Archive for May, 2011

Most pointless climbing trip ever.

Posted in Climbing, Uncategorized with tags on May 30, 2011 by bridbeast

In retrospect, it looks a bit ambitious. A very busy day on Saturday, followed by an extremely early Sunday morning to pick the rellies up from Heathrow, then home, quick rest and up to the Peak for a day and a half’s climbing, despite an iffy weather forecast. Two friends had already backed out. But I was desperate to get some trad climbing done and start the process of getting my head in gear.

Picking Dad and Punchi up was fine, after getting them home I had a sleep and eventually left about 12.30. Traffic was terrible, I was dead tired, and by the time I got to the Peak I was shot. Despite the good weather I decided to go to Outside for tea and cake, promptly reversed my car into a gate and the locking mechanism went straight into my rear light unit. I couldn’t get hold of my friends so went to the crag on my own but fell asleep in the car, and managed to miss the only decent weather I was to see all weekend.

Broken! If only I could blame someone else.

I eventually met up with my mates at the campsite near Hope, had tea and a nice chat before crashing out. Woke to rain. Snoozed. Woke up to rain, again. Clouds brushed the slopes of Win Hill. The forecast was for more of the same, so it was back to Outside for the shopping I’d resisted the day then the long drive back to London.

What an expensive, tiring and totally pointless way to spend my Bank Holiday.


What to give the tropical island dweller who has everything (culinarily speaking).

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 28, 2011 by bridbeast

Ahhh, Sri Lanka, that verdant isle in the Indian Ocean. Spit some seeds on the ground, they say, and soon a plant will grow. It’s home to jackfruit, the world’s largest fruit, and durian, one of the smelliest. I’ve eaten Sri Lankan vegetables with no name in English, prawns bigger than the palm of your hand, tiny dried fish in bitter curries, aromatic steaming tea, raw cinnamon straight from the tree, water drawn from the well that’s so pure you could bottle it.

So what do Sri Lankans really, really lust after?

Campbell’s cup-a-soup. Nesquick. Dairy Milk chocolate. Dairy Lee cheese. Mayonaise. Sandwhich spreads. BBQ sauce. Crackers. Tinned fruit. Club biscuits.

The best of the west.

There was stuff on the back seat, too.

If it’s processed, comes in a multi-coloured plastic packet or is made by a giant corporation in a factory, they want it. (The grass is always greener, right?) So in preparation for this year’s trip to Sri Lanka we’ve been buying trolley loads of “delicacies” for the rellies and getting it shipped over to the tropics.

Showing no respect for Archie's porridge.

Pro at work.


Next stop - Kohuwela!

Assuming there are no Somali pirates with a taste for chocolate digestives, after 21 days on the high seas our package will arrive in Colombo ready to be dispersed around the family.

Those biccies could easily break! Not to mention the crackers.

Joining the packages for Colombo, Nugegoda, Beruwala and elsewhere.

Enjoy, folks!

Lunching out

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 25, 2011 by bridbeast

Here is a very good article on procrastination from the New Yorker.

Here is a bag containing (I think) some cheese, which I packed for lunch in France. It’s been sat on the chair since I returned, about three weeks ago.

My bag of cheese. No idea how smelly it is.

“Philosophers are interested in procrastination for another reason. It’s a powerful example of what the Greeks called akrasia—doing something against one’s own better judgment. Piers Steel defines procrastination as willingly deferring something even though you expect the delay to make you worse off.”

Edit: apparently it had some grapes in it too.

The scandal of low pay at the Palace

Posted in current affairs with tags , on May 18, 2011 by bridbeast

I read a story last week which really made my blood boil. The cleaners at Buckingham Palace have been asking for a pay rise – from £6.45 an hour, just above the minimum wage, to the London living wage of £7.85. How anyone could survive in London on even the later is beyond me, but according to the workers interviewed in the Guardian piece it would make a huge difference to their quality of life.

Needless to say they were moved on by police when they tried to protest at the Royal Wedding.

I can’t tell you how angry this makes me – the Royal Family, who get £30m of our taxes each year, can’t even give its cleaners a decent wage. Personally I think they should pay them not just a living wage, but an outstanding wage. Instead we’ve had statements from the Palace such as:

“We are currently in negotiations about paying the London living wage.

“We are in correspondence with KGB [the company with the cleaning contract]. As a publicly funded body, we are concerned that our staff have fair rates and proper working conditions.”

Well yes. There are a lot of people who’d like to see some movement on this, for starters the nine MPs who signed an Early Day Motion and the cleaners’ union the PCS.

The PCS have written a letter which they’re using as a basis for a petition which they want to go to the Culture Secretary. I’ve included a version of it below, but let’s go one better. Let’s make sure the Queen’s right hand man, her private secretary, hears about this. His name is Christopher Geidt and his email is

Please send him this letter, or your own, if you feel moved to write something.

Dear Mr Geidt,

I was was outraged to hear that cleaners working for the Royal Household in London are paid £6.45 per hour even though the London Living Wage is set at £7.85. Cleaners in the House of Commons and House of Lords are paid at the rate of the London Living wage.

As £30 million of taxpayer’s money is paid to the Royal family annually for the upkeep of the Royal Households it is clear that the London living wage of £7.85 is affordable.

Why then are the people who work so hard to maintain standards at The Royal Households paid so little?

I am asking you to do all you can to ensure that all cleaners working within the Royal Households are paid the London living wage of £7.85 per hour, a rate that is supported by the Mayor of London.


Investigative journalism masterclass

Posted in Journalism with tags , , on May 16, 2011 by bridbeast

I spent the weekend on a Guardian Masterclass on investigative journalism, run  by Paul Lewis and Heather Brooke.

Probably the most interesting thing for me was seeing how Paul did the investigations behind his biggest stories, such as the Ian Tomlinson case and the death of Jimmy Mubenga, who was allegedly asphyxiated by security guards on a plane as he was being deported to Angola.

Twitter was key to finding witnesses and evidence in both cases. Something I didn’t realise the Guardian did was to write “teaser” stories which, with some clever wording, would alert anyone searching for the story that they were trying to investigate it further. Plenty of tweeting with the right hashtag was very effective at getting witnesses – in the Mubenga case an oil worker saw it whilst on an oil rig off the Angolan coast. Paul reckoned that both these stories would have been impossible to do before 2008 and the rise of crowd sourcing, mainly through Twitter.

Unlike old fashioned investigative journalism, with its slightly furtive methods, this kind of crowd sourced story was investigation in the open, in which everyone can see what the reporter was doing – other hacks, press officers, hostile officials as well as potential sources.

The story of West Midlands police attempting to ring Muslim areas with cameras was interesting too. A lot of the investigation hinged around a forensic reading of the press release and sniffing out things that looked fishy. After that it was simply a case of asking the right questions to the right people:
Where did the money come from?
What’s it for?
Where in the Home Office is giving you the money?
What part of ACPO does the money come from?

Basic stuff, but allied with imagination and tenacity it got a front page story and the cameras were removed.

Heather did a good class on using Freedom of Information requests, looking at how to query officials who refuse to give information when really they should.

On Sunday afternoon we had a session from James Ball who let us into the secrets computer security, encrypted email and chat, and interrogating data sets. He had worked with the WikiLeaks team on the Iraq war logs, turning the mass of data obtained from the US military into stories. Again, lots of complex ideas turning on asking basic journalistic questions.

The more you know, the more you need to learn

Posted in Climbing with tags , on May 7, 2011 by bridbeast

So my trip to France felt like a real insight into climbing weaknesses and strengths and an opportunity to see what I have to do to improve.

So, first the good things:
As I expected, I’m good at reading sequences and doing fingery walls. I didn’t get pumped often, so the 4x4s seem to have paid off. I turn out to be surprisingly good at slab climbing, quickly doing problems in Font that no one else could. So – time to try some hard routes at Portland, start hitting Pembroke. The slab climbing can perhaps wait until the autumn gritstone season – or should I plan a trip to La Pedriza or Llanberis?

Now, the weaknesses:

The difficult 6c at Toulon (Marco Polo) showed that my strength and bouldering need to go up a level if I’m to get up harder sports climbs (tho I’m probably okay for a lot of trad up to about E2). Same with the tough route at Chateauvert – I really lacked the power for some big moves, the rest I could just about handle.

Falling – for the first few days the fear of falling was high, and it took me a long time to feel relaxed when on lead. It’s even worse when I’m high on a big pitch. Since I don’t have enough free climbing days to spend getting my head in gear, I need to do as much fall practice as possible at the wall. Maybe aim for 50 – 100 falls in the next month or six weeks? How do I get used to taking falls and hanging out high up?

Footwork – I struggle with heel hooks. This needs practice, and  feel I could improve my ability to drop-knee too. Possibly also some hip and leg flexibility to make the most of these kind of moves, but most of it will be drills and practice at the wall, and copying people who are good at heel hooking.

Steep rock – after failing on a fairly straightforward 6b at Chateauvert I realise I need to really improve my ability on very steep rock (up to about 15/20 deg overhanging). One element of this is pure strength/thuggery, the other is being comfortable on steep rock, happy to take falls and so on. Many hours of bouldering in the fridge and leading on the steepest wall at the Westway beckon. Not sure where to practice this outside… perhaps Higgar Tor?

Dead pointing – I’m just not very good at it, lacking accuracy and timing. Need to learn how to hit the holds at just the right time in the jump.

Staying calm – Mark noticed that before doing some problems at Franchard Cuisinere I was a bit shaky and skittering when first getting on the rock. I’ve notice myself feeling really shaky when I get nervous, often just as I’m about to succeed on a route (perhaps success is scarier than failure?). Apparently my first move nerves disappeared higher on the problems and some level of precision returned. I need to stay calmer and manage the tension between being psyched and excited, and calm enough to climb well.

Zipping up the man suit and enjoying some old man shit

Posted in Climbing with tags , , on May 4, 2011 by bridbeast

When I first peered over the edge of the Verdon Gorge I felt sick. I grasped the damp railing of the belvedere tight and leaned over to get a better look at the crag – a soaring buttery yellow buttress drapped in cloud and mist.

The Verdon, looking moody.

Topos and guidebooks can never prepare you for the immensity of a big crag like the Verdon. It’s easy to plan out your dream climbs at home – “a couple of pitches to the rim, 6b+, we can climb that” – but the reality can be sobering. Those 6b+ pitches turn out to be over 200 feet of vertical limestone lost amongst plunging groove lines and fear zones of orange overhanging rock.

Intimidating enough in the sunshine. But the cold driven rain reminded us that the Verdon is a semi-mountain environment, where bad things happen even to well prepared teams.

The first – and only – routes we did were fine, slabby little numbers with belays perched over the drop. Our abseil system provided the excitement, with a tag-line allowing us to climb routes with a single 70m sports rope. Abseiling down on just one rope, a chunky knot jammed into the bolt at the top and the tiny purple cord getting snagged on everything, felt insecure at first, but I think would work as a great system for the big sports routes in the Gorge.

An easy route on a sunny day, but the exposure doesn't go away.

After this we say thunderstorms over the hills around the Gorge every day. Sometimes the days started with blue skies and the promise of routes, but it didn’t take long for the weather to turn. Neither of us were keen to get caught below the rim in a ferocious storm. Even on the lower crags the downpours started lamost without warning, drenching us before we could get off twenty metre sports routes.

I struggled to get my leading head on at first, despite Mark telling me: “Zip up your man suit!” But when it came, it was worth the wait. Stepping out of a rest into the fierce crux of Marco Polo (6c), pulling up on tiny pockets and edges, I forgot about the distance to the next bolt, didn’t let fear of a scary clip paralyse me, and subsumed inner chatter with the moves. The falls, when they came, were casual. Exhaustion and failing skin, not fear, were the limitations.

How would that feel high on the immaculate walls of the Verdon Gorge? Hopefully I’ll find out in the autumn.

Finally, some sun! Sore tips after attempting Marco Polo, F6c, near Toulon.

Finding only bad weather forecasts on Meteo France.

Eating cake in Fontainebleau.