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Carl Icahn photo

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Carl Icahn 2016

Carl Icahn was featured in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial (Monday, December 26th, 2016) after he was tapped to advise president-elect Donald Trump on regulatory reform. I suspect that anything he proposes will be directly for his own benefit. He stripped TWA (Trans World Airlines) of it’s most valuable assets for his personal gain and helped to drive it into the ground. The St. Louis Magazine recounted its demise in a July 28th, 2006, story by Elaine X. Grant, which includes the following observation:

“Ask any ex-staffer what went wrong with the airline, and you’ll get one answer: Carl Icahn, the corporate raider who took over TWA in 1985 and systematically stripped it of its assets.”

The story suggests it’s more complicated than that, and perhaps it is, but I believe Icahn played a major role in TWA’s eventual demise.

I could fly by TWA directly from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport to London’s Gatwick Airport to visit my late sister Lilian, who then lived about 25 miles south of the airport near the seaside town of Brighton, Sussex. My last flight to Gatwick Airport was in February 2002 at the start of a two week visit to family and friends, bicycling the six miles from my home to Lambert Airport to start my journey. (This followed TWA’s third and final bankruptcy and subsequent absorption by American Airlines.)

Today, there is no direct flight from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport to the London area. In fact, there’s no direct flight to anywhere in Europe from St. Louis anymore, to my knowledge.

Following is the account of my 2002 flight and approximately 30 mile bike ride from Gatwick Airport to my niece in Hextable, Kent, on the very first day of my two week trip, plus an update:

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Photo of official Ordinance Survey map of South East England with pushpins corresponding approximately to the photos below.

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Enlargement of above photo showing locations described in the following account.  The bottom left orange pin marks the start from Gatwick Airport, Sussex. The top right orange pin marks the destination in Hextable, Kent. Intermediate red pins relate to places noted in detail in the text: Horne, Blindley Heath, Oxted, Westerham, Pilgrim’s Way (above Brasted), and Swanley. Numbers 5a and 6a without pins are also referenced below.

Left St. Louis on Sunday, February 17, 2002 at 7:20 pm as scheduled. The female captain of the plane we flew on gave the following somewhat jocular commentary shortly before take-off:

“We’re flying on a Boeing 767-300. Folks, tonight we’re going to depart runway 12-left here in St. Louis. We’re going to be taking off at a takeoff weight of 326,000 lbs. Folks, when we leave the concrete we’re going to be doing 175 mph. Once we get the gear and flaps up we’ll pick the speed up to 280 mph and at 10,000 feet the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) says I can go as fast as we want. We’re going to put the pedal to the metal; cruise on over to London doing approximately 500 mph. I’d like to thank you for flying with us this evening. We certainly appreciate your business here at American. Welcome aboard!”

London-Gatwick Airport, England

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Seven hours and 43 minutes was the estimated time to get to London and we arrived almost precisely on time.

Arrival at London-Gatwick Airport at 9:40 am on Monday, February 18, 2002. Bike unpacked after retrieval from carousel.
(To make the bike as flat as possible the handlebars had to be turned 90 degrees to the frame. The front wheel was also removed and placed alongside before being packed into a heavy-duty oversize plastic bag purchased from American Airlines before the day of the flight.)

I set off at around 10:30 am with some trepidation as regards the roundabouts in the vicinity of the airport, but they turned out to be relatively easy to negotiate with little traffic on them at that time of day. My first stop was Blindley Heath, Surrey, roughly 12 miles from the airport, but I wasn’t able to keep track of the distance because my odometer wasn’t working!

My only real problem was due to following a sign for Blindley Heath at a Y-junction which actually took me through Horne (#1), so that I ended up north of my intended destination instead of south of it, adding maybe a mile to the journey.

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Len/Banisters Bakery 101-015

Banister’s Bakery in Blindley Heath (#2)

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I arrived at about 11:45 am at Banister’s Bakery, Blindley Heath, where I was due to meet Len Smith. I was delighted to find Len waiting for me there with his Hetchin bicycle. Unfortunately, I’d kept him waiting for some time, since he’d set off at about 8:15 am and arrived well before me.

Len was nice enough to pose while I took his photo with his bike alongside Banister’s Bakery. Len returned the favor by taking a photo of me. It was sunny with a slight southerly wind and about 50F, according to the thermometer attached to my rear pannier rack. It was warm enough not to need my hood up.

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Lost battery stop in Oxted (#3)

Len heard something fall from his bike bag and we stopped for him to check, which was an opportunity for me to take a bite of an energy bar and drink of water. Len found that his bag had an open pocket and evidently a couple of batteries had fallen out going over a bump. Len walked back up the road but never found them. When asked, Len identified the place as probably Oxted, which was on the way to Westerham.

Tudor Rose cafe, Westerham (#4)

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Tudor Rose cafe 101-157.jpg

A stop for tea and marmalade on toast in Westerham. Warm enough to dine outdoors. Gentleman stops to inquire about Len’s bike, and admire it as a quality vintage Hetchin bicycle. Len told me that this was a popular place for cyclists to stop.

Tudor Rose café/MP 101-157.jpg Westerham

Tudor Rose café/MP 101-157.jpg Westerham

Enjoying the sun and tea outside the Tudor Rose café, with Len taking this picture of me below with my camera.

I didn’t realize it until Len pointed it out but on the green in front of us was a bronze statue of Sir Winston Churchill, which we went over to view.

Winston Churchill’s statue on the green with the Tudor Rose Café in the background. Churchill had lived near here at Chartwell, his country home, now owned by the National Trust and open to the public. The inscription reads “CHURCHILL  1874-1965.” (I found interesting YouTube videos featuring Chartwell after posting this blog.)

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Westerham High St near the Tudor Rose café

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Withington High St 101-0161.jpg with Len posing with bikes

I asked Len to pose with some of the old buildings on the high street as a backdrop before we set off to the right on the road out of town just in front of this nice pedestrian area.

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farm lane101-0163.jpg

Part of our journey was along this farm lane, which was fine until we met a tractor coming the other way. The farmer never slowed as we scrambled to flatten ourselves along the wall to get out of his way!

Pilgrim’s Way (#5), which runs along the South Downs above Brasted.

Pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (which I had to study for my high school General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level exams in England in 1952) would take this road to Canterbury from London. We saw little motor traffic since this road is now parallel to the M25 motorway (equivalent to a U.S. interstate), which can sometimes be seen in the distance. Len said this road is popular with cyclists, and we did see a few during the ride. In fact, one cyclist passed us going so fast I felt like we were almost standing still.

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LullingstoneSilkFarm 101-0164.jpg

Lullingstone Castle silk farm (#5a)

This was supposed to be a view of Lullingstone Castle silk farm in the distance, with Len kindly posing in the foreground. Unfortunately, although I could see the turreted castle-like house in the distance, in the photo it’s obscured by the hedge! (Lullinsgtone Castle (#5a) appears on the map above, a little below Swanley (#6) and just below the words ROMAN VILLA, but isn’t marked with a pin. The silk farm reportedly closed in 2011.)

At this point we are not too far from Swanley, which is the largest town on our route before our destination in Hextable.

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Sutton at Hone (#6a)

We’re close to our destination in Hextable when we stop here. St. John the Baptist Church of England in Sutton at Hone is visible in the distance, where Len told me later that his son got married. (Sutton at Hone can be seen on the above map just a little east of Hextable, immediately below Hawley.)

The lane on which I’m standing was sealed off following construction of the M25 about 15 years ago. Before he retired, Len mentioned that he and others were allowed to participate in time trial races on the M25 before it was opened to traffic.

101-0169 Family photo

101-0169 Family photo, February 2002
Nicola, James, Kim with Andrew

Arrival at Nicola and Kim’s house: 101-0169

Greeting party in Hextable! Nicola, James, with Andrew on Kim’s shoulders, with my bike just showing behind. In the two previous family photos I took Andrew had been too shy to look at the camera and all I got was the top of his head.

I finally had to pretend I’d finished taking photos to get him to look up! James is approaching his 7th birthday while Andrew had turned 4 years old in November.

Len lives just two doors up the road on the right.”

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Christmas Day 2016 
Andrew, 19 & James, 21

The two young boys are now young men, as shown in this 2016 Christmas Day photo from my Nicola.

A Sad Postscript: 

I learned earlier this year from Nicola that Len Smith had passed away in July, 2016, on his 85th birthday following a short illness. He was buried at St Paul’s Church, Swanley Village.

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Len Smith in February 2002, aged 70

Nicola wrote in part:

“I have some sad news for you about Len. He passed away last Thursday in a hospice. It’s a shock.

He didn’t suffer for long and was riding his bike still until recently. I believe it was stomach cancer.

Anyway, he was kind to our family and a great neighbour. He leaves his wife Betty who will have difficulty managing on her own at home now so not sure what will happen.”

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