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.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

To Westerham on Saturday and the Tatsfield Bus Stop on Sunday...

Saturday we got our heads down and rode to Westerham. It was one of those half-and-half days, meaning that the weather was good up until lunch time and then the drizzle arrived. We had a trouble-free ride there and back and parted company on the green with Andy saying he might not go on Sunday. "I'll send you a text," he said as he rode off towards Caterham and I made my way along the Limpsfield Road to Sanderstead.

As the weather forecasters had promised, the drizzle turned up around lunch time and was on and off for the rest of the day, making virtually anything to do with the outside world unpleasant. The only good news was that a wet lawn couldn't be mowed so I relaxed, safe in the knowledge that the mower would remain in the garage.

An archive shot of the Tatsfield Bus Stop.
There was more rain overnight, as evidenced by the puddle on next door's extension, but as there was no sign of raindrops, there was a good chance of a ride. That said, when I made my way downstairs at around 0600hrs it was very dark and foreboding outside and I didn't hold out much hope for a ride without rain. But then, just before 0700hrs it brightened up, the grey skies cleared and the sun came out as I rode up Church Way towards the Limpsfield Road and Warlingham Green.

We decided to head for the Tatsfield Bus Stop and along the way evidence of last night's rain was everywhere. The puddles on either side of the 269 were so large they almost touched one another. Like jagged mirrors they reflected the vertiginous depths of infinity, but on our return ride, no more than 45 minutes later, they were gone as the sun made short work of the drenched tarmac.

At the bus stop we reflected on many things: the price of tea, the rip-off culture of nouvelle cuisine, the nonsense of brand extensions, the pointlessness of expensive cars and the amount of large, overweight men riding bicycles. I wondered whether there might be a Friends of the Tatsfield Bus Stop movement in the village and, if so, whether they were complaining at church hall meetings about the mess left behind by cyclists 'using the facility'. I mentioned this as I stuffed the clear plastic wrapping from my BelVita biscuits in between the wooden struts that made up the bench on which we were sitting and then, after taking a wazz against the rear wall of the wooden shelter, zipped up and headed off in the direction of Botley Hill.

As we rode towards the pub a Lycra Monkey yelled, "On your right!" and then passed us with a cheery 'good morning'. We don't like MAMILS (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra Shorts aka Lycra Monkeys) but we let it pass. We had no alternative: within milliseconds of his passing he was out of sight and, of course, out of mind, checking his Strava and fretting about his pension plan.

We stopped for all of five minutes at Warlingham Green before heading for our respective homes and the looming prospect of a Monday morning heading our way.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Loads of cycling!

It was a busy weekend on the cycling front. First, a ride to the good old Tatsfield Bus Stop with Andy during which we narrowly avoided a soaking. The original plan had been to ride to Westerham for breakfast at the Tudor Rose, but the weather was looking decidedly dodgy so we opted for the safe option and rode to the bus stop instead.

All the way there – we decided to follow the slow route up Beddlestead Lane – there was the threat of  rain, but we remained dry. It was only while enjoying tea and biscuits under the cover of the wooden bus shelter that the rain started to fall. We watched it and waited and when the coast was clear, so to speak, we jumped on the bikes and headed for home, following the 269 into Warlingham where we parted company.

Andy wasn't riding on Sunday so I took the opportunity of riding over to Epsom to fix Bon's puncture. I left the house around 0726hrs (in fact, I definitely left the house at that time) and reached Epsom by 0818hrs, roughly 50 minutes later.
Woodmansterne Green, Sunday 23 July 2017

The ride to Epsom is fairly straightforward and involves riding the same route we use to reach Woodmansterne Green, but instead of turning left by the lavender fields on the outskirts of Carshalton I kept riding until I eventually arrived in Banstead where I continued straight towards what is known as the 'Mad Mile' (or rather the top of it). I then crossed the A217 and rode down towards what used to be the Drift Bridge Hotel (it's now flats) where I swung to the right, under the railway bridge and then immediately left. At the lights I turned right, then first left and soon I was a Bon's house.

Bon put the kettle on and for a short while we wandered around the garden, chatting about this and that before I reached for the leeches and got down to the business of fixing the puncture. Bon has a Cannondale with a roughly similar specification to my Specialized Rockhopper, but he had a rear wheel puncture. Fortunately, the Cannondale has quick-release wheels, which makes life easier, and soon the puncture was fixed.

Bon joined me on my return ride as far as Woodmansterne Green, taking me through the High Beeches housing estate and then along an off-road track that emerged close to Banstead railway station. We headed back over the A217 at the top of the aforementioned 'Mad Mile' and rode towards Longcroft Avenue, a right turn a mile further down the road. When we reached the green we stopped and chatted before Bon decided to head for home and I pushed on into Carshalton to see mum.

Unfortunately, my car had broken down on Saturday, stranding me temporarily in an Esso Garage in East Grinstead (new alternator needed). I still don't possess a car as I write this, which, in all honesty, is no bad thing, but not having a car at the weekend means it's difficult to get over to see mum unless I rely on the bike. So, being in Woodmansterne, I gave mum a call and around 20 minutes later there I was, eating cake and drinking tea and making small talk with mum. I left mum's around 1100hrs and made my home following the usual route. There's a nice stretch of off-road track along the road leading to the lavender fields so I used that and then found some more off-road tracks on what amounts to the Croydon Road towards Purely where I rejoined Foxley Lane and wound my way into Sanderstead where I tackled the South Face of West Hill.

Later in the day I went for brief ride around the block and I think I must have whacked myself out because I had the feeling of fidgety restlessness which used to be called 'over tiredness'. I had a strange hunger that persisted until the sun went down and I hit the sack early to avoid eating too much bread or breakfast cereal. You'll be appalled to note that on Sunday I ate four Shredded Wheat – two for breakfast and two for (ahem) 'dessert' after dinner.

While I had toyed with the idea of riding to work, the rain gave me an excuse to leave the bike in the garage and now I'm looking forward to next week's ride with Andy. Bon said we should both ride over to Woodmansterne again – he has a point!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

BBC salaries fiasco – and what a fiasco!

How terrible that some BBC presenters are getting paid ridiculous sums of money for jobs that are not in any way important in the greater scheme of things. How can it be right, for example, that Alex Jones and Claudia Winkleman are earning more than, say, a heart surgeon, or any surgeon for the that matter.
Winkleman

Now, before anybody gets on their high horse and starts berating me for not dealing with the bigger issue (that the lion's share of the big Beeb salaries are taken by male presenters) I don't want to get into the gender arguments; I just want to discuss the whole value equation because there must come a time when the sum of money paid becomes meaningless. Take yours truly, for example. If I was paid £500,000 per year based on my current lifestyle, there's no way I would get anywhere near to spending it all. I'd be able to save a good £400,000 per annum if not more because, let's face it, who really needs more than £100,000 per year? I get by on far less and I've got all the outgoings of most people: kids, mortgage, bills, the usual stuff.

My opinion is this: there are people, like Andrew Marr, Andrew Neil, the big political journalists like Laura K, Nick Robinson, John Humphrys, Emily Maitlis, Kirsty Wark and so on who bring something special to the party. They know their stuff and can be called upon to give our politicians a good grilling when required. And there are, of course, other experts, people like Chris Packham, but outside of that, the big salaries for television presenters are obscene and shouldn't be paid. Not to somebody who is simply presenting a programme like The One Show or Strictly Come Dancing.

Look, I'm not saying that Alex Jones and Claudia Winkleman are doing a bad job, they're not. They are probably good at what they do, competent presenters, they've been trained up, they know what they're doing, but surely £450,000 to £500,000 per annum is simply too much for what they do.

The BBC could save a lot of money if they employed me to present The One Show. How much would I demand salary-wise? Well, let's say, at the top end, £100,000, but certainly no more, and I'd be happy to take a much lower starting salary, let's say £75,000 all in. But not just me, there must be people out there working in, say, regional television, that need a big break and would be prepared to do the job for far less. It simply can't be that difficult! Certainly not difficult enough to command a £500,000 salary. The One Show is basically a series of small reports by the likes of Gyles Brandreth, Dominic Littlewood and others, broken up by a live studio guest or two, somebody like Michael Palin, who might have a new book to publicise, and Baker and Jones make small talk in between the outside broadcasts from the aforementioned journalists. It's on for about 30 minutes tops and yes, I'm sure there's prep work to do during the day before the show airs (knowing the running order, knowing who the special guests are, working out some sensible questions to ask them) but that is not rocket science and if it was you can bet your bottom dollar that a rocket scientist is paid far, far less than Baker and Jones.

Alex Jones of One Show fame
In short, the BBC are wasting licence payers' money and I for one would love to know how they arrived at such big salaries for Winkleman and Jones and some of the others. I mean why did they pay Jonathan Ross around £6 million per annum and why are they paying Chris Evans a couple of million per year? He presents a radio show! He has enough money already! I'd love to present a radio show for two or three hours a day, but hey, no more than £100,000 per annum. Nobody needs more than that.

What was going through the minds of those charged with the task of deciding salaries? What formula was in play that enabled them to arrive, without flinching, at some of the salaries that were revealed last week? Somewhere, did somebody say, "Right, well I reckon £500,000 per annum would be a fair salary for Alex Jones, and as for that Winkleman woman, she can have the same – or thereabouts." And everybody in the room nodded affirmatively, somebody stamped a piece of paper and the rest is history.

As I write this I'm watching Would I Lie to You?. Winkleman is on David Mitchell's team and they've got to the bit where a live guest is invited on the programme and all the panellists make claims that they are in some way truly connected with the person. Winkleman says that the man standing to her left is her builder and he dropped round to Winkleman's house (which he built) because Winkleman thought he might be able to help her fix the television. The end game was that there was nothing wrong with the television – the remote needed new batteries, that was all. And this woman is earning the best part of half a million quid every year. It's incredible! Even if she earned HALF that amount it would still be too much.

And before anybody says that Winkleman isn't really stupid, she's got an Oxbridge degree, I know, I KNOW!!! But that's not the point. The point is that she (and Alex Jones and many others) are doing a job that simply doesn't command such a high salary. There are so many other professions that would command that sort of salary, but not television presenting.

One of these days there's going to be a revolution: corrupt politicians fiddling their expenses, journalists hacking the mobile phones of murdered school children, zero-hour contracts, the empty  promises of our political leaders, the list is growing and now we can add BBC television presenters – they're not corrupt (perhaps some are), but some of them are earning far too much for what they do. Somebody, sort it out! Think of the money that could be saved.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Two weeks out of the saddle – but I'm back!

Not good at all, but shit happens, don't forget, and sometimes you just have to get on with it; not that any shit happened, it was just a case of not being able to go and the usual stuff, such as waiting around for people or having to drive somewhere early in the morning.

Our bikes near a cornfield on the approach to Westerham hill
I didn't go out on Saturday morning, but on Sunday I met Andy at the green and we headed for Westerham. On leaving the house I noticed how out of condition I was as I struggled up Church Way, although I was alright, I just felt a degree or two worse than I normally feel when I tackle a hill. Hills are an inevitable part of cycling, of course they are, but they're still mildly annoying and even more so after a two-week break.

I made it to the top of the hill, crossed the Addington Road and cycled through the churchyard, emerging on the other side and riding past Sanderstead Pond and on to the Limpsfield Road where I shifted into top gear and set my sights on the green.

The weather was fine: not as sunny as past weeks, but warm enough to wear just a tee-shirt and not the paint-stained, blue hooded top that normally accompanies me.

Since we last met, Andy had riden from Caterham to Canterbury (see link on previous post) so we talked about this briefly before deciding to save our conversation for Westerham. It was a smooth ride all the way there and soon we were sitting on the green where I noticed there was a large horse – not a real one – that had made itself at home behind the statue of General Wolfe; it was there for charitable reasons and made for a surreal scene.

Andy took this shot of the horse...
Other than the horse, not much had changed at Westerham since our last visit, which wasn't that long ago. We sat there drinking tea and munching BelVitas (as always) and watching cars and bikes and fellow cyclists ride by on the A25. There was a bit of 'bike conversation' that I won't bore you with and soon we had no excuse other than to get back on the bikes and head for home – and that hill out of Westerham. But hills (or anything in life) are never as bad as you think they are and, as always, we made short work of the climb and found ourselves at Botley Hill.

The ride along the B269 was smooth and we stopped briefly on Warlingham Green to arrange next week's ride. Andy can only make Saturday next week so on Sunday I'll either head for mum's (where tea and cake awaits) or I'll head for Jon's where a puncture needs to be fixed.

Andy headed towards Caterham and I rode along the Limpsfield Road towards Sanderstead, sailing down Church Way and weaving my way around the quiet, leafy streets until I found myself opening the garage door, padlocking the bike and getting on with what was left of my weekend.

As I write this, at 0641hrs on Monday morning, the sun is out, there are blue skies and all is relatively still. Birds are chirping, I can hear a distant radio and all is well with the world. Film director George A Romero has died and so has the actor Martin Landau (aged 89).