Sunday, 27 January 2013

Wind, rain and Lance Armstrong

Yours truly and Andy near Botley Hill, Sunday 27th January 2013
By 8am the rain had disappeared leaving huge puddles on the roads. We met at 0830hrs and headed for the Tatsfield Bus Stop where mum's cake was produced from my rucksack alongside a bar of Swiss chocolate for Andy and Marcia.

The rain returned briefly as we were about to leave but then eased off again and there were blue skies edging their way south from the north. Nothing ever really changes at the Tatsfield Bus Stop, apart from the conversation. Today we touched upon Lance Armstrong and why he even bothered to raise his head above the parapet. Personally, if it had been me I would have kept quiet, accepted that I'd been an idiot to myself and got on with my life in private. Why face the wagging finger of the stoney-faced reception committee when you don't have to?

In jest, I said we ought to go against the grain and support Lance Armstrong, but then, of course, imagine what it must have been like to work all your life towards winning the Tour de France only to be scuppered by somebody on performance-enhancing drugs? Perhaps all those who came in second should be made the winner, I said, but Andy said that history had recorded it that Armstrong had won the races and the people concerned would always have to explain their win along the lines of, "Well, I was technically second, but Lance Armstrong was disqualified so now I'm the winner, but yes, in reality, Armstrong won – although he was taking performance-enhancing drugs, which I wasn't, of course, so technically I am the rightful winner."

No snow left, but the pond at Sanderstead is still frozen over.
I mentioned how the whole Armstrong interview was a sham as he knew Oprah Winfrey, she was his friend and neighbour, but I guess he viewed her as the 'good cop' as she hardly gave him a hard time.

When the rain stopped and the blue skies appeared we headed for home, Andy taking the track halfway down the 269 while I continued towards Warlingham Green and home.

We stopped nearly Botley Hill to take the lead image of this post and later I snapped a shot of Sanderstead Lake, which was still frozen over following all the snow, most of which has now disappeared thanks to the rain.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Wind and rain mean the ride might be off

Andy's Kona on Kenley Airfield.
The wind has been rattling the windows and the rain has been frantically tapping on the glass for most of the night and now, at 0709hrs its still doing the same, although its dying down a little. It's odd as there's rain on the windows at the rear of the house but seemingly nothing out front. I don't mind the wind, but if it's raining too, then no way. I've sent a text to Andy suggesting we re-think and he's come back saying meet at 0830hrs instead. Now, at 0719, it's died down and I can hear the birds but then again, there's heavy gusts of wind so perhaps not. Hopefully, I'll be out of here and on the bike within the next 40 minutes.

Andy went out yesterday without me as I had things to do at home AND I was a bit knackered. More to report later, I hope.

Montreux's 'Bixi' bikes...

Montreux's own 'Bixi' bikes
I never got round to using one of them, but Montreux has its own 'Bixi' bikes, sponsored by Nestlé, which is headquartered in Switzerland. I went out of my way not to buy Nestle chocolate.

Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva, 25 January 2013

On Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland

Montreux is famous for this statue of Freddie Mercury.
As company Christmas parties go, you can't go better than a trip to Switzerland and that's where I was headed on Thursday morning, leaving Heathrow around 1100hrs on a BA flight. We stayed in a hotel on Lake Geneva and an excellent time was had by all. Here are some photos of the trip.

There was plenty of time for mooching around and I managed to get in a long walk early in the morning, after breakfast in our hotel, the Eden Palace, right on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Montreux is a pleasant place and I can understand why Freddie Mercury was here; it's a peaceful place and I'd imagine people left him alone. Today his statue is a tourist attraction along with the surrounding snowcapped mountains of the Alps and, of course, Lake Geneva, which is as clear as crystal, but very cold. However, there are diving boards dotted around so I'm assuming that the weather here picks up considerably in the summer months and that holidaymakers find time to swim in the deep and clear waters.

The Confiserie Tearoom – soup of the day and cup of tea, excellent!
After breakfast, I took a long walk in the direction of Vevey where, the previous evening, we were treated to a trip on a funicular railway, which took us high up the mountain to a restaurant overlooking the lake. The walk took me to the Confiserie Tearoom where I enjoyed a bowl of soup and cup of tea and then I hopped on to the 201 bus back towards Montreux where I decided to head in the opposite direction to Villeneuve.

Switzerland is famous for many things, one being top quality chocolate and excellent patisseries selling wonderful cakes and pastries. I found one in Villeneuve and, after a brief walk around the town I sat down for another cup of tea and some kind of apple and custard creation that was amazing. I figured that after walking for over an hour, I'd burn up the cake pretty quickly.

We left Montreux around 4pm and headed for Geneve Airport and another BA flight. It was delayed by half an hour, but we made up time once in the air and landed just before 9pm. We then picked up a coach to Redhill and then I hitched a lift with my work colleague Martin, who lives close by.

On the shores of Lake Geneva, Montreux, Switzerland, 25 January 2013
The Eden Palace was an excellent hotel. The rooms were of a high quality, the service was excellent and the location perfect – right on Lake Geneva. As is now customary on this blog, below is a shot of my hotel room. Note my walking boots on the floor.
Room 207 at the Eden Palace Hotel, Montreux

Sunday, 20 January 2013

More snow means no cycling at all this weekend

There was a strong chance that we'd go out today, although, somehow, I knew we wouldn't be as more snow was promised and, once again, the delivery was bang on time, as predicted by the weathermen.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. My back garden in the snow
The road outside my house was clear so I figured  – and so did Andy – that a ride would be possible, although I knew that I'd have to get the car out of the garage, take out the bike and then put the car back, which would have been a nuisance. Deep down, therefore, I was counting on the weathermen to be right, mainly because I knew darn well it would damp and very cold out there today and, next to rain, extreme cold is not good for cycling. There were rumours of icy roads too so generally speaking I was aware a ride today (Sunday) wouldn't be a good idea.

I texted Andy around 6am saying I wouldn't be going, based purely on the fact that it wasn't going to be pleasant. It was one of those 'aborts' that turns out to be the right thing. We'd been talking about a later start, meeting at 8am instead of the usual 0730, but by 0800 the snow had started to fall and now, at 1144 it's still coming down: fine snow, but constant and the black roads have turned white again.

Not sure how it would have played out, only that Andy and I would have met at the Green, where there's no cover, and probably cycled back home again, getting a soaking in the process. All-in-all, therefore, a timely and sensible 'abort', although I have no idea whether or not Andy went out alone. He might have done as he's bike's been in the repair shop and he hasn't been cycling for a couple of weeks or more. I went last weekend so I'm relatively at ease with missing out this weekend.

I'm hoping that by next weekend the snow might have thawed and the weather improved a little as I'd like to get out there – if only to eat my mum's cake and sip hot tea at the Tatsfield Bus Stop, although I could do that now so perhaps the real reason is getting out on the bike, chewing the fat with Andy who, I think, hasn't been out since the 29th December (correct me if I'm wrong, Andy).

Dog the Bounty Hunter - he looks like the lion from the Wizard of Oz
Actually, I quite like it when the snow falls. I've spent the entire weekend just lazing about in the house. The car is warm and dry in the garage, a beef casserole is cooking in the oven and outside the snow falls. All very cosy. It would be good if Percy the Parkeeper or Tales of Peter Rabbit was on the box, or Columbo, something like that.

During the afternoon I sat and watched a few episodes of Dog the Bounty Hunter, which is an odd programme for so many reasons. Why do all the criminals he catches know him and treat him like an old buddy? Why are they all really amiable people? Why do they not swear at him or, worse still, why aren't guns fired? And I don't know about you, but if I was on the run, the first person I'd notice if I was on the look-out for the fuzz would be Dog himself. He looks like the lion in the Wizard of Oz for a start, he really stands out and he's not in anyway inconspicuous, is he?

I then munched on some Christmas cake, had baked beans on toast for dinner (having eaten a hearty lunch) and watched Aquamarine (a girly movie that I ended up enjoying). Lastly, I sat and watched Road to Perdition with Tom Hanks – what a fantastic movie!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Snow covers the UK (and our cycling routes)

Yours truly in the snow, Friday January 18th 2013.
The snow had been promised by the weathermen and this time they delivered. When I woke up yesterday morning it was clear and I reached work without any hassles, but the snow had started to fall and by the time I reached work it was a blizzard. It didn't stop snowing and by lunchtime it was decided to close the office and we all went home. Despite the snow, I managed to get home without any problems, eating half of my corned beef and mustard sandwiches on the train and the other half on the platform at Purley.

I called Andy and, with some bravado, suggested that unless it was actually snowing, we'd go out on a ride. What I failed to realise was that my bike was in the garage – and so was the car. Not only that, there was snow on the drive and to get the bike out would have meant getting the car on the snowy drive – which might have been problematic – and then having to negotiate slippery road surfaces. Add to that the general unpleasantness of weather like this, which is accentuated while riding a bike, and hey presto! Abort!

Behind that white garage door on the far right is my Kona.
So, here I sit in the conservatory, looking out on the snow. Snow makes everything much brighter, as if there's a full moon. It also makes things much quieter as the snow muffles sound. Yesterday I went out for walk with my daughter around 4pm as the light began to fail and the streetlights were switched on (I know, they come on automatically). There's something quite warming about walking the streets in the snow and noticing lamps on in other people's houses.

There's not much to do in the snow other than relax at home and that's what we did. We'll probably do the same today too. More snow is expected tomorrow (Sunday) so I'm not expecting the bike to come out until next weekend. Andy, if you're reading this, I've still got some slices of cake so worry not! That  and a mug of tea will make next week's ride worth the effort.

The shots accompanying this post were taken while out on the walk.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Late one to Botley Hill in the cold...

I won't lie. I very nearly didn't go at all. Up at 0600hrs having not really wanted to go the night before; and I got the distinct impression that Andy felt the same way as I noticed a text from him commenting on the cold weather. It was cold yesterday and the forecast is for more of the same, plus snow, so when I woke up this morning, having sent Andy texts along the lines of 'let's see how cold it is tomorrow' and so on, my mindset was: we're not going.

Just gone six and I sent Andy another text saying the only thing that would stop me going was if my bike had a puncture; he suggested I go check, which I did, and found that it was fine. I even commented that it wasn't that cold. But Andy had a headache and said he wasn't going so I then relaxed a bit. Surely, I shouldn't go as that was my gut feeling, but I was up and awake and why not go? But that thought lingered for hours and hours.
Halfway back along the B269 I took this shot of me and the Kona.

I remember Andy telling me that he gets grumpy if he doesn't go out for a ride and that was how I was getting: grumpy. Should I go? If so, where to? Urban ride to mum's? No, I was there yesterday. Botley? Possibly. The Woodland Trek? Too boring. Warlingham Green? Possibly.

In the end, with the time creeping towards 10am and feeling distinctly pissed off because I was hesitating and not going was now seriously on the cards, I went upstairs and strummed a few chords on the guitar. I gazed out of the window and inwardly berated myself. You must go! You must go! You won't feel settled unless you get out there. Go! Just go! So I went.

It wasn't that cold once I was moving, but I think that was a lot to do with having come from a warm place: the house. It took me ten minutes to reach the top of Church Way and head down Sanderstead High Street en route for Warlingham Green. I figured a quick 10-miler would be ample, considering the time, but the thought of pushing on to Botley nagged at me, especially as I approached the Green – now minus it's Christmas tree. But I decided to push on, perhaps to the mini roundabout beyond Sainsbury's, although I was already having that conversation with myself.

"You might as well go for Botley."
"Or the ten-mile marker at Ledgers Road?"
"But Botley's only another two miles from Ledgers Road."
"Only two miles?"
"Yes, you might as well push on."
"Yeah, you've got a point. Shall I go just to Botley or to the mini roundabout beyond it?"
"You know the rules: Botley means going to the roundabout and heading back."
"Ok, then."

So off I went, past Sainsbury's and then past Knights Garden Centre and for a minute I thought about the church, St Leonard's or doing a circuit that would bring me to the lights at Selsdon High Street. But no, I pressed on, up the hill and then to Botley Hill, round the roundabout and back, stopping along the 269 on the way back – near to a house where there are always loads of dogs barking – where I stopped and took this photograph.

It took me 90 minutes there and back but it was cold and as I approached Botley there was a little bit of snow falling, very fine, almost non-existent, but it was definitely snow.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Helen Pidd on the Raleigh Gran Sport

It's been a while since Helen Pidd has contributed a cycling review in the Guardian's Weekend magazine, although I haven't been buying it every week, so I might have missed one or two.

The Raleigh Gran Sport. Photo courtesy of The Guardian
This week, she's back with a review of the new Raleigh Gran Sport, a bike that reminds her of the first new bike she ever owned, a Raleigh racer.

Helen is one of those unfortunate people who suffer from the experience of joint birthday and Christmas presents. While my birthday is on 10 December, it's just far enough away from Christmas to avoid such a fate, although I'm sure my dad would have insisted on me having both a birthday and Christmas present, so in one sense I've always been lucky.

Helen's first new bike, however, was a dreaded joint present and when she took it down the local recreation ground she discovered that racing bikes were no longer the big fashion statement they used to be. All the kids were riding brightly coloured mountain bikes with lots of gears. Oh dear!

The problem for Helen, however, was that Raleigh makes virtually indestructable bikes so Helen was stuck with her out-of-date bike throughout the nineties when everybody else was riding mountain bikes. Still, you live and learn, Helen and hey, you did alright, here you are writing about bikes for a major national newspaper. It all turned good in the end, eh?

Helen Pidd much prefered the Trek Madone (above)
Anyway, the Raleigh Gran Sport reminds Helen of her first new bike, that old Raleigh racer, except that it doesn't really cut the mustard. While, she claims, 'hipsters' buy secondhand Raleighs these days for hundreds of pounds, she doesn't seem too impressed by the new version of her old racing bike. In fact, she makes an analogy with the Wonderbra, claiming that the bike, like the bra, "promises more than it can deliver."

Pidd says the Raleigh Gran Sport is 'a decidedly average bike' with an unresponsive steel frame and an unsatisfying ride. It was, she said, 'like trying to snog someone who won't properly kiss you back'. She wasn't happy with the metal pedal cages which, she said, scraped the ground whenever her feet weren't in properly (which was often in London traffic). The gear shifters were 'being deliberately difficult' – unlike the Trek Madone which she described as 'easy and pleasurable and similar to 'stroking a friendly cat'. Changing gear on the Gran Sport, however, was an effort.

While Pidd's original Raleigh was made in Nottingham, the new Gran Sport was constructed in South East Asia now that the company is Dutch-owned (since 2003). According to Helen, the company manufactures 850,000 bikes annually, but she reckons some of the quality of the old Nottingham-built bikes has been lost in translation. "Or am I just nostalgic for my youth?" she asks.

But Pidd still believes the Gran Sport is currently a trendy ride and that her ten-year-old self would have been happy about that.

For the original article by Helen Pidd, click here.

Rain stops play

It's not cold out there but it's wet so there won't be any cycling today. Andy's not going anyway as the bike is still in the repair shop. I think he gets it back today, but as I sit here in my conservatory I can hear the rain and see the droplets on the window, so a ride is out of the question. There is a rumour of snow on the way, I think on Monday, so hopefully there will be a ride tomorrow. I had planned on another urban ride to mum's to have breakfast, but that's now off the agenda and besides there are things to do today so it's just as well we're not going out.

And here's where I get my brake fixed. C&N Cycles, 32 Station Rd, Redhill.
My bike still has a non-existent rear brake and I really must sort it out, but taking it into the repair shop round here will mean no ride for me next weekend as I'll have to pick up the bike (a bit like Andy's current scenario). The ideal situation is to ride it to Redhill, put it into C&N Cycles and then ride it home again, but I need the motivation to do that as it means a lot of hassle. In fact, let's go through the hassles of riding to work:-

1. I'd have to press up a shirt and fold it up neatly so it can fit in my rucksack.
2. I'd have to take shower gel and a towel for showering on arrival.
3. The office shower, I'm told, is not working, meaning I'll have to go to the local leisure centre so I'll also need to take swimming trunks as I think the showers there are communal.
4. I'd have to take my bulky U-lock to lock up the bike outside of the leisure centre AND I'd have to remove the saddle to prevent it being nicked.
5. After showering I'd have to cycle back to the office.
6. Oh, I'd also have to take a pair of trousers in my rucksack to put on in the leisure centre.

What a hassle! Although I know one thing: I'd feel great. One day I'll do it and hopefully soon.

Actually, I think NoVisibleLycra should do another Redhill run as I've found a new route AND, virtually next door to C&N there's a new caff!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Botley in the fog

There's a certain irony to the fact that on Friday night I stayed up late watching John Carpenter's The Fog – and ended up not going cycling on Saturday morning – but was out on the bike Sunday IN THE FOG!

I didn't leave the house until almost 9am, meaning I returned close to 11am and had originally set out just to reach Warlingham Green, but once out in the air I was motivated to head for Botley Hill.

Botley Hill Farm in the fog, Sunday January 6th 2013
What was mildly annoying was the fact that my rear light had packed up, although I was unaware of this as I pedalled along the 269 hoping that the cars behind could see me – obviously they couldn't! It wasn't until I turned right into The Ridge that I noticed it and decided to head back to Botley Hill and then home along the 269 off-road.  I had been planning a round trip that would have taken me past the Golf Club, into Woldingham village and then up the rather punishing Slines Oak Road. Taking the off-road track that runs alongside the 269 is a risky business. It normally means I get a puncture, but fortunately I didn't get one. I say that now, but for all I know my tyre is flat as I write this at 1736hrs and I won't find out until next Saturday when I set out for the Green to meet Andy. Perhaps I'll check mid-week.

There was thick fog all the way to Botley and back and what amazed me was the motorists without their lights on. They must have thought: it's gone 9am, the streetlights ain't on, therefore why should mine be on? The answer is simple: because visibility is virtually nil! I was about to cross the 269 to reach the off-road path on the other side for my return trip and I'll be honest, I couldn't see ANY traffic coming my way, but hey! Just in the nick of time I saw a car coming towards me – no lights on – and had to put a spurt on to reach the other side without being hit.

With fog comes dampness and when I reached home I had to change before breakfast – which today consisted of fried mushrooms, onion and tomato on toast washed down with some jasmine tea, no milk! Lovely stuff!

Nothing but fog and sheep and no rear light so I headed back to Botley
I wish I'd gone out earlier, but I'm still feeling very lazy and subdued after Christmas. I had trouble getting through from Wednesday to Friday last week and while I had a late one on Friday (watching The Fog) I still managed to get nine hours sleep.

Andy's been out of action because his bike has been in the repair shop, but he will be back next week and I'm sure we'll be meeting on Warlingham Green at our usual time on Saturday morning.

The Christmas decorations came down today – and I've seen many abandoned Christmas trees lining various pavements – and for the first time ever, I decided to plant our tree in the garden. I'll keep you informed of its progress, but I'm hoping it will do well. Mind you, I discovered today that stinging nettles still sting even where they're virtually non-existent. Enough already!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year's Day 2013 – to Botley Hill!

The Botley Hill Farmhouse, 1055hrs on New Year's Day 2013

Took a late morning ride to Botley Hill on what was a fantastic day. Blue skies and sunshine to kick off the new year, although it must have rained heavily overnight as there were some big puddles en route.

Large puddles on the roadside like this one were commonplace
There were a few cyclists out on the road but not that many cars, which was good, and there were some familiar faces too, like the female runner accompanied by her male cyclist who I'm guessing has two roles to play: her guardian on the lonely country roads and possibly her motivator and pacemaker. As always when I see them, I see them twice – once on the outward bound ride and then again on the return trip. This time, on the outward journey, the male cyclist was taking a highly visible leak in the woods by the roadside. I met them again when I stopped at the Botley to take these photographs.

Yours truly at the Botley Hill Farmhouse.

NoVisibleLycra wishes all readers a Happy New Year!