Sunday, 14 January 2018

Slow way to (ahem) the Tatsfield Bus Stop

In the winter months we're always riding to the bus stop and you know why, it's sheltered from the wind and rain. I didn't ride on Saturday, having arrived home around midnight on Friday. If you've read the previous post you will already know that I was in Lisbon.

Yours truly arriving at the famous Tatsfield Bus Stop...
So, it's Sunday morning and, as always, I could do with a lie-in, but I'm also well aware that I need a ride too. I'm dressed and ready to hit the cold morning air having eaten porridge with blueberries and banana and drank a cup of decaffeinated Yorkshire tea. Perfect.

Outside it is dark and cold and I didn't have the balaclava, more's the pity, but I set off for the green and soon I got there. Andy was there and, well, you know where we were headed. We went the slow way, which was more scenic and much safer than the alternative.

"I love the smell of woodsmoke," I said as we passed a huge pile of smoking wood chips.
"Wonder why they do that?" Andy asked.
"There must be a reason," I said and we continued on our way, none the wiser.

We wound our way around the quiet, narrow country lanes, down Hesiers Hill and up Beddlestead Lane and then sat at the bus stop watching the passing Lycra monkeys.

Tea drank, biscuits eaten we packed up and headed home, the fast way, and parted company on the green and another fairly lazy day lay ahead.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

In Lisbon...

I've never been to Lisbon. I've been to Porto in the north of Portugal, but not the capital in the south. And now 'I've never been to Lisbon' is a phrase I can't use anymore, it's a tee-shirt slogan that simply wouldn't make sense.

I flew there from Gatwick airport on the 1040hrs TAP flight and once the plane had climbed through the fog that covered southern England like a blanket, there were blue skies and cotton wool clouds below us as we flew south west, across the channel and over a bit France before crossing the Bay of Biscay and then heading out to sea before sweeping round and back over the sea and into Lisbon. It was a great flight: smooth and the food was free! It wasn't a feast, just a roll (not sure what was in it, either tuna or chicken, but it was free, along with a small and sweet pretzel and a cup of tea (although they didn't provide the milk, more's the pity).

Trams like this one are all over Lisbon and in souvenir shops
Getting through security at Lisbon airport was fast and soon I was heading into the town in a cab where I was booked, for one night, into the H10 Duque de Loulé Hotel. It was a fantastic place and I wished I'd stayed for another night, but you can't have everything and, once I'd checked out yesterday morning and the day wore on, I started thinking about the ordeal of a late flight back to Blighty. I hate night flights and while the outward journey was absolutely fine, the easyJet flight home was, shall we say, a little choppy. Clear air turbulence, said the female pilot, as I gritted my teeth and got on with it; I mean, once you're up there, what can you do?

Typical Lisbon living...
Friday during the day was fine. After hitting the sack around midnight on Thursday I awoke refreshed and ready to hike around town with the international man of mystery. The Lisbon Bike Share scheme was considered, but only briefly as we found walking a far preferable option. We headed down the street towards the sea and emerged on to a huge square with restaurants lining its left and right sides. Later we would enjoy a light lunch, but right now we headed to the seafront, turned left and then wove our way around narrow, steep lanes looking for a church that we never really found. But that was of no consequence because we did find a pleasant coffee shop where we both had a cappuccino and then made our way back to the main square to meet a pal who never materialised. But again, it didn't matter. We sat there, people watching and chatting about this and that and then, having paid for our lunch (a chicken wrap and a non-alcohol beer, the international man of mystery had a salad and a coke) we headed off, with a guy called Sam, and continued to wander about. I bought a fridge magnet and then we found ourselves in a rather strange coffee house that seemed to double as an antique shop. We had another cappuccino and then carried on milling around the city until it was time to congregate back at the hotel.
A view of Lisbon...
The weather had been fine, certainly better than in the UK. There was sunshine, blue skies and cotton wool clouds and the temperature was around 15 degrees, unlike in Prague, roughly this time last year, when we were treading carefully over icy pavements.

The main square with the sea behind me...
At Lisbon airport there was chaos. There was a big queue for security and then, after my suitcase cleared the scanner I restocked it and then forgot it was open when I picked it up. The contents of the case fell noisily to the floor. Unlike in Paris, when I last pulled this stunt, there was no applause as I self-consciously picked up my stuff and rammed it hastily back into the case. What a cock.

Room 905, H10 Duque de Loulé Hotel, Lisbon
Then the day's caffeine kicked in. I'd been off it for the best part of three months and those three cappuccinos earlier started to make me feel a little weird. I bought three bottles of mineral water and drank them in quick succession as I felt very hot-headed and might have had a temperature. I felt a little better as we queued for the flight at gate 214. And then, of course, there was the flight home and that clear air turbulence I spoke about earlier. I hate it. I sat by the window but there was nothing but blackness outside so I just sat there and waited for the flight to end, which it eventually did, and earlier than expected. We landed around 1015hrs, cleared security, hired a taxi and then headed for home. I don't know about you, but I can't just go to bed straight from the airport so I sat up and watched television – Glam Rock on the BBC. I hadn't eaten anything since that chicken wrap at lunch time. Well, alright, I had a coconut cake with one of the coffees mid-afternoon, but that was it, so I found a teacake in the bread bin and followed up with a couple of cheese rolls, and a decaffeinated tea.
View from Room 905, Duque de Loulé Hotel
Those cheese rolls were a good choice. Later I had a really weird dream, which is what eating cheese late at night is all about. Jack Black was in the dream. He was on a dance floor in a club somewhere, wearing beige chinos and a flowery shirt. Then he was on a chat show – or at least I think it was a chat show – sitting on a circular leather sofa. For some reason, I was there too. There was a man with a severely deformed face. In the beginning he wore mirrored sun glasses, but when he took them off you could see his awful deformity and then he started to spew his awful, extreme right, bigoted, racist views. At that point I woke up. And here I sit, at the living room table, pissed off to note that Friends is being re-run on Netflix and that awful Phoebe is singing Smelly Cat.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Cold weather continues...

Saturday was cold and so was Sunday, but coldness wasn't the reason for my abort. Sadly, I stayed up too late on Saturday night and I just knew that I needed more sleep so I aborted. There were also a few commitments that I needed to keep, so I didn't go out. When I eventually set foot outside I realised just how cold it was and felt kind of glad that I didn't go for a ride. Andy braved it and that made me feel even worse about not going; he's got a plan that involves trying to go cycling on both days of the weekend. To be fair, we've done pretty well: the last two weekends we've riden out on Saturday and Sunday, another reason why I feel bad about not going. It's likely that I'll only be riding on Sunday next week too. Why? Because I'm anticipating a late night next Friday and that will put Saturday in the pot – unless it's one of those occasions where I find myself awake at some ungodly hour and get out of bed and think 'I'll go on a ride'.

As I write this it's 0640hrs and I won't lie: I've been sitting here thinking 'ride to work, ride to work, there's a train strike'. But I know that riding to work is a real hassle and I've already started to think of what I'd need to pack: a pair of trousers, my shoes, a shirt, the list goes on and besides, you know how I feel about riding to work, it's not good. Fine if the office was down the road, but it isn't. It's a pleasant ride, but having to go to work at the end of it is the problem. Once a week to work? I've thought about it, let's be fair, but it doesn't take away the hassle element.

Andy's camera spots a light aircraft in somebody's garden...
Andy went on a local ride and on the way he found an aeroplane in somebody's front garden. It hadn't crashed or anything, it was just there, and the weird thing is this: he didn't spot it, his Go-Pro camera did; it wasn't until he reached home and played it back that he noticed it. I've just read Andy's blogpost on the subject and again, pangs of self-guilt for not hitting the road yesterday. The thing is this: I don't know about you, but if I'm out late, when I get home I can't go straight to bed. I have to chill a little first, either by watching a bit of television or, in my case on Saturday night, listening to a bit of music, going through Spotify looking for old albums I remember listening to years ago, that sort of thing, and that's why I didn't hit the sack until gone midnight (shortly after sending the abort text). You live and learn.

Right now it's Monday morning. I was up early at 0538hrs and I'm sitting here now writing this and listening to Beck's Sea Change album. In fact I haven't stopped listening to it ever since Christmas morning. In fact it's funny how having a long break over the festive season introduces new things to my life, new routines if you like. Over the holidays I made a point of being up early, being downstairs, listening to music while messing around, like now, on the computer, checking out Twitter, firing off what I think are humorous comments here and there, checking the email and so on. I spent a lot of time over Christmas reading Bruce Dickinson's autobiography, which I've almost finished, and a lot of the reading was accompanied by Beck's aforementioned album. I'd sit on the sofa with a peppermint tea (yes, a peppermint tea) and read in between visiting relatives and eating. It was so chilled and long may it continue. Right now, though, I've got to get ready for work. There's a train strike, as I've already mentioned, but the trains normally run okay, let's see...

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Biting cold wind on the return ride down Beddlestead Lane...

I considered an 'abort' this morning – for all of a few seconds. Once I was out of bed and making the organic porridge (with blueberries, sliced banana and raspberries) I was feeling a little more positive about an early morning ride after being back at work for a week. But it didn't stop me from being sluggish and slow. I texted Andy to say I was running late (because I was running late) but once out and on the bike, cycling around the neighbourhood in the dark, I recovered my determination just in time for Church Way, an uphill slog along a wet and rain-soaked road. It had been raining overnight and as I made my way along the Limpsfield Road, which was surprisingly busy, I took in the last of the Christmas decorations that lined the road. This was, after all, the last of the 12 days of Christmas. Later today I would be dumping our Christmas tree in the back garden, stage one of the process that will see it leave the house for good – until next year. Andy and I worked out that there are 353 days to Christmas.

On the 12th day of Christmas, Andy needs to ditch the tinsel
We rode the predictable 'slow way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop' only because it's relatively close-by, is covered and has seats, protecting us from the elements. Today's biggest problem (apart from the constant threat of rain) was fog. As we inched our way towards Beddlestead Lane, past the huge, black puddles that lined most of the roads we rode along, a fog seemed to be rolling in. By the time we reached the junction with Clarks Lane it was fairly thick and it got thicker before thinning out, shortly before we packed our stuff away and prepared for the ride home.

While the outward ride was a little cold, it was nothing to the return journey. The temperature had dropped considerably; so much so that we decided to ride back the slow way, based on the premise that the cold wind would be less severe along Beddlestead Lane than it would be on the 269. It was probably the right thing to do, but I've not experienced such a cold blast of icy wind as I did this morning riding towards Hesiers Hill and preparing myself for the uphill climb, which isn't a walk in the park at the best of times. The cold wind was so unpleasant that I longed for the balaclava sitting at home in the hallway cupboard. It was so cold I had to slow right down until I reached the bottom of Hesiers Hill when the temperature rose a little.

Hesiers, as always, was a struggle, but a fairly short-lived one, and soon Andy and I found ourselves weaving our way around the narrow lanes heading towards Chelsham and the short ride from there to the green. "Same time tomorrow?" said I. "Yes," said Andy, and we both headed for our respective homes. For me the remainder of the ride was fairly pleasant. The temperature had risen, the rain held off and it wasn't long before I was in the warmth of the house, chilling, reading Bruce Dickinson's autobiography while listening to Where the Eagle Flies, an album by Traffic, followed by Carole King's Tapestry, all good stuff.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Happy New Year (to all my readers!)

It's New Year's Day 2018. Outside everything is still, even at 0911hrs. I woke up at 0832hrs having got to bed around 0100hrs. I 'saw in the New Year' alone – meaning I was the only one still awake – watching a bit of Jools Holland and then switching to Nile Rodgers on BBC1. The thing I hate about watching Hootenanny, apart from the name, is that mildly corny music-head snobbery that surrounds the programme and, worst of all, the fact that it isn't live. That means it is recorded during the week and that when everybody says 'Happy New Year' it's not really, it's probably something like 27th December, possibly earlier, but either way it doesn't sit comfortably with me; I'd much prefer it to be properly live.

New Year – time for reflection, says Andy
So it's 2018 and the anti-climax that is the 'new year' is upon us; basically everything is the same as it was 24 hours ago except that there are people with pointless hangovers waking up in strange places and considering making their way home, or just waking up with a sore head and stumbling down to the kitchen for a pint glass full of cold water and something for their headache. I, on the other hand, can smugly report no hangover because I didn't drink a thing, apart from a peppermint tea. It all goes back to that dizziness thing I've been complaining about, which is still there, I'm just managing to avoid sending the room spinning by not getting up suddenly, not turning my head too fast and being a little careful. I'm not drinking because I don't want to add to the problem, although, by and large, like at this very moment, I don't have a problem.

In fact, on the dizziness front, a friend of mine texted me yesterday to say that his daughter has it too. The only common denominator between her and me is that we both had transatlantic flights just prior to getting dizzy. As I said, I don't have a problem now because I'm sitting upright and it seems to go when I'm out and about and standing upright. At night, though, I still sleep with three pillows, which seems to help, and the only time I might possibly experience any issues is getting out of bed. As a result, since it first occurred back in late October, I sleep on my left side and still get in and out of bed 'carefully'. I know that one false move and the room will spin. There is, apparently, something called the Epply Manoeuvre that can be done by a doctor – after two or three sessions the dizziness is supposed to go. I still might go and see my GP again, but I'm fine.

Trying in vain to keep my saddle dry...
On the cycling front, it's been good. For the last two weeks we've rode twice a week, Saturday and Sunday, although we didn't have our traditional Boxing Day ride and it's too late to go out for a New Year's Day ride. I was planning to see Bon today.

Today is Monday. Yesterday and Saturday we rode to the Tatsfield Bus Stop, the slow way. There were heavy gusts of wind along the way on both rides and on Sunday a bit of rain too. In fact, it must have rained heavily during the night before both rides as there were huge puddles, some spanning the width of the road in front of us.

We had mum's Christmas Cake on Saturday and the good old Belvita biscuits yesterday. In a way I'm looking forward to the cake going for good. Alright, I've had one piece per day since around 27th December, but it'll be good not to have the temptation. That said I fancy a bit right now, but I'll resist as I've just enjoyed a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea.

Riding the slow way to the bus stop has always been a bit of an ordeal, but it's easy to blank it out, either by the heads-down approach or by chatting our way out of it; the great bit is passing the mobile phone mast and having just 75 yards or so to go before reaching Clarks Lane.

Yesterday, the combination of wind and rain meant that the seats at the Tatsfield Bus Stop were damp. Andy sat on his gloves, I sat on my rucksack and all was well. We discussed ways of modernising the shelter by adding an awning at the top and, perhaps, a small gated wall at the bottom to prevent the seat from getting wet during windy, rainy weather, but somehow we didn't think Tandridge Council would take our requests seriously.

Riding along the 269 in windy, rainy conditions is not good, especially if the puddles straddle the road like they did this weekend. The temptation, of course, is to avoid the puddles, but that means drifting into the middle of the road, which is not good when you consider that everybody else, on both sides of the road, is doing the same thing. The alternative is the off-road path or riding back the slow way, but taking the latter option means climbing Hesiers Hill, which takes up valuable time. Yesterday, on riding through what amounted to a small pond, I took a soaking on my right leg half way along the 269, just before the downhill stretch on the return run.

Coughlans opens early – worth knowing
We'd left later than usual yesterday. I'd texted Andy suggesting we met at the green at 0800hrs, not the usual 0730hrs. I needed to chill a little more than usual. Andy agreed. In fact I think we both considered sending the dreaded 'abort' text. When I hit the air I noticed it was raining so I texted Andy, just in case he too had rain. Let's face it, the aim of that text was to kind of abort the ride, but we both knew it was only 'spitting' a little, so the ride continued. Luckily, the only real heavy rain hit home when we were safely undercover at the bus stop and, unbelievably, it cleared up before we packed up and headed for home.

We parted at the green, but we'll be back next week, same time, same channel (as they used to say on American television).

• It's amazing what you don't notice while cycling. The photo below, taken by Andy's 'on-bike' camera shows a car passing me yesterday as we both rode back along the 269. It's a dangerous road and when you get cyclists and motorists coming at you in both directions there's not a great deal of space; and let's not forget that there is an off-road path we could be using.

Yours truly on the 269 yesterday morning...
My only worry about the above shot is that I'm wondering how far that car could move further to the right without drifting into oncoming traffic. He's given me what, about 4ft clearance? He's not exactly pushing me on to the grass bank. Just a thought.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Drifting through No Man's Land

Christmas came and went like a whirlwind, leaving me, as always, wondering what all the fuss was about. The fuss in question starts early, back in October, when some bright spark decides it's time to discuss how many shopping days there are before Christmas Day. That always gets people's backs up, but most dismiss the news and get on with their lives until, one day, they find themselves in December, long after the shops have erected Christmas trees in their display windows, and thoughts turn to Christmas card lists and who's going where on the big day. The period from around 6th December onwards goes fairly fast, egged on by the closing episodes of reality television shows, like Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor and then, in my house at any rate, there's a couple of birthdays and a few trips to 'the shops' to buy presents and then it is upon us.

I'm always amazed at the way people suddenly become survivalists. They act like those militiamen in America who store up food supplies in secret hide-outs for the day when the Government falls and there is nothing left but anarchy. Except that we're only talking about one day when the shops aren't open. ONE DAY!!! And yet, if you visit Sainsbury's or Waitrose or any of the big supermarket chains on, say, Christmas Eve, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the end of the world is nigh. Fat people, some so fat you'll stand there wondering why they even need to eat for the next month or so, are standing in the queue for the check-out with a shopping trolley full to the very top with all manner of foodstuffs – bread, booze, buns, biscuits, baloney, you name it, it's in their trolley.

Once it's all over, like it is now, we enter a strange, timeless period when it's pretty easy to lose track of what day it is; the television schedules are all over the place, nobody appears to be working, the streets are deserted and in my case I just slob around doing as little as possible. As the light fades (as it is now) the house darkens as nobody switches on a light – not yet at any rate – and I, like now, bask in the halogen glow of my computer screen wondering whether it's time to pick up Bruce Dickinson's autobiography, a valued Christmas present. I've been dipping in and out of it ever since Christmas morning when I unwrapped it just prior to roasting some potatoes.

Dickinson (lead vocalist, Iron Maiden, if you didn't know) intrigues me and it's a lot to do with his multiple talents: rock star, fencer, writer, airline pilot. He is of a similar age to me (he's about seven or eight months younger) so there are elements of his life that are familiar to me, certainly his early life: the bands he admired and so forth. He's one of those people I would definitely invite to 'my dream dinner party' along with Will Self, John Lydon, Julian Cope and Mark E Smith, all of whom 'have books out' (Self has a lot of books out) and I'd like to read all of them. Equally good is they are all alive; I've noticed that a lot of people, when asked for the Q&A page of any self-respecting Sunday or Saturday supplement, often bring in to play people long dead when asked who they would invite to their dream dinner party.

I admire Dickinson for his determination and enthusiasm. Perhaps I envy him those qualities. Like a lot of people, I have often dreamed of being in a rock band. If I was in one, I'd play bass purely because it's a cool instrument and I used to play violin in the school orchestra, it's roughly the same strings. The violin is GDAE and the bass is the reverse, EADG. But things get in the way. Money for a start; there's never a spare £500 floating around to buy a Fender Precision bass, or spare cash for a few lessons. Other things get in the way too, like work, sleep and general living, although I think I could fit in the time. I'm tempted to make playing the bass something I undertake in 2018, but I'm wary of new year resolutions as I never keep them. That said, today marks two months since I 'gave up' drinking. The phrase 'gave up' is in inverted commas because I haven't given up for any reason; it's not because I drink (or drank) too much, it's just that I've started 'not drinking' and now I'm thinking: how far can I go? And don't get me wrong, I'm not climbing the walls in desperation; the truth of the matter is that I don't need it. I can go without. And that's the best way to 'do things' in my opinion: don't say 'right, I'm going to play the bass guitar this year', just buy one and start and see how things go.

With Dickinson's autobiography, I haven't yet reached the bit (if it exists) where he talks about learning to fly, but I hope he devotes some space to it. I caught an interview with the great man on BBC Breakfast a few days ago in which he told Charlie Stayt that he trained with British Airways and flew commercial airliners in the early noughties. He also captained 'Ed Force One' and flew the band around the world on tour – I remember watching that on television. You simply can't get more rock and roll than that, can you?

The weather outside is cold but not frightful. There was still ice on the windscreen of the car late in the afternoon and the grass on the front lawn was crunchy. Christmas lights in front gardens illuminated my route to the store where I bought various things. I was following part of my cycling route along Church Way and then I walked through the churchyard, light fading fast, headstones silhouetted against the night sky. It was now that I remembered people did go to work today. There was traffic travelling hither and thither as I moseyed on down the high street, hands in pockets to protect them from the cold.

Walking through the churchyard en route to the store...
The walk back seemed colder than the walk out, but now I'm home, listening to Sea Change by Beck, a scented candle flickering nearby. I first heard this chilled album in Barista Parlour in Nashville in May and now I'm enjoying a peppermint tea listening to it.

Little Women is being serialised on the BBC and it's on now as I write this. Yesterday it was followed by the final part of The Miniaturist so tonight I'm not sure what will follow, but I love this time of year. I just love the laid back, chilled air of everything, the fact that I won't be getting up at the crack of dawn to go to work or even on an early morning ride, although I might go out later tomorrow, possibly for an urban ride to mum's or Woodmansterne Green, who knows? Right now, I'm just going to chill out, have another peppermint tea (not very rock and roll, I know).

One thing that Dickinson makes crystal clear about being a rock star is this: it's not an easy life. Yes, it's great fun – I'd imagine – and exhilarating too, not to mention creative, but it's hard and challenging work and while mega-rewarding in all possible ways...who am I kidding? It must be incredible, all that flying around the world, tour buses, sound checks, studio time, the fans, the hotel life and to top it all, imagine being an airline pilot too! Hats off to Bruce Dickinson, not only for being the archetypal rock star, but also for writing a great rock autobiography, which, fortunately, I've yet to finish.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Through the fog to the Tatsfield Bus Stop...

It was one of those mornings, nothing seemed to be going right. The end result was unnecessary faffing about and lateness. By the time I was on the way to meet Andy it was 0722hrs, but at least the bike was roadworthy. I had a rear light and, wait for it, TWO front lights, one fixed to the front fork. And I would certainly need all three lights later on.

As we made our way along the 269 the mist turned to thick fog the closer we got to Botley Hill. It was so bad we used the off-road path, although there was a half-mile stretch from Botley to the bus stop where we had to use the road. We've experienced thick fog before, it was nothing new, but it was bad and visibility was poor. As we sat at the bus stop, cars disappeared, within a few seconds, into the murk, and cyclists were invisible, virtually, even with lights on their bikes.
Thick fog at the Tatsfield Bus Stop...
The lunacy of the Lycra monkey was there for all to see. A group of them came along in their brightly coloured shoes and faux sponsored clothing, travelling at a fair pace as they approached the T-junction with Approach Road where a car prepared to turn right. The monkeys clocked the car's intentions and started to emit all manner of strange noises – noises that resembled a flock of seagulls with sore throats. What struck me, however, was that the monkeys had no intention of slowing down. Instead they raised their voices, as if the guy in the car could hear them. Fortunately, he did see them otherwise Andy and I would be scraping them off the tarmac, wheeling their mangled bikes off the road and having a few conversations with the emergency services. The key point here was that the monkeys had no intention of slowing down, they were prepared to raise their voices, but they weren't going to slow down, a bit like those who practise the front crawl in public swimming pools: they think they can just plough on regardless without a thought for those who travel at a slower pace, but I'll end my rant there.

The bus stop's seating was damp, which is rare, so I remained standing. Andy sat on his gloves. Yesterday afternoon I made a cherry and coconut cake and saved two bits for the ride – it made a pleasant change from the Belvita biscuits.

Many monkeys passed by, some with lights, some without; and we looked out on the fog and the wonky Give Way sign as we considered our ride home. We'd have to take the road to Botley Hill and from there it would be off-road all the way to Chelsham Sainsbury's, where there would be no fog, just a light mist.

It was a good ride and when we reached the green we wished each other a Merry Christmas and parted company. Our traditional Boxing Day ride won't happen this year – or rather it will, but Andy won't be going until next Saturday (30th December).

Boxing Day rides archive...

• On Boxing Day last year, we tackled White Lane, click here for more.

• There was no Boxing Day ride in 2015, but we went out on the 27th to, yes, you've guessed it, the Tatsfield Bus Stop!

• In 2014 we rode to Tatsfield Village and enjoyed tea and Christmas cake, details here.

• We haven't rode to Woodmansterne Green on Boxing Day since 2013!!!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Fast way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop...

Two days after the Winter Solstice and it's very dark outside when I leave the house at just gone 0700hrs. Fortunately, I thought, my rear light, which I've attached to the back of my rucksack, miraculously works. It was flashing furiously as I mounted the Rockhopper and pushed off down the drive. Oddly, my brakes were making an awful noise, something one might expect from block brakes, but not discs. Then, as I set off unsteadily towards Ellenbridge, the gears crunched and slipped, but soon I had it under control and got into the swing of things.

The flashing front light's strobe effect seemed to bring inanimate objects to life. The bollards, for instance, were pleased to see me as I hit Morley and then made a sharp right turn on to Church Way and, a few yards later, the London Cycling Network sign winked at me as I passed. I made my way up the hill, past Christmas lights that twinkled from front gardens and soon I found myself crossing the busy road at the top and rolling noiselessly through the dark churchyard where the dead slept on.

Andy's Kona decorated in time for Christmas...
Sanderstead pond was black and lifeless and then the Christmas lights of the high street greeted me with a smile along the first few hundred yards of the Limpsfield Road. The roads were busier than usual and there was an urgency about everything. It was, of course, the Saturday before Christmas, which this year falls on a Monday, meaning that people have today and, I guess, tomorrow, to finish off any last-minute shopping. I'm always amazed at the chaos of consumerism at this time of year, especially on the last weekend before the celebrations begin. People act like survivalists heading into the woods for a fortnight when the reality is just one day of being at home with the relatives. It's as if there won't be any power, all heating will be cut off and we'll all be left to fend for ourselves in a dangerous, post apocalyptic world, like something out of Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

Within the next hour I too will be a part of the circus, but first, let me tell you about today's ride. We didn't go out last week so today was the first time in a fortnight and my general slobbishness this past week has seen my weight increase a little bit (I weighed myself with clothes on and after eating breakfast, drinking tea and scoffing a few BelVita biscuits) I'm almost 13 stone, up one stone from my glory days of weight loss back in 2014. I'd better get back on the programme, stop eating pastries (which I've been doing) and reduce my biscuit intake too (we've had a couple of tins in the house, and they're almost finished). I've also got to stop eating two pieces of cake when I visit mum – one will do. But it's not just mum, of course it isn't. I was in the New Forest last week and I couldn't resist the odd cherry liqueur (alright, at least half a dozen) or a wafer thin mint or Celebrations or Miniature Heroes; and then there's my tendency to order dessert in a restaurant – it's got to stop basically.

We met at the green as usual, Andy was there when I arrived, and we decided that the fast way to the bus stop was a good idea. The weather was fine, not wet in other words, but the roads were damp. It was a mild day, but that hadn't stopped me from piling on the layers of clothing – tee-shirt, shirt, hoody. Andy, on the other hand, had followed the 'less is more' formula and claimed he was already feeling warm.

The ride was fine, it was good to be out in the fresh air, and soon we arrived at the bus stop. Out came the tea and biscuits and we sat there discussing this and that. Andy had bought me a birthday present – much needed new lights, for which I thank him profusely.

Oh dear! Tidy it up, Tandridge Council!
The Give Way sign at the Clarks Lane end of Approach Road (left) had been hit by a car – presumably. It was now tilted over at an angle and looked a trifle untidy. Andy's bike, on the other hand, was looking festive. It had been draped with silver tinsel last week when he joined pals from Ross Cycles in Caterham for a Christmas-themed off-road ride.

We played the usual game of seeing how far we could flick our teabags on to the small patch of grass in front of the bus stop and then, after a bit more small talk, we headed back towards our respective homes, parting at Warlingham Green and vowing to be back tomorrow morning for more of the same.

I sailed nonchalantly down Church Lane, even risking 'no-hands' (a sign, perhaps, that the dizziness has left the building – or has it?) and it wasn't long before the glut of the festive season hit me head-on.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Taking a last walk in Vienna...

I decided to take a walk through the deserted fairground and along the length of Praterstrasse where I crossed the river (it might have been a canal). I'd been here before, back in June, on the bike, but I'd turned back after taking a photo of my two-wheeled steed resting against the railings on the bridge. This time I walked a little further, dipping into the odd bookshop for all of two minutes as none of the books were written in English. I walked down a few alleys, until finally I found a small and cosy Italian restaurant. Parma ham with melon must be as 'naff' in Italian circles as Black Forest gateau and prawn cocktail is in the steak house community, but I'm not proud. I followed up with Tagliatelle Caprese and a large bottle of Pellegrino sparkling mineral water and then, after declining dessert and paying the bill (EUR30.00) I retraced my steps and finally returned to Motel One where I retrieved my suitcase and chilled for a short while. I think I probably chilled too much because I soon realised that I might miss my flight if I didn't pack things away pronto and head for the airport.

It's weird walking through an empty fairground on a cold winter's afternoon
Reluctantly, I hauled my luggage along the street towards Messe Prater station, bought a ticket from the vending machine (EUR2.20) and then got a little confused. First I missed the stop, then I just couldn't work out where to pick up the CAT train to the airport. I had to start asking people, which I hate doing, but eventually I made it and then remembered I was travelling business class and I could use the 'lounge'. Oooh! The lounge! Aren't I so posh! Am I bollocks! I hate this 'business class' thing. I popped my head around the door and there they all were, disgusting people who thought their shit didn't stink, taking up all the space. I walked around, bobble hat on, hair straggly, old, scuffed coat, jeans and trainers. I didn't look the part, I'm pleased to say, and then I left with free copies of the Times and the Sun (to read on the plane).

The flight itself was smooth. I sat in seat 4a and once seated the poncy pampering began. The steward referred to me as 'sir' and brought me tea in a proper mug, water in a proper glass, and then my favourite, a peppermint tea, also in a proper glass, not forgetting a kind of beef panini thingy on a porcelain plate along with steel cutlery wrapped in a cloth napkin. Behind me the proles were being told they'd have to pay for their M&S 'grub', their tea would arrive in paper cups and nobody was going to call them 'sir'. I felt like passing my dessert through the curtain to the needy people sitting behind me, but it was so nice I scoffed the lot without a thought for the proletariat, and then had a crack at the crossword.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

In Vienna...

I reached Vienna at 1630hrs...
It's Friday morning, 0625hrs, and I'm in my favourite hotel of all time: Motel One Wien-Prater. The last time I was here was back in June when the weather was hot, the skies blue and the sun burning hot. It's much colder now and I notice that the bikes they had for hire have gone, they must have been a seasonal offering. I was going to hire a bike and cycle around the city today, but clearly that's not going to be possible, I'll have to walk. It's my first day without any meetings, so effectively I've got a free day as I don't need to be at the airport until around 1630hrs for a flight to London two hours later.

When I was last here, I raved (yes I raved) about the tropical fish screensaver on the television in my room, it was so chilled out. I remember how the receptionist on the front desk told me that in winter it changes to a roaring log fire, and sure enough that's exactly what it is – and once again, I love it. Last night I went to bed with the log fire roaring and when I woke up it was gone, it must have switched itself off during the night. I'm now watching CNBC Europe, more as background noise than anything else. I'm wide awake and drinking a glass of mineral water I purchased last night (EUR4.50) from a sullen, humourless barman here at the hotel. It's quite amazing how some people simply don't have any sense of humour. I made a comment about the bottle being made of glass, not plastic (which is rare for mineral water) and he looked at me as if I'd just admitted to being a neo-nazi.

Leonding's huge shopping mall...
Yesterday I took a taxi to a small town outside of Linz called Leonding, the boyhood home of Adolf Hitler, something nobody mentioned to me when I said I was going there. And no, I'm not a neo-Nazi and Hitler was not the reason for my visit. There is a huge shopping mall in Leonding and I mean huge. I had lunch there and then wandered around looking for some form of transportation to get back to Linz. I found a tram and after about 15 minutes or so, I was back and heading along Steinstrasse towards my hotel where I picked up my suitcase and headed, on foot, to the railway station. There was a train to Wien (Vienna) at 1516 and then a short ride on the metro to Messe Prater (line U1 to Prater-Stern, change to U2 and ride just one stop to Messe Prater). The hotel is right outside the metro station (take the Prater exit).

Something else I remember from last time I checked into this Motel One was the queue at the front desk. I stood there for a good 15 minutes waiting to check in, like last time, but the wait didn't bother me, I was glad to be here in the dark and cosy bustling lobby where there was plenty of people relaxing with a drink, chatting and laughing. Last time, I was on the third floor, this time the first, in Room 165, but the room is exactly the same and has the same spotlights over the bed that last time I couldn't figure out how to switch off and had to resort to the receptionist coming up from the lobby to help me. How embarrassing, I thought, but then, yesterday evening around 1700hrs I found myself in the same situation: how to turn the damned things off. While I remembered what the receptionist had done in June, I couldn't for the life of me find the switch and was about to call the front desk (again) when I found it.

For me, at present, waking up at 0625hrs is classed as a good night's sleep, thanks to decent pillows and that 'roaring log fire' on the television on the wall opposite the bed. CNBC Europe is saying that Saudi Arabia is pumping US$19 billion into its economy.

Last night I went to L'Osteria, a restaurant I found the last time I was here; it's close to the fairground on Freudplatz 2 and I'm not sure I like it. It's one of those large spaces, very noisy, and it sells pizza and pasta from a laminated menu, but there's also a specials selection, which I always go for and then feel slightly disappointed when the meal arrives. It was pot luck anyway as the menu was in German and I based my choice on seeking out familiar words, although I can't think of anything familiar about Garganelli Buongusta, can you? Basically it's pasta with chunks of ham and whole olives. It was alright, but not brilliant, and it was accompanied by a small mixed salad and an Erdinger non-alcohol beer. I sat there alone, squeezed between 'couples'. It was too dark and noisy to read so I checked and responded to emails on my phone and then considered dessert, but it was the usual gooey stuff so I paid up and walked back through the deserted fairground. In the summer it would have been very busy and noisy, lots of screaming people being flung about on scary-looking rides, but now there was nobody here, the rides were shrouded in darkness and covered with tarpaulins. It was about a 15-minute walk back to the hotel.

The roaring log fire – perfect!
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love Motel One – certainly this one close to the fairground. I love the bustling lobby. There's a long, wooden table opposite the front desk, with powerpoints, so I fetched my laptop from the room and spent about an hour writing this and that before heading back to my room and getting the aforementioned good night's sleep. All that remains now, at 0625hrs, is to shower and head down for breakfast.