Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Mooching around Brussels or "?ooching qround Brussels"

I have just returned from dinner. It took me a long while to work out where to dine as there was plenty of choice between Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Spanish and just plain pub grub, but with the added benefit of Belgian beer. After circling round a few times I settled on Spago on the Rue Du Pont de la Carpe, Karperbrugstraat 13. There were candles on the table and a generally relaxed vibe and I wanted something simple that was not going to keep me up all night.

Fortunately, I had the latest issue of Private Eye to keep me company as there is nothing worse than dining alone unless I have something to read or a smart phone to play with. I was asked if I wanted to sit at the bar and of course I did not so they directed me to a table in the corner by the window. I opted for the seat facing into the restaurant, rather than stare at my reflection all night, and when the menu arrived I perused it and then chose Parma ham with melon followed by fillet of salmon.

Whenever I order Parma ham and melon I am always taken aback by the amount of ham they pile on the plate, but I always manage to eat it. Odd that I can eat Parma ham with melon but gag at the thought of pineapple on pizza.  The main course was wonderful, served on a rectangular white plate and accompanied by boiled potatoes, artichoke and baby vine tomatoes. I asked for a Merlot but the waiter just about understood "red wine" and I was too tired to take the conversation any further.

All was good but the service was a little slow when it came to ordering dessert, so I simply did not bother and asked for the bill instead.

I wandered around for a bit afterwards and considered two things: a Belgian beer in one of the many bars close to the hotel; and secondly, a haircut in one of the many barbers that are open late here in Brussels. In the end I did neither and instead returned to the hotel to try and work out how to the type the "at" symbol in order to access this blog. After about half an hour of getting steadily more frustrated, just like last night, I managed to copy an "at" sign, so here I am having great difficulty writing on what I have just learned is known as an "azerty" keyboard. Trust me, it is really infuriating.

And now, having reached the end of this post I've found the apostrophe key, but I'm not going to go through the post changing the text, I'm going to leave everything in place to remind myself of the irritation. To type a full point, for example, I have to use the shift key.

Allow me to give you another example of this ridiculous keyboard. Here goes:

?y nq,e is ?qtthez ?oggridge qnd Iù, the quthor of NoVisibleLycrq; itùs q blog qll qbout cycling ,qinly; but zith q bit of trqvel stuff throzn in for good ,eqsure: Iù, auite obsessed zith ,y blog so i,qgine hoz qnnoyed I zqs zhen I discovered thqt I hqd left ,y lqp top chqrger behind qnd hqd to rely; like noz; on zhqt is knozn qs q "azerty" keyboqrd: Still; I ,qnqged to zork out hoz to type qn "qt" sy,bol; qlthough the reqlity is thqt I copied qn "qt" sy,bol: I still hqvenùt zorked out hoz to type one: Zell; I better sign off qnd hit the sqck; not thqt I need to qs I donùt hqve qn eqrly stqrt: Iùve got to check out qnd heqd for ho,e:

See if you can work it out: Goodnight:

Postscript: On the morning of my last day I was told that to type the @ sign (as I just did) I need to depress control plus alt plus zero. You live and learn. But all the other keyboard hassles remain (see above).

Still in Brussels...

I was moaning about the hotel in the last post and the fact that the computer keyboards are different here in Belgium than they are in the UK: the A key is where the Q should be and the M is where the L can be found and so on. It makes life very difficult. Let me try and give you an example:

"Noz is the ti,e for qll good ,en to co,e to the qid of the pqrty:"

That should read: "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party." But I am getting used to it, although I cannot find the apostrophe key so I have to write out the word "cannot" instead and I have to write "I am" rather than the abbreviated form. It is not a major problem and the more I use this keyboard, the easier it becomes.

There is little more to say; I am used to the hotel, where the breakfast is good and the bathroom works fine, not to mention the television, which has both BBC1 and BBC2, so I cannot complain of being out of touch. Getting back to breakfast, I have made a point of having CoCo Pops everyday along with a cup of coffee. Not tea? No, because the cups are too small, which is a little annoying. I have enjoyed fresh fruit daily; yesterday I enjoyed melon and pineapple and today it was orange.Today I had a croissant too and a banana.

The hotel is a little on the noisy side. I am not sure why, but I think it has a lot to do with the acoustics of the building. Everything makes a noise louder than normal; unless it is down to the fact that my ears were recently sorted out at the surgery (I cannot use the word "doctor" in the possessive as I cannot work out how to type an apostrophe) . There is a noisy bastard in Room 108 across the hall. He is quite happy to be half dressed and have the door open as I pass and  quite happy to speak loudly with his partner or girlfriend or wife, who knows? But outside of plain noisy sons of bitches, it seems that everything makes much more noise than you might expect and by and large it goes on through the night: Somebody dragging a suitcase to his or her room seems to make one helluva noise and I can hear doors closing and children wailing and the sound of laughter; and you know what? I kind of enjoy it; there is something very friendly about this place and if, like me, you find yourself alone in a hotel room, sometimes the noise of other guests can be comforting.

I have walked everywhere and avoided taking taxis, which is a good thing. It is roughly 25 minutes to walk from where I am now to my hotel and then another 25 minutes back to Brussels railway station where I catch the train to London. Tonight I am alone, which is good. I will take an early dinner somewhere followed by a walk around and then, finally, I will stroll back to the hotel and hit the sack.

It is nearly 1500hrs and I really ought to be moving away from business centre and start to formalise some sort of plan for later:




Sunday, 15 October 2017

In Brussels and not happy...

I walked from the central station having jumped off the 1258hrs Eurostar from London St Pancras International. I'd had a ham roll and a glass of Merlot from the restaurant beyond passport control and the ride was pretty smooth; it only takes a couple of hours.

Once in Brussels I walked from the station to my hotel (the Catalonia, about 25 minutes) and then, after checking in (room 107), I walked all the way to Avenue Louise, another 25 minutes, but I kept getting lost, thanks to the iphone's ridiculous navigation system. I walked around in circles at least a dozen times before the phone ran out of power and I just took a guess. Fortunately, my guesswork was pretty good and I found the Grand Sablon Hotel, where I'd stayed once before, and asked for directions. They've refurbished the place and it looks totally different, but I didn't have time to yabber with the receptionist, I had a cocktail reception to attend although, oddly, you never get cocktails at cocktail receptions. There was wine and beer and Champagne (or something like Champagne) plus a few 'nibbles' and while I was there I said my hellos to various people.

Room 107, Catalonia Hotel, Brussels
It took me half an hour to get back to where my hotel was located and en route I mooched around trying to find somewhere decent to eat. I settled on a Cuban restaurant, the only one in Brussels, apparently, and while I tried to relax, I couldn't. I ordered a Jupiler beer and a chicken dish with rice and while it was alright, I wasn't completely happy and I was definitely not relaxed.

Meal over I walked back to the hotel where there's some sort of curfew around 2130hrs, but, I was told, there's always somebody on reception and there's a doorbell so I'm not going to be left out in the cold.

Having left my charger at home, my laptop, on which I'm typing now only has so much time before it simply switches itself off. I'm expecting it to happen any second now as a new battery is needed. But until that moment, I'll keep on typing. Downstairs there's a business centre, but all the keys are different so it was impossible to work out which combination of keys (control + this + that) would give the @ sign. I started to get frustrated and banged the keyboard, the whole thing froze so I evacuated the area and headed for my room and here I am typing away, while I can.

The conference starts tomorrow and I'm here until Wednesday. Generally I'm not in a good place: I'm uptight, angry, annoyed, unhappy, depressed, you name it and little things are starting to annoy me, like business centre computers with stupid keyboards and hotels that close up shop at 2130hrs and charge extra for breakfast. Everything is annoying me and I know for a fact that I won't sleep well as I've had a couple of glasses of wine at the reception and a small beer in the restaurant, all in the name of trying to calm down, trying to be relaxed. The last time I travelled – to Vienna – I was totally relaxed, but then I'd been cycling every day and I felt good about life. Not so today. I need a haircut too. In fact I'm looking a mess generally, which adds to my general anger. I need  a decent suit, some shirts and a new pair of shoes. But recent over-spending has left me short of cash so I have to look like a tramp, with my straggly hair. I've noticed, however, that barbers are open late in this neck of the woods. So perhaps I'll have a haircut tomorrow when the conference is over, except that there's a dinner so it'll have to wait until Wednesday morning.

The view from Room 107's window...
The hotel's alright, but it's not brilliant. Breakfast tomorrow morning will be the big decider, but I'm not holding out for much. But there are plus points: proper coat hangers and a minibar means the hotel trusts its guests, there's a safe, which took me a few minutes to work out how set the code, but it's working now and everything seems alright. I'm on the first floor and the hotel room is very beige. There's laminated 'wood' floors and I have to put the keycard into a slot in the wall to make the lights work. There's a big widescreen TV over the desk facing the bed, a mirror to the left of the television and a reasonable-looking bathroom, but the vibe in my head is bad, I'm not relaxed, I've got a long day ahead of me tomorrow.

There is a bike share scheme, but, as always, it's complicated. I might try and work out how to use it, but in all honesty, I'm not here that long, I won't have time tomorrow morning and after that there's not much point, although I'm planning to at least try to cycle to work once or twice a week.

I better post this before the computer runs out of power.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Cheers, ears! Back on the bike, but aborted Sunday

There's been a fair amount of discussion lately about the inevitability of life getting in the way of cycling; one day it's me aborting, the next it's Andy, and when I look back over the past month, there's not been a great deal of riding. Last week I found myself in Winchester, the week before I was in Scotland and I was as deaf as a post (see previous post).

On Friday I went to the doctor's to sort my ears out once and for all and, during the process, there was a fantastic moment when, all of a sudden, I could hear again. Suddenly I could hear the whirr of machinery (the surgery's heating system, perhaps, I'm not sure), then, on returning home the noises of the house, absent for two or three months, had returned. Every creak, every knock, startled me and then a strange scratching, which turned out to be a magpie on the sill of the landing window. It was as if my life had suddenly acquired Dolby Surround Sound.

Andy and the bikes at the Tatsfield Bus Stop
I was looking forward to Saturday's ride and while the weather was cloudy and overcast and there was a fine rain that didn't really affect anything, it was good to be riding along the Limpsfield Road en route to the green to meet Andy. Having not been on the bike for a good fortnight, riding up Church Way proved more of an effort than usual, but soon the green (and Andy) appeared and we decided to ride 'the slow way' to the Tatsfield Bus Stop.

Andy had been cultivating a scraggly-looking beard and I started to wonder whether he fancied himself as a hipster, but no, he told me, it would be coming off over the weekend – there had been complaints. I certainly didn't envy him the task of removing it, there's nothing worse than shaving after a day or two, let alone a few weeks. Rather him than me, I thought.

We wove our way around the country lanes towards Beddlestead Lane, that interminable climb towards Clarks Lane, and then hung a left and sailed towards the bus stop where the tea and BelVita's were produced. Andy had forgotten his cup.

The plan was to ride today, Sunday, and I've been kicking myself for aborting early this morning. I didn't get a good night's sleep, waking here and there throughout the night, and by 0500hrs (or thereabouts) I figured it best to abort. Now, looking outside at 0825hrs, the sun is shining and the sky is blue and I can't say I'm happy about the situation. Another missed opportunity.

At the bus stop yesterday, we discussed not cycling and worked out that the colder months of the year were to blame for most 'abort' texts. I randomly looked at the month of January 2013 on my iPhone (oddly there was a clear signal, there isn't normally). I accessed the mobile phone version of the blog and found that, apart from one ride on New Year's Day, by yours truly, we didn't cycle together that month until 26th January, almost an entire month without riding. Why? A mixture of reasons: travelling, holidays, heavy snow, you name it.

Apart from walking, cycling is my only form of exercise and I really need to ensure that I ride at least twice a week (Saturday and Sunday). I should really try and get one in during the week too, possibly a mid-week ride to work or even a "Botley before work? What a burk!" So watch this space. I often think about taking the bike into work by train and cycling home.

The bad months for riding are usually January and February. The run-up to Christmas is usually fairly mild, characterised by days like today, which are clear and crisp and full of blue skies and sunshine, even in December.

Here's to next week.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

As deaf as a post...

Sunday 1st October: For many weeks now I've had trouble hearing. It happens now and then. Let's say at least the last two months, if not longer. It normally clears within a few minutes of getting out of bed, but when I'm lying down I can't hear a thing. I doubt if I'd hear the alarm go off and this was proved correct a few minutes ago; last night I'd set my alarm for 0630hrs and when it went off, it went unnoticed by yours truly until I walked into the kitchen, about 15 minutes later, to notice my phone flashing. 'Tap to snooze' it said, but that would mean not hearing it again in around eight minutes so I slid my forefinger across the screen, tapped out my passcode and cut off the alarm.

Last week I finally admitted defeat. I made an appointment at the doctor's surgery and was told what I already knew, that both ears were totally 'occluded'. I think that's the word she used. I informed her that I'd been regularly putting olive oil into both ears and she told me to come back next Friday to sort it out. NEXT FRIDAY!!!! They don't have the old syringes they used to; these days it's a small electronic device that beavers away until hearing is restored. I can't wait. The last time I had it done was in 2011 and while, since then, there has been one incident, the olive oil drops did the trick. Not this time.

This morning I was awake around 0400hrs and there's nothing worse than lying in bed being unable to hear, but I managed it until around 0523hrs when I had to get up. But this time it didn't clear. In fact, as I write this at 0713hrs I can't even hear my fingers on the keyboard of the lap top, I keep tapping on the wooden dining room table to assess how bad things are and I can only say that things are really bad. Earlier I considered aborting the ride as I'm guessing it's fairly dangerous riding without being able to hear what's coming up behind me. For a long while I ignored the idea, but then I realised the awful truth: I'd have to abort. Just before 0700hrs I sent Andy a text and then I looked out on the back garden, hoping that it was raining so I could say to myself something along the lines of "well, it was raining anyway", but while it was a little breezy, judging by the swaying trees and shrubs, the bird bath was still, although it had clearly been raining overnight.

As we race towards the year end, the weather is closing in. When I wake up – normally around 0600hrs – it's now dark and I have to switch a light on. There's a bite in the air too and, of course, there's rain, not every day, but it's there, along with grey cloud. It rained overnight for sure and the ground is wet, similar conditions to around a year ago when Andy and I rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, me on my brand new Specialized Crosstrail Sport. I took the corner too fast and came off the bike. Not good. I hobbled around for weeks afterwards, but I'm fine now.

Fine, but I'm as deaf as a post and I haven't been on the bike for a fortnight. Here's to next week!


Monday, 18 September 2017

Mark Beaumont breaks round-the-world cycling record

Mark Beaumont
Mark Beaumont, an endurance cyclist, has broken the round-the-world cycling record.

Mark cycled 18,000 miles around the world in 78 days and 14 hours. "It's going to take a couple of weeks for me to decompress and come back to reality," he said on his return to Paris where he started.

Beaumont averaged 240 miles per day and cut the current world record by a third.

For more on this story, click here.


Sunday, 17 September 2017

To Woodmansterne Green (twice) to see Bon...

Saturday 16th September: I haven't been on the bike for a couple of weeks, but I distinctly remember Andy saying of his ride last Saturday that there was a definite bite to the air. We're entering that great but deceptive period of bright blue skies and sunshine but unexpectedly cold (or cool) weather. This morning I felt it myself. Initially I thought I'd just wear a tee-shirt as it was bound to be warm, but my decision to wear the scruffy-looking blue hoody, the one with the paint stain, proved to be right. It was a little chilly and the cold air went straight through me as I headed south on West Hill and turned right on to the B269 heading towards Purley. Close to Sanderstead railway station I hung a left and weaved my way over to the Purley Downs and up towards Pampisford Road

Woodmansterne Green, always a pleasant place to be (in decent weather)
It was later than usual (just gone 0730hrs) and the plan was to ride through Purley, along Foxley Lane and onwards to Woodmansterne Green where I would met Bon. He had just arrived as I pedalled the last 50 yards or so to the Green and once parked up, out came the tea, but no BelVita biscuits. I should have bought some from the newsagent's, but didn't want to use a credit or debit card for a packet of Digestives. Tea alone was fine.

As always our conversation was wide and varied and tinged with good humour, and at one stage we got on to the subject of humiliation and news that a man had been fined for taking photographs up women's skirts using his mobile phone. I said to Bon that if that was me I'd probably move to a crofter's cottage in a remote part of Scotland and never darken anybody's doorstep ever again and he felt the same way.

Before cycling became the weekend sporting activity, Bon and I used to swim on Saturday and Sunday mornings at Cheam swimming baths on the Malden Road, often known as the Malden Road pool. It was an old-fashioned pool with separate male and female changing, a 9ft deep end and we had to swim 27 lengths for half a mile and 54 for the mile. We'd be in the water around 0800hrs and out before the clock hit 0830hrs and then after a Mars Bar and a cup of vending machine tea in a paper cup we'd make our way to the car park where we would chew the fat about this and that before heading home.

Swimming is a great sport as it makes you feel so good afterwards. I used to enjoy the hot shower and that lovely clean feeling I'd feel all day. We swam twice a week, sometimes three, and often we'd throw in a one-miler just to test ourselves. I should really start it up again, but in all honesty cycling has taken over big time and I'd have to fit it in later in the day or during the week. There's something about a swimming pool.

We spoke about jobs and pensions and old times back at the family home and then, after drinking two cups of tea each we decided it was time to head home.

My route was straightforward following an off-road track a short distance and then the path to the mini roundabout at the top of Wallington, across into Foxley Lane, along Pampisford and then cutting through the side streets and emerging close to Sanderstead railway station. My last climb was the south face of West Hill, but it's much easier than it sounds if you get your head down and concentrate on the tarmac in front you.

Sunday
Sunday 17th September: It was dull and overcast this morning and much colder than yesterday. I followed the same route to the same place and met the same person, Bon. There was a charity cycle ride to Brighton that passed by Woodmansterne Green before dipping down towards the Midday Sun and the horror of How Lane (I know, I've done it). Judging by the numbers on the front of the bikes I saw, there were at least 5,000 plus riders.

London to Brighton cyclists heading for How Lane (the horror! the horror!)
Bon and I drank tea (Lipton's Yellow Label) and chatted about a range of subjects, just like yesterday, and then we headed home, me in one direction, Bon in the other. I reached home around 1000hrs having tackled the south face of West Hill.

The bike needs a clean and an oiling. It's nearly been one whole year without a puncture or needing to pump up the tyres.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

September and the depressing reality that summer has left the building...

Monday 11 September: Arriving back in the UK after a sunny week away in Sardinia and there's definitely a bite in the air, which means winter is approaching. When I made my way downstairs around 0600hrs yesterday morning – the plan originally was to go riding on Sunday morning, but I aborted the night before – it was almost dark outside. I considered putting on the kitchen light, but that would have been too depressing.

Cloudy skies and closer-to-home destinations...
The weather improved as the day progressed and soon there were blue skies and sunshine, but later in the day the weather deteriorated and it started to rain, although it was still one of those situations when I wished I hadn't aborted. Andy went out and said it was very pleasant even if it was a little bit 'parky' first thing.

It's coming round to NVL's time of year, characterised by cloudy weather and potential rain, sitting at the Tatsfield Bus Stop with tea and BelVita biscuits contemplating the ride home and, of course, donning the gloves and the extra layer of clothing. We're approaching that time of year when it's easy to be caught out: wearing just a tee-shirt when a warmer jumper would have been advisable, packing the waterproof trousers in case of rain and riding closer to home to destinations offering shelter from the storm. Shelter means just one thing: the Tatsfield Bus Stop. Westerham becomes a risky bridge too far and anything else is off the agenda until the spring. Not that we get really bad weather in the run-up to Christmas. There! I said it! Christmas! Soon people will be counting the days, the shopping days, and the kids are already 'back to skool'. Shop window displays will feature mini blackboards and yes, it's all very, very depressing. Even more so when you remember that Strictly Come Dancing is back on the box and that's a countdown of sorts to the festive season and the false bonhomie of the New Year celebrations.

Weather permitting I'll be back in the saddle next weekend.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Rogue sub-editor incurs wrath of the PC brigade!

Cycling Weekly found itself in deep water after a picture caption reading 'token attractive woman' appeared in the magazine next to a photograph of a female cyclist.

For more, click here.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Lycra looks rubbish on anybody over 8st – my sentiments exactly, Sir Chris!

Sir Chris Hoy with medals...

Can't believe that Sir Chris Hoy is being hounded by the political correctness brigade over his remarks about Lycra. The thing is, he's right: that's why this blog is called NoVisibleLycra, it's also why we constantly refer to those who don the Lycra and go out cycling as 'Lycra Monkeys'. Put it this way, you wouldn't catch me wearing it. Body shaming? My arse!

But what irks me most is that Hoy felt he had to apologise for his remarks.

Click here for the full story.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Back problem means little cycling

Wednesday 30th August: Back in 2005 I had a back problem. I'm not one for back problems but I had one and it lasted for months, getting steadily worse as it progressed. By the end of it I had keeled over to my right and had difficulty walking, but the main problem was a lack of sleep. I had to take Nurofen to sleep and spent an inordinate amount of time sleeping in the spare room. After visiting an osteopath, having an X-ray and taking Nurofen, not forgetting cancelling a trip to Portland, Oregon, much to the dismay of my employer at that time, I woke up one morning and it had gone. I no longer had a back problem and for 12 years it didn't return, until now. It's back, but it's not as severe as before. I can sleep at night, put it that way, I can walk around, I can ride a bike, but the big issue is sitting down. If I sit down for any length of time I stiffen up and it takes me a while to walk properly. But listen, it's not that bad. In fact, as I write this, it's improved a lot. Somebody once said that the best way to treat a back problem is to pretend you don't have a problem. That's kind of what I've been doing, but I thought it best to give the cycling a miss over the bank holiday weekend.
Off-road route coming back from mum's

I rode over to mum's on Saturday following the usual route via Wallington and Carshalton Park and the off-road route on the return journey, but that was it on the cycling front.

The original plan on Saturday was to see Jon at Woodmansterne Green, but that never happened so I rode to mum's for tea and cake instead, but later than usual. I left the house at gone 0800hrs and didn't get home until 1030hrs.

The weather over the weekend was amazing although right now, at 0723hrs on Wednesday morning, 30th August, it's dull and cloudy and rain is threatened throughout the day.

I won't be riding for a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

To the Tatsfield Bus Stop – the slow way

Sunday 20th August: A reasonable day greeted me when I woke up and headed downstairs for a spot of breakfast before heading out on the bike. It was Sunday morning. I hadn't gone out on Saturday. Met Andy at the Green as usual and we decided to head for the bus stop. The original plan was Westerham because Phil had indicated that he'd be coming and bringing sausage sandwiches, but it was not to be: he aborted due to a late night.

"Don't forget the biscuits! Phil's aborted" was the gist of a text I sent to Andy. It also meant that I wouldn't need to bring extra water as Phil had instructed.
Library shot of bus stop

An uneventful ride to and from the bus stop. When we got there we discussed this very blog and whether it should be discontinued. This came about because we were at the bus stop again, there's little one can write about it that hasn't been written before, we've photographed it many times and, well, what's the point? The question – of not writing anymore blogposts – was never answered and while there are a few people who don't like this blog (ignoring the fact that it's not written for them) I have no intention of stopping it. What would I do when I'm sitting in my hotel room abroad, bored?

We rode back, as always, the fast way, and parted company at the green. No Andy next week so I'll probably ride over to Woodmansterne to see Jon or go over to mum's for some cake. Until then...

Sunday, 13 August 2017

To Warlingham Green and then Woodmansterne Green...

I aborted on Saturday as I felt a little weary, but on Sunday, after a good night's sleep (that camomile tea must have done the trick) I was up with the lark and ready to rock. Tea made I headed outside, jumped on the bike and rode to Warlingham Green where Andy would be waiting for me, but when I reached my destination there was no sign of him. Not a problem, it was only just gone 0730hrs so I parked the bike and took a photograph of it, expecting Andy to arrive any second, just like he normally does, unless, of course, he's aborted, but ... I checked my phone. He had aborted, late last night, but for some reason I hadn't looked at my phone. Normally, it's the first thing I check, but not today.

Still, I was up and I was out of the house so I had to go somewhere and there was plenty of choice: Westerham, the Tatsfield Bus Stop, the Tatsfield Village, Godstone Green, Redhill, the list was endless. The world was my oyster. I could call Bon and meet him on Woodmansterne Green. Remember that I had a huge flask of hot water, a mug and four teabags in my rucksack – no such thing as 'precious grams' in NoVisibleLycra World – and that couldn't go to waste. I called Bon and he said he'd see me there in 30 minutes. Well, let's say 45 minutes.

Bike on Warlingham Green around 0730hrs this morning...
I rode past Warlingham School, down Tithepit Shaw Lane and into Whyteleafe then hung a right on to the A23 and headed towards Purley Cross, into Foxley Lane and straight ahead, turning left at the lavender fields on the outskirts of Carshalton and soon found myself approaching Woodmansterne Green. Bon had cycled down to meet me and we rode a few yards together back to the carved out old tree where we set up camp. I'd texted Bon and told him to bring a cup with him, but his idea of a cup was the top from a small flask, which was no bigger than a thimble, so in the end he did without. I was beginning to realise how Andy and I had become a team in the foodservice department: I provided the tea and Andy the BelVita biscuits – and the spoon, both of which were now noticeable by their absence.

"Normally the tea bag bobs around on the surface and it's easy to fish out," I said, feeling the full force of the spoon's absence.
"Sod's law," said Bon, as we both waited in vain for the teabag in my blue mug to surface. It remained on the bottom.
"Might as well just leave it in there," I said and started drinking.

We chatted about this and that, – and for much longer than normal – so I didn't reach home until around 1030hrs.

The weather was fantastic and it got better as the day progressed. There was sunshine, there were blue skies and I sat in the garden reading from a collection of short true stories in a compilation called The Moth. The trouble with sitting in the garden is that things get a little fretful. It's impossible to truly relax because there are jobs that need doing – weeding mainly – but it niggles and makes me restless. I made an egg and mayonnaise sandwich and a cup of tea and tried to chill out and then I drove over to mum's for tea and cake in a garden that needs very little doing to it (mum is and always has been, a keen gardener and she puts me to shame).
Bon and yours truly, Woodmansterne Green...

It's still hot now, at 1813hrs, and I might sit outside again and this time try not to be so fretful about the jobs that need doing. Earlier I thought about weeding a bed, but there's no point unless there's something to put in place of the weeds. If there's nothing then the weeds will simply grow back in a week or two (the futility of gardening, no less!) Still, mustn't grumble, the sun's out, the skies are blue, all is well and I managed to get a lengthy ride in – probably around 17 miles.

Next weekend it might well be Woodmansterne Green again as it's a great place in good weather and it's ideal for just chilling out, watching the odd passing jogger or old bloke going to buy a paper. There's the occasional caggle of Lycra Monkeys passing by and there's nothing better than sitting on the aforementioned carved-out tree sipping tea. Mind you with Andy not there until next Sunday I'll have to remember the spoon and some biscuits. Can't go cycling without biscuits.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold by Tim Moore...

For a long time there has been one cycling travel book that has, in my opinion, ruled the roost. That book is Mike Carter's One Man and His Bike, the story of the author's anti-clockwise ride around the coast of the UK. It was wonderful, truly wonderful, and I still pick up it now and read large chunks of it if I want to cheer myself up. Yes, it was (it is!) that good. So good that I've been unable to find anything that comes close to beating it. Until now.

The other day, wandering aimlessly around Waterstone's in Croydon and gravitating as always towards the travel literature section, I spied The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold  – adventures along the iron curtain, by Tim Moore.

The premise is simple: Moore rides EV13, the Iron Curtain Trail, riding close to the border between East and West from the northern tip of Norway, hugging the Baltic coast and then riding through Finland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Greece and, ultimately, Bulgaria and the Black Sea coastal town of Tsarevo. Kirkenes to Tsarevo on a 'shopping bike', a MIFA 900, made in East Germany, 20in wheels and, by all accounts, not the sort of bike on which to make such a journey. But Tim does make it – of course he does – but it's clearly a hard, hard slog, fuelled by energy drinks and whatever food and drink is available, including kebabs and Eurocrem Blok.

Moore stays in hotels, but nothing fancy, he doesn't camp, he simply gets on with his job – yes, his job – which is cycling, eating, sleeping (repeat and fade) until he reaches his destination. While bears are a potential initial worry in Finland, crazy dogs, bad drivers and extreme weather conditions become his chief enemies; and while he arms himself with pepper spray, he never has to use it.

There's more to this book than simply cycling from A to B: it's a challenge, an adventure, but it's not a race, and Moore's reflexions on the Cold War give the book depth, making it much more than just another account of a bloke attempting something silly. Did you know, for example, that prior to the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989, one in six people in the German Democratic Republic was a Stasi informer?
Moore and the MIFA 900 by a stretch of the Berlin Wall...
Moore has form. Riding a shopping bike over 9,000km and braving everything the weather can throw at him is a piece of cake for a man who has walked across Spain with a donkey, cycled the entire route of the Tour de France and jumped on to a wooden-wheeled old bicycle to ride the route of the notorious 1914 Giro d'Italia.

In fact, as I read Moore's book he was doing something with a vintage car in America and tweeting about it – expect another travel book with a difference soon.

I like Moore. He's certainly a comedy character. I've never met the man, more's the pity, but there's something about him, something about his writing style – he's a very good writer – and the way he writes makes me laugh – which is priceless.

During his mammoth ride Moore is constantly coming up against relics from the Cold War in the shape of watchtowers, Trabants and dreary old tenement blocks. At one point he admits that the spectre of nuclear war constantly loomed throughout his formative years in the 1980s, but nothing a can or two of Kestrel couldn't put right. I was in my early-to-mid twenties during the 80s and while there were constant references to nuclear war between East and West (Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Sting sang of it) and the politics of the period confirmed that it was certainly a reality (Reagan and his Star Wars missile defence system springs to mind) but there was always hope in the shape of Gorbachev.

I don't remember feeling the threat of nuclear war hanging over my head – I was far too optimistic for that – and my drink of choice wasn't Kestrel (perish the thought!) but Young's Ordinary Bitter in the pubs of South London. Perhaps that's why I felt so optimistic.

Like all good writers, Moore takes his readers with him on the ride and like Moore I wasn't happy as the adventure neared it's end. I like his honesty in this respect. "I went through the last rites with a light head and a strangely heavy heart," he writes, likening his situation to an old lag given parole in The Shawshank Redemption. "My sentence was almost served," he says, unsure how to deal with the eventuality, "though ideally not by hanging myself from a doorframe."

Journey's end: Moore reaches the Black Sea town of Tsarevo in Bulgaria
I placed the book on my bookshelf with a heavy heart and started to wonder about what to read next.

Postscript: Something else I must mention is that throughout the book there's no pretence from the publisher, nothing that left me wondering whether Moore was pulling the wool over my eyes. There's nothing on the cover to suggest that Moore was, say, on holiday in Norway and thought, bugger it, I'll ride that shopping bike I found all the way to Bulgaria. In Mike Carter's One Man and His Bike – as good as it is – the implication on the back cover is that Mike was cycling to work one day and thought, sod it, I'll ride my bike around the coastline of the UK, sod working for a living. No, he didn't just ride off into the sunset. He planned it, sorted out a regular stream of articles for the Guardian before he left, rented out his flat and so on. I'm not blaming Carter for the pretence, his publishers were to blame, but there was no such pretence from Moore's publishers, which makes the whole thing that little bit better. Well done, Comrade Timoteya.

Not related to Moore's or Carter's book, but click here anyway.

One Man and His Bike by Carter, click here and here.

And for Further Reading, click here.

The Travel Rider – In Conversation with Tim Moore, click here.






Sunday, 6 August 2017

To the Tatsfield Bus Stop... the slow way

On Friday, having taken a proper roasting in the sun down on the south coast, I paid for it when I reached home. I reckon a mild (ish) case of sun stroke if I'm honest. I looked a right state, put it that way: as red as a fucking berry, hair all over the place and a vein running from my temple to the top of my forehead in full bloom. What a mess! The vein's still there but the red face has mellowed a bit and I feel a little better, but it was enough to stop me riding on Saturday morning.

Andy did a good 20 miles on his own and said he was riding all over the place. As he tried to explain his route to me this morning on the green, I realised it was all too complicated for my sunburnt head and I just accepted that he'd been around and enjoyed his ride. As for me I lolled around most of Saturday doing virtually nothing and then walked into town to get a haircut before walking back and spending the day lolling around. Drove over to mum's for tea and fruit cake and then tried to calm myself down. I've been a bit stressed for various reasons of late and the end result was no cycling on Saturday morning.

Sunday was different. We met on the green and headed for the Tatsfield Bus Stop, the slow way, which gave us chance to chat about this and that, but shortly after we'd made the turn at the Chelsham Sainsbury's roundabout there was (or rather could have been) an altercation. A bloke in a Mercedes estate car passed us far too close, prompting Andy to yell an expletive and raise his fist. The man in the Merc decided to stop and for a minute I was worried that things might take a turn for the worse. I fully expected both rear doors to swing open and two Brexit wankers to emerge – shaven heads, forearm tattoos and rolled up copies of the Sun – but no, it was just a slanging match between Andy and the long-haired bloke who was driving, while his peroxided Beverley sat there, arms folded, saying nothing. The last thing I wanted at 0800hrs on a Sunday morning was to reach for the wrench in my rucksack or to have to throw scalding hot water from the flask at whoever decided to approach me. Mind you the flask itself would have made a formidable weapon – it's like a Second World War shell – so you could say I was armed to the teeth and ready for action.

Who can be bothered to deal with aggravation? Not me, and I'm sure Andy would have wished it further too, had it occured, so it's just as well nothing happened. I started to wish I still owned that replica Magnum I owned in the eighties, but the closest I get to a Magnum these days is a chocolate ice cream on a stick. Fortunately, all was fine as the bloke drove off in a huff leaving Andy and I to weave our way to Beddlestead Lane and on towards the bus stop where the tea and biscuits were produced and consumed and we sat there flinging teabags on to the grass, as we always do, while talking about bikes and watching the Lycra monkeys pass us by on their way to Westerham.

The ride back was trouble-free (no nutters). We parted company at Warlingham Green and made our separate ways home. Next week we'll be back on the green and ready to ride – and next time I'll remember to take a photograph of the trip.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

To Westerham on Saturday and the Tatsfield Bus Stop on Sunday...

Saturday we got our heads down and rode to Westerham. It was one of those half-and-half days, meaning that the weather was good up until lunch time and then the drizzle arrived. We had a trouble-free ride there and back and parted company on the green with Andy saying he might not go on Sunday. "I'll send you a text," he said as he rode off towards Caterham and I made my way along the Limpsfield Road to Sanderstead.

As the weather forecasters had promised, the drizzle turned up around lunch time and was on and off for the rest of the day, making virtually anything to do with the outside world unpleasant. The only good news was that a wet lawn couldn't be mowed so I relaxed, safe in the knowledge that the mower would remain in the garage.

An archive shot of the Tatsfield Bus Stop.
There was more rain overnight, as evidenced by the puddle on next door's extension, but as there was no sign of raindrops, there was a good chance of a ride. That said, when I made my way downstairs at around 0600hrs it was very dark and foreboding outside and I didn't hold out much hope for a ride without rain. But then, just before 0700hrs it brightened up, the grey skies cleared and the sun came out as I rode up Church Way towards the Limpsfield Road and Warlingham Green.

We decided to head for the Tatsfield Bus Stop and along the way evidence of last night's rain was everywhere. The puddles on either side of the 269 were so large they almost touched one another. Like jagged mirrors they reflected the vertiginous depths of infinity, but on our return ride, no more than 45 minutes later, they were gone as the sun made short work of the drenched tarmac.

At the bus stop we reflected on many things: the price of tea, the rip-off culture of nouvelle cuisine, the nonsense of brand extensions, the pointlessness of expensive cars and the amount of large, overweight men riding bicycles. I wondered whether there might be a Friends of the Tatsfield Bus Stop movement in the village and, if so, whether they were complaining at church hall meetings about the mess left behind by cyclists 'using the facility'. I mentioned this as I stuffed the clear plastic wrapping from my BelVita biscuits in between the wooden struts that made up the bench on which we were sitting and then, after taking a wazz against the rear wall of the wooden shelter, zipped up and headed off in the direction of Botley Hill.

As we rode towards the pub a Lycra Monkey yelled, "On your right!" and then passed us with a cheery 'good morning'. We don't like MAMILS (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra Shorts aka Lycra Monkeys) but we let it pass. We had no alternative: within milliseconds of his passing he was out of sight and, of course, out of mind, checking his Strava and fretting about his pension plan.

We stopped for all of five minutes at Warlingham Green before heading for our respective homes and the looming prospect of a Monday morning heading our way.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Loads of cycling!

It was a busy weekend on the cycling front. First, a ride to the good old Tatsfield Bus Stop with Andy during which we narrowly avoided a soaking. The original plan had been to ride to Westerham for breakfast at the Tudor Rose, but the weather was looking decidedly dodgy so we opted for the safe option and rode to the bus stop instead.

All the way there – we decided to follow the slow route up Beddlestead Lane – there was the threat of  rain, but we remained dry. It was only while enjoying tea and biscuits under the cover of the wooden bus shelter that the rain started to fall. We watched it and waited and when the coast was clear, so to speak, we jumped on the bikes and headed for home, following the 269 into Warlingham where we parted company.

Andy wasn't riding on Sunday so I took the opportunity of riding over to Epsom to fix Bon's puncture. I left the house around 0726hrs (in fact, I definitely left the house at that time) and reached Epsom by 0818hrs, roughly 50 minutes later.
Woodmansterne Green, Sunday 23 July 2017

The ride to Epsom is fairly straightforward and involves riding the same route we use to reach Woodmansterne Green, but instead of turning left by the lavender fields on the outskirts of Carshalton I kept riding until I eventually arrived in Banstead where I continued straight towards what is known as the 'Mad Mile' (or rather the top of it). I then crossed the A217 and rode down towards what used to be the Drift Bridge Hotel (it's now flats) where I swung to the right, under the railway bridge and then immediately left. At the lights I turned right, then first left and soon I was a Bon's house.

Bon put the kettle on and for a short while we wandered around the garden, chatting about this and that before I reached for the leeches and got down to the business of fixing the puncture. Bon has a Cannondale with a roughly similar specification to my Specialized Rockhopper, but he had a rear wheel puncture. Fortunately, the Cannondale has quick-release wheels, which makes life easier, and soon the puncture was fixed.

Bon joined me on my return ride as far as Woodmansterne Green, taking me through the High Beeches housing estate and then along an off-road track that emerged close to Banstead railway station. We headed back over the A217 at the top of the aforementioned 'Mad Mile' and rode towards Longcroft Avenue, a right turn a mile further down the road. When we reached the green we stopped and chatted before Bon decided to head for home and I pushed on into Carshalton to see mum.

Unfortunately, my car had broken down on Saturday, stranding me temporarily in an Esso Garage in East Grinstead (new alternator needed). I still don't possess a car as I write this, which, in all honesty, is no bad thing, but not having a car at the weekend means it's difficult to get over to see mum unless I rely on the bike. So, being in Woodmansterne, I gave mum a call and around 20 minutes later there I was, eating cake and drinking tea and making small talk with mum. I left mum's around 1100hrs and made my home following the usual route. There's a nice stretch of off-road track along the road leading to the lavender fields so I used that and then found some more off-road tracks on what amounts to the Croydon Road towards Purely where I rejoined Foxley Lane and wound my way into Sanderstead where I tackled the South Face of West Hill.

Later in the day I went for brief ride around the block and I think I must have whacked myself out because I had the feeling of fidgety restlessness which used to be called 'over tiredness'. I had a strange hunger that persisted until the sun went down and I hit the sack early to avoid eating too much bread or breakfast cereal. You'll be appalled to note that on Sunday I ate four Shredded Wheat – two for breakfast and two for (ahem) 'dessert' after dinner.

While I had toyed with the idea of riding to work, the rain gave me an excuse to leave the bike in the garage and now I'm looking forward to next week's ride with Andy. Bon said we should both ride over to Woodmansterne again – he has a point!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

BBC salaries fiasco – and what a fiasco!

How terrible that some BBC presenters are getting paid ridiculous sums of money for jobs that are not in any way important in the greater scheme of things. How can it be right, for example, that Alex Jones and Claudia Winkleman are earning more than, say, a heart surgeon, or any surgeon for the that matter.
Winkleman

Now, before anybody gets on their high horse and starts berating me for not dealing with the bigger issue (that the lion's share of the big Beeb salaries are taken by male presenters) I don't want to get into the gender arguments; I just want to discuss the whole value equation because there must come a time when the sum of money paid becomes meaningless. Take yours truly, for example. If I was paid £500,000 per year based on my current lifestyle, there's no way I would get anywhere near to spending it all. I'd be able to save a good £400,000 per annum if not more because, let's face it, who really needs more than £100,000 per year? I get by on far less and I've got all the outgoings of most people: kids, mortgage, bills, the usual stuff.

My opinion is this: there are people, like Andrew Marr, Andrew Neil, the big political journalists like Laura K, Nick Robinson, John Humphrys, Emily Maitlis, Kirsty Wark and so on who bring something special to the party. They know their stuff and can be called upon to give our politicians a good grilling when required. And there are, of course, other experts, people like Chris Packham, but outside of that, the big salaries for television presenters are obscene and shouldn't be paid. Not to somebody who is simply presenting a programme like The One Show or Strictly Come Dancing.

Look, I'm not saying that Alex Jones and Claudia Winkleman are doing a bad job, they're not. They are probably good at what they do, competent presenters, they've been trained up, they know what they're doing, but surely £450,000 to £500,000 per annum is simply too much for what they do.

The BBC could save a lot of money if they employed me to present The One Show. How much would I demand salary-wise? Well, let's say, at the top end, £100,000, but certainly no more, and I'd be happy to take a much lower starting salary, let's say £75,000 all in. But not just me, there must be people out there working in, say, regional television, that need a big break and would be prepared to do the job for far less. It simply can't be that difficult! Certainly not difficult enough to command a £500,000 salary. The One Show is basically a series of small reports by the likes of Gyles Brandreth, Dominic Littlewood and others, broken up by a live studio guest or two, somebody like Michael Palin, who might have a new book to publicise, and Baker and Jones make small talk in between the outside broadcasts from the aforementioned journalists. It's on for about 30 minutes tops and yes, I'm sure there's prep work to do during the day before the show airs (knowing the running order, knowing who the special guests are, working out some sensible questions to ask them) but that is not rocket science and if it was you can bet your bottom dollar that a rocket scientist is paid far, far less than Baker and Jones.

Alex Jones of One Show fame
In short, the BBC are wasting licence payers' money and I for one would love to know how they arrived at such big salaries for Winkleman and Jones and some of the others. I mean why did they pay Jonathan Ross around £6 million per annum and why are they paying Chris Evans a couple of million per year? He presents a radio show! He has enough money already! I'd love to present a radio show for two or three hours a day, but hey, no more than £100,000 per annum. Nobody needs more than that.

What was going through the minds of those charged with the task of deciding salaries? What formula was in play that enabled them to arrive, without flinching, at some of the salaries that were revealed last week? Somewhere, did somebody say, "Right, well I reckon £500,000 per annum would be a fair salary for Alex Jones, and as for that Winkleman woman, she can have the same – or thereabouts." And everybody in the room nodded affirmatively, somebody stamped a piece of paper and the rest is history.

As I write this I'm watching Would I Lie to You?. Winkleman is on David Mitchell's team and they've got to the bit where a live guest is invited on the programme and all the panellists make claims that they are in some way truly connected with the person. Winkleman says that the man standing to her left is her builder and he dropped round to Winkleman's house (which he built) because Winkleman thought he might be able to help her fix the television. The end game was that there was nothing wrong with the television – the remote needed new batteries, that was all. And this woman is earning the best part of half a million quid every year. It's incredible! Even if she earned HALF that amount it would still be too much.

And before anybody says that Winkleman isn't really stupid, she's got an Oxbridge degree, I know, I KNOW!!! But that's not the point. The point is that she (and Alex Jones and many others) are doing a job that simply doesn't command such a high salary. There are so many other professions that would command that sort of salary, but not television presenting.

One of these days there's going to be a revolution: corrupt politicians fiddling their expenses, journalists hacking the mobile phones of murdered school children, zero-hour contracts, the empty  promises of our political leaders, the list is growing and now we can add BBC television presenters – they're not corrupt (perhaps some are), but some of them are earning far too much for what they do. Somebody, sort it out! Think of the money that could be saved.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Two weeks out of the saddle – but I'm back!

Not good at all, but shit happens, don't forget, and sometimes you just have to get on with it; not that any shit happened, it was just a case of not being able to go and the usual stuff, such as waiting around for people or having to drive somewhere early in the morning.

Our bikes near a cornfield on the approach to Westerham hill
I didn't go out on Saturday morning, but on Sunday I met Andy at the green and we headed for Westerham. On leaving the house I noticed how out of condition I was as I struggled up Church Way, although I was alright, I just felt a degree or two worse than I normally feel when I tackle a hill. Hills are an inevitable part of cycling, of course they are, but they're still mildly annoying and even more so after a two-week break.

I made it to the top of the hill, crossed the Addington Road and cycled through the churchyard, emerging on the other side and riding past Sanderstead Pond and on to the Limpsfield Road where I shifted into top gear and set my sights on the green.

The weather was fine: not as sunny as past weeks, but warm enough to wear just a tee-shirt and not the paint-stained, blue hooded top that normally accompanies me.

Since we last met, Andy had riden from Caterham to Canterbury (see link on previous post) so we talked about this briefly before deciding to save our conversation for Westerham. It was a smooth ride all the way there and soon we were sitting on the green where I noticed there was a large horse – not a real one – that had made itself at home behind the statue of General Wolfe; it was there for charitable reasons and made for a surreal scene.

Andy took this shot of the horse...
Other than the horse, not much had changed at Westerham since our last visit, which wasn't that long ago. We sat there drinking tea and munching BelVitas (as always) and watching cars and bikes and fellow cyclists ride by on the A25. There was a bit of 'bike conversation' that I won't bore you with and soon we had no excuse other than to get back on the bikes and head for home – and that hill out of Westerham. But hills (or anything in life) are never as bad as you think they are and, as always, we made short work of the climb and found ourselves at Botley Hill.

The ride along the B269 was smooth and we stopped briefly on Warlingham Green to arrange next week's ride. Andy can only make Saturday next week so on Sunday I'll either head for mum's (where tea and cake awaits) or I'll head for Jon's where a puncture needs to be fixed.

Andy headed towards Caterham and I rode along the Limpsfield Road towards Sanderstead, sailing down Church Way and weaving my way around the quiet, leafy streets until I found myself opening the garage door, padlocking the bike and getting on with what was left of my weekend.

As I write this, at 0641hrs on Monday morning, the sun is out, there are blue skies and all is relatively still. Birds are chirping, I can hear a distant radio and all is well with the world. Film director George A Romero has died and so has the actor Martin Landau (aged 89).

Sunday, 9 July 2017

A weird dream, but no cycling...

Since I returned from Vienna on 28th June I haven't been out on the bike and I'm missing it. Last week I didn't go on Saturday because I'd been up late at a wedding and on Saturday night I had a late night too so I aborted. This week, well, similar in many ways. On Saturday morning I needed to be around at home to do things, like drive over to Kingston for a spot of shopping, and this morning I needed to be around. Alright, I could have gone out later, in fact that had been my plan, but, as always, when allowed to dither, I dither, and I didn't go out, not even an urban ride to mum's.

Andy rode to Godstone Green yesterday while I slobbed about...
Andy replied to one of my 'abort' texts with a question mark and now I'm left with that awful 'I haven't been cycling' feeling, which is made worse by the fact that it's now two (yes, two) consecutive weeks. To make matters worse, the weather is fantastic and has been for some time now. It was scorching hot in Vienna (where I managed to ride a bike for three consecutive days around the city) and it's hot here too. Outside now the skies are blue and it's beginning to brighten up having been a little dull early this morning.

Andy, incidentally, rode from Caterham to Canterbury last week and has written about his experiences on his blog. Click here for more.

Andy has cleaned both of his bikes, by the way
So I haven't been out on the bike, but I have had a strange dream. Last night (or whenever it was that I had the dream) I found myself in some kind of club, something like an ex-servicemen's club, not sure. It was large and roomy and unoccupied initially, although there was a sense that some rooms were occupied. There was a singer, somewhere, a modern singer, somebody contemporary, a woman, a girl, not sure, but while I didn't know who it was, others did, and when I caught sight of the girl I still had no idea who she was or whether I'd ever heard her music. It didn't matter.

While wandering around the largely empty club I sensed activity in one of the rooms and stumbled upon a group of crusty, ruddy-faced old war veterans wearing tweed jackets and cravats, smoking pipes and discussing an old military campaign. They filtered out of the room, chatting as they departed, but left behind a bag of archive magazines inside a thick plastic bag not dissimilar to those that contain garden compost. The bag had been ripped open in haste and inside I found many copies of a saddle-stitched publication about the Second World War peppered with colour photography throughout.

For me, time is pigeon-holed by photography. The dishwater years, as a friend of mine once described the 1950s, were characterised by black and white photography and so were the years that went before them. From the sixties onwards, colour photography took over, but in the real world everything is in colour as people have never lived in monochrome, even in the Stone Age, which somehow makes time seem less savage. I tried to explain this to an old friend in the dream, but we were distracted by an old college friend who sat alone in a quite corner of the club and was unaware of our presence. Neither of us wanted him to know we were there.

I woke up to the 0600hrs news on Radio Four followed by Something Understood on the subject of parochialism and remembered that my ears were jammed with wax after a swim at Waddon pool yesterday morning. I also remembered that I'd aborted the ride and wouldn't be hitting the road again until next weekend. Such is life, I thought, and went downstairs to make a cup of tea.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

In Vienna...day three

Cycle path by the Neue Donai...
I'd fallen into a routine: Wake up around 0600hrs, hit the breakfast room around 0700hrs to 0730hrs, hire a bike from reception for 12 Euros and then ride to the convention centre. Then, my work done, I'd get back on the bike and ride around the city until I exhausted myself and was in need of food and drink. Yesterday, my third day in this great city, the format was the same. When I finished work, this time around 1630hrs because of an official dinner being held at 1900hrs at the City Hall (or Rathaus as it's known here) I jumped on the bike with a view to riding to the aforementioned Rathaus to see if it was possible to ride there, but in the end I decided to take the metro like everybody else.

So I'm on the bike and I'm half way across the bridge, coming back from the convention centre, when I remembered the right turn a few yards behind me; where, I wondered, does it go to? A question I answered myself by turning around and checking it out. The answer is that it runs between the bank of the Danube on one side and the Neue Donai (I'm guessing 'new Danube') on the other. I rode a long way in the heat, past people sunbathing and, in some cases, swimming in the river and in the Neue Donai. The water, it must be said, looked very inviting, especially the Neue Donai, where most people seemed to be swimming, kids too, and let's not forget the swans who co-existed peacefully with the people or holidaymakers or whatever you wish to call them.

On the banks of the Danube...
I rode for what seemed like ages until the tarmac path turned to gravel and I figured that getting a puncture wouldn't be too clever as I'd have to walk miles back to the bridge and then a good 40 minutes more to the hotel, dragging the bike along with me. I was quite amazed to see people wild swimming in the Danube as it didn't look that safe a place to swim. Earlier, when a wind had picked up, the water was very choppy, but close to the banks it was calmer and I never saw anybody out in the middle, where it would have been dangerous for sure.

Swans on the Neue Donau where they share the water with us humans
The Neue Donai was a different story, it was calmer, but it was still a wide piece of water, not dissimilar to the Danube. There was a windsurfer going at some speed and a pedalo close to the far bank, but let's not mistake it for something ultra safe; it was deep water and I'm guessing you can't take anything for granted.

Safe swimming in the Neue Donai? You decide...
On my journey back I spotted many people sunbathing on the banks of the Danube and the Neue Donai and began to wish I'd bought my trunks. I distinctly remembered being at home on Sunday morning and saying that I wouldn't pack my trunks because I never, ever use them. Well, here was my chance to do some wild swimming and I couldn't, not that I would have, because the water looked a little dangerous and deep, but people were out there treading water, kids and all, so perhaps I would have chanced my arm, and besides, perhaps my cautious approach was influenced by the ridiculous health and safety culture that has developed in the UK which, let's face it, makes us all chronically risk averse.
A new sign wouldn't go amiss...

Eventually I reached the bridge and had to carry the bike up a few stairs to reach the cycleway that crosses the Danube; but then it was plain sailing (or plain cycling) across the river and straight ahead. I rode down to the big roundabout, circled it, rode down Prater Strasse, past Café Ansari, stopped outside the Sofitel, thinking better of riding to the Rathaus, which had been my original intention. It was hot and time was running out so I doubled back, followed Prater Strasse back to the fairground and then rode towards Motel One where I handed in the bike.

Later I took the metro from Messe-Prater to Rathaus (about five stops) and enjoyed the splendour of the City Hall. Dinner was fine, but after a day of working the last thing I wanted to do was 'talk shop' so perhaps I should have stayed on the bike, cycled around, found a restaurant and enjoyed my own company. Still, you live and learn. And now, as I write this, it's Day Four for me in Vienna. I'll be flying back home later today and I still need to pack my stuff and check out. But first, perhaps a walk, I'm not sure. I hate checking out of hotels, especially good hotels like Motel One, but needs must so I'd better sign off and besides, the chambermaid has just reminded me of the noon check-out time so I ought to start packing.

I regularly review the hotels I stay in on Trip Advisor. For all my Trip Advisor reviews, click here.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

In Vienna...Day Two

Is cycling a subversive activity? Some say it is and I can't really figure out why, unless freedom is subversive. Actually, come to think of it, freedom probably is subversive; there's nothing the establishment hates more that true freedom. Freedom of expression, democracy, it's all dangerous stuff as the UK discovered when Cameron gave the populus an in-out referendum on Europe. But let's not bring the European Union into this, although there are some political commentators who would argue that the least democratic organisation in existence is the EU. But as I say, let's not go there, this is all about cycling.

Still in my conference clothes, but back on the bike
I can buy into the subversive nature of cycling and it makes it all the more attractive. This evening, when my work was done at the conference, it felt liberating just to know that outside, padlocked to a coiled piece of metal, was my bike. Well, not my bike, but the bike I'd hired from the hotel for just 12 Euros. I wasn't reliant upon a taxi or a bus or a tube, I had my own transportation system and that, my friends, is a little subversive. I can (and did) speed off into the city without a care in the world, I could do what the hell I wanted, go wherever the fancy took me and not pay a penny to the man for the privilege. I was my own boss.

So what did I do? First I decided to explore the immediate location surrounding the Austria Center. There were some nice flats there, a pedestrianised area and a few weird sculptures that I'd never have found had I jumped on the underground. How boring would life have been had I done that? I'd have ended up in my hotel room with nothing to do but reach for the Skipper's Tablecloth. Instead, I was out and about and checking stuff out, like Donau Park. I rode in all directions through the park, following roads to the very end and then turning back and following other roads into different areas of the park and then I sped over the Danube and hung a right when I reached the far bank. I rode for what seemed like miles along a cycle track that was effectively running parallel with the river but not along the bank, and then I turned left somewhere, I can't recall exactly where, and kept on riding, eventually finding Handelskai railway station where I found a couple of fresh fruit and vegetable stalls that were still bustling as the time approached 1800hrs.

Strange sculptures near the Austria Center...
After a while I began to lose track of exactly where I was; the cycle track ran out and I found myself on the road with traffic, so I doubled back and tried to retrace the route I'd been taking. Soon I found myself at the bridge where I turned right and then crossed the road and explored other roads that eventually led me to Max Winter Platz where I spied a couple of bars. I considered stopping for a beer and something to eat, but for some reason I didn't as they looked a bit basic and I didn't have any cash. Despite cycling being a subversive activity that enabled me to 'stick it to the man' I still needed somewhere that accepted Mastercard. Within minutes I was close to the entrance of the fairground and decided to ride through it, listening to the screams of those brave (or stupid) enough to tackle the Black Mamba and other dangerous, frightening-looking rides. I watched from the relative safety of the bike as people were being flung this way and that and seemingly enjoying every minute of it.

Strange sculptures in Donau Park
I found L'Osteria, a pizza restaurant that was almost in the fairground, but in reality was just outside of it. I felt a little wary of the place because L'Osteria was dangerously close to Listeria, but I decided to chance my arm. It was, of course, absolutely fine and because I had been riding the bike for the best part of a couple of hours, I was in desperate need of a cold beer and something to eat. Fortunately, it was well past my dinner time so I stopped, padlocked the bike to a lamp post and sat alone, at a table for one, just me and a tea light, perusing the menu. I opted for one of the specials, Sedanini di manzo (pasta with pork) plus a large beer and later enjoyed Birnencrumble, another beer and a cappuccino. It was all perfect and cost a respectable 27.80 Euros.

Crossing the Danube...
I wasn't quite finished riding so after unlocking the bike and jumping back on I headed into the fairground again for another mooch around. Ultimately, I was tired and it was time to ride back to the hotel, return the bike and head to my room from where I now write this. What an amazing day and all thanks to the bike, which meant I was reliant on nothing or nobody but my own steam to get me wherever I wanted to go.

There were fresh fruit and vegetable markets here...
Back in my Motel One hotel room, the tropical fish are on the television screen behind me as I write this; and that weird ambient music is playing too. It's dark outside, but still warm, and while there is a strong temptation to go downstairs, order a glass of wine and sit in the cool grounds of the hotel, like I did at lunchtime (thanks again to having the bike) I've decided to get ready for bed and look forward to breakfast in the morning. I love Motel One!

High rise swings – put it this way, I wouldn't do it...
Fairground characters...
As seen in the movie, The Third Man – but what a boring ride!
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