"A word on the spot is worth a cartload of recollections"
James Maggs, Southwold diarist 1797-1890

Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year lessons

Good blog by Ian Parnell about keeping "life's little speed bumps" in perspective.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Cold climbs

Andy Kirkpatrick often hits the mark when he writes about climbing. His latest blog is about how today's middle-grade winter climbers can make a step up to grade 5+. His post includes this classic observation about the differences between climbing today compared with 40 or more years ago:
Buy [Cold Climbs] and sit and look at the pictures over and over. Look at the crap gear they had, cutting steps or swinging axes people wouldn't want to climb grade I gullies with. These men weren't gods, they just had balls. You on the other hand are also not a god, but to those guys you'd look like the ice climbing version of Predator; decked out with alien technology curved axes and mono points, boots that together weigh less than one of theirs, and clothing that you could nip up Everest with - not to mention 8.5mm dry coated ropes, cams, nuts, ice hooks, tri cams, helmets, GPS, up to the second weather and avalanche forecasts and UKC posts about conditions. So instead of flicking through Cold Climbs and looking how hard all the routes look, just think about the outrageous advantage you have over those guys. Frankly it's cheating.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Penshurst Place

On Sunday I took a train down to Leigh, in Kent, and set off to walk through the snow to Penshurst. The walk takes you up a short hill and onto a ridge with views into a valley to the south. Soon a great house comes into sight, lying in the valley surrounded by fields and low hills.

I'm not a great frequentor of stately homes but the old house at Penshurst is fascinating. Parts of the house are medieval, but it was extended in the time of Elizabeth I. Other parts were added later but the house retains its ancient character. The great hall (below) was built in 1341 and is completely unaltered.

In the grounds is an old oak tree. Ben Jonson claimed that it was planted at the time of the birth (in the house) of Philip Sidney, the Elizabethan poet, in 1554. The tree is now known to be much older - nearly a thousand years old. It may have been a sapling at the time of the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066. Certainly the oak was already at least a century old when the original house was being built in the twelfth century.

Here's a short video I took on my walk:

Jeff Lowe documentary

I'll definitely be getting this film about the life and climbs of Jeff Lowe when it comes out. More information, and an opportunity to back the project here.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Miso soup

There's nothing more warming, healthy, and homely than a bowl of miso soup. Perfect after a day in the snow. Here's a recipe for 4:

1. Grind 100g toasted white sesame seeds in a pestle and mortar until sticky, almost like a paste.

2. Heat 800ml dashi stock in a saucepan. Before it comes to a boil, add 300g soft/silken tofu, tearing it into pieces first.

3. Gradually add 4-5 tablespoons of awase miso, stirring until dissolved.

4. Add the sesame paste to the soup and stir in well.

5. Bring almost to the boil then remove from the heat. Serve sprinkled with some ground sesame seeds and, if available a sancho leaf or some finely sliced spring onion.

So simple.

In our house we're working our way through a fine cookbook by Harumi Kurihara called Everyday Harumi: Simple Japanese Food for Family and Friends. Thoroughly recommended.

A snowy day in London

I woke up this morning to find fox tracks in fresh snow in the back garden.

For someone who doesn't know what London's foxes are like, that opening sentence might conjure up a bit too romantic an image. City foxes here live on mouldy frankfurters and other stuff from bins. They smell pungent and earthy like the old tramps you sometimes find sleeping on the Tube. But they are truly wild, and when you meet them under the street lamps at night they're likeable for their insouciance. So it was a good to see that a fox had been about.

After doing some work this morning I walked through Green Park to Piccadilly to do some Christmas shopping in the West End. Green Park is one of my favourite London parks, and it was lovely under snow today. Here's a short video from the walk.

Snowy day in London 18/12/10 from Jim on Vimeo.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Extreme soloing

Just seen this video of Alex Huber climbing Hasse Brandler, without ropes.

At one point he tests a hold with his fist to see whether it's attached to the face, before pulling on it. Terrifying.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snow (1963)

Britain is in deep freeze at the moment. Here's a good seasonal video, made for British Railways, showing what things were like in 1963.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Virgin Ice

Here's Ines Papert climbing very steep ice on the Argentière glacier near Chamonix. Click on the link and watch full screen.

At one point she turns to the camera and you can see the intensity of the climb in her face. Give me axe hooks on a well-travelled route any time.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Bimbo... and Fanny

Steve House and Marko Prezelj on Cayesh, Cordillera Blanca, Peru in 2005

If you're disappointed after reading that headline you may be looking at the wrong website...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Suffolk coast

The Suffolk coast is my home. This thought struck me, incongruously, halfway along a 3 week walk through the Nepali Himalaya in 1997. On the other side of the planet, surrounded by huge mountains, I suddenly understood that if I have a home anywhere it's on the flat east Suffolk coast. This wasn't homesickness: I was having the time of my life. It was simply that I suddenly understood what Suffolk meant to me.

My mum and her side of the family came from Suffolk, and when my brother and sisters and I were growing up we spent lots of holidays on the coast there:

It's difficult to explain why this coastline has such a deep hold. Family connections and childhood memories are a part of it, but it's more than that. Somehow, over time, the place itself finds its own way into your soul.

Andrew Hurst, in his introduction to Carl White's book of photographs of this coastline, puts it well:
All counties are old; but Suffolk gives us age that resonates. To reach the coast one drives for some time, or takes a train with changes to branch lines, passing through rich wool country with its prosperous Cathedral churches and its Constable pasture and woodlands. At last, after the confines of car or carriage, there comes the long walk over pebbles that steal your stride and make you work - really work, if laden with kit or children - before you come over two or three heavy drops to stand on the shore and watch the big waves crashing in and hiss away in retreat over the stones. Here is the big sky, the vast sea, the buffeting wind and mile after mile of shore - bending, curving, rounding, but going on and on to the unseen horizon.

This is no sun-spot or fairground attraction; there are no warm blue sea or crystal wave - yet for many it is the best coast that we know in all seasons, the most compelling, arresting and awe-inspiring. It dwarfs us, soaks us and chills us, yet it is hard to turn away from[...] It tells us [...] that we are small, insignificant in the end, and only here on terms that are not our own, but part of something which we cannot really comprehend. And this sense acknowledged, realised so gently, can leave us happier, cleaner, reappraised and refreshed, in ways a hot-sand beach never could.

Monday, 22 November 2010

MMmmm ....

Nick and I drove up to Milton Keynes on Saturday, to the excellent Outdoor Shop. We bought snowshoes and other kit for our trip to Norway in February.

I had a rush of blood to the head and came back with a pair of Petzl Nomic axes. Of course, I'll climb at least 3 grades harder with these beauties... (ahem)

On Sunday Claire and I ran in the second annual Adnams 10K race in Southwold. Neither of us had been running much recently so weren't surprised at our slow finish times. I felt like I was running with a chest full of glue for the first 5K. After that my breathing eased but my legs wouldn't propel me any faster. We enjoyed it though.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Ice climbing is fun, really

Demonstrate or riot?

Here's a good analysis of the way in which demonstrations get hijacked.

Burma's lonely battle

Victoria Brittain writes about what makes the Burmese struggle different.

With China's economic support, the junta can afford to continue to ignore the rest of the international community. Whatever Obama and other world leaders say or do, they appear to have no traction with the Generals. It's interesting how powerless the US and UN have been.

I guess that the leaders of the regime feel much more threatened by Suu Kyi and her potential mobilisation of the Burmese people just now. How long will it be before they lock her up again?

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Freedom from fear

The Guardian reports today that
After seven years under house arrest and 15 of the last 21 incarcerated in some form by Burma's military regime, Aung San Suu Kyi today chose one last night of imprisonment so that she might walk truly free.
I doubt Aung San Suu Kyi is thinking in those terms at all.

I remember watching an interview of Suu Kyi filmed in her Rangoon home during one of the brief periods of her "liberty". I can't remember the details but her main point was a powerful one, about what it means to be free.

Even during her periods of house arrest, she said, she considered herself freer than many people in Burma - including those who had locked her up - because, for much of the time, she was free from fear.

In 1990 Suu Kyi gave a speech about what freedom means:
The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit [...] A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration. It is not enough merely to call for freedom, democracy and human rights. There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear.

Saints, it has been said, are the sinners who go on trying. So free men are the oppressed who go on trying and who in the process make themselves fit to bear the responsibilities and to uphold the disciplines which will maintain a free society. Among the basic freedoms to which men aspire that their lives might be full and uncramped, freedom from fear stands out as both a means and an end. A people who would build a nation in which strong, democratic institutions are firmly established as a guarantee against state-induced power must first learn to liberate their own minds from apathy and fear.
As Aung San Suu Kyi leaves her house today and walks past the barbed wire into a city where (according to the Guardian) truckloads of police, dressed in riot gear and carrying assault rifles are stationed at key intersections, I doubt she will consider herself freer today than she was yesterday.

But while people like her exist there's still hope for Burma, and for the rest of us.

UPDATE at 12:00:

Suu Kyi has said a few words to the crowd outside her home and the first picture has been released.

She told the crowd: "we must work together to achieve our goals."

Monday, 8 November 2010

A beautiful tune

Its called Comptine d'un autre été - L'après-midi by Yann Tierson

Monday, 1 November 2010

Scottish Wings

Here's some inspiration for winter....

Sunday, 31 October 2010


Today Nick and I found the perfect venue for training for our February trip to Norway - the chalk sea cliffs on the south coast.

It's strange standing on a beach wearing crampons, though.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Marie Marvingt, pt 2: France to Reydon in Suffolk by balloon, 1909

From Sports Illustrated, June 1961:

"The balloon held 900 cubic meters of hydrogen," she recalls. "It was called The Shooting Star and was the very last word in balloons. I'll never forget the trip as long as I live."

The Marvingt-Garnier balloon was virtually unnavigable. When The Shooting Star took off from Nancy [France] a rope connected to the ground tilted the gasbag and released pounds of precious hydrogen.The balloon sailed north from Nancy at an altitude of 1,000 feet over the German border, past the Krupp factories at Essen, past dazzled schoolchildren and peasants.

Because of the hydrogen lost at take-off, the balloon wouldn't rise higher than 1,200 feet. Near Essen the wind shifted suddenly and carried the craft northwest over Holland toward Amsterdam. "We were in the clouds most of the time," said Mademoiselle Marvingt, "but we thought after we reached Amsterdam that the most dangerous part of the trip was over. We knew we were losing altitude, but we knew that the Channel winds would sweep us over to England before nightfall."The wind did carry the balloon off the Continent and over the Channel. But the temperature dropped to below freezing, and the basket began to rise and fall dangerously close to the waves.

Before Marvingt and Gamier were five miles offshore they found themselves in the middle of a snowstorm.Marie threw out the last of the ballast, but still the balloon wouldn't rise more than 100 feet above the waves, often dipping until the basket actually was in the water.Night came, and the balloon continued bobbing into the choppy Channel. "My overcoat and wool stockings were no help," Marvingt said. "I was freezing. Besides that, we couldn't tell which way we were heading."

After battling the storm for five hours, the balloon suddenly lifted and rose through the clouds. Two miles distant Marie saw a light [of Southwold lighthouse] . It was the English coast. The balloon started to lose altitude and was headed toward the cliffs on the coast when an updraft caught it and lifted the pair over the top.

"It was still dark," Marie said. "We let out most of the hydrogen and put down in a pasture half a mile from the coast [in Reydon]. We barely had the energy to climb out of the basket. "

The Lowestoft Journal takes up the story:
The grounded aviator went looking for help and a man on a bike said she should have taken the ferry.

Another man later noted that he saw “a man with no hat on” gesticulating and talking rapidly in a foreign tongue – but shut his window and went back to bed.

Eventually four policemen were called to assist the adventurers. The next day, the balloon was packed up and, after purchasing several postcards, the pair left Southwold by train.

Marie Marvingt, pt 1

Mlle Marie Marvingt at the controls of her Deperdussin airplane in 1912

Marie Marvingt (1875-1963) was a pilot, balloonist, athlete, mountaineer, inventor, nurse, and much more.

She was born on February 20, 1875, at Aurillac, France. Her father, Felix, a postmaster, strongly encouraged Marie to pursue sports. By the age of five she reportedly could swim 4,000 meters. In 1890, when she was 15, she canoed more than 400 kilometers from her home in Nancy, France, to Koblenz, Germany. She also competed in water polo, speed skating, luge, bobsledding, boxing, martial arts, fencing, shooting, tennis, golf, hockey, football, mountaineering, and also studied at the local circus learning rope work, the trapeze, horseback riding, and juggling. In 1899 she earned her driver’s license. Marvingt was just getting started.

Between 1903 and 1910 she was one of the first women to climb most of the peaks in the French and Swiss Alps. In 1905 she swam the length of the Seine River through Paris, won an international military shooting competition in 1907 and became the only woman to be awarded the palms du Premier Tireur (First Gunner palms) by a French Minister of War. She dominated the winter sports seasons in France between 1908 and 1910, collecting more than 20 first place victories, including the women’s world bobsledding championship in 1910. And to get a good look at a volcanic eruption, she cycled from Nancy, France to Naples, Italy.
When she was refused admission to the 1908 Tour de France because, after all, it was a man’s sport, she successfully completed the course on her own, covering more than 4000 km and traversing 8 mountain passes, while averaging more than 150 km per day. Only 36 of 114 male riders completed the course during the official race that year.
In March of 1910 the French Academy of Sports (Académie des Sports) awarded her a Gold Medal for all sports, the only multi-sport medal the Academy has ever awarded.
Looking for new challenges, Marvingt soon turned her attention to aviation, first with hot air balloons and later with fixed-wing aircraft. Her first balloon ride was in 1901, she piloted a balloon in July 1907 and soloed as a balloon pilot in September 1909. In October of that year she became the first women to pilot a balloon across the North Sea and English Channel to England. The Aero Club of France issued her a balloon pilot’s license in June 1910 and in November she became the third women in the world – the second in France -- to be licensed to fly fixed-wing aircraft. She was the first woman to solo in monoplane (single wing) aircraft, generally believed to be more difficult to fly safely.
In her first 900 flights she reportedly never “broke wood”, or damaged an aircraft, which was a remarkable feat. Among those who learned to fly prior to WWI, 87 percent are said to have died in aircraft accidents.
[During World War I, she impersonated a man in order to fight on the front lines as an infantryman. After being discovered, she became the first women to fly bombing missions over Germany and was decorated with the Croix de Guerre for bombing a German airbase. She also pioneered the use of airplanes as air ambulances.]
In addition to the many things Marvingt did to earn a living, including journalism, poetry, and hosting conferences, she was also a trained surgical nurse with the Red Cross and various hospitals.
Marvingt never slowed down. When she was 80 she earned her helicopter pilots license, and later flew over her home town in a US fighter jet, reportedly breaking the sound barrier.
Marvingt cycled across France at the age of 86.

Marie Marvingt's Wiki entry is here.

Émile Friant's 1914 drawing of Marie Marvingt and her proposed air ambulance

Friday, 8 October 2010

Chilean miners

They're facing a media feeding frenzy when they come out, poor sods. Even the BBC are in on it. Everyone must see there's something wrong with this.

Sunday, 12 September 2010


The Isle of Portland isn't a pretty place. As Nick remarked during our trip there this weekend, it's character is dominated by quarries, prisons and council estates. But it is an interesting place. It has been quarried for centuries for the white-grey limestone, "Portland Stone", which was used to build the Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral, The Bank of England, the National Gallery and Buckingham Palace and (according to Wiki) the stone has been exported widely and was used in building the United Nations HQ in New York.

The climbing there is all bolted - not my favourite kind of climbing. The bolted protection removes most of the risks associated with traditional ("trad") climbing. Probably as a result, I can remember in detail only one or two of all the bolted sports routes I've ever climbed. Keen sports climbers say that the fixed protection allows them to enjoy better the simple physical pleasure of climbing without the distraction associated with having to protect the climb yourself. I imagine this is true if you are fit and strong enough to climb harder sports routes (good example here) but I'm too weak for that so I maintain that trad climbing offers far more complex rewards...

Anyway, we had a lot of fun climbing the cliffs above the sea.

Monday, 30 August 2010

The perils of climbing in Pembroke

Just back from a week's climbing on the sea cliffs of Pembroke with Nick. Both of us had been to North Wales countless times, but for some reason neither of us had yet visited this beautiful place on the western tip of south Wales. We soon realised we were in for a treat: miles of seacliff, lovely secluded sandy bays some of which are accessible only by boat or by abseil, and excellent varied climbing on solid (mainly!) limestone in a place that felt like the end of the earth.
Here are some of the perils we faced:

Nick after being splashed by a wave, belayed on Armorican.

Before abseiling down to do the climb, we'd left our rucsacs behind a mound separating the cliff-top coastal path from a field.

Here's Nick retrieving our rucsacs afterwards, showing true courage in the face of a herd of interested cows, only to find the rucsacs covered in cow slobber.

Luckily they hadn't stolen our sandwiches.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Urban fox hunting

Nice spoof from "a collective from Victoria Park who hate foxes". Particularly good work from Monty, the worst trained dog in the whole world.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Slovak Direct, Denali

Nice video of this looong route on Denali, Alaska. Report of the ascent here.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Rowing the North Atlantic

A British crew is a day away from breaking a century-old record for rowing 3,200 miles across the North Atlantic. They are currently 50 miles from their destination at the Isles of Scilly. They've been rowing for 44 days, having set off from New York on 17th June in a 23ft boat.

On the whole the weather has been kind to them, though on 30 June their log read "Had a very hairy night with at least three knock downs, more than a dozen swampings (difficult to keep count) and one capsize, and had to go in to survival mode to keep the boat upright. The seas were large, mainly five to seven metres, with the occasional huge 10-metre wave."

On July 16 it read: "Came off the sea anchor and have had a tough, tough, day, the seas have been pretty big and have been swamped several times and knocked down twice, we were hit by a huge breaker, a 10m wave. Mr Carroll went for a brief swim. We are longing to get back home to comfort, being dry and warm."

Mad as loons. Report here. Video clips from an earlier, aborted, start, here and here.

Update 1 August:
They're in. They met the Queen Mary 2 ocean liner halfway across, video here.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Dunwich Dynamo

On Saturday evening Nick and I set off on our bikes from Hackney to ride the 120 miles to Dunwich on the Suffolk coast. Among the 1000 or so other cyclists departing in a long stream between 8 & 9pm was a man carrying a small dog in his front basket.

It was a mild night with a gentle following breeze. We saw some stars along the way but the full moon didn't rise. All the same for most of the ride we weren't in pitch darkness, something I was grateful for as I was using my weak-beam city lights. Nick of course had powerful twin-beam LEDs plus a helmet light. Riding in front of him when all 3 were on made me feel a bit like a rabbit caught in the beam of car headlights.

We missed the food stop at 55 miles so I had to resign myself to eating flapjacks and energy bars for the ride.

At 0230 at Coddenham I got off my bike and sat outside the old Crown Inn. Now a private house, in the last 15 years or so of the eighteenth century it was a coaching inn run by my great-great-great-great-great grandparents. After he died in 1802 she continued to run the place for another couple of decades.

After Coddenham I felt I was on home ground, which helped me cope with the increasing aches and pains. A few miles later I realised I was off-route when I found myself at Earl Soham, where my g-g-g grandfather was a (wind)miller in the 1850s. But I knew the route from there onwards.

The final miles were an endurance test, but I arrived at Dunwich beach at 0500 to find that the beach cafe was open, and selling beer. Bliss.

Update 30 July: good report on the Dynamo from Real Cycling

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Latitude 1, Brain Cells 0

Apart from a sharp shower on Saturday morning, the 3 days of the festival were blissfully warm and sunny. The standout act for me, by a long way, was The National who headlined on Friday and made my hair stand on end. They were bowled over by the reaction of the crowd and responded with a blistering set. Tom Jones gave a superb performance of songs from his Praise and Blame album on the main stage on Sunday afternoon, also loved by the crowd. Other standouts were the Supernovas and Kristin Hirsh.

The festival was as laid back and relaxing as ever, with it's old oak trees, lake and rolling parkland. I'll certainly be there again next year.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Friday, 2 July 2010

Sunday, 27 June 2010

On crabbing and zeppelins

On Saturday afternoon I went for another fine ride through east Suffolk via Wangford, Uggeshall, Spexhall, Wisset, Huntingfield, Heveningham, Peasenhall, Theberton, Eastbridge, Westleton, Walberswick then back to Southwold.

The cycling was a delight, following small lanes all the way.

I've looked up the villages on Wikipedia. Spexhall is simply described as
A village in the north east corner of Suffolk, England. It is quite small.
True, but the entry for Wisset is a tad more interesting. After a visit to her sister there in the summer of 1916 Virginia Woolf commented that the village
seems to lull asleep all ambition. Don't you think they have discovered the secret of life? I thought it wonderfully harmonious.
The Wiki entry for Theberton notes that
on the morning of 17 June 1917 [...] the German Zeppelin airship L48 was shot down by Robert Saundby and others while it was on a bombing run. Sixteen members of the crew died in the crash, three survived but one later died from his injuries. [...] Part of the framework of the Zeppelin itself is mounted in the porch of the church.
From Theberton I cycled on to Eastbridge, a tiny hamlet so tucked away from modern life that it feels like it belongs to another time. The landscape is like Britain in the first half of the twentieth century, pre-industrial farming. When I first visited Eastbridge I thought of the hot summer of 1940: you could almost hear merlin engines overhead, competing with the sound of the bees.

A couple of miles further north I stopped for fish and chips and Aspalls cider at the White Horse Inn at Westleton. Fortified and now on the home straight, I rode on to Walberswick.
According to Wiki,
Walberswick [was] a major trading port from the 13th century until World War I. The British Open Crabbing Championship is held yearly
What a great non sequitur. It's difficult to believe that Walberswick was ever a "major trading port", let alone up until World War I. Unlike the Wiki contributor for Spexhall, I suspect Walberswick's contributor of trying to "big up the neighbourhood".

I can vouch for the quality of the crabbing there, though.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


Outlandish, exciting, energetic,
colourful, intriguing and just plain ... bizarre. Recommended.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Suffolk summer

The poppies are out along the lanes between Cratfield and Cookley.
Suffolk is lovely just now.

One of the best ways to see it is by bike. Today I took a route through an ancient landscape, via the coast at Dunwich where a medieval town disappeared into the sea. Further on my route followed the straight line of a Roman road to Cratfield before wending its way along tiny country lanes, with fine views of old Suffolk farmland, to Cookley.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Tim Emmett leads Muy Caliente E10

Here's a nice little video of Tim Emmett on Pembroke's sea cliffs. Best viewed fullscreen.

Since the film was made, he's led it. More on UKClimbing and Tim Emmett's blog.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

God's Own Country

By way of antidote to my last, depressing, post - here's a link to an altogether different place in Britain.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Know thy enemy

The English Defence League uncovered, after a 4-month investigation by Matthew Taylor. Video here.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Don't remember his name

Good blogging by Northern Light about the man accused of murdering the Bradford sex workers.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

More Munro madness

There's a serious attempt underway to break the speed record for climbing all 283 of the 3,000+ft mountains in Scotland. You can follow Stephen Pike's progress on his blog, here as he attempts this epic feat in about 40 days.

I hope he raises lots of money for the John Muir Trust, which works to protect Scotland's wild places.

I also hope he doesn't encounter too many dancing sheep, or jelly-fish.

Update 7 June: he's done it: 283 Munros in 39 days, 9 hours and 6 minutes. Amazing.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Dave Birkett repeats Walk of Life

Dave Birkett has climbed Walk of Life, E9 6c, full report here.

I like Pete Robins' assessment of Dave Birkett's character: "Dave Birkett inspires me, ...he's got super-human Cumbrian powers of gnarl and you could imagine [him] charging down the enemy on the front line in a medieval battle."

Here Mr Birkett is onsighting a climb called My Piano, a bold E8.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Why you see so many smiling cyclists

Iain Boal's chart of transport/motion efficiency.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

London sounds

Two hundred and fifty years ago, London sounded different. Nowadays we are used to the steady background hum of motorised road traffic, overlaid by the soft roar of aeroplanes and an occasional ice cream van playing "Greensleeves" in the suburbs. Then, London's streets echoed to the cries of street sellers.

A bit of colour

courtesy of Jane's London. Too many grey suits recently.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Reasons to be cheerful, part 3

Since Thursday's elections the focus of most of the media has been on the outcome of the parliamentary elections. There's been precious little coverage of the council elections, held at the same time. In London these local elections have greatly boosted Labour's power base, a fact that hasn't escaped the notice of London blogger Dave Hill:
The results of Thursday's London borough elections can be quickly summarised: Labour soared, the Conservatives slipped and the Liberal Democrats fell. Labour now has full control of 17 councils, a huge increase of nine, damaging both its main rivals in the process. The Tories gained one and consolidated in their strongholds, but have lost three where they were in overall control and had their numbers depleted in boroughs where they'd been working in coalitions. The chances of these again featuring in our Town Halls have been all but destroyed, because in most cases the Tories' partners had been Lib Dems, and it is they who have lost the most seats of all.
Dave Hill concludes
Set this alongside the successful defending of several key Commons seats [by Labour] and the fact that in parliamentary terms the swing towards the Tories in the capital was just 2.5 percent - about half that in the country as a whole - and you can see that there may be good grounds for thinking that a Labour comeback for the surely imminent post-Brown era may already have taken root in London's ever-churning political soil.
Full blog post here.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Reasons to be cheerful, part 2

One outstanding outcome of the election was Nick Griffin's crushing by Labour in Barking, and relegation to 3rd place.

What's less well known is that Griffin's British National Party lost all 12 of its council seats in Barking & Dagenham, and its only seat in neighbouring Redbridge. Overall the BNP lost 22 councillors.

Bloody brilliant.

Update Sunday 13:00: Adam Bienkov's take

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Whatever your persuasion, vote!

The latest polls indicate a hung parliament with the Tories just short of a majority. Labour are obviously stuffed, in good part because so many people are just bored and want something new.

How solid are the recent Lib Dem poll advances? My guess is that, when people come to put their X in the box, more will vote Tory than are indicated by the polls, and that Cameron will gain a narrow majority. I hope I'm wrong.

Mock posters courtesy of mydavidcameron.com.

Update at 09:00 on 8 May:
So the LibDem poll lead evaporated - more so even than I expected - but I was wrong to assume that would lead to a Tory majority. Britain hasn't endorsed Cameron, which is a good reason to be cheerful.
Can the Tories and LibDems agree to form a coalition government? I can't see it. Cameron prime minister of a minority government, then, probably supported by the Lib Dems - and with an eye on an early general election. Where will that leave the economy?

Update 12 May:
Wrong again! A Lib-Con coalition it is. Brown's gone, and I feel sorry for him. He and Labour have done a lot for the country. This has been a very strange few days.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

A breakfast for carnivores

The great London Review of Breakfasts blog has just reviewed Garufa, our local Argentinian restaurant. If you ever fancy steak for breakfast, Garufa is definitely the place.

If you're feeling red blooded you can have a Bloody Mary with the Argentinian breakfast. When I went there I ate it with their Apple Virgin Mojito (mint leaves, apple juice, lime and sugar) instead. Delicious.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

They're off!

Update: some good photos here.

Poverty map of London

Via Jane's London I've just discovered Charles Booth's online archive. His poverty map of London gives a fascinating insight into how London has changed since the end of the nineteenth century.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010



No time

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

"Leisure", by Wm. Henry Davies.

Sunday, 11 April 2010


We're just back from a weekend climbing on the Gogarth sea cliffs, on Holy Island (just off Anglesey).
On Saturday morning, as Nick and I approached the massive cliffs, I was having doubts about whether we'd made the best choice of venue for our first rock trip of 2010. After a few months' gap I'm always jittery getting back on rock. And Gogarth
can make you feel "gripped" at the best of times.
For some reason though this weekend, Gogarth felt almost friendly: warm sun shone both days and there was little wind. There was no big swell or waves booming in the zawns. Instead, seals watched us from the sea as we climbed. Oystercatchers piped, the first bumblebees of the year buzzed around, and puffins flew in formation above the calm surface below.
I started on The Gauntlet, soon relaxing into the climbing. The quartzite rock at Gogarth is a pleasure to climb on: hard, angular and positive. Nick then led The Ramp, running the 2 pitches into one, and suffering bad rope drag. We then climbed the Puffin Direct/Force 8 combination, the first pitch of which was quite strenuous. I was happy to get up it without resting on gear.

Today we climbed Gogarth, E1 5B, the original route up the Main Wall. The first four pitches gave excellent, varied climbing. The final pitch was hard and we struggled up it in poor style.

It was an weekend of fine climbing in warm sunshine, with Gogarth feeling friendly for once. 3 HVS and an E1 - not bad for our first weekend back on the rock.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Photos on UKClimbing

There are some superb photos on the UK Climbing website.

One of my favourites is this one of Ueli Steck flying up the Supercouloir. The darkness below makes it look like he is climbing above a void, deepening the sense of vertigo. Judging by how far Steck has climbed before placing a runner (protection in case of a fall) Steck seems oblivious to the exposure.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Burma, then and now

As a teenager I was lucky enough to spend a few months in Burma during 1980. That was before Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest and before the regime in Burma became a pariah state. At that time the only English language newspaper available was the Rangoon Working People's Daily, which was little more than a laughably dull list of the activities of government officials. I laughed, but at the time I was too young to understand.

Since then things have worsened. The government's refusal to recognise the outcome of national elections was followed last year by further crackdowns on street protests, widescale round-ups and imprisonment of dissenters. At around the same time a Burmese blogger was sentenced to 59 years in prison for posting up video footage following Cyclone Nargis. Burma heads the Committee to Protect Journalists' list of worst countries to be a Blogger.

On 10 March this year a UN report called for an investigation into whether the generals running the country are guilty of war crimes against their own people. I do wonder whether the threat of war crimes tribunals may be counterproductive, helping to dissuade the generals from any relaxation of their grip on power, encouraging them instead to dig in further. Then again it may be naive to suppose that they would ever give up power voluntarily. There are indications already that this autumn's elections will be a sham.

Looking back to earlier and happier times, Wendy Law-Yone has written an interesting article in the Guardian about her childhood memories of her father's pioneering editorship of the old Rangoon Nation newspaper, prior to the 1962 coup. Once it carried a headline:
Burma has only twenty dentists but every Tom Dick and Harry is pulling teeth, Rotarian says
I can't imagine such a headline ever appeared in the Working People's Daily.

Update 14 May: Simon Tisdall has written an interesting review of the state of Obama's policy of "positive engagement" with Burma.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Two old photos

I love these two old photographs. They aren't brilliant technically (they're just snaps) but I love them nonetheless. I found them in a box of negatives belonging to my cousin Joan, who died aged 85 in 1998. From other photos in the box it's clear they were taken in 1918 or 1919. They seem much more modern than that, at least in part because of the natural and informal pose of the subject (I think both photos are of the same woman, captured in strikingly different moods).

She seems pretty in a modern way, too, somehow.

She must have been a relation or a friend of the family. In the second photo she's sitting on the Richards' family boat. But we don't know who she was.

Archie's postcards

In 1903, 5 year old Archie Emms (my maternal grandfather-to-be) was busy building a collection of postcards of Lowestoft, the Suffolk coastal town in which he lived.

Present-day Lowestoft is a quiet place, but back in 1903 it was a busy Edwardian seaside resort.

It was also a thriving fishing port, from which hundreds of fishing smacks worked the North Sea for herring.

Like Covehithe 10 miles to the south, Lowestoft was then under constant attack by the sea. Many of Archie's postcards show this.

I wonder what went through Archie's mind as he looked at these images. They must at least have helped to keep boredom at bay. Edwardian Sundays can't have been much fun for a 5 year old.

These postcards must have offered excitement and escape much as video games do today.