Monday, 27 October 2014

As the clocks go back...

If time is a winged chariot soaring through outer space, then I was ahead of it on Sunday morning. Despite the fact that, for most people, the clocks going back mean an extra hour in bed, it wasn't to be for me as I woke up ahead of the game. The clock glowing brightly on my bedside table was living in the future and the only reliable piece of time-telling equipment was my iphone, which was downstairs on the console table awaiting its chance to shout out that it was six o'clock and time to get up. But I was way ahead of the game. I turned and looked at the bedside clock and it was something like four o'clock in the morning, which meant it was really an hour earlier, although downstairs in iphone land all was well. I had hoped that I might wake up nearer to 'six am' only to remember that it was really only five am, but no. It was annoying because once awake, it's impossible to get back to sleep. Or rather it's not impossible, I just tend to nod back off about a minute before it's time to get up. And sure enough, the iphone, like that monkey in Toy Story 3, starting making a noise downstairs.

"There's a job for you in the fire escape trade! Come up to town!"

"What's that?"
"Don't worry, it's the iphone. Time to go for a ride."
"What time is it?"
"Well, it's really six o'clock, but it's also seven o'clock."
"What's the real time?"
"But it's really seven."
"No, it's six, but yesterday, at this very moment, it was seven o'clock."
"The clocks have gone back."

Why is it that when the clocks go back everyone gets up to 'experience' the thrill of being up at a time when, only 24 hours earlier, it was an hour later than the present? Outside nothing looked any different,   except it was a little darker. It doesn't make any sense but, suddenly, downstairs was blessed with three people rather than just me pottering around silently in the kitchen. The silence was disturbed by Desperate Housewives and I eventually headed for the garage around ten past seven o'clock.

The gears were still playing up, but what was I expecting? That they would cure themselves? That the bike would somehow 'get better'? A trip to the bike shop still beckons in other words.

I sent Andy a text. "Running 10 minutes late" and then made my way towards the green. It was a pleasant day. Not too cold, but dark and grey and looking like rain, although, fortunately, we were spared a soaking.

I should have riden out yesterday, but I had to drive over to Balham (in South London) early in the morning, which was mildly annoying – not that Andy went out and with Phil away on holiday it was only me. Still, it gave me a chance to listen to Radio Four in the car, which was good and for some reason I hadn't put two and two together where the broadcaster and journalist Jay Rayner was concerned: he's Claire Rayner's son. I remember meeting his father, who was a really good artist, but I can't remember the circumstances behind the meeting. I might also have met Claire Rayner too, but I can't remember.

The lake was on the agenda, but...
The plan was to head for the lake and had I not left later and had there not been things to do I would have gone there. It's odd how all three of us – Andy, Phil and myself – have all been to the lake alone but not as a 'team', not since May 2013 (if my memory serves me correctly) when Phil and I rode there. Instead we rode to Westerham and as we roared along the 269 ('puttered' would be a more apt description) a vintage Ferrari was coming the other way. It was green. Rare, says Andy, but I don't give a stuff about cars. They are, for me, and much to Andy's horror, purely a means of getting from A to B. "After a few rides it would be just a dashboard and a windscreen, like any other car, the wipers going back and forth in the rain," I said, dismissively, and Andy threatened to turn around a cycle home.

We rode to Botley and on the B2024 (Clarks Lane) heading for Westerham. It was typical NoVisibleLycra weather – dark skies, the threat of rain, but it was relatively warm. Perfect cycling conditions, we both agreed as we rode into the town centre.

As we sat and drank tea, we also munched biscuits and discussed the case for not making a living out of photography. Well, not so much dismissing it entirely but agreeing that, these days, thanks to digital technology, most people think they're professional photographers and this kind of limits the market for those who take photographs for a living. In editorial circles, the digital revolution means that journalists now double as photographers (and the quality dips considerably as a result), leaving advertising as the only real outlet for the professional photographer. I'm not a photographer, but I know one of the very best, Robert Wilkinson; Andy, on the other hand, would love to make a career out of what is now a hobby. And who can blame him? But, as we both said, it's a tough nut to crack, especially if you're just starting out.

Mounting the bikes we headed out of Westerham and prepared ourselves for Westerham Hill and that long climb towards the Botley Hill Farmhouse. We've run out of ideas on the photography front (hence the shot above of a fire escape in northern England) and decided that new destinations were needed to make our blog images less predictable (shots of the bikes, shots of Churchill's or General Wolfe's statue, shots of us sitting at the bench drinking tea – all very predictable). We discussed the lake, but then realised we'd exhausted it in photography terms and besides, it's just that little bit too far for a Saturday or Sunday morning. That said, we haven't been to Hunger's End for a while or Redhill (and there's plenty of photographic opportunities in Redhill, I can tell you!

The irony of it all!
To take our minds off the hill, we discussed irony. A good example of something that is ironic is Nigel Farage being an MEP,  a Member of the European Parliament. Why? Because Nigel Farage is anti-Europe and wants the UK to come out of Europe – he's causing the Tories a lot of problems at the moment on matters concerning immigration. It's ironic, therefore, that he is an MEP and also quite ridiculous when you consider that if Nigel Farage's UKIP achieves its ultimate objective, Mr Farage will be out of a job!

We then set about distinguishing irony from 'contradictory' and from 'hypocrisy' and it all got a little heavy as we heaved our way up the hill, passing the steps leading to the Tatsfield Churchyard and pressing on past the Tatsfield Bus Stop to the Botley Hill roundabout. Was it hypocritcal of Nigel Farage to be an MEP? Or was there some kind of contradiction involved? Was it a paradox or purely ridiculous? We never really came to any conclusion, but it helped pass the time as we climbed the hill and soon we were riding along the 269 heading North. It was a clear day and from across vast expanses of fields and suburbia, in the distance, but clearly visible, we could see the entire panorama of Central London stretching from West to East and embracing the City of London and Docklands.

Andy left half way along the 269, heading for Wapses Roundabout and another climb, this time into Caterham on the Hill. I carried on towards Warlingham Green, but stopped off briefly to answer the call of nature near the pond at the top of Slines Oak Road. There's a new bike shop opened opposite Warlingham Sainsbury's, selling top-end mountain bikes with obscure brand names I've never heard of before; something tells me this is real pro's shop.

I reached home at just past 10 o'clock and got on with the rest of my Sunday – a pleasant trip to Forest Row for tea and cake and then a browse around what we call 'The Elephant Shop' at Sheffield Park, 10 miles north of Lewes.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Finding the source of the B269...on another solo ride to Botley Hill

You know, it's odd how anybody can be SO boring, but here I am being just that: boring. I mean, who in their right mind would be interested in finding the source of a B-Road? As if 'the source' of a B-Road even exists! They simply start and finish. They're not rivers, like the Nile or the Amazon, they're simply tarmac roads that, most of the time, go to boring places – just like the writer of this post.
The Red Deer, South Croydon, marks the start of the 269.

The B269 goes to Edenbridge. It starts in South Croydon next to a pub called the Red Deer, except that the pub in question doesn't exist anymore; it's now a Morrison's Local (a small supermarket) that has cashed in on the fact that pubs all over the UK are closing at a rate of knots, thanks to a number of reasons. One reason is the amount of duty the Government puts on beer. The brewers simply pass it on to the customers and now a pint of bitter will set you back almost £4. In some parts of London, a pint is even more expensive than that!

Another reason for the pubs closing down is home entertainment. Rather than go out, a lot of people stew in front of their flatscreen televisions with cheap beer they purchased from the supermarket. In fact, there's a kind of irony in the fact that a former pub has been transformed into a supermarket, but there you have it; the Red Deer isn't the first and it won't be the last. In fact, there's a pub in Sutton (or there was a pub in Sutton) called the Woodman and it is now a Tesco Express. What a sorry state of affairs.

So the B269 starts by a former pub. The Red Deer used to be a live band venue 'back in the day.

Further along the 269 – Sanderstead Church and pond
I was on my way to mum's this morning. I'd left later than usual as it was raining heavily when I was originally due to leave the house and meet Andy at Warlingham Green. We agreed to abort, but then, as the sun rose, the rain stopped. I sent Andy a text saying I was going out, but he didn't reply until later in the day (Andy rode out locally). It was around 0800hrs when I found myself on the bike and decided to head for mum's, but then I changed my mind. I didn't fancy the suburban ride. I didn't change my mind, however, until I reached the Brighton Road and saw, in the distance, the Red Deer.

I decided to ride the length of the B269 from beginning to end (wrongly thinking that it ended just past Botley Hill. Why I thought that, I don't know, but when I reached Botley, my heart sank as I saw a road sign stating that Edenbridge – not Botley Hill – was the end of the line for the 269.

Reaching familiar territory – Warlingham Green
The ride from the Red Deer to Sanderstead (the only bit of the 269 that I haven't riden along with any purpose) is basically one long suburban hill flanked by residential property. It levels out when it reaches Sanderstead High Street and remains relatively flat until it passes Ledgers Road, where things get a little more rural and, for a short while, a little steeper. But I ride this section of the road virtually every weekend and I've probably told you about it many times before; I've even riden the bit beyond Botley, down Titsey Hill and around the corner into Limpsfield, but I've yet to ride to Edenbridge, although that's likely to be next on the agenda.

The 269 soon leaves suburbia behind it...
Today I rode all the way to Botley Hill (I say 'all the way' as if it's miles and miles when, in reality, it's our shortest default ride) from the Red Deer in South Croydon and then, because I was riding alone, there was no tea or biscuits. And when there's nothing to eat or drink, there's nothing else to do other than get home, so off I went, getting soaked in the process, but not from the rain. It was the puddles left behind from the rain and the spray that caused the problems. The rain had stopped ages ago – around 0700hrs to be sort of precise – but it had left behind wet roads and puddles. My bike has no mudguards – it's never had mudguards as it's not that sort of bike – but when it rains, well, put it this way, it's a bit of a hassle keeping dry. When I reach home under such circumstances I'm not allowed to sit down (understandably) so I take everything off, change and then have a much-needed cup of tea.

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the 
B269 continues to Edenbridge. And there was me thinking
it came to an end just past the Botley Hill Farmhouse.
I might ride down Titsey Hill again one of these days and follow the 269 to the end, to Edenbridge, let's see, but today I was happy with simply taking a ride as the rain had threatened to keep me indoors. Fortunately, it stopped.

I like this shot of the old Scrap, taken Sunday on the 269.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Solo ride to Botley Hill (14 miles)

Both Phil and Andy aborted so it was left to me to fly the flag for the blog. I wavered a little at first, but around 0800hrs I headed for the garage and my awaiting bike. A short ride was on the cards so I opted for Botley Hill, although I toyed with the idea of the Tatsfield Bus Stop. However, with no tea to drink (I rarely make the tea when I'm riding alone) I figured that a virtually non-stop ride to Botley would be best, with a brief stop to take the obligatory photograph or two.

At The Ridge, near Botley Hill roundabout, Saturday 18 October 2014
The weather was amazing. While there was a fairly strong breeze, very gusty and travelling from right to left as I made my way along the B269, it was surprisingly warm, which was very pleasant. Not quite like having the hairdryer blowing on my face, but not far off. The sky was like a water colour painting, a kind of light blue-grey colour with streaked clouds here and there; talk about an Indian summer, it's getting to be more like an Indian winter (although I know what they're like, having visited Southern India at Christmas time a few years ago – and they're not like England in October).

My gears are still playing up. This time they were clunking and cracking a little more than usual, but, as always, they eventually settled down and at one stage I discovered that the chain had magically moved on to the lower crank at the right, something it hadn't done for a few weeks. So I need to pay a visit to the bike shop (as I said last week) but, sadly, once again, I'm still on Skid Row so it'll have to wait.

I rode past all the usual landmarks: Warlingham Sainsbury's; Knights Garden Centre; the pond at the top of Slines Oak Road and then all the way to Botley Hill where I rode past the pub, down to the roundabout and then, stopping briefly at the top of The Ridge to take the shots accompanying his post, I  re-mounted and rode home.

Yours truly at The Ridge this morning
While it had rained during the night or early morning (there were puddles to prove it and I got a wet arse due to my insistence not to buy mudguards) there was no sign of more rain throughout the ride and I reached home relatively unscathed by the weather. I must remember, however, not to ride 'no hands' when there are gusts of wind around – even if they are warm gusts. As I rode cockily down Church Way a sudden gust almost knocked off balance and off the bike, but, fortunately, I managed to retain control of the machine as I rode towards Morley Road and home.

Here's hoping that Andy's on for a ride tomorrow. I don't think Phil will be there as he seems to be fairly busy these days.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Playing with time...

As we approach the time when the clocks are turned back, the weather is still sort of okay. We've had a bit of rain during the week – always a tad depressing – but otherwise it's been alright and pretty warm too. However, it's dark out there at 0642hrs as I sit in the conservatory and while I've already detected one of those wonderful morning skies of streaked grey cloud and, as yet, no sign of rain, I'm still debating whether to simply miss the ride today or go out somewhere. The fact that I'm debating it at all is due to both Phil and Andy aborting, leaving me with the awful task of self-motivation, although it often means that I ride to mum's for an early morning breakfast and a chat with Jon, if he's there. That's fine, but I always rather despise the ride home when things are busier on the roads and that early morning feeling has been replaced by a mildly fretful journey through the suburban landscape of Wallington and Croydon.

I'm always caught unawares by the clocks going back (or forward for that matter) and I often find myself leaving in the future (or the past) for a few days until I finally get round to altering all the clocks and existing in the present day. It's a shame that when they put the clocks back or forward it's only by one hour; it would be much more dramatic if they moved, say five or six hours, creating a form of jet lag for everybody. A silly idea, I know, and it wouldn't achieve anything other than complete chaos. Imagine, for instance, if one minute it's seven o'clock in the morning and the next it's midnight? It might work when the clocks go back, but probably not when they go forward when 7am has suddenly become twelve noon and you wake up not to breakfast, but lunch, having slept through the entire morning.

October is a funny month. Not only do the clocks go back, bringing winter into sharp focus, but I always find myself debating whether to take a coat or an umbrella when I venture out and usually end up either carrying too much to work or simply getting a little too hot having donned cardigan and raincoat, bobble hat and umbrella and then clunking and clattering along the road with an awkward gait, dropping something like my plastic sandwich box on the hard pavement and constantly swapping umbrella and bag from one hand to the other – nothing streamlined about it, just a chaotic amble rather than a purposeful walk.

Umbrellas are horrible things. When you buy them new (as I did this week) they look nice and neat, all folded up and as streamlined as a walking stick; but once opened they never ever go back to that state and if you've bought one of those small black umbrellas that can fit in your bag or case, they soon look as if you're carrying a dead crow around with you rather than an essential piece of equipment designed to keep you dry in a rain storm. I prefer a hat, but they too make me look stupid. I have one that makes me look like a High Court judge and another, purchased in Milan, with the words New York on the front. As a colleague at work asked, why doesn't it read 'Milan'? Good point.

When the clocks first go back there are lighter starts, but soon the darkness returns and the misery of winter is then here to stay until March when the clocks, joyfully, go forward and I find myself wandering around the house changing all the clocks again and possibly living in the past for a day or two, although it's better to live in the future as that way I won't be late for work.

Monday, 13 October 2014

To Westerham – 22 miles

There was a red sky this morning as I emerged from the house. After unpadlocking the Kona and heading off in the general direction of Warlingham Green the gears began to crunch and slip, waking up the dead, I'd imagine. The bike needs a service: new front brakes, handle grips and re-adjusted gears, but it'll have to wait as I'm still very much on Skid Row.

Our bikes on Westerham Green, Sunday 12 October 2014. Pic: Andy Smith
As I headed along the Limpsfield Road, the gears smoothed out and when I reached the green there were clear signs that autumn had arrived. Alright, there were a few leaves on the ground...but no sign of Andy so out came the iphone and yes, sad bastard that I am, I started taking shots of the leaves. And then Andy turned up and was wondering what the hell I was doing.

"Yes, but heads down."

And off we went following the usual route.

This morning I donned the gloves, although I could have got away without them, it wasn't that cold. Not, that is, until we'd finished our descent in the lowlands surrounding Westerham. From up high we could see the thick mist that covered the the low-lying fields and as we came level with them, the cold took a large bite out of souls. It was seriously brass monkeys, but we hammered along and eventually reached the centre of town. Not that it's difficult to reach the centre of town as it's only a small green, a couple of pubs, a few shops and, of course, a statue of Sir Winston Churchill.

The cold and mist left a shivery sheen of dampness on everything, including our usual seats on the green. We both contemplated taking out a mortgage to buy a couple of teas from the Costa Coffee, but I'd hauled a huge flask of water, milk and teabags all the way from Sanderstead so we made do with standing up and drinking tea. Oh, and let's not forget the biscuits.

An autumnal scene at Warlingham Green...
It wasn't long before we realised it was time to head back up the hill, the long, long hill, all the way to Botley. Only a few yards into the climb and a Lycra Monkey tried to raise our morale by shouting 'nearly there!' as he hurtled past in the other direction. We continued to climb and it wasn't that bad and soon we found ourselves at Botley Hill and powering along the 269 towards Warlingham where we parted company.

I reached home just before 10am and carried on with my day.

Yesterday rain had stopped play, although the sun came out around 9am and Andy went out on a local ride. I had serious ambitions to ride to Botley but never got my act together so today's ride was sorely needed and it was very pleasant.

It's game on for next weekend – both days hopefully – so here's to the ride.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Mooching around Moscow...

Inside the grounds of the Kremlin, Tuesday 7 October 2014.
Nobody can accuse me of not making the most of my one day off in Moscow. Yesterday – billed as a free day on my business schedule and much welcomed – I managed to get inside the Kremlin, thanks to a Russian colleague, and, later in the afternoon, enjoyed a traditional Russian feast – they certainly like their meat over here, although the night before last I attended an official dinner where a lot of the food on offer was of the cold variety and any bread rolls that found their way on to my table were, disturbingly, filled with something or other. With all the cold food on offer, I was rather looking forward to a decent bread roll, but unfortunately for me, while the rolls in question looked pretty harmless, they were, in fact, filled with 'stuff' – nothing sinister, it's just that when you're handed something that looks like a bread roll, you're kind of expecting it to be a bread roll and not a bread roll filled with onion (in my book, an unpleasant surprise, especially if the onion is cold).
Going underground – underneath the city on the Moscow Metro system
The Russians like to fill things. At a rushed buffet breakfast this morning (back on business again) on the outskirts of the city there were some interesting-looking pastries and every one of them was in some way filled with something. This time, however, it was different; they weren't savoury but sweet – and anything filled with sweet stuff is fine.

Touching the statue is supposed to bring good luck!
The Arbat House Hotel
That said, I've been rather impressed by the food in my hotel, the Arbat House, a well-positioned establishment down a quiet street, but very pleasant in so many respects, especially the room. I don't know if you believe in the concept of feng shei (is that how it's spelt?) but it seems to work in my case. Let me explain what I mean: normally when I stay in a hotel I dread the moment when I have to switch off the lights and get some kip. This is because I'm in an unfamiliar place and, therefore, prior to bedding down for the night, I mess around. I might have the curtains pulled back a little bit to let in some light, I might leave a light on in the bathroom for the same reason, but invariably there's a noisy fan that automatically goes on every time I switch on the light, so this is often a problem and I end up relying solely upon the curtain being pulled apart an inch or two. I can't stand a room plunged into total darkness. Call me a baby, I don't care, but when I open my eyes I want to be able to see stuff, not just blackness.

And when I'm lying there – normally testing things out, by having the TV on and then switching it off to check the light levels when the room is finally in sleep mode – I feel strange knowing that, for instance, there's a lot of room between where I'm sleeping and the front door. I sometimes feel uncomfortable if there's too much space that I can't see (I hate sleeping in overly large spaces). Small spaces are best as there's less to be in command of, which I prefer. And that's what was great about my room at the Arbat House. The feng shei was right. It wasn't a huge room and my bed (a double, but not a huge double) faced the window, which was about six or seven feet from the foot of the bed. Behind the bed, separated by a wall, was the bathroom. I slept with a small gap in the curtains and, surprise, surprise, there was no fan in the bathroom so I could leave the light on and then virtually shut the bathroom door, allowing just a tiny sliver of light to filter through without a noisy fan disturbing the peace.

On Red Square...
Two minor complaints...
In fact, where the room was concerned I only had two complaints. The main one was the lighting. Apart from the light in the ceiling, there wasn't any. No bedside lamp. Very annoying if you fancy reading after dark as the overhead light was gloomy and it made me feel the same way. It was certainly impossible to read so that meant I had to go downstairs to the bar/restaurant, which in turn meant that I had to buy something to warrant sitting there. Last night, for example, I was dog tired. So tired that I came back to the room around 4pm, switched on Radio Four and fell asleep listening to PM online. When I awoke around 8.30pm I found myself wondering what to do. I wanted to read, but the light was so gloomy there was only one option: head downstairs for what turned into a late dinner – no complaints whatsoever about the hotel restaurant except, perhaps, that it's not part of the hotel, but under separate ownership. Unaware of this, when I wanted to charge my meal to the room I couldn't! So I had to remember to take my credit card with me, but this was a minor inconvenience when you consider the excellent food, the efficient service and the fantastic ambience – and what's more, the BBCafé was open until midnight so that awful problem surrounding the retort, "I'm sorry, sir, the restaurant is closed," never raised its ugly head.

Where great Russian leaders have waved...on Red Square

My final, albeit minor, complaint was the fact that the key to the room was small (and so was the lock) and the hotel corridors were very dark. Every time I left or tried to re-enter the room it took an age to get the key in the lock. Oddly, one of those modern key card entry systems would have been preferable, but then they have their problems too.

But enough of the hotel other than to say I'd definitely return and I've loved every minute of my stay.

The Kremlin...
Moving on to the Kremlin, which just so happened to be no more than 10 minutes' walk from the hotel. On my day off yesterday I went there with a colleague who lives in Moscow and, well, what can I say? What a fantastic place! We paid a visit to the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin and the Archangel Cathedral. The Annunciation Cathedral has nine small domes and is described as the home church of Old Russia's great princes and tsars. Weddings and baptisms took place here and way back in the 14th Century a small one-domed Annunciation Church stood on the same spot.

I've seen it all before at Covent Garden in London...
The Archangel's Cathedral, also on Cathedral Square, has five domes. According to legend, a wooden church built in the name of the Archangel Michael was built in the same spot back in the 12th Century. The Archangel Michael was the leader of the heavenly host and the guardian of the Russian princes. It was demolished in 1333 on the orders of Prince Ivan Kalita and a new white-stone cathedral was built in its place to commemorate Russian's liberation from famine. In 1340 Kalita was buried in the church, which became Russia's first state necropolis. The current Archangel's Cathedral was built between 1505 and 1508 by Ivan lll. It was designed by an Italian architect known in Russia as Aleviz Noviy.

A Yamaha with a V-twin – very impressive!
We moved on to Red Square and then, after a few photographs, it was time to eat. My favourite pastime. The Russians love their meat and their bread and we soon tucked into some beef and lamb, not forgetting traditional dumplings filled with meat and followed by some cheesy bread.
Boris Yeltsin bikes – but instructions only in Russian

Just prior to eating we had wandered around GUM, an upmarket shopping mall full of the usual high street brands you might find in London, plus a few more exclusive ones.  What I found amazing, however, was a Yamaha motorcycle with a V-twin engine. It looked just like the old Harley Sportster, but it was definitely a Yamaha so it's probably cheaper and more reliable.
Bike Share Moscow – too cold and too dangerous in my opinion...
I decided to check out where to pick up the train to the airport on Thursday (tomorrow). Why waste money on a cab when the chances are I'd get there quicker by train? It's going to mean a little walk from the hotel, but once underway it'll be smoother. So, I hoofed it down to Paveletsky railway station and bought my ticket, stopped off for a cup of tea and a cake in a local coffee shop (click here for more details) and then headed back towards my hotel, using the metro both ways to and from Arbatskaya metro station.

Going underground in Moscow...
When people talk about 'feats of engineering' they tend to cite famous bridges, but the Moscow Metro system has to be seen to be believed. Not only is it cut very deep into the ground underneath the city, the stations are the most wonderfully ornate places I've ever seen – millions and millions of times better than what you will find on the London Underground and offering passengers not only much more fresh air than London – the ventilation system is brilliant – but bigger and roomier trains. It's hard to comprehend the scale of the job facing those who built the Moscow Metro back in the late 1930s, but wow, did they do a great job. It is literally a work of art. Anybody charged with the task of building a new Metro system should fly to Moscow first to see how it's done.

Rush hour begins in Moscow...
Arbat Street was next. I'd heard a lot about it, but to be honest, I wasn't really that impressed. Think Covent Garden, think human statues, street artists, buskers and men handing out leaflets and you're almost there. The street was lined with restaurants and pubs and fast food joints and yes, it was fine and I was possibly a little tired having trampsed over to Paveletsky station to buy my Aero Express ticket, but I decided to head back to my hotel for dinner where I could at least read my book in peace. The alternative was sitting in one of those 'trendy' restaurants where everything was a joke. "Our beer is as cold as your ex-girlfriend's heart" being a good example of the genre. Oh, ho, ho, ho!

In fact, you'll be pleased to know that my last meal at the Arbat House Hotel was absolutely amazing, even if they didn't have everything I wanted: no vegetable soup, no tuna steak, the refusals kept on coming until I settled on the mushroom soup followed by the chicken curry and rounded off with an apple strudel (I'd skipped lunch today so I deserved to have a pig-out).

I had my book, I'd ordered a beer and I was feeling relaxed. What else could one ask for?

Now I'm back in my room with little to do other than go to bed, which I plan to do just as soon as I finish this post. At least I don't have to get up at the crack of dawn like this morning.

Moscow's bike share scheme...
Perhaps a brief word about Moscow's bike share scheme, which I toyed with describing as 'Boris Yeltin Bikes' – geddit? Boris Johnson/Boris Yeltsin? You can't get wittier than that, can you? Anyway, while I state above that it was too cold and too dangerous to ride a bike around Moscow, that was a little misleading. Yes, it was fast and busy and yes, it was cold, but the main reason behind not using the bikes was the Russian language. I did not understand a word of it and there was no English language availability on the machines that ultimately 'dispensed' the bikes.

Looking at a map of Moscow, the scheme was certainly well-established with bike stations dotted liberally around the city.

I awoke later than usual, it was nearly 9am. I rushed downstairs for breakfast (fried egg on toast plus cereal and tea and orange juice) and then I noticed something that I hadn't noticed over the last three breakfasts I'd enjoyed here: there was a small bird in a cage plonked right in the middle of the breakfast food display in amongst the bread rolls and the hot food. I felt sorry for the bird as he had to spend his time looking at an array of breads, none of which he could gain access to (thank the Lord). It was odd noticing it for the first time as, I thought the quiet tweeting I could hear occasionally was somebody's message alert on their mobile phone. Still, there you have it, a bird, in a cage, in amongst the breakfast offerings – I wonder what Health & Safety would have to say about that?

Postscript 2...
A brief word about the Russians. Excellent people and don't let anybody (or any government) tell you otherwise. I found every Russian I met to be very friendly. Even those in cars were courteous to pedestrians. Great country, great people.

Room 504, Arbat House Hotel, Moscow
And to conclude, here, in good old NoVisibleLycra tradition, is a shot of my hotel room, Room 504 of the Arbat House Hotel, Moscow.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

In Moscow...

It was an early start. Nothing worse. A morning flight. Not good as it meant I had to be at the airport two hours before take-off, so let's say I had to be there by 0900hrs. That meant a taxi arriving to pick me up at 0730hrs. Worse still, I had shirts, unpressed and drying on a radiator and various gadgets charging in different parts of the house: digital camera in the living room; computer in the conservatory; iphone in the hall. Fortunately, my passport was in a folder along with all my necessary travel documents. Either way it meant little time, not only to say goodbye to my wife but to have breakfast. A cup of tea would have to do until I reached Heathrow Terminal Five where I later discovered that Wagamama offered an English Breakfast menu.
Healthy brekkie at Wagamama, Heathrow T5.

I ordered tea, which arrived in a glass cup, and granola – very nicely presented with raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, star fruit, kiwi and natural yoghurt. I could have opted for something unhealthy, but decided to stick to my guns and keep the old weight down. I'll admit, however, that I was kind of banking on some 'airline food', you know the rap: foil container full of chicken, mashed potatoes and diced carrot, a dash of gravy; a dessert and a rock hard bread roll that, for some reason, I always just accept. But no, lunch consisted of nothing more than a chicken Caesar sandwich and a mini KitKat (and when I asked for another mini KitKat I was told that portion control dictated that one meal comes with one mini KitKat, but she'd see what she could do). She did bugger all so I was champing at the bit by the time I reached the hotel and was, therefore, elated when I discovered that the restaurant, the BBCafé – which was not owned by the hotel but an integral part of it – was open until midnight and was quite busy when I arrived around 9pm.

My rather dingy hotel room – not so much the room's fault, but the lighting – gave me cause not to expect much from the restaurant, but I was to be pleasantly surprised. Fortunately, I'd purchased a copy of the Observer at Heathrow airport and now I waltzed into the restaurant, Observer under arm and looking forward to an evening of simply reading various articles by the paper's learned correspondents (of which there are many).
Russian beer – very pleasant.

Siberian Bird-Cherry pie – surprisingly nice.
The restaurant looked incredibly promising: night lights (or tea lights) or perhaps even 'candles' adorned every table and there was a cosy feel to the place. I could have sat in the main restaurant area, but opted instead for what might be a conservatory of sorts (I'll get a better idea in the morning as the BBCafé also serves the hotel guests their breakfast). I was offered an English menu, the waiters and waitresses were not only pleasant but efficient (no fretful waiting around wondering if I'd be served) and the food was good too. I opted for minestrone soup followed by a selection of grilled fish, a glass of red wine (a surprisingly small glass, but I'd ordered a Russian beer too so I wasn't complaining). For dessert I chose a Siberian Bird-Cherry cake, a thin layer of chocolate covering a kind of moussey, cheesecakey layer on a cakey base – that's the best way to describe it. There were three ornate dollops of raspberry sauce and a delicate tubular lattice work of chocolate resting on the edge of the rectangular glass dish.

All-in-all absolutely perfect and just what I needed. When I arrived at the airport after a fairly pleasant flight (I had an aisle seat - 27D) I searched around for a taxi and soon found myself racing down the motorway towards the city centre – I think I'll be getting the train back. But it was dark and even as we reached the centre of town where one could clearly see the colourful minarets of what I assumed were some of Moscow's must-see buildings, it was gone 7pm and I'd have to postpone any sightseeing I had planned for the daylight hours.
Blurred Moscow from a speeding taxi...

When I left the airport, the motorway into town was flanked on both sides by dense forests, but this eventually thinned out and gave way to blocks of flats and petrol stations and all the things you'd expect to see from a car window as you edged ever closer to the city centre: coaches, lorries, cars, bus stops, supermarkets, flats, you name it – Moscow was like anywhere else in the world, the only thing undecipherable for me was the Russian language. While I could make out distances, ie '500m' there was no way I could understand the road signs or the billboard advertising, although, earlier, back at the airport, all the signs had English translations and that's how I found the desk to order a taxi into town

The hotel room was better than I was making out earlier. In fact, as I mentioned, it was not so much the room but the lighting that gave the place a gloomy appearance. Reading in bed would be painful as there were no bedside lamps, but unlike my hotel in Germany the other week, there was a wardrobe and it had 'normal' hangers, not the irritating thief-proof variety that simply prove that a hotel doesn't trust its guests. This hotel did trust its guests and there was further evidence of this – the minibar. It was full! Most hotels in the UK have the little fridge, but its either locked or empty. I rarely use minibars so its all academic and besides, there's one of those office mineral water dispensers down the corridor, but can I bothered in the middle of the night to leave the room, walk along the corridor and pour myself a glass of water? No. I've got a minibar!

There's also a Samsung television and BBC World is on channel 24. Talking of the BBC, British Airways' High Life magazine was carrying another John Simpson column, this time on New Guinea or, more importantly, travel books. Not as interesting as past columns so once again I felt thankful for my copy of the Observer, not forgetting The Moth, a compilation of '50 extraordinary true stories' except that, while mildly interesting, I wouldn't go as far as to say they were 'extraordinary'.

The hotel room's wallpaper was a little ornate, shall we say, and there was an almost gypsy-like chintz to the soft fittings. The curtains and the bedspreads and cushions had glittery gold 'tassles'. There was woodblock flooring – nothing gypsy-like about that – and a shower but no bathtub. 

It's now gone 11pm here in Moscow but only gone 8pm back at home in the UK, but either way that means I need to hit the sack as I've got an early start in the morning.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Suburban ride to mum's, but no sign of Jon... (roughly 12 miles)

I left home around 0730hrs this morning having decided to get a ride in, despite plans simply not to bother. Mum's seemed like a good place to go as, normally, Jon is there and we have a chat about old times, check out our old bedroom and generally reminisce about dad and life at home in the good old days of childhood.
Mum and yours truly, Carshalton, Saturday October 4th 2014.
Normally I take a semi rural route through Purley, along Foxley Lane, down towards Woodmansterne Green and then right, passing the Oaks Park on the left and riding into Carshalton Beeches. Today, however, I took a busier route – heading down West Hill, into Essenden Road, on to Carlton, left into the Selsdon Road, left into Jarvis Road, on to the Brighton Road heading north for all of 10 yards and then hanging a left, going up the hill towards the mini roundabout at Pampisford Road and across towards Rockingham's Garden Centre, which used to be Purley Way Swimming Baths. I think they still have the old diving board, although it might have been taken down, not sure. Purley Way Baths, if I recall correctly, used to be an outdoor pool with a 15ft deep end and a high board that the school toughies would brag about. I don't think I ever swam there. My pools were Highfield Road in Carshalton, where I learnt to swim and which definitely no longer exists, and Westcroft, also in Carshalton, which has recently been transformed – it's still a leisure centre, but it has a library too as the old one off of the High Street has closed down.

The ride towards the A23 from Pampisford Road was great as there's a seemingly endless, vast expanse of lush, green playing fields, which used to form part of the old Croydon Airport and is now used for Sunday League footy and by those who fly huge kites that look like parachutes. There are houses facing the fields and I can only imagine that it must be lovely to wake up on a cold, misty (or snowy) morning and see the mist hanging heavy over the grass. I remember jogging around the fields in the late 90s with Sean Ferris, a work colleague. Or rather I remember doing it once or twice. We used to run around the edges and I think it amounted to just over three miles. However, as I've said many times before, running ain't my bag.
The fields near the A23 where kites fly and Sunday league footy is played.
I rode north along the A23 and then took a left, which took me along a lonely stretch of road flanked on either side by the rear ends of industrial units – it was a bit like riding through the mean streets of Grand Theft Auto, the video game. I rejoined reality when I emerged on the Stafford Road heading west towards Wallington.  I crossed the main lights at the top of the High Street and rode towards Boundary Road where I turned right at another mini roundabout before turning left just past the railway bridge. I followed Grosvenor Road for 100 yards or so and then turned right into Park Road. I skirted Carshalton Park and rode along Benyon Road, across the lights by the Windsor Castle pub, past the BP garage, right into Alma Road, left into Shorts Road, under the railway bridge and left into Rossdale and there I was – at mum's.

Tea and cake followed, we chatted about this and that, took the photograph accompanying this post (see top pic above) and then, after my customary mooch around the house, checking out my old bedroom, the one I shared with Jon for most of my first 24 years on this planet, I gave mum a hug and headed back home, taking roughly the same route as the outward journey except that I rode through Carshalton High Street and onwards past the Duke's Head and then the Plough, down towards Five Ways where I used the pavements to avoid increasingly heavy traffic before escaping up Denning Avenue, through the council estate in my ASBO specials, blending in, right into Nottingham Road, past Whitgift School and then right along the Brighton Road (A23) heading south this time and hanging a left after a few yards. I rejoined the Selsdon Road, passed the Rail View, under two railway bridges and turned right into Carlton Road, left into Essenden and right on to West Hill. The climb didn't feel too bad.

It was quite a good ride, but the traffic was a problem here and there: heavy in places, especially around Five Ways and this meant a lot of pedestrian crossings and using a mixture of the road and the path, which doesn't make for a relaxing ride, especially with faulty gears and one handlegrip. I've always maintained that it's more dangerous riding on the path than it is on the roads as not only are there pedestrians to deal with, there is also the risk of cars reversing out of driveways. Sometimes, however, it's easier – or it seems easier – than risking my neck negotiating busy road junctions.

Sometimes the path seems safer than the road, like here at Purley Way.
It was a good to see mum and nice to enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of mum's 'test cake' – she's been baking Christmas cakes and Christmas puddings to order and had made a kind of 'pilot' cake, which was lovely. In the old days I might have enjoyed three of four portions, but today, just the one as I didn't want to turn back into a fat bastard – not that any transformation would have been instantaneous.

My gears are seriously playing up. I dare not stand and pedal as the gears slip and crunch constantly and that means smashing my nuts on the saddle. A visit to the bike shop is going to be necessary...and there's a lot to be done, but I don't fancy my local shop in Redhill, or Halfords, so I might take it to Andy's shop in Caterham, the one up the road from where he lives, as the guy there seems genuine and the shop is not part of a big chain. But it'll have to wait for a while as I'm still languishing on Skid Row. Until then, I'll have to remember not to stand up when I'm riding.

Time to look back...

Nice to look back on old posts occasionally. Click on the links below to find out what we were up to three and four years ago:-

Three years ago

Four years ago