Tuesday, February 27, 2024

peat repeat

You'll recall my frustration at being thwarted in my plans to do a long circular walk in the Black Mountains back in May of last year. As I unexpectedly had a couple of days' leave to use up I found myself at a loose end yesterday and decided to go and have another crack at it. After the extreme fuckery involved with trying to pick out a route up through the forestry last time I decided to keep any involvement with it minimal this time, and not get involved with the area I was in last time at all. 

There are two car parks on the road up the Grwyne Fawr valley, the first being Pont Cadwgan where I parked last time, and the second, further up towards the reservoir, which just seems to be called Mynydd Du (Black Mountain). This is where I parked this time and headed up in a roughly north-east direction to get onto the long ridge just before the summit of Chwarel y Fan, which makes the rather grandiose claim to being the highest point in Monmouthshire. I mean, I daresay it is, but it's not a summit in any real sense, just the high point of the ridge which gradually descends from north-west to south-east. It does have a cairn, though. 

So the first thing you'll notice here is that I'm attacking the walk anticlockwise, rather than clockwise which was the intention last time (not that you'd know from the route map). This is partly because the car park is on that side of the road, partly because most of the clearly-visible paths from near the car park head in that direction (and I was keen to get a fast start and defer any navigational fuckery until later) and partly because my loose rule-of-thumb for walks dictates having the high points (the summits of Waun Fach and Pen y Gadair Fawr) in the second half of the walk. 

Anyway, once on the ridge the route proceeds almost dead straight north-west towards the trig point at the summit of Rhos Dirion (at 713 metres, 2339 feet) - again, a summit in name only as it just marks the point where the long ridge ends and drops off the steep northern face of the Black Mountains escarpment. At this point you turn 90 degrees left along the ridge that heads up over Pen y Manllwyn towards Waun Fach, which, as I'm sure you'll remember from 2010, is the highest point in the Black Mountains. You'll also recall that when I went up it then it was after a period of very dry weather and it was still a treacherous boggy nightmare on the summit plateau. Well, I'm pleased to be able to tell you that the National Park authorities, starting in what seems to have been around 2015, have done some extensive restoration work and landscaping on the top of Waun Fach and the surrounding area, created an understated summit monument (with a little OS logo embedded in it, just so you know it's legit) and laid some paths by dumping what a quick back-of-a-fag-packet calculation suggests must have been SEVERAL GAJILLION TONNES of stone and gravel up there. Before and after summit pics (i.e. from 2010 and yesterday) are below. 

In addition to being able to stand at the summit for a photo without gradually slurping knee-deep into a peat bog, you can now walk along a pleasant gravel path across the summit plateau and (via a bit of down and up again and, yesterday, quite a bit of slightly slippery ice and snow) to the neighbouring summit of Pen y Gadair Fawr, which is a much more satisfying mountain summit but happens to be about ten metres lower than Waun Fach. I don't make the rules. From there you drop off the east face of Pen y Gadair Fawr for a steepish descent back down to the Grwyne Fawr valley. Suspicions of further navigational fuckery which arise as you approach what appears to be an unbridged and unfordable section of river at the bottom of the slope are curtailed as the path takes a sharp right turn along the riverbank to a footbridge which takes you back onto the road and back to the car park. 

Overall, a round trip of around 18.3 kilometres or 11.4 miles, considerably shorter than the original walk would have been (this post suggests the full circuit from Pont Cadwgan via the trig points on Crug Mawr and Bal Mawr is about 20 miles) but more than enough on a chilly February day. Considering the time of year the weather was pretty good - high cloud, no rain - but it was quite windy most of the way round. Not as bad as on this trip up Pen y Fan, but still a bit exhausting after a while.

Back up a bit though, Dave, you'll be saying: what about this whole path-landscaping thing? I'm slightly uncomfortable about that. Shouldn't we just leave the landscape to do its thing without constraining it and making life easier for people? No-one has to go up there, you know; if you don't fancy getting your boots muddy maybe you should just stay at home and do some macrame or something. What next? A train up, like on Snowdon?

I see what you mean, but bear in mind that the previous set of prevailing conditions up on top of Waun Fach in particular - vast expanses of black mud, everyone taking their own route to try and keep their boots dry and trampling all the plant life - was a man-made thing as well, and one of the reasons for constraining people to walk a nice dry path is that now everyone goes the same way, stops eroding the peat and trampling all the wildlife and lets the rest of the summit plateau return to its former state. And what about the paths elsewhere? Would you have those removed as well? It'd make mountain hiking a considerably slower and more tedious business. No, we just have to make the best of the situation we find ourselves in. And, after all, when you think about it, it's a lot, it's a lot, it's a lot, it's a lot, it's a lot, it's a lot, it's a lot LIKE LIFE.

Route map and altitude profile are below. Open in a new tab for larger versions, as always, and note that the altitudes are 50-odd metres too high. This seems to be a feature of my phone's GPS rather than the visualisation software. 

don't be skirridiculous

Been out for a couple of walks recently that seem worthy of note (hey, it's my blog) so here's the first.

It was my birthday a couple of weekends ago so we headed off up to my parents' place in Abergavenny for tea and cake. On the way I'd decided that we should have a crack at the Skirrid as it's a fairly short walk, I'd only been up there once, twenty-odd years before (on what collective family memory seems to think was Boxing Day 2000, which sounds plausible), and it was a nice sunny day.

Note that this is Ysgyryd Fawr ("big Skirrid"), not to be confused with its little brother Ysgyryd Fach ("little Skirrid") which is nearer Abergavenny, lower, and generally less interesting. The main feature of the big Skirrid is the major landslip which appears to have cleft the mountain in half when you approach it from the correct angle (from the north or south, broadly speaking - the photo below is looking from the north). I should say here that "big" is strictly relative - it's 300-400 feet lower than both of its near-neighbours the Blorenge and the Sugar Loaf

It's a pretty straightforward walk and there's a dedicated car park which pretty much constrains your route - we went clockwise round the route shown below which basically means a nice gradual uphill ramble through some pleasant woodland to a perfect lunch spot sitting on some big rocks right in the middle of the cleft of the landslip (the top left corner of the red route). What you would normally do then is carry on and skirt round the north side of the hill and head for the summit by one of the paths that go up it from that side (the major one which carries the Beacons Way approaches from the north-east). However, Hazel's boots - quite a decent pair of Meindl ones, albeit 15+ years old - had decided to throw a spanner in the works by disintegrating and partially shedding their soles. So we effected a makeshift repair with the bootlaces and my trouser belt and sent her and my Dad back along the low-level path to avoid further disintegration. That left me and the three kids, and Nia, sensing an opportunity for some fun, suggested that we just smash straight up the slope in front of us to get to the top rather than messing about with any more low-level walking. 

Needless to say I was up for it, and so too, commendably, were Alys and Huwie, so we went for it. I did manage to persuade them to take a slightly diagonal route rather than attempting to scramble straight up a cliff, and, as usually happens, once you get in close to the slope it's easier than it looks from a distance. We all got onto the summit plateau safely, doubled back, bagged the trig point and then walked back along the full length of the ridge before dropping down through the woods to the car park. A round trip of somewhere between 5 and 6 kilometres depending whose electronic device you believe. Nia's Fitbit gave the higher number but she did a lot of running off ahead and doubling back and occasionally diving off into the woods to climb a tree, which the more sober walker might decide to skip. Anyway as walks of around three-and-a-half miles go it's packed with interest and I recommend it. As you can see from the map there is a low-level path around the other side of the hill as well which you could take, as Emma and Ruth seem to have done here

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Red Bull Formula 1 head honcho Christian Horner, currently *cough* in the midst of some, erm, personal issues, and Scottish comedian and internet provocateur Limmy, whose current incarnation as a video game streamer on Twitch I find somewhat baffling but which clearly makes him happy and pays the bills, so it's all good. The longer-form TV stuff he used to do is pretty good, and the things like the compilation of short clips originally posted to Vine featuring his increasingly deranged plasterer is a thing of bleak Beckettian brilliance.

Monday, February 05, 2024

I hate you, leopard

I'm sure that you, like me, are a deeply tedious and unappealing person to be with at parties owing to your propensity for offering up "fascinating" trivia factoids at the drop of a hat: Birmingham has more canals than Venice, Gary Oldman is thirteen days younger than Gary Numan, et teeth-grindingly cetera. Those two do at least have the virtue of being true, though the Birmingham one is considerably less impressive than it sounds once you consider the relative sizes of the two cities. 

Another one that I've heard a few times is: did you know that Olive out of On The Buses was married in real life to Ape Being Attacked By Leopard from 2001: A Space Odyssey? This one is only really suitable for trotting out in the company of people old enough to remember On The Buses - a group, I should add, which actually excludes me as I don't think I've ever seen it. This is partly because I was only three when its original run ended in 1973 and partly because it was on ITV, which there was a largely-unspoken ban on in our house for reasons I've never quite been able to fathom in hindsight. Anyway, Olive was one of the main characters, requiring actress Anna Karen, in real life a slim occasional model, to don large amounts of padding, an unflattering wig and glasses. It's fair to say On The Buses doesn't see much repeat action these days as it's no doubt Highly Problematic in a whole variety of ways. 

Anyway, back to the claim - what is certain is that Anna Karen was married to a guy called Terry Duggan, from 1967 to his death in 2008. He was a comedian and actor who appeared with his wife in several things (On The Buses included). His Wikipedia page does make brief and slightly vague reference to him having also "learned acrobatics which led to film stuntman roles", but there is no mention of 2001 in his filmography. Go to IMDb, though, and you will see that he is credited with the role of "Ape Attacked By Leopard". So who is right?

Well, closer examination of the Wikipedia edit history reveals that there was an update - fairly recently, in late 2023 - that removed that role from his list. There is an explanatory note which says that the role was indeed played by a bloke called Terry Duggan, but a different one, and links to this article. Lots of interesting stuff there related to the shooting of the Dawn Of Man sequence at the start of 2001, ending with the famous match cut from the flying bone to the spaceship, and in particular this:

Terry Duggan was a acrobat and stuntman born in Coventry in 1935 (no relation with Terry Duggan the comedian). Duggan had already worked with the Chipperfield's, a famous british circus, and later joined a member of the family, Jimmy, who had started a film animal business and at that time of the shooting of 2001 was operating Southampton Zoo. 

There is also a footnote, as follows:

(dec.11: the article has been updated with the removal of the picture of Terry Duggan the comedian, who was not the Duggan involved with the Chipperlfield's and 2001. As Mission Control would say, IMDB and Wikipedia are "in error" in saying that they were the same person. Source: Mr.Duggan' sister thanks to Jamie Clubb.)

There is a link to the blog of the Jamie Clubb mentioned in the footnote, and some relevant entries are here and here. This is the most relevant paragraph:

The bounce article referenced Terry Duggan, a wild animal trainer who worked with my two great uncles and my grandfather when they ran "Chipperfield's Circus". I am not directly related to the Duggans, but we share cousins and they have been connected to my family for a very long time now. Terry and my great-uncle, Jimmy Chipperfield, were involved with the prologue sequence of Kubrick's film, where a leopard attacks a member of a tribe of australopiths.

On the other hand, there is this page which purports to be written by a relative and which does make the 2001 claim in relation to Terry Duggan the comedian and husband of Anna Karen. So who do we believe?

My gut instinct is to believe that these were two different people; it seems implausible that someone whose day job was as an actor and comedian would be entrusted with the job of wrestling a leopard, still less be inclined to accept it. On the other hand, someone who worked pretty much full-time with circus animals would be an ideal fit for the job. 

So I think we tentatively conclude that this is a myth - that obviously shouldn't stop you from watching 2001, though you might want to secure 3-4 undisturbed hours and get lightly baked first. As for On The Buses, I couldn't say I'd recommend it, but you do you.

priest: deceased

2023 was a pretty average year for The Curse Of Electric Halibut, although there was a brief flurry of activity in the summer when Cormac McCarthy and Milan Kundera both died in quick succession. As if exhausted by the strain of taking down two mighty literary behemoths in quick succession, the Curse then kicked back and took the rest of the year off, leaving the authorial deaths total at three. 2015 remains the deadliest year on record with five.

But, evidently refreshed by the Christmas break, the Curse has started off the new year strongly by snuffing out Christopher Priest, author of two books on this list, Inverted World and The Affirmation. Priest was 80, which puts him slightly below the average age for inclusion, and the curse length of a little over nine years puts him slightly above the average, those numbers being just over 82 and just over six years respectively.

Priest was one of the authors included in Granta's Best Of Young British Novelists list in 1983, along with several other featurees on this list including Julian Barnes, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, William Boyd and Graham Swift. Priest was older than most of those people (he scraped under the 40-year age limit by only a few months) and a bit of an outlier genre-wise, much of his output falling broadly into the category usually labelled "science fiction". I've rambled at tedious length about the stretchiness and meaninglessness of this term before, but while Inverted World is pretty definitely science fiction, The Affirmation is a science fiction novel only in the very loosest sense, and you could certainly reasonably ask the question whether it's more science-fiction-y than, say, Never Let Me Go

Author Date of first book Date of death Age Curse length
Michael Dibdin 31st January 2007 30th March 2007 60 0y 59d
José Saramago 9th May 2009 18th June 2010 87 1y 40d
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
Iain Banks 6th November 2006 9th June 2013 59 6y 218d
Elmore Leonard April 16th 2009 20th August 2013 87 4y 128d
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
David Cook 24th February 2009 16th September 2015 74 6y 205d
Henning Mankell 6th May 2013 5th October 2015 67 2y 152d
William McIlvanney 7th September 2010 5th December 2015 79 5y 90d
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
Charles Portis 3rd April 2018 17th February 2020 86 1y 320d
Alison Lurie 24th March 2007 3rd December 2020 94 13y 254d
John le Carré 21st February 2008 12th December 2020 89 12y 295d
Joan Didion 14th December 2010 23rd December 2021 87 11y 12d
Hilary Mantel 22nd October 2010 22nd September 2022 70 11y 338d
Greg Bear 4th October 2021 19th November 2022 71 1y 48d
Russell Banks 4th December 2018 7th January 2023 82 4y 35d
Cormac McCarthy 22nd September 2009 13th June 2023 89 13y 265d
Milan Kundera 27th March 2008 11th July 2023 94 15y 105d
Christopher Priest 6th January 2015 4th February 2024 80 9y 26d