Sunday, 27 April 2014

Early rain stops play for the entire weekend

Early rain is really annoying as it stops our rides. While I was out of the picture on Saturday – I'm not sure if Andy went out alone – I was up for it on Sunday, but Andy wasn't feeling good so he aborted, leaving me with the awful problem of self-motivation. However, when I awoke with every intention of heading out somewhere (an urban ride to mum's would have been nice or even a short ride to Botley Hill – albeit longer than the urban ride to mum's) I stared out on to the garden and noticed a fine rain falling steadily. Rain means no ride so I resigned myself to simply doing a bit of work that needed doing.
Indianapolis Bike Share Scheme. Photo: Kevin Kastner, Urban Indy.
Now, like yesterday, the weather has improved. There's a mild wind coming from somewhere and the skies aren't blue, but it's bright out there and the rain has stopped, ideal, in fact, for a ride, but as always, time has moved on and there are other things that need doing, so the weekend's cycling hasn't really happened – annoying when you consider how much cycling was done the week before last. Daily rides for nine consecutive days.

It's annoying on another level too as I won't be riding out next week due to travelling commitments and there's a strong possibility that jet lag might prevent me from riding out the following weekend. Hopefully, while in Indianapolis, I'll be able to find and ride one of the city's 'Boris bikes' as they've just been introduced there, so, if the weather's good I might even ride to the convention centre, although it might be a way from my hotel, which is supposedly 15 minutes by car to downtown. We'll see.

For more details on the Indianapolis Bike Share scheme, click here.


Monday, 21 April 2014

Day eight: to Carshalton to see mum (approximately 12 miles).

Jon in Carshalton Park, 21st April 2014.
It's not yet 0700hrs but already the skies are blue and all is still. I'm about to embark upon my ninth consecutive day of riding and, if I'm honest, I'm in two minds as to where to go: Westerham has crossed my mind, the idea being I really push the boat out on what could, theoretically, be my last consecutive ride for a while. I'm going back to work tomorrow, but that doesn't mean I can't ride any more daily rides, it just means I'm likely to break the current cycle of back-to-back rides...unless, perhaps, I get up early and ride the 10-miler to Ledgers Road and back (which should take an hour tops). Even if I do it once it means I've riden for 10 consecutive days, a nice round number.

I've sent a text to Jon to see if he fancies a ride over to mum's, but I've had no answer, which means a lonely ride somewhere else and there's a few jobs to be done around the house today so a Westerham ride might be out of the question considering it's now 0718hrs. It's looking likely to be the Tatsfields – either the bus stop, the village or the churchyard, although I've visited them all last week and that leaves Botley Hill, a short, predictable ride that I took twice last week. Woodmansterne Green would be good, but it's a bit suburban in terms of the ride over there, not sure. So, here I am, thinking, poring over the possibilities, something I won't have time to do tomorrow morning.

The river in Carshalton Park – normally it's dry, but not this year!
I called Jon, he called back and then I headed off towards Purley, Foxley Lane and, of course, mum's house. Jon met me along Foxley Lane as I was running a little late. I'd left the house at 0750hrs and after Jon and I linked up we headed into Wallington, branching off around the streets of South Wallington – Brambledown, Boundary Road and then into Carshalton Park to take a look at the water levels after the flooding earlier in the year. Normally the river beds are dry but today there were still full of water, but the levels had receded a bit. We crossed Ruskin Road and weaved our way down to Carshalton High Street, turning left and riding along to the ponds where we turned right into North Street and then left into Honeywood Lodge, through Festival Walk and right on to West Street towards Colston Avenue, Westmead Corner and into mum's road.

The Kona in Carshalton Park this morning.
Jenny and her fiancé Alex were there having breakfast (they'd stayed overnight). We had a mug of tea and a chat and then, around 0900hrs, we left. At the bottom of mum's road, Jon turned left and I turned right and headed up Shorts Road, then Alma and then turned left on to the Carshalton Road before doing a right up Oxford Road, riding through Carshalton Beeches High Street and up Banstead Road South to Staplehurst Road where I hung a left, sailed down the hill and up the other side and then turned right, heading towards Croydon Lane. This part of the ride is very pleasant as it runs between smallholdings on one side and the periphery of the Oaks Park on the other.

At Croydon Lane I turned left and rode into Purley, back into the Foxley Lane and then across to Pampisford Road before turning right, crossing the Brighton Road and weaving my way through side streets towards the Sanderstead Road and West Hill, where my gears messed up a bit, although I never dismounted. From West Hill, having rode up the 'steep side', I freewheeled into Barnfield and was home at roughly 0955hrs.

Mum on the doorstep bidding Jon and I farewell...
Another wonderful day – a million times better than yesterday and roughly on a par with the whole of the last week (sunshine and blue skies).

Since the Sunday before last, I have cycled a total of 143 miles on consecutive days.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Day seven: Easter Sunday ride to Tatsfield village (roughly 16 miles)

As I write this at 1100hrs there is rain, thunder and lightning disturbing the peace. Rain is hammering down on the roof of the conservatory, thunder claps can be heard overhead and yes, there was even some lightning to illuminate the greyness. Earlier, as Andy and I chewed the fat at the covered bus stop in Tatsfield village, there had been nothing but a mild misty blue air and a dull breeze and when a man passed the time of day with a 'looks like rain, lads' we shrugged it off, confident that we would reach home without getting soaked. And we did, but within 20 minutes of being home, I heard the rain, then the lightning and then thunder. And now, one paragraph in, the rain has stopped as suddenly as it began and there's just the drip, drip, drip of rain, like a dodgy tap – like my dodgy kitchen tap.

The Ship, Tatsfield, Kent early this morning.
Today's ride, my eighth consecutive ride (if you include last Sunday's jaunt to Westerham*) was characterised by empty streets. Everybody, it seemed, was lying in except for Andy and I and a guy in an Aston Martin, not forgetting whoever it was erecting posters for the London Air Show, an event that sounds grander than it actually is. The rain's started up again outside, but it's very bright out there too and I'm told it'll pass over – just as well as I'm planning a drive into darkest Sussex in about an hour from now.
Deserted – Easter Sunday morning on Sanderstead High St.

Let's get back to the London Air Show. I was wondering, as we passed a huge sign for it, whether or not it might be another name for the Biggin Hill Air Show, but I was wrong, this WAS the London Air Show and it was being held in Woldingham, an area not renowned for its airstrips or airports and, in terms of aviation heritage, I can't think of any (Woldingham is garden centre and golf club territory). However, on closer inspection, it became clear that the London Air Show is to the Biggin Hill event what lawnmower racing is to Formula One. To put it bluntly, we're talking about hang gliding and stuff more akin to the Selsey Bird Man competition than anything you might refer to as 'real flying'.

When we reached the village we talked more about Andy's ride to Brighton and back, roughly 80 miles. It was odd that he was complaining about cramps as he's normally not the complaining type. Perhaps, I suggested, it was the different riding position of the racer when compared to the mountain bike. Good point, he said, but the racer was needed to cover the distance in the alloted time. In other words, he'll have to get used to it – and I'm sure he will.

I mentioned that I'd be travelling again shortly to Indianapolis in the USA where, I've discovered, they have just introduced a 'Boris bike' scheme. I emailed those behind it and they said I can buy a 24-hour ticket when I arrive, so expect a few blogposts about riding in Indianapolis in a few weeks' time.

Tatsfield village, incidentally, had been cleaned up since my last visit on Good Friday. The rugby ball and beer cans had disappeared and so had the pint glasses left by the bench near the pond (it's too small, surely, to be called a lake?).

We drank tea, munched our Kellogg's NutraGrain bars – Andy's switched from Jordan's for some reason, but this isn't a complaint – and then we headed off and I began to complain about my Tesco Tearaway tracksuit bottoms; I've been wearing them all week (see photos in all but one of last week's posts). I hate them with a vengeance, they look so untidy, cheap and loutish and are a tad immature too.

The roads on the return journey were as deserted as they were on the way out, hence the image of Sanderstead High Street above. Note the lack of traffic and people. But then this is Easter Sunday in England and people are probably nursing Saturday night hangovers or preparing for a later start than normal. I've also included a shot of the Ship, a pub at the heart of Tatsfield Village, and one I haven't visited for a beer for a long while. The last time I was there they had surfboards with sails hanging on the walls.

Home-made sausages and mash at the White Horse, Sutton, Sussex – lovely!
The rain carried on all day in the end. I drove to one of my favourite pubs, the White Horse, in the middle of the south downs in the heart of Sussex, in the village of Sutton. I've included a photo of my lunch – home-made sausages, mash, kale and carrots, washed down with a pint of one of my favourite brews – Harvey's (an established Sussex brewer in Lewes).

All the way home in the car there was rain so I abandoned a much needed visit to the beach and instead headed home on the A24, which seemed quicker than my usual route along the A29. There was also little point in stopping in Arundel as to do so would have meant getting very wet indeed.

Now, at 1909hrs, there are blue skies and sunshine and I'm told it will continue into Easter Monday, my last day off work. What a truly great week off in all senses of the word: the weather, the cycling, the trips out, you name it, and especially having the entire family at home. A highlight was Max's chicken and leek pie – a worthy meal – and one I hope to enjoy again soon.

* I've been counting my consecutive days of cycling from Monday, separating them from my usual weekend rides and that's why it's Day Seven, although, in reality, by counting last Sunday's ride to Westerham, it's really Day Eight. 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Day six – with Andy to the Tatsfield churchyard (16 miles)

Yours truly and Andy at the Tatsfield Churchyard.
Another nice day as I embarked upon my seventh consecutive ride since last Sunday. This time I was meeting Andy at Warlingham Green at the usual time of 0700hrs. Yes, it's a normal Saturday, but my string of rides continues and won't stop until I break the cycle, which is likely to be on Tuesday when I return to work. Having said that, I reckon I could manage a 10-miler before work simply by riding to Ledgers Road just beyond Knights (and back). Anyway, enough!

St Mary's Church, Tatsfield.
At the green I met another bunch of cyclists who, like Andy and I, are regular riders (although I don't think I've seen them before). One of them referred to hills as mountains, so a typical conversation would go something like this:-

"...yes, but the problem with that ride is the hill on the way back."
"Which one?"
"Coming out of Godstone, prior to crossing the motorway?"
"Oh, you mean the Eiger?"
"Well, no, it's Ganger's Hill, isn't it?"
"That's what we call the Eiger."
"Oh."

I started to wonder whether another sad blog like mine existed somewhere else in cyberspace, but decided to say nothing. Instead I texted Andy. "Are you awake?" I wrote, cockily, and then, as if by magic, he arrived and we headed for the Tatsfield churchyard, followed by our new acquaintances who overtook us on the 269 and disappeared.

As always, it was a straighforward ride to the churchyard where we sat on a bench, munched our cereal bars and drank tea. Andy told me about his ride to Brighton. I thought he'd cycled there with work colleagues, but apparently they'd all pulled out at the last minute with various excuses, leaving Andy to ride there and back alone. It took him two hours and 30 minutes to get there (39 miles) and three hours and 15 minutes to get back. The racer did well, but it was much more uncomfortable than the mountain bike as every pot hole, every irregularity on the road, rankled.

Andy makes it to Brighton alone. Photo: Andy Smith
I spoke briefly about my week on the bike and how great the weather had been and then it was time to find a photographic angle we hadn't already attempted on previous visits – a near impossible task.

The ride home was fine until I reached the green. Andy and I had said goodbye and then, as I followed the road round, some stupid idiot decided to open their roadside car door just as I was passing. I swerved and somehow managed to avoid a collision, but only just. All the way home I was dreaming up expletives that I would have used had I come off the bike.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Day five: Tatsfield Village (16 miles)

Yours truly, Tatsfield Village Green, Friday 18th April 2014
I won't deny that I'm feeling pleased with myself. All week, from Monday 14th April to today, Friday 18th April, I've cycled a fair distance every day to places avid readers of this blog will already be familiar with: Botley Hill, the Tatsfield bus stop, churchyard and village – and the weather has been amazing. Yes, all of my rides this week have been accompanied by blue skies and sunshine.

In fact, if you want to discuss distances, from Monday through to today I've covered roughly 76 miles and with last Sunday's ride to Westerham added on, it's almost 100 miles (98 miles if I've got the mileages right).
Tatsfield Village Green. There's a pond there, but you can't see it.
Today, as mentioned above, was another wonderful day and, as I headed out on the 269, I was in two minds about where to go. Should I visit the Tatsfield bus stop the long way or go to the village the long way or just be content with Botley and back the fast way? Should I go to Botley and then come back the long way via Hesiers Hill? Decisions, decisions. In the end I decided to visit Tatsfield village (the fast way) and sit, for all of five minutes, on a bench opposite the pond on the green. I considered the covered bus stop opposite the pub, but somebody had left it in a right mess: there was a rugby ball there for some reason, accompanied by a couple of lager cans. I'd considered another bench, but somebody had left a couple of pint glasses, one with beer still in it, under the bench in question and, well, I just didn't fancy sitting there with that occasional waft of stale beer meeting my nostrils. Fortunately there was a bench that wasn't littered so I sat there and took a few photographs before getting up and riding home (the fast way again).

Today, of course, is Good Friday, something I forgot earlier when I headed out under the impression that there would be traffic en route to work. Had I gathered my senses earlier I might well have taken the Scrap to Sutton for breakfast round at mum's as I discovered that Jon had cycled there this morning, but I wasn't thinking.
The Kona casting a shadow on Tatsfield Village Green this morning.
So, here I am, it's nearly 8pm, I've cycled every day since last Sunday and I've covered almost 100 miles. It's been great, I feel good and to top it all, when my mother and mother-in-law came round for lunch today I had no qualms about eating a couple of slices of cheesecake, thanks to clocking up all those miles.

The consecutive days of cycling haven't ended yet. Tomorrow I'm planning a ride to Westerham with Andy (22 miles added); then there's the same again on Sunday (weather permitting – the TV forecasters say Sunday won't be that pleasant); and then, of course, there's Easter Monday, when the weather is likely to be more characterised by blue skies and sunshine.

Andy rode to Brighton and back today and I'm sure there will be images to post later. Watch this space.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Day four: Tatsfield churchyard – 16 miles.

On a bench in Tatsfield Churchyard, 17 April 2014.
The good weather continues and I find it hard to believe my luck: four consecutive rides, including today's (five if you add Sunday's ride to Westerham with Andy) without a drop of rain or a grey cloud. It's been blue skies and sunshine all week, the blossoms are not only on the trees, creating a sweet aroma in the air, but scattered on the ground as if every house I pass has recently hosted a wedding. Add to this the smell of woodsmoke from unseen bonfires, the distant drone of a light aircraft hovering over Biggin Hill and the picture is almost complete. Oh for a freshly creosoted fence and that delicious smell of hops from a pub.
The Kona in the churchyard
I headed off later than usual (0925hrs) and decided to ride to the Tatsfield churchyard, the fast way. It was traffic all the way to the green, but once beyond Knight's it thinned out considerably, as always, leaving me on the open road with green fields on either side as I approached Botley. I carried on past the pub, turning left and heading east on Clarks Lane, past the famous Tatsfield bus stop and then dismounting and manhandling the bike up some steep steps towards the churchyard where I was greeted by the usual tranquility of the place.
The Kona again resting against a bench in the Tatsfield churchyard
I parked the bike against a bench and with little in the way of power left on the camera, took the photographs that accompany this post prior to the phone shutting down. Without tea or companionship, there was little point in hanging around so, photographs taken, I walked the bike through the churchyard, manhandled it down the steps and then rode back along Clarks Lane towards Botley Hill and eventually home. I reached my house around 1055hrs, put the bike in the garage and then enjoyed a cup of tea. Perfect!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Day three: back to Botley Hill – 14 miles.

Botley Hill Farmhouse, Wednesday 16 April 2014, 0945hrs.

Another wonderful day. Blue skies and sunshine. I rode to Botley Hill, rather sluggishly, it seemed, on the outward journey, but the return was superfast and I can only put it down to no headwinds. From Botley to home, 25 minutes on the nail and I never stopped pedalling along the 269.

Lambs enjoying a spot of breakfast at the Botley
I spent roughly five minutes at Botley taking the photographs accompanying this post and then embarked upon the return ride.

A self-explanatory photograph.


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Day two: to the Tatsfield bus stop...the slow way (approximately 17 miles)

The early part of Beddlestead Lane today. A long, slow hill.
I discovered today that riding to the Tatsfield bus stop – the slow way – is only a fraction longer than riding to Botley Hill the fast way. It takes 50 minutes to ride from my house to Botley and it takes 65 minutes to ride the long way to the Tatsfield bus stop – probably slightly less than that as I stopped a couple of times to take the photographs accompanying this post.
Further along Beddlestead Lane...still a way to go
Once again  –  as the photographs testify – the weather was fantastic: blue skies and sunshine. The ride was good. I decided to go the slow way to Botley to avoid the traffic and it proved to be a good idea. What was great about today's ride was the solitude; once on the country lanes there was nothing but birdsong.

Rolling hills along Beddlestead Lane...nearly at Clarks Lane
A good ride, thanks again to the Pistorious trial, although the defence lawyer wants to adjourn the case for some reason – at least I think he does – which means that I'll have to head out earlier than usual. 
Final destination: the Tatsfield bus stop at 0955hrs...time to ride home
My wife is totally engrossed in the Pistorious case.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Day one: Botley and back, 14 miles.

Botley Hill, Monday 14 April 2014 around 0945hrs.
Another wonderful day and, thanks to the Oscar Pistorious trial, I managed to squeeze in a ride to Botley and back without any protestations from other members of the household. With a bit of luck I'll be able to do this all week, link up with next weekend's rides and have – hopefully– eight consecutive rides under my belt. Let's see how it goes.

The weather was tremendous. Blue skies and sunshine greeted me as I headed out around 0840hrs. There was more traffic on the road than usual – because it was later in the day – but once past Knight's Garden Centre things thinned out and all was well with the world.

The blossoms are in full bloom now and there's a lovely floral aroma in the air, emanating from the manicured front gardens I passed en route to Botley Hill.

I reached home around 1015hrs.

To Westerham...22 miles

Sunday, 13th April 2014: When I woke up on Saturday morning and remembered that Andy wasn't going cycling, I decided not to get out of bed and instead fell back to sleep, re-awakening around 0800hrs. Once up and about and having eaten breakfast I thought I'd go out to Botley Hill and back but alas, I didn't go. Sadder still, I got as far as the garage door before remembering something my dad once said to me when I was moaning about the futility of gardening. He said that my garden was my gymnasium, a green gym no less and that all the exercise I needed was out there waiting for me.
Churchill's statue in Westerham and beautiful blue skies.
Knowing me, I probably said something along the lines of swimming or cycling or even walking was probably better exercise than mowing the lawn, but now, as I stood in front of the garage door, ready to retrieve my bike and head off into the sunset, his words came flooding back to me and the key came out of the garage door lock. I stood there for a few minutes and then decided to mow the lawn instead. It was, of course, a wonderful day and I missed out on what would have been a pleasant ride. And there were so many other options on the table too: I could have cycled to Woodmansterne Green to meet Jon or I could have cycled to mum's, met Jon and had breakfast there before cycling back. But no, I decided to mow the lawn instead.

Andy on the green at Westerham, Sunday 13 April 2014.
Sunday was my only real opportunity to redeem myself. I left the house at 0630hrs and met Andy on the green at 0700hrs. We opted for a ride to Westerham and headed off along the 269 in the sunshine. It was another lovely day and there's nothing better than sitting on the green on a sunny Sunday morning, drinking tea and munching cereal bars whilst chatting about this and that.

Yours truly on the green at Westerham, Sunday 13 April 2014.
Around 0830hrs we jumped back on the bikes and headed out of town and up the long, laborious hill, which wasn't that bad as we talked about conspiracy theories surrounding the whole notion of climate change. This came about because of an interview I'd conducted during the week in Brussels, or rather the week before last, when I discussed climate policy and how it was driving foundation industries out of Europe (steel, petrochemicals and cement – and probably others too). We both wondered why anybody would want to decimate European industry and concluded that it could only be some kind of plot by some kind of mysterious power elite that we're all sort of aware of but are both too gullible and too apathetic to do anything about. We discussed the gullible masses that believe everything they read in the newspapers and how the aforementioned 'power elite' could easily get anything past any of us and we wondered what stories there were in the national press that could easily be malignant, underhand concoctions.

I was thinking of the Malaysian flight MH370. I mean, seriously, we're supposed to have God knows how many early warning systems in orbit around the planet to stop rogue nations launching missile attacks, but we can't seem to find a huge jet carrying 239 passengers. In my opinion, there's something amiss. Somebody is covering something up and until they can find a reasonable excuse as to why the plane has 'disappeared', it won't be found. Once they've thought of something plausible, the plane will be found and we're getting close to that day now – I'm guessing. Just think about it for one moment: a huge jet carrying 239 people has mysteriously disappeared for weeks, not days. But if a missile was winding its way towards London or New York or Paris or any major Western city, it would be picked up by some kind of early warning system – and yet a plane (many times larger than a missile) has just vanished. No, there's got to be more to it, somebody's messed up, but whatever it is we'll never know, we'll be fed some bullshit and we'll believe it because we're all as gullible as hell and quite happy to believe whatever the media wants us to believe. The likely truth is that the plane was shot down by somebody, I don't know, but let's wait and see.

Climate change is another one: we're all being told stuff by 'scientists' and we're all believing it because of a bit of freak weather here and there, but somewhere there's some kind of agenda. 'Climate change' has been invented for a reason, but what is it? Who knows? But the very thought of relying upon solar energy and renewables to run huge steel mills and petrochemical plants is just ridiculous – and yet the world cannot exist without the products produced by these industries. What it does mean is that these industries will relocate to areas where they don't care so much about carbon emissions – and that will mean job losses and so on in the Western world. Something's afoot – it always is – but we'll never know the truth.

We both rode to the Green and then said our goodbyes. I'm off work for a week (on leave) so I'm going to try to get a ride in every day of the week. It's a tall order, but let's see how it goes.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

To the Tatsfield Bus Stop in thick fog – and we get a major soaking too

Having been foolish enough to say yes to tiramisu in an Italian restaurant in Wimbledon last night, I felt I had to get up early and ride out to somewhere like Westerham, but the weather appeared to be dictating otherwise. It had clearly rained in the night, but seemed clear when I woke up at around 0510hrs and considered getting out of bed. By 0537hrs I'd done just that and went downstairs to make a bowl of porridge, which I was eating around 0600hrs.

Thick fog at the Tatsfield Bus Stop, Sunday 6th April 2014
There was a constant threat of 'abort', but by the time I found myself outside, hand outstretched to feel for rain, there appeared to be nothing so I headed off for Warlingham Green where, at 0706hrs, I found Andy on his Kona Blast.

Westerham had been the plan, but we figured that the benches there would be wet and the weather was looking threatening so we opted for the long way to the Tatsfield Bus Stop. There was nothing in the way of traffic and no other cyclists either as we wound our way around the country lanes, down Hesiers Hill and up Beddlestead Lane. Halfway along we encountered an ever-thickening fog, so thick that we couldn't see any of the usual landmarks – the totem pole-shaped dead tree trunk and, of course, the communications tower that means there's only a few yards before Clarks Lane.
Andy and Matt at the Tatsfield Bus Stop. I was staring like a lunatic at the fog.
We turned left and headed for the bus stop, but I missed it, mistaking Approach Road for the road I'd just exited (how odd is that?). But eventually we arrived and got out the tea and cereal bars. The fog remained thick throughout our time at the bus stop and we watched a couple of cyclists disappear into the murk before packing up and heading into it ourselves.

Since the flooding earlier in the year, there's been a few closed roads around the Whyteleafe area, prompting Andy to ride to the Green with me before saying goodbye. Today he informed me that the roads in question had re-opened and that he'd be taking the off-road track off the 269. By the time we reached it, the fog had cleared but the heavens had opened and we both got a serious soaking as we headed for our respective homes. The rain didn't let up and by the time I was padlocking the bike in the garage I was truly soaked through. I reached home at 0906 hours, thanks to the 0700hrs start earlier at the Green.

The rain eventually eased up but there have been cloudy skies all day and a constant threat of showers.


Saturday, 5 April 2014

Andy rides out early...

Andy takes the racer out for an early morning ride.
And when I say 'out early' I mean early. I sent him an abort text and it woke him up earlier than he'd anticipated. He couldn't get back to sleep so he went out on the bike, leaving his house at around 0530hrs and heading for the Tatsfield Churchyard. He must have got there shortly after 0600hrs and then, on the return trip took this shot near the Surrey Hills totem pole on Clarks Lane (no more than a few yards from the Tatsfield Bus Stop).

There is, of course, a couple of morals to this story. One: think twice before texting somebody in the early hours as their phone might not be on silent. Two, put your phone on silent and don't leave it in your bedroom while you sleep. Remember: you can always check for messages in the morning.

To Botley Hill in thick fog...

There's no escaping it: if you drink red wine and eat a rich (ish) meal later than usual (in this case around 8.30pm) then you can expect to wake up in the middle of the morning and then not be able to get back to sleep again. This happened to me this morning. At around 3.30am I found myself awake and even considered going downstairs to mess around on the computer. Eventually, realising that I would eventually fall asleep and then have major difficulty getting up at 6am, I decided to abort the ride.
Yours truly in the fog at Botley Hill, 9.50am, Saturday 5th April 2014.
Once again it was a lovely day when I eventually surfaced around 8am so I decided that, after breakfast, I would head out alone to Botley Hill for one of those non-stop (ish) rides.

The weather was wonderful when I set off on the dot at 9am. I reached Botley Hill at 9.50am, took the two shots accompanying this post and then, at 9.55am, headed home. It took me 30 minutes to ride from Botley Hill to home. I got back at 10.25am.

Despite the lovely weather, as I progressed along the 269 the fog got thicker and thicker and by the time I reached Botley it was so thick I wished I'd put my lights on. On the return journey I took the risk of a puncture by riding along the off-road path until the fog disappeared and then I rejoined the road.

A good ride. Andy texted me to say he went out very early and was back home by 7am. Tomorrow we're planning a ride to Westerham and will be meeting on Warlingham Green at 7am. Phil won't be riding this weekend.

Next to the pub sign at Botley earlier today.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

In Brussels...again

I was booked on the 1504 London to Brussels Eurostar and just had time to enjoy lunch on the station before heading off. Once on the train I fell asleep and didn't wake up until the train emerged on the other side of the tunnel. By around 6pm I was in my hotel, which I discovered – to my disappointment – didn't have a restaurant. This is both good and bad news: bad because I like hotel restaurants and didn't really want to wander the streets looking for somewhere to eat; good news because it forced me to go out and explore.

Sadly, I found an awful restaurant (and you can read more about it below). I slept badly as the room was too hot, but eventually fell asleep sometime around 4am. I'd woken up around 3am. By 7.30am I was awake and soon I was sitting downstairs in the breakfast room (which would have been a cosy restaurant except for the fact that my hotel – the Best Western Royal Centre – didn't have one).

After my work was done I had lunch in central Brussels and found the restaurant full of African dignitaries (the European Union and the African Union had been meeting over the past two days). I wandered over to the Central Station, took a train to 'Bruxelles Midi' and then a Eurostar back to London, arriving just before 5pm. A short train journey from Victoria and soon I was home.

It would be outrageous not to mention the Boris Bikes, but even if I'd wanted a ride – in all honesty this was a whistle-stop trip and there was not enough time – it would have been impossible as a membership card was required and, as far as I could gather, it wasn't a case of 'pay-as-you-go'.

Best Western Royal Centre Hotel, Brussels.
I’ve said it before, I know, but first impressions really do count and while I was looking forward to relaxing in my room at the Best Western Royal Centre hotel in Brussels recently, I was on a loser from the word go.


Room 506, Best Western Royal Centre, Brussels.
First, the receptionist informed me that there was no restaurant – only room service (and the menu didn’t look too appetising) – and yet the hotel had four stars plastered over the front door. Surely, four stars mean you get a restaurant? Not in the Best Western Royal Centre. Dare I call for a ‘level playing field’ on the star rating system in Europe?
I don’t know about you, but room service is never ideal. It’s ‘making do’, it’s the equivalent of a ‘working lunch’ or sitting at home with a tray on your lap, eating while watching television. I hate room service – surely, half of the attraction of staying away is eating in the hotel restaurant? – and I can’t stand it when I walk along a hotel corridor, en route to the elevators, and see plates of leftover food and soiled cutlery on a tray awaiting collection. Horrible!
There’s breakfast, but that’s about it.

So I’m staying in room 506. Not a problem, but the door is a bit sticky. You might think I’m complaining unnecessarily and, to a degree, I am (we can all live with a sticky door – for a while) but it was the second negative I associated with this particular hotel experience.

View from room 506, Best Western Royal Centre, Brussels
I’d travelled by Eurostar from London to Brussels (a pleasant trip) but I’d been wearing a suit all day and was glad to get to my room and take it off. However, I started to wonder whether the room was on a slope as the wardrobe’s sliding doors, separating me from a selection of unruly coat hangers, kept rolling back as if they were on a hill. To add insult to injury, as I tried to get the pesky hangers off the rail, the rail simply collapsed, taking with it all the hangers; they clattered noisily to the ground and I wondered if the noise was familiar to residents in nearby rooms – or, indeed, whether they had experienced the same thing.

Another problem was the WiFi. I wrote this review on Microsoft Word rather than rely upon the incredibily slow internet; there was a business centre downstairs, but I’m in my room and the last thing I want to do – at nearly 11pm – is go down five floors in the lift just to do a spot of writing.

The room was fine. It was a twin room. It was clean, had everything I needed, there was even a minibar! I’ve said it before that a full minibar means that the hotel trusts its guests and this minibar was full with drinks and, of course, a Toberlone – the chocolate equivalent of U2 (it’s SO international!). The phone worked, it was all very good except for the wardrobe with its sliding doors and dodgy rail.

I went out in search of a restaurant in which to eat dinner and after 20 minutes of wandering around resorted to a strange place called De Ultieme Hallucinatie – about 15 minutes on foot from the hotel. Not a good choice and now I wish I’d taken a chance on the flamboyant looking Bloom! Hotel’s restaurant, but alas, I endured slow, poor service, a menu I couldn’t understand and food I didn’t particularly enjoy – gooey lamb chops, sweaty vegetables and sticky potatoes. The only redeeming part of the meal was the Rochefort Trappist ale (11.5%). The bill with dessert came to EUR27.50.

Breakfast was fine and now I must check out. Would I stay here again? Yes, but I’d leave more time to find a decent place to eat – although the Bloom! Hotel might be next on my list. Having said that, how can a hotel plaster four stars over its doorway and not offer a decent restaurant? However, in its defence, a hotel without a restaurant means you have to explore the city, which ain’t a bad thing.