Another side to England

For those that have never seen English towns, and have images in their mind of rows of depressing streets of joined-up houses, just like Coronation Street, under a grey sky…well they’re all true. I find English housing just completely depressing, something about all the houses built the same just wears me down. Somehow though, when you see the individual touches – e.g. the fake stone cladding on one house in a row of 10 – it almost makes things worse. Perhaps it is exacerbated by my living in Croydon, home of the Croydon facelift. It’s not that Croydon is bad, it’s more just that nothing marks it out – you walk down the High Street, and you could be anywhere in England

But anyway, that’s not what I wanted to write about. I’ve been on a couple of 100km bike rides over the last couple of weekends. First was to Brighton, using the national cycle network route 21 and 20, and the next was a loop from Canterbury around to Dover and Folkestone. Sustrans does a great job of building/maintaining/promoting a 10,000 mile network of cycle routes throughout the UK. The thing I’ve found suprising about them is the huge distances you can travel without going through any major town, and staying almost entirely off-road, or on minor country roads. An interesting thing is that while almost every road is sealed, often they are very narrow roads – if I was in a car, hedges would be brushing both wing mirrors. Not exactly sure how vehicles pass – a combination of gross tonnage, and out-staring the other driver, I expect.

So I’ve been able to go on some great rides, seeing very little traffic, and indeed few people. Not always the most direct route from A to B, but that’s not an issue for me – afterall, I’m trying to clock up distance, not get to a certain point as quickly as possible. Linking in with the train system is brilliant too – it opens up all sorts of journeys. Rather than having to do an out and back ride, or trying to work out some sort of loop, I can head out somewhere, then just get the train back home. Not that cheap in NZ$ to do it, but it’s not too bad. It gives me a lot more options for places to go. I think I might try heading north or west of London for my next weekend trip. Perhaps not another 100km ride though, maybe more like 75km or so.

Still a few issues to work out with my bike in terms of setup, but things are coming together. One thing I was forcibly reminded of on Saturday though – always carry a spare tube. Don’t rely on patch kits, especially when it’s raining. It rained for most of the time I was out on Saturday, so I was completely soaked through and covered in mud and crap. Getting a puncture on a small country lane in the middle of nowhere is not much fun. I couldn’t fix it properly, and ended up having to ride on with a slow leak, pumping it up every 4-5km. Luckily I only had another 20-odd km to go by then. Still, I met a couple of interesting people along the way, so it was worth it.

One in particular stood out – an older gentleman I met riding into Canterbury. He had been at a nearby village, visiting the local butcher. We got chatting, and I mentioned that I was from NZ, and was now living in London. His response: Why? Hmmm, maybe I need to think about that one a bit…

But for some of the good things London has, Suzie and I visited Lord’s cricket ground on Sunday, for the tour. I was quite suprised to find it was a very detailed tour – about 2 hours all up. A pretty interesting place. It must be very intimidating for first-time visiting teams, particularly when incoming batsman have to walk through the Long Room past the members, then between the members sitting in front of the Pavillion. Even more intimidating if you come back in cheaply, having to make the same long walk, to deathly silence.

Looks like I’ve got some weekend work coming up soon, so I might have to re-jig some of my planned rides – I think I might get the train to Brighton, then head out along the coast for 30km or so, then back to Brighton, then train home.

Layout changes

I’m trying out a Javascript hack to get the Blogger bar to hide unless you hold your mouse over the top of the page. When I publish to my own site, I’ll be able to do away with this, as it’s a bit ugly.

As you will have noticed, I’ve changed the layout around a bit, to make this look more like northlandboy.com. There’s still plenty of issues to work through, and I’ve only just started working through some areas like comments. I can’t get rid of the blogger bar across the top yet, so there’s some overlap going on there, which I haven’t worked out how to get rid of yet. There are also quite a few problems if you make your window too small (i.e. much smaller than 800×600) in IE – Safari seems OK though.

Don’t even think about looking at the underlying code either, it’s a right mess. Currently I’m doing it with Blogger’s inline styles, modified to look my normal stylesheet, but what I need to do is do it properly, and add a few styles to my main stylesheet, then get the Blogger template to reference an external stylesheet, like it should really do.

Once I get things working as I want them too, I’m going to change it so that the blog is published to northlandboy.com/blog. When I do that, I’ll be able to get rid of the Blogger bar.

If you’ve got any comments/suggestions, feel free to post them. Like I said though, don’t expect anything pretty if you start digging into the code – there’s a lot of kludge from the way it developed – took the Blogger template, pasted in my own, then hacked about a bit to try and combine them.

Which ****ing team do you support?

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I now own a Thorn Raven bike. I’ve started getting out and about on it, and exploring some of London’s cycle network. The UK has a pretty extensive national network, created by Sustrans – some 10,000 miles or so. London also has many local bike routes marked out. The national ones tend to be more protected, with plenty of off-road (paved) sections, whereas the local ones may have a small lane at the side of the road.

The local ones are extensive though, and are handy for riding around, mainly for helping you not get too lost. I’ve ordered a few free maps of the local ones, to try and work out some nice rides around the magnificent borough of Croydon. The problem I’m having with riding around here is that it’s all pretty flat, and if you go off the main roads, it’s pretty easy to get lost, since there’s so many meandering little streets.

But anyway, last Saturday I decided to ride up the Waterlink Way, from Croydon up to Greenwich. A very nice Saturday morning ride it was too, perfect weather, and much of the ride off road, or at least on very quiet roads. All flat too, which is good for the distances/average speeds, but perhaps not so good for the fitness. It was nice to be able to go out, ride 50km, have time to get home and shower, eat, then make it to the rugby. Most other people there watching the rugby had probably only just gotten out of bed.

I was riding through a small park, when a young guy approached me. He wanted to know if I’d seen any Millwall football fans. I said no I hadn’t, why was he looking for them “Because we’re gonna ****ing do ’em.” I told him that I thought that was a bit harsh, and asked why. He seemed not to comprehend the ‘why’ part. “We’re just gonna ****ing do ’em.” Then he started wondering about me – “What team do you support?” I told him I was a New Zealander and didn’t follow anyone (or for that matter, care or understand). Having established I was definitely not a Millwall supporter, he was quite pleasant to me. It was interesting that we were casually discussing causing grievous bodily harm to other people, but I never felt threatened personally. I told him I thought it he would be better off enjoying the nice weather, and just having a good time with his mates, but he was still pretty keen to find the other team’s supporters. With that, we shook hands, and he went back to drinking with his mates in the park. It was 9:00am. Long day coming up I guess. And it was Stella they were drinking, which sums it up really.

Semi-related to that, I haven’t quite worked it out, but people seem to find you a lot less threatening when you’re on a bike. I was on the train with my bike, and got talking to a couple of guys on there way home from work. Within a few minutes, one of them was telling me his life story, and how much he regretted having never been able to take off and travel the world, etc…. Now this might not be all that big a deal, but for those of you who know London public transport, you will understand how rare it is to speak to other people on public transport. To many, speaking to them is tantamount to physical assault. It’s amazing how close you can be to other people without making eye contact.

But anyway, the plan is to ride to Brighton this weekend, then get the train back. Living in East Croydon makes that pretty straightforward – just follow the main road down, then the train will bring me right back to here, no problems at all. Distance-wise, it’s going to be a bit of a challenge, considering where I’m at right now with my bike fitness, but I figure that if I set out early, and take it easy, I’ll be fine. I can always stop for refreshments. Plus, if I’m going south, it’s downhill, right?