Saturday, December 31, 2005

Holiday round-up

24th — saw a neat grey Beetle with plates L33T VW.

25th — Karen took a tumble, sustained a messy scalp wound, and spent hours in casualty, instead of going to the in-laws for lunch. So I picked up the enhancement request for CTClib that had been sitting for 6 months and started coding.

26th — had enough of the pond heater tripping the circuit after a few minutes (leaking nastily to earth according to a meter check. Do they all assume a non-RCD supply?) and deployed bubble-wrap covering instead.

27th — snow, but the bubble wrap did the job.

Apart from that, lots of coding, and the first DVD of Planetes, which captures some of the spirit of the manga, but insists on adding office-work sit-com bits too; and the incredibly silly-but-fun Kung-fu Hustle

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Like, “Season's Greetings”, man

So what's been happening?

Well, we now have new foundations and footings instead of a conservatory and part of the garden. The weather was mild and dry yesterday, so I did cycle to work, denim jacket over T-shirt, and bare feet in sandals, discovering that cycling doesn't keep feet warm the way that walking does. And, homeward bound into the only bit of sunshine for the day, that the 10 rolling miles or so to work are a bit more wear and tear on the posterior than the six flat ones into town (again).

And it was still mild enough to be T-shirt weather when headed into town for a little bit of greengrocery (and brunch) today; too warm for the heavier jacket I'd put on to cycle in.

So, another years survived at work; and even a bit more enthusiasm for hobby coding.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Hedgehog's dilemma

Where the conservatory and patio were is now a set of trenches that were filled with concrete this afternoon, and the near half of the garden is full of bricks, rubble, paving-slabs, and bits of conservatory; and there is a skip and piles of bricks on the drive. Oh, and we can't actually get to the back yard except by climbing out the garage window and slipping between piles of stuff.

First thing this morning, Jemima, the tortie, insisted on going out in the just about getting light pre-dawn and was sniffing around in the trenches (about 4' deep), for quite a long while before heading off down the garden. Then I saw why — there was a hedgehog had fallen in and gotten trapped.

So I had to get out to the greenhouse for gloves and overalls, climb into the trench, and try and corner it. At least it turns spiky by curling up into a ball (unlike cats); so I could pick it up and lift it out, then carry it down to the end of the garden.

So now I have gloves that will attract the cats, being well doused in hedgehog piss.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Funny old weather

A fortnight ago, we were having hard frosts, and the ground was frozen, with parts of the garden staying white all day — and I was wrestling the unwanted holly-tree out of the ground, sliding in a thin film of mud on the icy ground.

Today, out in the garden, it was T-shirt weather. And the apple trees are barely beginning to acknowledge the changing of the seasons.

Winter foliage

Bramley apple tree

Monday, November 28, 2005


Odometer on 9999 miles when I parked to go to the gym today, wound over to 10000 as I set off back to work.

Sunday lunchtime 4-Dec-05 : 10089 miles

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The world turned upside-down

On Monday, driving into town for a work-out, I was stuck behind a young bloke in a high-end Vauxhall who didn't get above 45mph (even on the dual carriageway where I overtook him). Later I was followed closely by a driver who clearly didn't care for my staying a couple of mph under the limit — and he was an old guy in a flat cap!

And we have finally managed to engage builders for some work on the house and things will be chaos from now until whenever!

There was a marvellous red sunset on Monday, too.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Anime — Elfen Lied

It's a comedic harem anime with the same motif as Love Hina — the male set up as a guesthouse caretaker, and the guesthouse fills up with girls. Only this time some of them are telekinetics with the habit of blowing people up in gory explosions, when not being delightfully clueless, in a manner reminiscent of Chobits trainwrecked with Scanners.

It's a wonder this hasn't garnered the nickname “Love Lucy”, based on the name of the main telekinetic girl character.

Conspiracy, violence, gore, and nudity — only in Japan (the Yanks would have blurred out the nipples).

Anime — Jinki Extend

A title that crossed my radar as being associated with a whiff of shoujo-ai; though when I'd picked up the first volume of manga, I just found it incoherent and incomprehensible, not knowing who these people were (or being easily able to distinguish the b&w line drawing girls). The anime was slightly more coherent, though the ragged fade between the two parallel storylines was not well handled, failing to introduce the characters in Japan, or even make clear that this was a bit later and the look-alike of Rui and Ryohei were the characters from the South American thread. The viewer wasn't told as much as any of the characters would have known about what was going on, even.

In the end, the plot was just about explained and resolved, but with a mass of unexplained loose ends (who were those beast-headed people in the early episodes, and why didn't they have anything to do with the ending? Where did the jinki-tech (and Ancient Jinkis) come from?

It was redeemed by very catchy J-pop endpieces, though.

[Later] the incomprehensibility of the manga is apparently explained by Jinki:Extend being a follow-up/complement to an earlier title, Jinki, which followed the South America thread.

Book — Accelerando — by Charles Stross

This is more like it! Iron Sunrise doesn't compare.

The book comes over as an uneasy — edgy — mix of Gibson and Baxter. The post-Cyberpunk ideas flow thick and fast to the Singularity and immediately after, into the ruins of an alien Singularity. And then there is the phase transition, imagination fails. the left behind humans — weakly posthuman — are presented in a straitened state, for all the alien magitech they have to hand; culturally impoverished, retreating to hearth and family.

Not since Star Maker does the experience of the transcendent, or recounting it, seem to have enriched anyone; the authors seem scorched by the flame as they draw back. But at least I felt drawn to devour it in a single sitting.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Soft Southern Jessies

I cycled into town yesterday for the usual brunch and shopping. It was cool early, but by the time I parked my bike, the sun was out and the wind had dropped, so it was perfectly fine for walking around in a T-shirt. I was boggled by the number of people dressed in heavy jackets and scarves — what will they do if it ever gets cold this winter?

On the way back, I stopped for a beer (and to avoid a shower); but apart from that it was amazingly mild as we went out to glorify the 400th anniversary of an attempted terrorist outrage.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Went to Sycamore House on Friday, and bumped into Neil and Angela who had had the same idea. Come dessert time, I choose the blackberry and apple cake and do my usual rant about ice-cream and teeth when it comes accompanied by ice-cream rather than, say, custard. I'm eating, and I find what feels like a large pip. Actually, it's the inboard quadrant of a molar that is one of the ones that have been sensitive to cold.

At least it's not been painful, and it will be patched up again this evening. But what I'd really like is an upgrade.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Into the darkness

A ridiculously mild weekend, but windy; sun and dark cloud alternating, but never quite getting the rain we were promised. Still T-shirt weather.

Visited Neil and Angela yesterday to see the kittens again, and on the way spotted my first 55 reg Smart.

It felt very strange today in the mild (16C still at 17:20!!) ) setting up a pond heater ready against the promised chilly winter. But even in a normal winter it would be useful to keep the ice melted a bit.

Had to re-set the glazing on the greenhouse automatic window again. I think it must be a cat's landing pad from next door's summer-house.

And the clocks went.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

To Shingle Street and home again

Breakfast was relaxed here — no buffet, 08:30 start; so I had yoghurt, juice and croissant, before heading off about 09:30.

The full tour would have concluded at the end of the road at Bawdsey, allowing the speedy, or those able to make use of the Butley Ferry, to have a quick nip across to Felixstowe. As this was not a weekend between Easter and the end of September, I had to do the extra four miles walk in warm and windy weather.

The cross country was nice, but the levee was exposed, wet and slow going. I eat apples I'd packed from home, and the occasional blackberry that still remained on the pathside brambles.

Shingle Street

Shingle Street

Arriving at gone 14:00, I had just enough time to stretch the tired muscles in a warm-down, when my lift arrived. An hour saw us back in Southwold, and to avoid the contraflow and other tedium east of Bury, I headed across through Diss and Thetford — to be stuck in traffic as the A11 was closed at Thetford; and Brandon was locked solid: in all an hour at about walking pace.

Home, chores, crash.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

To Orford

At breakfast (muesli, porridge, fruit), the BBC website forecast was attached to the menu - it promised light rain; but the sky was almost cloudless, and the radio had agreed it would be dry.

The path started out along the road towards Snape (noticing my first 55 reg car), before diving across country, through woods, and marshy bits to Snape, and then to the crossing at the Maltings. The path then follows the coast to Iken, and here a lot of people were walking, bird watching, I guessed, and the path was churned to quagmire, unlike other parts of the way. On road a while to Iken High Street, before plunging into almost virgin territory. There is a footpath, with signposts, but not very travelled — in places overgrown with nettles; or under low-hanging sloe (damson?) trees needing to crouch; or simply having to wade through grass or reeds more than knee deep


This was an easy bit to spot!

before finally getting four hours in to the point where I was just across the river from Aldeburgh where I started.


From then on it was an increasingly numbing slog into sun and wind along the levee to Orford, as I pushed myself to see if I would be able to make the rate of ground needing to be covered the next day for a 3pm pick-up.

As I shuffled slowly up the main street to find the hotel (cunningly disguised as a restaurant, with reception in a stables round the back), I decided I would only do 12, not 16 miles to finish with.

The Crown and Castle is a seriously foodie place; dinner was buffalo Mozzarella and tomato salad, chicken breast with spinach and green salsa risotto (to which I added a side of chips!), and hot chocolate mousse.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

To Aldeburgh

Having provisioned myself with cheese at Nutters, and pasty at Temptations, I set out in the grey morning, just after 9.

The route follows the coast for a lot of the route today, starting just back of the actual front along to the river, then along the riverside to a footbridge. Here rain started, and carried on as I headed back along the river to the corner at Walberswick. By then it dried out enough to shed the waterproof, and just be in T-shirt and shorts again.

You could just follow the beach all the way, but I took the path back of the waterway, past the abandoned mill

Abandoned mill

and along the edge of Dunwich forest, before looping past the Ship inn (not yet open) and across Dunwich heath to the coast, and by now the sun was out in almost cloudless sky. Then it was a long slog into the wind and sun on often sandy path, past Minsmere, and the reactors at Sizewell. By the time I got to Sizewell village, my feet were hot enough to want to change into sandals to walk along the beach, seeking the firmest stretches of sand.

By now the sun had dried the beach enough that it was being blown in the wind; uncomfortable enough that I was glad to get up the cliff at Thorpeness, and on the fairly packed shingle path before getting to the really paved track to Aldeburgh.

The Britten Memorial was proving popular with the kids to scramble on and beat like a steel drum.

Britten Memorial

As the nice place I ate at last year had been replaced by a pizza place, I ate at 152 - their menu of the day offering sticky toffee pudding being the clincher. Starter was chicken liver parfait with bramley apple jelly, then for main course a vegetable risotto, just for fuel. And then an early crash!

Monday, October 24, 2005


I took the half-term week as a chance to do a walk along the Suffolk coast, starting at Southwold.

The morning didn't start auspiciously — raining steadily, with heavy bursts as I was driving. Fortunately it was easing off by the time I arrived around noon; and as it was still too early to check in at the Swan, so with high tide about four hours away, I changed into shorts and walking boots, and set off up the coast to Covehithe.


The wind and last spits of rain at my back, I headed up past the car-park at the north end of the beach, along the sea wall and onto the beach. The signs of erosion were unmistakeable, not only the crumbling cliffs and the soil being banked up against it, but the rain washing dark soil down the white sand of the beach, and the dead trees falling to the beach.

By the time I reached the path up the Covehithe cliffs, the rain had stopped, and it was mild enough to pack waterproof and denim shirt away, and carry on in T-shirt, munching on sandwiches to hook up with the Coasts and Heaths path, set back from the shore, through Reydon, before returning to the coast at the car park at the north of Southwold.

By now, it was time for a beer at the Lord Nelson, before getting checked in. Dinner was as usual excellent — a very nice roast pepper and mozzarella on polenta; and an over the top chocolate pudding, with a half bottle of Pouilly Fumé. And so to bed. I was in the Writer's Room, over the archway this time, rather than being on the fire escape. The down-side was that the room didn't have a bath, only a shower.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Wretched weather

Wednesday afternoon about 15:15, there was a massive thunderhead visible from the office window, surmounting dark grey cloud. As we watched over the next 20 minutes, the horizon approached as feature after feature was absorbed by rain. From the privileged viewpoint looking over nearby houses we could see people walking blissfully unaware of what was bearing down.

Yesterday bright but too windy to cycle for fun; this morning wet, now dry, bright and breezy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

In good company

I just got fan-mail for a piece of Molesworthiana I wrote back in the spring. Turns out there is a livejournal collection of the stuff — and I was flattered to find myself catalogued there alongside Charlie Stross.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Hit 9000 miles just exiting Cambridge after going out for a curry, having pigged out on the revamped menu at the Saffron Brasserie.

Meanwhile in other news, the Tories have shot themselves in the foot again.

Season's End

Well, it looks like today will be the last real cycling day of the year, with the rest of the week set to be wet. Set out with a red sky behind me, and the harvest moon fading into the cloud coming up from the west. Better than yesterday's fog, where I chanced cycling — just as well, it turned out, because I could get past where a car had argued with a bus at the next nasty bend beyond where I wrote my car off at the end of Feb '04, by getting off and pushing.

It's been a hectic time the last couple of weeks, doing lots of interviews at work (finally made an offer to one chap), trying to get the garden sorted for winter — evena after shredding all the woody bits and setting them to mature a bit to use as mulch next year, I really do have enough green waste to fill the green wheelie bin for the rest of the year! And I can see and get at a lot of the front wall, so that needed painting (even though rain splattering has covered some of it with mud again, where the gutters overflow).

In between time I've been taking the chance to keep on harvesting blackberries — so prolific this year that I've been filling a lunchbox in half the time of previous years — maybe we really are going to have a hard winter. And that the crop is not being eaten by birds, just mildewing, shows how the ecology has been disturbed.

I've avoided looking for a new cat — Neil and Angela have acquired new kittens following their previous set expiring of old age, which gives Karen a little bit of a fix instead.

In the last couple of weeks, too, the duckweed in the pond has decided that it is autumn, and has gone from filling it to overflowing to fading and sinking; and the cyclepath on the M11 road bridge has at last been measured out with white paint marks every 20m. Maybe some time in the next year or so, the surface will finally be refurbished.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Got some people in to blitz the borders in the garden. Not constrained by when the green bin was full, they maintained the front to within an inch of its life — enough that I had to go and paint a chunk of newly exposed wall where the honeysuckle has been running wild. So strange to see so much bare earth, with all the creeping weeds gone.

Back was only half done in the daylight, but it's a start. The recycling will be full up for some weeks to come : I shall be spending much time with the shredder.

Nature notes

A lovely morning, a shame I had to drive, given the weather (though possibly not a good day for cycling in sandals). Only a slight drift of mist near Kingston. At lunch, going for a couple of mile walk, seeing many geese on the lake, with the swans, and nigh-grown cygnets, having to actively keep them at respectful distance.

Needless to say, the ducks were keeping low profile.

Plenty of damselflies were in evidence in the balmy midday weather.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Nature Notes

Cycling to work this morning under grey sky and some mistiness, there was a flock of geese overnighting in one of the fields, all sat there amongst the furrows, a few with their heads up as lookout. And later I startled a dove in a tree that overhung the road, launching itself noisily away as I passed underneath.

And on the homeward stretch, another (the same?) flock of geese came wheeling in and honking, to settle in the same field.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Catchall catchup

Cycling home after supper, about 19:30 on the 7th, the crescent moon low amongst stripes of cloud was very SF-art ish; as was the rising gibbous moon, about a week less half an hour later.

With the equinox, the sunrise alarm starts being useful again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


One of the things I noted at Worldcon was the number of people around the convention center who I could say immediately were going to be attendees. And it's taken a while to figure out what it was I was noticing.

I think it must have been a lack of following current fashion. If legible clothing, then not just the manufacturer or some similar lifestyle thing; or anoraks; or just long hair in men; or tweedy jackets.

Harvest home

The last of the plum harvest came in not quite a couple of weeks ago; along with the bramleys. But this year the blackberry harvest is being amazing — in previous years, stopping to fill my lunchbox from the hedgerows on the way home from work would take about an hour. So far this year, half an hour has sufficed.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Film — The Sun

Third in a series about WWII leaders from Russian director Sokurov, who also did Russian Ark (though I haven't seen either of the previous works in this sequence), about the renunciation of divinity by Hirohito after the defeat. Within the palace, all the ritual continues unabated, in complete contrast to what we saw earlier in the year in Downfall.

All the dialog is in the appropriate language, with the Japanese and American as appropriate, and the print I saw was subtitled in English.

Amusingly, having caught the Sunday lunchtime showing, this was, in effect, a private performance.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Film — Consequences of Love

This Italian style/mood piece made for was nothing major, but I don't regret spending the time watching it.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The open road

I went out for a long bike ride today, through Duxford, Ickleton, Elmdon, Saffron Walden, Ashdon, Bartlow, Linton and back home. On the lanes near Thriplow, I saw a grass snake side-wind off the road ahead of me; and towards Elmdon, bubbles of tar oozing between the gravel of the road popped under my tyres.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Film — Primer

An interesting low key (and low budget!) time-travel movie, realistically handled as two guys in a start-up tinker in their garage and produce closed causal loops by accident. The dialogue is fragmented and intercut just like real speech, and the low budget ensures that everything else is similarly free from spurious polish.

Alas, the film disintegrates in the last twenty minutes or so; when they get distracted from their get-rich-quietly policy; the model used for the time travelling unravels as scenes replay with later versions of the characters in them, and dramatically irrelevant side-effects (bleeding from ears, broken handwriting) are mentioned and discarded. And then it ends.

[Later] — I saw the trailer to the film, which is actually very classy — asking the question “What is really wanted?”, working up the pyramid of needs — Food and shelter? Done. Wife and family? Done. Money? Done. … — everything is checked out until finally “What is really wanted? — To repair it all.” A very good answer. What a pity the film didn't quite convey that.

Friday, August 26, 2005


Finally, just as the road surface near Kingston was about to slide downhill in chunks completely, to the extent that it had had emergency tarring slathered over it, the road has been rebuilt completely. With weeks elapsing since small areas had been marked by paint, my fear was that it would just have been another set of cosmetic patches that would soon fray around the edges.

Meanwhile, at some point over the summer, a chunk of asphalt has been applied to reduce the worst of the steps in the cycleway over the M11, but there's still no sign of any real work going to be done ever.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Book — Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross

I really liked Singularity Sky. It seemed that Stross was singlehandledly fixing the sorry state of British SF. But this return to the same setting is just “Meh.” — routine spaceship fiction with little fizz to it, just a secret cabal of übermensch Space Nazis seeming to be behind it all. I'm a third of the way through, and I just don't care. In particular I get to the just don't care about characters easing tensions in copulation — I don't need to know even in a one paragraph aside.

Actually that sort of coy sex scene (it'd be a “lime” in fanfic terms) annoys me even more than out and out smut.

Yes, it is a quirky little neurosis of mine. Do you have a problem with that?

Book — Iron Council by China Miéville

More New Crobuzon; more of the surrounding continent. War, rebellion and heroes returning from out of myth to save the day — except said heroes are a rag-tag band of misfits whose only virtue is to have survived.

Suffers a bit from having to escalate from volume to volume.

Book — The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

A British post-cyberpunk take on Operation Chaos. If high-tech companies or the civil service have been part of your life, you will recognise all the environment. Meanwhile it's a nerd fantasy where the geeky guy ends up with the hawt chick.

Despite the Hugo, the second novella, Concrete Jungle is the weaker of the pair — it is too much Operation Chaos and not enough post-cyberpunk.

Book — Olympos by Dan Simmons

I read the first quarter and got so bored waiting for things to start moving at above a glacial pace that I gave up. There was about a slim chapter's worth of moving the plot along and too much fake Homerics.

A pity, because the first book really drew me along, for all that I lambasted its erroneous computations.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The seasons turn

House shadow on the curtains when the alarm goes off; plums starting to crop (just the wormy ones to date), and an amazing crop of blackberries on the rogue plant at the bottom of the garden (which seems to have done well after much dismembering the other year — this is only the second significant crop, and first decent one, in its 15 years)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Beard and sandals

Having shed a toenail at the start of the year, in the warmer weather I've been wearing mainly sandals, and now the nail is most of the way back, for the last couple of months not even a pad over the offending toe (since early June). So I have quite distinct tan-lines on my feet.

Friday, August 19, 2005


Thursday evening I left an empty wine-glass on the garden table while I was clearing up all the prunings from the plum and cherry trees from the lawn, ahead of the rain. A day later it had about an inch of rainwater in it.


Monday, August 15, 2005


Was at Consternation, the RPG con held at New Hall over the weekend, mainly to free up a yard or more of shelf-space at the auction.

In between getting dragged into playing railway board games, which I never do any good at, I was helping ensure that the real ale bar was not going to be left with a surplus. Drinking stuff at over 4% rather than under makes a notable difference. At Worldcon, I was going for the 3.8% Goldihops; and on the Friday, the Minotaur mild. Saturday and Sunday the other beers at 4-4.3% were on, and the mild was exhausted.

I cycled home quite happily after six pints on Sunday, but as soon as I got off to push the bike down the drive and into the garage, I was well wobbly. That was quite weird.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Day 5

A very hung-over Mr Stross at the first panel on the fantastic elements of the Baroque Cycle (historical SF or historical fic about science?), which all agreed that Eliza was unusual. Worries that Stephenson was committing trilogy, with Cryptonomicon as the first volume. The Cats and SF writers panel is too crowded into a small room for comfort. Even the gophers are surprised at how quickly the room fills, as one holds up a STOP sign assuming that this is the previous panel not yet exited. Final panel is a scrappy talk by the once great Jack Cohen; and after a final trawl of the dealers' room, we set off back to the Fat Lamb as a way-station for the night.

Very different doing this in sunshine.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Day 4

A couple of entertaining panels with Charlie Stross, on AI and on Genre killing ideas (like the mobile phone); and one about whether Tolkien-alikes get things wrong in that they have people hunting for the fix-it item of power, while LotR has people with the item of power trying to get rid of it… The panel get stuck on the wording of the topic, until I point out that it is actually Tolkien who inverted the Grail quest.

Cue long Arthurian digression…

After lunch, the next section of the anime talk, where I get to see enough early Gainax to find out why their first mobile armour series gets called Bustgunner by some — and that even those in the business either don't get NGE or can't summarise it well. There was much disrespectful snickering at the long-held still during the clip of Asuka's revival in EoE.

Inoue-san did a talk on SF in Japan, which indicated that there was little market for written SF, hence most writers went into some visual medium too. Space-opera is well liked, with a new updated (tech-wise) translation of the Lensman series doing well. I guess that explains Daatipea no Daibouken, then. And I resisted the urge to ask fanboyish questions about Gainax gossip.

Curry at Sibbo's Delhi Dabba, including a naan the size of a tea-tray, and a needful walk, before going to a fanfic panel. Relieved to find that most people there will never see 30 again, and many were likely as old as me. Some very weird fandoms — Wild, Wild West and Blakes 7 seemed to be the defaults. And so to bed.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Day 3

Not a lot of interesting panels; all the ones of British SF collide at 10:00, so I go for the one on the British Landscape in SF — and it turns into a vague rambling about fantasy, rather than SF, to the extent that one question trying to drag the talk back on topic got the answer “Did you know that Conan was a Scot?”, like a politician's preapred answer with nothing to do with what was asked. Back to anime with Black Magic M-66 which is harmless, even if quiet unlike the manga.

Lunch and some bheer. Then a so-so talk about the history of anime in the 70s and 80s (up to the advent of the home VCR). Scout the dealers' room, and don't find much (ten years ago I would have bought When the dark star passes, or Venus Equilateral, but not now), then a panel on manga with Hioraki Inoue, quondam Gainax founder, the guy who did the anime talk and an editor from Del Rey, whose answer to most questions was “Buy Tsubasa, it's great!”.

Inoue-san gave the most interesting snippets, indicating that some of the manga strips aimed at older readers acted like soap opera, with characters ageing in real-time; and the honest response to “What do you get out of manga?”, of “A job.”

Decide to skip the masquerade in favour of the Real-Ale bar. Drink lots, go take pictures

Science museum


Back to bar, where the masqueraders are coming through from the changing room, so I get to see most of the costumes, if not the skits, close-up. And get enticed into conversation with a couple of lasses, including the one whose question was so roundly ignored in the panel earlier, which gets us a mini-gripe session. I pontificate a lot. And at one point Xena walks up and peers at my name badge.

I was too taken aback to react. Was I being mistaken for some celebrity? Might I nearly have gotten lucky? I'll never know.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Day 2

Early start for Wings of Honneamise, then go to the Japanese SF panel, which turns into a talk about Nippon 2007, the Worldcon to be held in Yokohama; and slideshows of SFWJ members cosplaying, all to the background music of Komm, süsser Tod, which choice boggled at least one member of the audience. Oh, and the panellists seem to be reclaiming the word otaku for the normal run of fan.

Foreign language Seiun awards were given to Sturgeon's And now the news from 1953, and Egan's Distress from 1995, for their recent translations into Japanese.

Then do the R.O.D. OVA (cute), a resupply run, a panel about some of the surface experiments from Huygens, then the new Appleseed movie, which looks pretty, albeit like a video-game, and is sorta faithful to what the series is about, if not many of the details. And bheer!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Day 1

THe morning I take the chance to yomp into town for fruit and other supplies — I reckon I'm going to stack and cruise at breakfast, then snack. I'm gratified to find, opposite the Sainsbury's in Bothwell Street indicated by the con guide that there's an M&S Simply Food opposite, which I use instead.

First panel on Hubble results is off; second on feminist influences on F/SF art (if any) is limp, so I'm off to the anime room, for Alien Nine (loopy), Furi Kuri (insane), Battle Fairy Yukikaze (angsty and wooden), Project EDEN (slapstick) and Please Save My Earth (bland) — an episode or two of each, except the movie. Then the real ale bar, where I spot Charlie Stross with a pint in each hand and no obvious other person to be claiming one. Then wrap up the day with a panel of disgusting ideas in SF — which, being a panel of women in a roomful of blokes, goes for the obvious yuck factor, as exemplified by Sturgeons Some of your blood.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Second leg

Drive in intermittent rain to Glasgow. I put off getting onto the M6 until just short of Carlisle, and then it's follow the road as it gets renamed/renumbered until the M73 forks off, then M8, then off at junction 19 and follow the signs to the SECC.

Hotel and WSFS Armadillo

Worldcon site

Have to wait a bit for the room to clear before checking in; then get registered. Finding that WiFi is £3/30min, with the clock ticking even if you're logged off, I refrain. The lack of drop kerbs makes finding dinner challenging; so we give up and eat in the unremarkable carvery at the hotel, where no-one comes to take any drinks orders; and we are ignored until we are done and get up and start to go. I don't recommend that part of the restaurant on those grounds. Maybe the up-marked one would have been better; but at least we got a reduced rate for the con.

Then to the bar, and beer at a striking £2-95/pint…

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Strictly for the birds…

A sunny day, with enough cloud and breeze for comfort, so drive down to the Falconry Centre at Giggleswick. We arrive just in time for the first show, and stay to the last.

Bataleur Eagle

Bataleur Eagle

The weather is wonderful for the birds, even if one of the falcons gets a bit distracted by the local wildlife, so we get really good displays of both high soaring flight and the final lunge for food (to the extent that one bird brushes my head on the way down).

Take the pretty way home, through Hawes then up the B-road past Outhgill to cross over on the single track road I walked a couple of days ago. And soon after we get back, the cloud comes down low and heavy drizzle sets in.

Monday, August 01, 2005

More mooching

No appetite yet at breakfast (which was huge yesterday).

Shorter walk, Ravenstonedale, then along the minor road towards Adamthwaite. Vaguely peckish at 12:30, so stop at bridge and eat rest of picnic stuff. Leave the road by the bridleway to Murthwaite, then down the steep descent by Sally Beck to to A683, and so back.

Since my holiday in France a couple of months ago, I've not worn socks; but now the toenail is long enough not to itch when just sitting in socks and shoes (tested yesterday), I'm hiking in boots and the whole two layers of sock gig. A couple of miles short of the hotel, I'm getting tired hot feet, so change into the sandals I packed. And my feet are just so much more comfy!

After being cool and cloudy all day, it brightens up by evening. After a lighter supper, I go for a stroll — and spot this:-

White shorn sheep with red L on the side


Sunday, July 31, 2005

Moochin' around

Sunday starts dull, so it's promising walking weather. Yomp up to Kirkby Stephen to find a petrol station for later, and beer for now, going via Ravenstonedale to stretch out what would otherwise be a 10 mile there-and-back.

Grab a pint, watching a bit of the Grand Prix, then eat leftover picnic stuff lunch in the churchyard - a pretty red-stone church, with an interesting portico where the churchyard abuts the market place. Then I buy a map, and find a pretty way back, along the river, through Nateby, then down the B-road to Castle Pendragon, and over the top back to the A683.

No appetite. Still not hungry after yesterday's huge meal.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Off to Worldcon

Staring the journey with a stop-over at the Fat Lamb near Kirkby Stephen; so the route planners tell us take the A1, turn left at Scotch Corner. Only as we have just gone past the A52 at Grantham, the traffic locks solid — and there's nothing coming the other way.

After a while a helicopter flies over; a while later a motorbike runs up between the lines of cars. There is a little movement forwards so I'm about opposite a gap in the central reservation, but there is a car between me and it.

Then a paramedic car squeezes down the middle and the car next to me edges forwards to let it pass, allowing me then to three-point and out through the gap. So A52, A46, A614, a prettier, if slower, route.

Later, coming past Leeds, there's a long stretch of 50mph limit alleged roadworks, for a couple of miles after the bit being worked on. Revenue generation I guess; but that is enough. I leave at Wetherby, and on to Harrogate, then past Settle, taking the A683 to the inn, which despite the best efforts of the postcode to mislead, turns out to be on that road, at the corner of the turn to Ravenstonedale.

As we have driven into cloud, rain and gloom, even at just 18:00, we're ready for food, which is plain simple fare, well done, and in enormous quantities. And so, as pepys put it, to bed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Spotted the second dead badger by the roadside in as many days. One is not on the usual cycling route, but the other is. It's going to be a smelly summer — unless, of course, it keeps on being wet and I drive.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Sleep is good

Went to bed about 11pm and slept through to gone 9am; woke to wet weather. Just about caught up from recent late nights; but no chance to do anything in the garden.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Wimped out

No, I'm not doing the Dun Run; I'm posting this at the time the thing is starting to gather momentum.

I decided to sleep this p.m., and catch up on gardening, after having nuked the last two weekends and many evenings with the film festival.

Not that the weather forecast was that inspiring this a.m., with drizzle on the ride home from town this lunchtime.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


8000 miles on the dial as I parked down the Backs for dinner. Went to the Sala Thong for a Thai — and found that they were running a party of 50 in the river, and another couple of dozen upstairs. So I sat in virtually solitary splendour while I ate.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Another year

Now on the third year of blogging.

And, noticing moor-chicks scurrying for cover as I cycled past them this morning, I realise that I managed to completely miss duckling season this year.

Cycling home last night, after a front had brought some unexpected rain — it was supposed to have petered out by the time it got here — I found that the front was moving only slowly forwards, enough that I kept catching up with the rain as I went, unless I kept on pausing.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Film — Howl's Moving Castle

The last film of the Festival for me, given the cancellation of Paradise Now — so maybe film fatigue had set in; but I didn't see this new Ghibli/Miyazaki film as anything more than “Just OK.”, especially by comparison with other, earlier works. Or it may be because I deliberately hadn't read the Diana Wynne Jones book on which the film is based, expressly to avoid the usual negative comparisons of such adaptations.

I suspect the latter is the main cause. Having no idea of the original, I felt there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to no good narrative cause, but likely intended to realise in pictures neat bits from the book; which it did at the cost of exposition — even little things, like making it clear, when first introducing the name out of nowhere that Suliman was the vizier's name, and not the king's (which seemed the obvious interpretation from what little context we had).

A shame really — lush animation, even with gratuitous flying machines, around an emotionally empty plotline. Yes, that heretofore unthinkable thing, a Ghibli movie without a teary-eyed moment.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Film — Raining cats and frogs

A boy, his adoptive parents, a neighbour's daughter, farm animals and the inhabitants of a local zoo are set adrift by a quasi-Biblical Deluge. Veering from poetic to pedagogical (though the jury is still out on panspermia), while the inevitable problems arise with the food chain, stirred up by an unlikely snake in the grass character.

Again, very French.

Film — Innocence

Deep in wooded country, there is a school (curriculum = biology and dance, from what we see), a hybrid of Gormenghast and a girls-only version of Ohtori Junior school (Shoujo kakumei Utena: Adolescence mokushiroku); with five houses, of seven girls. New arrivals are delivered in a coffin; and each of the others then hands down their rainbow-coded hair ribbons, red for the youngest. Strange rituals punctuate each year — the choosing of a blue-ribbon girl to leave; the nightly departure of the violet ribbon girls from their dormitories; and there are rumours of strange punishments, especially for attempted escape.

Slowly some of the hidden secrets are revealed, but not all, before we follow the underground route of graduation.

Lushly photographed, atmospheric, and very, very French — heavier on symbolism than pragmatics, and with more young girls clad only in white cotton knickers (and school uniform panty shots) than a fan-service anime. Overall — possibly there's less to it than meets the eye.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Film — Paradise Now

This one got cancelled for being “inappropriate and insensitive”

PARADISE NOW is the story of what may be the last 48 hours in the lives of two Palestinian men — friends since childhood — who have been recruited as suicide bombers. When they are intercepted at the Israeli border and separated from their handlers, a young woman who discovers their plan causes them to reconsider their actions. But with pressure mounting, time running out, and passions running high...there's no way to know which way they will go. Giving a voice to the Palestinian condemnation of violence, Abu-Assad's compelling and beautifully performed drama is a tense and intelligent tale that will grip you to the final frames. As a testament to the film's inherent humanity and its balanced portrayal of such volatile subject matter, PARADISE NOW has received official backing from the Israeli government.

…my emphasis.

Personally, I can't think of a more appropriate time for it to be seen that it is not just us in the privileged nations alone who cannot condone such acts.

Film — Ghost in the Shell 2 — Innocence

Shiro Masamunes' Appleseed was my gateway drug into the whole Japanese anime/manga scene; so of course I'd go see this UK premiere.

Loosely inspired by the themes of Shiro's work, and set in something more like the continuity of the movie than the manga (I haven't finished the recent anime yet!), it asks around the question of what is identity as technology begins to blur the boundaries of the individual, both implicitly, and in the dialogue, as characters trade quotations and interpretations. Unfortunately the film is too busy being pretty to explore the issues even as deeply as Shiro does.

And a very pretty film it is too — several longuers with choral soundtrack as CGI cityscapes or carnival processions flow past, screaming out how much budget was being consumed every second, as well as making a valiant attempt at some of the visual metaphor from Shiro's own Ghost in the Shell: Man-Machine Interface v. 2. But it's not all in-yer-face — when Motoko manifests in one of a horde of identical gynoids, there are enough subtle visual clues that this one is different.

Oh, and if you missed the credits, the extensive gratuitous basset hound scenes yelled “Oshii Mamoru film” out loud.

Film — Night Watch

This was a heavy-duty premiere, complete with piracy-paranoia searching of bags and surrendering of videophones, as the Murdoch Empire condescended to permit the film to get its first outing here at the festival.

To a first approximation, this film is a Russian-made Underworld, loud, brash, driven by heavy dance music; a synthetic myth of conflict between hidden supernatural factions. But there is no glamour-girl in tight leather here to lead things off; rather a somewhat socially challenged chap who has become a reluctant vampire hunter after getting sucked into the secret conflict. And instead of refined high society, there is a run-down, almost 1950's air about this contemporary Moscow.

It is a visually effective piece of cinema, both in the images in the story; and also in the way that subtitling has been used — a vampire's call in red text that dissolves like swirls of blood in water; elsewhere sliding around the screen almost like thought balloons

Although the film boasted the only start-in-your-seat moment so far this season, there seemed to be an air almost of everyone sleepwalking through the plot, as things are thrown into look cool (like the owl presented to the protagonist, with no real back-story to her situation; Zebulon's sword), or to be sardonic Russian humour (the power-plant engineer cooking his supper on one of the steam pipes) and what looked like the main plot almost incidentally resolved as the film reaches an ending that had everything but an explicit “To be continued…”

Verdict: Mostly harmless

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Film — The Hidden Blade

Another mid-19th century samurai film from Yoji Yamada, the director of 2003's Twilight Samurai; and very much in the same mood, as a lower rank samurai wrestles with the obligations and restrictions of his station. Son of a disgraced father, unable to marry the woman he loves, Munezo Katagiri is finally ordered to kill his one-time closest friend, who has been condemned for fomenting rebellion.

As in the earlier film, this comission is the central dilemma, and its consequences form a fitting conclusion to the film. Sure, there is the obligatory slapstick retainer; and the comedic sight of traditional warriors just not getting it when being trained in modern military drill — such as having to be yelled at not to bow to each other while passing the artillery shells — but those act to throw the whole state of turmoil into sharp relief.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Film — The Adventures of Arsene Lupin

Lupin is the French character with the MO of Raffles and the public profile of Sherlock Holmes; this film is really a "secret origin" story, with the young Lupin caught up between a royalist plot and the machinations of Josephine, Countess Cagliostro. As expected, it's all very stylish and French; however to the viewer unfamiliar with the character, it is clear that some things (the Mission Impossible style masks appearing without any reason) are there because that's part of the greater myth, and are what the French audience will want to see. It also has great difficulty knowing how to stop - the royalist plot is foiled, but the film keeps going into a revenge sub-plot that is then left only partially resolved in the aftermath of an assassination attempt on Archduke Ferdinand, after a fast-forward montage of many years.

Annual puncture

That time of year again. Get to wheel the bike out, and find the back tyre's flat. This is probably a relapse of the puncture just next to another patch that I fixed last week. Given there's no bike shops in Cambourne, this means driving to work and then into town at lunch-time for a new inner tube, and maybe upgrading to an a super-marathon while I'm at it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I'm dreaming of a what!?

A couple of years ago, I heard the first Yuletide adverts in mid July.

That's been beaten this year - the first tentative enquiries of where/what about the office bash here have just come around!

Film — Phone

Korean horror in the same broad genre (phones, and other modern technology as catalyst for horror) as Saturday's disappointing One Missed Call; but more stylish and psychological, not relying on deliquescent walking dead to spice up the supernatural threat; and actually resolves itself.

In a couple of places, it was possibly too clever for its own good — when we see the main character suddenly awaking at her desk, it's never certain quite how much of the preceding events were “just a dream”, including the apparent resolution of the normal-world context plot that kick-starts the chain of events (acquiring the new mobile with the significant number, moving into the empty house).

Film — Touch the Sound

Documentary film about profoundly deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie by the same director who made the earlier documentary Rivers and Tides about Andy Goldsworthy's art. Unfortunately, sound is not a visual medium, so we cannot just view what is done.

This does lead to some longeurs where all we have is Ms Glennie looking contemplative at various locations around the world, as the background noises are turned up — people walking, tapping their feet, dragging cases over tiling, that sort of thing. It takes a long while before there is even any speech; and music comes very late in the proceedings.

The scenes where she was instructing a deaf girl in percussion was fascinating; but, like Goldsworthy, the interviewer encourages his subjects into vague mysticism about their art.

Gobsmacking moment — her brother, with a gentle Scots accent, barely stronger than hers, was subtitled, presumably for USan audiences.

Film — Whisper of the Heart

An unusual Ghibli film, being a down-to-earth story of first love; against a tale of love lost. For once, the only fantastical elements are in the imagination of the young girl who we follow; and any connection to The Cat Returns are more that the latter is hommage to a minor but catalytic part of this film.

But. heck, it's Ghibli — what more do I have to say?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Film — One Missed call

Japanese horror, with people getting calls from the future from their own mobiles, indicating their imminent death. Tries to lull you into thinking it's all over a couple of times, but is overall not scary.

Film — Steamboy

Steampunk anime — but for reasons of scheduling I had signed up with trepidation for the dub. I was gobsmacked, then, to hear real Northern accents being used for many of the characters, and everyone had appropriate accents. Best dub ever!

A big loveable high adventure; nothing profound.

Film — The Ritchie Boys

A moving documentary, made in Germany, about German Jewish refugees to America, who were assigned to US Military Intelligence in WWII, told by some of the surviving members of the teams trained at Fort Ritchie, Md. A fascinating bit of the hidden war revelaed through many engaging characters.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Film — Millennium Actress

The 25th Cambridge Film Festival started last night; and I took in the UK premiere of this 2001 film by Satoshi Con.

It's my sort of romance film, weaving through real life memories and movie scenes of elderly, one time movie star Chiyoko Fujiwara, searching for lost love, as a long time fan of hers makes a documentary interview. I'm not ashamed to say that my eyes were leaking copiously (if discreetly) in synch with Tachibana-san (the interviewer).

Poignant and haunting, a marvellous start to this year's program.

Better than expected

Despite the best attempts of the media, life goes on. A marvellous collection of quotes in response to yesterday.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Return of the bad old days

Bombs in London, though 7/7 looks to be orders of magnitude below 9/11, closer to the worst of the 1970's IRA campaigns — well that'll be goodbye to the recently reintroduced rubbish bins and Left Luggage facilities, then.

And Blair says “terrorists will not destroy "our values and our way of life"” — of course not. That's the Home Secretary's job (house arrest, assault on jury trials, proposed national database …), not one we've offshored.

Thursday, June 30, 2005


Putting some better navbar stuff on my web pages, temporarily broke my blog menu (overloading the id="menu" name). So I changed the blog-specific CSS files to use id="blogmenu" instead.


Take the MIT Weblog Survey

…though this survey did not have any means to indicate that one was linking to ones own home page from a blog entry, which strikes me as odd.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Really helpful, guys!

Blogger have decided to add a "clear:both;" explicitly styled <div> top and bottom of the post bodies. The effect was to drive the post bodies below the archive panel on the right hand side, which is pretty sub-optimal.

So I've had to wrap an extra <div> around it, and "display:none" all <div>s except those that explicitly override it. More non-semantic mark-up and weight on each page. *sigh*

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Shortest Night

I went out last night with the team from work and drank too much (a couple of beers, get some tapas and couple of pints of San Miguel, get some air and then another couple pints of real beer). Watched the May Ball fireworks at John's from the bar at the Baron of Beef. There were enough fireworks that the street was hazy with smoke — even the underground bike-park in the Park Street multi-story was thick with it.

So, I set out for the ride home, with the just-past-full moon rising, and the always twilight of the shortest night, the air just cool enough to be fresh and invigorating, lights needed to be seen, rather than seen by. Almost enough to tempt me into doing something stupid like attempting the Dun Run next month.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Tuesday evening, I had the interesting experience of trying to determine whether the loose bits floating around in my mouth were tooth (organically formed apatite) or crown (plastic shell over peg). Eventually I managed to determine that it was in fact the last veneer of tooth around a now mainly epoxy core of the tooth behind the two that are crowned.

So this morning it's into town to get it patched.

Seriously, if I have to upgrade in place, renewable teeth are the first thing on my list. Just as well it wasn't last week!


7500 miles on the way to work today; on a day where I'd much rather be cycling.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Homeward bound

Early up again, breakfast, and another walk, taking photos in bright morning light, with the sun already hot. Check out at 09:30, though this takes them a while to figure out how much I owe for eating à la carte when I'm booked demi-pension.

I'm at the station at 10:00, and am not best please to find that I'll be on a perfectly good TGV to Paris and have to get off it to kick my heels in Poitiers for two hours. That town is built around a steep river valley, so getting far from the station is too much climb in the hot and sticky. The station loo eats my 40c and fails to open, so when I reach the nearest bit of shade in the Solferino gardens, I pay appropriate respects at the back of the war memorial.

Lunch of tabouleh and strawberries; walk a circuit, and wait where the coach is supposed to pull in.

Of course the train is back to front compared with the map, so everyone has to trudge; and the coach I'm booked into is full of 8-10 year olds with only one adult (teacher?) in control. Having manfully struggled to keep awake on the first train, now I have trouble dozing, and when I do, that's the cue for the ticket inspector.

Hike from Montparnasse, down the Rue de Rennes where there are girls promoting the Smart forfour; and I have to repeatedly tell them I've already got one of the originals.

There are sprinkles of rain, but nothing major, and I get to the Trappiste at 16:30. Late lunch on salade Italienne (today's special) and a bottle of Rodenbach. Walk to Sebastopol and metro the rest, because it's there. It's also very hot and humid.

Eurostar has the usual problems of folk with infeasible amounts of luggage; and I have a monstrous hike to the front of the train. Emerging from Paris, there's a monster thunderhead off the to right, but by the time we reach the Somme it's now fair weather clouds.

Usual mystery tour of S. London, plus 15 minute wait for points problems near Battersea power station, ending up 1/2 hour late. Just miss the 21:06 at King's Cross, have to catch the 21:51 medium-slow train. And so home, beer, bath, bed.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Île de Ré

View Île de Ré in a larger map

Forecast of lightning storms and 14C this morning, cloudy and up to 24C this afternoon.

Muesli and yoghurt for fuel, then I'm on the road at 07:36. This time I make the route direct and don't feel chill even in just a light silk shirt. The grind over the bridge is boring, rather than tiring. There are lightning flashes, but no thunder, in the distance ahead as I coast down. This is a bit worrying.

Île de Ré map


On dry land at 08:15 and start negotiating the roadworks along the harbour cycleway in Rivedoux. Past La Flotte and am at St. Martin by 09:30, with only one stop under a tree for a brief shower that barely wets the path. As usual, when I try to take pictures, all the traffic in the world arrives out of nowhere - including a bus that wants to mount the bit of sidewalk I'm parked on!

I do seem to have been revisiting my Jammy Bastard skills with the weather, as veils of rain go by on either side, accompanied by lightning.

Now there's a long flat run up the coast, horse, donkeys and their foals, goats and kids, sheep, and vineyards separated from the tidal marshes by a high hedge. This is all into the wind, like the island is on a slope.

Tide was low earlier so I'm worried by the low paths where the cycleway cuts between le Martray and Ars, with open water to either side — this is at the very neck of the island where the main road is about as wide as the dry land.

It has obviously rained heavily here and recently, and the crunching noise as I cycle is not gravel, but snail-shells, as the whole path is thickly strewn with all sizes of them, looking like they are involved in suicidal cannibal feasts on the wet tarmac.

By Ars, start to notice that although I started with a distance of 29.5km to the Phare des Baleines, the total distances to start and the the Phare slowly increase. Near St Clement, I stop to take a photo of the Phare now it's obvious — and reach into the saddlebag for the brolly, instead, and wait for the shower to stop. Phare is signed as 2km away as other distances mount, like some event horizon; but finally it yields and I get to it — to find not a lighthouse on a bleak promontory, but a whole slew of concessions, and loads of tourists. I do a quick circuit for pictures, and start the way back at 11:38 : having been on the road for 4 hours, I don't have much dwell time.

I loop round St Clement to the west, then backtrack, with just a side trip to Loix at around 13:00 because it was there. And now that the sun has started to show I apply sunblock — I already have serious tanlines around the cycling shorts, and some reddening where the hems have shifted.

I passed a lot of picnic sites on the way out, but taking the western loop from la Couarde, there aren't any, so I munch cheese at random stopping points, and then have a pack of biscuits for refuel at 14:30 before taking the bridge. Riding back has been weird as I'd been going with the wind, often riding in dead, oppressive, calm, which oncoming cyclists were having to struggle as I had had to.

It really is only about 1/4 the way across to reach the top on the homeward leg on the bridge, and with the knack of the cyclepath, it's only another hour to get to the hotel, and can unpack everything, drop it in the room, write a note to the Bicyclette Verte chap about the puncture (and grinding pedals, and gears that don't shift where the index markings are), change and drop the bike off at reception.

Check station: 5 mins walk even with rush-hour traffic; and note that the old departure hall is being remodelled. Shop for supplies for the way back, then further to take more photos. It's now a bit chilly for short sleeves and shorts.

Bath, check the tan lines aren't too bad after the stop-go sun this afternoon. 18:00 sunny, blue sky except cloud low in NNW when I started this last section. 18:30 now and cloud is most of the way here and the sun is hazy. Cloud comes and goes all evening, and by 22:30 most of it has passed. Dinner diffs - duck in orange, not beef; no cheese, strawberry soup.

Wander out past Chain tower, and the gardens beyond, see across to Minimes, bristling with masts, and a silvered glass rotunda brilliant in the last of the sun. Back through the parks, dodging a skein of trainee rollerbladers in high-vis tabards, and through more of the back streets behind Jean d'Acre. There's a curry-house, but it looks geared to the rosbifs, given the amount of English on the menu, and a mystic store with, amongst the other stuff, an Île de Ré tarot — which I am content to leave as an enigma; then round through Minimes, which is dead like the City at this time, unlike the still vibrant old town, and then packing and so to bed.

All the photos

Thursday, June 02, 2005

To the Sea!

View Fontenay to La Rochelle in a larger map

Well, an even more convincing "Nee!" from the Dutch. And SNCF are holding a strike today. At least that should be over by the time I travel. Clear and bright again, and the forecast is that I'm headed for the hottest part of the country, at 30C this afternoon!! Crap! I want the cooler showery weather I was promised.

On the road at 07:42, and I'm already soaked with sweat from loading the bike, though the air is cool. Twenty minutes in, at Boisse, I swap my helmet for the sunhat.

The riverside path is really crappy, worse than I remembered, so I swap onto the main road at Chaix.

In Veilluire, another cat who hides from the camera; and I'm at the viewpoint beyond after 65 minutes. I'm at Île d'Elle at 09:35, and solve the mystery of the Rue de la République that I didn't find last year; it's a no-entry, just after the pharmacy, and the sign with the name is not visible from the way I'm coming. I push into the square, and the find a town plan. A better route would be to follow the cyclepath towards Maillezais at this point.

The thermometer at the pharmacy says 22.5C, but between breeze and flat terrain, it's better than yesterday.

10:00 at the outskirst of Marans, on the reasonable track along the canal (better than at Boisse, not as good as to Île d'Elle) — I'm slower than last year, strolling and taking photos. The run so far has been pretty, but not the sort of stuff where you can easily bottle the moment in a photo.

Marans is a pretty town if you avoid the advice to stick to the canalside which leads you through the Industrial area. Better to cross the N137 at once, then turn left towards and past the church — you can't miss the D105 if you keep on this side of the canal and the N137.

Church at Marans

retrofit steeple

Getting onto the main canal again, the ride is wonderful, what I came back for. Shade, breeze. Unlike last year, no anglers on the sluices, just a couple on the banks; and no hikers to have to weave amongst.

Then the last run to the coast where there are blessed sea breezes. I reach the third fort, south of l'Homeau about 13:15, about 45 minutes slower than last year, mostly due to the stop in Marans. I lunch here (memo to self: pack a spoon — it makes eating pots of fruit purée easier); but whereas last year I soaked up blessed sun after the rain, now I sit under the one shaded tree. There is a creperie a few minutes further on, but all the outside tables are in the sun.

And then I take the cycleway round the top of the town, and in through Mireuil. At each stop for lights, the heat is fierce, but I don't feel anywhere as bad now I've stopped as I did yesterday. Only a little bit of farce at reception: I'm booked into an accessible room!

Have a very welcome bath and then stroll. This time I find a small co-op in the back streets behind the harbour, where I didn't venture last time, so am set up with cheese and biscuits for lunch tomorrow, and cold orange drink for now. Drop off lunch at room (after an old guy had stopped playing silly buggers with the lift), then walked along the harbour to Minimes and Ville de Bois, where I can sit at a shaded picnic table and enjoy the breeze — and look at the anti-shadows on my hands, where I've tanned through the cycle gloves.

I really like modern technology. The 128Mb chip I have in the camera has more than 50 shots left on it, despite reckless use (almost 100 with the extra cards).

The mediæval bits of La Rochelle port are imposing, but the old town is cramped and hot. There is also the usual old French run-down feel that makes most places less photogenic than at first meets the eye. I am more drawn to the futuristic modern bits, with air and green spaces. It all feels a world away from Mervent and Fontenay!

5pm and the living is easy. Except for the hopeful sparrows hopping around the table, and finding I've no crumbs to drop.

Had a good wander in the mellowing sun touring the harbour. Catch forecast that says the weather will break overnight, and be much more like what I was anticipating come the weekend.

Dine à la carte, mushroom ravioli with extra wild mushrooms, emincé of beef (harmless), cheese (fuel) and apple crumble (harmless); plus the good Haut Poitou rosé again.

21:30 and it's still shirtsleeves weather for a wander, especially out of the wind in the old town collonades, where ice-cream parlours are still doing a roaring trade well after 22:00. Some of the masonry is buttressed with timbers.

Hazy cloud came up in the west during dinner, blunting the last of the sun. An arm of some weather system is going to sweep by. The warm breeze tells me that something is on its way. Hope it's not too bad for tomorrow's run on the Île de Ré

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Fontenay day trip

View Fontenay day trip in a larger map

Out into new territory, with an 08:00 start, and I get to where I left off past L'Orbrie walking by 09:30, having taken a while to push the bike down the obvious (but one-way) route through town (not that the locals seem deterred by the signs) and to take photos.

If I had gone on last year, the path (where one is advised to push unless extra fit on a mountain bike) would have been a young river, as I'd expected. Today it was the hottest and nastiest 200m pushing up a dried river bed I've gone with a bike; and by the time I reach the top, I'm drenched with sweat. Not a good omen.

The forest road is nice to ride; but I misread the instructions, not helped by the pink squiggles drawn on my copy of the map, and don't look for the side turn to Vouvant soon enough, and end up at les Quilleres, so I hack back across a diagonal of the suggested route to Vouvant — the slightly-more-main road is empty enough and is pleasant riding. Vouvant is a pretty town (see photos), with church, castle, loads of flowers, and lots of low-flying swallows, as well as buzzards higher up.

Flowers at Vouvant

I now try to cast the way back, and can't find the forest road from this end either, so take the Route Forestiere de Verrieres instead, and get back to the road I'd started on. Finally find the Belle Cepee sign hidden by undergrowth. I try to cross the river at Pierre Brune (brown stone cliffs), but the road is closed that day for tree surgery.

Now very hot, and no wind; it's stifling under the trees. I shed helmet for sun-hat, and backtrack to Mervent, which is resurfacing hell, grit and tar and roadworks everywhere. I don't regret skipping it earlier, and do regret doing the up and over now. I'm not going back on the path I came up, so I carry on to the main road. It's a lot of pushing up hill, too hot for hard work in low gear, but once past the climb up out of the river valley, it's downhill almost all the way to Fontenay, just one last hard left and push up to the hotel. I'm hot, very hot, but not tired. Need lots to drink, though, and then force myself out to buy more for tomorrow, when I'll have over 5 litres on board.

Dinner is a crab and avocado mould with some pale stuff that turned out to be cucumber, then the rest is as yesterday, except I skipped cheese, being too full.

Early finish for the meal at 20:15, so I wander into town to try and find something photogenic, rather than the usual shabby. A thermometer says 25 degrees; it's still saying 22 well after 21:00. This is not what I'd been expecting — indeed I'd put on a long sleeved shirt for dinner and regretted it; it's still more than comfy with sleeves rolled up at 21:15 as I jot these notes.

There is no sign of the clouding over from the morning's weather forecast, and the cooler weather I'd expected from the long range forecasts went further north. If I do the Midi tour next year, that will definitely be early May!

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Niort to Fontenay

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07:54 start. Tyre sound, or seems so. Air is cool, but sun is hot. Get to Magné in 40 minutes, passing the first Smart I've seen since Paris. In Magné I get distracted by a teen-cat who leaps a wall to avoid having his picture taken, so nearly lose my way.

Coulon after 70 minutes. Tyre OK. Cellette after 2 hours. Tyre still good; but the way the front shocks feel when I get on means that mounting is much squishier than I am used to, which adds to the paranoia. The countryside is flat, with crops of maize or sunflowers, and some wheat, all just knee-high.

I pass half-remembered places that look so different in the full sun. The only clouds are weather passing north, and contrails.

Plenty of frogs croaking in the canals and ditches, with plenty of splashing as I approach. I stop at 10:15 just past Ste. Christine for the traditional marais cattle shot near where I did last year; and soon after I come to where I saw the young cats too; there is a flurry of kittens (10-12 weeks), but mum just stays in the shade.

At Courdault, all is going well, so I take the aside to the port, but it's being worked on and is just a massive excavation, and the road was simply atrocious, pot-holes and grit. Soon after I pass the picnic site I paused to pre-blog at last year. By just after 11:00 I'm past Bouillé on the way to Maillezais, which I think puts me ahead of last years rate. Maybe I ran too fast at the start, or there was too much headwind then; today there's just a refreshing breeze.

4 hours in, and I'm stopped at the picnic place past St. Pierre le Vieux on the way to Souil. I needed to navigate a bit in Maillezais. The roadworks there last year are gone, but the diversion of the road is now a fixture (what was the St Pierre road is a no-entry, and the only decent bit of surface in town). For the first time today I got off and pushed up the hill, having lost momentum while casting around.

On this stretch, I remember places where I got off and pushed, so weary, last year, and now I don't even feel the need to change gears. Even on the way past the walls of the churchyard at St Pierre, which I remember passing with hazy loathing. Then, all of a sudden, when I thought I must have passed it unawares, the leaping stag sign and another remembered picnic place by the bridge.

It's now definitely time for lunch, to finish the bread pud I'd packed, and some local jaffa-cake equivalents. Thoughts of making a long stay in the shade dashed when a whole bunch of other folk turn up, and look rather squeezed around the second, and non-shaded, table, so finish the pud and set off.

The open plain between here and Fontenay that I pushed most of the way through last time is an easy stroll and I can't remember why I worried about the bridge over the main road.

The Rue de Jericho is closed, so thank goodness for previous recon — I just follow the road I'm on to the Avenue Hoche, turn right and follow the signs. It's a little hairy at one of the junctions, but in five hours, and thirty minutes later I'm there on the verandah of the same room as before, drinking a long drink of blood-orange.

After a couple of hours, and a shower, I wander into town for more supplies; drink mainly, and some strawberries for tea. It's too hot to do anything more than flop in the shade; but a bonus is that out on the terrace will be good for dinner.

Millefuile of tomato,aubergine and feta; leg of duck, and a 1/2 bottle of a local rosé (and today that seems to be the tipple of choice, not just my own eccentricity), soft cheeses, then pan-fried pineapple with pepper and rosemary.

While I eat, I see someone hang-gliding in the distance.

By 21:30, the last of the sun is slanting through my room, but it is cool enough that I want my denim shirt over the short-sleeved silk to be comfortable sitting on the verandah and enjoying the last light.

Hotel verandah

Much needed shade at Fontenay

All the pictures here.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Niort Day Trip

Day breaks cool and cloudy, damp. Find the back tyre a little soft, so pump it up and set out — and maybe a couple of miles out, bump, bump bump! Back wheel entirely flat. Ugh!

The tyre is really tight on the rim, and takes all sorts of effort to get off, and it takes a while to find that the puncture is on the inside, where the rim tape is askew, and the holes where the spokes fit have sharp edges. And the first attempt at patching fails to hold.

Wheel back, and fix at leisure — and getting cramp in my left thumb while trying to re-seat the tyre. I walk into town and lunch at a creperie, with a pint of cider being the main objective, as the cloud has broken and it's cleared up.

Afternoon is occupied by a truncated version of the tour, by road to St. Liguiare

Church and one-way system at St. Liguaire

Church and one-way system at St. Liguaire

The back tyre still seems a bit soft, so about 2/3 of the way round I pump it up, but I start to sketch out contingencies for the morning. I can't find a cycle shop to get an extra inner tube, but as the tyre is still firm at 10pm, I will chance the run tomorrow rather than call for aid.

Dinner is a ham terrine, chicken supreme, and fromage frais with chopped chives. Wander into town and take pictures, then crash.

There doesn't appear to be anyone else on this or either adjacent day of the tour.

All the pictures.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Paris to Niort

Weather again better than forecast. and the TV suggests the next couple of days will be good, though it may be (as I'd expected) wet in Niort when I arrive. Today (as I write this sitting near the Eiffel Tower) there is high cloud. Smart cars are very popular, and I've even seen a forfour. While walking here, I've seen a chap leading a string of ponies and donkeys for rides near Invalides, OB units by Concorde for the referendum, the Louvre with virtually no queue to get in (just about 10:00 on a Sunday), a garden growing in the vertical face of the new Museum being built on the Quai Branly (alpines and other flowers, not only creepers). Lots of rollerbladers dicing with the traffic, and the usual women with begging pitches on cards to thrust out at the tourists where there are some to be found. But there are other green places to sit to kill time. And a lot of antiques fairs today, all around where I've walked. But the most eyestopping sight is a woman obviously in her fifties at one of the antiques fairs with hair as candyfloss pink as an anime girl.

The Gare Montparnasse is cleaner and livelier than last year, with a lot of stalls open.

I am not amused to find that the train I've been booked on goes directly to Niort, not needing the gratuitous change at Poitiers that Belle France organised. That's just a delay for no reason.

There is a flurry of rain near St. Pierre Des Corps (Tours). There are blushes of poppies in the fields towards Chatellerault, and more sprinkling of rain at Poitiers as I wait. At least the station signing is good, and I just have to wait on the same platform for the local train (which fortunately is new, and almost empty).

The pavements are damp in Niort when I arrive, and the walk to the hotel cool and dry, by contrast with last year. The bike is already waiting for me, and I just have enough time to change and get back down when the chap arrives to check everything OK. Bike is much the same as last year's.

Now time for a much needed bath, and by the time I'm done, the rain is back and has set in. The weather forecast looks good for the week, though I think I shall avoid the off-road bit tomorrow. Dinner is crab&avocado, chunky pork rib joint with spicy rice, cheese, and the Haut Poitou rosé from last year.

Initial result 55% Non!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Charente Cycling : London to Paris

Last year I went on a cycling holiday in the west of France, and got rained on a lot. So I'm trying it again, later in the season, hoping for better weather. 10-day forecasts on the net lead me to expect temperatures of about 20C, maybe showery at the end of the week; with the hot spell from yesterday breaking down in rain in Paris and on Sunday, violent thunderstorms over most of France.

I make an early start, the 09:15 fast train to King's Cross and then there's nothing much to do in town so I just dead-reckon through the back streets to Waterloo Bridge, and am at the station with about an hour to wait for the scheduled departure. I'm just checked in when the fun starts - a goods train failed at West Dulwich, no ETA for fixing. This turns into a 30 min delay to start.

I'm the first to make the long hike to my carriage when we're finally allowed to board, and the second is the passenger in the window seat next to mine, a young French lass who is amused at the happenstance. We chat a while before traveller's doze sets in (with me having to wake her when the Eurostar rep comes around to find what needs to be done about making connections).

Get into Gare du Nord about 50 minutes late, and I hike through the heat. We'd passed a lot of "Non" posters in the suburbs, and only in the very centre did I see many "Oui" ones.

Room 36 at the Flor Rivoli, this time; and a very welcome shower - though the weather is hot enough that it's a job getting dry.

Check out the little creperie where we ate last October, but it's shut, so head to the Trappiste for food as well as beer. After, I wander past the gardens at the Forum des Halles, and then down to and across the river, to see folk catching the rays, and picnicking.

Parisians basking in the evening sun

There are dance classes in the sunken areas around the sculpture park — salsa, Flemish pipe and viol, old-fashioned squeeze-box driven country dancing; plus some ad hoc bongoing.

Charente waterways

Mediaeval Midi

Friday, May 27, 2005

Nature notes

First unambiguous sighting of house martins (as opposed to glimpses at the start of the month), as well as yellowhammers, on the way in to work. Hot weather now that looks like it will break for the holiday weekend/half-term week. Ho hum.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Book — Games People Play — Eric Berne, MD


The book presents an empirical model of human intractions, starting from the notion that humans are social animals, and that our interactions are a necessary part of our psychology. Very few conversations are actually concerned with the business of transferring information — more usually they are akin to mutual grooming amongst other primates. Of the various styles of such interaction, the term “game” is used to indicate that class in which the surface and the subtext are at odds with one another.

The model used looks at first sight to be a variation on the Freudian id/ego/superego, as Child, Adult and Parent, as types of role that an individual can play, and play to, in an interaction, with natural dialogues being either homogeneous or Parent-to-Child. Games take place when the hidden conversation is between the actors in different roles.

The book then provides a compendium of games across the spectrum of human life, not all of them destructive to the participants.


The book has to be taken in the context of its time, over forty years ago, so some of the emphases, general background knowledge, and social assumptions have changed in the interim — the comments in the book anent homosexuality are a clear example. It is thus necessary to deconvolve the substance of the book from the accidents of place and time. Such accidents may include the frequency with which various of the games arise, and their most frequently manifested form.

It has been said that the book was written in order to present a plain-speaking approach to psychology, or perhaps psycho analysis, and in choosing a model with Child, Adult, and Parent as aspects rejects the Latin encrustations that later workers in the field had placed over Freud's original Ich, Über-Ich and Es. However, this Basic English approach is not carried through the entire work — outside the works of Gene Wolfe, I had not previously encountered any use of the word “apotropaic”. It is also written to be free-standing from Berne's earlier work on transactional analysis, but achieves this at the cost of much forward reference from the overview into the games section.

The tripartite model is where I found the analysis most ad hoc. The Child partakes of both the Freudian id, and is also the Adam Qadmon, the uncorrupted man that is the mindstate to be aspired to; the Parent is severally the position of authority, a repository of canned responses which free the Adult from having to evaluate a situation, and that parental influence summed up most memorably by Larkin in This be the Verse.


The book provides another way of looking at human behaviour, which, as more modern research has shown, is primarily pre-conscious, so for that is another tool for modelling with. The texture of each reader's life may well determine how often any of the classic games are made plain to be seen.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Nature notes

In amongst all the rain and showers, I did manage to cycle to work a few days this past week, and have seen a number of yellowhammers around the farm track on the last stage of the journey to work.

It has been good weather for frogs, out on the long wet grass, even though the newts in the pond have again seen to the frogspawn. The mystery fish still seem to be there in the pond.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Book — Getting to YES — Fisher, Patton & Ury


Negotiation is not just a matter of trying to split the difference between two established positions in a zero-sum fashion, and thus not a battle of wills as to where on the continuum the split is finally decided. Principled negotiation is conducted by rational actors, setting aside personalities; and looks at other factors that reflect the underlying, possibly unspoken, interests of the parties involved, exploring possible mutually beneficial outcomes. Where necessary, arbitrartion, primarily in the form of appeal to objective (or at least disinterested) standards should be used to establish the worth of any components of a potential outcome.

If faced with an uncooperative partner in negotiation, the acceptability of an outcome should be judged by comparison with what can be achieved without agreement. Fixed positions and intransigent partners should be encouraged into negotiation by treating their statements as a sincere attempt at dialogue, whereas attempts to use tricks should be regarded as shifting the discussion from negotiation on the overt matter at hand into a meta-negotiation about the conduct of the negotiation.


It is clear that the book focuses on the negotiator as a rational agent in the sense in which the term is used in the context of economics. Indeed, the whole idea that negotiation can be eased by broadening the discussion beyond a simple zero-sum is fundamental to economics, that transactions take place that are win-win i.e. wealth is created by trade, not merely moved about. The agenda of the book can then be seen as one in which the negotiation is turned into an economic transaction between rational agents, both by the appeal to externally set standards, and by setting aside personalities and any associated non-zero-sum emotional payoffs of the form “They'd rather be right.”

There is less coherence to the second part of the book, which tries to cover the many ways in which negotiations can be subverted. The idea of knowing what the best you can do without an agreement is a sensible one, to provide a well thought out bottom line, to know when an agreement would be disadvantageous. The other chapters primarily suggest a strategy for an appeal to the counter-party's better nature, by attempting to draw them into discussion either about the substance of the negotiation, or at least into “talks about talks”


The book provides a manifesto for straight dealing, backed up with some real world examples drawn from difficult situations. However, despite the optimistic anecdotes from the eastern Mediterranean and from Northern Ireland, the fact that these disputes still remain unresolved to this day shows that there are still limits to the approach. If the parties to a negotiation cannot shake off emotional attachments to irreconcilable positions (either iof their own, or of their constituents), all the will in the world cannot lead to agreement. They may not even lead to a best alternative.