Friday, May 28, 2004

Nature notes

Another day of cycling into an on-coming weather front. And moor-chicks in the verge as I was cycling in. And the house martins are definitely back this week - the earlier spotting last month was probably a false alarm.

I've placed my bet on wet weather over the Bank Holiday weekend by putting lawn feed/moss killer on the lawn last night. Which will probably ensure dry weather throughout.

Bad metrics

Well, it's suddenly been realised by the meejah that the UK is going the way of the US in its population of human spheroids - and has a number of milder cases (thinking of a colleague of mine who is about 15 years younger than me, and wheezes to his desk after climbing up two floors on the stairs). But then people start using the ridiculous BMI value as a measure.

About 6-7 years back, I had a fitness assessment at the gym - I use the local Y - and they got the callipers out, and decided that, given the ideal fat % at age 40, I should lose about 6kg i.e. get down to a total of 90kg. Last time I weighed myself, I was 91kg, and I don't think I've shed muscle mass in the interim, what with doing more longer distance cycling to work than I was doing then, and keeping up the workouts over the winter.

But at about 5' 10", that gives a BMI of just under 29 even for the ideal fat %age. Just goes to show that the BMI was computed with a population without significant muscle mass, especially upper body mass.

Myself, I prefer the 35"/90cm waistline criterion.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The bheer thing…

Beer Festival week - so of course the weather deteriorates. There was a glimpse of hazy sunshine for a few minutes, before heavy grey cloud set in.

This year I was actually able to get some of the Woodfoorde's Wherry - a familiar favourite - before going on to the Guernsey Brewery's Island Gold, Sarah Hughes' Dark Ruby Mild (6% ABV, smooth, sweet and goes down dangerously easily!), and Wolf Brewery's Sheeps' Clothing, and another dose of Wherry (halves of course!).

And this year, as well as real pork pies and super cheese, real scotch eggs!

The only trouble with the Festival is that it is just not humanly possible to sample all the beers one would like to, even after filtering according to preference (under 5% ABV in the main, hoppy rather than malt). *sigh*

Car(go) Cult

One of the things I've noticed while driving my new Smart is the number of other Smart cars who wave or flash headlights in recognition (when I've been thinking "another box approaching on other side of road"). It's cute, but we aren't really some select brotherhood of cognoscenti - just people who don't want to have to steer a bloody great boat every time that it is necessary to drive somewhere.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


I must admit to having a smile raised by the news that a warehouse of modern "Art is what you can get away with" has been razed by fire. But what a fuss about a load of old tat.

They're OK…

…the last days of May. It's light now by about 04:00, up from about 05:00 at the beginning of the month (remembering a pre-exam all nighter pulled lo these many years ago, typing up and nroffing an essay, and staggering home just after 05:00 with the sky just reddening with the dawn). The bush roses are in full flush, the climbers are starting to flower, and generally it's getting once again to a state like this:

A cottage-style garden - foxgloves, Escholzias, snow-in-summer, roses, iries, geraniums, honeysuckle and more

After a brilliant weekend - clear skies for the fingernail Moon/Venus conjunction on the 21st, lower and further north than a couple of months back, it's cooler and cloudier, dank stratus under high pressure.

Cycling in to work - one of the beneficial side-effects of being forced to cycle after writing the car off being that cycling is being much more the default this year - I'm amazed by the number of clueless young rabbits bouncing about, more than I've seen in other years - even more amazed that there haven't been any flat ones, also unlike previous years.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

This illuminated day

23rd day, 5th month - and the first rose is open to a point where it's not just a bursting bud, and all the bluebells are finished, and dead headed. The clematis is finished, and the elders are now in flower, as is the snow in summer. The sun shines bright, and it's getting almost too warm to want to do anything much other than admire the view outside, sitting in some shady spot.

Friday, May 21, 2004


Just when I thought I'd be able to chalk up a first all cycling week, including detouring into town for supper on Weds and visiting Forbidden Planet on yesterday, not only is the weather today a bit iffy, but I set out to find that my front tyre is flat. So I'm in no mood to play bicycle repair man first thing, when the weather is damp - clammy verging on sticky.

[Now playing - Biber Sonata #2 of 1681]

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Unconscious processing

Yesterday's post reminded me of another title I made up for myself in similar circumstances, lo these many years ago.

In my teens, I was a raging Andre Norton fan - and did my damnedest to get everything she ever committed to print (I probably peaked at just over 50%). On night I dreamed the most heartbreakingly good book she had ever written - and the title of the book was Survellor Survey - an entirely plausible Norton title - and I kept a note of the name for the SF stuff I was writing at the time (a proto-Nancy Wolf as Andre Norton character).

It was quite a while later that I realised that this was a consistent transform applied to an existing title, to whit Forerunner Foray.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Following up…

Two thoughts from the last post.

First I wonder whether I'm dating myself by using Dolly Parton rather than Jordan as a benchmark for being well-known + top-heavy.

And, second, the brain is a funny thing. Presumably as a tidying up the cruft exercise during dreaming last night, I was rearranging DVD cases on a shelf. Now, not only were they all white (as opposed to the typical mostly black), but I saw one and thought "I don't remember buying that" when scanning down the titles on the spines.

The title? Cardcaptor Soryu.

I would actually be interested enough to buy that one for real.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004


I guess having been a bit of a newcomer to the field I've not yet felt confident to do much in the way of reviews while doing some catch-up; and even though there are a lot of "standards" I've not seen (or even have much desire to track down), now I'm picking up stuff as it arrives, I suppose it's a good enough time to set a baseline and go on from there. I'll concentrate on series (multi-disk sets) rather than movies, since those tend to be either old news (Ghost in the Shell) or reviewed elsewhere as movies in their own right (Spirited Away). By default, I've only watched these in subbed Japanese, so can't comment on the USAn voice actors.

Thumbs down

These are series where I bought the first disk and haven't feel motivated to go any further:

  • Excel Saga - A squeaky voice too far, too loud (both sound-tracks) and if the Pedro sub-plot is meant to strive for pathos, it just ended up pathetic. There is a fine line between silly and stupid, and this one was unsure of its balance. Redeeming feature - the necessary cultural context subtitle track. But there are easier ways to learn about quirks of Japanese culture.
  • Najica Blitz Tactics - I don't mind that this (as I noted earlier) had a panty-flash rate of over 1Hz, but it could have been improved with a bit more of a connecting plot beyond "collect the bioroid of the week". Crowded out by better stuff - and with the art quality of other recent material being higher, this is not likely to bubble to the top for a long while.
  • Gasaraki - This one is meant as serious cerebral power-armour anime, and it conveys a good deal of gritty realism in its portrayal of contemporary warfare (I assume, having given up TV before Nintendo War I in 1991). But it's cold and soulless - after the first disk, I thought - but wasn't sure - I could see who I was supposed to consider as the good guy (or perhaps guys); but had no reason to care about any of the characters (except possibly one notionally on the apparent "bad guy" team) - we really hadn't been introduced to any of them, certainly not in any unguarded moments.

Not sure

These are first disks where I might buy some more - on the list for future frivolous purchase if nothing else beats them to the top of the pile

  • Zaion - the first thing to note about this one is that it's only 2 episodes on the first disk; I think we're paying for the CGI work. Unfortunately I felt that the registration between the CGI mecha and the conventional animation was weak. Contains a completely gratuitous shower scene featurning the (non-)appearance of the canonical invisible anime genitalia - involving the male lead. Unlike Gasaraki, though, this one actually bothered to try and introduce the characters. If it weren't for the price per episode, I'd rate this one higher. [Later: dropped]
  • Angelic Layer - It's so kawaii! And a very faithful rendering of the original Clamp manga, with some interpolated material, and without the sillier drawing style (wiggly Icchan) that the original uses at time.
    Unlike the manga, it is easier to see what is going on during the Angelic Fight scenes. In anime the use of the streaky background to imply motion blur does allow one to see what's going on in, unlike the manga where the equivalent black streaky background can make a whole frame look like it's been scribbled out. This is something I've found with manga ever since I stumbled across Appleseed back in the 80's - I guess I'm too used to the kinetics of a fight scene being conveyed as per Marvel Comics.
    But now I've seen how it's done, and I've read the manga, do I need to watch the rest of the disks?
    OTOH, I now at least know how to pronounce the name of the Magic Knight who lent her name to the Battle Doll - in my dialect of English, at least, I'd phoneticise it as Hickerer (the strict Romanisation as Hikaru is so tempting to pronounce like Hindu). [Later: dropped]
  • Full Metal Panic - special forces high school mecha pilots! Yep, our mecha-pilot hero has years of combat experience around the world, and not only can he pass himself off as a 16-year-old high-school student, he is a 16-year-old high-school student. So, it's a genre convention, like the girls with blue or pink hair. I'm not sure if it's a mecha title with high-school romance elements or vice-versa, and I don't know whether it is sure either. [Later: dropped]

Got the Lot

- or getting, if the series isn't all out yet. In some cases I've not watched them all yet.

  • Burn Up/Warrior + /Excess - Big girls with big - er - guns. IRL, I'm not one for the top-heavy Dolly Parton style figure, but hey, this is anime, right down to the funny hair colours. Veers between the pure comedy (underwear thieves and transsexual jewel robbers) and fairly straight police/SWAT/special agent storylines (hostage situations, stalkers) , with a nice sentimental twist at the end of the plotline - but it has an obvious continuing plot (unlike Najica, which might otherwise be more in tune visually with my tastes when being exploitative). The first OAV disk (/Warrior) is a pilot which doesn't quite carry on smoothly in the main series either in plot or quite in tone. The lecherous token male character can be annoying at times, but those bits are usually end-of-episode filler, for which fast-forward can be employed.
  • Original Dirty Pair - For the serious kyotaku, I'm afraid (yes, these are my region 1 DVD collection). The OAV series is slight, and of uneven quality. The movies are better - Nolandia has a memorable intertwined chase sequence, Flight 005 is actually a fairly straight SF adventure, and Project EDEN has the only real planetary scale disasters caused by the Lovely Angels, A pity in the latter case that the Dirty Pair/Aliens plotline is weak and burdened by "light hearted" elements.
    Some kyotaku dislike this last movie for the fact that Kei has some sort of romantic interlude - but then I guess that some would only be happy if Kei only ever had eyes for either a) the kyotaku in question or b) Yuri - but I figure her as an easy come, easy go sort of girl.
  • Dirty Pair Flash - Two characters of the same name as the originals, different background, and a hundred years later. But still has the essential spirit of mayhem. Disk 1 is a good straight origin-of (with a villain who could be Original Kei turned to the Dark Side), disk 2 lampoons other anime styles - the romance episode (Sparkle Bright True Love Flower Shop) continues to crack me up. I'm saving disk 3 for a suitable occasion when I'm down and need something frivolous.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion - Deservedly known as very much the definitive anime series. Yes, it may look like it's giant robots vs the fungi from Outer Space from the first few episodes, but, well - when a Continental film director makes a bleak incomprehensible movie about the human condition, people call it art cinema but not many people watch it. This is the same sort of thing but with characters you can get attached to and giant robot action as well, and more people do watch it. If you make it all the way, you love it despite the fact that they ran out of money and had to produce the last few episodes on a shoestring, before going out to make a full length movie (The End of Evangelion) to completely replace the last two on the strength of the reception the series received. And despite the "Next episode, more fan service" in the TV episodes - which generally amounted to the odd camera angle that seems to forget that the female closest to the viewer has a face, some denim clad haunches wriggled at the camera and one (tame) down T-shirt shot (& not even a gratuitous shower scene).
    I'm eagerly awaiting the region 2 release of the Director's Cut disks (reworking the last episodes with some budget, with some more revelations of what might really have been going on). And quite the opposite for the possible live action movie - since most of it will be CGI, why not stay honest with the animation; the more so when all the information I have suggests that it has been USAnized by folk who can't even pronounce the title properly.
  • RahXephon - I'm two disks in so far to this series. It could be dismissed as sub-Evangelion, or NGE-Next Generation in so far as it re-uses several NGE tropes, but does like Trek-NG, and splits some roles from the earlier series amongst two characters - you can watch and pretty much say "Those two are Misato, those two are Gendo Ikari,..." But it's easy to watch, looks pretty, has a somewhat different set of tensions between characters, suprisingly has intro and outro music I don't feel compelled to skip over, and Ayato-kun doesn't act the asshole like Shinji-kun* did ("I'll never pilot the RahXephon again... Oh, all right, since you asked nicely, and explained why it was a good idea, I will.")
  • Noir - Conspiracy thriller played straight. You can tell it's played straight from the fact that not only do almost all the characters have normal hair colours (only a couple of lilac haired characters, admittedly, significant ones), the only shower scene in the first 4 disks is so chaste that you wonder if it only appeared for contractual reasons, and the women do acrobatics in short skirts without even so much as a hint of gusset being displayed. It could have been done live-action without needing CGI.
    The Japanese do France exceedingly well, there are simply gobs of atmosphere, I've raved about the soundtrack (though I do skip the intro and outro). And it's an unsentimental story that makes one give one's sympathies to a pair of killers for hire.
  • Serial Experiments Lain - Low key cyberpunk weirdness. Only watched the first disk so far, I don't know what's going on, but I'm hooked. Subverts the normal "next episode" post-credits section with short live action snippet talking about parts of the body - eye, ear, hand, etc; and has intro/outro music I'm happy to listen through. The copyright on the box says 1988, and I'm inclined to believe that in terms of some of the visualisations used - but if so, an incredibly prescient one, in its casual use of text messaging by school-kids. If it's actually '98, it's still good, not quite so gobsmackingly so.

* Did I mention that I really like Evangelion despite having little sympathy for the notional lead character? The attitude might just spill over into my NGE fanfics. Maybe I can take 17-year-old angst better than the 14-year-old variety.

Sunday, May 16, 2004


In town yesterday, I was accosted by a Krishna monk from Manchester, thrusting a packet of joss-sticks into my hand. He asked me "Why are you smiling?" - not the usual sort of patter I expect under the circumstances. So I gave the simplest answer - a bright sunny morning.

I'm not sure that the more truthful answer would have meant anything to him- that the beautiful weather and the fact that on Friday the international (+ bugfix) version of the software release I'd been working on since the end of last summer had actually gone gold (master CD ready to go to the presses) were both merely substrates, and the reason for the smile was that I'd just figured out an emotionally satisfying way to resolve Misaki Suzuhara's escape from the 12th Angel. Which would have elicited a "Huh?" for those not into rather recherché scenarios of anime/manga crossover fanfic... (i.e. virtually everyone in the whole wide world).

And that made me smile, too.

That blog survey thing…

  1. grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 18, find line 4. write down what it says: "Lord of the Seven Directions"
  2. stretch your left arm out as far as you can. What do you touch first? The east facing wall.
  3. what is the last thing you watched on tv? Saturday 8-May-04, to check the metéo for the journey home
  4. without looking, guess what the time is: coming up to 9am Sunday morning
  5. now look at the clock, what is the actual time? 08:53
  6. with the exception of the computer, what can you hear? Birdsong.
  7. when were you last outside? About 12 hours ago (see previous entry)
  8. before you came to this website, what did you look at? Checking updates on my main site were crosslinked OK
  9. what are you wearing? Just got up on a warm, almost summery, morning, so I'm NIFOC, of course. But you didn't want to know that, did you.
  10. did you dream last night? of course - something truly weird about alternate histories (an American revolution against a high-tech Caligula-like Roman emperor)
  11. when did you last laugh? Quite a while ago (as opposed to sunny smiles)
  12. what is on the walls of the room you are in? Matt white vinyl paint
  13. seen anything weird lately? Fem-cat spraying - see previous entry
  14. what do you think of this quiz? A chance to show how different people are
  15. What is the last film you saw? Kill Bill, vol. 2 as noted a couple of entries below
  16. if you became a multi-millionaire overnight, what would you buy first? An annuity to ensure I could live in the style to which I am accustomed.
  17. tell me something about you that i don't know: I don't think I've told the world that I have a Latin 'O' level.
  18. if you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt or politics, what would you do? Empancipate women
  19. do you like to dance? no
  20. george bush: oh dear... I'd go for the classic elegance of black and white film stock
  21. imagine your first child is a girl, what do you call her? Carolyn
  22. imagine your first child is a boy, what do you call him? Probably one of the traditional family names - Richard, Edward, or John.
  23. would you ever consider living abroad? I did when it seemed possible that the Tories would win a 5th term. But it would be a lot of hassle. Either Eire or New Zealand.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Nature Notes

Gardening again, I removed about a wheelbarrow load of grass and weeds from the cracks in the garden path, and gave the rough area behind the rose hedge a much needed mowing. This then made the strawberry bed accessible - and that revealed a great infestation of bindweed, a menace I generally associate with August gardening.

The bluebells, choicea and lilacs are past their best now, but the roses are coming into bud - and indeed needed to have some finger and thumb work done (mechanical aphid removal).

Topping up the pond, I see many frogs, and that we still have one deep orange goldfish - the paralysed one expired some while back - and again, for about the third year in a row, no sign of any hatching of any of the copious amounts of frogspawn. :-( But plenty of frogs in various sizes and colours. :-)

And this evening, I for only the second time spotted a female cat standing and spraying in the same manner as males mark their territory. Both cases have been our Burmese females.


The new car went over the 1000 mile mark last night. The 10, 100 and 500 mile marks were all on the way to work; this time it was on the way to see Kill Bill Vol.2, as I passed the Hat & Feathers. The film itself was a significant contrast to the first part - actually managing to be somewhat squicky in a way that Vol. 1 wasn't - but it did manage to make a reasonable conclusion to the story.

[Later] - the 1k (1024 mile) mark went by on the way to get a takeaway curry. Yay!

Friday, May 14, 2004

Lost Futures

So, this morning on the radio, we have news of the first serious challenge for the prize for the first private spacecraft happening soon - 40 miles up this time, the 100km arbitrary boundary scheduled for the next flight. This is more space as it should have been - for many years now (really since the last manned moon landing), I've been convinced that the accident of WWII and the Cold War put us into space about 70 years early, and that the vision of space travel that I grew up with would be something for the 2040s.

Later, in the dentist's chair, having a wisdom tooth filled without anaesthetic, I think quite how little that has changed. 21st century dentistry means latex gloves, face masks and eye protection. Where are the laser drills (promised 40 years ago at least) or the cavity dissolving gels (10 years) or immunizations against harmful oral bacteria (~5 years), eh?

[Now playing - Noir Soundtrack 1]

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Degrees of separation

It's funny how divergent causes come together to different effects.

Just over 2 years ago, as part of the local Science Week events (that year's theme being the elements), I went to a lecture at the Classical Archaeology faculty about the early philosophising on the matter. And came away with the word αρχε - arche, as in archetype. Which I later used as an alternative take on the concept of Dust (as per Egan in Permutation City, rather than as per Pullman in His Dark Materials).

Just over a year ago, I was assigned some work on doing quick-and-dirty HTML layout so as to break up pages into areas for better display on small form factor devices, while retaining the big-screen geometric relationships between areas on the page - as an example would show the logo, then a representation of the header the left and right columns, and the bottom of page material, each of which would be clickable and lead to the represented part of the page, while the meat of the page would be immediately visible. This led me to discover quite how bad most corporate web sites are - just try on your usual browsing - and thus to being a bit of a standards fanatic.

So I revised my personal websites based on this experience to be friendly to limited devices, and light-weight on full browsers (no table layouts). And to put in xml:lang= tags on the non-english text. But what to use for classical Greek (αρχε again)? Well, it takes a bit of delving into the 3-letter extended ISO language codes to find that "grc" is to be used for Greek up to the fall of Byzantium. In getting to the 3-letter codes, I found a number of invented languages had 2-letter codes. And this led to other constructed languages - I jotted some notes about this a year or so back, before starting this blog - including the delightfully different language Ceqli, which I then used a representation of the Tweenspeak language from my old SF.

That was last summer.

A couple of weeks ago, I uploaded another bit of (fan-)fiction with some Ceqli in - though I had to fudge it a bit, where the vocabulary was lacking - no word for save/rescue/preserve. This time I put the text and the mention of the language on the same HTML page, and within a week had received an e-mail from the inventor of the language (noting that I'd had to fudge matters) - and the word "taral" has been added to meet my needs.

Not the most obvious outcome of those two initial events.

Now playing…

Well, the powers that be at work have decided that having two people sharing an office is not efficient, so the walls have been torn down around us, and the corridor on the two sides has been subsumed into an area that now seats six people. As a consequence, from having been able to put the door to, and play CDs though the speaker systems on the PCs we now have a more diverse group of people and the intersection of musical tastes is much the less. And I really dislike using headphones, since I'm a great one for pacing when I'm deep in thought.

But what's on in the car almost continually at the moment is the Noir soundtrack - ignore that it's bookended by the intro and outro music (mere Tokyo-pop), which are the weakest of the offerings, and with different folk involved than the main content. The rest is moody and atmospheric. Though it's just as well it's only a little car, given what research shows about music tempo and driving - otherwise pounding down the highway with Salva Nos (Mireille's theme) belting out at high volume could be a distinct menace to other traffic.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Spring has sprung

A wet week in May means that the garden has gone "boing!" in my absence, and the lawn is too wet to mow, and the weather is keeping it that way. I don't want to think what the weeds are like in the unpleasaunce, seeing what the season has done for the wanted vegetation. Almost all the fruit blossom is gone now, and the main flowers are the bluebells, with the snow in summer just starting - though those are both just this side of being weeds.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Homeward bound

It's a shut-down holiday day, so not a lot to do after breakfast but pack and check out. At La Rochelle station by 10:00 - almost an hour to kick my heels - to see that, despite this being a TGV terminus, and regional hub, that the board signing departures is already showing tomorrow morning's first train, and a lot of the services during the day are coaches, and mine, the 10:52, is the next train (or indeed service of any kind). The morning is cool and bright. I'm there in a T-shirt, feeling fine (carrying all my other clothes on my back is warming enough), but this is enough to get me asked whether I'm cold.

On the train, I find I'm sitting next to the same chap as on the way out.

Half an hour out from Paris, I hear rain on the windows, but it barely leaves a smear, tiny droplets just skitter off the glass. At Montparnasse, it feels like I've done most of the journey by the time I get to the line 4 metro platform. The train is crowded, I have my big rucksack on my back and a small one in front, which is awkward enough - not helped by a group of Japanese tourists getting on and re-enacting a Tokyo rush-hour part way through the trip.

Arrive in enough time that I could have caught the earlier Eurostar, so there's more hanging around. Northern France is under grey drizzly rain. At Waterloo, at passport control, I get stuck behind some USan chap who thinks that resident status allows him to use the EU passport lane. Get a clue guys, you fought a war about that sort of thing about 230 years ago!

Underground is remarkably empty, especially by comparison with the Metro, and I arrive at King's Cross to see more trains signed in the next half hour than La Rochelle served all day. One of the political posters I saw in France was a protest against privatisation and similar with one slogan being "No to railways like British ones." Actually, I'd rather British frequent service than French once or twice a day like rural buses.

Train not too crowded, and the football types get off at Stevenage. And group of loud (pre-?)teen girls get on, giggling and squealing away at ear-piercing volume. They acted more like boys, but higher pitched.

Home, beer, crash.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Ile de Ré

After a bit of casting around, and with the help of some town plans that appeared just when I needed them, I manage to pick up the way I started in yesterday. It's bright but cold and windy again, and I have waterproof over denim over silk, and jogging bottoms over the lycra. The bike being low geared, I reckon a middle gear is enough for grinding away over the bridge, and it is - though I'm continually being overtaken by poseurs on razor-wheeled machines. The top is a long time coming, especially with the wind in my face, but it's easy once I'm over, and it's time to shed the waterproof.

The island is well served with cycle tracks, with most of the major routes separated into car-only roads and bike-only paths - though most of the cycle tracks have exceptions for agricultural or fishing related vehicles - slow moving tractors. Some of the little towns are cobbled, so that's get off and push, but that's the only terrain to worry about. One sprinkle of rain, but soon it's down to the shirt as sun-block. Forecast is for the weather to worsen in the afternoon (though in fact it didn't - but the wind did strengthen), so I only go as far as Ars en Ré, a few km short of the far tip, at my arbitrary 11:00 turn-around.

Get back into town about 14:30 - time for food. Not being a fan of fish or most seafood, I have passed up all the oyster places (I encountered oysters once in a beef and oyster pie, and that was disgusting, so never again), and similar delights. I park the bike by the Aquarium and wander around the port a bit, then retrace my first route in, as I remember there were shops. And I find the local McDo and do a Maxi Big Mac, which contains more green vegetable matter than I've had all week!

Two towers guarding harbour entrance, boats under wild sky

La Rochelle Vieux Port, just outside the hotel.

Carpaccio de boeuf, Gambas Grillée and Clafoutis avec abricots, and more of the nice Haut Poitou Rosé.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Fontenay le Comte to La Rochelle

Start off before 8 in a cold bright morning. An hour or so later, there are definite thunderheads developing and soon after 9, I get a sprinkle of rain. This soon passes, but by the time I reach the next village, the road is so wet that it looks like a real big bastard of a downpour just went over. I guess I spent most of my rain tokens yesterday. This happens again an hour or so later, when I'm at the small town of Marans, which the guide says is a nice place to stop for lunch. At 10:00 it's a bit dead for that.

Get some more rain as I'm cycling south beside the main canal to La Rochelle, but again it looks like the worst is passing to one side. With that gone over, I decide to take the scenic route along the coast rather than the straight line, and do some more storm-dodging.

It's not only storms that I manage to dodge - usually when there's anything vaguely complicated in the way of junctions, or turns to make, all the traffic in creation seems to suddenly arrive out of nowhere. This time, when I have to cross a main road - the one the route carefully guides me away from - there's not a vehicle in sight, so I can sail across the dualled junction.

A church with battlements

Fortified church near Esnandes.

The coast path is well marked with maps at regular intervals, which makes most of the route guide irrelevant. And by 12:30, almost at the Pont de Ré, I stop for food - the usual yoghurt and cookies bought from a superette the previous day. The sun is out, and sheltered from the wind, it's really quite pleasant to sit and watch the storms marching past.

2km long bridge with many spans

The Pont de Ré seen from Pointe du Plomb

There's a neat and well marked out system on the bridge - two way car traffic in the middle pays a toll; walled off on the north side, cycle traffic, and on the south pedestrians. Muscle power goes free. For the moment I duck under the bridge and into town, where the directions become annoyingly vague. And as usual they lead through urban peripheral industry and residential squalor that needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 1950s. I find the first tentative clue to the right direction, but am swiftly led astray by a weird junction and some roadworks, so end up taking a fallback - following the signs for the Aquarium (the hotel being next to it), which takes me all along modern roads with cycle lanes or tracks. It works, but is one hell of a detour.

Arriving at the hotel, the mud-spattered, lycra shorts look wows the punters. Shower, change, and go for a stroll to orient myself, around the towers of the old port area, then go back to avoid more rain. The hotel restaurant looks out over the harbour, giving a good view of the wild sky, and the starboard lighthouse flashing.

Dinner is salmon salad (again, nigh-sushi), pavé de boeuf, and sablé de fraise (a tartlet with rhubarb and slices of strawberry), washed down with a pichet of red.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Fontenay le Comte

The rain carried on overnight, so I just sit and read. By lunchtime, it has stopped, so I go out for a stroll, following part of the suggested short (10mile) trip. But it's not just fair weather cloud after rain — the cumulus develops into squally showers, some with hail. I get drenched, but at least it's not too cold.

By the time I get back to the hotel, having re-supplied for the morrow, it's bright and sunny, so I end up sitting on the verandah in shorts and T-shirt. I'm in two minds about whether to take up the offer to carry me and my bike as well as the luggage.

Dinner is marbré du canard avec foie gras and pavé de boeuf, followed by tart tatin. And a pichet of the local red.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Niort to Fontenay le Comte

Cirrus haze over cumulus over farmland

Metéo is lousy - so make an early start (08:00 local), while there's still sun through early cloud. As the morning wears on, there is first cirrus haze over the fair weather cumulus, then mackerel sky. I can see the warm front coming in off the Atlantic, and I'm riding into the wind of its approach.

Willows and watermeadow

Sample of the prettiest bits of the marais.

The marais country - water-meadows cum fenland - is pretty, with lots of wildflowers, and willow hedges, but the looming weather dissuades me from lingering to admire.

At Ste Christine, I'm watched by a mother cat and her 4 six-month old offspring. They look seriously at me from the verge, but stalk off before I can retrieve the camera.

It just gets windier - when I've still got 4-5 miles to go, there are spits on the wind, and it's blowing so hard across my path that I can hardly keep the bike on the road. As ever, while there is a simple and direct route on the map, the suggested route goes through the most insalubrious industrial bit of town, and involves left turns in busy traffic.

I get to the hotel just as the rain arrives. Dinner is marbré du canard avec foie gras and rognons de veau, followed by tart tatin. And a pichet of the local red.

Monday, May 03, 2004


The place has a cinema multiplex called "Donjon Complexe". And a shoe-shop "Au Chat Botté" which had a cat sunning itself on the windowsill above, between the window boxes of geraniums.

Also it's the first place that I've ever actually seen anyone riding a Segway. Just shows how those caught on!

Bronze serpents separating pedestrians and traffic

There may be some local legend associated with these, but they are an unremarked landmark at the start of the cycling tour.

The morning is one that a photo cannot capture - a crisp clear spring morning that promises summer. All the camera could show is a scruffy French canalside.

They have wheelchair platforms along the riverbank for disabled anglers.

One has not to inhale the wildlife - the air is thick with tiny insects. At one point there are strange calls from the river - they fall silent as I investigate. No sign of anything, certainly no flapping for cover, so I guess frogs.

I manage to mis-apply the directions at one bit, and find myself at the wrong end of an expected road, which leads to much confusion, and wonderings about arcane geometries falling in from parallel dimensions. One is supposed to follow a rough track along the riverbank almost to Magné, but the meter-plus wide worn track stops at a wooden bar just before a bridge at the previous village. Getting onto the road here means that right and a left gets you headed into the north end of the Rue Pont Rouge - it's expected that you arrive from the south and get into the south end. Still, it means I cover much of the expected terrain, and some of tomorrow's, and some more besides, before my increasingly random walk hits upon the road I'm supposed to be on.

And then later I spend ages trying to find a footbridge I'm supposed to cross, until I realise that the bit of construction work I've kept on passing is where it's being rebuilt, so I have some further exploration to do, but managed to reconnect with the far end of the bridge. Stop at a little superette and buy about a gallon of stuff to drink - juice, water and ice tea. Demolish a litre of blood-orange juice without it hardly hitting the sides.

Dinner is the Assiette Lyonnais - various sorts of mammal flesh - and some choco goop for afters.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Paris to Niort

Scan for metéo - fine today, forecast of showers tomorrow. While scanning the channels for useful stuff like that - no Weather Channel here - I catch a cartoon - is it 20 yr old naff anime? No, it's modern US (Teen Titans) material which has overlain anime tics (eg sweatdropping) on earlier styles.

0945- nothing open. Sunday opening esp on a holiday weekend, seems not to have caught on here, and some of the shops are announcing special opening next Saturday (VE day) - I could feed but not clothe myself. Wander to Tuilleries & put on sunblock, rest on shaded seat. Apart from the football games on bits of sandy avenues, most folk still are heavily dressed. I amble up the Boul' Mich' to Luxembourg, rest some more, the last leg to Montparnasse.

It may be le Gare WiFi, but it's also thick with pigeonshit (sit with care!). Security involves keeping litter bins while having young squaddies on patrol w/SMGs. On the TGV, security means blocking off the end-of-coach luggage racks - not good when there are too many people with more than their own volume in baggage, esp the soldiers who fill the end of car lobby.

Ticket inspector confused by UK issue tickets which carry no data as to the price paid - which gives me a few hairy moments.

The initially clear sky has clouded over, a sprinkle of rain by Poitiers, but sunny on arrival. Walk to hotel complicated by bad map - but beat someone who took a taxi. Bicyclette Verte man arrives about 7 pm - bike frame is a fraction too big for my short legs, and it has v. low gearing even in top. But at least all is now sorted unlike other the guest (the taxi-arrival, who is not on the tour) who spends half an hour arguing w/reception.

Quick spin to road-test then food. Baguette at Montparnasse seems long ago. V good dry Haut Poitou Rosé (if not on ice too long). Stuck with mi-cuit salmon (nigh sushi) and duck chops - rest either fish or entrails. Blood orange sorbet eaten slow for dessert.

Heavy rain while eating; fine for walk after.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

London to Paris

Alas, it's another football train. Crossing Russell Square, there are tulips, some still bursting their buds. And there's a BNP demo at Waterloo.

I cross the Channel into warm sunshine - unsure which weather forecast this one is. Doze from Lille almost to Paris. It's still sunny, so put the denim jacket into the little rucksack, and carry rather than wear that for the yomp to the Flor Rivoli, with sunlight streaming from every side street. Remember that with French pedestrian lights, green means run, and red means run faster. Going past Les Halles, I see that a usual feeding place, La Galtouse, a good honest cuisine paysanne restaurant has been subsumed by the new Pharamond next door. We discovered the former when following a guide's recommendation to the latter some time in the late 90s, and finding it closed or more than closed.

Check in to usual room in the Flor Rivoli - #26 - and have much needed shower. I must remember next time that French hotels don't provide facecloths, and pack my own [and check that the First Aid kit still has runny-tummy capsules].

While drying, I watch CNN on the enlargement do in Dublin, then to Au Trappiste (4 Rue St Denis, a beer-drinker's paradise) - wearing a long sleeved cotton shirt and carrying the denim against later chill (it turns out I don't actually need it). En route, see the first Smart, roof open, full of plants. Usual Salade Ardennaise, but they no longer have Rodenbach (a Belgian red beer) so I have a Jenlain. It's now 8pm local so time for a wander in the warm sun. All Paris seems to be out basking on the quais, and an accordianist plays on the bridge between the isles. I see a lot more Smarts - they are common in small spaces on the Iles and on the roads.

Smart car parked at vertex of a junction

Parisian parking at its best - the concrete blocks mark where the edge of the road is, at a crossroads. But there's a gap between the pedestrian crossings!

Long walk upstream, then cross to Rive Gauche. Despite seeing Paris most recently through the lens of Noir, which shows the retro face (not to mention pre-2002 money despite a 2009 internal date), for me, Paris is the cyperpunk city I first saw on an otherwise generally disasterous coach trip in the late 80's, arriving late at night through neon corporate logos, the city of our first assay into cyberpunk RPGs, the home of Chaleur, the Iceman, and the assassin Paisley (who 3 years later appeared as the illo for the Euthanatos entry in Mage). This walk goes through that face of the city.

Having looped back, at one point I see, between two mirrorglass office blocks, a white stone stairway zig-zagging up with just sky beyond. This absence of further city is mystery - climbing I see that this looks over the rails out of Gare d'Austerlitz.

By now it's 9pm, and there are families picnicking in the sculpture garden near Austerlitz, while swallows forage for midges. Impromptu music - drums, sax, guitar. A juggler on the footbridge by the Louvre. The waxing moon is a day or so past where the markings can be taken as the profile of Selene, before the usual Man in the Moon takes over; and bright planets bead the sky. The city of lights becomes illuminated as the evening colours fade.

Velay Walking

Charente waterways