne Green, Saturday 28 May 2011.
When we reached Woodmansterne and were both standing there, sipping tea, we both felt as if it wasn't that long ago since we had last stood there; I said I'd check the blog for confirmation, but it's true, it hasn't been THAT long since Jon and I were here. [It was March when we were last here, the time when I cycled and Jon arrived by car!].

Andy isn't cycling until tomorrow (Bank Holiday Monday) and I won't be going Sunday as I'm staying round at mum's on Saturday night.

The subject of our conversation yesterday (Saturday 28 May 2011) was dad – what else? We're keeping a watch on mum and by that I mean we're taking it in turns to spend the night with her at the house.

Mum's bearing up and so are we, but that's not to say it's any easier. Going round to mum's is odd because there's no dad. His presence is sorely missed, but we all know that mum, while putting on a brave face, is missing that presence most of all. Who can blame her? They've been together for the best part of 60 years and now he's gone.

Tomorrow, Andy and I will be heading out somewhere beyond Botley Hill. The destination has not been decided upon yet and there are so many choices: Westerham; Godstone Green; Tatsfield Village; the Churchyard; the Tatsfield Bus Stop...we'll wait until tomorrow at the Green to make the decision. Which reminds me – I've been talking about finding a new route and I must get down to sorting something out.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Eulogy for a Great Dad...

Thursday May 26 2011 was the day of my dad's funeral. Here is my eulogy to a great father. 

Funerals can be gloomy occasions, but the word ‘gloomy’ is not an adjective I would use to describe the man whose life we are celebrating and whose passing we mourn today. Dad was full of positive energy and optimism for life. He possessed an immense enthusiasm for everything and, while he probably wouldn’t admit to it himself, he was a true perfectionist.

Dad with a Moggridge piano, March 2010.
Even his initials spell out the nature of the man: Gerald Eldred Moggridge can be shortened to GEM and for all of us, dad was a real gem of a husband, a father, a grandfather and, of course, a great grandfather.

Mum will tell you what a great husband dad has been; they were married for 56 years, had three great kids, including me, and there was never a cross word – well, one or two, perhaps. Dad loved being at home with mum and was fortunate to enjoy 22 happy years of retirement, tending to their amazing and inspiring garden and researching and writing a history of the Moggridge family – available in all good bookshops soon.

As a father, dad was second to none. He probably wasn’t that good with dollies and teddies – that’s why Criss was forced to squeeze one of her dolls into Action Man fatigues – but our early years were characterised by cap guns, forts, train sets and toy soldiers and the biggest kid of all was dad. He taught us how to make log cabins out of sticks and blow them up with bangers and he was definitely behind the legendary Battle of Kiln Castle, which I’ll explain later to anyone who wants to listen.

Our childhoods were defined by two key events: summer holidays on the South Coast at Middleton-on-Sea and Felpham where dad played King Canute in a sandcastle; and, of course, Christmas time. Dad made both occasions truly magical – so much so that we’d be walking around the block, counting the days to our summer holiday, months before boarding the train to Bognor; and we probably believed in Father Christmas for longer than most kids – thanks to a bell and a ball of string.

Dad rigged up a bell outside of our bedroom window. It was attached to a ball of string, which he threw into the garden and then back through the bathroom window. On Christmas Eve, we would be tucked up in bed and dad would stand by the door clasping and pulling the string, ringing the bell outside the window. For years, we were believers – until I found the bell.

Dad also shone outside of the home. He enjoyed a highly successful career in the Government Information Service where he worked in Number 10 Downing Street alongside two great British Prime Ministers – Harold Wilson and Ted Heath – as well as one legendary Prime Minister-in-waiting, Margaret Thatcher (when she was Minister for Education). He set up the press office at the Lord Chancellor’s Department and was a regional director of the COI, in charge of co-ordinating media activity surrounding Royal Visits. He worked with the late and equally legendary Princess Diana and other members of the Royal Family.

Dad has met some of the world’s greats, including former American president Richard Nixon, in Bermuda with Ted Heath, and the diplomat’s diplomat, Henry Kissinger.

Which brings me to dad’s other enduring qualities – his strong moral code and his ethical approach to life. Dad was a fair man with a strong sense of right from wrong. Over the years, he provided us all with what I can only describe as expert guidance on how to live our lives – standing here today, I can confirm that he did a brilliant job and we will all miss him.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Monday, 23 May 2011

Sunday's ride – 22 May

At 6am there was rain and it rattled on my conservatory roof until gone 7am, prompting the possibility of an abort text to Andy. In the end, however, we opted for the 'wait and see' approach and decided to meet at 8am on the Green as the weather had improved immensely.

After our encounter with a morbidly obese man, we headed
across the road to a track Andy uses as a shortcut sometimes
on this way home.
Going out later meant cutting the ride short. We cycled to Botley Hill, turned round at the roundabout and stopped halfway along the B269 for our tea. Unfortunately, the place we'd chosen for a break was occupied by a morbidly obese gentleman with a creased faced dog of some sort. The man had a white stool, which amazingly supported his weight, but when we arrived, the dog decided to go mad. The fat guy  held on to the leash but was pulled off of his stool. 

Andy looked at me as if to say, "let's go", later telling me that there was no way we could pick him up. We crossed the road and rested at the top of a downward track that Andy uses as a shortcut on many of our return trips. Moments later we saw the fat man, back in his car and heading towards either Westerham or Oxted.

After taking the shot accompanying this post, we parted. Andy's not riding on Saturday or Sunday of next week, so we'll meet on the Monday (a bank holiday).

This week, dad's funeral takes place. It's on Thursday 26 May.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Photographic evidence for the record

My bike on Warlingham Green at roughly 1020hrs on Saturday 21 May

Andy ready to leave Westerham.
You only buy a 911 if you can't afford a Kona Scrap.
We're always trying to remember the last time one of us got a puncture. Well, here's the evidence of mine. It was Saturday May 21st and just gone 10am when I reached the green, took off the wheel and took out the inner tube – only to discover I had no pump. Oops! Fortunately, all's well that ends well.

To Westerham – and I get a puncture

We're always saying how rare it is these days to get a puncture and how we can't remember the last time one of us suffered this awful fate. Well, it was me on Saturday 21 May. The weather was amazing again and we decided to head for Westerham, a destination neglected for some time. It was a good ride, with some interesting low cloud hanging over the Oxted area but overall sunshine.

You'll have to click on this image to see the low cloud in the foreground.*
This vintage car was made in 1929, the year my dad was born.*
At Westerham, the Rotary Club were having some kind of fete on the green and I commented that England really can be summed up by one phrase: old ladies making cakes. There was a stand devoted to the cause along with plenty of others and Andy and I watched as the fete was being set up, drinking tea and taking in the sunshine.

While the good weather continued for the return journey and Andy and I parted halfway along the B269, as I approached Warlingham Green, the bike began to wobble. I had a puncture! Shit! Haven't had one of those for ages, I thought, as I dismounted near Warlingham Sainsbury's and began the shortish walk to the green where I planned to fix it.

Without a pump, however, I had big problems and resorted to back-up from home. Soon, a car arrived along with the pump and all was well.

By 1055hrs I was on the way home.

* Photos courtesy of Andy.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Weirdness and wonderful weather

May 21st: Two rare things happened to me over the past 24 hours. One, I saw my first Kona Scrap, ie the first one, in six years, that wasn't mine but was identical. For a minute, I thought somebody had stolen my bike, but no, it still had the original saddle and Tioga tyres. It was parked outside a betting shop in Wallington near to Five Ways.

The second odd thing was this morning: I woke up, for the first time in ages, not knowing what day it was. My brain clicked after a second or two that it was Saturday and, fortunately, it was 0540hrs so I jumped out of bed and made some tea. It might have been those two cans of Stella, but what is more likely is that I don't have a routine at present – that's what I hate about freelance journalism and being self-employed: the days merge a bit as the normal working day structure fades. Horrible, horrible, horrible!

Another wonderful day outside. I saw a stag beetle last week, something that's rare enough in the heat of summer, but in May it's just amazing. The hot weather has been a constant now for at least two months and it's great – especially for cycling as it means we don't get soaked, although, if I recall, didn't we have a bit of rain a week or two back?

Outside, at 0644hrs, there's not a cloud in the sky and all is still, no wind, no moving branches, nothing, just stillness.

If you're wondering why I put the date in at the beginning of some of my posts, it's because Blogger's clock is different from the real world. Not all the time, but early in the morning it sometimes gets it wrong. If you're reading this it's because it got it wrong, if you can't read this, well, I was wrong.

More thoughts on dad...

It's coming round to a week since dad died and, as you might expect, all the funeral preparations are being made: flowers, eulogy (which I'll be reciting) the wake and so on. I've been trying to put on a brave face and not showing my true emotions, just like dad would have done, but I do have my private moments of grief, normally reserved for when I'm driving or riding the bike.

One part of mum and dad's wondeful garden
The feeling is odd and I know that there are a lot of people out there, who have already been there. I'm not, as dad would have said, unique. One of my memories of dad was listening to him explain things to me when I was a child, things that were run-of-the-mill and normally in response to an equally run-of-the-mill question, like, "Dad, why is it that when I come out of the swimming baths my ears pop?" And he would explain that I'm not unique, everyone experiences something like that and, of course, I'd immediately feel at ease knowing that it was not something peculiar to me. There were many moments like that and dad was always there to ensure we were not troubled by them.

Right now, though, I'm putting on a brave face but still experiencing feelings of emptiness and depression. I wonder where he is and again I look at everyday objects with the realisation that they lack meaning for dad. I think about his intellect, his views on history and politics, his sense of humour, his eye drops, basic stuff like that, and I think about how they have all lost meaning and relevance.

Back at 29 Rossdale, where they both lived, mum now resides there alone and there's definitely a sense of somebody missing. Dad has left the building, so to speak, but I always have a strange sense of his presence or, indeed, his imminent return; which, of course, is not to be.

While I try not to think about it and keep my true feelings away from my family – again, just like dad did when his mother and father died – it's nagging away at me.

I've had a couple of occasions where I've thought, "I know, I'll give dad a call on that problem," only to realise that I can't anymore and that, from now on, I'm on my own and will have to live or die on my own decisions about life and work and stuff.

Dad, as I said in the previous post, had a strong moral code and an immense sense of what was right and wrong. I wish I possessed similar qualities. I'll always remember, as a spotty teenager, owning a growing collection of soft porn mags, purchased with a strong sense of embarassment at the local newsagent. Once, as my collection became visible to other family members, by virtue of its size, dad sidled up to me and murmured, "Don't you think it's (ahem) a little unhealthy?" I considered his remark and then briskly set about dismantling my porn mag sofa – alright, I'm exagerrating, it was the equivalent of a small footstool.

That remark has stuck with me for years, and so have others, and of course he was right, as I've said before. Dad was always right in some respect or other and now I guess we'll all have to rely upon our own moral compasses to set us straight – not that I'm planning on building another porn mag sofa.

During the week, Jon and I spent the night at the family home, sleeping in our old room. Mum had made us dinner and we'd sat chatting about old times. I think mum enjoyed our company and we plan to go back and do it again soon. Last night our sister Clarissa (we call her Criss) spent the night and was probably up with the lark and drinking tea by the patio door, looking out on mum's truly amazing garden.

What's really amazing is that they have regular visits from a handful of foxes and they feed them with sausage rolls and bits of bread. When I came downstairs at 0530hrs and drew back the curtains, there on the lawn was a small audience of foxes awaiting their breakfast, which was duly provided by mum.

The garden was their pride and joy and I know that dad wanted to go home to it as soon as possible. His constant request while in hospital last week was "I want to go home". We all knew why; it's such a serene place to be. Sadly, he never returned, but we're planning to scatter his ashes in the garden.

Dad has inspired me to start tidying up my own garden and as soon as I get some cash I'll buy a few shrubs. I've had a couple of bonfires, something else dad loved, and I'm planning two more over the weekend to get rid of the last clump of old branches pruned from the trees.

One thing I'm really looking forward to is cycling. It really is therapeutic (is that spelt correctly?) as it takes my mind off of things. I might even ride out to Botley Hill later today.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Sadly, dad passed away

Sunday 15 May: At the age of 81 and after a very short illness, dad passed away yesterday at just gone 4pm. He wasn't in any pain and mum and Jon were there. My sister and I missed his passing by minutes, but all of us, including five of his seven grandchildren and other members of the family had surrounded his bedside (at St Helier Hospital in Carshalton) for the past week.

Dad with a Moggridge piano, March 2010.
It's hard to put into words exactly what we all felt about dad as I guess most people regard their own fathers as the very best. My dad was inspirational in so many ways. His enthusiasm, his moral code, his knowledge of right from wrong, made him stand out in the crowd. He gave me the best childhood ever, one that remains with me today, he's offered me the very best of life advice over the years and he's been a good friend, never one to bear a grudge, and always there to offer a solution to any problem.

Dad is the reason for so much in my life, including cycling. It was listening to dad's stories about how he and his pal Geoff used to cycle to the coast from Wandsworth to Worthing in the 1940s that inspired me to ride a bike. In fact, dad bought me my first bike and whenever I'm out on the road today, dad's always there somewhere.

There's a great book by Alan Sillitoe, entitled Down from the Hill, that in some way captures a mood that I associate with dad and cycling. Sillitoe was roughly the same age as dad and I think they both served in Malaya in the late forties. In fact, I think they've had contact with one another, by letter, although I can't recall the reason why: something to do with one of the books Sillitoe had written in his later years.

Dad loved writing too, of course, and has penned a comprehensive history of the Moggridge family dating back to the 1600s. My aim now is to get it in print for him, something that I know he would appreciate.

Fortunately – and thanks to Jon and our cousin Philip – Dad got to see a couple of Moggridge pianos. The photograph accompanying this post is of dad last March (2010) standing next to one of the pianos, both of which had been shipped over from the USA after an extensive search on the internet. Jon has one and Philip has the other.

Dad had a tremendous sense of humour, he loved life, he loved sport and he loved politics. An important part of his career in the civil service was when he found himself working in the Number 10 Downing Street press office under Joe Haines and alongside Harold Wilson and Ted Heath in the 1970s. I remember, as a child, when he accompanied Heath to Bermuda to meet Richard Nixon. He said he'd wave to us if he appeared on the television news – a promise, I recall, that he kept.

He went on to set up a press office for the Lord Chancellor of the time, Lord Hailsham and then was appointed regional director of the COI and put in charge of co-ordinating press activity surrounding royal visits.

Dad gave us all the very best of times. To this day we still visit Felpham on the West Sussex coast and remember those holidays in rented houses on the beach: Seafront, Merryweather and later Georgia, but not forgetting The Heron on Ancton Lodge Lane in Middleton-on-Sea – all of which are still there today.

Christmas time was always made special by dad. He went out of his way to make it an exciting and magical time and even rigged up a bell outside our bedroom window, attached to string, that he would pull once we were tucked up in bed.

I could write all day about dad's greatness, but I'll sign off on the fact that he lived a long and happy life, made all the happier by our mum who, right to the end, was there for him, providing words of comfort in his moments of need, words I'm sure he heard loud and clear and will remember in whatever world he now inhabits.

God rest his soul.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

She's at it again! Helen Pidd on the Apollo Haze Women's Hybrid

Helen Pidd's article in the 14 May edition of the Guardian's Weekend.
I really like it when the Guardian's Weekend magazine invites journalist and writer Helen Pidd to contribute something on cycling. In this week's issue she's road testing the Apollo Haze Women's Hybrid – and isn't very complimentary about it.

In three words, she describes it as 'cheap and nasty' and goes on to recommend the Specialized Sirrus, which costs an additional £200 and, of course, bolsters the theory that in this world, you get what you pay for.

Helen lives in Berlin, as we learned from her previous review of the Velorbis Victoria Balloon, which was given the thumbs up. The Apollo, however, was on a loser from the word go. For a start, it cost only £139.99, not that Pidd had ruled it out of court because of price. She was road testing the bike in London and decided to take it up Swains Lane in Highgate, only to discover that the lowest of the bike's 18 gears wasn't working. This she put down to the way it had been assembled by Halfords staff.

"The Apollo is usually sold flatpacked, ready for customers to assemble at home (a disaster waiting to happen). Mine was allegedly set up by a professional," wrote Pidd, explaining how most independent bike shops will tell you that 'it's impossible to make a decent bike for under £300', adding that the Apollo proves the point.

Pidd describes the Apollo as 'ugly' and wonders 'how many grown women would really choose a metallic lilac number with tacky flowers transferred on to the frame?' She's right, of course, but claims that when she took the Apollo off-road, it coped well, adding that not all the components are rubbish ('the rear mech is Shimano') and there was a women-specific gel saddle.

Neither the gears nor the saddle, however, were enough to make up for the bike's malfunctioning gear and 'hideous appearance'.

Pidd recommends that if you can't afford a brand new bike for around £300, opt for a secondhand one. Now that is sensible advice. There are a load of very cheap bikes around, but the 'get what you pay for philosophy' is all too real. Best to buy secondhand. In fact, only a month or two ago, I found a Specialized Hardrock mountain bike in one of those new-fangled pawnshops (this one in Croydon) for a mere £90!

When I consider that my son has a Hardrock that needs more than £90 worth of work, he'd be better off buying another one if its only £90!

Tatsfield Village for tea and a cream bun

It was one of those 'was it even worth going?' moments when Andy pulled out two iced Belgian buns, but to hell with it, they were lovely, especially with a cup of warm Twinings English Breakfast tea – far better than the PG Tips we'd been drinking over the past few weeks.

Iced Belgian buns – lovely!
On arrival, our bus stop was dry and sunny and that put us immediately in the mood to help a troubled motorist by pushing her broken down car to the kerbside where later it was examined by a portly man in trainers (who definitely needed the exercise). When Andy brought out the buns, to complement his cereal bars, and I poured the tea, well, we would have been forgiven for thinking we'd died and gone to heaven.

Today, the main conversation was about prices and how everything is unnecessarily expensive. Tea at just under £2 a cup is ridiculous when you consider how much it costs to make and then there's double glazing and that moment when the salesman brings out his calculator and claims that it'll cost you something ridiculous, like, say, £15,000 but that if you sign on the dotted line you can have it for...sound of fingers on calculator keys...£2,000. How, you wonder, could something go down in price by £13,000? Answer: because it was never worth £15,000 in the first place. I'm exagerrating, but not by much. We live in a country where being ripped off is just part of the average day for most people – two quid to go one stop on a bus, £1.75 + for a cup of tea, a pack of five razors for over a tenner when it's cheaper to buy a new razor, it goes on and on.

In the end, of course, people think: sod that, I won't bother and then the Government moans about the economy being depressed because consumers ain't consumers. I wonder why? The worst thing, of course, is that the goods on offer are often pretty shoddy and not worth the money in the first place, but we all know that, don't we?

Mind you, those Belgian buns were worth every penny – and so was the Twinings English Breakfast tea.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Short one to Botley Hill

Andy's Kona Blast. Shot by Andy
Due to my father's worsening condition I met Andy at the Green and we cycled to Botley Hill. Dad's still in hospital and, sadly, the prognosis is poor.

We sat on the grass outside the pub and then cycled home.

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Dunwich Dynamo

Dunwich Dynamo riders reach the beach
Andy sent me a link for a ride of 120 miles. It starts in the evening and ends in the morning and runs from Hackney through to the Suffolk coast at Dunwich, braving the urban hell that is Epping Forest and, of course, the darkness of night. Riders are advised to bring lights and batteries – so if we do it, I'll have to get my act together.

It sounds like a bridge too far unless we've slept during the day as I'd imagine the fatigue would be high octane considering the distance and the fact that your body will tell you to get 50 winks, but apparently it's a great feeling arriving at Dunwich in the early hours having already watched the sunrise en route – and you're even advised to take a dip.

I have to admit that it is tempting, especially as I've discovered the next one is in July, meaning it should be pretty warm. However, I think we'd have to get some practice in for 120 miles, ie a run to Bognor Regis AND back! A tall order? Possibly.

Here are two links worth checking out. One is an article penned by a rider on the Dunwich Dynamo (great name, by the way) and the other is details of the ride itself.

The worst thing about it, I guess, is the fact that it's not organised. By that I mean there are no marshals and it really is every man for himself. There's also been a fatality and a few close shaves.

Click here for ride details.

Click here for the article about the ride.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

How very dare they!

Lonely Planet has the audacity to brand Surrey as uninspiring and dull. Nothing could be further from the truth in NoVisibleLycra's opinion.

Click here for more.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

One way cycle to see dad...

Despite the miserable start to the day weatherwise, I cycled over to see dad around 4pm; it's around six miles through a mainly urban landscape. Make that suburban. Dad was still roughly the same as he has been for the past fortnight, with no real improvement in sight. The big problem was his lack of sleep and, more importantly, his inability to take in liquids. In other words, he was getting seriously dehydrated.

When I got there around 4pm, both mum and dad were of the opinion that they simply couldn't wait until mid-May to get things moving. They suggested to me that we go to the A&E. I called NHS Direct for some advice and in the end Jon drove over and we took him up to the hospital. They checked him out, confirmed he was dehydrated and, frankly, in a bit of mess, and decided he ought to stay in.

What amazes all of us is that his GP was quite happy to leave him stewing at home, getting steadily worse with no real end in sight. Still, he's in a good place and he's being looked after and that's the main thing.

I reached home around 1045 and watched TV for 15 minutes or so and then went to bed.

I'll probably go back over there for the bike later today.

Another nice day!

Sunday 8 May: It's 0844hrs and the rain has gone, the sun is out and the sky is blue, but we've lost momentum on a ride today, although I'll probably cycle over to dad's later on to check on his state of health. It's really good out there and I bet Andy's thinking the same thing – a quick ride to Botley Hill or the Tatsfield Bus Stop; but things have moved on and I have many other commitments.

The car can't be used because it lacks an MOT and needs work done, but that'll be sorted by tomorrow. As for now, well, we can only think of what might have been, but the weather out there is perfect.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

A carbon copy of yesterday morning...but an 'abort' text is likely

Sunday 8 May: I woke up later this morning; not because the alarm didn't go off (I hadn't set it) but just because I lay there in bed, looking out on what was a bright morning. I hadn't drawn the curtains the night before and the sunlight woke me up without any prompting from the iPhone, which was downstairs charging in the kitchen.

Yesterday I cycled over to dad's and found his state of health unchanged from the day before. Dad was in bed, his stomach still bloated, legs still swollen and his voice still weak. I'd taken him to the doctor last Thursday and, to be honest, they weren't taking things as seriously as they should have been: instead of insisting on immediate tests, he's had to wait until later this month and yesterday, dad told me he was having trouble drinking liquid – not good when you consider we all need liquids to survive.

I called NHS Direct and chatted to a nurse, explaining dad's symptoms using the iPhone's speaker facility. She sent a doctor round and he kind of confirmed what we knew all along – that there was something (a growth, a cyst, something) and whatever it was, it was the cause of the problem. He suggested that dad re-connects with his GP (who he'd seen on Thursday last week) and, I'd imagine, insist on getting things moving a little quicker. So, tomorrow (Monday) hopefully the ball will start moving a little faster.

Meanwhile we all wait. I had difficulty getting to sleep last night as a result. This sort of thing plays on my mind as I consider dad's age – he'll be 82 in September – and I know it's playing on Jon's and Cris' minds too, not to mention dad's. I'm optimistic that whatever it is can be cured but dad's looking very grey and I know we're all worrying about it.

Outside, the weather is similar to yesterday: outbursts of rain. I've sent Andy a text saying let's see what it's like at 7am – that's 15 minutes from now, time for another cup of tea. Normally, when it rains here, it hits Caterham a few minutes later – or vice versa – so I'd imagine that right now, Andy is gazing out of his window at the rain.

Somehow the rain looks more set-in than yesterday, so I guess it's going to be an 'abort' text very shortly. As I write, it's heavy and grey and I've just discovered that I didn't come anywhere near on the National Lottery – not even a tenner. That's life, I guess, as dad would say.

...and then we went out!

Saturday 7 May: The rain shower was brief and to the point and suddenly, after a major downpour, it stopped and the world became a brighter place. It was as if somebody had turned up the brightness control on the television. The skies went from grey to blue and all that was left of the rain was a few puddles – not good for me as I don't have any mudguards. Still, the weather was inspiring enough for me to text Andy and suggest a fast one to Botley Hill, which ended up as being a ride to the Tatsfield Bus Stop (when there's rain about, you ride out to places where there's cover).

The ride was fine, but I was managing to get a uncomfortable rear end, thanks to the puddles and by the time we reached the bus stop, my arse was like a sponge – now there's an image you don't want to dwell on for too long.

Andy had another idea for our multiple personality photographs, although he did say it was getting a little boring and that bar one other idea that we can't put into practice yet (it requires a ramp and an open space) there will be no more.

We sat and chewed the fat and watched the rain start up again, hoping that it would stop before we made our way home. It did stop, but again, the wetness on the roads managed to soak yours truly and once again I started thinking about mudguards and making my bike a little more sensible.

As I climbed Church Way to meet Andy, my mobile dinged. I had a text from Andy saying okay to meeting at 0815hrs at the Green. Stopping in the road, I engaged one of the residents in conversation. We chatted about bikes and how 'in his day' he used to build his own bikes. Me too, I told him. He liked the Scrap and was intrigued (as most people are) by the Spongy Wonder saddle. "It's there to protect your bits," I told him, and we moved on to the subject of supermodel Kate Moss who I thought used to live in Church Way. It turns out that her aunty lives here still and that Moss never did, but resided instead somewhere in the Purley Oaks region.

That's about it. Outside now the weather has brightened up, but there won't be much in the way of gardening until things dry out a little bit.

My dad is still poorly. I took him to the doctor on Thursday and he's now booked in for an MRi scan, endoscopy and a blood test. They did the latter at home and the MRi is set for 19 May. I hope he's going to pull through as I've never seen him look so grey and old. Mind you, he is grey and old, he's 82 in September.

Checked on mum just a second ago and she said that, despite taking the sleeping pills, he still didn't get a good night's sleep, which is not good. He's in bed as I write this and I'll try to get over there either today or tomorrow, although it looks as if I'll have to cycle the six miles (not far, but it's the traffic that's bad). Our car needs an MOT (that's Ministry of Transport test) and cars without MOTs are generally not insured either, or the insurance is voided if you drive without an MOT. So we're going to be a little stranded this weekend, which is a nuisance.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Avoided a soaking this morning...

Saturday 7 May: Sitting in the conservatory early on a Saturday morning is part of my routine. Ever since we've been cycling, I've sat here, on the computer, checking emails, sipping tea and generally enjoying an hour or so of chilling and waking myself up slowly.

Over the past few weeks, the weather here in the UK has been fantastic and, if you check out recent posts, you'll see the evidence: blue skies, sunshine – simply amazing.

Today, however, things are different. When I first looked out of the window, it looked promising, but grey clouds were gathering and then there was a spit or two of rain. After a short while it got heavier and now, as I write this, it's coming down in buckets.

I sent a text to Andy when it was just spitting and we thought we'd go for Botley Hill, but then it got heavier, so I sent another text and we aborted. The heavy rain has reached Andy as I then received a text saying he was glad we'd aborted the ride.

Looking out there now, it's pretty unpleasant, but the fact that we avoided a soaking is paramount as I couldn't face it after the recent bout of sunshine. Hopefully, we'll go tomorrow – weather permitting.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

How the mighty have fallen!

Sign of the times.
Austerity measures stretch to road signs too. Check out the photograph at the top of the blog, the road sign. Now, check out the photograph above. They're one and the same, except that, after the sign fell over some months ago – and remained uprooted and on display for all to see for weeks – it was eventually fixed. The result is disappointing as the iconic sign is a shadow of its former self – but it's good to see that the Reptile Zoo and Beaver Water World are still going strong. You can just see the famous Tatsfield Bus Stop on the top left of the shot.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

To Botley Hill Farmhouse – and back in double-quick time!

Yours truly with a mug of tea outside the Botley Hill Farmhouse, Monday 2 May 2011.
That poster ought to be taken down.

It looks as if both Andy and I felt a little guilty about being out all day on Saturday and ignoring our respective families, so we decided to cut it short on Monday 2 May and cycle to Botley Hill, drink our tea quickly and return home.

Having suffered considerably from the sun on our Saturday excursion, Andy arrived at Warlingham Green looking a bit like a buttered chicken ready for the oven – he was covered in Factor 50 sunblock! Not a bad move, though, as the sun was already hot as the good weather here continues apace. I, being the foolish one, had no sunblock AND a short-sleeved tee-shirt, but being darker than Andy, I don't suffer as much.

So, off we toddled to Botley Hill. The original plan had been the Tatsfield Bus Stop, but we decided to make it a short one and get back home.

Andy took this self-timered shot of us at Longford Lake. Note high strength
beers in hand!
We both agreed that drinking three pints of Harvey's Royal Nuptial Ale was probably a mistake, bearing in mind that we had to cycle home from Longford Lake, and resolved only to drink low-strength beer (and a maximum of two pints) the next time we find ourselves outside of a pub with the bikes.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Book Review: The Bicycle Book. By Bella Bathhurst. Harper Press; 306 pages; £16.99

Bella Bathhurst
A few months back I confused this book with one by Helen Pidd, the girl with the Velorbis Victoria Balloon (a bike I'd love to own), but now I've spotted a review of Bathhurst's book in The Economist.

I didn't know that there were more than a billion bicycles in the world, which is over twice the number of cars or that the bike has 'regularly proven to be the fastest form of urban transport, reaching its destination more quickly than cars, buses, tubes or pedestrians'. Something, perhaps, for London Mayor Boris Johnson to bear in mind.

Bathhurst, says The Economist, made her name writing about lighthouses built by the ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson and her new book – on bicycles – 'affirms her as an elegant chronicler of quirky subjects'.

BBC Four recently screened a programme based on her book about the Lighthouse Stevensons, which was excellent and she writes for the Guardian too.

When I get some money – I'm virtually unemployed at present – I'm definitely going to buy this book as it is claimed to appeal to cycling nuts as well as those who simply possess a bike that is sitting in the garage doing nothing. I'm somewhere in the middle, although I guess with this blog you all think I'm a cycling nut. I suppose I am on some level, but I'd call myself a weekend cyclist. I wonder if Bella Bathhurst rides a bike?

Don't worry, Bathurst's book is not devoted to the environmental debate. Instead it offers other stuff, interesting facts like Evans Cycles selling four times as many bikes as usual on the day of the London tube bombings. Did you know that bicycle couriers started life in 1874 or that, up until 2004, the Swiss army had three regiments of cyclists working in security, border control and dispatch?

Then there's the story of Zetta Hills who cycled across the English Channel with her bike mounted on two planks. What about Vinod Punmiya, the Indian businessman who raced against a train, the Decan Queen, between Pune and Mumbai (140km). And who can forget cycling legend Graeme Obree, known as the Flying Scotsman, who cycled to beat depression and broke the hour record – apparently the ultimate time trial – twice.

Obree's philosophy of life boiled down to being about 'you and the bike' – and that, as any cyclist will know, is what it's all about.

A long one to Longford Lake...and the footpath to Dunton Green!

Andy, yours truly and Richard, Saturday 30 April 2011.
Andy and I have been cycling for almost five years now; that's five years of virtually every weekend since August 2006, making our way out to our favourite destinations. In all that time, we've often promised ourselves a later run and a drink or two in a decent pub at the end of the journey. The venue for such an adventure had always been Longford Lake in Chipstead, Kent, and the day finally came yesterday (Sunday 1 May 2011).

Our pal Richard drove up to Andy's from Maidstone in Kent and we met, at 10am, on Warlingham Green. The weather has been amazing over the past few weeks – some say the hottest April on record – and May Day was no exception to the rule. I had dispensed with my rust-coloured jacket (it's much warmer outside at 10am than it is at 7am) and Andy had his shorts back on (and so did Richard).

We set off on time for Longford Lake, but the plan was to attempt the once notorious 'Footpath to Dunton Green', a dirt track skirting the lake and eventually leading to Dunton Green (check out the link at the end of this post for further details).

The run was simple: we headed along the Limpsfield Road towards Botley Hill Farm, then turned left on to Clarks Lane towards Westerham and passing the Tatsfield Bus Stop. We cut through 'the off-road bit' near the golf course in Tatsfield, emerging on a main road and hanging a right, down towards Pilgrims Lane, following our usual route through to Chipstead Village.

But then we went 'off road', following the narrow dirt track around the lake, which eventually opened out into fields and onwards to Dunton Green. Then it was a case of following the road round and back towards Chevening, hanging a left towards Chipstead, riding over the motorway – and straight to the pub, the excellent Bricklayers Arms, which sells beer from Harvey's of Lewes.

40 miles of cycling, three pints of Harvey's and it's time for a well-deserved kip!
The weather being absolutely wonderful, like the perfect summer day, we sat outside on the grass, the lake in front of us, watching the sailing dinghies. Andy and I ordered a couple of pints of Harvey's Royal Wedding beer, which was called something like Royal Nuptial Ale, and Richard chose a pint of 1664. We sat outside chatting about this and that, forgetting about the hot sun and the fact that the Nuptial Ale, unknown to us, was 6 per cent abv, quite strong for a real ale.

Okay, put it this way, Harvey's Royal Nuptial Ale is absolutely amazing. So amazing that we ordered another two each – and a few plates of excellent chips too (they were so good we didn't bother putting ketchup on them). Anyway, add the beer, the sun and the chips together and you get three sunburnt cyclists who then had to cycle the best part of 20 miles home. We'd reached the pub and worked out, using Andy and Richard's cycling apps, that we'd cycled 18 miles, which meant we'd be cycling a similar distance home – only now we'd enjoyed three pints of strong ale.

Halfway along the Pilgrim's Lane and Andy disappeared into a hedge. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt, but when he reached home, the sun having worked its magic, Andy was feeling distinctly uncomfortable. He sent me a text aborting our Sunday (2 May) cycle and, to be honest, I was considering a similar text. My arms were pretty burnt and I was knackered. A Sunday without a cycle seemed like a good idea, and besides, I needed a rest.

As I write, my forearms are still a deep red colour and my face ain't far off either, but I'm not in pain. Andy, on the other hand, is in pain and I'd put that down to Andy being fair and me being dark. Don't get me wrong, I can suffer badly from the sun, but only if I sit down on a lounger and try for a tan or wander around in swimming trunks on the beaches of Spain or Italy. To be honest, now that the sun has been proved dangerous, I keep well out of it; I've never liked sunbathing. My dad used to try and get me to sit in the hot sun when I was in my teens. He used to sit out there in the back garden baking in the hot sun under the mistaken impression that it was doing him some good: it wasn't.

But putting sunburn aside, what a great day on the bikes! I think we should have ordered weaker beer, like Harvey's Sussex Ale, but we didn't. I know it's possible to be drunk in charge of a pushbike, but I'm not sure if you get banned for it; had we been stopped by the police I think we'd have been done. Fortunately, the quiet country lanes of Kent kept us hidden from most of society and we rarely came across a car, not until we were back on Clarks Lane and heading towards the Botley Hill.

Andy and Richard said goodbye at Warlingham Green and I reached home at some time gone 4pm. It had been a long day and I was knackered.