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 Warlingham 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 yelled an expletive and raised 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.

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

Monday, 26 June 2017

In Vienna...

I have nothing but praise for Motel One.

From the moment I arrived at the front desk, albeit with half a dozen people ahead of me, including a man who had been on my flight from London Gatwick and who I thought looked a bit like Richard Roundtree, until I Googled the Shaft megastar and realised that my fellow traveller looked nothing like him. So who did he resemble? A Bond villain? Not sure, so let's just leave it there.

The view from my hotel room window...
Motel One. It's fantastic. No complaints whatsoever apart from stuff that was entirely my fault. Okay, I'll explain: it was late, almost 11pm when I was finally given my keycard and found myself in the lift en route to my room on the third floor. I reached the room (it's one where you put your keycard in a slot in the wall as you enter and the lights come on (and go off when you take it out). Not a problem. Now, here's the best bit: there's a flatscreen television on the wall and I could hear this weird ambient music coming out of somewhere. On the screen are fish. Tropical fish. They looked so real I thought I had a fish tank in the room. I'm told that keeping tropical fish is bad luck. Fortunately, I don't keep tropical fish, not in my underpants or in a tank. I just don't believe in keeping animals captive, not that I admonish those who do keep tropical fish. I simply hope that they're not visited by any bad luck, that's all.
I hired this bike and rode to the convention centre, cheaper than a taxi!
So, tropical fish. Well, they're not real, just CGI of some sort and combined with the ambient music it's, well, amazing. I was tired, I was emotional too, seriously emotional, and the fish calmed things down for me. I sat on the edge of the bed and indulged the ambient music and the fish swimming about – as they're doing right this minute, behind me, unless they're only there when I turn around, who knows? No, they're there alright and I love them. Last night, when I finally got to sleep – alright, I'll explain in a minute – I thought I'd keep the fish 'alive' so to speak. I didn't want to turn off the television, but in the end the bright, halogen glow kept me awake so I reached for the remote and the fish (and the ambient music) were gone.
And here I am somewhere in Vienna with the bike...

But anyway, my 'issue' was nothing to do with the fish, it was to do with two spotlights over the bed, beaming down on the pillows where I desperately wanted to rest my weary head. Except that I couldn't. Try as I might to find the switch to turn the two spotlights off, I couldn't. The only way to do it, I thought, was to pull the keycard out of the wall socket and plunge the room into powerless darkness. But that simply wouldn't do because it meant that should I wish to turn on the light in the dead of night, I'd have to get up, fumble around in the darkness looking for the keycard and then fumble further to find the slot in the wall. So I started to get annoyed and my annoyance turned to mild anger, which was aggravated by the fact that Motel One hotel rooms don't have phones – the management must assume that everybody has a mobile these days and, of course, most people do. So I searched high and low for some way of turning off these two lights and even considered dismantling them or taking out the bulbs using a towel from the bathroom, I was that desperate, but no, not a good idea. I was despairing and in the end resorted to calling the front desk. "Silly question, but how do I turn off the spotlights beaming on to my pillows?" I managed to conceal my frustration, but despite the fact that the woman told me there was a black button underneath the light, I still couldn't find it. "I'll come up," she said, so I felt it was important to put on some trousers. Within what seemed like a few seconds there was a knock on the door and I was fully dressed.

She pointed to the switches and I rather sheepishly switched them off, feeling, it must be said, a little foolish. I thanked her, bade her farewell and got a decent night's sleep, without the ambient music or the fish, sadly.
Vienna's famous fairground is next to Motel One so I rode round taking pix
There was more good news on the Motel One front: the bathroom! It was amazing. The shower was one of those rain shower affairs and there was no messing around trying to get the thing to work properly – it worked immediately and I was treated to a wonderful, exhilarating shower. It was like standing under a waterfall and I could have stayed there all day, but I had to go to the convention centre on the other side of the Danube so I dried and dressed and went down for breakfast and it was perfect: muesli, fresh fruit, a vanilla yoghurt and a custard Danish, not forgetting a cup of Darjeeling. It all takes place close to the front desk and there's a proper breakfast area too or I could have sat in the bar area on a trendy seat, but give me a proper table any time.

I know how he feels...
Motel One is roughly a 35-40-minute walk to the convention centre, where I was headed. It's an interesting walk that took me across the Danube on what can only be described as a reconnaissance mission. I returned around 1000hrs and discovered that the hotel rented out bikes. Perfect! So I hired one, for 12 Euros, and rode off. Later, when my work was done I rode back to the hotel, took an early evening shower (I wouldn't normally but it was hot and I had a rain shower in the room) and then I headed out on the bike again, turning left out of the hotel, passing the famous fairground and riding the length of Ausstellungs and then Prater Strasse where, after riding around on the other side of the Donaukanal, which filters in to the Danube, I rode back on to Prater Strasse and had dinner at Café Ansari (red lentil soup plus roasted chicken, two beers, a mineral water and a cappuccino).

It was dark when I unpadlocked the bike I had left across the street and retraced my route back to the hotel, lingering awhile at the fairground, watching people on scary-looking rides. I've never been one for fairgrounds.
I wasn't planning on spending any money at the fairground...
But what a great bike ride! And what freedom a bike offers! I love cycling and it's made all the better in a country that cares for its cyclists, not like in the UK where a cycle lane is a simple line drawing of a bike in the road – an afterthought, nothing more. Here in Vienna there are proper cycle lanes that are safe and not part of the road. I didn't want to hand the bike back. I could have cycled all night, but that would have been foolish. I'll probably take one out tomorrow and Wednesday and possibly even Thursday if there's time as it beats a taxi hands down.

What with ambient music, the tropical fish display – which I'm reliably informed is changed during the winter months to a roaring fire (keep the fish all year round, that's my view) – Motel One is arguably one of the best hotels I've experienced, and it's got a friendly vibe too. And what's more, they're everywhere, even in the UK. In fact, there's quite a few of them in the UK and they can also be found in France, Belgium and Germany. I cannot recommend Motel One highly enough if they're all of this high standard.

I regularly review the hotels I stay in on Trip Advisor. For more, click here.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

To Flowers discuss Glastonbury, charity songs and one minute's silence

There has been some extremely hot weather in the UK this past week. Some have likened it to the heatwave of 1976, which British people will never forget. When I jumped off the plane from Stockholm on Wednesday afternoon I was hit by the heat as if I'd just arrived in Athens or Malaga. It was oppressive and all week the windows of the house have been open throughout the night.

It's now Saturday, 1250hrs, and I've been back from the ride for a good three hours. The weather is still hot, but not as oppressive; it's not warm enough, for example to make sitting in the conservatory unpleasant.
Tea and cake at Flowers Farm near Godstone. Pic by Andy Smith
We rode to Flowers Farm for tea and cake and the ride was perfect, certainly on the way there, although the return journey was made all the more challenging by the huge hill that takes us from the farm all the way to the golf course at Woldingham. It's a long, hard slog peppered with patronising Lycra Monkeys. "Well done," one of them remarked as we climbed the hill and he rode down. "Fuck off, you ----!" is what we felt like saying, but it would have been most unsportsmanlike of us, so we both emitted an awkward and insincere laugh that roughly translated to 'Fuck off, you ----!' But it's water off a Lycra Monkey's back and in all honesty we're not really bothered. What gets me most is their shouting when a bunch of them hurtle down hill and spy a car approaching from the opposite direction. "Car!!!!"

We laughed off the lunacy of Lycra and continued on our merry way, parting company at the top of Slines Oak Road. Andy continued towards Wapses roundabout where he climbed towards Caterham-on-the-Hill, while I got my head down and tackled the mountain that is Slines Oak Road, emerging on the 269, turning left and heading for Warlingham and then Sanderstead. I reached home around 1000hrs and treated myself to a relaxing cup of tea.

While scoffing cake and drinking tea at Flowers Farm we chatted about all manner of roasted meats including how Glastonbury has become an establishment event reserved for those who can afford the extortionate price of what has become a kind of 'rite of passage' for young people, an event controlled by the establishment and no longer a hotbed of drug-taking subversity and anti-government feeling, but instead a kind of musical version of Wimbledon. Except that it's not Sue Barker telling us that Andy Murray is on Court One playing Federer, it's Jo Wiley, the eternal student, informing us that Radiohead is about to perform on the Pyramid Stage.

Outside Flowers Farm. Pic by Andy Smith
I like Radiohead, but why they used the occasion to 'get political' I'll never know. What's the point when you're playing at an event that has been hijacked by the establishment and where the audience largely consists of little rich kids whose parents voted Conservative and are probably back at the tent making a chick pea curry for supper? It's all so middle class. I found myself wondering what was left for the great unwashed and couldn't think of anything.

As if on cue a charity record came on the radio and Andy fidgeted uncomfortably. We both wondered why charity records have become so popular and how every disaster, natural or otherwise, has to have one. In the olden days there was no such thing as a charity record. I don't recall the Beatles and the Rolling Stones getting together to produce a charity record for the Aberfan disaster. And what about the Staines air crash or the victims of the Moors murderers or the Herald of Free Enterprise horror? But suddenly there's Cowell and Malone rallying the troops for yet another poppy show of low octane popsters wearing headphones 'in the studio' or singing in front of one of those huge, retro microphones. Give it a rest, guys.

I suppose if we're talking about charity records we might as well have a word about the one minute's silence. They seem to be quite common these days thanks to terror attacks and awful tragedies like the Grenfell Tower fire, but ultimately their potency will wane if we have one every week. Again, in the olden days the one-minute silence was reserved for armistice day, not everything bad that happens in the world. When will it end? And, worse still, who decides on what warrants a national one minute's silence? If we've done it for one terrorist incident, we've got to do it for all of them or somebody's going to feel that their tragedy is being downgraded.

It was time to leave and a punishing hill awaited us, but you've read about that already.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Last day in Stockholm...

I awoke this morning and immediately found myself thinking about the shower in my hotel room's bathroom and how I was going to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to set it right and get some hot water. It's not something I particularly relish; I don't want to be fretting about something so minor, but that's the way it is. There was some faffing about, I knew there would be, but somehow I managed to get the water hotter than yesterday, although there was a risk that it would get dangerously hot so I did what I had to do and got the hell out.
Cramped bathroom in NOFO's room 315...

Drying in such a small room is nigh on impossible. In terms of swinging cats, which people always discuss when a small space is involved, it wouldn't be possible, so you can imagine how problematic it was to dry myself down. It became a two-location process: first, a general dusting down while in the bathroom and then finish the job out in the room, although even then there are issues.

The word 'faff' is a good one as it explains so much about NOFO. It's a nice hotel, but there's an element of faff about it. First, the faff of the cold water coming from the shower, then the faff about the teabags. You may recall that yesterday I was baffled by the napkin-like pieces of paper that were supposed to be teabags, well, they ARE teabags, I discovered today. In essence, the hotel expects its guests to make their own teabags. What I thought were napkins were, in fact, open teabags. All you have to do is spoon your chosen tea into the bag and then leave in resting in the cup until the tea is infused in the bag. Fine, but why oh why be put to all that trouble when a simple teabag would do? That said, this morning, out of principle, I did have a go and it was fine. I enjoyed a mug of English Breakfast tea after initially giving up and going for the safe option of coffee.

Breakfast, by and large, was the same as yesterday: muesli, fresh melon, coffee, a few biscuits but no rice cakes. They were there, I just didn't fancy them.

Locally brewed beer at Bistroteket...
Check-out is at noon, but I've got to be at the airport by then so I'll have to get a move-on. Last night I enjoyed a really good meal at a place called Bistroteket (Bondegatan 54, 116 33 Stockholm). I'd been scouting around the area for somewhere to eat and eventually decided that I'd give Bistroteket a go, even though, initially, I thought I'd made a big mistake. I hadn't. There was no English menu available so the waiter explained what was on offer and I chose cold meats (charcuterie) with salad to start followed by salmon steak with asparagus and a couple of locally brewed beers from Stockholm, not forgetting a cappuccino.

The restaurant's clientele was mixed, old and young and the place had a kind of French vibe about it. There was low-hanging lighting, marble sills and table tops, black and white floor tiles and a retro bar area. There were single candles on each table and there was music too. Afterwards I found my way to Bistro Boheme for a last beer before bed and then, after a fairly good night's sleep I got up, faffed around in the bathroom and then went for breakfast.

I'm going to repeat my outward journey of Monday in a minute. In fact, I did a dummy run after breakfast and realised that Stockholm South railway station is only 10 minutes' walk from the NOFO Hotel, just a straight road. On the way back I bought some Lipton's teabags in a Co-op close to the railway station and now, here I am, back on the blog with just minutes to spare before I need to be on my way.
Salmon with aspargus at Bistroteket... nice!

While there are a few white clouds out there and a light breeze, it is still a pleasant day. I need to be at the airport by noon and shortly I'll be taking the train to Marsta and getting the 583 bus to the airport where the plan is to catch the 1410hrs Norwegian flight back to Gatwick Airport and from there a taxi home, or the train, whatever appeals to me at the time. There's little much else to say, other than Stockholm is a nice place and I hope I'll be back soon.

All that remains now is to pack my bags – or rather continue the packing process that started prior to my earlier walk – and then check out. I don't like checking out of hotels, but then I don't like checking in either. Either way it's got to be done so I'll bid you all farewell and see you next time.

Oh well, back to Theresa May and Brexit and all the usual politics bollocks I've come to expect from the UK.

For my Trip Advisor hotel and restaurant reviews, click here.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

In Stockholm...

I can't remember the last time I was in Stockholm, but I think it was longer ago than I think. I almost stopped off here on the way to Lulea recently, possibly towards the end of last year, but a pilots' strike by SAS, Sweden's 'national carrier', halted my progress from the UK at Copenhagen and I flew home. But prior to that attempt I have the sneaky suspicion that I last visited the Swedish capital in the last century.

I flew out of London Gatwick Airport this afternoon, around 1330hrs, on a Norwegian 737 (seat 11a) and after a smooth flight, during which I enjoyed a spicy, hot chicken tikka masala and a couple of glasses of red wine, not forgetting some cashew nuts (I hadn't eaten since breakfast) I settled down for what turned out to be a smooth ride into Stockholm.

Stockholm South station, now just a shortish walk in the heat
Once on the ground and through baggage reclaim, passport control and everything else, I bought a train ticket to Stockholm South, which is close to where I was staying. At the airport (Arlanda) I had two options: take a train from Uppsala C or take a bus, the 583, to Marsta railway station, a short bus ride away, where the fare to Stockholm South would be much, much cheaper. For a moment I wavered (I was on expenses so why bother saving the money?) but then I thought why not? There was a big difference in the price. At Uppsala it was something like 150 Swedish Krona whereas at Marsta it was only 43 Swedish Krona. I took the bus and there was a train in the station when it arrived.

The journey to Stockholm South was long, probably around 30 - 40 minutes, but the sun was shining the skies were blue and the weather was the same as it's been in the UK this past week – hot and sunny. When I arrived at my destination, I asked one person for general directions to a region of Stockholm known as Sodermalm and then followed my instincts, which turned out fine. Soon I found myself at the NOFO hotel and was I glad that my sense of direction had been so on the money.

NOFO Hotel, Stockholm
I'm also glad that I picked such a quirky hotel. The NOFO is a strange place; it used to be a brewery and then the Columbus Hotel for the best part of 40 years, but now it's the NOFO and while I was told what the name means, I can't remember, or rather the explanation was a little confusing so I gave up trying to understand.

Södermalm is described as the 'vibrant heart of the city' and the NOFO Hotel is said to be 'steeped in the history of Söder. It was built in 1783 and has served as a brewery and as a barracks for the city guard. Today it is claimed to be one of the world's most stylish city districts. "You will love the enchanting mix of people, bars, shopping, restaurants and culture," says the NOFO's general manager, Desiré Eklund. She's right, it's a very pleasant part of Stockholm and yes, I could live here!

NOFO is both a hotel and a wine bar set in its own quiet courtyard. It's dark and welcoming interior and it's friendly receptionist made the whole experience very warming and I was glad I was here for the next two days as there seemed to be a lot of depth about the place and I was eager to enjoy it to the full.

I would have stayed in for dinner, but I got the feeling that the offering was fairly light when what I needed (as always) was a substantial meal. The receptionist offered some suggestions and I set off in search of a restaurant. Only a short walk from the hotel, down Sodermannagaten and then hanging a left on Skanegatan (I'm leaving off crucial accents on some these place names purely because I don't know how to find them on the keyboard) I found a small green, which, according to the map provided by the hotel, was called Nytoget. There were restaurants close to the green, two of which the hotel had recommended, but I chose a place called Bistro Boheme (Skanegatan 83, 116-35 Stockholm). It was hot enough, even around 2000hrs, to sit outside, so I ordered a Czech beer (a dark beer) along with grilled tuna steak (tonfisk) and salad and a Californian Pinot Noir – all good – followed by a Creme Catalana, the Boheme's take on a Creme Brulée. A cappuccino rounded off the meal and I made my way back to the hotel, trying to remember the route I had taken.

Tuna steaks with vegetables and salad at Bistro Boheme...
I'm now back in Room 315 and to say it's small would be an understatement; but despite its cell-like proportions, I rather like it. In fact, I've always been a fan of small rooms (as opposed to huge ones) and I like the Velux window, which means I can see out, but people can't see in – just how I like it, although the view is limited,  just trees and sky, but I'm not complaining. The bathroom is a little compact too, but it's all good and I should really be hitting the sack and getting a good night's sleep as it's now almost 2230hrs here in Stockholm (an hour earlier in the UK).

I stayed up and watched the first Mad Max movie on Netflix, hitting the pillow around midnight. During the night it rained heavily, hitting that Velux window with such force it awakened me on a couple of occasions. While a Velux is fairly quirky there are a couple of downsides: first, heavy rain hitting the glass surface makes a real din; and second, while there is a blind, I left it half-concealing the window and so I was awoken early by the brightness of a summer morning. In all honesty, I like traditional curtains that can be drawn and a more pleasing view than just trees and sky.

Cinnamon cremé brulée
It's 0618hrs the morning after the night I arrived (it's Tuesday) as I write this and a day of work beckons, although I'm a little concerned about the state of my clothes. I've brought two shirts with me, but they've both seen better days and I need to buy some new ones. Likewise my suit, which is now hanging from a coathanger on the wall (there's no wardrobe, just four coat hooks mounted on wood and screwed to the wall). The walls are white and the floors laminated wood. The bathroom floor and the tiny entrance lobby to the room – I suppose in some perverse way you could say I was staying in a very small one-bedroomed apartment – are tiled.

There is a small desk, a wall-mounted flatscreen television, an angle-poise lamp like the one in Toy Story movies (or all Pixar movies) and what is made to look like a make-shift lamp fixed to the wall with a flex hanging down and plugged into the wall, as if a temporary measure. I suppose that alone bestows 'boutique hotel' status on the NOFO. A single bed is crammed into the corner, there's a fire detector on the ceiling and two shelves by the entrance where 'tea and coffee-making facilities' reside on a tray next to a hairdryer. I don't think I've ever used a hotel hairdryer. There's no sign of an iron, but under the shelves a large shoe horn hangs from a smaller arrangement of hooks screwed to the wall. I don't think I've ever had occasion to use a shoe horn either. Three magazines rest on a shelf underneath the desk but they're all written in Swedish so all I can do is look at the pictures. There are four decorative cushions under the Velux window resting on what looks like a huge block of concrete, which has been painted white; I'm using it to spread out my 'stuff' like my mobile phone, travel adaptors, last night's dinner receipt, my glasses case, wallet, maps and yesterday's newspapers (picked up free at Gatwick).

View from Room 315, NOFO Hotel, Stockholm
The weather has changed. The blue skies and sunshine have been replaced by grey skies and blustery wind, more like the weather should be in these parts. I remember coming here when it was minus 26 degrees and then I flew north to Lulea where temperatures plummeted to minus 40 and there were lakes frozen over – so much so that cars could be driven across them, the ice being something like three feet thick.

Going back to my hotel room's compact bathroom, it is a so-called 'wet room', which basically means the sink, the toilet and the shower are in the same room, with the latter only separated by a shower curtain. For some reason, there is a window cleaner's squeegy lying on the floor and I can only assume it's there to wipe the mirror clean when the hot shower steams it up; except that the water is cold, lukewarm at best, and it took me an age to work out how to get it lukewarm, by a process of trial and error. In the end it was just about bearable and I managed to wash and shave while in the shower. I turned the tap on the sink this way and that to see if there was any sign of hot water, but no, there wasn't; and in my book a hotel without hot water – or a hotel where getting the hot water to work is a serious faff – is not worthy of a return visit. I don't need the aggravation, although I kind of like NOFO so before I decide not to make a return visit, there's always tomorrow's shower – it might work!
Room 315, NOFO Hotel, Stockholm

It's 0730hrs and I'm ready for breakfast... and now, at 0815hrs I'm back and can report that breakfast was fine. I enjoyed cereal (muesli with raisins), some rice cakes and some fresh melon plus a cup of strong, black coffee. Why not tea, you might ask. Well, in all honesty it was a little confusing. They had two huge containers of coffee (with depressable levers to dispense it) and one containing hot water, presumably for tea. Next to the hot water was leaf tea in glass containers, but nothing remotely like a teapot in which to place the tea prior to dispensing the hot water. There was also a small glass jar containing 'tea bags' but on closer inspection these appeared to be paper napkins (I couldn't see any tea inside them) so rather than engage in more faffing around (the shower had already proved a bridge too far) I opted for black coffee and enjoyed my breakfast watching a muted BBC World News – Brexit talks and the passing away of Otto Warmbier after returning to the US from North Korea featured.

And now at 1648hrs, the blue sky and sunshine back in place and the tree outside my Velux window swaying slightly in the breeze, I'm back in my room. The bed has been made, as I expected it to be, but all else is quiet. I keep thinking about going downstairs for a glass of wine, sitting in the courtyard and relaxing with the newspaper, but there's work to be done and by the time I've finished it, it will be dinner time and then, tomorrow, I fly home. It's whether to go back to Bistro Boheme or try somewhere different, but I'll make that decision later, after I've completed my work.

For my Trip Advisor hotel and restaurant reviews, click here.

At least the cushions aren't on the bed!