This weekend has seen the return of the so-called Beast from the East. The Russians are sending over their coldest wind again, resulting in more snow and a drop of ten degrees in temperature between Friday and Saturday.
But that didn’t stop me from going for a walk to Victoria Park, Surbiton today, to do something just a little bit scary.
I haven’t cycled in the snow for many years, possibly not since I had to for work as a postman. And on my own bike, probably not since I commuted into Kingston.
And I have never ridden a penny farthing. A kind of bike that Liesel didn’t even think was real until a few years ago.
But that all changed today: I had a go on a penny farthing. Around a snow-covered football field. Not a full-size, genuine Victorian one, but still high enough to give me cause for concern.
There’s a small stop half-way up the main stem, and you’re supposed to swing your other leg over and start pedalling straightaway. Well, I didn’t, and promptly fell over on the first attempt. With help, I got going and probably cycled between a quarter and a half a mile, being chased, I mean, followed by the bloke ready to catch should I fall off again.
Going along was OK, but stopping and getting off again was quite hairy. So, just like flying a aeroplane, starting and stopping are the difficult periods.
Mick on board
Baby ones for little people
A real penny farthing
The event was to celebrate Cycling in Surbiton which was home at one point to a High Wheeler Race Track. Part of the Wheels of Time celebration of cycling in the Royal Borough – for which I partook in the interview last week.
Pauline and I were in Kingston a couple of days ago, following our two days in London. She wanted to see some ‘old things’. So I showed her a mirror.
Then we saw the Coronation Stone of course. And we spent some time in Kingston Museum which has some really old stuff.
Meanwhile, Liesel is counting down the days: just eight more with her current employer. Then our big adventure can really begin. We can deal with the practicalities of moving house while planning our gap year travels for real.
London is probably always going to be my favourite city. I can walk around it for hours, always find something new, or something silly, or something historical.
I was joined by Pauline, my sister over from New Zealand for (so far) two days pounding the streets in London.
Yesterday, it was Kensington, where I re-visited the places I used to frequent when I was a student in the 1970s. My old halls of residence in Campden Hill Road is now a block of luxury apartments. The maths department, which used to be in the Atkins building, is no more.
Holland Park was and still is a fascinating place to walk around. Peacocks, moorhens, a heron and a pond full of fornicating frogs and lots and lots of frogspawn.
We walked back along Kensington High Street and along Church Street, I wanted to see again 96 Palace Gardens Terrace, where I lived for 18 months or so in a really small bedsit. Kensington Palace was beyond the fence at the bottom of the garden.
Then through Kensington Gardens which was not too crowded at all. Through the Orangery, past the Palace and to Kensington Town Hall where we met Liesel who’d been on a course there.
Wagamama’s for dinner and finally home.
Today, Pauline and I joined an official London Walk around the Inns of Court which is always fascinating. And we went into the Royal Courts of Justice, wandered round for ages, quite legally but we did feel a little bit naughty.
BBC 6 Music is our Sunday soundtrack, usually. Not necessarily all day, but the presenters are all pretty good, the music is fab, and if we hear a song we’re not too keen on, we know something good will come along later.
Today though, there was some competition. The 2018 Winter Paralympics are taking place in PyeongChang. I have two whole legs and I can’t ski and steer where I want to nor stop when I need to. So to watch disabled skiers, some sitting down on monoskis, do their stuff is awe-inspiring.
But the most intriguing game is the Wheelchair Curling. And it made me think of Albert Einstein. Hold on, that’s quite a leap, isn’t it? Well, he is reported to have said, “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”.
Here is a game in which large stones are slid along an ice rink and points are scored in a similar way to bowls: it’s determined by how many stones are closer to the centre of the target than those of the opposing team.
Wheelchair players have to push the stones with a long broom handle. Or stick. There is no sweeping as there is in conventional curling.
So there you have it. Sticks and stones. Wheelchair Curling is really World War IV.
Oh well, back to the radio.
Amy Lamé presents a show every Sunday afternoon between 4 and 6pm. Everyone is welcome, boys, girls and everyone in between. There is a ‘French Fancy’ each week, which is great, we don’t hear much French music on the whole. But on Amy’s page of the official website, it’s billed as ‘a Gallic tunage feature’. Tunage? One of my all-time most disliked words! Ever.
Another feature was promoted on Facebook thus: “We’re celebrating music with a #NorthernIreland connection today on BBC Radio 6 Music 4-6pm GMT. What track helps you kick back, relax and get that ‘Lazy Sunday’ feeling?”
One song immediately sprang to mind, so I sent off an email very quickly.
Steve the producer wrote back and asked for my phone number so I sent it. Well, I haven’t been on air for a long, long time.
The phone rang, I spoke to Amy, talked about my Mum and about Jenny, William and Martha, and she played my suggested song. And after all that, the song still managed to bring a lump to my throat.
Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?
The first thing I saw when I got up this morning was a spring. On the floor. Ah, a metaphor, I thought, Spring has arrived. And indeed, the sun was out, the sky was blue, it’s significantly warmer than last week and it was quite pleasant to walk around Chessington and Kingston today. But it’s a bit worrying, finding a small spring. Where did it come from?
Well, the house continues to fight back against being taken to the knackers’ yard. In our bedroom, there is a built-in wardrobe. One of the doors hasn’t closed properly for years, not since the last time thse doors were painted. There’s a little catch that should click smoothly and keep the door closed. With a bit of a slam, the dried-up paint flaked off, and that door managed to close properly and satisfyingly.
Until today. The little catch has broken. The spring sprung loose and the rest of the plastic must have shattered. I don’t think there’s any way to fix it.
Unlike the stay at the top of the front door. I replaced that, after the estate agent had problems last weekend. So unless there’s (again) a very strong gust of wind, the front door should no longer swing open and bash into the window sill outside the fron room.
Probably tempting fate but the door bell is still working a week or so after I fixed it and sealed it in again, despite the snow and rain. Touch wood.
No more news on the home front.
“Wheels of Time” is an exhibition aiming to document the story of cycling past and present in Kingston upon Thames. An important part of this will be people that cycle as part of their job.
I was invited to be interviewed in my capacity of ex-postman. I used a bike for the job, and they wanted me to talk about it. So I visited Kingston History Centre in Kingston’s Guildhall for the first time where I met Alex, the Heritage Services Officer, and Jarek, who conducted the interview.
I don’t think I slagged off Royal Mail management too much for the decision to replace bicycles with trolleys. Big, fat, red High Capacity Trolleys. But it was fun to talk about why I liked the job using the bike, and not so much with the trolley. The changing nature of the job over the years, especially with regard to online shopping resulting in many more parcels and packets being delivered by Royal Mail, is I think not recognised by most members of the public. And dogs came up. Like the one that didn’t like the noise the bike made. Or the one that didn’t like my helmet.
The exhibition opens towards the end of the month and I’ll put more details up nearer the time. I think this is the first time I’ve potentially been a museum exhibit.
I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t cycle into Kingston today: it was quite nice outside but I didn’t want to turn up looking bedraggled, with helmet hair and stinky.
Oh, alright: it was too cold. I’m a wimp. Turning into a fair-weather cyclist.
Roger Bannister is famous for being the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. He’s also big in my world because he shares my birthday. In fact, he was the first notable person that I was aware of to share my birthday.
When I gew up in Guildford, there was a sports field named Bannister’s. I never did know for certain that it was named after Roger, but I like to think it was. My only sporting event there was a cross-country race for my school. I was not a big fan of cross-country running but one day, I decided to volunteer for the team, thinking I was safe. It was not to be.
The only reason I volunteered, really, was it was close to home. I would get a ride to the event and then I’d be able to walk home afterwards.
What I didn’t anticipate was the weather though. It was raining very hard. The mud was awful. I stood no chance of winning in those conditions. Especially when the gloop managed to pull of my shoe at least once. With water and mud now inside my running shoes too, I was not very happy. I could have been on the usual, dry bus going home.
So that’s my memory of Bannister’s sports field. Sadly, it is now the site of big ugly Tesco.
But I still feel special having the same birthday as Roger Bannister, who, sadly, died yesterday.
Other people with the same birthday include:
and we are all very special. I feel I mised out on the sporty genes though…
Another ‘hero’ died today. Trevor Baylis invented the clockwork radio for people who didn’t have a reliable power supply. What a wonderful invention. Like everyone else, I wondered why nobody had invented one before. It’s so obvious. Clockwork toys, clockwork clocks and even a clockwork orange have been around for years, so why not clockwork radios?
Trevor lived on Eel Pie Island which I have cycled by a few times over the years. But my real Trevor Baylis story takes place in about 1998. I met him at Clapham Junction railway station. In the heat of the moment I couldn’t remember his name. Trevor Something. But I wanted to say ‘Hello, Mr Something’, instead, it felt more polite.
Anyway, I shook his hand, he shook me off and resumed talking to his companion. I never did own a clockwork radio.
RIP Roger Bannister and Trevor Baylis.
Well it’s all go on the house front. Miss Sharma and her family came to look at our house again this afternoon, and especially at the furnitiure we’ll be leaving behind. The agent seems as certain as he can be that they are very interested in the house.
But still no more viewings organised for new people. At least the weather has improved dramatically from last week’s so-called Beast from the East, which included the coldest March day on record.
Yes, it’s cold. Paris was cold and windy. Now back home and it’s cold, windy and it’s snowing as well. It probably won’t last long but we don’t really need it at all. We don’t need people looking around our house in this weather. We wouldn’t want to to and look at other people’s houses either.
It’s rotten timing for sister Pauline, though, coming over here from the warmth of a New Zealand Summer, she’ll definitely be packing her Winter drawers.
And rotten timing too for the crocuses, daffodils and snowdrops that are beginning to bloom.
Back to the house: We’ve had a few offers, which is good, but none match the bottom-line figure that we’d agreed on.
In the post on our return were two unsolicited letters from other estate agents that basically said: “When your current agent has failed to sell your house, come to us, we’ll sell it for you, quickly, and for a higher price”. If only we’d known.
I haven’t been on the phone so often in one day since I worked in an office. So many calls to make, so I addressed them all in one go. We haven’t had one for a while, so here’s the list of people I called:
The man to come around, look around the house and provide its EPC (Energy Performance Certificate). He’ll be nicely frozen when he visits the loft.
The man to look at the garden fence with a view to moving it back to where it should be, on the boundary between our house and the neighbours’.
My dentist to cancel my August appointment because we won’t be living here then.
The hospital to cancel the second, now unnecessary, follow-up appointment after my eye surgery.
Our estate agent here to say that despite his best efforts, our doorlock still appears to work and we were able to get into the house when we returned from Paris. And to discuss the lastest progress.
Our flat vendors’ agent to report on our progress so far to to remind the vendor that she was going to send us some further information.
Liesel made a big decision this week. She Shook me Cold. And not just because of the weather. Well done, Liesel!
A bit of a lie-in today, Saturday, after two very long but very different days. It’s been said many times but we both feel as if we need a holiday after our week here in Paris.
We’re still coming across French or Parisian stereotypes and clichés. Watching the Olympics with a French commentary is very entertaining. I thought the ‘ooh lala’ was pretty good. But during the skiing down a halftime event, someone crashed out and we were treated to a ‘ooh lala lala lalalalala lala’.
Beware: in some restaurants, the vegetarian salad option boasts salmon as a main ingredient. Mostly though, while it’s been difficult sometimes, I’ve enjoyed the veggie food, even when it’s a bit, let’s say, unusual. White pizza is one that has no tomatoes.
We were entertained on a train by a man playing his piano accordion. A medley of French tunes which had a few of the passengers dancing in their seats.
The tickets to Versailles were valid on any reasonable route via Metro or RER. Which sounds typically French in a way. And the RER train itself was decorated to look like one of the great Halls at the palace, even the ceiling.
More people seem to smoke here than they do in London but we’ve seen very few electronic devices being enjoyed. You have to hold your breath while entering some eating places as the enclosed but ‘outside’ seating area is for smokers.
The train journey to the Palace of Versailles revealed that most graffiti in and around Paris is nothing more than tags, ugly and not very creative. Such a contrast with the artworks here and at the Louvre, for instance.
We left the station, Versailles Château Rive Gauche, to be greeted by a depressing sight of the unholy trinity: a KFC, a McDonalds and a Starbucks. Under slightly different circumstances, this would be cause for a revolution.
The Palace of Versailles is huge. Most of the halls are bigger than our house. The Hall of Mirrors is as big as Wales. The audio commentary was purely factual but in the end I think we both took a dislike to all the opulence. It could very well cause a revolution under slightly different circumstances.
One of the halls contained busts of notable men from mostly the arts. Men. Yes, apart from a queen and a mistress, I don’t think women were much good in those days. I was pleased to see a couple of astronomers and mathematicians represented, though, Cassini and des Cartes for instance.
We declined the offer of a 20-minute wait for lunch and instead walked back towards the railway station, and in particular, to a nice, small, independent coffee shop by the name of The Stray Bean. The carrot cake, pistachio cake and the coffee all scored maximum points.
We briefly met up with Monica and Neha on our return. But we went out and had dinner on our own: a surprisingly tasty rice-based veggie burger with chips.
Friday we all got together again for a day at Disneyland Paris. We were joined by a friend of Monica’s, Hannah, who’s from Ireland but studying in Lyon.
For Neha, I think the highlight of the day was the Princesses’ Lunch. While eating, we were addressed by Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel and Aurora. Sadly, no Belle. The waiter, Moez, insisted on referring to the ladies as princesses and called me Doctor. He asked a couple of times where he knew us from and given the present, young company, I’m glad I didn’t respond that I’d been in a couple of porn movies recently that he might have seen.
We walked and stood and waited in line and queued up for several rides. It was cold, though: the wind was biting, some puddles were still frozen and there were icicles in the waterfall. But Neha didn’t care, she was just excited to be there.
The Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ride was too much for my back which was beaten black and blue by the hard plastic. Don’t mind the 360° turns and being upside down but please stop bashing me on the same vertebra over and over and over again.
There were a couple of more peaceful rides , drifting along the water being serenaded by children from all around the world. The depiction of England was wonderful: a red bus jumping over the opening bascules of Tower Bridge.
Altogether, we walked over 10 miles on this day and I think we were all glad to get to bed.
During the day, three different estate agents called. One more, improved offer on our house, but we’ll hold out for a few more days. So now it’s a, it’s a, it’s a Drive-in Saturday. We’re on our way home.
I’m sure we’ll come back to Paris at some point, probably before the 2024 Summer Olympics. It’s a great place to just wander round, the signage, the architecture, the transport systems are all fascinating in their own way. It’s so easy to compare with London of course, but 40 years in London v one week in Paris is hardly a fair fight.
Not everything is real at Versailles as revealed when the green screen system breaks down.