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!!!!

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Thoughts on Brexit and 'The Donald' in the White House...

There are now two things that bug me constantly; it's as if there are two nasty-looking vultures sitting on a fence behind me at any one time, reminding me of the situation. Occasionally, they might fly off, but not for long; they return often and sit smugly on their perch. The vultures in question represent two big political decisions made, not by governments, but by people – the citizens of the United Kingdom and America. One of those decisions was the UK's vote on 23 June to leave the European Union, to me a very bad decision. I'm living with it, of course, like a lot of people, but it nags at me, mainly because I feel that we, the people, were conned by the likes of Farage, Gove and, of course, that blundering buffoon Boris Johnson, and now we're going to pay the price: a plummeting pound being just one of a number of problems the country now faces as we lurch towards the triggering of Article 50, supposedly next March.

Add your slogan here
Brexit, however, was overshadowed by the American public's decision to vote in Donald Trump as its 45th President of the United States, although the reason behind both Brexit and Trump's success at the ballot box was disillusionment. A lot of people refer to those who voted for Trump and who wanted out of Europe as 'the great unwashed', but while some might load the phrase with derision, others argue that 'establishment politics' – on both the left and right – has ignored the welfare and the wishes of huge swathes of people who today find themselves jobless or living on the breadline and without any true political representation. They are, in fact, a growing under-class of people – in the UK referred to as the white working classes who, in the EU vote and the race to the White House, have finally woken up and had their say.

In many ways, it is unfortunate that the far right has proved to be their 'saviour' and fed them with half-truths and downright lies; you just have to look at the claims of Farage and Johnson and Gove to see that they were conned and will, ultimately, pay the economic price.

More worrying still, however, is the notable swing to the right that global politics appears to be taking, epitomised by Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and an increasingly more right wing Tory party in the UK.

My problem with right wing politics is that it chooses to focus negatively on the vulnerable and the minorities and it blames the problems of society on specific groups, normally in an effort to deflect attention away from the real causes of strife (bankers and corporate greed). In Hitler's Europe it was the Jews who were blamed and then carted off to concentration camps. In Donald Trump's 'brave new world' it's Mexicans and Muslims, and in the world of the 'Brexiteer', it's foreigners in general 'coming over here and stealing all our jobs'.

The end result is that we find ourselves living in a society that's moving backwards. In the case of Tory Britain, a society reverting back to the 19th Century with many homeless people on the streets of London unable to afford the extortionate rents charged by their unscrupulous, right wing landlords; and, if Jeremy Hunt gets his way, increasingly ill and infirm people unable to pay for their healthcare.

Why is it, I wonder, that Republican Americans want to rid their country of Obamacare? You would have thought that giving greater access to healthcare that doesn't leave individuals penniless and on the streets was a good thing, but no, it's bad according to right wing politicians. Why is it that the Tories in the UK want to dismantle the NHS and hand lucrative contracts to people like Richard Branson? There is, of course, just one word that answers these questions: greed. And that's when we get down to the nitty gritty of the political systems around the world: they're divided along the lines of the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' and the greed of the former who have no intention of spreading the wealth generated, but instead want to keep it for themselves. Look no further than at Philip Green for all the evidence you'll ever need, but there are many others.

And so we are now entering a phase of uncertainty with Donald Trump, a right wing businessman, leading the American people and, no doubt, applying his business 'principles' to the way he governs his country and, dare I say, the way he approaches the world. Trump's blatant racism during his campaign for the White House – his views about Mexicans and Muslims and women – and everything we have seen over the past however long it's been since he was named Republican presidential candidate, does not bode well.

After Brexit in the UK there was a rise in racially-motivated attacks as some 'Brexiteers' felt that their vote to leave the European Union (a vote against immigration in their eyes) meant that they could mistreat those of a different skin colour or those with an Eastern European accent. Fair game, they thought, as the vote to leave the EU had, they believed, 'legitimised' such behaviour. I would be very surprised if we don't see similar attacks in the USA where, of course, there are more guns freely available to crazy as well as sensible people, meaning the end result might be more serious.

But perhaps it is unfair, and indeed, foolhardy of me to sit at my desk voicing my anti-Trump rhetoric. Perhaps I should be a little more careful what I say because, ultimately, what do I know other than what I've read in British newspapers or listened to on British radio, or watched on television? And we all know that the media has it's own agenda.

I have an American pal, an ex-military man, and he quite rightly puts me and others straight when it comes to Trump's victory. He questions why we find Trump's success so terrible and scary and awful when we don't live in the USA and have no idea what it's been like for the average American under eight years of Obama. All we see, of course, is a 'cool' president who is on speaking terms with Beyonce and Jay Z. But my pal tells me, in all seriousness, that millions of people are out of work, that Obama's foreign policy has been terrible, especially the deal with Iran. He says that Obamacare doesn't work and that people can't afford it. He also reminds me that the Americans didn't criticise our decision to leave the European Union. "Did we say you're crazy? No, it's your country and we respected your vote." Fair comment.

And, as he rightly pointed out, if the Americans had stayed out of the Second World War we, the British, would be speaking German – ironically, I'm in Germany as I pen this addendum to my article and, oddly, I'm feeling a little ashamed that I can't speak German, as I was saying to a taxi driver just 30 minutes ago.

"We have made our voice heard. Try respecting our voice," says my pal, which is all well and good, but, like over here when we had the Brexit vote, there were many people who didn't want out of the European Union who are still smarting from the result. In America too there are people who do live in the USA, but feel that Trump as president is nothing short of an American tragedy. One of those people is David Remnick, whose article, An American Tragedy, was published in the New Yorker on 9 November.

Remnick doesn't mix his words. "The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump's shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy."

But let's try and look on the bright side and see the positives of the situation rather than moan, like the true Brits we are. The Americans, it has to be said, are much more positive and upbeat about life. Is there an upside to a Trump presidency? Well, if he can somehow move away from some of the vitriolic comments he spouted during the election campaign, if he can unify the country and govern, as he says, for all Americans, if he can establish a more cordial relationship with the Russians and in the process maintain world peace and if he can 'Make America Great Again', then hats off to him. All we can do is wait and see.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Trump is the 45th President of the United States.

It's almost 0530. I woke up around 0505 and thought I'd stroll downstairs to check out the US presidential election. I had a sneaky suspicion that Trump would be in the lead and I was right. He's got 244 votes against Clinton's 209 at the time of writing. Clinton has just won Nevada and I'm feeling just like I felt on the morning of 24 June – sort of pissed off.

The Donald – the 45th President of the United States.
President Donald Trump. What? The man in charge of the free world is Donald Trump? Well, folks, yes he is, or at least it's looking that way. He's won Florida, Ohio, Iowa and North Carolina, the key states, and it looks as if the global trend at the moment is swinging to the right. In the UK we're out of the EU and the Tories will be in charge for many years as there is no credible opposition.

When the EU referendum vote was announced we had racially-motivated attacks on the streets – expect similar, but worse, in the USA. And remember, you heard it here first, folks.

Trump has mobilised white voters in the same way that the EU's Leave Campaign got the white working classes to come out and vote. The story is similar. People are pissed off with the establishment.

Minnesota will probably go to Clinton, says Emily Matlis on the BBC, and there's talk of a draw and the vote going to the House of Representatives, in which case, says Andrew Neil, Trump will win. But it looks like Trump's got it, sadly. I was hoping for a woman in the White House, but it was not to be. It looks like, on 20 January, Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. Oh dear!

In Michigan it's neck and neck; in New Hampshire, Trump is in the lead. In Arizona it's neck and neck. At Clinton HQ there's a lot of concerned faces.

It looks as if all of my predictions have come true: the UK has come out of the EU and now Trump is the President of the United States.

"There is a lot of anger out there," says the BBC reporter inside the Clinton campaign headquarters, where the Democrats are putting on a brave face. We're hearing phrases like, "It's not over yet," which is always a sign of desperation. They're saying that the millennials aren't voting for Clinton, they're voting for the Libertarians and the Greens. How stupid are they? They don't want Trump in the White House, but they're not voting for Clinton. Unbelievable.

Clinton – she's not liked by the American people
So I'm sitting here watching the BBC, but let's see what's happening on ITV. It's a similar story, of course, except that on the screen they have Trump on the left and Clinton on the right hand side – on the BBC it's the other way around. On Channel Four it's Deal or No Deal and on Channel Five, House Doctor.

Think for a minute, though. Donald Trump will have access to the nuclear codes. Just think about that: Donald Trump is in a position where he can 'press the button'. It's a bit like giving the codes to Philip Green.

London futures fall more than 4%. The Mexican peso hits a record low against the dollar, Japan's Nikkei 225 falls 6.1%. In Moscow Donald Trump has an 82% approval rating and Putin hopes that Trump will be an easier president to work with than Hilary Clinton. Perhaps a Trump presidency will heal the rift between Russia and the USA.

In many ways, I like the fact that the establishment is getting a good kicking. They deserve it. Trump needs just 26 votes to win the White House and it's looking highly likely that he'll win. To get there, he'll need 270 votes in total.

A woman on the BBC has just said, "None of us saw this coming." What rubbish! I saw it coming months ago, like I did the EU referendum vote. "It's a remarkable achievement for Donald Trump and the impact on the United States is seismic," she adds. He took on the establishment and won, says Andrew Neil. "This is the biggest story," says Jeremy Vine. The best performance ever for the Republican Party, Vine adds.

I can't believe that everybody thought he wouldn't win. For me a Trump win has always been on the cards. Alright, I kind of hoped he wouldn't, but I knew he would, in the same way that I knew we'd come out of the EU.

What does it all mean? It means that the world has swung to the right, it means people have had enough of political correctness, it means that 'the left' is on the ropes and has to regroup – and fast – and it means that stuff like workers' rights will play second fiddle to the needs of 'business'. It also means less tolerance, it means that people with racist tendencies and values will feel 'legitimised'. As I said earlier, expect racially-motivated attacks in the USA. Is it good for the world? Probably not, but we've all got to live with it. Yes, if you live in the USA, you can leave, but guess what? You can't leave the world, so in other words, Trump's in the White House and you can run, but you can't hide.

Time for some breakfast.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Suburban ride to mum's...

Crisp. There's a word. Not exactly the best adjective when it comes to the weather. A crisp morning. Why not be honest and say it's bloody cold? Brass monkeys. I didn't go out on Saturday for a mixture of reasons: general tiredness being one; waking up in the dead of night being another; and lastly, there were things to do around the house. And sometimes, let's face it, there are moments when the thought of getting up early, donning layer after layer of clothing and then hitting the cold air just isn't appealing.

But we're hard, Andy, Phil and I. We go out all year round, rain or shine. Alright, Phil's prone to a spot of hibernation, but you know what I'm saying. That said, riding in the cold on a winter's morning was not my problem this weekend. Yes, I was a little weary and there were things to do around the house, so I sent out an 'abort' text some time ahead of 0400hrs and then went back to bed. I awoke before 0700hrs and then I thought about Phil. I'd better send him an abort text too. After that I lolled around. Later I saw Phil, in high-viz clothing, head off somewhere for a ride, I assumed with Steve, but in reality he rode out alone, he later told me, on quite a long haul: the slow way to Clarks Lane, along Pilgrims Way to Brasted Chart – "a killer hill" – and then back past Chartwell, into Westerham and home. Respect is due.

Purley Playing Fields en route to mum's house...
Saturday was a lazy day: A drive to Sevenoaks, Strictly Come Dancing on television, cottage pie, a glass of wine and then the prospect of an early start on Sunday. I was game on. I put the iphone on charge in the conservatory and went to bed. The next morning I was up with the lark, as dad might have said, and soon I was downstairs making breakfast: tea, Shredded Wheat, a bowl of grapes and some Yeo Valley toffee apple yoghurt with added sliced banana, not forgetting a cup of tea (Lipton's Yellow Label).

When I checked my iphone there was a text from Andy. "Abort. See you next weekend." I could have gone back to bed, but I needed a ride. Outside, thanks to the clocks going back, it was light, so I rode to mum's. The weather was dry and sunny, but there was frost on windscreens and, as I rode down West Hill, my ears began to freeze. In Essenden Road I stopped and considered returning home for my balaclava. I circled the road a couple of times, but then I pushed on, turning right on to Carlton Road, left on the Upper Selsdon Road, across the A23 and up Hayling Park Road towards the Purley Playing Fields. After a while my ears were numb so I no longer worried about them as I cruised through the industrial estate and emerged on to the Stafford Road in Wallington.

It was a pleasant ride and there was very little traffic as I headed towards the lights at the top of Wallington High Street. The bike was fantastic! The Rockhopper Sport 29 really is an amazing machine. Those 29-inch wheels make all the difference and likewise the 27 gears – hills were no longer a problem, I thought, as I passed a Sainsbury's Local on the Stanley Park Road. Soon I found myself in Carshalton Beeches, passing the Village Bakery and the Italian restaurant and riding down towards the lights at the Windsor Castle, turning left, heading up the Carshalton Road as if towards Sutton, but then turning right into Alma Road, left on to Shorts Road – there was a car boot sale at St. Philomena's school – and left again on to Westmead Corner and mum's.

Mum was in fine fettle. Unaware that I'd already enjoyed a hearty breakfast, she offered me a boiled egg and a cup of tea, which I gratefully accepted – well, it was too early for cake – and we talked about this and that, except that there's invariably something new that offers a previously unknown glimpse into the past. This time it was my maternal grandfather, my mum's dad. He was a policeman during the Second World War and, mum told me, he smoked 60 cigarettes a day. She remembered him issuing her with a shopping list on which '20 Players' was on top along with some sweets for mum and her brother for going.

I never met mum's dad as he died, aged 57, before I was born. He'd gone off with 'other women' and ended up in Sheffield for some reason. There's a story about him asking mum to come 'up north' and live with him and mum saying no because she was getting married the following week. I've always found that story very sad and whenever I hear it I imagine how he must have felt on hearing that news. Sadness, perhaps, for not really being there for his only daughter, mixed with elation for her future happiness.

Mum's grandfather on her dad's side owned saw mills, but that was all mum said about him and then we moved on to Margaret, mum's friend, and the woman ultimately responsible for bringing mum and dad together. Sadly, things aren't good for Margaret: she has cancer and is (or was) undergoing chemo and taking various drugs. Back in the day Margaret was often visited by my dad and his pal Geoff after they'd been cycling somewhere. Dad always talked about cycling from Wandsworth to Worthing, leaving early, getting there around lunch time, spending a day by the sea and returning home in time for tea. They'd make a detour to Margaret's and one day mum was there and, well, the rest is history.

As for news from 'the road' – the road being where mum lives and I used to reside – the woman next door has given birth to a third baby (a girl) and the people in the Morrison's old house are moving or something, not exactly sure, and that's about it.

Looking out across the fields...
We spoke about dad and decorating and stuff that 'went on' in the house over the years; and how mum painted over the Spanish gold that covered the walls downstairs and made the house look small and claustrophobic. I remember it, but claustrophobia never crossed my mind. That said it was the sixties and seventies and I remember some strange decorative styles that have since been replaced by gallons of white paint. At one point I remember mirror tiles everywhere; now they were a little disconcerting. Somewhere there's a shot of my sister on her wedding day taken through the mirror tiles; they were in the hallway and the living room, but have long since been removed.

One of my aunties weighs 14 stone, mum told me. Fine, but she's so short and should go on a diet. An uncle of mine, however, is doing well and spends a lot of time in his garden, and do I remember the time we all went to Uncle George's – my mum's late brother – only to find him and has wife embroiled in a major shouting match? I'd imagine we simply made our excuses and left, but no, I didn't remember it at all. My only memory of Uncle George, who has sadly died, was him arriving at the house one afternoon with a couple of dogs. I think he smoked a pipe and, in later life was commended for fending off armed robbers from a petrol station in Eastbourne where he worked the night shift. That little incident gained him a lot of street cred, but it only came to our attention after he died.

Time was ticking by and I made ready to leave mum's and head home. The ride was fine and much warmer than the outward journey had been. When I reached the A23 I stopped to chat with a work colleague, Martin, who, every year, brings out mulled cider and venison sausages for the drivers of vintage cars on their way to Brighton. I enjoyed a couple of glasses myself and very nice it was too before heading home. I arrived at 1028hrs, padlocked the bike and did very little until now. It's getting dark outside and I've just been told it's raining. There are some old branches on the lawn that need putting away and if I sit here much longer it'll be too dark to do anything.