Monday, August 30, 2010

Helsinki-Pasila station - all change please

One of my kids is fascinated by level-crossings, in the wonderful way that only a four year old could be. Indeed, he loves the idea of any two forms of transport somehow crossing or merging; so driving onto a ferry is the height of excitement and amphibious tanks are the coolest imaginable vehicles. Mobile cranes trump static cranes, but best of all are cranes mounted on railway carriages. The idea of a ferry that actually has train tracks on it and hence can take a train across water is about as fun a maritime concept as you could imagine; and if you are going to have a plane on a runway, surely it would be a great idea for the plane to always race a sports car down that runway.

I totally understand this interest, and have always enjoyed the bit of my commute that takes me past the railway sidings in Pasila where, even on a bike, I cross two level-crossings and go past all sorts of interesting, and often somewhat forlorn and abandoned looking bits of railway infrastructure. So it is with certain sadness I note they are starting to rip up the old sidings in preparation for a redevelopment around Pasila station. This is to include all sorts of sparkly new buildings I'm sure, but probably won't do anything to bring out my inner-four-year-old like dozens of sidings and bits of old trains do.

On a siding to nowhere. Old track removal at Pasilä station

More sleepers than a houseful of Russians in a posh American suburb

I realise I've lived in Helsinki for a quite a long time when I think about how much has changed over the years I have been cruising around this town on various bikes, to various houses down the years. I probably shouldn't get nostalgic for some old, never used shunting yards, but as it has been an interesting part of my commute now for four years, I am a little.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Oi mate. Someone nicked your wheel!

This amused me no end when I saw it. I share it with you all for no other reason.

To his credit, one-wheel-guy was really going for it and had over-taken a couple of surprised looking ladies on more normal bikes going up the hill.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Work, and other excuses

Globalization - in its cheap and orange form - arriving in Manchester

More apologies for the lack of blogging in recent weeks to anyone who clicks over here from time to time to see if I have anything interesting to say or interesting pictures to show. I do have a pretty good excuse though, as last week I successfully defended my PhD thesis in an, as ever rainy, Manchester. I have some changes to make as suggested by the examiners, but this is normal in the UK system, and in a couple of weeks time it should all be over. I guess then I’ll have to take the “perennial PhD student” bit out my profile on the right, but I won’t until I have the degree in my hand in order not to jinx it!

Ahhh.... merry old England! At the baggage carousel

Anyway, whilst I don’t have anything exciting to write myself I would really recommend reading the piece on Petesy’s outdoor equipment blog about his visit to the factory of PHD in Stalybridge. For those who don’t know, PHD, or Pete Hutchinson Designs, makes very high quality clothing and sleeping bags for mountaineers and other visitors to very cold places. The piece isn’t really about the gear though, it is about work and craftsmanship. I used to live just up the road from Stalybridge – the water that rushed down that valley started the industrial revolution and mills built there supplied fabrics to the world. Those times are gone – and to grasp why is to understand much about globalization – but the great mill buildings remain and it is good to see them being used still by skilled crafts people (most of the sewing teams seem to be women) making things, even if it is on a rather different scale. There is something good, maybe even noble, about the whole thing.

More cheery British humour

Perhaps Petesy's piece just resonates for me right now. I was back amongst those great brick buildings of Lancashire's industrial past last week to see the closing of the circle of one part of my life. My PhD has been a slog - jammed in around getting a job, having kids, buying a house - but getting a product out the far end, even if it is a rather specialist one of little interest to most, still feels good.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Whilst I was away; scraps of climbing from Sweden and England

So apologies for the total lack of blogging in recent weeks - I've been on holiday and never really sat down and summoned the enthusiasm to write anything. I drove with my family from Finland to England where we stayed for three weeks before turning around and starting the long drive back again. I have been taking lots of pictures whilst away though, and some of those are likely to turn up on here at some point over the next few weeks or months. I'll do a climbing post first, a family holiday isn't about climbing, but I normally manage to squeeze a few visits to various cliffs in and doing a route or two at a crag I have never visited before makes me happy in an amusingly childish way.
Häggsta, spiritual home of Swedish climbing

Just after getting off the ferry from Helsinki in Stockholm, we went to Häggsta, on the outskirts of the Swedish capital. It's where Swedes first started climbing in the 1930s and is clearly loved by local climbers for such reasons perhaps more than the actual climbing deserves; but long may it remains so. The spot is ideal, with a warm lake for swimming and lovely meadow for picnicking in all just below the crag. Parking at the crematorium and walking down to the cliff through the huge grave yard is a wee bit odd though.

The approach to Portland's Cuttings - a high speed ferry from the Channel Island powers into Weymouth in the distance.

Once in the UK, we took a holiday-within-the-holiday and went to the south coast of England near Poole. The Swanage cliffs don't appear to be very family friendly, so we went over to Portland and spent an afternoon at the cuttings. Again, not the most beautiful climbing in the world, but the view is fantastic and the well bolted sports routes fun. I also thought a 5+ (although it is in the newest guide as 6a - yippee!) that I did was the most polished route I have ever climbed, but that was before I had visited 'the Yat' (see below).

A bolted crackline - very Portland...

Me on "Jam" 4+, yes another bolted crackline.

The Sidle (Sev), Ivy Scar Crag, Malvern

We had one aborted attempt later at visiting some of the big Shropshire crags that I have always wanted to climb at. The car developed a problem on the way over that required a visit to the garage to have it fixed and ended that plan. Back at my parents I was moping around like a miserable child whining at the cosmic injustice of it all. My dad, being a star, lent me his car for the afternoon and my sad-puppy-dog-face persuaded some of the family to agree to a short trip accompanying me to a nearby crag. We went to Ivy Scar on the Malvern hills. It was perhaps even worse than I remembered it being from a visit the best part of twenty years ago, but - being an addict - a climb's a climb and shouldn't be sniffed at even when the rock is slippy, dirty and snappy. The view out across "Elgar Country" from the top of cliff is great though - reminding me what a nice part of the world I come from even if the climbing is, frankly, shit.

This is what you get when you ask a six year old to be the expedition photographer. Tsk, kids these days eh? Don't they teach them photographic composition in Kindergarten any more?

My roots as seen from the routes

The Black Wall of Llanmynech, the original route on which is now high on my tick list

The car got fixed - an unexpected holiday expense - and the Shropshire trip rescheduled. With no kids in tow, myself and my wife were looking forward to getting some good routes done. We went to the very impressive abandoned quarry of Llanmynech first. As we walked up to the cliffs from the car, it started raining. After the failure to even get there on the first attempt, I was ready to cry if we got rained off on the second attempt. Fortunately the rain stopped and a fresh wind was drying the rock. We quickly set off climbing some easy routes in the Cul-de-Sac quarry before it started again. But fortunately it just got warmer and sunnier so after an hour or so we moved over to the Bay Wall to do some of the nice long sports lines there. The rock isn't perfect - belayers should wear helmets - but the routes are long and the climbing pleasant. I also thought the grades were rather soft - shooting up a 6a with ease. Normally 6a-s on Finnish granite will spit me off 50% of the time.

Gary Gibson has quite some work effort. E seconding the perhaps unfairly named "Dirty Climb" (F5+) which wasn't actually more dirty than anything else.

Stroke my ego baby. Me finding something easy for once; one of the long routes on Bay Wall.

"Don't panic now, don't panic now..." just metres away from glory.

After having the ego stroked at Llanmynech, it was time to man up and head to Nesscliffe. Nesscliffe has a rep as a crag that sorts out the men from the boys, in part because the grades start at E2ish and go up to from there to numerous E8s and 9s. And it's not gritstone, if-you-fall-from-the-top-and-get-lucky-you-might-just-break-legs height. The routes in the main quarries are monsters - a full 50 mtrs high and completely terrifying just to look at. It's a crag I've driven past many times and never stopped at, for exactly these reasons. I was there to try Red Square, really the only route I have any chance of doing on the whole cliff but fortunately also a three star classic. I've wanted to do it since getting the first edition of the West Midland's Rock Climbing guide back in about 1990. It has since gone from being an E1 5b to E2 5b. I suspect it's not really E2 as I managed to onsight it, but I'm happy to take the E2 onsight tick. And thanks to E for belaying and encouragement whilst I futzed around on the route trying to keep my shit together.

For those not wanting beta, look away now... The Red Square rack - it eats hexes like a three star classic of its era should.

If you find some friction please tell me... Victor Crack (Sev) at Symonds Yat.

Finally I got a brief visit to Symonds Yat as part of a family day out, although being accompanied by four kids of 6 and younger kept the level of ambition in check. We just went to the introductory rocks and did a few routes. I think this is perhaps the most polished rock I have ever seen; most of it looked like marble and had the friction of wet ice. It was nice to visit, but I hope the routes further along the cliff aren't all quite that shiny.