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!

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