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.

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