Mar 15

2018 Review

I’ve not blogged for nearly a year..how many noticed?  Very few I say, but this is still for me rather than others.  I did eventually fix both my sites, no idea why things worked this time instead of when I have previously tried things…but work it did.

So what did I do in 2018?  Change and challenges is the best overview I think.

We’ll start with the stats!

The stats

  • Swarm checkins: 944 (+101)
  • Countries visited: 5 (-)  (Germany, Spain, Bhutan, Nepal, Austria (just for lunch))
  • Michelin Meals: 2 (-4)
  • Miles run: 62 (- 28)
  • Races completed: 2 (-)
  • Miles walked: 570 (+391)
  • Cathedrals visited: 2 (+1) (Bamberg, Vienna)
  • Movies seen at cinema: 6 (-)
  • Theatre visits: 0 (-2)

There appeared to be a lack of cultural activities.  With training for a long distance walk and then much of my time took up travelling to work abroad, there was less time to get out and do things around town. Something to do more of in 2019.

January

The first event of note was my first Escape Room, with my German colleagues.  I ended up on the winning team, even if we finished it with only a couple of minutes to spare. 

The only other highlight was a weekend camping out with Adventure Queens.    This is a Facebook group, with the aim of connecting and encouraging women who want to get out and do things.  From doing their first night in a tent to walking around the world, it is a very supportive group, ready to offer support, encouragement, ideas and congratulations to all who post.

Tents in a field, surrounded by trees
Camping out in Guildford

February

The month started off with one of my regular runs – The Winter Run.  This is my 4th time taking part.  With my overall lack of running miles, wasn’t expecting much, but I did have a great run/walk race.  About a mile in I complemented a fellow runner on her leggings and ended up going round the course with her and getting her to the finish (she’d been about to give up)

I went to The Story conference in the middle of the month – see the previous blog posts for my write up of that day.

This year’s challenge was another attempt at a 100km ultra walk.  After pulling out last year before the event, due to injury, I decided to have another go, so I seriously started my training this month. These walks were usually on my own, but I did get out for a few miles with Wine Club.  As the years go by, we have turned to more than just drinking wine 😊

Four women grinning in the woods
Walking in Surrey woods

March

This month I made the biggest change.  I stopped working for a company and started my own with a former colleague. In the same area (digital and marketing strategy), but smaller and more targeted.  This took me a long time to make the step (it’s quite scary) but looking back, it was a good thing to do. Year 1 has been great, we’ll see how we go in year 2.

Th first Michelin meal of the year was at Celeste at the Lanesborough. An amazing room and fantastic meal

White plate, with cabbage, stuffed with mince.
Stuffed cabbage at Celeste

More walking this month, with an outing onto the South Downs.  From Arundel, myself and 2 other women from Adventrue Queens headed west to the Gumbar Bothy for a nights camping, before carrying on to Chichester.

Stone barn, with wooden benches in front of it
Gumbar Bothy

The main reason for this was to try out my new rucksack and tent – which I’d bought in preparation for my “holiday” at the end of the month.  It was holiday only in being away from home – I spent a week walking around the Isle of Wight.  In the end, only 2 days camping due to the rain and mud, but a successful perambulation of the island. A total of 73 miles covered across the week.

The Needles, from hill above. Whote chalk pillars in the sea
The Needles
The cliffs on the South of the Isle of Wight Green hills, red stone cliffs. cloud over the sea
sea cliffs

April

At the end of my week of walking, it was time to start the new “job”.  So instead of going into the office every day, I started to work from home. Initially difficult, I have slowly worked out how to do this, even without a study to work from (the ironing board acts as my desk).

Walk training carried on, along with volunteering at 2 races.  A small one to start with, my running club’s race and then the London Marathon again. Fewer photos this time, but I quite like my Mo Farah picture

Mo Farah, in orange top and blue shorts, running the London marathon in April 2018
Mo Farah

May

Lots of walking done this month.  Final weeks of training before the main event in the last weekend – walking 100km from London to Brighton.  This was done with Action Challenge, who had great organisation across the event

Me standing in front of a big Finisheer sign, holding my medal
A happy finisher

I’d decided to split this across the 2 days, with camping overnight.  Just over 36 miles on day 1 and 29 on day 2.  Waking up and getting day done was not too bad, it was however far worse on the day after, very hard to walk and feet in agony!  But I did it, in a final walking time of 30 hours, with an elapsed time of about 36 hours.  

When training for this, you only really go up to about 30 miles max – or at least the plan I followed did.  The rest of it is all mental struggle, to just keep pushing onwards.  (although the ability to NOT get blisters is an essential skill)

June

I managed to remember to get tickets for Trooping the Colour this year. Not the main event, but the one of the 2 rehearsals. An excellent event, definitely something you should go to

A carriage pulle dby two grey horses, making its way across Horse Guards parade in front of a line of red jacketed soldiers
Trooping the Colour
Solidiers on horseback, in a balck jacket with gold frogging
Artillery and guns and horses

Another Wine Club event…this time we headed to Manchester for an attempt at Go Ape.  We generally managed it, except for one obstacle which caused a fair bit of trouble. A very silly afternoon – and at least the rain waited until we had finished.

Four women wearing climbing harneses in the woods
ready to go at Go Ape

One final mini outing was to Kew – I don’t use my membership nearly enough, but I enjoy it when I can

An aisle of trees
gardens

July

A little busier this month.  My ‘regular’ trip to the British Grand Prix for a day in hospitality was made slightly even more sporty by staying to watch England in the football World Cup on telly.  I did a second GP this month, with a trip to the German event.  As I was in Germany for that week, I drove to Hockenheim and camped.

 Parade of cars along Silverstone circuit
Cars at Silverstone

An old school friend was visiting London, so we met up and then joined in with the anti-Trump march for a few hours. The Trump baby balloon that could be found in Westminster Square was something special!

A Baby Trump balloon, orange and snarling
Baby trump

But a sad end to the month as my remaining granddad died. He’d had a fall and had been in hospital; he’d recovered from that but it was too much for his body.

My sister and I, with Granddad, in the 19702.
Sarah and me with Granddad in the 1970s

August

A fun day at the Running Club sports day. Some serious races and some fun ones, especially the fancy dress.  

3 runners dressed in fancy dress standing on running track
Fancy Dress race

Plus my first geekcon, a trip to Nine Worlds. For some reason, I took no photos here, even of the excellent cos play that was evident 

September.

I spent a lot of this month on Germany, so had a weekend trip out to Bamberg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamberg  which is a World Heritage site.  Fascinating medieval town.

A gate in Bamberg. Tower standing guard at the end of a bridge
Bamberg Gates

And another weekend sent me back to Garmisch and Zugspitze.  This time I took the cable car up and then walked all the way down. A total of 15.6 miles, all downhill, a few scrambles but basically walking. A good day, but my legs suffered the next one!

View from summit of Zugspitze. Blue skies and peaks of mountains sticking through clouds
Looking down
Zugsmoitze mountain, a stony path heading down into the valley
More down

I took the opportunity of having a day with no meetings to fly back from Germany the long way round, via Vienna.  I booked flights with a long lay over and nipped into the city to see the cathedral and to have lunch

Vienna cathedral Whote and brown tiled floor, long columns
Vienna Cathedral

October

This was a month of seconds.  My second Michelin meal of the year was at Bibendum  Another superb room and great meal. And the following weekend I ran my second race, the Royal Parks half, on a day that started wet but eventually dried out.

A sweetbread on a white place, with black and white dolups of puree and sauce
Sweeatbreads

The next weekend was spent at Yestival, a festival dedicated to adventures and challenges.  Lots of ideas shared about adventures as well as lots of practical advice about planning, fund raising and executing them

A sign saying "say yes more", white lights against the darkness

At the end of the month, Charlotte, my cousin, had finally decided to get married.  A vey different experience, as it was a Greek Orthodox service and party, but it was good fun

Bride and groom in front of priest. Behind alter are gold icons of saints
A marriage day

November

A month of holidays – which I’ll write up separately. But first a visit to Bhutan (via a day in Nepal) with the parents.   And then a week in Tenerife on my own, with time spent walking the mountains

A red and white monastery on the side of a mountain in Bhutan
Tigers Nest Monestary
Mountains and blue skies
Volcanic mountains

December

I finished the year in the same way I finished last year, with a few days away walking. This time I went to the Peak District for a couple of days walking up hills, along with a day on a navigation course.  Dome good learnings, even if the weather was wet and windy.

A Green public footpath sign on the Moors
Peakk District sign
Apr 15

The Story 2018: Jarvis Cocker

Jarvis Cocker

WARNING: liveblogged – left in first person

Jarvis Cocker

Jarvis Cocker

This is about the Extraordinary

Artists are storytellers, they tell us different versions of the story about what it means to be a human being. Lots of people want to be an artist, but everyone of you is an artist, but perhaps you have not realised it yet maybe you have been looking for information on how to be an artist in the wrong place.

You are trying to be unique, like everyone else. But you unique and maybe you are overlooking at in your quest to be unique.

I’m going to teach you how to be an artist. And teach you how to fly. I will tell you how I learnt. Where do people learn how to do things – at school. School did not teach me how to be a popstar – which is what I wanted to do. So I formed a band. It was the standard line up, drums, bass guitar and plastic tortoise. Decided wanted to play concert at schools – tickets 20p for live Pulp…but if were going to offer 30mins of live songs, you need to have the songs.

Where do we look for inspiration?

In Pulp’s case, it began with Shakespeare, inspired by an English lit lesson [he played an extract of Shakespeare rock]. It was a bad song that illustrates what starts to happen when you start writing songs; and as a singer, it is often your job to write words. So, to get round fear, so you may write a funny song or the sixth form poetry route (a song that sums up the total of human existence in 3 minutes). Between the 2 pols, you have to try and find the way for something to say.

So a definition of an artist could be someone who has a unique and convincing way of saying something.

If you look that part can you be that part. At 15-16, i knew I wanted to be in a group, but did not know how to do it. My look reflected this. Hair – from Ian McCulloch. I loved Echo and the Bunnymen – perfect for hair that tended towards bushiness. A ‘beard’ from Stranglers Hugh cornel singer. Glasses – from Elvis Costello. That was good – it turned NHS glasses into cool rockstar glasses. Thought if I looked like the stars, then maybe I would develop their talent…

I learnt that I should be looking at closer and more mundane. There anything more mundane than a bus journey (reads lyrics from Inside Susan, about a bus journey) recorded in 1992, based around events of the school picture – so 11 year lag. It took 11 years to recognise the inspiration that was all around him at school

The next chapter, was St Martins School of Art, when it was at Long Acre. The name gave me hope, school of art. surely you learn how to be artist there. We got lectures about artists, etc, but I never got to write a song about the artists. But i got into raving. I wasn’t supposed to, obviously not, but it was an education [he read the original poem song that became “sorted for es and whizz”]. So this was on album in 1995, about events in 88, so down to a 7 year gap ( I’m not going to talk about the other song about st martins college)

He had escaped from Sheffield, felt I had to keep escaping by writing songs. (quotes lyrics of Wicker Man, on the last album – as story about a river in Sheffield). In the end inspiration I’d been looking for had been under my nose all the time, it took a change of scenery. that’s what makes it easy to miss, if you are always gazing towards the horizon it is too easy to discount the underlying reality. the scenery the mundane, the everyday life. but no, that is you , that is the important things.

I promised to unlock your creativity. [picture of a traffic cone]. If you think about an everyday object, you become aware of associations eg town planning, cars, traffic. If you were at uni, the ones on tops of statures or buildings. If you download video, you may think of VLC. Or the album of kraftwerk. Or works of art.

The point is that we see the same world everyday but the way we reconstruct that world inside our heads is to be the complex web of associations of upbringing and culture etc. A human eye is also a projector, we see the same world, but we reconstruct it in different ways, may be slightly different, but everyone is doing that. All you have to do is write that down, express that in some way. it will be a unique and creative work of art. accept uniqueness and capture the associations and you will be artist

You have to tune in to the wonder that is all around you, it is all there

The ordinary moments…becomes the extraordinary.

Apr 15

The Story 2018: Zoe Whitley

Zoe Whitley (Tate Modern)

Zoe Whitley

Zoe Whitley, curator at the Tate

She wants to talk about the “never meet your heroes” statement…because she’s never met hers. It’s about expectations. When you meet people that are larger than your life, you don’t want to meet any who may show something that does not meet that, that shows their imperfections.

She wants to talk about artists as people. She can’t assume that anyone has seen the exhibition she curated, so how does she talk about the exhibition if you have not seen it. So, she’s going to talk about the artists.

On Monday the Obama portraits were unveiled. Her Instagram feed was 100s of pictures of Michelle; every other black curator was so excited about it. She was shocked that ‘regular ‘ people weren’t too happy about them. There were big stories in the press. She challenged friends perceptions, eg how the flowers in barrack’s portrait represented things. She talked about how the artist used colour in particular ways. But those are not the types of things that interest everyone. A starting point – what does it mean to curate for ‘regular’ people (ie not art appreciators). For Michelle, this was a painting that would exist in an intuition that little black girls could visit.

In working on soul of the nation, what it would mean for people who looked like her, what would they think. How do you communicate ideas about who gets to be an artist, the different types.

She started to study art history at 14. She had gone to an elite high school, in which she could do studio art as history. By 15, she could name and recognise modern artists, people who would put LA on the map – male, white etc. However, there were other influences – Guerrilla Girls; a group of visual artists, who talked about representation. She talked to her teacher about this – who did not get defensive but gave her a book about African American artists…so she could learn about the relevant artists.

Thinking about soul of the nation, about physical objects that people would pay to see, to make it a subject matter that was relevant to the lives of young people, to get people through doors in London. They commissioned a series of films that exist on line – you did not have to come to museum to be introduced to the artists.

An artist needs mirrors to see themselves. The young white artist can cobble themselves together from many artists, the young black artist can’t. That is changing. It’s why there is such excitement about Black Panther. It is not everyday that people like her see themselves as nuanced characters in popular culture.

For Soul of the Nation, the lead image was by Barclay Hendricks, a self portrait, in a superman t-shirt, but naked below waits. He created it as it as an icon – with metal leaf. It is focusing on what it means about seeing yourself (about being mirrored).

One artist was Betty Shae, born 1926. She always knew she was going to be an artist, she has one image from when she was be 5, it opened some of her recent shows where there was a lifetime body of work, started with the early crayon drawing. At what age do we become artists – or get messages from society and family that we should not be that, that we need to follow a career path. Picasso said all children were born artists…and the challenge is to remain that.
It was really important that they kept the artists foremost, instead of the work, because of the struggles that had to do the work

Apr 15

The Story 2018: Camilla Wright

WARNING: Liveblogged. Edited for clarity

Camilla Wright is the founder of Popbitch

Camilla Wright

Camilla Wright

You think you know what the story of our time…but often what you see is what one paper wants you see, or an advertiser wants, or a couple of people made up. So what we see becomes narrow. Popbitch can be broader. Founded over 20 years ago, every week they send out about 500k emails, covering the news of the week. In 1998, (the time of Britney Spears, One More Time) pop culture was not the daily currency it is now. Pop for 1998 was just for kids, the coverage of music was boring; they thought there was room for pop coverage for adults.

There was little shared culture. They looked to set up a magazine, but the costs were enormous. it was hard. just getting WH Smith to stock was impossible. A year later, with the initial growth of the net, newsletters were starting. This is something they could do. They were working in news industry, so they know there were more stories than were being told.

They decided to write up the stories and send out to friends. They had one night with weed and whisky to try and come up with something. The following morning, woke up with the name on a piece of paper. Popular and populist is important. They wanted to cover it and cover it properly. They really started with a text email, sending out to friends. Started off talking about Notorious BIG. The first issue ended with Boy George having an ironic death (nearly), being hit by a glitter bomb. They sent lots of trivial facts out. eg Robbie Williams new dog, Mel b Xmas present. Over the next few weeks they tweaked. after a few weeks we realised that people were trying to subscribe to it, people they did not know. It was all handrolled then.

The media started to cover it…people asked to subscribe and they started to share their stories (back with them) they did not pay (fees), people just wanted to share. eg Madonna wanting to name her baby, Geri Halliwell writing cheque to the dentist. A lot of it was trivial gossip, but occasionally was more.

In 2002, they almost blew the story of the phone hacking. In one of their stories, they mentioned d how they could dial into messages. It was 4 more years before the rogue reporter arrested and 2009 before it was pushed out by The Guardian.
They recognised that it is in popular culture that real shifts can take place. They told stories that turned out were important – but the most important was the one they could not tell. One story that got linked to them – Beckham having an affair. It was never published in the newsletter but discussed with a few people on the message board. But that was enough, the lawyers all came down on them. They did write an article about the hassle and there being no smoke without fire…but added nothing about the affair. They were on the 10 o’clock news, the front of the newspapers – all about how they were gossiping and scurrilous. The press punished them (even though everyone was after the story). The press chased them; Popbitch was still a hobby, they were stalked on way to walk. 1000’s signed up; they couldn’t cope. if they were antagonising the lawyers, they were doing something right. The PR world was worried about them, they tried to close it down. the old world was getting worried.

They were telling the stories that people in the know were talking about anyway, but not telling their readers. They just decided to open it up, the democratisation of gossip. You don’t want there to be one approved line, you want there to be many stories, the truth is likely to be somewhere in the middle….doesn’t mean everything is right, nor that they are always right.

Saville: when alive was eulogised for charity. In Popbitch, he was more likely to be a creepy gangster that too close to the girls. When he died, Popbitch said that they had the most bad stories about Saville; when alive everyone loved him, he was now a monster when dead.

But the very nature of this type of gossip mean they get things wrong. Or right.
James Corden, most newspaper coverage would suggest he is the most popular star, but there is no one recently we have had more negative stories about. The story about Ant McPartlin is not the story behind the scenes. Gordon Ramsay’s father in law ( Chris Hutcheson – ran his restaurants) They got a story about him, a second family. They wrote a blind story; his lawyers got in touch and took out a super injunction to stop the press talking about this. So could not talk about it (until recently, when Sun applied for it to be over turned. And Hutcheson is a story that keeps on giving.

They do push the bitch with the pop, but try not to be mean. They try to be sharp. but have got this wrong sometimes, They want people to feel love and warmth, not just bitching. They want people to share, you may want something sharp to take off the saccharine of the celebrity culture.

Mar 25

The Story 2018: Elijah

WARNING: Liveblogged, only minor edits

Elijah at The Story

Elijah at The Story

Elijah (and on twitter) talked about his history with Grime music and culture from London pirate radio in early 2000s.

Jamaican parents, born in Hackney, lived there all life. Got involved in music in late teens, eg in Notting hill carnival 1994. The sound developed, reggae, jungle, garage through to grime

He listened to pirate radio, and did not realise that not everyone had the same experience; he thought the radio was the radio, music is music, grew up listening too all types of local music. It was something he wanted to do that..but was at school and was being pushed toward an education – get exams, get a job, make money, make family proud. The push was not to be the guy that left behind…but he still loved music.

He got his a-levels, then studied business (to be employable). Lots of people he was listening too were selling own records..making music in house, sell locally, plough money back into the making. He was not ready to go to his mom and say he was going to be a grime dj..so off he went to Uni in Hertfordshire. It was a shock, he was not used to it being that quiet! There, he met a music partner and started to work with him. A year into degree, started on Rinse FM, a pirate station, hidden away. The first time he went, there was no one there..got to play for ages. Asked for feedback, he was just asked to come back (nothing else!)

He graduated in 2009, but the crash happened. He interviewed a lot and no one had anything; he was being told he was not fit for anything. So in end 2010, decided to take the music seriously, to be independent on his creativity. So he moved from asking for things and asking for permission to just doing things. And then people started to ask things from him. the moment he decided he was not going to look for a job and he stated he was going to make music and he had a label…so people started asking him stuff. His first album was 200 quid cheaper to do in 2 colours, that’s why black and yellow in his label colours.

He has never been in the charts, or ‘blown up’ (something he could tell his grandmas, for them to understand what he does) but has had freedom of creation, and chances to travel etc. Far better than what he expected, entering a the office job treadmill

Even though he does something niche, he wants to show it is good, he wants to get niche ideas in front as many possible..so he put his label logo up in shopping malls etc, he just put his stuff out there. Don’t have staff, interns etc, just learning things as they go. It was comfortable, doing things he wanted. Grime particularly gave them a blank canvas, there were no rules..they were forming them as they went.

Does not take for granted his living in london…he may not have lots of privileges, but still many than most places, the freedom of speech should not be take for granted.

You hear the phrase ‘bring people though’ a lot in grime..getting people into the scene, giving back to the community, share info, share with other people. help people make deals etc. He’s now doing a lot of that.

Mar 15

The Story 2018: Mandy Rose

WARNING: Liveblogged. Only minor edits/amends

Mandy Rose and Video Nation

Mandy Rose and Video Nation

About 25 years ago, she found herself watching a tape that had arrived in the post. There were shots of mirrors around the house. Then colonel Gordon Henshaw started talking..about how mentally you don’t feel older, the mirrors show you the reality of time

He would have been the last person you would go to…and wouldn’t necessary ask the question. but in his home with his own camera, he was great.

This was the first of Video Nation. 2 min stories at 10:29, just before Newsnight. Before youtube, something not seen much before.

Gordon was one of 55 people who had been given cameras a year before and asked them to record everyday life. it came from a bbc team, to open up public space and get people to tell own stories on their own terms.

They had been experimenting with camcorders with video diaries..15 mins programmes. this was intimate, brought a sense of place, a breath of fresh air instead of what was seen as documentaries then

Video Nation developed this, a group of people around the UK to record over time

Mandy had found the traditional docu making process problematic, using someone’s story for own project. She had found herself on arts programmes, the Late Show. less ethically problematic for her. She saw an advert that married video diaries and the mass observation project. this had 2 aspects..the traditional anthropological study of UK life…oxbridge went to live in Bolton to look at locals. the other aspect, a national panel was established, to write diaries about their own lives.

It owed as much to surealism as it did to journalism, as their manifesto illustrated. eg shots and gestures of motorists, the football pools, bare armpits and eyebrows.

Mass observation offered an alternative approach to docs. They started with an intriguing challenge..how to get a group of people to record everyday life. They visited the mass observation archives to get ideas.

They puzzled how to reflect it in a group of 50 people they may not be accurate in a scientific way. but they had a model to represent diversity, to reflect what was really out there. 50% women, 20% over 60, a wide range of political views, a wide range of incomes (split into 20% cohorts), and different communities

The stories were about family life, about identity, about being others, when it came to migrants.

As the tapes bagan to arrive, (they were sent in the post). it became clear the project was tapping into a rich seam, you would never know what would appear next. they refused to conform to expectations. the emotional world was rich, full of details, often tender. they were often in the home (where people felt comfortable).

It was not just handing over cameras. training was key, showed people different ways to record them self. straight to camera, behind the camera, the handheld selfie’. They encouraged people to say things aloud, to articulate values, to reflect their world, when things both good and bad, when things were on their life.

The bbc edited, the people had the right of veto. and this was critical, as people were free with what was recorded as they knew that they could see the final version and could say no (the lawyers were not originally happy with this, but it was a good thing)

Mostly it was pretty banal..occasionally things were more serious (eg something about northern ireland)

Shorts was not something the audience were that comfortable with…the call log was interested, people called up what aws the point of the programmes, were they supposed to real.

The BBC needed to find ways of reflecting the wide range of people that were out there, and this was one of the ways this was done. over time the calls stopped, the audience started to accept the form. they were seeing how there were many different views, how they reflected the people and finding out how complicated people are.

They got films they would never had asked for (eg lady with pregnancy bump) You look on yt and there are many similar videos now, (the woman at about 39 weeks) but they’re not on bbc2

Many people watched shorts, could get an audience of 5m, people never knew what they were going to get. they paid attention. people often spokes about them

When she was asked about them, she described the whole process,and she felt the interest drain away, it was though this took away the magic if the films the collaboration was not a compromise but the best way to get the story

The participants were in control of their agenda…they developed that opportunity over time, to understand how to use it

Video Nation’s success was about the balance between the edit team and the subjects, a co creation.

Mar 14

The Story 2018: Tanya Byrne

Note: this was liveblogged at The Story 2018. Minor amends and edits only

Tanya Burn

Tanya Burn


Will be talking about ‘Who am i’

It should be a simple as ‘I’m Tanya‘. But is there anyone in the room who hasn’t asked further.

To explore that, will be telling the story of how she was born

Wed 22nd Dec, her mother was due to have a caesarean the following morning. Her mother knew the family would become three in the morning. It did, and after a few weeks they went home. That was the nice story.

The real story? It was the coldest winter on record. Her mother had had 3 miscarriages; and this was 6 weeks before due date. but there were issues, and her mother, a midwife, was aware there were issues. So they agreed to do a little caesarean. After it, she was handed a child, and she said it could have been anyone.

The nice story was what she was told when she was young. The real story is what she was told later, when her father left. Again. He’d also left 3 days after the baby was taken home, he left many times

Father was Irish, mother was Guyanese. She never felt either. She asked her mom is she was guyanese..he mom said she was british. but she never fully felt british, given the names she was called etc

She felt her mom had it easier, she knew was it is. she knew she was Guyanese

Her mom was the first to leave the village…the british had come over recruiting for nhs. she came over and was not treated well, she got training. but all of the hard shifts etc. She met the father, he was a porter. When the parents got married, they became estranged from their families…that was the story she was told, that her parent’s families had disowned them.

For much of her growing up, it was her, her mother and her brother. growing up she felt raw, unfinished, she did not know how she fit, not having the family. her father died when she was 26, that was done, she has not had that history.

She managed to get her mom reconciled with her family..and things started to make sense. she saw people who looked like her..and she could see where the behaviours came from, her sisters were the same, she started to eat food she had never had. She heard stories that she never had. the women were cooking and talking, the men in the other room drinking and smoking…she started to hear stories about her mother, how she was a little hellcat. the mom used to ride bikes (not done, she would ‘lose virginity’. she used to ride to river and paddle in the river.

she learned more about her mom in those few years than she had in the 15 years before it now a lot of the stories had gone and she would not get it back.

When she writes a books, a lot of them are around identify, and she goes back to her teens. when you are a teen, there are massive life changing decisions being made. university or not, sex or not. but it is purgatory, making decisions but not feeling adult enough. maybe she feels that if her characters can work out who they are, then maybe she can

She doesn’t know who she is and maybe never well, she knows who she is not and who she does not want to be. she thought her story was done at 40. but she came out, and she moved..and she started her story again. she does not yet know her story and who she is

but she knows that wherever you are now and who you are then is not where you were then (as a teen) you’ll get there..and when you do, think about the story you are going to be able to tell

Mar 04

The Story 2018: Lisa-Marie Neudert

Note: this was liveblogged at the time. Minor amends and edits only

Lisa-Marie Neudert

Lisa-Marie Neudert

Lisa-Maria Neudert works at the Oxford Internet Institute, researching how algorithms are being used to manipulate public opinion. about how we as a society are having public conversations and how we are participating in public life

So this is about conversational propaganda. Starts with where are you in moments..eg Brexit and Trump

They are investigating whether what had influence on these, eg Russian propaganda. Not sure yet, but there is definitely an impact from online life. It is global, high impact and very real time..through the web, with your newsfeed tailored to your choices. The shared experience is getting lost. There is increasing talk about polarisation, about echo chambers, the loss of journalist gatekeepers.

We are living in an info rich environment, something that we have not done before, when there is so much content to pick and choose from. and how do we navigate? Attention is highly valued and sought after. How do you grab this as a politician? So we have seen attention hacking…computational propaganda

Story 1. Macedonian teens who figured that fake pro-Trump stories were things that people clicked on. so they set them up and waited for ad dollars to roll in

Bots amplify topics…also with micro targeting, political marketing and advertising to find the people interested. The problem = propaganda has changed. Propaganda is not new, but how it is created and used is. Propaganda started with Alexander the Great = he had storytellers telling about his deeds. But now the channels and forms have changed and increased. We are in the next evolution, making it more powerful and impactful.

At the core you still have manipulation – emotional. what is different know is the methods. It is data driven; it has access to the user data you volunteer as you use the web. Automation both for creation and distribution enables scale. It has never been as low cost to disseminate the message to the wider audience. You have take it out of big tv ads etc to social, where it is low cost. The media is more than a natural evolution. Social media has shifted and provided opportunities to easily get content to users. It has never been so easy to make videos and sites that look professional. Look at the pro-gun bots that flooded about the Parkland shooting, they were pro-gun, pro russia..eg that is was the lone wolf.

The mainstream phenomenon – the politics of post truth that is about playing around with narratives, pushing stuff that is not true as truth. trump on a daily basis, brexit. See it across Europe. It has become political mainstream. facts are being twisted to the agenda

So do facts matter any longer? Yes, they are important, but it gets harder to distinguish what is a fact..the politician not using them as much, the platforms not acknowledging that they have a problem in sharing things. Also citizens not being able to distinguish. WEF asked about trustworthiness of media..70 % of people said they had difficult to distinguish truth from falsehoods on social media

Her phd is looking at trying to find info…her training would be to gather lots of data about this. but it is difficult, as the platforms won’t share. The platforms that were being challenged to provide the information..as a researcher, she could not get access as not in the groups and the platforms not sharing with researchers

One area of focus has been junk news in elections (US, FR, DE, UK). Looking at sources that people were using. Looking at 30 million feeds and what was shared. Looked at the sources. Big 2 categories, the professional news sources (BBC, CNN, from parties, from candidates). On the other hand junk news. (ie fake news, but can’t use that term due to devaluation of it). this is conspiratorial, biased, non factual. So how much of the latter was being shared..so what were the proportions

US 1-1; FR 7-1, UK and DE 4-1.

So US is far more using junk news…UK/DE still quite high, but nowhere near the US.

Who was the target of propaganda?

They looked to see if swing states were targeted? They were sharing the largest amounts of junk information. They were being highly targeted. It is more than the internal society, it is targeted, from somewhere outside. Other areas – blacklivesmatter, gay/lesbian communities, veterans orgs. all targeted – they people who were unhappy with the political situation…tailored for them

‘Destroying the field’ is the technique…it is not so much about a specific agenda, it is about sowing dissent, confusion, making people feel happy in their everyday life

We are shedding light on a couple of things seen, only focused on a couple of networks, but there is so much more to focus on. there are more than political bodies, there are big corporates etc.

  • 2000000 employees are working for Chinese gov on social media and prop
  • 7/10 shared stories on Merkel were fake in the DE news
  • 126million Americans have seen junk news on Facebook alone. 19.1m interacted.
  • 16k dollars was what one person in Macedonia made from 1 news story..because they know how it worked.

Public discourse is at risk.

The junk news is scaleable, immediate, personal. And it leads to the next dangerous element – solutionalism. (something must be done)
That can impact freedom of speech.

Mar 04

The Story 2018 Conference: Juno Dawson

Note: this was liveblogged at the time. Minor amends and edits only

Juno Dawson

Juno Dawson

Juno Dawson

This talk may not be fully on brief… it’s about the side hustle of being a story teller. She is a storyteller first, and everything else second. but there is always the side hustle.

She got into writing a weird way; she was a primary school teacher in Brighton.. she was borrowing the books from her kids. There was a book with an apple on the front that a lot of girls were reading – it was Twilight, started borrowing more, it was felt to be a golden age – eg hunger games etc… started realising these books had everything. She had been a big fan of high school movie and these books were the equivalent.

But she didn’t recognise herself, the characters were very middle class, white, straight, cisgender etc so she decided to have a go at writing her own. Her friends were dubious…she started out on her own experience, about Pendle and growing up there. Took her and her 3 best friends and put them in the plot (it became Hollow Pike). She made goals along the way – sent chapters to friend, who was asking always what was next. then it was a challenge to finish it – that would be an achievement. She also used it as a hobby to keep herself busy…to prevent her cheating on her boyfriend, who was away a lot 🙂 (lots of laughter)

She sent it to an agent. The agent said it wasn’t ready…bu there was something there, so get it finished. Eventually she got it finished an get it accepted. She caught the tail end of big boom on teen fiction (not as easy now). she had her agent, and as her side hustle (the writing) was becoming the hustle..and teaching became less important… When she had a deal she left (she felt it was not fair on her kids as she was not focused on it)

It then stopped being fun..it was the job. Her second book was not easy, the sequel to Hollow Pike. Then the 1st book was not selling well, so asked to bench the sequel (after 1 week of sales)…it felt like she had failed, she could not talk to people.

Her advance did not go as far as she thought it would do. The agent got some, it came in chunks, the taxman got it, She had quit her job, moved to London and her money was dwindling really quick. So what could she do? Go back to teaching..so everyone would see she had failed.

She decided now she needed a side hustle. so that was the Carrie Bradshaw model..a freelance journalist. She had just read Caitlin Moran and recognised that non-fiction could have a character.

Had recognised that sex ed is often very badly done..down to good staff, not consistent. and LGBT is really poor. Teahcers don’t really know what they are meant to be talking about

So she proposed writing a non fiction book – and she knew she could sell the pitch rather than the manuscript. So she had a new book deal…a small advance for ‘Being a Boy’. It sold well and the publisher asked her to write ‘Being a Gay’ But she could not write this; however, inspiration struck and she decided to call it ‘This book is gay‘ (after lots of telling kids should not use this form a lot at school!)

The publisher agreed..she would also interview lots of people of different types. Through this process, she recognised that she herself was trans. The book has just been published in its 22nd language. Has lots of good feedback about it.

The reason she is still here, writing full time and speaking, the side hustle of writing non fcition has become more lucrative.

Storytelling and novel writing is now a lovely hobby again. fiction writing brings her the greatest satisfaction. The pressure has been removed and she does not have to churn out fiction, so not reliant on the advance checks. She has time to breath. Thinks her next novel is one of her best works.. it was fun to write, wrote last summer over 3 months, character just came to her. She was supposed to be writing The Gender Games…but the story was demanding to be told.

The reviews have started to come in and they have been glowing, she thinks the readers can tell how much she enjoyed writing it.

And the reason she can do that is the hustle of non-fiction…she’s just had her first commission from Cosmo.. now shes back to where she was in 2010…really enjoying the storytelling.

Maybe the take home message is get good at something and then get good at something else.

Mar 04

The Story 2018 Conference: Ministry of Stories

Note: this was liveblogged at the time. Minor amends and edits only

Ministry of Stories

Ministry of Stories

From their site: The Ministry of Stories is a local writing and mentoring centre in east London, where anyone aged eight to 18 can come and discover their own gift for writing.

What do they do:

Writing and mentoring space in East London. Hidden behind a shop. Inspired by the Superhero shop and story telling group in the US. Set up about 7 or 8 years ago.

So how did they come to sell monster supplies?

They had to work out what type of the shop they wanted, to provide the story foundations. They started off with 3 ideas: for aliens; for young pickpockets and then finally settled on the shop for monsters – Hoxton St Monster Supplies. They created the fiction around the shop (to encourage storytelling)- ie it opened the same day that Frankenstein was published. Their early products were related, eg a neck bolt tightener.

Kids come along and engage with the signs on the door, with the product etc, eg they set up everything as though it is a real monster supplies. A few principles….the shop is for monsters, it is not about them. It is a very witty joke told with a very straight face. There is no landfill (so recyclable, reusable etc). Products such as fang floss (string), zombie breath mints , ear wax fudge etc. The sales from the products allow them to provide the workshops for free to the local children (looking for more fundraising ideas, eg sponsorship, licensing)

The absence of the monsters in the shop catalyses imaginations – even the cat is invisible. the effort they put into their fiction, gives children permission to make stories

Mar 01

2017 Review Part 2

The second part of my 2017 Review – basically just for my records.

Mountain Tops

Mountain Tops

July

July started off with me doing something completely different. I headed off to Switzerland for a Beginner’s Mountaineering Course! So taxi, plane, train and finally bus took me to the small village of Les Haudere’s in the south of Switzerland. There, I met up with my fellow course mates – 2 guys, one around my age who’s been slowly getting into climbing/mountaineering and one young, just still in his teens, guy who was looking for something fun to do before heading off on further travels to Asia. We also met with our course instructor who fulfilled the stereotype of blonde, slightly scruffy, mountain guy (who would have obviously preferred to do some proper climbing then deal with beginners)

Mountain Hut

Mountain Hut

Over the next few days we:

  • learnt how to use crampons on ice; travelling up to a glacier and stomping around, climbing up and down slopes and ice faces
  • Went hiking up the mountain, stayed in a mountain hut before heading out early to get to the top of a mountain across another glacier, learning how to move roped together
  • Did a little climbing and abseiling
  • Did a lot more hiking

I was not well enough to do the last mountain trek with the group – I was coughing too much; given they were a lot faster then me in the hiking, I decided to stay behind and do some solo trekking, which was great fun.

Glacier trekking

Glacier trekking

I flew straight to Germany from Switzerland to start my first week with adidas, just getting my head round what would be needed. The first weekend I flew back, as I had tickets to the London Paratheletics World champs, to see with my sister and niece.

London Stadium

London Stadium

Para Athletics Champs

Para Athletics Champs

A quick turnaround, switching over clothes, before heading back to work. The first week I was in a hotel, now I moved into an AirBNB apartment for the next three weeks. This was my second AirBNB; it definitely proved useful during my stays in Germany, in one case I was in the same flat for 2 months, which just makes working in a different country far easier when you have a solid home base.

August

Time for the World Athletics Champs! I flew back and started the next day with my shifts, picking up the new kit first thing in the morning before starting my session. I’ve written all about that in another post.

Spa F1

Spa F1

Then back to work in Germany before heading up to the Belgium Grand Prix. This was a test of my driving! I’d got the use of a hire car in Germany, which was a challenge given how long it had been since I’d driven, but I soon got into the swing of most things (the give way to cars from the right in towns/villages was hard though!). But although this was over 300 miles, it was motorway all the way, so pretty easy to drive. And with a small hire car, there was no temptation to drive too fast and out of my skill zone 🙂

Sofia and Andy came to the GP too and we met at the campsite. Yes, we camped. About 20min walk from the circuit, it was a relatively exclusive campsite run by a British company, Pillow camping. We were provided with a 2 unit tent, which was more than enough room for the 3 of us (we ended up sleeping 1 in each ‘bedroom’ and one out in the main part). This was my 3rd time at this race. it was Sofia and my first live race back in 2010, when we went with a tour company, stayed in a hotel in Germany and coached it back and forth. The second time was a competition win with Shell and we had a brilliant VIP trip, again coaching it back and forth. This last time was far less glam, out in tents. I quite enjoyed it; I’m pretty sure Sofia and Andy will never camp again. 🙂

September

Nuremberg

Nuremberg

Such a quiet month! It was work only for the most of the month, staying in the quiet village of Herzogenaurach. Only one weekend of fun, flying back to the UK for the inaugural Wine Club weekend. We were off to the country, 2 converted railway carriages in fields in Oxfordshire, wood-powered hot tub included. It started with a down note, with one of the group being told just before she left that her role had been made redundant. But we made the most of the weekend, cooking over open fires, walking and visiting famous gin pubs, which have whole cupboards of gin. The instructions were to just go in, open bottles, smell the gin and decide which ones we want a drink made from.

Country chalets

Country chalets

An amazing weekend, only abut 40 hours in the countryside, but great for resetting the brain.

Hot tub

Hot tub

October

I was supposed to be back in London this month, but changes in plans meant I was still staying in Germany, coming back for one week for a few meetings.

Rock formations

Rock formations

I took advantage of being in Germany for a final month by heading off for a visit to the south, to Garmisch Partenkirchen. A fairly straightforward journey on paper, train via Munich, but it was made rather nerve wracking by late running trains. getting to Munich I had to run for the next train, making it with about 20 seconds to spare. It was still late when I got to my hotel – the restaurant had decided to close and there was nothing to be had, they couldn’t even whip up some bread and cheese for me – not a good start.

I’ve written all about my weekend in this post.

As the month drew to a close, the question remained was I going to be leaving, or staying on at adidas. After some discussion, I decided to stay on, but with a change of terms. I couldn’t do the full time in Germany – I had no desire to leave my flat on its own for any more time, nor did they need me full time. So we agreed that I could cut down my work days (to 3 days a week) and alternate between London and Herzo.

November

The month started with lunch with Caroline and a trip to the National Gallery – where we played ‘hunt the arse’ around the museum. Plenty of fun to be had 🙂 Other fun events including a leaving party for my ex-boss (it wasn’t fun because she was leaving, it was just fun), a trip to St John’s Museum, drinks with friends I hadn’t seen for years and drinks for the launch of the Zombies! Run game. Which is a very mad board game that I’m really bad at. Also visited cinema for first time in ages, this time to see Thor Ragnorok.

One thing I did do this month was go and get a National Archives reader ticket – the plan is to go and dig into a few documents that could be associated with my family history.

I few more interviews happened; including which I would have loved..but the recruiting person had completely failed to properly understand the role and the requirements. It was not possible to do it full time starting the next week given I was working already on a contract I’d just signed. It was associated with the Olympics, so was time sensitive. They even called a couple of times to see if things had changed. Unfortunately, no…the one that got away.

I ended the month the same way it started – out with Caroline. We headed to Winter Wonderland to have a go on roller coasters, drinking gluhwein and hot dogs and having a very good time.

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland

December

Ooh, finally another Michelin restaurant started this month. Not a new one, but a return to my local, Hedone. More cinima visits as well, to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi (enjoyable but annoying at times, too many silly decisions) and The Greatest Showman which was cheesy but lots of fun and I left the cinema grinning.

It being December, there were Christmas get togethers. I made it to the running club party for the first time, even if my fancy dress was pretty poor. There were Christmas dinners with various friend groups, including Wine Club (we’re still generally far to sensible) and then to end the year, time to head to visit the family for the usual visit, plus a trip to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens for the Christmas lights.

Family at Clent

Family at Clent

Birmingham Botanical Gardens Christmas lights

Birmingham Botanical Gardens Christmas lights

December also bought to a close a ‘mission’ I’d been slowly completing over the last few years. I walked the last section of the London LOOP, from Harold’s Wood to Purfleet, bringing myself back to the opposite side of the Thames from where it all started. I need to work out which one to do next, which will probably be a lot harder to organise. The great thing about the LOOP is the ease in which it was possible to do it in day trips from home, with all the sections arranged around transport hubs. Few other walks I’ve seen have that same arrangement.

I closed out the year with a last minute decision not to spend New Year’s Eve as usual, on my sofa watching the fireworks. I headed down to Arundel for some walking in the area. The pub I was staying at was running a murder mystery evening and I was persuaded to join in – they would assign me to a friendly table so I could be in a team. An excellent night was had, made even better when we won 🙂

Arundel

Arundel

So that was 2017. Some interesting moments, some quite times when working away. Some major life changes happening and there are more of these to come

Feb 27

2017 Review Part 1

As I’ve not being doing weeknotes or even month notes in 2017, I’m going to go with a Year Note. A record for me to remember – rather than any one else to be amused by :-). A aide memoire to what I was doing and where I went, based on combination of calendar, Swarm Checkins and photos taken. It was not that exciting a year for activities; well, compared to my usual.

We can start off with my checkin history for an overview.. I’m pretty good at making sure I log in to everywhere I go, especially if it is not the usual train station or office. You can still (just about) pull out the history from Swarm and map it. So here we have it. UK, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium. This is the first year since my digital records begin that I have not been out of Europe; in every year since 2005 I’ve done some form of long-haul travel. There are reasons, as you will see, but hopefully I’ll change that in 2018.

The stats

Swarm checkins: 843
Countries visited: 5 (Germany, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Belgium)
Michelin Meals: 6
Miles run: 89.89
Races completed: 2
Miles walked: 188.2
Cathedrals visited: 1
Movies seen at cinema: 6
Theatre visits: 2

January

January is normally a quiet month and this year was no exception. Very little happened; I went to work, I had a massage and went to the pub occasionally. The only unusual activity was my volunteer assessment. Oh, and the Women’s March

In autumn 2016, I’d applied to be a volunteer at the 2017 World Athletics Championships that were taking place in London. January was the time for my assessment, a set of group exercises and an interview with the team. They’d taken over the Crystal building in Docklands and were working their way through 10000 or so interviews. It would be 4 months before I heard anything, a lot of waiting.

Women's March in London

Women’s March in London

February

Zoom Auction

Zoom Auction

February was a little more interesting. First weekend, I was off to the ZOOM auction again, something I’d gone to for the last few years. F1 related, it’s a good time to have a little fun, meet up with people I know through F1 twitter and get dressed up. A good evening was had, with lots of laughs. The next day was one of my irregular Michelin meals, at Tamarind. Neither of these were good prep for the final event of the weekend, the London Winter 10k, a great 10k through closed roads in the centre of London. Well, the lack of training wasn’t good prep either, but I made it through the event and claimed my hug with the polar bear.

Winter Run 10k

Winter Run 10k

The year’s walking kicked off the following weekend, with the first Wine Club walk – something that was to be repeated later in the year. Time to wrap up and face the winter elements.

Wine Club Walk

Wine Club Walk

For the rest of the week I headed to Munich for work. Two full days of workshops but ending with a long weekend to explore the city (one cathedral added to the collection) and cross off another Michelin meal, at Les Deux.

Munich

Munich

The final outing of the month was to fit in more walking, up in Hertfordshire. I was delivering a souvenir to a former colleague of mine who had left it in the same Kathmandu hotel I was staying in. I’d carried it back to the UK and was finally handing it over. So a long Saturday walk before meeting up and spending the evening in the pub he now owns.

March

I had the first cinema outing of the year, watching Logan. A bleak end to that cycle of X-men movies. Then – holiday time! A short trip over to Barcelona for the F1 testing, another annual tradition that has been going for the last few years. The first day was spent in Barcelona before heading up to the circuit hotel. So another Michelin meal arranged and enjoyed, at Restaurant Angle. Superb tasting menu, I especially liked the wine pairings, which includes things like beer and sherry 🙂

Angle Restaurant, Barcelona

Angle Restaurant, Barcelona

I made the most of the week. Just before I’d left, I’d been informed my role was at risk – which means I was going to be made redundant. There was nothing I could do about this when I was away, but it was full steam ahead on my return. The process was followed, the meetings were had throughout the month but the inevitable conclusion was reached. I was off. Sort of. Not quite. For a variety of reasons I asked to work my notice, and this was allowed (we’d just kicked off a 3 month project that I was running). There was a high probability at that point that additional revenue would be found and the role could be saved..so let’s see what would happen.

F1 in Spain

F1 in Spain

I finally got in a section of the London LOOP (Gordon Hill to Chigwell), a walk that I’d been slowly nibbling away at since 2014. The walks this year were all leading up to an event – the London to Brighton challenge – so i was getting in as much as I could, and if I could use them to nail some other plans so much the better.

Walk the Loop

Walk the Loop

April

Meetings with recruiters continued through April and I was now starting the interview process for some roles. The first weekend outing as another section of the London LOOP (Chigwell to Harold Wood). Another walk the following day to take in the scenes along the river in preparation for the Boat Race, which was taking place that afternoon. Combining walking with other activities is always a good way to motivate me (rather than just seeing it as ‘training’) so another weekend I walked most of the way into town for brunch with friends. For Easter I visited the family and did some canal exploring to get in the miles. And during my work trip this month, I made sure I had time to walk around the city to places instead of taking taxis.

Putney at Boat Race time

Putney at Boat Race time

The family visit this month was fun as we finally got Mom to sign up for parkrun and we made it a family outing, with Mom, sister, her daughter and myself all giving it a go at the local event. And later on the usual visit to the Balti 🙂

I also went to one of my rare theatre visits this month, to see David Tennant in Don Juan of Soho, a really enjoyable, fun, play. Plus an interesting ‘experience bar’, called The Bletchley, where you get to dress up in uniform and solve codes using pretend enigma machines to get cocktails.

Bletchley Bar

Bletchley Bar

After this, another work trip – 5 days in Portugal for a data conference. for the weekend, I took part in a ‘hackathon’ with a team of data scientists from the office, then joined in the conference later. A small opportunity for one afternoon in the sun, but the rest was definitely work.

Porto

Porto

The final event of the month was the Hackney Half marathon (using a run walk strategy throughout). Nowhere near as hot as the previous year (thankfully, far less casualties seen) another great event. Although it’s now been taken over by Virgin, so some things did not feel as local as previous episodes. Given what happened next, not sure it was the best thing to do, in hindsight.

May

I like May. Often the best weather of the year (dry, pleasant, not too warm), it’s also my birthday month, although i rarely do anything to celebrate.

We start with a trip to the cinema (Guardians of the Galaxy – it does seem I mainly visit for the big blockbusters).

Another LOOP walk was planned for the first weekend. But disaster! I managed about 3 miles before having to stop and return home. The half had obviously damaged something and walking was extremely painful – there was no way to continue. Would I be able to make the London to Brighton? Physio arranged, massage and accupuncture organised, but it was not sorted in time. I thought about attempting the long walk..but decided that it may not be the best options. I was borderline fit anyway, which added to the reasoning. So postponed it to 2018. I’ve learnt the lesson though, no races in the training period for the long walk!

In a break with tradition, something was arranged for birthday – a picnic at Kew with the Wine Club girls. That was a lot of fun, the weather was OK, the company was great and we were sensible. This was followed on the Sunday by a pub watch of the Spanish GP with friends. Where we were less sensible with the wine. But that was fine, the Monday was the birthday added work holiday, so a lie in before heading into town for another Michelin meal to celebrate the completion of another solar circulation. More drinks on Tuesday, with a friend on a quick visit from the US. Wow, 3 out of 4 days out and about with friends. That’ll do, will need the rest of the week to hibernate 🙂

I’ve started interviewing a bit more now, in fact one day I had 3 different sessions. Slowly getting into the groove. One of the challenges will be finding the right fit, as I’m not a typical creative planner. (given my background in project management then definitely not the usual type of brain)

For the Bank Holiday, there’s no longer a long distance walk. Instead more time in Kew Gardens (on a hot day, I pack up for the afternoon, take a picnic and spend the time reading a book.)

June

Trooping the Colour! I’ve lived in London for years, and have never been to see this. I was too late to get tickets for the event but…for the 2 weekends before the main event there are rehearsals. You can get tickets for these, but it’s also easy enough to do what I do and just go and stand on the Mall to watch the parade. No Royals, so the crowds are smaller. A great view of the pageantry. Maybe next year I’ll try to get a rehearsal ticket.

Trooping the Colour

Trooping the Colour

One cinema and one theatre trip. Cinema was Wonder Woman, theatre was Hamlet, with Andrew Scott. I’d never seen Hamlet performed, or studied the play, so I have no idea how this compares with other productions, but I really, really enjoyed it and it kept me captivated through the long run time.

Interviews continued this month, but so did the no’s. I was making it down to the last couple, but not the final step. However, an opportunity arose to continue, through current company, with a secondment with adidas, based in their German office working on digital marketing processes. Three months in Germany and then one month back in the London office to get back into the swing of interviews. Why not, a great company to work for, let’s give it a go.

Finally, after months of waiting, I got the response back from the Athletics World Champs…I was in! Admittedly last minute, for a team that had only been decided on at the end, but I was going to be a Mascot Escort, looking after and supporting the mascot activities. Training took place at the end of the month, both general and specific and it looked like it was going to be a lot of fun.

Part 2 to follow shortly!

Nov 12

A History: Jack Harrison

Time to explore the known history of another of my ancestors, this time great-grandfather Jack (christened John) Harrison. A fitting choice for a Remembrance Sunday weekend, being the only one of my direct ancestors that I know served in a World War.

Jack Harrison in his Navy Uniform

Jack Harrison in his Navy Uniform

Jack was born 29 April 1899, at 33 Crosby Street. His father was John Harrison, a Journeyman Hatter at the time; his mother was Hannah Harwood. I’ve previously explored the life of his father John, in another post.

John, known for most of his life as Jack, was the 3rd surviving child out of 9; he was also the 3rd son. At the time of his birth, the family were living at 33 Crosby St, Stockport, a typical 2 up 2 down of the time.

33 Crosby St, Stockport (from Google streetview)

They were still there for the 1901 census but 10 years later, they’d moved to 97 London Rd, which looks to be very similar. There were 8 children living with the family at that point, which must have been cramped. The 2 oldest sons were out earning; Leonard, at 17, was a hairdresser and Sydney, 14, was a Grocer’s Errand Boy. Jack and 2 sisters, (Lizzie and Lily) were at school and 3 children were at home – Fred (4), William (3) and Norah (1). This house was to remain the family home for years – it was the recorded death place of John’s parents 40 years later. Today, it’s a bridal shop.

97 London Rd, the family home for decades, now  bridal shop.

97 London Rd, the family home for decades, now bridal shop.

Three years after this census, World War one broke out. Jack was 14. The school leaving age was 12, so we can assume he’d been working for a few years. But if he was eager to follow the patriotic call, he was too young to sign up for the Army, with the official age set at 18 and soldiers not supposed to serve abroad until they were 19. But many underage boys did manage to serve; analysis of records show that nearly a third of the Navy recruits were underage. In 1916, the UK government started subscription – but he would have still been too young for this. But the Navy were slightly different; you could join them young as a ‘Boy‘, with parents’ permission. Many of those boys, nominally at ‘school’ were sent to sea.

If we look at his older brothers, both did sign up, with the Army, but potentially Jack was the first to join.

  • Leonard Harrison. Enlisting in Dec 1915, aged 22, he served in France. On 26 April 1919, there’s a record of his transfer to the Reserve; he’d been serving in the Royal Horse & Field Artillery, 58th Divisional Ammunition Column. These papers list job as a Driver and his address as 97 London Rd. There’s also a Medal card listed at the National Archives – I’ll have to go and find this at some point.
  • Sydney Harrison. We know Sydney joined the Army – he sent this photo to his Aunt Alice, but not yet identified which record was his.

Sydney Harrison, taken during WW1

Sydney Harrison, taken during WW1

So what about Jack? Here’s his service record:

  • Volunteered 4/5/1915, started service 29/4/1917. Served until 23/10/1919
  • HMS Powerful 5/5/1915-22/11/1915 Training in Devonport, Boy 2nd Class
  • HMS Victory 23/11/15-27/1/16 Still on shore, promoted to Boy 1st Class
  • HMS Malaya 28/1/16 – 27/4/18
  • HMS Sable 28/4/18-7/3/19 An R Class Destroyer
  • HMS Royalist 14/3/19-12/7/19 A Light cruiser
  • HMS Victory 13/7/19-23/10/19 Back on shore

So 5 days after his 16th birthday, Jack signed up for the Navy. His brothers did not appear to be in the forces yet so it did not appear to be family expectations. Was it friends? Did they join up together? Whatever it was, at 16 Jack was heading down to the South Coast for training. How did that feel, to someone who was unlikely to have travelled before. Six months of training followed before he was posted to HMS Victory, usually used to refer to holding barracks in Portsmouth, when sailors were waiting for posting. He’d graduated to being a Boy 1st Class and spent 2 months waiting for the next step.

Navy training class

Navy training class

Is this a Navy graduation picture?

Is this a Navy graduation picture?

That next step was the HMS Malaya, a brand new ship. Jack joined the crew 3 days before its official commissioning, one of most junior members of the 1200+ crew. The ship joined the 5th Battle Squadron ; what it did for the next 4 months I don’t know but on 31 May 1916, they played a part in the Battle of Jutland. At the end of the engagement, the ship had lost 65 crew, with 68 injured. Despite the damage, it got back to port for repairs before sailing again in July.

Post card of HMS Malaya

Post card of HMS Malaya

They appear to have a quiet summer, according to this postcard to his 7 year old sister Norah implies.

Postcard from Jack

Postcard from Jack

Front of postcard from Jack to Norah

Front of postcard from Jack to Norah

Jack carried on with the ship, being promoted to Ordinary Seaman on 29 Apr 1917 and Able Seaman 5 months later on 1 Sep 1917. In April 1918 he was moved to HMS Sable, a destroyer ship with a much smaller crew of only 82. He was with this ship until March 1919. We can assume that during this time he managed to get home a few times, because he was obviously courting. On 11 Feb 1919, Jack married Lillian Robinson.

Lillian and Jack

Lillian and Jack

Lillian was the daughter of a local tobacconist and building merchant William Robinson, a Yorkshireman who’d moved across the Pennines and one of the founding members and first team captain of Stockport Rugby Club. He was good enough to play for Cheshire country team. Stockport was one of the founder members of the new Rugby League and we can assume that William played a major part in this, given his prominence in the club.

Beatrice Robinson (nee Lee) and the Tobacconist shop

Beatrice Robinson (nee Lee) and the Tobacconist shop

There was one more stint at sea, before Jack finally left the Navy in October 1919. Time to settle down, stat the family and get on with life. His first daughter, Mabel was born in 1920; Lillian, my Grandmother, was born in 1922. It was 15 years before another child was born – John Leslie, in 1937. There are no other records of any other children apart from these 3.

There’s no records over the next 20 years, until the 1939 Register when we find them in Roscoe St, still in Stockport. Another typical terraced house.

26 Roscoe St, Stockport

26 Roscoe St, Stockport

At this point we have Jack and Lillian, living with John Leslie and their daughter Lillian, along with a lodger Arthur. Their other daughter can be found back in the family home in Castle St, with her grand-parents. Jack was now a Locomotive Fireman – looking after the boilers on trains.

Jack Harrison at work on the trains

Jack Harrison at work on the trains

He was also breeding dogs at the address; we have an old business card “J Harrison, Breeder of Classical Pedigree Wirehaired Fox Terriers; Malayan Kennels, 26 Roscoe St, Edgeley, Stockport Owner of Fyldelands Starlight”. Naming the star dog implies it was a good dog from a famous breedline. The only other mention i can find to Fyldelands is to a best in show dog from St Louis in 1931, so definitely from an international breeder. And the name of the kennels was a callback to his WW1 Navy Career.

None of the family appeared to have served in WW2, too old or too young. In 1943, Jack’s daughter Lillian moved out, marrying another Jack, my grandfather. Mabel never married.

Jack’s wife Lillian died in 1956 and was buried in Cheadle Cemetery. Just over a year later, tragedy struck again, with John Leslie, at only just 20, also dying. Jack stayed in the same house for the next 20 years, before dying in the local hospital in 1977, at the age of 77. He was buried in the same grave as his wife. I may have met him, but I don’t remember. As the family was living 100miles further south, I do know we did not make that many visits.

As with his father, a man that lived through many changes. Born in the last years of Victoria he served in WW1 and lived through WW2. He was born before planes and died when package holidays were starting to become available to the wider populace – did he ever get on a plane? Did he ever travel far after his journey’s in the war? so many questions, no-one to ask any more.

Nov 01

A weekend in Garmisch Partenkirchen

Looking south across the Alps

Looking south across the Alps

As the year slips into autumn, I thought it was time to get back out into the hills. After some time spent looking at options, whether to fly or not, whether to drive, I decided on a visit to Garmisch Partenkirchen, just a 3 hour train journey from Nuremberg. It’s got mountains and lakes, hills and gorges. Seemed perfect for a walking weekend.

I booked a hotel just by the station, easy to get to Reindl’s is perfectly placed and has a good reputation, although the initial impressions were a little off – I’d arrived around 10 and there was no longer anyone in the kitchen, so no food possible. But luckily, this was the only misstep during my stay.

A view from Zugspitzen

Looking down from the top of Zugspitzen

Awakening on Saturday, the skies were grey. Not what was forecast, I was expecting sun, but luckily this arrived a few hours later. One last check of the weather report and today’s plans were finalised. First, a tip up the mountain! Zugspitze is the highest peak in Germany. I’d briefly considered hiking up to the top, but there was not enough light/time available and the huts were shut, so that was not the best option. Instead, I took the easy way – a train. Just behind the main station, you can find the Zugspitzbahn, a hourly train that can take you almost all the way to the top. It’s not cheap though – 53E to get you there and back. It starts off like a normal train, until you get to Grainau, when it changes to a cog train, to get up the incline. Further on, from Eibsee, they’re also rebuilding the cable car, replacing the previous version that was built in 1963. The new car is going to be able to take nearly 3x more people (120 instead of 44); it will be quicker than the train with far better views!

Looking down on Eibsee

Looking down on Eibsee

But for today, just the slower train (the total trip is about 75mins) that heads up and then though the mountain. The train takes you to Zugspitzplatt, on the southern side of the mountain. From there, you transfer to the Gletscherbahn cable car (you can do this as many times as you like, it’s covered in ticket price) for the final section up to the top. During the winter, the Zugspitzplatt looks like to be a ski centre, with plenty of lifts to take you back up the slopes.

Zugspitzplatt

Zugspitzplatt

For my visit, most of the top of the mountain was a building site, as they upgrade the cable car station connecting to Eibsee. However, you could still get around enough of it to take in the views. To the north was the view back down to Eibsee, to the south and east the Glacier, the ski slopes and more mountains, to the west were the mountains of Austria.

You can also take the final climb to the top of the mountain, by leaving the terrace, down the stairs then up a small via ferrata route to the top. Quite a few were doing this (I did part of it, not feeling like the final scramble). I wonder if there are many accidents because it’s a long way down!

Eibsee lake

Eibsee lake

Reversing my route, I wandered around the station area for a bit; they’ve installed a few information boards, there’s a chapel and you can just wander around, or eat and drink in one of the 3 or so restaurants there (there’s also a couple of restaurants at the very top). Back on the train and this way I get off at Eibsee – the ticket covers you breaking up the journey. More bars and restaurants on the lakeside near the station, but my goal was to circumnavigate the lake, a trip just under 5miles. It’s a wonderful path around the lake, a sparkling clear body of water, with mountains all around. There were lots of people doing the same walk – I’m guessing in the summer it gets completely packed. Even families with pushchairs were doing it, although as most of it is not paved, that looked a hard job!

Zugspitzen from the Eibsee

Zugspitzen from the Eibsee

Back at the hotel it was time for some cake – they offer free cake in the late afternoon – and then spa time. There’s a pool and a sauna suite available (wet and dry saunas, plus a steam room). Then I ended the day with a superb meal at their restaurant. (actually I ended the day watching F1, but that is proabably not everyone’s choice). They do a good fixed price menu option and is obviously a popular place, as it was nearly full, not bad for ‘out of season’.

Sunday arrived and as forecast, it was raining. After breakfast and checking out, my plan was to stick closer to home – the famous Partnachklamm (Partnach gorge), a 700m long, 80m deep gorge that was declared a natural monument in 1912. By the time I was ready, the rain had stopped and luckily, did not come back when I was out and about. It’s an easy walk of a couple of miles to the gorge, out of the hotel, follow the river along the Geologischen Lehrpfad “Die Steine des Alpenraums”. Basically, that’s lots and lots of rock examples. Each sample is labelled and usually has information, although it’s only in German.

Ski jumps

Ski jumps

Past the Olympic stadium and the ski jumps that are in regular usage. Given the sizes of the jumps, from small to Olympic, I assume they teach ski-jumping here as well. You keep following the river, which can take you right to the gorge. But not that path for me, I’d decided I’d go up into the hills and come back down the river, so I branched off and started the climb. You follow a narrow road up to Partnachalm before dropping back down the side of the valley, along a steep and winding path.

In the hills

In the hills

It was here I started getting traffic, as many seemed to have the same idea, doing the route in the opposite direction. The gorge costs 5E, but on this day, there was no-one guarding the top of the gorge path (not sure if there would be on busier days) so you just start the walk. All the way along, a narrow path has been carved/blasted out. Parts of it are tunnels; there are no lights so you rely on windows (or phone torches).

Entrance to gorge

Entrance to gorge

Blue water and bronze leaves

Blue water and bronze leaves

Water falls

Water falls

It is marvelous and magnificent. At this time of year, there are swathes of beech leaves, that glow like wet copper on the rock. The water is milky blue and rushes down, drowning out most conversation. Fully recommend this as an outing from Garmish, it’s amazing. At the bottom, you need to pay your money. Most people travel up the gorge and then appear to come back down, with the fitter ones heading up the valley to walk down the other way.
That was it, time to get back on the train north. A superb weekend away, in an area that is an outdoor
enthusiasts paradise; hiking in the summer and snow sports in the winter.

Rock formations

Rock formations

For the full set of photos see on Flickr: Zugspitzen and Eibsee and Partnachklamm

Oct 14

EBC Trek: Back down to Lukla

After all that effort making our way up, it was a lot quicker getting back down to our starting point.

Back down the valley

Back down the valley

Friday 23 Dec

The best views of Everest from this valley are from Kala Pattar; watching the sun rise over the mountain was the plan for the morning. But not for me. I decided that I needed the rest, the cough was still plaguing me and chest hurt – getting up before dawn to breathe in ice cold air was not a good idea. It was not a late lie-in though, we were still out the door before 8 to walk down. The distances downhill were planned to be longer, there are fewer days to get back to Lukla. Our target was 1100m lower, the lodge where we lunched on Monday, 4 days ago. Eight hours later, by a different route to the one we used to go up, I made it, one of the last. The day had not been a good one for me, lack of sleep, accumulated tiredness meant today I was really slow, not wanting to miss a step. A hard day, I was glad to get to the cozy dining room and get hot food, before being able to sleep all the way through to 8!

Boiling water using solar power

Boiling water using solar power

Saturday 24 Dec

Today we ran out of weather luck. We’d had blue skies and sunshine all the way up the valleys, but today, the clouds came over, it was grey and dull, the mountains were hidden, no views for us today. A new route again, we travelled on the east side of the river, our target Tengboche Monastery after a shorter walk of only 4 hours. Lunch was the ‘famous’ pizza, which was pretty good, a change from the usual. Time to relax before a visit to the monastary, to listen to one of the ‘services’ a series of chants. Finally, as we were leaving, the clouds broke in places and we Everest came back into view, floating over the clouds.

Floating above the clouds

Floating above the clouds

Today also brought us one of the funniest episodes; a local herder had 3 yaks who became very, very interested in 3 cows that were grazing outside the lodge. The poor man was trying to get his yaks away and he’d run after them, herding them one way and the other before one of the yaks would break off again and he’d have to start again. Finally, one of the guides joined in and between them they managed to separate the groups and get the yaks moving down hill!

Sun 25 Dec

Christmas Day. Waking up to look out and watch the sun rise, te tips of Everest and the surrounding mountains glowing as the sun caught them. This has to rate as one of the best hotel views in the world.

Dawn light on Everest

Dawn light on Everest

Another long day planned; all the way down from Tengboche and then back up the next mountain, finally connecting with the good path into Namche. A break for lunch – no turkey here, but a cheese sandwich and chips were very welcome. Down the long hill and keep moving along the valley to our lodge for the night. I’m tired now, I want a shower and non-carb based food. It’s becoming a slog, retracing the steps. I think jumping on a helicopter at Namche would have been an ideal end of trip treat!

Mon 26 Dec

Last day! 7am wake up, eggs for breakfast then the long trudge to Lukla. Traffic jams all the way back – there’d been a delay in flights, creating a backlog of people and now they were all making their way up. Again, a reminder how lucky we had been with the lack of crowds.

People and donkeys queuing

People and donkeys queuing

Along the river, cross the river, along the river, repeat. Long breaks, we’re nearly done now. Finally, our final lodge. Drop the bags, off to find a bank for a little more cash. A visit to ‘Starbocks’ for a welcome hot coffee, free wifi and cake. Sit and while away the afternoon, watching snow fall where we have just travelled. Realising how lucky we were with the weather.

The end

That’s the end of my diary. An early flight out in the morning, back to the Kathmandu hotel to pick up the luggage left. I had an extra day at the hotel, the safety day just in case we could not fly out of the mountains, which can often happen. Very little was done, just chilled out. The back home, flights via Delhi home for 30 Dec, in time to
lose out the year.

This trip had pushed me harder than any other. I’d underestimated the fitness needed for the uphills; I had the stamina to take the long days but not the leg strength needed. Downhills were hard, that’s confidence more than anything else. Not sure I’ll ever be too good at that! Despite all of that, it was an amazing trip, in a fabulous country and I’d love to do it again.

Oct 14

EBC Trek: Everest Base Camp

We were nearly there..one more trek.

A glimpse of Everest from Base Camp

A glimpse of Everest from Base Camp

Thursday 22 Dec

Today was the big day, our final ‘uphill’ day. We had one of our earliest starts, up at 5:30, out the door at 6:30 as dawn was breaking. Off we went, heading to Gorek Shep; minimal plants, moss and lichens with occasional grass clunps. Glacial moraine, rocks and dirt, and increasingly, ice. There’s a path of sorts, a way though, but it’s ephemeral, disappearing and changing over time. The ground moves and there’s no fixed way. We pass a few coming down the way, on their way back from their trek. Nods and smiles – they’ve achieved their goals, now it’s our turn.

Heading up along the valley

Heading up along the valley

A few hours later we arrived at Gorek Shep, a small cluster of buildings that caters for trekkers. Time for breakfast number 2. Time to leave behind things, only taking the essentials as we head out for the last section, planned between 2-3 hours.

Sign posts to Base Camp

Sign posts to Base Camp

The start is easy, a flat sandy section, then gradually heads up, alongside the glacier, through more rocks and dirt. Up ahead, you can see the target, a bowl of mountains, the end of the valley.

Khumba Glacier

Khumba Glacier

Now down to the glacier, and a warning to make it quick – rock falls are possible, we need to keep an eye out. Across we go, to the ‘photo opportunity’. The cairn that gets built every year for visitors, that gets festooned with flags. We’d made it, we’re at 5,380, a vertical climb of 2.5km since we landed at Lukla

Cairn, flags and memories

Cairn, flags and memories

Silence, except for the ice cracking and groaning, the occasional bang as snow and ice break off . The slopes to slip down to the valleys. We’re the only ones there, everyone else had left and our small group had the place to ourselves. Deep blue skies, black and white mountains, the jumble of the Khumba Ice fall as it tumbles down lip of the mountain, and above us, the tip just barely visible, is Everest, tantalising us as it’s done ever since we first glimpsed it on the way up the hill to Namche. You don’t go to Base Camp to take a good look at Everest, you go for the journey and the challenge. Everest is just the beacon that guides you.

Icefall

Icefall

Done, Made it. A quiet sense of achievement. On my first day in the mountains I didn’t think I’d make it, but here I am, goal reached.

So what now? There’s no quick way back, we have to cover all the miles again – at least it’s ‘downhill’!

Back down the valley to be reunited with our gear. Gorek Shep was the most basic of all the lodges we stayed at – and the most expensive. It’s just a few tourist lodges; everything has to be carried up, so things are kept to a minimum and charged for at a premium. We’d were told they’d tried ‘western’ toilets, but they froze too often and cracked..so squat toilets were the only ones available (most of the other lodges we were had got sit on loos, even if no proper flush). But we had food, a bed, and some warmth with the dung fire. One final check of stats – HR106, %O2 83. Looks like my body coped fine this time. Time for bed!

Oct 08

EBC Trek: Namche Bazar to Lobuche

I’m guessing by the time I finish this report on my Everest Base Camp trek it’ll be a year old? Anyway, let’s start this again. When you last read an installment, we’ made it to Namche Bazar and had just finished our first acclimatisation day. Next we were heading further up the valley.

Leaving Namche Bazar

Leaving Namche Bazar

Sun 18 Dec: Namche Bazar to Phaortse

Early mornings started in earnest; up at 6:30, out walking by 8:15. A long hard day ahead, multiple terrain, following a slightly less followed track. Blue skies and warm weather at least made it pleasant to walk in. Before we hit the trails though, we had to escape Namche Bazar, about 20 minutes walking up through the town, lots of steps. One area appeared to be a staging post for yak trails; with one batch starting out as we went by. Possibly the most dangerous part – I was saved from a knocking by a rapid reaction of a guide as one of the yaks suddenly decided to change path and head at me! Once out of the town, we found the nicest part of the trail, well made and wide, hugging the hillside. Another 20 minutes, we went by the man responsible, someone who seems to spend his days making the path, accepting donations from all the trekkers. Beyond that point, it got a lot rougher.

Porters and Loads

Porters and Loads

 Phortse Path

Looking towards Phaortse. the blue roofs in the distance.. The wide path to the left

We climbed all the way to our lunch stop, at 4375m, a lovely place where we could look down on our evening stop. After lunch, at 4375m, the path got narrower, rockier and edgier – a lot more edges. We went down and down…and at this point it was really brought home how I hate downs. Distance judgement off, never quite sure of step, head down focusing on my feet, never looking around. The a break, a river crossing and uphill again. The paths up to the village are so dusty, you’re continously breathing it in and everyone is starting to develop a cough from this, which continues for the trip, not helped by altitude. The village of Phaortse is different from any places we stop off, less touristy with fewer lodges. narrow walled paths between fields. Finally our lodge, owned by an Everest Climbing Sherpa – the certificates are in the common room. Dinner (dhal bat) and obs (HR96, %O2 87) and early bed.

The trek from Namche Bazar to Phaortse

The trek from Namche Bazar to Phaortse

Mon 19 Dec: Phaortse to Dingboche

Looking back at Phaortse

Looking back at Phaortse

We were out the door early today, 7:45. Altitude was really starting to bite, with many of the group not having to slept well. Up out the village, around a muntain and then one horrible bit down. I have to admit to having a little cry when I got to the bottom of that path, a stress release given how terrified i was all the way down. For me, that was the worst path of the whole trek, not something I’d like to repeat! In general, today was a slow day for all. The effort was telling in the legs, it was a hot day and the path was difficult. We’d split up by lunchtime, with 15mins between front and back – but as they kept telling us, going at own pace, slow and steady, was best way to deal with the effort needed and the altitude impact.

Prayers

Prayers

So far, I’ve been fine with symptons (except for breathlessness) but some in the group having bad headaches and dizzyness. We’re being reminded to drink lots, which is made more important with the temperatures. A long day, only reaching the lodge just before sunset, when it’s time to change from tshirts to full thermal kit – it gets cold! Time for food and obs – my HR is 119, struggling a little, %O2 83. Unfortunately, the day has proved too much for AF, – a %O2 of 64. That’s serious. Rechecks and concerned faces all around. Decision is drink lots of warm water, rest for now and check again in the morning before decision made.

Sunset from Lobuche

Sunset from Lobuche

Phaortse to Dingboche

Phaortse to Dingboche

Tues 20 Dec: Dingboche Acclimatisation

Acclimatisation walk at Dingboche

Acclimatisation walk at Dingboche

Unfortunately, AF did not get much sleep – I was in the next room and heard her couging a lot. Very very early, I hear lots of coming and going from the room, checking things out. No improvements, so a decision was made to evacuate her down the mountain when she could still walk, even if she needed support – accompanied by 2 guides and a porter. A guide was back for lunch, reporting that she was feeling better at lower altitude, after food and drink and was now on her way further down under her own power. So now we were down to 6 – AF’s boyfriend had been told to stay with us and finish the trek.

Himalayan Valley

Himalayan Valley

Today was our 2nd acclimiatisation day, so a late start of 9am was allowed. Today’s route is simple – straight up 400m or so to about 4800m, then down for a late lunch before lazing (and drinking) the rest of the day away in our suntraps of rooms, gloriously warm. I needed it, as I now had a touch of the cold that had been brought into the group, leading me to have a very poorly chest. At the end of the day, HR was down to 106, %O2 up to 86.

Acclimatisation Dingboche walk

Acclimatisation Dingboche walk

Wed 21 Dec: Dingboche to Lobuche

Yaks

Yaks

Now onto the final stretch. An easier start to the day, as we travel along a glacial valley, a fairly horizontal walk compared to some. Plenty of yaks grazing, minimal steps to go up and down.

Mountains and valleys

Mountains and valleys

It’s a short morning, by 11:15 we were at our break stop. today, just soup and lemon tea. At this point we joined the more regular route and started to run into a few more people on their way down the large hill next to the lunch stop. Making my way up it, I regretted the lack of carbs at lunch, something a bit more solid would have sat better. 🙂 In addition, throat was extremely sore, with cold air and coughing, so all in all, not a happy person this afternoon.

At the top of the hill, a rest and a chance for contemplation in a filed of memorials to those who had died in the mountains, many on Everest.

Memorials

Memorials

Field of memorials

Field of memorials

The final stretch was more glacial valleys, relatively steady slopes, far more opportunities to take in the scenery. A few cereal bars had made me feel a lot better and I really enjoyed the atfernoon ‘stroll’ to our lodge at Lobuche, for an early stop around 2:30. Here we had more company than usual; we’d been meeting up with a couple at most of the night stops, but there were a few more here. Lobuche apparently is lodges only, no permanent residents.

The meal menu was the usual, a choice of dal baat, fired potatoes or fried noodles, sherpa stew or the occasional momo. By this point I’d kill for steak and spinach! Today’s stats were HR118 and %O2 86.

Fried potato

Fried potato

Walk Dingboche to Lobuche

Walk Dingboche to Lobuche

Aug 13

Volunteering at the World Athletics 2017

Start of the 100m semi finals, London 2017

Optimism

October 2016. I’d filled in the form and finally hit submit. After failing to get selected to volunteer at the Olympics, was trying again for the World Athletics Championships, heading to London in the summer of 2017. And so the wait started. The numbers being talked about were 15k applications, 10k interviews and 4k volunteers to be chosen. Would I get through this time?

Finally, in late November, I got the yes..for the interview. Off I went, for some ‘team building’ activities and a chat. I’d applied to be part of the marketing/branding team giving my experience. What do they look for? I’m still not sure. Then waiting and waiting. We were supposed to get the results by end of April, but nothing arrived. Twitter started to show acceptances coming through, but refreshing the email still showed nothing. Mid May – a phone call! I’d got in. I was offered a role of ‘Mascot Escort!!’. Not quite sure what that had to do with my experience, but I was in, I’d give it a go.

Excitement

During training, the reason for the delay became clear – I’d only just made it in, as the formation of the mascot team was a late addition. No matter, I was looking forward to this, they had great plans, we’d get to be in the experience village and the stadium, it sounded fun!

Hero the Hedgehog. London2017

Hero having fun

Despair

One week before my first shift, an email. Oh no! The role no longer existed, they’d given it a go for the Para games, but apparently, volunteers were not needed. But, not to worry, they’d shifted me to a team to support the charity, i was going to be carrying a bucket to collect money. Oh 🙁 Not what I signed up for. I thought about it over the weekend and rang them up, I needed to withdraw, this was not for me. But, somehow, I was talked into at lest trying 1 shift and seeing how it went.

Tentative

Early Saturday morning; collecting ID and uniform. Oh look, I was still in Mascot team according to that computer, with access to plenty of places. But no, shift check in confirmed, I was on the bucket brigade. Found the team, changed into yet another t-shirt, handed a bucket then out into the park. We positioned ourselves, and hoped we could get people to stop. No bucket shaking allowed, according to the police. no talking about the charity..according the the police. So we just stood there and hoped. No smiles, little interaction. Definitely not for me. That was it, I was going to cancel the other shifts.

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt at start of 100m

Hope

But..a glimmer of hope. Chatting to one of the other volunteers, they suggested I could join their team, working in the Hero Village, helping the spectators, getting them involved. A chat to the Team Manager and it was on. Back to checkin, and it was sorted. Team changed, shifts adjusted, a new role confirmed. It also turned out there still was a Mascot team, it was had just been reduced (although there were still not enough people to manage the queues for photos)

Hero and I have a moment

Hero and I have a moment

Dancing

I found my niche! I danced my way through 4 shifts, getting rained on and sunburnt. My mission, to make people smile as they entered the village. And I think I succeeded wth about 98% of the people. The ones who didn’t? All well dressed men, looking very corporate, obviously not here to have fun. Oh, and small toddlers who mainly looked at me as though i was mad, they weren’t quite sure what to make of me.

Exhausting work, but a lot of fun. Unlike bucket collecting, people reacted to you and they were having fun too. Honestly, I’d have preferred a role that used my actual skills and experience – how about social media?? 🙂 But if I couldn’t get that, I made the most of the role I had and had a great time.

Gatlin, before 100m semis

Gatlin, before 100m semis

Reflection

I’ve volunteered before, at World Rowing Champs, at rowing events, at Park Run, at the London Marathon. But this was the first big Athletics event – and 1st big event since ‘volunteering’ became so popular. Volunteering has become ‘professional’ and some of that leaked through. There’s definitely a core group of people who are racking up major event volunteering, most are great, some, not quite so welcoming if you’re not following the ‘correct behaviour’. For many, this may be the first time volunteering, so this behaviour may not be known!

The team recruiting the volunteers was not the same team running the championships, so some volunteers, recruited in good faith, were left disappointed. I wasn’t needed for Mascot team – the paid team had it covered. Even in my second team – the charity team – things did not quite go to plan. Almost all collection had to stop after Thursday, and most of the team got cut. This happened in quite a few teams – I’ve read about timing, ticketing, stadium teams all being impacted. I think most were accommodated, but not sure if everyone had the time they expected. Some teams had not enough people and were busy trying to recruit people for more shifts. Others were calling up volunteers just days before the event. Is this a combination of not quite getting numbers right and late drop outs from people who had not fully committed?

Overall, I loved my experience. I’d give it another go. But hopefully, lessons will continue to be learnt about balancing an over-abundance of applications, with the needs to the organisers and the reality of the events. Yes, this is coloured by my experience of team changes, but having talked to others (and read the facebook groups), not everyone had a good time.

Mar 26

Kathmandu to Lukla to Namche Bazar

Donkey Train

Donkey Train

Despite having little to do on my first morning in Kathmandu, my body clock still woke me up at 6:30am, which was probably a good idea given the next few weeks of early mornings ahead of me. Lazy breakfast and a brief wander around Kathmandu before heading towards the briefing, which is the time to meet my travel companions for the next 2 weeks.

The Group

The Group

In the group we had 3 from New Zealand, 1 from Australia and 3 from London (including myself). An 8th person was supposed to be joining us, but never turned up. We did initial introductions, filled in paper work, got a briefing on altitude sickness and an overview of what we would be experiencing in the next few weeks. Then off to buy last minute things before meeting up again for dinner and early night. first day was very low key.

The start of the next day was less so; meet up time was 5:15am, we were booked on a 6:15 flight. Now we started to see the type of peple we were traveling with. Four of us were early (that would include me), 2 were bang on time and the last? The last had to be got out of bed and helped finish suitcases as they’d heard 5:45 somehow! No matter, it was a short ride to the airport, some random security, a pick up of our hand written boarding passes and then we wait for them to call the planes.

Unloading at Lukla

Unloading at Lukla

Lukla flights tend to be first thing in the morning; the turbulence and visibility gets worse later in the day. So you have planes doing a shuttle run every morning, with very quick turnarounds. We were on the first flight out. grab your seat, any seat, a quick briefing and off we went. No cockpit lockign here, we could see right through the window. The airport has a reputation – you land uphill, into a cliff, quick get unloaded and the plane picks up the next lot and flies back down the slope.

Lukla Airport

Lukla Airport

Our bags were grabbed by our guides and we headed off to breakfast before starting the first day hike.

Lukla (2840m) to Phakding (2610m)

Lukla to Phakding altitude

Lukla to Phakding altitude

You’re reading that right, the first day is downhill. It’s a try out day, a day to check your gear and how you are coping. Total distance is about 5m, but you have the start of some altitude and a few uphill sections to try out your legs. It took us about 4 hours and we were in the lodge in time for lunch. For the rest of the day we chatted and lazed around; after dinner it was the first of our early to bed days, which tended to be a theme as we headed up the mountain.

Villages

Villages

Phakding (2610m) to Namche Bazar (3440m)

Phakding to Namche altitude

Phakding to Namche altitude

the first day’s hike definitely lulls you into a sense of false security. This isn’t too bad you think..welcome to Day 2 which quickly disabuses you of this notion. We carry on walking along the river valley, crossing over various suspension bridges, back and forth on both sites of the Dudh Kosi River. You pass through lots of litte villages, all catering to tourists in some way. And you’re learning the best way to avoid yaks (and variants) and donkeys. Yak and donkey trains take priority. They’re the goods movers of this part of the mountains, more so than people.

We’re still in wooded country, trees and rhododendrons. but we’re getting glimpses of snow covered mountains ahead. Finally we catch a glimpse of the famous double suspension bridge. The bridge is amazing, the thought of what lies ahead less so. An 700m climb straight up towards Namche. Ouch, seriously hurt. slowly, slowly, one foot at a time. Lots of steps, lots of dust and loose stones, the paths are not the easiest. You can really feel the reduced oxygen available by now, you’re out of breath almost with every step.

Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge

We do get our first glimpse of Everest though; a view point perfectly aligned with the valley beyond. Just the tip – although that’s all we usually see, just the top of a mountain hidden behind others.

Everest Glimpse

Everest Glimpse

Finally, finally we reached Namche and climbed up more steps. The whole village is built around a bowl in the hills, so there are steps everywhere to get between levels. Never has a lodge been so welcome! And food, I’m not yet bored of the choice of potatoes, rice or noodles.

Namche Bazar

Namche Bazar

Another lecture on Altitude sickness, a reminder to start taking Diamox and a time for measurements – HR (120) and O2 (88%). These would be taken daily to assess our adjustment.

A day in Namche

Acclimatisation walk

Acclimatisation walk

No advancement today, time for acclimatisation. We go for a further up the hill, to the National Park Headquarters and the famous status of Tenzing Norgay, with more views of Everest. The weather was blue skies again, something we had a lot of during our trek. It was surprisingly warm, we were all in a single layer for most of the daytime Then back down in time for lunch (fried potatoes and cheese for me). This was our final chance to buy any trekking gear, or to stock up on food. Also more chance to find out about the team. Myself and T are the least experienced in the bunch – and possibly the least fittest. Despite the training I’d done, it was not enough. R is definitely the fittest and you could see at times over the trip his frustration that he needs to stay with us slow people, but that is the risk when you come along with a random group. We all charged up phones etc and took a chance for a hot shower, the last one we would see for a while.

Tenzing Norgay and Everest

Tenzing Norgay and Everest

Another early night, but not after my stats were checked. HR had come down to 96, my body was adjusting; the O2 was still at 88%. I was happy – sleeping the previous evening was not easy, i really thought that I was not going to be able to go further. My first time at altitude and all you can do is follow the rules – walk slowly, drink lots of water, take the pills and hope your body adjusts.

Mar 18

Travel: A trip to India

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

After 6 months of preparing, getting equipment and trying to get fit, my trip to India and Nepal was ready to go. Rubbish was put out, heating turned down, everything washed up and the final elements added to the suitcase. it was time to head off for 3 weeks, my first Christmas and New Year away from the family. The first part of the trip was a few days in India before I headed off to Nepal.

The bag was hurled to work for the last Friday and the hours ticked by through the day. I’d finished off everything and it was only the last bits of admin to do. But finally it was time to head to Heathrow and my plane. A slight anxious moment at checkin, a frown at the screen. Had I failed in my plans? Was my visa OK? But everything was OK, I was away, security, lounge and finally time for boarding. Drinks provided and pyjamas, I was all set for the overnight flight to Delhi.

My journey was set up with Intrepid Travel, so all connections and hotels were arranged through them, starting with airport pickup. After a long flight, I made the mistake of not joining the long queue to pick up currency, it caused issues later when I tried to get cash – India was still suffering from the currency change that had been called and there was little available. Once in the car, we did not go that far, but there were still times I had my eyes closed, lane markings appeared to be advisory only! Definitely not a place I’d be comfortable driving in. Arrived at hotel and my first travel issue. I had no booking. A few phone calls later, nothing found. Eventually, he accepted my paper version of the booking confirmation and cleared it with the company later. One of the reasons i always print out (2) copies of everything when I travel!

The hotel was fairly basic – the travel company was mainly aimed at backpacker types – but it did for the night. A few hours sleep, and then just food and repacking. We had 2 blackouts during the afternoon, with the generator kicking in after a few minutes each time.

The next day, another issue. the hotel wanted cash for the bill (my food). I had no cash. Eventually got them to take card. Luckily, that was the last of any issues, everything else went well. Once that had been sorted out, I met up with my guide for the morning, we were going on a quick tour of Delhi, just a couple of places to get a flavour of the city.

Delhi Street

Delhi Street

The first stop was the Jama Masjid mosque, built by Shah Jahan (a name I was going to become familiar with over the next 2 days). Apparently the open courtyard can hold 25,000 people! So shoes off, a flowery robe put on and time for a wander and photos. A guess on a clear day you would have a good view over Delhi, but the haze was strong.

Jama Masjid Mosque, Delhi

Jama Masjid Mosque, Delhi

Next on the list was a short walk to a Sikh temple, more shoes off, this time a scarf to cover the forehead/top of head (not just me, the male guide too)

Sikh Temple, Delhi

Sikh Temple, Delhi

Our final stop of the morning, via pedal rickshaw, was a spice market, apparently an old brothel. Now it has all been converted to shops and houses, even the central square.

Spice market, Delhi

Spice market, Delhi

The morning was just a small taste of Delhi, 3 quick stops with very good, knowledgeable guide who had a lot to say about the places we visited and India and Delhi in general. My first impression and definitely culture shock for me; my travels have never taken me to this part of Asia or to any countries like it.

I was handed back to my driver and we headed to the next stop – the long 200 km drive to Agra for the other main attraction on my stay, the Taj Mahah. The main reason for doing this little trip before heading to the Himalayas was to get over jetlag; I reasoned that if I was travelling via Delhi, I should take a look at one of the main attractions.

The driver was excellent through the Delhi streets; I’d (sort of) stopped flinching at every beep of the horn, of which there were many, and I had time to look around me a little more to see the different lives, from upmarket flats to a small spot on the side of the road. Such wide contrasts. Street markets consisting of piles of shoes or clothes or produce with people many deep around the piles. Are there spotters or do people not take things when they easily could? Long stretches of road with clothes hung to dry along the central reservation fence. Once out of the city, the drive was along toll roads, it could have been England – fields, hedges, yellow flowers. A few hours later and we arrived in Agra and I started to my animal count – cows, horses, goats and even camels were seen.

Just a hint of the Taj Mahal, there was heavy haze and there was no clear view. Because of that, it was not going to be a dawn trip, but a more sensible hour of 9:30 pickup. We managed to get there before a main rush; on the way in, we were straight up to the ticket office, by the time we came out, there was a long queue.

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

Another great guide, knew all the best places for photos, wanted to make sure I got all the classic views, although was a little surprised I didn’t want my picture on ‘that’ bench along with everyone else. He was good at fending off the ‘official’ photographers and other vendors.

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

A low walk up the gardens, plenty of photo ops and then up to go inside the building itself. As foreign tourists, we got the cover up booties instead of having to take off shoes to enter the building. Inside was actually a little disappointing; not as much to admire as the actual building itself. Outside definitely better than inside.

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

In the afternoon, time for a visit to the Agra Fort, the 3rd building associated with Shah Jahan – he was imprisoned here by his son for 8 years.

Agra Fort

Agra Fort

A return now to the hotel for the rest of the day; if I wanted to go and explore, the driver would be available to me. i took that as a strong hint to not to wander around alone. I wasn’t going to do that, i realised I did not know enough about how the country works to be comfortable doing that. Beer and food in the hotel, plus a ring side view of the wedding parade that went by.

Agra Wedding

Agra Wedding

My final day in India was a long travel day. Pick up was at 8; the driver doe this trip between Delhi and Agra all the time, taking groups up and down. He does it 2-3 months at a time and then returns north to see his family for a few months. We first traveled to Fatehpur Sikri, the capital of the Mughal empire from 1571 to 1585 (when it was abandoned due to lack of water).

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

Another new guide to take me around; unfortunately, this one was not that good, i got the key points but that was it. the guides do appear to have a fixed script and tend to want to go through it; this was the least fluid and the least likely to change based on my questions, he stuck to the script.

We parked the car, then got on the bus to the palace. The first of the money transactions took place – the bus, my ticket, the guide ticket at the end, the bus and then the parking. If India is to continue to drive to be a cashless society, as I saw from the press and the large promotion of mobile pay, then it has a long way to go before these transactions get altered.

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

After the palace, the long drive back to Delhi, getting back to the hotel about 4, an hour waiting around and then off to the airport for my flight to Kathmandu. Eventually got into my hotel there at 11:45, tired and ready for bed.

I was not comfortable during my trip to India; I partly expected this from what I knew about the place, a reason I’d never visited before. Too chaotic for me, I prefer a little more order. It’s not on my list of ‘must go back now’, although I’d be open to explore a little more at some point. But even so, I did enjoy the trip and loved what I saw.

Flickr Photos:
Delhi
Agra
Fatehpur Sikri