Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Day after Boxing Day – we tackle White Lane for the second time... and then eat Christmas Cake!

Tea and Christmas cake at Tatsfield Village, 27 Dec 2016.
Today was essentially a repeat of yesterday's ride, but with Christmas cake. Perfect weather, but not as warm as yesterday (there was sparkling frost on the roads and cars) but the sun was out, the skies were clear and all was good with the world.

Tackling White Lane for a second time was something I regretted suggesting, if I did suggest it, it might have been Andy's idea, but either way I think we both figured we could do it and sure enough, when we reached the roundabout just past Botley Hill we rode straight across and down Titsey Hill (a 16% descent) and then, with our brakes covered, we prepared for the left turn in to White Lane, slammed the gears down to low and knuckled down to the uphill struggle ahead of us. This time, there were two cars coming in the opposite direction, but we managed to hold our nerves and not lose momentum as they passed. Losing momentum on White Lane means giving up the ghost or going back to the start and trying again. I found it slightly harder today, compared with yesterday, but we made it and even considered making scaling the heights of this daunting hill a regular fixture, part of the route to Tatsfield Village.

We sat at the covered bus stop discussing the pointlessness of social media and after stuffing our faces with a couple of slices (each!) of mum's Christmas cake, we jumped on the bikes and rode out of town.

Photo credit: Andy Smith.

Boxing Day – to Tatsfield via White Lane

Today's now traditional Boxing Day ride was missing something very important. Cake. And it was all my fault. Or rather, well, no, it was my fault. Alright, others were involved, but I should have been a little more vigilant, a little more on the ball – but I wasn't.

Despite the fact that we had a cake, made by mum and supposedly for Christmas, it was finished with a good week prior to the big day, meaning that when Boxing Day came around there was nothing to take on the ride. A sorry state of affairs. I was desperate as there's nothing better than a slice of Christmas cake sitting on a wooden seat in one of those covered bus stops, accompanied by some tea. It was not to be, so I sent Andy a text, initially saying, some days before Boxing Day, that I was planning to make my own cake. I was too! I'd picked out all the ingredients from the supermarket (flour, mixed fruit, cherries, butter and so on) but crucially forgot to buy the grease-proof paper. I assumed (wrongly) that we already had some. Another text reminding Andy to bring the BelVita biscuits was pinged off and then, my head hung low in shame, I skulked my way to the green where I met Andy.
Our bikes at the top of White Lane after a tough uphill climb...
I was the first to arrive and used up the time taking a photograph of the Rockhopper next to a discarded can of Budweiser. It was good to note that the green had a Christmas tree and perhaps I should have taken a photograph of it, but I wasn't feeling overly creative so the beer can sufficed.

When Andy arrived we considered – for all of a minute – the prospect of riding to Westerham, opting not to go because of wet seats and no cover. A feeble excuse if ever there was one, but instead we threw in White Lane and a trip to the Tatsfield Village, based on the fact that the famous Tatsfield Bus Stop is still without seating. Andy reckons it won't ever have seating again. He might be right.

The weather was good. It had clearly been raining overnight as there were puddles everywhere, but as we set off there were blue skies and white clouds and no sign of any further downpour.

The decision to ride up White Lane wasn't as daunting as I thought it would be; in fact I was kind of looking forward to it. We rode 'the fast way' along the 269 and there was little traffic on the roads, which was good and then, instead of turning left at the Botley roundabout we went straight across and down Titsey (slowly) eventually hanging a left into White Lane, at which point I slammed the gears down to low and got my head down. It all seemed harmless enough until a car came down the hill in front of me, but I kept into the left hand side of the road and didn't lose the crucial momentum needed to conquer this amazing hill. The worst bit about it is the sudden increased gradient near the top, but I didn't lose my nerve and soon I found myself at the top of the hill feeling good about life and the fact that I managed to ride up White Lane. The last time I tried it I lost momentum and as we all know: once you're off, you're off, there's no way you're getting back on.

We rode into Tatsfield Village where Linda's, the store, was closed and, much to our dismay, there was no Christmas tree on the green either, just a rather sad-looking snowman made of wood painted white. Very poor.

The ride home was smooth and we parted company at the green, vowing to ride again tomorrow – the day after boxing day and this time with some much needed cake as I later stocked up round at mum's.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

George Michael is dead...

Christmas night. Or Christmas Day full stop. It's an odd one. Lunch finished you make your way home from wherever you've been, clasping presents and possibly some cold turkey for later on, and when you open your front door you wonder what's on the television to keep you amused into the small hours. These days, of course, we all know that 'there's nothing on TV' – a phrase commonly bandied about as people throughout the country, remote in hand, flick through the channels and realise that, once again, the Christmas television schedules leave a lot to be desired.

George Michael – died on Christmas Day 2016

Earlier, I'd taken a long walk around the suburban streets talking about my favourite movies and other stuff with my daughter and as we wove our way around, we peered into the heavily decorated rooms of the houses we passed, voting on whether they were 'cosy' or not. Once home, and not particularly interested in eating any more food – later I had an orange and a glass of water and a tiny bit of cheese with some crackers – I reached for the remote and started to watch Maigret with Mr Bean, but couldn't stick with it. Earlier I'd watched the Strictly Come Dancing festive special, which was rubbish (after enduring weeks of the annual danceathon, I didn't really want to watch any more) and now the challenge to find something worth watching presented itself. There was nothing so I resorted to the 'players' (iplayer and the rest of them) to see if I'd missed something. I had!

On Channel Four I found a documentary about the Rolling Stones' Latin America tour, which culiminated in the band playing in Havana, Cuba. It was fantastic and hats off to all of them. And then, this morning, I awoke at 0600hrs to the news that George Michael had died, aged 53. Unbelievable, I thought, as the story unravelled and heart failure was given as the cause of death. Michael was 53, but the Rolling Stones are pretty old. Sir Mick is 73 and still fathering children, Keith Richards is a similar age and, I believe, his longevity is down to the fact that he's always laughing and, of course, doing something he enjoys doing – playing the guitar. Similarly Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood. There's a lust for life and that, perhaps, is the chief ingredient. That and laughter.
Laughter and a lust for life keeps the Rolling Stones rolling...
What worries me about the Grim Reaper's relentless rock and roll rampage around this time of the year is that there's still a week to go so who knows who will be next? Ozzy? Iggy? Who? The strange thing is that rock stars – a lot of rock stars at any rate – have their moments of fame and then they disappear and just as you're thinking 'I wonder what old so and so is up to', there's a item on the news announcing their passing. That's why the Rolling Stones are so remarkable, they haven't disappeared from our memories, they're still at the cutting edge, playing ground-breaking gigs in places like Cuba and fathering children with, it has to be said, some good-looking women.

It might also be something to do with being in a band and the camaraderie it creates, although it did nothing to save Bowie or Lemmy – both of whom were still active in the world of rock and roll right up until their untimely deaths; and let's not forget Keith Emerson. It would be wrong not to mention over-indulgence and the fact that Bowie and Lemmy were both known for living the rock and roll lifestyle to the full – although I kind of let Lemmy off as he did reach three score years and 10. Drugs are always lurking in the wings when it comes to rock star deaths; in fact they almost lose credibility if drugs are not involved, although they always are, somewhere along the line, even if it's a case of the rock stars in question 'caning it' for a considerable period of time prior to their demise.

Rick Parfitt was no saint where drink and drugs were concerned and nor was George Michael, but again one keeps coming back to the Rolling Stones – a band with a well-documented history of drug taking – think Brian Jones and, of course, Keith Richards. I doubt very much that the Stones take drugs today (and probably haven't for some time) and yesterday as I watched that documentary on their Latin America tour, I found myself thinking how fit Jagger was, running back and forth across the stage, jumping about and performing with the energy of somebody half his age. There's not an ounce of fat on Jagger, which I'm sure helps.

Towards the end of his life, George Michael became reclusive. Little was heard of him apart from the occasional run-in with 'the authorities' for driving under the influence. I can't remember his last musical creation, but then I was never a great fan. That said, Wham's mega Christmas hit, Last Christmas, is one of a handful of festive favourites that resonate at this time of the year and songs like Careless Whisper will always remind me personally of a great holiday in Sardinia, so I won't say that he had no effect on me whatsoever – he did. And when I think of some of the Wham songs and Michael's solo output, well, he was certainly up there with the greats.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Christmas trees...

The Christmas tree worries me. In my mind, it simply isn't playing the game. It's heart isn't in it. It might have a lot to do with the fact that it arrived late, in a flustered state, as if it had missed the last train and had to hail a cab, arriving wet-through, little time to shake off the rainwater from the umbrella before ringing on the doorbell and putting on a strained smile when, finally, the door was opened.

Now it sits there, to the right of the fireplace, and I'm convinced that when nobody is looking it slumps and only stands to attention when it hears footsteps coming its way; then it looks straight ahead, keen not to catch anybody's eye. The last thing it wants on the day before Christmas Eve is to be slung out on the streets for not doing its job properly, and fed soup by volunteers in a London hostel.

I'm also a little worried about the creeping beige infecting the decorations and the beige wrapping paper used to wrap the presents that hide at the tree's base. Green and beige don't match and perhaps that's another reason why the tree seems out of place, a fish out of water.

It's a tall tree. Taller than most we've enjoyed over the years and yes, Dumbledore still has pride of place on the top. Look, it's not really Dumbledore, it just looks like him. It's some kind of Lord of the Rings-inspired alternative to the Christmas fairy sporting a long white bear and a deep purple cloak, but it looks good and that's why it still has a job.

When the Christmas lights come on later, the tree looks a little better, but I still watch it out of the corner of my eye, just to see if I can catch it out, but it knows this and is forever vigilant.

There was one good thing about this year's tree and that was the ease with which it was 'installed'. Normally the base of the trunk needs sawing and it stands lopsided, much to everybody's dismay; but this year everything worked fine, which was such a relief. Putting up the tree is normally a faff. I have to go into the loft to find the decorations and this involves a rickety ladder up into the darkness and an equally precarious – if not more so – journey down carrying a tall cardboard box that jingles with every step. I butt out of decorating the tree on the basis that I'm a bloke and women know more about making things look nice. Amazingly, this is understood and accepted so I can take a pew, watch some television or read the newspaper. But not for long.

"Let's see what it looks like on the other side of the room," I will hear.
"No, it's best where it is," I say, concealing mild desperation.

But invariably I have to move it – and the sofa – in order to find the most pleasing aspect for the tree. Eventually it goes back to where it started, and I'm convinced at this point that the tree is smirking at me.

It's weird having a tree in the house and it's there until 6th January. By the end we're all tired of it and look forward to dismantling it and throwing the tree into the back garden until I find the motivation to saw it into pieces, place the bits in a plastic bag and take it to the dump – the perfect murder!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Storms are coming...

It's the winter solstice, the shortest day, 21 December 2016, and it's kind of damp. There's drizzle. Fine rain that can only be seen in front of street lights. I'm sitting in a Marks & Spencer in Sevenoaks in front of a medium-sized cappuccino and a bun. The coffee cup is huge, I'm going without sugar and there's no chocolate sprinkled on top of the froth.

We've got about 15 minutes before the car park can fine us for over staying our welcome, always tense, but I know we'll easily get down the escalator and be in the car before the warden finds us.

It's dark outside, but then it is the shortest day. I don't like driving at night. The glare of oncoming headlights worries me. I feel that I might lose the road and veer off into a hedge or a ditch. Oddly I never do, but I must concentrate and occasionally flick on full beam.

On the drive back from the café I found myself heading towards Westerham, flicking full beam on and off along the badly-lit stretches of road – of which there was many. We rolled through the centre of town and there were Christmas lights everywhere, hanging over shop fronts, twinkling through windows and lurking in the trees.

It goes without saying that my mind wandered towards cycling as we headed towards the hill. I was reminded of two things: one, that we hadn't riden to Westerham for some time, certainly not since I'd taken possession of the Rockhopper; and two that the weekend might be a little unsettled on the weather front. Storms have been promised. They might affect our planned festive rides.

Heavy weather is heading our way. Pic: Kidologist.com
Rain, wind, it's all on the cards, but today is Wednesday, I'm off until the New Year and there's time to get up and head off somewhere on the bike. An urban ride to mum's is possible, but then so is a ride to Tatsfield. I'm not sure yet. I might not even go out. It's a quarter to midnight, Micky Flanagan is on the television – his Back in the Game performance – and if I don't get my act together and go to bed, I'll lose momentum in the morning.

And I did lose momentum. I was out of bed by 0838hrs and now it's 0947hrs on Thursday 22 December – just three days to Christmas. Having enjoyed breakfast (boiled egg, fingers, a bowl of fresh fruit – chunks of orange, black grapes and blueberries, plus a cup of tea) I'm sitting here messing around on the computer when I should be on the bike in the fresh air.

Weatherwise it's lovely out there: sunshine and blue skies and everything is still: perfect cycling weather. But it's a weekday, meaning there's more traffic out there than normal. I might just ride around the block or embark upon a kind of woodland trek (without the woodland, purely because my bike is nice and clean and I don't want to get it dirty). I know, I know.

And if I don't go today, there's always Friday – if the weather holds out. Except it probably won't hold out. Storm Barbara is heading our way and it's not looking good at all. If I get a ride tomorrow I'll be very lucky.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Andy rides solo to Chevening Church

Andy's bike on Pilgrim's Lane last weekend
I was in the New Forest last weekend so Andy rode alone to Chevening Church and here's the photographic evidence. It looks as if the festive riding might take a hit due to bad weather. The weather forecasters are promising a storm and tomorrow (21st December, the shortest day) they say it's going to rain most of the day. I hope to get a ride in this week, but we're going to have to watch the weather. Here's hoping we get out on Boxing Day.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

You guessed it. Tatsfield Village (the slow way)

I woke up on Saturday morning and remembered it was my birthday. I looked out of the window and found a damp and mildly depressing scene: shiny, wet roads and a fine rain. We all know that fine rain can develop into something nasty and later on, it did. I sent Andy a text and we decided to check things out again at 0700hrs (when we usually leave our respective houses). When the time arrived we decided to abort. "It's fine, but you'd get wet on the bike," I said, standing in my front garden in the dark.

In all honesty we should have gone out. While it was damp and drizzly it wasn't too bad and yes, we might have found ourselves a little damp on reaching our destination – Tatsfield Village – but we could easily handle it. But we decided to abort and in a way I was glad, but I was also unhappy about the decision. The abort decision lingered and nagged at me every time I looked outside and said to myself, "It's damp, yes, there's a very fine rain, yes, but it hardly constitutes an 'abort'".

Our bikes on Approach Road near Tatsfield Village, 11 December 2016
The day remained dark and damp, but it was my birthday and in the evening, as the rain intensified, we went for a meal, which was very pleasant. The evening of Saturday 10 December 2016, however, was characterised by a continual, dribbling rain. It wasn't pleasant, but I knew things were going to improve and sure enough they did.

On Sunday morning the roads were still damp, but the skies were clear and blue and there were pink clouds, which eventually turned white. While the temperature was mild – very mild – I still wore the balaclava because it insulates me from the elements and I feel kind of protected and warm, which is nice.

I faffed about a lot before leaving the house – looking for batteries for my front light. I sent Andy a text to say I'd be around 10 minutes late. Had I been riding anything other than the Specialized I might have been later, but as soon as I'd left the house I made up a lot of time. I zoomed up Church Way and bombed along the Limpsfield Road. In no time I found myself on the green chatting to Andy. I'll say again: the Rockhopper 29 Sport is a tremendous bike: it really shifts and makes mincemeat out most hills, ideal for the festive season.

We had planned on riding to Westerham, but I don't think our hearts were in it and besides, there would be nothing but damp seats in the Northern Kent market town so we opted for the safe bet offered by Tatsfield Village. We rode there the slow way. The Rockhopper made easy work of Beddlestead Lane and we broke out the tea and biscuits when safely seated under the covered bus stop. Had the old Tatsfield Bus Stop on the Approach Road been repaired, we would have gone there instead, but it wasn't so we found ourselves in the village again.

Andy mentioned the days when we used to ride to Westerham twice in a weekend – a 44-miler, I reminded him – and then we discussed how riding to Westerham isn't as time-consuming as we think it is; it's a lot to do with how much we stand (or sit) around chatting once we get there.

"You think about it; we usually leave the green around seven thirty and we get there around ten past eight, but we don't head home until around nine o'clock," I said, pointing out that if we rode off from Tatsfield now we'd probably meet ourselves coming up Clarks Lane. It was a surreal thought. I was sort of right – except we didn't meet ourselves, that would have been daft – but riding to the village is much shorter than Westerham, the key is just to cut the chat to a minimum and knuckle down for the homeward journey. But I was forgetting one thing: the ordeal of riding out of Westerham.

"It's uphill all way to Botley," Andy reminded me, to which I suggested we should ride to Westerham twice a month, which is roughly every other week.

We rode out of Tatsfield without incident. Earlier, Andy had taken a shot of the bikes resting against some rocks (see above) and now we passed that very point on the Approach Road as we headed out of town. The weather was perfect: not too cold, blue skies and hardly any cloud. We headed for Botley Hill passing yet another Golf on a grass verge, although this one seemed to have broken down.

We turned right at the mini roundabout and headed north, past the Botley Hill pub and along the 269 to the green. Once again the Rockhopper performed well as I slipped it into top gear and roared towards Warlingham, slowing as we passed houses and parked cars and side roads and coming to a stop at the green where Andy and I said goodbye. This would be our last ride until Christmas Eve and then it would be our traditional Boxing Day outing to Woodmansterne Green and following that no more riding until the New Year unless one or both of us slyly edged out on New Year's Day (it has been known).

Christmas Rides from the Past

Boxing Day 2009.

Christmas Eve 2011.

Boxing Day 2012.

Boxing Day 2013.

Boxing Day 2014.

The day after Boxing Day 2015.

I rode along the Limpsfield Road and around Sanderstead Pond where a flock of seagulls had landed. The gulls were chilling with the ducks and moorhens as I passed.

Riding down Church Way I had a go at 'no hands' and managed it all the way to the last sleeping policeman. I turned left on Morley, right on Elmfield, left on Southcote and right on Ellenbridge. Soon I was home where a cup of tea was followed by a hot shower and later a sandwich.

Friday, 9 December 2016

The spirit of the beige...

There are so many things to write about, or so I keep telling myself. But as soon as I'm in front of a keyboard, I forget what they are. I was going to write about the colour beige. Is beige a colour or a state of mind? It's both, but for the purposes of clarity, we'll stick to it being a colour. The colour beige features very strongly in my life because it's a kind of default fashion setting for so many people, especially people in my family. I remember reading somewhere that the older you get the beiger you become. And that last turn of phrase, for some reason, reminds me of an old Joe Walsh album, The Smoker you Are, the Player you Get, or perhaps it's the other way around; I think Rocky Mountain Way was a key track.

But let's get back to beige, as opposed to 'back to black'. When I was a kid, my mum was very keen on beige. "Ooh, why don't you buy yourself a nice pair of beige trousers?" Or a beige jumper. It's so neutral and safe and it's taking over the world. I am surrounded by beige. Beige curtains, beige floors, beige carpets, even beige food. The other day I figured out that I exist on a diet of beige. Think about it for a minute: Weetabix = beige; a cup of tea with milk = beige; a slice of brown bread = beige; an egg (on the outside) = beige; a banana, well, alright, not exactly beige, more a kind of 'beigey' yellow, but let's say a banana is a variation on the beige theme. If you pay a visit to a paint shop you might find the colour 'banana', perhaps, and that, ultimately would dry to a kind of beige colour.

It's beige...
Old people wear a lot of beige. Marks & Spencer sells a lot of beige and if I was a fan of musicals and had a heavy cold, I'd probably sing the praises of Elaine Beige. If I was a guest at a wedding and still had a heavy cold I might have to ask the beige boys to bring me a tissue, or if I turned up at somebody's house dressed only in beige, it might be argued that I was showing my beige. Geddit? "Showing my beige" as in showing my age? No? Oh well.

I try my best to avoid beige, but I can't. My entire house is beige and whenever I'm anywhere, like, say, in John Lewis shopping for curtains, while everything is, ultimately, beige, it's a colour with many aliases. Oatmeal. Hopsack. Champagne. Mushroom. The list is endless.

If I was a novelist, I think I'd have to write a book about my beige life. It would be called 50 Shades of Beige.

I am perched in front of the television, watching Channel Four News, sitting on a green armchair. But it's floating in a sea of beige. The television is perched on a beige-coloured wooden thingy with two draws containing DVDs and stuff. Diagonally across from me to the right is a wooden side table, but it's beige-coloured. To my left and right there are beige curtains, there are beige blinds in the conservatory, and a large rug in front of the fireplace is, yep, beige, but darker than the light beige of the wood floor underneath it.

I'm going to bed and fortunately the duvet ain't beige, the carpet is pink and the curtains red and I'm not sure what's worse.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Over to mum's for breakfast...

It was another perfect day: Blue skies, sun shining, but cold. There was frost on the paths and on the windscreens of cars, even late in the morning. But I felt fine and more than dressed for the occasion.

I rode down West Hill, the cold breeze smacking my face. It was the only moment when I felt the cold. The rest of the journey was fairly flat, apart from riding up Hayling Park Road, but the Rockhopper Sport meant I could take the ascent in my stride. I passed the Purley Playing Fields, turned right on to the A23 and cut through the Grand Theft Auto industrial estate, emerged on to Stafford Road and headed towards Carshalton – and mum's house.

Breakfast a mum's: boiled egg, orange, tea and a slice of bread and butter
Near Wallington I was overtaken by a man on an old 1998 Kona, but it still looked good, all Kona bicycles look good. "It's my winter bike," said the man, when I caught up with him and we both powered our way towards Sutton. He told me how he'd been cycling for 40 years and then, having said goodbye, he was gone, turning right while I continued straight ahead. Later I caught a brief glimpse of him as a he crossed the road that I was slowly advancing along. He clearly knew of a short cut.

At mum's my breakfast awaited me: boiled egg, fingers, a slice of white bread (good quality bread), a mug of tea, make that two. Golden Shred marmalade – mum said it used to be dad's favourite – was offered, but I declined.

We chewed the fat. Next door's baby wasn't well during the week and had to go to hospital; mum always gives John and Marion across the road a bottle of red wine for Christmas; my sister has her Christmas tree up; there's a marriage in the family, taking place in Brixham on New Year's Eve; Ainsley Harriet (he's a 'celebrity chef') has a special way of cutting up an orange; mum's been taking regular doses of cider vinegar (1 tablespoon per day) since she was 19 years old – it's supposed to be really good for you, but I tried it once and it's really unpleasant. Mum likes the towels we bought for her birthday.
Frost on mum's lawn. This shot taken through the kitchen window
The ride home was fine. I retraced the route of my outward journey. There was still frost on car windscreens, the sky was still blue and the sun continued to shine. As I passed the Purley Playing Fields Sunday League football was in full swing. I rode down Hayling Park Road, crossed the A23, followed Jarvis Road towards the Upper Selsdon Road and headed south towards home.

It was a good ride, albeit a solo one without the usual on-ride companionship provided by Andy and Phil.

Later I drove to Handcross in Sussex to see Dave and his new gaff in the country – 44 acres of woodland and a lake. Amazing. Now I'm home, Strictly's on the television, Judge Rinder's been voted off. Later I watched a fantastic programme on Channel Four, Alone in the Wild. A man tries to survive alone in the Yukon. Scary stuff and he manages 50 days, but in the end lost too much weight through not finding enough food. What a guy.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Phil's moves out...and we ride to Tatsfield village

It's good when you know one of your neighbours on more than a 'good morning, lovely day!' basis. Ever since around May 2013 Phil and I have become pals, he's joined Andy and I on our rides and, of course, he is a fully paid-up member of the NoVisibleLycra team.

Yesterday, however, Phil moved out and now he lives closer to Andy in Caterham. From today, we'll have to meet on the Green rather than cycle there together.

Sunrise in the Field of the Horses
When I walked past Phil's house yesterday evening, the lights were off, the bins were out and there were no cars on the drive. Phil has moved. Over the years I've grown used to seeing his cars on the drive – the old Boxster, the Mercedes estate, the Volvo – and the house lights blaring in the evening. And when it's time for bed, Phil's place is either ablaze with light or quiet and plunged into darkness, not through absence, but sleep. In the morning, on the way to work, we often met on the walk to the station or on the platform. In short, it's the end of an era. Today, probably, new neighbours will arrive and who knows, we might have another member of the NoVisibleLycra team.

All I know is that this morning, when I take the bike from the garage, there will be no point looking over to see if Phil's up or whether he's going to appear on his classic racer and accompany me to the green. He's not there and the house, for a short while, is empty.

Andy's bike on Clarks Lane...
I'm making it all sound very sombre and final, but it's nothing of the sort: he's bought a large Victorian house about six or seven miles away, it needs a lot of work doing to it, but he's up for the challenge and, no doubt, we'll hear all about the trials and tribulations of such a mammoth project when we next meet up.

My plan was to ride to mum's this morning, but Andy sent me a text last night asking if I was going out this morning. Normally, if Andy can make it, I go with him, as I can always drive round to see mum later in the day.

I awoke early and was downstairs making breakfast around 0619hrs – Weetabix, a slice of toast and a cup of tea. I made the tea for the flask and left the house around 0710hrs. The Rockhopper performed well from the outset, taking Church Way in its stride, and soon I found myself on the Limpsfield wishing I'd sorted out my lights. I need a new battery in the front light and I need a new rear light, preferably one that's rechargeable. I'll sort something out next week as there's a train strike, the bike is due it's free check up at Evans and I can check out the lights when I get there. Well, it's one plan.

Andy was at the green when I arrived and we agreed to head for Tatsfield Village, the slow way, mainly because it was the only place that offered cover and dry seats. As our we wound our way around the country lanes beyond Warlingham I spotted a rather decent sunrise and stopped to take a photograph (see above). Andy missed a trick here; he thought he would wait until we reached a spot on Beddlestead Lane, but as we progressed along the route, the sunrise disappeared.

Last week there was a smashed up taxi on a grass verge; this week there was a privately owned Golf in a similar state resting on a grass verge along Clarks Lane. I took a photograph while Andy rode a few yards further along the road to take a shot of the Blast in a clearing.

Another car crash...
We doubled back to Approach Road, turned right and headed for Tatsfield Village where we took our seats at the bus stop and the tea and biscuits came out. The Old Ship pub was still deserted and they'd put beer barrels across the entrance to the car park. "To keep the gypsies out," I suggested, but Andy said a few barrels wouldn't stop them.

Andy mentioned a programme on television about Lancaster Castle (Channel Five) and the story of two boys who were banished to Australia from the United Kingdom for stealing sheep. They faced the death penalty but because they were only children their lives were spared and they were transported to Australia where they set up a very successful sheep station and lived out their lives in a fairly solvent state – talk about karma. Later, one of their descendants, a female QC, flew to the United Kingdom to the very court that had tried the boys and banished them down under. "What goes around comes around," I said.

We moved on to another one of our fantasy conversations. Remember the coffee shop and bicycle repair business idea? The one that the Westerham Cyclery put into practice? Well, now we're on to something else: a bed and breakfast in the Scottish Highlands, operating just six or seven months a year (when the weather's good) and offering a range of mountain bike trails. Life would be little more than riding around the desolate Scottish Highlands, shopping (when food was needed) and chilling out watching television in between rides. But we both know only too well that our dreams will remain dreams, not because we're totally incapable of realising them, but because, well, we're quite happy where we are, living 'down south' in the comfort and warmth of South Croydon and Caterham and riding out at the weekends. Still, the thought of doing little else but cycling in the middle of nowhere has a certain appeal.

One thing I haven't mentioned is the weather. It was a wonderful day; very bright and not cold, although I still wore the balaclava. The ride out of Tatsfield was fantastic. The sun cast the perfect light on the surrounding fields as we rode towards the famous bus stop and the T-junction at Clarks Lane. We'd considered going back the slow way, but while I suggested it, I quickly changed my mind, preferring instead the speed offered by the 269. That said, I'm always tempted to throw caution to the wind on the puncture front and take the off-road track, but there's a point on the road when Slines Oak comes into view when I always feel I'm on the home straight and soon Knight's goes past, we hit suburbia and all is well with the world.

I reached home around 1000hrs. There was a man on Phil's front lawn sporting a shaven head and shorts. A builder? A decorator? Who knows? Not me. And of course it's not Phil's front lawn anymore, it's somebody else's. I padlocked the bike and headed indoors. A trip to London followed and later dinner followed by Strictly Come Dancing, which I'm watching now as I write this. The voting is now open! Here's to a ride tomorrow.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

To Tatsfield village...

I really needed a ride. I hadn't been on the bike for a week and I was beginning to feel it. There hadn't been much in the way of walking either as I was miles too busy and what's more, I was in Stuttgart. Riding on Saturday, therefore, was out of the question. Andy had aborted and Phil hadn't sent me a text so I was glad for the rest; I got up around 0700hrs and made some tea.

While I could have taken a ride to mum's – I normally do when Andy aborts and Phil's either not going or riding with Steve – I decided to take things a little easier, but today (Sunday) I had to get out there, so I pulled on the balaclava (and all the usual items of scruffy cycling clothing) and headed for the garage.

It was good to get back on the bike. I was running a few minutes late and when I got to Warlingham Green, Andy was waiting.

We aimed for the Tatsfield village, the slow way, and after bearing left at the mini roundabout just past Sainsbury's, we wove our way around the narrow country lanes towards Hesiers Hill and Beddlestead Lane.
A right riveting read – Andy's books
It wasn't cold, but I was wearing the balaclava, purely for comfort. It was a bright day, there was no frost, nothing that would constitute 'bad weather', although the roads were damp and there were puddles here and there; clearly, it had been raining overnight.

As we progressed along Beddlestead Lane, I found that the old Rockhopper was doing a grand job. Earlier, I'd cranked it up to top gear and everything was smooth-running, all the way to Clarks Lane where we turned left and then left again into Approach Road where we spied a crashed mini cab that had clearly hit a tree and come to rest on a grass verge opposite – or had been moved there; I'm guessing the latter. Andy pointed to bits of radiator grill around the base of the tree trunk and we were both puzzled as to how the car had managed to hit the tree in the first place.

We pressed on towards the village and, as always, I was reminded of my accident (on 1st October). Needless to say, my approach was more considered and I glided slowly to a stop and parked my bike against the inner wall of the covered wooden bus stop. Out came the tea and biscuits and then Andy produced two excellent hard-backed books of his photography – his cycling photography. Needless to say I was impressed and we talked about how he had produced the books using the website Blurb. I'd like to do something similar for my blog, although it's so huge (almost 10 years of what amounts to a cycling diary and loads of other stuff too) it won't be cheap.

We rode off and headed home, passing the crashed minicab and then turning right on to Clarks Lane riding in the direction of Botley Hill. The 269 presented itself and soon we were back at Warlingham Green planning next weekend's ride.

Friday, 25 November 2016

In Stuttgart...

Messehotel Stuttgart
While I was expecting a bumpy flight, I was pleasantly surprised to find it smooth all the way over. The BBC weather forecasters had promised 'more of the same' – they were referring to Storm Angus, heavy winds and rain – and I was gearing up for an unpleasant 70 minutes in the air. Fortunately, I was flying British Airways and, once through the fairly light cloud, and after my customary Island Bakery Lemon Melts (great biscuits) and one of those tiny bottles of red wine, I found myself safely on the ground, in a taxi and on my way to the Messehotel Europe, a really pleasant place, despite it's location on a fairly busy road opposite an Esso garage.

At the check-in, the receptionist kindly informed me that I had been upgraded. I'm sure he meant the room and not me personally, unless I'm really a robot manufactured by some sinister corporation, like in Bicentennial Man or Blade Runner.

Room 316 is on the third floor and is very nice: lots of wood, a safe, proper coat hangers, a fully-stocked minibar, flat screen television, ample desk space, and, I'm afraid, a pretty standard 'view' from the hotel window. Remember that Esso garage? My room is about 25 yards from the forecourt, and I'm here for two nights.

View from room 316, Messehotel Europe
For dinner, in a restaurant no more than five minutes' walk from the hotel, I enjoyed deer goulash with red cabbage, a lovely dumpling – I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a dumpling – and, oddly, half a peeled pear, followed by an apple-based dessert with ice cream, fresh orange and kiwi fruit. And as for dumplings, we had some with a beef stew at home only recently.

Breakfast the following morning, after hardly any sleep – I tend not to sleep well on my first night in a hotel – was fine, consisting of Sugar Puffs, a plate of scrambled egg and fried mushrooms, a small croissant, strawberry yoghurt and fresh fruit, not to mention a black coffee (the tea looked like a faff so I didn't bother).

My lack of sleep was based on hitting the sack around midnight, after answering some work emails and watching BBC World, but then I awoke at 0345hrs and couldn't get back to sleep so I went on the computer until 0600hrs and continued with my day. Big mistake. I was falling asleep for split seconds around lunch time and my eyelids felt kind of heavy. I tried desperately to resist, and succeeded, but there's a lesson to be learned here: if you awake in the dead of night, don't get up, remain in bed, stare at the ceiling, anything, but don't get out of bed.

Lentils, Frankfurters and pasta...really tasty
It was a busy day that finished around 10pm after a pleasant dinner in a typical German brew house where I enjoyed lentils with pasta and two Frankfurters, and let's not forget two beers.

Prior to dinner there was a guided tour of Stuttgart, a city with a population of 600,000, which can swell to 2.2 million, we were told. The central station is an impressive building, built at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries and now about to be re-modelled with subterranean railway lines. It's going to cost around 7 billion Euros and, needless to say, there have been public protests over the rising cost of the project, our guide explained. Originally it was only 2 billion Euros. When finished, it will be possible to take through trains to Munich. At the moment trains stop at Stuttgart and can't go any further – or at least I think that's right. Stuttgart is a railway terminal, but it won't be when the renovations are completed, so perhaps all it means is that a train arriving in Stuttgart won't have to double back on itself before heading in the direction for Munich, but what do I know?
The Germans love Christmas

Stuttgart was home to some famous people: Mr Daimler, Mr Porsche and the poet Schiller lived in the city. Stuttgart is well known for its automotive industry and there is very little unemployment. In fact, I hadn't seen any homeless people until the end of the evening when I spotted a man in a sleeping bag at the metro station. I also discovered that 'Konigstrasse' means King's Road in English – you learn something new every day.

I was staggered, however, to hear that 40% of Stuttgart's population is made up of immigrants and that, in addition to people, there were plenty of Canadian geese who, apparently, fly here from Scandinavia, without proper documentation, presumably because it's warmer. I don't know, bloody Canadian geese coming over here and stealing all the jobs from German geese.

Stuttgart, originally a protestant City, is the birthplace of the humble pretzel and home to the world's first ever television tower, but don't mention the war. Sadly, 90% of Stuttgart's buildings were destroyed by allied bombers during the Second World War, but nobody was letting it spoil their evening, least of all yours truly. I ordered a couple of Schönbuch beers to accompany my lentils and pasta, but I wished I hadn't ordered a side of potato wedges. Fortunately there were enough people willing to share them and nothing was wasted.

Stuttgart's opera house
After dinner we took a ride on the metro back to the Messehotel Europe, and then I took a shower and climbed into bed to get some much needed sleep, although I still awoke around 0300hrs, but this time I decided not to get up. Instead I lay there and eventually I must have fallen asleep because my alarm went off and it was time to get up. I'd checked out the previous evening so all I had to do was pack my case and I was ready for breakfast. I skipped the scrambled egg, the fried mushrooms and the coffee and enjoyed a cup of tea, a bowl of fresh fruit, a helping of Sugar Puffs and a yoghurt.

There was a lot of time spent in a coach. Our first stop was the Audi R8 manufacturing plant and it was quite incredible, although, unlike a lot of people, cars do nothing for me. As far as I'm concerned they exist to get me from A to B in relative comfort and that's it. Other people are different and I'm prepared to accept that fact. They seem to know a hell of a lot about cars and the ownership situation behind the car manufacturers. I haven't a clue. I couldn't tell you whether VW own BMW or vice versa or whether Audi owns Bentley or Daimler – and that's because I just don't care. I'm also not fussed about sports cars, or flash cars generally, and wouldn't buy one even if I was wealthy. Why pay £200,000 for an Audi R8? I'd rather buy a house in the Scottish Highlands. I listened to stories about Americans coming over to Germany to watch their R8 roll off the production line and then, apparently, crying when they saw it. What is wrong with people? Why cry? How about a smile? Apparently the colour of the car you buy is a status symbol in China. I can't remember the gist of the conversation, something about black being all about status, but that somebody in China had bought a green one – or was it that green in China means your status is high? I don't know and I don't care, but if there's one thing I abhor (there are lots of things I abhor) it's 'status' and, more to the point, 'status people'. There's a great song by The Groundhogs on the album Thank Christ for the Bomb entitled Status People. Here's the key lyrics:-

I'll be glad to say goodbye to status people who are just a lie,
I left them behind when I walked out of the door, I'll never see them anymore

It's a suitably depressing track (deliciously so in many ways) about somebody turning their back on society, and there is some rather desperate-sounding, but brilliant, guitar work that has a certain haunting quality to it – the whole album is good. As I walked around the Audi R8 plant, I wondered whether those who were making the R8 could afford to buy one.

The Audi R8
Back in the coach and it was pleasant to watch the German countryside pass by: fields and forests and small, quaint towns, often shrouded in a light mist. It wasn't long before we reached the town of Schwäbischhall, a rather quaint, chocolate box sort of place with a Christmas market. We had dinner in a traditional German restaurant, Goldener Adler, where I enjoyed goose breast with red cabbage and dumplings. Yes, dumplings again, they're lovely and we should all eat more of them.

The hotel, it has to be said, was rather good, albeit not conforming to the golden hotel designers' rule of 'function before form', something that boutique hotels should always remember; but they always forget. First, how the hell can I get the room key out of the lock? It took me an age to figure it out (the key has to be in a horizontal position); then it was the lights: how to turn them on. Ultimately it was all mildly annoying and the last thing I needed after a tough day. Boutique hotels are all about accentuating the 'craziness' of the owner, a bit like the cringeworthy "you don't have to be mad to work here – but it helps!" At one stage I inadvertently opened the bathroom window while trying to switch on the light. Having plunged myself into darkness by touching the wrong switch, I fiddled about and then heard a strange whining sound: it was the bathroom window slowly opening. Other than the unnecessary quirkiness of the Hotel Scholl, all was fine, although breakfast the following morning was a little odd as nothing seemed to be sweetened. The fresh fruit salad, for instance, was lacking sugar, and so was the orange juice, causing me to wince and pull faces.

Hotel Scholl, Schwäbischhall
After another busy day, a lot of it spent in a coach – although it was pleasant dozing on the autobahn in the dark – we enjoyed a tour of the town. I don't really want to go on about the Second World War, but our guide was quick to point out that Schwäbischhall only lost 3% of its buildings because of allied bombing raids, although it lost a considerable portion of the town 300 years earlier in a fire, but you really need to visit this place to believe it: very quaint and an ideal weekend break location, particularly at this time of the year. We dined at a place called Schuhbäck – be warned, they don't accept credit cards – where I enjoyed lentils with pasta and Frankfurter sausage – wonderful. The nice thing about German food is it's 'normality'. It's good, solid food that is nutritionally on the money, filling and even more perfect when washed down with a couple of pints of German beer.

And now it is Friday and it's 0642hrs. We leave the hotel at 0800hrs and will head towards Stuttgart airport around 1630hrs. But first, I need to check out of the Hotel Scholl and grab a bite to eat for breakfast. A slice of bread and some unsweetened orange juice sufficed and soon I was back in the coach gazing out on the German countryside. Pretzels and bread rolls for lunch on the move as we raced towards our last appointment of the day and then we headed for Stuttgart airport. Check-in was relatively smooth, the flight was even smoother – clear skies all the way over – and my taxi was waiting for me at arrivals.
One stair at a time at the Hotel Scholl
I reached home in time for the end of the 10 o'clock news and now I'm watching BBC Weather with John Hammond. He's saying it will be 'mostly dry' but I won't be going out early tomorrow morning. Having been up at the crack of dawn all week, I'm planning on lying in.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Round to mum's...and a few weekend thoughts

This morning at around 0300hrs I was awake, listening to the rain and the wind. Bad weather had been promised, I thought, and sure enough, outside of my window there were swaying trees and pounding rain; that's what I could hear at any rate.

I'd had a strange dream in which veteran comedy actor Leslie Philips was in a blue helicopter as it came into land over some water. A ladder the same colour as the helicopter appeared and Philips, lying on his stomach, slid on to a bed of ice cubes laid out on the ground below. Then, for some reason, I dropped my iphone and cracked the screen. "That's the first time I've done that," I said to somebody – I can't recall who exactly.

The next thing I heard was the radio. A woman's voice. It was 0605hrs and time to get up. I wondered whether it was still raining and when I pulled back the curtain to take a look at the top of my neighbour's flat-roofed extension, sure enough, it was pouring.

"Looks like an abort," I texted to Andy at 0611hrs, and he replied. "Yeah. See you next weekend."

I was out of bed so I didn't fancy getting back in again. Time to head downstairs and make breakfast: tea, Weetabix with raspberries (10 of them) and a boiled egg with fingers. And now it's 0645hrs and I'm sitting here writing the blog.

Cold weather
Yesterday was cold. There was a frost on the lawn and because Andy wasn't going and Phil was out with Steve, I decided to ride over to mum's, but I waited until 0800hrs – ten past to be precise – before I ventured outside wearing many layers of clothing. There was a tee-shirt, a shirt, a hooded top and then an old rusty jacket I should really throw out but keep for sentimental reasons. I remember the days when it wasn't used for gardening, but was a pukka piece of clothing worn with jeans on a night out. It's amazing how the mighty have fallen, I thought, examining the raggedy old piece of clothing, which has served me well for years of cycling. I'd bought it from Next when the store had a certain caché.

I was also wearing a green, woollen balaclava, one that makes me look like an IRA terrorist from the 1970s, but the problem is the eye holes: they make it virtually impossible to see anything and bring me back to my ridiculous, slapstick behaviour that recently led to me falling off the bike and being virtually incapacitated for a month. As I rode along Barnfield it was as if I had somehow managed to wrap a load of elastic bands around my head, distorting everything, particularly my vision. I stopped twice to re-arrange the eye holes, but ultimately it was foolhardy wearing this particular item of headgear. I should have taken it off, but instead I persevered, drawing strange looks from other road users, including the police, who might have thought I had just robbed a bank and had made my getaway on a stolen bicycle.

Round at mum's...
I followed the usual route: down Jarvis Road, across the Brighton Road, up Hayling Park Road, across the mini roundabout and around the edges of Purley Playing Fields until I met up with the A23. I turned right at the lights by the Hilton National and then left through the "Grand Theft Auto" industrial estate which, as always, was littered with 'white van' men. On to the Stafford Road I headed towards Mellows Park, passing Wilson's School and then on towards Wallington High Street, across the lights, past the gym and down towards the Boundary Road roundabout before a mild ascent along Stanley Park Road, a right into Crichton Road, past the Village Bakery and right on the road that leads down to the Windsor Castle lights where I turn left, followed by a right and then I'm at mum's.

Mum lets me bring my bike into the hallway because it's new and clean. I worry about leaving it outside on the extreme off chance that a thief might pass by. Highly unlikely as mum lives in a cul-de-sac and you don't get many passers-by in a cul-de-sac.

"Would you like a boiled egg?"

I declined, having enjoyed one earlier, but settled for tea and two slices of fruit cake. Well, I was on the bike, I'd just riden six or seven miles and I had a similar mileage back so I knew I'd burn off the calories.
A mug of tea and my first slice of fruit cake...

Jon rang while I was there so we had a brief chat and soon, after tea and cake, it was time to head home. The journey back is a carbon copy of the outward ride, but in reverse, except that this time I'd asked mum to cut through the balaclava and get rid of the eye holes. Much better! I said goodbye, promising to return on Sunday as it's mum's birthday next week and I won't get time to drop round due to work pressures. I still haven't bought her anything and to be honest it's hard to buy something for an 87-year old woman who has everything she'll ever need. Normally I'll buy her a plant or something for the kitchen. Over the years I've bought her vases and little Melamine trays and tea cups and tea towels, you name it, butter dishes, teapots, egg cups, that sort of thing, mainly because that's the sort of person mum is; she likes homely things and has always lived a kind of Brambly Hedge existence, making cakes and pies and listening to Radio Four at the crack of dawn while watching the foxes play on the lawn.

The problem, of course, is that when I find myself in John Lewis, wondering what to buy her, it all gets a little frustrating. 

"What about tea towels?"
"She's got loads of tea towels."
"A cup?"
"Have you seen how many mugs and cups she's got?"
"A paperweight?"
"Too boring."
"This is nice."
"What is it?"
"I don't know."

So as I write this I have nothing for her bar a card from M&S and that invariably means the default present of some flowers, but I'm always getting her flowers or a plant and I'm sure her face sags sub-consciously with disappointment when I bring them out, although she'll never say anything. But what exactly do you buy and 87-year-old woman? Clothes are out of the question, although, in the past, I have bought her gloves and scarves. It's difficult and it's going to bug me all day, especially when you consider how much work needs to be done.

Mum and yours truly, Saturday morning 'round at mum's'
A trip to IKEA
I've been to IKEA. Now there's a shop I absolutely abhor, although it does have a rather impressive catering operation. My homeless fantasy revealed itself again while I followed the arrows on the floor and suddenly realised that IKEA was a bit like the Perky Pat Layouts of Philip K. Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

As we passed various bedroom layouts I wondered how easy it would be to stay behind after everybody had gone home and simply get into bed and sleep. I wonder if anybody has ever tried it? Perhaps at night time there are a handful of homeless people snuggled up under the covers enjoying a decent kip away from the mean streets of South London, who knows?

In the canteen or cafeteria or whatever they call such a massive catering operation, I realised that if I was on benefits, even if I was sleeping in a tent in the woods, IKEA would be the place to visit for food. It's possible to pay under £2 for a main course meal – Swedish meat balls, mashed potato and greens – meaning one could live Monday to Friday on ten pounds. And the food's alright. I ordered a couple of paninis and a bowl of soup, plus tea (95p per mug) and we sat there watching a Japanese toddler enjoy a bowl of peas and carrots. At least he wasn't being fed chicken nuggets and baked beans, I thought.

We wound our way around the store, passing bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and bathrooms and with every step I was getting bored. There's only so much I can take of this sort of place, although such a visit does rather characterise my weekends – or rather it is a chief ingredient. I'm not saying that I visit IKEA very often, but it would slide easily into the 'shopping for something' element of my weekends; and if we're not shopping for something we'll drive aimlessly into the countryside and end up in a teashop somewhere. Don't get me wrong, I love it. And while trampsing around IKEA isn't that much fun, it beats working and it's kind of part of family life along with watching Saturday evening television, cottage pie and going for an early morning ride on the bike.

Having been to IKEA, of course, there's always an item of flat pack furniture that needs assembling, so I know what I'll be doing for most of the day.

It's now 0725hrs and all is quiet. I'm sitting here in the glow of the lamp with the red bulb, breakfast eaten, tea cup empty – make that a mug, a Catherine Kidson 'bowl' would be a better description – and all I can hear is the sound of the house, the purr of the central heating. 

I'd better sign off, except to say that I need to address the serious lack of cycling these past five or six weeks. I'm pretty much to blame for falling off the bike on October 1st, but what with the bad weather and the odd bit of travelling, it's not good and we all need the exercise. Here's hoping that next week we're out and about and that the weather is at least dry. I've yet to ride to Westerham on the Rockhopper, so I'm looking forward to that possibility.

Rockhopper 29 Sport
On the Rockhopper front, everytime I ride it I realise what a splendid machine it is; those 29in wheels are a treat and so are those 27 gears. In essence, there's not a hill I can't climb or a straight stretch of flat road I can't exploit – it's a brilliant bike.

Now, where's the flat pack furniture? Ah yes, it's in the hallway...

Monday, 14 November 2016

Andy rides to Godstone Green...

While yours truly had family matters to attend to – mum came round for lunch – Andy and Phil both went out, but not together. Andy rode to Godstone Green and Phil went out with Steve for a 50-kilometre ride and later texted me the details. I say 'the details', he said he rode with Steve for 50km.

There's nowt worse than not going cycling when the weather's fine, as it was on Sunday, but these things happen.
Andy's racer on his ride to Godstone Green, Sunday
Here's a shot taken by Andy, of his racer, which he rode to Godstone Green, somewhere we haven't visited together for a while, mainly because of recurring gear problems with my old Kona. Now, of course, I can tackle any hill and there's a nice caff in the farm shop on the A25, although a cup of tea and some biscuits on the green would be just as enjoyable. That said, there's no cover, another reason for not going there.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Trump – he takes 'the biscuit'...

"In a ritual out of sight of the cameras on Inauguration Day in January, America's 'nuclear briefcase' will change hands and President Donald Trump will receive a card, sometimes known as the 'biscuit'. The card, which identifies him as commander-in-chief, has on it the nuclear codes that are used to authenticate an order to launch a nuclear attack. At that point, should he wish, Mr Trump can launch any or all of America's 2,000 strategic nuclear missiles. There are no constitutional restraints on his power to do so." 

The Economist, 12-18 November 2016

Next month, this man is handed the nuclear briefcase...
Cycling was rained off yesterday and, in a sense, as I've said before, Andy wasted an 'abort' text, not a problem, as I've also said before, because we don't 'own' a finite number of aborts. I was glad it was raining yesterday as I'd returned home late from Dusseldorf on Friday night and needed the lie-in. Unfortunately, I can't go cycling today and, as I write this, the sun is shining brightly and it looks like it's going to be a fantastic day. Still, you can't have everything – and there's always next week.

Not going cycling means what? Well, I could moan about Donald Trump being the new president of the United States of America. I've done that. I could have a go at the Brexiteers. I've done that too and let me tell you, it still smarts, or, well, or what? In short there's not much more to write about. The newspapers are full of Donald Trump stories and so is the television news, the political programmes and, of course, the satirical shows. Facebook is jammed packed with stuff about Trump, all of it negative and some people are posting videos of extreme right Brits who think they have a mandate to wreak havoc among the ethnic minorities. They think that, at last, their day has come and perhaps it has and we all need to watch out. I say 'we all' as if I'm part of an ethnic minority. I'm not, but it's still a worry and, as I've said in a previous post, for me it's as if there are two vultures sitting on a fence behind me, day in and day out, representing Brexit and Donald Trump. It's true. You know when you're up and out of bed and doing stuff and you feel kind of positive about things, but there's something nagging at you, something unpleasant, and you can't quite work out what is? And then you remember: a dentist appointment, a hospital check-up? Ah! No, it's Trump, he's the President of the United States of America.

There's some good articles in yesterday's Guardian and one, by the novelist Ian McEwan, took my fancy. His opening paragraph says it all, let me quote it for you: "Charles Darwin could not believe that a kindly God would create a parasitic wasp that injects its eggs into the body of a caterpillar so that the larva may consume the host alive. The ichneumon wasp was a challenge to Darwin's already diminishing faith. We may share his bewilderment as we contemplate the America body politic and what vile thing now squats within it, waiting to be hatched and begin it's meal."

That, to me, sums up what many people all around the world are now thinking. McEwan adds that 'stunned disbelief, a condition at which we are beginning to be adept, is a form of denial that fades quickly, but not smoothly'.

But the truth of the matter, of course, is that Trump is the president and we've got to get through it. With a bit of luck it won't run for the full four years – now that would be a result. Already there have been major protests around the US – in big cities like Chicago and Portland and elsewhere – and there's a good chance that they will continue, let's hope they intensify.

Writing in the same newspaper, Richard Ford argues that "Moral leadership would be useful to us now. We've just had eight years of it. Goodness knows where we're headed next." Ford voted for Clinton because he thought she would make a far superior president. He thought he knew what was best for the 'other fellow' – "all those rural or rust-belt, under-educated, under-employed white guys, or Latinos or blacks who don't feel sufficiently noticed by their elected officials – but he was wrong. As a result, Ford feels he has lost his feel for the authentic and might be guilty of a lack of empathy for those 'out in the hinterland who feel so hard-pressed that they had to vote for a miscreant'.

He's now thinking of a bumper sticker reading, "Blame me. I voted for Hillary." Ford ends his piece by stating, "Goodness knows where we're headed next. It's time for us to resuscitate our deflated citizenship, time to pay more attention, own up, not just fade away, blame the other guy, and forget."

The Guardian, understandably perhaps, is full of negative words and phrases, like 'dystopia', 'unfettered surveillance', how Trump's world is 'too dark', even for Leonard Cohen, who sadly died this week. Then there's 'American nightmare' and, I must say, a great sentence from Emine Saner who writes, "True, not everyone who voted for Brexit or Trump is a rabid mysogynist racist, but these wins allow rabid misogynist racists to believe people are behind them. It doesn't have to be like that."

What I found surprising, however, was the coverage given to Trump by The Economist. I normally read it when I want reassurance as it provides balanced, calming, sensible, considered coverage of business and politics around the world, but not this week. While there were many articles about the likely outcomes of Trump as US president, they included some very worrying box copy about Trump having access to the nuclear codes. I always thought that while the US president has direct access to the codes, there were various checks and balances that would prevent him (or her) from simply pushing the button. But no, apparently not. It's down to the president alone, meaning that Trump could be lying in bed on a Saturday evening, 'adopting the position' and getting little joy from the process and might then decide, out of sheer frustration, to send a few nukes in the direction of Russia.

Here's the worrying text for you to consider: "In a ritual out of sight of the cameras on Inauguration Day in January, America's 'nuclear briefcase' will change hands and President Donald Trump will receive a card, sometimes known as the 'biscuit'. The card, which identifies him as commander-in-chief, has on it the nuclear codes that are used to authenticate an order to launch a nuclear attack. At that point, should he wish, Mr Trump can launch any or all of America's 2,000 strategic nuclear missiles. There are no constitutional restraints on his power to do so."

It's Remembrance Sunday and loads of crusty old politicians, former soldiers and members of the Royal Family are gathered around the Cenotaph in London, paying their respects to those who gave up their lives in two world wars and various other conflicts around the globe. I wonder what the Queen is thinking, standing there dressed in black and knowing that Donald Trump is not only the President Elect of the United States of America, but a volatile man who has made serious racist and misogynist comments during his election campaign AND!!! will soon take ownership of the so-called nuclear briefcase.

As The Economist put it in a leader article, "History is back – with a vengeance."

Friday, 11 November 2016

In Dusseldorf – my favourite European city

Room 111, Burns Art & Culture Hotel
The WiFi in this here Starbucks, where I'm sitting right now, trying to pen this post, is awful. When I switched on my computer, the power left was at 98%, but I've just this minute logged on, after a lot of faffing about, and it's down to 71%. Anyway, enough moaning. I'm in the old town (or Alt Stadt) of Dusseldorf, enjoying a large mug of English Breakfast tea, having just left a German restaurant a short walk away. I'm not eating any cake or cookies because the meal I've just had was spot on perfect and I had a dessert so I'm happy when it comes to food and a cup of tea is just what the doctor ordered.

I decided to walk to the Alt Stadt from my hotel having faffed around at one of those automated ticket machines and, for some reason, I couldn't use the credit card. Very annoying, but at least I got the exercise.

I'm staying – or rather I was staying – in the Burns Art & Culture hotel, not a million miles from the Burns Art Hotel and, in my opinion, while both are great hotels, the former is better, although I had a tremendous room (well, let's call it a small apartment) in both establishments. I think it's just the Burns Art Hotel concept that I love so much: the quirky works of art, the spacious apartment-like rooms (seriously, my room for the last two days was basically a studio apartment). It had a bathroom and a bed, like all hotels, but there was much more: a huge, long table, kitchen units, a hob, fridge (full of spirits and beer) and a microwave. I'll be honest, at one stage, rather than visit my favourite restaurant (Da Bruno, Karlstrasse) I almost considered nipping down to the Kaiser supermarket, buying a sauce and some pasta and, well, staying in watching the television, drinking a glass or two of wine and generally making myself at home. But I didn't do that; I went out, mainly because earlier I had booked a table at Da Bruno, and I'm glad I did, as I enjoyed a wonderful meal (Parma ham and melon followed by a prawn dish, perfect). And before anybody gets on their high horse and starts saying that Parma ham and melon is up there with prawn cocktail, a sirloin steak and crinkle-cut fries followed by Black Forest Gateaux and washed down with a luke warm glass of Riesling, I know. I know! But it was nothing like that. In fact it was so good I went back last night too, but this time ordered bruschetta with Parma ham followed by a mushroom pasta dish. Perfect, as always. I tried to get back in there for lunch today, but they were having a private party – how bloody dare they! – so I ended up in a traditional German restaurant,  Zum Schiffchen on Hafenstrasse 5, 40213 Dusseldorf, tel 0211 132421. Seriously, it was good. I ordered roasted salmon with boiled potatoes and greens and four very small beers (in total roughly a pint). Dessert was this amazing thing I can't describe, a cake of sorts, a bit cheese cakey, but there were cherries. It was wonderful.

Dessert – nice, but a little on the large side...
And now I'm in Starbucks and outside things are getting dark. Shops are looking inviting, there's an air of Christmas and there's also some kind of Carnival going on. It must be pretty big because there are special Carnival mugs in Starbucks and people are running around in nutty-looking costumes, there's live music, everything and the main thing is that people are happy, which is a good thing. It makes me proud to be a European, until I realise that those bastard Tories have managed to get us out of the European Union with a few lies and the help of nobs like Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and, of course, that Farage bloke. And if that's not enough, Donald Trump has found himself President of the USA – a fact that nobody bar a bunch of racist bigots in the USA is happy about, although I'd better throw in, "but not all Trump supporters are racist bigots". Of course not.

But it's not bothering the Germans. They're all dressed up in colourful outfits, drinking beer and having a great time until, I suppose, their elections, when some right wing nob cheese persuades Germany's 'unwashed' to vote for him or her and then there will be stark reminders of what things used to be like when Germans wore smart uniforms and sent Jews to concentration camps. Let's hope not. We can't have the entire world full of extreme right wing idiots and a load of ineffective left wing parties moaning and doing nothing about it, can we? I have a sneaky suspicion we can.

Taking a tram across town...
I've got a late flight out of here, but I've booked my taxi from Heathrow to home and I just want to get there now. At the moment I'm engaged in 'hanging around'. I'll need to go back to my hotel to pick up my suitcase and then I'll walk to the central station (or take a cab to the airport) where I'll probably have a glass of Merlot.

I'm wracking my brains to remember if there's anything that has annoyed me these past two days and to be honest, apart from Trump and Brexit, there's nothing. The hotel was great, the restaurant was great, the Germans were great, this Starbucks is great and the meal I've just enjoyed at Zum Schiffchen was also great. Nothing to moan about! Look it's simple really: I love this city, I love the people, the food, the beer, everything about it, even the taxi drivers are civil individuals. None of that, "You're never guess who I had in the back of me cab last night" rubbish. I bet most British cabbies voted to leave the European Union.

I was wondering yesterday whether there was any way I could change my nationality, become a German, but unfortunately I'm one of those people who is pure English, nothing else. I'm not even half Irish, I don't have any kind of dual nationality thing going on; I'm fucking buggered! Sadly, I'm an Englishman, with a shitty Tory party in charge of my affairs and nowhere to run. I can't say I'm proud of my country. The idea of moving to the USA doesn't appeal any more either, not now that Trump's in charge. Some people use the word 'trump' to describe a fart, as in, "after all those baked beans last night I couldn't stop trumping."

Bruschetta with Parma ham at my favourite restaurant...
The Dusseldorf carnival continues. A drum beat outside heralds the arrival of brightly coloured people dressed in a kind of blue outfit and holding aloft a flag, that was also blue, but I've seen people in all sorts of weird outfits today. There have been men in airmen outfits, women dressed as cheerleaders, people wearing silly headgear, live music, and I have no idea what it's all about.

That's what I thought, a quirky hotel...
Actually, I'm sitting here in a black rain coat and a woolly hat with my black-rimmed glasses on. I must look really stupid as a woman passing by caught my eye and was sort of smiling at me in a way that said, "God, you look stupid!" Well, hey, I know, alright? I know I look like a nob and I'm proud. I could take the hat off, but why bother, I'll only end up leaving it behind and it was given to me by the disgraced Prime Minister of Iceland – good reason to hold on to it, I'd say.

More people with silly outfits pass by outside and I'm now thinking I'd better get out of here, head back to my hotel, retrieve my suitcase and trundle on down to the railway station to catch a train to the airport. My computer has just 13% power left so that's it folks, I'm signing off.

I'm now back in the UK. Things got a little hectic. I left the Starbucks and made my way on foot to the hotel, but got slightly lost; it was dark and somewhere, temporarily, I took a wrong turn, but miraculously I found myself back on track.

When I reached the hotel I charged up the lap top for a bit and charged my phone too as I was going to need it for when I reached Heathrow's Terminal 5. The flight was smooth, there were clear skies and I had some more Island Bakery Lemon Melts, although the photograph below of the biscuits was taken on the outward flight, which was also very pleasant. I reached home just before 2300hrs, in time for a bit of Graham Norton. It's good to be home.

Island Bakery Lemon Melts – woof!!!!