You can’t watch Xena reruns forever

Apparently. At least that’s what people tell me. I might disagree, but anyways, I have decided it’s time to be back at work. With that in mind, I’m starting a new contract. I was just getting into being unemployed – I knew what time Knight Rider and The A-Team were on, I even saw a little bit of Ricki one day – just a little bit though, there are limits.

Another 3 month contract this time, which suits me well. It will take me through until the end of January, which is near when I’m aiming to depart. A possible 1 month extension could work well, or maybe even more if there’s a particularly bad patch of weather going across Europe.

The only problem is that I’m now going to have to become a commuter. I’m in zone 5, south of London, whereas the closest train station to my new workplace is in zone 6, to the north of London. Luckily First Capital Connect serves both East Croydon and Elstree and Borehamwood, so I only have to change once, and I can stay on the train system the whole way. Still, I’m looking at around an hour on the trains, plus a 20-25 minute walk. I’m not sure how people regularly do that sort of time – or longer – but I guess I’m going to find out. Certainly I’ll now have plenty of time to read The Economist though. No more going home at lunchtime though.

It’s going to make visiting the chiro and physio particularly difficult. I think they do have extended hours, but it’s going go be tricky to fit it in. I may have to try and find someone else, closer to work.

Daylight savings has just ended here. That means that sunset is now 16:40 – and it’s still October! There’s something very wrong about that. In another couple of weeks I’ll be leaving the house in the dark, and leaving work in the dark. I was thinking about doing a snowboarding trip over winter, but perhaps I should be planning a trip to somewhere sunny instead…

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.

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?

Back in saddle again

Both literally and figuratively. After nearly 5 months of not working, I’m now about to start work again. I’ve just completed contract formalities for a 3 month contract in Croydon, south London. It’s all going to be a bit of a shock to the system having to go into work each day. A man can get used to the sort of lifestyle where you don’t really know – or care – what day of the week it is. However, money just seems to fall out of your pocket walking down London streets, so getting paid will be good. Probably good that I don’t have to wear a suit every day though.

I’ve also just picked up my new bike – a Thorn Raven Tour. It’s a pretty cool bike, although it’s not going to win any beauty contests. However, it is a tough bike, built for riding around the world. Not sure that I’ll ever do that in one go, but country by country I’ll manage it. It’s not cheap either, but I figure if I can still be riding the same frame and some of the components in 10 years time, then it’s worth it. One of the things making it so expensive is the Rohloff hub – rather than a derailleur like most modern bikes, it has a sealed rear hub, with 14 gears, all internal. Just one sprocket visible at the rear, and one chain ring at the front. It has the same range as a 27-speed system, but in larger steps. The basic idea is that if you can seal all the working parts, then your maintenance becomes more or less non-existent. All I have to do is change the oil every 5,000km or so, and keep an eye on the shifter cable. I’ll add a section to my website in the next few weeks with pictures and specs.

Not only am I now gainfully employed, I am also no longer homeless! I’ve just finished sorting out getting a flat in Croydon. A nice flat, with a bit of a back yard, somewhere to put the bike, and a greenhouse even. I could start growing tomatoes. Definitely have to have some kitchen herbs. You can’t live in London without a minimum 1 hour commute on a cramped tube, right? Or failing that, at least an unreliable bus that only turns up when the driver feels like it? Well, I’ve got a pretty tough commute – a 5 minute walk. I think I only need to cross one road. Plus East Croydon is pretty well-served by trains and trams. I can get to London Bridge or Victoria in around 15-20 minutes, and trains run regularly all through the day. There’s even late night trains, so I can go out to say Clapham, and get the train back, no problems. Plus Gatwick Airport is one stop on the train from here, so planning a few city breaks should be pretty easy. And there’s even a Walkabout in Croydon! Hmm, actually maybe it’s not so great here…

Wandering Minstrel

Well, I’m still an unemployed bum. Rather than sit around all day though, I’m putting my time to use, by wandering around Southern England.

I went up to Bridgwater the other day, to order my bike, followed by trips to Brighton, Winchester and Salisbury. I hadn’t realised that Brighton was quite so popular amongst the gay community. I found myself in a gay pub – think normal British pub, but where you get better service/attention from the barman. What was probably more disturbing though was that I didn’t have anything to drink there – I was just there to eat and watch the football. It was actually quite a nice pub.

Winchester is a lovely town, and the place I stayed at was just fantastic. The Dolphin House Studios would be easily the best place I’ve stayed at in months. Well worth checking out if you’re passing through. Because of that, and because I was just enjoying being in Winchester, I stayed a couple of nights. A nice town, with a lot of history behind it.

Salisbury next, to visit Stonehenge. I know, I know, everyone will tell you how much of a disappointment Stonehenge is, but I felt that since I was in the area, I really had to go and see it, get it out of my system. It was livened up a bit by a bunch of Druids performing some sort of odd ceremony. I wonder if anyone’s told them that the Druids didn’t build it? I dunno, it looked to me like they’d put on funny robes so they could walk amongst the stones, unlike most visitors. Probably got in for free too. Maybe they’re not as stupid as they look…

But I’m back in London now, for a couple of days at least, until I push on, visit somewhere else. I guess I’ll just keep moving around, until I can find a suitable contract. I wish it was cheaper to travel here though – it’s costing at least 10x as much to get a place to stay as in Egypt. Still, the plumbing does tend to work here.