Tuesday, 23 July 2013

July 20th and 21st – Tatsfield Churchyard and Tatsfield Village

Do you ever find yourself thinking how amazing everything is and how you're somehow existing behind your own eyes in a body that belongs to you, but at the same time, doesn't belong to you; it's as if you've got it on loan...until another one is offered up and then you move on. That's how I felt this morning as I bounded off towards the railway station, looking at mundane objects, like cars and houses and front lawns, and just thinking, 'hey! All this is really amazing!' I don't know, I just felt 'alive' and it felt a little strange. I can't really put my finger on it. In a way it's quite scary: that notion of existence.
Tatsfield Village

And then, this evening, I found myself randomly singing to myself Night Boat to Cairo by Madness. Why? I don't know, but what a great track! I reckon Night Boat to Cairo is 'up there' with Baggy Trousers as the best Madness track ever. I've got travel on the mind at present. I'm trying to work out the best way to travel to the USA. And you know what I find really amazing? That in the USA, home of the railroad and movies in which people jump on goods trains and travel for miles with little more than a stick and a spotted hankerchief, the train service is pretty poor.

I logged on to the Amtrak website and keyed in various journeys – Chicago to Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh to Chicago; Pittsburgh to Portland and so on – only to discover that, most of the time, the trains either departed at an ungodly hour or arrived at one. It transpires that, on one route, the train leaves at 1159 and gets in at 0845hrs the next morning. Not only is the time a problem, there's also just that one train per day. Over here in the UK, there is a constant stream of trains throughout the day; you never have to wait for hours or board a train in the middle of the night. And you would have thought that in a vast country like the USA, the train would be the main mode of transport – all those miles! And yet, sadly, it's the motor car that rules.

What amazes me even more is that, in a world where we're all trying to be more environmentally friendly, it turns out that taking the train – as opposed to the plane – is the most expensive option. It's the same here in the UK. Fly to Scotland or take the train? The latter is more expensive. Why? It should be the other way around, but it isn't.

Along Beddlestead Lane towards Clarks Lane
I had great plans: fly to Chicago then Cleveland and then train it to Pittsburgh and then go from Pittsburgh to New York by train and fly home to London; but no, it's not possible. Somewhere along the line you start thinking: sod this, I'll fly! Oddly, it's both quicker and cheaper when you might have thought that the quicker alternative would be the most expensive.

Oddly, I remember reading a great book, Off the Road by Carolyn Cassady, all about living with Neal Cassady, real-life hero of Kerouac's On the Road and part of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters in the 1960s. Before his mad, drug-taking life at the heart of the counter culture, Cassady had a job as a brake man with the Southern Pacific Railroad. Wow! What a job! And he gave it all up to take drugs and drive across America! What a nob!

Anyway, for all the USA's perceived railroad bravado, you can't just rock up at a station and buy a ticket to somewhere. If you did, you'd probably hear something like, "There ain't no train outta here until sunrise, sonny, but there's a cheap motel downtown...". Okay, that's cool too, but it's not like the UK where you can be guaranteed no longer than a 30-minute wait (unless there are big problems).

So, that's one thing that's been bugging me. Then, of course, there's the royal baby. It's all happening over here! Kate and William are out of hospital, but, at the time of writing, have yet to consider a name for their new baby boy – watch this space.

Neal Cassady
Cycling-wise, last weekend was good. We headed out for the Tatsfield Churchyard on Saturday, going the slow way round, hanging a left at Sainsbury's in Warlingham and then following the winding roads past St Leonard's Church, down Hesiers Hill and up Beddlestead Lane before turning left and riding down Clarks Lane to the Churchyard turn-off. It was a pleasant ride, punctuated by conversation about one of my old jobs and a great freelance assignment for Club Mirror magazine. I related the tale of my Spearmint Rhino interview and how, sitting in Sergio's Continental Bar & Diner, my colleague and friend David Foster came up with the cover line: Wriggling Spearmint Bum – a play on Wrigley's Spearmint Gum.

On Sunday we rode to Tatsfield Village where the conversation continued. It was good to laugh about stuff. Only recently, I was talking to a photographer friend of mine (Rob Wilkinson) about a time in Berlin when we both found ourselves laughing uncontrollably. I remember how good it felt. We got close on Sunday in between the tea and the bacon sandwiches, courtesy of Phil.

The ride home was good too and mention must be made of the weather. We've had a heatwave over here for a good fortnight, if not longer. Last night (Monday) saw night time temperatures reach 22 degrees. Windows were left open at night, there were thunderstorms on the horizon and I'm sure a lot of people were longing for air-conditioning (something you couldn't be without in Abu Dhabi and other hot countries). No end is in sight, which is great news as it means we can wear shorts and tee-shirts on our rides and not worry too much about the rain – there isn't any! And if there is rain, who cares? It would be warm rain and much welcomed.

We probably rode around 32 miles last weekend, which was fine, but next week we're thinking about Westerham. It all depends on time and commitments.

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