Monday, 27 May 2013

Puncture halts ride within 10 minutes of heading out...

I awoke suddenly. My alarm had gone off, but I was mid-dream, although I can't remember much about it. Still, I've got to get up and get on the bike as I'm meeting Andy on the Green at 0700hrs. I put the kettle on, chuck a couple of slices of bread in the toaster, search for a new box of teabags and then reach for the Crunchy Nut Cornflakes – not my usual choice of cereal, but what the hell. Then with toast, cereal and tea ready, I move into the living room and switch on the radio. Oddly, it's the World Service and odder still, the shipping forecast is about to begin. What's happening, I wonder, as it suddenly all falls into place. Last night, I recall, that when we all turned in there was just over six hours to go before my aforementioned rude awakening. Of course! My phone's alarm clock is still set to European time. It wasn't 0600hrs, it was 0500hrs. By now, of course, it was coming round for 0530hrs – no point in returning to bed, so, having finished my cornflakes and tea, here I am typing these words and wishing I'd reset the alarm. The only good thing is that I'll be on time for Andy at 0700hrs.

Outside it is promising to be a good day. Already the skies are blue and there are strips of sunshine on my freshly cut lawn. Upstairs I hear sounds of movement. Somebody else is up. In the background, Radio 4 is on. The news.

I left the house bang on 0630hrs, headed up Church Way and then through the Churchyard. Following the pondside path I turned left on to the Limpsfield Road and then it all came to an abrupt halt. I thought I had a twig caught in the spokes of the rear wheel, but couldn't see anything. Then, within a split second, my tyre was totally flat and the tyre itself almost detached from the wheel. I couldn't believe it: a puncture so fast and so devastating that the whole thing had totally deflated within seconds.

The church at Sanderstead. Pic by Andy.
I pushed the bike on to the path and turned it upside down and then phoned Andy to tell him what had happened. He agreed to cycle to Sanderstead Green – known locally as The Gruffy for some reason – and I set about fixing the puncture. But there were problems. I found one puncture and fixed it and then found that I was having tremendous difficulty re-inflating the tyre. For some reason there was nothing and I started to blame the pump. But then Andy's pump proved equally useless, although it did pump it up a little bit. "That'll do you for Botley," said Andy, optimistically, and then, when we felt the tyre again it was softer.

I knew then that I had another puncture – two in total – and resigned myself to no ride. We found a bench on the Gruffy and sat there eating the cereal bars and drinking the tea. It was pleasant and at least Andy got a ride out of it, although he admitted that he'd considered an 'abort' text earlier on.

Andy rode home and I walked the bike down Church Way and home where I fixed the puncture. I was right, there was another puncture, but now, as I write this, it's fixed and I have a strong temptation to give the bike a bit of clean – Andy will be pleased about that, having mentioned this morning that his own bike was looking a little too clean for his liking.

But then, oh no! Another puncture! It was as if a thorn or something went through the inner tube and out the other side. I've fixed it, resorting this time to a bowl of water to detect it's location. That's three punctures! All on the back wheel. What a day!

Once again a wonderful day. Shame we didn't get a ride.

PS: Excellent to see Morrissey having a go at Kate Middleton this week. Despite the fact that foie gras is not allowed to be produced in the UK – the process is inhumane –it turns out that Middleton is a fan of the disgusting product and that Fortnum & Mason still sells it, having found a supplier outside of the UK. Good, work, Mozza. Click here for more.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Non-stop to Botley Hill and home again...

Near Botley Hill, Sunday May 26th 2013. Note the blue skies
I didn't go cycling on Saturday because I was tired. I awoke in the early hours – something like 0415hrs – and found it difficult to get back to sleep. While I love the summer months, waking early can be cause for concern because the birds wake up early and so does the sun. Put them together and its as if the bedroom is full of wind chimes. I cobbled together an 'abort' text and sent it to Andy. Phil's away for the weekend so there's no need to send another one. Andy texts back saying 'see you on Monday'.

It's a long weekend, which means that not going on Saturday isn't a problem and besides, I was tired after Lille. Not that Lille is anything like 'long haul' travel. In fact, it's only around 90 minutes from St Pancras, which is amazing when you think that, in the other direction, you'd be in Birmingham. And while I admit to liking Birmingham, I prefer Lille.

So I lazed about on Saturday, dealing with a few issues that have arisen over the past few days. But Sunday was another day and while I wasn't up with the lark – I hadn't set my alarm so I awoke at 7am – I took the view that I should go for a ride and eventually got out of the house as the time edged around to 0830hrs. It was getting late and I figured the best place to go was Botley Hill. I packed a flask of tea and headed off, not stopping at the green to meet Andy.

As I headed up the 269 I decided that I'd do a non-stop ride, which was just as well. When I reached home just before 1000hrs, I discovered that I hadn't taken any teabags with me. How disappointing would that have been?

The weather was good. I didn't need my jacket. A tee-shirt alone would have sufficed. Well, not 'alone'. I'd still need trousers and trainers. It was clear blue skies and sunshine and it stayed that way for the whole day. There's nothing better than hot weather, it makes you feel great. In my case so great that I mowed the front and back lawns on my return from the non-stop ride and then, after a cheese salad sandwich and a rest in the garden reading David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries, I went swimming at a brand new swimming pool in Waddon – what a great pool! It's open at 0630hrs, it's brand new and it's empty, ie there were only a few people in there at 4pm when we purchased our tickets.

Andy and I are meeting on the green at 7am tomorrow (Bank Holiday Monday) and that could mean a ride to Westerham or Botley or the Churchyard at Tatsfield, who knows? We'll make up our minds at the Green.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

In Lille...

I took the 1804 train from St Pancras International to Lille. Not a bad journey, although the ride was totally different from when the train departed from Waterloo on the south bank of the Thames. What's so different? Quite a lot. It's almost as if you're constantly in tunnels, rather than out in the open countryside watching fields go by. As soon as the train departed the station it hit a tunnel and then we were in and out of them all the way to the Channel Tunnel – or Euro Tunnel as it's officially known. I was amazed at how quickly the train travelled from St Pancras to Stratford, in East London. It didn't stop, but it only seemed like five minutes and we'd gone from North London to East London.

If I'm honest, the journey was dull as I sat in seat 24, coach 16. It was a window seat that belonged to a woman who arrived shortly after the train had departed – or was she there before it left? I can't recall. Either way, I was sitting in her seat, seat 24 (mine was seat 23) but she officially had the window seat, although it wasn't a window seat, there was a wall. She let me stay put, which was good of her. Had it been me and had we been on an aeroplane, I'd have asked her to move, but she was pretty cool about it so I just sat there, trying to read, but giving up and thinking about a few private issues I've got at the moment. I won't bore you with them (unless, of course, you're one of the people I've already bored with them, like my brother, or my mum).
Room 309, the Carlton Hotel, Lille – very nice

The ride to Lille ain't far at all and soon the train arrived. I hadn't been here for a while, since around 2008, but I still kind of knew my way around. I left the station and crossed the vast expanse of concrete that runs underneath a road leading into town. I figured it would be easy to find the Carlton Hotel on the Rue de Paris, but it wasn't. Or rather it was. I jumped into a taxi and the driver told me it was just around the corner so I jumped out and went in search of it, eventually stopping and asking for directions from a shopkeeper. "Turn right, then right and then it's perpendicular," he said. I knew what he meant and soon I found it, turned right and followed a sign to the Carlton Hotel.

And very nice it was too. There's no restaurant, but who cares about that? The room was rather grandiose. Room 309 on the third floor. I took the lift and walked along the corridor, past a huge oil painting resting against a wall. The room was lovely in a Regency sort of way. Wooden floors – or are they laminate? A sofa, a flatscreen television, double bed, drapes, bathroom and toilet, very nice...but no restaurant. Not that I was complaining, I hate hotel restaurants (apart from Nobu in the Metropolitan, London or, oddly the one in the Holiday Inn, Essen, which I liked – great soup!).

Anyway, there was no restaurant so I was forced to go out. The receptionist recommended the Hippopotamus restaurant next door, but having worked as a foodservice journalist for some time, I knew it was a chain and went in search of something better. I found myself on the Place du General De Gaulle and a nice little place called Le Coq Hardi where I was guided upstairs by the waitress and sat at a table for one, twiddling my thumbs and wondering where to look – that's what you do when you don't have anybody to converse with or a book to read.

I ordered carbonnade of beef, a half bottle of Haut Gazeau St Emilion and a Tarte Tatin, which set me back EUR35.60 – not bad. The meal was good and I didn't want my carbonnade to end. The tarte tatin was good too, but the star of the show was the wine. I looked out on the square, it was getting dark, and just sat there enjoying the food and the wine – although I wasn't really enjoying myself: it was lonely and depressing sitting there without a companion.

My hotel room was wonderful and the view of the town below was fantastic. In the morning I've got to take a taxi to Ronchin, for my business appointment, but if I'm finished early and have some time to kill, I'll take a wander around town before hoofing it back to the railway station for the journey home.

In addition to the view, there was a towelling dressing gown and slippers on my bed, which was a nice touch, but I can't see myself having the time to make myself comfortable. There's free WiFi, of course, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to sit in the hotel room typing this post and guess what, there's bikes, ie Boris Bike equivalents, but I didn't get the time to use them, The hotel room was also the proud owner of a Corby trouser press! A nice touch for a French hotel, I thought.

In fact, I discovered from one of my French colleagues that the Carlton Hotel in Lille is well-known as the venue where the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Mr Strauss-Khan (I hope that's how you spell his name) used to (ahem) meet his lady friends. I wonder if he ever stayed in room 309?

It's an hour ahead in France, meaning that when I go home tomorrow, I'll benefit from the time difference. I should be home around 8pm, which is good, but I wonder if I'll return to an empty house as I have been all week. It's a long story, and I'm not at all happy about it.

Monday, 20 May 2013

18th and 19th May – Botley Hill and Longford Lake

Botley Hill.
A good weekend of cycling. We covered 46 miles in total having riden first to Botley Hill (on Saturday) and then to Longford Lake in Chipstead, Kent (on Sunday).

There were three of us on Saturday – Andy, Phil and yours truly – and on Sunday's run to the lake, it was just Phil and yours truly.

The weather was good on both days and, as last week, the pace was slightly quicker with a third person in the mix.

On Saturday, among other things, we discussed movie stars and how the greater publicity they attract (mainly through chatshows) the more diluted as actors they become. Ewan McGregor was a good case in point. His Long Way Round and Long Way Down programmes, his general popularity outside of his various film roles has, in my opinion, lessened his believability as an actor. I'd better explain myself: the more you see an actor in person on chat shows and documentaries, the more you associate them with themselves and not the character they're supposed to playing. I can't watch a movie starring Ewan McGregor without seeing Ewan McGregor and not the character he's billed as playing. This is, of course, very annoying.

It's not just Ewan McGregor and, let me make this clear, Long Way Round and Long Way Down were both excellent productions – especially the latter in which Charley Boorman seems to be visibly pissed off that McGregor brings his wife on the trip. There are many other actors who court the spotlight and, therefore, make an audience's ability to suspend belief, falter slightly. I was watching Jonathan Ross a few weeks ago when they had the actor playing the role of Spock in the latest Star Trek movie. So, we heard that he was gay (nothing wrong with that) and we heard that he plays the banjo (nothing wrong with that either) but if I went to see the new movie, as soon as I saw 'Spock' I'd be thinking about that gay, banjo-playing bloke that was on Jonathan Ross.

Alright, there's that thing about promoting movies and we all know that that's what actors have to do these days. In fact, Vin Diesel was on Ross's show recently and he was texting his daughter or sending her videos on his iPhone, showing us his tender side, perhaps, showing us that he, like us, was just a human being with a family. But we don't want to know that, do we? Now, though, if I watch any Fast & Furious movies, I'm going to remember Diesel being all soppy about his daughter and sending her videos from his iphone. This is not good and it's much more prevalent than it used to be: did Gregory Peck or Kirk Douglas constantly appear on shows like Saturday Night with Jonathan Ross or get involved in riding motorcycles around the world for a television documentary OR appear as the 'star in a reasonably-priced car' on Top Gear? No, of course not, They were proper actors.

It all reinforces my theory that, with the exception of advances in medical science, in most cases, everything is getting worse, not better. Movie stars ain't movie stars anymore; they're multi-tasking careerists (is there such a word) who are quite happy to discuss their career progression with a chatshow host. And then there's rock music; rock stars just ain't rock stars anymore for similar reasons, although talent (or lack of it) plays a greater role than with actors. In fact, take out that word 'talent' as it's diminishing rapidly in rock music where there will never be the great Rock Gods of yesteryear as we have to contend with bands like Coldplay headed up by the very sensible Chris Martin. I mean, he's not a rock star and the band's music is the sort of stuff you're likely to hear more often in a shopping mall than anywhere else. These days, rock stars don't rock, they don't drive Rolls Royces into swimming pools or throw televisions out of hotel windows, they don't even take hard drugs! I'm with Bill Hicks; I want my rock stars to rock! But they don't, not anymore, and film stars are not film stars anymore, as we've already discussed.

I'm sure it's the same in other spheres of life and culture – there are no more 'golden ages'.

Longford Lake

Longford Lake, Chipstead, Kent
On Sunday, Phil and I headed out to Longford Lake. The weather was good all the way there and back and we had a couple of chunks of fruit cake, courtesy of my mum. It's great riding to the lake for all sorts of reasons. Obviously, the ride itself is key. While being not that far from Croydon and, indeed, London, once we hit the Pilgrims Lane, we could be in the middle of rural Wiltshire or anywhere, despite the fact that, in reality, we're only a few hundred yards from the M25.

Chipstead village is lovely too. There's a Harvey's of Lewes pub and some nice houses, but also, of course, Longford Lake.

Phil and I sat on the bench enjoying the view and chatting about this and that before jumping back on the bikes and heading home. I was home just before 1045.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Botley Hill and Westerham

This shot  has nothing to do with last weekend's  ride.
For the first time in our history of riding, we had a new cycling companion in my neighbour Phil, who is training for the London to Brighton Bike Ride, which is next month. He and I headed off for Botley Hill on Saturday and then we all cycled to Westerham on Sunday.

The weather was pleasant on both rides, although Sunday proved to be the better day.

The general pace was quicker for some reason, although it might have been something to do with leaving early, something we've been doing for the past few weeks. I reached home last Sunday at 0930hrs and this was despite the fact that we still spent our usual time on the green at Westerham drinking tea and chatting about this and that.

Monday, 6 May 2013

A rare sight...

Mind you, those mudguards could do with wash

Most weekends, Andy's Kona Blast is just a pile of dried mud on wheels. He never cleans his bike...until now! There must be something in the water over in Caterham – detergent! Put on your sunglasses and behold: Andy's clean bike!

I didn't realise those forks were chrome

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Limpsfield Village via the Titsey Estate...and then up Titsey Hill

The tunnel under the M25, but would you sleep rough here?
Another 7am meeting on Warlingham Green and this time the gloves were off, literally! I know. I hate using that word 'literally' too. But they were off. I didn't need them. It wasn't cold. The weather was pleasant, the blossoms were on the trees – as they have been for a few days now – and, of course, we're in May. It seems like yesterday when it was snowing and the weather was cold and frosty, but now, we're through the turbulent airspace of poor weather and we're looking down from up high on past misery.

Should we even be here?
Andy suggested the Titsey ride and it was good to be doing it again. The last time was February 2012. I'll always remember it because there were deep puddles and mud and, like today, we sat in the churchyard sipping tea. The last time we were here was when I injured my foot – through walking too far in the wrong kind of shoes. I remember being convinced (wrongly) that I'd been wearing wrong-sized shoes. I hadn't been, but back then I thought so and it just so happened that a size eight shoe, a wide-fitting pair of shoes, fit me perfectly. I'm not a size eight. I'm a size ten. Size 44. I'm wearing a pair now, as I write this post. In fact, the shoes I'm wearing now are the shoes I was wearing a year ago when I was walking around Crawley in West Sussex. It wasn't the shoe size. It was the fact that I was wearing 'office style' shoes on long walks. I should have been wearing trainers or walking boots.

Another day, another churchyard – this one in Limpsfield.
Anyway, that was over a year ago. The ride towards Botley Hill was fantastic; I love it when the steepish incline is over and done with and the view opens up a little as we head towards the pub, fields on either side of us and, at such an early hour, little in the way of traffic – just the odd airliner in the distance landing at Gatwick Airport. Just past Botley, we headed towards the Titsey Estate gate, which was open, and headed on downhill, and off-road. We stopped halfway to take a photo of my bike next to a 'no cycling' sign, but, as Andy pointed out, the sign was for the routes to our left and right, not the rocky trail we were already riding on. 

We cycled all the way down and there were woods on either side of us; and then, through a farm gate and on towards a short tunnel under the M25 where we stopped again to take more photographs. For some reason, I always have this strange desire to camp, to sleep rough, and I was looking at the tunnel and thinking: no, not a good place to camp the night (if we had to). Andy said it wouldn't be good if there was a wind howling through it. I said it was too exposed and by that I meant that it was a route others might take and, therefore, not safe. Far better, to camp in the undergrowth, out of sight. Why do I think up all this rubbish? There's no way that I'm going to camp in the woods, no situation that might arise where I might find myself in a position where the decision to sleep rough would have to be made and, of course, no reason in hell why I would ever set off with a tent on my back.

The Kona in the Limpsfield churchyard. Pic by Andy.
We carried on to the end of the track, emerging on the road and crossing it to where another track would lead us towards Limpsfield, past some rather grandioise houses and out into a quiet and deserted 'high street', if you can call it that. It consisted of a Post Office and a few other shops, including a fancy dress outfitter, all of which were closed. There's a nice restaurant, a pub and a bookshop, but it was too early for any of them to be open and besides, it was Sunday.

We rode towards the A25 and then turned back and headed for the churchyard where we found a bench and sat drinking tea and munching cereal bars. It's amazing how things change in life. When I was a kid I was frightened of graveyards, but today I find them peaceful places where nothing but birdsong disturbs the tranquility. We sat there contemplating nothing in particular. And then I started again – thinking to myself this time – about sleeping rough and whether I'd be happy sleeping in a graveyard without spooking myself. The answer was yes, of course. Remember, the living are scarier than the dead – as somebody once said.

I used to know someone who slept in a churchyard in Sutton, Surrey, and the only reason he slept there, with a few others – down-and-outs like churchyards – was because a friend of his (and mine) had died in the flat they shared and the whole thing had spooked him a bit. But why, I remember thinking at the time when I heard he was sleeping rough in a graveyard, why sleep surrounded by dead people? Surely that would be even spookier for somebody who had witnessed the death of his flatmate. Graveyards are, by definition, full of dead people and choc-a-bloc with reminders of death – headstones, epitaphs, wreaths and flowers.

For me, though, the churchyard in Limpsfield – and the Tatsfield Churchyard – are nothing but havens of peace, places of contemplation and somewhere to recharge the battery before riding home. Alright, perhaps a reminder of one's own mortality, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

We headed home and faced Titsey Hill, a 16% incline leading to the top of the Titsey Estate and that dreary old car park with muddy puddles near Botley Hill that I mentioned a few posts back. It took about 15 minutes of hard graft in a low gear to reach the top. The key was not to look ahead but to 'knuckle down' and keep pedalling until we reached the top. Eventually we got there.

One thing I love about meeting at 7am is that it's still relatively early when we hit the home straight. Andy and I parted company half way along the 269 and vowed to meet again tomorrow – Bank Holiday Monday. I carried on along the road, feeling quite energised as I reached Warlingham Green and headed towards Hamsey and then Sanderstead High Street. It was only 9.45am when I looked up at the church clock and headed down Church Way. I sailed down the hill, with no hands on the bars, and then put them on smartly as the T-junction with Morley Road approached. I hung a left into Morley, a right into Elmfield, a left into Southcote and a right into Ellenbridge. 
One of many sculptures to be found in Pashley Gardens, Ticehurst.

A hearty breakfast followed: porridge, bread and marmalade, a boiled egg and fingers plus a cup of tea. Lovely. Then we headed out in the car with the mother-in-law, to a very pleasant place called Pashley Gardens in Ticehurst in Sussex. 

I loved the gift shop and the gardens and, of course, the sculptures that were dotted around the grounds. 

We had a picnic of sandwiches and samosas, prepared by the mother-in-law. All in all, a perfect day.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

From sun to drearyness – to St. Leonard's Church, Chelsham.

St. Leonard's Church, Chelsham. A bit depressing.
It was always going to be a short one, possibly to Botley, but then, as I pedalled towards the Green, I thought about St. Leonard's Church. Not a particularly inspiring destination, but a change is as good as rest – or so they say, so off we went, past the usual haunts: Knight's Garden Centre, the pond at the top of Slines Oak Road and a sign saying 'not suitable for HGVs', which marks a five-mile point (ten if a return trip is made). We hung a left and followed the winding road, with fields on either side, towards Washpond Lane where we turned right and then, after a hill, a left turn, and another and another.

St. Leonard's Church is, for want of a better word, boring. It's dull, put it that way. The church is locked, the cemetary, as you might expect, is a little depressing and, because it's all set away from the road, there's little to watch. No Lycra monkeys, no idiots driving cars. Nothing.

We sat down, ate our cereal bars and drank tea and I wondered how tough it must be for modern criminals. Think about it. There's little much open to them these days. They can shoplift, yes, but once they've got the goods, what do they do with them? They've got to sell them on and that's how they get caught (assuming the store detectives don't get them first). Alright, so let's rule that option out. What about a bank job? Well, these days, if you hold up a bank, up go the shutters, the doors lock and the poor old bank robber has to wait around for the police. Gone are the days when they can tunnel their way into the vault, possibly set up a huge gun, like the one in Thunderbolt & Lightfoot and then get away with millions of pounds, hide it in a church and end up as the preacher, on the run from your fellow cohorts who are after a share of the wonga.

Alright, well, what about nicking a smartphone while on a pushbike? Ah! That's it! A busy high street, you spot the quarry, you race towards them, cycling one-handed, grab the phone and you're off! But, once again, you've got to sell the phone to somebody else and a lot of phones have tracker devices fitted. Okay, so, we can't rob a bank, tunnelling underneath the vault is out of question and, besides, where are we going to find that huge gun? Shoplifting? Well, it's a bit demeaning. There's nowt else for it – the best policy is to be a law-abiding citizen in a world where salaries are going down and the cost of living is going up. As Morrissey once warbled, "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now".

What about drug dealing? Too risky. Big penalties, long prison sentences, dodgy geezers and, besides, being a drug dealer means you're putting other people's lives at risk and that's not on at all. House breaking? Well, perhaps not. The law has begun to look kindly on 'have-a-go-heroes' and besides, once again, you've got to sell on what you nick.

There is only one option open: joining the banking community! The banks have ripped off everybody, stolen their livelihoods and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has been sent to prison. Job done!

It was time to head back home. We weaved our way through the winding roads behind Warlingham Sainsbury's and then down the Limpsfield Road towards the Green where we departed, promising ourselves rides on both Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday.

The weather turned while we were out. It started off very pleasant: blue skies, little in the way of a breeze and it all looked promising. But then it clouded over, there was even a little bit of rain as I later drove through the dreary streets of West Croydon wondering whether to have a cup of tea in Michael's and deciding not to bother. We ended up in the college canteen: tea, biscuits, fruit juice and a bag of Cheeselets. Then over to mum's for a very tasty salmon sandwich and her wonderful apple crumble, not forgetting a KitKat, a cup of tea and more apple crumble.

Now I'm at home. Alone. Listening to The Smiths. I rarely listen to music these days, mainly because I don't like what's on offer. That's why I'm listening to The Smiths. The older stuff is the best. I might put on The Cure. In fact, I'm going to...