Friday, 23 December 2016

Book review: Atlas shrugged

This originally appeared at wmconnolley.livejournal.com but I don't maintain that any more.

Quick summary: (too) long, interesting, enjoyable (as long as you skip stuff), but ultimately unacceptable.

A famous work; here's its wiki entry. I'm not going to bother attack its many faults too strongly, because they are too obvious. If you want to read someone disliking it, try CIP. As a token: the many long dense passages of philosophy - Rand's "Objectivism" - that lard the book get increasingly boring as they repeat. This culminates in John Galt's 70-page 2-3 hour speech on the radio, which is more like something you'd get in Cuba or communist Russia than in the cold West. Some of the characters - the dashing pirate - are laughably implausible. But enough criticism (errm, I won't keep to that. Sorry).

The image the book conjures up - of a fading darkening America crumbling under the weight of an unproductive, uncomprehending and eventually almost unwittingly hostile bureaucracy or parasitic class is well done, and will strike a chord with anyone who actually makes things. Those who work for the govt may be less impressed (token: I find her hatred of all govt funded research ridiculous. But hey, I was a govt-funded scientist for years). But Rand's solution - that all the able folk withdraw their labour and their physical selves and rebuild society in a quiet corner before, presumably, walking into the territory emptied by starvation, cold and strife is hard to see as acceptable. As an aside, at the present day, the central core of the hardened capitalist struggling to keep a railroad - yes, a railroad - going seems very quaint and 50s.

A veil is drawn over most of the deaths, but she helpfully provides one example: the wood burning transcontinental sleeper train taken through the long tunnel. It gets stuck inside, and everyone dies. Rand is at pains to set up the incident as an example of bureaucratic stubbornness and buck-passing (someone at the top decrees the train must get through, but all the way down officials area at pains to ensure that the disastrous orders they give can't be traced back to them) and does her best to make it seem as though all the passengers deserve death; but they don't.

You'll have to forgive me some vagueness here: I started reading the book on the way back from the Amsterdam marathon last October, and finished it a few weeks later, so my memory is fading.

And yet the two key intermingled ideas are worth thinking about: that there is a parasitic class leaching off the productive, and that this class is actively harmful (in Darwinian terms, they are bad parasites). In the book, as things go wrong, the parasites use fear of the problems to gain more power and control, and they use that power to throw patronage at their friends, but they also make genuine (to them; at least the book doesn't try to say otherwise) attempts to fix things, but because they are incompetent things just get worse. The attempt-to-fix-but-fail stuff is very true to life for anyone watching politics ever. The Tobin Tax propsed for the EU is a possible example. The stupid carbon trading schemes are another. These are examples where pols motivated by - well, we cant see into their minds, so we have to guess - a combination of shallow and wishful thinking, carelessness and stupidity, and a desire for patronage, act to make the world worse.

Since I've mentioned Darwin I need to complete the thought: which is, that parasites are universal, unless you make great efforts to remove them. Rand's idea is for a parasite-free society. Like many others she has no patience for fixing the old - its a tired toy, she will throw it away and make a new shiny one; lives don't matter to her; or at least, not the lives of small people. Inevitably, her new world would acquire parasites, but that's for the future. Our world is infested by parasites; what keeps them down is partly Democracy and blah; partly that anywhere that becomes too uncompetitive gets out-competed. That's not a careful analysis, but what I mean is that we accept a balance as we must: as long as society functions, and produces enough wealth for all or most, we tolerate some parasites. And at least at the moment it is working: the share captured by the unproductive isn't too high. In Atlas Shrugged Rand has had to produce a less capable society that succumbs to the weight of parasites - though even there it isn't really clear that it would do, if it wasn't for the "strike". Rand's various protagonists have decided - amongst themselves - that all the invisible deaths are worth it, to them. It is a very individualistic philosophy, and to support its plausibility all the lead characters are implausibly capable.

If you agree that Rand's apparent solution - restrict, retreat and rebuild - isn't very plausible, what lesson does the book teach? Just, resistance to stupid bureaucracy I suppose. Put like that, its not profound. And I do sense that many of the book's admirers are motivated more by some savage uncomprehending hatred of The System rather than by a desire, themselves, to try to build something better. Nonetheless there is something there.

[Edited to add: if I'm not mis-remembering, another important element to Rand was the coercive power of the State: its structure and authority is based ultimately on force. She doesn't like this; it doesn't fit with her individualistic world. Nonetheless in the book the state is rather uncoercive: only at the end is there a carefully contrived torture-John-Galt scene, which is inserted only to fulfil her own prophecy, that the state will ultimately resort to force. In this, I'm firmly with Thomas Hobbes and against Rand: without the Civil Sword, no compacts and hence no civil society is possible. Rand's insistence otherwise places her with the hippies and flower children, who she would despise.]

Book review: An Inspector Calls

Technically a play not a book, but I read Miranda's copy. We will be going to see the play, too, so you may get a "play review" next year.

An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestley is, as wiki says, 'classic "drawing room" theatre'. It works very well; well written, neatly handled, and there is one (or perhaps two) clever and one not so clever twists at the end. However there are flaws: the final ending is not needed and is one twist too many, and probably blurs the message; the inspector's final speech reads like something out of Ayn Rand (though mercifully much shorter) and is far too unsubtle; and the whole thing is, in a way, too well turned.

Let me do that last criticism first. The play is very "neat": everything fits carefully together, all the threads fit, everyone reacts as they have to. This helps keep things moving along and helps keep you reading, but begins to feel by the end a little too pat, a little too careful (yes I know my criticism of the final twist somewhat vitiates this point, but never mind, I shall leave you with it anyway).

The inspector's final speech is a rousing cry to, well, whatever; I didn't actually read it; or if I did, I immeadiately forgot it. I've read such things before. For an actual real inspector, it would have been totally out of character, and I think you'd have expected Mr Birling to notice and complain of this. But more importantly, it is entirely unnecessary to anyone who has been paying any attention to the play. The play has carefully brought out the various aspects of the way in which the family's behaviour has lead to the death of the young woman - or, when you realise she may have been a composite, the various aspects in which they have degraded the lives of various women. That's a good way to do it, because in a sense the audience "discover" this for themselves, and will be inclined to accept the ideas. But when the inspector jumps up and tries to ram the same thoughts down your throat, you rebel. Or at least, I did.

The revelation that the young woman is - probably - a composite is clever, and well done. Probably the best bit of the play. Suddenly, a number of things we saw before - principally, the inspector only showing a photo to one person at a time - all make sense. Also, excellently, we see the way different people react to it: most obviously, the two children retain their - deserved, admitted - guilt; whilst the parents discard it, concerned only for outside appearances. And Gerald is perhaps ambiguously in between.

A tension that I think could have been explored, but wasn't: what will the two children do? The implication, by the end, is that disgusted by their parents they will leave home, and live on... what? How will they balance their conscience against comfort and financial security? Another unexplored aspect was the relation between Gerald and Sheila. The implication is that their nice, comfortable but rather shallow "love" has been disrupted by events, but perhaps they have come to see each other more deeply; Sheila's brief note that they'll need to start from the beginning again is quite touching. Perhaps that's all that is needed.

I expected more about knighthood. At the start the scene is carefully set: Arthur is prosperous but second-rank, and the marriage and knighthood would pull him up. As the play went on he should have become more and more desperate to avoid any of this becoming public (he is concerned to some extent, but not nearly as much as he should be). Perhaps that wasn't necessary; the play is about something a little deeper than social class.

Lastly, the final twist - that someone really has died - rather jars. It seems pointless and disruptive. "What does that mean?" we inevitably ask, and inevitably there is no answer. Does it mean that the carefully constructed twist about the composite Eva is wrong? That would be most unsatisfying. Does it mean that instead of having to consider their morality, we're back to a rather more straightforward tale of worrying about nasty details becoming public? That, too, would be unsatisfying. Again, it seems so unsubtle; as though some theatre manager, unsatisfied with the play's existing subtle and ambiguous ending, wanted some zing at the end. Before that last twist, the "inspector" has come to seem like something supernatural, a kind of angel, who has brought harsh truth into these people's lives, and given them the chance to react and show their characters. That was all that was needed.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

A visit to Micky

We went to visit Micky today, as we do rather less frequently than we probably ought. She had just come out of a spell in hospital with a chest infection, that should have been one week but turned into two due to complications of getting an extra NHS-type carer for her, to visit sometimes. Luckily for us M+J handle most of this stuff, and indeed they had been to visit yesterday.

We found her ostensibly fairly well, except for a rather nasty-sounding cough that was presumably a hangover of her chest infection. We had the usual format of visit: come in, talk for a bit; have lunch; play a round of scrabble until Micky grows tired and/or sleepy; and go.

Here's a photo from just after lunch, with the afternoon light streaming in from the window. Later, Miranda and I sat looking out at the Jewish folk going about their Sabbath business, comparing hat types. I was amused to see that from above the shtreimel is hollow inside.


Alas, Micky was only superficially well. Her hearing appeared weaker, it was hard to hear what she said, and... Well: we tried a game of Scrabble but never really got started. Later, Miriam tried her on just the basics: recognising letters. Micky could do some, but not all. We tried a jigsaw - one made with Escher pieces, perhaps not the wisest of choicest no matter how interesting the shapes might be. But, she would pick up the pieces and not seem to distinguish front from back. In conversation, more than ever before, she would apparently lose the thread and start random new topics.

Disabling the stupid EU cookies notice

I discover that you can turn off that stupid irritating waste of everyone's time EU-inspired cookies notification in blogger. Instructions are here but were non-trivial for me to follow, and I'm supposed to know this kind of stuff. So to be more explicit...

Actually, just look at the picture. You need to add the line

<script>cookieChoices = {};</script>

About where I've shown it.


Saturday, 29 October 2016

Outing analysis, 2016-Oct-29

This was the 10 am outing, which I stroked, not the 8 am outing, which I coxed. Note: four of us had rowed already in 8 am outings and so might be considered slightly tired: Dan had rowed in the IV, and Brian, Lewis and Steve in the VIII.

Crew: me, Chris W, Andy S, Dan M, Brian S, Lews G, Steve O, Keith L. Cox: Mr T.

General: a good outing. Lock-n-reach. GPS trace here. Fragments of video by Dawn here, which is what I'll talk about. Pieces: 900 m down the Reach, spin and return, followed by 800 m down the Reach; unfortunately no video of those. We were somewhat tired for the second piece. The video is: us coming back towards the A14 bridge (steering hard on due to passing a IV); and (starts at 0:20) coming back up the Reach at steady state. I'll assume you've watched it, best at normal speed and then at 1/4 speed; before reading on.

Note: there aren't enough strokes captured in the first segment to be sure that what I'm seeing is "typical" but experience tells me that people do the same things wrong stroke after stroke.

First segment (0 - 0:20)

Recall there's some steering going on here so this isn't an ideal sequence to analyse.

Minor: Brian squares up massively early, before there's even a twitch from Andy, who is earlier than me. This doesn't appear to happen in the second segment.
Minor: I'm squaring just-in-time; or Andy's squaring a fraction early; take your pick. I don't think it matters greatly because we're perfectly square at the catch.


More obviously, 2 is not even square by the time I'm (partly) in. 4 is just a little behind. What you should do, though, is to watch the catch at 1/4 speed on youtube; the timing is clearer there. I rather like my nice backsplash but that may be personal preference or as I'd put it, "style". Harder to see (but its there) 5 and 3 are a fraction late on 7 and 8.


If you have any sense you should be suspicious of analysing a single stroke, so here's the next one, and the pattern is similar.

Second segment (0:20 - end)

On this one we're straight, so there's no steering to discount. You can't see my blade, which makes it less interesting for me, but based on the above I'll assume Chris is bang on time.


So, as before, late square from 2 hence late in; fractionally late at 4. The other thing noticable is the angle of 3's blade, which isn't parallel to the others (this is slightly more obvious on the next stroke). This may be slightly due to lack of compression - which can only be beaten out of people by extensive flexibility training - but more importantly it is due to "rowing in", which we do very much want to beat out of people. But it was too hard to see from stills, so you'll have to watch the video to see.

The other thing I see is that 5 has a minor line in skying towards the catch. In that after a nice consensual tap-down, as he starts to square his hands dip and his blade therefore rises. 5 will defend himself by saying his catch is in time with 7 and that is a partial mitigation.

While we're on such issues, I'll note 7's to-me-horrible "swoosh" style with the blade low to the water. However, that's a known issue and what I'm trying to point out here are "errors" that people may not know about and want to fix.

I'm probably over-reaching at that catch; but that's another known fault.

Questions, comments, complaints? Want to point out the obvious things I've missed? Just add a comment to the blog, or to fb.

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Lions of Al-Rassan

TL;DR: I enjoyed it, but it is poisonous when considered carefully. As are so many others. But as a fine exemplar of this-kind-of-novel, its also a fine exemplar of poisonousness.

The Goodreads people liked it. And wiki has an example, from which I'll quote a bit that annoyed me:
The Lions of Al-Rassan is a work of historical fantasy by Guy Gavriel Kay... based upon Moorish Spain... the relationships between the three peoples: the Kindath (analogous to the Jews), the Asharites (analogous to the Muslims), and the Jaddites (analogous to the Christians), although the religions of the Kindath, Asharites, and Jaddites, as described in the novel, bear no relation to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
What annoyed me is that it is like Moorish Spain, and contains peoples, as wiki says, analogous to historical peoples, and yet their bloody names bear no relationship. So at the start of the book, when you're trying to work out who is who, you're constantly flipping back and forth, to the "index of characters", to the map, and so on; trying to remember who is who. I'm not asking for the bloody "Kindrath" to be called the Jews - that would tie them too closely - but couldn't they be something that would help you remember? And so on with the others. It isn't even done consistently. The Spain bit is "Esperana" and the old Jew is Ishak; the A-rabs are all "bin" and the Jews are all "ben" and the Spaniards all have those funny accents above their "n"s, the Frogs have "de" and so on.

Here's a review that I agree with quite a lot, except I actually enjoyed the book.

Why is the world-map clearly a map of Europe, except somewhat blurred? Why does the Tagus river basin become the wasteland of the Tagra? Though that I can kind of excuse, since it provides some convenience to the narrative.

And why do the peoples "bear no relation to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity"? (Although it isn't true: they do bear a relationship: just not a close one). The book would work just as well if they did indeed bear a close relationship. Come to that (spoiler alert!) what about Diego and his gift. It jars. It isn't needed. It is a complete outlier in the world of the book; an anomaly.

Let's take a brief break from the whinging to say what I liked about it. After all, after being offered this as "read this instead of Game of Thrones" I did; and I enjoyed it. Anyone vaguely familiar - as I am - with the history of Spain will be pleased to be reminded of it; perhaps more so if - like me - you don't know enough to be jarred. The settings are interesting, the characters are all noble, heroic, and beautiful. And they have lots of sex and its always wonderful and they're always beautiful; and never get pregnant except when they want to. There's a complex plot that interlocks nicely - perhaps a little too nicely, ah, Carruthers, it makes me suspicious that this isn't perhaps actual real life.

Enough niceness. What of the poison? It is of two kinds. The first is pervasive in books like this, so in a way hardly deserves mention: only the main characters matter. Everyone else can die in huge numbers in hideous ways unmourned. By which I mean that the author is happy to slaughter these (admittedly fictional) people merely to move the story along or to elict our sympathy. Example: after the raid in which Diego gets his head bashed in, the book needs - well, actually, it doesn't need at all; it just wants, for reasons perhaps simply of emotional manipulation - Ishak to save him dramatically, whilst Jehane looks on in awe. So everyone else there has to have died. Had they been badly wounded, she'd have to have been off helping them, and that would have been dramatically inconvenient.

And the second is the way... I find this hard to say accurately or comprehensibly. The way the characters put honour above common sense. The way their fine sensibilities are more important than anything else. That probably makes no sense, or is unconvincing. The main example is Ammar. He is forced to choose between serving Ramiro, or helping "his own people". He makes the wrong - but setup as "honourable" - choice; and by his actions he prolongs the war of reconquest from a few years to decades. The worst possible war is a well balanced one; anyone with any kind of sympathy for the people is obliged to choose the stronger side (with qualifications, of course) so it can win quickly. There is not the least hint of that as a problem in the book; instead, the death of millions and the sacking of cities gets a few words, but chiefly so the main characters can look sorrowful.

As a minor niggle, the astonishing skill of the old physician Ishak is implausible in the terms it is described, within its world. And in its relation to our world, well, trepanning is commonplace, not unknown. Didn't the author think of that?

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Refuge du Glacier Blanc, 2542

The Refuge du Glacier Blanc has it's own website, so this brief page is just my own observations and photos.

As the website will tell you, there is no Wifi and no mobile coverage, not even enough to get texts. Indeed that might have been true in Ailefroide too, I forget. There are no showers, which I found particularly annoying, since the French-style "squat toilets" could so easily be converted to double up as showers.

Most used, I'd guess, as a way station to the Refuge des Ecrins. Also suitable for Les Agneaux. For views and notes on the way up, see "my arrival". Here's the hut as you see it from the little plateau below.


And here it is in the early morning before the sun has got onto it.


Like the other refuges in the Ecrins, it is primarily for climbers and the facilities are spartan, though the evening food was decent. You can book online. The contrast with Austrian huts with their near-hotel levels of service and "gemutlich" charm is striking. The only clear advantage over Austrian huts is the "plastic crate" system, where you just select on of the empty crates and stick your "common room stuff" in it. This is more like a provincial French cafe used to serving only locals; though I should adds that the Guardian(ne) were friendly. Well, take a look inside.



I assume the benches were up on the tables because the end of the season was approaching.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

A quiet week in north Devon

Miriam organised us a week in Peppercombe. It was a deliberately quiet trip. During the day, spent in silence, M was mostly meditating, and I was mostly running. In the evening we talked.

14390674_10154549429157350_1233257755501537732_n The 1920's wooden bungalow is all wood inside and out and rather lovely. With only two of us there was plenty of space. Most days it rained, more at the start of the week perhaps; fortunately this didn't much matter. It is down at the end of a track / road which is steep and a little potholed but easily driveable if taken slowly. Peppercombe itself (map) is a steep wooded valley off the A39.

We ended up getting up quite early. Several days, after I'd finished breakfast and pottering, I was surprised by how early it still was. And to bed early too.

Friday: arrive, 6 ish. Go to "Atlantic village" for the thrill of Aldi for the week's food (and a bottle of Romanian Nonius wine) before returning to the Coach and Horses at Horn's Cross for a drink and dinner. Reading "Full of myself" by Jonny Dawes.

Saturday: morning: 6k run west along the stony beach (hard work!) to Buck's Mills, then back along the coastal path along the cliffs; also hard work. Afternoon: 24k run (ahem, and walk) along the road to Bideford, then back via Yeo Vale (my watch ran out at 15k). Would have cut off some of the loop to Bideford if I'd realised how long it was. Began raining at about 10k. Pic: the stony beach.

Sunday: run 6k NE along the coastal path and back. After this I realised that I wasn't going to get the kind of distance running I wanted (I have the Amsterdam marathon on the 16th of October) from the coast. Ironically (perhaps) I think the Barnstaple marathon and half was on today. I'd have joined if I'd known.

Monday: drive into Bideford - it isn't far and do 21k along the "Tarka Trail" which is a bike path along the old railway line. 1:52, tolerable for marathon pace and after the last few days work. Preceeded by sitting in a cafe for a couple of hours catching up on the internet and drinking coffee and eating soup.

Tuesday: back to Bideford, same cafe, less rain, do 15k in the other direction "inland". Quite different: the Barnstaple / estuary direction is quite open, this is often in a tunnel of trees. Starts off crossing the river on the old bridge as before, then after a few k comes swooping back over the railway bridge. Evening, use the wood burner with what I've gleaned from the beach and the surrounding woods, and it works.

Wednesday: tried Barnstaple this time - really didn't get on with the parking - do the Tarka Trail back towards Bideford. Decided - during the run - that 26k would be good, so turned round a few k out of Bideford. 2:22, again a reasonable pace for a marathon training run. Evening: fire again.

Thursday: enough running, it was time to walk to Clovelly, which turned out to be 7 k  away, a bit further than I thought. M joined me, we walked there along the beach, this was hard work due to the aforementioned stonyness. Lunch at the Red Lion which didn't have wifi though it claimed to. Soir: meal up at the Coach and Horses. Walk back along the coastal path is longer - 18k round trip - though it starts off level on Hobby Drive it soon goes up and down. 6 hours round trip.

Friday: pack and leave by our appointed hour of 10.


Saturday, 1 October 2016

Fixing my Citroen C5 tourer rear washer water

We have newly acquired a second-hand, perhaps 3 year old, 50k mile, C5. But, the rear washer water wasn't coming out even though the reservoir was full and the front worked. Looking, the flexible pipe that leads from the body into the tailgate on the right side was broken. However, gaffer taping it together didn't help, and so some dismantling was required to look further.

This post on the Citroen owner's club was helpful for how to dismantle; it links to this post also about how to dismantle. I'll assume you've read those two, or at least skimmed them. But to write down the bits that puzzled me:

1. Take off the two "obvious" Torx30 screws (which I did with a plain flat head, lacking a 30. Fortunately, unlike so many screws on so many things, they hadn't been tightened to death and came easily).
2. Now you have to pull off the plastics. This is a pain, hard to do cleanly (mine had clearly been done before by an unskilled hand as the screwdriver marks on the plastics were obvious) and the fastenings that are supposed to just pop out don't always do so easily. There are two layers if I reall correctly; the "outer" and "inner" of which the inner was harder. The inner didn't need to come fully off to get access to...
3. The two "hidden" Torx30. Once these are off its still a bit awkward to lift the "spoiler" containing the top light unit out of which the water is supposed to come. It kind of "hinges" upwards, restrained by some more pop fastenings, but no more screws.
4. Having done that you can push out the "light unit", though you may not need to.

OK, now you have access to the bits you need to see. Let's have a picture:


This is the "spoiler" lifted up, held as you see by the pliers. The water piping is bizarrely complex. WHY are there so many sections? A single piece of flexible hose would appear so much easier and less error prone (but see below for the true answer). The joint in the middle is particularly problematic.

It is actually joined by the little joiny-piece shown below. Which looks like a simple joint, but it isn't, oh no, that would be far too easy.


Inside, as you can just about see from this pic, is a tiny little ball bearing, pushed by a tiny little spring. Why? Possibly as some kind of pressure-reducing mechanism? [No: thanks to HT who points out that it is a non-return valve, and the purpose of it is to stop the fluid flowing back into the tank, which means that the fluid-squirting happens sooner. Apparently its part of the MOT test for squirting to happen without much delay.] Anyway, that's why there's a join there. Incidentally, pulling the joint out of the rubber is a right bastard. That little flake of white plastic was in there, leading me to suspect aha! That's the problem: the little flake is jamming the "valve" somehow. But no. Nor, indeed, did removing the valve entirely and gaffer taping the pipe together help.

My last pic shows the true problem. At the bottom is the washer fluid outlet. In the middle is the hole at the edge of the light unit plastics that the pipe is supposed to go through. And on the pipe itself is obvious crimping showing clearly that the idiot who reassembled the unit failed to get the pipe in the hole, thereby constricting the pipe so much that no fluid could flow.


The fix is then simply to reassemble carefully, getting the pipe in the hole (having squidged it with pliers back into circularity). I did reassemble the odd ball-valve-thingy, even though it appeared to make no difference to the flow.

I was then left with the odd co-incidence of two problems not one: the broken flexible pipe, and the crimped tubing. Possibly the broken pipe is breakable, and the extra stress of the tube being crimped caused it to fail? I will never know for sure.

And, yes, it then worked.

One last thing: on my first go at reassembly, I had a panic when nothing at all worked: even the rear wiper no longer did anything. However, that turns out to be because I hadn't shut the tailgate fully. Do that and it springs into life.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Ecrins: arrival and Refuge du Glacier Blanc

Ecrins part 1: arrival. I get off the overnight train from Austerlitz to a sense of Southern light and space. The railway station is perhaps grander than it's current status warrants; the night train is on the "socially necessary" list. And indeed many of the people looked to be "just folks" not tourists.


Anyway, Briancon itself is "behind" the station in this pic; I'm standing on the (unused) car-train platform; the real platform is on the left. Around me are mountains - but not, I know, the high ones, I can't see those yet - and stretching away behind me is the valley.

I have a cup of coffee in the station cafe, enjoying the harsh light, and after a short comedy (there is no actual car hire office at the station it transpires; there's just a bloke who cunningly carries no identifying marks; and since the train was late and I sat around drinking coffee, I'm about an hour later than he expected. Also, I have no credit card only a debit card) I have a car which I drive cautiously away. Have I ever driven alone abroad before? Yes: in New Zealand. But the roads in the South Island were near empty.

Away down the lane aways is very lovely, and I get my first view of the heights.


It is hard to tell what is what from the valley even with a map. Happily there's a plaque: yes that is the Barre. This is just by the giant iron statue of Whymper. Off the main valley, the start of the side valley to the Barre, Argentiere-la-Bessee pleased me; I stopped for a coffee and bought a fougasse.

Driving up the valley towards Ailefroide I was struck again and again by how gorgeous everything was; happily I was alone so could stop whenever I liked.


The slight lateness of the train, and the coffee in the station, and the car comedy, and the other coffee, and the stopping, had all put paid to any plans to get to the start of the walk-in early and push on up. And I didn't really have any such plans. So I stopped for a bier in Ailefroide. It was quiet; my first hint that the season was ending(errm, apart from it being September, of course). I'd brought some food from England - four Mars, four Bounty, oat cakes, breakfast-biscuits, dried soup, peppermint tea (and stove). But I'd kinda wanted some porridge, which I'd bought but forgotten. Sadly porridge isn't very French and was entirely beyond Ailefroide's store.


Looking at the bus timetable I realised that, transport-wise, I could probably have done without the car. But, meh, it was handy and cheap, and a useful place to store stuff. Moving up valley, you can see the Glacier Blanc peeking out, if you look closely. Unsurprisingly, it has retreated a lot over the last few decades.


I had the E20 formule at the Pre du Madame Carle. Very nice, perhaps too much even. Since Norway I've been doing my best to eat less.


The restaurant / chalet / dortoir has fine views. I sat out the heat of the noonday sun lingering over my meal and the included dessert of tarte aux myrtilles; packed and repacked my gear; and selected what would be coming up with me.


It is two hours up to the hut, and I did have the obligatory reservation. There are views up into the Glacier Noir valley; the morraine ridge looks appealling; and the views back too:


The route up passes easily: I have a carefully constructed light sac, and I'm fit. The long painful slog I remember from many many years ago with full bivvy gear with Miriam is but a memory. After the bridge you can see up to the hut if you look closely. I have a separate page about the Refuge du Glacier Blanc.


Next waymark is the plateau where the old hut is. Miriam and I bivvied here in the old days. There's a stream and a little lake, very quiet and peaceful. Up above is the new hut, the highly crevassed snout / ice fall of the Glacier Blanc, and the obvious smoothed rock it has retreated over. Link to pic: the little plateau from above.


Once up the last little bit to the hut, there are fine view across to the Pelvoux. I got there at 4; about 1:30 up fulfilling my desire to beat the book time. Below: a parapentist, briefly. I fill the space between then and dinner at 6:30 in saying hello (awkwardly, obviously) and sitting in the sun, reading and resting and revelling in the view. My OAV card is accepted as a proper "reciprocal rights" card.


It was still lovely even after sunset.


Tuesday, 6 September 2016


I haven't finished writing up Norway, but I did do Devon. And of course I've shuffled this into time order, but it wasn't written first. I've put a brief post onto Stoat, and used the pix too. But this is the "overall" post.

* Tuesday 09/06: Cambridge -> London -> Paris GdN -> Austerlitz night train
* Wednesday 09/07: Briancon -> Ailefroid -> Pre du Madame Carle -> Refuge du Glacier Blanc
* Thursday 09/08: -> Roche Faurio (epaule) -> Refuge des Ecrins
* Friday 09/09: Dome du Neige des Ecrins
* Saturday 09/10: -> Ref Glacier Blanc -> Col du Monetier / Tuckett -> down; Chalet Pre du Mme C
* Sunday 09/11: -> Ref des Bans -> Vallouise
* Monday 09/12: -> Refuge du Sele -> Briancon
* Tuesday 09/13: Briancon rest day
* Wednesday 09/14: -> le Casset -> Col d'Arsine and up -> Briancon night train
* Thursday 09/15: Austerlitz -> GdN -> London -> Cambridge.

Page about the Refuge du Glacier Blanc.

This is currently my favourite picture from the trip.


Sunday, 28 August 2016

Play review: The Winter's Tale

We saw the Cambridge Shakespseare festival's production in the grounds of Robinson. It rained while we were picnicing beforehand but was fine for the play. We? M, E and I. Robinson is quite a small venue - there were perhaps 8 rows of seats of 15 each. The grounds are surprisingly pleasant (for a red brick college, but actually the red bricks are well done). There's a bridge over the lily pond you can just see over the back of the stage; the bear chases Antigonus over it.

For reference, the words. Though ours was cut: Mamillius for example is not seen; nor is the Shepherd's son; not Autolycus. Unfortunately the cast list doesn't seem to be available which is a bit rubbish of them; the closest I can find is a casting site which lists some of them. They were all good; I was particularly impressed by Polixenes who managed his humour deftly - just enough connivance with the audience to make his implausible disguise when visiting the Shepherd's seem entirely natural and funny.

The story is, as with so many in Shakespeare, really rather weird. I think I've realised - as with ?King Lear? - that it is not so much implausible as compressed; you have to assume that the jealousy matures over time rather than being sudden as in the play.

The statue-coming-to-life at the end is also hard to understand. Perhaps it is meant to be ambiguous. Or perhaps he forgot to revise the early scenes. As wiki points out, the "obvious" interpretation of her being hidden away for 16 years isn't self-consistent.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

AS comment on Corbyn

This is a comment from a friend on fb. That's probably enough context for you to find out who, if you really want to, and he put it on fb so it isn't exactly secret. I liked it, particularly the start, so I'll copy it here.

I'm going to have to reply in more detail later for time/life reasons.
In short, I think
(a) Corbyn is a lightweight stuck in student politics. He can't react to events beyond giving a standard angry student speech.
(b) Many of his simplistic views are just knee-jerk anti-establishment/anti-capitalism/anti-USA, and are nonsense in terms of actual national policy (apart from often being plain immoral).
(c) He often has to be prompted and helped to say vaguely sensible things because he has no skills beyond student-politics rhetoric.
(d) When he backtracks over some nonsense he has uttered, he does so in a completely dishonest way.
(e) He pretends to be peace-loving and in favour of kinder, gentler politics, but to the extent this is true at all, it is completely subordinate to his other naive associations. E.g., he really was friends with the IRA, Hamas, Hezbollah, Chavez, Maduro, Iran etc and really did sympathise with or defend Milosevic, Hoxha, Gaddafi, etc., and these people/organisations are worse than he would have you believe. Basically these sorts of accusations against him are largely true and it's all the denials that are stretching the truth.
(f) There really is some kind of Labour antisemitism problem, and Corbyn is part of it. He only cares about it to the extent that it makes him looks bad. In fact he encourages it by his friendships and associations with the worst kind of antisemites and his evasive and dishonest answers. He rarely gets questioned very accurately or strongly, which lets his devotees think he is a nice man being bullied. (This is a repeating pattern for other criticisms.)
(g) His EU referendum campaign was a disgrace, and he, or his team, probably actively sabotaged it. By his actions and inactions, he lost millions of working class voters to UKIP and then claimed a 63% vote for Remain out of the rump Labour vote that hadn't actually defected to UKIP was some kind of success. He wanted to invoke Article 50 immediately, which would have been a disaster (which even he admits now). Either he is completely clueless or he really wanted out of the EU. My money is firmly on both.
(h) After a year we don't actually have any concrete policies. E.g., he has intimated he wanted to withdraw from NATO, but then seemingly backtracked saying there wasn't the will. His left wing economic gurus have abandoned him saying that they had wanted to help, but his policies make no sense or are nonexistent beyond being "anti-austerity".
(i) Momentum has a thuggish element, and Corbyn will not clamp down on this because it is to his advantage.
(j) His close advisors are as bad or worse than he is, e.g., John McDonnell and the Stalinist-sympathising Seumas Milne.
Unfortunately it takes a long time to justify these statements in a way that convinces Corbyn supporters, because (in my experience) they won't believe anything bad about him that isn't proved to 100% certainty. This isn't helped by the fact that in true Orwellian style he has erased his past: he has purged all of his personal website from more than a year or so ago (e.g., his statement on how wonderful Venezuela is is now strangely absent), also seeing to it that the copies in were removed (so hard to argue this is just a Spring clean), and also purged the colourful back catalogue from the STWC website (he was the STWC Chair until recently). He has even removed the Labour policy document from last year. Since he wasn't particularly well-known before he become Labour leader, there aren't copies of his speeches lying around the internet. The most definitive remaining sources are YouTube videos of his speeches and direct quotations in newspapers and journals, but these are time-consuming to track down. (I could try to justify the above in piecemeal fashion, though this isn't really in the spirit of the Facebook timescale of a day or so.)

Not by AS, but notes on "traingate".

The story, as I recall it: Corbyn gets on a train, and is filmed sitting on the floor - man o' the people style - saying how terrible it is that trains are crowded. Fine you might say: just put the price up, though that doesn't seem to have occurred to him.

However, it then turns out he has been telling porkies. See Aunty. In very many ways.

* in the "original" Guardian article (archive) we have the headline repeated in the text "Corbyn joins seatless commuters on floor for three-hour train journey". Now even his people admit that's false: he only sat on the floor for the first 45 minutes.
* as the Beeb makes clear, he walked past empty seats.
* even his people now admit he did this, their only excuse being he couldn't sit next to his wife. Somehow, there was no space to mention that originally.
* From the Beeb again: Sir Richard's intervention prompted Mr Corbyn's leadership campaign manager Sam Tarry to tell BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The bigger story here... it is quite astonishing that a tax exile of more than 10 years decides to lay into and make a political intervention which is essentially what this is on social media in a very public way." So what Corbyn is saying is that he should be free to lie about people, and they aren't allowed to reply. Scum.

FT: Jeremy Corbyn and the parable of the Virgin berth

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Norway: Hardangervidda

DSC_5666 Our plans for Monday were all carefully laid. Train from Oslo to Hardangervidda, probably, errm, the station just beyond Geilo, and walk up to the Tuva "turisthytte". But first, breakfast, and singing Happy Birthday to Miriam. Sadly I'd left her present - Exploding Kittens - at home. Miriam and I went off to find the DNT and buy some maps and get the "hut key" - which in the end we found no need for, the unguarded huts were just left open, never mind it is a nice souvenier - and cunningly went to their administrative offices not the public shop. However, the shop was nearby. However, it didn't open until 10. However, we happily sat in a nearby cafe and wrote up our diaries.

In the DNT we get an overall "route planning map" which turns out to be very useful, it covers all of southern Norway and usefully shows you which maps you need; and maps for Geilo and Finse, which cover our intended walk across the Hardangervidda. This is a semi-random choice based largely on my having been to Finse once cross-country skiing oh-so-many years ago with Mark Leonard, Anne-Marie Nuttall and Steve X.

The next step went well - we checked out of the hotel in good time, and strolled casually to the station, noticing as we did a number of what were probably Syrian refugees, some begging, some setting up for shoeshine. The first flaw was Daniel having left his watch at the hotel. Never mind: he has time - without too much panic - to dash back and get it. The second was more serious: the train was sold out. This is Norway: they are solid folk and would not think to cram excess people onto a train; when it is full, it is full. So is the next one. Oops. A helpful chap points out that buses go to Geilo, and so they do, but not obviously beyond. Anyway, as Agile folk we switch to a bus trip, and a somewhat later arrival. More seriously, our walk in to Tuva has just grown by several hours and our time available contracted by the same; so we need a hotel in Geilo; M picks us the grandiose Dr Holm's Hotel which is far more than we need but pleasant anyway. Notice that here and elsewhere I an not giving any prices. This is because Norway is expensive. The only way to survive with your sanity intact is to ignore prices. Their restaurant even has a proper genuine-French maitre d'.

The bus trip is fine. It has a loo. I read the Economist, look at the scenery - we get to see much the same as we would have from the train, indeed we stop at several station car parks along the way - and sleep.

Norway: arrival

Flight Gatwick to Oslo painless. Notable: M chose "valet parking" which worked well, ditto for the pickup. And we flew Norwegian, who were good. Here we are waiting for our gate,


Arriving in Oslo we were booked into the Karl Johann hotel. What trip advisor says about it is correct: it is good, very well and centrally located, but plain and has no air conditioning. Alas the weather choose to expend one of its few very pleasant days on our stay in Oslo instead of reserving it for the walks. Here's the view from our hotel.


We didn't do any serious exploration of Oslo, just soaked it up while there. Both Miriam and I had busy times at work, and I'd just finished bumps, so were quite content to unwind. Dinner sitting under the lime trees at Cafe Skansen was good.

Note: here and elsewhere I'll include diary scans - which are actually pix, as my scanner is so tedious to use - but you'll find those very hard to read I think; they are mainly for my future reference.

Norway 2016

This is the "title page" for our family holiday to Norway diary.

Coming soon(ish):

* Arrival in Oslo (done)
* Hardangervidda (begun)
* Bergen (to come)
* A bit of fjords (to come)
* Folgefonna (to come)

Trip outline: we flew from Gatwick to Oslo, stayed a night, took the bus to Geilo, walked in to the Tuva hytte and from there to Kraekkja to Kjeldebu to Dyranut, then bus to Bergen, where we spent four nights before going to Fonnabu hytte on the Folgefonna ice cap; then home.

Knockout Whist tournament results: Miranda wins with 140, then Daniel 151 me 158 Miriam 171.

My own packing list (compare to the one for the Stubai in 2015) is below.


Book: Hayek: Law, Legislation and Liberty. Heavyweight in both senses, but when it came to it I chose to carry it.
Book: Angela Carter, The Magic Toyshop. Inherited from Miranda. Preferred Hayek.
Diary: new red Moleskine, plus propelling pencil.
Maps: Finse, Geilo, Folgefonna, and the planning map. Norway overall, and the Bergen map.
Little blue waterproof bag: passports, plasters (which I forgot were in there).
Wodge of Kroner.
Red Exped waterproof, used as : carry-on, daysac, around-town sac, inner dry liner.
Tee shirts: large white Brighton marathon, "technical" A'dam marathon, Chesterton rowing. And one other "respectable" one to wear. Should have dropped the large white.
Three pairs underpants: one day, one night, one spare. About right.
Socks: thin, time three. Could have been times two.
Long sleeved "pistachio" green for walking in. Good.
Coat: standard fleece, not shown, and new green Rab raincoat.
Suntan lotion (not much used alas).
Mosquito repellent (not needed happily).
Fleece gloves that I cycle in, thin running / rowing / sculling gloves.
Floppy "sealskin" hat with wire brim.
Snood / Buff times three: new yellow because I lost the old, the old that I found, black.
Water bottle.
First aid kit.
Petzel (not really needed but deemed essential security).
My share of sponge bag: toothbrush, toothpaste, shower soap, scissors. Could have been pared back a bit.
Bergen turverlag mug.
Umbrella - not useful on this trip, should have omitted.
Spire 40 - my old faithful climbing sac, should have re-waterproofed or bought cover for.
Grey "little bag" for mosquito stuff, spare glasses, spare small plastic bags.
Wire for recharging Garmin watch.
Running / hut shoes.
Ski stick.
Silk sheet sleeping bag.
Towel, small.
Tracksters, times two: slinky and looser. Should have left one out.
Running shorts - marginal.
Spare shorts: should have omitted.
Coffee: good for taking to the huts.
Playing cards.
Phone, compass, whistle, Opinel, mini-Swiss-army-knife.
DNT hytte key, unused.
Plastic mug, mostly for protecting sac from ski sticks in transit.

I wrote a google doc with some plans for the trip. You're probably not allowed to look at it.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Diary of an injury: my back

Sigh, another injury diary. I suppose they'll get more frequent as I grow older, until they merge into permanence. This one is my back; not the first time I've hurt it; the last time was Sabaudia, and it took a week or more to recover.

This one started with a twinge at the ergs on Thursday. I can't now recall if I was slightly off when I got there or not: but it was raining-with-thunder, and suddenly we were erging instead of rowing. About half way through I definitely twinged - perhaps when on the sliders, its so easy to go up to ridiculous rates on those - and like a fool I didn't stop. Because as Stroke I felt obliged to be Strong in front of the young folk. Idiot.

Day one: an uncomfortable night, and hard to move next day; bending over tricky and done from the knees. Drove in instead of cycling, slow all day.

Day two (Sat): still very stiff and painful when getting up; hard to even sit without pain. But cycled into Waterstones with M. Skipped rowing, obvs. Late: found lying on the Red sofa helped, and was surprised when I got up at 10 pm to feel much better: movement without pain, joy.

Day three (Sun): somewhat annoyed to find that, although I'd slept much better, I'm back to movement with pain. But again, towards end of day and time on sofa, feel better.

Following days: gradual improvement. Again, lying on the sofa helps, time immobile in a chair at work doesn't. Drive in to work usually, although pushing down on the clutch  car feeling worse than I get in.

Tues: skip outing; I'm clearly not fit.

Weds: cycle in with Miranda, since I need to take her bike to Light Blue. This goes with no problems. Try a brief erg set to 1 at lunchtime: again, fine, even at the dizzy heights of 1:58. That's good, because I have an outing tomorrow.

Thurs: first outing since last Thursday. Ideally, I'd have given myself a few more days rest, and/or had a rather lighter outing (lock-n-reach, a few starts, two 500 m pieces). At another time of year, or if not stroke, I'd have done so. But since we're 3 weeks off bumps I gave it a go, having decided it would be OK, and it was.

Fri: last night set me back a little, but not much I think.

Sat: ha, overoptimism again. Thursday definitely set me back, so on Sat I just did the first lock of a 2-lock outing, and did that quite gingerly. We still did one rolling start though. In retrospect I should probably have skipped Thursday, but for the invisible peer pressure. Or perhaps, better said as self-pressure.

Sun: better. Did some gardening, and some beekeeping, but got Daniel to do the grass cutting and lifting. Lying flat on the sofa still pleasant.

Mon: (am) still a dull ache but much less in the way of twinge.

Tues: 14 km of outing in M1 with a 1800 m piece down the Time Race course goes OK. I'm not perfectly back to health but its close.

Weds: and I'm still OK in the morning. There's still some pain, but now its much closer to deep bruises reminding me they are still there. If I try to stand up from sitting for a while its hard to straighten up immediately. If I try to touch my toes I can nearly get to my ankles.

Thurs: outing: fine.

Sat: outing, three locks and two pieces, fine.

Sun: gardening, fine.

I'll end it there. The "fine"s above mean I did all those things without problems. However, my back still isn't perfect, but is now uninterestingly so.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Book review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted is a fantasy that would be a fairy tale were it pared down to the bone. I greatly liked it, and read it in a few sittings, rather stretching out my afternoons when I should have been in the garden.

There's lots of things I liked, that thinking back probably reflect the fairy-tale stuff. There's a king for example, but he's just The King most of the time, he only just about has a name. There's a knight-in-armour, who has a name, but who is effectively the Knight in Armour, well sort of. There's the valley, which might have a name but who cares; and there's the capital city, which didn't. But this is all good, because it contributes to the atmosphere. And there's a Wood, with no name but developing properties. The story centers around the Young Apprentice, sort of.

That's enough generic description and about as much flavour as I can give without giving it away. Only read on if you don't mind knowing the story.

The Young Heroine lives in a poor-but-happy house in a p-b-h village in a valley whose Lord Dragon is sort-of-terrible - he takes a girl as servant every ten years - but otherwise merely distant. Inevitably, he take Our Heroine instead of the Girl With All The Talents, for reasons initially unclear but eventually she realises, because she has Magic. Naturally He is haughty and unimpressed by her fumbling; naturally She is resentful and lonely in the Distant Tower. She fails to do Magic his way but slows grows in strength her way, a sort of Earthy, Messy, and possible Female sort of magic. Still, she is Apprentice, until he is called away and she has to deal, Alone, with the Growing Experience of fighting off The Wood. Later, she has to rescue the GWATT from The Wood, and again Grows; The Queen (for slightly hard-to-explain reasons, so I won't) and again Grows. This brings on the attentions of the KIA and so she has to travel to the City, but without The Dragon, so again she has to Grow. The Court is strange to her; she has to learn to Be Herself; to Solve Mysteries; and finally to Flee back to the Dragon for the Final Climatic Battle which turns out to be but one stage. The Final Unravelling is also Climatic but Unifying; Peace with The Wood is restored and those too broken to heal are given Rest.

Things that are slightly unsatisfactory but which I forgive: there's no clear reason why she is so powerful so young, or why her earthy magic so differs from the other's more bookish style; though there are hints that she is a throwback to a Baba Yaga-ish ancestor. Her house, village and valley are too uncomplicatedly happy and free of conflict; though that's also good, because there's no tedious messy details-for-the-sake-of-details stuff you'll find in The Eye of the World.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Rotterdam marathon 2016

Like 2015 but slower: TL;DR 4:16:51: shocking I know, but wait! I have excuses.

Firstly, I'd done essentially no training. Secondly, I'd hurt my back in Sabaudia on the last day and it took a week to recover. Third, I'd spent the previous weekend in Yorkshire (is that an excuse?). Fourth, I'd still got the cough I (probably) caught off Chris in Sabaudia, and I suspect probably most importantly, still got the edge of a mild flu.

 The ferry over was much like last year - Harwich still haven't fixed their gangway, so you still have to go into the ferry by bus. This time I walked from the ferry to the end of the breakwater, and then back and then on to Maassluis West because I could. Indeed with more time I could have walked all the way into Rotterdam, it really isn't very far; but 16 km the day before a marathon was probably a bit silly. To the Mainport Design Hotel, which is just by the Maritime museum and convenient for the start next day (to compare with Pincoffs from last year: both are nice, this one is more expensive, this one wins as more conveniently situated). All insanely over the top - for example my room had a jacuzzi in it, which really I'd rather not have had, but I'd booked late and didn't have much choice of room. And there was a sauna in the bathroom. But there was a lovely view out over the river and the quay of the museum. Eat in for dinner - pasta - and then spend some time in the evening trying to photograph myself in some impressive way.
Anyway, the day dawned clear and still and I went down to breakfast nice and early. The buffet was good, but the one in the Neue Post in Innsbruck was better. There was enough time to do everything, most especially to check my watch was charged and go to the toilet five times. Leave bag with hotel having checked out, and off: its warm enough in the sun but chill out of it; I could do with a binliner. There's the usual (for Rotterdam) confusion of getting to the start: since they wall bits off, you need to wiggle round back streets. But, there's time, especially since it doesn't start till about 10:20. Somewhat tastelessly - or so I thought, given Boston - each "wave" was started with a loud bang and/or some kind of firework. Well, who cares? I started off not fast, but settled into just-better-than-5:30-per-km, which was fine by me, since 4h was my aim, feeble though that is. I went through half way in 1:57 I think, which was just about in touch; but was overtaken by the 4 h pacers at about 26 km as we went back over the Erasmusbrucke; and I struggled with any kind of pace after that. I settled for aiming for 6:30 - oh dear - but allowing myself to walk through water points, and how I looked forward to the next water point! But finally the last few km drew nigh, and I imagined myself rowing down the Cam thinking its not very far now, and at last I finished and oh how good it was to stop.


* Meanwhile, JA was running 2:54:41, but he had to do it in Manchester.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Three days in Yorkshire with three girls

The semi-annual Coton ex-school-parents trip to somewhere to climb something came round again, and this year was to Yorkshire to do the Three Peaks. This isn't an area I know much about - it turns out to be close to the Ribblehead viaduct, which you might know, and Settle of James and Julia fame, and not far away from Skipton and Bolton Abbey of Hirst fame.

Some slightly confusing combination of Clare and Nigel had organised choices of accommodation - I hate choice - and fortunately we choose the bunkhouse, because that was where all the Kool Kidz were, so we blended right in. We drove up on Wednesday afternoon, fairly painlessly, guided by Google; unpacked our excess kit and excess food, and settled in. We'd brought, but didn't need, carry mats; I didn't even need my sleeping bag just the liner, because it was warm. Present were Clare, Stan (somewhat grown up) and Gemma, Ross and Karen and Olivia and Matthew, Paul and Helen and Vivian and Ginny (arriving late), the Gabriel Foxes, Nigel and Anna and Cosmo and Joshi (later, and camper vanning), Charlie and Tommy, Nigel's-friend-Ivor, and some other people whom I quite likely talked to but, being me, didn't remember the names of.

Thursday was the fair weather day so those who wanted to were going to do the full three-peaks-in-a-day, starting off from Horton-in-Ribblesdale at 7, to make sure they had time. However they took the precaution of not fully packing the night before and leaving slightly late with much to-ing and fro-ing, so didn't get off, I'm told, till 7:30. We sluggards were to meet them at The Station Inn, Ribblehead or thereabouts, and a time somewhat like 12:30. So we got there about 12, but it was a lovely day, so waiting around was no problem. We sent the three girls off in the direction we expected the Peakers to come from, then realised we didn't know where the girls were, and chased after them. Anyway, about 12:30 people came in, in three groups, and we went back from the tea-van at the t-junction up to the pub, because they wanted a sit-down. Once we'd all regrouped and so on we set off up number two (for them) which was Whernside, at 1:15. GPS trace, until it died on the way down. It's a lovely route and it was a lovely day for it, starting off under the Ribblehead viaduct and then heading upwards via a clear, obvious and easy path - this is a popular route. We got to the top at 3:25 and had a leisurely time admiring the glorious views.

Isn't that lovely? And a light sprinkling of snow too just to set it off. In total we spent about 25 minutes up there, including waiting for the hindguard, so didn't start down till nearly 4, and I was somewhat wondering to myself why the Peakers weren't a bit keener to get themselves going. But down we went, to the Hill Inn which kinda looked shut but we sat in its garden anyway and the braver folk went inside and inveigled drinks out of them. I'd left my car here (actually just up the hill where there's space, as the Hill Inn folk are pretty fierce about not parking anywhere near them) so took Clare and Karen a few km back to the start to pick up their cars. When we got back I picked up the Girlies and we went back to the barn, leaving the others to their drinks. We showered and so on, I sat around happily reading Adam Smith. Very much later on we were sitting back in the living room rather wondering where the Peakers were, as it was long after dark - about 10 pm - and we'd had no word. It turned out that they'd ended up in a slower and a faster group; the faster had made it round, but the slower had watched the sunset from Ingleborough and found the downgoing in the dark more troublesome than expected, despite the near-perfect weather, and so had taken a deliberate shortcut - instead of coming down to the Horton railway station, they'd taken a quicker route to a road about 2.5 NNW on the B6479, between South House Farm and Gill Garth Farm. And then finding them there and so on had proved tricky, reception being poor. Poor Ivor, who had finished earlier, had even gone up looking for them, but of course because they were off the route he didn't find them. Anyway, all ended well and those who had made their Peaks were happy if footsore.

In case you were wondering, I had a cricked back from the Sabaudia trip and wasn't fit to run round - as I'd originally intended - so decided that backing off was the path of greatest sanity. Back home the girlies wanted fish-n-chips, and we went out for Generic Coop Food and f-n-c, but by the time we got to the chippie it had closed (shuts 8:30) but the girls pronounced themselves pretty full anyway so meh.

Friday was not a fair weather day. Whilst not actively raining it was overcast; anyone who'd done the Peaks yesterday was not inclined to join us so I and the girlies set off to do Ingleborough in the morning weather-window, since the afternoon was slated to be worse. We drove down to Clapham so we could traverse it, and because the start-of-walk from there looked nice, and so it was. Here we are in the village on the bridge over the stream, just about to admire a cat.


Notice how unsuitable Miranda's bag is for a mountain; and (more subtly) Maddie's too, since it was completely water-un-proof. GPS trace of the route. It starts as a "toll path" (but its cheap) up though a pleasant sheltered valley, then out into a little limestone-walled, errm, valley with interesting caves, then out onto the rather more exposed tops, where we found an exciting sinkhole and explored it down to the "chute" at the end that we didn't explore. Then, onwards and upwards. The higher up and more exposed the stronger the wind grew, and it was a strong and bitter wind, exposing our not-really-Yorkshire standard of clothing. Still, we pushed on. At 600 m (the top is 723 m) we got to a "false summit" with a nice semi-circle dry stone wall behind which we gratefully sheltered, and I destroyed Miranda's illusions by telling her it wasn't the summit. I was seriously considering going back: the wind really was very strong, and my fingers were cold, and I wasn't sure if the girlies morale would hold out; but to my surprise their fires were undimmed and so we went on and up. It wasn't much further. At the top is a vast tableland, or so it appeared in the cloud / mist, but I didn't have my head up looking around oh no my head was down avoiding the horizontal snow. After a mis-step corrected by the phone, that invaluable walking tool, we found shelter in the, errm, shelter - a most providential three-walled windshelter which provides a lee no matter which way the wind may be blowing. Taking bearings again we set off correctly, found the perfectly clear path down, and kept going down, finding shelter from the wind eventually. And so down into Ingleton, where we went into the climbing cafe for hot chocolate and on the off chance of finding the others, since they were going there at some point. But, no. So I ordered a taxi and took the girls back to the barn, and then myself to Clapham to pick up the car, and then off to Settle to find James and Julia and their magnificent palace-temple (head out of Settle on the Kirkby Malham road, its just up the hill, easily recognsiable by the stained glass). Having told them the girls were coming too I was obliged to eat more than my fair share of cake, and drink lots of tea, and bemoan with them the state of the blogging world: things ain't what they used to be. James, amusingly, is planning to run the Peaks in the upcoming race and will be disappointed with more than four hours. And so home, via a tour of the undercroft. Profiting by our knowledge of chippie shutting time we got there in time to buy two cod-n-chips, one chips, and one scampi-n-chips, which did us quite well, indeed I got to finish off Miranda's cod.

Saturday was also no fair weather day. But I could not restrain the girls, they insisted on doing Pen-y-ghent and so we again picked the likeliest weather window - starting around 10 - to head up from Horton (from us, drive to Ribblehead, turn R to Horton, drive all the way through and just at the end is a little loop of road for convenient parking, and head off up the banks of the stream past the primary school). GPS trace. Today was rain, but mercifully little wind. The rain was continuous rather than torrential; P-y-g was hidden in the clouds at all times.

Here's a selfie of us at the summit, taken by Alice who has far more experience of such things than me, my attempt was rubbish.


We look a bit bedraggled but cheerful, which is about right. The path heads up onto the moors soon enough and is pretty easy to follow and to walk; its also quite direct to the summit so despite some determined girlie slowness we steadily knocked off the height - I love walking with a GPS altimeter - and got to the "steep bit" which is quite fun and was very nearly scrambling, in that at one point I thought about holding on to a rock with one hand. And so to the top, where we sheltered from the wind in the helpful windshelter rather than admiring the non-existent views. To come down we made a loop of it for fun, down the Penine Way (see the GPS trace) and so back to the car somewhat damp around the edges but not in our cores. On a day of lovely sunshine I'd be rhapsodising about the views and the lovely track; today I could tell you about me undamming little mud dams on the path, but you don't want to hear about that.

And so back, quick shower, bit of food, pack, say goodbye to those who were there, and head off; back by a curiously quicker route that involved some unplanned diversions into Bradford, due to my unfamiliarity with navigating via google maps. And if you wish to complain that was four days, not three, then I shall ignore you. Daughter.

Monday, 28 March 2016

A trip to Sabaudia - day 6: Sabaudia to Home (Sunday)

[Day 1: Rome | Day 2: Rome to Sabaudia | Day 3: Sabaudia (thursday) | Day 4: Sabaudia (friday) Day 5: Sabaudia (Saturday) | Day 6: Sabaudia to Home (Sunday)]

Sunday dawned clear and bright, but it was our last day. I was neither clear nor bright, partly due to excess wetness on Saturday afternoon, the copious red wine at the evening meal, and then the regrettable mistake in the cocktail bar where an "Americano" turns out to be a  cocktail as well as a coffee.

We were an VIII and a Quad, with me coxing due to enthusiasm for rowing by Will, and also me cricking my back whilst trying to put my socks on, it isn't easy you know. Chris and Brian still hors de combat. The water was still and we rowed quite decently, though the Quad refused my challenge to a race to the death.

And then, it was all over bar the washing the boat and each other down. Here we all are (I have resisted the urge to add a Ukrainian for scale): Front L to R: Brian, Will, Simon E, Me; Rear L to R: Lewis, James, Anne, Simon L, Pamela, Lorraine, Dan, Amanda, Amy, Chris, Keith.

For fans of completeness: lunch was yesterday's carefully pre-bought cold pizza, bus from hotel left 1:30 to Ciampino 3:00 where we broke into our separate parties, the bulk sitting around in that characteristic state of modern budget travel; I was pretty tired by then. Back in the UK just before 7 pm and the trudge through customs.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

A trip to Sabaudia - day 5: Sabaudia (Saturday)

[Day 1: Rome | Day 2: Rome to Sabaudia | Day 3: Sabaudia (thursday) | Day 4: Sabaudia (friday)]

Today Dan and a few others were keen to cycle in the afternoon, and I decided to join them, so after breakfast we wandered into town, carefully went past the first cycle shop, and hired bikes in the second cycle shop. They didn't have proper racing bikes for hire - they did have one rather nice one but that was demo only - so instead Dan, Amanda, Pamela and I got "town bikes" - pah - but in practice they were fine. Except for Amanda's on the steeper hills, when the chain fell off, but of that more anon.

So, first, the rowing, and we ventured on 2.5 lengths of the lake - originally it was to be three but we saw sense thank goodness. Featuring the usual warm up and exercises, followed by a few gratuitous starts for the fun of it, a significant amount of shipping water from various washes, and then some "battle paddling" of us versus the launch. Which is fun until you work out how to do it. Version one had us going off, James setting the throttle to match us during the first 20 strokes, and then us trying to stay ahead for the following 3 km ish. Or however long it was. We were forced up from 21 to 28 in order to stay there, but we did. The next one was shorter, and I realised it was easier to not pull quite so hard for the fist 20 strokes, tee hee.

Lunch, then bikes. A few more people decided to join us, but didn't because the shop was out of bikes. In practice this was probably good: getting four people to agree on a route was hard enough, even though there was only one way to go. Which was: along the beach, around the mountain, along the coast on the far side to the end, and then (for me) over the top and back. Or in more detail: we set off and happily cycled along the beach road in the sunshine, stopped to look at the tower at the end, then went into territory new to me, as the road gently rose through the forest roughly parallel to the ridge of Monte Circeo. Vair nice, and after a bit we came to the turning that would take us around the shoulder, fairly steeply up, with Amanda obliged to push her recalcitrant bike; but we made it up and into Sant Felice Circeo. An old town - now much extended - and we failed to stop for coffee which was a mistake because it is the last convenient stop. But there's a nice view of the sea. And so on round, up and down a bit but mostly contouring in the way that contouring is never really level; and eventually to the end of the road in a track and a path - we left our bikes - to a view of the sea and the cliffs under Monte Circeo, since we'd come all the way round. Then back - with a false start, sorry, it is amazingly easy to get lost - and then we split at the bit where Google maps clearly showed a zig-zagging road up the mountain, and I could clearly see from below the lines of masonry walls underpinning it. The others went back on the coast road, I headed up. I went straight past a locked gate - obviously - and only realised a bit later that I'd missed my path, and that if you looked closely you could evade the gate. Then I got lost again in a maze of excavation and finally realised - when another cyclist on a real mountain bike went past - that the true path went up the tiny track I'd ignored. At which point I was forced to admit that the "road" up the mountain was actually a track, and I could not cycle it, I would have to push my bike. Not quite the whole way - I rode perhaps 50 m -  but the vast majority.

Nonetheless, it is a lovely path, strewn with iris and amaranth, and with gorgeous views, I recommend it if you're hard enough. However, about half way up - thank heaven for GPS altimeters - the skies darkened and the rain came in, and I started to regret my decision to lighten my rucksac by, for example, leaving my raincoat out. On the plus side, the biker I'd seen earlier came back down again, so I got to feel like an explorer again, with no certainty of making the top. I pushed on.

After many twists and turns I was rewarded with some stunning views of Monte Circeo, and out to sea, and a distinct feeling of wetness. Coming to the end of the path I saw a huge barred metal gate ahead of me and thought "I am not going back. How am I going to get over that?" but happily it had a tiny sally port cut into it and I was through, onto road. I wizzed along - still in pouring rain - along a kinda summit ridge but downwards, till I found a deserted cafe with a porch to shelter in and feel wet till the rain nearly stopped. Then down, quickly but carefully, to SFC where I found a nice cafe to sit in and shiver uncontrollably while I warmed up. And so home, happy to do the forested bit while it was still fairly light; a lovely sunset sky of pink underlit clouds coming down to the beach; and a fairly safe bit along the beach road.

Back at the hotel a warm shower and dinner; interrupted by someone saying there was someone come about a bicycletto - oh, yes, I'd put off the business of returning the bike till later, the shop owner turned up and seemed very happy to get the keys back, I didn't even have the wit to apologise but we shook hands and were both content. And so dinner, and later on cocktails, Keith and I both rather confused to order an Americano and get a red alcoholic drink.