Saturday, May 30, 2009

Road biking

It has been a superb day of sunshine and blue skies. I started the day a bit miserable that with a throat infection and dripping nose, I couldn't go climbing with friends, but despite being still bunged up I went out this evening for a bike ride. It just seemed to good a day to miss. I might moan about the length of my commute into the city, but the plus side is that I can be out in the countryside immediately. I haven't ridden my road bike yet this year, and it feels so strange to start with - wobbly and insecure on those skinny wheels. But after a few kilometres the old feeling comes back, and you can enjoy the speed and ease of acceleration that only road bikes have. Despite the crappy cold and drippy nose I still nipped round a 25 km circuit averaging just over 30 kmph.

I've seen more road bikers this summer than before I think. It seems to be becoming more popular than in the past. I think the rural areas just beyond Helsinki's outer ring road are one of the capital region's best kept secrets - and absolutely perfect to explore on a road bike. There is very little traffic because virtually all traffic leaving the city uses the four motor ways that spread out from the ring road. Still not too far from the civilization of the biggest city, even the minor roads are surfaced (unlike in much of rural Finland), hence skinny road tires cruise along noiselessly and speedily. The land is heavily farmed meaning the fields you ride amongst give you a feel of open space, yet of course being Finland the forests are always there at the edge of the farmer's realm. Currently the crops are sprouting, so most of the fields are a lurid green of first shoots, but later many will turn a vibrant yellow under the flower of oil-seed rape or the golden with corn. There are no huge hills, but neither is the land tediously flat, and small brown rivers often snake between the fields. The Finnish summer is also perfect for the evening cyclist, the sun was still bright when I left at 8 pm, although lower in the sky making the newly leafed birches golden and capturing the tree pollen blowing in the wind.

To the north of the city you are not far from the airport, and oddly as I cruised along one quiet road north towards Klaukkala, a Finnair Airbus A340 was climbing maybe a kilometre away to my right. At that distance it oddly felt that I was going at about the same speed as the huge plane. It was so quiet and gentle to watch, notthe feeling you get on board with all the engines at full throttle pushing all that mass into the air. Soon enough the plane climbed up and turned lazily in front of me, white in the blue sky, heading eastward for probably Beijing or Tokyo.

Funny things on the Radio

It shouldn't really be that funny but I heard Senator Orrin Hatch on the NPR breakfast news say "crap" on Friday. It's not that rude, but not what you normally here on NPR news. There was a split second after where you could just hear his brain processing: "oh crap, I just said crap on national radio. Do I apologise? Do I plough on and hope no one noticed?" He ploughed on manfully, but we did notice Senator. We just like you more now for speaking your mind. Is Senator Hatch often this plain spoken.

Even more delicious than that was the BBC FiveLive news reader who on earlier in the week announced to a shocked nation that North Yorkshire had tested a nuclear weapon. You can hear the announcement here. The confusing thing is for anyone who remembers the 80s, is that it was always the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Americans buying more bikes than cars!

That's it really. From the Huffington Post via the Outside blog:

Americans bought more new bicycles than they did cars in the first quarter of 2009, suggesting that the economic recession may altering fundamental facets of the American lifestyle. Bicycle sales were still down 30% from last year, but eked out car sales by about 100,000 for a total of 2.6 million.

For one prominent American who really needs a new bike, see here (scroll down).

Thanks to Opotopo via Twitter.

Dumb Helsinki cycle paths #3

If you can't find anywhere else to park, or are just too lazy to walk from a parking spot a bit further away, there is lots of space to leave your car or truck on the cycle path system of greater Helsinki! It's easy - just park in the middle of the cycle path and totally ignore any feelings of being an anti-social and selfish dickwad who puts other people's safety at risk! Presumably you're too thick to have much of conscience anyway?

If you have a big enough truck you can score the double whammy of making both cyclists AND pedestrians walk in the traffic! Score triple if the pedestrian is parent pushing a pram!

This truck is blocking both the cycle path and the view of people waiting at the tram stop making them walk into the street to see if the tram is coming. Well done - you are a jerk of the highest order! (We will get on to the brightness of putting trams stops on cycle paths at a later date...)

If you had parked a bit further over mate, you could have covered the cycle path markings, and this photo wouldn't have been nearly as good!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

European Cooperation - isn't it nice that we all get along?

It's a funny thing, but until yesterday I don't think I had heard of the Czech nationalist political party Národni Strana, and then they're suddenly popping up everywhere. In Finland today it is reported that the slightly odd, but quite successful, Finnish heavy metal cello band Apocalyptica (yes - cellos!) are going to take Národni Strana to court. The Czech nationalists had, without permission or payment, been using some Apocalyptica music in their adverts. Apocalyptica - despite the slightly dodgy heavy metal look - are obviously sound lads and put out the following statement:
This is an official statement by the band about the illegal use of our song 'Path' in a tv and internet commercial in the Czech Republic. Apocalyptica always supports minorities, stands up for human rights, respects every human being, no matter their colour, ethnic background or religion, worldwide. Apocalyptica also supports the idea of a united Europe and the European Union. We hope it is a clear statement that we would never allow the Czech Republican party Národni Strana to use any of our music.
Having your music nicked must be annoying, but the band is particularly narked that the music was used in a now infamous advert by the party where they call for the "Final Solution" to the Czech Republic's gypsy problem. The final solution turns out to be 'only' the deportation of all Czech gypsies to India. The leader of the party is Petra Edelmannova; here she is in the picture below with Nick Griffin leader of the BNP. She was going to come and enjoy some good ole' English hospitality at the BNP's Red, White and Blue festival last summer, but unfortunately it seems couldn't make it in the end. But there is lots of news and pic about her friends in the UK on the Národni Strana website.

She did though make it to Cologne recently, for the Pro-Köln get-together. Here she is with Filip Dewinter of Vlaams Belang and Markus Beisicht of Pro-Köln.

Petra and Filip seem to be good mates, as Dewinter has a different picture of them holding hands on his own website:

She's young, she's smart - what's not to love (beyond the expulsion of people who don't fit your sense of ethnic purity obviously)? To quote one commentator: "the young party leader is seen as one of the future hopes for a modern patriotic party with a European orientation." Presumably, she just didn't tell Vlaams Belang about her final solution for the 'blacks' because they wouldn't want anything to do with those type of nasty race-based politics. Oh, hang on a minute...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Getting sidetracked is not a crime

I was meant to be researching the about to be released European Commission position paper on future financial regulation structures for the EU. But I ended up watching this:

It is easily done.

Monday, May 25, 2009

If the BNP weren't a bunch of liars...

<--- this is what their election flyer would say.

I was tickled the other week to see that the BNP's flyer was rather easily shown to be deceptive and stuffed full of photos taken from photo agencies, rather than of British people who really are voting for the BNP. The one real Brit featured, a former soldier, in a photo on the flyer said he was outraged that they used his picture and that "they are scumbags and I'd never vote for them in a million years."

I'm not quite sure who came up with this wonderfully amended and rather more accurate version on the left - I saw it on Pickled Politics - but big up to whoever did the original art work; it is a work of art indeed. Click on the flyer to read it in full size.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

UKIP - dodgy buggers

Westminster is still wallowing in its own do-do, but don't vote for UKIP in the Euro elections as a better alternative!
"The leader of the UK Independence party (Ukip), which wants to lead Britain out of the EU, has taken £2m of taxpayers' money in expenses and allowances as a member of the European Parliament, on top of his £64,000 a year salary."
Thanks to Nosemonkey via Twitter.

Ascension Day climbing and piss poor pizza

An odd thing about Finland in comparison to the UK is that public holidays remain on what ever day the original religious holiday falls on, unlike the British practice of the moving the bank holiday to the nearest monday. This sounds fine, except for when the holiday falls on the weekend and you get no extra day off. This is, though, balanced by there being shed loads of national holidays, which probably means that the Finnish worker comes out ahead of most other European toilers. Anyway, what better named national holiday is there for climbers than Ascension Day (or helatorstai in Finnish)? We headed off to Haukkakallio, avoided most of the drizzle, and got a bunch of climbs done.

Me getting the jams in on Zero (MVS 4c/Fin 5-)

Simon on Tramontana (F5+) and amusingly odd route

Gear to go

Diana leads Its the End of the World as We Know it (VS 4c/Fin 5-)

Simon leads Konna (F6a)

As I have mentioned numerous times before, stopping for donuts and coffee is an integral part of the day climbing in Finland, and our normal stop on the way to Haukkakallio has completed it's transition from nondescript ESSO station to brand-new and shiny ABC. ABC service stations have spread across the country like a rampaging wildfire of convenience supermarkets, cafés and petrol pumps in the last few years, flattening all competition before them. At first I was non-plussed by their emergence: the donuts are reliably ok, the coffee just fine; but their increasing monopolistic intentions are clear and I am now rapidly joining those who see their dominance as a bad thing. I had a pizza there for the first time on Thursday night and, frankly, it was shit.

I've decided it is just pointless being defensive about Finnish food culture any more, because it simply is appalling. If Berlusconi has ever got anything right, it is that Finland has bad food. And before any Finnish nationalists or foodies spring up to attack me, of course you can get good food in Finland. You can buy OK stuff from big or specialist shops. The supermarkets are much better than when I first came here in the 1990s and there are good restaurants in central Helsinki if you can afford them. But leave the city and the choice is burgers, pizza or steak'n'chips - possibly kebab if you are passing through a town with requisite Kurdish refugee family. That is really it. So when the company that is approaching a monopoly position in roadside food provision makes pizzas with tomato kethup instead of tomato purée, and with those crappy pickled mild chilis on them (much loved in cheap Finnish restaurants as an "exotic" addition to the normal "salad" made of shredded vegetables) soaked in brine, you just start losing the will to live. If anyone reading this is thinking of visiting Finland for a touring holiday, I suggest preparing yourself for lots of picnicking to avoid death by over-burger meal consumption, or just the depression that will stem from stopping at yet another ABC.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The frequent flyer's lament

It is probably just an etiquette or perhaps aesthetic matter, but camera phones means that often we now find ourselves in places where a few years back we would have never thought of photography. So yes, the following was snapped from a toilet cubicle wall at a busy international airport. But the writer remains, oh so right.

Late night musical interlude

It's 1 am in the morning and I'm buying a Violent Femmes album off iTunes. Not sure why really, beyond it being a bloody brilliant album obviously.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rock Bottom

I liked YLE's "Rock Bottom" headline to their Eurovision report. YLE note about the song competition that:
Over the years the competition has drawn criticism for its voting patterns. Critics say voting reflects geopolitical affiliation, with votes often going to neighbours and historical allies. For this reason professional judges from individual countries cast votes in this year's competition in addition to the public.
But Finland still came in last place on saturday night. So it wasn't just politics this year. The country's song really was a stinker. I totally missed Eurovision this year. This may have been a good thing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Coming down to earth

(All photos should be click-able for bigger versions) A beautiful early summer's sunday for climbing. Unfortunately the stars (difficult to see of course, at this time of year) were not aligned quite properly.

Lets go climbing!

Tony on the crux of the layback corner at the right end of the cliff, 5 (HVS 5a)

Things started well enough, I soloed a few easy routes, Anni and Tony both led some lines - Tony powering up a steep little corner at the end of the cliff, a smooth onsight.

Saku graduates on "Graduaatio" 6 (E2 5c)

Perhaps I should have known things weren't going to go so well when I realised despite having more quickdraws than any climber really needs, I had failed to bring any of them with me. No problem, I think, I'll just borrow Tony's.

Anni on the left hand crack of the School sector 4 (V.Diff)

So I decide to try an huge HVS traverse I haven't done before called Katon Alla or "Under the roof". The main section of the line is maybe 15 metres of traversing under a roof - fingers stuffed in the crack at the back, feet hopefully finding smears on the slab below.

Unknown climber on Czech Mission 6+ (E2 6a?)

I was aware that even with lots of cams to stuff in the crack I was going to have to carefully managed the ropes to allow me to climb up the finishing groove-chimney thingy once I had passed under the roof. Hence I put much attention into extending the gear and letting the ropes run free.

Unknown climber on "Summer Daze" 5+ (HVS 5b)

Nevertheless there was still plenty of rope drag as I battled up the steep finishing moves, finding myself chimneyed across the top groove, looking down 20 metres below to the ground, trying to stuff some more gear in somewhere, cursing the rope drag and realising I was facing 180 degrees in the wrong direction to where I needed to top out.

Anni come out from under the roof on "Katon Alla" 5+ (HVS 5a)

After breathing more dust and dirt and lichen than is ever a good idea battling with grubby holds, I eventually managed to extricate myself and arrive panting at the belay. Of course immediately on trying to take in the the ropes they jammed in the crack exactly where I knew they probably would (just next to where Anni's left hand is in the photo above), but hadn't had the wit to work out a solution to stopping this happening beyond just hoping for the best.

Your correspondent still not liking his blue shoes much on "Flying Wombats" 5- (Aus 15).

After much cursing, mixed with sneezing fits - hayfever brought on by attempting to breath lichen and granite dust - I realised this wasn't going to work. So Tony gamely offered to lead the route on the spare rope, rather than second, clipping my gear until he got to the point where he could un-jam my ropes. So with Anni belaying he set off. But before even reaching the first runner, fate intervened, and somehow he slipped and went crashing down to earth from about 5 or 6 metres up. He came to a rest after rolling down the slope a bit, sat up, grimaced but uttered the manly words of "I'm OK, nothing broken... I think."

So at this point I'm still stuck at the top of the cliff, sneezing madly, ropes jammed below me. Whilst Tony is grimacing and gritting is teeth, lying on the floor 30 odd metres down and across from me with his ankle starting to swell. The US military term of "clusterfuck" was, without a doubt, the best description of the situation. The day was not going smoothly.

High Def Anni.

The charlie foxtrot situation was eventually resolved by me fixing and abbing down my ropes some way, to a point where I could shuffle across and un-jam the ropes myself. I then built a belay at this point, and Anni seconded on the now free ropes, removing all the runners under the roof, before getting to my belay and lowering off from there. I then stripped the belay and abbed on down to the ground. Now all reunited on terra firma, calling a lunch break seemed the best option. Tony could walk with some difficulty so we hobbled back to our bags. He sat out the rest afternoon taking some pics. Anni and I did a few more routes but my heart at least wasn't in it. Driving home Tony decided he better go to hospital to have the ankle checked out properly. Bummer. Get well soon dude.

But the weather was great, the sun burnt my neck, cuckoos and blackbirds were singing, and lizards skittered through the dry leaves on the forest floor whilst fat, ugly spiders wandered up the granite putting our attempts to shame. And you've got be thankful for that.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Finnish summer midnight

I was going to go to bed but could see the sunset still in the north just before midnight. It was so clear I thought I had to go out on my bike and try and take some photos. A nightingale was singing down by the river. It feels so recent that it was dark by five in evening, now it is light until late at night. Time slips by quickly, but perhaps not to the nightingale.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Racism in Finland

I'm trying to decide whether it's a good thing that a racist attack in Finland against an 8 year old girl makes the national headlines (i.e. such events are so rarely heard about so as to be shocking), or whether it is a bad thing (that there is any adult out there who possibly thinks it is OK to push a child off a train for any reason, let alone for them being black). But to the point made by the expert interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat that "many Finns do not know how they should react to racism that targets children", one feels tempted to suggest that, after helping the kid, kicking the racist fucker in the nads seems like one way to go. Of course violence never helps anyone blah, blah, blah (well - except for armies, boxers, hollywood movie makers and ice hockey players amongst others), but I'm sure people can come up with some verbal abuse that just stays the right side of law.

Meanwhile, in the Finnish parliament, an MP from the party that is just tired of being called racist has instead decided to compare committed gay couples who want to adopt, to people who want to shag dogs. Nice, and very helpful in improving your party's image Mr.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dumb Helsinki cycle paths #2

This interesting signage is on the east side of Pasila train station, Helsinki's second major train station, and the northern city centre transport hub. The signs show quite clearly that the cycle path system isn't a system as such, but rather a collection of good intentions never clearly thought out from the users' perspectives.

In many places cyclists and pedestrians share the same pavement but a large, solid white line (often half faded away) theoretically seperates them - this is what the sign on the left in the photo means. Cyclists should follow the rules of the 'road' (i.e. riding on the right) on their half of the pavement. Of course kids, dogs, drunks, idiots and simply the absent minded forget about the line and wander from the pedestrian side into the cycle lane. In other places the line is so worn out, people who don't know that street can genuinely say they didn't realise, an old lady was walking along the cycle path just before I took this photo - where the line was no longer visible.

Yet in many other places, pedestrians and cyclists moving in the same direction are meant to share the lane on their right. Here a broken line marks the middle and this is what the sign on right in the photo means. After well over 10,000 kms ridden on Helsinki bike paths, I still have no idea why these two completely contrary systems exist, and whether there is any logic to what system goes where. I'm pretty certain there is no logic at all and it was left to the whims of which ever urban planner was dealing with that stretch of road. This is of course utterly confusing to bikers and walkers and leads constantly to dangerous situations.

Night has gone

Images from an almost midnight bike ride through Helsinki.

The night has almost gone for the next few months. Even as I got home, just ten minutes before midnight, there was still an orange scum in the northern sky. It is still quite cool, about 6 degrees tonight, but the sky was cloudless and you can feel the northern summer is right around the corner.

It's really mellow cycling at this time; no one else around, virtually no cars on the roads. The birch aren't releasing pollen as well, so no hay fever sneezing either. But nature is so busy at this time of year, the birds still sing in the twilight.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Who Brits should probably not vote for on June 4th

Euro elections are a comin'! It really isn't a very opportune time in the UK where politicians' stock has fallen further than at any point before due to the great expenses scandal of 2009. Minor parties were probably always going to do well in the Euros, as people all seem to vote on the basis the national situation, not the European one, but in the UK currently this effect is likely to be amplified. Protests votes are all well and good - but think about what you are voting for as well as what you are voting against. UKIP MEPs, on top of being nutters, seem to have tendency of actually managing to be more corrupt than all the MPs back in Westminster. Meanwhile the BNP might be trying to redefine themselves as the saviours of the working class, but remain the nasty racists they have always been.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dumb Helsinki cycle paths #1

Hopefully the first in an irregular series.

The photo is of the cycle path down the west side of Elielinaukio - for non-Helsinkians it the square right between to the central railway station and the central post office in the very centre of Helsinki. It is also one of the major bus termini for the downtown area. As you can see in the photo, the buses pull up at this point and all the passenger disgorge. It is virtually impossible to get off with lots of other people and not end up on the cycle path. I wonder how many pedestrian-bike crashes there are each year that never end up in hospital or police reports? A colleague at work told me today he hit a woman on his bike last week after she stepped out blind onto the cycle path from behind a kiosk, giving him basically no time to do anything. I noted this a few weeks back, but it is a good quote to repeat - the problem, as summed up perfectly by a visiting American cycle expert, is:
"in the US, cyclists are accomodated on the road and are treated as slow cars, whereas in Europe (and certainly in Helsinki) cyclists are accomodated on the sidewalks with cycle tracks and are treated as fast pedestrians."
Helsinki, and Finland in general, should not rest on its laurels when it comes to cycle path provision. Things aren't bad, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

Camping Coffee

Is it possible to take coffee to seriously? The New York Times might just be doing so. Whilst looking for something else different, I found this slideshow comparing camping coffee makers in its Style section. I kinda expected the NYT Style section to be more Vogue than Trail magazine, but considering the consumer comodification of outdoor sports - it is perhaps unsurprising.

Generally I just think being in the wilds somewhere beautiful with some good mates, is always going to make coffee taste ok, but if you want a personal recommendation, then the Jetboil coffee press works well. Getting all the grounds out after though is a pain.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Rock Vandal" - Rollarit, a Helsinki classic

Toni storms up "Rock Vandal" Finnish 5, Rollarit, Helsinki

Rock Vandal (HVS 5a/5.9) is the best route at the slightly crappy, but still much loved, Rollarit - a small cliff just next to Helsinki's outer ring road. It's always been noisy there, and now since the road has been improved to the new harbour, it is yet noisier. Never mind - it's still the closest roped climbing to town, and you can even walk there from the last metro stop in about 15 minutes if you have a sense of direction; just watch out for the old concrete reinforced trenches in the woods, readied in the 1940s for a last ditch defence of the capital from a Russian attack that never came. Rollarit isn't granite like everywhere else, it is softer on the fingers and there different types of holds. I'm not sure what it is, some sort of dolerite perhaps, but it is a change from the normal Helsinki granite crystal crimping or skin-ripping cracks. You can't go wrong on Rock Vandal - the most obvious corner, slashing its way up the highest part of the crag. A bunch of nuts, a few small to medium cams, and the strength to hang on and place them, and you won't get too scared either. Rack up and head for the sky.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


I'm not completely certain why, but I have joined Twitter. If you want to get a sense of just how dull and un-Stephen Fry-ish my life is, you can follow me at TobyinHelsinki. So far, I have three followers. I'm very, very proud.

Back on the rock

After failing to do any climbing at all in April due to travel and inclement weather, I've done a bit last weekend and yesterday. The weather has been pretty nice, making me feel obliged to get out, even if my rock climbing is pretty hopeless after a winter of just ice climbing, and no indoor training at all.

Mia works "High Voltage" fb6b+, Vessölandet

Diana on "Snake", fb4+, Vessölandet

Toni cruises up "Lord Flashheart" F5+, Blackadder Wall (click link for topo), Jaanankallio

Hopefully you should be able to watch the above video in glorius "Hi-Def" courtesy of my new camera. I apologies for actual clip being rubbish, but I was trying to belay Toni at the same time.

Tony projecting Vompatti, F6c, Jaanankallio.

Tony very nearly got this one on his first redpoint attempt (and only third go overall), but annoyingly his foot slipped off the crux. I nearly got it in a oner on a top rope, but will need to work out the crux better before I even think of trying to lead it.

Your correspondent on "Rev it up", VS 4c, Jaanankallio.

In fact the weather has been so nice it is causing me problems. I recently got some Marmot and Montane clothing to review from UKclimbing, and they managed to send me stuff just as the last shreds of winter melted away. It is hard to review a waterproof jacket when it refuses to rain on you! But, I'm sure the Finnish summer can be relied on to resume more normal service soon, and the jacket will get plenty of use. In the pic above I'm wearing the Montane Terra pants (they are trousers of course - I shall not air my pants, literally or metaphorically, in public - but it seems everyone uses the Americanism in the outdoor trade these days), which seem pretty good so far, although could do with another pocket or two on them.

Sunshine at 9 pm. Walking back from Jaanankallio.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Gay marriage and big boobs

I don't normally read the Huffington Post, its layout somehow annoys me - but I followed a link there for some other reason yesterday and ended up reading Brian Normoyle's piece on Miss California (her of the not-being-a-fan-of-gay-marriage fame) and her breast implants. I was actually in California when this whole scandal erupted and was watching too much TV news, so lets say it was this that grabbed my attention, not the thought of Miss California's breasts more generally.

His point is superficially rather silly, but there is a deeper point. Years ago when I had more time, I wrote something vaguely similar here about cosmetic surgery in western societies and the issue of the veil for Muslim women. I've been thinking a lot about America after visiting the other week; I'm still getting over how foreign it is in many ways, despite being so familiar. But there is something rather American about a beauty queen who was paid by a commercial organisation to have her breast pumped full of silicon, basically for the titillation of men, holding forth on the morality of the private sexual lives of others. Regardless of the rights or wrongs, it is just plain weird.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Almost summer

I swam in a lake today. It was bloody cold. But the beer was good after. The beer was some sort of german weissbier, the name of which I can't remember. I thought it was rather good despite being assured by my friend that actually it's a bit of a girls beer. Perhaps women just have good taste.