In praise of Thule’s amazing customer service

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The repaired carrier in action – thanks to Thule

I’ve always loved Thule’s clever bike carriers. They’re well designed and robust. Our latest Thule carrier is the EuroClassic G6 LED 929 tow bar carrier. It’s brilliant as you can swing the bikes clear of the hatchback door to gain access to the boot.

Unfortunately, I damaged it during a motorway service station stop during an interminable drive back from our Cornwall holiday last year. (I reversed it into a grass verge that was higher than I realised.) As a result, the swing mechanism wouldn’t swing.

I eventually contacted Thule asking how I could get it repaired. I was dreading the cost of having to return it, but to my amazement Thule arranged to collect, repair and return it to me – for free. Outstanding service, especially as I was to blame for the damage.

A very big and heartfelt thank you to Ann and the team at Thule Technical Services team at Haverhill in Suffolk. You’ve made possible many more happy family bike rides such as today’s along the Phoenix Trail in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. (The photo above shows the bikes on the carrier at Towersey at the start of the ride.) We even saw a steam train on the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway – below.

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In praise of LNER Flying Scotsman

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Flying Scotsman: on the footplate of 93 year old legend

Owen and I today had a priceless experience – stepping onto the footplate of the world’s most famous railway engine, Flying Scotsman, at York’s magnificent National Railway Museum.  The 93 year old engine has just been restored to mainline working after a multi-million pound overhaul.

We have got accustomed to footplate visits to famous LNER engines – we visited all six surviving A4 pacifics during NRM’s unforgettable Great Gathering reunion in 2013. And I confess that Flying Scotsman has never inspired me in the same way as Mallard and her sister A4s. But I didn’t think it was right to spend time at the museum this weekend without queueing to stand on the Scotsman’s footplate. I’m so glad we did.

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Scotsman, BR-vintage

This, as NRM’s marvellous Return of the Scotsman exhibition explains, was the world’s first superstar locomotive. It was a film star from its earliest days. It was the first engine to exceed 100 miles an hour officially. It began the non-stop London to Edinburgh Flying Scostman service in 1928, beating its own 392 mile achievement by recording the world’s longest non-stop steam run – 429 miles – in Australia in 1989.

I think the engine looks wonderful in its British Railways livery, with smoke defectors. I may be biased – this was how it looked the year I was born, when it was withdrawn from everyday service.

The National Railway Museum is a wonderful place to visit – and it’s free to enter. I first visited in 1979, and now love taking Owen whenever we visit York, one of our favourite cities.

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Posing with an icon

It’s amazing to think that when we first took Owen to the NRM in September 2009, aged one, the Scotsman was in pieces at an early stage of the overhaul. Here are a few photos I took on that visit.

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Ireland marks the Easter rising centenary

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The 1916 rebellion that led to the end of British rule in the 26 counties

Easter has long been hugely significant in Ireland, and not just for religious reasons. The Good Friday agreement of 1998 marked the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, despite later tragedies such as Omagh. But the really significant event was the Easter rising of 1916, which Ireland marked today on a grand scale.

I blogged a decade ago that 2006 was the first time Dublin had staged a public parade to mark the Easter rising since the start of the  Northern Ireland Troubles in 1969. That murderous conflict complicated Ireland’s relationship with 1916. Ireland and Britain have an even stronger relationship now than in 2006, as the Queen’s visit to Ireland in 2011 and Irish president Michael D Higgins’ state visit to Britain three years later showed.  Continue reading

The shadow of Profumo: visiting Cliveden

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Cliveden in the spring sunshine

Cliveden will forever be associated with the Profumo affair of the early 1960s. Secretary of State for War John Profumo was forced to resign after lying about his brief affair with Christine Keeler, which began one summer weekend at Cliveden, the then home of the Astor family.

Cliveden today is a luxury hotel, with the lovely National Trust grounds open to the public. Owen and I cycled here on Sunday on our tandem, making the most of a glorious early spring day. As we arrived by bike, we were both given a £1 voucher to use in the excellent cafe.

I doubt that Profumo or Keeler arrived by bike, but Cliveden does make an excellent destination for a cycle ride.

PS: Profumo died 10 years ago this month. He remains the role model for how public figures should behave after a scandal, as I blogged a decade ago.

Am I English or Welsh? A seven year old’s dilemma

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The Welsh boys!

My wife asked our seven year old son Owen today if he’d like to take part in the Beaver Scouts’ St George’s Day parade. His answer taught me a lot about how young children take identity seriously.

He gave a puzzled look, and declared that he didn’t know if he was English or Welsh. So should he take part in a parade on England’s little-observed national day?

I cherish the fact that my thoughtful seven year old is pondering questions of identity.  But I’m pleased that he decided that he would take part. We live in England, and it’s right that he should join his friends in this special event. I have deliberately tried not to influence him about which country he supports in rugby or soccer. (Though I was quietly pleased when he proclaimed, “This is fun!” when England lost 4-1 to Germany in the world cup in 2010!) He seems to be following his elder cousin Siân’s support for Wales. It’s entirely his decision!

Ride It! My debut in Evans Cycles’ sportive series

IMG_2977I cycled my first sportive last Sunday. I took part in Evans Cycles‘ excellent Ride It London from the National Trust‘s lovely Osterley Park and House near Brentford.

The ride was due to take place in January, but was postponed because of overnight snow.

Sunday dawned sunny and cold – without any snow. The ride was billed ‘Escape the city’: ironically I had to drive to London to escape it! I was soon cycling over the M4 on my way our of the city, although it was a bit of a trek through Southall and Drayton before we got to countryside. The route also went through Sipson, the village that will be destroyed if Heathrow gets its third runway. More positively, we cycled past my son’s birthplace, Wexham Park Hospital.

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The Independent: goodbye to print

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The Independent’s first edition, 1986

The death of the printed newspaper came a step closer today with the news that The Independent and Independent on Sunday’s print editions are to close next month.

The Independent was Britain’s first new broadsheet paper for a generation in 1986. But it has been struggling for years. Its early success was torpedoed by a hubristic decision to launch a Sunday edition to compete with the highly regarded, but short-lived, Sunday Correspondent. Later, Rupert Murdoch’s price war cut even deeper.

I found the daily paper rather dull, but loved the Saturday edition in the late 1980s. (The Independent was one of the first to recognise that Saturday would become a day for leisurely reading of a multi-section paper, as Sunday had been for years.) An excellent magazine helped. In time, The Guardian, its closest rival, took the hint and created a worthy Saturday rival.

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Bravo, Evans Cycles!

A big bike ride in January might strike some as crazy. They’d rather keep warm and dry indoors. But back in October I booked to take part in Evans Cycles West London Ride It sportive event today. It seemed like a good idea after a few beers.

I set the alarm earlier than normal for a Sunday this morning to get to Osterley in time. As I crawled down to make a mug of tea, I saw that it had snowed. I reached for the iPad to see if there was an update on the event. Sure enough: an email from Evans Cycles’ event manager Mark Gregory at 6.37am saying that they were cancelling because of the weather and road conditions. There were also photos on the Evans Cycles Facebook page.

I was disappointed, but impressed by Evans Cycles’ quick communication. I went for a short ride on my mountain bike later in the morning and have to say conditions were horrible: slush everywhere. I was soaked within a mile. So that early morning decision was spot on. Most of the comments on the Facebook page agreed.

Better luck next time!

Below: soaking but glad to get some miles in..

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Back from a slushy ride..

The weekend I became a foul weather cyclist

When friends say ‘You’re a keen cyclist!’, I always reply that I’m actually a fair weather cyclist. Until this weekend.

I’ve cycled 28 miles in the most atrocious conditions over the past two days. I have been soaked to the skin. I have been drenched by drivers as they displaced flood water over me and my bike. The biggest surprise? I loved it.

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Ertblog: 10 years a blogger

TypePad 2005

Ten years ago tonight, I became a blogger. I’ve always loved writing, and on New Year’s Eve 2005 took the plunge with TypePad. Within minutes, I had a blog, which I called Ertblog, and as Big Ben sounded the start of 2006 I published my first post, Welcome to 2006.

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