Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Motorhead's Lemmy is dead...

I'm sure there are people out there who will remark, on learning today of Lemmy's death from an aggressive form of cancer, that he had it coming, bearing in mind his rock and roll lifestyle and the suggestion by the media that he drank a bottle of Jack Daniels every day. Well, perhaps he did, but either way he lived for three score years and 10 so he wasn't doing too badly for somebody who truly represented the world's rock gods.
Lemmy Kilmister, Motorhead's frontman

For me Lemmy first came to light as the front man of Hawkwind for the band's only top 10 hit, Silver Machine. What a song! What a track! It was a big hit back in the seventies, and it's still as potent today as it was back in the day.

When Lemmy was booted out of Hawkwind – you have to be rock 'n' roll to be booted out of Hawkwind – he set up Motorhead, probably the best example of metal music there is on the planet. You can't beat a band that looks like a group of vagabonds from a cross between a spaghetti western and an early Mad Max movie. They were, simply, the best, if you'll excuse the untimely Tina Turner/Mad Max reference. (Turner, in my opinion, put all the nails in the coffin of the Mad Max 'franchise'. The best ones, in my opinion, were the first two). In fact, why didn't they cast Lemmy in Mad Max? He would have been perfect, but then I guess it wasn't really his scene.

I find it rather funny that Lemmy – the man behind tracks such as Love Me Like a Reptile – was a keen reader of PG Wodehouse. This was revealed in a fantastic documentary by, I think, the BBC, who followed the great rocker on tour. Hopefully, bearing in mind Lemmy's recent demise, they might re-screen it on BBC Four.

Another great thing about Lemmy was the fact that he played bass. All the truly great rock musicians play bass: Sir Paul McCartney (well, he's not really a 'rock' musician, but you know what I mean); Sting from the Police, Burke Shelley from Budgie (yes, Budgie, a great metal (ish) bad with some great albums under their belts, including Never Turn Your Back on a Friend, which carried the excellent track Parents – their Stairway to Heaven moment – alongside encore classics like Breadfan, which a friend of a friend of mine used to think was Bread Van, and the equally excellent In the Grip of the Tyrefitter's Hand.

And listen, before anybody says that you can't include Sting in any kind of tribute to Lemmy, while I know where you're coming from, I was simply pointing out that some of the great front men from various major bands are bass players.

Ace of Spades is Lemmy's 'signature' tune. If he was a chef it would have been his signature dish. What an amazing song – although the word 'song' seems too tame a description. Brilliant lyrics and totally in tune with the sort of man Lemmy was – unpretentious and straight-to-the-point, like Motorhead.  In fact, Lemmy was also quite happy to send himself up, as he did brilliantly in many advertisements on television for big brands such as Kronenbourg and KitKat. In one advertisement for an insurance company, viewers were treated to the hard man of rock going backstage to call his insurance company and discuss the terms and conditions of his policy – most out of character for a whisky rock 'n' roller like Lemmy, but great fun to watch.

When I opened my email this morning I found a message from a good pal in the New Forest, David Mascord. Dave has uncovered 18 phrases of wisdom from Lemmy, all of which can be found simply by clicking here.

That said, here's four quotes from the 18 that seem a fitting way to end this brief but sincere tribute. Whether Motorhead can continue with a new frontman, I don't know, but I'd imagine that Lemmy is irreplaceable and sorely missed.

"As you go through life's rich tapestry, you realize that most people you meet aren't fit to shine your shoes. It's a sad fact, but it's true. A good friend is someone who'd hide you if you were on the run for murder. How many of them do you know?" - via The Independent

"I don't understand people who believe that if you ignore something, it'll go away. That's completely wrong — if it's ignored it gathers strength. Europe ignored Hitler for 20 years. As a result he slaughtered a quarter of the world!"via White Line Fever

"I don't think it's fair to be waving your dick around when people are minding their own business and might not want to see it."via White Line Fever

"If you didn't do anything that wasn't good for you it would be a very dull life. What are you gonna do? Everything that is pleasant in life is dangerous." via The Independent

Further reading...
• There's a very good obituary in the Guardian newspaperclick here.
• Lemmy: a life in quotes, also from the Guardian newspaper – click here.
BBC obituaryclick here. 
Interesting article I found on Lemmyclick here. 
Scott Ian from Anthrax remembers Lemmy – click here.
• Essential tracks – from Rolling Stone magazine – click here. 
• Lemmy's last days – from Rolling Stone magazine – click here.
• Short film on Lemmy ending with a joke told by Lemmy – click here.
• Motorhead is finished, says Mikkey Dee in the Guardian newspaper – click here.
• Journalist Gary Lippman remembers a day spent with Lemmy – click here. 
• This could be Lemmy's last interview – click here. 
• Hollywood memorial service for Lemmy – click here.

Monday, 28 December 2015

The day after the day after Boxing Day...

While the day after Boxing Day was wet, the day after the day after Boxing Day – a further dilution of the Christmas spirit – was wonderful. The roads were dry and the sky was simply amazing, as you can see by examining the photograph accompanying this post.

Ellenbridge Road around 0735hrs, 28th December 2015
I was out of milk. It meant buying one of those huge plastic jerry cans of the stuff from the Co-op and then humping it all the way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop along with the already cumbersome flask of hot water. To be honest, it didn't feel any different, although I felt my riding was sluggish due to a late night. Not late in the sense of being out on the razz or indulging in party excess, just chatting in bed until 0013hrs.

Leaving the house mildly late at around 0735hrs I headed for the green where I met Andy and we rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop (now our regular destination). I've resolved to get back to riding to Westerham in the New Year, but seeing is believing as the reason for our adherence to the Tatsfield Bus Stop is time and convenience.

At the bus stop we had tea and BelVita biscuits – our staple cycling diet – and, among other things, chatted about the differences between the cars we drove 'in our youth' and the cars of modern times. Today's cars, for instance, don't have 'chokes' or doors that lock individually using a key or that laborious process of pushing down the locks on all the doors from the inside before the driver leaves the vehicle and locks his own door. Yes, folks, these were the days when it was possible to lock yourself out of your car, having left the keys inside!

There are many things you no longer see on 'new' cars: metal bumpers, cassette recorders, push-button radios, big steering wheels (to compensate, perhaps, for the lack of power steering) and I'd like to say 'the list is endless', but I'm sitting here trying to remember all the things we mentioned as we sat at the Tatsfield Bus Stop in the continuing mild weather.

We also discussed our once heroic idea of riding all the big hills in the area: Succombs, Titsey, White Lane, the hill leading to Knockholt and, of course, Westerham's hill – the one that ruins the ride when it suddenly dawns on us that we have to deal with it. One day we should incorporate all the big hills in one ride, we agreed, but something tells me it won't be happening, not for a while at least as we're firmly committed to the good old Tatsfield Bus Stop.

Andy and I parted at Warlingham Green vowing to be back on Saturday, the day after New Year's Day for what would be the first ride of the year.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The day after Boxing Day...

This morning I awoke early for the first time in a few days. Ever since the 18th December I've been lying in, not stirring much before 0900hrs as work has been off the agenda, thanks to unused holiday.

Today, things were different. The traditional Boxing Day ride had been delayed until today, the day after Boxing Day, a strange day if ever there was one as it represents the first dilution of the Christmas spirit that continues in the run-up to the new year and that strange period of time between Christmas Day and New Year's Day when time is meaningless and nobody has any idea what day it is. We have now entered that space.

Sanderstead pond, Sunday 27th December around 1020hrs

I sit this morning in the living room, not the conservatory, as I'm using my lap top and writing by candlelight – it's still dark. In fact, it's all very Dickensian. There are two candles, both presents, one a so-called Yankee candle, the other a small red candle, both scented and, when added to the halogen glow emanating from the computer screen they lend a 'cosyness' unattainable in the conservatory. The rest of this large room, our living room, is in darkness. I can't see the Christmas tree; or rather I can just about make out its dim shadow and the shine of the baubles reflected in light coming from the kitchen.

The silence of the morning was broken earlier by the sound of unwrapping. A present in many ways. My mum's Christmas cake, small and round and with nuts on top, covered in greaseproof paper, which, at this time of day is surprisingly noisy when unravelled. As the kettle boiled the hot water for our flask I cut two chunks of fruit cake and then wrapped them in silver foil, which made a lighter, wispier noise, by far the more agreeable sound at such an early hour. Nobody has stirred upstairs and now I sit here in virtual darkness, I contemplate another cup of tea.

In all honesty, while an 'abort' text would have been most welcomed, a ride is certainly needed as there's been a lot of sitting around lately. Sitting around and eating or watching television or both. But now that the day is simply the 27th December – it doesn't have a name, like Christmas Day or Boxing Day – it means that, slowly, normality is returning to the remaining days of 2015 and thoughts change to time flying and the prospect of returning to work. Not that I'm really thinking about returning to work just yet. For me it's still the middle of the holidays and there are board games to play.

Last night, just before going to bed, I resolved to play more board games as they bring people together around a table. There was a time when I played board games a lot. When I was a kid we used to have a games tournament in our house, which consisted of playing a selection of games, from good old bagatelle (which I still have) through to board games and playing cards and even a battery-operated horse racing game called the Electric Derby. I wish I still had the Electric Derby, but it's long gone and never to be replaced as 'they don't make toys like they used to' and, besides, these days, toys are computer-based as, indeed, are most games, more's the pity. Actually, that last statement was false: there are plenty of board games in the shops, so they're still highly popular and last weekend in the New Forest, I sat in the snug of the Cottage Lodge Hotel in Brockenhurst (an excellent hotel, by the way) playing Sequences, a kind of hybrid board and card game, which was very enjoyable and easy to play.

People should play more board games.

For the last two days – Christmas Day night and Boxing Day night – I've been playing Monopoly. I'd bought it a couple of years ago to replace an older version that was falling apart. The new game is based on the London Underground and the colours of the different lines. The most expensive property is not Mayfair or Park Lane but Covent Garden and Knightsbridge on the Piccadilly line, but the game is exactly the same as it's always been – apart from the addition of a large red dice for those wanting a quicker version of the game.

"Raining here. Lightly." It's a text from Andy.
"Haven't checked here. I'll take a look and text you back, hold on...", I reply.

It's still dark outside even if we are south of the Winter Solstice, but when it brightens up we'll have a better idea of the weather conditions. Andy has suggested giving it 15 minutes. Last night the TV weatherman did forecast early rain, but I'm guessing it'll be a shower, little more. Unlike in the North West of the country at the moment where flooding has returned to ruin the Christmas holidays for many people. There's rain in the South West too, but not as severe as in the north.

"Let's go for it now," Andy texted, and within a few minutes I was outside the house looking skywards at a grey blanket of cloud. It was 'spitting' – a phrase my dad used quite a bit while on holiday on the south coast. 'Spitting' prefaced rain and a boring day 'indoors' instead of playing on the beach.

I unpadlocked the bike and headed off, pleased with the fact that I'd donned my waterproofs.

Having not riden the bike for a couple of weeks I was feeling a little sluggish as I rode up Church Way. The festive decorations that flashed in windows and front gardens had lost some of their potency and meaning now that it was the 27th of December – four days to New Year's Eve and then, of course, the New Year itself. I rode through the lonely churchyard and on to the Limpsfield Road where the orange glow from the streetlights directed me towards Warlingham Green where Andy was waiting.

The Tatsfield Bus Stop beckoned so off we pedalled on damp roads scattered with puddles. Waterproof clothing protected me from the usual soaking I would suffer in these conditions.

There were quite a few cyclists on the roads, but nobody we knew except for the female jogger and her other half who rides a bike and sets the pace. We see them occasionally and today was one of those occasions. The woman runs a fair distance and this time she brought along her white petit chiands. Later, as we sat at the bus stop munching Christmas cake and biscuits, we saw them again, jogging past the bus stop on Clarks Lane heading towards Westerham, although I'm sure they must live in Tatsfield or, perhaps, on Pilgrims Lane. This time the dog was being carried on the bike and he (or she, I couldn't tell – I'm talking about the dog, not the woman) seemed happy enough.

Yours truly, Sanderstead pond, Sunday 27th December around 1020hrs
Soon it was time to head home. It was another mild day and while it was damp and wet and there were drips of rain here and there, it was nothing serious. On the return ride we saw many more cyclists, some wearing awful, brightly-coloured and luminescent footwear (in bright pink or green). I imagined them opening the box on Christmas morning in front of the tree. "Oooh! Darling! Thank you! Just what I've always wanted." The worrying bit is that they probably asked for them. Who in their right mind would wear such atrocious-looking things? Not me.

Andy rode with me to the green where we parted, promising to ride out again tomorrow, weather permitting, but again at the later time of 0800hrs. There's nothing better than a late start and that's what the Christmas holidays are all about.

Thanks to the waterproofs, I was dry when I returned home and that's all I have to say.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas to all our readers!

Wherever you are in the world, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. This message goes out to all readers of NoVisibleLycra everywhere.

So, it's Christmas Day. Mine started off around 0700hrs listening to Desert Island Discs with Kirsty Young and some astronaut bloke – great choice of music and some interesting insights into life on the International Space Station. Then I drifted off and suddenly it was around 0800hrs or possibly even later. Actually, when I first woke up there was some kind of programme about birds and how intelligent they might be. Can a parrot understand what it's saying? No, it can't. Mind you, pretty scary if it could. A bit like if your cat could open the fridge door.

And then I woke up. Now there's a great final line for a novel (not!). "And then I woke up". What a great excuse to write about whacky things – like owning a cat that can open the fridge door OR having a parrot that can understand what you're saying. "And then I woke up!" Thank the Lord for that.

And talking of the Lord, I went to church this morning. A Catholic church. I'm not a 'Roman' (as they say in Graham Greene's Brighton Rock) but there's nothing better than being in a church on Christmas Day. Somehow it's just the right thing to do. I was in the church where I got married and it was pleasant, bar the half-hearted attempts by the congregation to sing carols. Mind you, I shouldn't really complain as I can't sing at all. It's not because I can't sing, though, it's because I'm so bloody self-conscious. Sometimes I simply open and close my mouth to pretend to others that I'm singing, but on this occasion I couldn't really do that as people close to me would have thought I was going crazy and doing fish impersonations for no good reason.

What that church needed was somebody like Simon Callow or Brian Blessed putting everybody to shame by belting out the hymns at maximum volume. Normally there is somebody that does this, embarrassing the rest of the congregation in the process, but today, for some reason, there was just the embarrassed murmur of those who couldn't sing or simply didn't remember the words to the hymns that they last sang in school assembly (and I count myself in their number).

The priest was an interesting guy. An Indian with a swarthy complexion and shoulder-length black hair – he reminded me of an Indian Ginger Baker. He was good, he said some wise things that I tried to take in, along the lines of everything, life particularly, is a miracle and that, well, everything is amazing. He had a point. The service consisted of the hymns and the sermons and then we all filed out, shook hands with the Indian Ginger Baker and made our way home. It was great.

My first job when I got home was to peel a load of potatoes (they're in the oven now) and then, after a brew, I got the old laptop out and started writing what you're reading now. There are Christmas carols on the sound system and everybody else is getting ready for the Christmas lunch round at my Mother-in-Law's. It's always a fantastic occasion. The food is top notch, especially the stuffing and the wine and the turkey, everything about it makes Christmas worthwhile.

We've opened our presents and the space under the tree is now looking a little empty. The kitchen, on the other hand, is full of wrapping paper and empty cardboard boxes.

Soon it will be time to take the spuds (now roasted) out of the oven. Then it's lunch time and then, later today, possibly after watching the Queen's Speech (I hate the Queen's Speech) and drinking tea and enjoying a slice or two of a Yule Log, it's time to head home for Christmas television and general relaxation 'in front of the box'. I'll probably end up writing some more as I'm slowly becoming obsessed with it. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing, but there you have it.

It's time to go, so I'll say goodbye for now.

My thoughts go out to all those injured in Westerham's Costa Coffee incident yesterday, and my condolences go out to the friends and relatives of the 70-year-old woman who lost her life.

Season's greetings to all.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Car ploughes into Westerham Costa Coffee – one person dead, many injured

Reports are coming in of a car ploughing into the Westerham, Kent, outlet of Costa Coffee. One person is reported to be dead and many others seriously injured.

For further details, click here.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Walking into patio doors and other misdemeanours...

The other day I walked into my patio door. Rather ironic really when you consider that I'd been warning other family members of the dangers of doing such a thing. And yes, it hurt – albeit temporarily – and it hurt all the more because it took me by surprise. I really thought the door was open, but it clearly wasn't.

In the immediate aftermath of the collision I swore a bit – the usual expletives – and then, when I realised there was no lasting damage, I got on with my life.

There was a time when we had a small image of a bird on the glass, stopping anybody from mistaking a closed patio door for an open one. But that bird flew off a long time ago and it  was never replaced – more's the pity.

In truth there's little much more to say about this. Shit happens; and there's still no bird in place, so it's likely to happen again.

A few weeks ago, while pottering around the house, I heard the sound of something colliding with glass. It was a pigeon hitting the kitchen window. Pigeons often fly into our windows and somehow I don't think the addition of a bird image placed dead centre on all the windows would prevent this from happening.

The pigeon made much more of a drama out of the whole thing than I did. While it didn't waddle around the garden dazed and confused and swearing profusely (nor did I incidentally) it did leave an image of itself on the window – feathers and all. In a way it was quite funny. Like when cartoon characters crash through windows or brick walls and leave their shapes behind them.

When I was a kid I remember lying in bed during the summer when it was still bright outside, but we kids had to be in bed. It was always odd hitting the sack during daylight hours when dad had yet to come home from work, but rules were rules and, as I'd try to nod off, taking in the colourful and mildly surreal mural of a village scene that adorned the walls of the bedroom I shared with Jon, my brother, I could hear the wood pigeons outside calling to their pals, possibly warning them not to fly into any windows or patio doors.

What a great programme!
Later, after sunset, when dad was home and the smell of cooking had wafted up from downstairs, I would sneak down and stand outside the living room door quietly mimicking those pigeons in order to attract dad's attention. He would then let me in to watch Man from Uncle, starring Robert Vaughn, while the others slept soundly upstairs, unaware of my secret treat. Come to think of it, I was a strange kid.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

In Coventry and Sheffield...

It's amazing how one's attitude can switch so quickly, determined, of course, by the turn of events. I was sitting on the 1243 London Euston to Coventry train. Ultimately, it was going much further than Coventry; it was going to Edinburgh, the long way, as opposed to the shorter route along the East Coast Line from King's Cross.

The fact that I was only travelling as far as Coventry depressed me slightly as there's nothing better than a long train journey to clear your head, relax, read a book and generally find peace with the world. I was only going as far as Coventry and yes, the expected joke, the one about being sent to Coventry, came up a couple of times in the office before I departed.

View from room 203, Cutlers Hotel, Sheffield
There was only one stop between me and my destination and that was Milton Keynes. To this day, I've never seen the concrete cows that are supposedly grazing in a field somewhere close the railway station.

The journey time to Coventry was roughly one hour. In fact, if we're going to be pedantic about it, 59 minutes, but being as it was lunch time and I'm one of those people who simply can't go without three meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – I was starting to wish the buffet (or 'shop' as it's called by those running it) would get a move-on and open its doors, metaphorically speaking. I say 'metaphorically speaking' because there are no doors to open. The 'shop' is part of the train carriage and no doors separate it from the paying passengers.

The train departed Euston roughly on time, but the staff faffed about, loading up shelves with biscuits and bags of crisps, and told me and another impatient, hungry person that an announcement would be made when the 'shop' finally opened. I was starving. In fact, I was looking forward to my cheese and ham sandwich and one of those small bottles of red wine that are always available on trains and planes.

I was fortunate in one respect: my seat on board the train was no more than a metre or two from the 'shop' so when the announcement was made, I was first in the queue. It was then, as I took full advantage of the free croissant on offer, that I realised a potential problem lurked. The problem was the use of credit cards and the unfortunate fact that the machines into which the credit cards are inserted often don't work.

If the credit card machine didn't work it meant that I would have to starve until dinner time. This awful fact dawned on me as the girl behind the counter inserted my credit card and we all waited patiently for something to happen. I've been in this position on Virgin trains many times before and whenever it happens I normally say something like, "Well, I don't have any cash on me, so you'll have to take it all back." Sadly, that's exactly what they do and I end up having to go without. But not today! "Goo buck to yoor sit luv and ill bring yoor cart tover to yoo," said the girl and so I returned to my seat. She eventually brought me the device just in case I was worried about her cloning my card – a thoughtful girl. I sat there watching the machine as it tried in vain to process my details.

It got better. I explained how I wouldn't make a start on my sandwich until the card connected with wherever these sort of transactions are ratified, but she assured me that if the connection wasn't made, it was Virgin's fault and not mine and that, effectively, lunch was on them. This is what happened and I later waltzed off the train at Coventry having enjoyed a free lunch. They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but I've found that in my world, a free lunch is often forthcoming in some way or other and here was solid proof! There was a skip in my step as I found a taxi and was whisked off to my business appointment. The thought going round in my head was simple: I was up, I was ahead of the game! I had, in some small way, socked it to The Man - and all because The Man's computer systems had failed him.

Later I took a train to the recently renovated Birmingham New Street in order to connect with yet another Edinburgh-bound train, which would take me to Sheffield, my final destination for the night.

A brief word about Birmingham New Street station: it looks amazing, but it's quite a confusing place. Emerging from one platform, I found myself in a kind of pen, cut off from other platforms and hemmed in by ticket barriers. I had to reach platform 8a for my connecting train, but getting there meant going through one set of barriers and then another. Once on the platform, however, everything looked very familiar, only slightly more sleek than I remembered it.

The 1703 train departed nine seconds late, not that I was counting, and at 1818 I arrived in Sheffield, having enjoyed a Belgian chocolate chip cookie and another one of those small bottles of red wine – this time purchased with cash. "Would you like to buy three bottles for £10?" the trolley dolly asked me, but I informed her that, sadly, I wasn't on board for the trip to Edinburgh, I was going to Sheffield, so the one bottle would suffice. I must stress that I don't need alcohol to travel on a train, it's just very pleasant to drink a glass of red wine while gazing out of the window or reading a book.

Room 203, Cutlers Hotel, Sheffield
A short cab journey brought me to my hotel – the Best Western Cutlers Hotel on George Street. My taxi driver for the short ride was in an upbeat mood as he was about to hit the gym and then go home. "Sheffield's a great city, man, I wouldn't live anywhere else," he said in a manner unfitting for South Yorkshire. He went on to explain how it was a fairly low-cost place to be based. We parted company amicably (I always have a good relationship with taxi drivers) and soon I was checked in to my room (room 203 on the second floor).

The room was fine: a huge bed (two singles pushed together) a decent bathroom with proper taps – none of that designer rubbish offered by so many hotels, but proper taps with 'hot' and 'cold' written on them AND a plug on the end of a chain. Perfect! I wouldn't have to spend hours working out which was hot and which was cold and I wouldn't need a degree in mechanical engineering to figure out how to depress the plug and stop the water leaving the sink.

WiFi was free, there was a flatscreen television on the wall – after dinner with a colleague in Bill's near Millennium Square I watched the BBC news – and then, after a broken night (I rarely sleep well in hotels) I went to the breakfast room, which was located in the basement. I'm so glad I didn't have dinner here in the hotel's restaurant because it completely lacked atmosphere and, because of this, there was nobody else dining there. Bill's had a bit of much-needed hubbub about it, and by that I mean other diners, people, music, laughter, everything that my hotel restaurant lacked.

I was hoping that breakfast would deliver something special, but it didn't. For a start the room was horribly bright and white and there were 'trendy' distressed park benches and tables and a meagre self-service option at the far end of the room. Brightness of this magnitude simply doesn't work in a hotel breakfast room, in my opinion. It was like being in the garden furniture section of a large garden centre and not an ideal place to enjoy the first meal of the day.

Boxed cereal, tinned fruit and a banana-flavoured yoghurt: that was the offering in front of me, but a waitress eventually appeared and took my order from a small menu on the table: scrambled egg, toast and fried mushrooms. I'm not keen on fried mushrooms. I don't mind them raw in a salad or as part of, say, a cheese salad sandwich, but fried: ugh! Greasy and slippery mushrooms. Not nice.

The most irksome thing about the breakfast was a dirty cereal bowl. Without my glasses on I mistook the dried food stuck on the inside of the bowl for some kind of logo – how foolish and stupid am I? – but it turned out to be dried food. Unfortunately I had already tipped my bran flakes into the bowl and added the milk, so I persevered, but vowed to check everything else that came my way. Fortunately it was a one-off mistake, but it made me feel doubly relieved that I had opted for Bill's last night and not the hotel restaurant.

Rright now, rather than use my own lap top in the room, I am sitting at a wooden table just off the main staircase using the hotel's computer (a PC). Other than the aforementioned dirty bowl, the Cutlers Hotel was pleasant. I get the feeling that it was once an office building, and not a purpose-built hotel, as the main staircase screamed 'office block'. There's a large stained glass window that runs from the top to the bottom of the main stairwell and a carpet matching the window's design.

This isn't a 'grand hotel' but it's fairly pleasant, and bang in the centre of Sheffield. Despite its central location, it's quiet and peaceful and 'off the beaten track' but only minutes on foot from the Crucible Theatre and Millennium Square where all the decent restaurants are to be found: Cosmo, Smoke Barbecue, Piccolino's, Cafe Rouge, Brown's, Pizza Express and, of course, Bill's.

A brief word about Bill's. I remember visiting the first ever outlet in Lewes, East Sussex, back in the days when Bill's was simply an independent restaurant – circa 2010. I went there with Miles Jenner, head brewer and managing director of Harveys of Lewes, a fantastic, traditional brewer of fine English cask ales (my description, not theirs). Harveys of Lewes brews a beer specifically for Bill's – or it did back in 2010. The outlet in Lewes, East Sussex, was everything one might expect from an independent restaurant: pine tables and a traditional but quirky menu catering for all needs and meal occasions. I was surprised to hear that expansion was on the cards for Bill's, but a few months, possibly a couple of years later, I visited Bill's in Leamington Spa and then yesterday here in Sheffield, and all was well. Last night I ordered roast chicken with sweet potato fries and a couple of glasses of Merlot, rounded off with a light pecan pie and a cup of tea. My colleague enjoyed a rack of ribs. Why they thought I would be capable (alone) of drinking a huge pot of tea just before bedtime I don't know, but I do know that it contributed in some small way to my broken night's sleep. That comment about 'catering for all needs and meal occasions' rung true of the Sheffield Bill's as, in addition to dinner there were lunch and, indeed, breakfast offerings on the menu.

My colleague paid the bill, which was £54, but it was well worth it as the service was excellent, the atmosphere convivial and the food spot on the money.

I have another business appointment, but not until noon, so it's time to take a stroll around Sheffield, weather permitting. But first I need to tidy up my room and check out.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

I won't even say where we went...

Saturday 12 December: Mild weather. Still weather. No wind. No Phil. The streetlights were still on, but the day was slowly dawning as I rode along Ellenbridge, aware of a distinct lack of external festive decorations in the street. Just one house.

It's quite a hill from my place to the top of Church Way, but I've been riding it for years and it's not really a problem anymore, even if it does get a little tough at the top before crossing the main road and entering the churchyard on the other side. I took it in my stride as always as getting off the bike within 15 minutes of mounting it would have been tantamount to, well, laziness.

Saturday morning at Warlingham Green
At the green there was no sign of Andy so I parked up and set about taking snaps of the continuing 'works' being carried out by the local council (new paving I think). In last week's post I forgot to mention Warlingham Green's Christmas tree. As always, it's a little understated, but probably a darn sight better than Tatsfield's. Not that I've seen this year's village offering.

Andy was running late and I started to wonder whether he would turn up. With this thought in mind I considered riding alone to Botley Hill or the Tatsfield Bus Stop or retracing my steps along the Limpsfield Road, cutting through to Purley and following Foxley Lane to mum's house.

I decided to ride towards Botley Hill and was almost ready to set off when Andy arrived. His alarm hadn't gone off, but we had only lost around 15 minutes so it really didn't matter.

We rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, our destination, and on arrival broke out the tea and BelVita biscuits. For the next 20 minutes or so we simply passed the time of day until we were ready to head home again.

The ride was good both ways and so was the weather. I reached home around 0930hrs having waved goodbye to Andy at Sline's Oak Road.

At the Tatsfield Bus Stop, Saturday 12 December 2015
The rest of the day was spent looking for a real Christmas tree, a most unrewarding experience involving two garden centres and a DIY superstore. Not the best of days, it has to be said, and it was followed by a sleepless night, which led to an abort text at around 0500hrs on Sunday morning – although, had we gone out, we would have met with a soaking. Phil also aborted, citing decorating as the chief reason behind his absence. Right now (at 1432hrs on Sunday afternoon) it's fairly pleasant and it's certainly not cold.

I drove over to mum's to pick up the annual festive hamper she makes for us all and to indulge in some tea and fruit cake. After lunch I drove over to Andy's house to hand over a Christmas cake mum has made for him. Andy went out for a local ride, leaving the house at 0700hrs and getting back before the rain.

My next ride is on Boxing Day – possibly to Woodmansterne Green – so it was a bit of shame to miss a ride on Sunday morning. Still, that's what happens now and then and I'm not complaining.

Showbiz news
Anita Rani left Strictly Come Dancing. She'd made it all the way to the semi-finals and lost out in the dance-off to Kate Derham who, along with Anton du Beke, will be a part of next weekend's final.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Camp Tramp...

Today I bumped into the Camp Tramp. That's what I'm calling him. Standing at the check-out in Redhill Sainsbury's buying cakes for the office (it's my birthday today) I engaged the Hal Cruttenden lookalike in conversation. He had bought a box of 18 cans of Stella Artois and was on his way to the beach to drink them. I told him he should have bought the beer from a coastal supermarket and then he wouldn't have to cart them all the way there on the train. Mind you, nowt better than a cheeky can of 'wife beater' on the journey down. I was tempted to ditch the cakes, buy 18 cans for myself and join him for the day.

18 cans of Stella on the beach (or anywhere) would be hard going...
While he was camp, he probably wasn't a tramp. He was more likely a functioning alcoholic with little in the way of work to distract him from the task of heavy drinking. That said, he sported a smooth complexion, there was no sign of a red nose, he was relatively well turned out and reasonably articulate too. He was mumbling, though, and clearly didn't know the meaning of a 'bag for life'. I was happy to enlighten him. I figured he might live in what a colleague described as 'Benefits Towers'. That said, he could be a well-off eccentric. If I see him again, I'll ask some more pertinent questions – not that I asked any when we met earlier today. Right now, I'd imagine he has a carriage to himself on the 1706 Brighton to Victoria train.

On reflection, I can only assume that the so-called 'Camp Tramp' is in the early stages of dereliction. There were no outward signs of rough sleeping so I'd imagine he has a roof over his head – for the moment at any rate – but there's clearly a building tragedy of some sort. With Christmas approaching, I can only wish him well for the future and hope that whatever it is that's bugging him can be solved by a few beers on the beach and that he comes to his senses sooner rather than later. 

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Rain initially stops play, but then I head to mum's and Andy 'does a local ride'

I was up with the lark at around 0600hrs. It was hard to tell what was happening with the weather because it was so dark outside. I had two Weetabix, a slice of toast and a cup of tea and then, having prepared the tea for the ride, I left the house, but only reached the front porch. There I could see the rain, caught in the beam of powerful streetlights. Wind gusted and fine rain was blown hither and thither. Not ideal, I thought, so I sent Andy a text and we decided to abort. Andy said he'd probably ride out locally while I figured that time would be the great healer. Sooner or later I was proved right as the rain did stop. My iphone said it would stop around 0900hrs – which was roughly on the money – but I couldn't wait that long and once daylight arrived I ventured outside to check things out.

It was still fairly mild out. I decided to ride to mum's, following the usual route. It rained lightly for most of the outward ride and when I got to mum's I was a little on the damp side, but nothing serious enough to warrant taking off my trousers and draping them over a radiator.
Tea and fruitcake round at mum's house in Carshalton – perfect!

Over tea and cake, mum and I chatted about this and that, as we always do, and I got a rare insight into mum's upbringing – her life at 64 Poulton where her brother Jack and sister-in-law Shirley still live.

Today we talked about mum's father, a person who remains to this day unknown to me, bar what I've heard. He died relatively young – I never met him, nor him me. He left the family home during the war – leaving mum and her three brothers – and eventually moved to Sheffield. He had asked mum to join him there, but she was about to get married to my dad and so declined the offer.

Mum talked about how her dad would decorate the house at Christmas time: paper chains on the ceiling and balloons.

"He liked to entertain," said mum, relating how he used to push the boat out over the festive season offering his friends and relations a choice of beef, pork, lamb and turkey – or something lavish of that magnitude, a bit like a modern day carvery. Christmas puddings were steamed in a 'copper', mum added. A 'copper' was a bath of the sort you filled up in the living room in front of the fire.

We moved on to talk about her aunties – Violet, May and Millie (the latter was always known as 'Aunt Mill'  to us), but we never saw a great deal of her or Violet and May – they all lived over Woolwich way and I think that's why mum's side of the family are Arsenal supporters. I can only remember Aunt Mill, who lived in Plumstead. She was one of those 'old ladies' who sported a raspberry stubble on her chin.

Memories are strange, but they're all there in mum's house. Across the street used to be Mrs Wheeler's house – the house is still there, but Mrs Wheeler passed away some time ago. She used to own a sandwich chop in central London. One of her sons, Billy, built a boat on the front driveway and I can still see it now, in my imagination. Next door to Mrs Wheeler was a frail, gummy old lady with long, white hair, called Mrs Rattan. She died ages ago and today the house is owned by John and Marion Brown. John was a policeman (now retired) and I remember him and dad used to play tennis together. I also remember the time he and some other policemen evicted a young couple that moved in (as squatters) after Mrs Rattan had passed away.

The rain had stopped and things had brightened up so I mounted the bike and rode home. The ride was pleasant and I was home before 1000hrs – having cycled roughly 30 miles over the weekend (probably closer to 28 miles).

One year ago...click here to see what we were up to!

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Heavy winds but generally mild and warm conditions

Alright, alright, alright, yes, I admit it, we rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, it's our default ride and, yes, we tend to go there around this time of year because it's shelter, it's a dry bench and, yes, it's not as far as, well, it's not as far as Westerham. We're wimps, yes, we prefer a shorter, predictable, some might say boring, ride. Tatsfield is the new Woodmansterne. I hear you, I hear you. Or, as David Cameron might have said, "I get it."

All night long the wind howled. When I woke up it was still howling, but, as usual, when I looked out – noting the dry roads (it clearly hadn't rained) – the trees were still, leading me to think that somebody might have rigged up a huge loudspeaker behind the house and was playing wind sounds on full volume just to give the impression that it was windy.

Kona on the green, Saturday morning around 0740hrs.
Once outside there was quite a bit of wind, gusts of wind, strong enough to knock a bike off course, but  I rode on towards the green and when I got there I noticed that they – 'they' being the local council – had been digging up the path around the monument. The whole lot had been cordoned off so I decided to record the occasion by taking a photograph of the Kona leaning nonchalantly against the wire fencing. Then Andy arrived and we set off for the bus stop, keeping our heads down, zoning out and getting on with it.

When we reached the exposed section of the 269 on our outward journey, the crosswinds were pretty strong and gusty, pushing the bikes sideways on occasion. Progress was slow, or so it seemed.

Halfway along the 269 my Spongy Wonder saddle gave up the ghost. One of the pads – the one on the left hand side – fell off. Andy picked it up, handed it to me and we soldiered on; I held the pad in my left hand for the rest of outward journey. When we reached the bus stop I discovered that my tube of 'Super Glue' had run out of glue, so I resigned myself to riding back a little lopsided. It didn't seem to make much difference.

Before we headed home we drank tea, munched chocolate BelVitas and made light conversation. No sign of Phil today despite very mild conditions. Mild weather has characterised the last couple of months, with just that one cold spell – when it snowed – a couple of weeks ago. Today it was blustery but warm and dry so we couldn't really complain.

I'm not sure what tomorrow's weather will bring. I swear I heard a weather forecaster talking about early morning rain, but here's hoping it'll be dry and warm like today, and hopefully less windy.

In the news...

The recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, USA, seems to have confounded law enforcement agencies. The authorities have been dragging their feet as to whether the killing of a dozen or so people should be treated as an Islamist terror attack or not. And who can blame their reticence? It's not as if killers Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik would give rise to any suspicion of an Islamic State-inspired murderous attack. Nope, it's just another regular mass shooting in the good old US of A.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Late night mid-week ramblings...

One of the best programmes on television? Well, there's quite a few, once you've sorted the wheat from the chaff. The other day I watched an excellent documentary on David Gilmour, the lead guitarist of Pink Floyd: brilliant. Then, there was an Arena special and today – arguably the best of the lot – Timothy Spall's six-year circumnavigation of Great Britain in a seagoing barge : wonderful. And I've forgotten one of the best programmes I've seen in a long time, that of Julien Temple's film about Wilco Johnson, the former Dr. Feelgood guitarist and long-standing resident of Canvey Island, and his reflections on life and death following his close shave with the latter and his subsequent recovery.

And now I'm watching the more depressing 10 o'clock news. I'm not sure what to think about bombing Syria. Half of me thinks we ought to get in there and kick some arse, but the other half tends to agree with Corbyn and the fact that there's no real need for us to join the USA and France and Turkey and all the others dropping bombs on Syria. Surely, there must be nothing left of the place already without us going in? What's left to bomb? "Britain is the one dragging it's feet," somebody has just commented, meaning we ought to go in just for the sake of it.

There's some real concern over whether we'll mess up in Syria, just like we did in Iraq and Libya and Afghanistan. As many people have said already, there's no point in air strikes alone. We'd be better off chucking a few soldiers in there too – 'boots on the ground' as they say. The problem there is that nobody wants to commit troops to the cause so it's all looking a little uncertain. My guess is that we will go in and we will mess up. The bombing will stop, ISIS will be stronger than ever and everybody involved will be less secure than they are now.

The British government simply wants a fight. It knows that air strikes alone will get us nowhere, but it goes ahead anyway. I always find it amazing that we are told there is no money, that we are 'battening down the hatches' with a view to getting our finances in order, but when it comes to war there seems to be a bottomless pit of cash.

There's going to be a debate in the House of Commons tomorrow followed by a vote. Corbyn could have set the cat among the pigeons by insisting that his MPs vote against the motion for air strikes. Instead he's allowed them a free vote and it is widely believed that within a few days the British will be bombing Syria.

I've switched over to Newsnight with Kirsty Wark. There's a live television debate and one of the audience members is worried that we might be repeating the mistakes made in Iraq. Can we make a meaningful difference? And do we have an end game? David Aaronovitch believes we can degrade ISIS forces by bombing them. But others believe that airstrikes alone won't be enough. Who will supply the local ground forces to defeat ISIS on the ground? Cameron talks of an existing force of 70,000 ground troops, but many think the people concerned are not to be trusted as nobody really knows who they are.

What to expect next...

1. Propaganda footage from both sides. ISIS will be showing images of civilian casualties – probably caused by themselves deliberately. The British media, of course, will be gullible and stupid enough to give it plenty of air time. Cue Piers Morgan, Huw Edwards and Louise Minchin with 'concerned faces'.

2. Similar propaganda footage by the 'coalition' forces. That phrase 'coalition' reinforces the notion that 'we're all in this together', despite the fact that less than half of the voting public in the UK support air strikes (according to a YouGov poll in The Times).

3. British casualties. A lone pilot, maybe, but he'll be held prisoner by IS and probably beheaded by 'Jihadi Joe' or 'Islamist Irene'.

4. A terrorist attack on British soil coming to a street near you! Rumour has it that a supermarket might be attacked – or is that a ploy by supermarket management to boost online shopping sales in the lead-up to Christmas?

5. News that ISIS is 'stronger than ever' and that air strikes have been a complete and utter waste of time and money.

6. It's going to be a complete disaster – remember you heard it here first, folks – and we won't be seeing the back of ISIS for 'many years to come'.

I know what I'd rather be doing: chugging around the coastline of Britain with Timothy Spall in Matilda, his sea-going barge, or living in a crofter's cottage in Applecross like Monty Halls did a few years ago (another great television programme).

In other news....

• Peter "the Ripper" Sutcliffe, currently residing in Broadmoor, a hospital for the criminally insane, is getting a little hot under the collar about his impending move back to a proper prison. It turns out he's no longer a loony and more than fit to enjoy prison life to the full again. Imagine how mad you have to be to regard a long-term stay in Broadmoor as 'cushy'.

• David Cameron has being slinging mud at Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, calling him and his followers 'terrorist sympathisers'. Ultimately, I think Corbyn's stance will be vindicated as things will get steadily worse, not only in Syria, but around the world. When, I wonder, can the UK expect it's next terrorist attack? Place your bets, please! Of course, the problem with a terrorist attack is that it will stiffen Cameron's resolve to step up British involvement in the crisis.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Round to mum's alone and then... the Tatsfield Bus Stop!

I thought that showers and heavy winds might rule out any cycling this weekend, but when I woke up on Saturday morning I was amazed when I peered outside and found dry roads and stillness. As daylight slowly dawned, I realised that a ride was not out of the question and decided to cycle over to Carshalton to see mum.
Purley Recreation Ground at just gone 0800hrs on Saturday.
I left later than usual, but before 0800hrs, and while it was a little on the chilly side, there was no frost to be found on car windscreens and after a few minutes in the saddle I warmed up. My route was the usual one: down West Hill, left into Essenden, right on to Carlton Road, left on to the Upper Selsdon Road, left into Jarvis, across the Brighton Road, up Hayling Park Road (the only major hill) and then across the A23, through the industrial estate, on to the Stafford Road, through Wallington, into Carshalton and over to mum's place.

Breakfast followed: bread, boiled egg and fingers and tea and then, after a chat with mum it was time to head back, following roughly the same route but in reverse. I was home before 1000hrs.

Sunday morning, Warlingham Green – we were 10 minutes late
Sunday was surely going to be rained off, but no, while there were heavy winds, there was (initially) no rain, but ultimately the heavens opened as we – Phil, Andy and myself – headed for the Tatsfield Bus Stop. My lack of front and rear mudguards meant a wet arse, but when we reached our destination we munched on bakery items, provided by Phil, and Andy's BelVita biscuits, not forgetting tea provided by both yours truly and Phil. Miraculously, the rain cleared up and we rode home in relative comfort, bidding farewell to Andy half way along the 269.

We will all be back in the saddle next weekend, weather permitting.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Insularity – the way of the world

“The world’s going to end up with everybody sitting in their room punching keyboards.”Lemmy Kilmister (1945-2015).

You know what? Everybody keeps banging on about 'digitalisation' as if it's a great thing. But when you really sit down and think about it, it's not that great at all. In many ways it's disastrous because it leads to a state of insularity, if that's a real word. The internet might be convenient in terms of booking flights on line, buying stuff on line, sending an email and so forth, but it's also there to enable those using it to simply 'stay in' – a phrase I used to dread when I was a kid. "Well, if you haven't got any money, you'll just have to stay in," my mum and dad might have said, and I'd end up walking the dark suburban south London streets in the cold, possibly ending up at a mate's house, but at least I'd be out and not just sitting in my bedroom staring at the walls or thinking about what could have been.

Today, however, the internet is all about 'staying in'. It's all about avoiding the need to go out and meet people. People 'stay in' a lot these days, watching crap like Homeland and other ridiculously long American television series, such as Breaking Bad, which are produced with 'staying in' in mind.  They prompt people to engage in marathon 'watchathons' – that require staying in – during which time they sit there in front of a television set with a large bag of Doritos (or worse) and a can of lager doing nothing but watching the box. No conversation, nothing real, and at the end of it they just have the satisfaction, when they're next in the office, of saying they've watched the whole of series one or two or whatever. How fucking boring have their lives become? These are the people who have gym membership or keep a stationary bike at home in the spare room – anything but getting out in the real world on a real bike and riding some real miles.

That whole sense of community is just being taken away from us and we're all left languishing in our rooms, some of us thinking dark thoughts that might one day translate into some atrocious internet-inspired crime. "Well, we never saw him. He kept himself to himself," they might tell a television news reporter at the scene of the crime. In fact, wasn't there a case recently when somebody committed a crime inspired by watching Breaking Bad?

Online shopping. Why? People moan about their high streets becoming ghost-like with boarded up shop fronts and a general sense of decay. It's because people don't go out anymore, they're fooled into thinking that it's dangerous out there, when it's not, and they prefer to remain in their hovels awaiting the delivery truck and only venturing out to the convenience store at the end of the street if they run out of junk food.

Our insularity started long before the Internet. It started with personal stereos – a piece of technology that enabled us to listen to music without anybody else butting in. So we sat on trains and buses, headphones on, ignoring our fellow human beings – the very act of wearing headphones is a way of saying 'fuck off, I don't want to talk to you" – and locked ourselves away in our own worlds, oblivious to everything else going on around us.

Now you could say that we're being insular when we read a book and block out everybody else around us, but that's not it, we're still in the real world, sitting next to somebody, perhaps, on the bus or train, we're still part of what's going on in the world. The worst thing about social media – Facebook, Twitter etc – is that it gives us an opportunity to withdraw from the world and communicate remotely.

"We keep in contact on Facebook," I heard somebody say earlier today. What does that mean? It means we rarely meet up in person these days, neither of us could bear that, so we simply send each other the occasional message via social media to let each other know we're still alive – even if they live just a few yards apart.

We all stay in. Our food is delivered to us in our 'cells', we avoid face-to-face contact and much prefer to keep in touch electronically, we buy books on Amazon rather than visit the library or bookstore, we book flights online in preference to visiting a travel agent, we download music instead of visiting a music shop, and because supermarkets sell alcohol, we buy lager on the cheap and then moan about pubs going out of business.

The Windmill, Wallington – gentrified into Hotrocks
Pubs used to be a focal point, a place where people met to engage in conversation and laugh and joke and play games. Now, they're closing down or, worst still, undergoing a process of 'gentrification' – meaning they're no longer for the working classes. "Pubs are more like restaurants these days," I've heard people say morosely.

Why is it that we prefer to stay in to watch satellite television and drink canned beer? Or go round somebody's house for dinner? Money is the answer. Or rather a lack of it. People simply can't afford to go to the pub every night like they used to.

Another way of looking at it, of course, is that we all simply hate one another. We've had enough of the back-biting, the unnecessary one-upmanship, the rich and the poor, the haves and have nots, the resentment, the jealousy, the pointless envy and all those negative thoughts that eventually creep in. "Did you hear what he said?" "I don't believe a word of it, frankly." "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he." Who needs it?

Perhaps that's one of the plus points of digitalisation: we don't have to put up with one another any more. Instead of visiting the pub where we might meet somebody we don't like, we can simply stay in, texting people instead from the safety of our virtual world. We can don our headphones so that we can listen to our music in peace without getting a running commentary from that bloke who's really into his music. "There's nothing he doesn't know." Oh really! Well I bet he can't guess what I'm listening to! Ha ha!

And perhaps going round to somebody's house for dinner is better than an extortionate restaurant meal where the pretentious food and service are never, ever up to scratch and definitely not worth the tip you feel obliged to give. I rarely tip in the UK these days because the experience is invariably shit and I hate those bastards who like to tip generously.

"That's a tenner each, then."  
"No it fucking isn't, you cunting cunter! Piss off!"

I think a move to the Outer Hebrides might be a good idea. Bracing walks on lonely beaches, a crofter's cottage and being cut off from civilisation for months on end. No television, just a radio and a few books – and a bicycle. Possibly a dog for company and a boat.

"You're breaking up..."

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Man Who Cycled the World

In 2007, when Mark Beaumont was in the process of breaking the Guinness world record for riding a bicycle around the world, I was (ahem) working on a magazine that was all about the global potato processing industry – the Mighty Spud, as we called it.

I'd been riding my bike on and off since the early nineties, entering the London to Brighton, London to Oxford and London to Cambridge sponsored rides on my Marin Bear Valley SE. A few years later, riding the Kona Scrap, I headed out towards Botley Hill alone, prior to the time in 2006 when, after a curry – no, we didn't go out on our bikes IMMEDIATELY after the curry – Andy and I first set out together during the magical pre-blog days.
Mark cycling through Iran. Pic: from his own website

In fact, as Mark pedalled his way around the planet, Andy and I were making a variety of what we regarded as pioneering rides in and around Northern Kent to places like Westerham and Oxted and Tandridge, not forgetting the now legendary Tatsfield Bus Stop.

What I'm trying to say is that I'm reviewing a book that was written a few years ago and I've only just gotten round to reading it. In fact, as I write this, I've just finished Mark Beaumont's The Man Who Cycled the World. The only bit I haven't read is the final chapter, Una's Story, because, in all honesty, I've read the main bit of the book and it's now back on my bookshelf alongside some other cycling books. I'm seriously considering Beaumont's The Man Who Cycled the Americas, but I won't read it straightaway, that would be overkill, and besides, I'm knackered, just like Beaumont, and need a rest from reading cycling adventure books.

Another reason why it's taken me some considerable time to get round to reading Beaumont's excellent book is that it's taken me a while to start reading books about cycling. And if you want another reason, it might have something to do with judging a book by its cover. Yes, I'm guilty of spotting Beaumont in Lycra on the front cover and thinking 'no, he's a Lycra monkey'. I was wrong, but before I realised this, I read quite a few other cycling books (Mike Carter's One Man and His Bike, Leon McCarron's The Road Headed West, and Rob Lilwall's Cycling Home from Siberia) all of which were very good and, like Beaumont's book, the reader feels as if he or she is actually on the ride with him.

I had picked up Beaumont's masterpiece in Waterstone's on more than one occasion and put it back on the shelf. Eventually I decided to take the plunge and buy it – a purchase well worth making and one I should have made much earlier. From the word go, this proved to be an adventure of epic proportions. Beaumont rides a Koga touring bicycle (similar to one I saw in a bike shop in Littlehampton recently) and sets off from Paris to ride leg one of his journey to Istanbul. Within days of setting off his is beset by problems: punctures, broken spokes, all sorts of mechanical issues he wasn't expecting so early on.

Beaumont camps a lot in fields, behind bushes – out of harm's way – and he isn't phased by it either. He blends camping in his one-man tent with nights in hotels, including some strangely entertaining places, like an odd establishment in the Ukraine, and, in between putting in some serious miles – and fuelling himself on cous cous and other foodstuffs, totting up to around 6,000 calories per day, he rides the bike from dawn to dusk. It's quite incredible how he takes some serious distances in his stride, on a daily basis, and finds time, in between eating and riding, to have the occasional massage, courtesy of a guy called Piotr who brings along his own massage table during leg one of the ride.

After reaching Istanbul (the end of leg one) Beaumont embarks upon the most worrisome section of his adventure – riding through Iran, Pakistan and India. By and large, however, he has no major problems. There are frustrating moments with a police escort through Pakistan, but he makes it through, spending nights in police stations and some extremely rundown 'hotels', somewhere (I can't remember where) sharing a room with a rat.

Leg three is from Bangkok to Singapore, where heavy rains play havoc with Beaumont's 'on board' computer systems, and then, leg four, Perth to Brisbane: a hot, punishing section of the ride where dangerous animals – snakes and spiders – were cause for concern while camping, along with strong headwinds. Leg Five sees him ride from one end of New Zealand to the other, where the weather is in stark contrast to that he experienced in Australia, and then he flies across the Pacific to San Francisco to begin his ride from the west to the east coast of the USA.

In the USA he has a lucky escape after a road accident, which is quickly followed up by a mugging while staying in a dodgy motel, chosen for him by the son of the woman who ran him down. Not good at all, but he pulls through, gets the bike fixed, sorts out the emotional fall-out and gets back on the bike, heading for Florida.

What a relentless ride! Beaumont just keeps on going, bar a few days off, powered by cous cous and pizza and plenty of other carbohydrates. Nothing phases him. He rides, he eats, he sleeps, he rides and he's hurtling headlong towards a well-deserved place in the record books.

The final leg, from Lisbon to Paris, was much harder than Beaumont expected it to be, mainly because he didn't research it; he figured he knew the lie of the land in Western Europe, but admitted: 'Spain had been far tougher than I'd ever imagined. Then again, maybe the problem had been that I hadn't really imagined it. I'd just assumed it would be more average miles.'

As the end of the ride drew near, Beaumont was too keyed up to want to imagine the finish, although he was looking forward to the freedom of not having to get up and ride a bike the next morning. He wanted to see his family and friends, many of whom were in Paris awaiting his arrival at the finish line.

In total Beaumont cycled 18,296 miles in 194 days and 17 hours – the fastest true circumnavigation of the world by bicycle and I'm assuming he still holds the record.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Seriously cold weather as we battle snow and heavy winds to and from the Tatsfield Bus Stop

There was about 25 minutes in it. Twenty five minutes between getting soaked through and almost frozen to death or staying indoors and enjoying a leisurely breakfast. Had Andy and I agreed to meet at 0800hrs instead of the usual 0730hrs things would have been different, certainly drier, but only if we hadn't gone out. In the end – in fact, shortly after leaving the house – the snow started.

I pedalled up Church Way as the snow began to fall and it never really stopped until I returned home. When I reached the top of the hill the snow eased off, but only temporarily. By the time I reached Waitrose it was snowing again, it might have become rain or sleet, but then, once I reached the green, it was full-on snow again.

Bleak at the bus stop...
Andy was cycling towards the green at roughly the same time as yours truly, and when we spotted one another we kept on cycling, agreeing while in motion to head for the Tatsfield Bus Stop. It was the only sensible place, being as it offered shelter from the snow and a dry bench on which to sit. I didn't seem to have the usual wet arse, which goes with the territory when you don't have mudguards, but that's because there was more snow than rain. That said, on the approach to the bus stop the roads were wetter and soon my arse was wet too.

As we rode south along the Limpsfield Road towards Botley Hill, however, the snow didn't seem that bad. As usual with snow, it seems fine early on, almost enjoyable, but then it turns and things get nasty. For Andy and I the nastiness started when we made the left turn into Clarks Lane and found ourselves heading east towards Westerham. At this point the snow was blowing horizontally across the road and hitting us sideways on. Very, very unpleasant. We were both relieved to reach the bus stop.

It was truly awful weather and I think we were both wondering what the hell made us want to ride out in it. Yes, it would mean a 'respect is due' for both of us, but why? What was the point? There was no point.

We looked out from the shelter offered by the bus stop, our view slightly impeded by a sign advertising an arts and craft fair in Tatsfield Village, but the view was bleak: snow flurries travelling horizontally from north to south and showing no sign of abating. There was little else to do other than pack away our 'stuff' – flask, cups, milk – and then simply ride home, enduring the pain of the journey, which was going to be rough.

The ride to Botley Hill was unpleasant and I stopped after a few yards to cover my face with a scarf; not a brilliant idea as eventually the moisture generated by the heat of my breath dampened the cloth, which eventually cooled, becoming more unpleasant than comforting. When we made the right turn on to the 269 and headed north towards Botley Hill Andy suggested we rode along the off-road tracks for the sake of safety, but there was always punctures to worry about. It would have been the last thing we needed. Fortunately, all was well, although I can't guarantee that Andy's journey remained puncture-free as we parted company halfway along a windswept road.

I stayed on the roadside track until I reached the roundabout adjacent to Warlingham Sainsbury's and then, soaked through, I hit the road and continued the journey home. While there had been snow in the burbs, it had now turned to driving rain with rivers running along the gutters. Oh how I wished my bike had been fitted with mudguards, but if the truth be known I was already soaked through so in many ways it was academic, but it didn't feel good. My feet and hands were frozen and I knew that when I reached home I would have to stand under a warm shower for many minutes. All I wanted was for the journey to end and eventually it did. I rode through Sanderstead High Street on the path and then crossed to the Gruffy and Sanderstead Pond, into the churchyard and down Church Way. Church Way became Arkwright Road and I turned left into Morley, right on to Elmfield Way and then left into Southcote, hanging an immediate right into Ellenbridge and another right on to Barnfield.

Normally, we see plenty of cyclists, but today we were the only idiots mad enough to venture outside. There was something pleasing about that.

Having peeled off my clothing I stood under the shower and thawed out. My legs and feet were red raw with the cold and numb too, but after drying and putting on warm clothes, drinking a mug of hot tea and chilling, I felt the life begin to seep back into me. It was really good to be home.

The day remained cold and blustery and I'm wondering what tomorrow will bring. Perhaps an abort text, but not if things warm up, we'll have to wait and see.

Sunday morning
In all honesty I wasn't keen on an early start in the cold so I sent Andy a text and discovered that he felt the same way. For the first time in God knows how long, I remained in bed beyond 0600hrs and then I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, but when I looked out of the window, while a frost still lay on the ground and it was clearly a cold, crisp morning, the sun was out, the skies were blue and I started to wish I hadn't wimped out. But I had, and I'd have to live with it.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

14 & 15 November – alright, we went to the Tatsfield Bus Stop again!

A friend of mine recently told me that I wouldn't be cycling over the weekend of 14 & 15 November. There was a storm coming. In fact, the storm in question had a name – Abigail – and it was, apparently, scheduled to ruin mine and Andy's regular weekend ride into the wilds of Northern Kent.

When I woke up I peered out of the window, expecting to see the trees rocking violently from side-to-side in the blustery weather, but there was nothing. The trees were still, like statues. The only sign of potential bad weather was a general bleakness that normally means rain, but so far it looked fairly dry. There was certainly nothing to worry about and no need to send an 'abort' text.

Add straw and punch a few air holes
In fact, talking of 'abort' texts, I hadn't received any either, although I seriously doubted whether Phil would be waiting on the doorstep at 0700hrs. He'd gone down with a sore throat and hadn't been on the ride for a week or two. Having said that, the weather's getting colder and that means Phil is on the verge of hibernation, just like Freda, the Blue Peter tortoise. When I was a kid I used to watch Blue Peter every week during the period when John Noakes, Peter Purves and Valerie Singleton were the hosts.

Freda was the Blue Peter tortoise – one of many on-air pets – and every year, when it was time for her to hibernate, Noakes, Purves and Singleton made a right old song and dance about it. They produced a cardboard box with holes punched into it and the name 'Freda' written on the side in black marker pen. Freda would be placed in the box and covered in straw and that would be it until the weather warmed up.

Phil is, in effect, the Blue Peter tortoise. Once the weather gets a little chilly – 'a bit parky' – Phil hibernates. He climbs into a cardboard box with holes punched into its sides and we don't see him until the spring time.

We rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop and did what we always do – eat biscuits, drink tea and chat about this and that while watching the world (and Lycra monkeys) pass us by.

While we'd managed to avoid a soaking on the outward journey, we weren't so lucky on the return ride. We almost made it home dry, but shortly after waving goodbye to Andy having promised to be on the green again the following morning, the heavens opened. The only good thing was the mild weather, which took the edge off of things.

The rumour for Sunday was pleasant weather and sure enough, no rain and continuing mild temperatures. This must be one of the mildest Novembers on record. But it's early days yet. I remember back in November 2010 when the cold weather really set in (click here for details).

We rode again to the Tatsfield Bus Stop having originally considered a ride to Westerham. All the way along I was thinking about Beaumont's The Man Who Cycled the World and the way that he sometimes camped the night in some of the most remote parts of the world. The normal procedure was to wait until the coast was clear and then dive off the road in search of somewhere private to pitch the tent. I must admit that I'd be a little wary of what is known as 'wild camping' (which I think is illegal in the UK). The thought of somebody stumbling across my tent in the dead of night would mean sleepless nights for yours truly, but Beaumont took it in his stride and made me realise that, as long as you're concealed from view and nobody knows you're there, then all should be fine. Beaumont proved as much and, as I cycled along the 269, I started to wonder who might be camping off the road, behind a tree or a bush, out of harm's way and, more importantly, out of sight.

For a lot of the earlier stages of the ride, Beaumont seemed to live off of cous cous, but as the adventure continued he resorted to motels where he could get a decent night's sleep and something reasonable to eat.

We gave up on the idea of riding to Westerham – too much in the way of chores to do back home – and settled for the bus stop. Out came the tea and biscuits and we both sat there enjoying the moment: the fresh early morning air, the peace and quiet and, of course, something decent to eat and drink.

Yours truly's bike at the bus stop...
Getting up and preparing ourselves for the ride home is never pleasant. The bus stop is such a relaxing place and I could have done with more tea and biscuits and, perhaps, the Sunday papers. But no, it was time to go home. We rode up towards Botley Hill roundabout where we turned right and headed north along the 269 towards Warlingham Green. Halfway along Andy branched off and rode down towards Woldingham and beyond the to Wapses Roundabout where he must have prepared to ride up the hill towards Caterham-on-the-Hill (the clue's in the name).

The weather remained mild for the rest of the day and I spent an hour or two in the garden chopping up wood.

Colder weather is on the way, or so they say, but it's not going to stop us riding. We'll be back in the saddle again next weekend, unless it's raining, of course.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Ramblings from Dusseldorf airport...

Thursday 12 November: As I write this I am sitting in a cafeteria – there's a counter and trays so it's definitely not a café – enjoying a cup of black tea (as they say in Germany). I can't ask for a cup of 'builder's tea' as they wouldn't understand  me. There's no milk either, just creamer, which always reminds me of the days of my childhood when, for some reason, we sometimes had to endure our tea with Carnation evaporated milk. I can only assume that mum simply ran out of milk on some occasions. In Europe, largely, when you order a cup of tea you'll get it black and without milk and with a sachet containing a teabag, and then you'll be directed to the creamer. Awful.

It's around 1650hrs and it's getting dark outside. I'm through passport control and I'm killing time writing as I left Mark Beaumont's The Man Who Cycled the World (which I've almost finished) in my suitcase, when I checked in.
The Rhine from the Schellenberg's breakfast room

As always when I stay in a hotel, I didn't get much in the way of sleep. I'd hit the sack around midnight last night and I woke up at 0700hrs so I reset the alarm for 0730hrs and tried to chill a little before getting up, taking a shower and heading down for breakfast. Although it wasn't 'down' it was up and over and, of course, it involved going outside into the fresh air (see previous posts for details). Not a big issue because the weather was mild, but it could have been much worse. Imagine getting drenched by heavy rain before reaching the breakfast room!

When I reached the breakfast room (the restaurant from last night) I was able to take full advantage of the Schellenberg's riverside location. It was, as I mentioned in the previous post, right on the banks of the Rhine. I sat there, having collected everything I thought I'd need – cereal, fresh fruit, a pastry, some scrambled egg and a pot of tea – and watched as huge barges passed by; they were passenger barges, designed for river cruises, and they were very long. Some had rooms with patio doors so I'm guessing there are overnight river cruises along the Rhine too; now that's something I'd like to do.

Viking River Cruises was one of the operators and there was another barge moored up on the bank below the hotel. At first I thought it was part of the hotel: extra rooms, perhaps; but soon the engines started the churn up the water and the barge disappeared up river.

Room 27, Schellenberg Hotel, Dusseldorf
On the opposite side of the river there were what looked like gently sloping 'sandy' banks that were almost beaches. It was probably mud, not sand, but it didn't look very muddy and I'm guessing that in the summer people might enjoy lying there, taking in some rays, but it was mid-November and the 'beaches' were deserted, despite the mild weather.

Breakfast was pleasant enough and so was dinner last night (I had cod with polenta followed by raspberry mousse, a glass of wine and a bottle of still mineral water). The entire bill was just 189 Euros.

I checked out and left my suitcase with the concierge while I nipped over the road to the convention centre until around 2pm when I met a colleague and his client for lunch at the hotel (potato and leek soup followed by salmon and a couple of glasses of Malbec). We talked shop and then I was driven to the airport (an incredibly short drive). Now I am sitting here having drank my tea. It's 1703hrs and soon I'll have to make my way to the gate for the return flight home. I've been reliably informed that the plane is another turbo prop, but unfortunately I've got an aisle seat. Not that it matters as it'll be dark when we take off and besides, it's only 55 minutes so I'll have to amuse myself in some other way. I have a notepad and a pen so perhaps I'll be inspired to write something, who knows?

Once again I forgot to buy myself some Ronnefeldt tea.  I know they've got some decent flavours because I've tried them and it's available throughout this fine land. It's always a shame to leave Dusseldorf, but I'm sure I'll be back. I seem to visit this great German city three or four times during the year.
View from room 27, Schellenberg Hotel...

I wandered to the gate (Gate 91) and then, as I waited to board, I added up the numbers of the flight, hoping that the total wouldn't be 13. It wasn't and I was relieved as I hate it when the numbers stack up against me, although they rarely do.

Next to the free bottles of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon that I always enjoy on any British Airways flight I take, the next best thing is John Simpson's regular column in High Life magazine. This month it was about the cities of Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (previously Zaire). They're chalk and cheese according to Mr Simpson and his preferred capital is Brazzaville, although it never used to be. "I remember landing at the airport here in the 1990s with mortars and artillery fire thumping down...", he wrote in his column. I've said it before, but High Life should devote more space to Simpson's writing.

Annoying passengers
What never fails to annoy me on planes is when instructions from the cabin crew are ignored, especially when those instructions are designed to make things safer. We were told to switch off all electrical devices during take-off and landing and, of course, I did as I was told. But there were others close to me who simply ignored the request and continued texting and watching fucking Cumberbatch on their tablet. I felt like intervening, but decided to keep my powder dry for fear of starting some kind of international incident.

The flight was good and, being a turbo prop, a little more exciting than a jet. Turbo props, a bit like helicopters, 'chug' through the air and while the flight is a little rockier than that experienced in a jet, I think I prefer it.

We landed at London City Airport and after retrieving my suitcase from the reclaim I headed for the Docklands Light Railway to catch a train to Bank and then onwards to London Bridge where I picked up an overground train to East Croydon and then to Sanderstead.