Tuesday, 22 August 2017

To the Tatsfield Bus Stop – the slow way

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 13 August 2017

To Warlingham Green and then Woodmansterne Green...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 10 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And for Further Reading, click here.

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






Sunday, 6 August 2017

To the Tatsfield Bus Stop... the slow way

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

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

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

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

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