Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Welsh ice

I wasn't sure whether it was going to be worth the drive and the 5.30 am start but it was. Yesterday I drove up to Snowdonia and arrived in frigid but beautiful clear weather in Llanberis. There was very little snow left on the hills but water ice forming everywhere.

Llanberis Pass

Sargeant's Gully

I firstly climbed Sargeant's Gully (II) in Cyrn Las - all on new water ice. Fragile enough to make you careful but never very hard.

A couple of the steepest sections weren't sufficiently formed to climb, but could be bypassed by a few moves on rock on the side.

There was water flowing behind and next to the ice in some places but generally plenty of bosses to get good placements.

Looking across Llanberis to Glyderau from Cwm Glas.

Next I continued up into Cwm Glas and took Parsley Fern Gully up the slopes above towards the summit of Crib y Ddysgl.

Parsley Fern Gully

Parsley Fern Gully (I) again was mainly on fresh water ice, but there were a few old patches of neve at the very top.

Old crampons for old snow

Yr Wyddfa from Crib y Ddysgl

From the summit of Crib y Ddysgl I decided to miss out the hoards on the top of Snowdon and instead headed of east along the Crib Goch ridge.

Cloud blowing over Lliwedd

Crib Goch

Finally I took Crib Goch's north ridge back down into Cwm Glas and down into Llanberis, passing under the still forming mighty ice falls of Craig y Rhaeadr.

Craig y Rhaeadr

A well earnt supper in Pete's Eats.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

West Midland Light

The light isn't particularly northern today, but here are some pics taken whilst out strolling yesterday. The West Midlands is a bit more than just grimy industrial heritage, there is lots of countryside as well. If you think this looks lovely and want to visit, take a walk along the Worcestershire Way to enjoy the area.

Looking northwest over the Teme Valley towards the Shropshire Hills

Red stripe (not the lager though)

Sheep in the sunset

Southwest towards Herefordshire

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Christmas everybody who drops by here from time to time, for whatever reason. Apologies for it being a day late but I'm sure everyone has better things to be doing on Christmas day than idly web-surfing.

Looking across the Severn Valley

A Christmas tree

I've done a Christmas day jog video for the last two years (2006; 2007) so that's a virtual tradition in blogdom. Therefore I felt obliged to get out yesterday and make it three in a row. No one wanted to come with me, so it stars only my feet.

Christmas Day Running from Toby A. on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Pope's funny view of the world

So the Pope is at it again, not quite spreading season's greeting - more accusing gender studies of threatening the future of mankind. You can probably accuse gender studies of all sorts of things (lacking a sense of humour at times for instance) but threatening mankind I think is something of a stretch. Only a man who has presumably lived a completely celibate life could think that hetero-sexuality needs protection from academic theory. Like American evangelicals who are so convinced that gay marriage threatens straight marriage - you have to really ask what is going on inside the mind, unless it a fear of modernity and loss of control more generally.

Benedict XVI said that the "Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and demands that this order of creation be respected." Some have argued that this isn't an outright attack on gay people, but that will of course depend on what Benedict sees as the "order of creation". Very little of his previous high profile statements would lead one to suspect that this would be a liberal interpretation.

On a related note, Polly Tonybee notes some interesting research(towards the end) that suggests church goers are more likely to nick newspapers that non-church goers. Make of that what you will. But on that vaguely atheistic point, Happy Christmas to all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas comes early!

I've just found half a packet of sourcream and onion crisps in my desk drawer that I had put there some weeks ago and totally forgotten about. This is the source of some quite disproportionate amount of joy on an otherwise cold and dark December morning.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tips on how not to lose 50 billion bucks

Like everyone else in the world I've been reading all about the Madoff scandal - in fact, why is it a scandal? It's a crime I guess - the "Madoff crime": the theft of billions and billions of dollars. But looking for laughs wherever you can in an otherwise ever more grim global financial outlook, I'd like to point to this chap's name. Until today, I had only read about the crime, so I presumed that his name would be pronounced like "mad" - as in crazy - so said something like 'mad-ov'. But I'm just listening to the Dianne Rehm show on the issue from NPR - and her guests, including a couple of people who have worked with the guy, very clearly pronounce his name "made-off".

In retrospect this could be seen as something of a give away - as in he made off with about 50 billion of rich people's money and the SEC leadership was too damn stupid AGAIN to see it. So folks, if someone is trying to sell you a burglar alarm and is called "Mr. Picklock", take it as a sign and say no thanks.

Midnight. Helsinki. I’m lovin’ it

White Nikes or Adidas, but some combat boots. I bite into my burger. More Nikes, all white versions of classic late 80s Air Jordans, hi-tops and lows. That’s three pairs now, clearly this season’s must-have. Queues are forming, the crew spin between tills and the burger bins - piling macs, large fries and drinks onto trays. Taking money, slapping down change. The first combats boots, a conscript, gets his burger meal and finds a seat to sit and eat. His combat trousers are the classic year round pattern, but his parka is the new camopixelated white, grey, browns and greens – the Finnish ministry of defence’s acceptance that global warming is happening and pure white will hide you no more in the winter forests of the south. The other combat boots are the security guard’s – he’s all in black, very SWAT team. His badge says "Securitas Events". Wednesday midnight in McDonalds is an event? The kid has an easy smile, he swiftly shakes or slaps hands with numerous presumably-regulars as they come in. He’s not wearing a stab-vest like the Securitas guys on the train platforms, nor has mace or a nightstick. I once taught English to the CFO of Securitas Finland – he had started as prison guard on night-shifts when an accountancy student. He told me the guys who carries sticks are the guys who need sticks. Our guys smiles and shakes hands, he’s at ease, he doesn’t need a stick. Effortlessly hip-hop generation.

The serving crew is two white girls and one Somali guy. More black kids are flipping burger in the back. Say what you want about McDonalds food but, like the bus companies, they are most obviously not racist employers in Finland. All the crew drop seamlessly between Finnish and English without missing a beat. “Salaam Alaykum. How you doin’ mate?” says a customer to the black guy. The customer has white Nikes, too much hair gel and the “mate” is affected in a – maybe – Francophone accent. He says something to white girl in Finnish that I miss, she smiles.The security guard is chatting in Finnish to one black guy - NY Yankees cap and (guess what) white Nikes - who has finished his food but like me doesn't seem in rush to go and stand outside at the bus station. Then the guard is speaking English to a bunch of East Asians - Chinese exchange students maybe? Or perhaps tourists from the hotel above looking for food they know. The guard is in charge of the tokens for using the toilets. He doles them out to the Chinese, still friendly and smiling - magnanimous in his power over the access to the conveniences. No trouble here.

The guy opposite me is speaking, I think, Arabic at his phone. Again - lots of hair gel, swept up into the centre, David Beckham circa 1998 style. He must be in rush because he has the loudspeaker on and has placed the phone on the table so he can continue his conversation with his heard but unseen friend whilst still using both hands to manipulate his McFeast, fries and Coke. He neatly stabs two fries at a time into the little paper cup of ketchup.

There are real queues now at the three open tills. Customers stare at the menu boards, or count coins from their pockets, nod to iPod, or laugh at their friends' lame jokes. Most people seem to be speaking English in an array of different accents. No one's from here yet everyone is. Like all capitals. Behind the counter, the crew artfully weave between each other, grabbing cokes and fries and burgers - stuffing them into McDonalds bags with the obligatory too many napkins and not enough ketchup sachets. The security guy keeps a watchful eye from the door that they hungry hordes don't get too boisterous as they queue, but he still smiles, nods or shakes hands as people leave.

I slurp the last of my Sprite, finish the Economist article that I was sort of reading, and bin my trash. The security guy holds open the door for me, I thank him pull my hood up and head out into the snow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sleeping when its dark

Not a bad idea eh? But what happens when it's dark 20 hours a day? I'm permanently exhausted at the moment - I'm pretty certain that the lack of light is completely messing with my head. I'm not sad, or depressed, or melancholic - that's all perfectly fine. I just yawn all day and want to go to sleep (or not get up in the first place).

(the picture is a link to a webcam in Helsinki - I think it should self update. If it looks dark and its only 2 pm, that's not the webcam is showing last night. That is what Helsinki at 2 pm in December looks like.)

I'm off to the UK in a few days - it's a sad state of affairs when you are relying on a holiday in England in December for good weather and plenty of daylight!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thought for the day

A wise man, who is from Minnesota where they seem to produce wise men, once told me: "life is too short for bad beer". He is so right. So when I was in the supermarket last, I decided to try some Lia Fail which I haven't supped before and jolly nice it is too. Just try to get over the paint-yer-face-blue cliche Scottishness of the branding, which the continentals eat up with a spoon, and enjoy.

Today, I have been mainly listening to Stephen Fry podcasts, which accounts for my good humour despite the lateness of the hour and darkness of the night.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Things I didn't know before today #2: globalised assassination

Did you know that the actual truck that was used as a truck bomb to assassinate Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005 had been stolen the year before from Sagamihara City, Japan? That's a long way to go to source your truck bomb. For more on the case, the Atlantic Monthly has an excellent article in it's December edition.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Spending more time with your family

I'm wondering if any Finnish readers of this blog can say if when a Finnish politicians says they are resigning to "spend more time with their family" it literally means that? Or whether like in anglo-saxon political parlance it really means you have been caught visiting hookers, getting drunk for breakfast, taking large sums on money in brown envelopes from dodgy businessmen, sending dirty text messages to page boys, or attempting to sell the position of the junior senator of Illinois?

I only ask because YLE reports:
"Minister of Education Sari Sarkomaa of the National Coalition Party has decided to step down from government in order to spend more time with her family".
So is Sari being a good mum or has she been a naughty girl?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Mark Kermode vs. Jason Statham

There can be only one.

I'm just about to listen to Mark Kermode review Jason Statham's latest film. As any other Mayo/Kermode-regulars know this something to be really, really excited about. If you want to hear who wins, click the link above. Okey dokey - I'm getting back to my podcast now.

Friday, December 05, 2008

How Britain prepared to kill 20 million people

Britain's Cold War - A Vulcan bomber, Hawker Hunter fighter and Bloodhound Missile. The National Cold War exhibition. RAF Cosford.

Because of some research I did in the dim and distant past, I've maintained an interest in British nuclear weapons and policies. So I really enjoyed Prof. Peter Hennessy's programme for Radio 4 called "the Human Button", about the people who have and still are responsible for Britain's nuclear forces. A lot of the people who had had some role at the heights of the Cold War in this system, from senior politicians to the 23 year old V-Bomber pilot signing for his first nuclear weapon seemed to take the attitude of "best not to think about it too much", but of course they all clearly did and have done so much more since.

One of the things that I didn't know before but was mentioned in the programme a couple of times was in 'the letter from beyond the grave' that is sealed in the then Polaris and now Trident submarine's safe. These letters written by every prime minister when they come into office set out the wishes of the prime minister to the submarine captain in the event that the UK has been effectively destroyed by nuclear assualt. These letters are destroyed unopened when the prime ministers change and only one prime minister has revealed what his said. This included that the captain should, once having followed the proceedures to make sure that there is no chain of command in the UK, attempt to put himself and his ship under Australian command. I wonder if anyone ever asked the Australian government what they thought of this - that in the event of the destruction of the UK, they could become by default a nuclear power?

By the way, the title of this post is from a discussion in the programme over whether Britain would have responded if deterrence failed. Callaghan said probably, Dennis Healey - to his credit - said not.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Now it all makes sense...

(pictures, left: Lucifer - prince of darkness.
Right: Javier Solana - prince of Europe. Ask
yourself - have you ever seen them both in
the same room!?)

I've spent too much of today reading official EU documents and treaties. In fact any time reading them, is too much time for me - the process just seems to suck the very core of my soul out. But now I know why! It's not just that trying to understand "Permanent Structured Cooperation" is marginally less interesting than watching paint dry. It is that actually Permanent Structured Cooperation is the work of the Antichrist!

So who is the future target of this building of “emergency powers” being handed to this one man they call Mr. Europe? Would he really start a war against Jews and Christians worldwide?

I'd like to see Javier Solana take on "Jews and Christians worldwide", although my money would be on the Jews and Christians knocking out Javier by the second round.

We can skip over a few minor issues such as that the writer of this deep prophetic insight was writing in 2007 about a text that had been rejected by voters in France and Holland two years earlier, or that the the EU becoming shock troops for the UN is about as likely as, well, Jesus deciding to stage his second coming in my back garden tomorrow afternoon. Presumably if God works in mysterious ways, so must the devil. And when you have spent your day reading things like this:
The permanent structured cooperation referred to in Article I‑41(6) of the Constitution shall be open to any Member State which undertakes, from the date of entry into force of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, to:

(a) proceed more intensively to develop its defence capacities through the development of its national contributions and participation, where appropriate, in multinational forces, in the main European equipment programmes, and in the activity of the Agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments (European Defence Agency), and
(b) have the capacity to supply by 2007 at the latest, either at national level or as a component of multinational force groups, targeted combat units for the missions planned, structured at a tactical level as a battle group, with support elements including transport and logistics, capable of carrying out the tasks referred to in Article III‑309, within a period of 5 to 30 days, in particular in response to requests from the United Nations Organisation, and which can be sustained for an initial period of 30 days and be extended up to at least 120 days.
(and that is just Article 1!) you would probably also come to the conclusions of its diabolical origins.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Winter comes and goes

The snow started as I was driving home at lunchtime last Sunday, after my first tentative ice climbing of the winter. And then it kept on snowing. Finland, although traditionally a cold place, gets a lot less snow than non-Finns might think. Particularly in the south, we just don't get those storms that dump a metre of snow overnight as you may in the mountains, or on northern coastal regions around the globe. Even in England as a kid I remember getting overnight more snow than I've ever seen here in the same time period, but nevertheless it was still a pretty good blizzard. Monday morning was typical traffic chaos, showing that even with all the snow-moving infrastructure Helsinki has, this was heavier than normal. We got more on Monday night but from Tuesday onwards it started to thaw, and by Wednesday the thaw was huge - big chunks of snow falling off roofs making going in and out of buildings more exciting than normal. By Friday evening it was +8 oC and I walked to the pub after work with some colleagues in sweatshirt. I didn't even have time to get out cross country skiing whilst the tracks lasted. At the moment the forecast is utterly miserable: temperatures a bit above freezing, plenty of rain and thick cloud meaning the pitifully short days feel even shorter. Next time. But with the excitement that a good dump of snow brings, I kept taking pictures and film clips on my phone last week. The quality of both is pretty poor - but all the same here's some images of a snowy Helsinki.

Helsinki in the snow from Toby A. on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Scared of the outdoors

Finns like to see themselves as an outdoor people - berry picking, cross country skiing, hiking and hunting - all that jazz. But the most popular outdoor areas, the national parks, which are often amongst the most scenic and interesting, then to be rather "suburbanised" as well. Paths, well maintained and easy to follow anyway, are usually marked by colour signs on trees every 30 mtrs or so. There are numerous Laavus - lean to shelters with built fire places outside them, normally with pre-cut wood to use. This is all very civilised and probably good for the trees in that people don't just hack down the ones around the Laavu - but it is very civilised - not much of a wilderness experience at all.

There is of course plenty of untracked wilder areas - but this is normally commercial forest, which can be quite boring, and not in the most scenic areas. Now Helsingin Sanomat reports that there is an increase of interest in using 'emergency markers' along recreation trails allowing anyone in difficulty to be able to pin-point their position almost instantly when they phone for rescue. Hesari reports:
Hence the undertaking does not bother with geographical coordinates with minutes and degrees, which would be needlessly confusing for those unacquainted with them.
This suburbanisation of the wilderness means that it seems the idea that people could actually take the time to aquaint themselves with "
geographical coordinates" (i.e. learn to read a map) seems to have entirely passed them by. No - perish the thought, we couldn't "needlessly confuse" the lazy and the thick could we?

If you want to go hiking in the woods, which is a lovely thing to do, you should be prepared to figure out for yourself what to do if you have a mishap. If the great outdoors is so scary that you require a bloody great orange pole stuck next to any possible danger, perhaps it is better if you just stay home and watch telly instead.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

True Finns, true prats.

(photo: True Finns Parliamentary Group) Finland's populist right wing party is led by a smart man, but what follows behind appears to be a mix of the dumb and the very unpleasant. Timo Soini, the True Finns leader, last year had to ban his youth wing from associating with dubious foreign party youth wings. Recently he had to disassociate himself from a man who stood (and won) on the True Finns' list in the municipal elections. This councilor has publically wished that certain women whom he dislikes get raped - delightful eh? Soini didn't actually say he disagreed, although I'm sure that he does, but only that it wasn't his business. And then today another True Finns candidate from last month's municipal elections (this one didn't win a seat it seems) makes the news for having started a Facebook group suggesting - in a hilariously jokey manner I'm sure - homophobic violence against a Finnish TV personality. And of course let's not forget the former True Finns MP, Tony "the Viking" Halme who was convicted of firearms violations, drug use and the smuggling of illegal drugs into the country.

What a nice bunch.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Somalis of Leicester

(Photo: "Leicester - It'll be good when it's finished" by Andrew M Butler on Flickr)

This weeks Radio 4 Choice is about Leicester - which will be within a few years Britain's first 'plural city' where no ethnicity forms a majority. This does not actually mean that any one current ethnic minority will form a new majority, whites will still be the largest group in Leicester, but they will no longer be more than half of the city's population.

Leicester is quite interesting demographically because its big immigrant inflow, unlike say the northern mill towns, was only 30 years ago and was East African Indians who have tended to be very business-minded. But what I found more interesting was the interviews with more recently arrived Somali families - most of whom moved from Holland because they wanted to be in more a multicultural society than the Netherlands. Their experiences in the UK seem mixed, but what the programme noted was that those that came were all pro-education (with one kid who arrived in the UK at 13 only knowing what English he had heard in music, who then 3 years later got 21 GCSEs! For non-UK readers, that is more than double the number of subjects that a bright kid would normally do at school).

I've been interested in the phenomenon of Somali movement within Europe for the last three years, when I first started hearing anecdotal evidence of it. But now I'm in no doubt - there is an outflow of aspirational young single Somalis and Somali families from Holland and Scandinavia to the UK. I've now heard this from the UK-end and from an odd variety of sources who have noticed in Scandinavia that "their Somalis" are leaving. The UK welfare state isn't as comprehensive as for example in Finland or Sweden, so clearly the old racist line of "they've come here to get a free house" isn't true. Clearly a growing Somali population in the UK has some social policy implications - although as it seems that most Somalis go to the UK to start a business or get higher education, these probably aren't major challenges. It would seem to have much bigger implications for the countries where the Somalis are leaving. If the best and brightest of one of your immigrant communities ups sticks and moves to another country, the community that remains is likely to present a higher proportion of social policy issues. This is exactly what a Danish Imam told me was clearly happening in his city, increasing racial tensions. Another very serious question is whether it suggests that there is a systemic failure in the integration policies of social democracies such as Finland or the Netherlands.

I had a funny conversation with a professional Finnish-Somali guy recently, in that both of us had become interested in the politics of Minnesota for exactly the same reason. Minneapolis seems to have become the promised land for the Somali diaspora - where the community has thrived through its entrepreneurship (and supportive policies from the state) and become integrated into the city's political life in the traditional way new immigrant populations in the United States always have. Now they are important within the Democratic Party, and as a result some of the Minnesota's congressmen and its senator have become leading figures in the international efforts to find peace in the Horn of Africa. The US model of integration (which seems to be to a great extent leave people to their own devices) has successes where the European social democracies do not.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

First ice

The ice is back, just. Various mates couldn't join me, in main because they had far more sensible things to do on Sunday morning like brunch, recovering from hangovers, being in Holland - those kind of things. But being a bit sad I still decided to go and see if there was any ice on my own, with just my iPod for company.


At Kauhala there was some ice. I soloed to about ankle-snapping height and then decided that was stupid so climbed back down, ran round to the top and chucked a rope down, allowing me to shunt a couple of lines. Not hard, just delicate with only 5-10 mms or so of ice - you could top out though above the ledge which sometimes isn't possible very early season at Kauhala. There is currently a very dead and upside down tree leaning against the better righthand fall (see photo above). It has obviously fallen off the top of the cliff but didn't make it all the way down. If the ice melts again, as looks likely towards the end of the week, it would be good if some public spirited individual could get a line around the top and pull it over so that it doesn't block the line for the rest of the winter.

Kauhala from Toby A. on Vimeo.


I then drove round to Nuuksionpää, the main lines are forming and were probably top-ropeable. I tried soloing the groove just to the left of the main face. I was listening to an old podcast of "In Our Time" with Melvyn Bragg on my iPod, and the discussion was on probability. Various eminent professors of maths were explaining the history of the study of probability (not very long and all connected to gambling unsurprisingly), but as I was soloing up - tapping my tools into centimetre thick blobs of ice and lumps of frozen moss - they were discussing about how probabilities rapidly change when considering a series of events that are linked and when the events are discrete. This of course made me realise that although the I was say 75% certain that the blob of ice that my left ice axe was in would hold my weight whilst I had two or three other points of contact, the probability of it holding should any of those other points of contact suddenly rip, would then be a linked - not a discrete - event. And that wouldn't be good. At this point after a quick appraisal of the probability of me being able to walk away from crashing into the forest floor after falling off from 15 mtrs above said forest floor (not good), the eminent professors had persuaded me of the folly of my quest. I very gingerly down-climbed back to the ground, and went home for lunch.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Studs are cool

And I don't mean in the heavy metal sense.

First little bit of snow of the winter two days ago, but it melted on the roads then has refrozen overnight.

I did a test run on my bike late last night but with summer tyres I lost the front wheel whenever I touched the brakes. Hence bus to work today, a pizza for tea and now I feel really fat.

So off to the bike shop to get studded tyres so I can burn off some calories commuting next week hopefully whilst remaining upright on the bike. I got Schwalbe Marathon Winters, I will report back on how they feel after some rides just in case anyone is interested. I can also recommend Bike Planet in Myyrmäki because as well as a well stocked shop and helpful staff they have a pet tarantula who lives in the counter. How cool is that?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Climbing magazines

Very nearly 20 yrs worth of climbing mags

I had reason today to defend some critical comments that I made online about one of the British climbing magazines. I have nothing but respect for the person who was questioning me, which of course means you do your best to explain yourself as clearly and fairly as possible. And it was in doing this that I realised how important a part of my 'climbing life' magazines have been. For me climbing magazines have never been ephemeral - to be chucked out with the recycling like the daily paper. They are more like journals that you go back to every once in while and re-read the best articles.

The now defunct and sadly missed On The Edge - the gobby upstart of British climbing culture

I bought my first magazines whilst I was still at school and knew no climbers and very little about where people went climbing. Reading the magazines was a window onto new world that I wanted to live in. At the height of my 'addiction' I bought all three of the British magazines available at the time, and read them cover to cover. I wasn't really interested in the results of the Northern under-16 boys bouldering championship or the access agreement for a crag at the other end of the country from where I lived, but I would still read about them.

OTE's successor, Climb magazine, big, glossy and with great pictures and a spacious layout

But slowly things change. I stopped subscribing to Climber in 2006, it wasn't a bad magazine I had just been reading it for so long I felt I was just reading the same articles again - a problem for any magazine. It was okay though because Climb was the new kid on the block, the successor to OTE and High. Climb is great except for sometimes the quality of the copy editing, and that is what I have been critical about.

Climber and Hillwalker (as it was then) from March 1989 and April 1990, the first climbing magazines I bought.

It was pictures in the climbing magazines, particularly the ones below, from those very first mags that I owned, that pretty much led to me moving to Scotland when I was old enough to leave home. Scottish winter climbing just seemed like the most exciting thing in world (it can be as well, although not always in good way!), and I wanted to do what I saw in the photos.

Deep Cut Chimney on Hells Lum, 80s-stylee

The schist revolution begins - Incubator on the Cobbler

Climbing magazines, like much of the rest of the print media, are going through hard times with advertising being competed for by new online sources whilst their news function is threatened by websites that can update instantaneously. Mark Reeves, another UKC regular, has written a provocative piece about this on his blog that you can read here. It was really sad that Alpinist, a particularly fine magazine from the US with an excellent website, became one of the first victims of the credit crunch in the outdoors business sector. I hope other magazines don't go the same way.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The wind at your back

November Cycling from Toby A. on Vimeo.

November - it really isn't the greatest month. I saw an old friend yesterday, visiting from Beirut. It was lovely to see her - but why anyone would leave the sunny Mediterranean for dank, dark Helsinki in November, I have no idea. Lebanon's political history must give it's citizens a dark sense of humour. The Finns tend to see themselves as a dark and brooding bunch - whether they actually are more dark and brooding than, say, any other northern Europeans is, I think, not clear - but come to Helsinki in November and you can well understand why they think they might be.

Anyway, cycling in this weather becomes a chore. Yesterday I rode to work and it was gusty and a few degrees below freezing, meaning numerous layers of clothing to put on including over-shoes for my feet, as I have real problems keeping my toes warm once it is much below zero. It's a chore to get ready to cycle, and then cycling itself felt a chore, slow going with strong side winds. But at least I could watch the sunrise as I went. Cycling home today should have been awful - dark as coal with high winds that were blasting drizzle and sleet about - but it wasn't awful. Rather, with a 10 m/s wind behind me the whole way it was a perverse joy (to the extent that I felt the urge to try and capture it on video). In summer I see hundreds of other cyclists during the 25 kms journey. Tonight I saw five. So, fellow miserable-November-still-cycling-dudes, I salute you!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A (no) climbing post

Jody, failing to tick November by a couple of days - on "Indiana Jones" 5+ at Solvalla

I was ill last weekend so that doesn't count, but I didn't climb the weekend before that, and the weather has been pish this weekend, so this is the third weekend in a row when I haven't climbed. Not that I'm counting or anything. I actually climbed quite well last time we were out (photo above) - at least by my rather hopeless normal standards . I even onsighted a route that needs a little dyno (well, 'lunge' to be technically accurate but that doesn't sound as good) in the middle. I quite shocked myself firstly by going for, secondly by hitting the crux hold, and thirdly by actually hanging it. After that I just kept going in surprise.

In past years I would have been getting all excited about the possibility of the freeze starting soon and the icefalls forming - but after the last two globally-warmed winters, I'm not holding my breath. Because Tony and I managed to rock climb outside in both January and February this year during the pathetically short and mild winter, we sort of discussed the idea of trying to go rock climbing outside during every consecutive month of the year (I have now done this from Nov. 07 to Oct. 08, but we felt that it would be more symbolic to rock climb every month of one year - i.e. 2008). Tony 'ticked' November during the first weekend of the month, but I was drinking with the Conservatives that weekend so missed out. Now I feel I have to get out and at least do one route, even if its an easy rubbish one, just so I can say that I have. Of course if the weather would like to act traditionally and start snowing and freezing - I won't complain if I fail in this rather sad quest.

On a vaguely related note; I've been told by mate that the new Finnish guidebook has finally been published and that I have a number of photos in it. This is good, although it would have been nice if the editor had informed the contributing photographers of either of these facts! I can't find any mention of the book on likely websites - although this could well be due to my hopeless Finnish. If any Finnish climbers reading this know if they're advertising the new guide anywhere - please leave me a comment as to where. Cheers. Now I have to decide whether I'm willing to pay the extortionate price of EUR 40 to see my own photos in print!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Repeal Proposition 8

The recriminations over the passing of California’s Proposition 8 roll on. The fact that the Mormon Church was central to funding the campaign in favour of the anti-gay marriage law has meant it has become the target of the ire of many gay rights campaigners. I saw this photo on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish:

Look at the sign of the woman on the right – both very witty and a plaintive cry at the same time.

The more I think about the issue of gay marriage, the more angry I get at those who want to stop it because the less I can understand their position - at least in the liberal democracies of the world where we claim to believe in civil rights. What consenting adults do amongst themselves when it has absolutely no impact on anyone else seems to be completely their own business. Yet the moralising right, normally so keen on getting “government out of peoples’ way” suddenly want to stick it straight back in front of them again if those people happen to be two men or two women who want to spend their lives together. The idea that this some how threaten the stability of society just seems a farcical argument to make with out the psychological explanation that the person making it has homosexual feelings themselves that they are trying not to act on. I just do not understand how two men getting married has any impact on my life at all – I am straight in the same way that I am five foot ten. I can hang out with tall people all I like, but I’m not going to start growing. Instead, letting gay people marry seems essentially a small-c conservative thing to do. It accepts the rather boring social fact that when two people who love each want to make a public commitment of fidelity to each other, this is a stable and relatively successful way for society to work.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


You know what they say - that if you put enough monkeys in front of enough typewriters, eventually one of them will write Hamlet? Of course an awful more of them won't. So it must be the same that if you give enough bored punters enough camera phones, eventually one of them will make art. Of course, others won't.

CDG from Toby A. on Vimeo.

This is my latest conceptual work that I'm calling CDG:Term1

I hope you find it as moving an emotional experience to view as I did making it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The wonders of medical science

About ten days ago I had a flu jab. For the last two days, I've been in bed feeling like death warmed up with the flu. Now I can actually walk without feeling like my legs are going to give way, but I still feel miserable. What's up with that then?

My work offers us the flu shot each year. I had it a few years ago and then got flu more times that year than I could remember ever before - two or three times through the winter having to have a day or two off work. So the next couple of years I decided not to have the shot. But by this year, I thought - "you're being irrational, that was just a statistical anomaly. Obviously they wouldn't give flu shots if on the population level, they didn't work". Now I'm doubting my rationalism again and going back to gut feeling (and indeed over the last two days - the feeling of every muscle and joint in my body) and next year no jab.

I would love for some doctor, bio-scientist or immunologist to tell me why I'm wrong.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The US election from your Helsinki Correspondent

Morning dawns over Helsinki railway station

It’s been a good day. I left the house in the dark just past 6 am, after putting up the previous post and just after California had been called for Obama giving him the majority of the electoral college. I stood at the bus stop listening to John McCain’s noble concession speech and watching the very first orange fuzz of dawn low down in the southeast. 20 minutes later I was on the bus heading in to Helsinki as Obama made his speech. The fact that he has been criticized through the campaign for being a good orator seemed all the more bizarre – it was a great speech, multi-layered with references to the Constitution and Dr King, reminding the world about what is special and good about the United States. It’s easy to be cynical and the realities of any administration will be disappointments, compromises and missed opportunities, but sitting on the bus, listening to the President Elect of the United States of America speak whilst a new day dawned over my town was a pretty magic moment. In fact it was so magical, I felt an urgent need to try to record it - to show my kids when they are older or something. So here is what the world looked like to my phone-camera as the U.S. rang out from Chicago to Helsinki and the rest of the globe.

Election morning Helsinki from Toby A. on Vimeo.

The party at one of the downtown hotels was fun; I arrived ten minutes after it had opened at 7 am and it was heaving. A bunch of my colleagues were already there quaffing coffees and munching the breakfast rolls. We all watched on one the myriad of TVs our mate Charly (who was actually a founding contributor to this blog) who was having a baptism of fire into the world of live punditry as the in-studio talking-head for Finland’s leading commercial TV network (pic right). Charly – they had the sound off dude, but you sure looked like a pro - next stop CNN, I reckon! The Finnish media was out in force and of course our ever-present and not-at-all-camera-shy foreign minister (left) was first to be interviewed talking about an exciting new period for transatlantic relations. The next excitement was provided by the President Halonen arriving with the American Ambassador (right below). Presidents of small and rather egalitarian countries like Finland still have to travel with a certain amount of razzmatazz, even if it is all rather minimal in comparison to the majesty of POTUS on the move (listen through if you have time). But I was tickled to notice that the president’s aide-de-camp, a major in full dress-uniform no less, was given her handbag to hold as she spoke to the TV crews. This is, I guess, the Finnish version of the nuclear button briefcase - just with slightly less apocalyptic potential.

H.E. Barbara Barrett, American Ambassador to Finland and H.E. Tarja Halonen, President of the Republic of Finland

I had a natter with a ‘senior American diplomat’ - which just sound so much more impressive than saying my mate who works at the Embassy - on what are the likely picks for secretary of state - go bipartisan and pick some like Luger or Hagel maybe? I like the idea I read somewhere of appointing Arnie as environment secretary. It looks like he'll get his arse kicked in California if he tries to stand again, so he might be looking for a new job and he did bring a state that is bigger than most countries into a cap and trade system.

Below is pic of Finland's foreign policy making elite; the president may be agreeing with the foreign minister that Obama asking Robert Gates to stay on as secretary of defense would never wash with the net-roots of Democratic Party. Or she might be saying: "if you ever beat me to the TV cameras again - I'll get my security detail to duff you up. I'm da' Prez! And don't you forget it Tory-boy..." I couldn't possibly speculate.

Congratulations to America - such a high turnout with minimal problems makes it a poster-boy for democracy once more.

Morning in Finland - party time in America!

(Photo via Reuters)
I'm pretty bad at getting up in the morning, but I woke up at 5 am with no alarm and just had to get up and turn on NPR. It was playing some jolly music that sounded faintly like the Monty Python music - Sarah Palin's theme tune perhaps?

It's looking good - even the godless atheists are winning! Hurrah!

Right - I'm off to party. The American ambassador to her credit (she's a Bush appointee) and the American Chamber of Commerce are hosting a breakfast party in Helsinki.