Sunday, 29 November 2015

Children's birthday cards

We're not very good with birthdays or with cards. Here's Daniel's 18th, and Miranda's 14th.


Guess which is which?


Miranda's from Weina was cute:



Sunday, 15 November 2015

The leaves of Chatsworth lie thick on the ground

Howard mailed. Would I like to go climbing on the 15th of November? Yes, I would. So, only slightly delayed by a fallen tree at Madingley, he and Louise turned up at 7:30 on the Sunday after the Tabs Winter Head. Daniel was off with Rovers. It had been a Dark and Stormy night; Stanage was out, but Chatworth made sense, like last time. It was calm, it was peaceful, it was greasy. We picked up Chris along the way and Karl (not Carl) at the Robin Hood Inn, used my National Trust card for the car park, and walked the few minutes down to the crag. A little muddy underfoot in places, but the path along is fine.

Of the climbing: much the same as last time, so I won't re-describe it. I didn't lead anything today: not quite in the mood, Howard, Chris and Karl quite happy to; and my L shoulder is a little unhappy.

Of the rock: mostly overcast day after rain; the rock is moderately lichenous and so holds the wet, so was quite greasy and not confidence inspiring.

Of the day: lovely. Chatsworth was beautiful, in a deep-leaves-turning-to-mush-in-late-Autumn-wetness kind of way. Perhaps the picture helps explain.


Below left: Karl grins from above at Chris on Emperor Flake Climb because Chris hasn't stepped out for the airy move on the arete and has instead compressed himself into a bizarre and untenable position which is far more awkward than at first appears. Or watch Howard enjoying the step out, and a tight rope. Right: Karl and Chris having topped out of Cave Climb; apologies for the poor-quality pic, the light was low.


Left: Louise wondering if she must follow Howard into the depths of the cave. Right: me relaxing just above the crux on the S 4b layback-y thing and chalking up. Again.

Lastly, no report of climbing with Howard would be complete without the man himself and his performing kneepads; he has a fresh pair for every occasion, these ones are a fetching pink:


However, I should not snark: the state of my tracksters clearly demonstrate use of my knees to a regrettable degree.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Paris in October

We spent Thursday to Sunday in Paris, at Miriam's instigation. It worked, with M and I both enjoying it, D tolerating it, and E loving it and keen to go back.


We Taxi'd to the station, walked the few minutes from Kings Cross to St Pancras, and Eurostar'd to Paris. ES, as it did the last time I went that way, ponces around pretending to be an airline' oh how I wish they wouldn't. On the way back they took the pretence far enough to have stupid long queues, which were as annoying s they were pointless. Within Paris we used the RER and Metro; perhaps we should have researched slightly more carefully where to get on and off, but really it worked; M4 to Cite is better than RER to Chatellet les Halles. If you're going to Ile de la Cite.


We stayed at the "Hotel de Lutece" on the Ile St Lous; the nearby Hotel de deux Iles would be similar, I think. It is three-start not four, but very convenient; just a few minutes walk to the cafes and brasseries and ice creameries at this end of the bridge connecting the two islands; quiet; and decent. And only five minutes walk from Notre Dame. We were in a room somewhat jammed into the attic; E had a better room on the first floor with a nice window overlooking the street; D had a curious but suits-you-sir room on the fourth floor which was actually in the building next door, but to make the architecture fit he had an anteroom or internal balcony which was very fine.

What made it three stars not more? I am no expert but: the breakfast room was quite small with no view, which may have been why they were happy to take breakfast up to your room; our room wasn't large enough to merit an extra star, though D and E's were; we could only see the very tops of Notre Dame.

Eating out

We ate at a variety of unpretentious places; this isn't the corner of town for pretence, I think, though there was at least one posh restaurant on the street. First night Lebanese (Rue le Regrattier) which we rather liked; second night St Regis, and third the Brasserie de L'Ile St-Louis, those last two are quite traditional, and siturated just before the Pont Saint-Louis; Berthillon ice-cream is nearby and excellent.

Notre Dame

During our time we saw some stuff. I'll describe that, rather than diarise, which I think you'd find dull.

I'd booked the hotel so we could stroll round to ND early in the morning before the crowds arrived, and we did. It is great but, to be honest wiv yer guv, I found it a touch disappointing somehow. I think I needed to approach it more quietly and more slowly; the best bits were just sitting down in the space and letting it soak in; I should have found time to do the same with the outside. Perhaps its the lack of anything stunningly interesting inside. The choir was closed for services when we were there, so I excuse myself if that's the best bit.


We didn't try the climb up to the tower; there was always a queue for that.


The Lourve is enormous, and in a few hours we had space to see only a tiny bit; I walked around with Miranda, M went off to see the Nederlandish stuff, and D, though led to water, could not be made to drink. Whichever bit I show you, you'll go "meh, that's not a patch on..." so you get this bit, from the Babylonian section, just next to the winged bulls. You can see stuff like this in the British Museum, too. Far better than all those over rated paintings and things.


The Louvre, too, was walking distance from our Hotel. Top tip: the guys in the ticket queue selling water at one euro a bottle are offering a good deal: its three inside.

Eiffel tower

Well, it is there, so of course we must see it. I last saw it when interrailing with (not the same, obvs) D and M in 1986, I think. Its still there, and still big, and still impressive and worth seeing. Were I on my own I think I would be tempted to just take the stairs up, and maybe even just to the first floor, now. But with the infants in tow the top was essential. Ticketing is a bit weird; we couldn't buy tickets online except with several days lead time; do that if you can and spare yourself half an hour in the queue. Some legs have stairs, some only lifts.


It looks massive, as it should. All the steelwork is splendid, especially against a clear blue Autumnal sky as we had; and on a still day, as we had, you can see the Paris smog below you extending to the horizon in a layer.

Many of the bridges of Paris have many padlocks as tokens of eternal bonding. We even saw padlock vendors. The Eiffel tower isn't terribly keen on the idea of things being thrown off it - we had a game at the top, of inventing interesting games that could be played; my favourite was the idea of people standing below with helmets on, while people at the top threw tomatoes down at them -  and so bans packlockery.

Saint Chapelle

Who am I to tell you what to see? But that won't stop me. Saint Chapelle, today, is somewhat oddly swallowed up in the Conciergerie, which is to say, nowadays, the Police. It opens later than Notre Dame; 9:30 for us, but was free (on a Sunday?). You go into the under-chapel, which is somewhat low and to my eyes rather vulgar, which shows you what my eyes are worth; then a tiny unobvious stairway in a corner leads you up into the glorious upper chapel. The tall slender windows are marvellous; but you'll need binoculars and a good guide to decode them.



Any number of pictures of the glorious stained glass exist; by contrast, few will draw your attention to the interesting floor tiles as I have. This will tell you more.


I went for a total of four runs, totalling 42 km, purely by chance. the obvious thing to do is to run along the river, and this I did. First West, as far as and under the Eiffel tower and back; then East; then a half-marathon West again; and lastly a little 3 km early Sunday to make up the total.

West was most interesting, and I mostly chose the South bank as I think that was more possible to run along the river bank rather than alongside roads. Most is good surface, some is cobbled. Past about 8 km from Ile de la Cite it gets industrial - quais with cement lorries parked in massed ranks, and so on. Possibly I'd just got out of that district when I turned back - I'd just got to the tip of the Ile St Germain. Its similar to a route that Strava recommend, but they include a loop on the island.

What to do differently / next time

Have more time to spend sitting around. Especially in the autumn on a fine warm weekend with the trees golden, just sitting there is lovely.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

The Boston Rowing Marathon: wise advice

This was going to be an email to the 2015 crew, but I realised I had lots of things to say, so I've put it here. And who knows, it may help someone else. Having poked around the wub, I don't find any other "general guides to Boston" about. This is written from a Cambridge perspective, and from the viewpoint of a crew mostly racing the course without being fanatical, rather than just trying to finish.


Its an odd thing, but most even moderately fit people are able to finish Boston, including large numbers of people who would have no hope of finishing a running marathon (only 42 km) in a comparable time. To be able to focus on your actual rowing, and indeed enjoying it, pay attention to your hands and your arse - see sections below.

One general piece of advice: there is little spare time, especially if you're racing the course. Its easy to think that you'll have time to re-arrange your kit, or your plasters, or whatnot at Bardsey lock, but its not true. If there's no queue then you're onto the pontoon, hurried off it, hurried across, and hurried back onto the water as fast as possible.

The course

The course is 49 km (not 50. People get confused because the finish is at 50 km; but the start is at 1 km. Think about it). After 12.5 km there is Bardsey lock where you get out and hump the boat across; then there's another 36.5 km to go. There are a variety of bends along the way but basically that's it. The river is initially quite narrow - too narrow to overtake - but by the time you get anywhere near overtaking anyone, it widens out. It can be quite weedy; consider taking a "weed hook" to clear your fin.

12049196_10153303241199495_4177093507814851806_n The "official" estimate of the time taken to get over Bardsey lock - for those interested in racing the course and trying to work out their needed splits - is 5 minutes. You'll be lucky to hit that. In 2013, when we thought we'd done it well, we took 6:30. Its generally considered best to leave your blades in, rather than taking them out: just push them diagonally across the saxboards, and "handbag" the boat. This also has the advantage that you don't need to take your kit out. There are people on hand to help.

As I said the start is quite narrow. Boats go off at minute intervals, and there's space for a bit more than one VIII's worth on the start stages (pic of the start). So if you're a scull you'll be hurried on and off, but you can sit in the river for a minute or so sorting yourself out. If you're an VIII there's no such space, and you may be obliged to actually start before you're really ready, and expected to sort yourself out while rowing in sixes after the start. This depends a bit on how busy the year is; 2015 seemed quite relaxed.

If you want a decent (i.e., not too early) start time, then consider carefully what category you're entering. Have a look at this year's draw for example. Remember, anyone allowed to enter novice is also allowed to enter IM3.


Hands fall apart

For me, this is the biggest problem, as it is for many people. Solutions:

1. tape / plaster up your hands. My pic shows an example. Often, a layer of padding with electrical tape on top to keep it in place works well.
2. Wear gloves. I've come to believe in this. Ignore the naysayers who'll tell you its not Manly. Gloves can usefully be combined with taping, and can help it not rub off.
3. New idea: tape up your blade handle. One of our ladies tried this and it seemed to work; we think she may have used "equestrian tape".
4. Endure the pain. Not my favourite option.


Arse on fire

Another excellent way to really not enjoy your row is to discover 20 km in that the seat isn't very comfortable and you've run out of ways to wriggle it better. Hopefully, you're rowing on a seat you know and love; but even so a seat pad is an excellent idea. Either a "real" one such as people sell, or a seat-shaped portion cut out of a carry may will do just as well. Opinions vary as to whether its best to pad from the start, or give yourself a treat half way in.

AOF is not obligatory. If your bum fits the seat (mine fits the J8 very well) you won't need one.

Food and drink

You want some. Opinions differ on exactly how much. I find a litre of water is enough; others want two. You're likely to end up stopping every 10 km, or somesuch, for water and a snack. If you're shaving every second, energy gels are faster than real food. Otherwise, the obvious: bananas, chocolate bars. Be aware that food that seems scrummy when you're relaxed can be hard to force down your throat in a hurry. It may be a good idea to plan the first snack at or around Bardsey: that way, if you have to wait for the pontoon, you can use the time usefully. If I was running, I'd take a gel every 5 km after the first 10 km; when sculling Boston, that's what I've done.


You wouldn't believe what a pain transport can be. The central problem is that your cars and trailers go to Lincoln, but you end up at Boston, 49 km away. The easiest solution is to get someone to drive your trailer for you. Do this if you possibly can. However, contrary to what I said in 2009, I think (indeed I found by experience) that sculling and driving your own car back is fine.

If you're an VIII, you have the option of pre-positioning some cars at the finish, at the cost of some to-and-fro-ing. Getting a lift back from the finish to the start with someone else can work; a shared taxi back is about £50, reasonable if shared with a few other people. My pet peeve is that the organisers could surely do more to help ease this process, but don't.

Getting to the start: pay close attention to the final stages. If you've from the South and following the "obvious" route you get diverted into the one-way system and if you're anything like me, you get lost. If you ask google maps carefully it will show you a different route round the north.

Du cote de chez Swann

I've done Boston more than once. If you want to read about it, try:

Monday, 31 August 2015

Book review:Utopia by Thomas More

Available from Gutenberg and discussed on wiki. Most interesting is the question of interpretation, which as wiki says is somewhat problematic:
One of the most troublesome questions about Utopia is Thomas More's reason for writing it. Most scholars see it as some kind of comment or criticism of contemporary European society, for the evils of More's day are laid out in Book I and in many ways apparently solved in Book II. Indeed, Utopia has many of the characteristics of satire, and there are many jokes and satirical asides such as how honest people are in Europe, but these are usually contrasted with the simple, uncomplicated society of the Utopians. Yet, the puzzle is that some of the practices and institutions of the Utopians, such as the ease of divorce, euthanasia and both married priests and female priests, seem to be polar opposites of More's beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church of which he was a devout member. Another often cited apparent contradiction is that of the religious toleration of Utopia contrasted with his persecution of Protestants as Lord Chancellor. Similarly, the criticism of lawyers comes from a writer who, as Lord Chancellor, was arguably the most influential lawyer in England.
Some elements do fit with More's known inclinations, and so are presumably what he would like to see: plain clothes, seriousness, principal hobby reading, and so on. His condemnation of lawyers sits oddly with a lawyer; though his main solution is to have less law, and for plain interpretation, an idea that many have shared. Utopia tolerates all religions - but not aetheists, obviously, they are scum; perhaps More secretly wanted toleration, but his faith and his King prevented it.

Utopia is strongly patriarchal - wives obey husbands, of course. There's a brief hint of better: "military exercises and the discipline of war, in which not only their men, but their women likewise, are trained up" but that is quickly thrown away with "that, in cases of necessity, they may not be quite useless". It is also slave owning but - and here we come to the core of the problem with the envisaged society - its a nice slave owning society. Similarly, it has few laws because people are good. It is a society designed to work well when people are good; but as Popper pointed out that doesn't work; you need a society and a political system designed to work well when people aren't good.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Stubai 2015

A diary of a week in the Stubai in late August 2015 with Daniel and Jamie. See-also: 2014. Day-links are to the GPS tracks.

Friday 21st: Having packed, caught the train to Gatwick, the plane to Innsbruck, the bus in to the Hauptbahnhof and the bus up to Neustift we called a taxi to get us up to Oberissalm, the road head for the Franz Senn hut. Thank's to D's steaming pace we're up in one hour (book time 1.5) in time for dinner. They're crowded (we're in the FS because the Sulzenau was full) but we get served promptly. We're n box 10 in the loft; pack our sacks for the morning, set the alarm for 6:20, DJ to bed and I sit up over Anthem with a red wine.

Saturday 22nd (Lisenser Ferner Kogel): An implausible amount of early getting-ready noises woke me earlier, but I slept well. Alarm 6:20, we three up and down to breakfast; I indulge DJ (and hence myself) in the buffer. Wx: sunny, near cloudless. Good for the climb, bad for hut fullness, its already bursting. Set off 7:25 for the Lisenser Ferner Kogel (see post from 2012, unfinished) with several groups ahead, who we overtake, though one gets us back when we rest at the bench. 2h to the Rinnenneider col. From there a surprise, the whole glacier is "dry" - snowless. Down to the glacier edge - further than usual due to lack of snow - and DJ put on crampons (I'd bought a second pair in Keswick but not a third, arguing that anything D or J could do with crampons I could do without, which wasn't quite true but worked out well enough, despite a small amount of blood on the ice). There's a group ahead of us, which is unusual - the twice I've been here before I've been completely alone in the whole basin - but as we cross and then trend up to the Plattigewand it becomes clear they're off to the Lisenser Spitze instead. The Wand is snowless so de-crampon, and so is the top, so there's a slowish rocky section, followed by the glacier to the col and finally snow. Thence scramble up the last 100 m of rocks to the summit. We carried the rope, just in case, but DJ are clearly happy without it. Back to the col, they rest, I zoom up the Rotgratspitze for old time's sake, but its not at all as I remember. Back at the hut by 5 (DJ ten minutes ahead of me) 9:45 total. Sit outside and persuade them to get me a Radler and something for themselves. Tonight's beds end happily: they're still full, so we're in the skiraum, but that's fine. DJ play "slam", D going 5 apricots down to J; I read. They're out of Apfelstrudel so Kaiserschmarren.

Sunday 23rd (Ruderhofspitze): Skiraum was fine, in some ways its more convenient since we're just next to the boot room. About 12 people in there in all. B'fast buffet against, whilst outside a glorious sunrise. Set off at 7:20, 5 mins improvement on yesterday, except I forget my phone so actually just the same as yesterday. Summary: 5h to the peak; 6h back at the col; me back at the hut in 9:30, DJ 20 mins less. Compare 2014, when there was more snow so the glacier was easier. Easily and pleasantly up the valley, then we get to the old / new path choice. Pick the new, since I'm not totally sure the old moraine path can still be used, especially to get onto the glacier; must try it some day. Up by the really very large and impressive waterfall - like so many other things here, it would be the wonder of England were it in England, but here's its just "oh, another massive waterfall" - and we're on the silt plain in front of the very dry glacier; there's no path up onto it despite my feeling there really ought to be one; or perhaps we're supposed to go on the rocks? But never mind, we can force a way. The snout is heavily ablated, caved in, and rock / stone / gravel covered; its a bit tricky sans crampons but I cope. Before the steepening  - which is bare ice - we duck off right onto to the rocks, which is again trackless and much slower than a snowy glacier would have been. One little climb is perhaps slightly more exciting than desired - you don't really want to do Diff in these circumstances - but its brief; and after more circumlocutions and ancillary glaciers we're above the steepening and set off again, and fairly soon the snow starts. Wx is holding - a few clouds - and I'm in the lead initially as I abandoned DJ to put their crampons on. See a party of three descending, but they swing wide to avoid the crevasse zone from the Westliche Seespitze which I realise I was supposed to do, when I look at the map back in the hut; but I'm enjoying my "I know where I am" thing so I'm not looking at it now. The zone is safe, though I need to zig-zag a little; later, we pick up their track. DJ explore a crevasse, then we're at the col. This time there are glorious views across to the Dresdener and down a wilderness of rock and scree to the D-NR path. Embark up the ridge, which as last year looks enormous from here; views this time to my fail of last year, or where it would have come out, I think. DJ cope perfectly well and soon we're at the top: Berg Heil! Stop at the top for 20 mins to take pics, sign the book, and fall asleep; then head down. Rest at the col and finish off lunch (breakfast buffet allows you to make sandwiches for lunch!). Down, letting DJ leap ahead. Above the steepening take a bit more care exactly where we're going on the rock and do it better. Back on the ice for the descent to the snout via views of various increasingly large sinkholes; we're all cramponless now. Back to the silt plain, en up leaping some of the streams, and thence to the hut. They're resting outside when I turn up, and D buys me a Grosses Radler again. A second long day. To bed early, before 9; in the dorms again, since the hut is not full on Sunday evening.

Update: I realise, when writing this up, that I missed a trick: its possible to descend from the Ruderhofspitze to the Neuregensburger. Either by tracing the ascent route I failed on last year (somewhat dodgy, as I've never done it) or by crossing the Hochmoosscharte between the R and the Westlicheseespitze. Which I haven't done either. So, even if I'd thought of that, we probably wouldn't have (we'd have had to carry all our kit, too). But it would have been worth a think. And would be cool to do!

Monday 24th: We want to get to the Sulzenauhutte. As it much later transpires, the best thing to do would have been to cross to the Neuregensburger, then go into the valley and out again to the S, taking two days; those would have been out mid-trip rest. However, that would have taken up our last spare day so instead we're going back to the Oberissalm, taxi to Neustuft, bus upvalley, and walk up to S. Or so I'd planned. Wake 6:20 for the practice, preceeded by comedy of the Russian guy who couldn't turn his clock-radio off; have kleines fruhstuck because we can eat lunch in the valley; D repairs his heel which had rubbed somewhat yesterday, possibly because it had got wet in the stream under the crevasse, and off. Wx is grey, but the peaks are clear, so that'll do; tomorrows forecast is rain. We get down quite quickly, DJ leading. I call a taxi but he can't make it for half an hour... or an hour... or maybe two. I say I'll call back and we go to the Alm cafe. DJ realise that they've both left their towels, and J has left a base layer, so D is despatched back to get them(after first being allowed a drink), and given about an hour and a half; this seems to fit, I'll call the taxi when he's back. D does come back in time, J and I sit in the sunshine in the cafe in the interim, its a hard life. We miss the "real taxi" which had brought someone up; but the "Alm taxi" is there so take that. Half way down the driver casually asks if I'd rather go straight to the S start; and without thinking much I say yes; we'll miss lunch in town but meh. It turns out moderately expensive - E85 - but never mind. Its now sunny so up we head, DJ in the lead, and I'll stop saying that because they always were. We meet up at the half way Alm and have bier and Fanta, and I re-admire the old carvings. After a nice rest on to the top in less than an hour, with views back through rainbow as there is a fine rain. The rebuilding is done (entranceway reshaped and the common room gains an extra room), but the inside is not yet quite back the the "gemütlich" it once was. Lunch: Tiroler Grostl for DJ, wurst-n-brot for me. Shower, E2, via token; the shower room is rebuilt and much better. Afternoon: rad, cards, stare at weather which is clear and windy but clouds at 2800 m. Dinner: two knudeln for me again, but the Sulzenau style is different. Pudding: GermKnudlen, which we find a challenge. Talk: Ladakh, the not-summit day, and should they have tried anyway? But the risk of avalanches. And discuss the rapid evacuation when people got sick. Knock-out whist from 17: D wins.


Book review: Anthem by Ayn Rand

Anthem is more of a short story or fable than a book; think of it as a very condensed Atlas Shrugged if you like. Read about it at wiki or read it at Gutenberg. It is a paean to the virtues of individualism and a polemic against the evils of collectivism.

Summary: our hero lives in a society where the word "I" is unknown, as are individual names; he grows up lively, interested, and questioning but is assigned the trade of street sweeper. By native brilliance and a chance discovery of ancient relics in a subway tunnel he rediscovers electricity as a source of light; when he shows this to the college of scholars they are appalled: it might put the candle makers out of business. After an obligatory torture scene - in Rand, the state must be physically violent, no matter how little it fits - he runs into the wilderness, followed by the noble upright "Golden One", a woman as unbent as him. But naturally her only desire is to obey him, and subsequently have his babies. After wanderings they find an abandoned house from The Old Times on top of a mountain; he learns to read while she admires herself in the mirror; he determines to rebuild society, starting with his infants and those from his old city not crushed.