Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 – a review of the year

2014 kicked off with bad weather and 'abort' texts. The first post of the year (Saturday 4 January) spoke of severe weather warnings and extensive flooding in certain parts of the country with people being washed out to sea, fallen trees and travel problems. But there was also the first of the year's 'Respect is Due' awards to my brother Jon who rode out on New Year's Day 2014 and, as I wrote at the time, "took a major soaking in the process". Having dried his wet clothes on the radiator round at mum's, Jon put them back on and took another soaking getting home.

Sanderstead churchyard, Jan 2014
The following day there was a lull in the weather and a ride to the Tatsfield Bus Stop for Andy, Phil and yours truly and this led to one of 2014's iconic blog images (see pic left). On this particular ride, Phil provided Christmas cake on what proved to be his first ride with us since November 2013. It almost goes without saying that the weather closed in again, but not until we had all returned safely to our respective houses.

January 2014 was a time for excuses and, arguably, the most ridiculous excuse of the lot: Phil aborting because he was up most of the night waiting for his marmalade to boil. It was also when the BBC reported the stabbing of a 40-year-old man in Tatsfield, Surrey. His injuries were described as not life threatening and his attacker was arrested on suspicion of grevious bodily harm (GBH).

While Phil waited up for his marmalade to boil, I adapted well to my new 'bus wanker' status. No car meant I had to rely upon the buses, which in many ways was good news (I walked more and spent less) but the weather during this period was atrocious and when I eventually bought a car in February (a Toyota Corolla), I was more than happy to surrender my Oyster card. As I wrote on Sunday 12 January, "Not having a car has its advantages. We walk a lot more than we used to, which is good."

I became a seasoned 'bus wanker'
The poor weather meant a lot of rides to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, although we did manage an 'urban ride' to mum's in January and Andy and I found ourselves discussing how it was just like being a kid again, "It was odd that Andy and I were both on our bikes, as we might have been aged 13 or 14, cycling round to my house, perhaps, after school or on a Saturday afternoon. It would have been strange, in a good way, if Andy had referred to mum as 'Mrs Moggridge' as he might have done aged 13, but there we were, windswept and hungry and eagerly awaiting our tea and cake."

In February the bad weather continued with plenty of dramatic skies and rainy and blustery weather. Somerset, Devon and Dorset were virtually cut off from the rest of the country and our shorter rides continued. Flooding in the Woldingham area meant that Andy resorted to meeting Phil and I at the top of Slines Oak Road rather than Warlingham Green, just like the old pre-blog days.

Matt and Jon at mum's house
I managed to lose 21lbs having cut out bread and sweets from my diet (something I persevered with throughout the year). Oddly, the strange knocking noise that might well have been a dodgy bottom bracket, ceased and has not returned. I've put this down to losing weight. I look and feel better and I've gone down a shirt size. Nice work!

In March, while rides to Tatsfield continued, we did manage to reach Westerham on a couple of occasions over the weekend of March 22/23. On the second ride I managed to get our first puncture of the year (Sunday 23 March). It was late March and the weather people were still predicting temperatures of minus three degrees – a week before the clocks went forward.

April was characterised by yours truly taking a week off work and cycling every day. In fact, I cycled for nine consecutive days, the weather had improved considerably and all was well with the world – well, alright, the world wasn't well at all, we had ongoing problems in the Middle East (Syria, Israel, ISIS) and while the UK economy was said to have improved, it hadn't really. But leaving aside world affairs, we still managed to get, as I put it, 'a major soaking' on a ride to the bus stop on Sunday 6 April and rain stopped play completely over the weekend of 26/27 April.

My first 2014 puncture
The highlight of May was riding around Indianapolis in the USA using the city's recently introduced bike share scheme. I took major advantage of the bikes and managed to cover a great deal of the city where dedicated bike lanes have been introduced. In fact, NoVisibleLycra found fame (not fortune) in Indianapolis as my two posts on the city's bike share scheme were posted on the Urban Indy website.

In June I found myself riding around Berlin, which was excellent – especially riding through the Tiergarten to the Reichstag and spotting a red squirrel – and, back home, while we were still riding to places like the Tatsfield Bus Stop, Westerham was putting in more regular appearances. On Sunday 15 June we headed to our favourite North Kent market town and ate sausage sandwiches, courtesy of Phil who, it turned out, is quite a gourmand. As summer progressed we were treated to his excellent corned beef pie and a rather tasty Bakewell tart and let's not forget the efforts of one of Phil's daughters (he has three, but I can't remember which one) who made an excellent honey cake. Phil and I enjoyed it with our tea at the Tatsfield Churchyard on Saturday 21 June – the longest day. The following month, on 20 July, we all rode to Westerham and Phil brought his Mary Berry's Christmas cake along. The weather was cloudy but warm and bright with sunshine expected (and delivered) later in the day.

Riding round Indianapolis, USA
In August, Andy braved torrential rain for Ride London and later wrote an exclusive report for the blog. "The euphoric feeling I was getting as I cycled through Whitehall and rounded Trafalgar Square was incredible. The finish line at The Mall lie ahead and as I crossed the finish line I realised that this was easily the hardest charity event I had ever done – a real test of mental strength."

September saw three rides to Westerham and a couple of suburban rides to mum's, not forgetting a solo ride to the Tatsfield bus stop for yours truly. The weather was still very good, prompting me to write that "We've been blessed with what can only be described at this time of year as an Indian summer." But it wasn't just the Indian summer, the whole summer had been wonderful and it seemed like a long time in shorts and tee shirts before we began to consider gloves and jumpers again.

Andy braves Ride London 2014
October was pretty uneventful, but we did manage a 'heads down' ride to Westerham on an autumnal Saturday morning (11 October). While there were certainly leaves on the ground at the green, the weather was still very mild and the gloves didn't go on for some time.

In November my gears started to play up. It wasn't so much the gears but the block, which had worn out, and the chain. The end result was a new block and a new chain and now all is well again, but it meant a week of no cycling while the bike was in the repair shop. Once fixed, however, we headed for Westerham where the shopkeepers had started to prepare their shopfronts for the festive season. The weekend of 30 November was good for cycling. Andy and I rode to Westerham and then I rode to mum's alone – covering 34 miles in total.

Cycling in Berlin
Soon it was December and the bad weather started to kick in; it got colder, prompting Phil to make it clear that we probably wouldn't see much of him until the spring. He hibernates, just like Freda, the Blue Peter tortoise of times gone by. I can see him now packed away in a long cardboard box covered with straw.

Jon's bottom bracket on his Kona failed and he had to buy a new bike as a result. Andy and I braved the cold but kept the rides short. Yes, we were back at the Tatsfield Bus Stop again and I had to don the famous flappy hat and balaclava combo to keep out the cold, foregoing the use of my crash helmet based on Boris Johnson's advice that it's not really going to make any difference if I meet with an accident. Not sure about that, Boris, but I'll go with your advice as warmth is crucial. 

Flappy hat and balaclava
Andy received another Respect is Due for riding out alone on Christmas morning – a first for NoVisibleLycra. He rode to Chipstead Lake. Actually, on the 'respect is due' front, Phil also scored rather highly thanks to his culinary flair – Mary Berry's Christmas Cake, Jamie Oliver's Bakewell tart, the aforementioned honey cake produced by one of his three daughters, and his excellent sausage sandwiches.

Andy and I  rode out on Boxing Day to Tatsfield Village, armed with mum's Christmas cake, and took the slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop on 28 December. I've considered a New Year's Day ride (which would be a first for us) but in all likelihood I'll probably stew in bed and ride out on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 January 2015.

All things considered it was a great year for riding. On a personal level I managed to ride around Indianapolis and Berlin, not forgetting Amsterdam last month. Andy succeeded in completing, among other long-distance charity rides, the Ride London 2014 event and, as a team, we upped our game and embarked upon more regular rides to Westerham although, in all honesty, we need to do more trips of over 20 miles and perhaps in 2015 we need to up our visits to Chipstead Lake.

Phil's Bakewell tart
If we are to make a collective New Year Resolution, it has to be something along the lines of more cycling, greater distances, more regular rides to Westerham, find new destinations – the latter, I think, being very important. We haven't been to Godstone Green for a while – because of the hill coming back – we haven't braved Marden Woods, we should throw in a couple of Woodmansterne Greens to see Jon and Jon (if you're reading this) you should be coming over this way once in a while. It would be good to see you on a ride to Westerham or the famous Tatsfield Bus Stop.

It's 1109hrs on New Year's Eve 2014 as I write this. The frost has gone and the temperature outside is much warmer than it was earlier this morning and yesterday. I think it's going to be milder over the next few days, but let's not forget that over the next three months the weather is likely to get a little more severe. Snow is surely on the cards and we're going to get plenty of rain, fog, ice and sleet before the clocks go forward and the decent weather arrives. However, if this year is anything to go by, we'll probably manage to avoid a major soaking as these days we're rarely caught out – call it a sixth sense or call it just lucky.

Phil's corned beef tart
The bikes have all performed well. My Kona Scrap could do with a full service but it's generally fine. The block and chain were replaced recently at Cycle King, I've got new (bright yellow) handle grips – or rather I've got one new handle grip (I've yet to replace the one on the left hand side) – and I have front and rear lights working. At this time of year there are dark starts and they will continue until March (or thereabouts).

Andy's Kona Blast is still in need of a good clean (it's always caked in mud). His racing bike, on the other hand, is nice and clean. Jon, as I mentioned earlier, has recently bought a new Cannondale.

Phil guarding his tart
I keep going on about how my Kona Scrap, while amazing, is totally wrong for the sort of riding we do; invariably we don't go off road so a more sensible steed would be more applicable, but since when have I been sensible about anything? Besides, I like my bike, even if it is a little juvenile in appearance and attitude, and have no intention of changing it. In my opinion, it does the job and if that job is made harder by thicker tyres, a heavy frame and just 16 gears, then so be it – at least I'm getting more of a work-out than I might be getting with a more sensible machine. Perhaps 2015 will be the year I purchase some mudguards, who knows?

In Amsterdam, November 2014

As for the highlights of 2014, I guess mine would have to be the cycling abroad, especially in Indianapolis and Berlin. I haven't asked him, but I'm guessing that Andy's highlight would be the Ride London event in August and as for Phil, it's hard to say what he'd pick – although his bakery skills were certainly among our highlights.

For now all that remains is that I wish all readers of NoVisibleLycra a Happy New Year for 2015. When I check the statistics I note that there are readers all over the world, some of whom have already celebrated the start of the new year. I'm thinking, of course, about Simon Cotter over in Australia. We haven't heard much from Simon of late, or our pal in Boone, Iowa, Greg Bowles, but here's hoping all is well for them both.

The much maligned Tatsfield Bus Stop

Monday, 29 December 2014

Sunday 28th December – taking the slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop

The cold weather is beginning to set in. As I write this on Monday 29th December 2014 it's around minus three degrees outside (or rather it was minus three degrees). Right now (at just gone 1000hrs) the sun is shining, there is still a frost on the lawn, but I'm guessing it's a few degrees above freezing.

Saturday's ride was aborted because of heavy winds but we were out on Sunday and once again I was wearing my ridiculous-looking flappy hat and balaclava combo – very warm, but I'd be the first to admit that I looked pretty odd.

I met Andy at the usual place and we decided to ride the long way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop. While it's quite a work-out when compared with the faster way (along the 269) it's safer (no traffic) and far more sociable (it's easier to talk and ride two abreast due to the lack of cars).

Andy's racer, Chipstead Lake, Christmas morning 2014.
Beddlestead Lane is not easy. It's a slow climb and it can be tiresome. There are various markers along the way that enable us to chart our progress and soon enough we found ourselves on Clarks Lane. Beddlestead Lane has its ups and downs. It passes through woods and skirts fields and there are a couple of houses along the way, not to mention flocks of sheep watching our every movement. My paranoia towards sheep is well-documented on this blog.

We saw only one Lycra monkey en route to the bus stop and Andy commented that while he was out on Christmas Day morning (he rode alone to Chipstead Lake and gets a major 'respect is due' for his efforts) he saw a few brave Lycra monkeys and decided, as it was Christmas, to offer his season's greetings – a kind of Christmas truce. I ventured that he should have suggested a game of football in homage to the famous World War l Christmas Truce.

As for the Tatsfield Bus Stop, it was still just that: the same old bus stop. It never changes. It's a lump of wood that shelters us (and others) from inclement weather. Today, however, it was, as always, just the same old same old. Well, not quite. For some inexplicable reason, somebody had screwed a gold-coloured clothes hook into the wood. It doesn't say much for the bus service as it probably means there's enough time to take off your coat, make yourself comfortable and endure a long wait.

If I was a tramp I wouldn't sleep rough at the Tatsfield Bus Stop – it's too exposed, but it does have one redeeming factor: it's off the ground (or rather its integral bench is off the ground). In this cold weather the last thing you want if you're sleeping rough is direct contact with the ground. Why we discuss sleeping rough and being tramps whenever we're sitting at the Tatsfield Bus Stop I'll never know, but we do. Personally, I'd sleep in the small woods at the top of White Lane, in a small tent, concealed from view, although at this time of year, with bare branches and fallen leaves, it's difficult to remain hidden.
Why the clothes hook?

Perhaps that clothes hook means that somebody has made the bus stop their home. Who knows? I'll keep you informed if I see anything else there, like a sofa or a coffee table or a 'home sweet home' sign nailed to the wall and mounted in a quaint wooden frame. When Andy rode along Pilgrim's Lane towards the lake on Christmas morning he encountered an entire bathroom suite dumped in the middle of the road and, as we rode up Beddlestead Lane earlier, we encountered another example of 'fly tipping'. Somebody had left a load of domestic rubbish by the side of the road: a bedside cabinet, a vacuum cleaner – what a mess.

After two cups of tea and some Belvita biscuits we headed home. Andy branched off halfway and I continued north along the 269. I reached home around 11am and later drove to Felbridge to see Dave and his rescued dog Sasha – a Staffordshire Bull Terrier with a sad face and clearly in desperate need of a permanent home. It wasn't a 'dangerous dog', thankfully, and I quite liked her. I stayed for tea and biscuits and left after dark, reaching home around 1900hrs – home in time for part two of Top Gear's Patagonian adventure.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Boxing Day – to Tatsfield Village with Christmas cake and tea

This morning when I awoke at 0600hrs, I lay in bed listening to a programme about Prokofiev's Peter & the Wolf on Radio Four and then, around an hour later I rose from my cosy cave and made a cup of tea and some Weetabix. I considered porridge but it meant wiping up a saucepan caked in, well, porridge, so I opted for the simpler solution: wiping up a saucepan with only traces of hot milk around its inner surfaces.

Before I jumped from bed the weather forecast caught my attention. Snow. It's on the way they say, in places like Norfolk and the Midlands and possibly even parts of South East England, but not yet – later today apparently. We might wake up to a blanket of snow. Right now (at nearly 1700hrs) it's raining so in a sense it's started and I ought to put the car away later.

This morning there was a frost on the ground and on car windscreens so I opted once again for my balaclava and flappy hat combo. When I hit the air, however, it wasn't as cold as I thought so I didn't bother with the balaclava but still took the flappy hat (with flaps buttoned under my chin for warmth).

Ready to ride home – note ridiculous flap hat and right trouser leg
But then a problem arose: no, not a puncture but a missing wheel nut. How come? The wheel moved from one side of the forks to the other and closer inspection revealed that the left hand nut was missing. I scanned the garage floor for the missing nut using the torch on my iphone, but found nothing, meaning one of two things: either somebody deliberately removed the nut in an act of sabotage (unlikely) OR (the most likely explanation) is that the nut in question somehow loosened itself and fell off in the street, probably close to the house as I would have noticed it. Now, however, I have something else to check before mounting the Kona: the front wheel nuts. I've been having problems with the thread of the front wheel for some time, so it might be something that needs attention, but on this occasion I was thinking on my feet (actually, I really was thinking on my feet – I was standing up). I used a nut from my daughter's bike (which has a puncture and so isn't being used) and I vowed that later I would buy replacement nuts. After securing the new nut on my bike I called Andy to ask him to meet me on the green. He was on his way to my house on the assumption that I'd be aborting the ride. I'd phoned him earlier to say as much but then, when I realised that all wheel nuts appear to be of a universal size, I resolved the problem as explained above and then got on with the business of riding to the green, albeit slightly later than planned.

It was cold and I noticed that Phil's curtains were drawn as I passed by. Everywhere was quiet and, to be fair, it was Boxing Day morning. People were no doubt sleeping off seasonal over-indulgence, but not me. I was in bed at a decent hour last night – thanks to crappy television consisting largely of repeats – and I'd had a civilised Christmas Day (only a couple of glasses of wine and nothing to eat at all in the evening bar one minced pie). After the Eastenders Christmas Special (sadly it was probably the only decent thing on the box) I watched 8 out of 10 Cats (which might have been a repeat) and then hit the sack.

Andy was waiting for me at the green and we headed for Tatsfield Village where we ate our Christmas cake and drank our tea, commenting on the price of a Christmas lunch at the pub opposite (The Ship at Tatsfield). A five-course Christmas lunch cost £60 per head. Pretty steep, we thought, and what were the five courses? Three would have been enough: starter, main course and dessert. Either way we were of the opinion that the price should have been no more than £40 – not £60. Imagine taking a family of four: that's £240 before you leave the house excluding drinks and what about a minicab there and back? Let's round it off to £300. Surely buying a turkey from the local supermarket along with some decent wine and other stuff would cost less than half the bill presented to the Ship's customers yesterday lunchtime...and you wouldn't need a minicab either!

I took a shot of Tatsfield's Christmas tree – this one had lights but they were off, understandably, as it was broad daylight.

A red single-decker 264 bus arrived from somewhere and dropped off three track-suited individuals who made their way to the bakery across the way, which was advertising lunch at £24.95 per head – a darn sight better value than the Ship, we thought, assuming that even if you bought a starter, dessert and wine it wouldn't add up to £60.

Time to head for home. We rode to Warlingham and parted company vowing to meet at 0800hrs tomorrow, which is a Saturday. Funny how easy it is to lose track of time between Christmas and  New Year. Funny how the days seem merge and are no longer distinguishable from one another.

I reached home just before 11am and most of the day was quite fine weatherwise, but now it's raining. Here's hoping there's no snow in the morning. Or rain for that matter.

One year ago – we rode out on Boxing Day. Click here for more.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A glimpse of Christmas past...

It's Christmas Eve and while, since childhood's end, things have got, well, a little grown-up at this time of the year – gone are the train sets and toy soldiers – there was a time when the festive season was full of magic, as outlined in this blogpost written prior to my father passing away in May 2011. Click here.

Earlier in the week I'd been round at mum's house and my brother Jon had pointed out a nail on the top of the door frame outside our old bedroom. It had been there for many years but had gone unnoticed by yours truly. In fact, Jon told me that it had been brought to his attention recently when some builders working on mum's bathroom asked about it and whether it should be removed. What, he wondered, was the purpose of the nail? Mum provided much needed enlightenment: the nail was put there by dad and for good reason. It played a pivotal role in making our childhood Christmas Eves magical. You can read all about it by clicking the link above but in essence, dad twirled some string around the nail to make it easier to pull the string and ring a bell at the end of it. For more on why, click the link above.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Freezing cold but we head for the Tatsfield Bus Stop

Sunday 14th December: When I woke up around 0600hrs on Sunday morning listening to the BBC Radio Four programme Something Understood, which this week was all about world weariness, I must admit that I had some sympathy for those who might be suffering from the condition. I felt a little weary myself and I was certainly considering an 'abort' text as soon as I glimpsed the outside world. Below me, illuminated by the new, ultra-powerful street lights that had been recently installed (and now cast a huge, lunar light over vast tracts of the road that were previously in darkness) I could see the frosted road and path and countless cars (excluding mine) covered in ice.

Fortunately, my car was garaged and, therefore, not in line for a windscreen scraping later in the day, but I'd need to get the car out of the garage first to reach my bike. However, my first thought was this: I wonder if Andy really feels like going this morning or whether I might be able to tempt him to abort by suggesting it's a little bit on the chilly side? It was worth a try and then I might be able to return to bed and listen to what Mark Tully had to say about world weariness.

My flap hat and balaclava combo kept me warm
Andy's response was short and to the point: "We've seen it before. I'm up for it." And, of course, he was right. We had seen it before and I should pull myself together. "Balaclava it is, then. See u usual time," I responded and set about finding the aforementioned woolly head garment.

Last night on Saturday Night with Jonathan Ross, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, talked about how it hadn't been scientifically proven that crash helmets for cyclists were essential items of safety equipment. In other words, you're not likely to be at any greater risk if you don't wear one. Fair enough, I thought, deciding that drastic weather called for drastic life or death decisions. Instead of the crash helmet I would wear a fetching combo of my ear flap hat from Millets and the green, IRA terrorist balaclava. It might look stupid – and could even get me arrested – but it would certainly fend off the cold.

In fact, when I reached the green, the police were already there. The Nat West bank had been robbed overnight and for a moment I feared the police might blame the caper on me based purely on my rather suspicious-looking appearance. And who would blame them?  My rucksack, they might figure, could be stuffed full of used banknotes. Fortunately, they didn't think anything of the sort and had they searched me they would have found nothing but a flask of hot water, four teabags and a few spanners.

Twenty minutes earlier, when I hit the outside world my theory about the cold weather was proved right. I didn't feel the cold at all. I took the car out of the garage, retrieved my bike, put the car back in the garage and then, with front and rear lights blazing (the rear lights had worked all along. I just thought the batteries had run out – they hadn't) I rode towards the usual meeting place where Andy (and the police) were waiting. But fortunately for me, the police weren't interested. They never even noticed me (and my rucksack full of fivers).

I was so warm I could have cycled all the way to Westerham and back, but we settled for the fast way to the bus stop having ruled out the slow way due to the cold. Andy complained about cold feet and ears, but I can honestly say that I was untouchable. I felt great! And a little smug. The weather hadn't beaten me, although I did feel a little guilty about my earlier text. Mark Tully and world weariness would have to wait.

We eventually reached the bus stop where Andy broke out the Belvita biscuits and I poured the tea. After our usual chit chat, we rode back to the green, bade each other farewell and headed towards our respective homes.

The pond on Sanderstead green had frozen over
Another good reason for riding out today was that it was likely to be our last ride this side of Christmas, although we're hoping that our traditional Boxing Day ride will take place.

I'm thinking about inviting Phil, but he's already made it clear that the cold weather is not his bag. I can't remember the last time we saw him on a ride and I doubt we'll see him again until something like March 2015 – weather permitting.

Either way, he'll receive an invite and, as usual, the festive fayre at the other end (the Tatsfield Churchyard has been mooted) will be Christmas Cake, courtesy of my mum and the usual tea and biscuits.

Until then, I wish all NoVisibleLycra readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Hopefully, we'll be back in the saddle on Boxing Day.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Jon buys a new bike and Andy and I head for the Tudor Rose in Westerham

Saturday 13th December 2014: Here's a lesson for us all – or certainly a lesson for yours truly. If the bottom bracket on your bike goes, get it fixed. Why? Because if you leave it, like I have done, there's a strong chance that when it goes for good, you won't so much be visiting the repair shop just to get it fixed. You'll be buying a new bike instead!

How do I know this? During the week – Wednesday 10 December to be precise (it was my birthday) – I had a call from Jon (or rather I called him, I can't remember) and he was in a bike shop doing just that: buying a new bike. Apparently the cost of re-threading the frame of his Kona Fire Mountain would have cost so much money that he might as well buy a new bike. So he did. A Cannondale Trail.

I haven't seen it yet, but I'm sure we'll get acquainted on my next urban ride to mum's.

And yes, it was my birthday on Wednesday. I won't bore you with how old I've become. Instead I'll inform you that, since Wednesday, I've been eating a fair few chocolates and biscuits during the day and it's bugging me a bit. I say 'a fair few', I guess I had half a dozen chocolates and a similar amount of biscuits and ever since I've been fretting about putting on weight again, although I don't think I have. Not yet at any rate. I keep dipping my head in front of the mirror in the bathroom – 'recompense, for all my crimes of self-defence' – to see if there's an easy double-chin to be made. I think I'm in the clear and besides, I'm off now until the new year, which means I can get back to my three meals a day regime of breakfast, lunch and dinner and hold the bread and biscuits.

During the week and due to bread being frozen in the freezer I've paid a couple of visits to the Marks & Spencer café in Redhill for tomato and basil soup with an extra roll. The 'extra roll' means that instead of getting two miniscule rolls, you get four, with portion packs of butter aplenty – four rolls add up to two 'normal' sized rolls in my mind. Very nice. I read somewhere (or watched on television some time in the distant past) that a bowl of soup was better for you than, say, a sandwich, if you're looking to lose a bit of weight. Well, I paid two visits to the caff this week so I'm assuming it did me some good. The M&S caff has become my latest lunchtime venue where Jezza, my pal, and I discuss The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, which Jezza has read something like 12 times.

Yesterday morning (Saturday) – it's now 0630hrs on Sunday 14 December as I write this now – we rode to Westerham. The weather was, shall we say, 'a bit chilly', but not as chilly as it is out there now. Out there now it's cold, frosty and icy, the cars look as if they've been in a huge freezer overnight and, well, it prompted me to text Andy, angling, if I'm honest for a mutual 'abort'. But Andy breezed back with something like 'we've seen it all before' and announced that he'd be going out. I texted back saying I'd don the balaclava and that I'd see him on the green at the usual time. Sometimes I need a push. Not often, but sometimes.

Breakfast at the Tudor Rose café, Westerham, on Saturday
Anyway, yesterday we rode to Westerham and while it was not as cold as it looks out there this morning, it was face-achingly bad as we started our descent into Westerham. So cold that I slowed down to reduce the cold blast of air on my aching face and then, as the road levelled out just prior to going under the M25, I figured that 'no hands' might help, enabling me to swing my arms about a bit in order to keep warm (or warmer than I was). It seemed to do the trick. Soon we found ourselves in Westerham where I was due to buy some milk for our tea, but Andy announced a small windfall on the premium bonds so it was breakfast on him in the Tudor Rose Café. This was most welcomed and appreciated and we both enjoyed a large pot of tea and a sausage sandwich with HP Sauce and found ourselves chatting about Carl Foggarty and Barry Sheene and Russell Brand's performance on the BBC's Question Time.

I'm not sure where I stand on Brand. I think he's quite a funny bloke in a strange sort of way, but his newly found 'political awareness' is a little bit A level politics. The sort of stuff he talks about can be found in plenty of other books like, for instance, Chavs by Owen Jones (highly recommended); Stupid White Men by Michael Moore and, best of all, Robert Tressell's aforementioned The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (by far the best of the bunch). What is good about Brand, if not a tad ironic, is that he is creating political awareness among those who he himself has advised not to vote. However, when somebody brought his 'don't vote' stance up on Question Time last week, Brand's response was spot on: 'give me something to vote for', he said.

Russell Brand – the right wing press call him a hypocrite
I don't like it when people from 'pop culture' appear on Question Time as I think they tend to do themselves no favours. John Lydon springs to mind. He's quite an intelligent guy in his own right but he plays to the audience a bit too much and falls back on his Johnny Rotten persona for laughs. Brand is similar, occasionally reverting to his comedian self and again not doing himself any favours. However, if he's bringing politics to the masses and encouraging people to vote by, in a sense, default, then he's doing a good thing.

By far the most irksome element of the row between the right wing media and Brand – or rather the stance adopted by the right wing media TOWARDS Brand, is the notion that he, Brand, is a hypocrite which, as Sophie Heawood writes in this week's Guardian Weekend magazine, is a strong word that is nearly always used to try to make someone feel bad about doing something good.

"This month it [the word 'hypocrite'] has been plastered across the front page of the Sun, over a picture of Russell Brand, who was campaigning on behalf of residents of a London council estate at risk of losing their homes to a property developer. The logic apparently being that if you're rich enough to pay London rents, as he [Brand] is, then you shouldn't be sticking up for people who aren't."

According to Heawood, "In these hyper-critical times, if you have anything at all in your life that differentiates you from a humble peasant, it is safer to just keep stumm about it."

Our chit chat in the caff meant that we didn't get underway until gone 0910hrs, having taken the obligatory shot of the bikes, this time outside the Tudor Rose. We didn't dawdle on the return ride and reached Warlingham Green in under an hour. Not bad going. I reached home around 1020hrs and later in the day went out to buy a Christmas tree, which now has pride of place in the living room.

Outside the Rose.
Right now it's 0647hrs and I can't say I'm looking forward to opening the front door. It's what they call 'brass monkey' weather out there and I'm so glad that my balaclava was readily at hand in the wardrobe. I can't see it being a long ride, but I'll report back later today hopefully. Westerham's Christmas tree, incidentally, is still minus any decoration so I assume it's going to stay that way – how boring!

Right, it's time to go outside and brave the cold that is Sunday morning. I've donned the balaclava and my hat with flaps from Millets and I'm going to listen to Boris Johnson and not wear my crash helmet today. If Johnson says it's not been scientifically proven that helmets are lifesavers, well that's good enough for me and besides, it's freezing out there so I'm going to sacrifice my own safety for warmth. Here's hoping I return safely!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Chicken crouton lollipop!

The sun can be deceptive if you live within the Arctic Circle. Fortunately, I don't live anywhere near it: far too cold, although I have spent some time in places like Alaska, Tromso in Northern Norway and Lulea in Northern Sweden. In both Tromso and Lulea I saw the Northern Lights and I probably saw them in Alaska too, but I can't remember.

By 'deceptive' I mean that the sun often shines brightly, creating an illusion of warmth when the reality is something totally different. I'm not for one minute suggesting that the weather on Saturday was anywhere near the Arctic conditions brought about by temperatures as low as minus 40 (yes, I went to Sweden once in a Marks & Spencer raincoat and it was minus 40). Very cold. Within a few minutes of being outside in the cold air my face started to freeze. But it wasn't that cold on Saturday morning. In fact it was only minus 1, but it was cold enough to stop me mounting the bike.

Bike at the bus stop on Sunday 7th Dec
Andy wasn't going on Saturday, but on Sunday I asked him whether he would have gone out and he said probably not. I left it for a while. I kept looking outside at the frost on the lawn. It was there all morning. After a while I lost momentum and resigned myself to simply not going. I convinced myself that it was miles too cold and it was too cold. Riding anywhere would have been unpleasant and I was planning another ride to mum's. But it didn't happen.

Sunday was a much better day. Positively balmy – the temperature was around 8 degrees, far better than minus 1. We met at the usual place at the usual time and decided to head for the Tatsfield Bus Stop – the slow way. There was a small Christmas tree on the green. When we got to the bus stop we did what we always do: sit and chat while munching biscuits and sipping tea. All very pleasant. And then it was time to head back.

While the weather might have been warmer than Saturday, an almighty fog descended on the bus stop and the surrounding area. We'd clocked it as we rode the final 200 yards or so of Beddlestead Lane and it seemed as if it was settling in for the day. Thick fog often settles in these parts and it was showing no sign of abating when we were ready to leave. As usual I was having problems with my rear light (if it's not my rear light, it's my gears or the brakes). Well, not problems, just a lack of batteries. But the thought of riding in the fog with little in the way of lights prompted me to suggest we ride home the slow way. It proved to be a good idea as minutes into turning right into Beddlestead Lane the fog disappeared. We rolled towards Hesiers Hill and then endured the punishing climb to the top. The rest was plain sailing: past Sainsbury's and on towards Warlingham Green where we parted company.

The weather was fantastic. The cold had been replaced by a pleasant 11 degrees and so, later in the day, I drove en famille to Wakehurst Place, a lovely house and gardens, owned by the National Trust, near (ahem) Crawley in West Sussex. The Christmas tree was up, there was an artist painting something floral in another part of the house, there was soup and bread in the Bakery restaurant, tea and hot chocolate too, paper lanterns and wind chimes on bare branches in the grounds, swaying in the breeze, and the usual scented candles and soaps in the shop. There was even a Father Christmas! I don't believe anymore, by the way.

We drove home in the fast fading light and ahead of us was a few hours of rubbish television in the shape of Strictly Come Dancing, the X Factor and then I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here (won by Carl 'Foggy' Foggarty, motorcycle ace). Jake Quickenden from the X Factor was second and Melanie Sykes, the 90s Boddington's model, third. All good fun. In Strictly Come Dancing, however, foul play was at work. Head judge Len Goodman, who seemingly had it in for Pixie Lott on the Saturday Show, cast the deciding vote in favour of Simon Webbe, a far inferior dancer in my opinion – and many other people's opinions too. Very suspicious if you ask me considering that Pixie Lott was by far the better dancer and had been from the word go. Even Simon Webbe was surprised to find he was still in the show. Still, that's the way the cookie crumbles and I wasn't planning on losing any sleep over it. Having said that, I woke up at 0400hrs this morning (Monday 8th December) and couldn't really get back to sleep, but I'm sure it was nothing to do with Strictly Come Dancing.

Chicken crouton lollipop? "Er... not for me, thanks."
Here's to next weekend's ride. Oh, and if you're wondering what a chicken crouton lollipop is, it's a food product available from Iceland that was advertised by Peter Andre before and after the ad breaks during I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

Not sure if I like the look of them if the truth be known. For me, eating a chicken crouton lollipop would be similar to a bushtucker trial. There's something inherently unappealing about them – or is it just me?