Monday, 31 October 2011

Time travel, Paddy Ashdown, a very steep hill...and buses

Once, a very long time ago, well, probably in the late eighties, I found myself on a train with a colleague. We were on our way back to London from Salisbury having visited somebody, but I can't remember who; it was something to do with a competition, so it must have involved pubs. Either way, we were coming home, by train, and we were accompanied by a six-pack of Wadworth's 6X - at  the time a beer that was largely only available in the West Country. These were pre-MMC Report days when nobody had dreamed up the concept of 'guest' ales.

Sadly, the fog had lifted and my pensive form was
Anyway, we were on the train, in one of those compartments with the sliding doors, which you don't see anymore, sadly, and, to our surprise, the Rt. Hon. Paddy Ashdown MP (and then the leader of the Liberal Democrats) was sitting across from us reading some report or other. He was on the train already when we boarded at Salisbury and, for most of the journey, his head was buried in papers. He had a pair of those half-circle reading classes on - like bi-focals but without the top bit.

We, that is my colleague and I, were in a chatty frame of mind and I had come up with an idea: time travel. The premise was quite simple: that by using supersonic flight, it must be possible to travel back in time. I figured that it would be a good television stunt if somebody, on New Year's Eve, had a glass of Champagne to celebrate the New Year and then flew off to the next region of the world before it celebrated the new year. The deal was: you land, you have a glass of Champagne and then off you fly to the next destination. Simples!

The conversation was all about whether or not such a feat was possible, how many new years could be celebrated on the trip (before time caught up with you) and where you would finally end up. It was agreed, by my pal and I, that you'd have to start in the East and travel West and that you'd probably end up in the middle of the Pacific, somewhere near Hawaii, with that horrible sugary taste of Champagne in your mouth and a mild, but nagging headache.

What was funny about the train journey was Paddy Ashdown – just the fact that he was there. My pal and I were engaged in an animated conversation about time travel, punctuated as it was by the phisshing sound of cans of Wadworth's being opened - and we thought that Paddy was too engrossed in his paperwork to join in. And besides, we figured, two blokes with a six-pack of Wadworth's: who would want to engage them in conversation?

But the truth of the matter was that good old Paddy had been listening! And as we had resorted to the maps in the back of our diaries to work out where we'd end up in our fighter jet, Paddy joined in, disputed our calculations and then got back to his paperwork.

I was relating this tale to Andy at the Tatsfield Bus Stop on Saturday (29th October). I had to cut our ride short because my mum was coming round and I'd be driving her home to Sutton around 10.30am, so a short cycle - rather than Hunger's End - was on the cards and we chose the old faithful Tatsfield Bus Stop.

"Can he swing - from a web? No he can't, he's a pig." From the Simpsons 
movie. If you haven't seen it, then it's just a spider's web on a road
We were, it has to be said, breathless. Instead of going straight to the bus stop along the usual route, we roared down Titsey (in the thick fog and no, I didn't have any lights) and then swung a left into White Lane. Last week, the old bloke we'd met (at the Tatsfield Bus Stop) had told us about White Lane and how, only recently, cyclists were conducting time trials. We decided to give it go; me with a huge, heavy, metal cylindrical flask full of water, a mug, tea bags, milk and assorted spanners in my rucksack. No, as we've said before, 'precious grams' mean nothing to us.

White Lane, let it be said, is a real pig of a hill and probably the worst one ever. Just when you think you've nailed it, you haven't, and it's really, really steep. Ever since I've had my bike fixed (remember the summer of no brakes?) I've managed only to use the top eight of my 16 gears, but on White Lane (travelling from Titsey Hill to Clarks Lane) I had to use the lower eight too. Worst thing of all, I stopped and then couldn't get started again. In other words, White Lane defeated me, which means I've got to try again some time soon.

We arrived on Clarks Lane, across the road from the bus stop, knackered. In the fog, you could just about make out the bus stop. Andy, I must add, made it without stopping. After a short while, we crossed the road and were sitting at our bus stop, cracking open the cereal bars and tea and settling down for a chinwag.

Andy's been reading Danny Wallace and I remarked that he and another writer, Dave Gorman, used to share a flat together and that, oddly, there were quite similar in terms of their literary output. By that I mean that they both tend to come up with whacky ideas, that normally involve world travel, and then they write about it. I haven't read any Danny Wallace, but I know that one of his books - in which he says 'yes' to everything- was made into a movie recently, starring Jim Carrey.

I told Andy about Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure and his America Unchained, both excellent reads, and the one about how he travels the world in search of people who share his name: Dave Gorman. I haven't read that one yet, but I will.

And then the subject moved on to ideas for our own book. The problem is that most things have been done already. Even my idea - travelling around the coast of the UK by bus alone - has sort of been done by Paul Theroux, dad of Louis, in his excellent book, The Kingdom by the Sea.

By the time we'd finished yabbing, the fog had cleared and Andy took the photographs accompanying this post. I found a spider's web attached to the road sign for Approach Road.

On Sunday morning, I received a text message from Andy.

"It's raining."

I looked out of the window. It wasn't raining, but I knew that it probably was raining in Caterham so I suggested, wait for it, a rain check of half an hour and then, if it's not pissing down, an 8am start at the Green.


But being that it was now 8am and not 7am, we had to do another short ride and decided upon the Tatsfield Bus Stop again. However, as we drew nearer, I said let's go to the village instead and we did. This time I had some excellent fruit cake, made by mum, and we both tucked in. You can't beat tea and fruit cake.

A woman arrived in an old Volvo 740 Saloon. By old, I mean 1984 and it was in perfect condition. And that, summed up Sunday's ride. We resolved to go to Hunger's End next week, so if you're listening Jon, this week we'll be there - problems and hassles permitting.

In Tatsfield there's a Reptile Zoo and it has a caff, which is apparently open from 7am on both a Saturday and Sunday - we'll be trying that out too!

Two Years Ago – click here!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Cycling Destinations Rated - now updated

Unbelievably, we missed out two key destinations - Chevening Church AND Longford Lake. They're both now rated (see link on right hand panel).

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Chevening Church

In the churchyard at Chevening enjoying the long shadows and the tea.
I never thought - and nor did Andy - that we'd be cycling along early on a Sunday morning discussing the X Factor... but we were! And the worst thing of all? We weren't discussing it ironically!

"I think Frankie Coccoza is definitely walking."
"Yeah, he was rubbish, even Gary Barlow admitted it."
"But they were having a right go at Misha B, weren't they?"
"Yeah, but I think that Kitty's mad, don't you?"
"Yeah. The gay bloke was good, though."
"Yeah. Don't think much of the bands."

And that little diversion took us half way up the B269 towards Botley Hill. We were on a long ride today and had met at the Green at 7am, not the usual 7.30am. This was not good for the soul. Why? Because normally, we get up at 6am, hang around the house for an hour drinking tea and checking emails and then leave, having at least woken up a bit. Meeting at 7am, however, means getting up, getting dressed immediately, trotting downstairs and making the tea and then zooming off on the bike. Admittedly, I had time to upload the blog post before this one (having written it the day before) but that was it - and it was pitch black outside, which meant riding on the path to the green as I only had a front light.

The long shadows of an early October morning caught in this shot by Andy.
We were headed for the lakes, the Longford Lakes at Chipstead in Kent - a good 32-mile round trip, but we didn't want to get home around 11am (it causes friction) so we left earlier.

"Talking about the X Factor means we're bona fide couch potatoes. You realise that, don't you?"
"Yes, I know; that and Strictly Come Dancing on the other side."

The two programmes are chalk and cheese - Waitrose and Tesco - but what to do on a Saturday night? And even that, of course, is a sad admission as there's plenty to do. Play a game! Read a book! But no, it's  Strictly and then X Factor.

"I can't stand Frankie Coccoza."
"Coccoza by name..."
"Yeah, right..."

And by now we'd reached the Hill and were hurtling down Clark's Lane and past the legendary Tatsfield Bus Stop.

On Saturday, the 'old geezer' with the Dawes Galaxy told us about a time trials on White Lane (a road that links Titsey Hill with Clarks Lane). Apparently, there's an organised event that involves cyclists seeing how fast they can cycle up from the Titsey end of White Lane to the finish on Clarks Lane. The event attracts a big crowd. Now this had fired us a little and we resolved that the next time we headed towards the bus stop, we'd go down Titsey Hill, hang a left into White Lane and then across to Clarks Lane before breaking open the tea and cereal bars.

Chevening Church is covered in scaffolding and surrounded 
by corrugated iron, so we took this shot before heading home.
Right now, we were in Pilgrims Lane, arguably the best road ever for cycling. The last time we were here was April when we all had a little too much Harvey's commemorative Royal Wedding ale, the name of which escapes me. Andy rode into a hedge on the way back and now, at the very same spot and having taken my eye off the ball, so to speak, I almost did the very same thing, but instead cut Andy up before regaining control and heading down the last stretch towards Sundridge Lane.

We decided to go to Chevening Church instead of Longford Lake and it proved to be a good decision. Chevening House is the official country retreat of both Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, and the foreign secretary, William Hague, but, as we unpacked our rucksacks and made ourselves comfortable in the churchyard at just gone 0830hrs, we couldn't for the life of us remember Hague's first name.

"Andrew, Brian, Christopher, David, Eric, Fred, Graham..."

I went through the alphabet, quietly to myself.

"....Peter, Robert, Stephen, Ulysses, William!"
Andy measures the ride from Caterham and back, which is 28.53 miles,
but I know that the same route from Sanderstead and back is roughly 32

"William. It's William Hague," I said, as Andy fiddled around with his camera and I sipped my tea.

We had visions of Hague and Clegg, lounging in novelty socks and polka dot boxers on opposing sofas, watching the X Factor amidst the baronial splendour of Chevening House and then extinguished the image by concentrating on getting the right shot for the blog.

As Andy pointed out, we hadn't included Chevening Church in our list of destinations – something that would have to be rectified. After 30 minutes of taking photos, munching cereal bars and drinking tea, we prepared for the gruelling journey home - 16 miles or so of climbing. Well, actually, it's 16 miles in total, but I reckon a good half of it is uphill. I managed to reach home at 10.30am so leaving early proved to be the right decision.

All pix taken by Andy Smith.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Tatsfield bus stop and a Dawes Galaxy...

Now that's what I call a different angle on an old bus stop!
Back in Stressville. Didn't sleep too well either. Woke up around 3.30am and then drifted in and out of sleep. The radio sprung to life at 6am and I toyed with the idea of getting up. Time for a ride and I needed one, having not gone out last weekend. The plan was Hunger's End, but to be honest, I wasn't in the mood. Despondency is awful, but fortunately I got out there and headed for the Green where Andy was waiting.

Time was short so we decided to go to the bus stop instead, which proved a good move. We sat there, drinking tea, flicking teabags on to the grass and chatting about my children's novel, that I've just published on Kindle  - here's hoping it'll make some money, but who am I kidding? It was always just something for my daughter, although my pal Geoff and I got carried away, produced an illustrative front cover, edited it, threw in an additional chapter and suddenly we're all expecting a Pulitzer prize.

Then, having sipped our teas, an old man arrived on a Dawes Galaxy, a brand new one he had bought on the internet for £800. A smart bike. A tourer. Twenty seven gears, mudguards, the works. Very sensible. He used to be a runner but his legs gave out and now he's back cycling again - he used to do it a while back with his nephew.

I'm guessing this guy is in his mid-to-late seventies - he has a brother who is 80 and lives in Cornwall and a running pal who is 81 and still visits the gym. He's just given up running and the two of them enjoy a long distance walk, like a nine-mile walk. What are they, supermen? Probably. It says a lot for cycling and general fitness.

We chewed the fat with the old guy for some time and I suddenly realised how anoraky we were all sounding, discussing tyres and gears and stuff. The old guy, we never got his name, commented that we must find it tough riding our bikes on the road. The tyres are huge and the bikes are designed for off-road riding. Yes, we said, we know. We like riding our Konas on the road and have no plans to change tack, although I must admit that the Dawes Galaxy did look very sensible and mildly desirable - not that I desire the sensible. The Galaxy had mudguards for a start, meaning no chance of a wet arse - unlike me on my Kona. But no, I'm sticking right where I am, cold arse be blowed! In fact, if anybody would care to blow my cold arse dry - using a hairdryer, perhaps, well, who needs mudguards?

We suggested to the man that he might like to join us and he said yes. We meet on the Green at 0730hrs normally, most weekends, we said, and we suspect that one day he'll be there, waiting, on his Dawes Galaxy. If he is there one day, it'll be the first time a stranger has joined us on a ride.
Our route.

He set off first, having told us where he was going: back along the 269 to Beech Farm Lane then round the lanes to Chelsham Church and back on to the Limpsfield Road at Warlingham Sainsbury's.

A few minutes later, Andy and I set off and said our customary goodbyes half way along the 269. I carried on towards Sanderstead and there I noticed a presence behind me, a shadow. A fellow cyclist! Well, it turned out to be the old guy. He'd caught me up, exchanged pleasantries and then he was off. There was no way I could catch him, no way at all, which kind of annoyed me. Why? Because I'm trying to work out whether it's me or the bike I ride or what? It seems that everybody is faster than me, they power past me and soon are gone and I can't figure it out. Okay, the old guy has a lighter and probably faster bike and he seems to be higher in the saddle, bearing down upon the handle bars, whereas I ride what amounts to a tractor, it's lower geared and very heavy. That might be it. Or, of course, it could be that I'm just terribly unfit, despite going out every weekend for the past six years on regular cycle rides ranging from 14 to 35 miles. Either way, it's a little annoying.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

D-Day Cycle from London to Caens

I told Andy in an email this morning that I'd be going out on a pioneering ride - but didn't. In fact, I haven't been cycling all weekend, although I'm planning a regular ride to the Botley all of next week, so that should make up for my slacking.

The reason I'm writing now is because Andy and I have been talking about doing something big next year and so far it's been decided that it will involve microbreweries, ie cycling from one to another throughout Kent and Sussex over a three-day period. Well, I'm not so sure about that now. Why? Because I've seen something else far more exciting.

This ad from Saturday's Guardian Weekend magazine.
It takes place over four days from 13 to 17 June 2012 and involves cycling from London to Caen and taking in the key sites of the Normandy landings. The finishing line is at the historic Pegasus Bridge and the idea is to raise funds for clearing landmines and destroying weapons in conflict zones around the world. I don't think we have to clear landmines or destroy weapons en route - surely not!

There's a registration fee, sadly, but it sounds good.

For further details, call 0161-238 5447 or email

There is a website:

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Helen Pidd's 'smug feeling of self-sufficiency'

My pal Alan refers to my Kona as a 'butcher's bike'. I know what he means: it's a little cumbersome. For a start, there are huge tyres, then there's the hefty, box-like frame and, as Alan would say, all I need is the name of 'Dewhurst' on the side, instead of Kona, and I've got a butcher's bike. Although, butchers' bikes, as I recall, are basically normal bikes with a kind of heavy, integral rack on the front, designed to carry a huge basket full of raw meat. My bike doesn't even have mudguards (something I tend to pay for dearly as the winter months draw nearer).

Anyway, butchers' bikes aside, Helen Pidd was in last Saturday's Guardian Weekend magazine - which I read in a café in Penge - writing about a bike called a Bullitt. The thing is, it doesn't really live up to the image conveyed in the name. The Bullitt is what Pidd calls a 'freight bike' and, it seems, Pidd has realised that her cycling obsession has gone too far. Whether Pidd sleeps with her bike, I don't know, but it's clear that she is obsessed and this is evidenced by her insistence on using a frieght bike - the Bullitt - as a means of moving house.
The Bullitt - I wouldn't fancy racing with it.
The bike was supplied to Pidd by a chap called Gizmo, who, like Pidd, lives in Berlin. Pidd found it great fun to ride and claims she'd seriously think about it for trips to the supermarket (if she was richer and had somewhere to store it).

Mind you, it costs £2,170 and you could buy a half-decent van for that, so Pidd, it has to be said, is definitely obsessed with pedal power and should, perhaps, lie down in a darkened room for an hour or so and then go hire a van, rather than mess around on a cumbersome freight bike, even if it is easier to ride than many of its rivals. Rivals? What's this? She's ridden other freight bikes? What's wrong with the woman?

Still, if you are obsessed with cycling - to the extent that you'd hire a bike instead of a van to move house - then you might like to take a look at the Bullitt. It can't be all bad if it gives Helen Pidd 'a smug feeling of self-sufficiency'.

Check out

Friday, 14 October 2011

Saturday 8th October 2011...

Last weekend we went out earlier than usual and met at the Green at 7am for a short ride to the bus stop. There was no tea as we'd run out of milk and, well, it wasn't the best of rides. You can't beat a cup of tea and it would be fair to say that we both missed our customary warm drink.

I stayed over at mum's on Saturday night and on Sunday morning, rain put an end to any thoughts of a ride - an abort text was sent.

Monday, 3 October 2011

October 1st and 2nd

The phrase 'since records began' has been used by the weathermen whenever they discuss extreme weather. No doubt, this weekend's heat will bring the phrase out of the box again pretty soon. In short, it was hot and, to be fair to the weathermen, it had been forecasted during the week - we all knew it was coming our way.

As avid readers will know, our planned ride to Hunger's End would have been rather pleasant on Saturday, but I had things to do concerning motor transport and had to do without a ride on Saturday. Instead, I messed around at home as I had the place to myself. I mowed the lawn front and back, I cleaned the car and I had a cold beer and a ham sandwich in the garden - perfect!

The last time I experienced heat like this weekend, in October, was in 1981 while in Greece. Sunday was even hotter, they reckon 29 degrees, but it might have tipped 30. Fortunately, a ride was on the agenda and I left the house, laden with fruit cake, hot water and tea bags, to meet Andy for a ride. The plan was Westerham and we stuck to it.

I left the house in a tee-shirt and only experienced a mild coolness at the bottom of the hill as we crossed the Surrey/Kent border and headed for the bridge under the M25 - but even then it was mild.

Andy took this shot of Winston Churchill 
and my crash helmet
There's nothing better than Churchill's birthplace on a decent summer's day - although that word 'summer' should, perhaps, be changed to 'autumn' because there were, make no mistake, leaves on the ground and there are only three months to Christmas. But the weather was hot, even if there was enough dew on the benches surrounding the green, and on Winston's statue, to force us to stand and drink our tea.

Unknown to me when I packed the fruit cake, Andy had stuffed a bag of chocolate brioche pastries into his rucksack as well as the cereal bars, making the plinth of Churchill's statue a little crowded: flask, mugs, fruit cake, pastries and cereal bars. We left the latter for next week and I declined a second pastry on the assumption that having it would have made the exercise of cycling pointless.

It was October 2nd 2011, there was a farmer's market setting up in the town centre, but not on the green, a few people wandered about here and there and various motorcycles cruised noisily along the A25 en route to somewhere. Andy and I discussed owning motorcycles and realised that they would take up all of our time and cause friction at home. Going out for an early morning ride and being back home around 10am was fine, but owning a motorcycle would lead to excursions lasting the whole day and they would definitely not go down well at home. Furthermore, I have no desire for a motorcycle. The thought of wearing leathers and a heavy helmet on a hot day is one thing, the other is the risk of losing a limb or, worst still, my life. Not for me, I'm afraid, although I wouldn't mind owning a Harley - just to polish it.

While we agreed that Hunger's End would have to wait until next week, circumstances later in the day dictated that I must postpone my visit to Vampire Tints in Penge for yet another week - meaning that the week after next is now more likely, unless, of course, it's raining. Let's hope it remains dry.