Thursday, 31 July 2014

Between a rock and a wooden bus shelter...

The corn fields of Iowa? Nope, just a short ride from (ahem) Croydon.
This shot of my Kona Scrap taken along Beddlestead Lane a few weeks ago, probably a few months ago as the trees, I notice, are still bare. We must have been on our way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, hence the stupid headline for this post. I rather like the shot as it looks as if it might have been taken somewhere hot and desert-like when, in fact, it wasn't more than 40 minutes ride to central Croydon.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

To the Tatsfield Churchyard....looking like a right nork

Foolishly I didn't ride out on Saturday, despite the amazing weather, but Sunday Andy and I headed for the Tatsfield Churchyard. Mind you, I was looking like a right gaylord. Check out that disgusting tee-shirt (courtesy of Nestlé Foodservice and years old), and what about those God awful shorts? Add the crash helmet and, well, I look like a right nork. The worst thing is I spent the weekend in those shorts. Alright, I changed the tee-shirt and the socks, but bloody hell, what was I thinking?

Matt and Andy at Tatsfield churchyard
We rode the fast way to the churchyard and later than usual. Nothing untoward happened and I reached  home at 0950hrs.

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Road Headed West by Leon McCarron

There is a growing number of very good travel books based around the bicycle. Mike Carter's One Man and His Bike and Rob Lilwall's Cycling Home from Siberia spring to mind and now I'd like to add one more: Leon McCarron's The Road Headed West.
Leon McCarron with Lola, his trusty steed.

McCarron's book is all about his ride from the East to the West coast of the USA at a time when many of his peers are back home – although exactly where home is I'm not sure – looking for work in recessionary Western Europe.

Short chapters make it easy to read and, like all travel books of this nature, the reader has that strong sense of moving forward and being part of McCarron's adventure from the word go.

The book starts in New York where McCarron, a film studies graduate, has been working in some kind of routine job, possibly an internship, and has decided to throw caution to the wind and cycle from one side of the USA to the other. The plan is simply (I use that word 'simply' advisedly) to ride from New York to Seattle but when he gets there, McCarron realises that he still has that thirst for adventure and continues on down the West coast towards the border with Mexico, although this bit of the book isn't really as detailed as the main journey from East to West coast.

While McCarron, like many travel writers, points out that it's by far the best bet to travel/ride alone – and not be influenced by others or, indeed, be prevented from making friends with others en route and decide upon your own destiny – he does spend a great deal of time in the company of others, namely Susie, Matt, Sean and Alex plus somebody called Bryan who, I have to admit, I felt rather sorry for as McCarron singles him out for some reason, not as somebody he doesn't like, but as somebody he seems to have less time for than the others. This mildly annoyed me.

New York – the start of the adventure
That McCarron spends more time in the company of others than Mike Carter or Rob Lilwall doesn't in any way detract from the greatness of his book or the quality of the adventure. In fact, quite the opposite as dialogue here and there brings the book alive. While Carter and Lilwall tended to shun company more than McCarron, I think it depends on where you're going to ride. In the UK, riding around the coast, say, I'd probably shun company to a great extent and allow my thoughts to roam free on the ride. In the USA, however, I'm with Leon on the whole company thing and while, as he says in the book, he gets used to camping alone on occasion, I'd feel a lot happier knowing that others were around in case of emergency. In fact, talking of emergencies, Leon has one encounter with a gun-toting nutter in Iowa, quite a terrifying encounter as it happens, and I was amazed that he made such a clean escape considering he had a heavily loaded bike to lug around too.

He overpacks, as did Mike Carter in One Man & His Bike and even pulls a trailer along behind his bike all the way across the USA, something I would have avoided like the plague. It's odd when I think that Andy and I often discuss books like McCarron's and Carter's and Lilwall's and I've always been of the opinion that if I was going to do something similar, ie ride across the USA or around the coast of England (Lilwall's riding home from Siberia seemed a little excessive to me) I would travel as light as possible: I'd take the tent but I'd probably map out a route that enabled me to stay in cheap hotels or guest houses. Easier said than done, I'd imagine, but for me it would be panniers, not a trailer, some waterproofs, and a few essentials. I might carry a book, but not books, and I'd ensure that I had a credit card too.
Iowa – not Leon's favourite US state (looks great to me).
He doesn't like Iowa and he doesn't like Michigan, mainly because, in Iowa, everything is so flat and samey and, I guess, monotonous. In Michigan it was the down-at-heel nature of the places he passed through. Other close encounters include a bear that pads around outside his tent  because he's left half a chocolate bar in his pocket, but outside of that, traffic is the big danger along with the occasional bout of reckless riding, when he forgets the rules he set himself, and bridges without a hard shoulder.

Like all good adventurers, Leon has the girl at home (Clare) to occasionally consider. Lilwall met somebody en route and Carter was recently divorced (which led to two excellent travel books, the other one being Uneasy Rider).

What I found heartening about Leon's book, as, indeed, Carter's and Lilwall's, was the generosity of those they met on the road and the fact that many folk offered them food and accommodation. Leon meets more good people than bad and relies upon a website ( to find people willing to offer a bed for the night. Invariably the people on appear to be very laid back and always on the way out, ie they're off on holiday or going away for the weekend but are happy to leave Leon with the keys and give him the run of the house or apartment. Still, it seems to have worked and Leon doesn't encounter any problems from what appears to be a like-minded community of people all over the world (and certainly in the USA).

Leon does a good job describing the changing scenery as he progresses from East to West and, as Rob Lilwall says on the book's front cover, it "Will inspire you to chase your bicycle adventure dreams." Well, it certainly did.
Seattle, Washington, but the ride didn't end here
At no stage was I left wondering how the hell Leon could afford to embark upon such an adventure. What annoyed me about Carter's One Man & His Bike and Lilwall's Cycling Home from Siberia was a nagging thought of 'how can they afford to do this?' Well, one thing was clear: they were free from responsibility. Carter was recently divorced and Lilwall single, but that's not the issue, it's the money that bugged me and the fact that the book's publishers in a way misled the reader, although I won't level that criticism at Leon, even if the back cover of his book asks "What happens when you swap the nine-to-five for two wheels and the journey of a lifetime?" Because that's what he does, rather than remain in full-time education or be unemployed.

Carter's back cover asks "What would happen if you were cycling to the office and just kept on pedalling past?" Well, the truth of the matter was that he didn't just ride to work and keep on going, he planned the trip to some degree, the office knew he was doing it and let's not think otherwise. Throughout One Man & His Bike (which I still think is among the best books I've ever read) I found myself wondering how he was funding the trip and I'm guessing that somewhere he explained, although perhaps not that clearly. I know, for instance, that he rented out his flat and I'm assuming that, as a journalist, he wrote about his adventures in the newspaper he was working for, but it's not made crystal clear.

Leon gets by on a few dollars a day and while at first I found this hard to believe, I began to realise that when you're on the road and often in the middle of nowhere, there's not much to spend money on.

Finally, another great thing about Leon's book is the bit at the end entitled Cycle Touring: a how-to of bicycle travel in which he outlines every element of what is needed to embark upon such an adventure. I liked the fact that he makes it clear how accessible cycling is to everybody and that you don't even have to be that fit as the very act of cycling gets you fitter and fitter as the days go by. Start off doing around 40 miles a day (easy if you're a regular cyclist) and build up from there.

In the Epilogue, Leon explains how his journey didn't end in on the Mexican border. "After a little while in Mexico I rode back north to LA on whim, and eventually made my way to New Zealand. Passage came courtesy of a free air ticket that was bestowed upon me by a large Kiwi corporation after I sent them an email telling them I would like to visit their country and ride my bicycle and keep a blog about my travels."

He visited the North and South islands of New Zealand, pedalled the East Coast of Australia and also rode through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and China.

"Perhaps some day I will write a book of those cycling days...". Well, let's hope so, Leon.

Further information,

To buy The Road Headed West by Leon McCarron, click here.

Watch the book's promotional video by clicking here.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

To Westerham for Mary Berry's Christmas cake...

It's been discussed and now it's become reality. Mary Berry's Christmas cake, made by Phil, has made it on the ride. It was fantastic.

We met on Warlingham Green at 0700hrs, waited a few minutes for Andy and then, heads down, we set our sights on a 22-mile round trip to Westerham, knowing full well that when we got there, we'd be eating cake.

Happiness is a huge slab of cake: Matt, Andy and Phil (LtoR).
We parked our bikes, took our seats and tucked in and Andy had the audacity to bring biscuits too.

Great weather characterised the ride. Cloudy but warm and bright and later sunshine.

But Mary Berry's Christmas cake won the day and we all enjoyed what can only be described as 'chunks' or 'slabs' of the cake.

We arrived at Westerham at 0750hrs and were getting a few strange looks from passers-by as we made ourselves comfortable at the wooden tables behind the statue of General Wolfe. People were quite clearly envious of the cake, the biscuits and the hot tea that we were enjoying.

I struck up a conversation with a Lycra monkey from Tunbridge Wells. He didn't look as if he ate cake. Quite the contrary, he was lithe and Lycra-clad and was putting in a good 67km, he said, before breakfast. I pointed to our mountain bikes with their fat tyres and clumsy demeanour and said we'd be tackling Westerham Hill later, but he spied the cake on the table and I don't think he took me seriously.

Around 0830hrs we headed out of town and up the hill, stopping halfway along the 269 to say goodbye to Andy. It takes me just under one hour to ride from Westerham back to South Croydon, not bad considering the hills.

I reached home around 0930hrs and then drove to Felpham for a long walk on the beach.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

To Botley Hill alone and later than usual because of the rain...

Early rain put paid to any chance of getting out for an early morning ride. Had the weather been nicer I would have hoofed it down to Westerham but, as promised by the weather forecasters, it was grey, rainy and stormy. I kept looking out and watching the birdbath, looking for splashes of rain (and finding them). But, by 0930hrs, it began to brighten up, the skies cleared and the sun poked its head out from behind the clouds.
Over the road from the Botley Hill Farmhouse...

While it was tempting to simply say that time had passed and the moment had gone, it hadn't gone anywhere and by 1010hrs I was out of the house and riding up Ellenbridge Road towards the usual places: Elmfield Way, Morley Road and Church Way where, because of the late hour, I couldn't break the law – for all of 30 yards. Normally, at the earlier hour of 0630hrs I can ride this short stretch of one-way street without any hassles, but at 1000hrs there are more cars on the road, forcing me to ride around the traffic island. It's a matter of seconds, but there's nowt better than a bit of law-breaking even if it is just riding the wrong way along a one-way street.

The weather was amazing. The skies were full of steamy clouds, it was warm and there was a wonderful freshness in the air. I rode up the Limpsfield Road towards the green and sailed past it in the usual fashion, heading towards Sainsbury's and the Amana coffee shop, a former pub. Then it was Knight's Garden Centre and out into the wilds of the 269, the banks on either side overgrown with summer greenery.

There were more Lycra monkeys on the road than usual, but it was much later than usual so I wasn't complaining. There was also more traffic and more pedestrians. All-in-all everything was much busier than normal, which meant I had to be extra careful.

At the entrance to the Botley Hill Farmhouse pub...
By the time I'd cleared the incline that I normally moan about, the weather was fantastic, the air so fresh, the sky clearing by the second, the heat and humidity building by the second. But I couldn't go any further than Botley, although the temptation to ride to Westerham was strong. I rode to the Botley roundabout and turned around, heading back towards the pub and then back towards home.

The weather simply got better and better. The sun shone brightly all day, I mowed the lawns front and back and went to see mum. We sat in the garden and it was just wonderful. Right now it's dark outside and while more thunder storms are promised, so far there hasn't been a sound. I'm hoping all will be fine for a ride tomorrow especially after Phil's text a few minutes ago. The Mary Berry Christmas cake is in the oven...

Rain and thunder...

I've started reading The Road Headed West, by Leon McCarron, who cycled across America in 2010. I'm almost halfway through it and it's very good. Similar to Rob Lilwall's Cycling Home from Siberia and well worth a read if you like cycling and travelling. Billed as 'a cycling adventure through North America', the book details Leon's ride from New York on the East Coast of America to Seattle in the West, although, looking at the map at the front of the book (all good travel books have maps in the front) he rides south along the Pacific coast towards Mexico.

Leon McCarron – he's written a great cycling book.

The reason I'm sitting here writing about Leon's excellent book is because of the rain. I know that Leon wouldn't worry about such things, but then he was attempting to get from A to B in a foreign country, whereas I'm just going out for the sake of a bit of exercise and the rain ain't pleasant when you're planning a shortish ride (say 15 miles) so I'm sitting in my conservatory instead, hoping that tomorrow will bring the good weather or that things will brighten up and I can go out today. Unfortunately, neither Andy nor Phil are riding today, so the motivation isn't there either.

It's stopped raining now, but it could just as easily start again. The skies are grey and we've been promised a thundery, stormy sort of day, so I'll probably not ride out today and besides, the momentum has been lost and there are things to do, as always, although never say never; I might well get out there around 10am, not sure.

I hate days like this and in many ways I would rather be in Leon's position. He'd either be riding through the rain or taking cover somewhere in a ditch or hedge until the weather blows over. But then, as I said, he's moving from A to B, from the East to the West coast of the USA. I'm simply considering a ride to Botley Hill and back, although, if you remember my last post, I was out in the rain, taking shelter for a few minutes and then heading for Westerham – a true adventurer! But not this weekend...not yet!

Harris – somebody should have tied his kangaroo
down, sport.
The weather has been excellent: hot sunshine all week, thunder and lightening at night and humidity, you get the picture. But, here we are: Saturday morning and there's grey skies and rain. I figure that things can only better.

In the news? Russian-backed separatists in the Ukraine have shot down a Malaysian Airlines commercial jet carrying 295 innocent people. One word: bastards! In other news, the Israelis are killing Palestinians. Bastards! Hamas is firing rockets into Israel indiscriminately. Bastards! Oddly, we've not heard anything from Isis of late or any news of the West going in there to sort them out with their new pals, the Iranians. You know what? I was thinking about Tony Blair the other day and that thing about him being appointed peace envoy for the Middle East. I can't recall whether or not he was actually appointed, but when you think about it, if he was appointed, it's similar to putting Rolf Harris in charge of child welfare or allowing Harold Shipman to head up the campaign for assisted dying.

There's so much more to look forward to: British politicians and paedophilia – that's yet to kick off. There are certainly big suspicions and stories of a cover-up by the police, so expect more 'breaking news' in that department, just as soon as they've sorted out who their dead scapegoats ought to be. And talking of dead scapegoats, this literally just in... they've found one – the late Viscount Tonypandy!

Blair – he's still at large.
What always amazes me is that, for years, we've all had it drummed into us that we, the British, are an example to the rest of the world – the only nation that does things in the right and proper manner. We watch on scornfully (and a little smugly) as other countries' political leaders mess up and get involved in scandals of one sort or another, or are discovered to be corrupt. We look on in horror as the military atrocities of other nations (the Serbians, for example) unfold on our television screens and we all sit back and thank our lucky stars that we are British and the British do things properly. You won't find British newspapers doing anything underhand, like hacking the mobile phone of a murdered schoolgirl. You won't catch our politicians fiddling their expenses. And our 'national treasures' are just that – you certainly won't catch them abusing children... and likewise our politicians, they're the best in the world, they're setting an example for others to follow. I mean, look at the late Cyril Smith, he was an example to us all! And as for our military, well, they're squeaky clean too, they're not going to ill-treat their prisoners of war. And our governments aren't going to get engaged in 'illegal' wars, are they?

However, slowly but surely we discover that yes, they are just as bad as everybody else – and always have been – and will do their level best to cover up their misdemeanours until somebody blows the whistle on them.

Hague and Jolie: Just make war illegal and call it a day.
And what's all this about 'illegal' wars? How can a war be 'illegal'? When Hitler walked into Poland did somebody in a grey suit holding a clipboard approach him and say, "I'm sorry Mr Hitler, you can't do that, it's against the law." Perhaps they did, but he didn't take any notice and that's how wars start, when somebody does something that another country isn't happy about, ie invade them. That term 'illegal' really annoys me. So the Russian separatists committed an 'illegal' act by blowing up the Malaysian airliner. Of course they did, but who's going to appear in court next week? Nobody, because its a war situation. And what about Angelina Jolie and William Hague going around saying they're going to make it illegal to rape somebody in the theatre of war? Does that mean that, at present, it's legal to rape somebody in a war situation? If so, shouldn't 'rape tourism' be rife in war zones? Surely Hague and Jolie would be better off cutting out the middle man (in this case rape) and saying it's illegal to kill or injure anybody in war, making war totally pointless. And then, after the 'law' has been passed – assuming it's a universal  law recognised by all – the leaders of nations at war will have to make do with a huge snakes and ladders board that they can unravel on some lonely battlefield in Switzerland (it would have to be a neutral country) and resolve their disputes with a set of dice and a few coloured counters. And if they weaken and starting fighting – which would be illegal, don't forget – they'll be electronically tagged and told to stay in after 8pm or face the consequences – 150 hours community service or a short spell in an open prison in West Sussex where they can escape and rob a post office.

Putin: not to be trusted
Sometimes I find myself getting very angry at all that is going on. And the reason is quite simple: it's knowing that nothing is going to be done about any of it. It's not so much a case of 'we're all in it together', it's more a case of 'they are all in it together'. The West is pussyfooting around Putin and not really responding to the man's atrocious behaviour; it's the same with Isis – nobody's going to do anything and we've just heard that they're giving the people of Mosul an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay a special tax or die. Saddam Hussein, as bad as he was, at least maintained order between the various warring factions in Iraq. Now, thanks to Bush and Blair (who are still at large, by the way) he's gone – and our troops have pulled out – and the nutters are free to take over and that's just what is happening. I find it odd that nobody appears to be doing anything about it. Similarly Afghanistan. Once US and British troops are out of the country, the nutters will take charge again and it will all have been a complete waste of time and money – a terrible insult to all those servicemen and women who have died fighting 'for Queen and Country'.

I know it sounds a little corny 'in this day and age' but all I want is for everybody to live in peace and harmony. The root of the problem, of course, is religion. How pathetic. When will people learn? We're all the same, there's no life after death, no God, no devil, no nothing. We're all going to die. Get over it.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Westerham alone and in the rain...

Up with the lark this morning. Well, not with the lark, I wasn't sleeping in an aviary, for heaven's sake. I was conscious at around 0540hrs and then, when the alarm went off at 0600hrs I was ready to jump out of bed and head downstairs for some tea, a banana and Weetabix with cold milk (I slice the banana, sprinkle it over the Weetbix and then add milk and sugar). Then, at around 0630hrs, having gazed out of the window to check the weather (and finding it was not raining) I retrieved the bike from the garage and headed for the green to meet Andy.
Sheltering from the rain Sunday morning outside Waitrose around
0645hrs – at this stage I was only planning to reach Warlingham Green
But the weather was going to let me down, I could feel it. Outside there were grey skies. All was downcast and it was threatening rain. It was fine as I weaved my way around the suburban streets of South Croydon: up Ellenbridge, up Elmfield Way, across Morley and up Church Way but then, as I made my way along Sanderstead High Street (which, incidentally, is a long way from Sanderstead railway station) the rain started to drizzle down. Andy sent me a text saying it was raining. He'd only just left his house, but I'd been out for a good 15 minutes and, once you're out in it, you feel slightly different about it. Fortunately, I found shelter at the Waitrose in Sanderstead where I hoped the bad weather would blow over.

Andy aborted and Phil was in the Cotswolds so I sat on a bench and watched the rain for all of ten minutes before it stopped and I resumed my ride. I'd decided to head for Warlingham Green, have my tea and then head back, but as I sped along the Limpsfield Road I decided to go further: Botley Hill, perhaps, or even the Tatsfield Bus Stop where I could stop and have tea before embarking upon the return journey.

I didn't have to wait more than 10 minutes before resuming the ride...
The weather seemed fine. A little grey, perhaps, with plenty of puddles in the road, but the rain was virtually non-existent as I sailed past Warlingham Green and headed towards Sainsbury's and Knight's Garden Centre. It was either Botley or the bus stop, I thought.

Fortunately I was wearing swimming trunks. Not 'budgie smugglers' but 'shorts' that I'd bought in the USA, probably somewhere like San Antonio, I can't remember, but they were more akin to the shorts worn by boxers than swimmers. Anyway, trunks they were so if they got a little wet it kind of didn't matter so I continued on, past Botley, past the Tatsfield Bus Stop and down the hill towards Westerham. Low cloud hung over the woods below me and the spray from my tyres provided an impromptu shower as I headed down the hill, crossing the Surrey/Kent border and then hitting Westerham proper where a 30mph speed limit sign announced that I'd arrived in the town. I felt good about the fact that I hadn't aborted and that, rather than call it a day at Warlingham Green I'd continued on past the Botley Hill Farmhouse, past the Tatsfield Bus Stop and past the entrance to the Tatsfield Churchyard and on towards Westerham. The ride turned into a good 22-mile work-out.

It was a bit like being on a non-stop train that was passing through empty stations en route to its final destination and in that sense it reminded me of my childhood. When I was a kid I used to pretend that my bike (the old Moulton Mini) was a train. I invented stations along the streets surrounding where I lived. One was called Plumbury because of a Victoria plum tree, the fruit of which hung over a fence. Then there was 'Wanash Gardens'. We lived in a cul-de-sac (my mum still lives there) and Wanash Gardens, while, in reality, the name of a dreary block of flats on the Carshalton Road (which is also still there today) it was the name I gave to a semi-circular chunk of our cul-de-sac. These memories flooded back to me as I rode down the hill into Westerham.

Churchill's statue in Westerham
There was a moment of panic when, for a moment, I thought I was going to fall off the bike. Somehow, my swimming trunks had become entangled in the saddle and I knew that if I stopped the bike I would simply keel over to the left or right and hit the tarmac. This was mildly worrying as I had nothing on underneath the trunks and I suddenly realised that, to untangle myself, I might have to somehow wiggle out of the shorts and then, while stark bollock naked from the waist down (bar socks and trainers) – and certainly while lying on my back with the bike on top of me – I'd have to disentangle the trunks before putting them back on. How humiliating would that be? Very!

Fortunately none of the above happened and I cycled into Westerham fully clothed and without any cause for embarassment, and found myself on the green. The benches were wet, the skies were still grey and it could have rained at any moment, but it didn't. Time for tea... except that when I opened my rucksack I discovered that I hadn't packed my cup or teabags. All I had was a flask of hot water and some milk. Luckily I only disappointed myself. Phil and Andy would have been a little pissed off as tea and cookies are the highlight of our rides. And judging by the way we've been talking of late, it looks as if future rides will be taking on a culinary twist. Yesterday Phil said he was planning to make Mary Berry's Christmas cake – including the icing! I've discussed making a corned beef pie as Phil wants to compare his mum's recipe with mine, and we've even talked about bringing a white tablecloth and a bottle of wine to make a real feast of it all – along with bread pudding for dessert and some Ambrosia Devon Cream custard. We'll see how things go on that front.

Back to the present and, dejected, I resolved to simply ride back home. I sent Andy a text and a photo of yours truly in front of Churchill's statue – with a certain smugness, having reached Westerham alone despite the rain – and then I climbed back on the bike and headed out of town. There was no more rain. In fact it got a little brighter as I headed up the hill, past the churchyard, past the bus stop and past Botley Hill and then back along the 269, into Warlingham, through Hamsey and home.

Saturday 12th July 2014

On Saturday we rode the long way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, our first ride with Andy since he returned from the Canary Islands. Last week our cycling was rained off so it was good to get out on the bike. Going the slow way to the bus stop enabled us to chat about this and that (cakes, Lance Armstrong, Phil's new wheel) and when we reached our destination we enjoyed biscuits (quite a lot of biscuits) and tea before heading back the fast way and parting company with Andy at Warlingham Green – when Andy rides his racer, as he did on Saturday, he never takes the short cut across the fields halfway along the 269. Phil and I headed down the Limpsfield Road, through Hamsey and along Sanderstead High Street. The weather, incidentally, was wonderful: beautiful sunshine that remained all day. We rode down Church Way and home where Phil announced that he had a puncture. A good place to get a puncture, when you reach home, I thought as I unlocked my garage door and padlocked my bike.
Waiting at Warlingham Green for Andy on Saturday morning, but without any 
money to visit that Coughlans Bakery for a mug of tea and a bun. Oh dear.
With such beautiful weather I made my way to the back garden where I enjoyed a cup of tea while reading another, yes another, Bill Bryson book; this time, Made in America. On Friday I finished Down Under.

All in all a good weekend of cycling: 22 miles today and around 16 miles yesterday, so, that's almost 40 miles. Good work!

In the news, the Netherlands beat Brazil 3-0! Last week the Germans beat Brazil 7-1! Today is the final between Germany and Argentina. I'm rooting for the Germans, who I think will win.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Employers can't ignore bicycles, says Slingsby...

Workplace equipment supplier Slingsby is predicting that large numbers of employers could have to make provisions for a surge in cyclists arriving at work every day after the Tour de France’s Grand Départ in the UK over the weekend.

One of Slingsby's many styles of  bike storage unit
Approximately 500,000 people have taken advantage of the Government’s ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme, which enables employees to save money on bikes and safety accessories by making them completely tax-deductible.

Lee Wright, Slingsby's marketing director, said that since the Cycle to Work scheme was launched in 1999 orders for cycle storage equipment has grown prompting the company to expand its product range.

The Cycle to Work Scheme
For further information click here

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Rain stops play (but not Wimbledon)

I've never been a fan of Wimbledon. Well, that's not strictly true. Wimbledon, as in the place in South London, is alright, there are some nice restaurants, there's Wimbledon Common (who can forget the Wombles?) and their used to be a decent football team with, if I recall, Vinny Jones in the line-up; they used to play at Plough Lane, which doesn't seem to be there any more.

Whoever he is, he needs a slap
No, I'm talking about 'Wimbledon' or, to be more precise, the rather snooty All England Lawn Tennis Club and its annual bun fight, otherwise known as 'the Championships'. I hate it. In fact, given half the chance, I'd rather sit through an episode of Doctor Who (click here for more details).

Yesterday was the women's final and what a complete load of boring old rubbish it was too. For a start it only lasted 55 minutes – although that's a blessing in disguise, believe me, as I can't stand it when it becomes obvious that, in the women's game, a third set has to be played before anybody can be crowned the winner and we can all go home (or simply switch off the television). It's even worse in the men's when it drifts towards being a 'five-setter'. Alright, I know I have the choice as there's always the 'off button', but you get my drift.

There was a time when tennis was full of personalities and the sun always seemed to shine, back in the late seventies and eighties when Borg, McEnroe, Nastase and Connors ruled the courts, when it was fun to watch and you could be guaranteed a decent match instead of the equivalent of a 0-0 draw in football (for more on the beautiful game, click here). Remember McEnroe insulting the referee and all that 'you can't be serious' stuff? Nastase being told to 'play on'?

The women's game has always been boring, even in the seventies and eighties, and full of boring personalities: Rosie Casals (men's legs and Y-fronts) Virginia Wade (not my cup of tea) Navratilova (rather boringly, she went through a phase of always winning, a bit like Schumacher in Formula One) and Billie Jean King (enough said). There's nothing worse than the same person winning year-in, year-out. Look at the Williams sisters: a few years ago, one of them was always in the final – on one occasion they were both in the final – very boring and very predictable.

Why aren't there any tennis hooligans? That would liven things up. A bunch of bare-chested, tattooed lager louts with beer guts chanting 'you're gonna get your fuckin' 'ead kicked in!' Why can't we have court invasions and rival supporters goading one another on the way to the match? Imagine if the players were unruly: Djokovic jumping the net and biting his opponent on the shoulder, perhaps, or Kung-Fu kicking a spectator like that French bloke from Manchester United.

That, of course, is the main problem with Wimbledon: it's horribly genteel, middle class and elitist with 'safe' television presenters like Sue Barker in her 'egg shell blue' suit purchased, no doubt, from some trendy, but boring, boutique for 'the older woman' in Barnes. You never get the feeling that it's all about to kick off because, quite simply, it isn't. The spectators are safe and boring too: they either read the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph and live in the Home Counties or they're horribly affluent-looking Europeans who, basically, need a good slap once in a while. I can't stand it when the camera picks out a player's coaching team, sitting there in Ray Bans and expensive sportswear looking concerned at the way the match might be going.

And don't you hate it when the camera scans the spectators in search of 'a celebrity' and then, on spying one, hovers for a while so we can all catch a glimpse of, I don't know, Sir Terry bloody Wogan, sitting there self-consciously in expensive-looking sunglasses and whispering to an equally affluent companion. And everyone at home is wondering, "Ooh! Who is it? Is it his wife? Is it his daughter?" Don't worry, Sir Terry doesn't fool around and nor does anybody at Wimbledon – apart from Boris Becker in that broom cupboard.

Well, it's nearly over, thank the Lord. Today Federer plays Djokovic. Federer's already won it God knows how many times, but he keeps coming back for more and everyone claps politely when he emerges on Centre Court as if he's an old friend of the family. If he wins today, incidentally, he would have won it eight times. How boring is that? There should be a rule stating that once you've won it three times you can't play at Wimbledon anymore – other than in the ultra-boring mixed doubles.

And today, of course, if it rains they simply switch on the roof and hey presto! Play can continue. Why can't they rip that roof off its hinges and get back to the good old days of 'rain stops play' – cue shots of people sheltering under umbrellas and the covers going over centre court while the All England club's referee looks up at grey skies unable to second guess God's next move and God's just sitting there on his Lazy Boy with a can of Stella saying "Job done, my son!"

I've never liked Wimbledon (or any spectator sport for that matter) and never will and I'm a piss-poor tennis player too. In fact, I'm absolutely pants at it. If you play tennis with me you'll spend more time retrieving the balls than playing the game.

You know what I'm waiting for later today? When the match is over, somebody is crowned the winner and the poor man's Duke of Edinburgh comes out from under his stone (you never see him at any other time of year) to chat with the ball boys and present the trophy, although that's pretty boring too. The 'winner' kissing the cup, the loser looking pissed off – but holding back his jagged emotions – and the crowd taking photos on their smart phones. Now that's when it should all kick off. The loser should either leave the court in a rage, never to return, having smashed up his racket and thrown it at the umpire OR he should wait for the Barker interview to vent his anger at the world and then walk off, having insulted Barker and sticking his fingers up at the crowd as he makes his way to the dressing room – bugger those numpties with their over-sized tennis balls asking for autographs.

Then, all that remains, is that horrible, light-hearted bit when the BBC cobbles together some 'funny' stuff. You know the drill: umbrellas turning inside out in a squall, people sheltering from the storm under a tarpaulin, a pigeon waddling on to centre court. Ho! Ho! Ho!