Monday, 17 December 2018


It was bucketing down on Saturday when I made a rare trip to nail two birds with one stone, so to speak.

This story will seem a little odd to most. It's a Free From. Free From mention of cycles and cyclists.
Oh, except there's a token mention a few paragraphs down.

But hey, that’s how it is. For I wanted to see for myself the uniquely numbered platform zero at Redhill station eight miles from here, and while there to ogle at the Belmond Pullman steam charter train due through. It’s always a grand sight.

To get there was a 10 minute ride on the First Great Western service along the North Downs line.

It is a 15-minute walk to the station, through the park where a thin layer of ice lay just below the surface of the Mill Pond.  The only reason I knew this was because gulls and ducks were standing on it, ankle deep in a thin film of water covering the submerged ice.

The train was running a few minutes late.  A dozen customers – or passengers as we used to be called – took cover from the rain by crowding into the small platform shelter.

A mountain bike rider, his bike leaning against the fence outside in the rain, began running on the spot to keep warm. Evidence that the thermal qualities of cycle clothing which keep us warm as we ride are not so good at their job when hanging around.

In came the train. Ten minutes and one stop later it pulled in on platform 0. Well, well.

It really is numbered 0.

Why is it numbered 0?

Quite simple really.  It is a new platform, the fourth at this station. Surely,  platform 4, then? The others being platform 1, platform 2 and platform 3.

Ah, well. Some bright spark in railway planning reasoned that they couldn’t number it 4 because of its position.  It was just across from platform 1 and if numbered 4 this would be out of sequence and confuse customers – passengers. 

So he or she came up with the only solution possible. It would be numbered platform 0.


Part one of my day out completed, time to enjoy part two.

I bought a coffee - Sharon size – from the crazy Puccino's cafĂ© on the station.  Instead of sizing cups small, medium, large, they have given each size a name. I don’t know what they call medium, or what they call large.  But small is Sharon. And the coffees are always served with a what they call a “stupid” little biscuit, gratis.

Crazy Puccino's. When  closed a sign says “Shut happens”.

It is their way of providing a little amusement for stressed rail customers – passengers - like me.

“American. Sharon, please” I asked.

She grinned.

And then there was disappointment.  The charter train came slowly around the curve and onto platform 0, where it would be held for six minutes, awaiting its path back to London.

Oh dear.  It was headed by an inscrutable diesel! Where was the steam engine?

I needed that evocative smell of steam and hot oil, to feel the heat from the boiler as it passed, to see the pistons driving huge driving wheels, the big green loco clanking by glistening and hissing in the rain. 

Instead, a modern powerhouse glides almost silently past, its presence announced by a mere rumble of a powerful unseen force. Impressive, of course.  But I wanted a steam engine.

Perhaps it had failed?

What a blow. So I stood there sipping my Sharon and munching my “stupid” biscuit in the cold looking at the luxury Pullman cars – 12 of them – and at the smartly dressed diners in the warmth within having dinner and Champagne served by immaculately dressed waiters.

It’s not cheap, dinner on that luxurious train.  And it left me wondering how many of those diners were left with one arm and a leg.

A few minutes later I boarded my return train, Spartan compared to the Pullman, but comfortable and warm nonetheless.  It was raining harder than ever.  In my hurried walk home the gulls were still ankle deep on the ice on the Mill Pond.

At home I went into the loft to get down the festive lights.

Too commercial for our taste nowadays, the old pagan Christmas festival.   Hijacked first by the Christians claiming it for the birthday of Jesus, alleged to be the son of God in Heaven, and then by Mammon torturing us with endless TV commercials urging us to buy, buy, buy.

So I prefer to see it as a festival of Light, marking the turning point of winter, of lighter evenings to come.

Besides, ill-health in the family means we keep a quiet house by necessity.  We keep ourselves to ourselves observing a schedule that must remain the same day to day regardless.

The living room is brightened with a small tree ablaze with white Led lights, while on the patio outside the front door lights sparkle on and off along the wrought iron railings.

At bed time there was time read some more of the closing chapter of Michael Collins splendid book, “Carrying the Fire, an astronaut’s journeys”.

Collins piloted the Apollo 11 spacecraft to the Moon in July 1969, when his compatriots Neil Armstrong followed by Buzz Aldrin became the first men to step onto the Moon’s surface.

A remarkable book, it captures the drama, beauty and humour of that historic adventure, not to mention the risks!

They are nearly home. Just a few more tasks to complete to overcome the 50 – 50 odds stacked against their surviving this bold adventure.

Collins must get right the angle of re-entry to avoid 1: burning up in a fireball or, 2: hitting the atmosphere like a stone across water, and skipping off back into space.

Meanwhile, Ground – Mission control at Houston – radios the crew of Apollo 11 a titbit of information on their “downhill run” on this, the evening of their ninth and penultimate day before splashdown in the Pacific.

“You are now 97,970 miles out from earth. Your velocity is 5,991 feet per second.”

And with that calming thought, the Apollo 11 crew bid Houston good night and turned in!

I closed the book and did the same.

Monday, 3 December 2018

BREXIT - no rhyme or reason

BREXIT: no rhyme or reason

Will Pak Choi from Morocco no longer be in the shops if Britain quits the European Union with no deal on March 29, kissing goodbye to the Customs Union?

Will there no longer be any bananas on the shelves, that staple of British diet, that nutritious fruit from Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador and Brazil?

We’re told that up 40 percent of food stuffs from abroad may no longer be available.

Not to mention medicines. This is serious.

There can be no rhyme or reason for any of this. But it’s on the cards!

And what about our sport, our pastime of cycling? A hobby for most, important livelihood for many.

Will there be complications with trading, effecting supplies of Campag from Italy and Shimano from Japan and all other stuff from overseas we take for granted?

 Will those beautifully cut cycling bib shorts and jerseys and those exquisite cycling shoes, made in some far flung province, still be available?

Will the import and the export of goods suffer if parliament cannot bring itself to halt the Brexit juggernaut, sort out some half-decent leaving present or, better still, commit to remaining in the EU?

Or will they remain chained to this lunacy born of that fateful day in 2016 when the referendum asked people to vote on whether Britain should remain  in the EU or leave.
And 52 per cent -  many suffering economic hardship as a result of the Conservative government's cruel austerity measures screwing the poor - voted Leave.
While 48 per cent voted Remain.

The three main concerns of the Leavers were:
1,  immigration was too high, foreigners were taking jobs away from the British; 
2, the £350m a week paid to the EU would instead fund the NHS – (this bogus claim by the Leave campaign swung the vote, I understand); 
3, take back our sovereignty, in the belief that the UK should be self-governing and not be told what do by the EU.

Remainers did not share any of these concerns to anything like the same degree. Indeed, they feared economic and political chaos would be the result of leaving the EU and that Britain would be worse off out than in, especially in relation to public sector jobs, in particular the NHS, which rely heavily on foreign nationals.

For instance, I read that 10 percent of doctors and seven percent of nurses are EU nationals. A third of all EU nationals in the NHS work in London.

Since the referendum there has been a 90 per cent drop in the number of EU nurses coming to work for the NHS. Many foreign nationals living here no longer feel welcome.
There can be no rhyme or reason for this mess bequeathed us by the Leave Campaign.
We are told that all sorts of problems now lie ahead. Let’s start off with issues which will be the least of our concerns but nevertheless help form a picture of the craziness awaiting us.

Here’s lightweight one for starters.

Will the British members of the Sky Team need a visa if they are to get to the start of Le Tour for Geraint Thomas to bid for a second consecutive victory? 
Will a British driving licence still be valid over there?   

It may seem trivial, but what about the supply of cycling components? 

We don’t hear much said about the British cycle industry these days, outside of trade circles. Nothing British about my bikes.  My current model was designed in London but made in Italy. All my nice cycle clothing is from abroad.  

However, it does seem that the British cycle industry is alive and well.

Reynolds tubing of Birmingham, for instance.  Brompton bicycles of course.

What about wheels?  Is there an all British wheel? Does anyone know?

Most rims are made abroad, I believe.  Is that right?

As for spokes, are there any British made spokes?

There are certainly hubs – plug now for Royce hubs, very well thought of, I understand.

Insofar as the fate awaiting the UK cycle trade better I refer you to a story published on the Cyclist webpages -

It does a pretty good job of explaining the complexities of international trade which is conducted in US dollars and speculates as what may or may not occur after March 29.

To summarise, at present, the current arrangements with the EU allows goods to move freely from one country to another.

And little change to this is expected if Theresa May’s proposed deal - seen as very controversial and expected to be rejected by Parliament  - does actually go ahead.

However, should Britain crash out of the EU with no deal  leaving us outside of the customs union, there is speculation that all trade arrangements will impact heavily on prices and on the availability of brands.

Surely this looming chaos can be averted?

I recently had an exchange of letters with my MP, Sir Paul Beresford on this very matter. He was a Remain man. I asked him to support a Peoples’ Vote on May’s deal.

He couldn’t do that, he told me. He said he is holding to the view that the will of the people who voted leave should be upheld.  He now backs Theresa May to finalise a deal.

The will of the people! The will of the people was subverted, I told him.  He knows this!

I said this to him. “The referendum, fought by the Leave campaign, was anything but honest. They made a host of misleading claims on immigration and at least one outright lie. 

They claimed, in big letters on the side of their Battle Bus,   that the £350m paid to the EU every week would go to the NHS instead! Many people voted Leave on the strength of this bogus claim.  

And almost immediately the vote was cast the awful Farage, who started all this nonsense, admitted it was wrong, that that money cannot simply go the NHS.

Not to mention Boris Johnson spinning anti—EU rhetoric and misinformation in his newspaper column for decades for which, remember,  he was eventually sacked from, oh, which paper was it, the Telegraph, The Times?  Doesn’t matter which.  But the rubbish stories he put out do matter, for he has constantly poisoned minds.

It’s all David Cameron’s fault, for agreeing  - simply to appease the populist call - to the referendum  in the first place,  on matters few of us were equipped to deal with and for this may he never be forgiven.

For he  has set us on a path which, via the ballot box, has presented us with a result which could yet undo the very parliamentary system he is supposed to hold dear. The Leave vote has given oxygen to closet racists and xenophobes.

The Leaver vote has split political parties down the middle.  It has revealed democracy’s Achilles heel as a host of far-right dangerous individuals seek to gain from it.

Sir Paul acknowledged my letter, but declined to comment further.

I imagine the xenophobes must presume they are of pure race when a check of their ancestry may surprise them.  For instance, I am 60 per cent English; the rest is a mix of Irish, Swedish and European, west and eastern.

The current crisis has made me concerned for the rights of foreign nationals living and working here in the UK and British people who live and work on the Continent.

As for Michael Gove MP, is he confused?  As fellow MPs quit the Cabinet over May’s Brexit plans he said, that while he, too, disagreed with May he would not leave the Cabinet because once outside it he would no longer have any influence to argue his point of view. Better to remain to persuade her to change tack.

Pity he cannot apply that logic to European matters, and advocate we remain within the Union.

For once outside we will have no voice over decisions they take which may still impact this side of the water.

Since then, Gove has been quoted as saying he will back May.

And so here we are.  But exactly where are we? 

Who knows what will happen after March 29?

We should delay it three days, to April 1.  And then, just before midday, call out “APRIL FOOL”.

And not leave afterall.

That would be my option. Apparently, that’s no longer an option.

In which case the lack of Pak Choi and of cycle components could be the least of our problems. 

And all for no rhyme or reason.