Saturday, June 28, 2008

How to look your best whilst cycling to work

Questions non-climber won't give a shit about: should you place your own quickdraws on a redpoint? If you fall off and pull your ropes, should you strip the gear as well? And if you do so, have you then blown the ground up? These are things that 99.9% of the population really don't care about. It's the same with cycling - although there it might be only 99.3%. So Campagnolo, not Shimano. Obviously. If that's not so obvious check this rather good guide to cycling etiquette that got posted on UKC last week. But it is very roadie. For those of us who do most of our miles on the way to work and back through urban settings, unfortunately these rules just aren't practical so we, on UKC, tried to come up with some for the urban-commute cyclist:

1) Wear cycle clothing - you're gonna smell and this will make you take a shower and change when you get to work. Think of your colleagues. Plus you look cooler.
2) Thinking of colleagues, don't wear lycra shorts. Baggies are the only acceptable leg wear. If cheap, wear cycling shorts under a pair of normal shorts.
3) If you don't get sweaty enough to need a shower on arrival at work, you're not a proper cycle commuter. Move house further away from your office.
4) Always wear eyewear - reflective wraparounds are best - cars will always win against bikes in a collision but you must NOT let the driver know that you realise this. See the whites of their eye, don't let them see yours.
5) Satchels and courier bags are good, rucsacs make you look like a mountain biker. Fine at the weekend in the woods, but not for commuting - we gotta look more hip when others are looking.
6) leaving the reflectors on your wheels or bike because the bike shop put them there is a no no.
7) wrapping your bike lock around your waist makes you look like a tit.
8) Don't EVER, EVER, EVER wear reflective tabard, or any other neon reflective accessory. Total punter giveaway. Small silver strips (or similar) on courier bag acceptable.
9) No d-locks attached to frame, or worse, the chain stay.
10) Panniers. Very practical, very naff.
11) Roadbikes are cool (but please note rule 2), real mountain bikes are not. Again, fine for the weekend in the woods but not commuting thank you. People who only ride expensive mountain bikes in the city are the SUV-drivers of the cycling world.
12) Cyclo-cross bikes are extra cool.
13)Whateverbikes professional couriers ride are always going to be cool, even if it is likely to kill the rest of us (fixers with no brakes etc).
14) there is very fine line between a cool hybrid and a non-cool hybrid, but suspension on commuting bike is always a no-no - it suggests your heart isn't really in it and you'd prefer to be on a comfy bus.

There was a wee bit of discussion on some of these; I begged exemption on rule 6 on the basis that it is dark in Finland for half the year and hence reflectors seem like a good idea. And Lummox wanted an exception on 14, the no suspension rule, for on the basis that this beauty only has a little, tiny bit. If you commute and have any other suggestions - please leave a comment.

Anyway, spotted on Pinch Flat News, this picture of Barak Obama breaking just about everyone of these rules:

That looks somewhat uncomfortable but fortunately, for Barak if not the environment, once he wins the presidency he'll ride around in the back of something that looks like a car but is actually a tank, surrounded by dozens of similar vehicles and cop cars, and he won't need to ride to work anymore looking so un-hip. Pinch Flat lays out pretty much everything that is wrong with the picture. I'm frankly disappointed that his team that is so focus grouping everything else about Barak's image let him out on that ugly steed. So if the Obama campaign wants a cycling image consultant, I'd happily take the job.

Friday, June 27, 2008

This message is brought to you by the Helsinki tourist board

Welcome to Helsinki!

Note the carefully still-upright bottle of "Kossu".

11.30 am in the market square, the busiest tourist area of Helsinki. We checked he was OK, as did numerous other passers-by, so there is no "oh the poor marginalised and alienated! Left alone on society's fringes!" here. Rather he had had a wee drink and now was taking a kip in the sunshine. In a gutter. Literally.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Helsinki gets much bigger?

A screen grab, because I'm sure they'll notice the cock-up eventually. Click to go through to the story.

It would appear so - because according to the national broadcaster YLE - see above - the Porsche factory in Uusikaupunki is in Helsinki! Last time I looked Uusikaupunki was about 300 kms from Helsinki. More likely, who ever wrote the story is from Helsinki and has that problem that so many who are natives to capital cities have (as well as foreigners) of mixing it up with the rest of the country.

Yes, I'm English but I'm not from London, have never lived in London, don't particularly like London - and no, I've never met your bloody mate "Jim" from London!

As you can guess, us provincial types get upset by these sort of things.

2 hours later up-date: some one noticed the screw up and Uusikaupunki has moved back from Helsinki to residing in SW Finland which I'm sure the good people of Uusikaupunki are very pleased about.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Is a reckoning coming?

Very interesting news that the Helsinki Administrative Court has told the Finnish Security Police that they have to release the 'Stasi list' - a list recovered by, if I remember the order correctly, the CIA at the collapse of East Germany from the Stasi records. The list is of Finns who had contact with the East German intelligence agency. The information was passed on to West German intelligence who, in turn, gave a copy to Finland. There have been many suggestions as to who is on the list, the sort of thing you hear over coffee at meetings and seminars around Helsinki, but the one leak of name turned out to be baseless, and was probably a political hatchet job on the man concerned - Alpo Rusi. This caused huge stress for Mr Rusi, but also behind the scenes earthquakes for the the Security Police where it seemed they had handled the case badly.

All sorts of dubious happenings took place in the Finland of the 1970s as Finlandisation reached its high point. Many believe that lots of politicians and public figures who are still active today had compromising contacts with Eastern bloc intelligence agencies. All sorts of political divisions and feuds still important today can be traced back to that era. How much of this turns out to be conspiracy theory, and how much history, may become clearer if the list is published.

How to count terrorists

I was googling to see if I could find a free copy of an article in the most recent Democracy: a Journal of Ideas that I want to read. So far no luck, but Google did find me Jon Stewart instead. Stewart is probably more amusing, if a little less informative.

Yep, I know it's a year old but I'm sure President Bush and the team aren't making any more sense now.

Monday, June 23, 2008

When Presbyterians meet Shi'a

The title of this post is only to see if I can generate interesting traffic from strange Google searches. Anyway today it has been raining hard and gray all day - thoroughly miserable, so the following exchange on UKclimbing greatly brightened my day. How we got to this exchange isn't really important:

Nevis the cat:

> I thought Iranian Jews could hold office?


> I did say 'most' muslim countrys.


> Not many people know about the existence of a sizeable community of Jews in Iran.
> An even better-kept secret is the presence of Wee Frees out there. (Their leader is Mullah Kintyre.)

Nevis the cat:

> You're funny - I will kill you last.
As you can see, the days just fly past. Doug, you're not just a 'G', you da' OG!

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Just because Donald asked and karma goes around, a magazine article from a long, long time ago when men were men (and they were virtually all men) and winters were mean and long. Click the on my photos below and you might just be able to read the text in the bigger versions if you squint as guess a bit.

I note with amusement that the article is called "Boys on the white stuff". The, ahem, suggested "gendered discourse" says a lot about the Scottish winter scene I knew in the early 90s.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Foreign Ministers Jogging

(Look for the blond dude in the white 'Finland' top and blue bottoms)
Word on the (foreign policy analysis) street (of downtown Helsinki), is that Finland's newish foreign minister is good sort; very sharp, friendly and unpretentious, hard working and ambitious. But he is not camera shy! So when one of my colleagues said today "oh! look out the window! The foreign minister is going for a jog", of course he wasn't just going for a jog, oh no. First, interviews with three film crews, then smiles for numerous photographers, and then what looks like the relatively-fit half of the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs jogging as well. I bet he's great fun at a party too!

Truckers: uniformly stupid or just led by idiots?

(image: YLE) So Finnish truckers intend to spoil all travelling Finns' holiday weekend by driving at 20 kmph on the motorways leading out of and around Helsinki to protest high fuel prices. And this will prove what exactly? That they're idiots mainly. The oil market isn't going to give a shit one way or another. All the people they hold up are also paying high oil prices not just in terms of petrol, but as the cost is fed through the supply chain into everything else you buy. So who are the truckers protesting too? It's like a small child throwing a tantrum because their birthday isn't for another six months. Deal with it, and don't take you're annoyance out on people who neither caused it nor can do anything to remedy it.

How would your average trucker feel if cyclists started letting their tyres down to protest when other lorry drivers don't give cyclists sufficient room? Doesn't seem a bad plan if they want to punish us for something we haven't done.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fires in Finland

Photo from YLE

I've noted in the past how often you seem to see fire stories in the Finnish press. I wondered whether Finland is really fire-prone or whether the media just lacks other stories in what is after all a boring safe and uneventful city. But no, today the Ministry of Employment which basically is the back end of the Presidential Palace - and just a few hundred metres from my office managed to burst into flames. You can see a video of the fire here. No one hurt fortunately, but lots of damage and huge traffic chaos with one tram line (that goes past my work) shutting down. Fortunately I was on my bike today. The pic below I snapped on my phone of the still smoldering building, five or so hours after the fire had broken-out, as I was cycling home.

Friday 13th eh?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

No Pizza

"Steaks - Pizzas - Burgers - Lunches"

It's not the most ambitious menu in the world is it? So you have to laugh when told inside that "we don't do pizza anymore". I revealed one secret last week about Finland - that the weather is really rather nice here, it's not all snowdrifts and polar bears. So tonight I'll reveal another, yet again something the tourist board won't tell you: Finnish food is pretty crap. If you are British you always have everyone tell you how bad British food is, except for now it is not true. Just about every pub in the country does food now, and in a lot of places it can be perfectly good. In Finland outside of the bigger towns, petrol stations are about it. Sure you can go to the one of two downtown Helsinki restaurants with Michelin stars and have great food, but your choice in 95 percent of the country is, well; steaks, (bad) pizza, burgers and a dubious salad bar that passes for "lunch". But if you're up for something really exotic, well, there is always kebab.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Weekend climbing and camping pics

Jody does the moves into the crux sequence of "Aussie Rules" E1 5b (Finnish 6-)

I fell off this again and it pissed me off. I tried so hard as well, try the move and backing down to the semi rest a number of times. I still have the scabs on my hand to prove it, but the handjam method just ain't working. I did it in the end, after a couple of falls, of course. One effin' move and it's in the bag. So annoying. So next time - note to self, on the basis that I'm unlikely to have grown the necessary inches before, put the gear in and go straight for the layback - I swear that makes it 5c rather than 5b, but it's the only way I can reach the next hold.

Jari from SKIL wields the dreaded Hilt. Some unfeasibly technical crimpfest will no doubt be the result.

At least after my failure yet again at "Aussie Rules" I cruised "Mad Dogs and Englishmen". I did it last maybe two years ago and I remember thinking it was OK. Ever since then I have avoided going back on it just in case I had mis-remembered and actually it desperate. But it's not. It's maybe a bit "morpho" as Indian Creek climbers say - but at least if you have my width of fists, it's fine.

The SKIL crew take their lunch break very seriously

In comparison to my normal swig of water, squashed sarnie and half-melted snickers, these are clearly the dudes to climb with if you enjoy eating as much as sending. I was also doing some testing for UKC of some gear that C.A.M.P.'s UK distributors Allcord have sent me. For the first time ever I used tricams, much beloved by many American climbers, they have always been a bit "cult" within the UK scene. The bumpf that comes with them says specifically don't learn how to use them on the lead - but where is the challenge in that? Fortunately C.A.M.P. had also sent me a nice, sturdy and stylish looking helmet, to keep my noggin in one piece just in case my tri-cam experimentation went awry. It didn't fortunately, but I can't say that I was instantly sold on the tri-cam-thang. I think we have to get know each other a little better still.

After the climbers had headed off I stayed on in the area to camp for the night with my family. It was a beautiful evening; warm, still and you can even avoid the mozzies if you know where to camp.

The view from the campsite for the night

Your correspondent takes his second al fresco dip of the year. Still not very warm!

A family of divers, possibly red-throated but hard to say with binoculars, take a sunset paddle together

All quiet, nearly midnight

Northern Light - Finnish summer midnight

Monday, June 09, 2008

English Hesari - till gull of mistokes

I know this sounds really gripey - and that I moaned about it last week - but how do things that either Microsoft Word or Firefox's built in spell check would notice, make it into a national, edited publication?

From today's Helsingin Sanomat English edition's story on the Finnish SDP's new leader:
By “party of values”, Urpilainen said that she means that the SDP will not promite the interests of any individual interest group
Is promite a bit like extreme Marmite? That must be really salty! And then, a couple of stories on in the insulin poisoning case report:
The court acquitted the defendants on manslaughter charges, dinding that they did not deliberately try to kill the victim
I haven't even read the sports stories so don't know if they are any better.

I know the English edition is just put together by a handful of people and on a shoestring, but still - like I'm always moaning about the British climbing press - a pretty fundamental job of an editor is to at least make sure things are spelled correctly and the sentences make sense.

***Tuesday morning update - maybe I'm not the only one moaning. Promite has been corrected, but dinding is still there.***

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dodgy Engineers

(Please note, the pictured engineers are probably not dodgy at all) For anyone who has closely followed terrorism since 2001, or indeed before then, its always been blatantly clear that engineers are a right dubious bunch. Despite some of my best friends being engineers, you can see why: it's a mindset of neat organization, just ripe for a fundamentalist view of the world. Perhaps all engineers should be made to do a course on post-modern philosophy, or literary studies before they graduate. It might be safer for all of us. Malise Ruthven noted this correlation in his 2002 book, a Fury for God. He pointed out that the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was not just an Islamic affair, the Communist students also revolted, but were later purged by the Islamists - but, anyway, the Islamist students virtually all came from the engineering, medical and natural science faculties at Tehran University, whilst the communists were from the humanities and social science faculties.

Anyway, I just noticed Foreign Policy magazine had an article on this earlier this year - called "Engineering Jihad". You can read most of it here - only the last paragraph is missing to non-subscribers and that only says that on top of a fundamentalism-ready mindset, in the Middle East there aren't enough jobs for engineering graduates, so you also get boredom and unemployment added to this unhealthy mix.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Finns and the temperature

The terrible weather forecast for next five days in Helsinki

I left the house at 8 am this morning and it already over 15 degrees Celsius; what I think of as perfectly nice t-shirt weather unless you are going to be sitting around outside for hours. But now I’m on a bus sweating profusely because the heating is on. The radiators that run along at foot height under the bus seats are too hot to touch. A faulty heating system maybe? But I don’t think so.

The longer I live in a foreign country, the more I travel, and the more friends I have from different countries around the world, the more I tend to think that people are more alike than different. But at the risk of playing to a national stereotype, I’ll go this far – the majority of Finns are completely nuts when it comes to the temperature. There is a dirty little secret that the Finnish Tourists Agency will never tell you: that Finland has rather nice weather, at least in comparison to the much of the rest of rainy, dreary, Northern Europe. I’ve been having to water the garden because there hasn’t been any rain for maybe three or four weeks. Its cloudy right now, but the last week and half has been wall-to-wall sunshine. The weather is stable, so once it turns nice it tends to stay nice for sometime and finally the traditional winters at least, are cold, dry, and snowy. They want you to think they live in a icebound land of savage, frozen beauty – but they don’t, it is all rather civilised from a meteorological point of view.

Yet many Finns seem to live in perpetual fear that they, and particular their children, are about to die of hypothermia. In the last week I’ve seen people wearing gloves and woolly hats for their morning stroll with the dog - the temperature was about 13 degrees! Children are dressed up in one-piece snowsuits, mitts and massive balaclavas until the temperatures are well into double figures. Friends and colleagues are forever asking “don’t you need a hat?”, “shouldn’t you put a coat on?” when you are leaving the office to walk a massive 100 mtrs to a nearby café for lunch. Houses are heated to the mid-20s and the idea of opening a window in winter (or indeed anytime when the temps aren’t approaching the mid-20s) to get some fresh air will be met with reactions ranging from bewilderment to anger. And then they put the heating on in the bus in an effort to give everyone a sauna as they try to got work in morning, and still no one takes their overcoats off.

My pet-theory for this national aversion to cold is that at the end of the Second World War, along with the formation of the welfare state, Finland took a collective decision never to be cold again. And on my bus to work this morning, they were sticking with that decision as much as my shirt was sticking to my back.