Monday, 29 May 2017

Another fantastic day so we head for the Tatsfield Bus Stop!

Monday 29 May: Yesterday the good weather continued late into the night. Around 2130hrs, feeling the effects of mild exposure to the sun, I took a stroll around the block to enjoy the welcoming cool evening air, but around 0200hrs there were some heavy storms. Now, at 0637hrs on Bank Holiday Monday morning, it is bright and still outside and it looks as if we'll get a decent ride.

We rode the slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop on the assumption that there wouldn't be a dry seat anywhere else – apart from the village – and when we reached our destination we chilled and watched steam rise from an adjacent field. There was a wonderful freshness to everything and it felt good to be out in the early morning air and close to the cornfields.

Riding the slow way means Beddlestead Lane, a long, twisting snake of dark tarmac that winds its way between the fields and carries Lycra monkeys from one end to the other who always manage to surprise us when the pass.

Our bikes in the cornfield behind the Tatsfield Bus Stop, Bank Holiday Monday
There are two types of Lycra monkey: one is the well-spoken senior management variety, and the other is a kind of working class, Alf Tupper 'Tough of the Track' type with exposed calf muscle tattoos. To make it easier for you, think of Seb Coe and Steve Ovett.

Lycra monkeys wear 'cycling gear' and by that I mean 'sponsored' cycling shirts and, of course, Lycra shorts or leggings. It's not a good look and when you consider that these guys aren't sponsored by anybody, it makes it kind of pointless. They often ride in groups and tend to raise their voices, occasionally shouting "Car!" or "Gravel!" as they whizz past us.

I often wonder what they must think of me in my paint-stained, many-pocketed trousers and my equally paint-stained hoody, unshaven and wearing a dirty old pair of trainers. They probably think I'm a farm worker on my way to the strawberry field or on the run from Border Control. Who knows?

Something must be done about my sartorial elegance. I need to ditch the paint-stained clothing and tidy myself up a little bit. I don't mean go out and buy some Lycra, but I need to smarten up.

It was pleasing to see somebody on a racer who wasn't wearing Lycra. A man puffed his way up Clarks Lane from Westerham wearing an old tee-shirt and what looked like a pair of boxer shorts. Not an ounce of 'sponsorship' could be found on his clothing, which was refreshing to see.

Two cups of tea were consumed and two packets of BelVitas too – it's our staple diet on all rides – and soon it was time to pack up and head home. We headed for Botley Hill and then north along the 269 towards Warlingham, occasionally acknowledging fellow cyclists riding in the opposite direction.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

To the Tatsfield Churchyard...

Saturday's weather was fantastic. I had planned a drive to and from Sussex so I didn't ride out because I needed to conserve my energy. Andy rode alone to Godstone and the surrounding area.

Sunday and the weather was still fantastic: bright, blue skies early in the morning, a glowing sun for most of the day and then, by late afternoon, there was a strong downpour. "Good for the garden," my dad might have said. When the rain ceased there was a wonderful smell of rain in the air. I love the summer.

But let's get back to this morning's ride. I met Andy at the green and we initially planned a ride to Westerham, but as we made our way along the 269 Andy changed his mind. "Let's go to the churchyard instead," he said, so we did.

Along Clarks Lane a squirrel went crazy. Andy said he (or she) fell from a tree, which is odd when you consider, as Andy later explained, that a squirrel's key behaviours are 1. Climbing trees and 2. hiding nuts for a winter's day. Well, on point 1. this animal wasn't doing well. He scampered across the road as I might have done if I had a wasp up my arse, and then careered out of the undergrowth and into the road again, this time hitting my back wheel as he hopped his way back to the other side of the road.

With tea and BelVita biscuits at the ready we stretched out on the park bench to enjoy the good weather. Since we last met, however, there had been a terrorist bomb tragedy in Manchester and naturally it became the main subject of conversation. I mentioned how my local railway station sported two armed coppers on Thursday evening and while it was reassuring for the public to be given the impression that the UK security services were 'doing their bit' to calm the nerves, news that MI5 had the killer on its radar prior to the atrocity, but did nothing, and the fact that those who knew the killer had expressed their doubts about him – they were concerned he might engage in an act of terrorism – then suddenly that word 'flabbergasted' surfaces. With so many dead and many more seriously injured and still in hospitals in the Manchester area as I write this, then to know that the security forces had more than their suspicions about the killer, well, what can I say?

A report by the BBC claims that the security services were warned three times of the killer's extremist views, but failed to take further action because he was 'under review'.

Manchester has fallen victim to terrorist attacks in the past and has pulled through; this time round it appears to be coping well in the aftermath of the tragedy. It's a fantastic city full of great people and amazing musicians and I hope it remains that way – I'm sure it will.

As I passed those two armed officers on the railway station last Thursday night I couldn't help but wonder how they would deal with a similar terrorist attack if it took place away from the station in the centre of town, in the mall, for example. The truth is that they wouldn't be able to deal with it at all and not through any shortcomings of their own, just that nobody can be in two places at once and when you're dealing with an enemy that cares little for its own lives, let alone those of its victims, then you quickly realise that the whole situation rests entirely on intelligence and not so much an outward 'show of force', although I guess it helps.

It all sadly leads to what some call 'the standard response' of the establishment to terrorist atrocities of this nature: condemnation by leading politicians; a shrine to the fallen, thumbnail portraits of the victims in the newspapers; shots of ordinary-looking houses where suspects are being rounded up; and, of course, news that the suspect (or suspects) were known to the security services.

We discussed the forthcoming general election. During the week Andrew Neil, a leading political broadcast journalist and former newspaper editor, had interviewed the leader of the Conservative Party, Theresa May, and the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn performed better than May, who dodged virtually every question Neil fired at her in what was later described as a 'car crash' interview. Corbyn had a few wobbly moments when Neil challenged him on his views about the IRA, but he stood his ground a little more than May. This afternoon Neil interviewed Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish Nationalist party. Up until this afternoon, I can't say I've really warmed to her, but after May's awful performance, it was refreshing to note that Sturgeon wasn't taking any prisoners. Furthermore, she never once avoided a question and put across her case perfectly. I must say that she went up in my estimation.

In the UK it's what is known as a 'bank holiday weekend', which means we get Monday off in addition to our weekend. So far the weather has, as I said, been absolutely brilliant. All week the sun has been out, but nothing lasts forever and it's certainly true where the British weather is concerned. This afternoon we had the aforementioned big downpour, and more has been promised for tomorrow. Uncertainty about the weather prompted Andy and I to hum and hah a little bit about whether we'd be riding tomorrow. All I know for certain (well, relatively certainly) is that thunder storms are on the agenda 'up north' but I think it will be heading our way too around noon. If this proves right then we should get out for a Bank Holiday Monday ride, but right now it's anybody's guess.




Friday, 26 May 2017

The continuing appeal of Mike Carter's One Man and His Bike

I doubt I'll ever be famous or accomplished enough to be a guest on Desert Island Discs, but if I found myself on the programme I wouldn't be happy about being given the complete works of William Shakespeare to accompany me on the mythical isle. But I do know what my luxury would be: One Man and His Bike by Mike Carter.

You might be thinking: Why is he still going on about that book? Good question. And the answer is simple: I love it!

I'm afraid I'd have stern words with Kirsty Young about the complete works of William Shakespeare. Who wants to spend their time on a desert island being reminded about exams? Not me. "Nay, but this dotage of our general..." my arse!

Over the past few days – now that summer has clearly arrived and we're all basking in 25 degree heat – it's that time of year when, on reaching home, I take a small walk (of no more than three minutes) to the local off licence where I purchase (for £1.49, it used to be 99p) a large can of Stella Artois. The thing that really annoys me about Stella – or 'wife beater' as it is more popularly known – is that, of late, the brewer has reduced the abv (alcohol by volume) from, I recall, 5.2% to 4.8%. As a result, Stella doesn't have that kick any more and after drinking a can I start to feel as if another one would be worth making a return journey to the shop. But no, leave it alone, one's enough, a little man sitting on my right shoulder advises me; and he's right.

So, part one of my summer fantasy – a large, chilled can of lager sitting in the garden – has been achieved. Now for part two.

Part two is simply reaching for a copy of Mike Carter's One Man and His Bike, picking a section of it at random and then sitting down and reliving Carter's amazing adventure around the coastline of the United Kingdom on a bicycle. It is quite simply my one and only fantasy, riding off around the coastline of the country without a care in the world and enjoying everything that comes my way.

Alright, it's not my only fantasy, but picking up One Man and His Bike and reading random sections of it now and then has become a little bit of a habit. Why? Because I find reading it, transports me back to being on the ride the first time round, when I first read the book. It's not only relaxing but therapeutic too. Put simply, it lifts my spirits (what more can anybody ask from a book?) and one day I might simply decide to re-read it. Right now I don't have a book to read, having just finished Hotels of North America by Rick Moody, and I'm debating whether to read one of four cycling adventure books that have hit the shelves of Waterstones.

The key contenders (the only contenders) are The Man Who Cycled the Americas by Mark Beaumont – a book which has been on my list since I read his The Man Who Cycled the World – but also two other books, one being The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold by Tim Moore and the other Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie by Andrew P Sykes. There's also a fourth, Kapp to Cape by Reza Pakravan and Charlie Carroll.

I've dipped into all of them over the past seven days with a view to buying one, but I'm doubting whether any of them can put Carter's masterpiece into the shade, although I'm sure they will be 'good reads', which is all I'm after.

I have two other books in mind, which are more nature-related, one being Roger Deakin's Waterlog, which charts Deakin's adventures on a wild swimming odyssey around the UK and another book, the title of which I have forgotten, written about somebody who walks around the UK following little known footpaths. I wish I could remember the title and the author, but I can't, but it has a similar vibe to the Deakin book.

For now, then, I'll continue to enjoy dipping into Carter's One Man and His Bike. This evening I read most of Chapter Four where he rides to Mersea Island, has trouble trying to reach the Brightlingsea ferry and eventually meets up with a man called Tony Haggis having cycled through the dilapidated Jaywick, through Clacton and on towards Frinton on Sea. Earlier in the week I'd read a large chunk of a later chapter when he was in Scotland and being attacked by a swarm of midges. It's all good and in many ways has become a kind of 'bible', something to pick up when spirits need lifting or if I simply want to escape reality for a short while and find myself on a bike in the middle of nowhere looking for a campsite or a bed & breakfast late on a hot summer's afternoon.

Tonight I had a small glass of red wine instead of the can of Stella and I finished off with fresh strawberries and a choc ice (you don't get much better ). I'm still sitting outside in the garden, but a breeze has come up, the surrounding trees are developing slowly into silhouettes and the birds are having their final sing song before bed.

The skies are clear of cloud, but the blue is starting to fade and I'm starting to feel a little cold, especially when the cool breeze hits home. I need to send an abort text to Andy as I can't ride Saturday, but I'm free for Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday (it looks as if this week-long spell of hot, sunny weather has a few more days to run and I definitely need to be on the bike).

Uneasy Rider by Mike Carterclick here.

One Man and His Bike by Mike Carterclick here.

In Irvine, Californiaclick here.


Sunday, 21 May 2017

Great weather and two rides – to Westerham and the Tatsfield Churchyard

Outside of Westerham on the ride home, Saturday 20 May 2017
When I opened my eyes I got a shock. It was light outside. I simply can't get used to the fact that summer has simply arrived unannounced. It seems like only yesterday that it was dark in the mornings and that slippers were needed as soon as I reached the bottom of the stairs. The sunlight was filtering through the curtains and I started to consider black-out drapes, like those found in Alaskan hotels during the summer months, making it possible to sleep in a place where there's only four hours of night time. I remember once sitting in the bar of the Anchorage Hilton at 2330hrs and it could have been 1100hrs instead.

It was Saturday morning, I remembered, and immediately recalled how last week at this exact time I was still three hours away from Heathrow Terminal Five in a jumbo jet, seat 32C, on a BA flight from Dallas Forth Worth.
Outside of Westerham on the way home, Saturday...
I hadn't been cycling for two weeks and was in desperate need of the exercise, so I jumped out of bed, changed into my riding gear (jodhpurs, red hunting jacket and knee-high, polished boots) and headed downstairs to make breakfast (two Weetabix, grapes, blueberries, banana and raspberries topped with some natural yoghurt. I also made myself a cup of tea – no sugar).

All week has been strained due to slowly fading jet lag, but I'm fine now and a decent ride on the bike is just what the doctor ordered.

I unpadlocked the bike and headed out along the usual route, meeting Andy at the green where we decided to ride to Westerham (a 22-mile round trip) where, we discovered, preparations were underway for a summer fair. A smallish group of people, including the local Rotary Club, were setting up display stands as Andy and I sipped tea and munched biscuits, our bikes resting against the park bench on which we were sitting.

Fortunately a horse arrived meaning no shots of gravestones. Pic: Andy Smith
We sat there until just before 0900hrs watching other people work and then mounted our bikes for the arduous journey up the hill. When we were back at the green we vowed to meet on Sunday, although we hadn't discussed the destination other than to say we might go to Westerham again (just like in the good old days) or even the trusty old Tatsfield churchyard, always a good sunny day destination.

On Saturday afternoon there was a bit of rain here and there, but nothing too depressing, and now, on Sunday morning at 0654hrs it is another bright day, just like yesterday. In fact it would be fair to say that this weekend has been the best in terms of the weather so far this year. I'm sure things will get even better as the summer progresses, but right now it's the best to date. In fact, today is the best day of all.

We met on the green at the usual time and decided to head for the Tatsfield Churchyard – the fast way. For some reason we couldn't face Beddlestead Lane. Andy was complaining of tiredness and there's little worse than the slow way to anywhere when you're feeling a little under the weather. We haven't been to the churchyard since 10 September last year (click here for more).

Last week Andy rode to the lakes...
When we arrived we talked about politics and the forthcoming election, we chatted about photography and social media and then set about taking photographs of a white horse grazing in an adjacent field before heading home again.

Ultimately the theme of our conversation was futility, which left us both feeling a little futile on the return journey. I was thinking about the sad inevitability of Theresa May being in Number 10 for the next five years and on top of that I was considering the world of social media and its futility, not to mention the futility of gardening, which I would be engaging in later in the day. The futility of gardening, however, is a little nonsensical, a bit like saying that shaving is futile. Yes, the grass grows back and so does the beard, but at least while you're keeping grass and stubble at bay there's a general tidiness about the situation. Unkempt grass and an unkempt beard don't exactly add up to anything positive and rather reflect neglect and apathy. A bit like my hair over the last week or two. After about eight weeks it gets a little straggly and I start to look like the Toecutter from the early Mad Max movies, but for some reason it takes me an age to get around to visiting the barber. I made it yesterday, however, and now I feel clean cut again and ready for what the world might throw at me.

Sunday's weather was bags better than Saturday's. For a start there was no rain, but there was also plenty of warm sunshine and it's still shining now at almost 7pm.

Our ride home retraced the outward route. We followed Clarks Lane towards Botley Hill and then turned right and rode straight down the 269 heading north towards Warlingham where we parted company. When I reached home I chilled for a bit, then had a shower and then went into the garden to mow the lawn. The original plan was to do both front and back, but a rogue sycamore tree had to be dealt with and after I'd cut it into pieces and placed it in the brown cart so kindly provided by the local council, my enthusiasm had waned.

A few words about the Specialized Rockhopper. It's now roughly six months old and while I'm tempting fate by saying I've yet to have a puncture, it's the truth. The bike's been performing well, but recently there's been a strange noise in top gear, not dissimilar to the noise made by a handful of small plastic bearings being shaken gently in a tin can. It's not affecting the performance of the bike so I'm not too bothered about it.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Conversations...

Nick Knowles
Bob: “So, you’ve bought a new car…”
Peter: “Well, not new as such, it’s about five years old.”
Bob: “What did you get?”
Pete: “Nissan Note.”
Bob: “Ah! Yes, he was so good in 48 hours.”
Pete: “You what?”
Bob:48 Hours. Nick Nolte.”

Pete: “No, Nissan Note.”
Bob: “Oh, sorry mate.”
Pete: “Not a problem."
Bob: “You been watching the golf?”
Pete: “No, but I do like a bit of DIY SOS on the Beeb.”
Bob: “With Nick Nolte?”
Pete: “No, Nick Knowles.”
Nick Nolte
Bob: “Oh, sorry. Shame you’re not keen on the golf."
Pete: “Only a little bit.”
Bob: “Jack Nicklaus, he’s good.”
Pete: “Ah yes, especially in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Bob: “Eh?”
Pete: “The movie about the nut house, Ken Kesey novel.”
Bob: “Yeah, I know, but it wasn’t Jack Nicklaus it was Jack Nicholson.”
Pete: “Really? I was always told that he somehow managed to balance both roles: acting and playing golf.”
Bob: “Not sure about that. Are you still listening to the Beatles?”
Pete: “Now and then.”
Bob: “Never liked them myself, not keen on that Jack Lemmon bloke.”
Pete: “John Lennon."

Jack Nicholson
Bob: “It must be hard trying to balance two careers: being a Hollywood actor and part of the songwriting duo that was the Beatles.”
Pete: “It was John Lennon, not Jack Lemmon. Jack Lemmon was in that movie with Marilyn Monroe.”
Bob: “Wasn’t she Boy George’s mate?”
Pete: “No, that was Marilyn... and he was a bloke.”
Bob: “Well, what about that John McCartney bloke, he had it tough. Being kidnapped by those terrorists in the Middle East and having to spend a load of time in a cage with that Tom Waits, can't have been pleasant.”
Pete: "Wasn't that why the Beatles split up?"
Bob: “Not entirely sure, probably."
Pete: "It was John McCarthy, actually, not McCartney.”
Bob: "But he was in the Beatles wasn't he?"
Pete: "Who?"
Jack Nicklaus...
Bob: "John McCarthy."
Pete: "No, he was the one in the cage with Tom Waits. It was Paul McCartney who was in the Beatles"
Bob: "With John Lemmon."
Pete: "Lennon."
Bob: "Yes, John Lennon. He wrote that Mull of Kintyre and all that?”
Pete: “No, that was Paul McCartney and Wings."
Bob: "I didn't order wings, can't stand the fuckers!"
Pete: "Fancy a pint?"
Bob: "Of milk?"
Pete: "Nah, fuck off!"
Bob: "Who's eaten your potatoes?"
Pete: "You 'ave, yer nosher!!!"
Bob: "Takes one to know one, son."
Pete: "Here's Johnny!!!!"
Bob: "Fuck off!"
Pete: "He says it all the time..."
Bob: "Oh does he?"
Pete: "Here's Johnny!!!"
Bob: "Give it a rest, nob cheese!."
Pete: "Here's Johnny!!! On the 18th at Augusta!"
Bob: "Don't believe a word of it! Piss off!"

Friday, 12 May 2017

In Dallas...Fort Worth

The flight from Knoxville to Dallas was pleasant, although I felt at one stage prior to take-off that the plane might disintegrate before it reached the runway. The American Airlines plane, probably a Boeing or an Airbus, I never looked, shuddered on every turn and squeaked and clanked its way to the strip but eventually took off without incident and I later enjoyed a cup of tea and a small bag of mini pretzels mid-flight. Around one hour and 40 minutes later we started our smooth descent into Dallas Fort Worth, through the cloud and on to the tarmac. I took the Skylink to terminal D and now I'm close to gate D15 from where I'll depart this great country en route to London Heathrow Terminal Five.

We had some rain last night in Nashville, but guess what? It was warm rain. Never experienced that before. I was in the Tailgate Brewery enjoying the old Peanut Butter Milk Stout and as I left and headed back to my hotel down came the rain. The warm rain. It was hot in Nashville. The temperature reached the early eighties, but finally the weather broke and it rained quite heavily through the night.

Inside Pizza Vino at Dallas Forth Worth airport, 
In the morning the roads were damp but there was a freshness in the air as I walked down to Barista Parlor for breakfast. But you know all about that – see previous post if you don't. Here at Dallas Fort Worth airport I've just had a late lunch of a pizza and a Cabernet, all very nice, but slightly off kilter. The place, Pizza Vino, was billing itself as an upmarket pizza restaurant – I had to take an elevator ride to reach it – so my expectations were high, but unfortunately they were dashed on the rocks of crap. For a start there were tables that needed a wipe-down, there were napkins left on the floor, there were laminated menus and to make matters worse, for some reason they didn't price their drinks. This annoyed me. I ordered a cabernet, assuming the price would be reasonable, but when I came to order another one (the pizza – proscuitto and ham – took an age to arrive and I was bored) I thought I'd ask how much. I was told $14. That's a lot of money for a glass of wine, even if it did arrive in a little glass carafe.

Oddly, my bill was only around $30. So I gave the obligatory tip, chewed the fat with the waiter, a really nice guy, who told me that to drive from Dallas to where his folks live takes 12 hours – and they live in Texas! Last night somebody told me that Texas was the second biggest state in the USA, next to Alaska. Imagine that, though, to get home by car takes 12 hours and you don't even cross a state line.

I'm not too far from the gate and I've found a power point, otherwise I wouldn't be writing this, but I felt it was important to write something from Dallas. I've got about 30 minutes before it's time to board and then I've got a nine-hour flight to look forward to; I can't say I'm happy about that, but what else can I do?

The television is screening something about Trump and the firing of FBI director Comey, but hold on, somebody's called my name over the airport intercom, that's the second time. I'd better go and see what they want. Nothing else to report anyway, I'm just sitting here. Outside it's blue skies and cloud and people are milling around as they do at airports. I'd better go, see you back in the UK.

I post a lot of hotel and restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor, which can be found by clicking here.

In Nashville...Day Seven (at Barista Parlor)

With a cab virtually waiting downstairs to take me to Nashville airport, I've just got time to say a few rushed words about a couple of great places here in the city that anybody reading this must visit should they find themselves at a loose end. I'll clear up typos later. The two establishments are the Tailgate Brewery on Demonbreun Street and Barista Parlor, just off Division Street in Magazine Street (kind of appropriate for me being as I'm a magazine journalist).

Inside Barista Parlor – my kind of America, especially with Beck on the turntable
As I say, there's not much time so I'll launch straight in and say first that I'm so glad I went out last night and even glader that I found the Tailgate Brewery outlet on Demonbreun. Tailgate produces the great Peanut Butter Milk Stout, which I first tried in the Hard Rock Café downtown. I couldn't believe my luck when I discovered that the Tailgate Brewery was just a stone's throw from where I was staying. So I had a couple of glasses of my favourite brew, accompanied by a 12in lasagne pizza (yes, it was a mistake as a 10in would have been more than enough).

Tailgate is a fantastic brewery and the place on Demonbreun was a kind of brew pub offering a wide selection of the company's brews. It was great and the beers can be sampled before buying.

The perfect breakfast...
While I was in there somebody recommended Barista Parlor, they even gave me directions, claiming it was behind City Fire down in the Gulch. I figured I had time to avoid the hotel breakfast and go there instead and I'm so glad I did. Had I known this place existed I'd have been there every morning rather than take the hotel breakfast, which was pretty standard.

Barista Parlor is cool. There's no other word to describe it. First they have a record player and on the turntable is Beck. Brilliant. Second they have two Royal Enfield motorcycles on display and third there's a cool vibe about this space. First, the word 'space' is really relevant, it's airy and there are long wooden tables, sparsely populated at this time in the morning, which makes it even better. There are pastries, there are chocolate bars, there are tee-shirts (sadly $30 otherwise I'd have bought one) and it's just wonderful.

A Royal Enfield 500 cc motorcycle inside Barista Parlor
For me Barista Parlor represents the type of America I like, it's akin to the vibe that emanates from the Ace Hotel in Portland and why oh why did I think that sitting in the Starbucks reading my book, Hotels of North America by Rick Moody, with an English breakfast tea and an almond croissant was in any way a good thing when no more than 50 yards away was Barista Parlor.

I ordered breakfast (scrambled egg, sausage, black coffee, a scone with jam) and it cost me $14. Sadly, I committed a cardinal sin: so carried away with the greatness of this excellent place I clear forgot to tip the guy behind the counter, but hopefully there will be another occasion in the not too distant future and I'm planning on a very positive review on Trip Advisor too.

Tailgate Brewery on Demonbreun Street, Nashville – a vast selection of beer


Later...
Right now it's 1023hrs and I'm at Nashville Airport and through security. My American Airlines flight to Dallas has been delayed so I'm in the Starbucks writing this, but not with tea or coffee or anything, I'm just here using the facilities, so to speak. It's going to be a long day and I can't wait to get home (Saturday morning at 0905hrs if all goes well).

Nashville has been good, especially after I found The Gulch and the various establishments there, like Barista Parlor and, of course, the Tailgate Brewery on Demonbreun. The hotel was pleasant too and the people I met were all good. Hopefully there will be an excuse to return to the Music City soon.

I post a lot of hotel and restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor, which can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

In Nashville... Day Six

I spent most of the morning of my last day in Nashville touring around Bridgestone's bus and truck tyre factory at LaVergne; it was roughly a 35-minute coach ride along the Interstate.

There was something very pleasant about the tyre factory, and it has a lot to do with the smell of rubber that filled the air wherever we went in the plant. It was wonderful and, in a way, calming. The plant was fairly quiet too because some of the lines were undergoing PM, that's plant maintenance, so the whole experience was almost surreal in a way, especially the safety video we had to watch prior to putting on protective shoes and eyeware, not forgetting (as I almost did) earplugs, although we didn't need the plugs that often.
Bridgestone LaVergne, Nashville TN.

Apart from the sense of calm brought about by the pleasant smell of the rubber, another interesting aspect of the plant was the robotics and these strange little rounded shapes that moved around the factory under their own steam, guided by laser scanners. They had a certain robotic cuteness about them that I think everybody on the tour appreciated. At one point there was a screen on which one could see where in the plant the robots were headed. 

One of the reasons I like the smell of rubber has plenty to do with my love of bike shops where the overriding scent is that of the tyres and it always reminds of being a kid and my dad buying me a new bike. I hasten to add that I'm not some kind of gimpy pervert. I mean, I like the smell of a freshly creosoted fence too, or the waft of hops from a pub doorway, both of which I find comforting for some reason. Perhaps they all harbour distant childhood memories.

The tour lasted until noon, roughly, and after that I was a free man, which is just as well as I've got to be out of here first thing in the morning in order to catch my flight from Nashville to Dallas and then Dallas to London; it's not going to be pleasant, I can tell you. In fact, I'm going to check out the BA website to see if I can get a better seat the aisle, preferably something similar to my outward trip when I was getting the best of both worlds, namely a window seat but also plenty of legroom thanks to being on the Exit row. But coming out was a jumbo, I'm not sure what the plane is on the return leg of the journey. We'll see what transpires.

Steps from Demonbreun lead to The Gulch
I went back to the Gulch for lunch at City Fire where I opted for salmon with spinach, a couple of beers and once again I was tempted into dessert, not by the waiting staff but by my own need to chill and relax. I had an Americano too and chewed the fat with one of the staff who hailed from Birmingham, Alabama, and was an artist by trade. She seemed to earn good money at City Fire and liked living in Nashville, Tennessee, rather than her home state, although she originally came from Vermont, which is up north close to the border with Canada.

My dessert was a kind of apple strudel, but I'd prefer to describe it as an apple mess. I'm still amazed how the Americans take something healthy – in this case apples – and then make it unhealthy. They even manage to take something unhealthy (ice cream) and make it even unhealthier by covering it in caramel sauce. I still finished it, but that might have been because I didn't have a big breakfast (who am I kidding?). And besides, last night in 'The Pub', also part of The Gulch, I only had salmon with rice and brocolli, not exactly high fat, although again I had that awful dessert with another huge blob of ice cream. Yesterday was excusable as I hadn't had any lunch, but there was no excuse today other than I wanted somewhere to chill that was off the street so I could read more of my book, Hotels of North America by Rick Moody.

On Demonbreun heading downtown...
After what amounted to a late lunch I wandered about in the heat, stopping for another Americano in a coffee shop across the street. I ordered a banana too in an effort to convince myself that I was in control and I was health-conscious, although it was highly tempting to have chosen a huge cinnamon whirl, but I managed to resist. 

There are good shops here for women, but they're pretty pricey so I left them alone, even if one was offering 30% off advertised prices. Eventually I moseyed on back to the hotel and sat by the pool for a short while reading Hotels of North America by Rick Moody. And now here I am again, on the lap top, in the room, contemplating all sorts of things, like when am I going to pack, will I even bother with dinner bearing in mind my late lunch and should I really bother about going on-line to check out a better seat for the Dallas to London leg of my journey? I'll probably do the latter and then I might even take a last swim in the pool if the warm weather here has warmed it up a bit since my dip on Sunday.

I took another look at the Thompson hotel, this time checking out the rooftop bar. It's not that hot. I know I said it was cool in a previous post, but I might revise my opinion of it; it's certainly got nothing on the Ace Hotel, Portland, Oregon. I'd like to say the rooftop bar offered great views of Nashville, but it doesn't, and if I'm honest I began to see the join, so to speak. I left disillusioned and continued to mosey around, eventually returning to the Best Western Plus.

Postscript: Should I stay or should I go?
It's 2007hrs and I'm still in my hotel room wondering what to do. I'll admit to feeling mildly depressed, probably at the thought of the mammoth flight I must undertake tomorrow night and the journey that begins early in the morning with a taxi to Nashville Airport and a flight to Dallas from where my transatlantic 'adventure' begins. I'm sitting here now wondering whether or not to go out and have a drink and something to eat. Something says don't bother, something else says go out and yet another voice says stay in, watch CNN and hit the sack. They're all rather tempting options in their own way and to be honest I don't think I could stay in all night, here in my hotel room with nothing but the television to keep me company. There's always Del Frisco's Grille, but can I really be bothered to hike all the way there, across the interstate and, well, I'll go down to the front desk and see how I feel.

I write a lot of hotel and restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor, which can be read by clicking here.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

In Nashville...Day Five

Okay, you come to Nashville and you're supposed to be all corny and talk about 'live' music in a Jools Holland fashion and pretend you really love it when in reality you're simply not that bothered. Who gives a hot damn about the Grand Ole Opry? I mean the downtown area is fine, for about half an hour, but then you realise that all the food there is 'fast', bar a couple of upmarket eateries you can't really afford, and even if you could you'd think 'why did I pay all that money, it wasn't THAT good!' Well, yeah, you start to think there must be more to life. And there is! The Gulch is an area outside of town that's a little bit more European and offers some light relief from the 'party' that is Nashville's downtown. You can reach it on foot in about 20 minutes from the town centre, just walk up Demonbreun and between the bridge over the railroad tracks and the interstate there are some stairs that will take you down there. I'm sure there are other ways of getting there too.

The Gulch is a cut above the downtown area, put it that way, but the problem, of course, is that the places offering classier food also charge more for it and you end up staring at the usual burger and fries style menu trying to find an exception to the rule. There's always an exception, and invariably it's Atlantic salmon.

Oh how I wish I'd not ordered this dish!
So, the Gulch. Well, I've been dreaming of sitting in a Starbucks in the USA with my book, nursing an English Breakfast tea and an almond croissant, and finally I was able to do it.

The Gulch is a short walk from my hotel, which makes it all the better.

There's a great hotel at The Gulch called the Thompson. It's a trendy-looking, hip boutique style, similar in many ways to the Ace Hotel group, particularly the Ace in Portland, Oregon, that will always be my all-time favourite place.

According to a Chugger I met on the street, Kid Rock was staying at the Thompson recently. Kid who? But this place has all the ingredients of a cool hotel.

The Thompson's dinner menu was a little pricey and after my experience at The Palm last night (see previous post) I figured something a little more sensibly priced would be best. So I headed for the pub across the street. It's an English pub selling English beer like Old Speckled Hen (awful stuff in my opinion) and Fuller's ESB (not that good, let's be honest). So I opted for Sweet Water Extra Pale and a couple of glasses of Devil's Backbone Schwartz Bier. The music was good: The Smiths, the Stone Roses, the Rolling Stones, the Police, you get the picture.

I liked the pub's English theme. It was, for all intents and purposes, an English pub, but not as rough around the edges. Most importantly, though, the fact that I was English made me the star of the show, or so I thought. I was the cool dude because I was actually English, but it's impossible to 'out-cool' an American. They have bags of it stored up. Take the barman, he looked like Johnny Depp, he had two arms full of tattoos and he probably owned a Harley. Who am I to compete with that? My Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike, my Toyota Corrola, who am I kidding?

I ordered Atlantic salmon with brocolli and rice but then ruined it by ordering whisky bread and butter pudding, which arrived with miles too much ice cream. I ploughed through it, wishing I hadn't ordered it – like I always do when dessert wins the day – but ultimately the experience was fantastic and I'll probably head back there tomorrow for my last night in town – but hold the dessert!

There's other places in The Gulch, like Burger Republic, which I might try tomorrow, but in all honesty I need some exercise, although I've done a fair bit of walking around the city, bearing in mind that it's 20 minutes on foot from my hotel to the convention centre, so I've been putting in at least 40 minutes a day.

Devil's Backbone Schwartz Bier... nice!
My colleague has flown home leaving me alone to experience the cabin fever of solitary dining. Sometimes it's alright, but once a bit of alcohol kicks in it can take me two ways. Either I embrace the loneliness and ride the lightening of desolation or I inwardly crack up and start thinking about my family back home. I waver between the two and often tip the balance, but today I was fine. I paid up and left and took the lonely walk home along Division Road, which I admit I had thought about prior to undertaking it; I've read about how you need to be aware of your surroundings in Nashville, especially if you're alone after dark. Alright, it's more for women than men, but you never know and I was taking a lonelier route than usual. It was fine, don't get me wrong, but there's nothing along that road and I'm glad I just about got back before nightfall. The crickets were out making a lot of noise, put it that way, it was just like being in the movies.

The Gulch is a fantastic place and, as I mentioned earlier, the Thompson Hotel looked wonderful. Not much else to report other than the price of clothes. There were shops selling shirts for ridiculous prices and with the pound being not too far off the dollar these days, there's little to gain for an English visitor to the US so I'm assuming nobody buys anything unless, that is, I'm the only pauper in town. Who knows and, more importantly, who cares?

I'm back in my hotel room now, but once again I go to bed too early, and now I'm up at 0137hrs tidying up this blogpost and listening to the birdsong. Better get back to bed.

I write a lot of hotel and restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor, which can be read by clicking here.

In Nashville, Day Four...*

There's a lot of raised voices outside of my room and it's 0520hrs. A woman and a man are raising their voices at each other – arguing in other words – and it can only be a matter of time before somebody from the hotel management arrives or somebody opens their door. I think the kerfuffle (that's a good word) is coming from next door, room 508.

Woman's voice: "My God, get you're shit together!" There was much more, but I can't remember what. At one stage I heard the woman use the word 'abnormal' and the man seemingly protesting or justifying whatever it was that she thought wasn't right.

Now it's gone quiet, perhaps somebody has had word. My room and next door's are linked by a door that is obviously locked, but I'm always slightly uneasy about internal doors into other people's rooms. Earlier, resting my ear on the door I thought I'd better keep away in case one of them attempted to shoot the other and the bullet flew through the door and hit me. I'm making a sweeping generalisation here that all Americans are gun-toting maniacs who can't have an argument without shooting at one another.

The last time I eavesdropped on an argument between a man and a woman in a hotel room was in Pittsburgh at the Quality Inn, but I can't remember the gist of whatever row they were having.

The interstate
We're back to silence and birdsong, which has been pronounced over here. It's now 0526 and its brightening up outside. I can hear the distant roar of the interstate, or perhaps its the aircon. The interstate is a shortish walk from the hotel, possibly 10 minutes, but I'm thinking now that it's the aircon, although I might be wrong.

It's Wednesday and I'm up early because I went to bed early. Since Monday it's been work during the day, an early dinner with a colleague and then we part company, around 1930hrs. I walk back to my hotel, it takes 20 minutes along Demonbreun, which is pronounced De-mon-breun and not Demon brewin' as I was saying until somebody who lives here corrected me. Once in my room and with no urge to go back out again and nothing much going on in the hotel I simply jump into bed and fall asleep, waking once or twice during the night but then rising around 0500hrs.

What to say about Nashville? Well, you won't be surprised to hear that I like it (I like everywhere I go). There are high-rise buildings here, of course there are, but not as many as Portland or Cleveland or Indianapolis, but the downtown is growing, hotels are going up and so are office buildings, probably much to the dismay of the locals, but then I guess that high-rises and hotels bring in money and generate wealth and that should, by rights, benefit everybody. There's a large Marriott going up next to the Westin, there's already a Sheraton, a Hilton, an Omni, all the big brands are here, and they're being fuelled by a huge and impressive convention centre where I'm spending all of my days while here in the city.

I've been told it's a pretty safe place, although it's probably not safe for women walking around alone at night, but that's pretty much the same as in the UK. I've seen the odd down-and-out, but so far, that's about it; although, oddly, yesterday morning, my mobile phone sent through an 'amber alert' alerting me and millions of other mobile users in the city to a paranoid schizophrenic who had broken into his girlfriend's apartment and stolen her baby. I'm not sure on the latest, but I found it odd that my mobile received the message. I went down to breakfast and there on the television was the same words that had appeared on my phone, "Amber Alert" along with photos of the abducted baby and the madman.

While the madman and the baby is the local news, the big national story is Donald Trump's sacking of FBI director Comey, the man heading an investigation into the Trump administration's links with Russia. Odd that the man running the investigation into Trump has been sacked by Trump, but I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions, although, if it wasn't politics but gangland, I'd imagine Comey would have been bumped off.

Jackelope Bearwalker, 6% abv at the Omni
On the food front I can't say I'm impressed as it's all kettle chips with burgers and beer. I'm generalising, but there seems to be two extremes: either you go to places like the Hard Rock Café where there are lots of burger-type meals accompanied by fries or 'chips' – the terminology can be confusing, but basically if 'chips' are offered you're going to get crisps and that appears to be the common culinary currency here. The other extreme is places like the Palm, where we went yesterday evening and realised pretty quickly that it was 'posh'. Posh but still a little brash. It was a haunt of 'celebrities' which over here means film stars like Mel Gibson. The reason I mention Mel is because his is the first face I see – drawn on the wall, in colour, by a cartoonist and placed alongside many others. There are, of course, prices to match and a certain pushiness on behalf of the waiting staff. I'll give you two examples: first, the wine waiter (yes, there's a separate waiter for the drinks). I order a Cabernet, mainly because I'm not a great fan of the beer over here, but I'm not at all happy at the prices. Put it this way, two glasses of wine cost more than the food I ordered. Now that's not on for a start, but what I found irksome was the Ned Beatty lookalike waiter's assumption that I'd ordered a 9oz glass. I hadn't. In fact I hadn't said either way, but the prices were high so I was going for the 6oz. He came back with a smaller carafe and slung the contents into my awaiting glass.

I ordered linguine with clams – the bias here was steaks. There were bread rolls and some horrible-tasting iced tap water. My bill, without the tip, was almost $74. Never again, put it that way, as most of my 'potato chip and burger' meals have cost far less.

The waitress who took our food order was annoying too. She insisted on bellowing out the desserts rather than hand us both a menu. It was the usual fayre but at vastly inflated prices: Key Lime Pie, loads of chocolate-based desserts and, of course, cheesecake. We declined them all, paid up and left.

I moseyed on back to my hotel in the evening heat. It was still light as I made my way along Demonbreun and stopping off en route at Del Frisco's Grille just to check it out. It's close-by the hotel, meaning I don't have the 20-minute walk and can simply finish work, come back to the hotel and then go out later – I'll be alone from tonight as my colleague flies home. I stick around for the plant trips on Thursday.

Actually, I say that Del Frisco's is closer to the hotel in which I'm staying (1201 Demonbreun, I'm at 1407) but it's still on the other side of the interstate, although I'm guessing no more than 10 minutes. The prices look more reasonable too; put it this way, I could have two entreés for the price of one small glass of wine at The Palm.

So, it's 0622hrs, the sun is out, all is still, the skies are blue and I can hear the sound of a helicopter. I'd better get ready for breakfast and a catch-up on what's been happening with the schizo and the baby and, of course, the latest on Trump. Amazing how the two are mentioned in the same sentence.

* The reason there's no Day Three is simple: nothing much of any interest happened.

I write a lot of hotel and restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor, which can be read by clicking here.

Monday, 8 May 2017

In Nashville, Day Two...

I shower, I clean my teeth, I shave and I'm ready. For breakfast!

I take the elevator, press 1 and travel down to the front desk, I turn left and there is the breakfast room. The television is on: Good Morning America. They talk about Trump and abolishing Obamacare, cue images of disgruntled, worried people and big, fat Republicans with bald heads in suits lying to them, telling them it'll be alright, but it won't be alright, we all know that.

Breakfast – a little sparse, shall we say, but it did its job
Breakfast is good. Melon, a banana, two cups of English breakfast tea, two small pastries; there are newspapers and people and all is well with the world. There are paper cups and paper plates and plastic knives, forks and spoons, but I'm not phased by this anymore as last year the Hilton Doubletree offered the same and the year before that a Best Western in East Washington, Indianapolis.

Sunday morning in Nashville – no cars, how pleasant...
My fellow breakfast takers are normal Americans, nothing flashy, just run-of-the-mill people like me and they're all friendly, a little overweight (some horribly so) and willing to engage in conversation. I chat with an elderly gentleman as he pours himself a coffee. I long to see him again just so I can say, "Hey, old timer!" Perhaps he won't take too kindly to it.

Breakfast is a self-service set-up offering the usual stuff, but for some reason I'm not enjoying it as much as I should be, although I should be elated as Sunday is my only day off. Today, as I write this, at 0539hrs on Monday 8th May, it's day one of a big convention I'm attending. In other words, the work starts today.

Crossing the railroad. I love those diesel engines...
I walk into town, it takes about 20 minutes along Demonbreun, over the freeway, over the railroad track where huge trains, so ugly they're beautiful, pull endless trucks of coal or graffitti-daubed containers carrying unknown cargo. It's a straight road, the sun is shining, the skies are blue and there are people jogging.

As I walk I discover a bike share scheme, the same one as in San Antonio so I check it out with a view to a ride, but as always when I first encounter a rack of bikes for rent, it's difficult to understand how to release one. I need a zip code, which I don't have, so I move on into the downtown, which hasn't really come alive yet; it will later, though, as there's an ice hockey game and the city will become flooded with Predators fans in their bright yellow shirts.

The Cumberland River, Nashville
Occasionally I see the odd bum looking particularly down-in-the-dumps but not bothering anybody. I take a few photographs and wander about and then link up with my colleague and we continue to wander around, looking in to shop windows, peeping around the doorways of shops that sell tatty souvenirs and wonder what to do. This continues until lunch time when we end up in Nashville's Hard Rock Café. Here I find an amazing beer: Tailgate's peanut butter stout, so good I order two of them along with Norwegian salmon fillet, mashed potato and green beans. I was slightly annoyed about the ID policy at the Hard Rock (you need to show ID before you can order alcohol) even if, like me, you don't look underage. I didn't have ID but they waivered it and all was well, but when we went back in later I had my passport just in case. On the second occasion I order a burger, which is not, in retrospect, at all good. I won't be having it again, but then I doubt I'll eat in the Hard Rock for a third time.

The hotel pool – that water is very, very cold...
As the day progresses the streets fill with yellow shirts, there are live bands in virtually every bar and the feeling is one of carnival. Nashville is known as the music city, there are museums of country music and every other store front is a live music venue. Groups of people, mostly in yellow shirts mill up and down the main street ahead of the game and we decide to part company and meet up later at the convention centre.

View from room 507 – a skip and a half-finished condo block. 
I take advantage of the good weather, take my book and sit by the poolside debating whether to take the plunge. While the weather is now hot the pool is not heated and it takes me a little while to slowly acclimatise, but I do and end up swimming a dozen or so lengths before drying and sitting on a sun lounger reading Hotels of North America by Rick Moody. It's very good.

Walking towards Nashville's downtown early Sunday 7th May 2017
The sun is hot and I am a little 'tanned' as a result but that doesn't stop me moseying on up to the room to change and head down town where we end up in the Hard Rock for our second visit. I'm feeling tired by the end of the meal and decide to walk back to my hotel – a good 20-minute walk – for an early night.

I write a lot of hotel and restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor, which can be read by clicking here.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

In Nashville... Day One

It started badly.

Driving along the A23 towards the M23 and then, supposedly, the M25 and Heathrow's Terminal Five – or T5 as I pretentiously call it. I'm in a taxi, or rather a 'minicab', a strange phrase as the car is roughly the same size as any other.

"Just so you know, it's Heathrow I'm heading for, not Gatwick," says I with a smile.

The driver acknowledges me so I relax, but then he takes me to Gatwick anyway. I mean, why not? I want to go to Heathrow and I make it quite clear that I want to go to Heathrow, but I end up in Gatwick. I look at my watch. There is still time, I think, and the traffic is thin, it being a Saturday morning when most people are chilling out, watching a bit of Saturday Morning Kitchen, munching a slice of buttered toast and sipping tea. Not me. I'm up with the lark. In fact, I didn't sleep that well. I never do when a long flight stands between me and a decent night's kip.

Unnecessarily grand and too many pillows
There's a long, long stretch of M23 between the M25 turn-off and Gatwick Airport, but all I can do is look at the long road ahead and wonder whether or not I will get to the right airport – on time. The driver, of course, apologises for his complete and utter ignorance (what else could he do?) and I do my best not to show I'm annoyed, but I am. It's just the start of Hasslesville.

There are big queues so I decide to use the machines to check-in – always a faff at the best of times. Glasses on, documents out, I key in my flight reference number and eventually two boarding passes appear, one for London to Chicago, the other for Chicago to Nashville, and then I head for security and the hassles it entails.

Once through, with relative ease, I find my colleague, we have a snack at Giraffe (granola and fresh fruit plus a mug of tea; my colleague has a soft drink) and then we head for the gate and a relatively smooth flight in a BA jumbo jet – BA 0295. I had the best seat in the house for an economy seat, 28a, plenty of legroom, but I can't settle, I'm not relaxed, I'm agitated so I spend the flight looking out the window or standing in the galley area chatting. I spend a lot of time looking at my watch and sectionalising time. In my head I'm always saying stuff like, "In an hour from now there's only five hours to go," that sort of thing.

Even lunch isn't as enjoyable as it should have been, although the food is fine: roasted chicken with mashed potato and peas in one of those foil containers, a decent chocolate mousse and, of course, a couple of those small bottles of red wine. The wine is non-descript and does little to relax me, but one of the cabin crew excels herself. I enquire about Island Bakery Lemon Melts, a biscuit's biscuit in my opinion. I'm worried that BA's move towards M&S food on short haul flights (that customers must pay for) will mean the end of this classic biscuit. She investigates. Normally when cabin crew say they'll investigate they forget and I never hear from them again, but not this time. She returns, not with a pack of Lemon Melts, but with another variety from the same company. I was impressed.

The man next to me in seat 28b says nothing. He's reading a management book, something like Seven Ways of Improving Efficiency, I can't remember, but it's keeping him occupied. I read the Sun, the Telegraph and the Times plus a chapter of Hotels of North America by Rick Moody.

More hassles in Chicago. The hassle of immigration, the hassle of baggage reclaim and the hassle finding Terminal Three, but then I'm in my favourite restaurant opposite gate H3, Romano's Macaroni Grill. Pollo Caprese, a green salad and a bread roll, plus a Stella Artois. Much needed. We meet a white-haired man in a checkered shirt traveling to China, he tells us he's in healthcare and that he's written a novel about time travel but hasn't bothered getting it published. I tell him to publish on-line but he doesn't seem interested, he's moved on. He tells us about his wife. They're now divorced. Met on-line. It lasted for 10 years and now he's living in Wisconsin and she's somewhere else. He said where but I can't remember.

We head for Gate 17 and the short hop to Nashville. A pleasant, albeit cramped flight and then more waiting around for baggage reclaim. I draw some dollars, my colleague goes his own way. "See you tomorrow," I say and eventually take a cab to the Best Western. It's around 0130hrs in the UK but only 1930hrs in Nashville.

At the front desk I am given a goodie bag: two small chocolates with a nut in the middle, a small bag of Cheetos and some gluten-free Sweet 'n Salty Mix. I eat the chocolates but leave the rest and decide to take a walk around town. I find a street full of bars and being as I'm Nashville, the music city, there's a live band so I stop for a beer, listen to a couple songs then head back to the Best Western.

The hotel room is fine. Unnecessarily grand furniture, a large wooden desk, huge bedside lamps, obligatory flatscreen television, an average-sized bathroom, an empty fridge, but at least I can open it. A huge red couch and a coffee table. Wifi is free. There are heavily patterned curtains and a below average view out of the hotel window. A skip full of rubbish and some new houses are being built across the street.

I write the blog and then hit the sack, waking twice. It's now 0516 and I'm back on the blog. Outside the birds tweet and somebody is running around in the corridor outside, probably kids, it seems that way. I'm feeling fine and can't wait for breakfast. I could make myself coffee but it's another hassle. How the hell to use the machine first – a device made by Hamilton Beach Commercial. I consider the Sweet 'n Salty Mix and the Cheetos but I'm not that desperate. Perhaps I'll shower, get dressed and mosey around.

I'm in the Midtown district and it's a one-mile walk to the downtown where my colleague is based.

Those birds have upped the ante on the tweeting front as I reach for the literature stored in a wooden container on top of a big wooden sideboard with two doors. Inside is the aforementioned empty fridge.

"Respected Guest". That's me. "For your convenience, Best Western Plus Music Row serves a sumptuous Hot Breakfast featuring our ever popular 'Make Your Own' Belgian Waffle, each morning in the Breakfast Lounge. Breakfast includes Country Biscuits and Sausage Gravy."

I write a lot of hotel and restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor, which can be read by clicking here.

Monday, 1 May 2017

In the woods...

It was looking as if a touch of the 'same old, same old' would be the order of the day. We met on the green and headed towards Botley Hill and, should the fancy have taken us, a ride to Westerham, or even the lake, was on the cards. Although, as Andy remarked as we rode along, whenever we do go to the lake, it's normally alone. He's right. When we ride alone it's a case of all or virtually nothing: a quick ride around the block just to say we'd been out, or one of those rides that starts off small but ends up huge, and normally 'huge' means a solo trip to the lake. We've all done it and Andy did it on Saturday. It's a great feeling.

Bikes in the wood... pic by Andy Smith
On Sunday, my solo ride was a six-miler (12 miles in total) to mum's where a chunk of wedding cake (dark, fruity, fantastic) and a mug of tea awaited me, followed by a brief look at the garden before heading home again.

The ride back from mum's took in some off-roading close to Woodmansterne Green. Emerging from the bushes, I turned left on to the Croydon Road and picked up some more off-road tracks as I rode towards Purley.

This morning as we rode along the Limpsfield Road, the weather threatening to rain, it was decided to head the slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, but when we both spotted an interesting off-road track veering away from Church Lane our plans changed. The path in question shimmered a gaslight blue with scented bluebells lining either side of the trail. It was magical. We followed the path and it seemed never-ending. As we rode deeper into the woods, the bluebells stayed with us as we chose other tracks at random that seemed to keep us off-road until, eventually, we were back on Church Lane and only a few yards from where we had entered the woods. For a moment we thought our off-road adventure had ended, but then I saw a sign for Ledgers Wood and followed it into a mysterious world of more bluebells and the chilled sound of birdsong.

Bluebells in the woods....
Ledgers Wood was big and eventually opened out into fields. We followed a track that circumnavigated the field and took us back to a wider track that led us out to a narrow lane. We followed the lane to a field with a bench, which was damp from overnight rain, but we sat on our gloves and enjoyed tea and Belvita biscuits watching a group of joggers (three fat women of debatable age) and a man on a mobile phone, newspaper under arm, with dog of wolf-like proportions.

While in the woods we had some idea of where we might be, we were both disoriented in terms of where we were headed. At one point in the woods I reached for the compass on my iphone and the choice was either to ride East of West. We chose the former, although now I'm wondering whether the latter might have kept us off-road for longer. Another day, perhaps. Heading East had been the right decision and it was odd to realise that we had spent a long time cycling off-road but hadn't really moved too far beyond Warlingham Green, from where we had started.

Tea finished, biscuits eaten, we mounted our bikes and followed a roadside track towards the Harrow public house. We continued towards a mini roundabout where we hung a right and followed the road to the green where we parted company.

The Rockhopper in Ledgers Wood...
It was a good ride and, more to the point, a new ride. How odd, we both thought, that we had been riding for almost 10 years, every weekend, and had passed the track we took earlier virtually every weekend, but hadn't taken it before. Likewise Ledgers Wood. I'd seen it on maps before and we'd skirted around it, but hadn't thought about taking any of the tracks that run through it. The great thing about this new ride, apart from the fact that it was new, was that we did a lot of riding off-road and seemingly in the wilderness, but were only a short distance from the green. It goes without saying that we'll be doing it again.

There was, however, a big problem. My Rockhopper was covered in mud. It would need a jolly good clean, I thought as I surveyed its muddy frame. Andy was glad to see a bit of dirt on my bike (I'm not sure he likes being the only one with a bike covered in dried mud). Well, not for long. While it did start to rain as I made my way along Limpsfield Road towards Sanderstead – stopping once to see if the garage next to Waitrose had a jet cleaner – I reached home and immediately filled an old plastic bowl with warm water and a dash of washing up liquid. Then I braved the elements, wheeled the bike into the back garden and set about giving it good clean. I got through three bowls of water and then, after drying the bike down, I oiled the chain. It's as good as new now and is safely padlocked in the garage ready for my next ride.

Woods near Woodmansterne yesterday...