Monday, 26 March 2012

The start of the day

A misty start to a great day on Sunday 25th March 2012.
Andy took this shot en route to meeting yours truly on Sunday morning. It somehow characterises our weekend rides.

Two years ago.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Talking politics at the Tatsfield Bus Stop...

Despite the fact that yesterday (Saturday) was a wonderful, summery day and, coincidentally, the day when the clocks went forward, announcing official British Summer Time, neither Andy nor I went cycling. My excuse? A late night on Friday drinking Long Island Iced Teas. Andy's? He just fancied a lie-in and who can blame him? I would have done the same.

Sunday was a case of game on, but I'd forgotten about the clocks going foward and was only reminded when Andy texted me and then called. I was up at 6am, but in reality it was 7am. We agreed to meet at 0830hrs (BST) instead of our usual 0730hrs and ride to the Tatsfield Bus Stop (a 16-mile round trip).

Despite the warmth, there was a lot of mist around, which cleared before we headed back. Our conversation revolved around politics, starting off with Europe and then moving towards the current global downturn and the plight of countries like Greece.

Former Labour leader, Neil Kinnock will always be remembered for
falling over on Brighton beach during the party conference in the 80s.
The basic difference between Andy and I is that I'm fairly left wing whereas Andy is right wing. He votes Tory and I vote Labour, although I admit to voting Tory in past elections back in the eighties when there wasn't really a viable alternative provided by the Labour Party - back in the days of Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and the miners' strike. Alright, I admit, I voted for Thatcher, but I've wised up and as soon as the Labour Party got its act together, I voted for them, removing, if I recall, John Major from No.10 and installing Tony Blair and his so-called New Labour.

Labour was so desperate for power back in the late 90s that it figured the only way to get its feet through the door was to be a little more Tory and not so left wing. Suddenly, all that Militant Tendency stuff and the Socialist Worker had gone and the 'looney left' as it was known became a thing of the past. New Labour was a lot swisher and it must have appealed to the electorate as Blair had a landslide victory.

Let's face it, people were well and truly fed up with the Tories. We'd suffered all the various scandals of Cecil Parkinson and Jeffrey Archer, not forgetting Tim Yeo's 'lovechild' and David Mellor's shennanigans in a Cheslea outfit and that whole 'Euro Sceptic' thing and it was well and truly time for change. Blair's getting in to No.10 was as much a relief for the English then as Barack Obama's election as US President was a huge relief for the Americans who had basically been humiliated as a nation by 'Dubya', or George Bush Junior.

But inevitably, like everything, things eventually began to grate. There was that whole Blair versus Brown thing, Labour's own scandals surrounding people like Peter Mandelson (and others) and soon, especially once Gordon Brown found himself as Prime Minister, people wanted Labour out of power. The problem, however, was that they didn't really want the Tories back in power and the Liberal Democrats have always been rank outsiders in British politics.

The result, as we all know, was a hung Parliament and Clegg foolishly deciding to get into bed with David Cameron (the very thought!) to form a coalition government. Anything to get into power, eh, Nick? The only good thing about the coalition is that the Tories can't have it all their own way and have to bow to the demands of the Lib Dems on a variety of policy issues. Likewise, the Lib Dems have to grit their teeth too and there have been constant references to the whole party going pear-shaped and the possibility of another election. But no, they're still going strong and tackling the downturn.

Ed Miliband: it should have been his brother leading the party.
For me, as a left winger, the big disappointment was Ed Miliband becoming leader of the Labour Party as that decision, brought about by the unions, means that Labour is back with a leader like Neil Kinnock and nobody believes he has what it takes to be a British prime minister. His brother David was the real man for the job and it makes me wonder why such decisions are taken. Surely, it must be even more obvious to those in the Labour Party (and the unions) that appointing Ed as leader will inevitably mean no success with the electorate. David Miliband, fine, but Ed? No chance. But no, the Labour Party will now continue with Ed at the helm and will lose countless general elections until such time as it realises its mistake and puts David in charge. So expect more of Cameron in the years to come, I'm afraid.

Woof! Woof! Berlusconi's foreign secretary...
Having been out in Italy for a couple of days last week, I'm beginning to think the Italians have it sussed. When I bowled out of Verona airport, the first thing I saw was a huge – and I mean huge – poster of a woman in her underwear. Excellent. Add to that the general style of the Italians, particularly the women,  and factor in Italian food and wine and the weather AND the fact that they used to have, until recently, a rock 'n' roll political figurehead in Berlusconi (he's one for the ladies and isn't afraid to admit it, making him an iconic figure of political comedy). So, yes, I could move out there and live out my days if the truth be known.

So, as Andy and I sat at the Tatsfield Bus Stop watching countless 'Lycra monkeys' pass by on their Colnago and Bianchi racing bikes, we discussed all this and the mention of Italy and my trip to Verona  got Andy started on Europe. Let's be frank: Andy wants out of Europe and, to be fair, why not? He's right wing and right wing people want out of Europe. Jeremy Clarkson probably wants out of Europe. We both admitted that we didn't know enough about the intricacies of the whole 'Europe' thing to work out exactly why we did and didn't want to remain in the EU (I'm pro-Europe by the way) but it seems to be, like so many things, ideological. And that's one thing I don't particularly like about politics: the blind faith in ideology. Socialists and left wingers are pro-big government and the state – and the appeal of Europe in this respect is obvious. Conversely, right wingers (Tories) want small government and less regulation (and you can definitely see the reason why they want out of Europe, which is bogged down with countless EU Directives – just the sort of thing that niggles your average Tory.
In Italy they have huge posters like this one 
everywhere – another good reason for leaving the UK?

Let's be transparent and generalist here, although Andy disagrees with my 'black and white' approach: Tories represent business and making a profit; Labour represents the workforce. Tories want as little regulation as possible so that they can make as much money as possible for themselves and their shareholders, they want to be able to hire and fire at will and bugger the 'human' or 'social' consequences. Labour wants fairness in the work place and plenty of mechanisms  to prevent hiring and firing at will and exploitation. Labour is all for big government and lots of spending; Tories want small government and everybody tightening their belts – doing things on the cheap – so that maximum profits go to the directors of the private companies and the shareholders of the public ones. It can get a bit risky where, say, passenger safety is concerned, as the nation has discovered to its cost. Tories and business people in general would rather cut costs to save money than invest too heavily in safety. End result? Train crashes and people killed. Boris Johnson wants driverless tube trains, but I'm sure that Ed Miliband has the opposite view and so on and so forth.

Let's get back to blind faith in ideology, because the ideological objectives of the right lead to the above (cost cutting, less regulation and so on) and the ideology of the left is the complete opposite (big government, loads of regulations and spending lots of money); the end result is we vote based on ideology and often get frustrated when our elected Government acts in a certain way. I guess when New Labour came into power they had to reconcile the 'ideology' of the left with the needs of the electorate...otherwise they would never be handed the keys to number 10.

There's something very frustrating about British politics and it's all to do with the two-party system of Labour and Conservative. It's a two-horse race, in other words, and it means that we have a kind of schizophrenic see-saw in action: first it's 'spend, spend, spend' by the Labour party, and then it's 'save, save, save' by the Tories. One cancels out the other.
Greece: Bollocks! We'll go into liquidation and set up another
country under a different name!

We moved on to discuss the global downturn and the plight of countries like Greece. What neither of us could really understand was that money does exist out there, somebody has it because world governments are always talking about how much they should give to Greece to keep the company (Freudian slip, I mean 'country') afloat. So, who does have the money and why don't they bail us all out? What right have 'they' got to hold us to ransom and implement 'austerity' measures?

There are loads of questions surrounding this issue: what if Greece doesn't pay, what happens to the country? Does another country seek a county court judgement so that, should Greece decide to develop some photographs down at Snappy Snaps they would be turned away by eagle-eyed shopkeepers? Would Greece give, say, one of its islands to Germany by way of payment so that Crete, for example, can then hoist the Germany flag and everybody starts eating Bratwurst instead of moussaka?
Peter Cruddas, former Tory party co-treasurer. "And for £500,000...."

Surely, Greece can just turn round and say fuck off to the EU. "Bollocks! We can be self-sufficient like in the Good Life," they might say and then get on with the business of survival – they've got cafés and hotels, they can make wine and brandy, grow a few olives, and they can carry on with tourism, what do they need the rest of Europe for? Well, alright, they'd need them to populate their hotels during the summer months, but why would it be so difficult?

Who is it that holds all the money? And why can't they just give it to those who need it – or print some more? Andy says it's the banks. Well, if it is, they shouldn't be allowed to wield such power. I'm tired and I'm going to sign off but hey, there's a new corruption scandal out in the open at the moment. Step forward, Mr Peter Cruddas! I love that surname as it kind of sums up his situation – 'I'm up to my neck in Cruddas at the moment'. For those of you who don't know, Cruddas was the Tory Party Co-Treasurer (he resigned today). Mr Cruddas, take your place in the Tory Hall of Infamy – click here for more!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The 'Boris Bikes' in Italy are just a little bit more stylish...

The Arena in Verona is very close the Giardini Vittorio Emanuele.
Just a brief post...I was in Verona on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and it was a busy schedule of eating and drinking extremely decent wines and excellent Italian food. You won't believe me when I say it was exhausting, but it was; we flew BA from Gatwick to Verona then drove along the Autostrada to our first of two wineries. Then we checked into a hotel in central Verona, the Accademia, where we had a half hour break before going out to dinner – six courses and a different wine for each one. Absolutely wonderful.  I was in bed around midnight but slept badly, waking at 0414 English time and staying awake until it was time to get up. I managed a quick breakfast and then a short walk to the Giardino Vittorio Emanuele before turning around and heading back to the hotel reception. We then headed north into the hills towards Trentino to visit another winery and enjoy an excellent lunch too before driving back to Verona and catching a flight back to Gatwick. I reached home around 9pm and, ahem, skipped dinner.

I wrote this post because, when I reached the Giardini Vittorio Emanuele, there was a row of 'Boris Bikes' and I began to wish that I  had brought my camera because the Italian 'Boris Bikes' just looked a little better in terms of design. The Italians just have more style, that's all I'm saying.

I loved Verona – what a fantastic city – and a great trip courtesy of wine importer Enotria.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Stopping by the roadside...

It must have rained all night on Saturday, but by the time I was awake, early on Sunday morning, it was a fantastic day: clear blue skies and not a raincloud in sight. It was so nice I was out on time and waiting for Andy on the green.
Beddlestead Lane looking South

We were going to head for the Tatsfield Churchyard because it was Mother's Day and we both had family stuff to do, but instead of following our usual route to one of our many usual destinations, we branched off again, like we did yesterday, and headed along Ledgers Road and then Washpond Lane, but this time passing the track that led to yesterday's destination. Instead we rode down Hesiers Hill and along the length of Beddlestead Lane, a long, gently inclining road that seems to never end.

The plan was still to head for the churchyard, but with time decidedly against us we stopped along the road. I'd found a large chunk of concrete seemingly abandoned on the roadside so out came the tea and cereal bars and we sat there, minding our business and enjoying the peace and quiet. While the distant hum of the M25 was just about audible, the only real sound was the birds tweeting in the hedgerows. What was fantastic was a lone mouse running towards us in the middle of the road and then darting into the tall grass.

The weather was great. A blinding sun reflected back at us off of the tarmac and the raindrops loitered in the bare branches of the trees and hung heavy on the leaves of evergreens. There was plenty of evidence of the night's rainfall, including large puddles.

Where we stopped for tea on Beddlestead Lane, March 18th 2012.
After our tea we headed in the direction of the Tatsfield Bus Stop but instead of turning left on Clarks Lane, we turned right towards Botley Hill and parted company halfway along the B269.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The field at the end of the footpath...

Having reached the top of the hill, I turned round and walked back down.
This morning, around a quarter past six, I heard the rain falling on the flat roof of my conservatory. Looking at my phone, I considered sending Andy an 'abort' text, but then the rain stopped and there were no signs of raindrops landing in the bird bath.

Later, as I headed along the Limpsfield Road towards Warlingham Green, it rained again, but not for long and by the time I reached the green, later than usual because I forgot the golden rule – get ready before going downstairs – the rain had stopped and, to be fair, it was so little that I wasn't even wet.

Right now, however, as Jonathan Ross interviews Sugar Ray Leonard on the TV, it's hammering it down out there, which is probably a good sign as it means it won't be raining in the morning. Or perhaps it will be, who knows?

Before leaving the house this morning, I oiled the Scrap's rusty chain as last week there were a few gear-changing problems. But everything was fine and Andy and I set off for the Tatsfield Bus Stop, although we changed our minds and headed down Ledgers Road, then Washpond Lane and then a small track that led down to a field. We've been here before, last June to be precise, and to be honest, there's not much at the end of the track: just a cattle gate, or a sheep gate, I'm not sure what it is, in the middle of an open space. There's not even any cattle – or sheep.

Somewhere to rest our cycle helmets.
We rested our cycle helmets on what was nothing more than a redundant post and unpacked the tea and the cereal bars.

"I wonder what's over the hill?" I said, wandering off to find out.

Andy was messing around with his camera.

There was nothing over the hill apart from another hill so I headed back to where Andy was waiting and we drank our tea, chewed the fat and then headed back up the track towards the road for the journey home.

The last (and first) time we were here was Sunday 26th June 2011.

By 0930hrs I was home and Jon called from Woodmansterne Green. Later we went to a garden centre, had a wander round and then went over to see mum before returning home and having a roast dinner (cooked by yours truly). I've just wiped it up too and now I'm in the conservatory. It's still raining out there as the ten o'clock news begins. I'm tired so I'm going to call it day and get some sleep.

Just heard on the news that footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed during a game this afternoon. He's currently in intensive care in a Bethnal Green chest hospital, but in a criticial condition. For more details, click here.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Woodmansterne Green to see Jon...

Jon and Matt, Woodmansterne Green, March 10th 2012.
Woodmansterne Green. It's been a long time. Can't remember when Andy and I last turned up there, but it was a while back. I was planning a visit last Boxing Day but it wasn't to be, but suddenly, there I was cycling along the Foxley Lane a little later than planned. I was alone. Andy had gone down with a bad cold. After the ride, long after the ride, I called him. Actually I was returning his call. I'd been in Richmond all day, mooching about. Andy had texted me saying he'd caught cold and when I spoke to him, well, he sounded pretty rough. He's not going tomorrow either.

It was good to see Bon again. He was wearing those slippers we once photographed, although they were looking decidedly older. We sat on the carved out tree and drank tea, then took a wander around the Green. The weather was good, not cold.

My bike needs a clean. The chain is rusty and I've got to sort it out before it needs repairing. When I say it's rusty, it's RUSTY! It's BROWN with rust. How it got that way I don't know, but I had a few gear-changing issues as I turned into my road. I reached home around 1030hrs as Jon and I sat and chatted about this and that. No cereal bar today.

Lots coming up. We've got the Black Horse Ride on May 13th. Can't wait for that and here's hoping it doesn't rain. Then there's the overnight London to Brighton. Not sure about that, but it looks as if it's on the cards; and Andy's talking about a Caterham to Brighton and back ride, which sounds appealing.

Woodmansterne Green, Saturday 10 March 2012.
When my dad was a kid – well, a teenager – he and his mates used to cycle from Wandsworth in South London (where they lived) to Worthing and back in a day. It used to take them four hours to get there, then they'd spend four hours on the beach relaxing and taking a dip, and then they'd ride back. By 4pm, they'd be back home in Wandsworth...and probably ready for good night's kip.
Perhaps the Caterham-Brighton-Caterham run would be a fitting tribute to the old man.

The foot's better, by the way. I wouldn't say completely recovered, because I get the odd twinge, but give or take, I'm rolling again.

It's nearly 11pm and I'm watching Tokyo Drift. I thought it was going to be rubbish, but it's turning out to be quite good. I'd love to go to Japan.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Rain stops play...but I sent an abort text

It's rained all day today. When I awoke this morning around 5am and toyed with the idea of aborting the ride (due to a spot of book-editing that needed to be done) little did I know that, had I waited a few hours, the rain would have aborted the ride for me...and my 'cred' would have remained intact. There's something a bit naff about aborting; it's like bottling out, being a wimp or a spoilsport, but if the weather does it for you, that's okay, it's not your fault.

Andy's cred was intact. He got as far as his garage before it rained and he decided not to bother. Me? Well, it was touch and go as to whether I'd be going due to my workload, but perhaps I was a little too keen to send that text. Still, it's all water under the bridge. I didn't go, nor did Andy. We'll resume again next week.

RAF Parade Shoes - nothing like mine, which I bought at Clark's.
Later in the day I found myself driving, in the driving rain down Titsey Hill (to pick up my wife, daughter and mother-in-law from the cinema in Oxted). The rain was relentless and I resolved not to come back up Titsey with a fully-loaded car. Instead, I drove along the A25 to Westerham and came up the hill from there. It's a less steep hill, something I only knew because of cycling. The week before last, as avid readers will recall, Andy and I pedalled up Titsey Hill and I even tried to race a jogger who just pipped me at the post. Such exertion might (and I stress that word 'might') have been responsible for my foot injury, although I'm not sure.

Talking of that foot injury. I went to seek out a new pair of shoes yesterday and discovered in the process that, for many years, probably since I joined adulthood, I've been wearing a size 44 (size 10) when I should have been wearing, wait for it, a size eight and a half! How can that be? It's true, though, and I'm now the proud owner of a new and smaller pair of shoes.

Better hit the sack. The foot, by the way, is much better. I can walk again, put it that way.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Back on the bike...

The young Matty Lad
Andy and I met at Warlingham Green and headed off towards the Tatsfield Bus Stop. The foot was fine and it's much improved. This time last week I had to visit the emergency doctor to check it out. I was hobbling all over the place and forced to wear naff sandals. A week later and things have improved. I'm walking fine and the swelling has virtually gone.

At the bus stop we met our old pal with the Dawes Galaxy, had a brief chinwag and then headed home.

Should be out again tomorrow hopefully....and there will be a longer post tomorrow. We only went to the bus stop, which is fine, but boring to photograph, so Andy didn't get his camera out, so here's a photograph of me when I was a very tiny baby. Enjoy!!!!