Wednesday, June 20, 2018

the pen is heightier than the sward

Mountain hiking, Paul, is very much like making love to a beautiful woman. As exciting as it is to conquer a new one every week, there is also something to be said for approaching a familiar one from an unfamiliar angle - you may find some interesting nooks and crannies you were previously unaware of, and although much of the terrain will inevitably be well-trodden - including, indeed, by other people - the new approach will hopefully make it fresh and interesting nonetheless.

And so it was that when a weekend away with some friends involving a couple of overnight stays in Cardiff was mooted, and it was furthermore mooted that we might have a crack at Pen y Fan on the Saturday, I took it upon myself to scope out a route. Just as with many other well-frequented mountains (Snowdon is the classic example) there are a number of "standard" routes up Pen y Fan.

I ruled out the quick route up from Storey Arms on a few grounds: firstly it'd have been almost impossible to park (or at least not legally) on a Saturday in June, and secondly it's just not that interesting a route. It's the shortest route up, involves the smallest height gain (since the car park is at the crest of a hill on the A470 so you get a head start) and there's no scrambling, but that is as a result of being on the more featureless side of the mountain. Also, crucially for a misanthrope like me, there are hordes of people trekking up and down this route who I have no desire to interact with or even see for longer than necessary.

Other routes can be had from the south, including from the car park in the Taf Fechan forest where we parked for the walk documented here and also from the car park a bit further up the road near the Blaen y Glyn waterfalls where we parked for the snowy walk documented here. Both are good, the second route somewhat longer than the first. Both still don't really approach Pen y Fan itself from its best side, though; to do that you need to come at it from the north. I have been up from the car park at Cwmgwdi on the Brecon side a couple of times before, as documented in the two photo galleries linked to here (plus bonus paella recipe). On both of those two walks we went straight up the ridge at the back of the car park, took in the summits of Pen y Fan and Cribyn and then came back down via the old Roman road that runs along the east side of Cribyn's north ridge.

Now according to my current set of rules for optimum walk enjoyment (as explained at length here and here) we should really have done those last two walks in reverse, i.e. with the boring on-road flat bit between the bottom end of the Bryn Teg ridge and the Cwmgwdi car park first, and then dropping off the ridge straight back into the car park at the end. So I decided we'd adhere to the rules this time, which means doing the walk marked on the map below anti-clockwise, thereby getting the walk along the road from the car park to the car park at Nant Cwm Llwch out of the way early doors while we were still all banterous and enthusiastic rather than have to do it at the end when we were all dead-eyed and monosyllabic. One could of course park here instead and then do the walk in reverse, but this way round enables you to traverse Corn Du and Pen y Fan in that order, thus adhering more closely to another of my arbitrary rules, i.e. that ideally the main objective of the day should be around two-thirds of the way into the route.



This is probably a more satisfactory walk overall then the other one starting from the same place, as it includes a close encounter with the pretty lake of Llyn Cwm Llwch just before the steep ascent up onto the main ridge, and provides the best angle for appreciating the steep northern face of the two main peaks. As with any walk, it was enhanced by having nice sunny weather (occasional wispy cloud on the tops aside) all day, and by excellent company including a couple of victims of my stag weekend walk who volunteered for further punishment. I'm very keen on solo walking, but it's nice to have a big group sometimes to keep each other entertained and motivated. It was pretty quiet on the ridges, but the two peaks were very busy with people who'd come up the other way, and there was something of a scrum to get the obligatory summit selfies.


There are still routes up that I haven't tried - I've never gone straight up either of the ridges which lead directly to the summits of Cribyn or Fan y Big, and there is a fantastic high-level traverse you could do starting in the vicinity of the Talybont reservoir dam, ascending via the Twyn Du ridge, and then ticking off all the peaks before dropping off via Pen Milan into Libanus. You'd probably need two cars for that one, though.

A small selection of photos can be found here. The gurning shot at the end of us in a restaurant is taken in Wahaca in Cardiff city centre, which is a sort of Mexican tapas/street food place which I recommend highly.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I love it when you call but you never call at all

I was just catching up with some recent posts on the fascinating Language Log and I came across this one which includes a link to this webcomic. The discussion on the post and in the comments is around the last frame (captured over there on the right) wherein the featured character (who is apparently called Amber) bemoans her social anxiety about making phone calls.

I'm reassured to find that this is, as the kids say, A Thing, because I've always hated making phone calls. There is some suggestion in the comments that this is a generational thing and that it's particularly prevalent among younger people who've never known a world whenever there wasn't, at a minimum, text messaging or e-mail as an alternative, not to mention Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. etc. There may be something in that, but it certainly doesn't mean that older people don't experience the same thing - my birthdate of 1970 puts me squarely in the middle of Generation X, for instance. Maybe the even older generations didn't suffer from it so much because the phone seemed like such an amazingly cool and convenient gadget compared with the previous methods like writing letters or physically going round to someone's house to talk to them.

A couple of observations specific to my own experience:

There is a sense in which the current generation don't know they're born, and that is that the overwhelming majority of voice calls these days are made via mobile phones. There are several major advantages to this, firstly that mobiles have caller display built-in so you can almost always see who's calling you, especially if it's someone you know. Secondly, a mobile is personal to you, so normal patterns of usage dictate that if you phone someone's mobile either the person you want to talk to will answer, or no-one will. In the old days of landlines that wasn't necessarily the case and there was always the possibility of having to have an unwanted conversation with your girlfriend's Dad, or a mocking older sibling, or - in the imaginary scenario of, say, phoning a male friend who had a father and at least one male sibling, all of whom sounded fairly similar on the phone - having to choose between a couple of nightmare conversational scenarios:
ME: *dials number*
MYSTERY PERSON: Hello?
ME: Oh, hi. Um, is Pete there?
MYSTERY PERSON: This is Pete, you idiot.
ME: *dials number*
MYSTERY PERSON: Hello?
ME: Oh, hi, Pete, it's Dave.
MYSTERY PERSON: This is Graham, you idiot. 
Obviously these very specific issues are focal points for anxiety for people who probably suffer from general social anxiety in other areas as well. That's certainly been the case for me in the past, though I've found I care less about this stuff as I've got older. Of course that may be partly explained by now having all these other channels to keep in touch by as well. Expansive, easygoing, "normal" people who don't suffer from these anxieties will find the whole thing mystifying, just as they tend not to understand the value of things like Facebook to people who find keeping in touch by other means stressful.

I also recall having a conversation with a friend, roughly my contemporary in terms of age, who expressed the opinion that they didn't use things like text messaging much as they struck them as impersonal and rude, preferring instead to talk directly. I remember expressing some surprise at this and saying that I thought it was the other way round. A text, after all, will just sit in your inbox until you're ready to read it, whereas a phone call demands your attention right now, regardless of what you're doing (which is why many people will nowadays precede a call with a text or something just to ensure it's a good moment).

Again, the extent to which you're bothered by all this probably reflects the degree of general social anxiety you suffer from. When I reflect on the fact that, back in my day, if you wanted to ask someone out on a date, you had to phone their house on a landline and very probably speak to one or other of their parents and know that the conversation was probably being scrutinised even after the phone got handed over, it seems mildly amazing to me that 30-odd years later the world isn't a jungle-infested wasteland devoid of any remnants of the human race whatsoever.

Friday, June 08, 2018

the last book I read

A Kind Of Loving by Stan Barstow.

Eeeeh, it's grim oop North, ah tell thee. Happen tha'll get home from't pit and be all ready for a reet nice sit down with a cuppa and the wife'll have you out in't back yard mucking out t'whippets.

I'm not sure I can keep that up for a full blog post, if I'm honest, so let's start again. Vic Brown is a Yorkshire lad (it's never explicitly stated, but probably early twenties at most) from a working-class family. He's a reasonably bright lad, and he's doing his best to better himself a bit by getting a job as a trainee draughtsman at a local manufacturing firm. While working here his eye is drawn to one of the girls in the typing pool, Ingrid Rothwell.

Now it's the late 1950s, so you can't just do what you'd do nowadays, which would probably be a bit of Facebook stalking, some light flirting on WhatsApp, then off for a cheeky Nando's and maybe a bit of clubbing before heading back to the flat to ravenously gobble each other off and then beat each other's lubricated parts with a series of increasingly outlandish knobbly sex toys until they go off. No, things move a bit slower than that, and the proprieties must be observed. No-one wants to be getting a "reputation" and besides, everyone lives with their parents and old Ma Rothwell isn't going to stand for any monkey business, and that includes the sound of her daughter being noisily penetrated in the next room. We're also pre-pill, so anyone contemplating going "all the way" runs a terrible risk.

So there's a bit of fairly chaste courting, during the course of which Vic comes to the realisation that, while he's very interested in getting into Ingrid's knickers, she's not really that interesting in other ways. Vic dabbles with high-falutin' ideas like listening to Tchaikovsky (via his work colleague Conroy) and reading Dostoyevsky and Joyce (via his brother-in-law David) and Ingrid is more interested in a night in in front of the TV and an occasional outing to the bingo. But you can't argue with the primeval urges, and after a bit of off-and-on dating Vic finds himself on her in a big way in a discreet outdoor location.

So, obviously, you can see where this is going: Ingrid finds herself pregnant, Vic feels obliged to do the decent thing and marry her, awkward meetings with parents ensue, especially old Ma Rothwell who is something of a battleaxe, a wedding is hurriedly arranged, the newlyweds move in with the bride's parents (having nowhere else to go) and an awkward routine is established. Vic isn't exactly a hellraiser but finds not being able to come and go as he pleases a bit stifling, and can't even rely on some now-wholly-above-board conjugal action of an evening as Mum and Dad being in the next room makes it a bit awkward.

Eventually Vic comes home from work to find that Ingrid has taken a tumble downstairs at home, been rushed to hospital and subsequently had a miscarriage. Ma Rothwell didn't see fit to phone him at work to tell him, so he arrives at the hospital after Ingrid has been put to bed for the night and has to go home again. Needless to say this only stokes further resentment and after Ingrid has come home the atmosphere becomes even more fraught. One night Vic escapes from the house and goes on a bender with an old mate; on returning he finds Ma Rothwell still up and an altercation ensues during which he tells her what he thinks of her and signs off with a flourish by spewing on the carpet.

Assuming that he has burnt his boats with the Rothwells, Ingrid included, Vic does a runner early the next morning and throws himself upon the mercy of his sister, Chris. She isn't quite as uncritically supportive as he was hoping, but does raise the possibility of Vic being able to rent the flat below hers. Upon arranging a meeting with Ingrid to discuss this Vic finds her surprisingly receptive to the idea. Perhaps they can make the best of the situation after all?

So obviously we're in kitchen-sink drama, angry young man territory here, all of it eminently satirisable, just as with Sartre. The hellishness of the cycle of boy meets girl, they both have urges, accidents happen, both are forced into a marriage neither really wants, bloke becomes uncommunicative drunk while girl becomes frustrated shrill harridan is very well laid out and provides a bracing antidote to the sort of Daily Mail woolly nostalgia that got us, among other things, Brexit. This, right here, is the soft-focus 1950s idyll that we're being asked to hanker nostalgically after (those of us who can remember it in the first place). There are a whole raft of books in this genre and, as good as this is, there are others that are probably better. John Braine's Room At The Top, for instance, is probably the best of the "serious" ones (or at least the ones that I've read, anyway), and Kingsley AmisLucky Jim is the best of the comic ones. There's nowt wrong with this, though, although it is very much of its time and has some linguistic tics which are slightly jarring now: Vic's constant referring to women as "bints", even affectionately, for instance.

A Kind Of Loving was filmed in 1962 - directed, coincidentally, by John Schlesinger, who also directed the film of the previous book in this series, The Day Of The Locust. Schlesinger also directed the film of The Innocent in 1993.