Wednesday, 29 March 2017

In Budapest, day three...

Thanks to airport security restrictions I invariably find myself in a foreign hotel without toothpaste or shaving foam. Normally, I've had to hand in such dangerous substances prior to reaching the X-ray machine and it's not until the following evening that I realise I can't clean my teeth. A phone call to the front desk follows and I often end up with a tiny tube of tasteless putty that will have to suffice until I find the nearest chemist or, as they often refer to them outside of the UK, pharmacy.

Budapest's Liberty Bridge
Yesterday I found myself searching the streets for a Lidl, which I never found, but I did spot the familiar pharmacy green cross logo and bought my toothpaste there. It's odd how, whenever I enter a pharmacy abroad they seem like much more sacred places than they are in the UK where companies like Boots and Superdrug have lessened the experience of visiting the chemist, a bit like modern churches – there's nothing worse – have taken something away from the religious experience one gets in a proper old church with its cooling stone floors and rickety old pews.

But here in Budapest (and elsewhere in mainland Europe) it's still pretty sacred entering a chemist. Invariably I'm the only customer, as I was on this occasion, and behind the counter there was a quietly spoken woman dressed in a white uniform not dissimilar to those worn by nurses. There was a certain hush about the place and, of course, a pleasant smell of talcum powder. All the products were behind glass and when I asked for toothpaste the woman in the white uniform behind the counter led me to the back of the shop and a wooden cabinet with glass panels behind which were a variety of different toothpaste brands. She unlocked the cabinet and ran through each brand one by one explaining their various attributes and in the end I opted for Sensodyne (it was the only brand I could recognise). I made my purchase back at the counter and left the store, which, I'm guessing, reverted back to its hushed silence blended with the smell of the talc.

Yesterday I switched my flight and I'll be flying back today instead of tomorrow. There was no point staying until Thursday when it looked highly likely that I'd be able to catch the Wednesday flight home.

Alföldo Vendéglo – unpretentious food
Something I do a lot of is walking and yesterday I put in the miles through the late afternoon and into the evening. In the end I tired myself out so much that I felt strangely low and depressed as I searched for somewhere to have an early dinner before hitting the sack. I found Alföldi Vendéglo, a traditional Hungarian restaurant with some other English guests. It was a fairly basic, no-nonsense sort of place with a friendly old white-haired waiter and offered unpretentious food at reasonable prices. Because of all the walking I'd been doing I had a lentil soup with bread to start followed by a Hungarian beef stew with dumplings and a draught Hungarian beer and finished with apple pie and ice cream.

I headed back to the hotel using the SatNav on my phone, which can be confusing when I'm tired, but I got back fairly quickly and went straight to bed, although I did clean my teeth with my new Sensodyne toothpaste first. I needed the sleep having walked around the streets for miles and miles prior to finding Alföldi Vendéglo. My trekking prior to dinner took me across the Liberty Bridge to Buda (or was it Pest?) and back across the Danube and the further I walked the more depressed and despairing I got. Drinking that beer in the restaurant prior to getting my beef stew was wonderful. Now I know how John Mills felt when he downed that glass of Carlsberg in the film Ice Cold in Alex.

This morning I resumed my walking and went over a lot of old ground, eventually stumbling across Alföldi Vendéglo, but it was miles too early to be considering lunch, I'd only just finished breakfast. On Sunday or Monday, or even yesterday, I can't remember which day, I went out in search of a Starbuck's. I wanted to chill out with a cup of tea, a cake and a book, but I couldn't find it. Needless to say I'd been putting in the miles on foot prior to using the iphone's SatNav to find the place and was having no joy. I was getting that despairing feeling of complete hopelessness that I tend to get when I'm abroad after a couple of days away from home and it's because I get lonely and bored when I travel alone. I gave up on the Starbuck's and went back to the hotel where, I realised, that my despair and hopelessness was little more than tiredness. My problem is I don't know when to stop walking. The up side of this story is that when I found Alföldi Vendéglo yesterday I also found the Starbuck's, but it was too late for chilling with a book and besides, it's fine when it's spontaneous, but take my word for it, when it's not spontaneous it becomes little more than a poorly put together sequel of previously good times.

So right now, as I write this, I'm moments away from leaving the hotel. Outside there are blue skies and sunshine. My bags are packed, I've asked reception if the taxi drivers take credit cards and they do and while I was going to take the metro and then a bus to the airport – like a real traveller would – I decided that a last walk around town would be a better idea.

Budapest's Bike Share Scheme
Just to say that the bike share scheme in Budapest was far too complicated, meaning that I couldn't simply take a bike out. The process involved logging on to a website or getting hold of some kind of access card so I didn't bother. The hotel receptionist told me it would be easier to simply hire a bike from the many companies offering the service. Time was running out so I didn't bother.

Monday, 27 March 2017

In two

I can't sleep in hotels, not initially at any rate. It's probably got a lot to do with alcohol. I don't need it, never have really, but when I'm away and living the 'hotel life' a glass of wine with a meal, a glass or two on the plane, are part and parcel of the whole thing. I don't go over the top, not any more, but invariably it leads to a broken night and it's unnecessary.

This morning I awoke at 0500hrs – or thereabouts – but I distinctly remember the time on my iphone reading 0523hrs and I was conscious prior to checking the time. It's now 0616hrs and I've just watched the last five minutes of an interview with Dr. Allen Ault, former commissioner of corrections for the US state of Georgia, on the BBC's Hard Talk programme, something I rarely watch unless I'm in a foreign country where BBC World seems to rule the airwaves. It's the only place where you'll find advertisements on the BBC, although I notice that the BBC website carries ads whenever I access it abroad.

Dr. Allen Ault being interviewed by the BBC...very depressing
Anyway, Dr. Allen Ault. I've never seen a better example of the phrase, "You've made your bed, now lie in it." Although, I felt sorry for the guy. Imagine having to live with those memories.

I've sat here and watched the dawn and now the rooftops outside my window have just about lost their silhouette, so it's time, perhaps, to hit the shower.

There's a distinct masculine touch to the bathroom decor: woods and dark tiles plus some contrasting creamy white tiles. It's not a big space, but not cramped either and the shower worked fine. Despite being a 'boutique' hotel, they have adhered to the golden rule of 'function before form' – everything worked as it should have and I didn't encounter any problems with taps or plugs.

Breakfast at the Bohem Art Hotel...
Breakfast is served in the basement in a pleasant, airy space. There's a lot on offer, but I steered away from the traditional rolls and sliced meats and chose instead vegetables with cous cous, a strange thing to have for breakfast, but it was there so I figured it must be what somebody regards as normal, perhaps the Hungarians? It was very nice. There was also something like a bread pudding with cherries and that was also very nice. I chose Darjeeling tea in a glass mug, I'm not sure I like drinking tea out of a glass mug, not sure why, but the tea was so good I had another (it was called 'Darjeeling Brilliant' so I'm telling you now that it lived up to its name). A small bowl of yoghurt, an orange and a banana followed and while I could have sat there all morning, I can't afford the time. But let's say that breakfast was good. Fortunately I didn't have a newspaper otherwise I'd still be down there now, pretending to be important.

After 'business' had been conducted I swanned back to the hotel with time to spare until the evening get-together. I wandered around with no fixed plan and ended up trying to track down a Starbuck's. I felt it would be good to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea and a pastry or something, anything, to provide me with some kind of solace. In truth I was missing being at home; odd when I've only been away for around 24 hours, but I think it was a kind of realisation that life at home is better than life on the road and that the latter is a bit soul destroying, most of the time. Who wants to live the life of a nomad, poking one's head into bars and restaurants, searching out some form of comfort, some kind of nirvana, when the reality is simple: it doesn't exist. Either that or I've found it anyway, at home, where I least expected to find it. The grass is always greener and all that, but it's true. In the end I decided that I'd have to find a Starbucks. I hadn't seen one and I even began to wonder if there was one in Budapest, but surely there must be one. I figured that sitting down in a Starbucks, where I wouldn't need cash and I could enjoy a tea with a biscuit or a millionaire's shortbread, would bring me back from the brink of despair (I was seriously feeling it). What, I wondered, was the point? The answer? Well, there wasn't one; if there was, then I'd hold the Holy Grail in my hands.

I've walked across that bridge and now I'm going to walk back 
In the end, having used my iphone's GPS to try and find a Starbucks (they exist, but I couldn't work out in which direction I was walking) I gave up and marched purposefully (and a little angry) back to my hotel where I sat in despair for around a half hour comparing my hotel room with a prison cell and wondering what it must have been like to be Rudolph Hess banged up in Spandau. "So true, funny how it seems, always alone...".

And then I snapped out of it, as I always do, and eventually headed out again, this time to the InterContinental Hotel for a glass of Cabernet and later a boat trip that lasted all night and was very pleasant, thanks to the company I kept and the food, which was fine, even if the steak was a little tough.

It's almost midnight and I should be hitting the sack, there's nothing else to do, although there probably is, I just don't want to do it. Another busy but interesting day tomorrow.

You remember last night I enjoyed some wasabi peanuts? Well, today it was chocolate peanuts and now I'm wondering what else is in the minibar. I think I'll take a look, hold on...well, there's some more wasabi peanuts but I've gone for Premium Nuts & Raisins – just what the doctor didn't order.

There's little more to say so I'm going to sign off and get a good night's sleep; well, I hope I will.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

In one

So far it's all been smooth sailing: a cab to Gatwick Airport, tea and a ginger nut in Starbucks in the North Terminal and then a pleasant flight with easyJet to Budapest, which took around two hours and twenty five minutes. The weather is roughly the same as it was in the UK this morning, that is blue skies and sunshine, albeit a mildly cold breeze, but nothing to grumble about, that's for sure.

Waiting to board at Gatwick...
Once I cleared passport control in Budapest, which was fast and efficient, I jumped into my free transfer Mercedes, which took me from the airport to the hotel, the Bohem Art Hotel which, as I suspected, was a typical 'boutique' hotel, meaning slightly contrived and quirky, but in a good way. The front desk was dark and cosy, there were big lamp shades and works of art on the walls and it all appealed to me so again, nothing to moan about. What's more, check-in was simple and soon I found myself in the lift heading for my room on the sixth floor.

The room is a little basic, but again in a contrived, ironic sort of way, but it's not in any way uncomfortable and while I initially thought there were no wardrobes, I eventually found them – and the minibar – simply by pressing the walls and hoping that doors would open for me; they did.

As I've come to expect, the view from the hotel window is nothing spectacular – it never is – just roof tops, the odd satellite dish and, of course, chimney pots.

View from my hotel room...around 6pm.
There is a free bottle of mineral water on the bedside table, with the Bohem name on the label, and while I enjoyed a croque monsieur on the plane, along with two of those small bottles of red wine (Malbec) I'm still a little hungry and might delve into the minibar and see what snacks are available. That mineral water might not be free, but I won't find out until Thursday when I check out of here.

Just to let you know that I've now delved into the minibar and found a small tin of wasabi peanuts, which are green, moreish and hot; and I'm now punctuating virtually every word I write with eating a wasabi peanut. They're hot but strangely pleasant. It's going to be difficult to ignore them until they've all gone. Ever since I typed the last word of the previous sentence ('gone') I've...hold on while I eat three more... had a good handful and probably won't stop until I've finished the lot. A walk clearly beckons, but so does work and I need to find out where I need to be and how far away I am from my planned meeting. I've finished the wasabi peanuts.

Blue skies and sunshine are deceptive and if, like me, you head out in such weather with an open neck shirt and no coat then you're in for a shock, like I was as I made my way back to the hotel after the meeting and dinner, keeping the Danube on my right. It was cold and despite being inadequately dressed, I still took a minor detour, having eaten pasta and a glass of wine in a place called I Quattro Artisti (an Italian and Hungarian restaurant). It was pleasant enough with it's red gingham tablecloths and jazz singer, but it was far from top end and the service was slow, although the glass of Merlot I ordered was fairly large considering I simply asked for a glass of red wine. I had opted to sit downstairs, rather than upstairs where I wouldn't have enjoyed the live entertainment, but in all honesty, I didn't want to be there; sometimes dining alone is disheartening and this was one of those lonely occasions.

Budapest at night...
Yards from my hotel I turned left on a whim and found there were perfectly decent restaurants within a stone's throw of my room, but how was I to know? I must, of course, try some Hungarian food before I fly back and there appears to be many options, although tomorrow there's an official dinner that I must attend so it will have to wait until Tuesday evening.

I'm back in the room now and while I considered using my complimentary drink voucher in the bar downstairs, it wasn't that appealing so I've saved it for another occasion. There's no restaurant in the hotel, but there is a breakfast room and as far as I'm concerned, breakfast is the best meal of the day, so I hope they deliver.

There's another bottle of mineral water on the other bedside table and I'm debating whether to drink it or not, but somehow I think it would be overkill so I'll await breakfast in the morning and a decent cup of tea (I hope!)

Postscript – there's a bike share scheme!!!
Expect a report from the road as I've found some bright orange bikes along the route between here and my meeting venue. When I get some spare time, I'll be taking one out.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Great weather, but no cycling...

I've noticed that there's a lot of 'no cycling' going on. Sometimes it's been because of the weather, other times because of illness or tiredness or, as is the case this weekend, there's simply not enough time in the day and besides, Andy's not going either, although he did say he could have gone tomorrow, but I can't make it. So, all in all, it's not a good situation.

All I can do is have weird dreams about cycling. I had one last night that half way through morphed into a bizarre toy car race. The cycling element of the dream is hard to recollect accurately, but it had something to do with myself and a colleague from work, called Sam. We were out on our bikes somewhere rural and all of sudden something weird happened to my front wheel. It was as if the front forks and the wheel melted and I experienced a strange, disorienting sensation that culiminated in whatever I was doing becoming a race that involved a toy car. The toy car that I had for the race was small – we're talking Matchbox size – and it had no form of propulsion (it wasn't battery powered or radio-controlled, it wasn't even friction driven) something I distinctly remember feeling disgruntled about as I could, apparently, quite easily have chosen a toy car that was a million times better than the one I was actually using.

One thing I do remember is the length of the race: 27 miles for some reason and I had to push my tiny Matchbox car along rural tarmac, crouching down in the process. Eventually, I'm guessing that the sheer monotony of such an undertaking frustrated me beyond belief and I woke up, at gone 0800hrs, and noticed one thing: incredible weather. The sun was shining through the gap in the curtains, there were blue skies and cotton wool clouds and while there was a cool breeze it was perfect cycling weather – another reason why it was so shameful that neither Andy nor I was going anywhere. The good weather is set to continue, hopefully it'll be good next weekend when, Andy has informed me, he still won't be cycling, more's the pity. But if it is good weather next weekend, I'm getting out there, even if it's a short one to Botley Hill and back or, better still, an urban ride to mum's.

The old Tatsfield Bus Stop...
Stop press! The Tatsfield Bus Stop is back!!!
That said, I have some very important news: the Tatsfield Bus Stop is back! Alright,it never went anywhere, but the seating did. A car smashed into the bus stop many, many months ago, making it uninhabitable for NoVisibleLycra. The end result has been regular visits to Tatsfield Village. Not any more! Last week I was driving along Clarks Lane towards Westerham and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that there were seats at the bus stop. My heart skipped a beat and as soon as I was able, I sent Andy a text. Just when we both thought the Tatsfield Bus Stop was never ever to have seats again, the council has done its job.

I've just got back from visiting mum – I drove there, it being Mother's Day tomorrow, and I have been reliably informed, by mum, that there's some fruit cake to be eaten, and quite a lot of it. Mum made the first tier of a wedding cake for one of my nieces – who is getting married in June – and accidentally dropped it on the counter top (not the floor, let's make that clear). The cake in question then split so mum had to go back to the drawing board and start over, which she did. So there's what amounts to huge circular chunk of fruit cake going begging. I had a couple of bits earlier with a cup of tea and I can vouch for its greatness. Here's hoping they'll be cake in the tin next weekend. Mum says she'll save me some.

So, no cycling this weekend, not a good state of affairs.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

When using the C-word is more than justified...

Spring is on the way. Andy's Kona outside Tatsfield village
The C-word. You know the one I mean, it rhymes with 'hunt' and most women find it terribly offensive. Well, there are times when its usage is justified – and widely welcomed by the general public. There are certainly occasions when, rather than vilify the person who has uttered the word, the world sits up and pats the user on the back or sticks up a thumb in agreement. Now is one of those times.

"I may have run the country," said former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne on Friday. "But I've never run a paper."

George Osborne
Well, that's as maybe, but in many ways, it was an odd thing to say. He could quite easily have commented, "I may have run the country, but I've never taken anybody's tonsils out." Can you imagine the horror of being wheeled into the operating theatre and seeing Osborne, gloving up, and saying, "I may have run the country, but I've never been a heart surgeon."

The news that Osborne had been appointed editor of the London Evening Standard came as a big shock to Andy. I broke the news to him at the Tatsfield Village bus stop after pouring the tea and munching on a BelVita. He couldn't believe it. 

"Osborne Osborne?"
"The very same," said I.

Reaching for my iphone, I found the BBC website and showed him what I regarded as a rather offensive news story.

"It's true," I said, but he still had that flabbergasted look.

Osborne has been appointed editor of the London Evening Standard, a UK free sheet that can be found on many a London railway station in the late afternoon and early evening. It is read by weary commuters on their way home from work and while I don't 'commute' into London, whenever I'm there I occasionally find myself bringing home a copy. Not any more!

There are so many things wrong with Osborne being editor of a newspaper. First, he is MP for Tatton in Cheshire and some Conservatives argue – or rather question – whether he could represent his constituents effectively while editing a daily newspaper on top of various other jobs he's doing, including being an adviser to Blackrock, supposedly the world's biggest investment fund, for which he is getting a cool £650,000 for just one day's work a month. [Insert expletive here].

In addition he's getting the best part of  million pounds for various speaking engagements and let's not forget his £75,000 MP's salary. 'Two Jags Prescott' has nothing on 'Loadsajobs Osborne.'

Once again, I find myself thinking that this is why we have Trump in the White House and Brexit in the UK; and I don't blame those who voted for either of them. People have had enough of the hypocrisy, enough of the unfairness and enough of the double standards. Don't forget that it was George Osborne who had the audacity to tell us 'we're all in it together' as he set about his austerity politics alongside his partner in crime, David Cameron, the man who put his party before the interests of the country.

Osborne earning well over a million pounds per annum brings other people's hardships into sharp focus. A report in this Saturday's Guardian explains how girls from low-income families in the UK are struggling to afford sanitary protection. It's hard to believe that a charity that provides sanitary products to women in Kenya has agreed to do the same for girls in Leeds where Freedom4Girls reported that local schools are worried about truancy when that time of the month comes round. [Cut to Osborne with his collection of high-paid jobs and privileged lifestyle and remember him telling you to cut your cloth accordingly and that 'we're all in this together', 'this' being the financial crisis that was brought about by the banks].

It is argued that Osborne will use his new role to attack the government, which some MPs describe as 'blatantly disloyal' according to a front page report in the Guardian, while other MPs have said that Osborne is gunning for the role of Mayor of London. What? He can fit that in as well?

I feel sorry for the journalists (if there were any) who applied for the job and found they had lost out to George Osborne. I can only guess what they were saying on Friday afternoon. [Insert expletive here].

With the current row about Russia's possible involvement in Western politics – and in particular its supposed role in the US presidential elections – it should come as no shock that they were involved in the Osborne deal. The London Evening Standard is co-owned by the former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev who has been quoted as saying that Osborne will be good for the newspaper. 

Silly haircut one: Michael Fabricant
Anybody with an ounce of intelligence knows that the UK media predominantly leans to the right – the Daily Telegraph is known as the 'Torygraph' and then we have white van man's bible, the Sun and Murdoch's other newspaper, the Times. On the left wing side there's the Guardian and the Daily Mirror. But to have a Tory running a newspaper as editor while he's still an MP! Why even bother reading it? I was going to say 'why bother buying it?' but it's a free sheet so all you can do in protest is not pick it up – play with your smartphone on the train home instead.

Andy says he doesn't buy newspapers anymore for the simple reason that they don't tell the truth. He's right: they only tell 'the truth' in the way they want you to believe it, with a party political slant. Arguably, you're safer with television and radio and, perhaps, using the Internet to get a range of views on whatever the subject might be. But now, of course, the London Evening Standard has gone one better. Not content with simply accepting that the public know there is a right wing bias in the press, they've decided to come right out with it and appoint Osborne, a Tory MP, as the editor. So, if you want to be fed Tory propaganda, more so than you were already, read the London Evening Standard. I won't be picking it up the next time I'm in town.

Silly haircut two: Donald Trump
The ride to Tatsfield village was characterised by grey skies and the sound of Andy and I ranting. As we wove our merry way around the quiet country lanes that constitute 'the slow way to the Tatsfield village bus stop' we unleashed our venom on Sturgeon – odd, isn't it, that the current and former leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) are both named after fish. Once again that whole 'blind faith in ideology' argument raised it's ugly head as I suggested that the SNP was like UKIP, a one-trick pony. UKIP existed to take the UK out of Europe (and is now floundering) while the SNP is designed for taking Scotland out of the Union.

Personally I don't think the majority of Scots want to leave the UK – they said so in the last referendum – and, as I've said many times before, nationalism is a dangerous thing. It's odd that Scotland wants to move away from Westminster and be governed by Brussels instead. Fortunately, May has laid down the law. She wants to deal with Brexit before saying yes to another Scottish independence referendum and who can blame her?

And then there's last week's elections in the Netherlands. Thank God Geert 'silly haircut' Wilders didn't win. He looks like a cyber Nazi from the future.

Check out those haircuts!
Silly haircut three: Geert Wilders
In fact, talking of haircuts, is it just me or does a silly haircut come as standard these days for so-called 'populist' politicians? Just take a look at the haircuts of three high profile 'politicians', all involved in 'populist' politics – albeit the wrong kind of populism in my opinion. What's populist about fascism? Boris Johnson (he who led the UK out of Europe); Geert Wilders in the Netherlands; and, of course, 'the Donald'. What have they in common? Stupid, stupid haircuts!

I don't know whether Michael Fabricant would describe himself as a populist politician, but his haircut bothers me and it should bother you too.

Silly haircut four: Boris Johnson.
After parting at Warlingham green, Andy and I rode our separate ways to our respective homes and I found myself experiencing many different emotions. The Osborne story had left me feeling peeved, miffed, angry, powerless and, above all, disillusioned with the people who are supposed to be leading the way in the world. Instead, they are exhibiting nothing but their own greed and ignorance and deserve everything they get. In short, they're a bunch of hunts, I thought, as I rode along the 269 towards the pond and free-wheeled down Church Way with my hands off the handlebars – just for the sheer fucky-offyness of it. I'd say we need some kind of revolution, but I'm beginning to think we've already had one.

Monday, 13 March 2017

To Tatsfield village...

We expected rain. We didn't get it. Despite weather forecasters on television saying there would be rain early on Sunday and running throughout the day, there was nothing but grey skies and mild temperatures.

The blossom trees are out, which is the first sign of spring, there's no need for the balaclava and it's light when I get up in the morning.

We met at the green and rode to Tatsfield village, and on our return to the green we both agreed it was a great ride and that summer was definitely on the way.

All told, a great weekend with two rides: one to Flowers Farm near Godstone (see previous post) and Sunday's ride to Tatsfield Village.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

To Flowers Farm...

Sometimes, the smallest of mistakes can be catastrophic. Well, not catastrophic, but when I realised I'd left my keys in the office, it dawned on me that to get the bike out of the garage I would have to go through the back door instead of the front and use my emergency padlock key, the one I keep in a matchbox. Alright, it wasn't the end of the world, but it was mildly annoying – and made even more so when I discovered there was no milk.

Fortunately, the plan was to ride to Godstone and visit the teashop at Flowers Farm. It would mean tea and cake and, as it turned out, a real log fire. You can't get much better than that, unless a beach is involved, but we would be many miles from the sea.

Cake and a woodburner – pic by Andy Smith
We haven't been to Godstone in a long while and that's because there's a big hill on the return journey. It's so steep that if the gears on our bikes were playing up – and they often were – it was not worth the hassle.

Avid readers will know that my old Kona Scrap was always minus a gear or two and that there was never an occasion when they were all working smoothly. But now that I have a new bike with 27 gears we both felt that a trip to Flowers Farm was long overdue.

The weathermen on TV had promised rain on Sunday but the weather this morning was fine. In fact, the whole day was good. Cloudy, but not cold, so when I headed up the Limpsfield Road towards the green, I felt good and the idea of a ride to Flowers Farm, with the promise of tea and cake at the end of it, filled me with what can only be described as good vibes.

As we rode towards Slines Oak Road, we noticed the fog rolling in, a bit like in the John Carpenter movie. We thought that by heading west towards Godstone we would avoid it, but it stayed with us for most of the journey there and back.

It was weird having to tackle two off-road sections. Ever since I'd taken possession of the Rockhopper I'd managed to keep it spotless clean, but now I found myself riding through mud and puddles, albeit only for a few yards. We then rode through the leafy streets of Woldingham, past the big houses on left and right and on towards the second off-road bit through the golf course. The fog was so thick we could only just make out the trees.

Riding down Gangers Hill without lights – mine without batteries, Andy's simply not switched on – was treacherous enough, but we took it easy and eventually rode over the M25 and then the A22 towards the A25 where we rode the last few yards on the path and parked up at Flowers Farm.

How can I explain to you the greatness of Flowers Farm? A farm shop, a micro pub and, of course, the tea room, not forgetting the wood-burning stove. Andy did the honours – tea for two and two enormous triangular slices of an iced sponge cake with cherries. We took a seat in front of the fire and awaited delivery of the goods. They soon arrived and we sat there enjoying every moment. I found myself mesmerised by the flames of the fire, it's better than television, put it that way, but we still found time to discuss the pointlessness of social media and the uphill slog involved of getting anywhere near to a 'dream' job.

Soon it was time to head home. We'd been sitting there for around 40 minutes simply enjoying the solitude, the warmth of the fire, the conversation and the fact that we weren't on the bikes; but now we had the big hill to confront and as we headed towards it I cranked the bike down to its lowest gear and got on with it. Hills, however daunting, are best tackled by simply getting your head down and going for it. The fog was still making its presence known all around us; I've never known it to be so persistent, but soon we reached the top of the hill and found ourselves back in Woldingham with the golf course to our left and some posh houses on our right. When we reached the top end of Sline's Oak Road we said our goodbyes, promising to be out again tomorrow unless the rain dictated otherwise.

I road the length of Slines Oak Road and managed to handle reasonably well the steep section leading to the 269. I headed towards Warlingham alone. My ride was now flat all the way home and it wasn't long before I found myself free-wheeling down Church Way. But when I reached home I felt oddly guilty about the muddy state of the bike, my new bike, so I took it into the back garden, filled a plastic bowl with warm water and set about getting the mud off the frame. Then I oiled the chain and put the bike back in the garage.

Here's hoping we'll get a ride in tomorrow, but I don't want to lull myself into a false sense of charcuterie, alright, alright, 'security', I was just trying to be funny.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Ride aborted

Last night many vivid dreams. One involved waiting for, or looking at, a bus and then deciding to take the train, only to discover that the station was closed except for a side exit and when I followed the path leading into the station I stopped at a pair of sliding glass doors, which were closed. Behind me there was nothing but darkness. On attempting to pull the doors apart they opened and I was back on the streets again, or rather awake. It was just gone 0330hrs. Then, later, another dream. I was miles from home en route to work, but wearing only jeans and a tee-shirt in the rain. The bottoms of the jeans were wet and ragged and I realised that I was being foolish to dress in such a way and decided to turn back. Ahead of me, however, a long, long road stretching into infinity and lined with street lights. I met a friend and told him I needed to talk. He seemed concerned but I reassured him it was nothing to worry about and continued on my journey.

Perhaps another cup of tea?
I woke up again and it was still the dead of night. Or so it seemed. Outside it was dark, but the birds were awake. When I glanced at the clock it was something past four and I considered getting up and sitting here, like I am now, writing this blog, but decided against it. I had another vivid dream and then I could hear the radio. It was morning and time to get up. I wanted to stay where I was in the warmth and this made me check whether it was raining. Spitting a little so I refrained from an abort text and headed downstairs to make a bowl of fresh fruit and a mug of tea. I have the tea beside me now, but the bananas and grapes, the blueberries, the Weetabix biscuit and the yoghut and honey are gone leaving an empty bowl by the side of the lap top.

There's 20 minutes to go before I have to go outside and jump on the bike and head towards the green and having not gone out yesterday I'd like a ride today. Yesterday, like today, was supposed to be a wash-out, according to the weather people on the BBC. But it was a wonderful day of wispy clouds and sillouetted aircraft circling Heathrow. Later there were some dramatic skies and it wasn't too warm, but a ride to mum's was aborted due to a late night. I had assumed that I would wake up to rain and that Jon, who was expecting to meet me over at mum's for breakfast, would remain in bed, but no, he was up and ready to roll and when I sent the abort text he was disappointed that I wouldn't be there. "Shake a leg," he texted me. We chatted over the phone – a poor substitute – but it will suffice until we eventually get our acts together (or in this case I get my act together).

I had been in Clapham at the Northcote pub with a pal. We drank the beer we were brought up on, Youngs Ordinary Bitter, still the best pint in the world if you ask me. But I'm not getting any younger and the thought of a ride so early in the morning after a night in the pub was not appealing, so I didn't go out.

Now it's Sunday and the weather is not too dissimilar to yesterday, slightly cloudier and, as I said earlier, spitting rain, but with 10 minutes to go until I need to be out of the house, there is no abort text from Andy. I'd better go make the tea...

Roughly an hour later...
After making the tea I headed outside. It was a strange day. While the wind howled, the trees were still and ebony black against a grey-blue sky. I rode along Ellenbridge, on to Southcote, right on to Elmfield and left on Morley. Then I turned right on to Church Way and headed up the hill until I heard my phone ringing. It was a text from Andy. "It's raining," it said, so I called him. He was in his garage about to jump on the bike when the downpour started. I suggested we abort the ride as I knew full well the rain was headed in my direction. Sure enough it was, but I was in denial. Perhaps I should grin and bear it and ride to the green, or head over to mum's? I circled the road a few times and then rode around the block, but when I looked down at my trousers they were getting wetter and wetter. Where's the pleasure? There wasn't any, but I rode around anyway. I rode down Church Way, turned left into Arkwright, right on the Ridgeway and right again on to Southcote before heading down Ellenbridge. While soaking wet I was still in denial and thinking about breakfast at mum's. I turned left on to Barnfield and then it hit me: be sensible, go home and get dry so I did a u-turn and rode home.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

When profit is involved, trust nobody...

A few thoughts worth expressing. Last week while munching biscuits at Tatsfield Village, Andy and I touched upon a subject dear to our hearts, that of people being expected to work for nothing. The big, blatant example, of course, is internships where, basically, you work for nothing in order to gain the experience. This is outrageous and shouldn't be allowed, but working for nothing is not limited to interns.

Last week at Tatsfield Village we discussed the whole notion of how photographers are asked to take on an assignment for no pay but should be grateful for the exposure they'll be getting. This is another commonplace reason given by 'employers' for not paying their workers. "We can't pay you, but it's good exposure," they might say, unwittingly using the word 'exposure' in front of a photographer.

Trendy REVL ad, I wonder if they paid the agency?
So I'm on the way to work yesterday (1st March 2017) and there's an article in Metro, the free newspaper that people pick up at train stations or on buses. Inside, on page 3, I read the headline: Paid to Party! App offers dream blogging job. Well, being a blogger it grabbed my attention, but, as with everything in this world, it's not as good as it's cracked up to be; in fact, in this case it's downright unbelievably bad and yet another example of what I'm discussing here.

A company called REVL is offering 'an all-expenses paid six-month stint as a blogger'. They're looking for a fun and creative person to attend four events, exhibitions, concerts or nights out in London, every week and then they want them to write about their experiences.

Now, I'm a journalist, a writer, whatever you want to call me, and normally the deal is straightforward. Somebody might ask me, say, to cover an exhibition or attend a conference and write something about it, and the idea is that I say 'yes' and they pay me for my time and trouble. Simple. But not REVL. Oh no! Metro continues, "The job is unsalaried but the firm says it will give the successful applicant a chance to be London's 'next big influencer'. Oh, well that makes all the difference! They could be London's next big influencer! No they won't be, this is a nasty, uncalled for ruse to get somebody working for nothing at a time when we all need to earn as much money as we can get.

My view is simple: if the work being carried out by the person who isn't being paid is making money for the company that has decided NOT to pay that person, well, that's bordering on the criminal. If you're making money for a business, you should be paid for your efforts.

And another thing...
I don't know about you, but we all seem to have to pay for so much these days that having a job is absolutely critical. There's simply no time or reason why anybody should have to work for nothing, especially as even healthcare is something that costs an arm and a leg, or, in the case of surgeon Ian Paterson, a breast.
Paterson denies 20 counts of wounding with intent, says Metro
A report on the front page of the same edition of Metro alleges that Mr Paterson, a cancer surgeon no less, has been accused of 'needlessly' removing women's breasts – 'possibly to improve his earnings'. This is what really worries me about anything to do with health. Once a profit motive is introduced there's no telling what's going to happen.

Personally, I'm now wary about having an eye test or going to the dentist because I'm wondering whether what they say I need doing is the truth or a lie. Suddenly going to the dentist or the optician is like taking the car to the garage. The optician or dentist is basically walking around you, metaphorically kicking the tyres and making up reasons to charge you more money. I'm due to go to the dentist and I know that things will need to be done – when have you ever gone anywhere and been told, "no, absolutely fine, see you in six months"? the answer is never, because these people want to earn money from you. Why? Well, there are a host of reasons: a new kitchen extension, an exotic foreign holiday, some much-needed landscaping for the garden, a new car, you name it, they need to earn the money. Inject a profit motive and people aren't so much interested in your welfare but their own.

"First, you'd better make an appointment with the hygienist," the dentist will definitely tell me when I'm sitting in the chair. That's going to cost me around £55. Then there's the job that needed doing when I last went, but held back (and haven't been since because I simply couldn't afford the £250 plus bill I would have been charged). When I do go I'm expecting a bill approaching £500 and the thing is, how much of it is absolutely necessary? Not being an expert, I don't know. Unfortunately we have to trust people and where money is concerned, you can't trust anybody.

It's the same with the optician. I'm due to have an eye test, but what are the chances that they're going to say, "No, absolutely fine, keep the glasses you've got and we'll see you in 12 months." Not going to happen. They're going to up the power of the lenses, try and sell me new frames and bingo! A profit for them and an empty wallet for me.

I feel sorry for those who went under the knife of the aforementioned Mr Ian Paterson. Prosecutor Julian Christopher QC, according to Metro, said that 'the 59-year-old had 'his own obscure motives' for the deception. He said he may have inflated his workload to keep up his image of being 'at the top of his game' – or simply enjoyed the power of making people think their lives were in his hands."

If mechanics can charge for unnecessary work on your car, then beware of surgeons, opticians and anybody else driven by a profit motive as you might discover that work you're told needs doing, doesn't.