DEN AND TRAVELLING VIETNAM - Vietnam is a stunningly beautiful country with friendly and welcoming people who are eager to please. I know this because I read it in a book. I had air tickets to go there but never made it. After a fabulous holiday in Australia visiting our son David in Sydney, also incorporating a cruise to New Zealand, we had booked to stop off in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Min City) for a few days to visit Irene’s brother currently living there. At the Qantas check-in desk at Sydney airport the airline clerk had a long look at my passport and announced that I did not have a clear six months left on the said document. ‘No problem’ I say who do I pay to sort it. ‘Yes problem’ she replies ‘You can’t fly’. After speaking to her supervisor who was much more helpful because he smiled as he said ‘You can’t fly’. I then resorted to the old Red Indian trick of crying and begging but to no avail. Finally we found someone with a solution. ‘We can cancel your ticket and get you a flight straight back to London for an extra 250 dollars each’ said the man. We took up this offer and arrived back in England six days early. Irene took it quite well I feel, she has written me a note stating that she will be speaking to me again in two years time, this, after the row that we had at the airport which was like World War Two but with more violence. Look out for my next article in the newsletter when I will be describing some other countries I’ve been banned from entering. Finally, please don’t tell anyone about this, I would not like anyone in the village to find out about my stupid mistake.

DEN AND CYCLING (Part One) - For several years now, Ken Hammond and Brian Wimsett  have been asking me to go cycling with them- I’ve never taken them up on it because they looked a bit too professional for my liking and I didn't want to embarrass myself. In a weak moment in late April this year however, I agreed. Irene was encouraging, stating that under no circumstances was I to wear lycra shorts until I had lost some weight. Ken and Brian donated helmet, shoes and gloves and I borrowed Brian's spare road bike. Ken showed me his bike workshop which is like an operating theatre but cleaner and more organized, explained the intricacies of Shimano gears, the Flightdeck computer, how not to brake when cornering etc. He proudly recounted the number of accidents he has had whilst riding and told me how to deal with car drivers ('Just head straight at them and they will get out of the way'). He asked if I wanted to use ordinary pedals or the cleats that clip your feet to the pedals. My decision to go with cleats would cause me much pain later. The first ride went well and within a few minutes I knew this was the life for me. We covered a total of thirteen miles and as we came back along the Alkham Valley I felt tired but exhilarated and only one part of me very sore. However the euphoria was the cause of me forgetting everything Ken had told me. As we turned into Slip Lane with only thirty yards to the end of the ride, Eric the postman was in deep conversation with Sue Lees with only a small gap between them and the post van. Brian went through the gap with no problem and so did Ken, and, forgetting that these guys have been cycling for hundreds of years, I thought that I could do the same. I slowed too much and, basically, fell on top of Sue Lees. I have to admit that in the ten years I have lived in the village, I have spent countless hours trying to think up an excuse for falling on Sue Lees, God smiled on me that day. Back on the bike I calmly finished the last few yards and forgot to unclip the foot cleats and promptly fell off. Brian and Ken immediately ran over to check the bike was OK whilst I lay grazed and bruised on Slip Lane. Over the next few weeks I gradually increased my distance and am now covering Ken and Brian's training routes with no problem, although I find that I start out with great enthusiasm and am flagging at the end, like... (Irene has edited out the last part of this sentence). I am still courteous to car and van drivers but Ken says that will change with more experience. My grateful thanks go to Brian and Ken for introducing me to this great sport and for their gifts of equipment and advice. If anyone would like to join us you will be very welcome. Sue Lees watch out. (Den Barnard)..... Den fell off his bike again when going through an enormous puddle (you could hear the splash half a mile away) at Chalksole much to the delight of his fellow cyclists one of whom was Mark Robson who has now joined us.

DEN AND CYCLING (Part Two) - You can easily tell a mature person because when they are confronted by a fool who says something stupid, they just smile wistfully and say nothing. After regularly cycling with Ken and Brian last summer I purchased my first road racer bike and, after a couple of weeks, announced to Ken that I had given it a thorough clean and it had only taken me fifteen minutes. Ken smiled wistfully and said nothing. After our next ride he asked me to bring the bike up to his shed. - here he dismantled every moving part then thoroughly washed, oiled, polished and buffed until it all looked like new. He then used a scanning electron microscope to see if any atoms of dust remained. 'That is a thorough clean' he explained and another part of my hiking education was complete. Mark Robson came out on the next ride and so this was my chance show off. As we passed through a large puddle at the top of Chalky Hill, I noticed that Brian, always the leader, had gone through the middle. With my superior intelligence, I moved to the edge of the puddle where, obviously, it would be much shallower. Brian of, course, knew there were potholes at the edges. Picture the final scene: front wheel stuck down a hole, me laying in six inches of smelly water, both feet still clipped to my pedals, Mark doing his best not to laugh, Ken and Brian checking if the bike was OK. I offered them bribes not to tell anyone but it was obviously not enough. After ten months of cycling experience I now understand the language, here are few things I have learnt. 'I'm out of shape' - translation: I've been doing a hundred miles a week and a hundred and fifty press-ups nightly since you were five years old and my body fat percentage is lower than your mortgage rate. 'It's not very hilly' - translation: this climb lasts an hour if you're lucky and whatever you do don't stop or you'll fall over backwards. 'You're doing very well' - translation: lay off the doughnuts fat boy we still have to wait for you to go up hills and we want to get home before midnight. 'It's not far' - translation: it is. As you can see I'm still enjoying it, feeling great and have lost a stone in weight. Last week I was admiring myself in the mirror and said to Irene 'I think this cycling is making me more attractive to women'. Irene smiled wistfully and said nothing.

DEN AND CYCLING (Part three) - Apart from an activity that involves beautiful women, or watching cricket, there is nothing better in this world than cycling through the Kent countryside in the summer, especially when you’ve got two cycling buddies like Ken Hammond and Brian Wimsett. My world record distance is now 100Km achieved with Ken and Brian in August and now they rarely have to wait for me at the top of hills. Ken still amazes me with his power and fitness and to watch him ride is like experiencing a graceful ballet dancer in full flow (he will love that comparison). Brian has unbelievable stamina and can keep a constant steady pace for hours and he is our leader, or as I like to call him, the one we can blame if anything goes wrong. Up until a few weeks ago Brian would never take part in the final sprint down the Alkham Valley, leaving me to fight it out with Ken who always knows exactly when to make the final move to the finishing line winning easily. Unfortunately we have persuaded Brian to have a go now and, with effortless grace always wins. This has not affected or annoyed me one little bit and I am not downhearted but, and please don’t pass this on, I’m sure he takes drugs. One of the unexpected attractions of cycling is the in-depth discussions and chit-chat that goes on during every ride. We tackle all sorts of subjects including: sport (unbelievably neither Ken nor Brian like cricket), sex, politics, sex, religion (we’ve concluded that God does exist by 2 votes to 1), and, particularly, village gossip and scandals. Sometimes discussions will continue into the next ride. A couple of weeks ago, after a particular set of interesting discussions, Brian said that having me along had changed him and Ken. I thought for a moment, and was slightly overcome with a warm feeling of pride. My erudite input to debate, my in-depth knowledge of a wide range of subjects, my experience of life in business, my cheeky slant on life had enhanced the lives of my two cycling mates. How wonderful. ‘Yes you’ve made quite a difference to us said Brian ‘we both swear a lot more now’.

DEN AND CYCLING (Part Four) - Nelson Mandela once said ‘After climbing a great hill one only finds that there are many more hills to climb’. He obviously used to go cycling with Ken and Brian. I believe now that I have seen all the big hills in Kent but still nothing compares with the mountain next to Etchinghill Golf Course which, I might add, Brian and Ken have no problem with. We have two new regulars in the club, Geoff Gaskill and Alan Latham, who both have very quickly reached cycling fitness and Geoff has stopped falling off. Sandy Tapsell and Linda Gaskill have also had their first ride with the team showing superb style and fitness and adding some glamour to the club. Ken and Brian have both bought new bikes and are putting pressure on me to do the same but I have resisted majestically so far. At two to three thousand pounds a time I think my resistance will remain pretty strong. I have noticed that car and lorry drivers seem to be more supportive of us cyclists recently. We have less rude gestures and angry swear words these days but there is always the odd one who believes we should not be on the road and you can spot them a mile off. As Mandela once said ‘If you don’t like the look of someone just punch them’ – I am, of course, referring to Ronnie Mandela, the kid who used to sit next to me at school. (Den Barnard)