Archive for June, 2011


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

In the depths of winter I wrote on this blog a little list of goals for the year – “to check up on later this year and see how I’m progressing.” Well, later is now and with six months of the year down it’s time to check on my progress.

This is going to hurt.

First, sports climbing. Onsighting 6c and redpointing 7a. Nearly there – I flashed a 6c in Portland very early on in the year, came to within an ace of redpointing a 7a at Swanage just before Easter. Our trip to France was supposed to give a final boost to my sports climbing and see my hit the magic mark, but that didn’t happen thanks to the weather. I missed quite a bit of training and a couple of trips away due to getting tattooed and injuring my shoulder, and once the summer arrived I’ve been trying to concentrate on trad climbing. So nearly, but not quite. Hopefully that’ll be rectified in the autumn with some south coast sports trips.

Trad climbing. I’ve been trying hard on this one in the last few weeks, with trips to Pembroke, the Peak and Swanage. It’s been tough. I’ve been wracked with nerves and though the climbing has felt easy, the overall leading of harder routes felt a bit beyond me at first. But it’s slowly coming back, I threw myself on an E1 last weekend and though I didn’t get up it, I wasn’t too far off. More confidence and speed with my gear placements is what I need. So with a bit of luck, some good weather, and the right route, I still hope to get up an E2 this year. Not so sure about an E3.

I’ve visited the Verdon, and spent a bit more time at Swanage and Portland, tho the Bill still has plenty of crags I’ve yet to even visit. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll make it to Cornwall or N Wales this year. I had plenty of time off with my old job and was planning to take a bunch of long weekends to get far away from London, but my new position has fewer holiday days and most of them will be used up in our trip to Sri Lanka later in the summer.

Despite not actually ticking any of my main climbing goals, I feel I’m getting there which is great. Unfortunately climbing a lot is really, really detrimental to writing. It takes up a lot of time and energy. So my ambition of writing a play or short story remains very much unfulfilled, even unworked upon. Getting a newspaper article published hasn’t happened yet either, though I hope with work to get a few ghosted op-eds out there in the next few months, which is at least half a tick.

However I’ve been writing much more on here which is proving to be a good way of working on a few ideas and keeping my hand in.

Two big projects I’ve achieved this year didn’t even rate in my list, but I’m very happy about achieving them. I got a new job, which is really exciting, promises some interesting travel and is a whole lot more stimulating than my previous one. Result! And I’ve gotten tattooed, a very long-standing desire which I’ve fulfilled big style. I’m very pleased about getting that done, even if the result was to make me too skint and knackered to manage all the other things.

I’ll check in with this list again at the end of December.


First blood

Posted in Climbing with tags , , on June 28, 2011 by bridbeast

On Sunday I took my first trad fall for, ooh, at least ten years.

The last couple of weekends out trad climbing have been fun but I’ve not been feeling confident or smooth. Placing too much gear and generally gibbering about have been the order of the day. Of course I’m taunted by memories of when I could climb reasonably well, which makes the process of slowly pushing myself that bit more frustrating. So I figured a trip to the grit and some short, sharp, safe routes would be ideal. The plan: try something hard, either get up it and get the tick, or take the fall. Either way, a confidence boost.

Gardoms was suitably sweaty and hot on Sunday, and my mates suitably hung over and chilled. I didn’t care! I had my mission. After a warm up it was time for, Nowanda, a classic HVS jamming crack. It was greasy, a fight to get the jams in, and of course I put too much gear in, being a coward. I went for it, fell off – and everything held! Happy bunny. A short sleep in the grass gave hay fever, so instead of a snooze I got back on the route.

“Andy, do you mind just standing to the side, I think it’s best for the rope?”

Andy obliged, I turned around, swung my foot up to the first brake and kicked him sqaure in the jaw. Poor lad, it was his birthday too. After my perfect roundhouse the route was straightforward.

The E1 next door, Landsick, was next. Up, too much gear, rest, try again, go for the crux, fall off the sweaty slopers and a bit more airtime, my TCU holding perfectly. Looking at the pictures now it looks pretty insignificant. But it was pretty intense for me.

climbing gardom's peak district

Going for it on Landsick, Gardoms

climbing fall peak district

Taking the fall.

How wealthy is India?

Posted in current affairs, ramblings with tags , , on June 25, 2011 by bridbeast

The Economist did a really cool interactive map this week which is good for thinking about the aid to India debate.

One reason it chimed with me is that it compares Indian states to countries, something I’ve often thought about in terms of population. UP has around the same number of people as Brazil. The greater Delhi area has as many people as Chile. This is reflects what I’ve felt visiting India – many states and the biggest metros are so big they dwarf European countries.

But this map goes one further by comparing the states to nations in GDP and GDP per head. That’s when it gets really interesting. GDP wise plenty of states look like solid middle-income countries, and Maharashtra is as wealthy as Singapore, but GDP per head brings out a completely different picture. Huge swathes of northern India look like sub-Saharan Africa, and the poor bits too: Sudan, Benin, Eritrea. On this map Maharashtra is equivalent to Sri Lanka. The figures show better than any argument I’ve read why aid agencies continue to work in India, despite the existence of extremely wealthy people like Mukesh Ambani.

Of course there’s a positive spin too. With so much room for development in the Indian economy and a young, entrepreneurial population, the country should continue to grow strongly for a long time.

They did a similar map of China last year, which is interesting for comparison.


Posted in Climbing, Uncategorized with tags , on June 18, 2011 by bridbeast

Last weekend I went to Pembroke for the first time in 11 years. I’m not sure why the huge gap – I think I’d forgotten just how wonderful it is. Where else are there so many superb crags within such a short distance? And what’s more, all the walking between them is flat.

Duncan, my partner for the weekend, claimed a well travelled climber of his acquaintence reckoned Pembroke to be one of Europe’s four world-class cragging destinations (the others being Font, the Verdon and the Elbstandstein, discuss ad infinitum over a brew on a rainy day). When I’d been before I hadn’t done a great deal of limestone climbing and didn’t appreciate how good the rock is down there.

Pembroke climbing UK

Good weather, immaculate rock - someone strikes it lucky.

It was my first time trad climbing since last autumn and I was pretty rusty. Having spent most of the year so far sports climbing the routes themselves felt fine, but the gap between gymnastic exercise and doing the lead felt pretty big.

I started off on a VS, that was fine, then dodging the showers we went to do an HVS near Stenis Head, climbing until late in the evening.

On Saturday the weather was perfect, sunny but a little chilly and windy, not too hot at all. Rather ambitiously, we did three routes on three separate crags. On Bosherston Head we abbed into the wrong bit, but found an easy way out. Heading to Rusty Walls Duncan had his sights set on Lucky Strike, but there was a team on it so we did a classic E1 crack called Solidarity. Again, seconding it, the climbing felt straightforward but the lead itself a little beyond me. As ever, mileage is the key!

For a finale we went to Castle Head to do a HVS called Rizla. This was my lead, and it knocked me right back. I got about 30 ft up the black, soapy, slopey rock with a few bits of gear but couldn’t get any more in – the usual friendly Pembroke cracks had disappeared! I tried to get a small wire in a crozzly horizontal crack but it pulled out, and I was unwilling to press ahead to where I thought I could get some more in. I retreated, and felt bad about myself. Duncan took the lead, wangled some gear in, slowly udged up, then at about 60ft announced he was retreating, thinking it a rather bold E1. We were sandbagged! (And I felt better.)

We awoke to Biblical rain on Sunday.


brew climbing road trip

Car park cafe


Pembroke clouds

"What were the skies like when you were young?"


Pembroke coastline climbing

Pembroke coastline from Castle Head.


Sea pembroke

Symbol of the unconscious

Energetic Americans

Posted in Journalism with tags on June 2, 2011 by bridbeast

Gillian Tett’s column in the FT Weekend magazine is always worth a read. This week she writes about the trend of American high achievers continuing to take on major new projects, even develop new careers, into their 60s and beyond.

“The other night, I was seated at a dinner next to Henry Louis Gates Jr, a black literary professor at Harvard University, who has forged a brilliant career as a public intellectual…

“Cheerfully, Gates described the dizzy whirlwind of his current life: he is making documentaries about blacks in Latin America, writing books, editing a website and sitting on assorted boards. Oh, and performing his “day job” – running a department at Harvard. So far, so normal, by the standards of America’s hyperactive east coast power elite.”

I’m not so much interested in the age issue (at least not yet, anyway), but rather how on earth do these people manage to do so much? I feel the same mix of envy and exhaustion when I read about Victorian Britons like Dickens or Gladstone.

How do they get it all done? Some theories:

  1. They don’t piss around on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Particularly true for Gladstone and Dickens.
  2. They don’t sleep very much. But when I try this I get ill after about a week. Are these people suffering a permanent cold?
  3. They don’t do much fun stuff. I suspect this is probably true. They just work. Maybe Mr Gates has swapped hanging out with his mates for editing his documentary or his website.
  4. They’re not very good at what they do. Unlikely, but possible. We’ve all met people in senior positions whose grasp of the details isn’t that great. They rely on their assistants, and who’s to say the east coast power elite don’t have a bunch of interns and lackeys preparing briefs and doing the time-consuming leg-work of research.
  5. They have domestic servants. So whilst I and the rest of the harassed middle classes are doing the washing up and going to Sainsbury’s, our highly paid power elites are busy on their projects, which will give them that good elitey stuff like cultural influence, power or cold hard cash. Meanwhile Renata from Mexico City is cleaning the bathroom.


This last point my explain Ms Tett’s “subtle divide” between the US and Europe, where people tend to retire in their 60s. I’ve no stats to hand, but I imagine there are more domestic workers in the US, and that they are more affordable. (If someone could prove or disprove this for me I’d really appreciate that.) It would also explain our energetic Victorian forebears – there were always plenty of household servants or wives, freeing the man up to be energetic.

Alas, not an option open to most of us. I think I’m going to buy a big pack of paper plates.

When am I?

Posted in ramblings with tags , on June 1, 2011 by bridbeast

I tried to go to see a friend’s band the other week but failed. I got lost. Not in space, as I found the venue easily, but in time. I was a week early.

Even for someone as bad with dates as myself that was quite an achievement.

Why it happened is a bit of a mystery to me. Obviously I’d read the date and had even managed to plan ahead to go there, but just got it completely wrong. My offhand explanation is “I’ve got a bad memory for dates.” But that’s not quite right.

It doesn’t feel like a failure of memory. I’d remembered the gig perfectly well, just remembered completely the wrong thing. Instead if feels like a kind of blind spot. For some reason I can’t conceptualise time and map it in my head.

Spatially I can do this. I can look at a map and create a rough copy in my head, and match where I am now to the map. Give me a map, or a route description or topo, and I’m a happy man. But I can’t do any dates without a calendar in front of me, and remove the calendar and – poof! Any sense of time goes with it.

Memory, after all, comes in many forms. We often find ourselves being able to perfectly visualise someone but have forgotten their name; normally we feel this as a failure of memory. Instead it’s a massive success – of all the hundreds of thousands of unique faces we see, we’ve managed to remember one, perhaps from years ago. What about a musician who can remember Bach cantatas perfectly but struggles to remember the time of her concerts? Or a mathematician who can remember acres of theorems but gets lost on the way to his mother’s house? Would such people be suffering from a failure of memory, or be exemplars of memory? Common sense says the former, but on a moment’s reflection we should say the later.

I see my problem with times and dates as an inability to navigate, rather than simply forgetting – after all, I hadn’t forgotten about the gig. Just put it in the wrong “place”. Is getting lost a lack of memory? You might be able to remember exactly what a street in a rarely-visited city might look like, or what you did there, but connecting it to your current location might be simply impossible. Getting lost – in time or space – is really an inability to make maps in one’s head.

Sometimes the times ahead of me just disappears into a fog, or there’s a blank on the map marked “here be dragons”. The nearest thing I can equate it to is a feeling from when I was a small boy, and the way the unknown world beyond home was misty and indistinct.
A couple of years ago at work we all did a Briggs-Myers personality test. One element of your psychological type relates to planning. I’m a P for Perceiving which means I’m poor at planning ahead, or to put a positive spin on it, spontaneous and open to new plans.

Once I had to go to a conference in The Hague, on the Monday and Tuesday. On the first afternoon my boss called to ask what I was doing on Wednesday. Just back in the office I replied, nothing serious lined up. Oh well in that case would I mind going to Thailand for a week or two, leaving Wednesday morning?

How fabulous! What a release from routine! I walked out of Heathrow on Tuesday evening and was walking in again less than twelve hours later. At the Briggs-Myers session my colleague Katie shuddered at this story. She’s a J for Judging, and her type like to plan ahead. No, they need to plan ahead. My thrill at going to Bangkok with two days notice was as inexplicable to her as her horror was to me.

Is it possible to mix Katie’s skill at planning ahead with my more relaxed approach? If I learn to map dates in my head will I become a slave to the map rather than enjoying whatever comes up? Perhaps just referring to my diary a a lot and muddling through as well as I can is the best it gets.

Even then, if I’m a week early, try to understand it wasn’t deliberate. I just got lost.