Tuesday, 25 April 2017

In Dusseldorf...Day Two, part two (the desolation of Mogg)

Breakfast was fine. Not brilliant, but fine. Why not brilliant? It was plenty to do with the hard chairs and the glass roof, which lent a kind of basic quality to the whole experience, but they had everything one might expect from a hotel breakfast room. There were sausages, scrambled egg, sautéed potatoes, a variety of breads, including croissants, yoghurt, fresh fruit, cereals, tea and coffee and fresh fruit juice. I chose a bowl of fresh fruit and a bowl of yoghurt plus a banana, some scrambled egg with sautéed potato and a cup of English breakfast tea. Tea is always such a faff as it is contained in sachet that needs to be opened – sometimes a big problem – plonked in a cup into which hot water must be poured and so on; that's the problem with self-service, I tend to get fed up with the process.

Why the long face?
Earlier, in the room, I had a small battle on my hands with some unruly coathangers, which hadn't bothered me last night purely because I'd left everything in my suitcase. Flustered from the experience and still smarting a little from the locked minibar and safe I left the room to have my breakfast and it was something I was looking forward to despite the fact that I had absolutely nothing to read; and there's nowt better than a book or a newspaper with a hotel breakfast. But then again it wasn't a cosy breakfast space so reading a book or a newspaper wouldn't have been as good as it might have been in a less basic, and slightly more cosy, environment – a softer chair, perhaps, a tablecloth, waitress service, tea brought to my table rather than me faffing around trying to open a teabag prior to immersing it in hot water. But then I guess you get what you pay for and one thing I won't do is complain too loudly about the Mercure City Center because it is what it is and in many ways it's a cut above so the only causes for complaint that I can see are the locked safe and minibar, the unruly coathangers oh, and the bathroom. Well, not the whole bathroom, just the hot water situation, particularly in the shower: it wouldn't warm up and the only way to make it hot enough to use was turn the lever in such a way that the flow was severely limited to just a dribble; it was the same with the sink tap. It made showering less of a pleasure than it might of been, that's all, but still it's another negative to add to the locked minibar, the locked safe, the unruly coathangers – you know the ones I mean, not proper hangers with hooks but those you can't get off the rail. Again I find myself thinking that the hotel doesn't trust its guests – they can't trust them to tell the truth when asked "did you use the minibar" so they lock it; they don't believe their guests will have anything worth putting in a safe, so they lock that too, and because they think their guests will half-inch the coathangers, they provide the unruly variety. "That'll teach them!"

I decided to wander about town in search of a decent restaurant. To be honest I wasn't really sure what I wanted. I started first with the internet and keyed in 'Italian restaurants in Dusseldorf' but the best ones, according to Trip Advisor, were a good 25-minute walk away and I really wasn't inspired enough to go on some kind of trek. In the end I wandered out having checked the menu of the hotel restaurant. I've dined here before and it's not brilliant, although in retrospect it would have been fine. But still I wandered, up past the Thai restaurant next door to the Burns Art Hotel and around some of the surrounding streets. I passed Jaipur, an Indian restaurant, and suddenly thought I fancied a curry. If I'm honest, I didn't. I just wanted to get off the street and into somewhere cosy where I could chill for a while. Jaipur wasn't really it, and while I've already broken my 'never eat in an Indian restaurant outside of the UK' rule once before (The Spicy Grill, Brussels, arguably the best Indian restaurant I've ever visited) I found myself breaking the rule again, except this time it simply didn't cut the mustard. First I ordered a Warsteiner but was given a Paulaner – odd when Warsteiner is advertised all over the place – on the menus, outside the restaurant – but I wasn't complaining. Then I asked for poppadams, expecting the usual plate-sized variety but getting instead a couple of dozen mini poppadums the size of a 2p coin. Very disappointing.

I certainly picked the wrong table, right by the door. Every time somebody walked in I got a cold blast of April weather. It went right through me. Decor-wise it was fairly basic: red and beige tablecloths with a bar/servery counter on the back wall and tables in front of it.

The waiter was the height of good manners: polite, friendly, he passed with flying colours.

A hot plate arrived, always a pleasant moment of the Indian restaurant experience, but not today. It was cold. Put it this way, I could easily place my had palm down on it without risk of burning myself. The food followed and, fortunately, it was warm, hot and fine to eat.

I had ordered a chicken Korai with pillau rice and a nan bread and found the entire meal a disappointment. First the rice was a little on the crunchy side (not what I'm used to) and the chicken, while fine, was, I don't know, chewy? Gristly? Not like the prime chicken breast meat I would be served in an English Indian restaurant, and I can't help but compare like for like, it's only natural. Theoretically they should be in the same ballpark, Germany is, after all, a Western European country, just like the UK. The meal was sort of average and I kind of regretted making the decision to cross the threshold of Jaipur, although, that said, I might be completely wrong about the place. I say that because as I was about to leave many Indians came in, virtually taking over the restaurant and to me having so many Indians sitting in an Indian restaurant is the best review an Indian restaurateur can hope to get. So I started to reappraise my attitude towards the place, although I stand by what I have written. Put it this way, I felt reassured about Jaipur's credentials.

At the end of the meal I was given scented 'bird seed' – a kind of Eastern Trill – to refresh my mouth. It did the trick.

The bill was around 26 Euros, which was a fair price for what I'd eaten. Soon I was back on the streets and heading for my hotel from where I now sit, writing this review.

It's just gone 2130hrs, I'm tired and looking forward to my bed, which is next on my agenda.

I've enjoyed eating a few of these excellent snack bars.
Snack of the trip!!!
Arguably one of the most moreish, tasty snack bars you'll ever eat, the Briiggen Sunny Erdbeer Joghurt bar takes the biscuit. I'm guessing that 'Erdbeer' is German for strawberry as the English translation says just that, 'Strawberry Yoghurt'. Either way it's tasty and I'll be getting hold of some more tomorrow. This is serious competition for the Balisto bar.


Monday, 24 April 2017

In Dusseldorf... day two

This morning, around 0540hrs I awoken by an alarm, somebody else's alarm. It was a slow beeping sound that continued for the best part of 20 minutes. At first, I just stayed put, lying on my back looking at the ceiling, waiting, I suppose, not to hear it or, in other words, I was expecting somebody to depress a button and shut the thing off. Nothing happened. A deep sleeper, perhaps, I thought; or whoever occupies the room, which I'm guessing is the room next door to me on the left hand side, had got up and forgotten to switch off his (or her) alarm. They could have left early but forgotten to take their alarm clock with them and checked out of the hotel. Or, I thought suddenly, they're dead. They died in their sleep or were murdered even and the murderer forgot, or overlooked the fact that an alarm had been set and, for all intents and purposes, was now miles away, on the autobahn, perhaps, heading God knows where: to Russia or Kazakhstan or anywhere. They might be in the air as I write this, far from the crime scene and never to return. I started to imagine what scene might await whoever entered the room: a blood-stained bed, a knife protruding from the chest of the former occupant, his eyes staring, like mind were, at the ceiling, but lifeless. I can't recall having been awoken in the dead of night by the sound of gunshot, but then if I was going to murder somebody in the dead of night in a place full of people sleeping in the centre of a big European city I think I'd use a silencer. Then the alarm stopped and I figured that my first guess was right, the person in the room next to mine was a really, really heavy sleeper and probably needed those clocks from Dark Side of the Moon to get him up of a morning. But then the alarm resumed; it was clearly gathering strength for the long haul task of waking up its owner. Either that or my suspicion that somebody had died (of natural causes) or had been murdered by a trained assassin were closer to the truth. Perhaps the alarm clock had drawn the short straw back in the store waiting for somebody to buy it. Perhaps it watched on helplessly as a huge, hairy, fat bloke with serious health issues waddled towards it and plucked it from the shelf. "Oh no! A lifetime of hard work," it thought as it reached the cash desk and to this day has regretted all of its bells and whistles that had prompted the sale in the first place.

Should I in some way get involved, I wondered to myself. Perhaps whoever occupies the adjoining room is in some kind of trouble, unconscious, perhaps, having a heart attack, needs immediate medical attention and the two people in the rooms on either side, both having heard the alarm did nothing. Perhaps as I write this he or she is breathing their last and are lying contorted and half naked on the bed. Perhaps they committed suicide, and overdose, and as I'm sitting here now, half naked myself but very much alive and awake, they are about to die, or they died hours ago?

But what to do? Call the front desk and tell them what's happened? Go next door myself and rather than waste time, kick down the door as if I'm Tom Cruise in a Mission Impossible movie only to find an indignant individual, his face covered in shaving foam, headphones covering his ears, looking at me as if I'm half crazy and reaching for the phone to call security. "But your alarm, it wouldn't stop ringing. I thought you might be in some trouble," I might say in my defence, but perhaps he doesn't speak a word of English and instead is now advancing towards me holding some kind of weapon. Perhaps I turn and run, but not back to my room, down two flights of stairs to the front desk and out of the door, on to Karlstrasse dressed only in my Alfani boxers (poor man's Calvin Klein's) that I purchased about a year ago in a store in Chicago. The sound of police sirens reach my ears prior to my arrest and incarceration and as I sit there, alone, in my cell, a white towel draped over my shoulders, trying to come to terms with what has happened, a small paper cup of steaming hot tea is put through the aperture in the cell door and I accept it gratefully. What next, I wonder? I'd have some explaining to do at home and at work, but the reality of the situation would be that I was only trying to help in some way. I'd be done, no doubt, for criminal damage of the hotel room door, that's all, but how humiliating it would all have been!

The alarm stopped and started a couple of times and just this second I heard somebody knock on the door and then enter the room. A woman's voice, but no screams so she obviously hasn't found a dead body, unless she's the sort of person that's calm, very calm, in stressful scenarios. There's a few noises of somebody, the woman I'm guessing, pottering around the in room, looking, perhaps, for the rogue alarm that is probably hoping its owner is dead so that it can be re-housed somewhere else, sent to a charity shop where it might find somebody a little more considerate, a little more alive.

It's 0626hrs and in four minutes my own alarm will sound and I'll have to take a shower, have some breakfast, find a shop that sells toothpaste and then head out for a day's work. I'll need some shaving foam too, although I'm used to relying on the soap provided. With two minutes to go until my own alarm sounds I hear the sound of the alarm in next door's room again. It sounds briefly but is then silened, possibly by the woman who entered the room a few moments ago. She can't work the alarm. It might be a clock radio. I've never understood them; they seem to have a mind of their own. Perhaps the room was unoccupied, but the clock alarm, set by a previous occupant, somebody who checked out yesterday morning, had not been deactivated. I don't know and I don't care, but if when I leave my room in about half an hour to get on with those miserably mundane chores of hunting for toothpaste and shaving foam and a notebook, there are police in the room next door, I'll know that my initial suspicions were correct and that I and the man or woman in the room on the other side of next door, not forgetting those opposite, all of whom are wondering what's going on, were wrong to simply surmise things and then decide to take no action whatsoever, based on the assumption that stuff like this doesn't happen to them.

Was it anything to do with unanswered alarm clock?
When I did eventually leave the building after breakfast this morning a police car pulled up outside the hotel and two bulky-looking German policemen, one male, one female, entered the hotel. Perhaps there was something in my suspicious mind, I thought, as I walked in the direction of the railway station in search of a shop that might sell notepads.

In Dusseldorf... day one

I'd like to call myself a 'biscuiteer', but having mistaken a small, wrapped block of hard foam designed to clean shoes for some kind of free snack, possibly even a biscuit, I think I seriously failed the entrance examination.

I'm safely ensconced in my room at the Mercure Hotel and I thought I'd scout around for any freebies and that's when I encountered what I thought was a biscuit. Life can be infuriating. There's not much for free: a sachet of premium peppermint tea, two elongated sachets of instant coffee, some 'Zabielacz de kawy creamer' – that's powdered milk to you and me – and a couple of sachets of sugar. Oh, there's a bottle of Evian mineral water.

Hoteliers can get a little angry when I suggest that a locked minibar means they don't trust their guests, but I hate that unmistakable feeling of exclusion. There's a couple of locked doors, one being a small safe that has been rendered unusable, and the other some kind of fridge, which I'm guessing is either empty or jam-packed with beers and wines and wasabi nuts, but just not for me for some reason. I wonder if they thought, 'hold on, we've got Moggridge staying with us, lock the minibar and don't give him access to the mini safe either'. There must be some kind of policy decision that says 'lock the fridge and the safe and don't leave any keys floating around'. Annoying, but so far I have very little to complain about, well, apart from trying to find the elevator. One of them was out of order so I was directed along a corridor to where I would find another, but I got lost and had to ask for directions. It turned out the lift was up some stairs, on the first floor no less, so I figured what was the point? I walked instead and soon found my room, which was absolutely fine. There was a carpeted floor, a single bed, a flatscreen television, power points, a telephone (that worked!) and various leaflets. The bathroom was small but perfectly formed, there was space for my suitcase and suits and I was pretty pleased for another reason: I was under four minutes' walk from my all-time favourite Italian restaurant, Da Bruno, where I had booked my usual lonely table for one.

The flight over from Heathrow T5 was fine: some initial cloud, but fairly smooth and now that BA has decided, a la easyJet, to charge for its food I decided not to bother, opting instead for lunch at Huxley's (butterfly chicken and a glass of Pinot Noir followed by a single espresso and the bill). I'd arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and once lunch was out of the way I moseyed around getting angry about the assumption, made by airport operators the world over, that once people find themselves 'beyond passport control and through security' they're somehow able to afford Prada handbags and Rolex watches, not forgetting Burberry coats and sich like. I found a WH Smith's but couldn't find a book decent enough to warrant my attention and left for gate A18 empty-handed.

Bang on time, the train from the airport to Dusseldorf HBF...
Once I had landed in Dusseldorf, German efficiency kicked in: passport control was a breeze, jumping on board the Skytrain was simplicity itself and when I reached Dusseldorf HBF I walked for five minutes until I reached the hotel, from where I write this.

Time is moving fast and it's almost time for dinner so I'm skipping off to my favourite restaurant of all time, Da Bruno on Karlstrasse, which is under a four-minute walk away from the hotel's front desk. I couldn't ask for more if I tried. The reason I'm in the Mercure is because once, when I bowled nonchalantly into Da Bruno expecting a table and not getting one, I wandered around and eventually decided to have dinner in the Mercure's restaurant. Alright, it was a last resort and wasn't a brilliant meal but at least I knew there was a hotel close-by that was even nearer than the Burns Art Hotel a few doors along. The only reason I knew of Da Bruno's existence was because the receptionist at the Friends Hotel, which is located at the other end of Karlstrasse, recommended it to me about a year to 18 months ago. Now, whenever I'm in Dusseldorf, I book a table, like I did tonight.

After dinner (Parma ham with melon, pappardelle with mushrooms, two glasses of red wine and a cappuccino) I took a stroll in the direction of the Friends hotel, but turned left and found myself in a kind of Japanese area of town. I milled around for all of two minutes and then turned back, whistling that guitar riff from the Rolling Stone's Last Time single. "This will be the last time, maybe the last time I don't know..." and I can't remember the rest, or whether what I've just written is even correct, but I do remember the whining guitar riff.

Fortnum & Mason, where we all shop!!!
I'm back in the room. To be honest I now know when to stop; in the past I didn't have a clue and would happily prop up the bar drinking beer into the early hours – oh how foolish I was! It's not yet 10 o'clock and I'm already thinking about switching on the television, possibly drinking that bottle of Evian and then hitting the sack. And I did exactly that, but then, lying in bed, lights off, deep in thought about this and that I felt restless enough to get up and start sub-editing this blog post and, as you can see, write something extra too, but now, as I look at the clock in the top right hand corner of my laptop's screen, I see that it's now ten past midnight and this time I really am shutting things down and hitting the sack.

To Westerham!

As always we met at the green and it wasn't long before we were on our way to Westerham, 'heads down' along the 269, Andy carrying that tennis racquet I lent him a week or two ago. I'd already realised that, once again, the weather was deceptive and that it was much colder out there than I thought. I wasn't wearing the old rust-coloured jacket, now ripped to shreds and old-looking, so initially I was cold and thinking to myself 'go back and put something else on'. But I persevered on the basis that the exercise of cycling would warm me up and sure enough, it did. I found myself powering along the road on the Rockhopper, loving every minute of the fact that this new bike of mine (I say 'new' but it's six months old – and no punctures!) was a great performer. It was a theme that stuck with me throughout the ride, the fact that coming back up Westerham Hill wasn't an issue. Alright, it's a chore, but a 'do-able' chore. Not that I ever failed to come up the hill (I never once got off the bike) but it's all about having the right bike for the job. For me the Rockhopper fits the bill.

Bluebells close to the 269
On the outward ride along the 269 we noticed a blanket of bluebells in the woods. Andy stopped to take the shot accompanying this post (right) and I continued towards Botley Hill, wondering when Andy would catch me up, surely before I reached the pub, I thought, but no, it wasn't until I was riding down Clarks Lane, passing the Tatsfield churchyard, that he rejoined me.

We pedalled fast into Westerham, past the sign welcoming us to Kent, the 'garden of England', and soon found ourselves sitting at our usual wooden table on the green opposite the Grasshopper and behind the statue of General Wolfe, eating BelVita chocolate chip biscuits and drinking tea.

The worse thing about cycling to Westerham is the ride back, but these days, as I said earlier, it's not that bad, thanks to the new bike, but was it ever that bad? No, of course not, it's just an effort, like all hills. It's psychological. The problem with the climb out of Westerham is simple: it's long and drawn out and continues all the way to Botley Hill, but if you prepare yourself for it, engage in conversation en route, it's soon over and that great sense of relief kicks in. Hills are there to be conquered and I'm often amazed, when I go out for short rides around the block with people or, like recently, chatting about cycling in the area, that they all say, "Ooh, not round here, it's too hilly." But that's the point, surely? Cycling, in many ways, is all about hills, even if based purely on the notion of what goes up must come down. Hills are not to be avoided, they're to be tackled. Half the fun of cycling, in my opinion, is cranking the bike down into a low gear and going for it, staying in the saddle (and on the bike) being the ultimate goal. And yes, it helps having the right sort of bike. But that said, when I was a kid I used to ride a single-geared bike and when the hills got bad I'd get off and walk up the hill, so what's the beef with these people who don't like hills?

I reached home at 1003hrs, the sun was shining and the rest of the day lay ahead of me. I padlocked the bike in the garage and got on with my day.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

To Woodmansterne Green with Jon (and then round to mum's)

One thing that has characterised the weather of late has been a cold breeze or rather a general coldness masked by blue skies and sunshine. Yesterday there was little in the way of sun, but it was fairly bright and, as Jon remarked as we made our way from Woodmansterne to mum's, a little on the cold side.
Felpham beach will soon be Jon's back garden
We had met earlier on Woodmansterne Green – now there's a place I hadn't been to for a long while – and spent an enjoyable time just chatting about various things, in particular Jon's impending move to Felpham, pronounced 'Fellfam', a small town on the south coast nestled between Bognor and Littlehampton, but much closer to the former. As avid readers of this blog will know, Felpham was where we spent our summer holidays in various houses on the beach. We loved those holidays and often spoke about how nice it would be to live there, close to the sea, and now Jon is living the dream; he's moving out of Epsom, where he currently resides and moving 60-odd miles to the south coast. I mentioned that he could develop a few decent rides, like Felpham to Arundel, and we spoke of other, longer journeys, like Felpham to Pulborough or Arundel or simply into the South Downs. Needless to say that Jon will be doing just that in a few weeks from now.

Woodmansterne Green is a great place and a fine destination for cycling. For yours truly it involves riding into Purley and following the leafy Foxley Lane towards the top of Wallington and beyond and turning left at the lavender fields close to the Oaks park. From there it's about 10 minutes and soon the green appears. It's dotted with big, mature trees and plenty of grass, there are tennis courts and surrounding fields, a decent village pub and a newsagent and there are plenty of places to sit down. The green was once a regular Boxing Day ride destination and there are many occasions, documented here on NoVisibleLycra, when Jon, Andy and yours truly would meet here to discuss this and that and sip tea and cereal bars (BelVita biscuits came later).

Mum, 86, and her two sons: me on the left, Bon on the right, in the garden
Today Jon and I discussed his new house close to the sea – I say 'close' and I mean close, there's a road in front of the house, then another house and then the sea; you can see it from the upstairs windows, he told me.

We spent a fair bit of time on the green before jumping on the bikes and heading for mum's. Jon's bike is in dire need of an oiling. It creaked its way towards a considerably lengthy piece of off-road track, which we both followed into Carshalton Beeches and then down Park Hill towards the Windsor Castle pub, passing on the way the Village Bakery where Jon and mum often enjoy lunch. At the lights there's a left turn and then, opposite the garage, a right turn, but with the traffic heavy we both dismounted and then jumped back on once safely across the Carshalton Road.

Mum knew we were coming and already had two mugs, with milk and teabags ready, on the counter top. We both opted for a slice of the wedding cake I mentioned a couple of posts back and then sat in the 'lounge' (as we always call it) chatting to mum about this and that, one of the topics of conversation being the amount of cars in the road and how the family in the house across the street have five cars to their name – one each for the mum and dad, one each for the two sons and one for the girlfriend of one of the sons, who also lives there. They can get three on the drive, which has been concreted over, and two are parked, along with many others, on the road itself. Back in 'our day', of course, had there been so many cars we would never have been able to play football like we used to as there would too big a risk of damaging parked cars. It's a shame in many ways that people allow cars to rule their lives.

Cake eaten, tea finished, we donned our helmets and bade farewell to mum. Instead of parting company at the bottom of the road, where traditionally Jon turns left and I turn right, we both turned right and retraced our route to Carshalton Beeches, going off-road again and parting at the crossroads by the lavender fields, which pretty soon will be in full bloom. Jon continued off-road and so did I but going in opposite directions. I rode along the Foxley Lane and through the back streets of Purley, which eventually became Sanderstead, my last exertion being the ascent of West Hill's south face. I reached home at 1033hrs, later than usual, but it was good to see Bon and, of course, mum.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Around the world on a bike...


Camping in Bolivia. Pic: BBC.
It's taken him seven years, but this Saturday (today) Leigh Timmis returns home to Derby after riding around the world on a bike. What a guy! He's a keen diarist, according to the BBC, which means there might well be a book involved. If so, I can't wait.

As always, when somebody sets off around the world or around the UK or wherever, they return home with their faith renewed in human nature. Timmis was no exception. His bike, Dolly, was not stolen. "People see it's my whole life and they have respect for this. There is an element of trust in the world," he told the BBC's Laura Lee who writes, 'He [Timmis] says this simple living and the kindness of strangers saw his values change.'

What can I say other than this is a piece of good and inspiring news. Hats off to Leigh Timmis.

To read more about Leigh Timmis' adventure, click here.

Monday, 17 April 2017

To Tatsfield Bus Stop for tea and fruit cake...

"When the spirits are low. When the day appears dark. When work becomes monotonous. When hope hardly seems worth having. Just mount a bicycle and go out for spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking." Arthur Conan Doyle.

16-17 April 2017: It's the Easter holidays, time for chocolate eggs and roast dinners, except that, so far, I've had a roast dinner but no chocolate eggs. I'm happy with that because it means I'm not going over the top, which is good. My mum came over on Saturday for some pan-fried Loch Fyne salmon, new potatoes, carrots and kale; a bottle of wine was involved, but so was driving the car so I refrained from overdoing it.

Today, more Easter festivities, it being Easter Sunday, and I've just returned from a ride to the Tatsfield Bus Stop – the slow way – and, thanks to mum's visit yesterday, I was armed with fruit cake, a big chunk for Andy and a couple of slices for both of us to eat with our tea,  a welcome change from the BelVita biscuits. It was heaven: the sun was out, the sky was blue and we were sitting at the bus stop with steaming hot mugs of tea and a large slice each of fruit cake, it's difficult to imagine anything better.

There's a story behind the cake, which I may have told before. It was supposed to be a wedding cake for one of my nieces, but mum dropped it – not on the floor, but on the countertop, and it developed a crack that rendered it unworthy for the planned nuptial nosh-up. Another cake has since been made for the celebrations. But the old cake was perfectly edible and was more than intact enough to be eaten by whoever else turns up at mum's place in search of comfort. Yesterday I drove over to mum's to pick her up and bring her here, to my house, and before we left she gave me a large chunk of the cake so I cut it in half this morning and gave one bit to Andy when we reached the Tatsfield Bus Stop.
Tatsfield bus stop – alright, I know, I know...

The weather this bank holiday weekend has been interesting: dry and sunny, but there's always been a cold breeze to make wearing summery clothing, like shorts, a little premature, although that didn't stop Andy from donning his and then grinning and bearing it, although it wasn't that bad. I stuck with my winter attire minus the scarf and balaclava.

We rode the long way to the bus stop on Easter Sunday and chatted as we made our way along Beddlestead Lane. The time flew by and soon we were gliding along Clarks Lane towards the bus stop where the cake was unwrapped. It was, I hasten to add, top quality: a rich fruit cake, very dark, but moist. As we ate cake and sipped tea we looked back along Clarks Lane at groups of Lycra monkeys making their way towards us wearing those awful luminous shoes and the skin-tight, faux sponsored, Lycra, not a good look. Andy and I constantly question the Lycra monkey 'look' and wonder why, or rather what these people are thinking as they pull on their cycling clothes. Surely they don't peek in the mirror and think, "Whoa, steady, ladies, form an orderly queue." I've said it before and I'll say it again, my only question for Lycra monkeys would be simply, "Why?"

We rode back the fast way along the 269 and nothing was awry. At Warlingham green we agreed to meet again tomorrow – Bank Holiday Monday – although the weather forecast wasn't looking good and rain was on the cards. I awoke early on Monday and it was dark and gloomy outside. It had clearly rained overnight, but was drying fast, there being just a small puddle on next door's conservatory (or extension) roof when I peered out of my bedroom window just after 0600hrs. I checked the mobile for any potential abort texts from Andy, found none and then had breakfast (Weetabix with grapes, blueberries, banana and chunks of an orange, not forgetting tea).

By the time I left the house around 0710hrs the bank holiday Monday weather had brightened a little as I rode towards the green. Before we set off I bought a box of PG Tips teabags and a small bag of sugar and then we cycled towards Botley Hill with every intention of riding to Westerham, but changed our minds and stopped at the Tatsfield Bus Stop. The Lycra monkeys were out in force again wearing their silly outfits and clippy cloppy shoes. There was no cake today, just BelVitas and tea, but we weren't complaining.

Rockhopper at the Tatsfield Bus Stop...
Andy had risked the shorts again while I stayed safe with my usual scruffy attire: trousers with a lot of pockets, a paint-stained hoody and, of course, my rust-coloured jacket, which has seen better days, but there's plenty of life in the old dog yet. although I need to address the way I look as it's neither big nor clever to look like an unshaven vagabond of the western world.

The Tatsfield Bus Stop is a very relaxing place and we're both glad it's back. The only problem is getting too settled and not wanting to ride back home. It is, as Andy pointed out, the spiritual home of NoVisibleLycra. I suggested a plaque was needed.

As for the Arthur Conan Doyle quote above, there are many reasons for it; for a start it's the God's honest truth: if you're feeling down, pissed off with life, upset by the futility of things and letting people (and 'stuff') get on top of you, just jump on your bike, get out in the fresh air and put all negative and depressing thoughts behind you.

Another reason for the quote is Mike Carter's One Man and His Bike – every chapter carries a quote, like this one. It's a book I continue to rave about and one I have often taken off the shelf just to relive the 'ride' taken by Mike around the coastline of the UK. A week or two ago I was in Waterstone's in Redhill, looking at books in the travel writing section. I had a book in my hand, I can't remember the author or the title, but an elderly man approached me and told me it was brilliant and that I must read it. If I go back there, and I will, believe me, I'll remember it's title and author and I might well buy it and read it. After the man had dispensed his advice, I felt I couldn't leave it there; I reached for Carter's book and told the man that it was the best book I'd ever read (I wasn't exaggerating). He took it from me and went to the back of the shop, where there is a sofa, just like I had done when I first discovered Carter's masterpiece. I can only assume that he bought it and enjoyed it as much as I did.

Blending the Conan Doyle quote and Carter's book, I can honestly say that if I'm feeling down or depressed, I often reach for One Man and His Bike and enjoy a randomly chosen section of the book to enjoy for a few minutes.