Sunday, 30 October 2016

Thick fog and no lights – the lunacy of dangerous riding continues!

Look, I'm not proud. In fact, it's all, well, a bit of an accident. My front light ran out of power and my rear light was on my old bike. The long and the short of it? I rode off in thick fog without any lights. I've really got to give myself a good talking to on so many levels, not least my sartorial elegance, which is non-existent, but also my penchant for dangerous and slapstick behaviour. Sorting out the former problem is easy: I just need to get myself some decent clothes and stop looking like somebody who has just left the armed forces or, worst still, somebody who has just been released from prison. I mean, I really must start looking a little more togged out – even when I'm on the bike. Everybody else on the ride looks neat and tidy. Andy's always reasonably well-turned-out and so is Phil, even if he does fancy a bit of Lycra here and there. Me? I look like The Outlaw Josey Wales with my unshaven face and my scruffy-looking attire: rusty coloured jacket, unshapen old jumper and leaky old trainers from Sports Direct. I need to up my game, put it that way.

Ignore my stupid look, I'm trying to look cool, but failing.
As for the slapstick behaviour, it seems that I'm always on the verge of courting disaster: taking a corner too fast and coming off, damaging my knee in the process and then spending the next few weeks hobbling around like some kind of hobo with dodgy joints. What the hell is going on?

And don't get me started on my hair cut. If it's not too short, like it is now, it's too long and straggly and untidy-looking. I can't win with my hair, but I prefer it really short – like a number three crop – because it's just tidier. The problem, of course, is that it looks a little thuggish and add to that my unfortunate sailor's saunter – my dad always told me not to lunge forward on my left leg, but I never listened – and things ain't looking good for yours truly. Have they ever?

You know what I hate most of all? Passing a mirror. It normally happens in shopping malls or clothes stores and I have to look away, scared, perhaps, that I won't like what I see. In fact I know I won't like what I'd see, because I've seen it. It's a bit like hearing the sound of your own voice. I can't stand the sound of mine, but it's my voice, what can I do about it other than put on a stupid voice, perhaps a squeaky, helium tone, like Joe Pasquale, or a snobby one, like Benedict Cucumber Patch. But these are all minor things to worry about in the scheme of things, although I do need to smarten up a little, both on and off the ride, and I need to make things a little safer. Lights that work would be a good start and perhaps something a little 'high viz' to increase my visibility.

On the way to the green to meet Andy, Phil explained how he too had taken a tumble. On Saturday, while out riding with Steve, he stopped suddenly, the bike swung round, like a gate, and having not disengaged from those Lycra monkey shoes that adhere the rider to the bike (get rid of them for a start, Phil) he keeled over and hit the tarmac, admittedly not with the speed and force that I came face-to-face with the road, but worrying nonetheless. Had it happened moments earlier, Phil explained, he would have been run over by a white van, not the most glamorous of exits. The thought of what might have been made him feel sick and I know what he means. I've had situations in the past, one involving stupidity with cars, when I might not have made it, but miraculously I emerged unscathed bar a cut lip and a visit to Derriford Hospital to get checked out. I won't explain any more about it, but suffice it to say that I spent a week or more wondering about what might have been, but not in a good way as there was only one other kind of outcome. "Ain't nobody can fly a car like Hooper!"

Rockhopper Sport 29 at Tatsfield village
We rode to Tatsfield Village and the fog never let up. From the moment I left the house until the moment I returned home there was fog, at times incredibly thick. We opted for the slow way and once again the Rockhopper proved to be a great bike on all those long, slow hill climbs. I rode sensibly into the village, although I did demonstrate (in slow motion) exactly what I was doing when I came off – for Phil's benefit. I still wince at the memory of that fateful day.

The most amazing part of today's ride, however, was Phil bringing along three enormous slabs of his wedding cake from the summer. Apparently, all the leftover cake – there was a fair amount – went straight into the freezer and he only defrosted it this weekend. But when I say 'slabs' I'm not exaggerating. None of us finished them, although I did better than most (and have felt ashamed of myself all day, especially when I went round mum's and helped myself to two slices of Christmas cake).

When we left Tatsfield we all felt slightly heavier than when we arrived. Not good when you consider that we go riding to keep ourselves trim and fit, but instead, there we were stuffing our faces with a rich chocolate cake and all before 0800hrs. But what a cake! Hats off to Phil for bringing it along. I must, however, make a conscious effort this week to steer clear of anything sweet, like cookies or chocolates.

We rode home off-road along the 269 as the road and the fog proved miles to dangerous and parted company as usual at the Green.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Thoughts on sleeping rough...

I seem to be obsessed with the notion of sleeping rough. Perhaps not obsessed, more intrigued. Or, if not intrigued, satisfied with the thought that if ever I found myself in the position so many find themselves in these days – especially in London where extortionate rent is turning back the clock to Dickensian times – I'd have a solution.

The solution in my mind is a tent. A two-man tent from Millets and, of course, a sleeping bag. I'd search around the green belt until I found a place that seemed safe and secluded and out of harm's way and set up camp there; I might even ask a friendly farmer whether he'd mind if I camped on his land or check out some of the all-year-round camp sites that exist in the United Kingdom. Either way, you wouldn't find me in a shop doorway or slumming it on one of the capital's night buses.

The bikes on the outskirts of Tatsfield. Pic: Andy Smith.
Andy says that the Circle Line is no longer a circle, meaning that you can't just sit there all night snoozing, not that I'd want to do that anyway. Sleeping under canvas in the woods seems far preferable to me.

The whole conversation came about because of the Old Ship at Tatsfield, which I noticed last week had been boarded up and is no longer inhabited, not by the former tenant, a Mrs Gandolf, at any rate. Last week I referred to her as Mrs Gandalf, my mistake, but the letter 'o' doesn't in any way lessen the excellence of her surname.

We, that is Andy and I, sat opposite the Old Ship after a pleasant ride via Beddlestead Lane and now, munching on Belvitas, we wondered again what would happen to the place. It would make a decent small hotel with half a dozen rooms and a restaurant downstairs.

I thought of a programme I had watched on 'catch up' last week about the homeless in Barking & Dagenham and I sat there looking at the empty pub and thinking about all those people sitting on night buses or sleeping in shop doorways; they would be crying out for a place like the Old Ship in Tatsfield, I thought. And that's when I started talking about how, if I was homeless, I'd buy a tent with my dole money and head for the woods.

Andy suggested that during the day – if he was homeless – he would spend the day in the library. I suggested Sutton Library, it's huge, on many floors, has power points, easy chairs, an entire floor devoted to music and a café downstairs. The fantasy had re-asserted itself. What about food? I suggested a stove. What about washing? Local authority leisure centres. Transportation? A bike, of course. I had it sussed.

As we cycled home I kept a weather eye out for places to camp should the need arise, not that it would, and there were plenty worthy of consideration. The key, I explained to Andy, was keeping hidden from view and not drawing attention to oneself. I'm guessing that if you're homeless you trust nobody.

The ride continued. We headed towards the green where we parted company and rode our separate ways.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Things I think about when I'm walking home...

It seems to be getting darker by the second. Winter is coming. Every time I get off the bus, there's some hint or other that summer is fading fast and recently it was the streetlights. The doors of the bus opened, I jumped out and the streetlights were on, at 1850hrs. I don't think I'd seen them before now, but suddenly there they were, glowing; and they're not like streetlights used to be either. There was a time when they resembled a Dalek's gun contained in a frosted glass case, but now the old concrete streetlights have been replaced with steel ones, big tall structures that emit a kind of spooky lunar glow once they warm up. Every street has them, or they do where I live. No more dark spots on the streets, where criminals might lurk, everything is bathed in a kind of white light that penetrates the thickest of bedroom curtains.

Hayling Park Road, South Croydon
Once off the bus I cross the road and it's still quite busy with the office stragglers, headlights on, making their way home. I walk towards Hayling Park Road with it's tall trees and big houses set back from the road. While the light is fading fast, it's not dark enough yet for lights to go on inside the dwellings I pass; and it's not late enough in the year for those warming glimpses into other people's lives; that pleasure will have to wait until the festive season draws closer and the temperatures dip a little. Right now, while it's darker in the mornings and at night, the clocks are still running on British Summer Time, but not for much longer. Tomorrow the clocks go back and I live in the future for a day or two. Soon there will be Christmas trees in bay windows and red candles on mantelpieces, but before we reach that magical time of the year when time stops for a while, there's Halloween and Guy Fawkes' night and that lovely smell of gunpowder that lingers in the cold night air.


Sunday, 23 October 2016

Mountain bike in the mist... and I ride to mum's

Andy's Kona Blast on the roadside, Sunday morning. Pic by Andy Smith.
Andy was up early and out in the mist – he rode to the Tatsfield Churchyard – while I slobbed around doing nothing having aborted at around 0300hrs. At 0600hrs when I woke up I realised I'd made the right decision, until I looked out of the window and noticed the magical mist shrouding the trees. Judging by Andy's images (above and below) I missed out on a bewitching ride. At roughly 1045hrs I jumped on the bike and headed over to mum's for a cup of tea and a slice of Christmas cake. Yes, Christmas cake! And let me tell you something: it was fantastic! So was the weather.

Misty morning in the Surrey Hills. Pic by Andy Smith.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The beavers are splitting and the pub's boarded up...

It was my first ride since, well, you know, and I'll admit to being extra wary on the roads. So much so that while dawdling around (on the wrong side of the road) near St. Leonard's church, I almost came face-to-face with the front end of a Lycra monkey's bicycle. Fortunately, we both saw the potential calamity and I switched back to the left side of the road, reprimanding myself for allowing such an incident to raise its ugly head.
Rockhopper 29 Sport, Tatsfield. Photo: Andy Smith.

After that I kept to the left hand side of the road, went down Hesiers Hill with my brakes depressed and generally kept an eye out for anything untoward. It's amazing how dangerous cycling really is; and how important it is to keep alert at all times, something, I'll admit, I never really bothered about. But that's me all over, drifting through life without any real cares about anything, hoping instead (and believing) that all is well with the world and what could possibly happen? Well, a lot can happen and when you're riding along on two wheels, it's extremely important to remain vigilant. I'll admit it cramped my style a little bit. I like a chat and a bit of messing around and when I had the old Scrap on the road I tended to ride it as if I was on a North London housing estate, humping it up pavements, taking wide, sweeping turns...but let's not go there.

Except we did go there. We decided to ride to the Tatsfield Village, scene of my downfall, and as we approached I shuddered as I remembered. I thought it best not to indulge in the infamous sweeping turn, especially on my new Rockhopper Sport 29, a brand spanking new mountain bike, far more sturdy than the old Crosstrail and, let's be frank, far more my cup of tea.

The Rockhopper Sport 29
The new Rockhopper – a straight exchange for the Crosstrail – has 27 gears, just the sort of range I need. It has wide bars and chunky tyres and the Specialized name emblazoned on the frame in a flaming, twirling red. The wide bars are good. Hell, the whole bike is good. It made easy work of Beddlestead Lane and I felt far more comfortable than I did on the Crosstrail.

I picked up the new bike last Saturday from Evans in Gatwick. I'd spent the entire day in and around the airport, having taken the train there fairly early in the morning. I dropped off the Crosstrail, chose a replacement bike – the Rockhopper – and then ambled back along the A23 to the Costa Coffee in the South Terminal's arrivals area. I bought a copy of last Saturday's Guardian, a cup of tea and a chocolate chip cookie and revelled in the joy of the moment: an airport, a coffee shop, a newspaper and, of course, a cup of tea and a cookie. But like most things, it was short-lived – and there was no flying involved. Cookies go and come, but earth abides, I thought, remembering George R. Stewart's book.

When the cookie was spent and the tea cup empty I checked out the magazines at WH Smith and read an article about Slade's bassist, Jim Lea. He joined Slade before it was called Slade and was a bassist through and through, having played the violin from a very young age. I've always harboured bass guitarist ambitions, mainly because I played the violin while at school and figured the four strings of the bass guitar (EADG) would be relatively easy for me to pick up. But like a lot of things, I'll never get around to it.

Soon it was time to walk back to Evans, pick up the Rockhopper, ride it back to the airport, jump on a train and ride home from the station. Rain stopped any riding on Sunday and today was the first time on the new bike. When I met Andy at the green he thought I'd put some transfers on the old Crosstrail, but I explained all as we headed towards Tatsfield Village, the slow way.

Splitting beavers and boarded up pubs...
Earlier this month, Andy told me how Beaver Water World had been evicted from its premises in Tatsfield. This week, we discovered that the Old Ship was 'to let'. I was amazed to discover that one of the pub's former leaseholders was a Mrs Gandalf. What would happen to the pub? Would new tenants (or lessees) take it over? Will it be transformed into a Morrison's or a Tesco Express? Let's hope not.

We ate our biscuits and drank our tea and discussed Gordon Brown and pensions and working into our old age in a DIY store or a supermarket. "We'll need places like Tesco Express," said Andy, as I rinsed out my cup and disposed of the teabags in the waste bin.

We rode home the slow way along Beddlestead Lane, determined to avoid the thick fog at Botley Hill that would no doubt force us off road along the 269. Fine, but it meant riding up Hesiers Hill. Fortunately, the Rockhopper's 27 gears served me well and soon I reached the top where Andy was waiting. My left knee pains slightly on uphill runs, so I'm afraid I was a little slow, but I didn't dismount, and that's crucial. We weaved our way around the narrow country lanes towards Warlingham, retracing our route past St. Leonard's Church, and then picked up the Limpsfield Road to the green where we parted company. I headed towards Sanderstead, Andy towards Caterham.

As I rode down Church Way I had a go at 'no hands', but then thought better of it. I also thought twice about taking the left and right turn from Elmfield into Southcote and then Ellenbridge at speed. Instead I rode at a gentle pace and arrived home in one piece.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Rain stops play...

'Sleek lines, ergonomic design...'
I awoke on Sunday morning to the sound of rain hitting the windows. Yesterday evening I had aborted based on having been on a shortish ride to check things out and finding that I was still in a bit of pain. Don't get me wrong, not major pain, but enough to produce a wince, particularly riding uphill. But, as I've said before, things are getting better by the day, so next week I'll be on the bike, back in the saddle and heading off for Tatsfield or Westerham or wherever we decide to roam.

Sending an abort text is a bit like having a Get Out of Jail Free card in Monopoly, but when you use it and then find that you wouldn't have gone out anyway, it's kind of a waste of an abort, if that makes sense. Not that we have a finite number of aborts and then we have to go cycling regardless; it doesn't work that way, but I do always feel that I've cheated myself, let myself down for no reason, if I've played my hand, delivered an 'abort' and then woken up to find it's raining. Andy would know, for example, that had it not been raining, I wouldn't have been on the bike. Of course it works both ways, but, as I say, it's not as if we each have a finite number of aborts, perhaps we should have, although there are no rules so nothing really matters. The key thing is to get out there and go for a ride.

Peace of mind - subject of this morning's Something Understood
So, as I write this it's sunshine outside, but it's been raining, drizzling, you name it, it's not been pleasant. And it's a little cold too, but in all honesty I needed to rest up another week, chill a little, lie in for longer than usual. This morning, for example, I listened to an entire episode of Something Understood on Radio Four. It was all about peace of mind and how those awful insurance ads on the television depict people enjoying 'peace of mind' financially, lazing around on hammocks or looking out from a glass-fronted beach house on to a sunny coastline. But peace means something else. Peace means no war, which is good, but there's always a war going on some place in the world. Peace, it was argued, is a fugitive state, but what about silence? Is silence peace? It could be, but there's never really any silence. Even if you're in a room, a padded cell, there's still the sound of your own breathing. Anyway, that was the subject of the programme and when it was over I got up and made some tea and started doing things: looking for dust sheets in the garage, checking out my bike in the process, admiring its sleek lines and ergonomic design and wishing it wasn't raining and cold and that Andy and I were heading towards the village or somewhere on our usual early morning jaunt.

Just before the streetlights came on I went for a ride around the block; it was great, albeit a little repetitive, but it was good to get out. The rain had stopped and the roads had dried up and I followed a route along Ellenbridge, into Southcote, then Ridgeway, left into Arkwright, left again on to Church Way and left on to Morley; and then I did a few loops: Ridgeway to Arkwright to Church Way to Morley – repeat and fade – until it was dark enough to make it dangerous (without lights). So I headed home, locked up the bike, turned on the TV and found that Naga had been voted out of Strictly, if you're interested.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

In Dubai, part three...

I didn't want to check out of the hotel if I'm honest. Or rather I wanted to check out and get home, but I also wanted some time in the heat. It was nice being out in the sun so I decided, based on the fact that I didn't have to be out and on my way immediately, to wander over to the metro station and buy myself a one-way ticket to Terminal One of Dubai's international airport, 14 dirhams.

Gits welcomed? I didn't have time to find out.
Ticket purchased I ambled back to my hotel, past the Pizza Express and the Café Nero and lingering awhile to take a photograph of the Gitex exhibition entrance hall. Gitex. An exhibition for Gits? No, it was something to do with technology, like most things these days. I got back to my room, realised I didn't have to be at the airport until around 1145 and moseyed on over to the supermarket to buy a lock for my suitcase. I didn't want anybody to steal my Lipton's teabags.

I checked out and headed for the metro again. It was even hotter than earlier, hotter than it will ever be in the UK, I thought.

"The train for Rashidiya will arrive on the Rashidiya platform," said a voice. "The train for UAE Exchange will arrive on the UAE Exchange platform." Seemed pretty straightforward to me. I boarded the former and around 20 minutes later arrived at Terminal One. The trek home had begun. I found my way to the check-in where I met a girl from Syria. Her brother was still in Aleppo, she told me as she checked in my bag. She was living here in Dubai and her parents were in Turkey, but she wasn't Arabic. I wished her (and her brother) well and continued to security where I had to take my shoes off (thanks, I think, to a dirham in my trouser pocket). But all went smoothly and soon I found myself in the familiar surroundings of perfume and booze and raffles for top-of-the-range sports cars. It all leaves me cold so I searched around for somewhere to sit down. I didn't want loads to eat and turned down a Wolfgang Puck gourmet pizza offering, not to mention KFC and McDonald's, but I settled for a Lebanese beer, Almaza, in (of all places) a Giraffe restaurant. I couldn't bring myself to order any food. In fact, I'm considering another Almaza before I make my way to the gate, which is now open.

Almaza Lebanese beer at Dubai airport
It's very peaceful here, there's not that many people around and if I'm honest with you, I'm looking forward to boarding the plane and heading home. I've ordered another Almaza, because it's nice, but there's little more to write about, you're right up to date and I feel like Gromit, the dog, sitting on that toy locomotive in The Wrong Trousers, throwing down the track in front of the train. In other words, I'm right up to the second here; I'm sitting in Giraffe, my second Alamaza has arrived, music is playing in the background, there's no more than four people in the restaurant and I'm just chilling, thinking back to the Ibis World Trade Center Hotel, which was good. Did I have any complaints? Not really, although I wish that I'd made use of its Cubo restaurant. I saw the menu this morning for the first time and it was fine (pizza, pasta, the usual stuff, but just what the doctor ordered).

My gate is open, according to the sign in the restaurant, but there's nothing worse than going to the gate early and having to sit around waiting to board. I hope the plane back is a jumbo, like on the way out, because I pre-booked an exit seat so I could get the leg room. I've also got a window seat as most of the flight back will be in daylight and it's good to see what's happening. I'm looking forward to the airline food, the little bottle of wine (I always ask for two) and it's just a shame they don't have any Island Bakery Lemon Melts, like they did on a recent flight to Vienna. Still, you can't have everything.

British Airways' in flight meal – my idea of luxury
The old Almaza is going down nicely and I know that if I had more time I'd probably order another, but I don't want to push it. Besides, I've got to leave room for my airline meal, something involving chicken, no doubt, but that's what I like. I love British Airways, by the way. Everything about the airline is good: the planes, the pilots, with their Biggles-esque way of talking, the cabin crew, the food, everything. They're brilliant. "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome aboard this British Airways flight to London Heathrow. My name is Captain Roger Finnegan and with me on the flight deck this morning is first officer Peter Throughton. Our flying time to London is six hours and fifty minutes and the flying conditions are good all the way. The weather in London? Not as hot as here in Dubai, in fact it's considerably cooler, a bit of light cloud...".

A wonderful flight home to Heathrow...
But I'm not there yet. I'm still in Giraffe, sipping on my Almaza and writing this here blog post. In addition to the Liptons black tea I've bought in bulk, I've also purchased a box of Lipton's Spices and Mint, perfect.

You know what? There's only so much to say and I think I've run out. Alright, I could talk for England. I could go on about all sorts of stuff, but what's the point? So I'm going to sign off and go find my plane. It's at Gate D2 and I'm in seat 30A. I love Giraffe, though, especially this one here in Dubai Terminal One, because it's peaceful, laid back, virtually empty. You know what? I could stay here all day just 'chatting' like this and drinking Almaza. But I'd better go, my flight takes off in under an hour and I have no idea how long a walk it is to the gate.

I was reading an article by the American author Douglas Coupland in last weekend's Guardian. He was talking about where he writes. It seems that writing in hotel rooms and on planes is where it's at these days, certainly for Coupland, and I really get that. Hotel rooms are great places to write. Not sure about planes, but I'd add places like Giraffe, where you get left alone with a beer or two and can write until your heart's content, like I'm doing now. Right, it's now saying my flight is boarding, so I'm off. Laters!

Windsor Castle from the air as we approach Heathrow T5...

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

In Dubai, part two...

Tall buildings, there are lots of them in Dubai
Dubai is a bit like a city made up of all the duty free counters of every major airport in the world. Imagine it, all the perfumery, watches, expensive suitcases and top-end clothes brands, not forgetting the Toblerone and the Blue Man Group, all rolled up together and turned into a city, made ultra-comfortable by the temperature being hotter outside than it is inside. It's a glitzy, gaudy, glamourous place full of aspirations and tall buildings and I can't make up my mind what to think of the place. Do I like it? Or do I hate it? I'm not sure. Half of me says no, I don't like it. The other half begs to differ, although I would say that Abu Dhabi is more my style – quieter and a little more refined, perhaps, whereas Dubai is a place full of brands, even awful brands, like Nando's. But I've seen Pizza Express, Applebee's, Costa, Café Nero, Starbuck's; it's one of those cities that likes to make its visitors feel at home and if you're a Brit, well, all the brands you love and hate can be found here.

Dubai is defined by its tall buildings, its vertigo-inducing structures that loom up large from virtually everywhere, peppered with little golden windows that betray a hotel or black holes that identify an apartment block in which nobody is home. And why should they be? They're too busy out on the town enjoying themselves, marvelling, no doubt, at how wonderful it is to cover everything in Christmas lights, and gawping, wide-eyed, at magical fountain displays. It's the Vegas of the Middle East, a city that never sleeps with restaurants – some restaurants – open until 0300hrs and the heat of the night, which, at this time of year is not as oppressive as you might think, making strolling around after dark a pleasurable experience. All year round you can get away with shorts, flip flops and a tee-shirt, not that I've had the time to wear any of them, although I did bring the flip flops and the tee-shirts.

Dubai comes alive at night...
If there had been a swimming pool I would have used it. Put it this way, it's now almost 2330hrs and I would happily dive into an outdoor pool at this very moment, although, right now, I'm no longer outside but in the air-conditioned coolness of my hotel room. I can hear the air con system now as I write this and, believe me, I'm very grateful for it. And if I was going to sleep rough anywhere, here would be the place. It's so warm out there that I'd imagine it might even be a little uncomfortable bedding down for the night, I wouldn't need a sleeping bag, put it that way, although I'm guessing the temperature drops a little bit as the night progresses.

Today I checked out the metro system, which runs through the city in both directions. I think there are two lines, the red and the green, and today I was on the former, although, just like in London, probably even more so, it's jam-packed with people, so much so that in the end I didn't bother to take it and took to wandering around, checking out different restaurants as possible venues for my last dinner in Dubai, eventually settling for Le Pain Quotiden, which is also to be found in the UK (at St Pancras International opposite the entrance to the Eurostar terminal). I ordered salmon and quinoa risotto plus a couple of mint lemonades, a new experience for yours truly and worth every drop. I finished off with a mint tea, a Chia raspberry pudding, which was a bit like putty, although I managed to eat the lot. Later a Tiger beer and then a taxi back to where I write this.

I fly back to London tomorrow, but I don't have to get up too early, unlike today. I had to be in the Ritz Carlton for 0800, which was difficult after a broken night. When the alarm went off at 0630hrs I pressed the snooze button and then, 10 minutes later, resigned myself to getting up, going through all the motions and then heading downstairs for breakfast (Coco Pops, tea, scrambled egg, something akin to Bombay aloo, two slices of buttered toast and I think that was it). Then I jumped into a cab and headed in the direction of where I would be spending most of the day – the Ritz Carlton. Then, having spoken to the concierge, I decided to buy a metro ticket and head back to my hotel, which I did without too much grief (it wasn't until later that I found myself unable to get on the train due to the sheer weight of numbers).
Who left the vacuum cleaner in the corridor?

One thing I will say about Dubai, it's a safe city. Somebody told me earlier today that it's so safe you could leave an iphone on a table in a busy restaurant and nobody would steal it. I saw a decent-looking bike unpadlocked outside a shop, so I'm guessing it is safe as you wouldn't leave it outside a shop in the UK, and certainly not in London or Manchester or any town or city in the British Isles for that matter. Everybody seems friendly enough and life goes on: trains run on time, cars roar back and forth along the highway, people interact with people, meals are eaten, taxis hailed and people like me sit alone in hotel rooms blogging. I might watch a bit of TV as there are English language channels and then I'll drift off to sleep, pack my suitcase in the morning (after a hearty breakfast) and then head for the airport and my flight home.

My hotel is no more than a 20-minute cab ride from the airport, then it's the usual security hassles followed by a leisurely cup of tea and a read before boarding the flight and heading for London. Goodbye room 417 of the Ibis World Trade Centre, it's been nice knowing you, and goodbye sunshine as I'm heading back to an autumnal England full of cloud and rain and Strictly Come Dancing.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

In Dubai...part one

I set off early, around 0930hrs for London Heathrow's Terminal 5. It was a pleasant day for October, but then again, October is always fairly pleasant and, let's be fair, the weather in the UK seems to be getting milder by the second. I know, I've said it before, but we rarely have serious cold spells and when we do, they're soon over, so who cares?

I was en route to Dubai. I'm told that it's not pronounced 'Dew-by' but 'Doo-by' - or Doo-bai, perhaps. Not sure, but anyway, that's where I was headed on the 1310hrs British Airways flight. As always I lost my shaving foam at security and, fortunately, I hadn't packed any toothpaste. You see, the thing is this: pack shaving foam and toothpaste, but you'll also have to check in your cases and have to wait around at baggage reclaim when you reach the other end; or, I suppose, do what I've just done and go to a local supermarket and buy it there, when you reach your destination.
My Jumbo Jet at Heathrow's Terminal Five...

The flight was smooth and fairly trouble-free. It was a jumbo jet, which was good, and I was in an aisle seat, sitting next to two real 'business' types, reading the FT and so forth, one of them even 'guffawed'. I sat there with my Guardian, which I read from cover to cover, and then a short burst of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which I'm taking an age to read.

Whenever I have the time to read a newspaper from cover to cover I realise what I'm missing out on; there's a couple of good books out at the moment, one by Peter Hook on life with New Order, and another by somebody whose name escapes me, a book about glam rock, both seem perfect for me and perhaps one of these days I'll buy them. My preference will be for Hook's book, having already read Touching from a Distance, a book about living with Joy Division's Ian Curtis, penned by his wife.

The plane hospitality was the usual affair: a chicken-based hot meal, chocolate mousse, small bottle of Cabernet and tea. Then there was the usual sitting around simply waiting for the flight to end. I played a couple of games of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and on one occasion won $125,000, shame it wasn't for real. The rest of the time was spent reading the paper and Cuckoo's Nest and watching the plane's progress on the map.

Kids on a plane - worse than snakes
Kids on a plane are a fucking nuisance, though, crawling up and down the aisles like over-sized rats in nappies or moaning and crying and generally being irritating. I think a lot depends on how you're feeling and once the food is out of the way, the wine consumed and the newspapers read, well, I could wish them further. At one stage I fell asleep. It was daylight outside prior to my nodding off, but when I woke up (I'd been dozing for no more than 30 minutes, if that) it was night time and there's nothing worse than flying at night because it's one less distraction. Not being able to look out of the window means that you have nothing much left to do if you've already read the papers and eaten your meal. At one stage I went to the back of the plane and sat in the chair reserved for the cabin crew. It enabled me to stretch my legs a bit, although I had to keep telling people that I was not waiting to use the toilet.

Early morning Dubai's hazy heat...
Time for a snack...
Towards the end of the flight, snacks were offered and I chose a chocolate chip cookie (two biscuits wrapped in the usual packaging). In the small basket containing the 'snacks' there were small chocolate bars, like Twix, Mars Bar and so on, so I asked if I could also have a Twix as well as the biscuit - often I eat purely out of boredom. In fact, I picked one up, but was told 'only one snack per person, sir'. I liked the 'sir', although it was a loaded 'sir', a 'sir' that said, 'put it back you greedy bastard!'

We arrived on time, I cleared immigration, jumped into a taxi and here I am at the IBIS World Trade Center hotel, it's not too bad. It's hot, though. Or rather it's hot outside. The hotel is air-conditioned, thankfully. Not too hot, though. I remember coming here in July a couple years ago and it was unbearable heat, something like 45 degrees. Now it's only 32 degrees and bearable, although my hotel doesn't have a swimming pool, more's the pity.

The room is fine, pretty average, like the view from the hotel window, but it's all good and I've just had breakfast, taken a stroll across the road to the supermarket, stocked up on Lipton's tea (it's British, but we don't get it in the UK) and, of course, I've bought some toothpaste and shaving foam. I'll have to check in my bag for the return flight.

Worthy of mention 
Something worth relating to the group is that I'm sure somebody entered my room during the night while I was sleeping. I awoke to find a notice resting on my shoes explaining how 'nature needs a rest too' and that I should do my bit for the environment by placing the notice on the bed IF I want my bed linens changed. I couldn't figure it out; it certainly wasn't there last night when I took my shoes off, but there it was, bold as brass, resting against my shoes when I got out of bed. It's a little disconcerting to think that while I slept somebody was in my room, but it's true nonetheless.

I wouldn't have minded so much, but I had a wad of Dirhams – 'look at the size of my wad!' – and a passport sitting on the desk (nothing was stolen, I hasten to add) and, well, you just don't do that sort of thing, do you? Or rather, 'do they'? I'm assuming they knocked, got no answer as I was out for the count, and simply barged in and placed the notice on my shoes. Perhaps they didn't barge in, otherwise I might have woken up, they probably tip-toed in, like Secret Squirrel, left the card on my shoes and tip-toed out again. I would have died of shock had I woken up and spotted the intruder, although I'm assuming it was one of the chambermaids, but who knows what's going on? Not me.

I'm here for a conference, which doesn't start until this afternoon. Thank the lord for that! I'm wondering now whether I should have travelled on Saturday and given myself a day to acclimatise, but I didn't and, to be honest, I feel fine, they're only three hours ahead of the UK. I must have had around five hours' sleep so apart from feeling a little heavy-lidded, I'm fine. Fine enough to find this computer, the hotel's 'business centre' and start writing the blog.

Avid readers (if I have any) will know that I haven't been on top form of late, but I'm amazed at the power of the human body to heal itself. This time last week I was hobbling around and in a fair degree of pain, but now, a week later, things are healing and I'm almost back to normal, although I can't run (as I remember every time I make a dash across a busy highway). If ever you damage your knee, like I did, then the key is to use it, exercise it, unless, of course, you've broken it. I had two days taking it fairly easy, but I was back in work last Wednesday and every day since the accident, things have improved slightly. I'm now virtually back to normal, which is good, and next Sunday I'll be back on the bike again.

The view from room 417 in Dubai...
A good breakfast...
I almost forgot breakfast, or should I say I almost forgot to write about breakfast. It wasn't bad. Lentils and rice for breakfast tomorrow for yours truly, but today it was a mish-mash of stuff: tea, of course, two mugs of the stuff; then scrambled egg, sausage, a few lentils (why not?) and, it goes without saying, some Coco Pops. This might seem odd to you, but whenever I travel abroad I always have Coco Pops for breakfast (or their equivalent) but here in Dubai, it's Coco Pops. What else? Oh yes, a pastry (there's always a pastry) and fresh fruit, although I almost mistook strips of carrot for melon, now that would have been an unpleasant surprise, I can tell you! Have I forgotten anything? Oh, yes, I had a flat bread and I was going to try this semolina-based Arabic dessert, the name of which escapes me, but that can wait until tomorrow – or the day after.

I keep seeing people in shorts, but I know that I'll have to wear a heavy suit all afternoon and into the evening and then I've got a full day tomorrow also in a suit, probably the same one (definitely the same one). Then I've got to head back to the airport for a lunch time flight home. It's so important to build in a bit of downtime, but as I said earlier, there's only three hours of difference time wise, they're three hours ahead of the UK, so it's not that bad, but downtime is necessary, believe me, or you'll burn yourself out. So I'm heading upstairs to room 417 where I'll take a shower, have a shave and then, if there's time, I'll find somewhere to chill before the conference begins. It's going to be a long day.

Monday, 3 October 2016

A visit to the 'minor injuries unit'...

The original plan was to take today off, laze around, paint a door, go for a drive, the usual stuff I might get up to if I was 100% fit. But I'm not anywhere near it. For those of you who don't know, I came off the bike over the weekend, hit my left knee badly and cut up a few fingers in the process.

Saturday night wasn't too pleasant. I was finding it difficult to put one foot in front of the other, getting up stairs was a case of one at a time and I had to devise a way of getting in and out of bed without hurting myself. Getting into the shower, also a problem, although I'm only ever in pain when I lift my leg too high. By and large, like now, when I'm sitting or lying down, there's nothing in the way of pain. Perhaps a dull ache, but that's all, and each day I seem to be making progress. Each day I can do something I couldn't do the day before. In other words, thank the Lord, it's a minor injury and that, of course, is why I took myself down to the Minor Injuries Clinic. The last time I was at the MIC was back in 2005
when, God knows how (faulty running shoes I'm guessing) I developed a back problem. This was before any regular cycling took place, a good two years prior to that occasion when Andy and I, plus Dave and Geoff, met for a curry in Whyteleafe and Andy and I resolved to ride to Westerham over the weekend. The rest, as they say, is history. In fact, in those days, cycling was a once-in-a-while thing and it involved yours truly riding alone to Botley Hill, no further, on my Marin Bear Valley SE, a great bike, never EVER had a puncture and I'd riden it all over the place (London-Brighton, London-Oxford, London-Cambridge).

The Minor Injuries Unit, Purley, Surrey...
I detected the aforementioned back problem back in 2005 in the middle of the year. It got worse and worse until, eventually, I was X-rayed at the MIC (it was called Purley Hospital in those days) and my spine was keeling over to one side. I went to see an osteopath, she prodded around and then I went as far as cancelling a planned trip to Portland, Oregon (had I known how good it was out there I would never have cancelled it). As for the back problem, I awoke one morning and it had completely disappeared gone and has never come back. Very odd.

Anyway, I'm digressing. I drove down to the MIC, sat around for 20 minutes or so reading an old edition of Hello! magazine – about Peter Andre and his new wife, about Ron Wood and his new wife or girlfriend and then I whizzed through an edition of Country Life and checked out the big-money gaffs with their private beaches and swimming pools.

There was only a handful of people waiting to see the doc and soon my name was called. An Indian doctor sat at his computer screen and I launched into my diatribe about falling off the bike on Saturday and my knee swelling up to the size of a Navelina orange and so on and so forth. I rolled up my left trouser leg, revealing my swollen knee, he prodded about a bit and then told me to take a few Ibuprofen (to reduce the swelling). I knew that he was going to prescribe pills. That's what doctors do, so I'll probably leave it for a day or two and then pop a Nurofen before bed. He reckons a few days will see me alright.

I'm still limping a bit, but, as I said, it's getting better by the day because I've been resting it, taking life easy and so on; it's the best policy and I don't really do enough looking after myself. I'm going to start now, though. Not that this minor scrape has in any way changed my perspective on life, it's just that I do rush around, I do stay up too late, I am tired all the time as a result and it's got to stop.

With nothing better to do, I completed the Waitrose Weekend magazine crossword, found the correct food-related word and sent off my application for the £100 prize. I never win and don't expect to this week.

Here's a joke for you, courtesy of Weekend magazine: What's a monkey's favourite pudding? Answer: Meringueatan. Geddit? Meringueatan? Sounds like Orangutan? No?

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Thoughts on yesterday's unfortunate series of events...

My left knee has swollen and it's one of those situations where I have to take stairs one at a time. Sleeping, oddly enough, is fine, once I manage to get into bed (what an ordeal that was last night). I went to bed early, around 21.30 hours, having spent the evening lying on the sofa. I felt odd, feverish almost, but certainly 'hot', although I don't think I was running a temperature. The news came on as usual this morning, but I wasn't getting up to go riding, I simply remained where I was, on my back, my left knee stiff and my fingers stiff too, and bandaged.

It took a while to figure out how to get out of bed without hurting myself, but once I was standing up I realised that I could put my full weight on the damaged knee and I was a little more mobile than I was yesterday. But not by much. The knee is still swollen and I somehow doubt if I could ride a bike today.
The old Kona Scrap (above).

The whole thing annoys me somewhat and I mustn't forget my role in the whole thing, taking the corner unnecessarily fast in wet conditions.

There's nothing worse than being incapacitated. I'm sitting here now with bandaged fingers and a swollen knee and even typing is harder than usual. And it goes without saying that, while I'm okay (at least I think I am, I'm seeing the doc Monday) I've started to re-appraise things. Perhaps it all happened because I was tired, perhaps I should go to bed earlier than I do and then I wouldn't be so whacked out all the time and if I'm not tired I might have been thinking clearer when I approached the Tatsfield village bus stop. Who knows? But I believe I'm invincable, I believe in my own immortality, it's pathetic really.

I'd come back home late on Friday night from Sheffield and then I stayed up watching Graham Norton and it's never as good as I think it's going to be, so why not just go to bed earlier? I used to go to bed at 9.30pm, but these days it's nearer to 11.30pm and sometimes even midnight and all I'm doing is sitting around doing nothing of any great importance, just putting off the moment when I hit the sack, as if I'll miss something.

I feel quite ashamed of myself for one reason or another; covered in bandages, limping, unshaven, unable to do things because of my general state of health. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not ill, just nursing some minor injuries, but I'm totally incapable as a result and I hate it.

I'm hoping that when I see the doctor tomorrow that he (or she) says I'm fine and should simply rest up, leave the knee well alone, lay off the riding for a week or two and things will improve. I don't want X-rays and all that probing about bollocks. I feel fine.

And here's a ridculous thought for you, while I was on the ground, in pain, dealing with the shock of the whole thing and unable to move, I found myself thinking, "Andy, take the shot, get the shot," but never managed to vocalise the thought.

It's almost 1pm and lunch beckons. I'm sitting in the conservatory chilling out. I should do this even when I'm not incapacitated and that, of course, is the problem. I don't know how to relax.

The Old Ship at Tatsfield

Saturday, 1 October 2016

To Tatsfield Village – where I take a bad tumble...

Despite the fact that it's now October, the weather still held out. There were clear skies and, as Andy pointed out as we rode along the 269, it wasn't cold.

We were heading for the Tatsfield Village – to seek cover if needed against the rain – but there was no sign of it. Overnight it had been raining and the roads were wet, but it was a pleasant morning and all was fine until we reached the village.

Our bikes just outside Tatsfield village last week...
It all went wrong when I decided to pull my usual stunt and take a wide angled turn towards the bus stop. No cars were coming, all was clear, I made the turn left and then wump! I was down (and almost out). There's nothing worse that coming off a bike. It hits you suddenly and then there you are, on the tarmac and in my case not in a good way. I heard Andy ask if I was alright and eventually I said yes I was, but the truth of the matter was that I'd cut my hands and left wrist, did some major damage to my left knee, which is very stiff as I write this and I found that the shock of the whole thing meant I simply sat in the road trying to get my act together.

People came to my aid, which was good. Andy picked up the bike and my phone and I just sat there on the road trying to pluck up the courage to move. Once the initial shock waned, I did get up and thanks to the chef of a restaurant in Tatsfield called The Bakery who came out and helped me to my feet, I began to feel a little better – but just a little bit. I hobbled, with the chef's assistance, towards the open door of the restaurant, my right hand cut in two places, my left wrist grazed and my left knee in a bit of a state. I rinsed my hands under a tap in the the restaurant's bathroom and then took a seat in the main restaurant. The chef brought me a black coffee and I remained sitting there for some time, trying to get back into some kind of zone.

The chef brought out a first aid kit and bandaged up the hand wounds and I decided not to look at my left knee until I reached home. There were two customers in the restaurant drinking coffee and looking forward to some breakfast and we briefly chatted.

"You come far?"
"South Croydon, about a 15-mile round trip," I said.

Everyone was really kind. After my coffee I bid them all farewell and thanked them for their help and went to join Andy who was outside with the bikes. I limped over to the bus stop and we had our tea and BelVita biscuits, but I was still in a state of shock when a white cab (a white 'black cab') turned up complete with white ribbons on the front; it was to be part of a wedding that was due to take place today in, of all places, Walthamstow.

I wasn't looking forward to the ride home, but I knew there were no train stations in the area and even if there had been I didn't have money or cards with me. There was only one option: ride home. Once I got started it wasn't too bad. I could still pedal like normal so I'm hoping there's not lasting damage to the left knee. I made slow progress along Approach Road where Andy told me earlier that Beaver Water World was being evicted from it's Tatsfield location. Sad news, but I was pre-occupied with my general state of health to worry too much about Beaver Water World.

We turned right on to Clarks Lane and continued towards Botley Hill and later, when we reached the off-road bit, I decided it would be safer than remaining on the roads like I normally do. Progress was slow, but not as slow as I thought it would be, but I wasn't in a good way and I couldn't wait to reach home.
No caption needed...

We went back on the road at Warlingham Sainsbury's and rode to the green where we parted company with a view to riding again tomorrow, although I'm not so sure.

After getting over the shock with a mug of tea I eventually took a shower and felt a little better. I've been bending my knee a little bit in the hope that it'll be less stiff, but it doesn't feel at all good. I don't think I've broken it; the fact that I can still ride the bike is something and I'm not in pain unless I move the leg in certain ways.

I made myself something to eat – I'm the only one here – and then watched an uplifting programme on iPlayer about the band Oasis, followed by a bit of Mock the Week, which is losing it a bit if the truth be known. And now, of course, I'm writing this blogpost, sitting in an armchair, the television off and the house silent bar the sound of my fingers tapping the keyboard of my lap top.

I've started to worry about the bike and whether it's right for me, or whether I should have bought another mountain bike.

More importantly, I need to be much more careful.