Sunday, 26 January 2014

Never-ending childhood

I'm probably wrong, but I've always been under the impression that we are all children until our parents are dead. Up until that point we still have somebody to call mum or dad and, therefore, we are still somebody's kids.
Tea round at mum's. As Andy remarked, "It's a lot more comfortable than the Tatsfield Bus Stop."
Once both parents are no more, we face a void of sorts and exist as barriers to the great void of death and eternity for our own children who, thankfully, can still be referred to as 'kids' because they have parents and all children have mums and dads or guardians of some sort.

For most of my life, I've been a child and, even though I have children of my own, I often wonder whether I am the bigger child. I'm still excited by the things that excited me as a kid and that is one reason behind this blog: my love of the bicycle and riding out of a weekend with my mates to various destinations in rural Surrey and Kent.

When I was in my early teens, my pal Alan and I would ride our track bikes (bikes we built ourselves) to and from school, into Sutton at the weekends or down to River Gardens in Carshalton where we would fantasise about owning a Milbro G10 air pistol. I still remember Alan once saying, "It would be like the Alamo," at a time when I didn't really know what the Alamo was; oddly, I was there in person, down in San Antonio, almost a year ago, and I took a photo of it, which can be found on this blog.

My brother and I often say that, given half the chance, we could easily play with our toy soldiers again and find it just as much fun as we did when were kids. All we need is the opportunity. Why is this? Because we're still kids.

And when it comes to holidays, I still have fond memories of our fortnights on the south coast when the summers were long and hot and carefree. Even today, I drive to the very spot where those holidays took place and can transport myself back to those innocent days of rock pools and ice creams, toy wooden yachts and fish & chips.

So today was particularly poignant as Andy and I rode from Purley in the early morning towards Carshalton and a planned visit to mum at the Moggridge family home where I was brought up and from where Jon and I used to play with our toy soldiers and our wooden forts in those aforementioned innocent days.

View from the kitchen window of mum's house.
It was odd that Andy and I were both on our bikes, as we might have been aged 13 or 14, cycling round to my house, perhaps, after school or on a Saturday afternoon. It would have been strange, in a good way, if Andy had referred to mum as "Mrs Moggridge" as he might have done aged 13, but there we were, windswept and hungry and eagerly awaiting our tea and cake.

We stayed for around half an hour before donning helmets and waterproofs, retrieving our bikes from the garage and pedalling down Rossdale and into Westmead Road, headed for Grove Park, a place that holds plenty of childhood memories for me: fishing the Wandle for sticklebacks, sending my remote-controlled tank into a derelict, war-time mortuary, playing football or just going for a stroll with dad.

We rode through Grove Park and out of Carshalton towards Wallington and then turned right into Plough Lane, straight across the Stafford Road lights into the once notorious Roundshaw Estate, where a lot of my school pals used to live in roads named after aviation heroes such as Amy Johnson and Lindbergh, not to mention the Spitfire, the Hurricane and, of course, the Lancaster. We turned left into Foresters Drive and on towards Plough Lane before turning left on to Foxley Lane where we bade each farewell.

By now it was raining quite heavily as I made my way up the Purley Downs Road, turning left into Norman Avenue and weaving my way towards the Sanderstead Hill, otherwise known as the B269 – the road that takes us to Botley Hill – where I turned right and prepared myself for the steep side of West Hill.

It rained for most of the day and only stopped as evening approached, but then started again as I ventured out to buy matches and a glue stick.

There was no ride on Saturday. For me it was because I needed a rest after the company conference in Paris. I think Phil felt a little weary too – although Phil wasn't with us today either. Is it, perhaps, not unreasonable to assume that he was burning the midnight oil again, boiling up some marmalade in huge cauldrons, bubbling late into the night over fierce flames? I wonder if Phil is really Paddington Bear as we never see them together in the same room.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Fast one to Tatsfield Bus Stop...and back (14.8 miles)

From left: Phil, Matt and Andy, B269, Sunday 19th January 2014.
It was a mildly confusing start to the day. I'd had an enjoyable night's sleep and it was one of those moments, at 0600hrs, when the alarm went off and I hesitated in bed, teetering on the brink of sleep, but conscious that I needed to be awake. I started to hope for rain, but was too sleepy to get out of bed and see what was going on outside. When I did get up and peer out of the window I was elated to discover mirror-like driveways and yes, it was raining.

With sleep in my eyes I noisily typed out abort messages to Andy and Phil, making a bold statement that it was raining, and then jumped back into the warmth of the bed. But something was bugging me. Was it raining or was it me? The phone made a noise: it was Phil. "I think the rain is due to stop and it's supposed to be a nice morning. Shall we confirm what we're going to do at 7.15 - or would you prefer to stick to the abort?"

Well, I was now awake, which was good, and feeling that I might have made a snap judgement about the rain. I texted back. "Just what I was thinking. Let's reinstate unless it starts again. Will send another text before it's time to leave," I said, and later received a determined text from Phil. "Hi, Matt. I'm going. Cheers. Phil."

Now fully awake and looking forward to a ride having looked outside and found dry driveways and roads and no sign of rain, I texted back: "Me too, see you outside."

Andy was going too and soon Phil and I were riding up Church Way towards the Green. We passed through Sanderstead Gruffy, past the lake where, last week, I'd seen an enormous rat scuttle into the water. I refered to the rat as a water rat, but when I relayed the story to Phil he said it was a rat and that a rat was a rat. He had a point. And there was me getting all Wind & the Willows.

We've got into a bad habit: that of late starts. We're meeting at 0800hrs and not 0730hrs and this could only mean one thing: shorter rides. Late starts mean shorter rides as everybody has things to do at the weekend and the idea behind our morning rides is simple: get out there early, get a ride in and be home in time for breakfast. Well, not so far in 2014. We've got into bad ways, thanks to the festive season, and now we're quite content to meet on the Green at 8am. It's not a big problem, but we ought to consider earlier starts again, although, if I'm honest, I rather like the later start as it gives me more time to get up and acclimatise myself to an early morning ride. For the time being, it's fine, certainly while the bad weather's in town. And who knows how much of that there's going to be; whatever happened to the promised consignment of snow from America?

We headed out along the B269 towards Botley Hill and then down Clarks Lane to the Tatsfield Bus Stop. Phil had made sausage sandwiches, but I declined as I am trying to lose weight. I made do with one of Andy's cereal bars, which was fine.

While at the bus stop, along came 'Dawes Galaxy', as we call him. He wasn't riding his Galaxy – that's his summer bike. He was on his Dawes Vantage, a sensible bike with mudguards and block brakes. Nothing like my totally impractical Kona Scrap with its faulty bottom bracket and its faulty front brake.

The ride was fairly subdued. We sipped tea. Phil and Andy tucked in to their sausage sandwiches. I munched on my cereal bar and then along came Dawes Galaxy. He rode back with us to where we part company with Andy. The usual team photo hadn't been taken so we took one before saying goodbye to Andy.

Phil and I rode on, past Sainsbury's, through Warlingham Green, through Hamsey and on to the Sanderstead Gruffy before riding down Church Way, left into Morley Road, right on to Elmfield Way, right into Ellenbridge, right into Barnfield and home.

The weather was surprisingly mild for this time of year and while it had been raining through the night and there were a few puddles, it had stopped as we headed out and it was a clear day for entire ride.

I remarked to Phil that I was glad we didn't go through with the abort. He was glad too and I'm sure Andy was too. Andy, incidentally, deserves praise from the Respect is Due Committee. On Saturday, after my announcement that I couldn't make it (see previous post) he went out and rode up White Lane – a major achievement as it's probably the worse hill in the area, but he made it.

We're all game on for next week.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

I aborted, but the weather was poor... and we need to buy a car

A familiar site: inside West Croydon Bus Station.
Not having a car and being a 'bus wanker' is beginning to grate a little so today I was up with the lark with the sole intention of taking a look at a Ford Focus in the local Ford dealer's. It sounded promising, but wasn't: 20,000 miles on the clock, one lady owner and it's a fairly old car (2006). But there were problems. It looked a bit worn, there were scuff marks inside and a chunk of trim missing, plus a few exterior blemishes. You might argue that you can't expect much more from a car that amounts to a £3,600 purchase (taking into consideration part exchange on the old Kia) but I wasn't convinced and, fortunately, nor was anybody else.

I've test-driven two Ford Focus cars now and both have had sluggish, almost heavy steering and a sensation of being 'held back', stifled. I can't put my finger on it, but the Astra we drove last week was, by far, one of the best cars I'd seen. It too had low mileage and, I think two owners, but it was immaculate. We'd put in an offer, but they it wasn't accepted, which is annoying when you consider that, like the Focus, it was fairly old (2007). Still, it was not to be, although we did wander down there to repeat our offer...only to have it refused.

A valuable addition to the old wallet...
Back on the buses to get home.

While I know we need a car for various things, I'm quite happy without one. I don't mind walking everywhere and I'm quite used to using the Oyster card on trams and buses, but it's not practical in the long term so a car has to be found, althought not having one means no trips to garages, no multi-storey car parks with their extortionate prices and I swear we're saving money too. Oh that everybody in the family was happy to ride a bike and oh that the roads were safe enough. But sadly, they're not, so a car must be bought and soon.

The Croydon tram – fast and frequent and fun!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

"Bus wankers!"

It's been a good few weeks since we learnt that our Kia Piccanto was not worth fixing and that a new car was the only way ahead. The end result, however, has been that we are without a car and have to rely upon the buses to get anywhere.

In all honesty, I don't really mind not having a car, but a car is needed for all sorts of reasons and, therefore, we need to search for one.

Not having a car has its advantages. We walk a lot more than we used to, which is good. It also has many disadvantages, one being that while standing at a bus stop waiting for bus we. and other bus users, have to endure the rudeness of the car driving public.

Last week, on Friday night, standing waiting for a 412 to South Croydon, a car went past, the passenger window went down and the goon inside shouted 'bus wankers!'

He had a point and his comment stiffened my resolve to find another car.

Tatsfield Bus Stop the long way and news of a serious assault...

I'll be honest. When I woke up on Saturday morning I seriously considered an 'abort' text to Phil, but for some reason I held back and at 0730hrs – after a bit of faffing about – I left the house and we both headed for our planned destination: the Tatsfield Bus Stop. Initially, I'd spoke of Botley Hill the fast way, but as we passed Sainsbury's I figured the slow way to the bus stop was more of a work-out in one sense, but also enabled us to chat as we rode along (you can't beat narrow country lanes first thing in the morning as they carry very little traffic).

It was one of those jokey conversations that we strike up once in a while. You know the kind of thing: the sort of stories you hear about people being admitted to A&E with strange objects in places where those strange objects shouldn't be or embarrassing stories about the sort of things people leave in hotel rooms (like blow-up dolls and vibrators).
Matt and Phil, Tatsfield Bus Stop, Saturday 11th Jan 2014.

So, armed with silly and humorous stories of old and trying to remember the name of the river that runs through Istanbul,  we wove our way along the Beddlestead Lane on what was a fairly pleasant day, en route to the Tatsfield Bus Stop. Another source of mirth on the ride was the fact that Phil had exchanged his hi-tech iphone for an HTC phone. Naturally, I ribbed him about it all the way to the bus stop, where we decided to set both phones against one another. Which would find the name of the river running through Istanbul first? Now I thought I would easily win this with Siri, but Siri wasn't in the mood for answering questions and kept putting me off by saying he was too busy or certainly couldn't be bothered to help me out. The problem, of course, was 'no signal' or rather no 3G, which prompted Phil to see if he could get the internet on the HTC: he could! Within seconds Phil had the answer we were looking for: the Bosphorus. Of course! But no thanks to my iphone.

Matters got worse for the iphone. Normally on our rides I bring along a digital camera as it offers a self-timer facility that enables group shots (see last week's post). The iphone, of course, doesn't appear to have a self-timer function but guess what? The trusty old HTC has a self-timer and is, incidentally, responsible for the shot accompanying this post, which ain't at all bad.

Phil emailed me the shot from the HTC and after his sign-off the words 'sent from my HTC' sounded just a little too cocky for my liking.

Going back to earlier on the ride, there had been a lot of faffing about. Once out of the house, minus the waterproof trousers (whenever I wear them, it never rains) I tried, unsuccessfully, to put them on over my trainers and had to give up, take off the trainers and start again. All told, we didn't get moving until around 0745hrs and then we had to stop on Warlingham Green to get some milk (we were running low at home) and a couple of cereal bars.

The ride and the weather were pleasant and, as usual, we were passed by groups of Lycra Monkeys along the Beddlestead Lane. Phil was talking about buying a new bike, but whether he will or not is anybody's guess.

As for Sunday, well, it never happened. Phil texted me late at night to say he was still up waiting for his marmalade to boil and figured he wouldn't be in a fit state to ride out early the next morning. Waiting for his marmalade to boil?

I had planned to go it alone, but switched off the alarm, woke up at 0808hrs and then other things got in the way, family stuff, so I never ventured out at all, which is not good.

Tatsfield stabbing

A report on the BBC website and on the Daily Mail website states that a man in 60s was arrested in connection with the stabbing of a 40-yea-old man in the village of Tatsfield in Surrey. It all took place at a house on the Kemsley Road, Tatsfield, in the early hours (0720GMT).

The stabbed man's injuries were not life-threatening, but the attacker was arrested on suspicion of grevious bodily harm and bailed until 11 February.

The police are appealing for witnesses.

Click here for more...

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Red sky in the morning...

A lull in the bad weather meant that we could get out on the bikes. Saturday was terrible and had to be aborted, but Sunday was wonderful with an amazing red sky as Phil and I crossed the churchyard in Sanderstead and headed towards Warlingham Green for an 8am meeting with Andy.

Sanderstead Churchyard, Sunday 5th January 2014, around 8am.
The journey was punctuated by potential puncture problems for Phil who was convinced his rear tyre was deflating. We stopped on a couple of occasions to check it out, but in the end, pumping it up by the pond at the top of Slines Oak Road seemed to do the trick.

As we pressed on along the 269 towards the Tatsfield Bus Stop – our chosen destination – the sky turned into what my father used to call a 'mackerel sky' for all the obvious reasons (it looked like the grey, scaly body of a fish – perhaps a mackerel).

Temperature wise it was fine, albeit a little chilly, but not unbearably so. Phil led the way and it wasn't long before we found ourselves free-wheeling towards the bus stop and the promise of some Christmas cake supplied by Phil, which was very tasty, based on a recipe by Phil's grandmother.

Phil, Matt and Andy at the Tatsfield Bus Stop, Sunday 5th January 2014
We haven't seen Phil since early November, but he's back and plans to keep up the riding.

After tea and three slabs of cake (one slab each – and note the word 'slab' as opposed to 'slice') we packed up and headed home the way we came (along the 269). Andy, as usual, branched off halfway along and Phil and I continued towards Warlingham, through the Green, down through Hamsey and into Sanderstead High Street before crossing the churchyard and free-wheeling down Church Way towards home.

Now, as I write this at 0717hrs on Monday morning, the weather is, once again, appalling. The rain has been hammering down on the conservatory roof and the wind has been blowing strong all through the night. So much for my plan to ride out to the Green this morning for a quick eight-miler!

Andy's not riding next Saturday or Sunday, so it'll be down to Phil and I, but we'll all be back on the bikes the following week, weather permitting.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The rain and the wind continue to batter the UK...and there's no riding today

There are severe weather warnings as the rain and wind continue to batter the UK and, as I sit here now, it carries on; the rain hitting the roof and the wind blowing everywhere. A ride is completely out of the question so this morning I sent an 'abort' text to Andy and he sent one back saying 'let's see what it's like tomorrow'.
Jon in drier times at Hunger's End, Merstham.
I'd like to think we'll get out tomorrow, but the weather forecasters think differently. The UK, they say, is in for some severe winds and rains. Already, as this blog has reported, there has been extensive flooding and power cuts, people have been washed out to sea, the trains have experienced severe delays due to things like fallen trees, and there are, as I've said, problems with travel everywhere.

In fact, I can't think of anything more unpleasant than jumping on the bike and going for a ride. Having said that, my brother Jon enters the NoVisibleLycra "Respect is Due" hall of fame. He went out for a ride on New Year's Day, over to mum's, and took a major soaking in the process. He called me from mum's where I'm guessing he was standing in his underpants, his clothes drying on various radiators.

The story goes that once his clothes were dry he put them on and rode off home, taking another soaking. Still, it gets a 'well done' from the NoVisibleLycra "Respect is Due" committee.