Sunday, 31 July 2016

The last of the short rides to Botley Hill...

Botley Hill, Sunday morning. Photo: Andy Smith
Fortunately, today, Sunday, represents the last of the short rides to Botley Hill. Last week, as avid readers will know, I rode to Botley Hill twice, early, as I had stuff to do during the day that required me being back at the house before 0930hrs. Alright, once in a while it's fine, but it's nice to ride a little further – to the churchyard or the village or even Westerham, not to mention the lakes, although we haven't been along Pilgrim's Lane for a long while.

It was just Andy and I today – and for good reason. Phil was in Sardinia embarking upon day two of his honeymoon. On Friday just past (29th July) Phil married Jane and now, as husband and wife, they're probably soaking up a few rays of Sardinian sunshine.

Both Andy and I and our respective other halves attended the wedding at the splendid Wiston House near Steyning in West Sussex. It was a great day in so many ways – decent weather for a start, great food and, of course, great company.

Wiston House has to be seen to be believed. It's an amazing place surrounded by beautiful grounds and it even has it's own church, although the wedding was a civil ceremony, and I gave a reading at the beginning and managed to finish it without any hiccups, which is always good news and fortunately, is generally the case.

The Kona Scrap at Botley Hill

The weather wasn't supposed to be as good as it was. During the week Phil had been watching the forecast and was concerned that there might be rain, but there was nothing but hazy, English summer sunshine throughout the day and into the early evening.

There's accommodation at Wiston House some of us stayed over and had the pleasure of continued decent weather the following morning. After breakfast – and having said our goodbyes – we took a stroll around the grounds and then headed south to Shoreham, the plan being to take a look at the place before driving home, but there was a sudden (and prolonged) downpour of rain, which prompted us to find the A23 and drive home. The rain stopped as soon as we moved away from the coast and the good weather continued for the whole of Saturday.

Sunday was the same. I left the house for Botley Hill around 0635hrs and was quite surprised to find the temperature a bit nippy. So nippy that I considered returning to the house to pick up the rust-coloured jacket, but decided instead to push ahead along Ellenbridge, up Elmfield and, ultimately, up Church Way.

Like last week I was cycling alone, leaving the house earlier and meeting Andy at Botley Hill. This was to save time and to ensure that I was back home before 0930hrs (I got home around 0906hrs). Thinking about it, however, it was pointless leaving earlier as I met Andy, who left at the usual time and we both headed home at the same time, so why I pushed the envelope and left early I'll never know. I think it made me feel more comfortable in myself in the sense of getting there early, being there when Andy arrived and then seemingly have greater control over the time we headed back. Whatever the reason, I don't have to do it again.

A fine morning at Botley Hill...
The weather warmed up as I rode along the Limpsfield Road, past Warlingham Green, then Warlingham Sainsbury's and, of course, Knight's Garden Centre. From then onwards the 269 was very quiet and there was hardly anybody around as I rode towards Botley Hill. I arrived at just gone 0730hrs, quite early, and parked the bike. I took off my crash helmet and paced up and down, partly to warm up as my back was cold. That might sound odd, but having had my rucksack pressing against me for the duration of the ride, the sweat cooled and I found myself feeling a little chilly.

The sun was up and the skies were blue and, like last week, there was a paraglider in the skies. A motorised paraglider who had taken off from a nearby field and was now buzzing around above me taking in the same scenery he took in last week. Wasn't he bored? Soon Andy arrived, from a different direction than last week. Instead of following the tried and tested route, he came from The Ridge and was riding his racer. Today, he told me, was Ride London.

Out came the tea and biscuits and Andy and I talked about Friday's wedding and Wiston House, which had impressed us both. Then we moved on, for some reason, to winning the lottery. I said if I won millions I'd buy a house on the beach, nothing the size of Wiston House, but probably something with five or six bedrooms and a decent sea view. That said, I'm quite happy where I am and what about the cycling? If I lived on the South Coast I wouldn't be riding to the Tatsfield Bus Stop or the village or the churchyard. I wouldn't be riding to Westerham or the lakes, but I guess I'd find other places to visit on the bike, like Arundel and Littlehampton and Pagham beach, which is always a little desolate. I'd probably give up work and travel a lot. I might have a place in Italy and I'd let my pals visit rent-free and I'd probably spend a lot of time out of the country, on holiday.

It was soon time to ride home and there was still a mildy cool breeze as we headed down the 269. It made me wish I'd worn that rusty old jacket. Andy and I parted company at the green and I headed home on the Limpsfield Road, getting home, as I said, around 0906hrs.

Later I went to mum's and sat in the garden eating fruit cake and drinking tea. Being round at mum's always reminds me of when I was a kid and dad was alive, reading his newspaper and smoking his Three Castles cigarettes in the sunshine.

During the summer months mum's garden is completely secluded, which is great. But the sound of mowers and radios in adjacent gardens and the occasional train travelling from Carshalton to Sutton or vice versa can't be shut out – not that I've ever shunned the sounds of trains and radios and neighbours mowing their lawns.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

To Botley Hill – twice!

The weather throughout the weekend was fantastic, requiring little more than a tee-shirt and trousers on both rides. We rode to Botley Hill, mainly because of time constraints for both of us. I had to drive to west London for a family event and Andy had to go shopping – Phil gets married on Friday and both Andy and I, plus our respective other halves, are invited.

Andy's Kona Blast at Botley Hill. Pic: Andy Smith.
On a good day, even Botley Hill looks like an inviting destination. We met at the green as usual and enjoyed a short but pleasant ride, the fast way along the 269, stopping outside the pub where there is a strip of grass on the roadside. It was then a simple matter of eating a few biscuits and drinking tea.

After a short while we headed home, parting at the green and vowing to ride again on Sunday, which we did, although this time it was only me with the time constraints. I texted Andy saying let's meet at Botley. I planned to leave around half an hour earlier than usual, get to the green and hang around for Andy, then drink the tea and munch the biscuits and then head home. I needed to be back by 0930hrs, hence the earlier start. It all worked fine. Having made the tea I left the house just before 0645hrs and reached Botley Hill at 0737.

It was such a wonderful day. The sun was out, the skies were blue and everything was still. All I could hear was the birds in the hedgerows and possibly the occasional sheep in a distant field. If it wasn't heaven on earth it was pretty close. You couldn't really get much better and once again I felt as if I should camp somewhere, in an adjoining field. It would have been great, I thought, to wake up here at sunrise with nothing but the cool air, the blue sky and the sound of the wild life waking up to a new day.

Andy arrived just before 0800hrs and, like yesterday, we chatted about stuff while drinking tea and eating those BelVita biscuits. The subject was the pointlessness of social media, a subject we have visited before. Once again I found myself saying how I'd been on Linkedin since early 2009 and have only ever been singled out for a job interview once – back in 2010. Facebook with paperclips is how I would describe Linkedin. Like most social media I could live without it. Likewise Twitter, although the blog, the one you're reading right now, is fine. Fine because I'm not doing it for any reason other than my own entertainment.

We could have spent the rest of the morning there chatting about this and that, although the tea had run out and so had the biscuits. There was, however, the Botley Hill Farmhouse pub and it's so-called Sheep Shed, which sold tea and cakes, so we wouldn't have starved. But it was time to head home.

The day remained warm and sunny and I spent most of it in the back garden mowing lawns and pulling out sycamore trees growing in the flowerbeds.

My next ride will be Sunday and it will probably be similar to this Sunday's ride as I have to take somebody somewhere early in the morning. Botley Hill will beckon again and if the weather holds, all will be fine with the world.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

To the Tatsfield churchyard – the slow way (part two)

It was another fine morning. No direct sunshine as such, but it was warm. Very warm. Tee-shirt weather. I sat in the house, on the computer, writing a review of Tiffins, a teashop in Petworth, West Sussex – click here for more – and also for Trip Advisor. When I looked at the clock it was almost 0700hrs and I knew that Phil would be outside and raring to go so I switched off the computer, ran into the kitchen, made the tea, put on a pair of trainers and managed to be on the doorstep – actually in the garage unlocking the bike – at 0706hrs. Not bad going.

Yesterday, Phil and Steve had cycled a good 50km (he'd returned home around 11am) while as regular readers will know already, Andy and I headed for the Tatsfield churchyard where we stuffed our faces with biscuits before remounting our bikes and heading home.

Beddlestead Lane – it looks harmless, but it's one long uphill struggle...
When we reached the green we waited for Andy, pretending, when he arrived, that we'd been sitting there for ages. Then we decided that another visit to the Tatsfield churchyard would be good as there's nothing better on a hot day than an English churchyard. We also decided to go the slow way so that we could chat a little and not have to worry too much about cars on the 269, although there was plenty of loose gravel in the road, especially at the bottom of Hesiers Hill. "Gravel!" I shouted, and we all managed to stay on our bikes and continue up Beddlestead Lane, the long, inclining Beddlestead Lane that never seems to end.

Phil had bought himself a small saddle bag that amazingly managed to contain a large china cup and a puncture repair kit; he'd also been given, by Steve, a Garmin mileage monitor.

At the churchyard we discussed many things, even that philosophical argument about nothing really existing and how we all saw reality differently. We moved on to discuss how everything we see before us is made up as we go along so that, for example, nobody else exists except for us and we make up, create, our own reality as we move along. I started to mention a book by Philip K Dick, UBIK, and a character called Jory Miller and I think at that point Phil got a little bored. Perhaps rightly so.

We all loved the Englishness of the Tatsfield churchyard, we all loved its peace and tranquility and we all agreed that it was very the best place to be on a day like today – warm, hazy sunshine and a very slight breeze every now and then. The perfect setting.

The conversation turned towards how we could all sit there for most of the day doing nothing and this in turn morphed into a conversation about the traditional Bavarian breakfast of white sausage with sweet mustard washed down with a chilled German beer. This came about because we were discussing what would make a stay at the churchyard a little more appealing – what would keep us there for hours on end. In fact, it started by discussing down-and-outs and their penchant for churchyards. We talked about drinking cans of Special Brew, crushing them after use and generally making a mess of the place and how such behaviour would certainly be frowned upon by those in charge of the churchyard. I said we could move to an adjoining field, if things got nasty, and sling our used cans over our shoulders and into the churchyard – and this led towards the conversation about the Bavarian breakfast.

It was then decided that after Phil's wedding – and when he returns from his honeymoon – we would enjoy a Bavarian breakfast of our own making at the Tatsfield churchyard – weather permitting. Phil would make the sausage sandwiches and Andy and I would provide chilled beer (we opted for Stella, but we could always buy a German beer, there are plenty of different brands available). The idea, however, was Phil's sausage sandwiches washed down by two cans of Stella each. Here's hoping for continued good weather, in the sense of no rain or cold temperatures, when we eventually pick the day for the mad, early morning Bavarian breakfast.

We walked our bikes down the steps to the roadside laughing about the idea of the Bavarian breakfast caper – something that would now definitely be happening. Secretly, I think we're all looking forward to it.

Sunday was Phil's last ride this side of his forthcoming marriage on 29th July – NoVisibleLycra will be represented in the shape of Andy and yours truly.

The Sunday weather continued to be unbelievable – and, like yesterday, would remain so. In fact it improved and the sun came out. The rest of my day was fairly lazy. I cleaned up a tent in the back garden and let it dry in the sun before stuffing it back into its bag. I visited mum's for tea and cake. We all sat in mum's garden, which was in full bloom, and talked about this and that.

Dinner later was chicken risotto followed by an early evening lounging around in the garden as the sun went down. There was a full moon that later illuminated the entire garden like a spotlight. I talked about how we should camp out in the garden, but I think I'm alone on that one.

I went to bed early, opening the rear and front windows to let in some fresh summer air. I started to nod off but had to go downstairs to lock things up. This act, however, led to me watching Long Way Down, a movie starring Pierce Brosnan and Sam Neill, all about four people who, I think, make a suicide pact. It was a comedy, oddly, and I had to stick with it to the end, eventually retiring to bed around 11.30pm.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

To the Tatsfield Churchyard... the slow way!

Phil was off Lycra-monkeying, leaving Andy and yours truly to nosh biscuits and drink tea at the Tatsfield Churchyard. "We might as well make the most of this weather," said Andy as we pulled out of Warlingham Green, heading south on the Limpsfield Road.

We decided to go the slow way via Beddlestead Lane – always a pain in the proverbial – and as Andy and I pedalled up the endless hill we started to wonder when it would all end, although we kind of knew that once we passed the dead tree and then the mobile phone mast, it would soon be over and we would be on Clarks Lane. From there it's all down hill and the only bad bit is the walk up some steps to the churchyard, with our bikes, where we park up, take a pew and eat the biscuits, BelVita Milk and Cereal, our favourites. On the tea front, the PG Tips has been used up and we're back on the Twining's English Breakfast – a much smoother and more flavoursome brew. Not as harsh.

We sat and chatted about Andy's photographic work and then we moved on to discuss how great life would be if we had around £100,000 in the bank. The conversation developed from the notion that, at any one time, a lot of people are just four weeks from out and out poverty and possibly homelessness. Four weeks! "What we need is a buffer of, say, £100,000," one of us said, and then we got on to the idea of having a mundane job, one we could leave behind at the end of the day and just switch off. Something like an Ocado delivery driver.
Is it a bird, is it a plane or is it a clothes catalogue pose?

The weather was perfect and it got better as the day progressed. Foolishly, I wore my rust-coloured jacket over a tee-shirt plus a pair of cords and some heavy walking boots – not ideal in hot weather, but it wasn't that bad.

The ride back was exhilarating. We stuck to the 269 and parted company at Warlingham Green. I reached home around 1000hrs, showered and shaved and then headed off into darkest West Sussex where later I would sample the delights of Tiffin's, a great little caff on one of Petworth's back streets, although, theoretically, it was the town's High Street.

Right now it's 1742hrs and it's still very muggy, if a little overcast, outside. We're on for a ride tomorrow and the weather's going to be warm but cloudy. There might be some overnight rain, which could mean wet roads, but hey, with a new rear mudguard, I can rest assured that my arse will remain dry or, as Andy might say, "nice and comfy". Andy, incidentally, bought me the aforementioned mudguard so thanks very much, Andy.

You may be wondering why – or perhaps what – Andy is pointing at in the shot accompanying this post. The answer is nothing at all. We'd been chatting about typical photographic poses adopted by models, specifically those found in clothes catalogues, involving men or women or both pointing at something, normally while wearing deck shoes and nautical-themed clothing. Well, that's what the photograph is all about. Silly, I know, but there you have it.

Here's hoping we get out tomorrow.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The First Euroflat Hotel, Brussels...fine, but no hot water in the shower

You can be staying in a fantastic hotel, in a great room, with a sofa, a balcony, a table, a minibar, wall-mounted television, a couple of cooking rings, a domestic-sized fridge, a decent enough view and even a few empty bookshelves to stack up should your stay be longer than a couple of days. But it's amazing how things can very quickly 'go wrong'.

First, the check-in: it was perfect. Quick is crucial and this involved a small form to be filled in and then being handed my key card. The elevator was quiet. Very quiet. So quiet I wondered if it was moving, but it was and soon I was on the fifth floor looking for room 510, which was on the left at the end of the corridor. The key card was good too: not a slot affair that doesn't work on the first two or three attempts, but like an Oyster card. The door never failed to open. Then the room. It was great and very spacious (see previous paragraph).

The European Commission – very close to the Euroflat
When I arrived at the First Euroflat I took note of the four stars that adorned the side of the building. Oddly, however, there was no restaurant, which, as I've said many times before, is not always a bad thing, although I'll admit that there's nothing like a decent hotel restaurant. It means you don't have to 'go out' and seek a decent meal and it means you can chill out and then jump in the elevator and head for bed.

The fact that there wasn't a restaurant, however, meant that I did have to go in search of a decent restaurant for dinner. It wasn't a problem as everything was close-by; sometimes taxis are involved and it's winter and that makes it all a little depressing, but it's the summer – it's July and there's still daylight, so all is well.

After dinner I returned to the hotel and went straight to my room. I watched TV and then, after using the spacious bathroom, I hit the sack. I got a reasonable night's sleep and headed down for breakfast around 0730hrs. The breakfast room on the ground floor was busy and it took me a while to find a table for myself. It looked as if I might have to ask, "Is this chair taken?" but fortunately I found an empty table. Five minutes later somebody asked me, "May I join you?" or something along those lines and of course it was fine.

The breakfast offering was fine as there was a wide selection of stuff: fresh fruit, cereal, cheeses, scrambled eggs, sausages, something else hot that I couldn't identify, pastries, bread, hard-boiled eggs, tea, coffee, fruit juices, the usual set-up and it was quite pleasant.

There was only one thing wrong with the hotel: the bathroom. Before breakfast I turned the tap of the shower and expected hot water, but all I got was cold. I let it run, but it was still cold. It took an age before things warmed up and where the shower was concerned I switched it off so that I could shave first, but when I turned it back on again, it was cold and I couldn't wait around so I went without. 

There wasn't much else negative about the First Euroflat – apart from the bar downstairs. There was never anybody there enjoying a drink or anything for that matter, and nobody manning the bar either. Not exactly welcoming. The only good thing about it was a tank full of tropical fish.

Check-out was as straightforward as check-in. I left my case in the storage room down the corridor from the front desk and went about my business, picking it up later when it was time to head home.

Excluding the bathroom issue, the First Euroflat hotel was fine: ideally located near to a handful of decent restaurants and about two minutes on foot to the Schuman railway station where a short journey took me to Brussels Midi and my Eurostar home. 

Would I stay here again? Probably, yes, but I'd be wary about the cold water issue. The rest was fine.

Still in Brussels...

After finishing writing my last post I headed out in search of some dinner. In a way I was spoilt for choice, but with such variety often comes disaster as what can only be described as culinary Russian roulette took place. I passed by a number of good places, one being a steak house, which I've never been keen on, plus a couple of bars, a German restaurant and an Indian restaurant (of which, more later). In the end I settled for an Italian restaurant, one of those places that offers a laminated menu. It was pretty standard Italian fayre: pizza, pasta, minestrone soup and so on, and would have been wonderful had I opted for something simple, like a pizza and a beer. But no, I went for the grilled salmon, which, to be fair, was pretty simple – the sort of thing I'd eat at home with mashed potato and green beans. I had a minestrone soup to start, which was very good, paving the way, perhaps, for a decent main course, but no, the salmon was undercooked and 'slushy' in the middle, just the way I hate it. The last time I ate salmon like this I think it may have contributed to my 100-yard sprint to the toilet along Pittsburgh's Penn Avenue back in May. That, my friends, could have been very embarrassing as there was no way I was going to get to my room. I had to hope there was nobody in the public toilets on the ground floor – there wasn't – but somebody did enter the room as I was in full flow, so to speak. Fortunately, they left before I emerged, meaning that I retained my anonymity.

But getting back to Brussels, and moving away from the subject of poo, the meal in the Italian restaurant – I won't name it simply because I've already given it a bad review on Trip Advisor and don't wish to rub salt into the wound – was, I suppose, disappointing. I finished off with Tiramisu, which was fine, but way too much. I ate half of it and then paid up, making the big mistake of leaving my jacket on the back of my seat and not realising until the following morning as I packed my suitcase. Fortunately, it was still there at lunch time (complete with my return Eurostar ticket) when I went back and retrieved it, feeling slightly guilty about that bad review, even if it was at least 48 hours away from being published. Look, I'll be honest, it wasn't a bad restaurant and had I not had that under-cooked salmon I would probably have given it a good review, but that salmon being under-cooked annoyed me, prompting my rather vitriolic prose.

Spicy Grill – the best Indian restaurant... in the world!
Because this was a whistle stop trip of just one night – the very worst kind of trip – there's not really a great deal to say about anything as I didn't really do a great deal. Normally, when there's a couple of days involved, I get around the town a bit, I use the bike share scheme, and I generally 'do stuff', but not on this trip. I spent the morning 'on business' and then, after picking up my jacket from the Italian restaurant around noon, I wandered around looking for somewhere to have lunch. I opted for a place called The Spicy Grill, an Indian restaurant where I sat and enjoyed poppadums, a naan bread, chicken jalfrezi and Bombay aloo, not forgetting pilau rice and a cold beer – perfect! I've reviewed The Spicy Grill on Trip Advisor (they have been given a glowing review for food, service and ambience of the highest order). In fact, I think I've found the best Indian restaurant... in the world!

Suitably refreshed I walked back to my hotel, which was no more than five minutes away on foot, retrieved my suitcase from the storage room on the ground floor, wrote the aforementioned Trip Advisor review for The Spicy Grill and then took the train from Schuman to Brussels Midi where I found time for a mug of English Breakfast tea and a Danish pastry. I could have done without the pastry. I met a man from Holland on his way to a Star Wars Convention in London. "I have the full Darth Vader costume in my case," he said proudly and I wished him well.

Soon I found myself en route to the UK in coach 3, seat 88. I had two seats to myself all the way back. We stopped at Lille and then Ashford in Kent and soon I was back on the platform at St Pancras International reading all about how Michael Gove finally got his come uppance for his treachery and was sacked alongside other 'villains' George 'we're all in this together' Osborne and Oliver 'I'm straight out of Dickens' Letwin, but sadly not Jeremy Hunt, who retains his incompetent ministerial role of Health Secretary.

Kwack beer at the Spicy Grill – wooferama!
I travelled across town on the tube and jumped on a direct train home from where I now write.

I know there's been issues with terrorism, but I like Brussels. The presence of soldiers at Brussels Midi was, as I said yesterday, reassuring. There's some pleasant little eateries around the European Commission area and you really can't beat Belgian beer. I enjoyed a Chimay Bleu last night at the Italian and at lunch time today a Kwack beer followed by another Chimay. Needless to say I was suitably chilled out for the rest of the afternoon.

On the Eurostar home a cup of tea and a bottle of mineral water sufficed. The rest of the time – it only takes two hours 'door-to-door' – I gazed out of the window at sunny green fields and cotton wool clouds.

For me the only disappointing element about my trip to Brussels was the fact that the UK voted to leave the European Union. I felt kind of guilty about it, even though I voted to remain and it wasn't my fault. Guilty and, of course, depressed. I felt even more depressed when I learned, late last night, that Boris Johnson had been appointed Foreign Secretary. That means that Johnson, an overweight, bumbling buffoon of a man, is a kind of PR man for the United Kingdom – he is being put forward as the face of the cuntry. Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond must be seething, and rightly so. I wouldn't put it past the Scots to vote out in a second referendum to go it alone, and who could blame them?

What hope is there for the United Kingdom if the rest of the world thinks we're all like Boris. But let's not forget the chant of the Brexiteers: "Let's make Great Britain great again!" Somehow I don't think so.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

In Brussels for the night...

I arrived at the Eurostar terminal in London with about 40 minutes to spare – or so I thought. My first problem was to obtain a ticket, albeit a free one. My fare had been paid by somebody (a rarity, but also a pleasant surprise) and all I had to do was key in the reference number and hey presto! But nothing is that simple. Or rather it is, but not today. It didn't work so I queued up to find out why and was quite prepared to simply go home if it all went pear-shaped.

Outside Bruxelles Midi station – the reassuring presence of the military
Fortunately, thanks to the very helpful woman on the information desk, all was well and soon I was through security with around 30 minutes, probably less, to grab something to eat before the train headed towards Brussels on roughly a two-hour journey. But that wasn't to be either and this time it kind of worked in my favour. There was a delay. The incoming train was late arriving and they put back the boarding time until 1530hrs. Fine by me! I ordered an egg and mayo sandwich and a millionaire's shortbread plus a cup of tea, but this was when I thought there were just minutes to spare. Once I knew I had time to relax and enjoy a leisurely snack (Caffé Nero's Millionaire's shortbreads, by the way, are to die for) I did just that, but it was pretty boring if the truth be known. I couldn't be bothered to read so I just sat there, munching the sandwich, chomping on the Millionaire's shortbread and sipping the tea. It meant, of course, that I could indulge in one of my favourite travelling pastimes – a glass of Merlot. Throw in a bag of sweet chilli potato chips (crisps) and, well, it was great, although still pretty boring.

The view from room 510...

The train boarded and I was in seat 73, coach 2. I thought, bearing in mind that somebody else was paying my fare, that I'd get a first class ticket, so it was pretty darn depressing when I noticed the figure 2 under the word 'class'. That's me, I thought, a second class citizen, but I wasn't really bothered. My aisle seat allowed me to stretch out a bit and en route I read a bit of Chomsky's Who Rules the World, it's a great book as it opens one's eyes to what's really going on, although, oddly, it's all stuff you kind of knew was true anyway.

Stuff like the so-called New Spirit of the Age, which is basically 'gain wealth forgetting all but self'. This led to what Chomsky describes as major industries devoted to the task of "'gaining wealth forgetting all but self' – PR companies, advertising, marketing, all of which contribute to what the political economist Thorstein Veblen called 'fabricating wants'. In other words, convincing us, the general public that we need and want things that we don't really want. It is, of course, all about putting the public in it's place – marginalising and controlling people who 'the establishment' (even to this day) regard as too stupid and ignorant to run their own affairs. "That task was left to the 'intelligent minority', who must be protected from "the trampling and the roar of [the] bewildered herd," the "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders" – the "rascal multitude, as they were termed by their seventeenth-century predecessors. The role of the general population was to be 'spectators', not 'participants in action, in a functioning democratic society."

The lush hotel garden below me...
What is amazing about Chomsky's book is the fact that, while 'the establishment' go on all the time about how great 'democracy' is and that's what we fought for in two world wars, the reality is that the further away from democracy we are, the better (for the establishment).

"A primary domestic task has always been to "keep [the public] from our throats," as essayist Ralph Walker Emerson described the concerns of political leaders when the threat of democracy was becoming harder to suppress in the mid-nineteenth century. More recently, the activism of the 1960s elicited elite concerns about "excessive democracy" and calls for measures to impose "more moderation" in democracy."

But enough of Chomsky (for now). After a pleasant journey in that lovely 'out of focus' state of mind easily captured by a large glass of Merlot, I stared out of the window, looking at wind turbines, which seemed to be rotating in slow motion and, in the process, slowing everything else down too. The train arrived at Bruxelles Midi around 1900hrs and I the first thing I noticed was the military presence – armed soldiers patrolling the station. It was strangely reassuring. I jumped into a taxi and the driver was a pleasant man in his early sixties who told me there were traffic jams around town and they were all to do with the erection of a fairground in the centre of town. After about 15 minutes we arrived at my hotel on the Boulevard Charlemagne, the First Euroflat, and all was wonderful from the word go.
My bed for the room 510.
I noticed before entering the hotel lobby that I was literally a stone's throw from the headquarters of the EU – that familiar-looking building with loads of flags outside. It was a wonderful evening: blue skies and sunshine and things were made even better by an efficient check-in. I was directed to the elevator and was more than plesantly surprised by the room. It was huge. There were two electric cooking rings, a sink, a large fridge, a glass table (on which I guess I could enjoy dinner, cooked by myself if I so wished) and then there was a huge sofa, a desk, a double bed and a bathroom. And let's not forget a full minibar, free and easily accessible WiFi and a balcony. The view from the hotel was wonderful too and if I looked down there was a pleasant garden with a pond. I couldn't really ask for me if the truth be known.

My sofa and desk... a great room

Sunday, 10 July 2016

To Tatsfield Village...

It's been a great day. From the very beginning to the very end. I woke in the middle of the night – well, I can't have it all, can I? I don't really know why, but I had a fretful dream of some sort and I awoke suddenly, heart racing. It might have been the heat so I opened the window to let in some fresh air. The other day we'd spoken about how sleeping in the open air was so, I don't know, so fresh and so relaxing.

As avid readers of this blog will already know, I'm obsessed – if that's the right word – with the idea of sleeping under the stars. I'm intrigued about finding the right spot in the woods, pitching my tent and then chilling out, perhaps burning a few logs, as the sun goes down before hitting the sack and getting a good night's sleep full of fresh air and the sounds of nature going on around me. I like the waking up when the sun rises, the smell of the dew and that refreshed feeling.

Phil fixes his puncture just past Botley Hill.
Yesterday evening, glass of beer in hand, the weather perfect, I strolled to the top of the garden where there's a large patch of ground that would be a perfect place to pitch a small tent. I could have sat there until dusk, drinking that beer, possibly having another one, before climbing into the tent and settling down for the night.

I'm not sure what the compunction is, but I think I'm seeking some kind of comfort, I can't figure it out. Walking around the block earlier in the day – or it might have been last week, I'm not sure – I found myself looking a patches of ground where, had I been homeless, but in possession of a tent, I might have considered spending the night. People close to me think I'm crazy. Perhaps they're right. In fact, I think they are right. And let's be honest, the reality would be different from the fantasy. I think initially I'd be listening out for potential enemies, but eventually, having found a secluded part of a wood, I'd settle down, I'd get used to the way things are and soon it would become second nature. But who am I kidding? Swapping a warm bed in a nice house for a Millets tent and a field? What am I on? Faced with the choice of a tent or a house, I know I'd choose the latter. What I really need to do is slap myself around the face with a large trout and then jump in pool of cold water for good measure.

So today it was going to be just Andy and I, but Phil joined us. He wanted a leisurely ride as he, like me, had been suffering from some kind of bug – the same bug that had given me a cold and a sore throat – in July.

The weather was good, in a cloudy, overcast sort of way, and completely different to yesterday, which was a hot, balmy day full of sunshine. It was warm today and there was greenery everywhere, cascading like fountains by the roadside. There's been a lot of rain lately and it's made everything grow and overflow.

Andy and Phil en route to Tatsfield village...
Phil and I had a short wait at the green, but soon Andy arrived and we all agreed to head for Tatsfield village. It was a good ride, the roads were relatively clear, the air was wonderful and the only downer was Phil getting a puncture just past Botley Hill. It took around 20 minutes to fix, probably less, say 15 minutes, and soon we were riding along Clarks Lane towards Approach Road where we hung a left and headed into the village.

The conversation was varied and we only discussed 'Brexit' for about five minutes – it's had enough air time on this blog and elsewhere. Most of the conversation revolved around electric bikes – for me, a bit like putting an outboard motor on a rowing machine – and how electric bikes have been used to cheat in major cycle races. And there was a bit of chat about Formula One and I said something about the Wimbledon Men's Final, which I later watched (Murray won in straight sets).

We drank tea and we munched biscuits and soon it was time to head for home. While it was warm it was also very foggy and there were odd spits of rain occasionally, but we didn't get a soaking. Once back at the green we said goodbye to Andy. Phil and I continued along the Limpsfield Road towards Sanderstead and home.

It's been a great day. The weather improved so I found myself mowing the front lawn – I did the rear lawn yesterday. Later, I sat in the garden with a chilled can of Stella, enjoying the moment. Right now I'm watching the news: the Dallas and Baton Rouge shootings, problems in Sudan and Kashmir and, as I write this, it's the final of Euro 2016 between France and Portugal*. At the time of writing, Ronaldo has been taken off the pitch due to injury and the score is still nil-nil. There's been some kind of trouble as tear gas has been used, but all seems well.

Heading back along Approach Road to Clarks Lane
It's 2128hrs and there's a wonderful light outside, almost like the Northern Lights. It's still warm out too, so I stepped into the garden and yes, you guessed it, I felt it was the perfect night to spend under the stars. It's warm enough to sleep out there in a bed with a decent duvet, let alone in a tent, and I can't think of anything better to do, except that I'm not prepared or anything. It would be great, lying on my back looking up at the stars (assuming its a clear night – tonight's pretty clear) and just chilling out. I know I'd get the best night's sleep ever, that's for sure.

* Portugual won 1-0 in extra time.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

No cycling, but there's plenty going on in the world...

It's Saturday morning. The weather is fine but I'm not on the bike. It's almost 0900hrs and normally I would be in Westerham drinking tea and munching biscuits, but I'm not. I'm sitting in my living room, at the table, writing. I'm not ill; that was last week, but I am feeling a little stuffed up, a little chesty, that's all. I'm not cycling purely because I had to take somebody somewhere and I think, shortly, I'll be taking other people to somewhere else. So no riding today, although I'm planning on being back in the saddle tomorrow (Sunday).

There comes a time with cycling when I find that we're all slacking a little bit. Suddenly, I notice that we're only going once a week and I feel something needs to be done before we stop going altogether, not that anything drastic like that would ever happen. In many ways, of late, I've been the chief culprit: giving people early morning lifts, having a cold, things must change.

So, with no cycling comes a boring post. You might have noticed recently how I've been a little angry about the Brexit vote. Well, I'm getting over it, just, although I notice that Leadsom – one of two women fighting to be Prime Minister following David Cameron's lily-livered decision to step down – has been shooting off about how she's the best bet for PM because she's got kids. Well, the fact that Teresa May, the favourite for the job, hasn't got any children – and clearly had trouble getting to the point where she realised she wasn't going to have any – escaped Leadsom's mind. Look, she's a banker and a Brexit banker too, she's not the woman for the job. May was a 'remainer' and while some say that's not a good qualification for the job (as she's got to negotiate our exit from the EU) the fact remains that May is a proper politician, not some jumped up banker (let's not forget that bankers are THE problem, not immigrants). Bankers are why we have austerity. So why have Leadsom in charge? Let her get back to looking after her children.

In a sense, of course, the country is rudderless. While we have a PM, he's keeping his head down, so the sooner the leadership contest is done and dusted, the better.

The British political system is in state of upheaval at the moment. Not only is there no real PM in charge of the country, we've got an opposition party that is falling apart. Half of the shadow cabinet – probably more – has resigned, the leader of the opposition should resign, but is staying put despite being urged to go by many leading figures of the Labour party, but he's hanging on. My view is he will never be the Prime Minister so he might as well go now and save the country from more Tories.
Leadsom – she's a banker so no way!

And then, of course, there's 'Brexit'. As I mentioned earlier, it's all dying down a little bit as people get used to the idea that we're coming out of the EU. Oddly, going back to Leadsom for a minute, she said in an interview with the Times newspaper that she would make a good PM because she has kids. She spoke about how she'd be looking out for her kids and I found myself thinking that she can't care that much about them or she would have voted to remain in the EU and not 'leave', but there you have it. To continue briefly with this digression, I think it's obvious that I'm all for Teresa May. I don't know why, I like her, she has a bird-like face, she's been on Desert Island Discs, her dad was a vicar for heaven's sake. What's not to like? Leadsom = banker. Not to be trusted.

And then, of course, there's upheaval of a different kind. Since the Brexit vote was announced there has been a marked increase in the number of racist attacks in the UK as those who believed the Brexit vote gave them carte blanche to tell foreigners to 'piss of back to their own country' and 'stop nicking all our jobs' decided to make their feelings known. For a lot of people, immigration was the big issue in the EU referendum and while it would be unfair to say that all Brexiters are racists – they're not – so-called 'Brexit' did provide those with racist tendencies (I doubt if any racists voted to remain in the EU) with a kind of mandate to up the racist ante a little bit.

What is slightly worrying is the spate of resignations that followed the EU referendum result. First Cameron sloped off, rather than stay and keep the country on course, thus triggering the leadership election. Then there was Boris Johnson – once the leadership contest was underway he stepped down having been shafted by Orville lookalike Gove who himself has been knocked out of the leadership contest. Then there was Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP. He said he wanted his life back. In my opinion, all of these people have one thing in common: they all fucked up the country and then buggered off and the last one will be Leadsom. She'll lose the leadership contest and crawl back under her stone.

No mention of resignations would be complete without mentioning Roy Hodgson, the manager of the England team at Euro 2016. He was managing a typically rubbish English football team and it goes without saying that the team lost and was sent packing. Immediately after they left the pitch, Hodsgon resigned his post. Leave voters say "Let's Make Great Britain Great Again", well, my view is that they won't make it great again, it's impossible. If you're outside of the UK, the best way to get an impression of what this country is all about is to watch an episode of Eastenders and/or a football match involving the England team – together they sum up what this country is all about. Oh, and throw in Britain's Got Talent too, another example of how it is IMPOSSIBLE to make Great Britain great again.

Teresa May should be the new Prime Minister
Meanwhile, in America, more racist attacks, this time policemen shooting black people and then black people shooting white policemen (five dead before the gunman was killed by some kind of robot). You reap what you you sow, remember that. Policemen shooting black people is common 'over there' and it's not good, but it's common – and it all ties in with the swing to the right that appears to be happening on both sides of the Atlantic. Over there it's 'let's make America great again' while over here it's been 'let's make Great Britain great again'.

Nationalism, incidentally, is the most dangerous thing there is and that's what this is all about. The reason it is happening is because our politicians have been too arrogant for their own good. They haven't been listening to the people, preferring instead to pander to big business and the banking community and ignoring the wishes of the people. That's why we're out of Europe – the masses have spoken – and it's a similar story in the USA. In the beginning Trump was a rank outsider, but I said it back then and I'll say it again, he WILL be the next US president. Where politics is concerned I've always felt that if I think about the worst thing that can possibly happen, it will happen. And sure enough, we're out of the EU and, I believe, Trump will be the leader of the free world. It's a bad place to be, but because our politicians simply aren't very good – nobody trusts them and they have no idea of how ordinary people live their lives – we're in this mess.

Micah Johnson – you reap what you sow
Trust in politicians is at an all-time low in the UK and it's a distrust that goes back to the invasion of Iraq and the likes of Tony Blair and Jack Straw, the two eternal villains of the piece. They lied to Parliament and the public, took us into an illegal war and didn't have an exit plan other than to simply up sticks and leave the Iraqis to get on with it – a bit like Cameron, Johnson, Gove, Farage and all those who figured they could take us out of the EU and then simply walk away.

This week saw the publication of the Chilcott Report – the long-awaited Chilcott Report. Basically, Lord Chilcott told us what we already knew, but it was good to see Blair squirming in front of the media and, on Channel Four News, to see Jack Straw apologising to camera. What next? Who knows? But one thing is for certain: nobody will end up in jail.

And now the sun is shining, it's just gone 1000hrs and I'm still sitting at the table writing this post. Next up? A trip to London to pick up a tent, a muddy tent that went to Glastonbury a few weeks ago. All I can say is that there will be a ride tomorrow.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Sore throat means no cycling this weekend...

Friday I noticed I had a slight sore throat. Saturday morning it was a little more pronounced and I wasn't feeling good. In fact I cancelled a ride I'd been planning with Phil to Westerham. During Saturday a Lemsip made things bearable and then, on Sunday, I had to abort a second ride. Phil's stag night, what a great occasion: a few beers and a curry, nothing over-the-top, but I wasn't feeling good and by the time I got home around 0100hrs or thereabouts, I hit the sack with a runny nose and that aforementioned sore throat. I sent an abort text to Andy prior to going to bed and now, here I am, at 1009hrs, Lemsipped up and feeling a little better. There was no way I could have riden anywhere this weekend and I really can't wait until next week when hopefully I'll have shaken off this awful cold and sore throat. It's early July, the weather in the UK has been appalling and, what's worst, we've left the EU, although as it sinks in I'll admit that while still a little angry, I'm coming round to the reality of the situation.
Robertsons Coffee Shop, Oxted, Surrey.

A new review has been posted on my Teashop and Caff blog – click here for more.

Teashop and Caff is another blog of mine. It's been going for roughly the same time as NoVisibleLycra but it's all about teashops and caffs, as the name suggests. And it's international in its scope as you'll see if you scroll through past posts.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

More thoughts on 'Brexit'...

Things are calming down on the Brexit front as people start to realise that 'democracy' has spoken and we've just got to get on with it; although, that said, there's a lot of tension out there as the country has clearly split into those who voted remain and those who voted out and neither side particularly like one another. The remain camp don't like the Brexiters because, they say, the battle was fought on the basis of immigration and the likes of BoJo and Gove and Farage lied to the public and now we're out of the EU. But the Brexiters believe that immigration is the big thing, they talk about how the country can't accommodate a constant influx of both EU and non-EU migrants and that an Australian points system would be best for the country. Remainers cite trade deals and the future for our children, unity and so on. It's one of those 'six of one, half a dozen of the other' arguments.

I admit that I wavered a little bit on polling day – or rather just before polling day. It's really odd, because in many ways perhaps I should have voted out. I'm always getting annoyed about the bankers and 'big business' and that whole notion of the EU being undemocratic. The way they have treated the Greeks, the uncertainty surrounding the Euro, the fact that 'free borders' has meant that places like Bruxelles and Paris are inflicted with the scourge of terrorism – there are lots of reasons to vote out. In fact, to stick it to the man, perhaps the best thing would have been to vote out.

Never trust anybody who bears a slight resemblance to Orville...
There are so many paradoxes. In many ways, the EU should be a 'left wing' thing – something borne out by the fact that bands at Glastonbury this year used the occasion to make their feelings known about 'Brexit', saying they were against it. In times past, the rock establishment has always come out against right wing politics and policies. But 'left wing' also in the sense of the EU being a huge bureaucracy, a massive 'machine' that takes an age to decide upon anything. The left, traditionally, likes 'the state' whereas the right is all for 'small government' and deregulation. There's also stuff around workers rights that attracts the left, which makes it odd that Jeremy Corbyn is a 'fervent anti-European' and I found it odd to discover that Lord Owen was the same. Perhaps I'm not as left wing as I think I am, but then I've always been middle-of-the-road politically. I can see the wisdom of the thinking on both sides, but I do tend to be 'left leaning'.

I seriously thought about voting out, a lot of the time wondering what would happen if we did – a bit like switching off your car headlights for a split second in the dark while driving along a country lane. Now that's scary. I like the idea, to a degree, about taking a step in the dark, although, ultimately, I think it's a bad thing – or rather it is at the moment. Things might improve, but I'm not holding my breath.

Walking to work of a morning I've started to play a new game. Spot the Brexiter. It's easy. Anybody who is old and gnarled and bad tempered-looking and any thick-set bloke with tattoos, a shaven head and a football shirt. And that, of course, is the other interesting thing about the Brexit vote: it's the little man standing up to the political elite. Big business has lost out. Soros (and others) have lost millions and that gives me a strange degree of satisfaction as that whole thing about the EU being an elite club, foreign workers being shipped in to bring down wages for the fat cats and so on. In a way Brexit is a kind of revolution, although I can't help but feel it will be short-lived. People forget that they're dealing with Tories and the Conservative Party (the party of 'business'). And we all know what 'business' is all about; it's about hiring and firing, making a profit, saving money, keeping wages down and so on, and the EU is designed to make life easier for business and fat cats.

But what about democracy? What about 'the people' of Europe? Remember Cecilia Malmstrom, the chief negotiator – or one of them – charged with the task of making TTIP happen? She told the Independent newspaper, not that long ago, that she didn't take her mandate from the European people, an odd thing to say, and it was concluded that she took her mandate from corporate lobbyists. There's a lot of corporate lobbyists in Bruxelles and I've always felt a little uneasy about that.

So perhaps going it alone is a good thing. Only time will tell. What lies immediately ahead, of course, is the negotiations, but with the country divided and it's political system in turmoil we need to get our act together first. I can't say I relish the prospect of the country being led by any of the Brexiters, certainly not Gove or Leadsam – and I'm glad that BoJo is out of the competition and has no chance in hell of reaching the 'judges' houses'. My favourite would be May, although, ultimately, I want the Labour Party to get its act together, appoint a 'proper politician' – like Alan Johnson or Hilary Benn – and boot out the Tories once and for all as they've made a right mess of things.