Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Sunday - it's got to be the Tatsfield Bus Stop!

A general fatigue appears to have fallen on the NoVisibleLycra team, although I hate to use the word 'team' as it implies we might be Lycra Monkeys – we're not.

Yours truly in the pre-blog days, standing outside the Co-op.
Anyway, we met at the green early (7am instead of 7.30am, it's becoming a habit) and while we had discussed the possibility of going to Westerham, I don't think either of us wanted to go so far. It was cold, but not as cold as on Saturday, but still, the very idea of going 'all that way' put us both off. We ended up at the Tatsfield Bus Stop having debated a trip to the village and Godstone (although the hill coming out of Godstone was enough to put us both off).

Andy said he didn't know where time was going and that he felt he had less and less of it. Well, yes and no. In the old days we used to leave early and meet early, but we never indulged in tea and cereal bars. Our rides were very utilitarian; it was a case of reaching the destination, standing up outside the Co-op in Westerham (we rode to Westerham twice over the weekend, clocking up a cool 44 miles) and then cycling back home again.

In many ways you could say that these days we tend to make a mountain out of a molehill as far as cycling is concerned. The very fact that we have this blog is testament to that and the blog's been going for over three years. We talk about a book and it might happen, but right now I've had enough of books, what with my novel (completed a few months ago) and my dad's family history (recently finished). But it will happen.

The Tatsfield Bus Stop
Having said that we make a mountain out of a cycling molehill, I don't think either of us would have it any other way. The blog, I think, is really good as it documents our lives, what's been going on in the world and, of course, the weather. In fact, as I've said before, cycling at the weekend has become part of my life and I don't think I could live without it, especially at this time of year when the leaves hit the ground, the sky darkens and the temperature drops. October – and it's the last day of October today – is, for me, the defining month for our cycling.

We're talking about leaving even earlier, ie meeting at the green at 6.30am instead of 7am. Now that's a tall order, but it's scheduled in for this coming Saturday. We'll see how it goes. Personally, I don't think we've lost time in any way. We've probably just got too much to do at the weekends and need to be back for it. Longer runs to Chevening Church or Merstham/Redhill have been off the cards for both of us of late and for good reason as they normally involve returning home mid-morning, losing half the day.

This discussion comes up occasionally and I think the other thing about it is this: we enjoy cycling, yes, but the other main reason for going is the exercise, so we shouldn't be ashamed if we visit the Tatsfield Bus Stop once too often. After all, it's still a good 15-miler and if we go twice it's 30 miles.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Essen's 'Bixi' bikes - I didn't have time to try them out

This week I flew out to Essen in Germany. It's a kind of satellite city of Dusseldorf and I had to fly into Dusseldorf airport (or Flughaven) then take a short train journey of about 20 minutes to Essen.

The Holiday Inn, Essen. Similar to Dusseldorf but slightly
better. The room was larger here and there was free WiFi,
which is annoying as I had to pay in Dusseldorf.
Once again, I was staying in a Holiday Inn and, for an international hotel brand, it's amazing how much they differ from one unit to another.

Essen offered free WiFi and a different restaurant menu to the one in Dusseldorf, although the latter was better located in terms of virtually everything. It was right next to the main railway station and tram network.

I think I preferred the Essen hotel, not only because of the free WiFi, but because the room was a little bigger and the restaurant offered good food and some decent beer too.

Both nights I had roasted salmon as a main course plus an excellent tomato soup starter. The Essen hotel's restaurant was a little more polished than Dusseldorf's, although the adjacent bar allowed people to smoke so occasionally I got a waft of cigarette smoke (well, only once) but it brought back memories of England's pre-smoking ban days, although not necessarily pleasant memories.

In Germany some bars still allow smoking and, for some reason,  pubs on street corners are more likely to accept the cigarette than others. I think there's some kind of law. In fact, I went into a bar called Sausalito's – which happened to be on a street corner – where I enjoyed a wheat beer and, lo and behold, I found some of my fellow customers enjoying a cigarette. Strange, but true and in many ways a step backwards.

A wheat beer in Sausalito's where customers
are allowed to smoke.

There are people in the UK licenced trade who want smoking in pubs and clubs re-introduced, but somehow I don't think it'll ever happen as the Brits are now accustomed to smoke-free pubs and I think they like them. Who wants to return to smelling like a bonfire after going out for a beer?

I didn't realise how close my hotel was to the city centre, which, I have to say, was not as pleasant as Dusseldorf.

There was no 'old town' just a load of shops so I wandered around in the late afternoon last Thursday looking at stuff I couldn't afford and stopping off for that wheat beer near a square.

Essen's council is in the process of building a Ferris wheel, which looked a bit odd as it was only half finished, but that was the only thing I could find of interest apart from the shops...oh, and Essen's answer to the Montreal 'Bixi' bikes. I had planned to ride one, but it was late in the day and it transpired that I needed some kind of credit card to use them.

I spent hours wandering around Essen's shops and malls and on my way back to the hotel was tempted by an Indian restaurant. The very idea of a curry and a decent, chilled lager or two appealed, but I decided to go back to the hotel for dinner and eat the exact same meal as the night before: tomato soup followed by roasted salmon and washed down with a Konig Pilsner – excellent. Besides, I had to be up at 5am in order to catch a train to the Flughaven and then a flight back to Gatwick.

Essen's answer to Bixi or Boris bikes. I didn't take a ride.

The flight home, like the flight out, was pleasant enough, although it was early so I couldn't really order my usual bottle of wine. As we started our descent into Gatwick, I was amazed by the amount of cloud. It wasn't until we were virtually on the ground that land came into view and guess what? It was raining.

The half-finished Ferris wheel in Essen
I went straight to the office and then later I went home.

Warlingham Green and no further

Another early start. Out of the house at 0630hrs, I discover a flat rear tyre but pump it up and hope it's just flat and not a puncture. I got all the way to the Green by which time it was flat again and, therefore, a puncture.

My bike, puncture fixed, on Warlingham Green around 8am.
In essence, it ruined any chances of a ride and, because we were on the green, it was noisy so, without having a handy bowl of water to detect the hole, it was fortunate that Andy had a spare inner tube.

Bike fixed, we decided that was it; Andy had stuff to do and had to go so I decided to head home too, reaching the house at 0815hrs.

We're going tomorrow and I must remember to put the clocks back, although I'm thinking of leaving them until after the ride; that way I'll be up on time and can travel back in time after breakfast (there's nothing better than living in the future even if it is only by one hour).

Thursday, 25 October 2012

'No comment'. The flabbergasting and extraordinary lack of curiosity over Savile.

National Treasure? Not anymore - Jimmy Savile with trademark cigar and bling.
As somebody who grew up watching the late Jimmy Savile on the television, both on Top of the Pops and Jim'll Fix It, I'm quite flabbergasted, but not surprised, to learn of what he'd been getting up to 'behind closed doors' so to speak.

Like a lot of people, I was aware of the rumours, although I wasn't 100 per cent – until now – about the nature of those rumours. Having said that, when it all surfaced in the media a few days ago, I found myself thinking, "ah, yes, I can believe that".

And now, of course, when I see him in his shorts, I put two and two together and get, among many other words, 'weirdo' and, alright, 'paedophile'. In fact, thinking back, it's odd that nobody thought of Savile as a weirdo before or, indeed, somebody one should keep away from children.

What is even odder, however, is the comments made by both the current Director-General of the BBC, George Entwistle, and his predecessor Mark Thompson who, I've just learnt, is the incoming chief executive of The New York Times Co.

Infact, in an article in today's International Herald Tribune, reporters Christine Haughney and David Carr write that Thompson said he had only been made aware that Newsnight had been investigating Mr Savile during a conversation with a reporter at a company party last December.

Now, you might think that's fair enough, but what is most odd – and equally as flabbergasting as the whole Savile affair – is that Thompson went on to say that he had not asked the reporter about the specifics of the investigation but he had followed up the next day with two BBC News officials.

My view of this is that Thompson, as both the then Director-General of the BBC and a human being must have been just a little interested in why Newsnight was investigating Savile.

Had I been Thompson, I'm 150% certain that I would have asked what it was that the programme was investigating. Surely, as the head of an organisation that prides itself, as a broadcaster and with being at the cutting edge of global journalism for decades, he must of been itching to know. Don't tell me that he didn't think, "what's he being investigated for?" But, apparently not!

If somebody approached me and said that a work colleague was being investigated by Newsnight, I would definitely want to know what they were being investigated for, it's just human nature. Who would be that disinterested to simply not utter just one word, why?

Similarly, the present Director-General, George Entwistle, displayed 'an extraordinary lack of curiosity' about the cancellation of the planned Newsnight programme on Savile that would, basically, have exposed him for the man he is – or rather was. Instead, the BBC put out tributes to Savile's life and career.

Despite the fact there had been rumours about Savile's sexual behaviour and a 2000 documentary in which his potential status as a paedophile was acknowledged, Thompson claims he was never told the nature of the allegations and nor did he ask (when he spoke to the aforementioned reporter last December).

Again, had I been the reporter, I think I would have said to Thompson, "Don't you want to know the nature of the investigation?" And why did Thompson say in the International Herald Tribune article that he had 'no reason to believe that his [Savile's] conduct was a pressing concern'? Again, why not? Thompson was the head of the BBC, effectively Savile's boss. He must have heard the rumours circulating about Savile, he must have known about the 2000 documentary and surely it must have crossed his mind that perhaps the investigation had a sordid edge to it. But no, not a bit of it!

There are now questions relating to Thompson's fitness to serve as The New York Times' top official following a questioning blog post by the newspaper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan.

Thompson joins The New York Times on 12 November 2012 and is being hailed as the 'ideal person to take the helm of the Times company' as it focuses on global expansion and growing it's digital business.

Thompson himself claims he is fit to take up the post and is quoted in the International Herald Tribune as saying, "It is my belief that there isn't anything in my participation or my role in this story that would impede my ability to join and work with my colleagues at The New York Times."

Probably not, but there must be questions being asked about his 'extraordinary lack of curiosity' – a phrase attributed to the current Director-General, George Entwistle.

While there is nothing to suggest that Thompson acted inappropriately, there's plenty to suggest that he and Entwistle didn't act at all. The big question is why?

And what about Newsnight's editor Peter Rippon? Why did he pull the plug on the investigation? Surely, a journalist of his calibre would have seen the value of the story and that it was in the public interest that it was broadcast? Was he leaned on? If so, by whom?

This story looks set to run and run and I find it absolutely amazing that, with 300 potential victims, probably more, these allegations have been supressed for so long. Why, for instance, didn't Independent Television News expose Savile? Why didn't Britain's nosey tabloid press have a go?

I for one smell a very big rat and I'm sure it won't be too long before we discover the truth.

The whole sorry tale – and the culture of silence surrounding it – reminds me of when I see paedophiles on television being questioned in a police interview room. All I can hear are two words: "No comment."

Monday, 22 October 2012

Poor show on the cycling front...

A weekend of no cycling and for no reason. Andy wasn't going on Saturday, but I should have been out of bed by 6am and on the road by 7am. I wasn't. Why? Just the knowledge that I didn't have to go because there was nobody to meet at the Green. Well, that and I've been feeling a little tired of late. I think it's got a lot to do with the change in the weather. Now that summer's well and truly off the agenda, the colder, shorter days are creeping in. Next weekend the clocks go back, meaning (I think) that we all get an extra hour in bed.

It's harder to get out of bed in the winter months and I need as much motivation as I can get. So, when Andy says he ain't going, well, I lie in bed thinking to myself, 'shall I go or shall I not?' I'll get up and resolve to go slightly later than usual, but after a bowl of porridge or a slice of fruit loaf plus a cup of tea I start to feel comfortable about not going. Should I call Jon to see if he's up for Woodmansterne Green? Yes, of course. But I do nothing and soon a point of no return is reached, normally around 8am. I realise that going now would put a strain on the day; I'd get back later than planned and the rest of the day would be one of those slobby affairs of sitting around doing nothing until it's too late to do anything. Best, then, to resolve not to go; to look outside the kitchen window at the back garden and say to myself, 'I'll go tomorrow'.

Then, having decided not to go cycling, I start to feel a little resentful. 'Perhaps there's still time?' I say to myself, changing my mind and then realising, no, it's too late, the traffic's building up and so on. I visualise the route and that makes me feel tired and then relieved that my original decision was the right one.

Saturday was spent discussing cars. We've not had one since September 1st when somebody rammed into the back of the BMW, causing our insurance company to write it off and leaving us without a car. It's been a big nightmare, but as time progressed (we're approaching two months) I've found it to be a kind of blessing in disguise. I don't mind the 30-minute walk to the supermarket to pick up things like minced beef and chicken; I'm not bothered about having to cycle six miles to see mum (although I didn't do that this weekend) and, well, to cut a long story short, not having a car doesn't bother me. If I lived alone, I'd get by without a car and rely instead upon a bicycle and public transport. This, of course, is the not the case for other members of the family who, it has to be said, rely upon the car more than I do. For me, the car is just for the weekend. For everybody else, it's a lifeline, although, if it was me, I'd learn to adapt.

Looking down the festive stairwell at Fortnum & Mason. Later, in Liberty's
a shop assistant wished my a Merry Christmas – a bit premature, I thought.
What we all miss about having a car is the weekend excursions into the countryside except that, when I think long and hard about those trips, they're wasteful of petrol and time and often involve aimless driving through either Surrey, Sussex or Kent – or very often a mix of all three. It's petrol and it's also the hefty price paid in National Trust properties not only to get in to the places, but to enjoy a pot of tea and some lemon drizzle cake. In short, a big drain on resources, which, without a car, can be avoided.

I can easily live without a car. In fact, on Sunday, we went to London by train and mooched around Fortnum & Mason (to see how the other half live) followed by Liberty's and then lunch in a low-cost restaurant on Old Compton Street (The Stockpot). Stockpot has been around for years. I remember when my wife was my girlfriend, it was our place. Cheap and cheerful in one respect, but, for the money, very good value. Having said that, this time was different. I'm not sure how many The Stockpot restaurants are left, but either way, I can't remember them being cash-only establishments. I always find that a bore mainly because I never realise it's cash-only until it's too late and I then resort to checking my wallet for spare notes and coins (which I never have) and then have to resort to leaving the restaurant to find a cashpoint.

Shoppers in Liberty's, Regent Street, Sunday 20th October 2012.
In fact, I find cash-only restaurants a nuisance and a downright liberty especially when the bill arrives and it says 'service not included'. In my book, there's no tip if I've had to leave the comfort of my table to find a cashpoint in order to pay my bill. Not getting a tip obviously pissed off the waiter who gave me dirty looks as we left. He was, of course, unaware, that waiters only get one tip from me: get a better paid job and then you won't feel so disappointed when I don't tip you. I never tip, unless it's exceptional and it's rarely exceptional, even in Michelin-starred restaurants where my overriding feeling is along the lines of 'all that money and I was still hungry when I came out' or 'is there a McDonald's nearby?'

Sunday was confusing in terms of cycling. I'd put my phone on silent and then forgotten about it. I must have put it on silent on Saturday because late at night I checked it and found texts from Andy. One asked if a 7am meeting was on the cards and then another said 'abort'. I hurriedly sent Andy a text late on Saturday night asking for the normal time of 7.30am and then received one back saying he couldn't make it – so I didn't go either. Not good and I must go next weekend without fail. I'm considering going tomorrow (Tuesday) to work, but I know I'll be too tired (after watching the Panorama Special on Sir Jimmy Saville) and it's so much grief as I'll have to take a change of clothes, I'll need a shower at the office and then I'll have to cycle home, possibly in the rain.

No, this weekend was not good for cycling, but things can only get better.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Musical interlude...John Cale, Scotland Yard...

John Cale.
I caught John Cale performing Scotland Yard on last week's Later with Jools Holland. One of the best things I've seen since that Stilo video by Gorillaz. Click here for the full song! And check out John Cale's general stance and the band's lead guitarist. Brilliant.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Tatsfield Bus Stop...

On the road...well, there was no traffic coming so why not? This shot
looks toward Botley Hill, which is about half a mile away.
No cycling on Saturday due to a broken night (I awoke at 4am and couldn't get back to sleep) but we were out on Sunday. Andy rode alone to the Tatsfield Churchyard on Saturday.

We met at 7am on the Green, half an hour earlier than usual, so I admitted defeat on the sleep front – I awoke early again – and rose at 0535hrs. Outside, of course, it was dark and the streetlights were still on at 0630hrs when I ventured out into the garage to get the bike.

Once again, no gloves. I thought they were upstairs in the draw, but no, they're not and, to be honest, not wearing gloves didn't really have an effect until I sped along the B269 on the way home. A cold wind blasted my hands and face and once again I was reminded that winter was truly on the way.

On the way to the bus stop Andy and I chatted about my recent trip to Dusseldorf and I remarked how I found Germany to be clean and efficient: the trams and trains all arrived and departed on time, the people were friendly and largely well turned-out and the general vibe was upbeat.

When I returned to the UK, however, it was a different story: there was a general tardiness about the place, the people were far from well turned out and the vibe was considerably downbeat.

In Germany I never saw any boarded up shop fronts; over here there are plenty. In Germany there was an air of friendliness. At the airport on the way home, a taxi driver gave way to me crossing the road with my bags (that rarely happens in the UK); the staff at Dusseldorf station were really helpful, everything seemed a million times better than 'over here'.

I definitely laboured the point, though, and decided to say no more about it when we reached the bus stop where the conversation changed to all manner of subjects. We sipped tea and munched our cereal bars, watched the Lycra monkeys and then headed for home again. The early start meant arriving home before 0930hrs, which was good.

I'm still without a car and now, of course, it's more difficult to find one as we don't have a car to get around in; we did look at an old Mercedes, but 'old' was the word and people are getting rid of gas-guzzling cars, so we've decided not to bother with it. My pal Alan says a Ford Focus is a good bet so we're looking at a few, but I won't be able to do anything now until next weekend – it's a slow, slow process.

Not much in the news. Cameron and Salmond will sign an agreement today that will give the go-ahead for Scottish independence; a 14-year-old girl shot in the head by the Taliban will be flown to the UK for treatment; and some Austrian bloke with a long name I can't remember has broken the sound barrier by skydiving from a ridiculously dangerous height of 128,000 feet. Mad or what? His visor froze over so he couldn't see his instruments.
Looking east towards Westerham, which is around three miles away.
These photos show blue skies, which are very nice, but it was cold out there and next week I'll find my gloves, hopefully – or buy some more cheap ones from the garage.

This sort of weather, as epitomised by the photographs, is typical NoVisibleLycra weather and very reminiscent of those early days on the road some six years ago.

We'll be out again next weekend and I'd imagine the weather will be pretty much the same. It's great, really and we wouldn't give it up for nobody.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Pre-blog videos found...

Following on from our recent conversation about what we got up to in the pre-blog days – remember that we started cycling in August of 2006 but didn't start the blog until August/September 2009 – I've found some vintage video taken in pre-blog times.

The first is taken in April 2007 near Botley Hill looking down from the top of a steep downhill ride over grass that proved pretty bumpy. The second was taken in Warlingham, only yards from the green, in July and features Andy fixing a puncture having recently fitted Kevlar-enforced tyres on his old Peugeot bicycle.

The video of Andy is, for some reason, on its side, something I tried to rectify but couldn't. They're both fairly short, but evidence that life did exist pre-blog. Andy, I'll apologise now for the title of the puncture video and the car-screeching sound affects produced by the Sony Ericsson phone I owned at the time.

Wandering around Dusseldorf...

On my way towards the old town, I spotted this rather strange-looking
machine. It goes some way to making recumbent bicycles cool.
My work finished around 4pm yesterday and the weather was fine (unlike today) so I decided to stroll through town and head for the river. In my head I was aiming for the old part of town, but in reality, I was simply heading in the direction of the river, which was a mistake. I walked for about an hour, or thereabouts, following tramlines most of the time, but I ended up probably not far from the river, but somewhere off the beaten track.

I retraced my steps using a bus and the help of a Brazilian student who lives in Dusseldorf and soon enough, having changed from bus to tram, I found myself at the Heinrich Heine Strasse, which is a short walk from the old town, which is right on the Rhein (or Rhine as we pronounce it in the UK).

A small square in the old town

Wandering around on your own is fine, but it's nicer when you got somebody to share it with; sadly, I was alone and there's nothing worse in my opinion. Okay, it's nice to have your own space once in a while, but here, as I strolled around the old town, it was strangely lonely. The problem, however, is always the same: I'm on business and not on a holiday and if I was on a holiday, would I visit Dusseldorf? Well, the answer is probably yes. It's under an hour from Gatwick and it's a fairly pleasant sort of place. It's easy to get around, not overly pricey and it has its own charm.
I used to yearn for one of these, but now I'm happy just to look.

Incidentally, on the bike front, I never found any, although I did find some interesting bike shops, selling very expensive MTBs (I like that abbreviation, in fact I like all abbreviations, especially CSR and Capex, which mean 'corporate social responsibility' and 'capital expenditure' respectively). But enough business talk, let's get back to Dusseldorf.

After swanning around and feeling a little sorry for myself (I wanted my wife and daughter to be here too) I found a bar, Bar Cherie on the Kurze Strasse. This was one of those places that you find once in a while and realise that there are places in the world where you can leave everything behind and exist in a completely different space.

Early evening. The Rhein from Dusseldorf's 'old town'.

Bar Cherie was a little on the avant garde side, there was some strange but intriguing music playing on the sound system, the vibe was laid back, there were candles on the tables and for a while I thought all this place needs is some decent food. Lo and behold there was food. I watched as a couple of thin crust pizzas arrived on adjacent tables but decided to eat dinner back at the hotel, mainly because I needed to phone home from the room.

My beer on the table at Bar Cherie
I enjoyed two small bottles of dark beer (Alt) and then left, heading through the shop-lined streets to the subway and a train to Dusseldorf.

I fly back home tonight, but looking at the weather (it's raining) I'm not going to be doing much in the way of sight-seeing. Perhaps I'll head down to Bar Cherie for a last beer as I need to get rid of my coins (what a great excuse!).

The photos accompanying this post were taken yesterday while out and about, apart from the very last one, which is the sign over the top of an office block that is visible from my hotel room. In fact, the shot was taken from my hotel room early this morning. The sign in question has been my friend over the past few days, mildly (and comfortingly) illuminating my room at night.

Bar Cherie, Kurze Strasse 2, Dusseldorf Altstadt (old town).

It looks pretty bleak outside my hotel window now. The trees are blowing about, the sky is cloudy and yes, I'm flying today! As I said a few posts back, whenever I fly anywhere, the weather turns. I can only imagine that's it's bleaker in the UK, but at least when I return it's the weekend.

Right, it's now time to tidy up the room, pack away my stuff and check out of the hotel. One thing I really hate doing is checking out of hotels. I abhor 'vacating the room', I despise packing and I can't stand being reduced to nomad status, a dog without a home.

The Sparda-Bank West sign outside of my hotel window.
Outside it's brightening up a little, so I might get to see some more sights before heading home, although I think I get the gist of Dusseldorf. It's a pleasant city, small but perfectly formed and with easy links from here to there using trains, underground trains, trams and buses. It's one of those places where you could jump on a tube train (I say tubes, they're really trams that go underground near the centre of town) or a bus and you're never far from where you started. You can walk for hours and still be able to hop on some form of public transportation to get you back to your hotel. It's very hard to get lost here, which is great. Time to sign off.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Dusseldorf's an okay sort of place...

For a start, it's only about 50 minutes away from London Gatwick airport and then there's the fact that all the taxi drivers have top-of-the-range Mercedes and VWs. The trains arrive and leave on time and some of them have two decks, there's a decent tram system, which in many ways makes the taxi obsolete and yes, it's a good old place.
I disembarked from this train at Neuss, thinking I was David McCallum in 
a scene from The Great Escape. "Bartlett!"

What struck me most was the cleanliness. London is a dirty place. Dusseldorf is spotless and somebody here tells me that the quality of the clothes in the shops is better than on the other side of the Atlantic. Not that I'd notice stuff like that: I rarely buy clothes and I'd never vouch for the quality of anything I bought be it socks or a suit.

I'll be honest. I haven't had much time to get out and about sight-seeing. I'm on a business trip and there's no Bixi bikes like there were in Montreal. Also, it's dark outside. Remember, it's an hour ahead of the UK so it's darker in the evenings. When I went to Montreal we flew on a Thursday, did our business on the Friday and had the weekend free before I flew down to Atlanta. This time, I flew on a Monday, it's now Wednesday night and I've been working ever since I arrived. Not that working is a bad thing.

The weather here is roughly on a par with the UK. On the day I flew out there was less cloud in Germany than in the UK and it was a little warmer. Now there's a bite in the air, but it's still nicer, although I haven't checked on what the UK weather was like, but I'm guessing it's pretty poor – it has been all summer.

Yesterday I took a double decker train to Neuss, which is on the outskirts of Dusseldorf. Unfortunately, today I took the tram: big mistake. Yesterday I took the mainline train and it took me ten minutes. Today I was late for an appointment because I was all morning on the tram. I even messed up and took the wrong tram and then had to back track until I found the right one. Not good.

Aluminium lady by Bernd W Schmidt – it's very spooky and Schmidt
had a very firm handshake.
Back in Dusseldorf around 4pm and there was little time for anything. Now, having enjoyed dinner in the Schnellenburg Hotel on Rotterdamer Strasse (red wine, seabass) , I'm back at the computer typing this post.

I love travelling in Europe as, for some reason, I always imagine myself in The Bourne Identity or Leon or even The Great Escape. There's something about a European city that brings out the secret spy in me. I know, I'm a big kid, but because I've got a watch with a retro face that lights up at the press of a button, I consider myself to be a  spy carrying valuable microfilm. The reality is that I'm carrying nothing but a load of business cards and a copy of the magazine I'm writing for; still, I can dream, I always do.

When I got off the train from Dusseldorf Hbf to Neuss Hbf (Hbf stands for Haupftbahnhoff) I could have been David McCallum in that scene from The Great Escape when the Gestapo spot Bartlett and McCallum sets up a distraction to  help him escape. Later, one of the great lines from the film: "Your German is good. So also your French I hear. Your hands – up!"

During my travels, I met Bernd W. Schmidt-Pfeil who showed me some works of art he made out of aluminium. He once held an exhibition here in Dusseldorf entitled Aluminations. It's good stuff, if not a little spooky.

Monday, 8 October 2012

From the UK to Germany...

As is customary when I have to fly anywhere, the weather is bad. Driving rain virtually all morning means the prospect of an unpleasant flight. Mind you, with take-off not until 1530hrs today, things might improve. Well, actually, they didn't, but I can report that an easyJet flight that I thought would be something like two hours, turned out to be just 56 minutes. I had enough time to drink one of those tiny plastic bottles of wine (Merlot) – plus a few nuts – before the plane landed in Dusseldorf.

The flight was surprisingly smooth considering that within four seconds of leaving the ground we were in thick cloud. However, within five minutes it was blue skies, then another layer of cloud and then blue skies again. In fact, by the time we'd reached our alloted 33,000ft, we started to descend.

Dusseldorf was experiencing better weather than the UK. Less cloud at any rate and the descent and landing was smooth. I reached the hotel just before 7pm – there's a one-hour time difference between Europe and the UK – and, after taking a wander down to the railway station and just a little bit beyond (found an amazing bike shop, but it was closed) I turned back and resolved to have dinner in the hotel.

"A table for one, please," I said, looking decidedly like Billy No Mates, and was directed to a table by the window where I could eavesdrop on the conversation of some American businessmen who were dining with some Taiwanese businessmen. They could have been Chinese, I can't recall, but the conversation was pretty drab so I contented myself with a copy of the Times, that I'd bought onboard the easyJet flight from Gatwick.
My room at the Holiday Inn, Dusseldorf – less pillows than the Atlanta
Marriott in the USA, but a very lightweight duvet.

A starter of tomato consomme was followed by salmon and noodles and an excellent glass of beer, although a glass of German red wine proved to be not so nice.

Outside of the hotel, there's not a lot to do so now I'm back in my room typing this out and considering an early night. It's 2220hrs here now, that's 2120hrs in the UK and I really ought to hit the sack. Not only is there nothing to do outside, but the street lighting is very dark, so much so that I could hardly see where I was going. Not a good sign.

I'm planning to get up with the lark to do a bit more exploring. I need to find out whether Dusseldorf has the equivalent to Montreal's Bixi Bikes and the UK's Boris Bikes. If the answer is yes, then I'll be taking a ride around Dusseldorf – if I get a free moment.

Haven't had time to take any photographs yet, although here's one of my hotel bedroom (see above). Not so many pillows as the Marriott in Atlanta.

Apple cooler than Aston Martin?

First, don't get me wrong. I'm Apple through and through. They're much better and cooler than PCs and I've always had one. I won't go on, but look at the design! Check out the functionality. See them up close in any computer shop. They're a million times better looking than any PC brand. But Apple's getting cocky. Alright, the iPhone is great. I used to have one, but it's broken having been immersed in salty water. I own a Nokia C1 now, which, at first, I'll admit, I thought it was not cool at all. It's just a phone, everything else is rubbish. There's a crappy camera, it's back to predictive texting again and, well, that's it: it's just a phone. Like a tin of Ronseal, it does exactly what it says on the tin and no more.
The iPhone – how can it be cooler than an Aston Martin?

But one thing that's great about it is this: it really is JUST a phone, so I don't spend time on trains fiddling around with it, as I did with my iPhone. Nope, the old C1 just stays in my pocket or briefcase until somebody calls me or I feel the need to call them. I don't take pointless photographs or videos and while I could listen to music if I wanted to, I don't. It's just a phone as I keep saying.

For many months I felt envious of iPhone users. I'd sit on the train reading a book or newspaper and occasionally glance up and find somebody fiddling with their iPhone. Oh how I wished I could fiddle with mine (the iPhone). But why would you want to fiddle with a Nokia C1? There's no reason at all because it's a boring, old-fashioned mobile phone that is only good for one thing: phoning people; which, after all, is what it's all about.

Unlike the iPhone, the C1's battery can remain charged for a week before going flat, probably longer, and this, no doubt, is because I'm not constantly fiddling with it, although I'm told that the older style mobile phone batteries tended to last longer anyway. The C1 is not as cumbersome as the iphone. It fits in the breast pocket of suit or shirt, it can even fit inside my wallet, I discovered last week.

And now I've started to notice that everybody has an iphone. EVERYBODY!!! And there on the train in the mornings they sit, fiddling around and I'm starting to think that Apple is no longer cool, they're losing it. Big time! How can anything be cool if everybody has one? To be cool is to be unusual. To be cool is to be set apart from the crowd. To be cool is to be different. To be cool is to go against the grain. And from where I'm sitting, Apple is doing the complete opposite. It's no longer cool to own an iPhone, but it's still cool to own an Aston Martin – although it wouldn't be if everybody had one on their driveways.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The gloves are off...when they should be on

A typical October morning. Photo: Andy Smith
The cold weather has definitely arrived. This morning I donned a jumper, but forgot about the gloves. It was dark when I left the house – meaning I could use my new lights – and while no gloves didn't seem to be a problem at first, there was a time later in the ride when I wished I'd put them on. In short, autumn has arrived.

The Lux 10 was brilliant. I had it on flicker mode and it illuminated road signs with a kind of strobe effect, which was fantastic. Powerful lights, that's the key to a dark start, and we're going to get plenty of them over the next few months.

Andy and I met at Warlingham Green as usual and decided to head off for the Tatsfield Bus Stop. It was a 7am meeting so that bit was fine, but Andy forgot his tea cup and only brought along one cereal bar. Talk about spooky, though. Yesterday evening, while in the supermarket, I spied cereal bars on the shelves and considered buying a couple for today's ride. I didn't, but in retrospect I should have done.

Even spookier: this morning, while making the tea, I thought that Andy might forget his mug and considered bringing a spare, just in case, but dismissed the idea. Andy, I figured, was too organised to forget his cup! How wrong! How wrong!

Anyway, we shared one cup and had half a cereal each as we sat at the bus stop wondering why the driver of a blue Ford people carrier had decided to pull up on to the grass verge and abandon his car. It must have been left there overnight due to a breakdown, perhaps. Who knows?

There was a frost on the grass, there were mists on the fields and from now on we'd have to start wearing jumpers, scarves and definitely gloves on our rides. The summer was over – not that it ever really began this year.

As I write this, the sun is out, the sky is blue and it's looking good out there, but earlier this morning it was very chilly. Instead of our usual sprint home along the B269, we turned right off of Clarks Lane into Beddlestead Lane and weaved our way round the small, narrow lanes towards the Warlingham Sainsbury's. This meant tackling Hesiers Hill, which was fine, but I really must ensure I'm in the right gear before riding up a hill. I had to go back down and reapproach it as I'd lost momentum on my initial attempt.

The Boardman's 27 gears – look how clean they are!
Riding down Beddlestead without gloves was painful, bringing home to me how cold it was and also how the winter was well and truly on the way. My hands were bright red with the cold and likewise my face.

Andy and I parted company at Warlingham Green and I continued along the Limpsfield Road, through Sanderstead High Street and then across the Gruffy (that's the name given to Sanderstead Green) and then down Church Way towards home.

Yesterday, I sold the Boardman Comp Mountain Bike and waved it goodbye. A nice-looking bike and I felt a bit sad about parting company with it, but I guess I was only a foster parent to it and at least I know it's gone to a good home over Reading way.