Thursday, 29 June 2017

In Vienna...day three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

In Vienna...Day Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High rise swings – put it this way, I wouldn't do it...
Fairground characters...
As seen in the movie, The Third Man – but what a boring ride!
I regularly review the hotels I stay in on Trip Advisor. For all my Trip Advisor reviews, click here.

Monday, 26 June 2017

In Vienna...

I have nothing but praise for Motel One.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 24 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Last day in Stockholm...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

In Stockholm...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least the cushions aren't on the bed!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

To the Tatsfield Churchyard...

Having returned from Poland on Friday evening, I figured that a planned ride to Flowers Farm for tea and cake might be a bridge too far, bearing in mind the huge climb on the return journey to reach The Ridge. Not only that, the weather was hot and had been so all week. The thought of such a hill on such a sweltering day filled me with dread so we decided that we'd ride to the churchyard – the fast way.

The Tatsfield Churchyard, Saturday 17 June 2017
The journey, as you might expect, was pretty uneventful. I was running about 15 minutes late, but that was fine and when we reached our destination, instead of climbing the steps leading up to the churchyard from Clarks Lane, we followed the road around to the front entrance of the church, which was a hard uphill slog, and then cycled round to where the benches look out across the headstones towards the south downs shimmering in the hazy summer sky.

Out came the tea and the biscuits and we tried to keep our conversation away from politics, and largely succeeded, talking mainly about my time in Poland.

There's nothing better than the churchyard on a hot day, but soon that moment came when we had to cycle back home. I packed up the flask, the milk and my cup and soon we were heading down the steps towards Clarks Lane and the uphill ride to Botley Hill, followed by the fast ride along the 269 towards Warlingham where we parted company.

Sunday morning...
We had planned to ride to Flowers Farm this morning, Sunday 18th June, but Andy aborted and signed off with the obligatory "enjoy your ride" – although, sadly, I didn't. The alarm hadn't gone off and I laid in bed until 0825hrs. It's now just over two hours later, I've eaten breakfast and the sun is already scorching the back lawn. I'm considering a ride around the block, purely to provide some exercise, but I can't see my travelling far in the heat, although I might venture out later when the sun cools a little.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Warsaw – a chilled out city

Cream of asparagus soup in Kaiser, Warsaw
I woke later than usual, purely because I didn't have to get up early. A late breakfast followed (cereal, yoghurt, tea, fresh fruit) and then I checked out, leaving my luggage with the concierge. The woman on the front desk gave me an umbrella because it was raining a little bit outside. I took it and strolled out of the hotel towards the old town, past Buddha, an Indian restaurant that I've enjoyed twice in the space of three days.

The journey took no more than 20 minutes and I popped my head around a few shop doors en route, checking out an antiques shop that sold military coats and gas masks and typewritters from a bygone age. I looked at a few clothes shops for women. My route took me back up the main street in search of a decent restaurant for lunch. I had time to kill before catching my flight to London Heathrow so I figured I might as well chill out.

It's funny how wherever I go around the world everything is so samey, especially in Europe, but everywhere really. Budapest or Bucharest or Berlin or Warsaw or Amsterdam or Dusseldorf, it doesn't matter where I am in the world, there's a sameyness about it all; cities follow an established format, like countries do, so there's a bike share scheme (check); there are restaurants with umbrellas outside (check); there's an obligatory church or two (check), a main square of some description (check), a monument of some sort (check), global brands like Starbucks and Costa (check on both counts) you know what I'm saying. In fact, where the latter brands were concerned there was an abundance of Costa Coffee outlets, most of them known as Green Costa Coffee. Once I remember flying for something like 10 hours to Calgary in North Western Canada and when I got there I found a Claires Accessories. It was a very depressing moment.

Grilled chicken with vegetables at Kaiser
I'm very choosy when it comes to restaurants, but I eventually stumbled upon Kaiser at Chmielna 24, a pleasant-looking restaurant with outdoor seating and a chilled vibe generated by laid back jazz music. Despite the rain earlier on, the sun had broken through the clouds as I took a seat, having noticed something about an asparagus festival. 

Kaiser is a pleasant restaurant, not too far from the Sheraton where I have been staying since Tuesday. All is good. I've just enjoyed cream of asparagus soup and a glass of Rioja. In fact, I've just ordered another one while I await my main course of chicken with vegetables – including asparagus.

Rather annoyingly a huge dust cart is disturbing the peace. I'd been enjoying the laid back music and generally chilling, but now the music is being drowned out by a Scania P270 and it would be nice if it just drove away and left Kaiser in the chilled out state it's been used to over the past 30 minutes. But no, life isn't that simple.

The waiter just offered me a cushion to sit on and I declined his offer; you see, I'm sitting outside on a wicker chair, but it's fine. Now the dumpster has gone and my food has arrived. Life doesn't get much better than this.

The food was top notch too: perfectly grilled chicken breast with boiled potatoes, carrots and asparagus, nicely arranged on the plate. I've just ordered apple pie with vanilla ice cream and a cinnamon coffee, although it was tempting to order another glass of wine.

The sun is out, at last, and I've just weakened and ordered another glass of wine. I mean, why not? It's a beautiful day, there's a laid back jazz playing, I've had a couple of good days and I've got time to kill before my flight home. The coffee is great and the apple pie is on the way.

This is truly wonderful. Warsaw is a laid back place and it's, hold on a second, the apple pie has now arrived and, like the main course, it is well-presented. There is an ample slice of pie surrounded by fresh strawberries, raspberries and blackberries alongside a small dish of vanilla custard and a serving of vanilla ice cream, not forgetting strawberry coulis. It's all too much for yours truly but I'm loving every minute of it.

Apple pie with vanilla ice cream at Kaiser
In fact, if you ever find yourself in Warsaw, visit Kaiser and stay in the Sheraton Hotel too. You never know, you might bump into Damon Albarn of Gorillaz and Blur fame. Alright, I didn't bump into him, but I did see him across the street in a Polish restaurant, sitting outside with some of his band mates. Both Blur and Gorillaz are amazing and if you've not listened to anything by Gorillaz then you're missing out.

My day got even better. After lunch I strolled back to the hotel to retrieve my suitcase and then I considered taking the train to the airport. The receptionist told me it took around half an hour and the train station was about a 10-minute walk away. There were trains, she said, at ten to the hour and twenty past, but in the end I figured it would be best to simply jump in a taxi, which I did, and on the way there I listened to Howard Jones on the radio, "I won't let the sun go down on me..." and found myself getting confused with Nik Kershaw's excellent "Wouldn't it be Nice". I'm not sure of the exact title, but it's a great track and, as I queued for the security and all the hassle of taking my laptop out of my bag, I tried to sing the song to myself, initially gettting it mixed up with the aforementioned Howard Jones track, but eventually getting there.

I wandered aimlessly around the airport killing time before the flight. I can't recall how many circuits I made of the terminal building, but it was a fair few. Having eaten a large meal I couldn't be bothered with sitting in a Costa with a Millionaire's Shortbread and a mug of tea so I just strolled about, getting increasingly bored. But my boredom turned to elation when I boarded the 1815hrs BA flight to Heathrow and discovered a virtually empty plane. I had a window seat in an Exit row and nobody in my row, so I ordered a sandwich, two of those little bottles of red wine, a paper cup full of English breakfast tea and a bottle of mineral water, all for around £13.

The flight was smooth and bathed in sunshine all the way over, and I found I was even more chilled out than when I was sitting in Kaiser eating chicken and drinking Rioja.

By the way, check out Gorillaz' Stylo by clicking here.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

In Warsaw... and David Cameron's on the plane!

The first thing worth pointing out is that I never, repeat, NEVER, take an early flight unless it's absolutely necessary; but if I allow somebody else to book my plane ticket... well, what can I say? This morning I had to get up at the crack of dawn (0400hrs) in order to catch the 0725hrs BA flight to Warsaw.

I showered and shaved late last night and then jumped into bed, but was rudely awakened by my iphone alarm at 0400hrs and had 20 minutes to make the final preparations for my trip, namely sort my lap top out, eat a banana and zip up my suitcase. The taxi driver was already waiting outside, but after my trip to Nashville, when the bastard took me to Gatwick instead of Heathrow, I wasn't holding out much hope. In fact, I got a bit worried when he said he was going via Fulham rather than round the M25, but being as it was only 0430hrs I figured there would be no traffic and it was fine.

Once at Terminal Three of Heathrow airport I enjoyed a breakfast of omelette, toast and tea – top marks to the waiter for offering me a free top-up of tea – and then, after a minor wander about I headed for Gate 11 and the flight to Warsaw.

Omelette for breakfast at Oriel, T3.
What amazed me about Terminal Three – although perhaps it's the same for all airport terminals, I don't know, is that very early in the morning it was empty, hardly anybody there. I strolled nonchalantly into the duty free section, sprayed myself with some expensive after shave and then found Oriel and, of course, breakfast. The restaurant was empty but slowly it filled up and before long it was a bustling place along with the rest of the terminal, a bit like watching one of those speeded-up time movies.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron was on the same flight, but I never saw him, although it explains why there was a uniformed copper in the jetty joining the plane to the terminal building. I wonder where he was going? I considered 'having a word' about the in-out referendum he'd been responsible for, but figured it wasn't worth it. "Leave it! He's not worth it!"

The flight was fine, as smooth as you like, until it hit some cloud on the descent into Warsaw, then it got a little bumpy, but nothing to write home about, he said, mildly shitting himself. I know, ultimately, I'm a wimp, but I don't care; and besides, it doesn't really bother me. I'm so used to it these days I just go with the flow.

I'm glad I had breakfast at Oriel because I resent paying BA for an M&S sandwich and a cup of Rosie. No, they should be giving away their food and drink as part of the fare, and, hey, I bet you any money you like that the fare has gone up rather than gone down.

I had some writing to do while in the air and it worked out well, although thanks also (once again) to John Simpson's column in High Life, which is always my saviour on flights long and short. I like Simpson's writing style and I love the stories he tells, this month about a brick he found (and was allowed to keep) in Iraq back in the 1990s. All good stuff in my opinion.

View from room 201, Sheraton, Warsaw...
Having written what I needed to write and not having a book to read – I couldn't fit Steinbeck's East of Eden into my case – I spent the remainder of the flight circling all the destinations I had visited on the High Life route maps and then realised that there were many places around the world that hadn't been graced by my presence. One day, I thought, one day.

Once through passport control and baggage reclaim, it was a short cab ride to the Sheraton Hotel from where I write this. From what I've seen of the hotel so far, it's very good; the room is excellent, not dissimilar to the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, California, except that the weather's not as good.

A curry for lunch – you can't beat a curry for lunch or dinner – and now it's down to work, but I might take a shower and freshen up a little bit first.

Earlier, when I first reached the room after a fairly straightforward check-in process, I did my usual foraging around to check things out: First, the hotel DEFINITELY trusts its guests. Second, the coat hangers are just that, proper coat hangers with hooks; and third, there's a fully-stocked minibar. There's a large double bed, a huge flatscreen television, a decent-looking bathroom, a desk, free WiFi, tea and coffee making facilities, an iron plus an ironing board, a safe and ample wardrobe space. In other words, it's all good – so far – and everything looks neat and tidy as it's all packed away and out of sight.

Room 201, Sheraton, Warsaw, Poland – nice room!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

To Westerham – to sing the blues (Der-derdalla-dum!)

It's the weekend after the June 2017 General Election and Andy and I meet on the green at the usual time. We decide to 'get our heads down' and ride to Westerham. The weather is fantastic, perhaps not as hot as last weekend, but just as nice in many ways; there are cottonwool clouds in a blue sky and all is well with the world. There is one rule, however, before we set off and that is: we're not going to talk about politics. It's a good idea. Since 2015 when David Cameron, leader of the coalition with the Lib-Dems, promised an 'in-out' referendum on Europe and promptly took the country out of the European Union (he put party ahead of the interests of the country because he was running scared of UKIP stealing Tory votes) we've heard nothing but "Brexit". Cameron then resigned and Theresa May took over, trouncing bumbling Boris 'yes I do look ridiculous' Johnson and Michael 'call me Orville' Gove in the leadership contest. Boris became Foreign Secretary (who made that stupid decision?) and Gove was unceremoniously sacked.

Then, having promised not to call a General Election until 2020, Theresa May changed her mind – she's known for doing that – and we all set off for the polling station on Thursday. That's the bad news. The good news is that she messed up completely. Not only did she put in a piss-poor performance throughout her campaign, thanks to two hapless advisers – Nick Timothy (he of the awful beard) and Fiona Hill – she was almost defeated by Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party, which made considerable gains, while the Tories lost seats and now have to form a government with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on a 'confidence and supply' basis. And the funniest thing of all? She didn't have to call an election until 2020! I haven't stopped laughing! As for politics fatigue, we might well have another General Election later in the year.

Westerham, Kent, Saturday 10th June 2017 – note virtually cloudless skies
We rode to Westerham in silence, concentrating only on the road ahead, which was empty. Yes, the occasional Lycra Monkey en route, but nothing to write home about, and soon we found ourselves on the Green, sitting behind the statue of General Wolfe. We drank tea, we ate biscuits, we always do, and for some reason we started a conversation about music. I said that I simply didn't listen to music anymore, or rarely, normally in the car, but I've lost it completely, there are no bands I particularly like, I can't remember the last time I bought a CD and, well, that's it. How, I don't recall, but we got on to the subject of things people are kind of 'expected' to like. For instance, if you're really into your music, you're kind of duty-bound to say you like The Blues Brothers and The Commitments, two films I've never seen – along with Star Wars, the Matrix and so on; and then I said something about how I can't stand the blues, and threw in the rather arrogant notion that anybody can play the blues, just give them a gazoo and off they'll go. It's simple: You make up your lyrics and punctuate them with "Der-derdalla-Dum". So, as follows:-

I woke up this morning
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
I was feeling quite shit
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
Made me some coffee
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
I felt like a tit
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
Then I went to bathroom
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
I needed a shit
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
And that's when I knew mah life-wazza-sham
Coz I'm a loser, baby
24 carat! – I'm such a tit
I'm a loser, honey
Yeah! Can't even write a hit
"Derdalla, derdalla, derdalla derdalla dum, da-da dum"  
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
Came outta the toilet
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
Went straight to the car
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
Turned on the ignition
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
But I ain't goin' far
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
No gas in the tank
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
So I head back indoors
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
I'm feeling so mean
"Der-derdalla-Dum"
I just git to the stores
And that's when I knew mah life-wazza-sham
Coz I'm a loser, baby
[Short guitar riff – 'bip beele!, bip beele!]
24 carat! – I'm such a tit
[Bip beele! Bip beele!]
I'm a loser, honey
Can't even write a hit
"Derdalla, derdalla, derdalla derdalla dum, da-da dum"  
Said I'm a loser, little baby
"Derdalla-dum!"
Man! I'm such a tit!

Just in case I have written a hit song, it's Copyright Matthew Moggridge!

Perhaps I'll stop there, but you get my point. Who needs Eric Clapton or Seasick Steve when you've got me, Moronic Matt. I can turn out a tune with the best of them! Who can't?

The ride home was like it always is and, as always, we parted on the green and went home to enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

General Election 2017: All political parties are the same. Discuss.

It's the morning of polling day and, as always, I'm wondering who to vote for and whether voting at all will have any effect on anything, it's doubtful. Where I live it's predominantly Tory so if I vote for any other party it probably won't do much good – or so I'm told. I'm not going to vote Tory because I don't believe they in any way serve my interests as an individual. It's a principle too; after reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell you could say I've seen the light, although to be honest I voted Labour before I read that book. If anything, the RTP cemented my views and kept things in the right perspective for me. It's one of those books that sticks with you. But listen here, the Tories are the 'party of business', they're the party for those who earn over £100,000 per annum or run a small or medium-sized enterprise: fine, vote Tory. I'll never understand why people who live a normal semi-detached life with two kids and a mortgage make the decision to vote Conservative. I know there is that big misconception that the Tories are the only people capable of running the country because they've all been to public school and have an Oxbridge education (although that's true of most politicians); or that the Tories are the party of law and order, the only people who will get tough with the criminals in an old-fashioned way (people who vote Tory lean to the right and, therefore, are probably in the ballpark of wanting capital punishment back on the statute books) but it doesn't rub with me. They're also the party where racists lurk, or people, again, that swing that way, who are xenophobic and probably harbour a Corporal Jones attitude towards foreigners, particularly those of a different skin colour: "Those fuzzy wuzzies, Mister Man'ring, they don't like it up 'em!" I mean, you get my point here, don't you? They'd probably re-introduce national service if they could and, well, just pick up a copy of the Daily Mail and you'll see for yourself what I'm talking about.

So I was never planning on voting Tory, although, despite what I've just said above, there is a part of me, certainly after the terror attacks in Manchester and London recently, that says the Tories are the only option, they'll keep us all safe. I mean, Theresa May has promised to abolish human rights and slam potential terrorists in gaol (that's 'jail' if you're reading in the USA) to serve long prison sentences. Lock them up and throw away the key! But that feeling of the Tories being the only sensible party, full of politicians that look like politicians (think Michael Fallon, people with 'British' written all over them) lingers. The Tories to me are the men in bowler hats and pin-stripe suits working in the City in the 1950s, they represent a kind of Midsomer Murders Britain that people who voted UKIP and who wanted (and got) Brexit voted for; they are, for want of a better word, 'the establishment'.

Labour on the other hand is supposed to represent the worker, the man in the street, the cannon fodder of World War One being instructed by their Tory superiors, epitomised by Stephen Fry in Blackadder, to go over the top and fight the Hun. Labour represents the working classes who are supposed to 'know their place', although the Labour Party has changed. Back in the day it was (and probably still is) the working classes that waved flags when they saw a member of the Royal Family or would happily fight for 'King and Country' but not any more. Today the Labour Party – even more so now under Jeremy Corbyn – is a little more subversive, a little more 'anti-establishment', the party of 'political correctness' that welcomes mass immigration, likes to say that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, believes in equality and workers' rights. Those traditional working class voters, the ones who wave flags at royalty, the World War One cannon fodder, they've been let down by the Labour Party, certainly by 'New Labour' under Tony Blair, he who realised that the only way to get into power was to ape Tory policies and be more dog, only to take us all into an illegal war that has led to the current terrorist outrages (although the main blame lies at the feet of George Bush and American foreign policy in the Middle East). But let's not digress here. Traditional Labour voters have been deserted by Labour and have been wooed instead by UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) which is a one-trick pony designed to get us out of Europe and back to the dishwater years of the 1950s where we belong. It's anti-immigration (so that the British working classes can get their jobs back from the nasty foreigners who stole them) and, well, it was winning votes from traditional working class Labour voters and, it must be said, Tory voters too (those who wanted a harder line taken on all the big subjects, such as immigration). UKIP, then, is further to the right than the Tories, but not as far right as the BNP and, therefore, a little more respectable ("it's not racist to want curbs on immigration," UKIP supporters say – and yet there are plenty of closet racists lurking about).

Today's Labour Party, then, is a bit more middle class, it's a haven for 'Champagne socialists' and so-called Middle Class Bohemians who are doing very nicely thank you and tend to vote Labour out of a sense of 'morality'. Today's Labour Party – although it's always been there, to be fair, it's just more pronounced these days as the party moves away from it's traditional voter base – is the party of protest, it's the religious education teacher with an acoustic guitar, sitting on the desk strumming Streets of London by Ralph McTell, it's the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, remember Bruce Kent in the 80s at the height of the Cold War when Frankie Goes to Hollywood rode high in the charts with Two Tribes and Thatcher and Reagan ruled the world? But then it's been that since the 1960s and, you could argue, hasn't really moved on. Jeremy Corbyn, of course, is the flag bearer of this kind of Labour politics and that could be his undoing today as people go to vote because, I think, the default setting in this country, by and large, is to vote Tory. Fine, not everybody reads the Daily Mail, but I think (I might be wrong) that a lot of 'ordinary' people who regard themselves as sensible and don't like the X Files probably vote Tory and watch GMTV. Corbyn is proper left wing. He supports unilateral disarmament and he's all for peace, not war, something that people in this country get a little twitchy about; they don't want a leader who refuses to push the button and kill millions of people, they don't want a leader who looks at terrorists and thinks, 'well, perhaps they've got a point worth listening to', they don't want somebody in charge who is going to be more lenient with criminals and all these things are seized upon by the predominantly right wing press, particularly the Daily Mail, which will write headlines the day before Election Day stating "Apologists for Terror" referring to Corbyn sharing a stage with extremists in the past; but, of course, while the whole thing is taken out context most of the time, it's enough to make people stop and think.

The only other party we should be talking about is the Liberal Democrats who, let's face it, have lost the plot. Scarred by Nick Clegg's student fees U-turn back in 2010, the Lib-Dems have limped from defeat to defeat, losing badly in the last General Election and are now under the stewardship of Tim Farron who has great difficulty answering the questions. I've already had a go at Farron for his abominable interview with Andrew Neil on the BBC and that interview has given me (and many others) a very low view of the party, which is a shame because there are politicians like Vince Cable who has always been one of those 'voices of reason'. I often think it would be good to bring together all the 'decent' politicians from all parties and form another one. All the parties have decent politicians. I've always liked David Davis, Vince Cable, Hilary Benn, Nick Clegg, Michael Portillo (when he was a politician) Alan Johnson and others, who seem to have more sense than those on the front line.

The 2017 General Election was characterised by a lot of left-leaning 'also-ran' parties: the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and, I suppose, the Lib-Dems, all of whom turned up for the television debates and railed against the only right-leaning 'also-ran' party, UKIP, but none of these parties are going to get anywhere today, meaning they're not going to form a government, although they have provided food for thought for the electorate and probably influenced the vote in Labour's favour (it's always been a battle between left and right). Yes, the UK is characterised by 'see-saw' politics: if it's not Labour it's Conservative, one party spends all the money, the other party saves it, there is no middle ground.

The Tories thought they would have an easy ride and, writing this at almost 0700hrs on the day of the General Election, that might well be the case, but Theresa May hasn't projected herself in a good light. She did a bad interview with Andrew Neil, she's opened herself up to major criticism, particularly surrounding the so-called 'Dementia tax' and her record on reducing immigration (a key election issue) has been poor. Corbyn, on the other hand, has had a good campaign, so much so that some pundits are predicting either a Labour landslide (unlikely in my opinion) or at least a hung parliament, although that might mean Sturgeon and the SNP and nobody wants Jeanette Cranky in a position of power.

A lot of people, of course, are disillusioned, and who can blame them? Most people have grown cynical towards politicians, they don't like them, what with the expenses scandal, which continues to this day, and the fact that they don't answer the questions fired at them and tend to make promises they have no intention of keeping, it's not looking good for the political classes.

I don't know what to do, other than not vote Tory. But then 'round here' where I live it's Toryland. There are lots of Daily Mail readers hiding behind the net curtains or kneeling on their front lawns doing a bit of weeding with one of those little mats to protect their knees. A vote for anybody else would be wasted so I'll have to resort to tactical voting, but what does that mean? Some say vote Lib-Dem to reduce the Tory majority and to be fair, the last thing we want is a Tory landslide.

Ultimately, though, whoever gets in – with the possible exception of Jeremy Corbyn – nothing will really change. Theresa May won't reduce immigration 'to the tens of thousands', she won't this, she won't that and in about a year from now the BBC will run clips of her promising this and that long after those promises have been broken; and the politicians will wriggle out of answering the questions and we'll all realise that the whole thing has been a charade (as it always will be) and that when there's another terror attack, the same old establishment response will be wheeled out: sombre statements from the politicians, a shrine to the fallen, the culprits being already 'known to the police' for many years prior to the attack, suspects rounded up but released without charge...and there's a load of other stuff too, but it's getting late and I need to take a bath and get down the polling station. Coalition of chaos, anybody?

Sunday, 4 June 2017

To Woodmansterne Green and Westerham...

Matt and Jon at Woodmansterne
Saturday was a wonderful day in terms of the weather. The sun shone brightly all day. I rode to Woodmansterne Green to meet my brother Jon and we sat there, in the sunshine, chatting about a whole range of subjects. We didn't have any tea or biscuits purely because the original idea had been to ride to mum's where we would have enjoyed breakfast, but because we were engrossed in conversation we lost all track of time. At just gone 0900hrs we parted company. Bon rode back to Epsom and I cycled along the Croydon Road, largely on dirt tracks, until I was forced on to tarmac as I approached Foxley Lane.

On Sunday the weather was just as good – blue sky and sunshine. Andy and I met on Warlingham Green and decided to ride to Westerham. When I woke up at 0600hrs the radio informed me of last night's terrorist attack in London. It goes without saying that everybody is talking about it and all the television and radio channels are discussing it too.

Our bikes on Clarks Lane on the return ride from Westerham
Andy and I talked about it too as we munched our BelVita biscuits and drank our tea on the green at Westerham. It was just gone 0900hrs when we mounted the bikes and headed home. The good weather made the hill bearable and we stopped to take the shot on the right as we rode towards Botley Hill.

The hot weather continued into the afternoon and I spent a lot of time sitting in the garden reading Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, a book about Chris McCandless who walked into the wilds of Alaska and sadly died of starvation.