Monday, 31 December 2012

Garner's Pickled Onions – a very poor show!

We're nearing the end of that dead time between Christmas and New Year and there's no cycling today. It's been raining ever since I woke up and it's still raining now. One thing that has characterised 2012 is rain. Since April it's been virtually non-stop, meaning that those greedy sons of bitches over at the water company have absolutely no reason whatsoever to announce a hosepipe ban – they'll have to find other ways of funding their extensions and foreign holidays.

What I do like about the festive season is sitting around doing nothing but watching schmaltzy movies on the television, normally American. There's one on now starring Adam Sandler, but it can't be any good as I've spotted British comedian Russell Brand – he who is not funny, full stop, and is famous only for a ridiculous haircut - although he's a pretty good writer, it has to be said.

Garner's Pickled Onions – no longer the Jesus of Cool.
Anyway, the festive season. I love it! It's the only time of year when you can eat mince pies mid-morning and have a brandy and ginger wine in the afternoon, along with a pickled onion, some stilton and a few cheese biscuits. Mind you, I'm a bit disappointed this year with Garner's Pickled Onions. They used to be the cream of the crop as far as pickled onions were concerned. I love them because they're crunchy and tangy and a million times better than other brands on the market. Until now!

I bought a jar of Garner's from Waitrose the other day and when I opened it and tucked in, the pickled onion I chose was horrible. So horrible. So SOFT! So horrible (and soft) that I had to spit it out (I rarely spit out food). I had to dig around for a nice crunchy pickled onion, which is not normally the case with a jar of Garner's as they're all crunchy. And hell! Let's be honest here: there's nothing more disappointing than a soft pickled onion. Nothing!

I'll be thinking twice the next time I consider purchasing a jar of Garner's. I'll have to ask mum to make some pickled onions – they're genuinely crunchy. When you tuck in to pickled onions, you need something a little challenging. My mum's pickles were the nearest to a challenging snack item (if you excuse those extra fizzy Haribo sweets) and I was elated, some years back, when I discovered Garners. They were the nearest mass-produced version of my mum's pickles on the supermarket shelves and now they've gone and blotted their copy book – BIG TIME!

What else have I been eating? Ah yes! Stilton! A once-a-year indulgence, but worth every penny! Oh, and paté, lovely with a bit of bread or some cheese biscuits.

Right now it's really coming down outside. The rain. We've got a nice pre-prepared curry on the go and I've just had a large glass of red wine. I'm going to have another. Then what? Well, how about a New Year's party down in the sticks?

I'd better sign off. It's lunch time. Well, it's 1415hrs so a late lunch time, but I'm still smarting about the Garner's. I'm going out there in a second and I'm having another one and it better not be soft or I'll, I'll, I'll get even somehow, you mark my words.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

More urban ride images – the waterfall in Grove Park

The waterfall, Grove Park, Carshalton, Surrey, holds many childhood memories.

More urban ride images...

Playing fields which extend for miles and miles on the outskirts of a housing estate.

Urban Ride – take two (12 miles)

While I was up at 0600hrs, I loitered about and didn't hit the road until 0830hrs after tea and peanut butter sandwiches, well, one peanut butter sandwich. In fact, I loitered with one intention – not to go cycling, but in the end I persuaded myself that a ride was needed. Outside, the weather was looking good: clear blue skies and no sign of rain clouds.
Urban ride, urban imagery – where's some graffiti when you need it?

The big debate going on in my head was where to go – the Tatsfield Bus Stop or the urban ride over to Carshalton to see mum. I chose the latter and headed down West Hill, turning left on to the Upper Selsdon Road and then left into Helder Street before a right on to the Brighton Road and then first left and up the hill towards the roundabout on Pampisford Road.

I travelled past a vast expanse of playing fields, skirting around the edge of a housing estate and then crossing the A23 and turning right towards Five Ways. I hung a left into the industrial estate, followed the road round on to the Stafford Road and headed towards the top of Wallington High Street. The lights were red but soon they were green and I went straight across, the gym on my left, heading down towards the mini roundabout at Boundary Road and hanging a right towards Carshalton High Street. A left turn at the lights took me on to Ruskin Road, past Carshalton Park, into Benyon Road and across the lights at the Windsor Castle, past Wanash Gardens (a block of flats) past the BP Garage and right into Alma Road. At the bottom a left turn on to Shorts Road, under the railway bridge and left on to Westmead Corner and then left again into Rossdale.
I stopped for a breather on the industrial estate

An ambulance was parked up outside the house of 'Uncle' John's house. Real name, John Clark, a former teacher, and his wife Beth. John Clark is now 83 and the ambulance was for him. But all was fine and soon the ambulance and its paramedics were gone. I enjoyed a cup of tea and a few biscuits with mum and then headed back, using a different route. I went into Shorts Road but took Dog Shit Alley to West Street and then cut through Grove Park, coming out at the far end of Carshalton High Street and riding towards Wallington Green and the Duke's Head pub.

I crossed the lights by the pub, past Wallington Grammar School on my left and onwards to Beddington Park, also on my left, followed by The Plough, another Young's pub on the Croydon Road and then up to the T-junction where I turned right towards Five Ways and then second left up Denning Road, through the housing estate and emerging on the Bramley Hill roundabout. I went straight across, hung a right into Nottingham Road, past Whitgift School and down to the lights on the Brighton Road where I turned right and headed towards the Esso garage where I turned left and made my way to the Upper Selsdon Road.

I cycled past the Conservative Club, past the old Rail View pub (now simply The View) and then under the railway bridge, right into Carlton Road, left into Essenden Road, right into West Hill and home.

I ate porridge with more peanut butter and a mug of tea followed by a wash, shave and shower and then off to Pimlico to have lunch with some relatives – a very, very tasty curry.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Heavy winds slow us down

At 0600hrs this morning it was windy. I could hear it rattling the house as I plodded around making tea and a peanut butter sandwich. Oddly, when I peaked through the net curtains in the bedroom the world outside was still and – more importantly – dry.
The B269 looking North from the Botley Hill pub.

Once outside, the true power of the wind made itself known as I struggled against it riding up Church Way and then along the Limpsfield Road towards Warlingham Green. It slowed me down considerably and I called Andy to let him know that I was en route but pedalling into the wind.

Had it been raining, I would have felt like a North Sea trawler captain standing at the wheel on the bridge of the small vessel, facing swollen seas and driving rain. It seemed to take an age to get anywhere, but eventually the Green showed itself and there was Andy.

Mobile phones are now so commonplace everybody takes them for granted, I thought as I cycled towards the Green, but when I was a kid one of my great little fantasies was having a real walkie talkie, as we called them. The very idea of contacting my pals using our own communications system was my idea of fun.

Back in the day, the nearest I came to having my own walkie talkie was two yoghurt cartons connected together by a piece of string. Having a mobile phone, of course, is just like having your own walkie talkie and as I dialled Andy prior to reaching the Green, memories of walkie talkie fantasies flooded back to me.

We headed towards the Tatsfield Bus Stop in the wind and progress was slow, but the weather was truly invigorating. The wind picked up and then quietened down and repeated the process all the way to our destination, although it seemed to die down a little once we seated and tucking in to our mince pies, cereal bars and tea.

We watched passing cars and cyclists for a while and noticed that the wind, while slightly milder than it had been on our outward journey, had calmed down a little as we prepared to head back home.

When we reached Botley Hill the weather was fantastic. Fast-moving cloud overhead, a strong wind behind us most of the way and there was no sign of rain. I felt great all the way down the 269. I waved farewell to Andy as he branched off halfway along and I continued towards Warlingham and then Sanderstead, enjoying the freshness of the air – a truly great day and the weather was excellent.

There had been rain, but it must have been early in the morning as there were puddles everywhere. Now, as I write this at 1523hrs, there has been more rain and it's damp and grey outside and there are spots of rain on the conservatory window.

Andy's just sent a text saying he won't be cycling tomorrow or Monday, meaning that I'll have to motivate myself. The key is to get out there. If I can cover just 10 miles I'll be happy so let's hope for no rain. I'd like to go everyday from now until New Year's Day, but for now I'll concentrate on motivating myself for tomorrow.

Friday, 28 December 2012

27th December – rain stops play (but we get drenched)

When I left the house at just gone 0700hrs the weather seemed fine: a little cloudier than Boxing Day but relatively warm and nothing to worry about. It had been raining, but I figured there would be no more and we would reach the bus stop dry. How mistaken was I?

Andy and met at the green as usual and then headed off towards the Tatsfield Bus Stop. Within 15 minutes we were huddled under a tree on the 269 debating whether to abort the ride. The rain grew steadily heavier and we could see the droplets hitting the puddles in the gutters. At some stage I remarked to Andy that the Tatsfield Bus Stop was the next (and only) cover.
At this point on the 269 we decided it was time to head back home

Oddly, I was prepared to go for it, but when Andy suggest we take a rain check (it was definitely raining) we stood for a minute under an ever-green tree and considered our position.

"Let's see if it stops," I said.
"It normally carries on all day," Andy replied.

Turning back is not something NoVisibleLycra likes to do, but there are occasions when it's the only option. It was a fair distance to the bus stop and had we continued we would have been drenched, making sitting down at the bus stop an unpleasant experience.

"Let's head back," I said.

We headed back towards the Green, said goodbye and vowed to go cycling today (28th December) but I decided to abort last night. To be honest, I needed a lie-in. It turned out to be a good 'abort' for two reasons: one, I had a broken night with people returning home from nightclubs at 2am in the morning and not saying goodbye to their female companions until 0445hrs in the morning; and two, when I did wake up around 0820 hrs it was raining.

It's now 0917hrs and it's still raining. I seriously doubt if Andy went out.

I'm having a problem with my rear light – it won't switch off. When I went out to the garage yesterday morning it had somehow switched itself on and remained on through the night. How it did this I don't know, but I dismantled it, pressed the on-off button a couple of times and it seems to be working again.

Let's see what Saturday brings.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day sunrise...

Sunrise by Andy Smith
I was running a little late this morning on account of being disorganised. What's new? Andy and I met at Warlingham Green at around 0745hrs and headed off towards the Tatsfield Bus Stop where we enjoyed tea, cereal bars and mince pies. There was little in the way of traffic, which was good, 

Halfway along the 269 Andy stopped to take this shot of the sunrise across the fields. 

We're planning on riding out every day this week, weather permitting. Over the Christmas period there has been a lot of rain and it must have rained heavily overnight as there were puddles everywhere, but, like last night, there were clear skies and no sign of rain as we rode along.

On the return trip Andy branched off halfway along the 269 and I carried on towards Sanderstead as usual. Hopefully, the weather won't let us down for the rest of the week.

Being Boxing Day, I'm off to mum's shortly for the 'Boxing Day Bash'. Andy's going to see his mum this afternoon too.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Heavy rain...and bad television

Christmas used to be characterised by the Morecambe & Wise Christmas special and shows from other celebs of the time in the days before celebrity had been invented. Today, the festive season is loosely knitted together by rubbish television with plenty of repeats from the days before celebrity, vis a vis the aforementioned Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show.

In short, like the weather this Christmas, the TV has been a wash-out. I am writing this on Boxing Day morning at 0638hrs. Outside there are clear skies and twinkling stars and last night, high in the sky, was a full moon. Now, it's pleasant, but it hasn't stopped raining. Christmas Eve and most of Christmas Day it's been torrential. I say 'most of Christmas Day' but that might be an exaggeration; certainly Christmas morning.
Got to hand it to Eastenders last night. I never watch it, but it was excellent.

We're off on a ride this morning. Just a short one, possibly the bus stop, but a ride nonetheless and it's good to note that the weather has improved. It's dry on the roads, which means there's a chance that we won't be soaked through.

Back to television, it's been abominable. Christmas Eve consisted of old, good-in-their-time sitcoms: Dad's Army, Porridge and so on plus a few highlights-based shows, which are generally a cop-out and, of course, cookery and chat shows. Jonathan Ross was terrible, with 'old' guests, such as Jamie Oliver (we've had more than enough of him) and Michael McIntryre who, in small doses, is alright, but I felt that even he was scraping the barrel of comedy to appear 'funny'.

Most of the movies, like Pixar's The Incredibles, we have on DVD and even the new Raymond Briggs creation, a kind of re-run of the excellent short movie, The Snowman, left a lot to be desired. While the original had a certain elegance, the new version was left with little to play with; for a start it ran for the customary 30 minutes and then, what can a snowman do in that short period of time? Answer: roughly the same as he did in the original: he flew off to a strange land full of other snowmen and then flew back and melted. Except that this time it wasn't so moving. The music had been brought up-to-date, sadly, and lacked the class of the original, which was very moving from beginning to end. The new film, while excellent on the animation front, was seriously lacking and when it ended, I felt cheated.

While I haven't sat and watched an episode of Eastenders since Phil was first shot (somebody told me he has been shot again, but I'm refering to the first time) I did watch the Christmas episode which, arguably, was the best thing on the box last night – and believe me that's saying something coming from me as I hate Eastenders with a vengeance, I can't stand any of the characters and I believe that the whole show epitomises the prevailing attitude and culture of the UK and its inhabitants – greed, beligerence and bubbling-under-the-surface bad temper.

Can't sit here gassing, I've got a ride to attend to. Will post again later.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

A hard rain is gonna fall..

...or rather a hard rain IS falling. There's a blustery wind too and it hasn't let-up for some time. By now, of course, there would have been 'abort' texts flying between mine and Andy's mobile phones, but today it's irrelevant as we're not planning on a ride. Our next outing will be Boxing Day, when hopefully the weather will have picked up, ie no rain.

I'm in my usual place, sitting in the conservatory listening to the rain hitting the flat roof above me and looking out on the bare trees swaying to and fro in the wind. It wouldn't be pleasant on a bike today and you can bet that any cyclist out there will be wearing wet and shiny trousers. Fortunately, it's not cold.

Instead of going out, I've been scrolling back through old posts and I've realised how stagnated we've become. By that I mean we're no longer pushing the boundaries, heading out for Merstham (the long way) via the infamous Enterdent or heading down Jackass Lane to Tandridge via off-road routes. This, of course, is because of time constraints, but in the new year we ought to be heading for these places again and, indeed, trying my new route to Redhill (which avoids the A23).

Also available in bright red.
I get the impression that the rain will continue for most of the day and at some stage I've got to drive to the garage to put air into the offside front tyre of our Picanto. Yes, I'm the (ahem) proud owner of a Kia Picanto, which, to be fair, is alright for driving around town. The only problem is that it looks like Postman Pat's car – it's bright red. All we need is a black and white cat and I've seen one in Robert Dyas, but couldn't be bothered to spend the money.

If you recall (although I might not have written about it) my own black BMW was written off when some complete idiot whammed into the back of it back in September time. We went without a car for about a month or two and spent our weekends on buses travelling to car showrooms to look at cars, none of which really appealed: they were either too expensive for what they were or simply not right for us – or both.

We looked at a Ford Focus, an old Mercedes, a Vauxhall Vectra and many others until we decided on the safe bet, the Picanto. The only problem with it is that it's not the sort of car to travel long distances. Or rather it will go the distance but not at any great speed and certainly not in comfort, like the old Beamer. Still, it's a car and for the moment it'll have to do. The key thing is that it gets my daughter to school, which was always the main consideration.

For a minute I thought the rain had stopped. It hasn't.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Tatsfield Bus Stop

The pond at Sanderstead.
Went on a ride to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, virtually non-stop as I had no tea to drink and I was riding alone. Fairly busy going through Sanderstead High Street, but it thinned out as I headed along the 269 towards Botley Hill. Good weather too, as the above photograph of Sanderstead pond illustrates. Note the blue skies and cotton wool clouds reflected in the lake.

The Kona at the Tatsfield Bus Stop

I'm going to try and ride daily from Boxing Day in a bid to lose some weight and keep a little fitter than I have been – but let's see if I can find the self-motivation needed.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Warlingham Green's festive spirit

Christmas tree on Warlingham Green.
This photograph marked the start of our ride to the Tatsfield Churchyard on the weekend of the 8th and 9th December. We cycled back through Tatsfield Village to see if the village tree was up, but it wasn't. Last year's Tatsfield tree wasn't switched on when we cycled past it around a year ago.

The Kona on the urban ride

The Kona on Saturday 15th December during a nice urban ride.

Photograph of the Week...from Oslo

An interesting statue I stumbled across in Oslo on Friday 14th December

Urban ride....on Saturday 15th December

"I'm not cycling today. I sent you an email. Enjoy your ride." There was a smiley face after the message, I noticed, as I stood on the doorstep, rucksack on back. But there was no point in going back in the house. I was outside now so I might as well make the most of it. Had Andy's text arrived any earlier (following one from me stating that I'd be ten minutes late) then I might have said no to a ride, but I'd done the hard bit – woken myself up and made the tea – so I resigned myself to a ride.
Through the industrial estate off the A23 heading towards Stafford Road.

And I was pleased with my self-motivation, although a little unsure of where I was going to go; definitely a short ride to the bus stop was my first thought, but I considered an urban ride to Carshalton (a 12-miler there and back) to see mum and have some breakfast. It was a good ride. The weather was good too and it was easily one of those mornings when everything seems right. Cycling is a very spiritual thing and I was feeling uplifted by the freedom of it all as I cut through the industrial estate off the A23 and headed down Stafford Road towards the top of Wallington High Street.

The traffic was building but it wasn't anywhere near troublesome and I reached mum's at around 0800hrs. After placing the Kona in the garage to keep it out of sight from thieves (if there were any in a tiny Carshalton cul de sac at such an hour) I went in for breakfast and four cups of tea, courtesy of my own flask and teabags.

Breakfast at mum's. What could be finer after an urban ride on the Kona?
Breakfast consisted of a boiled egg and fingers, some bread and marmalade and Alpen. Mum and I chatted about this and that and then I headed home, going back through the famous Dog Shit Alley, through Grove Park and out on to Acre Lane towards Wallington Green then up towards Five Ways, through the council estate (along Denning Road) and then a brief spurt on the Brighton Road before hanging a left and joining the Selsdon Road towards home.

On Sunday, Andy and I cycled to the Tatsfield Bus Stop.

Minus 12 and snowing, but it doesn't phase the Norwegians

The 1505 Oslo to Skien train leaves Torp...and check out that snow!
A bit of snow or the wrong kind of leaves and it all comes to a standstill in the UK, but not in Norway. Last week, while in Oslo, the temperature plummeted to minus 12 degrees, but guess what? The trains were on time and so were the planes.

Snow on the tarmac, but we were ready for departure

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The view from my Oslo hotel window...

Proof, if any was needed, that international travel isn't what it's cracked up to be.

In Oslo...

Lone figure in the snow. Shot taken from my hotel.
In many ways, December is probably the best month to visit Oslo because it's cold and there's plenty of snow on the ground. In fact, it's minus 12 degrees here and there's a light dusting of snow everywhere.

I flew in here yesterday on a Norwegian Air flight from Gatwick, which was very, very smooth and took just under 90 minutes. I'm staying at the Anker Hotel in the centre of town and it's very good. There's no restaurant, which is a bit of a bind, although it means I have to go out (in the cold) to find something to eat.

I wandered around for a bit, being careful of my footing. The worst thing about Dr. Martens shoes is that they have slippery soles. I managed not to fall over and eventually found a nice Italian trattoria just across from the hotel where I enjoyed a glass of Cabernet Sauvigon with some Italian ham and a very pleasant and colourful risotto.

The restaurant was crowded and, as always when I travel on business, I was the only one dining alone with just a copy of Chavs by Owen Jones to keep me company. Although, having said that, the light was poor so I resorted to simply enjoying the ambience of the place.

I'm really sad, but I love this photograph.

I write this from the ground floor of the hotel where the WiFi (which is free) seems to get a better reception than when I'm in the room. Outside now it's cold and white and there's not many people around.

Somebody told me that the temperature was up on yesterday's minus 12. Today I think it's hovering around minus 3 or 4 and believe me, you can tell the difference. It was snowing this morning when I went out to buy razors and toothpaste.

Two paragraphs back, the one starting 'I write this from the ground floor...' it was the morning of the 13th December. Now, two paragraphs later on, it's 1750hrs in the evening and I'm back in the same place I was sitting earlier, listening to Amy Winehouse, which is on the sound system, and drinking a glass of Frydenlund, a Norwegian beer. Alright, lager. My work is now done and I'm taking it easy, checking emails, writing emails, that sort of thing.

You might be wondering about the shot of the toothpaste. It's like this: when I was in Qatar the other week I didn't have any toothpaste so the hotel gave me the small tube of Colgate. I've never seen a tube of toothpaste so small. I mean, I've heard of Tinie Tempah, but never Tiny Toothpaste, but there it is in all it's glory. Zendium is a Norwegian toothpaste brand, by the way. I know, I'm sad. Very sad.

The hotel's not bad at all, although, as I mentioned earlier, no restaurant. I am beginning to wonder whether the Anker Hotel has a letter missing somewhere.
Room 520 in all its glory. Nice hotel, despite no restaurant, but it does have a bar.

I like Norway. I like all the Scandinavian countries. The people are laid back. I was going to say 'cool' but that would be an understatement with snow on the ground and temperatures below zero. What is refreshing is the way the Norwegians deal with the poor weather. They get on with it. The trains and the buses continue to run, the workmen in the streets continue drilling. Life goes on and doesn't come to a standstill.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Happy Birthday to me!

Here's a very young me with all those exciting birthdays
ahead of me.
I always keep quiet about my birthday these days, mainly because, once beyond the age of 15 they have become progressively less exciting. In fact, the moment somebody suggested that I should be asking for clothes for my birthday – instead of train sets and toy soldiers – it was time to crawl under a stone and die. Well, perhaps that's a bit dramatic, but when socks and underpants become a key focus it's time for something. Time, perhaps, to admit that I should grow up?

For me, however, socks and underpants are things I should buy as a matter of course and should never be considered as birthday present territory. It's like waking up to a wrapped present, opening it and discovering a box of 80 English Breakfast teabags or a tube of toothpaste, shaving foam or toilet paper. Imagine gift-wrapping your weekly shop for somebody: a tin of baked beans, an orange, a loaf of bread...whatever next?

So, these days, birthdays go and come (but Earth abides) and they are nothing more than another day in the calender. There was a time when my adult birthday meant quite a lot. I had a pal who shared the same birthday – rather annoyingly he was one year younger than me and if he's reading this, Happy Birthday – and we used to make a weekend of it: a few days in Suffolk with our respective other halves, a curry, a few beers, some invigorating walks in the countryside; but those days are long gone and now, as I sit here looking out on what is a fairly pleasant day (I'm off work today) I'm looking forward to doing 'practical' things, like a bit of Christmas shopping.

I hate the word 'practical' as it shares the stage with 'sensible' and the phrase 'grown-up'. And, of course, they're all things I should be by now: practical, sensible and grown-up. In many ways I am all three: I'm married, I have kids, a mortgage and so on, but I yearn for the old days of childhood when there was little to worry about and plenty to look forward to. Now I'm sounding miserable, which I'm not and to be honest with you, what the hell would I do with a train set today? Where would I put it for a start? If I did have one, I'd be taken right back to my childhood and my mum telling me to take it upstairs 'out of harm's way' – except it would be my wife telling me to grow up and why did I waste the money on a train set when I could have bought (ahem) a washable suit from Marks & Spencer?

In the old days, once a toy went upstairs it found itself sharing the same status with the older toys from Birthdays and Christmases past; it was no longer the new kid on the block as it was on Christmas morning.

When I lived at home with mum and dad and my sister and brother, Christmas was a big, big thing. Dad would arrange our new toys in the living room and when we tip-toed our way downstairs around 4am to see what 'Father Christmas' had brought us we would be presented with what amounted to the window display of Hamley's in Regent Street. However, the person whose toys were on the dining table had to find space somewhere else in the room as lunch time approached and that would mean finding an unoccupied corner and attempting a reconstruction of dad's inspired display (it was never as good). Far better if your toys were already on the floor, somewhere away from the television and out of harm's way (as mum might say).

Christmas, of course, was far more egalatarian than a birthday. With the latter, one person was in the spotlight: the birthday boy or girl. One could say, of course, that on Christmas Day Jesus was the birthday boy, but most people have lost the true meaning of the festive season, which these days is more about greed, getting drunk at the Christmas party and then going on a diet during the month of January.

My dad tried to make birthdays more egalitarian than they would otherwise have been by giving smaller presents to whoever wasn't celebrating a birthday. This made other people's birthdays quite exciting as, on 10 December, my brother and sister knew they would be getting a present too, which made things a little more bearable for them when the 'birthday boy or girl' was parading around like Lord Snooty, getting out of doing virtually anything because it was their birthday.

There came a time, however, when the birthday cards would have to come down and make way for the Christmas cards and this was always a sad moment as it meant that my ever-diminishing 'birthday boy' status had finally ran out of juice and wouldn't be getting new batteries for another 52 weeks.

Being born on 10 December is better than you might think, mainly because it's just far enough away from Jesus' birthday to warrant separate presents. In the old days it meant that the month of December was a rollercoaster of fun as nobody would dare to suggest a 'joint birthday and Christmas present', the scouge of all December-born people. If you were born any later than the 10th, the risk of a joint present was very real.

But now, as I look out on the world from my conservatory window – it's a bright day with a mix of blue sky and cotton wool clouds against which the branches bare trees are silhouetted – all of these concerns of yesteryear are irrelevant and mere memories that bring a smile to my face. I've been fortunate enough never to have received a joint birthday and Christmas present and, over the years, I've had some great toys. My toy fort (known as Black Cross Fort) still lives round at mum's; my remote-controlled Tiger Tank – which once entered a disused war-time mortuary in our local Grove Park in Carshalton – is a pleasant (and mildly harrowing) memory and there are many other great gifts that made 10 December a special day. In other words, I'm not bitter and I'm not miserable (well, not about my birthday).

In short, I'm a grown-up with my own children to think about. My only child-like fun these days revolves around cycling at the weekends on my Kona Scrap, which is far from a sensible choice of bike and for this reason, I love it. I'm rambling now, so I'm going to stop and enjoy the rest of my day.

For a related article, click here.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Snow falls over London...and then disappears!

December 5th 2012, snow started falling around 0730hrs.

It's snowing in London and here's photographic evidence from my back garden to prove it.

With the snow falling outside I figured it best to find the warmest coat in the cupboard and put on the old walking boots. It was a good move, but only for the walk to the station. Snow was everywhere, cars were driving slowly to avoid skidding and I trod carefully as I made my way to the station, thinking: there won't be any cycling this weekend.

However, once on the train, which was running on time, and then, later, when I reached Redhill, the snow had disappeared. By lunch time there was nothing – although I heard that very little snow fell on Redhill – and when I reached home, it was as if there hadn't been any snow.

Still, my golden rule will always apply: once it snows, you can bet your life there will be more.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Frosty and cold...

A cold-looking moon matched the weather.
Saturday was so cold that Andy and I had trouble speaking as we rode along. There was a thick frost on the grass when I left the house, later than usual due to faffing about, and the cold air assaulted my face all the way to the Green.

Halfway along I called Andy to say I was only a couple of minutes away from the Green, but it seemed that he too had been faffing about as he was roughly the same distance from our meeting point. In fact, he'd already had a bit of a morning. The lock on his garage door had frozen so he rummaged about for a match to heat it and then, having retrieved his bike he closed and locked the garage door only to notice, out of the corner of his eye, that his bike was falling to the ground. In an attempt at rescuing it, he grabbed it by the rear mudguard, which promptly snapped off.

We headed out towards the Tatsfield Bus Stop, it was too cold to go anywhere else, and sat there warming ourselves with hot tea, cereal bars and this week a bag of Cheeselets supplied by Andy. Very nice. Along the way we briefly discussed possible destinations with cafés, but could think of none within seven miles from the Green. There was the farm shop at Godstone, but that meant a steep climb on the return journey and neither of us fancied it; then there was Westerham, a bridge too far in this cold; and we figured the caff at the reptile centre would be closed – when was it ever open, I wondered?

A cold sky and bare bushes. Winter has settled in.
"Imagine cycling home naked," I said later, looking out from the Tatsfield Bus Stop.
"You'd die of hypothermia," said Andy, matter of factly.
"You reckon?"
"I wonder if you'd get to Botley?"
"Yes, but you wouldn't feel too good."
"Imagine if you'd been camping out all night. You wouldn't want to get out of your sleeping bag."
"But you'd have to get out to have a piss."
"Not good."

It was soon time to cycle home.

"It's going to be bad cycling back down to 269," I said.
"Yeah," replied Andy, and we mounted our Konas for the return trip.

Once Andy and I had said goodbye halfway along the 269, I took my mind off the cold by making up rhymes and quietly singing them to myself. Silly rhymes that meant nothing. I passed a couple of large groups of cyclists heading in the opposite direction and acknowledged them with a polite wave.

It was cold all day long, even later in London's Portobello Road, and I went to bed early, waking at 6am on Sunday morning to similar-looking weather. I put on seven layers of clothing before heading downstairs to make tea and buttered toast (alright, margarine). The mobile vibrated on the console table in the hall. A message from Andy. "Abort. Not feeling too good." Fine by me, I thought, as I typed back 'Ok' and returned to the halogen glow of the computer in my conservatory. There was no point going back to bed.

Images by Andy Smith.