Tuesday, 27 December 2016

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Andy Smith.

Boxing Day – to Tatsfield via White Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 25 December 2016

George Michael is dead...

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

George Michael – died on Christmas Day 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 23 December 2016

Christmas trees...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Storms are coming...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Andy rides solo to Chevening Church

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

Sunday, 11 December 2016

You guessed it. Tatsfield Village (the slow way)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Rides from the Past

Boxing Day 2009.

Christmas Eve 2011.

Boxing Day 2012.

Boxing Day 2013.

Boxing Day 2014.

The day after Boxing Day 2015.

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

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

Friday, 9 December 2016

The spirit of the beige...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Over to mum's for breakfast...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 3 December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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