Saturday, 30 July 2011

St Leonard's Church, Chelsham

St Leonard's Church, Chelsham, Surrey. We stopped here for tea. Pic by Andy.

Saturday 30 July: Going 'the fast way' to anywhere is not the best of policies, so Andy and I hung a left into Ledgers Road and followed my route from last week, except that we stopped at St Leonard's Church – or Chelsham Church, depending on which sign you believe. It was odd for us to stop 30 minutes into a ride, but the church had appealed to me last week – I didn't stop because the main gate was padlocked and I hadn't seen the unlocked side gate – and I thought it would be worth investigating.

We did what we always do: sat in the churchyard sipping tea and munching cereal bars. Andy took this excellent shot of the church and then we headed off towards Hesiers Hill and the long climb up Beddlestead Lane. Many a Lycra monkey passed us but we didn't really care. At the top of Beddlestead we turned right, headed for Botley and then for home – 'the fast way' – down the Limpsfield Road (I won't say B269 as it sounds a bit nerdy).

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Andy's clean bike

Somewhere in a back garden in Caterham – a clean bike! It's Andy's Blast!
Andy prides himself in having a dirty bike, covered in mud, it's just Andy – and mine isn't exactly spotless, it has to be said; but I received the above photograph recently of Andy's Blast after a good scrub. Thought I might as well share it with the group. Bookmark this post as seeing Andy's bike this clean is rare – very rare.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Paranoia, steep hills and a fun dog show

          Call me paranoid, but I swore the sheep on the right was conversing with the
          one on the left – and they were talking about yours truly. Others turned up and
          they all stared me out. I felt like an intruder and moved on.
Andy didn't go today so I was on my own, but there was no temptation to just lie in bed. I was up very early, something like 0540, and I had planned to leave early too, but one way or another, I left at 0700hrs.
The long climb up Beddlestead Lane.
The plan was go straight to the Tatsfield Bus Stop and not hang around, but instead I turned into Ledgers Road, rode the length of it and then turned right towards Hesiers Hill. At the bottom of the hill, I stopped for a while and checked out the sheep. They're curious animals, aren't they? As I parked the bike against a metal gate, I noticed how the sheep were all looking in my direction. After a while, others trotted over from the farther reaches of the field and I swear they were talking about me. Feeling a little uncomfortable and generally not wanted, I moved on.
My bike at the bottom of Hesiers Hill.
Beddlestead Lane is one long hill – full of Lycra monkeys – but I stopped a few times en route to take snaps of the surrounding cornfields. I thought the road would never end, and at one stage I started to worry about emerging on to the B269 at Beech House Lane. I vowed to myself that if I did, I'd turn right and ride straight home, but I didn't: I was on the Beddlestead Lane sure enough and when I reached the end, I turned left on to Clarks Lane for the short down hill roll towards the bus stop. I parked up, got out the tea and sat there contemplating life and stuff before heading back the fast way – up to Botley Hill and then down the B269 (past Beech House Lane) and back home.

A fun dog show at Knight's Garden Centre – better than one
that isn't fun.
On the way back I spied a sign: Fun Dog Show, August 13th. Does that mean that, generally speaking, dog shows aren't fun, I wondered? I've never been a fan of Crufts – especially after those revelations about the Kennel Club and dog breeding, so perhaps dog shows aren't any fun – unless the fun is derived from seeing who can breed the most outrageous-looking dog.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Tatsfield bus stop...with fruit cake and cereal bars

Simon Cotter was right: there's nothing better than riding a recently repaired bicycle. Well, perhaps there are a few things that are better, but I know what he means. This morning, I was round at mum's again, but around 0630 I drove back to my place, made the tea and then headed out with a couple of slices of fruit cake, made and supplied by mum.

Lee Mack: Not Going Out.
They say that Mr Kipling makes exceedingly good cakes, but they're no way near as good as my mum's cakes. I've often thought that if ever I run a café, I'll develop a brand around my mum's cakes and sell them exclusively in my caff. Until that day, I'll just enjoy eating them myself. Andy likes them too.

The bike was running smoothly and when we reached the bus stop we chatted about current comedians indulging the revival of the sitcom: Lee Mack with Not Going Out; Jack Dee with Lead Balloon; Miranda Hart with Miranda; Hugh Dennis with the painfully middle class Outnumbered (Lead Balloon is painfully middle class too) and that rather sad effort from Simon Amstell, the great and best ever host of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

Miranda Hart: Miranda.
Current comics are also embracing the chat show too: Chatty Man, Alan Carr; Rob Brydon's got his own show (piss poor this week, I thought, with Matt Lucas, who's funny in character but not so much in real life) and then there's Paul O'Grady and probably loads more that simply escape my mind.

Conversely, of course, you've chat show hosts who think they're comedians. The jury's out on whether Jonathan Ross is funny – he can be, but then, can't we all?

Discovered last night that the private investigator (Glenn Mulcaire) jailed over the current phone hacking scandal, lives in my home town – Sutton! Fame at last for the old place! Although it was also home to Harry Secombe.

The weather was fine today, although there was a little bit of rain first thing. Andy and I left it fifteen minutes and then it was blue skies and sunshine, so all was well on that front too.

Not much else to report today, except that no pictures were taken, but then again, how many times can you take a photograph of a wooden bus stop?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The bike is back!

I had another long walk to the bike shop this afternoon, but the bike is back and it's fixed. It's great to be able  to stop! There was a lot wrong with the bike, most of which I suspected: there were broken spokes – causing the wheel to seem buckled and the root cause of that major puncture recently. The gear changing mechanism adjacent to the bottom bracket needed replacing – Andy will recall how it recently jammed my rear wheel, which could have caused a nasty accident had it jammed going down Westerham Hill. As for that small crank, it was badly dented – God knows how that happened – but has been knocked back into shape. All in all, a good job, even if I was a little pissed off with both Evan's and Halford's for not having the Dot 4 hydraulic fluid – see previous post.

Hat's off to Carl, the bike mechanic at the Purley Way branch of Halford's. A true gent. And he kept me informed of progress from start to finish.

Those damaged spokes might have been caused by the Citadel lock that I clamp around the rear wheel – although Andy thinks not. When I locked up the bike tonight (having cycled home from Halford's and narrowly missed a soaking) I noticed how the circular part of the lock rested heavily on the spokes. Now I place the lock at the very bottom of the wheel so there's no pressure on the spokes. I'm probably wrong, but to hell with it.

Total cost of repairs: £71. Not bad. I thought for a moment that I'd been ripped off, but I hadn't. Everything Carl found wrong with the bike was something I had an inkling about already.

I was going to write something else, but I can't remember what.

Where the hell can I get Dot 4 hydraulic fluid for a bike? A bike shop, perhaps?

Now I know how JR Hartley must have felt, trampsing around the country, peering into secondhand bookshops and asking for that elusive copy of Fly Fishing. I'm amazed that he didn't become a gun-toting maniac. But at least old JRH had the satisfaction of finding a copy of his long-lost book – thanks to Yellow Pages.

What really annoys me about everything at the moment is this: life is so unnecessarily irritating. You call somebody and you get a recorded message; you need to talk to somebody urgently and they're on holiday for two weeks and while these, of course, are all minor irritations in the scheme of things, they add up. Minor irritations accumulate and soon you start to realise that the country is suffering a major epidemic of general incompetence.

My Kona – causing headaches for bike repair shops.
How would you feel, for example, if you went to the dentist to have a tooth filled and was told that the dentist in question didn't have any amalgam and, furthermore, didn't know where to source it from either? You'd think: hold on, I go to have a tooth filled at a dentist and I expect them to have the right materials to finish the job; AND I'd expect them to know where to procure the materials should they run short. Filling teeth is 'what they do' for heaven's sake, innit.

Likewise bike shops. Avid readers will know that, for some time now, my bike has been minus a rear braking system. The pads have worn out. Naturally, I decided – eventually – to take the bike to the shop and get it fixed. First stop, Evans Cycles (where I bought the bike), but they're too busy. Fair enough, I'll go elsewhere.

To make matters worse, I had a puncture (see previous post on this). Earlier, I had inserted an old inner tube and that sufficed to get me into Croydon, after a bit of pumping, but by the time I'd reached Evans (in West Croydon) the tyre was flat and I didn't have a pump – or rather I did, but it was at home.

As I left Evans, I called Halfords and they said I should bring the bike over and they'd fix it: great! But with a flat tyre I had a fairly long walk ahead of me; not a problem, I needed the exercise.

So, off I went, bike trailing along making that unmistakable squidgy, rubbery sound, reminding me for the entire journey that I had a puncture.

At Halfords I was met by a really good bloke and what's more he was going to charge a lot less than Evan's had quoted me – so I left the bike with him. He'd agreed to hammer out the front inner cog, check the front brakes and so on. Job done, as they say.

But then, a day or two later, I received a call. My brakes – which are hydraulic – needed Dot 4 fluid, Halfords didn't have any and, what's more, they didn't know where to source it from. Pardon? A while back, Halfords used to stock Kona mountain bikes, including the Scrap, but they didn't possess the hydraulic fluid required to fix the brakes? No, that's right, they didn't. But they suggested that I go to Evans Cycles and buy some and then bring it to Halford's and they'd fix it. Why they couldn't do it, I don't know – surely that was their job!

Foolishly, of course, I said okay. I said i'd try. Surely they should have suggested that they would do this, but they didn't. Anyway, I reach Evans, another Kona stockist, and no, they don't have any either. I wondered how they would manage to fix my bike if they too didn't have the right product.

"Oh, we've got a lot of it upstairs, but in industrial-sized packs, not for sale," said the sales guy. "Have you tried Halford's?"

Halfway back to the car, I thought about turning round and asking the guy at Evan's whether I could have a small quantity of the fluid, but thought better of it: he'd probably charge me an extortionate price or, more likely, tell me no, I couldn't have it for some spurious reason, like the workshop was closed or something.

When I reached Halford's, I thought I'd check downstairs where all the car parts and accessories are sold, to see if the place stocked it all along and the guy upstairs in the bike repair shop simply didn't have a clue. They had Dot 4 hydraulic brake fluid for cars, but I was directed upstairs – to where my bike was awaiting fixing – and I knew that the guy would say he didn't have any bike fluid. I was right, but he suggested using the Dot 4 car fluid.

I guessed it would be okay, but the guy said he'd try a cycle shop in nearby Wallington and pay for it out of petty cash. In the end, that was how I left it, but as I left the shop I wondered why the hell I'd bothered going to Evans to source the fluid myself. Nothing had been achieved, but I walked away knowing that my bike would be fixed and that I could pick it up the following day.

Then, the following day, another phone call: some of the spokes on the rear wheel were broken – they were causing the wheel to appear buckled (I knew this) – and the gear changing mechanism adjacent to the bottom bracket simply wasn't working. I've told Carl, the bike mechanic, to go ahead and fix it and I should be picking it up today.

I must say, however, that Carl has been pretty good. He's kept me informed about progress, pointed out stuff that was wrong and he's been honest, which is all good, but I'm a bit flabbergasted about their lack of Dot 4 bike hydraulic brake fluid. Surely I'm not the only one with a bike that requires it?

Saturday, 16 July 2011

No cycling this week

They've been promising rain, but it looks as if it's been and gone, which is a bit disappointing as my bike's in the shop being repaired. I think I'm going to start learning more about fixing it myself. For some reason, I've forgotten how. When I was 13, my pal Alan and I used to take bikes apart, right down to a bare frame. We used to strip back the frames and re-spray them, the lot, but now, I steer clear of anything bar fixing a puncture, when, looking at it, it's not that difficult.

I've got a Haynes manual called The Bike Book, but that makes it all look much more straightforward than it is, but either way, I'm getting fed up with parting with cash, not that I'm always down there getting it repaired. It hasn't been in for a while, but the gears have gone and the brakes too, so it needs sorting out.

Anyway, that's all folks. See you next week.

Postscript: Andy did go cycling. He completed a 13-miler and it rained. Good work, fella!

Sunday, 10 July 2011


I don't know what it is, but there's something spooky about this image, taken on my iphone at the Tatsfield Village churchyard last week.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Meanwhile, in the Cotswolds...

Cycling and beer – they just go together nicely.
Andy and his pals are enjoying ice cold Peroni and the pleasures of fresh, summer, country air! Here's two shots, one of their bikes outside a pub and the other of the ice cold lagers. Andy informs me that they all cycled 55 miles today. As I write this, they're probably down at some local inn enjoying more beer. Me, well, as Peter Gabriel once warbled, "Me? I'm just a lawnmower. You can tell me by the way I walk."

That looks like Andy's bike outside the pub!

Not a good day for cycling....

I woke up at mum's. That was fine, although it was 6am, which meant I was up later than usual. Normally round at mum's you're awake and out of bed at around a quarter past five, the tea is downstairs and so are the foxes, waiting patiently for mum to throw them a few sausage rolls.

It was, of course, Saturday morning, but because Andy would be riding to the Cotswolds today, there was no great rush to get back home – but I still left at around 0630 and reached home around 7am. Note, by the way, the inconsistency of this post. I've used '6am', 'quarter past five' and 0630 – three different ways of writing the time. If this was a magazine article I'd have to make them all consistent, but it isn't, so I won't. Hold on a second while I nip into the kitchen to check on our dinner... can't beat purple brocolli with fish and spuds. Anyway, where was I? Ah! Yes. I reached home around 7am and of course the house was empty. I made a cup of tea and had a bit of fruit cake and then I made a flask of hot water, chucked a couple of teabags in my yellow cup and prepared to ride out to the Tatsfield Bus Stop alone. I had it all figured out: tea, a large slice of cake and a bit of solitude, a break from the fretting about money and not having any.

In the garage, a flat tyre greeted me. I had it last week and it was very slow. I remember Andy and I pumping it up and Andy saying I'd be able to get home on it; he was right, I did, but now the bike's been in the garage all week and it's flat. I could tell by the creases in the tyre. Not a problem. I'll quickly pump it up and be on my way.

It was good to be cycling up Church Way, heading for the churchyard and then the Limpsfield Road. I sailed through Sanderstead High Street, but as I left the village behind me and passed Majestic Wine, the bike wobbled. The tyre was deflating rapidly and I didn't have the motivation to up-end the bike and fix it, which in a way was lucky.

That sign across the road reads, "Feed Your Faith and Your Worries Will Starve to Death.
I turned around and began the walk back through the high street towards a pleasant green with a large pond known as the Gruffy. That name always reminds me of some crusty old Major with a nicotine-stained white moustache, a Harris Tweed jacket, thick cords and a walking stick.

The Gruffy would be a great destination for a cycle, except for the fact that it's only 10 minutes from where I live, but with that flask full of hot water, those two tea bags AND that large slice of cake, I figured a rest was in order and parked up on a bench dedicated to the memory of Douglas Martin, a lifelong resident of Sanderstead (1903 to 1995). I wonder if he had a nicotine-stained moustache and a walking stick? Probably not.
Douglas Martin's bench. He was 92 when he died.
I was a bit miffed about the puncture as it wasn't that long ago when I last had one, on Warlingham Green. And now, here I was again. I sat there for about 20 minutes, maybe longer, and then I walked down Church Way and home, which was still empty.

The view from Douglas Martin's bench.
And then the nightmare began. I got the bike home, turned it upside down and took off the rear wheel. So far, so good. In fact, it was all looking fine. I found the puncture, fixed it, put the inner tube back inside the tyre, put the wheel on the bike and started pumping. Suddenly, there was a loud hissing noise. Another puncture? Surely not? I must have over-pumped it or something. But no, it was hissing and going down fast.

I took out the inner tube, inflated it and then searched out the source of the hiss. It was another puncture – and quite a big one at that! It was like a very small tear, but I couldn't figure out how it had happened, so I checked out the tyre for stray thorns – there was nothing. I patched up the second puncture, put the wheel together, pumped it up – psssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssst! It happened again! I dismantled the wheel again and noticed that the patch over the puncture had a similar rip in it.

Desperate measures – I pile patch upon patch.
This time I checked the wheel for any sharp, protruding bits of metal – there was nothing there. After scraping off the patch and putting on a new one, I pumped up the tyre and  – pssssssssssssssssssssssssssst! Not again! But yes, it had happened again. And it kept happening. In the end, after resorting to patching up the patches and still getting nowhere, I searched around for another inner tube and found one that appeared to be fine. I put it all together and there was no sign of any hissing. Fixed at last! But no! I left the bike in the garage, went shopping and on my return – the tyre was definitely flatter than when I'd left it.

Now it's definitely looking as if I won't be cycling anywhere tomorrow. To add insult to injury, one of my rear brake pads fell out and can I get it back in again? Of course not – the brakes are now totally non-existent at the rear – and I mean that: totally gone, as if the bike didn't have a rear brake. The only good thing is that I managed to clean the bike up a bit. I fear a trip to the cycle shop is on the cards, certainly before next week when Andy gets back.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Christmas cake, churchyards and Winston Churchill

Saturday July 2nd we headed towards Westerham in Kent as the weather was fine and I needed a long ride. Cycling is good, it blows away the cobwebs, albeit temporarily, and it's good to be on an open road and in the fresh air.
Me taking a look at the Corsair's dashboard.
We follow our usual route out of Warlingham, the last real sign of civilisation being the huge Sainsbury's supermarket on the outskirts of town. Then it's fields on either side all the way into Westerham, a small Northern Kent market town where civilisation rears its ugly head again.

It was Andy's birthday so I'd brought along some of my mum's excellent Christmas cake – which was sitting in a cake tin ready for Christmas 2011, but I just couldn't wait. That's something else about despair – it makes you long for stuff that makes you happy, like Christmas cake; and besides, there was no way that the cake was going to sit there for the next six months or so without being eaten.
The white Corsair and the Ford Cortina Mark Two parked up in Westerham.
I cut off one huge slice and placed it neatly in a Tupperware container along with a knife to slice it later and when we reached the green at Westerham, we sat behind the statue of Churchill and got stuck in – my mum really does make the best cakes in the world. If ever I started a café I'd develop a brand name and sell them.

Cake eaten, we sat around chatting about this and that before heading off home again. There were two old Fords parked up on the green – a Mark Two and a Corsair, so we dawdled around a bit longer as I suggested to Andy that they would make a good photograph.
Tea and a slice of cake - lovely!!!

It had been a pleasant ride and the following day we headed to the Tatsfield Churchyard, with more cake. This time I bought Andy a large chunk to take home.

Jon called as we sat among the headstones. He was heading towards mum's house from Woodmansterne Green. I told him to tell mum that we were enjoying her cake – that would cheer her up.

Next week, Andy's off to cycle from Bedfordshire to the Cotswolds and back. He's throwing in an overnight stay. Sadly, due to my jobless situation, I won't be joining him, but next week I'll probably head towards Woodmansterne Green and I might nip down to see mum too. Although, having said that, I'm overnighting it at mum's on Friday night, so perhaps not.

Monday, 4 July 2011

David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries...

David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries are definitely worth a read. The Talking Heads frontman is more than just a pretty face. It's good to discover that Byrne regards the bicycle as his principal means of transportation and that he feels both energised and liberated when he goes for a ride.

I spied the book for sale on my local railway station and as soon as my train – the late-running 1639 to London Victoria – was edging its way out of Sanderstead, on its way to East Croydon, I was busy reading the introduction.

David Byrne – read more about him by clicking this picture caption.
For Byrne, riding a bike is like 'navigating the collective neural pathways of some vast global mind.'

"It really is a trip inside the collective psyche of a compacted group of people. A Fantastic Voyage, but without the cheesy special effects."

The book charts Byrne's rides through a number of big cities around the world, including London, and while I'm writing this small review based on reading just 32 pages, you can rest assured that you will hear more from Mr Byrne's book as I progress through it.

I'm already inspired to take a few urban rides, perhaps through the mean streets of Croydon.

Spectator causes Tour de France pile-up

Alberto Contador is out of contention for the opening stage of the Tour de France, thanks to a spectator.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Cycling advice from Shane Sutton...

I was reading in the Guardian's Weekend magazine (2 July 2011) about a top cyclist, Shane Sutton, head coach at the Beijing Olympics and the current head coach of Team Sky. At present, he's working with Bradley Wiggins, a professional cyclist, born in Belgium, and a triple Olympic Gold medallist.
Shane Sutton: "I keep in reasonable shape with three two-hour rides a week."

According to Sutton, any cycling is good for you – and this is the bit where I winced – 'as long as you have a good set of brakes and a good range of gears'. Well, that puts me out of the picture! For now at any rate.

Sutton argues that good gears and brakes are crucial and that it doesn't matter so much about the rest of the bike.

Like NoVisibleLycra, Sutton believes that because cycling is an outdoor activity, it's not as boring as the gym, but then he makes his first mistake (in my opinion). He says that the first thing to do is find a local cycling club. Well, no, the first thing to do is buy a bike and then you just go out on it. Who needs a club? Set up your own.

He's right about cycling being a social thing. I used to cycle alone before Andy and I started heading out to Westerham together at the weekends. Conversing with a fellow rider is far better than cycling on your own. Sutton's bang on when it comes to choosing a bike that isn't too big for you; make sure you can touch the ground with your feet.

"People often cycle in too big a gear." I think he means 'high', but how many times have I said to Andy, "I'm in the wrong gear"? Lower gears work your cardio, says Sutton, which makes my low-geared Kona Scrap dirt jumper ideal – even if, in other respects, it's rubbish for riding the sort of routes that No Visible Lycra takes, although we do go off-road occasionally and then, of course, they come into their own.

Sutton keeps in reasonable shape by riding out for two hours at a time, three times a week, although, being an Olympic class rider, I'm sure that his two-hour stint takes him to the south coast and back without breaking a sweat. Still, if I go out once more during the week – to Botley Hill – then I'll be getting as much cycling as Sutton.

Sutton advises, "be sure to stretch glutes and hamstrings when you get off or you'll end up with a very sore arse." Well, I cycle regularly and because of that I tend not to get a sore arse anymore.