Thursday 27 July 2023

France 2023

PXL_20230802_072534790 The saga...

Endless vacillation eventually collapses, wavefunctionlike, into a 8:01 Eurostar out of London on Monday the 31st of July, with a 5:39 train from Cambridge to get me there. From there, Gare de Lyon (14:20) to Grenoble (17:20), and then plan a bus to Bourg d'Oisans or similar.

Here's a GR54 Tour d'Oisans map.

2021's in-arrears kit list: 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).

The vacillation hasn't quite collapsed enough but I think I'm going to omit crampons and axe and helmet, and cooking kit, and gaiters.

So this years list is: boots; trekking poles; tracksters; under trousers (HH black); maps; socks x 3; underpants x 2; yellow thin top; new Rab shorts; hat; headtorch; water bottle and baby bottle; toothbrush; silk inner; carry mat; down jacket (yellow bag); sleeping bag (black bag); orange raincoat; plasters etc; sunglasses; tarp; thermarest; electronics (battery pack; wires); misc in lightweight blue rucksac; gloves (thin; fleece; down mittens-and-outer-mittens).

Here' a rough kit picture; I'll find the better one at some point. Note the new coat. Rucksac (per France 2019) was an EXPED Black Ice 45.



I'm not taking a proper tent, or a bivvi bag. Instead I have a lightweight tarp (Rab Element Solo). This is good enough for "normal" weather. My plan for heavy rain or other bad weather is to stay in a refuge, or find some other shelter, or just survive.

Whether to stay in refuges or camp out is a perennial question. Refuges get you a lighter pack: you can omit all the tent, sleeping back and even food if you want. It doesn't even have to cost much: if you have a reciprocal rights card, then sleep-only in a typical CAF refuge is E10.50. But it does mean you have to book ahead, against the possibility of the refuge being full (this rarely happens and even if they are "full" they will generally put up a distressed traveller). And I hate booking ahead. Sleeping out gets you all the joy of sleeping out: freedom from the snorrers, and the stars wheeling above you. 

Food and drink

I didn't carry a stove. This saves weight and hassle, at the cost of giving you nothing to do at the end of a long day except stare at the mountains (but I have a Kindle). Slightly more seriously, I doubt that for most purposes a stove is genuinely useful; most of the cooking that people do is really only to fill in time and prevent boredom. As an alternative to pasta, bread will last a few days quite happily, or crispbread type stuff, or oatcakes (a good test of hunger: are you hungry enough to eat an oatcake?). FWIW, I drink without fear from streams high up in the Alps, where high up is loosely defined as above the cow line, above 2000 m say; but I don't offer that as advice.


I took a perfectly decent pair of boots, but in the end I mostly wore trainers. A month of rough trails and rocks was not good for them, but they were light and comfy and if you're delicate with your feet they're good enough grip on most trails. They're not at all waterproof, but then again they dry quickly. Probably I should wear my trail shoes instead but I didn't think of that.

GPS tracks

I obsessively track my routes with GPS. Usually I do this on a GPS watch (Garmin 620) but I'm finding after several years of use that the battery doesn't last as long as it used to, and certainly not a day. After initially breaking into segments I eventually realised it was more sensible to use the phone GPS, recording with the Strava app. As a bonus, this gave me a real time track.

Book review: No Bed for Bacon

PXL_20230726_171330402~2A lightweight piece of fluff, unless I've missed some deeper meaning. Fun enough, once I got into it, which mostly means understanding what the authors are going to do: a mixture of court and theatre, repartee and slapstick. I suspect that if I had any historical knowledge of the period I'd discover that the book was full of deliberate anachronisms. Example: Raleigh and his Feast of the First Eating of the Potato. Kind of like Down with Skool, a bit.

Goodreads. The copy I have is old and battered; the black cover has the title written on the spine in gold pen. Probably, it comes from Mfd+J.

Wednesday 26 July 2023

Quotes from Lewis on The Model

v0_master Some quotes from Lewis in The Discarded Image:

In discussion with wholly uneducated audiences I have sometimes found matter which real scientists would regard as highly speculative more firmly believed than many things within our real knowledge; the popular imago of the Cave Man ranked as hard fact, and the life of Caesar or Napoleon as doubtful rumour. We must not, however, hastily assume that the situation was quite the same in the Middle Ages. The mass media which have in our time created a popular scientism, a caricature of the true sciences, did not then exist. The ignorant were more aware of their ignorance then than now. Yet I get the impression that when the poets use motives from the Model, they are not aware, as Aquinas was, of its modest epistemological status. I do not mean that they have raised the question he raises and answered it differently. More probably it has never been before their minds. They would have felt that the responsibility for their cosmological, or for their historical or religious, beliefs rested on others. It was enough for them that they were following good auctours, great clerks, 'thise olde wise'.


One difference between describing the Model and writing a history of thought has been, undesignedly, illustrated in the previous chapter. I there cited both Plato and Aristotle: but the role I had to give them was philosophically humiliating - the one called as witness to a scrap of daemonology, the other for some exploded physics. Naturally, I was not suggesting that their real and permanent place in the history of Western thought rested on such foundations. But they concerned us less as great thinkers than as contributors-indirect, uncon- scious, and almost accidental contributors - to the Model. The history of thought as such would deal chiefly with the influence of great experts upon great experts - the influence, not of Aristotle's physics, but of his ethics and his dialectical method on those of Aquinas. But the Model is built out of the real, or supposed, agreement of any ancient authors - good or bad, philosophers or poets, understood or misunderstood - who happened, for whatever reason, to be available.

Thursday 20 July 2023

Book review: The Deep

PXL_20230702_114626194~2 This has been my favourite book for a long time. Read this short Goodreads review for overall tone, said better than I can.

One day I must read up on the War of the Roses enough to see how far Crowley really does use it for inspiration; I'd like to see a concordance.

"The World is founded on a Pillar which is founded on The Deep"; this turns out to be true1. The book is beautiful, intricate, carefully fitted together, lovingly polished. The language is spare, elegant; not like Vance, and yet in some way analogous; recognisably not just modern voice2.

My only problem with it is the physics, which obviously doesn't work. This is held in abeyance for most of the book; it is only at the end that we-the-reader find out that it is really true. A directional shield for heaven stones doesn't really make sense, nor does a sun moving in the way described. But it would take considerable effort to invent imaginary physics or cosmology to cover this, which would only be a distraction, so I forgive him.

Many scenes are beautiful. One: Fauconred (or was it Redhand), weary, thinking over: they say life is short but mine seems endlessly long. Two: the circle of Kings and Demons, that turns out to be a spiral. Three: the odd convention of the ancients, of having all, even the stricken bleeding pink guts, smile with teeth.

Oh, and I love the way Red Senlin's son becomes The King Red Senlin's son; and the other names.



1. I recall that phrase... it turns out that I wrote it into wiki in 2006.

2. I now realise I can formalise an objection I have to so many fantasy books: the characters speak like moderns.

3. Somewhere towards the end, Nod talks to the immemorially ancient Leviathan, whose only desire is to sleep under his shield, and resents being woken up by his brother or his creatures. And so says to Nod, who is attempting to question him, "speaking to your ignorance is pain". Often, on sci.environment, I felt like that; or back in the days when I blogged about GW and attempted to explain the obvious to fools. If I've directed you here, perhaps subtly, ponder that. 

Wednesday 19 July 2023

CRA town bumps 2023

4811696744238622046 The story so far: see Pre-bumps assessment 2023. So I went into day one nervous. I didn't sleep especially well and woke up at 6; rather than lie uselessly in bed I went for a little walk, sat opposite "fox house" and ate an orange. After work I decided not to go watch anything - I had on Monday - but rather "relax" at home. And so, to Christ's for 7:30, met, greet, and we're all a little subdued, one never knows.

Day one: up on Tabs 3

GPS. Paddle off (all eight, square blade, starting from arms-only), and it's all good, feeling - especially once we're at full-slide-feathered - very smooth, very reliable, very strong; the winds of Sunday are gone. Park up on Stourbridge, say hello to Jonathan P and Ed P (Robs 2 at 13); don't see Tom P in Tabs 4, Mallory, at 12. Women row by, no change at the top, I don't see our women so that's probably not good for them. And we're off. Nice strong paddle down chomping up whoever is ahead of us... oh, it's Tabs 3, 9, Hills Road. Lovely practice start down to 1:20 says GPS, which is the fastest I've ever gone. To the start, spin, relax. Just for once I stay in the boat; beg a sip of water off Jon. Nervous, but controlled. Don't think ahead, be in the moment, relax, breathe, focus.

And so we're off. Decent start, under control, keep myself in length, pace, we're not going to get anything in a hurry. Blow through the gunsmoke, its choppy under the bridge, and a bit smoother afterwards. No whistles for us, though some dimly behind... it might be Nines on us, they perhaps got up to a length, or it may be Tabs behind them, who I'm pretty sure were close at First Post. I have enough spare brain to wonder what might happen tomorrow if we row over and Tabs 4 go up... but then we're coming round FP - very tight, I have enough spare to glance left - and get a shouted length-and-a-quarter and things are looking up. Soon after that we get a whistle, and then we're on Plough reach and it feels like two then three whistles come quickly. At / after Ditton we're on overlap and that doesn't last long. Yay!

We are (L to R): me; Ralph Hancock; Shuowang He, Conor Burgess, Will Miller, Harry Bulstrode, Alistair Goodman, Adam Townson, Jon Hatchett. Photo: Simon Emmings.

Day two: row over

GPS. Day two was somewhat less nervy. We again chomped people up getting to the start, and Will was calling 1:46 as we paddled down FP. Our Plough start was fractionally faster than yesterday. Our proper start was good, and again we got no whistles before FP, which didn't worry us. We were on one whistle past the Plough, maybe two round Ditton, then three on the Reach and perhaps overlap... but achingly we didn't close and Xpress got away, though we chased to top finish. It was rather bumpy in the wash; perhaps we didn't handle it perfectly.

Ahead of them, City 2 got Nines 2; so we can hope that tomorrow Xpress too will suffer wash.

Days three and four: row over

Alas, we didn't get Xpress. We were tantalisingly close on Thursday (GPS) but not so close on Friday (GPS). We again followed Wednesday's pattern of being on station until Ditton and then closing, but not quite enough. On Thursday Nines 3 closed to perhaps half a length at the Railway bridge; they got taken down by City 3 on Friday down the Reach; so perhaps just as well we didn't have a fifth day.

Post-bumps assessment

We were good, and judging by the GPS traces about as fast as my best, which perhaps surprisingly tends to be 2018, and sometimes 2013. Unlike previous years, when by bumps time I felt we'd trained quite enough and it was time to get on with it, this year we clearly hadn't had much time to tune ourselves up, and I think this held us back. We did some of the fastest steady-state paddling I've done; and the fastest practice starts (just below 1:19); but our race-pace wasn't quite up to it. And yet, overall, we're back up to 9th, and bumps was fun.


M1 Tuesday 18th July. Footage near Osiers by PaulS: yes, Tabs 4 were rather close to Nines at FP. They'll be disappointed to have missed that.

Monday 17 July 2023

Pre-bumps assessment 2023

Following on from Pre-bumps assessment 2022.

This has been a different year... we've been rowing as a M1.5 over the winter, and struggling to get a full crew, so on 2-ish or less outings a week as the eight. This has kinda suited me, I have other things to do with my life, and I ended up erging and coxing more than I otherwise would. I'm back under 40 mins for 10k (best 39:19) and under 7:30 for 2k (best 7:26). A little while back we unzipped, and the, errm, elect (me, Harry, Ralph, Jon, with Conor joining at that point) moved up to M1 to join the fit young ex Kingz boyz (Shuowang, Ali, Adam; Will coxing).

Since then we've had a total of six preparatory outings, with the usual not-quite-full-crew issues, and the weed-in-the-water, and the ridiculously-windy. Despite that, we're going well, and faster; faster than last year I believe. Ahead of us we have Hills Road as Tabs 3 (again!) and behind Nines 3. Both are unknown quantities, though Conor reported us as marginally faster than Mallory, who were to be Tabs 3 but are now 4, behind Nines. We're in Christ's M1's nice Filippi.

So I really don't know what will happen but I can be hopeful.

Sunday 9 July 2023

Book review: The Anome / The Brave Free Men / The Asutra

PXL_20230709_095959527~2 I've decided that The Anome is the archetypical and perhaps best of Jack Vance's stories. I've just re-read the Durdane series - the same paperbacks that I've had forever.

It is archetypical in that the setup - a young man growing up in a strange world, and then going off to explore that world - fits many of Vance's books. There is the colour symbolism, nicely expressed in the pink-black-azure-deep-greeners. There's the balloonway, which recurs in variations. And the language.

The central word, Anome, is lovely. As are the Cantons of Shant. One reads it for this, and the colourful landscape, and the interest of the plot.

In a way the book is an exploration of, and a rejection-in-favour-of-freedom, of central coercive rule. But while that forms a theme, or backbone, for the book it isn't in the foreground for me; the backbone supports the flesh but is clothed by it.

D replied that Emphyrio is his best. I like that too, but find the denouement somewhat outre, words I was happy to surprise D with. I think the Anome fine; the Brave Free Men is good; the Asutra I am less happy with; it somewhat trails off; while the ending sort-of has a nice twist, it is a twist that makes half the book pointless.

I venture to suggest that the political system described would be unstable. The chances of an Anome choosing a poor successor are too high; the chances of someone managing to identify the Anome are too high; the torc-technology would be too dangerous and prone to misfire or duds or being spoofed; in an intersting way it effectively prohibits technological development. And anyway the entire idea of maintaining order centrally by killing without any further process anyone who violates rules is too prone to mis-reporting and too knife-edge. Oh, and I don't think the "indentures" stuff is really thought through either.

Here are the covers all together; they form a landscape, as you observe.

PXL_20230709_095959527~2 PXL_20230709_100012073~2 PXL_20230709_100029407~2

Book review: Lolly Willowes

PXL_20230709_123352712~2 We've had this one on our shelves for time out of mind: perhaps M had it before I met her. And finally I decided to read it, in a rather down frame of mind on a day when I expected such: a Saturday when I had little that I needed to do, after a Friday night's drinking and curry with Mark and Paul. 

I'm not sure what I thought it was about, before: the title is perhaps deliberately ambiguous or misleading; "Willowes" put me in mind of the tree, and maybe I thought of a river bank. But no: Willowes is a surname, and Lolly is the name by which Aunt Laura is known. And it is a book about the life of LW: from her childhood, to her adulthood, to her rebellion from comfortable but dull life into the countryside. Having subsequently read some of STW's life, it could perhaps be seen as instructions to herself, or to people like her. STW is a cultured person and this shows in her writing; and a small part of the charm of the book is the small touches of life it describes in 1920's London: the small shops, the chrysanthemums; in this it resembles the more august Proust.

Weirdly, LW decides to move to the Chilterns1, inspired by a spray of beech leaves from the florist; and after a while she settles into the landscape and ceases to try to interpret it, symbollically throwing her guidebook into a well; later, and even more weirdly, she decides she has become a witch, acquires a black kitten as familiar, goes to the Sabbath that all the village has been going to, and meets Satan in the guise of woodsman, gamekeeper or gardener; and is at peace. She decides to sleep out in the woods. But Satan is an odd sort of Satan: more wood spirit or Pan than evil.

The ending, then, has veered wildly away from the conventional beginning; I presume that was her intention; see again her life-story. It sort-of works as a novel (providing you're unfamiliar with sleeping out of doors) and is enjoyable and I think worth reading.

For reference, I've also read (via M) "The corner that held them" which can be said to have a similar theme, though set in a middle-ages nunnery.


1. Not far from Berkhamstead, where I grew up; I remember the beech woods I walked.

Monday 3 July 2023

Book review: the Canopy of Time

PXL_20230702_115159627~2 More Aldiss; compare Space, Time and Nathaniel. Nominally, per title, a kind-of-future-history; really the connections are so tenuous as to not exist.

I don't know where this sits in his history. Mercifully, the 1950s suburbia of ST&N is gone. A number of them have man being "replaced", most clearly in my mind the last one (VA). These are all dubiously teleological: the world just doesn't work like that. The sentient-cells or whatever calls to mind the similarly unsatisfying Blood Music.

Most of these are faded, doomed to disappear into the past and be forgotten. Perhaps "All the World’s Tears" might survive?

Book review: Strong Poison

PXL_20230702_114728647~2 Another DLS, alongside Gaudy Night etc. This one is the foundation story of Peter-meets-Harriet. I enjoyed reading it, the denouement was... acceptable, I guess; though I think Orwell's criticism comes to mind. Perhaps there is little else to say.

Oh, yeah, minor plot holes: in order to make the case against her, the police have to know that she went to various chemists and bought poisons. And she can trot out the excuse that it was research for a story. So she gave a fake name. The problem is, how did the police connect those (months old) purchases to her? Chemist to police officer (pointing at what is presumably one of many many entries in the poison book): "oh yes it was three months ago I recall her exactly". Really?

Goodreads doesn't have much to say either.

Sunday 2 July 2023

New coat

PXL_20230702_115402184~2PXL_20230702_115525603~2 I bought a new coat; the old one was falling apart (taping the seams didn't really answer), though with a little sewing it will probably do for Cambridge a bit longer. The old one was a Rab Spark; the new one is a Rab Latok Paclite. The old weighted 312 g, even with some of it abraded off; the new weights 257 g. The old was ~£150, and a lovely texture, and I liked the green, but the waterproofing was only Pertex. The new is ~£250 and Goretex; it still has a nice texture. I'm not sure about the under-arm zips, I think I'd rather not have them, or the only single front pocket, but we'll see about that.

In cut and design they look very similar; they are the lightweight-but-waterproof-alpine-summer type thingy.

This post records me buying this new jacket for reference. I think I may have bought the green one in 2016 for Norway; I had it then.

Yes, I know the postures look awkward.

Update: the new coat is lovely, as judged by my trip to the Ecrins.

New shorts

PXL_20230719_165950226~2 The excitement doesn't end there, oh no, I bought some new shorts too: RAB Torque Mountain 32" regu(lar) £75; right. I would have re-bought the old North Face, but couldn't get them. I prefer the tan, and the pockets are slightly nicer too. But they are wearing a bit thing, in places some of the stitching is worn out.

The new ones are elasticated, and 32" not 34", and perhaps slightly heavier.

New waterproof trousers

RAB Downpour Eco Pertex, in black. Bought in the autumn. Lightweight, packable, and mostly waterproof. I'm using them for cycling / general use in the winter.