Monday, September 29, 2008

"Ant and Dec survive Taliban attack"

There are some headlines, such as the one above, that there is simply no way you can avoid clicking on. From Yahoo news:

"TV stars Ant and Dec came under fire while visiting Afghanistan to present a bravery award to troops, it has emerged. Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly were waiting to catch a military flight when the Taliban shelled Kandahar airport, it has been reported."

One wonders if it was personal? Those cheeky chappies can get a tad annoying but it seems unlikely that any Taliban commanders have ever had to sit through that many episodes of Byker Grove. On a more serious note, big-up to Ant'n'Dec for going out in the first place and for reminding perhaps not the most engaged sections of the community back home that: "It was pretty hairy - not something I'd like to experience again... It shows what our troops go through every day."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Walk at Salmijärvi, Nuuksio

No climbing this weekend, but some hiking pictures instead. Either my colour blindness is miraculously getting better or due to something to do with the cool, wet summer the colours of the trees seem really impressive this year. The pictures were, except the first couple, taken today in the Salmi recreational area, which is at the northern end of Nuuksio National Park.

Crazy colours in the garden

Not sure what these berries are called in English, but they make good jam

Birches and blue skies

On the 5 km walking trail at Salmijärvi

Poikkipuolinen - time to light a fire and cook some sausages

Yellow sycamores and a little cottage

Autumn colours


Late afternoon in the southern Finnish countryside

Hope you enjoyed. A normal service of musings on global mayhem and political idiocy will resume shortly.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Reach Out" 6- (E1 5b) - Reventeenvuori

The following video is 'from the archive' and shows the first ascent of the climb in the post title. This is mainly here for Tony, and for our mutual commiseration, as we have now both fallen off the route just around where Jody is in the clip.

"Reach Out" 6- (E1 5b) from Toby A. on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"We only question. No answers...."

(Autumn colours and APCs in Kauhajoki NYT/AP)

...and "the world has changed, I can say it." said Mayor Anti Rantokokko of Kauhajoki.

I was a bit late leaving work and rode home as the sun was setting. I rode mainly through the central park, and listening to my iPod could ignore the traffic noise in the distance and just enjoy what was around. The perfect autumnal evening. The sycamores are going bright yellow, the birch and aspen trees golden and red. There is a particular plant I don't know the name of, used by many as a garden hedge, which turns a comically lurid pink; it's as if it has to go punk to out do the glorious displays of the trees above. As I head further north through the suburbs the smell of apples and wood smoke arrive. Many gardens have apple trees and this year has been a bumper crop, the tree are laden and many rot on the ground releasing their rich, pungent smell. And wood smoke: the smell of winter now, and of my childhood - homely and warm. The sky is blue above and orange to the west, the air cool but not cold. Ignore or be at peace with the city's traffic noise in background, and it is perfect.

The European Security Strategy, that was under discussion at the conference I attended last week, opens with the words "Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free. The violence of the first half of the 20th Century has given way to a period of peace and stability unprecedented in European history". But nobody seems to think that, instead some say:
"Whole life is war and whole life is pain
And you will fight alone in your personal war"
Then they go and shoot people who had done them no harm.

A colleague said to me today as we watched the breaking news "something is going wrong with society". Not really - we just think something is going wrong with society and then it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. But for the majority of the first world, and even for increasing numbers in the developing world, we have never before been so prosperous, so secure nor so free. My wife said that earlier she had been discussing with the neighbours, before it was announced that Saari had died - that they hoped he lived so that people could find out why? But the mayor was right straight away: there would have been no answers beyond what occasionally happens when mentally unstable people have easy access to firearms.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Finnish people in cool weather

Not that bloggers would ever be obsessive weirdos with excessive numbers of bees in their bonnets about completely unimportant things and a constant need to share those with innocent bystanders, but I feel I have to revisit the issue of Finns and the weather. This morning when I noticed the temperature was 10 oC when I was about to leave home on my bike I decided to wear shorts. With these, a cycle shirt and a long sleeve cycle jersey over it, I was fine - indeed a bit sweaty. I should have worn fingerless cycling gloves rather than full gloves for instance. Anyways - down in the city, near Pasila station, a ninja on a bike rode past me. I mean I presume the chap must have been a ninja because along with the black shell suit he was also wearing a black balaclava pulled up over his nose, so only the eyes were showing (if anyone hears that a bank got robbed this morning in the Pasila area by a dude on the bike, I will of course retract this and pass on the information to the authorities...).

Now I well accept that there are real difference in how much people feel the cold, but can there be that big a differences?! I was out this evening in the yard in a t-shirt standing around doing nothing beyond trying to break up the occasional toddler war, whilst the neighbour who was very busily pushing the lawn mower was wearing full goretex, a woolly cap, and gloves!?

Finns have all sorts of strange genetic conditions and diseases, indeed my friend was telling us just yesterday about her just completed PhD research into one such genetic condition, but a predisposition to feeling the cold seems an odd evolution for a Nordic nation! I blame nurture not nature, and think the modern world is sucking the sisu away from my Finnish friends. I worry for the future of the nation, I really do.

And yep, the title was an oblique reference to a certain song, but you probably have to be at least in your 30s and British to get it. I was expecting to find the song on YouTube and embed it here but surprisingly, couldn't find it. So instead, for no other reason than that it is still a kick-arse tune, is Mark E. Smith with the Inspiral Carpets doing "I want you".

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Weekend climbing post

Sometimes I think I'm getting a bit bored with climbing. This normally lasts about 3 days, 4 at the most if I'm really down. I guess I'm pretty unimaginative and by the time the end of the week rocks around I just can't think of anything else I could feasibly be doing at the weekend that would be as much fun. And then after days like today I'm back in love.

Dave starts up "Noora", a soft-touch 6- (E1, but more like HVS) and future classic

Early morning drives along empty roads. Sun coming up on dewy fields. BBC news on the radio. Country petrol stations, coffee and donuts, laughing with mates. Chatting about respective families and the McCain-Palin ticket, biochemistry and Joy Division, furry ropes and belay jackets. Nothing and everything.

High up on "Noora" but still plenty to go

Autumn. Yellow leaves swirl down, the woods are golden. They sky a perfect blue after a week of monotonous gray. The rock is cool to the touch. Woodpeckers peck, and crows craw in the background.

Timo on "Pilli", F6b

Nuts slot deep into crack first time. Big moves, making you get your feet above the gear time after time. Be a man, go for it, make some shapes. And then another good foothold, another breath in balance, another nut slots perfectly in and all is safe again. Repeat until you reach nirvana, or at least the top.

Me belaying, Nora seconding on "Maria" 5 (HVS 5a), Noora's little sister

You win some, you loose others. Reach out as far as I can and feel for the crack. Can't see it but it takes my finger tips. Figure on that being about nut #3, place it blindly, and amazingly it stays in as I tug. Was thinking about going back to the slab for a rest but feel committed now. Clip the mystery nut - a hopefully non-lethal Russian roulette spin. Feet on little footholds - and I've cleared the roof. Eyeball the nut it looks, hmmm, OK-ish... Stretch and stretch, stab fingers into the crack but it's shit and flaring. Help! Take! Slump. Fail.

But the nut doesn't and that's the main thing. And the sun is still shining and the trees are still gold.

Simon climbs, Dave belays on "Reach Out" 6- (E1 5b). I had fallen off at exactly that spot

At least I tried and tried hard. That's enough. The next route is hard for me, but my head is in the game now and I send it - managing to keep my shit together above a zero cam on slightly grubby 5b moves. Good stuff. I lower off and sit smelling the leaf mulch and moss whilst enjoying a cup of tea from the flask.

Dave on "Summer Days" 6- (E1 5b)

The sun's getting lower, time for the last route. Dave starts in the gathering gloom of the forest but is soon high where the granite is turning red in evening rays. Finish the route, pack up and hike back past the woodpecker still pecking to the cars.

High on "Summer Days"

Back on the road, the sun has set. The autumn mists float thin over just the fields as entrancing as ever. Dusk turns to dark, and we head home.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Live foreign minister gossip!

The interesting men of Nordic Foreign Policy (snapped on my phone)

I'm listening to Carl Bildt of Sweden (left) and Alexander Stubb (right) of Finland give a talk on the future of European security. It's fun as they are both bright fellas with outspoken views. Stubb just said the new European Security Strategy is almost certainly going to be "wishy washy crap" - and that's a direct quote! - if some serious political will isn't put into it.

I like ("just call me") Alex - I might not agree with him on everything, but the man has style. Finnish foreign policy are still waters, and whilst those still waters do without doubt run deep, they are very still. Stubb arriving on the scene wasn't a brick being thrown into those still waters, it was a hand grenade.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Iftar with the Ambassador

I got invited to my first Iftar dinner last night. Iftar is the meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan. Amusingly this very nice occasion took place at the hotbed of Muslim cultural activity that is the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki! The embassy's chef out did himself with a selection of dishes from across the Muslim world.

The U.S. State Department has a rather clever public diplomacy programme of bringing four U.S. Muslims to other countries to meet civil society groups, local Muslims, students and who ever else they can rustle up (such as people like me) - so the meal was partly in their honour and partly a way of bringing Finnish Muslims and others who have tangential relations with the Finnish Muslim communities together with the U.S. diplomats.

I was told the delegations from the U.S. always include an Imam, a businessman or woman, a student and someone working for an NGO, and of the delegation visiting Finland, two were native born Americans from South Asian families, whilst the other two were newish citizens having arrived as refugees or asylum seekers. As the visitors said, the profiles of the people selected for these trips reflect the diversity of American Muslims, so one chap seemed quite secular and was busy tucking into food with the non-Muslims whilst most of the other Muslims present gathered for brief Iftar prayers, and one of the young women wore a hijab whilst the other didn't. I also learnt a new term from one of the speakers who talked about people "going fundo" (as in fundamentalist), a term that I rather like. So all in all a fun and interesting evening, and the guests from the U.S. were a credit to their nation, showing yet again that 'normal people' (whatever that means!) are often the best ambassadors for their country.

Monday, September 15, 2008

"The Humans are D-D-D-D-Dead"

Hurrah for YLE! Finally they've spent my license fee on something I really wanted to watch - I've just seen the first episode of Flight of the Conchords. For no other reason than that it made me laugh:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Jaanankallio: Blackadder Wall

Helsinki region climbers, are you tired of the same old holds? Want something new? Still haven't been able to manage any of the 7a-s and harder? Then - just for you, the all new "Blackadder Wall" at Jaanankallio! Five new routes: four reasonably graded sports climbs from F5- to F6b+, and a trad climb of Finnish 4+. It's fun for all the family!

Jody has done yeoman's work cleaning the muck off and bolting, with a lot of assistance from Simon and a bit from me. Not only did Jody scrub and drill, he's also made this rather nifty topo below. So print yourself a copy and then go and enjoy. And if anyone doesn't know where Jaanankallio is, all the info you need is here.

Click on the topo and you'll get a largish jpeg. Hopefully that will be readable once printed. If anyone has an idea where I could up load the Jody's original PDF, and then have the link to it here, please let me know.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Random International Relations Fact of the Day

Did you know that besides Russia, Nicaragua is the only state in the world to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Weird eh? They must really hate 'dem 'der Yankees. The name of Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, takes me back to my childhood - it somehow reminds of me packed lunches at school (ask Thatcher why we didn't get a hot meal) and Arthur Scargill.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Weekend climbing: new route bonanza

Last weekend when Jody and I were at Jaanankallio, I stumbled off through the dense wood at the end of the crag to, umm... do what bears do in the woods. Whilst on this humble mission I noticed another buttress of rock past the main area that actually looked quite good. We fought our way up through the brush for a closer look and indeed it looked very promising. Jod went back mid-week to clean and drill some bolts, and then a squad of us - four climbers and one baby - headed up on Saturday, ready to add some more routes.

Toby on the first ascent of "Baldrick" 4+ (HS 4c)

I cleaned and then climbed the one obvious trad line on the buttress. This went a pretty reasonable grade if you get your technique right and is a nice addition to the cliff that already has a few more moderate trad climbs for newbies to go at.

Jod sends the first ascent of "Lord Flashheart" F5

Jody climbed the first of his new sports routes next, with Simon and I doing the second and third ascents straight after. This is a really nice route, not actually that hard but with pretension to being so, and hence makes you feel pretty cool as you climb it.

Jody hits the jug on the finishing rockover

The holds are good but require big moves between them, but then after the juggy yarding the top out require getting your foot high and rocking onto it with nothing much for your hands until you grab the top jug. Flash by name, flash by nature - indeed!

Coffee time

The epoxy was still curing on the other lines so a coffee break was in order and a nappy change for baby L who seemed to be enjoying the spectacle of Mum and Dad climbing from the comfort of her carry-cot.

The crux of "Wee Jock Poo-Pong McPlop" 6a+(?)

Jody then did his second first ascent of the day with the delightfully name We Jock... I attempted the second attempt but fell off the crux a few times, before finally making the moves to dog an ascent.

Through the crux, but a slightly balancy move still to go...

It felt really hard and tenuous and I was going for the "reach dependent crux" ploy to excuse my failure, until Simon stepped in and cruised a clean second ascent. As Simon is a good inch or two shorter than me, the reachy excuse was not so believable anymore, so I'll just have to put the effort in and redpoint it next time.


So all-in-all a good day. Regular readers will remember last week's encounters with two "melanistic individuals" of the Vipera Berus genus, and hence might see a connected theme in the names of the new routes!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

It shouldn't actually be funny...

...but it is. So very very funny.

Some people either a) have no shame, b) no memory or c) as Jon Stewart suggests, "are lying sacks of shit".

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hesari Int. - still can't work the spell checker...

I've moaned twice before, but clearly no one is listening. Anyway, today was a real corker for typos and other stupid mistakes in Helsingin Sanomat International. One article has a duplicate word in its title of all places!
"Come study with us and you can use use a laptop for free!"
Then the article on the Finnish responses to the Georgian crisis manages two typos in one article:
"The first time such a meeting was called over the Georgian conflict was some two weks ago, on the initiative of President Tarja Halonen..."
"Even though he does not believe the NATO option is a topical one, he does not think there is any reasno to compromise on the subject."
And then in the piece on the Finnish OSCE observers they call them "
military observers of the Conference of Security and Cooperation in Europe", it has been the Organisation of... not the Conference of... for a good couple of decades now - hence OSCE, not CSCE. I'm sure there was another typos as well somewhere that I can't find now, but basically that's what I noticed in five minutes of reading through.

Firefox spellchecks everything I write here automatically, I presume a national newspaper might be able to find something similar?!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Spooky technology and gear porn

My iPod likes Francophone hip-hop. I'm sure Apple will claim there is some clever algorithm that means the shuffle function is completely random, but I don't believe it. I've only got one MC Solaar album on it, but Solaar comes up more often on the shuffle than any other, I swear. The fact that my iPod is developing artificial intelligence should worry me, but actually we're cool. If it didn't have such good taste in music though, I might be concerned.

And then the gear porn. Patagonia, maker of clothing that I like too much, has a new very cool multimedia section of its site - "the Tin Shed". Amazing films of Sonnie Trotter flying off Rhapsody; House, Anderson and Prezelj making cutting edge alpinism look like a fun day out; but showing the utter sad gear freak that I am, Steve House talking us through his ice axe collection was just, as Steve would say, "super cool". I'm totally in sympathy with his suggestion that you never get rid of an old axe, although my family both in Finland and England might not agree.

The Tin Shed works via Flash so I can't do links to the exact films. You need to just go in and explore.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Close encounters of the poisonous kind

Heading to Jaanankallio

Something a bit Constable-esque about the clouds and haystacks don't you think? Yesterday was the first day since I think April that I've worn a woolly hat for climbing. Autumn is on it's way, indeed this morning, suitably for the first day of September, the thermometre said 0.0 degrees at 7 am!

Snake in the grass

Whilst walking over toward the cliff, I suddenly noticed a something slithering in the grass, at first it was so black it looked like the world's biggest slug, but was moving quite a lot faster than a slug would! Just another hundred yards on we met another, this one though was too out in the open so rather than making a "run" for it, turned on us and pulled its head back hissing loudly. Of course the most obvious thing to do in a situation where an angry/scared snake is getting ready to bite is... to try to get close enough to take a good picture, duh.

What you lookin' at?

Vipera berus looking unhappy at getting a Nikon shove in his face. Then again do snakes ever look happy? Black adders I have now found out are called "melanistic individuals". If you compare it to the picture I took of one with the more common pattern, a couple of summer's ago in Eastern Finland you can see the huge difference in colouring.

The crux of Haliba, 6b+

Sometimes going climbing is about a lot more than just the climbing. Last weekend we saw two moose run across the road just as we were getting towards the crag. This weekend the close encounter was more venomous, hence more exciting as we walked over the field to Jaanankallio, near Hyvinkää. Climbing-wise, I didn't do any routes that I haven't done a number of times before and the one 'project' that I tried, I failed pretty hopelessly on, getting psyched out by wet holds on not even the hardest section when trying to lead, and then not being able to do the crux when having another go on a top-rope. But it was a good weekend all the same, a climbing trip on both saturday and sunday, interesting wildlife observed, but family-man balance still kept. I'm just going to have to grow two inches to be able to do the crux of "Haliba".