30 June 2011

Back underground

I hate inactivity! But when the punishment on activity is prolonged inactivity I can manage to bring myself to adhere to it. My physician had sufficiently scared me to make me stop running and caving for a while. And, admittedly, it paid off.

She said that if it wouldn't heal in 4 weeks I would have to go to hospital, which I really hoped wouldn’t be necessary. I interpreted that period quite liberally, and after that time the ankle was still a bit sore, but not at very worrying levels anymore. I decided to try using it again underground; there was a modest trip to Reed’s Cavern scheduled which seemed a good opportunity. The first big test was putting on the boots; as long as I didn’t touch the ankle it wouldn’t hurt, but my boots touch them, and the last time I wore them it was quite terrible. But no problems this time!

I had only been to Reed’s once, and evidently, there was so much I hadn’t seen the first time! We had a splendid scramble with five local cavers and two Axbridge guests. I wasn’t only trying my ankle, but also my new camera, and both worked very satisfactorily. We had a good time!

The "little man" again; read all about him here!

It's warm in there: but don't zip down your boiler suit before you've made your way through the stinging nettles...

After the trip we retreated for a swift half in the Abbey, where yet again I was complimented by the staff with my above-expectation hygiene, and then it was time to go home again. The first part of the road back to desired activity levels is taken successfully! The next step: a run!

Mr. Blue & Ms. Scruff on a roll

I thought this would be another Sunday in the “normal day” series. But when Neil emerged from his car looking like an Avatar I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

I hadn’t gone to see a classical concert for a while, and when I came across a flyer of the Plymouth Philharmonic Choir performing in one of the rare beautiful buildings in Plymouth I figured this was my chance.

The plan was that we’d meet at Neil’s, then go for dinner, looking all smart, and then proceed to the Guildhall for the concert. All very respectable and normal! But Neil had just come from a children’s birthday party, where the kids had evidently displayed unexpected initiatives. (Why didn't I take a picture?) That was funny enough, but it got better when Neil changed into a suit after having managed to get most of the blue paint off, but having failed to get the glitter off his face.

We both look decidedly dangerous in this picture, but in two quite different ways... and unfortunately the glitter doesn't show! 

The choir would perform Rossini and Jenkins; I had Youtubed the Rossini piece and liked it, but the Jenkins piece had been especially composed for the occasion and would remain a guess. And on the flyer they were listed in that order! But that’s not how it happened.

We entered the guildhall, where the average age dropped immediately by some 5 years. And it started with the modern piece. Not bad, but I prefer old! And so does Neil. After about a minute he started to look impatient. After the interval the style improved (welcome, Rossini!), but his patience was evidently running out, and somewhere in the middle of things he suddenly whispered “let’s go!” And there went the smart lady with the scruffy hair and the glittery pinstripe bloke, leaving the choir to the elderly. A good night, but still somewhat odd!

27 June 2011

Cooling the house

Some people give house warming parties. Some prefer celebrating their departure over their arrival, and give house cooling parties. Not many have an entire camera crew to hose the premise down for the event... but our professor in planning does!

Only about a year ago we welcomed a new colleague, and he took residence in what may easily be the most scenic part of town: Royal William Yard, the old navy victualling yard. In spite of the evident beauty of the place he’ll be moving out, but not before he offered all of us an opportunity to admire all of it. And by sheer coincidence he picked a night in which there would be more admiration flooding the place: the BBC, or Channel 4, or what have you, had chosen the Yard as the setting for an episode of a renowned series of comedy: “the comic strip presents...“ I’d never heard of it, but I’m a foreigner.

When I biked through the gate I had to manoeuvre past old timer cars, actors dressed as bobbies, chaps unloading letter boxes, street lights and garbage bins from vans. Luckily I found Chris’ apartment in all this confusion, and soon we were trying to pop champagne corks into the sound.

Royal William Yard as itself

The evening was most scenic, the apartment breathtaking, and filled up with the best geography has to offer it was even better. One of the guests was Jon, who is famous for demurely hiding his opinions, so when it happened a scene was recorded in which Stephen Mangan, playing Tony Blair, was chased by the bobby, Jon politely shouted at him his costume was shit. The criticised actor unbaffledly responded that indeed Rik Mayall wouldn’t have put up with it...

The view from the appartment

While we were sipping enjoyable beverages we kept an eye both on the sunset and on the goings-about outside. The most classy Yard was supposed to pass for a grimy part of London, and to emphasise the desolation of that place they decided to add a damp touch and hose the place down. That’s house cooling for you! And having seen what great house coolings Chris gives we can’t wait for the warming of his new place...

 Royal William Yard as damp London

The impressive gate, festooned with filmcrew light beam

25 June 2011

To be English or not to be English

Sometimes you have to do things that don’t appeal to you, to find out if they really are as disappointing as you think. In the worst case you find out you really had a reason for not being attracted. In the best case you find out it’s better than you could ever guess!

When Laura, back in the days, invited me to a football match I accepted the invitation. And had fun! I also decided there were so many people I love and admire who love Johnny Cash I had to give it a try. I listened to every song on his MySpace page. And didn’t enjoy a second of it. Watching rugby with the Isle of Wight fieldwork crew was about as tedious. Going surfing with Federico, on the other hand, was so good I now want more.

Given that I’ve now lived in England for almost two years there’s a big omission in my life in this category. You haven’t really seen England until you’ve seen cricket! So one profoundly British day I accepted an invitation by Jon to come and watch a game of cricket. And that day had come.

Not only the day came. With it came extensive, water-laden clouds. And cricket’s main enemy, beside progress, is rain. So the game was called off, and I’ll get my chance some other day. But now the day was open for other activities...

Neil needed a break from work, and cunningly decided he could use this slot of time for his own purposes. He invited me to a walk + BBQ on Dartmoor, and when I accepted he added we would visit the site of a WWII plane crash.

With my ankle still not quite right I decided to go on my every day shoes. Low and very permeable. On most days and in most company that would do! But not with Neil on a day when he decides on having a BBQ. With the barbecue in his hand he dragged me over swampy hilltops, though soggy fern forests, over mossy boulder fields, over rivers and through bogs... soon after we left the car it started raining, and the rain got steadily heavier.

 Mad lawyer with disposable BBQ in a soggy field

We found the site. A Liberator had failed to clear a hilltop, and on impact all sorts of bits of plane dug craters in the hillside. There’s more about this tragedy on this website.

I was intrigued by the blobs of metal, caused by parts of the plane melting in the heat of the impact, and solidifying again on the cold moors ground. An engine that had dug its way into the soil was impressive as well...

When we head seen what there is to see we found a bit of shelter, and lit the barbecue. It was almost Norwegian! It was late June, in southern England, and there we were, watching the steaks in our jumpers, waterproof jackets and dripping trousers, while the wind dragged clouds low overhead and chastised the trees with rain.

There seemed to be a dragon in the trees! 

No way I could finish that! Luckily Neil could.

With more luck than skill we grilled two perfect steaks, but when these were devoured we decided it was time to return. The weather wasn’t getting any better, and daylight wouldn’t last that much longer. So while the gale whipped up the water in the nearby reservoir we made our way back. I had expected to drink Pimm’s in the sun while watching a sophisticated game of cricket, and what I got was cold, wet, gloom, death and desolation, served with large dollops of defiance! It’s good that life still has its surprises...

Who would have guessed this is southwest England in late June!

23 June 2011

Bicycle obstacle course

What do you do if biking with transport geographers renders you cripple for weeks? Well that’s easy. Do it again!

Of the two transport geographers in question Matthias had, evidently, returned to Germany, but Jon was up for a bike ride. I figured we should not return to the good old trail to Clearbrook, but instead intrepidly venture further, to the part of the old railroad where I’d been running with Neil. And so we did!

The railroad is easy to trace on satellite images! The red arrow indicates the parking lot that was our start- and finish point. And from there you can see the track snake its way to Princetown, with its decorative circular prison, which features prominently in the Hound of the Baskervilles...

To my delight, Jon came to my office in full suit (cufflinks! matching shoes!) to inform me he was ready to go, so a few minutes later we were on our way to my place. When Jon walked in he betrayed his character by immediately noticing a bottle of Leffe Blond and a book about steam railways, and not at all noticing a digital camera grotesquely held in 6-inch-long joining bolts (picture in this blog post, though the sheer length of the bolts cannot be seen there). The book kept him busy while I changed, and then we were good for strapping the bicycles to my car. My clumsiness in handling the bicycle rack was only surpassed by Jon’s, but we got there, and off we were.

It was yet again a beautiful day with dramatic skies! Happily we slithered over the muddy, untarmacced trail, and were not even discouraged by the path soon turning into a 10 cm wide mud track over bumpy grassland, barricaded by one fence after the other. Some of the fences couldn’t even be opened, and had to be climbed, bicycle and all. Jon innovatively proved that a hammer-throwing technique also works with bicycles.

Soon the track widened again to full railroad width, and a few miles into the route the fences disappeared, and the biking became less interrupted, though from time to time still encumbered by the rocky bumpiness of the track. But the scenery was marvellous!


Upon reaching Princetown we were faced with the gruelling choice between promptly returning, or making a modest detour to the Plume of Feathers for a pint of Three Hares. To cut the story short: the beer was splendid, and revitalised we accepted the way back. This was, given the gradient of the track, the quick leg of the journey, and after a mere 40 minutes we were back at the car. Being cripple and not allowed to run isn’t bad if you can bike instead! Especially under such circumstances. And providing you do the getting onto and off the bike in a somersault-avoiding way...

The slightly barren ribbon the big stick is lying on is actually the path...

ps we may have thus earned ourselves an Eisenbahnradfahrärmeltätigkeitsabzeichen!

21 June 2011

A normal day

It was a normal day. As normal people have. And I even liked it! Maybe I'll turn out alright after all.

This is still a blog post in the series "I should be writing about caving and running but am not". When I didn't go to Wales that opened other possibilities, and it turned out Neil had some time to spend. And he came up with the revolutionary idea of having a normal day.

A normal day in England. We wondered a bit on what that would mean; our penchant for societal criticism suggested some drunk driving and domestic violence, but instead we settled for going to the beach and having pub lunch. Really normal!

He took me to Slapton Beach; it's a playground for all our coastal scientists, and I had heard lots about it already. The plan was that Neil would run there while I did whatever came to mind (which was walking up the coastal path for a bit, and clambering over some rocks), then have lunch in a lovely beer garden, and then go back to the beach for some ogling of rocks. Can't go wrong with that! And it was splendid indeed! That ankle should heal soon before I get too used to being normal...

 Slapton Beach, with a stretching Neil in the foreground

From higher up it's easier to see why this is a strange place: a very thin strip of land separating the sea and a small freshwater lake

Slapton Beach was used by the Allied forces to practice D-Day. This is a tank that ended up on the bottom of the sea during these exercises, and that was later retrieved and placed here as a memorial. The silly thing, which I hadn't heard of before, is they had come up with the daft idea of floating tanks. This one wasn't properly waterproofed and sank...

England's charming face: old pubs and even older ruins

The beer garden

Perhaps not very English: very good food! The meat on my plate, by the way, is pigeon; one does not often encounter them in such inoffensive state!

 Rocks rock. 

20 June 2011

A time of repair

Becoming a surf chick if you're really a troglodyte is very disruptive. It shook things up so much all sorts of things started falling apart! I myself already was broken, but my worldly belongings would follow more rapidly than I could see coming.

The next time I tried my camera after that fateful day on the beach it didn't work. My faithful camera! Which had served me 1.5 years, which by my standards is quite a while. And on the way back from the beach by some strange coincidence Pete ended up driving behind me, and noticing my one brake light didn't work.

I survived the weekend by getting lifts from fellow cavers, and borrowing cameras from men who are mad enough to trust me with their electronic devices, but I couldn't do that forever. I had to take more drastic action.

The car issue was relatively easily fixed; I just bought the wrong light bulb, but then afterwards the right one, and it's amazing how user-friendly these old Fords are in such matters. The camera would be more of a challenge though.

Scrutiny of the camera revealed the whole front plate had started to come off; how on earth did I manage to do that? That evidently had rendered it less than waterproof, and that explained why it didn't work after having been wet, but had come back to life (which it did about a week later). But how does one solve that? The front seemed to be kept in place by 4 screws one can work with an allen key, and one with a philips scewdriver. But after purchasing small enough allen keys and scewdrivers I found out not only that these allen key bolty things don't do what you would expect, and that the front is actually also glued in place. Forget it.

That gap shouldn't be there!

I want to try to clamp the front back in position, but that may be a project for the intermediately long term. For now I've just done what I have done so, so often before: just admit defeat and get me a new camera. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT2, here I come!

ps I have an idea of how to fix this, I just haven't found the hardware for it yet... A concept clamp is in place, but I hope to find a somewhat less bulky solution!

pps this post refers to Saturday, but on Monday and Tuesday I completed another repair task: the cuffs of my red GoreTex jacket were fitted with some novel version of velcro, which unfortunately doesn't work. And you don't want wind, rain and snow to have free access into your sleeves, so I melted the plastic dysfunctional original velcro off, and replaced it by the conventional version. Job done!

19 June 2011

Cripple barbecuer

Rob is a social chap who regularly organises dinners and parties, and by some strange coincidence I tend to be out of town when that happens. This week would be no exception: he would organise a BBQ, and I would be in Wales, caving. But nothing's been normal lately, and it didn't work out that way.

As my ankle was still sore, and I was getting  restless about the not running, and worried about how much longer that would take, I went back to my physician before the caving weekend. She told me tendons take a while to heal, and if you don't grant them that time, they make you bleed for it. So her message was: let it rest, really REST, until it's finally really healed. There went my caving weekend. But Rob was glad, as now there was nothing preventing me from attending his BBQ!

If Rob does anything culinary he does it well, so this was not your regular charring of cheap sausages and wolfing these down with bland sauce; this was Rob style proper grilling of unimaginably large steaks, which then would be accompanied by self-made BBQ sauce and marvellous salads.

By the time the grilling was over and the company started engaging in drinking games I first switched to lemonade and then left altogether; I love Rob and his food, but I don't like drinking myself catatonic. And I think considering the circumstances I had the best deal; I had a lovely barbecue, and I trust I had a much better day after than those who stayed longer!

English summer rain

Hot springs and damp summers. I didn't know that was a fairly normal way things work out in SW England, but it seems to be that way. After weeks of cloudless skies and blazing sun we have now blisfully returned to some autumnal state. And when I walked over the campus I caught such a profoundly unsummerish feature I decided to take a picture of it! As far as I'm concerned summer can stay like this. Especially now, when I'm not supposed to hide underground, still due to my ankle...