Sunday, 30 November 2014

Gears fixed so we head for Westerham and I ride to mum's...

The bike is back. I strolled down to the bike shop on Friday afternoon to pick it up and, true to their word, it was £65. I was half expecting them to say something along the lines of 'we couldn't fix it without an X or a Y and that's an extra £20', but no, it was £65. I bought a pair of handle grips as one of my old Jack Shit grips had disintegrated completely and the other one was well on the way to a similar fate. At present, however, there's one bright yellow and brand spanking new grip on the right hand side and the old Jack Shit grip on the left.

Westerham shopkeepers get into the festive spirit
As Andy and I remarked as we rode out of Westerham on Saturday morning, if something's called Jack Shit it has to be worth buying.

One thing about taking bikes into repair shops is they never seem to come out the same as when they went in – obviously they're fixed rather than broken, but there's always something different about the ride quality; it's a bit like going to hospital for us humans: things are never quite the same (and sometimes we don't come out, let's not forget that either). The bike seemed heavier to me, leading me to wonder whether the new block was higher geared than the old one. It's harder work and while the gears are virtually as smooth as Larry as a result of the new block and the new chain, I've still had a couple of incidents involving the pedals slipping. In fact, they slipped on Sunday morning as I was crossing the Brighton Road and my left calf is grazed as a result. In other words, it wasn't a completely faultless job.

I'm both amazed and indignant. When I last took my bike to Halford's, for instance (some two years ago and it hasn't been back since) they messed with the front forks and now the bike bounces about all over the place. The fact of the matter is you simply can't trust anybody but yourself and if I had the time and, more importantly, the knowledge, I'd fix the bike myself. At least that way I'd only have myself to blame. But enough moaning.

To Westerham – where a miserable Christmas tree awaits us
Andy and I met at the usual time at the usual place and resolved to ride to Westerham, although, for some reason, it was a sluggish ride that seemed to be taking ages and there was no reason for this. We'd both left the green pretty promptly, we were talking too much and we hadn't stopped for any reason, but either way we didn't reach Westerham until around 0820 hours, a good 20 minutes later than usual, something we simply resigned ourselves to as we reached for the tea and biscuits.

Westerham's miserable-looking tree
Westerham is very festive. There's a Christmas tree on the green but it's not in anyway decorated, which makes it a bit miserable, although local shopkeepers are getting into the spirit of things, even if it is only 29 November. Why, I wonder, is everybody buying Christmas trees and thinking ahead to the festive season so early? Alright, the shops are doing their usual thing at this time of year – starting up the unnecessary hype – but the general populus appears to be joining in too. Later in the day I saw people buying Christmas trees from B&Q where Christmas carols were booming out on the sound system and I couldn't help but wonder what state those trees will be in on Christmas morning.

We normally buy our tree on or around 15th December, the weekend after my birthday. Buying the tree is a jolly affair: driving to the garden centre; choosing the tree and then ferrying it home ahead of a mildly stressful half hour of fixing it in place, realising it's bigger than we'd hoped and then trying to find somewhere in the house where it doesn't obstruct the television. There's always a moment where the dreaded 'next year we're having an artificial tree' is brought up, but I always counter this with the house rule: real fire – artificial tree; artificial fire (we call it the hairdryer) – real tree. Somehow I think we'll always be having a real tree.

Andy and I found ourselves having the 'why go abroad?' conversation, which led to reminiscing about childhood holidays by the sea and then, later than usual, we headed out of town towards the dreaded Westerham Hill. Andy joined me for the length of the 269 and we parted at Warlingham Green. I reached home at just gone 10am, a good 20 minutes to half an hour later than usual, and there was no real explanation for it: we were just slower than normal for no particular reason.

Sunday – out in the fog on a ride to mum's
There was, as always, a strong temptation simply not to go cycling when Andy says he can't make it. I could have remained in bed and not bothered, but that would have been wrong and besides, I'd enjoyed a good seven hours' sleep – uninterrupted – and woke up at just past 0600hrs. Yes, I could have stayed there, but I didn't. I got up, made a cup of tea, a boiled egg and porridge and then, after a few minutes' consideration, decided to deliver Christmas cards to mum using the bike.

Yesterday's weather was characterised by dramatic skies and fairly high temperatures for the time of year – it was warm, not cold. Behind the high cloud we could clearly see wonderful blue skies – great flying weather, I thought. Today there was fog. Thick fog – bad flying weather. It was like a scene from a Dickens novel or something involving Jack the Ripper. I headed out around 0830hrs and enjoyed a pleasant urban ride heading in the usual direction, reaching mum's around 0900hrs (possibly just after) and enjoying a cup of tea and a rest before walking into Sutton (a 20-minute hike) to retrieve a USB stick from Boot's the chemist.

A misty start to Sunday morning
I haven't walked to Sutton for ages, not from mum's at any rate, and it reminded me of times past. Walking along Westmead Road I passed the street in which we last resided and then the row of shops we would have used on a regular basis. It all looked a little run-down if I'm honest. A shop we once knew as 'the paraffin shop', because you could buy paraffin (what is parrafin?) there, was now a Thai restaurant, but there's nothing worse than a restaurant with letters missing from its name – if they're that slovenly with their fascia, what hope for the food?

The wine shop (as dad used to call it) has gone. It used to be called the Four Vintners and whenever we purchased a bottle of red wine for Sunday lunch (when I used to live at home with mum and dad and my brother and sister, Jon and Crissy) the man who ran the shop would wrap the bottle in a fine while paper – something that wine shops (alright, 'off licences') don't seem to do anymore: nowadays it's a flimsy plastic bag). Then, a few doors up, there was Beale's the butcher – a friendly man with a glass eye who would always ask "freezer bag?" before handing over my pound of minced beef (or whatever else I might have bought).

Further along the road is the Lord Nelson pub, a Young's house that used to be run by landlord Alex who used to front a jazz band called Nelson's Column – you see the link? Lord Nelson? Nelson's Column? He used to play the trombone and when it was time to close the pub, he'd bring it out and play it badly until everyone had knocked back their last drink and made tracks to go home. There are loads of great stories to tell about the Lord Nelson, although we called The Nelson. One thing I'll always remember was the handful of the regulars who looked like famous people: we had Malcolm Allison, the old manager of Crystal Palace; Fred Astaire as he appeared in the disaster movies; and somebody who looked like John Wayne. There was also an old man without a chin. Apparently it was shot off in the First World War and, as a result, he had to drink his beer through a thick rubber straw.

Alex used to stand behind the bar with a six-inch nail, scraping the wax from his ear and saying, "Well I think we need a government of national unity."

It was a pub full of Irish builders and was one of the last to have a public bar where the beer was a few pence cheaper than in the saloon – it was full of ragged trousered philantropists who enjoyed a pint or two, normally with a whisky chaser and there were often people staggering about outside wearing gravy-stained suits. What more can I say? It was and still is a great pub, although the public bar has since gone and I'm sure John Wayne, Fred Astaire and Malcolm Allison aren't around any more – and as for the man with no chin, well, I'm sure he graces a local churchyard somewhere, God rest his soul.

After walking back to mum's I enjoyed another mug of tea and then jumped on the bike and headed for home along the Croydon Road passing the Greyhound, the Duke's Head and the Plough en route and then, after negotiating the traffic at Five Ways I rode up Denning Avenue, past Whitgift School and along the Brighton Road towards home where I enjoyed another cup of tea.

A good weekend's cycling. I covered around 34 miles in total: 22 miles to and from Westerham on Saturday; and approximately 12 miles today. Andy's back next Sunday so I might pay another visit to Sutton next Saturday, but let's see how it goes.

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