Sunday, 29 September 2013

Andy finds a secretive government building...

Or does he? In fact, Andy, out on his own, re-traces an old pre-blog destination that we haven't riden to in a long, long time. This strange looking piece of concrete can be seen en route to Botley Hill, over to the right of the 269. We rode there once and there's nothing there at all, except for this strange lump of concrete. A good memory, though, and a nice photograph.

The truth is out there, somewhere near Botley Hill
There is a steep, off-road hill ascending from Slines Oak Road to the 'secret government building'. It's mentioned in past posts as both Andy and I have riden down it and experienced what can only be described as bone-shaking, not forgetting the bikes shaking too. Well, Andy rode up the hill, but admits he had to dismount near the top. Either way a good effort.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Tatsfield Bus Stop...

Last week I thought the Tatsfield Bus Stop was for sale, until I noticed that, while an estate agent's board was clearly standing in front of our famous covered bus stop, it was little more than an advertisement for a beer festival.
Life's a Blast – Andy's bike at the bus stop today.

We, that is Andy and I, rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop. The weather was good and while I think it must have rained earlier in the morning, it was fine and fairly warm. We discussed our general reduction in mileage. Andy has an iphone app that charts his cycling, in particular his mileage, and he knows that this year, as opposed to last, he didn't put in as many miles as in 2012.

We both feel as if we're not trying as hard and I think it's true, we're not. There are too many 'aborts', too many one-ride weekends and too many shorter runs.

Going back to the early days, even the pre-blog days, there seemed to be more time than there is today, but I suggested that it wasn't so much that there used to be more time, but more that, today, we are more anxious than we used to be; so, whereas in the past we might ride out to the same destinations that we ride to today, the rides of the past were not so 'anxious'... perhaps. Today we're always thinking about the time and when we're going to get home. In the early days, either we didn't worry so much or we simply can't remember worrying. You see, the venues haven't really changed. We still ride to the lake occasionally, we've been riding to Westerham quite a bit of late, the Tatsfield Churchyard, Village and Bus Stop have all been visited recently, so perhaps it is purely a lack of anxiety that characterised our earlier rides than those of today.

Both Andy and I recall sitting down and drinking tea and munching cereal bars (like we did today) without a care in the world, but is this merely a case of our memories failing us? I remember how we used to visit Woodmansterne Green and how, sometimes, we'd be sheltering from the rain under the covered gateway of the church on the green, or other times when we stood on the green talking to Jon, my brother, who was always there whenever we visited Woodmansterne. And it all seemed so timeless and fret-free.

But what about those longer rides? The long route to Merstham via The Enterdent, the big breakfast in Hunger's End? What about Jackass Lane and Tandridge? We haven't experienced them for a while and I put that down to a lack of time, other commitments and so on. But I think our memories are playing tricks on us to a certain extent. We still visit the same destinations, give or take, we still have the same chat, drink the same tea, munch the same cereal bars. We just think that things have somehow changed. How? I think it's that, rather than enjoy the ride, we're pre-occupied, to an extent, with what we have planned for the day ahead and what time we need to be home. We no longer simply ride out and enjoy the ride, that's what has changed. I'm not saying we don't enjoy the rides, we do, but these days we're more pre-occupied with other non-cycling matters – what time we need to be back and so on, which is understandable as we all have family commitments.

My Kona Scrap at the bus stop this morning.
Being at the bus stop today brought it all home to me: a ride we've done many times before, a view – from the bus stop – that we've seen many times before: White Lane, the road sign, the grass in front of the bus stop, the Lycra monkeys passing by along Clarks Lane, the tea, the cereal bars, the chat. Nothing has changed with the rides. We have changed, not the rides! Perhaps it's because we're all older and a little more tired and weary in the mornings. Perhaps getting up so early is getting to us a little bit, perhaps we simply need a new destination. Perhaps it's a case of familiarity breeds contempt: cycling has become so much a part of our routine that it's something we, on some level, resent – the early starts and so on. It's hard to know the answer.

I think we need to be a little more disciplined. We need to get back to the two rides to Westerham, meeting on the green at 7am like we used to. We must remember that while we enjoy the rides, the key here is fitness - not munching on buns and drinking tea. Yes, we'll keep the tea and cereal bars going, but we need to get out there every weekend and head for Westerham, just like we used to, and that way the mileage we clock up will mount up, our fitness levels will increase and we'll be happier in ourselves. Not that we're not happy.

As for the blog, that has to stay as it has given structure and life to the rides. It gives us a record of what we've done in the past and it makes the whole idea of getting up so early worthwhile.

We simply need to ensure that, as far as possible, we get out there, twice a weekend (weather permitting) rather than press the abort button. But perhaps we should simply not even think about it. Go when we can and not get screwed up about the mileage. By and large we've been out most weekends for the past six years.

Ironically, I can't go tomorrow, due to a sponsored walk I'm doing across London (12 miles from Earls Court to ExCeL. But I'll be back next week and happy to ride to Westerham. And perhaps we ought to be thinking of Hunger's End again; the Enterdent; Jackass Lane...

The key is not to lose heart.

Pix by Andy Smith

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Tatsfield Churchyard and Westerham

A pleasant ride to the Tatsfield Churchyard on Saturday with Andy and Phil and then a ride to Westerham this morning, just Andy and I. The weather was fine on both days. This morning it was a little misty and overcast, but there was no rain. We found ourselves back at the Tudor Rose Tearooms where Andy ordered a sausage sandwich, like last time, and I opted for toast and marmalade, not forgetting a pot of tea. It was all very genteel and English. Reached home just before 10am.
Outside the Tudor Rose Tearooms, Westerham, Kent.
Photo by Andy Smith.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Geneva – but too tired to hire a bike

I'm always moaning about how much I despise the whole 'international' thing at airports: the way businessmen are cossetted by air hostesses in the advertisements, the way international brands – Dolce & Whatnot, Gucci, Omega, Rolex and so on – are advertised to travellers as if, being part of the international 'jet set' suddenly means you can aspire to owning these branded and so-called luxury products.

As soon as I cross into the no man's land beyond passport control, the general assumption is that everybody aspires to own these brands. Until, that is, you find yourself at the gate, waiting for your flight to board. If you're flying with a budget airline, the great myth that only the affluent are regular flyers is exploded. Suddenly there are tattoos, denim jackets, beer guts and football shirts – that's what I like about budget airlines, they are, in a sense, the great leveller. Proof, if any was needed, that the affluent are not alone in the skies.

Geneva has devoted acres of space downtown to shops selling the above-mentioned brands (and others) and everywhere is like the perfumery department of a big store. Downtown Geneva is, quite frankly, a bit boring.

Advertisement on the way to Gate B32, Geneva airport, 20 Sept 2013.
Or is it me? Geneva is located on the banks of the beautiful Lake Geneva and is surrounded by the equally beautiful Alps. What has London got?  Perhaps everywhere is boring if you dwell upon it, something you're prone to do if you're on your own with nobody to talk to; if you dine alone and have to debate whether to bring a book or a magazine with you or simply 'people watch'. I sat in a restaurant the day before yesterday with a trade magazine, which was fine; and the restaurant was good too. So good that I went back yesterday, although I didn't opt for the 'suggestions' menu and instead chose from the main offerings: tomato and basil soup followed by pasta with artichokes – very nice, but not as good as the night before, albeit much less expensive.

I walked from the restaurant in the dark of early evening back to my hotel, which doesn't have a restaurant or bar (thankfully) and went straight to my room. I switched on the television (some movie with Mark Wahlberg) and fell asleep, waking just before midnight. For the rest of the long night, I drifted in and out of sleep.

Now I'm sitting in a restaurant at Geneva airport and, believe it or not, the airport has more character than downtown Geneva (if you ignore the Gucci and Dolce & Whatnot crap). Fortunately, I'm occupied. I could have picked up my trade magazine again (and will later on the flight), but there's power in the lap top and there's free WiFi so why not get on the keyboard and write for a while?

The restaurant I mentioned above was very good and that's down to all sorts of things. First, the ambience of the place; second the service (the waiter wore a white tunic that shouted 'proper waiter' and he was a proper waiter: courteous, helpful, friendly and, above all, efficient and hard-working). Then there was the quality of the food: it was excellent, even if going away from the 'suggestions' menu proved a mistake, albeit a minor one. The food was still of good quality. And to be honest, I wasn't that hungry. I was tired, having spent a lot of time sitting down listening to people talking about this and that. But also, I'd been walking for about two hours non-stop through the streets of Geneva, past all those awful shops with their swanky brands and the constant smell of perfume, either wafting out from shops or when I was caught in the slipstream of a woman who had either been using the testers or had been conned into buying some expensive fragrance or other. Not impressed and never will be.

So, it's 1420hrs (that's 1320hrs in the UK) and I'm still sitting here in the restaurant – it's not a restaurant, it's a kind of food court with seating surrounding the various styles of food on offer. I could have enjoyed Thai food or a 'grill' but opted instead for the Italian and a German wheat beer. I might buy a tiny bottle of red wine so as not to pay the extortionate 'in air' price of my budget airline, but am I really that stingy?

It's a 70-minute flight to London Gatwick where things will change drastically. As soon as I come through arrivals I'll see all those forlorn-looking mini cab drivers holding up small boards on which people's names have been scrawled in felt tip. And I will waltz past them en route to the train station (via the shuttle) and the reality of UK living: the coalition government, jobsworths, tabloid tat and people peering out from behind the net curtains. When I was a kid I used to think it was 'neck curtains'.

I'd better go and check the gate for my flight home. But before I go, a word about budget airlines. It's all a con. You have to pay extra for your bags if you want to check them in, then you have to pay if you want to get a different seat – I wanted a window seat (I always do) but the flight was full so I had to stay put in seat 4e, but at least I was at the front of the plane. These days you have to pay for everything, it seems and there's always someone there to tell you, "you'll have to pay."

The south coast of England very close to Gatwick airport
Well, the good news is that once seated in seat 4e I noticed, after everybody had boarded, that seat 3f in front was vacant, so I moved and had a window seat for free, proving that there is justice in this world.

No cycling – but plenty of bikes for hire!
On the cycling front, I didn't do any, but I could have done quite easily yesterday. There was plenty of shops hiring out bikes, but I felt it was a little too busy traffic wise and decided to put in a few miles on foot instead. I walked a long way and tired myself out in the end, so much so that I didn't really enjoy my dinner. I strolled back to the hotel from the restaurant and, as I said earlier, switched on the television and promptly fell asleep.

Before I go, let me provide you with the details of the restaurant. It's Restaurant le Milan, Rue Chaponniére 9, 1201 Geneve. And if you want a telephone number, it's + 41 22 732 46 65. There's even a website, and if you want to email them it's

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Geneva alone and in the rain...

Air travel has always amazed me and will continue to do so; outside of the fact that it's actually possible to fly at such ridiculous heights (37,000 feet) it's the fact that when you're on the ground there is cloud and rain, but within a minute of leaving the ground there are blue skies and sunshine. Yes, folks, that awful weather that characterises England is but a thin membrane of misery hiding the reality of happy weather just a few thousand feet away.

I left Gatwick in the gloom and within that magical minute found myself squinting in the brightness and joy of what could have been a summer day. Alright, let's be honest, we've had a great summer this year, so there's nowt to complain about, but you can't get too much of a good thing and I'm already missing wearing tee-shirts and shorts and not having to bother about umbrellas and raincoats. Now, as we head towards mid-September (in fact, we're past the midway point) the summer is but a memory and all we have to look forward to is, well, er, winter gloom and people counting down the shopping days until Christmas.

Room 205, Les Nations hotel, Geneva. There's Swiss chocolate in the fridge.
The worse thing about a short haul flight – in this case to Geneva (all 70 minutes of it) – is that the weather the other end is exactly the same as what I left behind. Alright, there was no rain when I arrived, but it's been making up for it ever since and right now, at 2224hrs on a Wednesday night in Geneva, it's pouring down outside.

Bad weather when you're alone is even more depressing than if you've got someone to talk to; alright, I'm not a complete loner, but it just so happens that tonight, I'm alone. Actually, I'll be alone for the rest of this trip and I was alone last night 'enjoying' a pizza in a small trattoria virtually next door to my hotel, the Les Nations hotel. Sometimes I don't mind being on my own. Last night was fine as I'd arrived later than expected and by the time I got to the hotel and sorted things out, it was gone 9pm so I opted for the small restaurant recommended by the hotel's receptionist.

The glamorous view from room 205, Les Nations hotel, Geneva
It was pleasant in its own way: plain, but cosy and friendly and I enjoyed a pizza and a couple of glasses of the house red. Eating late, however, is not good. I fell asleep initially, but then woke up around 0230hrs and couldn't really get back to sleep. In all honesty, I should have gone to the same restaurant tonight, but the need to inject a bit of variety in to my stay in Geneva forced me out of my comfort zone and into a taxi. I headed for Geneva railway station, crossed the tracks (not literally, but via the station) and found myself on 'the other side of the tracks'. There were restaurants a plenty and I had to simply choose one.

I found an Indian restaurant, but I have a new rule – one that I made up there and then, in the rain-soaked streets – that I wouldn't have an Indian meal unless I was in the UK or in India itself. Why, I don't know, but it's something to do with getting food poisoning and being stuck in Geneva and so on. Having said that, I'd imagine India itself would be a worse place to go down with food poisoning and let's not forget that I once went to Belgium on business, ordered the chicken and was firing on all cyclinders way into the night. Not very pleasant.

I settled for an Italian restaurant again, although this one was a little more upmarket than yesterday, not that I hadn't yearned for the simplicity of yesterday's trattoria and had even considered taking a taxi back there before common sense told me to just get on with it, find a restaurant, have something to eat and head back to the hotel. I found Le Milan on the Rue Chaponniere and knew immediately that I'd picked a good place to eat.

I started with smoked salmon and parma ham with salad leaves and tomatoes and then opted for veal in a marsala sauce. Very nice. There was also a half bottle of Italian Cabernet Sauvignon and some Pellegrino mineral water and, being as I had no companion, I read a trade magazine. After the meal I considered walking home in the dark, but the poor weather (the driving rain) forced me to take a cab to the hotel and here I am writing this blogpost and wondering what to do next. Except that I know what I'm going to do next: I'm going to bed as it's now 1038hrs.

Les Nations is a pleasant hotel, although there's no restaurant (only a breakfast room). My room, room 205, is fine; it even has a two-ring electric cooker and a mini bar that is actually full of stuff (chocolate, soft drinks, beer, wine, spirits (I've eaten the chocolate and indulged in a mineral water, but that's my lot. Another reason I like this hotel is the fact that it trusts its guests. All the coat hangers have the conventional hook arrangement and not those awful hook-less affairs that take an age to work out how to secure them to the rail in the wardrobe.

Last night I slept very badly and I put this down to eating later than usual, although the same, give or take, happened tonight, so I'm anticipating a poor night's sleep.

Geneva seems like a pleasant enough sort of place, if not a little on the pricey side. It's not a threatening city and the general vibe is friendliness tinged, perhaps, with a bit of boredom. One more day of conference and then it's time to head home again. I'm hoping for some better weather tomorrow.

My eyes are feeling a little heavy and a wall-mounted Samsung television awaits my attention, not to mention Graham Greene's Stamboul Train, which I've almost finished. I'd better go.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Andy takes advantage of the good weather...

Andy's Kona Blast in the spotlight, Sunday 15th September.

Andy takes advantage of the good weather and takes this shot of his Kona Blast basking in the rays of sunshine filtering through the trees.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Fat Ralph! Check it out!

You must check Greg's blog, Gravelo (see link in the panel to the right of this post). Check out the bike, a Fat Ralph. I'd love one of those bikes. Here's a photo from Greg's blog, but read the accompanying post too, it's good.

This is Fat Ralph. Check out those tyres!

After the rain, blue skies and sunshine – but for how long?

The weather has certainly changed. From the heat of an amazing summer – don't let anyone say it wasn't – there was an overnight drop of 10 degrees, accompanied by rain about a week ago and yesterday (Saturday) was a complete wash-out. It rained all day long, just a fine drizzle most of the time, but unpleasant in a way; everything was wet-through and there was a mild, but cold, breeze.
Blue skies and sunshine, Sunday 15th September 2013 – perfect for cycling

Cycling was off the agenda for Andy and Phil yesterday, but with poor weather they were clearly missing nothing. I can't think of anything more unpleasant while on a bike than rain and a cold breeze. So nobody was out yesterday.

Today (Sunday) is a completely different picture. The sun is shining at 0703hrs and the skies are blue – perfect cycling weather and I know that Andy can make it. Sadly, I can't as I have a bit of driving to do and have to pick up a hire car from Gatwick at 9am. I'm off to Liverpool and hopefully I'll be back later tonight – we'll see. Either way, it looks like I'll be missing a decent ride. I expected to wake up to drizzle and grey skies and feel, in a way, elated that I wasn't going, but I feel the complete opposite. It's definitely not tee-shirt weather anymore. If you take a look at last week's shot of me outside the Tudor Rose, however, you'll note that I'm still wearing shorts. I reckon I'd get away with shorts today, if the truth be known, but the winter clothing needs to be found. I've managed to locate the balaclava and a hooded tracksuit top, not forgetting the waterproof trousers for those days when caught in the rain.

The weather forecasters promised gales and rain this weekend, but so far we've escaped with a drizzly Saturday and, see photograph above, blue skies this morning. But things can change and it'll be interesting to see how things change as I drive north later this morning.

I can't figure out the shot below of Warlingham Green. It says it was taken in May this year, according to my computer, probably at just gone 0700hrs, but those trees look really bare – too bare for May, surely, but there you go.
Supposedly Warlingham in May, but bare trees?
Also, I thought I'd throw in a rather strange shot of a park in Austria that, for some reason is submerged in water (I'm assuming not all the time, but just at a certain time of year). Perhaps I should of read the story accompanying the image, but I was quite taken aback but the image.

Now that's what I call a waterpark!
And here's a shot showing just how sunny it is at 0729hrs on this fine Sunday morning. Look at the way the sun is hitting the bookcase in the conservatory. Here's hoping the weather will stay this way for the rest of the day – although I don't think it will.

Sun hits the books at 0732hrs, Sunday 15th September 2013.

Monday, 9 September 2013

One Year Ago...

This time last year we proved that tea was at the centre of the NoVisibleLycra universe. Click here!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

More photos from the weekend's cycling...

Warlingham Green, Sunday 8th September 2013, 7am.
It would have been my dad's 84th birthday today, but sadly he's no longer with us. Dad would have loved the weather this summer and he'd have also loved this weekend's changeable but pleasant weather – a mix of blue skies and grey rainclouds, sudden downpours and bright sunshine. It's rainbow weather, dad.

Scrap on the green, Sunday 8th September 2013, approximately 7am.

"Nice and comfy." Andy fixes his mudguard and is saved from getting a wet arse.

A good weekend's cycling – 44 miles in total and a big breakfast in Westerham

Soldier and Scarecrow festival in Westerham.
Photo: Andy Smith.
At 6am on Saturday morning I looked out and noticed spits of rain landing in the birdbath. It might be an 'abort' situation, but I didn't want it to be. Looking at the skies, they seemed fine; there were some heavy rain clouds moving east and some clear blue skies and cotton wool clouds coming in from the west, so it was looking promising too.

By 7am, there was a general brightness. The blue skies and the cotton wool clouds were in the majority and the only real sign that rain lurked was the wetness of the roads and the large puddles – not good if you're bike has no mudguards as there's nothing worse than a wet arse, as both Andy and I discovered. Yes, even Mr Mudguards himself managed to get a wet arse, courtesy of rain-soaked roads.

Actually, a brief note on the weather: up until Friday of last week, the hot and amazing summer of 2013 had been trundling along quite nicely. Thursday last week, however, was the last day of summer in my opinion. After Thursday came the rain and with it drop of 10 degrees in temperature. On Friday it rained most of the day and since then, well, it's been nice, but changeable. The autumn is here, my friends. One month to go before cutting back the garden and forgetting about mowing the lawn until March 2014. And then, of course, Christmas will beckon.

We rode to Westerham on what turned out to be a fantastic day for riding, but there was always the threat of rain. When we reached the green at Westerham, we couldn't use any of the benches because they were wet, so instead we stood around Churchill's statue to drink tea and munch cereal bars. At one stage there was a sudden downpour of rain, but it lasted all of five minutes and then the blue skies returned.
Tudor Tearoom's Lycra-clad scarecrow
Westerham is having a 'soldiers and scarecrows' festival this weekend – BBQ, beer tent, tea, battle re-enactments – and as a consequence local businesses have themed scarecrows sitting or standing outside their shopfronts: scarecrow cyclists, scarecrow policemen (see last week's post and Andy's pic) you name it, there's a scarecrow for it.  The green itself has a huge scarecrow, reminiscent of the Wicker Man and the whole thing brings a kind of quirkiness to Westerham, which is nice and, of course, very English.

Having missed a week, the ride out of Westerham was a bit of a struggle, but we made it and said our goodbyes half way along the 269. Minutes after our farewell, the heavens opened and the rain fell. I took shelter in a wood, but in the end I decided to go for it and headed into Warlingham. I was about 200 yards short of Slines Oak Road, so not a million miles away, but once back on the saddle, I only had to pedal another 100 yards before the rain stopped and the blue skies dominated the landscape once again. Unfortunately, I was soaked through.

Taking cover from the rain in the woods on Saturday morning
Sunday was a perfect day for riding. The roads were relatively dry, but I had a problem. One of the pads on my Spongy Wonder saddle had lost its adhesive and literally fell off. I had to cycle to Warlingham Green with one pad on and one pad off, but I dived into a newsagent's and bought a tube of SuperGlue to stick the pad back on. It worked and off we went to Westerham and, as planned yesterday, breakfast in the Tudor Tearooms. And what a breakfast! We arrived in Westerham at 0755hrs and had a short wait for the café's staff to open up shop and put out the wrought iron tables and chairs. We decided to sit outside, which was very, very civilised as the weather was so nice.

Problems with the Spongy Wonder on Sunday morning
I ordered scrambled egg on toast with mushrooms and baked beans while Andy enjoyed a bacon sandwich. We both ordered a large white pot of tea and, let's face it, after an 11-mile ride the whole lot was most welcomed. Sadly, we had to get up and cycle home, but, having eaten such a huge breakfast, there was that longing to simply stay put and do nothing. But doing nothing was not an option so off we went, slightly heavier.

About to enjoy an English breakfast at the Tudor Tearooms
For some reason the ride towards the hill was pleasant enough, much more pleasant than yesterday and I put this down to an excellent breakfast in the Tudor Tearooms and yesterday's ride. The rain held off all the way home. I said goodbye to Andy halfway along the 269 as usual and then headed home myself.
Sausage sarnie and scrambled egg on toast with beans
and mushrooms – just what the doctor ordered!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

No cycling for Matt...and not much sleep either!

Saturday was out of the question as I had things to do, places to go; but Sunday, well, it was all game-on; Andy had sent a text saying 7am or 7.30am, I replied saying the former and it was all set. A ride to Westerham was on the cards and, well, it never happened. Not for me at any rate. Andy got out and I haven't heard from Phil, but I'm assuming he did too – it was just me who left the bike in the garage.
Beats a speed camera. Photo: Andy Smith.

Excuses? Well, yeah, there is an excuse. I couldn't sleep. I went to bed and lay there. I couldn't even work out the area of the ceiling by counting the ceiling tiles, because there aren't any, except in the downstairs bathroom. So, eventually, I think it was gone 3am, but to be honest, it could have been any time, I got up, texted Andy and Phil and then loitered around. The fridge seemed to be making a lot of noise, but it was the dead of night. I remember it being something like 4am when I eventually climbed back into bed and fell asleep, waking just before 9am.

Missing a ride is not pleasant. I feel restless and fretful and start making unrealistic promises to myself, like I'll cycle to the Green every morning before work and that way make up for the lost miles and this makes me feel even worse. The weekend just isn't right unless I've been for a ride.

Still, there's no point crying over spilt milk and there's always next week. I've just got to ensure I get a good night's sleep. I couldn't pin down any reason for my lack of sleep other than, perhaps, having things on my mind, but yeah, it happens and I hope it won't happen next week.

Andy sent me an email. He'd been down to Westerham – see pix accompanying this post.

Westerham Green, Sunday 1st September 2013. Photo: Andy Smith.