Wednesday 22 December 2021

Book review: The Wind in the Willows

PXL_20211218_204510467~2The Wind in the Willows is an old children's book that I have never read before. My copy comes from Joan Procter (given to her "From Granny, aug 18th 1929"), but it has taken me ages to get round to reading it. I liked it.

As usual there's no reason to describe it; you'll find it elsewhere. It is really a collection of tales told to a child, perhaps polished up to hang together, although some bits fit less well... Pan at dawn is perhaps more of a poem or picture than a story. That the stoats and weasels are the villains is unfortunate but at least they get a place in the story.

The animals are of course all anthropomorphised and at times that is odd: Toad for example combs his hair. And they must be about the size of humans, too: but really you're just not supposed to think of that. In most ways they aren't really animals at all; they are country-dwelling folk of various types and strata, who happen to have animal nick-names.

Physically, the book is a blue-covered hardback with gold lettering (title, author, house) on the spine and the author on the cover. There is gold on the top side of the pages only. The pages are roughly cut and not square at the bottom; this is quite charming. There are no illustrations.

Saturday 27 November 2021

Film review: Dune

tumblr_m589pvTOQZ1qbaom0 This is a review of the "new" Dune film, which we've just watched. Cinematically it is impressive, but largely empty; prefer the book. The new film is only about half the book; we get to the point after the 'thopter crash where they meet the Fremen and stride off towards Sietch Tabr. And that took nearly three hours. Although, to give credit where due, it didn't drag. Watching it on a large screen, and we were right at the front, with all the subsonics, helps.

If you've read the book you'll realise that most of the important scenes come with commentary by the leading characters, which adds depth and explains what's going on. The film doesn't try to do that, and so loses that depth, and doesn't find any other way to supply it. So, the Bene G's breeding programme gets a mention, but just that; we're told Lady J was told to bear daughters, but just that; if you've read the book these are hooks if you haven't they are meaningless. Some scenes are problematic: Dr Yueh managing to bring down the house shields just about works in the book, but not at all in the film: everything is on such a vast scale that it is impossible to believe one man could do that. Plus disabling all the sensors that would have warned about the f*ck*ng enormous spacehips just overhead. In their efforts to be impressive, we have enormous lovingly-rendered spaceships landing and people walking off them. WTF? Have these people no motorcades? The battle scenes, whilst also lovingly rendered, make no sense: in no universe should people on foot rush at each other with swords, having decended from spaceships. In the book, of course, we know that shields don't let in high-speed items and this helps; the film doesn't manage to convey this well. In the book, when Paul kills Jamis, eventually, it is helpfully explained that the reason he keeps slowing down is this facet of shield-trained-fighting. Having Paul dream of a figure with a bloody knife doesn't convey the across-known-worlds Jihad. And so on.

On a perhaps somewhat pedantic note, but with just a tiny bit of thought it could have been done better: Dune is very very hot in the sun, yes? I've been to places - Greece, Spain - that are like that. If you walk across a courtyard in such a place, you take advantage of every shade. They don't. When Paul wanders across to talk to the palm-tree-waterer, he doesn't stand in the shade of the trees, and neither does the waterer. Little things like that - and people not keeping their mouths shut, despite having nose plugs in - disappoint.

From that, you can tell that I spent quite a bit of the film comparing it to the book, and inevitably finding the book superior - by which I think I mean, the story and images the book conveyed to my mind. But some bits of the film do work, and carry you along, and you can forget the book for a while. The ornithopters are nicely done. Some of the spaceships are kewl. The worms are decent. Backdrops are good.

The lead, Paul, works. The Duke is OK. Lady J isn't: too weak, insufficiantly in control; her character sacrified for Hollywood tropes.

Note: I should add that (per my review) while the book is dead impressive if you're say 16, it doesn't fare so well to an adult.

A few words about the David Lynch 1984 version, which we watched at home recently. Which was also pretty good, though it did drag a bit. I found Sting, as Feyd-Rautha, good (was there even a FR in this one?); Piter was well done too; by contrast the 2021 version doesn't do its characters so well. DL's version tried to convey too much by having characters moon off into the distance, which is kinda what the book did, but it didn't work on film.

On scale

The books and the films differ as to the "scale" of the various households. Hence, as noted above, some things that make sense in the book don't make sense in the films. In the book, Leto's household in Arrakeen is effectively that of a colonial governor; there's a housekeeper, the Shadout; and from inside they can look out onto the road, along which people pass. In the film - certainly the most recent - the scale is vast; driven mostly I think by a desire for dead impressive CGI stuff, with spaceships and buildings dwarfing human scale. And mostly empty inside, apart from a few key characters. Indeed a flaw in the film is that the key characters are not surrounded by a cloud of servants, as they should be.

Thursday 25 November 2021

Book review: White Queen

[Originally written-to-self in an email in 2013, presumably as a "save".]

This is brilliant. Difficult, allusive, original, imaginative. The vision of aliens as visitors we don't even realise are here slips quietly in like a stiletto through the ribs; the entire tone is vastly superior to the not-really-successful Spirit, which is only trying to recapture what she managed here. Comparable to Flowerdust or Divine Endurance. And just about nothing else I've read.

For all those who have reviewed this as "I was baffled": yes indeed: this book actually requires you to think, and rewards you if you do.

Tuesday 23 November 2021

My father's carpet

Many years ago - I'm not sure exactly how many, but he was likely around 25, so perhaps about 60 years ago - my father knotted this carpet. It was around the house when I grew up. And eventually it came to me. For a while it was in front of the fire, then it moved, then it got rolled up and forgotten. And then it got unrolled and we realised we had forgotten the mothballs.

Oops. Nothing lasts forever, as Roxy Music taught. So, with a heavy heart, and after considering getting it repaired and consulting with Mother, I girded up my loins and threw it into the bin.

Monday 22 November 2021

Film Review: Time Bandits

mino Well. A weird one, as you'd expect from Gilliam. See wiki. Visually rich, as I think they say; indeed some of the scenes - particularly the early one of the approach to the city in the Napoloeonic wars - looked like it had been done as a recreation of a painting; or perhaps not a re-creation: created, as though a painting; with attention to dramatic light and dark.

However, as a film - as entertainment, which it is meant to be - it is flawed; in that it is not funny enough, and not brave enough to be not funny at all. And too often skates over the verges of unfunnyness. So it would perhaps have been better not as a comedy at all, perhaps. Examples? "Pansy" is rather heavy-handed. We're given a brief shot of a lifebuoy with "Titanic" written on it, which is full, but then a moment later it is thrust into our faces, which isn't. Robin Hood. The gratuitous hitting of the poor by one of RH's henchmen. As a cartoon, that would have been fine; with real people - though, obviously, they weren't really hit - it isn't. Indeed the entire thing is really a cartoon.

The minotaur is very good, though.

Book review: Sundiver

1637608011769-f8ce3d5b-3aed-456a-85fa-c30e97dcb9ce_~2 A David Brin potboiler. Of the Uplift Universe; see-also the Brightness Reef trilogy. See-also Goodreads. I'm pretty sure I liked this better the first time around. But his prose is leaden despite his best Ive-been-to-writing-class attempts to add something to it, so shorn of surprises it isn't such fun. My appalling memory means that some surprises remain, but really - apart from the plot, which is best avoided - the book is mainly introducing you to the Uplift Universe and the Wolfling Humans and so on; and without the interest of that being gradually revealed, there isn't much left.

Too much is wrong to make the thing worth ripping to shreds, but I think the idea of Culla having SuperZappoLazerVision is the worst part. It isn't physically plausible to have SZLV. I doubt it is plausible to have LV at all, but that would have been a smallish miracle, and all that was really needed for the plot, but oh no they have to be usable as weapons too for the grand finale. Yawn. Keeping them secret for 100 kyr isn't believeable either. And all of this stems from the mere need to not have a machine onboard that could have done it; but GalTech could have got a machine onboard trivially. So it is all very silly indeed. Roll on the desperately self-congratuatory finish and we're done; whew.

Friday 19 November 2021

Next summer: thoughts and ideas

 I'm going to dump stuff I see here, against the happy chance I may be able to use them.

Breithorn Traverse.

Alphubel, Täschhorn.

The corners of the Cam

IMG_20191206_121911 As told to a visiting cox from Oxford. And for Fairbairns, which means you don't get to see the course beforehand.

Some resources:

* A map of the standard Head Course, from First and Third.

* A map of the Fairbairns course, from Jesus.

* A video of a Robinson VIII rowing the course.

The Cam is wigglier than the Isis. Most coxes, even good ones, will expect their crews to pull round, bowside or strokeside, on Grassy and Ditton and probably First Post (for the standard Head Course). So, expect this, tell your crew to expect it, don't get overenthusiastic and try to avoid it or leave it until too late. Also, don't just tell one side to pull harder, because they can't; or if they can, only at the risk of throwing out their rowing. So, you want one side to pull round, and the other side to back off somewhat. Ideally, to ease the strain of calls, arrange beforehand with your crew that if one side is told to pull round, the other side should just back off, of itself. Also, somewhat controversially, I'd suggest going into corners at 90% effort. Because Fairbairns is a long course (and there is usually no significant stream on the Cam), there is plenty of time to get tired, why not give yourself some margin on the difficult bits. This doesn't apply if you're elite, of course, but if you're elite, why are you reading this?

General: in the town section the river is narrower than you think due to moored boats. On the Reach, beware of shallows if you get too close to the meadow side; you're probably better off on the towpath side. Although there is little stream, you may as well gain what there is by staying in the middle, which has the advantage of avoiding the nasty banks.

The Corners

Elizabeth Way ("the Road Bridge on J's map): or, "the S bend". Not too bad, just watch out for the point when you want to change the rudder over.

Chesterton / Green Dragon: on the map, looks deceptively easy. But is quite sharp, see-also my pic above. You come into it from a relatively narrow stretch of water further constrained by moored narrow boats.

Ditton: most of a right angle. Going upstream, it is very easy to steer too wide, especially with a wind coming down the Reach. Downstream, make sure you don't take it too wide, you don't want to head into the Plough.

Grassy: is most of a right angle. It is easier to steer downstream; going upstream, judging the narrowboats on the apex(es) is difficult.

First Post: not too bad, a total of about 45 degrees, but quite sharp. If you end up going wide, watch out for the overhanging trees and bushes on the far side.

Just before you get to the "Motorway Bridge" (actually the A14 bridge) there is "the outflow" which comes in from the W (towpath) side and can slew the boat around in a somewhat unnerving fashion. Avoid this by being in the middle.

Wednesday 10 November 2021

Taping the seams

My beloved lightweight bright green Rab waterproof is starting to come apart at the seams. Well, it is a lightweight jacket. I think I bought it for summer 2016 - I definitely have pix as far back as that. So, I tried re-taping them. I bought el-cheapo 2 Roll Tenacious Tape Patches, Clear Seam Sealing Repair Tapes Waterproof - Iron On, "For Sealing Sewn Seams: Repairs on Polyurethane (PU) coated breathable waterproof fabric: leisure waterproofs, sportswear, military uniforms, protective clothing, tents, covers, awnings etc. This fabric repair tape is sealed with a waterproof coating and won’t peel off during a wash . Apply using domestic Iron (medium / medium hot setting)." And I used the advice from Specifically, use greaseproof paper or similar to protect the iron, and have the iron hot enough that the tape goes transparent. Which was about 3/4 scale, for me. Warning: this tends to melt the existing tape, but I'm trusting that will be fine when it cools. Pix:

1. The existing seam was peeling away a bit, so a "cross" to seal it seemed best. I didn't want to pick / pull off the existing seam.


2. Showing the roll. That's a lot of tape, and you get two rolls. This coat is not for public display, so I decided to tape the outside, too, albeit a bit more neatly than the inside.


Saturday 30 October 2021

Film review: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Plausibility

An old old film, which I've not seen before. Read wiki for details. Nominally an action-adventure film it is many respects more of a comedy or a cartoon; somewhat in the mode of Star Wars, which is hardly surprising as Lucas is involved. Sometimes the implauibility is stretched so thin that you can't possibly be expected to believe it, like when Our Hero survives a long ocean voyage on the outside of a submarine. Although surviving a snake-pit full of slow-worms and small pythons seems entirely plausible. Although that the snakes haven't all starved long ago in the middle of a lifeless desert seems less likely.

Wiki's While [Lucas/Spielberg] had ideas for set pieces and stunts for the film, they hired [a writer] to fill in the narrative gaps between them pretty well explains things. It is two hours long. And towards the end it begins to drag a little, because it is turning into one thing-following-another, and when they finally open the ark I was grateful we'd nearly got there.

Saturday 23 October 2021

Film review: Eat Drink Man Woman

See, as usual, wiki for details which I won't trouble to repeat. This post backdated to last weekend which is when we finished watching it I think. It is quite long; M and I saw it in two sessions. She's watched it before. It is Quality Cinema and I guess worth watching. It is set in Taipei in Taiwan and is I suppose about the bonds of family, the difficulty of communication, and the change of society.

I think I'm very hard to please with films nowadays. The film has some virtues but... it rather felt like what's-the-point. Perhaps I need to try harder. Should I have to?

Sunday 10 October 2021

Book review: Nemesis

1633849331031-ef522ee5-43c5-4ef7-af60-ce7bb96ba15b_ Sci-fi trash from Asimov. Wiki will tell you about it, but not whether it is any good. Goodreads likes it. I read the middle portion until late in the night. But... after that it gets less good.

The underlying story line is reasonable, and mostly reasonably handled, but it is too long and gets rather bogged down.

A pattern I've seen before: the "scientist" characters make wild guesses which the (should) know full well they haven't got the data to back up, and then hold fast to those guesses, pointlessly. They have long book-filling discussions about those guesses that add little to the plot but much to the thickness of the book. Example: did "Rotor" survive the trip out to Nemesis?

Another pattern: space travel is absurdly over-personalised and ad-hoc. Our Strong Female Lead invents FTL travel (well, the hyperspace travel of the Foundation series); and then also leads the engineering to produce a space ship; and then actually travels on the space ship. Just like Werner von Braun did... oh, wait. When the five-person crew heads off they, utterly absurdly, have no plans, have thought through no contingencies, and have no instructions from Earth. Although the SFL is the nominal captain the authority structure is weak because they're all scientists, and yet absurdly that hasn't been thought through either. The people in charge stay in charge throughout decades, because inventing new characters is hard.

The FTL-ish stuff is murky, but I think this is valid too: various groups "leave" the solar system, and people wonder where they're going to. But never ever does the book discuss what direction they're going in. Implicitly, you travel through hyperspace "in the direction you're going" because nav in hyperspace is never mentioned, and yet it never occurs to anyone to just track the fucking things as they leave the solar system to see which way they're pointing. This is such a massive plot hole I think Asimov must have seen it, but because he was unable to fill it he had to hope his readers wouldn't see it.

The other weirdness is the "Captain Scarlet" effect: no-one ever does anything twice, another pattern. So: Rotor leaves, with the hyper-assistance that only they have. But, pretty soon, lots of other people have it. But no-one uses it. Even though it would get you to the stars. Or it could get you automated probes. Absolutely no-one uses it, and the characters mumble some pathetic justification that makes no sense.

Lastly, the characters. Asimov doesn't do these very well, and was better off in the Foundation when things were story-lead. So the long tedious intense scenes where a mother obsesses over losing control of her daughters life, and absolutely no-one says to her "you can't live through you children let her go" are just dull, and after a bit I blipped though them.

Trivia: when first doing FTL, the characters witter about maybe hyperspace is dangerous because of, sort-of, tidal effects. On their small spaceship. But they've forgotten that an 8 km space station has already travelled.

Oh (sorry, one more thing): to be scientifically plausible, Nemesis has to take 5 kyr to get to the solar system. This is such a long time frame that worrying about finding out or doing something in a decade, or a century, would obviously be silly. But that's what all the characters do, and therefore they all sound silly. They invent implausible reasons why it might be necessary to start really soon. Such as: getting 8 billion people off will take a long time. And no-one ever notices that those 8 billion are going to die at the end of their natural lifespace a long time before there is any problem.

And I forgot: there's a bit of racial-politics type stuff in there. Earth is mixed. The space settlements have somehow sorted themselves and tend to be racially uniform (although the book contains no suggestion that it is unfairly so: they are sorted, but no-one says "oh and BTW the blacks are all stuck on Earth). The Earth-type characters tend to think this is bad, and there are suggestions that the Rotor leader is racist. And then towards the end people burble about "will the glactic civ whatever it looks like repeat Earth's mistakes" and so on. But it is a thin layer spread on top of and clearly separable from the story; if he wanted to say anything he needed to try harder.

Aand: our hereoes show a remarkable lack of interest in the planetary scale intelligence they find. It is potentially billions of years old, and yet they ask it no questions. Did anyone else visit? Does it know of any other intelligences? They don't give a toss. Is it human-level, or waaay above human level? They simply don't care. Does it know any interesting new physics or mathematics or moral philosophy? They are not interested. Why not? For a couple of reasons. Mostly, because the PSI is but a plot device, and so our author is not interested in it. But also, because either he has no interesting answers to any of these questions - in which case it is better to pretend they don't exist - or he does, in which case those answers would be more interesting than the rest of the book, which would be embarassing.

Saturday 9 October 2021

This year's lawnmower

My old lawnmower would not work. After fiddling with the switch and taking it apart, I took the cover off and discovered this.


That seemed a reasonable explanation of it not working. I tried cleaning it all out including using the vacuum cleaner but alas it did not spring back to life. So, with some reluctance, I sighed and threw it into the bin and bought a new one from AmazonFlymo EasiStore 300R Electric Rotary Lawn Mower - 30 cm Cutting Width, 30 Litre Grass Box, Close Edge Cutting, Rear Roller, Manual Height Adjust, Space Saving Storage Features, Lightweight a bargain at £89.99.


Today I got round to using it. After spending 10 minutes assembling it I set to work and all was well... and then it wasn't. It cut out. Just like the old one. Am I cursed? After some experiment it seemed likely that the problem was with my (home build) extension cable, the "far" end so to speak, that gets pulled a lot. So: I cut off a few inches of wire and rebuilt it and... all was well. Hurrah. That probably means the old lawnmower was fine, but at about 9 years old, £10 / year is fair enough. And the new one cuts so much better. Perhaps I should just buy a new blade every year.

Monday 20 September 2021

Moby Fucking Dick; or, The Wail

1632139090828-795524e8-fc22-406a-b65a-e81ff4563c43_ MFD has a lofty place in the annals of books that no-one reads; and having now read it, I can see that is entirely justified. And lest you think I just don't like long books I reply oh no indeed: I rather liked Anathem and LOTR and even Proust. The problem with MFD is the lack of a plot. You might reply "but what could be more exciting than a whaling yarn" and the answer to that is that very little of the book is plot; most of it is regurgitated facts about whaling and other matters, doubtless all "fascinating" in some abstract sense but actually not very fascinating. Wiki offers A contribution to the literature of the American Renaissance, Moby-Dick was published to mixed reviews, was a commercial failure, and was out of print at the time of the author's death in 1891. Its reputation as a "Great American Novel" was established only in the 20th century, after the centennial of its author's birth. William Faulkner said he wished he had written the book himself, and D. H. Lawrence called it "one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world" and "the greatest book of the sea ever written". That last seems implausible in the face of Conrad. "Call me Ishmael" is good, though.

I feel - but do not have the literary resources to prove - that it might resemble the (flaws in) medaeival literature that Lewis acknowledges: the dullness from padding. And so much of the "detail" does appear to be padding. I also disliked the "voice" of the padding, for which I'll have to give you an example: No good blood in their veins? They have something better than royal blood there. The grandmother of Benjamin Franklin was Mary Morrel; afterwards, by marriage, Mary Folger, one of the old settlers of Nantucket, and the ancestress to a long line of Folgers and harpooneers-all kith and kin to noble Benjamin-this day darting the barbed iron from one side of the world to the other. And so on.

You're also wondering where on Earth the weird name "Moby Dick" came from, and the answer is Mocha Dick.

There's also a problem of sympathy: doubtless when written whalers were providing a useful service viz whale oil, but I cannot understand their total lack of sympathy for their prey, which - unless I've forgotten, and recall that I started this book many years ago in Mallorca - is not explored in the book, perhaps because the very concept was absent in 1850. I do recall that in one of the POBs Maturin asks a whaleman "do you not feel anything on taking so hugeous a life?" and the answer is a stolid no, and that's it. But that then rather upsets the excitement of the Quest; the book presents Ahab as on some semi-justified quest or perhaps a war against an adversary, the whale; but of course the whale is just hoping Ahab will fuck off and leave him in peace1.


1. I know, it isn't really like that, but you see the problem I hope.


* Blue Whale Penis.

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Book review: Till we have faces

1631639421756-6063abb3-9d9d-4a12-8282-db5845c88ca2 Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold is a 1956 novel by C. S. Lewis. It is a retelling of Cupid and Psyche, based on its telling in a chapter of The Golden Ass of Apuleius, says wiki. It is set in an imaginary city-state of Glome not too far from the Greeklands; Aphrodite is known as Ungit.

Wiki further says Lewis considered this novel to be his best and most accomplished work but I consider that odd. The book is... not very interesting, I think I would say. Not dull; well written;  but most of the "interest" is the torment of the central character's relationship to the Gods; which isn't an interest of mine. But was of Lewis's, I believe.

What to say... certain bits are certainly well done. The King has absolute authority to geld a young trouble maker; but must give way before the weight of the local priest and populace when they decide his daughter must be sacrificed. The locals, at least the better-informed ones, are aware that they are on the fringes of the Greeklands... but no I've said that wrong. They aren't "on the fringes" because the Greeklands aren't central. But they know that books come from there, and to some extent culture, that they don't want. The disparity in thinking between the Greeks, who have Philosophy, and the locals, who are rather more earthy. We are drawn to consider the Greek way better; and then at the end, told (somewhat crudely, from the mouth of the dead Greek himself) that it isn't so. That... True Religion is the important part.

The title makes sense at the end: nothing to do, as I half-guessed at the beginning, with female subjection. Instead, it is that we can't meet the gods face-to-face "until we have faces": which is to say, until we can see things truely, without masks. But this conclusion depends on the Gods existing; and they don't.

Book review: The Hobbit

1631562608953-1b091fc9-1456-4986-9d6f-30fd05a6da2b I find it hard to believe that I haven't reviewed this already... I've read it a few times. But perhaps not recently? Except I found we had a hardback copy, in addition to the paperback I've had forever. I think the hardback came from Mfd; anyway, I re-read it. It is still good; far better than almost anything new, naturally.

[Note to self: re-read, New Year 2022/3]

But what to actually say about it? When you know that LOTR is coming along as a sequel, you can see that some things don't quite fit, although Tolkein does a remarkably good job of hiding the joins (wiki says that the second edition makes some mods to fit in with LOTR; I think this copy is second edition, fifteenth impression, 1965). I'm thinking of things like the character of Gandalf. Or of the forest elves... is that fair? I'm not sure. There's trivia, like trolls turning to stone in daylight, whereas in LOTR they just don't like light.

Nitpicking: the "secret door", as described, wasn't a very useful door. You could presumably get out of it at any time, but a door that you can only get into once in a Durin's day is rather limited. It is never clear how tech like this was created, either. In most ways the dwarves seem to be on a medieval level, with swords and bows, but with odd bits of magic - invisible doors, swords enchanted to glow - that come from nowhere.

The story is good, and well told. I could relate it, but there's little point. The pictures are lovely. The frontispiece is the map, which is useful.


Here are the trolls, in the wood, with their fire. He really is very good at some things, like smoke; not so good at figures. And indeed the "roast mutton" scene, while cute, is not how trolls would behave in LOTR (in TH, trolls are comedy lower-class English workmen). But The Hobbit is a gentler book; it could be considered what would happen if you had to re-work LOTR-like events into a form suitable for children. Perhaps someone should try re-writing it as it would have been told to adults.

And the backispiece:



* When C.S. Lewis Reviewed His Buddy’s Book… The Hobbit.

Thursday 9 September 2021

Book review: Wherever Seeds May Fall

By Peter Cawdron. Amazon flung this at me as part of Prime on Kindle, so I experimented with reading it. And I will admit I found the first 80-90% of it very good, in a page-turning sort of way, though the prose is not sparkling. Goodreads slobbers all over it, with some exceptions, but I maintain that this is in a long tradition of books where the build up is good, but when the author has to finally deliver on what-the-aliens-actually-are, lacks the imagination to so deliver; see-also Rendezvous with Rama. Unfortunately in this case in his desperation to deliver an ending, our author completely contradicts his earlier pages.

So (spoilers ahead...) all is well until the Giant Alien Spaceship turns up at the Lagrange point and Our Heroes attempt contact. When I say "well", I mean "well with the book"; lots of people have died of course. And in fact I don't quite mean that, because during the flyby somehow the ionisation trail of the GAS has somehow taken out all the world's nukes. This is not, as the characters themselves realise, plausible. Also (as the author later admits, when he allows himself a rebuilt nuke to take  out the GAS) the mode of removal would have allowed them to be rebuild really very quickly. And even... it just isn't needed for the plot (though it would have fitted with the non-insane ending we didn't get).

During contact, Our Heroes realise - really rather belatedly - that the ship can't have come from Taurus as it would have taken far far too long. Where is does come from is never decided. They then realise that it is in some sense quasi-organic, although how such a thing could be strong enough to survive the various megatonne fly-throughs is not discussed. Then the alien briefly appears, almost comically all fangs and stuff. I really genuinely at that point thought it would turn out to be some sort of projection tuned to human desires and fears but no: our author has for weird reasons decided to throw in a Scary Alien which Wanted to Eat The World. Then they blow it up and live happily ever after. But! There's a problem: the GAS has gone from directed-by-intelligence to just-instinctive (the SAWWTETW is not intelligent, I think because the author can't bear to think that intelligence would be hostile) and so there is no possibility of it having done the flyby targetting so accurately. This, too, is not discussed. It is also totally unclear where it got its initial velocity from.

What's odd also is the way Our Heroes - well, mostly the Token Female Scientist - go from complete certainty that the GAS is non-hostile to total certainty that it is hostile, with no real evidence for either position. They see a thing with teeth that eats their probe (which pulls in the Orion capsule; I had wondered why the probe needed to be on a tether, the reasons given were not plausible, and the answer turns out to be "so that the probe's tether could pull in the Orion and cause serious but not fatal damage") and instantlly switch to total hostility, without even a token "well it would be a shame to just nuke this interesting new life form, couldn't we at least try to take some pix first?" which any genuine Sci would have said).

My best theory to explain this is that the author has inexplicably mashed together two different books, one a start and one an end, that he happened to have lying around.

Friday 27 August 2021

The Design and Evolution of C++

1630083597052-cc14aeaf-8af7-408d-8537-0da53044aa9d_ Reminder to self: these "reviews" are as much a record of what I've read as any attempt at proper reviews.

The Design and Evolution of C++ by Bjarne "Barney" Shoustrup is very much what it says it is. As such, it isn't a good way to learn C++ if you know C, which is my position, but hey ho so it goes: it was what I had. Now I look the inner page says "John Rickard" in pencil, which will mean something to a few people.

It is a good book on the evolution of the language from someone who ought to know. It also shows something of what you need to be like in order to "own" a language: BS clearly has strong opinions and in many cases was clearly right. I particularly enjoyed Cato the Elder's contention that, furthermore, he was of the opinion that Cpp must be destroyed, even if I don't share it.

Thursday 26 August 2021

Book review: Colonialism, the Golden Years

1630010638755-b3f01a82-9b29-48ed-94f6-8e50715471ba_Memoirs, by J A Golding. Bought from Oxfam a few months back. There's a decent review at with which I largely agree.

The cover, I think, is intended to represent the view from within a heavily shuttered African building, desperately trying to keep the heat out.

Our hero is very much in the mould of the traditional English district officer (which he eventually becomes; we follow his career from noob upwards): unflappable, resourceful, respectful of the locals and prepared to listen to them, but with a goes-without-saying ingrained belief in the superiority of the English. And this belief must have been easily sustained; a couple of examples might explain:

At one point, he has to deal with apparent witchcraft, as reported and believed by the locals, which has caused the deaths of "lots" of people; eventually, he realises that it is sleeping sickness.

Or then again, it was his job to dispose of - shoot - man-eating lions that would prey on the locals. Or elephants that were ravaging the crops. They had to be helped you see: they could not do this themselves.

We get his not-at-all-impressed view of the African pols who took over at independence.

An example of resourcefulness, of local knowledge, or canniness: to keep a tribe in order, he needs to punish them when they do bad things. So, he threatens to shoot a camel when their people do bad things. And he does this. To the objection: "but did the shot camel belong to the actual malefactor?" he replies: "the tribe knew who owned the camel, and who did the bad deed; they would force that person to compensate the camel owner". This nicely avoids micro-managing them, and allowing them to keep their own power structures in place; had he instead barged in and forced them to hand over the malefactor, it would have been more disruptive.

However, what is lacking - what is always lacking - is some sense of how it might have been done better. His only nod in this direction is that it would be better to do it slower, and yet... I don't really find that convincing.

Incidentally, whilst the book is nicely typeset on nice paper, it has many grammatical errors, mostly involving commas.

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Book review: Labyrinths

1629792876875-9621a88a-58a6-4a9b-81fc-3ebee5608ac8_ Labyrinths, as wiki will tell you, is a collection of short stories and essays by the writer Jorge Luis Borges. They are... refined. They remind me of the aesthetes of Garwiy in Jack Vance, perhaps because I know no real ones... or do I?

Overall: one story or two is fine; if you read them as items in a literary magazine, you would enjoy them. But somehow a book-length collection is less fine. The patterns begin to emerge, his technique becomes less subtle and more intrusive, they are too similar; and the sheer pointlessness of it all becomes unavoidable.

Individual notes:

With regard to Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote: by weird co-incidence, I come across Chinese Don Quixote is translated into Spanish after 100 years; Lin Shu’s forgotten 1922 text, The Story of the Enchanted Knight – with a less deluded Don Quixote – in edition for China and Spain. This - coupled with the Chinese links elsewhere - is interesting; did Borges know of, and take inspiration from, this? We may never know.

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius: there is a flaw in this, that our modern era reveals, with it's widespread availability of information: there exists Ukbarā, which was a medieval city on the left bank of the Tigris between Samarra and Baghdad. Presumably this was sufficiently obscure that it was omitted from the Anglo-American Encyclopedia but nonetheless the desperate search, which the story describes, for any trace of Uqbar or variants thereof should have turned it up.

The Circular Ruins: consider Gene Wolfe's the story of the young man fleshed from dreams; Wolfe has certainly read Borges.

The Library of Babel: the idea is of an infinite "library" (series of interconnected rooms) containing all book-length permutations of a given 25-element alphabet. He does realise that such a set is not infinite, just very large; and suggests that the library is cyclic rather than truely infinite. What I think he doesn't explicitly either say or realise, is that any such collection, whilst it would contain all wisdom, would also contain (as well as much that doesn't even make words) all drivel; and without a way to tell one from another would be worthless. It turns out that Quine riffs off this, adding the extension that ideas too long for any one book can simply be found by appending a second book. He justifies this with In seeking the truth we have no way of knowing which volume to pick up nor which to follow it with, but it is all right there but he is wrong: the key element missing is the organisation; the link from book to sequel. To see this more clearly, imagine the books are one character long, and there are only 25 of them, and "all you need to do" is follow from one to the next in sequence. There's a quasi-similarity here to genetics: human and mice genomes are near-identical, yet humans and mice are easy to distinguish.

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Switzerland 2021

PXL_20210815_121450355 I had three weeks in between changing jobs, carefully arranged after bumps. I choose Switzerland because I suddenly realised I'd never been near Monte Rosa - aka Dufourspitze - and because they were rather more sane about Covid than France. The intention was to recce the Monte Rosa group, and possibly climb some stuff depending. In the end it was mostly recce.

So, the plan: fly out on Monday. So as to not have to rush to the airport, I'd got a 2:30 ish flight, and I arrived with 4 hours to spare since I was afraid of whatever hideous stupid bureaucracy there might be. But there wasn't. Swiss checked my doubly-vaccinated certificate, and I was in. So lots of time to sit around drinking coffee and relaxing. Arrival, and find train (pre-booked) all fine, and I had half an hour to have yet another coffee. Geneve airport is well connected; train goes through city center then onwards to Brig; I got off at Visp. Fine views of Lac Leman along the way.

I had an Airbnb in Visp, since getting to SaasF by checking-in time was tricky; and also I felt like walking into the valley, which was apparently possible. Getting to that worked fine; find keys; find the appt is quite nice; quick wander for food, settle down for the night.

Despite knowing that the Swiss really don't like people camping out I brought bivvi gear; perhaps I shouldn't have.

Here we see everything I took: rucksac; gaiters; crampons; boots; light axe; trekking poles; knee brace; waterproof/warm trousers; maps (bought out there); socks; hat; helmet; headtorch; water bottle and baby bottle; lighter; toothbrush; silk inner; carry mat; down jacket (yellow bag); sleeping bag (black bag); green raincoat; plasters etc; sunglasses; tarp; thermarest; cooking kit; electronics (battery pack; wires); misc in lightweight red rucksac; gloves (thin; fleece; down mittens-and-outer-mittens). Notice what I haven't got? No, neither did I till my first night out: my bivvy bag. Idiot. See-also the weights of things for thoughts about... how much to carry.

Knee note: a little while earlier I'd damaged my knee descending in Wales; so was quite cautious about what I did, at least initially.

In the end, for <reasons> including Saas Fee not selling "UK" style screw-top gas canisters, I didn't use the cooking kit for anything except cold porridge. If I'd bivvied out more, this might have changed (Zermatt did sell the screw-top style). The Thermarest Featherlite was very good, except, I was paranoid about puncturing it so it restricted where I could stop a bit.

The trip was in two parts: Saas Fee, and Zermatt. I had an Airbnb booked for 10 nights in SaasF, and nothing booked in Z. I wasn;t sure how much I would camp out, or hut out, so left it open.

Text below is mostly notes made on phone, originally in Google Docs [starting with part 1], lightly tarted up.

GPS traces, linked, often have pix conveniently geolocated.

Part 1: Saas Fee

Thursday: last day of work. Drop off kit. Clear desk. Friday: last night of bumps: down but we did our best. Drinking till the small hours: Spring, City. Saturday: not much. Walk to town and back through dry fields to clear head. Sunday: M's b'day. Cut grass finish packing reluctantly don't pack new rope or harness: space (and to a lesser extent, weight). Dinner chez Mfd+J.

Monday 26th. Paranoia: flight is past 2 but who knows what could happen so leave 7 - M kindly drives me to station and all goes well: to LHR before 10, do checkin and bag drop and now in Pret at 10:30 with most of four hours to spare.


LHR departure with Covid spacing. All is calm.

1 pm: lunch (halloumi wrap) in Leon. Reading De Soto. Pleasant enough but I'd rather be sitting in the garden. Gate not called until 13:40.

1:50: now waiting to board. To increase stress I decided I knew we'd be a B gate so did the 15 min xfer but the we turned out to be A24 so I cane back. 2:10: onboard.

5:20: landed, in p'port q. The "other" of course. 5:50: pickup rucksac, walk out to train station; cafe; awaiting 6:19 to Brig. All vair civilised. Train around N side of Leman now in Lausanne 7:10. All is groovy. Wx here good but looks cloudy S over lake to montagne.


Send chf 47 to Saas Fee host for "Saas card" days 10 (this turns out to be a bargain, as it gets me free lifts). Also incurres £5 iban fee even on Starling but meh (this turns out to be problem as that turns into chf 7 taken off the xfer amount, rather than on top. Settle up it in cash).

Ticket fun: nice conductor needs to see a QR code… we're both sure I have a ticket but… eventually open in Trainline app and "view ticket" and all is well. Prochaine arete, Vevey. Chillon.


Past Martigny and its tower; views up into the pass. Past Saillon-les-bains. Vines; orchards; industry; houses.

Swiss stations have wobbly wifi from train so use data to sort out Saas card I hope. Visp, with dramatic wisps of cloud over half-seen mountains further up. Find my room; is good and near station. Appears to be an occaisional hair studio… or an occaisional let? Getting dark. Wander out ped streets find some places go for falafel take away at kebab joint. Phone doesn't work pay with Gnatwest card. Back shower bed.


Tues. Night: fine. Up 6:30 out 7:05 out to Eyholz… which is 2+ km not 1- and… the tele is there but works-only; I had planned to take it up to Gibidum, and walk/traverse around from there. Rats. Return.

Bus to Stalden (should I just go to Saas Fee? Meh, no, not yet): 5.20 chf but no phone just cash… Euros? Ok: 5.05. Get lift up to Gspon; the bus stop is just next to the train station and the lift is just on the platform. Just before the half-way station there's a tower up to the lift for people living one step down.


Posted to fb: The most exciting start to a holiday I've had in ages... more nerve-wracking than the four minute gun and lasting much longer... I left my passport+money on the bus. Fortunately (whew) those nice Swiss folk found it. Now to relax and collapse.

So… just getting out of the toplift at Gspon and pat down pockets just to check and… where is my passport? FFS. Cold dread seizes my stomach… but it is no good, I don't have it. Nor in a bag. Ohhhhh…

Where have I left it? Maybe lift prob bus. So… I must go down. Rats. Happily the auto-lift takes phone. But every delay winds me up of course. Down… not here. Manage to change £20 I happen to have in bag into chf which allows me to get bus to SaasFee (else I'd be walking or hitching or). Invent many possible scenarios. Check Natwest and Starling accounts: nothing taken: promising. Realise there is nowt to do and sit back to enjoy ride.

Bus station: yes! They have it, well the driver took it down. So, safety. Celebrate with cafe cake croissant.

12: cafe shut but nice cafelady says it is fine to sit there as long as I like. I have till 1 before passport comes up so wander. Saas Fee: car park bus station then dense houses and distant but looks-close glacier. Where's the end of the town? Not far it turns out… maybe 500 m it cuts off at meadow and teles. First impressions of SaasF: well, there are mountains up there somewhere...


So I go that far and try to work out where teles go. I have a Saas card and it seems to make them free! Weird: tele is ~30 chf but card is 4.7 per day. Can't help feeling something is wrong :-)

Back at bus stat passp not there at 1 but is at 1:30 hurrah! Leave €20 for the driver.

Off to 46 Hannigstrasse which exists. It isn't far; ignore image, that's not it, red pin is. Blue: me in cafe :-). "Saas-Fee" pin: bus. Green: main tele.

Curious thing: I'm seeing a lot of orthodox jew families: as in: men with ringlets in black coats and hats, women very respectably dressed often headscarves.

Post cafe to place read 15 mins; notice bag realise I'm at the "back door" sort of though actually front door say hello to Frances who turns out to be English. She hands over key and… that's it. Fine. Sit down, unpack, shower, bandage big and little toe, head out to coop, buy stuff. I'm being cheap or as I like to put it "ascetic".

I'm in bottom-right. The rest appears unoccupied. Here's a pano of my appt. Not large, but then there's only one of me.


Make coffee. I forgot my filter (and there is no kettle) but there is an espresso pot so use that and it works. Good, too. Read 3M (Three Musketeers), snooze a little, plan tomorrow (ref Britannia), eat bread+cheese, have another coffee, turn on heating such as it is… it is not that warrm. Outside faint rain.

Weds 28th. Up just before 6. Sky blue. GPS trace.

3M: finding Porthos: first "filler" badinage? Pic: nearly at the top of Felskin.


6:44: on lift. Top: 7:05. Off: 7:10. Brit hut: 8:10. Take traverse route. See two bods on lower "lakes" route may be easier - trav route is easy snow and some icky scree and no markings (errrr...). Could see hut from pass but now in cloud.


What to do we wonders? Hut v quiet. I shall reserve cafe for return. Boot room beautifully ordered. On leaving hut gust of rain but persevere.

10:45: at 3475. From Brit hut path is clear and marked blue-on-white. Contours round then down then marked over glacier, where I find desired tracks up. Have mostly been in cloud following tracks sometimes mild rain but just had brief eclairage to see distant peaks and not-too-distant but inaccessible ski topstation. Will continue to 3500… ok 3550.

Get to where I think I can see I'm on the Allalinhorn route (poss pt 3543 of Hohlaubgrat), not the Allalinpass, where I'd half hoped to be. But given the zero viz earlier I'm happy to be anywhere. Can see tracks going up towards the lost peaks of 4000 m.


And looking left: below, trending to upper right: Allalinjoch. Mountain: Strahlhorn.


Turn round at 11:25 I think. Descent is so easy on this lovely snow… back at hut at 12:30 after slogging up last 100 m. Must check when last lift is. Sit out for a bit to cool down and admire fine views of cloud. In: cafe: chf 4. V quiet presumably cos wx so poor.


Go back via "lake route" or at least mostly and discover that this is signed. Nicer path but 100-200 m ascent descent so takes longer. Back 2:30. Rest. More eclairage but downbelow is 100% cloud so maybe sit up for a bit. Watch bods slogging up the initial mild incline… there is a "level cut", which is what I took in cloud, but no-one takes it because it looks dodgy but isn't really though the run-out isn't great. Above, the hanging glacier - happily I couldn't see it this morning for cloud. And so down through a layer of cloud to sun.


Thurs 29th. GPS. Lazy day: snooze 6 am alarm till half past. Clear blue skies. B'fast read 3M till 8 then shop: oj, new bulb for bedside light, bananas. Consider map but they are awkwardly boundaried and vastly expensive so settle for phone. Most buildings in SaasF are OK but unexciting; some have painting. There are a few old barns-with-anti-rat-stones. Back with croissant for 2nd bfast in sun outside then 9:45 off to Saas Almagel I hope easy stroll. Flowers.

Path from Fee is gently-sloping roadish and as I'd hoped nicely tree-shaded. Saas A is quiet… perhaps people continue on up to the head of the valley? I was going to cafe there but couldn't find the right one and found the chairlift instead.


11:05: above Saas A via chairlift in resto Furggstalden with… a cafe. Took next lift up to Furggu for views.


That's the Furggutalli; appealling, no? I sat and had a cafe and was just going to take the lift down when I realised it was shut for lunch hour. So with some misgiving for my knee I walked down. Which was fine and inded pleasant. I did take the last lift stage down though. Back in Saas A I found I had 50 min to wait for the bus and did not feel like walking the hot road. So, supermarche for brot humous yoghurt and sit by rivershade for lunch. The cafe then bus to…

Saas Grund bergstation. This time a cabin, or rather two, up to Hohsaas 30xx m. Stunning views: nearby, Weissmies; and across to Alphubel and the whole chain. Walk up a bit. Route up W looks mad through seracs (close-up, with some people on the nearer ground). And so down. Shared cabin with jew and -ess and asked: why so many of you,? He said, just holidays. I'm slightly doubtful.


From Saas G, walk back up to Saas F via river then Kapelleweg: its 250 m and will do me good. The Kapelleweg campsite is better than the one in Saas G. Shop: bread, tomme, olives and, finally, crack and buy the Randa map, chf 22 (this turns out to be a mistake: I want the 1:25k wanderkarte / skitouren  Rotten Verlag maps, not the "official" Swiss ones). Back, shower, eat, 3M: the siege of La Rochelle. I start to wonder if less intrigue and more history might be more interesting.

Fri 30th. Up 6 again usual b'fast to lift station 10 to 7 but have to wait till 7 cos skiers get priority. Share lift with teenage ?US? ski types heading up the Metro Alpin which you pay extra for. 

Plan for the day is Allalinjoch, 35xx, one chain over from Weds. Start in sun, do traverse-of-traverse as the best route, and to Brit hut, brief pause for loo and off. They've just had 3 heli loads of resupply, coke and the like, and the young ladies are busy xferring them inside.
Going down far side, pass under their via ferrata. A little further on, some people camping.

Now it is clear I can see the topo I couldn't before (center: Allalinjoch; to R of that, where I was on Weds). Have to get over vast moraine heap; that, crevasses, and soft snow slows me down. At 12 I'm at 34xx and really ought to turn back or I risk missing the last lift, so do. This is as close as I got. Only about 100 m off, but a few more crevasses to go and it doesn't look like the views would have been great.


2:30 to hut, a little rain on the way; rest 25 mins watch chamois and eagle.
Then back, lift at 3:50, so had a little spare time but v tired so no spare legs! 

I'm sitting recovering in a chair in my doorway feeling like a village rustic watching the world go by. It has started raining quite hard but that fits the mood somehow; this chalet has wide eaves so my boots drying outside are fine. Lightning; thunder. The hillside opposite has vanished in cloud.

PXL_20210731_084952781~2 Sat 31st: another lie in till 6:30. Outside grey: this will be a rest day, in general & for L knee. Finished 3M y'day: pulls itself together in the end but it is odd how the chief-villain role shifts to Milady. Also odd that she never complains to Athos that he hung her for no reason.

Sun later cloud later. Spend most of day sitting in my porch reading. Being alone is weird. Shop: juice, milk, coffee filter. Abricot tort then croissant. Around two some weirdo ignores the "private property" signs and acosts me; as a good Englishman I say "do I know you" and it turns out to be Sam Luke. And his wife Sally. Who have an appt a bit further back. And who invite me for evening drinks. So I go and we have a good time on their balcony. I'm very slightly regretful of losing my solitude but also not.

Sun 1st August. GPS up and down. Forget to set alarm up 7:30, but slow: grey cloud. Am I carefully desynchronised with the wx? But then again, sitting around is nicer in the sun, too. Plan Furggutalli so not in a hurry. Off 10. Faint rain tiny sun.

Cafe in SaasA then lift up into the grey murk… not promising. Cafe and abricot kuche in Furggustalden and more grey and some rain. Courage! 1 pm head up and see how it goes.

2:45: at the bridge, 2300. Grey is possibly starting to lift. I miss M: someone to share this with.


Coming up there are sections of path that are old and well paved, this trade to Italy explains why.

And so onwards and upwards. Grey returns plus wind so I'm in w'proff trous and down jacket inside raincoat. Rain turns to light snow. Make the pass, which is somewhat bleak


and then the next one is dramatic. After rest start down 6:50. There are hints of sun but don't worry, they fade.


Find myself somewhere to bivvy 8 and set up - light rain - then realise I've forgotten bivvy bag - grr - so I need somewhere better. Find a partial stone windbreak and setup with that. Tired, so read some 3M (actually MITIM - Man in the Iron Mask - now) and then eat. But there isn't room to sit up fully.

Night: feet cold but o'wise ok, new Featherlite good. No bivvi bag so tarp dripped onto s'bag at foot end hence cold feet.

Mon 2nd. GPS down and up to Italy and down and downer. distant light roll over up 7:30 but sun won't be on me for some time plus mist so pack and off 7:45.


11:45: over Moro pass to Rif G Oberto (or that may be next door; this may be the bar-risto Lago Smeraldo. Soundtrack: Come on Eileen; BÖC burning for you). It is 50 m down on the Italian side but a cafe and a "place" is worth 15 of uphill slog to get back.


Between bivvi and here: pleasant terrain, mostly traverse at about 2400 until the 400 m pull up to the pass. Unwisely on that I stayed ahead of some folk and then overtook some others but thank heaven after that I could slow down.

Better wx today: cloud say 200 m above me once the early mist rose, fitful sun: on the terrace with views over the gondola to Italy, warm when sunny but on the cool side when it goes in and distinctly chilly when the breeze blows. So, inside. There's a fire! Mmmm. Auto-woodchip I think but it burns well ("this is a fire that burns" I recall from a fairy story, just before the hero throws the witch on it). On the border there's a giant goldenish statue of the Virgin, which is terribly Italian; my pic of the steps up make it look very steep, but it wasn't.

1: pay. 3€. Some mistake? No, it is much cheaper in Italy (pay cash: he was doubtful a phone would work).

Before 4: down to Mattmark dam (the highest of a pile of hydro stuff). Its is a long walk around the lake to the dam. Time for cafe: bus is at :26. Back to chf 4.5 for cafe or rather 5 since I leave tip to avoid waiting to pay: they're busy. Get SaasF express at :20 that wasn't on the sign; takes half hour. Now, back.

PXL_20210803_070449863.NIGHT~2 [We now switch to doc Switzerland part two]

Tues 3rd. Rest day. Up 6:40 b'fast. Sunny, so end up in doorway with coffee.

To town: loo paper and maps (Haus der Geschenke), but fail to get #4, Grachen. Coffee shop (Back Stubli). Ponder routes. Ponder L knee: it is manageable, but I am favouring it. It has managed some large descents and is stable, but is clearly not 100%.

Rest of day: rest. Reading misc inc The Laws (ugh). Wx slowly gets grayer. But choc and maps. Woodworking joints. Hotel Garni Domino. A house painting.

Realise I have two full days left in Saas F. 

Finish MITIM. Swashbuckling. But so extravagant. And, oddly, MITIM himself barely figures. Also, how was the mechanism of the substitution (a moving bed!) built? And why (other than plot) tell Fouquet?

Weds 4th. Mittagshorn klettersteig; GPS trace with pix.

Up 6:20 looks grey so no rush to cable. Will still at least go up to look at Mittagshorn.


Just before 8: start off from mid station 260x. Wx not so bad: strips of cloud / mist but viz generally good; calm. :40: to flag. Path so far lots of boulders. If you look closely near the bottom you can see the path and a path marker, so all - and I - is not lost. From near the lift, looking East.


9: 2800 ridge above flag just before start of main wires; hot; stop for rest. 9:40 2984 to the "difficult section" rest chocko water. Views back down to SaasF and beyond.


There is a second scary section, a bit longer but less steep and with better run-out. Start to feel a little worried but I have spare.


Top: 3150 10:10. Write name in pencil inside cross-book-box cos there is no book and donate €5 for upkeep. In cloud but it feels thin: pic of cross; plaque.


Path down is steep but easy. View upvalley to Mattmark dam. Hit the "traverse" path at 26xx; Plattjen at 11:40 but alas it is shut as is its telecabine. Cloud; light rain. 12: to Berghaus 241x but it too is shut. Sit down to rest anyway. Faint sun. I've seen no-one en route so far.

From there, bumble down hill, choosing the traverse-y path to avoid descending too steeply. Get down into the forest which is rather nice, pine needles underfoot stuff. Cloud, but views through rifts.

Get down to end-of-valley cable and so go up to Spielboden then Langflue, for a coffee and a look around. Rain, so do coffee first.When finished, even the minimal viz is gone; head down and home. Soir: WhatsApp SL but no reply; s'mkt for juice+milk.

Thurs 5th. GPS trace: Mischabel but from Hannig.

Up 6:20 grey… disappointed; f'cast was for better. Plan to go up to M'bel hut, but tele doesn't open till 9. NB: shuts at 4:30. Mail from Roku asking for dox; explain this may be problematic.


Wx clears somewhat and head up. Hannig tele is just behind me; up at 9:20. There are tears in cloud; views of Mittagshorn (moah), and the path ahead. Initial traverse around corners before we gird our loins and head up. Take off down after a bit. In sun, start to feel hot but soon enough more cloud. Start at 2300 (twas a desc trav) so 1000+ m to do… should be 3+ hours; sign is 3:10. In the end do it in 2:40 which is pleasing. Good route. Not just slog; last 500 m is effectively an easy via ferrara. The ladder section; and a well waymarked bit; from above. Not everyone makes it out alive. At the top: hut is in cloud - and there's a little fresh snow - but it feels thin. Entrance. Bootroom:



The hut is quiet when I first get there, but more come in. At 1:10 the family I passed at the start of the wired stuff, and whose ~12 yo kids were protecting each segment with proper via f gear, come in. About 1 h down on me for 500 m. In the meantime the possibly-seems-thin cloud remains opaque. They are proud of their separating toilet.


Down, 4 pm in 2:15: only 25 min less than ascent. Cloud level is about 2700 stably now so fine views up to that. Knee: fine.


Soir: drinks (cafe then Sion bier) with SL+S in "modern" cafe opp Back Stubli.

Fri 6th. GPS trace: to Seetaljoch; and down to bivvi.

Last day in SaasF. Up 6:10 b'fast mostly pack to square for wlan then back sit outside in sun with coffee wait for key lady at 9. See Josiane's Haarperle kat use the katzenladder! Goodbye, little flat. Here's the building, in the sun; and the view. On the way out of town: a cross; weirdery. Farewell, SaasF.


Off from supermarche (two rolls and some goats cheese) 9:15 and Seetalpass 6 pm 2975. Remains: to descend quite a lot down to some water. Sun all day. Mostly traverse-y till last 550 m pull up to pass. Magnificent and lovely scenery. Here's a bit where the path kept getting swept away so they built a tunnel.


Today marked something of a turn in the weather; from mostly cloudy to mostly sunny.


One man and his sheep. The main path is on the Tour Monte Rosa which I think would like to go round to Gratchen, but I don't want to. Note (see GPS trace) my slight confusion as to the route at that point; going up isn't a common choice. There are some signs but, if I recall correctly, no more waymarking. Below, we see the path starting to climb and turn west, heading into the stony valley opening at the right; at bottom left, over the river you can just see the thin thread of the path I followed.


Up to pass (from top: view back; view into newe lande) is nicely done zig-zags that I almost enjoy despite tiredness. It is quite lonesome and dry; the Finger of Death looks over me.


Coming down is horrible scree-boulder ugh. If there's a path in there, I didn't find it. The Finger of Death is still visible on this side. The pass is the low point in the middle.


At that point I'm at a (shut) ski station. Follow pistes+signs down then head off L away from ski moonscape into lots of descending on a decent path. Heading for river in giant morraine. Clouds from the W. Down 8:15 lets say so thats most of 1000 m in less than 2 h. Whew. Sit, rest, wash, drink, find nice bivvi spot setup and move in: 9:05. Have arranged bivvi so one half is open. Pic of bivvi, with bridge in background.


Sat 7th. To Zermatt; GPS trace: down to Herbriggen.

Fine night: blurrily see cloud replaced by stars. Very still but roar of river, the Riedbach. Cold porridge. Up 7:30. Somewhere up there is the Bordierhutte. 


Feeling somewhat stiff so move tentatively. Set watch to charge (had done last night but it did its overnight discharge trick) and look around. Lovely location with huge moraine either side of river. Eerily still. Pack and off after 8. Get out of moraine and follow map around next shoulder but now I'm on my own, since I'm missing one map. There are lots of signs to lots of places but that doesn't always help, since I don't know where many of them are.


Sun not onto me yet, and I'm in trees, but warm so switch to shorts and rm coat. Some lovely traverse-through-trees but some asc / desc too. Discover above St Niklaus that I want Herbriggen which the signs say is further away in time than the map says it should be, but some bursts of ascent explain that. Down past cat past 12 and at station discover train in 3 mins so catch it, super.

Find hotel via of course Sat night is not a good time. Zermatt much larger than SaasF (SL reckons 20k vs 2k). Arrive shower collapse. PM: rain then thunderstorm. Book Monte Rosa hut for tomorrow night. My hotel is a bit out of town - esp in rain - and I was initially a bit disappointed. But what with torpor and the wub and then some Olympics on tv the day passes happily. Out for bread+cheese when rain slackens.

Sun 8th. GPS trace: Rodenboden to Monte Rosa hut.

Up 7. Wx promising: valley tattered cloud but looks blue higher - I can't see upvalley from my window.

B'fast: playing: Roll over Beethoven. My hotel.


Check out, walk down, Matterhorn from bridge is awesome today, buy a little food - I'm not sure if I'm up for a day or two - and find the funicular and get ticket, just make the 9:36 train. Didn't stop for cafe in town cos nowhere looked right. But I can get one at top… no, Rotenboden is just a trainstop (Gornergrat might be bigger). More awesome views, it is all magnificent.


Route to hut is "neuer weg" that goes high. See trace+pix. Sign says 4 h and I do 3:45. We start off traversing the shoulder heading downish. There are meanders in the streams on the glacier.


We get closer. You can now see the Monte Rosa hut, if you look carefully on the full-size pic, tucked inside the swoop of moraine-on-rock to the left of the central icefall (closeup). The old route (alter weg), I think, follws that moraine, having started at the lake whose outlet stream you see joining the glacier from the left.


We come to the glacier. It is of course mostly easy; there are poles.


Help help I am trapped in the ice:


We level out, turn right, and it gets a bit more exciting:


The route across the rock and rubble is mostly straightforward, with the odd ladder. At last I come to the really rather modern hut itself. They have power connectors (I think all the huts I went to did) which get full.


Sun terasse at hut but chill wind so inside, register, cafe. My OAV card gets me a discount. Ponder tomorrow.



Go for explore… there are several possible routes but can I find any of them and are any of them "safe"? Go up ~250 m following line of poles and blue splodges. Get to big rock with D/M on it to L and R but what does it mean? (Ask hutman later: it means Dufoutspitze - ie Monte Rosa - and Marguerita as in the biwack at ~4400 m. Decide on D since more people will be going that way and the earlier route is safer. I think I also find - faint cairns - the Eastwards path to Cima di Jazzi but not sure and although it is almost possible it is likely to be untravelled.

Eat bread+cheese in evening sun while dinner is on. Feel a bit lonely with the buzz of conversation inside. Wx and view remains glorious.

Come to pay and major panic: phone is blank. WTF? Use card but this is a major blow. Take it downstairs to charger in case… no… and then! Whew! It reboots. I think it was upgrading itself.


And so to bed 9:30.

Up 2 am (ugh) since hut only offers 2, 6 and 7. Make no attempt at speed so am last out I think at 3 and follow party of 5 up route. This kinda works as they aren't fast and I certainly am not. They go a slightly wonky way up to the snow but meh (I'm not sure how much detail is useful here but: be careful about the start; we tended off left and up too much, and failed to find the poles initially. I strongly recommend a recce the day before to make sure you can find the boulder). Make usual mistake and put on crampons too late on smooth slope so lose mitten and have to chase down 50 m to find it grr. Yet another lesson for me. Have on w'proof trous which are too warm to start but awkward with boots to change and certainly need them by the end.


Initially it is pitch black hence route finding fun but eventually light comes and views down.


Above is… well, snow slopes, eternally. Gradually grind up the thin trace and slowly pass 3,700 - Roche Faurio - and wonder how high I can get. Several parties come down and must have abandoned: it is getting windy. Dawn rises over the landscape below. 


Settle on 4,000 as a good number; my 5 abandon a little before that but I press on, amusingly the gusts actually push me uphill. But worryingly my footsteps are filling with blown snow almost as I make them. So make 4k and gratefully head down. Here's the view up from my high point.


Perhaps I should mention the crevasse zone at 34xx: well there is one but well frozen so… mostly felt safe. Higher much less worrying. 


Here's me, on the way down, at about 3,800.


And so down (by the proper route, since finding it in daylight is easy) 9:40. Rest and relax 2x cafe then succumb to Monte Rosa rosti for lunch with large Radler recalled from Stubai. Oh, and they don't like you camping.


And so off down (GPS trace) though I did ponder staying another night; in retrospect I'm rather unsure why I didn't; it is a lovely area. I'm planning to bivvi somewhere but it has to be discreet. Consider returning via the "alter weg" but it looks like a lot of a/d so no. So, back. The path is mostly good with some steps, and marked.


There are various places on the crossing before the glacier that would do, and there's water, and I rest there a while, but its not quite comfy. And decide that tomorrow I want to be near town, so cross glacier. Which is fun as before. The whole walk is good though strenuous.

Off glacier up just a little there's a rough area of sand/grit moraine with boulders in ridges in which I can hide. With all my designed delays it is quite late now - maybe 7 ish - so hopefully no-one will be crossing. Sit and read - Agatha C, the murder on the links, fun and complex - then setup at 9 and retire. Sky was clouding but now clear, stars out and mountains opposite and huge glacier over.

Tues 10th. Down to Zermatt.

Time and my mind is going. I thought this was Weds. I have time for one more adventure I think but I need to sort out pre-dep tests and stuff.


Last night was fine, perhaps helped by the 2 am start y'day. Stayed warm - kept down jacket on but feet in one pair thin socks were also fine. 26xx m but not freezing. I wonder: could I lose the s'bag, and get down trous? Walk up the long rising traverse on the side of the Gornergrat. Not far from the start is a grassy knoll on which people are packing up their tent so perhaps I did hear faint voices last night. And perhaps I didn't have to worry that much about being discreet. Though even their more public camp largely disappears in the vastness.


Get back to Rotenboden, or rather the Riffelsee (breeze so no super mirror pic despite tourists waiting); shaggy sheep; gentians?; and desc to Riffelberg for cafe then Riffelalp for… cafe.


Strangely, all the cafes have a Matterhorn-facing terrace. But really it does live up to all the hype and more.


Walk down is pleasant. Pass people shuffling less pleasantly upwards. Drop into woods, evade mountain bikers. Come out near tele, read prices, tolerable. Find cafe on edge of town, book hotel Alpenblick. Arrive, is v nice, lovely long shower and sit on balcony. The Matterhorn is hiding shyly round R. Drink wine.


Decide lat flow will do for UK entry so planning easier. Book Hornli for tomorrow. Stroll through town to supermarche. Coffee in grand hotel de posh (earlier) chf 6 a new record I think. Opposite, hotel Monte Rosa where Whymper stayed. A couple of places in Z that sell prop/but screw: Montbell; Yosemite. Discover you can use Strava heatmaps to see who climbs where. Alpenblick has a memorial to Bonatti.


Back for bread-n-cheese on balcon all very civ.

Weds 11th. To Hornlihutte.

Wake before alarm-at-7 so up, browse morning wub, assess wx (ok), slow b'fast, back to room 9. Checkout is by 11, brief rainshower, wx f'cast is good, m'horn peak in cloud but base clear, shall head up… soon.

Hotel Alpenblick: good, better than Adonis and better loc and better b'fast.

10:25: in ticket q. Weirdly, this is a popular time to go up. 20 mins later I'm in the lift q.

Maybe 30 mins ride up. Single car, but several stations: Furi, Schwartzesee, Trockener Steg 2929. Good views. Going up. Few if any serious folk in cars but see some trogging up. The next stage goes to Klein M'horn 3883. But I am off W round the Theodulgletschersee. Along with all the plebs :-). Marking to Hornlihutte is obvious.


From TS we drop down a little to a plain scattered with lakes, all v pleasant to sit by and see M'horn refl in. Ye Classice Viewe:


Closer, you can see the ridge above giant moraine stuff; the hut is just visible in the center. Trav down to end of valley and then start up: initially fairly gradually, then onto top and indeed far wide side. From which one sees there is another way up, from Zmutt side. It looks a bit dull to ascend, but (spoiler) was OK to descend.


Over the plain, across the river (passing its fearsome guardian), and up to the little pass (pic), and we're onto the path running alongside the ridge. Thee's a lot of ironwork to get you safely there.


Did they mention they don't like camping? Not anywhere nearby. And after the mostly-level-ish ridge, there's a bit of ascent and some ladders. I slog up the last 300 m which I'm sure would once have seemed a lot but is now just fine. 

Again, the hut is just visible.


4: at hut. 2:40 moving time excluding an hour+ just sitting enjoying the scenery. Here's a pic, taken later, from a late afternoon recce of the route above the hut:


From the front the H hut looks very trad outside but inside totally subverts all traditional concepts: open plan, reception by door, no boot room - wear boots to room and pick up hut shoes there. But the pic above shows that the new bit is really rather large.


Isn't that rad. Outside there's a telescope and focussing there's… a person! No, two. Desc a high snow slope rather gingerly… are they not a touch late?


I think that's on the top of the snowy slope above the Solvay bivouac hut (around 8 in this pic?). Let's hope they make it down ok. Earlier there was a heli circling but apparently that was different, an accident, and someone was hauled off horiz. Meanwhile, they are keen to keep things in order in the morning. But thee times turn out to be a lie.


Here's a view up from above the hut, on the "first slope" after the first ropes, but before the first couloir (dotted bit in this pic?).


Invited by two Angles John and Euan - thirties perhaps - to join then for dinner. They're doing M'horn tomorrow.

Well I made my "tentative" but really didn't get very far: to the first couloir. But then… well, I didn't fancy it. Rubbly rock and unclear route finding and I knew I would not make the top and the thought of downclimbing all this junk.

Got down for b'fast at 4:08 and it had nearly all been cleared away! Fortunately my two Angles told me to hurry. Grabbed a few scraps, it was enough. Later, I had a second at the 7 am sitting.

On the way back, stop a few times to watch the slow lightening. And then back, wrap in s'bag and sit out to watch the dawn. On M'horn, lights of headtorches. Not many though - I think it's fairly quiet.


Where to today? I'm not sure. Eventually decide on peace and quiet and go down the Zmutt side, giving up exploration of Theodul side. I could perhaps have gone up to Refuge du Théodule? Maybe I should have.

Coming off route I felt relieved I'd missed my last chance to kill myself this hol. But then! Descending the Zmutt side is loong path down which at one point goes through a weakness in a little cliff and I found myself perhaps a little off track on shaley decaying rubbish grassy gunk with a steep drop below… gradually work down to safety.


As I descend and go round the Matterhorn changes shape; the twist at the top becomes clearer; and the initial ridge, so steep from the Hornli, is revealed as quite low-angled overall. Once "down" from the Matterhorn I cross a wide valley of made lakes - a somewhat boring bit - and then I'm on the far side, with the choice of more up, or immeadiate descent to Z. Choices. There's a waterfall; it looks lovely; you're not seeing the slog to get above it. Flowers.


1:30: to Ref Schonbiel 2723. It is at the end of a long glacial valley with a long moraine crest to walk up; and views of M'horn all the way. 


The hut is just opposite, but faces the "other side" of course. There's a cirque beyond, headed by Dent d'Herens. All very gorgeous and magnificent. Wx: clear blue. But at 27xx, not too hot.


I saw a stoat! It came out of grass, did a turn, crossed the path, and into some rocks! From the hut: phone call to Roku HR just to sort out Monday. During call I was looking at: Matterhorn and to right/centre Dent d'Herens.


7:30: back in Z at Alpenblick again in room next door. Tired. It was a long way down (zigs down from hut). Tomorrow must see to Covid test. 

Way back through Zmutt which is tiny but cute. Higher, the valley is lovely. Just before the waterfall I swam after psyching self up. There's a bit that is prone to rockfall; there are even little shelters to run into. I keep looking back and saying farewell to the mountains.


Once at tiny Zmutt you're firmly in the valley; but it is still a way further to Zermatt.


Fri 13th. Down to Tasch then Herbiggen; then Sion.

Legs still feeling hammered after y'day. Also scorched by the relentless sun. Soir: grateful shower, stay in, admire view, eat random stuff that's left, read AgChr, browse wub, wash socks etc. Here's a not-quite typical view of Zermatt:


9: to "Arztpraxis Dr. med. J. Bieler-Hischier und Dr. med. M. Cristiano" for Covid test. I pass: 90 chf for the word "neg" etc. Below: a traffic jam in Zermatt.


Stroll back, relax, put socks out to dry, pack up, pay for coke from minibar and off. Plan is to stroll downvalley and this I do, ending at Herbriggen which is a pleasing symmetry. It would have been 6 k more to St Nik and really, I'm strolling. Pic of campsite on the edge of town, just downvalley of the railway station. Looking back from a bit further down you see Zermatt's arse. Butterfly! Tasch isn't so great but it does me a coffee.


Colchique! And so we continue downvalley.


Train to Sion; time for a cafe but H disappoints so to Super instead. And so, past wonders (vast rock walls, astonishing waterfalls) unremarked, to Visp then Sion.


Its hot: 30 oC perhaps? Sit over coffee. Book hotel. Walk in shade to hotel. Shower. Relax. Wait till 7 to wander out. I have a memory of a church with a… plaque in dark red marble of a corpse consumed by worms. I'd like to see it again. They're shut of course but I look at outsides. The evening light slants and I feel happy. Sit and watch a game of boules. I'm more comfortable in the Fr bits. Back to hotel eat whatever; bed.

Sat 14th. Sion (GPS) and to Geneva.

Up 7 b'fast and for the first time ever someone challenges my neckwarmer as not a mask. But I just say c'est une masque and they let it go. City cool in morning wander again look into a couple of churches. Cafe.


In cafe realise I can / should do the PLF and day 2 test stuff. So I do. £55, and loadsa form-filling.


Up to Valere (the prominent castle on the hill; there's a further one but I am not going there) just bearable at 11. It is a bit disappointing: a fine building but being renovated so most not visible. So, my sculpture-search has failed. Perhaps I will try to find the old pic?

Next step: station 12, train 12:32 so time to buy bread+cheese and a melon, which I shall have fun eating.

Geneve: hot-n-dull: expand. Or, maybe not... the cathedral spire is good but the interior disappoints apart from one graveslab. And I'm not sure about Calvin's chair.


Back to hotel 8 tired browse sleep (I could have gone for a lakeside cruise but would have had to have taken it on-the-bounce and I wasn't ready).

Sun 15th. Geneva (GPS) and home.


Sleep well. Up 6:45 go wander find a better Geneve: quiet cool early waterside towards plage. Swim, having realised it is sparse enough. Lovely. Cafe. Back to hotel shower checkout 10.


To the museum! Before it gets too hot. But! It opens 11. Rats. Cafe nearby passes the time happily. To musee (arts+hist) and… it is well worth it. For the armoury room alone. And some good olde pix. Egypt a bit meh though. Executioner's swords; armour; gunz; glass and more; tapestry; stoves; benefactors including the Napoleon; many many paintings; of which one good modern :-).


Musee cafe+abricot tarte in the cool shade of the cloisters.


And off: flight 5:50 before 2 pointless aim for def-by-3: bus (hotel gave me free transport card) gets me there just after 3. I fly through security - despite forgetting I have ½ litre water which I have to glug - and so have a few hours to kill. But better than being rushed and really it is so hot out I could do nothing.

5:15: they have a special check for p'port+covid-test+PLF, which I've now passed.

Landed on time. Nearing fromt of q after half hour. Only 4 gates working out of about 20. And so home.