Tuesday 16 July 2024

Pre-bumps assessment 2024

451753745_10161331020392350_4272825632732142666_n Following on from Pre-bumps assessment 2023.

Another year rolls round, and it does feel a bit like it this time; rather more "here we go again" than bright perky excitement.

Adding to that, we've been a bit thin on outings, going out two or three times a week and never hitting the dizzy heights of four.

This is reflected in all kinds of ways; we're not as tuned up as we've been in previous years. Our starts might hold up, they might not, but we certainly haven't done enough to iron out the rough spots. And of course for me the years roll round: my 2k is up to 7:31 despite a winter's worth of erging, from 7:26 last year.

We are: cox: Theo von Wilmowski, stroke Harry Bulstrode, Jon Hachett, Conor Burgess, Jonathon Pilgrim, Lars Okkenhaug, David O'Loughlin, Me, Klaus Okkenhaug. No fresh young blood from Kings (though Lars is young and fresh), and JP in for Ralph Hancock at the lastish minute: Andy Southgate in M2 broke thus opening a gap, and Robs menfolk as a whole broke, thus freeing JP. And we're back in Christ's nice Filippi.

That said, our starts are consistently below 1:30 and we don't immeadiately die thereafter. Though I don't think we've rowed the full course: that isn't the plan, one way or another.

Any predictions would depend on knowing the boats around us, which I don't. I'm going to count going down two or less as a success; any bumps up a definite bonus.


Tuesday: GPS. Harry's GoPro. Grey, stopped raining, river up. Arrived early for warmup on ergs and quick starts together. Good start outside Plough (1:25). Four minute gun just as we came onto station, mild panic but plenty of time. E there to watch. Ever so slightly over-angled at start, but start good, held City much better than expected, got 1 1/4, perhaps 1 length at end on Press, but alas they were by no means slow. But around First Post City got their act together and started coming up, and they got us between the Plough and Ditton.

Wednesday: GPS. Harry's GoPro on my rigger. Nice Wx. I'm feeling slightly hassled due to my marshalling stuff-ups, but much less nervous than yesterday. Less faff on meet, but did some starts on the ergs. Decent row down, and the race... went all according to plan. Which doesn't often happen at bumps. We stayed on station with City for a while, they took out Press later than I expected, where they got us, and Nines weren't ever a threat.

Thursday: GPS. Harry's GoPro on JP's rigger. Another nice evening, perhaps even a touch on the warm side. The race again much as expected: in that - alas - we didn't catch Press or even get close; perhaps slightly unexpected was Nines rudely charging at us towards the end, but they did not pose a real threat. If they get encouraged and start their run-up a bit earlier tomorrow we might have to work harder.

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Book review: the Centauri Device

FB_IMG_1717358004610This isn't a good book; I feel inclined to put it that way round, rather than saying it is a bad book. But it is a throwing-unpleasantness-in-your-face sort of book: lovingly detailed depictions of grime and misery. There is some literary quality in there; at least, we're above the potboiler level; and yet the literary quality isn't enough to make up for the grime.

Wiki tells us "The Centauri Device is the third novel by English author M. John Harrison. The novel, originally conceived as an "anti-space opera" would ultimately go on to make a major contribution to revitalising the subgenre and influencing the works of later authors such as Iain M. Banks and Alastair Reynolds." Goodreads, as usual, provides a variety of views. But I couldn't find one I liked, to endorse.

At the end, perhaps to justify the blow-it-all-up ending, perhaps to throw nihilistic politics into the nihilistic mix, we get a weird "what has {socialism|capitalism} ever done for the world" competition, which both lose. As politics, it is naif to the point of uselessness.

He does get a point for describing the camels as "sore-footed, refractory" but it isn't enough.

Saturday 1 June 2024

Book review: Fractal Noise

PXL_20240601_152742351Fractal Noise by Christopher Paolini is a bad book. Ironically I read it because I mistook him for Paolo Bacigalupi of The Windup Girl. But I now discover he is Eragon and so on. That fits much better; the formulaic and entirely flat texture of this book is no match for TWUG but fits well with Eragon.

To get the title out of the way, it is irrelevant. I doubt Our Author has a clue what it means; certainly it plays no part in the plot. And why anyone would bother build a transmitter to broadcast the Fibonacci numbers (or whatever it was) is beyond me. Never mind.

The plot (really, I'm going to assume you don't bother read the book, so I feel no qualms about giving the plot away): after discovering a mysterious makes-no-sense giant massively powerful alien transmitter on a far planet, sufficient excuses are assembled to justify sending down a motley crew of four to travel on foot to go for a look. For lulz, the four are ridiculously ill-matched and authority is poorly defined. "Zones" with no physical reality are defined around the object, so that the book can have convenient chapters as they cross these zones; laughably, at one point the Central Character is surprised that nothing is visible as he crosses the imaginary lines on the map.

The CC is given a heart-rending backstory - which I skipped - to agonise about as he walks; this fails to disguise the Author's lack of writing ability.

In the end, it was exactly as I expected: the CC arrives at the object, and nothing is revealled or discovered. In an appendix, the Author reveals that he originally expected the story to be about 15 pages long; and really, there is no more than 15 pages of thought in this book.

Thursday 30 May 2024

Book review: Tenth Planet

PXL_20240428_091417650~2 Ah Edmund Cooper. Author of the classic Overman Culture. This one is minor, and arguably somewhat similar - waking up in a new culture the origins of which are to be discovered.

But as Goodreads can hardly fail to notice, the novel is grotesquely sexist, even by the standards of its time. If you can read past that, then the story is interesting enough.

One Goodreads review notices something I failed to: that while very early on we have a male-crewed ship with the exception of the slinky Suzy Wu, who appears in revealing attire and is available for "cheering up" the Captain or anyone else in need, by the end Our Captain has reverted to small-town 1950's morality and any form of sexual un-monogamy (there must be a better word) arouses violence in him (admittedly it is kinda necessary for the plot that he be imprisoned, and escape, and so on; but consistency is also needed).

Book review: The Book That Wouldn’t Burn

FB_IMG_1716632472184 The Book That Wouldn’t Burn is by Mark "Red Sister" Lawrence. I really enjoyed the beginning, but found myself disappointed by the end. Goodreads is enthusiastic.

The young-girl-growing-up-in-a-hard-world-with-secret-protectors is a familiar story but quite well done. The always problematic transition to "the real story" is as ever the difficulty, which Our Author doesn't manage to overcome. There's a nice twist at the end, where we find out where the Assistant and The Soldier have come from and why they look a bit damaged. But, time-travel never works.

Consider: Yute reveals to Livira that her rejection at the hands of the examiners was a test of them, not of her. And yet he learns nothing from their failure. Their failure, by the end, we clearly see is going to lead to the humans being locally wiped out by the sabbers. And yet his reaction is to remain on the sides, taking the easy course of being the wise elder who sighs for the folly of the world but does f*ck all to change it.

But the main failure of all the characters in the book - indeed, the book itself - is to realise that their main problem is tribalism; that they're only fighting because they look different; that fundamentally they are all just intelligent-beings under the skin. And so the solution would be to talk. Quite how Yute fails to see this and fails to make even an attempt to do anything about it is a mystery to me - well, other than it would upset the flow of the book, obvs. The reason for the waves of sabbers is only vaguely sketched in, as is whatever economy allows them to survive out in the wastes of dust, and yet be desperate to attack; Our Author is more interested in his Cycles of History that "inevitbaly" lead to alternation, rather than any attempt to make it plausible.

There are echoes of The Library of Babel, except it doesn't quite work like that... individual chambers are large; there are clearly many of them; they clearly don't fit into the physical world; but IIRC none of the characters think it might be infinite. It turns out that the chamber doors are keyed by race, but in an easily gameable way that makes that precaution pointless, but there are only two races... or perhaps we're in a local pocket with only two races. There's no attempt at an explanation of how The Library might work, or come into being. Given that it is a library, and therefore might contain such an explanation, that seems odd. And once you realise it is non-physically-local, it would be natural to attempt to find exits to other worlds; yet no-one tries to do that.

The Exchange is based on the wood between the worlds.

Whatever tech created all this, the current inhabitants are well below it. So we're back in a what's-the-point type situation, whereby all these people and their struggles... just don't matter, in a sense. I'm not sure I expressed that well.

Wednesday 29 May 2024

Film review: Howl's Moving Castle

PXL_20240504_141014685 Howl's Moving Castle is a 2004 Japanese animated fantasy film loosely based on the 1986 novel of the same name by British author Diana Wynne Jones; it's another Studio Ghibli.

And the "style" of Mononoke or Tomoro carries over, pleasantly. Except for the bits of "nice" landscape, which tend to be a bit garish and sickly. The "henchmen" are good, and the bombers, and the castle. Visually I mean.

The story is only semi-coherent; treat it as mood-music rather than a structured narrative (where does Markl come from? Why did the Witch show up in a hat shop? Why does Howl want a moving castle in the first place? And so on).

Apparently it is anti-war, but that's a pretty cheap sentiment.

I did find resonance in the bit where the young girl, having become old, finds that what she really wants to do is sit quietly by the side of the lake.

Tuesday 21 May 2024

New bike: Trek

Alas, my old Genesis is no more; stolen from near the Railway bridge while I was reading Lewis and watching the river. I really should have locked it up; one moment it was there, the next not. Here is a photo in memoriam:


From 2015 you'll notice; so it lasted nearly nine years; fair going. It was quite knocked about by the end, and the headset needed attention.

Here's the new one:


It is lovely, even though technically it is a women's bike (m'lord). And indeed technically not new, but second hand; but it has been very well looked after. And here's another view. £420 I think. I could have a red Merida instead, for about the same price. This was from the Science Park Bike Hub which has a good set of ~£400 bikes.

The tires aren't new but are in a decent state, ditto everything else. Rim brakes, Bontrager wheels and tires.

Size identifying pic (56 cm).

I bought a cheapish (£18) combi lock for it, which I might well use day to day; having started using it, I'm finding not taking my keys out of my pocket all the time is rather nice. But for heavier duty I've now spent £85 on an Abus Granit 470 300 mm. That pic also shows that my bike is a Trek Lexa; which it seems hasn't been sold by Trek since about 2015/16, so whoever had my bike used it very lightly indeed. It looks like they were ~£1100 new, and I see them for £250-£400 second hand now, so I'm happy. After riding for a few days: it is lovely to be back on something that is smooth and doesn't click or clatter and the gears just work.

Update: July 1st

The cheapish combi lock failed; it stuck. Happily, the cable didn't resist five minutes of hack sawing. But I decided I did like the no-keys stuff, so have bought a somewhat more expensive Abus (Chain Lock Tresor 1385/75) to replace it.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Mother's 90th

We went to the Chilterns for Mother's 90th; to a nice house outside Great Kimble. These are some pix, lightly decorated. Full pix here. Here we all are.


Here's the house - yes, I took the drone. See pix for other views, e.g. this.


We went to La Fiorentina - no ZaZa's - on Friday night. On Saturday we had a slow start having breakfast in various nooks. Here's D, outside.


M and I preferred the window seat. We had a picnic in the Ashridge woods:


We sent the cildren up trees. We climbed trees ourselves:


And we tip-toed through the bluebells.


We visited the monument (E and N on top; D on bottom).


Then home to relax by the pool; a meal at home; and quiet reading for the evening and by the fire.


On Sunday people were tired after Saturday's exertions. I took D and E to see Berkhamstead Castle; Great Gaddesden graves of the Proctor ancestors; a look around the church; then home via Cheddington and Peter's grave. At some point in the afternoon, tennis: Toby initially dominant until Rob remembered how to play.

On Monday M and I walked up in the morning: round the field to Great Kimble and the church.


Then over the road, up to the "fort" which isn't really there any more. I thought drone views might show it up but no; there are a few earth banks. And so after lunch we all parted in the afternoon.

Thursday 9 May 2024

New boots

PXL_20240406_145654076 Following on from the exciting Shoe Size, I bought some new boots. The bright yellow and red is a touch more garish than I might have selected myself given free choice.

These are La Sportive Aequilibrium ST GTX, the "S" being for "Synthetic" rather than leather uppers. There's a BMC review here. Mine were £325 from Ellis Brigham, Cambridge. I had wiffled around for ages trying to choose new boots. They are size 11 / 44, I think.

The old ones were in quite poor shape, and by the end of last summer the soles were well worn down (the yellow Vibram marker was quite worn away, which may be intended as a hint); the front rubber was going; and one of the lace-points had gone. Also, invisibly, a seam inside the right boot had started to rub on my big toe. None of this was actually fatal, and they were still fairly decent boots, so I left them by the municipal rubbish bins in case some tramp wanted to pick them up. They were Salewa (I'm sure) Raven (I think) likely this from the late lamented Outside Cambridge.

About the whiffling: I spent ages trying and failing to just get a new pair of Salewa's, since I liked than; D has a similar but slightly higher grade pair he got first for Ladakh. But after looking around - finally, in Hathersage and London - I ended up in EB Cambridge with these. They cost a little more than I was hoping for but meh. They are perhaps ever so slightly less serious than the Salewa's; the BMC article rates them more B1 than B2; but I'm  not planning ice-climbing in them. They are quite light - 1.3 kg the pair - which was a criterion.


Friday 26 April 2024

Book review: Red Sister

PXL_20240423_195105401~2 Red Sister by Mark Lawrence isn't dreadful sci-fi nonsense, because it isn't sci-fi; it's closer to fantasy. Teenage wish-fulfilment fantasy. That doesn't of itself make it bad; after all Harry Potter is much the same. I got this because I've been reading - and enjoying - The Book That Wouldn’t Burn - in W/S, and felt like buying something on a Friday to last the weekend.

And this is not-dissimilar let us say; I'll probably cover this ground better when reviewing that, but this one, like that one, is "poor but talented girl grows up in strange new environment making friends and dealing with the oppression of the powerful".

Before going on, and without yet revealing much in the way of spoilers, but those will come later, I note that the "defining event of the start" - her rescue of her friend, which causes her to suffer the emnity of the powerful, and leads to her friend's death - is a classic "you don't know how to fail" a-la HPMOR: somewhere in the middle of that (if you haven't read it, do so now, it is well worth it) Voldemort tries to explain to Harry that instead of a bizarre sequence of ever-less-plausible and ever-more-risky victories for ever-higher-stakes, it would have been much better, and nearly painless, to simply fail at the first hurdle. This doesn't suit well with modern Western thinking where all must have justice down the the last jot and tittle.

While I'm here - wherever I am - I'll also point out that spoiled-beautiful-rich-kid Arabella doesn't last very long in that role before being granted the inevitable promotion to friend. It felt that the book, knowing it was inevitably going to follow the trope, couldn't be bothered to go through all the motions and just cut things short.

Moving on to some good bits - after all I did read it - the world building is fun. It is a cold world, with extensive ice sheets, and a thin "corridor" of habitable land on the equator. Implicitly, it is orbiting a red dwarf - the sun is described as filling half the sky, though I'm not sure that quite works, never mind. But would such a corridor be stable? No, but that's OK, because there is a "focus moon" that briefly warms the night; it becomes clear this is a space mirror; and this seems plausible. But then, aha, it turns out that part of the plot is going to be control of some mystical tech that can control the mirror. Nice.

The rest of the mystical powers, and the four sorts of them, from the four sorts of original inhabitants, is also quite well done. And a bit blurred, as it must be.

As I said, this is really isomorphic to a girls-own-adventure, but - perhaps as so often with these things - that leads to oddities: when their lives are threatened they take it with the light-heartedness that they would were it the end-of-term hockey match. Oh yeah, and the character-shifts of, say, Sister Apple / Posioner don't quite work.

Monday 8 April 2024

Film review: My Neighbor Totoro

PXL_20240406_151328854 My Neighbor Totoro is a 1988 Japanese animated fantasy film. We seem to be having a season of these; see-also Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. It is lighter than both of those.

Two young sisters move into the japanese countryside with their father; their mother, it emerges, is in hospital with some unnamed illness. It is all rice-paddies and bicycles and everything is charming.

They meet "friendly wood spirits" and a weird catbus, and despite a scare when the younger sister goes missing, all is well.

There is a slight undercurrent of menace, we felt, though it is hard to know if it is really there or we were merely projecting our expectations. Certainly it would not have been surprising if the frog-faced old "grannie" had turned out to be an evil spirit; but actually she's just a genuinely nice old lady.

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Shoe size

PXL_20240324_091630288 In the course of buying new boots, I was given cause to doubt my long-established shoe size of 10.5 to 11. Here is a machine-measurement (Ellis Brigham, Cambridge) showing UK 9 / EU 43, and here is another (EB, London) showing... UK 9.5, EU 43. However, trying on EU 43 was a complete failure; and EU 46 was far more plausible.

The "asic" el-cheapo yellow-lined trainers I have, which are about the right size, show 29.5 cm, US 12, EU 46.5 marks.

The Adidas Boston Adizero, again well-fitting, "yellow-green rand" version, have just about legible on one shoe marks of US 11.5, UK 11, EU 46.

Sunday 31 March 2024

Peaks: Stanage and Froggatt

Events constrained us to only one free day over Easter (and various abrasions and next-day-bones perhaps suggested that one day was enough), so Saturday saw me driving D, E and little Mi up to the Peaks, starting at the not especially unearthly hour of 7 am, or 6 am if you include getting breakfast and so on (and quietly forgetting the three pints with P and M I'd had the night before at the Castle; this may also be a good place to note Mi's helping plane down the underneath of the living room door). At my steady 65 mph up the A1 - blessedly clear - and Google's choice of Ecoroute, we took about 2:45 to get to Hathersage, where we had the traditional breakfast stop, and a quick look at the guidebooks, before doing the usual "well we'll go up to Stanage and see what's free". Wx: fine, sun and cloud, not cold, except in the wind at the top.

So a bit before 11 we left the car at the already-full carpark and headed up. This was Mi's first time out in the Real World. GPS trace. I lead Flying Buttress, and we watched someone doing the direct. Still a good route, and quite "interesting" getting from the side onto the slab on top. From there we moved not-very-far to Leaning Buttress Indirect, which D lead easily (well it is only VD).


From the ground E didn't believe it is possible to squeeze through the "Bishop's move" but it is. Oh, and D then top-roped the HVS direct.

After that to Hollybush Crack, which gets about my fourth ascent, but it is still fun. The start was easier this time; perhaps because it was entirely dry. I lead in my lovely Magdalen tights. And here's E and Mi at the top, with the landscape stretching away. My old helmet doesn't really suit Mi, but then again it never suited me either.


Lunch again at Outside, and I tried on various mountaineering boots, without finding a pair I really liked. Perhaps the Aequilibrium that EB had in Cambridge?

And so to Froggatt, now quite late, indeed we didn't start walking in till about 4:30. At this point the light was lovely, although the direction made for a poor photo. People were packing up so it was quiet. We did Allen's Slab, S; D lead it easily, I followed with slight trepidation on the rising traverse and even more on the pull up, but managed to force faith-in-friction onto myself and get my leg far enough up, and was up. It was good that D was so well within himself, because his gear was not the finest; but that's fine, part of the point is the practice (here's someone on Youtube massively over-gearing it, and also evading the crux by going a bit further R into the next crack, for the pull-up). E and Mi decided not to follow but go up the D (Slab Recess) which lead to the comedy of oh-we-need-to-get-D's-gear-out, but fortunately it fell out by itself while fiddling the rope.


And so away. By the end the sun was setting, and the light and the trees were even more lovely.


* Peaks: Stanage and Birchens (2023/04/08).

Boxing Day at Horseshoe Quarry (2022/12/27).

A trip to Pembroke (2022/09).

The leaves of Chatsworth lie thick on the ground (2015/11/15).

Stanage with Daniel and Jamie (2014/05/25).

* Chatsworth with Howard (2014/03).

* Stanage, 2013.

* Stanage; us with Howard and others (2010/04).

Tuesday 26 March 2024

London: Cloth Fair, Wigmore, Westminster, Courtauld, National Gallery, St Bartholomew the Great, RA

Mfd+J gave us a stay at the Landmark Trust's 43 Cloth Fair, to celebrate M's retirment and my 60th.


It was Betjeman's pied a terre. This is a "photo essay", which is to say I shall not trouble you with many words. If you don't recognise the pictures... check your culture. Full photo set here.


That's at the Wigmore Hall. Next morning, Westminster Abbey, which neither of us has ever seen, we think. I hadn't realised just how stuffed full of memorials it is. Some discretely understated:


And some absurdly elaborate, like this life-size figure, one of four:


And the flag-chapel is stunning.


Then off to the Courtauld, and would you believe that M wanted lunch?


I'm having an only-take-famous-pictures jag.


Fortunately the C, whilst not the largest collection, is relatively free of fluff.


I'd better stop there. We move on to the National Gallery.


I finally found this. Sorry about the reflections near the top, the NG aren't very good with their lighting.


Skipping lightly over my favourite spiderman and Bosch, we close with


Famous from my O-level history textbook on the development of the English in the 17th or whatever century. Home, via sunset views of St Paul's and quasi-dream views of alien spaceships. M, who had skipped the NG, was hard at work at home.


Sunday morning dawned. I had a quick walk around, which I spent entirely in St Bartholomew the Great, it being more interesting than I'd expected from Pevsner, with a lovely old feel.


There was a service going on, but they had gathered at the far end in the shelter of the altar so I wasn't disturbing them. Thence to the RA for intersectional coloniality and so on, which alas wasn't to my tastes particularly artistically interesting (I should have taken the large vibrant guy posing against a bright abstract background which Aesthetica has the good taste to highlight).


Flaming June, and some other RA-type stuff, is tucked away at the back.


After that we parted ways, M to church-crawl and me to Vets Head.


Tuesday 12 March 2024

A visit to Magdalen and Elias

We are uneasily aware that Miranda's time at Magdalen grows short. Here are some pictures from a visit for Friday Evening Prayers, Formal Hall, and a visit to the Ashmolean.

The cloisters, by the Old Library stair. I quite like "light in the cloisters" too, but I can't inline every one.


And above the archway, just visible in the picture above:


Addiscombe's walk. Alas I didn't find fritillaries, but Miriam did. Don't miss Lewis's poem.


Nearly at the end of the Walk:


Funeral pall of Henry VII (Cloth of Gold):


Dutch tiles; note Noah's ark.


St Catherine.



* Ashmolean: Egypt (2023/12)

Cezanne: a trip to London (2023/03)

Book review: The Load of Unicorn

PXL_20240312_200052445~3The Load of Unicorn is a children's historical novel written and illustrated by Cynthia Harnett. It was first published in 1959, as wiki will tell you.

My interest is in remembering it from childhood; the title, but not the story. And not with this cover; perhaps, the Puffin version shown here. Recently I bought it from Oxfam, and "gave" it to Miranda as a Christmas-present-loan, but have it back now.

The story is of Caxton, and printing-vs-scriveners, and of the Morte d'Arthur. It is, as it appears, a children's book, but pleasant enough for an adult to read.

Tuesday 5 March 2024

Film review: Princess Mononoke

Christ's BCD Princess Mononoke is an animated Studio Ghibli thingy. It is quite good; the animation is mostly quite interesting with nice effects, the storyline carries you along. There is no great depth to it I think but that's not a problem.

The demons and gods are Shinto-ish: spirits-of-place, powerful but not all-powerful, mostly unburdened by speech. They can be defeated by Heroes but normal mortals turn away in fear.

There is no clear moral. Gunz-are-bad starts off looking like the moral but that kinda fades. Possibly respect-nature. And possibly, "Shinto", though I don't know enough about it to be sure.

The wriggly-eels around the demons is genuinely disturbing, so well done for that. Some of the isn't-the-forest-beautiful stuff was a little cloying though.


Sunday 25 February 2024

Book review: The Thousand Emperors

PXL_20240211_174428960~2 Wham bam but ultimately forgettable sci-fi space opera; indeed, I have largely forgotten it in the week or two since I read it. And in a way I wasn't paying that much attention when I did read it; it is lightweight stuff and doesn't really repay your attention, you start to notice all the faults and just the lack of umm I'm not sure; detail, perhaps.

Having said that, I did enjoy reading it in a lightweight fluffy kind of way.