Wednesday, October 27, 2010

She Drives Me Crazy!

A month in to the Malcolm-Bell driving experiment and I've come to at least one conclusion, the Bell element is highly volatile.  She's one hell of a backseat driver!

Sarah's already very protective of the kitchen, actually that's not entirely correct.  She's very protective of the hob but couldn't care less about the dirty plates + the sink = washing up equation.  So it shouldn't have been such a surprise to me that when I'm driving, like when I'm cooking, she still wants to be in control of the action.

She fixes an almost constant gaze on the speedometer when we're on the motorway.  If I dare to stray over 70mph I'm berated for going to fast and if I happen to get what she deems to be too close to the car in front, well, the language is enough to make a grown man blush!

As soon as Sarah realised that last Sunday was going to be bright and sunny she started on at me to go for a drive.  For some reason she thinks that all I want to do on a Sunday is loaf on the sofa and watch sport!

IMG_2771After suggesting we go to Blenheim Palace only to be instantly rebuffed she started going on about a 'mystery drive'.

I took this to mean the New Forest because she's always gipping on about going there.  How right I was because as soon as we set of I was told to point the car in the direction of the M3.

Of course she knew the best route but I took her on a little west London tour.  We headed off through Chiswick, Brentford and Isleworth (free commentary of local landmarks included at no extra cost) which as it turned out (Sarah looked it up on Monday) was the best route.

Ninety miles, two hours and bleeding ears later we were in Beaulieu.  Actually, truth be told, apart from traffic on the way in to Lyndhurst, it was a smooth and stress free drive.

IMG_2806Shhhh, don't tell Sarah but I'm actually starting to enjoy the freedom of driving.

It's very convenient being able to hop into the car and head off straight away.  No waiting for buses, Tubes or trains although a tenner for the coach up to Brum for the Carling Cup match last night was too good an offer to turn down.  That latest awayday is a for a whole other post...for that read once I'm over the result!

We got to Beaulieu, parked up in the Motor Museum (thankfully we'd both been there and done that as kids), and map reader Bell took us on a tour of the area.  We took in the Beaulieu River, parish church, cricket green, and then headed into the woods (oh do behave!) for a roam amongst the trees, pheasants and deer.

IMG_2784We watched a helicopter whiz off from a field but the find of the day was a restored number 11 London bus taking day trippers around the sights.  Looking at the destination board made this sad W12er smile, Shepherd's Bush is everywhere.  In fact today more than ever with the Bush trending on Twitter because of a Hitler lookalike on a W12 bus.

After a couple of hours roaming we headed to Monty's Brasserie but they had stopped serving food so it was just a Guinness for me and a Coke for Sarah because she was driving the return leg.  The co-joined Montagu Arms Hotel certainly caught our eye, especially the Michelin Star restaurant.  Something tells me that we'll be having dinner there sooner rather than later!

My next cross country car jaunt is to Market Harborough in a couple of weekends time for a bit of a Uni meet-up.  Sadly for you readers (are there any?!?) I'll be making the trip alone so there won't be any gipping to tell of.  Don't worry though the weekend after Sarah and I are back on the road together and there is bound to be something to tell!

For now it's cheerio.  There's a pile of post-dinner washing up that needs to be done before I'm allowed a brew.  I think I need a union!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wormwood Scrubs Up Well

Last week was a week of firsts.  On Wednesday I went for a run around Wormwood Scrubs for the first time, on Friday I drove to a clients for the first time and on Saturday the Bees finally won their first away game of the season!  WOO HOO!

Located in the north of LBHF past the BBC on Wood Lane and A40 the Scrubs regularly features in the Minder episodes Sarah and I routinely watch while we're sat at the living room table having dinner.  I guess you could say it's become 'our thing', one of many no doubt!

HMP Wormwood Scrubs (Grade 2 listed don't you know!), Hammersmith Hospital and the Linford Christie Stadium line it's southern perimeter while to the north and east it's bounded by railway tracks.  The Old Oak estate lies on its western boundary with one of its roads, Braybrook Street, being famous as the site of the Braybrook Street murders.

Braybrook Street murders, 1966

Three Met Policemen were murdered on 12th August 1966 and there is a memorial headstone close to where the incident took place.  The most famous of the three men who played a part in the murders is Harry Roberts.  He's still in prison 44 years later while the other two are dead.  Football fans are most likely to be aware of the song, used to taunt the police, which features his name. 

Jake Arnott's second novel called 'he Kills Coppers' is based on the murders and in 2008 ITV produced a three part drama of the same name.  It's avaliable on DVD for £3 if anyone is interested.

After jogging up from the flat I completed three laps in 55 minutes.  I took in all the 'sights' following the perimeter of the grass as best I could and have mapped my route here.  The lap is fairly flat and at 2.25 miles it's a decent length.

As I expected there were people walking dogs, kids having a post-school kick about and other runners doing their usual Scrubs lap/s.  What I didn't expect to see were people flying kites and model aircraft enthusiasts recreating their own Battle for the Skies.

Turns out there is an area dedicated to the flying of model aircraft with signs warning of their presence and a large notice that sets of a code of conduct.  There is also a pony centre for fans of all things equine.  Isn't it amazing what is unknown but available on the proverbial doorstep.

I roped Sarah into doing a lap on Sunday afternoon and hopefully we'll run up there, weather permitting, most Sundays now.  We also did a couple of laps of the stadium track (Sarah just couldn't resist) and judging by the wide-open gates anyone can get in there.  Just outside the stadium gates there is also small collection of outdoor gym equipment although it could do with a spruce-up!  In fact calling it equipment is being pretty generous.  There are a couple of pull-up bars, benches and random dark green thingies.  Yes, that is a technical term!

As we walked back to Scrubs Lane I started thinking about how people seem to bemoan the lack of facilities in their local area, especially those that are easily accessible for kids.  There certainly isn't a lack of facilities in W12.

Wormwood Scrubs has marked football pitches with goals, an athletics arena, all weather pitches for five-a-side football, hockey and netball.  There's an all weather tennis court that also has basketball rims, chuck in a couple of kids playgrounds and there are plenty of facilities for the local community to use.

I also think the Scrubs would be a prime candidate for a new Parkrun event.  The events in Richmond Park (there I am again!), Old Deer Park and Wimbledon Common aren't exactly local and there are seem to be plenty of local pavement pounders on the streets of W12.  Something for me to think about setting up perhaps, any other budding volunteers out there?

I was a both nervous and excited about driving to see Oxfam on Friday.  I woke up at about half five and then just drifted in and out of light sleep.  For me that’s a tell tale sign that I’m about to embark on something new, an adventure.

Since we brought the car down from Bury, Sarah has taunted me about my driving.  She reckons I can't drive or at best I’m useless so it was good put an end to that chat by driving up to Oxford.  For my first ever solo drive of any note it was a piss easy start.  A jaunt up the A40/M40/A40 to Oxford and then a short hop across to the business park where the Oxfam HQ is located.

On the way home I took a detour to Griffin Park via the M25/M4/A4 to pickup tickets for the Carling Cup game at St. Andrews next Tuesday but typically the offices were shut.  No biggie though because I cycled back later in the afternoon and got them.

I'm looking forward to using the car more although I'm not one for just hopping in a car a going for a drive.  It’s great to have a choice of decent size supermarkets within easy reach and it'll be good not having to rely on the train and lifts.

Sarah, the 'burden' days are over!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Get Settled, Get Curtains Drawn

Another weekend is coming to an end.  Dinner's been eaten and the night is drawing in.  The clocks go back in two weeks as we say goodbye to BST and welcome back GMT for the winter.  The central heating has been on in the flat for the past couple nights, autumn is here and winter is on its way.

I actually don't mind winter.  Cold, crisp and sunny mornings are a joy to wake up to and help make up for the grey wet days we get more and more used to at this time of year.

Saying that it really doesn't rain that much in London not compared to Sarah's beloved North West anyway.  In the four and a half years that we've been going out it's only not rained in Bury once when I've been up there.  It was even raining the first time I went to Bury, Easter Monday 2002.  That really was a miserable day!

It was 1st April and the joke certainly was on Adam, Gabs, Paul and me.  Traipsing up to the relegation threatened Shakers expecting a nice Bees win to help us on our way to promotion.  Nothing ever goes to plan as we were well beaten on surface that was almost totally bereft of grass.  End of season came around, Bury did indeed go down while we finished third, made it to the play-off final and lost without even mustering a whimper to Stoke. MIS-ER-Y!!

Eight and a half years later I'm going out with a Bury lass and looking out for the Bury scores.  They had a nice 4-3 win away at Torquay yesterday having been 2-0 down in 20 minutes.  Hopefully they can join the Bees and near neighbours Rochdale in League One next season.  We're up to fourth bottom after the 3-0 win at Tranmere yesterday, still in the relegation zone but at least we're showing signs of life with two wins in three October games.

Yesterday I did my third straight Parkrun, something I've only managed once before.  I went round in 21:14, my best time since July, and finished 36th out of 197.  I finished 36th last week as well and 35th the week before.  If I'd have finished 35th this week I would have won a prize, damn the bloke who managed to keep me at bay in the final 100m ;)

As my number of Parkuns increase I'm becoming more and more interested in how and why my times change from week to week.  I was 57 seconds quicker this week than last, a pretty dramatic increase.

At Richmond there is quite frequently a noticeable headwind as the course climbs and then flattens just after halfway.  Last week however there was a pretty strong headwind over the first half of the course as we undulated our way down Sawyers Hill to Sheen Roundabout.  As soon as I felt it my time was done for.  My mind was confused, annoyed and resigned to defeat after about 750m.  I wanted to stop but you just can't, can you?!?  No, especially not having got my arse out of bed earlier than on a weekday and cycled to Richmond.

The number of runners varies from week to week so I'm also interested in my finishing positions and times.  As I mentioned earlier I've finished 35th, 36th and 36th in the past three runs.  In the Summer I did three runs in a month and had times of 21:06 (32nd), my PB of 21:05 (33rd) and 21:06 (22nd).  I don't wear a watch so three consecutive runs within a second of each other was pretty cool.  Now I have three consecutive runs within a place of each other, also pretty cool.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Not All Great In TW8

It's been a grim grim 36 hours in and around W12 (and in Britain in general judging by the coverage of Man City v Newcastle on ESPN) so having blogged about my close encounter with Uxbridge Road last week I thought I'd take the time to have a ramble.

Following on from little sister's birthday on 1st September mine wasn't far behind on 7th.  As usual I didn't arrange to do anything!  I'm never really fussed about celebrating my own birthday and turning 33 really wasn't anything to get excited about!  The previous weekend me and Sarah went for a a few beers around Westbourne Grove and then had dinner at Rodizio Rico.  I suppose that could count as a birthday meal ;)

Whenever we've been to Ricos before we've been able to sit at street level, so I was a bit disappointed that we had to sit downstairs.  It's a bit too bright down there with the white walls and it seems a lot more cramped.  There isn't as much atmosphere either because the kitchen is on the open-planned ground floor and you get to see all the cooking action.  I have to admit my mood wasn't helped having seen Brentford get soundly turned over 3-1 at GP by Rochdale in the afternoon so perhaps I'm not being totally fair.

September was a mixed bag for the Bees.  Mostly next to useless in the League, we ended the month bottom, but through to the fourth round of the League Cup (for only the second time in our history) having seen off Everton on penalties after the game finished 1-1.  There were great scenes at GP when we equalised and pitch invasion aside, it was another special Brentford moment when Phil Jagielka missed his spot kick to give us the win.

Thankfully yesterday we began October with a 2-1 derby win over Charlton, but September had all Bees fans starting to fear the worst.

To be fair the month started off OK.  We deservedly beat the then leaders Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 in a game televised by Sky and got the usual 0-0 draw at Bristol Rovers.  Then came the Everton game and we all thought the season had finally got out of first gear.  Sadly it wasn't to be as we drew 0-0 at home against Hartlepool, meekly surrendered 1-0 to Leyton Orient on a chilly Friday night in east London and then lost late on 1-0 at Brighton.  Five games, five points and one League goal later we found ourselves bottom of League One with fans starting to wonder if it was going to be another season of shattered dreams in TW8.

Anyway, September is over and after yesterday's win were up to (haha!!) second bottom.

Dan and Jenny came down to stay in the Bush last weekend and while Jen went off to indulge herself in the shoe-fest that is the new Selfridges Shoes Galleries me and Dan went to the Emirates to watch Arsenal loose 3-2 to West Brom.  He's finally got himself a red membership so should be down for a few more games over the coming seasons.

For the most part Arsenal were terrible, wonder where I've heard that before!  It was 0-0 at half-time with everyone's favourite 'keeper Manuel Almunia saving a Chris Brunt penalty but 3-0 to West Brom after 73 minutes.  Arsenal did manage to get it back to 3-2 by the end of the game but the sixty or so thousand Gooners leaving the ground at full time were a frustrated bunch.  It certainly makes you realise that us football fans are a fragile lot no matter what level of football we watch.

Right, enough of the football chat.

I've started the on the Spanish trail again.  There are a lot of familiar faces in the class and a few new people. It's good to be back in the classroom ready to crack on the summer break.

However, the biggest thing to happen this month will be a shock to most of my mates, Sarah and I bought a car.  I know, a CAR!!  We are the proud owners of a 2006 (56 plate) Renault Megane.

Sarah's brother wanted to get himself a new car so we gave him the £5k he had left to pay off on his car loan.  A pretty good deal I reckon.

I've hardly driven since I passed my test waaaay back in 1995 so it's going to be a bit of a rapid re-education.  I've driven a few times since then, mostly on holiday, but I'm going to have to get back up to speed pretty quickly.  Besides, it's about time I got driving because 15 years is a long old time between passing your test and getting your first car!

Ooooooh Just think of all those Bees away games I can go to ;)

He's Taken A Dive Ref!

Thursday morning started out like any normal working weekday.

Alarm went off, I got out of bed later than I should have, and I got my trusty bike out of the dimly lit, slightly damp and heavily cobwebbed old coal bunker where it lives.

I set off on my usual jaunt to work but before I knew it I was sprawled on the road outside Shepherd's Bush Market tube station!  Luckily I was in the bus lane and perhaps even luckier I wasn't being trailed by one of the big red beasts that roam London!!

Grazed Elbow
It's pretty amazing how quickly your natural instinct for survival kicks in because I was up off the tarmac in a flash collecting bike parts that had dotted themselves over Uxbridge Road.  A few people came to make sure I was all right but I was in a bit of a daze really so I can't really remember what they said to me.  I could see that I had a few cuts and scrapes but I was just intent on trying to work out why I had took a dive!

Road Rash
My initial thought was that my seatpost had snapped but it was still in one piece and securely attached to the frame.  It was sans saddle though so the blame had to lie somewhere pretty close.

So, I had the saddle, the brackets that secured it to the post and I also had short bolt that looked like it had sheared in two.  That's exactly what had happened because one of the securing brackets still had a the the other half of the bolt screwed into it!

I'm still not sure how a heavy duty bolt can just snap but I needed to get it fixed so headed across the green to the new-ish W12 branch of Cycle Surgery.

Having unsuccessfully tried to secure the saddle with a new bolt (to the surprise of the staff it turns out that there isn't a standard thread on saddle brackets or bolts!) I had to get a new seatpost.  More bike expense but it was up and running again and I was finally on my way to work.

Chain Ring Cuts
As you can see the cuts and scrapes aren't too bad and I always wear a helmet so that saved my head from any bumps.  A few bruises are still a bit sore but compared to what I could have ended up with, broken collarbone, broken wrist etc. I'm all OK.  The solid Malcolm frame did a good job :)

One thing coming off the bike has made me think about is how wise it is for the Boris Bike scheme to run without providing helmets.  I've not heard of any major incidents and the majority of hires seem to be for short hops in the rush-hour or at lunchtime so perhaps it's not worth adding another factor that will limit use of the scheme.

I had a little smile to myself on Friday morning as I rode past the spot of my downfall, hopefully I won't be re-acquainting myself with the tarmac any time soon!