Saturday, September 14, 2019

brexilebrity lookeylikey of the day

Today it's legendarily suave and stylish Roxy Music front man Bryan Ferry and Leave.EU communications director Andy Wigmore. That's his official title; he apparently prefers to be known as one of the "bad boys of Brexit" or, perhaps even more embarrassingly, the "Brex Pistols", along with Nigel Farage and my fellow old Bartholomewian Arron Banks. Now, as the man said, that's a name no-one would self-apply where I come from, as it would mark you out as an unspeakable wanker. On the other hand, every single public utterance Wigmore is on record as having made would seem to bear out the theory that he in fact is an unspeakable wanker, so that might account for it.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

devon is a place on earth

While I was retrieving the GPX info for the Sugar Loaf walk off my phone I noticed that there was another file on there. This one turned out to be from the walk I did with some friends down in Devon back in mid-July.

After our triumphant conquest of Pen y Fan back in June 2018 we wanted another challenge that could be fitted into the same Friday-to-Sunday structure - i.e. arrive Friday, pub, walk on Saturday, pub, home again on Sunday. We decided that to make a change from hill-walking we'd try a section of one of the major coast paths, the South West Coast Path being generally easiest for everyone to get to, since the majority of the people involved live in the Bristol and Bath area.

Now there are a couple of obvious issues with doing a one-day walk along a section of one of these paths, the principal one being the difficulty of working out a circular route. If you're going to walk the whole way, i.e. start point back to start point, you've either got to find a section of coast of a very specific shape (a big narrow-necked peninsula, essentially) or you're going to end up doing around half the route not on the coast path. In general, public transport is your friend here, but even so that restricts where you can go, as you have to be able to find a sensible start point for the walk, a place to stay (implicitly also the end point of the walk) and a bus or train route that links the two and has services running at the time of day you want them. I would suggest that the time you want them should be right at the start of the day, as you want to get the bit where you're relying on public transport and timetables out of the way as early as possible and be master of your own destiny for the remainder of the day.

Despite all these constraints we managed to come up with something that fitted the bill just about perfectly: Jon found this Airbnb property right in the heart of Ilfracombe, and I devised a walk making use of the bus service between Ilfracombe and Braunton, the bus stop for which turned out to be right opposite our house.

From Braunton the idea was to walk out westwards along the B3231 (a bit of an awkward and dangerous undertaking as it turns out, as it's quite a busy road and there are no pavements or verges most of the way along), pick up the coast path around Saunton and then go via Croyde, Woolacombe, Mortehoe and various intervening headlands and beaches back to Ilfracombe. We didn't quite end up doing this as we almost immediately took a wrong turning and found ourselves up on the headland south of Croyde well above the lower contours where the coast path runs. So we decided to bypass Croyde and Baggy Point, head straight for Putsborough and walk along the beach up to Woolacombe, lunch and the first pub stop of the day.

As you can see from the route map below (opening it in a new tab is the best way to get a zoomed-in view) we decided to bypass Morte Point as well later on to speed things up, but we'd still put in a pretty respectable 16.2 miles by the time we got back to Ilfracombe. Pub stops on the way were as follows:
  • the Tides Inn in Woolacombe - formerly the Golden Hind when we used to come here for camping trips in the mid-1990s; I had a pint of St. Austell Tribute
  • the Ship Aground in Mortehoe - venue for some epic Doom Bar consumption on the first night of Doug's stag do in 2008; I had a pint of Sharp's Atlantic Pale Ale this time
  • the Grampus in Lee - new to me but a nice old-fashioned pub with nice old-fashioned skull-crushingly low headroom, especially challenging when entering its dimly-lit interior from the bright sunny garden; I had a slightly fusty and slightly over-chilled pint of Otter Ale
Back in Ilfracombe we hung out at the Ship & Pilot which was about 50 yards from the house, and had a delicious fish-based dinner on the Saturday night at Take Thyme, which Hazel and I went to when we stayed in Ilfracombe in 2009 and which I'm pretty sure is still run by the same couple. There seemed to be some sort of Morris-dancing festival on as well, featuring more tattoos and piercings and heavy-metal T-shirts than I would have expected - maybe it was these guys.

The altitude profile for a low-level walk like this looks pretty absurd as the vertical scale is grossly exaggerated, but here it is anyway. The highest point of the day was near the end of the walk on the cliffs between Lee and Ilfracombe.

We headed back fairly promptly on the Sunday but did have time to have a look at Damien Hirst's imposing mega-statue Verity which stands at the entrance to the harbour. It's impressive just by virtue of its sheer scale, but I'm honestly a bit meh about this sort of thing, and Hirst generally. We did have time also to stop off for lunch in the Castle in Porlock where we also watched the early stages of the cricket World Cup final.

Photos can be found here.

Monday, September 02, 2019

loaf actually

The kids were up at my parents' place in Abergavenny for a sleepover on Saturday night so I thought, rather than just mooching around in the garden or the park on Sunday, as delightful as that would no doubt have been, we'd go for a walk. Nia had been pestering me, after our Lake District adventures, to take her on another mountain walk, so this seemed like a good opportunity to get out and go for one.

And as it happens Abergavenny has its own mini-Matterhorn just next door ready to be conquered in the form of the Sugar Loaf. I've been up this a couple of times before but since it's a nice satisfying conical peak from just about all angles (unlike, say, the Blorenge) there are a multitude of routes up. The one we chose is apparently the most popular one, starting from a slightly cheaty 330 metres or so at the car park here and heading along the Mynydd Llanwenarth ridge to approach the summit from the west, then dropping off the south side of the summit plateau and looping back to cross the path up and head back to the car park. A round trip of around three and a half miles, so slightly longer than the Cat Bells walk, but less technical and scrambly towards the top. The summit is also the best part of 500 feet higher (in fact at 596 metres or 1955 feet it's almost exactly the same height as Haystacks, although that was a much longer walk), but I suspect we started from higher up as well so there probably wasn't much difference in terms of height gain. Anyway, everyone (me, Nia, Alys and my Dad) managed fine and gave every impression of enjoying themselves. We evidently chose our moment wisely, as at various times in the recent past the slopes and summit have been occupied by over-ambitious mobility-scooter drivers and a FREAKIN' LION.

As an aside, ascending via Mynydd Llanwenarth means I get to tick off the last item on the somewhat contrived Seven Hills of Abergavenny list, so that's nice. Route map and elevation profile are below.

While we were walking Nia enquired as to where the name of the mountain came from, since she's a bright and inquisitive girl and had noticed that it is made of neither sugar nor bread nor sports any evidence of either on its slopes. So I explained that a sugar loaf was an olden-days method of sugar delivery, these being days before you could just go and pick up a bag of ready-powdered product in Tesco, and that moreover some hills are reckoned to look a bit like one, though in the case of this particular hill it's hard to see the resemblance. It was only when I'd put a summit shot up on Facebook and my friend Jenny had trotted out the obvious gag that it occurred to me to wonder: how many other hills in the world bear the same name?

So obviously there's the one in Rio de Janeiro, which, to be fair, really does resemble a sugar loaf in terms of shape. As an aside, if you'd said to me before I visited the relevant Wikipedia pages: so that statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio, that's on top of Sugarloaf Mountain, right? I would have said: yeah, sure, course it is. It turns out it's actually on top of a peak called Corcovado a few miles away.

Anyway, there are apparently three others in the UK which merit a mention on Wikipedia - one is also in Wales, over in Carmarthenshire, and while frankly insignificant in terms of height has its own railway station, briefly notorious a couple of years ago for being the least-frequented in Wales, an accolade whose publicising (echoing the interesting number paradox) instantly resulted in hordes of visitors. It's worth noting that the height figures on its Wikipedia page are wrong, since they relate to the Monmouthshire Sugar Loaf. The Carmarthenshire one looks as if it's about 330 metres or just under 1100 feet.

The other two in the UK which merit mention on Wikipedia are in Folkestone (pretty insignificant at around 170 metres and mainly of interest because the first mile or so of the Channel Tunnel carves under it) and in the Malvern Hills. Many others are available worldwide; Ireland has five, the United States has dozens. I daresay there's a book in it if you wanted to obsessively go and climb them all.

[EDIT: I took a small number of photos, including the obligatory trig point shot. These can be found here.]

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

the dead man's hand again; again, the dead man's hand

Today's theory, which is not about the brontosaurus, starts now and proceeds thusly: devoid of context it is almost impossible to distinguish between the following two things:
  • Bruce Forsyth's inter- and intra-game patter on Play Your Cards Right;
  • the lyrics of Motorhead's Ace Of Spades.
One corollary of this is that you can read the lyrics to Ace Of Spades in the style of Bruce Forsyth and quite plausibly imagine them being said during an episode of Play Your Cards Right, especially when combined with a few standard Forsyth phrases. The secret to doing a Bruce Forsyth impression, as if anyone needs to be told, is to tilt your head back slightly, thrust your lower jaw forward, warm up with a series of uvuvuvuvuvuvuvuv noises like someone trying to start a car with a flat battery, and then segue into the main bit. So if you close your eyes and picture an imaginary episode of Play Your Cards Right it's quite possible to imagine the following exchanges taking place:
If you like to gamble, I tell you I'm your man
You win some, lose some, all the same to me
Didn't they do well?
All right my love?
Playing for the high one, dancing with the devil
Going with the flow, it's all a game to me
To me, it's all a game
You know I'm born to lose, and gambling's for fools
You don't get anything for a pair, not in this game
Higher than a three.......
The Ace Of Spades
Obviously you've got to do the voice. DO IT. DO THE VOICE.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

morrison, morrisoff


This time it's venerable black American novelist Toni Morrison, as featured here only a few months ago. It was a little over nine years ago that Paradise featured on this blog, which represents the fourth-longest gap between the casting of the runes and the inevitable demon-summoning, after Anita Shreve, Justin Cartwright and Helen Dunmore. Morrison was 88, which is in a pretty popular range for this particular list: William Trevor and Ursula Le Guin were also 88, and 87 remains the most popular age for curse-related death with four victims. The average age is currently a smidgen under 82.

One other bit of related trivia: Toni Morrison and I share (well, shared) a birthday, February 18th. Other novelists to share this birthday include Nikos Kazantzakis, Wallace Stegner, Len Deighton and Jean M Auel.

Author Date of first book Date of death Age Curse length
Michael Dibdin 31st January 2007 30th March 2007 60 0y 59d
Beryl Bainbridge 14th May 2008 2nd July 2010 77 2y 50d
Russell Hoban 23rd August 2010 13th December 2011 86 1y 113d
Richard Matheson 7th September 2011 23rd June 2013 87 1y 291d
Elmore Leonard April 16th 2009 20th August 2013 87 4y 128d
Iain Banks 6th November 2006 9th June 2013 59 6y 218d
Doris Lessing 8th May 2007 17th November 2013 94 6y 196d
Gabriel García Márquez 10th July 2007 17th April 2014 87 6y 284d
Ruth Rendell 23rd December 2009 2nd May 2015 85 5y 132d
James Salter 4th February 2014 19th June 2015 90 1y 136d
Henning Mankell 6th May 2013 5th October 2015 67 2y 152d
Umberto Eco 30th June 2012 19th February 2016 84 3y 234d
Anita Brookner 15th July 2011 10th March 2016 87 4y 240d
William Trevor 29th May 2010 20th November 2016 88 6y 177d
John Berger 10th November 2009 2nd January 2017 90 7y 55d
Nicholas Mosley 24th September 2011 28th February 2017 93 5y 159d
Helen Dunmore 10th March 2008 5th June 2017 64 9y 89d
JP Donleavy 21st May 2015 11th September 2017 91 2y 114d
Ursula Le Guin 6th December 2015 22nd January 2018 88 2y 49d
Anita Shreve 2nd September 2006 29th March 2018 71 11y 211d
Philip Roth 23rd December 2017 22nd May 2018 85 0y 150d
Justin Cartwright 7th September 2008 3rd December 2018 75 10y 89d
Toni Morrison 18th July 2010 5th August 2019 88 9y 20d

Monday, August 12, 2019

headlines of the day

Here's one for the file of What Does Any Of This Even Mean headline-parsing challenges:

In order to have any chance of understanding that one you have to realise that it's a sort of ironic callback to this actual headline from a few days earlier:

This one actually refers to a real story whereby the Beresheet lander, operated by the Israeli SpaceIL organisation, crash-landed on the moon after its main engine failed at a crucial point during the descent - the point where it needed to fire to slow the craft down and prevent it crashing, basically. That was back in April but it has only recently emerged that the craft was carrying a scientific payload that included dehydrated tardigrades. These little guys, while known by some endearingly cutesy names such as "water bears" and "moss piglets", are in fact some of the baddest motherfuckers in the animal kingdom, being able to survive extremes of temperature (at either end of the scale), massive doses of radiation and exposure to the vacuum of space. So there's every chance they could survive on the moon's surface, though whether they'd ever be able to emerge from their dormant state and actually do anything (like eat or breed) is a different question. You can imagine that if they could it would be a short evolutionary journey to actual grizzly-sized solar-powered angry space bears, which might make future human trips to the moon dangerous for a whole host of completely new reasons. I should add that my knowledge of tardigrades, and all aspects of the animal kingdom, is greatly enhanced by watching Octonauts, just as my knowledge of world geography and landmarks of significance is greatly enhanced by watching Go Jetters.

Anyway, the reason for the second headline (chronologically speaking, first in its position within this post: do try to keep up) is that there is a school of thought which says: meh, there was probably some bio-contamination already on the moon anyway from long-ago asteroid impacts on Earth. I guess one has to also allow the possibility that some biological matter was attached to the spacecraft and humans that visited the moon during the previous round of manned exploration between 1969 and 1972 and various unmanned missions thereafter.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

the last book I read

Transition by Iain Banks.

Imagine a world where every toss of a coin, every tiny variation in some seemingly insignificant system, results in the spawning of another, completely independent reality, branching and re-branching like, erm, some sort of organism with branches. A tree! Yes, that'll do. A proliferating multitude of alternate realities, differing by perhaps only a tiny detail, a different-shaped gearstick on the Mini Metro, say. But perhaps we inhabit such a world already. I mean, how would we know?

Well, I'll tell you who would know. A group of people whose minds are not going to be blown by all this multiple simultaneous realities shit, and, moreover, have developed the technology to move between these multiple realities pretty much at will, with certain limitations. They call themselves The Concern, or, depending on your cultural background, L'Expédience, and they perform a sort of multiverse policing function while flitting between worlds, being able to glimpse the future consequences of certain seemingly insignificant events and take steps to prevent those events from ever occurring.

This is all a bit Prime Directive, of course, and one person's disastrous turn of events about which Something Must Be Done is someone else's wholly necessary and exciting developments. So even within the Concern there are disagreements, and for that reason a sort of High Council exists, headed by the practically immortal Madame d'Ortolan, to decide where events get left to take their course and where intervention is deemed necessary.

Our main protagonist, Temudjin Oh, is a sort of super-assassin entrusted with all the most difficult and dangerous missions. "Flitting" between worlds is achieved by the use of a specially-engineered drug called "septus", and in practical terms involves "landing" in another body for the duration of your visit, taking it over for a while and then vacating it again, presumably leaving the original occupant to return and wonder what's been going on, and perhaps why they seem to have just committed a murder and are in the process of being shot to pieces by whatever law-enforcing authority exists in this particular reality. Temudjin is viewed as being a bit of a loose cannon by Madame d'Ortolan and her advisers, mainly owing to his previous close relationship with renegade Concern operative Mrs Mulverhill, with whom they suspect (correctly) he is still in communication. Mrs Mulverhill believes that the Council under Madame d'Ortolan's leadership are out of control and pursuing a secret agenda of their own in violation of the Concern's original aims. Will Temudjin say leave me alone, Mrs Mulverhill and return to the fold or go fully rogue and try to bring them down?

This being an Iain Banks novel the narrative isn't presented quite like that though - it's broken up into sections headed with the character's name with no immediate clue as to how they interact. So there's The Transitionary (Temudjin Oh himself), Madame d'Ortolan, torturer-for-hire The Philosopher, London hedge fund trader wide boy Adrian Cubbish, and Patient 8262, occupant of a bed in some sort of sanatorium and seemingly trying to remember something hovering dimly beyond his mental reach.

This sort of set-up, where the reader is expected to do some dot-joining work while the main action unfolds, is just the sort of thing to get me salivating, and Banks does it very well. It's only a bit later as the plot is starting to unfold in a more orthodox manner that a few niggles start to form in the mind. For instance: the thing with the "flitting" between worlds being mediated by some sort of thing that the flitter has to physically consume, and moreover the achieving of unmediated flitting as a key plot point, are both straight out of Stephen King and Peter Straub's The Talisman, and the preventing "crimes" before they happen thing owes more than a little to Minority Report. The whole business with occupying other people's bodies and displacing their consciousness for a while raises a host of questions, none of which are really engaged with. Adrian Cubbish is the latest in a line of slightly tedious drug-crazed wisecracking cynics that also includes Complicity's Cameron Colley and Dead Air's Ken Nott. And there are a couple of trademark Banksian bolted-on bits of polemic which do little to move the plot along but are just there to allow him to vent some political opinions, most obviously in The Philosopher's lengthy opining on the pointlessness of torture, and indeed the existence of the character himself. And only someone really not paying attention, or just generally unfamiliar with how novels work, will fail to clock the true identity of Patient 8262 fairly early on.

None of that really matters, though, as this is generally a hoot and scoots along very entertainingly throughout. The Concern is another in the long series of Banks' imagined reality-controlling organisations unconstrained by considerations like material wealth, including most obviously the Culture, but in this case most closely resembling The Business in, erm, The Business. I would say it's the best non-M Banks I've read since Whit, but it was published under the Iain M Banks moniker in America and so exists in a sort of netherworld between the two. I suspect the rationale for leaving out the M was that all the action takes place on Earth, albeit a gazillion different parallel versions of Earth.