2011 goals redux

Posted in Climbing, ramblings with tags , , , on December 31, 2011 by bridbeast

Back in January this year I wrote out a list of goals for the year. Now it’s the last day of 2011, time to see how I did:

I’d like to fulfil the long-standing goal of climbing F7a again, and onsighting F6c.

Ticked the F7a in Catalunya in November after coming very close around Easter time. Flashed a couple of F6cs but not quite an onsight. I think that’s 3/4 of a tick.

More unlikely is climbing F7a+.

Yes, that was unlikely. Fail.

Trad climbing – I’d like to get up to E2 and possibly E3. Something steep and safe at Pembroke or Gogarth. Pleasure Dome is on the list, maybe also Ocean Boulevard or Soul Survivor at Swanage. Some steep and savage grit cracks, with the ultimate aim of doing Sentinel Crack at Chatsworth – ouch!

A bit ambitious this one, given that before this year my trad climbing was seriously out of shape. I hadn’t taken a fall onto my own gear or climbed an extreme in years. I was reasonably on it this year, with my best lead being Brown’s Crack at Ramshaw. E1 in the guide but E2 on UKC, it is most definitely steep and savage. I didn’t do Sentinel Crack but this was a step in the right direction. Tick.

Unfortunately my dreams of E3 at Swanage or Pembroke didn’t materialise. I think that was a bit too much. Fail, but rematch for 2012!

Ramshaw climbing

My idea of fun.

Places to visit: Cornwall, Verdon, North Wales. Spend much more time at Swanage and Portland to get fit.

Didn’t go to Cornwall or  North Wales as my plans of long weekends away were scuppered by getting a new job. I did go to the Verdon even if it was too rainy to get anything properly done. Went to Swanage and Portland a bit, but perhaps not as much as I’d envisioned. Still, mostly a tick.

Actually write a short story. Try to write a radio play.

Big fat fail on both these aims.

Get at least one article published in the national media.

Got a ghost-written piece into the Huffington Post. Half a tick I think.

Looking back on it, 2011 was a pretty good year. I did loads of climbing, chopped and changed jobs (hopefully for the best), got tattooed and had a great visit to Sri Lanka. I’m unhappy that I failed in any of my writing aims but I’m hoping for a better year in 2012 on that front. I’m also keen to realise some big, lifetime climbing goals in 2012. Bring it on!


Yosemite Valley. El Cap.

The mighty El Capitan. ©ChrisJD

Big wall climbing on the Capitan. ©Enty


Masters of the universe

Posted in culture, current affairs, ramblings on December 4, 2011 by bridbeast

I had a deeply depressing conversation last night. My cousin started a course at the London School of Economics this year and reports back that all of his contemporaries want to become investment bankers. Even his friend, a physics undergraduate at another London university, has in the space of months changed her ambitions from academia to finance.

I suppose part of it is youthful skittishness and enthusiasm. Bless them, they’re barely a few months away from school and A-levels and all of a sudden they think they’re ready for Goldman Sachs. Partly it’s the sense of entitlement that comes from attending fee paying schools and arriving at an elite university.

But it still troubles me.

They’re smart kids who’ve lived through the biggest financial disaster for 80 years, the result of a credit bubble whose formation was mainly due to the actions of the financial sector and the politicians who pandered to it. All they have to do is read a newspaper for a week and they’d discover that Britain really doesn’t need too many more bankers. Instead we need innovation and science. We need to nurture our creative companies, whether they’re creating green technology or world-beating TV formats. We need the smartest kids to teach our most disadvantaged to raise up the dismal standards of education and productivity.

But no. Already the talk is of internships, of preferring research to trading, of how they’ll only do it for a few years before getting out. As D said of his friend: “She wants to do research in physics, but she doesn’t want to be poor.”

Well no one is claiming you’ll make big bucks as an academic, in fact given the effort to get there it’s shoddy. I found this in a few minutes this morning, and whilst the upper thirties is hardly a great salary for someone with seven or eight years of higher education plus a bunch of experience, it’s not poor.

Poor is the ladies who serve in the university canteen, or the cleaners who vacuum the office blocks of Canary Wharf in the dead of night. Poor is the white van man pulling £250 a week and trying to raise a family on it. Poor is the dole and JD sports and spliffs at lunchtime, the waste of smart kids who can’t get a foot in the door and go quietly mad with frustration, poor is two jumpers from November to April and reusing tea bags.

What poor isn’t, is an intellectually demanding job with a good salary that unfortunately happens to be ten times less than that offered by a bank.

Perhaps I’m expecting too much in the way of imagination from what is, essentially, a school for technocrats. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from kids, barely a few months away from school and A-levels, to resist these warped temptations, or to understand that right now something different is required of them if our society is to recover from this disaster.

Beginner’s mind

Posted in Climbing with tags on October 11, 2011 by bridbeast

I’m a real sucker for psychological types and classifications, as you’d expect from someone who came out as an INTP on the Myers-Briggs personality test. Systems and classifications, that’s my thing. Apparently.

A lonesome drive to Swanage recently gave me a few ideas for climbing archetypes.


Gnarly Old Gits

Balding, with massive biceps and tufts of back and shoulder hair showing through slightly retro vests, the GOGs are the veteran troopers of our little world. They’ve been everywhere and done everything. They’re done with campussing (tried that back in 92 and got six months off with injured elbows for their efforts), they first went to the Verdon back in the 80s, they might even have been at the Hacienda the night someone pulled a gun out.

GOGs will climb with anyone, as most of their original climbing partners have had kids, got into cycling or given up. They all want to climb 8a before they are 50. Or 60. Or perhaps as a retirement project. Either that, or they are stuck in some hellish multi-week siege of a 40ft crimpfest with the suitable magic number attached.


The Young Dudes

These little Tiggers live down the wall or the crag, bouncing around from problem to problem and route to route. In any random sample at least 10% will have dreadlocks (even today!). Tendon problems are a thing of the future which is a good thing because they worship at the Temple of Strength.

They’ve never heard of Buoux – Catalunya and Magic Wood are where it’s at – but then they’ve never heard of the Stone Roses either. They all want to climb 8a, of even 8A, but they are easily derailed by love, drugs and finals.


The Natural Geniuses

These are the true stars of climbing. Natural climbers with immaculate technique, they’re the sort of people who will throw in a drop knee on their second ever boulder problem. A lack of height or strength doesn’t hold them back, their natural creativity helps them overcome such workaday restrictions, and they take to highballing as if fear of falling were an alien emotion.

Surely these intuitives are rare comets in the climbing firmament? Far from it. I see hordes of these mini-masters every Sunday at the wall – when the kids introductory climbing sessions are in full swing. Could they climb 8a? Probably one day, but I’m not sure if right now all of them can even count to eight.

All the pieces matter

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

Who needs coaches?

Quite a lot of us who are engaged in complex, hard-to-learn, hard-to-perfect endeavours, at least according to this interesting article by surgeon-author Atul Gawande, in the latest New Yorker. The author explores the idea of coaching in his own profession by asking an accomplished retired surgeon to sit in and observe his operations. He learns more in a few hours than he has in the past five years of plateauing skills.

This passage struck me:

“In sports, coaches focus on mechanics, conditioning, and strategy, and have ways to break each of those down, in turn. The U.C.L.A. basketball coach John Wooden, at the first squad meeting each season, even had his players practice putting their socks on. He demonstrated just how to do it: he carefully rolled each sock over his toes, up his foot, around the heel, and pulled it up snug, then went back to his toes and smoothed out the material along the sock’s length, making sure there were no wrinkles or creases. He had two purposes in doing this. First, wrinkles cause blisters. Blisters cost games. Second, he wanted his players to learn how crucial seemingly trivial details could be. “Details create success” was the creed of a coach who won ten N.C.A.A. men’s basketball championships.”

In a little moment of serendipity, just a day before I read a very similar thing by Steve House about his alpinism:

“Let there be no doubt that for every ascent listed above, there were a thousand details that fell into place, like knowing how to dry my gloves, what sock combination worked, and (usually) a high pressure that held. It is experience with those details that allows some to ascend to their potential, while the rest get stopped by blisters and bad timing.”

It’s the socks and blisters again!

It made me think to climbing with relative beginners and how few of them bother to clean their shoes before stepping onto the rock. It also made me wonder what I’m missing in my own climbing, and what a coach could advise. What are the new little details I need to know? Because all the pieces matter

9/11 revisited

Posted in current affairs, Journalism with tags , , on September 11, 2011 by bridbeast

From the Guardian, Mon 17 Sept 2001:

As American Airlines flight 11 ploughed into the World Trade Centre, I was sitting with a group of young Taliban in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan. I had just arrived on a tourist visa and was thoroughly enjoying myself. It was 5.30pm and we were watching the local gymnastics club practise beside the Kabul river. In the light of the setting sun, the boys rehearsed their flips and rolls, a thin mat their only piece of equipment.

Afterwards the Taliban lads took me to a stall, bought me some chips and Coke, and bombarded me with questions. Which country was I from? Why was I in Afghanistan? Could I help them get an English visa? Like most Afghans, they initially appeared stern and forbidding, but when I greeted them and held out my hand they melted into smiles.

On Wednesday morning I took a taxi to Kabul, still completely unaware of events in New York and Washington. We were pulled over at the first checkpoint outside Jalalabad by a group of black-turbaned Taliban sporting AK47s and batons. I opened my bum bag but the guard wasn’t interested in seeing my passport or visa. He reached in and pulled out a couple of “un-Islamic” family photos, examined them carefully, smiled and put them back.

The driver wasn’t so lucky. The Taliban found an illegal music cassette in the glove box and hauled him out, whacked him around the head and took him away for questioning. They politely apologised to me for the delay and found me another taxi. Judging by the streams of tape flying from a lamp-post, it was business as usual.

It was a dusty and incredibly bumpy journey to Kabul, along roads whose tarmac had been destroyed by tank treads and missile attacks. We passed ruined villages, abandoned Soviet tanks and fenced-off areas awaiting the mine clearance teams. But among the relics of carnage there were moments of rare beauty. Nomads led camel trains and flocks of goats across the desert. Unveiled girls in bright pink tunics gathered water from a turquoise river and balanced bundles on their heads while eagles soared above.

I first heard the news in a Kabul hotel from Gulbudin, a middle-aged Afghan with a short-wave radio. “Do you know someone has flown an aeroplane into the World Trade Centre in America?” This was so preposterous that I didn’t take him seriously, so I headed out to explore the city and see if anyone could confirm his story.

In the handicraft shops of Chicken Street, the desperate shopkeepers were more interested in selling me jewellery and carpets. But, when pressed, one told me: “Terrorists have destroyed a big business building in America. We saw it on the dish. Yes, we have television, it’s easy to hide.”

I went to a restaurant for dinner and the atmosphere was more sombre. Three old men were listening intently to the BBC World Service news in Pashto. The only words I could understand were “Osama bin Laden” and “Taliban”, and it began to dawn on me. I was in the worst country in the world to be a westerner.

Back at the hotel, I tried to find Gulbudin but was gently marched upstairs by a young Talib. My paranoia was working overtime, but he just sat me down, gave me a cup of tea and tried to convert me to Islam before asking me, with real bemusement in his voice, why the west hate the Taliban. Once I escaped his passionate sermons, I found Gulbudin and his radio, and finally heard the news in full and shocking detail.

“Don’t worry,” said Gulbudin. “You are safe here. You are a guest in our country and we Afghans will do nothing to harm you.” Nevertheless, on Thursday morning I went to the Red Cross office, where Mario, the information officer, told me to get out immediately. All the other aid workers had already left Kabul and there was a real risk that the border would close. “In a city centre hotel you are vulnerable to missile attack, but also the Taliban will know where you are in case they carry out reprisals,” Mario said. In 1998, after the cruise missile raids, a UN worker was shot. There was no decision to make.

I walked back through a bustling Kabul, sad that I had to leave this ruined yet vibrant city. The bazaar was thronged with people buying half-rotten vegetables and cheap imported goods. On a stall selling western castoffs was a T-shirt advertising McDonald’s and another declaring “Nothing ever changes”.

“It is time for you to leave,” Gulbudin said when I met him at the hotel. He found me a taxi and told the driver to take me to the border as quickly as possible. “Don’t worry about the Taliban; they are scared of an American attack and won’t bother you. Now I will go to my village, where it will be quieter.” He gave me a hug and I got into the taxi.

Driving through the brown, bombed-out suburbs, I saw a tank belching out dirty fumes, heading towards the city centre, followed a little later by a pick-up truck carrying Taliban troops and their shoulder-held grenade launchers.

I had a nervous wait at the first checkpoint outside Kabul as my driver went inside to get permission to continue. I looked past the children selling cups of water towards a group of Taliban sitting and fiddling with their Kalashnikovs and wondered if I was about to be taken hostage and used as a human shield. The driver returned with a few crumpled slips of paper that he handed to the guard, and we were off.

For five uneventful hours we drove past the results of the last superpower bombardment, but I didn’t relax until we reached the border at Torkham. I pushed through the crowds of Afghans, holding my passport above my head to alert the Pakistani border police, who were lashing out at the crowd with pieces of plastic tubing. They shoved an old woman out of the way, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back into the safety of Pakistan.


National Service

Posted in current affairs with tags on August 16, 2011 by bridbeast

So David Cameron is flirting with the idea of introducing National Service, or some similar “tame the feral youth” type affair.

That was some scary news for my cousin, who is 15, and far from feral.

“Mum, I don’t want to go in the ARMY!” he pleaded, genuinely upset.

He will be receiving the following letter:

CALL UP NOTICE FOR MR XXXXXX (name removed to protect the innocent)



You have been chosen for the first batch of recruits under the government’s new General Rehabilitation of Irritable Teenagers (GRIT) programme. As a new recruit you will be required to attend a six month long Teenager Understand and Face your Future (TUFF) paramilitary-style training course. This will be followed by the three-month-long Teenager Or Recalcitrant To Undergo Re-Education (TORTURE) programme of advanced physical and mental training.

Please attend your local TUFF training centre at RAF Lockermouth, Inverness, Scotland, at 09:00 GMT 1 Sept 2011.

You will be provided with military-style fatigues for the duration of your TUFF course. All other equipment will be provided. You must bring:

5 pairs underpants
5 pairs socks

The following items will not be permitted and will be confiscated:

Mobile telephones
MP3 and other music players
Personal computers
Personal hygiene products (we will supply soap, shampoo and de-licing powder when required)
Alcohol, cigarettes and drugs
Knives and other weaponry

You are permitted the following personal items:

1 x Bible/Koran/Torah or other religious book
1 x 50m packet of dental floss
1 x pen

Please note this course is compulsory. Failure to attend will result in a custodial sentence for your parents. If you abscond whilst on the course, advanced students undergoing the TORTURE programme will be permitted to hunt you down and return you to base.

I do hope you enjoy your time on the GRIT programme.

Yours truly,

Col Walter Kurz
Programme Director
General Rehabilitation of Irritable Teenagers

Flying chappatis.

Posted in culture with tags , , , on July 29, 2011 by bridbeast

Pure south Asian genius.