Tuesday, 30 August 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 29 August 2011

To Carshalton for a stroll down memory lane...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 22 August 2011

Cycling generates £3bn for the UK economy...

Photo: Press Association.
According to a report on the BBC News website, cycling generates nearly £3bn a year for the UK economy, according to a report by the London School of Economics. Click here for more...

A word on the rioting...

A woman jumps for her life from a burning building in Surrey Street, Croydon
The main subject of conversation when we reached the Tatsfield Churchyard, our destination for both Saturday and Sunday, was split between the recent riots and the unfortunate use of the word 'like' in general discourse.

With the former, we initially discussed the harsh jail sentences meted out to the offenders and both agreed that they were necessary if such behaviour on our streets was not to happen again. Firm but fair? I guess so, under the circumstances. A situation where rioters were handed 70 hours of community service or given suspended jail terms would not have gone down well with an outraged general public.

As for the reasons behind the rioting, well, to politicise the whole affair was wrong, as both Ken Livingstone (a former London mayor) and Harriet Harman, a Labour MP tried to do in television interviews. Equally, to brush the whole thing off as purely criminal behaviour seemed wrong to me; there must have been a reason behind such widespread unrest and to dismiss it in such a manner, as Teresa May and David Cameron did, was side-stepping the fact that the country has serious social issues it needs to deal with pretty promptly.

And while we're on the subject of David Cameron, I wasn't impressed with his empty rhetoric on his return from Tuscany or the assumption that he'd returned early from his summer break to roll up his sleeves and sort things out. The truth of the matter was that he was too late, the damage had been done.

To argue, as some politicians have, that we live in a society motivated by greed, rang many bells with me. While I've never really been unemployed and on the dole, I've had a taste of what it's like to live with financial uncertainty over the past five months or so – and it's not pleasant. I only had five months of it, but at times it was enough to fuel resentment on my part of those gainfully employed. God knows how I would have felt after 10 months or longer, but it wouldn't have been good, that's a fact.

I found myself getting very frustrated and angry while watching television advertisements for holidays and automobiles – a new Polo for how much? £14,000? Who the hell can afford that? And the sight of 'happy couples' on holiday, eating out in some al fresco restaurant on the Med angered me too: why them? Why not me? Why should I be filled with uncertainty? What have I done wrong?

But let's not forget that most unemployed people don't resort to rioting and looting to achieve their goals. There's no justification for it and never will be.

Some people in the UK are 'long-term' unemployed. That must be hard to deal with as I'm sure the people concerned feel not only trapped, but second class citizens. The greed alluded to by some politicians and social commentators is everywhere – not just in advertisements that fuel our desire for expensive gadgets.

Shows such as The X Factor and Dragon's Den are motivated by greed. The X Factor is full of wannabes who don't want to work for success and recognition, but want it handed to them on a plate – not for them striving for a record deal, playing the club and pub circuit, being discovered and finally making it big; no, they want instant fame for fame's sake, they want to climb out of a limo at a film premiere, have papparazzi on their doorstep, but they don't want to work for it, they're not even interested in artistic achievement, purely the trappings of fame.

The appeal of The X Factor and, it has to be said, Dragon's Den is the pleasure people get out of watching others suffer. In The X Factor they want to see and hear the performers being slagged off by the judges, they want to witness the abuse of the judges by rogue contestants. With Dragon's Den they want to watch those pitching for financial backing sweat and hear the 'dragons' exclaim, "I'm out!" It's nothing to do with business and admiring the acumen and commercial know-how of the contestants.

One of the most telling song lyrics is Travie McCoy/Bruno Mars "I want to be a billionaire". My daughter sings it innocently, but whenever I hear it, I find myself thinking how desperate and shallow do you have to be to want to be a billionaire? One thing I've learned this year is that, while money is important, it's not the be all and end all.

It's with the above backdrop in mind that I turn my attention to the rioters and the looters - are they desperate people grabbing a flatscreen television or a few tee-shirts that they would otherwise be unable to afford? Or just plain criminals out on a nicking spree? I reckon the latter is true, by and large, but I also think that there's a lot of frustrated and angry people out there. Confidence in our major institutions have been severely damaged. The expenses scandal – remember that our 'squeaky clean' David Cameron put through a claim for having his wisteria pruned – then the phone hacking scandal kicked in and, of course, there was the resulting corruption within our police forces. Everybody's 'at it'.

Of late I've been listening to Who's Next by The Who, flicking between track one (Baba O'Riley) and track nine (We Won't be Fooled Again). The latter track, of course, sums it all up:-

We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that we worshipped will be gone

Those Clash lyrics from one of my previous posts fade into obscurity when compared to Townshend's words.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

RAGBRAI - surely a must for No Visible Lycra!!!

Just one scene from the 2010 RAGBRAI - for more, see the official website.
I'll always advise any reader of this blog to take a look at the side panel on the right and check out Greg Bowles' blog, Gravelo. It's a good read as Greg likes to get out on his bike, he takes some good pix and gets involved in some interesting rides.

Greg and I share a desire to sleep rough, but it looks as if Greg has beaten me to it as he sets out on the annual RAGBRAI – the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Now that sounds bloody brilliant to me: a seven-day ride across the state of Iowa, plenty of sleeping rough and a great deal of cycling thrown in for good measure. SEVEN DAYS ON THE ROAD!!!! Crossing an entire US state!!!!! I really can't think of anything more appealing.

If any NVL readers are interested in this, then check out the RAGBRAI site here. I love the bit about a tornado in camp or on the road. Why? Because here in blighty, we don't know the meaning of severe weather. If we get a soaking on the Black Horse Ride, we feel hard done by, but to find genuine warnings on the RAGBRAI site about tornadoes – fantastic!!!!

If there's a tornado while you're out on the road, the site advises that:-

  • Most injuries and deaths from a tornado are the result of being hit by flying debris. A tornado can force a blade of grass into a fence post, so obviously it can kill a person. Tornadic storms can produce more than one funnel, lots of lightning, rain and hail. In this storm, everyone should take immediate action and find shelter.
  • If there are no homes, caves, etc., lay down in a low spot on the ground not subject to flooding!
Knowing the way things are financially, we'll probably never ride the RAGBRAI, but here's hoping we do – and can ride some of it with Greg!

Communication breakdown, but all's well that ends well!

Andy's Blast against Churchill's statue, Saturday 13 August 2011.
Best laid plans often go to waste. I had planned to go cycling on Saturday (August 13th) and was looking forward to a Westerham ride, but it was not to be; why? Because my iphone exploded on me. Well, alright, it didn't explode as such, but let's just say it wasn't working, meaning that I had lost radio contact with Andy. I didn't know his home number and couldn't remember his mobile number, so I was stuck.

Saturday morning. I discover a puncture, but first, prior to that, I was sitting downstairs in the conservatory looking out on a bleak landscape - grey clouds and spitting rain. Without having a mobile, of course, I had no way of knowing whether Andy had sent me a text aborting the ride. Was it pouring down in Caterham? I hadn't a clue. Then there was the puncture and the fact that, after my last mammoth puncture (detailed in a previous post) I had no leeches.

Time was pushing on and I resorted to email, sending Andy a note explaining my position, but he'd already left to meet me at the green.

As I always say in these situations, at least Andy got a ride – I didn't. I did fix my puncture (to the front tyre) and was ready for Sunday and a trip to Westerham. The weather was pleasant too. Andy sent me an email explaining how he'd gone from Warlingham Green to Westerham on Saturday in 32 minutes. Not bad going. And then back home to Caterham in under an hour. Pretty damn good.

Grandma Claire – aka my mum – makes exceedingly
good cakes. This shot taken by Andy Smith of one of my
mum's Christmas cakes.
I'd spent Saturday night round at mum's so it was a rush on Sunday to get over to Croydon and then out to meet Andy, but I made it and we headed out to Westerham again, which was great. We resolved to visit the place more often, so hopefully next week we'll be there, sipping tea, munching cereal bars – and possibly even some of my mum's cake (Andy's put in an order, and who can blame him? My mum does make exceedingly good cakes!).

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Portentious lyrics from The Clash

Reeves Corner - as it is known. The Croydon furniture retailer's 
premises were destroyed by fire last night because of rioting that affected other
parts of London and other provincial cities, including Birmingham and Liverpool.

With all the rioting going on – some in Croydon, home of No Visible Lycra – I thought some lyrics from the very first Clash album would be worth bringing to readers' attention.

White Riot - The Clash

White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own
White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own

Black people gotta lot a problems
But they don't mind throwing a brick
White people go to school
Where they teach you how to be thick

An' everybody's doing
Just what they're told to
An' nobody wants
To go to jail!

White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own
White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own

All the power's in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it
While we walk the street
Too chicken to even try it

Everybody's doing
Just what they're told to
Nobody wants
To go to jail!

White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own
White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own

Are you taking over
or are you taking orders?
Are you going backwards
Or are you going forwards?

London's Burning!

London's burning! London's burning!

All across the town, all across the night
Everybody's driving with full headlights
Black or white turn it on, face the new religion
Everybody's sitting 'round watching television!

London's burning with boredom now
London's burning dial 999

I'm up and down the Westway, in an' out the lights
What a great traffic system - it's so bright
I can't think of a better way to spend the night
Then speeding around underneath the yellow lights

London's burning with boredom now
London's burning dial 999

Now I'm in the subway and I'm looking for the flat
This one leads to this block, this one leads to that
The wind howls through the empty blocks looking for a home
I run through the empty stone because I'm all alone

London's burning with boredom now...
London's burning dial 999

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Local ale, local wildlife and vintage cars...

Three cycles, three days and each ride involved a longer ride than the one before. We started on Friday 5 August with a short one to Botley Hill, where we sat outside of the Botley Hill Farmhouse pub and enjoyed a pint of Progress bitter. It's a pleasant place, particularly on a sunny day, and is known for its live entertainment – mainly consisting of tribute acts. In other words, if you want to see Elvis or Freddie Mercury, go to the Botley Hill, but if you're cycling, just have the one pint. Andy and I considered two, but remembered how we overdid it a little at Longford Lake in May. Andy reminded me that he cycled into a hedge on the return journey and was badly sunburnt too.
Matt and Andy, Botley Hill Farmhouse, Friday August 5th – and that's not
Greene King beer in those glasses, it's Progress, from a microbrewer.
Having spent the night round at mum's on Friday, I awoke early on Saturday morning and drove the six-mile journey back home to prepare for Saturday's ride. The plan was to meet at 7am on the green, but there was no way that I'd make it so I sent Andy a text and we met at the usual time. We headed down to the Tatsfield Churchyard and had some company in the shape of a rather tame rabbit.

This rather tame rabbit joined us at the Tatsfield Churchyard.
On Sunday, the plan was to visit Westerham. We resolved to get our heads down on the outward cycle, get there as soon as possible and then return home at a decent hour, not that Westerham has ever been a long ride – it's 22 miles in total. The problem was me: I was late. I arrived at the Green at 0740hrs and by the time we'd had our usual chat about where to go, it was edging towards 0850. Normally under such circumstances, it would be the bus stop or the churchyard, or even Botley Hill, but we decided to get our heads down, not chat and just cycle all the way with the determination of, well, Lycra monkeys.

I can't remember what time we got there, but it was early and we enjoyed our tea and cereal bars sitting behind the statue of Churchill. The weather was excellent, as it had been all weekend, and after employing another 'heads down' cycle routine for the return trip, we reached home at just gone 10am. Once again, we resolved to make more frequent trips to Westerham.

An early arrival at the Good Companions pub in Hamsey – over 100 vintage
cars were expected at the pub's Vintage Car Rally, Sunday 7th August.
On the way back, I stopped off briefly at the Good Companions pub where there was a vintage car rally. The landlady, who was in the car park when I arrived – I think it was the landlady as she came over to me and promoted the event, telling me that later on there would be well over 100 cars. I would have gone back, but had family commitments later in the day.

All told, an excellent three days of cycling – characterised by good weather, decent rides and a pint at the Botley.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Why use one bench when you can use two?

At the Tatsfield Churchyard – making maximum use of the facilities.

We hadn't had a disagreement, but there were two benches – three if you include our usual bench, which was covered in bird poo – so we made the very best use of the facilities.

In case you hadn't guessed, we were in the Tatsfield Churchyard – see previous post for this destination's rating.

Cycling Destinations rated

We were sitting in the Tatsfield Churchyard yesterday (Sunday 31 July) discussing our cycling venues and decided we should rate them. So, here goes...

Sitting outside the Botley Hill Farmhouse pub.
Botley Hill - a generic term for the area surrounding the Botley Hill Farmhouse pub, but normally it means the roundabout a little further along the road.

Convenience: 10/10 – our shortest route can easily be rounded off in just over an hour.
Cover: 5/10 – little cover, but there is a shady car park with strong tree cover during the summer.
Distance: Roughly a 14-mile round trip.
Verdict: A good default cycle route but if it's raining there's nowhere to hide.

Andy and yours truly in Chevening Churchyard
Chevening Church - adjacent to Chevening House in Kent and one of our longer rides.

Convenience: 6/10 - one of our longer rides and on a par in distance terms with Longford Lake and Hunger's End (easily a 32-mile round trip.
Cover: 6/10 - standing room only by the covered gateway to the churchyard.
Distance: A 32-mile round trip.
Verdict: A pleasant place, but a long ride.

Godstone Green at the beginning of the summer.
Godstone Greenan occasional destination and we like it, but the problem is a huge hill on the return journey.

Convenience: 8/10 – if it wasn't for that hill, we'd probably go there more frequently as the route is scenic.
Cover: 8/10 – there is cover, but it's across the green and you have to stand up as there's no bench.
Distance: Not properly recorded
Verdict: A great place with a pleasant lake and a café if we need it.

Longford Lakes - definitely the most picturesque of our destinations, but a long ride.

Longford Lake.
Convenience:  6/10 - mainly because of the distance. Like Chevening Church and Hunger's End, its a long one.
Cover: 0/10 - very exposed and nowhere to hide from the weather, unless the pub is open.
Distance: a good 32-mile round trip.
Verdict: nice on a pleasant day as there's an excellent Harveys of Lewes pub.

Jon and Andy outside Hunger's End, Merstham.
MersthamA Surrey village just outside of the M25 near Redhill. Fairly pleasant place and there's a railway station if we feel lazy.

Convenience: 7/10 – it's a long ride, which means returning home around 11am and this can cause friction and the return trip is hilly and can be tiresome.
Cover: 10/10 – plenty of cover if you're really stuck and there's always Hunger's End, the caff.
Distance: 32 to 34 miles in total.
Verdict: A caff, a railway station, a music shop and an eccentric man who shaves in public – in short a great place to be.

Andy at the Tatsfield Bus Stop.
The Tatsfield Bus StopOn the outskirts of Tatsfield on the junction with Clarks Lane and Approach Road.

Convenience: 9/10 – just a little further than Botley Hill, but well worth it because of the bus stop.
Cover: 9/10 – a great bus stop. Unlike the Tatsfield Village bus stop, the side panels are solid wood, hence it scores one extra point.
Distance: 16-miles round trip.
Verdict: Arguably the best covered bus stop in the area. We've sheltered here from the snow and rain in the past.

Andy at the Tatsfield Churchyard.
Tatsfield Churchyarda peaceful churchyard on the outskirts of Tatsfield village.

Convenience: 9/10 – a little further than Botley Hill, but a downhill cycle from Botley down Clarks Lane.
Cover: 5/10 – in the summer, the trees might help and there is a wooden and covered gateway, but generally, you're exposed.
Distance: 16.5-mile round trip.
Verdict: If it's not raining, a great place to be: it's peaceful and scenic and puts things in perspective.

The pond at Tatsfield Village.
Tatsfield VillageA pleasant village with green, pond and pub.

Convenience: 9/10 – not as far as Tatsfield Churchyard, but there's not much in it.
Cover: 8/10 – a wooden bus stop would provide excellent shelter from the rain AND there's a shop where we once bought teabags, having run out, so it's a great place in a crisis – in our world, no teabags is a crisis. The side panels of the bus stop, however, have been knocked out to provide 'windows'.
Distance: 16.5-mile round trip.
Verdict: A good destination, but there's always that danger of having to converse with chirpy locals passing the bus stop en route to the newsagents.

Vintage car on the green at Westerham.
Westerhama Northern Kent village famed for being the home of Sir Winston Churchill. Hotels and coffee shops abound.

Convenience: 9/10 – for a long while in the early days it was our default ride. A good 22-miler there and back and pleasant in decent weather.
Cover: 6/10 – none really. Plenty of benches but they're all exposed and while there are shops and a hotel, the bikes would need to be left outside, unattended and unpadlocked.
Distance: 22-mile round trip.
Verdict: A great place that we need to visit more often.

Jon in the snow at Woodmansterne Green
Woodmansterne Green a nice place once you get there, but a boring, suburban ride so not a regular haunt of ours.

Convenience: 9/10 – roughly 12 miles all told and it takes around 30 minutes to reach it through suburban streets.
Cover: 7/10 – no cover on the green but there is a church across the road and we've often sought refuge under the gateway in torrential rain.
Distance: 12-mile round trip.
Verdict: If it wasn't for the boring ride, it would be a great place to visit, but we like scenic, rural routes the best.