Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Shalom Auslander - I want that name

Even if he does write odd things about hamsters, I think Shalom Auslander has the coolest name on contemporary radio. It somehow seems to sum up huge chunks of modern European, Middle Eastern and North American history in just two words.

Despite the great name I think he might be quite strange chap. I think I need to buy the book. I'll report back. I wonder if Shalom knows that Stourbridge's finest, Pop Will Eat Itself, did a song for him years ago?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dope on a rope

This is just for the rock climbers - check your ropes dudes. We managed to do the damage below at some point last weekend, I'm not sure how. I took one small-ish fall - maybe a metre and half onto a bolt. Maybe it happened then, trapped between the quickdraw and the rock, or maybe somewhere else. But anyway, the mantle got pretty shredded with surprising ease on a burly rope, so take care.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

St. George's Day

Yesterday was St. George's Day. Like probably many other good, patriotic, Englishmen and women I totally forgot. Indeed I only realised today, a day late, when listening to the Today Programme podcast from yesterday. I think there is something very English about having no idea when your national saint's day is. Anyway Today commissioned a poet to write a poem for the occasion. As English Heritage had already asked the English poet Brian Patten to do one - and very nice it is too - Today amusingly asked a Scot. I reproduce Elvis Mcgonagall's wonderful ode to my homeland below.
"By George!" by Elvis Mcgonagall

Once more unto the breach, dear Morris Dancers
once more
Jingle your bells, thwack sticks, raise flagons
Cry “God for Harry and Saint George!”
Gallant knight and slayer of dragons
Patron saint of merry England –
And Georgia, and Catalonia, and Portugal, Beirut, Moscow
Istanbul, Germany, Greece
Archers, farmers, boy scouts, butchers and sufferers of
syphilis
Multicultural icon with sword and codpiece
On, on you bullet-headed saxon sons
Fly flags from white van and cab
But remember stout yeomen, your champion was Turkish
So – get drunk and have a kebab
Some of my past thoughts on Englishness are here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

50,000 hits

...and still standing.

I just noticed that my oldest hit counter has gone well past 50,000 since I started doing this a couple of years ago. OK, so half of those were probably automated search bots or people who arrived by mistake whilst really looking for some sort of strange and very specific porn, but it still suggest thousands of real and genuine people have read something here on "Northern Light".

Resisting the temptation not to yell "Come on people! Have you not got something better to be doing with your time!!!", I will rather say thank you very much to everyone who drops by, and particularly for those who have taken the time to leave a comment, and I hope not to bore everyone too much in the future.

Toby.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Forza Italia!?

I don't know a lot about Italian politics, but when President Putin is shutting down newspapers from your garden - that puts you on my well-dodgy-geezer list Silvio! What with the corruption allegations, press monopolization, attempts to subvert an independent judiciary and exceedingly misplaced sense of humour, Mr Belursconi was only on my rather-dodgy-geezer list previously. The Economist made me chuckle (and had me humming late 70s pop-ditties for the rest of the day):

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Climbing Social Scientists

I was at conference in Brussels on Friday and Saturday on "Visas, Migration and Asylum in the EU" - all very political science and, even worse, international law geekdom. But one of the conference attendees I got chatting with turned out to also be a climber (hello Ben!). And not just a once a week, down the wall for a bit of exercise type of "climber", but actually a completely nails, hardcore climber. He is now my idol for showing that social scientists can climb very hard, a proposition that I had found precious little evidence to support in the past. There is no two ways about it: climbing attracts engineers and natural scientists to disconcerting degree, particularly for the few of us climbing who have backgrounds in the humanities. I like to think this keeps me grounded and makes me a better person. Obviously living the glamorous hip, urban, metrosexual lifestyle that I do - surrounded by the chattering classes of journos and politicians, the cultural glitterati of artists and other creative types - I think it is good that I can honestly say: "I have nothing against geeks - some of my best friends are engineers".

Even odder, at the same conference, we also met a very pretty Turkish girl who outed herself as a caver. I think this was the first time ever in my life that my brain had to deal with the concepts of "very pretty" and "caver" together. It just seems unnatural doesn't it?

I flew home last night with the sun shining in the north and a full moon to south - both perfectly framed through the plane's windows. Sunday dawned clear so we hit the rocks at Haukkakallio. It was good day, cool but sunny with not a cloud in the sky all day.

The forest, now clear of snow

Mina on Tinkerbell F6a+

Jari on Twinkletoes F6c

A team on Enter the Hand Jam 5 (VS 5a); sorry chaps, didn't catch your names

First day testing the new DMM Renegade harness for UKC

If anyone one is interested, I took it out of the bag, put it on and then climbed in it for the next 6 hours, basically forgetting it was there. I even took one proper-ish fall of a couple of metres into it will no ill effects. So overall a jolly good start for the renegade.

Työyhteenliittyma F5b

Monday morning update: it was a great day with lots of climbing done, but today I ache like hell!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

cycling off into the sunset


I had a three great messages left on my last post moaning about work, from mates and also from Iain who I've never actually met but know via a web-community that we're both long-time members of. It's really nice thing to know that you have moral support. I shouldn't whine anyway: my work situation is hardly the end of world - just very messy, unpleasant and really tiring as you spend all your time and energy doing crisis management and not doing your real work. But if nothing else, working on international politics means that you can very quickly make a mental list of a hundred places where it would be infinitely worse to be than where you are (my personal list is headed currently by Eastern Congo or Mogadishu - everyone who isn't in Somalia or the DRC should thank their lucky stars that they aren't). It's good to put things in perspective.

Last night I stayed in the office too long and didn't leave until 9 pm. It's amazing how long the evenings seem to have become so suddenly - at 9.15 the sun was still setting in the northwest (see photo above) and Helsinki was pretty and quiet as a cycled home. The air was cool, the stars were starting to shine, and I was listening to Hardeep Singh Kohli standing in for Mark Kermode doing the BBC FiveLive film reviews on my iPod. I like Hardeep a lot, in part because he has exactly the same accent, manner and rather odd sense of humour as my mate Roddy. In fact, if it wasn't for the turban I think it might be quite tricky to tell them apart.

Friday, April 11, 2008

All quiet on the Northern Light front...

It has not been a good week to put it mildly. But I made it through without crying or punching anyone - despite coming close to both. When your workplace can lead the evening national news, you can perhaps take the hint that there is trouble in paradise. Oh well - next Monday is another work week, another five days' of opportunities to cry, commit violence, or just hide under your desk whimpering.

More regular blogging will resume when I find where I left my sanity.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Straight Edge

I was listening to yesterday's Broadcasting House as I was cycling home through the drizzle tonight and they had a piece on Straight Edge making a comeback in London. The guy they interviewed was 19, he seemed a very nice lad and being straight edge had obviously helped him sort out his problems, but being 19 I don't think he had much historical perspective on the movement and came up with delightful line of "it started on the American west coast in cities like Boston and Florida." Ahhh! Bless his little clean-livin' socks but someone get him an atlas for Christmas.

It did make think of the Fugazi though for the first time in years.



Interestingly if you look up Fugazi on YouTube all the comments seem to be about whether Fugazi were emo or not (including even in Spanish in the clip above!?). The answer is so obviously, NOT! Emo is, in my humble opinion, the bastard child of late 80s Goth and New Romantics. Fugazi very clearly wasn't either.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Battle of Töölö

This morning from the bus to work I saw a Finnish Army APC with crew in full battle dress rushing at some speed into Töölö, one of Helsinki's more salubrious down town residential neighbourhoods. Having lived for six months in Töölö once - in an overpriced, undersized, noisy, dim flat and daily, on the way to work, having to dodge the rude, snobby, old ladies (who seem to form a significant part of Töölö's population) walking stupid little yappy dogs on those extendible leads designed to trip you over, I can only conclude that if the Russians have invaded Töölö, they are welcome to it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Norway trip photos, and how to sink an aircraft carrier

Anyone interested in more pics from my recent trip to Northern Norway should click the photo above and it should magically take you to a slide show.

We were climbing in the Lyngen area, and completely coincidently it came up in conversation at lunch today. I had been asked to give a speech on Finnish security policy to a group of visiting Dutch senior military officers. The Dutch dudes seemed to totally dig my speech, although I was somewhat aware that the hosts from the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs had facial expressions that were inscrutable at best as I laid into Finnish security policy-making. Perhaps I won't be asked back... But that is by the by; at lunch after the discussion I was sitting next to two Dutch Naval officers, who before staff positions one had been a submariner and the other had captained a frigate. During the Cold War the Dutch had been integrated with British forces, particularly the Royal Marines and parts of the Royal Navy, in defending Northern Norway from the Soviets. Hence they knew exactly where Lyngenfjord was and informed me it's hard to get a submarine into! They also got quite nostalgic about the good old days of the Cold War and how great fun the big NATO exercise were up in the North. The submariner said he had "sunk" an American aircraft carrier on a number of occasions - (excuse the attempt at a Dutch accent) "Scho we schnuck in scho close you could reach out and open it up with a can opener!" The former frigate officer also said they had had great fun scaring the US navy by popping out of channels and fjords that the USN wouldn't try to navigate. He had nothing but respect for the USN when it came to fighting, but in peacetime exercises he said they were incredibly risk-averse - for example sailing all the way round Scotland to get in to the North Sea rather than going through the Straits of Dover where the bloody ferries wouldn't stop for them! Obviously America's NATO friends would take much delight in mercilessly exploiting these bureaucratic limitations when playing the enemy in exercises.

Lunch was both educational and great fun. Their other profound insight into European security policy was that the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy was screwed from the start because the British officer class was never going to have anything to do with something that is "so jolly common!" :-)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Hello? Can you see me?

London Transport's "look out for cyclists" campaign:



I'm constantly surprised by how motorists round here fail to notice me, after all I'm only wearing a fluorescent yellow vest, am covered in reflecting material and in winter at the last count had six flashing and non-flashing lights on my bike. In many cases it would help if they weren't chattering away on their fucking phones.
There was an error in this gadget