Sunday, 15 July 2018

Play review: Cymbeline

Last year The Winter's Tale; this year Cymbeline. Like AWT the plot has to be regarded as compressed. We this time were M, Mother and I; and the picnic blanket from the car to keep us warm in the second half: despite the long run of hot dry weather it grows chill at night if you're out.

The production was not quite so smooth this time. The audience was a little thin, and two of the actors - the servant, and one of the romans - must have been pressed at the last moment as they had scripts (though the servant managed his quite well and I only realised it was a script, not some letters he was carrying, nearly at the interval). Also the two princes were played by women.

Is there much to be got out of it? The dialogue is "witty" in that rather hard to follow, but rewarding if you do make it the the end of the sentence way that Shakespeare has; and they spoke it well. There's a kind of a plot, though why people would go from "Britain" to "Italy" via Milford Haven is somewhat obscure. Not I think one of the major works.

Oh, and the woman who played several roles - Belarius; and a woman in Italy - was so like Micky, of about 20 years ago, in her role at Rome.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Book review: Mexico Set

Mexico Set is volume two of a nine (good grief) volume series by Len Deighton. In my youth I read the classic Funeral in BerlinThe IPCRESS File, Spy Story, Horse Under Water, and so on. And was always dead impressed by how he managed to never name the character. So I was a little unhappy that this one has a name. Or at least, I was when I first read it three decades ago; I've got over that now. I happened upon Berlin Game and read that in WS, and bought MS for a relaxing Saturday.

Aanyway, it's the same kind of genre and setup, and it now seems almost to be coming back into relevance, with a resurgence of evil under Putin.

Much of it is well done, the plots seem to work, the dialogue good, and all that jazz. Let me pick some nits, though:

1. Sometimes people are terribly careful about where and when they talk, to avoid being overheard. Nonetheless, they gratuitously use the full name / surname of their superiors: why would anyone do that? And at other times - there are several conversations in markets, in airplanes - for the sake of flow in the novel the characters talk in situations where they clearly wouldn't.

2. Stinnes showing up in Mexico where Werner and Zena went is far too implausible a coincidence not to trigger alarms immeadiately. The characters realise it for us far far too late, as is necessary for the plot, but it isn't believeable. Werner following Fiona to Boshar seems odd, too; though TBH I was a bit lost in that bit.

3. The Biederman sub-plot is odd. His only real function is to be killed by the KGB; but he's a multi-millionaire successful businessman with a large family; this isn't the sort of person you just rub out for trivia, it would be far too messy. I feel we're lead along with him, including to his distant house, for no particular reason.

4. Zena. LD is clearly fond of her character, perhaps she is typically Berlinische or something. But really, is it believeable that she'd be so mixed up in stuff?

5. Which brings me to my last quibble: at various points, especially the end, the plot depends on Our Hero accepting the word of various people that they're in charge; or that things will happen this way, and he never goes back to check with his superiors that this is so. Again, it's just not plausible.

Oh, but I should also add: there's a pile of shoppin-n-fuckin in there too. In the sense that people's shirt labels and shoes and so on are constantly described. It's a touch weird: Our Hero, though grown up Northern and non-Oxbridge, and outwardly contemptuous of that world, nonetheless has a detailed knowledge of it.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Book review: to kill a mockingbird

To kill a mockingbird is dead famous; you can read almost all about it at wiki, so I won't repeat all that. As a novel, I think it works: the storyline is interesting, the characters well and subtley drawn. By which I mean that rather than simply describing them, we generally find out about them by what they say or do or how others react to them.

But of course it's qualities as literature are somewhat overshadowed by it's value or role as an element in the campaign for racial justice. In that respect, it is interesting to quote a line from the wiki review, where the value of literature like this is praised as it can "challenge the way we think about things". Alas I am too enlightened: the book did not challenge me at all.

Which leads onto another thought: the book, as a political / campaigning object, is of it's time. We find, again in wiki, reports of people complaining that it didn't go far enough. And it is easy to see instances of this: although Scout briefly wonders, and asks, why all the jury are countrymen; and it is explained (slightly implausibly) why no townsfolk sit, and then why women cannot, because of the law; it occurs to no-one to wonder why black folk aren't on the jury. Nor does it occur to anyone why black folk live out on the outskirts beyond even the white trash. In this I contrast it with Heart of Darkness, which is timeless.

Wiki also contains the throwaway line "its black characters are not fully examined" but I think this deserves more examination. The book is, essentially, about White Folks, and is implicitly racist to that extent. Poor dead Tom Robinson has to die in order for Atticus to be sad about him dying, and indeed for there to be a plot at all, but apart from that we care nothing about him. He even has to have lived all his life with a terrible injury to his right hand, in order for us to be sure his was innocent, and therefore even sadder about him dying. He even has to die escaping from prison, because otherwise we'd have to have an electric-chair scene, which would be distracting, or his appeal would be left hanging at the end of the book, which would be annoying. The black folks are terribly nice to Scout and Jem, but otherwise fade into the background where they belong, with the honourable exception of Calpurnia. Does the book title fall into that, too? If Tom Robinson is the innocent mockingbird, does that not infantalise him?

Wiki seems confused by the mad dog episode but it is not confusing: it is there to show that Atticus, although somewhat disappointing his children by not being a man of action or even playing the-thing-they-call-football, is nonetheless an All Action Hero when needed. That, I think on reflection, is somewhat crude of the author, and not necessary. A more confident book would have allowed Atticus to be heroic in the courtroom and morally upright, and would not have required him to be a deadshot too.

I said the characters were good and they are, but because the protagonist is a young child - only six at the start, and this is good, because the story is introduced slowly, in pieces, that she does not put together but we do, a lovely authorly trick - inevitably she ends up having to think thoughts about character, race, and people's place in society that no young child would ever think - or so sez I - but other than a slight air of implausibility I don't think that matters.

On poverty: I'm a little confused by the financial status of the Finches. They appear to be quite poor, as judged by trivia like finding chewing gum in a tree being a fine find. Yet they get given air rifles for Christmas. Is this consistent? I don't know.

Finally: Heck Tate. Geddit?

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Rotterdam man, 2018

After last year's Manchester Man, I was kinda hopeful that I could run a marathon on not very much training. But, I was wrong. My main excuse is that after Manchester I got injured, and essentially did no running from June to January, with the exception of some short runs that ended with me going "ow" after a bit when my left calf failed, again. But in February I was back, and did 1:44 in the Cambridge half, which is slow by about 4 minutes, and was also much harder work than it should have been, but I convinced myself it would be all right. A weaker excuse is that I got carried away at breakfast, which I then threw up at 21k. And a still weaker one is the unseasonably warm weather, though that did nothing to stop James up north.

Anyway, TL;DR: 4:25. Yes, really: my worst ever.

I was running with my new Garmin 620 (watch review coming real soon now) including heart rate strap, and I think the trace confirms that I didn't give up too early, in that my heart rate was only just under 150 when I finally caved in. Since I spend most of any given race wondering if I can give in yet, this is important to me.

There's not much else to say about the race; Rotterdam is flat apart from some gentle long bridges; there were lots of water stops. There's a bag drop, but you have to pay, and you must do so in advance; you can't do it on the day you pick up your number, which I think is stupid. Apart from that it's pretty well run.

Of the trip

I took the ferry from Harwich to Hoek, as I always do. Top news this year is that the boarding gantry at Harwich has finally been repaired, so no more bussing. Except... the other news is that the Hoek to Schiedam railway is under repair, so there's a bus at that end. Which, comically, also goes to Hoek Strand; so the first thing that happens to all the people getting off the ferry is that their bus goes the wrong way for five minutes, before turning round. I'll spare you the horror of what I look like in my cabin. The marathon doesn't start until 10:15, and number pick-up lasts till 10, so I think that if you wanted a rather more frenzied pace of life, you could get the ferry over Saturday night; it docks early, and getting to Rotterdam by 9 should be easy.


The bus to the beach did give me a chance to see some interesting flats, which seem to have been designed to look very much "plonked down in the landscape" without any of the ugly infrastructure that buildings normally need. Pic from Google streetview.


After picking up my number it was time to get to my hotel, the SS Rotterdam, from Rotterdam.


The ship is probably sitting on a cradle, or has silted in, because it doesn't give the impression of floating. This year I was operating a strict No Touristing policy, so I didn't look round the architectural marvels of Rotterdam, or even bother with a tour of the ship. I now discover - via wiki - that she was built in 1959 and lasted till 2000. She's certainly more elegant than the ferry. However, she is also at the far end of a very long dock, which would have been tedious to walk to, especially after a long run - hence my belated attempt to apply for a bag drop. But! There's a better answer, the water bus.


Painted, presumably on a whim, to resemble and American train. A one-way trip is a mere E1; for something more like E5 you can take a much more frequent water taxi instead. In the afternoon I walked all the way down the long long dock, past endless barges each with their car parked behind the deckhouse, these are large barges, to a local cafe for a cafe.


And then I walked back again. The evening meal had a recommended beer to go with the ravioli, so I had that. The next day, having paid for breakfast, I made the mistake of eating too much of it, got the water taxi to the start, sat in the sun on the wharf of the Maritime museum, and then ran badly.

Here's one of Rotterdam's architectural marvels, not by any means the most wacky, the railway station.


And here are my shoes and feet when back on the ferry, for my reference. There are no exciting blisters. My feet felt pounded, but they generally survive being run on pretty well.


And that's the end.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Book review: the Nigger of the 'Narcissus'

Ze Nigger of zer 'Narcissus', das ist ein Novella von Józef "Heart of Darkness" Konrad. And that's quite enough cod German, since he was born of Polish parents in Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire. As the wiki article says, Because of its quality compared to earlier works, some have described it as marking the start of Conrad's major, or middle, period; others have placed it as the best work of his early, or first, period or some such. I feel inclined to disagree; compared to HoD it is slight. Admittedly, so is almost everything else.

We begin in an Eastern port, Calcutta, a merchant ship finishing her crew and about to leave; two men in particular come to our attention: Donkin, a good-for-nothing sea-lawyer, and James Wait, an apparently hearty black, the eponymous Nigger of the title. Wiki makes much of the problems of the N-word; I'm somewhat curious as to how it would have been regarded when the book was written, in 1897. Wiki offers In the United States, the novel was first published under the title The Children of the Sea: A Tale of the Forecastle, at the insistence by the publisher, Dodd, Mead and Company, that no one would buy or read a book with the word "nigger" in its title, not because the word was deemed offensive, but because a book about a black man would not sell. Which is an interesting take. What I rather wondered, as I read slowly through JC's rather prolix prose, was "when would it become important that he was a nigger"? And the answer is: not at all. He could have been the Dago of the Dolphin or the Squarehead of the Sea Breeze to much the same effect. He is just a human being. Maybe that's the point?

So what happens is that Jimmy falls increasingly sick, and is eventually put in a deckhouse to recuperate. Wiki says he has tuberculosis, and this may be so, but in the book it is not made clear if he is really sick or just malingering; at least, not until he dies of it near the end. And much of the book is taken up with the seamen's reacting to this; and descriptions of what they think; and so on. Which I didn't find very interesting.

Alternatively, the book is a record of a passage from India to London, with a ship-on-her-beam-ends in a storm off the Cape thrown in; but somehow this bit isn't told very well; it is all too static. As a sea-tale it falls a little flat to me. Maybe I'm spoilt by Patrick O'Brien.

Monday, 16 April 2018

A trip to the Lakes with D and E

E enjoyed the trip to the Lakes in February, and so did I; and D felt left out that we were climbing mountains without him; so we scheduled a trip in the Easter holidays. With various constraints the only weekend free was the 13-14th, and I was running the Rotterdam marathon the week before, so we ended up going up on the Thursday - an earlier plan involving driving up Wednesday night and staying in Preston was abandoned when it became too frantic.

Casting around for what to do, and bearing in mind D's suggestion that we could walk between sleeps, I found Lakeland Three Passes Walk: A circular walk through Borrowdale, Langdale and Wasdale in the Lake District National Park. We followed mostly their route, except we started up Bowfell not via Angle tarn; and we came down via Stickle tarn not Langdale pikes.

Card game of the trip: Big Two (though not quite those rules). Winner: D.
Flickr picture set: 2018-04-lakes.


On Thursday we packed up in a not-too-desperate rush, left the house just before 10, then went via work because I'd carelessly left my watch charger there (despite having a spare, somewhere) and headed up North. With no particular hurry we stopped twice en route and arrived around half four, at the Old Dungeon Ghyll. This is a famous climbing Name from the past - though I think I've only been to Langdale once in the Olde Dayes, to Gimmer, where I lead the Kipling Groove (it's Ruddy 'ard, especially if you forget to unclip from the peg you're resting off before the crux and get pulled back onto it...) with I think Wiz Pasteur as was. One to point D at next time. Not for us the campsite, we had a room, and this worked out rather well as we had a comfy time in the resident's lounge, dinner in the bar, and for me a beer as well. Here's D, cogitating; the light was good.


Friday: Old Dungeon Ghyll to Wasdale via Bowfell, Esk Pike, Great End and Scafell Pike

Wx: cloudy. GPS trace: 18 km, 1200 m ascent, 7:40. After as much of a full breakfast as we could eat - mostly toast and cereal, and an egg for me - we headed up around 9:30. The Wx was predicted cloudy and so it was. Instead of the Mickleden valley, which E and I had taken in fierce winds in February, we took the ridge here up to Bowfell, past the amusingly named Stool End farm. We left the axes and crampons in the car, since they clearly weren't going to be of any use, and the ODG was happy for us to leave the car.


If you care about the exact times we got to places you can check the GPS trace. Suffice to say that we walked near continuously, because once we got above 600 m we were in a cloud, as this pic suggests, and didn't see anything more than 10 m away from us all day. On the far side, descending into Wasdale, the cloud was even lower. But! We had fun, had the energy to keep going with brief rests on the summits before we got too cold, and didn't get lost; we even found Great End after Esk Pike. Here we see D and E on top of... well, something; possibly Great End but maybe not.

When I say we didn't get lost, I did miss the Mickledore descent off Scafell Pike, so we came down the "boring" route, but in that weather we saw nothing so it hardly mattered. Wast water lowered between hills and cloud, and we found our B+B Burnthwaite farm, which was good and friendly, though unfortunately most of a km walk back into the village for beer and food in the evening in the Wasdale Head Inn, which helpfully has the word "Inn" on it in big letters.

Saturday: Wasdale head to Rosthwaite via Great Gable and Brandreth

Wx: decent. GPS trace; 7:10, 15 km, 900 m. Today was predicted to be our best weather day; early morning wasn't promising with cloud to ~700 m, but over breakfast - which we didn't hurry, since the Wx was due to get better during the day - it started to hint at breaks; by the time we got up Great Gable it was clear, and as the afternoon progressed it became lovely. Here is the B+B, with guardians.


And then, the day in pictures. Up the valley of the Lingmell Beck, with Great Gable still cloud-shrouded on the left.


From higher up, a view back to Wasdale Head under Yewbarrow.


At Great Gable - drawing a discrete veil of D's vomit on the climb up - we rest for half an hour and admire the scenery, and enjoy views of the Scafell group that we couldn't see yesterday. From there we drop down to Windy Gap which isn't, and then easily up to Green Gable. From there it's a long pleasant ridge where you can rather choose your own path, broken by a few nominal summits Brandreth and Grey Knotts towards Borrowdale; on the way, lovely views W into Ennerdale and Buttermere. The official path goes down to the road by the YHA at Honister pass but that didn't seem appealling; so we trended rightwards down over the steepish slopes of Seatoller Fell on soft grass just starting to sprout through the withered old grass bent over by the departed snow. That got us on the old road, which goes to the N of Seatoller, and then down via Johnny Wood, with only a little apprehension as to exactly where we were. But where we were turned out to be only a few 100 m from YHA Borrowdale. Which turns out to be excellent: beautifully situated, with a porch for de-booting in poor weather, a good common room and bar, restaurant, and a clean three-person room for us with the showers nearby. it was even warm enough to sit out with a coffee, briefly. Skies clearing to pure blue in the evening.

Pic: (probably) Kirk Fell the Pillar and just visible distant Ennerdale from somewhere near Gillercombe Head.


From above Seatoller, looking back towards Seathwaite:


Sunday: Rosthwaite to Old Dungeon Ghyll via High Raise

Wx: cloudy again, but none of the predicted rain. GPS trace: 5:05, 14 km, 700 m. Join the B'fast scrum at 7:30 and leave by 8:30: Wx is predicted to worsen during the day. A few wiggles to get over the river and on the right path, then up the valley a way.


Looking back the weather is better than ahead:


We push boldly on. This is the climb up to Lining crag.


After that, things get a little... cloudy. The path over the tops is somewhat vague, though doubtless clear enough in fine weather. Sometimes long quasi-linear bogs turn out to be the path; naturally we avoid those. There's a line of long-decayed fence posts which are helpful, and a number of ambiguous cairns. We declare High Raise about 200 m early, but that is easily corrected. Much harder is the correct path from there. In retrospect I rush it; there was no hurry, and not only could we have taken time over it, but it would have been fun to try to get it exactly right. As it is we get it fairly right; we head down initially correctly, but trend to far E on the slopes, and don't really notice till we hit the lower edge of the cloud, and E gets out her phone, and we see Codale Tarn, which we weren't expecting. So we have to contour round and up W to get back on track, but the GPS says that was only ~100 m of error. Still, and interesting lesson, and the ground was spooky in tattered cloud: everything looked much bigger than it really was. Here, finally escaped from the cloud, is D striding down to Sickle tarn.


And so back to the ODG for a quick lunch, then off about 2, and back about 8.


[The central figure of the climber reclines, a cherub pouring wine into the tankard in one hand while the other flourishes an ice axe; in the opposite corner a young lady waits invitingly at the open flap of a tent.]

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Blood pressure, 2018

A follow-up to 2017, and don't miss 2016.

2018 / 04 / 01: Just post 10 km run (avg 142):

* 126 / 84 (86)
* 119 / 85 (79)
* 111 / 87 (81)
* 110 / 73 (72).

2018/05/27: Post an easy 6 km run with Miranda (avg HR 121, max 134), having walked back after 6 km, so mostly recovered:

* 113 / 80 (69)
* 110 / 80 (65)
* 116 / 81 (63)
* 110 / 78 (66)

Ten minutes later, after a shower:

* 117 / 79 (56)
* 110 / 77 (56)
* 108 / 77 (56)

2018/05/28: Just after a 12 km run:

* 126 / 83 (106)
* 112 / 82 (102)
* 109 / 78 (105)
* 113 / 80 (99)