Sunday, 27 September 2015

Sausage sandwiches at the Tatsfield Churchyard...

Last Sunday Phil and I rode to Warlingham Green to meet Andy and then onwards to the Tatsfield Bus Stop for the usual round of tea and biscuits. I think both Andy and I half expected Phil to reveal his revered sausage sandwiches, but he didn't. Instead, he waited until yesterday (Saturday 26th September) when we reached the churchyard. We stood there enjoying what amounted to a kind of alfresco 'full English' – tea, sausage and bacon sandwiches and a few BelVitas for good measure.

Phil, Matt and Andy last week at the Tatsfield Bus Stop
Avid readers of this blog will know that at any particular time my bike has something wrong with it: either the gears or the brakes are playing up OR there's a puncture. Well, in many ways, all three boxes can be ticked. I've only recently fixed a long-term slow puncture, the front brakes are highly ineffective (new pads are needed) and for the last week or two I've been permanently stuck in the lower eight of my 16 gears, having previously been stuck in the higher eight. Right now I'm back in the higher eight after we examined – and attempted to fix my gears – at the churchyard. The problem, it seemed, was the cable, which was a little on the slack side, nothing an alun key can't fix!

The weather was perfect yesterday – clear skies and sunshine – and, as I look out of the conservatory window now at 0636hrs on Sunday morning the skies are a light grey colour, but there's plenty of brightness too and wispy grey clouds.

While both Andy and Phil have resorted to gloves, I'm still riding without them despite the 'chilly starts' mentioned fairly regularly by the weather forecasters. As I mentioned to Phil and Andy yesterday, I'll probably keep the gloves off for some weeks until, suddenly, it's colder out there than I think it is and spend an entire ride quietly freezing. After that day, whenever it comes, the gloves will be back on until the start of next summer.

Yesterday's ride was pleasant. After the sausage sandwiches there were BelVita biscuits and it goes without saying that I bought the tea (I always do).

The conversation was one of our staples – the relative merits or otherwise of high-specification bikes over more conventional models. I mentioned my view that the less complicated a bike is, the better. When I was a kid my bike had block brakes and a single gear. Nothing ever went wrong with it apart from the occasional need to replace the brake blocks or fix a puncture. If there was a major hill I remember riding up as far as I could and then getting off the bike and walking the rest.

Andy countered my argument with the story of his pal Richard who bought a low-spec bike and spent the next few months in and out of the bike shop having been recommended higher-spec brakes and gears. He eventually bought a better bike. 

Phil is considering getting rid of the Kona Smoke (it's too small for him – remember, Phil is tall, very tall). He asked me if I wanted it and while my desire to have a 'normal' bike would be achieved by taking him up on the offer, I'm kind of attached to the old Scrap (for better or worse). Incidentally, in May next year, the 'old' Scrap will be just that – 10 years old.

With a bike loan scheme operated by his company, Phil is likely to buy a new bike towards the end of the year and hand the Smoke to his girlfriend who might then join us on a ride, replicating, perhaps, that moment on Long Way Down when Charley Boorman appears visibly irritated by Ewan McGregor's decision to bring his wife along on what was essentially a lads' adventure. Not that we would be even slightly annoyed. I've always welcomed people to ride with us, but so far nobody has taken me up on the offer. My mate in the office, Martin, has a bike stored at the top of his garden. I said to him last week, "get it out and meet me outside my house at 7am." But I doubt he'll ever do it. Likewise my pal Geoff. Still, it doesn't really matter.

On the ride back it was good to be back in the higher eight gears. We stopped halfway along the 269 to bid farewell to Andy. Phil said he wouldn't be going on Sunday so it's just Andy and I. In fact, I'd better get going as it is Sunday morning and I need to make the tea.

Sunday's ride
I'd endured a restless and somewhat sleepless night, but felt fit enough to rise at 0600hrs and start writing this post. By around 0700hrs I was out of the house and riding towards Warlingham Green. Outside it was bright and wonderful, but a little chilly so I wore the gloves for the first time since the beginning of summer. Not that I really needed to, the weather was great and improved by the minute.

Yours truly at Tatsfield Village, Sunday 27th September 2015
At the time of writing this post (Sunday, 1302hrs) the sun is shining brightly and I should be out in the garden doing something rather than sitting here, alone in the house, writing this blog. But, there you have it, while there's no time like the present, as they say, I simply lack the motivation to do anything that might improve the well-being of the household.

It was just Andy and I this morning and we decided to ride to Tatsfield Village and sit in the sunshine at the covered bus stop opposite the pub, which was in the shade and, therefore, colder than where were sitting. We drank tea, we ate BelVita biscuits and then we rode home, parting halfway along the 269 and both vowing to be on the green at 0730hrs next week.

I rode leisurely along the the Limpsfield Road towards Sanderstead and home and then padlocked the bike until next weekend, although I've seriously considered riding to work next week – apparently the good weather is set to continue. Let's see if I get out of bed feeling motivated.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

In Hartlepool...

I tell you what I love about being 'up north': people talk to each other. I remember once being on a branch line out of Leeds, on a train, when – and I kid you not – I noticed that the entire carriage in which I was seated was filled with the noise of conversation. In London nobody talks. I wonder how far north one has to travel before encountering friendliness? Where does the misery stop and the laughter start?

Today I boarded a train from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool, having already travelled from London to Darlington and from Darlington to Middlesbrough, and within a few minutes I found myself engrossed in conversation with complete strangers. An elderly woman, a younger woman and two even younger women – it could have been grandmother, daughter and grand daughters – were talking and laughing.

"Did I tell you? E's out on 'is bike and 'e's supposed to call 'is wife 20 minutes bifor 'e geds 'ome."
"Bifor 'e geds 'ome?"
"Bifor 'e geds 'ome, but 'e forgot."
"Oh aye!"
"So 'e geds 'ome and she says 'go out again foot nother hour and then call me 20 minutes before ye ged back."
"And 'e did it?"
"E went out foot hour an' called 'er."
"What's the world coming to?"
"Did yer 'ear that?" said the younger woman, addressing her question to me.
"Sounds a bit mad if you ask me," said I in my London accent.
"Well it's true. I bought 'im a teeshirt for 'is birthday and 'e said 'I can't take that home'."
"Why not?" said I.
"Well 'is wife wouldn't approve."
"Who bought him the tee-shirt?"
"I bought it fer 'im."
"Well, she probably suspects he's having an affair," I suggested.
"Wi' me? E's 60!"
"I takes all sorts," I said and, as the train arrived at Hartlepool, we all disembarked with smiles on our faces and wished each other well.
Harlem? Nope, it's Hartlepool

I was booked in for the night at the Grand Hotel and there's an Indian restaurant in the basement. You can't get much better than that in my books – curry, lager and bed. Hartlepool's alright. It's a bit derelict here and there, and there are plenty of shops with their shutters down, but it's fine and, like most places I visit around the world, I could probably live here. I quite like the North East for reasons I can't fathom, but Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, you name it, I like it. And if you go further north, beyond Morpeth to Alnmouth and Berwick-upon-Tweed, I like it even more. It must be the North Sea and the general bleakness. I'd love to visit the Farne Islands and Holy Island, Bamburgh Castle and Whitby, all places I've never seen.

The Grand Hotel's curry was perfectly acceptable and the breakfast was fairly good too: I had fresh fruit salad, Coco Pops (I only ever eat Coco Pops when I'm in a hotel), a fudge-flavoured yoghurt (not that brilliant) and scrambled egg on toast, although the latter was a bit late as I wasn't asked if I wanted a cooked breakfast until I'd finished my fruit salad and Coco Pops and I had already put a couple of slices of bread in the toaster. When it arrived – with two more slices of toast – I decided just to eat the scrambled egg, but I felt guilty about leaving two slices of bread untouched. How wasteful. So I waited until the waitresses had left the breakfast room before I made my escape.

Normally, hotel restaurants double as the breakfast room, but the very idea of eating breakfast in an Indian restaurant would have been enough to put me off. Fortunately, the hotel thought the same way as the Grand Hotel Hartlepool has a separate breakfast room on the ground floor.

It's a nice hotel and not, as I originally suspected, rough around the edges. It's a grand old place with a wide staircase, creaky floors and plenty of polished wood. On the first floor landing there's a huge stained glass window.

View from room 210, Grand Hotel Hartlepool
My room – room 210 – was large and roomy with high ceilings and two sash windows. There was plenty of space between the bed and the walls. the WiFi worked fine – although it took me a while to work out the password as it was grandh0t3l – the zero could have been a capital O and the last digit (which is a lower case L) could easily have been a figure 1, but I got there in the end.

Everything in the bathroom seemed to work and they get top marks for having a normal sink – two taps and a plug on the end of a chain. Perfect. No faffing around trying to work out where the plug was or how the taps worked. Simplicity at all times.

I'm on a tight schedule. I've got some reading to do and then I'm being picked up by a PR colleague, I've got an interview to conduct and then I catch the train home. I'll probably have to go from Middlesbrough to Darlington and then take a train south to King's Cross. Not a problem as I have a copy of the Guardian to read and it looks as if David Cameron's 'clean' image has been tarnished, thanks to a Lord Ashcroft – or is it Ashford, not sure – who has written a book, called Dave, in which he recounts stories of Cameron's drug taking and general debauchery. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Discovered note from a Calgary potato convention, October 2007

Flicking through an old notebook from 2007, I found this snapshot of my time in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, way back in October 2007.

"There are two kinds of pedestrian: quick ones and dead ones," said the stranger after witnessing my close encounter with a motor vehicle. I laughed, but didn't stop; I crossed the crowded parking lot towards the footbridge over the railway track. The sun was shining and the sky was blue and cloudless but there was a cold bite to the air and a breeze that sent crispy brown autumnal leaves skipping across the highway. As I crossed the bridge I watched my shadow on the road below following close behind as I entered the shade caused by an awning, which hung over the entrance to Marlborough Railway Station. This Calgary, Alberta, suburb consists mainly of parking lots – big ones – which are bordered on three sides by low-lying industrial buildings with little in the way of style or panache. Huge signboards advertised the businesses nearby: dental, radiology, food courts to name but three, and people could be seen crossing the lot either empty-handed on their way, perhaps, to the Chinese supermarket or fully laden with shopping en route to their 4x4, which is a necessity here, not like in the UK where people buy them to show off.

Marlborough Railway Station, Calgary, Canada.
Calgary or, to put it more concisely, the surrounding areas up in the Rockies, is bear country, moose country, mountain lion territory; and let's not forget the snow.

At the bottom of the footbridge I walked towards a crossroads, but decided against crossing without the permission of the lights. Instead, I moved further along the road and crossed at a safer point into yet another parking lot peppered with fairly large 4x4s. The sound of the wind hurrying the leaves along the tarmac was complemented here and there by the deep rumble of a V8 and the sound of an airliner soaring high into the blue sky from Calgary's international airport.

Another road, another parking lot and the next one crammed with new 4x4s that were for sale. I fantasised about riding off in one, travelling north to Edmonton and beyond and then swinging east and across the country towards Newfoundland before turning south and heading, perhaps, for Florida or Texas and then across the border into Mexico, down further through central and South America and then selling the car in Santiago and taking a flight across Antarctica towards Auckland, New Zealand.

But the reality of my situation was much harsher – and far less glamorous. In under one hour I would be assisting my colleagues in registering delegates for the International Potato Processing and Storage Convention at Calgary's Coast Plaza and Convention Centre (October 10-12 2007).

Crossing an empty parking lot I had only moments of freedom left. Ahead of me I could see the swing doors of the hotel and the shuttle bus that had already unloaded a number of paying delegates, some of whom had travelled vast distances to be here today to discuss closed loop blanching and vacuum frying technology.

Whacky dreams, migrants and Belvita biscuits at the Tatsfield Churchyard...

When I awoke this morning it was dark outside and the radio's weather forecaster spoke of a chilly start to the day. But when I checked my iphone around 0609hrs, there were no abort texts and it hadn't rained overnight so I was thankful for small mercies. Soon it will be time to put the gloves back on and Phil will hibernate for the winter – the cardboard box and the straw await him. And for those who are wondering what I'm talking about, it's the old Blue Peter tortoise Freda who used to hibernate and was placed in a cardboard box among a load of straw. On the side of the box somebody, probably John Noakes, had scrawled the tortoise's name in black marker pen: Freda.

It was Saturday morning and, as usual, I was sitting in the conservatory with tea and cereal (Weetabix) but this time the light was on and, it seemed, winter was fast approaching.

Class A Cheddar!
Having snorted a couple of lines of Cheddar last night before hitting the sack I had some amazingly strange and vivid dreams, one involving my brother and I riding on some kind of invisible train that I recall took us past a railway station and then sped up to reach a tremendous speed, although how I knew we were on a train I don't know because I was in mid-air, about thirty feet off the ground and charging through some kind of rural valley at breakneck speed, warning my brother to hold on, like I was. Then I found myself alone walking past deserted blocks of luxury apartments and eventually I was in one of them. It was furnished and I was with two very attractive women, but I felt uneasy about being there, it must have been a show flat, I don't know, but I felt as if I was being watched. At that moment I woke up – and found it was 0200hrs – but when I drifted off again I found myself in my mate Alan's garage, sheltering from the rain with my family. We'd rung the bell and soon he answered and invited us in, but on entering the house there were no lights on and again I felt uneasy and unwanted. I awoke to the dulcet tones of Radio Four's six o'clock news and the migrant crisis and now here I am, about to head off on a ride.

The weather was good. Cloudy and grey but it was going to be a good day, the sun would shine and all would be well with the world. I set off alone to Warlingham Green where Andy and I decided to head for the Tatsfield Churchyard, even though we knew it would mean standing up (it's getting to that time of year when the benches are wet either because of overnight rain or a heavy dew). Sadly, wet benches mean more trips to the Tatsfield Bus Stop – where we can sit down on a dry bench.

It was a pleasant ride along the 269 in what I called typical 'NoVisibleLycra' weather – dull, overcast and autumnal – and I noticed that many cars still had their headlights on, a bad, wintry sign if ever there was one. There was little in the way of traffic on the road, just the odd car travelling slowly in either direction.

When we reached the churchyard things brightened up and, as suspected, the bench was damp. Andy sat on the slabs, which were dry but cold, and even if the old wives' tale of cold slabs causing piles was just that (an old wives' tale), I remained standing.

The migrant crisis
We discussed the migrant crisis. Where to begin? Andy and I are both on the same page with this one. We both believe that whoever these migrants are – note that the BBC refers to them as 'migrants', not 'refugees' – if they really are escaping the war in Syria why haven't they stopped in Turkey? The answer, perhaps a little cynically, is that some of them might be 'chancers' – some newspapers report that only one in four are truly fleeing a war zone. Some are Albanians and there's no war in that country, claims my mum's Daily Mail. In other words, a large majority of those on the move are simply looking for a better life. And who can blame them for trying after the rather idiotic Angular Mescal told the world that Germany's doors were open for migrant business, "Come on down!" And now that they're here – the first batch at any rate – the borders are being hastily closed and the 'migrants' or 'refugees' are being told to go hither and thither in order to break through to Europe proper where there are no borders and they can waltz into the Fatherland or Scandinavia OR join the throngs of people trying to jump on to lorries at Calais in an effort to reach the UK. How long, I wonder, before migrants in long boats attempt to cross the English Channel and land on the beaches?

There are, of course, many, many questions. Why aren't the Gulf states accommodating these people? Oooh! We're not allowed to ask pertinent questions! What's Saudi Arabia doing about the situation? What's the United Arab Emirates doing? Qatar? Bahrain? Oman?

Nobody wants to be seen to say the wrong thing – except for the Hungarians – because it's not  politically correct to tell the migrants to sling their hooks. As result everything is at sixes and sevens: one minute we hear that Hungary has closed its borders but Croatia has decided to open its doors – hurrah! Then they're closed again. I could go on, but by now you've probably got the gist of the arguments and the paradoxes – one minute Europe is anti-immigration – certainly in the UK where it was, only recently, a major campaigning issue of the last General Election – and the next there are pictures of Germans clapping the migrants as they arrive in Deutschland.

The problem of immigration
In the UK the problem of immigration has been brought into sharp focus of late and the whole issue is largely split on ideological lines. If you're left wing you're more likely to support more multi-culturalism, more immigration and the diversity it brings. If you're right wing, you're more concerned about reforming the EU to make it more difficult for members of the EU – especially those from poorer countries like Bulgaria and Romania – to just waltz into the country and 'take all our jobs'.

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), was the poster boy for anti-immigration feeling in the UK and he often found himself being accused of racism by the left. While support for Farage seemed strong – and forced Cameron to announce that if he won the General Election there would be a referendum on EU membership in 2017, UKIP didn't shine at the election. However, now that Cameron has a majority in the House of Commons and another five years to run, he certainly has time to attempt reform of the EU's open borders policy.

However, now that the migrant crisis is upon us – cue images of 'Johnny Foreigner' stowing away on lorries entering the UK and storming the barricades at Calais – there is a danger that extreme right wing groups will gain popularity and that they will stoke up anti-EU feeling ahead of the 2017 referendum. Many commentators argue that the current crisis could tip the balance and the UK could easily withdraw from Europe. Others argue that Europe is already 'washed up'.

Sorting out the problem at source
In my opinion, there is only one thing to do: sort out Syria from where the problem originates. But the Russians are supporting Assad, so if the West is entertaining the notion of 'regime change' – surely they've learnt their lesson? – they'd better think again as there's no room to blame 'faulty intelligence'.

My view is that they (the West) should engage with the Russians and the Iranians and work out some kind of plan that's going to keep everybody happy, including the migrants, who can then go back to Syria and get on with their lives. But where is Assad in all of this? He's been barrel-bombing his own people so the migrants won't be too keen to return home if he's still in power.

In short, it's a nightmare – but it's got to be sorted out sooner or later and hopefully it won't be just the Americans and the British carrying the military can.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

No ride Saturday, but we headed for Tatsfield village on Sunday...

Saturday was a kind of repeat of last weekend: early morning rain put paid to any riding ambitions; and what with Phil aborting and Andy not riding until Sunday, it was one of those 'do I ride to mum's?' dilemmas, except that this time I wasn't going anywhere.

Warlingham Green around 0730hrs on Sunday
I dithered and eventually decided not to bother as I'd lost momentum and there was 'stuff' to do around the house. And then, later in the morning, I went to the garage only to discover that my front tyre was flat so I wouldn't have gone out anyway. Last week I'd decided to fix my slow puncture, which had speeded up. When I got the inner tube out I found it riddled with leeches (sticky pads that fix punctures – six of them). There was a green pad covering a puncture and the hissing I heard when I pumped up the tube was coming from underneath it. I tried to scrap the pad off, but only managed to remove bits of it before applying a leech, but clearly it did no good – a new inner tube was needed.

Not sure if you've noticed, but these days nothing is ever easy or straightforward. I find that if ever I want to do something, anything, it doesn't matter what it is, I'll encounter some kind of problem. If, for instance, somebody asks me to drill a hole in a wall and hang a picture, you can bet your arse that there will be something preventing me from drilling the right-sized hole and I'll end up having to try another part of the wall, leaving the first hole to be filled but guess what, no Polyfilla. That's normal, it happens all the time, doesn't matter what the task might be and now it was happening again.

Our bikes outside the Old Ship in Tatsfield, Sunday morning
First, parking. There's little space where I live to park in town for free. I found myself driving around trying to find a space without a yellow line or some kind of restriction and eventually found somewhere behind the Whitgift playing fields. From there I had a 15-minute walk to the bike shop, but the weather had improved so it didn't matter. The sun was out and as I strolled down Whitgift Avenue I was full of the joys of summer.

In the bike shop I was greeted in the usual manner. "What the fuck do you want?"

Actually it was much more polite. "Hello sir, how can I help you?"

"Just looking for now," I said. "But I'm after a fucking inner tube, alright?"

No, not really, I simply said that I was after an inner tube – 26 x 2.4.

"I'm afraid we're out of stock, you little pillock" said the sales assistant.

Alright, he didn't really call me a pillock.

"No problem," I said, looking at a few sensible bikes and then retracing my steps along Whitgift Avenue.

Halfway along I met a man. He was tall and friendly and we got chatting. It's rare to get chatting with anybody round here unless you know them or they're psychotic, but he seemed genuine enough and we chatted about his heart attack and how he was fine now. He lived in Norbury and said something about being a film maker, but he was also some kind of whizz where architecture and house building was concerned. I couldn't quite figure him out and eventually we parted company.

I drove to another bike shop and bought the new innertube and then chatted with the sales assistant about bikes. He said he had a single-geared bike with block brakes. I told him about my hydraulic brakes, which rarely worked properly, and my gears, which were constantly playing up. "I've got 16 gears and only eight of them work," I explained, wishing I had a single-geared bike with block brakes. Why not? If the hill's too gruelling, I could always get off and walk, just like I did when I was a kid when things rarely went wrong and my bike was rarely being repaired.

The puncture was fixed with ease and the bike rolled back into the garage to await Sunday's ride. Phil aborted and signed off with a 'see you next weekend'. I met Andy on Warlingham Green and we headed for Tatsfield Village where, for some reason, we chatted about nervous breakdowns – a nice, cheery subject for a Sunday morning as we ate our Belvita biscuits and drank our tea.

There was a drunk man shouting into a mobile phone and waking up the neighbourhood. It's always mildly disconcerting seeing a drunk in the early hours, but he seemed harmless enough and didn't bother us.

Halfway down the 269 I stopped and bade farewell to Andy. "See you next weekend," I said and then rode off.

A car horn. The car slowed. The electric window rolled down revealing a man in a track suit. "Don't you look before pulling out?"

As I wouldn't have asked him the same question I saw red. "I did fucking look!" I had a wrench handy should things have kicked off, but he drove on and soon I found myself wishing I hadn't been so indignant. After a few hundred yards of berating myself for losing my rag I calmed down and got on with the ride. I tell you what I don't like: people who act in a certain way – aggressive or rude or whatever – when I know that I wouldn't act the same way towards them. I can't stand people who think they can simply 'have their say', put across their point of view, however offensive, when I wouldn't dream of acting, or talking, the same way to them. It happens a lot and more often than not I bite my tongue (a lot of people do). But sometimes it gets to me. As I rode on I eventually forgot about it

I reached home at 0949hrs, put the bike away and made a cup of tea. A long day in the garden followed. Lots of lawn mowing and sawing of branches in the fresh air.

Earlier this evening I stumbled across an excellent poem by Philip Larkin. Here it is:-


What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Corbyn wins so cut the negative crap and let him get on with it!

Earlier this morning I penned a post about the imminent Labour leadership contest and how I felt that having Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the Labour Party would be a good thing, mainly because he brings a different kind of politics to a jaded electorate fed up with the 'spin' and general insincerity dispensed by the sort of politicians we all know and (ahem) love.

Who needs designer labels? Not Corbyn. Expect great things.
What I find scandalous is the way that those very same spin-obssessed, insincere, right-leaning Labour politicians are now moaning about what they believe a Corbyn victory will mean for the party. They are almost on the same platform as the Tories!

I like Michael Fallon – he looks like a politician and he's the perfect 'Minister of Defence' – but he was basically saying this afternoon that Corbyn's victory spelt disaster for the country's security and economic prosperity. But then that's his right, he's a Tory. However, what I find even more irksome is that members of the Labour Party share Fallon's views! I can't believe the doom and gloom surrounding this momentus occasion for the Labour Party.

Everyone forgets that Corbyn is a different animal – and thank the Lord for that! For a start he's sincere. He believes passionately in what he says, he's not what is known as a 'career politician' – he's NEVER held the post of 'advisor' but has, instead, been a strong and long-term supporter of the trades union movement. Look, he's absolutely the right man for the job of leader of the Labour Party. No question! And he should be allowed to get on with the job of 'doing it his way'.

One thing Jeremy Corbyn has done is motivate the younger generation to take an interest in politics and now that he's in charge he should be allowed to get on with the job without members of his own party trying to thwart his ambitions.

It's not Jeremy Corbyn who will damage the Labour Party's ambitions, it's those within his party who believe that he is not the right man for the job. He is the right man for the job. He's honest, he means what he says and says what he means. Give him a chance, for heaven's sake. What the hell is the alternative? Just imagine if it was Liz Kendall or Yvette Cooper. Andy Burnham, well, fine, and commiserations to him, but Corbyn, come on, he's the man. He's so uncool, he's cool: vests, bicycles, vegetarianism, temperance, he's brilliant.

And why is Tristram Hunt looking so down in the dumps? I've recently finished reading Tressell's Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, an edition carrying an introduction by Mr Hunt who is clearly a fan of the book. Well, so is Jeremy Corbyn and I can understand 100% why that novel captured Corbyn's imagination and propelled him along a road that embraced socialism and doing the right thing where the workers are concerned. I challenge anybody to read that book and not want to do something, however small, to sort out the inequalities that exist here and now for ordinary people trying to etch a living in a society dominated by unfairness, greed and selfishness.

Here's to a better future.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Can Corbyn win the Labour leadership contest? We'll know today...

0721hrs, Saturday 12 September 2015: It's going to be quite an exciting weekend on the political front. By around 11am today (Saturday) we should hear who has won the Labour Party Leadership contest and the firm favourite is left winger Jeremy Corbyn. Many say that if he wins, Labour will be unelectable as it will, in a sense, 'revert to type' and take the party back to the dark days of the early eighties when Michael Foot was the leader, followed by Neil Kinnock and the so-called 'loony left' and hangers-on like Derek Hatton, head of Liverpool Council back in the day.
Jeremy Corbyn. Pic from The Guardian

That, of course, remains to be seen and let's not forget that there's over four years before the next general election.

Ever since Corbyn signed up for the contest, the dominant right wing media has spent an inordinate amount of time and energy 'Corbyn bashing' and deliberately mis-quoting or taking out of context his various remarks about different aspects of his policies and his world view. Implicit in everything the right wing media says about Corbyn is the notion that he will be bad for Britain. And it's not just the right wing media. The Labour Party itself has nailed its colours to the mast and said virtually the same things about Corbyn. In fact, the kiss of death for those who don't want Corbyn in charge of the party was Tony Blair's intervention.

Blair is widely criticised internationally by those who feel his actions were responsible for the current chaos in the Middle East. Some have branded him a war criminal. And while Blair is really the only leader of the party who has experienced resounding success with the electorate – he stormed to victory in 1997 and was effectively the political poster boy for 'cool Brittania' – he's also been pilloried for essentially adopting Tory policies to get into power.

For many of his supporters, Corbyn is a clean slate, a breath of fresh air and a move away from the run-of-the-mill politics we're all used to; for a start he's left wing – providing, perhaps, 'proper' opposition for a change. He's radical and, as somebody in the media commented recently, at least he's got ideas and is, if you like, a thought-provoking politician.

People say that Corbyn spells the end of the Labour Party, but I tend to disagree. I can't see either Liz Kendall or Yvette Cooper ever being Prime Minister; they're not statesman-like enough. Liz Kendall comes across as the mildy unscrupulous female boss of an SME on an industrial estate who everybody talks about behind her back. Yvette Cooper has that insincere smile when she talks to journalists, so for me, the only really credible alternative to Corbyn is Andy Burnham who has held the lofty role of shadow health secretary and has a down-to-earth Liverpudlian air about him that might win through.

Personally, I hope Corbyn does win as I believe he'll breathe fresh air into a stale political arena and put some interesting alternative points of view to the electorate – for better or for worse. He'll certainly brighten up televised political debate in this country and give David Cameron more than a run for his money at Prime Minister's Question Time. And if, over the next four years or so, he manages to endear himself to the electorate – with his sartorial elegance and liberal studies teacher chic – we might wake up one morning to Prime Minister Corbyn – unless, of course, he's assassinated by MI5.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Over to mum's for tea, cake and a chat...

I'm sitting in the conservatory. It's 0636hrs and it's dark outside. Dark and raining. I can hear it. Lifting the blind reveals raindrops hitting the birdbath. It's now a case of sending an abort text to Andy. He's probably thinking the same thing. Perhaps if we leave it half an hour things might improve. The text sent, I await a response.

Winter is coming. I felt it this morning when I woke up. First it's that feeling of not wanting to get out of bed; then it's that cosy feeling of being in the house, it's early in the morning and there's time to sit and write the blog as everybody else is asleep. The early morning is a great time of day, even in the winter, possibly more so in the winter. But no, I'll take that back, the winter months are terrible, even the threat of Christmas and all it brings us – greed mainly, although not on my part, I hasten to add, but just watching it all unfold on the television and in the newspapers. Advertisements. Shopping days to Christmas. You soon realise that any true meaning the festive season might have enjoyed many, many years ago, has long since left the building and all we're left with is extreme commercialism and bad television.

It's 0645hrs and the rain has virtually stopped. Or so says my birdbath. It's not raining in Caterham so it looks as if a ride is on, even if it is gloomy outside.

Everything looked fine. I prepared the tea and headed to the garage to blow up my front tyre. Phil, who was en route to Hull for the weekend to see his daughter, dropped over to say 'respect is due' – it's a phrase we use if somebody hits the road in conditions that are beyond the call of duty (in this case it was the rain). It had started to drizzle, but nothing serious. Earlier, Andy had responded to my text suggesting a quick ride to Botley Hill, but things were about to change.

My mobile hummed. It was Andy. "It's raining over here now," he said. We aborted and I went back in to the house, but when I looked out the rain had stopped. We could have riden to Botley Hill or even the trusty Tatsfield bus stop, but instead we'd aborted. There was something wasteful about our decision. This could mean no cycling all weekend as I must attend a speeding course on Sunday morning. I was nicked by a speed camera near East Grinstead doing 36mph in a 30mph zone. I've got to pay £85, but if I attend the course I don't get any points on my licence. To be totally honest I don't care if they ban me, I only drive at weekends.

Tomorrow morning at 0745hrs I'll be registering at the Holiday Inn, Gibson Road, Sutton. Very annoying and, what's more, I now find that whenever I'm driving the car I no longer look at the road ahead of me – or behind; instead I look at the speedometer through the steering wheel to check I'm doing 30 mph or whatever the speed limit is supposed to be. One day I'll have an accident, somebody might get killed, but at least I won't get a fine or points or have to attend a course. Perhaps I'll have to serve time for causing death by dangerous driving, but I could always write a book about my time in jail.

Purley Way Playing Fields – I often wondered what they were called!
After wandering around the house – everybody else was still in bed asleep – I decided that I'd head over to mum's for tea and cake. The rain had stopped so off I went with a flask of hot water, a mug,  milk and the teabags still in my rucksack. I rode down West Hill, into Essenden Road, right on to Carlton Road and then across Pampisford Road heading towards Rockingham's garden centre, the industrial estate and eventually Wallington followed by Carshalton and mum's house. I rang the doorbell – the dulcet tones of Old MacDonald Had a Farm reminded me of an ice cream van. I peered through the frosted glass window of the front door and saw mum's shape making its way towards me.

As always, all was calm. One of the gas rings was on – why she does that I'll never know, but she always has; it's to warm things up a bit, she'll say, and who am I to argue? Tea is offered, but I reveal my flask and teabags that I hadn't bothered to take out of my rucksack earlier. Why waste perfectly decent hot water? Fruit cake was offered and I accepted, eventually having a second slice, and I also accepted a banana, which was still a little on the hard side, but I said nothing.

We sat and chatted. Mum's breakfast consisted of a Weetabix, a chopped orange and a sliced banana in a bowl with a Ryvita biscuit on the side and a cup of tea; mine was just tea and cake.

"My fence is finished, Math," she said. Mum and Dad have always called me 'Math' and not Matt.
"I'll have a look later," I said.
"And the crazy paving," she added.
"I'll look at that too," I said, munching into my fruit cake.
"What are you up to today?" asked Mum.
"Not sure yet, probably not much. I might cut the lawn," I said, realising immediately what a boring life I tend to lead.
"I must mow my lawn too," she said.
"It's too wet out there now," I added, not really in the mood for lawn mowing.
"Did you have your meeting in Dusseldorf?" she asked.
"Yes, I told you, that was last Wednesday," I replied.
"Is it nice there?"
"I love it. I went to my favourite Italian restaurant, but it was a whistle stop trip, I was only there for one night," I said, reaching for my phone to show her some pictures.
"What's that?"
"A telephone," I said referring to a photograph of a 'Diamond Geezer' skull that turned out to be a telephone. That's the only problem with 'boutique' hotels, they're often a little too quirky for their own good.
We went into the living room to check out the fence.
"They're going to build an extension next door," she said. "See that garage? It's all coming down."
The 'garage' in question had been there for decades and should have been pulled down ages ago. It had always looked decidedly ropey, but mum's new neighbour has plans and they don't involve the old garage that I remember looking down upon from my bedroom window throughout my childhood.
"It's always been a bit of an eyesore, hasn't it?" I said. Mum agreed.
"I need to get out in the garden. I didn't want to do any gardening while the men were here," she said, referring to the people who fixed the fence. "Do you get worms?"
"In your lawn?"
"No, none at all, but we've got squirrels making plenty of holes," I said.

Mum with yours truly in the 'new room', Saturday 5th September 2015
I went back into the 'new room', which has been called that now for over 30 years.

"Have you still got the picture?" asked Mum as I sat down. "The one with all the colours? That was really good, you should frame it," she said.
"I think the school has it," I replied.
"Oh, you should get that back and put it in your living room," she said.
"We will," I said.
"I love that flask," said mum, changing the subject.
"I've had it for ages," I said, handling it like an antique vase. "There's no glass in it."
"It's really good, isn't it?
"Yes, I use it every week. Andy and I sit in the middle of nowhere drinking tea," I said.
Mum laughed.
"Is there milk in it?"
"No, just hot water. I've got teabags and milk in separate containers."
"Oh, you are funny," said mum as I put the flask back on the table.

I brought my own milk and tea...
Dotted around the house are a number of cheap electric alarm clocks from Ryness. There's one in the new room, one in the lounge and one upstairs on the window sill in the bathroom. There's probably one in my old bedroom too and they all have buttons that illuminate the dial in the dead of night.

"I sit on that chair and drink my tea in the morning," said Mum, pointing to a nicely upholstered chair. "You can have that one day," she added and I knew what she meant but decided to say nothing as she turns 86 in November. "I'm going to give Jon that trolley," she said, pointing towards a brassy trolley on casters that goes back many years and played a central role in mum's 'evenings' back in the seventies when she used to wear what we called her 'Twiglet' dress. It often carried cheese footballs, crisps and squares of cheese on cocktail sticks back in the days when 'uncle' Brian and 'auntie' Yvonne came round and we were hurried up to bed. They weren't really related to us, just neighbours, but they were great fun and we used to go on holiday with them and their son Tim. Happy days. I looked at the trolley and the memories came flooding back. I always remember how, the following morning, the trolley contained a few stale crisps and some cheese footballs and there was always the smell of stale cigarette smoke. Invariably uncle Brian, a Rizla salesman, had left his cigarette lighter behind, giving me, my brother and sister an opportunity to mess around with it until Dad discovered us and took it away.

It was time to go. I packed everything away, including a bottle of ale, and after briefly inspecting the crazy paving out front, I cycled down the road. My slow puncture – which I'd been pumping up for the last three or four weeks – was beginning to speed up, but I figured I'd get home on it. The rain had started again, but it was only drizzle and when I reached home I was still dry.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Ramblings from Düsseldorf...

View from room 407, Friends Hotel...
Wherever I go in the world everything, bar virtually nothing, is the same. Now, don't for one minute think that I'm talking about 'globalisation'. Globalisation is all to do with branding and big business and the fact that, wherever you go, you might encounter a Tesco or a Claire's Accessories or a Zara and so on. There's nothing worse than flying thousands of miles to the other side of the globe only to discover that the first thing you see is a McDonald's or a Tesco Express. I flew to Calgary once and saw a Claire's Accessories.

Earlier this evening I was sitting in Da Bruno, an Italian restaurant a short walk from my hotel here in Dusseldorf, Germany, where there was a leaving party of sorts going on. It was just the same as any other leaving party the world over; I could have been anywhere on the planet and possibly even in the middle of the Sahara desert, who knows? But I was in Düsseldorf, it was getting dark outside as we are now into September and the days are closing in, but the scene was just the same in London, Madrid, Paris, Warsaw, Montreal, New York, Mexico City, Brasilia, you name it. People were making self-conscious speeches or accepting gifts from their work colleagues, the usual stuff. And really that's it, there's not much else to say other than everybody's the same the world over – we're all so samey and predictable and we all experience the same phobias, the same desires, the same ambitions and the same failures. As my dad used to tell me, "You're not unique."

When you equate such thinking with the atrocities going on around the world, in places like Syria, you realise that most of those atrocities are caused by religion and governments and that most of the people caught up in conflicts would, I'm guessing, rather be sitting in a restaurant wishing good luck to their work colleagues who might be moving on to pastures new. Syria's refugees want safety and normality and so they're heading to Europe to live in what the Clash once called a 'safe European home'.

Room 407's telephone, Friends Hotel
I find myself thinking about those refugees and wondering when they last found themselves in a restaurant celebrating the fact that somebody had just turned 21 or was getting married or leaving one job to start another. If they have any memories at all I'm guessing that they're distant or long forgotten.

It seems to me that if you look at the root causes of a lot of the upheavals affecting the world today, it's always got something to do with religion. Frankly, I find it all a little crazy when you consider that 'religion' is just a belief system, nothing more, nothing less – in the same way that some people think Elvis is still alive – and why should anybody be forced to believe in something they don't want to believe in? I know. It all sounds like a very simplistic argument, but when you consider that belief systems  – in their various forms – are just that, 'beliefs', then surely we all need to get a grip and cast magic aside for the sake of reality.

I'm not sure where I stand on the big pillars of religious thinking, the main one being the afterlife, but I'm pretty sure that if we can't get a man to Mars or find a cure for cancer, Alzheimer's and the like, then there can't really be an afterlife. If there is such a thing, then I'd like to know why my dad hasn't been in touch (surely the dead are allowed ONE phone call). And how are they existing? In houses? Apartments? Hotels? And what age are they? The age they were when they died? Imagine finding yourself in the afterlife with all those virgins waiting to offer you a good time and having to admit that you're 84 and would have trouble raising a smile, not to mention anything else. The frustration of the real world would be carried forward to the afterlife and you'd be standing around wondering if there was another afterlife after the afterlife in which you had a choice of what age you'd want to be. Perhaps in the afterlife there are religious groups some of which put forward the argument that there is no afterlife after the afterlife; and conflicting groups arguing the opposite point of view. Perhaps there's a certain animosity between the two opposing camps and they're trying to blow each other up. Who knows?

Where conflict in Syria and Iraq are concerned, Tony Blair and George Bush have a lot to answer for and, in the eyes of many, are the real villains of the piece. Together they have destabilised the Middle East and enabled organisations like ISIS to exist and expand and it all falls back on the highly suspicious invasion of Iraq some 12 years ago – remember the spurious claim, made by Tony Blair, that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that could hit the UK within 45 minutes? It was all a lie. Remember the suspicious and still unexplained death of David Kelly? Well, there were no weapons of mass destruction, but not because of faulty intelligence as the government would like us all to believe. The intelligence was fine it was just that, faced with outrage from the public at large, 'faulty intelligence' was the best excuse on offer at the time – and what an easy excuse! "If you can't trust the intelligence services, who CAN you trust?" Nobody if the truth be known, but then again, the truth will never be revealed, not with Lord Chilcott in charge. Let's not forget that Lord C is a very close friend of Tony Blair and a member of the establishment (LORD Chilcott) – so don't expect any kind of prosecution; it's not going to happen.
Friends Hotel, Düsseldorf after dark...

Today we are suffering for what Bush and Blair inflicted on the world and to what end? Back in the early noughties it was all about winning contracts for companies like Halliburton, but now it's more about how the West caused the problem and then sat back and did nothing, bowing to pressure to 'bring our boys home' and allowing disparate groups, like ISIS, to form unfettered. In short, it's a real 'can of worms' but in many ways that phrase 'you reap what you sow' springs to mind. Today we're having to deal with the consequences – lone wolf terrorist atrocities like Tunisia, the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris and so on. 

In fact, terrorism aside, have you noticed how nobody within the establishment ever gets prosecuted? If there's a problem, say, with the police and it goes to the IPCC, the police always get off. And now, with historical child abuse allegations hitting the political establishment, isn't it amazing how it's all been left until they're dead or suffering from dementia and for those still in the firing line there's plenty of delaying tactics in place to stop or hinder any investigations going forward – possibly in the hope that those being accused will die off before an inquiry gets underway. All very, very suspicious if you ask me.

This morning there was a particularly disturbing image on the front page of the Independent of a very young boy washed up on a Turkish beach in Bodrum. The image brought into focus the problem facing Europe over its policy towards migrants coming from war-torn regions of the Middle East and Africa. The UK, apparently, has only taken in 216 refugees from Turkey, which is piss poor when you consider that we could operate more like a multi-storey car park: when it is discovered that a family from Britain has mysteriously left the country en route to a better life in Syria with ISIS, the spaces vacated could be filled by those wanting to enter the UK. We could put up one of those signs at Dover saying "Full" or "Spaces". However, with something like 330,000 people arriving on these shores from all over Europe – people living in Europe and moving to England to claim benefits – then perhaps it's not that good an idea.

I wandered back along Karlstrasse towards my hotel in the dark, but it's easy to spot as there's a green light illuminating a white building, which is the Friends Hotel. Avid readers will know that I've stayed here before. It's a pleasant and unassuming place on the outside and this time I was staying in room 407 on the fourth floor where there is a framed image of Kylie Minogue on the wall over the bed. When I was last here I stayed in room 207 and had a framed photograph of Twiggy on the bathroom wall. Room 407's phone is a bling skull made to resemble Damien Hirst's 'Diamond Geezer', although it took me a while to work out that it was a phone.

After a reasonable night's sleep – I was awoken around 0330hrs by noises from the street – I went in search of a Netto supermarket in order to buy some toothpaste and stumbled upon a decent-looking bike shop selling Koga bicycles. I would love to buy a Koga bicycle. The shop was closed so I couldn't go in, but I wandered back to the hotel and prepared to check out. I ordered a cab and then spent the morning in a meeting. After a very pleasant lunch in a Chinese restaurant I walked across town – it took me one hour to reach the hotel using the iphone's GPS. While it threatened to rain, the weather was fine – there have been temperatures as high as 39 degrees C here in Düsseldorf.

Back on the tarmac at Gatwick airport...
I ordered a cab to the airport, but arrived miles too early, so I ordered a beer and some peanuts plus a cake and some tea. The flight was delayed, but eventually it arrived and off we went. I love it when the pilot says "excellent flying conditions" and they were, although en route I discovered that it was against aviation rules – apparently – to bring your own wine aboard a plane. "So if you'll finish that glass and then drink our wine instead, I'd be grateful," said a rather terse member of the cabin crew. To be totally honest, their wine was better than mine so I conformed with their wishes and enjoyed the short flight back to London Gatwick. On both the outward and inward flights I had virtually the same meal: a croque monsieur with red wine, a packet of peanuts and a bottle of mineral water.

What I find really odd about easyJet is the speedy boarding system. While it worked fine back in the day when there was basically a scrum for the seats, now that they've initiated allocated seating like proper airlines, there doesn't seem to be much point. Standing at the gate, those with speedy boarding were called to jump on the bus that would take them to the plane ahead of everybody else by about five minutes – and then we all piled on. When we reached the plane, therefore, we, those who hadn't paid for 'speedy boarding', were the first off the bus and the first on the plane. But even if those with speedy boarding had their own bus, which ferried them to the plane before the proletariat, they would end up having to stand in the aisle waiting for whoever had the window and middle seat, so what's the point?

The flight time from Düsseldorf to London was 60 minutes, probably less. Normally I have enough time to eat a snack and one of those small bottles of wine before we land. Once back on terra firma I made my way towards passport control and decided to use the automated exit using my new passport. I was chatting to a friend on the phone about David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries when a man in front of me, from Holland, agreed that it was an excellent book. He had been eavesdropping on my conversation. Once through baggage reclaim and then customs – where I always feel guilty for some reason as I waltz through the 'nothing to declare' section – I made my way to the train station and the familiar but gloomy surroundings of the cold platform, which was full of holiday makers back from sunnier climates (like Düsseldorf) and clearly not happy about being back in the UK.

The train was delayed and then it was delayed some more so I had to get a 'stopping train' to East Croydon, via Horley, Salfords, Earlswood, Redhill, Merstham, Coulsdon South and Purley. I drew some cash from the 'hole in the wall' at East Croydon station and took a black cab home, arriving around 2100hrs.

That wine I wasn't allowed to drink on the plane? I drank it at home and then, after a bit of television, I went to bed.